The form of Alice Munro's "Meneseteung" forces the reader to be aware of the activity of fictive construction. Munro's representation of the past as a variety of texts waiting to be read and rewritten by the present facilitates the dissolution of the narrator into her subject as she reconstructs the life of Almeda, a Victorian poetess. Almeda's choice of redemptive female eccentricity over confining patriarchal respectability (with the accompanying metaphoric move from the Victorian respectability of her father's house on Dufferin Street to the marginal world of the Pearl Street swamp) is willed by the narrator; it is her contemporary consciousness that identifies the other's eccentricity as independence and acceptance of life.
Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale represents a postmodern feminist sensibility in its conceptualizing of resistance to a dominant order and of the constraints upon such resistance. Postmodernism looks for ways to resist oppressive ideologies from within. Postmodern feminist studies argue for a notion of the subject as both constituted by the discourses into which it is inserted (including sexuality and gender) as well as "class, race, ethnicity, sexual preference, education, social role and so on" (Linda Hutcheon) and as constitutive of meaning by its location at the intersections of such discourses. A recognition of complicity with mass culture, along with an understanding that only within this area can effective resistance be waged, marks The Handmaid's Tale as what Andreas Hayssen might call a resistant postmodern novel. The novel suggests that the spaces for resistance are located within the discourses of the symbolic order (including technologically produced and disseminated discourse) rather than in opposition to them.
Jamie Dopp uses Judith Newton's description of feminist patriarchal constructions of history to argue that Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale offers a 'tragic' view of gender relations in which the oppression of women by men is seen as unchanging, universal and monolithically imposed. The text does not offer the reader a position of active resistance to patriarchy; the reader is unable to maintain critical distance from Offred and shares her fatalistic passivity and victim position. The novel reproduces the essentialist tendencies of the patriarchy it seeks to undermine; as a dystopian tale, it creates a world in which there is no longer a possibility of resistance.
Margaret Laurence's fiction works against the dogmatic and exclusive application of the Oedipal drama to the workings of desire; instead, Laurence choose different locations for the rearticulation of desire. In A Jest of God, Rachel reworks the structure of her desire in the personal sphere and realizes that her super-ego is an internal construct, not an external reality. In The Fire-Dwellers, the Oedipal nature of civilization, with its divisions between the public and private spheres, leads Stacey to collapse these divisions and articulate alternative evaluations and structures of desire for herself, her children, and society. In The Diviners, there are multiple, often contradictory, privileged sites of presence around which desire is structured. In these three novels, Laurence deconstructs, historicizes, and proposes alternatives to the Oedipus complex and its implications.
In She Tries Her Tongue, Her Silence Softly Breaks, M. Nourbese Philip confronts us with the question of how to account for the entanglement of the historical subject's flesh-and-blood body with the material effects of an alien mastering language that is "etymologically hostile [to] and expressive of the non-being of the African" (Philip). Philip's poetry activates a displacement of colonial and neo-colonial power relations as they are realized in language; embodied memory functions as an elegaic witness to a collective loss rooted in socio-historic realities. Philip's complex and disjunctive text uses language as a material manifestation of her hybrid location between axes of identity, geographical space, linguistic and cultural traditions, and histories; her poetic praxis activates theoretical questions circulating around the interlinked concepts of body, memory, history, and materiality.
The relations between reality and language, self and mask, and subjectivity and reality all point to P.K. Page's interest in the conditions in which selves are formed, experienced, and conceptualized. The modern artist creates life's meaning by finding/imposing pattern; Page shows her Romantic and Modernist heritage in her poetry, but goes beyond these classifications to a new paradigm of the relation between self and world. Page's work moves from an early emphasis on alienation as a condition for modern life to the discovery of a self that is related to the universe on levels that are discoverable through the heightened and intensified consciousness that poetry itself makes possible.
Canadian extended prose fiction, written by or about immigrants, discloses a lack of self-identity for the subject when the bearings of conventional social identity are removed within the context of a different culture. The breakdown of signification, as reflected in the immigrant experience, shows the insufficiency of language acquisition within a symbolic system that is experienced to be semiotically lacking. The literature discloses lives dependent upon an undependable language; it attempts to get to the other side of language. The subject is not conventionally identifiable; instead of being figured, it is disfigured or transfigured. The "foreign" subject, in endeavouring to voice what cannot be accommodated in society's terms, is separated out from society and voiced as the negative of its terms. The gap in modes of communication underpins the cultural gap of the "foreigner." Canada, with all of its "alien" connotations, accentuates the problematic of identity for the "foreign" subject who finds in the liminal position between cultures a repetition of the formative split engendered by the semiotic lack in the symbolic: the subject cannot speak itself on the terms of an order which makes it Other, just as its experience of the other site of knowledge cannot be spoken in the established terms.
Hélène Cixous asks "What is feminine jouissance?" and Elizabeth Smart's By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept provides a possible answer to this question. In her powerful representation of the feminine libidinal economy, Smart engages the same terms and metaphors as Cixous: a bisexual articulation of desire; the reclamation of water as a metaphor for sexual bliss; and adulterous love as a war against conventional morality, society, and religion. Smart, through her use of Judaeo-Christian metaphors and allusions, first installs binary and borderline definitions of women which condemn her speaking/writing/sexually engaged subject to the negative terms of these borders, and then partially exculpates and extricates her subject by subverting and deconstructing these definitions. However, feminist readings of the text are problematic, given that one of the possible costs of female desire (as delineated in Smart's text) is the oppression of another woman's desire.
In Voice-Over, a semi-autobiographical novel, Carole Corbeil addresses the guilt and loss she feels for having partly lost her Québécois heritage. Voice-Over uses both languages to give voice to Canada's bicultural reality. Corbeil speaks about recapturing her childhood memories through the process of writing in French, about the importance of past and memory to healing and creation, and about the struggle of the characters in the novel to find their voices. She says that "once you become fully conscious you find your voice." Women are "bilingual and bicultural" because of the "patriarchal overlay" in the world; the oppression of women and the oppression of culture and language are linked to issues of power.