Travel Reference
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to write truthfully (233). Since returning to Montreal she has lost her
sense of identity - 'telle une chienne désorientée … je ne trouve plus ma
jeunesse machinale dans les miroirs qui me dévisagent' (231; a disori-
ented dog … now when I look in the miror I can no longer find my
youth [201]) - which she blames on Montreal having lost its own youth:
('Montréal a changé … depuis le référendum peut-être … il faut appren-
dre à devenir quelqu'un tout seul, sans soutien patriotique … je cherche
le Montréal d'avant dont la confortable exiguïté me déprimait alors
tant.' (231-3; Montreal has changed … maybe since the outcome of the
referendum … you have to learn to become someone all alone, with no
patriotic support … looking for the old Montreal whose comfortable
narrowness I used to find so depressing [201-2].) Thus, like the dying
man losing life, she is on a desperate quest (236) for meaning, which,
since no longer preordained, takes the form of freedom for both beings,
expressed less through the colour white than through light - 'irradier'
(234; shine [204]), 'incandescence' (235; aflame [204]), 'brilliez … éclat'
(237; shone ... brilliance [206]). Finally light ('lumière') leads to lightness
('légèrté') - 'une flamme de légèrté … c'est la légèrté qui nous manque
le plus dans cette vie de plomb.' (238; a flame of your own lightness …
lightness is what we lack most in this leaden life [207-8].) This is the
lightness of being, not the heaviness of having been; the lightness of
self-definition, not that of identity defined. In the final paragraph, as the
snow falls outside and the dying man flees this place towards another
'space,' 35 the narrator anticipates a parallel experience: 'Essence volatile
affranchie de l'obscurité, je me sentirai un instant moi aussi comme un
espace vierge, John, je serai comme vous une page blanche sur laquelle
rien n'est encore écrite.' (239; Volatile essence set free from the darkness,
for a moment I will feel like virgin space, John, like you, I will be a white
page on which nothing has been written [208].) Thus the final connota-
tion of white is that of the blank page, on which, Proulx suggests, the
narrator, like the nation, must learn to accept not an identity already
written but the challenge of writing it, of creating it.
It is hardly surprising that a writer would express self-definition, the
construction of identity, through the metaphor of writing, and indeed it
may be less a metaphor than the ultimate manifestation of the process;
that is, the arts may well be the primary means of forging the path to-
wards defining identity. Certainly, the most prevalent common charac-
teristic of all the characters and narrators in the stories we have looked
at, despite ethnic diversity, is the determination to learn and to use the
French language. 36 Several of them are also writers, as are the main
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