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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Reinterpreting Canadian national identity : the evolution of national identity in late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century young adult historical fiction Hiles, Samuel Peter


This thesis presents a comparative analysis of two periods of Canadian young adult historical fiction novels. Its goal is to determine if and how presentations of Canadian national identity changed following a major international event—the First World War. As the War can be seen as a catalyst that accelerated changing interpretations of the Canadian nation the novels selected bookend this event. Through a comparison of young adult historical fiction novels involving Canadian national history, the subjective and narrative characteristics of history are explored to emphasize common features found in both narrative histories and fiction. By relying on young adult historical fiction, which for the purpose of this thesis are texts intended for post-adolescent and pre-adult readers, the fictive aspects of the narratives will function as contrastable variables for analysis. This thesis will evaluate how narratives vary to produce different interpretations and perspectives on the nation’s past, and therefore conceptions of national identity. I contend that works of young adult historical fiction that feature Canada’s past began to express the changes to national identity seen in Canada society that followed the War. These changes to expressions of national identity, I propose, became increasingly evident in fictional narratives depicting the nation’s past and support a more autonomous vision of the nation. How history is retold through fiction stresses how conceptions of national identity are susceptible to the contextual nature of narrative history. Canada’s late-nineteenth century relationship with imperialism, as interpreted from within the English-Canadian dominant national narrative, operates as the major evaluative theme to contrast fictional accounts of the nation’s past. The following study sets Canada’s pre-War relationship with Britain against Canada’s post-War waning colonial identification as baseline identities for inquiries into how historical fiction narratives re-envisioned the past. This research summarizes how unique and autonomous national imaginings were extracted from Canada’s colonial heritage to express an evolving vision of the nation. Focusing on the evolution of Canadian national identity, as it manifests in young adult historical fiction, the contextual nature of historical narratives becomes recognizable, thereby, prompting reflections on history and the relative nature of narrativity.

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