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The Erotic Folk

Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UFE0022230/00001

Material Information

Title: The Erotic Folk Alternative Sexualities and Resistance Narratives in the Novels of Claude McKay
Physical Description: 1 online resource (44 p.)
Language: english
Publisher: University of Florida
Place of Publication: Gainesville, Fla.
Publication Date: 2008

Subjects

Subjects / Keywords: caribbean, folk, harlem, mckay
English -- Dissertations, Academic -- UF
Genre: English thesis, M.A.
bibliography   ( marcgt )
theses   ( marcgt )
government publication (state, provincial, terriorial, dependent)   ( marcgt )
born-digital   ( sobekcm )
Electronic Thesis or Dissertation

Notes

Abstract: This study focuses on Claude McKay s three most prominent novels Home to Harlem, Banjo, and Banana Bottom in order to illustrate that the distinct sexualized folk cultures presented in each novel act as a counter-culture where blacks are able to express themselves freely. Normative and stereotypical sexualities are at the root of colonial oppression as they are utilized by colonial and imperial forces to maintain dominance. McKay s characters are able to experience sexual possibilities within the folk spaces that would not exist in the dominant society. As a result, these folk spaces create a resistant counter-narrative which is crucial to understanding presentations and critiques of oppression in McKay s work. McKay s inversion of dominant erotic notions is an important site for evaluation as it shows a direct resistance to Western hegemony and thus a subversion of colonial power in the ideologies presented in his texts.
General Note: In the series University of Florida Digital Collections.
General Note: Includes vita.
Bibliography: Includes bibliographical references.
Source of Description: Description based on online resource; title from PDF title page.
Source of Description: This bibliographic record is available under the Creative Commons CC0 public domain dedication. The University of Florida Libraries, as creator of this bibliographic record, has waived all rights to it worldwide under copyright law, including all related and neighboring rights, to the extent allowed by law.
Thesis: Thesis (M.A.)--University of Florida, 2008.
Local: Adviser: Rosenberg, Leah R.

Record Information

Source Institution: UFRGP
Rights Management: Applicable rights reserved.
Classification: lcc - LD1780 2008
System ID: UFE0022230:00001

Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UFE0022230/00001

Material Information

Title: The Erotic Folk Alternative Sexualities and Resistance Narratives in the Novels of Claude McKay
Physical Description: 1 online resource (44 p.)
Language: english
Publisher: University of Florida
Place of Publication: Gainesville, Fla.
Publication Date: 2008

Subjects

Subjects / Keywords: caribbean, folk, harlem, mckay
English -- Dissertations, Academic -- UF
Genre: English thesis, M.A.
bibliography   ( marcgt )
theses   ( marcgt )
government publication (state, provincial, terriorial, dependent)   ( marcgt )
born-digital   ( sobekcm )
Electronic Thesis or Dissertation

Notes

Abstract: This study focuses on Claude McKay s three most prominent novels Home to Harlem, Banjo, and Banana Bottom in order to illustrate that the distinct sexualized folk cultures presented in each novel act as a counter-culture where blacks are able to express themselves freely. Normative and stereotypical sexualities are at the root of colonial oppression as they are utilized by colonial and imperial forces to maintain dominance. McKay s characters are able to experience sexual possibilities within the folk spaces that would not exist in the dominant society. As a result, these folk spaces create a resistant counter-narrative which is crucial to understanding presentations and critiques of oppression in McKay s work. McKay s inversion of dominant erotic notions is an important site for evaluation as it shows a direct resistance to Western hegemony and thus a subversion of colonial power in the ideologies presented in his texts.
General Note: In the series University of Florida Digital Collections.
General Note: Includes vita.
Bibliography: Includes bibliographical references.
Source of Description: Description based on online resource; title from PDF title page.
Source of Description: This bibliographic record is available under the Creative Commons CC0 public domain dedication. The University of Florida Libraries, as creator of this bibliographic record, has waived all rights to it worldwide under copyright law, including all related and neighboring rights, to the extent allowed by law.
Thesis: Thesis (M.A.)--University of Florida, 2008.
Local: Adviser: Rosenberg, Leah R.

Record Information

Source Institution: UFRGP
Rights Management: Applicable rights reserved.
Classification: lcc - LD1780 2008
System ID: UFE0022230:00001


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THE EROTIC FOLK: ALTERNATIVE SEXUALITIES AND RESISTANCE NARRATIVES
IN THE NOVELS OF CLAUDE MCKAY





















By

ERIN BOHANNON


A THESIS PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
MASTER OF ARTS

UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA

2008






































O 2008 Erin Bohannon








































To Cosme









ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

I would like to thank my advisor, Leah Rosenberg, for all of her useful feedback and

direction. I would also like to thank Julie Kim, for her guidance during my time at the University

of Florida.











TABLE OF CONTENTS




ACKNOWLEDGMENT S .............. ...............4.....

AB S TRAC T ..... ._ ................. ............_........6

CHAPTER

1 INTRODUCTION ................. ...............7.......... ......


2 HOME TO HARLEM: MCKAY COMMENCES POLITICAL CRITIQUE INT A
NOVEL GENRE .............. ...............10....

3 BANJO: A TRANSNATIONIONAL COMMENTARY EMERGES ................. ...............21

4 BANANA BOTTOM: THE EROTICISM OF THE RURAL FOLK AS AN
ALTERNATIVE TO COLONIAL AND IMPERIAL CONTROL ................... ...............31

LIST OF REFERENCES .........__.. ..... ._ __ ...............43....

BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH ............. ..............44.....









Abstract of Thesis Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts


THE EROTIC FOLK: ALTERNATIVE SEXUALITIES AND RESISTANCE NARRATIVES
IN THE NOVELS OF CLAUDE MCKAY

By

Erin Bohannon

May 2008

Chair: Leah Rosenberg
Major: English


This study focuses on Claude McKay's three most prominent novels Home to Harlem,

Banjo, and Banana Bottom in order to illustrate that the distinct sexualized folk cultures

presented in each novel act as a counter-culture where blacks are able to express themselves

freely. Normative and stereotypical sexualities are at the root of colonial oppression as they are

utilized by colonial and imperial forces to maintain dominance. McKay's characters are able to

experience sexual possibilities within the folk spaces that would not exist in the dominant

society. As a result, these folk spaces create a resistant counter-narrative which is crucial to

understanding presentations and critiques of oppression in McKay's work. McKay's inversion

of dominant erotic notions is an important site for evaluation as it shows a direct resistance to

Western hegemony and thus a subversion of colonial power in the ideologies presented in his

texts.









CHAPTER 1
INTTRODUCTION

Jamaican-born author, Claude McKay, focuses his novels on a black folk culture

comprised of subaltern individuals, spaces, and bodies, in order to locate the folk as a site for

liberating expressions of sexuality. In Home to Harlem (1928), BanjBBB~~~~~BBBBB~~~~o (1929), and Banana~~~~BBBBB~~~~BBBB

Bottom (1933), McKay's presentation of this liberating, sexual folk culture is a means for

providing an alternative to oppressive sexual and gender norms imposed on black people by

colonial authorities in the British Empire and white authorities in the United States. As a result,

his novels present strong critiques of U. S. and British colonialism. The dual focus on the folk

and sexuality constitutes a strong continuity in all three of his novels. The key difference lies in

McKay's predominant use of male protagonists in his first two novels. McKay finally uses a

female protagonist to convey and critique colonialism, through the folk culture he presents as its

antithesis, in his last novel, Banana Bottom.

The Sexual Denson of Colonial Power, published in 2007 by Greg Thomas, presents a

useful framework for what is at the very core of this paper, which is that McKay critiques

Western hegemony through his use of protagonists who exhibit non-normative erotic and sexual

identities, and thereby rej ect the dominant categories of oppression that normative British

colonial and American imperial society promote. British colonialism and American imperialism

are inextricably linked with the Euro-privileged systems of power they utilize to uphold

oppression, specifically, with regard to oppressive sexual norms and stereotypes. By providing

alternative folk forms of sexual expression in his novels, McKay provides an alternative,

progressive vision that contrasts with the ideas fostered by British colonialism and American

imperialism. It is clear in all three of McKay's novels that the characters gain power by having

control over their bodies and how they experience the world through their erotic sensibilities.









Further, music and dance are positioned as folk productions and a means of attaining liberation

from the oppressive erotic constrictions that dominant Western society has forced on people,

especially those of African descent. In a world where colonialism and imperialism have

maintained dominance through the eroticization of skin color and the control over black bodies

that it implies, McKay's characters invert this order by eroticizing their bodies in their own way

and through their own folk culture. The focus on the erotic, though perhaps limited, is crucial,

because, as Thomas asserts, white rule is historically and currently tied to eroticism. He explains:

whether we think of the ceaseless assault on Black family existence, the obscene hysterics
of apartheid lynching, the physical violations of direct and indirect colonization, or the
sadomasochistic torture of formal enslavement and its transoceanic trade in flesh, we see
that the rule of Europe has assumed a notably erotic form. (1)

Greg Thomas's The Sexual Demon of Colonial Power illuminates McKay's critiques of Western

hegemony. As a result of European conquests, European history and sexual norms are accepted

as the standard in Western societies, when, in reality, this is not the case nor does it have to be.

In order to understand the ways in which the various systems McKay presents are critiqued, it is

useful to consider Thomas' assertion that the social ideas and societal structures, especially those

regarding bodily control have been firmly put in place by colonialism in large scale. As Thomas

explains, "The white world is always renaturalized as a universal standard of human civilization

and its erotic practice; and the mechanics of race that inscribe it are erased from the category of

sexuality itself. No one else exists; nor does the sexual violence waged against us, by them" (23).

It is from Thomas' model here, that this study borrows terms like "dominant white society" and

"Euro/Western-privileged." The use of these broad categories is based on Thomas' conception

that colonialism has greatly and undeniably influenced the dominant power structures that

control societal norms. It is in this line of thought that these terms are adopted in this study to

address the dominant culture.










McKay's novels not only present erotic possibilities that resist Western norms, but they

also create a resistant counter-narrative to dominant structures by destabilizing the erotic status

quo and refusing to ignore the effects of white sexual violence and its eroticization of blacks.

Further, it is through his folk culture and its subaltern protagonists that McKay critiques white

sexual norms. This is critical to understanding McKay's resistance politics, because he is

attacking dominant Western society through individuals that would be deemed vulgar and

primitive. Thomas explains that Western societies "are societies in which human sexuality is

systematically designated for white bodies and sexual savagery for non-white ones, Black bodies

most of all" (23). The "sexual savages," which are the protagonists of McKay's novels, provide

the reader with an alternative narrative in which the colonial order is inverted. The literary

inversion of the colonial order provides a subversive critique, in which the sexually deviant is

privileged over the normative. If white hegemony is held in place through the "erotics of empire"

and its focus is on controlling the physical, sexual body, then McKay's inversion of this colonial

strategy, through the use of body erotics and hyper-sexualized characters, can be read as a form

of opposition to the erotic bodily control enacted by colonizers, and, therefore, a deliberate act of

resistance to colonial oppression.









CHAPTER 2
HOME TO HARLEM: MCKAY COMMENCES POLITICAL CRITIQUE IN A NOVEL
GENRE

In Home to Harlem, McKay's protagonists perform non-normative sexualities, thereby

placing them in opposition to Western forms of domination. McKay achieves this by overtly

sexualizing his characters. Further, McKay critiques Western ideals by using the narrative and

dialog of characters that would be considered lower-class or vulgar by dominant society. These

subaltem characters convey his criticisms of dominant white society, and, they act as the vessel

and ironic weapon for his commentary, as he is critiquing what this dominant society deems

proper. McKay chooses to focus on the subaltem folk culture of Harlem, because it provides a

great site for diversity, rebellion and power with regard to sexuality. As a result, McKay's use of

vulgar, subaltem characters as protagonists creates a narrative that allows for erotic and sexual

possibilities that would not be acceptable in the dominant society; this is because U.S.

nationalism and British colonialism, which are at the base of the dominant social structure,

utilize sexuality as a central form of control. Importantly, McKay's use of characters that rej ect

normative forms of sexual expression illustrates his awareness of the relationship between

gender and sexuality and how colonialism has influenced and impacted this relationship.

Essentially, distinct stereotypical sexual norms are attributed to each gender: a masculine set for

males and a feminine set for females. Thus, in addition to critiquing imperial and colonial

influences, McKay's characters rej ect gender norms as they rej ect sexual norms.

The erotic potential McKay allows his characters inverts the dominant order by refusing

the normative erotic and sexual ideals that Westemn control has used as a foundation for its

continued dominance. In his book, Exotic Journeys: Exploring the Erotics of U.S. Travel

Literature, 1840-1930, Justin Edwards provides useful insight into the sexual and erotic

possibilities in Home to Harlem. He is keen to note that McKay's Harlem "is presented as









offering a multiplicity of identities: abundant sexual identities, a multiplicity of desires, as well

as numerous and fluid representations of gender" (164). Harlem is then constructed as an erotic,

sensual place where things are possible that would not be in dominant white society.

Edwards' s awareness of the erotic possibilities in McKay's work provides useful support

for this study, especially when considering that many scholars did not recognize these

possibilities at all, and, instead, focused on the vulgarity and alleged racism in McKay's novels.

Most notably, W.E.B. DuBois found Home to Harlem to be distasteful, because he felt that it

painted the African American population in a savage and primitive light. DuBois believed that

African American authors should not present such images of blacks and instead should promote

Harlem's "talented tenth" as the representative members of their community (Edwards 156-7).

But it is precisely through the other nine tenths of the black population that McKay attacks

Western hegemony by challenging normative, limited sexualities and erotic notions that have

been put in place by colonial oppressors.

Home to Harlem tells the story of Jake, an ex-soldier who has deserted WWI. Jake visits

London and France; he then boards a ship to New York, which will finally take him "home to

Harlem." On his first night back, Jake is enchanted by a young woman at a cabaret, but loses

track of her the next day when he forgets her address. After living with another woman, Rose, for

a short while, Jake decides to work as a cook on a passenger train. It is on this train that Jake

meets Ray, an educated student from Haiti, who is working to earn money for tuition. The

conversations between Jake and Ray are some of the most revealing, with respect to McKay's

politics in the novel, as they detail the complex interactions between the U.S. and the Caribbean,

in addition to the pervasive effects of racism in America. Jake leaves the train for a while after

becoming ill; it is assumed that he has contracted syphilis (this may be seen as an interesting










biographical detail as McKay also battled syphilis during the first part of his exile when he began

writing Home to Harlem). After Jake recovers from his illness, Ray decides to work on a

freighter that will travel overseas. At a late-night cabaret, Jake spots Felice, his lover from his

first night back in Harlem. They are reunited, but with much turmoil. A Eight breaks out between

Jake and his friend and fellow soldier Zeddy, because Zeddy was dating Felice in the time she

has been away. As a result of their Eight, Zeddy denounces Jake as a deserter. Jake and Felice are

then forced to leave Harlem to start a new life in Chicago.

The folk spaces in Harlem are focal points for McKay, as he uses them to present the folk

in opposition to white hegemony. For example, the cabarets that play jazz music and feature

beautiful women and men singing to the crowd, and the pool rooms, where the law put in place

by whites does not necessarily apply, are spaces where African Americans are the center of

reality; and, therefore, they are able to break free from some of the constraints put in place by

colonials. Many of the individuals participating in the folk scene rej ect dominant notions of

gender and sexuality; this is critical because, in such a rej section, they are able to undermine

white authority, as hetero-normativity and normative sexualities are at the root of colonial

oppression (Thomas). By positioning folk culture in opposition to dominant Western culture,

McKay presents a critique of Westemn control and also depicts the folk as a heroic site of

resistance and subversion.

McKay locates the cabarets as spaces where African American culture, sexualities, and

identities exist (somewhat) outside the Westemn-privileged norms of dominant American society.

Although the cabarets are still in New York and governed by the laws of dominant white society,

they are also in Harlem and frequented primarily by black patrons, which allows them to exist as










unique spaces for resistance to dominant cultural norms. One cabaret in particular, The Congo, is

described as a specifically black space. McKay writes:

the Congo remained in spite of formidable opposition and foreign exploitation. The Congo
was a real throbbing little Africa in New York. It was an amusement place entirely for the
unwashed of the Black Belt .. The Congo was African in spirit and color. No white
persons were admitted there. (19)

McKay makes it apparent that The Congo is primarily a black space and also a space for working

class black people; it is where the unpretentious, pleasure seeking cooks, maids, dish-washers

etc. go to let loose and be themselves. McKay also describes The Congo as playing the "drag"

blues that were banned in the upper class clubs. This form of blues, which is considered vulgar in

mainstream culture, can be seen as a folk product in Home to Harlem, and it plays a significant

role concerning resistance to hetero-normative ideals and the white hegemony these ideals

promote. As LaMonda Horton-Stallings explains in her book M~utha is Halfa Word (2007), folk

traditions, such as the use of vernacular and folklore, "present a much needed and distinct

commentary on sexuality and the representation of sexuality in Black communities" (164). In

Home to Harlem, the music and actions inside the cabarets have the same function as the use of

vernacular, or other folk machinations, would in creating a commentary on sexuality and its

representations. Therefore, a commentary on sexuality is then produced out of the "drag" blues,

creating a unique space where issues of sexuality can be broached.

Music creates a backdrop and an atmosphere for folk spaces in this text, and the main

character of Jake often has lyrics playing in his head that coincide with incidents in the text. The

soundtrack, then, plays an integral role in the overall tone and action of the novel. More

importantly, the song lyrics often convey overtly sexual messages and discuss topics that would

be taboo to mention in dominant society. It is in this way that the song lyrics in Home to Harlem

lend to McKay's constructions of the folk as a site of resistance to dominant culture, as they










exemplify aspects of sexual transgression and alternative lifestyle. In one song in particular, the

issue of sexual preference is broached through catchy lyrics:

and' there is two thringsr in Harlem that I d'on 't
understand'
It is a bulldycking woman and' a faggoty man.
Oh, baby how are you?
Oh, baby, what are you? (McKay, Home to Harlem 25)

The song accepts the presence of non-hetero sexualities as a part of every-day life in Harlem. In

the last line of the song, the phrase, "what are you?" indicates that one cannot be too sure of the

sexual preferences of anyone else at the cabaret and therefore must ask right off. The casual

discussion of non-normative sexualities found in these lyrics would not be present in the popular

social scene outside of certain cabarets and nightclubs in the late 1920's. These cabarets create

spaces where issues of sexuality need to be recognized and addressed instead of politely ignored.

This reality acknowledges the existence of numerous sexual identities and potentially allows

erotic possibilities that would be taboo in dominant society. McKay clearly chooses to present

disparate sexualities as normative within the folk culture in Home to Harlem. This choice

indicates that he is using the folk culture and what Western society deems vulgar, in order to

illustrate the African American community's resistance to dominant society. Therefore, he

creates his own critique of Westemn ideals by examining issues of sexuality. McKay uses the

underground blues of the cabaret to challenge and critique Western dominance and social/sexual

control .

The alternative sexualities McKay allows his characters, and the spaces these sexual

identities can be experienced in, comprise the liberating folk culture that counters the dominant

culture in America, which is predominately influenced by U.S. imperialism. Therefore, it is

useful to examine the manner in which alternative sexualities critique imperialism. Further, it is










important to note how McKay presents gender and sexuality as being negatively affected by

oppressive imperial control.

Jake, the protagonist of Home to Harlem, resists the sexual norms prescribed to his gender

and thus provides a compelling critique of the ways in which Western privileged sexual

stereotypes affect notions of gender. Jake refuses to become a stereotypical black man. Jake

abhors the cliche of the angry, violent, lazy African American. When Rose offers to make him

her "sweet man" and pay his way so he does not have to do manual labor, he resists. Later, Jake

tries to resist again as Rose wants him to be violent toward her and display his black masculinity.

As the masculine protagonist in Home to Harlem, Jake's rej section of violent and lazy stereotypes

redefines notions of black masculinity. It is useful to note McKay's negative presentation of

Rose, as she is one of several women who play a negative, secondary character in his novels.

Later on, when Jake explains the event to his friend Billy, he says that he had to leave Rose

because she would have "made [him] either a no 'count or a bad nigger" (Home to Harlem 150).

Jake chose to leave Rose rather than be made into a stereotypical "bad nigger." Jake's desire to

be something other than the stereotype of a hyper-masculine, violent black man, is admirable to

the reader, indicating that McKay sets up his protagonist as a subaltern character who is admired

for his rej section of the status quo.

The negative effects of United States imperialism are experienced by Jake even in his

personal relationship with Rose. McKay focuses not only on gender and masculinity, but also on

the repercussions of U. S. imperialism and British colonialism on the body of the colonized

subject (as they are manifested through erotic expression). For example, McKay highlights the

violent and sexual nature of racist oppression in the U. S. through his treatment of skin color and

inter-racial characters. In one section, McKay makes it clear that many light skinned African









Americans are the product of rape, and, more specifically, a form of institutionalized rape rooted

in racism.

The rape of black women by white men is addressed in a section where the train chef

insults the pantry man, calling him a "bastard begotten." The pantry man becomes extremely

upset by this slight, as the narrator relates that his father was a redneck white "who had despised

his mother' s race and done nothing for him" (McKay, Home to Harlem 117). The sexual

violence and rape that results from racist oppression is a theme that is brought up repeatedly in

this novel as a reminder of slavery and colonialism.

In addition to acknowledging the institutionalization of rape by American slavery, McKay

highlights the extent to which African American society has perverted this colonial reality and

fetishized light skin. This critique is embedded in the dark-skinned character of "gin-head Susy,"

whose role also introduces the place and function of women in McKay's work. McKay presents

the eroticism associated with skin-color through the sexual erotics of the body, which as Thomas

explains, is largely how American imperialism and British colonialism maintain their

dominance; sexual norms form the foundation for racial dominance.

In one passage, McKay uses Susy to critique colonialism in terms of the forced mixing of

bloodlines caused by colonial violence and the fetishism of skin that resulted. McKay segues into

this critique by explaining that gin-head Susy fetishizes men of a yellow or light complexion.

McKay explains:

civilization had brought strikingly exotic types into Susy's race. And like many, many
Negroes, she was a victim to that. Ancient black life rooted upon its base with all its
fascinating new layers of brown, low-brown, high-brown, nut-brown, lemon, maroon,
olive, mauve, gold. Yellow balancing between black and white. Black reaching out beyond
yellow. Almost-white on the brink of a change. Sucked back down into the current of black
by the terribly sweet rhythm of black blood. (Home to Harlem 40)










McKay points to the obsession with skin color and its correlation with class and opportunity;

basically, light skin has become directly associated with belonging to a higher class. Further, this

quote also illustrates McKay's awareness of the eroticization of skin color. Susy's obsession with

light-skin illustrates that colonialism has assumed an erotic form, whether it is manifested in

sexual violence, obsessions and fetishes pertaining to skin, or otherwise (Erotics 1). Susy

exposes the damage caused by the colonizing mission. The eroticization of skin color and the

associations that come with one's racial identity are explored throughout the novel, but they are

considered in detail by the character of Ray.

Ray continues McKay's critique of colonialism and empire. In a section where Ray lies in

his bunk, sleep-deprived, and thinking of his native Haiti, he ponders the meaning of race and the

differences between them. In reference to the white race, Ray thinks:

there must be something mighty inspiriting in being a citizen of a great strong nation. To
be the white citizen of a nation that can say bold, challenging things like a strong man.
Something very different from the keen ecstatic j oy a man feels in the romance of being
black. Something the black man could never feel nor quite understand.( McKay, Home to
Harlem 106)

Ray realizes that whether a black man is from Haiti or America, the color of his skin will never

allow him to feel the way white men do. He realizes that the "romance of being black" is

something different altogether. McKay words this sentence beautifully, noting the "keen ecstatic

joy" one gets from belonging to the black race; however, he observes that this joy is not the same

as the joy that a white man must experience in belonging to "a great strong nation." Additionally,

McKay positions a white man as being able to say bold things like "a strong man." It is evident

that this is something the "black man could never feel or quite understand." Again, McKay is

framing his description of race and color difference in terms of masculinity and femininity,

which are constricting categories of Western domination. In Ray's mind, black men can never

quite understand what it feels like to speak freely like strong, masculine men, because they have









been emasculated by white racism and imperialism. The critique of colonialism and of the

privileging of white races is evident, especially as it appears in a section where Ray is also

thinking of the American occupation of his once free home, Haiti.

The emasculation of black men under imperial/colonial rule is detailed further towards

the end of the novel through Jake' s description of conquest and desire. The eroticization of

empire, specifically as it relates to the colonial desire for conquest, is critiqued when Jake and

Zeddy get into a Eight over Felice. McKay parallels Jake's experience in having to display

masculinity by fighting with Zeddy over a woman with white men who exact violence on black

men due to their anxiety over what they feel are "their" women. He writes:

these miserable cock-Hights, beastly, tigerish, bloody. They had always sickened, saddened,
unmanned him .. Oh, he was infinitely disgusted with himself to think that he had just
been moved by the same savage emotions as those vile, vicious, villainous white men who,
like hyenas and rattlers, had fought, murdered, and clawed the entrails out of black men
over the common, commercial flesh of women. (Home to Harlem 228-229)

This passage nods to the history of colonialism, with its paternalistic assault on black men based

on the premise of their inherent savagery and primitive status, as well as American imperialism

and the legacy of slavery and apartheid which it influenced. During the early post-slavery years,

black men were lynched due to their supposed sexual threat to white women. McKay's main

character is saddened and revolted by the oppression and violent tradition that masculinity has

positioned him within. Further, this passage comments on masculinity, as illustrated by violence

and conquest of the feminine, a concept that Thomas explains is inextricably tied to the history

of colonialism, specifically, through its Western privileging of masculinity and femininity as the

accepted categories of heterosexual normativity. Undeniably, McKay ties the violence of

masculinity with colonialism by critiquing white men who exact violence on black men. This

violence occurs because the white men are afraid of black male sexuality and how it threatens

their own sexuality. Through this fictive example, McKay comments on the damage that the









Western category of masculinity has inflicted on black men. Interestingly, I would argue that

McKay's position on the repercussions of the broad category of femininity is unclear in this

passage. A critique on McKay's part cannot necessarily be gleaned from the "common,

commercial flesh of women," which brings me to question the merely symbolic role that women

seem to play in McKay's first two novels; it is not until his last novel, Banana~~~~BBBBB~~~~BBBB Bottom, that

McKay utilizes a female character to critique and resist oppressive systems in a positive way like

he does with his male characters in Home to Harlem and BanjBBB~~~~~BBBBB~~~~o.

Home to Harlem reveals McKay's desire to undermine oppressive colonial norms by

creating literary spaces that exist outside of these norms and flourish in their absence. McKay's

characters express non-normative sexualities through the liberating folk culture and spaces in

Harlem. Critiques are presented of British colonial and American imperial forces and the way

their influences are intertwined within American culture. Through these critiques and McKay's

presentation of alternative sexualities and lifestyles, a resistance narrative is built out of the

burgeoning folk culture in Harlem. Interestingly, this novel also reveals a trend in McKay's use

of female characters. Women are not used to critique the oppressive femininity that the colonial

system has forced upon them in the same way that the male characters are utilized to critique

masculinity. In Home to Harlem, there are also no female protagonists to stand along side the

important and likable Jake and Ray. Instead we have Rose, a woman who seeks to manipulate

men, Gin-head Susy, who fetishizes skin and symbolizes the conflicts that have been created by

the forced mixing of blood, and, finally, there is Felice, who appears at the beginning and end of

the novel and seems to be nothing more than a symbol for Jake's discovery and conquest of his

national identity as an African American. Home to Harlem provides an entry point into the

subversive literary imagination of McKay. His use of subaltern characters to critique oppressive










forms of control and his resistant folk counter-narratives are revisited in the second novel for

evaluation, Banjo, in addition to further examination of McKay's use of women as secondary

characters.









CHAPTER 3
BANJO: A TRANSNATIONIONAL COMMENTARY EMERGES

Ban~jo furthers McKay's proj ect of utilizing non-normative erotic identities and subaltern

characters as literary weapons capable of undermining dominant Western-privileged systems of

power. Bargjo acts as a kind of sequel to Home to Harlem; it continues and shares many of the

elements of McKay's first novel. Bag~o focuses directly on non-normative, subaltern black

sexuality and culture; most of the action occurs in bars and meeting places, with characters that

are usually associated with low society. McKay uses the hard-drinking and promiscuous

character of Jake as his protagonist in Home to Harlem; in Bargjo, he uses the wine guzzling,

vagabond Banjo. His characters--bums, alcoholics, philanderers, etc,--are moral standards in this

novel, as they are full of the beauty of life that is lacking in many of the normative, upstanding

citizens that his critiques target. Additionally, an analysis of BargBBB~~~~~BBBBB~~~~o illustrates that McKay's

critique of American imperialism and British colonialism becomes a larger focus and is more

developed in this novel.

Bargo takes place in the French port of Marseilles. The text relates the adventures of

Banjo, Malty, Ginger, Bugsy, Toloufa, Goosey, Dengel and Ray; they are a group of American,

African, and West Indian vagrants. This group of individuals is referred to as the "beach boys,"

because they often sleep and hang out on the beach. The surrounding area, which houses the

other lower-classes of the port, is referred to as "the ditch." The main storyline revolves around

the conversations that transpire between the characters, while they are hanging around in bars or

bistros or in the bum square, places they go to look for handouts from the incoming vessels and

visitors. McKay presents much of his political critique through the dialog that takes place

between his male characters. At first, the homeless life of the characters is easy and free. They

are able to gather enough money to eat at restaurants and drink generous amounts of wine every










day, while others in the ditch must prostitute, steal, and murder for their subsistence. In the last

portion of the novel, as the economy is down, life becomes harder for the beach boys, because it

is more difficult for them to get a free handout. The drop in the French economy is a result of the

rise of U. S. imperial power and the consolidation of the strength of European nationals. Notably,

all of the rising forces, which contribute to a difficulty in subsistence for the beach boys, were

founded on a "white" concept of citizenship which excluded black people.

As mentioned earlier, BanjBBB~~~~~BBBBB~~~~o continues the project begun in Home to Harlem. This

continuation also occurs in elements of the narrative' s plot. At the end of Home to Harlem, Ray

left Harlem to work on an international ship. His shipping experience brought him to Marseilles,

where he meets the protagonist of this second novel, Banj o, at a bistro and is subsequently

introduced to the rest of the beach boys. Banj o bears many resemblances to Jake from Home to

Harlem. Like Jake, he has a distinctly American, southern way of speaking. Also, he is charming

around women, and, soon after arriving in Marseilles, he manages to establish a relationship with

a prostitute, Latnah. Further, like Jake, Banjo was disenchanted as a black man in the army, and,

significantly, he also becomes the best friend of Ray from Home to Harlem. In the end, Ray

decides to write the story of his friends, though much of his own story takes precedence in the

concluding section of the novel, as his personal struggle to understand race is described in detail.

The conclusion of the novel suggests that Banjo is Ray's transcription of the lives of Banj o,

himself, and the rest of the beach boys.

McKay utilizes aspects from the lives of subaltern characters to critique dominant society

and the unjust oppression that it creates for minorities. The ditch and its residents are bums,

pimps, prostitutes, drunks and drug-users. Although McKay portrays many of these characters in

a negative manner, such as the pimps and prostitutes of the ditch, the lifestyle is described in a










mythical and intriguing manner. It is through the subaltern characters of this mythical landscape

that his critique emerges. One of the initial descriptions of the port is useful, as it illustrates the

unique, non-normative lifestyle and state of mind of Banjo. McKay writes:

Banjo's soul thrilled to the place--the whole life of it that milled around the ponderous,
somber building of the Mairie, standing on the Quai du Port, where fish and vegetables
girls and youthful touts, cats, mongrels, and a thousand second-hand things were all
mingled together in a churning agglomeration of stench and sliminess. His wonderful
Marseilles! ( BanjBBB~~~~~BBBBB~~~~o 13)

Banj o loves the feeling of Marseilles so much that he gives himself completely to its lifestyle.

When he first arrives, he takes up with a prostitute who leaves him when his money runs out.

Although he has been taken advantage of by "his wonderful Marseilles," Banj o has no regrets; he

prefers this type of life to any other. Of course, Banjo' s lifestyle choices are not what is expected

of an average American or Frenchman, which is that he work a steady job, have a wife perhaps,

and stay relatively sober; Banjo prefers an existence where he can do as he pleases. McKay's

choice to make Banj o his protagonist illustrates that he is privileging the rej section of Western

ideals, as far as lifestyle choices are concerned. Although this complete rej section of normative

living accommodations, sexual partners, and social obligation may seem a bit unrealistic to the

average reader, the alternative lifestyle McKay chooses to portray allows him to make a clear

political statement through his novels and what the stories represent.

In relation to the folk culture presented in Banjo, it is useful to observe scenes in the

nightclubs where music and dancing provide an erotic experience that can be seen as resistant

and liberating, in so much as they contrast the practices of the dominant culture. Like Home to

Harlem, much of the folk culture in Banjo takes place in bars and night clubs. In both of these

novels, these black folk cultural spaces are sites where dancing is a practice which is a source of

erotic power and resistance for its black patrons. The duality of power and resistance is found in

primarily black spaces, which illustrates McKay' s point: those of African descent are better









served finding their identity and power within their own race, communities, and culture. A

similar contrast can be made between The Congo of Home to Harlem, where the most authentic

African American folk experience took place, and the CafB African where the most authentic

black folk experience of Bargo is located. Like The Congo in Harlem, the CafB African is a

place where the white people do not encroach on the fun of the black pleasure seekers.

The CafB African provides the venue for some of McKay's most descriptive moments, as

he depicts the erotic aspects of dancing and the liberating sexual possibilities it provides. In these

descriptions, McKay posits folk dancing and black unity as an alternative to the harsh realities of

a world ruled by white oppressors. Banjo is eager to get a band together so he can "show [the]

Ditch some decent movement---turn themselves loose in a back-home, brown-skin Harlem way"

(McKay, BalgBBB~~~~~BBBBB~~~~o 47). Banjo is eventually able to get a group together, and they get the entire

CafB African worked up into a dancing frenzy. During this frenzy, many rich examples of

McKay's use of disparate erotic possibilities can be seen and evaluated. McKay writes of the

scene during which Banjo's band plays their hit song, "Shake That Thing:"

a coffee-black boy from Cameroon and a chocolate-brown from Dakar stand up to each
other to dance a native sex-symbol dance. Bending knee and nodding head, they dance up
to each other. As they dance up to each other, the smaller boy spins suddenly round and
dances away. Oh exquisite movement! (McKay, BalgBBB~~~~~BBBBB~~~~o 50)

This description relates an erotic sex-dance between two men, but the sexual encounter between

the men does not indicate that they are lovers or even prefer those of the male sex as lovers; it

simply relates erotic movement and an encounter between these two men. McKay's deliberate

choice to not classify the sexual preferences of the men allows for non-normative possibilities,

because it resists the limiting, Western trend of labeling and categorizing sexuality by what

gender one is attracted to. An abstract description of what is happening occurs after the









description of the two boys' dance. It is reminiscent of an account that would be found in the

portrayal of a blues dance in Home to Harlem. McKay presents the moment as:

black skin itching, black flesh warm with the wine of life, the music of life, the love and
deep meaning of life. Strong smell of healthy black bodies in a close atmosphere,
generating sweat waves of heat. Oh, shake that thing! (Balgo 50)

Interestingly, the sensual description of black flesh seems to play on the fetishistic eroticization

of black skin resulting from colonial desire; however, McKay is inverting this eroticization,

making it a love of oneself and ones own flesh and skin color.

In a later description of the same night, McKay illustrates that dancing is a form of

resistance and erotic power for black people. Interestingly, he does this through a description of

sex and violence; McKay usually presents sex and violence in relation to colonialism and the

sexual violence it allows. Thus, the description of violence and sexuality in tandem creates an

interesting parallel here, as it seems to illustrate the manner in which colonial oppression is

coped with or replicated by the oppressed. McKay describes the mood in the room after it is clear

that a prostitute' s actions have placed her in danger of her pimp at the bar: "The girls were now

tiptoeing to another kind of excitement" (Balgo 54). The excitement and change in feeling of the

dance in the bar reaches a climax when the woman is murdered by her pimp and the band goes to

play music at a different bar in which "Shake That Thing" is again revived as the song of choice.

The erotic sensuality of the music has a notably dark, violent element here, tying sexuality to

violence and life to death. The great night of dancing closes with an ominous description by

McKay :

shake to the loud music of life playing to the primeval round of life. Rough rhythm of
darky-carnal life .. Play that thing! On movement of the thousand movements of the
eternal life-flow. Shake that thing! In the face of the shadow of death .. Shake down
Death and forget his commerce, his purpose, his haunting presence in one great shaking
orgy .. Sweet dancing thing of primitive j oy, perverse pleasure, prostitute ways, many-
colored variations of the rhythm .. Oh, Shake That Thing! ( BalgBBB~~~~~BBBBB~~~o 57-58)









This section ends the chapter and can be seen as McKay's explanation of the role that dancing

plays in this text; it is a form of resistance and erotic power for black people. Dancing is shown

as an escape, a performative reinterpretation of the reality of a life that is unsafe and unfair for

those with dark-skin. It is also important to note that the passage first says to "shake that thing in

the face of the shadow of death," personifying death. Then, it tells one to "Shake down Death

and forget his commerce, his purpose, his haunting presence in one great shaking orgy." In this

description, death is associated with Western rule and oppression, and the people are being asked

to forget Death/Western commerce, cruel purpose, and haunting presence, by dancing together in

"one great shaking orgy." This passage makes it very clear that McKay is positing folk dancing

and black unity as an alternative to the harsh realities of a world ruled by white oppressors.

In addition to locating music and dancing as liberating spaces for black culture in BanjBBB~~~~~BBBBB~~~~o,

the characters' choices to identify with their instinct, and not hegemonic white society, acts as a

mode of liberation, and, subsequently, a rej section of dominant white culture. As Ray continues

to struggle with his identity, as a black man and a Haitian, he realizes that what inextricably ties

him to other blacks is that white dominance has attempted to rob him of his instincts, of a love

for a native culture. In a world where Western dominance has eroticized blacks in a harmful way,

Ray chooses to eroticize his own race in a positive manner. He explains how his choice to follow

his instincts as a black man was not as easy for him as it was for Banjo. As an intellectual, Ray

felt conflicted by many things on his path to self-determination. McKay writes of Ray:

it was not easy for a Negro with an intellect standing watch over his native instincts to take
his own way in the white man's civilization. But of one thing he was resolved: civilization
would not take the love of color, j oy, beauty, vitality, and nobility out of his life and make
him one of the poor mass of its pale creatures. Before he was aware of what was the big
drift of his Occidental life he had fought against it instinctively .. Educated Negroes
ashamed of their race' s intuitive love of color, wrapping themselves up in a respectable
gray, ashamed of Congo-sounding laughter .. No being ashamed for Ray. Rather than
lose his soul, let intellect go to hell and live instinct! (Banzjo 165)









In this passage, Ray chooses to follow his instincts, instead of the dominant culture that Western

rule has deemed appropriate for him. He does not want to double-guess himself by worrying

whether his natural inclinations will place him in a position that many are prejudiced against.

McKay creates a critique of Westemn society by having his character rej ect the eroticization of

the other that Western society has put in place. Although "Westemn rule has taken a notably

erotic form," as Thomas states, Ray does not eroticize Westemn culture. Instead, he chooses to

eroticize the beauty and vitality of black culture.

The privileging of black culture brings with it the need to critique the prevalent, and very

much American, view of blacks as a savage race with uncontrollable and aggressive sexuality

(especially towards white women). This critique is relayed through Ray's narrative of a job he

held in Paris, which entailed posing nude for art students. Ray explains how he attained the

position:

the woman who owned the studio was a Nordic of Scandinavia. The artist by whom I was
recommended said that she was worried about engaging me, because there were many
Americaines in the class. They were the best-paying students, and, as I belonged to a
savage race, she didn't know if I could behave. (McKay, Banjo 129)

The implication here is that the owner of the studio feared that the American students may be

concerned with being exposed to a naked black man. The thought of having an incident, where

the best paying students may be threatened and quit the class because of their anxiety over a

naked black male and his exposed genitals, almost kept Ray from getting the job. The danger of

the eroticization of race and black sexuality, as described by Thomas, which offers that black

males and masculinity are constructed as hyper-masculine and violent, is present here; the

owner of the studio knows the prevalent attitudes of Americans towards blacks; therefore, she

makes sure to control her hired black male, suppressing his dangerous sexuality. In an all too

common gesture, the perpetuation of racist assumptions and ideas, with respect to the black










body, is based on American imperialist sensibilities, which have clearly extended beyond the

borders of America. Interestingly, Ray's posing goes fine (meaning that his sexual behavior is

controlled), until one day when he begins daydreaming of Harlem. Ray explains that he began

thinking about the Sheba Palace and the warmth of bodies that cannot be found in any Paris

studio. Suddenly, he gets an erection and has to run for cover (Banjo 130). Though the common

fear is that black males will not be able to control their sexual desire in the presence of white

women, Ray, ironically, does not feel any sexual arousal until he begins daydreaming of Harlem

and the warmth of the black people and places there. By using Ray to illustrate an alternative,

subversive reality that undermines colonial control, McKay manages to invert the stereotypical

eroticization of black bodies used by Western forms of hegemonic control. As Thomas suggests,

in order to escape the damaging norms put in place by Western hegemony, "we need to plot a

way out of the world of social ideas and structures analyzed here, to replace the world put in

place by colonialism (154). By creating protagonists whose erotic identities do not match the

eroticized stereotypes situated by colonials, McKay, as Thomas suggests, symbolically replaces

the world put in place by colonials through his textual inversion of hegemonic norms.

Still, symbolically replacing the order of the day cannot undo the damage that

colonialism has inflicted upon people of African descent throughout the world. These realities

are detailed by McKay in BanjBBB~~~~~BBBBB~~~~o. Similar to Home to Harlem, the subj ect of race is usually

illustrated through the ponderings of the protagonist, Ray. In both of these texts, Ray's desire to

understand his own racial identity opens a dialog for discussing pan-African ideology. In Home

to Harlem, Ray ponders his race mostly in relation to what it means to be black in Haiti and

America; whereas in Banjo, Ray develops a sense of what his blackness means in a global









context. McKay details Ray's thoughts on race and love for the docks when discussing his

thoughts on the global port of Marseilles:

barrels, bags, boxes, bearing from land to land the primitive garner of man' s hands. Sweat-
dripping bodies of black men naked under the equatorial sun, threading a caravan way
through the old-time jungles, carrying loads steadied and unsupported on kink-thick heads
hardened and trained to bear their burdens. Brown men half-clothed, with baskets on their
backs, bending low down to the ancient tilled fields under the tropical sun. Eternal
creatures of the warm soil, digging, plucking for the Occident world its exotic nourishment
of life, under the whip, under the terror. Barrels .. bags .. boxes .. full of the
wonderful things of life. ( BanjBBB~~~~~BBBBB~~~~o 67)

This quote details Ray's wonderment with the port and the commerce that takes place there

between many races of the world; however, he is also amazed at the Occidental enslavement of

so many black and brown people. A critique emerges from his observation of the toil so many

have endured under the sun for the benefit of Western, commodity-driven markets. Further, the

last line emerges as a disturbing contrast to the beautiful description of the hard-laboring men

and goods, as it reveals that they have been forced to provide the Occidental world with the

exotic goods they desire through slavery and torture. The whip and the terror of colonial force

have made the black and brown men Ray describes the slaves of Westemn commodity. As

Thomas explains:

positing scientific reason as the gift of classical Greece to modem Europe has entailed
conceptualizing Black people, in particular, as an undisciplined mass of sexual savages.
The very notion of Western civilization is therefore founded on a primary opposition
between white and non-white persons that is graphically sexualized. (7)

McKay's critique of Occidental enslavement parallels Thomas' here, as Ray is recognizing the

continued influence that Occidentalism has on the world. Further, McKay mirrors Thomas'

assertion that Westem rule has assumed a notably erotic form, as he describes the laboring men

in the sensual terms of the body, thus assessing the primitivism the West associates with black

bodies. McKay describes them as the "sweat-dripping bodies of black men naked under the

equatorial sun" and the "eternal creatures of the warm soil."

29










McKay's presentation of liberating sexualities, through subaltem identities and erotic

practices, the dancing and movements of the body (which can be read as performative practice),

allows the characters to take control of their bodies. In the end, it provides a method to resist the

colonial oppression which seeks to control their bodies. Banjo is significant as a marker for

McKay's growing critique of colonial forms of oppression and the alternative lifestyle he

positions against it. Specifically, the character of Ray provides an alternative notion of black

identity and sexuality. The direct assessment of transnational issues and black oppression

illustrates McKay's desire to engage in novelistic endeavors that are critical of these systems. In

Home to Harlem, issues of colonialism and imperialism are broached, whereas in BanjBBB~~~~~BBBBB~~~~o they are

absolutely central to the text.

Notably, although McKay's politics are clearly more present and developed in Banjo, he

does not critique the manner in which women are oppressed by colonial and imperial practice

with the same rigor he uses for the men. Women play a flat, secondary role in comparison with

the males in the text. The only woman described in any kind of detail is Latnah, a prostitute and

friend to the beach boys. Latnah occupies the role of a secondary character similar to that of

Congo Rose in Home to Harlem. She is nurturing and faithful to Banjo and his friends, but

ultimately she is not utilized to critique oppression like many of McKay's male characters.

Conversely, McKay's last novel, Banana~~~BBBB~~~~BBBB~~~ Bottons, is centered on a female protagonist, whose

struggle to escape colonial oppression through her own folk culture is the primary focus of the

text. It is then necessary to complete this analysis with Banana Bottom, and, to evaluate how

McKay's critiques develop, as well as how he continues to allow his characters alternative erotic

identities (including women), giving them power over their bodies and thus inverting the colonial

order.









CHAPTER 4
BANANA BOTTOM: THE EROTICISM OF THE RURAL FOLK AS AN ALTERNATIVE
TO COLONIAL AND IMPERIAL CONTROL

It is in Banana~~~BBBB~~~~BBBB~~~ Bottons where McKay's political critique is most strategically developed. In

this text, he utilizes a female protagonist, Bita Plant, to critique and counter Western hegemonic

forms of control through her complete rej section of colonial society. Through Bita, McKay

depicts the distinctly erotic manner in which colonial oppression is manifested. Her sexuality--

how it is controlled and compromised--is a maj or theme of the text. The text follows Bita, as she

realizes that she is only able to control her own sexuality after she experiences erotic pleasure

through dancing and participating in her native folk culture. These experiences lead her to rej ect

the eroticized identity that her colonizers have attributed to her, as a black woman who needs to

be civilized or become a sexual deviant. Further, as mentioned previously, McKay does not

provide any maj or female protagonists, or even central characters in Home to Harlem and Banjo,

making it difficult to assess his critiques of colonialism, and the culture he presents as its

counter, in a complete manner.

In Banana Bottom, McKay gives an account of Jamaican rural life that can be read for its

strong commentary on actual issues Jamaican society was facing at the time, issues such as:

colonial influence in the post-slavery Jamaican society, the wide reaching effects of the United

States as an emerging economic power, classism, racism, and immigration by individuals from

China and India. Jamaica, like other British-colonized Caribbean islands, was affected by

historic power structures put in place during the British colonial period, as well as by U.S.

imperialism; the U.S. was one of its closest and most powerful trade partners. Thomas explains

the Caribbean's unique position, indicating that "The place between colonialism and neo-

colonialism, even British and U. S. imperialism, is then captured through a literature of West

Indian or Caribbean migration" (xi). The space between British and U.S. imperialism makes










McKay's Banana~~~~BBBBB~~~~BBBB Bottom, which takes place in Jamaica, McKay's native country, which he lived

apart from for a great deal of his life, an ideal end point to the analysis of his critique of Western

hegemonic power structures.

Banana Bottom tells the story of a Jamaican adolescent, Bita, who is born in the rural town

of Banana Bottom. The plot is revealed in a manner which exposes the life of the characters but

also the conditions of Jamaica, which was/is in transition, as it lies in the wake of colonial

control and the effects of American trade and tourism. McKay sets the town of Banana Bottom

within a distinctly colonial history; the town had a white-run plantation as its economic center.

The plantation was owned by a Scottish man who produced many mixed-race descendents, one

of whom rapes Bita. The plantation house, which was the main source of colonial control at one

time, sits in shambles, but it remains a revered and valued property in Banana Bottom. After

Crazy Bow rapes Bita, her story is carried to the neighboring town of Jubilee, where it is told to

the minister's wife, Priscilla Craig. After informing her husband, Malcolm Craig, Mrs. Craig

decides to save Bita' s otherwise ruined reputation by adopting her as a daughter of the mission.

Bita is sent to boarding school in England and returns a cultured and educated young lady.

The Craigs would like to form Bita into a respectable native woman, who could possibly take

over the mission with a respectable native husband, who they have also adopted and educated,

Herald Newton Day. Upon her return to Banana Bottom, Bita develops a new interest in her

native culture. She desires to engage in her native culture, which is viewed by the Craigs as unfit

for a respectable lady of the church. Despite the wishes of the Craigs, Bita begins attending town

parties called tea-meetings in the company of male suitors. She also meets, Squire Gensir, a

respectable English man who has rejected his old way of life in order to live in Banana Bottom









and record Folk tales and music. Gensir encourages Bita to think freely, and, for Bita, he serves

as an antithesis to the Craigs.

After Bita resists the lifestyle the Craigs have taught her, Priscilla Craig, realizing her

control over Bita is deteriorating, becomes upset. Priscilla Craig then attempts to rectify Bita' s

behavior through an engagement to Herald Newton Day. Eventually, Bita realizes the extent of

the Craigs' oppressive grasp on her lifestyle and decides she must leave the mission. She returns

to her hometown of Banana Bottom, where she develops a relationship, and, eventually, marries

an employee of the family, Jubban, who tends the horses and other aspects of the family farm. As

the story ends, news is received of Squire Gensir' s death. Gensir names Bita the recipient of his

estate. In an ironic and victorious ending, Bita uses the money she receives to purchase the old

plantation house, symbolically reclaiming control over her colonizers.

To better understand Bita' s progression, it is important to see the ways in which McKay

promotes and valorizes folk traditions and spaces in Banana~~~~BBBBB~~~~BBBB Bottom. Further, the folk is a crucial

point for evaluating McKay's critique of Westemn hegemony. The rural, folk culture of Banana

Bottom acts as a site of resistance outside of the dominant colonial/imperial structure. In order to

understand the manner in which the folk works in opposition to Westemn hegemony in Banana

Bottom, it is useful to turn to the work of David Nicholls.

In his essay "The Folk as Altemnative Modemnity: Claude McKay's Banana Bottom and the

Romance of Nature," David Nicholls explains that McKay, after experiencing disparate cultures

and politics all over the world, strategically chose to return to his folk roots in Jamaica, in order

to relate a specific, anti-colonialist message through the use of the folk. Nicholls explains:

so while Banana~~~~BBBBB~~~~BBBB Bottom argues for a return to folk roots and a celebration of the anti-
modern, it does not do so for the sake of nostalgia alone; rather, McKay returns home in
this novel to offer a careful analysis of the modern global economy and Jamaica's place
within it. In Banana~~~~BBBBB~~~~BBBB Bottom, McKay argues for the rej section of colonial cultural ideology-









-most notably, Christianity--and the return to folk roots as a route to autonomy for Afro-
Jamaican peasants. Such autonomy is imagined not only as an alternative to the modernity
of the colonial mission, but also as a form of resistance to the vagaries of the global
commodities market and to the incursions of low-wage immigrant labor. (79-80)

In Nicholls's theorization, McKay's message is clear: the colonial system has not done the

Jamaican peasants any favors, and neither has the global economy for that matter. The only way

for them to develop any autonomy is to break from oppressive systems and rely on their native,

folk culture. In this sense, rej section of the dominant system is the most powerful resistance, and

that is exactly what McKay relates in Banana~~~~BBBBB~~~~BBBB Bottom. Although Nicholls asserts that McKay is

critiquing colonial control mainly in terms of its affects on the economy and religion, instead of

in terms of a black folk sexuality as in this study, his essay lends support to this proj ect in its

conclusion that the folk culture is McKay's site for resistance politics in his novels.

Ultimately, Nicholls does not explain the folk culture of dancing or the sexual possibilities

it allows in Banana~~~~BBBBB~~~~BBBB Bottom. However, in agreement with this study, his work does explain the

message that a return to the folk creates a critique of colonial control. In contrast to Nicholls's

focus on the return to the folk, in terms of bringing power to the Jamaican economy, it is more

useful, here, to evaluate McKay's development of a subtle and well-crafted argument against

oppressive forms of colonial and imperial control; this argument is made evident through Bita

who rejects the social, sexual, economic, and ideological principles that those forms deem

correct by taking control of her own body and sexuality. The novel, essentially, begins with the

rape of Bita by a creole descendent of the plantation owner' s family, which symbolizes a lack of

autonomy for native Jamaicans. Bita's rape results in her living at the mission house with the

Craig family where her sexuality is controlled further. This leads to her seeking out erotic

experiences available at the community gatherings, with her native folk culture; these

experiences act as a catalyst for her realization that a rej section of the colonial culture is necessary









to her happiness. Eventually, Bita rejects the dominant colonial order by embracing her native

folk culture, specifically, the dancing and the erotic sensations it invokes. Thus, sexuality is the

key to the emphasis McKay places on the folk. It is a liberating alternative to the colonial

conceptions of sexuality he presents, as well as a source for his critique of colonialism.

The counter-hegemonic role that the folk plays in Banana~~~~BBBBB~~~~BBBB Bottom is crucial in

understanding the function of the liberating sexual possibilities that the folk allows in McKay's

work. Through her rediscovery and appreciation of her native culture, Bita Einds her identity

outside of the civilizing mission of the Craigs. Specifically, the tea-meetings or community

parties, where Bita is able to express herself freely, play a central role in her realization that she

is happy as a member of rural Banana Bottom. Importantly, a stress is placed on the dancing as

an erotic folk experience. Like in Home to Harlem and Banjo, the erotic sensations of dancing

are described in terms of the physical body. The use of the eroticism of the body is significant in

its association with dancing as a liberating folk practice, because it provides a direct inversion of

the colonial practice of controlling the body. The Craigs oppress Bita by attempting to control

her sexuality and erotic experiences. Bita is then able to regain control over her sexuality by

controlling her body and the erotic sensations she experiences through movement. It is in this

way that McKay has positioned the folk as a transcendent erotic practice that both counters

Western systems of control and acts as a liberating practice for his characters.

The significance of Bita Einding her identity after attending the community parties, which

are sites of native music and dance, can be evaluated as more than a return to the folk. As

mentioned earlier, the Craigs attempted to exert bodily control over Bita and her sexuality; at the

tea-meetings, Bita is able to take control over her body and actions. Symbolically, the tea-

meetings are posited as spaces where Bita can assert her own values and power, which are in










opposition to the forced values of the Craigs. McKay details Bita' s feelings, upon attending a tea

meeting, in terms of the erotic sensations she experiences: "her body was warm and willing for

that native group dancing" (Banana Bottom 84). Bita' s desire to dance with her native people is

presented as a sensual desire that is strongly tied to her body's "warm and willing" response. As

the scene is detailed further, McKay reveals Bita' s pleasure.

Bita danced freely released, danced as she had never danced since she was a girl at a picnic
at Tabletop, wiggling and swaying and sliding along .. and she danced forgetting herself,
forgetting even Jubilee, dancing down the barrier between high breeding and common
pleasures under her light stamping feet until she was one with the crowd. (Banana Bottom
84)

Bita' s physical participation reminds her of her childhood, recalling the physical pleasure that is

associated with breaking the barrier between "high breeding and common pleasures." If, as

Thomas explains, "the rule of Europe has assumed a notably erotic form," then Bita' s eroticism,

which opposes colonial forms, in that it is eroticizing her native culture instead of European

culture, can be viewed as resistance to colonial control, which is what occurs when Bita visits the

tea-meetmngs.

In another dance scene that comes later in the text, Bita's dancing at tea-meetings is read

directly against the British forms of dancing that she encountered during her education overseas.

This opposition is necessary in reading her native dancing as a form of resistance to oppressive

colonial control.

It was the first time since she left college that she had done the dances practiced there for
physical and esthetic training. Now it was for the sheer j oy of dancing. Not in physical-
culture uniform, but in a pretty frock among men and girls who were happy in their fun
and who made up in spontaneous warmth for the lack of cultivated refinement to which she
had been trained. (Banana Bottom 196)

The structured, British forms of dance in which Bita was "trained," and then practiced in

"physical-culture uniform," are presented as superficial and confining. The folk dances are done

for enj oyment, by individuals who are content with their lack of British cultivation. The Craigs










gave Bita an education that stressed the value and importance of this British refinement. Her

appreciation and enj oyment of her native people, who can be happy and enj oy themselves

without anxiety about colonial standards, illustrate a critique of oppressive colonial traditions.

Bita chooses to engage in her native forms of dance, which alienate her from the civilized world

of the Craigs. As mentioned earlier, McKay's actual socio-political stances changed throughout

his life, and his critique of dominant power structures is most developed here in Banana Bottom.

The Jamaican peasantry is clearly positioned positively, where the urban/dominant white

ideology of England is posited as oppressive. This critique comes from an individual who had

changed greatly from his early poetry, which "declared his love for the Mother Country, Britain"

(James 58).

The oppressive grasp of English structures and rule is evident in the legacy of the colonial

slave culture, explained, specifically, through its control of the sexuality of native populations.

Further, it is a predominant element in the plot of Banana Bottom and worth discussing as an

initial example of McKay's critique of British colonialism in this novel. The Craig household is

presented as an allegory for colonial society, for colonials living under the white colonizer's rule.

In one section, Priscilla Craig, who is responsible for the notion of adopting Bita, in order to

make her into a cultured (read British) lady, is physically described as the queen on her throne.

The queen, as the symbol for the mother country of England, is invoked by McKay to provide a

direct link to colonial ideals. He writes, "Emphasizing the last word, Priscilla Craig straightened

herself in her chair and although she was rather rigid, with her golden-white hair upgathered into

a crown, she was undeniably queenly" (McKay, Banana Bottom 182). After her time abroad at

boarding school, where she receives a proper (British) education, Bita returns to the Craig

household and discovers a newfound appreciation for her native culture, a discovery that greatly









disturbs the Craigs. At this point, Priscilla and Malcolm Craig attempt to maintain control over

Bita, ensuring that she does not forget the ideals of a respectable lady, and, subsequently, regress

into an ordinary Jamaican girl, which is clearly posited as less respectable in their eyes. It is

important to note that this power struggle takes form in terms of Bita' s sexuality, which makes it

an important point for analysis in this discussion of body erotics and the continuation or

resistance of empire through these erotics.

McKay posits Mrs. Craig as an allegorical figure that represents the oppressive structures

of colonial control, as she constantly attempts to control Bita's sexuality throughout the novel.

Thomas illustrates the Eurocentric notion of colonialism as the loving(civilizing) mother when

he explains that "the so-called civilizing mission or white man's burden was to put an end to this

projected savagery, which is largely sexual" (99). Mrs. Craig consistently attempts to civilize

many aspects of Bita, the most prevalent being her sexuality, which she sees as a huge threat to

Bita' s status as a proper lady. After Mrs. Craig receives word that Bita has attended a tea-

meeting, she attempts to keep her from potential sexual engagement by pushing her to marry a

man that meets Mrs. Craig' s ideal model of respectability:

Priscilla's mind was not altogether tranquil about Bita and that tea-meeting. And that night
when she related the incident to Malcolm he also shared her inquietude. They came to the
conclusion that it might be a wise step if Bita were married as soon as possible. Within a
year Herald Newton Day would be graduated from the theological college and ready for
holy orders. And he was coming that very week on a vacation to Jubilee it was decided to
start propaganda at once to get Bita thinking about the happy idea. (McKay, Banana~~~~BBBBB~~~~BBBB
Bottom 94)

The Craig's desire to command and confine Bita' s sexuality is portrayed as an obvious method

of control. According to the Craigs, Bita is unable to make sexual decisions for herself, an

attitude which is linked to the concept of primitivism, as it was believed and used to justify racist

oppression by many European-colonizers, mainly because European colonizers needed to uphold

their status as superior in order to rationalize the exploitation of those inferior to themselves. The










Craig' s desire to choose a mate for Bita is also strongly reminiscent of the arranged marriages

during slavery. A master chose who their slaves would wed in order to keep them under control

by controlling their sexuality. In the frame of this novel, slavery and its practices were

supposedly gone, though not in the distant past. The plot of the novel is entwined with the legacy

of slavery, providing the reader with a strong criticism of that system.

Bita' s refusal of the Craig' s ideals, and their control over her sexuality, becomes a counter-

narrative to the colonial structure the Craig's represent. Bita recognizes her oppressed position in

the Craig household, and she eventually comes to understand that she must get outside of their

control if she is ever going to have any freedom. Bita' s moment of realization is described by

McKay, "Now all thought of her idea of being honest to herself and frank with Mrs. Craig was

banished from her mind. She knew that she could not do it and stay at the mission" (Banana

Bottom 207). It is interesting to note that McKay's solution for Bita comes only when she is able

to escape the oppressive gaze/control of the Craig' s and be with her own people. This privileging

of her return to the folk provides a strong affirmation of folk resistance in this novel.

A critique of the civilizing mission of white colonizers emerges from the

colonizer/colonized dynamic that occurs between Bita and her benefactress, Priscilla Craig. This

dynamic is described in detail when McKay explains the fetishistic manner in which Mrs. Craig

views her culturing/civilizing of Bita. As Bita realizes that she must leave Jublice and the Craig

household to escape her oppression, she also begins to realize the true nature of her oppression:

and retracing the memorable stages in her growth, it became clear to Bita now that
although Mrs. Craig had never referred directly to it before that unhappy day there had
always been some thing about the woman proclaiming: You are my pet experiment!"
(McKay, Banana~~~~BBBBB~~~~BBBB Bottom 211)

This passage reveals many issues surrounding the relationship between the two women. Note

that the "unhappy day" referred to is the day when a confrontation transpires between the women









resulting in the first mention of Bita' s rape since she has been at the Craigs. The fight occurs

over Bita wanting to spend time with a young man, Hopping Dick, because she wants to go to

social events. Mrs. Craig then reminds her why her father had sent her "to be trained" by the

Craigs, because apparently she needed help controlling her sexuality, or having it controlled for

her (McKay, Banana Bottom 210). Besides Mrs. Craig's disappointment over her inability to

control Bita and her sexuality, there is another power dynamic at play here. The language used

by Mrs. Craig in these passages indicates her conception of Bita; she is her "pet experiment,"

who has been sent to her "to be trained." The language and principles McKay is putting to play

references to the continuation of colonial ideals, mainly the practice of the early colonial British

elite, especially women, in which they would see colonized individuals, usually slaves, as pets

and commodities that they were responsible for. This relationship is detailed in Srinvas

Aravamudan's book, Tropicopolitans, which was published in 1999.

In Tropicopolitans, Srinivas Aravamudan asserts that European women fulfilled their

desire for the Other by having Africans as "pets," who served their emotional and sometimes

sexual desires (3 8). Aravamudan describes this as the "exoticism, bondage, and theatricality of

colonial acquisition, seen as sexual acquisition," affirming that the fetishistic desire to conquer

the other illustrates the theme of colonial occupation (3 8). In his analysis, Aravamudan refers

mainly to the use of men and boys, and the time period he describes is long before the scene

depicted in Banana Bottom; however, his concept is relevant, as the relationship that McKay

presents between the women in this passage is similar to the mistress/pet relationships depicted

by Aravamudan. Both situations describe colonial white women whose participation in

colonialism is channeled as a sexual desire to control the African Other. Bita, emotionally,

supports Priscilla Craig by allowing her to feel like a benevolent white woman; Priscilla uses









Bita' s sexuality to condemn the primitive nature of rural Jamaicans, thus affirming the

correctness of her own white Christianity. The continuation of the fetishistic desire to control the

other, privileged by British colonialism, is highlighted in this passage, as Bita Einally realizes that

Mrs. Craig's language, referring to her as a "pet experiment to be trained," was not as innocent

as she had once thought. Indeed, Mrs. Craig's relationship to Bita is presented by McKay as one

based solely upon control. Further, when Mrs. Craig realizes that she has lost control, the fantasy

of her colonial civilizing mission is lost, and she abandons her experiment altogether. The

experience is explained through Mrs. Craig' s point of view. McKay writes:

Mrs. Craig felt convinced that it was impossible now for Bita to continue living at the
mission, whether she stopped her nonsense with Hopping Dick or not. The differences
between them and the encounters had been so sharp that the even rhythm of the mission
house had become broken and upset. Bita could never again take the place in that life that
Mrs. Craig had made and reserved for her. Mrs. Craig could never now accept her as her
own daughter in Christ. She realized that her experiment had failed." (Bana~na Bottom 219)

Bita has not fit into Mrs. Craig' s prescribed role of proper lady. Bita has failed to be what Mrs.

Craig wanted and cannot be her "sister in Christ." It is important to note the use of Western

religion as a civilizing force, particularly, where being a proper Christian is conflated with the

acquisition of whiteness. By rej ecting the ideals of the Craig' s, Bita has chosen her own path,

illustrating that she privileges her folk lifestyle over their British one. Bita's love of her own

culture leads her to rej ect the gifts Mrs. Craig would give her-- Christianity and a western

lifestyle. It is when Bita's rej section becomes obvious that Mrs. Craig decides to abandon her "pet

experiment." By illustrating Bita' s successful escape from her oppressive benefactress, McKay

makes his message clear: although Mrs. Craig and the church may be able to help Bita fit into

what they deem civilized society, this is not right for Bita, for she is ultimately happier living in

the way of her own people.









Banana Bottom utilizes its female protagonist, Bita, to critique oppressive systems in

Jamaica. It is through this female protagonist that McKay also depicts the distinctly erotic

manner in which colonial oppression is manifested. For example, Priscilla Craig enj oys having

Bita as her "pet experiment;" the idea of her benevolently training a native girl and helping her to

control her sexuality is pleasing to Mrs. Craig. This follows the plantation legacy of colonial

Jamaica, where the sexuality of Afro-Jamaican women was controlled in order to control their

labor as slaves. When Bita exercises control over her own body, she is able to develop an

alternative erotic identity through her native folk culture. McKay uses the reclaiming of Bita' s

sexuality, as Jamaican peasant woman, to redefine tropes of rape, controlled labor, and sexuality

for women in Jamaica. Thus, Bita' s erotic experiences, with regard to her folk culture, are

liberating and act as the stimulus for her self-discovery.

McKay's inversion of dominant erotic notions is an important site for evaluation, as it

shows a direct resistance to Western hegemony, and, thus, a subversion of colonial power in the

ideologies presented in his texts. McKay's choice to return to his native Jamaica for his last

novel, especially, considering that Banana~~~~BBBBB~~~~BBBB Bottom is his most politically developed novel,

illustrates his desire to critique the colonial and imperial systems that influence Jamaican society.

Although the message of this novel, which is a complete return to the folk, is not possible for

contemporary Jamaican society, it is successful in its critique of the devastation that colonialism

and imperialism have caused. It also continues McKay's trend of countering the hegemonic order

by giving his characters control over their erotic identities. Further, when considered alongside

Home to Harlem and Banjo, Banana Bottom illustrates that sexuality functions as McKay's key

emphasis in relation to the folk, both as a site for critiquing Western-privileged society and for

providing a liberating space that counters these oppressive norms.









LIST OF REFERENCES


Aravamudan, Srinivas. Tropicopolitans: Colonialism and Agency, 1688-1804. USA:
Duke UP, 1999.

Conway, Cecelia (1995). African Banjo Echoes in Appalachia: A Study of Folk
Traditions, University of Tennessee Press.

Edwards, Justin. Exotic Journeys: Exploring the Erotics of U. S. Travel Literature, 1840-
1930. New Hampshire: UP of New England, 2001.

Horton-Stallings, LaMonda. Mutha is Half a Word: Intersections of Folklore,

Vernacular, Myth, and Queerness in Black Female Culture. Columbus, Ohio: Ohio State UP,
2007.

James, Winston. A Fierce Hatred of Injustice: Claude McKay's Jamaica and His Poetry
of Rebellion. London & New York: Verso, 2000.

McKay, Claude. Banana Bottom. United States: Harper & Brothers, 1933.
---. Banjo. San Diego, New York, and London: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich
Publishers, 1957.
---. Home to Harlem. Glasglow, UK: Omnia Books Ltd, 2000.

Nicholls, David. "The Folk as Altemnative Modemnity: Claude McKay's Banana Bottom
and the Romance of Nature." Joumnal of Modem Literature, Vol. 23, 1999.

Ramesh, Kotti Sree and Kandula Nirupa Rani. Claude McKay: The Literary Identity from
Jamaica to Harlem and Beyond. Jefferson, North Carolina, and London:
McFarland & Co. Publishers, 2006.

Thomas, Greg. The Sexual Demon of Colonial Power: Pan African Embodiment and
Erotic Schemes of Empire. Bloomington & Indianapolis: Indiana UP, 2007.

---. Erotics of Aryanism/Histories of Empire: How "White Supremacy" and
"Hellenomania" Construct "Discourses of Sexuality." G Thomas CR: The New
Centennial Review, 2003.

Van Nyhuis. "Gendering America: Caribbean Writers and the American Dream." 2007:
34-69. University of Florida Libraries Electronic Theses and Dissertations, Gainesville, FL. 11
Nov. 2007.









BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH

Erin Bohannon was born and raised in Islamorada, Florida. She attended the University of

Florida during her undergraduate and graduate years, graduating with a B.A. and an M.A. in

English.





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1 THE EROTIC FOLK: ALTERNATIVE SEXUALITIES AND RESISTANCE NARRATIVES IN THE NOVELS OF CLAUDE MCKAY By ERIN BOHANNON A THESIS PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLOR IDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF MASTER OF ARTS UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA 2008

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2 2008 Erin Bohannon

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3 To Cosme

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4 ACKNOWLEDGMENTS I would like to thank m y advisor, Leah Rose nberg, for all of her useful feedback and direction. I would also like to thank Julie Kim, for her guidance during my time at the University of Florida.

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5 TABLE OF CONTENTS page ACKNOWLEDGMENTS...............................................................................................................4 ABSTRACT.....................................................................................................................................6 CHAP TER 1 INTRODUCTION....................................................................................................................7 2 HOME TO HARLEM: MCKAY COMMENC ES POLITICAL CRITIQUE IN A NOVE L GE NRE....................................................................................................................10 3 BANJO: A TRANSNATIONIONAL COMMENTARY EMERGES................................... 21 4 BANANA BOTTOM: THE EROTICIS M OF THE RURAL FOLK AS AN ALTERNATIVE TO COLONIAL AND IMPE RIAL CONTROL....................................... 31 LIST OF REFERENCES...............................................................................................................43 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH.........................................................................................................44

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6 Abstract of Thesis Presen ted to the Graduate School of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts THE EROTIC FOLK: ALTERNATIVE SEXUALITIES AND RESISTANCE NARRATIVES IN THE NOVELS OF CLAUDE MCKAY By Erin Bohannon May 2008 Chair: Leah Rosenberg Major: English This study focuses on Claude McKays three most prominent novels Home to Harlem Banjo and Banana Bottom in order to illustrate that the distinct sexualized folk cultures presented in each novel act as a counter-culture where blacks are able to express themselves freely. Normative and stereotypical sexualities are at the root of colonial oppression as they are utilized by colonial and imperial forces to mainta in dominance. McKays characters are able to experience sexual possibilities within the folk spaces that would not exist in the dominant society. As a result, these folk spaces create a resistant counter-narrative which is crucial to understanding presentations and critiques of oppr ession in McKays wor k. McKays inversion of dominant erotic notions is an important site for evaluation as it shows a direct resistance to Western hegemony and thus a subversion of coloni al power in the ideologies presented in his texts.

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7 CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION Jam aican-born author, Claude McKay, focu ses his novels on a black folk culture comprised of subaltern individuals, spaces, and bodi es, in order to locate the folk as a site for liberating expression s of sexuality. In Home to Harlem (1928), Banjo (1929), and Banana Bottom (1933), McKays presentation of this liber ating, sexual folk culture is a means for providing an alternative to oppr essive sexual and gender norms imposed on black people by colonial authorities in the Britis h Empire and white authorities in the United States. As a result, his novels present strong critiques of U.S. and British colonialism. The dual focus on the folk and sexuality constitutes a strong continuity in al l three of his novels. The key difference lies in McKays predominant use of male protagonists in his first two novels. McKay finally uses a female protagonist to convey and cr itique colonialism, through the fo lk culture he presents as its antithesis, in his last novel, Banana Bottom The Sexual Demon of Colonial Power published in 2007 by Greg Thomas, presents a useful framework for what is at the very core of this paper, which is that McKay critiques Western hegemony through his use of protagonists who exhibit non-normative erotic and sexual identities, and thereby reject the dominant categories of oppr ession that normative British colonial and American imperial society promote. British colonialism and American imperialism are inextricably linked with th e Euro-privileged systems of power they utilize to uphold oppression, specifically, with rega rd to oppressive sexual norms and stereotypes. By providing alternative folk forms of sexual expression in his novels, McKay provides an alternative, progressive vision that contrasts with the ideas fostered by British colonialism and American imperialism. It is clear in all three of McKays novels that the characters gain power by having control over their bodies and how they experience the world thr ough their erotic sensibilities.

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8 Further, music and dance are positioned as folk productions and a means of attaining liberation from the oppressive erotic constrictions that do minant Western society has forced on people, especially those of African descent. In a world where colonialism and imperialism have maintained dominance through the eroticization of skin color and the control over black bodies that it implies, McKays characters invert this order by eroticizing their bodies in their own way and through their own folk culture. The focus on the erotic, though perhap s limited, is crucial, because, as Thomas asserts, white rule is historically a nd currently tied to eroticism. He explains: whether we think of the ceaseless assault on Bl ack family existence, the obscene hysterics of apartheid lynching, the physical violations of direct and indirect colonization, or the sadomasochistic torture of formal enslavemen t and its transoceanic trade in flesh, we see that the rule of Europe has a ssumed a notably erotic form. (1) Greg Thomass The Sexual Demon of Colonial Power illuminates McKays critiques of Western hegemony. As a result of European conquests, European history and sexual norms are accepted as the standard in Western societies, when, in rea lity, this is not the case nor does it have to be. In order to understand the ways in which the va rious systems McKay presen ts are critiqued, it is useful to consider Thomas assertion that the soci al ideas and societal stru ctures, especially those regarding bodily control have been firmly put in place by colonialism in large scale. As Thomas explains, The white world is al ways renaturalized as a universal standard of human civilization and its erotic practice; and the mechanics of race that inscribe it are erased from the category of sexuality itself. No one else exists; nor does the sexual violence waged against us, by them (23). It is from Thomas model here, that this study borrows terms like domin ant white society and Euro/Western-privileged. The use of these br oad categories is based on Thomas conception that colonialism has greatly and undeniably infl uenced the dominant power structures that control societal norms. It is in this line of thought that these terms are adopted in this study to address the dominant culture.

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9 McKays novels not only present erotic possi bilities that resist Western norms, but they also create a resistant counter-narrative to dominan t structures by destabilizing the erotic status quo and refusing to ignore the eff ects of white sexual violence and its eroticization of blacks. Further, it is through his folk culture and its su baltern protagonists that McKay critiques white sexual norms. This is critical to understanding McKays resistance politics, because he is attacking dominant Western society through i ndividuals that would be deemed vulgar and primitive. Thomas explains that Western societies are societies in which human sexuality is systematically designated for white bodies and sexual savagery for non-white ones, Black bodies most of all (23). The sexual savages, whic h are the protagonists of McKays novels, provide the reader with an alternative narrative in wh ich the colonial order is inverted. The literary inversion of the colonial order provides a subversive critique, in which the sexually deviant is privileged over the normative. If white hegemony is held in place through the erotics of empire and its focus is on controlling the physical, sexual body, then McKay s inversion of this colonial strategy, through the use of body ero tics and hyper-sexualized characte rs, can be read as a form of opposition to the erotic bodily control enacted by colonizers, and, therefore, a deliberate act of resistance to colonial oppression.

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10 CHAPTER 2 HOME TO HARLEM: MCKAY COMMENCES POLITICAL CRITIQUE IN A NOVEL GENR E In Home to Harlem McKays protagonists perform non-normative sexualities, thereby placing them in opposition to Western forms of domination. McKay achie ves this by overtly sexualizing his characters. Furthe r, McKay critiques Western id eals by using the narrative and dialog of characters that woul d be considered lower-class or vulgar by dominant society. These subaltern characters convey his criticisms of do minant white society, and, they act as the vessel and ironic weapon for his commentary, as he is critiquing what this dominant society deems proper. McKay chooses to focus on the subaltern folk culture of Harlem, because it provides a great site for diversity, rebellion and power with regard to sexual ity. As a result, McKays use of vulgar, subaltern characters as pr otagonists creates a narrative that allows for erotic and sexual possibilities that would not be acceptable in the dominant society; this is because U.S. nationalism and British colonialism, which are at the base of the dominant social structure, utilize sexuality as a central form of control. Im portantly, McKays use of characters that reject normative forms of sexual expression illustrates his awareness of the relationship between gender and sexuality and how colonialism has influenced and impacted this relationship. Essentially, distinct stereotypical sexual norms ar e attributed to each gender: a masculine set for males and a feminine set for females. Thus, in addition to critiquing imperial and colonial influences, McKays characters reject gende r norms as they reject sexual norms. The erotic potential McKay allows his char acters inverts the domi nant order by refusing the normative erotic and sexual ideals that Western control has used as a foundation for its continued dominance. In his book, Exotic Journeys: Exploring the Erotics of U.S. Travel Literature, 1840-1930, Justin Edwards provides useful in sight into the sexual and erotic possibilities in Home to Harlem He is keen to note that McKays Harlem is presented as

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11 offering a multiplicity of identities: abundant sexual identities, a multiplicity of desires, as well as numerous and fluid representations of gender ( 164). Harlem is then constructed as an erotic, sensual place where things are possible that would not be in domi nant white society. Edwardss awareness of the er otic possibilities in McKays work provides useful support for this study, especially when consideri ng that many scholars di d not recognize these possibilities at all, and, instea d, focused on the vulgarity and alleged racism in McKays novels. Most notably, W.E.B. DuBois found Home to Harlem to be distasteful, because he felt that it painted the African American popul ation in a savage and primitive light. DuBois believed that African American authors should not present such images of bl acks and instead should promote Harlems talented tenth as the representative members of their community (Edwards 156-7). But it is precisely through the other nine tent hs of the black population that McKay attacks Western hegemony by challenging normative, limite d sexualities and erotic notions that have been put in place by colonial oppressors. Home to Harlem tells the story of Jake, an ex-soldier who has deserted WWI. Jake visits London and France; he then boards a ship to New York, which will finally take him home to Harlem. On his first night back, Jake is en chanted by a young woman at a cabaret, but loses track of her the next day when he forgets her ad dress. After living with another woman, Rose, for a short while, Jake decides to work as a cook on a passenger train. It is on this train that Jake meets Ray, an educated student from Haiti, w ho is working to earn money for tuition. The conversations between Jake and Ray are some of the most revealing, with respect to McKays politics in the novel, as they de tail the complex interactions betw een the U.S. and the Caribbean, in addition to the pervasive effects of racism in America. Jake leaves the train for a while after becoming ill; it is assumed that he has contracted syphilis (this may be seen as an interesting

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12 biographical detail as McKay also battled syphilis during the first part of his exile when he began writing Home to Harlem ). After Jake recovers from his illness, Ray decides to work on a freighter that will travel overseas. At a late-night cabaret, Jake spots Felice, his lover from his first night back in Harlem. They are reunited, but with much turmoil. A fight breaks out between Jake and his friend and fellow soldier Zeddy, be cause Zeddy was dating Felice in the time she has been away. As a result of their fight, Zeddy de nounces Jake as a deserter. Jake and Felice are then forced to leave Harlem to start a new life in Chicago. The folk spaces in Harlem are focal points for McKay, as he uses them to present the folk in opposition to white hegemony. For example, th e cabarets that play jazz music and feature beautiful women and men singing to the crowd, and the pool rooms, where the law put in place by whites does not necessarily apply, are spaces where African Americans are the center of reality; and, therefore, th ey are able to break free from some of the constraints put in place by colonials. Many of the individuals participating in the folk scen e reject dominant notions of gender and sexuality; this is critical because, in such a rejection, they are able to undermine white authority, as hetero-normativity and normativ e sexualities are at the root of colonial oppression (Thomas). By positioning folk culture in opposition to dominant Western culture, McKay presents a critique of We stern control and also depicts th e folk as a heroic site of resistance and subversion. McKay locates the cabarets as spaces where African American culture, sexualities, and identities exist (somewhat) outside the Westernprivileged norms of dominant American society. Although the cabarets are still in New York and governed by the laws of dominant white society, they are also in Harlem and frequented primarily by black patrons, which a llows them to exist as

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13 unique spaces for resistance to dominant cultural norms. One cabaret in particular, The Congo, is described as a specifically black space. McKay writes: the Congo remained in spite of formidable opposition and foreign exploitation. The Congo was a real throbbing little Africa in New Yor k. It was an amusement place entirely for the unwashed of the Black Belt The Congo was African in spirit and color. No white persons were admitted there. (19) McKay makes it apparent that The Congo is primar ily a black space and also a space for working class black people; it is where the unpretentious, pleas ure seeking cooks, maids, dish-washers etc. go to let loose and be themselves. McKay also describes The Congo as playing the drag blues that were banned in the upper class clubs. This form of blues, which is considered vulgar in mainstream culture, can be seen as a folk product in Home to Harlem and it plays a significant role concerning resistance to hetero-normativ e ideals and the white hegemony these ideals promote. As LaMonda Horton-Stallings explains in her book Mutha is Half a Word (2007), folk traditions, such as the use of vernacular and folklore, present a much needed and distinct commentary on sexuality and the representation of sexuality in Black communities (164). In Home to Harlem the music and actions inside the cab arets have the same function as the use of vernacular, or other folk mach inations, would in creating a co mmentary on sexuality and its representations. Therefore, a commentary on sexual ity is then produced out of the drag blues, creating a unique space where issues of sexuality can be broached. Music creates a backdrop and an atmosphere for folk spaces in this text, and the main character of Jake often has lyrics playing in his h ead that coincide with incidents in the text. The soundtrack, then, plays an integr al role in the overall tone and action of the novel. More importantly, the song lyrics often convey overtly sexual messages and discuss topics that would be taboo to mention in domina nt society. It is in this way that the song lyrics in Home to Harlem lend to McKays constructions of the folk as a site of resistance to dominant culture, as they

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14 exemplify aspects of sexual transgression and alternative lifestyle. In one song in particular, the issue of sexual preference is broached through catchy lyrics: and there is two things in Harlem that I dont understand It is a bulldycking woman and a faggoty man. Oh, baby how are you? Oh, baby, what are you? (McKay, Home to Harlem 25) The song accepts the presence of nonhetero sexualities as a part of every-day life in Harlem. In the last line of the song, the phras e, what are you? indicates that one cannot be too sure of the sexual preferences of anyone else at the cabaret and therefore must ask right off. The casual discussion of non-normative sexualiti es found in these lyrics would not be present in the popular social scene outside of certain cabarets and nightclubs in the late 1920s. These cabarets create spaces where issues of sexuality need to be re cognized and addressed instead of politely ignored. This reality acknowledges the ex istence of numerous sexual iden tities and potentially allows erotic possibilities that would be taboo in dominant society. McKay clearly chooses to present disparate sexualities as normative within the folk culture in Home to Harlem. This choice indicates that he is using the folk culture and what Western society deems vulgar, in order to illustrate the African American communitys resistance to dominant society. Therefore, he creates his own critique of We stern ideals by examining issues of sexuality. McKay uses the underground blues of the cabaret to challenge an d critique Western dominance and social/sexual control. The alternative sexualities McKay allows his characters, and the spaces these sexual identities can be experienced in, comprise the liberating folk culture that counters the dominant culture in America, which is predominately influenced by U.S. imperialism. Therefore, it is useful to examine the manner in which alternative sexualities critique imperialism. Further, it is

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15 important to note how McKay presents gender an d sexuality as being negatively affected by oppressive imperial control. Jake, the protagonist of Home to Harlem resists the sexual norms prescribed to his gender and thus provides a compelling critique of th e ways in which Western privileged sexual stereotypes affect notions of gender. Jake refu ses to become a stereotypical black man. Jake abhors the clich of the angry, violent, lazy Af rican American. When Rose offers to make him her sweet man and pay his way so he does not have to do manual labor, he resists. Later, Jake tries to resist again as Rose wants him to be vi olent toward her and display his black masculinity. As the masculine protagonist in Home to Harlem, Jakes rejection of viol ent and lazy stereotypes redefines notions of black masc ulinity. It is useful to note McKays negative presentation of Rose, as she is one of several women who play a negative, secondary ch aracter in his novels. Later on, when Jake explains the event to his friend Billy, he says that he had to leave Rose because she would have made [him] either a no count or a bad nigger ( Home to Harlem 150). Jake chose to leave Rose rather than be made into a stereotypical bad nigger. Jakes desire to be something other than the ster eotype of a hyper-masculine, viol ent black man, is admirable to the reader, indicating that McKay sets up his protagonist as a suba ltern character who is admired for his rejection of the status quo. The negative effects of United States imperialism are experienced by Jake even in his personal relationship with Rose. McKay focuse s not only on gender and masculinity, but also on the repercussions of U.S. imperialism and British colonialism on the body of the colonized subject (as they are manifested through erotic expre ssion). For example, McKay highlights the violent and sexual nature of raci st oppression in the U.S. through his treatment of skin color and inter-racial characters. In one section, McKay makes it clea r that many light skinned African

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16 Americans are the product of rape, and, more speci fically, a form of institu tionalized rape rooted in racism. The rape of black women by white men is a ddressed in a section where the train chef insults the pantry man, calling him a bastard begotten. The pantry man becomes extremely upset by this slight, as the narrator relates that his father was a redneck white who had despised his mothers race and done nothing for him (McKay, Home to Harlem 117). The sexual violence and rape that results from racist oppress ion is a theme that is brought up repeatedly in this novel as a reminder of slavery and colonialism. In addition to acknowledging the institutionali zation of rape by Amer ican slavery, McKay highlights the extent to which African American society has perverted this colonial reality and fetishized light skin. This criti que is embedded in the dark-skinne d character of gin-head Susy, whose role also introduces the place and functio n of women in McKays work. McKay presents the eroticism associated with sk in-color through the sexual erot ics of the body, which as Thomas explains, is largely how American imperiali sm and British colonialism maintain their dominance; sexual norms form the foundation for racial dominance. In one passage, McKay uses Susy to critique colonialism in terms of the forced mixing of bloodlines caused by colonial violence and the fetis hism of skin that resulted. McKay segues into this critique by explaining that gin-head Susy fetishizes men of a yellow or light complexion. McKay explains: civilization had brought striki ngly exotic types into Susy s race. And like many, many Negroes, she was a victim to that. Ancient bl ack life rooted upon its base with all its fascinating new layers of brown, lowbrown, high-brown, nut-brown, lemon, maroon, olive, mauve, gold. Yellow balancing between black and white. Black reaching out beyond yellow. Almost-white on the brink of a change Sucked back down into the current of black by the terribly sweet rhythm of black blood. ( Home to Harlem 40)

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17 McKay points to the obsession with skin color and its correlati on with class and opportunity; basically, light skin has b ecome directly associated with belongi ng to a higher class. Further, this quote also illustrates McKays awar eness of the eroticization of sk in color. Susys obsession with light-skin illustrates that coloni alism has assumed an erotic form, whether it is manifested in sexual violence, obsessions and fetishes pertaini ng to skin, or otherwise (Erotics 1). Susy exposes the damage caused by the colonizing missi on. The eroticization of skin color and the associations that come with ones racial ident ity are explored throughout the novel, but they are considered in detail by the character of Ray. Ray continues McKays critique of colonialism and empire. In a section where Ray lies in his bunk, sleep-deprived, and thinking of his nati ve Haiti, he ponders the meaning of race and the differences between them. In refere nce to the white race, Ray thinks: there must be something mighty inspiriting in being a citizen of a great strong nation. To be the white citizen of a nation that can say bold, challenging thi ngs like a strong man. Something very different from the keen ecstatic joy a man feels in the romance of being black. Something the black man could ne ver feel nor quite understand.( McKay, Home to Harlem 106) Ray realizes that whether a black man is from Haiti or America, the color of his skin will never allow him to feel the way white men do. He rea lizes that the romance of being black is something different altogether. McKay words this sentence beautifully, noting the keen ecstatic joy one gets from belonging to the black race; howe ver, he observes that this joy is not the same as the joy that a white man must experience in belonging to a great strong nation. Additionally, McKay positions a white man as be ing able to say bold things like a strong man. It is evident that this is something the bl ack man could never feel or qu ite understand. Again, McKay is framing his description of race and color differe nce in terms of masculinity and femininity, which are constricting categories of Western do mination. In Rays mind, black men can never quite understand what it feels lik e to speak freely like strong, masc uline men, because they have

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18 been emasculated by white racism and imperialism. The critique of colonialism and of the privileging of white races is evident, especially as it appears in a sec tion where Ray is also thinking of the American occupation of his once free home, Haiti. The emasculation of black men under imperial/c olonial rule is detailed further towards the end of the novel through Jakes description of conquest and desire. The eroticization of empire, specifically as it relates to the colonial desire for conq uest, is critiqued when Jake and Zeddy get into a fight over Felice. McKay para llels Jakes experience in having to display masculinity by fighting with Zeddy over a woman with white men who exact violence on black men due to their anxiety over what they feel are their women. He writes: these miserable cock-fights, beastly, tigerish, bloody. They had always sickened, saddened, unmanned him Oh, he was infinitely disgus ted with himself to think that he had just been moved by the same savage emotions as those vile, vicious, villainous white men who, like hyenas and rattlers, had fought, murdered, and clawed the entrai ls out of black men over the common, commercial flesh of women. ( Home to Harlem 228-229) This passage nods to the history of colonialism, with its paternalistic assault on black men based on the premise of their inherent savagery and primitive status, as well as American imperialism and the legacy of slavery and apartheid which it influenced. During the ea rly post-slavery years, black men were lynched due to their supposed sexual threat to white women. McKays main character is saddened and revolted by the oppres sion and violent tradition that masculinity has positioned him within. Further, this passage comments on masculinity, as illustrated by violence and conquest of the feminine, a concept that Thomas explains is inextricably tied to the history of colonialism, specifically, thr ough its Western privileging of masc ulinity and femininity as the accepted categories of heterosexual normativity. Undeniably, McKay ties the violence of masculinity with colonialism by critiquing white men who exact violen ce on black men. This violence occurs because the white men are afraid of black male sexuali ty and how it threatens their own sexuality. Through this fictive example, McKay comments on the damage that the

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19 Western category of masculinity has inflicted on black men. Interestingly, I would argue that McKays position on the repercussions of the broa d category of femininity is unclear in this passage. A critique on McKay s part cannot necessarily be gleaned from the common, commercial flesh of women, which brings me to question the merely symbolic role that women seem to play in McKays first two novels; it is not until his last novel, Banana Bottom that McKay utilizes a female characte r to critique and resist oppressi ve systems in a positive way like he does with his male characters in Home to Harlem and Banjo Home to Harlem reveals McKays desire to underm ine oppressive colonial norms by creating literary spaces that exist outside of th ese norms and flourish in their absence. McKays characters express non-normative sexualities through the liberating folk culture and spaces in Harlem. Critiques are presented of British colonial and American imperial forces and the way their influences are intertwined within Ameri can culture. Through these critiques and McKays presentation of alternative sexualities and lifestyles, a resistance narrative is built out of the burgeoning folk culture in Harlem. Interestingly, this novel also reveals a trend in McKays use of female characters. Women are not used to critique the oppressive femini nity that the colonial system has forced upon them in the same way that the male characters are utilized to critique masculinity. In Home to Harlem, there are also no female prot agonists to stand along side the important and likable Jake and Ray. Instead we have Rose, a woman who seeks to manipulate men, Gin-head Susy, who fetishizes skin and symbo lizes the conflicts that have been created by the forced mixing of blood, and, fi nally, there is Felice, who app ears at the beginning and end of the novel and seems to be nothing more than a sy mbol for Jakes discovery and conquest of his national identity as an African American. Home to Harlem provides an entry point into the subversive literary imagination of McKay. His use of subaltern characters to critique oppressive

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20 forms of control and his resistan t folk counter-narratives are re visited in the second novel for evaluation, Banjo in addition to further examination of McKays use of women as secondary characters.

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21 CHAPTER 3 BANJO: A TRANSNATIONIONAL COMMENTARY EMERGES Banjo furthers McKays project of utilizing non-norm ative erotic identities and subaltern characters as literary weapons capable of unde rmining dominant Western-privileged systems of power. Banjo acts as a kind of sequel to Home to Harlem ; it continues and shares many of the elements of McKays first novel. Banjo focuses directly on non-normative, subaltern black sexuality and culture; most of the action occurs in bars and meeting places, with characters that are usually associated with low society. McKay uses the hard-drinking and promiscuous character of Jake as his protagonist in Home to Harlem ; in Banjo, he uses the wine guzzling, vagabond Banjo. His characters--bums, alcoholics, philanderers, etc,--are moral standards in this novel, as they are full of the b eauty of life that is lacking in many of the normative, upstanding citizens that his critiques target Additionally, an analysis of Banjo illustrates that McKays critique of American imperialism and British colonialism becomes a larger focus and is more developed in this novel. Banjo takes place in the French port of Marseill es. The text relates the adventures of Banjo, Malty, Ginger, Bugsy, Toloufa, Goosey, De ngel and Ray; they are a group of American, African, and West Indian vagrants. This group of individuals is referred to as the beach boys, because they often sleep and hang out on the beach. The surrounding area, which houses the other lower-classes of the port, is referred to as the ditch. The main storyline revolves around the conversations that transpire between the characters, while they are hanging around in bars or bistros or in the bum square, places they go to look for handouts from the incoming vessels and visitors. McKay presents much of his political critique through the dialog that takes place between his male characters. At first, the homele ss life of the characters is easy and free. They are able to gather enough money to eat at rest aurants and drink generous amounts of wine every

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22 day, while others in the ditch must prostitute, steal, and murder for their subsistence. In the last portion of the novel, as the economy is down, life becomes harder for the beach boys, because it is more difficult for them to get a free handout. Th e drop in the French economy is a result of the rise of U.S. imperial power and the consolidation of the strength of European nationals. Notably, all of the rising forces, which contribute to a difficulty in subsistence for the beach boys, were founded on a white concep t of citizenship which excluded black people. As mentioned earlier, Banjo continues the project begun in Home to Harlem This continuation also occurs in elements of the narratives plot. At the end of Home to Harlem Ray left Harlem to work on an international ship. His shipping experience bro ught him to Marseilles, where he meets the protagonist of this second novel, Banjo, at a bistro and is subsequently introduced to the rest of the beach boys. Banjo bears many resemblances to Jake from Home to Harlem Like Jake, he has a distinctly American, s outhern way of speaking. Also, he is charming around women, and, soon after arriving in Marseilles, he manages to estab lish a relationship with a prostitute, Latnah. Further, like Jake, Banjo was disenchanted as a black man in the army, and, significantly, he also becomes the best friend of Ray from Home to Harlem In the end, Ray decides to write the story of his friends, though much of his ow n story takes precedence in the concluding section of the novel, as his personal struggle to understa nd race is described in detail. The conclusion of the novel suggests that Banjo is Rays transcription of the lives of Banjo, himself, and the rest of the beach boys. McKay utilizes aspects from the lives of subaltern characters to critique dominant society and the unjust oppression that it creates for minor ities. The ditch and its residents are bums, pimps, prostitutes, drunks and drug-users. Although McKay portrays many of these characters in a negative manner, such as the pimps and prostitu tes of the ditch, the lifestyle is described in a

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23 mythical and intriguing manner. It is through the subaltern characters of this mythical landscape that his critique emerges. One of the in itial descriptions of the port is useful, as it illustrates the unique, non-normative lifestyle and stat e of mind of Banjo. McKay writes: Banjos soul thrilled to the place--the whole life of it that milled around the ponderous, somber building of the Mairie, standing on th e Quai du Port, where fish and vegetables girls and youthful touts, cat s, mongrels, and a thousand second-hand things were all mingled together in a churning agglomerati on of stench and sliminess. His wonderful Marseilles! ( Banjo 13) Banjo loves the feeling of Marseill es so much that he gives hims elf completely to its lifestyle. When he first arrives, he takes up with a pros titute who leaves him when his money runs out. Although he has been taken advantage of by his w onderful Marseilles, Banj o has no regrets; he prefers this type of life to any ot her. Of course, Banjos lifestyle choices are not what is expected of an average American or Frenchman, which is that he work a steady job, have a wife perhaps, and stay relatively sober; Banjo prefers an ex istence where he can do as he pleases. McKays choice to make Banjo his protagonist illustrates th at he is privileging the rejection of Western ideals, as far as lifestyle c hoices are concerned. Although this complete rejection of normative living accommodations, sexual partners, and social obligation may seem a bit unrealistic to the average reader, the alternative lifestyle McKay ch ooses to portray allows him to make a clear political statement through his novels and what the stories represent. In relation to the folk culture presented in Banjo it is useful to observe scenes in the nightclubs where music and dancing provide an erotic experience th at can be seen as resistant and liberating, in so much as they contrast the practices of the dominant culture. Like Home to Harlem much of the folk culture in Banjo takes place in bars and ni ght clubs. In both of these novels, these black folk cultural spaces are sites wh ere dancing is a practice which is a source of erotic power and resistance for its black patrons. The duality of power and resistance is found in primarily black spaces, which illustrates McKay s point: those of African descent are better

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24 served finding their identity a nd power within their own race, communities, and culture. A similar contrast can be made between The Congo of Home to Harlem where the most authentic African American folk experience took place, an d the Caf African where the most authentic black folk experience of Banjo is located. Like The Congo in Harlem, the Caf African is a place where the white people do not encroach on the fun of the black pleasure seekers. The Caf African provides the venue for some of McKays most descriptive moments, as he depicts the erotic aspects of dancing and the liberating sexual possibilities it provides. In these descriptions, McKay posits folk dancing and black un ity as an alternative to the harsh realities of a world ruled by white oppressors. Banjo is eager to get a band together so he can show [the] Ditch some decent movement---turn themselves loos e in a back-home, brown-skin Harlem way (McKay, Banjo 47). Banjo is eventually able to get a group together and they get the entire Caf African worked up into a dancing frenz y. During this frenzy, many rich examples of McKays use of disparate erotic possibilities can be seen and evaluate d. McKay writes of the scene during which Banjos band plays their hit song, Shake That Thing: a coffee-black boy from Cameroon and a chocolate-brown from Dakar stand up to each other to dance a native sex-symbol dan ce. Bending knee and nodding head, they dance up to each other. As they dance up to each other, the smaller boy spins suddenly round and dances away. Oh exquisite movement! (McKay, Banjo 50) This description relates an erotic sex-dance between two men, but the sexual encounter between the men does not indicate that they are lovers or even prefer those of the male sex as lovers; it simply relates erotic movement and an encount er between these two men. McKays deliberate choice to not classify the sexual preferences of the men allows for non-normative possibilities, because it resists the limiting, Western trend of labeling and categorizing sexuality by what gender one is attracted to. An abstract descri ption of what is happening occurs after the

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25 description of the two boys dance. It is reminiscent of an acc ount that would be found in the portrayal of a blues dance in Home to Harlem McKay presents the moment as: black skin itching, black flesh warm with the wi ne of life, the music of life, the love and deep meaning of life. Strong smell of h ealthy black bodies in a close atmosphere, generating sweat waves of heat Oh, shake that thing! (Banjo 50) Interestingly, the sensual descrip tion of black flesh seems to play on the fetishistic eroticization of black skin resulting from colonial desire; however, McKay is inverting this eroticization, making it a love of oneself and one s own flesh and skin color. In a later description of the same night, Mc Kay illustrates that dancing is a form of resistance and erotic power for black people. In terestingly, he does this through a description of sex and violence; McKay usually presents sex a nd violence in relation to colonialism and the sexual violence it allows. Thus, the description of violence and sexuality in tandem creates an interesting parallel here, as it seems to illustra te the manner in which colonial oppression is coped with or replicated by the oppressed. McKay de scribes the mood in the room after it is clear that a prostitutes actions have placed her in dang er of her pimp at the bar: The girls were now tiptoeing to another kind of excitement ( Banjo 54). The excitement and change in feeling of the dance in the bar reaches a climax when the woman is murdered by her pimp and the band goes to play music at a different bar in which Shake That Thing is agai n revived as the song of choice. The erotic sensuality of the music has a notably dark, violent element he re, tying sexuality to violence and life to death. The great night of dancing closes with an ominous description by McKay: shake to the loud music of life playing to the primeval round of life. Rough rhythm of darky-carnal life Play th at thing! On movement of the thousand movements of the eternal life-flow. Shake that thing! In the face of the shadow of death Shake down Death and forget his commerce, his purpose, his haunting presence in one great shaking orgy Sweet dancing thing of primitive j oy, perverse pleasure, prostitute ways, manycolored variations of the rhythm Oh, Shake That Thing! ( Banjo 57-58)

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26 This section ends the chapter a nd can be seen as McKays explan ation of the role that dancing plays in this text; it is a form of resistance and erotic power fo r black people. Dancing is shown as an escape, a performative reinterpretation of the reality of a life that is unsafe and unfair for those with dark-skin. It is also im portant to note that the passage firs t says to shake that thing in the face of the shadow of death, personifying death. Then, it tells one to Shake down Death and forget his commerce, his purpose, his haunting presence in one great shaking orgy. In this description, death is associated with Western rule and oppressi on, and the people are being asked to forget Death/Western commerce, cruel purpose and haunting presence, by dancing together in one great shaking orgy. This passage makes it very clear that McKay is positing folk dancing and black unity as an alternat ive to the harsh realities of a world ruled by white oppressors. In addition to locating music and dancing as liberating spaces for black culture in Banjo, the characters choices to identify with their in stinct, and not hegemonic white society, acts as a mode of liberation, and, subsequen tly, a rejection of dominant wh ite culture. As Ray continues to struggle with his identity, as a black man and a Haitian, he realiz es that what inextricably ties him to other blacks is that white dominance has a ttempted to rob him of his instincts, of a love for a native culture. In a world where Western do minance has eroticized blacks in a harmful way, Ray chooses to eroticize his own race in a positive manner. He explains how his choice to follow his instincts as a black man was not as easy for him as it was for Banjo. As an intellectual, Ray felt conflicted by many things on his path to self-determination. McKay writes of Ray: it was not easy for a Negro with an intellect standing watch over his na tive instincts to take his own way in the white mans civilization. But of one thing he was resolved: civilization would not take the love of color, joy, beauty, vitality, and nobility out of his life and make him one of the poor mass of its pale creature s. Before he was aware of what was the big drift of his Occidental life he had fought against it instinc tively Educated Negroes ashamed of their races intuit ive love of color, wrapping themselves up in a respectable gray, ashamed of Congo-sounding laughter No being ashamed for Ray. Rather than lose his soul, let intellect go to hell and live instinct! ( Banjo 165)

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27 In this passage, Ray chooses to follow his instinct s, instead of the dominant culture that Western rule has deemed appropriate for him. He does not want to double-guess himself by worrying whether his natural inclinations will place him in a position that many are prejudiced against. McKay creates a critique of West ern society by having his characte r reject the eroticization of the other that Western society has put in plac e. Although Western rule has taken a notably erotic form, as Thomas states, Ray does not eroticize Western culture. Instead, he chooses to eroticize the beauty and vitality of black culture. The privileging of black culture brings with it the need to cri tique the prevalent, and very much American, view of blacks as a savage r ace with uncontrollable and aggressive sexuality (especially towards white women). This critique is relayed through Rays narrative of a job he held in Paris, which entailed posing nude for ar t students. Ray explains how he attained the position: the woman who owned the studio was a Nordic of Scandinavia. The artist by whom I was recommended said that she was worried a bout engaging me, because there were many Americaines in the class. They were the best-p aying students, and, as I belonged to a savage race, she didnt know if I could behave. (McKay, Banjo 129) The implication here is that the owner of the st udio feared that the American students may be concerned with being exposed to a naked black man. The thought of havi ng an incident, where the best paying students may be threatened and quit the class because of their anxiety over a naked black male and his exposed genitals, almo st kept Ray from getting the job. The danger of the eroticization of race and black sexuality, as described by Thomas, which offers that black males and masculinity are constructed as hyper-ma sculine and violent, is present here; the owner of the studio knows the prevalent attitude s of Americans towards blacks; therefore, she makes sure to control her hired black male, s uppressing his dangerous sexuality. In an all too common gesture, the perpetuation of racist assumptions and ideas, with respect to the black

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28 body, is based on American imperialist sensibilit ies, which have clearly extended beyond the borders of America. Interestingly, Rays posing go es fine (meaning that his sexual behavior is controlled), until one day when he begins daydrea ming of Harlem. Ray expl ains that he began thinking about the Sheba Palace and the warmth of bodies that cannot be found in any Paris studio. Suddenly, he gets an erec tion and has to run for cover ( Banjo 130). Though the common fear is that black males will not be able to control their sexual desire in the presence of white women, Ray, ironically, does not f eel any sexual arousal until he begins daydreaming of Harlem and the warmth of the black people and places ther e. By using Ray to illustrate an alternative, subversive reality that undermines colonial cont rol, McKay manages to invert the stereotypical eroticization of black bodies used by Western forms of hegemonic control. As Thomas suggests, in order to escape the damaging norms put in place by Western hegemony, we need to plot a way out of the world of social ideas and struct ures analyzed here, to replace the world put in place by colonialism (154). By creating protagonis ts whose erotic identities do not match the eroticized stereotypes situated by colonials, Mc Kay, as Thomas suggests, symbolically replaces the world put in place by colonials through hi s textual inversion of hegemonic norms. Still, symbolically replacing the order of the day cannot undo the damage that colonialism has inflicted upon pe ople of African descent throughout the world. These realities are detailed by McKay in Banjo Similar to Home to Harlem the subject of race is usually illustrated through the ponderings of the protagonist, Ray. In both of these texts, Rays desire to understand his own racial identity opens a dial og for discussing pan-African ideology. In Home to Harlem Ray ponders his race mostly in relation to what it means to be black in Haiti and America; whereas in Banjo, Ray develops a sense of what his blackness means in a global

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29 context. McKay details Rays t houghts on race and love for the docks when discussing his thoughts on the global port of Marseilles: barrels, bags, boxes, bearing from land to la nd the primitive garner of mans hands. Sweatdripping bodies of black men naked under the equatorial sun, threading a caravan way through the old-time jungles, carrying loads steadied and unsupported on kink-thick heads hardened and trained to bear their burdens. Brown men half-clothed, with baskets on their backs, bending low down to the ancient tilled fields under the tropical sun. Eternal creatures of the warm soil, di gging, plucking for the Occident world its exotic nourishment of life, under the whip, under the terror. Barre ls bags boxes full of the wonderful things of life. ( Banjo 67) This quote details Rays wonderment with the port and the commerce that takes place there between many races of the world; however, he is also amazed at the Occidental enslavement of so many black and brown people. A critique em erges from his observation of the toil so many have endured under the sun for the benefit of We stern, commodity-driven markets. Further, the last line emerges as a disturbing contrast to the beau tiful description of the hard-laboring men and goods, as it reveals that they have been forc ed to provide the Occidental world with the exotic goods they desire through sl avery and torture. The whip and the terror of colonial force have made the black and brown men Ray desc ribes the slaves of Western commodity. As Thomas explains: positing scientific reason as the gift of classical Greece to modern Europe has entailed conceptualizing Black people, in particular, as an undisciplined mass of sexual savages. The very notion of Western civilization is therefore founded on a primary opposition between white and non-white persons th at is graphically sexualized. (7) McKays critique of Occidental enslavement pa rallels Thomas here, as Ray is recognizing the continued influence that Occi dentalism has on the world. Further, McKay mirrors Thomas assertion that Western rule has assumed a notably erotic form, as he describes the laboring men in the sensual terms of the body, thus assessing the primitivism the West associates with black bodies. McKay describes them as the sweat-d ripping bodies of black men naked under the equatorial sun and the eternal creatures of the warm soil.

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30 McKays presentation of liberating sexualitie s, through subaltern id entities and erotic practices, the dancing and moveme nts of the body (which can be r ead as performative practice), allows the characters to take co ntrol of their bodies. In the end, it provides a method to resist the colonial oppression which seek s to control their bodies. Banjo is significant as a marker for McKays growing critique of colonial forms of oppression and the alte rnative lifestyle he positions against it. Specifically, the character of Ray provides an alternative notion of black identity and sexuality. The direct assessment of transnational issues and black oppression illustrates McKays desire to engage in novelistic e ndeavors that are critical of these systems. In Home to Harlem issues of colonialism and impe rialism are broached, whereas in Banjo they are absolutely central to the text. Notably, although McKays politics are clear ly more present and developed in Banjo he does not critique the manner in which women ar e oppressed by colonial and imperial practice with the same rigor he uses for the men. Women play a flat, secondary role in comparison with the males in the text. The only wo man described in any kind of detail is Latnah, a prostitute and friend to the beach boys. Latnah occupies the role of a secondary character similar to that of Congo Rose in Home to Harlem She is nurturing and faithful to Banjo and his friends, but ultimately she is not utilized to critique oppression like many of McKays male characters. Conversely, McKays last novel, Banana Bottom is centered on a female protagonist, whose struggle to escape colonial oppres sion through her own folk culture is the primary focus of the text. It is then necessary to complete this analysis with Banana Bottom and, to evaluate how McKays critiques develop, as well as how he con tinues to allow his characters alternative erotic identities (including women), giving them power ove r their bodies and thus inverting the colonial order.

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31 CHAPTER 4 BANANA BOTTOM: THE EROTICISM OF THE RURAL FOLK AS AN AL TERNATIVE TO COLONIAL AND IMPERIAL CONTROL It is in Banana Bottom where McKays political critique is most strategically developed. In this text, he utilizes a female protagonist, Bita Plant, to critique and counter Western hegemonic forms of control through her co mplete rejection of colonial society. Through Bita, McKay depicts the distinctly erotic manner in which co lonial oppression is manifested. Her sexuality-how it is controlled and compromi sed--is a major theme of the text The text follows Bita, as she realizes that she is only able to control her ow n sexuality after she experiences erotic pleasure through dancing and participating in her native folk culture. These experiences lead her to reject the eroticized identity that her colonizers have a ttributed to her, as a black woman who needs to be civilized or become a sexual deviant. Furt her, as mentioned previously, McKay does not provide any major female protagonists or even central characters in Home to Harlem and Banjo making it difficult to assess his critiques of colonialism, and the culture he presents as its counter, in a complete manner. In Banana Bottom McKay gives an account of Jamaican rural life that can be read for its strong commentary on actual issues Jamaican soci ety was facing at the time, issues such as: colonial influence in the post-slavery Jamaican society, the wide reaching effects of the United States as an emerging economic power, classism racism, and immigration by individuals from China and India. Jamaica, like other British-colonized Caribbean islands, was affected by historic power structures put in place during the British colonial period, as well as by U.S. imperialism; the U.S. was one of its closest a nd most powerful trade part ners. Thomas explains the Caribbeans unique position, indicating th at The place between colonialism and neocolonialism, even British and U.S. imperialism, is then captured through a literature of West Indian or Caribbean migration (xi). The sp ace between British and U.S. imperialism makes

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32 McKays Banana Bottom which takes place in Jamaica, Mc Kays native country, which he lived apart from for a great deal of his life, an ideal en d point to the analysis of his critique of Western hegemonic power structures. Banana Bottom tells the story of a Jamaican adolescen t, Bita, who is born in the rural town of Banana Bottom. The plot is revealed in a ma nner which exposes the life of the characters but also the conditions of Jamaica, which was/is in transition, as it lies in the wake of colonial control and the effects of American trade and to urism. McKay sets the town of Banana Bottom within a distinctly colonial history; the town had a white-run plantation as its economic center. The plantation was owned by a Scottish man who produced many mixed-race descendents, one of whom rapes Bita. The plantati on house, which was the main source of colonial control at one time, sits in shambles, but it remains a revere d and valued property in Banana Bottom. After Crazy Bow rapes Bita, her story is carried to the neighbori ng town of Jubilee, where it is told to the ministers wife, Priscilla Craig. After in forming her husband, Malc olm Craig, Mrs. Craig decides to save Bitas otherwise ruined reputa tion by adopting her as a da ughter of the mission. Bita is sent to boarding school in England and returns a cultured and educated young lady. The Craigs would like to form Bita into a respectable native woman, wh o could possibly take over the mission with a respectable native husban d, who they have also adopted and educated, Herald Newton Day. Upon her return to Banana Bo ttom, Bita develops a new interest in her native culture. She desires to engage in her native culture, which is viewed by the Craigs as unfit for a respectable lady of the chur ch. Despite the wishes of the Cr aigs, Bita begins attending town parties called tea-meetings in the company of ma le suitors. She also meets, Squire Gensir, a respectable English man who has rejected his old way of life in order to live in Banana Bottom

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33 and record Folk tales and music. Gensir encourag es Bita to think freely, and, for Bita, he serves as an antithesis to the Craigs. After Bita resists the lifestyle the Craigs ha ve taught her, Prisci lla Craig, realizing her control over Bita is dete riorating, becomes upset. Priscilla Crai g then attempts to rectify Bitas behavior through an engagement to Herald Newton Day. Eventually, Bita realizes the extent of the Craigs oppressive grasp on he r lifestyle and decides she must leave the mission. She returns to her hometown of Banana Bottom, where she de velops a relationship, and, eventually, marries an employee of the family, Jubban, who tends the hor ses and other aspects of the family farm. As the story ends, news is received of Squire Gensir s death. Gensir names Bita the recipient of his estate. In an ironic and victori ous ending, Bita uses the money she receives to purchase the old plantation house, symbolically recl aiming control over her colonizers. To better understand Bitas progression, it is important to see the ways in which McKay promotes and valorizes folk traditions and spaces in Banana Bottom Further, the folk is a crucial point for evaluating McKays critique of Wester n hegemony. The rural, folk culture of Banana Bottom acts as a site of resistance outside of the do minant colonial/imperial structure. In order to understand the manner in which the folk works in opposition to Western hegemony in Banana Bottom, it is useful to turn to the work of David Nicholls. In his essay The Folk as Alternative Modernity: Claude McKay's Banana Bottom and the Romance of Nature, David Nic holls explains that McKay, afte r experiencing disparate cultures and politics all over the world, stra tegically chose to return to his folk roots in Jamaica, in order to relate a specific, anti-colonialist message th rough the use of the folk. Nicholls explains: so while Banana Bottom argues for a return to folk r oots and a celebrati on of the antimodern, it does not do so for the sake of nos talgia alone; rather, McKay returns home in this novel to offer a careful analysis of th e modern global economy and Jamaica's place within it. In Banana Bottom McKay argues for the rejection of colonial cultural ideology-

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34 -most notably, Christianity--and the return to fo lk roots as a route to autonomy for AfroJamaican peasants. Such autonomy is imagined not only as an alternat ive to the modernity of the colonial mission, but also as a form of resistance to the va garies of the global commodities market and to the incursions of low-wage immigrant labor. (79-80) In Nichollss theorization, McKays message is clear: the colonial system has not done the Jamaican peasants any favors, and neither has the global economy for that matter. The only way for them to develop any autonomy is to break fr om oppressive systems and rely on their native, folk culture. In this sense, rej ection of the dominant system is the most powerful resistance, and that is exactly what McKay relates in Banana Bottom Although Nicholls asserts that McKay is critiquing colonial contro l mainly in terms of its affects on the economy and religion, instead of in terms of a black folk sexuality as in this study, his essay lends support to this project in its conclusion that the folk culture is McKays site for resistance po litics in his novels. Ultimately, Nicholls does not explain the folk culture of dancing or the sexual possibilities it allows in Banana Bottom However, in agreement with this study, his work does explain the message that a return to the folk creates a critique of colonial control. In contrast to Nichollss focus on the return to the folk, in terms of br inging power to the Jamaican economy, it is more useful, here, to evaluate McKa ys development of a subtle and well-crafted argument against oppressive forms of colonial and imperial control; this argument is made evident through Bita who rejects the social, sexual, economic, and ideological principles that those forms deem correct by taking control of her own body and sexuality. The novel, essentially, begins with the rape of Bita by a creole descende nt of the plantation owners fam ily, which symbolizes a lack of autonomy for native Jamaicans. Bitas rape resu lts in her living at th e mission house with the Craig family where her sexuality is controlled further. This leads to her seeking out erotic experiences available at the community gath erings, with her native folk culture; these experiences act as a catalyst for he r realization that a rejection of the colonial culture is necessary

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35 to her happiness. Eventually, Bita rejects the dominant coloni al order by embracing her native folk culture, specifically, the dancing and the erot ic sensations it invokes. Thus, sexuality is the key to the emphasis McKay places on the folk. It is a liberating alternative to the colonial conceptions of sexuality he presents, as well as a source for his critique of colonialism. The counter-hegemonic role that the folk plays in Banana Bottom is crucial in understanding the function of the lib erating sexual possibilities that the folk allows in McKays work. Through her rediscovery and appreciation of her native culture, Bita finds her identity outside of the civilizing mission of the Craigs. Specifically, the tea-meetings or community parties, where Bita is able to e xpress herself freely, play a central role in her realization that she is happy as a member of rural Banana Bottom. Importantly, a stress is placed on the dancing as an erotic folk experience. Like in Home to Harlem and Banjo the erotic sensations of dancing are described in terms of the physical body. The us e of the eroticism of the body is significant in its association with dancing as a liberating folk practice, because it provides a direct inversion of the colonial practice of contro lling the body. The Craigs oppress Bita by attempting to control her sexuality and erotic experiences. Bita is then able to rega in control over her sexuality by controlling her body and the erotic sensations she experiences through movement. It is in this way that McKay has positioned the folk as a tran scendent erotic practice that both counters Western systems of control and acts as a liberating practice for his characters. The significance of Bita finding her identity after attending the community parties, which are sites of native music and dance, can be eval uated as more than a return to the folk. As mentioned earlier, the Craigs attempted to exert bodily control over Bita and her sexuality; at the tea-meetings, Bita is able to take control over her body and actions. Symbolically, the teameetings are posited as spaces where Bita can as sert her own values and power, which are in

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36 opposition to the forced values of the Craigs. Mc Kay details Bitas feelings, upon attending a tea meeting, in terms of the erotic sensations sh e experiences: her body wa s warm and willing for that native group dancing (Banana Bottom 84). Bitas desire to dan ce with her native people is presented as a sensual desire that is strongly tied to her bodys warm and willing response. As the scene is detailed further, McKay reveals Bitas pleasure. Bita danced freely released, danced as she had never danced since she was a girl at a picnic at Tabletop, wiggling and swaying and sliding al ong and she danced forgetting herself, forgetting even Jubilee, dancing down the barrier between high breeding and common pleasures under her light stamping feet until she was one with the crowd. ( Banana Bottom 84) Bitas physical participation reminds her of her childhood, recalling the physical pleasure that is associated with breaking the barrier between high breeding and comm on pleasures. If, as Thomas explains, the rule of Europe has assumed a notably erotic form, then Bitas eroticism, which opposes colonial forms, in that it is ero ticizing her nativ e culture instead of European culture, can be viewed as resistance to colonial control, which is what occurs when Bita visits the tea-meetings. In another dance scene that comes later in the text, Bitas dancing at tea-meetings is read directly against the Brit ish forms of dancing that she enc ountered during her education overseas. This opposition is necessary in reading her native da ncing as a form of resi stance to oppressive colonial control. It was the first time since she left college th at she had done the dances practiced there for physical and esthetic training. Now it was for the sheer joy of dancing. Not in physicalculture uniform, but in a pretty frock among men and girls who were happy in their fun and who made up in spontaneous warmth for the lack of cultivated refinement to which she had been trained. ( Banana Bottom 196) The structured, British forms of dance in whic h Bita was trained, and then practiced in physical-culture uniform, are presented as supe rficial and confining. Th e folk dances are done for enjoyment, by individuals who are content wi th their lack of British cultivation. The Craigs

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37 gave Bita an education that st ressed the value and importance of this British refinement. Her appreciation and enjoyment of her native people, who can be happy and enjoy themselves without anxiety about colonial standards, illustra te a critique of oppressive colonial traditions. Bita chooses to engage in her na tive forms of dance, which aliena te her from the civilized world of the Craigs. As mentioned earlier, McKays actual socio-political stances changed throughout his life, and his critique of dominant power structures is most developed here in Banana Bottom The Jamaican peasantry is clearly positioned positively, where the urban/dominant white ideology of England is posited as oppressive. This critique come s from an individual who had changed greatly from his early poetry, which declared his love for the Mother Country, Britain (James 58). The oppressive grasp of English structures and rule is evident in the legacy of the colonial slave culture, explained, specifica lly, through its control of the sexuality of native populations. Further, it is a predominant element in the plot of Banana Bottom and worth discussing as an initial example of McKay s critique of British colonialism in this novel. The Craig household is presented as an allegory for col onial society, for col onials living under the wh ite colonizers rule. In one section, Priscilla Craig, w ho is responsible for the notion of adopting Bita, in order to make her into a cultured (read Br itish) lady, is physically described as the queen on her throne. The queen, as the symbol for the mother countr y of England, is invoked by McKay to provide a direct link to colonial ideals. He writes, Empha sizing the last word, Pris cilla Craig straightened herself in her chair and although she was rather ri gid, with her golden-white hair upgathered into a crown, she was undeniably queenly (McKay, Banana Bottom 182). After her time abroad at boarding school, where she receives a proper (Br itish) education, Bita returns to the Craig household and discovers a newfound a ppreciation for her native cult ure, a discovery that greatly

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38 disturbs the Craigs. At this poi nt, Priscilla and Malcolm Craig at tempt to maintain control over Bita, ensuring that she does not forget the ideals of a respectable lady, and, subsequently, regress into an ordinary Jamaican girl, which is clearly posited as less respectable in their eyes. It is important to note that this power struggle takes fo rm in terms of Bitas sexuality, which makes it an important point for analysis in this discussion of body er otics and the continuation or resistance of empire through these erotics. McKay posits Mrs. Craig as an allegorical figure that represents th e oppressive structures of colonial control, as she c onstantly attempts to control Bitas sexuality throughout the novel. Thomas illustrates the Eurocentric notion of coloni alism as the loving(civilizing) mother when he explains that the so-called civilizing mission or white mans burden was to put an end to this projected savagery, which is larg ely sexual (99). Mrs. Craig c onsistently attempts to civilize many aspects of Bita, the most prevalent being he r sexuality, which she sees as a huge threat to Bitas status as a proper lady. After Mrs. Craig receives word that Bita has attended a teameeting, she attempts to keep her from potential sexual engagement by pushing her to marry a man that meets Mrs. Craigs ideal model of respectability: Priscillas mind was not altogeth er tranquil about Bita and that tea-meeting. And that night when she related the incident to Malcolm he also shared her inquietude. They came to the conclusion that it might be a wise step if B ita were married as soon as possible. Within a year Herald Newton Day would be graduated from the theological college and ready for holy orders. And he was coming that very week on a vacation to Jubilee it was decided to start propaganda at once to get Bita thinking about the happy idea. (McKay, Banana Bottom 94) The Craigs desire to command a nd confine Bitas sexuality is portrayed as an obvious method of control. According to the Craigs, Bita is un able to make sexual decisions for herself, an attitude which is linked to the concept of primitivis m, as it was believed and used to justify racist oppression by many European-colonizers, mainly because European colonizers needed to uphold their status as superior in orde r to rationalize the expl oitation of those inferior to themselves. The

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39 Craigs desire to choose a mate for Bita is also strongly remini scent of the arranged marriages during slavery. A master chose who their slaves would wed in orde r to keep them under control by controlling their sexuality. In the frame of this novel, slavery and its practices were supposedly gone, though not in the di stant past. The plot of the novel is entwined with the legacy of slavery, providing the reader with a strong criticism of that system. Bitas refusal of the Craigs ideals, and their control over he r sexuality, becomes a counternarrative to the colonial structur e the Craigs represent. Bita recognizes her oppressed position in the Craig household, and she eventually comes to understand that she must get outside of their control if she is ever going to have any freedom. Bitas moment of realization is described by McKay, Now all thought of her idea of being hone st to herself and frank with Mrs. Craig was banished from her mind. She knew that she could not do it and stay at the mission ( Banana Bottom 207). It is interesting to note that McKays solution for Bita comes only when she is able to escape the oppressive gaze/control of the Craig s and be with her own people. This privileging of her return to the folk pr ovides a strong affirmation of fo lk resistance in this novel. A critique of the civilizing mission of white colonizers emerges from the colonizer/colonized dynamic that occurs between Bita and her benefactress, Priscilla Craig. This dynamic is described in detail when McKay explai ns the fetishistic manner in which Mrs. Craig views her culturing/civilizing of Bita. As Bita real izes that she must leave Jubliee and the Craig household to escape her oppression, she also begins to realize the true nature of her oppression: and retracing the memorable stages in her growth, it became clear to Bita now that although Mrs. Craig had never referred direc tly to it before that unhappy day there had always been some thing about the woman pr oclaiming: You are my pet experiment! (McKay, Banana Bottom 211) This passage reveals many issues surrounding the relationship between the two women. Note that the unhappy day referred to is the day wh en a confrontation transp ires between the women

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40 resulting in the first mention of Bitas rape since she has been at the Craigs. The fight occurs over Bita wanting to spend time with a young man, Hopping Dick, because she wants to go to social events. Mrs. Craig then reminds her why her father had sent her to be trained by the Craigs, because apparently she needed help cont rolling her sexuality, or having it controlled for her (McKay, Banana Bottom 210). Besides Mrs. Craigs disappointment over her inability to control Bita and her sexuality, there is anothe r power dynamic at play here. The language used by Mrs. Craig in these passages indicates her con ception of Bita; she is her pet experiment, who has been sent to her to be trained. The la nguage and principles Mc Kay is putting to play references to the continuation of colonial ideals, mainly the practi ce of the early colonial British elite, especially women, in which they would se e colonized individuals, usually slaves, as pets and commodities that they were responsible for. This relationship is detailed in Srinvas Aravamudans book, Tropicopolitans which was published in 1999. In Tropicopolitans, Srinivas Aravamudan asserts that European women fulfilled their desire for the Other by having Africans as pet s, who served their emotional and sometimes sexual desires (38). Aravamudan describes this as the exoticism, bondage, and theatricality of colonial acquisition, seen as sexua l acquisition, affirming that th e fetishistic desire to conquer the other illustrates the theme of colonial occupation (38). In his analysis, Aravamudan refers mainly to the use of men and boys, and the time period he describes is long before the scene depicted in Banana Bottom ; however, his concept is relevant as the relationship that McKay presents between the women in this passage is si milar to the mistress/pet relationships depicted by Aravamudan. Both situations describe co lonial white women whose participation in colonialism is channeled as a sexual desire to control the African Other. Bita, emotionally, supports Priscilla Craig by allowi ng her to feel like a benevolen t white woman; Priscilla uses

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41 Bitas sexuality to condemn th e primitive nature of rural Ja maicans, thus affirming the correctness of her own white Christ ianity. The continuation of the fetishistic desire to control the other, privileged by British colonialism, is highlighted in this passage, as Bita finally realizes that Mrs. Craigs language, referring to her as a pet experiment to be trained, was not as innocent as she had once thought. Indeed, Mr s. Craigs relationship to Bita is presented by McKay as one based solely upon control. Further, when Mrs. Craig realizes that sh e has lost control, the fantasy of her colonial civilizing mission is lost, a nd she abandons her experiment altogether. The experience is explained through Mrs. Cr aigs point of view. McKay writes: Mrs. Craig felt convinced that it was impossible now for Bita to continue living at the mission, whether she stopped her nonsense w ith Hopping Dick or not. The differences between them and the encounters had been so sharp that the even rhythm of the mission house had become broken and upset. Bita could neve r again take the place in that life that Mrs. Craig had made and reserved for her. Mrs. Craig could never now accept her as her own daughter in Christ. She realized that her experiment had failed. ( Banana Bottom 219) Bita has not fit into Mrs. Craigs prescribed role of proper lady. Bita has failed to be what Mrs. Craig wanted and cannot be her sister in Christ It is important to note the use of Western religion as a civilizing force, pa rticularly, where being a proper Christian is conflated with the acquisition of whiteness. By rejecting the ideals of the Craigs, Bita has chosen her own path, illustrating that she privileges her folk lifestyle over their British one. Bitas love of her own culture leads her to reject the gifts Mrs. Crai g would give her-Chri stianity and a western lifestyle. It is when Bita's reje ction becomes obvious that Mrs. Craig decides to abandon her pet experiment. By illustrating Bitas successful escape from her oppressive benefactress, McKay makes his message clear: although Mr s. Craig and the church may be able to help Bita fit into what they deem civilized society, this is not right for Bita, for she is ul timately happier living in the way of her own people.

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42 Banana Bottom utilizes its female protagonist, Bita, to critique oppressive systems in Jamaica. It is through this female protagonist that McKay also depicts the distinctly erotic manner in which colonial oppression is manifeste d. For example, Priscilla Craig enjoys having Bita as her pet experiment; the idea of her benevolently training a native girl and helping her to control her sexuality is pleasing to Mrs. Craig. This follows the plantati on legacy of colonial Jamaica, where the sexuality of Afro-Jamaican wo men was controlled in order to control their labor as slaves. When Bita exercises contro l over her own body, she is able to develop an alternative erotic identity through her native folk culture. McKay uses the reclaiming of Bitas sexuality, as Jamaican peasant woman, to redefine tropes of rape, controlled labor, and sexuality for women in Jamaica. Thus, Bitas erotic expe riences, with regard to her folk culture, are liberating and act as the stimul us for her self-discovery. McKays inversion of dominant erotic notions is an important site for evaluation, as it shows a direct resistance to Western hegemony, and, thus, a subversion of colonial power in the ideologies presented in his texts. McKays choice to return to his nati ve Jamaica for his last novel, especially, considering that Banana Bottom is his most politically developed novel, illustrates his desire to critique the colonial and imperial systems that influence Jamaican society. Although the message of this novel, which is a comp lete return to the folk, is not possible for contemporary Jamaican society, it is successful in its critique of the devastation th at colonialism and imperialism have caused. It also continues McKays trend of counter ing the hegemonic order by giving his characters control ove r their erotic identi ties. Further, when considered alongside Home to Harlem and Banjo Banana Bottom illustrates that sexuality functions as McKays key emphasis in relation to the folk, both as a site for critiquing We stern-privileged society and for providing a liberating space that coun ters these oppressive norms.

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43 LIST OF REFERENCES Aravam udan, Srinivas. Tropicopolitans: Colonialism and Agency, 1688-1804. USA: Duke UP, 1999. Conway, Cecelia (1995). African Banjo Ec hoes in Appalachia: A Study of Folk Traditions, University of Tennessee Press. Edwards, Justin. Exotic Journeys: Exploring th e Erotics of U.S. Trav el Literature, 18401930. New Hampshire: UP of New England, 2001. Horton-Stallings, LaMonda. Mutha is Half a Word: Intersections of Folklore, Vernacular, Myth, and Queerness in Black Fema le Culture. Columbus, Ohio: Ohio State UP, 2007. James, Winston. A Fierce Hatred of Injusti ce: Claude McKays Jamaica and His Poetry of Rebellion. London & New York: Verso, 2000. McKay, Claude. Banana Bottom. Unite d States: Harper & Brothers, 1933. ---. Banjo. San Diego, New York, and London: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Publishers, 1957. ---. Home to Harlem. Glasglow, UK: Omnia Books Ltd, 2000. Nicholls, David. The Folk as Alternativ e Modernity: Claude McKays Banana Bottom and the Romance of Nature. Journa l of Modern Literature, Vol. 23, 1999. Ramesh, Kotti Sree and Kandula Nirupa Rani. Cla ude McKay: The Literary Identity from Jamaica to Harlem and Beyond. Jeff erson, North Carolina, and London: McFarland & Co. Publishers, 2006. Thomas, Greg. The Sexual Demon of Coloni al Power: Pan African Embodiment and Erotic Schemes of Empire. Bloomington & Indianapolis: Indiana UP, 2007. ---. Erotics of Aryanism/Histories of Empire: How White Supremacy and Hellenomania Construct Discourses of Sexuality. G Thomas CR: The New Centennial Review, 2003. Van Nyhuis. Gendering America: Caribbean Writers and the American Dream. 2007: 34-69. University of Florida Libraries Electronic Theses and Dissertations, Gainesville, FL. 11 Nov. 2007. < http://purl.fcla.edu.lp.hscl.ufl.edu/fcla/etd/UFE0021235 >

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44 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH Erin Bohannon was born and raised in Islam ora da, Florida. She attended the University of Florida during her undergraduate and graduate years, graduating with a B.A. and an M.A. in English.


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