Away: Not a Postcolonial Novel

Submitted by:  Colin Cameron


Dr. Smaro Kamboureli

English 457

7 April 2003


Jane Urquhart’s novel Away has been presented as an example of a postcolonial novel (Wyile, 1999).  A close examination of the novel reveals that this is not so.  The novel is a historic novel and the historical events that it relates are those of the colonizers.  Also, and more importantly, the novel only contains one First Nations character.  As the only First Nations character, one cannot overlook Exodus Crow for evidence of postcolonialism.  Urquhart’s treatment of Exodus Crow as ‘other’ is the most poignant point that quells arguments advocating Away as postcolonial.

Urquhart’s Portrayal of History

Away has been included in many different genres, but it must always, at least in part, be considered a historical novel because it recounts historical events.  It is through the account of the historical events in the novel that it loses its credibility as a postcolonial novel.  One of the tenets of postcolonialism is that “literature is often evasively and crucially silent on matters concerned with colonialism and imperialism” (Barry, 1995).  Although Away cannot be said to be completely silent regarding colonialist matters, the historical events that serve as a backdrop for the story are presented from a colonialist viewpoint.  It is in this way that Away serves to perpetuate colonialist attitude.

The historical evens in Away are written in a neutral tone.  That is to say that they are presented in a straightforward manner as a backdrop to the story.  This offhand way in which the events are told conveys a sense of truth.  This truth is based on a Euro centric sense of universalism, and conveys the idea that historical events can be told objectively.  The sense of truth is produced from the omniscient narration of the story.  The story is the memory of Esther, but told from an omniscient third person as Esther’s character is part of the narrative.  The omniscient narrator conveys a sense of universal truth.  This is inconsistent with the postcolonial notion that seek to “reject the claims to universalism made on behalf of canonical Western literature and seek to show its limitations of outlook, especially its general inability to empathize across boundaries of cultural and ethnic difference” (Barry, 1995).  The outlook of history in Away is unable to empathize with the indigenous First Nations culture.  When the O’Malley family comes to Canada to claim their “free land grant” there is no sense that people already live on the land.  The novel perpetuates this ignorance and therefore falls short of postcolonial goals.  This colonialist attitude is what postcolonialism intends to look beyond.  By presenting history in this way Urquhart only adds to the colonialist discourse and the oppression it spawns.  

Join now!

The novel is presented as a romantic history.  It is the memory of a dying woman, a record of the story of her family.  Esther’s memories contribute to the national image because they have been recorded.  That they are her memories and she is merely remembering them adds to the novel as a romantic history, but they are words on the page, and therefore contribute to the discourse of colonialism.

Herb Wyile argues that Away is a postcolonial novel (1999).  He focuses on the language and the genre of the novel and comes to the conclusion that it is writing a ...

This is a preview of the whole essay