CM . . .
. Volume XIII Number 19 . . . . May 11, 2007
The Whiteoaks of Jalna has, as its strength, the ability to demonstrate the interconnections of family members across generations. The author easily conveys the different power dynamics within the Jalna household. The characterization of each family member is based on commonplace family events, longing for love or lovers, preferences in food and clothing, relationships to animals, and their individual voices are executed in lively dialogue that sharply reveal the psychology of each individual.
For young readers, the book is a good introduction to understanding as to how a family environment, money, social standing/social appearance, gender, age, and values can be reflected both uniformly in a family as well as the individual. Each individual in the book is a ‘prism’ that refracts these influences differently. One of the metaphors in the book is that of people and animals being trapped or caged. This is an apt metaphor for the rigid social and psychological environment of the book’s characters.
The Whiteoaks of Jalna is a novel based firmly in the tradition of Southern Ontario Gothic, a genre which emphasizes race, religion, gender and politics (such as Canadian women’s right to vote). What is key to enjoying the book is being able to set aside its dated language and, instead, being able to focus on the strong personalities of the characters who could easily be situated in contemporary life. The sweep of the entire Jalna series of books is reminiscent of the scope and drama of Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind, published nearly a decade later in 1936. The first book in the Jalna series was published in 1927. Both books show how external and internal forces can break some individuals while making others stronger.
Teachers will find this book an interesting tool to teach the values of a period of Canadian history that could, by some, be argued to remain intact in many parts of Southern Ontario. Broadly speaking, the book is a sound study of family dynamics and individual psychology. As politics figure prominently in the book, the young reader may find it of interest to look at the differences, and similarities, between past and present. Some subject matter is mature, and some language is dated. For this reason, the book is recommended for a mature young reader.
Located in Toronto, ON, J. Lynn Fraser is a freelance writer and editor whose magazine articles appear in international publications.
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