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Author ORCID Identifier



Open Access Dissertation

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program

Comparative Literature

Year Degree Awarded


Month Degree Awarded


First Advisor

William Moebius

Second Advisor

Kathryn Lachman

Third Advisor

Dawn Fulton

Fourth Advisor

Dianne Sears

Subject Categories

Comparative Literature


In “Engaged, Multicultural Individualism in the Millennial Works of Maryse Condé and Zadie Smith,” I explore the way these authors of the Caribbean diaspora represent the particular challenges characters face when they try to construct individual identities while also managing past traumas and future anxieties in multicultural contexts. I argue that the only path to success is through the development of a humor perspective similar to that of Condé’s and Smith’s third-person narrators, whose humorous, mocking tone, particularly at moments of crisis, creates the critical distance necessary for constructing an autonomous individual identity. The first chapter argues that philosophical insights about unpredictability and interconnectedness in White Teeth and La migration des cœurs unite Smith and Condé with Caribbean theorists Antonio Benítez-Rojo and Edouard Glissant as well as the science of Chaos to form an important part of the millennial zeitgeist. The second chapter explores curses, revenge, and satire as indirect ways of writing judgment of the past onto the present in three Condé novels: Traversée de la mangrove, La migration des cœurs, and Célanire cou-coupé. Each novel features an enigmatic central character interpellated by a painful past they cannot ignore. Taken together, these novels represent the characters’ progression toward new forms of authorship and self-determination in the present. The third chapter focuses on how to construct an identity in the present without relying on a sense of belonging: to a family, a nation, an ethnic group, or an ideology. I discuss how characters in Condé’s Desirada and Smith’s White Teeth and On Beauty are prompted by mockery from respected figures in their lives to abandon the original course of their clichéd identity quests and seek new levels of self-awareness instead. This dissertation is therefore organized as a series of insights that build on one another. It moves from anxiety about the future and angst about the past to the ultimate liberation of the present, a necessary progression for individuals in multicultural contexts where multiple possibilities for identification coexist with inter-and intra-group tensions.