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From marvelous to magic realism: Modernist and postmodernist discourses of identity in the Caribbean novel

Margaret Loren Heady, University of Massachusetts Amherst


Caribbean authors, due to the unique geographical, social and historical contexts of their work, have long been preoccupied with the notion of authenticity. Yet the project of uncovering or inventing an "authentic" Caribbean discourse has repeatedly confronted difficulties resulting from the intrinsic hybridity and dynamism of the region. In particular, discourses of origin and belonging based on national boundaries or ethnic essentialism have proven inadequate for rendering the "essence" of the Caribbean experience. This problem has been exacerbated by the fact that such discourses are generally dependent on European literary forms to be their vehicle. For each of the three novelists studied in this dissertation, the discourse of the marvelous seemed to offer a path for creating a fictional identity quest which would be able to capture something of this unique but elusive Caribbean "essence". The dissertation argues that by tracing the transcultural route taken by Marvelous Realism and later Magic Realism through three novels by Jacques Stephen Alexis of Haiti, Alejo Carpentier of Cuba, and Simone Schwarz-Bart of Guadeloupe, one becomes aware of an evolution in the use of the marvelous which reflects different approaches to the dilemma faced by the Caribbean artist coping with the seemingly contradictory demands of a Parisian intellectual formation and an authentic "Caribbean" sensibility. This evolution reveals an emerging "postmodernist" consciousness in the quest for an authentic Caribbean discourse, suggesting a growing acceptance on the part of Caribbean writers of the hybrid nature of their intellectual and cultural heritage. Using analysis based on writings by Antonio Gramsci, Edouard Glissant, Gayatri Spivak, Regine Robin, Stephen Slemon and Paul Gilroy among others, the dissertation explores the ways in which these three novelists, poised uneasily between two continents, have through their fiction and essays struggled and/or come to terms with the "decentered" positionality which seems to be so "central" to the Caribbean experience.

Subject Area

Caribbean literature|Literature|Comparative literature

Recommended Citation

Heady, Margaret Loren, "From marvelous to magic realism: Modernist and postmodernist discourses of identity in the Caribbean novel" (1997). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9737535.