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"Words Hide Truth": National belonging in Marian Engel’s Bear and Tessa McWatt’s Out of My Skin


Summary, in English

The famous problem of Canadian Literature in the contemporary critical landscape is how it, as an institution, denies all but certain kinds of identities. Alexander Beecroft suggests that a national literature, through its attempts to locate and articulate a communal identity and a notion of fellow-feeling, curates characteristics among members of previously numerous groups which can function to denote nationalistic identity. Such a discourse of inclusivity relies on subsuming difference as accidental aspects of a shared identity: that of the national subject. This thesis studies two Canadian novels, Marian Engel’s Bear (1976) and Tessa McWatt’s Out of My Skin (1998), and argues that they employ and subvert specifically Canadian national mythologies and patterns to critique the nature of North American identity-making as constructed for a white, male subject and thus restrictive and often painful for the non-male or racialised subject.

Specifically, this study argues that the novels engage with the colonial moment in a critical way, not least through employing and subverting the pioneer-narrative as a manifestation of discursive claim to national belonging. To do this, the discourse theory of Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe, as well as the theoretical works of Sara Ahmed, are mapped onto the novels protagonists. The central focus of the study is the tension between the protagonists’ bodies and the spaces in which they move, as well as the subjects they encounter. Significant focus is placed on those articulations of or claims to belonging that the protagonists employ, and how they consistently result in failure. The conclusion of the study argues that through such failures of claiming belonging, the novels share an attitude of contingency and materiality towards the concept of national identity which rejects normative attitudes of inclusion and multiculturalism for the sake of a return to moments of identity-making, and the injuries complacent to them.


  • Master's Programme: Literature - Culture - Media

Publishing year




Document type

Student publication for Master's degree (one year)


  • Languages and Literatures


  • National identity
  • national belonging
  • Marian Engel
  • Bear
  • Tessa McWatt
  • Out of My Skin
  • Canadian Literature
  • CanLit
  • Discourse theory
  • Discourse analysis
  • post-colonialism
  • gender
  • bodies
  • pioneer


  • Cristine Sarrimo (senior lecturer)