Foe and Derek Walcott’s

Download 0.54 Mb.
Size0.54 Mb.
  1   2   3   4   5   6
Masaryk University

Faculty of Arts
Department of English
and American Studies

English Language and Literature

Bc. Barbora Novotná

Castaway Crusoe contra Colonialist Criticism:

Racial and Gender Stereotyping in J. M. Coetzee’s Foe and Derek Walcott’s Pantomime
Master’s Diploma Thesis

Supervisor: Mgr. Martina Horáková, Ph.D.


I declare that I have worked on this thesis independently,
using only the primary and secondary sources listed in the bibliography.


Author’s signature

I would like to thank my supervisor, Mgr. Martina Horáková, Ph.D., for directing me towards postcolonial and feminist literary criticism, for her careful reading of my drafts, as well as for providing me with many insightful comments and suggestions.
Table of Contents

Dawson, William J. The Makers of English Fiction. New York: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1905. Print. 117


Postcolonial literatures have attracted a considerable amount of scholarly attention in the past four decades. Similarly to other disciplines beginning with the prefix ‘post’, postcolonial studies respond to history and tend to explore, challenge and deconstruct historical consequences from modern perspectives. Moreover, postcolonial rewritings have been particularly important in addressing the issues of otherness, questions of identity and specific problems of cultural appropriation that often come to the fore in various postcolonial contexts. J. M. Coetzee’s novel Foe (1986) and Derek Walcott’s play Pantomime (1978) are, in this respect, an ideal response to the imperial discourse in Robinson Crusoe (1719), the classic tale that stood the test of time. The aim of this thesis is to analyze the story of Robinson Crusoe within the postcolonial and feminist contexts of the two creative rewritings under scrutiny. The primary focus is on the deconstruction of racial and gender binaries as well as on the reversal of roles that often intertwine in these works. The thesis, divided into five chapters, aims to explore the ways in which the concept of race and gender intersect and how it constructs the identities of the postcolonial characters incorporated in the works in question.

Daniel Defoe’s eighteenth-century novel, that has established its firm position in the English literary canon as a master narrative, has been reworked in many ways. Over centuries it has captured the imagination of countless readers until it has acquired the status of a cultural myth. This phenomenon is explored in the first chapter of the thesis since it is necessary to historicize literary practices at the time to be able to adequately understand the postcolonial responses that followed afterwards. Therefore, the first part of the thesis deals with the historical background of Robinson Crusoe, Daniel Defoe’s literary inspiration and the eighteenth-century cultural context. The aim is to explore the ways in which the famous story inspired so many postcolonial and feminist writers and resulted in numerous adaptations. For this purpose, Lieve Spaas and Brian Stimpson’s Robinson Crusoe: Myths and Metamorphoses provides a comprehensive collection of data. Further, the chapter introduces the theoretical concept of postcolonial rewriting and the ‘writing back’ paradigm in general, discussing the impact of colonization on gender and racial construction. The books by John Thieme, Homi K. Bhabha, Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffiths and Helen Tiffin, prove to be a valuable source of information to outline a necessary theoretical background in this part.

Responses to the canonical ‘pretexts’1 that were obviously engaged with colonialism, Robinson Crusoe in particular, have been produced across cultures in many different forms, including numerous film adaptations. This is seen for example, in the phenomenon of popular Hollywood-made films like Cast Away (2000) featuring Tom Hanks, and Robinson Crusoe (1997) featuring Pierce Brosnan, which more or less successfully helped Defoe’s hero to survive in the contemporary mass culture. By focusing on these two American films, the second chapter demonstrates that cinematic adaptations may usurp reader’s imagination and cause distortions from the original book. This is confirmed by literary and film critic Linda Hutcheon who examines the impact of adaptations on the readers of literature. This chapter is significant in that it addresses the transposition of a written text to a performance medium and its consequences.

Methodological and theoretical approach in the thesis is achieved by applying the postcolonial and feminist concepts to the chosen texts. They are explored primarily from the perspective of literary criticism; nevertheless a transposition of a written text to a performance medium is also concerned. Thus, the third chapter is devoted to the creation of Walcott’s two-hander play Pantomime, which represents a parodic investigation of the roles between the colonizer and the colonized. Since the play is a text originally written to be spoken on stage, it requires a necessary theoretical background. This is achieved by comparing written and oral language as well as by describing the dramatic narrative strategies. These concepts are examined with the help of Walter J. Ong, Ian Watt, James Howe and William Stephany.

Postcolonial rewriting is a specific subgenre in that it often provides a new insight into the literary tradition. In this respect, the South African novelist J. M. Coetzee is one of the most creative postcolonial authors who brings postmodernist (and in the case of Foe also feminist) aspects into his fiction. Foe, narrated by several unreliable narrators, often combines elements that are rather illogical and distorted. Or so it seems, with regard to the interrupted narrative voices, incomprehensible emotional expressions of the protagonists and the dream sequences presented within the novel. The fourth chapter therefore considers Coetzee’s approach to postmodernism, feminism, and focuses on the complex relationship between “the oppressed” characters in greater detail. Although the colonized Man Friday is not a central character in any of the literary works under scrutiny, a closer analysis demonstrates the significance of his character. Chandra Mohanty’s Feminism Without Borders, Sandra Gilbert’s and Susan Gubar’s The Madwoman in the Attic are crucial for this part of the thesis as it develops the argument of feminist self-presentation and tries to understand Coetzee’s female castaway figure as a violator of male dominance in Defoe’s original.

Foe is often described as a postmodernist novel with non-realistic elements. Pantomime, on the other hand, is a relatively comprehensible play. While Coetzee’s fiction and Walcott’s play differ considerably in their literary form, they have one feature in common – the struggle of the protagonists who compete for some sort of authority via racial and gender stereotypes. The construction of identities of the oppressed characters is best demonstrated in a comparative literary analysis. The last chapter thus analyzes particular examples from the texts and comments predominantly on gender and racial struggle between the main protagonists who have been, in one way or another, silenced. It further concentrates on the narrative authorship, dramatic and social dominance and the importance of language as a medium of power.

The core theme of the thesis lies in the argument that postcolonial responses to the dominant power of imperial countries are not mere oppositional reactions to colonialism but rather, that they are creative rewritings that shed new light on the traditional novels. The fundamental question to be answered is how the identities of the characters in Foe and Pantomime are constructed, with respect to the common stereotypes of racial and gender binaries. The thesis argues that the minority groups of colonized people, women, and racially oppressed characters are at least equal, if not more important, complex and wittier than their superior counterparts from the Western literary canon. The writing-back paradigm is usually shaped by colonial experience and practices of colonialism in the writer’s country of origin. J. M. Coetzee and Derek Walcott, in this respect, seem to be very well aware of the fact that to re-examine the social discourse between the colonizer and the colonized, the oppressed, rather than the oppressor, needs to be given a chance to speak. Similarly to Robinson’s urge to discover an uninhabited island, this thesis also promises a challenging task in revealing the impact of colonization on a Caribbean play and a South-African narrative.

1. Castaway Crusoe and Colonial Criticism

A myth, perhaps, cannot be ‘created’, but exists only insofar as its potential for reinvention remains alive. (Stimpson ix)

It may seem a contradiction in terms to talk about a “modern” myth when Daniel Defoe’s pseudo-autobiographical tale The Life and Strange Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, Of York, Mariner2 (henceforth Robinson Crusoe) was published as early as 1719. However, it is not a coincidence that people all around the world understand the ‘Crusoe myth’ even without actually having read the book. Various films, plays and texts have drawn public attention to the Crusoe ‘phenomenon’, albeit often with a shift from the adventurous view of Defoe’s shipwrecked castaway to different versions of his story. Daniel Defoe, and his eighteenth-century readership, would have been surprised to find out what had happened with his protagonists in the numerous interpretations of his original book. It is no longer only a unique story of a man’s survival on an island nor a concept of a do-it-yourself manual that continues to fascinate contemporary readers and critics. Robinson Crusoe has gradually developed into a tale which raises questions and addresses the issue of otherness. Or, to put it more precisely, it has become a pretext worth of further examination, a pretext to which postcolonial and gender perspectives can be properly applied.

1.1 Crusoe’s Origins

In Robinson Crusoe: Myth and Metamorphoses, Louis James states that “any investigation of the Crusoe phenomenon must begin with the original book” (1). Indeed, although Robinson Crusoe serves as a pretext to the works under scrutiny in this thesis, it seems indispensable to introduce the context from which it has emerged.

Daniel Defoe centres the story on a solitary man who spent 28 years on a desert island and whose attempt to escape and seek redemption leads him through various adventures and ordeals. Many a scholar, such as Ian Watt, Jean-Paul Engélibert or Henry S. Pancoast, has posed a question whether there is a parallel between the life of the author and the character, i.e. Daniel Defoe and Robinson Crusoe. Daniel Defoe was born in London in 1660 simply as Daniel Foe. It was not until 1695 that he finally garnished his surname with the more genteel prefix ‘De’ Foe. This seemingly playful, but deeply intriguing way of shaping someone’s identity did not escape the attention of J. M. Coetzee and, as such, it emerges some two hundred and sixty years later in the title of his postmodern novel Foe. Nevertheless, leaving aside the rhyming resemblance between “Defoe” and “Crusoe” until chapter 5, it is believed by some critics, such as Alan Downie, that it is possible to discern similarities between the author’s real life and character’s fictional life (18). Up to a point, this is true. Daniel Defoe was the son of the middle-class parents and despite the fact that his father wished him to enter the ministry, “the boy’s tastes lay in other directions”, claims Henry S. Pancoast in An Introduction to English Literature (364). Such disobedience is not dissimilar to Robinson’s escape from home in spite of his father’s attempts to dissuade him from adventures. And yet, while young Robinson is significantly punished for not obeying his father (in terms of his subsequent shipwreck on a desert island with the lack of human companionship or material possessions whatsoever), Defoe’s determination to leave school at the age of eighteen and to become a merchant resulted in “the most prosperous and honourable period of his life” (Pancoast 365).

Pancoast further assumes that “in the course of a long and adventurous career” Daniel Defoe changed the roles of a “hosier, tile factor, foreign tradesman, printer, volunteer trooper, confidant to the king, inmate of a Newgate cell, government spy, a fugitive from political prosecution and a hero in the pillory of a sympathetic mob” (146). From this enumeration, it is safe to conclude that Defoe was an active, adventurous and resourceful man, to say the least. The same applies to his protagonist, since, as Ian Bell puts it, “Crusoe gradually improves his dual competence in both husbandry and housewifery – cooking, cleaning, and making pots, at the same time as he hunts, tills and forages – and he comes close to an idealised and androgynous version of self-sufficiency” (34). Thus, it is Defoe’s insistence on realistic details and imagery of every-day life what makes his narrative so authentic and credible (Watt 15).

While little is known about his personal life, presumably due to the lack of reliable sources, it is beyond doubt that Daniel Defoe was a born journalist and political pamphleteer (Watt 103). Some of his most successful political satires written in favour of William III of Orange, Dutch-born King of England, include “The True-Born Englishman”, a satirical poem which “shed light on racial prejudice in England following attacks on William for being a foreigner” (“Daniel Defoe”, n. pag.). Of central interest to Defoe in this defensive poem is the question of xenophobic intolerance. He ridicules the primacy of English purity which is also echoed later in his sequel to Robinson Crusoe, in which, as Keymer observes, the English settlement, with its indigenous wives and Anglo-Carib children, contrasts with the settlement of Spaniards who “did not like Women that were not Christians ... and would not touch one of them” (Defoe qtd. in Keymer xxxv).

In the early eighteenth century, in a time when religious Protestants were still persecuted in England for holding discordant views on the Church of England, Defoe among them, he kept a sharp eye both on the Churchmen and the so called “Dissenters” (Morgan 302) for he had not agreed with certain attitudes of neither group. With the spirit and sarcasm of his own, Defoe achieved to mock each of the involved authorities, which, in the end, earned him two years of imprisonment (Pancoast 366). This misfortune, however, was not a long-term hardship for Defoe. Rather the opposite, he was loyal to his writing in prison, and produced numerous works and pursued his studies “without great disturbance” (Rogers 181). Defoe’s religious beliefs and his experience with social and political practices in society undoubtedly contributed to the creation of “the dominant literary form of the last centuries” (Watt 301). More importantly, in Robinson Crusoe Defoe confirms that there is a deep and personal relationship between the author and his works. This is supported by Pat Rogers who explains that Defoe saw a kind of allegory of his own fate in Crusoe, for he had suffered from “solitude of soul” (173), and further concludes that Robinson Crusoe “like many of the best ever written [novels], has in it the autobiographical element which makes a man speak from greater depths of feeling than in a purely imaginary story” (Rogers 173).

1.2 Crusoe’s Inspiration

In approaching the question of Robinson Crusoe’s originality it is interesting to mention a unique claim by James Joyce who once argued that “the first English author to write without imitating or adapting foreign works, to create without literary models and to infuse into the creatures of his pen a truly national spirit [...] is Daniel Defoe” (qtd. in Stimpson and Spaas 78). Though paying tribute to his literary colleague, Joyce’s assertion might seem a bit bold nowadays; especially, if we link it to a large number of recent investigations, all aiming to discover a potential source of inspiration for Defoe’s novel.

A commonly held belief, presented by many historians and theoreticians (e.g. Downie 13; Smith 62; Thieme 56), is that Defoe’s only and immediate source of inspiration was a non-fictional adventure of the castaway Alexander Selkirk.3 Nonetheless, as Samar Attar points out, “there were, indeed, foreign works that could have been used in the writing of Robinson Crusoe” (78). She presumes that Arabic literatures have produced two prototypes of Robinson Crusoe – Sinbad the Sailor and Hayy Ibn Yaqzan (79). The former is known in Western culture as a famous voyager and merchant, while the latter was known in Defoe’s time as “a man on a desert island, who keeps goats, builds a shelter and finally discovers footprints in the sand” (Wainwright, n. pag.). Attar’s essay is dedicated to demonstrating some remarkable parallels between the English figure of Robinson Crusoe and his two foreign literary ancestors. For instance, she shows that they all equally question traditional doctrines and values, suggest innovations in religious and educational concepts and advocate religious tolerance, non-violence and peaceful coexistence among people “who adhere to various sects” (81). But to her observations, which are perfectly valid and enriching, it must be added that it is disputable whether Defoe ever considered the two models and sought inspiration in the Arabic world. At any rate, this question is beyond the scope of this paper.

It may also be argued that Defoe was rather influenced by the colonial experience of his own country, as well as by a representation of the social world he lived in. Defoe was educated at the Morton Academy where he had access to vast number of literatures and philosophies. Thus, according to Lieve Spaas, Robinson Crusoe is inspired by classical myths including, for example, Odysseus, Oedipus and the Narcissus stories, which describe, respectively, the irresistible urge to go to sea, the conflict with a father and the questioning of the status of the “other” (100). Interestingly, the latter carries a significance to the concept of what Ferdinand de Saussure called the ‘signifier’ (an image) and the ‘signified’ (the concept of meaning) in structural linguistics (Eagleton 84). Within the postcolonial discourse, the signifier-signified relationship is of particular interest as it may refer to the representation of the ‘self’ and the ‘other’. The importance of the visual perception for the maintenance of power can be seen, for example, in the egoistic master-slave relation between Robinson and Friday. Friday’s role as a signifier of class is extremely important to the making of Robinson’s colonialist identity. Robinson’s attempts to transform the “primitive” Friday into a civilized man not only violate Friday’s cultural rights but it also refers to the dominant position of white male authority. In this sense, the figure of Robinson Crusoe bears a worrying resemblance to Defoe’s predecessors, i.e. the pilgrims who came to the ‘New World’ not to trade but to invade and forcibly possess Indian lands.

1.3 Imperial Legacy

Being a representative of the eighteenth-century capitalist society, it is perfectly plausible that Robinson Crusoe considers himself a master of the island, a domesticator of animals and farmer of the crops sprouting from a non-English land. In other words, he is a colonial settler. It is not until the moment of Friday’s arrival, however, that Defoe finally presents Crusoe with another, yet fundamental attribute – namely becoming a master of the colonized subject.

English expansionism had an immense impact on the sense or even loss of one’s identity. In A Different Mirror: A History of Multicultural America, Ronald Takaki presents a story in which Native people first encountered European invaders arriving to the shores of the New World. Observing their arrival in “wonderfully large canoes” with “great white wings like those of a giant bird”, the Indians were only able to exclaim: “Mannittowock. They are Gods” (25). These white Gods, however, saw Indigenous people simply as savages incapable of becoming civilized, and as such, these Natives were, some decades later, brutally massacred and deprived of their lands.

During the first phases of British imperialism, history witnessed various aspects of colonization. Christopher Columbus was once reported to say that “Indians were gentle and without knowledge of evil”, loving their “neighbours as themselves” with the “sweetest talk in the world”, and “always with a smile” (qtd. in Takaki 32). Unfortunately, none of these proposed virtues discouraged Columbus from the practise of kidnapping Carib Indians during his voyages and displaying them triumphantly in Europe (Takaki 30). Another event that posed a threat to Indigenous people was buccaneering, or what was then known as a “sea dog tradition”, as James Lang explains (107). Coastal attacks were not unique in the Caribbean during much of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Maintaining territories in the New World for military base was a common practice of the English (and also the French and the Dutch) in waging their sea war against the Spanish empire (Lang 107). Yet the buccaneers were not to all intents and purposes the colonists.

Colonialism, as Ashcroft, Griffiths and Tiffin understand it, is a “historically specific form of imperialism” in which “the relation between the colonizer and colonized [is] locked into a rigid hierarchy of difference deeply resistant to fair and equitable exchanges” (Post-Colonial Studies 40, emphasis added). It is often accompanied by racism and racial prejudice, and the practise of colonialism has been often used as a justification for the unequal treatment of enslaved peoples. Moreover, its “violent and essentially unjust processes” have been hidden behind a “smoke-screen of civilizing task” (Ashcroft et al., Post-Colonial Studies 41). The forms of devastation delivered by colonialism on Native people usually reflected the imperial treatment of colonized countries and their inhabitants. Probably the most terrible legacy of English colonialism is to be found in Virginia. In 1607, some fifty years before Daniel Defoe’s birth, the English established the first English settlement at Jamestown with the intention of “friendship and interdependency” towards Native people (Takaki 33). Soon after, however, the settlers had to face the starvation period, during which they ate “dogs, cats, rats and mice” and even “corpses dug from graves” (34). Their starvation forced them to attack Native people and destroy their supplies. Such terrible was their hunger that they even “slew and buried a savage” and then “the poorer sort took him up again and ate him, and so did diverse one another boiled and stewed with roots and herbs” (Takaki 34). With the view of “rooting out the Indians from any longer being a people”, English soldiers gradually burnt Native people’s houses, boats, canoes and even pursued them with the dogs to tear them (Takaki 34-36). These examples set a precedent for centuries to come. The need for the cultivated land grew stronger and hostilities between the settlers and Native people intensified. To delineate the boundary between civilization and savagery meant to remove, (and here read exterminate) Indigenous people and acquire their lands for white settlers.

Colonists often justified their violence by emphasizing the visibility of signs of difference and constructing Indigenous people as inferior. It was at that time that the form of “otherness” began to take its shape. Takaki draws attention to the fact that Native people were viewed as “frightening threat” (41), a demonic race to which “nothing but fear and force can teach duty and obedience” (27). Moreover, colonialism produced political ideologies that would excuse increasingly violent struggles for resources and Native people’s territories. A typical one rested in the idea that colonization represented necessary “civilizing task involving education and paternalistic nurture” (Ashcroft et al., Post-Colonial Studies 41). Even in 1781, when Thomas Jefferson declared that “whites and Indians were both Americans, born in the same land” and should long live in friendship together, he, in the meantime, wrote to his colleague that “[n]othing will reduce those wretches so soon as pushing the war into the heart of their country [...] until [none of them] remained on the face of the earth”; then he “explained” to Native people that in order to survive, they need to be civilized, i.e. they “must adopt the culture of the white man” (Takaki 47).

This attitude exemplifies what Antonio Gramsci calls ‘hegemony’ – “the power of the ruling class to convince other classes that their interests are the interests of all” (qtd. in Ashcroft et al., Post-Colonial Studies 106). The “success” of such an ideology applied to Native people is that the colonized subject understands itself as peripheral to imperial values, beliefs and attitudes, and accepts their centrality. And this is why the relationship between Friday and Crusoe, who refers to himself as “Master” and who imposes a new religion, language and culture on Friday, is a crucial point examined at large by literary (mainly postcolonial) critics. With regard to the historical context of colonialism, Friday represents the legacy of not only the Carib Indians but also of other Indigenous peoples enslaved and colonized all around the world regardless of their skin colour.

From what has just been demonstrated in the previous subchapters, it can be concluded that there were indeed three key events that may have influenced the birth of Robinson Crusoe: first, the story of Alexander Selkirk; second, Defoe’s religious, political and capitalistic beliefs; and third, colonial practices since Christopher Columbus “discovered” the New World in 1492.

1.4 Postcolonial Responses

The era of imperial domination left behind ills that have long been waiting for remedy, and as such it could not remain without a literary response. While early postcolonial texts were still under the control of imperial power, for they were either produced by “a literary elite whose primary identification is with the colonizing power” (i.e. gentrified settlers, travellers and sightseers) or the representatives who wrote “under imperial licence” (i.e. natives and outcasts), as Ashcroft et al. explain in The Empire Writes Back (5), it was not until the late 1970s that the term ‘postcolonial’ started to be used by literary critics to discuss cultural effects of previous imperial expansion (Ashcroft et al., Post-Colonial Concepts 168).

To find a politically and theoretically correct term that would appropriately describe then emerging literatures, has been a challenging task up until the 1980s when the terms ‘Commonwealth literature’ or ‘Third World literatures’ (which came into being in the 1960s) were deliberately replaced by a less connotative term ‘postcolonial literatures’ (Ashcroft et al., The Empire Writes Back 22). Nevertheless, as Julie Mullaney observes, there is no strict consistency in usage, and postcolonial literatures are still variously called by the terms that survived until today, such as “New literatures in English” or “World literatures” (3). In contrast to continuing debates about the lack of a suitable term that would describe the works emerging from the postcolonial societies, there is a general consensus among scholars (and not necessarily the postcolonial ones) that postcolonial writing mostly represents the focus on ‘cultural difference’ (Ashcroft et al., The Empire Writes Back 4; Bhabha 233; Mohanty 106-107; Thieme, Post-Colonial Contexts 6; Eagleton 205).

The depiction of such a difference in postcolonial texts, however, is a painstaking and complex process. It is “not simply a matter of language”, as Homi K. Bhabha argues, but more often a “quest for the Voice” (177). This approach is in accordance with the argument of Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak who in her ground-breaking essay “Can the Subaltern Speak?” suggests that the Western act of benevolence toward the Third World others is indeed an act of violence since the intellectual tradition of the Western world that attempts to teach, and eventually save, the oppressed by “civilizing” them indeed denies their voices. Moreover, “if, in the context of colonial production, the subaltern has no history and cannot speak, the subaltern as female is even more deeply in shadow” (Spivak 83). Foe and Pantomime certainly share these elements as they stress their protagonists’ resistance to colonization imposed on them by those in power (i.e. black males are subordinated to Western white men and a woman is subordinated to men in general). The concept of silence and the quest for the Other’s voice is thus an effective way to study what the oppressed feel and desire rather than what they need in terms of Western prejudices.

Franz Fanon asserts that “the colonized is either doomed to be a mere reflection of his master ... or he must fight his master through active struggle” (qtd. in Mishra and Hodge 277). If we apply this principle to the master/servant relationship in the works under scrutiny, then it is obvious that the former condition applies to Defoe’s construction of unequal relationship between Crusoe and his man Friday while the latter reflects the role reversal between Harry Trewe and Jackson Phillip in Pantomime and the narrative play of power between Susan Barton and Friday in Foe. Indeed, the active struggle that the inferior protagonists lead for equality against their masters is a shift often used by postcolonial writers as they draw on the concepts of ‘Othering’ and ‘Stereotyping’.

Stereotyping is, according to Bhabha, a perspective where the symbolic relationship of “race-sex” comes in (98). He further asserts that:

Skin, as the key signifier of cultural and racial difference in the stereotype, is the most visible of fetishes, recognized as ‘common knowledge’, in a range of cultural, political and historical discourses, and plays a public part in the racial drama that is enacted every day in colonial societies. (Bhabha 112)

The consideration of skin colour as “common knowledge” is what causes the problem of discrimination within a racist discourse. Indeed, this kind of racial stereotyping affects, for instance, Susan Barton’s behaviour towards Friday in Foe since she immediately considers him inferior on the basis of his physical features (see chapter 5.1). The same applies to sexism in gender studies since “questions of race and cultural difference overlay issues of sexuality and gender and overdetermine the social alliances of class and democratic socialism” (Bhabha 251). To put it simply, stereotypes are attitudes (mostly negative) based on sexist and racist intolerance, deeply embedded in the tradition of the past, which are unlikely to change.

The paradox of distinguishing otherness from self-consciousness has been fundamental field of study for many great thinkers, ranging from German (Hegel and Husserl, for example) to French philosophers (e.g. Lacan and Derrida). In postcolonial studies, the concept of Othering is often perceived as a “process by which imperial discourse creates its ‘others’” (Ashcroft et al., Post-colonial Studies 156). More striking still is that “the construction of the O/other is fundamental to the construction of the Self” (Ashcroft et al., Post-colonial Studies 156). In other terms, an exclusion of the others who are supposedly inferior to the ruling group is essential to define such group’s existence. And it is this notion of self/other binary which is often the focus of the postcolonial and/or feminist debates. Both patriarchally and racially oppressed groups – women and colonized people – are often (but not always) subject to othering and stereotyping with regard to their ethnicity4. The representation of the minority groups as subaltern subjects within the notorious white/black, man/woman binary oppositions depends on the perception of domination/subordination – that is to say, on their access to power within the majority group. The sense of belonging is thus an important feature here. And if Ashcroft, Griffiths and Tiffin are right in claiming that ethnicity is a “positive self-perception that offers certain advantages to its members” (Post-Colonial Studies 75), then being a member of an ethnic group is therefore a powerful tool of challenging and, most importantly, breaking the stereotypical images, which Coetzee’s Friday and Walcott’s Jackson Phillip repeatedly demonstrate through their own types of rebellion (as shown in chapter 5). In this respect, the argument that ethnic group is “such a powerful identifier” within which one’s identity “cannot be denied, rejected or taken away by others” appears to be true (Ashcroft et al., Post-Colonial Studies 75). If stereotypical views about the oppressed groups form an inseparable part of the (post)colonial studies, it is in the postcolonial literatures where these, sometimes still prevailing prejudices, are effectively rewritten.
1.5 Crusoe’s Metamorphoses

What kind of story is Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe? Is it a “children’s story, a traveller’s tale, a religious diary, a myth for adults or all those things at once?” ask Brian Stimpson and Lieve Spaas in the preface to Robinson Crusoe: Myths and Metamorphoses (viii). In fact, Robinson Crusoe is all those things, and many more; some of its features are more relevant to children’s adventure books, some relate Crusoe to a pre-capitalist entrepreneur, and some are specific for postcolonial and gender studies, which is the case of Foe and Pantomime that reverse the master-slave relationship and redirect attention to the aspects that were previously seldom considered. However, this does not intend to say that Robinson Crusoe is a randomly shaped mixture of genres but, rather, that such a composed form of a master narrative is open to a multiplicity of readings and implies possible, and often desirable, interpretations and deconstructions.

Indeed, postcolonial responses to the Western canon of literary texts can be compared to the art of literary translation, to a certain extent. While a translator’s major task is to render a text from one language into another, it is the aspect of cultural transposition that differentiates between an ordinary translation and the exceptional one (Knittlová 21-22). With postcolonial rewritings it may be similar: it needs to transfer not only one’s language, but also the connotative meaning and the cultural ideas with regard to the impact of the time period and social conventions that may have influenced the text. This is why Foe and Pantomime challenge the conventional style of writing and investigate, among others, the stereotypical status of race by subverting the hegemony of the ‘white elite’, as will be shown in chapter 5.

The factor of cross-cultural influence has been shown to be relevant by John Thieme in Postcolonial Con-texts: Writing Back to the Canon. He explores various responses to the canonical novel and claims that “despite its apparent simplism”, Robinson Crusoe has a great potential for further reinterpretation because of its “focus on concrete particulars” (55). For the purposes of this paper, these particulars are understood in terms of the three key concepts: place, language, and history.

From the postcolonial and feminist perspectives, it is interesting to observe how individual writers from different countries tackle the issues of stereotyping. Be it in the form of an essay, a poem, a play, or a novel, the most notable is the context depending on the writer’s country of origin. Thieme assumes that in the South African responses to Robinson Crusoe writers, perhaps under the influence of the post-apartheid period, often focus on a stereotype of black savagery and racial implications (Postcolonial Con-texts 67); hence Coetzee’s representation of the silenced black African version of Friday in Foe. Whereas in Australian (e.g. A. D. Hope) and Caribbean responses (e.g. Walcott, V. S. Naipaul), the emphasis is on hierarchy and pragmatism (58); hence Walcott’s comic investigation of social roles between a calypso singer and a British guest-house owner in Pantomime. Another important example connected with place is a “desert island setting” (Thieme, Postcolonial Con-texts 55). It can be argued that the basic analytical procedure of the writers who deconstruct the canonical novel is to take the original setting from the source text and to renew it by applying appropriate cultural discourses to it. Using the example of Jane Gardam5, Thieme explains that British authors regard the desert island as Eden, a place that represents British “microcosm” where the protagonists struggle to adapt themselves into the modern world like biblical Adam or Eve (Postcolonial Con-texts 55-56). Quite a similar viewpoint is represented in Foe and Pantomime. Both Coetzee and Walcott adopt the location of Crusoe’s island to a certain extent, although with one elementary difference: the idea of British microcosm is remarkably subverted as the supposedly inferior protagonists – African slave and Trinidadian servant – succeed in relegating the seemingly superior English protagonists to a secondary position. A place of origin therefore plays a crucial role in addressing specific locations and, more importantly, their colonial histories.

The second concept to be investigated is the historical influence on the process of rewriting the master narrative. From a contemporary standpoint, the absence of female characters in Defoe’s novel is noteworthy, to say the least. Arnold Saxton’s generalization that “women on islands spell trouble” (142) does not provide a satisfying explanation, though. What about Crusoe’s sexual life, for instance? Some critics, like Samar Attar, see it as “inexcusably unrealistic” (84). Strangely, Crusoe seems to have no sexual instinct; he rarely, if ever, thinks of a woman other than his mother, and when he finally marries, there is nothing to be found about his wife, not even her name (Defoe 297). Attar further claims that “sexual apathy” is a “human trait which has no specific affinity to one race more than the other” (91). The same perhaps applies to gender categories since Robinson’s insularity is metamorphosed into a sexual urge through the character of Susan Barton in Foe. Absent in Defoe’s narrative, a woman’s point of view is somehow foregrounded in this postcolonial response. The reason for including/excluding female perspective might thus be found in the historical and regional specificities. It seems that postcolonial authors write to (and from) their particular cultures with respect to a society’s varying approaches to delicate issues. Perhaps not so surprisingly then, Daniel Defoe wrote his novel with the early-eighteenth-century “Puritan” readership in mind when he had omitted femininity and sexuality from his master narrative. Coetzee, on the contrary, shifts the patriarchal history of the male-dominated Western literature and, with the growing interest in the feminist studies since the 1950s, he perhaps attempts to reject patriarchal values and double standards imposed on women throughout Western history by integrating the female voice. It can be also argued that Coetzee chooses to have Foe narrated by the white woman simply because “the figure of the white woman is crucial to the complex positioning of the anti-apartheid author both within and outside the ‘infected’ state/nation” (Kossew 105). In other words, Susan Barton might be given the literary power because she represents an ambivalent, and thus ideal, position to describe the South African realities.

Similarly, a considerable amount of attention is given to the issue of race through the interaction of language and racial status. Racial supremacy comes to light especially in the Caribbean responses because the location of Robinson’s shipwreck is set in the Caribbean Islands, and as such, it “has a particular significance for the Caribbean” since the novel’s geographic focus has popularized the region6 (Thieme, Postcolonial Con-texts 56). Walcott’s “Crusoe” – Harry Trewe, who lives on the island of Tobago, is thus “creolized to suit a Caribbean context” (Thieme, Postcolonial Con-texts 57). In effect, this means that Pantomime draws attention to the Crusoe-Friday relationship through the abundant humour, jokes and the interplay between the Creole language and numerous allusions that revert the stereotypical notions of subaltern servitude. On one hand, English language has been perceived as a standard means of inter-cultural communication in postcolonial writing, i.e. “a universal norm” for postcolonial writers (Ashcroft et al., The Empire Writes Back 7). On the other hand, as Mishra and Hodge observe, “postcolonial writers who write in the language of the Empire are marked off as traitors to the cause of reconstructive post-colonialism” (277). The usage of English instead of indigenous languages still remains a disputable issue in numerous postcolonial debates. Not surprisingly, the question of language as a means of communicating one’s cultural experience is also employed in the texts analyzed in this paper. Walcott’s fascination with Creole – the language of his native island – shapes his work, and although he does not deny the privilege of the English language in his writings, he appropriates it by linguistic devices that satirise it at the same time. Coetzee, on the other hand, makes use of postmodernist strategies and employs multiple voices as well as silence to prevent Friday from telling his story verbally (as also illustrated in chapter 3).

To conclude this section, it is safe to say that it is not the plot itself where the strength of the original Robinson Crusoe lies but rather, as the opening quote of the first chapter aptly hinted, it is the story’s potential for alternative readings, retellings and rewritings that is so haunting. In the words of Michel Foucault, “the frontiers of a book are never clear-cut […] it is a node within a network” (Archaeology of Knowledge 25). The purpose of many postcolonial and feminist writers is thus to dismantle the original story and indicate its gaps preferably from the viewpoint of language, place and history. As long as the canonical text is open to various interpretations, there is always a desired gap to be filled.

Download 0.54 Mb.

Share with your friends:
  1   2   3   4   5   6

The database is protected by copyright © 2022
send message

    Main page