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Home » Exploring the Depths of Heart of a Stranger: A Literary Analysis by Margaret Laurence

Exploring the Depths of Heart of a Stranger: A Literary Analysis by Margaret Laurence

Heart of a Stranger is a collection of essays and speeches by Margaret Laurence, a Canadian writer known for her works on social justice and feminism. In this article, we will delve into Laurence’s literary analysis of Heart of a Stranger, examining the themes and motifs that run through the collection and exploring Laurence’s own insights into the human experience. Through her exploration of the depths of Heart of a Stranger, Laurence provides a unique perspective on the power of literature to illuminate the complexities of our world and our place within it.

Background and Context

Margaret Laurence’s Heart of a Stranger is a novel that explores the complexities of human relationships and the impact of cultural differences on those relationships. The novel is set in Ghana, West Africa, and follows the story of a Canadian woman named Dorian, who travels to Ghana to join her husband, Jim, who is working as a teacher in a small village. As Dorian adjusts to life in Ghana, she is forced to confront her own prejudices and assumptions about the people and culture of the country. Through her interactions with the local people, Dorian begins to see the world in a new way and learns to appreciate the beauty and richness of Ghanaian culture. The novel is a powerful exploration of the human experience and the ways in which we can learn from and connect with people from different backgrounds and cultures.

Plot Summary

The plot of Heart of a Stranger revolves around the life of a young woman named Sally Morgan. Sally is a Canadian journalist who is sent to Africa to cover a story about the political situation in the country. While in Africa, Sally meets a man named Henry, who is a local farmer. The two fall in love and begin a relationship. However, their relationship is complicated by the fact that Henry is a black man and Sally is a white woman. The novel explores the themes of race, identity, and love in a complex and nuanced way. As Sally and Henry navigate their relationship, they are forced to confront the prejudices and biases of the society they live in. Ultimately, Heart of a Stranger is a powerful and thought-provoking novel that challenges readers to think deeply about the complexities of race and identity in the modern world.

Character Analysis

One of the most intriguing characters in Margaret Laurence’s Heart of a Stranger is the protagonist, Sally Morgan. Sally is a complex character who undergoes significant growth and transformation throughout the novel. At the beginning of the story, Sally is a young woman who is struggling to find her place in the world. She is unsure of herself and lacks confidence in her abilities. However, as the story progresses, Sally begins to discover her own strength and resilience. She learns to stand up for herself and to fight for what she believes in. Sally’s journey is a powerful reminder of the importance of self-discovery and self-acceptance. Through her struggles and triumphs, Sally becomes a symbol of hope and inspiration for readers everywhere.

Symbolism and Imagery

Symbolism and imagery play a significant role in Margaret Laurence’s Heart of a Stranger. The novel is filled with various symbols and images that help to convey the themes and messages of the story. One of the most prominent symbols in the novel is the river. The river represents the journey of life and the constant flow of time. It is a symbol of change and transformation, as the characters in the novel are constantly evolving and growing. Another important symbol in the novel is the snake. The snake represents temptation and danger, and it is a reminder of the consequences of giving in to our desires. The imagery in the novel is also powerful, with vivid descriptions of the landscape and the natural world. The use of imagery helps to create a sense of place and atmosphere, and it adds depth and richness to the story. Overall, the symbolism and imagery in Heart of a Stranger are essential elements that contribute to the novel’s overall impact and meaning.

Themes and Motifs

One of the prominent themes in Margaret Laurence’s Heart of a Stranger is the idea of identity and belonging. The novel explores the struggles of individuals who are caught between two cultures and are unable to fully identify with either. The protagonist, Sally, is a Canadian woman who marries a Ghanaian man and moves to Africa. She finds herself torn between her Canadian identity and her new African identity, and struggles to find a sense of belonging in either culture. This theme is further explored through the character of Kwesi, Sally’s husband, who is also caught between two cultures and is unable to fully identify with either. The novel also touches on themes of love, loss, and the search for meaning in life. These themes are woven together to create a complex and thought-provoking narrative that explores the depths of the human experience.

Narrative Technique and Style

Margaret Laurence’s Heart of a Stranger is a novel that explores the complexities of human relationships and the impact of cultural differences on these relationships. The narrative technique and style used by Laurence in this novel are crucial in conveying the themes and messages of the story.

One of the most notable narrative techniques used by Laurence is the use of multiple perspectives. The novel is told from the perspectives of several characters, including the protagonist, Catherine, and her husband, Ahmed. This allows the reader to gain a deeper understanding of the characters and their motivations, as well as the cultural differences that exist between them.

Laurence’s writing style is also noteworthy. She uses vivid imagery and descriptive language to create a sense of place and atmosphere. For example, when Catherine first arrives in Africa, Laurence describes the landscape in detail, painting a picture of a harsh and unforgiving environment. This sets the tone for the rest of the novel and emphasizes the challenges that Catherine will face in adapting to her new surroundings.

Overall, the narrative technique and style used by Margaret Laurence in Heart of a Stranger are essential in conveying the novel’s themes and messages. Through the use of multiple perspectives and vivid imagery, Laurence creates a compelling story that explores the complexities of human relationships and the impact of cultural differences on these relationships.

Use of Language and Dialogue

In Heart of a Stranger, Margaret Laurence masterfully uses language and dialogue to convey the complex emotions and relationships between her characters. The novel is set in Ghana, and Laurence expertly weaves in local dialects and idioms to add authenticity and depth to the story. The dialogue between the characters is also incredibly realistic and natural, with each character having their own distinct voice and mannerisms. Through the use of language and dialogue, Laurence is able to create a vivid and immersive world that draws the reader in and keeps them engaged until the very end.

Comparative Analysis with Other Works

In comparison to other works of Margaret Laurence, Heart of a Stranger stands out as a unique and powerful piece of literature. While her other works, such as The Stone Angel and A Jest of God, also explore themes of identity and belonging, Heart of a Stranger delves deeper into the complexities of human relationships and the impact of cultural differences.

In contrast to Laurence’s earlier works, Heart of a Stranger is more focused on the experiences of immigrants and the challenges they face in adapting to a new culture. The novel also highlights the importance of empathy and understanding in bridging cultural divides, a theme that is particularly relevant in today’s globalized world.

Compared to other works of Canadian literature, Heart of a Stranger is a standout for its nuanced portrayal of immigrant experiences and its exploration of the complexities of identity. It is a powerful reminder of the importance of empathy and understanding in building bridges between cultures and communities.

Reception and Criticism

Margaret Laurence’s Heart of a Stranger was met with mixed reviews upon its release in 1976. While some praised the novel for its exploration of themes such as identity, belonging, and cultural displacement, others criticized it for its portrayal of Indigenous characters and its use of cultural appropriation.

Critics such as Northrop Frye and Margaret Atwood praised Laurence’s ability to capture the complexities of human relationships and the struggles of individuals to find their place in the world. However, Indigenous scholars and activists such as Vine Deloria Jr. and Taiaiake Alfred criticized Laurence for perpetuating harmful stereotypes and for appropriating Indigenous culture.

Despite the criticisms, Heart of a Stranger remains a significant work in Canadian literature, and its themes continue to resonate with readers today. As society continues to grapple with issues of cultural appropriation and representation, Laurence’s novel serves as a reminder of the importance of respectful and accurate portrayals of marginalized communities.

Cultural and Historical Significance

Heart of a Stranger, written by Margaret Laurence, is a literary masterpiece that delves into the complexities of human relationships and the search for identity. The novel is set in Ghana, a country with a rich cultural and historical significance. Ghana was the first African country to gain independence from colonial rule, and its history is marked by the struggle for freedom and the fight against oppression.

Laurence’s novel explores the cultural and historical significance of Ghana through the eyes of her protagonist, Catherine. Catherine is a Canadian woman who travels to Ghana to join her husband, a development worker. Through her experiences in Ghana, Catherine learns about the country’s history, culture, and traditions. She becomes immersed in the local community and develops a deep appreciation for the people and their way of life.

One of the most significant aspects of Ghanaian culture that Laurence explores in her novel is the importance of community. In Ghana, people place a high value on social connections and relationships. Family and community are central to Ghanaian life, and people work together to support one another. Laurence portrays this sense of community through her depiction of the village where Catherine lives. The villagers are portrayed as a close-knit group who support one another through thick and thin.

Another important aspect of Ghanaian culture that Laurence explores is the role of tradition. Ghana has a rich cultural heritage, and its traditions are deeply ingrained in the daily lives of its people. Laurence portrays this through her depiction of the various ceremonies and rituals that take place in the village. These ceremonies are an important part of Ghanaian culture, and they serve to connect people to their past and their ancestors.

Overall, Heart of a Stranger is a novel that explores the cultural and historical significance of Ghana. Through her depiction of the country and its people, Laurence provides readers with a deep understanding of Ghanaian culture and traditions. The novel is a testament to the importance of cultural exchange and the power of literature to bridge cultural divides.

Gender and Identity Issues

In Heart of a Stranger, Margaret Laurence explores the complexities of gender and identity issues through the character of Rachel Cameron. Rachel struggles with her sense of self and her place in the world as a single, middle-aged woman in a small town. She grapples with societal expectations of femininity and the pressure to conform to traditional gender roles. Additionally, Rachel’s experiences with sexual assault and harassment further complicate her understanding of her own identity and worth. Laurence’s portrayal of Rachel’s journey towards self-discovery and acceptance sheds light on the challenges faced by women in patriarchal societies and the importance of breaking free from societal constraints to embrace one’s true identity.

Religious and Philosophical Themes

Margaret Laurence’s Heart of a Stranger is a novel that delves into the complexities of human relationships, identity, and the search for meaning in life. Throughout the novel, Laurence explores various religious and philosophical themes that are central to the characters’ experiences and struggles. One of the most prominent themes in the novel is the search for spiritual fulfillment and the role of religion in shaping one’s identity. Laurence portrays the characters’ diverse religious beliefs and practices, from the traditional Christianity of Rachel’s family to the indigenous spirituality of the Cree people. Through these different perspectives, Laurence highlights the importance of respecting and understanding different faiths and the ways in which they shape individuals’ worldviews. Another significant theme in the novel is the search for meaning and purpose in life. The characters grapple with questions of mortality, morality, and the nature of existence, seeking answers through their relationships with others and their own personal journeys. Laurence’s exploration of these themes adds depth and complexity to the novel, inviting readers to reflect on their own beliefs and values and the ways in which they shape their lives.

Psychological and Emotional Dimensions

Margaret Laurence’s novel, “The Stone Angel,” delves into the psychological and emotional dimensions of its protagonist, Hagar Shipley. Throughout the novel, Hagar’s past traumas and present struggles with aging and mortality are explored in depth, providing insight into the complexities of the human psyche. Laurence’s use of stream of consciousness narration allows readers to intimately experience Hagar’s innermost thoughts and emotions, making her a relatable and sympathetic character. The novel also touches on themes of loneliness, regret, and the search for identity, further emphasizing the psychological and emotional depth of the story. Overall, “The Stone Angel” is a powerful exploration of the human condition, highlighting the importance of understanding and addressing our psychological and emotional dimensions.

Political and Social Context

The political and social context of Margaret Laurence’s Heart of a Stranger is crucial to understanding the novel’s themes and characters. Set in the 1960s, the novel takes place during a time of significant social and political change in Canada. The country was grappling with issues of national identity, Indigenous rights, and the role of women in society. These issues are reflected in the novel’s portrayal of its characters and their struggles. The protagonist, Catherine, is a white woman who is married to a Black man, and their relationship is fraught with tension and conflict due to the racial prejudices of the time. The novel also explores the experiences of Indigenous characters, who are marginalized and oppressed by the dominant culture. Through its portrayal of these characters and their struggles, Heart of a Stranger offers a powerful critique of the social and political structures of its time.

Impact on Canadian Literature

Margaret Laurence’s Heart of a Stranger has had a significant impact on Canadian literature. The novel explores themes of identity, belonging, and the immigrant experience, which are central to Canadian literature. Laurence’s use of language and imagery also reflects the Canadian landscape and culture. The novel has been praised for its honest portrayal of the challenges faced by immigrants in Canada and has helped to shape the conversation around multiculturalism in Canadian society. Heart of a Stranger has become a classic of Canadian literature and continues to be studied and celebrated by readers and scholars alike.

Adaptations and Influences

One of the most notable adaptations of Margaret Laurence’s Heart of a Stranger is the 1991 film adaptation titled The Diviners. Directed by Anne Wheeler, the film starred Sonja Smits as Morag Gunn and Tom Jackson as Jules Tonnerre. While the film received mixed reviews, it was praised for its faithful adaptation of Laurence’s novel and its portrayal of the complex relationships between the characters.

Laurence’s work has also influenced numerous other writers, particularly those exploring themes of identity, belonging, and cultural heritage. Canadian author Dionne Brand has cited Laurence as a major influence on her own writing, particularly in her exploration of the experiences of Black Canadians. Similarly, Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has praised Laurence’s ability to capture the complexities of human relationships and the impact of colonialism on personal identity.

Overall, Laurence’s Heart of a Stranger continues to resonate with readers and writers alike, serving as a powerful exploration of the human experience and the search for belonging in a rapidly changing world.

Contemporary Relevance

The themes explored in Margaret Laurence’s Heart of a Stranger are still relevant in contemporary society. The novel delves into issues of identity, belonging, and the impact of colonialism on Indigenous communities. These themes continue to be important topics of discussion in Canada and around the world. The novel’s exploration of the complexities of cultural identity and the struggle to find a sense of belonging is particularly relevant in today’s globalized world, where people are constantly moving and encountering new cultures. Additionally, the novel’s critique of colonialism and its effects on Indigenous communities is a topic that remains at the forefront of discussions about reconciliation and decolonization in Canada. Overall, Heart of a Stranger’s exploration of these timeless themes makes it a valuable and thought-provoking read for contemporary audiences.