Key elements of storywriting in "Monkey Beach". Oral tradition turned into literature

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2016

13 Pages, Grade: 2,0


Table of Contents

1 Introduction

2 About the Author and the Book
2.1 Eden Robinson
2.2 Monkey Beach
2.3 Main Topics and Motifs covered in the Book

3 Storywriting - Oral Tradition as a Written Style
3.1 Explicit and Implicit Stories of the Past (Legends/Lore)
3.2 The Meaning of Names
3.3 Wisdom, Teachings and Traditions passed on to the Younger Generation

4 Conclusion

5 Works Cited and Additional Resources

1 Introduction

In 1996 Thomas King wrote “in the contemporary world, our main access to liter- ature is through books or plays or movies, and unless we are a part of those more traditional communities, we see little of the oral”. This statement proves true for most of the modern nations. Only very few people are used to storytelling for even fairy tales are written down and read out loud to children the same way over and over again without alteration.

Changing perspective to first nation tribes one can easily discover the importance that oral tradition and storytelling has to these people. It existed long before literature was introduced by the settlers in the post-colonial era. While contemporary Canadian fiction and short story writing developed in the middle of the nineteen-hundredth century, Native Canadian Writing was forced to create their own distinctive style of writing. By combining storytelling with literature the new genre of storywriting was created.

In this paper I will analyze the key features of storywriting and will exemplify them with quotes from the book Monkey Beach by Eden Robinson (2000). First I will present a short overview over the author and the book in general. Then I will give a brief overview about the main motifs, symbols and topics that the book deals with. In the main part of this paper I will present different quotes and show typical aspects for oral tradition that can be found within them.

2 About the Author and the Book

2.1 Eden Robinson

Eden Robinson, born on 19th January 1968, is an indigenous Canadian writer. She was born on the Haisla Nation Kitamaat Reserve and thereby belongs to the Heiltsuk First Nations. She grew up close to the mainly white populated city Kitimat, which is pronounced the same way as her own village Kitamaat.

Before she started writing, Robinson worked as a mail clerk, dry cleaner and receptionist. In 1996 she published her first book Traplines (1996), a collection of fictional short stories dealing with dysfunctional families. While these short stories were not necessarily autobiographic, she took it to a more personal level with Monkey Beach (2000) which takes place in her hometown and explores the Haisla culture and traditions. Besides the aforementioned books she published two more: Blood Sports (2006) and The Sasquatch at Home: Traditional Protocols and Modern Storytelling (2011).

Her first book Traplines won the Winifred Holtby Price for best work of short fiction by a Commonwealth writer and was selected as a New York Times Editor's Choice. In 2001 she was rewarded with the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize for her Novel Monkey Beach which will be further analyzed in this paper. The novel is also nominated for Canada's two largest literary prizes: the Giller Prize and the Governor General's Literary Award.

2.2 Monkey Beach

Monkey Beach is a thrilling coming-of-age story in which the protagonist, Lisamarie, goes on a speed boat journey to find out more about her vanished brother. The book is a fictional story that incorporates Haisla lore and traditions, nature spirits, childhood memories, loss and trauma relating to the colonial era and the effects that boarding schools had on families on communities up to today.

The book is mainly written as a first person narration from Lisa's view. The key story, where she searches for her brother, is written in the present tense. The short stories are often retrospective flashbacks that are written in past tense. Some short stories though are told by an unknown voice, often in a directive way that one might expect from a school book.

The title “Monkey Beach” refers to the main place where the story takes place and gives a framing to the book. It is located on the coast of British Columbia, near the Douglas Channel. In the beginning, the reader is taken to an early childhood memory of Lisamarie where she and her younger brother Jimmy arrive on Monkey Beach during a fishing trip and Jimmy wants to take picture of the Sasquatch, a mythological creature similar to the western societies “Yeti” that was supposedly spotted at Monkey Beach for the last time. During the course of the book, Lisa dreams of Monkey Beach and takes this as some kind of prophecy of where she has to go to find out more about Jimmy's disappearance. So she begins her journey on a speed boat to Monkey Beach where the book also comes to an end.

The style of writing is based on oral tradition, which is especially visible through the overall structure of the book. The all-embracing story - finding the missing brother - is divided into four chapters. Within the chapters are a collection of non- chronically compiled short stories which sometimes contain stories within themselves. To put it in one sentence, there are stories within stories within the main story. This emphasizes the tradition of oral storytelling which is sometimes referred to as ora-ture in contrast to liter-ature and will be further investigated in the third chapter.

2.3 Main Topics and Motifs covered in the Book

Monkey Beach with its huge variety on short stories covers a lot of different topics with varying importance. In every chapter the reader can discover different Haisla lore and traditions. The book explains for example different plants and when they are to harvest, when to catch which fish and how they are caught and prepared afterwards. And what stories lie behind which city or part of the land.

On big topic, which is also essential for the history of indigenous people, is the colonial era, especially the treatment of indigenous children in Residential Schools and the effects that those experiences have on indigenous people up until today. In Monkey Beach are three characters (uncle Mick, aunt Trudy, and Josh) that went through residential school and were deeply impacted up to the current point of the story. Though only hinting at the events with never mentioning them in detail, the book gives the reader an impression of the traumata that survivors of the residential school suffer.

Trauma and Death/Loss is another main topic in Monkey Beach. Lisa suffers from the loss of her beloved uncle Mick and her grandma Ma-ma-oo and blames herself partly for their deaths. Throughout the book she tries to coop with the situation, find her own identity and strives to get in contact with the dead. According to her grand- mother, Lisa is gifted with the skill of talking to the Dead, which leads to another major topic in Monkey Beach.

Spirituality, Spirits and Ghosts are present in every chapter within the book. Lisa often encounters a small creature in her bedroom that is usually connected with the loss of close people or injuries. Her mother - according to her grandmother - also had this kind of gift but never talks to her about it. Only the grandmother understands Lisa and tells her more about the old days, where these gifts were more common and people knew how to talk and listen to the ghosts that surround them. In Haisla lore the dead will still be in this world as ghosts. The book shows many memories where Lisa tries to talk to the ghosts, bringing them offerings or even sees them.

Another topic are the early (ab-)use of drugs of all kind and alcohol. In general this is often referred to as a result from the colonial era to find an escape from trauma- tizing memories. Many residential school survivors didn't go back to their tribes but ended up homeless on the streets of some bigger city, begging for money that they would use on drugs and alcohol. Lisa, although not a child that attended residential school, also went through a phase that is described in more detail in the book where she ran away from home and almost lost herself to alcohol and drugs.

Although all of these topics are interesting, they could fill an entire paper and can therefor not be discussed in detail here. The focus lies on the key elements of oral tradition in Native Canadian Literature which will be covered in the next chapter.


Excerpt out of 13 pages


Key elements of storywriting in "Monkey Beach". Oral tradition turned into literature
Leuphana Universität Lüneburg  (Institute of English Studies)
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
524 KB
Monkey Beach, Storytelling, Oral Tradition, Canada, Indigenous Tradition, Eden Robinson
Quote paper
B.A. Sina Laura Rautmann (Author), 2016, Key elements of storywriting in "Monkey Beach". Oral tradition turned into literature, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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