History, Horizontality, and the Postcolonial Hester
Prynne: On Condé, Mukherjee, and Morrison
It is wonderfully emblematic of our literary moment and apposite to this study's conclusion that Maryse Condé's reinscription of The Scarlet Letter, translated into English in 1992, was followed the next year by another feminist, postcolonial, historical fiction that performs its own distinctive reinscription of Hawthorne's text, Bharati Mukherjee's The Holder of the World (1993). These two novels, by a Guadeloupean and an Indian-American woman writer, overlap like two antique, contradictory maps—or like the two circles of a Venn diagram—to embrace the story of Hester Prynne. I turn, in closing, to the puzzling recurrence of Hester in two contemporary women's texts in order to suggest a further extension of this study's “horizontal plot”: the connection between African-American and Caribbean women's revisionary historical fictions and those of women writers of other ethnic and national groups.
Comparing Condé's and Mukherjee's imaginative returns to Salem, I follow a model implicit in many of the works studied here. The invitation Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea makes to further revisions, parallel stories, “other sides”—to an expanded, cross-cultural female conversation—is made in Condé's novel too, Angela Davis suggests in her foreword to I, Tituba. Though Davis expresses “profound gratitude to Maryse Condé for having pursued and developed her vision of Tituba, Caribbean woman of African descent, ” she adds:
Should a Native American Tituba be recreated, in scholarly or fictional terms, this would be true to the spirit of Condé's Tituba and her revenge. For, in the final analysis, Tituba's revenge consists in reminding us that the doors to our suppressed cultural histories are still ajar…. And sometimes there is magic behind those doors, sparkling clues about the possibilities ahead. (xi)