«A Dissertation Submitted to the Graduate Faculty of the Louisiana State University and Agricultural and Mechanical College in partial fulfillment of ...»
what they have in common is the collective experience of their differences. In arguing that the West has constructed the Third World as Other, postcolonial and ethnic literature (these two often overlap in their conceptions of the First World and of their own displacement) are creating a new history for their nations through the text. It is a history that exposes the oppressive and often crushing influence of the West as well as reveals elements of the culture that are ignored in texts of white European origin. The ethnic protagonists in these literary works battle several demons: the temptation to reject elements of their ethnicity in order to embrace and be accepted by the West, the longing to be acknowledged as a unique identity without having to sacrifice the ethnic background, and the need to break from certain harmful traditions in their culture to create a new, more developed self. This “self’ is highlighted by the expansion of cultural studies, a new field of criticism which explores the concept of identity through dominating social norms. This field focuses on popular culture, viewing identity as a moving target dictated by changing hegemonic forces. Texts are seen as a product of culture, and the identity of the author often plays a role in the text.
Writer and critic Gloria Anzaldúa is an example of the “marginalized” who recognizes the value of cultural studies and its effect on the multi-cultural text. Born of Mexican and American blood, Anzaldúa appreciates the complexities of being mestiza (mixed) and analyzes the conflict of having ties to two or more cultures. She poses the question, “which collectivity does the daughter of a darkskinned mother listen to?” Being caught between two identities, Anzaldúa explains that on one level she is Said, Culture and Imperialsim, 66.
Gloria Anzaldúa, Borderlands = La frontera: the New Mestiza (San Francisco : Aunt Lute Books, 1999), 78.
cultureless because she has no specific “native” land and because she challenges beliefs held in the Anglo and Hispanic world. However, she points out that because of her hybridity, she is cultured because “all countries are mine because I am every woman’s sister or potential lover,” and “I am participating in the creation of a new culture, a new story to explain the world and our participation in it, a new value system with images and symbols that connect us to each other and to the planet.” 9 This “new story” is the text, which calls attention to the history of those whose stories were either left untold, or were told from the point of view of the “standard” uniform cultures. Anzaldúa reasons that the perception of identity must be modified and that one cannot simply identify with any one unwavering location or language. The section on Anzaldúa in The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism elaborates on this
The old notion that we can know who we are by tracing our roots, by referring back to some stable point of origin, has to be abandoned. There is no pure, single source.
All identities are hybrids, formed over time through the interaction of multiple cultures and constantly being transformed by new encounters in the “borderlands” between one culture and another. 10 Anzaldúa wishes to celebrate her plurality and carve a place for it in literature. Her essays are a concrete illustration of her multi-ethnic identity, for she incorporates English and Spanish in her writing. Anzaldúa also integrates feminism in her philosophy and believes that this new, hybrid identity must include independence for women in cultures that are considered patriarchal. This element of feminism is present in all of the texts studied in this dissertation.
Vincent. B. Leitch, general editor, The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism (New York: W.W.
Norton & Company, Inc. 2001), 2208.
The subject of cultural displacement and how this is represented in literature is the main topic of my dissertation. I have always been interested in the conflict felt by authors and their characters when they have ties to two or more cultures but are unable to identify fully with any one ethnicity or language. Writers and their texts may then be suspended and feel limited in each, a phenomenon that is difficult to represent to those of more uniform cultures. The authors I wish to focus on in my dissertation have origins in mixed cultures; therefore the question of identity is a major subject in all of their works.
By identity, I refer to cultural and racial identity and how the authors and their characters deal with the complexities of living within a society that regards them as heterogeneous.
In these texts the characters grapple with problems such as deciding which language they should speak or which model they should emulate (e.g. Antillean or European, European or American). The fact that my chosen authors are women further complicates their already precarious position in patriarchal societies. As women they are doubly seen as “Other” and must work harder to make themselves heard within this society.
It is my argument that in these novels the text gives a voice to the displaced. Each author incorporates uncommon stylistic techniques in her text, and her innovative use of literary textuality reflects her sense of suspended identity. She appears to challenge the canonical status of well-known texts by placing the true identity of the author in doubt and by experimenting with narrative styles and techniques that tend to de-center the authority of generic tradition. The works that I have chosen to concentrate on are Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea, Maryse Condé’s La migration des cœurs, Rosario Ferré’s The House on the Lagoon, and Tina De Rosa’s Paper Fish. Condé’s work will also be supported by her memoir, Le cœur à rire et à pleurer.
Four Women: Four Novels There may be some question as to why I chose these four women, as well as these particular novels, to focus upon for this dissertation. One may argue that so much has been written about Wide Sargasso Sea that it seems a difficult task to contribute any new criticism to this novel. However, I believe that the unusual combination of novels I have chosen to study makes this dissertation unique. Most of these texts are what I refer to as revisionary texts, for the protagonists and their authors revise an existing work, incorporating their vision into that text in order to make readers aware of a new and different literary history. In Culture and Imperialism, Said states that “In reading a text, one must open it out both to what went into it and what its author excluded. Each cultural work is a vision of a moment, and we must juxtapose that vision with the various revisions it later provoked…” 11 By pairing Wide Sargasso Sea with another (re)visionary work, La migration des cœurs, I hope to provide even more insight into the idea of rewriting a classic text. In introducing The House on the Lagoon to this combination, I add another woman writer who also focuses on the idea of revising a text.
In this case, the revisions are done by her controlling husband, but these revisions remain in the margins, thereby solidifying the Puerto Rican woman writer’s unusual position as the focal point of the work. Paper Fish is a work that has been overlooked and ignored in the literary tradition, and by comparing this novel to the others I hope to bring more awareness to this extraordinary book. All of these books contain a unique style and a multiplicity of voices: Wide Sargasso Sea is narrated by both Antoinette and Rochester, La migration des cœurs is narrated by a multitude of characters, in The House on the Said, Culture and Imperialism, 67.
Lagoon the voices of Isabel and Quintín are heard, and Paper Fish reveals the feelings of not only Carmolina but also of her grandmother and her parents. Each work has its own unique qualities, but they share a common purpose: to force a new voice into mainstream fiction.
After years of relative obscurity, Jean Rhys reappeared upon the literary scene with her ground-breaking novel Wide Sargasso Sea, a post modern prequel to Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. Rhys’ Creole heritage deeply influenced her life, and her relationship with the Caribbean and with England often appears in her work. Born in Dominica, Rhys was a white West Indian who belonged to a generation of slave owners, a part of her history that becomes a subject in Wide Sargasso Sea. She moved to England when she was seventeen, where she pursued her studies but also became involved in musical theater. Unfortunately, Rhys’ life did not appear to be a happy one; her failed relationships with men and her continual poverty led to feelings of alienation and despair.
This continual sadness is a focus of her unfinished autobiography, Smile Please, and her earlier novels contain autobiographical elements that involve self-destructive women being victimized by older men. Francis Wyndham, a longtime friend, describes Jean
Rhys’ despondency after one particular love affair:
More mysteriously, ever since the end of her first love affair she had also been cursed by a kind of spiritual sickness – a feeling of belonging nowhere, of being ill at ease and out of place in her surroundings wherever these happened to be, a stranger in an indifferent, even hostile world. She may have wanted to think that this crippling sense of alienation was merely that of a native West Indian exiled in a cold foreign land, but in fact she believed that the whole earth had become inhospitable to her after the shock of that humdrum betrayal. 12 Francis Wyndham and Diane Melly, The Letters of Jean Rhys (New York: Viking Penguin Inc., 1984), 11.
This combination of betrayal by both place and lover surface in Wide Sargasso Sea, where the protagonist Antoinette is deceived by what should be her protectors: her husband and her mother country of England. The novel contains a postcolonial argument which points to the West Indian’s Creole ancestry as the reason behind this rejection.
According to letters, Jean Rhys spent roughly twenty years writing the novel, which was finally published in 1966. It has since become a major work that has inspired much discussion and debate among postcolonial theorists, particularly about where in the canon Jean Rhys fits in. Just as she felt displaced in a world where she never felt she fully “belonged,” Jean Rhys appears to also inhabit a literary world that is unsure of her place in literature. Critics heatedly debate over whether her work should be considered Caribbean, and whether or not she is an “English” or a “West Indian” writer. Wide Sargasso Sea certainly challenges cultural definitions as well as pinpoints double culture as a source of deep anxiety.
Maryse Condé’s Migration Maryse Condé is one of the few Caribbean women novelists and critics of post colonial literature. Her thought provoking work challenges the stereotypes of race and gender in colonial society, exploring the affect of imperialism in Africa and the Caribbean. Condé was born in Guadeloupe, the youngest daughter of a family of eight, but throughout her life has lived in several different places, such as Africa, France and the United States. Her claim that being too familiar with a place only serves to “mythify” it has set Condé apart from other postcolonial figures such as Césaire and Glissant. In interviews, Condé expresses a feeling of disconnection from her native Guadeloupe, The earliest mention of Wide Sargasso Sea in her letters is Oct. 1945. See p. 39 of Francis Wyndham’s The Letters of Jean Rhys.
explaining that her speaking French instead of Creole was problematic and that her writing has made little impact on the people there. Though Maryse Condé is a black woman born in the West Indies, and Jean Rhys is a White Creole of English ancestry, they both share a similar experience of disconnection, which is precisely why I bring them together in this dissertation.
Condé’s novel La migration des cœurs is, like Jean Rhys’ novel, a “rewrite” of a classic English text. However, Condé chose another sister’s work to Caribbeanize by taking Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights and placing it in a postcolonial setting. While in Brontë’s text they linger in the shadows, in Condé’s revision race and class are brought to the forefront, as Razyé (Heathcliff) is described as the dark black boy adopted into the mulatto Gagneur family. Though he is objectified by the family, he forms a special bond with his new sister, Cathy. As in the original novel, his childhood friend and confidante rejects Razyé to marry into rich society. However, in Condé’s novel the reasons extend beyond class, for Cathy’s marriage to a white Creole is an attempt to reconcile the conflicted identity within her, one that contains both black and white blood. By placing Wuthering Heights within the context of colonization and identity, Condé demonstrates that Caribbean literature is deserving of critical attention.