The Lost Mother? Overfishing and the Discourse of Gender in Morrissey’s Sylvanus Now

Alison Elena Glassie


In 1992, the Canadian Minister of Fisheries and Oceans declared a moratorium on Newfoundland’s northern cod. Eighteen years later, the cod have not recovered, with shrimp and crab assuming larger roles in the fishery. Donna Morrissey’s 2005 novel Sylvanus Now documents the beginning of the cod fishery’s downward spiral in an elegiac novel rife with imagery and references to gender, femininity, and motherhood. Morrissey not only feminizes her ocean and her cod, she aligns the reproductive failures of her protagonist’s wife with the ocean’s plight. As a novel dealing with as complex interdisciplinary social and ecological problem as overfishing, any reading of Sylvanus Now necessarily includes a look at the biology, oceanography, history, and fishing technology behind the story. Such an interdisciplinary analysis reinforces and deepens the discourse of gender in the novel, and demonstrates the role of humanities scholarship in understanding marine environmental problems and moving toward solutions.

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