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Callaloo 25.3 (2002) 969-976
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"I Made Him"
Sadomasochism in Kincaid's The Autobiography of My Mother
Gary E. Holcomb and Kimberly S. Holcomb
Why should this punishment have made a lasting impression on me, redolent as it was in every way of the relationship between captor and captive, master and slave, with its motif of the big and the small, the powerful and the powerless, the strong and the weak . . . ?
Although preoccupations with sexual desire and the sexualized body have driven her work from the beginning, the issue of sexuality has not yet been sufficiently addressed in the novels of Jamaica Kincaid. 1 In Lucy, for example, a young Afro-Caribbean woman launches her own sexual adventures, taking on for herself the identity of the European desiring adventurer after the fashion of a Paul Gauguin, thereby challenging fundamental conditions for the sexuality of colonialism, of dominance and submission. 2 And now with The Autobiography of My Mother, readers confront a new direction in the Kincaidian script: a depiction of a scene of sadomasochism, with an Afro-Carib woman bound by her white European lover, then following the steps typical of S/M psychodrama. Blacks in Kincaid's novel are those "for whom history had been a long, dark room, which made them hate silence" (62). "The silence," must consequently be "broken by a designated crier, . . . who repeats . . . the list of violations, the bad deeds" (60). The novel may be read, therefore, as the act of breaking silence, the "crier" using pain and punishment to demonstrate the brutality of history written ineradicably onto the bodies of West Indian people.
However, the text sends conflicting signals, frequently indicating that pain is liberating, an experience that through control and pushing the boundaries of discipline permits a knowledge of the body inaccessible via the constraints of more socially sanctioned sexual activity. Pain, or what one does with it, is the locus of meaning in the novel, in that through it the character Xuela both takes on and rescripts a scene painful in memory, and simultaneously repossesses her own objectified body. The following will focus on a single highly charged scene in the novel. We will first recount the scene. Then we will provide background and a reading of the scene according to S/M theory. Finally, we will theorize possible intersections of S/M and colonialism as it applies to a major contemporary West Indian author. [End Page 969]
During the most meticulously drawn and lengthiest sexual scene in the novel, Xuela tells the reader that her lover, Philip, an English physician, calls her name as if "imprisoned in the sound" of it. The scene demonstrates the novel's problematization of traditional gendered images as they are bound up with colonialist ideology. Rather than depicting the typical masochistic male hero's longing for his desired object, here even more objectified in her "exoticism," the perspective is Xuela's as she interprets her lover's call as desperate with desire.As she pulls her nightgown over her head, she becomes entangled so that she stands before Philip, arms above her head, naked from the neck down. Xuela says, "I do not know how long I stood like that, it could have only been a moment, but I became eternally fascinated with how I felt then" (153). Xuela experiences "a sweet, hollow feeling, an empty space with a yearning to be filled" until the yearning is exhausted (154).
At this point, the scene takes on a cast unfamiliar to Kincaid's readership. Xuela removes Philip's belt, and, using her mouth, secures "it tightly around my wrists." She raises her hands, puts her chest to the wall, and turns her head away. What follows turns on the clause "I made him":
I made him stand behind me, I made him lie on top of me, my face beneath his; I made him lie on top of me, my back beneath his chest; I made him lie in back of me and place his hand in my mouth . . . ; I made him...