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H. Adlai Murdoch - Rhys's Pieces: Unhomeliness as Arbiter of Caribbean Creolization - Callaloo 26:1 Callaloo 26.1 (2003) 252-272

Rhys's Pieces:
Unhomeliness as Arbiter of Caribbean Creolization

H. Adlai Murdoch


Any attempt to trace the many resonances that historically have been attached to the creole figure in Caribbean literature and culture will be inflected by the long and pervading presence of colonialism in the region and its attendant corollary of hierarchical social separation and difference based on perceptions of race. Indeed, the ambivalent desire and subjective misrecognition that lay at the heart of historical writing about colonialism and racism have tended to frame the issues of monstrosity and exclusion that produced the creole as part and parcel of wider colonial discourses. Thus, the shifting and increasingly unstable inscription of the creole figure echoes, in a certain sense, certain critical ambiguities of politics and temporality that color the colonial encounter and its aftermath. Specifically, in the contemporary English- and French-speaking Caribbean, the multiplicity, displacement, and creative instability that undergird creole-driven theories of postcolonial performance have supplanted this category's suspect beginnings as colonialism's model for the fearfully unnameable and unplaceable hybrid monstrosity, and now increasingly shape the substance of much of the artistic and creative work emerging from the region.

The French Caribbean has been the birthplace of the two dominant cultural theories promulgated in this field in recent years: antillanité, or Caribbeannness, first broached by the Martinican author and theorist Edouard Glissant in Le discours antillais in 1981, takes a geopolitical as well as a discursive approach to contesting the ongoing pattern of island dependence and metropolitan domination engendered in the French Caribbean by the now half-century-long practice of overseas departmentalism. By taking cognizance of the "multi-relation" that undergirds the region, Glissant writes, a new creative and cultural framework for Caribbean identity can be effectively constructed. In coming to terms with "the constantly shifting and variable process of creolization" in the Caribbean (15), he writes, its intrinsic doubleness will reveal "not only distress and loss but also the opportunity to assert a considerable set of possibilities. . . no longer in absolute terms but as active agents of synthesis" (16). The principles of créolité, on the other hand, were first elaborated in the Eloge de la créolité by Jean Bernabé, Patrick Chamoiseau and Raphaël Confiant in 1989; although roundly critiqued for valorizing position over process, and for sometimes broaching the slippery terrain of essentialism, it has quickly become a "literary movement [that] has been for the past ten years the only noteworthy one in the entire Caribbean," as [End Page 252] Michael Dash recently wrote (238). Speaking in the name of the people to whom they simultaneously addressed themselves, its authors deliberately adopted the strident tones of a manifesto, or a political declaration: "We cannot reach Caribbeanness without interior vision. And interior vision is nothing without the unconditional acceptance of our creoleness. We declare ourselves Creoles. We declare that creoleness is the cement of our culture and that it ought to rule the foundations of our Caribbeanness" (87). At bottom an artistic framework that draws on linguistic, cultural, and historical patterns of pluralism within the region to express the interconnected totality of the Caribbean experience, "Créolité," as Dash continues, "is essentially a strategic defence of the ideal of diversity in a world threatened by the disappearance of cultural difference" (239). More similar than they are different, these theoretical perspectives are firmly grounded in the materiality of Caribbean historical experience.

In a certain sense, however, the importance of patterns of creole interaction as a sort of structural foundation for Caribbean societies was in fact established prior to this through the work of the Barbadian poet and historian Edward Brathwaite. In The Development of Creole Society in Jamaica 1770-1820, Brathwaite proposed that the principle of cultural distinctness upon which much of the historical definition of the region was drawn be abandoned in favor of an increasing recognition of the intrinsic sociocultural pluralism of the islands. This pluralism was itself predicated on the complex patterns of population displacement that were the corollary of the sugar-driven process of Caribbean colonialism. As the numbers of British and French colonialists enticed by the prospect of imminent and untold wealth collided with the need for manual labor and its corollary of slavery, the Caribbean was increasingly marked by the growth of pyramid-like ethnocultural relations, with the white colonizers typically outnumbered by black slaves and their offspring by a ratio of ten to one or more. In Antigua, for example, according to Orlando Patterson, the 1678 population showed an almost equal ratio of 2,308 whites to 2,172 blacks; almost a century later, in 1775, this relationship had diverged to show 2,590 whites outnumbered by 37, 808 blacks. Even after Emancipation, as Paget Henry has shown, the ratio of whites to blacks in 1861 was 2,560 to 27,603; twenty years later, while the numbers of the former had fallen to 1,795, figures for the latter had barely slipped, to 27,219. 1 Across the board, then, such ratios were the norm and, more importantly, the sexual and social interactions among whites, free coloreds and blacks both before and after Emancipation led to increasingly slippery definitions of the category of the creole.

The 1930s saw a period of great political and economic tension in the Caribbean, with strikes and confrontations with the powers-that-be occurring in almost every island as working-class people fought white property- and plantation-owners for recognition of burgeoning trade unions and a reasonable working wage. Indeed, the political leaders that emerged from these trade union movements would, by and large, subsequently take their countries to statehood and independence, putting an end to the colonial era and constructing a framework for national political and cultural identity based on the complex social structures engendered by colonialism itself. 2 Given this background, we can now look at the resonances and parameters of the term "creole," where close examination will show it to be an inherently unstable [End Page 253] category, shot through with the ambiguities and essentialisms of its origins in the colonial period. The OED standard definition gives its etymological origin as the Spanish criollo, and inscribes the creole in terms of instability and alterity, since it figures a European or an African subject linked to displacements of place rather than race. Indeed, what is stressed is the absence of any specificity of origin or of any reference to skin color: "In the West Indies and other parts of America, Mauritius, etc.: orig. A person born and naturalized in the country, but of European (usually Spanish or French) or of African Negro race: the name having no connotation of colour, and in its reference to origin being distinguished on the one hand from born in Europe (or Africa), and on the other hand from aboriginal." As a result of this discursive and locational slippage, a creole person can be either white or black, colonizer or colonized, as the term articulates an essential ambiguity that both mediates and ruptures the strategies of containment that have driven the dominant designations of difference that have been the traditional corollary of the colonial encounter. What emerges from such a definition is primarily the play of difference that the term implies, for indeed a creole subject or culture may be black, white, East Asian, colonial or metropolitan, or, for that matter, the product of myriad ethnic and linguistic influences and cross-fertilizations. In other words, if the creole figure can be located only as one among several possibilities, or even, in some cases, several possibilities at once, then this Caribbean ethnocultural creoleness embodies multiple sites and strategies of doubling, difference, and dislocation on the cultural and performative planes.

On the one hand, then, as the subtle shift in population origins changed from Africa and Europe to the Caribbean over the nearly two hundred years that led from colonization to Emancipation, a certain cultural confluence began to emerge from this double site of domination and exchange. The principles of cultural interchange and transformation that characterize the various aspects of Caribbean creolization were thus set in motion from the earliest days of the plantation era, when, broadly speaking, Africans and Europeans entered into the pattern of forced association that would ultimately produce this regional framework of difference. At the same time, however, this innate doubleness of the creolization phenomenon produced a critical site of multivalent interculturality, in which the initial duality of the exchange itself was translated into patterns of hybridity and simultaneity, as Kenneth Bilby points out, "Blending occurred not only between European and African traditions, but also between the varied traditions of a multitude of African ethnic groups, whose cultures and languages often differed from each other at least as much as did those of the various European colonizers" (183). It is in the complexities of these exchanges that we can ultimately locate the key to Caribbean patterns of creole subjectivity.

What took place over time, then, particularly given the protracted influx of South Asian peoples into the region in the period after Emancipation, was a subtle but permanent transformation of the population that became indigenous to the region at the ethnic, religious, and cultural levels, producing the conundrum of "racial" variation and admixture within a larger Caribbean framework of religion, language, and cultural performance that separated even creole whites from their metropolitan colonial counterparts. Michael Craton describes the phenomenon this way: "As those slaves born in the Caribbean became the majority, a distinctive Afro-Caribbean [End Page 254] culture emerged . . . as an increasing proportion of the slaves became racially mixed . . . their culture borrowed what it wished from Europe to add to African traditions but remained their own" (332). While Craton's thesis is that such creolized slaves played a key role in movements of resistance and revolt, I will contend that this conjunction of "racial" mixing and cultural borrowing functions as a figure for larger constructs of doubling and displacement that ultimately locate the Caribbean creole as an ever-changing, divisible variant within an infinite spectrum of possible positions. The result is perhaps an ineluctable interstitiality, a perpetual process of shifting, exchange and metamorphosis in which, as Evelyn O'Callaghan points out, "in betweenity and ambivalence form the essence of the West Indian condition." Valorizing such patterns of creative instability over the fictions of fixity produces "an emphasis not so much on finding, leaving, or coming home, but on the process of voyaging between" (80, emphasis in the original). These plural positionalities, as I shall argue, are inscribed in Jean Rhys's use of the voyage as psychotropic sign, and are what allow the creole protagonists of her fiction to be both there and elsewhere, inheritors of Englishness who are also unequivocally Caribbean, and who display unmistakable signs of duality, fragmentation and loss when confronted with the materiality of the metropolitan Other.


Jean Rhys (1890-1979) was born Ella Gwendolyn Rees Williams, daughter of a Welsh doctor and a Caribbean creole mother, and she called the city of Roseau, capital of the island of Dominica, home for her first sixteen years, until her departure for England. Best known, perhaps, as the author of Wide Sargasso Sea, the "prequel" to Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre, Rhys also authored a number of other works, including The Left Bank, Quartet, Good Morning, Midnight, and Voyage in the Dark. Having spent her most formative years as a creole in a Caribbean colony, overdetermined by many of the same social strictures and structures as her black and "colored" counterparts—for Rhys, growing up "white" (or being able to pass for it) in the Caribbean and being inculcated with "Englishness" would have marked her on both the ethnic and cultural planes—it should come as no surprise that Rhys continually returns to this world of familiar doubleness, one in which she was paradoxically more at ease than in the sterile world of metropolitan whiteness to which her skin color appeared unequivocally to condemn her. As the social and cultural subject of a British Crown Colony, then, Rhys would have represented the shrinking category of the White West Indian; and although, as a caste, this group would have enjoyed varying degrees of social privilege depending on the ethnic and economic makeup of each island, the traces inscribed by specificities of speech, landscape, and custom were sufficient to separate this group from the bleak symmetries of London or Leeds and provided Rhys with the capacity to discursively construct a world that, in Kenneth Ramchand's words, "evokes . . . the whole system of the West Indies" (95). For if, as Ramchand claims, the category of West Indian Literature includes "a social world that is recognizably West [End Page 255] Indian in a West Indian landscape . . . written by people who were born or grew up in the West Indies" (93), even such an incomplete definition as this allows us to posit Rhys as regional author and the majority of her protagonists as displaced West Indian subjects alienated by their compulsory inscription in the metropole. Shaped by the conjunction of race and history that undergirded the slavery and segregation of the colonial enterprise, Rhys's creole subjects are ultimately severed from the complex social context that constituted them; not allowed to be West Indian but also "not European either in category or in habit," as Patrick Hogan puts it (97), this mutual exclusion becomes the core of their subjective ambiguity. This pervasive sense of dis-ease renders them "less than one but double," in Homi Bhabha's felicitous phrase, a classic instance of the colonial neither/nor binary enmeshed in the (im)possibilities of its own duality.

In Rhys' intertextual Wide Sargasso Sea (1966), she inscribes what purports to be the untold story of the Jamaican creole Bertha Mason's life prior to her marginal appearance in Jane Eyre. By deliberately underlining and interrogating the apparently oppositional tropes of metropolitan and creole identity, both by metonymically relating Rochester to the patterns of colonialism and slavery at work in the Jamaica where he accrued his wealth, and particularly through her complex portrait of the "madwoman in the attic," this "prequel" to Brontë's text deliberately destabilizes received, supposedly singular notions of "colonizer," "colonized," and "creole" as they were used in 19th-century British prose. Indeed, Rhys's treatment of Bertha clearly shows, as Gayatri Spivak explains, that "so intimate a thing as personal and human identity might be determined by the politics of imperialism. Antoinette . . . is caught between the English imperialist and the black native" (269). Such a reading implicitly posits Bertha/Antoinette as both native and Other, a "white creole" intrinsically unable to locate her true subjective space in the white-dominated, slave-based colony. In these terms, however, any interaction between agent and subject is doomed to voicelessness, as Benita Parry's reading of Spivak claims: "The story of colonialism which she reconstructs is of an interactive process where the European agent in consolidating the imperialist Sovereign Self, induces the native to collude in its own subject(ed) formation as other and voiceless" (35). If, then, Bertha/Antoinette is both European and native, then the resulting cultural and subjective chiasmus reinforces this absence of location, generating a sense of placelessness from Bertha's dual status as both and, implicitly, neither.

By revealing and underlining the doubleness and instability in contemporary conceptions of social relations and "racial" categories, then, Rhys undermines our perception of both metropole and colony and of notions of belonging and exclusion. She does this principally, in Judith Raiskin's words, "by insisting on the fluidity of the categories and of the power relations inscribed in them" (102). Concentrating on the shifting trope of Bertha's Caribbean creole heritage, Raiskin shows that the term creole itself, and particularly its contemporary double meaning that incorporated both the "white, native West Indian" and the "'colored' native of mixed racial origin" (97), allowed Rhys to mine its critical implications of instability; by incorporating both in a single character, she undoes the binary, hierarchical opposition of self and Other upon which the Victorian novelistic tradition was largely based, as well as its implicit, concurrent notions of social and cultural disjuncture. [End Page 256]

Wide Sargasso Sea, then, is clearly representative of the paradoxes and contradictions that are representative of the patterns of colonial praxis. In a fine, wide-ranging article, Peter Hulme identifies these paradoxes in Rhys's work, and links them to the instability and slippage intrinsic to the supposedly fixed binaries of post/colonial discourse: "a novel published in 1966, at a time when the general decolonisation of the British empire was well under way but before Dominica, the island of Jean Rhys's birth, had gained independence; a novel written by, in West Indian terms, a member of the white colonial elite, yet somebody who always defined herself in opposition to the norms of metropolitan 'Englishness'; a novel which deals with issues of race and slavery, yet is fundamentally sympathetic to the planter class ruined by Emancipation" (72). Paradoxes such as these effectively go to the heart of the post/colonial condition, and illuminate the extent to which our assumptions regarding post/colonial discourses—and their articulations of race, culture, and temporality—are predicated on principles of binary division. These are the difficulties that attach to Rhys's inscription of the pluralities inherent in the term "creole": by deliberately disturbing and destabilizing the boundaries and distinctions between "racial" and cultural worlds, Rhys succeeds in problematizing our understanding of and relation to these worlds. As Hulme argues: "in the West Indies the 'native' is either for the most part absent—if what is meant is indigenous—or 'creole'—if what is meant is 'born in the West Indies.' . . . to distinguish between black creole and white creole is already to blur the desired distinction" (75). Ultimately, given the doubleness—and rootlessness—inscribed in and intrinsic to the post/colonial creole figure, what these discourses both require and impose is that we broaden our understanding of the range and the resonances of native and imperialist, colonial and postcolonial.

It can now be seen that Rhys's rendition of Caribbean creole subjectivity mines the terrain of cultural "in-betweenness" so fruitfully explored in a post/colonial context by Homi Bhabha. In his mapping of the role of the interstices in colonial discourse, Bhabha posits the interstitial framework as "the specific 'interruption' . . . through which the colonial text utters its interrogations, its contrapuntal critique" (174). This undermining of the binary logic of colonial discourse articulates a critical doubleness, a subversive hybridity that, as Bhabha insists, "erases any essentialist claims for the inherent authenticity or purity of cultures" (58). If, on the one hand, their overdetermination by such structures makes Rhys's white creole protagonists representative of a social and cultural duality, proof positive of colonialism's unequivocal imbrication in the very patterns of alterity and difference it had sought to locate among the colonized and through which it had sought to rationalize the colonial project itself, such an overdetermination simultaneously elaborates a pattern of mutual exclusion that appropriates the impossibility of authenticity for alternate ends. In other words, through their (impossible) desire to belong to opposing communities and cultures, these protagonists must confront the fact that indeed, they fully belong to neither, and are symbolic of the proscriptive policies of the colonial neither/nor.

By deliberately underlining and problematizing the doubled, dissonant trope of creole identity, Rhys undermines our writerly and readerly notions of the oppositional relation between self and Other through her characterization of Bertha in Wide Sargasso Sea. Indeed, cultural "in-betweenness" is inscribed in the very discursive act [End Page 257] hat brings this character into being, contextualizing the presumed instability of the "mad creole," as Raiskin explains, by "claiming a subjectivity for a character denied a stable position in any cultural or social space. Antoinette's 'various' social positions shift with every change in her name and put her in-between the symbolic orders of English culture and black Caribbean culture" (109). Since it is both culturally and sociopolitically impossible for this subject to belong completely to either of the dominant social and "racial" categories, Rhys is able to use this cultural fluidity to interrogate the presumptions undergirding the key issues of colonialism, race, and otherness that, in Raiskin's words, "are so normalized in Brontë's text that they barely create a ripple in the story of Jane Eyre's 'progress' (114)." Ultimately, however, for both Antoinette and her mother, it is the psychological conflict between their desire to belong and their recognition of their exclusion from both the metropolitan and the slave-based axes of colonizer and colonized that highlights the interstitial pluralities of their creole subjectivity. These patterns of exclusion and unbelonging are the ones that will be relocated and reshaped in Voyage in the Dark.


In Voyage in the Dark, first published in 1934, Rhys recounts the saga of another displaced Caribbean creole female subject. Through the prism of a first-person narrative, Anna Morgan tells the story of her arrival in England, her continuing dis-ease in the metropole, her succession of friendships both male and female when her attempt at a career on the stage falls through, and her eventual pregnancy and subsequent abortion. For the most part, Rhys does not exploit the vagaries of first-person narrative, and Anna's hindsight-marked tale remains more or less linear. However, the narrative is marked by a number of intratextual passages coded as separate through their reflective tone and lack of punctuation. Such a combination suggests the interpolation of internal monologue and its opposition to linear narration, and this differential discourse highlights her fragmented positionality and interstitial, unlocalizable perspective, denoting those moments when Anna expresses the cultural displacement, alienation, and lack of belonging that increasingly characterize her British sojourn.

Having grown up in the Caribbean among English parents and migrated to England in her mid- to late teens, eighteen-year-old Anna's two-year stay in England has not been going well. She misses the cultural familiarity of home and (understandably) hates the English weather, and is constantly shivering and feverish. As a transplanted, white creole Caribbean subject, she belongs, in principle, to the colonial elite, and should have been able to inscribe herself into her maternal culture without difficulty. But the colonial surrogate family structure into which she falls provides neither warmth nor welcome; indeed, her stepmother, Hester, remains almost preternaturally absent, and on the one occasion when Anna turns to her for help, she is summarily rejected, with a lecture on the consequences of ingratitude. More to the point here, however, is the fact of her alienation and rejection by the principals of the [End Page 258] colonial family/power structure. Her constant and continuing dis-ease in the domain of the colonizing Other, then, her unremitting desire to be elsewhere, to inscribe herself in a space of belonging, lead to an incontrovertible and apparently irreversible downward spiral, where the figure of the colonial M(o)ther marks the alterity of the (typically masculine) subject, whose splitting, as Anika Lemaire suggests, results from a paradigm in which "the truth about himself, which language fails to provide him with, will be sought in images of others with whom he will identify" (73). In a colonial context, such a subject will tend to identify with the image of the Other in the form of the mother in an effort to conform to traditional patterns of nurturing and to elicit maternal protectiveness. But this metropolitan M(o)ther (country) is inscribed as an Other whose desire cannot be appropriated and who, in its turn, cannot reciprocate the desire of the creole Other. Thus, any hint of recognition here will itself be fatally flawed; as Kaja Silverman argues, "This self-recognition is . . . a mis-recognition; the subject apprehends itself only by means of a fictional construct whose defining characteristics . . . it does not share." Once the falseness of colonial symbiosis is exposed through society's exclusion of the creole, making it clear, as Silverman continues, that "to know oneself through an external image is to be defined through self-alienation" (158), Anna's shifting, interstitial cultural difference engenders a desire for integration and authenticity that she seeks to fulfill through a number of convoluted and contradictory encounters, including a series of liaisons with exploitative colonial males which becomes the ongoing marker of her inability to cope with her sense of alienation and exclusion.

From the beginning, then, the doubleness of the novelistic discourse is meant to reflect the dichotomy of its subject. Her double inscription in both metropole and colony, alienated from both but belonging completely to neither, is the source of her in-betweenness, as Andrea Lewis explains: "From the outset the novel embodies a dichotomy between the peripheral West Indian colony and the central metropolis of England that accounts for Anna's transience . . . It continually shows Anna's ambivalent position that results in her growing isolation both within English society and from her West Indian past" (84-85). This subjective splitting, then, has long been latent and is irrevocable: "It was as if a curtain had fallen, hiding everything I had ever known. It was almost like being born again. . . . I didn't like England at first. I couldn't get used to the cold" (Rhys 7). But even despite her attempts to come to terms with her alienation, it is above all the unfamiliar patterns of metropolitan symmetry that, contrasting with her internalized tropical landscape, continue to haunt Anna: "I got used to everything except the cold and that the towns we went to always looked so exactly alike" (8). Out of place and time, Anna is caught in the interstices of home and away; accepted fully neither by the one nor the other, she transforms this desire to belong into a desire to be desired, confusing lust and passion with the passion for Englishness.

In what is no doubt an uncoincidental episode of intertextual symbolism, when we are introduced to Anna in these opening pages we find her reading Nana, a novel by the French Realist author Emile Zola. As part of Zola's Rougon-Macquart series, the novel gained a certain notoriety upon its publication in 1880, due in large part to its content. For Nana is the story of the social rise of a prostitute; born the daughter of [End Page 259] Gervaise, the laundress, in an earlier novel, L'Assommoir, Nana goes from the stage to a life of luxury and vice by making herself available to upper class men, and these episodes of sensuality, striptease and sex are recounted in sometimes lurid detail. But the visible and intended parallels between both protagonists that can be drawn here are by no means infinite. While Nana is depicted as triumphant, "devouring" Parisian masculinity and its attendant wealth through what Harry Levin calls her "rage for abasement" (355), Anna (itself an anagram of Nana) comes across as a victim, one almost verging on the pathetic, who accepts money for favors while, from a social perspective, she succeeds only in running in place. And although their ends are strikingly similar—Nana lies dying, wasted by smallpox, while her botched abortion leaves us unsure if Anna will survive at all—Nana's proleptic re-presentation of Anna's subjective trajectory is predicated more on dissymmetries of class than those of "race" or culture. However, despite these patterns of metonymic reflexivity, the scene on the book's cover, "a coloured picture of a stout, dark woman brandishing a wine-glass. . . sitting on the knee of a bald-headed man in evening dress" (9), cannot contain the context of colonial disjuncture and unbelonging that is Anna's lot. Nana uses men out of a desire for revenge, and Anna is used by them out of a desire to be desired, in a dichotomy that maps very divergent economies for these narrative subjects.

An inscription in and subjection to tropes and stereotypes of difference progressively become the bane of Anna's existence in the heart of the metropole. When she first meets Walter Jeffries, he pretends to shiver when he touches her hand, and exclaims, "Oh God, cold as ice. Cold and rather clammy." At this point, her friend Maudie provides the following rejoinder: "She's always cold. She can't help it. She was born in a hot place. She was born in the West Indies or somewhere, weren't you, kid? The girls call her the Hottentot. Isn't it a shame?" Faced with this psychosomatic sign of dis-integration, Jeffries, to his credit, immediately asks "Why the Hottentot?", and allows as how he hopes she "calls them something worse back" (13), but despite his ignorance of its cultural implications and resonances it is above all the trope of the Hottentot that must engage our interest here. On the one hand, the trope can be split into its component syllabic structure, such that its initiatory fragment, "Hot," can be assimilated to a geographically and culturally essentialized characterization of Anna. Such depictions of tropical subjects as generically and genetically hot-blooded were far from unknown in metropolitan literature; such stereotypes were part and parcel of the thematic subtexts of 19th-century European narratives, and indeed, I have pinpointed elsewhere several notorious examples of this assumed propensity for early and frequent copulation among colonial island peoples in George Sand's Indiana. 3 In this example of early 19th-century French women's narrative, Sand builds on these stereotypes of early maturity and concupiscence in the tropics by putting into place two foster-sisters from the French colony of La Réunion, the black one servant to her mistress. Noun and Indiana are at the same time joined and separated, both self and other, the same yet different; both are referred to quite interchangeably in the text as la créole. Yet Noun is given pride of place in this articulation of binaries, and is defined as the arbiter of desire to which the pallid Indiana aspires. Here, creole stereotypes and colonial misconceptions are culled in order to depict Indiana, the [End Page 260] white creole metropolitan descendant, through such orientalisms as "she was born in a fiery climate and [had] nineteen years of Ile Bourbon, which are equivalent to twenty-five in our country" (41), phrases which have the effect of inscribing Indiana as the same yet different, her tropicalized hotbloodedness rendering her incomprehensible and inscrutable to her metropolitan others. Anna's assmilation to tropical heat-as-difference thus continues a European discursive tradition of creoleness as otherness, with the white subject doubly and paradoxically inscribed as both non-black and non-metropolitan, its dual framing as that which the other is not rendering it the epitome of the colonial neither/nor. The colonial discursive trajectory, then, centered in the metropole, acts as a discourse of exclusion, trapping subjects like Indiana and Anna in a no-woman's-land of duality, difference, and exclusion. But there remain much deeper resonances inscribed in the notorious colonial trope of the Hottentot.

Indeed, as we shall see, this choice of the trope of the Hottentot to characterize Anna was by no means simply fortuitous. The word itself has historically been imbued with traces of "racial" and sexual stereotyping that extend back to the early modern period. In an interesting collection of essays on these and other categories of difference entitled Difference and Pathology, Sander Gilman examines the cultural and discursive construction of a variety of stereotypes, looking in particular at those which construct or corroborate patterns of social inferiority and submission. Here, he focuses on the Hottentot as paradigmatic of such practices, as it draws initially on a conflation of blacks with a general spirit of lasciviousness and, more specifically, with an "apelike sexual appetite." The Hottentot became the epitome of pseudoscientific 19th-century racial hierarchies: "The antithesis of European sexual mores and beauty is the black, and the essential black, the lowest exemplum of mankind on the great chain of being, is the Hottentot" (83). The implicit discursive and thematic conjoining of the creole subject to an inferior heredity and an indiscriminate sexuality through this trope is thus increasingly apparent.

The ethnic and cultural implications of this discursive intersection go much deeper, however. In the person of Sarah Bartmann, the "Hottentot Venus," 19th-century "racial" science encountered perhaps the ultimate implications of contemporary colonialist ideology. As T. Denean Sharpley-Whiting argues, "19th-century French spectators did not view her as a person or even a human, but rather as a titillating curiosity, a collage of buttocks and genitalia . . . the crucial step between humanity, that is, Europeans, and animals" (17). Thus we see the beginnings of Anna's textual assimilation to the otherness and unbridled sexual desire that metropolitan societies associated with tropical climes. This process of othering through a doubling of the gaze, of constructing the self as implicitly that which the other is not, is an integral part of constructing metropolitan subjectivity, as Sharpley-Whiting continues, "This process of mediating the self, of reflecting the self, through the body of the black female Other begins and rebegins with every regard" (23). It would take only a patina of discursive legitimacy for such discourses to be accepted across the board. And indeed, it is in the "scientific" discourse of the 19th-century French anthropologist J.J. Virey that the depths of stereotyping in contemporary "racial" discourse are most effectively plumbed. As Gilman points out, Virey's published [End Page 261] work, including his own Histoire naturelle du genre humain as well as a study he contributed to the 1819 edition of the Dictionary of Medical Sciences specifically sought to explain through genetic and biological predestination the supposedly intrinsic inferiority and venality of the Hottentot female in medical terms: "Their 'voluptuousness' is 'developed to a degree of lascivity unknown in our climate, for their sexual organs are much more developed than those of whites.' Virey elsewhere cites the Hottentot woman as the epitome of this sexual lasciviousness and stresses the consonance between her physiology and her physiognomy" (85). It is clear, then, that the conjunction of climate and creoleness-as-difference must lead inexorably to sexual promiscuity, a designation beyond the control of the subject so designed. By naming Anna the Hottentot, her friends are disguising their contempt for her difference in terms that resemble familiarity; her creole whiteness, in Bhabha's paradox, renders her "almost the same but not quite . . . almost the same but not white" ("Of Mimicry" 130), the disjunctive pretender to metropolitan subjectivity and sovereignty. This colonial encounter thus functions as an overarching sign of post/colonial doubleness, as patterns of metropolitan misperception are shown to ride roughshod over the symbolic disjunctures of the Caribbean creole figure. This terminological trope thus not only prefigures Anna's subjective trajectory; it succeeds in assimilating Anna to those patterns of decadence and self-destruction to which her "inferior" genealogy condemns her.

Anna's displacement is reciprocal, then; she is as alienated and culturally different and distant from her metropolitan counterparts as they are from her. This is made abundantly clear in a series of passages couched in internal monologue, in which Anna expresses her discomfiture and sense of exclusion to an unnamed and unlocalizable interlocutor. These passages mark their difference from the rest of the text by their elliptical style and absence of punctuation, a deliberate discursive strategy meant to define Anna's cultural duality and lack of grounding in the metropole: "a small tidy look it had everywhere fenced off from everywhere else . . . I had read about England ever since I could read—smaller meaner everything is never mind—this is London—hundreds thousands of white people white people rushing along and the dark houses all alike frowning down one after the other all alike all stuck together . . . oh I'm not going to like this place I'm not going to like this place I'm not going to like this place" (17). These phrases appear to make up a single utterance, delivered from start to finish in a single breath. However, their disjointed structure simultaneously marks them off as separate in form and content from the rest of the narrative; indeed, the structure of this passage is distinctive enough to constitute an embedded narrative, an event where, as Shlomith Rimmon-Kenan succinctly states, "one sequence is inserted into another as a specification or detailing of its functions" (23). In these terms, Anna's stream-of-consciousness delivery acts as a structural and thematic commentary on the main text, highlighting through its difference from the latter's order and linearity the subjective disjuncture of Anna herself. Such cases of narrative embedding present a "relation of thematic juxtaposition," as Tzvetan Todorov explains (53), aimed at placing in sharper focus the content and theme of the main narrative. This contextual rewriting of tropes and figures already at work in the main text function to re-present Anna's disjunctive Caribbeanness, and its contrast with [End Page 262] patterns of metropolitan order and conformity. As a subject, Anna is unalterably divided, torn between the recognition of her difference and her inability to locate its symbolic center.

Stymied, caught between the impossibility of her desire and the increasingly ineluctable probability of her rejection, Anna takes refuge in an alternate trajectory of desire; she asserts a redoubled desire to be Other. Interestingly, this desire for alterity is predicated upon the recognition of her non-Englishness and a return to her Caribbean creole space: more importantly, it is also predicated on the transformation of her "racial," rather than her cultural characteristics; she now wants to be black. Through the discursive slippage of an almost imperceptible flashback, the urge to belong has her shifting from illness to Otherness: "And the heat pressing down on you as if it were something alive. I wanted to be black, I always wanted to be black. . . . Being black is warm and gay, being white is cold and sad" (31). Here, the desire for subjective metamorphosis suggests a greater legitimacy in belonging implicitly accorded to black West Indians, an assumption that leads us back to earlier conundrums concerning perceptions of native and imperialist in the region—particularly since the category of the creole subverts the notion of regional nativism itself—as well as such conclusions as might be drawn from the historical disparity in "racial" populations occasioned by the practice of colonialism and slavery. Paradoxically, however, such an assertion accomplishes two things. On the one hand, it denotes Anna's recognition of the "racial" divide that separates her—through the slavery and racism that are her family heritage as well as the corollaries of the colonial encounter—from her black Antillean counterparts, despite the geocultural parallels and similarities that they share. But at the same time it provides an implicit recognition of her (non)whiteness, of her (non)difference from the metropole and her exclusion from that popular framework and that of its colony. Indeed, this interstitiality leads her several pages later to stake a claim to her island by conjoining heritage and location, pointing out that she is "the fifth generation born out there, on my mother's side" (52). In point of fact, given the extermination of the only indigenous Caribbean population, the Carib and Arawak Indians, within a century of Columbus's arrival, such temporalities tend to elide ethnicity, and make Anna as Caribbean as any member of any other group that established itself in the region, be it pre- or post-Emancipation. But in the metropole, Anna's unhomeliness renders her still neither wholly one nor the other; she is excluded from both the metropolitan and the colonial axes despite her incontrovertible participation in both.

Here, then, is the fundamental conundrum of Caribbean creoleness: beset by the double vision of a colonial binary whose twin axes demand total allegiance, the creole subject, whether black, white, Asian, or some combination thereof, has traditionally found her/himself a victim of a mutual and irrevocable praxis of exclusion. Intolerant of a third alternative that would displace the reassuring hierarchies of "racial" and cultural difference, and thus, implicitly, the historical patterns of superiority and segregation on which the entire colonial enterprise was based, such binaries were in fact acting in their own self-interest when they allowed these paradoxes of (un)belonging and (non)recognition to persist. For by admitting, however tacitly, the possibility that both white and black creoles were joined both through a common [End Page 263] cultural background and through their displacement to their common point of origin, contemporary colonial hegemony—and its hierarchic corollaries of scale that valorized whiteness over its concomitant categories of black and mulatto—in fact would be inviting its own dissolution, sacrificing its hard-won superiority on the altar of a cultural sameness that it thus could not conceivably countenance. With no such act of discursive self-destruction forthcoming, creoles were made the scapegoats of this insistent, inalterable exclusion, one based on their unnameable, indefinable doubleness.

It is this doubleness that leads Anna to develop a critical aversion to confronting her reflection in the mirror. Interestingly, these moments seem to frame her acts of sexual congress with Walter Jeffries, and indeed, she first states this inability to confront her reflected counterpart immediately following their first time together. What she identifies, however, is an aversion to the mirror, rather than locating the lack within herself: "'I don't like your looking-glass,' I said. 'Don't you?' he said. 'Have you ever noticed how different some looking-glasses make you look?' I said. I went on dressing without looking at myself again in the glass. I thought that it had been just like the girls said, except that I hadn't known it would hurt so much" (37-38). Anna thus conflates the sense of otherness that she feels following her sexual initiation with a more generalized sense of difference, one that places her incipient transformation into a creole Nana in a metonymic relation of signification to her refusal to countenance the otherness of the counterpart. Here, then, her absent Englishness operates in conjunction with the fixation with the mirror image that is shielded by her repudiation of it; by not recognizing this definition through an external image, Anna is in fact locating her cultural alienation within the interstices of desire and difference.

Paradoxically, then, this in-betweenness, this alienated creolization, joins with her lover Jeffries' insistence on preferring "cold" to "hot" places—"I don't like hot places much. I prefer cold places. The tropics would be altogether too lush for me, I think" (54)—and effectively continues to inscribe her within a framework of difference that allows him to desire her because she is different—even "exotic"—but from which she increasingly cannot escape. When she subsequently claims that the overwhelming heat ascribed to the region is really exaggerated, and continues to insist on her Caribbeanness—"'I'm a real West Indian,' I kept saying. 'I'm the fifth generation on my mother's side'" (55)—such assertions only serve to mire her more deeply in a web of interstitial doubleness. For Anna's cultural conundrum is that being West Indian does not, by the same token, make her unEnglish: indeed, the problem for her lies in the fact that she is, in a sense, both English and West Indian, but the social structures that surround and overdetermine the material of her subjectivity and that of her counterparts cannot risk recognizing—and thereby legitimizing—the possibilities of this duality. Indeed, the symbolic implications of such an act of recognition would have immediately and irrevocably undermined the pristine purity of white colonial rule, and the concomitant concealment of its own monstrous hybridity. White or not, as a West Indian Anna must be forever and unalterably other.

What Rhys interrogates through this series of paradoxes is ultimately the validity of such concepts as belonging and national identity. Although both English and West Indian, Anna is neither completely one nor the other; as Lewis suggests, not only does Anna's fragmented voice interrogate "how the realm of Englishness extends beyond the purged, ethnocentric boundaries set up by the class- and race-specific center of the [End Page 264] British empire," this "Englishness that is not one" is the creolized trace of "a colonial history that Anna cannot shake off and that she carries with her from the West Indies to England" (90). Caught between allegiance and rejection, there is little firm cultural ground left to her. This sense of entrapment soon leads to a further attempt to reclaim her identity, predicated this time, oddly enough, on the ubiquitous British product Bourne's Cocoa. When her stepmother Hester inquires after her well-being, Anna's persistent internal monologue resurfaces, and as usual this inward conversation with an invisible other is in stark contradiction to the overt content conveyed by the spoken word. Having lied about taking singing lessons, Anna seizes on the symbolic parallel made by this advertising slogan, trying to tame the lie and the stark privations of her lifestyle by appropriating and assimilating cultural tradition, "I kept wondering whether she would ask me what I was living on. 'What is Purity? For Thirty-five Years the Answer has been Bourne's Cocoa'" (59). By refusing to admit that she has been taking money from a man in return for sexual favors, she is forced to turn to this discursive commodification—and the accompanying implication of the lasting (and therefore desirable) purity of English products (and culture) even in the corrupting humidity of the tropics—in a metonymically-driven effort to claim some redeeming purity for herself. But given the double fact of cocoa's intrinsic brownness, and of its longtime presence in the colonies as a staple and metaphor for British superiority, Anna is actually defining her own purity ironically through the double paradox of a product imported into Britain for reprocessing and colonial export. In other words, if Britishness is defined through Bourne's cocoa's brownnness—a processed product of colonial origin, which is then re-exported to be consumed by metropolitans and colonials alike, then pure she is, exalting in the difference and doubleness that ultimately drive her and Walter's desire and ground her pervasive sense of displacement.

Anna's strategy, then, turns on combating this sense of unhomeliness by appropriating colonial culture for her own subjective survival; when confronted by the stresses and impositions of Englishness, she retreats into the comforting Caribbean world of her childhood. The narrative flashbacks that mediate this alternation between here and there become increasingly extended as the narrative progresses, culminating in the lengthy return to the past that follows her visit to her stepmother and Hester's rehashing of the economic woes that marked her family during her childhood. Through her doubled cultural inscription we learn of Anna's attachment to Francine, the family maid; strikingly, she is the only person of whom she says "when I was with her I was happy" (67), in sharp contradistinction to the members of her family. She also fixes on the consumption of food in this context; Proustlike, she lists the foods associated with particular memories, such that "fishcakes and sweet potatoes and . . . stewed guavas; and bread-fruit instead of bread" are evocative of a lazy Caribbean morning spent with Hester (70). But her interludes with Francine, "small and plump and blacker than most of the people out there" (67), are moments of bliss that she associates with a Caribbeanness that goes beyond family. It is with Francine that she engages in the ritual Caribbean verbal exchange "Timm timm . . . bois sèche" (71), descended from slave practice, that begins the folktales that Francine recounts. But even such markers of an integrated Caribbean sense of self cannot mask the contrapuntal tension that is also an intrinsic element of this experience. [End Page 265]

At the same time, however, we see an increasing number of moments when Anna's sense of belonging seems to lose its sense of direction, abandoning her to an interstitial, anchorless alienation. When she turns to her recollection of Caribbean flora, in response to a question from Jeffries, the paradoxical result appears to be a greater sense of separation from her cultural milieu: "But when I began to talk about the flowers out there I got that feeling of a dream, of two things that I couldn't fit together, and it was as if I were making up the names. Stephanotis, hibiscus, yellow-bell, jasmine, frangipanni, corolita" (77-78). Here, her sense of unhomeliness cannot be transcended, and the resulting defamiliarization works through language to transform the known into the unknown. In these terms, her reference to Francine's having "said something in patois" amounts to a tacit admission that she was unable to follow or decipher this slavery-born key to day-to-day communication, and this inscription of a coded language barrier—and of her exclusion from it—is followed by the complex hierarchies engendered by "racial" difference: "But I knew of course that she disliked me too because I was white; and that I would never be able to explain to her that I hated being white. Being white and getting like Hester, and all the things you get. . . old and sad and everything" (72). The multiple contradictions that Anna displays here go to the core of her cultural experience of alienation and difference.

It is now increasingly evident that Anna's isolation from a sense of Englishness is not an isolated phenomenon. Indeed, what is striking is that such feelings appear to have uncanny parallels in her Caribbean youth. As much as she likes Francine, as much as her Caribbeanness takes on added holistic shades whenever they are together, they remain firmly separated by the bounds of both "race" and class. Further, her repeated assertions that she prefers to be black bespeak, perhaps, a tacit desire for inclusion, for she must acknowledge the reality of Francine's dislike of her, one predicated on differences in social hierarchy and in skin color. These contradictions suggest that Anna's cultural in-betweenness is a part not just of her English universe, but also of her Caribbean one, and that her creoleness has long proved an insurmountable obstacle to any construction of a valid sense of self-worth. But even these realizations are thrown into disarray when Anna accuses Hester of "trying to make out that my mother was coloured . . . You always did try to make that out. And she wasn't" (65). Now, although any attempt to try and define the precise parameters of the word "coloured" here would be almost as foolhardy as trying to take stock of the resonances of the word creole, we can reasonably claim that it signifies some variant of "nonwhite." Indeed, the term has historically and interchangeably been used in the Caribbean to designate both the "black" and "mixed-race" categories; as Kenneth Ramchand rightly states, "in complexion they ranged from near-White to Black; some were wealthy and owned property, some were well educated, and many were as poor and illiterate as Negroes" (West Indian 39). In any event, Anna here is quite insistent that her mother was neither, leaving the fact that she was white as the only possible conclusion. This steadfast claim of an incontrovertible whiteness perhaps explains her oft-stated desire to be black, and deepens the cultural exclusion and psychological doubleness by which she is clearly framed. In fact, what emerges from this discursive and cultural conundrum is Anna as unlocalizable subject, inscribed against her will in a succession of colonial binaries: here, by seeming both "less than [End Page 266] one" and yet definitively, decisively double, she embodies the lack and interstitiality that together undergird her subjectivity. In other words, Anna has always everywhere been Other, and if this figure, as Jonathan Rutherford suggests, "in its very alienness, simply mirrors and represents what is deeply familiar to the centre, but projected outside of itself" (22), then Anna's problematic relation to—and refusal of—the patterns and paradigms of colonialism serves to illuminate her embodiment and re-presentation of the imperial metropole's latent, fatal flaw.

The point to be made here, then, is that Anna's subjectivity exceeds the binary parameters that colonialism establishes for both metropole and colony. Overdetermined by this framework of excess, Anna's mutual exclusion effectively marks her as the dangerous supplement, as that which is extraneous to the whole but which, incongruously, also determines it. In other words, such a phenomenon may be deconstructively defined by an incessant slippage between the presence of the supplement and the partial absence governing the object it supposedly mediates. This engenders a cultural simulacrum, grounded in what Derrida terms "the supplementary mediations that produce the sense of the very thing that they defer: the impression of the thing itself, of immediate presence. . . Immediacy is derived" (157). The resulting construct is a complex one, predicated on an incessant pattern of doubling and refraction that, as Jonathan Culler explains, is grounded in an intrinsic lack: "The logic of supplementarity . . . reveals an inherent lack or absence within it, so that . . . the additional extra . . . becomes an essential condition of that which it supplements" (104). Thus Anna's unlocalizable creole subjectivity serves to locate the implicit absence that undergirded the logic of colonialism; this last defined its subjects as that which the Other was not, deriving from this paradox of an implicit, unacknowledged alterity an impossible hierarchy of sameness and difference. If, then, the creole subject is an essential element of the post/colonial condition, grounded both in a supposed metropolitan superiority that led to a world of opposition and classification and in the implicit inferiority of colonial submission, then the intrinsic logic of slippage that governs this creole doubleness is in fact the unacknowledged arbiter of colonialism's ultimate and inevitable dissolution.


Anna's fragmented subjectivity, then, and its attendant corollaries of displacement, provide Rhys with the basis for interrogating the principles and practices of colonialism. Its discontents serve to dis-locate Anna as subject, and to re-place her within a post/colonial context of difference, one that simultaneously subverts and reshapes the binaries and hierarchies of the colonial condition. It is this aura of dis-placement that explains the oddities of Anna's language, such that her predilection for ellipses, stream-of-consciousness and internal monologue are in fact discursive techniques aimed at re-presenting the creolized disjunctures of this character's subjectivity. Thus, the unpunctuated monologue that conveys her initial impressions of England—"oh I'm not going to like this place I'm not going to like this place I'm not [End Page 267] going to like this place" (17)—seeks to capture the nuances of the disordered subject within the representative framework of narrative order. Her letter to Walter Jeffries after she hears from his cousin Vincent conveying Walter's desire to break off the relationship is similarly constructed, and is a response to an original colonizing gesture grounded in a conflation of society, language and gender. By using his "agent," Vincent, to perform by proxy an act distasteful to him, "Vincent exerts the paralegal power of society," as Nancy Harrison explains, "of the men of that society, to control a woman's life through their conventional language practices" (93). Thus the critical role played by language in the patterns of social control that were but a precursor to colonialism is both displayed and disturbed by Anna's monologue to Jeffries: its re-iteration of earlier patterns of repetition and punctuation suggests the destabilizing effect that the breakup with Walter, and its corollary of an end to desire and its concomitant recognition, are having upon her: "You can't possibly do this you simply don't know what you're doing if I were a dog you wouldn't do this I love you I love you I love you but you're just a god-damned rotter everybody is everybody is everybody is" (104). By virtue of the fact that the first exclamation takes place in internal monologue, and this last in epistolary form, the narrative further blurs the distinctions between speech and writing for the subjective construction of Anna as fragmented colonial supplement. Indeed, such discursive displacements are crucial to re-presenting her innate, unlocalizable alienation.

After her breakup with Jeffries, and several months of living as a semi-prostitute, Anna discovers that she is pregnant. At her friend Maudie's suggestion, she turns to Jeffries for help, and the latter again dispatches his "agent," Vincent, who conveys his desire to help and, perhaps even more importantly, retrieves the letters that Jeffries had written to Anna when they were seeing each other. Finally, the abortion procedure is botched, and as her recuperative period accrues additional complications, Anna is literally left hanging in the balance. In the depths of her illness, she begins to hallucinate, and returns in her mind to a moment when, during her Caribbean childhood, she watched a carnival procession with other members of her family. Interestingly, this hallucinatory passage is italicized, and its accompanying absence of punctuation and stream-of-consciousness style mark it as an additional, specific instance of identitarian internal monologue: "a mask father said with an idiot behind it I believe the whole damned business is like that—Hester said Gerald the child's listening—. . .—Aunt Jane said I don't see why they should stop the Masquerade they've always had their three days Masquerade ever since I can remember why should they want to stop it some people want to stop everything" (184-85). Here, Anna's implicit acceptance of the displacements the Masquerade represents provides the key to the symbolic resonances inscribed in this passage.

The importance of Anna's assimilation and re-presentation of the Carnival trope here is a critical one, for together with her incipient madness it articulates the sum total of her ongoing, insistent difference from the metropole. Indeed, the social role played by carnival in the Caribbean makes it much more than "a parade of blacks on the island," as Nancy Harrison puts it, and the history of its provenance means that Anna's "vision of society as carnival" marks more than "a moment of brutal injustice rather than . . . a conservative moment of saving play" (102-3). If, as I shall claim, [End Page 268] Caribbean carnival is not only crucially different from its European paradigm, but is also a primary means of identity affirmation for the social whole, then both the style and the content of Anna's internal monologue are geared toward accomplishing a subjective affirmation that, even at this juncture, remains insistently present.

Traditional, European-based carnival festivities are still seen mainly from the oppositional perspective of the ribald, parodic, and grotesque subversion of established social norms and religious rituals outlined by Mikhail Bakhtin. In Rabelais and His World, Bakhtin analyzed carnival as a social practice of release, a communal extravaganza of liberation and renewal, "During carnival time life is subject only to its laws . . . the laws of its own freedom" (7). But the society eventuated in the Caribbean by the complex circumstances of slavery, emancipation, ethnic admixture, and colonial subjugation ultimately effected a complete transformation of carnivalesque principles and practices, building on the region's cultural pluralism and its metamorphoses of intersecting cultural practices and belief systems. As Bettelheim, Nunley, and Bridges point out in Caribbean Festival Arts, Caribbean carnival came to be a direct reflection of its plural ethnic and cultural history, "The Caribbean's ethnic complexion, as well as its dynamic economic and political history, are the ingredients of its festival arts . . . Caribbean festival arts are evidence of the transformation worked by a creole aesthetic" (34-35). Seen in these terms, Carnival is inherently a postcolonial celebration of identity, multiplicity, and ethnic and historical survival, in which subversion, parody and performance play equally critical roles in defining and disseminating a national sense of self.

It is by virtue of the fact that she is the only one of the watching family members who understands and identifies with this spectacle that Anna, alternating between the twin displacements of past and present, can now claim, "I was looking out of the window and I knew why the masks were laughing and I heard the concertina-music going." This creole culture with which she identifies is denied by her family, their distance from it summarized by Aunt Jane's insistent reference to the group the masqueraders represent as "they," but this hybrid construct is integral to her own burgeoning subjectivity. This Caribbean cultural inscription also undergirds her identification with the black concertina-man and the French creole that punctuates his song: "The concertina-man was very black—he sat sweating and the concertina went forwards and backwards backwards and forwards one two three one two three pourquoi ne pas aimer bonheur supreme" (186). This discursive generation of complex and intersecting cultural patterns, languages, and rhythms defines her metonymically as creole even as it marks her exclusion, and explains her inability to adjust to the metropole's paralyzing, repetitive sameness: "Everything was always so exactly alike—that was what I could never get used to. And the cold; and the houses all exactly alike, and the streets going north south, east, west, all exactly alike" (179). In this overwhelming linearity of the metropolitan landscape, achieved by the expedient of denying its own alterity, this moment marks a critical disruption of modernity; it is Anna's insistent break with this framework, marked, as we have seen, by her ambiguities of expression, ethnicity, and social inscription, that, in Jamesonian terms, allows her to compensate for modernity's monotony through her insistence on her own contradictions. If the collision of style and modernity suggests, as Jameson puts it, "the possibility of [End Page 269] reading a given style as a projected solution, on the aesthetic or imaginary level, to a genuinely contradictory situation in the concrete world of everyday social life" (225), then, in their deliberate disjunctions from Rhys's overall narrative schéma, both the form and the content of Anna's discursive inscription become the indelible markers of the difference and the doubleness that are her lot.

Simultaneously, this metropolitan desire for sameness condemns Anna's insurgent, unnameable creole difference to the inevitability of dusty death: "When their voices stopped the ray of light came in again under the door like the last thrust of remembering before everything is blotted out" (187-88). This dreamlike moment of extinction, preceded as it is by Anna's descent into madness, builds towards a hybrid state in which the dream—and Anna herself—straddles the boundaries of the real and the imaginary, since the condensation and displacement of the dreamwork amplify her doubleness by making her appear simultaneously whole and fragmented. Given the insistent hierarchies of the colonial binary, then, metropolitan exclusion of Anna's difference by ultimately resorting to her death is a move meant to ensure its own survival, but in the end, her dreamstate does allow her hybridity to have its day.

The fragmentation and erasure of Anna Morgan that we witness in this novel are ultimately symptomatic of a deep-seated intolerance on the part of the imperial metropole; having laid a separate framework for the Other, and, through this Other, itself, it refused to envision those cultural possibilities that fell outside, or between, its preordained borders. Indeed, this tertiary alterity mapped by Rhys draws on the sense of implicit tension in a colonially-driven social framework whose hierarchies were increasingly threatened and whose dissolution perhaps appeared to be imminent, as Robert Young explains: "The need for organic metaphors of identity or society implies a counter-sense of fragmentation and dispersion." Thus the Janus-like face of the colonial project produced, in spite of itself, a set of dualities that reflected the doubleness and displacement at the core of the metropole itself even as this doubleness and displacement were themselves resisted and denied, as Young continues: "in the disruption of domestic culture, and in the increasing anxiety about racial difference and the racial amalgamation that was apparent as an effect of colonialism and enforced migration" (4). In these terms, the difference that Anna Morgan represents is inadmissible, a breakdown of the hierarchies that ultimately ground the presumed unicity of metropolitan mastery and justify colonialism's civilizing mission. What Anna's unhomely conundrum interrogates and illuminates, finally, is both the ineluctable presence of Otherness within the metropolitan framework and its intersection with the creative instability framed in the interstitial insights of the Caribbean creole subject.


H. Adlai Murdoch is an associate professor of French and Francophone literature at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He is author of Creole Identity in the French Caribbean Novel and articles that have appeared in such journals as Research in African Literatures, Yale French Studies, and Callaloo.


1. Patterson's table appears among the Notes on p. 478, and shows a consistent growth in the extent to which blacks outnumbered whites in the island, beginning with the population figures for 1709. Henry's table appears on page 85 of his book, and also clearly shows the ongoing numerical superiority of the slave population.

2. For useful accounts of this period, see A Short History of the West Indies, by J.H. Parry and Philip Sherlock (New York: St Martin's, 1971), particularly Chapter XVIII. See also The Making of the [End Page 270] West Indies, by F.R. Augier, S.C. Gordon, D.G. Hall, and M. Reckord (London: Longman, 1989), particularly Chapters Twenty-three and Twenty-four.

3. For a fuller and comparative reading of this phenomenon, see my article "Ghosts in the Mirror: Colonialism and Creole Indeterminacy in Brontë and Sand," College Literature 29.1 (January 2002).

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