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'His great heart remained behind': Constructions of Identity in Alistair MacLeod's Fiction

Alistair MacLeod’s short stories and novel (No Great Mischief) are widely read and critically praised. His writing focuses on the lives of the people of 20th century Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, and many of his characters are of Scottish descendent. He writes of the Island’s miners, fishermen and farmers, as well as the younger generation who increasingly leave their island homeland to pursue higher education and greater job opportunities. As a result of this out-migration, much of MacLeod’s work mourns the passing of the Island’s traditional, rural culture. MacLeod’s writing combines detailed and compelling physical description with metaphor and symbolism. This thesis looks at the ways in which the identity of the Islanders is constructed in MacLeod’s work; and how the myths of the Islanders’ minds collide with the physical reality of their lives. The four main themes that are analysed in the thesis are: Scotland, Journeys, Animals, and Death. Scotland is depicted as both a physical location, and a mythical ‘homeland’, synonymous with the exile and victimisation associated with the Scottish Diaspora. The Islanders’ lives are defined by the journeys they make to and from the Island. The modes of transport that enable these journeys are explored, including boats, cars and aeroplanes. Physical journeys often support the emotional journeys of the characters. ‘Horse and Hound’, the chapter on animals, provides a unique analysis of MacLeod’s depiction of the human-animal relationship (seen especially with horses and dogs), and animal symbolism. The deaths and ill treatment of whales, bulls and dogs are linked to the demise of the Island’s traditional culture. Violent and premature deaths occur in many of MacLeod’s works. This thesis discusses how a dead body is both a symbol of a life lost, but also a physical object which the families must deal with in their isolated island locations.
Type of thesis
Hill, F. (2011). ‘His great heart remained behind’: Constructions of Identity in Alistair MacLeod’s Fiction (Thesis, Master of Arts (MA)). University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/6021
University of Waikato
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