For this assignment, I chose to read the modern Canadian fiction book, Unless by Carol Shields. I first noticed this book was when reading BC BookWorld for assignment
1. However, I did not have much interest in this book at first, not until I was doing research on the internet. When I was trying to find a Canadian fiction book on the internet, I found out Unless by Carol Shields appeared almost everywhere. Therefore, it started to grab my attention. Then, I found out that the book, Unless, will be Carol Shields last novel due to her illness in breast cancer and it may be her most despairing book. Therefore, I decided to read this book for my assignment. In this paper, I will briefly summarize the book and talk about my reaction to it. Also, I will discuss what seems to be distinctly Canadian about this book.
In Carol Shields Unless, the main character, Reta Winters, is a forty-four years old writer living in a suburb of Toronto. She has a loving husband who is a successful family doctor and is faithful to her. Although they were never legally married, but they have lived happily together for twenty-six years and have three teenage daughters.
Also, Reta is an author of a successful novel and a translator. It seems that Reta¡s life is happy and almost perfect, but under many reasons, her life is not so wonderful at all. Her oldest daughter, Norah, is a 19 years old girl who suddenly abandons her normal life and starts to beg on a street corner in Toronto. Reta and her family do not quite understand why their lovely daughter suddenly changed. It seems that Norah is searching for something, searching for goodness for her life in this world. Even though Reta wants to live normally and pretends nothing has happened, but deep inside, the whole thing is just killing her. Still, Reta is searching for the reasons which drove her Norah into such a state. During the searching, Reta notices that the women are considered as weak and powerless in this society, even in a fiction story created by male. She seems to blame the whole society since she thinks it is the reason for her daughters sudden changes. In the end of the book, Norah ends up in a city hospital with pneumonia. After knowing the reasons for Norahs changes and after the whole family is again reunited as one, Reta starts to realize the meaning and hope for her ordinary life.
The whole story of Unless by Carol Shields mainly focuses on feminism. However, in this book, Shields only talks about the negative views of feminism. She talks about that women are treated unequally in the society nowadays, and women are powerless among men. The main character, Reta, thinks that women are considered as weak human beings not only in the real lives but also in the fiction stories created by the men. In the story, Reta writes a latter to the writer, Alexander Valkner. She writes you certainly understand that the women who fall even casually under your influence (mea culpa) are made to serve an apprenticeship in self-denigration. Those social concepts seem to make the women hopeless and have no bright direction to the future life. Therefore, women started to believe that they are actually really weak and they can only have some controls at home but not in the society. Women can only find a tiny bit of power during cleaning the house or preparing meals for the whole family. At first, it seems that this book is quite despairing, but actually, Shields is trying to tell the women to have faith in finding hopes in such an unfair and ordinary life. The unfair feminism occurs almost in everywhere, even in Canada. It may seem that Canada is much more socially developed than other countries, so the women in Canada should have more power. However, comparing to men, women still live in an unfair world without much power. In the book, you can see that Shields is trying to tell the readers how difficult for a woman to take controls in work, or in life. I, as a woman, strongly agree with Shields. Women are not treated equally in the society and the men seem to take control in everything. Life of a woman is quite uneasy and women start to forget what they really want for life. Therefore, I think it is really important for women to have hopes and to search for the meaning of their lives.
This novel, Unless, is distinctly Canadian, since many things in the story are well related to Canadian backdrops and culture. The main setting of this story is in Toronto, Canada. Reta, the main character of the story, and her family are living in a hundred year-old house in a small town called Orangetown near Toronto. The neighborhood is quite and peaceful and the people live closely to the nature. In Canada, nothing is more important than nature. Trees can be seen almost everywhere around Canada. This story seems to perfectly describe the life style and natural environment in Canada. For example, Retas family is still living in an old house where they still use wood fire in the winter. From this, I can easily imagine myself in a wooden house with wood fire stove by my side. It just seems perfectly Canadian. I think it is because the author, Shield has lived in Canada for over 40 years, she can understand fully about the Canadian life style so she can well describe it in her story.
Also, the main character Reta, was a bi-lingual speaker. She speaks both English and French since her father is from an English speaking region and her mother is from a French speaking region. The two main languages in Canada are English and French, so it is perfectly normal to see a person who can speak both of these languages in Canada. In Canada history, the two most powerful colonies are English and French. Although those two colonies fought with each other for many years, but the mixed marriage between these two are normal in present days. Canada is a multi-cultural country. Different races of people are living in this big land. His parents were immigrants. They sacrificed their language, their cultural roots. The above quote can be used to describe the immigrants in Canada. They left their own countries and moved into a country where people speak a different language. I am an immigrant from Taiwan, so, I can understand fully how hard it is for a person to live in a country with different culture and language.
Even though the whole story is well related to Canada, however, these Canadian features will not limit its chances in the international marketplace. As I mentioned above, the story is mainly focus on the unfair feminism. This kind of social problem occurs almost everywhere in the world.