This course challenged me while being highly enjoyable.
I took it as my required literature course, and chose Canadian because I have always felt proudly Canadian, especially since I see our celebration of multiculturalism as a microcosm of what the world should look like. A 'colourblind' world. Granted I knew - even before this course and our exploration of various themes of discrimination in Canada against Native Americans and immigrants in particular - that this view of Canada was a little naive. But there is definitely some truth to it, and that's the part I choose to see and be proud of such that when encountering discrimination I can oppose it and work against it without losing my faith and pride in Canada.
I suppose I digress. In any case, I was interested to see what Canadian writers had to say, and was not expecting the broad conversations on identity and other complex issues which I found very rewarding. In that respect this course far surpassed my expectations.
I was very pleased with the choice of GGRW as it felt new and different: likely as I now know, since it would not have been "Canadian Literature" as far as the original canon was concerned! I was also glad to be able to choose the second novel, as choice definitely allows for greater ownership over the learning process. It's a little more self-directed and you get to read something you definitely want to read.
In terms of it being a literature course, I was very surprised about the use of blogs and no actual essays. Being so unconventional was disconcerting at first, but I'm now so happy about the skills I've gained that I never would have even thought to try to acquire. The idea of bringing the study of literature into the new media we have to use today makes a lot of sense. I think as time goes on, more learning will shift to online, living work. Or at the very least, it should!
The worst part of this class, though it wasn't too difficult to deal with, was the confusion that came from the fact that it was nothing like I've experienced before or was expecting. Blogging and doing presentations for the majority of marks with what felt like very little direction was scary to think about too much, but I definitely think the creative freedom allowed me to get more out of it. And ultimately, that's the point of this whole education thing: to learn and grow, not to fit into stringent guidelines for easy comparison and marking.
Thank you so much for this class. If it didn't conflict with required engineering courses next term, I'd be signing up for your Prose course!
For my final post on this novel, I wanted to look into what seem to be the more obvious allusions, and yet they form the basis of the idea and beliefs of the God’s Gardeners. The title The Year of the Flood
refers to the belief of the GG’s that a “waterless flood” will come and wipe out much of the earth, or at least much of humanity. They prepare for this time so that they will survive and be able to help in re-building the earth in a manner that respects animals and celebrates and protects nature. They don’t seem to have any idea of what this flood will be or what it will look like, or even when it might come.
It is clear that the GG’s were right, as most humans die from the virus while no animal is affected, and quite soon after the signs of nature taking back the earth can be seen with animals going wild and plants growing unhindered.The title comes from the fact that while the plot takes place over several years, the narrative is really just a year (or less than a year likely) right after the flood occurred following Ren and Toby trying to survive, and they flash back to times before the flood.
They never state how this belief in an essential Armageddon came about, although considering the convergence of brilliant ex-scientists with strong religious belief, it is likely that they saw similarities in their society with that in looking back on the story of the Biblical flood
. In that story, God had judged his creation and deemed it to have failed, and (like many scientists) he decided to destroy the world and start over. So he spoke to the one righteous man and had him build an ark on which to save his family and two of every animal. Then He caused it to rain and flood above the highest mountain so all the evil died. In the end the waters go down, and the Ark comes to rest on Mount Ararat.
GG’s looked at the world and saw the evil in it, and saw that the evil was ever increasing, and so believed that God would once again wipe it all away. They called themselves the Ark’s though, and the animals on the ark were simply memories of names. They also made “Ararats” which were caches of survival supplies that they would need when the flood came. Clearly they named them after Mount Ararat, which was the savior of Noah and the ark, because the caches will serve as their saviors when society implodes.
As my final thought for this course, I’d just like to note the connection between the two books I studied. King took the story of Noah and satirized it, raising the importance of woman and showing respect for animals by allowing them to speak. Atwood took the story and turned it into a modern possibility, but here no man is spoken to by God, and the survivors are not the most religious, but those who all along had the strongest survival instincts (Ren, Zeb, Toby) or the most knowledge and intellect about the forces working to destroy humanity (much of the MaddAddam group).
Interesting that both authors took this story – one so integrated into collective conscience of this society – and used it to comment on religion, nature, science, the role of women, the clash of culture, the importance of animals and the future. I think ultimately, as Canadians, they know the ease with which most of their readers would connect to that story, and with connection would be further drawn into the story and feel the full force of the commentary on such diverse and important issues.
The Water-Shrew That Rends Its Prey
The Water-Shrew that rends its Prey
Acts purely out of Nature’s need;
It does not stop to plot its course,
But simply does the deed.
The Leopard pouncing in the night
Is kin to soft domestic Puss –
They love to hunt, and hunt to love,
Because God made them thus.
But we are not as Animals
We cherish other Creatures’ lives;
And so we do not eat their flesh
Unless dread Famine drives.
...page 348The Garden
Who is it tends the Garden
The Garden oh so green?
‘Twas once the finest Garden
That ever has been seen.
And in it God’s dear Creatures
And then came greedy Spoilers,
And killed them all away
...page xi When God Shall His Bright Wings Unfold
When God shall His bright wings unfold
And fly from Heaven’s blue,
He first will as a Dove
Of pure and sparkling hue.
Then next the Raven
’s form He’ll take,
To show there’s beauty too
In any Bird that He did make,
The oldest and the new.
He’ll sail with Swans
, with Hawks
With Cockatoo and Owl
The chorus of the dawn He’ll sing
He’ll dive with Waterfowl.
He will next appear,
The Holy Bird
Who Death does eat, corruption too,
And thus does Life restore.
... page 373
The Earth Forgives
The Earth forgives the Miner’s blast
That rends her crust and burns her skin; The centuries bring Trees
And water, and the Fish therein.
The Deer at length forgives the Wolf
That tears his throat and drinks his blood; His bones return to soil
, and feed
The trees that flower and fruit and seed.
And underneath those shady trees
The Wolf will spend her restful days;
And then the Wolf in turn will pass,
And turn to grass the Deer will graze.
All Creatures know that some must die
That all the rest may take and eat;
Sooner of later, all transform
Their blood to wine, their flesh to meat.
But Man alone seeks Vengefulness,
And writes his abstract Laws on stone;
For this false Justice he has made,
He tortures limb and crushes bone.
Is this the image of a god?
My tooth for yours, your eye for mine
Oh if Revenge did move the stars
Instead of Love, they would not shine.
We dangle by a flimsy thread,
Our little lives are grains of sand: The Cosmos is a tiny sphere Held in the hollow of God’s hand.
Give up your anger and your spite,
And imitate the Deer, the Tree;
In sweet Forgiveness find your joy,
For it alone can set you free. page 426-27
Note: In retrospect, I probably shouldn't have tried to cover every single saint in the novel, but I had no idea it would take so long! The saints, taken as a whole, essentially encapsulate everything about the God's Gardener's, making them an integral part of understanding the group. After having gone through this process, I have to wonder what other saints they have that weren't mentioned in the book...
Just like the names in Green Grass Running Water, Atwood's naming of saint's in The Year of the Flood shows the importance names can have. Each one is also the name of a person we can recognize from our world today, making the novel even more of a commentary on our society and a potentially prescient narrative. Furthermore, looking at the Saint's easily contributes to our discussion on heroes, as it is clear that these are God's Gardeners heroes. Without knowing anything of GG's, we could see from their array of environmentalist, scientist, naturalist, and adventurist saints, that these are values the GG's deem heroic.Most of the names are simply stated, and no real information about them is offered in the novel. I've found what I believe is the majority of the Saint names and
linked them to their real world counterparts. The page numbers for where I found them are in brackets. Many of them were extremely difficult to find, either because there are several people with the same name, and the most famous of those made no sense as GG saints, so I had to dig deeper to find the environmentalist, or scientist or so on that would make sense as a saint. A couple are extremely obscure at least in English writings, and so I've only managed to link a paper they were one of the writers for. And again some of them only have one name, such that I had to guess at who she meant. Some of this was easier contextually, such as Crozier, since he was mentioned in the book alongside Shackleton, and of course Terry could only be Terry Fox, and when he was mentioned it was alongside a story of his heroism. Unfortunately, Bashir Alouse continues to elude me.
Saint Bashir Alouse Day (17) is the first mentioned, but it is again mentioned on page 61 when Ren complains of remembering all the names: "Some of them were easy. Saint Yossi Leshem
of Barn Owls - well, it was obvious what the answer was. And Saint Dian Fossey
, because the story was so sad, and Saint Shackleton, because it was heroic
. But some of them were really hard. Who could remember Saint Bashir Alouse, or Saint Crick
, or Podocarp Day?" Saint Crick is later the day on which Toby first sees the liobams (94), which is fitting as the liobams were created through the manipulation (and perhaps even perversion) of Crick's work.Saint Farley of Wolves (68) is the day Ren first meets Amanda, and was a "Young Bioneer day" for the young Gardener's to learn survival skills as well as recycling and other re-claiming waste.
It's an important part of the Gardener's love of nature and the environment.
Saint Maria Sibylla Merian
of Insect Metamorphosis Day, is when Pilar first opens up to Toby about personal lives and history of the Gardener's, and their connections to the upper levels of society and all the shady operations that go on there. (104)
Saint Allan Sparrow
of Clean Air Day has Toby commenting that it "had so far [not] lived up to it's name." (112) It's definitely ironic, but likely not unusual for the air in the world as it has become, to be unclean. It makes me wonder if later once the humans have died, if the air is becoming cleaner again. Is that possible?Saint Euell of Wild Foods is a week event for the Gardener's, and
according to Adam One they will be "foraging for the Wild Harvest gifts that God, through Nature, has put at our disposal." Looking at this sentence now, I'm noting the capitalization of "nature" right alongside the capitalization of "god". Is nature as sacred to the Gardener's as God himself? (125)
On page 163 Toby lists off a number of Saints names: "Saint E.F. Schumacher
, Saint Jane Jacobs
, Saint Sigurdsdottir of Gullfoss
, Saint Wayne Grady
of Vultures; Saint James Lovelock
, The Blessed Gautama Buddha
, Saint Bridget Stutchbury
of Shade Coffee, Saint Linnaeus
of Botanical Nomenclature, The Feast of Crocodylidae, Saint Stephen Jay Gould
of the Jurassic Shales, Saint Gilberto Silva
of Bats." None of these seem to have any particular connection to one another, though it is generally readily clear, with their various expertise or work with animals or the environment, why they are GG's saints. I'm hesitant on my link to Sigurdsdottir, as the myth about the daughter of Sigurd never mentioned Gullfoss, or any other part of Iceland or other waterfall. However she does talk to birds at one point, so I can see why the GG's would like her!Saint Orlando Garrido of Lizards
Day is Toby's first time seeing the blue people, or the attempted perfecting of humanity. I'm not sure it was Atwood's intention, but this combination makes me think of aliens, as so often our sci-fi has alien lizard-like species attacking Earth, and to Toby, and any human seeing them, the blue people would seem utterly alien.There are two saints in Adam One's speech on April Fish Day (196): Jesus, who called on two apostles to be "fisher of men instead of being fishers of Fish, thus neutralizing two destroyers of Fish!" and Saint Francis of Assisi who "preached a sermon to the Fish, not realizing that the Fish commune directly with God. Still, the Saint was affirming the respect due to them."
I'm not surprised to see that the Saints connected with fish are both of Christian tradition (Francis being a present day Catholic saint), since the fish is a symbol of Christianity, and a strong theme throughout especially the New Testament of the Bible.Saint Jacques Cousteau's Day (240) and Saint Aleksander Zawadzki of Galicia Day
(250) occur just prior to Toby leaving the garden and becoming Tobiatha. These men both, among other things, studied life-forms, the former studying sea-life while the latter studied beetles and butterflies.Several saints are mentioned during Adam Ones speech for Pollination Day "on which we remember the contributions to forest preservation of Saint Suryamani Bhagat of India, Saint Stephen King of the Pureora Forest in New Zealand, and Saint Odigha of Nigeria, among so many others." (276)
After spending ages pouring over Stephen King the author's biography, and finally realizing that a different Stephen King was a conservationist connected with the Pureora Forest, I have to wonder what Atwood's purpose was using such a well-known name of today in this somewhat mis-leading fashion. Did she want to allude to the science fiction and horror of his novels to highlight the darkness of the society she writes about?In his following speech, another several are mentioned: "Today is Saint Dian's Day, consecrated to interspecies empathy. On this day we invoke Saint Jerome of Lions, and Saint Robert Burns of Mice, and Saint Christopher Smart of Cats; also Saint Farley Mowat of Wolves, and the Ikhwan al-Safa and the Letter of the Animals."
(311) I do wonder why particular animals were chosen to be mentioned. She never used Jane Goodall as a saint of Chimpanzees for instance. Was there a reason for choosing both a wild (Lion) and tame version of "cats", alongside an animal cats eat (Mice) and the wild version (Wolf) of a stereotypical cat antagonizer? (A dog.) It seems unlikely that her choice would be random, but I Saint Karen Silkwood Day (319) is when Toby's life-saving garden at the AnooYoo spa is uprooted by pigoons, and on Saint Anil Agarwal Day (325), she leaves her sanctuary for the first time since retrieving the rifle to collect "animal protein"
.On Saint Nganeko Minhinnick of Manukau Day (349), Toby unknowingly shoots Blanco
, on Saint Wen Bo
Day (353) she and Ren meet again for the first time since the Waterless Flood, and for the next few days (Saint Mahatma Ghandhi
(359), Saint Henri Fabre
, Saint Anna Atkins
, Saint Tim Flannery
, Saint Ichida-San
, Saint David Suzuki
, Saint Peter Matthiessen
(361)) she is tending to Ren's wounds and delirium. They leave the spa together on Saint Chico Mendes, martyr, Day (365)
. I have no idea where Atwood got "Ichida-San" as "San" is simply an added form of respect in Japanese. I found an "Ichida" who seemed to fit GG values as much as possible. Is she trying to be purposefully misleading and obscure? Or are all of these people ones that she knows well and I simply do not have the benefit of her particular sphere of knowledge? Perhaps through this novel, the reader is getting a glimpse of Atwood's own heroes, or even Atwood's own "Canada".On Saint Rachel Carson and All Birds Day, Toby and Ren reunite with Crozier, and join all the surviving MaddAddam members.In Adam One's speech for Saint Terry and all Wayfarers Day, he says "On this day we remember, too, Saint Sojourner Truth, guide of escaping slaves two centuries ago, who walked so many miles with only the stars to guide her; and Saints Shackleton and Crozier, of Antarctic and Arctic fame; and Saint Laurence "Titus" Oates of the Scott Expedition, who hiked where no man had hiked before, and who sacrificed himself during a blizzard for the welfare of his companions."
The three brothers in the book are named after the these three male explorers, and Oates' death at the hands of their captures is a clear reference to the death of the explorer, though while the latter died intentionally, it was in vain as his companions later died as well, and the former's unintentional death, nonetheless allowed for the escape of his companions, and they all ultimately survived.The final saint, and the day on which Ren, Toby, Amanda, and Jimmy have a meager feast
, is Saint Julian of Norwich
and All Souls Day. I find it interesting that the last Saint of the novel is a purely religious figure. In the end the only character's to survive are those who all along either disbelieved or at least questioned the God's Gardener's beliefs. It leaves open the question about whether now, as the survivors attempt to rebuild, it will be along the lines of GG teachings and beliefs. Will the religious aspects be carried forward? Only the conservationist and survivalist teachings? Or will the surviving group fully move away from anything the religious group had taught?As usual, Atwood leaves the reader with more questions than answers.
The word diaspora (from Greek "scattering, dispersion"
) is the movement or migration of a group of people, such as those sharing a national and/or ethnic identity, away from an established or ancestral homeland. (When capitalized it apparently refers to the exile of the Jewish people, and to those living outside of ancient/modern day Jerusalem.)We looked at this word today in class in discussing Wayson Choy and the idea of Chinese ancestory along with being born in Canada. I think it's especially in
teresting for me, because as Erika said it was in the 90's that Chinese stories began to be considered as part of being Canadian, so for me, being born in the 90's, I've really not known anything else. My Canada has always accepted and celebrated stories of other cultures, even though historically Canadian Literature did not.This definitely reminds me of our conversations on Native American culture and stories during our discussions of
Green Grass Running Water. I suppose in the ultimate definition of the word, not all Native groups have migrated away from an established homeland, but they most definitely had large amounts of that ancestral homeland taken away from them, so I think it amounts to the same thing. The feeling of losing homeland is the same, with the added poignancy of still being on your land, and seeing your land, but not owning or being allowed to use it.Interestingly, this echoes a conversation I had in my History of Peace Movement in the 20th Century class. We did a reading on the concept of memory and home among the Palestinian refugees in Gaza. These are the people who were forced from their homes by Israel in the 50's, and though it doesn't use the word, the paper is clearly outlining complete diaspora of the people, again with the added
poignancy of literally seeing their farms and homes across the armistice line, but being unable to reclaim them.While I can't relate to the feeling of
loss of home, I can imagine the heart-ache. I grew up my whole life in the same house my family lives in now, and I quite simply cannot imagine not going home to there. I don't have a room there anymore, but even being on the guest bed, it feels like home, like my space where I am utterly comfortable, and utterly myself. It would be incredibly strange and disconcerting if my parents moved. I don't think it would feel like home, just a place where people I loved happened to live. Nevermind if they left the city altogether, I can't imagine have no ties to Victoria anymore, it's truly all I've ever know. And if the reason for leaving was because of being forced to go as in the case of the Native Americans or
Erika's comment in class really made me start thinking. I've linked it to some common well-known Canadian humour and heroism, as well as some things I personally find funny and heroic. It's interesting to see the intersections of my identity with that of a stereotypical Canadian identity.
"What we find funny
, says a lot about who we are
. What we find heroic says a lot about who we are
."My favorite part of this search, other than spending hours laughing, was knowing when it was a Canadian making fun of Canada or an American, by the way "humour" was spelled.