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  • Domesticity in Magical-Realist Postcolonial FictionReversals of Representation in Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children
  • Sara Upstone (bio)

Anne McClintock's assertion that "imperialism cannot be understood without a theory of domestic space" illustrates contemporary critical awareness that colonialism cannot be considered only in terms of "public" structures, such as the nation or city, but must also be debated in terms of its construction through the private lives of both colonizer and colonized.1 Against the anthropological tradition's repetition of the patriarchal division of public and private spheres—treating the house as a "self-contained world," the globe split between an inside of emotional dialogues and an outside of political negotiations, "intimacy and exposure, of private life and public space"—colonial discourse analysis focuses frequently on the home as a site of power contestation.2 "[C]onnected to, and perhaps stemming from, the principles of spatiality," as Bill Ashcroft has noted, ". . . the idea of enclosure, or property, has dominated colonizers' views of place."3 Postcolonial critics connect the home to political struggle: "a site of resistance" with "a radical political dimension."4 Not only does such a home distance itself from representations in geography, spatial theory, and conventional anthropology, it is at the same time distinguished from colonial representations of the home.

In this paper, my focus is on the postcolonial novel and how this novel's representation of domestic space, reflecting the concerns outlined above, addresses the preexisting relationship between domesticity and colonialism. I use Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children as a fiction indicative of postcolonial authors' engagement with issues of domestic space and its colonial implications.5 Combining close reading of Rushdie's text and more overarching theoretical discussion, I want to suggest that at the center of the postcolonial novel's focus on the home is the desire to unravel and undermine processes central to the colonial home, asking for the idea of "home" to be examined not metaphorically, as I will suggest is key to the colonial home, but, instead, literally. In such a distinction are two opposing representations of domestic space: [End Page 260] the dwelling of the postcolonial novel, and the home as a force of colonization. In the dwelling of the postcolonial novel, this latter metaphorical "colonial home" is an unspoken intertext. At the center of the postcolonial literary treatment of domesticity, therefore, is a reversal of representation, in which the home is no longer presented in denial of its political status to construct a colonial ideal but is instead explicitly political. Throughout the paper, I will suggest the implications that this reversal has, not only for colonial discourse, but also for associated concepts of colonial and postcolonial gender politics. Finally, through a reading of the home's personal spaces, I will suggest that it is the domestic space that, in the postcolonial novel, in fact embodies the subversion of colonial order.

Colonial and Postcolonial Domesticity

In colonial discourse, the home can be seen as a structure both prominent and overlooked: prominent because of ideological investment in the home in both fiction and nonfiction that, at the height of colonialism, saw it take a central place in political and literary discourse; overlooked precisely because of the motivation behind this prevalence, meaning the house never really represented what it was but rather acted metaphorically for the colonial project itself—an exemplification of Homi Bhabha's argument that the nation is maintained by metaphorical and metonymic strategies.6 Such function is supported by Alison Blunt, for whom domestic imagery was a crucial factor in encouraging support for action against Indian mutiny where "the domestic images of 'houses,' 'wardrobes' and 'cravats' appear to stand for British rule in India."7 The home becomes a microcosm of the colony; even increased use of particular household items is intimately entwined with colonial expansion, what McClintock calls "the mass marketing of empire as an organized system of images and attitudes":

Both the cult of domesticity and the new imperialism found in soap an exemplary mediating form. The emergent middle class values—monogamy ("clean" sex, which has value), industrial capital ("clean" money, which has value), Christianity ("being washed in the blood of the lamb"), class control ("cleansing...


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pp. 260-284
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