Borders and Flows

  1. Consider how Brand’s novel traces the connections between global flows and nationalist borders. How do the final moments of Quy’s narrative complicate the nationalist, multicultural ideas of access, immigration, and diversity within the social spheres of Toronto?
  2. Consider how Brand’s description of the spaces, and inhabitants of Toronto illustrates a multicultural, and dynamic environment in one of the metropolitan centres of Canada. Consider different notions of multiculturalism, most importantly the conflict between the views of it as unifying or as ghettoizing. How does Brand’s story use this representation of the city to complicate political notions of inside/outside, access, and autonomy?

Language and Belonging

  1. Examine moments in the narrative that focus on language. For instance, the lack of language is a barrier to a sense of humanity for Quy (137), leading to his beating and possible murder at the end of the novel. At the same time, the lack of linguistic proficiency is a positive aspect of Carla’s reflections as she has coffee in Little Italy:

    she heard around her the language of her own childhood, a language she didn’t speak or understand now, but whose tones she felt comforted by. (Brand 314)

    Tuyen also reflects on language and culture throughout the novel. How do these character-specific reflections on language affect our understanding of the relationship between language, experience, and identity? Consider comparing and contrasting these various understandings. For instance, in what ways do Carla and Quy share an understanding of identity tied to language, but at the same time use this knowledge differently?

Generational Differences

  1. Consider the historical, social, cultural, and global processes that lead to intergenerational tensions surrounding a variety of understandings of gender, ethnicity, culture, and racialization in the novel. How does the novel use these tensions to challenge rigid perspectives and negative stereotypes that these supposed social distinctions propagate? See Emily Johansen’s article, Streets are the dwelling place of the collective, for more on the two generational models of subjectivity.

Critical Disagreement

  1. Do you agree with Johansen’s conclusion that Quy’s possible murder suggests the impossibility of the return to the homeland (60)? What if we accept Quy’s final moments in the story as ambivalent (Buma 23)? How does this challenge Johansen’s conclusions or open up further interpretive possibilities?
  2. Compare and contrast Michael Buma’s discussion of the tension between multicultural (nationalist) and post-nationalist interpretations of the novel and Emily Johansen’s Situationist (regional) analysis as they relate to notions of identity and subjectivity.

Sports and Identification

  1. In Soccer and the City, Michael Buma illustrates how sports and ethnic identification are both slippery markers of identity which reflect local, national, and global interests. Consider his analysis of Brand’s choice of soccer over hockey as the major sporting event in the novel as a means of circumventing the nationalist rhetoric of hockey and foregrounding the cosmopolitan, global perspective of soccer. Buma summarizes this analysis as an interpretive tension for Brand’s book between cosmopolitan post-nationalism and national multiculturalism (22). Which particular conclusion do you support? Why? Develop alternatives to Buma’s examples.

Appropriated Style

  1. Consider Jackie’s anger at InStyle’s depiction of corn-rows: Stop crediting Bo Derek with something that goes back centuries in Africa, Americas, the Caribbean, and Canada (90). Why is Jackie angry? Why is this shift in socio-cultural and historical perspective important to her? Consider how limitations on perspective’s, such as that illustrated by InStyle, support a dislocated and de-historicized approach to cultural appropriation and racialization (i.e., corn-rows only becoming a credible hairstyle when a white woman/sex symbol engage with them).
  2. Find other moments in the text where cultural signifiers such as fashion, sports, or individual tastes trigger strong emotions. What triggers these emotions? How do these moments reflect a broader interest in the entwining of racialized ethnic and cultural histories in the story? What do these various examples suggest about the relationship between notions of personal identity, and broader social issues of language, culture, processes of location and dislocation, and history?

Works Cited

  • Brand, Dionne. What We All Long For. Toronto: Vintage Canada, 2005. Print.
  • Buma, Michael. Soccer and the City: The Unwieldy National in Dionne Brand’s What We All Long For. Canadian Literature 202 (2009): 12–27. Print. (PDF)
  • Johansen, Emily. Streets are the dwelling place of the collective: Public Space and Cosmopolitan Citizenship in Dionne Brand’s What We All Long For. Canadian Literature 196 (2008): 48–62. Print. (PDF)