Archive for October, 2009

A Critique of Jamaica Kincaid’s, A Small Place

October 31, 2009

Jamaica Kincaid’s book, A Small Place, tells of a small postcolonial island called Antigua which is in the British West Indies.  Kincaid describes the unfortunate downfall and corruption of the island after it was free from Britain’s rule.  Throughout the book she makes it very clear that she does not approve of tourists by saying things such as, “An ugly thing, that is what you are when you become a tourist, an ugly, empty thing, a stupid thing, a piece of rubbish pausing here and there to gaze at this and taste that…” (Kincaid 17).  This entire book is a critique of Europeans and white people before and after colonization.

Kincaid’s biggest criticism is that of tourists in Antigua.  She says that “for every native of every place is a potential tourist, and every tourist is a native of somewhere” (Kincaid 18).  She makes it seem as though she believes that natives should stay in their native land.  If natives did stay in their home land and never seek out other places, the colonization of Antigua would never have happened in the first place and it would be a better place today.  Only white men are fortunate enough to be able to leave their native land for vacation purposes, and that makes Kincaid angry.  She says, “Every native would like to find a way out, every native would like a rest, every native would like a tour.  But some natives – most natives in the world – cannot go anywhere.  They are too poor” (Kincaid 18).  She says that the Antiguans are very envious of people who come to Antigua for personal pleasure.

There is so much corruption in Antigua and a lot of it has to do with the local Antiguans but the reason that they became so corrupt is, according to Kincaid, because of the English.  She says, “No natural disaster imaginable could equal the harm they did.  Actual death might have been better… they should never have left their home, their precious England” (Kincaid 24).  She continually criticizes the damage that was done after the decolonization of Antigua.  She gives a lot of very fascinating facts that describe how exactly the island is corrupt.  One such example is that of the Barclays Bank.  The brothers who started the bank were originally slave traders but then went into banking when slavery was outlawed.  They made a fortune borrowing money from the Antiguans (who were once oppressed and enslaved) and then giving it back to them.  She goes on to explain other businesses such as Barclays Bank, businesses that are necessary for the functioning of this island yet no native Antiguans run any of these businesses.  Foreigners still seem to have complete control over this island.

Kincaid makes it clear that this Island has been dominated by the white man for so long that they really do not have their own culture or their own history.  She says,

“…I see millions of people…made orphans: no motherland, no fatherland… and worst and most painful of all, no tongue. (For isn’t it odd that the only language I have in which to speak of this crime is the language of the criminal who committed the crime? … for the language of the criminal can contain the goodness of the criminals deed” (Kincaid 32).

Their lives have always been completely based around the English.  When the queen came to visit Antigua the repaved all of the roads that she would be driving down, and cleaned up all of the areas that she would see just so she would have a comfortable stay there, yet nobody ever bothered to clean up the old library that had been destroyed years ago for the use of the local Antiguans nor did anyone create a proper sewage system.

A Small Place critiques the corruption created because of the English, even though they thought they were doing some good.  Kincaid says about the English, “you loved knowledge, and wherever you went you made sure to build a school, a library (yes, and in both of these places you distorted or erased my history and glorified your own)” (Kincaid 36).  She is very harsh in all of her criticisms.  The one quote that really made an impact on me is when Kincaid defends the Antiguan culture before colonization and says, “Even if I really came from people who were living like monkeys in trees, it was better to be that than what happened to me, what I became after I met you” (Kincaid 37).

Representation of Power in Lispector’s Hour of the Star

October 23, 2009

Clarice Lispector’s novelette, The Hour of the Star, is a very intriguing read that portrays the unfortunate life of a poor typist through the eyes of the narrator.  The story reveals the poor girl as being a “nobody” trying to get by in the postcolonial slums of Rio.  Her destiny is in the hands of Rodrigo S.M. because he is the story teller/ narrator of the novelette.  We are very aware of Rodrigo’s presence throughout the novelette because a lot of the focus is on him.  Lispector’s text is a representation of “power.” Rodrigo S.M. has complete power over the girl because he is making the story up as he goes.  Whatever comes to his mind will be the life of the girl.

Rodrigo S.M. is an integral part of the story.  He has power over the life and total existence of Macabea’s character.  In the beginning of the novelette he says, “so I shall attempt, contrary to my normal method, to write a story with a beginning, a middle, and a ‘grand finale’ followed by silence and falling rain” (Lispector 13).  I believe that he did just as he said he would, he created a story and I was left with “silence and falling rain” at the end because it is some what mystifying and nothing has really been answered at the end.  The novelette ends leaving the reader feeling sympathy for the girl.  I almost wished there were a happy ending, and there could have been if Rodrigo’s character wanted Macabea’s story to end happily, but that was not his purpose.  His purpose was to reveal the life of Macabea, whos life is just like that of thousands of other poor girls from Rio, “What I am writing is something more than mere invention; it is my duty to relate everything about this girl among thousands of others like her” Lispector 13).

Although Rodrigo seems to have all the power here, his power is limited because he wants to reveal the life of a girl in a hostile city.  He must portray her in a “real” way, the way that thousands of girls live.  Macabea’s character is meant to be interchangeable and generic.  Rodrigo says, “I am holding her destiny in my hands and yet I am powerless to invent with any freedom.  Rodrigo also says, “I must add one important detail to help the reader understand the narrative: it is accompanied from start to finish by the faintest yet nagging twinge of toothache, caused by an exposed nerve” (Lispector 23).  Rodrigo is the creator of this “nagging toothache.” It is my belief that Rodrigo is the exposed nerve.  He has exposed himself from the very beginning and from that point on he creates the nagging which is a constant portrayal of the misery of Macabea. He reminds us throughout that Macabea is unhappy even if she does not fully realize it.  It is made fully clear to the reader.

This fictional story feels very real and although we are warned from the beginning that the events of Macabea’s life are false.  You would think that with Rodrigo being so revealing of himself it would take away from the reality of the novelette but it does the opposite.  Rodrigo guides us through the narrative in a way that we believe everything that he is saying.  Macabeas misery is at the hands of the narrator but he is only narrating secret truths lived by the poorest of the poor in a postcolonial slum.

Lispector, Clarice.  The Hour of the Star.  New York: New Directions Publishing Corporation, 1992.

Mid Semester Self Evaluation

October 17, 2009

Introduction to Global Literature provides very intriguing and challenging texts that have pushed me to look deeper into my reading.  Before taking this class I knew little to almost nothing about post colonial nations or what that term actually meant.  I had no idea that there was such a thing as postcolonial literature.  This is all very new to me.  I do find some of the texts to be quite difficult to understand, but at the same time I enjoy reading novels with deeper meaning.  I have read all of the novels thoroughly.  I try to highlight information that puts an emphasis on what the novel is critiquing.  Other than highlighting, reading and putting a few notes in the margins I don’t think that I have any other strategies for approaching the texts.  As for class participation, I tend to stay quiet during class discussions.  I spend the time listening to others thoughts and opinions.  I seem to participate more when we are in smaller groups.  I find the reading load to be quite heavy which prevents me from being able to really analyze the novels we read.  I find myself speed reading and missing a lot of detail, so once we are in class I sit back and try to better understand by listening.  I have learned a great deal in this class regardless of my lack of participation.

Of all that we have read thus far in the semester, I have enjoyed reading Season of Migration to the North by Tayeb Salih the most.  It was an easy read with more challenging underlying themes. I found the theme of the orient in relation to the occident to be quite interesting.  I am fascinated by other cultures and their customs and would even say that I myself have “wanderlust” which is quite possibly why I enjoyed this read.  Waiting for the Barbarians by Coetzee was my second favorite.  I had a lot of trouble understanding what was going on and it took a class discussion for me to figure things out, but once the themes were clearer to me, I was able to give the novel much deeper thought.  I absolutely dreaded reading Petals of Blood by Ngugi.  I probably could have enjoyed this one better had I not been so pressed for time.  I was reading a lot of different novels at that time, and for some reason this one just didn’t stand out to me.  The African names were confusing and I kept mixing characters up.  What really threw me for a loop was Fanon’s text.  Considering that was the first thing we read this semester, this class was a bit intimidating to me from the very beginning.  I was so completely lost while reading Fanon and on top of that, the discussion of Fanon did not help me much either.  I was unable to understand Fanon until after we read other texts to compare it to.

I have noticed things that we learn in this class being mentioned in other classes that I am in.  Nothing in full detail relates to my other classes but there was mention of Salih in my Trauma and Mourning in U.S. Lit class.  We have also touched upon the idea of a postcolonial country.  I think I’ll be able to relate Fanon to a lot of different texts once this class is over.  My goal is to better plan my reading so that I can get ahead.  I think this will be beneficial to my class participation.  Now that I am getting a better feel for this sort of material, I would like to make a stronger effort in speaking up during class discussion.

Season of Migration to the North Response on Subjective Knowledge

October 9, 2009

Season of Migration to the North, by Tayeb Salih is an Arab novel portraying the subjectivity of the Orient and of the struggle of European knowledge on Africans and Arabs in a postcolonial era.  The narrator of this novel is from a town on the Nile in Africa but has traveled back and forth from London, England for the purpose of education.  Mustafa is another character who is also from Africa, but spent much time in London, where he gained much knowledge of European societies.  The text reveals the extreme difference between cultures and the subjectivity of knowledge on foreign countries.

There is a clear distinction between the society of Arabs and of Europeans.  The inequality of women is a major indicator.  The homes in the village on the Nile have rooms that keep men and women separate, “Like the other houses it was divided into two parts: one for the women and the other containing the diwan or reception-room, for the men” (Salih 11).  There is also a lack of education among the Arabs.  Mustafa speaks of his first encounter with education saying,

“That was the time when we first had schools.  I remember now that people were not keen about them and so the government would send its officials to scour the villages and tribal communities, while the people would hide their sons – they thought of schools as being a great evil that had come to them with the armies of occupation” (Salih 19).

The novel shows that it is very difficult for knowledge about foreign lands to be accurately depicted to those who have not traveled there, and because of this difficulty there is a limit on knowledge creating a subjective and sometimes inaccurate view of societies, especially of the “Oriental” lands.   When Mustafa traveled to Europe, he completely submerged himself into the culture, and when he returned to his homeland, he created a library with all books written in English, none in Arabic.  The people of the village looked up to him and considered him a very intelligent man, but could never actually understand the way that Europeans live.  As for Europeans, their view of Africa is very subjective.  Mustafa even told tales of his homeland based on the subjective thoughts of Europeans, “I related to her fabricated stories about deserts of golden sands and jungles where non-existent animals called out to one another.  I told her that the streets of my country teemed with elephants and lions and that during siesta time crocodiles crawled through it…” (Silah 33).  Mustafa made a clichéd character for himself while he was in London so that people would be entranced by him and by his foreign homeland.  He spoke many lies and even gave “educational” speeches about Arabs that included more fabricated stories that were much further from the truth than people believed.

Because of Mustafas many lies, he left a “fake” perception of the East upon many European women.  They fell in love with the idea of something and the only was they would ever know the truth would be if they traveled to these places.  The same goes for those in the East.  The only was they could truly understand the western way of life would be to travel there.  Even then, if one traveled to a foreign country, they would not fully understand the immense differences of education, religion and the treatment of women etc.

Salih, Tayeb.  Season of Migration to the North. New York: The New York Review of

Books, 1969.