Margaret Laurence's A Bird in the House differentiates itself from the four other novels that make up the 'Manawaka series' that has helped establish her as an icon of Canadian literature. It does not present a single story; instead, it is a compilation of eight well-crafted short stories (written between the years 1962 and 1970) that intertwine and combine into a single narrative, working as a whole without losing the essential independence of the parts.
It tells - at least on a surface level - of the childhood of a young girl named Vanessa MacLeod , and of her trials and tribulations in the small Manitoban town of Manawaka. The narrative style of the stories is important, since it is through Vanessa's own eyes that we learn of her family and life - yet the eyes belong to an older, wiser Vanessa, remembering her own childhood from a future point years later. Laurence handles the narrative style quite cleverly; the experiences of the child-Vanessa are portrayed with all the innocence and naïvety and shock that first accompanied them, yet are also tainted and clarified by the wisdom of the older-Vanessa. "... the narrator [becomes] Vanessa, the woman, who takes on the voice and attributes of the child she was and, at the same time, remains her present self, far older and wiser in compassion and understanding."1
It is the perspective of the older and wiser Vanessa that allows the reader to pick up on the important ideas, images, and themes that the author is trying to convey to us. A Bird in the House is far more than semi-autobiographical, is far more than the simple story of a young girl growing up in the prairies during the great Depression: it is a work of...
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...e. The tightness of Laurence's weaving is remarkable: the symbols, the characters, and the characters are drawn together into a cohesive whole. "... the characters reflect the book's central metaphor and are thus symbolically interconnected [...] the stories chart how they are all caught up in parallel captivities and engaged in divergent flights." (Davidson 99) They are, indeed, all drawn together by the bird in the house.
1. qtd. in Davidson, Arnold E. "Cages and Escapes in Margaret Laurence's A Bird in the House." University of Windsor Review 16 (1981): 95.
2.Margaret Laurence, A Bird in the House (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart Inc., 1970), 43.
All further references are to this edition and are included in my text.
3. Jon Kertzer, "That House in Manawaka": Margaret Laurence's A Bird in the House (Toronto: ECW Press, 1992), 57.
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