Quest for identity : defining the "self" in two novels by Annie Proulx
Master of Arts
MetadataShow full item record
The idea of the “self’ as an autonomous whole is no longer sufficient in contemporary discussions of identity. Individuals are “subjects,” defining themselves against and through other subjects and their environments. A definitive self is impossible to achieve—the process is ongoing, fluid, and relational, without a final destination. The focus of this thesis is an examination of the quest for identity in two novels by Annie Proulx— The Shipping News and Accordion Crimes. To facilitate this discussion of the quest for identity, I employ the writings of Mikhail Bakhtin, and of the dialogic critics that he has influenced. The notion of “dialogue,” in its broadest sense, reveals that the quest for identity is not a solitary quest. Each questor is a product o f his or her surroundings, and these surroundings shape the quest. The quest for identity is a dialogue with place, including both the environment and the people within it. The situatedness o f the quest for identity is also compounded by time. Bakhtin’s notion of the “chronotope” (“time-place”) further extends the interconnectedness of the quests for identity. Characters are dialogically related to each other through time, as past, present, and future quests intersect. All o f these aspects illustrate the inconclusivity of the quest for identity. Chapter 1, “Introducing the Quest,” outlines the critical framework that I use throughout my thesis. I explore Bakhtin’s notions of “polyphony,” “dialogue,” “carnivalesque,” and “chronotope,” and explain their relevance both to Proulx’s novels and to the quest for identity. Chapter 2, “Untying the Knots: The Shipping News,” applies this framework to The Shipping News. I focus primarily on Quoyle’s quest for identity, though the quests of the other characters in the novel are important in the dialogic model I employ. To structure this chapter, the “knots of narrative”—structure, place, and relationships—are shown to be central to defining the quest for identity. Chapter 3, “Listen to the Music: Accordion Crimes,” discusses Proulx’s depiction of the immigrant experience in America. This novel is different from The Shipping News in that the protagonist is not a human questor but a green button accordion. As the accordion moves through its various owners, many perspectives of the quest for identity are presented. I use the metaphor of the “unfinished symphony” to examine this novel, emphasizing the polyphony of the text, as well as the unfinalizability of the subject. Chapter 4, “Colouring the Quest,” brings these two novels together and summarizes their similarities and differences by comparing the major symbols of each novel—the green house in The Shipping News and the green button accordion in Accordion Crimes.