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Performing fiction: The inward turn of postcolonial discourse in anglophone Caribbean fiction

Carol Y Bailey, University of Massachusetts Amherst


An examination of postcolonial writings from the Caribbean disrupts the notion that postcolonial discourse is locked in a mode of constant reply to the colonizer and keeps the colonial powers at the center. Many Caribbean writers focus their discourse primarily on the ways their own communities internalize received ideas, and use them as the basis of social organization and interpersonal relationships. This study examines the use of Caribbean orature as the narrative strategy in selected Anglophone Caribbean fiction. I use a performance studies-centered approach to read prose fiction by Merle Collins, Earl Lovelace and Olive Senior that exemplifies the "inward turn" of Caribbean postcolonial criticism. I argue that these writers use specific oral forms to critique and challenge their communities, while affirming their local resources. In The Colour of Forgetting Merle Collins interrogates her community's rejection of its indigenous stories, in favor of a Euro-centric written history that privileges the outsiders' perspectives. Colour performs and presents an inclusive history, inspired formally and substantially by Grenadian oral tradition. I enter the conversation about Earl Lovelace's well-known nationalist discourse and validation of Caribbean orature by reading the gender ideologies that his choice of narrative strategy and treatment of female characters trouble. My central argument is that this writer's works reflect the lived experience of gender relationships in the Caribbean, rather than the dominant culture's colonially-derived patriarchal structure. My reading of Olive Senior's stories explores her use of gossip and other oral forms associated primarily with women to highlight how differences in race that informed life in colonial and early postcolonial Jamaica remain a central part of life in contemporary Jamaican society. I conclude that, in writing texts that straddle European literary traditions and Caribbean orature, these writers demonstrate the inevitable merging of and tensions among cultures and knowledge systems that characterize life in colonial/modern societies. However, more importantly, reading their fictions in the ways I have read them directs attention to the "inward turn" of postcolonial criticism that is sometimes elided in postcolonial discussions.

Subject Area

Literature|Caribbean literature|Gender

Recommended Citation

Bailey, Carol Y, "Performing fiction: The inward turn of postcolonial discourse in anglophone Caribbean fiction" (2007). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3254949.