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ENGL 4321: Modern Canadian Fiction

Like all literature courses, this course aims to make students feel at home among good writers and their writing; in particular it is meant to encourage a lifetime of enjoying Canadian fiction and criticism. Students learn to recognize the stylistic fashions that distinguish the periods of Canadian writing since the 1920s. By exploring novels and short stories published between 1920 and the present, the course acquaints students with major Canadian authors, the record of Canadian life that their works have laid down, their penetrations of a wider human experience, and the questions of literary judgment that they raise, notably the question of realism. The chosen texts address questions not only about writing, but also about Canadian concerns of regionalism, mythology and identity, and multiculturalism.

Learning outcomes

After successfully completing this course, students will be able to:

  • Describe the development of literary nation building in English Canada from the late 1960s.
  • Summarize key issues and themes addressed in Indigenous literature and cultural commentary about that literature during the 1980s and 90s.
  • Summarize key issues and themes related in multicultural literature and the role of that literature in the larger national tradition.
  • Describe the changing significance of the landscape and technology in Canadian literary studies since the late 1960s.
  • Describe connections between Canadian literature and society and, in particular, issues that affect writers: constructing a national identity, multiculturalism, Indigenous identity, and history and storytelling.
  • Analyze the way works of fiction develop arguments to criticize or reinforce arguments and values in society, such as the representation of identity and the authority of historical narratives.
  • Describe the significance of different genres of writing in the field of literary studies, including literary criticism, cultural and political commentary, and authors' writing about the writing experience.
  • Synthesize multiple critical arguments about a work of fiction.
  • Summarize works of cultural and political commentary.
  • Complete close textual analysis of selected excerpts from the works and explain the significance of the passage.
  • Analyze literary techniques such as point of view, narrative structure and voice and characterization.

Course topics

ENGL 4321: Modern Canadian Fiction includes the following four units:

Unit 1: The National Coming of Age

  • Introduction to key issues that shaped Canadian fiction and culture in the mid 20th Century, with particular emphasis on Canada's coming of age as a nation after the second world war. After competing Unit 1, students are to complete Assignment 1, an analysis essay. See the assignment file for specific details.

Unit 2: The Politics of Storytelling

  • Introduction to key issues of narrative authority and the representation of identity in the context of an indigenous literary voice. After completing Unit 2, students are to complete Assignment 2, a synthesis essay. See the assignment file for specific details.

Unit 3: Multicultural Canada

  • Introduction to several short stories which explore the experiences of immigration and cultural diversity. Particular emphasis will be placed on the pressures of family, identity and language. After completing Unit 2, students are to complete Assignment 3, a research essay. See the assignment file for specific details. See the assignment file for specific details.

Unit 4: The Land and the Environment

  • Introduction to the changing significance of the land and the pressures of technology in Canadian fiction, with an emphasis on current consideration of ethics and responsibilities associated with global capitalism and its associated technologies and practices. After completing Unit 4, students are to complete Assignment 4, a multi-media response project. See the assignment file for specific details.

Required text and materials

Students will receive all course materials in their course package.

  1. Atwood, Margaret. The Year of the Flood. Toronto: Vintage Canada, 2009.
    Type: Print. ISBN 978-0-307-39798-0
  1. Barnet, Sylvan and William. E. Cain. A Short Guide to Writing about Literature. 12th Edition. Toronto: Pearson, 2012.
    Type: Print. ISBN 978-0-205-11845-8
  1. Boyden, Joseph. Three Day Road. Toronto: Penguin Canada, 2005.
    Type: Print. ISBN 978-0-14-305695-9
  1. Coupland, Douglas. Generation A. Toronto: Vintage Canada, 2009.
    Type: Print. ISBN 978-0-307-35773-1
  1. Kamboureli, Smaro, ed. Making a Difference: Canadian Multicultural Literatures in English. Don Mills, ON: Oxford UP Canada, 2006.
    Type: Print. ISBN 0-19-542288-0
  1. King, Thomas. Green Grass, Running Water. Toronto: Harper Perennial, 1993.
    Type: Print. ISBN 978-1-55468-525-7
  1. Laurence, Margaret. The Diviners. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1974.
    Type: Print. ISBN 978-0-7352-5281-3
  1. Ondaatje, Michael. In the Skin of a Lion. Toronto: Knopf, 1987.
    Type: Print. ISBN 978-0-394-28182-7

Additional requirements

Computer with Internet access is required for this course. Refer to pages 104-15 or the TRU-OL website. CD player is recommended.


Please be aware that should your course have a final exam, you are responsible for the fee to the online proctoring service, ProctorU, or to the in-person approved Testing Centre. Please contact with any questions about this.

To successfully complete this course, students must achieve a passing grade of 50% or higher on the overall course and 50% or higher on the mandatory final exam. The following table illustrates how the final grade will be determined for this course.

Assignment 1 10%
Assignment 2 15%
Assignment 3 20%
Assignment 4 20%
Final examination * 35%
Total 100%

* Mandatory

To receive credit for this course, you are expected to complete four assignment[s], one at the end of each course unit, which demonstrate your understanding of the course learning outcomes and materials.

Assignment 1 - A formal essay on either Margaret Laurence's The Diviners or Michael Ondaatje's In The Skin of a Lion from Unit 1. (10%)

Assignment 2 - A synthesis of critical responses to Thomas King's Green Grass Running Water. (15%)

Assignment 3 - Research a social issue from a list given and examine how that issue is explored in two literary works. (20%)

Assignment 4 - A multi-media response to one of the works covered in this course. You will respond to the work using your choice of media, and write an author's interpretation of your response. (20%)

Open Learning Faculty Member Information

An Open Learning Faculty Member is available to assist students. Students will receive the necessary contact information at the start of the course.

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