Concepts of Identity in four novels by Maryse Condé

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Concepts of Identity in four novels by Maryse Condé
Concepts of Identity in four novels
by Maryse Condé
Ruth Manning B.A.
M.A.
Dublin City University
Dr. Brigitte Le Juez
SALIS
July 2004
I hereby certify that this material, which I now submit for assessment on the
programme of study leading to the award of Masters of Arts is entirely my own work
and has not been taken from the work of others save and to the extent that such work
has been cited and acknowledged within the text of my work.
Signed:
Ih ltL
Mah-nOxtj________
Date:
v/ijzooi!
ID No:
S 31121O f
Table o f Contents
Page
Abstract
Introduction
Chapter 1
Slavery and self perception: the proclamation of identity
in Moi, Tituba, sorcière ...N oire de Salem.
16
Chapter 2
Downward Spiral: malaise and identity in
Une saison a Rihata.
46
Chapter 3
Community versus personal identity in
Traversée de la M angrove.
79
Chapter 4
Patrimony and heritage: the quest for roots in Desirada.
119
Conclusion
158
Bibliography
165
Concepts o f identity in four novels by Maryse Condé
Ruth Manning
The principal aim of this thesis is to examine concepts of identity in four novels by
the Guadeloupean writer, Maryse Condé. These novels, Moi, Tituba, sorcière...Noire
de Salem, Une saison à Rihata, Traversée de la Mangrove and Desirada, are set
against the legacies of slavery, colonialism and exile, and explore the profound lack
of identity experienced on a personal and collective level by the peoples of the
Caribbean.
Maryse Condé is a most suitable author to study in relation to issues of identity, as
much of her work encompasses the notion of a quest, and her protagonists find
themselves journeying towards a discovery of self. I will examine closely the
journeys, both physical and psychological, of these characters, in their individual
searches.
Identity in the thesis is analysed from two differing perspectives, those of personal
identity, and collective cultural identity. All four novels explore personal identity.
Only Traversée de la Mangrove is set in its entirety in Guadeloupe, and examines
collective cultural identity. I will analyse the notion that identity does not operate
along a fixed or determined point, but instead constantly undergoes change and
transformation. Identity as such can be considered as elusive, and the identity of
characters can never be fully understood or defined. I will refer to theorists such as
Mikhail Bahktin and Julia Kristeva, whose work relates to the notion that language
and identity are evolving dynamics, forever resistant to stable definition. I will also
discuss the importance of Caribbean thinkers such as Aimé Césaire and Edouard
Glissant.
Acknowledgements
I wish to extend a very warm thank-you to my supervisor, Dr. Brigitte le Juez. Her
helpful advice and support has been much appreciated by me during the course of my
research.
Also, I wish to thank the staff at SALIS for all their assistance over the past year.
I would also like to thank my husband, David, for his support and encouragement.
Finally, I wish to acknowledge my father, Charles, for countless hours of babysitting,
for which I am most grateful.
This thesis is dedicated to the memory of my mother, Breda O’Brien.
Introduction
Though idyllic to the eyes of the casual tourist, the islands of Guadeloupe and
Martinique, départements français d ’outre-mer, are shadowed behind a brutal history
of slavery, occupation and colonialism. Discovered by Columbus in 1493 and 1502
respectively, the islands’ native Indians were exterminated, and for centuries, slaves
from Africa worked on the sugar-cane, coffee and cotton plantations introduced by
the occupying forces. The French colonised the islands initially in the seventeenth
century. The British occupied Guadeloupe and Martinique for brief periods from the
1750s until the first decades of the nineteenth century. This was followed
subsequently by the return of the French, and the restoration of French sovereignty.
Modern-day Guadeloupe and Martinique, who have secured limited autonomy from
France, are very weak economically, and rely heavily on aid from the French
metropole.
The horrors of slavery and the intricate legacies of colonialism constantly find
their way into much of the writing emanating from these islands. Recurring themes
such as exile, dislocation and dispossession are coupled with a distinct and profound
sense of loss, on both an individual and community level. Many French Caribbean
writers and intellectuals have attempted to define this loss, and make sense of the
resulting identity crises experienced by the peoples of the French Antilles. In the
paragraphs ahead, this will be discussed in greater detail.
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Maryse Condé
This thesis is a one-author study exploring some of the work of the prolific writer
Maryse Condé (née Boucolon). Condé was bom in Guadeloupe in 1937 and has
enjoyed a varied career in literature, journalism, criticism and as a lecturer. She left
Guadeloupe in 1953, aged sixteen, to study initially at the Lycée Fénelon in Paris, and
then at Université de Paris III- Sorbonne Nouvelle, where she received her doctorate
in comparative literature in 1976. Her doctoral research explored black stereotypes in
West Indian literature. She has spent many years teaching in different parts of Africa,
first in the Ivory Coast, then Guinea, Ghana, and finally Senegal. Returning to
Europe, she occupied academic positions in several universities in Paris. Since the
1970s, she has lectured in many American institutions including the University of
California, Berkeley, and the University of Virginia at Charlottesville. In December
2002, she retired from her position as Professor of French and Francophone studies at
Columbia University, New York City. I had the pleasure of meeting and interviewing
Condé in November 2002, in New York.
Condé is hugely prolific in several genres including critical essays, plays and
novels. Two of her earliest novels Ségou - Les murailles de terre and Ségou - La terre
en miettes were bestsellers, and she is the recipient of several literary awards
including Le Grand Prix Littéraire de la Femme and Le Prix de l ’Académie
Française.
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Research Objective
The principal aim of this thesis is to examine four of her novels, Moi, Tituba, sorcière
... Noire de Salem, Une saison à Rihata, Traversée de la Mangrove and Désirada. I
will analyse in these how notions of both personal and collective cultural identity are
explored. Maryse Condé is, I believe, a most suitable author to study in relation to
issues of identity. Many of her novels embrace the idea of searching, her protagonists
are often on some type of quest, searching for an authentic homeland, trying to
understand a relationship with a mother, or yearning to find the identity of a
biological father. Much of her work revolves around the notion of asking questions,
but not necessarily providing answers, and reflecting on the history of her people. In
this thesis, I will examine some of the issues she raises in relation to a quest for
identity.
On all levels, Condé does not allow her work to be limited by boundaries of
any type. One example of this is her decision not to confine herself to writing solely
in French or in Creole. Some of her earlier work is written in Creole, and she
incorporates Creole into Traversée de la Mangrove which will be examined in one
chapter. However, as she explained to me, Condé refuses to be bound to write in any
one language, and dispels the notion that her work is any less “authentic” because it is
now written primarily in French. This raises the issue of whether language is
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inextricably bound with a notion of identity. For other French Caribbean writers such
as Patrick Chamoiseau, writing in Creole is an assertion of being a writer from the
French Caribbean, indeed it might be construed as being a political act. However, for
Condé, she does not consider that language is a defining issue in terms of identity.
On the level of narrative location, Condé, unlike several other Caribbean
writers, situates few of her novels in her home country. Her choice to centre the
stoiyline not in Guadeloupe, but instead in America, Europe, or other Caribbean
islands, mirrors her desire to illustrate the fact that many of her protagonists do not
live in their native homeland, and, as a consequence, experience intense loneliness
and alienation. As Suzanne Crosta explains, “the geographical wanderings permeating
Condé’s novel give rise to a sense of exile that her characters feel in relation to their
families, their race, their gender roles and themselves” (Crosta 1999 pi 71). Of the
four novels which will be analysed in this study, only one of them, Traversée de la
Mangrove, is situated, in its entirety, in Guadeloupe. In Desirada, Marie-Noëlle
leaves Guadeloupe for France and America, Une saison à Rihata is set in Africa, and
in Moi, Tituba, sorcière ...Noire de Salem, Tituba leaves Barbados for America.
Journeying, both physically and metaphorically, is a major feature of Condé’s work,
and I will analyse how her characters learn much about themselves and their
relationship with others through this.
In one interview with Françoise Pfaff, Condé acknowledges a great debt to the
Martinican writer and intellectual, Aimé Césaire (Pfaff 1993 pi 12). However, she
explores the idea that Africa should not perhaps be seen as the origin of Caribbean
identity. Although her earliest novels, Heremakhonon, Une saison à Rihata, Ségou -
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Les murailles de terre and Ségou - La terre en miettes, all explore the relationship
between Africa and the Caribbean, subsequently, her novels tend to move away from
African issues, and explore instead, the Caribbean relationship and quest for identity
vis-à-vis Europe and America. In Une saison à Rihata, I will examine how she
marries French Caribbean identity with Africa.
Identity
This thesis is concerned primarily with an analysis of identity, and it is important at
this stage to discuss the term. What is identity? There are numerous philosophical
definitions as to its meaning, but the notion of identity often begins with questions
such as “Who am 1?”, “What am 1?”, “What is it that renders me unique or different
from others?”, or “What is it that I have in common with others?” For Anthony D.
Smith, the answer to “Who am I?” is “by an assertion of continuity through genealogy
and residence,” whereas “What am I?” can be seen as an assertion of distinctiveness
through culture and community” (Smith 1995 pi 30). The notions of identity presented
here by Smith give rise to the two levels of identity which will be analysed in my
thesis, namely personal identity and collective cultural identity. The novels which I
will explore in the next four chapters encompass aspects of both. It is important to
state at this stage, however, that my work will focus primarily on the analysis of
personal identity.
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Personal Identity
Smith contends that the “Who am I?” question can be answered through an
examination of one’s “lineage, family status, and place of birth or residence”. These
considerations represent the answers to questions asked about the very issues which
dominate the writing I am about to analyse. Several characters live out their lives,
weighed down by their own questioning of who they are. Many negotiate their
identity vis-à-vis the milieu in which they find themselves. Some seek their personal
identity via the biological route, whereupon they are compelled to ascertain their
genealogy, while others play out their personal identity through interaction with those
around them, and in their roles as mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, lovers, slaves,
beloved, unloved, inter alia. For some, birthplace is of defining relevance in the
composition of their personal identity. Indeed, the very act of interrogation about how
these issues pertain to the individual may lead to a deeper and more enriched
understanding of self. For the purposes of this thesis, the notion of personal identity
may be construed as the determination of an individual to engage with, and
interrogate one or more of the following, genealogy, status, residence.
Henceforth, the term “identity” shall be used to denote the concept of personal
identity.
Collective Cultural Identity
Collective identity denotes the idea that an individual may gravitate towards a shared
“sameness” or unity with others. Collective cultural identity incorporates into this
“sameness” certain cultural aspects, such as traditions, values, superstitions, myths,
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etc. In relation to this thesis, the term may be taken to indicate a shared identity
grounded in “a sense of difference, of distinctiveness” (Smith 1995 pl31), and also in
“a sense of continuity with previous generations of the cultural unit, through
memories, myths, and traditions” (idem). Only Traversée de la Mangrove will explore
collective cultural identity in this thesis. The novel, set solely in Guadeloupe, paints a
vivid and captivating portrait of Guadeloupeans, and explores, how they, as a
collectivity, behave and react.
Identity - operating in a state o f flux
A modem concept of identity is the notion that identity is not a fixed or determined
point, but rather, something which constantly undergoes change and alteration. As
will be seen in the analysis of Condé’s four novels, the identity of many of her
characters is elusive, and they represent different things to different people. No one
character can ever be fully understood or defined. Characters display varying aspects
of their identities as they interact with others. However, one never solves the puzzle
which is the make-up of any one individual.
To examine this notion of identity from a theoretical viewpoint, I will turn to
the work of Julia Kristeva, the Bulgarian-bom theorist. Kristeva has been strongly
influenced by the work of the Russian critic, Mikhail Bahktin, who critiqued
“structural linguistics, and its assumption that the system of language (called by
Ferdinand de Saussure, la langue) operates as a fixed structure which can be defined
and analysed” (Robbins 2000 p 119). Bahktin suggested that language is a infinite
process, where meaning is constantly being made. For him, the notion of meaning is
not set in stone, as the listener or reader derives individual meaning from language,
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based on his/her personal circumstances, history, culture etc. To express this in an
alternative way, the meaning one derives from a text, a painting, a piece of music,
inter alia, is contingent upon one’s own differences vis-à-vis all others.
Kristeva draws upon Bahktin’s theories and further develops them. Like him,
she sees language as a process, rather than a fait accompli. Also, as with Bahktin, she
considers that meaning is wholly dependent upon the individuality of the person who
is reading a text or listening to the spoken word. In the area of textual analysis, she
considers the speaking subject to be a kind of text. “But the meaning of any individual
person, like the meaning of any text, is not a fixed point” (Robbins 2000 p i24).
Therefore, the meaning of an individual, or to phrase it differently, an individual’s
identity, is an infinite search, where no finite conclusions may be drawn. As aforesaid,
it is impossible to pin down fixed identities in the characters which will be analysed in
the coming chapters. For the purposes of this thesis, interwoven into this analysis is
the notion that identity is a constantly evolving dynamic, forever resistant to stable
definition.
Identity and motherhood in Condé’s writing
Being a mother, and the relationship between mothers and offspring, particularly
daughters, surface as recurring leitmotifs in Condé’s novels. These relationships are
very suitable to explore in terms of identity. Much is learnt about mothers’ identities
in each of the four novels in this thesis, and the difficult relationships between women
and their children will be analysed closely. It is very clear, following even the most
cursory reading of these novels, that mothers and daughters relate to each other
primarily through a web of tension and distrust. The absence of love between the two
generations is also very obvious in much of Condé’s work. Women, as mothers, are
depicted in terms of reluctance, and children are often bom following rape or assault.
Une saison à Rihata and Desirada are especially important in their negative
portrayals of motherhood, and will be examined in detail in the coming chapters.
Theories on identity in the (French) Caribbean
The debate concerning the challenges and difficulties in forging a Caribbean identity
has been ongoing for several decades. It commenced with the founding of the
Negritude movement in the 1930s, by Césaire and two others, the Senegalese writer,
Léopold Sédar Senghor, and the Guyanese writer, Léon-Gontras Damas. In Paris,
these began to study African history and culture, and launched ajournai, L ’Étudiant
Noir. Césaire first coined the term “négritude” in its March 1935 issue. Aimé Césaire
was among the first intellectual to analyse the silences and voicelessness of Caribbean
identity, and to incorporate this into his writing, especially in his Cahier d ’un retour
au pays natal. For Césaire, Caribbean identity was rooted in black pride, and
inextricably linked with Africa as site of origin and motherland. Léopold Sédar
Senghor defined Negritude as being “neither racialism nor self-negation. Yet it is not
just affirmation; it is rooting oneself in oneself, and self-confirmation: confirmation of
one’s being” (Sédar Senghor 1993 p27).
The Negritude movement was followed by Caribbeanness (or “antillanité”),
the term coined by the Martinican writer and theorist Edouard Glissant, a former pupil
of Césaire’s, whose writing consists primarily of poetry and novels. Like Césaire, he
was educated in Paris, and has written extensively for publications such as Présence
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Africaine and Les lettres modernes. (Jack 1996 pl 13). Glissant’s objective has been to
focus positive attention on the multiplicity of cultures in the Caribbean. As Suzanne
Crosta explains, Glissant offered “the Caribbean as a prodigious site for theoretical
reflections on cultural contact in all its various forms and moments, forced migrations,
slavery, colonialism” (Crosta 1993 p l63).
Bemabé, Chamoiseau and Confiant, all prolific Martinican writers, have been
greatly influenced by ‘Caribbeanness’ and have furthered the debate on what it means
to be Caribbean by advocating a revitalisation of all things Créole: language, culture
and identity. Their work, Eloge de la Créolité, published in 1989, “challenges past
and present discourses on Caribbean identity and calls for new paradigms to reflect
inclusivity and accept diversity” (Crosta 1999 pl64). However, the manifesto reveals
the paradoxical element in Caribbean writing and identity. Although these writers and
theorists now have a voice, and a mammoth literary effort to reengage with history,
culture and identity is underway, Caribbean discourse is, nonetheless, still voiceless in
the island communities from which it emanates. The following quote from Eloge de la
Créolité underlines the fact that Caribbean identity is still in its formative stages:
La littérature antillaise n’existe pas encore. Nous sommes dans un état de
prélittérature: celui d’une production écrite sans audience chez elle,
méconnaissant l’interaction auteurs/lecteurs où s’élabore une littérature. Cet
état n’est pas imputable à la seule domination politique, il s’explique par le fait
que notre vérité s’est trouvé mise sous verrous, à l’en-bas du plus profond de
nous-mêmes, étrangère à notre conscience et à la lecture librement artistique
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du monde dans lequel nous vivons. Nous sommes fondamentalement frappés
d’extériorité. (Bernabé, Chamoiseau, Confiant 1989 p 14)
To find one’s identity in the movement of “créolité”, as advocated by Bernabé,
Chamoiseau and Confiant is, in reality, very different from Condé’s personal notion
of identity. For her, identity appears to be a more individual aspiration, rather than a
cultural one, such as “créolité”. In a recent interview, she outlines the problems
attached to the question “Where are you from?”: she is black, but does not emphasise
her African-ness as a principal constituent of her identity; she is West Indian, but does
not speak Créole accurately, not does she live permanently in Guadeloupe
(McCormick 2000 p 519). Hence, the notion of identity for Condé appears to be a
personal construct, something one must define for oneself. This, as aforesaid,
contradicts somewhat the more global advocations of identity as proposed by theorists
such as Bernabé, Chamoiseau and Confiant.
Critical writing on notions o f identity
In our ever-increasingly globalised world, national boundaries, nation states, tradition
and culture, inter alia, are undergoing unprecedented levels of change. Homi Bhabha,
discussing culture, states that “the very concepts of homogenous national cultures, the
consensual or contiguous transmission of historical traditions, or ‘organic’ ethnic
communities as the grounds o f cultural comparativism are in a profound process of
redefinition” (Bhabha 1998 p936). The very notion of identity, whether individual,
collective or cultural is in a state of flux. It is interesting to note perhaps that, although
this study concerns itself solely with Caribbean identity, the questioning of identity is
ll
by no means limited to colonial or post-colonial territories. Indeed social and political
discourses on identity have never been more relevant than now during the early years
of this new millennia.
Much research into notions of identity has been done in recent years in the
hope of answering questions regarding self and origin, and in the hope of obtaining
some closure or finality regarding the past. In the case of former slave societies,
where the individual was dispossessed, not only of motherland, family and religious
beliefs, but also of any notion of selfhood, the questioning of identity has been most
traumatic. Differing methods have been employed to examine identity in the case of
the Caribbean. Stuart Hall has theorised two different kinds of identity, identity as
“being”, (offering a continuity with the past), and identity as “becoming” (Hall 1993
p394). This second form views identity as undergoing constant transformation and
being “subject to the continuous ‘play’ of history, culture and power” (idem). Hall
traces Caribbean identity back to three Présences: Présence Africaine, Présence
Européenne and Présence Américaine, which he says represent the three principal
types of cultural identity in the modem Caribbean. Présence Africaine represents the
repression of slavery, whose legacy still dominates the Caribbean psyche. Présence
Européenne denotes the domination of the European powers over the Caribbean
people, while Présence Américaine is the territory “where strangers from every other
part of the globe collided” (Hall 1993 p400). The combination of these Présences
render the Caribbean a site of multiple histories, cultures and identities.
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Introduction to the novels
The rewriting of history is one way in which Caribbean writers seek their identity
through the telling of their history from their own perspective. Daniel Maximin’s
L 'Isolé Soleil is but one example where French Caribbean history is re-examined and
retold through the eyes of a contemporary Guadeloupean woman (Maximin 1989).
Moi, Tituba, sorcière ...Noire de Salem, which will be analysed in Chapter 1,
exemplifies this re-examination and retelling of history, in this case, that of Tituba’s, a
black slave accused of witchcraft in 17thcentury America. Tituba, we are told, cannot
read nor write, and Condé appears to be a ghostwriter in the novel, transcribing
Tituba’s story. Much has been written on the lack of identity experienced by slaves,
and in this novel Condé attempts to reinstate an identity for Tituba, who, because she
is black, has been forgotten by dominant historical discourse. For Haigh, “to say ‘I’, is
to claim an identity beyond that which has been marked upon the body by the master,
to assert one’s identity as a human subject” (Haigh 2000 p i69). Tituba is offered this
chance to say “I” and the narrative plays out the assertion of her identity. I will
examine how her identity is negotiated in relation to her homeland, Barbados, and
also in her interactions with men and women in the novel.
Une saison à Rihata, analysed in Chapter 2, is Condé’s second novel, and as
aforesaid, is set against the backdrop of Africa. On the level of plot, it tracks the
journey of a Guadeloupean woman in Africa on a search for self, and explores the
deep disillusionment which may be found in this continent, for French Caribbeans
who seek an origin here. The novel’s heroine, Marie-Hélène, is a deeply unhappy,
complex, multi-faceted woman, and I will analyse in detail, the elements which
constitute her personal identity.
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Traversée de la Mangrove, is set in its entirety in a small fictional town in
Guadeloupe, against the background of a wake. Certain aspects of Francis Sancher’s
(the dead man) identity are presented through the multiple testimonies of the
habitants, who, in reliving their knowledge of Sancher, awaken and rediscover
elements of their own personal identities. Collective cultural identity is also present in
this novel, and I will explore Condé’s presentation of both types of identity in this
third chapter.
Finally, I will analyse personal identity in Desirada, a novel set in
Guadeloupe, France and America. The heroine, Marie-Noëlle, spends much time
trying in vain to discover the identity of her father, which she believes will unlock the
secrets of her own identity. From a narrative viewpoint, Desirada is a highly complex
novel, and the heroine’s quest to decipher her true origins is never fulfilled. I will
explore in detail Marie-Noëlle’s need to discover the identity of her biological father,
and also analyse the strained relationship she has with her own mother and
grandmother.
Identity for the Caribbeans - a possible dream?
The four novels analysed in this thesis are interwoven with the concept of identity,
and the notion that seeking and finding identity are vital for happiness and selfawareness. As will be seen in the following chapters, many questions are asked in
Condé’s work, but few answers are provided. Several characters suffer a malaise
which may be symbolic of the broader unease in the Caribbeans. Questions such as
“Who am I?” and “What am I”? are difficult, if not impossible to answer, because the
past, for this colonised people, is an dark space where certainty does not exist. For the
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Caribbean, perhaps the only way forward, is to look towards the future with hope, and
not ask: “Where am I from?”. A fractured past, littered with unstable truths, is filled
with uncertainty and with unanswered questions. In the coming chapters, I will
investigate the notion that the unknowable past may be best left behind.
15
Slavery and self perception: the proclamation o f identity in
Moi, Tituba, sorcière ... Noire de Salem.
W h ils t liv in g in B o s t o n d u rin g 2 0 0 1 - 0 2 ,1 v is it e d the S a le m W it c h M u s e u m , a n d in so
d o in g , w a s a b le to g ra s p , a lb e it in so m e s m a ll w a y , the in c r e d ib le in ju s t ic e s d o n e b y
the P u r ita n s , to so m a n y w o m e n d u rin g th is r e m a rk a b le p e rio d in A m e r ic a n h is to r y . I
k n e w M a r y s e C o n d é h a d w ritte n a fic t io n a l n o v e l b a se d o n the w it c h t r ia ls , a n d I w a s
in te re s te d in re a d in g h e r e x p lo ra tio n o f th is h is t o r ic a l m o m e n t.
Moi, Tituba, sorcière ...noire de Salem,
f ir s t p u b lis h e d in F r a n c e in 1 9 8 6 , is an
h is t o r ic a l n o v e l set a g a in s t the b a c k g ro u n d o f the S a le m w it c h t r ia ls o f 1 6 9 2 - 9 3 .
T it u b a w a s a b la c k s la v e fro m B a r b a d o s a c c u s e d b y th e P u r ita n s o f p r a c tis in g
w it c h c r a ft w h ile liv in g in 17th c e n tu ry A m e r ic a . U n lik e h e r c o - a c c u s e d , T it u b a
c o n fe s s e d h e r c r im e an d in d o in g so s a v e d h e r lif e . H o w e v e r , a s an h is t o r ic a l fig u re in
o n e o f the w o r ld ’ s m o st in fa m o u s t r ia ls , little is k n o w n o r d o c u m e n te d a b o u t h e r.
M a r y s e C o n d é d is c o v e re d T it u b a w h ile c o n d u c tin g re s e a r c h at U C L A in
C a lif o r n ia d u rin g th e 1 9 8 0 s . S h e h ad b e e n u n a w a re o f th e b la c k s la v e ’ s e x is te n c e u n til
th e n , b u t u p o n a p p ro a c h in g h is to r ia n s at the u n iv e r s it y fo u n d th e y w e re n o t in te re s te d
in T it u b a ’ s l if e ( P f a f f 1993 p 5 8 ). C o n d é e x p la in s h e r in te re s t in re c re a tin g an
e x is te n c e an d a s to ry fo r T it u b a : “ I w a s m a in ly in te re s te d in the r a c is m a ff e c tin g th is
b la c k w o m a n , w h o h a d b e e n c o m p le te ly fo rg o tte n , c ro s s e d o u t o f h is t o r y ” ( P f a f f 1993
P 6 0 ).
I w i l l e x a m in e id e n tity in the fo llo w in g w a y s in th is c h a p te r: T it u b a ’ s r e la tio n s h ip
w it h h e r h o m e la n d B a r b a d o s an d h e r r e la t io n s h ip s w it h m e n . I w i l l th e n e x a m in e h e r
r e a lis a tio n o f s la v e r y th ro u g h l if e w it h Jo h n In d ie n , h e r h u s b a n d . S u b s e q u e n tly , I w i l l
16
e x p lo re h e r r e la tio n s h ip w it h h e r m o th e r, A b e n a , an d h e r s u rro g a te m o th e r, M a m a
Y a y a . F i n a l ly , I w i l l a n a ly s e h o w T it u b a m a y be se e n as b o th a m a te rn a l fig u re , an d
a ls o as a w it c h .
A s R o b e rt J . M c C o r m ic k s u g g e sts, C o n d é ’ s title is b o th c le v e r a n d s ig n ific a n t
( M c C o r m ic k 1 9 9 6 p i 5 3 ).
Moi is
the a ff ir m a tio n th a t T it u b a e x is t s a n d h e n c e fo rth
p o s s e s s e s an id e n tity . It illu s tr a te s the fa c t th at she h a s a v o ic e , a n d m o re im p o r ta n tly ,
th a t sh e k n o w s th is . I t is a p r o c la m a tio n o f a s s e rtiv e n e s s a n d s e lf- a w a re n e s s , r o u tin e ly
d e n ie d to s la v e s . T h e fa c t th a t T it u b a is c a p a b le o f p r o c la im in g h e r s e lf a s e x is t in g ,
go es to p ro v e she is a b le to tra n s c e n d , in so m e w a y s , the n a r ro w b o u n d a rie s o f
s la v e r y . T h o u g h she w i l l be d is p o s se s s e d o f h e r p h y s ic a l fre e d o m , a s w i l l be
e x a m in e d in th is c h a p te r, sh e is n o n e th e le s s c a p a b le o f re t a in in g a stro n g se n se o f s e lf.
B e in g a b le to s a y
Moi is
a ls o v e r y m o d e m an d e x p o s e s a stro n g f e m in is t a n g le to
T itu b a .
H o w e v e r , the se co n d p a rt o f the title ,
sorcière...Noire de Salem,
is p e rh a p s
m o re p r o b le m a tic . Is T it u b a s im p ly la b e llin g h e r s e lf a s sh e h a s b e e n p e rc e iv e d b y
o th e rs , a s a b la c k w it c h fro m S a le m , o r is she p r o u d ly a f f ir m in g h e r p r o fe s s io n ,
in s c r ib in g it w it h v a lu e ? A s w it h m a n y a s p e c ts o f C o n d é ’ s w o r k th is is p e rh a p s n o t
e a s ily a n s w e re d . H o w e v e r , I w i l l a d d re ss th is q u e s tio n la te r in th e c h a p te r.
A s a y o u n g c h ild T it u b a e n jo y s , a lb e it b r ie f ly , the in n o c e n c e o f e a r ly d a y s w it h
A b e n a , an d A b e n a ’ s lo v e r , Y a o . H o w e v e r , th is h a p p in e s s is ta in te d s o m e w h a t b y the
d is c o v e r y th a t A b e n a d o es n o t lo v e h e r (a th e m e c o m m o n to s e v e r a l o f C o n d é ’ s
w o r k s ) , as T it u b a s e rv e s a s a c o n s ta n t re m in d e r o f the s a ilo r w h o ra p e d h e r m o th e r
a b o a rd the s la v e s h ip ,
Christ the King:
17
A b e n a , m a m è re , u n m a r in a n g la is la v io la s u r le p o n t d u C h r is t th e K i n g , un
j o u r de 1 6 * * a lo rs qu e le n a v ir e
faisait v o ile
v e r s la B a r b a d e . C ’ e st de ce tte
a g re s s io n que j e s u is n ée . D e c e t acte de h a in e et de m é p ris , ( p l 3 )
B o m fro m a n a c t o f v io le n c e , to a fa th e r w h o m she w i l l n e v e r k n o w , T it u b a is
in itia te d in to an im m e d ia te la c k o f id e n tity an d la c k o f o r ig in , p e rh a p s th e m o st
re c u rr in g th e m e in F r e n c h C a r ib b e a n lite ra tu re . H o w e v e r , h e r lif e is in te rs p e rs e d w it h
s h o rt p e rio d s o f s t a b ilit y . Y a o ta k e s the p la c e o f a fa th e r a n d in so m e w a y h e lp s
re in sta te a f a m ily lif e a n d an id e n tity fo r th e y o u n g T it u b a . I t is h e w h o g iv e s h e r h e r
n a m e , T I - T U - B A , w h ic h sh e b e lie v e s he in v e n te d . A s Je a n n ie S u k s u g g e sts , “ th is a c t
is the f ir s t a s s e rtio n o f im a g in a r y p a re n ta g e a n d lin e a g e , m a d e n e c e s s a r y b y the
tra u m a o f ra p e ” ( S u k 2 0 0 1 p l 2 2 ) .
T h e n a m e ‘ T it u b a ’ is h ig h ly e v o c a t iv e o f m e a n in g . M a r y G a lla g h e r su g g e sts a
c o n n e c tio n b e tw e e n the e p o n y m s S o lib a , a C r e o le w o rd fo r a f a ll o r tu m b le an d
T it u b a , w h ic h , she n o te s, e c h o e s the F r e n c h w o rd ‘ titu b e r ’ to s tu m b le o r f a ll
( G a lla g h e r 2 0 0 2 p l 3 2 ) . T it u b a c a n m o st d e f in it e ly b e se e n a s a s tu m b lin g fig u re ,
ta k in g s o m e w h a t u n c e rta in ste p s th ro u g h o u t th e n o v e l. H o w e v e r , p e rh a p s h e r n a m e
sta n d s in s te a d fo r s o m e th in g q u ite d iffe re n t, a s a s tu m b lin g f ig u re , b u t n o t a f a llin g
o n e , a n d as a s y m b o l o f e n d u ra n c e an d s u r v iv a l, d e sp ite the m a n y o b s ta c le s sh e w i l l
e n c o u n te r. D u r in g lif e sh e w i l l w ith s ta n d so m u c h : the lo s s o f A b e n a , Y a o a n d M a m a
Y a y a , e x ile fro m B a r b a d o s , d e s e rtio n b y Jo h n In d ie n a n d b e tr a y a l b y C h ris to p h e r , h e r
m a ro o n lo v e r . F o llo w in g h e r d e a th , h o w e v e r , sh e w i l l c o n tin u e to s u r v iv e in the s p irit
w o r ld , w a tc h in g o v e r h e r is la n d an d h e r p e o p le .
18
T h e w o r d “ titu b a ” m a y be a n a ly s e d d if fe r e n t ly . O n a g r a m m a t ic a l le v e l,
‘ t itu b a ’ is the th ird p e rs o n s in g u la r o f the v e rb ‘ titu b e r ’ in th e
passé simple te n se .
T h is
w o u ld n o r m a lly be u se d w it h the h e/sh e s u b je c t, h o w e v e r the n o v e l’ s title ju x ta p o s e s
the ‘ I ’ “ M o i” w it h th is th ird p e rs o n c o n ju g a tio n o f the v e rb ‘ titu b e r ’ . T h i s title is
th o u g h - p ro v o k in g : p e rh a p s T it u b a is a s s e rtin g , in no u n c e rta in te rm s , h e r e x is te n c e
an d id e n tity th ro u g h “ M o i” . H o w e v e r , sh e is p o s s ib ly d is ta n c in g h e r s e lf im m e d ia t e ly
w it h the th ird p e rs o n “ titu b a ” . S h e is s a y in g “ I ” , b u t d o e s n o t c o n s id e r th a t sh e c a n
T w i c e in the n o v e l T it u b a is a s k e d w h e re h e r n a m e h a s o rig in a te d . C o n d é
c o n tra s ts th e c o ld n e s s w it h w h ic h Jo h n In d ie n ’ s m is t re s s , S u s a n n a E n d ic o t t a s k s th is
q u e s tio n , w it h the d e lig h t e x p re s s e d b y H e s te r, a fe m a le p r is o n e r T it u b a m e e ts in j a i l .
N a m in g is an is s u e v e r y c e n tra l to C a r ib b e a n id e n tity . A s S u z a n n e C r o s t a s u g g e sts,
“ n a m in g w a s n e v e r a p e rs o n a l is s u e b u t a p o lit ic a l a n d c u ltu r a l o n e ” , a n d in m a n y
c a s e s s la v e s w e re n a m e d b y th e ir m a s te rs (C r o s t a 1 9 9 9 p i 6 6 ). T h e c o n c e p t o f n a m in g
in the C a r ib b e a n c o n te x t w i l l be a d d re sse d in m o re d e ta il in a s u b se q u e n t c h a p te r.
T h e b r u ta lit ie s o f s la v e r y a re o m n ip re s e n t in the n o v e l, an d C o n d é d o es n o t a tte m p t to
m in im is e the m is e r y , s u f fe r in g an d o p p re s s io n e x p e rie n c e d b y s la v e s . A b e n a ,
d e te rm in e d n o t to b e ra p e d a se co n d tim e , s tr ik e s h e r w h ite m a s te r an d fo r th is she is
h a n g e d . H e r h a n g in g illu s tr a te s the p o w e rle s s n e s s o f s la v e s a n d t h e ir sta tu s a s m e re
o b je c ts . T it u b a , la te r, w h ile w o r k in g fo r S u s a n n a E n d ic o t t , d e s c rib e s h e r la c k o f
id e n tity an d fe e lin g s o f in f e r io r it y :
O n a u ra it d it qu e j e n ’ é ta is p a s là , d e b o u t, au s e u il de la p iè c e . E l le s p a r la ie n t
de m o i, m a is en m ê m e te m p s, e lle s m ’ ig n o ra ie n t. E l l e s m e r a y a ie n t de la c a rte
19
d es h u m a in s . J ’ é ta is u n n o n -ê tre . U n in v is ib le . P lu s in v is ib le q u e le s in v is ib le s ,
c a r e u x au m o in s d é tie n te n t u n p o u v o ir qu e c h a c u n re d o u te . T it u b a , T it u b a
n ’ a v a it p lu s de ré a lité que c e lle q u e v o u la ie n t b ie n lu i c o n c é d e r c e s fe m m e s .
(p 4 4 )
M o s t s t r ik in g h e re is the ch a n g e fro m f ir s t to th ird p e rs o n n a r r a tiv e . T it u b a ’ s “ I ” in
d e s c rib in g the a ttitu d e s o f S u s a n n a E n d ic o tt a n d h e r fr ie n d s to h e r is d r a m a t ic a lly
tra n s fo rm e d to “ s h e ” . It is as i f th e y h a v e the p o w e r to m a k e h e r see h e r s e lf th ro u g h
th e ir e y e s . In th is se n te n ce h e r id e n tity h a s b e e n tra n s c e n d e d a n d sh e is n o lo n g e r
s u b je c t b u t o b je c t. T h i s is r e m in is c e n t o f the n o v e l’ s title , w h e re the w o rd “ T it u b a ” is
d is ta n c e d fro m the s u b je c t “ M o i” .
S u s a n n a E n d ic o t t t y p if ie s th e c o lo n ia l m is t re s s , s u r v e y in g a n d c o m m e n tin g o n
h e r s la v e . S h e is in so m e w a y s s im ila r to S a p p h ira , the s la v e m is t re s s o f W i l l a
C a th e r’ s
Sapphira and the Slave Girl (C a t h e r
1 9 4 0 ) w h o , f o r T o n i M o r r is o n , is “ a
w h ite w o m a n g a th e rin g id e n tity u n to h e r s e lf fro m the w h o lly a v a ila b le an d
s e rv ic e a b le liv e s o f A f r ic a n is t o th e rs ” (M o r r is o n 1 9 9 8 p 9 3 3 ). In d e e d , E n d ic o t t ’ s
id e n tity an d c h a ra c te r are in p a rt c o n s titu te d b y h e r d e a lin g s w it h Jo h n In d ie n an d
T it u b a . In so m e w a y , E n d ic o t t se e m s to ste a l the id e n titie s o f h e r s la v e s , an d she
m ig h t n o t be a b le to e x is t w ith o u t th e m . H e r id e n tity is th at o f a s la v e m is t re s s , an d
s la v e s are th e re fo re n e c e s s a r y to s u s ta in th is id e n tity .
Id e n tity an d H o m e la n d
B a r b a d o s , a s an is la n d , an d c o u n try o f b irth to T it u b a , m a in ta in s a stro n g c e n t r a lit y
th ro u g h o u t the n o v e l. M e t a p h o r ic a lly , an is la n d m a y c o n ju re u p id e a s a s c o n tra s tin g
20
a s an i d y llic p a ra d is e , o r a p la c e o f e x tre m e lo n e lin e s s a n d e x ile . A n is la n d m a y b e a
re tre a t, w h e re one c a n jo u r n e y d o w n the p a th s o f s e lf - d is c o v e r y a n d s e lf- r e a lis a tio n .
F o r T it u b a , B a r b a d o s is h e r M o th e r E a r t h , a n d , in so m e w a y s , a su rro g a te m o th e r fo r
h e r. S h e is h o r r ifie d u p o n le a rn in g th at Jo h n In d ie n m u s t le a v e fo r A m e r ic a , th o u g h
h e r lo v e fo r h im w i l l e n su re she b re a k s w it h h e r h o m e . E x i l e is v e r y d if f ic u lt fo r
T it u b a , an d o n s e v e r a l o c c a s io n s sh e r e fe r s p o s s e s s iv e ly to “ m a B a r b a d e ” . In S a le m ,
w h e n tro u b le d , she (r e )g a in s p o s s e s s io n o f h e r is la n d th u s:
Je r e m p lis s a is u n b o l d ’ e au q u e je p la ç a is p rè s de la fe n ê tre de fa ç o n à p o u v o ir
le re g a rd e r to u t en to u rn a n t et v ir a n t d a n s m a c u is in e et j ’ y e n fe r m a is m a
B a rb a d e . Je p a r v e n a is à l ’y fa ir e te n ir to u t e n tiè re a v e c la h o u le de c h a m p s de
ca n n e à s u c re p ro lo n g e a n t c e lle d es v a g u e s de la m e r , le s c o c o tie r s p e n c h é s du
b o rd de m e r et le s a m a n d ie rs - p a y s to u t c h a rg é s de f r u it s ro u g e s o u v e r t
so m b re , ( p l 0 1 )
S h e d e s c rib e s h e r y e a rn in g fo r B a rb a d o s a n d c o m p a re s it w it h th e y e a rn in g
e x p e rie n c e d b y h e r m a s te r ’ s w if e , E liz a b e t h P a r r is , a n d h e r d a u g h te r B e t s e y , w h o
y e a rn fo r a h a p p ie r lif e . F o r T it u b a , h e r o w n d e s ire is to b e o n c e m o re in B a r b a d o s ,
h e r b irt h p la c e , an d the is la n d o f h e r o rig in s . T it u b a r e a lis e s , d e s p ite a c lo s e fr ie n d s h ip
w it h E liz a b e t h an d B e t s e y , th at she c a n n o t id e n tify h e r s e lf w it h th e m . T it u b a
e m p a th is e s m u c h w it h E liz a b e t h , b u t s h e is r e a lis t ic , an d r e c o g n is e s th a t h e r sta tu s in
lif e is th at o f a s la v e :
21
N o u s n ’ a p p a rte n io n s p a s au m ê m e m o n d e , m a ître s s e P a r r is , B e t s e y et m o i, et
to u te l ’ a ffe c tio n qu e j ’ é p ro u v a is p o u r e lle s , ne p o u v a it c h a n g e r c e fa it- là .
(pl 02)
A p o ig n a n t in s ta n c e o f e x ile a n d d e s p a ir o c c u rs in th e p e rio d p r io r to th e a c c u s a tio n s .
T it u b a d e s c rib e s h e r h a b it o f ro a m in g th ro u g h th e fo re s t, a n d o n e d a y b e c o m e s
c la u s tro p h o b ic a n d fe e ls sh e w i l l d ie . F r a n t ic a lly she w o n d e rs i f h e r s o u l w i l l fin d its
w a y b a c k to B a r b a d o s . H o w e v e r , s u d d e n ly , sh e is re a s s u re d :
J ’ ab o rd e à la te rre que j ’ a i p e rd u e . Je r e v ie n s v e r s la h id e u r d é se rté e de se s
p la ie s . Je la re c o n n a is à so n o d e u r. O d e u r de s u e u r, de s o u ffr a n c e et de la b e u r.
M a is p a ra d o x a le m e n t o d e u r fo rte et c h a u d e q u i m e ré c o n fo rte . ( p l 0 7 )
T h e a b o v e c ita tio n r e fe rs to the ro le o f the n a tu ra l w o r ld in the n o v e l. T h e e a rth c a n be
se e n a s a w o m b , a n d , in th is c a s e a lo s t w o m b , a s T it u b a is fa r a w a y fr o m h e r b e lo v e d
B a r b a d o s . In h e r d is tre s s th e re is so m e m e a s u re o f h o p e a n d sh e d o e s n o t fe a r d e ath i f
h e r s o u l c a n go b a c k to B a rb a d o s . T h i s b itte rs w e e t d e p ic tio n o f B a r b a d o s , a s a la n d
p o p u la te d an d w o r k e d b y s la v e s , is w h e re T it u b a s e e k s to re tu rn . S h e m a k e s it c le a r
th at she is e x p e rie n c in g c o m fo r t an d re a s s u ra n c e in th is im a g in a r y r e tu rn , in th is
re c u p e ra tio n o f lo s t o r su sp e n d e d id e n tity . H e r id e n tity h a s b e e n s u s p e n d e d b e c a u se o f
h e r lo v e o f, an d m a rria g e to Jo h n In d ie n . S h e h a s le f t B a r b a d o s b e c a u s e o f h im , an d is
n o w liv in g a lif e in e x ile , an e x ile in d ir e c t ly o f h e r c h o o s in g . In th is w a y , she is n o t
liv in g o u t h e r o w n lif e an d id e n tity , b u t th at o f a d u tifu l w if e . B a r b a d o s m a y be
H e a v e n an d H e ll to h e r, b u t A m e r ic a is L im b o .
22
D u r in g a c o n v e rs a tio n in p r is o n w it h H e s te r, T it u b a s ig n if ic a n t ly id e n tifie s h e r s e lf as
o rig in a tin g in A f r i c a , b u t th is c o n tin e n t n o lo n g e r h a v in g a n y m e a n in g fo r “ u s ” .
A f r i c a , a lth o u g h the p o in t o f o r ig in , is c le a r ly n o t the p o in t o f s ig n ific a t io n fo r h e r an d
fo r “ u s ” (p r e s u m a b ly , she is r e fe r rin g to o th e r b la c k s fo rc e d to l iv e o u tsid e o f A f r i c a
du e to the d is p la c e m e n t o f s la v e r y ) . T it u b a is m a k in g a stro n g s ta te m e n t h e re :
B a r b a d o s is h e r h o m e la n d , w h e re in lie s h e r id e n tity . A f r i c a , a lth o u g h the o rig in a l
p la c e o f re fe re n c e is n o w d e v o id o f s ig n ific a t io n fo r h e r. I f w e lo o k c h r o n o lo g ic a lly at
C o n d é ’ s w r it in g ,
f ir s t th re e ,
Moi, Tituba, sorcière ...noire de Salem
is C o n d é ’ s fo u rth n o v e l. T h e
Heremakhonon, Ségou and Une saison à Rihata,
a re set in A f r i c a an d
e x p lo re th e C a r ib b e a n ’ s r e la t io n s h ip w it h A f r i c a a s m o th e rla n d a n d site o f o rig in a l
id e n tity . T h e g e o g ra p h ic lo c a tio n s in
Moi, Tituba, sorcière ...noire de Salem
are
B a r b a d o s an d A m e r ic a , an d in d e e d r e fe re n c e s at a ll to A f r i c a a re sp a rs e in th is n o v e l.
It is p o s s ib le T it u b a ’ s sta te m e n t to H e s te r re g a rd in g A f r i c a ’ s lo s s o f m e a n in g fo r
B la c k s is a ls o a m e ssa g e fro m C o n d é . C o u ld it be an a d v o c a tio n fo r b la c k C a r ib b e a n s
to lo o k no lo n g e r to A f r i c a fo r a n s w e rs a b o u t id e n tity ? T h e s e q u e s tio n s w i l l be
e x a m in e d at le n g th in m y c h a p te r o n
Une saison à Rihata.
F o llo w in g s e v e r a l im a g in e d re tu rn s , T it u b a f in a lly a r r iv e s b a c k in B a r b a d o s o n c e
B e n ja m in , h e r J e w is h m a s te r an d lo v e r , h a s re s to re d h e r fre e d o m . A s S a m H a ig h
s u g g e sts, “ T it u b a n o t o n ly re tu rn s to h e r m o th e r (s ’ ) la n d in a m a n n e r w h ic h [ w i l l n o t
b e ] p o s s ib le fo r M a r ie - H é lè n e [p ro ta g o n is t in
Une saison à Rihata ] ,
b u t, im p o r ta n tly ,
sh e n e v e r n e e d s to m a k e w h a t m ig h t be te rm e d a ‘ s p ir it u a l’ r e c o n n e c tio n ” , a s sh e h as
n e v e r b e c o m e d is c o n n e c te d fro m h e r is la n d (H a ig h 2 0 0 1 p i 8 0 ). I t is m o s t in te re s tin g
th a t T it u b a h a s n o t s e v e re d h e r tie s e m o tio n a lly w it h B a r b a d o s . S h e , u n lik e o th e r
s la v e s , k n o w s w h e re she b e lo n g s , an d s u f fe r s w h e n sh e is l iv in g in e x ile . T h i s r e v e a ls
23
a s u p e r io r ity o n h e r p a rt: sh e h a s fo u n d ro o ts in h e r is la n d h o m e a n d , a lth o u g h sh e is a
s la v e , sh e h a s n o t b e e n d is p o s se s s e d o f th is p a rt o f h e r id e n tity . H e r in it ia l d e p ic tio n
o f B a r b a d o s is , h o w e v e r , s u r p r is in g ly n e g a tiv e . A lth o u g h sh e h a s p in e d c o n s ta n tly fo r
h e r h o m e la n d w h ile in e x ile , f ir s t im p re s s io n s o f it a g a in a re u n h a p p y a n d r e m in d h e r
th at the o p p re s s io n s o f s la v e r y c o n tin u e to m a n ife s t th e m s e lv e s :
L e s ru e s c h a rr o y a ie n t u ne eau b o u e u se d a n s la q u e lle p a ta u g e a ie n t b ê te s et
g e n s. S a n s d o u te u n n é g rie r v e n a it - il de je t e r l ’ a n c re , c a r so u s l ’ a u v e n t de
p a ille d ’ u n m a rc h é , d es A n g la is , h o m m e s et fe m m e s , e x a m in a ie n t le s d e n ts, la
la n g u e et le s e x e d es b o s s a le s tre m b la n t d ’ h u m ilia t io n .
Q u ’ e lle é ta it la id e , m a v il l e ! P e tite . M e s q u in e . U n p o ste c o lo n ia l e n v e rg u re ,
to u t e m p u a n ti de l ’ o d e u r du lu c r e et de la s o u ffr a n c e . (p 2 1 8 )
T h e r e is a to ne o f d is m a y a n d u tte r d e je c tio n in th e se w o r d s . T h r o u g h o u t h e r
lo n e lin e s s in A m e r ic a , T itu b a h a s a lw a y s a lig n e d h e r s e lf w it h B a r b a d o s . I t is a
c o n s titu e n t o f h e r id e n tity , an d y e t, u p o n th is m u c h - y e a rn e d p h y s ic a l re tu rn , she
b e c o m e s a lm o s t d e ta ch e d fro m the is la n d sh e lo v e s . I t is a s i f sh e n o w se e s it th ro u g h
a d iffe re n t le n s an d c a n n o t r e c o n c ile h e r s e lf to o r id e n t if y w it h it a n y lo n g e r. I s th ere
p e rh a p s a s u b tle u n d e r ly in g m e s s a g e to th is ? Is C o n d é s h o w in g th e p o te n tia l
d is a p p o in tm e n t an d le td o w n th at r e s u lts w h e n y e a rn in g a n d n o s ta lg ia b e c o m e too
g re a t? Is id e n tity too p re c io u s an ite m to e n tru s t to o ne c o u n tr y , o n e h o m e la n d , o ne
is la n d ? In m y in tro d u c tio n , I h a v e d ra w n a tte n tio n to C o n d é ’ s r e fu s a l to a llo w h e r
w o r k b e re s tric te d b y b o u n d a rie s o f a n y ty p e . M a n y o f h e r n o v e ls in v o lv e the
jo u r n e y in g o f c h a ra c te rs fro m o ne c o u n tr y to a n o th e r, n e v e r c o n te n t to se ttle
c o m p le te ly in o n e p la c e . C o n d é , d is c u s s in g h e r w o r k , e x p la in s th a t sh e w a n ts to s h o w
24
th a t W e s t In d ia n s tr a v e l an d m o v e a b o u t, an d th at th e se is la n d s a re p la c e s o f
g e n e ra tio n an d d is p e rs io n , n o t c o n fin e m e n t. ( P f a f f 19 93 p 6 8 ) . I b e lie v e C o n d é w a n ts
to p o rtra y C a r ib b e a n id e n tity in te rm s o f o p a c ity , an d n o t a s a re d u c tiv e o r lim it in g
ag en t. I w i l l d e a l fu rth e r w it h th ese is s u e s in su b se q u e n t c h a p te rs .
In the n o v e l’ s e p ilo g u e , T it u b a s p e a k s to u s fro m the g ra v e a n d , h e re , sh e se e m s to
h a v e m a d e p e a c e w it h a ll an d w it h h e r is la n d . In d e a th , sh e c a n n o w e n jo y its
p le a s u re s , p le a s u re s fo rs a k e n h e r w h e n in e x ile :
E t p u is , i l y a m o n île . Je m e c o n fo n d s a v e c e lle . P a s u n de se s s e n tie rs q u e j e
n ’ a ie p a rc o u ru . P a s u n de se s r u is s e a u x d a n s le q u e l j e ne m e s o is b a ig n é e . P a s
u n de se s m a p o u x s u r le s b ra n c h e s d u q u e l je n e m e s o is b a la n c é e . C e tte
c o n sta n te et e x tra d o rd in a ire s y m b io s e m e v e n g e de m a lo n g u e s o litu d e d a n s
le s d é se rts d ’ A m é riq u e . (p 2 7 1 )
In d e a th , T it u b a an d B a r b a d o s are o n e , th e y h a v e fu s e d a n d a re in te rc o n n e c te d
fo re v e r . T h e r e is a s e n tim e n t o f p e rm a n e n c e in th e se lin e s , a n d T it u b a se e m s to be
r e c o n c ile d w it h h e r m o th e rla n d .
T it u b a ’ s id e n tity as r e a lis e d b y h e r r e la t io n s h ip s w it h m e n
M a r y s e C o n d é , in one in t e r v ie w w it h P f a f f , e x p la in s she is n o t a w r it e r w h o c re a te s
e x e m p la r y c h a ra c te rs ( P f a f f 1993 p 6 0 ). In
Moi, Tituba, sorcière ...noire de Salem,
sh e d e c id e d to “ d e s tro y w h a t m ig h t a p p e a r e x e m p la r y in the s to ry b y re n d e rin g T it u b a
ra th e r n a ïv e an d s o m e tim e s r id ic u lo u s ” ( P f a f f 19 93 p 6 0 ). T h i s is n o n e m o re o b v io u s
25
th a n in T it u b a ’ s r e la t io n s h ip w it h m e n , p a r t ic u la r ly w it h Jo h n In d ie n , an d th e m a ro o n
C h ris to p h e r .
A c c o r d in g to C o n d é ’ s re s e a rc h , Jo h n In d ie n d id e x is t a s a h u s b a n d to the
h is t o r ic a l fig u re T it u b a , b u t ab a n d o n e d h e r fo r a n o th e r w o m a n , s im ila r to th e n a r ra tiv e
in C o n d é ’ s n o v e l ( P f a f f 1 9 93 p 6 1 ). T it u b a ’ s f ir s t m e e tin g w it h In d ie n o c c u rs e a r ly in
the n o v e l fo llo w in g the d e ath o f M a y a Y a y a . S h e is liv in g a lo n e in h e r c a b in an d h a s
b e c o m e a re c lu s e an d fe a r - in s p irin g c h a ra c te r. S h e n e g le c ts h e r p e rs o n a l a p p e a ra n c e
a n d is p r o b a b ly c o n s id e re d “ w it c h - lik e ” .
Jo h n In d ie n is b ra z e n , a p p e a rs c o n fid e n t a n d h a s an in fe c tio u s la u g h . H is
g a ie ty an d la u g h te r a p p e a l s tro n g ly to T it u b a , an d she d e c la re s h e r s e lf s u rp ris e d so m e
p e o p le c a n b e h a p p y o n th is “ te rre de m is è r e ” (p 2 8 ). H is im p a c t o n T it u b a is
im m e d ia te : she is d r iv e n to a s k h im i f sh e w i l l see h im a g a in , a n d s u m m o n s M a y a
Y a y a to a s k w h a t the fu tu re h o ld s , an d i f he w i l l b e p a rt o f it.
L i f e an d Jo h n In d ie n p re s e n t T it u b a w it h a d ile m m a . H e r re c e n t p a s t h a s b e e n o ne o f
p e a c e an d t r a n q u illit y , liv in g a lo n e w it h h e r s p ir it fr ie n d s fo r c o m p a n io n s h ip . I t m a y
b e a rg u e d sh e h a s h a d a lu c k y e sca p e fro m a life t im e o f s la v e r y . D u e to h e r m o th e r’ s
h a n g in g , sh e h a s b e e n d r iv e n o f f th e p la n ta tio n at a te n d e r a g e , a n d h e r lif e b o th w it h
M a m a Y a y a an d p r io r to m e e tin g Jo h n In d ie n h a s b e e n liv e d o u t o n the fr in g e s o f
s o c ie ty , in a n e v e r- n e v e r la n d w h e re she h a s k n o w n n e ith e r th e h a rd s h ip s o f s la v e r y
n o t the fe a rs o f m a ro o n lif e . N o w , sh e is fa c e d w it h a c r u e l b u t d ir e c t c h o ic e ,
c o n tin u e d e x is te n c e as is , o r the tra d e - o ff, a lif e s h a re d w it h In d ie n , b u t a re tu rn to the
o p p re s s io n s o f s la v e r y an d the w h ite m a n . T h e d e c is io n to rm e n ts h e r :
26
M a m è re a v a it été v io lé e p a r un B la n c . E l l e a v a it été p e n d u e à c a u s e d ’ u n
B l a n c . .. M o n p è re a d o p t if s ’ é ta it s u ic id é à c a u s e d ’ u n B la n c . E n d é p it de to u t
c e la , j ’ e n v is a g e a is de re c o m m e n c e r à v iv r e p a r m i e u x , d a n s le u r s e in , so u s le u r
c o u p e . T o u t c e la p a r g o û t e ffré n é d ’ u n m o rta l. E s t - c e q u e c e n ’ é ta it p a s fo lie ?
F o lie et tra h is o n ? (p 3 7 )
T h e w o r d s “ u n B la n c ” is re ite ra te d fo u r tim e s in th e se lin e s . T it u b a is o p e n ly n a m in g
th is c o lle c t iv e o ffe n d e r, illu s tr a tin g the d eep h u rt she h a s e x p e rie n c e d b e c a u se o f “ u n
B la n c ” . C o n d é p o rtra y s h e r as e x tr e m e ly w e a k in th e se lin e s : s h e , w h o h a s s u ffe re d so
m u c h at th e h a n d s o f the w h ite m a n , w i l l c o n s id e r r e tu rn in g to h is w o r ld .
T it u b a ’ s d e c is io n to f o llo w Jo h n In d ie n b a c k in to th e w h ite m a n ’ s w o r ld w i l l
c o s t h e r d e a r ly . T h e re a d e r is w it n e s s to a n im m e d ia te c h a n g e in T it u b a ’ s c h a ra c te r, a
fo rc e d c h a n g e , an d sh e n o w b e c o m e s u n c h a r a c t e r is t ic a lly d o c ile a n d s u b s e rv ie n t. T h is
n e w fa c e t o f h e r id e n tity is r e a lly h e r f ir s t jo u r n e y in to s e lf- a w a re n e s s . S h e is a b o u t to
s a c r if ic e m u c h , a s sh e h a s f a lle n in lo v e . B e c a u s e o f Jo h n In d ie n , sh e h a s n o w b e c o m e
a w o m a n , a n d , lik e a ll o th e r w o m e n , sh e w i l l n o w m a tu re in a w a y w h ic h is e x p e c te d
o f h e r. S h e w i l l b e c o m e s u b m is s iv e an d o b e d ie n t, b e c a u se th a t is w h a t is re q u ire d o f
h e r, an d in d e e d , o f a ll w o m e n , b la c k o r w h ite . H e r n e w ly - fo u n d s u b m is s io n is a ls o
e v id e n c e o f h e r e m e rg in g s e x u a l id e n tity , w h ic h I w i l l d is c u s s at th e e n d o f th is
s e c tio n .
T it u b a ’ s p ath to lo v e d e m a n d s th at she w i l l b e c o m e a v ic t im , s im ila r ly to m a n y o f the
o th e r w o m e n p o rtra y e d in the n o v e l. H e r f ir s t m e e tin g w it h S u s a n n a E n d ic o t t is
e v id e n c e o f th is . E n d ic o t t d o e s n o t d is g u is e h e r d is g u s t fo r T it u b a , a n d in s is t s she
lo w e r h e r e y e s w h e n s p e a k in g to h e r n e w m is tre s s . T it u b a o b e y s b e c a u s e o f h e r lo v e
fo r Jo h n In d ie n . H e r id e n tity an d p e rs o n a lit y are n o w in a c o m p le te state o f f l u x , an d
27
sh e m u s t le a rn to c o n fo rm w it h the r u le s o f h e r n e w s la v e m is t re s s . A b e n a , m a k in g a
s p iritu a l a p p e a ra n c e b e fo re T it u b a le a v e s to liv e w it h Jo h n In d ie n la m e n ts : “ P o u rq u o i
le s fe m m e s ne p e u v e n t- e lle s se p a s s e r d es h o m m e s ? ” ( p 3 1). S h e w i l l re p e a t th is at
v a r io u s ju n c t u r e s th ro u g h o u t the n o v e l. T h i s is a c r it ic is m o n C o n d é ’ s p a rt, a c r it ic is m
o f w o m e n an d the s a c r if ic e s th e y w i l l m a k e fo r m e n w h o w i l l n o t n e c e s s a r ily m e r it
th e m .
I w i l l lo o k b r ie f ly n o w at r e lig io n an d the ro le it p la y s in th is n o v e l in re la t io n to
T it u b a ’ s id e n tity . S la v e s o n the p la n ta tio n s h a d t r a d it io n a lly trie d to c o n tin u e in th e ir
p r a c tic e o f r e lig io n s an d c u s to m s in an a tte m p t to p re s e rv e a u n iq u e p a rt o f th e ir
id e n tity . W e are u n a w a re o f T it u b a ’ s r e lig io n in the n o v e l, h e r m a in p re o c c u p a tio n
b e in g w it h w it c h c r a ft a n d its u se to o b ta in p o s it iv e o u tc o m e s . T it u b a m u s t n o w ,
s im ila r to a ll o th e r s la v e s , b e c o m e a C h r is t ia n , irr e s p e c tiv e o f a n y p e rs o n a l b e lie fs she
m a y h o ld . T h i s is a n o th e r e x a m p le o f the c o n tin u in g s a c r if ic e s s h e m u s t m a k e fo r
Jo h n In d ie n , a n d is e v id e n c e o f the fu rth e r e ro s io n o f h e r s e lf a n d h e r id e n tity . W e see
th is c le a r ly in the fo llo w in g c ita tio n :
J e c r o is en D ie u , le P è re T o u t- P u is s a n t, C r é a te u r du c ie l et de la te rre et en
J é s u s - C h r is t , so n F i l s u n iq u e , N o tre S e ig n e u r . . .
Je s e c o u a i fré n é tiq u e m e n t la tête : Jo h n In d ie n , j e ne p e u x ré p é te r c e la !
R é p è te , m o n a m o u r ! C e q u i c o m p te p o u r l ’ e s c la v e , c ’ e s t de s u r v iv r e ! R é p è te ,
m a re in e . T u t ’ im a g in e s p e u t-ê tre q u e j ’ y c r o is , m o i à le u r h is to ir e de S a in te
T r in it é . U n s e u l D ie u en tro is p e rs o n n e s d is tin c te s ? M a is c e la n ’ a p a s
d ’ im p o rta n c e . I l s u f f it de fa ir e s e m b la n t. R é p è te ! (p p 4 5 - 4 6 )
28
*
A lth o u g h T it u b a m a y be p o rtra y e d as r id ic u lo u s ( P f a f f 1 9 93 p 6 0 ) a n d s e lf - s a c r if ic in g ,
w e a re w it n e s s e s to o c c a s io n a l m o m e n ts o f lu c id it y a n d s e lf- r e a lis a t io n . S h e
u n d e rs ta n d s , e v e n in h e r e a r ly d a y s w it h Jo h n In d ie n th a t sh e h a s m a d e a c h o ic e , an d
w h ile she m a y be fre e to le a v e h im , she r e a lis e s sh e w i l l be u n a b le to do th is . I t is a
m o m e n t o f h e ig h te n e d s e lf- a w a re n e s s an d c o m p le te c o m p re h e n s io n o f h e r a c ts an d
th e ir c o n s e q u e n c e s a n d y e t, p a r a d o x ic a lly , it is a ls o a m o s t d e p re s s in g m o m e n t in the
n o v e l a s it p la y s o u t h e r in t r in s ic w e a k n e s s :
Je n ’ a v a is qu e q u e lq u e s g e ste s à fa ir e . M e le v e r , p re n d re m o n m in c e b a llo t de
lin g e , tir e r la p o rte d e rriè re m o i et re p re n d re le c h e m in de la r iv iè r e O rm o n d e .
H é la s ! J ’ e n é ta is e m p ê c h é e .
L e s e s c la v e s q u i d e s c e n d a ie n t p a r fo u rn é e s e n tiè re s d e s n é g rie rs et qu e to ute la
b o n n e so c ié té de B rid g e to w n s ’ a s s e m b la ie n t p o u r re g a rd e r, a f in d ’e n r a ille r en
ch œ u r la d é m a rc h e , le s tra its et la p o s tu re , é ta ie n t p lu s lib r e s qu e m o i. C a r ils
n ’ a v a ie n t p a s c h o is i le u rs c h a în e s . I ls n ’ a v a ie n t p a s m a rc h é , de le u r p le in g ré ,
v e r s la m e r so m p te u se et d é m o n té e , p o u r se liv r e r a u x tra fiq u a n ts et o f f r ir le u rs
d o s à l ’ é ta m p a g e .
M o i, c ’ é ta it là ce qu e j ’ a v a is fa it. (p 4 5 )
T it u b a ’ s w e a k n e s s a n d la c k o f c o n tro l o v e r h e r o w n lif e an d d e s tin y is m a n ife s te d
o n c e a g a in w h e n S u s a n n a E n d ic o t t s e lls Jo h n In d ie n to S a m u e l P a r r is . A lth o u g h
E n d ic o t t h a s no le g a l h o ld o v e r T it u b a , sh e k n o w s th a t the la tte r w i l l n o t le a v e In d ie n
a n d , th e re fo re , w i l l t r a v e l w it h h im to A m e r ic a . T it u b a a g o n is e s o v e r h e r p re d ic a m e n t
b u t, in the e n d , h e r w e a k n e s s fo r Jo h n In d ie n w in s o ut:
29
O u i, j e p o u v a is m ’ e x c la m e r :
N o n , S u s a n n a E n d ic o t t ! Je s u is la c o m p a g n e de Jo h n In d ie n , m a is v o u s ne
m ’ a v e z p a s a c h e té e . V o u s ne p o s s é d e z a u c u n titre de p ro p rié té m ’ é n u m é ra n t
a v e c v o s c h a is e s , v o s c o m m o d e s , v o tre lit e t v o s é d re d o n s . A u s s i d o n c , v o u s
n e p o u v e z m e v e n d re et le g e n tle m a n de B o s t o n ne fe ra p a s m a in b a s s e s u r
m e s tré so rs .
O u i, m a is s i j e p a r la is a in s i, j e s e ra is sé p a ré e de Jo h n In d ie n ! (p 6 1 )
L a t e r in the n o v e l w h e n T it u b a is in p r is o n , In d ie n w i l l v is i t h e r r a r e ly , an d th e n th ese
v is it s w i l l c e a se e n t ir e ly . S h e w i l l h a v e s a c r if ic e d m u c h o f h e r lif e fo r h im .
T it u b a f i n a l ly re tu rn s to B a r b a d o s a n d m e e ts C h ris to p h e r , th e m a ro o n le a d e r. H is
in te re s t in h e r is p r im a r ily b e c a u se he h o p e s sh e w i l l m a k e h im in v in c ib le an d a ll
p o w e r fu l a m o n g the m a ro o n s . T it u b a , in h e r d e a lin g s w it h h im is p o rtra y e d as
r id ic u lo u s ly n a ïv e , s im p ly an o b je c t to f u lf i l h is d e s ire s , b o th s e x u a l an d e g o tis tic .
A lth o u g h sh e e x p la in s to h im th at sh e w i l l be u n a b le to m a k e h im im m o r ta l, she ta k e s
a r e v o lu tio n a r y sta n c e b y o ffe rin g to fig h t the w h ite f o lk w it h h im . W e see h e r in a
n e w lig h t h e re , id e n t ify in g h e r s e lf w it h a n o b le c a u s e an d s h o w in g h e r n e w - fo u n d
d e s ire fo r r e s is ta n c e a n d r e v o lt . T h i s is c le a r ly e v id e n c e o f h e r s e lfle s s n e s s an d
c o u ra g e . In h e r w is h to fig h t, she p o s itio n s h e r s e lf o u tsid e th e b o u n d a rie s o f n o rm a l
tr a d itio n a l w o m a n h o o d , a lm o s t as a “ Jo a n o f A r c ” fig u re . T it u b a s h o w s n o fe a r, o n ly a
d e s ire fo r ju s t ic e fo r h e r p e o p le . C h ris to p h e r , h o w e v e r , c le a r ly d is tin g u is h e s b e tw e e n
w h a t a w o m a n m a y o r m a y n o t do:
30
T e b a ttre ? C o m m e tu y v a s . L e d e v o ir d es fe m m e s , T it u b a , c e n ’ e st p a s de se
b a ttre , fa ir e la g u e rre , m a is l ’ a m o u r ! (p 2 3 3 )
T it u b a is re p o s itio n e d b y C h ris to p h e r , w h o c a te g o ris e s h e r a s a w o m a n , w h o m h e se es
a s a s e x u a l o b je c t. H e d o e s n o t e n v is a g e h e r a s a c o m b a ta n t o r fig h te r , a n d re d u c e s h e r
to the n a r ro w b o u n d a rie s o f w o m a n h o o d . T it u b a is c o n fu s e d , n o t o n ly b y h e r o w n
id e a s o f w h a t a w o m a n m ig h t a c h ie v e , b u t a ls o , b y the p r e c o n c e iv e d id e a s o f
fe m in in it y o f c h a ra c te rs s u c h as C h ris to p h e r . A s a w o m a n , sh e s h o w s h e r s e lf to be
e x t r e m e ly u n iq u e , a s sh e c h a lle n g e s the ta k e n - fo r- g ra n te d r o le s o f m e n an d w o m e n
v e r s u s h e r o w n id e a s . L i v in g a m o n g s t the m a ro o n s , w h e re p a t ria r c h a l v a lu e s are
u n c o n te s te d , T it u b a w i l l q u e s tio n the ro le o f w o m e n . A l l o th e r w o m e n at the m a ro o n
c a m p a p p e a r h a p p y an d c o m p la c e n t w it h th e ir p o s itio n in g . T it u b a th u s se ts h e r s e lf
a p a rt b y b e in g th e o n ly w o m a n to q u e s tio n the d o m in a n t d is c o u rs e o n w o m a n h o o d .
C h r is to p h e r is e g o tis tic an d b e lie v e s th a t, a lth o u g h h e m a y n o t a c h ie v e
im m o r t a lit y , h is d e e d s w i l l n o t b e fo rg o tte n . H e se e s h im s e lf a s liv in g o n in the h e a rts
an d m in d s o f the s la v e s , a s an e p ic h e ro an d a r e v o lu t io n a r y fig u re :
D e to ute m a n iè r e , j e s e ra i im m o rte l. J ’ e n te n d s d é jà le s c h a n s o n s d es n è g re s
d es p la n ta tio n s . (p 2 3 6 )
H e h a s c o m p o s e d a so n g w h ic h b o a sts o f h is g re a tn e s s . H o w e v e r , w h e n p re s s e d b y
T it u b a , he d o e s n o t e n v is a g e the e x is te n c e o f a n y so n g fo r h e r. In h is o p in io n , sh e w i l l
n o t liv e o n in the m e m o rie s o f the s la v e s . C h ris to p h e r a lm o s t “ se es th ro u g h ” h e r, he
31
d o e s n o t im a g in e h e r in te rm s o f g re a tn e ss an d fo r h im sh e h a s n o id e n tity . A lth o u g h a
m a ro o n , h is im a g e o f h e r is s im ila r to th at o f S u s a n n a E n d ic o t t , w h o a ls o fa ile d to
c o n s id e r h e r in re a l te rm s .
It m a y , o f c o u rs e , be a rg u e d in the c a s e o f C h ris to p h e r , th a t it is in d e e d
T it u b a ’ s o w n fa u lt, an d a s a d ir e c t re s u lt o f h e r b e h a v io u r a n d c o m p o rtm e n t th at sh e is
in v is ib le to h im . H e r r e a lis a tio n th at h e r p re s e n c e is n o lo n g e r re q u ire d b y h im c o m e s
w it h a b r is k : “ T u n ’ es d o n c r ie n q u ’ u n e n é g re sse trè s o rd in a ir e et tu v o u d r a is q u e l ’ o n
te tra ite c o m m e s i tu é ta is p ré c ie u s e ? ” (p 2 3 8 )
T o w a r d s th e en d o f the n o v e l, T it u b a ’ s id e n tity , a s a w o m a n a n d a s a lo v e r ,
u n d e rg o e s a m a rk e d c h a n g e , a s is e v id e n t in h e r r e la t io n s h ip w it h an in ju re d b o y ,
Ip h ig e n e . T it u b a ’ s r e la tio n s h ip w it h Ip h ig e n e c e n tre s i n it ia lly o n h e r a c tin g a lm o s t as
a fo s te r m o th e r a n d n u rs e to h im . A lth o u g h o n ly 3 0 y e a rs o ld , sh e is a lr e a d y se e n as
o ld an d h a s b e e n c a lle d “ M è r e ” b y the m a ro o n w o m e n . W e see h e r a s a m o re m a tu re
fig u re an d r e a lis e th at m o st c h a p te rs in h e r lif e h a v e a lr e a d y b e e n liv e d o ut. A s
Ip h ig e n e re la te s h is s to ry to h e r, sh e u n d e rs ta n d s h o w lik e h e r o w n it h a s b e e n , lo s in g
h is m o th e r at an e a r ly ag e b e c a u se sh e w a s b e a u tifu l a n d d e s ire d b y the m a s te r. S h e
fe e ls a stro n g a f f in it y to h im b e c a u se o f th is s im ila r it y in t h e ir p a s ts.
T it u b a , p re g n a n t w it h C h r is t o p h e r ’ s c h ild , d re a m s o f b r in g in g h e r d a u g h te r in to a
d iffe re n t w o r ld , u n ta in te d b y s la v e r y an d its o p p re s s io n s . T h i s n e w - fo u n d s p ir it in h e r
h a s b e e n e v id e n t s in c e h e r
séjour w it h
the m a ro o n s , a n d o n e m e n tio n o f it to Ip h ig e n e
is e n o u g h to in s p ir e h im to in itia te a r e v o lt :
M è r e , j e c o n n a is p la n ta tio n p a r p la n ta tio n le n o m de to u s c e u x q u i n o u s
s u iv ro n t. N o u s n ’ a v o n s q u ’ u n m o t à d ire . (p 2 4 7 )
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D e s p ite the fa c t th at h is a ffe c tio n fo r h e r a p p e a rs s in c e re , h e to o , lik e C h ris to p h e r , w i l l
c o n s u lt no m o re w it h h e r o n the id e a o f r e v o lt o n c e th e y h a v e d e c id e d to a c t. H e is
c le a r ly g ra te fu l fo r h e r s p e c ia l g ifts o f h e a lin g , b u t th ese c a n n o t b r in g a b o u t
r e v o lu t io n a r y c h a n g e :
Je re s p e c te tes ta le n ts de g u é ris s e u s e . N ’ e st-c e p a s g râ c e à to i q u e j e s u is en
v ie à r e s p ir e r l ’ o d e u r du s o le il ? M a is fa is - m o i g râ c e d u re s te . L ’ a v e n ir
a p p a rtie n t à c e u x q u i s a v e n t le fa ç o n n e r et c r o is - m o i, i l s n ’ y p a r v ie n n e n t p a s
p a r d es in c a n ta tio n s et d es s a c r if ic e s d ’ a n im a u x . I l s y p a r v ie n n e n t p a r des
a c te s . (p 2 5 1 )
C o n d é illu s tr a te s h e re h o w T it u b a is v e r y m u c h an o b je c t fo r m e n , f u lf i l l in g th e ir
n e e d s s e x u a lly , an d w h e n p o s s ib le u s in g h e r p o w e rs o f w it c h c r a f t . S h e is n o t,
h o w e v e r , a w o m a n w h o is h e ld in re s p e c t o r e ste e m b y m e n , a n d in th is w a y , d e sp ite
the p it y she m a y e v o k e , she re m a in s n e v e rth e le s s q u ite n a ïv e ( P f a f f 19 93 p 6 0 ). A s w e
h a v e se e n , o n ly in ra re in s ta n c e s d o es she se e m to r e a lis e h e r a c tio n s an d th e ir
c o n s e q u e n c e s . W h a t is a ls o s tr ik in g a b o u t h e r is h e r id e n tity a s *7 'amoureuse
U n lik e
m a n y o th e r w o m e n in the n o v e l, an d o f the tim e , T it u b a is v e r y s e x u a l, a n d d o e s n o t
se em to re g re t h e r lia is o n s w it h Jo h n In d ie n , C h ris to p h e r , B e n ja m in a n d Ip h ig e n e . H e r
s e x u a l id e n tity is p ro b a b ly the o n ly a re a o f h e r lif e in w h ic h sh e e x p e rie n c e s im m e n s e
fre e d o m . S h e is n o t re p re s se d s e x u a lly , an d as “ Vamoureuse” , sh e c a n tra n s c e n d o th e r
b o u n d a rie s b y w h ic h sh e is c o n s tra in e d .
33
Tituba’s realisation of slavery through life with John Indien:
T it u b a ’ s h u sb a n d is p re se n te d as a m u lti- fa c e te d c h a ra c te r in th e n o v e l. In the
c o m p a n y o f T it u b a an d o th e r s la v e s , he is p o rtra y e d as b e in g c h e e r f u l, b ra z e n ,
c o n fid e n t an d la u g h s e a s ily , an d th e se a re the q u a litie s w h ic h T it u b a fin d s so
a ttra c tiv e . In th is w a y h e m a y a p p e a r to e sca p e the p s y c h o lo g ic a l to rtu re s o f s la v e r y
an d tra n s c e n d its m is e r ie s an d s u ffe r in g .
H o w e v e r , s u c h a p p e a ra n c e s m a s k th e fa c t th a t he to o s u f fe r s o p p re s s io n an d is
fu n d a m e n ta lly in flu e n c e d b y the lif e h e m u s t le a d . T it u b a ’ s f ir s t m e e tin g w it h
S u s a n n a E n d ic o t t p la y s o u t the d u a lity in h is lif e . G o n e is In d ie n ’ s c o n fid e n c e , h is
b ra s h m a n n e r, an d w h e n E n d ic o t t in q u ire s i f T it u b a is a C h r is t ia n , h e in te rje c ts
q u ic k ly :
J e v a is lu i a p p re n d re le s p r iè r e s , m a ître s s e ! E t j e v a is p a r le r au c u ré de la
p a ro is s e de B r id g e to w n p o u r q u ’ e lle r e ç o iv e le b a p tê m e d è s q u e c e la se ra
p o s s ib le . (p 3 9 )
W h e n re q u e s tin g a h o lid a y as T it u b a h a s c o m e to liv e w it h h im a s h is w if e :
Jo h n se m it à s a u t ille r d ’ u n p ie d s u r l ’ a u tre et fit d ’ u n to n g e ig n a rd , c â lin et
h u m b le à la fo is , c o m m e c e lu i d ’ u n e n fa n t q u i d e m a n d e u n e fa v e u r :
M a îtr e s s e , q u a n d u n n èg re se d é c id e à p re n d re u n e fe m m e , e st-c e q u ’ i l ne
m é rite p a s d e u x jo u r s de re p o s ? H e in , m a ître s s e ? (p 4 0 )
34
T it u b a is a sh a m e d o f h is c o m p o rtm e n t a n d se es th is n e w s id e to In d ie n o f w h ic h she
h a s p r e v io u s ly b e e n u n a w a re . S h e , w h o h a s n o t u n til n o w liv e d a s a s la v e , h a s n o t h ad
to w ith s ta n d the d is d a in an d c o n te m p t w it h w h ic h s la v e s m u s t l iv e . In d ie n re p e a te d ly
in s is t s th at the d u ty o f the s la v e is to s u r v iv e , an d t h is , in h is o p in io n , is at a n y p r ic e .
H e w i l l do a n y th in g an d s a y a n y th in g i f th is w i l l e n s u re h is c o n tin u e d s u r v iv a l.
Jo h n In d ie n is v e r y c a p a b le o f p la y in g the ro le o f s u b s e r v ie n t s la v e . H o w e v e r , in an
in s ta n c e , he c a n be tra n s fo rm e d in to a c a re fre e m a n , u n c h a in e d b y the b itte r tie s o f
s la v e r y . H e th ro w s a p a r ty o n c e E n d ic o t t b e c o m e s i l l , a n d a c ts n o lo n g e r a s s la v e b u t
e n te rta in e r a n d h o st. T it u b a , u n u s e d to s u c h fe s t iv it ie s fin d s th e m fr ig h te n in g , lo u d
a n d in p o o r ta ste. In d ie n ta k e s h e r b y th e a rm an d s a y s :
N e fa is p a s cette tè te -là , s in o n m e s a m is d iro n t q u e tu fa is la fiè re . I I s d iro n t
qu e ta p e au e st n o ir e , m a is que p a r-d e s s u s tu p o rte s m a s q u e b la n c [ . . . ] (p 5 6 )
A lth o u g h C o n d é d e n ie s a n y in flu e n c e th at F a n o n m a y h a v e h a d o n h e r in the w r it in g
o f th is n o v e l ( P f a f f 19 93 p 6 2 ), the b la c k s k in / w h ite m a s k re fe re n c e c a n n o t f a il to
re m in d th e re a d e r o f h is w o r k . Jo h n In d ie n is c r it ic is in g T it u b a in th e se lin e s , a s k in g
h e r n o t to b e d is d a in in g . H e c le a r ly b e lie v e s sh e d o e s n o t id e n t if y w it h th e m , a n d , in
d o in g so , she is a c tin g “ w h it e ” .
Jo h n In d ie n is u n tro u b le d o v e r S u s a n n a E n d ic o t t ’ s illn e s s a n d is e n jo y in g h is p a rty .
H e is n o t w o r r ie d th at p e o p le w i l l c o m e an d in v e s tig a te the n o is e th e y a re m a k in g . H e
e n c o u ra g e s T it u b a to p la y a t b e in g a p e rfe c t n ig g e r b e c a u s e th a t is w h a t is e x p e c te d o f
th e m b y the w h ite f o lk :
35
O n s ’ atte n d à ce que le s n è g re s se s o û le n t et d a n s e n t e t fa s s e n t r ip a ille d ès que
le u rs m a ître s o n t to u rn é le d o s. Jo u o n s à la p e rfe c tio n n o tre rô le de n è g re s.
(p 5 6 )
C o n d é a ls o d e n ie s a n y in flu e n c e th at G e n e t h a s h a d o n h e r w o r k e v e n th o u g h th is
p a s s a g e is v e r y r e m in is c e n t o f h is p la y
Les Nègres ( P f a f f
1 9 93 p 6 2 ). Jo h n In d ie n
a p p e a rs to in t e r n a lis e w h a t it is th e ir m a s te rs e x p e c t o f th e m . H e is p la y in g in to the
h a n d s o f th e ir e x p e c ta tio n s , d o in g w h a t th e y b e lie v e h e w o u ld do . C o n d é c r it ic is e s the
b e h a v io u r o f b la c k s h e re , b e in g s te re o ty p ic a l, d is p la y in g a la c k o f id e n tity an d
in d iv id u a lit y , an d b e h a v in g in a m a n n e r w h ic h the w h ite s h a v e c o m e to e x p e c t o f
th e m .
It is in te re s tin g to e x a m in e b r ie f ly the c o n tra s t b e tw e e n Jo h n In d ie n ’ s an d T it u b a ’ s
se n se o f id e n titie s . Jo h n In d ie n is m a le , an d h a s b e e n a s la v e a ll h is lif e . H is b e h a v io u r
to w a rd s E n d ic o tt an d S a m u e l P a r r is is s u b s e rv ie n t, a n d , th o u g h o u t w a rd ly b ra s h on
o c c a s io n , he t y p if ie s the d is p o s s e s s io n , b o th p h y s ic a lly a n d p s y c h o lo g ic a lly , o f b e in g
a s la v e . H e is n o t c a p a b le o f s a y in g “ M o i” . T it u b a , th o u g h s u f fe r in g fro m the d o u b le
p e rs e c u tio n o f b e in g b o th b la c k an d fe m a le , h a s a se n se o f s e lf f a r g re a te r th a n th at o f
h e r h u sb a n d . S h e h a s e n te re d the lif e o f s la v e r y b e c a u se o f h e r lo v e fo r In d ie n , an d
d o es n o t see h e r s e lf as a s la v e in the sa m e w a y h e d o e s. S h e a c c e p ts th e p h y s ic a l
r e s tr ic tio n s o n h e r lif e b e c a u se sh e is a s la v e . H o w e v e r , a s d is c u s s e d in th e o p e n in g
p a ra g ra p h s o f th is c h a p te r, p s y c h o lo g ic a lly , sh e is fre e .
36
Jo h n In d ie n w i l l c o n tin u e to “ a c t” in a n y w a y w h ic h w i l l e n s u re h is s u r v iv a l.
B u t h is n a tu ra l o p tim is m a ls o a llo w s h im to be h a p p y : in B o s t o n a n d S a le m w e are
to ld he is c e r t a in ly th e h a p p ie s t o f a ll in the P a r r is h o u s e h o ld .
T it u b a ’ s a rre s t an d su b se q u e n t im p ris o n m e n t w i l l b e th e en d o f h e r r e la t io n s h ip w it h
In d ie n . H e b e c o m e s le s s a tte n tiv e an d c a r in g o f h is w if e , a n d h is v is it s b e c o m e le s s
fre q u e n t. T it u b a is h o r r ifie d w h e n he te lls h e r th at h e to o h a s jo in e d th e g ro u p o f
a c c u s e rs a n d is p re te n d in g to be to rm e n te d . T h is w i l l e n s u re h e c a n n o t be a c c u s e d o f
b e in g a w it c h a n d , th e re fo re , he w i l l s u r v iv e . In th is w a y Jo h n In d ie n c a n be se e n as
v e r y c u n n in g an d c o n n iv in g . T it u b a r e a lis e s th at h e r fe e lin g s fo r h im h a v e c h a n g e d ,
a n d she b e lie v e s he to o is c a p a b le o f b e tra y in g h e r. S h e r e c a lls H e s t e r ’ s r e m a rk th at
lif e is too k in d to m e n , w h a te v e r th e ir c o lo u r. Jo h n In d ie n m a n a g e s to s u r v iv e th ro u g h
a ll the tra u m a s o f lif e in a w a y w h ic h T it u b a , as a b la c k w o m a n , c a n n o t do.
T it u t a ’ s re la t io n s h ip w it h A b e n a an d M a m a Y a v a , th e m o th e r fig u re s
T h e th e m e s o f m o th e rh o o d , an d the r e la tio n s h ip s b e tw e e n m o th e rs an d d a u g h te rs , are
a m o n g the m o st re c u rr in g le itm o tifs in C o n d e ’ s w r it in g . In d e e d , a ll fo u r n o v e ls
a n a ly s e d in th is th e s is w i l l e x p lo re the in tric a te c o m p le x it ie s o f m o th e rh o o d , an d
m o th e r/d a u g h te r re la tio n s . T h e a b s e n c e , o r a p p a re n t a b s e n c e o f p a re n ta l lo v e is a
m a jo r fe a tu re o f C o n d e ’ s w o r k , an d in p a r tic u la r , the a b s e n c e o f m a te rn a l lo v e , as
e x p e rie n c e d , o r p e rc e iv e d b y the o ffs p rin g . H o w e v e r , th e la c k o f m a te rn a l lo v e d o es
n o t o c c u r in a v a c u u m , a n d so m e r a tio n a le are p re se n te d in the n a r r a t iv e s , to ju s t i f y ,
o r p e rh a p s s im p ly to e x p la in the d if f ic u lt ie s in lo v in g o n e ’ s c h ild . A m o n g th e se a re
37
the b irt h o f a c h ild fo llo w in g ra p e o r a s s a u lt, o r a c h ild b o m in to a lo v e le s s , a rra n g e d
m a rria g e .
A s w e h a v e a lr e a d y se e n , T it u b a ’ s b irth is the r e s u lt o f h e r m o th e r ’ s rap e .
T it u b a a c k n o w le d g e s e a r ly in the n o v e l th a t she is n o t lo v e d b y h e r m o th e r, b u t
in fo r m s u s o f th is in a n o n - s e n tim e n ta l, v e r y m a tte r- o f- fa c t w a y . H o w e v e r , Y a o ’ s
d eep d e v o tio n to h e r c o m p e n s a te s fo r th is la c k o f a ffe c tio n . I t is ir o n ic a lly a fte r h e r
d e a th , th at A b e n a b e c o m e s m o re lo v in g an d r e le v a n t in T it u b a ’ s lif e . S h e is h ig h ly
c r it ic a l o f h e r d a u g h te r’ s lia is o n w it h Jo h n In d ie n a n d , w it h M a m a Y a y a , fo re s e e s
T it u b a ’ s fu tu re : “ C e n è g re - là t ’ e n fe ra v o ir de to u te s le s c o u le u r s ” (p 5 2 ). I n d e ath
A b e n a h a s b e c o m e m o re p ro te c tiv e o f h e r d a u g h te r a n d is e m o tio n a l w h e n r e fle c tin g
u p o n T it u b a ’ s fu tu re fa te :
M a m è re fo n d it en la rm e s . S u rp re n a n t! C e tte fe m m e q u i, de so n v iv a n t ,
m ’ a v a it tra ité e a v e c s i p eu de te n d re s s e , d e v e n a it d a n s l ’ a u - d e là , p ro te c tric e et
p re sq u e a b u s iv e . (p 5 2 )
H o w e v e r , A b e n a is n e v e r o f a n y p r a c t ic a l h e lp to T it u b a , a n d , a lth o u g h th e lo v e
b e tw e e n th e m s e e m s to in c re a s e a fte r d e a th , A b e n a is n o t c a p a b le o f o ffe rin g a d v ic e
to h e r d a u g h te r. I t se e m s th a t the la c k o f lo v e fo r T it u b a fro m h e r m o th e r, fo rc e s h e r
to ste e r a s o m e w h a t u n g u id e d c o u rs e th ro u g h lif e .
T it u b a w i l l n e v e r g iv e b irth to a c h ild . W h e n liv in g in A m e r ic a , sh e a b o rts h e r f ir s t
p re g n a n c y , w h ic h w i l l be d is c u s s e d in a su b se q u e n t s e c tio n o f th is c h a p te r. H e r
se c o n d c h ild w i l l n o t be b o m , a s she is h an g e d fo r h e r d e e d s o f in s u rr e c tio n . T h e fa c t
th a t T it u b a w i l l n e v e r b e c o m e a m o th e r is d e e p ly s ig n ific a n t . I t is a s i f th e te n u o u s
38
re la t io n s h ip w it h h e r o w n m o th e r g iv e s w a y to a fo rm o f s t e r ilit y in the d a u g h te r.
A lth o u g h d e s irin g a c h ild o f h e r o w n to w a rd s the en d o f the n o v e l, fa te w i l l n o t a llo w
T it u b a e x p e rie n c e b io lo g ic a l m o th e rh o o d . F o r C h o d o r o w “ an o rie n ta tio n to w a rd s
n u rtu ra n c e an d c a re b e c o m e s p a rt o f w o m e n ’ s p e rs o n a lit y b e c a u s e th e p ro c e s s o f
id e n tity fo rm a tio n in g ir ls ta k e s p la c e th ro u g h c o n tin u o u s a tta c h m e n t to an d
id e n tific a t io n w it h the m o th e r” (C h o d o ro w 1 9 7 8 c ite d in G le n n 1 9 9 4 p 4 ). D e s p ite the
fa c t th at T it u b a ’ s re la t io n s h ip w it h h e r m o th e r is n o t a v e r y c lo s e o n e , an d th a t A b e n a
d ie s w h ile T it u b a is s t ill a s m a ll c h ild , sh e s h o w s h e r s e lf c a p a b le , n e v e rth e le s s , o f
d e v e lo p in g n u rtu rin g q u a litie s . T it u b a is a c a r in g m o th e r fig u re to c h a ra c te rs s u c h as
E liz a b e t h P a r r is a n d B e t s e y , an d is , fo r a tim e , a s u s ta in in g p re s e n c e in th e ir liv e s .
T it u b a ’ s re la t io n s h ip w it h M a m a Y a y a is m o re m a te rn a l a n d is r e m in is c e n t o f
the fr ie n d s h ip an d a ffe c tio n b e tw e e n c h ild an d g ra n d m o th e r fo u n d e ls e w h e re in
C a r ib b e a n lite ra tu re (f o r e x a m p le in S im o n e S c h w a r z - B a r t ’ s
Télumée Miracle (S c h w a r z - B a r t
Pluie et Vent sur
1 9 7 2 ). M a m a Y a y a is h e r su rro g a te m o th e r a n d c a re s
fo r T it u b a fo llo w in g A b e n a ’ s d e ath . M a m a Y a y a w i l l in tro d u c e h e r to s o rc e ry , the
k n o w le d g e o f w h ic h w i l l im p a c t T it u b a th ro u g h o u t h e r lif e . In d e e d , h e r a s s o c ia tio n
w it h M a m a Y a y a h a s m a n y c o n s e q u e n c e s fo r T it u b a a n d , s h o r tly a fte r the d e ath o f h e r
a d o p tiv e m o th e r, T it u b a is se en as an o b je c t o f fe a r a n d te rro r. S h e is c o n fu s e d at the
fe e lin g s e x p re s s e d b y s la v e s :
A u n c a r r e fo u r, j e re n c o n tra i d es e s c la v e s m e n a n t u n c a b ro u e t de c a n n e s au
m o u lin [ . . . ] A m a v u e , to u t ce m o n d e sa u ta p re s te m e n t d a n s l ’ h e rb e et
s ’ a g e n o u illa ta n d is q u ’ u n e d e m i- d o u z a in e de p a ire s d ’ y e u x re s p e c tu e u s e s et
te r rifié e s se le v a ie n t v e r s m o i. Je re s ta i a b a s o u rd ie . Q u e lle s lé g e n d e s s ’ é ta ie n t
tis s é e s a u to u r de m o i ? O n s e m b la it m e c ra in d re . P o u rq u o i ? F i l l e d ’ u ne
39
p e n d u e , r e c lu s e au b o rd d ’ u n e m a re , n ’a u ra it- o n p a s d u p lu to t m e p la in d re ? J e
c o m p ris q u ’ o n p e n s a it su rto u t a m o n a s s o c ia tio n a v e c M a n Y a y a et q u ’ o n la
re d o u ta it. (p p 2 5 - 2 6 )
T it u b a is d is m a y e d at th is re c e p tio n . S h e in s p ir e s fe a r an d re s p e c t w h e n a ll sh e c r a v e s
is lo v e . H e r a s s o c ia tio n w it h M a m a Y a y a is a lr e a d y b e in g w o v e n in to h e r id e n tity . A s
J e a n n ie S u k su g g e sts, s o rc e ry is p re se n te d in the n o v e l “ a s a p ro c e s s o f re re a d in g an d
tr a n s fo rm a tio n . M a m a Y a y a te a c h e s T it u b a a s y s te m a tic re in te rp re ta tio n an d
r e o rd e rin g o f the w o r ld a ro u n d h e r” ( S u k 2 0 0 1 p i 2 3 - 1 2 4 ). T h i s r e o rd e rin g o f the
w o r ld w i l l a llo w T it u b a se e th e h id d e n b e n e fits o f p la n ts a n d h e rb s a n d h e r k n o w le d g e
o f th e se w i l l set h e r a p a rt fro m a ll o th e rs . W it c h c r a f t is an o c c u p a tio n w h ic h p o s itio n s
T it u b a o n the fr in g e s o f s o c ie ty b o th in B a r b a d o s , a s an o rp h a n liv in g o u tsid e the
p la n ta tio n s y s te m , an d a ls o in P u r ita n A m e r ic a , le a d in g a d o u b le lif e a s s la v e an d
h e a le r.
T it u b a : m a te rn a l fig u re an d w it c h
A s a fo re m e n tio n e d , T it u b a w i l l n e v e r p h y s ic a lly g iv e b irt h to a c h ild d e sp ite tw o
p r e g n a n c ie s d u rin g h e r lif e . S h e d is c o v e rs sh e is p re g n a n t w it h Jo h n In d ie n ’ s c h ild
w h e n liv in g in the P a r r is h o u s e h o ld in B o s to n an d d e c id e s to a b o rt th is c h ild . T h e
p re c u rs o r to th is a c t is h e r w it n e s s in g the h a n g in g o f G o o d y G lo v e r , a n o ld w o m a n
a c c u s e d o f b e in g a w it c h . T it u b a r e c a lls m o s t v iv i d l y the d e a th o f h e r o w n m o th e r.
S h e d o e s n o t e v e n see G lo v e r , b u t im a g in e s it is A b e n a o n c e m o re h a n g in g th e re :
40
C ’ é ta it c o m m e s i j ’ a v a is été c o n d a m n é e à r e v iv r e l ’ e x é c u tio n de m a m è re !
N o n , c e n ’ é ta it p a s u n e v ie i l le fe m m e q u i se b a la n ç a it là ! C ’ é ta it A b e n a d a n s
la f le u r de so n âg e et la b e au té de se s fo rm e s ! O u i, c ’ é ta it e lle e t j ’ a v a is à
n o u v e a u s ix a n s ! E t la v ie é ta it à re c o m m e n c e r d e p u is c e m o m e n t- là ! (p 8 1 )
F o r S u k , “ th is ju x t a p o s it io n o f h e r m o th e r’ s h a n g in g an d th e a b o rtio n o f h e r u n b o rn
c h ild p re s e n ts the a b o rtio n a s a n e c e s s a ry an d v o lu n t a r y r e p e titio n o f h e r m o th e r ’ s
m u rd e r” ( S u k 2 0 0 1 p i 3 2 ). In h e r m in d ’ s e y e , T it u b a r e liv e s A b e n a ’ s d e a th , w h ic h
sh e w a s fo rc e d to w it n e s s , at the ag e o f s ix . S o m e h o w , sh e is n o w c o m p e lle d to a b o rt
h e r o w n c h ild . It m a y b e th a t the d e s tru c tio n o f h e r u n b o rn c h ild m ig h t ato n e fo r the
d e ath o f h e r o w n m o th e r. E liz a b e t h F o x - G e n o v e s e ’ s a c c o u n t o f f o rm s o f s la v e
re s is ta n c e o ffe r in s ig h t in to d ra s tic a c tio n s ta k e n b y s la v e s . F o r h e r, m u rd e r, s e lfm u t ila t io n an d in fa n t ic id e w e re c o n s id e re d to be th e p r in c ip a l w a y s in w h ic h s la v e s
re s is te d t h e ir u n h a p p y liv e s (F o x - G e n o v e s e 1 9 8 8 ). In h e r v ie w , “ th e se e x tre m e fo rm s
c a p tu re d the e s se n c e o f the s la v e w o m a n ’ s s e lf- d e fin it io n ” (F o x - G e n o v e s e 1 9 88
p 3 2 9 ). S h e c o n tin u e s to s a y th at “ b y k illin g an in fa n t th e y lo v e d [fe m a le s la v e s ] w o u ld
in so m e w a y be r e c la im in g it as th e ir o w n ” (F o x - G e n o v e s e 1 9 8 8 p 3 2 4 ). F o r a s la v e ,
w h o h a s no id e n tity , the a c t o f a b o rtio n is c le a r ly a fo rm o f r e s is ta n c e , a w a y to
r e c la im an id e n tity w h ic h is n o t p e rm itte d to s u rfa c e . F o r T it u b a , h o w e v e r , h e r
d e c is io n to a b o rt is n ot an e ffo rt to r e c la im h e r lo s t id e n tity , n o r is it a w a y o f
r e a ffir m in g the fa c t th at sh e , as a s la v e , h a s so m e lim ite d a u to n o m y o v e r h e r o w n
b o d y . T h e a b o rtio n is n e c e s s a r y b e c a u se A b e n a ’ s d e ath h a s re tu rn e d to h a u n t h e r
m a n y y e a rs la te r, an d th is m u rd e r m u s t n o w be re p e a te d . A t th e sa m e tim e , it is
p o s s ib le th at T it u b a is s p a rin g h e r u n b o rn c h ild the lif e o f s la v e r y a n d s u b m is s io n
41
w h ic h is h e r o w n , an d in th is w a y , T it u b a m a y be se e n as s e lf le s s , c o u ra g e o u s an d
g iv in g .
A t th e n e w s o f h e r se co n d p re g n a n c y , T it u b a p r o c la im s d e lig h t b e c a u se she
b e lie v e s the c h ild is a d a u g h te r a n d sh e w a n ts m o re fo r h e r c h ild . S h e n o w th in k s she
c a n sp a re h e r a lif e o f s la v e r y an d o p p re s s io n . I t is th is n e w - fo u n d h o p e th a t she h a s
fo r th is b a b y th a t e n c o u ra g e s h e r to m o tiv a te Ip h ig e n e to p la n th e r e v o lt .
D e s p ite h e r fa ilu r e to b e c o m e a m o th e r, T itu b a m a y b e c o n s id e re d a s a m a te rn a l
fig u re in the n o v e l. In te r e s tin g ly , the q u a litie s a s s o c ia te d w it h b e in g a m o th e r fig u re
are a ls o th o se w h ic h m a y be a llie d to w it c h c r a f t , w h ic h , fo r T it u b a , p ro m o te c u r a t iv e ,
p ro te c tin g v a lu e s . T h e s k i l l s o f w it c h c r a ft h a v e b e en p a s s e d d o w n fr o m M a m a Y a y a
to T it u b a , lik e an o ld f a m ily re c ip e . F o r T it u b a , the d e fin itio n o f w it c h c r a f t is o f a
p o s it iv e , b e n e v o le n t fo rc e , u se d to a id an d a s s is t. F o r o th e rs , th o u g h , w it c h c r a f t is
se e n in c o n tra s tin g a n d d iv e r g in g te rm s . F o r S u k , “ th e re p e a te d m is d e fm itio n s o f the
w o rd ‘ s o r c iè r e ’ b y m e n [in the n o v e l] su g g e st th a t T it u b a ’ s o w n th re a te n in g
u n c o n t a in a b ilit y an d tra n s g re s s io n [ . . . ] are m a n ife s te d in the v e r y in d e te r m in a c y o f
s ig n ific a t io n i t s e lf ” ( S u k 2 0 0 1 p i 2 7 ). E a c h c h a ra c te r h a s a d iffe r e n t d e fin itio n o f w h a t
it is to be a w it c h , th u s illu s tr a tin g the fa c t th at T it u b a ’ s id e n tity c a n n o t be se en as
s in g u la r o r sta b le . A n d T it u b a is h e r s e lf m u c h in flu e n c e d b y v a r y in g r e a c tio n s to h e r
b e in g a w it c h , an d w i l l q u e stio n h e r o w n id e n tity o n th e se g ro u n d s . W h e n T it u b a
s c ra tc h e s Jo h n In d ie n ’ s fin g e r h e at o n c e , a lb e it jo k i n g ly a s k s : “ A ï e ! Q u ’ e st-c e qu e tu
f a is là , s o rc iè re ? (p 3 3 ). T it u b a re m a rk s th at
sorcière fo r
h im h a s n e g a tiv e
c o n n o ta tio n s . S h e is s u rp ris e d , a s she w i l l be s e v e r a l tim e s in the n o v e l, th at
w it c h c r a f t is v ie w e d n e g a tiv e ly . M a m a Y a y a h a s s tr o n g ly e m p h a s is e d th e p o s it iv e s o f
42
u s in g h e r p o w e r s to h e a l an d p ro te c t. F o r T it u b a , h e r id e n tity is b o u n d ir r e t r ie v a b ly to
h e r k n o w le d g e o f w it c h c r a ft an d th is w i l l be the so u rc e o f m u c h o f h e r s u f fe r in g in
l if e .
C h ris to p h e r , a s a fo re s a id , se es w it c h c r a ft s o le ly in te rm s o f h o w it m a y m a k e
h im in v in c ib le an d fo r h im , T it u b a ’ s id e n tity lie s w it h in th is fra m e o f re fe re n c e . W h e n
h e le a rn s th a t h e r p o w e rs c a n n o t h e lp h im , he is n o lo n g e r in te re s te d in h e r. Ip h ig e n e
a c k n o w le d g e s th at h is r e c o v e r y is du e e n t ir e ly to T it u b a ’ s h e a lin g p o w e rs . H o w e v e r ,
h is re lu c ta n c e to in v o lv e h e r in th e p re p a ra tio n fo r th e r e v o lt s h o w th a t fo r h im , h e r
g ifts c a n n o t s o lv e p r a c t ic a l p ro b le m s . B e n ja m in , the J e w , is th e s o le m a n in the n o v e l
w h o tre a ts h e r w it h re s p e c t a n d k in d n e s s . Y e t , fo r h im a ls o , h e r id e n tity is c o n s titu te d
b y the fa c t th at sh e m a k e s it p o s s ib le fo r h im to c o m m u n ic a te w it h h is d e c e a s e d w if e .
T it u b a an d w it c h c r a ft are ir r e v o c a b ly lin k e d fo r m a n y c h a ra c te rs in th e n o v e l. H e r
id e n tity is s p lit b e tw e e n w h a t sh e p e rc e iv e s h e r s e lf to be a n d w h a t o th e rs p e rc e iv e h e r
to be.
C o n c lu s io n
I w is h to re tu rn h e re to a q u e s tio n p o se d in the o p e n in g p a ra g ra p h s o f th is c h a p te r: is
T it u b a la b e llin g h e r s e lf as she h a s b e e n p e rc e iv e d b y o th e rs , a s a b la c k w it c h fro m
S a le m , o r is sh e p r o u d ly a f f ir m in g h e r p r o fe s s io n ? I b e lie v e sh e is v e r y p ro u d o f h e r
k n o w le d g e an d p o w e r s , an d th at d e sp ite the h a rd s h ip s she h a s e n c o u n te re d in lif e , a ll
d u e to h e r p r o fe s s io n o f sorcière, she h a s no re g re ts o f the k n o w le d g e s h e p o s s e s s e s .
In the e p ilo g u e , th e re is a lm o s t a triu m p h a n t n o te in h e r v o ic e , a s i f she h a s w o n o u t
a g a in s t a ll w h o c h a lle n g e d h e r. A f t e r d e ath , T it u b a s p e a k s to u s fro m the s p iritu a l
w o r ld w h e re sh e is n o w at p e a c e , an d se e m s to h a v e r e c la im e d h e r id e n tity .
43
C h ris to p h e r h a s re fu s e d the e x is te n c e o f a so n g fo r h e r, b u t n o w sh e h a p p ily
a c k n o w le d g e s it:
Je l ’ e n te n d s d ’ u n b o u t à l ’ a u tre de l ’ île , de N o rth P o in t à S i l v e r S a n d s , de
B rid g e to w n à B o tto m B a y . E l le c o u rt la c rê te d es m o rn e s . E l l e se b a la n c e au
b o u t de la fle u r de b a lis e r. L ’ a u tre jo u r , j ’ a i e n te n d u u n g a rç o n de q u atre ou
c in q a n s la fre d o n n e r. D e j o ie , j ’ a i la is s é to m b e r à se s p ie d s tr o is m a n g o ts b ie n
m û rs et i l e st re sté p la n té là , à f ix e r l ’ a rb re q u i h o rs de sa s a is o n , lu i a v a it
o ffe rt p a r e il p ré se n t. (p 2 6 7 )
T it u b a ’ s so n g s h o w s th a t she to o , lik e C h ris to p h e r a n d T i- N o e l, is im m o r ta l. S h e h a s
an id e n tity th at h a s tra n s c e n d e d h e r m o rta l lif e an d n o w sh e liv e s o n in the m e m o rie s
o f h e r p e o p le . H e r n e w - fo u n d im m o r t a lit y is r e m in is c e n t o f N a n n a - y a , the J a m a ic a n
s p iritu a l m a ro o n le a d e r, w h o s e e s se n c e c o n tin u e s to d w e ll in the m in d s o f h e r n a tiv e
c o u n try m e n . C o n d é h a s w ritte n a s h o rt n o v e l c a lle d
Nanna-ya,
a n d the n a m e m e a n s
“ L o n g liv e N a n n a ” , w h ic h “ is the b e g in n in g o f a so n g c e le b r a tin g N a n n y o f the
M a r o o n s ” ( P f a f f 1993 p 5 7 ). T h e fa c t th at T it u b a , lik e N a n n a - y a , h a s h e r o w n so n g ,
e n s u re s th at the m e m o ry o f h e r w i l l sp an g e n e ra tio n s to c o m e . T h e n o v e l’ s e p ilo g u e
s h o w s a c o m p le te tra n s fo rm a tio n in T it u b a : sh e is n o w a h e ro in e a n d an a c t iv is t in h e r
p e o p le ’ s c a u s e :
A g u e r r ir le c œ u r d es h o m m e s. L ’ a lim e n te r de rê v e s d e lib e rté . D e v ic t o ir e . P a s
u n e ré v o lte qu e j e n ’ a ie fa it n a ître . P a s u n e in s u rr e c tio n . P a s u n e
d é s o b é is s a n c e . (p 2 6 8 )
44
In d e a th , h e r id e n tity w h ic h h a d b e e n a lm o s t su sp e n d e d in l if e is n o w re c u p e ra te d ,
r e v iv e d . A lth o u g h n o t d e s tin e d to g iv e b irth to a c h ild w h ile a liv e , sh e h a s n o w c h o s e n
a fe m a le d e s c e n d a n t, S a m a n th a “ u n e p e tite f i l le a u x y e u x c u r ie u x , à la b o u c h e
ré s o lu e ” (p 2 6 9 ). T it u b a h a s s in g le d o u t th is c h ild w h o s e m in d she w i l l f i l l w it h
k n o w le d g e a n d p o w e rs . T h e r e is an u n d e rlin e to n e h e re o f g re a t h o p e , a s i f th is c h ild
s ig n a ls a n e w n e s s , a re b irth , an d T it u b a w i l l liv e o n th ro u g h , a n d in h e r.
T h e e p ilo g u e c lo s e s the d o o r on so m e c h a p te rs o f h e r lif e , r e s o lv in g m a n y p a in fu l
is s u e s , a n d th e re is a se n se o f p e a c e an d c a lm , o f a c c e p ta n c e , u n d e rs ta n d in g a n d h o p e :
O u i, à p ré s e n t j e s u is h e u re u s e . Je c o m p re n d s le p a s s é . Je l is le p ré s e n t. J e
c o n n a is l ’ a v e n ir . A p ré s e n t, j e s a is p o u rq u o i i l y a ta n t d e s o u ffr a n c e s ,
p o u rq u o i le s y e u x de n o s n è g re s et n é g re s s e s s o n t b r illa n t s d ’ e a u et de s e l.
M a is j e s a is a u s s i qu e to u t c e la a u ra u n e f in . Q u a n d ? Q u ’ im p o rte ? (p 2 7 1 )
A b o v e a ll, th ere is a se n se th at T it u b a h a s re c la im e d h e r c o m p le te id e n tity , n o t s im p ly
as h e a le r a n d w it c h , b u t a ls o as a m o th e r, an d p o lit ic a lly as a n a c t iv is t fo r the c a u s e o f
fre e in g h e r p e o p le fro m s la v e r y an d o p p re s s io n . T h e f in a l p a ra g ra p h s o f the e p ig ra p h
p o rtra y h e r a s s tro n g , r e s ilie n t , w il f u l . S h e is n o lo n g e r m e r e ly “ u n e e s c la v e de la
B a rb a d e et p ra tiq u a n t v ra is e m b la b le m e n t le h o d o o ” (p 2 3 0 ), the c h a rg e b ro u g h t a g a in s t
h e r in the re c o rd s o f the S a le m W it c h T r i a ls .
45
Downward Spiral: malaise and identity in Une saison a Rihata.
Une saison à Rihata
f o llo w in g
w a s f ir s t p u b lis h e d in 1 9 8 1 , an d is C o n d é ’ s se c o n d n o v e l,
Heremakhonon ,
w it h the p r iz e o f
w h ic h h a d b e e n p u b lis h e d in 1 9 7 6 . I t h a s b e e n h o n o u re d
Grand Prix Littéraire de la Femme.
In sp ite o f t h is , th e n o v e l is n o t
a m o n g C o n d é ’ s m o st fa m o u s . T h e n o v e l’ s title is s ig n ific a n t : C o n d é h a s e x p la in e d
th a t the fa ilu r e o f
Heremakhonon
w a s b la m e d p a r t ly o n its tit le , a n d th e re fo re , w h e n
d e c id in g u p o n a title fo r th is n e w n o v e l, h e r p u b lis h e r s w a n te d to a llu d e to A im é
C é s a ir e , w h o w ro te
saison en enfer
Une saison au Congo ,
an d a ls o to R im b a u d , w h o w ro te
Une
( P f a f f 1993 p 4 3 ). C é s a ir e ’ s p la y tra c e d th e tra u m a tic d e c o lo n is a tio n o f
the B e lg ia n C o n g o , the m a rty rd o m o f P a tr ic e L u m u m b a , a n d th e e v a p o ra tio n o f the
d re a m o f a u n ifie d , d e c o lo n iz e d A f r i c a ( S u k 2 0 0 1 p i 0 3 ).
Une saison à Rihata
is , in
so m e w a y s , r e m in is c e n t o f so m e o f the is s u e s d e a lt w it h in C é s a ir e ’ s p la y . C o n d é
e x p la in s in a n in t e r v ie w th at the c o u n try in w h ic h the n o v e l ta k e s p la c e re s e m b le s
Z a ir e , w h ic h fo r m e r ly w a s the B e lg ia n C o n g o ( P f a f f 1 9 93 p 4 4 ). A l s o , im p o rta n t in the
n o v e l, th o u g h n o t the p r im e fo c u s o f th is c h a p te r, is the p o rtra it C o n d é p a in ts o f
A f r i c a th ro u g h the e y e s o f the m a in c h a ra c te rs , an id e a o f A f r i c a a s a p la c e o f deep
d is illu s io n m e n t , ru n b y a c o rru p t le a d e r, fo r w h o m m o n e y a n d p o w e r m e a n
e v e r y th in g .
U p o n f ir s t re a d in g
Une saison à Rihata ,
I w a s v e r y m u c h s t r u c k b y th e w a y in
w h ic h C o n d é p o rtra y s the d ep th an d c o m p le x it y o f h u m a n n a tu re , a n d b y the w a y in
w h ic h h e r c h a ra c te rs in te ra c t w it h e a c h o th e r, a ll in the q u e st fo r s e lf- k n o w le d g e , an d
p e rh a p s s e lf- w o rt h . I b e lie v e C o n d é d e a ls v e r y a d m ir a b ly w it h th is e x p lo ra tio n o f the
46
h u m a n s e lf , a s e lf p la g u e d b y g u ilt fo r s in s o f the p a s t, a n d re g re t fo r h o p e s w h ic h
h a v e b e e n d a sh e d , d re a m s w h ic h h a v e b e e n lo s t fo re v e r.
T h e n o v e l’ s p lo t c e n tre s a ro u n d the lif e o f M a r ie - H e le n e , a S o rb o n n e -e d u c a te d
G u a d e lo u p e a n w o m a n , m a rrie d to Z e k , an A f r ic a n b a n k m a n a g e r. T h e c o u p le liv e in
th e d is m a l m e d io c r it y o f a f ic t io n a l A f r ic a n to w n , R ih a t a , in a n u n s p e c ifie d A f r ic a n
c o u n tr y . T h e y liv e w it h th e ir s i x d a u g h te rs an d M a r ie - H e le n e ’ s n e p h e w , C h ris to p h e .
Z e k ’ s m o th e r, S o k a m b i, liv e s s e p a ra te ly fro m the f a m ily , a lth o u g h n e a rb y . T h e f a m ily
is c o n d e m n e d to liv e in s e lf- im p o s e d e x ile in R ih a t a d u e to th e fa c t th a t M a r ie - H e le n e
h a s h a d a n a f f a ir w it h Z e k ’ s y o u n g e r b ro th e r, M a d o u , so m e y e a rs p r e v io u s ly . M a r ie H e le n e is p re g n a n t, an d to w a rd s the e n d o f the n o v e l w i l l g iv e b irt h to a s o n , E l i k i a , a
n a m e w h ic h m e a n s “ h o p e ” in L in g a la , a la n g u a g e o f D e m o c r a t ic R e p u b lic o f C o n g o .
T h e n o v e l’ s n a r ra tiv e s tru c tu re c e n tre s a ro u n d the a r r iv a l o f M a d o u in R ih a t a
in o rd e r to c o m m e m o ra te the c o u n t r y ’ s
coup d'etat,
the e v e n t w h ic h p re c e d e d
in d e p e n d e n ce . M a d o u ’ s v is it s tirs up o ld w o u n d s an d m e m o r ie s , a n d the n a r ra tiv e
re s o rts to a s e rie s o f fla s h b a c k s to the p a st o n the p a rt o f the m a in c h a ra c te rs . U n lik e
n o v e ls s u c h a s
Heremakhonon,
p r in c ip a l c h a ra c te r,
w h e re w e are p r iv y o n ly to the p o in t o f v ie w o f the
Une saison a Rihata,
p r iv ile g e s m a n y d if fe r in g p o in ts o f v ie w .
T h i s is in d e e d a r e c u rr in g fe a tu re o f C o n d e ’ s w o r k , a n d I w i l l e x p lo re it fu rth e r in the
su b se q u e n t c h a p te rs o f th is th e s is . F o r M ille r , c o n s c io u s n e s s w it h in the n o v e l is
“ d is s e m in a te d , fra g m e n te d , a n d s h a re d w it h in a c o m m u n ity , a n d the n a r ra to r ’ s p o in t
o f v ie w b e c o m e s r e la t iv e , an d o p en to c r it iq u e ” ( M i ll e r 1 9 9 6 p i 8 0 ). T h i s is u s e fu l as
the re a d e r g a in s g re a t u n d e rs ta n d in g in to the in n e rm o s t th o u g h ts o f m a n y in d iv id u a ls ,
a n d n o t s o le ly th o se o f M a r ie - H e le n e .
47
T w o p r in c ip a l th e m e s d o m in a te the n o v e l: the lo v e t r ia n g le o f M a r ie - H e le n e ,
Z e k an d M a d o u , an d a ls o the c h a rg e d p o lit ic a l a tm o sp h e re a n d a c t iv it ie s a g a in s t
w h ic h the lo v e th e m e is set. In o ne in t e r v ie w , C o n d e e x p la in s h o w the n o v e l is
in n o v a tiv e . S h e s a y s th at, th e o r e t ic a lly , in A f r i c a , s e n tim e n ts do n o t e x is t , a n d b o o k s
do n o t fo c u s o n lo v e an d a d u lte ry ( P f a f f 1993 p 4 4 ). F o r h e r , to w r it e s u c h a b o o k in an
A f r ic a n c o n te x t w a s a m a rk e d d e p a rtu re fro m tr a d itio n a l A f r i c a n lite ra tu re .
saison a Rihata,
Une
h o w e v e r , due to its s u b v e rs iv e c o n te x t w a s n o t w e ll r e c e iv e d in
A f r i c a , a n d C o n d e r e v e a ls sh e “ w a s la b e lle d a s a p e rs o n w h o d e te sts a n d s a y s b ad
th in g s a b o u t A f r i c a ” ( P f a f f 19 93 p 4 6 ).
In th is c h a p te r, I in te n d to a n a ly s e M a r ie - H e le n e ’ s c h a ra c te r. In m a n y w a y s ,
sh e a p p e a rs to be lo s in g h e r o w n se n se o f id e n tity , an d I w i l l e x p lo re th is in h e r
re la t io n s h ip w it h Z e k , w it h M a d o u , w it h C h ris to p h e , w it h h e r e ld e s t d a u g h te r S ia , an d
th ro u g h the b irth o f E l i k i a . S u b s e q u e n tly , I w i l l e x a m in e h o w M a r ie - H e le n e ’ s fe e lin g s
fo r A f r i c a an d G u a d e lo u p e c o n s titu te p a rt o f h e r id e n tity . T h i s la tte r p o in t w i l l le a d
m e to d is c u s s h e r re la tio n s h ip w it h h e r o w n p a re n ts.
M a r ie - H e le n e ’ s id e n tity as e x a m in e d th ro u g h h e r r e la t io n s h ip w it h Z e k
E v e n the m o st c u r s o r y re a d in g o f
Une saison a Rihata p r o v id e s
a fa s c in a tin g in s ig h t
in to the id e n tity o f C o n d e ’ s a n ti- h e ro in e , M a r ie - H e le n e . S e v e r a l w o rd s c o u ld d e s c rib e
h e r in s ta n t ly : d is c o n te n te d , d is g ru n tle d a n d im p ris o n e d in a c a g e o f lo w s e lf- e s te e m ,
e v e n s e lf- lo a th in g . S h e is p re se n te d to the re a d e r as a d e e p ly u n h a p p y , p it if u l w o m a n ,
an d h e r re la t io n s h ip w it h Z e k b e a rs m u c h e v id e n c e o f th is . Z e k , fo r h is p a rt, is a lm o s t
too g o o d to be tru e . D e s p ite h is m a n y m is t re s s e s , h e h a s o n ly e v e r t r u ly lo v e d M a r ie H e le n e , an d h a s fo rg iv e n h e r a ll h e r in d is c r e t io n s , e v e n h e r in c e s tu o u s a f f a ir w it h h e r
48
s is t e r ’ s lo v e r O ln e l, an d h e r lia is o n w it h M a d o u . F r o m th e m o m e n t th e y h a d m e t in
P a r is , M a r ie - H é lè n e , th en a b rig h t an d a m b itio u s p o lit ic a l s c ie n c e stu d e n t, h a s h ad
a b so lu te p o w e r o v e r Z e k :
E l l e l ’ a v a it a u s s itô t p e rc é à jo u r , d é c e la n t so u s le b a g o u , la jo v ia lit é et le s
fa n fa ro n n a d e s , la b o n té , c e rta in s d ira ie n t la fa ib le s s e , et s u rto u t la
v u ln é r a b ilit é . T r è s v it e so n p o u v o ir s u r lu i l ’ a v a it g ris é e . S i e lle lu i a v a it c é d é ,
c e n ’ é ta it p a s p a r s im p le e n tra în e m e n t d es s e n s , c o m m e l ’ a f f ir m a it O ln e l a v e c
m é p ris . C ’ é ta it p o u r se v o ir en lu i. J a m a is e lle n ’ a u r a it a u ta n t de p r ix a u x y e u x
d ’ u n ê tre . (p 2 5 )
T h e n o v e l p o rtra y s the q u e s tio n o f lo v e b e tw e e n M a r ie - H é lè n e a n d Z e k in v a r y in g
te rm s o f a m b ig u ity . S h e c e r t a in ly d o e s n o t lo v e Z e k in the w a y sh e h a s p a s s io n a te ly
lo v e d M a d o u . F o r Z e k , h is w if e h a s b e e n th e s o u rc e o f m u c h fa s c in a tio n fo r h im , she
is a c o n fid e n t p o lit ic a l a n im a l, d e te rm in e d to q u e s tio n th e p o s it io n o f A f r i c a in the
w o r ld , so u n lik e h im , w h o is c o n te n t to liv e w it h o u t the n e e d to q u e r y th e b la c k m a n ’ s
p la c e in a w h ite w o r ld :
Z e k s ’ é ta it v u d a n s c e re g a rd , p e tit, d é r is o ire , u n n a in . C e la n ’ e x p liq u a it p a s
s e u le m e n t la fa s c in a tio n q u ’ e lle a v a it e x e rc é e s u r lu i. C ’ é ta it so n g o û t p o u r des
id é e s a b s tra ite s q u i, lu i, ne l ’ a v a ie n t p a s e ffle u ré u n in s ta n t: le d e v e n ir du
c o n tin e n t a f r ic a in , le p ro g rè s de l ’ h o m m e n o ir , sa p la c e d a n s le m o n d e . E b a h i,
il la s u iv a it à d ’ in te rm in a b le s m e e tin g s d a n s se s s a lle s g la c ia le s ou
s u r c h a u ffé e s , à d es m a rc h e s à tra v e rs P a r is , s ig n a it d e s p é titio n s , v e r s a it d es
s o u s c r ip t io n s . ( p 2 1 )
49
H o w e v e r , Z e k ’ s fa s c in a tio n fo r h is w if e h a s n e v e r b e e n re c ip ro c a te d , an d
M a r ie - H é lè n e ’ s s e x u a l lia is o n s h a v e s h o w n h o w e a s ily h e r in te re s t in Z e k h a s b e e n
su rp a ss e d b y th at o f o th e r m e n . In the e a r ly p a rt o f the n o v e l, M a r ie - H é lè n e is in the
f in a l sta g es o f p r e g n a n c y , h e r s e v e n th , h a v in g a lr e a d y g iv e n b irth to s i x d a u g h te rs.
S h e is tire d , d e p re sse d an d s tr u c k d o w n b y fe e lin g s o f g u ilt , w h ic h w i l l be d is c u s s e d
la te r in the c h a p te r. H e r n ee d fo r Z e k at th is m o m e n t is , h o w e v e r , q u ite e v id e n t.
A lth o u g h in m a n y w a y s she p o s s ib ly d e s p ise s h im , she is n o n e th e le s s n o w w h o lly
d e p e n d e n t o n h im :
E l l e n ’ a v a it que lu i. I l é ta it à la fo is sa v ic t im e et so n b o u rre a u . I l la s a u v a it, la
g u é r is s a it p o u r l ’ e x p o s e r à d es s o u ffr a n c e s et d e s d a n g e rs p lu s g ra n d s. C o m m e
s ’ il ne re c h e r c h a it p a s so n b o n h e u r et ne p o u v a it l ’ a im e r qu e p a rta g é e ,
a n g o is s é e , à la d é r iv e . (p 3 4 )
T h e r e is m u c h a m b ig u ity in th e se lin e s . T h e n o v e l h a s r e v e a le d th a t she is a lm o s t in a
state o f m a d n e s s , in the s e lf- im p o s e d e x ile o f h e r ro o m , a n d o f h e r p re g n a n c y . S h e is
r u m in a tin g an d re a s o n in g ir r a t io n a lly w it h h e r s e lf, a n d w e see a m a rk e d d e p a rtu re
fro m the b rig h t a m b itio u s stu d e n t o f d a y s go n e b y . M a r ie - H é lè n e is p o rtra y e d as a
r e c lu s e , w a lk in g a th in lin e b e tw e e n re a s o n a n d in s a n it y . S h e b e lie v e s th e h u sb a n d
w h o lo v e s h e r d e e p ly d o es so o n ly w h e n sh e h a s b e e n p lu n g e d in to the d e p th s o f
d e s p a ir. S h e fo rg e ts h is fa s c in a tio n fo r h e r b a c k in the d a y s o f P a r is , w h e re sh e le d the
w a y , a n d he fo llo w e d . H o w e v e r , h e r r e la tio n s h ip w it h Z e k is a ls o c h a ra c te ris e d b y
s o m e th in g m o re . S h e a llo w s h e r s e lf to to le ra te h im b e c a u se o f an in s t in c t fo r s u r v iv a l,
fo r s e lf- p r e s e r v a tio n :
50
I l n ’ é ta it ja m a is to ta le m e n t, h o n te u s e m e n t s o û l c e q u i lu i a u ra it p e rm is de le
m é p ris e r d a v a n ta g e . I l o s c illa it to u jo u rs d a n s u n e d e m i- c o n s c ie n c e q u i lu i
p e rm e tta it de ré p o n d re a v e c d o u c e u r à se s q u e s tio n s ir r it é e s , de la p re n d re
d a n s s e s b ra s et de lu i fa ir e h a b ile m e n t l ’ a m o u r. C e p la is ir q u ’ e lle ne s a v a it
p a s r e fu s e r lu i é ta it u n e to rtu re . C ’ é ta it so n s e u l re fu g e c o n tre la s o litu d e
e x trê m e , la v ie ille s s e , toute p ro c h e , la f o lie p e u t-ê tre , ( p l 0 9 )
A s o n e c r it ic s u g g e sts, “ M a r ie - H é lè n e d id n o t h a v e to m a r r y Z e k , b u t sh e la c k e d the
c o u ra g e to b e s e lf-in d e p e n d e n t in P a r is a fte r h e r s is t e r ’ s s u ic id e ” ( B e r r ia n 1991 p 9 ).
H e r d e c is io n to s ta y w it h Z e k , an d in d e e d to liv e w it h h im in A f r i c a , m a r k s a d is tin c t
tu rn in g p o in t in h e r lif e : h e r n e w ly - a c q u ire d la c k o f c o n fid e n c e a n d s e lf- e s te e m , an d
the a b s e n ce o f d e te rm in a tio n in h e r to liv e o u t h e r lif e in d e p e n d e n tly . A l i x , h e r
m o th e r, h a d a lw a y s e n c o u ra g e d h e r to be in d e p e n d e n t, a n d be c a p a b le o f e a rn in g h e r
o w n liv in g . H o w e v e r , M a r ie - H é lè n e c a s ts a s id e th is a d v ic e w h e n m a k in g d e c is io n s .
S h e s h o w s h e r s e lf h e re a s a c o w a r d ly fig u re . C o n d é h a s o fte n sta ted th a t she is n o t the
k in d o f w r it e r w h o c re a te s m o d e l c h a ra c te rs ( P f a f f 19 93 p 6 0 ).
It is u s e fu l to e x a m in e b r ie f ly , the p o rtra y a l o f A f r i c a in th e n o v e l. M a r ie H é lè n e h a s tu rn e d h e r b a c k o n E u r o p e f o llo w in g h e r p e rs o n a l f a ilu r e s in F r a n c e , an d
h a s f ir s t se e n A f r i c a as a n u rtu rin g , p ro te c tin g p la c e w h e re sh e w o u ld n o t be h a u n te d
b y th e g h o sts o f h e r p a st lif e . H o w e v e r , A f r i c a d id n o t w e lc o m e h e r w it h o p e n a rm s ,
an d sh e h a s n e v e r fe lt at h o m e in h e r a n c e s to r s ’ c o n tin e n t. H e r l if e h a s n o t m o v e d
fo rw a r d in a n y p r o g re s s iv e w a y s in c e le a v in g E u r o p e . O n th e c o n tr a r y , h e r h a p p in e s s
an d se n se o f s e lf h a v e b e e n d im in is h e d a n d , in th is w a y , A f r i c a m a y b e se en as a fo rm
o f re g re s s io n , o r e v e n as a fo rm o f su p p re s s io n in h e r lif e . O n a s y m b o lic le v e l, A f r i c a
51
is n o t p o rtra y e d a s a p ro te c tin g m o th e rla n d , g iv in g n e w lif e to its lo s t d e sc e n d a n ts. In
A f r i c a , M a r ie - H é lè n e is fra g m e n te d an d d is c o n n e c te d .
M a r ie - H é lè n e ’ s re la t io n s h ip w it h Z e k is p e rh a p s b e st p la y e d o u t the n ig h t Z e k
h o sts d in n e r fo r M a d o u an d so m e fr ie n d s , an d s e rv e s a s a c r if ic ia l sh e e p . M a r ie H é lè n e , c h a r a c t e r is t ic a lly , re m a in s in h e r ro o m , s le e p y a n d d re a m in g , lo s t in h e r
m e la n c h o lic th o u g h ts. L a t e r , d u rin g th e ir lo v e m a k in g , Z e k in te rro g a te s h e r
c e a s e le s s ly , a s k in g i f sh e lo v e s h im . H o w e v e r , M a r ie - H é lè n e w i l l n e v e r c o n fir m th is
to Z e k , it is h e r w a y o f p la y in g w it h h im , a n d d e n y in g h im th is tru th . Z e k trie s n o t to
b e u p se t a b o u t th e fa c t th at h e w i l l n e v e r k n o w fo r su re h o w h is w if e fe e ls ab o u t h im :
A p r è s d ix - s e p t a n s , M a r ie - H é lè n e ne l ’ a im a it- e lle p a s ? N e s ’ é ta it- e lle p a s
m is e à l ’ a im e r sa n s s ’ e n a p e r c e v o ir ? A q u o i b o n se to rtu re r ? E l l e
n ’ a p p a rte n a it p lu s q u ’ à lu i. I l s ’ é te n d it to u t c o n tre e lle , e n s e rra n t l ’ o b u s de so n
v e n tre . P e u t-ê tre q u ’ u n de se s c a u c h e m a rs a u x q u e ls e lle é ta it te lle m e n t su je tte
l ’ a g ite ra it. A lo r s il r e s s e rr e ra it so n é tre in te et la c a lm e r a it c o m m e u n e e n fa n t.
E n lu i- m ê m e , i l p ro n o n c e ra it c e s p a ro le s q u ’ il n ’ o s a it ja m a is d ire à v o i x h a u te ,
c a r il le s c r o y a it in d ig n e s de sa q u a lité d ’ h o m m e ; et a p rè s to u t, n ’ é ta it-c e p as
e lle , la c o u p a b le ? “ M o n a m o u r, n o u s c h e m in o n s e n s e m b le d e p u is ta n t
d ’ a n n é e s et ja m a is n o u s n e n o u s s o m m e s re n c o n tré s . T u es e n fe rm é e d a n s tes
re m o rd s et tes rê v e s . M o i, d a n s m a lo u rd e u r et m o n é g o ïs m e ” , ( p l 5 3 )
T h e s e lin e s c a p tu re the e s se n c e o f the re la t io n s h ip b e tw e e n M a r ie - H é lè n e an d Z e k , a
r e la t io n s h ip h in g e d o n m u tu a l d e p e n d e n c y - Z e k so d e sp e ra te fo r h e r lo v e , a n d s h e , so
n e e d fu l o f h is c o m fo r t w h e n c o n fro n te d w it h the s in s o f h e r y o u th in th e fo rm o f
n ig h tm a re s . B o t h o f th e m , th e re fo re , are fo rc e d to s h a re t h e ir liv e s a n d th e ir f a m ily ,
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p ris o n e rs o f the p a s t, a n d o f th e ir p e rs o n a l fa ilin g s . T h e r e is s o m e th in g a lm o s t
c h ild lik e ab o u t Z e k an d M a r ie - H é lè n e . A lth o u g h th e y a re p a re n ts , th e y do n o t e x h ib it
c h a ra c te ris tic s o f le a d e rs h ip an d in flu e n c e , e ith e r w it h t h e ir c h ild r e n o r w it h e a c h
o th e r. T h e y do n o t se e m to be in c o n tro l o f th e ir o w n d e s tin ie s , a n d d r if t th ro u g h lif e ,
v e r y m u c h in flu e n c e d b y e x te rn a l e v e n ts . N e ith e r o f th e m h a s h a d a h e a lt h y
r e la t io n s h ip w it h th e ir o w n fa th e rs. W e s h a ll see M a r ie - H é lè n e ’ s r e la t io n s h ip w it h h e r
p a re n ts d is c u s s e d la te r. A s fo r Z e k , u n lik e M a d o u , h e h a s n e v e r fo u n d fa v o u r in h is
fa t h e r ’ s e y e s . I t m a y be th is la c k o f p a re n ta l lo v e b e tw e e n fa th e r a n d c h ild , in b o th
t h e ir c a s e s , w h ic h re n d e rs Z e k an d M a r ie - H é lè n e c h ild lik e , in c a p a b le o f le a d in g ,
s te e rin g , g u id in g .
T h e im a g e o f M a r ie - H é lè n e as c o n s ta n tly e ith e r p re g n a n t o r c r a d lin g a n e w ­
b o rn in fa n t , m ig h t n o r m a lly s e rv e to d e m o n stra te the lo v e a n d a ffe c tio n b e tw e e n a
m a n an d w if e , a c h ild b e in g the p h y s ic a l a ff ir m a tio n o f t h e ir lo v e . I n M a r ie - H é lè n e ’ s
c a s e , h o w e v e r , the c o n tin u in g p re g n a n c ie s s e rv e to r e in fo r c e a v e r y d iffe re n t
p e rs p e c tiv e , a se n se o f the e n d le s s c o n tin u u m o f h e r lif e w it h Z e k , o f the la c k o f
p o s s ib ilit y fo r n e w n e s s , fo r re g e n e ra tio n . T h e c y c lic a l re - e n a c tm e n ts o f the
p re g n a n c ie s s h o w lif e fo r M a r ie - H é lè n e an d Z e k as c a u g h t in so m e ty p e o f tim e w a rp ,
d e v o id o f the p o te n tia l fo r c h a n g e .
T o s u m m a r is e , M a r ie - H é lè n e is p o rtra y e d as u n h a p p y , la c k in g in s e lf- e s te e m
an d d ire c tio n an d d e e p ly d is s a tis fie d w it h e v e r y fa c e t o f h e r l i f e , h e r h u s b a n d , h e r
c h ild r e n , h e r p la c e o f re s id e n c e a n d h e r p ast.
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M a r ie - H é lè n e ’ s id e n tity a s e x a m in e d th ro u g h h e r r e la t io n s h ip w it h M a d o u
T h e lo v e a f f a ir b e tw e e n M a r ie - H é lè n e a n d M a d o u c o u ld n o t be m o re d iffe re n t fro m
th a t w it h Z e k . In M a d o u , she h a s p e rh a p s fo u n d an e q u a l, a n d at le a s t sh e h a s fo u n d
s o m e o n e sh e c a n re s p e c t. S h e re m e m b e rs h e r s u rp ris e u p o n s e e in g M a d o u fo r the f ir s t
tim e , so u n lik e h is o ld e r b ro th e r:
Z e k lu i a v a it b e a u c o u p p a rlé de so n je u n e frè re p o u r le q u e l i l é p ro u v a it
d ’ é tra n g e s s e n tim e n ts d ’ a ff e c tio n , de ra n c u n e et d ’ a d m ir a tio n . M a is e lle ne se
l ’ é ta it ja m a is n e tte m e n t re p ré se n té . E t e lle se ra p p e la it sa s u r p r is e q u a n d
M a d o u é ta it d e s c e n d u de l ’ U ly o u c h in e 18 q u i le r a m e n a it de M o s c o u . S i
d iffé re n t de so n a în é ! R é s e r v é , f r o id , h a u ta in , p re s q u e m é p ris a n t! (p 2 7 )
M a r ie - H é lè n e r e c a lls h e r f ir s t im p re s s io n o f Z e k ’ s y o u n g e r b ro th e r. H is m a n n e rs an d
a r is to c ra tic b a c k g ro u n d im p re s s h e r in w a y s Z e k fa ile d to do so . F o r M a d o u , a lth o u g h
m a r rie d to the y o u n g e s t s is te r o f T o u m a n y , the P re s id e n t, the o n ly w o m a n he h a s e v e r
lo v e d is M a r ie - H é lè n e . A s B e r r ia n su g g e sts, M a r ie - H é lè n e ’ s in it ia l a ttra c tio n to
M a d o u w a s m o tiv a te d b y re v e n g e , b e c a u se Z e k is u n a b le to h e a l the u n h a p p in e s s ,
lo n e lin e s s a n d te r rib le a lie n a tio n w it h in h e r (B e r r ia n 1991 p i 2 ) . M a d o u h ad a r r iv e d
b a c k in the c a p ita l c it y , N ’ D a r u , fo llo w in g c o m p le tio n o f h is s tu d ie s in R u s s ia . H e is
b rig h t an d h ig h ly a m b itio u s , so u n lik e h is o ld e r b ro th e r w h o w is h e s s im p ly fo r a
lo v in g w if e an d s in c e re frie n d s . M a r ie - H é lè n e h a d no p r e c o n c e iv e d id e a s o f w h a t she
w a n te d w it h M a d o u , n o r h a d sh e th o u g h t o u t the c o n s e q u e n c e s o f w h e re an a f f a ir w it h
h im w o u ld le a d :
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A u d é b u t, e lle n ’a v a it p a s de p la n b ie n d é f in i, s e u le m e n t l ’ in te n tio n de le s
p ro v o q u e r to u s le s d e u x . P u is e lle a v a it c o m p lè te m e n t p e rd u le c o n trô le de la
s itu a tio n et s ’ é ta it re tro u v é e a m o u re u s e . E p e rd u m e n t a m o u re u s e de M a d o u .
(p 3 3 )
W e see h e re M a r ie - H é lè n e ’ s la c k o f s e lf- c o n tro l an d s e lf- d is c ip lin e . S h e s h o w s h e r s e lf
to be an u n s c ru p u lo u s an d irr e s p o n s ib le w o m a n , f u ll y c a p a b le o f p u rs u in g h e r o w n
d e s ire s w it h o u t th o u g h t o r c o n s id e ra tio n fo r o th e rs . S h e is a lm o s t c h ild lik e in th is
m a n n e r, a llo w in g h e r o w n im p u ls iv e a c tio n s to o v e rrid e a n y o th e r c o n c e rn s .
H e r fe e lin g s fo r M a d o u do n o t d is s ip a te d u rin g the n o v e l, a n d h is d e ath w i l l
see h e r g rie v e in c o n s o la b ly . M a r ie - H é lè n e ’ s c r y in g o v e r M a d o u is th e la s t s c e n e in
w h ic h she a p p e a rs in the n o v e l, an d w e are le ft w it h the im p re s s io n th a t h e r a n g u is h
w i l l c o n tin u e fo r m u c h lo n g e r. A lth o u g h she h a s j u s t g iv e n b irt h to h e r f ir s t s o n , he
s e e m s fo rg o tte n in h e r g r ie f. S h e h a s re a so n e d i llo g ic a lly a b o u t th e m o r a lit y o f h e r
i l l i c i t lo v e a f f a ir w it h M a d o u , s a y in g h a d Z e k d ie d , sh e , a s h is w id o w , w o u ld h a v e
go n e to h is y o u n g b ro th e r. M a r ie - H é lè n e n e g le c ts to c o n s id e r th e fa c t th at Z e k d id n o t
d ie , an d h e n c e h e r a f f a ir w it h M a d o u w a s c o m p le te ly w ro n g a n d im m o r a l:
C o m m e c ’ é ta it illo g iq u e ! D e s d e u x fr è r e s , Z e k s e ra it m o rt le p r e m ie r qu e sa
v e u v e s e ra it re v e n u e à so n c a d e t. A lo r s ce q u i a v a it été c r im e s e ra it a p p ro u v é
de to u s et b é n i ! (p 2 0 8 )
In th is lig h t, w e see M a r ie - H é lè n e as a d e sp e ra te w o m a n , r e fu s in g b la m e fo r h e r a c t o f
a d u lte ry , fo r the h u rt sh e h a s c a u s e d Z e k , an d fo r the s h a m e sh e h a s b ro u g h t u p o n the
f a m ily . S h e d o e s n o t se e m to a c c e p t th at she is at fa u lt, a n d a g a in w e m a y t h in k o f h e r
55
as c h ild lik e an d im m a tu re , n o t a c c e p tin g r e s p o n s ib ilit y fo r h e r a c ts a n d th e ir
c o n s e q u e n c e s . H e r r e fu s a l to a c c e p t b la m e fo r the a f f a ir s h o w s h e r la c k o f o b je c t iv it y
an d fa ir n e s s . H e r n o n -a c c e p ta n c e o f a n y g u ilt is , in r e a lit y , s y m b o lic o f th e o v e r rid in g
p ro b le m in h e r lif e , h e r re fu s a l an d in a b ilit y to d e fin e h e r s e lf. B y r e fu s in g to see the
o b je c tiv e tru th in h e r a c tio n s , she is d r a w in g a v e il o v e r p a rts o f h e r id e n tity . W h a t is
s tr ik in g h e re , th o u g h , is the fa c t th at sh e is h id in g n o t o n ly fro m o th e rs , b u t m o st
im p o r ta n tly fro m h e r s e lf. I t is im p o s s ib le fo r a n y o n e to t r u ly k n o w h e r, a s she d o e s
n o t k n o w h e r s e lf. S h e r e fu s e s th is p o s s ib ilit y .
A p a r t fro m the s e x u a l a ttra c tio n b e tw e e n th e m , M a r ie - H é lè n e a n d M a d o u ,
b o th sh a re a d e e p in te re s t in p o lit ic s . M a d o u ’ s in te re s t h a s se e n h im e le v a te d to
ministre du Développement rural,
an d he h a s h is sig h ts o n b e in g
premier ministre.
M a r ie - H é lè n e , a lth o u g h v e g e ta tin g in the c la u s tro p h o b ia o f th e h o u s e , h a s n o t lo s t h e r
in te re s t in p o lit ic s , an d in the fate o f A f r i c a . T h i s sh a re d in te re s t is h ig h lig h te d d u rin g
the f ir s t c o n v e rs a tio n b e tw e e n th e m in the n o v e l. M a d o u r e v e a ls to h e r the re a l re a s o n
fo r h is v is it to R ih a t a : the atte m p te d r e c o n c ilia tio n b e tw e e n T o u m a n y an d L o p e z de
A r i a s , P re s id e n t o f a n e ig h b o u rin g c o u n tr y , w h ic h h a d f o r m e r ly b e e n a P o rtu g u e se
c o lo n y . M a r ie - H é lè n e c a n n o t ig n o re the fa c t th at M a d o u h a s jo in e d th is c o rru p t
g o v e rn m e n t, an d M a d o u a tte m p ts to ju s t i f y h is in v o lv e m e n t w it h T o u m a n y . H e
e x p la in s th a t the re g im e m u s t b e c h a n g e d fro m the in s id e . M a r ie - H é lè n e tre a ts h is
c o m m e n ts c y n ic a lly . It is v e r y in te re s tin g to n ote the d y n a m ic s at p la y b e tw e e n b o th
c h a ra c te rs in th is c o n v e rs a tio n . S h e is h e a v ily p re g n a n t, a n d s u rro u n d e d b y c h ild r e n ,
y e t h e r c o n tin u e d in te re s t in the p o lit ic s o f the c o u n try , an d M a d o u ’ s in v o lv e m e n t in
th e m , is e v id e n t. S h e la u g h s , o n c e o r t w ic e , a n d fo r M a d o u , h e r la u g h te r h a s n o t
c h a n g e d . I t is s t ill “ lé g e r, u n p eu m o q u e u r” (p 5 2 ). D is c u s s in g p o lit ic s w it h h e r fo rm e r
lo v e r is r e m in is c e n t o f a y o u n g e r, a m b itio u s an d id e a lis t ic M a r ie - H é lè n e , liv in g in
56
P a r ís , a n d p a s s io n a te ly in v o lv e d in the c a u s e o f A f r i c a an d its p e o p le s . I n so m e w a y s ,
t h is c o n v e rs a tio n w it h M a d o u re c a p tu re s p a rt o f h e r id e n tity n o w su p p re s s e d an d
la te n t. M a d o u , w h o s e e d u c a tio n an d r a n k in g o v e rn m e n t a ffo r d h im h ig h s ta tu s, fe e ls
a tre m e n d o u s n e e d to ju s t i f y h im s e lf to h is fo rm e r lo v e r . F o r h im , h e r o p in io n is m o st
im p o rta n t, an d he w h o le h e a r te d ly d e s ire s h e r a p p ro v a l fo r h is a c tio n s . I t s e e m s l i k e ly
th at M a d o u s t ill c o n s id e rs h e r a s an in t e lle c tu a l p a rtn e r, w h ic h is h o w d eep d o w n she
p ro b a b ly w is h e s to be se en . In t e r e s t in g ly , it is o n ly M a d o u , a n d n o t Z e k , w h o c a n
in s p ire h e r, an d ra is e h e r u p , a lb e it fo r a fe w m o m e n ts , fro m h e r d u ll e x is te n c e .
S h e trie s to c o n s id e r the p o s s ib ilit ie s o f a r e c o n c ilia t io n b e tw e e n th e tw o
le a d e rs , an d w o n d e rs i f it is at a ll l i k e ly g iv e n T o u m a n y ’ s c o rru p t re p u ta tio n :
C e tte r é c o n c ilia t io n a v e c L o p e z de A r i a s , s i ja m a is e lle a v a it lie u , d u re ra ite lle ? C o m m e n t ce le a d e r in tè g re a c c e p te ra it- il le s c a p r ic e s et le s c r im e s de
T o u m a n y ? E t p u is , so n p a y s a v a it - il à g a g n e r à u n e a llia n c e a v e c ce tte te rre
e x s a n g u e , en p le in e f a illit e é c o n o m iq u e ? M a r ie - H é lè n e re n o n ç a à
c o m p re n d re . (p 5 5 )
T h e w o r d “ re n o n ç a ” is p o ig n a n t in th is la s t lin e . M a r ie - H é lè n e h a s n o w , in so m a n y
w a y s , re n o u n c e d h e r lif e an d e v e r y th in g in it. T h e v e rb c o n ju re s u p n o tio n s o f f a ilu r e ,
o f la c k o f p e rs e v e ra n c e an d d e te rm in a tio n , in s h o rt, e v e r y th in g th a t sh e h a s n o w
b e c o m e . I n F r a n c e , M a r ie - H é lè n e d id n o t g iv e u p . L i f e , th e n , w a s a b a ttle g ro u n d
w h e re h e r p o lit ic a l b e lie fs k e p t h e r a liv e . In F r a n c e , she w a s a c e n tra l f ig u re , b u t in
A f r i c a sh e is p o s itio n e d o n th e p e rip h e ry .
U n lik e Z e k , fo r w h o m she h a s m u c h c o n te m p t, M a d o u a w a k e n s d re a m s an d
p o s s ib ilit ie s w it h in h e r, b o th p o lit ic a l an d p e rs o n a l. H e r a lie n a tio n fr o m A f r i c a ,
57
d is c u s s e d in a n o th e r s e c tio n o f th is c h a p te r, is le s s e n e d b y h e r lo v e fo r h im . U n lik e
Z e k , an d a ll o th e r A f r ic a n s , w h e n M a r ie - H é lè n e w a s w it h M a d o u , sh e fe lt a b le to p u t
d o w n ro o ts in th is c o n tin e n t, e v e n to g ro w to lo v e it:
O u i, à P r a h im a , e lle a v a it re tro u v é la s a v e u r de so n e n fa n c e . Q u a n d M a d o u la
p re n a it p a r la m a in , e lle é ta it c a p a b le d ’ a im e r ce tte te rre , de s ’ y e n ra c in e r.
( p l 88)
H e r s h o rt tim e w it h M a d o u is o ne o f e x tre m e h a p p in e s s . T h e r e is a stro n g se n se o f
in n o c e n c e in th ese lin e s , an d a lm o s t the id e a o f tw o c h ild h o o d s w e e th e a rts , s h ie ld e d
fro m l i f e ’ s d if f ic u lt ie s . W h e n he is sh o t b y a y o u n g m a n r e s is ta n t to T o u m a n y ’ s
g o v e rn m e n t, M a d o u is in a c o m a in h o s p ita l. A t th is sta g e , M a r ie - H é lè n e r e liv e s
m e m o rie s o f h im , an d the h a p p y tim e th e y sp e n t to g e th e r. S h e re g re ts the fa c t th at
n o th in g w a s r e s o lv e d b e tw e e n th e m :
L e re g re t la p re n a it de le u rs d e rn iè re s re n c o n tre s tro n q u é e s au c o u rs d e s q u e lle s
ils n ’ a v a ie n t r ie n é c h a n g é . D e s p a ro le s in c o m p lè te s . D e s re g a rd s e m b a rra s s é s .
D e s s o u v e n irs te n u s e n la is s e . E l l e se r e fu s a it à p e n s e r q u ’ i l p o u v a it m o u r ir .
P o u rta n t e lle se s u rp re n a it d é jà à fa ir e le tr i d a n s se s s o u v e n irs c o m m e une
a v a re d é n o m b ra n t se s b ie n s . D e s im a g e s q u ’ e lle a v a it r é s o lu m e n t é c a rté e s
re s u rg is s a ie n t, ( p l 8 7 )
In th e se lin e s w e see M a r ie - H é lè n e a s in c o m p le te a n d u n f u lf ille d . T h e p a rt M a d o u h a s
p la y e d in h e r lif e is u n fin is h e d , an d sh e w i l l n o t h a v e th e o p p o rtu n ity to r e s o lv e h e r
fe e lin g s fo r h im . T h e la n g u a g e in th is q u o te is v e r y s y m b o lic o f M a r ie - H é lè n e ’ s
58
d if f ic u lt ie s in h e r o w n l i f e , a n d h e r r e fu s a l to lo o k at h e r s e lf c lo s e ly . S h e re fu s e s to
b e lie v e M a d o u c o u ld d ie , in the sa m e w a y she h a s re fu s e d to b la m e h e r s e lf fo r the
tra g ic e v e n ts in h e r lif e . S h e d is p la y s a re m a rk a b le a b ilit y to b a n is h th o u g h ts w h ic h
are u n p le a s a n t to h e r. I t is in d e e d th is p re fe re n c e o f h e rs , n o t to d w e ll fo r a n y le n g th
o n h e r s e lf, w h ic h a llo w s h e r go th ro u g h lif e , s k im m in g th e s u r fa c e , a n d n o t
jo u r n e y in g to w a rd s a g re a te r r e a lis a tio n o f s e lf- k n o w le d g e o r id e n tity .
M a d o u ’ s d e ath w i l l h a v e its c o n s e q u e n c e s fo r M a r ie - H é lè n e . H is d e ath w i l l
s ig n a l h e r fa r e w e ll k is s to h e r o w n y o u th an d p a s t, a n d the lit t le g a m e sh e p la y e d w it h
b o th b ro th e rs c a n n o lo n g e r b e. M a d o u h a d p ro m is e d to tr y a n d s e c u re an in te re s tin g
jo b fo r Z e k a b ro a d , so th a t M a r ie - H é lè n e m ig h t be a b le to le a v e R ih a t a , an d n o t liv e in
s u c h p o v e rty . M a d o u ’ s d e a th , h o w e v e r , m e a n s Z e k w i l l n o t b e w h is k e d o u t o f the
R ih a t a b a c k w a te r, an d so lif e w i l l c o n tin u e , w it h o u t h o p e o f c h a n g e . A t the e n d o f the
n o v e l, w e are le ft w it h the id e a th at M a r ie - H é lè n e w i l l n o t a lte r h e r lif e , n o w th at
M a d o u is d e ad . O n e fe e ls she w i l l r e m a in is o la te d , re m o v e d fro m lif e , fro m h e r
h u s b a n d a n d c h ild r e n , an d fro m A f r i c a . It w o u ld a p p e a r th at th e m e a n in g le s s v o id
w h ic h is h e r lif e w i l l re m a in ju s t so.
M a r ie - H é lè n e ’ s re la t io n s h ip w it h M a d o u is fu e lle d b y p a s s io n an d p o lit ic s ,
an d h e a w a k e n s in h e r d re a m s a n d d e s ire s w h ic h she h a s th o u g h t h id d e n fo re v e r . H is
d e a th , at the en d o f the n o v e l, s ig n a ls a d e ath fo r h e r a ls o , th e d e a th o f in n o c e n c e , an d
p e rh a p s the f in a l d e ath o f h e r a m b itio n s , h e r d r iv e . I t is th e d e a th o f a n y h o p e s t ill
re m a in in g in h e r lif e . H o w ir o n ic , th e re fo re , th at M a d o u ’ s d e ath is ju x ta p o s e d w it h the
b irth o f E l i k i a , a n a m e s y m b o lis in g h o p e .
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M a r ie - H é lè n e ’ s r e la t io n s h ip w it h C h ris to p h e an d S ia , a n d the im p o rta n c e o f E l i k i a ’ s
b irth in th e n o v e l
C h ris to p h e is M a r ie - H é lè n e ’ s n e p h e w w h o s e m o th e r, D e lp h in e , c o m m itte d s u ic id e in
P a r is u p o n le a rn in g o f the lo v e a f f a ir b e tw e e n M a r ie - H é lè n e a n d h e r o w n lo v e r , O ln e l,
a H a it ia n . W h ile the re a d e r is p r iv ile g e d to k n o w th e c irc u m s t a n c e s o f h is b irth ,
C h ris to p h e h im s e lf , d o es n o t k n o w th e m . H e lo v e s h is a u n t v e r y m u c h , m a y b e
b e c a u se lik e h e r, he e x p e rie n c e s a lie n a tio n . H e k n o w s h e “ v e n a it d ’ a ille u r s ” ( p i 3 ).
M a r ie - H é lè n e , o v e rc o m e b y g u ilt, as sh e fe e ls she is to b la m e fo r h e r s is t e r ’ s d e ath ,
c a n n o t r e v e a l to C h ris to p h e w h a t h ap p e n e d in P a r is an d the p a rt sh e p la y e d in
D e lp h in e ’ s d e m is e . S h e k n o w s he m ig h t h ate h e r fo r b e tr a y in g h is m o th e r, an d sh e is
n o t c o u ra g e o u s e n o u g h to te ll h im the tru th . S h e is a fr a id h e w i l l be u n s ta b le a fte r
le a rn in g the fa c t h is m o th e r p re fe rre d to d ie , ra th e r th a n l iv e :
A h , c o m m e n t a u r a it- e lle (D e lp h in e ) p u s u r v iv r e à ce tte d é fa ite ? E l l e a v a it
p ré fé ré se c o u c h e r et m o u r ir . P o u v a it- o n ra c o n te r ce tte h is to ir e à C h ris to p h e ?
C e s e ra it p e u t-ê tre p o rte r u n co u p fa ta l à l ’ é q u ilib r e , à la p a ix de so n e s p rit ? I l
d e v ie n d ra it a m e r. I l s ’ é lo ig n e r a it d ’ e lle . I l la h a ïr a it p e u t-ê tre . C e la , M a r ie H é lè n e n e p o u rra it le su p p o rte r. (p p 8 0 - 8 1 )
C h r is t o p h e ’ s se n se o f in s e c u r it y an d la c k o f id e n tity ste m n o t o n ly fro m th e fa c t th at
h is m o th e r is d ead . H e h as a ls o n e v e r k n o w n h is fa th e r b e c a u s e O ln e l fle d b a c k to
H a it i o n c e D e lp h in e h ad d ie d . T h ro u g h o u t the n o v e l, C h ris to p h e is c o n s ta n tly se e n as
a v ic t im , d e n ie d the tru th o f h is b irth b y th o se w h o c a n te ll h im . M a r ie - H é lè n e ,
a lth o u g h lo v in g h im d e a r ly , w i l l n o t r e v e a l the tru th to h im a b o u t e ith e r p a re n t a n d , in
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th is w a y , d e n ie s h im h is id e n tity a n d h is se n se o f o rig in . A lth o u g h she h a s w il l i n g l y
tu rn e d h e r o w n b a c k o n G u a d e lo u p e a s c o n s titu tin g p a rt o f h e r id e n tity , b y r e fu s in g
C h ris to p h e the tru th , sh e c u ts o f f h is a c c e s s to h is p a s t a n d h is se n se o f id e n tity . In th is
w a y she a p p e a rs m o s t c o w a r d ly , k n o w in g h o w d e e p ly h e w is h e s to k n o w o f h is
p a re n ts an d th e ir h is to r y . F o r S u k , C h ris to p h e , a lth o u g h in n o c e n t, a n d ig n o ra n t o f the
p a s t w ro n g -d o in g s o f h is a u n t, an d o th e r a d u lts in the n o v e l, s e e m s a ll the m o re to
c a r r y the b u rd e n o f p a s t s in s o n h is s h o u ld e r ( S u k 2 0 0 1 p i 0 5 ). H e to rtu re s h im s e lf
w it h o u t u n d e rs ta n d in g w h a t r e a lly h a p p e n e d an d w o n d e rs i f h is m o th e r h ate d h im
en o u g h to d e se rt h im . M a r ie - H e le n e ’ s p a rt in a ll th is d e m o n s tra te s h e r c o w a r d ic e , an d
la c k o f s e n s it iv it y to w a rd s h e r n e p h e w . S h e d o es n o t w is h to re d e e m h is m o th e r in h is
e y e s . A l l th at is im p o rta n t to h e r is to p re s e rv e h e r o w n im a g e in C h r is t o p h e ’ s e y e s .
T h e tru th is e x p lo ite d b y M a r ie - H e le n e , an d C h ris to p h e w i l l n e v e r be a b le to d e c ip h e r
h is tru e id e n tity an d b e lo n g in g b e c a u s e o f th is . T h is e x p lo it a tio n o f the tru th c a n be
c o m p a re d to the c o rru p t g o v e rn m e n t o f T o u m a n y , w h e re tru th is s h a d o w e d b e h in d a
v e il o f lie s an d d e c e it. In so m e w a y , M a r ie - H e le n e ’ s b e h a v io u r to w a rd s h e r n e p h e w
c a n be se e n a s e m b le m a tic o f the p ro b le m s in A f r i c a , w h e re u n tru th s a n d fa ls it ie s
re ig n o v e r th is tro u b le d c o n tin e n t, an d p re v e n t it fro m fin d in g its tru e id e n tity .
C h ris to p h e is , in so m e w a y s , re p re s e n ta tiv e o f the C a r ib b e a n p a s t, a p a s t o f fo rc e d
m ig ra tio n fro m A f r i c a , a p a s t w h e re A f r ic a n tra d itio n s an d c u ltu r e s w e re s u p p re sse d
an d re je c te d , a p a st w h e re A f r ic a n id e n tity c o u ld e x is t n o lo n g e r. H e is a n o rp h a n
fig u re a n d , lik e the C a r ib b e a n p e o p le , he s e a rc h e s in v a in fo r an a n c e s t ry w h ic h w i l l
be fo re v e r d e n ie d , an a n c e s try r u t h le s s ly b u rie d o n the p la n ta tio n s . H e is se en a s a
b la m e le s s c h a ra c te r, d e s tin e d to liv e h is lif e in the s h a d o w o f th e s in s o f o th e rs , an d in
th is w a y , h e is e m b le m a tic o f the m a la is e o f fo r m e r ly c o lo n is e d p e o p le s .
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M a r ie - H é lè n e , as a m o th e r fig u re is p re se n te d in m o st n e g a tiv e te rm s . C o n d é r e v e a ls
h e r to be u n c a r in g , an d u n c o n c e rn e d a b o u t h e r d a u g h te rs. T h e im a g e w e h a v e o f h e r is
o f an a lo o f w o m a n , too p re o c c u p ie d w it h h e r p e rs o n a l m is e r y a n d s e lf- d e s tru c tio n to
c a re a b o u t a n y o n e e ls e , le a s t o f a ll h e r c h ild r e n . R e fe r e n c e s to h e r d a u g h te rs a re v e r y
ra re in the n o v e l, w it h the e x c e p tio n o f h e r e ld e s t o n e , S ia ,. W e k n o w th e y tre a t h e r
w it h re s p e c t an d w it h a c e rta in a m o u n t o f fe a r, an d do n o t re a c t s p o n ta n e o u s ly to h e r
at a n y tim e , a s th e fo llo w in g q u o te d e m o n s tra te s :
L e s e n fa n ts q u i jo u a ie n t p lu s lo in la d é v is a g è re n t, c h e rc h a n t à d e v in e r s i e lle s
p o u v a ie n t s ’ a p p ro c h e r sa n s d o m m a g e et, a y a n t d é c id é d u c o n tr a ir e , se b o rn è re n t à
la s a lu e r:
- B o n jo u r , m a m a n !
M a r ie - H é lè n e a im a it se s e n fa n ts , b ie n sû r. M a is e lle n ’ a v a it p a s de te m p s à le u r
c o n s a c re r. S i e lle n ’ y p re n a it p as g a rd e , e lle s l ’ o b lig e r a ie n t à se d é to u rn e r du se u l
s o u c i q u i c o m p ta it à se s y e u x : la d é b an d a d e de sa v ie . (p p 2 4 - 2 5 )
T h e s e lin e s r e v e a l w h a t m ig h t e a s ily be se e n as a n e x a m p le o f c o m p le te s e lfis h n e s s
an d s e lf- a b s o rp tio n , to the d e trim e n t o f h e r c h ild r e n ’ s w e lfa r e a n d h a p p in e s s . I t is
u n d e rs ta n d a b le th o u g h , th at M a r ie - H é lè n e , o n c e a stro n g an d in t e lle c tu a l w o m a n ,
s h o u ld w is h to a n a ly s e h o w sh e h a s b e c o m e w h a t sh e n o w is , a c o n t in u a lly p re g n a n t
a n d d is s a tis fie d p e rs o n . T h e w o rd “ d é b a n d a d e ” is e x t r e m e ly p o ig n a n t, r e v e a lin g h o w
h e r lif e h a s u n r a v e lle d , h o w she h a s lo s t h e r g rip an d p o s it io n in g , h o w sh e h a s b e c o m e
u n d o n e . S h e in s p ir e s fe a r, n o t lo v e in h e r d a u g h te rs. I w i l l e x a m in e la te r in th e c h a p te r
h o w the fa ilin g s in h e r p a st n o w m itig a te u p o n a n y p o te n tia l h a p p in e s s in h e r lif e an d
in the liv e s o f h e r c h ild r e n . T h e ir re la t io n s h ip w it h Z e k is v e r y d iffe re n t: th e y lo v e
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h im d e a r ly , an d a re o p e n ly a ffe c tio n a te w it h h im . F o r Z e k , th is r e la t io n s h ip c o u ld n o t
be m o re d iffe re n t fro m the one h e h a s h a d w it h M a la n , h is fa th e r, w h e re fe a r a n d
re s p e c t c o n s titu te d the p r in c ip a l e le m e n ts in h is s t r ic t N g u r k a u p b rin g in g :
L e b o y o u v r a it le s fe n ê tre s d es c h a m b re s d e s e n fa n ts q u i s ’ a c c r o c h a ie n t à la
b a lu s tra d e , s c ia n t l ’ a ir de le u rs jo lie s v o ix p e rç a n te s .
- P ap a! P ap a! V o ilà papa!
I l r e le v a la tête et le u r s o u rit. P o u rta n t cette fa m ilia r it é a ffe c tu e u s e le b le s s a it. S e s
f ille s l ’ a im a ie n t a lo rs q u ’ il a u ra it s o u h a ité être c r a in t. E l le s se b o u s c u la ie n t p o u r
g rim p e r s u r se s g e n o u x , fr o is s a ie n t se s b o u b o u s, trip o ta ie n t s o n v is a g e et i l se
r e v o y a it d e v a n t so n p è re , y e u x b a is s é s , p a r a ly s é p a r la p e u r. (p 2 2 )
M a r ie - H é lè n e ’ s re la t io n s h ip w it h S ia is the o n ly r e la t io n s h ip w it h o ne o f h e r
c h ild r e n w h ic h is e x p lo re d in the n o v e l. S ia , at fifte e n , s u s p e c ts th a t b la m e fo r the
f a m i l y ’ s c irc u m s t a n c e s an d liv in g c o n d itio n s lie at h e r m o th e r ’ s fe e t. S h e is p o rtra y e d
fro m the o u tse t a s s u lle n an d d e ta ch e d , an d b e lie v e s h e r fe e lin g s to w a rd s h e r m o th e r
are th o se o f h a tre d . In d e e d , she h a s d e v e lo p e d a c lo s e r e la t io n s h ip w it h S o k a m b i, h e r
p a te rn a l g ra n d m o th e r, b e c a u se th e y b o th sh a re n e g a tiv e fe e lin g s to w a rd s M a r ie H é lè n e . S ia k n o w s M a r ie - H é lè n e h a s e x p e rie n c e d a v e r y d iffe re n t ty p e o f l if e in P a r is
an d c a n n o t u n d e rs ta n d w h y the f a m ily m u s t n o w liv e in the s le e p y b a c k w a t e r o f
R ih a t a :
C ’ e st to u t n a tu re lle m e n t d ’ in s tin c t, q u ’ e lle r e n d a it M a r ie - H é lè n e re s p o n s a b le
de le u r c o n d itio n p ré se n te . A lo r s que to u s a u to u r d ’ e lle a c c u s a ie n t le ré g im e
p o lit iq u e , T o u m a n y et sa d ic ta tu re , e lle n ’ a c c u s a it q u e sa m è re . C ’ é ta it à c a u s e
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d ’ e lle et d ’ e lle s e u le que lu i é ta ie n t re fu s é e s le s j o ie s , le s r ic h e s s e s a u x q u e lle s
sa je u n e s s e a v a it d ro it. E l l e d e v in a it d a n s so n p a s s é d e s fa u te s , v o ir e des
c r im e s d o n t to u s a u jo u r d ’ h u i p a y a ie n t le p r ix . (p p 8 1 - 8 2 )
S a m H a ig h su g g e sts th at it is M a r ie - H é lè n e ’ s o w n n e g a tiv e e x p e rie n c e s w it h
m o th e rh o o d w h ic h , in tu rn , d a m a g e h e r re la tio n s h ip w it h h e r c h ild r e n , a n d e s p e c ia lly
th at w it h S ia (H a ig h 2 0 01 p p 7 6 - 7 7 ). H a ig h b e lie v e s the p h y s ic a l c o n fin e m e n t w h ic h
p re g n a n c y an d n u m e ro u s c h ild r e n h a v e c o n fe rre d o n M a r ie - H é lè n e h a v e lim ite d h e r
a m b itio n s a n d c o n fo u n d e d h e r p la n s fo r the fu tu re . S h e g o e s o n to s a y th at M a r ie H é lè n e ’ s a lie n a tio n fro m S ia “ h a s e v e r y th in g to do w it h h e r o w n (n o n )s ta tu s as o b je c t
w it h in the p a t ria r c h a l s tru c tu re s w h ic h s u rro u n d th e m b o th ” (H a ig h 2 0 0 1 p 7 6 ). H e r e ,
H a ig h is su g g e stin g M a r ie - H é lè n e la c k s c o n tro l o v e r h e r l i f e , a n d th at h e r d e s tin y is in
the h a n d s o f the m a le s o f the f a m ily . In d e e d , the e ld e rs o f th e f a m ily m a d e th e c r u c ia l
d e c is io n s fo llo w in g d e te c tio n o f the a f f a ir b e tw e e n M a r ie - H é lè n e an d M a d o u . B u t fo r
Z e k ’ s c o m p a s s io n , M a r ie - H é lè n e w o u ld h a v e b e e n b a n is h e d fr o m th e h o u s e h o ld .
M a r ie - H é lè n e a d m its fe e lin g v e r y b itte r as she w a s e x c lu d e d fro m th is d e c is io n ­
m a k in g p ro c e s s w h ic h w a s to in flu e n c e the re s t o f h e r lif e . S h e w a s p o w e r le s s a g a in s t
th is m a le -o rie n ta te d A f r ic a n s o c ie ty .
A s sh e is a b o u t to g iv e b irth th is s e v e n th tim e , sh e re m e m b e rs S i a ’ s b irt h ,
s o m e th in g sh e h a s n e v e r d is c u s s e d w it h h e r d a u g h te r. S h e f r e e ly a c k n o w le d g e s the
a b se n c e o f c o m m u n ic a tio n b e tw e e n th e m , “ S i l ’ o n ne tie n t p a s c o m p te d e s re g a rd s ,
d e s e x p r e s s io n s du v is a g e , d es g e ste s d es m a in s ” ( p l 6 7 ). H o w e v e r , she a ls o
a c k n o w le d g e s the fa c t th at, a lth o u g h she k n o w s S ia h a s n e e d e d h e lp , sh e h e r s e lf h a s
n o t b e en a b le to p ro v id e th is :
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M a is c o m m e n t a id e r q u an d v o u s v o g u e z v o u s - m ê m e à la d é r iv e s a n s c a d ra n n i
b o u s s o le ? Q u a n d v o tre p ro p re v ie e st u n e fe m m e fo lle q u i d é c h ire se s
v ê te m e n ts ? ( p l 6 7 )
W h ile th e re is no se n se o f s h a m e o r s e lf- re p ro a c h in th e se lin e s , o n e c a n n o n e th e le s s
d is c e r n a to ta l la c k o f d ir e c tio n o r g u id a n c e . M a r ie - H é lè n e d o e s n o t se e m a p o lo g e tic
fo r h e r a d m is s io n , sh e is s im p ly r a t io n a lis in g h e r fe e lin g s in t e r n a lly . T h i s a b o v e qu o te
a ls o h in ts at the n o tio n th a t M a r ie - H é lè n e se es h e r s e lf a s tw o s e p a ra te b e in g s , a s a
s c h iz o p h re n ic . T h e r e is a to n e o f h y s te ria h e re , an d it is a s i f sh e w a s a b le to lo o k at
h e r s e lf e x t e r n a lly . S h e e n a c ts an im a g in a r y c o n v e rs a tio n w it h S ia , a s i f a tte m p tin g to
e x p la in to h e r d a u g h te r w h y t h e ir re la t io n s h ip h a s b e e n d o o m e d fro m b irth :
M o n e n fa n t, j e t ’ a i p o rté e d a n s la c o lè re . Je t ’ en v o u la is de n e p a s ê tre n ée de
c e lu i q u e j ’ a im a is , de c e lu i que j e n e m e c o n s o la is p a s d ’ a v o ir p e rd u . Je t ’ en
v o u la is d ’ ê tre la f ille de Z e k . J a m a is j e n ’ a i p e n sé à to i a v e c d o u c e u r et q u a n d ,
e n fin , n o u s n o u s s o m m e s sé p a ré e s j ’ a i a c c u e illi m a d é liv r a n c e a v e c jo ie . C ’ e st
p re s q u e d a n s la h a in e que j e t ’ a i e x p u ls é e , ( p l 6 7 )
In th e se lin e s , M a r ie - H é lè n e is v e r y h o n e st, a d m ittin g th at h e r p re g n a n c y w it h S ia w a s
o ne o f p a in an d re g re t. S h e is h o n e st, b u t she is n o n e th e le s s u n re p e n ta n t fo r h e r
fe e lin g s . T h e w o rd s in th is a b o v e qu o te a re m o st p o w e r fu l, a n d e f f e c t iv e ly d e s c rib e
M a r ie - H é lè n e ’ s fe e lin g s . S i a ’ s b irth w a s “ m a d é liv r a n c e ” , an d o n e c a n se n se h o w
r e lie v e d she fe lt, n ot to be c a r r y in g h e r d a u g h te r a n y lo n g e r. M a r ie - H é lè n e is fre e
n o w , d e liv e re d o f a b a b y w h o s e fa th e r she d o e s n o t lo v e . S ia h a s b e e n “ e x p u ls é e ”
fro m h e r m o th e r’ s w o m b , an d th is m irr o rs M a r ie - H é lè n e ’ s r e je c tio n o f Z e k . T h e r e is a
65
s tro n g se n se o f p a in in th e se lin e s , an d a ls o s e n tim e n ts o f re s e n tm e n t an d a n g e r.
B io lo g ic a lly , M a r ie - H é lè n e is a m o th e r, b u t in a ll o th e r w a y s sh e is n o t. S h e is too
c o n s u m e d w it h in h e r s e lf to be a g o o d m o th e r. O n c e th e u m b ilic a l c o rd is c u t, sh e is
r e lie v e d to s e v e r e m o tio n a l tie s w it h h e r c h ild r e n . H a d th e y b e e n M a d o u ’ s c h ild r e n ,
th o u g h , M a r ie - H é lè n e w o u ld n o t h a v e g iv e n u p a s e a s ily o n h e r o ffs p rin g . T h e r e is a
d ir e c t c o rr e la tio n b e tw e e n h e r la c k o f lo v e fo r Z e k , an d the r e s u lt in g la c k o f lo v e she
fe e ls fo r h e r c h ild r e n .
S ia , th ro u g h no fa u lt o f h e r o w n , is d e stin e d n o t to h a v e a c lo s e r e la tio n s h ip
w it h h e r m o th e r. S h e is Z e k ’ s d a u g h te r (a lth o u g h M a d o u h a s a lw a y s w o n d e re d i f
in d e e d she w a s h is ) , an d as s u c h w i l l n o t be lo v e d o r c h e ris h e d b e c a u se o f t h is . F o r
H a ig h , S ia w i l l p e rc e iv e h e r m o th e r in a lm o s t e x a c t ly the sa m e w a y th a t M a r ie - H é lè n e
h a s p e rc e iv e d h e rs , as a s ile n t s o lit a r y w o m a n (H a ig h 2 0 0 1 p 7 7 ). H o w e v e r , to w a rd s
the en d o f th e n o v e l, w h e n M a r ie - H é lè n e le a rn s o f M a d o u ’ s d e a th , it is S ia w h o
ru s h e s to h e r s id e . W e w it n e s s h e re a d ra m a tic tu rn a ro u n d in S i a ’ s fe e lin g s to w a rd s
h e r m o th e r, a r e a lis a tio n th a t she d o e s in d e e d lo v e h e r m o th e r v e r y d e e p ly . M a r ie H é lè n e is ly in g in b e d , c r y in g b it t e r ly o v e r M a d o u ’ s m u rd e r. D e s p ite Z e k ’ s p ro te s ts ,
S ia ru n s to h e r b e d s id e , sh e , the o n ly d a u g h te r to r e a lis e w h a t th is lo s s w i l l m e a n fo r
M a r ie - H é lè n e . T h e a f f a ir w h ic h S ia h a s g u e sse d h a s b e c o m e th e b a s is fo r n e w - fo u n d
in t im a c y b e tw e e n m o th e r an d d a u g h te r. A s M a r ie - H é lè n e c r ie s , S ia n o te s the s ilv e r
s tre a k s in h e r m o th e r ’ s h a ir, a n d the s ta rt o f w r in k le s o n h e r fo re h e a d . I t is an
im p o rta n t m o m e n t o f r e a lis a tio n fo r S ia , as she r e a lis e s h e r m o th e r is b e c o m in g o ld e r
an d , fo r the f ir s t tim e , s e n se s M a r ie - H é lè n e ’ s v u ln e r a b ilit y a n d s e n s it iv it y :
P e n d a n t q u e sa m è re p le u r a it s a n s v e rg o g n e d a n s sa c h e m is e de n u it fr o is s é e ,
o rn é e au c o l et a u x p o ig n e ts de d e u x ra n g s de d e n te lle , c e q u i lu i d o n n a it l ’ a ir
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d ’ u n e p e n s io n n a ire tro p g ra n d ie , e lle d é t a illa it c e s f i l s d ’ a rg e n t d a n s ses
c h e v e u x , c e s p re m iè re s rid e s s u r so n fro n t, la c h a ir u n p e u lâ c h e de se s é p a u le s
e t de so n c o u et c e lé g e r a ff a is s e m e n t de se s s e in s g o n flé s d ’ u n la it q u ’E l i k i a
a lla it b ie n tô t tê te r g o u lû m e n t et e lle c o m p re n a it q u e M a r ie - H é lè n e d is a it
irr é v o c a b le m e n t a d ie u à sa je u n e s s e , à la p o s s ib ilit é d ’ ê tre sé d u ite et de
c o m m e ttre d es fa u te s , v o ir e d es c r im e s , de b le s s e r le s a u tre s et s o i-m ê m e .
(p p 2 0 8 - 2 0 9 )
In th is q u o te , M a r ie - H é lè n e ’ s id e n tity is d e fin e d th ro u g h th e e y e s o f S ia . F o r H a ig h ,
th is sc e n e c re a te s the im p re s s io n o f a m o th e r-d a u g h te r r e la t io n s h ip w h ic h h a s b e g u n
to h e a l, in a w a y w h ic h h ad b e en im p o s s ib le fo r M a r ie - H é lè n e ’ s re la t io n s h ip w it h h e r
o w n m o th e r (H a ig h 2 0 0 1 p 8 2 ).T h e r e is c e r t a in ly so m e se n se o f h o p e h e re th a t a n e w
le v e l o f c o m m u n ic a tio n an d e m p a th y h a s o p en ed up b e tw e e n S ia an d h e r m o th e r. S a m
H a ig h su g g e sts th at w e are le f t w it h the im p re s s io n o f a d a u g h te r w h o is ‘ m o th e r in g ’
h e r m o th e r, w h o is u n d e rta k in g the r e s p o n s ib ilit y o f a lle v ia t in g M a r ie - H é lè n e ’ s se n se
o f e x ile , o f atte m p tin g to c re a te a ‘ h o m e ’ fo r h e r (H a ig h 2 0 0 1 p 8 2 ). In th is s c e n e , one
h a s the stro n g im p re s s io n th at S ia is at th is m o m e n t, b e c o m in g a w o m a n in h e r o w n
r ig h t, c a p a b le o f lo v in g a n d c o m fo r tin g in a w a y w h ic h h a s p ro v e d v e r y d if f ic u lt fo r
h e r m o th e r. A lth o u g h n e w ly a w a r e o f h e r lo v e an d s y m p a th y fo r h e r m o th e r, sh e do es
n o t w is h h e r o w n lif e to be a re p e a t o f M a r ie - H é lè n e ’ s, a n d it is a s th o u g h sh e se n se s
h e r m o th e r liv e s in so m e k in d o f p u rg a to ry :
L e s la rm e s v in r e n t a u x y e u x de S ia c e p e n d a n t q u ’ u n e p r iè r e q u ’ e lle ne p o u v a it p a s
r é p r im e r l ’ o b s é d a it:
- M o n D ie u , j e v o u s e n p r ie , fa ite s qu e m a v ie ne r e s s e m b le p a s à la s ie n n e ...
(p209)
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M a d o u ’ s d e ath w i l l c e r t a in ly im p a c t S i a ’ s lif e in the s h o rt-te rm . H e h a d p ro m is e d h e r
a h o lid a y in N ’ D a ru to ta k e h e r a w a y , a lb e it b r ie f ly , fro m th e m e d io c r it y o f R ih a t a ,
w h e re she c o u ld c o n s id e r fu tu re h o riz o n s fo r h e r lif e . T h i s w i l l n o t n o w be p o s s ib le .
H o w e v e r , S ia a p p e a rs to b e s e lf- a s s u re d an d in c o n tro l, a n d th e se q u a litie s w i l l a id h e r
as sh e m a k e s d e c is io n s fo r h e r fu tu re . I t m a y be h o p e d , th at sh e w i l l n o t b e a r h e r
a n c e s t o r s ’ g u ilt.
M o m e n ts o f lig h t an d h o p e a re ra re in th is n o v e l, an d M a d o u ’ s d e a th se e s so m e o f
S i a ’ s h o p e e v a p o ra te . T h i s c o n ju re s u p th e n o tio n th at re d e m p tio n fr o m d e s p a ir is
s o m e th in g e lu s iv e , s o m e th in g w h ic h m a y a p p e a r to be in r e a c h , b u t in r e a lit y , is
u n a tta in a b le . E l i k i a ’ s b irth is a ls o e v id e n c e th at re d e m p tio n is u n o b ta in a b le , a n d e x is t s
o n ly fo r fle e tin g m o m e n ts in an o th e rw is e d a rk w o r ld . F o r a v e r y b r ie f m o m e n t in the
n o v e l, o ne m ig h t be le d to b e lie v e th a t the a r r iv a l o f E l i k i a , s e v e n th c h ild a n d firs tb o rn
so n o f M a r ie - H é lè n e an d Z e k , m a y p a v e the w a y fo r p s y c h o lo g ic a l r e b irth an d
re g e n e ra tio n fo r th is u n h a p p y , d is c o n te n te d c o u p le . F o r a fe w s h o rt h o u rs , Z e k is
o v e rc o m e w it h jo y at the b irth o f the so n fo r w h o m he h a s a lw a y s s e c r e tly h o p e d , an d
r e s o lv e s to c h a n g e a ll a ilin g a s p e c ts o f h is lif e . In the m a te r n ity h o s p ita l, M a r ie H é lè n e s m ile s at Z e k in a w a y she h a s p r o b a b ly n o t s m ile d s in c e c o m in g to A f r i c a ,
r e m in d in g h im o f h is w if e m a n y y e a rs e a r lie r , b e fo re h e r s p ir a llin g d e s c e n t in to
u n h a p p in e s s . “ U n s o u rire q u ’ i l ne lu i a v a it p a s c o n n u d e p u is d e s a n n é e s re tro u s s a ses
lè v r e s et d ’ u n co u p e lle fu t r a je u n ie de v in g t a n s ” ( p l 7 6 ) . Z e k n a m e s h is c h ild E l i k i a ,
r e a lis in g o n ly n o w h o w m u c h h e h a s d e s ire d a so n : “ Je t ’ a p p e lle r a i E l i k i a , q u i s ig n if ie
E s p é r a n c e , c a r j e t ’ a i b e a u c o u p a tte n d u ” ( p l 7 7 ) . T h e ju x t a p o s it io n , h o w e v e r , o f
M a d o u ’ s d e ath w it h th is m o m e n t o f j o y , is c le v e r ly e x e c u te d b y C o n d é . T h e im m e n s e
h a p p in e s s e x p e rie n c e d b y M a r ie - H é lè n e an d Z e k at th e b irt h o f t h e ir so n is c r u e lly
68
c ru s h e d b y the s h o o tin g , an d s u b se q u e n t d e ath o f M a d o u . M o m e n t s o f ra p tu re a re
s h o r tliv e d , a n d A f r i c a , b e c o m e s o n c e m o re , a p la c e o f d a rk n e s s fo r M a r ie - H e le n e .
E l i k i a ’ s n a m e , is d e e p ly ir o n ic : fo r a s h o rt tim e , the n o tio n o f h o p e is re s u rre c te d ,
b e fo re b e in g b u rie d a g a in , a ll too so o n .
A lie n a t io n in A f r i c a a n d in G u a d e lo u p e : C o n s titu e n ts o f M a r ie - H e le n e ’ s id e n tity
M a r y s e C o n d e is b u t one o f m a n y C a r ib b e a n w r it e r s w h o h a s c e n tre d m u c h o f h e r
w r it in g o n A f r ic a . M a n y o f the c h a ra c te rs in h e r n o v e ls p o n d e r th e q u e s tio n w h e th e r
o r n o t A f r i c a is the u ltim a te s o u rc e o f C a r ib b e a n o r ig in , a n d w h e th e r o r n o t a
C a r ib b e a n in d iv id u a l w i l l fin d s e lf- k n o w le d g e an d id e n tity in a re tu rn to th e o rig in a l
m o th e rla n d . M a r y G a lla g h e r su g g e sts
Une saison a Rihata n e g a te s
th e n o tio n th at
A f r i c a is ‘ H o m e ’ , o r th at it c a n p r o v id e a r e h a b ilita tin g ro u te to the a n c e s tra l p a st
(G a lla g h e r 2 0 0 2 p 2 2 9 ). In d e e d , C o n d e d o es n o t p a in t a h a p p y p ic tu r e o f A f r i c a as a
p la c e w h e re M a r ie - H e le n e h a s fo u n d p e a c e o r s e lf- k n o w le d g e . I t is c le a r th a t sh e is
d e e p ly u n h a p p y liv in g in R ih a t a , an d h a s n e v e r a tte m p te d to se ttle d o w n a m o n g its
in h a b ita n ts . T h e m a rk e t w o m a n a n d tra d e rs c a ll h e r “ S e m e la ” , N g u r k a fo r ‘ th e w o m a n
fro m o v e r th e re ’ . B o m in G u a d e lo u p e , th en a stu d e n t in P a r is , sh e le f t F r a n c e
f o llo w in g D e lp h in e ’ s s u ic id e an d a g re e d r e lu c ta n tly to c o m e to l iv e in A f r i c a w it h
Z e k , in s e a rc h o f so m e h a p p in e s s o r p e rh a p s to fo rg e t th e s in s c o m m itte d in P a r is . A t
the tim e o f th is n o v e l, sh e h a s a lr e a d y sp e n t s e v e n te e n y e a rs in A f r i c a , w h ic h h a s s t ill
fa ile d to in te g ra te h e r in a n y w a y . S h e sta n d s o u t a n d is d iffe re n t fr o m e v e ry o n e e ls e ,
is a p a rt fro m a ll the o th e r fo re ig n e rs n o w liv in g in R ih a t a :
69
M a is il s ’ in s c r iv a it d a n s se s g e ste s, se s a ttitu d e s , se s r é a c tio n s , to u te une
m a n iè re d ’ ê tre q u i d é c o n c e rta it, in t im id a it , a t tira it s e lo n le s c a s , et la
s in g u la r is a it a u s s i sû re m e n t q u ’ u n e ta c h e de n a is s a n c e au m ilie u du fro n t, u n
p ie d b o t o u u n m e m b re e s tro p ié , ( p p l 2 - 1 3 )
S h e s e n se s th a t p e o p le lo o k at h e r a s th o u g h sh e w e re h a n d ic a p p e d . I n th e ir e y e s , sh e
fe e ls g ro te sq u e , u g ly , a m o n s te r. O n ly at n ig h t, w h e n a s le e p , c a n sh e e sca p e R ih a t a ,
h e r fe e lin g s o f a lie n a tio n , an d h e r d u ll e x is te n c e :
M a r ie - H é lè n e o u v r it se s y e u x et n e su t p a s o ù e lle se tr o u v a it. C h a q u e m a tin ,
ce tte c h a m b re à la fo is p ré te n tie u s e et m in a b le a v e c se s c o m m o d e s et se s
c o ffr e s au v e r n is é c a illé , se s te n tu re s râ p é e s et ce tte o d e u r de m o is i qu e ja m a is
le s o le il ne c h a s s a it, lu i p a r a is s a it é tra n g è re . H e u re u s e m e n t, la n u it, se s rê v e s
l ’ e m p o rta ie n t. L o in de R ih a t a . L o in de so n e x is te n c e b o rn é e . (p 2 3 )
M a r ie - H é lè n e re m e m b e rs a r r iv in g fo r the f ir s t tim e in R ih a t a , d u rin g the r a in y se a so n ,
a n d d e s c rib e s h o w a ll h e r h o p e s an d e n e rg ie s h a d b e e n w a s h e d a w a y . P re g n a n t, th is
tim e w it h a n o th e r d a u g h te r A d iz u a , sh e h ad q u e s tio n e d i f th is s le e p y p la c e w o u ld be
h e r lif e fro m n o w o n . S h e a ls o r e c a lls m e e tin g n e ig h b o u rs w h o , g re e tin g h e r p o lit e ly ,
w o u ld k e e p th e ir d is ta n c e fro m h e r, e x c lu d in g h e r fro m t h e ir l i f e , fro m A f r i c a . S h e
w o n d e rs i f th ese p e o p le r e a lis e d h o w m u c h sh e , an d h e r g e n e ra tio n h a d d re a m e d o f
A f r i c a d e m a n d in g in d e p e n d e n c e . H e r e , she a lig n s h e r s e lf c o m p le te ly w it h the n a tiv e s
o f R ih a t a , a s a b la c k p e rso n s h a rin g the sa m e a s p ir a tio n s fo r A f r i c a a s th o se w h o liv e
o n the A f r ic a n c o n tin e n t. B u t she r e a lis e s she is n o t the sa m e a s th e se p e o p le , th e y do
n o t see h e r a s A f r i c a n , an d th is in c re a s e s h e r se n se o f a lie n a tio n a n d lo n e lin e s s :
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E x c l u e ? P o u rq u o i ? S a v a ie n t - e lle s c o m m e e lle a v a it r ê v é de l ’ A f r iq u e q u a n d
to u te sa g é n é ra tio n r é c la m a it l ’ in d é p e n d a n c e c o m m e u n m e r v e ille u x g âte au
d ’ a n n iv e rs a ir e ? (p 3 3 )
T h e r e is a se n se o f b itte r d is a p p o in tm e n t in the a b o v e q u o te , d is a p p o in tm e n t
th at A f r i c a is n o t h o w sh e h a s p e rc e iv e d it to b e . I t is in te re s tin g to s p e c u la te o n w h y
e x a c t ly it is sh e fe e ls e x c lu d e d . In h e r y o u n g e r, m o re m ilit a n t d a y s , A f r i c a w a s a
p a s s io n a te p ro je c t fo r h e r, an d sh e fin d s it d e e p ly d is tr e s s in g th at A f r i c a d o e s n o t n o w
w e lc o m e h e r w it h o p e n a rm s . I t is w o rth n o tin g , th o u g h , th a t w e h a v e o n ly M a r ie H é lè n e ’ s o w n p e rc e p tio n s o f A f r i c a , an d in d e e d it is p o s s ib le th a t A f r i c a , an d
A f r ic a n s , h a v e b e e n m o re w e lc o m in g th an she h a s re a lis e d .
M a r ie - H é lè n e a ls o r e c a lls the re a c tio n o f M a la n to h is n e w d a u g h te r- in - la w .
A lth o u g h she is b la c k an d W e s t In d ia n , M a la n c o n s id e rs h e r to b e a w h ite w o m a n ,
u n w o r th y o f h is so n , an d Z e k , in h is e y e s , h a s b e tra y e d th e v a lu e s w it h w h ic h h e w a s
ra is e d . F o r M a la n , th e re is n o c o n n e c tio n b e tw e e n A f r i c a a n d G u a d e lo u p e , an d he
r e fu s e s to a c k n o w le d g e a sh a re d id e n tity o r h is to r y . F o r M a r ie - H é lè n e , M a la n ’ s n o n a c c e p ta n c e o f h e r s e rv e s s im p ly to in c re a s e h e r se n se o f n o n - b e lo n g in g in A f r ic a .
In r e a lit y , sh e is lik e a s h ip w ith o u t a n a v ig a to r, w a n d e r in g a im le s s ly th ro u g h
lif e . G u a d e lo u p e , h e r b irth p la c e h a s n o t b e e n a p la c e o f a n c h o ra g e e ith e r fo r h e r.
M a r ie - H é lè n e h a rb o u rs deep re g re t at n o t b e in g w it h h e r m o th e r in G u a d e lo u p e w h e n
sh e d ie d , an d s in c e th e n , sh e h a s h ad no d e s ire to re tu rn th e re :
R e t o u r n e r à la G u a d e lo u p e n e s ig n if ia it g u ère p o u r M a r ie - H é lè n e qu e
re to u rn e r v e r s sa m è re . L ’ île et la m è re é ta ie n t la m ê m e c h o s e , u té ru s c lo s d a n s
71
le q u e l b lo ttir sa s o u ffr a n c e , y e u x fe rm é s , p o in g s fe rm é s , a p a is é e p a r la
p u ls a tio n du san g . M a is la m è re é ta it m o rte . A lo r s la d o u le u r de l ’ a v o ir p e rd u e
à ja m a is , de n ’ a v o ir m ê m e p a s a s s is té à se s d e rn ie rs m o m e n ts , se c h a n g e a it en
h a in e de l ’ île , à p ré s e n t s té rile , m a tric e d é se rté e q u i n ’ e n v e lo p p e ra it p lu s de
fœ tu s. R e s ta it l ’ A f r iq u e , m è re a u s s i, p ro c h e p a r l ’ e s p o ir et l ’ im a g in a ire . (p 7 7 )
In th e se lin e s sh e d ra w s a d ir e c t c o m p a ris o n b e tw e e n h e r m o th e r an d the is la n d o f
G u a d e lo u p e . G u a d e lo u p e h ad m e a n t one th in g o n ly fo r M a r ie - H é lè n e , sh e d e s c rib e s it
as a w o m b in to w h ic h she c a n re tre a t fro m the s u ffe r in g s o f lif e , a p la c e o f re fu g e an d
s o la c e . H o w e v e r , h e r m o th e r’ s d eath h a s m a d e h e r s e v e r a ll lin k s w it h h e r b irth p la c e .
F o r h e r n o w , the is la n d is m e a n in g le s s s in c e h e r m o th e r is d e ad . S h e d id n o t sh a re
A l i x ’ s f in a l m o m e n ts w it h h e r, an d th is c a u s e s h e r to h ate h e r b irt h p la c e . I t is e n tir e ly
p o s s ib le she w i l l n o t r e v is it G u a d e lo u p e d u rin g h e r o w n lif e t im e . I t is in te re s tin g to
n o te the d ir e c t c o m p a ris o n m a d e b y M a r ie - H é lè n e w it h h e r is la n d b irth p la c e v is - à - v is
h e r m o th e r. U n lik e T it u b a , fo r w h o m h e r m o th e rla n d B a r b a d o s m e a n t e v e r y th in g ,
M a r ie - H é lè n e c le a r ly d is a s s o c ia te s h e r s e lf e n tir e ly fro m G u a d e lo u p e . H e r m o th e r ’ s
p re s e n c e in G u a d e lo u p e is the o n ly re a s o n she a lig n s h e r s e lf w it h h e r b irth p la c e .
D e s p ite liv in g th ere d u rin g c h ild h o o d , she c le a r ly d o e s n o t se e m to n e e d to re ta in a n y
lin k s w it h it, an d sh e do es n o t a llo w the is la n d c o n s titu te p a rt o f h e r c o m p le x id e n tity .
G u a d e lo u p e , w h ic h h a s b e e n h e r o w n b irt h p la c e , an d h e r m o th e r ’ s re s id e n c e , h a s b e en
a m o th e rla n d , an d m o th e r fig u re to M a r ie - H é lè n e . H o w e v e r , h e r m o th e r ’ s d e ath
re n d e rs G u a d e lo u p e a s te rile p la c e , an d A f r i c a ta k e s the p la c e o f h e r n e w m o th e rla n d ,
o r s u rro g a te m o th e r. S h e e x p e ls a ll s e n tim e n ts o f h e r h o m e la n d o n c e h e r m o th e r is
72
d e ad , in the sa m e w a y sh e h a d e x p e lle d h e r firs tb o r n , S ia . I t is ir o n ic th a t sh e r e fe r s to
G u a d e lo u p e a s s te rile w h e n at the sa m e m o m e n t, she w a s p re g n a n t w it h S ia .
F o r M o r r is o n , “ the h a tre d o f the is la n d is a d a n g e r s ig n , p r e fig u r in g M a r ie - H é lè n e ’ s
m a la is e in A f r i c a , w h o s e w o m b w i l l n o t e m b ra c e h e r” (M o r r is o n 2 0 0 1 p 3 ). M o r r is o n
su g g e sts th at d e sp ite h e r lo n g in g fo r a n e w w o m b , M a r ie - H é lè n e ta k e s to A f r i c a a
se n se o f d iffe re n c e an d s u p e r io r ity w h ic h is tra n s la te d ,
inter alia,
in h e r u n e a s y
r e la t io n s h ip w it h h e r m o th e r - in - la w , S o k a m b i. S h e d e s p ise s A f r ic a n c u s to m s an d
tr a d itio n s , an d re fu s e s to a llo w th e m be m e a n in g fu l in h e r lif e :
A se s y e u x , to u te s le s m a n ife s ta tio n s de la v ie c o m m u n a u ta ire a fr ic a in e é ta ie n t
p r iv é e s de s e n s , v e s tig e s m é c a n iq u e s d ’ u n p a s s é d o n t rie n n e s u b s is ta it. E l l e
s ’ y e n n u y a it à p é rir . O n y r é c it a it à c h a q u e f o is le s m ê m e s s a lu ta tio n s . O n y
p o u s s a it le s m ê m e s e x c la m a t io n s . O n y ré p é ta it le s m ê m e s p la is a n te rie s . O n y
fa is a it le s m ê m e s g e ste s. E l l e s a v a it qu e so n c o m p o rte m e n t n e c h o q u a it p lu s .
D e p u is ta n t d ’ a n n é e s , o n s ’ é ta it h a b itu é a u x b iz a r r e r ie s de ‘ l ’ é tra n g è re ’ , ( p l 9 2 )
W h a t e v e r p e rc e p tio n s sh e h a s h ad a b o u t A f r i c a , M a r ie - H é lè n e is v a s t ly d is a p p o in te d
w it h the r e a lit y o f th is c o n tin e n t. S h e h a s fo llo w e d Z e k to A f r i c a , to e sca p e h e r o w n
p a st. H o w e v e r , A f r i c a h a s n o t p ro v id e d a n y s o lu tio n s fo r M a r ie - H é lè n e . F o r N g a te ,
w h a t is im m e d ia t e ly s tr ik in g in
Une saison à Rihata,
is M a r ie - H é lè n e ’ s u tte r c o n te m p t
fo r v ir t u a lly a ll A f r ic a n s , w it h th e p o s s ib le e x c e p tio n o f M a d o u (N g a te 1 9 8 6 - 1 9 8 7
p l 2 ) . It is p o s s ib le , th o u g h , th a t it is th e ir r e je c tio n o f h e r, w h ic h m a k e s h e r b itte r. It is
a ls o l i k e ly th at A f r ic a n s fe e l re je c te d b y M a r ie - H é lè n e , a n d se n se h e r r e fu s a l to a llo w
A f r i c a b e c o m e im p o rta n t in h e r lif e .
73
Marie-Hélène’ s relationship with her parents
T h o u g h the n o v e l d o e s n o t fo c u s m u c h o n M a r ie - H é lè n e ’ s r e la t io n s h ip w it h h e r
p a re n ts , w e k n o w th at sh e lo v e d A l i x , h e r m o th e r, v e r y m u c h , a n d d e s p is e d S im é o n ,
h e r la w y e r fa th e r. A l i x c a m e fro m an o ld f a m ily w h o h a d e n d o w e d G u a d e lo u p e w it h a
p o e t, an d a ls o w it h a s e n io r r a n k in g g o v e rn m e n t o f f ic ia l. A l i x w a s a m u la tto , an d h ad
b e e n b ro u g h t u p to re s p e c t b e in g a m u la tto . H e r m a rria g e to S im é o n , w h o n e v e r k n e w
h is fa th e r, w a s v e r y b la c k an d c o a rs e in m a n n e r, w a s fro w n e d u p o n b y a ll. M a r ie H é lè n e , as a c h ild , c a m e to r e a lis e th at no lo v e e x is te d b e tw e e n h e r fa th e r an d th is
“ fe m m e s ile n c ie u s e , s o lit a ir e ” (p 2 6 ). S h e c e r t a in ly se e m s to lo o k d is d a in f u lly at h e r
fa th e r, w h o , a lth o u g h w e ll- e d u c a te d , w a s lo u d an d v u lg a r , a n d s o m e tim e s s p o k e
C r e o le in s te a d o f F r e n c h w h e n in c o u rt:
N o n , c ’ é ta it u n n èg re m a l é q u a rri, u n n è g re à v o ix to n itru a n te , u n n è g re
s o lid e m e n t p la n té s u r se s p ie d s é n o rm e s , u n n è g re n è g re q u o i! A v o c a t de so n
m é tie r, i l a lim e n ta it le fo lk lo r e lo c a l en h is to ir e s . O n se ra c o n ta it c o m m e n t il
c o u p a it se s p la id o ir ie s de d ig re s s io n s s a v o u re u s e s , c o m m e n t i l lu i a r r iv a it
d ’ a p o s tro p h e r le s ju r é s en c r é o le , en p le in tr ib u n a l. (p 2 6 )
H e p re fe rre d the c o m p a n y o f h is m is tre s s e s a n d fr ie n d s to th at o f h is f a m ily , an d
M a r ie - H é lè n e c le a r ly d e s p ise s h im . S h e lo v e s h e r m o th e r a ll th e m o re p e rh a p s ,
b e c a u se o f h e r h a tre d fo r S im é o n . M a r ie - H é lè n e is tro u b le d b e c a u se h e r fa th e r d o e s
n o t p re te n d to b e a n y th in g o th e r th a n w h o he is : a tru e b la c k G u a d e lo u p e a n ,
re p re s e n ta tiv e o f the le g a c ie s o f s la v e r y a n d r a c ia l d o m in a tio n . F o r M o r r is o n , it is
74
in te re s tin g th at M a r ie - H é lè n e is o n d if f ic u lt te rm s w it h h e r fa th e r, an d th at sh e
“ b e c o m e s in v o lv e d w it h an A f r ic a n m a le w h o m ig h t be se e n a s a p r o je c tio n o f a need
fo r a lin e a g e u n m a rre d b y the h u m ilia tio n s o f s la v e r y a n d its a fte rm a th o f a lie n a tio n ”
(M o r r is o n 2 0 0 1 p 2 ). H e r r e la t io n s h ip s w it h b o th Z e k a n d M a d o u a re p o s s ib ly w a y s
fo r h e r to a tte m p t to c o n s tru c t an id e n tity fo r h e r s e lf w h ic h b y p a s s e s a ll r e fe re n c e to
h e r b la c k fa th e r, a d e s c e n d a n t fro m s la v e r y . F o r m in g a n a llia n c e w it h a n A f r ic a n
m a le , u n ta rn is h e d b y the le g a c y o f s la v e r y w h ic h to u c h e s a ll C a r ib b e a n m a le s , m a y
u n c o n s c io u s ly a llo w h e r c u t a ll tie s w it h S im é o n . R o o ts , a n d f a m ily a n c e s try are
c le a r ly v e i y im p o rta n t to M a r ie - H é lè n e . S h e ju x t a p o s e s th e s tro n g f a m ily a n c e sto rs
fro m w h ic h h e r m o th e r d e s c e n d s , w it h th o se o f h e r fa th e r, w h o n e v e r k n e w h is o w n
fa th e r, an d w h o s e m o th e r so ld b la c k p u d d in g in the m a rk e t:
S a m è re à e lle s ’ a p p e la it A l i x des R u is s e a u x . E l l e a p p a rte n a it à u n e v ie ille
f a m ille q u i a v a it d o n n é à la G u a d e lo u p e u n p o ète d o n t le s s o n n e ts fig u ra ie n t
d a n s to u te s le s a n th o lo g ie s et u n a d m in is tra te u r d e s c o lo n ie s , re c o n v e rt i p ré fe t
de l ’ A r d è c h e a p rè s le s in d é p e n d a n c e s a f r ic a in e s [ . . . ] . M a lh e u re u s e m e n t, d a n s
sa d ix - h u itiè m e a n n é e , e lle a v a it re n c o n tré S im é o n M o n tlo u is , n è g re b o n te in t
d o n t la m è re v e n d a it du b o u d in au m a rc h é e t q u i, c h o s e s u rp re n a n te , p a rv e n a it
à é le v e r tro is e n fa n ts g râ c e à c e c o m m e rc e . S im é o n q u i n e s a v a it p a s q u i é ta it
so n p è re , n ’ é ta it p a s u n de c e s n è g re s à tr a its fin s et b e lle s m a n iè r e s q u i, a v e c
le u rs o rig in e s , fo n t o u b lie r la c o u le u r de le u r p e a u . (p p 2 5 - 2 6 )
It is n o t d if f ic u lt to se n se the d e ris io n w it h w h ic h she d e s c rib e s h e r fa th e r, in
c o m p a ris o n w it h th e h ig h le v e l o f e ste e m in w h ic h sh e h o ld s h e r m o th e r. I t is p o s s ib le
M a r ie - H é lè n e c a r r ie s h e r lo w o p in io n o f h e r fa th e r in to h e r m a rria g e w it h Z e k , w h o m
75
s h e , in so m e w a y s , d e s p is e s . It is M a d o u , w it h h is m a n n e rs a n d a c t iv e in te re s t in
p o lit ic s , w h o im p re s s e s M a r ie - H é lè n e .
A l i x h a s e n c o u ra g e d b o th h e r d a u g h te rs to b e c a p a b le o f e a rn in g t h e ir o w n liv in g .
Y e a r s la te r, M a r ie - H é lè n e r e a lis e s th at she h a s fa ile d h e r m o th e r in t h is , a s sh e d o e s
n o t c o m p le te h e r s tu d ie s in P a r is , an d a ll h o p e s fo r h e r b rig h t fu tu re a re d a sh e d . W e
see M a r ie - H é lè n e h e re in a d e p re sse d state o f m in d , an d u n d e rs ta n d th a t she is s t ill
c o n c e rn e d w it h A l i x ’ s w is h e s , an d th a t h e r m o th e r h a d b e e n o f m u c h in flu e n c e to h e r:
V o i l à p o u rq u o i e lle ré p é ta it q u ’ u n e fe m m e d o it ê tre c a p a b le de g a g n e r sa v ie !
C o m m e e lle , M a r ie - H é lè n e , a v a it m a l s u iv i ce tte le ç o n ! D e u x a n n é e s de
S c ie n c e s - P o , u n a v e n ir b r illa n t ! E n s u it e , p lu s r ie n . . . ” (p 7 8 )
T h e r e is a c y c lic a l re -e n a c tm e n t o f fa ilu r e h e re p a sse d d o w n fro m m o th e r to
d a u g h te r. A l i x , in m a rria g e h a s n o t b e en c o n te n t, an d b e c o m e s a s ile n t an d s o lita r y
w o m a n . M a r ie - H é lè n e , a lth o u g h s tro n g ly e n c o u ra g e d b y h e r m o th e r to s tu d y , an d be
f in a n c ia lly in d e p e n d e n t, h a s n o t r e a lis e d th is g o a l o f A l i x ’ s. H e r h o p e s an d a m b itio n s
are g o n e , an d n o w v e g e ta tin g in the h o u s e , she h a s b e c o m e lik e h e r o w n m o th e r, s ile n t
an d s o lita r y . It is q u ite p o s s ib le th a t M a r ie - H é lè n e ’ s fa ilu r e s in lif e c o u ld b e a ttrib u te d
to d e e p -sea ted g u ilt at h e r s is t e r ’ s d e ath . A s m u c h a s sh e d e s p is e s Z e k , sh e m a y
d e s p ise h e r s e lf e v e n m o re fo r the h u rt sh e h a s b ro u g h t u p o n h e r f a m ily . I t w i l l re m a in
to be se e n i f S i a ’ s fa te w i l l f o llo w th at o f h e r m o th e r a n d g ra n d m o th e r, a lth o u g h she
h a s a lr e a d y w is h e d , o n h e r o w n a c c o u n t, th at it s h o u ld n o t be so .
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Conclusion
A s w e h a v e seen ,
Une saison á Rihata is
a c o m p le x n o v e l, a n d h ig h lig h t s in p a r t ic u la r
the m a n y fa c e ts to the c h a ra c te r o f M a r ie - H é lé n e . I b e lie v e C o n d é e x p lo re s v e r y w e ll
the v a r y in g le v e ls o f M a r ie - H é lé n e ’ s id e n tity a s a C a r ib b e a n w o m a n , d e e p ly u n h a p p y ,
an d o u t o f h e r d e p th in A f r i c a .
Une saison á Rihata is
the s to ry o f a w o m a n u n a b le to
c o p e w e ll w it h lif e a n d its d e m a n d s , an d w h ic h p a in ts a d re a ry p ic tu r e o f m a r ria g e , o f
m o th e rh o o d a n d o f h o m e la n d . C o n d é r e a lly se e m s to q u e s tio n th e p o te n tia l o f a
C a r ib b e a n w o m a n fin d in g h a p p in e s s in a c o n tin e n t fro m w h ic h h is to r y h a s w re n c h e d
h e r. W e a re n o t le ft w it h a h a p p y h e ro in e , c o n te n t w it h A f r i c a , a n d a ll A f r i c a h a s to
o ffe r. W e are c o n fro n te d in s te a d , w it h a w o m a n w h o h a s le f t th e C a r ib b e a n s , a n d h a s
le f t E u r o p e , h o p in g to fin d p e a c e an d s e re n ity in the c o n tin e n t o f h e r a n c e sto rs .
T o w a r d s the e n d o f the n o v e l, M a r ie - H é lé n e h a s n o t fo u n d a n y se n se o f p e a c e o f m in d
o r a n y e n d u rin g h o p e fo r h a p p in e s s . H e r g r i e f f o r M a d o u is d e e p ly fe lt. A s w e h a v e
s e e n , the f in a l im a g e s o f h e r are th o se o f a n in c o n s o la b le a n d d e e p ly d is tre s s e d
w o m a n , le a n in g n o w o n S ia fo r lo v e an d su p p o rt. A lth o u g h sh e h a s a n e w b a b y to
te n d , h e r th o u g h ts re s t o n ly o n the m a n w h o m ig h t h a v e h e lp e d h e r p u t d o w n ro o ts in
A f r i c a . M a d o u n o w d e ad , o ne r e a lis e s M a r ie - H é lé n e w i l l n e v e r fe e l at h o m e h e re .
It do es n o t se e m l i k e ly th a t M a r ie - H é lé n e an d Z e k w i l l e v e r fin d tru e h a p p in e s s
to g e th e r. It se e m s m o re p la u s ib le th at th e ir r e la tio n s h ip o f m u tu a l d e p e n d e n c y w i l l
c o n tin u e in to the fu tu re to g e th e r. A n d , a lth o u g h the o b s ta c le o f M a d o u h a s n o w b e e n
r e m o v e d , th e re is n o se n se o f h o p e th a t th e ir liv e s w i l l im p ro v e .
77
M a r ie - H e le n e ’ s id e n tity is o n e b o u n d w it h n u m e ro u s c o m p le x it ie s : s a d n e s s , re g re t,
re s e n tm e n t, d e p e n d e n c y , la c k o f fu lf ilm e n t . P e rh a p s th e m o s t s t r ik in g fa c e t o f h e r
id e n tity is c h a ra c te ris e d b y the n o tio n o f p a in , p a in sh e s e e m s to e n d u re a lw a y s , in
re s p o n se to the sad tra je c to rie s o f h e r lif e .
Une saison a Rihata is
e s s e n t ia lly a n o v e l
a b o u t fa ilu r e , the f a ilu r e o f a tro u b le d w o m a n to fin d tru e h a p p in e s s a n d to u n d e rs ta n d
h e r id e n tity . A s the n o v e l d r a w s to a c lo s e , o ne is le f t w it h the e n d u rin g n o tio n th at
c o n te n tm e n t an d s e lf - f u lf ilm e n t w i l l a lw a y s e lu d e M a r ie - H e le n e . D a v is , in h is
c o m m e n ta ry o f C e s a ir e ’ s
“Nocturne d ’une nostalgie, ”
su g g e sts th is p o e m “ c h a rts the
d re a m c o u rs e o f a n o s ta lg ia fo r an A f r ic a n p a s t” ( D a v is 1 9 8 4 p i 2 8 ). A n y h o p e o f
n o s ta lg ia th at M a r ie - H e le n e h a s h a rb o u re d fo r A f r i c a is c r u e lly d a s h e d , h o w e v e r , an d
in s te a d , w e are c o n fro n te d w it h the n o tio n th a t A f r i c a , s u rro g a te m o th e r to h e r
G u a d e lo u p e a n c h ild r e n , w i l l n e v e r h o ld th e k e y to h a p p in e s s an d id e n tity .
78
Community versus personal identity in Traversée de la
Mangrove.
Traversée de la Mangrove,
f ir s t p u b lis h e d in 1 9 8 9 , is C o n d é ’ s s e v e n th n o v e l, a n d , o f
the fo u r n o v e ls e x p lo re d in th is th e s is , is the o n ly o ne se t in its e n tir e ty in G u a d e lo u p e .
C o n d é w ro te the n o v e l a fte r re tu rn in g to G u a d e lo u p e f o llo w in g m a n y y e a rs a b ro a d .
U n lik e m u c h o f h e r o th e r w r it in g ,
Traversée de la Mangrove d e v o te s
m a n y passag es
to n a tu re an d th e n o v e l in c o rp o ra te s so m e s t r ik in g d e s c rip tio n s o f the G u a d e lo u p e a n
te rra in . F o r C o n d é , th is re tu rn to h e r n a tiv e is la n d re n e w e d h e r a p p re c ia tio n fo r the
n a tu ra l la n d s c a p e . S h e w a n te d to d e p ic t n a tu re in the n o v e l, an d d is p u te s c r it ic is m
a c c u s in g h e r o f p r a c tis in g e x o t ic is m ( P f a f f 1 9 9 6 p 7 4 ).
W h a t is m o s t in te re s tin g ab o u t th is n o v e l, is th at the c o n c e p t o f id e n tity is e x p lo re d in
tw o v e r y d is tin c t w a y s . C o n d é p re se n ts u s w it h an in t rig u in g in s ig h t in to c o m m u n a l
id e n tity in a s m a ll to w n in G u a d e lo u p e . H o w e v e r , she a ls o e x p lo re s s e v e r a l in d iv id u a l
c h a r a c te r s ’ id e n titie s , an d it is th is ju x t a p o s it io n o f c o n c e p ts o f id e n tity w h ic h m a k e
Traversée de la Mangrove a
m e m o ra b le n o v e l.
T h e n a r r a tiv e , set in a to w n n a m e d R iv iè r e au S e l, c o n c e rn s i t s e lf w it h the d is c o v e r y
o f a c o rp s e , th at o f a m a n n a m e d F r a n c is S a n c h e r. U p o n le a rn in g o f S a n c h e r ’ s d e m is e ,
the
habitants o rg a n is e
a w a k e an d a ll m e m b e rs o f R iv iè r e au S e l atte n d . T h e n a r ra tiv e
s tru c tu re o f the n o v e l is c ir c u la r , w it h C o n d é d e v o tin g a c h a p te r to e a c h o f the
habitants,
in w h ic h e a c h r e v ie w s h is / h e r r e la tio n s h ip w it h th e d e ad m a n . I n a ll,
n in e te e n d iffe r in g n a r ra tiv e s to u c h u p o n a s p e c ts o f F r a n c is S a n c h e r ’ s id e n tity . F o r
79
S u k , “ th e se p ie c e s in a g g re g a te do n o t fo rm a f u ll y c o h e re n t e x p la n a t io n o f h is d e ath ,
b u t ra th e r r e v e a l a m u lt ip lic it y o f c o m p e tin g p e rs p e c tiv e s a n d m e a n in g s th at
c o n trib u te to a n in c o m p le te , c o n tr a d ic to r y , a n d fra g m e n te d s to ry e n g e n d e re d fro m
S a n c h e r ’ s re la t io n to e a c h n a rra to r” ( S u k 2 0 0 1 p i 5 6 ). S a n c h e r , th o u g h n o t lik e d b y
m a n y o f the
habitants,
is n o n e th e le s s a c a t a ly s t in the n o v e l, in th a t h is d e ath c a u s e s
m a n y o f th e m to r e fle c t u p o n th e m s e lv e s , an d in so m e c a s e s , to ta k e ste p s to re fo rm
th e ir liv e s . T h r o u g h t h e ir in te ra c tio n s w it h the d ead m a n , m a n y o f th e m le a rn m u c h
a b o u t th e m s e lv e s an d a b o u t th e ir in d iv id u a l id e n titie s .
T h e c h a ra c te rs in R iv iè r e au S e l are n o t p re se n te d as a h o m o g e n e o u s u n it. V a s t
d iffe re n c e s e x is t on th e le v e l o f w e a lt h , e d u c a tio n , s k in c o lo u r. S o m e o f the
habitants
h a v e t r a v e lle d w id e ly , o th e rs h a v e n e v e r le f t the is la n d . S o m e h a v e b e e n b o m in o th e r
c o u n trie s an d n o w liv e in th is v illa g e . S o m e are a m b itio u s , w h ile o th e rs are c o n te n t
w it h the sta tu s q u o , an d liv e o u t th e ir liv e s w it h o u t h a rb o u rin g a n y d e s ire fo r c h a n g e
o r d iffe re n c e . M a n y h a v e h ad u n h a p p y c h ild h o o d s , o th e rs h a v e b e e n re je c te d b y
p a re n ts , an d so m e h a v e n o t fo u n d lo v e in a d u lth o o d . F o r de S o u z a , “ en re fu s a n t de
s itu e r so n ro m a n p a rm i des p e rs o n n a g e s u n iq u e m e n t g u a d e lo u p é e n s , p a r m i des
p e rs o n n a g e s d e s c e n d a n t en m a jo rité d ’ e s c la v e s , p a r m i le s p lu s p a u v re s , C o n d é re fu s e
de se c o n fo r m e r à u n e n o rm e q u i s ’ im p o s e ra it à to u t é c r iv a in d é s ira n t u n la b e l
d ’ a u th e n tic ité a n t illa is ” (d e S o u z a 2 0 0 0 p 8 2 7 ). In th is n o v e l, C o n d é illu s tr a te s the r ic h
d iv e r s it y o f C a rib b e a n lif e in p re s e n t- d a y G u a d e lo u p e , a n d the n u m e ro u s d iv is io n s
w h ic h e x is t w it h in th is s o c ie ty .
In th is c h a p te r, I w i l l p o n d e r F r a n c is S a n c h e r ’ s c o m p le x id e n tity , w h ic h is se e n in
c o n tr a d ic t o r y te rm s th ro u g h the e y e s o f d iff e r in g in d iv id u a ls . I w i l l th e n e x a m in e h is
80
r e la t io n s h ip w it h s e v e n o f the n o v e l’ s c h a ra c te rs an d a n a ly s e w h a t c h a n g e , i f a n y , h e
a ffe c ts in th e ir liv e s . T h e s e v e n w h o m I h a v e c h o s e n , are th o se w h o m I b e lie v e b e st
illu s tr a te S a n c h e r ’ s c h a ra c te r an d id e n tity . I w i l l e x a m in e is s u e s s u c h a s the
ju s t if ic a t io n fo r w r it in g , an d the s ig n if ic a n c e o f A f r ic a n h e rita g e , in m y a n a ly s is o f
s o m e c h a ra c te rs . L a s t l y , I w i l l c o n s id e r h o w a c o m m u n a l se n se o f id e n tity is e x p lo re d
in the n a r ra tiv e . I t is u s e fu l h ere to re ite ra te m y d e fin itio n s o f id e n tity , a s d is c u s s e d in
th e in tro d u c tio n . P e rs o n a l id e n tity , fo r the p u rp o s e s o f m y th e s is , d e n o te s an
e x a m in a tio n o f o n e ’ s “ lin e a g e , f a m ily sta tu s a n d p la c e o f b irt h o r r e s id e n c e ” (S m it h
19 95 p i 3 0 ). A s w e w i l l see in th is c h a p te r, F r a n c is S a n c h e r is c o m p e lle d to
in te rro g a te h is lin e a g e , w h ic h h e b la m e s fo r m u c h o f the u n h a p p in e s s in h is o w n life .
C o lle c t iv e c u ltu r a l id e n tity d e n o te s th e id e a th at an in d iv id u a l m a y g ra v ita te to w a rd s a
sh a re d “ s a m e n e s s ” o r u n ity w it h o th e rs , w h e re th is “ s a m e n e s s ” in c o rp o ra te s c u ltu r a l
a s p e c ts s u c h as tra d itio n s , v a lu e s o r s u p e rs titio n s . T h e v e i y f a c t th a t the n o v e l c e n tre s
a ro u n d a w a k e , is im p o rta n t, as o ne e x p e rie n c e s firs th a n d , th e c u ltu r a l r it u a ls an d
c e re m o n ie s w h ic h ta k e p la c e in a s m a ll G u a d e lo u p e a n v illa g e f o llo w in g a d e ath . A n d
a s w i l l be e x a m in e d , C o n d é p a in ts a v e r y c le a r a n d p o ig n a n t p ic tu r e o f h e r fe llo w
G u a d e lo u p e a n s , th ro u g h a c o lle c t iv e e x p lo ra tio n o f th e m . B e f o r e b e g in n in g , h o w e v e r ,
I w i l l lo o k at the e s se n c e o f the title C o n d é h a s c h o s e n fo r th is n o v e l.
“ T r a v e r s é e de la M a n g ro v e ”
T h e w o r d “ tr a v e rs é e ” is s ig n if ic a n t , it d e n o te s a c r o s s in g , o r tr a v e rs in g , b u t it is a
‘ w o r k - in - p r o g r e s s ’ , it is u n fin is h e d a n d in c o m p le te . M e t a p h o r ic a lly , a m a n g ro v e
s ig n a ls e n ta n g le m e n t, the e n ta n g le m e n t o f ro o ts. I t m a y b e im p o s s ib le to fin d “ w h ic h
ro o ts b e lo n g to w h ic h tre e ” an d h e n c e the n o tio n o f o rig in is c a lle d in to q u e s tio n
81
( H a y e s 1 9 9 8 p 4 5 9 ). F r a n c is S a n c h e r h a s w a n d e re d a ll o v e r th e w o r ld , y e t it h as
p ro v e d im p o s s ib le fo r h im to p u t d o w n ro o ts a n y w h e r e . H e is a s ro o tle s s in
G u a d e lo u p e , as a n y w h e r e e ls e he h a s b e e n . T h e n o v e l’ s title s ig n a ls s o m e th in g w h ic h
is im p o s s ib le , o ne c a n n o t c r o s s a m a n g ro v e . A s V i l m a , S a n c h e r ’ s lo v e r , d e c la re s :
O n ne tra v e rs e p a s la m a n g ro v e . O n s ’ e m p a le s u r le s r a c in e s d e s p a lé tu v ie rs .
O n s ’ e n te rre et o n é to u ffe d a n s la b o u e s a u m â tre ( p l 9 2 ) .
I f c r o s s in g a m a n g ro v e is s y m b o lic o f fin d in g o n e ’ s id e n tity , th e n the n o v e l’ s title
w o u ld se e m to su g g e st th a t th is is in d e e d a n im p o s s ib le ta s k . In r e la t io n to th is n o v e l,
th e ta s k o f s e a rc h in g fo r an d fin d in g o n e ’ s id e n tity is s p e c if ic a lly in re g a rd to
G u a d e lo u p e . A s I h a v e a lr e a d y sta ted , th is n o v e l ta k e s p la c e e n t ir e ly in G u a d e lo u p e ,
an d is a s tu d y ab o u t a s m a ll c o lle c t iv e o f in d iv id a ls a tte m p tin g to m a k e se n se o f th e ir
s e lv e s . F r a n c is S a n c h e r is the m e e tin g p o in t u p o n w h ic h th e y a ll c o n v e rg e , a n d the
c a t a ly s t fo r c h a n g e in th e ir liv e s .
F r a n c is S a n c h e r - an e x p lo ra tio n o f id e n tity
I f w e o p era te o n th e h y p o th e s is th at id e n tity is n e v e r f ix e d , n e v e r s ta tic , th e n F r a n c is
S a n c h e r is an e x c e lle n t e x a m p le o f s u c h a m o d e l. F r o m a n a r r a tiv e v ie w p o in t , S a n c h e r
is a lr e a d y d e ad w h e n the n o v e l b e g in s , an d th e re fo re c a n n o t s p e a k fo r h im s e lf . D u r in g
the c o u rs e o f the n a r ra tiv e , w e w i l l h e a r m a n y th in g s e x p re s s e d a b o u t h im b y o th e rs ,
b u t he h im s e lf is n o w s ile n c e d . A ls o , C o n d é d o e s n o t p r iv ile g e a n y o n e c h a ra c te r w it h
a c o m p le te a n a ly s is o f h is id e n tity , b u t e n tru sts in s te a d , s m a ll fa c e ts o f h is c h a ra c te r,
p o s it iv e o r n e g a tiv e , to in d iv id u a l
habitants.
82
In so d o in g , th e re a d e r g ra p p le s w it h
m a n y c o n tra s tin g an d c o n flic t in g e le m e n ts o f S a n c h e r ’ s id e n tity , a ll re c o u n te d fro m
the b ia s e d p e rs p e c tiv e o f a p a r t ic u la r c h a ra c te r. A t the e n d o f the n o v e l, w e h a v e n ot
fo u n d a ll the j ig s a w p ie c e s w h ic h c o n s titu te h is id e n tity . F o r s o m e , he h a s re p re s e n te d
g re a t h o p e o r h a s b e e n a s o u rc e o f c o m p a s s io n an d k in d n e s s , fo r o th e rs , h e is e v il an d
m e r c ile s s . F o r o th e rs a g a in , he is a c o m p o u n d o f b o th g o o d a n d b a d , o f b o th stre n g th
an d v u ln e r a b ilit y . W h a t a lo n e is c e rta in , is th a t S a n c h e r ’ s id e n tity is e n ig m a tic , a
c o m b in a tio n o f p o s s ib ilit ie s a n d p r o b a b ilitie s . H o w e v e r , th e fra g m e n ta ry an d
c o n tr a d ic t o r y n a tu re o f the n o v e l’ s n a r ra tiv e s e n s u re s w e w i l l n e v e r u n d e rs ta n d the
e n tir e ty o f S a n c h e r ’ s id e n tity .
F r o m the o u tse t, F r a n c is S a n c h e r is sh ro u d e d in m y s t e r y a n d o b s c u r ity , an d in
th is s m a ll to w n , ru m o u rs a b o u n d a b o u t e v e r y a s p e c t o f h is lif e . A s h e is n o t
im m e d ia t e ly fo rth c o m in g ab o u t h is p a st, s p e c u la tio n is r ife a b o u t th is o u ts id e r, in a
p la c e w h e re , b e in g fro m e ls e w h e re , is tre ate d w it h s u s p ic io n a n d d is tru s t:
L e s h is to ir e s le s p lu s fo lle s se m ire n t à c ir c u le r . E n r é a lité , F r a n c is S a n c h e r
a u ra it tué u n h o m m e d a n s so n p a y s e t a u ra it e m p o c h é so n m a g o t. C e s e ra it u n
tra fiq u a n t de d ro g u e d u re , u n de c e u x qu e la p o lic e , p o sté e à M a r ie - G a la n te ,
r e c h e r c h a it en v a in . U n tr a fiq u a n t d ’ a rm e s r a v it a illa n t le s g u é r illa s de
l ’ A m é riq u e la tin e . P e rs o n n e n ’ a p p o rta n t la m o in d re p re u v e à c e s a c c u s a tio n s ,
le s e s p rits s ’ e n fié v r a ie n t . (p p 3 8 - 3 9 )
S a n c h e r ’ s p o s itio n a s o u ts id e r to the c o m m u n ity o f R iv iè r e au S e l is im p o rta n t in
te rm s o f a s e lf/ o th e r th e o ry . A s he d o es n o t a p p e a r u n d u ly c o n c e rn e d a b o u t w h a t
o th e rs m a y t h in k o r k n o w o f h im , h e d e m o n stra te s th at h e h a s a stro n g se n se o f h is
83
o w n s e lf , an d h is o w n id e n tity . F o r M is c h e l, “ m y se n se o f m y s e l f a s an in d iv id u a l
w h o c a n ta k e a p e rs o n a l sta n d - w h o c a n e n g a g e in ‘ stro n g e v a lu a t io n ’ a n d d e c id e , in
o p p o s itio n to the s o c ia l s u rro u n d , w h a t is r e a lly s ig n if ic a n t fo r m e - is th u s a
d e v e lo p m e n ta l a c h ie v e m e n t” ( M is c h e l 1 9 7 7 p 2 2 ). A s w e w i l l see in th is c h a p te r,
S a n c h e r is a c h a ra c te r w h o is n o t a fr a id o f o th e r s ’ o p in io n s , “ w h o c a n e n g a g e in
‘ stro n g e v a lu a t io n ’ ’ ’(id e m ), an d g o es a b o u t h is o w n lif e w it h o u t u n d u e re g a rd fo r h o w
o th e rs m a y see h im .
H is n a m e is a s o u rc e o f in trig u e . H e w is h e s to be c a lle d F r a n c is S a n c h e r in
G u a d e lo u p e , b u t a ls o a c c e p ts le tte rs a d d re sse d to F r a n c is c o A l v a r e z S a n c h e z . M u c h
h a s b e e n d o c u m e n te d o n the p o s s ib le d e c o n s tru c tio n s o f the s u rn a m e S a n c h e r . L a r r ie r
p r o v id e s s e v e r a l in te rp re ta tio n s o f p la y o n “ S a n c h e r ” , a m o n g th e m o s t in te re s tin g
“ s a n s c h a ir ” d e p ic tin g h im as a g h o s tly c h a ra c te r, o r “ c e n t c h a ir s ” , a s th o u g h h e is a
d e r iv a t iv e o f c o u n tle s s b lo o d lin e s an d c u ltu re s ( L a r r i e r 1 9 9 8 p 9 1 ). L a r r i e r a ls o
su g g e sts the d iv is io n o f the n a m e “ S a n c h e r ” “ in to tw o s y lla b le s ,
/sal p ro d u c e s
“ s a n g ,”
“ s a n s ” an d “ c e n t.” “ C h e r ” /fe R / is a h o m o n y m o f “ c h a ir ” an d “ c h a ir e ” ( ib id ) .
T h e r e fo r e , i f w e c o m b in e b o th s y lla b le s , th e re are n u m e ro u s p o s s ib le in te rp re ta tio n s
o f S a n c h e r ’ s n a m e , in d ic a tin g h o w h is id e n tity is in d e te rm in a b le , a n d r e s is ta n t to
b e in g fix e d . H is a lte rn a tiv e h is p a n ic s u rn a m e , “ S a n c h e z ” , m a y d e n o te h is “ s a n s c h e z ”
s ta tu s, an d the fa c t th at he is n o m a d ic , an d h a s tr a v e lle d w id e ly . O n e n a m e is F r e n c h s o u n d in g , the o th e r S p a n is h , b u t b o th p o s itio n h im in r e la t io n to th e A m e r ic a n
c o lo n ia l p a st. P o s s ib ly , fo r the
habitants o f R iv iè r e
au S e i, m o s t in t rig u in g a b o u t
S a n c h e r is the fa c t th at h e is w e a lt h y , p o s s e s s e s a tr u n k f ille d w it h A m e r ic a n d o lla r s ,
an d d o e s n o t w o r k . O n an is la n d w h e re m a n u a l la b o u r is the n o rm , S a n c h e r p ro d u c e s
a ty p e w r it e r an d d e c la re s he is a w rite r .
84
S a n c h e r te lls s e v e r a l c h a ra c te rs in the n o v e l th at he is h a u n te d b y a c u r s e , w h ic h
b e fa lls a ll m e n in h is f a m ily . H is d ire c t p a t ria r c h a l a n c e s to rs h a v e a ll d ie d
m y s t e r io u s ly a ro u n d th e ag e o f f if t y , an d S a n c h e r is c o n v in c e d h is d e ath is b u t a sh o rt
tim e a w a y . D u r in g the n a r r a tiv e , he r e la y s v a r y in g d e ta ils o f h is lif e to s e v e ra l
c h a ra c te rs ,
inter alia,
h is d e sc e n t fro m the
Béké c la s s ,
a n d h is u n flin c h in g b e lie f th at
he w i l l be h e ld a c c o u n ta b le fo r the s in s o f h is e x p lo it e r a n c e s to rs . H e h a s tr a v e lle d a ll
o v e r the w o r ld in an a tte m p t to r id h im s e lf o f h is “ o r ig in a l s in ” , o f h is w h ite , c o lo n ia l
b a c k g ro u n d , an d h a s e n g a g e d in r e v o lu tio n s o f e v e r y k in d in a b id to be p u r if ie d ,
fo rg iv e n a n d , p e rh a p s , re b o rn . H o w e v e r , he a c k n o w le d g e s th at r e b irth is u n a tta in a b le
an d th at, o n ce b o m , o ne c a n n e v e r re tra c e o n e ’ s ste p s to th e w o m b :
C ’ e st im p o s s ib le . O n ne re - n a ît ja m a is . O n ne so rt ja m a is d e u x fo is d u v e n tre
de sa m è re . O n n e p e u t p a s lu i d ire : “ Ç a n ’ a p a s m a rc h é , re p re n d s - m o i, fœ tu s !”
U n e fo is q u ’ o n e st d e b o u t s u r se s d e u x p ie d s , o n d o it m a r c h e r ju s q u ’ au b o u t,
j u s q u ’ à la to m b e , ( p l 5 5 )
R e s ig n e d to a fate s im ila r to h is m a le fo re fa th e rs , S a n c h e r h a s c o m e to G u a d e lo u p e ,
w h ic h is w h e re h e b e lie v e s h is f a m i l y ’ s h is to r y b e g in s . H e h a s c o m e f u ll c ir c le ,
th e re fo re , b a c k to the o rig in o f u n s p e a k a b le c r im e s c o m m itte d in h is f a m i l y ’ s n a m e .
H e b e lie v e s h is a p p ro a c h in g d e ath w i l l e ra d ic a te the c u rs e w h ic h h a s b e fa lle n h is
fa m ily .
S a n c h e r ’ s d e ath is p e rh a p s a n e c e s s a r y e v il in the c o u rs e o f the n a r ra tiv e .
A lth o u g h he d ie s , the in d e lib le im p re s s io n s h e le a v e s o n so m e o f the c h a ra c te rs ,
85
p ro p e l th e m to w a rd s n e w lif e , an d p o te n tia l re b irth . F o r S u k , “ th e f a m ilia r C h r is t ia n
th e m e s o f o rig in a l s in , m a rty rd o m , an d re d e m p tio n re n d e r S a n c h e r a C h r is t lik e
fig u r e ” ( S u k 2 0 0 1 p i 6 8 ). R e d e m p tio n is the e le m e n t o f h o p e in th is n o v e l, an d
S a n c h e r , w i l l f ig u r a t iv e ly , o p en d o o rs fo r so m e o f th e
habitants o f R iv i è r e
au S e l.
S a n c h e r ’ s re la t io n s h ip w it h M o ïs e
I h a v e c h o s e n to a n a ly s e S a n c h e r ’ s fr ie n d s h ip w it h M o ïs e , the v illa g e p o s tm a n ,
b e c a u se w e p ro b a b ly le a rn m o re a b o u t S a n c h e r in the c h a p te r w it h M o ïs e , th a n in a n y
o th e r c h a p te r in the n o v e l. A s I w i l l e x a m in e la te r o n , th e re a re s e v e r a l c h a ra c te rs in
the n a r ra tiv e w h o d e c id e c o n s c io u s ly to ch a n g e th e ir liv e s f o llo w in g S a n c h e r ’ s d e ath .
M o ïs e , w h o a rg u a b ly k n e w S a n c h e r b e tte r th an m o st, is n o t, h o w e v e r , a m o n g th e se .
M o is e ’ s r e c o lle c tio n o f h is k n o w le d g e o f the d e c e a se d b e g in s w it h “ Je s u is le p r e m ie r
q u i a it c o n n u so n v r a i n o m ” (p 2 9 ). S a n c h e r, u p o n f ir s t m e e tin g the p o s tm a n , e x p la in s
im p a tie n tly th at le tte rs b e a rin g h is o th e r n a m e , F r a n c is c o A lv a r e z - S a n c h e z , m a y
a r r iv e , an d are in te n d e d fo r h im . M o ïs e c le a r ly fe e ls p r iv ile g e d th a t h e h a s le a rn t
S a n c h e r ’ s o th e r n a m e b e fo re a n y o n e e ls e . T h e is s u e o f n a m in g is a n im p o rta n t
c o n c e p t in a ll p o s t- c o lo n ia l n a r ra tiv e s , as a s ig n if ie r o f id e n tity , s o m e th in g strip p e d
fro m s la v e s c e n tu rie s a g o , an d w i l l be r e v is it e d la te r in th e c h a p te r.
A s a c h a ra c te r, M o ïs e is d e p ic te d in p it if u l te rm s . H a l f b la c k , h e is a ls o h a l f
C h in e s e due to h is C h in e s e m o th e r, S h a w n . F r o m an e a r ly ag e he h a s b e e n c o n s id e re d
u g ly , w a s u n p o p u la r at s c h o o l, an d th is u n p o p u la rity a n d d is lik e h a v e fo llo w e d h im
in to a d u lth o o d . H is m e e tin g an d su b se q u e n t fr ie n d s h ip w it h the w o r ld ly S a n c h e r is ,
fro m h is p e rs p e c tiv e , an e n o rm o u s o p p o rtu n ity to b rin g so m e h a p p in e s s a n d s e lf ­
86
f u lfilm e n t in to h is e m p ty lif e . T h e fr ie n d s h ip is , h o w e v e r , o n e o f u n e q u a ls , th at o f a
w e a lt h y , m u c h t r a v e lle d m a n w h o c a re s little fo r o th e rs ’ o p in io n s o f h im , p itte d
a g a in s t M o ïs e , w h o is w e a k , e a g e r to be lik e d , an d fe e ls in f e r io r to o th e rs . I t is M o ïs e
w h o , c r a v in g c o m p a n y an d k in d n e s s , o ffe rs to h e lp S a n c h e r r e b u ild h is r e p u te d ly
h a u n te d h o u se . F o r a w h ile , th e se tw o u n lik e ly frie n d s sp e n d m u c h tim e in e a c h
o th e r ’ s c o m p a n y , an d M o ïs e , t e m p o ra rily , fin d s so m e h a p p in e s s in h is u n til- n o w
lo n e ly lif e .
M o ïs e ’ s in it ia l m e e tin g w it h S a n c h e r is s ig n ific a n t . U p o n h is p o s ta l ro u te , h e
e n c o u n te rs th is s tro n g , w e ll- b u ilt m a n , w a lk in g d o w n th e ro a d t r a ilin g a h e a v y tru n k .
N o r m a lly s h y an d la c k in g in c o n fid e n c e , M o ïs e is b ra v e e n o u g h to sto p an d a s k th is
s tra n g e r w h e re he is g o in g , th a n k s to a fe w g la s s e s o f ru m e a r lie r . A lc o h o l p la y s a ro le
th e re fo re in th is in it ia l m e e tin g , a n d , fo r M o ïs e , m a s k s the r e a lit y o f h is o w n s e lfp e rc e p tio n .
He
b e c o m e s b o ld e r an d b r a v e r , w h e re a s s o b e r, M o ïs e w o u ld p ro b a b ly
h a v e d r iv e n o n. W h e n a s k e d in C r e o le w h e re he is g o in g , S a n c h e r ’ s in c o m p re h e n s io n
se ts the s c e n e fo r the m y s te r y he e m b o d ie s .
He
is n o t fro m G u a d e lo u p e , an d th e re fo re
M o ïs e ’ s in it ia l p e rc e p tio n s o f h im a re as a fo re ig n e r, an o u ts id e r, an d n o t b e lo n g in g to
th is c lo s e - k n it c o m m u n ity . W h e n S a n c h e r in fo r m s h im th a t he is m o v in g in to the
A l e x i s p ro p e rty w h e re no o ne e ls e w i l l d a re l iv e , M o ïs e d e c id e s h e h a s m e t a fe a rle s s
man, who has encountered worse spirits than those in the Alexis house. However,
M o ïs e so o n d is c o v e rs th at S a n c h e r is n ot the fe a rle s s m a n h e th o u g h t he w a s . T h e fir s t
n ig h t th e y sle e p in the sa m e h o u s e , M o ïs e is a w a k e n e d b y s h r ie k s an d s c re a m s , an d
s e e in g S a n c h e r , re a lis e s the m e n ta l a n g u is h e x p e rie n c e d b y h is n e w fr ie n d . S a n c h e r is
p la g u e d b y a c u r s e , a s in o f s u c h im m e n s e p ro p o rtio n s he c a n n o t s le e p s o u n d ly at
n ig h t. M o ïs e fin d s h im s h o u tin g , te r r ifie d , d e m e n te d :
87
T o i, tu c r o is qu e n o u s n a is s o n s le j o u r o ù n o u s n a is s o n s ? O ù n o u s a tte rris s o n s ,
g lu a n ts , le s y e u x b a n d é s , e n tre le s m a in s d ’ u n e s a g e -fe m m e ? M o i, j e te d is
qu e n o u s n a is s o n s b ie n a v a n t c e la . A p e in e la p re m iè re g o rg é e d ’ a ir a v a lé e ,
n o u s s o m m e s d é jà c o m p ta b le s de to u s le s p é c h é s o r ig in e ls , de to u s le s p é c h é s
p a r a c tio n et p a r o m is s io n , de to u s le s p é c h é s v é n ie ls et m o rte ls , c o m m is p a r
d es h o m m e s et d es fe m m e s re to u rn é s d e p u is lo n g te m p s e n p o u s s iè re , m a is q u i
la is s e n t le u rs c r im e s in ta c ts en n o u s . J ’ a i c ru qu e je p o u v a is é c h a p p e r à la
p u n itio n ! J e n ’ y s u is p a s a r r iv é ! (p p 4 1 - 4 2 )
W e b e g in to g lim p s e the c o m p le x itie s o f F r a n c is S a n c h e r , a n d th e fa c t th a t d e sp ite
o u tw a rd a p p e a ra n c e s , h e is d e e p ly tro u b le d an d g u ilt- rid d e n . F o r h im , b irth is c le a r ly
n o t a n e w b e g in n in g , b u t a r e a lis a tio n th at o ne is b u rd e n e d b y the s in s o f o th e rs , lo n g
s in c e d e ad . S a n c h e r ’ s to rm e n t b rin g s to lig h t a n im p o rta n t a s p e c t o f th e n o v e l,
n a m e ly , the s ig n ific a n c e o f a n c e sto rs an d o f o n e ’ s ro o ts . S a n c h e r is tro u b le d b y the
c r im e s o f h is a n c e s to rs , an d b e lie v e s he is ta in te d b y th e m . I w i l l e x a m in e th is
im p o rta n t is s u e la te r in th e c h a p te r.
F o r M o ïs e , as a fo re s a id , S a n c h e r is n o t w h a t he s e e m s , an d M o i's e ’ s in it ia l
p e rc e p tio n s o f h im are c h a n g e d . H e a tte m p ts to h e lp S a n c h e r , a s k in g i f th e y c a n
d is c u s s the la tt e r ’ s n ig h tm a re s , b u t S a n c h e r re fu te s h is k in d n e s s , a n d d is m is s e s h im
r o u g h ly . T h o u g h M o ïs e w i l l a tte m p t to a s s u m e so m e w o r ld lin e s s , a n d d is c u s s e s h is
o w n trip to A m e r ic a , S a n c h e r is h u r tfu l a n d d is m is s e s h im c o m p le te ly . A lth o u g h o n
o n e h a n d he f r e e ly a c c e p ts h e lp fro m M o ïs e to r e p a ir h is h o u s e , h e w i l l n o t a c c e p t
p s y c h o lo g ic a l h e lp fro m the p o stm a n a n d , in th is w a y , e x c lu d e s h im fro m a n y
in t e lle c tu a l in v o lv e m e n t in h is lif e .
A t the w a k e , M o ïs e p o n d e rs h is fu tu re . H is m a n y c o n v e rs a t io n s w it h S a n c h e r , b e fo re
the en d o f th e ir fr ie n d s h ip , h a v e le ft an im p re s s io n o n h im , y e t he is u n d e c id e d as to
w h a t h e s h o u ld do . C le a r ly , S a n c h e r ’ s d e ath h a s m a d e h im q u e s tio n w h a t d ir e c tio n h is
lif e s h o u ld n o w ta k e , b u t i f he b e lie v e s S a n c h e r , n o w h e re o n e a rth is fre e fro m
u n h a p p in e s s o r d is illu s io n . H e is a fr a id to le a v e R iv iè r e au S e l, b u t, e q u a lly , he is
te r r ifie d to s ta y . H is n a r ra tiv e e n d s w it h th e im p re s s io n th a t n o th in g w i l l ch a n g e fo r
h im a n d , th at he w i l l “ f i n i r se s jo u r s , s o lita ire c o m m e u n m â le c ra b e d a n s so n tro u ”
(p 4 8 ).
S a n c h e r ’ s re la t io n s h ip w it h M ir a
I n the n o v e l, F r a n c is S a n c h e r h a s th re e lo v e r s , M ir a an d V i l m a , b o th o f w h o m he
u n w illin g ly im p re g n a te s , a n d M ir a ’ s m o th e r, D in a h . M ir a L a m e a u ln e s is the d a u g h te r
o f L o u lo u , a r ic h n u r s e r y o w n e r in R iv iè r e au S e l. M ir a is h is ille g itim a te d a u g h te r,
w h o s e e ig h te e n - y e a r o ld m o th e r, R o s a lie , d ie d w h ile g iv in g b irt h to h e r. S h e h a s
sp e n t
her twenty-five years mourning the loss
of
a mother she never knew, and spends
m u c h o f h e r tim e a lo n e . M ir a d e s p ise s h e r fa th e r a n d , in a n a tte m p t to in ju r e h im , h a s
h a d a lo v e a f f a ir w it h h e r h a lf- b ro th e r A r is t id e .
W h ile C o n d é h a s d e v o te d o ne c h a p te r p e r c h a ra c te r to e a c h o f th e o th e r in d iv id u a ls in
the n o v e l, sh e a llo w s M ir a to te ll h e r s to ry o v e r tw o s e p a ra te c h a p te rs , o n e c o m in g a t
89
the b e g in n in g o f the n o v e l, an d the o th e r to w a rd s the e n d . C o n d é o b v io u s ly c o n s id e rs
M ir a to be m o re s ig n ific a n t in S a n c h e r ’ s lif e th a n a ll o th e rs in th e n o v e l. A t the e n d o f
the f ir s t s e c tio n d e v o te d to h e r, M ir a h as n o t re a c h e d a n y c o n c lu s io n s a b o u t w h a t
d ir e c tio n h e r lif e m ig h t ta k e . I t is o n ly in the se co n d c h a p te r th a t M ir a r e a lis e s w h a t
ste p s she m u s t ta k e in h e r fu tu re lif e .
T h e f ir s t e n c o u n te r b e tw e e n M ir a an d S a n c h e r is s ig n ific a n t b e c a u s e w e le a rn m u c h
ab o u t b o th c h a ra c te rs . M ir a h a b it u a lly s w im s a lo n e in the g u lly n e a r h e r h o m e e a c h
e v e n in g . I t is a p la c e o f c o m p le te q u ie t an d s o litu d e , a n d it is h e r s e c re t re fu g e fro m a
lif e sh e h a te s. S h e is m o st s u rp ris e d , th e re fo re , to c o m e a c ro s s S a n c h e r in th is p la c e
o ne e v e n in g , an d su p p o se s h e h a s p u rp o s e ly so u g h t h e r o u t:
C ’ e st m o n d o m a in e à m o i, à m o i s e u le . L e s g e n s o rd in a ir e s le s re d o u te n t,
c r o y a n t qu e c ’e st le re p a ire d e s e s p rits . A u s s i, o n n ’ y re n c o n tre ja m a is
p e rs o n n e . C ’ e st p o u rq u o i q u an d j ’ a i b u té s u r so n c o rp s , in v is ib le d a n s la
n o ir c e u r c o m m e u n c h e v a l à d ia b le , j ’ a i c ru qu e p a r e il à m o i, i l é ta it b ie n v e n u
p o u r m o i. (p 5 0 )
T h e w o rd s “ p a r e il à m o i” a re m o st s ig n ific a n t , a s th e y d e m o n stra te h o w M ir a sees
S a n c h e r , a s p e rh a p s h e r m a le e q u iv a le n t. I n the a b o v e q u o te , th e re is a se n se o f
e q u a lit y , o f u n ifo r m it y , an d it is as i f tw o lo s t p e o p le h a v e s u d d e n ly fo u n d e a c h o th e r.
B u t S a n c h e r is n o t lo o k in g fo r M ir a , n o r fo r a n y w o m a n . H e b e lie v e s d e ath is w a it in g
fo r h im at a n y m o m e n t a n d , fo r h im , M ir a is p o s s ib ly a p e r s o n ific a t io n o f d e a th . L i k e
M o ïs e , w h o s e in it ia l im p re s s io n o f S a n c h e r c h a n g e s a fte r w it n e s s in g h is n ig h t ly
90
to rm e n ts , M i r a ’ s f ir s t e n c o u n te r w it h S a n c h e r e x e m p lif ie s , f o r b o th h e r a n d the re a d e r,
h is e x tre m e w e a k n e s s an d v u ln e r a b ilit y :
J ’ a i d é b o u to n n é sa c h e m is e de g ro s b le u , d é fa it sa d u re c e in tu re de c u ir . I l n ’ a
p a s s o u fflé u n m o t. O n a u ra it d it u n e n fa n t d e v a n t u n e g ra n d e p e rs o n n e . N o u s
a v o n s fa it l ’ a m o u r s u r le te rre a u au p ie d d es fo u g è re s a rb o re s c e n te s . I l s ’ est
la is s é fa ir e , n o n p a s r é t if, m a is à l ’ a ffu t de c h a c u n de m e s g e ste s, c o m m e s ’ il
c r o y a it q u ’ ils c a c h a ie n t d es c o u p s m o rte ls . (p p 5 5 - 5 6 )
O n c e m o re , o u tw a rd a p p e a ra n c e s are n o t n e c e s s a r ily tru e , an d M ir a , lik e M o ïs e ,
o c c u p ie s , a lb e it b r ie f ly , the d o m in a n t p o s itio n v is - à - v is S a n c h e r . S a n c h e r , h o w e v e r ,
c a n n o t a llo w h im s e lf b e c o m e e n ta n g le d in a n y lo v e a f f a ir , e v e n w it h so m e o n e as
b e a u tifu l an d so u g h t-a fte r a s M ir a . C o n v in c e d h e h a s a d ate w it h d e a th , he d o e s n o t
e n c o u ra g e an a f f a ir w it h h e r. I t is sh e w h o w i l l in itia te it la te r, s u b v e rtin g the
tra d itio n a l m o d e l o f m a le p u rs u it an d fe m a le s u b m is s io n .
In the s e c o n d , s h o rte r c h a p te r d e v o te d to h e r, M ir a d is c u s s e s Q u e n tin , h e r so n ,
o f w h o m S a n c h e r is the fa th e r. S h e a c k n o w le d g e s th a t w h ile she w i l l n e v e r k n o w the
id e n tity o f F r a n c is S a n c h e r , h e r so n w i l l h o w e v e r d e m a n d to fin d o u t a b o u t h im . S h e
im a g in e s d iffe r in g a n d b ia s e d a n s w e r s w h ic h Q u e n tin w i l l r e c e iv e w h e n q u e ry in g the
id e n tity o f h is fa th e r:
L e s u n s lu i d iro n t:
91
A ïe , c ’é ta it u n v a g a b o n d q u i e st v e n u e n te rre r sa p o u rritu re c h e z n o u s ! O n ne
s a it m ê m e p a s s i c ’ é ta it u n B la n c , u n N è g re , u n Z in d ie n . I l a v a it to u s le s sa n g s
d a n s so n c o rp s !
L e s a u tre s :
C ’ é ta it u n fo u q u i d é p a rla it, d é p a rla it !
D ’ a u tre s e n c o re :
C ’ é ta it u n m a lé f ic ie r q u i a k im b w a z é d e u x de n o s p lu s b e lle s je u n e s s e s ! U n
rie n -d u -to u t, j e te d is ! (p 2 2 9 )
S o S a n c h e r , a c c o rd in g to M ir a , is e n ig m a tic , an e te rn a l m y s t e r y m a n . T h e r e c a n b e n o
c o n s e n s u s as to h is id e n tity , o n ly c o n flic t in g v ie w p o in t s , g ro u n d e d in p e rs o n a l b ia s .
H o w e v e r , u n lik e M o ïs e , w h o d o es n o t se e m l i k e ly to c h a n g e a n y a s p e c t o f h is lif e ,
M ir a e m e rg e s a s a stro n g an d d e te rm in e d y o u n g w o m a n . S h e p r o c la im s th a t sh e m u s t
d is c o v e r the tru th b e h in d the im a g e o f a m a n sh e lo v e d d e e p ly :
E t , au jo u r d ’ a u jo u r d ’ h u i, j e ne s a is rie n . A lo r s , m o i, j e d o is d é c o u v r ir la
v é r ité . D é s o rm a is m a v ie n e se ra q u ’ u n e q u ête. Je re t ra c e r a i le s c h e m in s du
m o n d e . (p p 2 3 0 - 2 3 1 )
S h e r e fle c ts th at h e r fa th e r an d A r is t id e w i l l e x p e c t h e r to b e s u b m is s iv e , an d b e lie v e
h e r lif e w i l l re s u m e its fo rm e r b a n a lity . H o w e v e r :
I l n ’ en se ra rie n . I l s se tro m p e n t le s u n s et le s a u tre s . M a v r a ie v ie c o m m e n c e
a v e c sa m o rt. ( p 2 3 1)
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M ir a is fir m in h e r r e s o lv e to d is c o v e r F r a n c is S a n c h e r ’ s tru e id e n tity . W h a t is n o t
r e v e a le d o r e v e n h in te d at, is w h e th e r she w i l l s u c c e e d in h e r q u e st. N o n e th e le s s , w h a t
is s ig n ific a n t h e re , is n o t s u c c e s s o r f a ilu r e , b u t h e r d e te rm in a tio n th a t w h a t sh e is
e m b a rk in g o n is life - c h a n g in g fo r h e r. In s e a rc h in g fo r h e r fo rm e r lo v e r ’ s id e n tity , she
h a s d is c o v e re d a p u rp o se in h e r o w n life .
S a n c h e r ’ s r e la t io n s h ip w it h D in a h
D in a h , se c o n d w if e o f L o u lo u , the n u r s e r y o w n e r, a n d ste p m o th e r to h is fo u r c h ild r e n ,
o p e n s h e r n a r ra tiv e w it h a so n g su n g b y L i n a , h e r la te m o th e r, a so n g a b o u t the f u t ilit y
o f lo v in g a m a n . L i n a ’ s s to ry , lik e th at o f m a n y w o m e n in C o n d é ’ s w r it in g , is the
s to ry o f h o p e s d a sh e d , o f a b rig h t y o u n g w o m a n se n t a b ro a d to s tu d y , o n ly to b e c o m e
p re g n a n t, re tu rn h o m e an d m a r r y a m a n “ q u i la f it b e a u c o u p s o u f f r ir ” ( p i 0 2 ). A s
V i d a l r e m a rk s , “ th e th e m e o f the p ro p a g a tio n o f fe m a le s u f fe r in g [ . . . ] is e s ta b lis h e d ”
( V id a l 2 0 0 1 p 2 3 3 ). D in a h is in d e e d a w o m a n w h o h a s s u ffe re d . Ig n o r in g L i n a ’ s
a d v ic e an d m a r r y in g L o u lo u , sh e h a s so o n le a rn e d to re g re t h e r a c tio n s a s sh e s lo w ly
w it h e rs in a lo v e le s s m a rria g e w it h s te p c h ild re n w h o r e je c t h e r e ffo rts o f k in d n e s s .
L o u lo u ig n o re s h e r, an d fo r y e a rs n o w d o es n o t sle e p in h e r b e d , p r e fe r rin g in s te a d to
ta k e s e x u a l p le a s u re w it h o ne o f h is m a id s o r w it h o th e r w o m e n . I n h is e y e s , sh e is
in v is ib le . A r r i v i n g in i t i a l l y in R iv iè r e au S e i, D in a h h a d w a n te d fe r v e n t ly to w o r k in
the n u rs e rie s . L o u lo u ’ s r e fu s a l o f h e r re q u e st, p ro p e ls h e r in to a n e x is te n c e o f
lo n e lin e s s , b o re d o m an d la c k o f d ire c tio n . D in a h w a s b o m in S a in t - M a r t in , a n d the
93
fa c t th at sh e is fro m e ls e w h e re e n c o u ra g e s the
habitants to
p e rc e iv e h e r in te rm s o f
b e in g a fo re ig n e r, s im ila r to the w a y th e y v ie w S a n c h e r. T h i s la c k o f tru s t in the
fo re ig n , the u n k n o w n , w i l l be d is c u s s e d fu rth e r in m y s e c tio n o n c o lle c t iv e c u ltu r a l
id e n tity . T h e la c k o f w e lc o m e sh e r e c e iv e s in R iv iè r e au S e l is r e m in is c e n t o f M a r ie H é lè n e ’ s fe e lin g s o f b e in g an o u ts id e r in
Une saison à Rihata.
E v e n D in a h ’ s h o u se is
n o t a so u rc e o f c o m fo r t o r s h e lte r. S h e d e s c rib e s it in s te a d , in te rm s o f b e in g
s u ffo c a te d , o f its h a v in g d ra in e d h e r o f h e r y o u th :
J e s u is d o n c re sté e c h e z m o i, a v e c m e s s e rv a n te s , m e s e n fa n ts e t, p e u à p e u ,
ce tte m a is o n de b o is à la lis iè r e de la fo rê t d e n se , s a n s lu m iè r e , sa n s s o le il,
p a ra d is p lu v ie u x des lia n e s à c h a s s e u r et des s ig u in e s , e st d e v e n u e m a p ris o n ,
m o n to m b e a u . M a je u n e s s e s ’ e n fu y a it . P a r m o m e n ts , il m e s e m b la it q u e j ’é ta is
d é jà m o rte , qu e m o n san g n e c o u la it p lu s c h a u d d a n s m e s v e in e s , q u ’ i l é ta it
d é jà c a illé , (p p 1 0 3 - 1 0 4 )
I t is a g a in s t th is b a c k g ro u n d o f u n h a p p in e s s an d la c k o f s e lf - f u lf ilm e n t th a t D in a h
m e e ts S a n c h e r. In c o n tra s t w it h m a n y o f the o th e r c h a ra c te rs w h o m e e t h im
a c c id e n t a lly w h ile g o in g a b o u t th e ir n o rm a l a c t iv it ie s , D in a h ’ s f ir s t e n c o u n te r w it h
S a n c h e r is the re s u lt o f h e r o w n c u r io s it y : “ A la f in , la c u r io s ité m ’ a p r is e e t j e s u is
a llé e v o ir à q u o i il re s s e m b la it, c e lu i q u i m e tta it R iv iè r e au S e l e n é b u llit io n ” ( p l 0 5 ) .
D in a h ’ s d e s c rip tio n o f S a n c h e r is s ig n ific a n t. U n lik e h e r ste p d a u g h te r M ir a , an d
V i l m a , a y o u n g g ir l o f In d ia n o rig in , sh e d e s c rib e s S a n c h e r in stro n g s e x u a l te rm s ,
p o s s ib ly r e le a s in g h e r o w n p e n t-u p e m o tio n s :
94
M a lg r é la fr a îc h e u r du s e re in , i l é ta it to rse n u et o n v o y a it le d e s s in d u r de se s
p e c to ra u x a u -d e s s u s de la fo rê t de se s p o ils n o ir s c o m m e l ’ e n c re q u i
c o n tra s ta ie n t a v e c se s c h e v e u x g r is . S e s b ra s é ta ie n t de d e u x c o u le u r s . P re s q u e
n o ir s à p a r tir du c o u d e . D o r é s a u -d e ssu s. M a lg r é m o i, j ’ a i p e n s é : B o n D ie u !
A v o ir ce m o rc e a u d ’ h o m m e n u it a p rè s n u it d a n s so n l i t ! (p 1 0 5 )
D in a h te lls u s th at it is S a n c h e r w h o c o m e s to h e r n ig h t a fte r n ig h t, a llo w in g h e r to
fo rg e t L o u lo u an d the m is e r y o f h e r d a ily lif e . H o w e v e r , h e r c o n s c ie n c e tro u b le s h e r,
a s sh e r e v e a ls she c o n s id e rs she is to b la m e fo r the u n h a p p in e s s n o w p re s e n t in M ir a ’ s
lif e . D in a h is p re se n te d in o p p o s in g te rm s o f g o o d an d b a d h e re . A w a r e o f M ir a ’ s
in c e s tu o u s re la t io n s h ip w it h A r is t id e , she h a s p ra y e d h e r ste p d a u g h te r w o u ld fin d
a n o th e r m a n “ p o u r la d é liv r e r de sa g e ô le ” ( p i 0 7 ). H o w e v e r , sh e is n o t p re p a re d fo r
h e r p ra y e rs to be a n s w e re d b y M ir a ’ s ta k in g S a n c h e r fro m h e r:
P o u rq u o i f a lla it - il q u ’ e lle m e p re n n e F r a n c is S a n c h e r ? Q u ’ e lle m e p re n n e
ju s te m e n t l ’ h o m m e q u i a rr o s a it m o n d é se rt ? ( p l 0 7 )
It is in te re s tin g to n o te th at D in a h b la m e s M ir a , an d n o t S a n c h e r , fo r the
te rm in a tio n o f th e ir a f f a ir . S h e d o e s n o t sto p to c o n s id e r th a t S a n c h e r m ig h t h a v e
e x e rc is e d fre e w i l l an d c h o s e n h e r o v e r h e r ste p -d a u g h te r. P r a y in g th a t the a f f a ir
b e tw e e n S a n c h e r an d M ir a w i l l e n d , sh e is o v e rc o m e w it h g u ilt w h e n it a c t u a lly d o e s,
an d b e lie v e s she is d ir e c t ly to b la m e .
I n h is a f f a ir w it h D in a h , S a n c h e r d is p la y s a d iffe re n t s id e to h is id e n tity . I f w e
a re to b e lie v e D in a h ’ s n a r r a tiv e , he is lo v in g an d a ffe c tio n a te to w a rd s h e r , is a
95
c o n fid a n te , an d w is h e s to e m p o w e r h e r. S h e c o n fid e s
in him,
a s k in g h is o p in io n o f
w h y h e r m a rria g e h a s n o t b e e n s u c c e s s fu l. H e r e , S a n c h e r id e n t if ie s h im s e lf w it h a ll
o th e r m e n , d e n o u n c in g th e ir tre a tm e n t o f w o m e n , a c k n o w le d g in g th e fa c t th a t the
d e s tin y o f a ll w o m e n is th e s a m e , an d e n c o u ra g in g h e r to le a v e L o u lo u an d m a k e a
n e w lif e fo r h e r s e lf:
P e tite e n fa n t du B o n D ie u , c ’ e st a in s i que n o u s s o m m e s , n o u s a u tre s h o m m e s !
N i la p e a u , n i le s c h e v e u x n ’ y fo n t q u o i q u e c e s o it. L e s B la n c h e s en
m é tro p o le s o u ffre n t p a r e ille m e n t. C ’ e st le lo t d e s fe m m e s to u t s im p le m e n t.
N o u s s o m m e s n é s b o u rre a u x . M a is tu es e n c o re je u n e et b e lle . P o u rq u o i
re s te s -tu à l ’ a tta c h e ? P o u rq u o i ne t ’ e n v a s - tu p a s ? ( p l 0 6 )
S a n c h e r e n c o u ra g e s h e r to le a v e , b u t im p o r ta n tly , he d o e s n o t o ff e r h e r a p la c e in h is
lif e . D in a h ’ s a d m ira tio n o f S a n c h e r c e a s e s w h e n sh e le a rn s h o w h e a tte m p ts to a b o rt
M ir a ’ s c h ild . H o w e v e r , it m a k e s h e r r e a lis e m o re th an e v e r th at m e n are a ll s im ila r ,
an d she o n c e a g a in q u e s tio n s w h y w o m e n a c c e p t th is d e s tin y . U p o n le a rn in g th at
V i l m a is n o w liv in g w it h S a n c h e r , D in a h d e c id e s to re n e w h e r o w n lif e . L i k e M ir a ,
w h o is re s o lu te in h e r q u e st in lif e , w e see D in a h , d e te rm in e d to s ta rt a fr e s h , a lth o u g h
the fu tu re is u n c le a r:
M o i, m a ré s o lu tio n e st p r is e . Je q u itte ra i L o u lo u et R iv iè r e au S e l. Je p re n d ra i
m e s g a rç o n s a v e c m o i. Je c h e r c h e r a i le s o le il et l ’ a ir et la lu m iè re p o u r c e q u i
m e re s te d ’ a n n é e s à v iv r e .
O ù le s tr o u v e r a i- je ? Je n ’ e n s a is e n c o re rie n . C e qu e j e s a is , c ’ e st q u e j e le s
c h e rch e ra i ! (p l0 9 )
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T h e im a g e ry o f su n , a ir a n d lig h t in th is a b o v e q u o te is th e a n tith e s is o f D in a h ’ s
fo rm e r s u ffo c a tin g lif e . A lth o u g h sh e is n o t su re h o w sh e w i l l go a b o u t e ffe c t in g
c h a n g e , h e r m in d is m a d e u p . W e see h e r h e re a s a stro n g w o m a n . A lt h o u g h sh e n o w
d e s p ise s S a n c h e r , h e r in it ia l fe e lin g s fo r h im h a v e s e rv e d h e r w e ll. L i k e M ir a , w h o s e
lif e w i l l ch a n g e b e c a u se o f h e r lo v e r , D in a h e m b ra c e s a n e w lif e , an d a n e w v is io n fo r
h e r an d h e r s o n s . S a n c h e r c a n be se en a s a c a t a ly s t fo r b o th o f th e se w o m e n . H is
in te ra c tio n s w it h th e m , an d th e ir stro n g fe e lin g s fo r h im , see th e ir liv e s tra n s fo rm e d in
w a y s w h ic h m a y n e v e r h a v e b e e n , h ad he n o t a r r iv e d in R iv iè r e au S e l.
S a n c h e r ’ s r e la t io n s h ip w it h R o s a an d V ilm a
R o s a is V i l m a ’ s m o th e r an d she is p re se n te d in v e r y s im ila r te rm s to D in a h . B o t h h a v e
b e e n m a rrie d to m e n o f th e ir f a m ilie s ’ c h o ic e , ra th e r th a n m a r r y in g fo r lo v e . E a c h is
m a r rie d to a w e a lt h y m a n , an d e a c h fe e ls u n lo v e d b y h e r h u s b a n d an d le f t o u t o f h e r
c h ild r e n s ’ liv e s . R o s a h a s b o m h e r h u sb a n d S y lv e s t r e th re e so n s an d d e lig h ts w h e n
h e r fo u rth b o m c h ild , S h ir e e n , is a d a u g h te r. T h i s n e w - b o rn b a b y re d e e m s h e r m o th e r,
an d R o s a , fo r the f ir s t tim e s in c e h e r m a r ria g e , fe e ls g re a t j o y a n d h a p p in e s s .
S h ir e e n ’ s u n tim e ly d e a th , h o w e v e r , at th re e m o n th s le a v e s R o s a in c o n s o la b le , an d
fo llo w in g the c o n c e p tio n o f h e r fift h c h ild , V i l m a , sh e is o v e rc o m e w it h h ate fo r th is
n e w lif e . In a p a ssa g e r e m in is c e n t o f M a r ie - H é lè n e ’ s d e s c rip tio n o f h e r p re g n a n c y
w it h S ia in
Une saison à Rihata,
R o s a d e s c rib e s h e r b a b y a s a p a r a s ite , an d e x p re s s e s
h e r need to e x p e l th is b e in g w it h in h e r:
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A u b o u t de q u e lq u e s s e m a in e s , j ’ a i s e n ti u n a u tre e n fa n t q u i r e m u a it d a n s
l ’ o m b re de m o n v e n tre . M a is je n ’ en v o u la is p a s de sa f i l le . J ’ a u r a is v o u lu
l ’ e x p u ls e r a v a n t so n te m p s. O r , j e la s e n ta is a c c ro c h é e à m e s p a r o is , p a ra s ite ,
v o r a c e , se n o u rris s a n t m a lg ré m o i de m a c h a ir et de m o n sa n g . J ’ a i dû p o rte r
m a c r o ix j u s q u ’ au b o u t, p e n d a n t n e u f in te r m in a b le s m o is au b o u t d e s q u e ls e lle
e st a p p a ru e , p a r e ille à so n p è re et à se s fr è r e s , te lle m e n t d iffé re n te de m a
S h ir e e n . ( p l 6 6 )
R o s a d e e p ly b e g ru d g e s the fa c t th at h e r b e lo v e d S h ir e e n d ie d , w h ile V i l m a liv e d . S h e
is h o n e st in h e r n a r r a tiv e , an d s im ila r ly to D in a h , b la m e s h e r s e lf f o r the fa c t th a t h e r
d a u g h te r le f t to l iv e w it h S a n c h e r. T h e th e m e o f a n c e s try is h ig h lig h te d a g a in h e re .
F o r D in a h , “ c a r , il ne fa u t p a s c h e r c h e r , le m a lh e u r d es e n fa n ts e st to u jo u rs c a u s é p a s
le s p a re n ts ” (p 1 6 6 ). In th is se n te n c e , she a c k n o w le d g e s th e fa c t th a t p a re n ts b rin g
a b o u t the u n h a p p in e s s o f t h e ir c h ild r e n . S h e se es V i l m a ’ s d e s e rtio n fro m the f a m ily
h o m e a s a d ir e c t c o n s e q u e n c e o f the la c k o f lo v e sh e h a s e x p e rie n c e d fro m h e r. In h e r
o n e c o n v e rs a t io n w it h F r a n c is S a n c h e r , R o s a is a m a z e d b y th e to p ic w h ic h he
in tro d u c e s , h is m o th e r ’ s la c k o f lo v e fo r h im :
M a m è re , j ’ im a g in e , a le s c h e v e u x to u t b la n c s a lo r s q u e je le s lu i a i c o n n u s
n o irs et b r illa n t s c o m m e le s v ô tre s . E l l e ne m ’ a ja m a is b e a u c o u p a im é .
Q u ’ im p o rte , c ’ e st m a m è re , la se u le qu e j ’ a u ra i ja m a is ! ( p l 6 9 )
S a n c h e r a c k n o w le d g e s the a b s e n c e o f m a te rn a l lo v e in h is l i f e , b u t th e n e x c u s e s it,
e x p la in in g , a lm o s t c y n ic a lly , h o w h is m o th e r c o u ld n e v e r h a v e lo v e d h im :
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V o u s v o y e z , m o n p è re n ’ a é p o u sé m a m è re qu e p a rc e q u ’ e lle é ta it la f i l le d ’ u n
d es p lu s r ic h e s c a fe ite ro s . Je s u is s û r, sa n s v o u lo ir v o u s d é re s p e c te r, lo in de là ,
q u ’ i l lu i fa is a it l ’ a m o u r sa n s lu i p a r le r. D i f f i c i l e d ’ a im e r le s e n fa n ts n é s d an s
c e s c o n d itio n s - là . P o u r d o n n e r, p o u r re n d re l ’ a m o u r, i l fa u t e n a v o ir re ç u
b eau cou p , beaucoup ! (p l 6 9 )
A s w it h D in a h , R o s a p e rc e iv e s a d eep le v e l o f u n d e rs ta n d in g b e tw e e n h e r s e lf
an d S a n c h e r. S h e id e n tifie s c o m p le te ly w it h w h a t h e is s a y in g , a s i f h e r o w n p ro b le m s
w it h V i l m a ste m fro m th e fa c t th at sh e c o n s id e rs h e r s e lf u n lo v e d b y h e r f a m ily , b y a
fa th e r w h o m a rrie d h e r o f f w ith o u t c o n s id e ra tio n fo r h e r f e e lin g s , o r b y a h u sb a n d
w h o d o e s n o t lo v e o r c a re fo r h e r, o n ly fo r th e ir s o n s. A s w it h th e o th e r c h a ra c te rs
w h o s e s to rie s w e h a v e e x a m in e d so fa r , S a n c h e r to u c h e s o n an is s u e c lo s e to R o s a ’ s
h e a rt, th is a b se n c e o f lo v e in h e r lif e . In a s t r ik in g d e s c rip tio n , sh e c o m p a re s l i f e ’ s
d if f ic u lt ie s to tre e s , a n d the m e ta p h o r o f th e e n ta n g le m e n t o f ro o ts re c a p s the id e a o f
the im p e n e tra b ility o f the m a n g ro v e , w h e re o n e c a n n e v e r d is c o v e r the o r ig in a l ro o ts ,
w h e re tru th , p e rh a p s , is h id d e n fo re v e r :
L e s p ro b lè m e s de la v ie , c ’ e st c o m m e le s a rb re s . O n v o it le tro n c , o n v o it le s
b ra n c h e s et le s fe u ille s . M a is o n ne v o it p a s le s r a c in e s , c a c h é e s d a n s le f in
fo n d de la te rre . O r ce q u ’ il fa u d ra it c o n n a ître , c ’ e st le u r fo rm e , le u r n a tu re ,
ju s q u ’ o ù e lle s s ’ e n fo n c e n t p o u r c h e r c h e r l ’ e a u , le te rre a u g ra s . A lo r s p e u t-ê tre ,
o n c o m p re n d ra it. ( p l 7 0 )
R o s a ’ s d e s c rip tio n o f tre e s m a y b e lik e n e d to the h u m a n s e lf , w h a t p a rt o f o n e s e lf is
e x p o s e d fo r a ll to se e , an d w h a t p a rt o ne k e e p s h id d e n , c o n c e a le d fr o m p u b lic v ie w . I t
99
is ir o n ic , p e rh a p s , th at it is S a n c h e r , a v ir t u a l stra n g e r to R o s a , w h o m a n a g e s to
p e rc e iv e ro o ts in h e r, w h ic h she m a n a g e s to h id e fro m a ll o th e rs . A t the e n d o f h e r
n a r r a tiv e , she d e c id e s to try an d r e p a ir h e r re la tio n s h ip w it h th e d a u g h te r sh e h a s
n e v e r lo v e d . H e r c o n v e rs a t io n w it h S a n c h e r c la r if ie s h e r o w n fe e lin g s , a n d m a k e s h e r
a w a re o f th is im p o rta n t d u ty in h e r lif e .
In h e r n a r r a tiv e , V i l m a ’ s d e s c rip tio n o f h e r m o th e r, is s t r ik in g . S h e r e fe r s to h e r
m o th e r s o le ly e m p lo y in g the p ro n o u n “ e lle ” , a s i f R o s a is n o t w o r t h y o f b e in g c a lle d
“ m a m è re ” . T h e f ir s t lin e s , w h ic h d e ta il a s p e c ts o f V i l m a ’ s c h ild h o o d , le a v e th e re a d e r
in no d o u b t as to the a b se n c e o f m a te rn a l lo v e in h e r lif e :
E l l e ne m ’ a ja m a is te n u la m a in . Q u a n d e lle m e s a v o n n a it, n u e so u s le s o le il,
sa p a u m e é ta it s a n s d o u c e u r. D u te m p s o ù e lle m e c o n d u is a it à l ’ é c o le , e lle
m a r c h a it à tro is p a s d e v a n t m o i et j e f i x a is sa tre ss e n o ire ro u lé e en u n c h ig n o n
tra n s p e rc é p a r u n e lo n g u e é p in g le d ’ é c a ille , so n d o s a v e u g le so u s l ’ in d ie n n e de
c e s ro b e s n o ire s q u ’e lle p o rta it c h a q u e jo u r q u e le B o n D ie u fa it , d a n s le d e u il
de m a sœ u r S h ir e e n . S h ir e e n , m o rte à tro is m o is , é to u ffé e p a r le s v e r s q u i
a v a ie n t re m o n té ju s q u ’ à sa b o u c h e . Je n ’ a i ja m a is eu de p la c e d a n s so n c œ u r,
(p l 8 6 )
R o s a ’ s e a r lie r a d m is s io n th at V i l m a is no su b stitu te fo r h e r b e lo v e d S h ir e e n , is
r e in fo r c e d b y V i l m a ’ s o w n d e s c rip tio n o f h e r c h ild h o o d . T h e fe e lin g s o f e x tre m e
lo n e lin e s s a n d is o la tio n e x p e rie n c e d b y th e y o u n g V i l m a a re m o s t e v id e n t in the
a b o v e c ita tio n . V ilm a h a s one re fu g e , h o w e v e r , re a d in g , a n d sh e s ig n a ls its
im p o rta n c e in h e r lif e : “ M o i, je n ’ a v a is p e rs o n n e . Je n ’ a v a is r ie n . Q u e m e s l i v r e s .”
100
( p i 8 6 ). T h e th e m e o f the s ig n ific a n c e o f e d u c a tio n , an d in th is c a s e , e d u c a tio n fo r
w o m e n , is h ig h lig h te d h e re . V ilm a is in t e llig e n t an d is v e r y h a p p y a t s c h o o l.
H o w e v e r , th is one s o la c e is ta k e n a w a y b r u s q u e ly w h e n S y lv e s t r e , d is p la y in g
p a t ria r c h a l a u th o r ity , a n n o u n c e s s u d d e n ly th at she w i l l n o t b e re tu rn in g to s c h o o l. S h e
d e s p ise s h e r m o th e r w h o lie s u n c o n v in c in g ly in h e r e y e s , in h e r a tte m p t to p e rsu a d e
V i l m a to fo llo w h e r fa t h e r ’ s w is h e s :
E c o u te ! T o n p ap a s a it c e q u ’ i l fa it. U n e fe m m e , c ’ e st c o m m e u n o ra n g e r o u u n
p ie d de le t c h is . C ’ e st f a it p o u r p o rte r ! T u v e r r a s c o m m e tu s e ra s co n te n te
q u a n d to n v e n tre p o u s s e ra lo u rd d e v a n t to i et qu e to n e n fa n t re m u e ra p re s s é de
v e n ir se c h a u ff e r au s o le il de la te rre . S e s y e u x d é m e n ta ie n t se s p a ro le s . O n
s e n ta it q u ’ e lle n ’ y c r o y a it p a s , q u ’ e lle r é c ita it u n e le ç o n ! ( p l 8 8 )
C o n d é d e m o n stra te s h e re the d eep iro n y in R o s a ’ s e m p ty w o r d s . S h e w is h e s h e r
d a u g h te r to e n te r in to an a rra n g e d m a rria g e , as she h e r s e lf h a s so u n h a p p ily d o n e.
H o w e v e r , w h a t is m u c h m o re p o ig n a n t is h e r d e s c rip tio n o f th e fu lf ilm e n t o f
p r e g n a n c y , s o m e th in g w h ic h , w it h the e x c e p tio n o f h e r g e s ta tio n w it h S h ir e e n , h a s n o t
f ille d h e r w it h d eep c o n te n tm e n t. A lth o u g h R o s a d o e s n o t lo v e S y lv e s t r e , an d r e a d ily
a c k n o w le d g e s h o w little she m e a n s in h is e y e s , she is n o n e th e le s s c o m p le te ly c a p a b le
o f s a c r if ic in g h e r o n ly d a u g h te r to a lif e d e s tin e d to be a s u n h a p p y as h e r o w n h a s
b e e n . T h e re is an e m p h a s is o n the im p o rta n c e o f tra d itio n c o u p le d w it h a n c e s t iy h e re ,
a n d R o s a d ra w s o n the f a m i l y ’ s In d ia n b a c k g ro u n d to c o n v in c e h e r d a u g h te r o f h e r
d u tie s :
101
Q u ’ e st-c e qu e c e la v e u t d ire : “ J e ne l ’ a im e p a s ” ? E s t - c e q u e tu c r o is qu e
j ’ a im a is to n p a p a q u an d j e m e s u is m a rié e a v e c lu i ? E t e n In d e , d a n s n o tre
p a y s , e st-c e q u e tu ne s a is p a s q u e m a r i et fe m m e n e se c o n n a is s a ie n t p a s
j u s q u ’ au m o m e n t où ils se c o u c h a ie n t d a n s le m ê m e li t , so u s le m ê m e d rap ?
(p p l 8 8 -1 8 9 )
A lth o u g h V i l m a ’ s f a m ily , th e R a m a r s a n s , h a v e a ll b e e n b o m in G u a d e lo u p e ,
t h e ir c u ltu r e tie s th e m in e x t r ic a b ly to th e ir In d ia n h e rita g e . G a lla g h e r p o in ts to the
“ d e lib e ra te o r s tra te g ic d is p la c e m e n ts th at c a n b lo c k o r d is ru p t th e t r a n s m is s io n o f
m e m o r y , f ilia t io n , an d id e n tity ” ( G a lla g h e r 2 0 0 2 p i 0 1 - 1 0 2 ). V i l m a an d h e r f a m ily
h a v e b e e n d is p la c e d fro m In d ia an d s u f fe r the c o n s e q u e n c e s o f liv in g in a n o th e r p la c e ,
w h e re a c c e s s to an o r ig in a l id e n tity an d c u ltu re is h e n c e fo rth d e n ie d th e m . T h e
m a n g ro v e is a m e ta p h o r h e re fo r th e e n ta n g le m e n t o f h id d e n p e rc e p tio n s an d o b v io u s
tra d itio n s , a ll o f w h ic h c o n tra d ic t e a c h o th e r. T r a d it io n is u lt im a t e ly m o re im p o rta n t
th a n p e rs o n a l d e s ire , an d V i l m a , th o u g h liv in g a ll h e r lif e in th is F r e n c h
département,
c a n n o t e sca p e w h a t is e x p e c te d o f h e r. R o s a is a tr a d itio n a lis t a n d w i l l do a ll in h e r
p o w e r to c o n v in c e h e r d a u g h te r to h ee d tra d itio n . V i l m a , h o w e v e r , r e s is ts h e r c u ltu r a l
an d a n c e s tra l e n tra p m e n ts an d s h o w s h e r s e lf to b e a m o d e m w o m a n , n o t s w a y e d b y
o th e rs ’ e x p e c ta n c ie s o f h e r: “ D e s e n fa n ts ! C e la ne m ’ in té re s s e p a s , j e n ’ a i p a s e n v ie
de m e m a r ie r ” ! ( p l 8 8 ). T h o u g h the te x t d o e s n o t in d ic a te it, I b e lie v e it is p o s s ib le
th a t, as in o th e r C o n d é c h a ra c te rs , V i l m a ’ s d eep in te re s t in e d u c a tio n an d b o o k s h a v e
e n lig h te n e d h e r, an d m a k e h e r a w a re o f o th e r p o s s ib ilit ie s fo r h e r fu tu re , n ot
n e c e s s a r ily a lig n e d w it h tra d itio n a l m a tr ia r c h y . F o r P a t r ic k F f r e n c h , F r a n c is S a n c h e r ’ s
d e ath “ is the d e ath o f the p a s t” , a n d “ the d e ath o f a c o m m u n ity w h o s e ro o ts a re in the
p a s t, a r e v e la tio n o f th e se ro o ts an d a s e v e r in g o f th e m ” ( F f r e n c h 1 9 9 7 p l 0 1 ). I t is
102
s ig n ific a n t th at V i l m a a c k n o w le d g e s h o w sh e m ig h t s e v e r ro o ts w it h w h a t is e x p e c te d
o f h e r b e fo re S a n c h e r a c t u a lly d ie s . S h e p e rs o n a lly , h a s n o t n e e d e d h is d e ath to b rin g
a b o u t h e r r e a lis a tio n o f w h a t b ro a d e r p o s s ib ilit ie s m ig h t lie in sto re fo r h e r. I t is
p e rh a p s a ll the m o re ir o n ic th at she w i l l b e c o m e p re g n a n t in the n o v e l a n d w i l l fo llo w
a lo n g tra d itio n a l m a tr ia r c h a l lin e s .
V i l m a e x p la in s th at sh e le a v e s h o m e a n d g o es to S a n c h e r ’ s h o u s e a s she is v e r y u p se t
at h o w R o s a a llo w s h e r s e lf be tre ate d b y S y lv e s t r e :
Je s e n ta is q u e lq u e c h o s e q u i b o u illo n n a it e n m o i: la c o lè r e , la r é v o lte . A q u o i
ç a se rt u n e m è re , s i c e n ’ e st à fa ir e re m p a rt c o n tre l ’ é g o ïs m e et la c ru a u té des
p è re s ? M a is p o u r c e lle - là , il n ’ y a v a it qu e S h ir e e n , S h ir e e n . M o i, o n p o u v a it
m e v e n d re c o m m e un d e rn ie r lo t d ’ ic a q u e s au m a r c h é , c e la lu i é ta it b ie n é g a l.
I l f a lla it qu e j e lu i fa sse h o n te , qu e j e lu i fa s s e m a l, q u e j e m e v e n g e . M a is
c o m m e n t ? A lo r s , le v e n t m ’ a s o u fflé cette id é e - là a v e c so n g ra n d r ir e d é m en t.
C ’ e st lu i ! C ’ e st lu i, le c o u p a b le ! ( p l 9 1 )
T h e e x tre m e la c k o f m a te rn a l lo v e in h e r lif e w e lls u p b e fo re h e r. S h e is
c o n s u m e d w it h o n e th in g o n ly , to a v e n g e th e a b s e n c e o f s u c h lo v e , an d h u rt the
m o th e r w h o h a s c a u s e d h e r so m u c h p a in . I t is in s u c h a m in d s e t th a t V i l m a le a v e s
h o m e a n d o ffe rs h e r s e lf to S a n c h e r. It is n o c o in c id e n c e , p e rh a p s , th a t th is lo n e ly an d
re je c te d y o u n g w o m a n w i l l ru n to a m a n w h o h a s a ls o s u ffe re d m u c h , du e to the
a b se n ce in h is lif e a ls o o f m a te rn a l lo v e .
103
H e r p r e g n a n c y , w it h h is c h ild , c a u s e s S a n c h e r m u c h s o rr o w . V i l m a lo v e s th is m a n ,
b u t he w i l l n e v e r re tu rn h e r lo v e a n d is c o n s u m e d o n ly w it h h is im p e n d in g d e ath .
U p o n S a n c h e r ’ s d e m is e , V i l m a is s t ill p re g n a n t, an d S a n c h e r w i l l n e v e r see th e ir
c h ild . U n lik e M ir a , w h o se e s n e w p o s s ib ilit ie s in h e r fu tu re , V i l m a w is h e s th a t she
c o u ld be b u rie d w it h th is m a n . S h e d o e s n o t fo re s e e c h a n g e s in h e r lif e a h e a d . H o p e
fo r h e r is p o s s ib le o n ly , p e rh a p s , th ro u g h a n e w r e la t io n s h ip w it h h e r m o th e r. T h e
fa c t, th o u g h , th at V i l m a m a y fin d n e w m e a n in g in h e r fu tu re r e la t io n s h ip w it h R o s a is
e v id e n c e o f s o m e fo rm o f p ro g re s s io n in h e r lif e . O n e m a y p re s u m e th a t a ll is n o t lo s t
fo r h e r.
S a n c h e r , L u c ie n , a n d the ju s t ific a t io n fo r w r it in g
L u c ie n E v a r is t e , w h o h a d b e e n ra is e d in a r e lig io u s f a m ily w it h stro n g p a trio tic
s y m p a th ie s fo r F r a n c e , u p se ts h is p a re n ts d e e p ly b y b e c o m in g b o th an a th e ist an d a
r e v o lu t io n a r y , w h ile a stu d e n t in P a r is . H e is k n o w n in the n o v e l as “ L ’ E c r i v a i n ”
a lth o u g h to date he h a s n o t w ritte n a n y th in g . L u c ie n , h a v in g re tu rn e d to G u a d e lo u p e
a fte r h is s tu d ie s in F r a n c e , is im p a tie n t w it h h is is la n d w h ic h h a s n o t p ro g re s s e d in
te rm s o f g a in in g in d e p e n d e n c e . H e is id e a lis t ic , f o llo w in g h is
séjour in
the m e tro p o lis :
L u c ie n é ta it h e u re u x d ’ être re v e n u au p a y s , sitô t te rm in é e sa m a îtr is e . P lu s
s o u v e n t q u ’ à so n to u r, c ’ e st v r a i, u n p o ig n a n t re g re t le p r e n a it de la to rp e u r de
ce tte te rre s té rile q u i ne p a r v e n a it p a s à a c c o u c h e r de sa R é v o lu t io n . A h , être
n é a ille u r s ! A u C h il i ! E n A r g e n tin e ! O u to u t s im p le m e n t à u n j e t de p ie r r e , à
C u b a ! V a in c r e o u m o u r ir p o u r la lib e rté ! (p 2 1 7 )
104
U p o n le a rn in g th at S a n c h e r is re p o rte d ly C u b a n , an d m o v e o v e r a w r it e r ,
L u c ie n h a s te n s to m a k e h is a c q u a in ta n c e . H e h a s h a d a m b itio n s to b e a w r it e r h im s e lf .
T h e th o u g h t th a t he m ig h t be a b le to d is c u s s s ty le o r n a r r a tiv e te c h n iq u e w it h a w r it e r
liv in g in R iv iè r e au S e l, f i l l s h im w it h in te n se e x c ite m e n t. P a r t ic u la r ly , b e c a u se “ en
te m p s n o r m a l, p a r e ille s d is c u s s io n s é ta ie n t im p o s s ib le s , le s q u e lq u e s é c r iv a in s
g u a d e lo u p é e n s p a s s a n t le p lu s c la ir de le u r te m p s à p é ro re r s u r la c u ltu re a n t illa is e à
L o s A n g e le s o u à B e r k e le y ” (p 2 1 9 ). L u c ie n m a k e s the in te r e s tin g , a n d p e rh a p s v a lid ,
p o in t h e re th at a n y s u c c e s s fu l w r it e r s fro m G u a d e lo u p e are n o t to be fo u n d th ere b u t,
in s te a d , le c tu re in A m e r ic a . It is p o s s ib le to in f e r c r it ic is m o n C o n d é ’ s p a rt h e re , ab o u t
a “ b ra in d r a in ” , o r in t e lle c tu a l d e s e rtio n b y the is la n d ’ s w r it in g e lite , to le a v e
G u a d e lo u p e fo r c o u n trie s o ffe rin g s u p e rio r c a re e r a d v a n c e m e n t. I t is w r it e r s w h o ,
th ro u g h th e ir w o r k , p ro v id e a n a ly s is an d th e o rie s o n c o lle c t iv e id e n tity in
G u a d e lo u p e . I f th e y le a v e th e is la n d , p e rh a p s th e ir c o n trib u tio n to the d eb ate o n
c o lle c t iv e id e n tity b e c o m e s le s s m e a n in g fu l.
L u c i e n ’ s f ir s t m e e tin g w it h S a n c h e r is s ig n if ic a n t . L u c ie n a r r iv e s , n e r v o u s ly ,
to m e e t th is m a n in w h o m he is v e r y in te re ste d . S a n c h e r , v e r y q u ic k ly , d is p e ls the
illu s io n s L u c ie n h a s h a d o f h im . H o w e v e r , he is v e r y k in d a n d o p e n to the y o u n g e r
m an:
T u a s fra p p é à la m a u v a is e p o rte , p e tit. P e rm e ts q u e j e t ’ a p p e lle c o m m e ç a .
M o i qu e tu v o is d e v a n t to i, j e ne s a u ra is te p a r le r q u e d ’ h o m m e s et de fe m m e s
m is en te rre a v e c la m ê m e e n v ie de v iv r e in te rro m p u e . N e t. P a s de c o m b a ts
g lo r ie u x ! E t p u is , c e u x - là d o n t tu m e p a r le s , j e n ’ a i ja m a is e n te n d u le u r n o m .
105
C a r j e ne s u is p a s c e qu e tu c r o is . M o i p re sq u e z o m b ie , j ’ e s s a ie de f ix e r la v ie
q u e j e v a is p e rd re a v e c d es m o ts. P o u r m o i é c r ir e , c ’ e st le c o n tra ire de v iv r e .
C ’ e st m o n a v e u de s é n ilit é . ( p 2 2 1)
S a n c h e r is p o rtra y e d h e re as an o ld e r, fa t h e r ly a n d b e n e v o le n t m a n , h o n e st
e n o u g h to a d m it he is n o t w h a t L u c ie n h a s im a g in e d h im to b e. T h e w o r d s “ p re sq u e
z o m b ie ” a re r e m in is c e n t o f the p o s s ib le d e c o n s tru c tio n s o f S a n c h e r ’ s n a m e . A s a
z o m b ie , h e is p e rh a p s “ sa n s c h a ir ” . I fin d S a n c h e r ’ s a n a ly s is o f w r it in g h e re m o st
in te re s tin g . U n lik e tr a d itio n a l a im s o f w r it in g a s s o m e th in g w h ic h in s p ir e s , g iv e s h o p e
to o r e m p o w e rs a re a d e r, o r, a lt e r n a t iv e ly , g iv e s lif e to a n a u th o r a fte r h is / h e r d e a th ,
w r it in g fo r S a n c h e r is s o m e th in g w h ic h he c a n n o t d o , an d w h ic h s ig n if ie s d e ath . In
d iffe re n t s e c tio n s o f the n o v e l, w e see h im ty p in g o n th e v e ra n d a . H o w e v e r , he is
n e v e r s a t is fie d w it h w h a t he w r it e s , a n d c o n s is te n tly te a rs u p th e p a g e s h e h a s ty p e d .
W o r d s f a il h im , in h is d e s ire to c ro s s the h a u n tin g h is to r ie s o f h is p a st.
I t m ig h t be a n tic ip a te d , th o u g h , th at w o rd s w i l l n o t f a il L u c ie n , w h e n he
d e c id e s to w r it e s o m e th in g a fte r a ll, the s to ry o f F r a n c is S a n c h e r , the s to ry S a n c h e r is
u n a b le to te ll. U p u n til n o w , h e h a s b e e n u n d e c id e d a b o u t w h a t c o u rs e h is w r it in g
s h o u ld ta k e . H e h a s n o t k n o w n w h e th e r to w r it e a h is t o r ic a l n o v e l a b o u t th e h e ro is m
o f m a ro o n s , o r a b o u t a n in e te e n - c e n tu ry s la v e r e v o lt :
A u lie u , e n fa n t d ’ a u jo u r d ’ h u i et de la v il l e , de tra q u e r des n è g m a w o n o u des
p a y s a n s du X I X e s iè c le , p o u rq u o i n e p a s m e ttre b o u t à b o u t s o u v e n irs et b rib e s
de c o n fid e n c e s , é c a rte r le s m e n s o n g e s , re c o n s titu e r la tr a je c to ir e et la
p e rs o n n a lité du d é fu n t ? O h c e rte s , c e t id é a lis te s a n s p lu s d ’ id é a l n e lu i fe ra it
106
p a s la p a rtie b e lle ! I l lu i fa u d ra it r e fu s e r le v e rtig e d e s id é e s re ç u e s . R e g a r d e r
d a n s le s y e u x de d a n g e re u s e s v é r ité s . D é p la ir e . C h o q u e r.
E t p o u r é c rir e c e liv r e - là , n e lu i fa u d r a it- il p a s s u iv r e so n h é ro s à la
tra c e ? R e le v e r le s e m p re in te s q u ’ i l a v a it la is s é e s d a n s le s c h e m in s ? M e ttre
se s p a s d a n s le s s ie n s ?
E u r o p e . A m é riq u e . A f r iq u e . F r a n c is S a n c h e r a v a it p a rc o u ru to u s c e s
p a y s . A lo r s ne d e v r a it - il p a s en fa ir e a u ta n t ? (p 2 2 7 )
A t the w a k e , a ll is s u d d e n ly c le a r fo r L u c ie n , a n d th e fr u s tr a tio n s w h ic h h a v e
b u ilt in h im s in c e h is re tu rn to G u a d e lo u p e , b e g in to d is a p p e a r. H e w i l l w r ite
S a n c h e r ’ s s to ry . H o w e v e r , in o rd e r to do so , he w i l l h a v e to t r a v e l, a n d jo u r n e y , a s
S a n c h e r h im s e lf d id . H e m u s t re fu s e the in flu e n c e o f a c c e p te d id e a s , a n d fo rg e h is
o w n p a th , e v e n th o u g h h e m a y s h o c k o r d is p le a s e . T h e s e id e a s v e r y m u c h p a ro d y the
p a th C o n d é h a s ta k e n in h e r lit e r a r y c a re e r, h e r r e fu s a l to r e m a in e x c lu s iv e ly in
G u a d e lo u p e , b u t to liv e in o th e r c o u n trie s , an d to tr a v e l e x t e n s iv e ly . S h o c k an d
d is p le a s u re are h a llm a r k s o f C o n d é ’ s w o r k . A s a w r it e r , h e r w o r k is c h a ra c te ris e d b y
t e llin g it a s it is , an d b y n o t g la z in g o v e r w h a t m ig h t a n n o y o r o ffe n d (M a n n in g 2 0 0 3
p i 1 2 ). It is l i k e ly C o n d é ju s t if ie s h e r o w n w r it in g , in th is c h a p te r d e v o te d to L u c ie n .
L u c ie n r e a lis e s th a t h e m a y h a v e to s h o c k o r d is p le a s e in o rd e r to te ll th e re a l s to ry , to
re a c h the u ltim a te tru th . I t is s o m e th in g , th o u g h , th at h e is n o t a fr a id to do.
X a n t ip p e , s y m b o l o f A f r ic a n h e rita g e
X a n t ip p e is the n o v e l’ s r e c lu s e , a m a n w h o s e w if e a n d c h ild r e n w e r e b u rn e d a liv e in
th e ir h u t one C h r is t m a s D a y , p o s s ib ly the re s u lt o f an a rs o n a tta c k . H e is re p re se n te d
107
in p a rts o f the n a r ra tiv e a s s o m e o n e to b e fe a re d , an d m a y h a v e s u p e rn a tu ra l p o w e rs
w h ic h he u se s fo r ill- y ie ld , s im ila r ly to th e w a y w e s a w T it u b a w a s fe a re d , in the f ir s t
c h a p te r o f th is th e s is :
D a n s le s d é b u ts, le s e n fa n ts e n a v a ie n t p e u r, de X a n t ip p e . E n le c r o is a n t, le s
fe m m e s e n c e in te s p ro té g e a ie n t le u r fœ tu s d ’ u n e p riè re à la V ie r g e . D e s p o u le s
a y a n t d is p a ru d e s b a s s e s - c o u rs et u n v e a u ta c h e té s ’ é ta n t é c a rté lo in de l ’ a b ri
du v e n tre de sa m è re , o n a v a it v o u lu l ’ en te n ir p o u r re s p o n s ib le . (p 7 7 )
C o n d é d e v o te s the f in a l c h a p te r o f the n o v e l to X a n t ip p e ’ s s to ry . H o w e v e r ,
u n lik e a ll o th e r c h a ra c te rs , X a n t ip p e is re p re se n te d in m y t h ic a l te rm s , an d in fa c t, it is
d if f ic u lt to th in k o f h im a s a re a l c h a ra c te r at a ll. T h e f ir s t lin e s o f h is n a r ra tiv e are
d e e p ly r e m in is c e n t o f the a fte rw o rd in
Moi, Tituba, sorcière...noire de Salem.
In the
sa m e w a y th at T it u b a e v o k e s deep e m o tio n s o f p rid e an d p o s s e s s io n , w h e n ta lk in g
ab o u t h e r is la n d , B a r b a d o s , X a n t ip p e h e re , p o s itio n s h im s e lf a s th e p ro u d fa th e r o f
G u a d e lo u p e . H e h a s b a p tise d a ll liv in g th in g s o n the is la n d , h a s g iv e n th e m id e n tity ,
h as n a m e d th e m :
J ’ a i n o m m é to u s le s a rb re s de c e p a y s . Je s u is m o n té à la tête du m o rn e , j ’ a i
c r ié le u r n o m et ils o n t ré p o n d u à m o n a p p e l. G o m m ie r b la n c . A c o m a t- b o u c a n .
B o is p ilo r i. B o is ra d a . B o is tro m p e tte . B o is g u é p o is . B o is d ’ e n c e n s . B o i s p in .
B o is la s o ie . B o is b an d é . R é s o lu . K a ïm it ie r . M a h o t c o c h o n . P ru n e c a fé . M a p o u
lé lé . A r b r e à la it. M a lim b é . (p 2 4 1 )
T h e a c t o f n a m in g h e re is d e e p ly s ig n if ic a n t . T h e fo rm e r s la v e s o f th is is la n d h a d no
id e n tity , a n d w e re strip p e d o f th e ir o w n n a m e s . B u t X a n t ip p e h a s the p o w e r to n a m e ,
an d he n a m e s a ll the tre e s o f G u a d e lo u p e , o ne a fte r a n o th e r. W it h a se n se o f p r id e , he
lis t s
th e m , a n d in
so d o in g , illu s tr a te s th e ir u n iq u e n e s s , o n e fro m
108
a n o th e r. F o r
X a n t ip p e , the tre e s “ so n t n o s s e u ls a m is ” (p 2 4 1 ). I t is th e y w h o h a v e lo o k e d a ft e r the
s la v e s , “ d e p u is l ’ A f r iq u e ” (p 2 4 1 ). T h e im a g e ry is s e x u a lly e x p lo s iv e a s X a n t ip p e
d e s c rib e s h o w h e n a m e d the g u llie s , the r o c k s , th e fis h :
J ’ a i n o m m é le s r a v in e s , s e x e s g ra n d s o u v e rts , d a n s le f in fo n d de la te rre . J ’ a i
n o m m é le s ro c h e rs au fo n d de l ’ eau et le s p o is s o n s , g ris c o m m e le s ro c h e rs .
E n u n m o t, j ’ a i n o m m é c e p a y s . I l e st s o rti de m e s r e in s d a n s u ne g ic lé e de
fo u tre . ( p p 2 4 1 -2 4 2 )
H e p e rc e iv e s h im s e lf as c re a to r, p ro g e n ito r a n d fo re b e a r o f th is is la n d , as i f he
is its o r ig in , an d p o s s e s s o r o f a ll its s e c re ts . L i k e S a n c h e r , X a n t ip p e is p o s s ib ly the
su m o f a ll h is p re d e c e s s o rs . H e is th e A lp h a an d the O m e g a o f lif e . I t is a s i f h e is both
the b e g in n in g , an d the e n d , an d h o ld s th e p o w e r b o th to c re a te a n d d e s tro y . H e e v o k e s
m u c h fe a r in the m in d s o f the
habitants
o f R iv iè r e au S e l, a s h e is se e n in m y t h ic a l
an d s u p e rs titio u s te rm s . X a n t ip p e se e m s to be e m p o w e re d w it h th e k n o w le d g e o f the
e n tire h is to r y o f G u a d e lo u p e , an d o f the h o rro rs o f its p a st. H e s e e m s to re p re s e n t the
im p o rta n c e o f a c o n tin u a tio n w it h the p a s t, a s i f , w h ile le a n in g to w a rd s th e fu tu re ,
G u a d e lo u p e s h o u ld n o t fo rg e t the a b h o rre n t tra g e d ie s to w h ic h
its h is to r y b e a rs
w it n e s s . F o r H ig g in s o n , X a n t ip p e is a m o b ile c h a ra c te r, a n d c a p a b le o f tra n s c e n d in g
p a s t an d p re s e n t G u a d e lo u p e (H ig g in s o n 2 0 0 2 p i 0 2 ). H is p e rs p e c tiv e “ n o u s o ffr e d es
p a n s e n tie rs de l ’ h is to ire de F i l e , s ’ a rrê ta n t à d e s m o m e n ts s tra té g iq u e s to u t en
ra c o n ta n t l ’ h is to ire du n a rra te u r” (ib id ).
F r a n c is S a n c h e r is m u c h tro u b le d o n the o c c a s io n s h e e n c o u n te rs X a n t ip p e ,
th ro u g h o u t the n o v e l. A lth o u g h a c o n v e rs a tio n n e v e r ta k e s p la c e b e tw e e n th e m ,
S a n c h e r k n o w s in s t in c t iv e ly th at X a n t ip p e
sees him as
b u rd e n e d b y u n s p e a k a b le
c r im e s . H o w e v e r , X a n t ip p e w i l l n o t e x a c t re v e n g e u p o n h im :
109
P e rs o n n e n ’ a p e rc é c e s e c re t, e n s e v e li d a n s l ’ o u b li. M ê m e p a s lu i q u i c o u rt
c o m m e u n c h e v a l fo u , fla ir a n t le v e n t, h u m a n t l ’ a ir . A c h a q u e fo is qu e j e le
re n c o n tre , le re g a rd de m e s y e u x b rû le le s s ie n s et i l b a is s e la tê te , c a r ce c r im e
e st le s ie n . L e s ie n . I l p e u t d o r m ir tr a n q u ille c e p e n d a n t, e n g ro s s e r se s fe m m e s ,
p la n te r d es f i l s , j e ne lu i fe ra i r ie n , le te m p s de la v e n g e a n c e e st p a s s é . (p 2 4 5 )
X a n t ip p e , a lo n e , se e m s to k n o w the te rrib le s e c re ts w h ic h c a u s e S a n c h e r so m u c h
d is tre s s . H e h a s w a r m ly e m b ra c e d h is is la n d , f u ll o f n a tu re ’ s w o n d e rs , b u t n o w h e re ,
he s p u rn s the c r im e a ttrib u te d to S a n c h e r. T h i s is S a n c h e r ’ s c r im e , a n d h e is f u lly
a c c o u n ta b le
fo r it.
Su ch
is
its
m a g n itu d e ,
X a n t ip p e
in s is t s ,
a se c o n d tim e ,
on
S a n c h e r ’ s o w n e rs h ip o f it. “ L e s ie n ” (p 2 4 5 ). A ls o , he d o e s n o t r e fe r to S a n c h e r b y
n a m e , b u t o n ly b y p ro n o u n : “ lu i q u i c o u rt c o m m e u n c h e v a l fo u ” ( ib id ) . T h e tre e s
h a v e b e e n c a lle d b y n a m e , X a n t ip p e h a s b e s to w e d id e n tity o n th e m . S a n c h e r ’ s
id e n tity , h o w e v e r , is in e x t r ic a b ly lin k e d w it h h is sta tu s a s d e s c e n d a n t o f the B é k é
c la s s , an d fro m t h is , th ere is no e s c a p e .
T h u s C o n d é c h o o s e s to en d th is n in e te e n th n a r ra tiv e w it h th e ju x t a p o s it io n o f
tw o
o p p o s in g , y e t u lt im a t e ly
in t e r - lin k e d
c o n s titu e n ts
o f A n t ille a n
id e n tity , the
in e s c a p a b le A f r ic a n h e rita g e as s y m b o lis e d b y X a n t ip p e , a n d the e q u a lly in e s c a p a b le
c o lo n is in g h is to r y w h ic h S a n c h e r re p re s e n ts . F o r H ig g in s o n , “ S a n c h e r p e rs is te à lir e
le m o n d e s e lo n des p a ra m è tre s p a s s é s , et en m e u rt” (H ig g in s o n 2 0 0 2 p l 0 3 ) . S a n c h e r
is n o t c a p a b le o f c a s tin g a s id e the s in s o f h is a n c e s to rs . T h e c u rs e w h ic h p la g u e s h is
f a m ily w i l l f a ll n o w u p o n h im . H e is n o t a b le to fo rg iv e h im s e lf fo r th e w ro n g d o in g s
o f h is a n c e s to rs , an d h is e n c o u n te rs w it h X a n t ip p e s e rv e to r e in fo r c e h is o p in io n th a t
h e , d e s c e n d a n t o f the c o lo n is e r s , w i l l p a y th e u ltim a te p r ic e fo r h is lin e a g e . T h e r e is a
n o tio n h e re , th at the a b h o rre n c ie s o f s la v e r y c a n n o t s im p ly b e e ra s e d fr o m m e m o r y ,
110
an d th at the le g a c ie s o f p a st c e n tu rie s c o n tin u e to d w e ll in the p re se n t. F o r X a n t ip p e ,
th o u g h , S a n c h e r ’ s d e ath le a v e s h im w it h a se n se o f c a lm . “ I l fo n c tio n n e s u r d e u x
r e g is tre s d is t in c t s ” (H ig g in s o n 2 0 0 2 p l 0 3 ) , an d a b id e s in b o th th e p re s e n t an d the
p a st. H e a p p e a rs n o t to h o ld an e te rn a l g ru d g e a g a in s t th e d e ad m a n . F o r X a n t ip p e ,
S a n c h e r “ p e u t d o r m ir tra n q u ille m e n t” (p 2 4 5 ). W h a t m a y w e in f e r fro m th is fin a l s to ry
in the n a r ra tiv e ? P e rh a p s , the a c k n o w le d g e m e n t th at r e t rib u tio n w i l l n o t s o lv e the
h o rro rs o f the p a s t. A s a n a r ra tiv e d e v ic e , the fa c t th a t S a n c h e r u n w illin g ly b e c o m e s a
fa th e r, d e m o n s tra te s th a t th e c o lo n ia l p a s t c a n n o t b e s ile n c e d , o r s u p p re s s e d , an d th at
the m o d e m w o r ld c o n tin u e s to in h e rit the le g a c ie s o f the o p p re s s io n s o f the p ast.
C o m m u n a l id e n tity in the n o v e l
O f the fo u r n o v e ls a n a ly s e d in th is th e s is , n o n e c a p tu re s c o m m u n ity - c e n tr ic id e n tity in
the
F re n ch
C a r ib b e a n
b e tte r th an
Traversée de la Mangrove.
Condé
d o e s n o t,
h o w e v e r , p a in t a p re tty p ic tu re o f G u a d e lo u p e a n id e n tity in th e n a r ra tiv e . In m y
in t e r v ie w w it h h e r , in N o v e m b e r 2 0 0 2 , sh e e x p la in e d th at h e r w r it in g e m b o d ie d the
tru th a b o u t C a r ib b e a n id e n tity , an d th a t one c o u ld n o t “ p a in t th e C a r ib b e a n p in k ” .
(M a n n in g 2 0 0 3 p i 1 2 ). T h e c o m m u n ity o f R iv iè r e au S e l is re p re s e n te d in v e r y
n e g a tiv e te rm s , an d c a n b e p e rc e iv e d as h y p o c r it ic a l an d r a c is t , n a r ro w - m in d e d an d
b e g ru d g in g . R u m o u r an d g o s s ip p la y a la rg e p a rt in c o m m u n ity l i f e , a n d th o se w h o
e m a n a te fro m o u tsid e th is s m a ll c o m m u n ity a re tre a te d w it h d is tr u s t a n d s u s p ic io n .
C o n d é ’ s u se o f n a r ra tiv e te c h n iq u e is m o st e ff e c t iv e in b r in g in g a b o u t a m e rg e o f the
c o lle c t iv e v o ic e . A ls o , the in c o rp o ra tio n in to the p lo t o f a tr a d itio n a l C a r ib b e a n w a k e ,
w it h
its p r a y e r s an d r it u a ls , is an e x c e lle n t e x a m p le o f h o w , d e s p ite e n o rm o u s
111
d iffe re n c e s a m o n g the in d iv id u a l
habitants
o f R iv iè r e au S e l, n e v e rth e le s s , a ll c o m e
to g e th e r a s o n e , to p a y th e ir re s p e c ts to the la te F r a n c is S a n c h e r . T h e h a b ita n ts h a v e
co n g re g a te d to b u ry S a n c h e r , b u t in d o in g so , th e y a re a ls o p o s s ib ly b u ry in g so m e o f
the n e g a t iv it y w h ic h c o n s tra in s th e ir o w n liv e s . F f r e n c h su g g e sts th a t S a n c h e r ’ s d e ath
is s a c r if ic ia l, b u t n e c e s s a r y , in o rd e r fo r the
habitants
to r e a lis e “ th a t the c o m m u n ity
h as in so m e w a y im p ris o n e d th e m , an d th a t the d e ath o f th e s tra n g e r fo rc e s an o p e n in g
o f th is p r is o n , a lib e r a tio n ” (F f r e n c h 1 9 9 7 p p 9 8 - 9 9 ). P e rh a p s , w h a t th e c o m m u n ity o f
R iv iè r e au S e l m o s t ly s h a re s , is the fa c t th at m a n y m e m b e rs a re s u ffo c a tin g w it h in the
n a r ro w c o n s tra in ts o f a s m a ll v illa g e . T h e ro o ts o f th e m a n g ro v e in c a rc e ra te an d
c o n fin e th e m , a n d th e y are b lin d e d to a n y th in g o u tsid e t h e ir s m a ll r e a lm . S a n c h e r , as a
s tra n g e r, p r o v id e s a n e w v is io n fo r th e ir fu tu re , a v is io n a n d h o p e w h ic h m a y a llo w
s o m e o f th e m to tra n s c e n d the c o n s tra in ts o f the m a n g ro v e a n d fin d a b e tte r lif e
e ls e w h e re .
L e t u s lo o k n o w
at w a y s
in
w h ic h
the c o m m u n a l se n se o f s e l f is
m a n ife s te d th ro u g h o u t the n o v e l.
D é s in o r , the H a it ia n w o r k e r , w h o w o r k s ille g a lly in G u a d e lo u p e , d o in g jo b s m o s t
n a tiv e s w i l l n o t d o , illu s tr a te s the h y p o c r it ic a l an d r a c is t n a tu re o f th is c o m m u n ity ,
m o st o f w h o m d id n o t lik e S a n c h e r , y e t, atte n d h is w a k e . H e d o e s n o t h id e the fa c t
th a t h e d id n o t lik e h is fo rm e r e m p lo y e r , b u t at le a s t a c k n o w le d g e s h is p e rs o n a l re a so n
fo r b e in g p re s e n t, fo r re fre s h m e n ts h e s e ld o m r e c e iv e s :
Je ne s a is p a s p o u rq u o i to u t le m o n d e f a it s e m b la n t d ’ a v o ir g ro s c œ u r.
S û re m e n t, c e la l ’ a u ra it b ie n fa it r ir e , a p rè s la m a n iè re d o n t o n l ’ a tra ité p a r ic i.
M a is le s g e n s de R iv iè r e au S e l so n t c o m m e c e la . I l s n ’ o n t p a s de s e n tim e n ts
e t, p a r- d e s s u s le m a rc h é , i ls so n t h y p o c rite s . M o i, à q u o i se rt de m e n tir ,
F r a n c is S a n c h e r , j e m ’ en fo u ta is r o y a le m e n t. C ’ e st p a s p a r ra p p o rt a u x d e u x
112
c e n t fr a n c s la s e m a in e q u ’ i l m e d o n n a it p o u r re to u rn e r la te rre de so n ja r d in
q u e j e v a is p re n d re le d e u il ! S i j e s u is là , c ’ e st p a rc e q u e j e n ’ a i p a s s e n ti u n e
b o n n e o d e u r de m a n g e r, q u e j e n ’ a i p a s a rro s é m o n g o s ie r a v e c u n b o n co u p de
rh u m d e p u is b e lle lu re tte , ( p l 9 7 )
D é s in o r s h o w s up the
habitants
fo r w h a t th e y r e a lly a re . H e , h im s e lf , a s a fo re ig n
w o r k e r , h a s n o t b e e n tre ate d w e ll b y th e m , an d h e re , C o n d é d e p ic ts a r e a lit y o f
c u rre n t- d a y G u a d e lo u p e , n a m e ly , th e fa c t, th a t r a c is m a g a in s t o th e r C a r ib b e a n p e o p le s
e x is t th e re , an d th at n a tiv e s fro m H a it i, an d in d e e d D o m in ic a , are c o n s id e re d to be an
u n d e r c la s s . F o r C o n d é , H a it ia n s liv in g in G u a d e lo u p e are “ p o o r, liv e
in is o la te d
v illa g e s ,
S o m e tim e s
cut
su g a rc a n e
an d
do
the
jo b s
th at
nobody
e ls e
w a n ts .
G u a d e lo u p e a n s re g a rd th e d a rk e r H a it ia n s w it h a c e rta in a m o u n t o f c o n te m p t” ( P f a f f
1 9 9 6 p 7 4 ).
In h is n a r r a tiv e , D é s in o r d ra w s a d iv id e b e tw e e n h im s e lf a n d the o th e rs at the
w a k e . H e se es h im s e lf th ro u g h th e ir e y e s , th e e y e s o f th is c o m m u n ity w h o d e s p ise s
h is u n c o u th m a n n e rs an d w a y s :
I l m a n g e a it v o ra c e m e n t, y a lla n t de la m a in , et s e n tit s u r lu i le re g a rd de
m é p ris de se s v o is in s q u i e u x s ’ é ta ie n t s e r v is a v e c h a b ile té de le u rs c u ille r s
a p rè s a v o ir d é p o sé u n re c ta n g le de p a p ie r s u r le u rs g e n o u x , (p p 1 9 7 - 1 9 8 )
T h u s c o m m u n a l id e n tity is re p re se n te d a s p ro p e r a n d g e n tile , an d C o n d é
ju x t a p o s e s th e
habitants'
s e lf- p e rc e p tio n v is - à - v is
t h e ir v ie w s
o f th is
im m ig r a n t
w o r k e r . I t is ir o n ic , p e rh a p s , th at th o se w h o h a v e th e m s e lv e s s u ffe r e d r a c is m , an d
c o lo n ia l o p p re s s io n , w i l l in tu rn p e rp e tu a te it, w it h f e llo w C a r ib b e a n s . D é s in o r h a s no
illu s io n s as to th e o p in io n s o f th is c o m m u n ity a b o u t h im . H e p la y s in to t h e ir h a n d s ,
113
h o w e v e r , d e m o n s tra tin g b a d m a n n e rs , p e rh a p s , b e c a u se h e fe e ls it is w h a t th e y e x p e c t
o f h im , an d he d e lig h ts in it:
I l s ’ en r é jo u it, c a r il le fa is a it e x p r è s , d ’ ê tre s i s a le . P o u r u n e fo is q u ’ i l é ta it de
p la in - p ie d a v e c le s g e n s de R iv iè r e au S e l, il a u r a it a im é le s in s u lt e r , le s
c h o q u e r, le u r fa ir e s a v o ir q u i é ta it r é e lle m e n t c e D é s in o r D é c im u s q u ’ i ls
c o n fo n d a ie n t a v e c u n m is é r a b le ja r d in ie r h a ïtie n , ( p l 9 8 )
T h i s c ita tio n is r e m in is c e n t o f Jo h n In d ie n ’ s b e lie f , in
de Salem,
th at “ n ig g e r s ” m ig h t as w e ll b e h a v e in a m a n n e r w h ite s h a v e c o m e to
e x p e c t: “ Jo u o n s à la p e rfe c tio n n o tre rô le de n è g re s ”
de Salem
Moi, Tituba, sorcière ...Noire
(p 5 6 ).
W it h
D é s in o r , h o w e v e r , C o n d é
id e n tity . C le a r ly , in D é s in o r ’ s v ie w , the
habitants
(Moi, Tituba, sorcière ... Noire
e x p o s e s o p p o s in g p o la r it ie s o f
do n o t r e a lly see h im , th e y m e r e ly
see th ro u g h h im . H e is se en in te rm s o f h is u se , a s a g a rd e n e r, b u t n o t a s a p e rs o n . I t is
as i f c o lo n ia l h is to r y is b e in g re -sta g e d , the c o m m u n ity o f R iv iè r e au S e l is the n e w
c o lo n is e r , an d D é s in o r , the n e w s la v e . F o r F a n o n , a n a ly s e d b y B h a b h a , “ T h e B la c k
p re s e n c e r u in s th e re p re s e n ta tiv e n a r ra tiv e o f W e s te rn p e rs o n h o o d : its p a st te th ere d to
tre a c h e ro u s s te re o ty p e s o f p r im it iv is m an d d e g e n e ra c y w i l l n o t p ro d u c e a h is to r y o f
c iv il
p ro g re s s ”
G u a d e lo u p e ,
(B h a b h a
w ho se
m e re
1994
p ll5 ).
e x is te n c e
D é s in o r is
is
se e n
in
th e
te rm s
new
“ B la c k
p re s e n c e ”
o f d e g e n e ra c y
by
of
f e llo w
C a r ib b e a n s , w h o s e s e lf- s u p e rio rity is so p o ig n a n t. A s “ T h e W h it e m a n ’ s e y e s b re a k
up the B la c k m a n ’ s b o d y ” , so do the G u a d e lo u p e a n s ’ b re a k u p the H a it ia n ’ s , a n d the
c y c lic a l re -e n a c te m e n t o f m a s te r v e r s u s s la v e e n d u re s (B h a b h a 1 9 9 4 p l 1 5 ). T h o u g h
the c o lo n is e r s are g o n e , an d the c o lo n is e d are fre e , the re la t io n s o f p o w e r a re w h o lly
e v id e n t in a m o d e m G u a d e lo u p e .
114
A s X a n t ip p e n a m e s th e tre e s an d g u llie s o f G u a d e lo u p e , D é s in o r m u s t n a m e
h im s e lf . H e s u p p lie s u s w it h h is f u ll n a m e , D é s in o r D é c im u s , a n d h e n c e , b e s to w s an
id e n tity o n h im s e lf . H is tre a tm e n t in th e n o v e l c o n fir m s the r a c is t a n d h y p o c r it ic a l
n a tu re o f the c o m m u n ity o f R iv iè r e au S e l.
The
habitants
are re p re se n te d a ls o a s n a rro w - m in d e d , an d b e g ru d g in g . T h e y re se n t
a m b itio n o r a c h ie v e m e n t o f a n y ty p e , an d th ro u g h o u t th e n a r r a t iv e , the c o lle c t iv e
v o ic e is s p e c k le d w it h c r it ic is m an d d e tra c tio n . V i l m a ’ s b ro th e r, C a r m é lie n , g o es to
B o r d e a u x to s tu d y m e d ic in e , an d p e o p le are o n ly s a t is fie d w h e n h e re tu rn s h o m e
f o llo w in g an illn e s s . O n e m u s t k n o w o n e ’ s p la c e , a n d n o t a tte m p t to im p ro v e u p o n
o n e ’ s s itu a tio n :
N é a n m o in s le s e n v ie u x et le s m a lc o n te n ts n ’ a lla ie n t p a s ta rd e r à p iq u e r de
v r a ie s c o lè r e s q u a n d C a r m é lie n , le p e tit- fils de R o d rig u e e t le f ils de S y lv e s t r e ,
é ta it p a rti é tu d ie r la m é d e c in e e n F r a n c e . Q u o i ! U n R a m a r s a n m é d e c in ! L e s
g e n s n e s a v e n t p a s re s te r à le u r p la c e ! L a p la c e d e s R a m s a r a n é ta it d a n s la
te rre , c a n n e o u p a s ! H e u re u s e m e n t, D ie u e st g ra n d ! C a r m é lie n é ta it re v e n u en
q u a triè m e v ite s s e de B o r d e a u x où u n e m a la d ie l ’ a v a it fra p p é . C e n ’ é ta it que
ju s t ic e . I l ne fa u t p as p ê te r p lu s h a u t q u e se s fe s s e s . E n p a r e il c a s , la v ie f a it
so n d e v o ir et ra m è n e l ’ a m b itie u x à la r a is o n . (p 2 1 - 2 2 )
I n th e a b o v e c ita t io n , C o n d é r e v e a ls the in n e r th o u g h t p ro c e s s e s o f th is s m a llm in d e d c o m m u n ity . M o s t s tr ik in g ab o u t it is , p e rh a p s , th e c o m m u n a l se n se o f in e r tia ,
an d
th e
fa c t
th at
th e se
p e o p le
do
not
e m b ra c e
chang e
or
p ro g re s s .
B ecause
C a r m é lie n ’ s f a m ily h a v e w o r k e d o n th e la n d , C a r m é lie n m u s t do lik e w is e . T h e r e are
s e v e r a l o th e r e x a m p le s o f b e g ru d e ry in the te x t, a n d I t h in k th e se p o in t a c r it ic a l fin g e r
p e rh a p s at c u rre n t G u a d e lo u p e a n
mentalité.
115
A s sta ted in the in tro d u c tio n o f th is
c h a p te r, C o n d é w ro te th is n o v e l fo llo w in g m a n y y e a rs liv in g a w a y fro m h e r is la n d . I t
is p o s s ib le h e r n e g a tiv e p o rtra y a l o f h e r o w n p e o p le r e fle c t s a n im p a tie n c e w it h an
is la n d g ro u n d e d in its p ast.
T h e n a rro w - m in d e d n a tu re o f th is c o m m u n ity is r e fle c te d m u c h in the r e c u rr in g
im a g e s o f s u ffo c a tio n th ro u g h o u t th e n a r ra tiv e . S e v e r a l c h a ra c te rs d e s c rib e R iv iè r e au
S e l a s a p la c e o f im p ris o n m e n t. R o s a ’ s f ir s t im p re s s io n s o f th e v illa g e are “ u n e m a s s e
d ’ u n v e r t s o m b re d ’ a rb re s , de lia n e s , de p a ra s ite s e m m ê lé s a v e c ç à et là le s tro u é e s
p lu s c la ir e s d es b a n a n e ra ie s ” ( p l 6 1 ). D in a h ’ s h o m e is a p r is o n fo r h e r, an d E m i le , the
h is to r ia n , r e a lis e s h e h as b e e n s u f fo c a tin g w h ile liv in g in th is p la c e : “ I l lu i s e m b la
so u d a in q u ’ il é to u ffa it so u s le s g ra n d s a rb re s ”
(p 2 3 9 ). F o r D é s in o r , th e re is no
p o s s ib le e s c a p e , the p la n e s o n ly go to m e tro p o lita n F r a n c e : “ L e s a v io n s n ’ e ffe c tu a ie n t
q u e d e s a lle r- re to u r L a P o in te - P a ris ! L e s g e n s ne v o y a g e a ie n t q u ’ en m é tro p o le !”
(p 2 1 0 ). P e rh a p s th e s o lu tio n fo r th is c la u s tro p h o b ia is to jo u r n e y , a w a y fro m th is
v illa g e o r is la n d , a s m a n y o f the
habitants re s o lv e
to do.
O u ts id e r s , a s a fo re s a id , a re tre ate d w it h d is tr u s t, a n d R iv iè r e au S e l, a s a
c o lle c t iv it y , m a k e n o e ffo rt to e m b ra c e d iffe re n c e . S a n c h e r , D in a h , an d D é s in o r,
a m o n g o th e rs , a re d e fin e d e s s e n t ia lly , in te rm s o f th e ir o th e rn e s s , an d a re se en a s
stra n g e rs a m o n g th is c lo s e d c o m m u n ity , an d I th in k the n a r ra tiv e a d v o c a te s a c a ll fo r
o p e n -m in d n e ss a m o n g the
habitants.
F o r B o z o n - S c a lz it t i, “ la m a n g ro v e q u e F r a n c is
S a n c h e r ne p a r v ie n t p a s à tr a v e rs e r e st d ’ a b o rd c e lle de la m é c h a n c e té et m a lig n ité des
g e n s de R iv iè r e au S e l.” (B o z o n - S c a lz it t i 1 9 9 8 p 6 9 ). I w o u ld su g g e st it is th ese
n e g a tiv e s a ls o , w h ic h c h a lle n g e c h a n g e an d p ro g re s s in th is c o m m u n ity .
116
Conclusion
Traversée de la Mangrove w a s
a d e p a rtu re fo r C o n d é in te rm s o f n a r ra tiv e te c h n iq u e .
U n t il th e n , h e r n o v e ls w e re lin e a r an d c h r o n o lo g ic a l. H o w e v e r , w it h th is o n e , she
ch o o s e a c ir c u la r s tru c tu re , “ a n a r ra tiv e w it h no tru e b e g in n in g o r e n d ” ( P f a f f 1 9 9 6
p 7 2 ). C o n d é w a s in te re s te d “ in the c h a ra c te r o f the s tra n g e r” , in th e v illa g e , an d “ h o w
p e o p le re a c t to h im , h o w th e y d e fin e th e m s e lv e s in r e la t io n to h im ” ( P f a f f 1 9 9 6 p 7 1 ).
I t is in d e e d th is n o tio n o f the fo re ig n , a n d the u n k n o w n , w h ic h is c e n tra l to the
m e a n in g o f th e n o v e l. S a n c h e r is an o u ts id e r, a n d r e v e a ls o n ly s m a ll p ie c e s o f h im s e lf
to d iffe re n t c h a ra c te rs . W e w i l l n e v e r t r u ly k n o w th e r e a l S a n c h e r . H o w e v e r , w e w i l l
n e v e r t r u ly k n o w the id e n tity o f a n y o f th e n o v e l’ s c h a ra c te rs , s im p ly th e p a rts th e y
c h o o se to r e v e a l in th e ir n a r ra tiv e s . T h u s
id e n tity is c o n s tru e d
in te rm s o f the
m y s tiq u e , one h a s an o u tw a rd fa c e , b u t one c o n c e a ls m u c h . In the w o r d s o f R o s a : “ O n
v o it le tro n c , o n v o it le s b ra n c h e s et le s fe u ille s . M a is o n ne v o it p a s le s r a c in e s ”
( p l 7 0 ).
T h e n o v e l a b o u n d s w it h b ib lic a l m e ta p h o rs an d re fe re n c e s . A s w e h a v e se e n , S a n c h e r
is p o rtra y e d a s a s a v io u r to so m e o f th e c h a ra c te rs , w h o s e liv e s w i l l c h a n g e b e c a u se o f
h im . T h e n a m e o f the to w n , R iv iè r e au S e l, m e a n s a s a lt y r iv e r , a fu rth e r b ib ilic a l
r e fe r e n c e , d e n o tin g w a te r w h ic h is d y in g , w h ic h c a n n o t s u s ta in lif e . In so m e w a y s , the
to w n is s im ila r to the D e a d S e a , w h ic h fo r K a p p il, “ s u b s is ts a s a s y m b o l o f d e ath an d
a m e m o ria l o f d e s tru c tio n ” b e c a u se “ no liv in g c re a tu re c a n e x is t in its w a t e r s ” ( K a p p il
no date p r o v id e d ). R iv iè r e au S e l is a sta g n a n t p la c e , w h e re h a p p in e s s is in s h o rt
s u p p ly . T h e re fe re n c e to s a lt m a y d e n o te s o m e th in g w h ic h s tin g s , w h ic h b r in g s p a in
an d d is c o n te n t. J o u r n e y in g a w a y fro m th is to w n is a w a y o u t, a w a y th ro u g h the
s ta g n a n c y o f th is s m a ll p la c e w h ic h re s is ts n e w h o r iz o n s , n e w fr o n tie rs . S a n c h e r , as
117
re d e e m e r, h e lp s so m e c h a ra c te r see n e w lig h ts an d re n e w e d p o s s ib ilit ie s , a w a y fro m
the sta g n a n t w a te rs o f R iv iè r e au S e l.
Traversée de la Mangrove
is an e x c e lle n t s tu d y o f th e c o n c e p ts o f p e rs o n a l
an d c u ltu r a l c o lle c t iv e id e n tity . A s in
Une saison à Rihata,
T it u b a ,
Moi, Tituba, sorcière
...
Noire de Salem
an d
id e n tity c o n tin u e s to o p e ra te in a state o f f lu x . T h e id e n titie s o f
M a r ie - H é lè n e
an d
F r a n c is
Sancher
do
not
m a n o e u v re
a lo n g
any
p re d e te rm in e d c o u rs e , an d the m u lti- fa c e te d c h a ra c te r o f t h e ir r e s p e c tiv e id e n titie s is
fo r e v e r c le a r.
118
Patrimony and heritage: the quest for roots in Desirada.
F i r s t p u b lis h e d in 1 9 9 7 ,
Desirada is
C o n d e ’ s tenth n o v e l a n d is the m o s t re c e n t o f the
fo u r n o v e ls e x p lo re d in th is th e s is . A s w it h the th re e o th e r n o v e ls a lr e a d y e x a m in e d ,
Desirada c o n c e rn s
i t s e lf w it h an e x p lo ra tio n o f id e n tity . In d e e d , th e c o n c e p t o f
id e n tity th ro u g h fin d in g o n e ’ s o w n p a re n ta l h e rita g e , is a life - d e fin in g q u e st in th is
n o v e l.
T h e n a r ra tiv e o f
Desirada
is b r ie f ly a s fo llo w s : C o n d e p re s e n ts th re e w o m e n ,
M a r ie - N o e lle , h e r m o th e r R e y n a ld a , an d h e r g ra n d m o th e r, N in a . N in a h a s le f t L a
D e s ira d e , o ne o f G u a d e lo u p e ’ s n e ig h b o u rin g is la n d s , to b e c o m e a s e rv a n t in the h o m e
o f G ia n C a r lo C o p p in i, an It a lia n je w e lle r . R e y n a ld a a c c o m p a n ie s h e r m o th e r to
G u a d e lo u p e , an d a tte n d s s c h o o l th ere . S o m e tim e la te r, R e y n a ld a b e c o m e s p re g n a n t,
d e se rts the It a lia n h o u s e h o ld , an d trie s to c o m m it s u ic id e b y d ro w n in g . H e r a tte m p t is
f o ile d , an d sh e is re s c u e d b y R a n e lis e , a k in d ly lo c a l w o m a n . R a n e lis e lo o k s a fte r
R e y n a ld a u n til M a r ie - N o e lle is b o m , w h e re u p o n R e y n a ld a le a v e s h e r d a u g h te r in
R a n e lis e ’ s c a re an d d e p a rts fo r a b e tte r lif e in P a r is . S h e m a in ta in s n o c o n ta c t w it h
M a r ie - N o e lle u n til ten y e a rs la te r, s u d d e n ly , sh e d e m a n d s M a r ie - N o e lle c o m e liv e
w it h h e r in P a r is . M a r ie - N o e lle is d e e p ly u n h a p p y in P a r is , s a v e fo r the a ff e c tio n o f
L u d o v ic , h e r s te p fa th e r, an d h e r h a lf- b ro th e r, G a r v e y . In h e r la te te e n s sh e m a r rie s
S t a n le y , a m u s ic ia n , an d m o v e s w it h h im to B o s to n . Y e a r s la te r , h e r m a rria g e o v e r ,
a n d s u b s e q u e n tly w id o w e d , sh e re tu rn s b r ie f ly to G u a d e lo u p e f o llo w in g R a n e lis e ’ s
d e ath . A t th is tim e , she tr a v e ls to L a D e s ira d e an d m e e ts N in a fo r th e f ir s t tim e . T h e
r e la t io n s h ip b e tw e e n N in a an d M a r ie - N o e lle is im p o rta n t. I t e s ta b lis h e s so m e se n se o f
lin e a g e fo r M a r ie - N o e lle , a n d sh e e x p e rie n c e s a c lo s e n e s s w it h h e r g ra n d m o th e r
119
w h ic h h a s n o t e x is te d b e tw e e n h e r s e lf an d R e y n a ld a . A s th e n o v e l d r a w s to a c lo s e ,
M a r ie - N o e lle h a s s u c c e e d e d in o b ta in in g a d o c to ra te , a n d e s ta b lis h e s h e r s e lf a s an
a c a d e m ic in A m e r ic a .
T h e c e n tra l fo c u s o f th is n o v e l is an id e n tity q u e st. M a r ie - N o e lle d o e s n o t
k n o w the id e n tity o f h e r fa th e r, an d th is la c k o f k n o w le d g e h a u n ts a n d p re o c c u p ie s
h e r. S u sp e n s e is o m n ip re s e n t in
Desirada,
a n d o n m a n y o c c a s io n s the re a d e r b e lie v e s
th a t the tru th w i l l triu m p h . I t is d if f ic u lt n o t to sh a re w it h M a r ie - N o e lle the te n s io n she
e x p e rie n c e s in tr y in g to p ie c e to g e th e r the p a s t, an d so d is c o v e r w h o she r e a lly is .
S e v e r a l c h a ra c te rs r e la y in fo r m a tio n to M a r ie - N o e lle a b o u t h e r m o th e r ’ s lif e in
G u a d e lo u p e b e fo re le a v in g fo r P a r is . H o w e v e r , o ne c h a r a c te r ’ s v e r s io n o f e v e n ts
c o n flic t s s tro n g ly w it h th o se o f a n o th e r. T h e d e e p e r M a r ie - N o e lle p ro b e s in h e r q u e st
to fin d the tru th , the m o re e lu s iv e th e tru th b e c o m e s . I n fa c t, tru th i t s e lf is p o rtra y e d as
h ig h ly s u b je c tiv e in the n o v e l. In o ne in t e r v ie w , C o n d e e x p la in s w h y tru th is e lu s iv e
in
Desirada:
“ I w a n te d to s h o w th a t th ere is no T r u t h . E v e r y o n e re c o u n ts h is / h e r lif e ,
lif e h is t o r y , d if fe r e n t ly . I t is n o t p o s s ib le to fin d an o b je c tiv e r e a lit y b a s in g o n e ’ s
ju d g e m e n ts s o le ly o n the w o rd s o f o th e rs ” ( M c C o r m ic k 2 0 0 0 p 5 2 0 ). T h e id e a o f tru th
b e in g fo re v e r e lu s iv e an d h ig h ly s u b je c tiv e , is r e m in is c e n t o f S a n c h e r ’ s id e n tity in the
p r e v io u s c h a p te r. O n e ’ s id e n tity is n e c e s s a r ily fra g m e n te d a n d d is s e m in a te d , an d it is
im p o s s ib le to lo c a te e v e r y p ie c e o f the p u z z le w h ic h c o n s titu te id e n tity . In r e la tio n to
Desirada,
C o n d e d o e s n o t sh e d lig h t o n th e is s u e o f th e id e n tity o f M a r ie - N o e lle ’ s
fa th e r. S h e m u s t c o n tin u e to liv e h e r l if e w ith o u t th is k n o w le d g e , a lth o u g h she
b e lie v e s it is v it a l to h e r fu tu re h a p p in e s s .
In th is c h a p te r, I w i l l e x a m in e s e v e r a l a s p e c ts o f h o w id e n tity is p o rtra y e d in
the n o v e l. In p a r tic u la r , I w i l l e x p lo re the h ig h ly c o m p le x c h a ra c te rs o f M a r ie - N o e lle
an d R e y n a ld a , an d a n a ly s e the d if f ic u lt re la tio n s h ip b e tw e e n th e m . I w i l l a ls o a n a ly s e
120
th e c h a ra c te rs o f L u d o v ic a n d N in a , an d f in a lly , I w i l l d is c u s s th e im p o rta n c e o f
e d u c a tio n in the n o v e l.
M a r ie - N o ë lle
In so m e w a y s ,
Desirada
s e rv e s M a r ie - N o ë lle a s a w a y to r e c o n s tru c t p a rts o f h e r lif e
sh e c a n n o t p o s s ib ly re m e m b e r. T h e o p e n in g lin e s o f the n o v e l p o rt ra y h e r as tr y in g to
v is u a lis e h e r o w n b irt h , s o m e th in g w h ic h is c le a r ly im p o rta n t to h e r:
R a n é lis e lu i a v a it ta n t de fo is ra c o n té s a n a is s a n c e q u ’ e lle c r o y a it y a v o ir tenu
u n r ô le ; n o n p a s c e lu i d ’ u n b é b é te rro ris é et p a s s if q u e M m e F le u r e t te , la sag efe m m e , e x t ir p a it d if fic ile m e n t d ’ e n tre le s c u is s e s e n s a n g la n té e s de sa m è re ;
m a is c e lu i d ’ u n té m o in lu c id e ; d ’ u n a c te u r e s s e n tie l, ( p l 3 )
W h a t im m e d ia te im a g e o f th is w o m a n c o m e s to m in d ? T h a t , p e rh a p s , o f so m e o n e
c o n v in c e d sh e h a d e n te re d the w o r ld as a d e te rm in in g fa c t o r , n o t a s a m e re p a s s iv e
n e w b o rn , b u t as a w o m a n c a p a b le o f s te e rin g h e r o w n c o u rs e th ro u g h lif e . A s w e w i l l
see s u b s e q u e n tly , h o w e v e r , M a r ie - N o ë lle w i l l fin d s e lf- d e te rm in a tio n in h e r lif e a
d if f ic u lt , an d at tim e s , a lm o s t im p o s s ib le g o a l.
L i v i n g w it h R a n é lis e , M a r ie - N o ë lle ’ s e a r ly c h ild h o o d is f ille d w it h h a p p in e s s .
R a n é lis e n e v e r sto p s g iv in g th a n k s fo r th is c h ild she n o w h a s , a n d M a r ie - N o ë lle
e x p e rie n c e s firs t- h a n d , the lo v e an d c o m p le te d e v o tio n o f th is w o m a n . I t is in te re s tin g
to n ote th at it is R a n é lis e , an d n o t R e y n a ld a , w h o n a m e s M a r ie - N o ë lle , th u s p o in tin g
to the c o n tra s tin g fe e lin g s o f b o th w o m e n to w a rd s th is c h ild , th e lo v e a n d p o s s e s s iv e
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d e v o tio n o f the s u rro g a te m o th e r v e r s u s the c o ld in d iffe r e n c e o f th e b io lo g ic a l o ne.
G r o w in g o ld e r, a n d no lo n g e r h a v in g a m o th e r w h o lo v e s h e r, M a r ie - N o ë lle b e c o m e s
in c r e a s in g ly c u r io u s a b o u t the id e n tity o f h e r fa th e r, an d p a y s a v is i t o n c e to G ia n
C a r l o ’ s je w e ll e r y sh o p , s e n s in g th is in d iv id u a l h a s h a d so m e r e la t io n s h ip w it h h e r
b io lo g ic a l m o th e r. A t the ag e o f te n , an d b e fo re le a v in g fo r P a r is to r e jo in h e r m o th e r,
R a n é lis e s h o w s h e r a p h o to o f R e y n a ld a ta k e n w h e n the la tte r w a s n in e m o n th s
p re g n a n t w it h M a r ie - N o ë lle . S e e in g , fo r the f ir s t tim e , an im a g e o f h e r m o th e r, a
s u lle n , w e a r y fifte e n - y e a r- o ld R e y n a ld a , M a r ie - N o ë lle is c o n s u m e d b y th e n e e d to
k n o w w h o h e r p a p a is . S h e is a fr a id o f the tru th , th o u g h , a s h e r lig h t s k in su g g e sts th at
h e r fa th e r is n o t b la c k , b u t w h ite :
E n v é r ité , e lle a v a it p e u r de la ré p o n se q u ’ e lle p o u v a it e n te n d re . C ’ e st q u e sa
c o u le u r tra n c h a it s u r le n o ir b o n te in t de c e u x q u i é ta ie n t à l ’ e n to u r d ’ e lle a in s i
qu e sa tig n a s s e ja u n e p a ille et se s y e u x qu e la lu m iè re t ig r a it s e lo n le s
m o m e n ts e n v e r t o u en ja u n e . S o n p a p a , c ’ é ta it sa n s d o u te p o s s ib le u n h o m m e
à p e au c la ir e . U n m u lâ tre ? U n s a in to is ? U n m a u v a is c h a b in ro u g e c o m m e u n
c ra b e c y r iq u e ? P e u t-ê tre m ê m e u n B la n c ? B la n c - p a y s o u b la n c m é tro ,
g e n d a rm e , C . R . S . ? C o m m e n t to lé re r p a r e ille p a te rn ité ? (p 3 4 )
T h e a b o v e q u o te in s is t s u p o n the im p o rta n c e , in M a r ie - N o ë lle ’ s e y e s , o f b e in g a tru e
C a r ib b e a n , an d h ig h lig h t s an im p o rta n t fa c e t o f the id e n tity , the e x is te n c e o f a r a c ia l
a sp e c t. S h e se e s h e r s e lf a s b la c k , w h ic h , fro m h e r p e rs p e c tiv e , is a fo rm o f p u r ity . S h e
d o e s n o t lik e to th in k th at h e r fa th e r m a y n o t be b la c k , in w h ic h c a s e sh e w o u ld be
r a c ia lly im p u re . E v e n at a y o u n g a g e , M a r ie - N o ë lle v ie w s in t e r - ra c ia l r e la t io n s h ip s as
in t o le ra b le , as th is b lu r s o rig in a l id e n tity .
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S h e is a fr a id o f fin d in g o u t h is re a l id e n tity , b u t e q u a lly , sh e d e s p e ra te ly n e e d s
to k n o w w h o h e is . R a n é lis e in s is ts th at a fa th e r is n o t im p o rta n t in th e sc h e m e o f lif e ,
b u t h e r w o rd s f a ll o n d e a f e a rs . A t the age o f te n , M a r ie - N o ë lle h a s a lr e a d y e m b a rk e d
o n h e r id e n tity q u e st, an d “ e lle se j u r a it d ’ y m e ttre le s a n n é e s q u ’ i l fa u d r a it, m a is u n
jo u r de d é c h if fr e r l ’ in d é c h iff r a b le ” (p 3 4 ). It is in te re s tin g to n o te the c o n tra s t b e tw e e n
R a n é lis e an d M a r ie - N o ë lle ’ s v ie w p o in ts h e re . R a n é lis e d o e s n o t e x p e rie n c e the sa m e
n ee d o r u rg e n c y to d is c o v e r M a r ie - N o ë lle ’ s fa th e r. S h e is c o n te n t to le t the d u st s e ttle ,
an d le a v e w h a t is d o n e a lo n e . I t is in d e e d th is id e a o f lif e c o n tin u in g , a n d o f fo rg in g
an id e n tity fo r o n e s e lf re g a rd le s s o f w h e th e r o r n o t o ne k n o w s th e p a s t, w h ic h is , I
b e lie v e c e n tra l to th is n o v e l. I t is a ls o , o f c o u rs e , in h e re n t to C a r ib b e a n id e n tity . A s
h a s b e e n d is c u s s e d in the in tro d u c tio n , th e o rie s s u c h a s
antillanité a n d créolité, are
n o w a tte m p tin g to e m b ra c e e v e r y th in g th at is C a r ib b e a n a n d C r é o le , a n d in d o in g so ,
are tr y in g to c o n c e n tra te o n a liv in g c u ltu r e , ra th e r th an o n a d y in g p a st.
M a r ie - N o ë lle an d R e v n a ld a
F o r te n h a p p y c h ild h o o d y e a r s , M a r ie - N o ë lle h a s k n o w n n o m o th e r e x c e p t fo r
R a n é lis e . R e y n a ld a ’ s le tte r, s ta tin g sh e is n o w a b le to p r o v id e fo r h e r d a u g h te r in
P a r is , is a c r u e l ru p tu re in b o th M a r ie - N o ë lle an d R a n é lis e ’ s liv e s , a n d w i l l a ff e c t b o th
o f th e m h e re a fte r. T h is ru p tu re b e tw e e n s u rro g a te m o th e r a n d d a u g h te r is r e m in is c e n t
o f the le g a c y o f s la v e r y in the C a r ib b e a n , w h e re the f a m ily is s p lit b e c a u s e o f the
d e s ire s o f a n o th e r. In th is c a s e , R e y n a ld a s y m b o lis e s the m a s te r, w h o s e d e s ire (th a t
M a r ie - N o ë lle w i l l n o w liv e in F r a n c e ) m u s t be s a t is fie d . T h i s d e s ire s u p e rc e d e s a n y
o th e r d e s ire s o n the p a rts o f M a r ie - N o ë lle o r R a n é lis e , an d th e y h a v e n o c h o ic e b u t to
c a r r y o u t R e y n a ld a ’ s w is h e s . In ten y e a rs , R e y n a ld a h a s m a in ta in e d n o c o n ta c t w it h
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R a n é lis e , a n d h a s b e e n h a p p y to le a v e G u a d e lo u p e w it h o u t c o n s id e ra tio n fo r h e r
d a u g h te r. In fa c t, M a r ie - N o ë lle ’ s fo rc e d e x o d u s to F r a n c e is the se c o n d ru p tu re in h e r
s h o rt lif e . S h e h a s b e e n d e se rte d b y R e y n a ld a at b irth a n d h a s n o t k n o w n h e r
b io lo g ic a l m o th e r u n til a r r iv in g in F r a n c e . H o w e v e r , the fa c t th at sh e m u s t n o w le a v e
G u a d e lo u p e an d liv e in P a r is m e a n s she w i l l n e v e r a g a in see R a n é lis e .
R e y n a ld a ’ s le tte r to R a n é lis e u n d e rlin e s the c o ld e x a c titu d e o f the fo rm e r.
W h ile th a n k in g th e la tte r fo r h e r h e lp in b rin g in g up h e r d a u g h te r, R e y n a ld a d o e s n o t
p re p a re R a n é lis e fo r the lo s s she w i l l n o w e x p e rie n c e . A p la n e t ic k e t is e n c lo s e d , an d
sh e a s k s R a n é lis e to se n d h e r M a r ie - N o ë lle ’ s s c h o o l a n d m e d ic a l re p o rts . It se e m s
l i k e ly sh e h a s n o t e v e n c o n s id e re d the e ffe c t th is le tte r w i l l h a v e o n e ith e r M a r ie N o ë lle o r R a n é lis e . S h e is s im p ly e x e r c is in g h e r b io lo g ic a l rig h t to h a v e h e r d a u g h te r
b y h e r s id e , re g a rd le s s o f a b a n d o n in g h e r w ith o u t c o n s id e ra tio n y e a rs e a r lie r . A s w e
fin d o u t la te r, r e u n itin g M a r ie - N o ë lle w it h h e r m o th e r h a s n o t b e e n R e y n a ld a ’ s id e a ,
b u t in ste a d L u d o v i c ’ s su g g e stio n . T h e d e s c rip tio n o f M a r ie - N o ë lle ’ s a r r iv a l in P a r is
a n d fir s t m e e tin g w it h h e r m o th e r is s ig n ific a n t. S h e h a s le f t b e h in d h e r the lo v in g
w a r m th o f h e r n a tiv e is la n d , an d P a r is is p o rtra y e d as a c o ld , h o s tile , u n w e lc o m in g
p la c e :
D e h o r s , le c ie l tre m b la it g ris et lo u rd au ra s d e s to itu re s . I l n e ig e a it. E s t- c e
q u ’ i l n e ig e a it ? I l n e ig e ra re m e n t à P a r is . E t p a s le 1er n o v e m b re . E n to u s le s
c a s , il to m b a it d a n s le s o u v e n ir de M a r ie - N o ë lle de g ro s flo c o n s q u i
v o ltig e a ie n t c o m m e d es in s e c te s de n u it a u to u r de la fla m m e d ’ u n e la m p e à
p é tro le . L e s b â tim e n ts , le s p a v é s , le s a u to b u s, le s v o itu r e s e n sta tio n n e m e n t
é ta ie n t re c o u v e rts de p o u d re b la n c h e . Ç à et là , d es a rb re s d re s s a ie n t le u rs
m o ig n o n s e m m a illo té s de b la n c , e u x a u s s i. (p 3 5 )
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R e y n a ld a g re e ts h e r w it h a s m a ll s m ile , b u t d o e s n o t a tte m p t to k is s h e r. F o r M a r ie N o ë lle , “ S a fig u re ne tr a h is s a it rie n . C o m m e s i e lle p o rta it p a r- d e v a n t u n m a s q u e , u n
lo u p q u i c a c h a it se s v r a ie s é m o tio n s ” (p 3 5 ). T h i s e a r ly im a g e o f R e y n a ld a is the o ne
w h ic h w i l l e n d u re the m o st in the n o v e l. W e w i l l see h e r p re s e n te d c o n s ta n tly a s
so m e o n e w h o c a n n o t le t d o w n h e r g u a rd , a s a w o m a n a lw a y s h id in g b e h in d
s o m e th in g , p o s s ib ly h e r p a st. T h e e x te n t to w h ic h R e y n a ld a h a s a lie n a te d M a r ie N o ë lle fro m h e r lif e in P a r is b e c o m e s v e r y o b v io u s w h e n th e la tte r a r r iv e s at h e r n e w
h o m e . R e y n a ld a h a s n e v e r to ld h e r th at sh e h a s a p a rtn e r, L u d o v ic , o r th a t she h a s a
b a b y s o n , G a r v e y , an d M a r ie - N o ë lle m e e ts b o th o f th ese w it h im m e n s e s u rp ris e . In
te rm s o f id e n tity , M a r ie - N o ë lle ’ s n e w - fo u n d f a m ily n e c e s s ita te an im m e d ia te re ­
n é g o c ia tio n o f h e r “ f a m ily sta tu s ” (S m it h 19 95 p i 3 0 ). In s te a d o f a r r iv in g in a stra n g e
c it y to liv e s o le ly w it h the m o th e r w h o ab a n d o n e d h e r at b ir t h , M a r ie - N o ë lle m u s t
le a rn to ste e r a n e w c o u rs e w it h in the b o u n d a rie s o f a f a m ily w h ic h h a s e x is te d
w ith o u t h e r. A l l at o n c e , sh e h a s b e c o m e a d a u g h te r w it h tw o p a re n ts, a n d is a ls o an
o ld e r s is te r. W h ile it is ir o n ic , th at the lim ite d h a p p in e s s sh e fin d s in P a r is is d e riv e d
fro m h e r n e w fa th e r an d b ro th e r, an d n o t fro m h e r m o th e r, M a r ie - N o ë lle m a n a g e s to
n e g o c ia te h e r n e w sta tu s w e ll. F o r the f ir s t tim e , sh e is p a rt o f a f a m ily u n it, an d th is is
s o m e th in g w h ic h she a p p re c ia te s . S h e e n jo y s v e r y m u c h p la y in g w it h G a r v e y , a n d is
c o n s c io u s th at L u d o v ic is n o w a fa th e r fig u re in h e r lif e .
T h e a tm o s p h e ric d e s c rip tio n s o f h e r n e w h o m e lif e in F r a n c e a re s ig n ific a n t . I f
M a r ie - N o ë lle h as h a rb o u re d h op e th at sh e m ig h t n o w c o m e to k n o w h e r m o th e r, she
is s a d ly m is t a k e n . R e y n a ld a , th o u g h b io lo g ic a l m o th e r to h e r a n d G a r v e y , is the
a n tith e s is o f a c a r in g m o th e r fig u re in th e ir liv e s . V e r y s o o n , M a r ie - N o ë lle r e a lis e s
th at it is L u d o v ic w h o p ro v id e s a ll c a re in the f a m ily , w h ile R e y n a ld a w o r k s as a
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w e lfa r e o f f ic e r b y d a y an d w r it e s a th e s is b y n ig h t. S h e d is p la y s n o lo v e w h a ts o e v e r
fo r h e r d a u g h te r, a n d se e m s o n ly c a p a b le o f b r ie f m o m e n ts o f a ff e c tio n fo r G a r v e y :
M ê m e G a r v e y et se s p e tits c a p r ic e s n e re te n a ie n t p a s so n a tte n tio n . E l l e le
p re n a it c o n tre e lle u n m o m e n t p u is , v it e , le d é p o s a it p a r te rre , la s s é e , à
n o u v e a u h ap p é e p a r so n in d iffé r e n c e ” . (p 4 0 )
H o ld in g G a r v e y , a lb e it fo r a fe w s h o rt m in u te s , d o e s n o t g iv e R e y n a ld a a n y
p le a s u re . S h e r e a lis e s th a t, as a m o th e r, sh e s h o u ld ta k e h e r so n in h e r a r m s , b u t is
in c a p a b le o f g iv in g h im a n y r e a l lo v e . S h e is a n re lu c ta n t m o th e r, w h o c le a r ly , is
u n f u lf ille d b y the j o y s an d d e m a n d s o f m o th e rh o o d .
T o re tu rn to the d e fin itio n o f id e n tity a s a n e x a m in a tio n o f o n e ’ s “ lin e a g e ,
f a m ily s ta tu s, an d p la c e o f b irt h o r re s id e n c e ” ( S m it h 1 9 9 5 p i 3 0 ), w e c a n see th at
R e y n a ld a ’ s id e n tity is n o t w h o lly c o n c e rn e d w it h h e r lin e a g e o r h e r f a m ily sta tu s. H e r
p la c e o f b irth is im p o rta n t to h e r, an d I w i l l e x a m in e th is is s u e s h o r tly . In re la t io n to
lin e a g e , th o u g h , h e r o n ly f a m ily m e m b e r is N in a , w h o m sh e d e s p is e s , a n d w it h w h o m
sh e h a s s e v e re d a ll c o n ta c t. T h e d o m in a n t an d d e fin in g fa c e t o f h e r id e n tity is h e r
w o r k an d s tu d ie s , an d th is ta k e s p re c e d e n c e o v e r e v e r y o th e r a s p e c t o f h e r lif e . M u c h
o f the tim e , R e y n a ld a in h a b its h e r o w n p r iv a te s p a c e . S h e re ta in s n o in te re s t in h e r
m ilie u , o r in th e liv e s o f L u d o v ic , M a r ie - N o ë lle o r G a r v e y :
D ’ a u tre s jo u r s , de re to u r de la m a ir ie , e lle t ir a it s u r e lle c o m m e u n e d a lle de
to m b e a u la p o rte de sa c h a m b re . Q u a n d e lle c é d a it a u x a p p e ls in s is ta n ts de
L u d o v ic , c ’ é ta it p o u r s ’ a s s e o ir à la ta b le d u d în e r s a n s to u c h e r à so n a s s ie tte et
p o u r f i x e r m u e tte , c o m m e b o u d e u s e , l ’ é c ra n a u x m ille c o u le u r s de la
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t é lé v is io n , a b s o rb é e q u ’ e lle é ta it p a r u n e o b s e s s io n q u ’ e lle n e p a rta g e a it a v e c
p e rs o n n e . E l l e n ’ a v a it p a s de c o n v e rs a tio n . E l l e é c o u ta it s a n s m o t d ire L u d o v ic
q u i fa is a it d e m a n d e s et ré p o n s e s . E n u n m o t, e lle ne p a r a is s a it s ’ in té re s s e r à
r ie n . N i à la c u ltu r e , n i à la p o lit iq u e , a u x h a u ts et b a s de l ’ A f r iq u e n o ire q u i
p a s s io n n a ie n t L u d o v ic . D e s f o is , u n liv r e p a s s a it e n tre se s m a in s . C h a q u e fo is ,
M a r ie - N o ë lle a v a it l ’ im p re s s io n qu e s e u ls se s y e u x p a r c o u r a ie n t le s s ig n e s
im p rim é s s u r la p a g e , ta n d is qu e so n e s p rit re s ta it p r is o n n ie r d ’ im a g e s q u ’ e lle
ne p o u v a it p a s o u b lie r. (p p 3 9 - 4 0 )
O n e se n se s th at R e y n a ld a is b e in g h e ld p r is o n e r b y s o m e th in g in h e r p a st
w h ic h she c a n n o t fo rg e t, s o m e th in g w h ic h h a u n ts h e r a n d h o ld s h e r c a p t iv e . O n a
s y m b o lic le v e l, th is is r e m in is c e n t o f th e C a r ib b e a n p a s t, a p a s t f ille d w it h
u n s p e a k a b le h o rro rs , w h ic h the C a r ib b e a n s fin d d if f ic u lt to la y to re s t. I t is th ro u g h
h e r w o r k , th at R e y n a ld a se e m s c a p a b le o f tra n s c e n d in g th e a p p a re n t h o rro rs in h e r
o w n lif e . H o w e v e r , h e r d a ily f a m ily lif e is o ne o f lis t le s s n e s s a n d in d iffe r e n c e , n o t
d is s im ila r to M a r ie - H é lè n e in
Une saison à Rihata.
A s m o th e rs , b o th R e y n a ld a an d
M a r ie - H é lè n e a re w e ig h e d d o w n b y m o th e rh o o d . T h e y do n o t a p p e a r c a p a b le o f
lo v in g t h e ir f a m ilie s , an d in s te a d sp e n d th e ir tim e b ro o d in g o v e r a p a s t th e y w o u ld
ra th e r fo rg e t. In d e e d th e y are b o th ro o te d to th e ir p a s ts. M a r ie - H é lè n e , as w e h a v e
se e n , h a s c a s t a s id e a n y a m b itio n s she o n c e h e ld , an d th is s e c u re s h e r sta g n a n t
r e la tio n s h ip w it h the p a st. R e y n a ld a , at le a s t, a tte m p ts to b r e a k w it h h e rs th ro u g h a
d e d ic a tio n to h e r w o r k . T h i s m a y be R e y n a ld a ’ s w a y o f a c h ie v in g a n e w id e n tity .
P r o fe s s io n a l re c o g n itio n is an im p o rta n t c o n c e p t in th is n o v e l, a n d w i l l be e x p lo re d
la te r.
127
A lth o u g h sh e d o e s n o t se e m to lo v e h e r d a u g h te r, R e y n a ld a , n o n e th e le s s ,
e x e r c is e s h e r a u to n o m y o v e r M a r ie - N o e lle at o ne s ig n if ic a n t p a rt in th e n o v e l. A
c o u s in o f L u d o v i c ’ s , w h o s e f a m ily sp e n d tim e w it h th e m in P a r is , w is h e s , u p o n th e ir
re tu rn to G u in e a , to b r in g M a r ie - N o e lle b a c k w it h th e m . R e y n a ld a ’ s in d iffe r e n c e to
h e r d a u g h te r h a s b e e n m o st e v id e n t to th e m , an d th e y r e c k o n th e y c o u ld m a k e h e r lif e
m u c h b e tte r. H o w e v e r , R e y n a ld a w i l l n o t p a rt w it h M a r ie - N o e lle . S m ith a rg u e s “ th a t
an im p lic it m o d e l o f p ro p e rty re la tio n s u n d e rlie s c e rta in v ie w s a b o u t p a re n tin g ”
(S m it h 1 9 8 4 p i 9 9 ), an d re g a rd le s s o f w h e th e r o r n o t p a re n ts lo v e t h e ir c h ild r e n ,
o ffs p r in g m a y be se e n as o b je c ts o v e r w h ic h th e y , th e p a re n ts , e x e r c is e c o m p le te
s o v e r e ig n ity . F o r S m it h , “ e le m e n ts o f the p ro p e rty m o d e l in c r e a s in g ly p e rv a d e [ . . . ]
p a re n tin g , e s p e c ia lly a s w o m e n ta k e o n the f u ll p r a c t ic a l a n d in t e lle c tu a l a c t iv it ie s o f
p o lit ic a l p a r tic ip a tio n , an d as g e n d e r r o le s b re a k d o w n ” ( ib id ) . R e y n a ld a is c e r t a in ly a
m o d e m w o m a n , w h o d o es n o t h a v e d if f ic u lt y w it h the s u b v e rs io n o f tra d itio n a l
p a re n tin g ro le s . S h e is the p r im a r y b r e a d w in n e r , an d h e r tru e m o tiv a tio n in lif e is n o t,
to be a m o th e r, b u t in s te a d “ de d e v e n ir q u e lq u ’ u n ” ( p i 9 ) . O w n e r s h ip is an im p o rta n t
c o n c e p t to h e r. T h r o u g h h e r s tu d ie s , sh e h a s a c q u ire d in t e lle c tu a l p ro p e rty , a n d as h e r
c a re e r a d v a n c e s , sh e w i l l be a b le to a ffo r d a m o re lu x u r io u s a p a rtm e n t in P a r is . W h e n
L u d o v i c ’ s f a m ily o ffe r to ta k e M a r ie - N o e lle a w a y w it h th e m , R e y n a ld a se e s th is a s an
e n c ro a c h m e n t u p o n p a rt o f h e r p ro p e rty , the d a u g h te r sh e p o s s e s s e s , b u t d o e s n o t
r e a lly lo v e . R e y n a ld a a p p e a rs in a p a r t ic u la r ly n e g a tiv e lig h t h e re . S h e c a n n o t d is p la y
a n y a ffe c tio n fo r h e r d a u g h te r, b u t e q u a lly , w i l l n o t a llo w a n y o n e e ls e ta k e h e r p la c e
as m o th e r. F o r M a r ie - N o e lle , th is m o m e n t m a r k s h e r r e a lis a tio n th a t sh e a n d h e r
m o th e r are in e x t r ic a b ly lin k e d , an d th at h e r m o th e r e x e r c is e s p o w e r o v e r h e r w h ic h
sh e w i l l n e v e r be a b le to s h a k e o ff:
128
E l l e c o m p rit qu e R e y n a ld a , q u i l ’ a v a it e x p u ls é e , l ’ a v a it a b a n d o n n é e p e n d a n t
d ix a n s , p o u r d e s ra is o n s s e c rè te s , c o n n u e s d ’ e lle s e u le , et q u i n ’ a v a ie n t que
p eu de tra its c o m m u n s a v e c l ’ a m o u r, n ’ e n te n d a it p lu s se s é p a re r d ’ e lle . E lle m ê m e , q u o i q u ’ e lle fa s s e , q u o i que d ’ a u tre s fa s s e n t, ne s ’ e n lib é r e r a it ja m a is .
E l l e p a s s e ra it so n e x is te n c e à s ’ im a g in e r la d o u c e u r in im a g in a b le du te m p s
d ’ a n ta n o ù e lle s a v a ie n t été c o n fo n d u e s d a n s u n e m ê m e c h a ir , à la re g re tte r, à
te n te r de la re tro u v e r. M a is c e s e ra it p e in e p e rd u e . E l l e n ’ y a r r iv e r a it p as et
e lle c h e m in e r a it à ja m a is se u le d a n s so n d é se rt. (p 5 6 )
T h e w o rd “ e x p u ls é e ” is n o ta b le , an d h ig h ly s y m b o lic . M a r ie - H é lè n e a ls o u se d
th is te rm in re la tio n to the b irth o f S ia . A lt e r n a t iv e s to th e c o n c e p t o f e x p u ls io n a re :
e x ile , e v ic t io n , e je c tio n , e x c lu s io n , w it h the fo llo w in g a s a n tith e s e s : a c c e p ta n c e ,
w e lc o m e , in c lu s io n . (R a n d o m H o u s e T h e s a u r u s 1 9 8 9 p 2 5 5 ). In
Desirada,
the
c o n c e p ts o f b irt h an d m o th e rh o o d are n o t se en in te rm s o f w e lc o m e o r a c c e p ta n c e .
R a th e r , the c h ild is “ e x p u ls é e ” fro m the s a fe h a v e n o f its m o th e r ’ s w o m b , an d m u s t
le a rn to fe n d fo r it s e lf, w ith o u t the lo v in g g u id a n c e o f the m o th e r w h o b o re it.
M a r ie - N o ë lle r e a lis e s th at h e r m o th e r fo rm s m u c h o f w h o m sh e h e r s e lf is , an d
a lth o u g h w h e n o ld e r, she w i l l be a b le to fre e h e r s e lf p h y s ic a lly fro m R e y n a ld a , o n a
p s y c h o lo g ic a l le v e l, she b e lie v e s she w i l l a lw a y s b e im p ris o n e d b y h e r. A lth o u g h
c h i e f in the n o v e l’ s c o n s id e ra tio n s is the r e la tio n s h ip b e tw e e n M a r ie - N o ë lle an d
R e y n a ld a , th ere are ju s t tw o e p is o d e s in
Desirada w h e re
R e y n a ld a s p e a k s d ir e c t ly to
h e r d a u g h te r. T h e f ir s t o f th ese ta k e s p la c e in P a r is w h e n M a r ie - N o ë lle , in d iffe r e n t to
h e r lif e , an d c o m p le te ly la c k in g in p e rs o n a l g o a ls o r o b je c tiv e s , is th re a te n e d w it h
e x p u ls io n fro m s c h o o l. In te r e s tin g ly , the n o tio n o f b e in g “ e x p u ls é e ” , th is tim e fro m
the a c a d e m ic r e a lm , c o n tin u e s in to M a r ie - N o ë lle ’ s a d o le s e n c e . R e y n a ld a , w h o h a s
129
n e v e r b o th e re d w it h M a r ie - N o ë lle ’ s lif e , s p e a k s to h e r in a n e ffo r t to m a k e h e r ta k e
s to c k o f h e r lif e . S h e d o e s n o t lo o k d ir e c t ly in to h e r d a u g h te r’ s e y e s d u rin g h e r
m o n o lo g u e , w h ic h is u su a l fo r h e r, a s i f lo o k in g a t M a r ie - N o ë lle s q u a r e ly c o n ju re s up
d e e p ly u n p le a s a n t m e m o rie s . A ls o , th is f ir s t c o n v e rs a tio n w it h h e r d a u g h te r s e e m s to
be u n d e rta k e n in te rm s o f a p e rs o n a l re m e m b ra n c e o f h e r o w n lif e , ra th e r th an p e rh a p s
to a s s is t M a r ie - N o ë lle in h e rs :
E l l e p o s a it à h a u te u r de la fig u re de M a r ie - N o ë lle u n re g a rd q u i, c o m m e
d ’ h a b itu d e , la tr a v e r s a it p o u r p re n d re a p p u i s u r u n e p la c e v a g u e , situ é e
q u e lq u e p a rt, d e rriè re e lle , à d ro ite o u à g a u c h e , u n p e u p lu s h a u t, p e u t-ê tre s u r
u n e é tran g e re p ro d u c tio n qu e L u d o v ic a v a it a c c ro c h é e au m u r. E l l e p a r la it
c o m m e s i c e q u ’ e lle d is a it ne c o n c e rn a it p a s v r a im e n t M a r ie - N o ë lle , c o m m e s i
e lle ne lu i a d d re s s a it p a s la p a ro le , m a is se c o n c e n tra it s u r d e s d iv a g a tio n s
p e rs o n n e lle s . (p 6 1 )
R e y n a ld a ’ s to ne is f ir m , d o g m a tic , an d sh e im p a rts a d v ic e in an a lm o s t im p e rs o n a l
fa s h io n , a s i f M a r ie - N o ë lle is one o f h e r c lie n ts in the w e lf a r e c e n tre :
C ’ e st le t r a v a il q u i m ’ a m is e là o ù j e s u is là . D a n s u n b u re a u au p r e m ie r étage
de la m a ir ie , a v e c u n e s e c ré ta ire à m a d ic té e . C ’ e st le t r a v a il e t p a s a u tre c h o s e .
A u jo u r d ’ h u i, j e ne c o n n a is n i m a ître n i m a ître s s e . Je fa is ce q u e j e v e u x ,
c o m m e j e v e u x , q u a n d je v e u x . P e n d a n t des a n n é e s , le s g e n s m ’ o n t tra ité e
c o m m e u n c h ie n . I l m e je t a ie n t le u rs p a ro le s c o m m e d e s o s à ro n g e r e t m e
c o m m a n d a ie n t: “ R e y n a ld a , f a is c e c i, R e y n a ld a , fa is c e la .” C ’ e st b ie n f in i. I l
fa u t s a v o ir c e q u ’ on v e u t. I l fa u t d é c id e r s o i- m ê m e p a rc e q u e p e rs o n n e ne v it
130
v o tre v ie à v o tre p la c e . O n ne p e u t p a s p re n d re so n te m p s à p le u r n ic h e r et à
r u m in e r s u r c e q u i s ’ e st p ro d u it. J ’ a i f in i p a r le c o m p re n d re . (p 6 2 )
R e y n a ld a s h o w s h e r s e lf h e re as c a p a b le o f th ro w in g o f f th e s h a c k le s o f h e r
p a st. S h e h as su c c e e d e d in p u rs u in g h e r a m b itio n s , a n d liv e s a v e r y d iffe re n t lif e fro m
the o ne N in a h a s le d . S h e is n o w a u to n o m o u s , a n d h e r r is e to s u c c e s s is d u e to h e r
o w n h a rd w o r k , h e r fo c u s an d h e r s e lf- d e te rm in a tio n . M a r ie - N o ë lle ’ s e a r lie r lif e c a n
be se en in s h a rp c o n tra s t w it h th at o f h e r m o th e r ’ s. M a r ie - N o ë lle is n o t c le a r a b o u t
w h a t she r e a lly w a n ts in lif e a n d , h e n c e , h e r y o u n g a d u lth o o d y e a r s a re d ir e c tio n le s s .
R e y n a ld a re c o u n ts h e r e a r ly c h ild h o o d to h e r d a u g h te r. S h e w a s b o m on L a D é s ira d e ,
an d a lth o u g h fo r m a n y , it w a s a d e so la te is la n d , fo r h e r it w a s a b e a u tifu l p la c e . H e r
d e s c rip tio n o f h e r b irth p la c e is v e r y s tr ik in g . S h e ta lk s o f it in te rm s o f in t im a c y an d
p o s s e s s io n , v e r y s im ila r ly to the p rid e an d d e ta ile d k n o w le d g e r e la y e d b y T it u b a ,
w h e n t a lk in g o f B a r b a d o s , o r X a n t ip p e , o f G u a d e lo u p e :
M a is p o u r m o i, p e tite f i l le , c ’ é ta it v r a im e n t “ D é s ir a d a ” , l ’ île d é s iré e s u rg ie s u r
la m e r d e v a n t le s y e u x des m a r in s de C h ris to p h e C o lo m b a p rè s d e s jo u r s et d es
jo u r s . Je p o s s é d a is to u s se s r e c o in s . Je r e s p ir a is so n o d e u r q u a n d le s o le il q u i
l ’ a c h a u ffé e toute la jo u r n é e re p o se e n fin sa tête au fo n d d e l ’e a u . J e p o u v a is
s o u le v e r une ro c h e et n o m m e r a v e c c e rtitu d e le n o m de l ’ in s e c te c a c h é en
d e s s o u s . Je c o n n a is s a is se s r a z y é . (p 6 2 )
T h e is la n d o f L a D é s ira d e is c le a r ly s ig n ific a n t in R e y n a ld a ’ s lif e . I f w e re tu rn to the
d e fin itio n o f id e n tity a s su g g e ste d in the in tro d u c tio n , id e n tity c a n b e in te rro g a te d
th ro u g h a n e x a m in a tio n o f o n e ’ s “ lin e a g e , f a m ily s ta tu s , a n d p la c e o f b irt h o r
131
r e s id e n c e ” (S m it h 1 9 9 5 p i 3 0 ). F o r R e y n a ld a , m u c h o f h e r id e n tity is in t e r lin k e d w it h
L a D é s ir a d e , h e r p la c e o f b irth a n d , a lth o u g h sh e h a s n e v e r re tu rn e d th e re , h e r fo rm e r
is la n d h o m e r e m a in s an im p o rta n t c o n s titu e n t o f h e r id e n tity . B o s s h a r d t su g g e sts th at
the n o v e l’ s title , an d the n a m e o f the is la n d are ir o n ic . D is c o v e r e d in 1 4 9 3 b y
C o lo m b u s , the is la n d “ e st d e v e n u e d é p o to ir p o u r to u te s so rte s de « s u je ts
in d é s ir a b le s » ” (B o s s h a r d t 2 0 0 2 p l 5 2 ), an d a le p e r c o lo n y w a s s u b s e q u e n tly fo u n d e d
o n the is la n d . F o r B o s s h a r d t, th e n o v e l’ s title is ir o n ic a s M a r ie - N o ë lle is h e r s e lf “ n o n d é s iré e ” . I f w e c o n tin u e th is id e a , one c a n a ls o s a y th at R e y n a ld a is “ n o n - d é s iré e ” ,
b o th w o m e n b e in g b o m o u t o f the v io le n c e o f ra p e , a p r e v a le n t th e m e in C o n d é ’ s
w o r k . O f c o u rs e , it is im p o rta n t to n ote in th is n o v e l, th a t w e a re n o t e n t ir e ly su re i f
R e y n a ld a an d M a r ie - N o ë lle are the c h ild r e n o f ra p e . W e h a v e o n ly th e w o rd o f N in a
an d R e y n a ld a w h o c la im th at th is is the c a s e . T h e y o f c o u rs e d is c r e d it th e v e r a c it y o f
e a c h o th e r’ s s to rie s : N in a d o e s n o t b e lie v e R e y n a ld a w a s ra p e d b y G ia n C a r lo , an d
R e y n a ld a b e lie v e s h e r m o th e r h a s n e v e r re je c te d a n y m a n ’ s s e x u a l a d v a n c e s , an d h a s
n o t b e e n ra p e d . R e y n a ld a d o es n o t k n o w the id e n tity o f h e r o w n fa th e r, an d th o u g h
sh e h a s o fte n a s k e d N in a w h o he w a s , N in a ’ s a n s w e r is a lw a y s d iffe re n t. H o w e v e r ,
N in a , a t le a s t, p ro v id e d so m e a n s w e r to h e r c h i l d ’ s q u e s tio n s :
D e s fo is , e lle m e d is a it que c ’ é ta it u n p ê c h e u r à la tra în e p a rti p ê c h e r le th o n
v e r s P e t ite - T e rr e et q u i n ’ é ta it ja m a is r e v e n u . À d ’ a u tre s m o m e n ts , e lle
s o u te n a it q u ’ il é le v a it des c o q s de c o m b a t à B a ie - M a h a u lt . À d ’ a u tre s e n c o re ,
e lle ra c o n ta it q u e c ’ é ta it u n re p a s s e u r de c o u te a u x de S a in t - F r a n ç o is s u r la
g ra n d e île . D a n s la r é a lité , j e c r o is q u ’ e lle - m ê m e ne s a v a it p a s e x a c te m e n t q u i
lu i a v a it d o n n é u n v e n tre p a rc e qu e b e a u c o u p d ’ h o m m e s é ta ie n t m o n té s s u r
e lle p o u r p re n d re le u r p la is ir . (p 6 3 )
132
N in a ’ s “ r é c it ” , la te r o n , w i l l c o n tra d ic t R e y n a ld a ’ s o p in io n th a t h e r m o th e r d id n o t
k n o w the id e n tity o f h e r fa th e r. H o w e v e r , h e re a g a in , o b je c tiv e tru th is n o t to be
fo u n d , as b o th w o m e n c a n o ff e r o n ly th e ir p e rs o n a l v e r s io n s o f w h a t is . Im p o rta n t,
th o u g h , is the n o tio n th a t, a lth o u g h R e y n a ld a w is h e s to k n o w w h o h e r fa th e r is , th is
la c k o f k n o w le d g e d o es n ot b e c o m e a to rtu o u s an d lif e - d e fin in g q u e st a s it w i l l
b e c o m e fo r M a r ie - N o ë lle : “ C o m m e la p lu p a rt d e s a u tre s e n fa n ts , j e n ’ a v a is p a s de
p a p a ” (p 6 3 ). R e y n a ld a ’ s w o rd s h ere b e a r w it n e s s to f a m ily c o m p o s itio n in the F r e n c h
C a r ib b e a n , m a n y f a m ilie s h ea d e d b y a m a tr ia r c h .
R e y n a ld a d ra w s u p o n the im p o rta n c e o f e d u c a tio n in h e r c o n v e rs a t io n w it h
M a r ie - N o ë lle . S h e e x p o s e s the u n ju s t b ia s e s o f the te a c h e rs in s c h o o l, w h e re as a
b la c k c h ild , h e r s u p e rio r g ra d e s are u n w e lc o m e :
P o u rta n t la p lu s g ran d e c h a n c e c ’ é ta it c e lle - là : p a u v re m a lh e u re u s e qu e j ’ é ta is ,
s a n s s o u lie r s , n i b o n n e s ro b e s , n i liv r e s n e u fs , n i c a h ie r s a v e c d es p ro tè g e c a h ie r s , j ’ é ta is la p re m iè re à l ’ é c o le . L e s m a ître s s e s é ta ie n t o ffu s q u é e s . E l le s
tro u v a ie n t c e la d é p la c é en q u e lq u e so rte . E l le s a u ra ie n t p ré fé ré re m e ttre le s
b u lle tin s ro s e s à le u rs c h o u c h o u x à p e au c la ir e . R ie n à fa ir e . C ’ e st m o i,
R e y n a ld a T it a n e , q u i le s r a f la is to u s. O n a u ra it d it q u e j e le s c o lle c tio n n a is . Je
le s ra n g e a is d a n s u n e b o îte à b is c u its L u . Je le s n u m é ro ta is . (p p 6 3 - 6 4 )
A t a y o u n g a g e , R e y n a ld a is p o rtra y e d a s d e fia n t, w il l i n g to c h a lle n g e the in e q u a litie s
o f the s y s te m , a n d a b le to w ith s ta n d the r a c ia l p r e ju d ic e s o f h e r c h ild h o o d . I t is th is
d e fia n c e o f, an d r e s is ta n c e to r a c ia l in e q u a litie s , w h ic h w i l l d r iv e h e r to w a rd s
a c a d e m ic an d lit e r a r y s u c c e s s in la te r y e a rs . T h e in s is te n c e u p o n c it in g h e r f u ll n am e
133
is in te re s tin g in the a b o v e q u o te. R e y n a ld a g iv e s h e r f u ll n a m e , th u s p la c in g an
e m p h a s is o n h e r p a trim o n y .
R e y n a ld a re c o u n ts the e v e n ts w h ic h le d to N in a an d h e r m o v in g to
G u a d e lo u p e , h e r b e a u tifu l v o ic e b e in g h e a rd b y the b is h o p , f o llo w e d b y th e o ff e r o f a
s e r v a n t ’ s p o s itio n fo r N in a in G ia n C a r l o ’ s h o u s e , an d the p le d g e o f s c h o o l fo r
R e y n a ld a u n til the ag e o f s ix te e n . S h e r e la y s h e r h a tre d fo r G ia n C a r lo w h o re ig n e d
o v e r a h o u se o f w o m e n , o v e r h is fr a g ile w if e A r c a n ia , h is f iv e d a u g h te rs an d h is tw o
s is te r s , a ll o f w h o m he tre ate d w it h d e ris io n . R e y n a ld a ’ s d e s c rip tio n o f th e a f f a ir
b e tw e e n h e r m o th e r an d G ia n C a r lo is p o rtra y e d in te rm s o f lo a th in g a n d re p u g n a n c e .
S h e d e s p is e s b o th o f th e m , b u t e x p re s s e s m o re d is g u s t fo r h e r m o th e r, w h o m sh e se es
as a s a la c io u s , s u b s e rv ie n t w o m a n , in c a p a b le o f k n o w in g h e r o w n m in d :
Je n ’ e n te n d a is ja m a is m a m a m a n et c ’ é ta it p lu s h id e u x e n c o re . E l l e a u ra it c r ié ,
p ro te sté , se s e ra it b attu e q u e je l ’ a u ra is p la in te c o m m e u n e v ic t im e . E l l e a u ra it
p r is so n p la is ir q u e je l ’ a u ra is c o n s id é ré e c o m m e u n e bête en c h a le u r. M a is ce
s ile n c e fa is a it d ’ e lle u n o b je t p a s s if , u n e b o n n e à to u t fa ir e . (p 7 0 )
R e y n a ld a se es h e r m o th e r o n ly in te rm s o f a s e rv a n t w h o is b e in g u se d b y G ia n C a r lo
fo r s e x u a l fu lf illm e n t . S h e c h o o s e s to ig n o re the fa c t th at h e r m o th e r h a s le f t L a
Désirade to work for Gian Carlo because of her. Nina has come to work in
G u a d e lo u p e so th at R e y n a ld a w i l l r e c e iv e an e d u c a tio n . In th is w a y , sh e c a n be se en
as a m o th e r w h o , w h e n o ffe re d the c h a n c e , d o e s w h a t sh e b e lie v e s is n e c e s s a r y to
a ffo r d h e r d a u g h te r the o p p o rtu n itie s she h a s n o t h a d h e r s e lf. A s sh e g ro w s o ld e r,
R e y n a ld a w i l l b e c o m e s e lf- d e te rm in e d , c o ld a n d e x a c t in g , th e v e r y a n tith e s is o f h o w
it is sh e p e rc e iv e s h e r m o th e r to b e . A ls o , a s w e w i l l la te r see in e x p lo r in g h e r
134
r e la t io n s h ip w it h L u d o v ic , sh e w i l l n e v e r a llo w a n y m a n to e x e r c is e c o n tro l o r
a u th o rity o v e r h e r. T h e in t e n s it y o f h e r fe e lin g s is e v id e n t in the p o w e r o f h e r s y n ta x :
Je le h a ïs s a is . Je h a ïs s a is m a m a m a n . Je n e s a v a is p a s le q u e l j e h a ïs s a is le p lu s .
Je r ê v a is de le s tu e r. D e la m a n iè re la p lu s a tro c e et la p lu s s a n g u in a ire .
J ’ im a g in a is m ille m a n iè re s de le s to rtu re r. I l f a lla it q u ’ i ls s o u ffr e n t, c e s
m o n s tre s . (p 7 0 )
R e y n a ld a is o v e rc o m e w it h h o rro r at the fa c t th at h e r m o th e r s u c c u m b s n ig h t ly to the
a d v a n c e s o f G ia n C a r lo . N in a m ig h t be p e rc e iv e d th o u g h , a s
“Vamoureuse”, a
w om an
u n a fra id o f h e r s e x u a lit y , s im ila r ly to the w a y T it u b a w a s p e rc e iv e d . R e y n a ld a is
e v e r y th in g h e r m o th e r is n o t: s e x u a lly re p re s se d an d w a r y o f m e n . T h e id e a th a t sh e
im a g in e s k illin g N in a , b rin g s to m in d the n o tio n o f F r e u d ’ s E le c t r a C o m p le x , w h e re a
y o u n g g ir l, w h o is je a lo u s o f h e r m o th e r s e x u a lly , d e s ire s to k i l l h e r. F o r F r e u d , the
E le c t r a C o m p le x a ls o e n ta ile d fe e lin g s o f in te n s e lo v e b y a d a u g h te r fo r h e r fa th e r.
R e y n a ld a , th o u g h , d o e s n o t k n o w h e r o w n fa th e r, an d h e r e m o tio n s to w a rd s G ia n
C a r lo are s im p ly th o se o f h a tre d , an d n o t je a lo u s y . I t is in te re s tin g , th a t la te r in the
n o v e l M a r ie - N o ë lle w i l l h a rb o u r a m b ig io u s fe e lin g s fo r L u d o v ic , s e e in g h im a s b o th a
fa th e r fig u re an d a ls o a s a p o te n tia l lo v e r.
A t th is p o in t R e y n a ld a sto p s s u d d e n ly , a s i f d r a m a t ic a lly a w o k e n fro m a
tra n c e . I t is as i f sh e h a s b e e n c o m p le te ly u n a w a re u n til n o w , th a t sh e h a s b e e n
s p e a k in g to h e r d a u g h te r, b u t n o w re a s o n an d r e a lis a tio n h a v e b e e n re s to re d to h e r.
F o r S a lv a d o n , c it in g Ju d ith L e w is H e r m a n ’ s
Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath o f
Violence - From Domestic Abuse to Political Terror,
R e y n a ld a ’ s t e llin g o f h e r s to ry
s e e m s to c o n ju re up tra u m a tic m e m o rie s (S a lv a d o n 1 9 9 9 ). “ T r a u m a t ic m e m o r y , [ . . . ]
135
is w o rd le s s a n d s ta tic . T h e s u r v iv o r ’ s in it ia l a c c o u n t o f the e v e n t m a y be r e p e titio u s ,
ste re o ty p e d an d e m o tio n le s s ” (S a lv a d o n 1 9 9 9 p 2 5 1 ). I t is in d e e d in t h is fra m e o f m in d
th a t R e y n a ld a ’ s n a r ra tiv e is re to ld . S h e is c le a r ly c a p a b le o f re c o u n tin g h e r ta le
w it h o u t re c o u rs e to e m o tio n , a lm o s t in a c lip p e d an d s ta c c a to fa s h io n . S h e is c a p a b le
o f d e p e rs o n a lis in g h e r o w n p e rs o n a l tra g e d y . W a k in g fro m h e r s e m i- c o n s c io u s state,
h o w e v e r , s h e is n o t a b le to c o n tin u e h e r n a r ra tiv e :
E l l e re g a rd a d ’ u n a ir é to n n é M a r ie - N o ë lle q u i, t e r r ifié e , b u v a it se s p a ro le s , et
e lle se m it d e b o u t. E l l e e u t u n c u r ie u x m o u v e m e n t de to u t le c o rp s c o m m e s i
e lle s ’ é b ro u a it, p u is re to u rn a d a n s so n b u re a u . (p p 7 0 - 7 1 )
M a r ie - N o ë lle m u s t w a it s e v e r a l y e a rs b e fo re h e r m o th e r c o m p le te s th e s to ry o f h e r
p a st. M a r rie d r e c e n t ly to S t a n le y , an d a b o u t to le a v e fo r B o s t o n , M a r ie - N o ë lle v is it s
h e r m o th e r, L u d o v ic a n d G a r v e y in th e ir n e w a p a rtm e n t in P a r is . R e y n a ld a is p re g n a n t
an d v e r y tire d . L e f t a lo n e to g e th e r in th e a fte rn o o n , R e y n a ld a s p e a k s d ir e c t ly an d
c a n d id ly to M a r ie - N o ë lle . S h e a c k n o w le d g e s th at sh e is n o t a g o o d m o th e r, th at
M a r ie - N o ë lle an d G a r v e y are n o t h a p p y b e c a u se o f th is . S h e e x c u s e s h e r s e lf
s o m e w h a t, s ta tin g sh e c a n n o t g iv e w h a t sh e h a s n o t r e c e iv e d h e r s e lf, a s i f d ir e c t ly
c r it ic is in g h e r o w n m o th e r a n d u p b rin g in g :
J e n ’ a i p a s v o u lu c e t e n fa n t. C ’ e st L u d o v ic . Je ne s u is p a s b o n n e p o u r la
m a te rn ité , tu e n s a is q u e lq u e c h o s e . E t à c a u s e de c e la , tu n ’ es p a s h e u re u s e .
G a r v e y n o n p lu s n ’ e st p a s h e u re u x . V o u s c r o y e z qu e j e n ’ a i p a s s o u c i de v o u s ?
V o u s v o u s tro m p e z , m a is j e n e p e u x p a s v o u s d o n n e r c e q u e j e n ’ a i ja m a is
r e ç u m o i- m ê m e , ( p l 0 1 )
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T h e th e m e o f lo v e n o t b e in g tra n s m itte d fro m m o th e r to c h ild a p p e a rs o fte n in
C o n d é ’ s w r it in g . I n
in
Une saison à Rihata,
Traversée de la Mangrove,
M a r ie - H é lè n e h a s d if f ic u lt y lo v in g S ia , an d
R o s a fin d s it h a rd to lo v e V i l m a . I n
Desirada,
Condé
ta k e s th is id e a a step fu rth e r an d in tro d u c e s a fu rth e r g e n e ra tio n o f w o m e n in c a p a b le
o f lo v in g th e ir o ffs p rin g : N in a h a s n o t lo v e d R e y n a ld a , a n d h e n c e R e y n a ld a c a n n o t
lo v e M a r ie - N o ë lle . T h e a b s e n c e o f lo v e is p o rtra y e d a s s o m e th in g a lm o s t in fe c tio u s ,
th a t tra n s c e n d s m a tr ia r c h a l lin e s an d is p e rp e tu a te d in th e liv e s o f fu tu re g e n e ra tio n s .
R e y n a ld a re c o m m e n c e s the s to ry o f h e r p a s t lif e . S h e in fo r m s M a r ie - N o ë lle
th at sh e c a n o n ly te ll h e r the tru th , an d h o p e th at h e r d a u g h te r m ig h t th e n ta k e up h e r
o w n lif e :
C ’ e st to u t ce qu e j e p e u x te d o n n e r. L a v é r ité . D a n s l ’ e s p o ir q u e tu
c o m p re n d ra s et, qu e de ce tte m a n iè re , tu c o m m e n c e ra s à v iv r e ta v ie . ( p l 0 2 )
T h e im a g e o f R e y n a ld a u n til n o w , is o f a w o m a n w h o m M a r ie - N o ë lle d o e s n o t, an d
c a n n o t k n o w , w h o liv e s in a p r iv a te w o r ld a n d w h o h id e s h e r s e lf b e h in d h e r s tu d ie s .
A t th is p o in t in the n o v e l, R e y n a ld a in d ic a te s th at she is a w a r e o f h e r d a u g h te r’ s
u n h a p p in e s s , a n d , h e n c e , she h a s n o t b e en o b liv io u s to M a r ie - N o ë lle ’ s n e e d s. S h e is
s im p ly in c a p a b le o f re s p o n d in g to th e m .
R e y n a ld a ’ s s to ry stu n s M a r ie - N o ë lle , the ta le o f h e r ra p e , n ig h t a fte r n ig h t b y G ia n
C a r lo , in the c o n d o n in g p re s e n c e o f N in a . T h e p r e c is io n a n d e x a c titu d e w it h w h ic h
sh e d e s c rib e s the n o c tu rn a l e v e n ts o f h e r c h ild h o o d , le a v e M a r ie - N o ë lle in little d o u b t
as to the v e r a c it y o f h e r m o th e r’ s a c c o u n t o f e v e n ts . I f R e y n a ld a is t e llin g th e tru th ,
137
th e n th e re c a n be no q u e s tio n b u t th at G ia n C a r lo is h e r fa th e r. A s h a s a lr e a d y b e e n
se e n , M a r ie - N o ë lle c a n n o t b e a r to a c c e p t the fa c t th a t h e r fa th e r m ig h t b e w h ite . In the
n o v e l, G ia n C a r lo h as n e v e r b e e n p o rtra y e d a s an e x e m p la r y fig u re . O n the c o n tr a r y ,
he is u n fa it h fu l to h is w if e , an d m is tre a ts h is s is te rs an d c h ild r e n . I t is c le a r th at
R e y n a ld a h ate s h im . I f G ia n C a r lo is in d e e d h e r fa th e r, M a r ie - N o ë lle w i l l n o t be a b le
to lo o k b a c k u p o n h e r p a t ria r c h ia l lin e a g e w it h a n y se n se o f p rid e o r h a p p in e s s . T h e
id e a th at G ia n C a r lo , a w h ite m a n , is e x a m in e d fro m the p o in t o f v ie w o f b e in g a
p o te n tia l ra p is t, is r e m in is c e n t o f the n o tio n o f ra p e b y w h ite m a s te rs , w h ic h h a s
a lw a y s b e e n a c o m m o n lin k in C a r ib b e a n lin e a g e . T h e ra p e o f s la v e s w a s a c o m m o n
o c c u rre n c e in p la n ta tio n lif e , an d m a n y C a r ib b e a n s a re th e d is ta n t a n c e s to rs o f w h ite
c o lo n is e r s .
L u d o v ic
A s a fa th e r fig u re , an d p o s it iv e ro le m o d e l in M a r ie - N o ë lle ’ s lif e , L u d o v ic is the
a n tith e s is o f the n e g a t iv it y w h ic h s u rro u n d s G ia n C a r lo . A c a r in g , r e s p o n s ib le an d
a tte n tiv e m a n , he is n o t t y p ic a l o f m a s c u lin e re p re s e n ta tio n in C o n d é ’ s w o r k . A s
M a r ie - N o ë lle so o n le a rn s , it is h e , an d n o t R e y n a ld a , w h o p r o v id e s m u c h -n e e d e d
s t a b ilit y fo r h e r in P a r is . H e is a n in te re s tin g c h a ra c te r, in th a t, a lth o u g h b o m in H a it i,
h e is in so m e w a y s “ id e n tity - le s s ” , an d n o t a n c h o re d to a n y p a r t ic u la r c o u n try :
“ L u d o v ic m a rq u a it to u jo u rs u n te m p s d ’ h é s ita tio n lo r s q u ’ o n lu i d e m a n d a it d ’ o ù i l
é ta it” (p 3 8 ). T h e n a r ra tiv e is a d v o c a tin g h e re the n o tio n th a t id e n tity n ee d n o t be
s ta tic , o r a g iv e n , an d th at jo u r n e y in g is in i t s e lf a w a y o f s e e k in g a n d p e rh a p s fin d in g
o n e ’ s id e n tity . T h o u g h w e do n o t le a rn o f h is m o th e r at a ll in the n o v e l, L u d o v i c ’ s
fa th e r h a d t r a v e lle d w id e ly , an d L u d o v ic , fo llo w in g h im , h a d v is it e d m a n y c o u n trie s
138
an d w o r k e d in m a n y d if fe r in g jo b s . H is lif e h a s b e e n o n e o f b o th c h a n g e an d d iv e r s it y
a n d , a lth o u g h n o t f o r m a lly e d u ca te d b e y o n d p r im a r y s c h o o l, h e is n o n e th e le s s
e d u c a te d in the w a y s o f the w o r ld :
D è s se s d ix - h u it a n s , L u d o v ic a v a it m a rc h é s u r c e s tra c e s et c o m m e n c é se s
p é g é rin a tio n s . I l a v a it la is s é lo in d e rriè re le m a lh e u r s a n s fo n d d ’ H a ït i, tâté d es
É t a t s - U n is d ’ A m é r iq u e , du C a n a d a , de l ’ A lle m a g n e , de l ’ A f r iq u e a v a n t
d ’ a t te rr ir en B e lg ig u e et d ’ e n ja m b e r la fro n tiè re ju s q u ’ à P a r is . I l a v a it été
d o c k e r d a n s le p o rt de N e w Y o r k , in s titu te u r à K o u lik o r o , au M a li, jo u r n a lis t e
à M a p u to en M o z a m b iq u e et m u s ic ie n s u r la p la c e de l ’ H o rlo g e à B r u x e lle s .
(p 3 8 )
H is e a r lie r lif e , o ne o f tr a v e l an d la c k o f fo rm a l e d u c a tio n , c o n tra s ts d e e p ly w it h
R e y n a ld a ’ s lif e , an d it is q u e s tio n a b le w h e th e r, d e sp ite h is lo v e fo r h e r, h e c a n r e a lly
u n d e rsta n d h e r. A b o v e a ll, he b e lie v e s in the s a n c tity o f th e f a m ily u n it, an d m a k e s
e v e r y e ffo r t to w e lc o m e h is n e w d a u g h te r in to th e ir h o m e . L u d o v ic a n d M a r ie - N o e lle
fo rg e a c lo s e b o n d in P a r is , a b o n d w h ic h w i l l n o t b e b r o k e n , in s p ite o f se p a ra tio n s
an d d e p a rtu re s . A s M a r ie - N o ë lle w i l l s u b s e q u e n tly le a rn , it is L u d o v ic w h o h a s
p e rsu a d e d R e y n a ld a to se n d fo r h e r to c o m e a n d liv e w it h th e m in F r a n c e , an d he w i l l
b e c o m e in m a n y w a y s , the fa th e r sh e h a s n e v e r h a d . H e is a f a m ily m a n , an d b e lie v e s
th a t a c h ild s h o u ld be w it h its m o th e r. H e o v e r lo o k s the fa c t , th o u g h , th a t R e y n a ld a is
r e a lly a m o th e r in b io lo g ic a l te rm s o n ly , an d d o es n o t r e q u ire o r d e s ire th a t h e r
d a u g h te r liv e s w it h h e r. A lth o u g h w e ll- m e a n in g , a s a p a re n t, h e m a y n o t a lw a y s m a k e
the rig h t d e c is io n s fo r h is c h ild r e n .
139
His love and tireless devotion for Reynalda is almost surprising. A s aforesaid,
he does not typify what is sometimes the representation o f the Caribbean male, as
lazy, irresponsible, regularly absent in fam ily life. Ludovic is the antithesis o f such
traits, and is really a model “ house husband” . He is truly caring o f Reynalda, despite
her long silences and moodiness, and endeavours to look after her regardless:
D e la même manière, il avait la charge entière de Reynalda. Il ne lui adressait
la parole qu’ en espagnol, la langue de sa petite enfance, comme si, à travers
elle, il voulait retourner vers le temps où il n ’avait pas connaissance des orages
de la vie. Il supportait sa constante lassitude, interprétait des silences, et sans
servilité, comme un aîné qui comprend tout, prévenait ses moindres désirs. Un
jour qu’ elle passait devant la porte de leur chambre, M arie-N o elle le vit assis à
côté de Reynalda endormie avec la mine d ’une maman qui veille le sommeil
d ’ un nourrisson mal portant. (p39)
The above quote demonstrates the maternal aspect o f Ludovic. N ot only does he care
for M arie-Noëlle and Garvey, but he is also very much a mother figure to Reynalda.
In reality he is both mother and father to the family. This is in stark contrast with
Reynalda, who seems incapable o f embracing any aspect o f parenthood.
Ludovic speaks to Reynalda in Spanish, “ la langue de sa petite enfance”
(p39). One can often express oneself more deeply in the language o f one’ s childhood.
A s was examined in the introduction, some Caribbean writers and theorists such as
Patrick Chamoiseau, view language as a defining constituent in one’ s identity.
Spanish is the language o f L u d o vic’ s childhood, and is inextricably bound with a
notion o f innocence, reminiscent o f happier time in his life. W hen he speaks to
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Reynalda in Spanish, he is able to recapture part o f his earlier identity, part o f a
bygone time, when life was perhaps simpler, and when, “ il n ’ avait pas connaissance
des orages de la vie” (p39). It is possible, that he, unlike Reynalda and M arie-Noelle,
is not capable o f facing reality.
Ludovic is reminiscent o f Zek in
Une saison a Rihata.
Both are extremely
patient men, both hold their w ives in high esteem. Ludovic is very proud o f
R eynalda’ s achievements and studies, while Zek had admired his w ife ’ s earlier
ambitions and political ideals, and both are able to withstand the moodiness and
indifference present in their w ive s’ lives. In fact, it is questionable whether Ludovic
and Z ek are actually loved b y Reynalda and Marie-Helene. Ludovic and Zek are
excellent fathers while their female counterparts are almost incapable o f loving their
children. It is Ludovic, who endeavours to hold together his fam ily, and who tries to
maintain a semblance o f normality in their home. It is he also, who facilitates
Reynalda in the pursuit o f her studies, though for this he w ill not receive any
gratitude. He is a loyal and loving partner and father, and has a stabilising effect on
the lives o f those around him. It is an interesting fact, that unlike m any other female
characters in French Caribbean writing who are portrayed in terms o f their feminine
resilience in the face o f hardship, many o f C o n d e’ s female characters are anti­
heroines, women who endure much, but do not necessarily rise above their
difficulties. Marie-Helene and Reynalda are good examples o f such women, whose
identities are defined by a daily inward struggle towards an elusive happiness and
identity.
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N ina
M arie-N oëlle has never harboured a desire to seek out her grandmother. R eynalda’ s
version o f events, her rape b y Gian Carlo, night after night, watched over and
condoned by Nina, has sufficed. However, now, back in Guadeloupe for the first time
in years to attend Ranélise’ s funeral, M arie-Noëlle desperately needs confirmation
that her mother’ s version o f events is true. The narrative bounces back and forth,
recapping her efforts to discover definitively what happenings led to her mother’ s
pregnancy. Differing and conflicting opinions surface, and M arie-N oëlle believes her
only chance to arrive at the truth is to meet her grandmother.
Nina is very different from how M arie-Noëlle has imagined her to be. Not
small or thin like Reynalda, she has the appearance o f a strong woman, who must
have been good-looking in her younger days:
Or Nina qui se tenait bien droite malgré sa sciatique et ses douleurs était haute,
très haute. Plantureuse. On distinguait la forme affaissée de ses seins, lourds,
atteignant presque son ventre. Ses bras, ses épaules étaient bien en chair. Sa
figure frappante malgré l ’ âge et le dénuement gardait ses contours arrogants.
Pas de doute, dans son temps, Nina avait dû être une belle négresse. Une vraie
femme matador, (pl 79)
M arie-Noëlle, for the first time in her life, decides to state her parentage, and names
her father as Gian Carlo. The importance o f this should not be underestimated. A t this
very moment, two important pieces o f her identity are being constructed, or so she
believes. She meets her grandmother for the first time, and she openly reveals the
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identity o f Gian Carlo as her father. For a split second in time, M arie-Noëlle feels she
has found the missing jigsa w piece, and that her search is over. Her short-lived
happiness does not last, as N in a’ s m ocking laughter dispels any notions she has that
the past can be laid to rest:
La réaction de Nina ne fut pas celle qu’ elle attendait. Embarras, contrition,
colère. Nina commença par la fixer, comme si elle n ’ était pas certaine de ce
que ses oreilles entendaient. Puis, elle rejeta la têta en arrière et éclata de rire.
Un rire sans fin. U n rire qui lui distendait les lèvres, découvrait le fin fond de
sa gorge et la vipère violacée de sa langue. Un rire qui d ’ un seul coup
anéantissait les certitudes de M arie-Noëlle et la rejetait vers ce territoire du
doute et de l ’ angoisse qu’ elle avait cru quitter pour toujours, (pl 80)
N in a’ s laugh is both m ocking and shocking. Regardless o f the reason behind it, the
description o f her lips, her throat and her tongue are reminiscent o f how Reynalda
described her mother, as a “ monstre” . Nina appears quite grotesque and ugly, and first
impressions are o f an insensitive and thoughtless woman. The opening lines o f her
“récit” are defensive and unwavering. R eynalda’s story, in her eyes, is false, untrue,
unfounded, and Reynalda is nothing but a clever liar:
Je ne sais pas ce qu’ elle t’ a raconté. Les bêtises qu’ elle a inventées avec
Fiorella, j ’ en suis sûre. Que je l ’ ai forcée. Que la première fois, j ’ ai même tenu
ses mains. Elle a dû raconter qu’ elle a fait cela parce qu’ elle avait peur et que
je l ’ avais menacée. Et puis, quoi encore ? Elle a toujours été comme cela:
menteuse, tellement menteuse, personnelle, sournoise. C ’est un grand malheur
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d ’ avoir mis sur la terre une fille pareille. Et pour toi, c ’ est un grand malheur de
l ’ avoir comme maman, ( p l 83)
Nina appears hard and deeply embittered. For Moudelino, however, “ la
désacralisation de la mère par la grand-mère nie les qualitiés de pondération, sagesse
et solidarité féminine qu’ on lui accorde traditionnellement” (M oudelino 2003 p l 156).
Nina is not portrayed as a kindly, benevolent matriarchal figure, presiding over, and
binding together generations o f women. She lives reclusively, in her wooden cabin on
La Désirade. Until now, she has not been aware o f Reynalda’ s life in France, nor has
known anything o f M arie-Noëlle. M ost important though, is that she now imparts her
version o f the truth to her granddaughter, a version com pletely in conflict with what
Reynalda has told her. For Condé, “ it is not possible to find an objective reality basing
one’ s judgements solely on the words o f others” (M cC orm ick 2000 p520). N in a’ s
account o f the past differs extensively from that relayed b y Reynalda. For MarieNoëlle, the history o f her past is simply a collective o f differing accounts, each
necessarily conflicting with one another.
From a narrative viewpoint, Nina recounts her story in the form o f a “récit” ,
whereas R eynalda’ s tale is derived from two disjointed conversations she has had
with M arie-Noëlle. W e might possibly be led to believe that N in a ’ s story is more
accurate, as a “ récit” is supposed to relive actualities. For Condé, however, “ dès qu’ on
commence à parler de nous, nous sommes dans un domaine de fiction”
(Anagnostopoulou-Hielscher 1999 p78). Therefore, w e might assume that anyone’ s
tale is a departure from the realm o f objectivity, and that what one relates in relation
to oneself is perhaps partially or w holly fictional. N in a ’ s “ récit” conflicts greatly with
R eynalda’ s account o f how she became pregnant. However, there is one striking
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similarity between both accounts, the gnawing absence o f love between mother and
daughter. Reynalda, as aforesaid, has described her mother as a “monstre” , and her
feelings for Nina are o f revulsion and loathing. Nina, for her part, does not love her
daughter at all. Reynalda is the result o f N in a ’ s own rape by her cousin Gabin, and
though she has tried to reason with herself, and believe she w ill love her child, she is
not able to do so:
On ne porte pas un fœtus, neuf mois à l ’ étroit dans son ventre, sans s ’ attacher
à lui, sans causer avec lui pour lui promettre une existence meilleure que celle
q u ’ on vit, sans imaginer la figure qu’ il aura. M ais quand la sœur a mis
Reynalda dans mes bras après mon accouchement, elle était tellement laide,
déjà le portrait craché de Gabin, noire-noire comme lui, avec ses yeux
globuleux, que tous mes bons sentiments se sont envolés aussitôt. Elle couinait
comme un rat et ne pesait pas plus lourd. N ée à terme, on aurait dit une
prématurée. On ne commande pas à son cœur. À quoi sert de mentir ? Je n ’ ai
jam ais aimé cette enfant-là, la seule jam ais sortie de mon ventre, (pl 90)
N an cy Chodorow suggests that, for a mother, a daughter is an extension or double o f
herself (Chodorow 1978 p l 09). Reynalda, though, in N in a ’ s eyes, is not seen in terms
o f extension or duality. Rather, Nina considers her a separate being, an ugly duckling.
Motherhood does not bring with it adoration or deep love for this newborn infant.
Instead, the new mother is repulsed at the sight o f her daughter. N in a’ s admission that
she has been incapable o f loving her daughter is deeply poignant. Rape, and resultant
pregnancy is a recurring theme in C o n d é’ s writing, and perhaps in N in a ’ s case, Condé
excuses, in some w ay, this lack o f love for a child bom o f sexual violence. Nina
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admits that Reynalda did not love her either, and that she could sense the hostility felt
for her by her daughter:
Je ne l ’ aimais pas et, disons la vérité, elle ne m ’ aimait pas non plus. Jamais un
de ces mouvements de grâce, de gentillesse comme en ont les petits enfants.
Une caresse. U n sourire. Un mot doux. [...] M oi, elle me regardait comme un
cheval qui a jeté son maître et ses yeux, sans fond, fixes com m e ceux d ’ une
grande personne prenaient ma photo. Je sentais qu’ elle me voyait dans mes
hardes rapiécées, mes pieds nus à terre, laide à faire peur à force de pauvreté,
tellement laide et tellement pauvre que c ’en était une honte. (p p l9 0 -19 1)
A t a young age, Reynalda is aware o f her mother’s inferiority, and, according to Nina,
allows Nina internalise these feelings o f inadequancy. I f w e are to believe Nina,
Reynalda shows herself to be intensely cruel towards her mother, and view s her as an
object o f disgust and abhorrence. Reynalda and Nina together bring to mind aspects o f
the old colonial master/slave relationship, with Reynalda, playing the dominant
(master) role, who looks disdainfully on her (slave) mother. Nina cannot shed any
light on the identity o f M arie-N oëlle’ s father. Like Reynalda, who has given her
daughter “ la vérité” , Nina also promises the truth, but it is a truth in conflict with
R eynalda’ s. A ccording to Nina, Gian Carlo is not M arie-N oëlle’ s father, and she
denies knowing who he actually is:
Je ne peux t’ offrir que la vérité. Je ne peux te raconter que ce qui est arrivé.
Gian Carlo n ’a jam ais été ton papa. Qui c ’ est ? Seule Reynalda le connaît et
peut te dire. Gian Carlo n’ a jam ais mis la main sur elle. (p202)
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R eynalda’ s version o f her rape has been compelling, and believable: “Une pareille
histoire ne s ’invente pas. Pareils détails ne s ’ imaginent pas” (p209). However, as the
veracity o f the rape w ill not be established during the novel, it is possible to consider
that Reynalda is suffering from a delusion or pyschosis, and might be unaware that
she is not telling the truth. Is she perhaps a victim o f a mental disorder such as
Munchausen Syndrome? George defines Munchausen Syndrome as “predominately a
female disorder” involving “ an em otionally immature person with narcissistic
tendencies, low self-esteem and a fragile ego” (George 2003). A sufferer believes she
is a victim and “ can then blame another person as a victim izer or persecutor, and
portray herself as the victim .” (George 2003). It is possible that Reynalda sees herself
as a victim, and m ay convince herself that her accusations are true. Condé will not
enlighten us, though, and the novel w ill end without an accurate depiction o f what
happened.
N in a’ s account o f the past is equally believable, equally plausible. Following
her story, Nina can be seen as a humble, pitiful woman, not likely to have lied
cunningly. And, in stark contrast with the relationship between M arie-Noëlle and her
mother, she feels a curious empathy, even closeness, to the grandmother she has not
known until now:
M arie-Noëlle n’aurait jamais pensé que Nina pourrait lui sembler
sympathique, proche d ’elle-même, comme si deux exclues, deux en manque
d ’amour, soudain s ’ étaient retrouvées. Or, c ’ est cela qui se produisit. À bien la
considérer, Nina n ’ avait rien de redoutable. Derrière son masque de
sauvagerie, on sentait bien la vulnérabilité et on avait presque envie de
s ’ apitoyer sur elle. Le dos au mur, tassée sur elle-même, elle parlait avec
lenteur, sans regarder personne, comme si ceux qui l ’entendaient ne la
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concernaient pas. Com m e si elle ne prenait la peine ni de convaincre ni de se
défendre. Com m e si elle se vidait de ce passé, remonté depuis les grandes
profondeurs de son être pour son seul agrément. (p206)
The fact that Nina does not feel the need to convince her granddaughter that she is
hearing the truth, serves only to increase M arie-N oëlle’ s pain and confusion.
However, Nina might also be suffering from a delusion, but the novel refuses to shed
light on what really happened. N in a’ s “ récit” , narratively juxtaposed with R eynalda’ s
version o f the truth reinforces the notion that M arie-N oëlle’ s identity quest is indeed
impossible, and that she w ill never be capable o f “ déchiffrer l ’ indéchiffrable” (p34).
W hat is incredibly poignant, is the reality that she cannot trust either o f these women
who, biologically, are closest o f all to her. The follow ing quote illustrates the fact that
both women are in question where the truth is at stake:
Une pareille histoire ne s’ invente pas. Pareils détails ne s ’ imaginent pas. Et
pourtant l ’ une des deux femmes lui mentait avec aplomb. Laquelle? Est-ce que
c ’ était Reynalda? Est-ce que c ’ était Nina? Elle ne saurait le dire et ainsi, elle
n ’ aurait jam ais la réponse à sa question. (p209)
Condé does not reveal the identity o f M arie-N oëlle’ s father, and hence she must learn
to live, and construct her own identity without ever knowing who he is. For Condé,
“ quand nous aurons accepté que le présent commence au moment où nous vivons, que
l ’ identité commence avec nous, nous allons peut-être résoudre une grande partie de la
difficulté de vivre” (Anagnostopoulou-Hielscher 1999 pp74-75). This is the central
message o f
Desirada, the notion that one
must look no more to the past for answers,
and that the notion o f identity “commence avec nous” (Anagnostopoulou-Hielscher
1999 p74).
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T he role o f education in Desirada
The importance o f education, primarily for women, surfaces regularly as a leitm otif in
C o n d é’ s writing. In
Une saison à Rihata,
M arie-H élène’ s mother strongly encourages
her daughter to study and be capable o f earning her own living, while Vilm a, in
Traversée de la Mangrove, wishes
to reject the traditional feminine role o f marriage
and motherhood in preference for study and self-amelioration. In
Desirada, the
significance o f education is a dominant theme in the novel, with Condé charting the
rise to intellectual achievement and honour o f a black mother and daughter. Reynalda
and M arie-N oëlle’ s success in the academic realm contrasts strongly with the
matriarchial generations before them. Nina cannot read nor write, and her own mother
and grandmother were rural women, not destined to furtherance through education.
There is a striking difference between the academic success o f Reynalda and that o f
M arie-Noëlle. Reynalda, though clearly suffering from the past, initiates her own rise
to success, and leaves Guadeloupe o f her own w ill “ d ’ étudier et de devenir
quelqu’ un” (pl 9). A s we have already seen, she is capable o f abandoning her
daughter whilst in pursuit o f her own goals, something w hich seem ingly renders her
cold and ruthless. In Paris, she becom es a social worker, and does not allow the birth
o f Garvey or A ngela deter her from her ambitions. R eynalda’ s choice o f profession is
ironic, though. She cares deeply for people to whom she ow es nothing, while, at the
same time, she ignores the needs o f her closest family. It is as though she is incapable
o f reaching out to her blood relations, but satisfies her need to help others through her
work. M arie-Noëlle has not had her mother’ s drive. Her early days in Am erica have
seen her wander aimlessly from one low ly position to the next. It is only while
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working for Anthea, a black academic, that she is empowered to study, and finally, to
write a doctoral thesis. In some ways, Anthea can be seen as a mother figure for
M arie-Noëlle, in that she is a source o f strength and encouragement for the latter.
However, as will be examined shortly, Anthea sees M arie-N oëlle in terms o f a
personal project, rather than simply as a surrogate daughter whom she must guide.
Reynalda has not actively encouraged M arie-Noëlle to educate herself. However, as
we have seen earlier, she has used herself as an example o f how hard work can
transform one’ s life. Importantly, she has also insisted on the necessity o f knowing
what one wants out o f life, something which M arie-Noëlle does not know, and indeed
it is questionable i f she has discovered this at the end o f the novel. Nina, at the end o f
her “récit” , advises her granddaughter to abandon her quest and to embark on a
journey o f education, something she herself, has been denied: “ C e qu’ il faut, ce que je
n ’ ai jam ais eu, c ’ est l ’ instruction” (p202). For Nina, M arie-Noëlle does not require
anything more from her mother. She sees her granddaughter as autonomous, as
capable o f directing her life without recourse to any help from Reynalda. Education is
all she requires:
N e demande plus rien à ta maman, cette menteuse de première. Laisse-la avec
ses contes à dormir debout. D ’ ailleurs, ne demande plus rien à personne. Tu as
l ’ instruction. Tu as l ’ éducation. Tu as belle santé. V is ta vie. Q u ’ est-ce qui te
manque ? (pp202-203)
Nina, though not educated herself, sees education as the force which w ill render
M arie-N oëlle’ s life meaningful. Though incredibly different in most aspects o f their
lives, Nina and Reynalda share their opinion on this one issue, that education
overrides fam ily bonds. Nina believes M arie-Noëlle does not need Reynalda, and
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Reynalda has also recommended work as a means o f success, rather than fam ily ties.
A s we have seen earlier, she does not encourage closeness betw een herself and her
children.
It is the friendship between M arie-Noëlle and Anthea, an African-Am erican,
which is the catalyst to M arie-N oëlle’s return to university and eventual academic
success. A t last, therefore, she will take the advice o f her mother and grandmother and
live her life. However, the depiction o f M arie-Noëlle as a rising academic is filled
with pessimism and negativity. Firstly, it is Anthea, and not M arie-Noëlle, who is the
driving force behind the latter’ s progression. For Anthea, an ambitious, tenatious
black woman, and a specialist in slave narratives, the transformation o f M arie-Noëlle
from humble immigrant to respected academic, has been a project realised, and an
example o f how hard work and perseverance can transcend the life o f a black person:
E lle [Anthea] seule et personne d ’autre avait métamorphosé une petite
émigrante craintive, mariée à un musicien sans le sou en un respectable
professeur d ’université. La Race lui en saurait gré et, quant à ceux qui se
hâtaient de conjuguer le rêve américain au passé, ils auraient la preuve qu’ ils
déparlaient. (p223)
M arie-Noëlle is portrayed as a puppet in her own life. Though she manages to achieve
high academic honour, it is clear that her heart is not in this, and that she is not deeply
fulfilled by her studies or research:
Pourtant, elle ne connaissait guère plus de bien-être que dans le temps de sa
première jeunesse à Nice. Elle s’ était donc remise à la rédaction de sa thèse.
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M ais sans cœur à l ’ouvrage. Elle n ’ arrivait pas à ressusciter les flambées
d ’ enthousiasme des années précédentes et toute l ’œuvre de Jean Genet lui
paraissait subitement insipide. Elle s ’ obstinait quand même et restait des
heures enfermée dans les cimetières sans air ni joie que sont les bibliothèques
d ’ université. (p p219-220)
Although she now feels apathetic towards her studies, it is significant that the focus o f
M arie-N oëlle’ s work has been on Jean Genet. Although her research on Genet does
not fulfil her, perhaps she has nonetheless felt some level o f empathy with him. Like
her, Genet was abandoned by his parents at a young age, and lived his life as an
orphan. M arie-Noëlle was also abandoned by Reynalda, and has never felt part o f any
family, except for those early happy years with Ranélise.
There is a startling feeling o f lack o f control in the above citation. M arieN oëlle is not enthousiastic about her research, yet she condemns herself to pursue it,
as if she has no choice in the matter. She is propelling herself into an academic realm
without due consideration o f her own true goals or objectives. It seems entirely
possible, that she has yet to discover what they may be, and that she has not pursued
the right topic for her research. On her graduation day, her confusion is felt even more
deeply. She can smile at her mentor, Anthea. However, the reality is that academic
acclaim has not brought her immense happiness or self-fulfillment:
Quand même, en ce grand jour, elle n ’éprouvait pas les mêmes sentiments
q u ’Anthea. Pas de contentement devant ce qui pouvait passer pour une
ascension sociale. Pas de fierté intellectuelle. Elle se sentait tout au plus
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soulagée, comme si elle venait de se débarrasser d ’ une formalité ennuyeuse.
(p223)
Malena suggests that Anthea has only ever seen M arie-Noëlle as “ a black woman and
has never made it possible for M arie-Noëlle to speak either o f her Caribeanness or her
inner s e l f ’ (Malena 2000 p94). For Anthea, race is all that is important. She has but
two objectives in life, to raise her daughter, and to rehabilitate her race: “ Elle avait
donné deux buts à ce qui lui restait de vie à vivre: élever sa fille, sa petite Molara et,
par son travail, revaloriser sa R ace” (pl 10). She sees M arie-N oëlle solely in terms o f
her being a black woman, not a Guadeloupean. However, Condé has argued that race
is not important, but culture: “ It is becom ing more and more evident that what matters
is culture. Everybody understands that race is nothing” (M anning 2003 p l 15). This is
perhaps w hy M arie-Noëlle is unfulfilled: race is not something with w hich she can
identify easily, and as an immigrant, living in Am erica, she is not attached to any one
culture.
The last chapter o f the novel sees M arie-Noëlle in her office overlooking the
Charles River in Boston. She is now established as a respected academic, and spends
her time teaching and advising students. The vacuum, though, that is her life, is
overwhelming:
Jusqu’ à midi, je dois recevoir des étudiants. C ’ est la pratique. Je dois leur
prêter attention, échanger, communiquer, et ironie des ironies, moi qui ne peux
pas me conduire, j ’ ai la tâche de les aider à trouver une solution à leurs
difficultés. (p279)
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M arie-Noëlle finds it ironic that she is positioned in an advisory role for her students,
as she acknowledges that in her own life all is not well. The respect she commands as
an academic does not seem to make her happy or fulfil her. There is a sense that she
finds her work mechanical and wearisome, and that her heart is sim ply not in it, or
perhaps in anything at all:
Q u ’ est-ce que ce garçon-là me raconte ? .... Il entend faire sa thèse sur Rachid
Boudjedra.
La Répudiation.
Pourquoi pas ? Je l ’ encourage. Passons au suivant.
(p280)
Boudjedra’ s 1959 novel documents the repudiation o f his mother by his father. A s we
have seen, the notion o f repudiation is hugely important in
Desirada.
In many cases,
love is sacrificed. In its place we find rejection, dismissal and denial. For MarieNoëlle, repudiation has resulted in indifference to her life, her work and her
surroundings.
T o conclude, education and the social furtherance it brings, has changed in
some way, M arie-N oëlle’ s life. However, it has not brought an infusion o f meaning
into her life, nor does she understand who she is any more because o f her academic
achievements. And unlike Reynalda, for whom education seems to have brought
happiness and self-fulfillment, M arie-Noëlle needs something else to fulfil and sustain
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C onclusion
The prime focus o f this novel has been M arie-N oelle’ s search for her father, a search
which i f successful, will teach her much about herself. However, she has also, perhaps
unknowingly, searched deeply for her mother, a mother, whose true identity will
never be revealed. In relation to her father, it is significant that Conde chooses not to
reveal his name, and that M arie-Noelle cannot satisfy herself behind doubt as to his
identity. She believes that she cannot be a whole person until she knows who he is.
However, as she w ill never know, she must learn to live without the past, and
construct an identity for herself grounded in the future. It is significant, that, in the last
chapter o f the novel, M arie-Noelle refers to herself in the first person “ Je” . She is
about to embark upon the tentative beginnings o f a new life, a new identity. Saying
“ I” is reminiscent o f Tituba’ s proud proclamation o f her existence and identity. And
like Tituba, M arie-Noelle is quite possibly finding the courage now to set out on a
new journey, her new journey, which will be undertaken without the vital knowledge
o f her past. She must forge a new path without looking back, because looking back
has not provided answers or happiness.
The n o vel’ s epigraph is a quote from a Martiniquan song: “A part le bonheur,
il n’est rien d ’ essentiel” . M arie-Noelle echoes this sentiment in the final chapter o f the
novel: “ M oi, j ’ ai toujours cru que le bonheur, c ’ est le seul but dans la vie” (p280).
However, happiness is something which eludes her, but also is something w hich she
equates with the fact that she does not know her father’ s identity:
155
Il [Ludovic] ne comprenait pas qu’en fin de compte, réelle ou imaginaire, cette
identité-là avait fini par me plaire. D ’ une certaine manière, ma monstruosité
me rend unique. Grâce à elle, je ne possède ni nationalité ni pays ni langue. Je
peux rejeter ces tracasseries qui tracassent tellement les humains. Elle donne
aussi une explication à ce qui entoume ma vie. Je comprends et j ’ accepte
qu’ autour de moi, il n ’y ait jam ais eu de place pour un certain bonheur. Mon
chemin est tracé ailleurs. (p281)
Though M arie-Noëlle acknowledges that her happiness is limited b y not knowing her
father, and not having other normal defining traits in order to establish her identity,
this is somewhat balanced by a sense o f freedom, o f liberation, b y not been trapped by
the confines o f a given or static identity. She has “ni nationalité, ni pays ni langue”
(p259) to tie and bind her to some sort o f pre-destiny, and there is some vague hint in
these lines that perhaps one should be free to assume one’ s own identity, to discover
one’ s own self. A s the novel draws to a close, M arie-Noëlle acknowledges that her
lack o f knowledge about her father has rendered her unique, different from all others.
She has spent many years searching for something she w ill not find. However, as
M alena suggests, perhaps “ the only identity possible resides in the very process o f
searching for it” (Malena 1999 p67).
For Reynalda, the n o vel’ s end sees her savouring literary success and acclaim.
She has published a book,
“Les jours étrangers ”, detailing
the social conditions o f
migrant families in France. She spends her time giving speeches, attending
conferences and enjoying the success for which she has worked so hard. She is about
to write an autobiography, which in L u d o vic’ s opinion w ill be a fiction:
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Ainsi, elle se libérera une fois pour toutes de la vérité. Pourtant, la connaissant
comm e je la connais, je sais que cette vérité-là sera une fiction. D ’ ailleurs,
q u ’est-ce que nous pouvons construire quand nous parlons de nous-mêmes ?
(p278).
This also echoes C o n d é’ s own feelings that w e enter a fictional realm, when speaking
subjectively. It is probable, though, that Reynalda is capable only o f writing and using
theory to transmit her ideas. She has never been able to speak personally, and hence,
must use the medium o f the spoken word to express herself. Against the odds
Reynalda has risen, like a phoenix from the ashes, from the depths o f insignificance,
to transform her life, and show others what she truly is, a perservering and enduring
woman. The striking difference between her and M arie-N oëlle is this: Reynalda is
haunted by the past, but transcends its horrors through hard work. M arie-Noëlle, in
contrast, is haunted b y not having a past, a father, and it is this cruel absence in her
life which threatens her progress and diminishes her happiness. A s the novel draws to
a close, it seems conceivable that Reynalda and M arie-Noëlle are both beginning to
find peace in their lives, one through the rejection o f an original identity, the other
through the realisation that she must now begin to construct her own.
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C onclusion
I come now to the conclusion o f this thesis, and the summation o f four contrasting
novels, whose narratives intrigue and captivate many who have read them. C o n d e’ s
work is extremely innovative, and each novel penned illustrates her wide-ranging
capacity to re-invent, every time, the wheel o f Caribbean literature. In terms o f
publication, the novels analysed in this thesis span some sixteen years, and mark a
clear development in C o n d e’ s work. In some ways, her writing mirrors her life
autobiographically. Having spent several years in Africa, her earlier work focuses
primarily on the Caribbean people, and their com plex relationship with the continent
o f their ancestors. Later, as she returned to work in Europe and in Am erica, her more
recent writing explores the Caribbean diaspora living in Europe and in the United
States, while still analysing the inherent challenges o f finding one’ s identity in a place
where one is perceived as a stranger. A s a writer, Conde is not afraid to write as she
chooses. A s a woman, she is not afraid to portray wom en in terms o f negativity. A s an
author, she embraces change, and experiments with narrative locale, structure,
language, and ideas. It has been m y privilege to examine and explore the work o f this
exciting and prolific woman.
The concepts o f identity, both personal and collective cultural, have been the central
concern o f this thesis. C o n d e’ s narrative style has been most helpful in m y analysis o f
identity, in that she privileges the reader to the inward thoughts o f m any characters
and, in so doing, reveals several facets o f their identities. T o recapitulate on the
definitions o f identity offered in the introduction, the notion o f personal identity is
answerable by an examination o f one’s “ lineage, fam ily status and place o f birth and
158
residence” (Smith 1995 p i 30). Collective cultural identity indicates a shared
“ sameness” or unity with others, and incorporates into this certain cultural aspects
such as values, traditions, superstitions, etc. The prime focus o f m y work has been
grounded in an analysis o f the notion o f personal identity, and the protagonists in the
four novels have been explored on this basis.
On the subject o f lineage, several characters are consumed b y a need to know
and understand their lineage, in the broader attempt to comprehend their own
identities. Tituba, who as a slave struggles to proclaim her identity, is clearly defined
by her lineage and ancestry. In death, she listens to her mother’ s advice, and is proud
o f her name, which has been given to her by her stepfather. T ituba’ s lineage is an
important link to her past, and this helps her negotiate her identity in the face o f the
many struggles she encounters as a black female slave. M arie-H elene’s lineage is also
inextricably w oven into her identity but, unlike Tituba, she wishes to sever all ties
with her parentage, so deeply embedded are the miseries and wrong-doings o f her past
life. For her, lineage is akin to embittered memories and disgust: her mother and sister
are dead, and she retains no contact with her father and his uncouth ways. Francis
Sancher also wishes to reject his lineage, a lineage which strikes down the male
members o f his fam ily around the age o f fifty. A s a descendant o f the
Beke class,
his
lineage is linked inextricably with white colonial rule. Sancher has the blood o f his
forefathers’ past on his hands, and is forever tainted b y a sin which he has not
committed directly. He is determined not to father any children who might continue to
bear the curse o f past generations. In his utter rejection o f lineage, Sancher’ s identity
is com pletely and necessarily defined by it. Against his will, he becom es a father,
illustrating the fact that lineage is an uncontrollable force, and that future generations
will define their identities against the backdrop o f their ancestors’ . M arie-N oelle is
159
consumed by the need to know her lineage, and this quest darkens her life
considerably. Her desire to be able to name her father overwhelms her, and she
believes she cannot attain happiness without access to this vital knowledge. Towards
the end o f
Desirada,
M arie-Noelle realises that the identity o f her father is something
which will be forever denied her, and that she must pick up the pieces o f her life and
continue regardless. This notion o f the denial o f lineage is hugely sym bolic o f the
plight o f the Caribbean people, who will never have complete access to their ancestry.
Desirada advocates
the idea that identity may, o f choice, be a personal construct, and
that an individual m ay choose an identity w hich befits him/her, rather than being
constrained by a dominant discourse on identity. Society categorises a person’ s
identity according to a few limited paradigms such as where one lives, what language
one speaks, what one’ s lineage is etc.
Desirada
suggests that an individual might
refuse to be constrained by the ideas or ideals o f others, in the quest for his/her own
identity.
I have examined the notion o f status in relation to the exploration o f personal
identity. C o n d e’ s characters are certainly defined b y their status, or the role they
negotiate in their surroundings. Tituba’ s status is a prime constituent o f her identity:
for those around her, she is seen as a slave and as a witch, although as has been
examined, her status as slave is not something b y which she defines herself. Rather,
she is aware o f her label, but resists its application, unlike other slaves in the novel,
such as John Indien, who see their own identities in terms o f being slaves. Tituba’ s
status as witch constitutes part o f her identity which is resistant to stable meaning: for
her, and for some others, her powers o f witchcraft are a benevolent force in her life.
For others, though, T ituba’s identity as witch is viewed as an evil and m alevolent
160
power which must be eradicated. M arie-H élène’ s status is that o f unhappy w ife,
reluctant mother, disappointed lover, failed student. A ll aspects o f her status rebound
in disillusionment, and she vegetates in the dull m ediocrity o f a life constrained by
failure, personal crisis, and forbidden love. Sandier’ s status, in the closed-knit
community o f Rivière au Sei, is that o f the stranger and the outsider. A ll aspects o f his
status abound with mystery, and his identity is never complete. He is enigmatic and is
viewed differently by each o f the
habitants o f this
small Guadeloupean village.
R eynalda’ s status is that o f mother and academic, though for her, her academic career
is much more important than her role as mother. A s has been seen, M arie-N oélle’ s
status as an academic does not satisfy her long-held need to find her biological father.
The thesis has also examined identity as constituted b y the significance o f
birthplace, or place o f residence. A recurring theme in C o n d é’ s writing is the
importance o f the Caribbean as a maternal link in the lives o f several protagonists. For
many characters, the island home or birthplace is a defining facet o f their identity, and
something which sustains them even though they m ay inhabit other parts o f the globe.
Although she will never live in the Caribbean again, Reynalda harbours fond
childhood memories o f La Désirade, while Barbados is eternalised b y Tituba, while
living in America. Marie-Hélène severs the umbilical cord with her island birthplace
upon the death o f her mother, so tenuous is the correlation for her, between mother
and motherland. Sancher, although bom in Cuba, comes to Guadeloupe to die,
because his forefathers’ sins were committed here. The island o f Guadeloupe is a
clear constituent o f Sancher’ s identity: though it is not his birthplace, it w ill becom e
his dying-place. In this w ay, he will atone for the atrocities committed in his fam ily
name.
161
Traversée de la Mangrove, which
was written b y Condé in Guadeloupe,
follow ing a long spell living in Europe and America, casts a pessimistic but honest
shadow on the collective cultural identity o f the inhabitants o f her birthplace. A s
evidenced in the novel, Condé, as a Guadeloupean, is not afraid to portray her
homeland and countrymen in a m ixed light. The narrative captures the
mentalité o f
the islanders as narrow-minded and begrudging. Th ey openly resent success or
achievement, but most o f all, the novel depicts the comm unity as rooted in stagnancy,
in a communal sense o f inertia. Change or progress is not embraced, and outsiders,
like Sancher, are treated with distrust and suspicion. In its negative portrayal o f
collective cultural identity,
mindness among the
Traversée de la Mangrove advocates
habitants.
a call for open-
A change might be a step in the right direction, but if
the Caribbean does not embrace what is new and different, the collective identity o f
these islanders will remain forever grounded in a past which harbours no hope for the
future.
C o n d é’ s writing is preoccupied with an analysis o f the identity o f women, and
wom en are portrayed in varying and contrasting roles in the four novels. W om en may
be seen as victim s o f slavery, injustice and abuse, as experienced b y Tituba, or m ay be
the victim s o f rape and violence, as explored with Abena, Tituba, Nina and Reynalda.
Some women are portrayed as prisoners o f their own culture and tradition, such as
Vilm a, whereas others are exploited for their uses, like Tituba. Some wom en do not
appear to love their partners, as seen with M arie-Hélène and Reynalda, while others,
like Tituba or Nina, are depicted as
l ’amoureuse, and m ay
love too much. Some, like
M arie-Hélène and M arie-Noëlle, lead meaningless lives, while others, such as Tituba,
sacrifice much for the men they love. Some even inflict pain and suffering on their
162
own families, and must live with the consequences, as M arie-Helene learns to her
regret. Indeed, the overriding preoccupation for women in the four novels, is that o f
searching for themselves, which it is hoped, will help them attain an identity. A s the
epigraph in
Desirada suggests:
“A part le bonheur, il n ’est rien d ’essentiel” . Each
quest is, however, an individual one, and the path to future happiness w ill be forged
differently b y each woman.
The exploration o f motherhood, and its positive and negative portrayals, is a dominant
issue in this thesis, and in C o n d e’ s work in general. Returning to the definition o f
identity as examination o f one’ s “ fam ily status” , C o n d e’ s mothers perpetually
negotiate their status as mothers (Smith 1995 p i 30). Motherhood is often depicted in
terms o f discontentment and dissatisfaction, and children are peripheral to the wider
needs o f the mother. This has been clearly evident in the analysis o f M arie-Helene
and Reynalda, both unhappy and unfulfilled mothers. However, negative portrayals o f
motherhood are open to the possibility o f change and betterment. Abena, in death,
becom es a loving and advising mother figure to Tituba, while Rosa determines to
repair her damaged relationship with Vilm a. Vulnerable, M arie-Helene reaches out to
Sia and, in so doing, initiates some hope that friendship and empathy will replace
distance and distrust. Even Reynalda, b y sharing her version o f the past with her
daughter, attempts to bridge the gap between herself and M arie-Noelle. The concept
o f motherhood, though interwoven with intricate com plexities in C o n d e’ s work,
retains elements o f hope that these mothers m ay find new identity as they strive to
renew their lives.
C o n d e’s writing embraces the notion o f journeying towards an undefined
objective, towards a point where the goal-posts m ay m ove or vanish into oblivion.
163
However, regardless o f whether or not her protagonists find, or even know, what their
quest is, her narratives rebound with the notion that searching is a necessary
undertaking in life, vital for self-awareness. Searching is asking the questions which
lead to a greater understanding o f one’s identity. In asking these questions, C on d e’ s
protagonists travel into the uncharted waters o f the se lf and, in doing so, make open
the w ay for a knowledge o f se lf which m ay otherwise remain latent or unknown.
The level o f analysis undertaken in this thesis, in relation both to theoretical
framework and novels explored, is necessarily limited to the research requirements o f
a Master o f Arts degree. However, the history and events o f recent centuries now
gives rise to a vast array o f philosophical discourse available on the concepts o f both
identity theory and post-colonial theory and, notwithstanding C o n d e’ s ever-prolific
output, it is clear that the research presented in this thesis is capable o f an analysis
which far exceeds its present scope. I hope to be able to continue along the path o f
this intellectual journey in the near future.
164
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