The Relationship between Lou`s and CanadianLiterature As Well As Her essay


TheRelationship between Lou`s and CanadianLiterature As Well As HerRelationship with the Bear



Bornin 1933 in Toronto, Marian Engel grew up in other Ontario towns- PortArthur, Brantford, Galt, Hamilton and Sarnia, which provided thesetting for most of her Novels. Amongst her notable works isAdventure at Moon Bay Towers (1974), The Glassy Sea (1978), LunaticVillas (1981) and Bear (1976) which is the focus of this essay. MargaretAtwood endorses bear as &quota strange and beautiful book that isplausible as kitchens, although shaped as a folktale, and with someamount of disturbing resonance&quot. Bear isconsidered by most as being the most famous work done by Marian Engelbrought her some amount of attention and even won the GovernorGeneral`s Award for Fiction in 1976 (Engel, 1976). Marian Engel isone of the many Canadian female writers who joined the literatureworld and tried to bring out the plight for equity among the men andwomen as well as environmental awareness. It is worth to note thatlanguages are living. As a result, they are prone to changes.Literature similarly is hence alive and changes with time. Anythingthat is alive risks death at some point. Literature, therefore, goesthrough many changes as generations change. The Canadian literatureis not an exception. It has gone through many changes over the years.Global trends, for instance, globalization, greatly impacts onliterature. The change can be negative or positive. This means thatliterature can change for the better in a particular time and changefor bad in another.


Canadianwriting has had change and development that cannot equate to a smallchart as with different times and various conventions, preoccupationsand accomplishments have existed: determinants of value andsignificance change over time with the change in taste and fashion.The17thcentury attributed to the beginning of Canadian literature withJacobean poetry in Newfoundland or with the numerous explorers`narratives of contact and discovery written in the decades thatfollowed, or in the mid-18th century, with the epistolary fiction ofthe English garrison community in Québec.

Inthe 1920s fiction from some famous family chronicles continued toclaim anti-war novels, conventional class distinctions and&nbspcritiquesbegan to appear, a trend magnified during the&nbspgreatdepression of the 1930s. Most writers focused on uprooted ormarginalized individuals and the troubled lives ofnon-English-speaking immigrants. Novelists championed industrialworkers` rights, and sought new, more direct forms of speech,spurning the sentimental romance for a more practical vocabulary.After the&nbsp2ndworld war came a mix of propaganda, pacifist rhetoric, parodies ofmilitary ineptitude, and a new wave of progressive writers, by turnshumanist, anti-clerical, community-minded, and intellectuallyanarchist. In the 1940s and 1950s, social policies were being draftedthat would shape a Canadian sense of community for future decades tocome.

Inthe years following 1960, several social developments markedlychanged Canadian society. Most major writers of these decades werejust budding writers in the 1950s, and the number of universities,smallpresses, accessible academic and literary periodicals courses inLiterature, and Creative Writing schools also increased, partlybecause of the recommendations of the MasseyCommission and the emergence of the Canada Council then.Throughout the decades from 1960-onwards, while there is thesubstantial amount of evidence of return to an older form of aliterary expression and fundamentalist redefinitions of ethics,writers more characteristically, each generation, embraced socialjustice&nbspand reformist causes: for women`s rights, for gayand lesbian equality, against colonialism, againstincreasing&nbsppoverty.It’s on the back drop of this that women movements emerged inCanada and throughout the western world.

Inthe 1970s, the geographical conditions of Canada were thecommonthemes in Canadian literature this was because the tie betweennature,identity and literature were strong.Canada is famous for vastand inviolate nature, such as forest, prairie, and rivers. Thethemeof wilderness and nature are seen in the most Canadian novels. Thenorthern Canada isused as a background for many Canadian books. Thewildlife is depicted as being hostileand dangerous. But in femalewriting, landscape is portrayed as innocent and beautiful. Insomebooks such as TheStone Angel byMargaret Laurence and BearbyMarian Engel, theprotagonist’s journey to north landscape is aquest for self-recognition.


Bear&nbspbuildsaround Lou, a librarian who works for a Canadian historical instituteand is lonely. Her job is to catalog the seemingly meaninglessphotographs, maps, books, and bits of memorabilia donated by locals.Upon the passing away of Colonel Cary, his remote island estate inOntario bequeathed to the Institute needs the review to determine itsvalue. Lou is sent on an intriguing and exciting field assignment tocatalog Cary`s belongings, to see if there is anything there worthpreserving and if his enigmatic octagonal home would make a decentoutpost for the Institute. Once at the island, Lou is informed of apet beat living in a log cabin that required feeding and caring forduring her stay this drives her to wonder if the bear would make forexciting company.

Thebook gradually brings out the life of a woman who spends her days inself-imposed exile, whether that`s at the Institute, where shecatalogs the lives of others, or on Cary`s island estate, where shewelcomes the more easily justified solitude. It`s done in a way thatcaptures Lou`s train of thought, which shifts between dreamy andpragmatic she is a woman whose life revolves around order andclassification, but who battles with the ideas of desire and longing.She is only able to find validation for her existence in catalogingand classifying the value of the lives others leave behind. Therelationship she builds with the bear tries to answer the question ofwhy she imposes such loneliness on herself.

Louprojects her ideology of the perfect soul mate onto this bear, butshe is similar to most people who are caught deep in the throes ofthe kind of maddening lust that`s often mistaken for amorous feelings(Engel, 1976). Engel (1976) gives us just pieces of Lou`s romantichistory, written in such a tangential way that we know it from Lou`sperspective called upon like streams of memory feeding into a seastreams that she stubbornly tries and fails to a dam. Lou has onlyever coupled with men who are emotionally unavailable and who treather as disposable. She once had an affair with a man who left her fora much younger woman. Lou reacted with great immaturity, scrawlinghateful, accusatory language on his home in chalk and damaging hiscar. Although she always takes great care not to have sex on top ofany valuable maps having sex with the director of the Institute onher desk is a weekly thing. Sex with her boss is passionless andperfunctory, something that she thinks she`s just letting him do toher during mid-afternoon interruption to her usual workflow and aminor inconvenience. There is a lack of desire, lust and there isalso no passion for Lou.

Louis a single woman who suffers and struggle as a side effect of hernature but ultimately finds an individual dignity and strength in it.The loneliness is an affliction and is also a self-imposed line ofdefense. She justifies her loneliness by using her life of solitude.Although she has never had an attraction to the right man, the beargives her an opportunity to construct an ideal, one that sadly evadesher. Lou is frustratingly chasing after something she can attain:that elusive and complete satisfaction. Lou`s passion and lust forthis bear is so all-consuming that she wants nothing more than to seeand feel her emotions&nbspillustrated physically. Her demands&nbsparemetaphorical she longs for the sexual act to release her from theache of desire. Louasks the bear to rip her head off, and while he certainly could (asit`s in his nature), it`s the existential desire that the bear willnever be able to fulfill.

Asa woman and as a human being, her identity is not clear to her andshe is not sure of herself. Lou in part feels undignified by Homer’sviews but on the other hand she is tempted to invite Homer to be withher for the night. This is driven by a desire that leads her imaginethe skillfulness of Homer as a sexual partner. This is in part causedby the fact that the 60s generation did challenge how peopleorganized and lived their private lives. The traditional notions offamily life, marriage and sex were challenged and new types ofrelationships driven by a new way of thinking about personal liveswere advocated for (Adamson, 1993).

AfterLou meets bear she behaves as if they lived together like in a humanrelationship. When shecooked for herself she cooked also for the bear, and he sat besideher on the stoop, and sometimes he picked up his plate and licked it(Engel, 1976). They get in the habit that in the evenings the bearcomes up the stairs to the library in the house and lies in front ofthe fireplace where Lou joins him after she finishes her work in thelibrary. Sometimes the make love, other times she explores all thesecrets of his body: ―She lay on his belly, he batted her gentlywith his claws she touched his tongue with hers and felt itsfatness. She explored his gums, his teeth that were almost fangs. Sheturned back his black lips with her fingers and ran her tongue alongthe ridge of his gums (Engel, 1976). Lou even smells of the bear andfinds his smell pleasant. Louhas an appointed time that she can spend on the island therefore therelationship with her bear lover ends with her departure. The bear istaken away by Lucy, which leaves Lou in calmness for she knows thebear will be well looked after. She is also altered by her sojourn onthe island and by her relationship with the bear.

Loufinds some closure in her condition and a better understanding ofwhat her solitude means and who she truly is. Although all thisdoesn`t erase the pain and the persistence of memory, she finds aseparate wholeness at the end of her desperate and disparatejourneys, embracing who she is even if who she is leaves something tobe desired.

Relationshipbetween Lou and the Northern Canadian Literature

Thenorth symbolizes Canada’s beautiful nature. Lerner (1986) notesthat the presence of the north is always there it is the backgroundof the picture without which Canada would not be what it is&quot.Wakeman (2003) on the other hand notes that &quotfew othergeographic regions are subject to such widely differinginterpretations,&quot North is much more than a geographical place.The role of landscape and its influence on the protagonists inCanadian literature shows the relation between women and men, womenand society, women and their families. The issue of identity inrelationship with the landscape and the very need for spiritualsearch which makes life meaningful and tolerable is also emphasizedin most Canadian women literature.

Whetherit is in the near North of Tohoku and Hokkaido, the central North orthe extreme North of Canada, there is also a body of literature thatrecognizes the animal as the essential iconic existence of thislandscape. Its writers feel that unless they enter the soul of theanimal, they`ll never be able to understand this land. Rather thansimply `watching` the animal in its habitat, these sensitive writerslong to identify with it, and perhaps enter spiritually into thebasic mind frame of the Hunter: in a revelatory dream or shamanictrance the hunter learns the animal`s song and partakes in its soulthe true hunter thus ultimately `becomes` the animal. Thequintessential emblem of the `North Country` has always been thesmartest and the strongest animal ruling that kingdom: the bear. Theaim of Mariana is to demonstrate the domination of men over women andanimals which are reflected in Bear.


Inthe 1970s, women who did not want toconform to social expectations were considered eccentric andexperienced difficulties in their lives, this is evident in Lou themain character in Bear as exhibits a feeling of displacement. Loudefies conventions which are a projection of the issues Marian Engeldealt with in own life. Canadian women were pressured to be orderlyhousekeepers after the 2ndworld war and this received opposition as steps towards theirliberation were underway.

Accordingto Verduyn (1995) Engel was dissatisfied with the fact that church,school, family, and society collaborated in processing packagingwomen who would assume conventional postwar roles as wives, mothers,and housekeepers and depicts such a woman as a woman who fits wellinto a society where everyone is quiet and polite and burning withrage underneath. Engel detested housework and was never good at it.Indeed, cleaning becomes a metaphor for excessive tidiness andobsessive cleanliness in more than the household this is what Engelrebelled against even through her writing. Verduyn (1995) confirmsthe society has resisted the social forces by which girls and womenof her milieu became consumed with being slim and beautiful, neat andtidy in the kitchen waiting for their husbands to come and then livehappily ever after. Curling her hair and dressing up was nothing tosatisfy Engel, her hair was 24 defiantly straight, she tended towardsembonpoint, and, in any event, she wanted to be a writer‖ (Verduyn,1995) this is seen in the Lou character. Regarding making herselfbeautiful and waiting for her prince, Lou seems to fail. Herdescription does not evoke a conventionally appealing image formales in the winter, she lived like a mole her arms were slug-paleher fingerprints grained with gray ink, her eyes would no longerfocus in the light‖ (Engel, 1996). When the Director comes to tellLou she will go up north to Cary Island to carry out research, hedrops a comment that all will be well as if she needed to pullherself together and work on her appearance.

Homera man who supplies Lou is depicted as a common man of that time withtraditional expectations of, and prejudices towards, women. When hecomes to help carry some boxes from the basement of the Penarth, heobserves that Lou is not used to housekeeping much, and her responseto his question on it asserted that she was not that kind of a woman(Engel, 1976). Homer‘s standpoints towards his wife and marriage,take Lou aback he believes that he has a right to sleep with otherwomen. Homer‘s opinion of superiority over his wife is evident.Even more, he discredits his wife‘s feelings by saying &quotShedon‘t care if I‘m pulling trunks upstairs or having an affairwith her&quot (Engel, 1976), even though Lou apparently overhearshis wife‘s complaints about him visiting Lou.

Lou,on the other hand, is not sure of herself, of her identity as a womanand as a human being. Part of her feels indignant over Homer‘sviews of her as a whore, but part of her feels like inviting Homer tostay overnight and imagines how experienced a sexual partner he wouldbe. This is, perhaps, caused by the fact that the sixties generationalso challenged how people organized and lived their personal livesit challenged traditional notions of sex, family life, and marriage,and advocated new types of relationships and new ways of thinkingabout personal lives‖ (Adamson, 1988).

The1960s are said to have brought liberation regarding offeringeducation for women on the University level and new career openingsfor women. This, however, has not arrived without accompanyingproblems due to continued elements of gender inequality. Despite thepresence of Contemporary Women`s Movement in Canada, they were stillfar from pursuing exciting careers and being on a financial par withmen most women are segregated in female job ghettoes doing tediouswork and earning about two-thirds of what men make (Vance,1993).Also, most women were unable to reap the alleged benefits ofeducation. Women were going to colleges and universities inincreasing numbers, but they still could not find the kinds of jobsthey had been led to believe were available to them (Vance,1993).The main character in Bear is neither segregated in a female jobghetto, nor is she unable to find a job according to her wishes, butshe does have a repetitive administrative job in an archive. On theone hand, she claims she loves the job, but on the contrary, afterfive years she now felt that in some way it had aged herdisproportionately that she was as old as the yellow papers shespent her days unfolding and was not satisfied that this was how theonly life she had been offered should be lived‖ (Engel, 1976).

Louseems to be walking along the border dividing a steady, orderly job,and a tedious, monotonous life, and life with a deeper meaning thatmoves beyond conventions, is energetic and sociable. When she arrivesat the island, the house she lives in, the Penarth, helps her tofollow the border on the side of the orderly and reasonable, but onlyfor a certain period (Engel, 1976). Lou‘s life in the city, that isa sign of a progress, industrialization, and accumulation of capital,was orderly, this life continues in the Penarth as she collects dataon the books in the library, by the imperious business of imposingnumerical order on a structure devised internally and personally by amind her numbers would teach her to discover (Engel, 1976).

Nevertheless,the longer she spends on the island, the less time she devotes tointellectual work. After some time on the island, Lou comes todescribe the Penarth as: too elaborate, too hard to heat, no matterhow much its designer thought it good for the brain‖ (Engel, 1976).Thinking of the house as a brain, one can find areas in the home thatsuit Lou well, such as the library and the bedroom, from where shehas a good view of the island and the bear, places that connect thehouse to nature. But she does not like rooms such as the kitchen andthe parlor because it was full of wrong-angled, unlivable corners,the weakness of the octagon. The furniture was squared and sat illand off-centered. Every time she went into the room, it imprinted onher the plain rectangle and nagged‖ (Engel, 1976). It is as if shecould not find an everyday speech with the linearity of the house,with the sharp angles that reflect a Western, masculine, mechanisticstyle of thinking, void of interconnections and interrelationships.What is more, the room with its sharp corners, its geometrical shape,a symbol of the scientific mind, fits poorly into the surroundingenvironment.


Thebooks that call for Lou‘s attention, the little Coroner‘s noteson bears that fall out of them, seem to contribute to Lou‘srealization that the rational and ordered life, the life that isruled by men, is what causes loneliness in her heart. The longer shespends on the island, the more time she spends with the bear andoutside of the Penarth and rediscovers the bond, but this is mainlybecause she escapes Western society and her interactions with itends.

WhenLou arrives at the island, she is surprised to discover that there isa bear that she is expected to look after since she had lost her bondwith animals due to her city life and was not fond of animals (Engel,1976). Eventually, she plucks up the courage to walk to the shed, butstill does not know what to do or say&quotWhat do you say to abear?” she wonders (Engel, 1976).

Hermind associates the bear with pictures of bears presented to thepublic in the mythologized forms so common in the Western world andher reaction clearly shows that a bear for her means danger ‖(Engel,1976). After a thorough observation it dawns on her that thesad-looking bear and the women of her time have a lot in common andviews him not as a creature of the wild, but a middle-aged womandefeated to the point of being daft, who had sat night after nightwaiting for her husband for so long that time had ceased to exist,and there was only waiting‖ (Engel, 1976). The more time Lou spendsaway from the city and the influence of Western society, the easierit is for her to recreate the bond between her and the natural world,specifically with the bear.

Loudoes not have steady relationships and has never deeply loved anyonebefore the men she has met have not treated her with respect. For thefirst time, Lou falls head over heels in love with the bear, who, asopposed to the men in her life, was good to her‖ (Engel, 1976). Theprogress in their relationship reminds one of courtship between afemale and a male bear. Courting is a time when the opposite sexesstay together temporarily. During courtship, bears are asaffectionate and as attentive as human lovers can be. It can also becompared to a love relationship about which two people are seriousand start it by getting to know each other.

Louhas an appointed time that she can spend on the island therefore,the relationship with her bear lover ends with her departure. Thebear is taken away by Lucy, which leaves Lou in calmness for sheknows the bear will be well looked after. She is also altered by hersojourn on the island and by her relationship with the bear.

Louleaves her companion the bear when she has to return from her stay onthe island and only hints at what she is going to do when she getsback to Toronto. Lou‘s active engagement in opposing the dominationof men is visible through her life such that even while on theisland, she resists male domination and the Western world view assoon as Lou leaves Toronto she began to feel free‖ (Engel, 1976).The heaviness of the progressive city, of the linear straight roadsleading from east to west, from south to north, the heaviness of whatis expected from her as a woman all these issues are left behind.

Asshe moves to the island, she reconnects with her childhood asdepicted in her letter to the Director that she felt like she hadbeen reborn. It takes her only one trip, a journey of several hours,to realize that something is about to change. Lou is taken by Homeron a boat to the island. As they meander among the islands andshoals, she observes the landscape around her, and it dawns on herthat there are winter lives and summer lives of completely differentquality‖ (Engel, 1976).

Bythe time the summer is over, and it is time to return to Toronto, sheis aware that she has choices on how to live her life. Lou‘s bearlover has a great impact on her transformation. As Lou becomes awareof the possibilities in one‘s life, she grows to understand thather life in Toronto was not satisfactory, that it was not life atall. Consequently, Lou throws away all restraints when she falls inlove with the bear. Partly because the bear is unlike any men she hasmet in her life, partly because she can. The bear is also unlike manypeople for he has no middle-class pretensions, no front to keep up,even to himself‖ (Engel, 1976). This is what appeals to Lou andwhat helps her change her way of looking at herself and the worldaround her. Her love is based on a non-dominating relationship withthe bear in which they respect each other and give each other space.Since before coming to the island, Lou‘s spiritual, emotional,artistic, loving and cooperative sides are neglected, a situationPepper (1996) argues is common for Westerners who give preference torationalism. The bear is ready to show his love of Lou, but since sheis not a bear sow, his act of love turns into inflicting bodily harmon Lou. The painful fact dawns on her, as she lies in bed in pain.She accepts this message without anger or fear she does not complainabout the bear‘s behavior neither to Lucy nor Homer because sheknows that it was an act of love, not an attack. She also knows thatit was a sign for her that there is a space the bear need which nohuman being can enter.

Thanksto the bear and her stay on the island, she learns to be proud ofherself in the Western world saturated with male superiority, shelearns to appreciate simplicity in a society ruled by consumerism,and, most of all, she becomes clean in terms of her view throughwhich she as a human achieves equality with living and non-livingbeings. When Lou is leaving the island, she confesses to herintentions of leaving her rational job which I see as a hint of a newway of life she is approaching that is no longer dominated by theWestern world view.


Theliterature of a nation represents people’s experiences and theplaces where those experiences occur. Marian Engel belonged to thegeneration of Canadian women writers who came to prominence duringthe 1970s. While contemporaries such as Margaret Laurence and AliceMunro are well known and widely read, Marian Engel has received lessattention – despite an impressive literary output and significantcontributions to the profession of writing in Canada. Before she diedof cancer in 1985, Engel published seven novels, two collections ofshort stories, two books for children, a nonfiction work on islands,and numerous articles and essays. She was also the first chair of theWriters` Union of Canada. For Marian Engel, the surrounding has animportant role in shaping the characters’ personality. Engel’sprotagonists see the landscape as transformative places. Landscapeslike the water and the sky are full of contradictions it is calm andrough, intimate and alien. For Engel`s protagonists, the outerlandscape causes inner contemplation and brings liberating moments.Bear is written in a time when issues of feminism were on the riseand Engel uses this novel to show how women were being transformedtheir surroundings

Bearis very relevant to the Northern literature where Lou the maincharacter shows the difficulties for survival by women in anenvironment that were so masculine.


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