Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




Mary O'Connor




Not much critical attention has been paid to the writings of Pat Barker, a British working-class novelist who has published five novels since 1982. This scarcity of critical response may be due in part to a lack of reading strategies with which to adequately address the issues presented in these works. Critics and theorists who have approached Barker's writing have had difficulty engaging it because they either find Barker's unapologetic working-class realism to be incompatible with with the reading strategies they are used to applying to realist texts, or they have read Barker's novels specifically to find utopian examples of working-class women's resistance and community.

This study focuses on Barker's first novel, Union Street, for it exemplifies her early work: the concerns voiced in this novel are also addressed in both Blow your House Down and The Century's Daughter. My approach is to read this text dialogically in order to be able to hear and analyse the women's voices as they struggle within and against a series of oppressive patriarchal and class discourses.

The study demonstrates that community is an ambivalent space for the women of Union Street, for although they find comfort within it, it internalizes and reinforces many of the discourses which act to oppress both the women and the community as a whole. We can also see how limited the choices of possible discourses of resistance are (and how difficult it is to produce new, less oppressive discourses), both for the women of Union Street and for actual working class women like them. In response to these limitations, the women voice and enact strategies which may not ultimately help them to speak their resistance, but do help them to cope with their oppression.

McMaster University Library

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