Canadian Identity and its Representation in Fiction for Children and Young Adults by Tim Wynne-Jones and James Houston

Examination Thesis, 2008

70 Pages, Grade: 2,0


Table of contents

1. Introduction

2. The concept of identity

3. Personal identity
3.1. Growing up
3.2 Proper names

4. National identity
4.1 Authorship and publishing
4.2 Identity through place
4.2.1 The North
4.2.2 The wilderness
4.2.3 The northern wilderness
4.3 The role of religion
4.4 The role of multiculturalism
4.4.1 The role of language
4.4.2 The First Nations
4.5 The role of history
4.6 The role of the social community

5. National literature in Canadian classrooms

6. Conclusion



1. Introduction

“Since Canada’s literary tradition is fairly new, it is only natural that there should exist a genuine concern for identity.”[1] Consequently, numerous works have addressed the question: What is Canadian about Canadian literature ? A general answer is hard to find, among other reasons because the concept of Canadian identity as such is anything but trivial. The connections between national literature and national identity are generally acknowledged and have been thoroughly analysed. As Miriam Richter points out, [i]t is only very recently though, that the role of Canadian children’s literature in the process of defining national identity has come to be examined. Therefore, publications dealing exclusively with this topic exist to a comparatively small extent as yet.[2]

Despite the ongoing public and scholarly discussion of Canadian identity, it is important to ask whether the question of national identity is still a meaningful one when globalisation is changing the world and rendering national borders increasingly permeable. Economic alliances such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which facilitates trade between Canada, The United States and Mexico, could work towards a relaxation not only of legal but also of cultural borders. There are economists who claim that national boundaries are no longer meaningful concepts, but even though the role of the nation-state has certainly changed in the process of globalisation, the state remains a meaningful force in the modern world.[3] Anderson argues that: the ‘end of the era of nationalism,’ so long prophesied, is not remotely in sight. Indeed, nation-ness is the most universally legitimate value in the political life of our time.[4]

Besides the fact that there has been very little research done on the topic of identity in Canadian children’s literature, there is more reason to a substantiated interest in this area. Its target group “constitutes the next generation of [the] country’s citizens and furthermore, children and adolescents are more liable to be moulded.”[5] Even though our identities are subject to change as long as we live, the search for identity is especially strong while growing up. This is true for any nation, but Canadians have a special concern with identity that makes their children’s literature an even more influential genre. Sorfleet argues that: Children and Canadians are concerned with some of the same questions of identity: Who am I? What does it mean to be me? What is my relationship to others around me? What do I value in ethical terms? Children and Canadians also share some of the same needs: the need for more independence from outside control, the need for self-sufficiency, the need to assert and prove one’s right to respect, the need to develop― and live by ―a set of ideals.[6]

Thus the question of identity is of special significance for the young protagonists of the novel, their young readers, and for Canadians in general. For these reasons, this paper addresses the question of how Canadian identity is represented in Canadian children’s literature.

For a thorough analysis, a selection has to be made from the vast array of Canadian children’s literature available today. Six children’s novels by two renowned and prize-winning Canadian authors, Tim Wynne-Jones and James Houston, will be analysed here: Houston’s River Runners: A Tale of Hardship and Bravery (1979), Whiteout (1988) and Drifting Snow: An Arctic Search (1992) and Wynne-Jones’ The Maestro: A Novel (1995), Stephen Fair (1998) and The Boy in the Burning House (2000). All these novels can be categorised as realistic fiction, a genre that “more than any other [...] can provide full-bodied, unforgettable human portraits – characters with whom the young can empathise and recognize as imaginary companions.”[7] These works welcome their young readers to identify with their protagonists and thus are likely to encourage the recipients to think about their own identities.

The works under consideration are generally accepted as children’s literature, but there are different definitions of this concept so that it is necessary to define its use in this paper. The genre cannot easily be defined, as “the concept of childhood shifts constantly from period to period, place to place, culture to culture.”[8] This is possible because: Childhood is to be understood as a social construct, it makes reference to a social status delineated by boundaries incorporated within the social structure and manifested through certain typical forms of conduct, all of which are essentially related to a particular cultural setting.[9]

Furthermore, many works, such as Canada’s best-known children’s book[10], Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables , still delight children and adults alike. Thus, there is no clear boundary between children’s and adult literature, and if either could be defined, this definition would be subject to constant change. Nevertheless, it is important to note that according to its general use, ‘children’s literature’ is applied here as the superordinate term that comprises literature for children as well as young adults.[11]

Before undertaking the analysis of the representation of identity in the works I have selected, I would like to examine the concept of identity as such. After that, I shall provide an overview of the treatment of personal identity in the six novels. As a nation consists of individuals, personal identity is an indispensable component in this analysis. Furthermore, the extensive concern of the protagonists with their identity links to the Canadian’s interest in the topic of national identity. The main emphasis of this paper lies in the third chapter, the analysis of the national Canadian identity in the six novels. By concentrating on the significance of national identity, I do not wish to deny the existence of distinctive regions and social groups within Canada, be they large or small. Instead I am of the opinion that even though they may stand counter to an overriding national identity in some instances, in general they help to shape it. It will be argued that there exist certain elements that outline Canadian identity. These will be made out and those that play a major role in the works under analysis will then be further analysed in the context of their literary representation.

Many authors and researchers who have been engaged with Canadian literature have called for a stronger inclusion of national literature in Canadian school curricula.[12] The thematisation of Canadian identity in the works of Houston and Wynne-Jones lends credence to the demand that more Canadian works should be used at Canadian schools. As a logical consequence, a short analysis of the use of Canadian literature in Canadian classrooms will follow the identity analysis before the arguments are summed up in a final conclusion.

2. The concept of identity

The number of meanings assigned to the term “identity” probably equals the number of theories that deal with it. [13] These different ideas may easily be confused. It thus seems advisable as well as necessary to consider briefly the concept of identity and offer a working definition of the term before using it in further analysis.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, identity can be defined as “[t]he sameness of a person or thing at all times or in all circumstances; the condition or fact that a person or thing is itself and not something else.”[14] But this definition does not quite capture the complexity of the concept. The relevant literature on identity in the social sciences distinguishes at least three types of identity: social identity, personal identity, and collective identity.[15] As shown in figure one, “[t]he three types are often interconnected and overlap in the fashion of a Venn diagram.”[16]

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Figure1: The overlap of the three types of identity in a Venn diagram.

Source: My own depiction.

Social identity derives from social roles, such as carpenter, professor, mother], child, or broad social categories such as gender, racial, ethnic or national categories.[17] Thus the question of belonging to the national category ‘Canadian’ as a role is one of social identity. The function of nationality as a role becomes especially visible when one spends time abroad, but it is nevertheless always present, even though it is not acted out that actively or consciously.

Personal identitiy “include[s] aspects of one’s biography and life experiences that congeal into relatively distinctive personal attributes that function as pegs upon which social identities can be hung.”[18] For example, the fact that one was born in Canada and thus obtained Canadian citizenship may serve as a basis for the own acceptance of Canadianness as a role. According to the developmental psychologist Erik H. Erikson, a continuous search for identity takes centre stage in adolescence because it is during this phase of development that the cognitive capability enables the individual to perceive him/herself as coherent and independent.[19] Erikson formulated a concept of identity that deeply influenced following researchers and their theories.[20] He defines personal identity as follows:

The conscious feeling of having a personal identity is based on two simultaneous observations: the immediate perception of one’s selfsameness and continuity in time; and the simultaneous perception of the fact that others recognize one’s sameness and continuity.[21]

Thus the question of personal identity is not only ‘Who am I?’ but also ‘Who am I in the eyes of others?’ Cooley captured this external component of identity in his famous metaphor of the ‘looking glass self.’ According to George H. Mead, the child plays an active part in this mirroring of his/her identity, not only because he/she triggers the reaction of others through his/her actions and in turn responds to these reactions, but also because he/she takes part in the negotiation of the interpretation of his/her self.[22] The term “self” will crop up time and again in this paper. Especially among the pragmatists of different fields it is often used synonymously with “identity” but it can also be used as a collective term for concepts such as self-image, self-concept and self-esteem[23], which are in turn also collective terms.

The self (understood here as identity) is formed and negotiated in social contexts. Key relationships for adolescents are the family and, becoming more and more important with older age, the peer group. Family and peers allow adolescents to gain information about their identities from an external perspective. Our interactions with others function as a mirror for who we are and who we might become.[24] Through an understanding of the possibilities of one’s own actions and their effect on others, identity is formed in parent-child relationships as well as in interactions between peers: Ein Verstehen der persönlichen Handlungsdispositionen (Identität) [bildet sich] aus, das maßgeblich durch das Aushandeln von Handlungsperspektiven und Interessen, aber auch durch die Wirksamkeit des eigenen Handelns in Beziehungen beeinflusst wird. Die Frage, wer ich bin, was ich will und wie ich meine Handlungsinteressen umsetzen kann, setzt eben voraus, wie ich auf andere wirke und wie ich sie von meiner Sicht der Dinge überzeugen kann.[25]

In this sense, identity can be regarded as a co-construction. “In ihren Interaktionen mit Freunden ko-konstruieren Heranwachsende ihre Auffassungen der Welt und ihrer Identität.”[26] In Houston’s Drifting Snow , Elizabeth has intensive discussions about her identity with other characters of the novel, especially with Poota and his family. As Elizabeth does not know her roots, Poota tries to reassure her: “You’re you, [...] that’s all you really need to know.”[27] In Wynne-Jones’ Stephen Fair , we read how Stephen’s friend Virginia is involved in the co-construction of Stephen’s identity:

Here’s me thinking you’re the passive type. And here’s you, Mister Man of Action. [...] Of course, nobody’s ever just one thing, are they? Nothing’s ever just black and white.[28]

The mutual influence of people on their respective identities is also recognised by Jonathan in Houston’s Whiteout as he witnesses the change in himself as well as in his uncle. He writes into his log:

The truth is, my uncle is changing. He’s not at all the mean Arctic hermit he used to be. When I think about him, I also see that I am not the kind of person I used to be when I came here. Maybe without knowing we changed each other. [29]

In principle, the self as such and what one perceives of the own self are not identical. The same is true for what others can infer about one’s self through one’s actions.[30] Therefore, others may be deceived about one’s self. In Wynne Jones’s The Boy in the Burning House , the local priest, Father Fisher, pretends to be an exemplary citizen while at first only his daughter is convinced of his foul play. When he is found out at the end of the novel, he sways between truth and the pretence he kept up for so long:

He had a story for anyone who cared to listen, and they varied as the weather did that autumn. He claimed no responsibility for any wrong- doings. But then, other times his mind slipped a gear and he babbled whole scenes of the drama that had led up to the disappearance of Hub Hawkins. It was as if a little voice inside him was trying to break through the walls of denial behind which he had retreated so many years ago.[31]

Snow et al. define the third major type of identity as follows:

Collective identity [...] overlaps with the kindred concepts of social and personal identities but yet differs from them. It is loosely defined as a shared sense of ‘we-ness’ or ‘one-ness’ that derives from shared statues, attributes, or relations, which may be experienced directly or imagined, and which distinguishes those who comprise the collectivity from one or more perceived sets of others.[32]

Thus, collective identity is a relational concept as group selves are defined in distinction from other groups. As Miriam Richter points out, Canadians for example are especially careful to distinguish themselves from US-Americans: “Canadians perceive themselves in the first place as non-American.”[33]

For this type of collective identity, De Levita uses the term ‘group identity’: “By group identity is meant what a group continues to show as constant features in spite of the fact that the members of the group vary.”[34] National identity is a form of such group- or collective identity. The group members, i.e. citizens of a country, such as Canada, vary constantly due to immigration, emigration or new generations replacing their ancestors, but the group as a whole continues to display some constant features: “A nation [...] remains somewhere itself, even if all that make it up are replaced by others.”[35] It is a shared feeling of Canadianness that leads to a collective national identity among Canadian citizens.

We have seen that Canadian identity can be seen as being part of all three major identity types. It is important to note that none of these types is defined as static. Thus, they can adapt to new circumstances and change moderately over time while maintaining a certain degree of continuity.

De Levita points out that identity is constituted out of different identity elements (identials)[36]. He gives the name “identials” to “those factors which can become identity. [...] Everything that a person is, possesses or has a share in can become an idential [identity element].”[37] Identials can be ascribed (membership of social categories which one cannot choose), achieved (membership of groups which one can choose or to which one obtains entry on the basis of achievements) and adopted (formed out of adopted roles such as superior and inferior).[38] Nationality is classified by de Levita as an ascribed idential. This classification becomes problematic in the case of immigration, since, in the long run an individual can choose his or her identifications. But probably De Levita refers to more than only the legal aspect of nationality here. I suggest that we view nationality as a mixture between an ascribed and achieved identity element. In this paper, identity is understood as the interplay of various identity elements. In the main part of this paper, I will examine which identity elements constitute Canadian identity and which of them are especially important in the primary literature under analysis.

3. Personal identity

3.1. Growing up

As already mentioned in the introduction, identity is of special importance to the young.

According to educational psychologists the chief task of the adolescent is to achieve a sense of identity, to answer the questions ‘Who am I now’? and ‘Who will I become’? These themes are at the heart of most young- adult literature, at least in Western society.[39]

A definition of adolescence according to age is problematic because the concept shifts in different historical contexts and cultures. Nevertheless, Zimmermann declares that adolescence is a phase usually defined by the transition from childhood to adulthood within a certain age span:

Am häufigsten wird Jugend als eine Übergangsphase zwischen Kindheit und Erwachsenheit und als eine bestimmte Altersphase in einer Spanne zwischen 13 und ca. 25 Jahren bezeichnet.[40]

In the beginning of their adventures, Wynne-Jones’ Stephen (Stephen Fair) is aged fifteen, Burl (The Maestro) is fourteen, and so is Jim (The Boy in the Burning House). Houston’s Jonathan (Whiteout) is 18, Andrew (River Runners) is fifteen and Elizabeth (Drifting Snow) does not know her age but estimates herself to be about thirteen or fourteen. Thus, according to Zimmermann’s definition, all main characters from the works under analysis are adolescents. In the novels, all of them show a major concern with their identity, especially in connection with the transition between childhood and adulthood. In the first half of The Boy in the Burning House , Jim speaks “[b]ig-man words in a high-pitched kid’s voice”[41], stamps “his foot like a three-year old”[42] and sounds “like a six-year-old.”[43] He has the feeling that he cannot replace his deceased father on the farm and feels helpless, too young to fill his shoes. His perception of his self does not correspond to his actual age: “He looked at himself in the mirror. The pimple on his nose said he was fourteen. The bewilderment in his eyes said he was going on four.”[44] But in the course of the novel, Jim not only comes to terms with his father’s death but also with his job at the farm. His perception of his self grows, so that, on the very last page of the book, Jim makes confident plans for the future development of his family’s land.

The way in which the protagonists of Canadian children’s literature deal with the transitional phase of adolescence can be said to differ from the behaviour of their US- American counterparts. Egoff and Saltman point out that: In general Canadian writers of young-adult novels are more optimistic, and provide their characters with a broader view of life than their American counterparts, whose protagonists are very self-absorbed. The young Canadians may experience crises on their way to adulthood, but they will enter it with a persona of their own making.[45]

The works under analysis fit into this pattern quite well, as both Houston’s and Wynne-Jones’ protagonists are depicted as being in charge of their own destinies. Even though others help them on their way, they decide by themselves who they want to be. This is especially clear in The Maestro when Burl stands in front of the burned ruin of the dead Maestro’s cabin and Japeth Starlight gives him the advice: “You made the mess—you clean it up. That’s the way you become master of your own destiny.”[46] Burl takes the advice and thus takes control of his life:

“He would clean up the mess.”[47]

According to educationist Robert James Havighurst, one of the adolescent’s developmental tasks is the detachment from primary parent-child relations.[48] In Stephen Fair , the protagonist’s self is so closely connected with his mother’s self, that Hesketh Martin, an alternative healthcare professional in applied kinesiology, mixes the two up and gives Stephen a cure against his nightmares that should actually be for his mother. We read: She mixed him up his very own remedy: a few drops of cherry plum [for those who fear their mind is being overstrained, that reason is giving way, that they might do dreaded things], aspen [for vague, unknown fears that something terrible is about to happen], honeysuckle [for those who live in the past], and crab apple [for those who feel as if they have something not quite clean about them]. ‘This is you now, Stephen Fair,’ she said. ‘But things can change.’ ”[49]

When Stephen tells a close friend what the single ingredients are for, Dom is sure that this is not the correct diagnosis, since it does not correspond to his perception of Stephen’s identity: “this isn’t you, Steep. This Hesketh woman is definitely whackoid.”[50] Later, also Hesketh realises her mistake. She tells Stephen: I think it is Brenda who is dwelling in the past and terrified that something awful is going to happen. Perhaps it is Brenda who feels she has something not quite clean about her. [...] What I think, Stephen, is that, unable to bear this grief herself—whatever it may be—Brenda has transferred it onto you.[51]

Stephen also struggles to distance himself from is brother Marcus: “He still wore some of Marcus’s old clothes. He still dreamed his brother’s nightmares.”[52] His struggle with his own identity also involves the individualisation from his father. Before he discovers photographs of Doug, who abandoned the family, he believes that his outer appearance resembles his father’s: “I take after my father”[53] and Virginia answers: “I hope not [...] I mean I hope you’re not planning on taking off.”[54] In the course of the novel, Stephen discovers the well kept secret that his parents are not his birth parents and that his birthday was invented by them. All secrets about his identity revealed, Stephen’s nightmares vanish and he sleeps well again. Furthermore, he has grown up in the process. At the end of the novel Stephen has come to terms with his past and we learn that: “He had outgrown the tree house”[55], which had served as a symbol for his childhood.

3.2 Proper names

“The relationships between the name and personality of the bearer have been close in all cultures and times.”[56] Thus, the name of a person is an important identity element. Through it, others may refer to us and in western culture, identification papers bearing one’s name are important when dealing with authorities as well as in numerous other contexts.

James Houston makes intensive use of the name as an identity element in all three works Drifting Snow , Whiteout and RiverRunners . In Drifting Snow , the changes in the protagonist’s name reflect her search for identity. As a baby, the Inuit girl is brought south in order to cure her of tuberculosis. Her identification papers get lost and she grows up in the south of Canada by the made-up name of Elizabeth Queen, away from her true parents and home in the Arctic. When she returns to find her true identity, she recalls: I thought my real name was Elizabeth Queen, but a teacher told me later that it was only a made-up name. Because the picture of Queen Elizabeth of England was on the paper money they used, they decided to name me Elizabeth Queen.[57]

At this point, the girl’s name openly refers to Great Britain and to the colonial heritage of Canada. Aware that she knows neither her true name, nor her age and place of birth, Elizabeth is uncertain about her identity: “I don’t know who I am, or where I came from. I’ve got to find out more about myself, my place, my people.”[58] After several unsuccessful visits to small settlements and Inuit camps that are only briefly mentioned in the novel[59], she arrives in an Inuit camp where she will end up staying in order to become familiar with Inuit culture. Here Poota, an Inuit boy, immediately alters her name into Elizapee, and sticks to the change even though Elizabeth corrects him: “My name is Elizabeth , not Elizapee !”[60] Although in this camp nobody knows her true identity, Elizabeth is allowed to stay and live with the Kiawak family for a while. She is told that it is difficult to pronounce her English name in Inuktitut and that the family would prefer to name her Elizapee. Elizabeth readily accepts the change: “Then my name shall be Elizapee.”[61] Her name retains the English beginning but receives an Inuktitut ending. Thus it reflects her own mixed identity: raised in the south, but born in the north of an Inuit mother. From now on, not only all members of the camp but also the narrator call her by this name. A stranger at first, Elizapee adapts to Inuit ways of life and becomes part of the family. Nevertheless, she does not fully leave her southern upbringing behind: Sometimes Elizapee felt half like a member of that southern family and half like someone from this Inuit-Eskimo camp. It seemed to her her in some ways that she belonged to all of them and they all belonged to her.[62] Thus when Sala, an old Inuit woman whom Elizapee meets because she hopes to gain information about her identity, asks for her name, she answers that she has two names: “Elizabeth Queen [...] but Inuit in the camps call me Elizapee.” [63] When Elizapee recognizes a small tattoo of a snowflake on the arm of the old woman, she shows Sala her own tattoo, which looks similar. It turns out that Sala is in fact Elizapee’s grandmother and that her true name is Apoutee, meaning snowflake in Inuktitut.[64] Soon after that, Elizapee meets her biological parents who live the southern way of life with a permanent home and steady jobs in Iqaluit. When Elizapee visits them at their house, the narrator calls her by her southern name “Elizabeth Queen” and she also wears her southern clothing again. At this stage, the narrator tells us that “she [Elizabeth Queen] had lost her feelings of being either Elizapee or Apoutee. She seemed to have gone backward into some earlier self who had just arrived up north.”[65] When Elizapee opts for the traditional Inuit way of life and decides to go on living with the Kiawak family, the narrator calls her Elizapee once again, the name the Kiawak family had given to her in the beginning of the novel. Elizapee’s grandmother joins them at their camp and at the very end of Drifting Snow , Sala sings an ancient song before they step into their winter home on Nesak Island. After the song, “Elizapee Apoutee closed her eyes and tried to hold each word of Sala’s song inside herself forever.”[66] The fact that the name “Elizapee” is combined with her original Inuit name “Apoutee” here, shows that her southern upbringing will remain a part of her now discovered identity. When she opens her eyes, the Arctic Search for her identity is over. After that, the narrator again calls her by the name that has become established in the course of the novel: Elizapee.

De Levita states that “changes in a person’s life are often coupled with changes in name.[67] An example in western culture is marriage, in the course of which traditionally one of the partners assumes the name of the other partner. In Whiteout , it is certainly an important change in Jonathan Aird’s life when he is sent to live with his uncle in the North. Almost en passant, two Inuit girls give him an Inuit name soon after his arrival: “They called you Long Jon.

Jonasikotak.”[68] Here it becomes quite clear that Inuit names possess inherent meaning. They tell those that speak Inuktitut something about their bearers, in Jonathan’s case about his size.

In River Runners the protagonist Andrew Stewart experiences no change of name when he arrives in the North, except that the natives pronounce his name “Androoo”. In the course of the novel, Andrew, who was born in Scotland and has lived in many places, adapts quickly to the harsh North and the way of life of the Naskapi Indians. Nevertheless, his way of thinking remains different from that of the Nenenat , “the true people”[69] as the Naskapi call themselves. This becomes especially clear when Andrew takes a bundle of valuable otter skins with him when he is in mortal danger. Pashak, his Indian companion, remarks: “Androo, I don’t know if we ever make a true man out of you. But I can see that you are going to make a real good Scottish trader!”[70] At the end of the story, Andrew has not fully become one of the Nenenat , a “true man”, but he is adopted by Pashak’s family and thus becomes part of the Indian community. The name he receives reflects this: “Our grandfather gives you your new name― Miam T’chin . It means fine man.[71] Thus Andrew has not quite become a “true man”, but with “fine man”, his name is close to the match.

Tim Wynne-Jones does not use names as identity elements as extensively as James Houston does. In The Maestro , names are not used to portray an inner search for and development of the self as in Houston’s works, but different names are used to hide a person’s identity from others. Nathaniel Orlando Gow, a character modelled on the famous Canadian pianist Glenn Gould, has withdrawn to a secret place to escape from the outside world. When the protagonist, Burl, encounters him, Gow wants to hide his true identity. He introduces himself to Burl as the fictitious German “Gustav von Liederhosen. Baron von Liederhosen.”[72] He then changes his role to the British gentleman “Sir Chauncey Cakebread.”[73] This deliberate confusion of the maestro’s identity is supported by the narrator who in this section of the novel refers to him by different names: “the baron, Sir Chauncey―whoever he was”[74], “the baron”, “Burl’s host” or simply as “the man”[75]. The address on a letter which Burl finds in Gow’s house not only reveals his name but also his nickname “Nog.”[76] Burl ran away from home and thus is reluctant to reveal his own name to Gow as well. Gow calls him wildeskind or child.[77] When Gow’s identity is revealed though, he asks Burl for his name and the name-identity confusion is over.

Names do not play any special role in The Boy in the Burning House. In Stephen Fair , however, the protagonist doubts his own identity and experiments with his name. Asking himself who he is, Stephen makes a list of words that can be formed from the letters of his name. He himself remarks at this: “I have begun the first step of a journey into the unknown.”[78] The unknown is the identity that he will discover in the course of the novel. When his class is assigned a school project entitled “me, myself, and why”, in which the students are supposed to create something about themselves out of the facts of their existence, he writes a poem using only the letters in his name (see appendix 1). Later in the novel Stephen believes he has driven not only his own father, but also the father of his friend Virginia away from their families. When he comes home, he answers his mother’s call for him: “‘No, it’s not me.’ [...] he wasn’t Stephen Fair right now. He was Stephen Foul. [...] In his despondency and fatigue he was not a whole person anymore but only a collection of disconnected bits. A shadow of himself.

Stephen Dark.”[79] This illustrates that in Stephen Fair , the protagonist alters his own name to reflect his feelings of guilt and uncertainty of his self. When Stephen discovers that his family is not his birth family, we see how important his name is for his identity: “‘My last name!’ said Stephen. ‘I’m just asking you who I am!’”[80] His name now feels like a disguise to Stephen: “The skin he was wearing was Stephen Fair’s skin, not his own. All his conscious life, he had been living a false identity.”[81] The poem that he made about himself earlier has now lost its meaning. Stephen asks himself:

Step, hen, see, pen, steep .

Steep, the name Toni had given him . The name his best friend called him. That was something.[82]

Thanks to the fact that Stephen knows his first name and that his sister and his friend Dom assigned meaning to it through his nickname, Stephen can accept the loss of his last name. We have seen that the personal identity of the protagonists is indeed a key topic in the novels under analysis. Let us now turn to national identity.


[1] Mary Koutsoudaki, ed., Canadian Identity through Literature (Athens: Savalas, 2000) 7. 2 Miriam Richter, [Canadian Youth Fiction as a Means of National Identity Formation?] (unpublished manuscript) 2.

[3] For further argument see Peter Dicken, Global Shift: Reshaping the Global Economic Map in the 21 st Century (London: Sage, 20034).

[4] Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (London and New York: verso, 2003) 3.

[5] Richter, [Canadian Youth Fiction] 2.

[6] John R. Sorfleet, “The Nature of Canadian Children’s Literature: A Commentary“, Windows and Words: A Look at Canadian Children’s Literature in English , eds. Aïda Hudson and Susan-Ann Cooper (Ottawa: University of Ottawa Press, 2003) 223.

[7] Sheila Egoff and Judith Saltman, The New Republic of Childhood: A Critical Guide to Canadian Children’s Literature in English (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1990) 21.

[8] Peter Hunt, Children’s Literature: An Illustrated History (Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 1995) ix.

[9] Chris Jenks, ed., The Sociology of Childhood: Essential Readings (Aldershot: Gregg Revivals, 1992) 15.

[10] Egoff and Saltman, The New Republic of Childhood 11.

[11] cf. Torben Weinreich, Children’s Literature: Art or Pedagogy? (Fredericsberg: Roskilde University Press, 2000) 36.

[12] For example Margaret Atwood, Survival: A Thematic Guide to Canadian Literature (Toronto: Anansi, 1972); Diakiw, “Children’s Literature and Canadian Identity: A Revisionist Perspective”, Canadian Children’s Literature no.87, vol. 23.3 (1997): 36-49; Joyce Bainbridge and Sylvia Pantaleo, Learning with Literature in the Canadian Elementary Classroom (Edmonton: University of Alberta Press, 1990).

[13] cf. David J. De Levita, The Concept of Identity (Den Haag: Mouton, 1965) 3.

[14] Oxford English Dictionary Online , “identity”, chief editor John Simpson, 2nd ed. 1989, Oxford University Press, 05.02.2008 <>.

[15] David Snow, Sharon Oselin and Catherine Corrigal-Brown, “Identity”, Encyclopedia of Social Theory: Volume 1 , ed. George Ritzer (Thousand Oaks etc.: Sage, 2005) 390.

[16] Snow, Oselin and Corrigal-Brown, “Identity“ 390.

[17] Snow, Oselin and Corrigal-Brown, “Identity” 390.

[18] Snow, Oselin and Catherine Corrigal-Brown, “Identity” 390.

[19] Peter Zimmermann, Grundwissen Sozialisation: Einführung zur Sozialisation im Kindes- und Jugendalter (Wiesbaden: VS Verlag, 20063) 170.

[20] cf. Peter Zimmermann, Grundwissen Sozialisation 169.

[21] Erik H. Erikson, “Identity and the Life Cycle”, Identity and the Life Cycle: Selected Papers (New York: International Universities Press, 1959) 23.

[22] Hans Oswald, “Selbstdarstellung und Weinen in Interaktion mit Gleichaltrigen“, Wege zum Selbst: Soziale Herausforderungen für Kinder und Jugendliche , eds. Harald Uhlendorff and Hans Oswald (Stuttgart: Lucius, 2002) 158.

[23] Harald Uhlendorff and Hans Oswald, Wege zum Selbst: Soziale Herausforderungen für Kinder und Jugendliche (Stuttgart: Lucius, 2002) 34.

[24] Margarita Azmitia and Angela Ittel, “Die Konstruktion von Freundschaft und Identität in der frühen Adoleszenz”, Wege zum Selbst: Soziale Herausforderungen für Kinder und Jugendliche , eds. Harald Uhlendorff and Hans Oswald (Stuttgart: Lucius, 2002) 106.

[25] Matthias Grundmann, “Sozialisation und die Genese von Handlungsbefähigung”, Wege zum Selbst: Soziale Herausforderungen für Kinder und Jugendliche , eds. Harald Uhlendorff and Hans Oswald (Stuttgart: Lucius, 2002) 37.

[26] Azmitia and Ittel, “Die Konstruktion von Freundschaft und Identität” 106.

[27] James Houston, Drifting Snow: An Arctic Search (New York etc.: Puffin, 1994 [1992]) 13.

[28] Tim Wynne-Jones, Stephen Fair (New York: DK Ink, 1998) 141.

[29] James Houston, Whiteout (Ontario: Fitzhenry Whiteside, 2002 [1988]) 144.

[30] Oswald, “Selbstdarstellung“ 159ff.

[31] Tim Wynne-Jones, The Boy in the Burning House (London: Usborne, 2005 [2000]) 267.

[32] Snow, Oselin and Corrigal-Brown, “Identity” 391.

[33] Richter, [Canadian Youth Fiction] 13. 34 De Levita, The Concept of Identity 52. 35 De Levita, The Concept of Identity 52.

[36] With some hesitation, De Levita coins the term ‘idential’ to avoid the notion of ‘identity element’ that reminds him too strongly of ‘elements’ in the field of psychology. As there is otherwise no different meaning of the terms, I will use both terms synonymously in the following. 37 De Levita, The Concept of Identity 167.

[38] De Levita, The Concept of Identity 183f.

[39] Egoff and Saltman, The New Republic of Childhood 86.

[40] Zimmermann, Grundwissen Sozialisation 155.

[41] Wynne-Jones, The Boy in the Burning House 25. 42 Wynne-Jones, The Boy in the Burning House 41. 43 Wynne-Jones, The Boy in the Burning House 56. 44 Wynne-Jones, The Boy in the Burning House 61.

[45] Egoff and Saltman, The New Republic of Childhood 73.

[46] Tim Wynne-Jones, The Maestro: A Novel (Toronto etc.: Groundwood, 2004 [1995]) 221.

[47] Wynne-Jones, The Maestro 222.

[48] cf. Zimmermann, Grundwissen Sozialisation 154.

[49] Wynne-Jones, Stephen Fair 10.

[50] Wynne-Jones, Stephen Fair 12.

[51] Wynne-Jones, Stephen Fair 152.

[52] Wynne-Jones, Stephen Fair 163.

[53] Wynne-Jones, Stephen Fair 53.

[54] Wynne-Jones, Stephen Fair 53.

[57] Houston, Drifting Snow 13.

[58] Houston, Drifting Snow 13.

[59] Houston, Drifting Snow 13f.

[60] Houston, Drifting Snow 9.

[61] Houston, Drifting Snow 18.

[62] Houston, Drifting Snow 60.

[63] Houston, Drifting Snow 126.

[64] Houston, Drifting Snow 128f.

[65] Houston, Drifting Snow 136.

[66] Houston, Drifting Snow 150.

[67] De Levita, The Concept of Identity 173.

[68] Houston, Whiteout 42.

[69] James Houston, River Runners: A Tale of Hardship and Bravery (New York etc.: Puffin, 1992 [1979] 24.

[70] Houston, River Runners 130.

[71] Houston, River Runners 141.

[72] Wynne-Jones, The Maestro 39.

[73] Wynne-Jones, The Maestro 40.

[74] Wynne-Jones, The Maestro 40ff.

[75] Wynne-Jones, The Maestro 41ff.

[76] Wynne-Jones, The Maestro 45.

[77] Wynne-Jones, The Maestro 40ff.

[78] Wynne-Jones, Stephen Fair 30.

[79] Wynne-Jones, Stephen Fair 129.

[80] Wynne-Jones, Stephen Fair 197.

[81] Wynne-Jones, Stephen Fair 200.

[82] Wynne-Jones, Stephen Fair 201.

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Canadian Identity and its Representation in Fiction for Children and Young Adults by Tim Wynne-Jones and James Houston
Christian-Albrechts-University of Kiel  (Englisches Seminar)
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Canadian, Identity, Representation, Fiction, Children, Young, Adults, Wynne-Jones, James, Houston
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Yvonne Studtfeld (Author), 2008, Canadian Identity and its Representation in Fiction for Children and Young Adults by Tim Wynne-Jones and James Houston, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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