Tag Archives: Creole

Assimilation and Integration

9 Apr

Monsieur Alcibiade gives a political speech in Texaco in which he speaks favorably of France but rails against “subjection, the goal of which was to exploit the colony in France’s interest alone.” He later presents the metaphor of a daughter walking side-by-side with the mother to represent the ideal situation of Martinique maturing. Throughout Texaco (thus far), there are a great deal of references to the population’s love of France and French culture. Nelta, while presented as a character who wished to travel the whole world, dreams primarily of Marseille. Aside from Alice in Wonderland, even the skeptical Marie Sophie holds on to books by French authors.

Against our expectations, Martiniquans are never shown revolting against the motherland, even in the face of casualties from the two World Wars. Although Alcibiade serves as an antagonist and no fan of Cesaire, his views do not seem entirely out of step with Cesaire or many of Chamoiseau’s more sympathetic characters. Cesaire’s desire to make Martinique a “department” of France, which would seem to be in step with Alcibiade, seems odd. Why would Cesaire want this?

In “Political integration as an Alternative to Independence in the French Antilles,” Arvin W. Murch conducts a study on Antillean (Martinique and Guadaloupe) leaders’ attitudes toward France and independence in contrast to an earlier study on former British holdings in West Indies. His purpose was to get to the bottom of what seemed like an anomaly (The French Antilles moving toward “closer integration with metropolitan France”) in the “age of nationalism.”

The findings of the study, published in 1968 (the timing of this study seemed appropriate for the novel, particularly the section we are covering on Tuesday) are intriguing. Based on the earlier study of the West Indies, Murch asserts that if the Antilles have not moved toward independence, that it can be attributed to “(1) the absence of an enlightened leadership capabe of mobilizing these demands, or (2) an already satisfactory level of equality in the local society” (546).

Murch provides data proving that Martinique (and Guadaloupe) did, in fact, have an enlightened leadership (by this he means a leadership that buys into Enlightenment ideas such as The Rights of Man), pointing toward more satisfactory economic and human rights conditions. Despite some of the evidence we see in Texaco, Murch does prove that conditions such as an open society and access to education are, at least, better at the time in Martinique than Jamaica.

Importantly, Murch discusses the idea of assimilation, likening France’s policy to that of Ancient Greece, as opposed to the British’s resemblance to the Romans. In the Greek model, the mother/father state “sought to make each holding an integral part culturally, politically, and commercially of the homeland.” (548). Perhaps for this reason, the data shows that a majority of “enlightened” leaders in the Antilles did not see independence as necessary to achieve an egalitarian society.

Importantly, a survey also showed that many leaders believed that independence was not politically or economically feasible at the time. While this hints at more cynical thinking regarding the relationship between colony/former colony and mother country, there is also strong evidence to support that the connection between the people of the French Antilles and French culture was equally as significant in terms of attitudes toward independence.

All in all, the study is a fascinating look at the attitudes of leaders in the Caribbean in the mid to late 1960s. Despite the sound methodology and the reasonable assumptions the author makes based on his findings, this seems to stand somewhat in contrast with Texaco, where overcrowding and poverty cannot be simply brushed aside by a sentence or a favorable comparison with Jamaica. In fact, the only point easily reconciled between study and novel is that the French Antilles enjoyed a relatively open society where there were less barriers to intermarriage. Indeed, Texaco spends a fair amount of words detailing the crumbling barriers between social strata and the changing realities faced by Fort-de-France’s various castes. It also shows a break between the author and the protagonist and Aime Cesaire, which perhaps hints that the enlightened leaders of Martinique were not entirely representative of their constituents.

Controlling the Narrative: the relevance of “answering back” in Wide Sargasso Sea

9 Feb

One of the most interesting points raised by McLeod was the point of it being an error to apply Manichean aesthetics broadly to a reading of either Wide Sargasso Sea or Jane Eyre: he claims this is an error, as it wrongly imposes the concerns of the present upon the literature of the past, which completely undoes the concept of reading a literary work historically (181). McLeod goes on to argue that this kind of labeling fails to allow for the text to “potentially question” colonial views (182). I feel this point is no where more relevant than in discussing the concept of “Creole” as it develops through the text of Wide Sargasso Sea, and what it means to our understanding of Antoinette’s complex character.

According to O. Nigel Bolland in an article published in the Caribbean Quarterly, “… the term ‘Creole,’ referring to people and cultures, means something or somebody derived from the Old World but developed in the New” (1). Bolland goes on to state that “[i]n common Caribbean usage, ‘Creole’ refers to a local product which is the result of a mixture or blending of various ingredients that originated in the Old World.

Bolland suggests that the thesis which states that the “common people” in the Caribbean islands were “active agents in the historical process” expanded the understanding of Caribbean social history and “reconstituted… ways of looking at the dynamics of social and cultural change. Caribbean societies and cultures can no longer be thought of as the result of a one-way process, of the unilateral imposition of European culture upon passive African recipients” (2).

This brought the Fabian article to mind, and the discussion we had about the traveling back into history and time that Marlowe undertakes in ‘Heart of Darkness’– traveling back into primordial time, Marlowe meets Kurtz who has come undone after attempting this “unilateral imposition of European culture” during his ivory quests. In ‘Wide Sargasso Sea’, Rochester is undone whenever he attempts to impose his idea of European social hierarchy on his wife and on his surroundings. In addition, he is unable to control or influence any of the servants; even though he exerts power over Amelie via the act of sex, she is able to leave free and easily of her own free will. Rochester is unable to comprehend his wife, and though he attempts to overpower her by Othering her, by the end of the novel it is Antoinette who reigns supreme over Thornfield Manor, invoking a return to her true identity through the metaphor of fire.

According to McLeod, the characters in ‘Wide Sargasso Sea’ compete for the overall control of narrative by “answering back”– perhaps the very development of the term “Creole” during the course of Rhys’ text is an answering back to Rochester/European culture’s attempt to pin down the Creole identity to one set of stereotypes or concepts. Unlike the barbarians in ‘Heart of Darkness’, Rhys’ Creole characters defy European conventions by talking back regularly, and literally laugh in the face of them quite often, as Helle brought up in class today.

Considering the various approaches to understanding self-hood in ‘Wide Sargasso Sea’, I feel that McLeod is right in suggesting that Antoinette escapes the parameters of European representation, because the definitions of ideas such as madness, Creole identity, as well as psychological concepts like the death instinct are left open to interpretation, allowing Antoinette to take on far more meaning than what she was allowed as Bertha Mason in ‘Jane Eyre’.