Wildhoods: Bioregionalism and the Child Figure in Contemporary Canadian Literature
Li Sheung Ying, Melissa
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In recent investigations of the child’s relationship with nature, collections such as Sidney I. Dobrin and Kenneth B. Kidd’s Wild Things: Children’s Culture and Ecocriticism (2004) and Amy Cutter-Mackenzie, Phillip G. Payne, and Alan Reid’s Experiencing Environment and Place through Children’s Literature (2011) emphasize the significance of critically recognizing the value and relevance of the child-nature connection in our understanding of diverse environments and places. However, much of this work has remained within non-Canadian literary frameworks, with ecocriticism exclusively, and/or limited to the field of children’s literature. This dissertation fills this gap in criticism through an examination of the child figure and his or her relationship to the natural environment through the lens of bioregionalism in contemporary Canadian coming-of-age fiction. In uniting the Canadian child, nature, and an ecological perspective together, I argue that bioregionalism is relevant to coming-of-age narratives and that four specific bioregional themes or points of view can emerge when such a lens is applied to regional bodies of literature across Canada: nostalgic sustainability (Atlantic Canada), conservation (Central Canada), sustainable dwelling (the Prairies), and the journey of reinhabitation (the West Coast). Each of these themes draw upon at least one of the three key terms that recur most frequently in bioregional discourse – dwelling, sustainability, and reinhabitation – and either appears in combination with coming-of-age motifs, makes use of a distinct characteristic found in a particular regional body of literature, or allows the narrative’s ending to direct how we need to think about the connection between bioregionalism and the child figure. The theme of childhood and youth in Canadian literature is a rich and diverse one; and our continued fascination with youthful experiences reflects that something important is at work, especially when the child’s growth to maturity is linked to our current concerns about the environment. My project investigates the works of Alistair MacLeod, Ernest Buckler, Monique Proulx, Mary Lawson, W.O. Mitchell, Thomas King, Eden Robinson, and Frances Greenslade.