The sensibility of Alexander Mackenzie's document of exploration -- The Journals and Letters of Sir Alexander Mackenzie -- is commercial, rather than aesthetic or "literary." The journal tends to reinforce the myth of the regions as, largely, a wasteland in the late eighteenth century. William Combe acted as a sort of ghost writer, significantly emending and embellishing the text. Because of the popularity of travel and adventure writing at the time, Combe alters the narrative to suggest that Mackenzie's frequently-cited frustrations at what he saw during his journey were the result of an affront to his aesthetic sensibility; yet, in reality, it was his concerns over the commercial viability of the region that caused his frustration.
Margaret Atwood's The Edible Woman is written in both first-person singular and in the third person, and the entire narrative is presented through the protagonist's point of view. Therefore, the novel can be interpreted as a reflection of her changing psychological constitution. Initially, the character of Marian perceives both food and her body as kinds of packaging. As the novel progresses, she learns to take control of herself and of the environment of consumerism of which she is a part. The Edible Woman is an indictment of consumer culture, and of our acquiescent response to it.
Adele Wiseman's The Sacrifice is usually interpreted -- quite correctly -- through its relatively blatant Biblical themes and symbols. But conversation is equally important to the novel, in terms of Wiseman's implicit ideas about art and morality. Her concept of art, as an extension of consciousness, is closely related to her idea of conversation as an expression of consciousness. Wiseman's use of the circle as symbol defines the relationship between artist and society. As well, language is a moral implement, and so must be used properly: Thus, when individuals in a community use the language in an ego-central rather than a public way, when they become monologuists rather than conversationalists, they become destructive to themselves, to the community, and to the language.
Robertson Davies's The Rebel Angels is a highly symbolic, highly complex novel, which in its critique of academe is part of a tradition including Kingsley Amis's Lucky Jim. Criticized at times for being too thematically complicated, it will nevertheless age well. We have Rabelasian humour and Dickensian melodrama, all roiling about to convey a wide array of important themes. Naked ambition and petty betrayals are presented as a part of the university ceremonies, of the college occasion that is held by some of the characters to be nearly sacred.
Tom Dawe and Al Pittman are Newfoundland poets, both of whom write from the geographical margins of the outports, outside the perceived centre of power. The islanders in these poems are always in danger both from outsiders and from the forces of nature. However, their insularity is never complete, as the poems suggest that the island is never a limiting frame, but rather a complete world in itself. Christianity and paganism go hand-in-hand in the mix of people, sea, religion, and (qualified) insularity. This insularity is not only geographical, but also is the insularity of most contemporary poets of modernism of removed and often anxious contemplation.
The stories of Alice Munro illuminate and enrich both the strange and the familiar. Paradoxes and contradictions are brought together to illuminate the complex wholeness of existence; this is the thematic motivator of, for example, Lives of Girls and Women. When the contradictions are reconciled, Munro's stories achieve a resolution that can be seen as a type of social and existential vision.
Canadian literary humour tends to derive from a kind of social and geographic conservatism. McCulloch's humour arises from the perspective of a Calvinist in a harsh land, a conservative view in which the role of woman is essentially domestic and inactive, and in which the (equally conservative) nation to the south poses a constant threat. Haliburton's view is similar, but the expressed conservatism implies the socio-political rather than the religious. Leacock continues this tradition, particularly in the way he comically attacks the rising authority of the female. It is these writers' allegiance to a British ideal of Canada in conflict with the democratic ordinary realities of Canadian life and the infectious, vulgar spirit of American republicanism which forces their humour.
Mathews compares and contrasts the eight existing versions of Frederick Philip Grove's The Master of the Mill, examining the author's shifted intention and emphasis. The novel's structure is altered significantly. Characters develop different relationships with one another. Nietzsche's "will in history" is manifested in various ways, and is less or more apparent in different versions of the novel. The history of these versions, spanning at least the years 1930-44, shows not only the aesthetic development of a novel, but also Grove's own shifting philosophical preoccupations.