IN THIS ISSUE
Kim Dismont Robinson
Cynthia S. Pittmann
Myriam J.A. Chancy
Lulsita L6pez Torregrosa
Maria Cristina Rodriguez
Diane Accaria-Zavala and
Gertrud Aub-Buscher and
Beverley Ormerod Noakes
Women Writing the Caribbean
Writing the Caribbean
SARGASSO 2004-05 II Four Writers: Women Writing the Caribbean
Sargasso, a peer-reviewed journal of literature, language, and culture edited at the
University of Puerto Rico, publishes critical essays, interviews, book reviews, and
some creative works. Sargasso particularly welcomes material written by/about
the people of the Caribbean region and its diaspora. Unless otherwise specified,
essays and critical studies should conform to the style of the MLA Handbook. Book
reviews should be kept to no more than 1,500 words in length. All correspondence
must include one S.A.S.E. For electronic submission, write to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
P.O. Box 22831, UPR Station
San Juan, Puerto Rico 00931-2831
The Ph.D. Program in Caribbean Literature and Linguistics, Department of English,
College of the Humanities, University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras publishes Sargasso
twice yearly. It also co-hosts The Islands-In-Between, Eastern Caribbean Conference
held each November. The current volume includes selected essays presented at
conferences held in 2003 and 2004, at Antigua State College, St. John's, Antigua and
H. Lavity Stoutt Community College, Tortola, BVI, respectively.
Lowell Fiet, Founding Editor
Ian A. Bethell Bennett, Managing Editor
Maria Cristina Rodriguez, Book Review Editor
Sally Everson and Don E. Walicek, Editorial Staff
Ian A. Bethell Bennett, Sally Everson and Maria Soledad Rodriguez, Issue Editors
Jessica Adams, Tulane University
Mary Ann Gosser-Esquilin, Florida Atlantic University
Peter Roberts, University of the West Indies, Cave Hill
Ivette Romero, Marist College
Felipe Smith, Tulane University
Antonio Garcia Padilla, President of the University of Puerto Rico
Gladys Escalona de Motta, Chancellor, Rio Piedras Campus
Jose L. Ramos Escobar, Dean of Humanities
Front cover: "Four Writers"
Back photo: "Four Girls, Dominica" by Ian A. Bethell Bennett
Layout: Marcos Pastrana
Opinions and views expressed in Sargasso are those of the individual authors and are not
necessarily shared by Sargasso's Editorial Board. This journal is indexed by MLA. Copies of
Sargasso 2004-0511, as well as previous issues, are on deposit in the Library of Congress. Filed
December 2005. ISSN 1060-5533
Ian Anthony Bethell Bennett ....................................... vii
M aria Soledad Rodriguez .......................................... ............... 1
Prudence Layne and Lester Goran
Haiti: History, Voice, Empowerment
-An Interview with Edwidge Danticat .................................... 3
Joanna Barszewska Marshall
Resisting the Attempt to "Civilize" Family and Appetite
in Merle Hodge's Crick Crack, Monkey: The Struggle for
Sovereignty and the Development of an Eating Disorder ....... 19
Kim Dismont Robinson
Bourne Again: Mythic History in Paule Marshall's
The Chosen Place, The Timeless People .................. ............... 31
The Enigma of In-Between: Transdifference in
Paule M marshall's Daughters ....................................... ............... 43
Sublime Mothers: Caribbean Genealogies and Deadly
Configurations in Jamaica Kincaid's Narrative ........................ 59
Cynthia S. Pittmann
A Refusal to Negotiate: Transgression and Transformation
in Jamaica Kincaid's Annie John, Lucy and
The Autobiography of My Mother .............................. ............... 71
vi TABLE CONTENTS
Plotting Desire Between Women "In The Night" ..................... 81
Mary Ann Gosser-Esquilin
The Dew Breaker by Edwidge Danticat ..................................... 93
Spirit of Haiti by Myriam J.A. Chancy ........................................ 97
The Noise of Infinite Longing: A Memoir of a
Family and an Island by Luisita L6pez Torregrosa .................. 100
The Munch Case by Robert Buckeye.......................................... 102
What Women Lose: Exile and the Construction of
Imaginary Homelands in Novels by Caribbean Writers
by M aria Cristina Rodriguez ....................................................... 103
Mujeres excgntricas: La escritura autobiogrdfica femenina
en Puerto Rico y Cuba by Aileen Schmidt.................................. 108
Andrea E. Shaw
Prospero's Isles: The Presence of the Caribbean in the
American Imaginary edited by Diane Accaria-Zavala
and Rodolfo Popelnik .................................................................. 111
The Francophone Caribbean Today: Literature, Language,
Culture, edited by Gertrud Aub-Buscher and Beverley
Orm erod Noakes .................................................. ..................... 113
The Internationalization of English Literature: Oxford English
Literary History Volume 13 1948-2000 by Bruce King ............... 118
LIST OF CONTRIBUTORS........................................ ...................... 121
his issue of Sargasso focuses on women writing the Caribbean,
with essays concerning the works of three writers, Merle Hodge,
Jamaica Kincaid, and Paule Marshall. These, combined with an
Edwidge Danticat interview and the book reviews, bring together a
myriad of different themes and issues. The topics examined range from
attitudes toward food as an expression of a colonial mentality, to issues
of sexuality and familial relations, to women and men's lives in the
Caribbean and in the diaspora. The essays cover a broad spectrum of
issues, focusing on how women writers capture these realities in their
literary texts. In turn, the critics illustrate how the works reach a wide
audience beyond the geographic Caribbean and the impact they have
on readers. They simultaneously point out the place these authors and
works have within literary studies.
The interview with Edwidge Danticat not only brings the debates
herein published into the twenty-first century, but also illustrates how
women writers, in this particular case Danticat, capture their social
milieu and transcribe it into their texts. Considering the interview and
the review of Myriam Chancy's first novel, Spirit of Haiti, in tandem
makes this issue of Sargasso that much more relevant to our present
state of affairs in the region. The two, I think, uncover poignantly salient
themes in Caribbean women and men's social realities, be they within
the islands or in their wider diasporas. The writers here illustrate not
only the importance of Caribbean Studies as a specific field of inquiry,
but the universality of many of the themes that intersect our lives.
Ian A. Bethell Bennett
Maria Soledad Rodriguez
Chair, Antigua Conference Committee
his issue of Sargasso includes papers given at the annual Islands-
in-Between: Eastern Caribbean Island Cultures Conferences
celebrated in Antigua in 2003 and Tortola in 2004. All of them
present new thematic or theoretical approaches to works by Merle
Hodge, Paule Marshall, and Jamaica Kincaid. At the same time, the fact
that all of the authors are from universities in Italy, Germany, Puerto
Rico, and the United States confirms continuing international interest
in the works of Anglophone Caribbean women writers.
Joanna B. Marshall discusses battles over food and table manners
as representative of the struggle over Trinidadian cultural identity and
relationships in Merle Hodges's Crick Crack, Monkey. Kim Dismont
Robinson, on the other hand, tackles issues of identity in Paule
Marshall's The Chosen Place, the Timeless People by focusing on the
roles memory plays in individual and cultural histories and the
implications of a history bereft of possibilities for revision, expansion,
or novelty. Solveig Mill, for her part, analyzes issues of the ongoing
inequality of colonial and gender relations in Marshall's Daughters from
the perspective of transdifference, a term she convincingly uses in order
to suspend binary differences in her focus on women's roles in spaces
The rest of the articles have to do with Jamaica Kincaid. Manuela
Coppola examines Kincaid's approach to writing, which can be
characterized as a strategy of contradiction, from the perspective of
the sublime in which the nurturing mother becomes the terror of the
suffocating other as the repressed emerges. In a related discussion,
Cynthia Pittmann uses Foucault's analysis of power and desire to view
Kincaid's re-scripting of gendered power relations as transgressions of
the boundaries mothers impose. And finally, in her analysis of the early
2 MARIA SOLEDAD RODRiGUEZ
story, "In the Night," Keja Valens views Kincaid's narrative style as a
formal slippage in which repetition, singing, and storytelling permit a
questioning of the 'normal' and constitute it as pluralized.
These two conferences were made possible through the
collaboration of the hosts, Antigua State College and H. Lavity Stoutt
Community College in Tortola. To them, our sincerest thank you.
Haiti: History, Voice, Empowerment
-An Interview with Edwidge Danticat
Prudence Layne, Elon University and
Lester Goran, University of Miami
On April 22, 2004, Prudence Layne and Lester Goran sat down
with Haitian-American writer Edwidge Danticat to discuss the
publication of her new book The Dew Breaker. The interview
was conducted before a live audience at the University of Miami's Cosford
Cinema, Coral Gables, Florida. Following is an edited version of those
proceedings. Danticat is forthcoming in her reflections of her formative
years in Brooklyn, New York, the development of her writing, and the
state of Haiti, two hundred years after its independence.
LAYNE: During the early part of your life in Haiti, you grew up
speaking Creole and you were taught French in school.
When you came to the United States, you began to learn
English. How did you learn English?
At home we always spoke Creole. French, for me, was
definitely a language of school, books, reading, and such.
We didn't speak it everyday at home, and the way it was
taught in school, I always felt like it was forced upon me.
That was my personal experience. We weren't writing Cre-
ole at that time in the way that people are now, so I always
felt like I was speaking a language I didn't write, and writ-
ing and reading a language I didn't speak. When I came to
the United States at twelve, English was really the first
language in which I was both reading and writing, in which
I had to do both. Two of my brothers were born in the
United States, so when I came here my father would urge
4 LAYNE / GORAN / DANTICAT
me to speak English to them so I could learn faster. I was
immediately enrolled in an ESL class. We didn't have Cre-
ole materials or French materials then, so we had to im-
mediately jump into English, both to write and to speak it.
In a way, that was a kind of revelatory experience because
for the first time at twelve years old, these things were
LAYNE: Is it true that your first publication appeared in a
newspaper in English at the age of fourteen about your
immigration experience? What gave you the courage to
write publicly at fourteen in such a new language?
Well, when you're new to a language, there is this
fascination with words. I remember when we had the ESL
class, trying to write essays. We were taught through
classics like Dickens' Christmas Carol, not the whole novel,
but the book in comic book form. When I started writing
my essays for this English class, the first thing they asked
us to write about was Thanksgiving, and I had to write
about my first Thanksgiving. I said in the essay that the
turkey was golden, which I thought highly original. I might
have read it somewhere; it was probably plagiarism. The
kids laughed at me, but the teacher said, "You should try
to write." She recommended this paper called New Youth
Connections (NYC). It was a small newspaper that went
around New York City high schools, and she recommended
that I write something for them. The first thing they asked
me to write-two years away from this experience of
coming here-was about my first day in the United States
and my impressions of the place. All I could think of (I
didn't write this in the essay because it wasn't the sort of
thing to include) was that everything was so big. I was
also thinking that I wasn't going to have time to write to
my uncle [back in Haiti] because there just seemed like
there was so much to do. So I wrote about things like
getting on the escalator at JFK, where you feel like you're
risking your life, and all the lights in New York. I didn't
speak very much because I didn't speak much English and
I was very shy, but when the kids read that, they would
come up and talk to me. I was encouraged, and kept on
writing for that paper. Eventually, Breath, Eyes, Memory
HAITI: HISTORY, VOICE, EMPOWERMENT -AN INTERVIEW WITH EDWIDGE DANTICAT 5
came out of that experience because just writing about
the experience, about coming here, gave me the desire to
write more in another kind of way.
LAYNE: Did your parents stress the importance of education or
DANTICAT: My parents were obsessed with education. It sounds like a
cliche now, but they just felt like there was no other way to
escape. We were very poor in Haiti, and they just felt like
this was the only way to escape. My father would say, "It's
too late for us, but this is all for you." This is why they came.
I came on a Friday, March 21, 1981. You know everyone re-
members the date of their arrival, and by Monday I was in
school. Over that weekend, there was some conversation
between my parents as to whether I should wait through
the Spring, and then go to school in the fall. However, my
father insisted that whatever I could learn during that time,
was more useful than staying at home and doing nothing.
So they were very, very interested in getting us settled. I
remember when I didn't get accepted to the high school I
chose. I had decided I wanted to be a nurse at that point,
and there was a high school for the health professions. In-
stead, I was assigned to my zone school, the high school
closest to my home, which had this reputation for great
violence. My father-I still don't know where he got the
courage-he went to Clara Burton High School and spoke
to the principal. He said, "You know my daughter has to
come to this school. This is the school for her." They re-
versed the decision of not having taken me. There was a
kind of mission about the idea of education. The arts they
left to us to explore for ourselves. There was no hindering,
but there was less time and money for things like that, but
the idea of education in general was very strong.
LAYNE: Do you remember what it was like growing up as a young
Haitian girl in New York City and the period of adjustment?
What did you do to blend in? Did you notice when your
speech started to change, like so many of us who have
immigrated to the U.S.?
DANTICAT: I remember the first thought I had in English because soon
after I started school, I got the chicken pox, I think maybe
6 LAYNE / GORAN / DANTICAT
it was stress-related. I had to stay home for a week, and I
was dreading that moment where the teacher was going
to say where were you after all this time, so I practiced in
my head to say "I was sick. I was sick." I remember coming
to that by myself, realizing that "Mwen the Malad" meant
I was sick, and having to say it to the teacher. I was also
dreading the follow up question, "Well what sickness did
you have?" I hadn't gotten that far. It was a strange
adjustment at that time, and it was related in some ways
to Florida because it was the first time you had a big wave
of people coming here by boat and it was making the
national news. There were images of bodies washed up
on the beach; we'd never seen anything like that, and
people were also just talking about AIDS. When we went
to school, these were the things that were confronting us.
People would call us 'Voodoo doll,' 'Frenchie,' 'Boat
People,' and a lot of the kids would beat up on us. That
was just a regular part of it. I remember we had an idea.
All the Haitian kids in gym class, who had been beaten up,
decided one day that they were going to frighten the other
kids, and they had the American Horror movies, those B
movies, in mind. I hadn't realized it at the time, but we
were using stereotypes to save us. The kids decided that
the next day we'd come to school with talcum powder in
red handkerchiefs and throw them at the kids, and it
worked because they left us alone for a while.
LAYNE: So you remember your first thought in English, do you
remember the first novel that you read in English?
DANTICAT: Yes, it wasn't a novel. It was Maya Angelou's I Know Why
the Caged Bird Sings, and again it was at my first English
teacher's recommendation. I remember reading that book
with a dictionary because I didn't get all the meanings.
But I remember thinking how brave that was-the act of
writing that book-because there was so much revelation
in it. It was so honest and so brave. The first novel was
Paule Marshall's Brown Girl, Brownstones.
LAYNE: So those were two of your literary influences? Who else?
DANTICAT: I felt like these were first great encounters because with
Brown Girl Brownstones, there was that sudden idea of
HAITI: HISTORY, VOICE, EMPOWERMENT -AN INTERVIEW WITH EDWIDGE DANTICAT 7
recognition. I perceived certain things in the book that
were happening in my life. At the same time my father was
trying to buy our first house, so the struggle of that and
then watching the parallel story in the book was very
interesting. Again, with Maya Angelou, I was intrigued by
her honesty. I think it made me a little braver in writing,
coming across that book. I remember my James Baldwin
summer of reading. He was the first person I decided to
just read everything he's ever written because I had read
Go Tell it on the Mountain. I also remember the great joy of
discovering Haitian novels for the first time, because we
hadn't been taught Haitian authors in Haiti, at least when
I was in school; we were taught French novels. It was in
New York that I discovered some wonderful Haitian writers,
including: Marie Chauvet, J.J. Dominique, Jacques Stephen
Alexis, and others.
LAYNE: What kind of process do you go through when you're
writing? Is there any kind of alchemy involved?
I don't have a routine. I find when I start, I don't want to
do anything else. I don't want to do laundry. You just kind
of want to be in that space, life, and truth. You just want to
stay there. It was easier when I lived alone because you
just block out and begin, but I find it's like a trance once
you get started and you just want to be in that world at all
costs. I cherish those moments. I don't light candles or
burn incense or anything like that even though I think if
that would help I would do that too. There's really no
routine. I find it's easier at night to write at night. When I
can, I write at night because it's just easier to block out
Is writing fun, therapeutic, or both for you?
Sometimes. Other times, it's hell. There is something really
wonderful about writing with just a kernel of something in
mind, and then seeing this other thing emerge. I enjoy that
part. I feel like the privilege of being a writer is that you
really have the front row seat to the story. You find out
first the little surprises, those moments where you're like,
"Oh, I didn't know this was going to happen." I think those
are great, but sometimes writing is also very hard. The
LAYNE / GORAN / DANTICAT
very best advice I've ever gotten about that was from a
teacher I had at Barnard. At that time when I was writing,
I couldn't finish. I would just start things and stop. She
said, "You just have to realize it's never going to be the
way you imagined because the mind is so vast, and there
are only so many words in any new language." You try to
get it as close as possible, but it's never going to match
LAYNE: You've experimented with a variety of genres-poetry, the
short story, fiction, of course. You've also worked with
the travelogue, and memoir. Which genre poses the most
difficulty for you, and is there another direction you'd like
to see your writing go as you develop as a writer?
I'd like to try to do plays. I'd done a little bit when I was
doing my Masters in Fine Arts at Brown University, and I
think that would probably be the most challenging because
one has to accept the idea of having collaborators. When
you write like I do now, it's you and your editor, but this
idea that you need other people for the writing to come to
life was something that I had to get used to. I've always
tried to experiment, not to feel like I'm limited to one form
because I'm very much influenced by many different
genres. That was the way I first heard stories and that idea
of just going in different directions is exciting to me. It
also offers good pauses between writing a particular type
LAYNE: But you aren't just a writer, you're also a teacher. What do
you teach your students about the craft of writing? Do
you have a philosophy of writing?
The first thing I say is that we're all writers together. I
think that's important because it's a process and I can't
give you the key. There are no formulas, and what works
for one writer might not work for another. So I try to
discover what the person is trying to achieve and to help
them towards that goal because I don't think you can
necessarily teach writing. I also like to point out what I
see students/co-writers doing repeatedly, what their
patterns are, and if they're working for them. But I think
the best you can do is to help the person find his/her
HAITI: HISTORY, VOICE, EMPOWERMENT -AN INTERVIEW WITH EDWIDGE DANTICAT 9
strength. However, they must have specific ideas of what
they'd like to do with their work because what I'm trying
to help them do may not be what they're trying to do.
GORAN: I wanted to ask you along those lines of whether writing
could be taught. At what point in The Dew Breaker did
you decide what the book was about? You were working
on, as the New York Times calls it, a collection of short
stories. We heard it referred to as a novel. At what point
did you decide what the theme of the book was? Were parts
of it rewritten to meet your theme.
I feel like the structure of the book was a gift. Actually, the
first story "The Book of the Dead," I wrote when I was
visiting here [at the University of Miami]. I was living in
this sort of hotel/long-term motel, and I started writing
this story about a daughter and her father. They were on
a trip to Florida, which is why it's set in Florida. The daugh-
ter is an artist and she had sculpted her father. The story
was really meant to be about this daughter's struggle to
get her father to accept her art, but in this series of sur-
prises, the father was so strangely moved by [the sculp-
ture] that he confesses his past and the things that he
did. The mother surfaced in both stories and there was a
middle story called "The Book of Miracles" about the
mother. It all spooled from this story, and I started writing
other stories. I was in the throes of these people's lives.
Even when I was writing the story about the couple that is
reunited, and end up living in these people's basement,
they all became connected. There were two people, that
maybe by the fourth story, I felt had a connection, and the
pattern started to emerge. When I was done and the edi-
tor started reading it, we actually took out a lot of more
obvious connections because there were moments when
it felt like I was reaching to make these people connect.
There were two people that I knew would be familiar to all
these people. One was the dew breaker, who is the main
character, and a sort of torturer that all the people in the
story are somewhat connected to, and the other is
Gabrielle Fontaineau, who is this Haitian-American actress.
She was meant to be a kind of light counterpart to his hor-
ror. At some point, everyone was watching her on televi-
10 LAYNE / GORAN / DANTICAT
sion, but the editor said "No, you have to take that out
because it just seems too much." If anything, we ended
up paring down these connections, but to me, there were
GORAN: Yes, the famous linkage that people are always talking
about, you had to work not to establish that linkage too
Yes, we actually had to tone it down because, maybe by
the fourth story, it was just so strong.
GORAN: How apparent to you was the idea of voicelessness? Is
this a kind of metaphor that you've discovered as private,
this kind of voicelessness of Haiti with your characters
who can't speak?
I was always intrigued by voicelessness. In the story "Water
Child," there's a woman who had a laryngectomy. I had
an uncle who had a laryngectomy, and even before that
he had throat cancer. My uncle was a minister, a preacher,
who lost his voice. He came to the States, and my brother
and I, we were very young, about fourteen, had to take
him to the hospital because our level of English was maybe
a step ahead of his. This idea of communicating or lack of
communication, and all the different layers of that, was
always something that intrigued me. When people come
here, they lose their voice because they don't speak a
language, and sometimes the children have to be the
interpreters. Powerlessness, this notion of using language
or not being able to use language to communicate, and
the way people become infantilized by their inability to
speak in certain settings, intrigues me.
GORAN: I found that running all through the nine stories. How did
you feel the day you discovered that the dew breaker was
a scholar of Egyptian art? That must have been a great
day for you.
That was a great day. Actually that spawns a little bit from
my own extreme fascination with ancient Egyptian culture,
especially mortuary rites, and this idea that you can still
refashion the afterworld. It's almost like Masonry rites.
These things that you say, it's just like entering a secret
HAITI: HISTORY, VOICE, EMPOWERMENT -AN INTERVIEW WITH EDWIDGE DANTICAT 11
society. This idea that you can reshape the dead and the
whole notion of preservation of bodies as opposed to the
situation that people like the dew breaker created where
life is not respected. I've gone back to Haiti for funerals
over the years, and people sometimes plough their cars
through funeral processions. This never used to happen,
but we're a society that's in trouble when we don't respect
the dead, not just the spirits, but also the bodies.
GORAN: I was wondering what you were thinking about when you
enrolled at Barnard for French Literature, finished there,
and then went for an MFA. In French Literature, you were
looking for some kind of meaning for yourself as a person
who was going to deal with literature, which, as sometimes
you know, has nothing to do with the creative act. Then
you went to Brown, which is generally known as an
experimental school where John Hawkes and Robert
Coover taught. You haven't succumbed to the temptation
to write like they do, and you also haven't succumbed to
the temptation to be a French scholar either.
Actually, there's a bridge where Coover, Hawkes, and the
French literature meet. This was not my specialization, but
the people who most intrigued me in the French literature
were the surrealists, people like Andre Breton & George
Perec. I was very much intrigued with them. My studies of
the French surrealists gave me a language to talk about
people's work in the program. I felt like it gave me a way to
have a conversation, a bridge to the experimental.
GORAN: You spoke of good times in your MFA. How many good
times can you have in an MFA before the good times start
to encroach on your literary aspirations?
I didn't have that many good times really. [laughter] One
of the things the MFA offers, and I think it's a really valuable
thing, is the fellowship of other writers. The idea of meeting
regularly with other people who are also serious about
writing, and talking about your work in a very serious way
is something that you can't really get your friends to do.
They have to be objective. They have to respond. That
was very valuable whether you like what they're saying
or agree with them, but these are things you can learn
LAYNE / GORAN / DANTICAT
from, and also to have that time for writing. I always saw it
as the opportunity to really take the time and sit and write
in an environment that was supportive of writing. I got to
do a lot of reading, and I worked a little bit for the
Providence Journal, which was the local paper. I got to do
plays. You can try different things. It's an interesting time
in that way.
GORAN: I think Prudence's question is a good one and I'll make it
my last. Can you teach creative writing?
Can you Lester? I can bounce that back to you.
I can't. I can hope that people will learn, but I wonder
whether you think that people can?
Well I agree with that. I don't think you can teach people
necessarily to write. I think one example is that
sometimes, especially when you teach undergraduates,
you end up with people in your class who don't really
want to be writers, but they've heard it's an easy "A," so
they end up in your class not very interested. I think
they're good in some ways; they are good subjects to
see if there are improvements over time. What probably
makes the teaching interesting is that passion. You can
have someone who's struggling with language, who's
struggling with words, but if they have a good story that
they're passionate about, they're passionate for writing,
or they're passionate about the story, I think you can help
that person. I don't necessarily think you can teach
writing, but I think you can facilitate and identify things
that might take that person a longer period of time to
notice about their work. When I teach, I have those
students in my class, even if they're struggling with telling
the story, who have a passion. I love to work with students
like that if they really have a story and they have a passion
for that story.
LAYNE: What kind of advice do you offer to young people about
the odds of becoming financially successful at writing?
Most writers have another way of earning a living. It's not
the fastest way to make money. That's where the passion
comes in. There are people who write for many, many years
HAITI: HISTORY, VOICE, EMPOWERMENT -AN INTERVIEW WITH EDWIDGE DANTICAT 13
before they've published. I think you have to tell yourself
if you want to go into writing to make money, it's not the
wisest path, but the people who have that drive and pas-
sion will do it no matter what even if no one ever reads it.
If you're practical, you'll send things out and so forth. But
you should also ask yourself some tough questions. Would
you still write if nobody would read it? Would you still
think of writing if you didn't see a clear path to publica-
tion? I think you have to ask yourself these questions be-
cause the odds are very small that most people who write
will become rich writing.
LAYNE: You did an interview with Renee Shea called "The
Dangerous Job of Edwidge Danticat."
DANTICAT: She gave it that title.
LAYNE: Right, she did. You said in that interview that it's sometimes
difficult for you to go back and read some of your work like
Breath, Eyes, Memory, for example. You can read parts of
the novel, but not in its entirety. This idea that Toni Morrison
talks about in terms of feeling like your work's never done.
Do you feel that way? Are there things you feel you would
change or do differently, even in The Dew Breaker?
Definitely! I think if I were writing Breath, Eyes, Memory
now, it would be a whole different book, so I think there's
always that feeling when you're reading, even when I have
to read it aloud, that there are things that just make you
cringe because you've had the experience of writing, and
then you have the experience of having done other things,
but I wouldn't take it as far as trying to redo it. I always
say to myself this is the best I could have done then, and
it also represents what you were doing at that time. I take
the opportunity when I have to read out loud to rewrite
certain paragraphs and people are scandalized by the
markings in my books because they feel like I'm
desecrating the books. Of course there is always that
feeling that you are never done, but there's that moment
when you just have to walk away.
LAYNE: What one thing in The Dew Breaker do you think you might
have changed, and I ask you that only because it's your
most recent work?
LAYNE / GORAN / DANTICAT
I feel like I would have gone back to the daughter one more
time. Even though I can't imagine how it would have been,
I might have returned to her a little bit more.
LAYNE: What's interesting for me is that the dew breaker is never
named, and we see him as a dew breaker, a father, a
barber... I think he speaks to the idea of marassa that we
see in your work, and the fact that we have a Ying and a
Yang. Is there some significance you place on not giving
him a name?
Well he has a name. He calls himself Bienaime, but it is a
name he gives himself because he has changed his name.
I didn't name him because even the name he has is a fake
name, and I wanted to leave the possibilities open. Haiti
suffered a very long dictatorship of which the dew breaker
was a part, a dictatorship that lasted twenty-nine years,
and there are so many people like him, from that period
that we are literally unable to name.
Does the name Bienaime mean well-liked?
The second part of that question was whether one of the
themes of the book was forgiveness. We see the dew
breaker through his daughter's eyes and his wife's ability
to forgive him for killing her step-brother.
It approaches forgiveness in a complicated way. Should
we forgive? I don't know that we have the right to forgive
him so much, but we also have to acknowledge that these
people are part of our society and to acknowledge the
circumstances which created them. Would they have
become something else if there were other possibilities
for their lives? It tries to address all of these questions,
especially in a place like Miami, one of the first places of
flight next to the Dominican Republic, where you have so
many of these people walking around and we don't even
realize it. What do we do with them? Do we completely
consider ourselves outside of them?
LAYNE: In a sense though, isn't the dew breaker transformed by
his wife's love? Doesn't he become something else?
HAITI: HISTORY, VOICE, EMPOWERMENT -AN INTERVIEW WITH EDWIDGE DANTICAT 15
He becomes something else. I think, not to excuse him
particularly, he had been caught up in something, but he
wanted to get out and he was looking for ways to redefine
LAYNE: I've heard you say that your books are more autobiographi-
cal in spirit than in source and actual details. What kind of
sources did you use to write The Dew Breaker?
The Dew Breaker, I feel, shows my last, constant exposure.
Having been born in a dictatorship, and then leaving in '81,
this book covers the last lengthy period I lived in Haiti. I was
always fascinated by that period because you get it when
you're young in fragments (you hear so and so had to flee
and so and so had to go), and I really wanted in my writing to
revisit and to piece together these things. That was really
the beginning. As I go back to our conversation about voice-
lessness and silence, it was so hard to get my parents to talk
about the dictatorship. They just say, "We survived, and
that's it." They don't even want to talk about it. A lot of people
still don't want to talk about it. It was unlike The Farming of
Bones and trying to unearth testimony. This was more re-
cent. I found that I could confirm a lot of things in the news-
papers and in Life magazine. Life magazine, it turned out,
wrote a lot about the Duvaliers, so that you could use jour-
nalistic sources. You could unearth things that you vaguely
remember. For example, there was a day when they said we
couldn't go to school because there was this American ship
in the harbor, and I could read a thousand words about
that in U.S. newspapers from that period. It was an inter-
esting mix this time. It was a level of lived experiences,
reluctant testimonials, and these journalistic sources.
LAYNE: One theme that I see in Breath, Eyes, Memory and The Dew
Breaker is writing trauma-the trauma of history-on the
body. Sophie, for example, is the product of her mother's
rape and her face reminds her mother of the event. Here,
the dew breaker has this horrific scar on his face. Could
you say a little about what that speaks to-the trauma of
history/history as trauma?
It's perhaps as simple as this proverb, "Bay you blive, pote
mate sonje," which means the one who gives the blow may
LAYNE / GORAN / DANTICAT
forget, but the one who bears the scar remembers, and it
gives you that marking in a physical way, but in a very
marked-on-the-flesh kind of way. The dew breaker has the
task of both having given the blow and carrying the scar.
The abuse too was psychological, and in so many cases, it
was so physical. People were beaten, tortured. The body
was attacked as well as the soul.
LAYNE: In some ways then is life more arduous for those who leave
than it is for those who stay in Haiti?
It depends. You can't generalize because there are
people who have extraordinarily wonderful lives, and
others who suffer daily. I think it depends on the
circumstances under which people are living.
LAYNE: Would you go back and live in Haiti, and under what
I would go back if I went to live in the countryside. That's
the only place I think I could live, in the countryside,
because the social structures of the other places would
be too difficult.
LAYNE: I wanted to bring up a personal essay you wrote in 1996 in
The Caribbean Writer called 'We are Ugly, But We Are Here!"
(Nou Led, Nou La!). It proclaims that the very essence of
one's life/existence lies in our ability to survive. You also
questioned Haiti's legacy. I wondered in this bicentennial
year of Haiti's independence if you would reflect on what
you wrote back then, more than eight years ago, about
what it means to be Haitian, and the lessons that still
remain to be learned.
I think that this is a very important year, and it would have
been regardless of current events, but more so in light of
the fact that, for example, for the first time since indepen-
dence, you have French troops on Haitian soil. No matter
where you are on the political debate, even to think of
what that means in terms of where we have been in the
past two hundred years, and how we have gotten along
together. Are we able to solve our own problems, and what
this will mean for the next two hundred years? In that es-
say I tried to talk about the absence of the contributions
HAITI: HISTORY, VOICE, EMPOWERMENT -AN INTERVIEW WITH EDWIDGE DANTICAT 17
of Haitian women, who I think have not really had the op-
portunity to contribute as much as they could to the re-
building, to the moving forward of the society. I think it's a
year that everyone knew would be bittersweet, in terms
of where we started compared to where we are now. Now
it's even more painful and even more disturbing in a way.
But I think it's even more important now to acknowledge
that it didn't take away from what we have done. It doesn't
take away from what we accomplished.
LAYNE: That's a nice segue into my final question about your
contributions. I know you're a bit young to be talking about
legacy, but what kind of legacy might you want to leave
behind as a Haitian woman and writer?
Wow, legacy is a big word. I guess these books because I
feel like these are really the closest things to myself, to
my soul, that I could leave. In some ways they have been
important to my own survival, and I hope that they can be
important for others as well.
Resisting the Attempt to "Civilize" Family and
Appetite in Merle Hodge's Crick Crack, Monkey:
The Struggle for Sovereignty and the
Development of an Eating Disorder
Joanna Barszewska Marshall
University of Puerto Rico, Cayey
In Merle Hodge's Crick Crack, Monkey, set in pre-independence
Trinidad, two aunts vie to "mother" the central character Tee. The
struggle between Tee's maternal (Beatrice) and paternal (Tantie)
aunts, who each wish to create a family they can cherish, is one of class,
race, color, and culture. As Hodge observed in a 1989 interview, the
struggle over the child, Tee, is symbolic of the struggle over a sovereign
Trinidadian culture, contested by various cultural "mothers" (including
Mother England). This conflict is frequently played out as a battle over
food and table manners: children are enticed to one side or another
with offers of cocoa, ice cream, sweets, and roast corn, among other
appetizing foods. They are taught with food, bribed with food, rewarded
or forgiven with food, and punished with threats of withholding food.
Philosopher Slavoj Zizek argues that foodways are one of the ritual
forms of enjoyment by which cultures define and maintain themselves.
While some anthropologists also emphasize the vital role that the
sharing of food has played in the maintenance of kinship networks in
many, if not all, societies, others have defined meal tables as "the
training grounds of a family, a community and a civilization" (Morag
Fraser, cited in Lupton 38). Additionally, cultural studies scholar
Deborah Lupton affirms that the family meal is both "an important site
for the construction and reproduction of the contemporary family"
and an "integral event ... in which children are acculturated into the
rules and norms of 'civilized' behavior" (38). Rituals involving food
then, are sites of kinship and enjoyment as well as sites of power
relations and conflict.
JOANNA BARSZEWSKA MARSHALL
Zi2ek claims, for example, that conflicts between cultures often
develop from perceived threats to these forms of enjoyment. And within
a culture, tension can develop between the emotional or affiliative
aspects of eating and the "civilizing" or socializing dimensions of the
family meal. In Crick Crack, Monkey, the two scenes of conflict merge;
the struggle to define and reproduce a sovereign Trinidadian family is
also a struggle between cultures, and both conflicts highlight the vital
role of food in the maintenance and reproduction of family and culture.
As the Afro-Trinidadian and Indo-Trinidadian cuisine of Tee's early
childhood is gradually replaced by a cuisine based on English
preferences, the struggle between Tantie and Beatrice is represented
as a choice between "ordinary" pleasures, or even indulgence, and
"nice" or "proper" tastes. Such development of "good" and "bad" taste
was also a key concern in the process that sociologist Stephen Mennell
has called the "civilizing of appetite" in 18th and 19th century Europe.
As Mennell explains it, this civilizing process attempted to control
impulses and emotions as a way of demarcating the upper from the
lower classes. And, as the attempt at control moved from the court to
the site of the emerging middle-class family, it emphasized notions of
propriety and good taste that developed around eating practices and
table manners. Behaviors that emphasized the appearance of delicacy
and the avoidance of vulgarity signified social standing (315-317).
The attempt to "civilize" Tee's appetites in Crick Crack, Monkey links
this concern for the civilization of appetite with the civilizing project
of empire. It also highlights a disproportionate concern over gaining
control of the female body in both venues and should remind readers
that the attempt to enhance social standing through the production of
a middle-class family that requires the civilizing of appetite also
produces anxiety, guilt, and rebellion as some of its main effects,
especially in females. Studies of anorexia, for example, sometimes
emphasize the rebellious component in the behavior of young girls
around the dinner table of the Victorian family-at a time when,
according to Mennell, the "civilizing of appetite" reached its peak in
Hodge's novel, as I will argue, ultimately resists the attempt to
"civilize" the Trinidadian family and the Trinidadian appetites in accord
with the model of Mother England-by resisting the reproduction of
mothering and the model of the nuclear family that is supposed to be
produced at the family meal. The novel recognizes the key role of the
family meal in the civilizing and colonizing project; thus challenges to
the discourse of a proper family meal play a significant part in the
RESISTING THE ATTEMPT TO "CIVILIZE" FAMILY...
novel's broader challenge to colonization. The path to resistance,
however, is also marked by the development of a thoroughly colonized
eating disorder in the central character Tee.
The extent to which notions of the "proper" begin to dominate Tee's
feelings about herself are highlighted in a passage where the 8-to-10-
year-old describes her invention of the character Helen as her double.
In Tee's words, Helen represents "The Proper Me." Tee models Helen
after the "normal" and "real" girls who people the obviously British
books that Tee borrows from the library. Besides speaking properly
and wearing socks and shoes, Helen demonstrates her propriety
through particular food rituals, like having tea. Tee, whose name is a
homonym for that quintessentially British meal, appears to have
ingested the gender and class lessons of the Victorian novel. As Helena
Mitchie reveals in her analysis of the Victorian social novel, the control
of female appetite was linked to the maintenance of class distinctions.
Mitchie exposes a logic that "links hunger, spice, richness, and sex"
(15). For middle-class heroines, who are supposed to be sexually
innocent and even virginal, "the spectre of the fallen woman comes in
from the streets to haunt the dining room" so that "a lapse in table
manners becomes a fall from grace" (18, 19). The "appropriately sexed
woman ... eats little and delicately"; and her most appropriate meal,
the most delicate of all, is afternoon tea (15, 17). For the preadolescent
Tee, or her double Helen, tea, served by the fireside at four o'clock,
"with delicious scones and home-made strawberry jam," is the meal a
proper child would expect to eat when she visits her Granny (67). Tee's
double Helen also demonstrates her propriety by eating potatoes
instead of rice (67).
Instruction in such proper foods began early for Tee, if indirectly,
with instructions for writing and reading that began with the alphabet,
and emphasized that "A" is for apple. To begin, the assumption of this
natural association is partially undermined because apples are
experienced as an "exotic" fruit by Tee. Tee may or may not know that
apple trees do not grow well in the Caribbean, but she does know that
apples are only available to her at Christmas (27). Apples may be a
"proper" fruit, but they do not belong to (so, are not proper to) the
Caribbean. By the time Tee creates Helen, however, the rightness of
apples is so accepted that apple trees and pear trees are the only
appropriate trees for her garden.
When Tee later wins a scholarship to high school and moves to town
to live with her Aunt Beatrice, the lessons are intensified. Beatrice
JOANNA BARSZEWSKA MARSHALL
continually lectures Tee and the rest of her family on "decency." High
on her list of decent living are serving tea and little cakes for an
afternoon gathering with her parish priest and various "ladies" of the
church (41), buying "proper" foods like potato chips, stuffed olives,
Worcestershire sauce, and French dressing (100), and insisting that
Tee eat rice off a plate, with a fork. When Tee absentmindedly reverts
to eating her rice from a bowl and with a spoon, Beatrice reprimands
her for bringing Tantie's "ordnryness" and "niggeryness" into her decent
home (105). Beatrice similarly condemns the hot pepper sauce Tee
had once loved as "nastiness" (87).
Aunt Beatrice epitomizes the dictates of a discourse in which a
proper persona and segregation between groups are constructed by
acceptance of appropriate and edible foods and rejection of and even
disgust with inappropriate and inedible foods (Lupton 16). Thus for
Beatrice, these nasty, spicy foodways are associated, as they were in
the Victorian mindset, with "nasty" sexual habits. In her worldview,
Tantie is a "fallen woman" (116), and Beatrice appears to be as offended
by Tantie's acceptance of such low-class foods as she is by Tantie's
relations with various male companions whom the children call "uncle."
What is unacceptable and disgusting to Beatrice is associated with the
colored children of Mother England. Perhaps unaware that the British
had claimed "curry" as one of their national dishes in the nineteenth
century, as Uma Narayan reveals (3), Beatrice also rejects roti and curry
and other "coolie" foods as "nasty" and "ordinary."1 Likewise, Beatrice
is probably also unaware of the connection between afternoon tea and
the colonization of India.
By the end of her high school education and the close of the novel,
Tee has become so ashamed of her former pleasures that she is horrified
when Tantie invades Beatrice's drawing room with Toddan, Tee's
younger brother, Doolarie, Tee's former playmate, and "Uncle" Sylvester,
apparently one of Tantie's male companions. Tantie and her
companions seem unconcerned about bringing their tastes out of the
place that has been assigned as their own. But the "worst moment" of
I Narayan and I, recognize that the "curry powder" which was basic to Victorian
British recipes was a "fabrication" that would have been unrecognizable in a South
Indian home or store, but I use the information to highlight the possibility that
Beatrice's foodways come closer to mimicking British colonials in India than the
metropolitan British in England, since metropolitan British did not feel the same
pressure as the colonials to differentiate themselves from the colonized.
RESISTING THE ATTEMPT TO "CIVILIZE" FAMILY...
the visit for Tee is identified with what and how they eat. Tee reports
that "they drew forth a series of greasy paper bags, announcing that
they contained poolarie, anchar, roti from Neighb' Ramlaal-Wife, and
accra and fry-bake and zaboca from Tantie." "[I]n short," Tee explains,
"all manner of ordinary nastiness." Disgusted, Tee refuses to share the
meal with them, and uses one of Beatrice's favorite dictums to condemn
Uncle Sylvester's table manners as he settles back to eat with "sounds
of satisfaction." Embarrassed that Beatrice's daughters might be
giggling behind their backs, Tee cringes when Uncle Sylvester opens
"his jaws wide enough to accommodate Government House" (117,118).
Uncle Sylvester's coarseness, overfed stomach and his eating habits
seem to epitomize the self-indulgence, gluttony, and lack of control
over the body that characterized an uncivilized or unrefined appetite
in nineteenth- and twentieth-century Europe.
Although Tee, the character, adopts the attitudes of Aunt Beatrice
and of her schoolbooks, she does so with a degree of ambivalence,
while the narrative written by Hodge takes a more assured position in
these culture wars. In her presentation at the first international meeting
of the Association for Caribbean Women Writers and Scholars, Hodge
identified fiction as a weapon. Just as Tee's schoolbooks implant
particular notions of proper behavior, creative fiction written in protest
against the assumptions of this education has the power to change the
world ("Challenges" 202). By making visible the Caribbean society that
was excluded from the traditional canon, these stories allow the people
to take their world and their culture seriously (205). Therefore, Hodge's
own writing should be understood as a "guerilla" activity. In order to
counter the arrogance of her school books, she does not idealize or
flatter the society in which she was raised. But, in contrast to Tee who
creates a proper "Helen" as the main character in her stories, Hodge
uses her novel to portray the lives of women she admired as a child,
women who did not know their place, nor live by the rules of nice
society. These women provide her with everyday models of cultural
sovereignty (207, 208).
The decision to highlight examples of multiple mothers is central to
the novel's guerilla action. For the mother-daughter relationship in
Western nuclear families is a primary vehicle not only for the
Reproduction of Mothering, as Nancy Chodorow argued, but also for
the reproduction of culture and nation. For example, when Brinda Mehta
explores the connection between food chauvinism and cultural
chauvinism in some pre-independence Indo-Trinidadian fiction, she
observes that the traditional cooking and sharing of food between
JOANNA BARSZEWSKA MARSHALL
mothers and daughters develop a particular sense of belonging, playing
a large part in the cultural stability or rootedness of their community
(154,155). Anne Goldman similarly observes that cooking is a metonym
for culture and that both the "culinary metaphor" and the "reproductive
models of cultural development" are specifically maternal and based
on a female legacy. These metaphors are culturally resonant and are
even more powerful because they appear non-threatening in their
"apparent avoidance of overt political discourse" (172).
Hodge, in her challenge to colonial assumptions, exposes the
threatening nature of food matters and highlights the existence of
alternative definitions of family and patterns of mothering in the
Caribbean. When confronted by the notion that women such as Tantie
are "mother-figures" or "substitute" mothers, Hodge insists that they
are mothers. She validates a culture where children are shared and
live in multiple homes, and insists that these are "proper" families.
They are appropriate for the island and as legitimate family structures.
A desire to imitate the nuclear family structure, on the other hand, is
"nonsense" and represents a fantasy that those on their way up are
encouraged to imitate by the official value system ("Artists" 655, 658).
By removing Tee's biological mother from the nuclear family early
in Tee's childhood, Hodge weakens Tee's potential attachment to the
fantasy and makes any cultural identity a matter for struggle rather
than a seemingly natural inheritance. Symbolically, then, the island's
culture is also detached from any "natural" attachment to a particular,
legally or officially defined, mother. With the introduction of multiple
mothers and shared mothering, the reproduction of values associated
with mother-daughter relationships also changes. If Tee had seemed
to "belong" too closely to what readers and she, as a student of official
culture, might see as her "natural" mother, it would be more difficult
for the novel to suggest that creative, competing, or blended cultural
systems might represent acceptable options for her to identify with.
Each of Tee's mothers educates her about cultural identity and cultural
relationships through various approaches to food. The novel's
depictions of multiple mothering and struggles over food question
official notions of what is "proper"-both in the sense of which kinds
of cultural practice "belong" to Tee and the island and which practices
are respectable as well as enjoyable.
Tee is most vulnerable to the official fantasy as an adolescent who
is trying to "better" her status through education in the island's "better"
schools; it is primarily at that age, and in that context, that she is prone
to shame. Other elements of the novel, however, resist, deflate, and/or
RESISTING THE ATTEMPT TO "CIVILIZE" FAMILY...
reject that fantasy. Tee's earliest experiences are, during the school
year, in the home of Tantie, a paternal aunt who lives in a village, adopts
various children, and appears to have various male companions whom
the children call "Uncle," and, during the August vacation, in the home
of Ma, her paternal grandmother, who lives in the country, adopts
various children, and supports herself as a marketwoman.
Ma's place in the country is described as an "enchanted" land where
Tee, her brother Toddan, and their country-cousins are immersed in a
rural black Creole culture. Ma provides a simultaneously disciplined
and accepting environment in which food plays a prominent role. Ma
considers gluttony "one of the cardinal sins of childhood" and so the
children are not allowed to gorge themselves; they partake of Ma's
"delicacies" only when Ma sees fit. But these delicacies are enticing-the
children feed on the smells as well as the tastes of cashews, pommes-
cytheres, cerises, guava-cheese and jelly, sugar-cake, nut-cake, bennay-
balls, toolum, shaddock-peel candy, and chilibibi. They go out with Ma
to gather baskets full of oranges, manoges, chenettes, and plantains
(15, 16). And Ma's pepper-sauce is a favorite food that they pour over
rice, fish-soup, and even bread (87). Both the focus on discipline and
the simple fact of naming such foods as delicacies to be yearned after
combat the idea that apples and potatoes are the foods that belong to
the most civilized and desirable cultures.
As Rhonda Cobham observed, Ma is also the mother who introduces
Tee and the other children to a form of storytelling that is marked by
the title phrase "Crick Crack, Monkey" (47). With these words, they
are being educated in the ability to separate the fantasy world from
the "real" world. Tee's storybooks, however, have no such marker, and
their world appears even more "real" than the world in which she is
living (68). It will take experience different than Ma's for Tee to recognize
official stories as fantasy.
Tee's heritage, however, is not single, and the practices of Ma's home
do not and should not define its proper limits. For Tee spends most of
her year with Tantie, and enjoys a decidedly multicultural way of life.
Ma's neighbors include Indo-Trinidadians as well as other black Creoles
and Chinese merchants. Tantie and Neighb' Ramlaal-Wife regularly look
after each other's children and Tantie even adopts Doolarie, an Indo-
Trinidadian child, as she adopted the children of her relatives, Mikey,
Tee, and Toddan. The whole street where Tantie lives works together
to exclude the likes of Aunt Beatrice from their community. As Mehta
indicates, upper-class Hindus may have been as eager as those who
aspired to upper-class British status to preserve their way of life from
26 JOANNA BARSZEWSKA MARSHALL
contamination by outsiders or untouchables; but "lower-class" Indo-
Trinidadian women were more comfortable with the kind of creolization
that has become more fashionable today (167). The possibility of this
early acceptance and enjoyment of cultural mixtures is evidenced by
the attitudes of poor Afro-Trinidadians and Indo-Trinidadians in Hodge's
novel. As much as the young Tee loves Ma's pepper-sauce, she also
enjoys dalpouri, pelau, and roti as childhood favorites. She associates
eating such spicy foods off banana leaves with the height of festivity
and looks forward to it with as much anticipation as if it were a
Christmas feast (87, 95).
When a 5-to-6-year-old Tee and her even younger brother are first
introduced to the supposedly "nice" cuisine at Aunt Beatrice's house,
they resist. Tee's first attempt at rejecting enforced nice-ness is
symbolically significant. Beatrice's daughter Carol has a plastic tea
set with which presumably she can practice giving tea parties like
Beatrice does. Hoping that her behavior will be bad enough for Beatrice
to send her back to Tantie, Tee extracts one of these teacups from Carol's
toys and walks on it (35). She also refuses to call her brother by the
name that Aunt Beatrice considers proper-Codrington. She continues
to call him the name she had given him-Toddan. Toddan, meanwhile,
spoils the decorum of one of Beatrice's real tea parties by announcing
that he wants to take off the "damn stupid pants" Beatrice had made
him wear, because he wants to "ka-ka." When the children are later
allowed to return to Tantie's, they are "distraught with joy" (41, 42).
In the years before she returns to Beatrice's house, however, Tee is
exposed more and more to the "proper" world presented in her
schoolbooks. She returns to town living with the idea that Helen's tastes,
which are also the ones that Beatrice prefers, are the most proper ones.
But Tee's experiences at Beatrice's house are neither appetizing nor
similar to those of the house in which Helen lives. They may, however,
mimic the conflict and tension that sometimes accompanied Victorian
attempts to civilize appetite at the family dinner table. Some of Tee's
most vivid memories of living in town resound with Beatrice's plaintive
cry: "couldn't we eat like a family, sometimes?" (78). Tee's memories of
these meals are filled, not with nostalgia, comfort, and pleasure, but
with frustration, rebellion, anxiety, and anger; her memories are also
marked more by a feeling of exclusion than of inclusion.
In ironic contrast to the "joyful pandemonium" that characterizes
the village schools, the first supper in Beatrice's house is a scene out
of bedlam; and the various family dinners that she remembers are
scenes of chaos, recrimination, rebellion, and indifference. Her cousin
RESISTING THE ATTEMPT TO "CIVILIZE" FAMILY... 27
Carol chatters in a faraway voice, "waving her fork in the air and dancing
about on her chair." Bernadette makes only brief appearances during
which she spears up two mouthfuls of food" before floating away.
Carol and Bernadette leap from the table at the sound of the telephone
and end up fighting; they hiss and refer to each other as "the little
bitch" and threaten to leave home. Their father, Uncle Norman,
distances himself from the whole affair, eating his food with only an
occasional sucking sound, an indifferent nod of his head, or a mild
defense of his "abdication." And Beatrice complains to no one in
particular, "they will kill me" (78, 79).
At her first exposure to such "nice" table manners, Tee has "no
appetite" for the things Aunt Beatrice piles on her plate (77). She does
not simply dream about returning to her village in order to attend
Moonie's wedding and eat dalpouri; in an early abandonment of Helen,
she even dreams of being the Indo-Caribbean bride, who would be
dressed "in folds of delicate cloth and flowers and surrounded and
petted by a drove of women ... all shrouded in uhr'ni" (88).
Though Beatrice wants her family to share their meals happily with
each other, she also spoils the family atmosphere, because she uses
the family meal to instruct her daughters, especially Jessica, the
youngest and the darkest, in proper grammar and decent behavior.
Beatrice's twin desires for decency and family are formulated in such a
racist, self-colonized way that they inevitably compete with each other.
Tee remembers that Aunt Beatrice put Jessica on "public trial at meal-
times" for having no ambition or for excusing her supposed failings by
charging her teachers with preferring the lighter-skinned girls. Beatrice
insists that Jessica must try harder and simultaneously blames Norman
for her dark color (91, 92). Tee, who is probably darker than Jessica,
must be listening with a strong sense of shame. As she learns to be
ashamed of her blackness, she also learns shame for the "niggery" and
"coolie" festivities she once enjoyed, for example, at the Carnival in
That shame, however, does not translate into a respect for or
embrace of Beatrice's culinary habits. Beatrice transfers to Tee the
maternal attentions that her daughters reject; when Tee loses her
appetite, Beatrice simply piles food on her plate and coaxes her to eat.
Briefly, Tee feels sorry for her aunt and submits. But Tee has trouble
embracing her aunt and her ways. Despite her own sense of shame, it
is painful for Tee to watch Beatrice treat shopkeepers with disdain as
she searches for "proper" food in the "bush" (100). Despite her pity for
Beatrice, she begins to feel that the walls are closing in when she has
28 JOANNA BARSZEWSKA MARSHALL
to share "family" meals with only Beatrice, and sometimes Uncle
Norman. Before long, Tee rebels at the expected intimacy. During a
moment of confusion and pique, she slaps Beatrice's hand away when
Beatrice reaches for hers (104). Beatrice is devastated.
From that moment Tee is banned, or exempted, from further
participation in mother-daughter domestic duties. Proper meals are
now rare. The girls serve themselves from the pots and pans on the
stove when they come home from school. In part, Tee is now free to
construct her own kitchen, at least mentally, but she has no model she
can work with. As she begins to avoid meals altogether, she is now the
daughter who is put on trial when it comes time to eat. When she spends
one evening mealtime away from the house and returns late to dinner,
Beatrice accuses Tee of treating her like a servant and the house like a
restaurant. As Beatrice cleans and finishes what she calls "work for
the donkey," she also complains that Tee must consider herself too
much of a lady to eat their food (114, 115).
Tee does not experience herself as a lady, but she does suffer from
an illness that afflicted many girls who were raised to be ladies-an eating
disorder. Her once healthy appetite has been taken away. Stealthily,
she serves herself food from the kitchen pots, feeling like a burglar.
She eats slowly and fearfully. She tries to eat without calling any
attention to herself, hoping to keep the "knife and fork from making
the slightest sound against the plate." When she confesses that she "almost
feared to chew," she sounds dangerously like a nineteenth-century
daughter whose "civilized" appetite is verging on anorexia (114, 115). Tee's
eating disorder, however, is a thoroughly colonized one-produced by
the need to participate in and also to resist Beatrice's attempts to create
a proper family dinner in the image of the colonial British. She has
fallen victim to the kind of "Nervous Conditions" that plague "native"
colonized daughters, like the African daughter in Tsitsi Dangarembga's
Tee now has nowhere to go and nothing to eat. All eating is a source
of shame, humiliation, and anxiety. As indicated earlier, the meals that
Tantie and her extended family enjoy are now repulsive to Tee. She is
horrified when Tantie, Uncle Sylvester, Toddan, and Doolarie eat
comfortably out of greasy paper bags in Beatrice's drawing room. While
she can barely eat the food that Beatrice prepares, she also refuses to
share any of the food that Tantie brings, food she once enjoyed.
Ultimately, the novel's depictions of food and meal times invite a
critical perspective not only on the family that is composed of a
husband, wife, and children, but also on the "family" that is produced
RESISTING THE ATTEMPT TO "CIVILIZE" FAMILY...
by the relations of empire. But it ends with no concrete sense of how
a character like Tee might rescue herself from the painful self-loathing
that is created by her position within local and global families. Tee
ends the novel in a state of confusion, eager to leave all her island
homes behind and head to the Mother Country, the source of all the
propriety she has been educated to desire. As Hodge herself indicates,
it is there that the colonized child may be able to see the official stories
for the fantasies that they are-when she experiences the
contradictions between daily experiences and the norms to which she
has subscribed ("Challenges" 205). In the novel, however, that
knowledge is not available to the child character, Tee. Instead, it is
present in the attitude of the adult narrator who announces, for
example, that "Helen," the English-looking double whom Tee had once
created as the "Proper Me," had been "outgrown and discarded
somewhere, in the way that a baby ceases to be taken up with his
fingers and toes" (13, 68). On the one hand, this formulation suggests
that Tee's new perspective is no longer that of a child, that the models
she once admired were childish fascinations, and that she is now an
adult. But it also suggests that the change results from a natural process
of growth and ignores the kind of work and struggle that must have
been involved in developing this resistance.
Nevertheless, for readers of Crick, Crack Monkey, Hodge manages to
relegate Helen, a character who doesn't have to negotiate dangerous
cultural chasms (Gikandi 20), to the status of a temporary and
ultimately disdained creation in the life of Tee, who does have to cope
with such conflicts. Just as the phrase "Crick Crack, Monkey" has been
used to deflate the pretensions of characters within the novel, the title
alerts us to the possibility that the desires that envelop Tee in the end
are also the products of a fantasy. Despite the limitations that surround
Tee's development into a self-confident adult with a healthy appetite,
Hodge's novel has managed to achieve a dual status-that of a story
like the ones that Ma tells and that of a creative weapon that writes the
Creole and multiple cultures, mothers, and cuisines of the Caribbean
into the proper reality of a book.
30 JOANNA BARSZEWSKA MARSHALL
Chodorow, Nancy. The Reproduction of Mothering. Berkeley and Los
Angeles: U of California P, 1978.
Cobham, Rhonda. "Revisioning Our Kumblas: Transforming Feminist
and Nationalist Agendas in Three Caribbean Women's Texts."
Callaloo 16.1 (1993): 44-64.
Dangarembga, Tsitsi. Nervous Conditions. 1988. Seattle, WA: Seal P, 1989.
Gikandi, Simon. "Narration in the Post-Colonial Moment: Merle Hodge's
Crick Crack, Monkey." Past the Last Post: Theorizing Post-Colonialism
and Post-Modernism. Ian Adam and Helen Tiffin, eds. Hertfordshire:
Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1991. 13-22.
Goldman, Anne. "'I Yam What I Yam': Cooking, Culture, and Colonialism."
De/Colonizing the Subject. Sidonie Smith and Julia Watson, eds.
Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1992. 169-195.
Hodge, Merle. "Challenges of the Struggle for Sovereignty: Changing
the World versus Writing Stories." Caribbean Women Writers: Essays
from the First International Conference. Ed. Selwyn R Cudjoe.
Wellesley, MA: Calaloux, 1990. 202-208.
Crick Crack, Monkey. 1970. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1981.
"We are All Artists: An Interview with Merle Hodge."
Kathleen M. Balutansky. Callaloo 41 (Autumn 1989): 651-662.
Lupton, Deborah. "Food, the Family and Childhood." Food, The Body,
and the Self. London: Sage, 1996.
Mehta, Brinda J. "Indo-Trinidadian Fiction: Female Identity and Creative
Cooking." Alif' Journal of Comparative Poetics 19 (1999): 151-184.
Mennell, Stephen. "On the Civilizing of Appetite." Food and Culture: A
Reader. Carole Counihan and Penny Van Esterik, eds. New York
and London: Routledge, 1997. 315-337.
Mitchie, Helena. "Ladylike Anorexia: Hunger, Sexuality, and Etiquette."
The Flesh Made Word: Female Figures and Women's Bodies. New
York and Oxford: Oxford UP, 1987.
Narayan, Uma. "Eating Cultures: Incorporation, Identity and Indian
Food." Social Identities 1.1 (1995): 63-86.
Zizek, Slavoj. "Enjoy Your Nation as Yourself." Tarrying with the Negative:
Kant, Hegel, and the Critique of Ideology. Post-Contemporary
Interventions. Raleigh-Durham, NC: Duke UP, 1993.
Bourne Again: Mythic History in Paule Marshall's
The Chosen Place, The Timeless People
Kim Dismont Robinson
University of the Virgin Islands, St. Croix
Some of the literature currently being produced by writers from
the Eastern Caribbean indicates that identity and transformations
of the ego are deeply connected with history. The importance of
individual and cultural histories is linked to memory: what is
remembered, how it is remembered, and the interpretative significance
attached to those memories. In Paule Marshall's The Chosen Place,
The Timeless People, an exploration of these themes leads the reader
to consider the implications of a history which resembles the closed
circuit of mythology bereft of possibilities for revision, expansion, or
Mythology can be thought of as atemporal, repetitive history
preoccupied with genealogy and origins in a way that reveals a culture's
values and beliefs.' In Myth and Meaning: Cracking the Code of Culture,
Claude Levi-Strauss questions the uncertain boundary between
mythology and history. L6vi-Strauss observes that a myth can be
considered as a history which is highly repetitive, and adds that "the
same type of event can be used several times, in order to account for
different happenings" (40). He states:
Mythology is static, we find the same mythical elements combined
over and over again, but they are in a closed system, let us say, in
contradistinction with history, which is, of course, an open system.
The open character of history is secured by the innumerable ways
according to which mythical cells, or explanatory cells which were
This is a composite definition of mythology taken from Claude Levi-Strauss's
Myth and Meaning and Roberto Gonzalez Echevarria's article "Cien aifos de soledad:
The Novel as Myth and Archive."
KIM DISMONT ROBINSON
originally mythical, can be arranged and rearranged ... each type of
story belongs to a given group, a given family, a given lineage, or to a
given clan, and is trying to explain its fate. which can be a successful
one or a disastrous one, or be intended to account for rights and
privileges as they exist in the present, or be attempting to validate
claims for rights which have since disappeared. (40-41, my italics)
Levi-Strauss concludes his observations by stating that at times, the
distinction between myth and history can become so indefinite that
certain histories can be considered "as not at all separated from but
as a continuation of mythology" (43). Based on Levi-Strauss's
description of what constitutes mythology, Caribbean culture seems
to offer a premier example of history which can be conceived as a
continuation of mythology. He further suggests that some of the
differences between one culture's mythology and another's history lies
partly in different ways of recording cultural memory. Mythologies are
primarily the product of oral cultures, whereas histories are usually
the product of written cultures with archives. Giving consideration to
the presence of a dual-natured Caribbean history that lies both within
and beneath the colonial record. it is not surprising that Antillean
literature would be at least partially concerned with extending the
historical possibilities of the region's cultural mythologies. It is also
not surprising that the literature of the Caribbean would perpetuate
and extend the original purpose of the myth as a way of explaining the
oftentimes disastrous fate of the clan.
The Chosen Place, The Timeless People is a novel which examines
the individual and cultural impact of assuming the burden of a mythic
history. As a fictional island which closely resembles Barbados, the
birthplace of Marshall's parents, Bourne Island has a history filled with
all the horrors of Caribbean development including plantation slavery,
rape, poverty, and colonialism. However, the history of Bourne Island
can also be defined as mythic because of its tendency towards
continuance in a highly repetitive fashion.
The heart of the text lies in Bournehills: the setting of the "backwards,"
desolately shameful section of Bourne Island which has confounded
foreign developers as well as the other residents of the island. Whereas
the rest of the island has "progressed" from its former state of slavery
and canefield plantations to a less obviously exploitative neocolonial
condition, the "timeless" people of Bournehills subtly and inexplicably
resist attempts to apply a false veneer of improvement upon their
situation. The title of Book One of The Chosen Place, "Heirs and
BOURNE AGAIN: MYTHIC HISTORY IN PAULE MARSHALL'S...
Descendants," raises issues of legitimacy and illegitimacy by way of
two sets of offspring offered separate and unequal legacies by the same
ancestor. To be an heir signifies the continuation of a tradition or the
acquisition of property, rights or capital within a system of legality;
whereas to be a descendant only indicates the reality of genetics and
blood ties. This distinction signals the disparity and disenfranchisement
which is the reality for the majority of descendants in Bournehills.
The much-cited epigraph of The Chosen Place, a borrowed saying
from the Tiv of West Africa, states: "Once a great wrong has been done,
it never dies. People speak the words of peace, but their hearts do not
forgive. Generations perform ceremonies of reconciliation but there is
no end." The epigraph sets the tone for a question which seems to
permeate the entire novel-whether the history of the Caribbean is
represented by endless circular repetitions of the same destructive
elements, or whether it is possible to step outside what seems to be a
predetermined pattern.2 Bourne Island, described by local barrister
Lyle Hutson as "an insignificant green speck in a relatively small
American lake called the Caribbean" (207), is a place where colonialism
has been abolished in name only; the residents' food is entirely
imported because the only crop is sugarcane, and the nouveau absentee
landlords still make their rounds outfitted in safari regalia. The face of
oppression on the island has changed only slightly since colonialism,
since the fate of Bourne Island and its residents is now decided based
on the influence of American dollars instead of British pounds.
The structure of the island's neocolonial regime can be observed
not only within governmental ranks, but also in the relationships
between individuals. In the center of the narrative is Merle, a woman
who embodies the essence of Bournehills: worn to the core, ravaged
by both despair and a deep, unspeakable sense of loss. Her face, which
appears as if something of "great value had been taken from her," is
described as being partially rescued by the "inner sunlight" of her eyes;
it is precisely "this duality, this sense of life persisting amid that
2 Dorothy Hamer Denniston observes that beyond the obvious politics of loss,
the novel's epigraph suggests an African, rather than Western, conception of time
and memory. She states, "Immediately evoked is the immutability of memory-the
African memory of violation, exploitation and injustice. But just as strong in the
novel is the African memory of freedom, dignity, and self-respect. It is not surprising
that Marshall constructs the novel to reflect artistically the traditional view of African
time. In fact, concentric patterns inform the work to become a part of its organically
conceived meaning" (99).
KIM DISMONT ROBINSON
nameless and irrevocable loss" (5) which makes her such a memorable
and deeply affecting presence, even for those who ridicule her with
the nickname "Mad-Merle" because of her incessant chatter
interspersed with bouts of catatonic breakdown. Saul Amron, a Jewish-
American who attempts to establish a development project in
Bournehills, comes to the realization that if he is to totally understand
Bournehills, he must first understand Merle. Similarly, if the reader is
to fully understand Marshall's commentary on colonialism, it must
occur through an analysis of Merle's character development. When
Merle suffers a cataleptic episode as a result of the events at the Cane
Vale factory, Saul enters her bedroom and discovers a place filled with
relics: the drawing of a Bristol slave ship, the furniture from her white
planter ancestor Duncan Vaughan, old prints depicting slavery in the
canefields. Here, Saul recognizes both Merle's attempts to create
harmony as well as the obvious dichotomy between order and chaos,
the past and the present. He realizes that the interiority of the room
represents an apt metaphor for who Merle really is:
It expressed her: The struggle for coherence, the hope and desire for
reconciliation of her conflicting parts, the longing to truly know and
accept herself-all the things he sensed in her. ... He almost felt as
his gaze wandered over the room that he was wandering through the
chambers of her mind. (402)
The damage which Merle has suffered as an individual becomes a
metaphor through which to consider the fate of Bourne Island;
fragmented, incoherent and depleted, yet not without latent redemptive
Despite the general derision evinced toward "Mad-Merle" and the
Bournehills community, the island's other residents are most outraged
by the Bournehills obsession with the Pyre Hill Revolt, a slave uprising
led by Cuffee Ned ritually reenacted during the island's annual Carnival
celebration. Cuffee Ned's revolt, an endless topic of discussion for
members of the Bournehills community, is invoked frequently enough
to cause one outsider to question whether the event has just occurred.
Merle recounts to Saul the local legend of Pyre Hill, the site where Cuffee
Ned set fire to one of the biggest estates on Bourne Island. The
blackened hilltop, which "appeared to have been almost totally
destroyed by some recent fire. It might have only just stopped burning
. the ground, you were certain, would still be hot underfoot" (101),
stands as a reminder of Bournehill's resistance to oppression as well
BOURNE AGAIN: MYTHIC HISTORY IN PAULE MARSHALL'S... 35
as a source of shame for the other islanders who resent being reminded
of "that old-time business."
The Cuffee Ned uprising occupies a central position in the community
ethos, and two local men, Ferguson and Stinger, traditionally spend
long hours in a rum shop arguing about the details of the historic revolt.
Ferguson, said to resemble "a Benin mask or a sculpted thirteenth-
century Ife head . a Haitian Houngon man. Or Damballa" (121), is
described in semi-mythic terms. Similarly, his debating opponent
Stinger, whose billhook seems grafted onto his arm like "an extra limb
nature had bestowed upon him to equip him for his world" (121), calls
to mind the re-membered slave evoked in Wilson Harris's description
of the Caribbean limb/o god Anancy in History, Fable & Myth in the
Caribbean and Guianas. The men, resembling elements of their cultural
ancestry, recall Cuffee Ned's heroism with near-religious fervor,
interspersing their recounting of his actions with Scripture verses,
predicting Cuffee's return as they would a messiah. Ferguson, with his
voice "soaring like that of an Old Testament prophet," shouts to
whoever will listen:
What the fuckarse you all mean I don't know what I'm talking.... He's
goin' come again I tell you. What the shite you all know? Cuffee's
goin' come. Ain't any of you ignoramuses ever heard of the second
coming? Well, who the bloody hell you think they was talking about if
not Cuffee? You think just because they cut off his head and put it on
a pike on Westminster Road that that was the end of him? You think
maybe 'cause he's been gone a little time that you'll never see him
again? "Oh, ye of little faith!" Matthew one, verse three. Disbelievers
all. They couldn't kill off somebody like Cuffee just like so, don't you
jackasses realize that? He said as much himself 'cording to the book
in the big library in town, he laughed when he saw them coming with
the ax. He knew there wasn't no doing away with him for good. He's
goin' come again I say-or he's goin' send somebody just like him, mark
my words. You think he was making any rasshole sport...? (135)
Ferguson's dogged, biblically-influenced insistence on Cuffee Ned's
return resembles the kind of religious prophecy and fulfillment usually
associated with biblical typology. Typology can be understood as:
a mystical relationship between two historically discrete events. ...
The essential relationship is characterized by the fact that both
figures and types are felt by Christian faith to be real historical
events or figures. It is this sense of historical reality that
distinguishes figural or typological understanding from other forms
36 KIM DISMONT ROBINSON
of allegory, in which one pole of the relationship is generally an
abstract notion. (Ziolkowski 346-7)3
Ferguson's invocation of Cuffee Ned as a messianic "type" whose legacy
of revolting against slavery is based on the belief that his antitypee"
will eventually arrive, fulfilling the process of leading the community
out of neocolonial bondage. Ironically, Marshall has constructed a
narrative which not only hinges on an historical event occurring as
part of the fictional Bourne Island's history, but which also contains
elements based on the largest slave revolt in Barbadian history,
including participation by a slave named Cuffee Ned.'" In this sense,
the relationship between the Pyre Hill revolt and its anticipated
consummation satisfies the typological requirement for historical
specificity. However, instead of the expected fulfillment, other patterns
emerge in Bournehill's relationship to Cuffee's insurrection which seem
to closely resemble the recurrent, almost ahistorical patterns typically
associated with both mythology and traumatic repetition: namely, the
annual reenactment of the event during Carnival celebrations and the
closure of the Cane Vale factory.
Carnival traditionally signifies a time of excess, release, inversion,
and role-reversal when norms of the typical order turn upside-down.5
But the people of Bournehills are seen by the other Islanders as "brutes
3 Theodore Ziolkowski, in "Some Features of Religious Figuralism in Twentieth-
Century Literature" makes a significant distinction between typological analysis
and Jungian myth criticism. Although the two can be used as complementary critical
tools, the major distinction between these methods of analysis is based on historical
specificity. Myth criticism "represents interests wholly different from those of
typological analysis, which by its very definition depends upon the identification
of a specific figure or type in history, or mythology, or literature, in contrast to a
vague archetype that has not yet emerged from the wells of the collective
unconscious, where everything flows together" (356-7). For more on typology, see
also the first chapter of Erich Auerbach's Scenes from the Drama of European
I See Appendix for the testimony of Cuffee Ned as part of a report on the Barbados
Slave Insurrection of 1816.
5 In the epigraph to "Caribana: African Roots and Continuities: Race. Space and
the Poetics of Moving," M. Nourbese Philip cites Gordon Rohler's comment on the
role of Carnival: "Carnival represents an ancient and recurrent rite of passage. It is
a festival which occupies a certain space, neuter time. You suspend what you are,
what you do, who you are, for a space. Sometimes we perform behind a mask and
symbolically become another personality. We put on a ritual mask. It happens in
BOURNE AGAIN: MYTHIC HISTORY IN PAULE MARSHALL'S...
[who] have changed the whole meaning of carnival with their
foolishness" (59). Instead of the gay bacchanalia of the other bands,
the people of Bournehills stubbornly play the same somber masquerade
every year-that of the Pyre Hill revolt. As a result, the usual frivolity
of the day is given over to a grim reminder of slavery and the island's
violent colonial past:
It conjured up in the bright afternoon sunshine dark alien images of
legions marching bound together over a vast tract, iron fitted into
dank stone walls, chains-like those to an anchor-rattling in the deep
holds of ships, and exile in an unknown inhospitable land-an exile
bitter and irreversible in which all memory of the former life and of
the self as it had once been had been destroyed. (282)
The Bournehills reenactment of Cuffee Ned's slave revolt can be seen
as an attempt at mastery in the face of previous trauma. Cathy Caruth
has indicated the ways in which trauma is signaled by the occurrence
of temporal paradoxes (Trauma 152). The notion of "progress" or "future
time" becomes impossible because of the circular, rather than linear,
nature of trauma. Not only do the people of Bournehills reenact the
same "mas" every year; it is also continuously repeated throughout
the course of the day. This also bears a resemblance to the circular
patterns of both African and other kinds of mythic histories as defined
by L6vi-Strauss. The fact that the Pyre Hill revolt is an aspect of local
history which has not been recorded except through the perspective
of the colonizer adds weight to the importance of an alternative means
of remembering history such as can be found in cultural modes like
mythology, carnival, or literature.6 However, it is significant that the
mas also changes as the day wears on:
So it went the entire afternoon, the dead march alternating with the
vivid scene on the float and the triumphal outpouring. The pattern
was repeated throughout all of New Bristol's crooked streets, but as
the afternoon approached evening, the time devoted to the numb
procession and those parts of the pageant dealing with the revolt's
defeat became less and less, until finally these portions disappeared
altogether, and the only thing retained was the soaring tribute in song
and dance to Cuffee, his victory on the hill and life in Bournehills
during his reign. (288)
6 At one point in the novel, the reader learns that Merle was once fired from her
former position as a local schoolteacher because of her decision to teach the history
of the Pyre Hill revolt.
KIM DISMONT ROBINSON
Since Carnival represents a period of inversion, it is not surprising that
the entire island finds itself drawn into the joyful portions of the
Bournehills procession, since this is the only time each year that life in
Bournehills is actually celebrated and a different interpretation of their
"backwardness" achieved. However, the fact that the mas changes,
eventually shifting to emphasize the glory of the revolt, seems to shift
also the meaning of the repetition.7
During the early part of the Carnival parade, the Bournehills mas
recalls long years of suffering in slavery, eventually culminating in an
uprising. Its mirror in the present day as a similar kind of bondage
experienced by the "timeless people" of Bournehills lacks the
typological fulfillment of a contemporary rebellion. However, the shift
in the mas, in which the repetition remains intact although with a
difference in emphasis, ruptures the revolt's static mythology to instead
indicate the possibilities of redemptive change through typological
fulfillment. As Carnival day wears on, the "soaring tribute" to Cuffee's
reign becomes the only part of the mas retained. It is precisely the
absence of this fulfillment within the context of Bournehills' modern
history which lends the mas weight as a warning or prophecy. If, as
Ferguson suggests, the warrior spirit of Cuffee has not yet returned to
lead the modern descendents of Bournehill slaves out of bondage, the
eventual typological fulfillment may only be a matter of time.
However, considering the annual Carnival repetition as a symptom
of collective trauma, the mas is perhaps also repeated because mastery
of the trauma has not yet been achieved. In the case of Bournehills,
despite faith that Cuffee "or somebody just like him" will return, the
impotence of his cultural descendents prevents the realization of
Cuffee's antitype. To master the trauma of slavery and neocolonial
bondage would indicate the ability to revolt against oppression,
something which the residents of Bournehills are unable, or unwilling,
to do. Despite the allusions to Ferguson's latent identification with
Damballah and his insistence that he will assertively speak out against
the cane factory's worn equipment during the annual visit of the English
overseer Sir John, he is struck dumb when the time arrives.8 Ferguson
7 Nicola King cites Primo Levi's observations on the relationship between memory
and narration. Levi suggests that a frequently rehearsed memory (such as the
Pyre Hill revolt in The Chosen Place) distorts the memory which then becomes
locked into a rigid stereotype instead of a faithful recounting of the original (25).
8 Damballah is the eldest god in the vodoun pantheon, and represents cosmic
order and balance.
BOURNE AGAIN: MYTHIC HISTORY IN PAULE MARSHALL'S...
strains to speak, "the veins and tendons that strung together his limbs
standing out in a tangle beneath his skin in the effort. . His long
pliant body that moved with such passion and force when he declaimed
upon Cuffee Ned in the rumshop at night seemed a thing of stone, a
dumb effigy of himself" (221-2). However, his sense of fear, frustration,
and powerlessness combine to render him utterly and disastrously
When the cane factory rollers eventually break and Bournehills hovers
on the verge of collapse, Merle suffers an apocalyptic vision which
suggests the depth of the community's complete impotence and
disempowerment in the face of catastrophe.9 Merle's mental state and
appearance offer a metaphor about the effects of a chaotic and disruptive
history on the individual psyche. Merle is acutely aware as an historian
of the ways in which her individual history dovetails into her cultural
history. Saul's attempts to unravel the enigma of Merle are linked to his
desire to understand the mystery of Bournehill's apparent stagnation.
Like Merle, the people of Bournehills are connected to the land in a way
that is incomprehensible to everyone except the people of Bournehills;
like the Fisher King of ancient legend, they are the land. For this reason,
as Saul looks around Merle's room, there is a dawning realization about
why development plans inevitably fail:
Bournehills, its shabby woebegone hills and spent land, its odd people
who at times seemed other than themselves, might have been selected
as the repository of the history which reached beyond it to include
the hemisphere north and south. And it would remain as such ...
deep down, at a depth to which only a few would be permitted to
penetrate, it would remain fixed and rooted in that other time, serving
in this way as a lasting testimony to all that had gone on then: those
I Apocalypse is a prevalent theme in the text, reappearing under several different
guises including Saul Amron's remembrance of his first wife's death, his second
wife Harriet's recurring nightmare of an explosion and a mushroom cloud, and
Merle's apocalyptic vision following the Cane Vale closing. Eugenia DeLamotte
suggests these apocalyptic allusions are linked inevitably to the neocolonial
exploitation by the Western world which annuls distinctions between past and
present. The apocalyptic vision in The Chosen Place "describes a world already
destroyed, one in which the developed nations' potential for apocalyptic violence
is not merely potential by a power already unleashed. The apocalypse in such
images is both inconceivable future and history: history equally inconceivable to
those who, having produced the destruction, misread their war on the Third World
as a holiday dance-even a form of racial harmony" (47).
KIM DISMONT ROBINSON
scenes hanging on the walls, and as a reminder-painful but
necessary-that it was not yet over. only the forms had changed, and
the real work was still to be done. . Only an act on the scale of
Cuffee's could redeem them. And only then would Bournehills itself,
its mission fulfilled, perhaps forgo that wounding past and take on
the present, the future. (402)
This sense of the individual standing as a monument to the "wounding
past" also seems evident in Marshall's portrayal of the other residents
of Bournehills and the way they interact with each other. Although the
reader has a sense of the individual personalities of certain residents
like Leesy, Gina, and Ferguson, an overwhelming sense of Bournehill's
collectivity is disturbingly ever-present and the individuality of each
resident often seems threatened by the predetermined character of
the community as a whole.
However, despite the tendency of characters like Merle to over-
identify with postmemories in a potentially destructive manner, there
are moments when historical overlap and repetition provide an
opportunity to respond differently, in much the same way Francisco
Bone's journey through Memory Theatre in Jonestown suggests the
possibility of alternative futures. In an encounter with Saul's wife
Harriet, who attempts to buy Merle's complicity in much the same way
Merle's colonial English lover did years previously, Merle is able to
identify the danger and respond accordingly. She repeatedly examines
Harriet's face "as though she spied someone she knew lurking there"
(439), for although Harriet is American and not British like her former
lover, Harriet is the type of person who manipulates the lives of others
in order to feel a measure of power. Once Merle recognizes the similarity
between the woman from her past and the woman from her present,
she unburdens herself with screams and laughter as a way of ridding
herself "of something dead inside her, that face perhaps which had
attached itself like an incubus to her mind, sapping her strength and
purpose over the years, debauching her will" (440). Unlike Ferguson,
Merle is finally able to respond scathingly to her neocolonial nemesis
Harriet in a way she was never able to respond to the Englishwoman
who succeeded in financially tempting Merle into ruination. Merle,
laughing painfully, exclaims:
Money! Always money!...They feel they can buy the world and its
wife with a few raw-mouth dollars. But lemme tell you something,
m'lady...l can't be bought. Or bribed. I'm not like some of those
BOURNE AGAIN: MYTHIC HISTORY IN PAULE MARSHALL'S... 41
thieving politicians we've got in Legco. And I don't accept handouts.
Not any more at least. I used to. You might not have heard about that,
but I did. And for the longest time. And because of it lost the two
people who meant life itself to me. But not anymore.... I don't like
people ordering me about like I'm still the little colonial. I've had too
much of that. So when they say gee now, I haw. When they say go, I
Merle's unburdening and subsequent decision to put to rest other
painful aspects of her personal history suggests a character who is
eventually able to reject a purely fatalistic vision of history, embracing
instead a more empowering ideology which allows her to operate as
an agent of her destiny rather than as a victim.10 Merle realizes she
must mend the relationship with the daughter she lost years before if
she ever hopes to conquer the catatonic apathy that continuously
debilitates her. Otherwise, she may very well spend the rest of her life
doing nothing but "blaming everyone and everything for the botch I've
made of things. And talking. Oh, God, going on like some mad woman
all the time but doing nothing" (464). Merle's resolution to search for
her daughter at the novel's conclusion leaves the reader to consider
how the personal tragedies of individuals might cause the initial
hyperidentification with their cultural trauma in the first place.
10 This analysis is supported by observations made by Mary Jane Schenck, who
suggests that the novel's "fatalistic epigraph" is undermined by the possibilities
inherent in Merle's transformation. Schenck states "The text seems to be at odds
with itself, vacillating between a deterministic view of history played out by
characters who are nothing but types, and glimpses of individual empowerment
achieved by at least one character, Merle. It is in her emergence as a positive, active
figure rather than as a victim that I find suggestions that the ethos represented in
the epigraph does not ultimately capture the essence of the novel" (50). Unlike
Schenck, I do not consider the text to be at odds with itself. It is precisely Merle's
ability to recognize the dangers of a static, deterministic view of history that allows
her to rupture the cycle and escape victimhood.
42 KIM DISMONT ROBINSON
Reprint of Report on Slave Insurrection in Barbados 1816. Reprinted
by order of the council of the Barbados Museum and Historical Society
(The Report from a select committee of the House of Assembly,
appointed to inquire into the origin, causes, and progress, of the late
insurrection). (C) pg 27.
The Examination of Cuffee Ned, a slave belonging to "Three Houses"
This examinant saith, that long before Easter there was an opinion
generally entertained amongst the slaves that they were to be set free
through the means of people in England. That, previous to the
Insurrection, he had heard several negroes say, they had heard it
reading the Papers that they were to be set free: that a slave by name
Davy, at Palmer's, was one whom he had heard say so-that a man
named Sampson (Mr. Brathwaite's butler) came home from Town on
the Saturday evening previous to the Insurrection, and said to the
negroes, "Well, this day's Newspaper has done our business-for the
Paket has arrived, and brought our freedom."
This Examinant further saith that he was told that the negroes had
been freed in some of the Islands, and that they were to be freed in all
the West Indies, and that in one they had fought for it and got it. And
upon being asked if he should recollect the name of the Island if he
heard it? And having answered in the affirmative, several Islands were
named but when Saint Domingo was named he said "That was the
Island-he knew it by the name of Mingo." Further saith, that the
negroes did not revolt from any ill-treatment or want of food, and that,
before the report that the negroes had been freed in England, they
were very quiet and never thought of obtaining their freedom.
The Enigma of In-Between:
Transdifference in Paule Marshall's Daughters
University of Erlangen-Nuirnberg, Germany
The Enigma of In-between
he in-between as the space between two or more cultures has
become a conspicuous and frequently used trope in
contemporary postcolonial theory. It has been referred to as a
borderland between cultures by Gloria Anzaldua, as a contact zone by
James Clifford and Mary Louise Pratt, or as a third space in Homi Bhabha's
writings, to name but some of the most prominent approaches. Gener-
ally speaking, these conceptions of the in-between outline spaces of
cultural encounter that imply neither clashes nor amalgamations, but
a negotiation of cultural differences. They are applied in the context of
a world moving closer together as an effect of European and American
imperialism in the past centuries and of what is presently -albeit not
without contestation- referred to as globalization. The different meta-
phors which address the enigmatic in-between are used to express,
critique and counter the unequal relationships of the cultures of former
colonies and empires. Particularly influential is Homi Bhabha's read-
ing of the third space as the site of cultural hybridity. Bhabha draws
the conclusion that if all cultures are hybrid, no culture can make claims
of being superior to others on the grounds of being more originary,
authentic, or pure. The deconstruction of colonial differences in the
vein of Bhabha, however, leaves us with a void. As Shalini Puri has re-
cently pointed out, Bhabha is more concerned with dismantling opposi-
tions and interrupting the center, and less with explaining "how differ-
ent marginal groups negotiate their relationship not to the center but to
one another; nor can he address the consequences of their making one
44 SOLVEIG MILL
choice rather than another" (23). Bhabha thus destabilizes traditional
conceptions of culture and cultural identity based on authenticity,
purity, and homogeneity, without providing a solution as to how iden-
tity can be re-conceived in the in-between.
If we look at the articulation, or representation of cultural differences
in postcolonial novels, we discover that very often the texts are
preoccupied with the differences dividing the world along the lines of
race, gender, nation, ethnicity, cultural practice, and religion. They
create in-between spaces in which differences set up by history,
traditions and power are not dissolved but maintain their firm grip on
the realities expressed in the texts. The in-between remains enigmatic,
as we can find there hybridizing tendencies in the sense of Bhabha,
but also the depiction of the socio-political reality of binary differences
shaping the fictional world. This paper proposes to look closely at the
Barbadian-American Paule Marshall's novel Daughters, which explores
the interstitial space between US-American and Caribbean cultures
through the troubled identities dwelling in the in-between. On the one
hand, these identities are defined according to binary sets of differences
at work in a postcolonial present, such as dominant/subordinate, light-
skinned/dark-skinned, male/female, public/private. On the other hand,
these differences lose their decidedness as they intersect with each
other, and start to oscillate. Identities, therefore, become unstable and
Daughters, I suggest, is primarily concerned with contesting and
critically revising the "unequal and uneven forces of cultural
representation involved in the contest for political and social authority
within the modern world order" (Bhabha 171). The novel revolves
around the differences induced by what can be called the colonial
divide, i.e. the historically established difference between colonizer
and colonized transferred to the neo-colonial dependencies of former
colonies on wealthy Western nations. Although the juxtaposition and
intersection of seemingly contrary and incommensurable elements
both on the story and discourse level of the novel disturb the binary
structure of differences on which, traditionally, identity is based, the
colonial divide is maintained as a stubborn marker of difference. The
temporary undermining of differences shall, in what follows, be referred
to as transdifference, a recently coined term which "denotes this more
or less fleeting moment of destabilization in the interstitial space"
(Breinig & Losch 27).
THE ENIGMA OF IN-BETWEEN
Cultural Difference Reconsidered: Transdifference
Transdifference denotes aspects of cultural identity which elude
classification according to conventional markers of difference and seeks
to de-essentialize the notion of a binary opposition of cultural
differences. It questions the validity of the binary conceptions of
difference by bringing differences to oscillate. Based on the premise
that the identity positions of individuals or groups are a matter of
exclusion as well as inclusion, working simultaneously, transdifference
is complementary to the notion of binary differences often used to
designate identities. It neither indicates a fusion of opposition nor
does it refer to a radical deconstruction of polarities, but stresses "the
simultaneity of -often conflicting- positions, loyalties, affiliations and
participation" (Breinig & Losch 21). In those instances in which
transdifference becomes discernable, the mechanisms of inclusion and
exclusion, and thus the binary differences through which groups are
defined, become unstable. The impossibility of permanent and clearly-
cut identities is made visible. "In the space between two cultures," to
use Breinig's and Losch's phrasing, "the binary construction of one
group's present self and absent other [...] meets with that same
construction of the other group, resulting in a juxtaposition of two
presence and two absences, which [...] destabilizes the respective
binarisms" (26). While it remains clear that the respective identity
constructions are based on difference, it also becomes obvious that,
when confronted with each other, these binary differences cross each
other out and their clear-cut distinctions begin to blur. The temporary
turbulences to the clear-cut binary system caused by transdifference
are intensified the more identity constructions are involved. In the
"multilayered, complex frame of reference" of multicultural societies,
each attempt at cultural self-definition is met by alternative ones so
that "notions of fixed cultural differences and the binary logic of'inclusion
vs. exclusion', 'us vs. them', 'sameness vs. otherness', which informs
these notions, get (temporarily) destabilized" (Breinig & Losch 27).
In looking at how identity works in the face of contradictory and
mutually exclusive cultural differences, transdifference focuses on the
same subject matter as many other concepts of postcolonial theory.
Among the most prominent and purposive ones is Homi Bhabha's
theory of hybridity, to which the concept of transdifference is strongly
related. Both concepts share an anti-essentialist notion of culture. They
conceive of culture, including cultural subdivisions like ethnic and
social groups, as a non-holistic and emergent frame of coherence and
communication where central ideas and ideals of human behaviour
and interaction are negotiated (see Breinig & Losch 18).
Other than Bhabha in his concept of hybridity, Breinig and Losch
recognize the strategic importance of essentialist positioning. If,
especially in multicultural societies, each individual belongs to more
than one culture, these multiple and oftentimes conflicting or shifting,
and therefore unstable cultural affiliations cause uncertainty.
Essentialized and dichotomized differences are then introduced by
cultures as a means of differentiation and as a justification for
Bhabha, who assumes that cultural difference is established in the
moment of its symbolic representation which occurs at the point of
contact with other cultures, understands culture in the sense of
Derrida's concept of differance. Cultural difference, for him, is therefore
not a stable difference between clearly distinguishable cultural bodies,
but, to paraphrase Elisabeth Bronfen, an internal difference present in
every cultural enunciation (Bronfen & Marius 12). Bhabha, who
transfers the enunciative split of a subject to cultural analysis, argues
that, in the process of communication, the production of meaning
requires that "the I and the you [...] be mobilized in the passage through
a Third Space" (36), a space which represents the schemata and
strategies of discourse. He shows that the presumption of an inherent
purity or originality of cultures is on shaky grounds, arguing that
cultural enunciations are always already split, penetrated by the 'other',
The concept of hybridity is an attempt to re-conceive cultural
difference. Bhabha formulates a somewhat utopian goal: to reach a
point at which we can see that hierarchical claims of the purity of
cultures are untenable. Bhabha has often been criticized for referring
to all cultures as hybrid he homogenizes and does not pay sufficient
attention to the particularities of cultures. Without whishing to brush
this reproach aside, however, I propose to read hybridity as a theory
of resistance that opposes an understanding of culture based on
binary differences and hierarchic organization. The conclusion that
all cultures are hybrid does not implicate that they are all the same,
but challenges claims that easily establish a value hierarchy based
on purity. Bhabha's approach is therefore not to be read in a normative
way, as trying to force all particularities under a yoke of 'sameness'
from which no agency could ever emerge, but as a strategy of resistance
which will lead to the recognition of the particularities of the under-
THE ENIGMA OF IN-BETWEEN
Hybridity thus denotes all that causes or constitutes a reversal of
the inequality of colonial power constellations. It leads to a revaluation
of colonial identity and subverts it through deformation and
displacement. Hybridity is not a problem of the antagonism of cultures,
but a problem of the specific power discourse of colonial
representation. It intervenes in this power discourse, causing the
suppressed and disavowed to surface.'
Considering that both hybridity and transdifference are inherent in the
articulation of culture, and that both are strategically suppressed in the
process of cultural self-definition, a clear differentiation between the two
concepts is difficult. However, transdifference "interrogates the validity
of binary constructions of difference without completely deconstructing
them" (Breinig & Losch 23). Contrary to hybridity, transdifference at all
times retains difference as a point of reference. The concept goes beyond
all models of explanation based on the notion of binary difference, but
also modifies those (mostly poststructuralist) approaches trying to
transcend, or deconstruct binaries. It is therefore especially apt to
illuminate the processes in cultural contact zones marked by inequality.
The potential of the concept of transdifference does not consist in
revealing a way out of binary thinking, but in delineating a complementary
aspect of the construction of differences, adding a dimension that goes
beyond binary opposition or lines of demarcation. Transdifference
denotes phenomena which cause a moment of hesitation, in which a
temporary but repeated third emerges and for a moment rocks the
boundary between cultures. As moments of shock these phenomena
refer to the mechanisms at work to suppress or subdue transdifference.
The issues frequently touched upon by postcolonial texts, and
especially women's writing which engages with the structures and
practices of oppression introduced by colonialism, are strongly marked
by the central binary difference between the former colonizers and
colonized. Established by colonialism, the 'colonial divide' runs along
the same markers today. Postcolonial fiction, often strongly involved
with politics and economics, constantly refers to that divide as both a
legacy and reality, and at the same time searches for ways to contest,
resist and even transcend it. The ambivalence generated by the
paradoxical need to embrace the colonial divide -as part of history, as
part of the lived experience- and to re-shape its significance, can be
adequately expressed through the concept of transdifference.
' Cf. Fludernik 19-53; Bhabha 114.
48 SOLVEIG MILL
Transdifference, thus, is to be understood as a suppressed aspect
of the binary construction of identity which surfaces in the space in-
between cultures. Like a temporary turbulence it upsets the clear-cut
binary system. By recognizing the inherent hybridity of cultures, as
Bhabha demands, binary difference can be transcended and (post-)
colonial identity revalued. The recognition of transdifference, on the
other hand, leads to the awareness that binary differences are
constructed and unstable, but that they do shape the world we live in.
Instead of overcoming difference, new ways have to be found to
embrace these differences. In the case of Daughters, it is the women
who at the same time recognize the necessity to resist the unjust
conditions of their lives the colonial divide as well as patriarchy -
and at the same time embrace these differences and their history of
resistance as part of their identity and their strength.
Exploring In-Between: Transdifference in Daughters
The protagonist Ursa Mackenzie is situated in the in-between position
so often invoked by postcolonial literature. The only daughter of a high-
ranking and ambitious politician, Primus Mackenzie, and his African
American wife, Estelle, grew up on the (fictional) Caribbean island
Triunion, before she was sent to the United States of America for high
school and college education at the age of fourteen. During the novel's
narrated time frame of two months, she lives in New York City. The
narrative begins with Ursa aborting her boyfriend Lowell Carruther's
child and ends with her visiting Triunion, where she helps her mother
to sabotage Primus' political career. Both the abortion and the betrayal
which frame the novel are desperate acts of liberation from the
confinements of the conflicting role expectations Ursa as an African-
Caribbean-American woman faces.
Some of the forces tugging at her are introduced in the very first
chapter of the novel. Still traumatized by the experience of the abortion,
Ursa remembers two key instances of her early childhood which
significantly shape her later life. One is her father giving her swimming
lessons when she was little, in the pool of the hotel he owns.
His shoulders in the shirt-jac suit he wore on Sundays [...] would look
to be a mile wide above her. His head with the high domed forehead
she had inherited, and that had earned him the nickname PM when he
was a boy, would appear larger than the sun. Sometimes, as she glanced
THE ENIGMA OF IN-BETWEEN 49
up and found she couldn't see the sun or even a blue patch of sky
because of his being in the way, she'd do a sudden flip, annoyed, pull
the water like a blanket over her head and dive down to the bottom of
the pool and sit there. [...] Then to get back in his good graces, she'd
do more minilaps than they had agreed on for the day. (9, italics in
The scene at the pool is representative for Ursa's relationship to her
father. Even far away in New York she is highly dependent on her father's
ideas of what her life should be. Primus' way of punishing her when
her actions do not comply with what he thinks best for his daughter, is
to stop writing and sending her packages with coffee from home.
Although her father's temporarily cutting the ties hurts and affects
her greatly, Ursa keeps trying to break away from the hold he has on
her life. For a long time, though, her minor rebellions remain nothing
but acts "to impress, tease and frighten him a little", as she "always
surfaced with a grin and a wink" (10, italics in original).
In stark contrast to the memory of her father training her to be
another Esther Williams, [s] ome big movie star in America that used
to swim in all her pictures" (211), Ursa recalls her mother Estelle taking
her to the Monument of Heroes, a statue in Triunion referring to the
legend of the two warrior-lovers Congo Jane and Will Cudjoe. The statue
symbolizes the once relatively egalitarian and mutually supportive
relationship between male and female slaves in the United States and
the Caribbean, an aspect of slavery long ignored. Ursa recalls standing
on her fragile mother's shoulders when she was little, encouraged by
Estelle to reach up to the statues' toes until she could feel the warm
stone as if it was alive.
'Stretch all the way up and touch Congo Jane's toes, Ursa-Bea. Go ahead.
Stretch! I'm not going to let you fall!' With her feet planted on Estelle 's
narrow shoulders and her ankles in Estelle's tight grip, with her arm
straining out of its socket, she had reached all the way up until she could
just touch the toes on the giant foot thrust forward from the edge of the
base. 'And make sure to touch Will Cudjoe's toes while you're at it. You
can't leave him out...'. (13, italics in original).
By having Ursa touch both of the statues' feet, Estelle establishes
Ursa's connection to the part of her history that Primus desperately
tries to leave behind, slavery. Primus' objective has always been to
escape from the material conditions he grew up with and to gain respect
in his community despite his origins. As a politician, he once set out to
dedicate his work to the improvement of the living conditions in his
rural constituency in Triunion, where be was born and raised, and to
liberate the country from neo-colonial dependencies. Having become
frustrated and weary over the years, however, he gradually allows his
initial idealism to make way for a fraught and anxious pursuit of the
standards of white upper middle class America until he loses touch
with his family and the people who had elected and trusted him. His
light-skinned American wife Estelle, on the other hand, who in her
letters to her family refers to the African-Caribbean population as "our
folk", embraces all aspects of the African people's past, including
slavery and the resulting movements of resistance and liberation. She
significantly shapes Ursa's understanding of identity in that she
sharpens Ursa's sense for connections between African people in the
Caribbean and the U.S.A., between the past and the present, between
men and women.2 Touching the statues, Ursa connects the neocolonial
conditions as well as the contemporary gender relationships of the
present with the history of colonization, enslavement, and resistance
of the past. At the same time, the legend of Congo Jane and Will Cudjoe
teaches Ursa the common mission of African-Caribbean (and African
American) men and women: the conjoined resistance against the yoke
of slavery and domination.
The ideal of collaboration and gender solidarity, which is to become
her leitmotiv, is, however, hardly ever realized. Not only is she unable
to dissociate herself from her father's influence, but she also observes
that in her social environment there is a serious lack of useful men,
with whom women could join hands in a common struggle against racial
and social suppression. She strongly associates power with maleness
and the colonizer, an association based on the experience with her
father, and with her mentor at college, the Anglo-American professor
Crowder. Crowder rejected Ursa's proposal for her thesis on the
"relatively egalitarian, mutually supportive relations that existed between
bondsmen and women and their significance for and contribution to the
various forms of resistance to enslavement found in the United States
and the Caribbean" without being able to adequately justify his decision
(11, italics in original). Ursa had trusted in Professor Crowder, who
was the most progressive and liberal in his department. With his
rejection he displays the discursive power of the former colonizer. In
2 For a detailed analysis of the elements of connection in the text see Hathaway
119 and James.
THE ENIGMA OF IN-BETWEEN
fact, we can detect a double instance of discursive power, a conflation
of what I have earlier called the colonial divide and a culturally fixed
gender division. In rejecting the paper, Crowder not only re-affirms the
'great white male's' control of a master-narrative of colonial history
but also denies the possibility of gender equality.
Yet if we look closely enough, we can detect another aspect to this
experience, which ultimately questions the rigidity of the colonial divide
as experienced here. The neat association of maleness with power is
disturbed in the case of Primus and Crowder, as both men defy easy
classification. Primus is a former colonial subject whose life is dedicated
to the fight against the aftermaths of colonialism but who gets more
and more absorbed in the mechanisms of neo-colonial power. He
complies with the rules of those he opposes, becomes corruptible and
consequently loses the trust of his constituency. Professor Crowder,
on the other hand, represents neo-colonial power. Turning down Ursa's
proposal, he refuses to let her paper make a difference in official
academic discourse and thus contributes his share to maintain the
conventional, power-laden view of colonial history. At the same time,
however, he is convincingly characterized as progressive, tolerant, open
and egalitarian as far as the methodology and contents he teaches and
his treatment of students are concerned. When he rejects Ursa's
proposal, his harsh and hasty, nervous and somewhat irrational
behavior suggests that he, too, is under some pressure to comply with
the dominant discourse. The power attached to his position as
university teacher is not unconditional. Like Primus, Crowder is
subjected to a power structure laid out to maintain the division of
As can be seen, the race and, one might hasten to add, class
categorizations established by colonialism lose some of their stability
in the depiction of these two men. They are not entirely dispensed with
but brought to oscillate. In both men, one can detect the simultaneity of
power and powerlessness, which leaves us with the question as to how
valid our associations of dominant and subordinate, of perpetrator and
victim are. Facing the colonial divide, Primus and Crowder experience
how the power associated with their maleness crumbles. If the
difference between male and female is expressed through the access
to power, this distinction is blurred in the face of the colonial divide.
Rather than affiliations with fixed cultures, Primus and Crowder are
positioned in an interstitial space where differences are destabilized.
What is the women's role in the transdifferent space of power
depicted in the narrative? As a reaction to the failure of men to pursue
their goal of resistance, as in the case of Primus, women contest the
frame of male control over public and even private life which shapes
their daily lives. They invade that male space and subvert its boundaries
without, however, creating an antagonistic space for themselves.
Ursa is not given the chance to rewrite the gender aspect of the
history of slavery, just as she is literally kept in the dark by her father
who, towering at the side of the pool, blocks out the sun and the sky
for her. The father becomes the controlling force in her life by which
she measures all her deeds, him being the one she ultimately wants to
please. Because of his strong influence on her, she ultimately fails to
build up healthy and co-operative relationships with other men. This
is also the final reason for her to separate from her African American
boyfriend, who accuses her of being her father's puppet on a string.
Like the estrangement of Ursa's parents in their marriage or Mae Ryland
and Sandy Lawson's failed political collaboration, Ursa's and Lowell's
separation is an indication for the failed cooperative relationships
between women and men.
The failure of cross gender solidarity is epitomized in the dream Ursa
has just before she leaves for Triunion, having received a call for help
from her mother. She dreams that she is walking along Columbus Avenue
with her boyfriend Lowell when suddenly he gropes for her arm and
pulls her close, hanging on to her like someone drowning. During her
struggle to break away, a crowd gathers around them, all the
Young and the Restless Upwardly Mobiles of the Upper West Side
stood in a circle around them, with Professor Crowder in their midst,
jubilantly waving the rejected proposal, and all of them egging the
two of them on, throwing pennies at their feet and taking bets as to
which of them will go down first. Go to it! Go to it! A battle royal. A
nigger show. (383)
With its intertextual reference to the infamous battle royal in Ralph
Ellison's Invisible Man, this scene runs counter to the story of Congo
Jane and Will Cudjoe. Instead of pulling in the same direction, Ursa
and Lowell fight in front of the presumably white onlookers. Not willing
to accept the standstill in her relation with Lowell any longer, Ursa
tries to break away from him. She would rather be on her own like
Viney, who had to confront a racist police-officer without the support
of a useful partner than simply succumb to a system that promotes
subjugation on racial and ethnic grounds.
It is in the context of the malfunctioning relationships between men
and women that the female bonding in the novel should be understood.
THE ENIGMA OF IN-BETWEEN
The repeated references to the inseparable couple Congo Jane and
Will Cudjoe within the text the couple is at several times referred to
as being "Coleaders, coconspirators, consorts, lovers, friends. You
couldn't call her name without calling his, and vice-versa, they had
been that close" suggest that the support women give each other is
as a reaction to the disappointment about their relationships to their
male partners (14). The women leave no doubt that they consider the
failure to resist the economic and discursive lure of neo-colonial power
their men's greatest weakness. Female solidarity, both on the discourse
and the story level of the narrative, can therefore be understood as a
strategy to contest male control. It is, as we shall see, a strategy of
resistance which not only upsets the gendered split of public and
private space, but also offends class and power barriers.
On the story level of the narrative, Primus Mackenzie is the fixed
star among a constellation of women depending on him as a husband,
father, employer or lover. On the discursive level, this relation is
reversed. Instead of one coherent point of view, the narrative displays
a multitude of perspectives and voices. Ursa's is the dominant
perspective, but several parts are presented through other women of
her immediate and extended family. Thus, Marshall gives a
characteristic voice to very different women whom she has speaking
for themselves, and positions these voices as a counterpoint to men's.
With this technique she manages to simultaneously create one joint
female voice and still acknowledge the particularities of the individual
ones. Primus and the other male characters in the novel have no
narrative voices of their own, as their stories, concerns and positions
are conveyed to the reader solely through the eyes of women. Thus,
Primus, caught in the net of their stories, is "not the center of the novel
at all, but rather stands in peripheral relation to the women who define
him" (Hathaway 128). The power over the public realm Primus enjoys
on the story level is thus filtered through the women's dominant voice
on the discourse level. Long before the protagonist Ursa finds a way to
dismantle the male sphere of power, the strategy of literary
representation subverts male logocentrism as depicted in the text. The
discrepancy of power on the story level and the invisibility and passivity
on the discourse level is a phenomenon of transdifference inherent in
the process of correlating gender and power.3 It does not do away with
that correlation, but points to its instability and relativity.
3 Transdifference here results from what DeLamotte has called "the conflations
of discourse." Cf. DeLamotte 120.
It takes Ursa a long time to realize that the cross-gender solidarity
displayed in the tale of Congo Jane and Will Cudjoe is merely an ideal,
lacking a firm grounding in reality. However, Ursa's memory of her
mother taking her to see and touch their statue provides her with
the ambition to live up to this model of independence, mutual respect,
and reciprocal support of women and men. Her abortion can be read
as a signal that she is not willing and not able to create new life until
male-female cooperation in the face of neocolonial domination is
achieved. As Caroline Rody points out, the refusal of motherhood is
a frequent literary motif indicating that daughters refuse to pass on
such 'bad history'. Ursa can only find integrity and self-respect when
she comes to accept herself within the multiple affiliations that shape
her identity by creating her own position within and in spite of the
multiple dependencies. Her decision to lose her child comes full circle
only when she comes to terms with the neo-colonial domination within
a narrative of Western superiority, represented as failed gender-
solidarity, and with the male domination of Caribbean and African
American communities, as the dependency on Primus shows.
Ultimately, for her, this means separation from both her father and
The double colonization, which renders the black women both in
the Caribbean and the US the 'Other' to men and the 'colonizers', is
also to account for the form of action Ursa chooses to take when she
returns to Triunion. Instead of speaking up, or directly confronting
her father, she plays his brochure of the luxury resort he intends to
build on a popular community beach into the hands of his political
opponent. Broadcasting the information of Primus' political plans,
Justin Beaufils and his wife win the election. The young, idealistic
and community-oriented couple thus re-enacts the ideal of male-
female solidarity as displayed in the legend of Congo Jane and Will
As in Ursa's memory of the childhood experience, when she stood
on her mother's shoulder to touch the statues, Ursa again relies on
Estelle's support. With her help Ursa is able to get closer to her ideal
of cross-gender solidarity. Accordingly, female solidarity in the novel
is designed as determined and reliable support to establish fragile and
shifting connections between seemingly incommensurable elements,
to contest boundaries modeled on a binarism and to create the
possibility for alternative approaches to view the interaction of cultures
over the course of history.
THE ENIGMA OF IN-BETWEEN
In Daughters, Marshall explores the space in-between cultures, gen-
ders and the social roles they imply, by cutting across and temporarily
suspending binary differences. Yet the in-between remains enigmatic
- a playground, or battleground of various conceptions and construc-
tions of difference. It is a space of fragile, often involuntary alliances
which are in a process of constant break-up and re-establishment.
Boundaries between cultures, regarded both as separation and con-
nection, are affirmed on the one hand, and contested on the other. I
have pointed out Ursa's conflicting gender role models as well as her
multiple cultural affiliations to point out the unease and uncertainty of
her in-betweenness. By also drawing attention to the instability of the
differences which make up the contradictory components of her iden-
tity I also pointed to the possibility of action she was able to take at
the end in order to liberate herself from the cultural forces around her.
I used the term transdifference to point out how the text is preoccu-
pied with the ongoing inequality of historically established colonial
and gender relations. Transdifference recognizes the importance and
realities of these given differences, but also firmly places them in the
migratory realities of the postcolonial era in which they lose their in-
evitability. At the end of Daughters, we are left with a protagonist who
has all but resolved the enigma of this transdifferent in-between space.
We have come to realize, however, that without ignoring the rigid dif-
ferences still pervasive in the postcolonial world, there is a possibility
to rethink them in terms of their instability and thus alterability.
56 SOLVEIG MILL
Anzaldtia, Gloria. Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza. San
Francisco: Aunt Lute Books, 1987.
Bhabha, Homi. The Location of Culture. London and New York: Routledge,
Breinig, Helmbrecht and Klaus Losch. "Introduction: Difference and
Transdifference." In Helmbrecht Breinig, Jurgen Gebhard, and Klaus
Losch (eds). Multiculturalism in Contemporary Societies: Perspectives
on Difference and Transdifference. Erlanger Forschungen Reihe A
Geisteswissenschaften. Erlangen: Univ.-Bund Erlangen-Nurnberg,
Bronfen Elisabeth & Benjamin Marius. "Hybride Kulturen. Einleitung zur
angloamerikanischen Multikulturalismusdebatte." In Elisabeth
Bronfen, Benjamin Marius & Therese Steffen (eds.) Hybride Kulturen.
Beitrdge zur anglo-amerikanischen Multikulturalismusdebatte.
Tubingen: Stauffenburg, 1997. 1-29.
Clifford, James. The Predicament of Culture. Twentieth Century
Ethnography, Literature, and Art. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard UP,
Coser, Stelamaris. Bridging the Americas: the Literature of Paule Marshall,
Toni Morrison, and Gayle Jones. Philadelphia: Temple UP, 1994.
DeLamotte, Eugenia C. Places of Silence, Journeys of Freedom: The Fiction
of Paule Marshall. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 1998.
Fludernik, Monika. "The Constitution of Hybridity: Postcolonial
Interventions." In Monika Fludernik, ed. Hybridity and
Postcolonialism: Twentieth-century Indian Literature. Tubingen:
Stauffenburg. 1998. 19-53.
Hathaway, Heather. Caribbean Waves. Relocating Claude McKay and Paule
Marshall. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1999.
James, Cynthia. "Gender and Hemispheric Shifts in the Caribbean
Narrative in English at the Close of the 20th Century: A Study of
Paule Marshall's Daughters and Erna Brodber's Louisiana. Jouvert
5.3 (2001), 13 October 2003. http://www.social.chass.ncsu.edu/
Marshall, Paule. 1991. Daughters. New York: Plume, 1992.
Pratt, Marie Louise. Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation.
London and New York: Routledge, 1992.
THE ENIGMA OF IN-BETWEEN 57
Puri, Shalini. The Caribbean Postcolonial: Social Equality, Post-nationalism,
and Cultural Hybridity. New York and Basingstoke: Palgrave
Rody, Caroline. The Daughter's Return. African-American and Caribbean
Women's Fictions of History. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2001.
Sublime Mothers: Caribbean Genealogies
and Deadly Configurations in
Jamaica Kincaid's Narrative
University of Naples 'L'Orientale'
Jamaica Kincaid's entire literary production, from At the Bottom of
the River to The Autobiography of My Mother, has been dominated
by the powerful relationship of the main character (alias Kincaid's
multiple alter egos) with her terrible mother. Maternal figures, in her
work, have always been represented as dispensers of infinite love and
nurturing but, at the same time, as goddess-like creatures exercising
the power of life and death over their daughters. I will argue, through a
reading of Kincaid's texts, that this contradictory relationship with
motherhood is a sublime terror which can only be overcome through
The sublime terror generated by the maternal body receptacle of
both life and death leads to an ambiguous representation of feminin-
ity, oscillating between 'nurturing mother' and 'suffocating other.'1 In
Kincaid's writing, this ambiguity has often been expressed through
dreadful metamorphoses in which loving mothers are transfigured into
snakes or alligators, and other symbols of death and deceit. Adoles-
cence is clearly the moment which marks this abrupt and traumatic
change. In Kincaid's first novel, Annie John (1985), the eponymous hero-
ine, as she grows up, has to confront the transformation of the caring
mother of her childhood into a deceptive figure. When Annie's mother
laughs as she reveals that she had just tricked young Annie into eating
the hated breadfruit, the girl will learn to distrust her mother: "When
See Jacqueline de Weever, Mythmaking and Metaphor in Black Women's Fiction,
London: Macmillan, 1991.
she laughed, her mouth opened to show off big, shiny, sharp white
teeth. It was as if my mother had suddenly turned into a crocodile".2
Maternal transformations here clearly signal the mother's duplicity and
the overwhelming power she displays over her daughter.
Motherhood is thus inevitably connected to death, not only because
it signals the end of the idyll of childhood, but also because Annie fears
death, in particular her mother's, which would mark the end of their
nearly symbiotic relationship. A mother's death is the greatest of
betrayals, as Annie says in reference to a girl whose mother had just
died: "She seemed such a shameful thing, a girl whose mother had died
and left her alone in the world" (AJ, 8). The relationship between mother
and daughter is now performed as a fight for survival. As Annie perceives
the deadly implications of maternal power, her mind starts to formulate
the following thoughts: "My mother would kill me if she got the chance.
I would kill my mother if I had the courage" (AJ, 89). Not only does Kincaid
imply that maternal power is so strong that girls have to be protected
from it; she also implies that a mother's love can be so powerful that
one can die from it. When Annie says goodbye to her mother before
sailing to England, the mother's embrace is so tight she thinks she will
choke; similarly Lucy, the heroine of Kincaid's following novel, resolves
to leave her island to live away from her mother's spell.
Yet, physical distance is not always enough to protect daughters; a
mother's power can be so overwhelming that even a letter can prove
dangerous. As Lucy reveals, "I had not been opening the letters my
mother had been sending to me for months. (...) For if I had seen those
letters sooner, one way or another I would have died".3 The ambivalent
mother-daughter relationship is thus replete with images of death: while
Kincaid repeatedly performs the death of maternal paradise, her writing
stages the end of the idyll with the mother in terms of mourning.
Caribbean genealogies and the 'black sublime'
In all her books, Kincaid grieves the loss of her love object. Lucy's
words are the most explicit in this regard; "for ten of my twenty years,
half of my life, I had been mourning the end of a love affair, perhaps the
2 Annie John, London: Vintage, 1997 (1985), p. 84. Following references will be
given in the text.
3 Jamaica Kincaid, Lucy, New York: Plume, 1991 (1990), p. 139. Hereafter, L.
SUBLIME MOTHERS: CARIBBEAN GENEALOGIES AND DEADLY CONFIGURATIONS... 61
only true love in my whole life I would ever know" (L, 132). Like scattered
pieces of a fragmented, serial autobiography, Kincaid's texts recompose
bit by bit the events that led her to declare the death of the paradise of
the mother. Paradoxically enough, such a death is marked by three
births, those of her three brothers. The connection between their births
and the end of her 'love affair' with her mother is revealed in the only
declaredly autobiographical novel My Brother (1997). Here, Kincaid
remembers that instead of taking care of her newly born brother during
her mother's absence, she went on reading her beloved books. When
the mother returned and saw the baby's unchanged diaper, she
exploded in "a fury so fierce that [Kincaid] believed she wanted [her]
dead."4 What followed that devastating fury is an event that had been
erased from her memory in a sort of self-defence. The subsequent
burning of her books is perceived by her as an attempted murder and
this will to kill, once repressed, has now come back to haunt their
The person who brought me into the world had at one point almost
extinguished my life. Those books were my life. I don't mean to
overdramatize it, but it really did feel like an attempt at murder. My
books were the only thing that connected me to a world apart from
the cesspool I was in, and then they were just ashes. It felt murderous.5
According to Anne Rice the burning of the books can be read as a crucial
moment in Kincaid's life and writing: "While mourning for lost maternal
love haunts Kincaid's fiction, the story behind this loss is itself a ghostly
presence in the texts only dimly apprehended, never fully explained".6
As repression and revelation permeate Kincaid's writing, the burning
of her books represents the repressed story in her life which slowly
and uncannily emerges.
Since repression seems to be a recurring theme in Kincaid's work, I
have chosen the perspective of the sublime to examine the writer's
approach to her writing. From early theorists to eighteenth-century's
thinkers, the sublime has been viewed as a mode of domination; for
Kant, one of its most influential theorists, the sublime produces the
4 Jamaica Kincaid, My Brother, London: Vintage, 1997, p. 131.
5 Brad Goldfarb, "Interview with writer Jamaica Kincaid," Interview October 1997,
http: www. findarticles.com.
6 Anne Rice, "Burning Connections: Maternal Betrayal in Jamaica Kincaid's My
Brother", a/b: Auto/Biography Studies, 14.1 (1999), p. 26.
elevation of reason over an experience which resists representation.
The sublime has thus been theorized as a strategy to neutralize and
appropriate whatever exceeds the boundaries of the self. This excess
that transcends reason and undermines its powers is the
unrepresentable other that, in contemporary theorizations, is defined
as the emergence of the repressed in modernity.7
Kincaid's narrative project seems to be characterized by what can
be called a 'strategy of contradiction'. In an endless dynamics of rev-
elations and omissions, Kincaid creatively weaves fact and fiction ma-
nipulating real events in order to produce her peculiar autobiographi-
cal narrative.8 In such a complex weaving Kincaid's literary genealogy
plays an important role. Although her often declared predilection for
Charlotte Bronte reveals a strong influence of the gothic tradition which
she has deeply and skilfully re-elaborated, the unacknowledged con-
tribution of Jean Rhys's writing should also be taken into account. In
Rhys, gothic imagery is configured in terms of 'the return of the re-
pressed', while its iconography presents a vast range of vampires,
ghosts and other liminal figures such as zombies, soucouyants and
jablesses. Indeed, the spectral figures of the gothic novel are trans-
posed into her narrative through the Caribbean tradition, where the
revenant in all its forms represents the emergence of the repressed. In
a culture in which past and present are in constant communication,
and in which life and death are contiguous realities, it is not surprising
that Kincaid's writing, like Rhys's, is replete with gothic elements.9
Since the publication of her first collection of short stories, At the
Bottom of the River (1983), the blurring of boundaries between dream
7See for example Barbara Freeman (The Feminine Sublime. Gender and Excess in
Women s Fiction. Berkeley & Los Angeles, Uof California P, 1995) and Toni Morrison
(Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination, New York: Vintage,
1993) for an analysis of the repressed presence of race and gender in the
construction of white, male, Western identities.
8 Kincaid's strategy seems very close to the one deployed by Jean Rhys in Wide
Sargasso Sea. Indeed. Antoinette's story itself has been described as inaccessible
because of the unconscious revelations and repressed information that pervade it:
"The real story lies concealed behind the actual words of the narrative in the intuitive
and oftentime subconsciously exposed interwoven. contrapuntal, and shifting
patterns." Thomas Loe, "Patterns of Zombi in Jean Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea." World
Literature Written in English, 31.1 (1991), p. 41.
!) In fact, Wide Sargasso Sea has been defined as 'Caribbean Gothic' in one of the
first reviews of the novel. Walter Allen, "Review of Wide Sargasso Sea", The New
York Times Book Review, June 18 1967, p. 5.
SUBLIME MOTHERS: CARIBBEAN GENEALOGIES AND DEADLY CONFIGURATIONS... 63
and wake, reality and magic, have always pervaded Kincaid's narrative.
At the same time, it is also deeply permeated by the magical world of
her mother and her stories. Acknowledging her mother's influence,
Kincaid stated in an interview that "she [her mother] lived in a really
spooky place where the things you saw were not real. You'd see lights
in the mountains at night and it wasn't a star, it was a jablesse"." As
Kincaid claims a sort of 'right to ambiguity', she is allowed to freely
use any of her sources, from mother's cultural heritage to her colonial
education: "I was taught to think of ambiguity as magic, as a shadiness
and an illegitimacy, not the real thing of Western civilization."" The
gothic tradition is thus re-cited and re-sited through Kincaid's literary
(and maternal) genealogies; as she recuperates Bronte's gothic and
Rhys's Caribbean sublime, she re-places them in the repressed religious
forms of obeah and maternal storytelling.12
If in Wide Sargasso Sea Antoinette is compared to a zombie, just like
her mother ("Look the crazy girl, you crazy like your mother [...] She
have eyes like zombie and you have eyes like zombie too" 13), in her books
Kincaid herself repeatedly states the connection between her own
mother and the spectral figures of her stories. As she re-elaborates fact
and fiction, Kincaid mingles those stories with her own memory and
imagination, reconfiguring her mother as a liminal figure herself. Like a
beautiful jablesse who can turn into anything to deceive and kill her
enemies, her mother appears in her multiple literary transfigurations as
a terrible creature: "My mother removed her clothes and covered thor-
oughly her skin with a thick gold-colored oil (...). She grew plates of medal-
colored scales on her back (...). Her teeth now arranged themselves into
rows that reached all the way back to her long white throat."'4
10 Diane Simmons, "Interview with Jamaica Kincaid" in Diane Simmons, Jamaica
Kincaid, New York: Twayne Publishers, 1994, p. 9.
Kay Bonetti, "An Interview with Jamaica Kincaid", The Missouri Review, 15.1992,
p. 29. See also Carole Boyce Davies for an analysis of the dynamics of aphasia and
articulation of speech (Black Women, Writing and Identity: Migrations of the Subject,
London: Routledge, 1994, pp. 152-53).
12 In relation to Jamaica Kincaid's literary genealogy Marie-Helene Laforest has
pointed out that "Claiming English literary foremothers like Charlotte Bronte or
forefathers like Shakespeare is not in contradiction with recognition of her mother's
voice as the source of her writing. There is no doubt that Caribbean female literature
is a product of both, although most women writers have preferred to stress the
latter". Laforest, Diasporic Encounters: Remapping the Caribbean, Napoli: Liguori
Editore, 2000, p. 217, note 48.
13 Jean Rhys, Wide Sargasso Sea, London: Penguin, 2000 (1966), p. 27.
"1 Jamaica Kincaid, At the Bottom of the River, New York: Plume, 1992 (1983), p. 55.
The magic world of the mother, populated by liminal creatures, is
thus transposed into Kincaid's narrative in a complex dynamics of
repression and disclosing, as she borrows from the maternal culture a
sort of strategy of displacement. Although the deferment of revelation
is one of the main elements characterizing gothic literature in relation
to the sublime, Kincaid is also deploying the Antiguan practice of obeah
which suggests a hidden reality behind visible reality.15 Her mother's
stories about jablesses are not simple folktales; as Kincaid underlines,
they are "an illustration ... of not believing what I saw, of not really
being deceived by appearances."16 Kincaid's mother is, in fact, an
example of the vital necessity to constantly negotiate between two
conflicting cultures and realities. As Kincaid's mother practices obeah
rituals and at the same time obliges the daughter to go to Sunday school,
forbidding her to sing benna, she is performing a vital displacement:17
Sometimes she [her mother] was in this world, and sometimes she
was in another. These people go back and forth because they know
others who practiced only one system, and succumbed. (...) I come
from a culture that moves back and forth very easily. One culture
abandoned them, and the one that conquered them didn't let them
in; so they were on the border all the time. From time to time, they
found things to embrace in the culture that wouldn't let them in. The
culture that abandoned them still offered them the deepest cultural
and spiritual nourishment. (...) One of the things that is so wrong
about the West Indies is that we abandoned a lot of ideas from the
Western world that wouldn't let us in.18
Access to a culture and denial of another seem to be crucial themes in
terms of cultural definitions. As slavery is "the site of black victimage
and thus of tradition's intended erasure", 19 this dynamics of said, unsaid
15 "The sublime also informs the gothic's narrative principle of prolonged
suspense. (...) MGlothic narratives create a tension between a desire to prolong
and defer the inevitable and an impulse towards the revelation of all mysteries."
Maggie Kilgour, The Rise of the Gothic Novel, London and New York: Routledge,
1995, p. 32.
(3 Selwyn Cudjoe. "Jamaica Kincaid and the Modernist Project: An Interview", in
S. Cudjoe ed., Caribbean Women Writers: Essays from the First International Conference,
Wellesley: Calaloux Publications, 1990, p. 230.
'7 See the story "Girl" in At the Bottom of the River.
18 Frank Birbalsingh, "Jamaica Kincaid: From Antigua to America" in Birbalsingh ed.,
Frontiers of Caribbean Literature in English, London: Macmillan Caribbean, 1996, p. 145.
19 Ibid., p. 189.
SUBLIME MOTHERS: CARIBBEAN GENEALOGIES AND DEADLY CONFIGURATIONS... 65
and unsayable, constitutes what Paul Gilroy has defined as 'slave
sublime': "words, even words stretched by melisma and supplemented
by melisma and supplemented or mutated by the screams which still
index the conspicuous power of the slave sublime, will never be enough
to communicate its unsayable claims to truth".20 The need to forget or
mythicize the experience of slavery in order for the black subject to
'enter modernity' can be assimilated to the need to remove and
dislocate the religious experience of obeah through the perspective of
what might be called the 'black sublime.'21 As she performs a strategic
dislocation that makes her culture elusive and unsayable, Kincaid
encompasses the black sublime in the powerful figure of her mother.
Sublime mothers: matricide and mourning
The excessive mother is always unequivocally connected to the
sublime through the simultaneous practice and denial of obeah rites.
The overwhelming mother who can suffocate her children with her
love or with her presence reappears in My Brother as Annie Drew,
Kincaid's own mother, claiming that she will bury her children.22 As
Kincaid further reinforces the idea of her mother as priestess of death
by ominously picturing her in connection to lizards, linking her to the
figure of Maman Brigitte, guardian of graveyards and female counterpart
of Ged6, Mrs. Drew is irrevocably transfigured into a destructive
creature generating awe, the sacred terror deriving from the sublime.23
In Barbara Freeman's reformulation of the sublime, the articulation
of the repressed is staged as excess, the excess implied in the sublime
maternal figure, excessive and unrepresentable and yet constantly and
20 Paul Gilroy, The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness, London:
Verso, 1993, p. 37.
21 In Gilroy's words, "It seems as if the complexity of slavery and its location
within modernity has to be actively forgotten if a clear orientation to tradition and
thus to the present circumstances of blacks has to be acquired." Ibidem. Gilroy
analyzes Toni Morrison's Beloved for her "moving excursion into the relationship
between terror and memory, sublimity and the impossible desire to forget the
unforgettable. Ibid., p. 217.
22 "When once she was complaining to me about her health, I jokingly said, 'Oh,
Mother, you will bury us all'; she said in reply, 'You think so,' and she laughed, but
I did not laugh, I could not laugh, I was am one of the 'us'" (MB, p. 189).
23 In My Brother Kincaid literally describes her feelings towards her mother "in
tones of awe" p. 118.
obsessively performed by Jamaica Kincaid in her writing.24 Kincaid's
autobiographical project can thus be read as a strategy to challenge
the inevitability of being fixed (or immobilized) into a character. Her
subjectivity is fragmented and dispersed in different autobiographical
selves that, like a quilt, recompose the complex fictional persona called
Elaine Potter Richardson, Jamaica Kincaid, Annie John, and Lucy. As
Leigh Gilmore has pointed out, Kincaid's multiple texts can be read as
"a way to resist the little death that ending an autobiography
represents".25 What I would like to suggest is that such a strategy is
also a way to empower herself by endlessly restaging her relation with
the powerful mother in her narration.
Although "the feminine sublime does not attempt to master its
objects of rapture",26 repeating her mother's words and rewriting the
stories she used to tell her, Kincaid turns her mother from narrator to
character in the attempt to exercise her at least creative power on
her.27 The only way to resist the maternal overwhelming and deadly
power seems to be the fictional engendering of her own mother. Wishing
her mother's death is transformed into a literary device as the
overwhelming and omnipotent mother is finally killed in the complex
interweaving of autobiography and fiction which is The Autobiography
of My Mother (1996). The literary matricide thus empowers the daughter
as it gives her mother a new life, the life her daughter has forged and
written for her.
The loss of one's mother has always appeared in Kincaid's texts as
the greatest of fears, and in The Autobiography of My Mother she decides
to explore the consequences of not having a mother. While in Annie
John, Annie was frightened by the idea of her mother's death since she
knew that it would have implied her own death, in The Autobiography
Kincaid attempts to imagine a motherless life, a life where the matricide
has been performed in the very moment of childbirth.28 Thus she tries
provocatively to conceive the life of a woman whose mother is only a
4 Barbara C. Freeman, The Feminine Sublime. Gender and Excess in Women's
Fiction. Berkeley & Los Angeles, U of California P. 1995.
25 Leigh Gilmore, The Limits of Autobiography: Trauma and Testimony, Ithaca:
Cornell UP, 2001. p. 97.
26 Barbara C. Freeman. The Feminine Sublime, p. 3.
27 Indeed, writing gives Kincaid both the possibility of controlling and
manipulating people and events in her life and the opportunity to refashion herself
as narrator and reverse the position of power her mother has always held.
28 "If my mother died, what would become of me? I couldn't imagine my life
without her. Worse than that, if my mother died I would have to die, too" (AJ, p. 88).
SUBLIME MOTHERS: CARIBBEAN GENEALOGIES AND DEADLY CONFIGURATIONS... 67
trace, a fading memory in a dream, an imagined and ever distant figure.
Kincaid achieves this haunting presence by creating the character of
Xuela, a child whose mother had died at the moment she was born
and consequently leads a sort of living death, constantly repeating her
In her study on death and femininity, Elizabeth Bronfen relates
mourners to the dead since they are both "located between the world
of the living and the world of the dead."29 Mourners have only two
possibilities: either kill the dead again to make them leave their liminal
condition, or prolong indefinitely their permanence in liminality. In
psychoanalytic terms, Bronfen claims that a healthy trajectory from
mourning to remembrance or commemoration, implies the replacement
with a surrogate object of the dead love object.30 Xuela, instead, strongly
refuses othermothers or any surrogate figure to her dead mother, but
she repeats the loss by replacing the absent maternal body with her
The text generates a sort of trickster-like figure, inevitably linked to
death, a woman who rejects all forms of love and is unable to come to
terms with her own reproductive powers and with motherhood.31 Xuela
appears as an uncanny figure, suspended between life and death: "I
did not smell of the dead, because for something to be dead, life would
have had to come first."32 Her liminality is thus indefinitely prolonged
by her refusal to accept any surrogate object, identifying herself with
her dead mother.
Freeman underlines that her theorization of the feminine sublime is
neither a discursive strategy nor a literary style, but rather a moment
of crisis in representation and "the subject's response to whatever it
cannot grasp".33 In this respect, Kincaid's texts represent the attempt
to react to the crisis generated by the death of maternal paradise,
constantly repeating the primal loss and slowly recomposing the events
that let the repressed emerge once again.
"2 Elizabeth Bronfen, Over Her Dead Body: Death, Femininity and the Aesthetic.
Manchester: Manchester UP; New York: Routledge, 1992, p. 326.
30 Ibid, p. 327.
31 Not only does she refuse her maternity by repeatedly performing herb-caused
abortions; she also imagines horrible tortures to be inflicted on her unborn children.
32 Jamaica Kincaid, The Autobiography of My Mother, London: Vintage, 1996, p. 90.
33 Barbara C. Freeman, The Feminine Sublime, p. 150, note 4.
Cannibalization of the maternal body
As literary creation stands for the recuperation of the mother's lost
body, the matricide performed by the author may also be seen as the
necessary condition for writing and for survival. Her atypical
autobiographical writing thus stages a (sort of Kleinian) projection of
the death drive on the first relational object, the mother, who can be
recovered through a dynamics of repetition and restoration, typical of
mourning. The radical surgery Adrienne Rich suggests to be the only
strategy to overcome matrophobia is resolved by what Julia Kristeva
describes as cannibalistic melancholia, the desperate attempt to control
the maternal 'excess': "[it] accounts for this passion for holding within
the mouth (...) the intolerable other that I crave to destroy so as to better
possess it alive. Better fragmented, torn, cut up, swallowed, digested ...
than lost".34 In a reconfiguration of the relationship between motherhood
and death, Kincaid performs such a cannibalistic melancholia in order
to elaborate the mourning of her sublime love object.
Kincaid manages to control the contradictory fears of losing the
mother and being killed by her by incorporating her within her (textual)
body. The Autobiography of My Mother consequently appears as the
representation of a painful spirit possession in which the mother, dying
in the act of giving life, lives again in the daughter. Bearing the dead
mother's name, Xuela is supposed to follow her mother's destiny as a
Carib Indian and as a woman: dead from childbirth, forgotten by history.
Mourning the death of her mother, Xuela also mourns the loss of her
connection to the past, a history that like a bleeding wound renews
itself and cannot be healed.
... what should history mean to someone like me?
Should it be an idea, should it be an open wound and each breath I
take in and expel healing and opening the wound again and again,
over and over, or is it a moment that began in 1492 and has not come
to an end yet?35
14 Julia Krisleva, Black Sun. Depression and Melancholia, New York: Columbia UP,
1989, p. 12. Adrienne Rich has claimed that the 'matricide' is a necessary act of
individuation and differentiation from the mother: "Our personalities seem
dangerously to blur and overlap with our mothers'; and, in the desperate attempt to
know where mother ends and daughter begins, we perform radical surgery." Of Woman
Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution, London: Virago, 1986 (1976), p. 236.
Jamaica Kincaid, "In History," Callaloo 20.1 (1997), p. 1.
SUBLIME MOTHERS: CARIBBEAN GENEALOGIES AND DEADLY CONFIGURATIONS... 69
Kincaid thus performs a sort of bi-dimensional memory of her mother,
both as lost maternal figure and as colonial erasure of her ancestral
past. Since History has erased her, Xuela finds it necessary to constantly
re-evocate her loss and her past: since she cannot bury her dead
mother, she is doomed to evocate her through her own person.36
This form of mourning can also function as a strategy of self-
fashioning. Kincaid's protagonist, in fact, reaffirms her existence and
her pre-eminence in the text, revealing the possibility of re-defining
the self through the mourning of the other, though repeatedly denying
her mother's presence in her life. As Judith Butler has argued, it is
through the identification with the lost other that the self can be shaped:
The loss of the other whom one desires and loves is overcome through
a specific act of identification that seeks to harbor that other within
the very structure of the self (...). This identification is not simply
momentary or occasional, but becomes a new structure of identity;
in effect, the other becomes part of the ego through the permanent
internalization of the other's attributes.37
In Melanie Klein's theory, the mother's body of artistic creation is a
land to be explored; as a consequence, "the work of art itself stands
for the mother's body, destroyed repeatedly in fantasy but restored or
'repaired' in the act of creation."38 In Jamaica Kincaid's narrative, such
reparation is staged as an attempt at domestication and refashioning
of the maternal figure; in the character of Xuela, in particular, Kincaid
creates the life she thinks her mother should have led; motherless and
childless, constantly under the sign of death.
36 It has also been suggested that the only way this evocation can take place is
by a sort of spirit-calling in which the Carib mother is an "absent presence
reconstituted within a dream." Veronica Marie Gregg, "How Jamaica Kincaid Writes
the Autobiography of Her Mother", Callaloo, 25.3 (2000), p. 928.
37 Judith Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity, New
York: Routledge, 1990, pp. 57-58. Sandra Pouchet Paquet has underlined what she
calls 'sibling identification' in her analysis of My Brother demonstrating how "the
subversive possibilities of death and mourning, through a process of identification
and incorporation, create a space (...) for a thoughtful repositioning of self." Sandra
Pouchet Paquet, Caribbean Autobiography. Cultural Identity and Self-Representation,
Madison, Wisconsin: U of Wisconsin P, 2002, p. 254.
38 Susan Rubin Suleiman, "Writing and Motherhood" in Shirley Nelson Garner, Claire
Kahane, Madelon Sprengnetner eds., The (M)other Tongue. Essays in Feminist
Psychoanalytic Interpretation, Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1985, p. 357.
Paradoxically, writing denies the author's existence and gives her a
new life at the same time. The matricide or, better, the mother's living
death enables her parthenogenesis and her re-naming as Jamaica
Kincaid. Yet, despite the empowering instrument of narrative as a strategy
of self-engendering and self-definition through the mother's textual
incorporation, the author's writing appears heavily and problematically
permeated by her mother's presence. Still, I wish to suggest that Kincaid
at the end fails in cannibalizing her mother, the uncanny other whose
powerful shadow resists any effort to domesticate her.
The long monologue by Xuela which encompasses The Autobiography
seems to imply that the mother is still the terrible and excessive figure
who threatens her children's lives:
This account of my life has been an account of my mother's life as
much as it has been an account of mine, and even so, again it is an
account of the life of the children I did not have, as it is their account
of me. In me is the voice I never heard, the face I never saw, the being
I came from. In me are the voices that should have come out of me,
the faces I never allowed to form, the eyes I never allowed to see me.
(AMM, pp. 227-228)
Once again, it is the mother's voice which haunts her daughter's
writing, "haunt[ing] the book as she haunts her daughter."39 As she
tries to manipulate and erase the maternal from her life as an act of
survival, Kincaid is nevertheless overwhelmed by her obsession, the
incontrollable maternal excess which still interrogates her writing. After
her symbolic murder, the mother survives as a ghost that, even after
her factual death, will continue to haunt her daughter's life and nurture
39 Lizabeth Paravisini-Gerbert, Jamaica Kincaid: A Critical Companion, Greenwood
P, 1999, p. 151.
A Refusal to Negotiate; Transgression and
Transformation in Jamaica Kincaid's Annie John,
Lucy, and The Autobiography of My Mother
Cynthia S. Pittmann
University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras
amaica Kincaid's protagonists employ strategies that bypass a
gender proscribed behavioral trajectory and/or resist over-
controlling and suppressive influences upon their lives. I look at
ese strategies with an eye to feminist's concerns in order to uncover
the location of the subverted (or subversive) behavior. Of particular
interest is the consideration of moments where specific boundaries
are transgressed and how these develop in relation to the character
and those who interact with these decisions. I ask several questions:
In what manner is gender influenced by these strategies? How does
the character engage with the choices she makes? Do her decisions
result in a transformation within the character? Does she experience
greater freedom of choice and personal power?
Michel Foucault's theoretical analysis of power and desire inform
the considerations here, being applied to the work of a Caribbean
woman writer. Additionally, concepts of the body, location of the gaze,
and sexuality are analyzed not in relation to the creation of a victim/
victimizer mindset; instead, I attempt to view power and its resistance
in terms of its influence on desire.
To begin, desire can be understood as an outcome of a power
dynamic within Michel Foucault's concept of power and resistance. In
spite of the fact that his work has been criticized because he privileges
individual agency at the expense of collective action, Foucault provides
valuable commentary on the workings of power relations. His
theoretical analysis is useful for locating points of contestation within
a proscribed gendered script. Foucault argues that individual resistance
72 CYNTHIA S. PITTMANN
is effective and crucial to power relations and that the individual would
simply obey without this dynamic:
You see, if there was no resistance, there would be no power relations,
because it would simply be a matter of obedience. So resistance comes
first, and resistance remains superior to the forces of the process;
power relations are obliged to change with the resistance." (1139. my
Even though Foucault does not comment on gender by using examples
of women, he does address the historical relationship between
parenting and the construction of a child's sexuality. He situates his
discussion within the eighteenth century parenting manuals and
remarks that children's sex is spoken of consistently in various contexts.
Foucault postulates that the objective of this sex-discourse may have
been to contain children's sexuality but it had a different effect. He
asserts that the focus upon the topic of sex and children supported/
created a notion that, "... children's sex constituted a fundamental
problem in terms of their parental educational responsibilities..." which
interacted with children's thoughts about their own bodies. Foucault
contends that, "...this had the consequence of sexually exciting the
bodies of children while at the same time fixing the parental gaze and
vigilance on the peril of infantile sexuality" (1139).
Consequently, the outcome of this sexual repression was generally
positive: "Sexuality is a far more positive product of power than power
was ever a repression of sexuality" (1140). In other words, power and
repression produce effects on the level of desire:
What makes power hold, what makes it accepted, is simply the fact
that it doesn't only weigh on us as a force that says no, but that ...it
induces pleasure, forms knowledge, produces discourse. It needs to
be considered as a productive network which runs through the whole
social body, much more than as a negative instance whose function is
This more favorable understanding of the power dynamic operating
within sexual discourse is in contrast to the more traditional feminist
view that sexual repression of the children may have a negative impact
on the development of the child's sexuality. For example, when referring
to the mother-daughter relationship, three scholars from the United
States, Elizabeth Debold, Marie Wilson and Idelisse Malve argue that
A REFUSAL TO NEGOTIATE; TRANSGRESSION AND TRANSFORMATION...
desire is often suppressed or psychologically separated in the female
psyche, which results in a diminished feeling of power:
Desire is silenced in women both by its absence and by its replacement
with regimes of control. Those mothers who are caught in cultural
expectations of perfectly selfless nurturance are cut off from self-love,
from the joy within them that is deeply renewing. (185)
However, when looking at the influence of power in several of Jamaica
Kincaid's novels, we find that her protagonists, Annie John (Annie John),
Lucy (Lucy), or Xuela (Autobiography of My Mother) are not overcome
by the attempts to control their sexually; these characters continually
transgress societal norms for girls within their communities. In Annie
John, for example, in contrast to a possible reader expectation, Annie
John experiences a kind of sexualized pleasure in her forbidden
meetings with the Red Girl:
Oh, the sensation was delicious-the combination of pinches and kisses.
And so wonderful we found it that, almost every time we met, pinching
by her, followed by tears from me, followed by kisses from her were
the order of the day. (63)
The heightened pleasure Annie John experiences may be in contrast to
a generic reader's reaction. Roni Natov interprets this incident as "Annie
enact [ing] the dark and forbidden sites of erotic love, love mingled with
guilt and rage, redirected in the fusion of pain and pleasure" (6). Here
the transgression of the mother's imposed boundaries (forbidding the
relationship with the Red Girl) interacts with desire, thereby inducing
more pleasure in response to external repression. Annie admires the
Red Girl's rebelliousness; she appreciates her unwashed body and
nonconformist behavior. The Red Girl provides Annie with alternative
possibilities for her own life that resists her mother's socialization efforts.
In other words, as with Foucault's theory on the workings of power, Annie
experiences desire and pleasure in her rebelliousness. Even though she
must give up the relationship, I argue that the power she feels in her
own transgressive behavior by overreaching gender boundaries and
parental mandates, allows her to move forward with greater confidence
outside of her mother's sphere of influence. In this incident then,
repression creates the effect of increased desire.
Lucy also subverts her mother's attempt to control her sexuality.
After leaving Antigua, to serve as an au pair in the United States, she
74 CYNTHIA S. PITTMANN
engages in a guilt-free sexual relationship with Hugh, a young man she
has recently met:
If I enjoyed myself beyond anything I had known so far, it must have
been because such a long time had passed since I had been touched
in that way by anyone: it must have been because I was so far from
home. I was not in love. (66-67)
Lucy does not pretend that her sexual pleasure comes from love and
she has no expectations that this relationship will lead anywhere.
However, when Lucy remembers that she forgot to protect herself from
possible conception, she experiences anxiety that is related to her
mother rather than to Hugh. In a sexually intimate moment with him
as he attempts to stimulate her breast, she reflects, "...I was only
reminded of my past, filled with confusion and dread" (67). Lucy's
shame and loss of desire is connected to her loss of autonomy and
power; she would feel vulnerable if she had to request herbs from her
mother for an induced abortion:
...just my asking for these particular herbs would let her know exactly
what I had been up to, and I had always thought I would rather die
than let her see me in such a vulnerable position-unmarried and with
In contrast perhaps to expectations. Lucy's mother is also shown to
have some transgressive authority over her own body by
communicating to Lucy the combination of herbs which will interrupt
a pregnancy. By this fact, Lucy's mother demonstrates that she also
employs transgressive decision-making strategies, which usurp societal
norms, i.e. that a woman should martyr herself and have an unplanned
child. regardless of her personal circumstances. When she received
her mother's instruction, Lucy had demonstrated not only acceptance,
but also a formal respect for her mother's knowledge:
Without telling me exactly how I might miss a menstrual cycle, my
mother had shown me which herbs to pick and boil, and what time of
day to drink the potion they produced, to bring on a reluctant period.
She had presented the whole idea to me as a way to strengthen the
womb, but underneath we both knew that a weak womb was not the
cause of a missed period. She knew that I knew, but we presented to
each other a face of innocence and politeness and even went so far as
to curtsy to each other at the end. (69-70)
A REFUSAL TO NEGOTIATE; TRANSGRESSION AND TRANSFORMATION...
The possible empowering influence of this information is buffered
by the shame that would be experienced if Lucy had to request these
herbs from her mother.
Kincaid's writing strategy is transgressive because of the manner in
which she invokes the female body. For instance, her writing resists
the common tendency to erase women in imperial and patriarchal
discourse when it focuses on the biological functions of the body. To
clarify, Helen Gilbert and Joanne Tompkins contend that the frequent
trend of highlighting the biological function of the female body re-
inflects the patriarchal gaze and, therefore, is experienced as limiting
(220). To illustrate some examples of this ideology- depicting childbirth
as the birth of a nation/renewal of the people; showing women as
content and selfless mothers; and promoting cultural norms such as
the western case of automatically changing a woman's surname upon
marriage to signifying that the man is the head of the family. These
examples underscore the institutionalization of a patriarchal ideology
that Kincaid refutes in her portrayal of these three protagonists under
Furthermore, Kincaid writes about the biological functions of the
body and transgresses/subverts the direction of the patriarchal gaze
which redirects/reshapes the meaning of the body's depiction. Her
technique of revealing the unseen/unspoken aspects of sexuality and
the body re-inscribe how the reader thinks about the gendered body.
For example, in Autobiography of My Mother, Xuela is living with and
working for a friend of the family in order to obtain housing while she
attends school. In one incident she is portrayed as uninhibitedly
touching herself while her father's friend, Monsieur LaBatte, observes
at a distance:
I was running the fingers of my left hand through the small thick patch
of hair between my legs and thinking of my life as I had lived it so far,
fifteen years of it now, and I saw that Monsieur LaBatte was standing
not far off from me, looking at me. He did not move away in
embarrassment and I, too, did not run away in embarrassment. We
held each other's gaze. (70)
Kincaid portrays the meeting of eyes in a manner that shifts the
dominating influence of being powerlessly framed by another's (an
older man's) gaze by showing that Xuela returns the eye contact.
Furthermore, Xuela asserts her own dominance by flaunting
conventional modesty and propriety:
CYNTHIA S. PITTMANN
I removed my fingers from between my legs and brought them up to
my face, I wanted to smell myself. It was the end of the day, my odor
was quite powerful. This scene of me placing my hand between my
legs and then enjoying the smell of myself and Monsieur LaBatte
watching me lasted until the usual sudden falling of the dark... (70)
Kincaid's inclusion of a private-moment-suddenly-made-public
perplexingly empowers the 'traditional victim', i.e. the unprotected
young teenage girl who is coerced or forced into sexual relations with
a much older man. Xuela shifts the power dynamics by creating a
spectator event which is controlled (or at least held in check) by the
expected victim. To further underscore Xuela's assertion of control,
when this man wants her to take off her clothing, she suggests that
they go somewhere with more light because she cannot closely observe
their interaction: "...when he came closer and asked me to remove my
clothes. I said, quite sure of myself, knowing what it was I wanted, that
it was too dark, I could not see" (70).
Kincaid's empowerment of the teenager, in a classically
disempowering situation, brings the patriarchal script to the forefront
of the reader's mind. It calls attention to the ongoing exploitation of
women and highlights a fundamental construct of patriarchy,
unprotected girls will be sexually exploited by men and that women
need men to protect them from men. However, Kincaid does this with
the absence of narrative comment and by the unexpected depiction of
Xuela's reaction/ behavior, i.e. the victim, in this case, both accepts
and wills the exploitation. This scene also represents the manner in
which the exchange of women between men operates. It was Xuela's
worldly (experienced in the exploitation of others) father who made
the arrangement for his daughter to live in this man's house. The woman
of the house understands that her teenage guest will take on some of
the burden of sexually satisfying her husband: "I spent the day with
her Ithe wife]; the night with him [the husband]. It was not an
arrangement made with words; it could not be made with words" (74).
Silence here contains a power dynamic and marks the limit of what
can be spoken about. Additionally. Xuela internally/silently asserts
her power and the limits of her servitude when the wife attempts to
pass on her knowledge of how to please her husband:
On that day she showed me how to make him a cup of coffee; he liked
to drink coffee with so strong a flavor that it overwhelmed anything
that anyone wanted to put in it .... I did not say to her, I do not want
A REFUSAL TO NEGOTIATE; TRANSGRESSION AND TRANSFORMATION... 77
to make him coffee, I shall never make him coffee, I do not need to
know how to make this man coffee, no man will ever drink coffee from
my hands made in that way! I did not say this. (74)
The wife here represents a type of reflected power in her relationship
with Xuela. She obtains her authority over Xuela through her husband,
but is completely subordinate to him e.g., the wife only has a limited
power acquired through her husband. She is obligated to please him
in order to maintain her security within the marriage. This enables her
to accept Xuela's presence in her home. Judith Lowder Newton asserts
that this type of power relation functions to sustain unequal power
relations between middle class women and middle class men (884).
She argues that power can encompass an individual woman's self-
representation and power to act. This power of influence -power
obtained through a husband- requires:
[T]he renunciation of such self-advancing forms of power as
control... [and] to relinquish self-definition... become identified by her
services to others, in particular to men... relinquishing power for
effacement of the self in love and sacrifice. (Lowder Newton 884)
In contrast to Mrs. LaBatte, the teenager continues to maintain her
power for self-definition and power to act within the limits of her
circumstances. Though Xuela must engage in (and even possibly enjoy)
nightly sexual encounters with the husband, she will not attempt to
please him during the day, which represents, to her, total subordination
to this man.
In conclusion, Kincaid demonstrates a unique voice through these
three characters, Annie John, Lucy and Xuela. She demonstrates
strategies employed within limiting situations, and reveals women
deriving pleasure and/or insight from the expression of resistance.
Giovanna Covi expresses the view in this way:
Perhaps we could say that it is a voice [Jamaica Kincaid's] coming
after the struggles of the women's movement first for recognition and
then for separation... An effort to keep a polyphonic movement in
process in the attempt to be always already questioning and dismantling
... Her narrative, in fact, is a continuous attempt to turn away from any
definitive statement and to utter radical statements. (345)
I agree with Covi's understanding that Kincaid's novels bring a
frequently ambivalent voice to feminist issues; however, I assert that
78 CYNTHIA S. PITTMANN
Jamaica Kincaid's writing strategy (related to her portrayal of females)
provides more enabling markers of gender, without scripting a
predictable feminist's narrative. As a Caribbean woman writer, her
interventions re-script gendered power relations and portray an
authentic quest for self-understanding and new ways of representing
A REFUSAL TO NEGOTIATE; TRANSGRESSION AND TRANSFORMATION...
Covi, Giovanna. "Jamaica Kincaid and the Resistance to Canons," Out
of the Kumbla: Caribbean Women and Literature. Eds. Carole
Boyce Davies and Elaine Savory Fido. Trenton, New Jersey: Africa
World Press, 1990. 345-54.
Debold, Elizabeth, Marie Wilson and Idelisse Malav&. Mother Daughter
Revolution: From Betrayal to Power. Mass: Addison-Wesley, 1993.
De Lauretis, Teresa. Technologies of Gender: Essay on Theory, Film and
Fiction. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press,
Foucault, Michel. "Interview with Alessandro Fontana and Pasquale
Pasquino." Trans. by the interviewers. Critical Theory Since Plato.
Ed. Hazard Adams, Fort Worth: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1992.
Gilbert, Helen and Joanne Tompkins. Post-Colonial Drama: Theory,
Practice, Politics London/New York: Routledge, 1996.
Kincaid Jamaica. Annie John. New York: Plume, 1983.
The Autobiography of My Mother. New York: Plume, 1996.
Lucy. New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1990.
Lowder Newton, Judith. "Power and the Ideology of "Woman's Sphere,"
Feminisms: An Anthology of Literary Theory and Criticism, Revised
Edition. Eds. Robyn R. Warhol and Diane Price Herndl. New
Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers U P, 1981/1997.
Natov, Roni. "Mothers and Daughters; Jamaica Kincaid's Pre-Oedipal
Narrative. Children 's Literature: Annual of the Modern Language
Association Seminar on Children's Literature and The Children's
Literature Association, 18, (1990), 1-16.
Plotting Desire Between
Women "In The Night"
From the adolescent dialogue of the first story, "Girl," to the
dreamlike sequences of the last story, "At the Bottom of the River,"
the tales in Jamaica Kincaid's first book, the 1983 collection At
the Bottom of the River, recount the quotidian experiences of Antiguan
girls and their families. Every day, these girls negotiate between
conforming to and resisting colonial norms of womanhood as they also
struggle with the ways that their own mothers participate in the
imposition of those norms. Every day, the girls become aware of the
places, people, and spirits that comprise their world. And every day,
the girls form erotic attachments with one another.
The narrator of "In the Night," the second story of At the Bottom of
the River, describes the nocturnal life of her island and recounts her
dreams for the days to come. When she grows up, she plans to marry
a woman. The simple description of desire between women in "In the
Night" joins the uncomplicated declaratory sentences that compose
the story to assert a most ordinary, normal state of affairs. At the same
time, "In the Night" questions not only what is normal, but also how
the normal is constituted in and as narrative. It does so not by opposing
the normal but by pluralizing it.
After "regular, usual, typical, ordinary, standard," then "free from
any disorder, healthy," the Oxford English Dictionary establishes that
"normal" also means "heterosexual." When Kincaid figures desire
between girls as normal, then, she either re-defines normal or else she
shows "heterosexual" not to follow necessarily and only from the other
definitions of normal, but to be one among many kinds of normal. But
"regular, usual, typical, ordinary, standard" rely on the diminution of
variety and, as for example when they are linked to "heterosexual,"
82 KEJA VALENS
the terms are often prescriptive rather than descriptive. "In the Night"
works (with) "the normal" and its avatars to reveal their ideology, or
rather to reveal them as ideology: the structuring belief that constitutes
normal subjects even as it is constituted by individuals' recognition of
themselves as normal subjects. But in "In the Night," the normal repeats
with a difference in the manner of what Homi Bhabha calls mimicry,
creating something that is "the same but not quite" ("the same but not
white"; 89). Even as they recognize and constitute themselves as normal
subjects, Kincaid's characters also exploit the ambivalences of different
discourses, ideologies, normals. On the muddy path of "normal"
subjectivity, they slip and slide in puddles of deviance, difference,
irregularity, unusualness, and autonomy.
The narrative construction of a normal (heterosexual) subject would
follow the model that Peter Brooks lays out in Reading for the Plot: a
universal and profoundly ideological plot structure that moves
inexorably from a beginning of (unsatisfied) desire through a middle
period of searching to a reproductive end in (heterosexual) marriage,
childbirth, and death. Any potential undoing of the narrative (of)
progression in its detours and backtracking is always already
recuperated in the final denouement that not only straightens out but
also explains as necessary any kinks in the scheme.
Various "novel" narratives, including feminist and queer narratives,
offer different readings of the "end" of Brooks's model that then under-
mine his entire scheme. Thus Rachel Blau de Plessis reads "beyond
the ending" in many texts to find a space for women's desires that may
not have a single "aim" or that may not find their ultimate satisfaction
in motherhood, while Angus Gordon studies how the coming-out nar-
rative turns the "digressions, red herrings, and the like [that] are par-
ticularly important in the treatment of same-sex desire or experience
during adolescence" into an end in and of themselves (3). But neither
does the narrator of "In the Night" enter or accept (let alone surpass)
standard heterosexual adulthood, nor does she "come out" as a "fem-
inist" or as a "lesbian." Rather, "In the Night" belongs to the ranks of
"straight" Caribbean novels and short stories- from Simone Schwartz-
Bart's Pluie et vent sur Thlumde Miracle, to Rosario Ferr6's Maldito Amor
or Patricia Powell's Me Dying Trial-that explore familial, domestic,
and child-rearing groupings that do not fit, or that refuse to fit, a heter-
onormative model that is also a colonial model. At the same time, as
Antonia MacDonald-Smythe points out in her book Making Homes in
the West/Indies, Kincaid's practice of re-telling, both within and between
her texts, draws on "the never-ending story" of "a West Indian folkloric
PLOTTING DESIRE BETWEEN WOMEN "IN THE NIGHT"
tradition, where each performance of the folk tale is both a repetition
and a metamorphosis" (2). The challenges to heteronormativity and
to narrative convention in Kincaid's works is not unique, it is rather
emblematic of a Caribbean tradition. At the same time, "In the Night"
involves more open and explicit desire between girls than do many of
its "straight" counterparts, while nonetheless maintaining an impor-
tant distance from the declared lesbianism of the works of Audre Lorde
or Achy Obejas.
"In the Night" destabilizes what Brooks calls "the designs and inten-
tions of narrative" with a tale that is more pasted together than plot-
ted out, and with a plain language so rife with repetitions, rhymes, and
rhythmic structures that it reads more like poetry than like prose. In
its simplicity and its subversion of a narrative (of) development, the
assertion of desire between women in "In the Night" seems to lack or
else to hide some other depth or truth. I contend that the deeper
truth it holds is that in a simple and straightforward manner, the nar-
rator desires women. Or, the truth is that there are no hidden depths-
truth can float across the surface; these representations are to be read
Like many of the stories in At the Bottom of the River, "In the Night"
consists of a number of indirectly interrelated sections. The first section
is told in a third person, full of the simple declaratives "it is" and "there
are" which so often characterize descriptions in Kincaid's works.
Declared in this first section are the activities, sounds, and senses of a
night in Antigua. In the second section, the first person voice of the
narrator tells of a dream she has of herself "in the night." The narrator
recounts, in the third section, what "no one has ever said to me:" a
loving appreciation by a girl and her family of her father the night-soil
man. The fourth section reverts to the third person narrator to describe
another series of activities. In the last section, the first person narrator
returns to describe the future she sees for herself.
Inversely to Brooks's claim that temporalityy is a problem, and an
irreducible factor of any narrative statement in a way that location is
not" (22), in "In the Night" location is an irreducible factor of the story,
while temporality becomes an element of play. The story begins: "In
the night, way into the middle of the night, when the night isn't divided
like a sweet drink into little sips, when there is no just before midnight,
or just after midnight, when the night is round in some places, flat in
some places, and in some places like a deep hole, blue at the edge,
black inside, the night-soil men come" (6). The spatiality of the night
folds time into location rather than vice versa. "Round in some places,
84 KEJA VALENS
flat in some places" describes a topography. The deep hole evokes
Caribbean history and the Middle Passage and also the space of the
outhouse holes that constitute Antiguan plumbing in the 1950s and
that the "night soil men" clean. "Blue at the edge, black inside" can
refer to an island at night or to an island with a population of African
descent. Although various characters' nighttime preparations for
"tomorrow" and the last section's projection into "one day" might
suggest that "In the Night" progresses from dusk to dawn, the night of
the story does not obey rules of time or progression. It is an endless
middle without beginning or end; it is a time that is also a space.
In Brooks's account, the middle only appears in relation to the
beginning and the end as the space of the detours that confirm the
rule of heterosexuality. The middle of "In the Night," however, exists
outside of the succession that beginning and ending require. Not only
is "in the night" described as a place/time "when there is not just before
midnight, midnight, or just after midnight" (6), "In the Night" is a story
that does not follow any narrative structure of progression or
resolution. The story begins "way into the middle," and the subsequent
series of sections cannot move the plot in any particular direction since
they only relate to each other tangentially.
The subjects of "In the Night's" first sentence are the night-soil men
who clear the outhouses of the day's waste. Although the night exists in
relation to the day, the relation is not one of neatly opposing terms such
as dark/light, invisible/visible. "In the Night" the night-soil men, or the
narrator watching them, are able to see the truth of things that are not
as they appear: "The night-soil men can see a bird walking in the trees.
It isn't a bird. It is a woman who has removed her skin and is on her way
to drink the blood of her secret enemies" (6). In the night when spirits
walk freely, shifting appearances can be seen and seen through.
Along with the masks of magic creatures, in the night the false veneer
covering heterosexuality becomes transparent:
There is the sound of a man groaning in his sleep; there is the sound
of a woman disgusted at the man groaning. There is the sound of the
man stabbing the woman, the sound of her blood as it hits the floor.
the sound of Mr. Straffee, the undertaker, taking her body away. There
is the sound of her spirit, back from the dead, looking at the man who
used to groan; he is running a fever forever. (7)
The namelessness of the man and woman, their introduction with the
indefinite article "a," and their eternal existence in the night make them
PLOTTING DESIRE BETWEEN WOMEN "IN THE NIGHT" 85
stand for all men and for all women who sleep together. Even prior to
the outbreak of violence, the couple sleeping together is not blissful or
even complementary or productive, but "groaning" and "disgusted."
This heterosexuality culminates neither in reproduction nor in death,
but in an endless cycle of violence, retribution, and suffering.
A happy heterosexual family appears in the night as part of what
no one has ever said to me" (9):
No one has ever said to me, 'My father, a night-soil man, is very nice
and very kind. When he passes a dog, he gives a pat and not a kick.
He likes all the parts of a fish but especially the head. He goes to
church quite regularly and is always glad when the minister calls out,
'A Mighty fortress Is Our God,' his favorite hymn. He would like to
wear pink shirts and pink pants but he knows that color isn't very
becoming to a man, so instead he wears navy blue and brown, colors
he does not like well. He met my mother on what masquerades as a
bus around here, a long time ago, and he still likes to whistle. ... I love
my father the night-soil man. My mother loves my father the night-
soil man. Everybody loves him and waves to him whenever they see
him ... ." (9-10)
The containment of the story of heterosexual bliss within quotations,
as well as the idealization of love not only between parents and children
but extending to "everybody," underlines its fictionality, and even the
fiction of a loving heterosexual family rests on unhappy gender
conformity and "masquerade." Furthermore, a singular, neat, and happy
heterosexual coupling later reveals its deep ties to colonialism:
Someone is making a basket, someone is making a girl dress or a boy
shirt, someone is making her husband a soup with cassava so that he
can take it to the cane field tomorrow, someone is making his wife a
beautiful mahogany chest, someone is sprinkling a colorless powder
outside a closed door so that someone else's child will be stillborn,
someone is praying that a bad child who is living prosperously abroad
will be good and send a package filled with new clothes, someone is
The relations between man, wife, and children are here part of a
colonial economy and inheritance. It does not follow that the family is
inherently or completely bad. Indeed, in many ways the passage
describes a beautiful, nurturing, heterosexual family life. And, absent
colonialism, Caribbean families composed of men, women, and children
would most likely exist. We cannot know if or how they would be
different. But we can observe how this family is marked by its colonial
legacy. The plantation economy structures the wife's relationship to
the husband, as she cooks for him not a meal he will share with the
family but one that will sustain him in his work on a sugar cane
plantation. The husband will present to the wife a piece of furniture
that is highly symbolic of, and in, a European Romantic tradition of
marriage: a (hope) chest. The sprinkling of powder in order to cause a
stillborn can be read in the light of a similar incident in Kincaid's
subsequent book, Annie John, as an action performed by the other
women whose children the same man has fathered, exposing the ways
in which the heterosexual family is built on an understanding of male
sexuality that allows the man to have multiple partners that succeed
not only in creating children who will be raised by single mothers, but
also in destroying women's solidarity (this is not an African model of
polygamy, but a plantation model of disconnect between insemination
and child-rearing).' The heterosexual family groupings "in the night"
may produce children, but they are children who can only provide for
the family through their service in, as well as to, the colonial center,
"abroad." Revealed "in the night" are the fictitious and colonial ideals
of heterosexuality and their unhappy outcome. There is also, however,
The last section of "In the Night" describes how the girl narrator
plans, "one day," to "marry a woman." The collapse of temporal
progression asserted at the beginning of "In the Night" brings the future
of "one day" into the present of "In the Night" so that we find not only
a projection but also a realization of a non-heterosexual option where:
Now I am a girl, but one day I will marry a woman-a red-skin woman
with black bramblebush hair and brown eyes, who wears skirts that
are so big I can easily bury my head in them. I would like to marry
this woman and live with her in a mud hut near the sea. In the mud
hut will be two chairs and one table, a lamp that burns kerosene, a
medicine chest, a pot. one bed, two pillows, two sheets, one looking
glass, two cups, two saucers, two dinner plates, two forks, two
drinking-water glasses, one china pot, two fishing strings, two straw
hats to ward the hot sun off our heads, two trunks for things we have
very little use for, one basket, one book of plain paper, one box filled
Edouard Glissant discusses the effects of slavery and the plantation economy
on male sexuality in Le discours antillais (503-520).
PLOTTING DESIRE BETWEEN WOMEN "IN THE NIGHT"
with twelve crayons of different colors, one loaf of bread wrapped in
a piece of brown paper, one coal pot, one picture of two women
standing on a jetty, one picture of the same two women embracing,
one picture of the same two women waving goodbye, one box of
matches. Every day this red-skin woman and I will eat bread and milk
for breakfast, hide in bushes and throw hardened cow dung at people
we don't like, climb coconut trees, eat and drink the food and water
from the coconuts we have picked, throw stones in the sea, put on
John Bull masks and frighten defenseless little children on their way
home from school, go fishing and catch only our favorite fishes to
roast and have for dinner, steal green figs to eat for dinner with the
roast fish. Every day we would do this. Every night I would sing this
woman a song; the words I don't know yet, but the tune is in my head.
This woman I would like to marry knows many things, but to me she
will only tell about things that would never dream of making me cry;
and every night, over and over, she will tell me something that begins,
"Before you were born." I will marry a woman like this, and every
night, every night, I will be completely happy. (11-12)
The maternal imagery in the red-skin woman's embracing skirts and
her stories that tell of a time before the birth of the narrator has led
many critics to read the relationship, as does Lisabeth Paravisini-
Gebert, as "the relationship between the girl and the mother, here
represented as a couple delighting in their domesticity-the mother/
daughter bond having replaced the husband/wife connection" (57).2
However, I maintain that the narrator's desire to marry a maternal figure
stems no more from a desire to marry her mother, than from a desire
to marry a maternal woman.
The futurity of the relationship is formulated around the projection
of the narrator into her own womanhood, so that we find not a
relationship of girl to woman, but of woman to woman. The red-skin
woman appears as a desired wife not as a desired mother, suggesting
not a return to some sort of pre-Oedipal "mother/daughter bond" but
instead a re-vision of marriage, where the relationship of two wives
replaces "the husband/wife connection." The mothering in the marriage
will be reciprocal, with the two women putting one another to bed, the
narrator singing to the red-skin woman and the red-skin woman telling
the narrator stories. That these stories will begin before the narrator
was born fits the timelessness of "In the Night" as much as it does a
model of intergenerational love.
2 See also: Covi; Natov; Niesen de Abruna.
If the marriage between the narrator and the red-skin woman in "In
the Night" does represent "the relationship between the girl and her
mother" as "a couple delighting in their domesticity," we must read
the slippage from the parental to the coupled as going both ways. That
is, as much as a mother/daughter bond replacing a husband/wife bond,
it figures a husband/wife bond replacing a mother/daughter bond, in
other words expressing not a desire to return in adulthood to a (pre-
sexual) childhood connection, but a desire to find in childhood an adult
(romantic and sexual) connection, so that rather than de-sexualizing
the two women's marriage, it sexualizes the mother/daughter
Although some elements of the two women's married life are
described in the future conditional ("I would like to marry this woman
and live with her in a mud hut near the sea"), their marrying itself is a
certainty: "one day I will marry a woman." This simple assertion joins
others throughout the story to establish it not as some deviation from
an expected path, but as the most natural and normal thing. It follows
from all of the narrator's observations of life around her, a life that
includes heterosexual couples, families, and children. The narrator's
idea of marrying in a different way contrasts with these other
possibilities, but is not opposed to them. She imagines her future in a
similar setting as her present, a Caribbean space inhabited by British
colonial powers. Marrying a woman will not be an escape from that
reality, but it will be a different response to it.
The narrator and the red-skin woman will live in neither an idealized
nor an isolated world. They will interact with "people we don't like"
and "defenseless little children on their way home" but they will be
self-sufficient. Through labor or ruse, they will procure their own food.
Everything in their home will be set up for a self-contained unit of two,
as opposed to the three who symbolize the reproductive heterosexual
family. These two women will nurture only one another, and no one else.
The play of ones and twos in the list of their items insists on the
status of the two women as a couple: whatever can be shared, they
possess in single; the things that cannot be shared they possess in
double, assuring that there are two, but only two, of them. The only
possessions they own in triplicate are pictures of themselves: together
they exceed the required one or two, providing more than the bare
minimum to one another. Represented in three pictures, the two women
do not blend together into one, nor are they the perfect symmetry of
two. The narrator and the red-skinned woman stand together and apart,
one, two, and three. The setting of the pictures is on a jetty, which will
PLOTTING DESIRE BETWEEN WOMEN "IN THE NIGHT"
be the place of departure from Antigua and from the mother's colonially
conforming "young lady business" inAnnie John. It is unclear from the
descriptions of the photographs in "In the Night" to whom the two
women in the picture are waving goodbye, and whether they are waving
goodbye to someone leaving while they stay, or to someone staying
while they leave. The photographs sit, however, in the hut by the
Caribbean Sea that the two women share, implying that if they ever
left, they have returned. They keep in their home, however, a reminder
of leave-taking. If, via Annie John, we read this as a leave-taking of
colonial conformity, then these two women have already completed
the circle on one edge of which Annie John stands. They have left behind
colonial conformity without leaving, or with a subsequent return to,
what they do want of Antigua.
While their mud hut near the sea may evoke a mermaid's dwelling
or some sort of mythical woman's space, at the same time it represents
a humble abode, and the women's marriage in "In the Night" is located
in the midst of the everyday real. The list of household items in the hut
is so mundane that it wraps the scene of two married women not in
mythic lore, but in quotidian normalcy. It is also so long as to feel
exhaustive: with so many items listed, it is implied that this house holds
no secrets, its entire contents are laid out before the reader. Two women
married to one another do not attain unknown riches, nor is there any
mystery to the way in which they go about their lives. Little "intrigue"
will drive the plot of their lives towards anything beyond the repetitions
of the everyday and the almost monotonous rhythm of long lists.
The narrator and the red-skin woman do, however, weave into their
daily routine a subtle resistance to colonial rule. Their everyday runs
not in accordance with colonial schooling but rather is full of after-
school or holiday activities: running, playing, and eating favorite foods.
British influence persists, but the two women mock British values as,
in their play, they use a symbol of British prosperity and joviality, John
Bull, as a tool of terror and persecution.3 The satirical donning of John
Bull masks may be common during Carnival, but as the narrator and
the red-skin woman perform this satire "every day," they move the
practice outside of the sanctions of the colonial government.
The two women will spend not only their days but also their nights
together. The specification and insistence through repetition that it
3 Originally conceived in an eighteenth century satire by John Arbuthnot, John
Bull has come to personify England, and to represent "the typical Englishman,"
much like Uncle Sam in the United States.
90 KEJA VALENS
will be "every night, every night," after the singing and the storytelling,
that the narrator will be "completely happy" implies that the women
will share particular elements of happiness that in their single bed at
night. The repetition of "every night, every night" reproduces the
doubling of women that provides complete happiness, and also sets
their pleasure in the caressing rhythms of poetic language. Like the
story's plotting of desire between women, the formal slippage between
prose and poetry in "In the Night" contests a drive to categorization
that has long characterized Euro-American approaches to the
Caribbean. Brooks's clear separation of poetry and prose by their
relationship to narrative time also suggests that where the forms blend
together, narrative orders of desires may also be in question.
"In the Night" appears to recount the most normal of nights, dreams,
and desires. But as its poetic rhythms turn and return, drawing past
and future into an eternal present, it also refuses singular models of
progression and certain ends in heterosexual coupling. As "In the Night"
pluralizes the normal, British imperial heteronormativity no longer
holds a monopoly, and there emerge not one but many normals with
which an Antiguan girl can paste together her narrative desires and
her simple, poetic narrative of desire between women.
PLOTTING DESIRE BETWEEN WOMEN "IN THE NIGHT" 91
Bhabha, Homi. The Location of Culture. New York: Routledge, 1994.
Blau de Plessis, Rachel. Writing Beyond the Ending. Bloomington: Indiana
U P, 1985.
Brathwaite, Edward Kamau. Roots. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 1993.
Brooks, Peter F. Reading for the Plot: Design and Intention in Narrative.
Cambridge, Ma: Harvard U P, 1984.
Covi, Giovanna. "Jamaica Kincaid's Prismatic Self and the
Decolonialisation of Language and Thought." Framing The Word:
Gender and Genre in Caribbean Women's Writing. Ed. Joan Anim-
Addo. London: Whiting and Birch, 1996. 37-67.
Ferr6, Rosario. Maldito amor. Rio Piedras: Ediciones Huracan, 1988.
Gilmore, Leigh. The Limits of Autobiography: Trauma and Testimony.
Ithaca and London: Cornell U P, 2001.
Glissant, Idouard. Le discours antillais. Paris: Gallimard, 1997.
Gordon, Angus. "Turning Back: Adolescence, Narrative, and Queer
Theory." GLQ 5.1 (1999): 1-24.
Kincaid, Jamaica. Annie John. New York: Farrar. Straus and Giroux, 1983.
At the Bottom of the River. New York: Plume, 1992.
"I Come From A Place That's Very Unreal." By Allan Vorda.
Face to Face: Interviews with Contemporary Novelists. Ed. Allan
Vorda. Houston: Rice U P, 1993. 77-105
"Interview." Conversations With American Novelists. Eds. Kay
Bonetti, Greg Michalson, Speer, Morgan, Jo Sapp, and Sam Stowers.
Columbia and London: U Missouri P, 1997. 26-38.
"Jamaica Kincaid and the Modernist Project: An Interview."
By Selwyn R. Cudjoe. Caribbean Women Writers: Essays From the
First International Conference. Ed. Selwyn R. Cudjoe. Wellesley:
Calaloux, 1990. 215-232.
"A Lot of Memory: An Interview With Jamaica Kincaid." By
Moira Ferguson. The Kenyon Review 16.1 (1994): 163-188.
Mr. Potter. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2002.
My Brother. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1997.
MacDonald-Smythe, Antonia. Making Homes in the West/Indies:
Constructions of Subjectivity in the Writings of Michelle Cliff and
Jamaica Kincaid. New York & London: Garland, 2001.
Natov, Roni. "Mothers and Daughters: Jamaica Kincaid's Pre-Oedipal
Narrative." Children's Literature: Annual of the Modern Language
92 KEJA VALENS
Association Seminar on Children's Literature and the Children's
Literature Association 18 (1990): 1-16.
Niesen de Abruna, Laura. "Jamaica Kincaid's Writing and the Maternal-
Colonial Matrix." Caribbean Women Writers: Fiction in English. Eds.
Mary Conde and Thorunn Lonsdale. London: Macmillan, 1999. 172-
"Normal." The Oxford English Dictionary. Second Edition, 1999.
Paravisini-Gebert, Lisabeth. Jamaica Kincaid: A Critical Companion.
Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1999.
Powell, Patricia. Me Dying Trial. Boston: Beacon, 2003.
Schwartz-Bart, Simone. Pluie et vent sur T6lumde Miracle. Paris: Editions
du Seuil, 1972.
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the Caribbean vol. 2. Ed. A. James Arnold. Amsterdam: John
Benjamins, 1994. 41-66.
Edwidge Danticat. The Dew Breaker. New York: Knopf, 2004.
Antonio Benitez Rojo's Caribbean "as a meta-archipelago ... has
the virtue of having neither a boundary nor a center" (The
Repeating Island 4). ldouard Glissant establishes the notion of
the rhizome which "maintains ... the idea of rootedness but challenges
that of a totalitarian root" (Poetics of Relation 11). Caribbean theorists
of the late twentieth century have tried to find common denominators
in order to study the area's rich literary production. All have agreed
that there is "unity in diversity." The idea of a connection in spite of
the differences is paramount. The Caribbean is connected aquatically,
yet that fluidity allows us to explore the area as it explodes outwardly
due to migration. Edwidge Danticat's most recent work, The Dew
Breaker enjoins both theories while also establishing a link with Haiti's
literary tradition. Any reader familiar with Haiti will undoubtedly
recognize the clin d'oeil to Jacques Roumain's 1944 seminal novel
Masters of the Dew (Gouverneurs de la Rosee). Roumain had exalted
the coumbite as a collective effort to bring Haiti's peasants out of their
dire situation. Danticat's text looks at one of the ways in which
landowning peasants, deprived of their land by a "few local army
officers" (191), could make it: by joining the Macoutes. Her work explores
the nefarious repercussions such actions entail. Sixty years after
Roumain, her text still ponders on the options available to Haitians
affected by political upheaval.
The book is a collection of stories, each of which may be read
independently, yet Danticat's texts trace the interconnectedness of the
lives of Haitians who remain in their country as well as Haitian political
exiles in the United States, mostly New York City, although not
exclusively. The first story, "The Book of the Dead," makes clear that
the unnamed torturer is the budding sculptress, Ka Bienaim6's barber