the Rock and the Hard Place: A Reading
of Anne Hébert's L'Ile de la Demoiselle
WANGARI WA NYATETU-WAIGWA
To quote Elizabeth Wilson, "The journey is an archetypal symbol… most often a journey-as-initiation—to self-knowledge and/or integration into a community" (1990, 45). In the quest motif, the middle phase (that is, the period between departure and return) for the male hero often consists in brave exploits facilitated by freedom from social structure and power hierarchy. The male hero's quest involves self-testing through conquest of physical space. The bildungsroman and epic both represent one form or another of the quest, and, universally, the protagonist of these two genres moves from innocence to knowledge, from a given status in the social order to a different one reflecting the knowledge and wisdom gained in the interim.
Parallel to the quest depicted in the bildungsroman or the epic, the traditional rite of passage also involves movement from one status to another. The middle, liminal phase of the rite of passage (the stage between separation from the community and eventual reincorporation) constitutes an inner journey parallel to the physical one in the two literary genres, and supplies the space needed for the initiate to acquire the knowledge and psychological growth necessary for admission to a social status different from that occupied before. In the rite of passage, however, the liminal place often differs from the realm of the epic hero's exploits in its closed, hemmedin, restricted nature. Besides, in spite of its ostensible freedom from social structure, liminality is nonetheless a function of social structure, in that the knowledge to be gained during that period and the mentor(s) to impart it are respectively dictated and designated by the community in question. For these and other reasons, the characteristics of liminality provide a useful tool for analyzing the journey (physical or psychological) of literary female protagonists or heroines, since this journey often differs both in form and outcome from the quests of their male counterparts.