Reawakening the Repressed:
Postcolonial narrative strategies in Calixthe Beyala's Tu
t'appelleras Tanga, Patrick Chamoiseau 's Texaco, and Rachid
Mimouni's La Malédiction.
Abstract: This study considers narrative
strategies in three postcolonial novels, all written in French but each one
functioning within a particular socio-cultural space.
In their attempt to awaken the subconscious that had been repressed during
the colonial period, many postcolonial writers define their work as a "cultural
reconstruction", seeking to find a new national identity. Henceforth, they
question all power structures forged by history through the tool of language.
Paradoxically, the implementation of this cultural reconstruction is experienced
through a forcibly imposed language, that of the former colonizer. But these
postcolonial writers reconsider their relation with this language, which they
now "appropriate" and "rearticulate" to mirror local meanings and repressed
desires. This is why the language of these texts, at first glance, destabilizes
their readers, especially those from outside, by confronting them with hitherto
unfamiliar images, figures, and symbols. At the same time, this particular
language surpasses the mimetic style of certain earlier writers, mostly
colonial, with regard to "universal" literary models.
The writers whose works I analyze, although from spaces geographically and
culturally different, share the French colonial experience and its legacy.
Calixthe Beyala is from Cameroon, which similarly to many West-African
countries, experienced the passage to independence in the sixties but the
political autonomy is still a small legal step in a far more complex process
leading to full cultural autonomy. In North-Africa where Rachid Mimouni is
originated, the recent rise in strict Islamicism following in the wake of a
prolonged struggle for independence in Algeria have made social healing and the
passage to democracy a receding hope. In the Caribbean where Patrick Chamoiseau
is from, Haiti has been independent since the early 1800's, and Martinique and
Guadeloupe have opted for ambiguous status as French "départements".
Calixthe Beyala brings an original voice to African postcolonial literature,
one written from a female perspective. She uses a provocative tone and graphic
violence in her writing, which echoes her desire to emancipate women. Patrick
Chamoiseau reconstructs the "Totality" of the Creole culture in referring to
Martinique as a Caribbean entity with a very different history, while Rachid
Mimouni uses allegory as a strategy to deconstruct imposed conflictual
ideologies under the pretext of religion and secular power in today's Algeria.
In addition to the particular use of language, these original voices attempt to
surpass colonial quarrels by mobilizing their discourse to the specific
realities they individually experience and witness.
First, I give the historical, cultural, and literary contexts from which
these texts have emerged. Secondly, I analyze the ways these writers translate
the implications of events they experience and/or witness, and the different
strategies they apply to those implications. I focus on the ways language is
used as a cultural device that dynamically participates in the construction of
these writers' "vision" of the world. Finally, I trace the similarities and the
differences between these texts with a focus on their particular meaning in the
emerging literatures of the postcolonial world in French.