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Review on the Tin Flute

Essay by   •  April 9, 2019  •  Article Review  •  2,140 Words (9 Pages)  •  626 Views

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Set in the late winter of 1940, The Tin Flute examines the effects of social class, poverty and war. Throughout the book, Gabrielle Roy presented to her readers how war functions not just as global conflict, but also as hope for people trapped in the suburban dystopia of Saint Henri. Anchoring on the lives of the Lacasse family, Roy encapsulates the strong desires of Quebecois living in Saint Henri to escape the prison of debt in an effort to elevate their social statutes. Roy’s book went on to detail how the Great Depression affected the lower-social class ability to make a sound decision. Roy unravelled the constant dilemmas faced by the desperate poor working class, which shed light on the struggles of a mother trying to keep her family together. Looking at the book in its entirety, Roy seemingly implied that the war acts as an escape to almost every character. Azarius enlisted after he loses a job for borrowing a work truck without permission while Florentine managed to escape a bad situation by marrying a soldier.

The Tin Flute was able to draw the readers’ attention towards the hardship suffered by the Quebecois. With a starkly realistic depiction of the lives of the people living in Saint Henri, it seemed that the book did explain the events that led up to Quebec’s Quiet Revolution in the 1960s. With the three themes – Poverty, Social Class and War being synthesized into a story, Roy managed to add on to the history of French Canadians. Also, Roy managed to capture the essence of gender inequality. Feminist undertones the book, creating a parallel discussion on the hardship that the women had to go through by the senselessness of the war and the responsibility of taking care of the family. Albeit the praises, Roy’s book seemed to keep hovering on the same points. Nearly every chapter talks about the hangover from the Great Depression with limited opportunities of advancement and there is always a failed character that was saved by War. There always seemed to have a situation whereby being poor and uneducated can isolate a person and limit his/her choice in life – in which it might not be entirely true.

The book centres around Florentine Lacasse and her family. Florentine is a young waitress at a restaurant at the Five and Ten restaurant. Though her wages are small, she gives her family what she cans and constantly dreams about building a better life. As with her neighbours in Saint Henri, Florentine and her family struggle to meet ends meet. The Lacasse are constantly challenged with threats of eviction and still had to pay for Daniels Lacasse’s medical bills. The story then brings about a hint of romance, when Florentine fell in love with a man named Jean Levesque, an ambitious machinist-electrician. This love story, however, ends tragically, when Jean decided to abandon Florentine after impregnating her. Forced with the harsh words from her mother, Florentine had no other choice but to marry Emmanuel, a soldier that was dearly in love with her. The book recounts on Florentine struggles, as well as the struggles of her family and the working class in her community. As they attempt to manage their lives and find comfort during the times of poverty, they inevitably make decisions out of fear and desperation – a decision that they have to live with. The book provides a depiction of how the lower social class in Montreal associated right and wrong actions based on the idea of making compromises to escape poverty and survive the repressive conditions from the Great Depression and WWII.

The main theme of the book revolves around poverty. The Lacasse family struggled because they are unable to afford the basic necessities in their lives. Rose-Anna constantly carries the burden of keeping the family intact. Despite her efforts, the harsh reality resultant from poverty forced the family into different directions. At the crux of the family’s suffering was the inability of Azarius Lacasse to hold a job and find a new house for the family. This was heavily emphasized when Rose-Anna expressed her unhappiness in a husband that failed to live up to his promises. The annual ritual of house hunting was common within the slums of Saint Henri. The idea that poverty compels people to make irrational decisions was discussed in the book. Eugene joined the military in hopes of sending money home and help alleviate poverty. However, he ultimately does not come through his words, creating another disappointment for Rose-Anna who was already losing one child – Daniel. Florentine, captivated by the thought of breaking out of poverty, had fallen in love with Jean, only to be mistreated and abandoned by a heartless man whom she was pregnant with his child. Florentine then reluctantly accepts Emmanuel’s marriage proposal in order to move forward. The entire ideology of what poverty can do to people is well captured in the book. Also, Roy nicely ties in poverty with dispossession. For Rose Anna, it is the loss of her children, for Florentine is the loss of true love and marriage, and for Azarius, the loss of his identity as a father and more importantly, as the man of the house.

Poverty also ties into the theme of social classes. Being a former inhabitant of the slum, Emmanuel managed to wiggle himself out of poverty through joining the military. Despite having a stable career and higher education, Emmanuel’s decision to join the army was one that was despised by his friends. Emmanuel gave his friends idealistic reasons for fighting in a war that he believes will change the world. Realistically, Roy differentiates the differences between Westmount and Saint Henri, between the rich and the poor and the tragic gulf that lies between them. She centres the book around the idea that for the poor, the only way to climb towards an elevated social status, one comparable to Westmount is to join the national army and receive in exchange for military service, some of what they demanded in life. The desperateness of those living in the slums of Saint Henri was well captured in the book. Roy painted a distinction between the social classes, creating ample emphasis on the reasons behind Jean’s desperation to move up in the world. He was too engrossed on maintaining his posh image, that he was willing to abandon a girl’s love for him. Social class and its’ linkage to poverty



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