Cut-Throat or Mocking-Bird: Of Conde's Renewals

By Makward, Christiane | The Romanic Review, May-November 2003 | Go to article overview

Cut-Throat or Mocking-Bird: Of Conde's Renewals


Makward, Christiane, The Romanic Review


A few years ago Maryse Conde declared tongue-in-cheek: "I think I've somewhat lost the power to displease. It's something I miss." (1) Pleasing or displeasing at her own leisure, her work is by now unsurpassed in scope as a fiction monument originating in the Francophone Caribbean. In the past fifteen years, her work has taken a distinct turn towards playful irony and exuberant narration. Conde has underscored on several occasions that she has been misread when taken too seriously, referring specifically to her most popular novel on US campuses, I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem. She confided having had a lot of fun inventing Tituba's adventures, despite the powerful indictment of slavery and racism and sexism this novel constitutes. Indeed, to make Tituba meet a very pregnant Hester Prynne in jail and to suggest passionate feelings between them, to show Tituba in the sunset telling a tale to Hester's unborn child, then to "suicide" this feminist Hester by hanging, in order to protect her child from a sexist puritanical world--thus crediting Hester with the despair and determination of an infanticidal slave--, these narrative components illustrate the dominant mood of Conde's later novels. Conde commented on Tituba for Francoise Pfaff, a Tituba who gets herself impregnated by an adolescent before hanging from a tope, and who, "naturally," survives in ghost form: "since I am not one to create models, I eagerly made sure to destroy anything that might be found exemplary in Tituba's story, and in the end I showed her rather naive, and at times ludicrous." (2)

Of Conde's transgressive mode of story-spinning, a recent novel is most exemplary. Celanire cou-coupe ("Cut-throat Celanire") can and should be taken seriously at various levels, but here Conde has made sure she would not again be misread. She told another interviewer: "the only means for us, as a black nation--although I have said on several occasions this word does not mean all that much is to distance ourselves from our history, to be able to laugh about our history and to acknowledge the components of it that we can attribute to our personal or collective responsibility. I don't think one should see the world in black and white." (3) Several critics have already shown the novelist's strategies of distancing used in various ways in earlier works. Leah Hewitt underlined how Conde, in The Last of the African Kings, resists the temptation to reassure or seduce distinct constituencies of readers: Africans, Creoles, African-American women, and other repressed, marginalized groups. (4)

In her very first novel, Heremakhonon (1976), Conde was already "mistreating" the dominant narrative scheme of the quest for roots and the return to Africa; already baring the teeth of a gnashing irony that purports to debunk received ideas. She was already using female sexuality to question the conventions of novelistic discourse where sexuality was traditionally inexplicit. There were always already forms of transgression in Conde's discourse: Veronica's hyper-sexuality and that of her "sister in joyful bitchery" ("soeur en putainerie"), Adama, were risky stereotypes in the context of an Afrocentric identity quest. Nor was it a simple indiscretion to put in the mouth of her protagonist the following remark about African political figures: "To possess the white man's riches (the colonized is envious, Fanon said so) and their blonde women. The blonde woman is the black man's dream, everybody knows that." (5) This sort of sally at the expense of her "heroes" will be cultivated by other scandal-prone women writers; not the least among them, Calixthe Beyala takes pride in her "bad genre/gender" ("mauvais genre").

Not all of Conde's novels push the reader around to the same extent as do the characters of Tituba the witch or Celanire the "cut-throat cut-throat." Not all of her protagonists charm us into first-degree, comfortable, and erroneous interpretations. Some narratives are seriously dominated by the somber or tragic mode along with in-depth reflection on socio-political questions. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Cut-Throat or Mocking-Bird: Of Conde's Renewals
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.