“Draw a Squirrel Cage”: The Politics and Aesthetics of Unemployment in Irene Baird’s Waste Heritage

Herb Wyile


There is a paucity of fictional depictions of and critical engagement with class and work in Canadian literature, a fact that makes study of Irene Baird’s 1939 novel, Waste Heritage, doubly worthwhile. This neglected text draws heavily on the Canadian class struggles of the late 1930s and, in a muted metafictive spirit, grapples with how best to convey them in writing. Through her writer figure, Kenny Hughes, Baird questions the efficacy of a traditionally bourgeois, individualist genre like the novel to express working-class, collective dissent. Baird focuses on select characters that, though individuated, function as the “everyperson.” The formal preoccupations and social consciousness of her novel render it not only a valuable record of an epoch in Canada’s history, but also an increasingly relevant literary model for understanding and reacting to class relations in the age of multinational capitalism.

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