of Three Cultural Perspectives
ELLEN W. MUNLEY
Anne Hébert's last novel, Un habit de lumière, is a profoundly disturbing text, perhaps the most disconcerting in a fictional oeuvre comprised of novels and short stories that confront the reader with the tragedy of thwarted lives. In Un habit de lumière, the author places her readers in a no-exit situation with the problems of identity and exile, immigrants, socioeconomic status, and cultures that foster exclusion, with tragic results for the human players in the drama. The three cultures in the title of this study refer to those of Spain and France, and to a third cultural perspective that has its origins in the problematics of the novel. This third cultural perspective denounces, in effect, the social and cultural identifications that do not allow for convergence, exchange, and interpenetration between cultures.
In order to explore these cultural vantage points and the novel's impact on the reader, we will use related strategies based in postmodern, feminist, and postcolonial criticism to examine Un habit de lumière. The text, sometimes referred to as a novel, at other times as a récit, is clearly a hybrid text in postmodern terms, in which the conventions of the genres involved play off against each other rather than merge.1 From the perspective of genre, the text, like all of Hébert's prose, resembles a prose poem in its use of poetic devices. Moreover, this text might easily be compared to a tragedy in two acts. Twenty-three textual groupings, comparable to vignettes or scenes, preceded by the name of the character who recounts his or her story, comprise part 1 or the first act. The second part or act contains twenty-nine sections of which the twentieth is a farewell letter. The book opens with a first-person narrative comparable to a dramatic monologue delivered by Rose-Alba Almevida, concierge in the Ve arrondissement. Her introduction announces all the elements of the tragic story that will unfold in the remainder of the book. From that point on, the narrative develops like a classic tragedy in which the principal players pursue their unavoidable destinies.