The Fire Dwellers by Margaret Laurence

Article Posted in: Research Articles

Margaret Laurence’s The Fire Dwellers: A Fine Balance

by – Ms. C. Thenmozhi & Dr. Srinivasan, Vo.II, Issue.XXII, November 2016

Introduction to the Authors:

Ms.C.Thenmozhi is a research scholar at the department of English, National College, Trichirapalli. The co-author, Dr. Srinivasan is an associate professor at the department of English in the same college.



Margaret Laurence an active feminist contributed to Canadian modernism through her women characters with universal perception. She differs from other writers by projecting female characters of boldness and self-confidence. They fight against their patriarchal superiority in order to create an identity of their own for their survival. Laurence’s The Fire Dwellers is one of her novels of Manawaka literature deals with a brave woman with a psychological insight. Laurence wants to express through her words the unheard voice of the women from the inside home in order to make a societal change. Stacey Mac Aindra is the representative of Laurence who questions the conventions and tries to create an identity of her own which she thought lost in her family. She hopes to get it outside of her home and finally she finds the survival strategy to balance her dual world. The aim of this Paper is to show how Laurence has created female characters to propagate a voice for them.


Key Words: Feminist modernism, inside, outside, survival, memory, space, time.


Canada is moving towards development in every field. Immigrants from all over the world are important factors contributing to Canada’s development. As every country is trying to establish their culture, custom, transformation, destruction through their writings, Canada is not an exception to this. Canadian writers also bring out what they have endured so far. But there is one particular gender which has been ignored for many years; the unheard voice of the voiceless is being neglected.

 Feminist modernism

Helene Cixous in “Sorties: Out and Out: Attacked Ways Out/ Forays” writes of the dilemma for women who look for, but do not recognize themselves in the world: “What is my place if I am a woman? I look for myself throughout the centuries and don’t see myself anywhere” (574).Canadian modernism paves the way for writers to project themselves and recognized those who have become the voice of the voiceless. Among those writers, Margaret Laurence is considered as literary foremother of Canada. She stands distinctively in crafting women characters. Joan Larkin, of Ms. Magazine tells about Margaret Laurence that she has been haunted by the women in Laurence’s novels, because she could see herself in the women characters created by Laurence. Instead of describing the sufferings of women and evokes pity, the author has created women of pride, brave, self-confidence and their struggle in establishing their identity.


The Fire-Dwellers

Stacey Cameron is the protagonist of The Fire-Dwellers. Stacey Cameron is an elder sister of Racheal Cameron of  Laurence’s Jest of God . She leaves Manawaka at the age of nineteen and marries Cliff Mac Aindra, a salesman. At the Beginning of the novel, she is living with her four Children in Vancouver, British Columbia. She reveals herself at the age of thirty-nine, she feels unattractive, surrounded by the stresses of motherhood, chaotic by the absence of communication with her husband. Laurence has adopted the method of interior monologue to narrate the story of Stacey and her reaction to the present situation:

Everything would be alright if I only was better educated…….Listen Stacey, at thirty nine, after four kids, you can’t expect to look like a sylph………Everything will be alright when the kids are older. I’ll be more free. Free for what? What in hell is the matter with you, anyway? Everything will be alright….Come on, fat slob on down town, get up off your ass and get going…..All the thing I hate. Hate, but perpetuate. (8-9)

 Margaret Laurence creates her to study the role of wife and mother in a modern family in which the mothers both promoted and gulped by their children. Even though Stacey does all the unchanging responsibilities related with life as a mother, she worries that she is always sacrificing her life in this sequence of trifles. Although she accepts that taking care of children is a valuable job, she needs a little for herself to be spent. She desires to talk with her husband, her children, and the world. The Fire-Dwellers is considered a fictional representation of feminist Betty Friedan’s description in The Feminine Mystique (1963) on the suffering of housewife; she describes it as the problem that has no name. Stacey has attained all of her society’s recognition as a happiest women as her sister think so, she is married, mother of four children and gains respect in the society of middle class. But there is a longing inside her which likes to come outside. From her private place to the public place. So she continually strategies within and against the confines of home, which is both her house and body. The satisfaction which she finds through taking night courses, drinking, daydreaming, and having an affair which brings only fear and sense of vainness of modern life.

Memory and Dance

It is expected that women must find out other options to fight against this public and private spaces where communal training is twisted as legendary. Stacey at least tries her best to escape from the inner world but most of the women not even recognize it and confined themselves inside their home. Stacey chooses memory of her past. She reaches her past through her memory; she senses a music inside her which makes her dance as Stacey Cameron but not a wife of Mac Aindra. She sees dance as a way to recover her subjectivity. She finds dance and memory as an outer world where she feels relaxed. This is the survival strategy makes her live both in the present and the past. But she is not aware that she has found way to survive in the present. Simultaneity is a strategy that repels a patriarchal erection which freedoms an individual over combined involvement. Stacey took a key to open the gates of her new world which helps her to escape from the burdens of the present world.

A Fine Balance

Stacey tries to unite her uneven self into a practical subject point where she can end time over memory. This approach is both modernist and feminist formation. As she has find out her comfortable world she tries to take her children to her world. Though she can find an identity for herself in her simultaneous selves in the memory, she cannot distinguish inside from the outside. So she redefines her strategy instead of reconstruction that by recognizing the trivialities no longer the bad ones and balances her inside and outside simultaneously. At the end of the novel, she realises her power of will transformed. In conclusion, she states,

 Okay so in some ways I’ m mean as all out. I’m going to quit worrying about it. I used to think there would be a blinding flash of light someday, and then I would be wise and calm and would know how to cope with everything and my kids would rise up and call me blessed. Now I see that whatever I’m like, I’m pretty well stuck with it for life. Hell of revelation that turned out to be. (272)

She recognizes that she is a noble mother and owns an inside reservoir of strength and willpower.

Stacey appears at her fortieth birthday with a different intellect of reception and peacefulness but not submission. She fights isolation by moving through time in her memory and through space with her body. She restores herself in a poetics of dance and enunciates herself in a variety of expressions.



The life of Stacey Mac Aindra voiced an undeniable truth that women, who can’t separate themselves from the outside world, must know the strategy of balancing. This is the message conveyed by the feminist modernist Margaret Laurence through her novel. A Fine balance is expected from the women to maintain their inner and outer world. The Paper has shown the psychic status of a middle-aged women and her quest in creating space for herself. She has searched everywhere and finally finds it inside her and gains the confidence to balance both the world simultaneously.



Laurence, Margaret. The Fire dwellers, Chicago: the university of Chicago Press,1988

Cixous, Helen. Sorties: Out and Out Attacks way Out/ Forays. Trans.Betsy Wing.

Contemporary Critical Theory. Ed.Dan Latimer. Florida: Harcourt Brace: 560-86.

Explore More in: Academic Research Paper

Read More Articles: