Understanding the Past

At one point, Irv, a friend of Barney’s says “remember how when we were young the pepsis marched down Main chanting ‘Death to the Jews’ and Le Devoir read like it got its ideas from Julius Streicher?” (202). This one sentence is packed with allusions, allusions that I was for the most part unfamiliar with. Let me see if I can break down all the allusions is this sentence.

The first thing I had to look up was the part about ‘pepsis’. Luckily for me there was a footnote about this. Pepsi was used to describe French-Canadians because they have a stereotype of drinking pepsi for breakfast. I am not really sure where this comes from.

In the 1930s-1940s a fascist group was created in Montreal and was led by Adrien Arcand. This group was named the Parti National Social Chrétien or in English the Christian National Socialist Party. This party brought on anti-Semitic rallying, boycotts, propaganda and literature. It also would encourage other Nazi-like organizations to form in Canada. It is likely that some, if not all of the pepsis shouting “Death to the Jews” were part of the Parti National Social Chrétien.

Le Devoir is a French newspaper in Montreal. Julius Streicher was a prominent Nazi writer who had a newspaper in Germany called Der Stürmer which he was used as propaganda for the Nazi party. He also had a publishing firm that published Anti-Semitic books for children.  To have the paper appear as though Streicher, a man who was later convicted and executed for crimes against humanity shows the amount of Antisemitism that was coming out of Montreal.

Okay so now that I fully understand the allusions in this quote I am able to better understand the Antisemitism in Montreal. Sure the having people shout ‘Death to the Jews’ should have instantly made me realize how bad Antisemitism was in Montreal, but the added image of Streicher-esque writing and Antisemitic political groups allowed me to fully understand just how bad it really was.

 

While analyzing this one sentence I have been able to see just how different my Canada and Barney/Richler’s Canada is. Today Antisemitism is absolutely wrong, but for Richler it is something seem everyday and something as that he had to deal with everyday as a Jewish Canadian. Barney talks about these things with Irv as though is remembering the good ol’ times of his childhood instead of the terrors. This is another example of how aspects of Canadian history have been hidden in the shadows.

Loving and Hating Barney

I have a love/hate feeling toward Barney. I love the way that he talks about Miram, his third wife. He is so cute when he is trying to convince her to go out with him. But when he is with the second Mrs. Panofsky he is such a mean, distant husband. To be fair his description of the second Mrs. Panofsky is not a very nice one, but then again it is his description of her.

I think this relation goes very well with my love/hate relationship with Canadian history. Throughout most of my high school education I learned about the good side of Canadian history. Canada as a peacekeeper, the polite, nice country. But then I learn about Japanese Interment camps, Residential schools and other historical events pushed into the background.

What I like about Barney, is unlike Canada, he does not hide his bad history, but shows the reader every side of him. He is not trying to hide his faults but puts it out for the world to see.

Unintentional Allusion: The Albino Canada

So allusions can be intentional and unintentional right?

While reading Barney’s Version there was one point in the book that I thought was alluding to the Canadian literature “canon”, but I knew was not really. This part was when Barney marries his first wife Clara because she is pregnant. Seven months into her pregnancy she has a stillborn child, who turn out to be not to be Barney’s child because the baby is half African American.

I thought alluded to the fact that Canadians so desperately wanted to have an identity, they accepted the white-dominated literature to be a representation for Canada, forgetting about any of the culture not represented under this supposed canon.

Just as Barney believes the child is his, Canada (or at least Canadians represented in the canon) believes that the literature is Canadian.

Of course some of the literature did represent part of Canada, but not all of it. As pointed out in class it was not until 1960’s that Aboriginal Peoples in Canada began to find their voice through literature.

Richler, of course would not have been a writer who was omitted from this canon which is why this is an unintentional allusion. It is often stated that he is part of the Canadian canon. He was a white Canadian. Sure he was Jewish, but as pointed out multiple times in the novel, being Jewish was not always a bad thing.  In the novel Barney shows this by using his the threat of another Holocaust to convince people to fund the United Jewish Appeal.

When the doctor asks Barney is the child’s baby and Barney says that he is the doctor answers by saying, “you must be an albino” (117). I think that this completely summarizes what the Canon did for Canada. It made all of Canada appear to be from European decent, forgetting about the Aboriginal Peoples and those of hyphenated identities who immigrated to Canada. The multiculturalness that Canada is so proud of today did not exist in the literature Canon.