Ce sont les histoires de notre temps

Why you must read "Kabloona Red" by Norma Dunning

👀 Why you must read “Kablooma Red” by Norma Dunning

🚨 Content warning

Sexual violence. Residential schools in Canada.

“The woolen armor of little girls”

Norma Dunning

Aside from being part of the new Canon of literary works, there is another reason why you must read “Kabloona red” by Norma Dunning.

“Kablooma Red” is a short story written by author Norma Dunning, and it is part of, the changing face of 🇨🇦 Canadian literature. The story is told by an Inuk woman who is a residential school survivor. And while the story re-tells her traumatic experiences, the real focus; where Dunning’s talents as a storyteller shine, is in how the author manipulates the present and past tenses so that the text itself becomes an embodiment of trauma.

let me explain ☝️

The story is told in the first person, using the past tense, but when the traumatic events are told, the narrator changes from a past tense to present tense in the same paragraph.

Like this:

“Learned at school too”

“Puts me in the punishment room”

“Shows up”

“Tells me not to scream”

“I hurt”

“I bleed”

Why you must read "Kabloona Red" by Norma Dunning

It’s a simple thing and yet it is incredibly effective to make the text reflect the content.👀

While the narrator, re-lives her trauma, the story continues to be told in a present tense. Everything that happens in the residential school is still being lived; the author uses this mode, to indicate that while the traumatic events happened in the past, the narrator is re-living them instead of remembering them.

But then the narrator switches back to using past tense. It coincides with the narrator figuring out how to cope with the traumatic events.

The narrator acknowledges that she will carry the burden of the traumatic events lived during her imprisonment in the residential school, she also realizes that she can move on, without forgetting so she can have a life.

Despite all this being explicitly revealed in the last paragraph, the text mirrors this sentiment with the switching of past-to-present-to-past tense.

Why you must read "KabloonaRed" by Norma Dunning

It isn’t framed a a victory or anything like that. The story ends with the narrator acknowledging the compromise she has to make everyday just to move on and have a life “a La Canadiana.”

Despite its dark tone, the story is full of irony, but this comes at the expense of the narrator. The ironic tone of the narrator is linked to her compromise. From the beginning of the story the narrator acknowledges that she uses colonial language. She uses “white word (s)” to wrap around her experience. Just like the home-made cigarettes she rolls up. Even the word she uses to name her people, at first, is a “white-word.” It’s ironic that the same north that traumatized her, gave her the words to describe her experience, herself and her people.

But just because she uses white words, it doesn’t mean that she doesn’t use the word “Inuk.” She refers to herself as Inuk, but when she meets her husband she changes her name for a new one. The narrator adopts a “white-name”.

By the end of the story, the narrator uses “white-words” and irony, to cope with her trauma. She continues to compromise until the end. But when she’s alone, she can remember and stay alive. To make sure that her original self is not erased or white washed. It is what she calls “the Inuit way.”

“You never really get over things. You just move on. Move on to laughter. Move on to being alive. Move on to growing old. And when he’s not here, then you can really remember and you can have a sip of Kabloona Red and smoke all the cigs you want. After all it’s the Inuit way.”

Norma Dunning, “Kabloona Red”, from “Changing the face of Canadian Literature”

Norma Dunning uses the form of the text, to reflect the contents, instead of just telling everything in the end. That’s why you must read “Kabloona Red”.


Swan, Dane, editor. Changing the face of canadian literature, Guernica Editions, 2020.

Leave a Reply