«A Dissertation Submitted to the Graduate Faculty of the Louisiana State University and Agricultural and Mechanical College in partial fulfillment of ...»
In this dissertation, I have explored several examples of how landscape is connected to the Caribbean identity for writers Condé, Ferré, and Rhys. In Condé’s memoir, her mother normally distances herself from a Caribbean identity yet on the rare occasion that she embraces it, during her pregnancy, it is through the evocation of landscape images. In La migration des cœurs, Razyé’s namesake is the heath covered cliffs in Guadeloupe, and he is linked to the land. Condé uses the land almost as a character in the novel through the portrayal of Razyé. In this light, Cathy’s rejection of him and her previous lifestyle in favor of the European ideal can be viewed as an example of her alienation from the land. The addition of Caribbean images to a text that is known for its English elements, including topography, is an example of how Condé appropriates the text and facilitates her Caribbean discourse. In The House on the Lagoon, the landscape of Puerto Rico is important in that the water surrounding the island is said to connect all peoples. This sentiment is echoed in Glissant’s essays, in which he describes a Caribbean connected by a common sea. In Wide Sargasso Sea, there is great emphasis placed on environment, which in chapter two I applied to Antoinette’s relationship with England.
Tina De Rosa, though an Italian American writer, also uses landscape in a symbolic way in Paper Fish. She distinguishes the beauty of natural land from the harshness of the American city through Grandma Doria’s vivid descriptions of Italy. In the epilogue, the neighborhood is destroyed by unknown American officials, whom the Italian American inhabitants refer to only as “the city.” The city personified is what
crushes these immigrants, causing illness, suffering, and finally, their disappearance:
“Berrywood street had disappeared as though it were a picture of someone wiped away.
The city said the Italian ghetto should go, and before the people could drop their forks next to their plates and say, pardon me?, the streets were cleared” (120). With nothing lying beneath the brick, then what do we have to remind us of the immigrant experience?
The answer lies in a growing number of Italian American writers, among them Tina De Rosa, whose keen eye captures the story behind the rubble and records it to text.
Through destruction comes creation, and all of these authors destroy something in order to create a space for their culture in the literary tradition. Because of Jean Rhys, the madwoman’s story has not burned along with Thornfield Hall, as it did in the pages of Jane Eyre. Likewise, Rosario Ferré makes sure that Isabel’s manuscript is rescued from the flames. Those same flames consume the structure but not the stories of the lives within that house, lives that make up all four stories of Puerto Rican culture. Because of Tina de Rosa, the immigrant experience does not disappear along with the neighborhood that held it, and Maryse Condé hints at a unique promise in future generations of Caribbean children. This idea of a promised generation is comparable to M.L. Hansen’s theory that it is through the curiosity of third generation immigrants that history is restored. There is an effort in the dominant tradition to contain what is viewed as Other, to offer tolerance only if that Other accepts the description it is given. For instance, the Italian American must accept the image of the mafioso, or more relevantly, his wife; the Creole must accept the portrayal of the mad drunken animal, the Puerto Rican must commit to serving her husband, and the Afro Caribbean woman must consent to her role as housekeeper and mother. The stereotypes present within these images are what many traditional cultures are comfortable with, and any divergence from these assigned places in society are not tolerated.
What these women have in common as authors is why I chose them for this dissertation: they refuse to be contained. The source of their power is the text, which is the tool they use to free themselves from the confines imposed by the dominant literary tradition. Each author understands displacement through her own life experience and integrates this into her prose. I have discussed many contexts from which this feeling of displacement emerges, such as the relationship to the mother and the connection, or lack thereof, with the mother country. A destructive marriage within a patriarchal society also contributes to an ill-defined identity. Being marginalized within their families as well as within the surrounding culture further adds to the protagonists’ feeling of otherness.
Through the text, this otherness is embraced, and the deafening silence that pervades this marginalized literature is breaking. The unusual stylistic techniques employed by the authors and their “rewriting” of the text set these works apart, for they simultaneously borrow from Western European models and create a distinct literary work that stands on its own and forms an identity that is in no way inferior to the “sameness” that defines it as Other. The subaltern is speaking, and her experimentation with the text gives a voice to the white Creole who had no chance to defend herself in Bronte’s Jane Eyre, it offers strength to the Puerto Rican woman living in a charged patriarchal and political society, it helps the Italian American girl find a balance between the past and the future, and enables the Caribbean woman to get in touch with her African ancestry. The attics, basements, and houses that are supposed to symbolize “home,” instead keep the “Other” hidden from view. The women in these texts force their way out of these confining spaces to reveal their value to the literary tradition.
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Melody Boyd Carrière was born in Nashville, Tennessee, on April 18, 1975, the daughter of Hugh and Lana Sue Boyd. Melody entered Middle Tennessee State University in 1993, where she pursued studies in journalism and French. During this time she attended Université de la Franche Comté in Besançon, France, for one year. She received a Bachelor of Arts degree and a Bachelor of Science degree from Middle Tennessee State University in 1998. In 1999 she briefly worked at the Alliance Française in New Orleans, Louisiana, before enrolling in the comparative literature program at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. During the 2000 – 2001 academic year, she returned to Université de la Franche Comté, where she was employed as Lectrice d’Anglais. Upon her return to Louisiana State University, she taught beginning French and Italian classes. She received the Master of Arts degree in comparative literature in 2002. She is currently a recipient of the Graduate School Dissertation Fellowship at Louisiana State University.