Two Solitudes

“In this town,” he said, looking over Emilie’s head, “all the poor I met were French. We’re the ones that get splashed with the motor cars of the English.” He looked down at the girl beside him, “Did you ever stop to think how comparatively few English live in Montreal?”

Emilie shook her head. She had no interest in what he was saying, but the way he said it gave her a sick feeling inside. He stooped down and picked up a grain of rice that had been thrown at the honeymoon couple. Eyeing it as he turned it over in his fingers, he went on. "In Montreal the French outnumber the English three to one. In the province we outnumber them more than seven to one. And yet, the English own everything!” He held the grain of rice under the nail of his thumb and stared at the floor. “The English in Montreal, they own nearly the whole of Canada. And yet once upon a time the whole of Canada belonged to the French.”

Emilie tried to smile. She tugged at his coat in an effort to get him to sit down again, but Marius knew he talked better on his feet. “In the factories all the bosses are English. One English boss, five hundred French workers. Funny, no?” He cracked the grain of rice solemnly between two nails as though it were a flea. “But on the whole,” he went on, “it is the laziness of the poor one should first observe. The rich are equally stupid, but I think maybe the rich are frightened, and frightened men are not generally lazy.”

Emilie got up from the bench and stood close beside him. In contrast to his drawn and bitter leanness, she looked plump and healthy. Her commonsense wanted to make him stop all this talk. It was probably clever, but clever people only got into trouble. Only priests should use clever talk like Marius.[...]

Source: Hugh McLennan, "Two Solitudes" (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart Ltd., 2003), 180. Notes: Originally published in 1945

Return to parent page