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Jean-Francois Lyotard's book, The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge (1979), is a powerful analysis of postmodern aesthetics. Lyotard states that "a postmodern artist or writer is in the position of a philosopher: the text he writes, the work he produces are not in principle governed by preestablished rules,...by applying familiar categories to the text or to the work...the writer, then [works]...without rules...let us wage war on totality" (81-82). This description is applicable to the postmodern writers, Nalo Hopkinson and Maxine Hong Kingston, who engage a myriad of postmodern concepts in their masterpieces Midnight Robber and The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood among Ghosts, respectively. Consequently, the theoretical insights of Jean-Francois Lyotard, Jean Baudrillard, Arjun Appadurai, Frederick Jameson, Linda Hutcheon and many others, can be used to thoroughly analyse these quintessential postmodern texts, whereby the writers deploy eclectic styles that are harmoniously coupled with hybrid identities. While the postmodern aesthetics displayed within these texts entertain and enchant readers, they also successfully archive the political aim of subverting grand narratives.
Postmodernism provides us with techniques to make value judgments in the absence of such overall authorities. One such technique is skepticism which is an essentially negative form of philosophy that sets out to undermine other philosophical theories which claim to possess ultimate truth. This idea of claiming truth caused Lyotard to change from being a Marxist to an Antimarxist when he realized that Marxism was very authoritarian in nature. Lyotard argues that "knowledge is now the world's most important commodity and that it may well become a source of conflict between nations in the future. Whoever controls knowledge, he insists, now exerts political control, and he is keen to ensure that the dissemination of knowledge is kept as open as possible (Sim 8).
Certainly political systems such as Capitalism, Patriarchy, Marxism and even Liberal Humanism all seek to have power and control by feigning to be a natural part of life. Consequently, after the war years (1939-1945), Postmodernist theorists aimed at nullifying such claims. There was a pretentious nature of modernist art and literature that these theorists tried to identify and eliminate (Bertens 4). Postmodernist representations were therefore firstly found in art, history and architecture. Secondly, in philosophy, as a debate over whether truth needs and can have a foundation. And thirdly as a general account of contemporary cultures.
Work is postmodern if there is a significantly radical "breaking of the frameâ€¦ for instance the breaking down of the boundaries among genres" (Kershner 75). Thus the new postmodern epoch proclaims freedom and embraces a cultural eclecticism, that is, ideas of style from a wide range of sources. As Terry Eagleton puts it "the typical postmodern work of art is arbitrary, eclectic, hybrid, decentred, fluid, discontinuous, pastiche-like" (202). Consequently both Hopkinson and Kingston allow postmodern theory and art to grow out of each other creating what can be deemed beautiful poetics. Both texts are what we can term hybridized text whereby both Hopkinson and Kingston subvert or challenge official narratives such as myths, legends and customs of the Caribbean and China, respectively.
Both Hopkinson and Kingston therefore adopt eclectic styles of writing which create these hybridized texts. Hopkinson and Kingston have therefore entered what Wilson Harris suggests are:
The fossil spaces of time [whereby they] dig up, turn over, and unearth lost narratives buried within the Caribbean's [and China's] land and landscape. They resurrect lost narratives, narratives of resistance, buried voices, and ancestral rhythms in order to implant and grow a more hybridized text in which the past and present are contiguously related. (Renk 20)
Both texts epitomize the postmodern aesthetic as hybridized characters are concomitantly formed creating an ingenious opportunity to parody grand narratives. These texts challenge borders and limits and thus reflect the postmodern impulses of both Hopkinson and Kingston.
The postmodern impulses of these two writers are seen as there is a blurring or indecision as to the particular intended genre adopted. Hopkinson is uncertain as to what genre her novel fits, thus she states "stories about duppies, rolling calves and such could be considered fantasy, science fiction/ magical realism" (Watson- Aifah 167), suggesting that it may be a concatenation of all three modes of writing. Indeed her novel falls into the categories of all three literary genres as Midnight Robber, is a "futuristic tale that delves deeply into Caribbean legend and folklore... [It] showcases her gift for blending various creoles with conventional English" (Watsin-Aifah 160).
Similarly, Kingston's The Woman Warrior is a complex, atypical autobiographic novel as it goes against linear chronology. Because of the multilayered nature of these texts, Ralph Cohen asks and answers the question, 'Do postmodern genres exist?' He explains that postmodern writing blurs genres, transgresses them, or unfixes boundaries that conceal domination or authority, and that 'genre' is an anachronistic term and concept (21). As a result these two books ideally deploy postmodern aesthetics "as the genre is no longer pure" and similarly the identities and nationalisms that they embody are also impure.
These novels draw on the revisionary power of the oral tradition through storytelling, therefore the written text becomes part if this tradition. Hence the technique of stream of consciousness is often used in such versatile texts. Stream of consciousness is, according to M. H. Abrams, a mode of narration that undertakes to reproduce, without a narrator's invention, the full spectrum and continuous flow of the character's mental processes, in which sense perceptions mingle with conscious and half-conscious thoughts, memories, expectations, feelings and random associations (299). This is seen in Midnight Robber as an electronic robot referred to as Eshu, narrates the story of the protagonist Tan Tan. Eshu conveys to Tan Tan's unborn baby the story of its incestuous conception. In so doing, Eshu recounts the legend of its mother, Tan Tan, and the evil memory of its father, Antonio Habib.
Additionally, The Woman Warrior takes the form of a non-linear autobiographical memoir. Both texts are sporadically littered with folktales, legends, songs, chants, and flashbacks which attest to the technique of intertextuality adopted by both writers. Intertextuality is another postmodern aesthetic characteristic of both texts, thus the narrations of the novels are fragmented and discontinuous. This is one technique that goes in accordance to what Lyotard refers to as the "quintessential form of imaginative invention," which is praised by many critics such as, Wilson Harris, a prominent postcolonial writer and theorist, who considers imaginative invention and creativity to be "fundamental value[s] in all forms, taken by the initiative imagination; creativity is the key to integrating the normally discrete spheres of religious, political and literary activity" (Riach 11).
Certainly, postmodernism embraces difference, hence, both Hopkinson's and Kingston's styles of writing are similar in many respects. Hopkinson's novel is referred to as speculative fiction which is "a great place to warp the mirror, and thus impel the reader to view differently things that they've taken for granted" (Glave 149). It is also referred to as futuristic fiction and fantasy, which, according to Gregory Rutledge, "encompasses a variety of subgenres: hard science fiction, speculative fiction, fantasy, sword-and-sorcerer fantasy, and cyberpunk" (236). The novel lays claim to the fact that there is an intricate intersection between postmodernism and postcolonialism as Hopkinson puts an interesting twist to Western Science Fiction by setting her text within a Caribbean context. This was quite radical as she breaks boundaries and redefines the genre of science fiction within Midnight Robber. The book can thus be viewed within the framework of both postmodern and postcolonial paradigms. Both postmodernism and postcolonialism highlight the deception of grand-narratives and hegemonic laws, and are interested with the marginalized; thus both theoretical thoughts critique the totalizing logic of modernism.
Hopkinson embraces this facet of her text when she explains that she uses science fiction as "a subversive literature... [as the genre has the ability to] point out systematic flaws in our social systems" (Anatol 111) which is consequently a means of waging war against totality. Ralph Pordzik thus claims that in the "de-totalizing and de-temporalizing space it creates, dissent and dis-continuity dictate the course of action, effectively putting into practice in the realm of the literary text the 'pluriverse' of concepts, fictions, and discourses that constitute postmodernism's revisionist agendas" ( 5). Consequently the revisionist agenda of the postmodernist writer is to produce aesthetic duplicity or ambivalence which is the first strategy employed when subverting grand-narratives.
Firstly, the adoption of the concept of magical realism is in many ways reflective of the notion of aesthetic duplicity. According to Wendy B Faris, "magical realism, wherever it may flourish and in whatever style, contributes significantly to postmodernism" (166). She states this in reference to the ontological nature of the postmodern ethos as it is concerned with notions of being. Consequently, she continues by saying, "as we read magical realist texts, the magic seems to grow almost imperceptibly out of the real...ancient systems of belief and local lore often underlie the text" (174-182). The magical realist novel wages war on totality as it is a concept that is quite paradoxical in nature. The very term 'magical realism' suggests a juxtaposition of the real and fantasy. Consequently, through the merging of these two narrative techniques, science fiction and magical realism, Hopkinson is able to subvert grand-narratives of Capitalist oppression, exploitation, and violent patriarchy.
The novel juxtaposes two antithetical worlds: Toussaint and New Half-Way Tree. Toussaint is a planet furnished with very sophisticated technology and machinery which make life easier for its occupants. The main characters, Tan Tan, and her father, a powerful mayor, Antonio Habib, and her mother, Ione Brasil, is therefore a part of this manicured civilization. The technology on this planet is amazingly advanced that it becomes the overarching system that controls the day to day activities among and around the citizens. This totalizing system is referred to as Granny Nanny, an artificially intelligent omniscient system that runs the planet. Granny Nanny serves as the God of the text; hence characters call on it for help and guidance and also praise it. This technological system is given a feminine name which is one way in which Hopkinson goes against the idea of European Christian teachings of God as a male father figure. The European colonizers brought this religious doctrine and imposed it on the colonized. These teachings are spearheaded by notions of a male God as the head of all humankind. Granny Nanny is therefore antithesis to such a paradigm as Toussaint is governed by a female presence. The planet is described as having "tools, the machines, the buildings, even the earth itself on Toussaint and all the Nation Worlds had been seeded with nanomites...Nanomites had run the nation ships. The Nation Worlds were one enormous data-garthering system that exchanged information constantly through the Grande nanotech Sentient Interface: Granny Nansi's Web" (Midnight Robber 10). Nevertheless, although this ruling system is reminiscent of a female figure, the planet is not exempt from male patriarchal violence and political oppression.
Consequently, Toussaint, while it may be presented as an ideal society is quite dystopian in nature. It is a colonized space, whereby the people are trapped by technology. Technologically advanced machines and systems are their masters, and appear to have more life and power than human beings; hence, when Antonio finds Ione in an adulterous position with Quashee, it was stated, "The eshu's voice sounded like it had a mocking smile on it. Like even self Antonio's house was laughing at him?" (14). Furthermore, the very name, 'Toussaint,' hints at such mockery as this name is reminiscent of a historical freedom fighter, however, irony lies in the fact that there is no freedom on this planet due to the omniscient presence of Granny Nanny. There are consequently many references to colonial enslavement of the African man, for instance, "Long time... [in] a sea ship... them black people inside woulda been lying pack up head to toe...with chains round them ankles...unable to move" (21). This, along with many other backward glances to the time of colonial oppression, hint to the metaphorical meaning implied by the implantation of nanomites in to the ear of each citizen. This act is reminiscent of the forced penetration or rapes of the many African women and children by the European colonizers.
Furthermore, a very postmodern concept that is expressed within the novel is the fluidity of boundaries between the worlds of Toussaint and New Half-Way Tree. New Half-Way Tree is a place where law offenders are exiled to as a form of punishment. This act marks the very draconian and inhumane laws that govern the planet of Toussaint. New Half-Way Tree was in no way technologically advanced for "as it got darker a woman with a ladder came out and climbed the lamppost in the village square" (133). Unfortunately, Tan Tan slips into this new world with her father and must now acclimatize herself to new ways of living. This is a journey backward, as Tan Tan moves from development to underdevelopment, and so a deep nostalgia for the past is created within her which causes her to become decentred. This translocation commences her journey into a life of trauma and pain as she is not only spatially decentred, but she is also a psychologically decentred vulnerable child.
Tan Tan no longer has her eshu which was her main source of comfort, hinted to by the statement: "No-one else would play with her, so she talked to the eshu. Not just for her lessons...but for all the questions the grownups wouldn't answer for her" (30). She must now take her journey towards self discovery alone. Furthermore, life for Tan Tan becomes even more complex when her father, whom she loves very much, rapes her. One critic, Heather Shaw, refers to this as the inception of "the aura of ambivalence". This ambivalence is explained as "a kind of duality in the relationships that [Hopkinson] examines closely...how the power parents have over their children can be extremely comforting and undeniable terrifying" (Anatol 111). The rape simultaneously reflects the overarching patriarchal ideology within the novel. This was Antonio's way of regaining the entitlement that he lost. He therefore abuses his power both in Toussaint as well as in New Half-Way Tree. This abuse of power is linked to the oppressive acts done to Africans by imperialists and done to women by men. The ambivalence of the law is also hinted to as Antonio is always trying to escape the law, as he thrives to be his own law. Furthermore, a character named One Eye, was the upholder of law and order in New Half-Way Tree. He was also quite draconian in carrying out the law, thus he "takes a life for a life". His name suggests the one-sided and imbalance nature of justice at times.
Tan Tan's rape certainly psychologically decentres her, as a split personality emerges from this violation. Her "daddy was [now] two daddies. She felt her own self split into two to try to understand, to accommodate them both... she closed her mind to what bad Antonio was doing to her bad body" (140). From that moment on she boiled with self-contempt and accepted his deception as her fault. Thus a disparaging voice sporadically spoke to her condemning everything she did and consistently reminded her of her worthlessness. Essentially Tan Tan was now decentred on two levels. Firstly, she was decentred biologically, for she was a child of mixed decent, as her mother "had all bloods flowing [through her]" (137), and secondly, she was decentred psychologically. Tan Tan therefore fills what Homi Bhabha refers to as a luminal space of inbetweeness. The in-between space or the liminal space, are concepts coined by Bhabha, whose analysis of hybrid identities are constructed in a space that he calls the "third space of enunciation" (Ashcroft 109). Tan Tan also becomes what Hassan refers to as the embodiment of great indeterminacy. Indeterminacy according to Hassan includes "all manner of ambiguities, ruptures, and displacements affecting knowledge and society...Indeterminacies pervade our actions, ideas, [and] interpretations" (150).
This in-betweenity and liminality account for Tan Tan's adaption of the midnight robber persona, which was her embittered, lawless alter ego. This psychological decentring can be further understood by the theoretical underpinnings of the French postmodernist, Jean Baudrillard, as Tan Tan escapes into a third order space that Baudrillard calls the hyperreal, whereby signs become more real than reality. This hyperreal existence that Tan Tan adopts is however her attempt to hide her loss of confidence.
Her acceptance of this split personality epitomizes what Ihab Hassan calls selflessness and depthlessness which collectively reflect the ultimate loss of self. Self-less-ness and depth-less-ness according to Hassan is a sense of "stimulating self effacement- a fake flatness...or its opposite, self-multiplication" (150-151). Tan Tan becomes depthless and accepts this 'fake flatness' along with her personal fragmentation. It is a process that Hassan further refers to as the process of carnivalization. This carnivalization creates a 'performance' which is a major postmodern symptom. In fact, Hassan states that "postmodern art calls itself performance as it transgresses genres... [it] declares itself vulnerable to time, to death, to audience, to the Other" (154). Certainly Tan Tan's approval of her Midnight Robber persona characterises Hassan's ideas of selflessness, depthlessness, carnivalization and performance.
Mikhail Mikhailovich Bakhtin's views of the carnivalesque and Carnival in the Renaissance and Middle Age is pertinent to today's notion of Carnival. According to Bakhtin, Carnival during this period produced "a boundless world of humorous forms and manifestations that opposed the official and serious tone of medieval ecclesiastical and feudal culture" (4). These manifestations belonged under the umbrella of folk carnival figures, one of which is the Midnight Robber. To Bakhtin, this culture exists in between "art and life" (5), and is intrinsically seen in Hopkinson's protagonists as she consistently hears the words of the 'bad Tan Tan' or the Midnight Robber.
The guilt that overpowered her was therefore represented in the act of her being fooled to carry the mythical character, Dry Bones. She reduces herself to mud, for she believed that she could never be loved. Nevertheless, she was crafty enough to get rid of him which foreshadowed her eventual escape from her life of trauma and confusion, and her forthcoming regeneration and healing. Consequently, a major motif in the novel is therefore the need for healing and recovery as Tan Tan was a victim just as the Africans who were stripped from their homeland and brought under the most treacherous and inhumane conditions to the New World. Similarly, Tan Tan is bought to this new world and must heal from the pains of the past.
At this juncture it becomes quite fitting to address Antonio Benetez-Rojo's ideas of the use of masquerading figures in any discourse, by writers such as Hopkinson. In his book, Repeating Island: The Caribbean and the Post Modern Perspective, Antonio Benitez-Rojo's conveys impressive thoughts of the Caribbean region's complexity. Rojo is able to create his model of the Caribbean as he seeks to define this richly cultured and geographical space. In the chapter entitled 'Carnival' he explains that "of all possible sociocultural practices, the carnival- or any other equivalent festival- is the one that best expresses the strategies that the people of the Caribbean have for speaking at once of themselves and their relationships with the world, history, with tradition, with nature, with God" (294). The masquerading figures are tools used to deal with the problematic of power, history, race and identity, thus Hopkinson uses the Midnight Robber medium to subvert totalizing stereotypes held against the Afro-Caribbean community.
Furthermore, with reference to the notions of race and identity, Benetez-Rojo believes that there is an inescapable and fundamental relationship between the self and the other which guides and reflects the culture of the Caribbean and many colonized worlds; thus, he dogmatically states that there is no pure cultural forms, not even religious ones (20). His notion of Caribbean culture is therefore in unison with the Postmodern acceptance of heterogeneity. Rojo thus states:
Culture is a discourse, a language, and as such it has no beginning or end and is always in transformation... It is true that in comparison with other important discourses- political, economic, social- cultural discourse is the one that most resist change. Its intrinsic desire, one might say, is one of conservation, as it is linked to the ancestral desire of human groups to differentiate themselves as much as possible from another. Thus we may speak of cultural forms that are more or less regional, national, sub-continental, and even continental. But this in no way denies the heterogeneity of such forms. (20)
Benitez-Rojo thus seeks a re-reading of the Caribbean, whereby the Caribbean presence covers the map of the world through the vast collision of races and cultures. He goes beyond any geographical boundary and gives his interpretation of the Caribbean. The postmodern perspective of his work thus explains his idea of the Caribbean as a meta-archipelago [that] has the virtue of having neither a boundary nor a centre which is further reinforced by his statement: "within postmodernity there cannot be any single truth but instead...momentary ones" (151). Hopkinson's Midnight Robber offers such a re-reading of the Caribbean as her work goes beyond narrative boundaries and boundaries of realism, and thus her work reflects great incredulity towards meta-narratives.
With reference to the analysis and appreciation of Caribbean culture that is expressed in Midnight Robber, come the philosophical thoughts of Earl Lovelace, the mastermind behind notions of black aesthetics. Lovelace highlights the fact that folk culture is all about resistance and the struggle of the people from oppressive enslavement. He claims:
Given its preoccupation with liberation and affirmation, the folk culture of the Caribbean has shown itself to have developed an existential sophistication which has armed its people with the means to deal affirmatively and with hope with a world in which they have lacked power, but in which they have struggled to affirm their humanity and remain people. (29)
Hopkinson was therefore quite clever in blending folk culture and science fiction in order to speak on behalf of the oppressed to the masses. She is able to convey postmodern thoughts and ideas in her depiction of Carnival. Just as the postmodern epoch seeks to stamp out totalization and embrace difference, so too during the celebration of Carnival a myriad of races are unified as one people, hence "Tout monde in Sweet Pone and the surrounding settlements must have been in the town square jumping-up to the music. Carnival was bringing people together on New Half-Way Tree" (Hopkinson 315).
Tan Tan's commitment to her duplicity marks her mental acceptance that she is worthless and bad. Her grave naivety and ignorance are shown as she believes that she can avenge the unfairness done to the poor, by dealing harshly and exposing the oppressive rich; however, through this act she in turn becomes an oppressor. Lovelace explains that "when people mimic, it is because they feel some insecurity about their own gestures and so they take on from others gestures which they belief to be more validated and legitimized" (Lovelace 58). Tan Tan must thus escape from the facade of the Midnight Robber and create for herself a new space. She therefore legitimizes herself at the end of the novel as she creates a new language, thus the poem 'Stolen' by David Findlay, is ideal as Tan Tan "stole the torturer's tongue" (1) in order to create a language of her own. The empowerment she gets through language goes in accordance to the fact that the most important thing about the robber is the power of the word. Consequently, Peter Mason, an expert on the culture of Trinidad, states,
The robber talk is part of the carnival pattern- the character acquires a certain power... he is a master of hyperbole, of metaphor and malapropism... Most robber speeches have an introduction in which you give your name, your claim to fame, and from whence you came...so the robber has a story to tell about his history. But robber talk is fantasy taken to the umpteenth degree. (Mason 112-113)
Furthermore, the novel destabilizes many myths of Caribbean culture as the marginalized, the douens, are the ones who show the most mercy. The douen family befriends, protects and re-mothers Tan Tan, which was Hopkinson's way of representing "bodies that aren't conventionally beautiful...I try to throw in some surprises. I think that there are many types of black lives that don't get talked about... We're trying so hard to get the rest of the world... to recognize that we are respectable, deserving human beings" (Watson- Aifah 169). Consequently, there are two major acts of discrimination by the character, Janisette, in the novel which metaphorically represent the indifference whites feel towards the black race. Firstly, when Janisette asks "What do you want that nasty douen in the house for?" (137), as well as the fact that Janisette gave Chichibud his sorrel drink in a calabash, rather than a mug (138).
Midnight Robber conveys that there was more humane generosity and kindness in these marginalized, scorned beings, thus, it was Chichibud's douen daughter, Abitifa, who helps Tan Tan to understand that her child is a gift. The douen myth was certainly debunked for Chichibud did not lure Antonio and Tan Tan into the bushes to die, but rather he and his family was responsible for helping her to recover from the pains of her past. Hopkinson certainly was not the first to challenge the genre of non-fiction, but she is one of the most prominent Black science fiction writers whose creativity and ingenuity enchants readers and simultaneously subverts grand narratives.
Multi-culturalism and trans-culturalism are quintessential postmodern spaces occupied also in Kingston's novel The Woman Warrior. These, along with many other core features, typify postmodern aesthetics and can be identified in this novel as it embodies the process of transnational migration of Chinese people and their culture into America. Ideas of plurality and diversity as well as hybridity and heterogeneity are all demonstrated in this novel in order to challenge totalitarian paradigms. The subversion of grand narratives is achieved as The Woman Warrior can be analysed from four main perspectives. Firstly, through feminist lens whereby a critique can be made of the patriarchal traditions embedded within Chinese social institutions such as the family and marriage. Secondly, consideration must be made towards the "Chinese-America culture as an extension of Chinese patriarchal tradition in the US context" (Shu 201). Thirdly, there is a merging of multiple discourses "which vary from Western autobiography, to a Chinese-American tradition of assimilative narratives" (Shu 201). Fourthly, an intricate analysis of institutional racism encountered by both Chinese American man and women, "particularly working class immigrants, who have been caught in the hard living and working conditions in the ethnic enclave of Chinatown, and whose access of the American Dream has been denied because of their language barrier and their inadequate training for the work force" (Shu 201).
This is a very compassionate novel which shows the attempt of Chinese immigrants to guard against cultural erosion. The idea of ethic decay is linked to the transnational movement of the new generation whereby there is a spatial movement away from the mother country that reflects the sociological and psychological movement away from the Chinese customs and values. The narrator, Maxine Hong Kingston, is a second generation Chinese-American girl who embodies a double consciousness as she is an insider-outsider. She and her family along with many Chinese emigrants are nomadic subjects who represent what Arjun Appadurain refers to as ethnoscapes, as their place of abode is dependent on whether they will receive employment. Furthermore, the protagonist, Maxine, experiences double displacement as she is not only a Chinese woman in America, but a Chinese woman in a patriarchal world.
Maxine experiences great dislocation as she is caught in a liminal space shown by her inability to choose between her Chinese heritage and her American lifestyle. Her in-betweenity is reflected when she states,
Those in the emigrant generations who could not reassert brute survival died young and far from home. Those of us in the first America generations have had to figure out how the invisible world the emigrants built around our childhood fits in solid America" (5).
She was born in the middle of World War II, which is metaphorically representative of the psychological battles she faces. She and her family resides in Stockton but worked in Chinatown. Chinatown, as the name implies, was where all of the Chinese immigrants went to seek employment. This town is itself a liminal space as the Chinese immigrants seek to create a Chinese world or a hyperreality within an American space. Certainly, Maxine and her sisters would have been thought and exposed to the Chinese customs, but was not raised in accordance to all of its tenets.
The immigrants were of the lowest status in America just as Chinese women were to Chinese men. This curse of powerlessness and silence is what Maxine seeks to overcome in her discourse. The eclectic style that she adheres to as well as the postmodern techniques that she uses, such as, non-linearity, ambiguity, pluralism and even irony, are her aesthetic attempts to speak on behalf of her marginalized Chinese sisters.
Certainly, the text is one of survival and transformation, as it speaks on behalf of women who try to assert a sense of selfhood in a world dominated by men. Consequently, Maxine begins with the history of her unnamed paternal aunt, which becomes her muse and impetus to face a new day. She learns and grows from this story amidst her mother's insistence that her aunt's story is one that should never be told. The recollection of her aunt and the ill fate she suffered is therefore her first attempt at showcasing the ill treatment of women in the Chinese society.
Indeed, the Chinese society was dominated by a rigid patriarchal hierarchy and so women were trained to obey the men. Consequently, women struggled to find a space and a home. Kingston therefore strategically presents women in a liminal space as "women in the old China did not choose. Some man had commanded her [the unnamed Aunt] to lie with him and be his secret evil" (6). Powerlessness is therefore epitomized in the story of Maxine's aunt, who is forced into a liminal space by the entire village as they silenced her existence and referred to her as a ghost. Furthermore, the protagonist was threatened by her mother, Brave Orchid, to suffer that same fate if she humiliated them. Brave Orchid dogmatically states: "Don't humiliate us. You wouldn't like to be forgotten as if you had never been born" (5).
Nevertheless, Maxine's unnamed aunt triumphs over the villagers through the act of her suicide which was her ultimate act of rebellion and defiance. Through her death she "crossed boundaries not delineated to space" (Kingston 8), when she drowns herself and her baby in the main well of the village, hence she immortalizes herself in the archives of the village's history. This erasure of her existence was the ultimate punishment of the Chinese villagers thus it is stated "the real punishment was not the raid swiftly inflicted by the villagers, but the family deliberately forgetting her" (16). It was therefore only fair that the Chinese tradition suffered the same fate as she did as it too became a "dead ghost" (14) helpless against the American way of life. Interestingly, just as the unnamed aunt defied and triumphed over the Chinese community, so too, Kingston's memoirs became her weapon and her voice. Therefore Kingston's warriorhood becomes her pen and new narrative
Certainly, the epitome of victimhood is seen through the liminal subjectivity of the females in the Chinese society. The girls were compelled to be silent which was a strange phenomenon to Maxine. She states, "the other Chinese girls did not talk either, so I knew the silence had to do with being a Chinese girl" (166). The Chinese tradition promoted silence thus Maxine's mother, Brave Orchid, cuts her tongue. Consequently, breaking this silence is of paramount importance to Maxine, as it gives the protagonist an empowerment as she can now speak and assert herself and her identity. The power of language is expressed in the narrator's forceful and even insensitive compulsion to make a pink-cheeked Chinese-America girl speak. She compels her to speak for herself, and forcefully states, "say your name...Or are you stupid? You're so stupid, you don't know your own name...You do have a tongue...so use it...Your're disgusting...You're such a nothing" (177-178).
This situation can be paralleled with Brave Orchid's insistence of her sister Moon Orchid to speak and defend herself in order to reclaim her rightful position with her husband. Great irony can be identified in this moment which hints to the dual positioning of Brave Orchid. She can be deemed both a warrior and a victim within the novel for although she tries feverishly to uphold the ideals of her Chinese ancestry, her gradually conformity to the American way of life can be traced and analysed.
Both Toussaint as well as America are presented as quintessential postmodern spaces as they are engulfed by media technologies and machinery and are the hubs of consumerism and industrialization. Consequently, Brave Orchid's assimilation into the America traditions is hinted too by her partnership and position within the consumer society as she works assiduously with her husband in their technologically advanced laundry mart. Furthermore, she seems to be a victim of postmodern media hyper realities as she premeditates the meeting of Moon Orchid and her husband as though she was the producer of a dramatic movie script. She states,
I think it would be more dramatic for you to go by yourself. He opens the door. And there you are- alive and standing on the porch with your luggage. 'Remember me?' you say. Call him by his own name. He'll faint with shock. Maybe he'll say, 'No. Go away.' But you march right in. You push him aside and go in. Then you sit down in the most important chair, and you take of your shoes because you know you belong" (143).
While the act of speaking up proved futile for Moon Orchid who dissipates into a life of madness and eventually dies, it however brings the protagonist a sense of great autonomy. She triumphs over her voicelessness and enforced silence, not by "dissolving into the mainstream, but by rendering [a] distinctive voice" (Cheung 172), one that was indeed described as "an ugly voice...like a pressed duck," (192) but a voice nonetheless.
Kingston merges the two cultures in order to create a harmony of her own. Her liminality is not nullified in her wish to be Fa Mu Lan, as this mythical female avenger, is also in a liminal position as she is limited to looking through a water gourd in order to view the world below. Fa Mu Lan must stay in this in-between position while she trains. Similarly, she remains in this luminal position even when she returns to earth as she pivots among the roles of being a warrior, wife and mother. This is reflective of the fact that the protagonist is in a luminal space as she matures and grows and can only escape this position when she confronts and confesses her past.
Certainly many critics, namely, Zhang Ya-jie, have a myriad of negative perceptions of this book, particularly with respect to the fact that "Kingston uses the word, [ghost], too many places with different connotations" (103). However, this multiplicity of meanings goes in accordance with postmodern aesthetics. The multiplicity of meanings is coupled with many instances of wordplay in the novel. This marks her preoccupation with language as a powerful tool which reflects cultural and linguistic differences among different ethnicities. Her word play reflects the tensions within the novel. The nature of language is reflected in who she is as they share similar characteristics. This idea is ideally expressed by Rufus Cook who states, "she has also had the experience of coming "unstuck," or having floated upwards from history, from memory, form Time" (134). Additionally, word play is seen in the paradoxical reality that women and girls were referred to as 'dog' and 'pig' as names of endearment. Ironically, debased animal images were simultaneously used to condemn the girls, thus during every meal her great grandfather would refer to Maxine and her sisters as maggots and demand grandsons.
Most assuredly, the decentred protagonists within both novels are reflective of the postmodern aesthetic as the writers move away from a unified subject. The stylistics of both novels display what Linda Hutcheon refers to as an aesthetic duplicity. They are characteristic of her notion of the postmodern ethos which "lies in this kind of wholesale 'nudging' commitment to doubleness or duplicity" (Hutcheon 1). Decentred characters are thus marked by hybridity and are impacted by postmodern media and consumer society, characteristics which are epitomized in both Tan Tan and Maxine. Hutcheon sees this duality as an ideal representation of the postmodern aesthetic as Postmodernism "ultimately manages to install and reinforce as much as undermine and subvert the conventional and presuppositions it appears to challenge" (Hutcheon (1989) 1-2).
Certainly, while the postmodern concepts adopted by Hopkinson and Kingston entertain and enchant readers, they are able to craftily wage war on the totalizing principles that govern grand narratives. Their deployment and presentation of hybrid identities that exist in-between worlds, coupled by their use of eclectic modes of writing, epitomize the aesthetic epoch called postmodernism and give their books a position among the world's greatest fictions ever written.