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.. Editorial Comitte '
Lowell Fjet, Editor
SMarfaCristina Rodriguez, Co-Editor:
Ada Htman, Co-Editor
Associates .. .
Alleene Alvarez, Librarian; Translator
Myrse Landrn, Translator
Luis Pomales, Consultant
Jo : Osvaldb Rosedo, Translator
Maria Solded Rodrguez, Consultant....
Angel D.: Rivera, Technical Assistance
: Special thanks to Ms Olga Rivera andthe staff of the UPR Copy Center in the Offl- e ofthe. n of
Administration and to Dr. Eduardo Rivera Medina. Dean of Academic Affairs at the Univeri....y of
Puerto Rico, for assistance in facilitating the publication of this Issueeof s s.
Dr. Joseph Carroll of the University of Puerto Rico Computer Center deserves special ::
heartfelt mention for his contribution to the production of Sflarmei SirI a:sa*U1Ki*h it
by Tdliag, t-t-p. Inc., a nonprofit artsand performance collective, with ssistano from :
.:. the offices of the Dean of Academic Affairs and:the Dean of Administration of the Unhlyersiy o
Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras, Puerto Ric. .. '" :.
.. Opinions and views expressed in Saasa are those of the Individual authors and not ::.
necessarily shared by Sasi s's Editorial Committee. Copies of Saras (1989),aswait
as previous issues, are on deposit in the Library of Congress.
Copyright 0 1989 ... .... 0.
L.. .. ..... .. ...... : '.
Sargaso 6 represents the closing of one chapter and the opening of another in the
unfolding story of SargMsso as a journal of Caribbean arts and literature. Sargasso began in
1983 with the notion of being an academic publication closely allied to graduate studies in the
English Department of the University of Puerto Rico. That institutional affiliation, however,
has never fully materialized, and we currently have virtually no secretarial support or release
time--not to mention budget considerations--to aid us in editing and producing Sargsso.
Other difficulties have always been present as well: after producing the first two issues,
SargIsso 3 proved a particularly arduous task, now, after publishing Saroasso 4, Sarqasso
5, and the book West Indian Literature and Its Political Context: Proceedings of
the 7th Annual Conference on West Indian Literature (Seargsso Special Issue
1988) in rapid succession, rgsso 6 has taken over a year to put together. The reasons for
that delay are mainly organizational: it is hard to edit a journal in hallways and without
The difficulties also bring the original focus of Saroasso into question: if the editors
have to assume major responsibilities of time, space, labor, equipment, and at times, budget,
why shouldn't Sargasso reflect, In large measure at least, their precise interests? Those
interests are first and foremost Caribbean Studies and then center around Theater, Film,
Performance, Poetry, and Criticism. Sargsso 7 will appear in the Spring of 1990 and is
devoted to Caribbean theater, Sargasso 8, an issue on Caribbean film, is scheduled for
September 1990, and subsequent issues will continue to reflect those biases. However, we will
continue to read and accept short stories and critical articles on Caribbean literature, language,
Sargasso will also become more polemical, a characteristic already apparent in the
current issue. We understand criticism to mean the beneficial confrontation of ideas, attitudes,
feelings, and beliefs, and instead of an opening interview, Sargsso 6 begins with a feminist
critique of Luis Rafael Sanchez's La importancia de llamarse Daniel Santos (1988). Sanchez is
undoubtedly Puerto Rico's most accomplished contemporary writer, and along with other
important figures--Ana Lydia Vega, Edgardo Rodriguez Julib, Rosario Ferr6, Juan Antonio
Ramos, Magaly Garcia Ramis, Carmen Lugo Filippi, and others--forms part of the most
promising generation of writers in the history of Puerto Rican literature.
Although Sargasso has been an English- language journal, subsequent issues will
feature materials in Spanish and French as well. It no longer seems appropriate to limit
publication to writing in or translations into English. Thus Sargisso continues, but we will no
longer do what other journals of Caribbean literature also do. Sargasso: Caribbean theater,
film, performance, poetry, criticism In English, Spanish, and French. We hope the idea appeals
to others as much as it does to us.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Julio Garcia, (dr ." "r,-gs) "Eclosi6n final" ......... ..................... Cover
an i "La espera" ......... ............................. iii
"Luis Rafael SAnchez and La imoortancia de liamarse Daniel Santos" 1
Ana D. Alvarado, Maria Milagros Lo6pez, and Wanda E. Ramos,
"Celebrating Life and the Rearticulation of Mytho-Misogyny".. 2
Ana Lydia Vega, "The Story of Rice and Beans" (story) ........ ............ 8
Lee Erwin, "'Please Stop': Women's Time In Vovage in the Dark" .......... 12
Kathyrn Robinson, "The Blue-eyed Loner" (story) ......... ............. 23
Lizabeth Paravisini, "Revolt and Rebirth in the Contemporary
Caribbean Novel" . ........... ............................ 29
"Jean Rhys, Wide Saroesso Sea, and the Question of Feminism" .... 40
Maria Cristina Rodiguez, "The Discourse of Power in Wide Sargasso Sea" 41
Gerald Guinness, "Wide Sargasso Sea: Two Arguments .. ............ 43
Lowell Fiet, "Reading History Into Subjectivity in Wide Sargasso ea. 47
Diane Accaria, "History: The Stuff Nightmares are Made of in
W ide Sarg sso Se ......... ......................... 52
Susan Homar: A Small Place by Jamaica Kincaid . ................... 57
Consuelo L6pez Springfield: The Enigma of Arrival by V. S. Naipaul ......... 60
Carol Matravolgyi Negr6n: Reclaiming Medusa: Short Stories by
Contemoorarv Puerto Rican Women edited by Diana V61ez 62
Patricia Pacifico: Sweet Diamond Dust by Rosario Ferr6 ................ 66
Maria Cristina Rodriguez: El tramo ancla: ensavos ouertorriouenos
dhel edited by Ana Lydia Vega . . ...... ............ 69
Gerald Guinness: The Arkansas Testament by Derek Walcott ............... 72
Books Received and Journal Exchange . . .................... 79
Notes on Contributors .................... ... ......... 80
Table of Contents Sargsso 5 ( 1988) ...... .......... .... 81
LUIS RAFAEL SANCHEZ:
La imoortancla do llamarse Daniel Santos
The first issue of Sargsso (1984) featured an interview with Luis Rafael 56nchez,
Puerto Rico's most distinguished contemporary writer. His plays have received widespread
acclaim (the recent Quintuples has played throughout Central and South America and in the
United States), and he is perhaps best known for the 1976 novel La guaracha del Macho Camacho
(published in English as Macho Camacho's Beat). His long-awaited La imoortancia de llamarse
Daniel Santos (The Importance of Being Daniel Santos)--Daniel Santos being a popular Puerto
Rican singer known throughout Latin America for his boleros--first appeared last year.
Sanchez had this to say of the book when interviewed by Susan Homer in 1984:
... I have been preparing two long projects. The one on Daniel Santos is a
project I finished some time ago, an attempt to write an invented biography of
the popular singer.
S-I: Have you met him?
LRS: I haven't wanted to meet him. I've reinvented him based on what I've heard
about him or what people think he's like; I've written to many friends in
Venezuela, Panamb, Colombia; I've visited dives and pleasure palaces in
Caracas, in Call, in Bogotb, in Quito, where some of the action takes place.
It's not a novel, it's an essay with narration--what I call a counterpoint
of essay and narrative. I ponder machismo, the bohemian world, disorderliness,
the lavish expenditure of our own lives, the waste of time In our underdeveloped
societies, the useless rhetoric. The book will be out on the streets shortly.
The essay that follows appraises La importancia de llamarse Daniel Santos first as it
celebrates everyday life and moves beyond Ideological restraints to revivify popular resistances
to the Institutional and political Invasion of personal and collective space and being. Secondly,
the writers begin to explore the narrative and the discourse of the bolero as It forms part of the
very machismo that the work seems to want to unmask and satirize. They ask the question, does
the writing double back on Itself to reveal a misogynistic Impulse deeply embedded In the same
sexist tradition the book intends to parody?
The review of La Imoortancia de llamarse Daniel Santos replaces what would normally
be the "Interview" section of Sarga and represents the first of what the editors expect to be
more polemical and/or critical perspectives to appear In future issues.
Celebrating Life and the Rearticulatlon of Mytho-Misogyny:
Women Unearthing the "Machosaurus"
Ana D. Alvarado
Maria Mllagros L6pez
Wanda E. Ramos
The foreclusion is not an exclusion but the nonarrival of something
asked for, the noninscription of where that something should have
J. D. Nasio, "La forclusi6n y el nombre del padre"
The woman who dances a bolero sung by Danielito has to be ready to put out
at the slightest insinuation...
Luis Rafael S6nchez, La imoortancia de llamarse Daniel Santos
Machos who womanize to the point of establishing womanizing as a
universal right ....
Luis Rafael S6nchez, Daniel Santos
We are currently present on the site of an important convergence of disciplines as
diverse as biology, sociology, psychology, ethnography, history, and literary criticism. It is
this convergence that confers to some of us the audacity to express ourselves on issues that, even
though they've always concerned us, have previously been off limits, the property of those in the
habit of guaranteeing their own expertise.
Luis Rafael S6nchez's work, much like that of Edgerdo Rodriguez Juli6 and Ana Lydia
Vega, gives us the opportunity to reflect on our specificity [as women and Puerto Ricans] and at
the same time make use of a new kind of document that permits insertion in such important
debates as the historical forms of subjectivity and the constitution of modes of being. Our way of
reading La imoortancia de llamarse Daniel Santos, which of necessity leaves out fundamental
aspects, centers around two principal points: the celebration of life and a rearticulation of
The first of these is the value of the work in terms of its recognition of "life in spite of
everything" In our country. In our environment, we are surrounded by intellectuals who, facing
the crises of the country, pessimistically underline all the social ills that afflict us; the "loss
of values," the "disintegration of the family," "moral bankruptcy," often reducing our collective
subjectivity to a profile of individual and social alienation. They say, "We don't understand,"
We don't know," "We don't realize" and finally insist on our vulnerability, on our colonial
mentality, on our surrender to the schemes of Capital and the State. Without diminishing the
importance of the forms of domination and the loss of solidarity we experience, that attitude
reveals the kind of reverence for bourgeois morality that Luis Rafael S6nchez escapes.
His narrative is more like a song to life, to everyday resistances that with their
cynicism, fatalism, lack of faith, and disorder permit "life In spite of everything." "I enjoy life,
even when it kills me" seems to be the book's motto, because seen as a whole it celebrates life,
the Interstitial forms of recuperating spatial autonomy and conditional freedom (freedom under
boot heels, to be sure),but enjoying, laughing, joking, teasing in forms that are Impossible to
contain, channel, or control. It is the notion of the anarchic "I" of Michel Foucault, of the
conquest of the present that refuses to buy the bourgeois norm of the delayed gratification of
pleasure that lies behind the productivist work ethic.
If existence could divide itself between "Life" ["la.Yid"] and "real life" ["a Iyidita"),
Luis Rafael Sanchez tells us about real life and the rules of the game:
First, suffer happiness. Second, enjoy misfortune. Third, love
but understanding why. Fourth, cry hard if you have to cry. Fifth,
be aware that life is now. (43)
Bodily pleasures, Improvisation, the air's still free, go for it, mix and match,
anything goes, the style of survival, life is what happens while you're doing more important
things, in short, daily transgressions (sins?) that distance us from the overdose of bourgeois
pessimism of priestly intellectuals who worry about the "important things." (This, of course,
knowing--or he should know--that he is openly flirting with populism as well.)
As part of this celebration of life, Luis Rafael S6nchez awards special importance to
music--another of our remaining resources that serves as a space for pleasure and bonding
--the music of the Caribbean:
Love me in bolero. In bolero that lets me read your soul .... Love me
in 0lena. In lena that devastates a full moon .... Love me in
guaracha. In guaracha that stirs up Instincts .... Love me in tango.
In a malevolent tango that glues me to your cheek. (102)
We could add that in the Caribbean we love In reggae, in calypso, in son, and in beiuine as well.
The body as a space of resistance, the body as pleasure is also a privileged reference in
his narration that exalts the "realness" of the present and of sensation. And if Luis Rafael
S6nchez alludes to modernity, his work Inscribes Itself In the exaltation of "post-modern
subjectivity" (a terribly polemic notion) that Is not that recent a concern for those of us who
live in these [tropical] latitudes. It refers to the crisis of the bourgeois subject, to its identity
and unity, that has appeared In the last few decades--some say since World War II, others date it
beginning in the late 1960s In advanced capitalist [first-world] countries. This "post-modern
subjectivity" is characterized by its forms of accommodation: rootless, indifferent, marginal,
transitory, contextual, choral, etcetera. Lack of faith in a "System"--which "System" doesn't
really matter since the same sectors are oppressed in any event -- becomes the norm and
marginal codes and life styles assume central positions. This coincides with the paralysis of the
official, political Left, or to be more optimistic, with new political forms that no longer fit
previous definitions of activism and whose strategies and future remain unknown to us.
Luis Rafael Sanchez distances himself from the "Perfect Left" that reduces "the balls
of dissidence to a creamy pure." He expresses his complaint when he writes,
Puerto Ricans, isn't it true that the fight for justice consumed a succulent
slice of my youth? Isn't It true that political commitment came before
Celebrating Life and the Reerticulation of Mytho-Misogyny
bodily pleasures? Something like being as ardently human as an angel ....
It also coincides with the deepening social crisis of Latin America and the loss of faith In the
projects of "modernization." In that sense, it implies that the author recognizes and glorifies our
old Dost-modernity [perhaps the third world has always been post-modern]. This situation is
accompanied by the widening of submerged sectors of national economies [the underground
economy] that reveal our old strengths--we could never be entirely modern anyway --and this
time around we fortunately re-acknowledge their value as resistance to forms of domination.
The second point of our reading of La imoortancia de Ilamarse Daniel Santos allows us
to confront a rearticulation of mytho-misogyny that requires a different view, this time
not as optimistic in its relation to the work; but we'll let the text Itself determine the tone of the
Women who swam for stormy destinations he saved with artificial
respiration. Women emaciated by brutish male abuse he defended
with Indulgent stroking. Women maddened by casual goodbyes....
Women crazed by boleros awaited him in each port of call .... A
voracious pit of female manes taken to the streets.... Drinking long and
hard after hard and long womanizing .... Making sure that I'm not
robotized by ideology .... Making sure I'm not secretly coming with my
mind caught up in Rosa Luxemburg's engaged clit .... To admire him Is
something for those who live with balls and can say "Go for it"..
Another comfort is to wallow in the giving, globe-like body of a woman.
(The body of a divorcee who worries about what people will say,but who
in return, dissembles by making a present of sunglasses. The body of a
widow comforted by a penetrating youth .... Tie up your virgin daughters.
My cub is running loose in the streets. It's also fun to dare to do anything,
to appear unbeatable, to be obscene .... Machos who never stop chasing
women .... Machos who confine their presence at home to quickly balling
the wife every once in a while .... the protection of guys and pool tables,
inside the cavernous saloon, in the hole-in-the-wall bar, in the spaces that
were and will be male hangouts .... The pool room is the seat of dogmatic
maleness, infallible, papal .... the tough dive .... Pool provides the
context in which to live male sounds: rum and beer, open competition, same
sex spectators, a jukebox playing a local Idol's ballads .... a tall mulatto
woman who lightened her skin to wear a swimsuit--they say she had a pair
of tits more precious than .... The woman who dances a bolero sung by
Daniel Santos has to carefully wean the asleep-on-his-feet man who smells
her clean flesh and wants her. The woman who dances a bolero sung by
Danielito has to be ready to put out at the slightest insinuation ....
In that text we find a variety of voices, every one of which represents a particular phallocentric
accent. Assigning owners to these voices is a difficult task; they are disperse and varied in
intensity within a narrative structure marked by layer upon layer of tendentious
On the one hand, we find the "macho myth," traditional, unreflecting, "plain, naked,
mutt-like, and commonly accepted" (73) represented by Daniel Santos, whose appearance
doesn't either surprise or threaten. However, on the other hand, diluted and disperse, the voice
of the narrative "I "--the disguised macho--whose statement is negated, but who Insists on
returning to the "other" as "the great myth" before whom "the great theater of shared feelings is
staged" (74). "Only Ood knows if he went to brothels to conduct artistic research, out of
curiosity, a need to know" (9). This narrative "I" appears and disappears behind the mask of
telling and, unlike the chosen subject, is a comtemplative, conscious macho.
The difficulty is calculating the things that live inside a man without
his even knowing It--feigned prejudices, masks that waste away, masks
that repudiate. .. Let's start to struggle with what's difficult. (76)
There are other problems to be stirred up as well: the difficulty is tracking down
what has been spread out through the whole text, tracking down the foreclusions of the near-gods
who edit the world, approaching the statement as an enigma, a hieroglyph in which the subject
hides, plays, celebrates, sings, and cries; the difficulty is not reducing the multiplicity of the
female to a handful of phallocentric signifiers; the difficulty is not reading the dismantling of
the myth, not letting yourself be lulled to sleep by the dismantling and reading the concealed
structure of the "machoseurus" subtext.
The challenge is Irresistible for three degreed witches." Thus, we confront the
breaking apart of the "grand mask" that is interwoven in the narrative as well as the myth it
pursues. The mask of the machosaurus belongs to the narrative "I" and appears when we least
expect it: describing voluptuous feminine bodies with "clean," ample flesh or referring to
"[ Iris] Chac6n on all fours like a luxurious cat, her ass a case of scandals" (73) or elevating to
allegory the "tradition and prestige of balls."
It Is that narrator who tries to describe the "real" way to be female: the screwing
bitch will finally be controlled, screwed by the machosaurus destined for that task: "Women
who swam for stormy destinations he saved with artificial respiration" (11). And the narrator
enjoys the violence that allows him the mask and the Impunity that comes with having elected a
myth--" violent and self-confessed, goat-like macho"--to which he attributes his force and
lack of control.
The narrative "I" promises us a text that intends to be "a hybrid, borderline,
mixed-blood narration exempt from rules of genre" (5), but the "I" erupts violently In the text
and constantly tries to cut off the playful flow of its reader. The "1" of the writing who intends to
demonstrate his knowledge of contemporary literary debates about the fluidity of the text and the
importance of intertextuallty contradicts himself by also wanting to force us to surrender
(horizontarnos] to his words. His presence finally pushes him to admit that the literary text is
a closed one, and he emits a closing mea culpa for his imprudent and authorial position in every
"the reader will .. ." and his Insistence on making us view the myth through a closed
perspective. That means that we are confronted with a narrative "I" who appropriates mytho-
misogyny to reaffirm his own mask and force us to dance to the rhythm of phallocentric writing.
The voiced "I" says that what's said is basically what he wants to say. Facing the
"reader, now you speak . ,.," we (women readers) respond. How does this text present itself to
Celebrating Life and the Rearticulation of Mytho-Misogyny
us? How does it address us, plural women/female/feminine, and play the jukebox of women's
voices to invent, to show, to express us?
The roaming voice of the text, doesn't he ever roam "down paths where thistles
flourish"? Hasn't he ever heard the counterpoint of women's boleros sung in kitchen coffee
shops? Or the boleros of women in beauty parlors? The speaker claims, "I betray verbatim
copies of apocryphal conversations so that they fill me with speculation" (4). Or,
They invent to live and live to invent. But even more, I invent them all.
Like a god, I pass out their humanities on lined, yellowed pages. I correct
their lines .... I listen to their moody boldness--a god who reads out loud
and shapes the ramblings of their existence .... Reader, listen to the
unfolding of these phantasms! (13)
And when phantasms unfold, doesn't the roaming, god-like "I" hear the chatter of female
conversations that will permit him to betray verbatim copies that do not drain him of
speculation (in terms of women), to pass out their humanities, to correct their lines, to listen
to their moody boldness, to insure that the hand of god doesn't fold up their erased existences?
Touching the plural worlds of women, the god "who with number two pencil denies a
visa to a comma, to an inappropriate word, to a clumsy preposition" (13) also fails to permit
the plurality of responses (not limited to one well-worn number) of other boleros from the
side of the street that sings from the kitchen to the crib, that marginated side dragging itself
along the curb. They sing with Chabuca, "I don't wait for an answer, because I haven't asked the
question, and I won't have to forgive or be offended." They sing with Maria Dolores Pradera, "To
cry is not a woman's privilege, because I've seen many men cry" or "don't call him, he's not
worth it." They sing boleros from mouths that re-create a polysemous femininity, eliminating
the masculine o of the male-penned bolero and replacing it with the feminine a, They sing to the
percussion of dishes being washed, to the rhythm of the washing machine, and to the beat of the
wash basin. They sing ballads that record a plurality of voices and not as isomorphically as or
with the oscillations of Roco Jurado, Nydia Caro, or La Lupe.
So, with five boleros yet to be sung, we--plural women/female/feminine-- aren't
enjoying the supposed "pleasure of the text"; it's as if in following the mobile structure we
move farther out of tune with every slap from god's hand, at every level of slippage that keeps
spewing out stale phallocentrism to plaster one of the various floors of the celebrated and
celebrating "machosaurus." It would seem less violent to us to put a coin in the jukebox and
hear Felipe Rodriguez sing, "Any friend, even a drunkard or a lost soul, means more than the
most beautiful woman" to explode -implode the myth; as if It were less violent for a chorus of
girlfriends to sing, "set me on fire If you want me to forget you, shoot me three times in the
face"; as if it were made less violent by keeping rhythm to Sim6n Diaz's "They're taking me to
prison and a woman is to blame, she turned fickle and denounced me for a kiss"; that jukebox
would be less violent than listening to the melodies of the bolero that appears to have virulently
lodged itself in the narrative; like many classical boleros, those boleros end in... zero ([2lW],
whereas this bolero sends currents through one of the many orifices of our femininity. This
bolero of narrative expression, is a representation that is like, as the great degree warlock
Freud says, the apparently meaningless jokes we tell that also have their meaning.
Women expressing themselves in a text, it doesn't seem as hybrid an Idea as that
claimed by the narrator for his narration. But the expression erupts from women who are not
exempt from rules of gender, of ideogender, or of literary genre. That plural women/female/
feminine remains unstated (or stated only here and there in reference to the myth) and very
sedate and well regulated and cannot freely room the avenues of telling.
Ana D. Alvarado
Maria Milagros L6pez
Wande E. Ramos
Department of Psychology
University of Puerto Rico
Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico
(Adaptation from Spanish by Sr sso editors and the authors)
ANA LYDIA VEGA
The Story of Rice and Beans
Oh, Unique Family,unselfishly committed
without the vanity that shatters noble endeavors
Rice was a prim and proper snob. Beans: a slick, enticing mulatto. Rice promenaded
aristocratically through the pots of the Happy Diner, the perennial show-off, proud of his
Galician profile and atheneum whiteness. Beans jammed festively in his sauce to the
accompaniment of Ham, Fatback, Garlic and Onion, Pepper and Squash, his six soul brothers,
always partying and having a ball.
Rice and Beans were so different that, In spite of all the efforts made by Mama Jesusa,
they hated each other's guts. Rice would shudder with disgust at the Idea of even one drop of red
Bean sauce staining the Castillian whiteness of his grains. Beans would shake with rage at the
thought that the upstart Rice might trample on the succulent sauce of his jive combo.
The enmity that existed between Rice and Beans was so big and so fat and ran so deep that
they would spend their time spying on, criticizing, and ridiculing each other, getting their kicks
out of any misfortune that might befall the other like a second bout of measles. For Rice --or
Sir Rice, as he insisted on being called in the kitchen--Beans was always the bad guy. And you
could often hear him say that there was no better smell than the smell of burnt Beans.
For his part, Beans would roll all over the stove with laughter whenever he heard that
Rice, in spite of his regal airs of Spanish lineage, had turned gooey in Mama Jesusa's pot, like a
batch of mashed potatoes.
What a battle raged between Rice and Beans! The entire kitchen was aware of It and not
one food failed to participate in the rift that split the bustling diner. The truth is, Rice had few
friends. He was so snotty he would only associate with Sir Chicken and certain seafood, which he
tolerated in spite of their aroma, when he played gaella once a month.
Beans, on the other hand, was never alone. Everyone wanted to soak In his sauce which
combined the best of the cupboard in its rhythmic thickness.
Mama Jesusa was into a whole different bag. When it was time to prepare the day's
special, she took no sides. How these arch enemies suffered when she took a cold plate and
spooned a snowny mountain of resplendent Rice right next to the bespattered puddle of angry
Beans. They would face each other like the rival armies of two superpowers battling over world
domination, sizing each other up, eyeing each other with the absolute mistrust of a country
farmer. Rice would close his eyes tightly and gather In his grains with all the might his rancid
lineage could muster to keep his distance and prevent contact. Beans would not lift a finger and
would let the dancing chords of sauce run outward until they tickled the most daring grains of
Rice. But that's as far as It went. Because Rice and Beans never gave up, and up to the last
minute they remained apart, like boys and girls in gym. Only the disrespectful forks of the
workers who ate at the Happy Diner would join the enemies without any fuss or bother, in the
same wrangling mortal mouthfuls.
That's how things were at the diner that was happy in name only: Rice and Beans always
looking for trouble and with no hope for rapprochement.
Time passed, as it always does in stories, and I can't say how much, but those who know
the story of Rice and Beans will say that it lasted almost four hundred long years. Then one
cloudy day, no different from any other day since the sun doesn't shine in diner kitchens, Mama
Jesusa carried in a strange and ugly creature and all hell broke loose in the cupboard. The
newcomer was long and skinny like the Grim Reaper. He was red, not the healthy attractive red
of colored Beans but a pale red, like freshly burned skin. This was something different- -nobody
had ever seen anything like it before--and everyone stared with eyes as big as washbasins. It
looked like the Devil's grin, Dracula, Hulk, Frankenstein, King Kong, Death, the Boogeyman
himself--all wrapped up into one. How surprised Rice must have been, keeping his eyes glued
on the newcomer with the premonition of some unknown threat to his culinary supremacy, when
he saw the intruder settle in the freezer, separate quarters and private home, just like that!
"The cupboard ain't good enough for that guy," said Beans to his combo with a bit of scorn
in his voice.
"Air-conditioned apartment no less," added Onion so acidly that everyone's eyes watered.
Soon it was evident that the stranger had it made in the kitchen. Mama Jesusa pampered
him like a baby. Every so often she would open the freezer and take him out for a walk. She
would place him on the revolving spikes inside a strange steel and glass contraption. After a
while she would retrieve him only to lay him down on a piece of bread spread open like a diaper.
She then bathed him in a mixture of yellow and red sauce and covered him up with fried onions
and something that remotely resembled cabbage.
Poor onion, who had to serve as the blanket, told the others what happened in the dining
room of the diner after all of these special preparations. The customers greeted the intruder's
arrival with great enthusiasm. He would lay there on a plastic plate like a Roman emperor, and
they would devour him, like the classic ripe plantain in a toothless mouth, accompanied by an
effervescent shit-colored drink that everyone seemed to prefer over the traditional mal.. But
what really flabbergasted all the inhabitants of the kitchen was the news that the old Happy
Diner had been rechristened the Happy Hot Dog, a name boldly printed on the paper napkins that
filled the garbage can.
What a commotion stormed through the kitchen! Rice and Beans looked like they were
sucking lemons every time a plastic plate passed out into the dining room with its outlandish,
tacky contents. At first, gossip flooded the place:
"Good God, what an ugly thing. It looks like a bloated stringbean drowned in
"This guy looks like a badly mauled finger bandaged by some quack."
"Or an old wrinkled pickle, sprinkled with dressing and trying to pass as a fresh
The Story of Rice and Beans
"Whoever eats that thing will definitely get the runs."
But the chatter couldn't lift a hand to hide the menu, and the truth is that the creature,
ugly as it was, was the top banana at the Happy Hot Dog. And every day, fewer and fewer people
ordered Rice and Beans.
In the face of this tragic situation, a meeting was held In the cupboard. Squash, being the
biggest and plumpest member, put the cards on the table, dotting the "i"s and crossing the "t"s
when he said, "If we don't get smart, the Hot Dog will take over and we'll rot of boredom in this
kitchen, gentlemen." "What can be done?" asked Pepper, still green with envy even though
unemployment had caused white marks to appear on his shoulders.
Rice and Beans, recalling their longstanding feud, checked each other out
That night, nobody slept a wink. The die was cast: on the table or into the garbage can.
The survival of creole taste and flavor was at stake.
The next day, Mama Jesusa came to wake them up. An odd job had surfaced: someone
just ordered rice and beans.
The entire kitchen was in a fluster. Rice out did himself in his effort to look better than
ever. He did not get soggy. He did not stick to the bottom of the pan. Grainy and shiny,
self-satisfied in his pot like a child with a new bicycle. Not to be outdone, Beans conducted his
savory combo as if they were playing at the Casals Festival. Squash taking off on the conga,
Pepper beating hard on the bongos, Onion better than ever on the cymbals, Ham masterfully
shaking the maracas. Fatback made the cowbell sound like church bells, and Garlic displayed his
teeth like piano keys. The point is that the sauce tasted heavenly, making the body tingle from
head to toe, oiling the entire mechanism of even the most renegade Puerto Rican.
It was time to serve. Mama Jesusa spooned the snowny mountain of Rice right up next to
the splattered pool of angry Beans, ignoring rank and distance, just as she did in olden days. Rice
and Beans eyed each other like cats and dogs. Then the homa dance began. Rice stiffening,
withdrawing, defending his purity. Beans teasing, bluffing, making fun of his arch enemy. But
always at a distance: you look with your hands, touch with your eyes, then stop fooling around
At that moment, Mama Jesusa returned and placed none other than the above-mentioned
intruder, long, skinny, the color of an open sore, on the same plate where the rivals confronted
Courteously, Rice and Bean waited until Mama Jesusa had placed the plate In front of the
diner who had ordered it. But as soon as the cook disappeared, it was bedlam.
Forgetting the disgust that had separated them for over four hundred years, overcoming
the fear that kept them in their places for over four hundred years, working up the courage that
they held within for over four hundred years, Rice and Beans joined forces: grain with sauce and
sauce with grain, fat with thin and thin with fat, red with white and white with red, and with one
tremendous shove, the fastidious interloping Hot Dog flew through the air never to regain his
place on the plate. What pleasure What happiness to be able to roll together doing cartwheels,
playing, dancing, laughing, rapping, and savoring their triumph like brothers.
Since Hot Dog had fallen to the floor and was covered with dust and roach wings, the
disgusted customer demanded that he be taken out of his sight and would under no circumstances
accept another. Finally, he dug his fork into the marvelous mixture that had merged right
before his eyes. A hasty native marriage. A half-breed m6lange. Shared shrewdness. The
perfect Puerto Rican victory pact.
And that's how Rice and Beans ended their feud. Since then they've been as thick as
thieves, and we always see them together like good friends because after such a long time and
such a long history, they reached a consensus without a plebiscite.
That night there was a huge celebration in the kitchen. To the beat of Beans' combo and a
gusty solo by Rice, everyone sang the chorus:
One and one are two
and two is more than one.
Without love there is no way
one without one is none.
And the happiness became so Intense and contagious that I too began to sing.
Ana Lydia Vega
University of Puerto Rico
Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico
(translated by Ada Haiman and Jos6 Osvaldo
"Please Stop": Women's Time In
Yov!an In the Dark
VovMe in the Dark. Jean Rhys's third novel (1934), is the first to employ a
first-person narrator, a move simultaneous with the manifestation of an increasing distrust and
evasion of linear narrative. Rhys also draws extensively on her memories of the West Indies for
the first time in this novel, Introducing details of the protagonist's childhood whose
autobiographical significance is evident in the fact that she was to use many of them In her
"unfinished autobiography" nearly fifty years later, after they were excised from Vovage in the
Dark along with the rest of an ending considered too "grey" by her publisher.* The coincidence
of these memories with what I argue is a "distrust" of narrativity is not an accident; Anna
Morgan, the narrator of Voae n the Dark, will attempt to use memory to evade linear
temporality, by putting forth an alternative mode of experience based on topography. Given the
force of narrativity and what it represents for women in her culture, the attempt is doomed to
fail; but it can be argued that in the ending as Rhys originally wrote It that failure Is at least
somewhat obviated by the fact that it "takes narrative down with it," at the same time that it
makes more explicit a racial subtext only occasionally glimpsed in the novel as published.
Why such an attempt should fail is suggested to some extent thematically, in Anna's own
experience of time, which might be schematized (following A. J. Greimas's notion of the semiotic
square, the taxonomic model that he sees as fundamental to any narrative (1968]), as follows:
not linear not cyclical
In "Women's Time" (1979/1981) Julia Kristeva suggests that the linearity upon which
traditional narrative depends, the linearity of history itself, Is reserved for males in Western
culture, women being assigned either the "cyclical" time of gestation and reproduction or the
"monumental" time of eternity (16). Kristeva provides a useful model for the experience of
time in Yovae in the Dark that examines how both the cyclical time of "gestation" and "biological
* In a letter to Evelyn Scott of 10 June 1934 Rhys wrote,
... because after Cape had written and told me how grey I was, without light or
shade, how much people would dislike it, that he couldn't hope to sell it even as
well as Mackenzie etc and so on, then Hamish Hamilton wanted it cut so much
that It would become meaningless .... Sadleir of Constable likes it... but he
also wants it cut. Not of course his own taste he explains but to please
prospective readers. (Letters, 25)
rhythm," and "monumental" time, "all-encompassing and infinite like imaginary space" (16),
are specific to woman's experience in pre-World War I England. Kristeva's three terms are
assimilable to the four-term semiotic structure I have sketched If we see what Grelmas calls the
"neutral" term, the synthesis of the two contradictories, as Kristeva's monumental time,
neither linear or cyclical.
Anna's first experience of time in England is plainly that of monumental time, a time
indistinguishable, as Kristeva describes it, from space. Time seems to have frozen; its
"passage" is signaled not by any change in Anna or her situation but by her movement through
space, from one provincial town to another on her tour as a chorus girl, although at the same
time all the places she goes to seem to be identical: "You were perpetually moving to another
place which was pertpetually the same" (3). Only their names differentiate places and then only
weakly, since they all suggest the economic and social power of a dominant class of males: "or a
Corporation Street or High Street or Duke Street or Lord Street where you walked about and
looked at the shops" (4). Even the clocks have stopped, like the clock on the hall table at Anna's
boarding house, "stopped at five minutes past twelve" (20).
This spatialization of Anna's experience is immediately counterpointed, on the novel's
first page, by Anna's attempt to remember, in fact to reexperlence, a different space, namely the
West Indian island where she grew up. "I would shut my eyes and pretend that the heat of the
fire, or the bed-clothes drawn up around me, was sun-heat; or I would pretend I was standing
outside the house at home, looking down market street to the Bay. When there is a breeze the sea
was millions of spangles; and on still days It was purple as Tyre and Sidon." The problem with
such a memory makes itself evident immediately, too, however: "Sometimes it was as if I were
back there and as if England were a dream. At other times England was the real thing and out
there was the dream, but I could never fit them together." "Fitting them together" would create
a unified space, a topography as open to desire as that of the island, In its rich differentiation,
appears to be in Anna's memory; the "curtain that has fallen between here and there, however,
is temporality itself, which has made one "then" and the other "now" instead.
The quite different Implications of temporality for Anna are also suggested early on in
Vov in the Dark, with Anna's mention of Naa and of the way it makes her feel to read it. "The
print was very small, and the endless procession of words gave me a curious feeling--sad,
excited, and frightened. It wasn't what I was reading, it was the look of the dark, blurred words
going on endlessly that gave me that feeling" (4). Anna's roommate and fellow chorus girl Maude
dismisses such narratives as "Just somebody stuffing you up," and says, "I bet you a man writing
a book about a tart tells a lot of lies one way and another," already raising the question of who
controls narrative, and of whose desires it is to carry; and the concomitant image of Anna's
immediate situation suggests that it is not she.
Images of enclosure and impasses recur often In Vovag in the Dark; from these first
rooms Anna describes, for example, at Southsea, one looks through a glass door into a small,
bare room and then through another glass door Into a "walled-in garden" (4). Later Anna will
remember being In a small, musty room in the Marylebone Road with a window that won't open
giving onto "dark green trees" (60). This recurring imagery of the window that won't open or
that leads only to further enclosure, like the window In Anna's room after Walter leaves her that
is "like a trap" (65), suggests not only enclosure but entrapment In the visible. The windows
are mirrors, allowing the sgt of what lies "on the other side" but not passage into it. The mode
"Please Stop': Vovans in the Dark
of experience is here constructed upon the static opposition of seeing/seen; the movement of
desire, figured specifically as a movement into the landscape in Anna's memory of the road to
Constance Estate back home is in England blocked by the glass, whose similarity to the mirror is
further emphasized in Rhys's fiction by her insistence on using the term "looking-glass," never
"mirror," a word she disliked.
What Anna sees beyond the various windows/mirrors behind which she is trapped is
what is supposed to be "nature," but a nature inaccessible to her, unlike that in the West Indies;
indeed, the window's double function as mirror suggests that what Anna sees beyond it is herself,
woman perceived as nature, in England walled up and immobile, like the lopped-off arms of the
tree in a garden whose only other ornamentation Is a line of washing. Anna can only merge with
this nature in the gaze of the male--In a moment that marks the consummation, and,
unbeknownst to her, the end of her relationship with Walter, he takes her to Savernake Forest
and, positioning her under the trees, says, "as if... talking to himself, 'No imagination? That's
all rot. I've got a lot of imagination. I've wanted to bring you to Savernake and see you
underneath these trees ever since I've known you'" (48). Anna says, "I like it here. . I didn't
know England could be so beautiful," but at the same time she thinks, "But something has
happened to it. It was as if the wildness had gone out of it," a remark shortly echoed by another
woman in regard to women themselves, as she quotes a man who insists that there are pretty
girls in England, "but very few pretty women." "Why? What happens to them? A few pretty
girls and then finish, a blank, a desert. What happens to them?"
"What has happened" to Anna Is not unusual, since in simplest terms it is sexual
maturity--yet in Voyage in the Dark, with its Interplay between colonial and metropolitan
settings such a change takes on a more complex set of associations. Anna's first memory of her
West Indian past after she has lost her virginity, for example, is that of dressing for church:
I thought about home and standing by the window on Sunday morning,
dressing to go to church, and putting on a woolen vest which had shrunk in the
wash and was too small, because wool next to the skin is healthy. And white
drawers tight at the knee and a white petticoat and a white embroidered dress
everything starched and prickly. And black ribbed- wool stockings with black
shoes. (The groom Joseph cleaning the shoes with blacking and spit.
Spit--mix--rub; spit--mix--rub. Joseph had heaps of spittle and when he
spurted a jet into the tin of blacking he never missed.) And brown kid gloves
from England, one size too small. "Oh, you naughty girl, you're trying to split
those gloves; you're trying to split those gloves on purpose."
(While you are carefully putting on your gloves you begin to perspire
and you feel the perspiration trickling down under your arms. The thought of
having a wet patch underneath your arms--a disgusting and a disgraceful thing
to happen to a lady--makes you very miserable.) (25)
The iconography of virginity here takes on racial connotations In the colonial setting, as Anna's
white clothes are contrasted with the servant's "blacking," as if some of Joseph's own blackness
goes into his task. Both this and the other parenthetical sentence In the passage subtly suggest
transgression, as though thoughts of the black groom and of the manifestations of an unladylike
physicality can both only slip in half-secretively to a discourse otherwise dominated by the
censorious voice of the "English gentlewoman" Hester.
Thus Hester's immedete response to Anna's reaching puberty is to pack her off to
England, in an explicitly articulated attempt to maintain (or restore) an increasingly threatened
"I tried to teach you to talk like a lady and behave like a lady and not like a
nigger and of course I couldn't do it. Impossible to get you away from the
servants. That awful sing-song voice you hadl Exactly like a nigger you
talked--and still do. Exactly like that dreadful girl Francine. When you were
jabbering away in the pantry I never could tell which of you was speaking. But
I did think when I brought you to England that I was giving you a real chance."
Perhaps, then, the curious fact that as soon as she reaches puberty Anna seems no longer able to
understand Francine's patois ("... she said something in Datois and went on washing up. But I
knew that of course she disliked me too because I was white .... "[44; my emphasis]) can be
understood as another instance of the way Anna must become "white" upon reaching adulthood, by
coercion if necessary. Hester's response to what she sees as Anna's sexual corruption in England
is also a racial one:
"Unfortunate propensities," she said. "... which were obvious to me
from the first. But considering everything you probably can't help them ..."
"How do you mean, 'considering everything'?"
"You know exactly what I mean, so don't pretend."
"You're trying to make out that my mother was coloured," I said. "You
always did try to make that out. And she wasn't."
"I'm trying to make out nothing of the kind. You say unforgivable things
sometimes--wicked and unforgivable things." (40)
The association of blackness with sexual license/freedom, and Anna's association with both, is
further suggested by the way her more or less bald announcement that she is being kept by
someone makes Hester's wedding gift to the rector's daughter, two jumble beads set into a brooch
("The niggers say that jumble beads are lucky, don't they?") topple off the table.
Sexual maturity, and the "whiteness" that must accompany it for Anna, is also associated
with an entry into time, most clearly In Anna's memory of the day she menstruates for the first
time, the memory of which event is the longest in the book until the aborted original ending. Yet
Yovage in the Dark does not portray women's biological experience as in and of Itself
constraining or frightening; the explanation of what is happening given her by Francine makes it
seem "quite all right," "all in the day's work like eating or drinkingg" Only when Francine's
explanation is followed by Hester's does Anna begin to feel "as if everything were shutting up
around me and I couldn't breathe" (42). The entrapment associated with her experiences In
England is not so much geographical In origin as cultural, foreclosing an easy Identification of
the colonized West Indies as any kind of Eden; and whatever "Edenic" freedom the Island might
seem to offer others, Anna's growing into adulthood is also plainly a fall not only into constraint
but into time, as she recoils from the prospect of "being white and getting like Hester, and all
the things you get--old and sad and everything." "1 kept thinking, 'No .... No .... No.. And
I knew that day that I'd started to grow old and nothing could stop it" (44).
"Please Stop': Vovane in the Dark
Once Anna loses her virginity her entry into different modalities of time from the
monumental becomes even more marked. Most obviously, after an illness whose significance
will become clearer later, she entered the linear time Kristeva assigns to males, but as subject
I those perceptions of time, not as subject o[ them. Anna's first question to Walter after he has
deflowered her is "What's the time?"--the first instance of a recurring motif that will
culminate in her final night with him when she hears "a clock ticking all the time on a table by
the bed' (55). Anna's fears of time and, by implication, age, are plainly well founded; whereas
Francine, in the West Indies, doesn't even know her age, in England women's ages are given an
ominous significance. Man's age and woman's age are two different things, moreover:
"Germalne's awfully pretty," I said.
"She's old," he said.
"I bet she isn't; I bet she isn't any older than Vincent."
"Well, that is old for a woman. Besides, she'll be blowsy in another
year; she's that type." (54)
Anna only becomes a subject of linear time as the men in the novel are when Walter gives her
money, which becomes time while it lasts: "I ... bought shoes. And then I bought underclothes
and silk stockings. Then I had seven pounds left" ( 17; my emphasis). Desire makes Itself
known in an urge to narrative, as Anna thinks, "This is a beginning. Out of this warm room that
smells of fur I'll go to all the lovely places I've ever dreamt of. This is the beginning" (16;
italics in original).
Possession of money means access to desire, the ability to seek out commodities and at
least temporarily cease being one, even if it only means desire on the installment plan;
ironically, however, women in Vovae in the Dark only buy things in order to enhance their own
status as commodities: "As If It Isn't enough that you want to Ie beautiful, that you want to have
pretty clothes" (15; my emphasis). Once again Maudie articulates what the "ladylike" Anna
cannot, when she says,
"D'you know what a man said to me the other day? It's funny, he said, have you
ever thought that a girl's clothes cost more than the girl inside them?... 'You
can get a very nice girl for five pounds, a very nice girl indeed; you can even get
a very nice girl for nothing if you know how to go about it. But you can't get a
nice costume for her for five pounds. To say nothing of underclothes, shoes,
etcetera and so on.' And then I had to laugh, because after all it's true, isn't it?"
The logical fallacy embedded In the double use of the word "get" encapsulates the difference
between man's time and woman's time in Western culture- for a man to "get" (or "have," or
"possess") a woman is the act of a moment, a dot on a time line, whereas for a woman to "get" a
man means that he has become the more-or-less permanent attribute-- like her clothes--of a
Another mode of time has been evident from Anna's earliest memories of puberty as
well, however, namely the cyclical, associated by Kristeva with reproduction and in YovW in
the Dark figured as fever, giddiness, and nausea. Anna's first response to adulthood as explained
to her by Hester Is to try to die, standing In the sun hatless during the hottest part of the day and
succumbing to a fever that lasts six weeks, though in the process still not managing to lose her
body entirely. Not surprisingly, then, her response to Walter's first kiss is to feel "giddy," and
the very next day she comes down with another fever (as soon as the money he has sent runs
out), imagining herself to be "climb[ ing] endlessly a ladder which turns like a wheel" (20) and
remembering her earlier illness back home.
The association of reproductive maturity with illness and nausea may explain why it is
that in part 2 of the novel, after Walter has left her, time seems to return to the monumental, as
if Anna is in some sense attempting to become a virgin again. The beginning of part 2 recalls the
beginning of part 1, with its images of streets "all exactly the same," its sense of a static and
undifferentiated topography, and even the image of the stopped clock recurs, in the hotel where
Joe takes Laurie and Anna, and where, as Laurie claims, Anna pretends(] to be a virgin" in
fending off Joe's advances. Thus a scene repeated twice over in this section, each time drawing
together a complex of images traditionally associated with innocence, suggests the power of
Anna's nostalgia for what she has lost:
The window of the bathroom was open and the soft, damp air from
outside blew in on my face. There was a white bath-wrap on the chair. I put it
on afterwards and went and lay down and the old woman brought me some tea. I
felt emptied-out and peaceful--like when you've had toothache and it stops for a
bit, and you know quite well it's going to start again but just for a bit it's
It was the first fine day for weeks. The old woman spread a white cloth
on the table. and the sun shone in on it. Then she went into the kitchen ....
There was the smell of bacon and the sound of water running into the bath. And
nothing else. My head felt empty. (81)
Whiteness, water, sunshine and soft breezes, nurturance by an older woman (explicitly called
"Ma" by Laurie)--all suggest that the "emptied-out," "peaceful" hiatus that Anna experiences
here is specifically a hiatus from adult sexuality and a return to a kind of childhood, before the
fall into time marked by puberty.
It is curious then that Anna's memories of her island vanish completely for the duration
of part 2, replaced by a brief recollection, oddly verbatim, of a passage from a history she has
read once about the Carib Indians and their near-extinction by whites, suggesting not only an
identification with the dominated on Anna's part but another example of who writes
history/narrative. It may be that Walter in a sense similarly "owns" memory now, as Anna
writes pages and pages of a desperate letter asking "[DIon't you remember... ?" (64); but the
refusal of memory may also mean an escape from time, even Anna's memories having been
colonized by narrativity as she enters into sexual maturity as defined by the Englishwoman
Hester. If she can refuse memory of the past, then, Anna can also refuse its differentiation from
the present and the temporality such differentiation Implies.
Such an escape from time can only be temporary, however, not because Anne must
achieve full humanity in a responsible maturity, or acceptance of morality, etc., as the
humanist tradition of the English novel would have it, but for the more typically Rhyslan reason
that she needs money. Her exploration, however tentative or unconscious, of the life of a tart
*Please Stop': Vovane in the Dark
plainly fails to appeal to her; and her finally turning to Ethel, who has offered her a partnership
in a manicure and massage business, soon means that she has walked into just another bordello,
however daintily got up, as Ethel encourages her to "have a good time" with her friends, for
"You know, kid, I've been thinking you'll want to go out more with your friends
and not feel you've got to be in all day. I don't mind, but we may have to talk it
over a bit about the rent." (96)
With Anna's return to sexual activity the clock has begun to tick again, as well( "That's what I
can remember best--Ethel talking and the clock ticking"), suggesting the lineage between linear
time and the struggle for money in a culture dominated by cash relationships. Ethel is explicit
about what that means for women when she says, "D'you know how old I am?... If I can't get
hold of some money in the next few years, what's going to become of me? Will you tell me that?
You wait a bit and you'll see. It'll happen to you too" (89). Although Anna's reaction at the time
seems to be a combination of detachment and revulsion ("I watched her shoulders shaking. A fly
was buzzing around me"), her recognition of the truth of Ethel's words is evident in her
immediately fleeing into the street in panic that soon turns to rage, as she moves from imagining
herself running to Walter to longing to "hit somebody pretty hard" with a jade bracelet he has
In this section, too, the kind of "topographical" memory that opened the novel reappears,
in a more elaborate version, as Anna tries to remember "the road that leads to Constance Estate,"
tracing out its topography in the Indicative, as if it represents a perpetual present, in contrast
to the rigid temporal taxonomy enunciated by an English biscuit-maker's billboard "stuck up on
a boarding at the end of Market Street" back home:
The past is dear,
The future clear
And, best of all, the present. (91)
Significantly, this mapping-out of the road to her mother's family estate, with its suggestion of
an attempted return to an unchanging constancy, is finally disrupted by the figure of the woman
with yaws, who appears at the roadside to say something incomprehensible to Anna and seems to
be laughing at her. Memory here turns against Itself, as a figure Anna says she "thought [she]
had forgotten" comes to occupy the present ("But now--there she is") and close off the further
passage of memory, and the decaying female body that marks out the limit of that journey
suggests the impossibility of any return to a mother who yet remains invisible.
Yet the "journey" was attempted once more in the original ending of the novel, a final
attempt to move back out of time that completes the reversed trajectory of Anna's journey from
the island to England in the only way possible. Her dream of the see while she is pregnant
suggests her original voyage away from home, only this time in reverse, as the ship approaches
an island an anonymous voice tells her is hers. Something has fallen overboard, however,
duplicating a fall Anna remembers from when she was very young and riding the road to
Constance Estate; that same fall will be reduplicated in the novel's original ending, merging
explicitly with the imagery of waves and the see, as Anna falls "for a long time" from the horse's
back on that same fantasmatic road, this time falling all the way out of time.
Thus Anna's pregnancy can be seen to represent the farthest point in her trajectory
from island to England, representing as it does the fullest measure of her separation from her
own mother; and her abortion, beginning the way it does In the novel's original ending,
represents the only way out of that trajectory.
If we look again at the semiotic model I have proposed we will find that one term is still
missing, unrealized, in the novel as published--namely [s2], or "not linear." If, as I have
suggested, we have seen the other terms manifest themselves, "not cyclical" as virginity,
"cyclical" as the reproductive cycle, and "linear" as male desire (to which women are
nonetheless subject), how would "not linear" manifest itself in the narrative? In fact, Rhys has
already answered this question; in the ending she originally wrote for the novel, changed only at
the insistence of her publisher that It was too grim, Rhys had Anna die as a result of her
abortion, insisting for many years afterward that the change had "half-spoiled" the novel and
arguing, "This girl is an Innocent. Really without guile or slyness. Why should she live to be
done in over and over again?"* The wording of the question suggests exactly the literally
nauseating (to Anna) cyclicality of her having to start "all over again, all over again," as the
novel as published has it, in defiance of her reiterated "stop, please stop." Keeping Fredric
Jameson's notion in mind that the semiotic square is a means for calling up the "political
unconscious" of a text, its missing term or terms pointing to the text's repressed (48-49), we
might say that here the text's non-.it is its original ending--here, however, not repressed by
the text but censored by the institution of publishing and its appeal to what was "readable" at the
One of the most obvious differences between the original and published endings is that
the original ending begins with a startling and unexplained plunge further back Into memory
than at any previous point in the novel, to Anna's fifth or sixth year. In the ending as published
the hemorrhage resulting from Anna's abortion triggers delirious memories of carnival; but in
the original ending It is the other way around, the memories seemingly triggering the
hemorrhage, specifically through the agency of a figure almost completely excised from the
published novel, namely, Meta, Anna's black nurse, whom Rhys writes about elsewhere as a
threatening and hostile figure from her own childhood.
This earliest of Anna's memories, vanishing as quickly as she moves her hand, is the
only time her mother appears In the book; from one phrase to the next, ten years have passed
and her mother is dead, replaced by Meta, fanning the body at her funeral. In rapid succession
follow memories of Anna's leaving her Island for England and the speculations of an anonymous
voice about her father's imminent death, each intercut with memories of Meta dragging her out
from some hiding place. "You hear me you come out from under there Meta said what you doing
under there" (underscoring in original).
I said you let me go you damned black devil you let me go you woolly-haired
* Jean Rhys, letter to Selma Yaz Dias, 30 August 1963; similar comments are made In letters to
Vae Diaz of 25 June, 12 July, 27 July, and 25 August of 1963. Both the original ending to
YovMe in the Dark and the correspondence cited are in the Jean Rhys Collection of the McFarlin
Library at the University of Tulsa, Oklahoma (Items II. A. 65, II. A. 56, II. A. 57., II. A. 60, and
II. A. 64); the letter quoted has been reprinted In The Letters of Jean Rhvs, 223-24.
"PIese Stop': Vovaa in the Dark
devil... she said I'll show you black devil I'll show you black devil she
started shaking me and my teeth shook and my hair shook and my flesh shook on
my bones... and I felt it starting in my stomach very gently and I sold take care
take care [ . .]
Thus a complex of memories all involving loss, separation, and death culminates in the
enactment of another separation from the maternal body, in Anna's abortion, just as Meta
forcibly drags Anna out from her "hiding-place." The agency of such a separation is never
elsewhere any deliberate violence, however, but only time itself: as "the child sings to its
mother," "petit ker vini gros," "the little ones grow old," just as Anna's moving hand disrupts
the photograph that would otherwise have pictured the Anna who still had a mother.
Meta's position, then, Is as an avatar of time, and ultimately death, just as Francine
represents freedom from time ( "Francine says that if you wash your face in fresh
coconut-water every day you are always young and unwrinkled, no matter how long you live"
[921), and the restoration of Meta's position In the original ending makes clearer the function of
"race" in Rhys's treatment of sexuality, time, and death in her colonial setting, since it is the
image of Meta sticking out her tongue through a slit in her mask, multiplied into an entire
carnival in Anna's final delirium, that marks out the ultimate trajectory of the novel. The image
has already been associated with the abortion in the published novel, as Anna struggles into the
street immediately after her visit to Mrs. Robinson:
Most of all I was afraid of the people passing because I was dying; and, just
because I was dying, any one of them, any minute, might stop and approach me
and knock me down, or put their tongues out as far as they would go. Like that
time at home with Meta, when it was Masquerade and she came to see me and put
out her tongue at me through the slit In her mask. ( I 10)
Even the ungrammatical first sentence in this passage suggests the hallucinated multiplication of
the image that becomes the carnival crowd in the ending, as "any one of :em" becomes "they";
and, in the original ending, along with the breakdown of the distinction ;atween one and many
comes a breakdown in the distinctions between past and present and between black and white.
The hallucinatory intermingling of past and present, manifested most clearly in a tangle
of voices, many of them anonymous, represents the final triumph of memory over narrative, as
long past, recent past, and present are superimposed upon each other to such a degree that
temporal distinctions collapse completely in Anna's own mind, and are finally maintained for the
reader only by the indentation of passages taking place in the present, a fragile seawall against
the flood of memory.
At first, although what Anna hears in the present triggers memories of the past, she is
still able to make the distinction between the two: the ticking of the clock she can hear in the
present makes her hear again the clock ticking at the bedside during her final night with Walter,
but so far at least she is still able to say that that is "another clock"; similarly, although Mrs.
Polo's "They die sometimes" triggers another memory, of a conversation in the convent, Anna
still distinguishes "here" from "there": "I'm not here I'm there I'm not here I'm there they die
sometimes." Yet about halfway through the original ending even those distinctions vanish, so
that when Laurie says "Try not to be sick" the words become part of an earlier memory of sexual
initiation and revulsion ("I was being sick because his hands had such a lot of hair on them"),
just as Anna's last spoken words, "I fell off the horse," come out of her recurring memory, now
become a nightmare, of riding the road to Constance Estate.
This breakdown in temporal distinctions is paralleled by another, perhaps even more
obvious, breakdown, the breakdown threatened to racial distinctions by the Masquerade that
takes up most of both the original and published endings. The image of Meta is expanded by the
description of the masks all the women are wearing:
and the masks were flesh-coloured and over the slits for the eyes mild blue eyes
were painted and then there was a small straight nose and a little red
heart-shaped mouth and under the mouth another slit so that they could put
their tongues out at you.
Although Anna says she knows why "the masks" are laughing, that they are laughing at "the idea
that anybody black would want to be white"--she also says, strangely, that the masks are "more
like their faces than their own faces were," suggesting that, even if the masks of carnival only
emphasize explicit color differences, nonetheless its real transgressive power lies in its
disruption of the positions of the two "races," as the "flesh colour" provides a mask from behind
which an aggressivity necessarily repressed in colonial settings may emerge. Recent theory has
questioned the ultimate transgressive force of carnival, suggesting that it holds a complicitouss
place in dominant culture" (Russo 2); yet within Yovae in the Dark. examining as it does the
metropolitan conflation of racial and sexual categories, and the implications of the latter for
"women's time," the disruption of racial positions functions simultaneously as a disruption of
temporality. Anna's growing up, in other words, has been specifically defined by Hester as
becoming "not like a nigger"--and if Francine figures the "good" side of the escape from time
that being, on the contrary, "like a nigger" represents to Anna ("I always wanted to be black"),
now she must face the impossibility of any escape from time other than death itself, here also
figured as "blackness."
Anna cannot return to the noncyclical modality of virginity; therefore the only modality
of "non-time" still available to her is the nonlinear. Indeed, if the linear trajectory of desire
must always ultimately be toward death, and particularly if, as the novel's treatment of women's
aging suggests, that truth is imposed differentially upon women as hostages to time in a
patriarchal culture, then, paradoxically, Anna's only means of escaping both that linearity and
the cyclicality of biological contingency is death. As Humpty Dumpty tells Alice in that other
looking-glass world, one can always leave off growing older- -"with proper assistance."
OPlems Stope: Vovem In the Dark
de Beauvoir, Simone. The Second Sex. Trans. and ed. H. M. Parshley. New York:
Greimas, A. J. "Elements of a Narrative Grammar." Trans. Catherine Porter.
Diacritics 7 (1977): 23-39.
Greimas, A. J., and Frangois Rastier. "The Interaction of Semiotic Constraints." Yale
French Studies 41 ( 1968): 86-105.
Jameson, Fredric. The Political Unconscious: Narrative as a Socially Symbolic Act.
Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 1981.
Kristeva, Julia. "Motherhood According to Giovanni Bellini." Desire In Languaoe. Ed.
Leon S. Roudiez. Trans. Thomas Gora, Alice Jardine, and Leon S. Roudiez. New
York: Columbia U P. 1980.
---. "Women's Time." Trans. Alice Jardine and Harry Blake. ijs 7, 1 (1981):
Lacan, Jacques. crits: A Selection. Trans. Alan Sheridan. New York: Norton, 1977.
Rhys, Jean. Vovage in the Dark. 1934. New York: Popular Library, n.d.
The Blue-eyed Loner
Once upon a time a woman named Abby Lynn lived in the Caribbean. Yes, once upon a
time, for it felt like a fairy tale. Perfect days, each as lovely as the last. Scenes with all the
color of a fauvist painting--cornflower-blue skies and aquamarine waters, dusty-green coconut
palms and malachite mountains, blond sand, fuchsia flowers and homes in every bright pastel a
painter could mix. Smells of ripe fruit and flowering frangipani, silences broken only by
faraway roosters or the steel bands which pounded out metallic melodies on special occasions. A
place where, even at night, one never needed to wear more than shorts and a short-sleeved top,
where the breezes powered the sailboats by day and ruffled the cocktail napkins in the evenings.
Equally idyllic was the ratio of men to women: there were so many more single men, men on
boats, in businesses, with international projects, than women.
Where Abby came from, good eligible men were hard to find. Most were married, and
the single ones preferred other men or took flight at the first threat to their bachelorhood. Her
last boyfriend constantly talked of improving his life but was never willing to take any real
steps toward this goal. Including marriage. His main distinction, for Abby, was that he was part
Indian, and the only real benefit she got out of the relationship was an ability to speak a few
words of Mohawk. But for a year there had been no boyfriend: she pondered why it seemed so
much easier for other women. And for several years, ever since she got out of graduate school,
there was no hope for any kind of permanent job teaching instrumental music. Even the tenured
music teachers were being set adrift. So when she saw a small, hand-written note tacked onto
the teachers' bulletin board at a school where she was substituting, a note advertising a one-
year's contract to teach music in a high school on the Caribbean island of St. Agnes, she thought,
"and why the hell not?"
Her arrival on St. Agnes created a variety of small sensations. The students were
intrigued by this slight woman with wispy white-blond hair and faded green eyes who lugged
around a large French horn case. The neighbors knew her as the one who sat on her balcony and
played the brassy muted notes of scales and the unrecognizable grunts of horn parts In classical
pieces. Expatriate women commented on the modest knee-length culottes and loose-fitting,
short-sleeved blouses she always wore. The parents of students also commented, feeling those
outfits were a bit too casual for a teacher, even though Miss Lynn waM American. And Chuck
Smith--Chuck became interested in Abby when he invited her for a sail and she declined with
the unexpected excuse that she had to prepare a lesson plan.
Everyone liked Chuck. The locals didn't mind his poor Imitations of patois--"hey mon,
how's it going"--because they easily caught the spark of humor In his eyes. His face was too
broad and middle-age weathered to be considered handsome, but it was a trustworthy face, and
the red eyebrows and shoulder-length red hair added to Its good spirits. Though he owned a
successful restaurant in the main town of Port Marie, a steak and seafood place that overlooked
the harbor, he was a modest spender. Modest, that is, except when it came to his beet. Much
money and most of his spare time funneled into the boat. He worked on It. Sailed It. Talked to
other sailors about it. Women took a distant second place, and his sailor friends were surprised
when he began to date Abby, who knew next to nothing about boats. They didn't realize that Chuck
The Blue-eyed Loner
wasn't the adventurer most of them were. Though he had moved to the Caribbean, set up his
restaurant, bought his boat, and wouldn't exchange his new life for anything, he remained tied to
the Northeast. In his heart of hearts, that was home, not St. Agnes. And Abby came from the
Abby was adventurous, in her way. She was the sort who could convince people to hike
with her to the top of the Soufriere, a grueling ten-hour journey through muggy rain forest that
left the rest exhausted while she felt exhilarated. Who was immensely pleased when the school's
steel band invited her to play her French horn with them at a town picnic on the beach. Who
tried all the creole eateries--rundown, hot places serving curried dishes with fungi bread and
moonshine rum--before she went to a restaurant like Chuck's. "If it's different, It's got to be
good," she joked with him. But her adventurous spirit did not extend to the expatriate
community. It was a small group, and Chuck had a standing invitation to all its parties. When
Abby went, someone inevitably came up to her in the course of the evening and said, "What's
wrong? You look so serious. Cheer upl" She called them the cheer-up gang and couldn't
understand why they gave so many parties, always with the same people, same conversations,
same drinks. They, on the other hand, never felt comfortable with her.
Chuck was Mr. On-Time. She only called him that to herself, though, and didn't mean it
negatively. It impressed her that he always came when he said he would. She was punctual
herself, but she never knew a man to be that way. Twice during the week Chuck stopped by her
apartment, and she cooked dinner, he cooked, or they went out. On Saturdays she stopped at the
marina and helped him work on the boat. At the end of the day they took a sail along the coast. At
first he reminded her of Captain Bligh, shouting orders and criticizing her clumsiness, but as
she improved she came to enjoy those sails very much. The island seemed stuck In time,
immortal and exquisitely beautiful, from the boat's desembodied vantage point. At sunset they
watched for the green flash, a fleck of bright green that appeared ever so briefly above the
horizon as the sun sank behind it. Those who saw the flash vowed it existed; those who didn't,
attributed it to romantic fancy. Chuck had seen It, but Abby never noticed anything out of the
ordinary. The only Saturdays she didn't go to the marina was when she took one of her "island
safaris," as Chuck called them. He never wanted to go--"l've seen everything there Is to see
here," he'd say- -but he encouraged her. No, there wasn't much passion between them, she
realized, but they enjoyed each other. She felt a rare security. And she was having fun.
Then she saw the blue-eyed loner. It happened at the market, a covered courtyard
surrounded by masonry walls that once protected a fort. Makeshift tables filled the yard, and
early in the morning they sagged under the weight of a colorful mosaic of produce--dark purple
eggplants, green plantains, yellow, red and black banana peels, sticky white soursop fruit,
smooth multi-colored mango skins. At some stands old liquor bottles held local honey or fiery
pepper sauce, and at others chickens hung by their necks while fish stored up from blocks of ice.
Customers milled through the market, examining the produce at each table and asking prices.
Vendors, usually stout women in snug-fitting dresses that rarely zipped to the top, stood nearby
and shouted out Incentives to buy.
A young man was sitting on the ground, leaning against the wall next to large burlap bags
of citrus fruits and helping himself to grapefruits in one of the bags. He was a handsome man,
with the delicate sharp-featured beauty of a dancer. Pale skin contrasted with vivid blue eyes
that seemed to focus like beacons wherever he looked. Though his pinstripe shirt and corduroy
slacks were well worn, they looked expensive. He wore no shoes, and his light brown hair
knotted out from his head In an unkempt mass, reminding Abby of a Medusa drawing.
She spent a long time in the market that day, deliberating over the produce while she
darted glances at the man. Perhaps she should introduce herself--after all, they were both
outsiders--but he seemed oblivious to everything but the grapefruits he was sucking. When she
finally left, she felt keenly disappointed. And inexplicably lightheaded.
In the days that followed, Abby looked for the man when she went to the market. Watched
for him on the narrow dusty streets in the town. Thought she might see him on her way to or
from school. All of this was due to simple curiosity, she told herself. Just when she decided he
must have left the island, she saw him again. He was leaning against a building in a poor
neighborhood at the edge of town, talking to three local men, one of whom wore a woolen cap to
cover his dreadlocks. They were talking in patois. She suddenly wanted to turn around and walk
away: after all, what was she doing there? But it was too late. As she approached, the other men
waved to him and left. She felt her stomach shrink. This was the now-or-never moment.
All right. An unsteady smile.
Answered by a puzzled smile.
A statement: "You were at the market a couple of weeks ago."
A baffled look.
An explanation: "I saw you there."
A hesitant answer: "Oh yes?"
A pause. Another tack: "So you must like the local food too?"
No, no, it was too mechanical, she thought, but somehow the conversation kept going. As
they stood under the tropical sun, sweet slid down her face, gathered at the chin and dripped onto
her blouse. The man barely seemed to sweat, though he was wearing the same clothes he had
worn at the market. "Would you like limeede?" he asked. "I live up the street."
Abby had never been inside one of the small wooden zinc-roofed houses that dominated
the edge of town. His was painted pink, but the driftwood color of the boards showed through In
places. A hammock lay strung along the length of the porch, and she had to maneuver around it
and a few missing boards on the floor. Inside, her glance took in the pale-blue walls and an
almost total lack of furniture. Two crates made do as chairs, and a pallet in one corner displayed
sheets that looked as though they had never been washed. Hundreds of books formed tottering
stacks in another corner: a tiny transistor radio crowned the tallest stack. The man excused
himself, went out back of the house and soon returned with several limes, "straight from the
tree." He squeezed the juice into two plastic glasses, added water from a large jug and handed a
glass toAbby. It tasted tart, warm and slightly brackish. They sipped for several minutes in
As she walked back to her apartment later, she thought about the visit. His name, she
The Blue-eyed Loner
now knew, was Giovanni Stefansson. He had lived for three years in the Caribbean, two of them
on St. Agnes, because he could live here cheaply and honorably. He had studied, at Harvard, but
no, he was not from Massachusetts. Did it really matter where one came from? No, he didn't
know many people on St. Agnes, but he didn't need friends, for he got what he needed from his
books. He would not tell her more about himself, preferring to talk about general issues or the
difficulties of the local people. When she left, her curiosity had not been sated.
He did mention that he spent most of his day reading in the hammock, so she invented
reasons to pass through the neighborhood. He always seemed eager to talk with her. She didn't
understand many of his ideas--her mind was no match for his obvious intelligence, she decided
--but from his comments she began to see the world differently. It pleased her that such a mind
took an interest in her, asking about the school where she taught, how hard it was to play the
French horn, what she thought about a variety of topics. As he listened, his blue eyes stared at
her intently. When she got up to leave, he kissed her lightly on the lips, and her stomach
fluttered. Each day her mind spent more and more time at the pink house.
Though she was discreet about the new friendship, Chuck found out. On Saturday she
went to the marina as usual. As usual, she helped him on the boat, polishing its chrome fixtures.
They took an unusually long sail and watched for the green flash as they always did. When they
were cleaning up the cabin afterward, Chuck said, "I hear you've been seeing some strange
American." He sounded abrupt, matter of fact. She made light of the comment, but he had
already set his speech in motion. He admitted he wasn't romantic. He spoke of disappointment,
"and for someone so weird." For the first time she learned he had once been married, for ten
years. They had a daughter, and he thought everything was fine until his wife called one day
from her mother's house to tell him she wanted a divorce. Just like that, and his whole life went
to pieces. He complained that women were impossible to understand: it was not worth making
the effort. While he talked, he kept working. She had to follow him around as he locked up the
cabin and hosed down the deck. He listened politely but with a wry look when she told him how
much she liked him and what good times they had. When they stepped off the boat, he shook her
hand and said, "Well, see you around." He gave her a broad stiff smile, the kind she saw him use
when he felt uncomfortable, then turned and left the pier. It was the smile that made her start to
cry, and she sat on the edge of the pier watching pelicans until the tears stopped.
She felt bad about Chuck, but this didn't keep her from thinking about Giovanni. In fact,
she now felt free to think about him even more. To imagine wide scenarios. Living with him in
the pink house, which she would fix up in West Indian decor. Meeting his family, who would be
so happy Giovanni had found such a nice woman. Coping with the fame she was sure would be his,
when people would envy her as his wife and he would love her even more because she had first
loved him when he was unknown on St. Agnes.
Abby and Giovanni went out more, nowhere fancy, perhaps for a meal at the Jive Spot
around the corner or a walk into the foothills in the evening. From time to time she saw a friend
of Chuck's, and once they passed the parents of one of her students. Then her mind split apart,
half of it focusing on the bright, sensitive, intense Giovanni she was attracted to and half on the
strange, barefooted, matted-hair Giovanni she knew others saw. It was best when they were
alone, sitting in the house expounding on the Rastafarians or the bounds of the Universe and
drinking thick black coffee that was Giovanni's only vice. She felt happy then. They could sit
comfortably, for she had bought him two chairs. He never bought anything--he seemed to live
on some sort of barter system with his neighbors--but he was pleased to have them, and his
pleasure made her even happier.
One afternoon she entered the house to find him standing in the middle of the room with
tears dripping down his face. He put his palm up in a gesture for quiet. The radio was on, and it
was playing, with scratchy reception, a song that had been popular about eight years earlier.
Giovanni silently mouthed the lyrics and moved slowly to the melody. When the song was over,
he collapsed into one of the chairs and put his hand on his heart. "I haven't heard that song for
years," he said, more to himself than to her. "I was back in Tucson." She had never heard him
mention Tucson before. "I was back in the desert, with the cacti and the greasewood and the
silence." Only then did he look at her, shaking his head in disbelief. He would say no more about
Tucson, merely repeating over and over again the amazing feeling of actually being in two places
That was the last time she saw him. A band concert kept her busy for several days.
When she returned, the house looked different: it was the hammock, she realized, the hammock
was gone. She tried the door. Locked. The window shutters remained open, and they framed a
vacant room--no books, no chairs, no bed. A hand touched her softly on the shoulder. Giovanni.
She turned. It was Mr. Potter, the old man who lived next door.
"Gone," Mr. Potter explained. "Two days pastt"
"Don' know. Dat mon don' talk much."
"But he had no money."
"Dat's surely true, but his folks be rich. His fahder own a tousan' trucks."
Giovanni never told her that. "But. . She stood silently for a moment, as ,f thinking
how to phrase the rest of the sentence.
"Excuse me, miss, but dot mon not for you. No. no. You be a teacher." He emphasized
the word teacher, as If that explained everything.
The wind blew the fronds of a banana tree in Mr. Potter's yard. She looked up and
noticed the two chairs she had given Giovanni inside his house. "Thank you, Mr. Potter.
"Good-bye miss and God bless you."
So. She could find out If he left a forwarding address with anyone on the Island, but she
knew he hadn't. She could go look for him, but Tucson was a world away. She could fantasize that
he would miss her and send for her. No. She had to admit she was just a bit weary of fantasizing.
In the next few weeks Abby busied herself with the school, going on field trips,
The Blue-eyed Loner
preparing for a French horn recital, tutoring several young musicians who weren't doing so well
in other subjects. She made an effort to be friendlier to the expatriate community and even got
herself Invited to a party. Chuck was there. Though he must have known--everyone must have
known--the weird American was gone, he made no attempt to talk to her after a very polite
She had taken to walking down to the point next to the marina late every afternoon.
Sitting there didn't give her the same disembodied feeling she had on the boat, for the point was
near the sound of cars and the smell of deisel fuel, but it was a soothing place with a fine view of
the sea. She patiently watched for the green flash, but she also did a lot of thinking, about such
matters as why it seemed so much easier for other women to hold on to men. Her patience
eventually paid off: one afternoon she positively identified a sliver of green peeking out from
the pastel swirls of the sunset.
San Juan, Puerto Rico
Never-ending Cycles and Revolutionary Ends:
Revolt and Rebirth in the Contemporary Caribbean Novel
As we grow older as a race, we grow aware that history is written, that
it is a kind of literature without morality, that in its actuaries the ego of the
race is indissoluble and that everything depends on whether we write this
fiction through the memory of hero or victim. (Walcott 2)
The statement by St. Lucian author Derek Walcott expresses four notions crucial to our
understanding of the relationship between the people and history of the Caribbean: that history
is written, and if it is found to be bIlvy written it can be re-written; that the way our history is
plotted determines our perceptions of ourselves as a people, that is, as it shapes national and
individual ego; that history is a kind of fiction, not fact or science but a narrative containing a
certain element of invention; and that Caribbean history still carries the legacy of the old
dialectic of master and slave on which our colonial identity has been founded.
The re-writing of history has been a constant endeavor for twentieth-century
Caribbean writers. Emerging from a common experience of colonialism and slavery, Caribbean
authors (historians, novelists, and poets alike) have found a history written by the Other that
begets a self-image that is not self-made, a history where the "process of exclusion, stress, and
subordination" (White 6) that makes up a historical text has produced a narrative in which the
Caribbean self cannot find itself. Hence the need (evident in most contemporary Caribbean
historiography and literature) to replot this history into a narrative where, as Walcott puts it,
the "ego of the race is indissoluble."
The need to shed Eurocentric views of history arose with a renewed sense of urgency in
the late fifties and sixties, a period when most Caribbean islands were preparing for
independence or for re-definitions of their relationships with the metropolis--events which
would bring to the fore the need for self-definition in terms other than those imposed by the
colonial power. The difficulties In fulfilling this need, however, became apparent immediately;
it required not only the restructuring of the narrative of the Caribbean past but also the
elaboration of a different historiographical tradition.
At the vanguard of this effort to re-elaborate the narrative of Caribbean history we find
novelists as well as historians. Novelists, not hampered by the methodology and ideology of
trained historians (not to mention the historian's need to stick to the supposed facts), have set
out to give form to a past that can serve as a basis for a new definition of Caribbean history and,
by extension, of the Caribbean self.
In their quest for new approaches to history, Caribbean novelists have tapped many
sources: European historiography (chiefly Oswald Spengler and Olambattista Vico); popular
culture (carnival, salse, calypso, etc.); new and imaginative interpretations of historical
documentation, as in V. S. Naipaul's The Loss of El Dorad and Alejo Carpentler's El reino do aste
mundo; the re-writing of one-sided literary accounts, as in Jean Rhys's Wide S&rgsso Sea:
mythical voyages to the heart of Africa from which a new awareness of cultural Identity
Never-ending Cycles and Revolutionary Ends
emerges, as in Simone Schwart2-Bart's Ti-Jean 'horizon; and feminist interpretations of the
historical process, as in Rosario Ferre's Maldito amor and Marie Chauvet's Amour. Colre et
Folle--to name only a few.
The representation of the Caribbean historical process as a series of inescapable cycles
of oppression, rebellion, and renewed oppression is perhaps the most common narrative
structure used by Caribbean authors In their depictions of historical processes. The appeal of
this type of plot is understandable; it seems perfectly suited to writers who Ideologically reject
colonial control and the cultural eurocentrieity that accompanies it but who witness the
perpetuation of colonial relations and the ever-present legacy of the slave system. The
structure, which derives in part from the cyclical plotting of historical narrative associated
with the theories of Spengler and Vico, allows for the possibility of revolution, destruction of
the old and rebirth, and offers the possibility of combining assessments of
"things-as-they-are" with a cautious note of hope for revolutionary change.
Since depictions of revolution and popular revolt reveal most clearly the problems and
contradictions involved in the reconciling of historical reality with theories of historical change
in the Caribbean, I have chosen six novels about rebellion for discussion. These are Edgerdo
Rodriguez Julib's La renuncia del h6roe Baltaser, Alejo Carpentier's El reino de este mundo and
La consaoracion de la orimavera, Earl Lovelace's The Dragon Can't Dance, Paule Marshall's The
Chosen Place. The Timeless Peoole, and V. S. Naipaul's iuerillas.
The novels are similar in that they explore revolution and revolt as avenues of social
and political change in the region. They depict revolution and revolt as being for the most part
unsuccessful--as most In the Caribbean have been--in changing the overall conditions of the
area, but these depictions are used to explore the possibilities for positive, meaningful political
action, and more Importantly, are presented as manifestations of the latent capacities for revolt
and change among Caribbean peoples. In the works of most of these writers, unsuccessful revolt
is portrayed as a necessary manifestation of the people's underlying rebelliousness against
colonial rule and/or neo-colonial controls and carries with it a note of cautious optimism for the
future of the region.
Edgerdo Rodriguez Julit's La renuncia del hAroe Baltasar is the fictional account of a
bloody Black rebellion in eighteenth-century Puerto Rico motivated by the arrest and
imprisonment of Baltasar Montaez, a fictional character Rodriguez creates by merging two
legendary Puerto Rican figures: Miguel Henriquez, an eighteenth-century mulatto of enormous
wealth and prestige, and Baltaser Montafez, a young man believed to have miraculously survived
a riding accident in San Juan in 1753.* The novel offers the reader a false history, based on
invented documents, which nevertheless has its origin In the people's capacity to create legend
out of historical fact.
* Popular Puerto Rican legend attributes the building of the extant Capilla del Cristo chapel in
Old San Juan to the commemoration of the miracle of Baltasar Montalez's survival. There is
ample proof, however, that Montatez- -and his horse--perished in the accident.
Of the many tales told of the presumed miracle of Montaiez's survival and the mystery
of Miguel Henriquez's career, Rodriguez Juli6 has fashioned a vivid tale of murder and Black
revenge against the white planters that reads like a Fanonlan attempt to return to a tabula rasa
on which a new society can be built.
The mysterious circumstances surrounding the career of the fictional Montanez are
explored by a fictional historian named Cadelso in three lectures supposedly presented at the
Ateneo Puertorriqueno in 1938. The first of these lectures focuses on Baltaser's marriage to
Josefina Prats, the daughter of the Spanish secretary of Government. The marriage is arranged
by government officials wishing to create the illusion of freedom and possible social mobility for
the Black population, represented by Baltasar, by allowing the liberty to marry an aristocrat.
The lecture describes how the government's plan fails, as the myth it has created around
Baltaser escapes its control and takes hold among his followers. The second lecture focuses on
Baltasar's career as Secretary of Government. This period is marked by Baltaser's
transformation from shrewd politician Into a visionary. It includes descriptions of Baltasar's
vision of a "Garden of Misfortunes" and of the erotic drawings by Juan Espinosa In which
Baltasar is the subject. Both vision and drawings explore Baltasar's growing apocalyptic view
and his belief in murder and destruction as the ultimate freedom. The lecture also narrates the
massacre of whites by a mob enraged by Baltasar's arrest on charges brought against him by the
The third and final lecture concerns Baltasar's decision to refuse the government's offer
to return him to his post. By refusing, he prolongs indefinitely the rebellion and massacre. The
lecture explores Baltasar's visionary madness and his power to lead others into fulfilling his
dream of destroying colonial society by, paradoxically, refusing to lead them.
Rodriguez Juli6's tale, being a parody of history (Paravisini 101-08), Is essentially
"carnivalesque"--the author plaini' mas'." What emerges from this parody is a narrative of
eighteenth-century Puerto Rican history as It could have been if colonial rule had given way to
the rebellious passions of a Black and mulatto population tired of colonial racial policies. His
history, responding to legend as well as to an insistence on the annihilation of the colonial past,
tries to use folklore to bring us closer to an understanding of the historical processes through
which revolution and renewal are accomplished. In its use of folklore as the basis for a pseudo-
historical tale, the novel reaffirms the capabilities for resistance to official culture latent in
By attempting to turn legend Into history, La renuncia del h6roe Baltasar represents the
reversal of the creative process described by Alejo Carpentier in his prologue to El reino de este
muno, a novel based on rigorous documentation and accountability to historical fact. Carpentier
Portie as menester advertir mue el relato aue va a leerse he sido astablecido
sobre una documentacl6n extremadamente riourosa aue no solamente resoeta la
verhdI hist6rica de los acontecimientos. los nombras de los DronMats- ncluso
secunderlos--. de lugres v haste calls. sino ue oculta. beto su aoarente
intemooralided. un minucilso cotelo de fechas v de cronologlas. (15)
El reino de esta mundo is Carpentier's retelling of the events Immediately preceding and
Never-ending Cycles and Revolutionary Ends
following the Haitian Revolution through the eyes of TI Noel, former slave and quasi-picaresque
hero who serves as witness to the cycles of revolt and oppression that engulf Haiti from the mid
to late-eighteenth century until 1815. In his retelling of this tale, Carpentier transforms
documented history into a "magic realist" narrative that emphasizes two aspects of Haitian
historical reality: the ever-present legacy of the exploitation imposed by the brutal slave
system, and the fantastic/surreal combinations that emerged from the contact of two different
world views--one European, the other African--in what Carpentler calls the "magical
crossroad" of Cap Haitien.
The difference in the nature of the historical data used by Carpentier and Rodriguez
JuliA Is matched by stylistic differences: whereas Carpentler rejects historical discourse In a
rigorously documented historical novel, Rodriguez Juli6 follows the methodology and language of
historical texts to make history out of legend. The documents he creates--diaries, chronicles,
letters--are rhetorically self-conscious texts which insist on their own legitimacy as
historical documents by their rigorous, albeit exaggerated, observance of the devices of the
There is no such observance of the devices of historical discourse in Carpentier's work
precisely because he finds such discourse Inadequate to express a history that Is different from
that of Europe. The difference is one of essence: American history incorporates "1o ral
maravilloso," "todo result maravilloso en una historic imoasible de situar en Eurooa" and
impossible to relate in European (I. e. academic) terms. The resulting text reads as myth, myth
being an essential component of the Caribbean view of history.
Rodriguez Juli6 approaches the relationship between myth and history from a different
perspective. Since he is working with legend, not with documented history as is the case with
Carpenter, he is interested in demonstrating how legend and myth are embodiments of historical
truth. Following Vico, Rodriguez Juli6 seems to place more faith in the poet's intuition than in
the documents available to the historian. Documents are scrutinized, questioned, and often
rejected by the fictional historian Cadelso. The authors of letters may lie and self-interest may
lead to tampering with documents. The truth of poetry, however, Is accepted without question
since It gives a voice to myth, a truth more valid than that of history. Within this framework,
the poet alone can see beyond the historical enigma.
Carpenter and Rodriguez Jul16 share a deep distrust of the ability of historical
methodology to uncover historical truth and a belief in the superior ability of the creative
writer to express history in a truer form. Their distrust is not unique. Not surprisingly, it
permeates views of history among scores of Caribbean writers, and especially since histories
written in terms of European-developed methodologies are considered suspect.
At the explicitly theoretical level, however, the rejection of the language and
methodology of European historiography does not translate (at least in these texts) into a
rejection of European historical thought, since their positions concerning the significance of
history as a process follow the theories of Europeans Oswald Spengler and Glambattista Vico.
In La renuncia del hIroe Baltasar, the dream of destruction behind Baltasr's
renunciation of power (a renunciation that brings about uncontrollable social disorder), his
desire to see colonial society disintegrate, seems to Imply an apocalyptic view of history, a
rectilinear rather than cyclical view of historical development. But the novel's closing
statement, which refers to Baltasar as a "mutation" of the type that surfaces only once in a
thousand years, interprets his renunciation of power as signalling the end of the cycle of
oppression rather than the end of the society itself. This Interpretation echoes Vico's concept of
history, which combines "a theory of evolution and maturation in the development of thought
from the age of the gods to the age of man with a theory of concomitant degeneration of the moral
character of mankind" (Bidney 272). Degeneration, in Vice's world view, can lead to
revolution, which by destroying the old order may prepare the ground for a new civilization to
emerge.* The parallels between Baltasar's endorsement of destruction and Vico's theory points
away from an apocalyptic view of history and towards destruction as an affirmation of the right
to rebel against oppression In order to create a new political order. Baltasar's renunciation of
power makes freedom from slavery and colonial rule possible and allows the oppressed and
manipulated mob to enter history.
Vico's view of the historical process as a progression from rebirth to degeneration is
echoed in Carpentier's use of the theories of Spengler, for whom history is the creation of forms
out of primal chaos. For Spengler there exist, in place of the empty notion of one linear history,
different cultures with their own possibilities of self-expression which rise, ripen, and decay,
never to return. In view of his assumption that all cultures are destined to decay and perish, he
counsels acceptance of the present reality as "a natural and inevitable condition of the time and.
. a flight from intellection into pure action as a realistic response to the needs of the cultural
process in its current stage of development" (1: 21-22). In Carpentier's novel, Ti Noel's
experience of cyclical oppression results in the realization that pure action (revolution in this
case) is the proper response to the human predicament:
Y comorendia ahora aue el hombre nunce sabe oara auien oadece v easera.
Padsce v esoera v trabala para aente oue nunca conocera. v oue a su vez
oadecer6n v esoerardn v trabalar6n oara otros aue tampoco sern felices. DUBS
el hombre ansia siemore una felicided situade m6s allh de la porci6n aue le as
otord". Prolaa-rndam dlhoandre stdraimant$nue rtmasorar Io
a as En imners aro.... El anciano lanz6 su declaracl6n de ouerra a los
nuevos amos. dndo orden a sus slbditos do oartir al asalto do las obras
insolentes de los mulatos investidos. (123)
The narrative structures in these novels flow directly from the theoretical
pre-conceptions of the authors. Carpentier uses the cyclical repetition of a pattern of
oppression and rebellion as the way to teach Ti Noel(and the reader) the inevitability of fate,
from which emerges the realization of the value of action for its own sake. Thus the narration
follows a structure where at different historical points between 1790 and 1815, Ti Noel finds
the pattern repeating Itself until the repetition ends with the historical lesson learned.
The narrative structure of La renuncia del hire Baltasar begins with an expression of
the traditional political solutions to the problems posed by colonization (In this case, the
* This aspect of Vico's theory of historical development parallels Fanon's concept of a tabulaa
rasa," the theory of revolution and total destruction of the colonial order as the way to establish
new societies in the Caribbean. La renuncia del hWa Baltasar can be read as a depiction of the
destructive and renovating power of total revolution following a Fanonian blueprint.
Never-ending Cycles and Revolutionary Ends
appeasement offered to the slave population by Bishop Larra in the shape of a marriage between
the mulatto Baltasar and the daughter of the Spanish Secretary of Government ) and ends
proposing revolution and the creation of a new order as the only alternative to colonization.
Finding political solutions powerless to end colonization and slavery, the novel seeks a
resolution in destruction and rebirth. Thus the plot follows Baltaser's career as he develops
from a crafty politician to a visionary whose obsessive apocalyptic credo finds in murder and
destruction the only roads to revolution and change; furthermore, it moves away from Cadalso,
the historian seeking rational explanations for historical events, and towards the figure of the
poet who can see beyond the political enigma. The poet's vision opens the way to a transcendence
of the master-slave dialectic and the destruction of colonial rule which echoes Carpentier's call
for action for its own sake In the hope that it can lead to a cultural and political breakthrough.
Earl Lovelace's The Dragon Can't Dance revolves around the "indigenous tradition of
slave resistance that finds expression in the ancestral masking rituals of [the Caribbean]
carnival" (Cooper 12). It follows the story of the people of the yard on Alice Street on Calvary
Hill in Port of Spain, Trinidad, through several carnival seasons and a street revolt in which
several men from the yard declare themselves as the People's Liberation Army and briefly draw
on popular support.
The novel presents carnival as the embodiment of an oppressed population's Inherent
capacity for revolt. Carnival both embodies and contains the impulse to rebel, demonstrating its
latency but exhausting its capabilities. Aldrick, who year after year plays Calvary Hill's dragon
with quasi-ritualistic devotion, explains that
"This is the guts of the people, their blood; this is the self of the people that they
screaming out they possess, that they scrimp and save and whore and work and
thief to drag out of the hard rockstone and dirt to show the world they is people."
He felt: "This is people taller than cathedrals; this is people more beautiful
than avenues with trees." (137)
The plot develops around the uses of the energy and capacity for rebellion implicit in
carnival( Reyes 107-20), examining their potential for creating socio-political change. To that
end, it explores the violence of the steel or pan bands and the ability of calypso to give voice to
social protest. But it Is in Aldrick's dragon dance that we see the embodiment of this potential
For two days Aldrick was dragon In Port of Spain .... He was Africa, the
ancestral Masker, affirming the power of the warrior, prancing and bowing,
breathing out fire, lunging against his chains, threatening with his claws,
saying to the city: "I is a dragon I have fire in my belly and claws on my
hands; watch mel Note me well, for I am ready to burn down your city. I am
ready to tear you apart limb by limb." (137-38)
The central issue of the novel is that of both carnival and calypso becoming bourgeois; that is,
being wrenched from their connections with the people and ceasing to be the container (in both
meanings of the word) of the people's protest. The wrenching from the roots is exemplified by
the emergence of corporate sponsors--multinational companies such as Coca-Cola--for the
street bands, sponsorships which force them to compromise their traditional styles and customs.
To Fisheye and Aldrick the sponsorships are tantamount to the disenfranchisement of the "little
fellars" (Reyes 114):
It seemed to [Aldrick] that they were losing a battle with the times, with the
people on the Hill. The people wanted to move on, to change, to make peace with
their condition, to surrender the rebellion they had lived for generations; and
they saw Fisheye, Aldrick, and the other fellars at the Corner... as the
witnesses to that bequeathal, who continued to fight on, whose eyes disturbed,
challenged, accused them of abandoning their sacred war, that they [Fisheye,
Aldrick, and the other "fellars"] continued to wage. (180)
Once the band from Calvary Hill led by Fisheye and Aldrick realizes that carnival has lost its
capacity to express and contain the essence of the people's struggle, they resort to an aborted
revolt that elicits the support of the people but that they are unprepared and unable to turn into
concrete political action. The revolt is an extension of Aldrick's dragon dance and fails for the
same reasons: the rebels, like Aldrick, were "looking to someone else to make a decision," they
were looking to someone else to take over and follow the revolt to a political conclusion, just as
Aldrick refused any personal emotional involvements that would lead to responsibility.
The novel, serving as a warning against the abandonment of the rebellious spirit of
carnival, ends on a brighter note. Returning to the Hill after a five-year prison stint for his
role in the revolt, Aldrick searches for Sylvia (the emotional commitment he previously
A similar assessment of the energy and potential for change embodied in carnival is
evident in Paule Marshall's The Chosen Place. The Timeless People. Marshall's novel is a
complex work, rich in varied characters and situations. It is set In a small Caribbean village,
peopled by an indomitable but struggling community whose strength to deal with misfortunes is
rooted in their strong ties to the landscape and Its history. Merle, the protagonist, appears
paradoxically as the embodiment of both the villagers' strength and their vulnerability. She is a
strong and determined but deeply wounded woman, haunted by her past and regretful of having
lost her daughter, now In Africa with her father.
The plot follows the development of an American foundation's research and aid plan for
the village, headed by a sympathetic and well-meaning Jewish-American researcher; and it
allows Marshall to develop two central themes: the importance of history in developing national
and personal identity and the need for Caribbean economic self-sufficiency as the only way to
preserve independence. The celebration of carnival by the Bournehills villagers depicted in the
novel embodies these themes.
The small village of Bournehills, in Marshall's presentation, "might have been selected
as the repository of the history which reached beyond it to include the hemisphere north and
south" (402). Like Merle, who stands as a representative of the landscape, it is a place
Never-ending Cycles and Revolutionary Ends
despoiled, its substance taken, but a place whose "vital center remained intact," impressing the
visitor with a "sense of life persisting amid that nameless irrevocable loss" (5).
The strength of Bournehills comes, not surprisingly, from its connection to history. It
had once been the setting of the only spot of history worth relating in Bourne Island: a slave
rebellion under the leadership of Cuffee Ned, which managed to drive back the colonial forces in
a fierce battle. As a result of that confrontation, the former slaves lived for two years "as a
nation apart, behind the high wall, independent, free" ( 102).
The story of Cuffee Ned is the symbol of Bournehills's pride; it sets the villagers apart
from the rest of the inhabitants of Bourne Island as people solidly rooted in their proud past.
Each year, they re-enact the revolt in the Bournehills masque during carnival, a quasi-
ritualistic re-enactment whose purpose is to keep the spirit of the revolt alive, fulfilling their
duty as a people waiting, believing that "only an act on the scale of Cuffee's could redeem them"
Marshall's depiction of carnival as ritual underscores two themes: that of the ability of
history to fuse people into one single experience and that of the latent capacity for revolution and
renewal found in people who once shared heroic experiences and are waiting for the chance to
... more than ever now that dark human overflow, pressing its way through the
choked street past Barclay's Bank and the air-conditioned offices of Kingley
and Son's and the department stores with their barricaded windows, resembled a
river made turbulent by the spring thaw and rising rapidly--a river that if
heed wasn't taken and provision made would soon burst the walls and levees
built to contain It and rushing forth in one dark powerful wave bring everything
in its path crashing down. (289-90)
In their depictions of carnival, both Lovelace and Marshall emphasize carnival's ability
to contain and preserve the latent potential for social amd political change embodied in this form
of popular expression. They underscore carnival's roots in history, roots that explain the
endurance, amid poverty and stagnation, of the people of Calvary Hill and Bournehills. In this
sense, the potential for rebellion embodied in carnival makes possible their determination to
carve a future out of the remnants of their past.
The hopefulness of Lovelace's and Marshall's positions concerning the possibilities of
Caribbean self-renewal are most clearly seen when compared to the assessment of hopelessness
offered by V. S. Nalpaul In Guerillas. The representation of popular revolt in Nalpaul's work
seems to underscore a conviction of the ultimate powerlessness and irrelevance of the
resourceless islands of the Caribbean.
In Guerillas, Jimmy Ahmed, Nalpaul's pathetic, pseudo-visionary leader, seems to
represent the Irrelevance. Touted as a black leader in London, he returns to his Caribbean
island to form a farming commune and repeat pointless slogans. His relationship with Roche, a
former South African activist who has written a book about his imprisonment and torture, and
Jane, Roche's English girlfriend, points to the futility of his attempt at escaping the
master/slave dialectic, without which his revolutionary rhetoric has no meaning. The irony
comes from the realization that popular revolts will not change the situation since Jimmy's
Caribbean and Jane's England cannot escape what history has made them: former colony and
former imperial power, both societies muttllated and caught In the dialectic of exploitation.
The irony is accentuated by the fact that when the revolt finally comes it is nothing but a
pointless skirmish; furthermore, the brutal murder of Jane is a meaningless gesture since the
struggle against individuals is pointless when the enemy is the past. "The revolt is simply a new
and more desperate version of the ingrown dialectic of slave and master" (Neill 44). As one
character points out,
All this talk of Independence, but they don't really believe that times have
changed. They still feel they're just taking a chance, and that when the show is
over somebody is going to go down there and start dishing out licks .... They
would go crazy If somebody tells them that this time nobody might be going down
to dish out the licks and pick upon the pieces. (189)
What Ouerillas forces us to contemplate is the possibility of Caribbean societies being "damaged
beyond repair," of the legacy of colonialism being a perpetual purgatory of neo-colonial despair.
Michael Neill finds the historical vision of Nalpaul's writing to be
S.. profoundly pessimistic .... for, matching Naipaul's Fanonian indignation at
the destructive legacy of Imperialism, Is a deepening despair at the seemingly
irremediable confusion left in its wake. It implies, in its way, a critique of
imperialism even more radical than Fanon's: for it asks us to contemplate the
possibility of organic societies damaged beyond repair, of a world incapable, in
any imaginable future, of putting itself together again. (54-55)
The Chosen Place. The Timeless Peoole and The Draon Can't Dance draw, from similar
depictions of unsuccessful revolts, conclusions radically different than Naipaul's. For Merle and
Aldrick the understanding of the lessons of history embodied in carnival is the starting point of a
new life in which they re-elaborate their goals and turn from passivity to positive
socio-political action. In both cases, the ability to act positively at the socio-political level
entails a resolution of the personal and emotional dilemmas that had resulted in an ambivalent
commitment to social action. Carnival, as an annual rite of passage for the peoples of
Bournehills and Calvary Hill, moved "from an accepted socio-historical state (as things are), to
communitas (Carnival and the false sense of equality and happiness), to reincorporation (as
things are again)" (Reyes 109). But the ends of both novels find the protagonists looking for
ways to change "things as they are," using the energy embodied In carnival to break the
oppressive circumstances to which the "little fellars" have to return on Ash Wednesday.
Likewise, La renuncia del haroe Baltasar and El reino do este mundo underscore the role
of positive action in opening possibilities of socio-political transformation. These two novels
Never-ending Cycles and Revolutionary Ends
share with The Chosen Place. The Timless Peole and The Dragon Can't Dance the conviction that
the apparently never-ending cycles of oppression and revolt that have characterized Caribbean
history can be broken. Thus they provide an alternative to the vision of despair apparent in
more pessimistic accounts such as Naipaul's uerillas.
Carpentier's La consaeraci6n de la primavera offers a textual example of the type of
historical narrative structure possible in a post-revolutionary Caribbean. Obviously
interpreting the Cuban Revolution as the long-awaited historical breakthrough (and a model for
revolutions to come), he sets aside the cyclical pattern that characterized his historical fiction
beginning with El reino de este mundo and embarks on a linear analysis of twentieth-century
revolution and war that leads from the 1917 Russian Revolution to the consolidation of the
Socialist Revolution in Cuba after the Bay of Pigs triumph. In what is perhaps the most
systematic analysis of the threads connecting the struggles for radical political change in the
twentieth century to appear in a contemporary novel, Carpentler depicts the 1917 revolution,
the Spanish Civil War, the Second World War, etc., not as cycles (as he did with similar events
in El reino de este mundo) but as progressions that will ultimately lead the protagonists to an
unqualified acceptance of the Cuban Revolution. Using dance as the metaphor for revolution, he
draws a direct line that links Stravinski's Le Sacre du orintemos to post-revolution Cuban
ballet performers in what is the most obvious indication that the historical cycles have been
Carpenter's own progression from a cyclical to a linear view of history, responding as
it does to his interpretation of the significance of the Cuban Revolution, underscores the
connections between particular ideological stances concerning the capacity for revolutionary
change in the Caribbean and the choice of a particular narrative structure to tell the historical
The texts discussed above show the tensions between textual representations of
Caribbean historical process and the ideologies and theories of history that precede them. These
novels show that the re-plotting of the Caribbean's past Walcott calls for will not be arbitrary,
that it will be historically constituted and structured in relation to specific historical events and
ideological interests. They also show, however, that their contribution to the development of
Caribbean historiography may very well be found In the revelation of the prevailing conviction
that the breaking of never-ending cycles is possible and that the Caribbean novel can point the
way to a freer future.
Herbert C. Lehman College
City University of New York
Bidney, David. "Vico's New Science of Myth." Giambattista Vico: An International
SYmoosium. Eds. Giorgio Tagliacozzo and Hayden V. White. Baltimore: Johns
Hopkins UP, 1969.
Carpenter, Alejo. La consaoraci6n de la primavera. M6xico: Ventiuno, 1978.
- -. El reino de este mundo. Buenos Aires: Editorial Quetzal, 1977.
Cooper, Carolyn. "Introduction." The Draon Can't Dance by Earl Lovelace. Essex:
Longman Caribbean, 1985.
Lovelace, Earl. The Draon Can't Dance. Essex: Longman Caribbean, 1985.
Marshall, Paule. The Chosen Place. The Timeless People. New York: Vintage, 1984.
Naipaul, V. S. Guerillas. New York: Vintage, 1980.
Neill, Michael. "Guerillas and Gangs: Frantz Fanon and V. S. Naipaul." Ariel 13,4
Paravisini, Lizabeth. "La renuncia del h6roe Baltasar: paroda, mitoe historic."
lural 4 (Jan.-Dec. 1985): 101-08.
Reyes, Angelita. "Carnival: Ritual Dance of the Post and Present in Earl Lovelace's The
Dragon Can't Dance." World Literature Written in English 24, 1 (Summer
Rodriguez Juli6, Edgerdo. La renuncia del h6ro Baltaser. Puerto Rico: Ediciones
Spengler, Oswald. The Decline of the West. Trans. Charles Francis Atkinson. New York:
Vico, Giambattista. The New Science of Giambattista Vico. Trans. Thomas Goddard Bergin
and Max Harold Fisch. Ithaca: Cornell U P, 1968.
Walcott, Derek. "The Muse of History." Is Mass Day Dead?. Ed. Orde Coombs. New
York: Anchor/Doubleday, 1974.
White, Hayden. Metahistorv: The Historical Imagination in Nineteenth Century Europe.
Baltimore: Johns Hopkins U P. 1973.
JEAN RHYS, WIDE SARGASSO SEA,
AND THE QUESTION OF FEMINISM
(Note: Jean Rhys's Wide Sargsso See continues to receive critical attention. The novel
resurfaces and cannot be dismissed or explained away. The four essays or "talks" that appear
below originally formed a panel at the Fall 1986 Encuentro Caribeio (Caribbean Encounter),
sponsored by the Comparative Literature Department of the College of Humanities, University of
Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras Campus. They touch upon the problematical nature of Wide Sargasso
See as a literary artwork and as a source of social, cultural, and historical meaning:
Maria Cristina Rodriguez explores the novel as it represents what Foucault calls the
discourse of power.
Gerald Guinness argues first that Wide Sergasso Sea reveals no "feminist" intention on
the part of the author and second that the work is more an uneven "poem to the
mysterious" Caribbean than an achieved novel.
Lowell Fiet finds that the subjectivity of the narrative form tends to erase
aspects of Caribbean history and memory and view victimization as the natural
condition of women.
Diane Accaria, whose essay was the first of the original panel, takes a
comprehensive view of Wide Sargssoea as a "Faulknerian exhortation" about past
suffering, pride, humility, and compassion--"our moral responsibility with time."
These papers were first presented in Spanish for the 1986 Encuentro's mainly Spanish-
speaking audience. The authors graciously adapted their presentations into English- language
versions for publication here. The order of the original panel has been slightly altered in the
interests of theme. The authors are members of the English Department of the College of
Humanities at the University of Puerto Rico.)
The Discourse of Power In Wide Sargsso Seo
Maria Cristina Rodriguez
When Michel Foucault refers to the discourse of power and the violence that exists in
such discourse, he shares Shirley and Edwin Ardener's anthropological theories on the use of
language. The Ardeners (1- 17) divide the social groups they study into dominant and mute.
Foucault, in his studies on madness, states that those who wish to exert power must use "files" of
rules and restrictions imposed upon them by those who hold power (Jones). The powerless must
accept and imitate the powerful if they want to be heard. If they do not follow these regulations,
they risk becoming sidelined and branded as mad, or simply silenced. The Ardeners uphold that
the dominant group, which Is not necessarily the majority, holds power over language and
condemns the other group to silence by turning a deaf ear. They employ this model to explain the
use of language in modern society and illustrate it with the language used by men and women.
Man has access to mass communication, both written and verbal. Woman expresses
herself without using the discourse of power through letters, diaries and testimonials. Women's
discourse is hardly acknowledged, therefore it has little, if any, impact on society. Those who
possess the discourse of power are willing to yield a small part of their territory only if the
other group does not pose a real threat or contradict their basic principles.
This model is appropriate for the analysis of the language used by the two main
characters In Jean Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea. It will help make evident why Edward's
(Rochester) only way to power is by destroying Antoinette's discourse. From the very beginning
of Edward's section in Wide Srg=sso Sea, he is presented as a man threatened by his
surroundings. He has just arrived from England to marry a rich creole heiress he has never
met. This was never his decision. He never held power in his family because he was the second
son, and his father's affection and money belonged to the firt born. In such a social order, he
would hold power over all of his sisters, his younger brothers, servants and other employees.
Once he arrives in the islands, his insecurity only increases. He does not know or understand
this environment. He immediately associates it with primitiveness, wildness, mystery and
danger. He can barely communicate with the island white population because he finds them
strange and too close to the blacks.
Blacks for him are the most disturbing and fearsome group. He despises them and is
unable to overcome his fear of them. Ignorance is the root of his insecurity and lack of power.
Even his discourse is powerless. It is Antoinette who gives orders, who decides what, when and
where things will be done. To attain power, Edward will study and decipher this woman in an
attempt to takeover and exert the power he never had in England. For this, he must learn all
about Antoinette's fears, loves and hates in order to then separate her from the places and people
she knows. That is, separation from the security she needs to express her feelings and search
for the happiness that eludes her.
Up to the moment when she meets Edward, Antoinette sees women as powerless without a
man. Her mother, Annette, is the primary model. When Annette becomes a widow, everything
seems to crumble: the estate, relationships, authority, the quality of life. It is only when
Annette meets and marries Mr. Mason, an English businessman, that she again flourishes and
regains pseudo-power once more, holding authority over her subordinates--her daughter and
the black servants. But she continues to have no power over Mr. Mason. Her pleas are ignored
by Mr. Mason when she warns him of the danger involved in treating blacks as if they were
defenseless children. Annette is not part of the dominant group so her attempt to seize the voice
of reason from those who hold power only results In her being scolded, ignored and reduced to
silence. When her predictions come true and all is lost in the fire, she is still not heard and
again dismissed. This time, her voice is silenced by branding her as insane and putting her
Antoinette's other model is Christophine, the former slave servant who is able to
express herself freely in her limited domestic world. She is no threat to those in power except
when she offers guidance to Antoinette. Antoinette is very much like Christophine in her
behavior with Edward. She Is obliging but assertive since she knows the surroundings and can
Rhys, Wide Sarasso Sea
both please and protect him. Yet, Edward resents this assertiveness in both women. He sees it as
meddling in his world, where women, fair or dark, have no place in dictating orders or deciding
for him. While Edward distrusts his natural surroundings, Antoinette draws her strength from
nature, the mother who nurtures and strengthens.
Edward is able to overcome his insecurity only when he eliminates the threat that
Antoinette and these islands represent. With calculated precision, he separates Antoinette from
her affirmative model and the protection of nature. Symbolically this is seen when Edward steps
on the frangipani and, later, on the orchid. In the first case, the smell of the flowers increases
instead of disappearing. In the second case, Edward directly associates Antoinette with the orchid
and destroys it completely:
Then I passed an orchid with long sprays of golden-brown flowers. One of
them touched my cheek and I remember picking some for her one day.
"They are like you," I told her. Now I stopped, broke a spray off and trampled
it into the mud. (99- 100)
By removing Antoinette from her people and her surroundings, Edward begins to take
away her language and make her part of a world she fails to recognize where he exerts the power
of his discourse and is never challenged. He begins to call her Bertha Instead of Antoinette; he
imposes his way of doing and seeing things:
Bertha is not my name. You are trying to make me into someone else, calling
me by another name .... Do you not know what you've done to me? It's not
the girl, not the girl. But I loved this place and you have made it into a place I
hate. I used to think that when everything else went out in my life, I would still
have this, and now you have spoilt It. (148)
Antoinette does not willingly give in to Edward's desire to remake her into another
woman. But because she holds no power in this social structure, her only option is to choose
total silence or meaningless utterance.
She had followed me and she answered. I scarcely recognized her voice. No
warmth, no sweetness. The doll had a doll's voice, a breathless but curiously
indifferent voice. (171-72)
In this same passage we evidence the power Edward holds with his words and how the submission
of the other is the way to affirm oneself in power. He uses the same language when he addresses
Christophine, but in her case, to submit her to silence he must also threaten her with the
institutionalized laws that favor him. Edward Is the legal owner of all of his wife's properties,
and because he is white and rich, he will always have the law on his side.
In the last part of the book, set In England, the discourse of power of the dominant group
disappears since the reader is now in Antoinette's stream of consciousness. She has relinquished
her body to this power play but remains the sole owner of her mind, even though for others she
is simply insane. In her mind no one can control her, so she can now recover the world of her
past, when there was no dominant discourse, no threat to her feelings and Ideas. In reality, this
lost world never existed, but in her attempt to find an escape from her present prison, she turns
her dreams into reality. Here nature, family, friends and all the inhabitants of the islands live
in harmony without attempting to destroy each other through the discourse of power or, if that
failed, through violent acts. Ironically, for Antoinette to preserve this illusion, she must resort
to physical violence--the fire--and in that way, rescue the words that will once more allow her
to be Antoinette: her name, Tia, Aunt Cora, the parrot, Coulibri, "Qui est. l?" ( 190).
Jean Rhys understood that in Charlotte Bronte's novel, Jane Evre, Edward Rochester
always possessed the discourse of power. He destroyed those who, like his first wife, interfered
with this power and only allowed close to him those who, like Jane Eyre, never defied him. In
Wide Sargasso Se. Rhys wrote a novel to show what happens to women who attempt in any way
to seize or share this power and, at least for a while, gives Antoinette the power of discourse.
Maria Cristina Rodriguez
Ardener, Edwin and Shirley. "Belief and the Problem of Women." Perceiving Women.
London: Malaby Press, 1975.
Foucault, Michel. Power/Knowledoe: Selected Interviews and Other Writings.
1972- 1977. New York: Pantheon, 1980.
Jones, Kathleen. "On Authority: Or, Why Women Are Not Entitled to Speak." Foucault
and Feminism: Reflections on Resistance. Boston: Northeastern U Press,
Rhys, Jean. Wide Sargasso Sea. New York: Popular Library, 1966.
Wide S@1sso Sen Two Arguments
I have two arguments. The first Is that Wide Sarg Sea is not the feminist work that
several commentators have taken It to be and the second that even as a work of art it has serious
flaws that lead one to question, if not necessarily to abrogate, Its claim to classic status. Let me
take these arguments in turn.
That Jean Rhys has very little explicitly "feminist" intent In writing Wid Sargsso Se
may I think be proved from reading her letters. According to her editors, Francis Wyndham and
Diana Melly, the idea of a novel on a West Indian theme was In her mind as early as October
1945 when she wrote the story "Le Revenant." Four years later she read Elizabeth Jenkin's
Rhys. Wide SarMasso Sea
novel Harriet with its story of a true Victorian scandal in which a family keeps a rich relative
locked up starving in an attic. She thought the story awful awful awful--a shocking book and
true" and it seems to have coalesced with the description In Jane Evre of Mr Rochester's mad
creole wife locked in an attic of Thornfield Hall. Such indeed became the Jamesian 0Qnne or
"seed" for the whole book. But for Jean Rhys this celebrated scene from Jane Evre didn't
altogether ring true. She found herself "vexed," as she says in a letter dated 14 April 1962, by
Charlotte Bronte's "portrait of the 'paper tiger' lunatic, the all wrong creole scenes, and above
all by the real cruelty of Mr Rochester [who] was a very wealthy man and there were many
kinder ways of disposing of (or hiding) an unwanted wife." Charlotte Bronte's Creole madwoman
she says in another letter isn't "alive"; in her own novel she "must be at least plausible with a
past, the reason why Mr Rochester treats her so abominably and feels Justified, the reason why
he thinks she is mad and why of course she goes mad." The two ambitions--to give her creole
heroine a plausible past and so bring her to life, and to make Mr Rochester's cruelty
understandable even if not justifiable--seem to have remained Jean Rhys's ideas fixes
throughout the long gestation of the novel.
I draw your attention to the fact that Jean Rhys's attitude to Rochester appears to soften
as work on the novel proceeds. At first "I hoped to make him cold and factual as a contrast to the
emotional creature he married for money," but later she decided that it was necessary to "stress
the romantic side of his character--Poor man." Four years later Rochester is still a "dreadful
man," but "I have tried to be fair and all that, and give some reason for his acting like he did."
And on 14 April 1964 in a letter to Francis Wyndham she gives her most explicit defense of Mr
Rochester explaining how he had been bewitched by Antoinette on their honeymoon in Dominica
("the black people have or had a good word for it--'she ma=ic with him' or 'he magic with her'")
in which state "poor Mr R .... gets this letter and is very unhappy Indeed." After the love
potion which convinces Rochester his wife has tried to poison him he makes love to Antoinette's
maid in retribution assuming the title of Angry Love, as he describes himself in an
extraordinary poem that Jean Rhys includes with the letter to Wyndham:
That night was Something Else (!)
I was Angry Love Himself
Blind fierce avenging Love--no other that night.
On their return to Jamaica "Mr Rochester tries hard not to be a tyrant. Back in Spanish Town he
gives [Antoinette] a certain freedom, tries to be kindly If distant." By now however it is
Antoinette who is angry and has affairs with coloured or black men, whereupon Rochester has
the excuse he needs to take her back to England and lock her up in the attic of Thornfield Hall.
One final quotation, this time from a letter dated 28 April: "Mr Rochester is tdQ a heel. He is a
fierce and violent (Heathcliff) man who marries an alien creature, partly because his father
arranges it, partly because he has had a bad attack of fever, partly no doubt for 10LYl mun, but
most of all because he is curious about this girl--already half in love." Once In Dominica the
love turns out to be an illusion and Rochester "becomes as fierce as Heathcliff and as jealous as
Othello." +? has been "magicked" by the place and by the girl, altogether too strong a brew for a
bewildereda English gent."
I don't wish to justify Jean Rhys's Mr Rochester, much less to take his side against
Antoinette, but rather to point out how Jean Rhys herself never saw the Issue In terms of a cruel
male tyrant and helpless female victim. For Rhys Rochester t was something of a victim,
married against his will to a woman who is possibly a lunatic, convinced that he is universally
mocked for his ignorance, "magicked" by a woman and a place where he feels intimidated and out
of his element. To top it all, Daniel, a supposed half-brother by her father and a Jamaican black
mistress, convinces Rochester that his wife is, to quote Jean Rhys, "not only mad but plain bad."
Moreover some of the injustices to which both Antoinette anl Rochester are subject are
injustices of nineteenth-century society as a whole and a novel shouldn't be presumed to be
"feminist" or protestatory just because such injustices are part of the social tissue from which
that novel is woven. I am thinking in particular of the convention whereby the younger sons of
gentlemen were forced to make their way in the world by marrying money, rich Creole
heiresses of course being fair game. Or the barbaric custom (still prevalent in certain parts of
the world) whereby, In the absence of a Married Woman's Property Act, the married woman's
money is transferred to the husband as a matter of course. A preoccupation with such matters
should only enter literary criticism when they can be shown to form part of a writer's
deliberate intention or are integral to our understanding of the subject matter. Did they in fact
form part of Jean Rhys's deliberate intention and are they integral to our understanding of Wide
Sargasso Sea? I think not.
I wish now to come to my second argument: the status of Wide Sargasso Sea as an
achieved work of art. Time Is short and I must therefore focus on just one element: the
management of point of view. You will remember that the book is divided into three sections.
The first describes Antoinette's childhood in Jamaica, the burning of Coulibri, and her marriage
to an unnamed suitor from England--whom we later come to recognize as Mr. Rochester from
Jane Evre. The central section, by far the longest, describes the brief idyll of the honeymoon in
Dominica, brought to an abrupt end by Daniel's letter to Rochester, the taking of the love potion,
the infidelity with Amelie, and the return to Jamaica. The third short, intensely dramatic
section describes Antoinette shut up in an attic at Thornfield Hall, eventually taking her revenge
on Rochester by burning his house down.
Jean Rhys seems to have accepted this tripartite division of her narrative from the start
but her ideas for the treatment of point of view for each part varied considerably with the
passage of time. In a letter dated May 1960 she explains that she originally wanted to write "a
long smooth story told by the girl" and, In a letter written three years later, "a long monologue"
with Antoinette talking to herself in her prison room. Then she thought people would say, "A
mad girl speaking all the time Is too much" so she gave the middle section to Rochester, with a
brief irruption of Antoinette's voice when she goes to get the love potion from Christophine.
(Obviously Rochester couldn't have been present on this occasion, but it seems a clumsy
expedient all the same.) In other words, childhood and madness in sections one and three are
mediated through Antoinette's consciousness, and the unhappy events during the honeymoon on
Dominice through that of Rochester.
The first section is seen through the eyes of a reclusive, possibly unbalanced teenage
girl and for this I find Rhys's style entirely convincing. At one point Antoinette says, "Once I
saw a snake. All better than people. Better. Better, better than people." This sort of jerky,
unmotivated, unexplained, often even Inchoate registration of moments of perception are
acceptable, I believe, as an expression of the partiality and intermittent out-of-focusness of
teenage sensibility. The strangeness, the otherness of this narrative voice seems quite
appropriate to the young girl's isolation, her native intensity, possibly her mental unbalance.
R4*s, WjifSarass S
The trouble I think comes in the second section when Rochester's sensibility is shown as
excited, intense and elliptical in much the same way as Antoinette's in section one. "It was at
night that I felt danger and would try to forget it and push it away. 'You are safe,' I'd say. She'd
liked that--to be told 'you are safe.' Or I'd touch her face gently and touch tears. Tears--
nothing! Words--less than nothing." This is a sort of loose impressionism, nothing conveyed,
nothing held, but a sort of scatter-shot of suggestive hints in the hope that at least some of the
pellets will pepper the target. Here is one more example, taken from the eight-and-a-half
pages of lyrical exaltation that conclude the section:
Pity like a naked new-born babe striding the blast.
I read that long ago when I was young--I hate poets now and poetry. As
I hate music which I loved once. Sing your songs, Rupert the Rine, but I'll not
listen, though they tell me you've a sweet voice ....
Pity. Is there none for me? Tied to a lunatic for life--a drunken lying
lunatic--gone her mother's way.
"She love you so much. so much. She thirsty for you. Love her a little
like she saw ....
Sneer to the last, Devil. Do you think that I don't know? She thirsts
for ar0one--not for me...
This is Antoinette's style, not Rochester's--or rather, it is Jean Rhys's style, insufficiently
modulated towards objectivity to give us a character who can stand as a counterpart to Antoinette
In achieved actuality and compelling presence.
"I haven't much imagination really. I do like a basis of fact" wrote Jean Rhys to a friend
in 1966. The "fact" was abundantly adequate to the creation of Antoinette, whose experiences
often mirror those of Jean Rhys herself, even to the description of her stay In a convent in
Jamaica or the evocation of Coulibri and Granbois, both modelled on properties owned by her
father. But Rochester has of necessity to be a creature of pure imagination and for this
imaginative bodying forth, this finding of what Eliot called the "objective correlative," Jean
Rhys's powers, In my opinion, just weren't adequate. The result is a novel of fitful brilliance
with compelling first and third sections where Antoinette's sensibility receives full and
adequate expression, and an uncertain and often forced middle section, often weak in motivation
and in psychological consistency and marred by rather gratuitous outbursts of "prose poetry."
To construct a "feminist" interpretation of the work upon such shaky foundations would be like
trying to load the burden of an ox upon the back of a gazelle.
Let me finish on a positive note, however. As a novel I believe Wide Saasso Sea to be
deeply flawed but as a sort of poem to the mysterious, and often sinister beauty of the Caribbean
--so bright and clear in certain aspects, so unpredictably cruel and dark in others--I find It
deeply Impressive. The very qualities that make the book unsatisfactory as a dramatic narrative
--its dream-like indecisiveness, Its habit of suggesting rather than explaining, its unmotivated
swings of mood--give the book a heightened Intensity that is like the heightened intensity of
poetry. (But let me add in parentheses, not the intensity of the gaMAle poetry in which
"dream-like indecisiveness" is seldom a virtue.) Paradoxically, as a poet Jean Rhys is quite
inconsiderable, whereas as a prose writer she is something of a poet. For the evidence of that
poetic talent, and even if we could find nothing else to say In its defense, Wide Sarg=ass Sea
deserves its status as a minor classic of our Caribbean literature.
Reading History Into Subjectivity In Wide Sarmso Sea
I'm skeptical about three aspects of Jean Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea. First, I'm
uncomfortable with the sense of history: the novel does not seem to reflect the reality of over
two centuries of slavery in the British Caribbean and the wealth It generated for slave-owning
families. Second, the subjective nature of the narrative tends to obscure historical context and
reveals resentment toward blacks and the new British owners who took the planations over after
emancipation. By so doing, a longing, nostalgic look Is cast to the past, slavery, and the society
of the planter aristocracy. Third, the image of woman as a victim and of victimization being the
natural condition of women--their "fate" now that the protective, plantation environment has
been destroyed--comes dangerously close to placing the Image of women back on a pedestal.
One way to start discussing Wide SrIesso Sea is by Identifying the obvious: the action
begins shortly after the emancipation of the slaves (started in 1834 and completed in 1838) in
the British West Indies and focuses on the white creole girl, and later young woman, Antoinette,
daughter of a French, white creole mother (Annette) from Martinique and an English, white
planter father (old Mr. Cosway) from Jamaica. But from childhood--left unprotected by the
death of Cosway, the decline of the Coulibri Estate, and her mother's despondency- -Antoinette
exhibits extreme emotional vulnerability as she faces a series of personal crises: the
resentment of ex-slaves, reactions to her mother's remarriage, the riot that destroys the estate
house and forces them from Coulibri, the rejection by her black friend Tia, the death of her
brother Pierre, her mother's progressive madness, et cetera. Antoinette's victimization forms
the overriding action of the novel and, because of the way the narrative Is structured, becomes
her permanent and immutable "fate." (Death awaits Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, whether the
version is Stoppard's or Shakespeare's; similarly, Antoinette is doomed to madness because she
is the first Mrs. Rochester of Jane Evre.)
Rhys. Wide Sarasso Sea
All the sources of madness are more difficult to ascertain. The product of an inbred
white planter class, Antoinette, like her feeble and retarded brother Pierre and, more
importantly, like her beautiful but emotionally fragile mother, was born vulnerable, overly
susceptible to conditions imposed by her material surroundings and too dependent on others for
her physical and emotional well-being. Also like her mother, Antoinette has no real "life
function" beyond being decorative-- "pretty like pretty self," as Christophine comments--and
slaves (or ex-slaves after emancipation) have fulfilled nearly all functional requirements for
life. But nineteenth-century history provides the concrete bases for victimization:
emancipation, failure to compensate former slaveholders, ex-slaves refusing to work, the
shrinking market for Caribbean sugar after the Napoleonic wars, and finally the British
government's decision in 1846 to end protection of sugar prices. Thus, in a very real sense,
Antoinette's plight is economic: the kind of life the planter aristocracy had lived for
generations, and the only way of life for which they were prepared, disappeared. Without a
social structure made possible only by slavery, Antoinette, again like her mother when she
marries Mr. Mason, becomes a commodity--a pretty love-object-wife, complete with property
and dowry--for sale to the highest bidder.
Other obvious factors: the novel has four--perhaps four and a half--narrative tracks.
Antoinette narrates Part One, her husband (Rochester) narrates most of Part Two, although
Antoinette shares a portion of it, the textual linking with Jane Evre and Antoinette's "madness"
in the attic in Part Three constitute another track (and a half), and the never specified but
always present authorial "desire" that shapes and colors virtually everything forms yet another.
But regardless of the voice of the moment, with the exception of Jane Evre, the tracks reveal the
intense subjectivity of the speakers as they struggle to but cannot understand their own feelings
and actions (this is perhaps most true of the tormented Rochester, who although easily identified
as the male victimizer of Antoinette has lost all balance in this new environment and can no
longer control his thoughts and feelings). But as a narrative technique such extreme
subjectivity has its limitations, and in the cases of Antoinette and Rochester (and perhaps Jean
Rhys as well) it means the erasure of history and memory.
There is a section early In George Lamming's In the Castle of Mv Skin in which boys talk
about slavery. It is the 1930s, only one-hundred years after emancipation, and they know
nothing of their own pasts: that their ancestor were slaves, that slavery not only existed in
Barbados but was essential to plantation society. They are convinced that a man cannot own
another man (or a person another person), or perhaps only very long ago and very faraway.
Similarly, without the objective weight of real events, Wide Sergasso See encompasses us in a
subjective world of individual suffering that obscures our view of the pre-emancipation
generations of white planters who lived off the labor of their slaves. The novel's Image of
slavery is a partial one: the affective relation of Antoinette and Christophine, whites and their
personal servants, and the interdependency that characterizes the "house slave"--Christophine,
Godfrey, Sass, Maillotte, Tie, Mannie, Amelle, Baptiste, Hilda, and so forth. But the force of
captive workers who made the labor Intensive plantation system operate profitably is not
specifically identified and makes Its only appearance as the riotous mob that burns Coulibri.
Because issues of race and slavery are not clearly articulated in the text, some history has to be
read back into the subjective narrative.
In "From Plantations to Peasantries in the Caribbean," Sidney Mintz focuses on the
changes brought about by emancipation. He first notes the main characteristics of the plantation
system--large estates, single crop production for export, and forced or enslaved labor--and the
imprint it left on virtually all Caribbean societies:
1. ... a small group of European leaders and masters... and a large group
of mainly non-European forced laborers ., produced a deeply divided
social structure .. .
2. . little or no room for the growth of alternative economic activities ....
3. . a narrow range of interests among rulers of the colony, largely confined
to their economic stakes in a system that had little long-term capacity for
growth and improvement.
4. . each such society was constrained by slavery, which prevented any kind
of democratic participation and was, moreover, constantly threatened by the
possibility of revolt and revolution. (128-29)
Many slave uprisings were brutally repressed and the memory of the successful Haitian slave
revolt was still very strong in European minds in the nineteenth century. The riot of ex-slaves
and the burning of Coulibri in Wide Srgesso Sea was by no means extraordinary.
The situation of Jamaican blacks--Jamaica is the setting of the first section of the novel
--is particularly well documented:
Long before the end of the period of apprenticeship (1838), Jamaican slaves
were producing not only most of their own subsistence but also an astoundingly
large surplus of foods, the bigger part of which ended up on the tables of free
people, Including the planters themselves. In effect, what had begun as a
technique for saving the planters the costs of supplying their slaves with food
had then become an essential basis for the food supply of the nonslave
population. Were it not such a deplorable comment on slavery itself, it would
be funny to realize that the British garrisons maintained in Jamaica before
emancipation"to keep order" were almost entirely provisioned by the slaves,
working on their own time .... but the free population was also now dependent
upon it--and this in a society where, to all intents and purposes, there were no
free agricultural workers of any kind. (Mintz, 134)
The development of this "proto-peasantry" reflects only negatively on slaveholders:
On the one day per week that slaves were grudgingly given for themselves, their
behavior on their little garden plots completely contradicted the planters'
claims that "stupid, lazy savages" were incapable of working intelligently for
themselves .... Enslaved Africans and their descendents, becoming Americans
(or better said, perhaps, Afro-Americans) under the lash, yet asserting their
own essential humanity, initiative, and intelligence, in the face of every cruel
The society rested on slave shoulders, and when emancipation came and the blacks refused to
work on plantations, only the "house slaves" remained to support the now endangered and
Rhys. Wide Saramso Sea
functionally helpless planters. As a group they were so inbred and dependent on the social
structure they had created that they could not accept change. New capital was required to ( 1)
buy the rundown estates and Improve their production methods and (2) import contract
laborers from India and China to make them productive. Before the riot, Mr. Mason, who also
had an estate in Trinidad, is involved in that process. By marrying Antoinette's mother he
becomes the owner of Coulibri as well.
Wide Sarg=sso Sea suggests but does not fully document the change that is taking place.
These characters sit on the edge of a major historical faultline. A shift in the crust of world
history has suddenly changed life in such a way that reaching back across the gaping chasm is no
Antoinette's position in that process is made more complex because she is a woman who
does not fully understand her situation and can only express the pain of a wounded victim. With
her portion of Mr. Mason's estate, which of course includes her mother's property, as a dowry,
Antoinette performs the only function, plays the only role she has been rehearsed for. She
remains a member of the white creole aristocracy, and as such, she is resented by blacks who
now see her as a "white cockroach" and by the British bourgeoisie--represented by
Rochester--that is assuming the economic and social power once held by the corrupt and
financially bankrupt planter class.
Rochester deserves more critical attention than he normally receives. Suffering under
the weight of British laws of primogeniture, he fortune hunts in the colonies, and through the
intervention of Richard Mason, Antoinette's step-brother, marries her and becomes the owner
of all she owns. Described by Antoinette's Aunt Cora as "Stiff. Hard as a board and stupid as a
foot... except where his own interests are concerned," he no more understands the tropics than
Antoinette does England. He describes Antoinette as "Creole of pure English descent she may be,
but they are not English or European either" (67). He spent three of his first four weeks in the
Caribbean in a sick bed, then he married Antoinette and finds that
Everything is too much, I felt as I rode wearily after her. Too much
blue, too much purple, too much green. The flowers too red, the mountains too
high, the hills too near. And the woman a stranger .... I have not bought her,
she has bought me, or so she thinks .... Deer Father. The thirty thousand
pounds have been paid to me without question or condition .... I have a modest
competence now. I will never be a disgrace to you or to my dear brother the
son you love. No begging letters, no mean requests. None of the furtive shabby
manoeuvres of a younger son. I have sold my soul or you have sold it, and after
all is it such a bad bargain? (70)
But Rochester--a victim in another system--loses balance and begins to hallucinate. His
insecurity over the nature of his marriage-purchase plunges him into subjectivity, and Daniel's
letter merely feeds an already infirm and jealous imagination. He loses his sense of judgement
and in his relations with Amblle, Antoinette's maid, begins to live the sense of absolute power
that corrupted the slaveholding Cosways and Lutrells.
The narrative subjectivity, the absence of sufficient historical context, and the only
partial social definition of characters lead to interpretative problems. Cheryl M. L. Dash finds a
remarkable similarity in all of Rhys's heroines. They are
overwhelmingly vulnerable .... so sensitive to the whims of their male
acquaintances and so at the mercy of their society and environment that they
seem to have no will. One heroine after the other succumbs and becomes
ultimately self-destructive. They move through life not knowing how to make
use of their experiences ....
Women are victims. This is the image which remains and which
overrides any consideration of them as individuals.. ( 197)
According to Dash, Rhys's women "lack identity," "wonder who they are," and are characterized
as flowers and butterflies- -metaphors of fragility, easily battered, faded, "vulnerable."
Although much of the above was written about the main characters in Rhys's earlier novels and
not Antoinette, its applicability to Wide Srgasso See is obvious. But questions arise about the
validity of victimization as woman's natural condition, a kind of tragic "fate," an immutable
destiny. Rhys's protagonists, Antoinette included, are lost, displaced. The natural habitat of the
mother, Annette, and Antoinette, the daughter, is the pre-emancipation plantation, where they
could live as protected flowers and butterflies. The problem is the subjective desire for the
perpetuation of that lost and--when not seen clear ly--beautiful past.
I'm going to end by referring to two other writers. Anton Chekhov wrote about
historical change in post-emancipation, late nineteenth-century Russia. His play The Cherry
Orchard records the coming and going of a once wealthy, aristocratic family and the selling of
their estate to a former serf. They are beautiful, gracious, and cultured people who have become
ridiculous in the face of history. The new bourgeoisie, represented by the now wealthy former
peasant, however, is no less ridiculous, even with its highly developed and very functional
survival skills. The old class suffers, but the writer remains enough outside their lives to view
them with gentle comedy. The second example is Marguerite Duras's The Lover, a first person
narrative that deals with feminine vulnerability, the relationship between mother and daughter,
,colonialism, a shift in historical terrain that severely alters the characters' social status, and
the return to the country of origin--In this case twentieth-century France. But Duras produces
no nostalgic visions of the lost past or romanticized images of vulnerability.
Dash, Cheryl M. L. "Jean Rhys." West Indian Literature. Ed. Bruce King. Hamden,
Connecticut: Archon Books, 1979: 196-209.
Mintz, Sidney W. "From Plantations to Peesantries in the Caribbean." Caribbean
Contours. Eds. Sidney W. Mintz and Sally Price. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins
U Press, 1985: 127-53.
Rhys,Jean. Wide SarassoSe (1966) New York: Norton, 1982.
Rhys. Wide Sargso Sea
History: The Stuff Nightmares are Made of In Wide Sargsso Sea
History is a nightmare from which
I am trying to awake.
James Joyce, Ulysses
History in the Caribbean, much like Faulkner's South, has been grandiose but also
violent and oppressing. The Caribbean has implicated its children in a web of despair which can
only be dissipated once it is understood that there must be an agonizing but worthy acceptance of
one's moral role in time; each act goes "out of history, into history and the awful responsibility
of Time" (Warren, 83). The chance to discover this universal truth--of our moral
responsibility with time--is a legacy that the Caribbean bestows on her writers. Jean Rhys, in
what was to be her last novel, the one she significantly brings home, teaches us that to be
trapped within history is not a feasible answer to the question of our present. Rhys's inquiry
into the Caribbean experience, in Wide Sargesso See, is one which shows how the children of this
region inherited despair, loneliness, and an estrangement of Self. However, those who choose to
learn from the suffering may discover pride, humility, endurance, and compassion.
Economic power, first brought to the Caribbean shores by Europe, has justified
everything ill through our history, culminating in the ideology of racial supremacy and
permitting the massacre of natives and chattel slavery. It is within this historical framework
that Jean Rhys chose to set her reinterpretation of Charlotte Bronte's novel Jane Evre.
Throughout all of Jean Rhys's work, we hear the voice of the "displaced," who isolated will try
very hard to survive in a hostile and materialistic world. Within this context, Antoinette is just
one more character on the long list of Rhys's physically and spiritually displaced women.
However, in the act of bringing her familiar story to the warm shores of the Caribbean, where
currents from the world's sees meet, Rhys's theme becomes universal--the negation of the Self
does not threaten only minority groups who immigrate to hostile lands or women or children but
anyone who suffers the historical consequences of dehumanizing materialistic exploitation. This
is where the reAl tragedy of It all lies. Edward Rochester, far from being a mere villain, is as
trapped and as displaced, his Self as shattered, as Antoinette's. Each of them has been "bought"
and "sold" in a political and economic system which maintains itself through the subjugation of
the "second son" (who holds no right to anything) as well as women who must submit to a legal
system that deprives them of their rights. In a sense, the failure of the relationship between
these two doomed characters, trapped by events that violate Self, serves as a metaphor for life in
At the beginning of the novel, Antoinette narrates the socio-historical events that frame
her life: "They say when trouble comes close ranks, and so the white people did. But we were
not in their ranks" (17). Antoinette and her mother face a predicament typical of white creoles
when the old plantation society died. They did not have the money or the background to be seen as
"white" in the European sense, nor did have have the "color" to be accepted by the black
community. Antoinette's Identity scuttles from one world to the other without ever really
belonging to either: "White cockroach, go away, nobody want you" (23). A Mac, a place of her
own, is denied to her because of the scorn and spite created by the violence of colonial and racial
Plenty white people in Jamaica. Real white people, they got gold money. They
didn't look like us, nobody see them come near us. Old time white people nothing
but white nigger now, and black nigger better than white nigger. (24-25)
Powerfully destructive hatred, the culmination of over a century of suffering and indignity,
topples and consumes the house at Coulibri Estate. The scene, swiftly described with sensuous
details of colors and smells and feelings, confronts us with and asks us to enter into the frenetic
action of violent decolonization.
The second part of Wide Sargsso Se takes place not in Jamaica but on the smaller
island where Antoinette was born. This island too has suffered a history full of the violence
generated by the perpetual struggle of the three great colonizers--Spain, England, and France.
On their way to to celebrate their honeymoon, which will itself end in bitterness, Antoinette and
Edward pass through the village of Massacre, a name that reveals the bloodshed of the past.
When we first see Edward, he is weak and barely recovered from the tropical fever that has kept
him in bed since his arrival in this strange and mysterious place. He feels threatened by this
new unknown world, overwhelmed by its intensities:
Everything is too much, I felt as I rode wearily after her. Too much
blue, too much purple, too much green. The flowers too red, the mountains too
high, the hills too near. And the woman is a stranger. (70)
Edward already sees how she Is like the Islands, provocative, enticing, dangerously intoxicating,
and he asks who "bought" who?
Dear Father. The thirty thousand pounds have been paid to me with no question
or condition. No provision made for her .... I have a modest competence now. I
will never be a disgrace to you or to my dear brother the son you love .... I
have sold my soul or you have sold it, and after all is it such a bad bargain?
The tragically ironic words Antoinette utters when they reach Granbois-- "This is my place and
everything will be on our side" (74)--indicate her effort to bond the unbondable. But this
place, clearly hel place, cannot possibly belong to both of them without one or the other losing
ground. Edward has decided that he will not defer: it is Antoinette who will have to lose. In fact,
from the beginning of the relationship, Edward eyes his wife with critical suspicion, and without
knowing it, Antoinette has already lost her chance of being accepted and loved:
She never blinks at all It seems to me. Long, sad dark alien eyes. Creole of pure
English descent she may be, but they are not English or European either. And
when did I begin to notice all this about my wife Antoinette? After we left
Spanish town I' suppose. Or did I notice and refuse to admit what I saw? (67)
Temporarily, Edward drowns his fears and prejudices in the sexual desire and passion
Rhys, Wide Sarasom See
he feels for this beautiful woman. He teaches her to share the passion but it proves to be her
downfall--she falls deeply in love and begins to depend on him emotionally. Indeed, we must
take note of the significant fact that whereas Antoinette's passion leads to feelings of pure love
for Edward, passion for Edward leads to nothing more than a deeper sense of insecurity and fear.
Any chance of his emotions flowing freely is stifled by his deeply rooted cultural prejudice. The
only emotions unleashed within him are suspicion and finally hatred. Reminding us of many of
the characters in Joyce's Dubliners, we see him paralyzed by the moral weakness which stems
from the dehumanizing set of socio-economic circumstances surrounding him. He simply cannot
act without worrying about what others might say. The best side of Edward, the one which
permits compassion, understanding, and humility, remains hidden:
I did not love her, I was thirsty for her, but that is not love. I felt very little
tenderness for her, she was a stranger to me, a stranger who did not think or
feel as I did. (93)
There is a terrible lack of comprehension here, a failure to understand, tolerate or accept
anything different. As a consequence, Edward fails to surrender to unquestioning love, and the
desire to love that Antoinette awakens in him is promptly usurped by the cold calculating
instincts of survival and domination-- instincts he carries Inside himself as part of his
In addition to Edward's calamitous cultural blindness, Rhys promptly adds a voice which
comes straight from Caribbean history to set the tragic outcome awaiting the protagonists. The
centuries-long accumulation of plunder, chattel slavery, and racial injury kindles the voice of
Daniel Cosway, the supposed son of Antoinette's father by a black mistress and the novel's third
trapped victim. He takes revenge on two people who have nothing to do with his despair, with the
violations of Self he has suffered, but the act reflects the direct consequences of the region's
history. "Begot with the fecundity of dragon's teeth," as the Bible says of the children of King
David, we all, as Antoinette and Edward will soon learn, must "bear the burdens" of our fathers'
sins.* Daniel's letter brings the novel to its sad climax as both Edward and Antoinette find their
dreams shattered. Any possible feeling of love or compassion toward his wife is now thwarted by
Cosway's confirmation of Edward's suspicions. He feels "taken" and betrayed, estranged from all
that surrounds him, and scorn and the desire for revenge dominate his thoughts from here on:
I hated the mountains and the hills.... I hated the sunsets of whatever colour, I
hated its beauty and Its magic and the secret I would never know .... Above all I
hated her. For she belonged to the magic and the loveliness. She had left me
thirsty and all my life would be thirst and longing for what I had lost before I
found It. (173)
Antoinette now begins to question the validity and worth of her Self, of her roots, of who she Is
and what she lives for. "White cockroach," the term Amblie and other blacks use to describe
her, summarizes her anguished dividedness:
*Rhys shows each character as heir to the actions of predecessors, an idea found in the biblical
story of God's wrath against David and His condemnation of David's house: "You have smitten
Uriah ... Behold, I will raise up evil against you out of your own house" (Samuil, 2: 12). This
story was used to show much the same pattern in Faulkner's Absalom. Absalom I.
That's me. That's what they call all of us who were here before their own people
in Africa sold them to the slave traders. And I've heard Englishwomen call us
white niggers. So between you I often wonder who I am and where is my country
and why I was ever born at all. (102)
Significantly, it is from this point that Edward decides to start calling his wife "Bertha,"
literally stripping her of name as well as place. The physical voyage to England will complete
the vindictive expropriation of Antoinette's Self.
Christophine, the novel's most lucid and centered character, has learned well from
history and understands Edward as well as Antoinette. She wisely warns Antoinette of the evils
ahead and tells her to leave Edward and not go to England. Intoxicated by love, Antoinette will
listen to no one and decides to go. Before this, however, she must try to "make him love" her, to
conjure Edward to reawaken the power of love. She turns to obeah--a form of West African
"black magic" brought to the Caribbean by the Ashantis. Christophine warns her "that is not for
beke. Bad, bad trouble come when b meddle with that" (113). Here lies the central irony of
Rhys's novel: obeah belongs to the Afro-Caribbean world which Antoinette cannot fully
understand and enter. Her Creole nature estranges her from both black and white worlds.
England, that cold and strange and unreal place, will be just as foreign to her as obeah is. Instead
of searching for a third alternative, which is to center herself within her own Creole world, she
negates her Self and turns to others for help. Antoinette has dangerously internalized the
degrading definition others have given her and her kind. At this point of the novel, she is as
paralyzed in action and judgment as Edward is, and like him, she has permitted herself to be
entrapped within the socio-historic circumstances which have brought about her ruin.
The love which Antoinette intends to awaken in Edward with the aid of obeah turns to
hatred instead. Edward reacts violently to the control he feels Antoinette has over him. He must
be the one who controls. Rhys symbolically portrays this need with Edward's seduction of
Amelie. This sexual "taking" is a powerful image which seems to underline the violent and
conflicting relationships which must come about within a colonized world. White must be above
black and yellow, master above slave, man above woman. The utilitarian and rational European
world had to dominate the wild and passionate colony out of fear of its own displacement. The old
rules of Europe must be enforced in the new world. The master did not want to be displaced: he
did not want to relinquish the values his world taught him. Yet he could not live without feeling
guilty about the atrocities committed to impose those values. All that was worthy and good in the
new world was consequently stripped of value and defined as inferior merely because it was
different and threatening. This is precisely how the reader should understand the framework
which surrounds the tale of Edward and his West Indian wife. Edward really believes he must
"save" her from the "barbarous" emotions she responds to. Antoinette must be "saved" not only
with economic domination but also with physical and psychological displacement. Her heart and
soul must be "cleansed" in pure white England.
The "infamous" woman described in Jane Evre as "intemperate and unchaste" is locked
away from everything she loves in the attic of Thornfield Hall. Yet she lives within a passionate
world of images and sensations truer than the cold reality which surrounds Edward. Antoinette's
Rhys. Wide Sargessm Sea
island lives within her as she sees red sunsets and flamboyant trees and smells cinnamon, lime,
and the sweetness of the earth when it rains. Edward never really manages to break her spirit.
Readers who know Bronte's Jane Evre know how this will end. The mad West Indian wife will die
and Rochester will live happily-ever-after. Significantly, Rhys never shows her readers
Antoinette's death. The last image we are purposely left with is that of a dark hallway which
cannot overpower the beautifully brilliant light which comes from the candle Antoinette carries
toward her liberation. The sensual, the passionate, the impulsive, the humane will not be
overcome by any calculated, destructive, or dehumanizing act. If this is not a physical victory,
it is definitely a spiritual one. In Rhys's novel, Edward"s rejection and incarceration of his wife
culminates in the imprisonment of his own capacity to truly love. Even in cold darkness, the
warm candlelight flickers on--this is Antoinette's final victory over Edward's failure.
Thus, in its insistence to exist and by defining a space beyond denial and rejection, the
"barbarous" world of Caliban overcomes Prospero's "civilized" one. The mad and "infamous"
woman in the attic of Thornfield Hall comes to us now to voice the violence committed against a
people. Jean Rhys's novel is a Faulknerian exhortation for us us to learn not only our moral
responsibility with time but also to learn pride, humility, endurance, and compassion from past
suffering. We must exorcise the evils of a cultural design which attacked the basic "I-am" of
men and women and liberate ourselves from that cold, "dark passage" of exploitation.
Sources. (1946) New York: Random House, 1970.
Warren, Robert Penn. All the King's Men. (1946) New York: Random House, 1970.
Rhys, Jean. Wide Sargsso New York: Popular Library, 1966.
A Small Place.
New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1988.
Once you have read Jamaica Kincaid's new book A Small Place life as a tourist in a
developing country will never be the same, plans to be a tourist in a developing country may
never become a reality. For this book speaks directly to this tourist, speaks down to this
tourist, really, implicitly hoping that by the act of reading it will correct all previous readings:
of travel brochures and advertising and articles, even previous readings of the developing
country itself. Readings of yourself as a tourist will never be the same either.
A Small Place is a four-part essay, and in the form's best tradition, it encompasses the
four main essayistic activities, as Graham Good has enumerated them in his recent The
Observing Self. Rediscovering the Essay (New York/London: Routledge, 1988). These are
"traveling, pondering, reading and remembering" (xli). In the first part, the narrator travels
with the tourist and reads into his attitudes and readings; in the second and third, she
remembers the country of her youth while she ponders over its history and politics; in the
fourth and final part, all four activities bring the narrator to her conclusions.
It is interesting to note how this is discursively carried out: the first, and best, part is
written in the present tense and uses the second person pronoun to narrate; the second and third
segments retain the second person pronoun but the "I" comes out and speaks in the past tense;
and the final part returns to the present but strives for an impersonal voice until the very end,
when more impersonal but all-encompassing second and first person pronouns reappear.
"If you go to Antigue as a tourist, this is what you will see" is your entrance into A Small
Place. From this first sentence on, you the tourist become the Other in this (small) place where
you are told that nothing works in favor of the citizen, the native, the local, so that everything
may seem to work in favor of the tourist. You are signaled as the Other in the place populated by
those who are the Other to the rest of the world. As a tourist, you become "a person marvelling
at the harmony (ordinarily, what you would say is the backwardness) and the union these other
people (and they are other people)have with nature." But the natives "cannot stand you," they
"laugh at your strangeness," "they do not like the way you speak (you have an accent)." Thus
Kincaid turns the table on the tourist and turns your mainstream into the marginal of the
native's mainstream, beginning to illustrate the relativity of these signs.
The Antiguan mainstream, however, is far from desirable--for the Antiguans, that is.
Besides opening the tourist's eyes to this mainstream's insufficiencies, Kincaid's text examines
the narrator's recollections of what Antigua was like and what made it be what it now is. She
does this, as previously mentioned, by using the past tense and by inclining the balance away
from the "you" and towards the speaking and remembering "I."
The second and third parts of this essay give you, the tourist, a rest while English
Book Reviews: A Small Place
colonizers, the first Others, are scrutinized:
(But the English have become such a pitiful lot these days, with hardly any idea
what to do with themselves now that they no longer have one quarter of the
earth's population bowing and scraping before them. They don't seem to know
that this empire business was all wrong and they should, at least, be wearing
sackcloth and ashes in token penance of the wrongs committed, the
irrevocableness of their bad deeds, for no natural disaster imaginable could
equal the harm they did. Actual death might have been better. And so all this
fuss over empire--what went wrong here, what went wrong there--always
makes me quite crazy, for I can say to them what went wrong: they should have
never left their home, their precious England, a place they loved so much, a
place they had to leave but could never forget. And so everywhere they went
they turned it into England; and everybody they met they turned English. But no
place could ever really be England, and nobody who did not look exactly like
them would ever be English, so you can imagine the destruction of people and
land that came from that .... )
The irony that was turned towards the tourist and the tourist's sun spot Is now turned
towards the English and their native creations. Since the first person pronoun is predominant in
these passages, the irony is also turned towards the speaker, who denounces herself in
denouncing the effects of colonialism and the master/slave relationship. There are statements
like "And so look at this prolonged visit to the bile duct that I am making, look at how bitter, how
dyspeptic" and "you might be saying to yourself, Why Is she so undone.. .?", which illustrate
the self-deprecation but also set a distance between what is observed and the analyzing
consciousness. Once again, the sign of otherness is inscribed: on the one hand, the narrator tells
us how the natives felt better than the English--"these people were so ill-mannered," "we felt
superior to all these people"--while on the other, she declares:
But then again, perhaps as you observe the debacle in which I now exist, the
utter ruin that I say is my life, perhaps you are remembering that you had
always felt people like me cannot run things, people like me will never grasp
the idea of Gross National Product, people like me will never be able to take
command of the thing the most simpleminded among you can master, people like
me will never understand the notion of rule by law, people like me cannot really
think in abstractions, people like me cannot be objective, we make everything
The final segment, which is quite brief, closes the circle by calling into question once
again the figure of the shifting Other. If the tourist fit the role first, then the English and all
subsequent plunderers next, who can carry the blame now? Who is the Other?
Eventually, the masters left, in a kind of way; eventually, the slaves were
freed, in a kind of way. The people of Antigua now, the people who really think
of themselves as Antiguans (and the people who would immediately come to your
mind when you think about what Antiguans might be like; I mean, supposing
you were to think about it), are the descendants of those noble and exalted
people, the slaves. Of course, the whole thing is, once you cease to be a master,
once you throw off your master's yoke, you are no longer human rubbish, you
are just a human being, and all the things that adds up to. So, too, with the
slaves. Once they are no longer slaves, once they are free, they are no longer
noble and exalted; they are just human beings.
The essay closes on an extremely bitter note. Everything is destabilized now. As the
speaking voice becomes more overt and the "you the tourist" becomes more covert; as the
tourist addressed seems to become less the ugly disinterested visitor only searching for the
exotic and more the interested listener, the text's discursive force debilitates. As the Other
becomes the self, the strong narrative voice that outspokenly opposed the Other disappears.
There are other aspects that detract from its overall success as well. Two of these
should be underscored: despite being a short text (the typography is large and widely spaced), it
becomes quite repetitive. There are topics, like the library's deterioration or the island's
corruption, that are brought up once too often. Repetition could add argumentative or discursive
depth, but it does not do so in this case.
Secondly, the first part's dry representation, which gives power to its argument, turns
virulent as the essay advances. This sometimes works against the text, making It Jingoistic and
chauvinist, as when Antigua's "balance of power" is discussed and the narrator is referring to
the corrupt politicians:
And it is In that strange voice, then .... that they say these things, pausing to
take breath before this monument to rottenness, that monument to rottenness,
as if they were tour guides; as if, having observed the event of tourism, they
have absorbed it so completely that they have made the degradation and
humiliation of their dally lives Into their own tourist attraction.
This opens an interesting gap that develops like this: first the narrator tells the tourist
what he must see and think of Antigua; then, through recollection, she "feeds" the addressed
tourist appreciations of herself and the natives, appreciations that serve to put them down. This
shows a certain solidarity between the narrator and her countrymen, but her wisdom and
penetration at the same time endow her with a certain privilege: she is at once herself and her
other. When at the end the narrator asserts that the self becomes the other, that the masters and
slaves are but one, there Is an absence the text lacks the depth to overcome.
A Small Place is, then, an uneven text, albeit a finely crafted one. The first part is the
most powerful. The concept of otherness as developed through the figure of a hidden "I" and an
everpresent "you the tourist," through a present tense, simultaneous narration of the tourist's
arrival in the native land, is most succinctly developed. The rest of the text presents variations
on the theme, a recurrent one in Caribbean literature (witness the venerable tradition of
Cesaire, Naipaul, and Lamming, among others). Kincaid does not add much that has not been said
before, even when she says It so well.
University of Puerto Rico
Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico
Book Reviews: The Enigma of Arrival
V. S, Naipaul,
The Enigma of Arrival.
Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1987.
In truth, every novelist must begin by creating for himself a world
great or little, in which he can honestly believe. This world cannot be
made otherwise than In his own Image.
Joseph Conrad, Notes on Life and Letters
While appealing to the selfishness of flag-waving, God-fearing, Presidential voters,
candidate George Bush, blind to poverty and expanding racism, promised to bring about,
nonetheless, a "kinder, gentler nation." Similarly, V. S. Naipaul, the exiled Trinidadian writer
who wrote "What's Wrong with Being a Snob?" pretends, in his latest autobiographical novel, to
be a kinder, gentler person. Critics have pointed out that Nalpaul's views appear less caustic,
less abrasive than those of previous novels which denounced, unfailingly, the potential for
progress among people of the "Third World." They have been kind. It is neither to women nor to
his native Trinidad, a place of "ruin and dereliction," to whom Naipaul is a "kinder or gentler"
person. The views put forward by the author of Guerillas and The Middle Passage have not
changed markedly. They have been rearranged simply in a more personal and seemingly more
introspective format. Like the exiled self-promoter, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, it is the
narrator-protagonist for whom Naipaul desires our understanding and admiration.
The likeness to Bush, noted for his total lack of originality, is more uncanny. While
Bush borrowed many of the themes and several top bureaucrats from his predecessor's
administration, Naipaul expropriated the elegant style, use of landscape and character from his
literary mentor, the exiled master of English prose, Joseph Conrad. While Conrad's personal
essays on the development of literary talent (Notes on Life and Letters. New York:
Doubleday, 1923) speak of a "life In two distinct developments," Naipaul offers, through a
five-part novel of a life "reborn," a public display of self-revelation. His theme is the stuff of
Conrad's life: the making of an Englishman. "I had thought to myself that If I was to be a seaman,
then I would be a British seaman and no other," Conrad had written of his joining the British
Merchant Service, "it was a matter of deliberate choice" (190). For Naipaul, the division
between life and literature appears indistinct; The Enioma of Arrival intermingles fact with
fantasy, reality with literary recollection as the protagonist aspires to become an English,
writer. Borrowing from Conrad's structure of the fight between good and evil, he struggles to
create growth amid decay. Yet, whereas Conrad warns writers to recall that "it is not necessary
to think that the world is good; it is enough to believe that there is no impossibility of its being
made so" (9), Nalpaul's creative vision encompasses a world given to selfishness where he finds
both excitement and distress in human sexuality, in ugliness, and humiliation. Unable to
embrace the frail nature of humanity, he turns inwardly to protect his private self; thus, his
reflections on the world tend to be self-serving, justification for ego-centrism. Consequently,
the eulogistic ending reflecting on the loss of family and on death, seems untrue, faked,
Nalpaul's narrative begins with recollections of forest animals, empty houses, and
roadside scrub, It is winter, near Stonehenge, and like the author of "Karain," the narrator sees
mystery, timelessness, and mutability. The old world of England, contrasted to the make-shift
societies of colonial Trinidad, is also literary. The protagonist lives on an estate, "full of
reminders of its Edwardian past" where he searches for a place in historical time all the while
evoking Wordsworth's "Lake District Solitude." The sense of wonder that he experiences as rc
watches a sheep-shearing "was something out of an old novel," he writes, "it was as though..
time had stood still, and things were as they had been, for a little while." At first glance, the
valley dwellers appear romantic and in tune with its rustic beauty; but, at close range, the
narrator perceives their petty weaknesses which set them apart from the land and which help to
bring about its desecration and destruction.
Previous themes are rehashed; character traits re-exploited in this redressed vision of
self and of society. The unwarranted, meaningless cruelty toward the desert children in the
epilogue to In a Free State reappears in the dairyman's brutal treatment of his horse, as do
Naipaul's adjacent feelings of hopeless anger and futility. The young couple who live
temporarily in the pink cottage, to whom cars not houses were important, are reminiscent of La
a Free State's Bobby and Linda whose ties to the African landscape were superficial and
unexamined. Like Lindae, Sandra of The Mimic Men and Jane of Guerillas, Brenda, the principle
female character of the first section of The Enigma of Arrival, Is sexually promiscuous, vain,
and "at the center of passion, the cause of pain." In "The Journey," Angela is sexually
"alluring," and in public, a "tease." The dairyman's children are rude and ignorant while the
dairyman and his wife are ugly. "Ugliness had come to ugliness for mutual support," he writes,
"but there had been little comfort as a result." Brenda's sister appears "puffy," suggesting
"illness," we are told; while Les's chin was "heavy"; and like Roche of Guerillas, his teeth were
bad, "they mocked his smile." Bray, the car-hire man, is adulterous, Pitton, servile, the
Phillips, transient and "tough." None of Naipaul's characters appear to resemble people whom
one would have met In relI life, they are stereotypes created to pass judgment on lifestyles and
outlooks which Naipaul ,the arrogant observer, is quick to denounce.
"In the Ceremony of Farewell," the fifth and concluding section of the novel, Naipaul
unwittingly reveals a major flaw In his recent creative works: a sense of impotence. "My
theme, the narrative to carry it, my characters--for some years I felt they were sitting on my
shoulder, waiting to declare themselves and to possess me," he writes in The Enioma of Arrival:
a journalist assignment, "he adds, got me started." He had been sent to cover the Republican
Convention in Dallas; there, "oppressed" among "thousands of busy journalists simply finding
new words for stories that had in effect been already written for them," he found "nothing to
In this colorless description of a pre-packaged convention, "overstaged, scripted in
advance, empty," Nalpaul Ironically offers a vivid metaphor for his autobiographical novel,
pre-set, unyielding, in need of renewal and the wisdom to see the potential for goodness in the
everyday lives of common humanity. What Naipaul fails to realize in The Enigma of Arrival is
that his artistic "spring," whose source was Trinidad, had long been emptied; after fruitlessly
examining a narrative world from a narrow viewpoint in nearly a dozen books, his ability to
create themes and characters, Inevitably, had weakened. To explore again, with the wonder of a
second childhood, Naipaul must heed the message of Conrad, his astute mentor:
What one feels so hopelessly barren in declared pessimism Is just Its arrogance.
Book Reviews: The Enloma of Arrival/Reclaimina Medusa
It seems as if the discovery made by many men at various times that there is
much evil in the world were a source of proud and unholy joy unto some of the
modern writers. That frame of mind Is not the proper one in which to approach
seriously the art of fiction. It gives its author--goodness only knows why--an
elated sense of his own superiority. (8-9)
Consuelo L6pez Springfield
The Supreme Art of Balance in an Invaded World
Diana Velez, editor and translator.
Reclaiming Medusa: Short Stories by Contemoorary Puerto Rican Women.
San Francisco: Spinsters/Aunt Lute, 1988.
In the last two decades Puerto Rico has seen the resurgence of the female presence in its
literature. This reawakening of women's voices has met with some enthusiasm on the part of
critics and feminists. Short studies and reviews of individual writers and their works have been
slowly forthcoming. Some of these studies attempt to clarify the writer's place in our
contemporary literature, and still others find points of convergence between two or three
authors. These activities are, of course, an important part of the critic's work. But it is equally
important for critics to engage In a work of synthesis; one that looks at major recurring trends,
themes, and motifs found across writers and their creations. Much of the power of our
present-day literature lies hidden, so to speak, in these focal points of convergence.
Diana V61ez's anthology of contemporary short stories by Puerto Rican female writers
makes available to the English-reading public some of the finest short fiction written on the
island in the last decade. Represented in this anthology are Rosario Ferr6 ("The Youngest Doll,"
"Sleeping Beauty," and "Pico Rico, Mandorico"), Ana Lydia Vega ("Three Love Aerobics" and
"ADJ, Inc."), Carmen Lugo Filippi ("Milagros, on Mercurio Street" and "Pilar, Your Curls"),
Carmen Valle ("Diary Entry &6" and "Diary Entry # 1"), and Mayra Montero ("Thirteen and a
Turtle" and "Last Night at Dawn").
The book's title and the editor's Introductory study place these writers and their works
within the bounds of feminist literature. Although this is correct in the sense that, in one way
or another, they all explore women's powerlessness and their quest for power over self, it Is
equally true that these women (meaning both the writers and their characters) emerge from a
world where invasion and powerlessness are the social norm women, men, and children learn to
live with. In order to get the full Import of these creations, It Is necessary to place the issue of
power and powerlessness In the larger context of artistic, social, and psychic happenings.
The far-reaching idea that power is always a precarious balance, not only for the
powerless, but for the powerful as well, is an important link connecting the different stories.
In "Thirteen and a Turtle," Teresa's lack of power over her own fears is used by her husband to
conceal his own fear. The moment she rises above, he pushes her down over the balcony of a
thirteenth-floor hotel room, desperate in his inability to deal with his own powerlessness. In
"The Youngest Doll," the flesh-and-blood doll finds only one open route to power: she transcends
the dichotomy between her own doll-self and her play doll. Life and lifelessness become one,
mutely waiting for the right moment to turn the tables. In "Sleeping Beauty," the problem of
achieving self-balance in an invaded world reaches what is perhaps its most archetypal form.
Maria de los Angeles's search for self-balance makes her move back and forth between her
dream world and the social world so eager to seize her for its own purposes. Victory lies in her
ability to transcend this dichotomy as she dangerously places one foot in front of the other,
dancing naked on the nylon rope where death finds her.
Powerlessness--meaning not only someone's lack of power but also its most important
counterpart: someone else's unrightful appropriation of that power--can, and usually does
happen at multiple levels: the socio-geographic space, that organic space called "the body," the
emotional and intellectual spaces. In "Pico Rico, Mandorico," the landowner comes to power as
he seizes control over the town's social life, but this control extends to people's psychic spaces
as well. Since people must work from down to sunset, work fills up the space otherwise open to
social interactions. But the worst part of this control is what it does to people's psyches: they
have lost their sense of well-being, their ability to dream and even to sleep. In "Diary Entry
#6," the woman's demand for control over her living space has placed her in the most powerless
situation: that of a bag lady whose only freedom is to roam about picking up things from garbage
cans and sidewalks. In "ADJ, Inc.," the rise of the powerless to power becomes a menace mainly
to other powerless women. When a woman poses a problem for which the agency finds no
solution, the files are burned and the woman Is "silenced."
Lack of power and its unrightful appropriation are seldom fully accomplished tasks.
Powerlessness must be constantly reinforced; appropriation must be reiterated. The split
second between powerlessness and its reinforcement, between appropriation and its
re-enactment, is the crack through which the psyche can and does escape. In "Milagros, on
Mercurio Street," this crack appears as the gap between common sense as a survival strategy
("I was pulling down a little money without knocking myself out too much") and the restlessness
brought about by the perception of beauty and Its fate ("You try to get rid of the scene, but... it
sticks to your screen"). The final confrontation takes place in the in-between, almost
make-believe space provided by the mirror: "... you can't take your eyes from the mirror as
you watch Milagros become larger and larger." In "Three Love Aerobics," liberation is the
reader's achievement as she enters the gap between the characters' superficial reality (freedom
from a bad marriage; freedom to explore sexual alternatives outside marriage; freedom to have a
happy marriage), and the unexpected turn brought about by the writer's masterful use of
language. It becomes clear at the end that freedom from an unlucky marriage has placed Una In a
still more powerless situation where she must enter the orbit of the pimp's gaze every morning.
Book Reviews: Reclaimino Medusa
The freedom to explore sexual alternatives is really the fake freedom provided by unrestricted
fantasies recounted in a kind of verbal duel between a man and a woman. Finally, the freedom to
achieve happiness within the conventions of marriage turns out to be simply the freedom to
explore unconventional alternatives, like a three-party marriage.
In many of these stories, the link between fantasy and escape from invasion is firmly
established. "Sleeping Beauty" clearly points in this direction. Fantasy here is a complement to
art. Maria's art derives part of its substance from her dream/fantasy world, where she is free
to become the characters she interprets on stage. At the end she dyes her hair red, honoring her
heroine Carmen Merengue, who leaves behind the social dream of love and the lady image Maria's
father wants to impose on her, and goes back to the trapeze. In "Pilar, Your Curls," Pilar's life
strategy is to move between her fantasy world, nurtured by paperback romances and Hollywood
gossip, and the vulgarity of her own married life. In "Pico Rico, Mandorico," the symbol of the
Alisias's untouched power is their ability to dream. When Elisa falls into the landowner's grip,
the first thing she loses is her ability to sleep and dream. Conversely, when Alicia defeats the
landowner in a fierce battle where the man loses his "picorico" (the tip of his big nose, a symbol
of his undeserved richness), Elisa and the townsfolk recover their ability to dream. In "Last
Night at Dawn," the woman's loneliness has fallen on her with all its dead weight like a troop of
termites undergoing their repulsive transformation from winged creatures into worms looking
for a safe place to hide away. An unexpected event, a stranger's attempt to steel the neighbor's
van in the middle of the night, sets loose the woman's deep-seated loneliness and frustration.
She rips open her bathrobe and starts crying. As the stranger escapes in the stolen van, she
fantasizes about escaping with him into the night.
In the literary realm, escape is, in the first place, an artistic maneuver. This artistic
maneuver may not always coincide with what liberation is expected to look like in the social
world. But art cannot provide even the semblance of liberation if it is not free to explore
freedom, having itself escaped from at least the most constraining ideologies surrounding it on
The significant fact that most of the protagonists in these stories are women in search of
some lost power should not be underrated. This search Is Alicia's quest as she tries to find the
antidote to her twin sister's and the townsfolk's strange illness in "Pico Rico, Mandorico." This
quest is also evident in "Journal Entry *6," where the bag lady escapes the invasion of the only
spot left to her In a hostile world: the park bench where she does her thinking. The
unsuspecting invader watches her gallop away "like a carousel horse with its saddle bags
flapping at its sides." The fact that a carousel horse is not free to move in its pre-ordained route
unless the man in charge turns the switch on is never mentioned. The reader is faced here with
an open irony that may well turn on Itself beyond the written page, inside the world it pictures:
a world where reality and fantasy are the two overlapping faces of life.
In "Journal Entry #1," her husband's death sends Flora Into an Inner search for
alternatives to a restricted world happily outdated now that Pedro Is gone. But it becomes
evident at the end that just how outdated her powerlessness really is depends on her son's
consent. In "Thirteen and a Turtle," Arturo starts his wife on a search for power over her fear
of the void. But when Teresa finally assumes responsibility for this search and comes face to
face with the void, achieving inner mastery, becoming like the eagle in Arturo's unmerciful
little story, the husband re-enacts the story in his own terms. He, the eagle, drops her like a
heavy turtle from a thirteenth-floor balcony. In Arturo's own fantasy, he is the one in control.
When he realizes he has lost power over his wife's quest and life, he quickly seizes the chance to
at least have power over her death. In order to feel safe, he must re-establish the original
terms of the story, where he is the eagle and she is the heavy turtle released from the eagle's
grip. Arturo's gesture turns the woman's (the turtle's) self-initiated movement of liberation
into the eagle's (the man's) release from a heavy load.
It is obvious that the quest for power over the self can have disastrous consequences, but
the most important point is that there jia quest and what this quest reveals: that not all power
has been lost. It may well be that what the characters do with the power they still have does not
fit some readers' preconceived ideas of what power and liberation are all about. But this is not
the writer's, or even her art's fault. It is not art's task to provide a program for social
liberation. What art can do is to catch a rare glimpse, as it looks through the crack into a
different dimension--one where liberation is the supreme artistic accomplishment.
In order to accomplish this feat, art must have some power. But the Issue of power in
literature has little to do with pamphleteering or how well the readers (or the writers) can
trace the main features of their favorite ideology through the text. Literary artistic power
manifests itself as a movement beyond the sphere of give-and-take transactions. It is not a
reaction against or a demand for. It is a clean break with the reaction-and-demand syndrome
that leaves the psyche stuck in the middle of its sense of powerlessness. Going beyond the
give-and-take transaction implies both moving away from powerlessness and from the false
equality offered by the give-and-take transaction. The movement into power is a radical leap. It
allows no compromises with powerlessness, for compromise always takes one back to the pit--
back to powerlessness. The artist's claims on artistic power; the woman's claims on power over
her individual life; a people's claims on power over their rich collective life and psyche, must
all take place in a space untouched by transaction, untainted by compromise.
In Ana Lydia Vega's stories this attempt at balance beyond compromise manifests itself
mainly as the thin space between what the characters want to present about their lives and what
the writer finally forces them to reveal. In Carmen Lugo Filippi's stories it is the protagonists'
shaky balance between a common sense Imposed by the need to survive In their everyday world
and their overflowing fantasies. The stories by Carmen Valle are technically related to Vega's in
a way that may not be readily apparent. Both writers depend more on narrative technique--the
discourse as it unravels before the reader's marvelled eyes--than on character or action
development. The bag lady's beauty as she darts for freedom from a stranger's invasion in
"Journal Entry #6," for instance, is revealed by a shift to a third-person narrator, who ends
the entry with an unexpected image where irony combines with possibility. In Rosario Ferre's
and Mayra Montero's stories, balance is most closely related to character development. In
"Sleeping Beauty" and "Thirteen and a Turtle," the protagonists must balance their lives between
seduction and freedom. Balance becomes "a peaceful mastery, a growing sense of solidity under
her eyelids." But since it Is mastery over danger, balance is also "like a flash, toes barely
touching the sun-cracked pavement, leaping crack over crack." Balance Is a gesture that defeats
powerlessness and invasion by the very nature of what it alms at. In "Thirteen and a Turtle,"
balance is achieved in a direct encounter with the void. In "Sleeping Beauty," It is the artistic
balance achieved by a ballerina dancing on a nylon rope. In both, victory results in death at the
hands of an infuriated husband.
Book Reviews: Reclaimingo lidus/Sweet Diamond Dust
That the search for an untainted ground where balance can be created may result in death
is not just an artistic maneuver. History has proven it to be a fact of life in many instances.
But the possibility, even the factuality of death in these stories does not produce a sense of
tragedy. Death is presented as the possible outcome of a fierce battle in which the woman stakes
all she has, This staking one's life on the quest for freedom is the real victory, for it is the most
tremendous feat of the will, and it is the only aspect of the battle over which a woman, an artist,
a people can have absolute control. The art of such a feat is what might be called the supreme art
Carol Matravolgyi Negr6n
University of Puerto Rico
Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico
Sweet Diamond Dust [translation of the original Spanish text Maldito amor by the author,
New York: Ballantine, 1988.
Sweet Diamond Dust, a novella and the major text of the volume of the same title, is a
bittersweet tale of love and hate, of history and politics, providing an unusual view of island life
and the political/economic turmoil of Puerto Rico during the first half of the twentieth century,
The work opens at the end of an Idyllic nineteenth century and closes about 40 years later with
the conflagration of the De la Valle plantation house, symbolizing the destruction of an era and of
a class. The volume contains three additional tenuously related narrations, "The Gift," "Isolde's
Mirror," and "Captain Candelario's Heroic Last Stand." Although there is some relationship
among the four works, particularly In regard to the chronological sweep of Puerto Rican
history, narrative continuity is otherwise lacking.
Ferr6's translation of her Maldito amor is splendid. In the English edition there is some
political and historical exposition included in the narrative which is either absent from the
original Spanish text or discussed in the introduction to the second edition of that text. The
commentary serves to bridge any gaps In cultural information and perspective that the Anglo
reader may have. The luxuriant syntax Is fluid, flowing smoothly in English despite long
sentences and compounding of phrases. The work exudes the savor of the Caribbean through
finely perceived detail and a rich colorful vocabulary. The narrative style is elegant and
romantic, yet ironic, satirical, witty, and even burlesque.
Elvira De la Valle, orphaned and reared by maiden aunts, studied in Europe, acquiring a
refined sense of etiquette and exquisite taste. One afternoon at a horseshow, she was smitten by
don Julio Font who gallantly extended to her the blue silk ribbon won by his mare, Piel Canela.
Hopelessly enraptured, she spent the following weeks at her piano blissfully singing Morel
Campos's romantic composition, "Maldito Amor," awaiting don Julio's return. Opportunely, her
aunts arranged for their marriage, thereby providing an administrator for the family's sugar
plantation. The birth of their son Ubaldino marked the founding of the De la Valle dynasty and the
beginning of an intense family feud that lasted several generations.
In the nineteenth century, the mythic town of Guamani Is depicted as a veritable
paradise, albeit satirically. In addition to "sweet diamond dust," the lush valley produced
breadfruit, cassava, pineapples, golden and green plantains, as well as mysterious herbs,
spices, and aphrodisiacs. The cultured native gentry enjoyed a dignified life of classical music,
recitals provided by visiting European celebrities, elegant banquets and balls, picnics, and
pleasure boating. The men rode their spirited Daso fino horses and played baccarat; the women
went to mass and did charity work for the less fortunate. However, after the arrival of the
North Americans, everything changed: "Far from being a paradise, Guamani has become a hell, a
monstruous whirlpool from which the terrifying funnel of Snow White Sugar Mills spews out
sugar night and day toward the north."
Sweet Diamond Dust portrays Puerto Rico's transformation from a feudal agrarian
society headed by a native aristocracy who owned the once lucrative and productive sugar
plantations to an industrialized society dominated by North American capital. Intervention by
the United States divided the islanders into factions: those who wished to protect native interest
and national pride, remaining autonomous from the United States, and those who proposed
assimilation. The political contention that developed caused irreconcilable differences among
family members and friends. Through the rather eccentric members of the De la Valle family,
the novella colorfully and often humorously relates the effect that the radical cultural and
economic changes had on the private and public life of the Puerto Rican people.
The islanders suffered severe cultural losses with the arrival of the North Americans
but gained, on the other hand, as noted by one of the novella's narrators, certain benefits of
modernity: high tech farm equipment, good roads, public education and hospitals, even pane
glass and safety pins (!). Nonetheless, U. S. Infiltration of the sugar industry, bankrupting the
local industry, the avarice of self-seeking, ambitious natives who sold out to the Americans, and
the loss of national pride and traditions serve to remind the reader that a high price was indeed
What most calls attention to the novella is the ingenious handling of narrative viewpoint.
Five different narrators and segments of a novel in process constitute the narrative voices of the
eight part work presented in a point-counterpoint structure. Each narrator attests that his/her
version of the family and national history is the correct one, obligating the reader to formulate
his own conclusions while trying to unravel the truth and understand the contradictions and
dichotomies of the socio-political reality.
Throughout the novella, the reader's attention is drawn to its fictive status. Don
Hermenegildo, lawyer/novelist, is in the process of composing a biographical novel about his
close friend, don Ubaldino. His narrative authority is undermined as the other narrators make
reference to his dubious reputation as a writer of impassioned, romantic or sentimental novels
about the deterioration of the upper classes. After the other narrators tell their version of the
68 Book Reviews: Sweet Diamond Dust
family chronicle as it parallels Puerto Rico's social history, Hermenegildo airs his disbelief of
what they have just said. The text's self-referentiality and attention to the process of
construction challenge a conventional approach to the work and the reality it presents.
Through the voice of dofa Laura, matriarch of the De la Valle dynasty, direct political
commentary on U.S./Puerto Rico relations is presented, absent from the original Spanish work.
Mention is made of the wide well-planned roads that one could travel comfortably in contrast to
"roads widening over crevices where even the goat had to eat with emergency brakes on."
Holding the Americans in high esteem, she describes them as "dynamos, men of unflagging
action" and "brimming with idealism." Indeed, there were and there still are those Puerto
Ricans deeply convinced of North American altruism.
Rosario Ferre stated in "Mis memories," the introduction to the second edition of the
original Spanish text, Maldito amor, that her work is a parody of the traditional Latin American
novel of the land that proposed to define the national personality. In Puerto Rico, as she points
out, nationality was defined in terms of the sugar plantation and its demise as the agricultural
economy gave way to the industrial. The typical English-speaking reader unacquainted with this
literary tradition, would not recognize such parody and literary deconstruction if confronted
with it. Nonetheless, the English version does transmit through its irony and satire another
dimension of the island's history and politics, compelling the reader to reevaluate any
presuppositions he may have held.
It is through dofia Laura's point of view that the authorial voice of Ferr6 most obviously
intrudes in the text. Laura says that the land will not contribute to the wealth of the island, but
rather the port: "It is our island's destiny to become the gate to South as well as to North
America, so that on our doorsill both continents will one day peacefully merge into one." In
Maldito amor ,this idea is not expressed through Laura's voice but is explained by Ferr6 In her
introduction, "Mis memories," where she remarks that the island's literature makes little
reference to the port where the authenticity of the island's character is found. In Sweet Diamond
Dust, Laura tells Hermenegildo that she will bequeath the plantation to the mulatto Gloria and
her son "because they are the children of that port." In reference to Gloria, she says, "she's the
priestess of our harbor; pythia of our island's future."
The short story "The Gift" presents the Puerto Rico of the 1950s experiencing the social
and economic changes anticipated In Maldlto amor. Now attending the private academy of the
Sacred Heart, "the daughter of the Rodriguezes, Torreses and Moraleses" are together with the
young ladies of prestigious surnames. The themes of race and class again emerge with Ferr6
clearly revealing her sympathy and confidence in the mulatto. Noteworthy is the deep friendship
and solidarity that develop between Carlotta, a mulatto and member of the emerging middle class,
and Mercedes, daughter of a wealthy landholding family. Ferr6 has given expression once again
in her work to the theme of the reconciliation of classes.
With "Isolda's Mirror," we move chronologically to the year 1972. Despite the
burgeoning of movie theaters and restaurants and the disappearance of sugarcane fields from the
landscape, the colonial character of the city of Santa Cruz or the "Pearl of the South" remains
impressive. An upwardly mobile bourgeoisie, replacing the practically defunct sugarcane
aristocracy, hobnobs with northern Investment bankers to strangle the remaining sugar barons.
Wealthy industrialist, don AugustoArzuage, shocked socially conscious Santa Cruzans with his
controversial marriage to Adriana Mercier, a nightclub singer and aspiring classical pianist
who takes advantage of his infatuation to advance her career. Don Augusto, an avid collector of
art, who constructed his own gallery in Santa Cruz, sees in Adriana a likeness to the Isolde of his
favorite painting, "Isolde's Mirror." Ironically, he observes of his painting, "She's perfect; she
gives you beauty and asks for nothing in return." As it turns out. Adriana is not the fair lady but
the femme fatale who unwittingly provokes her husbands ruin as she excites to frenzy the
guests at their carnivalesque wedding reception.
The final tale, the ironic and farcical, "Captain Candelario's Last Heroic Stand," is set at
the down of the twenty-first century. Puerto Rico is about to be granted its independence from
the United States because the Metropolis has other concerns. Trained at the North Point Military
Academy, don Ubaldino's grandson, Captain Candelario, patrols the streets of the capital to rid
the country of terror from the seditious salsero whose loud music, vulgarity and rabble
rousing will only serve to precipitate the final decision of the United States to grant the island
its political independence. Through her adept handling of black humor and political rhetoric,
Ferr6 has created in this story a superb parody of Puerto Rico's obsession with nationality and
The Last Lap
Ana Lydia Vega, editor.
El tramo ancla: ensavos ouertorriouefios de hay.
Rio Piedras: Editorial de la Universided de Puerto Rico, 1988; 2nd. ed. 1989.
For several decades, newspapers in Puerto Rico followed the Latin American
journalistic tradition of having a cultural section in which various artistic genres were
presented and discussed by other artists and intellectuals. Ironically, as more newspapers were
published in the 60s and 70s (El Vocero. El Nuevo Dia, El Reortero), cultural news
diminished, disappeared, or was reduced to social news or books comments. Claridad, affiliated
with the Puerto Rican Socialist Party, is the only publication in Puerto Rico that has for thirty
years continuously devoted a special section, "En Rojo," to culture. "En Rojo" has earned the
respect of the community with its literary contests, its book, theatre and film reviews, its
Book Reviews: Fll traMo ancl
feature stories on filmmaking, visiting theatre groups outstanding intellectuals, and its
publication of original works by new and established writers. In 1985, Graciela Rodriguez
Martino, editor of "En Rojo," convinced a number of writers and performers to play a writing
game. Every week a writer would use page two of the cultural supplement to write on any
subject in any style. The section would pass on to a second writer the next week and on to a
third, a fourth, fifth . until it was the first writer's turn again. Seven men and women
decided to participate in this relay: Kalman Barsy, Magali Garcia Ramis, Carmen Lugo Filippi,
Rosa Luisa M6rquez, Juan Antonio Ramos, Edgerdo Sanabria Santaliz and Ana Lydia Vega. The
game lasted a year. By then, other writers entered into it with the same enthusiasm of the
original seven. El tramo ancla (The Last Lap) collects the best selections of that first relay
giving the reader a view of the daily problems which affected Puerto Rico. Some of these were:
the Senate hearings on Cerro Maravilla, the Haitian detainees at Fort Allen, the presence and
aggression of the FBI, the shocking reality of AIDS, the rising crime wave. Other topics
addressed were: the Miss Universe pageant, social interest (gossip) columns, current books and
theatre groups, the battle of the sexes, the loneliness of old age.
The seven writers who agreed to participate in this first relay were friends who shared
a common creative space but kept their own voice and perspective on the world. Their voices
were a reminder of their sense of collectivity, of a society living through the 80s with the
vision of the 60s and anticipating the end of the century.
Kalman Barsy is described by the editor, Ana Lydia Vega, as the philosopher because his
essays focus on mass media events in order to ponder various aspects of life. This Argentinian
who has lived most of his adult life in Puerto Rico, does not share the insolent and irreverent
humor of many of the other writers in this anthology. Barsy assumes a serious tone and tends to
be preachy about language usage and class behavior. "La crianza" (The Upbringing) brings out
the writer's forte: the story told through dialogue with an almost absent narrator.
Magali Garcia Ramis is introduced as the chronicler. Although her book reviews follow a
traditional approach, when Garcia Ramis writes about Isabel Allende's The House of the Spirits,
a new work is created. The Chilean's novel is a motif used to reveal Garcia Ramis's view of the
craft of writing and how being a woman and living in a particular region affects the final words
that will be printed. In the other selections, the writer uses street language for its richness and
to set off the irony between the speaker, the subject and the intended audience. Whenever her
subject is women, this writer shines with originality, humor and understanding.
Carmen Lugo Filippi, called sentimental educator, chooses to write about current books
and personalities such as Magali Garcia Ramis and William Kennedy. Her use of oral language
permeates "Recetario para una despedida" (Farewell Recipe) where, using the structure of the
Catholic mass, she describes food and beverage for different occasions and types of people in
Puerto Rico. Her knowledge and love of creole food is the force behind "Los an6nimos Lolines"
(The Anonymous Lolas). In this selection the writer chooses a personal narrator for a story
which splendidly blends narrative passages and dialogue. Perhaps the most Intimate piece in the
entire book is Lugo Filippi's "Antes de 1978" (Before 1978) dedicated to Carlos Enrique Soto
Arrivi, the stepson lost In the Infamous Cerro Maravilla assassinations.
Rosa Luisa M6rquez's experience comes from the theatre where she has combined
writing, painting, design, music and body movement as part of the overall production. Her
essays deal with her work organizing children's workshops in slum areas, her participation in
productions of the Bread and Puppet Theatre, and experimental theatre festivals. "Mano-plazo"
is the retelling of the performance that M6rquez and Antonio Martorell created as a result of the
FBI raids in Puerto Rico on August 30, 1985. Martorell, one of Puerto Rico's foremost graphic
artists, became a victim of these raids when his house was broken into and paintings were seized
and/or ruined by agents in search of supposed terrorist groups and evidence to implicate them.
Juan Antonio Ramos creates a character-narrator, Moncho Loro, for his essays. Moncho
Loro is the pseudo-intellectual who feels he can speak openly about anything or anyone and no
offense should be taken. This character is very conservative so certain subjects are avoided or
distorted. For example, Moncho Loro is especially susceptible to women's liberation. Whenever
this topic comes up, he forgets his objective stance and mercilessly attacks those women who,
according to his paranoia, want to efface men. In "El Doctor Moncho Loro: Rene Marques y el
matriarcado," Ramos uses an excellent transition from the formal language used by the
professor to the street language he "descends" into when he feels his manhood threatened.
Edgardo Sanabria Santaliz's section is subtitled "The Return of the Angels." It is an
appropriate phrase since this writer pries into serious problems with an optimism that
contrasts with the highly critical approach most people have. He assumes a serious tone which
is reinforced by his meticulous choice of words which in turn transforms a grim reality into
poetry. He reflects on the Puerto Rico he left ten years ago and on how his return has brought
him life. He no longer guesses about who he is; now he can touch, smell, taste, see and hear his
existence and his essence. He understands at this moment why an old woman in New York, who
has been away from Puerto Rico for more than thirty years, is as Puerto Rican as someone who
has never left the island.
In another essay, Sanabria Santaliz describes the miracle performed daily by the
residents of Villa Victoria in Boston. They have established a special place in a big city which is
a model of community living. One of the best selections of the entire El tramo ancla collection is
"Fantasida." The theme is AIDS (SIDA in Spanish) and it is developed as a fantasy story where
the narrator dreams about how human beings can be so inhuman as to destroy one another. He
wakes up from his nightmare to restore his faith In humanity by asserting that he Is sure we
would never abandon those who are ill and in need of love and care.
The last section or last lap of the relay belongs to Ana Lydia Vega. In her parodic style,
she takes on two events of 1985: the Haitian refugees detained at Fort Allen and later deported,
and the August 30th FBI raids. In the first essay, Vega tells us in street language (her
specialty), how the Puerto Rican community was able to empathize with and help the Haitians in
spite of the language barrier and precise orders by Federal agents not to approach the cyclone
fence enclosure. Her words become a musical chorus which ends with a spiritual Amen as she
proclaims the certainty of an Antillean confederacy. The FBI incident is presented as one of the
best things that could have happened to our literature. By having the FBI as a censoring agent,
writers will be more creative. They will have to get their messages across using innovative
styles. New courses would be offered at the university in order to decode these new texts.
Puerto Rican books would become best sellers since people would be wondering what is so
mysterious and subversive about these books that the FBI has decided to censor and/or confiscate
Book Reviews: El trajo ancla/The Arkansas Testament
Vega also includes mock literary forms such as the presentation of the Vegetarians as a
minority political party who must swim against the tide to hold on to their principles and resist
the antagonism and repression of the major meet-eating political parties. Following her style of
subverting language to denounce the prevalent machismo in Puerto Rican culture, Vega creates a
Dear Abby column where Suffering Desdemona writes to Ourua (the equivalent of Abby) on
Valentine's Day about her unbearable relationship. Yega uses the political rhetoric of
independence advocates to show the dichotomy between words and action.
El Tramo ancla has had two editions in six months. It deserves this acclaim because it
dares to follow its own path by mixing writers, styles, and genres and by experimenting with
language to subvert the established order of things.
Maria Cristina Rodriguez
University of Puerto Rico
Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico
Here and Elsewhere
The Arkansas Testament.
New York: Farrar, Straus, Oiroux, 1987.
The two sections of The Arkansas Testament are entitled "Here" and "Elsewhere," which
is to say, poems of the Caribbean and poems of the world beyond the Caribbean. So even the
layout of this book suggests a topic familiar to admirers of Walcott: the poet's interrogation of
his Creole and metropolitan selves and of their symbiotic relationship. (In fact, even to write
about the Caribbean in standard English is to pose the problematic nature of that relationship.)
The topic of "Here" and "Elsewhere" has been a constant with Walcott. It is his version
of Henry James's International Theme: a dialogue between distinct cultural possibilities, with
one possibility "placed" with relation to the other though without any final or exclusionary
choice being made between them. The International Theme isn't of course Walcott's special
preserve in Caribbean writing; in an area ravaged by colonialism it could be said that any West
Indian writer worth his salt has to come to terms with the values of an island "here" and a
metropolitan "elsewhere." But there is surely no other writer, with the exception of Cuba's
Alejo Carpentier, who has treated the theme with such passion and subtlety or has made it so
very much his own.
Walcott has from the first given a sense of having to make a choice between two cultures.
In his 1962 poem "A Far Cry from Africa" he wrote:
I who am poisoned with the blood of both,
Where shall I turn, divided to the vein?
How can I turn from Africa and live?
These lines have been often quoted and discussed, even though in their rhetorical stridency they
aren't perhaps characteristic of Walcott at his best. I much prefer, in fact, a poem from the
same year that dramatizes rather than talks about this theme of cultural choice. In "Poopa, da'
was a fite!" from Walcott's sonnet sequence "Tales of the Islands" there are two voices, one
belonging to someone who speaks dialect and the other to a man described by the dialect speaker
as "black writer chap, one of them Oxbridge guys," who speaks standard English. The dialect
speaker represents "Here" and he obviously thinks "black writer chap" has been corrupted by
"Elsewhere" since he is pretentious enough to quote Shelley at a beach party:
Generation has its angst, but we has none."
(It's the least likely Shelley quote I've ever heard, but no matter.) The voice who speaks
standard English, probably "black writer chap" though not necessarily so, reasserts the dignity
of "Elsewhere" by taking the high ethnographic view and so "placing" the beach party, and by
implication the dialect speaker, in the larger context of Caribbean, and so world, history. In
short, in "Poopa..." Caribbean mockery is pitted against the high intellectual tone of
"Oxbridge": the poem appears to end in a draw.
But there is a subtle detail in "Poopa..." which suggests that Here and Elsewhere aren't
to be divided and separated so easily. B lack writer chap is supposed to have said, "Each
generation has its angst, be we has none," but we ask ourselves, could an "Oxbridge guy" really
have said "and we has none"? Of course the dialect speaker could have misquoted him or black
writer chap could be mocking himself, but the more beguiling possibility (and I owe this Insight
to John Figueroa) is that black writer chap has lapsed Into dialect at the moment of his
high-flown ("Elsewhere") pronouncement. As Figueroa explains, "The mask has slipped, a
fissure in the ego has opened up." If there is a fissure, then It is of course In the poet's own
mind: "black writer chap" must be Walcott himself--or at any rate someone else with the same
In Walcott's poetry, language itself is often the focus for this ongoing debate between
Here and Elsewhere. In "Cul de Sac Valley" from The Arkansas Testament the poet commemorates
in standard English places and events first experienced in Creole: here obviously is one glaring
example of a strain or "fissure" between local and metropolitan.
exhaling trees refresh
memory with their smell:
bols cannot, bois camor he.
Book Reviews: The Arkansas Testament
hissing: "what you wish
from us will never be,
your words in English
is a different tree."
(Compare this gap between word and meaning with that noted by V. S. Naipaul at the end of his
essay "Jasmine": "Jasmine, jasmine. But the word and the flower had been separate in my mind
for too long. They did not come together.")
At times it seems to this reader that Walcott tries to force a resolution of the breach
between word and thing, between Elsewhere and Here. In "Roseau Valley" he ruefully asks what
his poetry had to offer his compatriots on strike ("What use was my praise of its level/green
light to those valley-kind/folk?"). "None," appears to be the answer. However, appalled by its
bleakness, Walcott circles back in the concluding stanzas of the poem to a more positive, more
that cannot pay back this island
enough, that gave no communion
of tongues, whose left hand
never lifted the sheaves in union,
still sweets with the trickling resin
in a hill's hot armpit, as
my choice of a road Is rising
from the see's amphitheatres
to inhale a bracing horizon
above belfry or chimney where
the steam roller's heartbeat dies on
blue, indivisible air.
It is a beautiful albeit obscure ending, but one that may strike readers as somewhat willed.
After all, to say that we belong to a country because we sweet in it isn't perhaps conclusive
Happily, there are occasions when the Here-Elsewhere fissure disappears as if by
magic, a blessed unity supervening beyond all possibility of "division in the vein." In "A Latin
Primer," another poem from "Here," Walcott thinks back to his early days as a schoolteacher in
Castries. His subject is Latin, supreme "Elsewhere" language, language of Empire.
The discipline I preached
made me a hypocrite;
their lithe black bodies, beached,
would die in dialect;
I spun the globe's meridian,
showed its sealed hemispheres,
but where were those brows heeding
when neither world was theirs?
Walcott then goes for a walk to clear his head:
and I remember: it was on a
Saturday near noon, at Vigie,
that my heart, rounding the corner
of Half-Moon Battery,
stopped to watch the foundry
of midday cast in bronze
the trunk of the gommier tree
on a sea without seasons,
while ochre Rat Island
was nibbling the see's lace,
that a frigate bird came sailing
through a tree's net, to raise
its emblem in the cirrus,
named with the common sense
of fishermen: see scissors,
ciseau-la-mer, the patois
for its cloud-cutting course;
and that native metaphor
made by the strokes of oars,
with one wing beat for scansion,
that slowly levelling V
made one with my horizon
as it sailed steadily
beyond the sheep-nibbled columns
of fallen marble trees,
or the roofless pillars once
sacred to Hercules.
In this poem Walcott discovers that Here Js Elsewhere. His imagination transforms the fallen
trunks of gommier trees into marble columns bestrewing a classical site in the Mediterranean,
fretted shafts beside a shining see. And as with landscape, so with language. What does it matter
whether one calls the frigate bird by its patois or by its imperial name, ciseau-la-mer or
freoeta magnMficens? Names are quite irrelevant to the splendour of a bird that floats from the
beaches of St. Lucia to the Pillars of Hercules and back. And it is Nature "Here," Caribbean
Book Reviews: The Arkansas Testament
Nature, that serves as Latin primer for Walcott's St. Lucian students, with their "lithe black
bodies," and teaches them verse scansion through the "strokes of oars" in Castries harbour and
the wing-beats of the frigate bird flying eastwards.
There is another magical fusion of Here and Elsewhere, in The Arkansas Testament, in
the poem "Marina Tsvetaeva." Walcott opens the fridge door in his beach house on St. Lucia or
Trinidad and notices "that white lichen/had crusted the ice trays to a Siberian forest." Marina
Tsvetaeva immediately stands before him, her face "frost crocheted." The familiar Caribbean
beach scene then writes out her poetry in the marks and movements of see and sand:
The seaweed's Cyrillics
are your life's shorthand, the sandpiper's footmarks
your dashes and hyphens ....
By some magic of alchemy, Marina Tsvetaeva becomes a Caribbean poet. Walcott once wrote, in
"What the Twilight Says": "The migratory West Indian feels rootless on his own earth, chafing
at its beaches." Perhaps he has now found a way of acquiring roots without quite leaving those
beaches (except when he teaches at Boston University, of course), by naturalizing world culture
and translating it into Creole. Make the right connections, he seems to say, and the Caribbean
becomes the centre. "Here" and "Elsewhere" are one.
Making the right connections can sometimes prove a murky business, which brings us to
the matter of Walcott's notorious "difficulty." Auden has often been a pervasive presence in
Walcott, a taste shared by his friend and fervent admirer Josef Brodsky. An early Auden poem
like "Our Hunting Fathers Told the Story" can be maddeningly opaque and allusive and just the
same bright obscurity mars, for this reviewer, many of Walcott's most striking poems. Take,
for example, this stanza from "Storm Figure":
The nineteenth century, like a hurricane lamp,
haloed, last night, the boards of the kitchen table.
With the lamp poles down, its wick smoke pined and flamed,
singeing the mind's ceiling like a Hardy novel.
Readers who find this plain sailing might like to tell me what exactly Walcott means by the line,
"singeing the mind's ceiling like a Hardy novel."
Cleverness is always a danger in this prodigiously clever writer. Often this cleverness
evinces itself in the ambition to coin too "striking" a metaphor, as in the first stanza of "Roseau
A shovelful of blackbirds
shot over the road's shoulder
and memory twittered backwards
past the juddering steamroller
The birds scattering like dirt from a shovel is clever.. but "twittered'? In "Winter Lamps,"
laces the panes; it freezes
until the arching mask
of Tragedy sneezes
on theatre facades in our
comic opera, and plaster
flakes fall on the furniture
of shrouded Boston...
In these lines it is difficult to see why Tragedy "sneezes" except that it "freezes" two lines back.
And what justifies the theatre reference but that it supplies a quick-clever context for "our
comic opera," the domestic histrionics which are the real subject of the poem? Walcott off
form, or when he's just writing to write, can be just too smart, busy, breezy--Donne with a
word processor, Empson redivivus. (But Walcott is not as witty as Donne or Empson!)
For this reader, when Walcott dramatizes, plays, or ironizes his themes ("but we has
none") he is enjoyable and convincing; but when he strives for effect or is vatic ("Each/
generation has its angst") he soon gets flashy and tedious. And, significantly, it is often
"Elsewhere" that elicits these latter qualities.
The contrast between dramatization and vatic celebration may I think be seen clearly in
the title poem of this collection. In "The Arkansas Testament" Walcott spends the night in the
American South and deep in "Elsewhere" characteristically remembers "Here":
A roach crossed its oceanic
carpet with scurrying oars
to a South that it knew, calm
shallows of crystalline green.
Early next morning he goes looking for a cup of coffee to satisfy his "5 a.m. caffeine addiction."
Blacks are largely invisible in this part of the United States and Walcott discovers that he too
has faded to invisibility ("I was still nothing, a cipher/in its bubbling black zeros, here").
In stanza XIII the drama of this confrontation between black and white acquires an
ironical resonance when Walcott remembers his welcome at white dinner tables--and his
rejection of the condescension implicit in such welcomes:
The self-contempt that it takes
to find my place card among any
of the faces reflected In lakes
of lacquered mahogany
comes easily now. I have laughed
loudest until silence kills
the shoptalk. A fork clicks
on its plate; a cough's rifle shot
shivers the chandeliered room.
A bright arm shakes Its manacles.
Every candle-struck face stares into
Book Reviews: The Arkansas Testament
the ethnic abyss. In the oval
of a silver spoon, the window
bent in a wineglass, the offal
of flattery fed to my craft,
I watch the bright clatter resume.
In these lines Walcott plays "Here" against "Elsewhere" with a vengeance. "Black writer chap"
is invited to a dinner of placecards and chandeliers (one in the eye for Arkansas racism!), but
turns against his white hosts when they condescend (the equivalent of saying out loud "and we has
none"). The irony cuts both ways and it is an irony that only a writer equally at home Here and
Elsewhere could have pulled off successfully.
This is the high point of "The Arkansas Testament" but in the following stanzas, in this
reviewer's view, Walcott muffs it. Stanza XIV turns portentous ("Liberty turns its face; the
doctrine/of Aryan light is upheld/as sunrise stirs the lion-/coloured grasses of the veld," etc.)
and in the buzz of Big Ideas some of the excitement of the white-black confrontation is dissipated.
By the time we get to "Will I be a citizen/or an afterthought of the state?" (stanza XIX) the
reader's attention has waned, drama having lapsed into ruminativeness. In stanzas XX to XXII we
note the discursiveness of weak Auden (at one point Walcott even addresses the deity as "Sir"!)
and the last stanza peters out into the weak irony of,
it bade the Mojave rejoice,
it switched off the neon rose
of Vegas, and its shafts came to
the huge organ pipes of the sequoias,
the Pacific, and IToy's news.
Perhaps this reviewer is merely expressing a personal bias in declaring a preference
for significance that are enacted rather than proclaimed, which is perhaps only another way of
saying that he prefers James's way of dealing with the International Theme to any other. James,
as we know, ardently believed in "presentation" and this is certainly something Walcott can do
extremely well: yA "Three Musicians" from the "Here" section of The Arkansas Testament. It's
when he conspicuously fails to "present" that he can grow tediously un-Jamesian, displaying a
mind much too easily violated by an idea.
Perhaps all his admirers really ask of him is that he doesn't let his Elsewhere persona
( "one of them Oxbridge guys") get all the best lines.
University of Puerto Rico
Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico
Edward Baugh. A Tale From the Rainforest. (Poems, Caribbean Poetry Series, No. 2)
Kingston, Jamaica: Sandbury Press, 1989.
Stewart Brown. Zindr. (Poems, Poetry Wales Poets: 5) Bridgend, Midglamorgan:
Poetry Wales Press, 1986.
Gloria Escoffery. Loogerhead. (Poems, Caribbean Poetry Series, No. 1) Kingston,
Jamaica: Sandbury Press, 1988.
lan McDonald. Mercy Ward. (Poems) Calstock, Cornwall: Peterloo Poets, 1988.
Pamela Mordecai, ed. From Our Yard: Jamaica Poetry Since Indeoendence (No. 2,
Jamaica 21 Anthology Series) Kingston, Jamaica: Institute of Jamaica
Ana Rosa Nuiez. Hora Doce. (Poems, Bilingual Edition) Trans. Jay Hernandez. Buenos
Aires: El Editor Interamericano, 1988.
Analesdel Caribe. Centro del Estudios del Caribe, Casa de las Americas. EmilioJorge
Rodriguez, editor. Address: Casa de las Americas,3ra. y G, El Vedado, Ciudad de
la Habana, Cuba.
Caribbean Studies. Institute de Estudios del Caribe, Facultad de Ciencias Sociales,
Universidedde Puerto Rico. Marta M. Quifones, editor. Address: Institute of
Caribbean Studies, P. 0. Box 23361, University Station, Rio Piedras, Puerto
Rico 0093 1.
Conlunto: Teatro Latinoemericano. Casade las Americeas. Magaly Muguercia, editor.
Address: Casa de las Americes, 3ra. y 0, El Vededo, Ciuded de la Habana, Cuba.
Journal of West Indian Literature. Mark A. McWatt, editor. Address: Department of
English, University of the West Indies, P. 0. Box 64, Bridgetown, Barbados.
Kvk-Over-Al. A. J. Seymour and Ian McDonald, editors. Address: c/o Guysuco, 22
Church Street, Georgetown, Guyana.
Notes on Contributors
Diane Accara teaches in the English Department of the University of Puerto Rico. She is
finishing her doctorate in Comparative Literature and Is especially concerned with Literature
Ana D. Alvarado is a doctoral candidate in Psychology at the University of Puerto Rico. She is
also a poet and critic.
Lee Erwin currently teaches at MUCIA/Indiana University in Selangor, Malaysia. Her
particular interests focus on Women's Studies and World Literature in English.
Lowell Fiet is the editor of Sargaeso and teaches at the University of Puerto Rico.
Julio Garcia is a young Puerto Rican graphic artist. He works with the Graphic Arts Section of
the Department of Cultural Activities of the University of Puerto Rico.
Gerald Guinness teaches in the English Department of the University of Puerto Rico and
frequently contributes reviews on Caribbean and Latin American Literature to the San Juan Star
and other newspapers and magazines.
Susan Homar teaches in the Department of Comparative Literature of the University of Puerto
Rico. She is especially interested in the Caribbean novel.
Maria Milagros L6pez teaches graduate courses in Social Psychology at the University of Puerto
Consuelo L6pez Springfield taught at Inter-American University in Puerto Rico and Is currently
affiliated with Indiana University. Caribbean Literature is one of her principal areas of
Carol Matravolgyl Negr6n is a graduate student in Humanities at the University of Puerto Rico.
Patricia Pacifico teaches In the Spanish Department at Albright College in Reading,
Lizabeth Paravisini teaches in the Puerto Rican Studies Department of Herbert C. Lehman
College of the City University of New York.
Wanda E. Ramos is a doctoral candidate In Psychology at the University of Puerto Rico and is also
interested in Literature and Women's Studies.
Kathyrn Robinson is a free-lance writer and editor who lives in Puerto Rico.
Maria Cristina Rodriguez teaches at the University of Puerto Rico and Is a co-editor of Sargasso.
Ana Lydia Vega is one of Puerto Rico's most accomplished contemporary writers. She also
teaches French at the University of Puerto Rico.
Sargasso 5 (1988)
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Elaine Savory Fido ------------------------------------ 4
Ian McDonald ------------------------------------- 5
AnthonyHunt ---------------------------------------- 7
AlfredoVillanueva ------------------------------------ 8
Lorna Goodison: Gleanings ------------------------------- 9
She Walks Into Rooms ---------------------------- 10
Elaine Savory: on forgetting dust bins ---------------------- 11
crossings ----------------------------------- 12
lan McDonald: Amerindian Sequence ------------------------ 16
Christine Craig: TheChain ------------------------------ 23
In the Shallop of the Shell -------------------------- 24
Film Script ---------------------------------- 26
AnthonyHunt: Dawn: LajasValley ------------------------- 28
AlfredoVillanueva: Exilados ----------------------------- 30
Contaminated by America -------------------------- 31
Maria Arrillaga: Little Feet Cold -------------------------- 32
JosemilioGonzalez: An Interview -------------------------- 34
Six Poems on Haiti --------------------------- 40
James Collins: An Interview ----------------------------- 54
The GasMask --------------------------------- 57
Waiting For the Canadian Geese at Farr's Cove and Bicycles --- 58
Pentecost Sunday in La Hinch ----------------------- 59
Carol Tennessen: Discursive Seduction: Creole and the French of France 60
Maria Cristina Rodriguez: Pasn de historic by Ana Lydia Vega ------ 84
Michael Sharp: The Caribbean Writer. I, No. 1 ----------------- 87
Vincent Jubilee: Three Islands (poems) by Cooper, Parris, Lisowski -- 89
Michael Sharp: Death of a Pineappoole Salad: Selected Poems. 1976- 1986
Jonathan Small -------------------------------- 92
Lowell Fiet: Grenade: The Jewel Desooiled by Gordon K. Lewis ------- 94
CONTRIBUTORS ------------------------------------- 103
TABLE OF CONTENTS Sergsso 4 (1987) ------------------- 105
STUDIOS DEL CARIBE
ETUDES DES CARAIDES
WEST INDIAN LITERATURE
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