«A Dissertation Submitted to the Graduate Faculty of the Louisiana State University and Agricultural and Mechanical College in partial fulfillment of ...»
Through marriage, another focus in all the works, they are further marginalized. For example, In the House on the Lagoon and Wide Sargasso Sea, Isabel and Antoinette are dominated by their husbands. In La migration des cœurs, Cathy rejects her Caribbean heritage through her union to Amyeric. In Paper Fish, Carmolina is also rejected by her mother Sarah but finds solace in another maternal figure, her grandmother Doria. Unlike the women of the other novels, Carmolina is able to establish a connection to her ancestry through the mother figure of Doria. This connection is a transformation that occurs late in the novel, which mainly focuses on Carmolina’s struggle with identity. She, like the other female characters in these novels, feels that she is Other. In order to fill the void, the women use the text as a tool to draw themselves closer to their culture. I develop this idea further in chapter two.
In chapter two, Otherness and the Text, I concentrate exclusively on Maryse Condé and Jean Rhys. What these novelists have in common is their technique of “rewriting” a canonical text, and I explore how Jean Rhys challenges the representation of the mad Creole in Jane Eyre by writing her untold story, and how Maryse Condé incorporates Caribbean elements into the plot of Wuthering Heights in order to bring the conflict of race and class to the surface. I explore the idea of Jean Rhys being identified as a Caribbean author and the problems and implications of this categorization, and I also look at Condé’s position as author and how she is simultaneously connected to and detached from Caribbean culture. In order to provide a detailed reading of the work, I analyze the many symbols in Wide Sargasso Sea, from the meaning of Antoinette’s dress to the use of mirrors, doubling, and zombification. I explain how these symbols support the idea of the text as bringing the protagonist closer to a Caribbean identity. In Condé’s work, I detail the Afro Caribbean nuances implemented in the text which make it distinctly Caribbean.
Chapter three concentrates on the role of the text and how the protagonists use it to their advantage in Paper Fish and The House on the Lagoon. In Ferré’s novel, the concept of race becomes a central issue and Isabel’s novel brings many oppressed characters into focus, thus exposing the true nature of Puerto Rican society. As in Condé’s novel, Ferré emphasizes Afro Caribbean culture in her text, and I expand on these elements. For example, I explore the meaning of Elegguá, an African god that becomes a symbolic figure in the novel. I also argue that with her text, Ferré achieves an important reversal by having her character Isabel force her husband, the patriarch that she fears, into the margins. She does so quite literally, for his words are found only on the edges of her manuscript. This reversal of power is similar to what Rhys achieves when she creates a new text from the story of Jane Eyre, taking the peripheral figure of the madwoman out of the margins and placing her into the forefront. The authorial power that these protagonists attain is a fundamental aspect to this dissertation, and in Paper Fish this authorial power is also present in Carmolina. In addition to Ferré’s novel, in chapter three, I explore how Carmolina has author/ity through her use of mirrors and the text. Her journey toward self-reliance, which is symbolically related to Italian immigration, enables her to identify both with her culture and with herself. In studying Paper Fish I also felt it necessary to examine the history, or lack thereof, of Italian American women writers. Because their history was undervalued, there are few Italian American texts by women who write about the Italian American immigrant experience, and this is why Paper Fish is of critical importance.
Chapter four focuses solely on The House on the Lagoon, where it was important to comment on José Luis González’s essay, “Puerto Rico : the Four-Storyed Country.” Since in Ferré’s novel the house is so central, becoming a character in itself, it seems a just comparison to study the work in conjunction with González’s essay, which divides Puerto Rican history and identity into a structure of four stories. I also use the house to examine how there is a continual building up and breaking down of oppositions in Ferré’s novel. Among these oppositions are the desires of Isabel and Quintín, whose feud over her manuscript is symbolic of the larger debate over literature and history. The relationship between literature and history is something I explore in this chapter, and I use Glissant and Condé as examples of literature serving a historical purpose. Through a study of diverse texts which highlight a historical reality that was once shadowed, I conclude that literature and history do not have to be at odds. This idea applies to the epilogue in Paper Fish, which, along with the other endings of each novel, is described in the conclusion of this dissertation. Though it appears as if nothing remains to remind us of Carmolina’s Italian American neighborhood, there is De Rosa’s text to fill our minds with her historical past.
The Death of the Authors Throughout the course of this dissertation I often use the terms author and character synonymously. I am aware that there are many who claim that the line between fiction and biography should not be crossed, and that it would be incorrect to assume that the author is writing of her own experiences when describing her protagonists. To this claim I point out that in many cases, the authors of my dissertation admit to their work being largely autobiographical. In the case of Italian American fiction, many writers feel they must put their true experiences to paper in order to preserve the memory of their ancestors, whose tradition did not include recording the events of the past. Fred Gardaphé’s describes Paper Fish as a work of “autobiographical fiction,” and in an interview with Lisa Meyer, De Rosa is defensive when Meyer sees Doriana as a symbol Gardaphé, Italian Signs, American Streets, 133.
in the novel, because, as De Rosa states “I can see how you are thinking that, but you must realize Doriana is my sister.” 33 Many critics have concluded that Rhys’ work also contains autobiographical elements, and evidently Rhys was ambivalent about writing a autobiography because, as the forward to Smile Please states, her life had already been “used up” in her novels.
In that autobiography Rhys relates one of her first experiences with writing, filling up several exercise books under the title: This is my Diary. These journals would be the first writings for her novel Voyage in the Dark, and they involve the love affair that Francis Wydam speaks of in The Letters of Jean Rhys. Though Wide Sargasso Sea may be more fictional than her other novels, Antoinette suffers the same feelings of isolation at the hands of a dominating male that her other, more autobiographical characters endure. In addition to this experience, the seductive Caribbean backdrop, an element not present in most of her other work, is the landscape of Rhys’ childhood. These examples provide evidence of why Antoinette cannot be viewed as completely separate from Jean Rhys, nor can Carmolina be entirely disconnected from Tina De Rosa. Maryse Condé’s La migration des cœurs is perhaps the most fictional of the four, but the childhood confusion over her identity in her memoir is mirrored in the work. In these types of novels, where one is attempting to reclaim a lost history, it would be a mistake for the reader to pull the author away from the text. This is not to say that if the reader knew nothing of the author, the text would not have a life of its own. However, the fact that the female author has felt the same displacement which is described in her characters Lisa Meyer, “Breaking the Silence: An Interview with Tina de Rosa,” Italian Americana (ItalAm) 17, no. 1 (Winter 1999) : 81.
Jean Rhys, Smile Please. an unfinished autobiography (London, New York : Penguin Books, 1981), 4.
deepens the reader’s understanding of her text. It is also important to keep in mind that in literature that treats ethnicity, it is helpful to examine the cultural history as it pertains to the text. In his book, Through a Glass Darkly, William Boelhower comments on teaching ethnic literature, making the assertion that “It was clearly impossible to explain how ethnic literature functions by remaining at the most literary level alone. The course, therefore, was mostly about preliminary cultural contexts within which ethnic literature could be defined as such.” In the case of the authors I am studying, the “cultural context” includes their personal history and how this affects their writing.
In addition to my view on the autobiographical aspects of the works, I would also
chapters I explore the ideas of many critics, such as Gayatri Spivak, José Luis González, and Fred Gardaphé. However, because a main argument of this dissertation also points to the text as a way of giving an identity to the displaced subject, I make a deliberate effort to concentrate on that text in order to reveal new meanings within it. My analysis of Wide Sargasso Sea, most notably the symbolic meaning of Antoinette’s white dress and Rochester’s representation as author in the text, are insights that are absent in the many critical works. As for the Italian American work, there is very little criticism on Paper Fish, therefore my goal is to bring something new to the understanding of this novel, particularly with the idea that Carmolina can be viewed as an author. Literary theory, while valuable, can become a distraction at the expense of the text. My analysis Boelhower, Through a Glass Darkly, 9.
Sandra Drake, whose article “All That Foolishness/That All Foolishness: Race and Caribbean Culture as Thematics of Liberation in Jean Rhys' Wide Sargasso Sea,” Crítica: A Journal of Critical Essays 2, no. 2 (Fall 1990), I cite repeatedly in chapter 2, makes the connection between the white and red colors which represent England and the Caribbean. However, while she heavily concentrates on Antoinette’s red dress, she does not mention her white one.
These meanings are explored in chapter 2.
This idea is explored in chapter 3.
of these works rests firmly on the texts themselves and only has recourse to theory when there is a clear advantage to doing so. In juxtaposing these four novels and exploring both the common and distinctive qualities of each, I will show why identity in terms of “sameness” must be redefined. By finally occupying some space of standard literature, one that was originally reserved only for those of white European origin, the mestiza is no longer the silenced, inferior woman but instead a hybrid that crosses borders and enriches literary and cultural knowledge.
Chapter I: Mothers, Mother Tongues and Mother Countries Wide Sargasso Sea, La migration des cœurs, The House on the Lagoon and Paper Fish all describe the characters’ longing to connect to the mother country. This longing conflicts with the equally strong desire to be accepted by the culture into which the characters were born. One interesting element found in the majority of the texts is that the ambivalent relationship that each character has to her mother country is analogous to the relationship she has with her birth mother. Language is also related to this relationship, as often the closeness or distance the character feels to her maternal language is indicative of that to the mother and to the ancestral past. The inability for some of the characters to form a stable identity is a result of their need but strained capacity to connect to their mother country. Their inability to connect to their biological mother adds to this anxiety and furthers this instability. In Wide Sargasso Sea, for example, Antoinette longs for a relationship with her mother, one that does not exist, yet her ironic misfortune is to more closely resemble her as she blindly follows the same path through a destructive marriage. Her desire for a mother leads her to her “native land” of England – a place that also betrays her. In Paper Fish, Sarah leaves her mother and her mother language and becomes silent and lost, but Carmolina finds a balance between her Italian past and American future through her relationship with the grandmother figure, Doria. La migration des cœurs contains many characters who become orphans, and a childhood devoid of a mother partially explains these feelings of alienation. In The House on the Lagoon, the relationship between mothers and daughters is also strained, and often marriage becomes the unhappy solution. This chapter explores the concept of identity through motherhood, the connection to the mother country and maternal language, and the ways in which the protagonists are adversely affected by marriage.
Dreaming of England: Antoinette’s Mother Country in Wide Sargasso Sea Jean Rhys spent most of her life in England after the age of seventeen, and the disappointment and misery she experienced mirrors Antoinette’s suffering when she returns to the “mother country.” Like Antoinette, Rhys felt that she did not have a country or a residence that she could consider “home” and in her autobiography she often complains of England as cold and dark. In letters, Rhys mentions that the reason her protagonist starts the fire in Thornfield Hall is a simple one: “She is cold – and fire is the only warmth she knows in England.” 1 Teresa O’Connor comments on Rhys’ vagabond lifestyle in England: “As soon as Rhys arrived in London she began what was to be a mode of living that persisted almost her entire life – the taking of lodging in temporary, and often inhospitable, quarters.” During this time Rhys struggled with financial instability, love affairs that ended badly and estrangements from family which caused her to perceive England as a cruel and unforgiving place. This view of England perhaps evoked nostalgia for Dominica, for though Rhys returned to the beloved island only once and experienced some disillusionment, Dominica still stood in stark contrast to England,
as O’Connor points out: