Canada is a land whose occupants could trace their origins to immigrants coming from different parts of the world most of which came from Europe. Nowadays, the country is seeing a wave of immigrants from North America and Asia as well. Set in the immigrant community of Winnipeg's North End, Under the Ribs of Death follows the progress of young Sandor Hunyadi as he struggles to cast off his Hungarian background and become a "real Canadian." Embittered by poverty and social humiliation, Sandor rejects his father's impractical idealism and devotes himself single-mindedly to becoming a successful businessman.This nature of being immigrants and the experiences the immigrants had in the past were portrayed in John Marlyn's Under the Ribs of Death. Equipped with a new name and a hardened heart, he is close to realizing his ambition when fortune's wheel takes an unexpected - and possibly redemptive - turn.Combining social realism and moral parable, Under the Ribs of Death is John Marlyn's ironic portrayal of the immigrant experience in the years leading up to the Great Depression. As a commentary on the problems of cultural assimilation, this novel is as relevant today as it was when first published in 1957.Since its publication, Under the Ribs of Death has been recognized as a vivid recreation of Winnipeg's multiethnic North End in the 1920s, a subtle analysis of racial prejudice and its consequences, and the first significant revelation of Hungarian immigrant experience in English Canada....
The Novel and Being Canadian
Under the Ribs of Death is often considered a bildungsroman in which the usual conflict between generations is exacerbated by the protagonist's association of his parents' Hungarian culture and humane values with grinding poverty and persecution, and the dominant culture and commercialism with success and fulfillment. The young Sandor Hunyadi, rejecting his exploited, long-suffering father, fantasizes that his real father is an English lord and dreams of becoming English, rich, and powerful. When he gets his first job cutting grass in, to him, paradisiacal River Heights, he gives his name as Alex Humphrey, for its "quiet English elegance"; when he enters the cutthroat world of business, he rejects that name as "too soft ... too harmless" and becomes Alex Hunter, painstakingly practicing a signature in which the lower-case letters look "something like the teeth of a buzz-saw." His strong desire to be assimilated engenders a mass of contradictions. He resents the English who coolly maneuver him into admitting his Hungarian origins, yet he worships the successful Hungarian Nagy, who exploits him more cruelly than the English. He considers the English Lawson's lack of prejudice against him a sign of weakness. Falling in love with his childhood playmate Mary Kostenuik, he reflects, "You'd never think from looking at her that her parents were foreigners."
Just as Alex seems about to achieve his dream of moving with his wife to River Heights, the 1929 stock-market crash occurs. Alex, unemployed in the ensuing Depression, trying to sell a couple of wicker baskets to buy stamps, stationery, and newspapers to apply for jobs, sees his dream house in River Heights "empty and deserted ... gaping with the