The Tin Flute
|Original title||Bonheur d'occasion|
Published in English
|Media type||Print (Novel)|
The Tin Flute (original French title Bonheur d'occasion, "secondhand happiness"), Gabrielle Roy’s first novel, is a classic of Canadian fiction. Imbued with Roy’s brand of compassion and understanding, this story focuses on a family in the Saint-Henri slums of Montreal, its struggles to overcome poverty and ignorance, and its search for love.
A story of familial tenderness, sacrifice, and survival during World War II, The Tin Flute won both the Governor General's Award and the Prix Femina of France. The novel was made into a critically acclaimed motion picture in 1983. It was originally published in French as Bonheur d'occasion (literally, 'secondhand happiness'), which represents the character's sense of rebound love in the novel.
Roy's first novel, Bonheur d'occasion (1945) gave a starkly realistic portrait of the lives of people in Saint-Henri, a working-class neighbourhood of Montreal. The novel caused many Quebecers to take a hard look at themselves and is regarded as the novel that helped lay the foundation for Quebec's Quiet Revolution of the 1960s. The original French version won Roy the prestigious Prix Femina in 1947. Published in English as The Tin Flute (1947), the book won the 1947 Governor General's Award for fiction as well as the Royal Society of Canada's Lorne Pierce Medal. Distributed in the United States, where it sold more than three-quarters of a million copies, the Literary Guild of America made The Tin Flute a feature book of the month in 1947. The book garnered so much attention that Roy returned to Manitoba to escape the publicity.
There are two French versions of Bonheur d'occasion. The first was published in 1945 by Société des Éditions Pascal in two volumes. This version was translated in 1947 by Hannah Josephson, who removed several short passages from the English version. In 1965, Librairie Beauchemin published an abridged French version eliminating a number of passages. This second version was translated by Alan Brown in 1980. As a result, there has never been an unabridged version of The Tin Flute published in English.
The story takes place in Montreal, principally in the poor neighbourhood of Saint-Henri, between February 1940 and May 1940, during the Second World War, when Quebec is still suffering from the Great Depression. Florentine Lacasse, a young waitress at the "Five and Ten" restaurant who dreams of a better life and is helping her parents get by, falls in love with Jean Lévesque, an ambitious machinist-electrician. Wanting to satisfy his withered ego, he agrees to date Florentine. Quickly tiring of the relationship, Jean introduces her to a friend, Emmanuel Létourneau, who is a soldier on leave. Emmanuel falls in love with Florentine. Despite this, Florentine's attraction towards Jean will have important consequences in her life. A parallel thread in the novel is the Lacasse family life, made difficult by their poverty.
- Dispossession- The novel details the loss of many things in the lives of several characters. For Rose-Anna it is the loss of her children, first Eugene to the army, then Florentine to marriage and Daniel to death. For Azarius it is the loss of his vocation and subsequently his identity as a "man".
- Solitude- Despite being about a family the novel demonstrates the solitude of the various characters. For Rose-Anna this is best seen at the end of the novel when she gives birth practically alone. She feels completely alone and even Azarius is not there when she calls for him.
- The feminine condition- The condition of the woman is treated throughout the novel both on the individual level (in the lives of Rose-Anna and her daughter Florentine) and universally when Rose-Anna identifies with women across the world who are affected by the senselessness of war. Feminist undertones can be found in the way Gabrielle Roy describes Rose-Anna's role in the family. Rose-Anna is, in some ways, a victim of circumstance with a husband who has no work, poverty which causes her to go searching for new lodging every spring and her Catholic faith which does not allow her to use birth control and results in many pregnancies which take their toll on her both physically and emotionally.
- The futility of war- A theme discussed throughout the book Roy shows many opinions on the war via various characters but there is a strong sense of war being senseless. Emmanuel Létourneau is one character (along with Rose-Anna Lacasse) who questions the meaning and motive behind going to war. He struggles with his own motivations and concludes that the purpose for going to war must be to end it one day.
Characters in The Tin Flute
- Florentine Lacasse — A young waitress at the "Five and Ten restaurant"; she finds her current life to be one of drudgery and longs to find something better. She supports her parents and siblings financially.
- Azarius Lacasse — Florentine's father, a construction worker by trade who has fallen on hard times due to the depressed economy and is now working as a taxi driver to get by.
- Rose-Anna Lacasse - Florentine's mother, a central character in the novel who often takes on the role of the head of the family when Azarius fails to provide leadership.
- Jean Lévesque — an arrogant and ambitious machinist-electrician who believes himself to be better than most in Saint-Henri and is very concerned with reaching a higher status and social class.
- Emmanuel Létourneau - a friend of Jean Lévesque and a soldier who meets and falls in love with Florentine.
- Emma Philibert — nicknamed "Fat Emma" or "Ma Philibert", the jovial owner of a combination restaurant and store
- Sam Latour — the owner of "The Two Records" restaurant/store, loves to discuss current affairs
- Eugene Lacasse - Florentine's brother who joined the army
- Jenny - Daniel's nurse, an English woman