«A Dissertation Submitted to the Graduate Faculty of the Louisiana State University and Agricultural and Mechanical College in partial fulfillment of ...»
A l’entour, le paysage se mit à changer. Des mornes arrondirent leurs ventres. Des bananeraies aux longues feuilles vernissées prirent la place des champs de canne à sucre et s’étagèrent sur les hauteurs. L’eau des cascades inonda le bas-coté de la route…Je regardais de tous mes yeux et j’avais l’intuition que j’étais née, sans le savoir, dans un coin du paradis terrestre. (106) All around, the countryside began to change. The morns rounded their stomachs. The banana trees with their long glossy leaves took the place of the sugarcane fields and rose in tiers on the hilltops. Cascades of water flooded the shoulder of the road….I looked with gaping eyes and I had the feeling that I was born, without knowing it, in a corner of earthly paradise. (translation mine) Maternal images are everywhere within this natural environment: the morns rounding their stomachs evoke the idea of pregnant women, the vegetation is described as ripe and blossoming, and water is gushing, an image easily linked to a woman whose water breaks before birth. This description is also similar to that given of the narrator’s pregnant mother, and the narrator links birth to Gourbeyre when she mentions the feeling of being born in that part of the world. The fact that Condé feels a stronger sense of identity when she is closer to nature is not unlike the feeling of safety and security Antoinette feels around the island tropics in Wide Sargasso Sea.
Motherless Sons and Daughters in La migration des cœurs In the other novels and in Condé’s memoir the characters feel displaced in part because of strained relationships with their mothers and their mother countries. In La migration des cœurs, however, the lack of identification with country or mother is based on the fact that many characters have no mother. Almost every character is born without maternal guidance: Justin, Justin-Marie, Cathy, Little Cathy, and baby Anthuria never know their mothers and identify this absence as the root of their suffering. Many of the former slaves who narrate sections of the book often begin their tale with the remark that they know nothing of their true family. Razyé, of course, has no knowledge of his origins, and it is for this reason that he becomes completely broken when Cathy rejects him. Before she deserted Razyé, Cathy served as every significant figure in his life,
including a maternal one:
Pourquoi n’avait-il pas une maman comme tous les êtres humains? Même les esclaves dans leur enfer savaient le ventre qui les avait portés. Il se demandait quelle figure donner à ses rêves et qui était cette inconnue à jamais…Razyé se torturait. Un temps, Cathy lui avait servi de tout à la fois: de papa, de maman, de soeur. Son corps Barbara Lewis, “No Silence: An Interview with Maryse Condé” Callaloo 18, no. 3 (1995) : 549.
le protégeait. Blotti contre sa poitrine, il trouvait la douceur du sein et du ventre qu’il n’avait jamais connus. A présent, elle l’avait déserté. (46) Why didn’t he have a maman like all the other human beings? Even the slaves in the depths of their hell knew the womb that had carried them. He wondered what face he should give his dreams and who was this mother he was never to know…Razyé was suffering agony. There was a time when Cathy had been a papa, a maman and a sister to him. Her body had protected him. When he curled up against her he found the softness of the breast and the womb he had never known. Now she had deserted him. (38) All that we know of Razyé’s origins is that he is found on the heath, hence his name. The name, which is central to identity, and his only known birth place connects Rayzé to the earth and to his natural surroundings. Though there is no literal mother for him, and his “home” is the heath, critic Françoise Lionnet describes his predicament as a freedom that the other characters do not share. Razyé cannot be defined by lineage that is unknown, and lineage and race are a source of great anxiety for most of the main characters in Condé’s novel as well as those in this dissertation. Lionnet describes how Razyé is set apart from this anxiety: “…he is linked to landscape, free from cultural vestments and baggage that accrue when one is wedded to the idea of “home” that suggests a history, a line of descent, and a legitimate tradition, rather than a temporary dwelling or a practice that remains open to the future because it is not defined by set pedigrees and clear genealogies.” The idea of lineage is responsible for Little Cathy’s struggle in all its opposing forces. Her skin color convinces her that she does not belong to the Linsseuil family, yet breaking from her upbringing is not so easy. When she becomes the school mistress in Marie Galante, the people are suspicious of her because of her language.
They notice that she is not fluent in Creole but in French, and they are critical of her Françoise Lionnet, “Narrating the Americas : Transcolonial Métissage and Maryse Condé's La Migration des coeurs,” in Mixing Race, Mixing Culture: Inter-American Literary Dialogues, ed. Monika Kaup and Debra J. Rosenthal (Austin : University of Texas Press, 2002): 83.
teaching. Her obvious difference prevents her from finding work in Roseau and even her new husband, Razyé II, knows that Little Cathy cannot escape her past: “Yes, deep down she remained the daughter of Aymeric de Linsseuil, born and bred on the Belles-Feuilles estate” (338).
Cathy, Little Cathy’s mother, also grapples with identity problems that are much more faceted than being born without her mother. In this novel the mixing of blood and class also contributes to the theme of identity, and Cathy is wrestling with what she speaks of as two Cathys battling for control, and the “pure” white Cathy is whom she wishes to be victorious, which would in turn mean leaving her companion Razyé, also an
integral part of herself:
Si Justin n’avait pas fait à Razyé ce qu’il lui a fait, je ne songerais même pas à ce mariage. Mais de la façon dont Razyé est à présent, je ne pourrai jamais me marier avec lui. Ce serait une dégradation! Ce serait comme s’il n y avait jamais plus qu’une seule Cathy, la bossale, la mécréante descendant tout droit de son négrier…Avec lui, je recommencerais à vivre comme si nous étions encore des sauvages d’Afrique.
Tout pareil! (48) If Justin hadn’t done what he did to Razyé, I wouldn’t even be thinking of marriage.
But the way Razyé is now, I could never marry him. It would be too degrading! It would be as if only Cathy the reprobate existed, stepping straight off the slave-ship.
Living with him would be like starting over as savages in Africa. Just the same! (41) Cathy sacrifices happiness and self to marry into a richer, whiter class in hopes of purifying her African blood, and thus breaks all ties with her former life. She views skin color as opposing forces: whiteness exemplifies purity and righteousness while blackness represents savagery and indecency. During her stay with the Linseuill family, Cathy reemerges cultivated and refined, having replaced her Creole language with proper French and imitating Western European culture. She is ashamed of her background and is eager to stifle that part of her existence, despite the fact that she has happiness and even freedom in this existence with Razyé. This transformation underlines Glissant’s claim that Caribbean peoples look outside their community for a resolution to their problems.
In Cathy’s case, she does just that – she seeks to identify with France through assimilation and, in so doing, rejects her Antillanité. Critic Beverly Noakes develops a theory that in Caribbean cultures, entering into a higher class system and acquiring
wealth affects not only one’s social standing, but one’s race as well:
The economic factors underlying changes in class structure have often fascinated Caribbean novelists, and in this region, the interaction of race and money has been a distinctive feature in the formation of the middle class. At the same time, a metaphorical change of skin colour through the acquisition of money may also, for a Caribbean group, signal a change in cultural affiliation. 17 Cathy convinces herself that it is necessary to have a higher social standing and so she develops an affinity for the European model. Her bond with Creolité is never reestablished in her lifetime, but it is somewhat restored through blood. There is hope in Cathy’s daughter, Little Cathy, who is born with dark skin (her brothers and sisters are extremely light), thus bringing back the African bloodline into the family. Little Cathy also breaks away from her wealthy upbringing and her brothers and sisters, with whom she could never relate, to enter a world that was familiar to her mother. Little Cathy begins teaching in the poverty-stricken town of Marie-Galante and therefore comes face to face with hardships she had never endured as a young girl. She completes this “return” by meeting and marrying Razyé II, whom Condé strongly hints is actually Little Cathy’s brother. In Brontë’s text, the couple would be happy and accomplish through their mortal lives what Cathy and Heathcliff never could: a bond of open love. This is, of course, how Wuthering Heights ends; young Cathy reconciles with Hareton, whose savagery gives way to a learned young man. Little Cathy is able to rehabilitate him, and she essentially Beverly Noakes, “Money, Race, and Cultural Identity in the work of Maryse Condé,” Essays in French Literature 37 (November 2000) : 126.
reverses the damage Heathcliff had inflicted. The novel ends with the couple’s marriage and a restoration of order. In Condé’s version however, the ending is not so neat. Little Cathy never makes it back to L’Engoulvent, and though she educates Razyé II, he reverts to his former self. Little Cathy’s death leaves another daughter without a mother, yet she
fantasizes of being reunited with her own:
Chose curieuse, voire choquante, elle n’avait pas de chagrin en songeant à la petite malheureuse qu’elle avait créée pour rester sans maman en ce bas monde. Elle se préoccupait seulement d’elle même. Alors, elle cesserait d’être une orpheline. Le coeur battait comme celui d’une esclave qui voit la cote de Guinée sur l’horizon, elle imagina le moment de sa réunion avec sa maman…Elle se rassasierait de tous les baisers qu’elle gardait en réserve depuis petite. Elle découvrait l’odeur de sa peau, de ses cheveux. Puis, brusquement, elle réalisait sa naïveté. Il n’y a pas d’autre odeur que celle de la charogne. (301) Strangely, even shockingly, she felt no grief for the unfortunate little baby she had created who would remain motherless here below. She could only think of herself.
She would cease to be an orphan. With heart beating like a slave who sees the coast of Guinea on the horizon, she imagined the reunion with her mother…She would have her fill of all the kisses she had been storing up since childhood. She would discover the smell of her skin and hair. Then suddenly she realized how naïve she was. There would be nothing to smell but the smell of a corpse. (309) As in many of these novels and also in Condé’s memoir, maternal images are connected to one’s maternal land. Cathy equates her reunion with her mother with that of a slave being freed and finally seeing home again. Unfortunately, the hope of a return is short lived. For a brief moment, Little Cathy is hopeful that her death will give her a sense of closure with her mother, yet this hope quickly vanishes with the dreaded certainty that death is no solution. Interestingly, many of the characters in the novel have the same hopes, but they ultimately reach the same conclusion. This idea will be discussed further in chapter two, which involves the implications of an author re-writing a text. In developing the maternal images within the text, it is important to examine language in Rosario Ferré’s The House on the Lagoon, where one’s mother tongue is emphasized as a key element to identity.
Language as Identity in The House on the Lagoon In the The House on the Lagoon, Ferré is sensitive to the notion that one’s maternal language is an integral part of identity, and the conflict between English and Spanish is one of the reasons for discord among Puerto Ricans. Ferré’s novel also contains characters of African descent, and the significance of the mother tongue is a central focus of their culture. This is demonstrated in the form of a story told by Petra early in the novel. Petra is a strong and mysterious African woman who works for the family, and the story of her ancestor Barnabé is passed down through many generations. Barnabé is a tribal chieftain who is captured and enslaved, and as a result he and other new slaves are forced to deny fundamental elements of their culture. Among the most difficult of their renunciations is their native language, a rule which pains Bernabé, for he finds it inconceivable that he be
forbidden from speaking his own tongue:
Bernabé, like the rest of the adult bozal slaves recently arrived from Angola, spoke Bantu. But if anyone was caught speaking it, even if he was speaking only to himself, he would be repaid with fifty lashes. Bernabé had a terrible time accepting this. One’s tongue was so deeply ingrained, more so even that one’s religion or tribal pride; it was like a root that went deep into one’s body and no one knew exactly where it ended. It was attached to one’s throat, to one’s neck, to one’s stomach, even to one’s heart. (60) The intense observation of language in this passage contributes to the theme that runs consistently throughout the novel, reminding the reader that language affects everything, from political view to spiritual belief. In this passage language is explicitly described as being an inseparable part of the self, in the physical as well as the cultural realm.