Copyright C 2008 by Hyacinth M. Simpson
All rights reserved
Submission Criteria for MaComere:
MaComere is a refereed journal that is devoted to scholarly studies and creative works by and about
Caribbean women in the region and the diaspora. It is a journal of the Association of Caribbean
Women Writers and Scholars (ACWWS), an international organization founded in 1995. MaComere
is published once per year in the fall. The webpage for MaComere is www.macomerejoumal.com.
Submissions of critical articles, creative writing, interviews, and book reviews in English, as well
as in Spanish, French and Dutch, are invited. Manuscripts should be submitted in triplicate-on disc
formatted in WordPerfect 6.1 (or higher) or Word 6.0 (or higher) and in two hard copies sent in the
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editors reserve the right to amend phrasing and punctuation in articles and reviews accepted for
All submissions and editorial correspondence shouldbe sent to Hyacinth M. Simpson, Editor, MaComere,
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staff, or financial supporters assume any legal responsibility for materials published in the journal.
Opinions expressed in contributions are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views
of the editors, staff, and the journal's financial supporters.
MaComere's Founding Editor: Jacqueline Brice-Finch
Cover image: Joscelyn Gardner, video stills from White Skin. BlackKin: A Creole Conversation
Piece, multi-media installation, 2003
Cover logo by Marcia L. Spidell
Copyedited by Lisa LaFramboise
Typeset by Sandra Caya at Copper Canary Publishing Services
Printed by Hignell Book Printing, Manitoba
The Journal of the Association of Caribbean Women Writers and Scholars (ACWWS)
Founded in 1995, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Hyacinth M. Simpson, Ryerson University
Manuscript Review and Advisory Editors
Carole Boyce Davies, Cornell University; Sarah Casteel, Carleton University; Merle Collins,
University of Maryland; Denise Decaires Narain, University of Sussex; Pascale De Souza,
Johns Hopkins University; Alison Donnell, University oj Keith Ellis, University of
Toronto; Evelyn Hawthorne, Howard University; Nalo Hopkinson, Writer; Kathleen Kellett-
Betsos, Ryerson University; Anne Malena, University c . Katherine McKittrick, Queen's
University; Heather Milne, University of Winnipeg; Pam Mordecai, Writer; Evelyn O'Callaghan,
University of the West Indies (Cave Hill); Leslie Sanders, York University; Elaine Savory, New
School University; Olive Senior, Writer; Heather Smyth, University of Waterloo; Neil ten
Kortenaar, University of Toronto; Alissa Trotz, University of Toronto.
Jessica Frey, Ryerson University
Publication of MaComere is supported by the Office of the Dean, Faculty of Arts, the Office
of the Vice President (Research & Innovation), the Department of English, and the Caribbean
Research Centre at Ryerson University.
Table of Contents
Vol. 10 2008
A bout O ur N am e ...........................................................................1...
Hyacinth M. Simpson
F rom th e E d ito r ............................................................. ................2...
Opal Palmer Adisa "Is Caribbean She," "Caribbean She
Speaking," and "Caribbean She Making Do".....................7...
M NourbeSe Philip "Bad W ords" ................. ................ 15
Katherine McKittrick (in Conversation with Carole Boyce
Intellectual Life: Carole Boyce Davies's Left ofKarl Marx:
The Political Life of Black Communist Claudia Jones........ 27
Special Section on Elizabeth Nunez's Prospero's Daughter
Alison Donnell (in Conversation with Elizabeth Nunez)
Prospero 's Daughter: Recovering Caribbean Wo/men........ 43
Sandra Pouchet Paquet
"The Isle Is Full Of Noises": Mythical Space and Place in
Elizabeth Nunez's Prospero's Daughter........................... 65
From Prospero's Daughter to Caliban's Woman: Elizabeth
Nunez Re-imagines The Tempest................... ................ 80
Val Ken Lem
Shani M ootoo's Valmiki Daughter ................................. 96
Loma Goodison's From Harvey River: A Memoir ofMy
M other and H er People ......................... ................... 101
Jacqueline Bishop's Fauna, My Mother Who Is Me:
Life Stories from Jamaican Women in New York, and
The R iver's Song ....... .... ................... ................... 108
N otes on Contributors ....... ... ........................................ 114
About Our Name
The word macomere is widely used by women in the Caribbean to mean
"my child's godmother"; "my best friend and close female confidante";
"my bridesmaid, or another female member of a wedding party in which
I was a bridesmaid"; "the godmother of the child to whom I am also god-
mother"; "the woman who, by virtue of the depth of her friendship, has
rights and privileges over my child and is a surrogate mother." The word
seemed appropriate as the name for the journal because it so clearly ex-
presses the intimate relations which women in the Caribbean share, is so
firmly gendered, and honours the importance of friendship in relation to
the rituals of birth, marriage, and death.
Moreover, macomere is a word which, although related to the French
language, has taken on a structure and meanings indigenous to the Carib-
bean. The word is spelled in this way (instead of as macume, makumeh,
macoome, macomeh for example) so that the female connotations of the
word are highlighted and those meanings which apply to males ("a wom-
anish or gossipy man"; "a homosexual") are less obvious.
In those islands where Krbol (the linguistic term for the French pa-
tois) is the first language, the word is used in reference to both females
and males, with meaning determined by the context. However, in some
islands such as Trinidad where English has overlain Krbol, the Creole
(linguistic term for the English patois) has incorporated the redundant my
macome and macome man, thus reinforcing both the perceptions of inti-
macy and the female meanings associated with the word.
Interestingly, Richard Allsopp, in The Dictionary of Caribbean Eng-
lish Usage (Oxford University Press, 1996), has indicated the possibility
that maku (which means midwife) in Belize is also derived from ma-
comere. Hence, the word enables us to recall the continuities and corre-
spondences in Caribbean languages and cultures, as well as the dynamic,
creative, and transforming power of Creoles. In the English-speaking is-
lands, the only comparable term is -- r ;,.. (usually the mother's best
friend). In the Hispanophone Caribbean, there is the similar comadre al-
though, as we would expect, some of the connotations are different.
Join us in continuing to interrogate all the connotations of this cultur-
ally rich lexical item from the Caribbean.
Hyacinth M. Simpson
From the Editor
In one of her essays, Elizabeth Nunez, the novelist whose latest work of
fiction is featured in this issue, says that for authors from communities
that have long lived with oppression, writing brings with it a responsibil-
ity to change the world (25). Indeed, the works presented and discussed in
this issue take that responsibility seriously. Both critical readings and cre-
ative pieces point to the importance of recollecting, reflecting, and re-
claiming. These works understand the significance of story and the power
inherent in telling one's own story, and intervene into existing narratives
in ways that empower the marginalized. One could say, then, that resis-
tance, recovery, and recuperation are common themes across the various
pieces in this issue.
Certainly, they are major considerations in Nunez's Prospero 's
Daughter, the novel discussed in two articles and an in-depth author in-
terview here. Prospero 's Daughter is the kind of work that engages the
reader fully on the first reading, rewards multiple readings, and sustains
close analysis. MaComere is the first publication to provide extended dis-
cussion of this remarkable novel; and we offer the critical engagement
with the novel mindful of how it addresses some of the questions-includ-
ing how communities take responsibility for and respond to past wrongs-
that were raised as various parties prepared to mark the bicentennial of the
abolition of the British slave trade on 25 March 2007. Alison Donnell's
conversation with Nunez took place during one of these events, which was
held at Ryerson University in Toronto on 27 March 2007. Nunez, Donnell,
and their audience tackled difficult questions-also dealt with in the
novel-about forgiveness, reconciliation, and healing, as well as the con-
troversial subject of reparations for communities (still) adversely affected
by the centuries-long ravages of British slavery and colonialism.
The two articles and interview on Prospero 's Daughter point to the
novel's strategies of rewriting and revisioning the canonical narrative pre-
sented in The Tempest, to the relationship between Prospero 's Daughter
and earlier Caribbean appropriations of the Shakespearean text, and con-
sequently to the book's commitment to recovering lost voices and chal-
lenging entrenched discourses and practices of power. In her essay,
Jennifer Sparrow offers a nuanced feminist reading of the novel and ar-
gues that Prospero 's Daughter "writes back not only to the history of
racism and Eurocentrism that informed the colonial venture, but also to
FROM THE EDITTOR
the sexism and erasures evident in earlier male-authored Caribbean
tc \s ,11. Sparrow focuses on the mutually supportive relationship be-
tween the Caliban and Miranda figures, and suggests that it not only pres-
ents a challenge to colonialist racial and sexual discourses but is also a
means through which Nunez makes a convincing argument about the po-
tential inherent in creolized Caribbean culture to transcend the divisions
and violence of the past. In her essay, Sandra Pouchet Paquet turns the
spotlight on the novel's setting, arguing that Nunez's choice of an actual,
recognizable Caribbean location facilitates her "re-emplotment" of the
"classic drama" of colonial encounter (65). For Pouchet Paquet, the nov-
el's deliberate and careful reconstruction of native place and space-Cha-
cachacare and Trinidad on the cusp of political independence in
1961-enables an alternative genealogy and genesis that recover the ab-
sent and silent native female and allow those who have a true claim on the
island to take it back for themselves.
The cover art for this issue provides visual depiction of one artist's
attempt to recover the absent body of the native female. The four images
are frames from a video narrative titled White Skin, Black Kin: A Creole
Conversation Piece, by Barbadian-Canadian visual artist Joscelyn Gard-
ner. A Creole Conversation Piece was part of a larger multimedia instal-
lation titled White Skin, Black Kin: "Speaking the Unspeakable" that
Gardner mounted at the Barbados Museum in February and March 2004.
The installation, like Prospero 's Daughter, raised questions about the ex-
tent to which white women were complicit in the patriarchal structures of
colonialism as those structures played out in Caribbean societies. By in-
troducing shadowy black female bodies engaged in various acts of service
into the frame of the tableaux vivant depicting the female members of a
white plantation-owning family, Gardner points to the complex relations
and identities fostered in the encounter between peoples and occasioned
by the violence of the colonial enterprise.
In another interview in this issue, Katherine McKittrick talks to Car-
ole Boyce Davies about Left of Karl Marx, the latter's critical biography
of the Trinidad-born "intellectual activist" Claudia Jones. Their conversa-
tion lays bare contemporary acts of violence against people like Jones,
acts that have their genesis in British colonial and American neo-colonial
practices of policing and constraining black (female) bodies. As McKit-
trick puts it, "Boyce Davies writes and discloses a radical project that
reintroduces Jones within the context of violent state repression" (30).
Jones lived her brief but very full life with a sense that she, too, had a
responsibility to change the world; and Boyce Davies carefully, even lov-
ingly, pieces together the details of that life in her own act of recovery.
She pulls back the veil of silence, and the neglect, that hitherto proved far
more effective in entombing Jones than the grave at Highgate Cemetery
in London, UK. In so doing, Boyce Davies reclaims Jones's place on the
list-composed predominantly if not exclusively of men-of people
whose intellectual work and political activism significantly shaped the
The twelve-year-old protagonist of M. NourbeSe Philip's short story
"Bad Words" channels Claudia Jones's indomitable spirit. Named Mi-
randa in an ironic inversion of her Shakespearean namesake, who taught
Caliban his "own meaning" (Shakespeare 1.2.359),' Philip's young hero-
ine uses words to "enter forbidden spaces" (24). Her relishing of forbid-
den words, the secret tasting of them that culminates in a public
demonstration of her choice vocabulary, marks Miranda's refusal to be
constrained by behavioral codes underpinned by discourses about race,
gender, and sexuality held over from the colonial past. Similarly, the
voices in Opal Palmer Adia's three poems signal the presence of the de-
motic. The vernacular register employed, the insistence on lower case let-
ter throughout, and the marked lack of punctuation work together to take
the power of naming and representation away from "Standard" English.
Rounding out this issue's offerings are three book reviews. Shani
Mootoo's novel, Valmiki Daughter, reviewed here by Val Lem, locates
other sites of struggle and resistance for Caribbean women who live out-
side of heterosexual norms and disrupt racial/ethnic and class boundaries.
From Harvey River, Lorna Goodison's memoir of her mother and her
mother's people, is reviewed by Wendy Knepper. From Harvey River is
not only richly evocative of place and time but is also a story of women
(and men) who dared to imagine other lives and possibilities for them-
selves and their children. Finally, Jacqueline Bishop, described by Elaine
Savory as a nic voice in Caribbean women's writing" (108), has three
works reviewed: a novel, a collection of poems, and a book of oral histo-
ries. Like Nunez, Bishop shows that she is conscious of, and deftly inter-
weaves into her own work, a tradition of Caribbean writing that precedes
her even while marking out her own unique contribution to that tradition.
Together, the fiction, interviews, essays, and book reviews offer read-
ers an opportunity to consider the ways in which Caribbean women writ-
ers, artists, intellectuals, and activists continue to challenge us to look
beyond accepted practice and insist that we, too, take responsibility for the
world in which we live.
FROM THE EDITOR
My thanks to Annalee Davis, Barbadian visual artist (http://www.annaleedavis.
com), for suggesting the cover image and introducing me to Joscelyn Gardner.
1. I am using one of the editions that assign these words, and the larger
portion of speech from which they come, to Miranda. Some editors assign
the words to Prospero.
Gardner, Joscelyn. White Skin, Black Kin: A Creole Conversation Piece.
2003. Multimedia. Barbados National Art Gallery, Warrens,
St. Michael, Barbados.
Nunez, Elizabeth. "Channeling Shakespeare." Black Issues Book Review
March-April 2006: 24-25.
Shakespeare, William. The Tempest. 1623. Ed. Gerald Graff and James
Phelan. Boston & New York: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2000.
IS CARIBBEAN SHE
OPAL PALMER ADISA
is who she
when she get born
who spit she out
pan what ship
crossing which ocean
she wailed into life
knew from she first breath
the life she tek on
heavier than hamper heaped packed
with yam and banana
but she ain't fraid nothing
will not be turned back
forever moving forward
she mouth chalice
tracing people all up
and under dem clothes
inside dey private parts
MaComere 10 (2008): 7-14
is where she going
to see whom
wid she slippers
clapping against she soles
she is crosses
spit pan she and
see if it don't sizzle
she manish too
walking like de ground
mek fah she
sitting all day
in de market
rank with sea-weed and gold
or working in de cane-field
swinging she cutlass
daring man or insect
she been flogged
for she same loosed tongue
she been tied down
legs spread then forcefully entered
she did wash weh
dem poisoned seed
PALMER ADISA CARTBBFAN SHE
she did refuse
she did run too
and tek bush
fah she second skin
but she did stay also
and cook a sweet pot
seasoned with she blood
she did bide she time
squat and study de mountain range
she did mek sheself
present when she was absent
and missing even as she stood
she is duppy
and leggo beast
other times sanier
than your mother
she is everywhere
and no where
is what she name
is whe she come from
see she deh
a serve afternoon tea
in government office
see she deh
a si down in parliament
see she deh
clearing she goods
she no easy
she no somebody
whose foot you
want step on
she laugh belly-laugh
and chat like deaf-ear man
she always going places
been many places already
she naw let
leave she behind
is caribbean dem
is she you need
CARIBBEAN SHE SPEAKING
OPAL PALMER ADISA
me born with a paragraph
on me tongue
so me not afraid
of saying what's
on me mind
me rationing me words
but some things
me can't keep quiet about
like the killings and rapings
the anger and frustration
that is like sweat
plastering everyone's shirt
to them back
me not no intellectual
or historian nor politician
but even a new born baby
can tell something
sure enough wrong
and it way deeper than just
hard times and sufferation
cause we cut we teeth
on those things
and me agree
that the madness
in the society is duppy's revenge
you can laugh and call me idiot
but me believe
all the years of
oppression and downpression
violence and disrespect
our people had to suffer
in silence and tun de other cheek
ah ride dis generation
so dem just a spin around
kill each blinded by an anger
same way pot
boil over raising the lid
sometimes no matter
how many basket of words
you have none can really
shed meaning on the leggoism
we living through
CARIBBEAN SHE MAKING DO
OPAL PALMER ADISA
no river nuh mek yet
that me won't wade across
even though me can't swim
me born knowing
trouble come with company
but me children and me
nah go look hunger
in the eye and beg food
since me little girl
head just at me momsy's waist
we see and hear her argue
with god and man
and tell them straight
she not gwine drink spit
and call it milk
momsy teach me
fi climb life
like coconut tree
so don't take it no way
if you see me jump pan
plane today go to cayman
and next week to curaco
wherever there is
goods to buy and sell
me there no matter what
language dem chat
for as long as there
is life people will
always have needs
and me is a supplier
me nah sit down
chin propped up in me hands
face gloomy as a battered pan
me scaling hard times
bartering and trading
each day treading water
but getting closer
certain of reaching dry land
on the other side
M. NOURBESE PHILIP
How she envied him, this newfound friend of hers! The way he cursed. Walk-
ing before the big mirror in her parents' room, bony chest-almost as flat as
his-puffed up with the trying, trying hard to imitate him. If she could only
look like him, Miranda thought, maybe she would acquire his knowledge, his
way of cursing.
Starting with words like damn and blast, Miranda was slowly working
her way up her list of bad words-from the least to the most bad. They all
shared a common quality: they were all too heavy for her tongue to lift up, or
so her mother pronounced regularly. "Prick! Shit!" Miranda looked at herself
in the mirror. The smile that was reflected there was one of deep satisfaction.
Her mother was wrong. She could, would, and did lift the weight of these
words, these forbidden words with her child tongue, the secret pleasure all the
stronger for being visible in the mirror as she sharpened her mouth around
them all. "Practice makes perfect," her father had always told her. Practise to
be perfect, to be in control-as he and her friend were-of words.
When she got to fuckk" she paused, took a deep breath, mouthed the
word silently, then out loud. Her heart beat loudly as she replaced the "u" with
an "o": "fock." She felt the sharpness and power of the word. Suddenly and
involuntarily she shivered. Was it fear or excitement? She didn't know-it
was probably both-and didn't care.
MaComere 10 (2008): 15 26
Now came the best word, the baddest of them all. Whenever Miranda
got to fuckk" she knew she had crossed a line as palpable to her as it was in-
visible. A different world awaited her with the next word. A threatening word
in many ways. For a long time she could never say it out loud. As with all the
other words, she had begun by mouthing it. The times when she was lucky
enough to practise before the mirror, as she was now, she thought she looked
pretty stupid opening and closing her mouth on the word-like a fish gasping
for air. But mouthing this word suggested nothing of its power, and for a long
time she remained at this stage, not even being able to whisper it as she had
with the others. The taboo against it was absolute. Almost.
Hurrying to school one day, late and therefore alone, just so-it came
out as she was crossing the bridge over the thin and brown trickle that was the
Wapsey River in dry season. "Cunt!" A great wave of relief washed over her
as she said the word for the first time. Her surprise at hearing it come from
her own mouth brought Miranda to a standstill, and although she knew it was
unlikely, she couldn't stop herself from looking behind her, both fearing and
expecting to see her mother standing there, a silent and stem witness to this
new level of her daughter's shameful behaviour. Miranda gave a nervous
laugh at seeing no one there and hurried on, saying "the word" over and over
again to herself under her breath.
She had taken a long time to say "the word." That was how she referred
to it. But she had come to like rolling it round and round her mouth, except
that you couldn't really roll these words around. They all had edges-hard
edges that hurt somehow as she intentionally and deliberately strained her
mouth around them, her tongue paying strict attention to their individual
shapes. Afterwards she would carefully examine her mouth and tongue for the
staining she expected. She was surprised that her mouth did not show the
outrage she had just committed.
Why was it that men had words that could excite her? Miranda would
often think of this as she travelled the time between the inner and outer bound-
NOURBESE PHILIP BAD WORDS
aries of her life: home and school, school and home. Chaucer, for instance,
with all his plumbing the depths of women. Late at night and lying awake in
bed, she would ask her cousin what this meant, and the older girl would tell
the younger one about men entering women. Miranda would wonder how you
could enter another person. Fanny Hill and Henry Miller, men's words that
she read secretly, her mother not dreaming of the feelings she had, or the wet-
ness between her thin, twelve-year-old thighs. Excitement would quickly turn
to OK-so-what boredom, and after the third or fourth time a woman's depth
was plumbed, she grew bored and wanted something else. So she would go
back to her practise-makes-perfect and that most secret of words, and most
profane when coupled with another. Cunt. And Mother. In their opposition the
two words-one harsh, defiant, and threatening, and the other resonant with
safety-were locked together irrevocably. The power of this combination,
made greater by its secret nature, made her feel light-headed, even faint at
times. Before moving to the city, Miranda had never heard "the word" before.
No one told her what it meant. No one had to. From the first day she heard it,
felt it sear her ears, spindly-legged and innocent as she was coming fresh from
the country, she knew it was bad. Bad bad.
Until then "totee" was the worst word she had known, but it was child
bad. Its badness existed only in the world of children when you could laugh
at a boy-only boys had totees-and say, "Look, look, I see he totee," and the
girls would giggle and scream and laugh and run away leaving the boy shame
foh so for having a totee. Except Clarence. He just took his for granted. Clar-
ence was her cousin who played marbles in the hot sun with her and her
brothers and sisters for hours on end under the guinep tree and let her play
with his balls while they stood waiting their turn. Every time Clarence stooped
to pitch he was facing Miranda. Looking back on it that's the way it seemed
to her. Her eyes would drop to the crotch of his pants where the stretching,
straining cotton threads struggled to hold the seams together, her gaze riveted
by what she both expected and feared would happen. Suddenly, there it was,
his little worm, his totee, hanging out. She let out the breath she hadn't known
she was holding. Totee-a soft word with none of the edges of these new
words. He let her touch it sometimes, his totee, and the soft, warm snuggly
sacs behind it.
She had had no words for them. He just had them. Balls would come
later. In the hot sun waiting turns to pitch marbles, he would stand patiently
while she crept her hand up his short khaki pants to his totee, and then to
the cool yet warm squishy things, her fingers moving and squishing them
around-doing the same things that her tongue now did with these new
words she was learning-exploring the limits of her world and, therefore,
Miranda and Clarence had never done anything more than that. He, in
fact, did nothing, a willing subject to her inquiry. And always in public. Her
brothers and sisters must have known what she was doing, but in that some-
times inexplicable and implacable silence of childhood, no one said anything
to her or to her mother. There had been no secrecy to her exploration; they
had, therefore, felt no need to swear themselves to secrecy about something
that was not a secret. There was, consequently, nothing to tell.
The words she now explored were, however, adult-bad, big-people-bad,
and secrecy was the screen behind which she now travelled into their new-
ness. Secrecy was what she needed to explore them; and secrecy was the key
to why these words were so bad. She had only to look at her mother's face to
know they were bad-the way she shut down her eyes and her whole face at
the sound of these words, particularly the one that referred to her-to all
This word had to do with women, all women. That much Miranda was
sure of. And weren't all women mothers? Maybe only mothers had cunts
because that was the only way she had ever heard it used. Never your sister's
cunt, or your grandmother's cunt. Only your mother's cunt. And she had both
wanted to cover her ears and stretch them wide to take in the sound of these
words. Would she have a cunt when she grew up? She didn't dare ask her
NOURBESE PHILIP BAD WORDS
mother. Did she have one now? Was it something that came with having chil-
dren? Once left on her own, she got a mirror to explore exactly where she
knew the word referred to-except she wasn't a mother-not yet anyway. As
she explored, she said the word soft soft to herself, mouthing it, mashing it
between her teeth, tasting it, whispering it-looking to see if she changed as
she said it.
In her house there was no word for what Miranda explored with her
fingers. Baby girls had pat-a-cakes, or muckunzes or pums pums. As you
grew older, the safety of those soft domestic words disappeared, leaving be-
hind a thing unnamed, referred to only by the neutral pronoun: "Have you
washed IT yet?" Or, sometimes, "Have you washed yourself yet?" She knew
full well that the self referred to was not the whole self, but only that tiny part
of the self that somehow became your entire self. If you were a woman. Until
it became a mother's cunt-harsh and jagged-the words intended to cut to
the quick the man to whom it was aimed.
Lips would curl savagely around the words-"Your . ."-shape the
words with a blunt and rough-hewn style, replacing the "t" and "h" with a
double "d"-"mudder.. "- only to let fly the deadly missiles that home in
and explode-"Your mudder cunt" in the man's face, dripping the bitter-sweet
sticky mess all over him. Miranda had seen grown men grow murderous at
this insult. She had seen her brother come home in tears because of this.
It was only men she had heard saying these words. Did women curse it
too, or was it only a male curse? And what did women say, "Your father's
prick?" Somehow it didn't sound as bad as mother's cunt. She knew all the
words now, and cock or father's cock just didn't count if you really wanted to
curse. None of them came close in badness to the word.
The exploration of forbidden words was always always in the practice-
makes-perfect of secret places-at night in bed with the sheets pulled up tight
tight over her head; in the bathroom under cover of the shower's noise, or if
she was home alone, in front of the big, round mirror in her mother's bed-
room. Her mother and father shared the room, but Miranda always thought of
it as her mother's room-it smelt like her, carried the imprint of her order. The
big obzoky bed took up most of the smallness of the shabby room; in the day
time, with its dark wood shiny with the high gleam of regular Saturday polish-
ings, it seemed not to belong-didn't quite fit-but at night time when hur-
ricane season came round, or during earthquake time, it was the safest place
to curl body 'round sister or brother or mother, its wide expanse like some
ballasted haven among the shaking and the lightning and the thunder, and her
mother's voice no longer forbidding, but soothing and comforting at each
tremor, flash, or roll. Miranda now pranced up and down the hard mattress
feeling boldface and nervous. She watched herself in the mirror as she formed
the words: excitement balancing risk as it did when she played with matches
under the house, knowing it was worth the flogging she might get if caught.
To practise-make-perfect forbidden words in forbidden spaces ...
In this new country-for that was how she saw her move to the city,
even the air felt and smelt different. Where before there were no spaces or
places she could not enter, where before everything was allowed and permit-
ted, now the forbidden was the usual: forbidden places, especially for girls;
forbidden books, forbidden people, forbidden words, forbidden thoughts, and
yet what was forbidden was all the more clear to her because it was forbidden.
The forbidden had come to life in new and unusual ways in this new place.
For a while Miranda had envied her new friend: nothing was forbidden
him. Her eyes would follow his sure and insolent swagger, avidly trail each
movement of his walk-its casualness all the more brutal for his indifference
to all that Miranda could not ignore-and come to rest at that place within
herself where she knew she could never be like him. To shut out the image
that she also desired, Miranda could only close her eyes; it didn't always
work. His ignorance of the forbidden was absolute. As absolute as her envy
of him. And she felt her thin body vibrate with the energy of want-so keen
was her desire at times for this state where the forbidden did not matter. Then
something happened that made her switch her loyalties and allegiance
NOURBESE PHILIP BAD WORDS
abruptly. Miranda was stubborn in her loyalties once formed, and in making
this switch she felt that she had, somehow, betrayed her friend. But it was a
war, wasn't it, she argued with herself as she hurried to school one day, and
you had to take sides.
Pomona Adams was a large and beautiful brown-skinned woman. Mi-
randa was impressed. Very impressed with Pomona. With all things about
Pomona-she was close to six feet with full shapely breasts, the kind Miranda
wanted; wore high heels all the time; and had the largest behind Miranda had
ever seen. But more than anything else what Miranda was impressed with was
Pomona's ability to curse. Miranda was intrigued by how Pomona, her plump
arms resting on her window sill, could casually carry on a conversation with
her neighbour, pause mid-sentence, calmly tell her son to stop kicking the arse
out of his shoes, turn back to her neighbour and continue her conversation as
if nothing had happened. Miranda was entranced by the way Pomona could
combine words when she cursed-words that she Miranda would never have
dreamt of putting together, like arse and shoe. Under the pretext of doing
homework she would often try to parse the use of certain words she had heard
Pomona using-trying hard to understand the context. She was not very suc-
cessful, for while arse was a noun, shoes did not have arses, yet she knew
what Pomona had meant... she shrugged her bony shoulders and gave up in
frustration after a while. She was young, but she recognized artistry when she
heard it, and she knew that if ever there was a cursing contest, Pomona would
win hands down and she, Miranda, would be there cheering her on.
Pomona, Miranda saw, had powerful words too and she used them as if
none were forbidden, as if she had the right to use them all-the good and the
bad. And something about the way Pomona walked made Miranda suspect
that Pomona's words, especially the bad ones, and the way she used them
were connected with her body. She used her words like she walked, with a
prideful determination that matched her size. You couldn't even call what
Pomona did walking, Miranda thought, as she watched Pomona mashing the
ground as if she owned it and knew that she owned it-each step was merely
intended to confirm that ownership. The proof of this connection between
Pomona's body and her words came early one morning several weeks after
Miranda had moved to the city, and while she was struggling to understand
this new badness that was all around her.
Pomona and one of her neighbours hadn't talked for several months,
they just threw words at each other-this Miranda only found out by listening
to her parents' conversations. When Pomona and Sybil stopped speaking to
each other their children did too. The men pretended to be above it all, and
would nod to each other. To go out, Pomona had to pass Sybil's house, so
almost every day as Pomona passed by, Pomona and Sybil would be throwing
words at each other under their breath so that the other one wouldn't hear, but
know something was said, or just over their breath so that the other one did
hear. Miranda never found out what Sybil said to Pomona on this particular
morning but Pomona's response was the reason why she switched allegiance.
She saw Pomona lift one of her solid arms, grab the flesh on the underside of
her upper arm and say, "Look, see here, this is flesh!" She flung her challenge
at Sybil who was by no means a small woman, but certainly smaller than
Pomona. As if this was not enough, Pomona turned her back to her opponent
and with two hands flung her skirt up and up over her behind; down, down,
and still further down came Pomona's panties, her hands swift and sure with
the choreography of pride. "Look, you want to see flesh, this, this is flesh!"
And there for all the world who cared to look, and Miranda, was Pomona's
fat backside exposed to the sweet morning air as she grabbed a handful of her
brown flesh to demonstrate the proof of its existence. Proud, and in the brown
amplitude of her flesh, unashamed of her size or her words, any of her words,
particularly the bad ones that now, after the unmatched challenge of her flesh,
issued forth from her round pretty mouth, Pomona threw her words in her
neighbour's face and made a stand for truth-the truth of flesh and bad words.
"Come in here now!" Her mother's voice banished Miranda from the
forbidden and the desired-to be bad-to use bad words-to make them good
perhaps, though she liked the power that badness gave them.
NOURBESE PHILIP BAD WORDS
Once again in front of the mirror in her mother's bedroom, the house
empty, Miranda threw up her skirt to expose her bony bottom to the mirror.
"Yes, yes, this is flesh," gripping her arm tightly muscled with youth. "Oh
hell!" Disappointed, she flopped on the bed. "To have a behind-no-an arse
like that," she said out loud, "something you could grab on to." She longed
for flesh on her arms or breasts like Pomona. The person she now most wanted
to be like was Pomona. In the dark she told herself that she didn't so much
want to be like Pomona Adams as to curse like her. She wasn't sure if there
was a difference. Practice makes perfect, Miranda now reminded herself, as
she stood on the bed, hoping that the mattress would give her the sort of rock-
ing majestic walk of Pomona. Once again she started to work at her words,
trying hard to get the right inflection, the right sneer. Women curse too-she
knew that now. Pomona had taught her that. She had even heard one say the
word, the one that made men cry-the mother's curse. It wasn't only men that
used it, but only men cried or got really angry at it. The women didn't carry
on like the men did at the mother's curse. Why that was she hadn't figured
out. Not yet anyway.
As long as she continued to practice in secret, Miranda felt uninitiated
into the world of the forbidden. Her initiation, she felt, had to be to be a pub-
lic one-a speaking of at least one of these words in the presence of others.
She picked one-shit-knowing she was a coward for choosing one of the
least bad. Plotting and practising to make it perfect in public, she rehearsed
all her words, tasting them secretly as you can only words. In the secret spaces
of her mouth she spun, unspun, and respun with a loving tongue a new lan-
guage, the language of badness. Her testing and retesting of these words be-
came a fuguing against and with the words of her mother and father.
"But he say massa day done, and that all the children going to have a
free education." Miranda didn't so much listen-these conversations went on
almost every night-as she was aware of the rising and falling voices drifting
in from the front porch to where she sat, preparing for the examination that
would give her a chance to enter yet another forbidden world. "Better educa-
tion" was what her parents called this new world. She heard the voices rise and
fall, passion and excitement strengthening the rhythms of an already rhythmic
language. "Yes, but he not going far enough, England and America still going
control the economy." The cadenced voices reflect the trajectory, the rise and
fall of empire. The deep bass of her father's voice and her mother's higher,
softer tones throw back and forth between them words like "politics" and "free-
dom," pulling a thread here, a strand there, trying hard to twist and braid these
hard, new words into dreams for their children-a good job in the civil service
perhaps, exploring the furthest limits of their world-maybe even a doctor! As
they talked, Miranda felt rather than heard the urgency behind her parents'
words, words that they had stoked and fired into life, and now would not let die,
words that under the lash and caress of their tongues now transformed them-
selves-slavery into freedom, nigger into human. Miranda heard and felt all
this, she knew that like her they were entering forbidden spaces, naming now
what they had only dared to dream of before. In secret. But Miranda also knew
they would never see how her exploration of bad words was anything else but
an expression of vice-proof of her badness. So she smiled a knowing smile to
herself and continued working.
Sunday. That was the day Miranda chose for her initiation. She had
woken up at cock-crow and knew that that was the day, but when it was to be
she couldn't tell. It would happen when it happened, she thought. After church
and the heavy Sunday lunch, and still dressed in their Sunday best, her mother
had taken them all to a neighbour's for a visit. There the two women and the
children had all sat stiffly, drinking sweet drinks on the front porch before the
adults released them to play in the front yard while they talked.
Like her favourite cowboy shoot-out scenes from Saturday matinees,
where the good guy-usually Roy Rogers or Gene Autry-dressed in white,
meets the bad guy dressed all in black and shoots it out, Miranda replayed the
scene in her mind for many months, even years, after. She was standing close
to the top step about to jump all the way down to the bottom-some six or so
steps-when someone, she couldn't tell who it was since the push came from
NOURBESE PHILIP BAD WORDS
behind, pushed her off. She never found out who it was, she never cared
enough. Like the morning "the word" had just popped out over the Wapsey
River, she didn't will them, the words just came, "Oh shit!" The release was
almost too much to bear, and before she knew what she was doing, before she
could savour the delight and pride she felt, she heard herself, "Oh fucking,
fucking shit!" She saw the shock on everyone's face and felt a rush of excite-
ment. One or two of the other children even had their hands over their mouths,
as if they themselves had said the words, and that made Miranda want to
laugh out loud. Her mother's face was serious-like a bull she remembered
thinking. Maybe she added that thought later-as time went on Miranda did
have a tendency to embellish the memory. Her mother's full eyes that could
cow them into quiet in public, now gazed at Miranda, commanding her to
silence. As if she were rushing toward a cliff in preparation for leaping off and
flying, Miranda saw it all, and knew she couldn't stop or she would fall and
not fly. She saw the licking her father would give her with the thick leather
strap that lay like some threatening snake, coiled in the bottom drawer of the
bureau-there was a rumour that it had been soaked in pee to make it sting
more; she saw the washing out of her mouth that her mother would carry out.
But she also saw Pomona Adams, with her shapely breasts and large backside,
mashing the ground-proudly-and thought of her using her words and her
body just the way she wanted to, and Miranda smiled and rushed to embrace
the unembraceable, the forbidden: "And your mother's cunt!" She slung her
mouth around the words and repeated them all again to no one in particular,
but with a bravado and a gauche sureness that was sureness all the same, and
an understanding way beyond her years. She had practised to make perfect
and she had come close to perfection that Sunday afternoon. She understood
badness now and that was what mattered.
The words had not stained her mouth-even in this public uttering. The
moist, wet, inner pink space of her mouth had become a tender womb to bad
words, any words-mother's cunts, pricks, dicks-the words were embedded
deep inside Miranda filling up all the secret places and spaces created by the
forbidden. Like Chaucer's male characters, the words, mother's cunts and all,
had plumbed her depths. No one, not even the guardian of space and words,
her mother, could take them or any of her words from her. They're all mine
now, Miranda thought as she lay in bed, remembering how she had panted and
her forehead had broken out in sweat after she was done swearing. "But see
here," her mother's friend had said, "she not even done grow yet and she want
to be woman." Miranda's eyes had locked with her mother's-behind the
hardness of the glare she could faintly recognize the hurt-she had shamed
her in public, and for that she was sorry, but not for saying the words. Her
fingers now gently touched the raised weals on her arms and legs from the
flogging her father had given her. They were the painful proof of her alle-
giance with Pomona Adams. And the truth. There was a certain truth in those
words, she knew that now; it was that truth that made some people dislike
them so-like men crying at the mother's curse. Having uttered them, Mi-
randa now felt that she had made the words good, especially the mother's
curse, but she now wanted very much to keep the power of their badness. And
how was she to do that-make them good yet keep them bad?
On that thought Miranda fell asleep.
"Bad Words" by M. NourbeSe Philip. Copyright C 1990 by M. NourbeSe
Philip. Originally published in Wasafiri 5.11 (Spring 1990): 26-28. Reprinted
by permission of the author.
INTELLECTUAL LIFE: CAROLE BOYCE
DAVIES'S LEFT OF KARL MARX.
THE POLITICAL LIFE OF BLACK
COMMUNIST CLAUDIA JONES
KATHERINE McKITTRICK (IN CONVERSATION
WITH CAROLE BOYCE DAVIES)
Marx is all right, but we need to complete Marx .
-Aim6 C6saire, Discourse on Colonialism, 86
In Left of Karl Marx: The Political Life of Black Communist Claudia Jones
(2008), Carole Boyce Davies details the radical, creative, and intellectual
contribution black communist Claudia Jones made throughout her life. Due
to her ongoing commitment to peace and justice-work that was informed by
a black diasporic, Marxist-Leninist, and anti-imperialist world view-Jones
was a punishable and punished subject. She was arrested three times and
eventually deported from the United States to the United Kingdom for her
political activism. Jones died in the UK in 1964. She was buried in a plot "to
the left of the grave of Karl Marx" in Highgate Cemetery, London, early in
1965 (Left of Karl Marx xxvii). The thrust of Jones's life story that Boyce
Davies advances in this scholarly work is indicated in her title: Left of Karl
Marx: The Political Life of Black Communist Claudia Jones. The first part,
Left of Karl Marx, encapsulates two ideas central to the book. In the first in-
MaComere 10 (2008): 27-42
stance, the title references a real location: Jones's cemetery plot, which, de-
pending on one's vantage point, positions her interned ashes left of the grave
of Karl Marx. In the second instance, "left" is a reference to Jones's politics,
which Boyce Davies suggests were "well beyond the limitations of Marxism"
(Left ofKarl Marx 27). Boyce Davies argues that Jones's politics were "left"
of Karl Marx precisely because her intellectual and activist work produced a
geopolitical framework and activities that posited various gendered and racial
locations-black, poor, colonial, transnational, working class-as sites that
generate, rather than passively accept, discourses of liberation. Jones was
"left" of Karl Marx not because she inserted black women into his analytic
framework, but because she insisted that activist/intellectual work on the left,
particularly if it addressed the concerns of black women, could draw attention
to the left itself. In so doing, she exposed the limits of the party line and the
incompleteness of the tenets of Marxism, Leninism, and communism (Boyce
Davies, Left of Karl Marx 27).1 Jones's work thus challenged left-leaning
praxis and serves as a model to think through the super-exploitation of black
women and other disenfranchised communities.
The second part of the title, The Political Life of Black Communist Clau-
dia Jones, indicates that the book is something of a biography; and Boyce Da-
vies does provide a narrative that retells the facts, chronologically, of Jones's
life. Boyce Davies traces Jones's steps from her birth in Trinidad, to her years
growing up in New York City, through to her surveillance by the FBI (an ag-
gressive tracking that did not deter Jones from writing and speaking against the
super-exploitation of black and other disenfranchised communities) and her
work as founder and editor of the West Indian Gazette and initiator of the first
London Caribbean Carnival. Many of these activities were achieved despite her
persistent health challenges. Although Jones's life and labour are carefully de-
tailed in the text, Left of Karl Marx is not a straightforward biography. Boyce
Davies indicates in her introduction that her goal was to address the ways in
which an account of Jones's life and work can offer an opportunity to reassess
intellectual activism in the context of African diaspora history:
McKITTRICK (WITH BOYCE DAVIES) INTELLECTUAL LIFE
This book is not a biography but a study of someone who, in my estima-
tion, is one of the most important black radical thinkers, activists, and
organizers in African diaspora history. The need to reintroduce Claudia
Jones and account for her in all relevant discourses essentially drives this
Left of Karl Marx positions Jones as a black diasporic woman whose
radically "left-of-Marx" political vision necessarily informs how Boyce Da-
vies writes the text. It follows, then, that Boyce Davies's retelling and presen-
tation of Jones's life is in itself a meaningful political project as her analysis
refuses an easy, linear, political biography and instead offers a textually rich,
anti-imperialist, and transnational reading that complements Jones's vision.
Some of the difficult questions Boyce Davies asks us to consider con-
cern the layers of violence and marginalization Claudia Jones experienced
and challenged, and how we, as readers, might ethically attend to her complex
life of displacement. Boyce Davies discloses several incidents of removal and
displacement: Jones's political life in the US, a white supremacist state, re-
sulted in incarceration and deportment; her feminist critique of communism
went largely unnoticed and unacknowledged; her leadership in the Commu-
nist Party was undermined by the party's patriarchal vision; she was a migra-
tory subject who inhabited and was connected to Trinidad, the US, Britain and
beyond; her forced and voluntary travels transported and transformed her
political vision; her life story is absent from key debates in feminism, black
studies, left studies, and Caribbean studies; scholars have only recently begun
asking about, and uncovering, her political contributions; her intellectual/po-
etic/activist work, produced outside the academy, has rarely informed aca-
demic queries; and her life in Britain, her founding of and contributions to the
West Indian Gazette, and her celebration of blackness through engineering
Carnival were haunted by state repression and racism. Beyond these are yet
more displacements, more violence occasioned by white supremacy, various
kinds of erasure, and sexism. Significantly, Boyce Davies reads this margin-
alization anew, neither naming the marginalization as evidence of axiomatic
black oppression nor simplistically documenting and celebrating Jones's
achievements and acts of resistance. Positioning Claudia Jones as a radical
black subject, Boyce Davies reads her life as central to our broader under-
standing of diasporic intellectual history and human life. In this sense, Boyce
Davies insists that Jones is not the margins, not newly discoverable. Put dif-
ferently, in the face of imminent violence and erasure, Jones always created;
and it is through her creative intellectual activism that we can identify her
commitment to living and sharing ways to foster "the best of our
humanity" (Left ofKarl Marx 233).
Left ofKarlMarx is not, then, an easy text, in part because Boyce Da-
vies seeks to honour the intricate ways in which Jones challenged the prac-
tices commonplace within political, activist, and intellectual circles, including
leftist and left-leaning positions such as feminism and communism. The pro-
cess of remembering and recovering Jones in Left ofKarlMarx is not simply
a project of feminist reclamation wherein Jones is written into history as
someone found, discovered, and displayed. Instead, Boyce Davies writes and
discloses a radical project that reintroduces Jones within the context of violent
state repression. This, then, is a study of intellectual life, with Jones bringing
into focus and embodying the activist, diasporic, and poetic dimensions of
human life itself. Indeed, Jones's health challenges loom large in Left ofKarl
Marx, reminding me, as I read of her tireless activism and inspiring writings,
that she was physically depleted.2 In refusing to position Jones on the margins
or to settle for simple celebratory recovery, Boyce Davies provides a mean-
ingful pathway to think about Jones's Lordeian Sister-Outsider-ness as a site
of memory wherein we, as readers, are connected to the centrality of state
repression through which violent marginalization is made possible. That is to
say we learn from Jones's migratory diasporic practices precisely because
they identify the ways in which erasure, marginalization, displacement, and
death mark the livability of radical black political agency as something central
to the historical moment in which we live.
McKITTRICK (WITH BOYCE DAVIES) INTELLECTUAL LIFE
Katherine McKittrick: In Left ofKarl Marx you discuss the ways in which
Claudia Jones was a deportable migratory subject. Did deportability and
Jones's diasporic agency inform your methodology in the book? I am recall-
ing here your conceptual framework in Black Women, ;'0 i,,i and Identity:
'i ,. h ,1, of the Subject, where you think about material and theoretical
convergences, travel, and dispersal as enabling a deeper understanding of
Carole Boyce Davies: Both of those formulations work, yes. The "migratory"
version of course coming conceptually before the "deportability" logic. While
I see Claudia Jones as someone who had a lot more agency in terms of her own
"migratory subjectivity"-coming from the Caribbean as a child and then mak-
ing her way to London, for example-the other side or the "dark side" of dias-
pora is what is identified here in the deportability issue. By that I mean she came
to the US yes, but landed in Harlem as a poor, Caribbean black girl subject to
racism and all the other subordinations of the time, and because of this gets
politically active. And, ironically, this was what brought her to the attention of
the state and where she was seen as a problem. So many of us see migration as
providing agency, but "deportation," which does not suggest any agency, has to
be also seen as the other side of that diaspora formation. For example, what
happens when the state decides that one is not a desirable subject? And I tried
not to limit it to the US as the Caribbean has also dealt with activists in similar
ways: barring entry (Kwame Toure), house arrest (C.L.R. James), and so forth.
But two things are significant when considering Jones's life: (1) she threw in
her lot with African Americans in their struggle against racism in the US; and
(2) when she went to London she became a major figure there in developing the
Caribbean community, creating some of its institutions, and struggling for rights
at critical periods because of her US experience.
K. M.: Claudia Jones's life and work also demonstrate how diaspora, depor-
tation, and incarceration can be complex sites of productivity, even when the
"darker side" looms large, in the form of repressive state mechanisms that
"crack down" on migratory subjects, especially when radical political sub-
jects like Jones refuse to fully comply with the logic of deportability and ra-
cial-sexual discipline. Do you think histories of migration contributed to
Jones's political visions? To put it differently, did displacement figure into
Jones's relationship with liberation practices?
C. B. D.: I would say that displacement definitely figured into her practices
of liberation. I recall that Stuart Hall says in his response to the conference
presentations on his work at UWI-Mona, edited by Brian Meeks in the Carib-
bean Reasonings series, that living as a Caribbean diaspora subject is living
with a certain displacement.3 Jones was a world-class activist who knew, as I
say in Left of Karl Marx, that there are different sites of struggle; and once
situations change, one has to adapt to meet the conditions and she did this in
a magnificent way. Indeed, her short time in London-only nine years-
seems as if it was twice as long because of what she achieved (see fig. 1). I
like what you said about refusing to comply with the racial-sexual discipline,
for indeed this is what she did; she asserted that black women can "read and
think and write"-and affirmed our intellectual and creative space which sig-
nifies our humanity and which, therefore, many have historically sought to
deny. For this reason I argue that she steps out of the logic of deportation and
into her own formation. This is evident when one considers that her journey
across the Atlantic seems nothing like a deportation because she turned it into
a journey to new horizons. It is an interesting rewriting of the Atlantic cross-
ing for these reasons.
K. M.: Could you talk about your sources for Left ofKarlMarx? The book is
not a straightforward biography of Claudia Jones. Instead, as I read it, it is an
interdisciplinary study of a black woman's radical politics. So what kinds of
sources helped you to formulate your argument?
McKITTRICK (WITH BOYCE DAVIES) INTELLECTUAL LIFE
Fig. 1. Claudia Jones addresses crowds, Trafalgar Square, 1962. Photograph by Henry
Grant. Courtesy of the Henry Grant Collection / Museum of London.
C. B. D.: I have tried hard not to identify it as a biography. Biographies are
the work of people like Arnold Rampersad and others who do volumes on the
life of people like Langston Hughes and for whom it becomes their life work
where they track down every existing archive and find every little detail.
There is still a biography out there that has to be done. Lydia Lindsey of North
Carolina Central University is working on one. But I wanted to do a study of
her life particularly as there was not much out there; and I felt it important, as
I indicated in Out of the Kumbla, to know who-besides Sylvia Wynter, for
example-was out there for us in an intellectual/activist way in the genera-
tions that preceded us, beyond the mytho-legendary Maroon Nanny types.
Besides, people like C.L.R. James have many books written about them, and
so it should be with Jones. So, I am gratified that the book has garnered so
much attention. It seems that Claudia Jones herself has come into her own in
2008 with a stamp in her honour in the UK and plaques and blue markers
identifying her place in the British landscape. As for my sources, there was a
great deal of archival work, particularly because I was trying to come to terms
with the idea of women in the Caribbean radical intellectual tradition and her
placement in that framework, which is often identified as male only. There
was a lot of spadework to find the materials in archives, collections, published
works, symposia on Jones, and so forth. But talking to people who knew her
well was the most rewarding. I was able to only distill a bit of that information
and hope that this book generates a great deal more work on her and other
figures written out of history.
K. M.: What of reading the FBI files as a way of uncovering part of Jones's
C. B. D.: Reading the FBI files was as paradoxically revealing as it was in-
timidating. One is confronted with this massive document of thousands of
pages on a person's life. Ironically, as I show, since she never hid anything,
all the information is there. What is hidden or redacted is what the state wants
to hide-its informants and its agents and the like. Jones never saw herself as
McKITTRICK (WITH BOYCE DAVIES) INTELLECTUAL LIFE
doing anything wrong by being able to think and she was very explicit about
this. She even said as much publicly in the courts: that she saw herself as
being immersed in ideas. So her question was: are you all criminalizing or
jailing the thinking process now? Clearly, she was a political prisoner; or an
"imprisoned intellectual" as Joy James terms it.4
K. M.: My favourite part of the text is your analysis of Jones's creative
works-specifically her poems. Your analysis allowed me to think through
what I have called elsewhere "prison life" and about the links between black-
ness, incarceration, survival, and creativity.5 Could you talk about the ways in
which Jones's creative output, from the poems to Carnival, shaped her broader
C. B. D.: I have a writer friend in Trinidad who thought that these were not
good poems; and clearly Claudia Jones was not a poet in the formal sense. But
I am with Audre Lorde here in thinking that poetry is a means by which one
can give form to one's feelings.6 I see Claudia Jones then as being an organic
poet. She wrote those poems while she was incarcerated and perhaps those
were the moments when she felt the most intense pain, longing, loss, sense of
separation, desire for a better world and, above all, a conviction that history
would absolve her-and clearly it has. The state set out to punish and destroy
the Communist Party leadership and clearly it achieved what it intended.
Almost all the leadership were incarcerated and many of them died not long
after getting out of prison. Claudia Jones was able to live an active life nine
years after her imprisonment and deportation, and for this I am grateful. I am
glad that there is a record of her thoughts in periods of most intense pain.
Interestingly as well, her statement that "a people's art is the genesis of their
freedom" [from the Caribbean Carnival Souvenir Booklet, reprinted in Left
ofKarlMarx 189] has become an important watchword for many. Remember
that she fought her comrades in London who thought that organizing a carni-
val was too frivolous and that they should spend the time doing more political
education in the community. But she saw culture and the creative as sites
where we define our humanity. In many ways, Jones's reorientation of struggle
through culture, although there were elements of it in communist strategies, was
also organic to black liberation pursuit at that time and particularly in Europe.
In fact, independence was heavily fought for on the grounds of artistry and
culture, as well as formal party politics. This is what was original in Jones's
cultural struggle: that while articulating aspects of communist strategies, her
reorientation was grounded on a cultural self-confidence in the potential for
mass resistance that she knew to be inherent to carnival aesthetics.
K. M.: In the book you present Jones's politics-in particular communism-
as part of her larger world view. Your analysis and intellectual work show a
commitment to thinking about her life differently-without the seductive
workings of identity politics (that communism might solely define Jones).
Could you talk a little about your strategies for working through Claudia
Jones's relationship with the left/communism as not fully or wholly indicative
of her political vision?
C. B. D.: One of the points I make very early on is that Jones did not only
receive an ideology and a practice from communism but she also contributed
to it from her own locations. For this reason, she is on record as putting the
issues of race and gender squarely on the table during her time of involvement
in the party. She is on record as challenging the relegation of black women to
an absented presence in all political formations. The fact that she was an Afro-
Caribbean woman who came from a variety of communities with which she
was continuously in touch meant that she was able to also bring their concerns
to the table; for example, she worked with New York black communities,
black women's organizations, Caribbean groups, poor people struggling to
make a way in Depression-era conditions, and black intellectual and political
cadres. Thus I indicate that the true creative fusion of these allied positions is
her major contribution to a distinctive anti-imperialist politics that positions
her "left of Karl Marx." From all accounts, her desire to be buried left of Karl
Marx was her choice, which her partner Manchanda fulfilled. I see this as her
McKITTRICK (WITH BOYCE DAVIES) INTELLECTUAL LIFE
way of encoding for posterity her particular location, which reopens Marxism
but from a black woman's point of view. So locating her solely within the
frameworks of American communism would be doing a disservice to some-
one who broke through unicentered identifications and who saw communism
as a "theoretical horse" that she would ride as far as it would take her (she
rode it; it did not ride her). That horse allowed her to approach a range of is-
sues, such as the obviously still difficult one of race relations both in the
Americas and Europe. It is a racial drama we are still engaging with fifty
years after her various trials and challenges.
K. M.: Throughout Left ofKarlMarx you bring a critique to, yet also employ,
black feminism. Could you talk a little about how feminism works in your
C. B. D.: It is not so much a critique as it is a challenge, I think. I was sur-
prised, for example, when I talked to some black women historians who work
in the African American context that they had no idea who Claudia Jones was.
Their lack of knowledge did not quite signal a wilful desire to leave her out,
as can often occur in the US, particularly because the US as an American
empire looks out for its interests. Indeed, anybody who is not wholly in the
narrowly identified genealogy as coming down through US enslavement, etc.,
is not really part of the framework in any serious way. In other words, the
framework is set up to work with a US domestic agenda and the international
is included only to the extent that it enhances that. As a Caribbean woman
living in the US how could I work with such a narrow framework? It would
mean leaving myself out. I was often surprised during my young professional
days to run into people like Nellie McKay, who I discovered had Caribbean
background (she was from Jamaica). But one would never have known as she
worked primarily within the US African American narrative. One can easily
relate that very narrow reading of US identity to some of the more national-
istic responses to Barack Obama as well, where he is seen as not fully African
American for similar reasons: that linear narrative back to having ancestors
who were slaves in the US. I think in an unintentional way black feminism
has some aspects of that in its early formation. As it critiqued white American
feminism for its erasures, it also instituted its own. I think there is a way that
most discourses, if they are not careful, do the same unless challenged on the
question of exclusion. For example, that entire period of the 1950s in which
there was substantial activism, as with the organization of the Sojourners for
Truth and Justice, which was a black feminist organization, was omitted. So,
yes I do use black feminist frameworks, but I try to open them up to suggest
someone like Claudia Jones belonged to several other communities and if we
apply a series of lenses we can see all sorts of other connections.
K. M.: Reading the book, it became increasingly clear that you were perhaps
positioning Claudia Jones as inhabiting what Sylvia Wynter calls "demonic
grounds."7 Left ofKarlMarx, for me, really encourages us to read differently.
From these demonic grounds, you look at FBI files, cultural production, jour-
nalism, deportability, the nation-state, and so forth. Could you say something
about how and why you engaged the key themes of the book in order to em-
phasize not only Jones's radical politics, but also the politics of your argu-
C. B. D.: I kind of answered this in a way earlier when I suggested that I was
trying to see who else was out there ahead of us, in the generation of Sylvia
Wynter, doing the kind of work that may have put them in a position of dis-
favour, even minimally. Indeed, I dedicated the book to Sylvia Wynter but in
the end the publishers left out that dedication page in error. The key themes
of the book were generated in process as I moved through the body of work;
and I can see others even now. There should have been a chapter, for example,
on migration. I read a review in which the reviewer wanted more of her early
life as well. There was another reviewer who wanted more on her emotional
life and thought the book too academic. That was in the Caribbean Review of
Books. As you know, with writing, one has to reach a point at which one says
this book needs to go and perhaps I will do something else later. So deporta-
McKITTRICK (WITH BOYCE DAVIES) INTELLECTUAL LIFE
tion loomed large for me, as did her role in the founding of the London Car-
nival, which was debated for a while as there was an attempt to give somebody
else the credit. Then there was a book that dealt with her London exile so I
did not want to focus on that too much. The journalism as well I found sig-
nificant, as I did her working out of the questions relating to black women.
And I felt that the way the state framed her and how she responded to it in her
autobiographical accounts needed to be there as they represented her most
stunning moments of clarity about who she was and why she would fight an
K. M.: How do you understand Claudia Jones in relation to the black left-in
particular those intellectuals who critiqued the underlying racism of left poli-
tics, some of whom eventually abandoned Marxism? I am thinking of intel-
lectuals and writers like Richard Wright, C.L.R. James, Ralph Ellison, and
C. B. D.: I believe her presence makes us recalibrate what we mean by the
black intellectual. We have done substantial work in reclaiming the creative
writers. I think now we also have to do the same with the intellectual/activist
figures in our history. There has always been a pantheon of great men who did
great things, as if that space can only be a male space. For example, in the
Trinidadian and larger Caribbean calling out of historical figures, there is a
long list from Sylvester Williams down to Kwame Toure, but no woman has
ever been included there. With Claudia Jones and the work that is being done
on her that has to change, and we were successful in having them do it in
Trinidad at the last Emancipation Celebrations (2008). I am not sure if they
will maintain it in the future. I need to check that out. Regarding the black left,
many of them left the party because they found it was not able to be radical
enough on the issue of race. Jones pushed them to do just that and for me this
is another reason why she is positioned "left of Karl Marx." It is a shorthand
for reinforcing all the other critiques of Marxism, I would say. But like many
Marxists who remained so, she saw it as an intellectual and theoretical frame-
work and so used it, but not without a critique. There is evidence that towards
the end of her life she had started to move away from the Communist Party
identification and while still working it analytically, the applications were
coming out differently as she worked for the Caribbean working-class com-
munity in London. Stuart Hall says that when he arrived in London in 1951,
those who were there were mostly students, but following the various post-
Windrush migrations, there was a huge influx of other groups of Caribbean
people.8 While C.L.R. James could be considered the voice of a certain intel-
lectual class, Jones certainly became the voice of the Caribbean working
K. M.: At the end of the book I thought that Claudia Jones has a future, and
that you have given her a new future. Do you agree?
C B. D.: Absolutely. The future is hers. She will be heard and seen again, and
there is something dynamic in how that is coming about. Besides, I find her
such a beautiful and compelling figure. It is so rewarding to know that she led
the way in so many wonderful and challenging areas.
1. Other Caribbean intellectuals and scholars have taken up Boyce Davies's
point about the left's lack of engagement with race. See, for example, Aim6
C6saire's Discourse on Colonialism and Stuart Hall's "Cultural Studies and
Its Theoretical Legacies."
2. Claudia Jones's narrative, then, reminds us of what Sylvia Wynter calls
new forms of human life, a sense of being that is not invested in securing the
well-being of our present ethnoclass (with its profitable insides and outsides,
margins and centres, and a measuring stick of liberation that is laden with
bourgeoisie values) but rather a mode of humanness that honours the being
of being human itself (Wynter, "Unsettling the Coloniality" 257-337). This is
clearly evidenced by Jones's physiological well-being and illness, which are
bound up in her intellectual and activist labour and tied to the surveillance of
her work and life by the nation-state.
McKITTRICK (WITH BOYCE DAVIES) INTELLECTUAL LIFE
3. See Hall's "Epilogue: Through the Prism of an Intellectual Life" (269-
4. In James's edited collection Imprisoned Intellectuals: Americas Political
Prisoners Write on Life, Liberation, and Rebellion (2003).
5. McKittrick refers to her 2008 paper "'Being Locked In and Locked Out
Are Two Sides of the Same Coin . ': Reading Ruth Wilson Gilmore's
Golden Gulag: Prisons, Surplus, Crisis and Opposition in Globalizing
6. Audre Lorde discusses poetry in Sister Outsider (36-39, 53-59).
7. See Wynter's discussion in "Beyond Miranda's Meanings: Un/Silencing
the 'Demonic Ground' of Caliban's 'Woman'" (355-372); see also McKittrick,
Demonic Grounds: Black Women and the Cartographies of Struggle (2006).
8. Hall discusses this period in his interview with Kuan-Hsing Chen, "The
Formation of a Diasporic Intellectual."
Boyce Davies, Carole. Black Women, i, ',; and Identity: -Ii ,. ,. ,a, of
the Subject. New York: Routledge, 1994. Print.
-. Left ofKarl Marx: The Political Life of Black Communist Claudia
Jones. Durham: Duke University Press, 2008. Print.
CUsaire, Aim& Discourse on Colonialism. Trans. Joan Pinkham. New York:
Monthly Review Press, 1972. Print.
Hall, Stuart. "Cultural Studies and Its Theoretical Legacies." Stuart Hall:
Critical Dialogues in Cultural Studies. Ed. David Morley and
Kuan-Hsing Chen. London: Routledge, 1996. 262-275. Print.
-. "Epilogue: Through the Prism of an Intellectual Life." Caribbean
Reasonings: Culture, Politics, Race and Diaspora; The Thought of
Stuart Hall. Ed. Brian Meeks. Miami: Ian Randle, 2007. 269-291.
-. "The Formation of a Diasporic Intellectual: An Interview with Stuart
Hall." By Kuan-Hsing Chen. Stuart Hall: Critical Dialogues
in Cultural Studies. Ed. David Morley and Kuan-Hsing Chen.
London: Routledge, 1996. 484-503. Print.
James, Joy. Imprisoned Intellectuals: Americas Political Prisoners Write
on Life, Liberation, and Rebellion. New York: Rowman and
Littlefield, 2003. Print.
Lorde, Audre. Sister Outsider. Freedom, CA: Crossing, 1984. Print.
McKittrick, Katherine. "'Being Locked In and Locked Out Are Two
Sides of the Same Coin .. ": Reading Ruth Wilson Gilmore 's
Golden Gulag: Prisons, Surplus, Crisis and Opposition in
Globalizing California." Presented at the Association of American
Geographers. Boston, MA, April 2008. Print.
-. Demonic Grounds: Black Women and the Cartographies of Struggle.
Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2006. Print.
Wynter, Sylvia. "Beyond Miranda's Meanings: Un/Silencing the 'Demonic
Ground' of Caliban's 'Woman'." Out of the Kumbla: Caribbean
Women and Literature. Ed. Carole Boyce Davies and Elaine
Savory Fido. Trenton, NJ: Africa World, 1990. 355-372. Print.
-. "Unsettling the Coloniality of Being/Power/Truth/Freedom: Towards
the Human, After Man, Its Overrepresentation; An Argument." CR:
The New Centennial Review 3.3 (2003): 257-337. Print.
RECOVERING CARIBBEAN WOMEN
ALISON DONNELL (IN CONVERSATION WITH
A prominent Caribbean woman writer as well as an academic, Elizabeth Nunez
has written six novels (with a seventh forthcoming), is co-editor, with Jennifer
Sparrow, of the anthology Stories from Blue Latitudes: Caribbean Women Writ-
ers at Home andAbroad (Seal/Avalon Press, 2005), and has published mono-
graph studies on Caribbean literature. Currently provost and senior vice
president of Medgar Evers College at the City University of New York, Nunez
juggles demanding and competing roles, which has no doubt sharpened her
political and observational skills. These skills are on display in and reflected by
the keen insights she offers in her novels. Delicately crafted and elegantly writ-
ten, Nunez's novels are consistently informed by an understanding of political
structures and social categories that remain steeped in the unequal histories of
colonialism. More than this, though, they are unfailing in their rendering of
lives and loves that might offer a way of undoing the sinister logic of oppressive
histories, although they never underestimate the demands of such a task.
Nunez's 2006 novel, Prospero Daughter, is located at a significant
crossroads in Caribbean literary and social history. Intertexting with Shake-
speare's The Tempest, as well as with a significant range of Caribbean literary
works, the novel tells the story of an English doctor and scientific sorcerer
MaComere 10 (2008): 43-64
Philip Gardner (Prospero), who, with his daughter, Virginia (Miranda), seeks
isolation on a former leper colony off the coast of Trinidad after his scandalous
experiments with grafting human limbs fail. Having arrived with nothing but
his own daughter, Gardner claims power over the two children he finds on the
island: Carlos Codrington (Caliban), the orphaned son of an Englishwoman,
Sylvia (Sycorax), and a Trinidadian man; and Ariana (Ariel), the daughter of
Sylvia's cook. Taking control of Carlos's house and land, Gardner proceeds to
systematically abuse all three of the children; and, after petting and educating
Carlos, he imprisons him in a sty when Carlos declares his love for Virginia.
The first section of the novel is framed by the musings of John Mumsford (a
reluctant English policeman) investigating Prospero's claim that Carlos tried to
rape Virginia; the novel then moves through versions of the story as told by
Carlos and Virginia. Layering perspectives and voices, Nunez unfolds the tissue
of violence and injustice that has informed the lives of those who share the tiny
island "home," as well as the possibilities for love and friendship that Gardner's
force and will have no power to prevent.
Prospero Daughter is critically acclaimed. Among other accolades, it
was the New York Times Book Review Editor's Choice, the Florida Center
for the Literary Arts One Book One Community selection at the Miami Book
Fair, and Novel of the Year from Black Issues Book Review in 2006. Nunez's
seventh novel, Anna In-Between, is forthcoming in the fall of 2009.
My interview with Elizabeth Nunez took place as part of a day of public
events hosted by Dr. Hyacinth Simpson at Ryerson University, Toronto, in
March 2007 to mark the bicentennial of the abolition of the British slave trade.
The interview was conducted at the evening session and followed a reading by
Nunez and a performance by a group of Ryerson students of a number of key
scenes from The Tempest. Towards the end of the interview, the audience was
invited to ask questions and their responses are also recorded. Although it is not
possible to acknowledge all the individuals who contributed, I have endeav-
oured to retain a sense of the dialogue that emerged during the session; and I am
very grateful for their shaping of the discussion.
DONNELL (WITH NUNEZ) RECOVERING CARIBBEAN WOMAN
Alison Donnell: The Tempest has been such an important, if not central, text
within Caribbean literary engagements with the canon of English literature.
Could you talk about what made you want to take up this story so directly?
Elizabeth Nunez: The discomfort I felt with my secondary school teacher's
interpretation of The Tempest never really went away. There I was, a black girl
of thirteen or fourteen, living on an island colonized by the British, the re-
cipient of a first-class education-thanks to the British. And I was intimidated
into silence when my teacher extolled the virtues of Prospero and agreed with
him that Caliban is a lazy, ungrateful native who did not know his own mean-
ing until taught it by his European master. According to Prospero, Caliban is
a lascivious savage and a would-be rapist if Prospero hadn't caught him be-
fore he attempted to violate the honour of his master's daughter. My teacher
gave no counter-argument as Prospero makes the leap from accusing Caliban
to implicating all members of "his vile race," seemingly including all non-
European natives in the claim that Caliban's nature is such that "nurture can
never stick." Then came George Lamming's The Pleasures of Exile (1960),
which revisions Caliban as the heroic Caribbean native who defies the colo-
nizer, claims his rightful ownership of his island, and rejects the obligation of
feeling gratitude toward the colonizer. Caliban strikes out at Prospero: "You
taught me language; and my profit on't / Is, I know how to curse" (Shake-
speare, The Tempest 1.2.363-364).
A. D.: I want to come back to Lamming and his version of Caliban in a mo-
ment; and the novel not only clearly engages with Lamming and other sig-
nificant male figures in Caribbean literary tradition, but it is also wonderfully
textured throughout with echoes from a whole range of English canonical as
well as Caribbean literary works-from Shakespeare to Naipaul!
All the same, to my mind, there is an important correlation between
your particular act of rewriting The Tempest and what has emerged as a cen-
tral preoccupation in the body of work produced by Caribbean women writ-
ers: recovering the complexity and fullness of Caribbean women's
subjectivities. As you know, the figure of the white Caribbean woman has
been a vexed one within Caribbean cultural criticism; and her position has
been contested and scrutinized from Kamau Brathwaite to Sylvia Wynter.
Could you comment on this and on your representation of Virginia (Miranda),
a white woman, as a Caribbean subject?
E. N.: I began by thinking of Miranda not as a white woman but as a Carib-
bean woman. I don't believe that the colour of our skin defines us. I reject the
notion of "race." We are all, of course, human beings and are all subject to
shaping by our environment. Miranda arrived on the island when she was
three years old, and she stayed there for twelve years. It seems to me that she
would have been affected by the particularity of the island's landscape and by
her contacts with the people living on the island.
A. D.: The undoing of race as the determinant of identity is a very strong ele-
ment in the novel, as is that shared connection to the island and its close-knit
but ethnically diverse micro-community, which, as you suggest, Miranda
must have been an integral part of in the Shakespearean version and which is
so important to Virginia in the novel. At the same time, that sharing of a com-
mon geography and the condition of being human that can "ground" connec-
tions between peoples whose history has dictated profoundly different
relationships to the land is also clearly contingent on building a new under-
standing of their shared rights and responsibilities over the land and to each
other. This is why there is a real possibility for Virginia to belong in ways that
Gardner never could.
To return to the idea of a Caribbean literary tradition, one of the most
distinctive features for me in thinking about how Prospero 's Daughter might
intersect with Caribbean women's writing is its narrative form. I was very
DONNELL (WITH NUNEZ) RECOVERING CARIBBEAN WOMAN
struck by how the narrative moves from the opening third-person account,
which describes the uncertain and often defeated struggle to find an authorita-
tive or "acceptable" version of events, on to Carlos's story, and finally to
Virginia's account in her own words. This formal strategy reminds me of Jean
Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea and particularly of Antoinette's claim that "[T]here
is always the other side, always" (128).
E. N.: Well, the fact is that in school, even at university, we are taught to accept
Prospero's version of the story. Unfortunately, even those who recognize the
paradigm of the colonial experience still continue to see that story through
Prospero's eyes. And what surprises me a lot are the people-they are not many,
thankfully-who say to me that they find I have portrayed Prospero as an exces-
sively evil man in the novel. Well, my response is that it depends on what side
of the fence you're on. If you're the one who is doing the colonizing, of course
it seems that Prospero is right, but if you are the one whose island has been
colonized by a foreign power, who is forced to do the bidding of a foreign
power, who is enslaved, then Prospero doesn't seem like a good man.
I wanted Caliban and Miranda to speak, to tell their stories. I think I said
this morning that I am energized as a writer by discovery. It isn't that I know
the answers before I write; I write to know the answers. What did Caliban
think? What did Miranda think? I didn't know. They were on this island to-
gether for such a long time, and she was so young when she came on the is-
land, and her father was not a nice man. I can't imagine her not wanting to run
away from him and form a sort of clandestine relationship with the other
creatures on the island, the other characters on the island. I just wanted to hear
their stories; I wanted them to speak their stories.
Isn't this what Jean Rhys did in Wide Sargasso Sea? Rhys was a white
Caribbean woman and she claimed that what she wanted to do was to vindicate
that mad Creole white woman that Emile Bronte put in the attic. I read The
Tempest I can't tell you how many times. Finally, when I came to write the
novel I spent a year just writing down all the dialogue, all the words these four
characters said in the play. So that when you read the novel, there are times
when you can actually find (hopefully) the equivalent in the play for what my
characters are saying. And I did that because I knew I was going to get this
criticism about how evil I made Prospero. In fact, what my Dr. Gardner did to
Carlos was not as bad as what Prospero said he was going to do to Caliban:
For this, be sure, tonight thou shalt have cramps,
Side stitches that shall pen thy breath up; urchins
Shall, for that vast of night that they may work,
All exercise on thee; thou shalt be pinched
As thick as honeycomb, each pinch more stinging
Than bees that made 'em. (Shakespeare 1.2.325-330)
If that isn't torture I don't know what is. I think my re-creation of that torture was
less vicious than what we just heard [referring to the staging the drama students
did] (see fig. 1 and fig. 2). So that's why I spent a year just doing that, and then
jumping into that bank of quotations so that I could have some kind of a basis
for the development of my characters; or just to get myself to think of, and to get
you the readers to think of, new things really-for you to participate in the story.
I couldn't have written this novel when I was much younger, even though it was
in my head for many, many years, because it is the result of a lot of reading, a lot
of thinking, a lot of being with my friends and hearing what they had to say.
A. D.: The novel has a very specific and intriguing setting on Chacachacare,
the westernmost of the tiny Bocas Islands that lie between Trinidad and Ven-
ezuela. It is a place with a fascinating history, as the base for the Venezuelan
revolutionary Santiago Mariflo during his 1813 invasion of Venezuela and
later as a whaling station and the site for a leper colony run by nuns. It is then
both a sanctuary and a place of danger. I wonder if you'djust tell us a bit more
about the island setting and also what ideas locating the narrative in such a
very small place might allow?
E. N.: This novel is the product of a lot of stories in my head. For example,
there's my friend Anne Marie [laughter as she acknowledged her friend in the
audience]. She may not remember this, but she told me the story about her
DONNELL (WITH NUNEZ) RECOVERING CARIBBEAN WOMAN
Fig. 1. Ryerson theatre students playing scene from Shakespeare's The Tempest during
Prosper s Daughter Day ofEvents, Ryerson University, 27 March, 2007. Miranda: Kate
Corbett; Prospero: Ian McRoberts; Ariel: Ben Sanders. Reproduced with permission.
Fig. 2. Ryerson theatre students playing scene from Shakespeare's The Tempest during
Prospero 's Daughter Day of Events, Ryerson University, 27 March, 2007. Miranda:
Kate Corbett; Prospero: Ian McRoberts; Caliban: Michael DeRose. Reproduced with
childhood in Chacachacare a long time ago. Her father was one of the last
doctors in the leper colony on the island of Chacachacare. I remember her
saying to me that as a little girl (she's probably amazed that I'm remembering
this story) she spent a lot of time alone, playing on the beach by herself. Then,
when I went to the island, I saw that it's not a beach; it's a kind of a pebbled
thing. I saw how completely isolated she was on that island, not even able to
see the leper colony. So that was one story in my head which made me choose
that place. I'm not saying that Anne Marie is Virginia or Miranda, but I had
an idea from what she said to me about how the landscape and the isolation
of the place could affect a person's character, and I began to form an idea of
a little girl on the island and how she would relate to the landscape and ways
in which it would shape her and change her.
Then once the novel had chosen the place for me, which was Chacacha-
care, I had to do a lot of research. I had to go there many times, and read a lot
about the place, and then I was really lucky that one of the old nuns, who was
in her eighties, came to my house in Trinidad and spent a whole afternoon
telling me about what life was like on the leper colony. She brought lots of
handwritten notes for me and told me a lot. I not only had the written research,
but I actually had her words. So a lot of that scene in the second chapter was
based on what she told me. Yes, that was great.
A. D.: Time, as well as place, is obviously very important to our reading of Pros-
pero Daughter. The novel is very specifically set in 1961-a time when Trinidad
and the West Indies more generally were on the threshold of political change. It
is a year after the publication of Lamming's The Pleasures of Exile that, as you
have already said, so powerfully repositioned Caliban, and a year before indepen-
dence in Trinidad. Interestingly, Glissant refers to this period from 1960-1980 as
"notre pass de tempete"-our tempest years. Could you talk a little bit about the
historical moment that you chose and how that shaped the narrative?
E. N.: Well, the time chose itself. I know that when novelists say this it
sounds really weird, but the fact is that it's true. You're writing the novel,
DONNELL (WITH NUNEZ) RECOVERING CARIBBEAN WOMAN
and the novel tells you this is the time for the novel. And when the novel
tells you this is the time for the novel, you now have to go and find out what
life was like during that period-although, in a way, Shakespeare's play (at
least Prospero's opening accusation of Caliban) tells a very contemporary
story. Right now, this very moment, we have exactly that situation .... You
know the story of Susan Smith. That's the first thing she said [that a black
man had taken her children], and everybody went looking for this black man
until she broke down and said she did it; she killed her two children (Gibbs
et al. 42). So here it is that Prospero, a European, accuses Caliban, a native,
of attempting to rape his daughter. What evidence does he have? We are
never given that evidence; we are simply expected to accept his word. Why?
Yes, I am aware of Caliban's response, but could his response have been a
defensive swagger? Or a political statement? Could he have been intimating
that if there were more people like him on the island-more Calibans-he
could defeat Prospero?
For the novel, I had to choose a time when the police inspector on the
island would be an Englishman. I wanted him to do the investigating. If I had
chosen a time when we were independent, then it would have been difficult
for me to find an Englishman in that position. That was one of the consider-
ations. Then I wanted Carlos to have the sense that the island is his home, that
it belongs to him; and also I wanted him to be connected to the people on the
mainland, which is Trinidad, who were demanding political independence
from the British colonial powers. The island became independent in 1962, so
I chose 1961, the year before independence.
A. D.: I'd like to pick up on your English inspector, Mumsford. In the opening
section that you read he is a pretty unsympathetic character, but he changes
as the novel develops and almost forms some kind of relationship with Carlos.
He begins, I think, to understand his outsider position, as a class outsider; and
there's something, a tentative, almost a reluctant, kinship-something he feels
between them. I'm just wondering if it's too optimistic to suggest that a white
Englishman could be a site of decolonization?
E. N.: I think they're in the same situation in a way. Of course, as an English-
man, Mumsford is privileged by the colour of his skin. Once he arrived in
Trinidad, his skin took on loads of value. He could have been a nobody in
England, but in Trinidad the colour of his skin would put him on the top. But
Dr. Gardner, who is an Englishman himself, knows that Mumsford comes
from the lower rungs of the social classes. And Mumsford knows that Dr.
Gardner knows who he is and at times in the novel Dr. Gardner laughs at him,
laughs at the things he says, and laughs at his lack of education. So although
Mumsford does not fully identify with Carlos's position, there is some con-
nection between them and he empathizes with Carlos somewhat. In Trinidad,
Mumsford is in a high position but here he has someone, Dr. Gardner, who
reminds him all the time of his status in England.
And I think that one may not in fact be a racist in one's heart, although
one may do racist things. At least, I know quite a few people who may say
racist things, but it's basically because the environment and the society in
which they live have taught them to act that way. So that although Mumsford
says some awful things, when it comes to crunch time, he doesn't like the
way, as human being to human being, Gardner treats Carlos. He does not like
the relationship between Carlos and Virginia because he has been taught that
blacks and whites should not marry. At the same time, as a decent human
being, he cannot see another human being treated unjustly and do nothing. In
this novel, I am really also interested in the way we learn to be racist, and
Virginia's father does a lot to try to teach his daughter about her superiority
over people of colour based on the colour of her skin. He tries to teach her
how she's supposed to act and what she's supposed to do and the value of her
skin. Mumsford learned this in England.
I'll just give you a quick example. There's a scene where Mumford is
speaking to Dr. Gardner, who is much more educated; he's a doctor. And
they're talking about Carlos being freckled, which you [the drama students]
enacted. You recall that Prospero refers to Caliban as "a freckled whelp, hag-
born." Mumsford is trying to figure out the significance of the freckles: "'Ah,'
he said knowingly. 'I've heard that happens."' Gardner does not understand
DONNELL (WITH NUNEZ) RECOVERING CARIBBEAN WOMAN
him and Mumsford clarifies: "When the two bloods meet ... Sometimes it
makes black and brown dots on the white." Gardner laughs at him. He's so
ignorant, he's so stupid: "I mean," Gardner said to him. "[D]idn't they teach
you anything about biology in police school, Inspector? ... [C]olored people
don't leave dots on white people. Or stripes, for that matter. A black and a
white horse don't make a zebra, Mumsford" (Nunez, Prospero 's Daughter
54-55). And then in a later scene Mumsford is thinking about this, and he
realizes that when he was in the pub with his friends in England, this is what
they said; these are the kinds of things they say all the time. And although
rationally he knows what they say is stupid, it doesn't make sense, he repeats
it. How do you separate myth from truth? How do you pull that off? I was
raised a Roman Catholic, a very religious Roman Catholic. I don't believe
now much of the stuff I was taught. But I don't think I can pull all the myths
I learned out of me. You know, they are in there. I can't take them out. And
that's what scares me about being taught racist things at an early age, because
even when you do in fact change, and you know better, I wonder whether you
can actually exorcise these early beliefs out of you. Can you? I don't know.
A. D.: I'd like to end my part of this evening by asking you about Ariana, the
Ariel figure, who is a woman of mixed African and Indian descent. Like
Shakespeare's Ariel she's blackmailed into service for Gardner/Prospero but
what's really crucial to your novel is that her service isn't just domestic ser-
vice-it's sexual service; she has to serve him sexually. Yet, despite this co-
erced service, she still chooses to serve Carlos and Virginia, to enable them to
have time with each other. Most importantly, she chooses to write a letter to
the police commissioner that defends their relationship and the love that they
have for each other. So then, she's a figure who's forced into service but who
also wants to do good service, which I think is really interesting in relation to
questions of resistance that The Tempest texts usually configure. I just felt
deeply Ariana's lack of presence when the novel ends with Carlos and Vir-
ginia locking hands over Virginia's pregnant belly. The trio has become a duo,
and she is not part of this harmonizing image of a new kind of family, which
could also be a new nation and a new kind of opportunity for belonging that
corresponds to the ideals of justice and love and belonging. Finally then, al-
though Ariana gives so much, she's not fully accommodated in those ideals.
E. N.: I know, I know. She does good things, but she does them, in a sense,
reluctantly. You know, she starts off liking her position .... She's ahead of
Carlos. She is Dr. Gardner's little secret person; she's his little lackey; she has
his confidence and so she has something over Carlos. And she uses that power
to some extent and I guess, like Mumsford, she reaches that point where she
can't do so any longer. She can't tolerate it any more. But she pays a huge
price for her earlier actions.
As for her sexual relationship with Prospero, I was thinking of the sex-
ual relationships that many Englishmen I knew in Trinidad had with the local
women during the time Trinidad was a colony. They seemed to feel that the
local women were available to them, and they didn't necessarily have to
marry them. I was thinking of the rubble they left behind when they went back
to England. In terms of Prospero, I guess the question, as I told you, Alison,
that I asked myself was "What did he do for sex?" I think you said to me,
"Well, I don't know. He was a man of the mind," and so on. That's true, but
throughout the play he makes a lot of sexual references. He has sex on his
mind. He was constantly talking to and about his daughter in ways that em-
phasized her value from below her waist. Her value was there. And when he
talks about his wife, his dead wife, her value was that too-her virginity. So
my question was "What did he do for sex?" There were only ... How many
people were on the island? In the twelve years, what did he do? So those were
the thoughts in my head.
A. D.: Are you ready to take questions from the audience?
E. N.: Sure.
DONNELL (WITH NUNEZ) RECOVERING CARIBBEAN WOMAN
Question from a member of the audience: You talked about how you
chose the novel's time period. Could you have captured the particular issues
you address if you had used any other period of Caribbean history-that
particular sense of being beholden to our colonizer that attaches specifically
to my generation? We were the last generation to be raised in that particular
context. We were better educated, but we were also burdened with feeling
this tremendous gratitude.
E. N.: Exactly. I couldn't have chosen another time ...
Audience member continues: History also makes it so difficult for us to
contextualize the harm. It's there-that sense of being beholden-when you
listen to all the characters, Shakespeare's and yours. And there's also the im-
portance of skin colour to everyone and how society is stratified. I think it
would be interesting to think about whether the doctor would have actually
lowered himself. Would he have chosen a black woman, even in dire straits?
E. N.: People keep asking me questions like that. What happened afterwards?
You know, I really was influenced as a writer by Shakespeare, and Shake-
speare's plays require you to participate in them and answer some of the
questions they raise yourself. They absolutely require you to become involved
in the story, and I try to do that with my writing. This is my story. This is how
I'm seeing the world, and you have to come in and see for yourself if what
has happened makes sense, and what could have happened. Your version may
be different from mine, but there is space for it, just as I found space in The
Tempest to jump in. I'm hoping you'll find space in my novel to jump in. But
you're right. I couldn't have chosen any other time because we were that last
generation, and we were tremendously grateful; we had to be. We were get-
ting some kind of education, and yet, we knew that was our island, that was
our home. It belongs to us. It does not belong to you.
A. D.: It seems to me that the "us" that you have just mentioned is very sig-
nificant within the novel because it is an inclusive us. The island community of
Ariana, Carlos, and Virginia is almost a proto-nation, a grouping that suggests
the possibility of alliance between different peoples to create an "us" that the
historical nation-building project failed to achieve as different ethnic groups
were pitted against, rather than encouraged to work alongside, each other.
E. N.: Yes, that's true. Politics sometimes artificially hardens the divisions
between people. On the island-maybe because of the smallness of the
place-people tend to intermingle, to have all sorts of intimate relationships.
Can a person of European ancestry who was raised by a person of African
ancestry not be influenced by her/him? See, that's the problem Rochester has
with Antoinette in Rhys's novel: "Creole of pure English descent she may be,"
he says, "but they are not English or European either" (Rhys 67). You just
have to see the response of people on the island to steel pan, which was an
invention of enslaved Africans. Whites, Indians, Chinese, Europeans, etc.,
respond to the steel pan in a way that unites them culturally in the Caribbean
but separates them culturally from others of their origin on the continents.
Then the politicians come in with their own agendas. Of course, they are right
to point out our history of brutality and exploitation, but there's also our "us-
ness": a mixed-race Carlos marrying an English girl, and a mixed-race Ariana
of Indian and African parentage.
A. D.: Elizabeth, I hope you don't mind me saying, but although you talked
just now of feelings of gratitude, when we were talking earlier today you also
said to me that the first time you visited England you felt very angry.
E. N.: That's right. So there was gratitude, but I always also felt a simmering
anger. I live, of course, in New York, and there's a sense in which I admire
African Americans for their freedom to be angry. They have this freedom to
rage and to call names. I don't have that freedom to rage and to call names.
Every time I start to call a name I say, "Dah" .... It's very hard to explain my
DONNELL (WITH NUNEZ) RECOVERING CARIBBEAN WOMAN
reluctance to African Americans. This is a major difference between African
Americans and West Indians. A major difference. And they resolve that dif-
ference by saying to me, "You're not black; you don't know who you are."
But the major difference is that they did not live the life we lived under colo-
nialism. This is Shakespeare's genius. I mean, even while Prospero is saying
those things to Caliban, Caliban is saying, "But I loved you. You did all this
to me and I loved you." Even in that moment, even in that time when he is
being enslaved and tortured, Caliban is able to say, "But I loved you; you
taught me much." So yes, going to England, for me, was difficult. The first
time I went, I could only stay two days. I had to get out. Every building
looked to me like a sugar cane field. I saw the blood.
Audience member: That's the conflict because on the one hand we knew
what was happening. My year was the first year we studied West Indian lit-
erature; we were allowed to write on West Indian literature for our papers at
high school. It was a tremendous experience to discover West Indian writers,
despite what Naipaul said. We also knew that, for us, education was the only
way out and that the gates of education were fairly closely guarded. That ac-
cess was something we were always grateful for. I went to one of the best high
schools on the island [Trinidad], but I hate it even now and won't attend any-
thing that has to do with that school. We had mandatory elocution classes so
we could learn to speak "good" English. We had music education from a Prof.
Edwards and so when I listened to you, Elizabeth, reading from the novel I
remembered those music lessons which, like everything else, were intended
to "civilize" us.
E. N.: But we loved it. I love classical music. I love John Keats. I love Shake-
speare. I love it all. That's it. Even right now the novels that I feel the closest
affinity to are the novels written by British writers. I read their work and I
feel. ... I tell people I was Betty as a child; I became Elizabeth because of
Elizabeth Bennett. She and I were the same. When I read Pride and Prejudice
she was who I was, and who I wanted to be.
Question from another audience member: You seem clearly comfortable
with and passionate about Shakespeare. How much of the novel is about hom-
age and how much is critique, an intervention-a coming to terms with those
two places from which you are writing?
E. N.: I don't know. I mean, it was only after I had written the book and it was
published and it was all over that it occurred to me to think about what I had
done with it. But in the process of writing it I wasn't conscious in that way.
That piece I read,1 you know whenever I read it I say, "Oh well, that's true."
And when I read the questions that Carlos asks-"Why hadn't I left before?
Why had I stayed so many years?"(Nunez, Prospero Daughter 216)-I
don't know the answer myself. One lives with ambiguity and with irreconcil-
able opposites; one lives in the shadows. That's how we live. We don't live
with clear answers about this or that. We live in-between, and we straddle
these worlds, unless you're not a particularly thinking person, and then it's
easy for you to say, well this is bad and this is good. And so I live with that
ambiguity. On the other hand, I tell you I really admire people who have the
freedom to declare that things are so clear for them. I'm like, "Well, but." The
Hamlet problem: to be or not to be [laughter].
A. D.: But, within the novel, to take away the power of Prospero's accusation,
to completely vindicate Carlos and make it clear that he has no intention of
violence towards Miranda, is really significant isn't it? As we know, histori-
cally most Caribbean engagements with The Tempest have chosen to focus on
the power dynamic between Prospero and Caliban for obvious reasons of the
colonial allegory. Here, it is not Caliban as a solitary and revolutionary figure
who offers resistance to Prospero's power. Rather, what undoes Gardner's
power is the consensual and loving relationship between Virginia and Carlos.
That marks a major shift in terms of revisiting The Tempest as a text that
stages the colonial problem. Could you say a bit more about this?
DONNELL (WITH NUNEZ) RECOVERING CARIBBEAN WOMAN
E. N.: Yes, thank you. For me, in this novel, it is indeed the loving relationship
between Virginia and Carlos that is the undoing of Gardner. Do you remember
how Carlos's section of the novel begins? Carlos speaks of a Miranda test.
"Pass it and I believe you," he says. "Fail it and all you say about the races
being equal, that character, not color, is what matters, becomes theoretical"
(Nunez, Prospero 's Daughter 105). I find that to be true among many do-
gooders, liberals, advocates of racial equality. Yes, they say, play together
when you are children, but on the point of marriage, marry your own people.
In the end, their position is not much different from the hypocrisy of US law
in the early twentieth century: separate but equal. But, of course, at no time
did Gardner conceive of Carlos as an equal. Carlos is his successful experi-
ment in educating a local, but he always remains superior to him.
A. D.: All the same, that your work clears that particular slate is really sig-
nificant, I think. It humanizes Caliban in Carlos and does not assume that
people became what the colonial project sought to make them.
E. N.: Having been to that island and as often as I went-it was not very
often, but the time I spent there was intense and significant-I don't think you
can live with that flora and fauna and not be affected. Remember that solilo-
quy: "Be not afeared" (Shakespeare, TheTempest 3.2.135)? Trinculo and
Stephano are scared; they're hearing all these things, and Caliban says, "Be
not afeared .... (Just when I want to recite these lines, they disappear). I
play with those words in the novel. A man who says these words, a man who
could tell those guys don't be scared of this, these are sounds that would not
hurt you, a man who could dream that the clouds would open and show him
riches, such a man is a remarkably sensitive person, a poet. And these are
Shakespeare's words. So he invested in Caliban this possibility. This isn't a
man like Prospero who is learned, and yet, in spite of his learning and educa-
tion and all he knows about the arts, he could still be an evil man.
I was telling Alison that I was once in charge of the core curriculum at
my college, and I was preaching that the humanities humanize you so let's
have more humanities courses. And a professor said to me yes, but in the for-
ties you could not have found a more civilized, more culturally elevated so-
ciety than that of the Germans and yet they were capable of the Holocaust. So
I'm looking at Prospero who, you know, has all this education and yet is still
capable of inflicting great cruelty on others. But Shakespeare allows us to see
Caliban reacting to the beauty of his environment; he dreams of it. To me, the
person who had this kind of connection to the beauties of his landscape would,
in fact, show a three-year-old girl the same thing. And can you imagine any
little three-year-old girl on such an island who wouldn't ever be curious about
a flower or a lizard or a bird that she saw? Surely, she'd ask Carlos about what
she was seeing and he would share his enthusiasm for the landscape with her.
I have a scene in the novel about that. Once I had Caliban's soliloquy, I just
imagined what could happen between a three-year-old girl in that environ-
ment and an older boy who feels that way about the landscape. You know how
three year olds are: "What's that? What do you think?" He would show her.
He was that kind of person; and they would bond.
Hyacinth Simpson: In this morning's session and just now we got some very
interesting comments about the time period in which the action in the story
unfolds-1961 mainly. But we are also reading and talking about the novel in
2007, and one of the many wonderful things about your story is that-as you
indicated earlier in your reference to Susan Smith-the past clearly reverber-
ates in the present. That brings me to Ariana. In the end she chooses to be the
one to act in service of Virginia and Carlos. There is something that many of
us don't like to talk about and that is the ongoing animosity between Afro-
Caribbeans and Indo-Caribbeans. It continues to rear its ugly head, particu-
larly in Trinidad and Guyana. So I'm wondering if there was anything about
that history of racial and ethnic conflict and its current violent manifestations
that influenced your presentation of Ariana. People tend to think of the Ariel
figure as the subservient sell-out willing to betray even the most nascent re-
DONNELL (WITH NUNEZ) RECOVERING CARIBBEAN WOMAN
billion in order to get what she or he wants instead of forming alliances with
others who are oppressed. As you said earlier, that is kind of what Ariana does
at the beginning, but then she realizes that Gardner has betrayed them all.
When she asks Virginia, "Did he do that to you, too?" the two young women
begin to realize that they have common cause. So, did you consciously con-
figure your Ariel character as someone who would find solidarity with other
oppressed peoples on the island?
E. N.: Well, I should say that I develop that idea more in the novel that I am
currently working on. And that's what happens with a novel. You write the
novel and it has the germ of something that you know is there, but you haven't
developed it in that particular work. So in the novel I'm working on (I'm
actually pretty much finished) I do develop that. But yes, Ariana is in a very
tenuous position. She's reaping some good advantages with Dr. Gardner.
She's getting better treatment, but it's kind of, you know, something she could
lose at any time. And yes, this kind of conflict happens between ethnic groups
in the Caribbean. It's the history of colonization. At the end of slavery, the
Indians were brought in and given the advantage of five acres of land. Ra-
mabai [Espinet] and I have talked about this many times. I really can't say too
much more, except that when my next novel comes out you'll read what I
think about that.
But I do want to say just one thing, which I said this morning. At the end
of the novel, as Virginia and Carlos get together and everything looks rosy and
things are going fine, Virginia turns to Carlos and reminds him that she is her
father's daughter: "I am his daughter," she says. And, as I was saying this morn-
ing, that was a problem I didn't know how I would resolve when I started on
the novel. I mean, what if at some point, in the middle of the night when they
are having a big fight, the black husband accuses the white wife of being no
different from her white father, whom he considers to be a racist? My characters
had to give me the answer. And, as I said to the group this morning, I got help
from Hamlet. So I'm leaving you with a little political problem here. You'll
recall that in Hamlet when Claudius is praying and Hamlet, unknown to him, is
listening, we learn that what Claudius is praying for is forgiveness. He wants
forgiveness, but his prayer doesn't work. He asks, "May one be pardon'd and
retain th' offence?"(Shakespeare 3.3.56) And then he admits that he has no in-
tention of giving up the queen, and he certainly was not going to give up Den-
mark, or his other prizes and privileges. So his prayer ends with his heels
kicking toward heaven. I used Hamlet to answer Virginia's concern, and I want
you to jump into the novel and tell me what you would say. Carlos responds to
her in the novel. He tells her that in the end he got back his house, but Virginia
wonders what would have happened if he hadn't got it back. What if he hadn't
got back everything? Do you see where I'm heading?
Audience members: Reparation.
E. N.: Correct.
A. D.: That question is very pertinent this year with the bicentennial of the
abolition of the British slave trade being marked so widely. It is a question of
whether this historical wrong can ever be righted. When we think about the
way in which the old colonial powers have continued to benefit from that
legacy of slavery, it's exactly the right question to ask.
E. N.: People look all over the place for a case for reparation, and the case for
reparation is right in their face-for hundreds of years, written beautifully,
and answered! The answer to Claudius's question is "No" [laughs].
A. D.: There's the question about responding to the call for reparation in
emotional terms. We know that forgiveness is not simply the apology; it must
be the reciprocal process of apologizing and of having that apology accepted.
E. N.: But it goes beyond that because in that scene Claudius says exactly
what he knew he wanted to retain. He wanted to retain his power; he wanted
to retain his position; he wanted to retain his goods; and he wanted to retain
DONNELL (WITH NUNEZ) RECOVERING CARIBBEAN WOMAN
the queen. Now you can make equivalents to those. Claudius answers his own
question; or Shakespeare puts the answer in his mouth. No, can't happen. To
answer my question, Virginia worries that "a day would come when Carlos
would shift [her] father's sins from [her] father to [her]." 'I am his daughter,"
she reminds Carlos (Nunez, Prospero 's Daughter 309). She is basically ask-
ing him if he can forgive her, and Carlos responds by saying yes, he can for-
give her because he now has his house back.
A. D.: In other words, there have to be the material grounds for equality and
a recognition of the need to redistribute power. I understand that, but the novel
works extremely powerfully to explore the possibility of healing, as well as
to expose the violence that colonialism enacted on its subjects. What seems
most crucial to me in terms of linking the novel to a tradition of Caribbean
writing in the present, and here I am thinking of works like Lawrence Scott's
,. iit Calypso and Shani Mootoo's Cereus Blooms at .,iln is that the pos-
sibility for healing only emerges as meaningful if it is collective. Carlos's
liberation may be importantly achieved on his own terms but he does not
claim it at the expense of Virginia. Could you speak to that idea?
E. N.: The point I hope to make, which is clear in Shakespeare's Hamlet, is
that forgiveness requires some sort of material reparation. That is one of the
reasons there is hope for the relationship between Carlos and Virginia, and for
Ariana's future happiness.
Hyacinth Simpson: Thank you very much Elizabeth and Alison; and thank
you also to our very enthusiastic audience.
1. Nunez is making reference to her article "Channeling Shakespeare,"
published in 2006, in which she talks about what influenced her writing of
Gibbs, Nancy, Cathy Booth, Sophfronia Scott Gregory, Sylvester Monroe,
and Lisa H. Towle. "Death and Deceit." Time 14 November 1994:
Lamming, George. The Pleasures of Exile. 1960. Fwd. Sandra Pouchet
Paquet. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1992.
Nunez, Elizabeth. "Channeling Shakespeare." Black Issues Book Review
March-April 2006: 24-25.
-. Prospero ' Daughter. New York: Ballantine, 2006.
Rhys, Jean. Wide Sargasso Sea. 1966. New York: Norton, 1992.
Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. Baltimore: Penguin, 1957.
-. The Tempest. Ed. Northrop Frye. 1959. Rev. ed. Peter Holland.
Baltimore: Penguin: 1999.
"THE ISLE IS FULL OF NOISES":
MYTHICAL SPACE AND PLACE
IN ELIZABETH NUNEZ'S
SANDRA POUCHET PAQUET
In this paper, I explore Elizabeth Nunez's reappropriation of Shakespeare's
The Tempest (1623) in the context of the transgressive lineage that has pre-
ceded Prospero ' Daughter in Caribbean discourse. Inspired by an anti-colo-
nial spirit of revolt and the ideological necessity of decolonization, this
discourse has had difficulty envisioning the native woman as centrally em-
bedded in the twin processes of revolt and recovery, barring gestures in that
direction in George Lamming's Water with Berries. In her reconfiguration of
The Tempest, Nunez resituates her version of the canonical colonial text in a
time and place of the original text's enshrinement. That setting is the historical
Trinidad and Chacachacare of the twentieth-century Caribbean at the height
of the anti-colonial movement, just prior to independence in 1962. Nunez's
interpellation of colonial authority is staged discursively in the tension be-
tween Shakespeare's fiction and her own, between one text used as an instru-
ment of subjugation and her own counter-discursive narrative of liberation.
The architecture of her novel is elaborate as it undertakes a multi-faceted re-
enactment of the classic drama of Europe's encounter with alterity in a cul-
tural context that necessitates its re-emplotment. It is here that an unresolved
MaComere 10 (2008): 65 79
tension in Prospero Daughter surfaces between that patriarchal employment
of the original and the contemporary woman writer's counter-discursive strat-
egies in her culturally and politically situated rewriting of the original.
Appropriations of The Tempest have a lineage of some distinction in
Caribbean writing and scholarship since the publication of Lamming's The
Pleasures of Exile in 1960. Others include Aim6 CUsaire's Une Tempete:
D'apres "la Tempete" de Shakespeare Adaptation pour un Antillean negre
(1969), Roberto Fernandez Retamar's "Cuba Hasta Fidel" (1969) and "Cali-
ban: Notes Toward a Discussion of Culture in our America" (1969), Kamau
Brathwaite's Islands (1969), Lamming's Water with Berries (1971), and
Derek Walcott's The Isle Is Full oJ .... .. (Hartford Stage Company and the
Negro Ensemble, 1982). In his 1987 article, "Caribbean and African Appro-
priations of The Tempest," Rob Nixon concludes that, "The Tempest's value
for African and Caribbean intellectuals faded once the plot ran out" (576). He
deferred to Sylvia Wynter's judgment in her "Afterword" to Lemuel John-
son's highlife for caliban (1973) where she wrote that "it is the neocolonial
event that finally divests Caliban of that which had kept him whole-a dream
of revenge against Prospero. But how shall he now revenge himself upon
himself?" (137). However, in a subsequent article, "Beyond Miranda's Mean-
ings: Un/Silencing the 'Demonic Ground' of Caliban's 'Woman'" (1990),
Wynter went much further in her reading of The Tempest as a foundational
image-making text by arguing that the absence of the native woman as an
alternative to Miranda as "erotic model of sexual desire" from the play's list
of characters is an ontological absence that effectively erases the native
woman from the social pyramid (360).1
A singular achievement of Prospero Daughter is the way Elizabeth
Nunez resituates and restructures this body of thought, while remaining in
dialogue with it all, through the use of allegorical signs originating in Shake-
speare's The Tempest and employed in any or all of the works mentioned
above.2 Fundamental to Nunez's poetic schema is her use of island space, and
not an invented island, a fantasy island, or another magic island, but a specific
island with a name, geography, and known history. The conceptual power of
POUCHET PAQUET "THE ISLE IS FULL OF NOISES"
Prospero 's Daughter derives in no small part from the specificity of its island
settings-Chacachacare and Trinidad. I argue that Nunez's use of the island
of Chacachacare, a known space with a distinct human history and cultural
geography, as the primary setting for Prospero Daughter facilitates a mark-
edly different adaptation of the Prospero-Caliban-Ariel-Miranda trope to her
own purposes. Nunez's choice of an island space that is empirically known
and claimed as native space gives her a measure of creative authority over the
human drama enacted in the specificity of that landscape and also a canonical
narrative that has assumed the proportions of a myth of genesis in Caribbean
discourse. In Space and Place: The Perspective of Experience, Yi-Fu Tuan ob-
serves that T%% o principal kinds of mythical space may be distinguished. In the
one, mythical space is a fuzzy area of defective knowledge surrounding the
empirically known; it frames pragmatic space. In the other it is the spatial com-
ponent of a world view, a conception of localized values within which people
carry on their practical activities" (86). Yi-Fu Tuan reminds us that on the local
level, mythical space "is a conceptual extension of the familiar and workaday
spaces given by direct experience" (86). In the Chacachacare and Trinidad of
Prospero 's Daughter, the experience of place generates competing myths of
genesis among individuals and communities where the idea of a terrestrial par-
adise is reclaimed and refreshed. In this paper, I will focus on Nunez's creative
use of literary space and place as the linchpin of her revisioning of race, gender,
freedom, and independence in national cultural politics.
In "Caribbean Genesis," Jana Evans Braziel advances an "ecocritical
paradigm for understanding Caribbean returns to myths of genesis (not as
origin but as problematic and process) in their writings" (112). Braziel's par-
enthetical clarification-not as origin but as problematic and process-may
explain in part the attraction of The Tempest as a counter-discursive site of
decolonization. Consider, for example, Lamming's discursive self-positioning
in The Pleasures of Exile:
... I see The Tempest against the background of England's experiment in
colonization. Considering the range of Shakespeare's curiosity, and the fact
that these matters were being feverishly discussed in England at the time,
they would most certainly have been present in his mind. Indeed, they must
have been part of the conscious stuff of his thinking. And it is Shakespeare's
capacity for experience which leads me to feel that The Tempest was also
prophetic of a political future which is our present. Moreover, the circum-
stances of my life, both as a colonial and exiled descendent of Caliban in the
twentieth century, is an example of that prophecy. (13)
The reinscription of these discursive assumptions over time by Caribbean writ-
ers underscores the challenge of locating the native woman within the Prospero-
Caliban-Ariel-Miranda paradigm where the "native" woman, Caliban's mother,
is identified off stage as Sycorax, a witch and hag, whom Prospero has impris-
oned in a tree. Attentive to the absence of the native woman as rebel, in Water
with Berries Lamming splits the character of Miranda into Myra and Randa; the
former is the sexually violated, displaced, white West Indian woman, and the
other is the sexually dishonouredd," rejected, black West Indian woman. Though
their roles in the novel mark them as victims of an unrelenting male quest for
patriarchal dominance that extends through colonization into decolonization
and the quest for independence, the novel is primarily concerned with the for-
tunes of three male artists who emigrate from the Caribbean to the fictive Al-
bion (a thinly disguised Great Britain in this postcolonial allegory) in a reversal
of the Tempest paradigm. In her radical rewriting of the paradigm, Nunez re-
stores both the white West Indian woman Virginia (Miranda) and the black West
Indian woman Ariana (Ariel) to the status of native woman in a revisioning of
the inherited racial binaries enacted and maintained by colonial patriarchal au-
thority. Braziel discerns a pattern in contemporary Caribbean writing that sug-
gests "a reconsideration of the 'natural' in subjectivity-not as a pre-given
medium but rather as a created mode of relation in the world" (124). In this
context, she identifies "a reconfiguration of landscape in citizenship-not as
citizens bound by and inextricable from a fixed territory and not as subjects
bound to a pays natal but as a land diasporically reconfigured, or as subjects
with rhizomic roots that do not exploit the terrains in which they dwell" (124).
Though Braziel does not name Nunez in her article, her observations speak
directly to the eco-critical sensibility evinced in Nunez's revisiting of the Carib-
bean genesis thematic as part of her counter-discursive strategy.
POUCHET PAQUET "THE ISLE IS FULL OF NOISES"
There is a lot to be said about islands in British literature, and still more
to be said about islands in the Caribbean imagination, where they have had to
be repossessed, so to speak. In Problematic Shores: The Literature ofl islands,
Diana Loxley makes the case that in nineteenth-century British literature the
island motif is institutionalized as an ideal discourse for the ideological ad-
vancement of a colonial/imperial vision:
The motif of the island cannot simply be understood as just another
'theme' that variously appears and disappears throughout British and
European literary history. It is not therefore, an arbitrary choosing of
one specific strand in literature, the historical presence of which alone
might justify his self-examination. What, on the contrary, is being pro-
posed is that the texts examined must be seen not simply as variations
on a theme but, in essence, literary representations of the theme of Brit-
ish colonialism. (xi)
Lamming adds another dimension to Loxley's conclusions in respect to the
island setting of The Tempest, when he observes in The Pleasures of Exile that
"It is not only aesthetic necessity, but also the facts of lived experience which
demanded that the territory of the drama had to be an island. For there is no
landscape more suitable for considering the Question of the sea, no geography
more appropriate to the study of exile" (96). Our writers and scholars have
employed and explored the trope tirelessly, and this is to be expected; the
trope is also a lived Caribbean reality, a site of self-assessment and redefini-
tion in the aftermath of slavery and colonialism. Most recently, Chris Bongie,
in Islands and Exiles: The Creole Identities of Post/Colonial Literature,
builds on the work of Lamming, Aim6 CUsaire, Edouard Glissant, and Anto-
nio Benitez-Rojo, among others:
The island is thus the site of a double identity closed and open-and this
doubleness perfectly conveys the ambivalences of Creole identity .. If
insular thinking is at the root of a traditional identity politics, the relational
thinking that emerges out of the cross-culturalizing dynamics of the cre-
olization process puts this insularity into question. (18)
And there is the question of the smaller island in relation to the bigger island in
Prospero Daughter, where Nunez uses two islands in close proximity to each
other in counterpoint, so to speak, and where the smaller island experiences a
thralldom that makes it a living image and reminder of the larger island's past.
Prospero Daughter is set on the island of Chacachacare, a former
leper colony (1922-1984) and thus a site of banishment and human tragedy
within recent memory, in the years just prior to the independence of Trinidad
and Tobago (1962). This sets the stage for the structural transformation of
positional relations in the Prospero-Caliban-Ariel-Miranda trope. Since this
island is described historically and geographically in its relationship to Trini-
dad, where anti-colonial agitation for independence is gaining momentum, the
events unfolding on Chacachacare appear unique to that island and yet con-
tingent on the nation-defining events occurring in Trinidad at the same time.
Thus, as the epic tenure of British colonial rule is winding down in the face
of active resistance in Trinidad, those events generate a specific cultural con-
text for interpreting the pattern of territorial annexation, repression, abuse,
torture, and rebellion unfolding on Chacachacare nearby. The abstract and
concrete spaces of conflict in the novel are imbued with verifiable historical
and cultural data; it is into this literary historical space, saturated with post-
colonial awareness of the nationalist project, that Nunez imports The Tempest
as emblematic colonial master narrative.
The assumptions of the seventeenth-century play are invoked con-
sciously as individual characters rehearse and interpret the moral imperatives
and curses that they read into the play's language, and thus Nunez subjects the
provenance of the play to the test of time and place in her historically grounded
geopolitical fiction. For example, Carlos (Caliban), the central character in
the novel, explains at some length to his friend and ally Ariana (Ariel), who
is functionally literate but formally unschooled, why Dr. Gardner, who holds
them in his thrall, is appropriately nicknamed Prospero. Gardner himself in
fits of rage and passion curses Carlos in language that Shakespeare's Prospero
reserves for castigating Caliban. Conversely, Carlos, who is also a poet, spits
out Caliban's language of defiance and curses, directed at Prospero in Shake-
speare's play, at his nemesis Gardner. The symbolic relations of the cultural
order that structures Shakespeare's play flip back and forth to illuminate the
POUCHET PAQUET "THE ISLE IS FULL OF NOISES"
trajectory of system-change underway in Nunez's fictional world and its cor-
relative in historical time and space.
Nunez overrides any notional opposition that might exist between the
fictional space of her narrative and its geographical and historical specificity
with a range of verifiable data. For example, early in the first of three sections
of the novel, titled "The Englishmen," and before Nunez fully introduces her
two versions of Prospero (Mumsford, a racist yet dutiful English Inspector of
Police stationed in Trinidad, and Dr. Gardner, a racist English scientist and re-
searcher who has stolen Carlos's property on Chacachacare), she narrates the
colonial history of Trinidad with an identifiable nationalist bias, beginning with
the arrival of the French in 1777 through to Emancipation in 1834 (8). Even
before this, she inserts a brief account of a Trinidad/Chacachacare land-lease
package that the British made with the United States during World War Two in
exchange for twenty warships; the United States built military bases on this land
and supported the British war effort. They built bases, roads, and fortifications
in Trinidad and also on Chacachacare in 1942. When the novel opens the year
is 1961, and the narrator makes the historical moment specific by identifying
Dr. Eric Williams as the head of an anti-colonial government in Trinidad at the
time (11). The island is on the verge of independence from Britain and public
anticipation of the event is keen. Later in the novel, Carlos learns about Dr.
Williams from a shopkeeper in Trinidad; he is identified to the questing Carlos
as an agitator for independence with a public following, and as one who is
bringing the hierarchy of race and colour to the forefront of public debate in
Trinidad's Woodford Square: "Eric Williams. De Doctah. He had come from
America where he had been teaching at Howard University. He was an Oxford
man, the shopkeeper said proudly. Got his doctor title from Oxford" (181). In
this way, Nunez deliberately problematizes distinct categories of knowledge in
her novel-fiction and history, oral and literary discourses-which force a re-
reading of the colonial master text as culturally situated and entrenched in the
political, cultural, and educational discourses of colonialism.
In keeping with the island's centrality in the narrative, the geopolitical
history of Chacachacare is introduced with great care, with information about
how it got its name; its location in relation to Trinidad, the Gulf of Paria, and
the Dragon's Mouth; its proximity to a once-thriving whaling industry in the
gulf; and its history as a cotton plantation, a vacation site, and a leprosarium
(19-24). Nunez introduces the island from the vantage point of omniscient
narrative; she doesn't trust either Englishman with the task. She is concrete
and historically accurate about its topography, its flora and fauna, its ne-
glected paths, and its lighthouse. She is knowledgeable about the leprosarium
located on the island, about Hansen's disease and its history and methods of
treatment at the leprosarium, and about the leprosarium's medical personnel
and caretakers. She knows the ocean currents by name, the direction of the
winds, and how long the trip to Trinidad by boat takes. There is never any
doubt that this small island, though little more than a rock (900 acres), is a
place with a recorded human history. This spatial consciousness pervades the
narrative and anchors the cultural politics of the novel in the terrain of lived
human experience. In this localized cultural space, The Tempest takes its place
in the narrative as an authoritative colonial text and inspired work of art that
the characters Gardener (Prospero) and Carlos (Caliban) internalize (each to
a different scale of value) and use to different ends.
Thus The Tempest becomes multiply visible as colonial paradigm or
pre-text that Nunez mimics in her employment of Prospero Daughter, an
interpretive strategy that illuminates the role of the book as fetish and emblem
of colonial authority, and also as a mechanism for dismantling that authority.3
On Nunez's Chacachacare, the fuzzy outlines of Shakespeare's magic island
are filled in, and this becomes the mainstay of a resistant, historical con-
sciousness that matures into the keen intelligence enabling Carlos (Caliban)
to defeat Gardner (Prospero), marry his daughter Virginia (a motherless Mi-
randa whose sensibility and intelligence are nurtured by Caliban, who has
enduring memories of mother-love), to form a mutually liberating alliance
with Ariana (Ariel), and restore his mother's good name-and with it his
genealogy and inheritance: "'My mother,' he said, was blue-eyed, but she was
not a hag. She was beautiful. The house was hers. He stole it from me'"
(Nunez 67). Nunez makes much of the fact that Carlos is "freckled" and
POUCHET PAQUET "THE ISLE IS FULL OF NOISES"
therefore of mixed race, which intensifies his monstrosity in Gardner's eyes,
and facilitates Nunez's vision of the rebirth of community around the tradi-
tional values of work and family in harmonious relationship with alterity. The
marriage of Carlos and Virginia is an act of mutual love; it is never an act of
revenge against her monstrous father. Their shared victimization engenders a
new beginning, though in Glissant's sense of "a beginning whose time is
marked by these balls and chains gone green" (6). This dynamic image actu-
ally reanimates the model of integrative community established by Carlos's
parents on Chacachacare before disaster strikes, suggesting the genesis of a
myth of place around the individual family unit, which carries its own his-
torical burden of patriarchy, sexual possession, and property ownership.4 The
latter remains evidence of an unresolved tension in the novel that is perhaps
exacerbated in the intersection between two kinds of time: the historical time
of progress towards individual freedom and independence from colonial rule,
and the cyclical time of myth invested in the replay of the individual family
unit as foundational value in the reclamation of Chacachacare as productive
The link that Lamming makes between island geography and the study
of exile is richly explored here because Nunez's Prospero 's LDo;ii ic,.i lcci
on both islands and exiles, an established theme in Caribbean literary culture
that has been replayed repeatedly in various prescriptive and performative
enactments of national belonging.5 In Prospero Daughter, all of Chacacha-
care's human occupants are arrivants-all, that is but Carlos (Caliban) and the
children of those born to the sufferers from Hansen's disease who are impris-
oned there (though the latter are hurriedly removed from their parents). This
tenuous and varied historical relationship to place is fundamental to the cul-
tural politics embedded in the novel, which while celebratory of formal inde-
pendence from colonial rule models a flexible vision of heterogeneous
national identities. In The R n, 1,i. Island, Benitez-Rojo fashions this flex-
ibility as a sign of unstable cultural origins: "Finally, every person of the
Caribbean is in exile from his own myth and his own history, and also from
his own culture and his own Being, now and always, in the world" (2In Pros-
pero Daughter, Chacachacare models multiple relationships to place: es-
cape, work, prison, refuge, isolation, love, death, exploitation, abuse, new
beginnings, and so on. For the lighthouse keepers, Chacachacare is a place of
work and temporary exile; they come from Trinidad two at a time and work
in isolation on weekly shifts. For those who sufferer from Hansen's disease,
the island is a prison where their medical and social needs are inadequately
met, and where they endure mandated painful treatments and death. When the
authorities abandon forced treatments and compulsory isolation, only a few
of the afflicted remain for lack of a viable choice. Prior to this, their caretakers
are French Dominican nuns and later US Sisters of Mercy, who surrender
individual freedom to the dictates of their orders; they leave when the lepro-
sarium is closed. Doctors responsible for the care of survivors come and go
as to a vacation spot; they are appointed with little formal accountability.
The settlers on Chacachacare are a mixed-race couple that shares the
island space with the leprosarium, its inhabitants, and the lighthouse keepers.
The woman, who stands in for the silenced and imprisoned Sycorax in The
Tempest, is born in Algeria to English parents and raised by a sub-Saharan
African servant to identify with Africans and their culture, and to be contemp-
tuous of the European colonial privileges she enjoys there. She is a rebel in
her unconventional relationships with African men and women, and is jetti-
soned from a passing cruise ship as a whore. She is rescued by an African
Trinidadian poet and teacher, lately a fisherman and a one-time messenger of
drug runners. She is independently wealthy and purchases the property on
Chacachacare in anticipation of an idyllic life with her rescuer, whom she
loves. She does not speak in her own voice, but her son's memories of her are
keen and formative; he names her a woman of love. Carlos Codrington (Cal-
iban) is the son and undisputed heir of the woman and her rescuer. Drug-
running thugs murder Carlos's father, and his mother dies not long after from
a broken heart. Carlos is left in the care of the housekeeper Lucinda, a well-
intentioned woman from Trinidad who is rescued from abuse and homeless-
ness by Carlos's mother. She has a child, Ariana (Ariel), but Lucinda is dying
of cancer and vulnerable to the wiles of a stranger, Dr. Gardner (Prospero)
POUCHET PAQUET "THE ISLE IS FULL OF NOISES"
who, on his arrival in search of safe harbour from the British police and shel-
ter for himself and his three-year-old daughter Virginia (Miranda), promises
to restore the property damaged in a storm in return for dispensing medical
treatment to Lucinda.
If we are familiar with the plot of The Tempest, the rest is predictable.
When the novel opens, Gardner has stolen Carlos's inheritance, has sexually
molested his own daughter, and has made a sexual slave of Ariana since child-
hood. Most recently, he has charged Carlos with the attempted rape of his
daughter, Virginia, now fifteen, in a desperate attempt both to cover his abuse
of her and to disrupt the love-match developing between Carlos and Virginia.
By the end of the novel, a principled if racist Inspector Mumsford frees Carlos
on the testimony of Ariana and Virginia, and Carlos returns to Chacachacare
to claim his birthright. Gardner finds poetic justice in a storm; his body is torn
and battered on the rocks when he plunges off a cliff in a histrionic attempt to
manage the raging elements and restore his authority over the island. Ariana
finds a new life in Trinidad as a police cadet, and Virginia marries Carlos after
a year in a convent, to settle down like Carlos's mother on the island of Cha-
cachacare with the man that she loves. When the novel closes, she is pregnant
with their child in a seeming assertion of future possibilities, though in an
environment that continues to be fraught with both predictable and unforeseen
dangers, given that it has been the site of their shared thralldom. The tentative-
ness of their new beginning suggests the bitterness of the acidulous in Derek
Walcott's second Eden, but Walcott also speaks to the necessity of new begin-
nings that Nunez affirms here: "the apples of its second Eden have the tartness
of experience ... It is the acidulous that supplies its energy" (41).
The first of three sections of the novel, "The Englishmen" is an omni-
scient narrative, the second is Carlos's first-person narrative in which he de-
tails his complicity as a child in Gardner's abuse of him; his growing
emotional attachment to Virginia in his role as guardian, teacher, and compan-
ion; and his undiminished memories of his parents, their love for each other,
and their love for him. The third and final section of the novel is Virginia's
first-person account of her life on Chacachacare (the only life that she has a
conscious memory of), her blindness to her father's cruelty and abuse, and her
growing emotional attachment to Carlos. What is distinctive about Nunez's
narrative is not Carlos's intelligence, progressive rebelliousness, and eventual
will to self-possession, because that is certainly a feature of Lamming's Water
with Berries, CUsaire's Une Tempete, and even Shakespeare's The Tempest.
Rather, it is her radical response to Sylvia Wynter's complaint that the ab-
sence of the native woman, as an alternative to Miranda as "erotic model of
sexual desire," is an ontological absence that effectively erases the native
woman from the social pyramid. In Prospero Daughter, "native" women as
black women emerge as visible, vocal, victimized by the system, and resis-
tant, and Virginia as Miranda holds her ground as "erotic model of sexual
desire" in respect to Carlos as Caliban. In fact, she acquires the status of "na-
tive," through the transformative experience of place and nurturing personal
relationships in that place; she is native by choice, desire, and love of Carlos.
She is a creolized "Miranda," with an island accent, a complexion that Vir-
ginia describes as a kind of "browning" (raising questions about her mother
that Gardner alludes to more than once), the quality of her identification with
place, and her sense of loss stemming from her isolation from the community
of people beyond the perimeters of their compound, whom her father has in-
structed her to fear. For example, she observes, "My hair was blond and my
eyes were blue but my skin was the color of copper, brown as if that hue were
native to me" (230), and an encounter with a white American visitor draws
attention to her speech: "At lunch he spoke slowly to me as if English were
not my language. I did not speak like Father. I did not have his accent. Father
spoke like an Englishman; I spoke like Carlos" (230). Finally, her connection
to the island is palpable:
I had seen the ibis return home before twilight; I had seen the sky turn red
with their scarlet feathers when they flew past our island from their feed-
ing grounds in Venezuela to roost in the mangrove in Trinidad. I had seen
the sky so blue, I imagined God. I had seen the sun set on fire and spread
its dying embers in a carnival of colors across the horizon. I had smelled
the air after a rainfall, sodden with salt from the sea. I had heard thunder
roar when lightning sliced clouds in two. I had mistaken the sounds of
POUCHET PAQUET "THE ISLE IS FULL OF NOISES"
birds for the voices of humans singing. This was my world. These were
the sounds and sweet smells I knew. (246)
The isle is indeed full of noises, and it seems that they are to be read as signs
of a territorial unconscious; to know them and commune with them in the
novel registers as a sign of territorial belonging. In Prospero Daughter, Car-
los and Virginia are defined by such expressions of felt intimacy with place
and alterity as a condition of being that belonging in this place signifies.
My sense of the novel's ending is that, given its careful attention to the
struggle for independence as the immediate context and apperceptive back-
ground to the human drama that unfolds, Nunez functionally revises the lan-
guage of nation and national belonging. In Prospero Daughter, one may
become a "native"; racial identity in Chacachacare and neighboring Trinidad is
displaced by national identity as a criterion of native belonging.6 This is a con-
clusion that Nunez engineers through specificity of place and time in associa-
tion with a host of Caribbean writers, who have written the Caribbean in all its
contradictoriness and complexity into a distinctive literary and cultural space.
1. These issues of absence, silence, and erasure are richly explored in a
number of works, including Abena Busia's "Silencing Sycorax: On Colonial
Discourse and the Unvoiced Female" (1990), and Patricia Joan Saunders's
Alien-Nation and Repatriation: Tu"Ihd'i'ini, Identity in Anglophone
Caribbean Literature (2007).
2. In Tempests after Shakespeare, Chantal Zabus constructs a different
genealogy that includes Jamaica Kincaid's Annie John (1983), Michelle
Cliff's No Telephone to Heaven (1987), and Marina Warner's Indigo (1992).
3. In "On Rewriting," her introduction to Tempests after Shakespeare,
Chantal Zabus charts the many different shapes of rewriting through versions
of mimicry and parody in the body of literature inspired by The Tempest over
4. Iam mindful of Adrienne Rich in Of Woman Born: "At the core of patriarchy
is the individual family unit which originated with the idea of property and the
desire to see one's property transmitted to one's biological descendents" (60).
5. As Marshall Sahlins explains in Islands of History, "The performative
orders tend to assimilate themselves to contingent circumstances; whereas,
the prescriptive rather assimilate the circumstances to themselves-by a kind
of denial of their contingent and evenemential character" (xii).
6. In Islands of History, Sahlins reflects on a Hawaiian custom that seems
to parallel the sense of Nunez's ending: "Just so, in Hawaii one may
become a 'native,' i.e., by right action. Having resided a certain time in
the community, even strangers become 'children of the land' . the term
is not exclusively reserved to the native-born. The example allows me to
argue that the interchangeability between being and practice itself depends
on communities of meaning, hence the determination in either direction is
structurally motivated.... For Hawaiians, to live and eat from a certain land
makes a person one in substance with the land, in the same sense that a child
is of his parents' substance (in Hawaii, by birth and by nurture). A stranger is
thus metamorphosed into a child of the land by equal title to the people 'born
to it' (as we also might say)" (xi-xii).
Benitez-Rojo. The ... ,i Island: The Caribbean and the Postmodern
Perspective. 2nd ed. Trans. James Maraniss. Durham: Duke
University Press, 1996. Print.
Bongie, Chris. Islands and Exiles: The Creole Identities of Post Colonial
Literature. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998. Print.
Brathwaite, Kamau (Edward). Islands. London: Oxford University Press,
Braziel, Jana Evans. "'Caribbean Genesis': Language, Gardens, Worlds
(Jamaica Kincaid, Derek Walcott, Edouard Glissant)." Caribbean
Literature and the Environment: Between Nature and Culture.
Ed. Elizabeth M. DeLoughrey, Renee K. Gosson, and George B.
Handley. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2005. 110-
Busia, Abena. "Silencing Sycorax: On Colonial Discourse and the Unvoiced
Female." Cultural Critique 14 (1989/90): 81-104. Print.
C6saire, Aim& Une Tempete: D 'apres "la Tempete de Shakespeare;
Adaptation pour un Antillean negre. Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1969.
Glissant, Edouard. The Poetics ofRelation. Trans. Betsy Wing. Ann Arbor:
University of Michigan Press, 1997. Print.
POUCHET PAQUET "THE ISLE IS FULL OF NOISES"
Lamming, George. The Pleasures of Exile. 1960. Ann Arbor: University of
Michigan Press, 1992. Print.
-. Water with Berries. London: Longman Caribbean, 1971. Print.
Loxley, Diana. Problematic Sores: The Literature of Islands. Basingstoke:
Macmillan, 1990. Print.
Nixon, Rob. "Caribbean and African Appropriations of The Tempest."
Critical Inquiry 13.3 (1987): 557-578. Print.
Nunez, Elizabeth. Prospero Daughter. New York: Ballantine, 2006. Print.
Retamar, Roberto Fernfndez. "Caliban: Notes Toward a Discussion of
Culture in our America." Caliban and Other Essays. Trans.
Edward Baxter. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1971.
-. "Cuba Hasta Fidel." Bohemia 19 Sept. 1969. 84-97. Print.
Rich, Adrienne. Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and
Institution. New York: Norton, 1986. Print.
Sahlins, Marshall. Islands of History. Chicago: University of Chicago Press,
Saunders, Patricia Joan. Alien-Nation and Repatriation: Ti ,,ii'Jai Identity
in Anglophone Caribbean Literature. Lanham: Lexington, 2007.
Tuan, Yi-Fu. Space and Place: The Perspective of Experience. Minneapolis:
University of Minnesota Press, 2007. Print.
Walcott, Derek. The Isle Is Full oj .. ... Dir. Douglas Turner Ward.
Hartford Stage Company and the Negro Ensemble, 1982. Print.
-. "The Muse of History." What the Twilight Says. New York: Farrar,
Straus and Giroux, 1998. 36-64. Print.
Wynter, Sylvia. Afterword. Highlifefor Caliban. By Lemuel A. Johnson.
Ann Arbor, MI: Ardis, 1973. 129-156. Print.
-. "Beyond Miranda's Meanings: Un/Silencing the 'Demonic Ground' of
Caliban's 'Woman.'" Afterword to Out of the Kumbla. Ed. Carole
Boyce Davies and Elaine Savory Fido. Trenton: Africa World
Press, 1990. 355-372. Print
Zabus, Chantal. Tempests after Shakespeare. New York: Palgrave
Macmillan, 2002. Print
FROM PROSPERO'S DAUGHTER TO
CALIBAN'S WOMAN: ELIZABETH NUNEZ
REIMAGINES THE TEMPEST
Prospero 's Daughter (2006), by Elizabeth Nunez, is a rewriting of The Tem-
pest that takes as its point of departure Caliban's taunting response to Pros-
pero's accusation of rape and reimagines, through the perspectives of Caliban
and Miranda, the events that transpired in the twelve years between Prospe-
ro's arrival on the island and his decision to confine Caliban on a "hard rock"
(Shakespeare, The Tempest 1.2.345). Nunez, who wrote her doctoral disserta-
tion on Caribbean rewritings of The Tempest, is well aware of her literary
predecessors, such as George Lamming, Aim6 CUsaire, Frantz Fanon, and
Roberto Retamar-male writers of the independence era who first champi-
oned Caliban as a figure of colonial resistance. However, in an important
departure from the work of these authors, Prospero Daughter looks beyond
the Manichean, all-male struggle between Prospero and Caliban, and reveals
instead how Prospero misuses and betrays all three of his "subjects": Caliban,
Ariel, and Miranda. Indeed, Prospero Daughter writes back not only to the
history of racism and Eurocentrism that informed the colonial venture, but
also to the sexism and erasures evident in earlier male-authored Caribbean
texts that, in positing Caliban as the only victim of Prospero's will-to-power,
obscured the ways in which both daughter and slave are subject to Prospero's
MaComere 10 (2008): 80 95
SPARROW FROM PROSPER'S DA TIGHTER TO CATLBAN'KS WOMAN
authority. Consequently, Prospero 's Daughter is the latest addition to a grow-
ing body of feminist rewritings of The Tempest in which Miranda and Caliban
become allies to escape what they come to recognize as their common subju-
gation to Prospero.
Prospero 's Daughter is set in colonial Trinidad on the eve of political
independence in 1961. Caliban's island is relocated to Chacachacare, a former
leper colony off the coast of Trinidad that is inhabited by Dr. Peter Gardner
(the Prospero figure), an English doctor-tumed-botanist living in exile; his
young daughter Virginia (the Miranda figure); and two orphaned children/
servants, Ariana (for Shakespeare's Ariel) and Carlos (Nunez's version of
Caliban). Peter Gardner is a modem-day magus, a kind of mad scientist ob-
sessed with cloning new limbs and grafting them onto damaged humans. In
flashback, the reader learns that after a patient died following a botched ex-
periment, Gardner fled to Trinidad to escape scandal and prosecution. On
Chacachacare, Gardner found Carlos Codrington, the six-year-old orphaned
son of an Englishwoman Sylvia (Sycorax) and a Trinidadian man, and Ariana,
the daughter of Sylvia's cook. Sylvia and her husband were dead, and Ari-
ana's mother was dying of cancer, so Gardner moved into and appropriated
Carlos's house under the pretext of taking care of the dying woman and sav-
ing the two children from the orphanage.
As the novel opens, Inspector Mumsford, another expatriate English-
man, is being sent to Chacachacare to investigate an attempted rape described
by his superior as "[a] delicate matter" because "Dr. Peter Gardner, an Eng-
lishman [has] lodged a complaint on behalf of his fifteen-year-old daughter"
(Nunez, Prospero Daughter 5). Mumsford arrives to find that Gardner has
imprisoned Carlos in a sty, very much like the "hard rock" on which Prospero
confined Caliban in the Shakespearean version. When Caliban complains in
The Tempest of being confined and prevented from roaming freely about the
island, Prospero responds with outrage: "I have used thee / (Filth as thou art)
with humane care and lodged thee / In mine own cell, till thou didst seek to
violate / The honor of my child" (1.2.347-350). Caliban responds to Prospe-
ro's accusation of attempted rape, "0 ho, 0 ho! Would't have been done; /
Thou didst prevent me, I had peopled else / This isle with Calibans" (1.2.350-
353). In postcolonial readings of The Tempest, a central interpretive quandary
is whether Caliban, in his statement of defiance, is admitting guilt of at-
tempted rape or merely taunting Prospero with a vision of an island peopled
with his offspring. In beginning her novel at this critical moment in Shake-
speare's play, Nunez is able to defend Caliban against accusations that cast
him, as Leslie Fiedler observed, as the first non-white rapist in Western lit-
erature, "ancestor of innumerable Indian warriors and skulking niggers who
have threatened ever since . the fragile honor of their oppressors' daugh-
ters" (234). Her defence of Caliban is accomplished by "giving the women on
the island a voice" (Schmidt 22), mainly through Virginia's first-person nar-
rative, where she explains that she is in love with Carlos and that it is actually
her father who has been sexually abusing her. The reversed accusation at once
explains Prospero's/Gardner's obsession with his daughter's "virgin knot"
(Nunez, Prospero Daughter 51) and also frees Miranda/Virginia from the
discursive trap of being seen as nothing more than Prospero's/Gardner's col-
laborator or possession. Like Indigo, Marina Warner's 1992 rewriting of The
Tempest, Prospero Daughter attempts to extricate the daughter from the
father's plot (Zabus 524). For Nunez, the affinity between Miranda and Cali-
ban is made possible, in part, by a recognition that although different histories
have brought them to the island they call home, they are now both Trinidadi-
ans and share a creolized identity informed by a sense of place rather than by
race or ethnicity.
Nunez has written that Prospero 's isii ,N is th culmination of a long
engagement with The Tempest that began in secondary school in colonial
Trinidad. She remembers "cringing" during a classroom discussion of The
Tempest: "[E]ven at 14, I cannot miss the parallels between my situation in a
British colony and Caliban's. In both our cases, Europeans have come to our
islands, and though surely they have laid claim to our land, they have given
us much in return. I am proof of their beneficence, sitting in a classroom, get-
ting an education they have been kind enough to provide for me" ("Channel-
ing Shakespeare" 24). Nunez recalls reading later in the heady days after
SPARROW FROM PROSPER'S DA TIGHTER TO CATLBAN'KS WOMAN
political independence George Lamming's The Pleasures of Exile (1960),
which recasts Caliban as a Caribbean freedom-fighter, and then returning to
The Tempest, this time "committing to memory Caliban's audacious assertion:
'This island's mine, by Sycorax my mother, / Which thou tak'st from me'"
("Channeling Shakespeare" 24)-the line on which Afro-Caribbean writers
of the independence era based their revisions of The Tempest.1
In The Pleasures of Exile, Lamming uses The Tempest as a model for
thinking about a writer's relationship to the past. At the heart of this relationship
lies the Prospero/Caliban conflict, which, Lamming writes, illustrates "a certain
state of feeling which is the heritage of the exiled and colonial writer from the
British Caribbean" (9). The feeling is one of profound ambivalence. Although,
as a descendant of slaves, Lamming, like Nunez, is well aware of his affinity
with Caliban, his British education has also bound him to Prospero:
Prospero has given Caliban Language; and with it an unstated history of
consequence, an unknown history of future intentions .... It is this way
entirely Prospero's enterprise, which makes Caliban aware of possibilities.
Therefore, all Caliban's future for future is the very name for possibili-
ties-must derive from Prospero's experiment, which is also his risk. (109)
Carlos Codrington, Nunez's Caliban, also feels ambivalent about Peter Gard-
ner's "gift" of language. Carlos comes to realize that Gardner regards tutoring
him as an experiment-as "grafting" a European education onto a "primitive"
mind and civilizing a coarse nature (Nunez, Prospero 's Daughter 163); yet
Carlos is eager to learn. As the education offered by Gardener is his only access
to formal education, he finds a compromise: "I learned to wear a mask over my
face, an invisible barrier that Gardner could not see ... I made a bargain with
him in my mind: in exchange for knowledge, I would let him presume" (163).
Carlos learns about botany, about ho" to create a new flower by grafting the
stem of one flower on to the stem of another" (165). He learns about astronomy,
biology, and chemistry, and finds solace in literature: "[T]he education I was
getting from Gardner was British; it was European. But the poems spoke to me
and I found myself in them" (167). In accepting Gardner's "gift" of knowledge
as a means to furthering his own growth and development, Carlos exemplifies
Lamming's thesis that the colonial encounter cannot be undone and that Caliban
must use Prospero's language to make his own meaning: "Caliban had got hold
of Prospero's weapons and decided that he would never again seek his master's
permission" (Pleasures of Exile 63).
Nunez's Carlos Codrington is like Lamming's Caliban with regard to
making use of Prospero's "gift" of education; however, his relationship with
Virginia in the novel is markedly different from the way in which it is de-
picted in The Pleasures of Exile and other independence-era appropriations of
The Tempest that recast Caliban as a revolutionary figure at the expense of
Miranda. In Lamming's novels, Miranda's complicity with Prospero is as-
sumed, and she suffers the retribution that should, by rights, be directed at her
father. After speculating in The Pleasures of Exile on whether or not Caliban
really tried to "lay [Miranda]," Lamming answers his own question in his
1971 novel Water with Berries with an obscenely violated Myra, a prostituted,
suicidal Randa (Myra/Randa), and an on-stage rape committed by an actor
who once played Othello at Stratford but is now reduced to playing corpses.
Lamming's use of rape in Water with Berries especially asks the reader to
empathize with a Caliban who, rather than rejecting Prospero's accusation
that he sought to violate Miranda, accepts it, in Supirya Nair's words, "with
a leer" (67). Indeed, in The Pleasures of Exile, Lamming tells us that Miranda
probably dreams about Caliban raping her (111). According to Lamming,
Caliban does not want Miranda "for the mere experiment of mounting a piece
of white pussy" (102). He has a political agenda: populating the island with
an army of Calibans with whom he would organize a resistance movement,
thus reducing Miranda's role in Lamming's brave new world to that of poten-
tial incubator of Caliban's instrument of revenge against Prospero.
If the reader-especially a female reader-identifies with Caliban as a
freedom-fighter, what is she to make of the disconcerting prospect of Caliban-
as-rapist? Nunez explains that she was "haunted by ... [a] discomfort with
scholarly interpretations of The Tempest" and that she wrote Prospero '
Daughter to find answers to questions that went unasked in her dissertation:
"[W]hy, after 12 years of an apparently amicable relationship with Caliban,
SPARROW FROM PROSPER'S DAUGHTER TO CATLBAN'KS WOMAN
does Prospero turn on him? What actually happened between Miranda and
Caliban? What connection is there in the coincidental timing of Prospero's
desperation to find a husband for Miranda and his accusation that Caliban
attempted to rape her?" ("Channeling Shakespeare" 25). In Prospero 's
Daughter, as in The Tempest, Gardner/Prospero uses the alleged threat of rape
as an excuse to imprison Carlos/Caliban, thereby demonstrating, as Jyotsna
Singh notes, that the discourse of sexuality underpins colonial authority and
that the identities of both slave and daughter are "produced in terms of sexual
struggle" (198). Because the colonial script requires that the potential rapist
be subdued, whether for his "own good" or to ensure the safety of white
womanhood, Caliban's motivation becomes meaningless, even though his
attempted "violation" of Miranda may have been nothing more than a posses-
sive father's misinterpretation of a perfectly honourable action.
With Shakespeare's text, the reader can only speculate about the rela-
tionship that existed between Caliban and Miranda, although I would argue
that it must have been friendly at some point since Miranda is credited with
teaching Caliban her language and teaching him about the moon and the stars
(1.2.355; 2.2.138-139). Prospero Daughter, which recounts in flashback the
early years after Gardner and Virginia first came to the island, makes it clear
that Carlos and Virginia were childhood playmates who grew up and fell in
love. In both works, for Prospero/Gardner, any attempt by Caliban/Carlos at
courtship, regardless of his daughter's response, would be seen as an assault
on his daughter's chastity-a subject about which Prospero/Gardner is obses-
sive. In Shakespeare, since it is clear that Prospero's account of how he came
to inhabit the island differs markedly from Caliban's and that his version of
history serves to legitimate his colonialist claim to Caliban's island, we have
good reason to question the motivation behind Prospero's demonization of
Caliban-as-rapist as well. In Prospero 's Daughter, there is no doubt that Gard-
ner is demonizing Carlos in order to keep his property and that he is also using
Carlos as a scapegoat for his own incestuous feelings towards his daughter.
InProspero and Caliban: The Psychology of Colonization (1950), D.O.
Mannoni suggests that Prospero is projecting his own incestuous feelings for
Miranda onto Caliban because "the 'inferior being' always serves as scape-
goat" (106).2 The spectre of incest is also raised by Lamming, who writes,
"Prospero is afraid of Caliban. He is afraid because he knows that his en-
counter with Caliban is, largely, his encounter with himself' (Pleasures of
Exile 15). In his recent biography of Shakespeare, Stephen Greenblatt lo-
cates the source of Prospero's obsession with Miranda's virginity in Shake-
speare's relationship with his own daughter, Susanna, concluding that "the
woman who most intensely appealed to Shakespeare in his life was twenty
years younger than he: his daughter Susanna. It cannot be an accident that
three of his last plays-Pericles, The Winter Tale, and The Tempest-are
centred on the father/daughter relationship and are so deeply anxious about
incestuous desires" (389-390).3 Nunez goes beyond imagined desire by
making her Prospero figure monstrous enough to act on his incestuous feel-
ings for his daughter. In the novel, Gardner's accusation of attempted rape
fails because Virginia is not simply a "brainwashed" subject in the grip of
her father's "propaganda" (Lamming, Pleasures of Exile 105), nor is she a
sexual prize that Caliban seeks to claim in the revolutionary struggle. Here,
Nunez springs what Lori Lenininger calls the "Miranda Trap,"' a construc-
tion in which Miranda's assumed identification with Prospero's patriarchal
power denies her a space in which to locate her own subjectivity, by asking
what would happen if Miranda and Caliban joined forces against Prospero
and if they fell in love.
In her important essay "Beyond Miranda's Meanings: Un/silencing the
'Demonic Ground' of Caliban's 'Woman,'" Sylvia Wynter argues that The
Tempest reflects an epistemological shift concurrent with Western Europe's
expansion into the New World: "difference" was no longer figured along a
male/female axis but in terms of cultural and physiognomic variations as-
cribed by racial classification (358). Wynter argues that this shift from sexual
difference to racial and cultural difference is articulated in The Tempest
through Miranda's gender-based and Caliban's race-based subjugation to
Prospero. Wynter goes on to say that Caliban's presence on the island elevates
Miranda nearer to Prospero in terms of colonialist discourse on humanity and
SPARROW FROM PROSPER'S DA UGHTER TO CALIBAN'S WOMAN
rationality because race trumps gender in Western man's hierarchy of other-
ness. Miranda's sharing in the power and privilege accorded to Prospero em-
powers her to speak and to chastise Caliban, while her position as the object
of desire for all classes (including Stephano and Trinculo) is predicated on the
absence of a physiognomically (racially) complementary mate for Caliban.
For Wynter, the white woman's (Miranda's) speech is grounded in the absence
of women of colour.
Although Nunez does not envisage a black mate for Caliban, her novel
offers a way out of this impasse between the "Miranda Trap" and the silenced
ground of Caliban's missing woman by suggesting that in spite of their out-
ward differences, Virginia and Carlos share a creolized culture-an identity
neither European nor African but Caribbean, specifically Trinidadian. The
acknowledgment of the insurgent creativity of this shared New World identity
offers the possibility of displacing its brutal origins and forging hybrid alter-
natives to colonial stratification. Creole identity, then, becomes a strategic
position inhabiting the space between colonizer and colonized, black and
white, rather than a sad accident of birth as it is for Jean Rhys's "white Cre-
ole" Antoinette Cosway Mason, who remains tragically trapped between
worlds, unable to connect meaningfully on either side of the Sargasso Sea.
In fact, the structure of Prospero 's Daughter recalls that of Wide Sar-
gasso Sea. Prospero Daughter is divided into three sections: "The English-
men," "Carlos," and "Virginia," with each section narrated from a different
character's perspective. The first section, "The Englishmen," is told from
Inspector Mumsford's point of view, thereby creating a sort of detective story
at the beginning of the novel. Mumsford is an outsider, both to the Gardner
family and to Trinidad, and since he views people and events through the
prism of his own perceived superiority and his racist misperceptions, he ini-
tially sees only an innocent English daughter (in his mind she is an "English
Rose"), an outraged English father, and a dark-skinned native servant accused
of attempted rape (Nunez, Prospero 's Daughter 10). The novel begins with a
note from Ariana, addressed to the island's police commissioner, that exoner-
ates Carlos of the rape accusation: "I tell you he love she and she love him
back. They love one another. Bad. He never rape she. Mr. Prospero lie" (1).
The suggestion that Virginia Gardner, the daughter of an Englishman, and
Carlos Codrington, the mixed-race son of a Trinidadian father and an English
mother, could fall in love strikes Mumsford as preposterous. A working-class
Englishman, Mumsford has come to the colonies as a civil servant to "im-
prove his class, his station in life" after being promised by a colonial recruit-
ing office that "[i]n the colonies, young man, every Englishman is a lord"
(11). With his entrenched belief in the superiority of all things English, his
sensory overload when confronted with the tropical island landscape, and his
perpetual fear that he is being mocked by the natives, Mumsford calls to mind
the unnamed husband in Wide Sargasso Sea, another down-on-his-luck Eng-
lishman packed off to the West Indies to improve his fortunes.
Seething with indignation at the thought of an "English Rose" being
violated by a man of colour, Mumsford goes to Chacachacare vowing to bring
Carlos Codrington to justice and so "settle the score for every Englishman
whose daughter and sister had become prey these days of the colored man"
(Nunez, Prospero Daughter 16). However, over the course of the deposition,
Mumsford's initial approval of the doctor falters. His interview with Gardner
(a version of Prospero's long exposition to Miranda in act 1, scene 2 of The
Tempest) disturbs him, particularly Gardner's repeated references to his
daughter's virginity, much of which Nunez takes almost verbatim from
Shakespeare's play: "fire i' th' blood"; "jewel in her dower"; "virgin knot"
(50-51). In The Tempest these are throwaway lines, a somewhat humorous
prelude to the wedding masque; but through Mumsford's sober eyes, the
reader sees these references to a fifteen-year-old girl's sexuality for what they
are: "inappropriate ... not normal for a decent father" (Nunez, Prospero '
Daughter 52). Mumsford's misgivings are confirmed when Gardner takes
him to see Carlos and he finds Carlos penned stayed ) on a rock in the yard,
exposed to the hot sun and surrounded by flies and filth. He is told the cause
of this obscene punishment is that Carlos voiced his desire to "people the isle
with Calibans" with Virginia, causing Mumsford to reflect that "the boy had
been tortured .... For nothing. For expressing a wish, a desire" (61).
SPARROW FROM PROSPER'S DA UGHTER TO CALIBAN'S WOMAN
Although in some respects the blustering, inept colonial officer is a
stock character (depicted by a variety of writers such as Chinua Achebe, Joyce
Carey, and Austin Clarke), Mumsford differs from the type in that he does not
privilege Englishness at the expense of doing what is right. Mumsford re-
mains enough of a racist to tell Virginia disapprovingly that "kind should stay
with kind" (Nunez, Prospero 's Daughter 307) when she tells him of her plans
to marry Carlos, but he is human enough to be sickened when he finds Carlos
penned in the yard and covered with flies and sores. Mumsford wants to be-
lieve Gardener. They are, after all, both Englishmen. In spite of this initial
desire to close ranks with Gardner, however, Mumsford finds his sympathies
shifting to Carlos. He knows well what it is like to live in a society that wants
to keep the lower classes in their place. He came to Trinidad to escape "his
place" (90), and he resents Gardner's patronizing attitude that reminds him of
the whippings he suffered as a boy at the hands of sadistic schoolmasters.
After Ariana tells the astonished inspector that Gardner has been keeping her
prisoner and having sex with her since she was nine years old, which Virginia
later confirms, Mumsford is left with no choice but to conclude that it is
Gardner, not Carlos, who is the monster on the island.
The novel offers Carlos and Virginia's love as a remedy to the mon-
strosity of Gardner's sexual appetite and acts. Nunez challenges colonialist
beliefs about the impossibility (or at least the inadvisability) of crossing dif-
ferent races (mixed races were thought to be of a species other than human)
and counters Gardner's opposition to racial mixing-although he does not
count his abuse of Ariana in the same category-with evidence from his own
experiments with cross-breeding plants. Through Virginia, the hybrid English
Rose, the novel engages with theoretical paradigms for Caribbean identity
that posit hybridity, m6tissage, and creolization as positive creative processes
that offer a space in which a loving relationship between a Carlos and a Vir-
ginia can develop. In their 1990 manifesto, "In Praise of Creoleness," Jean
Bernab6, Patrick Chamoiseau, and Raphael Confiant suggest that la crtolite
(creoleness) connects all people of the Caribbean with one another, as well as
with the various countries of their respective origins.5
Prospero 's Daughter endorses creoleness as a foundation of Caribbean
identity-Virginia is described later in the novel as a "true Trini" (Nunez,
Prospero Daughter 311; italics in original)-with the caveat that creoleness
must not become a racial and cultural signifier that elides the histories of
domination and resistance that gave rise to it. Here Prospero Daughter re-
solves some of the tension surrounding the vexed figure of the white Creole
woman that Nunez has addressed in her scholarly writing and fiction In a
1985 essay on Wide Sargasso Sea, Nunez argues that "[white Creole] women
must bear the guilt of the horrors of slavery inflicted by their own white an-
cestors upon the people whose country they now call their own" ( PRiwdo\,.
of Belonging" 282). In order for Antoinette to succeed in her quest to belong
and fulfill her wish to "live with Tia and .. be like her" (Rhys 27), she must
first explain herself and seek forgiveness. She cannot simply decide to change
sides and erase history, a fact that is made painfully clear when Tia hits her in
the head with a rock during the burning of Coulibri. For Virginia, the situation
is less fraught. Perhaps because she is ofTrinidad but was not born in Trinidad
or because, though English, she is not descended from a slave-holding family,
Virginia easily rejects the power and privilege that come to her as Gardner's
daughter and aligns herself, instead, with Carlos and with anti-racist politics.
Prospero's assertion in The Tempest that Miranda is "ignorant of what
thou art" (Shakespeare 1.2.18) can also be applied to Virginia. She knows
nothing of her family history and nothing of life beyond the island that has
been her home for the past twelve years; however, instead of looking to her
father, Virginia turns to Carlos for the answers that she seeks. She knows only
what her father has seen fit to teach her and, indeed, ignorance is bliss because
she knows nothing of European conquest of the New World, the slave trade,
or colonialism. Virginia does not know the blood-soaked history that has
brought her and Carlos together on Chacachacare in 1961. Carlos teaches
Virginia about how his father's people were brought to the Caribbean from
Africa in chains and how before that there were Amerindians, almostt every
last one of them wiped out by smallpox" (Nunez, Prospero Daughter 189).
Indignant, Virginia asks, how could the colonialists "stand to know that peo-
SPARROW FROM PROSPER'S DA TIGHTER TO CATLBAN'KS WOMAN
pie had to suffer and die for them to live so grand?" Carlos notes approvingly
that Virginia said "They. She didn't conceive of herself as part of they ....
The landscape, the sun, the sea had shaped her" (191). Through the symbol of
the hybrid flower created in England but grown in Trinidadian soil, Nunez
posits a creolized self that acknowledges its European and African anteced-
ents but that privileges the influence of the Trinidadian landscape as the locus
of a specifically New World identity. That said, I would also argue that the
claim to creoleness gives Virginia a convenient and perhaps too easy way out
of white guilt and being implicated in history. Confronted with the horrors of
colonialism and slavery, who would not rather be associated with the them
rather than the us who perpetrated the crimes against humanity?
I noted earlier that Nunez wrote the novel to find answers. Prospero 's
Daughter joins a feminist tradition of Shakespearean revision that uses fiction
as a form of criticism. Marianne Novy makes the point that, in lettingn]
characters escape plots that doom them to an oppressive marriage or to death,"
contemporary women's revisionist narratives demythologizee myths about
male heroism and also about female martyrdom, and they imagine stories for
figures who are silent or demonized in Shakespeare's version" (1). In addi-
tion, Nunez's feminist-inflected revision allows the recovery of silenced male
voices by creating an alliance between the Miranda and Caliban figures, an
affinity grounded in part in recognition that, in spite of racial differences and
having come to inhabit the island via different histories, they are both Trini-
dadian. It is a shared identity that gives primacy to place over differences of
race and gender. Although feminist critics argue that Miranda is a liminal
figure "perfectly placed to mediate the complex interrelations of race, gender
and sexuality" that construct and maintain Prospero's power, even a Miranda
"who refuses to be a pawn in the elaborate chess game which history has
made of the elements of The Tempest" (Chedgzoy 98) can still find herself in
a difficult position vis-A-vis black and white race relations as she is both a part
of the group that is/was the oppressor and an agent of political and social
change. Elaine Savory describes it as "the Catch-22 of being white and mor-
ally aware of white history: being white cannot be denied or embraced with-
out damaging consequences" (31). I have been critical of the novel for making
things too easy for Virginia through allowing her to both embrace and deny
history through her rather disingenuous distinction between us and them, and
Nunez does give Virginia and Carlos a happy ending in the "brave new world"
(308) that they make on Chacachacare together (here Virginia finally gets a
line from The Tempest). However, Virginia worries that "a day could come
when Carlos would shift my father's sins from my father to me" (Nunez,
Prospero 's Daughter 309). Carlos assures her that this will not happen be-
cause he got back what was stolen from him, yet Virginia wonders to herself
whether Carlos would have married her if he had not got his house back:
"Would he have wanted me to be the mother of his children if Father still oc-
cupied his house?" (309). My answer is no. Rapprochement between the
colonizer's daughter and the victim of colonization is possible, but not with-
out a righting of the scales.
Here again Prospero 's Daughter answers a question about The Tem-
pest-what happens to Caliban?-that I always ask my students whenever I
teach the play. We know that Prospero and the rest of the Europeans are re-
turning to Naples; we know that Prospero has his dukedom back; we know
that Ferdinand and Miranda are going to marry; and we know that Prospero
finally frees Ariel. But what about Caliban? Does he get his island back? Does
Prospero take him back to Naples as a slave? In the novel, Nunez does not
simply send Prospero home to Europe; she kills him off, perhaps because
Prospero, to borrow Gayatri Spivack's phrase, "cannot be contained" by a
narrative that rewrites The Tempest in the interest of restoring Caliban, rather
than Prospero, to his rightful position and allowing Caliban and Miranda to
"people the isle" together by mutual consent. In response to Virginia's ques-
tion about whether he would have married her if he had not got his house
back, Carlos asks his own question, borrowing a line from Hamlet: "May one
be pardoned and retain th'offense?" (Nunez, Prospero 's Daughter 312) Can
one be forgiven for a crime and still allowed to profit from the crime? In the
conclusion to Prospero Daughter as in The Tempest, there is reconciliation,
renunciation, and restoration; however, rather than Prospero being restored to
SPARROW FROM PROSPER'S DA TIGHTER TO CATLBAN'KS WOMAN
his rightful position as the Duke of Milan, here it is Caliban/Carlos who is
restored to his rightful place as master of his own island. The answer to Vir-
ginia's question seems to be that Miranda and Caliban can join forces to cre-
ate a brave new world together only if there is reparation: Virginia gains
acceptance as a true Trini after that which was stolen is returned.
1. For an excellent discussion of African and Caribbean appropriations of The
Tempest, see Rob Nixon's 1987 article in Critical Inquiry titled "Caribbean
and African Appropriations of The Tempest."
2. Mannoni writes, "Miranda is the only woman on the island, and Prospero
and Caliban the only men. It is easy to see why it is always his daughter or
his sister or his neighbour's wife (never his own) whom a man imagines to
have been violated by a negro; he wants to rid himself of guilt by putting the
blame for his bad thoughts on someone else" (108).
3. In an author's note at the end of Prospero Daughter, Nunez writes
that she read Greenblatt's Will in the World only after she finished writing
Prospero 's Daughter.
4. In her 1980 essay, "The Miranda Trap: Sexism and Racism in Shakespeare's
Tempest," feminist critic Lorie J. Leininger imagines a new epilogue to The
Tempest in which Miranda "talks back" to Prospero: "Will I succeed in
creating my 'brave new world' which has people in it who no longer exploit
one another? I cannot be certain. I will at least make my start by springing
'the Miranda-trap,' being forced into unwitting collusion with domination
by appearing to be a beneficiary. I need to join forces with Caliban-to join
forces with all those who are exploited or oppressed-to stand beside Caliban
and say, 'As we from crimes would pardon'd be, / Let's work to set each other
5. See, for example, Jean Bernab6, Patrick Chamoiseau, and Raphael
Confiant's "In Praise of Creoleness"; Chris Bongie's Islands and Exiles:
The Creole Identities of Post Colonial Literature; Kamau Brathwaite's The
Development of Creole Society in Jamaica 1770-1820; Edouard Glissant's
Caribbean Discourse; and Roberto Retamar's "Caliban: Notes toward a
Discussion of Culture in Our America."
Bernab6, Jean, Patrick Chamoiseau, and Raphael Confiant. "In Praise of
Creoleness." Trans. Mohaed B. Taleb Khyar. Callaloo 13 (1990):
Bongie, Chris. Islands and Exiles: The Creole Identities of Post Colonial
Literature. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998.
Brathwaite, Edward Kamau. The Development of Creole Society in Jamaica
1770-1820. Oxford: Clarendon, 1971.
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