Quebec Studies

Masculinity, Femininity, and Androgyny in Gabrielle Roy's Alexandre Chenevert

Quebec Studies (2007), 43, (1), 83–98.

Abstract

83 Masculinity, Femininity, and Androgyny in Gabrielle Roy's Alexandre Chenevert Lee Brotherson University of New England (Australia) Alexandre Chenevert is characterized by insignificance and antagonism. He is first described as "un homme petit, chétif, avec un immense front soucieux" (15), the attribute "petit" being repeated over fifty times in the text. Unremarkable and blending so closely with the crowd as to be "innombrable" (129) or "invisible" (32, 47), Alexandre suffers from a deeply anguished mind that sets him apart from others whom he often distrusts and dislikes. How then, by the end of the book, can one explain his reconciliation with those about him?1 The object of this article is to show how Alexandre, heavily circumscribed by his masculine role in the early part of the novel, experiences a radical change at lac Vert where he is sensitized to the feminine, a development that may be explained in terms of the androgynous myth, signifying an integration within the hero of male and female dimensions. An examination of Alexandre's state of mind in part one of the novel will show him to be strongly defined by masculine characteristics as reflected in two leitmotifs: newspapers and paid work. We shall see that subservience to both makes of this man a self-absorbed individual, justifying his wife's complaint about their marriage and "l'égoïsme des hommes" (94). Only by reassessing these traditional male attitudes will Alexandre eventually turn from a preoccupation with the public sphere of international affairs and professional status in favor of the private sphere of family, friends, and intimate emotion. It is no surprise that critics and even the novelist herself have long been fascinated by Alexandre's character development and the question of identity that it raises.2 For Pierrette Daviau, he is a puzzle even to himself: "Le problème majeur d'Alexandre est un d'identité personnelle. Qui est-il? Pourquoi est-il si malheureux? Alexandre se cherche. Il poursuivra cette quête jusqu'au fond de lui-même, jusqu'en dehors de son milieu, jusqu'à la mort" (112). By paralleling Alexandre's search for himself with an ancient myth concerning the male-female dichotomy, this article hopes to throw further light upon Gabrielle Roy's enigmatic hero. The newspaper was probably emblematic in the mind 3 of the novelist as she was again to highlight it about twenty years after writing Alexandre Chenevert in "Un jardin au bout du monde." This short story depicts an old Ukrainian migrant couple, Stépan and Martha Yaramko, living in an isolated corner of Alberta, where they spend every evening in the same way. While she reads Eaton's catalogue, he is absorbed in the newspaper: Stépan, d'une pile d'un journal en langue ukrainienne imprimé à Codessa, tirait un vieux numéro, peu importait lequel, il les avait tous lus. Néanmoins, en enchaînant péniblement les mots et les phrases, il arrivait à se mettre encore en colère contre cet absurde Québec Studies, Volume 43, Spring/Summer 2007

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Brotherson, Lee