A Note—Doing the Work with Metonymy

Three Insights from Canadian Theatre


  • Dale Tracy Royal Military College of Canada




Building on Alicia Elliott’s exhortation to “do the work” in “CanLit is a Raging Dumpster Fire,” I pursue the metonymic after the metaphoric. In metaphor, one thing substitutes for another: the dumpster fire takes the place of the field of relations that creates the conditions for controversies and crises. In contrast, metonymy is contiguous: its readability depends on showing the conventional, assumed, or actual relationships between one thing and another. Metaphor conceals connections; metonymy works by virtue of them. Three recent Canadian plays help me think about what metonymy can add to discourse about doing the work: Daniel MacIvor’s Who Killed Spalding Gray? (2017), Jess Dobkin’s The Magic Hour (2017), and Marcus Youssef and James Long’s Winners and Losers (2015). My strategy is metonymical like “CanLit” is: I read each play for an insight it might offer within the signifying field of Canadian literature, culture, and nation.

Author Biography

Dale Tracy, Royal Military College of Canada

Dale Tracy, a contract faculty member, has been an assistant professor in the Department of English, Culture, and Communication and is currently associate chair of the Writing Centre at the Royal Military College. She is the author of With the Witnesses: Poetry, Compassion, and Claimed Experience (McGill-Queen’s, 2017) and the chapbooks Celebration Machine (Proper Tales, 2018) and The Mystery of Ornament (above/ground, 2020). She is guest editor of the special issue Metonymy, Poetics, Performance (Journal of the Midwest Modern Language Association, 2018), and her articles are available in diverse journals, including Canadian Literature, Modern Drama, World Literature, and Mosaic.