Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

Confronting Prospero: Elizabeth Nunez's Exposure and Critique of Hegemony and Its Industries in beyond the Limbo Silence and Boundarie

Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

Confronting Prospero: Elizabeth Nunez's Exposure and Critique of Hegemony and Its Industries in beyond the Limbo Silence and Boundarie

Article excerpt

In her memoir Not For Everyday Use, Elizabeth Nunez writes about remembering her "white European" high school teacher reading the part of Shakespeare's play The Tempest where Prospero claims to have civilized Caliban:

I pitied thee
Took pains to make thee speak /taught thee each hour
One thing or other /When though didst not, savage,
Know thine own meaning, but wouldst gabbe like
A thing most brutish, I endowed thy purposes
With words that made them known
(Vaughan, eds. 1.2.354; Nunez Not For Everyday Use 120)

Nunez compares the idea that Propsero civilizes Caliban to the general idea that the English civilized the indigenous and those of African descent on its colonies: "should I be grateful to the British for teaching me?" (Nunez, 120). Elizabeth Nunez writes novels with protagonists like Caliban who are forced to be confronted with the idea of being taught how to be British and how to maintain British colonialism. Kwame Ture in his autobiography said that he would give British colonialism a good mark for the educational system except for one thing: "the extent to which it was colonial: the Eurocentrism, the cultural chauvinism, the undisguised, brazen 'civilizing' mission of converting we heathen if not into English gentlemen [or ladies] into dutiful colonial subjects" (Ture 35). Caliban certainly resisted being Prospero's dutiful colonial subject and in fact planned a revolt to murder Prospero. Elizabeth Nunez writes characters that, like Caliban, confront this idea of the imperialist trying to complete their civilizing mission. In fact, not only does Caliban conspire to murder Prospero, he says: "You taught me language," says Caliban to Prospero, "and my profit on't is I know how to curse" (1.2.365; qtd in Baldwin 7). Caliban uses the language that Prospero teaches him to first curse the theories within the paradigms of colonialism from the Italian Prospero that teach Caliban's own inferiority. Elizabeth Nunez has written protagonists who use the English language to resist on some levels the "civilizing" agenda to promote what anthropologist Mahmood Mamdani called "white settler colonialism." Mamdani describes this colonialism in terms of two characteristics: one, "an unaccountable and unelected native authority; and two, an equally unaccountable 'customary law' wielded by this native authority" (Mamdani). These protagonists confront the "civilizing" agenda of a white settler colonialism in varying ways that can be traced to a specific way that Caliban confronted and resisted Prospero's civilizing mission in William Shakespeare's play The Tempest.

Caliban resists Prospero's effort to colonize him in two different modes. First, Caliban tells Prospero directly that he curses him and essentially warns him against thinking his effort to civilize him would be effortless. Second, Caliban forces Prospero to recognize his presence, even as prisoner and consequently encourages him to leave the Mediterranean island home of Caliban and return to Italy.

This article will look at the way Elizabeth Nunez writes two different industries of white settler colonialism: the academic industry and the book publishing industry. Elizabeth Nunez's protagonists in their confrontations with these two different industries that are part of United States hegemony, demonstrate each of these two modes of resistance by Caliban towards colonizer Prospero. Her protagonist Sara in her second novel Beyond the Limbo Silence (1998) resists white settler colonialism most forcefully by refusing an academic scholarship and the tokenism that the academic college industry wanted her part of. Her protagonist Anna in her eighth novel Boundaries (2011) resists this colonialism by demanding that the book publishing industry publish books on literary merit rather than commercial value.

Sara's bold rejection of her scholarship by the academic industry is similar to Caliban's commitment to curse Prospero and to banish him from the Mediterranean island. …

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