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Research in African Literatures 33.1 (2002) 225-226

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Book Review

Places of Silence, Journeys of Freedom: The Fiction of Paule Marshall

Places of Silence, Journeys of Freedom: The Fiction of Paule Marshall,by Eugenia C. DeLamotte. Philadelphia: U of Philadelphia P, 1998. 198 pp. ISBN 0-8122-3437-5 cloth.

Places of Silence, Journeys of Freedom is focused by Eugenia C. DeLamotte's identification of a complex and repetitive pattern in Marshall's work. DeLamotte's study is based on the presence of silence and voice, and the complex relationships they illustrate and engender in addition to a motif of superimposition or double exposure. These techniques, DeLamotte insists, both encompass feminism and advance the narrative art of fiction at the same time. Moreover, they are Marshall's unique and graphic way of incorporating the oppressive world of her characters onto the very pages of her texts.

This critical study makes a solid argument for Marshall's skillful use of these recurring motifs as a way through which the author examines and exposes the hierarchies that render women voiceless and powerless. Delamotte points out ongoing and creative manifestations of silence as proof that character silence in Marshall's fiction is not merely a lack of voice. One of the more interesting forms of silence, for example, is created by oppressive hegemonic systems that appropriate the victim's voice in a manner that seems to be speech.

In a strategic, logical, and convincing manner, DeLamotte points out six forms of silence that serve a double function. Silence and doubleness [End Page 225] together also constitute a form of power. This fact is consistent with Marshall's purpose in creating the kinds of women characters who must negotiate their way between subject and object, who more times than not act through their own agency. Theirs is an intricate and complex world requiring an equally intricate and complex fiction for its accurate representation. For the motif of double exposure or superimposed images that is part of her theory, Delamotte identifies four manifestations. One example is the relationship between women's power and their dispossession and the "social character of the interior life."

Delamotte sets out her theory and argument in a succinct nine-page introduction. In it she applies her theory first to Marshall's "Brooklyn" in a perceptively satisfying reading of that early story. Since DeLamotte argues that these intricate recurrent patterns are central to all of Marshall's novels through Daughters, she organizes the discussion by allotting a chapter for each novel, a logical and serviceable arrangement. The chapters average thirty pages with Daughters as the longest at forty-four pages. Daughters, DeLamotte says, offers the most extensive and direct evidence of superimpositions as Ursa, the protagonist, mediates her vision between scenes, people, and situations from her Caribbean country and sees those same scenes, people, and situations replicated in New York city and New Jersey.

Places of Silence, Journeys of Freedom joins at least four other recently published book-length studies of Marshall's fiction. It is an astute study in classifying and giving name to techniques central to the way Paule Marshall communicates her vision of the oppressive ideologies that subjugate victims, both female and male, and usurp their voices. The task that DeLamotte tackles is daunting, but she satisfies its challenge. This work meets a primary objective of any good scholarly study: it makes the familiar assume new dimensions, and it offers alternative and provocative ways of rethinking problematic relationships. DeLamotte's work is significant and indispensable to the increasing attention that Paule Marshall's fiction so richly deserves.


Joyce Pettis



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pp. 225-226
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