«A Dissertation Submitted to the Graduate Faculty of the Louisiana State University and Agricultural and Mechanical College in partial fulfillment of ...»
Love as we conceive of it today is a European invention that does not exist in Africa because individual love has no place in a society that values the many over the individual (translation mine). 58 There is a key difference, however, between the two works on the topic of love: in Brontë’s novel the couple is reunited in death, and in Condé’s work they remain separate.
Françoise Pffaf, Conversations with Maryse Condé (Lincoln : University of Nebraska Press, 1996), 114.
The separation is seen as eternal, rendering the characters all the more tragic, at least from the European point of view.
The Meaning of Death in Wuthering Heights and La migration des cœurs The notion of death in Wuthering Heights is modified in La migration des cœurs to the African tradition, and is an element that distinguishes the novel as a Caribbean work. Brontë’s text conveys a fascination with death, but it is very different from the Caribbean conception presented in Condé’s novel. In Brontë’s text, death is often associated with the morbid or gothic. For example, the most chilling moment in the novel occurs near the beginning, when Cathy’s ghost tenaciously grips Lockwood’s arm and implores him to let her in. There is also the example of Heathcliff, who, mad with grief, digs up Cathy’s tomb so he can see her corpse. Theo D’haen observes that Heathcliff is compared to a devil, a vampire, and a ghoul. These events and descriptions are absent from Condé’s text.
Condé says of death: “Dans la majorité des sociétés africaines, la mort n’est pas un terme, mais un passage…Les funérailles sont des gestes de vivants qui facilitent la métamorphose du disparu en ancêtre qui, dès lors, invisible, ne quittera plus les humains et participera à leur vie. Aux Antilles, il reste de larges pans d’une telle croyance.”60 (In the majority of African societies, death is not an end, but a passage…Funerals are customs of the living that facilitate the metamorphosis of the dead into an ancestor who, although invisible, will never leave the living and will participate in his life. In the Antilles, there remains a large number who hold to this belief”) (translation mine). The D’haen, “Caribbean Migrations,” 207.
Maryse Condé, La parole des femmes : essai sur des romancières des Antilles de langue française (Paris : L'Harmattan, 1979) : 67.
idea of the dead coexisting with the living is illustrated on many occasions in La migration des cœurs. Cathy has a death monologue in which she observes her own wake and laments her separation from Razyé, Razyé’s sons see his ghost several times, and during Razyé’s lifetime he is persistently trying to communicate with the other world through magic men, such as Melchior. He is never successful; Cathy continually eludes him. This is a diversion from the canonical text, for in Brontë’s story the redeeming quality in Cathy and Heathcliff’s relationship is that they are able to have in death what they were deprived of in life. Class struggles prevented Cathy and Heathcliff from marrying, yet a resolution is achieved through their descendants. Little Cathy and Hareton’s marriage symbolizes the relationship Cathy and Heathcliff could never have in life, and Cathy and Heathcliff also meet in death. There are several sightings of their ghosts on the moors.
In Condé’s novel, Cathy and Razyé desire a relationship in death, just as Cathy and Heathcliff do in Brontë’s text, but the result is quite different. At first, La migration des cœurs seems to conform to the plot of Wuthering Heights. The characters place hope in the afterlife, a hope that corresponds to freedom from oppression. For instance, Cathy dreams of an afterlife “…où nous pourrions exprimer tous les sentiments, toutes les envies que nous avons dû étouffer pendant notre existence. Un au-delà où nous serions enfin libres d’être nous-mêmes” (81) (…where we can express all the emotions and desires we have had to stifle in our lifetime. An afterlife where we would be free at last to be ourselves”) (84). Condé, however, leaves the desire for a post-mortem freedom unfulfilled. While she introduces into the novel African customs relating to death, Condé also attributes death with finality and implies that it brings about no drastic changes from life. This hopelessness is underlined in many of the characters’ thoughts. For instance, Irmine toys with the idea that death could also recompense one with riches after all the sorrows one is forced to endure while on earth, but eventually concludes that “Perdants nous avons été dans la vie, du temps de l’existence, perdants nous restons dans notre éternité” (274) (Losers we are when alive, losers we remain in eternity) (281). Similarly,
Razyé’s son sees him sitting atop his tombstone, waiting in vain for Cathy:
A présent, je suis là et je ne sais pas même plus si j’attends. Je vois un chemin qui file devant moi. Je dois le suivre et, pourtant, je sais qu’il ne conduit nulle part et qu’au bout du compte je me retrouverai au même point. Là d’où je suis parti. Je suis fatigué. Je voudrais en finir.
Qu’est-ce je vais faire de tout ce temps? (278) Now I’m here and I don’t even know any longer why I’m waiting. I can see a path stretching out in front of me. I have to follow it, but I know it leads nowhere and in the end I shall be back where I started. I am tired. I wish it were over
Razyé’s anguish mirrors Cathy’s, who, in her own death monologue, also resigns herself to the fact that death is no solution: “La vie est derrière. L’éternité devant. L’éternité.
Un temps sans limites à passer. Sans limites” (99). (Life is past. Eternity ahead.
Eternity. Infinite time on my hands. Infinite) (95). Even Cathy’s daughter, Little Cathy, has dreams of an afterlife where she will meet her mother, but she soon sees the futility in this hope: “Puis, brusquement, elle réalisait sa naïveté. Il n’y a pas d’autre odeur que celle de la charogne” (301). (Then suddenly, she realized how naive she was. There would be nothing to smell but the smell of a corpse.) (309). In all of these situations, each character first looks to death as a resolution, but then comes to the grim conclusion that it is meaningless.
Because of death, Little Cathy and Razyé II are unable, unlike Hareton and Little Cathy in Wuthering Heights, to continue Cathy and Razyé’s legacy. In addition to this fact is perhaps one of the most striking differences from Wuthering Heights, that in Condé’s novel there is no spiritual reconciliation between Razyé and Cathy. Despite his many attempts, Razyé fails to see Cathy’s ghost during his lifetime, and there is no reunion in death. Instead of meeting on the moors, as in Brontë’s novel, the last chapter
depicts the two spirits being separated:
Certains affirmaient avoir distingué dans une surprenante lumière de plein jour des silhouettes qui erraient les unes à coté des autres, se croisaient, se cherchaient apparemment sans se voir. Triste et effrayant spectacle!” (334) Some people claimed to have seen silhouettes in a strange light as bright as day wandering side by side, passing each other, blindly searching for one another. A sad and frightening sight! (345) Though the novel puts death in the perspective of the African culture, the fact that neither Razyé nor Cathy are able to meet in death also reflects how Cathy forcefully denied that part of her culture when she attempted to fit in to a richer, whiter world. In death Condé does not allow Cathy to reconnect to this culture, for though her physical body changes to reflect her true heritage, 61 her spirit never haunts Razyé. Brontë does not allow Cathy and Heathcliff to continue their romance in life, but in death. Condé’s view indicates that if it were impossible in life for a romance to continue due to class and race restrictions, then it will not be possible in death. Lionnet suggests that Condé puts death ahead of
race as a line that cannot be crossed, thus making the racial boundaries more possible:
“The romantic and gothic elements present in Brontë’s version have been replaced by In Chapter 11, La veille et le dit de Cathy, Cathy’s African blood is made evident: “On aurait dit que le sang nègre, qu’elle que ne pouvait plus le contenir, prenait sa revanche. Victorieux, il l’envahisssait.” (89) It was as if her black blood could not be contained and was taking its revenge. Victorious, it was flooding through her. (84) Condé’s at once more cynical and more hopeful view that the only inescapable border or boundary is not the one between the races, but the one that separates life and death.” The function of death in Condé’s novel is one of the many textual digressions from Wuthering Heights that contributes to the Caribbeanness of La migration des cœurs.
Two of the most dramatic plot diversions from Wuthering Heights that Condé develops are the following: the fate of Little Cathy, which influences how the novel ends, and the narrative structure of the text, which puts it in a more Antillean context.
Beginning with the narrative structure, in Wuthering Heights a frame story is created around Lockwood, a first person narrator who stays at the Heights and is intrigued by Heathcliff’s strange demeanor. Within this frame he meets Nelly, the family’s housekeeper, who proceeds to recount the entire tale of Cathy and Heathcliff. In striking contrast to this structure, Condé’s story is mainly told through a third person omniscient narrator. In addition, there are chapters told from multiple perspectives in the first person. These other narrators are usually housekeepers, fishermen, and other members of the working class, and they are also culturally diverse. Africans, Dominicans, and Indians offer their perception of events. The fact that Condé gives authorial power to these people is significant, for it allows the Other’s voice to be heard, a voice often emanates from the illiterate and uneducated, but a voice nonetheless that represents the Caribbean culture and goes unrecognized in canonical texts.
Language is also a key factor in the narration. There is a smattering of Creole throughout the text, especially in those chapters narrated in the first person, and this gives Lionnet, “Narrating the Americas,” 74.
the impression that Creole is the natural language of the people. When Little Cathy teaches in Marie-Galante, she is seen as Other and criticized for teaching “proper” French
to the school children:
Est-ce qu’elle n’interdisait pas aux enfants de parler le créole? Le créole, c’est la langue de notre maman, ronchonnaient les gens. Qui l’empêche de sortir de la gorge d’un enfant le rend muet pour la vie. (235) Didn’t she forbid the children to speak Creole? Creole was our mother tongue, they grumbled. Anyone who prevented its natural expression silenced a child for life.
(238) In Condé’s novel, the Creole language is seen as normal, the French more so as the Other language. This is important for a Caribbean consciousness, which Glissant claims is
threatened by use of a language that is not the maternal language:
La langue maternelle orale est contrainte ou écrasée par la langue officielle, même et surtout quand celle-ci tend à devenir langue naturelle.
The maternal oral language is repressed or crushed by the official language, even and especially when the latter tends to become the natural language. 63 The idea of the official language becoming the “natural” language is exemplified by Little Cathy, who struggles to use Creole because she is accustomed to speaking French.
This gives the people of Marie-Galante pause, for in viewing Little Cathy’s appearance one expects to hear Creole. Little Cathy’s ancestry from Razyé (though unknown to her) would also make this a natural connection, but because she is raised among the elite, Little Cathy speaks the official language of French and this makes her an outsider in the town. In Wuthering Heights, it is just the reverse: proper English is set up as superior and in opposition to Hareton and Joseph’s coarse dialect. As Theo D’haen says of Brontë’s Glissant, Le discours antillais, 194, and Glissant’s Caribbean Discourse, 103.
work, “The norm, it is clear, is standard English as spoken by the literate classes of nineteenth-century Britain.” 64 By allowing a multiplicity of narrators and, as a result, multiple perspectives, Condé not only establishes her novel as a literary voice for the French Caribbean, but she also presents the idea of collectivity in the entire Caribbean. She integrates narrators from other islands, such as Cuba and Dominica, all locations in which the characters have some involvement, and this exemplifies Condé’s attitude that it is a collective experience that creates a Caribbean identity: “I feel as much at home in Jamaica as in Martinique or Guadeloupe. People from the Caribbean share a common history and are united by a common experience.” Critic Beverly Noakes also makes reference to Condé’s view of collectivity in the Caribbean: “Her closest approach to a definition [of Antillean culture] in recent years has been to conclude that despite the diversity of the region, there does exist a Caribbean unity, the affirmation of a personality which is neither African, nor American, nor European, and which is based on a common history and a fairly similar social revolution.” This multiplicity of voices in Condé’s work and her ability to write from the point of view of several protagonists, most of whom are from various parts of the West Indies, distinguishes her prose as distinctly Caribbean. In her dismissal of theories that promote a spiritual return to Africa, Condé insists that the Caribbean has its own distinct identity, and that this identity must be embraced simultaneously with a
Nous avons été amenés à croire que l’Afrique était la source. C’est la source mais nous avons cru que nous trouverions une patrie alors que ce n’est pas une patrie…Diversité au sein de l’unité, telle est la définition de nos objectifs communs D’haen, “Caribbean Migrations,” 210.
Condé, “The Role of the Writer,” 699.
Noakes, “Money, Race and Cultural Identity,” 127.
en vue d’une autonomie nationale et d’une coopération au sein des Caraïbes prises dans leur ensemble.