An Introduction to Caribbean Francophone Writing: Guadeloupe and Martinique

By Sam Haigh | Go to book overview

6
The Representation of Women in
French Caribbean Fiction
Beverley Ormerod

It is tempting, when considering the representation of women in French Caribbean fiction, to recall the archetypal figures of Caribbean folklore, which sometimes seem to anticipate the female condition as it is shown by novelists.1 In traditional tales, the old woman may be a witch (Dame Kéléman, Mistress Magic), a powerful spirit who can sing headless, the terrifying counterpart of the good grandmother. Man Tigre, the tiger's domineering wife, fierce in defence of her young and her property, is the precursor of the hardy, resilient working woman whom the male novelists of the ‘Creoleness' school celebrate as the femme matador.2 Swift in her response to threat or oppression, she may function like the witch as an image of resistance. In a different register, pretty Princess Bèbelle (whose name, suggestive of bêbête, simpleton, is an ironic glimpse into Caribbean class conflict) is a symbol of privilege, but she depends on her father to choose her husband. She might be viewed as the passive forerunner of the privileged, but more adventurous, fictional girls who reject middle-class parental values but face difficult choices among the shifting social and racial signposts of the contemporary world. The peasant's daughter, on the contrary, may represent the discreet sensuality and unwavering fidelity that are highlighted in the tale of Mari-Baleine, the

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1
For folktales with female characters from the Ti-Jean cycle, see Ina Césaire (1987), L'Enfant des passages, ou la geste de Ti-Jean, Paris: Editions Caribéennes, pp. 8, 12, 29 33, 3543, 97109; for examples from funeral wake stories, see Ina Césaire and Joëlle Laurent (1976), Contes de mort et de vie aux Antilles, Paris: Nubia, pp. 2437, 5061, 8494, 21618.
2
The Creole term matadò has a number of meanings: the one frequently invoked by novelists is that of the West Indian woman who boldly confronts life's trials. See Ralph Ludwig, Danièle Montbrand, Henri Poullet and Sylviane Telchid (1990), Dictionnaire CréoleFrançais, Paris: Servedit/Editions Jasor, p. 224.

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