Creole Identity in the French Caribbean Novel

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However, most of the scholars who study race think that races are invented categories.

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When one group of people sets out to oppress another, they "racialize" them-that is, they think of them as fundamentally different from and, importantly, inferior to themselves. Prior to the trans-Atlantic slave trade , sub-Saharan Africans did not consider themselves members of a single, homogeneous "black" race. Instead, they identified themselves as members of any one of a number of distinct groups-as Akan , Wolof , Mbundu , etc. The idea of "blackness" was a European invention, designed to legitimize the oppression of Africans.

Emphasizing the role of narrative in fashioning the cultural and political doubleness of Caribbean Creole identity, Murdoch shows how these authors actively rewrite their own colonially driven history. Murdoch maintains that the culture of the French Caribbean islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique is less homogeneous and more creatively fragmented than is commonly supposed.

Promoting a new vision of this multifaceted region, he challenges preconceived notions of what it means to be both French and West Indian. In spite of efforts to dispel it, the white creole reputation for degeneracy was still circulating in the early twentieth century.

Learning French/Creole in French Guiana, Guadeloupe & Martinique

The image of white West Indian creoles contrasts with that of Anglo-Indian colonials, who lived in India in social isolation from the native population, and were regarded as respectable, noble upholders of empire. White creole women were reputed to be even more corrupt than the men. But, as Ford was aware, she had rapidly fallen foul of the English rules of respectability in ways other than her colonial origins.

Becoming a chorus girl symbolised a downward step, a move into one of those professions, like acting or dancing, which at that period were always suspected of sexual laxity. Chorus girls were largely working class, and could perhaps be acceptable as such. Pretty English chorus girl — north country — with a happy, independent disposition and bright teasing eyes.

I bet you a man writing about a tart tells a lot of lies one way and another. Besides, all books are like that — just someone stuffing you up. And yet scrupulously, fiercely clean, but with all the daintiness and prettiness perforce cut out. Everything about her betrayed the woman who had been brought up to certain tastes, then left without the money to gratify them; trained to certain opinions which forbad her even the relief of rebellion against her lot; yet holding desperately to both her tastes and her opinions.

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The women in her stories are often silenced by their oppressors, male or female, but they argue with them in their thoughts. I felt I needed a rest. Writing back to Jane Eyre and giving the first Mrs Rochester a chance to give her point of view was perhaps the culmination of this technique. But although Rhys is conscious of the way women are the losers in the patriarchal metropolitan and colonial world, she is also aware that women can oppress and men be oppressed.

However, he never argued about it, because that was part of the code. Simply under certain circumstances you did this, and under certain circumstances you did that. She had grown up thinking England was glamorous, magnificent.


When she arrived she found it cold, grey, unwelcoming, xenophobic, snobbish and endemically misogynist. Yet at times Rhys suggests that her critical stance towards the English was already developing in Dominica. There are other elements in her upbringing perhaps that prevented her from succumbing to the norms of English hierarchy. Significantly, in addition, the convent had introduced her to the French language and to French poetry, to which she was deeply drawn and which she felt had far more affinities with the black Dominicans than English did.

It was in Paris that she began to write, and French writers were her models.

Creole Identity in the French Caribbean Novel | EQUELLA

Paris or what it was to me and Dominica, a most lovely and melancholy place… Both these places or the thought of them make me want to write. One other element in her estrangement from Englishness might also have been her identification with her Celtic origins. So it must have been her Welsh father, and while it may not have been to do with his Welshness, Rhys may well have felt it was.

She remained proud of the fact that she only had one-sixteenth English blood. Her enemy was emphatically only the English. Rhys, Savory suggests, can be seen as deeply Caribbean in her consciousness of her colour. Rhys certainly does not escape the racial generalisations of her time.

That could be said of her depiction of the English as much as of the black Caribbeans though as far as I know the only critic to protest on behalf of the English is Robert Young. For her day she was remarkably opposed to racism, endeavouring to resist or complicate conventional essentialising definitions.

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Gregg appears to interpret her awareness that the whites are regarded with hostility or hatred by some of the black or coloured Dominicans as racist; it might be thought more, in the early twentieth century and possibly even more in , when Rhys had her one return visit, a painfully honest realisation of the facts. This is another area in which her use of racial tropes has been questioned. English culture is figured as machine-like, unfeeling, driven by money, repressed.

The Caribbean is sensuous, passionate, vibrant, spontaneous. Anglo-Saxon men, Rhys complains, despise women writers. In her version of the Caribbean, women are always singing songs, telling stories. But its historical importance should not be underestimated. European modernist primitivism is often most importantly a sign of the loss of confidence in Western civilisation, an unsettling, even if not a routing, of nineteenth-century racial hierarchies. But as far as Rhys is concerned one can make another point.

Francophone Cultures and Geographies of Identity

That cruelty, hatred and oppression were part of the Caribbean history is made clear. In her delirium at the end of the novel she remembers carnival, still full of colour, movement and music, but menacing, an opportunity to express the resentment the colonials have earned. But we were not in their ranks. Because of their poverty they live more closely with black people, share more with them; but because of their whiteness and their position as former slave-owners they can never be accepted by them either.

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    Creole Identity in the French Caribbean Novel Creole Identity in the French Caribbean Novel
    Creole Identity in the French Caribbean Novel Creole Identity in the French Caribbean Novel
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