Dialogizing the Scriptures: A Bakhtinian Reading of Rudy Weibe's Peace Shall Destroy Many


  • Penny Van Toorn


Rudy Wiebe is one of Canada's foremost contemporary novelists, and an active member of a liberal branch of the Mennonite Brethren Church. When the Mennonites migrated en mass from Russia to Canada in the 1870s and the 1920s, many sought to continue their tradition of living in closed communities as "a people apart." The more conservative Mennonite colonies put as much geographical distance as they could between themselves and the outside world. They established self-sufficient communal farming settlements on large tracts of land in the prairie provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta, where they set up their own schools, financial institutions, and local government bodies. But the most effective barrier the Mennonites erected between themselves and the outside world was the barrier of language. In order to keep the secular world out of earshot, many Mennonite communities strenuously resisted assimilation into either of Canada's two major language groups - English or French. Instead, they used Low German in day-to-day affairs and High German in church matters, just as they had done during their hundred and fifty-year sojourn in Russia. Rudy Wiebe was typical of a generation of Mennonite children in that he spoke no English at all until he entered school in 1940 at six years of age, by which time the German-language Mennonite schools had been absorbed involuntarily into the Anglophone Canadian provincial school system.