Date of Award
Bachelor of Arts
LACS: French Studies
In 1755, close to 12,000 Acadians, the descendants of French colonists, were expelled by British forces from their home in present-day Nova Scotia. They were then dispersed throughout the thirteen Atlantic colonies of the British Empire and forced to begin their lives anew in the wake of the trauma that they had suffered. This event has since been coined the “Grand Dérangement,” a title that ultimately suggests the havoc that was caused by the disruption of a culture. The Acadians were a people who had separated themselves from the European powers that fought over their land, a people who found a new identity in the New World of North America. This identity was ultimately tied with their land, with their claim as Acadians—they no longer considered themselves to simply be French colonists. Once they were expelled, their identity evolved to include their story of the Dérangement, a story that remained amongst themselves through oral tradition.
Meanwhile, a literary tradition was developing in the Acadians’ new land, the recently independent United States of America. Americans, at first searching for ways in which to create literature that could simultaneously set them apart from their European forefathers and besmirch the British, employed the Acadian story in their novels and poems. The greatest example of this is Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s Evangeline: A Tale of Acadie, the epic poem that represented the Acadians’ suffering in the literary world at large. Following Longfellow’s publication in 1847, the Grand Dérangement became a popular topic in literature not only among American writers, but also Canadians and Europeans. Yet, the Acadians themselves still did not break their silence, did not put their own story, their own identity, into print for nearly another century after Evangeline. It was not until 1979, with the publication of Antonine Maillet’s Pélagie-la-Charrette, that an Acadian writer sent the Acadian story into the global literary world, thus finally allowing for Acadian identity to be expressed via the written word. By tracing the shifts in identity of a people who came to be synonymous with their story of suffering, the role that literature plays in the formation of cultural identity becomes apparent.
Parent, Molly I., "A Tale of Acadie: Le Grand Dérangement Acadien et son identité littéraire". Senior Theses, Trinity College, Hartford, CT 2015.
Trinity College Digital Repository, https://digitalrepository.trincoll.edu/theses/488