The history of literature is littered with constant changes in perspective and acceptable portrayals of transforming societies. The rewriting, revaluation, and revisiting of original texts became almost common practice in the twentieth century, with revamped productions of canonical texts and flip-side views of ancient stories. As the century progressed, more and more writers began to experiment with the possibilities of a transverse outlook for their writing. For many reasons, a response to the original and as a device to discuss questions of gender, race and class. As to why can be intriguing - for what purpose? This shift in the construction of literature gave opportunity to previously unheard or silenced voices from within and around the colonies. In some cases these new texts were produced from within western societies, yet still marginalised, and the influence of imperial expansion can be clearly seen in these productions - to even a basic level of their language. Written in English: the language of the imperialists - not the authors' native language. The manufacturing of the 'other side' and the changes in narration within texts studied within this unit give prime example of how previously hidden voices give their opinion through narrative.
The emergence of this modified discourse, post-colonialism, arrived before total emancipation was granted in many respects. Writers who originated from within imperial territory wrote in regards to, and in response to, acts and feelings that were still present within colonial borders. The ability for nations previously marshalled by Britain and her empire to attain wholesale freedom from imperial influence was slim. Even countries that thanked British occupation for their new education systems found their young being educated towards 'the centre' - pro British, and white oriented with limited native literature. As Kamau Edward Brathwaite describes in his essay, English in the Caribbean, an educational system that, "would carry the contours of an English heritage" (2004, p.153) There are several approaches taken by authors in their attempts against colonialism, and as the century progressed there was a developing stage for the production and opportunity for the previously marginalised voices.
Trinh T. Minh-ha, feminist and post-colonial theorist, suggests there were multiple hurdles for a writer to overcome in order to write back to the colonists. That there are conflicting identities; being a woman writer, a writer of colour, and a woman writer of colour. That race and sex had long been a means to discredit writers and that writers would find themselves at odds with language; "which partakes in the white-male-is-norm ideology and is used predominantly as a vehicle to circulate established power relations." (1989, p.31) This reinforces the prejudice ideals that prevented any real promotion of native literature from within these oppressed nations. Possibly the key factor in causing the latter rewriting of literary history and its masterpieces.
The shift in narratorial perspective can be seen as a tool utilised by many authors in this period of post-colonialism. From Jean Rhys and Wide Sargasso Sea to Atwood's Penelopiad and further with authors like Carol Ann Duffy a staunch feminist: who offers a unique perspective of the 'other side' in her poem Warming Her Pearls, the depiction of the narrator's feelings towards her mistress. The voice of the previously marginalised female 'other' that has been ostracised but is now given thoughts and opinions in the poems underlying homoerotic tones. A revisiting of the accepted ideas on sexuality? The Pearl Necklace is used a metaphor with duality of meaning, not only representing the rope of the maid's oppression, but also the link to sensual lesbian desires for her mistress.
Jean Rhys's production of Wide Sargasso Sea is in many respects in direct dialogue with Jane Eyre, this post-colonial reactionary text designed as a prequel to Charlotte Bronte's novel attempts to address some of society's issues of gender-based propriety that are prevalent in Bronte's iconic predecessor focussing on morality and the development and changes in gender-relations. A postmodern, postcolonial response, however, set as a prequel, to give voice to the 'other side' of certain characters before they reach England. Wide Sargasso Sea poses Antoinette as a vivacious and lively woman with her own goals; and transforms her into the infamous 'mad woman in the attic' we know later in Jane Eyre.
This text is a pillar of post colonial writing; its reach over the breadth of alternative voices wins it deserved plaudits. Delving into ideas of slavery, race, feminism, colonialism and deep into the changing sanity and madness of its protagonists. Rhys skilfully negotiates between narrators through her journey from emancipation, through pain, and to Bertha's (Antoinette) 'guarded' life in England. The second chapter is key in gaining an understanding of the narrotorial shift; from Antoinette's first person narrative to the unnamed (Rochester) after their marriage. This interesting change in perspective not only allows the reader opportunity to find insight to Rhys's views of the white man, but the socially acceptable protocol for married life. Her portrayal of the 'other side' is juxtaposed with the accepted colonial 'other' depicted in imperial literature; viewing the colonised as more animal than human and merely a continuation of the notion of British superiority.
The second part of Rhys's tale allows brilliant understanding of the attitudes and marginalisation some people faced. The move from Antoinette's narration to that of her husband, his rejection of her origins, and the removal of self that a woman would often face on entering marriage. Her voice is the voice of not only the marginalised woman within a patriarchal society, but the native ostracised by her own people: "a white cockroach" to the black native people, and a "white nigger" (1996, p. 64) to the English colonisers. As a white creole she is doubly marginalised; by an unwelcoming western society, a patriarchal society, and the Caribbean people. The use of changing narration is useful and allows Rhys to avoid suppressing the alternative voice of the previously silenced. The novel opens us to ideas and incorporations of multiple Antoinettes and Rochesters through changing narratorial voice, it exploits the unreliability of first person narrative giving a variety of perspectives; and using them to discuss issues of gender, race and class relations.
Christophine plays a vital role in the promotion of the 'other' and the reversal of the preconceived gender/race based hierarchy. Her rejection of the role of the colonised is splendid and total renunciation and refusal to simply accept the dominant discourse emanating from the metropolitan centre opens the possibility of greater equality to the reader, this power gained possibly from 'dark magic' or perhaps just being a strong minded resilient woman? Rhys develops some equality in her portrayal of the marginalised, with Rochester who falls foul to the primogeniture laws as younger brother, is forced by his family into a loveless marriage. Rhys's challenges towards Bronte's text also confront the society in which it was written, but her rewriting of literary history through these contesting voices allows for the whole spectrum of opinions to be heard.
Interestingly different to Rhys's approach towards post colonialism is Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart. Achebe, founder of African literature wrote back against the western dominated cannon, giving form to post colonial writing with his strive for independence. He understands the coloniser's need to perpetuate the view of the 'other' - be it black, or female, or both - for the continuation of their dominance. Things Fall Apart attempt to give the reader an understanding of what life is like and how the white colonisers are like the locusts that plague their villages.
A continued tale of the barbarism that they face, even black-on-black violence emerges. The three part narration can be compared to a play in its format; the first part, setting the scene and introducing the characters. The second - the move away from his home, and the beginning of the analysis, and lastly, tragedy and the development of the white man - replacing the black culture with the dominant white Christian values. His writing, along with the inclusion of Yeat's poem at the start of the book solidify their stance and style - writing back to the centre - of cultural nationalism. Okonkwo the protagonist is in the end ostracised from both communities; new and old because of his life and actions, but he fears weakness and the inability to act and is sometimes forced to act rashly, costing him in the end - he loses his standing in both systems of value. Using a combination of lgbo and modern language Achebe, as Homi Bhabha suggests; produces a hybrid language showing multiplicity and cultural change, learning from each other, English words lgbo style and rhythm.
The different standpoints over Achebe's hybrid writing and African literature written in English is interesting, along with the development of Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak's article Can the Subaltern Speak (1985) the idea of the oppression and silencing of native people, their language and culture becomes further present. She develops ideas over Indian natives and their suffering, but how, if western societies interfered in an attempt to improve the status quo and reclaim the subaltern's cultural identity it would in fact only serve to re-inscribe their subordinate position within society. Yet Achebe's use of English and his writing back to the centre does give the native (subaltern) a voice, establishing a perspective from within. However his stance does change somewhat, the last chapter offers an 'orientalist' approach towards his narrative, with a shift to the district commissioner and how he had already decided the title of his book. Achebe uses English as an emancipator, not an oppressor - a means of worldwide communication.
She tries her tongue, her silence softly breaks, written by Marlene Nourbese Philip offers a completely unique type of narration and style. Her approach towards the suppression of the mother tongue is a clever use of her non-native language. Why she uses English to portray the racism inflicted on Africans is interesting. Possibly suggesting the fragmentation of her identity, the education she received in the Caribbean, but with a move to America possibly affecting her, she does also understand the ability to write back against the father tongue, the Euro-Christian Cannon, and the tensions between this and the mother tongue, Black African female, are ever present. In her text, Mediations of the Declension of Beauty by the Girl with the Flying Cheek-bones she juxtaposes language to physical features and the differences between black and white people, describing how this is not her vernacular language, asking how, 'In whose language Am I [...] If not in yours In whose In whose language Am I If not in yours Beautiful' (1989, p. 27) even though she had adopted the language of the imperial colonisers she still found herself unaccepted.
Her texts are transitional in nature, neither essay nor poem, but border texts. Discourse on the Logic of Language an open analysis of the 'mother tongue' includes information about slave life, and the forceful nature of language and how slave owners would ensure where possible that their slaves were from "as many ethno-linguistic groups as possible. If they cannot speak to each other, they cannot then foment rebellion and revolution." (1989, p. 30) The animalistic features Philip offers describe a mother with her newborn, "she began then to lick it all over" (1989, p. 30) possibly now acting in accordance to the role and manners she has been attributed by the white imperialists. Similarly with the touching of tongues later in the text, this narrative symbolism showing the breath from the mother tongue imbuing the child with her language and culture. The use of generic 'man' in her question will also breed further questions - the answers giving insight into the thinking and oppression that the colonised faced.
All the texts in this unit have offered their own unique style of approaching the task of readdressing how a text is portrayed. The desire to rewrite the master narratives of Western discourse became a common colonial practice. An exploration of the 'other side' the missing silences from within a text and the reasons for the author to write, often in English. These authors have not only given insight into the struggles faced by the colonised peoples but given voice and articulated the feelings and thoughts of previously silenced and marginalised communities. Whether they had been muted because of gender, race, or both, these authors have produced new narrative perspectives that are in essence a liberating force for the colonised and oppressed. Rhys's text offers a sophisticated example of coming to terms with the European perceptions of the Caribbean creole community, and offers a new insight into the struggle of feminism and gaining any freedoms in life after marriage. Achebe gives a chance to the power of English, 'African English', a language that can be understood and listened to on a global scale, and Philip uses her narrative power to create understanding how slaves and black Africans are easily degraded and stereotyped, even to animals. All these authors understand the inequalities of the time they write about, and try to offer these oppressed their own opportunity to give their side, the 'other side'.