Liminality, hybridity and ‘Third Space:’ Bessie Head’s A question of power

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive on 2017-07-15 01:05Z by Steven

Liminality, hybridity and ‘Third Space:’ Bessie Head’s A question of power

First Online: 2017-06-07
pages 1–17
DOI: 10.1007/s11059-017-0387-8

Sayyede Maryam Hosseini
University of Tehran, Tehran, Iran

Hybridity has been a controversial issue not only in eugenic hypotheses of the nineteenth century but also in the postcolonial, cultural, linguistic, and geographical contexts. It can be seen as a ‘Janus-faced’ entity. Theorists like Bhabha consider it as a ‘Third Space’ which is fraught with ambiguities, while some use the term ‘liminal’ to point to its location in history, culture, and society in general. This essay deals with a ‘coloured’ writer’s coloured character in the light of hybridity. Elizabeth, the coloured protagonist of Bessie Head’s A question of power lives as a hybrid in a state of liminality, and tries to dismiss the worldview of colonialism and the postcolonial nationalism of South Africa and reconstruct her shattered identity in the ‘Third Space’ of Motabeng. Elizabeth’s hybridity and her iconoclastic condition are intensified by rampant liminal elements in the novel. The essay follows the intricate interrelationships of hybrid elements in terms of Elizabeth’s multi-faceted character, her garden, and the borders she crosses in the course of the novel. Hybridity here is by no means a mere inter-racial issue, the attempt here is to relate this concept to the anti-conventional and iconoclastic; the things that are liminal and indefinable within established epistemology.

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The Marxist Aspect in Bessie Head’s A Question of Power

Posted in Africa, Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, South Africa on 2017-03-14 17:03Z by Steven

The Marxist Aspect in Bessie Head’s A Question of Power

International Journal of Applied Linguistics and English Literature
Volume 5, Number 7 (2016)
pages 101-109

Mohamed Fathi Helaly
College of Arts and Science
Prince Sattam Bin Abdul-Aziz University, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

South Africa is one country where racial discrimination was widespread. Like the rest of the color-skinned people, colored writers in South Africa are marginalized and denied the right to express their experiences of living in a society riddled with racial inequality and oppression. Marxism is a school of thought that is concerned about the conflict between the dominant powerful classes and the oppressed ones in any given society. According to Marxism, literary texts are viewed as material that can be interpreted within historical contexts. South Africa is a country where the Apartheid System has been dominant. It is a country that has people of different ethnicity: the White, the Black and the Colored who are known as people of mixed race or hybrid. In South Africa colored people are doubly oppressed by their community, as they belong neither to the Black nor to the White. The colored people are marginalized and demeaned to a very degraded status by their society. Bessie Head is a South African female writer who is concerned about the clash between the different classes in her society. In this study the researcher wants to explore the class-struggle of women in general and the hybrid females in particular under the Apartheid System from a Marxist point of view. As a South-African female writer, Head is concerned about the struggle for power between the White and The Black, on the one hand, and between the hybrids on the other. A Question of Power can be seen as an indictment of the governing system in South Africa. It is a system that governs people not as ordinary human beings but according to the color of their skin. It is an autobiographical novel that tells the story of Elizabeth as a women living under the Apartheid System. Elizabeth, the fictional character of Bessie Head, has to suffer greatly as a woman but her suffering as a hybrid is even greater. On the one hand, she is socially marginalized as a female living in a patriarchal society. On the other hand, she is also culturally colonized as an individual living in a society where racial discrimination is prevailing. On account of what is mentioned so far Elizabeth is suffering from an identity crisis.

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Mixed Race Stereotypes in South African and American Literature: Coloring Outside the (Black and White) Lines

Posted in Africa, Books, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Monographs, South Africa, United States on 2013-11-19 22:55Z by Steven

Mixed Race Stereotypes in South African and American Literature: Coloring Outside the (Black and White) Lines

Palgrave Macmillan
November 2013
208 pages
3 illustrations
5.500 x 8.500 inches
Hardback ISBN: 978-1-137-36492-0, ISBN10: 1-137-36492-0

Diana Adesola Mafe, Assistant Professor of English
Denison University, Granville, Ohio

America’s new millennial interest in multiraciality coincides with South Africa’s post-apartheid push towards greater visibility as the Rainbow Nation. Here, Diana Adesola Mafe argues that the recent celebration of the mulatto as an avatar of positive change for multiracial nations like South Africa and the United States overlooks the complex global trajectories that resulted in this watershed moment. Mixed Race Stereotypes in South African and American Literature examines the popular literary stereotype, the tragic mulatto, from a comparative perspective. Mafe considers the ways in which specific South African and American writers have used this controversial literary character to challenge the logic of racial categorization. The result is a transnational dialogue between these respective national literatures, both of which use tragic mulatto fiction as a locus for broader questions about race and belonging.

Table of Contents

  • Introduction: Tainted Blood: The ‘Tragic Mulatto’ Tradition
  • 1. God’s Stepchildren: The ‘Tragedy of Being a Halfbreed’ in South African Literature
  • 2. ‘An Unlovely Woman’: Bessie Head’s Mulatta (re)Vision
  • 3. ‘A Little Yellow Bastard Boy’: Arthur Nortje’s Mulatto Manhood
  • 4. Tragic to Magic?: Achmat Dangor’s Bitter Fruit
  • Conclusion: Playing in the Light
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Mapping the liminal identities of mulattas in African, African American, and Caribbean literatures

Posted in Africa, Caribbean/Latin America, Dissertations, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Passing, United States, Women on 2011-01-16 04:05Z by Steven

Mapping the liminal identities of mulattas in African, African American, and Caribbean literatures

Pennsylvania State University
December 2006
285 pages
AAT: 3343682
ISBN: 9780549992738

Khadidiatou Gueye

Submitted in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy December 2006

In twentieth-century African, African American, and Caribbean literatures, mixed-blood women are often misread as figures frozen in tragic postures. Such unrealistic portraitures replicate the traditional white-authored pathologizations of racial hybridity. Drawing on the theoretical framework of liminality, this study investigates how mulattas negotiate their identities in specific socio-cultural environments, times, and places. Four writers of African descent and dissimilar socio-historical backgrounds are studied: Abdoulaye Sadji from Senegal, Bessie Head from South Africa, Mayotte Capécia from Martinique, and Nella Larsen from the United States.

The study is divided into five chapters that deal with the experiences of mulattas in autobiographical writing, sexuality, madness, racial passing, and expatriation. Thematic and stylistic discrepancies in the works examined are ancillary to the common liminal strategies of de-marginalization and self-reconstruction of female heroines. Their attempts at self-assertion appear in the ways in which they resist the constrictions of patriarchal and racist regimes. Their construction of spaces of agency is interwoven with ambiguity, ambivalence, and contradictions, which are emblematic of the discontinuities of their lives and paradigmatic of their intricate search for identity. In the works, the liminal experiences of mulattas are framed within the quests for social visibility, the affirmation of humanity, the renegotiation of space, and the anomic straddling between oppositional boundaries and statuses. Through their striving to rise above the limitations imposed on their gender and race, mulattas commit acts of transgression and dissemblance, and disrupt racial taxonomy. I demonstrate that liminality is a major unifying thread that runs through all the narratives and argue that it creates alternative existential paradigms for mixed-blood women. Liminality is an appropriate tool that challenges monolithic views of identities through the re-articulation of cultural meanings.

My main contribution is twofold. First, I extend the traditional cartography of liminality, which is usually based on small-scale societies where individuals have loyalty to their primary communities. Second, I suggest new vistas for race criticism in diasporic studies.

Table of Contents

  • Acknowledgements
  • Chapter One
    • Monoracial, Biracial, and the Entre-Deux
    • Introduction
    • Black/White Polarization
    • Racial Hybridity
    • Betwixt and Between: The Ambiguity of Liminality
  • Chapter Two
    • Liminal Psychoautobiographies: Rites and Routes
    • Autobiography as Autrebiographie: Je-Jeu in Mayotte Capécia’s Je suis martiniquaise
    • Internal Drama: Spectralized Presences in Bessie Head’s A Question of Power
  • Chapter Three
    • The Liminal Experience of Sexuality and the Problematic of Respectability
    • Sexuality at Point Zero in Nella Larsen’s Quicksand and Mayotte Capécia’s La négresse blanche
    • Sexuality and Normative Illegitimacy in Mayotte Capécia’s La négresse blanche
    • Nini, mulâtresse du Sénégal: Between Sexual Empowerment and Disempowerment
  • Chapter Four
    • Herspace: Liminal Madness and Racial Passing of the Mulatta
    • I am Mad But I am Not Mad: Shuttling Between Seamless Identities in Bessie Head’s A Question of Power
    • Telling a New Story: Racial Performance and Ambiguity in Nella Larsen’s Passing
  • Chapter Five
    • The Limen of Journeys: Mulattas and Colonial Paris
    • The French Métropole: Interior Landscapes in Nini, mulâtresse du Sénégal
    • Migration and Trans-Caribbean Identity in Je suis martiniquaise and La négresse blanche
  • Conclusion
  • Works Cited

Purchase the dissertation here.

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Identity, Discrimination and Violence in Bessie Head’s Trilogy

Posted in Africa, Dissertations, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Women on 2010-12-22 21:49Z by Steven

Identity, Discrimination and Violence in Bessie Head’s Trilogy

University of South Africa
November 2002
71 pages

Corwin Luthuli Mhlahlo

Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts in the subject of English

This dissertation seeks to explore the perceived intricate relationship that exists between constructed identity, discrimination and violence as portrayed in Bessie Head’s trilogy from varying perspectives, including aspects of postcoloniality, materialist feminism and liminality.

Starting with a background to some of the origins of racial hybridity in Southern Africa, it looks at how racial identity has subsequently influenced the course of Southern African history and thereafter explores historical and biographical information deemed relevant to an understanding of the dissertation.

Critical explorations of each text in the trilogy follow, in which the apparent affinities that exists between identity, discrimination and violence are analysed and displayed.  In conclusion the trilogy is discussed from a largely sociological perspective of hope in a utopian society.

Read the entire thesis here.

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Empire’s progeny: The representation of mixed race characters in twentieth century South African and Caribbean literature

Posted in Africa, Caribbean/Latin America, Dissertations, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, South Africa on 2010-08-06 00:44Z by Steven

Empire’s progeny: The representation of mixed race characters in twentieth century South African and Caribbean literature

355 pages
Publication Number: AAT 3249543

Kathleen A. Koljian
University of Connecticut

A dissertation submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy at the University of Connecticut, 2006.

This dissertation is an examination of the portrayal of mixed race characters in South African and Caribbean literature. Through a close reading of the works of representative Caribbean [Derek Walcott, Michelle Cliff, and Jamaica Kincaid] and South African authors, [Bessie Head, Zoe Wicomb, and Zakes Mda] my dissertation will construct a more valid paradigm for the understanding of mixed-race characters and the ways in which authors from the Caribbean and South Africa typically deploy racially mixed characters to challenge the social order imposed during colonial domination. These authors emphasize the nuanced and hierarchical conceptualizations of racialized identity in South Africa and the Caribbean. Their narratives stand in marked contrast to contemporary models of ‘hybridity’ promulgated by prominent post-colonial critics such as Homi Bhabha and his adherents. In this dissertation, I hope to provide a more historically and culturally situated paradigm for understanding narrative portrayals of mixed race characters as an alternative to contemporary theories of ‘hybridity’. Current paradigms within post-colonial theory are compromised by their lack of historical and cultural specificity. In failing to take into account specific and long-standing attitudes toward racial identity prevalent in particular colonized cultures, these critics founder in attempts to define the significance of the racially mixed character in postcolonial literature. Bhabha, for example, fails to recognize that the formation of racialized identity within the Caribbean and South Africa is not imagined in simple binary terms but within a distinctly articulated racial hierarchy. Furthermore, Bhabha does not acknowledge the evolution of attitudes and ideas that have shaped the construction and understanding of mixed-race identity. After a brief survey of the scientific discourse of race in the colonial era, and a representative sampling of key thematic elements and tropes in early colonial literature to demonstrate the intersection of race theory and literature, close readings of individual narratives will demonstrate the limitations of current models of ‘hybridity’ and illuminate the ways in which individual authors and texts are constructed within (and sometimes constrained by) long-standing and pervasive discourses of racialized identity.

Table of Contents

  • Introduction: Empire’s Progeny
  • “A Small Corner of the Earth”: Bessie Head
  • “Colouring the Truth”: Zoe Wicomb
  • Birthing the Rainbow Nation: Zakes Mda’s Madonna of Excelsior
  • The “Mulatto of Style”: Derek Walcott’s Carribean Aesthetics
  • “Only Sadness Comes from Mixture”: Clare Savage’s Matrilineal Quest
  • Xeula and Oya: Jamaica Kincaid’s Autobiography of My Mother
  • Conclusion
  • Works Cited

Read a preview here.
Purchase the full dissertation here.

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Bessie Head: Thunder Behind Her Ears – Her Life and Writings

Posted in Africa, Biography, Books, Media Archive, Monographs, South Africa, Women on 2009-12-03 23:50Z by Steven

Bessie Head: Thunder Behind Her Ears – Her Life and Writings

Boydell & Brewer
320 pages
23.4 x 15.6 cm
Paperback ISBN 13: 9780852555354

Gillian Stead Eilersen

This biography details the life of Bessie Head – a life which echoes so many of the aspects of the distressing history of South Africa in the last half century. She was born in an asylum to a mother who was considered mad because her father was black. Despite the disadvantages of being both a person of mixed race and a woman, she made her way in South Africa as a journalist. Her exile in rural Botswana was in marked contrast to the intensely urban backgrounds of most other South African writers. Her fierce determination to take root was reflected in her first novel Where Rain Clouds Gather. But she was kept a refugee for 15 years before she was granted citizenship of Botswana. Her most frightening novel, A Question of Power vividly captures the shifting dislocations of schizophrenia.

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‘Toubab La!’ Literary Representations of Mixed-Race Characters in the African Diaspora

Posted in Africa, Books, Caribbean/Latin America, Europe, Identity Development/Psychology, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Monographs, United Kingdom, United States on 2009-11-27 00:35Z by Steven

‘Toubab La!’ Literary Representations of Mixed-Race Characters in the African Diaspora

Cambridge Scholars Publishing
July 2007
453 pages
ISBN13: 9781847182319
ISBN: 1-84718-231-3

Ginette Curry, Professor of English
Florida International University

The book is an examination of mixed-race characters from writers in the United States, The French and British Caribbean islands (Martinique, Guadeloupe, St. Lucia and Jamaica), Europe (France and England) and Africa (Burkina Faso, South Africa, Botswana and Senegal). The objective of this study is to capture a realistic view of the literature of the African diaspora as it pertains to biracial and multiracial people. For example, the expression “Toubab La!” as used in the title, is from the Wolof ethnic group in Senegal, West Africa. It means “This is a white person” or “This is a black person who looks or acts white.” It is used as a metaphor to illustrate multiethnic people’s plight in many areas of the African diaspora and how it has evolved. The analysis addresses the different ways multiracial characters look at the world and how the world looks at them. These characters experience historical, economic, sociological and emotional realities in various environments from either white or black people. Their lineage as both white and black determines a new self, making them constantly search for their identity. Each section of the manuscript provides an in-depth analysis of specific authors’ novels that is a window into their true experiences.

The first section is a study of mixed race characters in three acclaimed contemporary novels from the United States. James McBride’s The Color of Water (1996), Danzy Senna’s Caucasia (1998) and Rebecca Walker’s Black White and Jewish (2001) reveal the conflicting dynamics of being biracial in today’s American society. The second section is an examination of mixed-race characters in the following French Caribbean novels: Mayotte Capécia’s I Am a Martinican Woman (1948), Michèle Lacrosil’s Cajou (1961) and Ravines du Devant-Jour (1993) by Raphaël Confiant. Section three is about their literary representations in Derek Walcott’s What the Twilight Says (1970), Another Life (1973), Dream on Monkey Mountain (1967) and Michelle Cliff’s Abeng (1995) from the British Caribbean islands. Section four is an in-depth analysis of their plight in novels written by contemporary mulatto writers from Europe such as Marie N’Diaye’s Among Family (1997), Zadie Smith’s White Teeth (2000) and Bernardine Evaristo’s Lara (1997). Finally, the last section of the book is a study of novels from West African and South African writers. The analysis of Monique Ilboudo’s Le Mal de Peau (2001), Bessie Head’s A Woman Alone: Autobiographical Writings (1990) and Abdoulaye Sadji’s Nini, Mulâtresse du Sénégal (1947) concludes this literary journey that takes the readers through several continents at different points in time.

Overall, this comprehensive study of mixed-race characters in the literature of the African diaspora reveals not only the old but also the new ways they decline, contest and refuse racial clichés. Likewise, the book unveils how these characters resist, create, reappropriate and revise fixed forms of identity in the African diaspora of the 20th and 21st century. Most importantly, it is also an examination of how the authors themselves deal with the complex reality of a multiracial identity.

Table of Contents

  • Acknowledgements
  • Introduction
    • Chapter 4: Mayotte Capécia’s I am a Martinican Woman (1948): “My father is Black, My Mother is Brown, and I, Am I White?” (Martinican Riddle)
    • Chapter 5: Michèle Lacrosil’s Cajou (1961): The Anti-Narcissus
    • Chapter 6: Raphaël Confiant’s Ravines du Devant-Jour (1993): Ethnostereotypes in Martinique
    • Chapter 7: The Racial Paradox of Derek Walcott in What the Twilight Says (1970), Derek Walcott: Another life (1973) and Dream on Monkey Mountain (1967)
    • Chapter 8: Michelle Cliff’s Abeng (1995): A Near-White Jamaican Woman’s Quest for Identity
    • Chapter 9: Marie N’Diaye’s Among Family (1997): A Desperate Search for Caucasian Identity
    • Chapter 10: Zadie Smith’s White Teeth (2000): The Concept of Englishness in the 21st Century
    • Chapter 11: Bernardine Evaristo’s Lara (1997): Transculturality in England: Oyinbo, Whitey, Morena, Nig Nog, Nigra!
    • Chapter 12: Monique Ilboudo’s Le Mal de peau (2001): Colonization and Forced Hybridity
    • Chapter 13: Bessie Head’s A Woman Alone: Autobiographical Writings (1990): White-on-Black and Black-on-Black Racial Oppression in Southern Africa
    • Chapter 14: Abdoulaye Sadji’s Nini, Mulâtresse du Sénégal (1947): “Toubab La!”
  • Conclusion
  • Works Cited
  • Primary Sources
  • Critical Sources
  • Index

Read a preview  here.

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Self-made women in a (racist) man’s world: The ‘tragic’ lives of Nella Larsen and Bessie Head

Posted in Articles, Autobiography, Biography, History, Identity Development/Psychology, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United States, Women on 2009-11-06 18:26Z by Steven

Self-made women in a (racist) man’s world: The ‘tragic’ lives of Nella Larsen and Bessie Head

English Academy Review
Volume 25, Issue 1 (May 2008)
pages 66-76
DOI: 10.1080/10131750802099490

Diana Mafe, Assistant Professor of English
Denison University, Granville, Ohio

(Her research aims to situate mixed race studies in a relatively unexplored sub-Saharan African context.)

Nella Larsen, the ‘mystery woman of the Harlem Renaissance,’ and Bessie Head, the famous ‘woman alone,’ are known for their ambiguous origins and their fabrication of personal ‘facts.’This article argues that these mixed race female writers, born under Jim Crow and apartheid respectively, carved out niches in these segregationist societies through the art of self-invention. Because of their precarious positions as ‘mulattas’ in anti-miscegenation worlds, clear parallels are identifiable between Larsen and Head, such as the creation of multiple selves and the realisation of the ‘tragic mulatto‘ stereotype through such characters as Helga Crane in Larsen’s Quicksand (1928) and Elizabeth in Head’s A Question of Power (1973). The representation of the ‘mulatto’ as a tragic figure caught between races is primarily an American literary trope, but both Larsen and the African-born Head evoke this stereotype in their personal and written stories. These two writers also resist labelling, however, by inventing new identities through pseudonyms, autobiographical heroines, and imagined ‘truths.’ This article examines the overt parallels between two mixed race women writers from different generations and continents, initiating crucial dialogue about the development of racial stigmas across cultures and temporalities.

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