Quebec Studies

Food and the Generation Gap in Gabrielle Roy's Bonheur d'occasion

Quebec Studies (2004), 37, (1), 91–107.

Abstract

91 Food and the Generation Gap in Gabrielle Roy's Bonheur d'occasion Juliette M. Rogers University of New Hampshire Gabrielle Roy's novel Bonheur d'occasion (1945), set in the working-class Montreal neighborhood of St. Henri during the spring of 1940, has been interpreted as a realistic depiction of an epoch of tension and transition that occurred when two worlds collided. On the one hand, we find the older code of traditional behaviors and family structures inherited from genera­ tions of rural French Canadian habitants. On the other hand, we find the newer code of secular independence that twenty years later would become the Quiet Revolution of 1960s Quebec. While some critics have claimed that the rural versus urban clash is the main cause for the conflicts in the text, others have focused on the issues of economics and class difference. In my view, however, one of the main underlying sources of struggle in Bonheur d'occasion is the generation gap: the younger and older generations as por­ trayed in the novel have experienced vastly different cultural and economic realities, even though they live in the same city and even in the same homes. Previous critics have often skimmed over or ignored this basic conflict in Bonheur d'occasion, in part because the author did not overtly underline this aspect of the problem. Yet, the break between the generations is one of the strongest indications that the Quebec people were about to make significant changes in all aspects of their culture, their politics, and their national iden­ tity. While those changes did not become openly noted until the younger generation had matured, in the Quiet Revolution of the 1960s, the goals and ambitions in Bonheur d'occasion, based on their lived experiences, would lay the groundwork for the major changes to come. In this article, I will demon­ strate the indirect ways in which Roy uses images of food, nutrition, and meals to highlight the differences between the younger and older genera­ tions in her novel. It is perhaps the lack of food and the Depression-era problems of hunger and malnutrition that most directly affect the various urban charac­ ters in the text. Roy's portrayal of underfed individuals provides a very lit­ eral critique of the economic hardships experienced by working-class citizens in Montreal.1 However, as we shall see here, Roy complements this literal critique with a symbolic critique of the traditional value system through food imagery. Be it a five-course dinner in a French restaurant or a hotdog and coke in a diner, the meals and food that Roy includes in Bonheur d'occasion represent significant conflicts in class, culture, and national iden­ tity. Using the theoretical notions found in the field known as "gastrocriticism," I will reveal the ways in which eating and food as literary structures work to define and to critique the traditional Quebec culture. This frame­ work will demonstrate how the representations of restaurants, along with references to specific foods such as maple syrup and other sweets, heighten Québec Studies, Volume 37, Spring/Summer 2004

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Rogers, Juliette