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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Myth and meaning in the three novels of Hugh Maclennan Gilley, Robert Keith


The purpose of this essay is to determine the use to which Hugh MacLennan has put his knowledge of classical literature, especially myth, in writing three of his novels. The novels are first considered individually and are then related to one another to indicate the development of their structures and themes, MacLennan's technique and thought. The first chapter shows MacLennan's affinity for classical literature, indicates the general critical awareness of classical elements in his novels, and also shows how mythic analysis is of use in interpreting the novels. Central to MacLennan's use of classical myth is Homer's Odyssey, and the basic plot and characters of the Greek epic are described, indicating what MacLennan chooses from the classic for his own purposes. The importance of myth, as such, is considered, and it is suggested that MacLennan himself has attempted to write a "myth" appropriate to modern Canada. The second chapter is a consideration of Barometer Rising, indicating mythic parallels and relevant structures of imagery. The plot structure is examined and is compared to the mythoi or archetypal plots suggested by Northrop Frye in Anatomy of Criticism. The novel is shown to be a comic-romance in which the romantic hero is dominant, although there is an ironic hero present. The main theme appears as a search for national identity. The third chapter is a consideration of Each Man's Son, again indicating mythic parallels and relevant structures of imagery. Examination of the plot structure reveals a growing stress on the ironic hero and an unstressing of the romantic hero. The theme appears as a more personal search for identity. The fourth chapter is a consideration of The Watch that Ends the Night, again indicating mythic parallels and relevant imagery. Here, the ironic hero comes to full dominance over the romantic. The theme has become almost entirely a personal search for internal identity. It is shown how, in this novel, MacLennan resolves the conflict explored in the other two novels by submerging it in a larger (basically mystical) pattern. The fifth chapter shows how MacLennan’s techniques and themes have developed, how his final religio-philosophic resolution is related to classical humanism (particularly the philosophy of Heraclitus), and how his use of myth is relevant and valuable to the modern world. It becomes clear that the farther MacLennan moves from a direct representation of the classical myth, the closer he moves to creating a meaningful myth of his own. MacLennan is related to other modern writers and is shown to be in a main stream of modern thought, following a major theme in western literature that has been particularly important since the Victorian Period. He comes to a synthesis of classical and Christian thought which results in an affirmative philosophy.

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