These are statements from the novel “Soucouyant” by David Chariandy (2007) that condenses the message of the novel. In general, the novel illustrates “forgetting” not just as a illness in the form of dementia but it also shows the cultural meaning of “forgetting” in the lives of the narrator, his mother and the other characters in the story. In a cultural context, forgetting in the novel means leaving behind one’s history and tradition; erasing from memory one’s dark past experiences; not remembering the hurts and sufferings one has experienced; and turning back on one’s mistakes and sins in the past as depicted by the characters in the novel.
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At the outset, the story focuses on the life of the narrator’s mother named Adele who is suffering from early onset or pre-senile dementia. The narrator here is considered a prodigal son who has run away from his home but who “longed for her as any son would for his mother, even so a frightening a mother as she had become” (33). However, after two years, he went back “to stay with Mother though I haven’t been invited to stay” (9). It seemed, as the story progresses, that the narrator wants to understand her mother’s past so he can also understand his own origins. So, he tried to ask questions from his mother who “never deliberately explained to me her past, but I learned anyway” (23). She told him “over and over again of her encounter with the creature [a soucouyant]” (136). A soucouyant according to what is written in the back cover of the book is “an evil spirit in Caribbean folklore”. The narrator wishes to confirm this encounter but “Mother never explained any of this to me” (136). The narration is interspersed with bits and pieces of the mother’s past as fragments of her memory come and go. Some of the stories about Adele are also narrated by Meera, the nurse. The characters who are Adele, the narrator’s mother and the narrator who has remained nameless throughout the story have engaged in episodes of forgetting and remembering which has something to do with their cultural heritage.
The cultural meaning of “forgetting” in “Soucouyant” is first of all, significant to Adele who is a Trinidadian immigrant who experienced the worst things in her past. On her part, “forgetting” includes leaving behind her history and her traditions as she leaves behind her birthplace, Trinidad. It also means erasing from her memory her dark past. The narrator tells of her, “she saw sadness and anxiety. She saw violence. She saw war.” (161). There was also a time when she experienced being “dragged like a doll toward the gates of the base, back toward the village and the life that awaits” (192). She has suffered a lot, not to mention the discrimination during those times because she is “dark” or a “colored” woman. In these instances, forgetting seems to be the “most creative and life-sustaining thing” (32) she could do with her dark past. The phrase “a path so old that none could remember its origins” (45, 136, 173 & 190) has been repeatedly mentioned in the novel. This “path” may very well symbolize what Adele has gone through. She tried to forget “the heaviness of a history that couldn’t leave. She resolved within herself not to remember those dark events in her life again. She has become so good at forgetting that this could have probably affected her own memory which turned out to develop into dementia. The narrator is not sure what really caused her early onset dementia but what the narrator remembers is that:
Long ago, she began to forget. It started with ordinary things. Shopping lists and recipes, bus change and savings cards, pens for jotting down those household tasks that always manage to slip away. But then Mother began to forget in more creative ways. She began to forget names and places, goals and meanings. She began to forget the laws of language and the routes to salvation and the proper things to do with one’s body. She began to excuse herself from the world we knew (12).
Similarly, the narrator asks these questions about her mother: “Was this a turning point in her life? The moment when she first realized that something was wrong with her? That something more serious than cutlery or bangles had gone missing? That so many other things were getting lost? This man beside her, for instance. Her husband. She knows his name, of course. It’s Roger. But what else does she know?” (78).
Likewise, “forgetting”, for Adele means no longer remembering the hurts and painful experiences she had in the past. With her dementia, she would surely not remember those pains and hurts in her secret past again. She has erased memories in her mind and the narrator says: “She tells me now that she doesn’t understand that thing called memory. She doesn’t understand its essence or dynamic” (166).
It is just ironical that in the past and even in the present, there are things that Adele can still remember. This is evident in what the narrator has said that: “She never forget. But I don’t remember it. Not even a little bit. I remember something else from that trip, though” (196). This shows that Adele’s memory is even better than the author’s. This also goes to show that Adele somehow uses selective remembering and forgetting. Pleasant and good things are remembered while unpleasant, traumatic experiences are better left forgotten in obscurity.
Aside from Adele, the narrator himself has tried forgetting his past. He tries to forget what happened to his mother and his father by running away from his home to another place. His mother “staggered into forgetfulness. She wandered the streets of our neighbourhood and upturned people’s garbage bins” (18). While his father became “increasingly quiet and withdrawn, [â€¦] He stopped communicating to anyone, including Mother and me” (28). The narrator describes the place where he stayed: “The city was for me a good place of forgetting. I found my anonymity in a series of rent-by-the-week rooms, in under-the-counter jobs as a dishwasher and holiday flower-seller” (30). Yes, he was able to forget those things that happened to his family but only for a little while. This is because, he later forgot “to forget” and he remembered everything again which leads him back to his mother and to his hometown. For the narrator, “forgetting” means repenting of his mistakes and making amends by living his life anew and by taking care of his mother.
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When he goes back to his home he tried to understand his roots, his history. He tries to prove that: “Your history is your blood and flesh” (137). Though his mother is someone “so entirely unwilling to admit that she has forgotten me” (8). He tries to “imagine his mother’s life before it all slips away into darkness.” Thus, he attempts to draw his mother to a conversation to help him know the truth about his mother’s childhood and what could have caused her dementia. He asks her questions such as: “You mean you don’t remember, Mother?” (12); “Don’t you remember, Mother?” (15); “Do you remember, Mother?” (92); “Can you remember it now, Mother? Can you tell me this last thing? Today, before I go?” (194). However, with his series of questions, his Mother doesn’t explain anything to him. This is because “She told, but she never explained or deciphered. She never put the stories together. She never could or wanted to do so. It is only through the help of Miss that he is able to understand the details of his mother’s life. And he is able to confirm of his mother’s life when he said that “it is possible to live with almost no memories” (54).
In addition to Adele and the narrator, Meera, the nurse is also trying to hide something and to forget her past. Although, it is not quite obvious in the story, her feelings became transparent upon seeing her mother. Meera unbelievably asks the narrator “You fetched my mother?” (124) while her mother keeps on calling her name. She was neither enthusiastic nor happy to see her own mother. The narrator also tells her: “I don’t care, Meera. It doesn’t matter to me. I just wanted to know more about you. I thought we could talk about things” (125). This leads to the conclusion that Meera is not sharing about her life. She is probably hiding something and is trying to forget the memories altogether. It was later found out that “Meera used to crank call the wandering lady” (159). “Many times, Meera’s calls were stupidly banal. Giggling requests to speak to Oliver Clothesoff [â€¦]” (160). For Meera, “forgetting” means turning back on past mistakes and sins and correcting her mistakes. Eventually, she becomes the nurse of the “wandering lady” who used to be the subject of her “crank calls.”
For Adele, the narrator and Meera, “forgetting” gives them a way of escaping from their repulsive past. It has its advantages but it also has its disadvantages. The narrator confirms this through a quote: “During our lives, we struggle to forget. And it’s foolish to assume that forgetting is altogether a bad thing. Memory is a bruise still tender” (32). Human beings sometimes need to forget especially those unpleasant, traumatic experiences that happened in one’s life. But it should not keep one from moving on to the future like what happened to the narrator and to Meera.
The novel’s title which is “Soucouyant” refers to an evil spirit in the form of a vampire-like old woman who sucks blood from her victims. A soucouyant is a monster worth “forgetting” because it symbolizes something disagreeable or horrible. In addition, Adele’s encounter of a “soucouyant” symbolizes everything in her life that is horrid, distasteful, horrible, hostile and unkind which are worth “forgetting”. Indeed, “Soucouyant” is aptly described as “a novel of forgetting.” However, contrary to the title, the novel “Soucouyant” is worth reading and remembering.
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