Sinclair Ross's As for Me and My House : the patriarchal tradition and its effect on a non-feminist narrative
Sofko, Shannon Marie
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Sinclair Ross's As For Me and My House has been of critical interest virtually since its first appearance in 1941. While critics have concentrated their attention on the reliability of Mrs. Bentley as a narrator, their attitude toward her has varied. Immediately following the release of the 1957 New Canadian Library edition, critics perceived Mrs. Bentley as "pure gold and wholly credible" (Daniells 37). Later critics completely discredited Mrs. Bentley as an objective and reliable narrator, asserting that "she is often surprised and shocked by contingencies she did not anticipate and cannot really follow" (Cude, "Beyond Mrs. Bentley" 77); others remarked on the complexity of the narrative, suggesting that "Sometimes her observations are objective and reliable.... At other times, she is unreliable indeed... " (Moss 140). While the vast majority of criticism now supports the contention that Mrs. Bentley is an unreliable narrator, there remains one critical issue that has been largely overlooked: that there is a consistent pattern to Mrs. Bentley's lack of reliability, explicable in terms of the 1930s prairie patriarchal environment of the novel. Chapter One of this study defines the male-constructed social environment Ross creates in the novel, and concludes that as a result of forcing characters into debilitating stereotypical roles, the society prevents its members from experiencing personal fulfilment. Chapter Two examines Mrs. Bentley as a biased and largely unreliable focalizing agent, and considers the power relationship between the main characters in terms of composition and structure. Chapter Three explores the extent to which the characters have internalized their society's values and gender definitions to the detriment of their own personal growth and freedom of being. The Conclusion examines the ending of the novel and argues that, although escape from their life of hypocrisy and stereotype would augur for an optimistic interpretation, on close examination the text reveals that the fundamental dynamics between Mrs. Bentley and Philip remain the same, and as a result, escape is impossible.