Table of contents
2 Three Different Encounters with a Repressive Society
2.1 Neo-Slavery Experiences by Elizete
2.2 Passing for White Middle Class – Verlia’s Aunt and Uncle
2.3 The Search for Home – Liquid Imagery in the Description of Verlia and the Movement
According to many literary critics, one major issue of Canadian literature has always been a search for identity. The question of what constitutes a (national) identity becomes quite apparent in a country whose history is to a large degree determined by an immense influx of non-native inhabitants, who constantly reshape the country’s cultural and social determinants. Canadian narratives by women have mirrored this from the very beginning marked by Frances Brooke’s novel The History of Emily Montague, published in 1769.
The construct of identity comprises of many interwoven aspects like, among others, nationality, gender, ethnicity and culture. In order to connect the building of identity to questions of what determines a cultural and national space, the Canadian literary critic Northrop Frye has become famous with his claim that especially the Canadian identity is configured by the question “Where is here?” (Frye 220, quoted in Rosenthal 228), thus building the foundation of what is now known as Canadian cultural nationalism. Frye does not restrict the notion of “here” to a given landscape. He distinguishes his account by regarding “here” as construction of cultural discourse (cp. Rosenthal 228).
Although multiculturalism became an official government policy during the 1970s, this was not mirrored on the literary scene in Canada instantly. It was not before the 1980s and 90s when an emerging group of female writers, who offered alternative accounts for the representation of different individual concepts of the self, came into the public focus. Howell points out that the search for the Canadian identity remains the central issue of many writings by these authors from “previously marginalized minority groups” (205). Finding answers to what constitutes Canadian identity becomes more and more difficult, when literary backgrounds and biographies shift from linear to more complex settings (cp. 209), so that
“the concept of ‘Canadian identity’ [is considered] as a site of contestation, suggesting re-definitions of the commonly accepted paradigms not only of Canadian literature in particular, but also of post-colonialism in general” (Maufort 11).
Being born in 1953 on the Caribbean island of Trinidad, Dionne Brand stands for the “New Voices of the 1990s” (Howell 205), especially for the emergence of authors coming from an African descent. She came to Toronto in 1970 and earned university degrees in English and Philosophy. Her experiences as a teacher and as social and political activist provide a rich soil for her narrative imagination as she “conveys her politics in her poetry, essays, and films, as well as through her community activism” (Johnson and Curtright). When she published In Another Place, Not Here in 1996 she had already published poetry in several anthologies, a short story collection and various non-fictional texts and had directed four documentary films. In much of her work she deals with the history and current situation of black women in Canada and discloses the internal differences of the society she lives in (cp. Lutz 318). Being a lesbian black feminist, she revives some of her experiences of being marginalized in several ways and reconsiders them in In Another Place, Not Here in a love story of two black women, which is situated partially in Toronto and the Caribbean.
In this paper I will argue, that Brand takes on a position in her novel, which shows that the construction of an identity for (lesbian) Caribbean-Canadian women cannot be based on assimilation into the society of Canadian urban areas at its current appearance, since it oppresses marginal groups in various ways. The question of home or “here”, which is central in an individual’s identity, is constantly being negotiated, as the title of the novel already implies, within the individual characters of the novel. For this purpose I will examine the representation of Elizete and Verlia, the two protagonists of the novel, and Verlia’s aunt and uncle in Sudbury, who hosted her the first weeks after she had come to Canada. In doing so, I will refer to theoretical frameworks of the neo-slave narrative and the concepts of “Passing” and “The Black Atlantic” as they provide fruitful applications for interpreting the novel in this context.
1 Three Different Encounters with a Repressive Society
1.1 Neo-Slavery Experiences by Elizete
The first character I will try to examine is Elizete. After having a sensual love affair with Verlia on her home island in the Caribbean and eventually seeing her leaping into death, she decides to see Canada herself and trace back the history of her former lover. Brand dedicates an individual part of her novel to each of the two protagonists, which enables her to focus on the very different ways of discovering the self between Verlia and Elizete, who are contrasted by the use of imagery. While Verlia is connected to liquid imagery, which can be associated with the unsteadiness and movement of water, Elizete is described more earthbound, being more stable, rigid and continuous than Verlia. Brand establishes this complementation very early in the novel:
“Elizete, you is bigger than me by millennia and you can hold me between your legs like rock hold water. […] I wonder if you can see me beyond rock and beyond water as something human that need to eat […]” (5).
Throughout the novel, Elizete and especially her body is connected to more or less solid and earthbound materiality. By doing so, Brand reflects on Elizete’s body about experiences and feelings of love, but also about the punishment, pain and violence society in general or individuals apply onto her. Sometimes, like the example above shows, this can be a reference to sturdiness or tenacity. But on other occasions the description of earthly material also applies to painful experiences, for example when Elizete was raped by her employer, “she thought of sand, her face in the sand, the particles flying down her nostrils into her lung; [...] She felt her breath thicken, dense to sand” (90-91).
In reading the novel as a neo-slave narrative, McCallum and Olbey deliver a good connection from Elizete’s experiences to what happened historically to most Afro-Caribbeans during slavery. They see the novel as being concerned “with the representation of the profound and deep-rooted physical and psychological effects of slavery as they persist in contemporary forms of superexploitative labour practices [...]” (164). And this is exactly what Elizete’s experiences are about when she comes to Toronto. From the very first moment, she doesn’t feel at home in Canada. She feels alienated and miserable about her surroundings, “landed like a fish” (Brand 47). To her the city is hostile and full of people that do not care about each other: “This city didn’t pay any mind, everybody looked straight ahead of themselves” (48). Yet, her suffering goes far beyond this feeling of alienation. Her exploitation in Canada begins, when she has to work multiple jobs in different shops and restaurants of the mall at the same time to ensure her survival. For her this is the only way of earning a living. Working at “the pizzeria till five, the Van Dong restaurant till eleven and the video arcade in the afternoons” (49) can be seen in this context as a forced self-exploitation. Forced by a society, into which she had to immigrate on an illegal basis and from which she cannot expect any kind of social responsibility towards her.
Burned out by the hardships of working at the mall she seeks a reminiscence of her home and finds it in the bar “Gladstone”, where she eventually gets addicted to brown rum. As she feels the “familiar burning” of it, she imagines to be somewhere else, “in another place” (51). This getting addicted to alcohol is one of the tragic problems societies very often had to face, that had to suffer from imperialism and its subsequent exploitation. By describing this alcoholism, Brand lets her protagonist relive parts of the tragic history of her ancestry. But the rum becomes also tragic in a very individual way, since it is also the causer of Elizete’s ending up with a man she doesn’t know and eventually getting raped by him. After that incident, she sees that she has to get away from “the maze of streets trying to get to the sea” (56).
 Critics such as Joanna Luft among others have situated the novel on the island of Grenada because of the obvious textual references to the Grenada revolution. However, it is not explicitly said that the described island is Grenada, in fact Brand talks in an interview with intent about “a Caribbean island” (Olbey 96, italics by the author), probably to make the story more encompassing.
 Brand not only switches the focalizers of her story. It belongs to her narrative strategy and postmodern technique, that her storytelling constantly switches and criss-crosses between time levels and across spatial or imaginary boundaries. This contributes to the overall feeling of displacement and dislocation conveyed throughout the novel.
 Here we can see a first reference to the sea as the ultimate refuge or home, a place that provides a common experience and identity. This will be discussed later on in section 2.3.
- Quote paper
- Diplom Sportwissenschaftler Dirk Steines (Author), 2007, "Third world people going to the white man country", Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/74498