Shaping a Symbol: Schwarz-Bart’s Visions and Revisions of His Guadeloupian Heroine in La mulâtresse Solitude

Shaping a Symbol: Schwarz-Bart’s Visions and Revisions of His Guadeloupian Heroine in La mulâtresse Solitude

Sargasso: Journal of Caribbean Literature, Language, and Culture
Volume II (2002)
pages 31-43

Aaron C. Eastley, Associate Professor of English
Brigham Young University

Much has been made by critics of André Schwarz-Bart’s singular portrayal of his historical heroine in La mulâtresse Solitude (1972), translated from the French By Ralph Manheim as A Woman Named Solitude (1973, 2001). Solitude, a mulatta slave conceived in rape during the Middle Passage, lived to become one of the most famous maroons in Guadeloupean history. As rendered by Schwarz-Bart, however, Solitude becomes a marginally sane ‘zombie-corne,’ whose documented acts of violent resistance to slavery are presented as little more than the haphazard forays of a woman acutely distracted—one who in moments of crisis often thinks she is a dog. and whose success in fighting and eluding her enemies can only reasonably be attributed to incredible good fortune…

…I would suggest, however, that there is considerably more to Andre’s interpretive vision of Solitude than is revealed by a narrow analysis focusing only on her apparent apathy in the novel. A careful examination of the text demonstrates that Schwarz-Bart did indeed work from local legend in his depiction of Solitudes life, and that his portrayal of her dementia roots that condition in the traumatic alienation which she experiences as a result of her mixed-race identity. Furthermore, the condition of madness or zombie-ism in the text is consistently portrayed as a common form of resistance resorted to by slaves in extremity—not merely as the result ot personal weakness or of any singular, “exemplary martyrdom.” Schwarz-Bart, I would suggest, demonstrates integrity in his novel by creating a complex, credible and sympathetic portrayal of his historical heroine, while working within the confines of an oral tradition which he questions but does not contravene.

In his novel, Schwarz-Bart’s lays the foundation for his portrayal of his heroine by framing very carefully the race-based rejection of Solitude by her mother, who chooses to run away without her, and by other blacks. Solitude, we are shown, is specifically left behind because of her mixed race origin and identity, and once she comes to understand this fully (as she gets older and is rejected again and again by other blacks [89, 108]), her sense of racial alienation becomes acute—for Solitude, as Schwarz-Bart sympathetically fashions her. is an individual who identifies intensely with both her mother as a person and with her mother’s race…

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