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secret places of pain: Colonial Ideology and the Fiction of Helen Oyeyemi


Sarah Louise Kent







APRIL, 2016

Sarah Louise Kent 2016


My thesis examines the resurgence of colonial ideology in contemporary England through an

examination of two of Helen Oyeyemis novels, White is for Witching and The Icarus Girl.

Employing the framework of Sara Ahmeds killjoy and Paul Gilroys Postcolonial Melancholia,

I argue that Oyeyemi crafts unhappy narratives in order to interrupt the amnesia surrounding

Englands reliance on colonial ideology. Although gothic tropes and magic realism underpin

Oyeyemis novels, I assert that her narratives reflect the lived-experience of black British and

hybrid subjects by defamiliarizing the world in order to unveil colonial ideology. In this way,

Oyeyemi radically kills the normative joy of English nationalism by highlighting the suffering of

those who are deemed racially and culturally other. Oyeyemi disavows celebrations of

multiculturalism and instead renders racism visible through voicing the violence and hatred that

circulates in contemporary British society.


I would like to acknowledge that the University of Calgary, where I have undertaken my thesis

work, is located on Treaty Seven territory, the traditional lands of the Siksika, the Piikuni, the

Kainai, the Tsuu Tina, and the Stoney Nakoda First Nations. I would also like to acknowledge

that the University of Calgary is situated on land adjacent to where the Bow River meets the

Elbow River, and that the traditional Blackfoot name of this place is Mohkinstsis which we

now call the City of Calgary. Calgary is also home to Metis Nation of Alberta, Region III.

While my thesis thinks through the (re)surfacing of colonial ideology in England, I have been

thinking deeply about the machinations of colonial ideology closer to home. I acknowledge that I

am a white settler on these lands and that colonialism has displaced Indigenous peoples from

their ancestral homes. I have unarguably benefitted from the system of oppression that denigrates

the subjectivity of certain communities. My ability to access higher education has been enabled

by the workings of colonial ideology that has privileged my identity position.

I am indebted to the kindness and wisdom of my supervisor, Dr. Pamela McCallum and the

unwavering guidance of Dr. Aruna Srivastava. Both Dr. McCallum and Dr. Srivastavas critical

work and praxis have been formative to the production of this thesis.

I would also like to thank the Department of English at the University of Calgary for affording

me the opportunity to undertake this work. Thank you to the faculty, the staff, and my cohort for

the tireless support, thoughtfulness, and ongoing encouragement that has made my research


Table of Contents

Abstract ............................................................................................................................... ii

Acknowledgements ............................................................................................................ iii

Table of Contents ............................................................................................................... iv

Epigraph ...............................................................................................................................v

Chapter 1 ................................................................................................................................
ventur[ing] into secret places of pain: Helen Oyeyemi as Killjoy ...................................1

Chapter 2 ................................................................................................................................
Xenophobia: Colonial Desire for White Englishness in White is for Witching .................23

Chapter 3 ................................................................................................................................
Something is really wrong with me: the Unheimlich Third Space in The Icarus Girl ...51

Chapter 4 ................................................................................................................................
Fear, Hatred, Violence: Narrating the Traumas of Colonialism ........................................81

Works Cited .....................................................................................................................100


To see racism, you have to un-see the world as you learned to see it, the world that

covers unhappiness, by covering over its cause. You have to be willing to venture into secret

places of pain.

Sara Ahmed, The Promise of Happiness

Chapter 1

ventur[ing] into secret places of pain: Helen Oyeyemi as Killjoy

Helen Oyeyemi defamiliarizes familiar narratives, turning the literary canon on its head

by subversively inserting postcolonial politics into her gothic1 novels. Oyeyemi, a Nigerian-

British author, confronts Englands insidious colonial histories by bringing attention to the

violence that continues to proliferate in the contemporary world. She unveils the machinations of

colonialism that extend into Englands political, socio-cultural, and nationalistic spheres.

Through two of Oyeyemis novels, The Icarus Girl and White is for Witching, published in 2005

and 2009 respectively, I argue that Oyeyemi introduces and inserts unhappiness into the British

narrative, a national narrative that attempts to celebrate multiculturalism in order to negate the

nations dark colonial past. In this vein and through narrating secret places of pain (Promise

83), I argue that Oyeyemi is a postcolonial killjoy. Sara Ahmed defines the killjoy as the subject

who introduces unhappiness or ill feeling into collective conversations because they embody the

persistence of histories that cannot be wished away by happiness (Promise 159). Through her

novels, Oyeyemi expresses a persistent unhappiness with the systems of power that continue to

dehumanize postcolonial subjects. Ahmed asserts that We [as killjoys] would recognize the

impossibility of putting certain histories behind us; these histories persist, and we must persist in

declaring our unhappiness with their persistence (Promise 159). White is for Witching and The

Icarus Girl undertake this work; they declare a persisting unhappiness. These two novels create

the radical space for the recognition of the (often invisible) violence of racism, xenophobia, and

Sarah Ilots monograph, New Postcolonial British Genres: Shifting the Boundaries, places both White is for
Witching and The Icarus Girl within the traditions of the gothic.

negation of the other, all of which are inherited from colonial ideology. Oyeyemis narratives do

not engage with utopian celebrations of diversity; her novels reverberate with the material and

discursive violence that those who are labeled as other encounter in their lived-experience as

postcolonial subjects. The Icarus Girl and White is for Witching assert that England is still

haunted by the spectres of its colonial past and that colonial ideology is continuing to inform and

determine British society.

Ahmed deploys the theoretical framework of the killjoy as a way to speak to the

preclusion of certain subjects from grand utopian narratives of happiness. The killjoy, as Ahmed

asserts, is out of sync with dominant sentiments because of their (dis)orientation from

normatively happy objects. The killjoy kills joy; their subjectivity threatens the possibility of

happiness for themselves and those around them. They are alienated by virtue of how they are

affected by the world or how they affect others in the world (Promise 164). The killjoy is

unable to partake in normative conceptions of happiness because their identity position shuts

down the possibility of engaging with hegemonic prescriptions of happiness. Ahmed formulates

the killjoy as a way to render the systematic exclusion of certain subjects visible and to think

further about the way hegemony forces the killjoy to inhabit the margins. Ahmed describes how

the killjoy experiences feeling at odds with the world, or feeling that the world is odd (Promise

168) because their identity forecloses the possibility of feeling harmonious with the dominant

sphere. She further illuminates that as the killjoy, You do not flow; you are stressed; you

experience the world as a form of resistance in coming to resist a world (Promise 169). The

killjoy has no choice but to express resistance to normative socio-cultural and political spheres

via their declarations of unhappiness. Resistance is the only mode of existence for the killjoy.

In normative perceptions, nations are a source of pride and belonging, yet for the

postcolonial subject nations are tied to inescapable histories of violence, colonization, and

dislocation. Colonialism has caused and continues to cause the displacement of colonized

subjects from their homelands; it is through this displacement that postcolonial subjects are

differently positioned towards constructions of nations as spaces of belonging. This

(dis)orientation of postcolonial subjects from the normatively happy object of nationhood creates

an intense alienation. As Ahmed suggests, the killjoy is an affect alien, and to be an affect alien

is to experience alien affectsto be out of line with the public mood, not to feel the way others

feel in response to an event (Promise 157). The postcolonial subject thus inhabits the place of

the killjoy as they are (dis)orientated towards nationhood and are unable to celebrate national

pride. While white English subjects may be able to revel in national pride, black subjects are

differently oriented towards celebrations of Britishness. The histories of colonialism and the

workings of ultranationalism preclude black British subjects2 from normatively engaging with

dominant national narratives because of the colonial belief that Englishness is synonymous with

whiteness. Oyeyemis literature resists national allegories of post-colonial harmony in England;

she reveals how black British subjects are stressed by the workings of colonial ideology, which

negate and dehumanize their identities. To be black and British is to be a killjoy and to enact

killing the joy of the nation.

Speaking to the political project of the killjoy, Ahmed argues that, To revolt can hurt not

only because you are proximate to hurt but also because you cause unhappiness by revealing the

I use black British not as an indicator of African race or ethnicity, but in the context that Heidi Mirza addresses
in Black British Feminism. Black British subjects, as Mirza states, are people of the postcolonial diaspora,
including people of Pacific, Asian, Eastern, African, Caribbean, Latina, Native and mixed race heritage (3).

causes of unhappiness. You become the cause of the unhappiness you reveal. It is hard labor to

live and work under the sign of unhappiness (Promise 196). Oyeyemi takes up the hard labour

of exposing the insidious racist ideology that causes the proliferation of pain for black British

subjects. Oyeyemis narratives excavate the silences surrounding black British identity, while

simultaneously addressing the horrors that hegemonic white ethnicity has perpetrated against

those deemed other. Her literature interrupts the colonial silencing of racism and the denigration

of black British identities. Oyeyemi contextualizes the struggle of black British subjects by

addressing the colonial foundations on which British identity has developed.

The Roots of Colonial Ideology: White Colonizer, Black Colonized

Describing the foundations of colonialism, Abdul JanMohamed states, If every desire is

at base a desire to impose oneself on another and to be recognized by the Other, then the colonial

situation provides an ideal context for the fulfillment of that fundamental drive (20). Colonial

ideology builds a relationship of hierarchical power between colonizer and colonized and

simultaneously masks and conceals its exploitation of colonial others by depicting its power as

natural. Colonial discourse operates under Manichean ideology in which the colonizer and the

colonized are polarized into affective categories of good and evil and through which the

colonizer is always assumed to be morally superior. The colonized subject is normatively

constructed as evil, while the colonizer is normatively constructed as good. Under this

framework, the colonizer brings joy; the colonized kills joy. In his seminal text, Wretched of the

Earth, Frantz Fanon critiques the Manichaeism of Western ideology in which malignancy is

projected onto the racial other through the colonial gaze:

The colonial world is a Manichean world...As if to show the totalitarian character of

colonial exploitation, the settler paints the native as a sort of quintessence of evil. Native

society is not simply described as a society lacking in values. It is not enough for the

colonist to affirm that those values have disappeared from, or still better never existed in,

the colonial world. The native is declared insensible to ethics; he represents not only the

absence of values, but also the negation of values. He is, let us dare to admit, the enemy

of values, and in this sense he is the absolute evil. He is the corrosive element, destroying

all that comes near him; he is the deforming element, disfiguring all that has to do with

beauty or morality; he is the depository of maleficent powers, the unconscious and

irretrievable instrument of blind forces. (41)

This binary structure of colonial ideology does not allow for any transgressions between

categories of good/evil and colonizer/colonized, nor does it allow for interstitial spaces between

binarisms. The colonized, labeled as the quintessence of evil, are unable to negotiate between

affective categories of good and evil and are forced to locate themselves as naturally inferior to

the colonizer. They are the source of bad feelings.

Ahmed places Fanon in conversation with her theoretical deployment of the killjoy. She

parses how colonial ideology thrives by constructing the Manichean binary as a natural social

structure. She asserts that it is only through the recognition of the constructed nature of

Manichaeism that colonial ideology can be undermined. Drawing on Fanon, Ahmed states,

The wretched of the earth exposes the wretchedness of the earth. The wretches direct

their anger and hatred toward the world that deems them wretched. The recognition of the

wretched is revolutionary. It involves recognition that wretchedness is not an inevitable

consequence of being in a certain way but is an effect of the occupation and violence of

the colonizer. (Promise 168)

Through this declaration, Ahmed affirms that recognition of the unnatural construction of

Manichaeism is revolutionary. Recognition of the unnaturalness of colonial ideology destabilizes

its power. Oyeyemi renders this unnaturalness visible in her narratives. She draws attention to

the wretchedness of the earth by unveiling how colonial ideology has attempted to naturalize the

power relations between white colonizers and socio-cultural others. Through the vehicle of her

novels, Oyeyemi recognizes the wretchedness of the earth, which constitutes a radical and

revolutionary act and is the first step for the deconstruction of colonial ideology.

The white body is constructed and naturalized as the socio-cultural superior through

colonial ideology; the white body is the body which becomes home (Strange 56) and is able to

occupy the dominant sphere of belonging. Through her narratives, Oyeyemi reveals the power of

white English ethnicity as villainous. Black British feminist Heidi Mirza speaks to the

normalization of white ethnicity, stating that The construction of a national British identity is

built upon a notion of a racial belonging, upon a hegemonic white ethnicity that never speaks its

presence (3). The silence and invisibility surrounding hegemonic white ethnicity is what

constitutes its power; whiteness becomes naturalized as synonymous with Englishness through

the invisibility of its power. Whiteness is the normative mode of being in contemporary England,

a repressed secret that Oyeyemi unveils in White is for Witching.

Speaking to black British identity, Mirza argues, Now living submerged in whiteness,

physical difference becomes a defining issue, a signifier, a mark of whether or not you belong

(3). The black body is thus socio-culturally read as out of sync with the normative white sphere

of belonging. The push for national integrity and homogeneity devolves to the systematic

expulsion of those who are deemed foreign others. As Mirza states, the physical markers of race,

the colour of ones skin, becomes the central signifier of difference. Being black and British not

only means that your identity is subjected to totalizing misrepresentations, but also that your

identity is actively blocked from British national identity. Marked as different from the white

English subject, the black British subject is excluded from the dominant national allegory, an

allegory that is entirely constructed out of privileged white experience.

Historically and socially constructed, otherness is understood as a form of cultural or

racial difference from the Eurocentric standard of whiteness. Although colonial ideology

attempts to pass off this readable difference as natural, otherness is an entirely constructed

phenomenon. Within the context of Empire and colonialism, the other is always the colonized

subject, defined as other because of their cultural and racial identity. This established colonial

binary between colonizer (self) and colonized (other) asserts the primacy of the colonizing

culture as the pervading worldview. Naz Rassool argues, Used as a racially descriptive term

blackness has historically provided a universalizing, homogenizing category in which the

concept of foreign Otherness has been encapsulated par excellence in both colonial and

postcolonial discourse (187). The black body is determined to be dialectically other to the white

body through colonial ideology. Within the same vein as Rassool, Ahmed suggests that To

account for stranger bodies is to account for the historical determination of his white body as the

body which becomes home: the body that comes to matter through the reduction of other bodies

to matter out of place (=strange bodies) (Strange 52). Within the scope of colonial ideology, the

white body is thus determined to always be the self, always the powerful, always the I. The

white body becomes the normative and elevated point of comparison for all other subjects. To be

other than the white body is to be situated as inferior and disempowered within the colonially

constructed hierarchy.

Colonial ideology, which is always in symbiosis with patriarchal ideology, further others

black womens subjectivity. As Helen Charles argues, the black womans Self is shaped by an

encounter with languages of western patriarchal white discourses. The black woman is seen in

terms of non-Self. That is, she is untermed, invisiblebut not absent (291). While colonial

ideology privileges the white identity, patriarchal power structures privilege the male body,

which leads to the double marginalization of black women. Infinitely marginalized by her racial

and gendered identity, the black woman is never the self, never the powerful, never the I

within colonial discourse. Oyeyemi undoes the narcissism of the colonial self by articulating the

subjective experience of marginalized others; she deconstructs the I of the colonial literary

canon by writing the narratives of black British women and articulating the horrors of the

colonial self. The white male subject is not the speaking voice of Oyeyemis narratives.

Being a racialized other is a fraught position within the context of contemporary British

society as, through the workings of colonial ideology, the identity position of blackness negates

British identity. Through the dialectical process of othering, the dominant sphere of belonging

defines what is normal, familiar, and expected in subjectivity through its relation to what is

excluded as strange, alien, and unfamiliar. The conglomeration of patriarchal and colonial

ideology ensures that the black feminine subject is read as the alien body, leading to her

marginalization and displacement from the dominant sphere of belonging. A sense of belonging

is developed among groups of people who identify each other as familiar subjects, while others

are determined to be strangers. Reflecting on othering as an ongoing system, Ahmed states, the

stranger is an effect of processes of inclusion and exclusion, or incorporation and expulsion, that

constitute the boundaries of bodies and communities (Strange 6). The other, determined to be a

stranger, is excluded from the boundaries of the self and expelled from the sphere of belonging.

Rassool speaks to the systematic exclusion of black subjects from the British sphere of

belonging, stating that, blackness has historically provided the category against which the

concept of the British nation has been defined in popular consciousness (187). The black body

is the body marked as different by being out of sync with the white, British sphere of belonging.

Through this process of othering, the black body is read as dissimilar from the citizens of the

nation; these black subjects are understood as too different to be encompassed by national

constructions of belonging. Blackness, as Rassool argues, is constructed as an inassimilable

identity position through the historical constructions of British nationhood.

Notions of cultural difference must be addressed in politically meaningful ways by

unearthing the societal racism that continues to govern Britain. Oyeyemis narratives of black

British identity and experience are inherently political as her novels challenge and undermine the

assumptions that British nationalism must be tied up with white ethnicity. Her novels question

why and how blackness is interpreted as in tension with British nationalism. White is for

Witching and The Icarus Girl provide counter-discourse to the dominant cultural associations of

nationalism and whiteness, making them fundamentally counter-hegemonic texts.

Killing the Joy of Multiculturalism and Exposing Melancholia

Oyeyemi undermines utopian celebrations of British multiculturalism by revealing the

nefarious discourse circulating around English ultranationalism in contemporary England. Her

novels shift away from earlier millennial works, such as Zadie Smiths White Teeth and Monica

Alis Brick Lane, which celebrate happy narratives of British diversity, hybridity, and

immigration. While Smith and Alis texts are productive in their imaginations of socio-cultural

harmony, their narratives fail to reflect the reality of lived-experience for black British subjects.

Shameem Black argues, conventional multiculturalist accounts celebrate consensual and

market-oriented pleasures but do little to challenge formative institutions or fundamental

structures of power. This rhetoric of liberal toleranceeven when it claims the contraryoften

cannot make room for real alterity within its logic (49). Oyeyemi does not deploy the rhetoric

of liberal tolerance by simply depicting England as a multicultural, hybrid space, but instead,

interrogates the resistance to alterity as a way to challenge the invisibility of colonial violence.

In Postcolonial Melancholia, Paul Gilroy argues that narratives that celebrate diversity in

contemporary Britain incite a dangerous amnesia surrounding the violence of Britains colonial

histories: popular, revisionist output is misleading and dangerous because it feeds the illusion

that Britain has been or can be disconnected from its imperial past (2). Contemporary British

society cannot be examined without accounting for the power relations that have been informed

and determined by the legacies of colonialism. British narratives that depict idealized

celebrations of multiculturalism fail to accurately narrate the nation; national allegories that

represent England with utopian race relations fail to account for the ongoing violence committed

against postcolonial subjects because of the aftermath of colonialism. These narratives perpetuate

the amnesia surrounding Britains history as a colonial power and further fail to recognize the

discourse of ultranationalism that equates Englishness with whiteness. While colonialism as a

formal structure of dominance has ended, colonialism as an ideology has not ended, but has

transformed into more insidious and less recognizable forms of oppression. Although England no

longer materially colonizes other nations3, colonial ideology continues to proliferate. England as

a nation has repressed its shameful history of colonialism, yet colonial ideology continues to

shape its socio-cultural relations, political agendas, and constructions of nationhood.

Dominant perspectives label explorations of the past as a failure to live in the present

moment; popular consciousness similarly believes that subjects exposed to the violence of

colonialism are hyperbolizing their victimization. Ahmed addresses how reflections on the past

are critiqued by hegemony, stating that, Bad feelings are seen as oriented toward the past, as a

kind of stubbornness that stops the subject from embracing the future. Good feelings are

associated with moving up, as creating the very promise of a future. This assumption that good

feelings are open and bad feelings are closed allows historical forms of injustice to disappear

(Promise 216-7). When postcolonial subjects voice their bad feelings about the violent histories

of colonialism, white hegemony initiates a process of silencing by arguing that unhappy

narratives are part of the past and not relevant to the present world order. Through addressing the

horrors of colonialism, the postcolonial subject is viewed as interfering with the narrative of

nationalistic progress. In this way, dominant ideology critiques postcolonial subjects for being

incorrectly oriented towards the past. The argument that colonialism presents is that postcolonial

killjoys are destroying, and thus prohibiting, the good feelings of the future. To challenge the

dominant narrative of British cultural diversity and harmonious multiculturalism in the present

moment is viewed as the foreclosure of happy futures. Without addressing the ways that

historical injustices play out in the present, the contemporary world will continue to preserve

unequal power relations tied to race, belonging, and nationhood. Undoing the hierarchy deployed

Arguably, England continues to be engaged with neocolonial forms of occupation in other nations.

by colonial ideology requires an awareness that the power structures created are not natural, but

socio-cultural and politically developed.

As Ahmed states, Revolutionary forms of political consciousness involve heightening

our awareness of just how much there is to be unhappy about (Promise 222-3). An awareness of

the oppression of racialized subjects requires the unearthing of unhappy narratives of colonial

power. This awareness is thus a political project, as Ahmed states that Becoming conscious

refusing to take coveris a form of political struggle (Promise 84). White is for Witching and

The Icarus Girl refuse to take cover and announce a consciousness of the ways in which colonial

ideology denigrates black British subjects. Oyeyemis declarations of unhappiness situate her in

the tradition of political narrative projects that expose racism. Joan Rileys The Unbelonging,

published in 1985, and Buchi Emechetas Second Class Citizen, published 1974, endorse the

same political projects of vocalizing unhappiness. By returning to a tradition of tracing racism

and refusing to narrate fictitious imaginations of a happy hybrid England, Oyeyemi undertakes

an excavation of the present. White is for Witching and The Icarus Girl function on the premise

that diversity cannot be celebrated in England while the undercurrents of hate and xenophobia

continue to exclude non-white subjects. By returning to the horrors of Britains history, Oyeyemi

attends to the ways in which England is not post-colonial and how the nation continues to echo

with the aftershocks of empire. By acknowledging the legacies of colonialism, Oyeyemis novels

initiate an essential dialogue on the proliferations of racism and exclusion of certain subjects

from the national sphere.

Ahmed traces how colonialism constitutes an unhappy history, yet empire continues to be

celebrated as the height of British history and the pinnacle of national pride. Ahmed states that

there is a social obligation to remember the history of empire as a history of happiness. This

memory of empire as happiness has even become a form of nation building. To be a national

subject might involve expressing happiness about imperial history (Promise 130). The

prerequisite of equating British Empire with happiness is to be a white privileged subject, a

subject who has the ability to occupy the position of colonizer and not colonized. Those who

have been affected by the unhappy histories of colonialism, those who have been materially and

psychologically colonized, are thus excluded from British nation building. Ahmed further

suggests, To become British is to accept empire as the gift of happiness, which might involve an

implicit injunction to forget or not to remember the violence of colonial rule (Promise 131).

Inhabiting an identity that is tied to the history of violence instigated by colonialism forecloses

the possibility of accepting happy narratives of empire.

White is for Witching and The Icarus Girl call attention to the historical and socio-

cultural contexts that inform these narratives, specifically Englands history as a former colonial

power and as a continuing space of racial tensions. Nationalism functions through creating a

perceivably homogenous whole, where groups of people identify with one another to create a

sphere of belonging. Homogeneity is thus valued as a foundational aspect of nationhood.

Pointing to the fears of heterogeneity, Gilroy argues that under colonial ideology diversity

becomes a dangerous feature of society (Postcolonial 2). Diversity, understood as difference,

threatens the foundations of nationhood, because, as Gilroy states, diversity incites instability.

Under the impetus for stable nationhood, homogeneity is intensely desirable as it provides the

glue that binds the nation together. Colonial ideology enforces fantasies of a homogenous Britain

in which others are not welcome; difference is perceived to be the mechanism of destabilization

that leads to national decline.

Gilroy calls for the frank exposure to the grim and brutal details of my countrys

colonial past (Postcolonial 3), a task that Oyeyemi takes up by revealing the nefarious

invisibility of hegemonic white ethnicity in White is for Witching and The Icarus Girl. She

narrates the rampant xenophobia, paranoia, and desire for homogeneity in contemporary British

society and frames racism as truly monstrous. In this way, Oyeyemi steps into the role of the

killjoy, the one who gets in the way of an organic solidarity (Promise 213). By voicing the

xenophobic nationalism that is at play in British society, Oyeyemi reveals that there are no

expressions of solidarity for black British subjects; in the national imagination, the black British

subject is not recognized.

Oyeyemi unearths the past for a political purpose; she reveals the ways in which the past

continues to cause pain for black British subjects. To address the contemporary British moment

without acknowledging the continuance of racism would be to ignore the historical forms of

domination and control that continue to marginalize and dehumanize black British subjects.

Ignoring the colonial history of Britain is to collude in the legitimation of the structural violence

and exclusion targeted towards black British subjects. Accounting for the historical contexts in

which Manichean colonial ideology was raised facilitates a holistic exploration of racism.

Oyeyemis texts illuminate the unequal power relations in which British identity is historically,

politically, and socio-culturally rooted.

My thesis employs two of Oyeyemis novels, White is for Witching and The Icarus Girl,

to think through the ways in which unhappy narratives can be deployed to critique the

machinations of colonialism and reveal the insidious resurgence of colonial ideology in

contemporary England. My two case studies deploy radically different theoretical infrastructures

in order to parse the multiple ways in which colonialism manifests in England. My second

chapter, titled Xenophobia: Colonial Desire for White Englishness in White is for Witching,

employs Gilroys framework from his seminal text Postcolonial Melancholia to address the

violence perpetuated by colonial ideology that continues to surface in the contemporary moment.

My third chapter, titled Something is really wrong with me: the Unheimlich Third Space in

The Icarus Girl, utilizes Homi Bhabhas theory of the Third Space in conversation with

Sigmund Freuds conceptions of the unheimlich to think through the difficulties of inhabiting a

hybrid identity. In my concluding chapter, titled Fear, Hatred, Violence: Narrating the Traumas

of Colonialism, I place the two novels in conversation with one another to understand the larger

ethical projects that Oyeyemi engages with through her killjoy narratives.

Chapter 2: White is for Witching

White is for Witching narrates the violence of being-with between self and other in

contemporary Britain, unearthing the horrors of unethical relationships in which xenophobia

lapses into violent expulsions of the other. Oyeyemi rewrites the gothic haunted-house narrative

as a way to explore the xenophobia that is embedded in colonial ideology. Refusing to reduce

xenophobia to a simple fear of otherness, White is for Witching unpacks the complexity of the

drive behind xenophobia, while negotiating and narrating the many ways that xenophobia

manifests itself in British socio-cultural experience. Fueled by xenophobia, the house at 29

Barton Road attempts to safeguard itself against otherness through violently attacking racial


Xenophobia is an ideological mechanism that is fundamentally repulsed by otherness and

is obsessed with the desire to expel otherness. Xenophobia fetishizes the other because of their

otherness, reducing the other to an object of difference in relation to the self. At the core of

xenophobia is a desire to reduce alterity into the self-same through destroying/consuming the

other; xenophobia is the drive to expel alterity. As Ahmed argues, our experiences prior to our

engagement with an other determine whether we identify them as familiar or strange: bodies

materialise in a complex set of temporal and spatial relations to other bodies, including bodies

that are recognised as familiar, familial and friendly, and those that are considered strange

(Strange 40). Xenophobia functions by identifying certain bodies as strange and using points of

difference, such as race, to mark others as other. Heterogeneity, or differences between bodies,

becomes a threat and the source of fear, hatred, and ill feeling.

White is for Witching follows the psychological and material escalation of Miranda

Silver, a white English girl, who suffers from pica, a pathological condition that drives her to

consume inanimate objects. The novel itself shifts between multiple perspectives, including

Miranda, her twin brother Eliot, Ore (Mirandas Nigerian-British lover), and Sade (the Yoruba

housekeeper). At the outset of the novel, Miranda has disappeared and the plot temporally

backtracks in order to trace Mirandas trajectory. Appropriating the gothic genre, Oyeyemi

subverts traditional gothic (and colonial) narratives through redefining the monstrous. The

unknowable, uncanny other is not the horror that lurks in the shadowsit is the fear, violence,

and hatred towards others that is truly monstrous. In the novel, the Silvers family home on the

white cliffs of Dover embodies violent racist ideology. The home at 29 Barton Road takes on a

life of its own, animated and haunted by the Silvers maternal ancestors. Run as a guesthouse,

the home is fueled by a fear of otherness and defends itself from racialized others by violently

attacking anyone that it deems foreign. The house attempts to protect Miranda, Oyeyemis

protagonist and the youngest of four generations of Silver women, from the contamination of

foreign others. After Miranda falls in love with Ore, a Nigerian-British woman, the houses

protection of Miranda begins to turn violent. The house thus personifies the inhospitality of

English racism.

The repressed racism of contemporary England boils over in White is for Witching,

providing a political critique of the contemporary socio-cultural condition. Oyeymi blends

together Caribbean soucouyant mythology and European vampire narratives through her

development of the goodlady, an omniscient spectre that is an amalgamation of Mirandas

maternal ancestors. The goodladys lineage begins with Anna Good, Mirandas great-

grandmother, who invokes the protection of the goodlady when her husband is killed in Africa

during World War II. The goodlady, who is inseparable from the house itself and from Anna

Good, becomes an embodiment of violent xenophobia as she attempts to protect the Silver

family from the perceived dangers of otherness. Through the horrors of the haunted-house,

Oyeyemi reveals hegemonic white ethnicity as the source of fear, dread, and violence.

Despite magic realism and gothic tropes, White is for Witching does not exist in the

vacuum of the literary world, but carries real weight in its narration of the lived-experience of

postcolonial subjects in contemporary British society. Oyeyemi deploys gothic tropes, Caribbean

mythology, Yoruba culture, and fairy tale elements to speak to the tensions and anxieties

surrounding xenophobia that are overlooked in everyday experience. By draping xenophobia in

the surreal, uncanny, and fantastical, Oyeyemi highlights the horrors of contemporary British

society, which is marked by its continuing colonial ideology. The house functions as an allegory

for the postcolonial condition in England and the fear that has circulated around socio-cultural

otherness. White English nationalism thus takes up the position of the gothic villain.

White is for Witching draws attention to the dehumanization, injustice, and exclusion of

racialized others through the machinations of colonialism. Oyeyemi uses her novel as a tool to

render the invisibility of racism visible through defamiliarizing the machinations of colonialism.

Racist colonial ideology is made visible through its personification as the goodlady and as the

home on the cliffs of Dover. White supremacism is no longer naturalized, silent, or invisible in

Oyeyemis text; instead, White is for Witching forces readers to attend to the ways in which

white supremacist ideology instigates material and discursive violence against those deemed

other. Oyeyemi further breaks the silence surrounding Britains colonial history, forcing a

remembrance of the foundations on which British nationalism has been founded. The novel kills

joy by voicing this narrative. White is for Witching functions as an ethical reminder that those

who have benefitted from the workings of white supremacism have an obligation to remember

the traumas incited by colonialism, traumas which continue to occur because of the reliance on

colonial ideology in present world order.

Chapter 3: The Icarus Girl

My third chapter on The Icarus Girl pulls together Sigmund Freuds conception of the

uncanny with Homi Bhabhas construction of the Third Space to think through the ways in

which inhabiting a hybrid identity becomes unheimlich because of the machinations of colonial

ideology. The Icarus Girl, a postcolonial rewriting of doppleganger narratives, revolves around

Jessamys struggles with her hybrid identity as she fails to fall into preconceived identity

categories. Jessamy, a Nigerian-British girl, struggles with her mixed-race. Within colonial

ideology, identity categories exist as binarisms, where subjects must locate themselves either

under the umbrella of self/colonizer or other/colonized. These identity categories are fettered to

race, linking the position of self/colonizer with whiteness and other/colonized with blackness.

These categories are also bound up with power relations, where the white colonizer is always in

a position of authority, while the black colonized is powerless. Under the binarism of colonial

ideology, there is no place for the hybrid subject.

As a mixed-race child, Jessamy feels dislocated from her maternal Nigerian heritage and

her paternal white Englishness. During a family trip to Nigeria, Jessamy meets TillyTilly, a

young Nigerian girl, and the two form a close bond. Over the course of the narrative, Jessamy

discovers that TillyTilly is not real, but is simultaneously a spectral representation of her dead

twin, a haunting abiku spirit, and/or Jessamys psychological manifestation. Jessamy is forced to

negotiate, vocalize, and confront her feelings of internalized otherness through direct interactions

and encounters with TillyTilly. While Jessamy initially forms an amicable friendship and

familial relationship with TillyTilly, their relationship begins to escalate as TillyTilly becomes

violent and unpredictable. As a spirit, TillyTilly attempts to colonize Jessamys body, which

culminates in the final scene of the novel, set in the eerie and ambiguous space of the Bush. In

Yoruba culture, the Bush is a Third Space, a space that blurs the boundaries between the material

and spirit worlds. While the Bush occupies the material hybrid position of the Third Space,

Jessamys hybridity also collapses the boundaries between binarised identity categories.

Desperately searching for a community of belonging, Jessamy feels intensely dislocated

from both England and Nigeria because her mixed-race identity precludes her from fitting

comfortably within the boundaries of either sphere of belonging. Jessamy fails to find a sense of

belonging among her peers or her family, but more worryingly, she fails to feel at home with

herself. The Icarus Girl voices a double-consciousness in which Jessamy attempts to negotiate a

hybrid identity that is neither Nigerian, nor British, yet simultaneously both. She struggles with

the sense of always looking at ones self through the eyes of others, of measuring ones soul by

the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity...two souls, two thoughts, two

unreconciled strivings (Du Bois 4). Jessamy is forced to confront her identity as an unstable,

multiple, and hybrid construction. In her crisis of identity, Jessamy is surrounded by infinite

multiplicity and instability: her hybrid, racial identity; an unstable reality; spectral doubles; a loss

of belonging; borderless nationality.

While Bhabha encourages the celebration of Third Space, Jessamys narrative suggests

that hybridity is a source of discomfort, pain, and dislocation. The Icarus Girl asserts that the

Third Space cannot be constructed as a utopian space of difference while the machinations of

colonialism continue to denigrate hybrid identities. Through Jessamys struggles, Oyeyemi

continually returns her readers to the violence that is materially and discursively perpetuated

against subjects who cannot fit comfortably into the binary identity categories of colonial

ideology. The Icarus Girl is a killjoy narrative; it functions as a reminder that diversity,

hybridity, and difference cannot be celebrated until the political and socio-cultural undercurrents

of colonialism are deconstructed. Oyeyemi does not offer any tools or solutions for the

deconstruction or decolonization of identity, but her text unveils the presence of colonial

ideology that attempts to render itself invisible.

Unhappy Endings and the Impetus to Kill Joy

As a killjoy, Oyeyemi does not offer her readers (or her protagonists) safe or reassuring

resolutions to the conflicts stemming from alterity. The conclusions to The Icarus Girl and White

is for Witching resist offering any solutions to occupying a space of otherness; her protagonists

are not liberated, unified, or saved by the conclusions of the novels. Instead, her protagonists

identities are dislocated and fragmentary, in a perpetual state of conflicting instability. Stepping

away from the utopian endings of fairy tales, Oyeyemi refuses to offer her readers a happy

ending for the tensions of a postcolonial, hybrid identity. Her narratives demand a recognition of

the suffering that is brought into the world because of the enduring legacies of colonialism.

Speaking to the position of the killjoy, Ahmed asserts that To be alienated from happiness is to

recognize not only that you are the one who is out of place but also that you cannot make

yourself be in place, that you cannot make yourself belong anywhere (Promise 156).

Oyeyemis novels do not offer a happy ending because she cannot make her protagonists fit into

place while colonialism continues to haunt the British sphere of belonging. Her protagonists are

intensely alienated from happiness because colonialism has rendered them out-of-place; her

protagonists have no other option but to be alienated from happiness. Oyeyemis novels are not

intended to offer solutions for the deconstruction of colonial frameworks, but to reveal that those

frameworks are still providing the foundation for contemporary British society. To simply ignore

the continuing machinations of colonialism is to ignore the pain and suffering of others: To

recover can be to re-cover, to cover over the causes of pain and suffering (Promise 216). White

English hegemony has attempted to reconcile the horrors of British colonialism by instigating an

amnesia surrounding British history. To remember otherwise, to remember the violence and

suffering of racialized subjects, is thus to introduce unhappiness into the conversation by

exposing pain. Ahmed illustrates that reminders of Britains colonial past are met with hostility:

The desire to move beyond suffering in reconciliation, the very will to be over it by asking

others to get over it, means that those who persist in their unhappiness become causes of the

unhappiness of many (Promise 216). The postcolonial killjoy is thus labeled as the source of

bad feeling by failing to be in sync with ultranationalism. The postcolonial subject enacts a

painful remembrance of the dehumanization of colonialism, a remembrance that is in tension

with the dominant push towards post-colonialism. Ahmed argues, [the killjoys] suffering

becomes transformed into our collective disappointment that we cannot simply put such histories

behind us (Promise 216). The history of colonialism is not a history that can simply be

reconciled through forgetting; despite the repression of its violent histories, colonialism

continues to puncture the contemporary world. Oyeyemis novel functions as a reminder that

colonialism is not over, but is worryingly active in socio-cultural and political spheres.

Oyeyemi attempts to shift the ground of discourse by rendering the machinations of

colonial ideology visible. Through the deployment of unhappy narratives, White is for Witching

and The Icarus Girl step beyond placated narratives of multiculturalism and beyond colonial

representations of postcolonial subjects. These narratives are not a utopian celebration of

otherness, but a cold, hard look at the postcolonial condition in England and the continuing

legacies of colonialism. Gilroy calls for the frank exposure to the grim and brutal details of my

countrys colonial past (Postcolonial 3), a task that Oyeyemi takes up by revealing the nefarious

invisibility of hegemonic white ethnicity in contemporary England. Through writing unhappy

narratives, Oyeyemi recognizes that black British subjects are alienated from national happiness

because colonial ideology has foreclosed the possibility of finding (normative conceptions of)

joy. Ahmed illuminates the power in expressing unhappiness, stating that, There is solidarity in

recognizing our alienation from happiness, even if we do not inhabit the same place (as we do

not). There can even be joy in killing joy. And kill joy, we must and we do (Promise 87).

Oyeyemi builds a community out of the affective alienation of black British subjects by

revealing that it is the endurance of colonialism that excludes them from national belonging. Her

novels take joy in killing joy as they unveil the insidiousness of colonialism and make visible the

violence of white supremacism.

Chapter 2

Xenophobia: Colonial Desire for White Englishness in White is for Witching

Through the operation of delineating some bodies from others, xenophobia establishes

the boundaries and borders of bodies and communities. Xenophobia operates through adherence

and coherence, binding some figures together to create a collective while operating to exclude

others. Exposing the fetters between English nationalism and xenophobic discourse, White is for

Witching questions and problematizes what constitutes the English sense of self. The narrative

utilizes the gothic trope of the uncanny to explore the racist underpinnings of contemporary

English nationalism through a haunted house animated by xenophobia. In White is for Witching,

violent xenophobia manifests itself as a family home on the cliffs of Dover, purposefully

marking the border of the English homeland. The home, an embodied manifestation of racism,

violently seeks nationalistic and racial homogeneity. Through exposing xenophobic discourse,

the novel magnifies the enduring legacy of British colonialism, the continuing colonial fears of

contamination, and whiteness as the essence of Englishness within colonial ideology. Highly

politicized, the xenophobia that Oyeyemi unearths locates and exposes the horrors of colonialism

and the failures of an English national allegory. White is for Witching illustrates the haunting of

Englands present by the spectre of its colonial past. Paul Gilroys theoretical text, Postcolonial

Melancholia, offers a pathological reading of contemporary British society and the loss of

Imperial dominance. Gilroy encourages the explorations of violence perpetrated by colonial

ideology, stating, we need to ask how an increased familiarity with the bloodstained workings

of racism...might be made to yield lessons that could be applied more generally, in the

demanding contemporary settings of multicultural social relations (Postcolonial 4). Oyeyemi

exposes the bloodstains of racism by shocking her readers with a xenophobia that comes to life

and manifests itself as a house on the cliffs of Dover.

Through examining the social and cultural amnesia surrounding Britains colonial past,

Gilroy diagnoses contemporary England as suffering from a state of perpetual melancholia that is

bound up with the fear of national decline. Pointing to Englands failure to mourn the loss of

Empire, he suggests that England is haunted by the desire for imperial glory that prevents an

embrace of national plurality. The foreign other, representative of invasion, heterogeneity, and

contamination, becomes the target of xenophobia because of the fear of national decline. With a

desire for a return to imperial prestige, white ethnicity becomes fettered to homogenous

nationalism and instigates racist violence against any bodies deemed other. Invoking the

theoretical framework of Frantz Fanon, Gilroy suggests that race is inherently tied to the

historical and social, but is not a definitive category of identity. He further argues that British

national decline is linked to the social pathology that incites racial violence and dehumanizes

black British subjects. Gilroy traces the anxieties of otherness in British history and the

ideological belief that national success depends on reinforcing borders to ensure national stability

and homogeneity. Otherness thus becomes synonymous with instability, chaos, and decline. He

suggests that contemporary national projects continue to circulate racial Manichean discourse as

a way to reinforce and reproduce the idealized colonial hierarchies of imperial Britain. Voicing

his dissent against the silencing of Britains colonial history, Gilroy argues that by repressing the

violence of imperial dominance, Britain is unable establish a stable national identity. He argues

that Britain requires an intervention to unearth its colonial history in order to understand the

social, cultural, and political instability of the present.

The repression that circulates around the loss of imperial prestige has bled through into

contemporary life in Britain and continues to dominate social, political, and cultural discourse. In

his chapter titled Albion, Gilroy questions the stagnancy of British nationalism and its focus on

World War II as the height of national pride. This inability to acknowledge the changing national

landscape has become intertwined with anxieties surrounding immigration and a loss of a unified

national identity. The violence fettered to Britains colonial past has become a source of shame

and discomfort, leading to an aversion to facing, acknowledging, or mourning the evolution of

British identity. The unsettling nature of Britains history has lead to the denial and active

amnesia of colonial violence. This buried knowledge has spilled over into an ideology that marks

postcolonial British citizens as unwelcome and invasive foreigners. Confronting Britains

colonial past means acknowledging a discomforting complicity with acts of dehumanization. The

repression of Britains brutal colonial history erupts in contemporary social life through acts of

xenophobic violence, exclusion, and injustice, encompassed by ultranationalism. Gilroy argues

that xenophobia is tied to ultranationalism because of the fear of an invasive otherness and the

loss of a homogenous, national identity. The ethnic absolutism that demarcates bodies fuels

British ultranationalism and provokes anxiety for collective national belonging that could be

under threat by foreign others. He argues that colonial atrocities are shrouded in shame, causing

the British nation to rely on and perpetuate amnesia of the horrors of colonialism.

The antipathy towards black British subjects feeds a xenophobia that is rooted in

political, social, and cultural exclusion of bodies that are not white, and thus, not authentically

British. The violence instigated by racism attempts to purify the nation by expelling foreign

bodies, whose skin marks them as racially, and thus socially, other. Pointing to the denial of

racist violence in contemporary Britain, Gilroy asserts that, melancholic Britain can concede

that it does not like blacks and wants to get rid of them but then becomes uncomfortable because

it does not like the things it learns about itself when it gives vent to feelings of hostility and

hatred (Postcolonial 104-5). The hostility to difference is directly constructed from the failure

to mourn Englands changing socio-cultural identity and multicultural nationalism. Bodies that

are marked by their otherness provoke an anxiety of invasion, national decline, and cultural

corruption that threatens white supremacy and racial hierarchy. Gilroy states,

before the British people can adjust to the horrors of their own modern history and start

to build a new national identity from the debris of their broken narcissism, they will

have to learn to appreciate the brutalities of colonial rule enacted in their name and to

their benefit, to understand the damage it did to their political culture at home and

abroad, and to consider the extent of their countrys complex investments in the ethnic

absolutism that has sustained it. (Postcolonial 99)

The British people, as Gilroy asserts, have an obligation to confront the traumas brought about

by colonialism in order to transcend the immobilizing and repressive guilt. Oyeyemi undertakes

this obligation to confront colonial traumas and the continuing nationalistic gravitation towards

colonial ideology.

Unearthing xenophobic discourse, White is for Witching suggests that it is a love for

white Englishness that motivates hatred for the bodies that are marked as foreign, bodies that

threaten to corrupt English nationalism. While canonized colonialist texts, such as Conrads

Heart of Darkness, paint the racial other as the uncanny source of dread and anxiety4, Oyeyemi

Chinua Achebe offers a scathing critique of the racism in Heart of Darkness in his essay An Image of Africa:
Racism in Conrad's Heart of Darkness. Achebe illuminates the horrifying racism that Conrad deploys in his
construction of Africa as a dark continent and his dehumanization of black subjects.

instills whiteness as a horrific and destructive manifestation of violence in White is for Witching.

Located on the white-chalk cliffs of Dover, the house at Barton Road is cloaked in an aura of

whiteness and feeds off white supremacist ideology. Aspasia Stephanou argues that Oyeyemi

implements white as the marker of evil, a whiteness that embodies British nationalism (1245).

The purity associated with whiteness thus becomes truly unpure by the violence, repression, and

hate that it incites.

The home at Barton Road is not a space of comfortable domesticity, but a manifestation

of the hostility of English racism. Writing back against a history of the racial other as the source

of the uncanny, White is for Witching instills whiteness with a sense of dread, horror, and fear.

The home functions double-fold in the text, both as a micro-examination of the dynamics of the

Silver family, but also as an allegory for England as home within the context of the

postcolonial condition. The home in White is for Witching is representative of the private,

domestic sphere, but also functions as a national allegory for the xenophobia that is disseminated

by the haunting of colonial ideology. As a critique of white English nationalism, Oyeyemi turns

colonial ideology on its head by locating the monstrosity of xenophobia within the borders of

England and by exploring homogenous whiteness as horrific. In this way, she transforms

colonial understandings of England-as-victim into England-as-monster. Using the discourse of

xenophobia, Oyeyemi reveals how the central ideology of Englishness is fundamentally

alienating, horrific, violent, and unhomely. Framed by the familial home, the novel explores the

haunting legacy of colonial inheritance, the spectral return of the xenophobic past, and

contemporary manifestations of repressed racism in England. The novel overflows with

commentary on the social and historical conditions of the contemporary experiences of

postcolonial subjects.

The negative attachment to the strange body functions as a positive attachment to

English nationalism, whose constituents are defined by their whiteness. The hatred for the

foreign body marks a community of pure, white subjects by identifying the foreign body as

other to delineate the body of the nation. White is for Witching exposes xenophobia as far from

extraordinary, despite the gothic tropes and magic realism that the novel adopts. Instead, the

novel reveals the production of the normative: the white subject as synonymous with the English

nation. The white subject is threatened by foreign others whose proximity to England is read as a

violation of the national community. Through abject language targeted at foreign bodies, the

white English subject is transformed into the pure, injured party, threatened by the invasion of

others. The foreign body is perceived to embody the threat of loss: lost English nationalism, lost

national pride, lost homogenous community. Foreign bodies are marked as abject through the

dialectical process of othering and signify a threat to the purity of the English nation. Operating

on a metonymic slide, foreign bodies are read as an invasion of the body of the nation,

represented by the pure, white English subject. The threat of otherness, mobilized by

xenophobia, animates the normative subject to expel the foreign body. Those who are marked as

not-English become a source of fear and instigate the policing of English borders. Generated by

xenophobia, anxiety and fear justify the elimination of those who do not fit within the norm of

white Englishness.

The continuous negotiations and anxieties surrounding the boundaries and borders of

home and the boundaries and borders of the national body produce xenophobia. As an

ideological mechanism, xenophobia disseminates from the sheer irreconcilable, ineradicable

difference between self and other. Difference is read on the surface of bodies and incites a

distancing between bodies through xenophobia. Xenophobia marks the foreign body as

strange, identifying it as a body that does not belong within the community through the

processes of exclusion. Yet, in order for xenophobia to operate, the strange body must come into

proximity with the community. As Ahmed suggests, Others become strangers (the ones who are

distant), and other cultures become strange cultures (the ones who are distant), only through

coming too close to home (Strange 12). Determined to be out of place, the foreign body is

determined to be inassimilable with the communal sphere of belonging. The foreign body,

subjected to the operations of inclusion and expulsion, determines the borders of a community

precisely because of its exclusion from that communal body. Ahmed argues that The economy

of xenophobiathe production of the strangers body as an impossible and phobic object

involves, not just reading the strangers body as dirt and filth, but the re-forming of the contours

of the body-at-home, through the very affective gestures which enable the withdrawal from co-

habitation with strangers in a given social space (Strange 54). The foreign body thus becomes

associated with that which is abject; their body poses a threat of contamination to the pure,

homogenous space of the community.

Accumulated over time, xenophobia never resides within a subject, but circulates

between bodies that are historically, socially, and culturally marked as other. The foreign body

accumulates affective value over time and becomes negatively charged with the affects of hatred

and fear. White is for Witching exposes the defensive narrative of white Englishness, where the

nation must defend itself against invasion by differentiating between us and them. The

perceived injury, or threat of injury, prompts a negation of the foreign body through hate. The

foreign body is the object of the nations fear and this fear is intensified by the impossibility of

containment; the foreign body invades the national borders, foreclosing the reclamation of the

homogenous white English nation. The politics of fear and hate are intrinsically tied to the

anxiety around spatial and bodily boundaries, causing a perpetual anxiety surrounding invasion

by foreign others. Both national and bodily borders are constructed and policed because of future

anxieties of being transgressed; the border is informed and determined by transgression. This

ontology of border-anxiety assumes that the nations borders are not secure and must be made

secure; the national body of England is under the constant threat of foreign bodies that could and

would contaminate, corrupt, and lead to national degeneration. The fear of degeneration, as a

mechanism for upholding English nationalism, operates by delineating bodies. White is for

Witching offers a critique of narratives of crisis that instigate xenophobia by revealing the

workings of colonial ideology that provoke fear of the foreign body.

Home to four generations of the Silver family, the house on the cliffs of Dover is a

physical inheritance that is tightly bound with ideological legacies of previous generations.

Miranda, the youngest of four generations of Silver women, is haunted by the xenophobic house,

an omniscient force that she cannot escape. Infinitely ambiguous and irreducible, the house

operates by consuming and animating Mirandas maternal ancestors through the identity of the

vampiric goodlady.5 Miranda describes the goodlady as very strict. Everything she does is

necessary, and she makes no exception to any rule....Shes like tradition, its very serious when

shes disobeyed. Shes in our blood (61). Materially grounded as a house, the goodlady is a

conglomeration of all of Mirandas maternal ancestors, beginning with Anna Good, Mirandas

great-grandmother. After the death of Anna Goods husband in Africa during World War II, the

house declares, [Anna Good] gave me my task. I hate them, she said. Blackies, Germans,

Oyeyemi draws on Caribbean mythology of the Soucouyant in her construction of the goodlady. Aspasia
Stephanou provides a close-reading of the Soucouyant figure in her essay, Helen Oyeyemis White is for Witching
and the Discourse of Consumption.

killers, dirty...dirty killers. He should have stayed here with me (109)6. Annas grief over the

death of her husband provides the catalyst for the houses xenophobia, justified by the dangers

associated with the racial other. The death of Annas husband produces anxiety in the house that

can only be quelled by violently expulsing others that are determined to be a threat.

Although Annas grief provides the incitement for violent racism, the houses hatred for

racial others moves beyond Anna herself. The violent racism is no longer grounded in the

personal, but proliferates in the public. The house is not interested in the specificity of Annas

grief or the individual who killed Annas husband, but is obsessed with any and all racial others.

As the house declares, Anna Good you are long gone now, except when I resurrect you to play

in my puppet show, but you forgive since when I make you appear it is not really you, and

besides you know that my reasons are sound (22). The houses enduring xenophobia outlives

Anna Good, pointing to the persisting legacies of racismlegacies that are like tradition.

Motivated by hatred, the house takes up the task of protecting the family through expelling the

dangerous racial others. In her analysis of White is for Witching, Stephanou adeptly argues,

The house manifests hatred against all foreign visitors, black, Kurdish, refugees, and

immigrants, expelling difference and non-white bodies; as a symbol of lost imperial power, it

continues to insist on white supremacist ideology, feeding off and given life by old hatreds

(1246). The houses xenophobia is reductive; it fears all non-white bodies. All racial others are

collapsed into the category of dangerous.

The house further justifies its xenophobia when Mirandas mother, Lily, is murdered in

Haiti. Reacting to this, the house declares, Stupid, stupid; Lily had been warned not to go to

It is of significance that Oyeyemi begins the lineage of the goodlady during WWII, as Gilroy notes that British
nostalgia centers on and constantly returns to WWII as a narrative of national pride (Postcolonial 87-95).

Haiti. I warned her. Why do people go to these places, these places that are not for them? (8). In

the eyes of the house, foreignness is deeply instilled with anxiety and fear, affects that

seamlessly lapse into hatred and violence. Home, both within the walls of the house and within

the borders of England, is a safe space, but safe only as long as racial others can be kept out. The

houses desire for safe white space paradoxically requires an enactment of violence against

others. To the house, England is only safe if it is intensely unsafe for racialized subjects. Feeding

on white supremacist ideology, the Silvers house on the cliffs of Dover is an unhomely space;

violent, dangerous, and unsettling, the home embodies the colonialist drive to foster white

English purity by expelling racial bodies from its borders.

Collapsing the boundaries of the interior home and exterior world, the house at 29 Barton

Road is an unhomely space precisely because its xenophobia bleeds out into the world.

Following Sigmund Freud, Homi Bhabha describes the unhomely as a process by which the

intimate recesses of the domestic space become sites for historys most intricate invasions. In

that displacement the border between home and world becomes confused; and, uncannily, the

private and public become part of each other, forcing upon us a vision that is as divided as it is

disorienting (The World141). The public, historical circumstances of colonialism and white

ideology invade and animate the private, domestic space of 29 Barton Road. The home functions

metonymically as national homeland; the house is a microcosm of the English nation. Colliding

the political and domestic, the intense xenophobia of the house illustrates the intense xenophobia

of the nation. As a haunted house, 29 Barton Road is unable to control its repressed colonial

ideology that ruptures the cultural amnesia built up around Englands violent history. The

violence that the house commits towards racial others speaks to the shocking world-in-the-

home, the home-in-the-world (The World 141) in which the houses xenophobia reveals the

wider implications of the British social condition. The xenophobic manifestation of the house

reveals how England is a prime breeding ground for hate because of the ways in which colonial

ideology continues to activate hatred towards others. As the contact zone between colonizer and

colonized, the house brings into play the alarming racial and cultural tensions that manifest in

contemporary English society. The house simultaneously enacts the Heimlich pleasures of the

hearth while producing anxiety surrounding the unheimlich terror of the space or race of the

Other (Nation and Narration 2).

While Oyeyemi is concerned with the intimacy of the domestic space within the walls of

29 Barton Road, she also investigates the insidious power of nationalistic discourse surrounding

Englishness through the trope of the home. Nationhood is established through creating a

perceivable homogeneity amongst a group of people who are at home with one another through

processes of inclusion, exclusion, and othering. Within colonial ideology, Englishness, as

Oyeyemi identifies, is maintained by practicing hatred towards those identified as foreign or

socio-culturally other. Within this vein, Gilroy articulates the associations between whiteness

and English national belonging. Expressing the tensions in contemporary English society, he

states, Xenophobia and nationalism are thriving. In Britain, difficulties arising from what is now

seen as the unrealistic or unwelcome obligation to dwell peaceably with aliens and strangers

somehow confirm the justice of these sorry developments (Postcolonial 2). Echoing Gilroys

assertions, Oyeyemi examines xenophobia as a colonial safeguard for English nationalism

through the racist hauntings of 29 Barton Road. Pointing to the fears of heterogeneity, Gilroy

argues that under colonial ideology diversity becomes a dangerous feature of society. It brings

only weakness, chaos, and confusion. Because unanimity is the best source of necessary strength

and solidarity, it is homogeneity rather than diversity that provides the new rule (Postcolonial

2). Being a racialized other is a fraught position within the context of contemporary British

society as colonial ideology establishes that blackness negates British identity. Helen Cousins7

points to the deployment of xenophobic discourse as a critique of English nationalism, stating,

[Oyeyemi] insists that when a national identity persists in relying on identifying itself against a

monstrous alterity, the endemic suspicion and fear this creates for all groups can indeed be

seen as poisonous and as deadly to a country as the battery acid swallowed by Miranda (57).

Xenophobia establishes the negation of black British identities by setting up the Manichean

binary of us/British and them/other. By exposing xenophobia as a monstrosity, Oyeyemi offers a

critique of the colonial ideology on which white English nationalism is founded.

Gilroy points to the anxieties of a heterogenous Britain stating that In Britain these

arguments are tied to an obsessive repetition of key themesinvasion, war, contamination, loss

of identityand the resulting mixture suggests that an anxious, melancholic mood has become

part of the cultural infrastructure of the place, an immovable ontological counterpart to the

nation-defining ramparts of the white cliffs of Dover (Postcolonial 14). The location of the

unheimlich house on the white cliffs of Dover marks the boundaries of Englishness, while

simultaneously chronicling the anxieties that Gilroy notes. Sade, the Yoruba housekeeper,

questions, Didnt they call Dover the key to England? she asked, slowly. Key to a locked

gate, throughout both world wars, and even before. Its still fighting (100). As a port of entry,

Dover8 becomes a place and space of hypersensitivity to the transgressions of national borders.

Cousins essay provides a significant contribution to scholarship on White is for Witching by situating Oyeyemis
novel as part of the gothic tradition, while also acknowledging that Oyeyemi draws on Yoruba socio-cultural
As an iconic symbol of England, Dover has been heavily featured in British narratives, including Shakespeares
King Lear and Matthew Arnolds Dover Beach. The landscape of White is for Witching further situates Oyeyemi
as subversively writing back against the British literary canon.

Rather than providing a point of entry to England, Dover becomes a border to keep white

Englishness in and foreign otherness out. As Cousins argues in her analysis of Oyeyemis text,

Historically, Dovers white cliffs marked an English border, but in White is for Witchings

contemporary setting, Dover becomes a site of alienation as a point of ingress for others whose

material presence threatens to supplant Englishness (48). Fueled by colonial anxieties, a

permeable border is a direct threat to English homogeneity. Anxiety around spatial boundaries

becomes directly tied to the foreign body as the object of national fear. Dover is marked by the

ontology of insecurity where the national body feels the permeability of its borders, a

permeability that could lead to foreign invasion and national degeneration. Articulating the

anxieties of national decline and racial miscegenation, Gilroy argues that through colonial

ideology, Alien cultures come to embody a threat which, in turn, invites the conclusion that

national decline and weakness have been precipitated by the arrival of blacks. The operation of

banishing blacks, repatriating them to the places which are congruent with their ethnicity and

culture, becomes doubly desirable. It assists in the process of making Britain great again (There

Aint no Black 46). The xenophobia in White is for Witching operates under the exact ideology

that Gilroy outlines; the racist house hopes to expel foreign black bodies in order to reinstate a

white Imperial Britain. Desiring racial purity, the house expels black bodies through violent acts

of racism.

Within Dover, violence against racial others runs rampant, making the town itself an

inhospitable place to live for those that are marked by otherness. Over the course of the novel,

four Kosovan refugees are stabbed, another detained immigrant commits suicide, and fifty-eight

Chinese immigrants suffocate in the back of truck, as well as countless violent acts committed by

the house. Speaking to the normalization of violence in Dover, one character bluntly states that,

Dover is a fucking mess (188). This declaration is a dramatic understatement. The sparse

language, combined with the profanity, emphasizes that Dover is a deeply troubled city. Despite

the normalization of violence in Dover, the violence that Miranda witnesses takes an obvious

toll: Up at the port, fifty-eight people had been found dead in the back of a truck. Chinese. They

had suffocated. Miranda was a heartbeat away from putting her hands over her ears (99-100).

The deaths of these fifty-eight people are recounted factually, as if their deaths are a normalized

facet of Dover. Despite the normalization constructed through language, the news of their deaths

causes a visceral reaction in Miranda. Mirandas instinct, to cover her ears, speaks to how

deeply she feels the horrors of death.

Observing all this violence to the racial other, Miranda questions What is wrong with

Dover (100). The novel attempts to uncover what is wrong with Dover. By encountering bodies

in pain, Miranda is forced to reconsider England and her home as an inherently safe space.

Confronted with the deaths of immigrants, Miranda is faced with the precarity and vulnerability

of foreign bodies:

she read of the stabbing of the fourth Kosovan refugee in three weeks. Three had died in

hospital. Her gaze could only touch the page very lightly before it skittered away. She

said, Someone is going around stabbing these people? She didnt want to say

refugees. She didnt want to say Kosovans. She didnt know why. Or maybe it

seemed feeble somehow, like making a list of things that were a shame, grouped in

order of quantityshame number seventy-three (73): loss of four (4) Kosovans. (27)

The proliferation of death through the emphasis on numbers speaks to the magnitude of violence

against racial others. The news of the death of the fourth Kosovan in three weeks dramatizes

exactly how unsafe Dover is for those who do not inhabit the white English subjectivity.

Avoiding labeling the dead as Kosovans or refugees, Miranda opts to name them as

people as a way to revalue their lives because English xenophobia has dehumanized these

foreign bodies.

The port town features an Immigration Removal Center9 that Sade, the Yoruba

housekeeper, describes as a prison in which immigrant bodies are rendered abject: You come

without papers because you have been unable to prove that you are useful to anyone, and then

when you arrive they put you in prison, and if you are unable to prove that you have suffered,

they send you back. That place up there is a prison (110). Oyeyemis use of the Immigration

Removal Center uncovers the institutional violence against those who are deemed outsiders to

the English identity. The Immigration Removal Center effectively contains the threat of

contamination by incarcerating undesirable subjects and separating them from the purity of the

national population. The detainment of the foreign body further marks the desire to expel

otherness from the national borders. Speaking to the discourse surrounding immigrants, Cousins

posits that the novel recognizes the legacy of colonialism as manifest in contemporary society

where the black threat to Englishness as a moral force has been replaced by refugee to

designate a new threatening outsider to English economic health (55). The foreign body thus

becomes a phobic object that threatens the borders of the national body and poses the threat of

national degeneration. Through incarceration at the Immigration Removal Center, the threat

posed to the national body is contained. The containment of the threat of the foreign other

requires systematic dehumanization so that the other can be transformed into a phobic object; the

lives of the detained immigrants are devalued.

Located in the Western Heights citadel, a former prison, the Immigration Removal Centre was a real feature of
Dovers landscape up until its recent closure.

Upon trying to visit the Immigration Removal Center, Sade and Miranda are barred entry

as Another inmate hung themselves (86). Eliot, Mirandas twin, later recounts to Miranda,

Remember how a guy hung himself at the Immigration Removal Centre months ago? Yes,

Miranda said. No one wrote in or said anything about itnot one letter, Eliot said. I checked

(100). The lack of public outrage over the suicide of a detainee speaks to the systematic

devaluation of the lives of foreign subjects. The suicide of the inmate is not exceptional. The

emphasis that another inmate has committed suicide addresses the wider socio-cultural and

political problems that are at play. Unveiling the cultural climate of Dover, Oyeyemi is able to

show that racism and xenophobia are not exceptional, but are a reflection of the more insidious

forms of racism and violence in contemporary English society.

While the house is initially hospitable to the Silver family, the house is a dangerous space

for racial others. Affected by the economy of fear and hatred, the body that is perceived to be

other is subject to violence instigated by the house. As it is run as a guesthouse, the houses

phobia of otherness is triggered by the influx of outsiders who are welcomed into its walls.

Suryaz and Deme, the daughters of the former housekeeper, express their hesitations about the

house to Miranda in a letter, stating, We do not like this house, and we are glad to be going

away (53). For Miranda, it is incomprehensible that the house could be dangerous to racial

others; she expresses surprise that the girls do not like the house, feeling distanced from the girls

because it seems as if the girls had lived in a different house from her when shed thought they

were all living in the same house, safe as little fishes in folds of the deep blue sea (53).

Mirandas experience of the house as a safe space is shaped by her identity position as a white

subject. Oyeyemi reveals the invisible workings of white privilege through Mirandas

misrecognition of the dangers of the house. Because she is white, the house values Mirandas

life, keeping her safe from danger. The violence and danger of the house is rendered invisible to

Miranda because her experience is intensely different than Suryaz and Demes experiences.

Through Mirandas belief in the safety of the house, Oyeyemi speaks to the invisibility of racism

for white subjects in England. White subjects, whose identities are highly privileged, liv[e] in a

different house (53), because colonial ideology values their lives.

The house is a dangerous space for those that it identifies as not British, not white, and

not belonging. Violence permeates every inch of the xenophobic house. The discord between the

houses function as a guesthouse and its capacity for violence towards others creates a sense of

uncanny dread for racial others such as Sade. Causing dissonance between its form and function,

the house enacts violence against its black house guests: I lost hold of the other black guests, the

couple on the second floor who I had kept in their bed the past three days, curved around the bed

like fitted sheets with their faces crusting over...the couple picked up their cases and fled (129).

Keeping them captive and confined to the bedroom, the house treats the black guests as objects,

as if they are fitted sheets, and then enacts a process of disfiguring by causing their faces to

crust over. The domestic space of the house is intended to be a safe space for guests, a space of

hospitality. By committing horrifying violence within the domestic space, the house

demonstrates how unhomely it is for those that it identifies as not belonging. The domestic

becomes intensely dangerous. Once the house loses hold of them, the black guests flee from the

unsafe domestic space.

Like the black guests, Sade experiences the terrors of the domestic space when the house

attacks her: Sade puts the kettle on and sparks fly out. Electric shocks say its time to leave, bye

bye. They get inside your head and hurt you so you cant speak you can only tremble and for

some time the will to open your eyes escapes you, bye bye (162). The house explicitly

expresses its unhappiness with Sades presence through the violence that it instigates. The house

employs violence to emphasize that Sade is unwelcome within its walls, and thus unwelcome

within the English nation. Over and over, the house declares to racial others that its time to


Through the terror that the house incites for outsiders, Oyeyemi explores the anxieties

of those who are denied identifying with England as home. When asked if there is something

wrong with the house, Sade responds that the house is a monster (97). The house functions as a

metonym for England as a nation. For white subjects, England may be intensely homely, yet for

racialized subjects England is a monster. As Stephanou identifies, Connecting past and

present, the individual hauntings and estranging experiences of immigrants within the house are

repetitions of the violent history of British imperialism and reminders of the current political

climate of immigration and xenophobia in Britain (1247). 29 Barton Road thus produces

anxieties of belonging because of the haunting return of colonial ideology that reignites

individual and collective traumas of the racial others that are victims to its violence. Oyeyemi

constructs the house as a microcosm of England; through the violence perpetrated by the house,

she speaks to the wider material violence that racialized subjects experience in England.

By implementing the Manichean binary, White is for Witching speaks to English

anxieties over reverse colonization, the fear of invasion by racial others that leads to Imperial

decline. To the house, the anxiety over reverse colonization is twofold. The house fears that

racial others will invade its domestic space. Within a larger context, the house also fears the

racial other will transform England into an alien nation. The house fears an endemic of otherness

that could contaminate national identity, which the house strongly believes relies upon

whiteness. Fueled by fear of the racial other, colonial ideology views the racial other as an abject

body, capable of contaminating the perceived purity of the homeland. White is for Witching

critiques the colonial crisis of invasion through vocalizing the insidious racism and xenophobia

that is intrinsically intertwined with concerns of English purity. Addressing the abjection

associated with others, Ahmed states, The threat of contamination posed by strange bodies is

precisely that those bodies already exceed the place in which they come to be encountered as

such (Strange 53). Through marking English nationalism as under threat from the abject bodies

of strangers, the house calls for defense of the future and a reclamation of Englands greatness

via white supremacism. The house is explicit in its expression of xenophobia and racial

contamination: How had Britannia become embarrassing and dangerous? It was the incomers

(107). The house explicitly identifies incomers as the source of British Imperial decline,

clearly distancing foreign others from the homogenous British identity by referring to incomers

as they. The houses description of British decline as embarrassing testifies to the

diminishment of national pride because England is no longer a colonial superpower. Within the

same vein of mourning the loss of colonialism, the house states that Britannia has become

dangerous because of the influx of foreigners, speaking to the colonial fear of reverse

colonization.10 England is no longer safe for white English subjects because foreign bodies have

transformed the national landscape into an unsafe space.

The house attempts to establish itself as an impermeable border to maintain racial and

cultural homogeneity, yet racial others threaten to transgress borders through their abjection.

Ahmed argues that, The abject both establishes and undermines the border between inside and

outside: It is as if the skin, a fragile container, no longer guaranteed the integrity of ones own

Helen Cousins elucidates Oyeyemis use of the trope of reverse colonization in her article on White is for

and clean self (Strange 51). The house expresses this anxiety over maintaining the integrity of

a clean self by describing racial others as a threat that could penetrate and taint English purity.

Repulsed by Mirandas lover, Ore, a Nigerian-British woman, the house describes Ore as an

abject body that threatens contamination: The squashed nose, the pillow lips, fist-sized breasts,

the reek of fluids from the seam between her legs. The skin. The skin (179). The houses

language is infused with hatred for and revulsion of Ores body, which is rendered abject by

describing her as a horrifying conglomeration of body parts. The house dissects Ore and renders

her a non-subject through reading her body as a series of parts: nose, lips, breasts, legs, skin. All

of her body parts are excessive and uncontainable because of their nebulousness. The reek of

fluids speaks to Ores body as a vessel that overflows. The houses description of Ores face,

with her squashed nose and pillow lips, draws on racist caricatures of black aesthetics. The

size and shape of her mouth and nose, as described by the house, starkly contrast the implicit

constructions of white European beauty standards. The aesthetic markers of race that the house

deploys are meant to solidly racial difference and similarly become indicators of bodies that

should be hated. The house uses Ores aesthetics as an indication that she is too different to be

assimilated within the walls of the home and the borders of the nation. The houses lamentations

over Ores skin locates her blackness as a point of difference and disgust. Ores body, which the

house describes as disgusting (180), provokes anxiety in the house that the racially threatening

other has come too close. Ores body acts as a metonym for the invasion of the national body by

those who are deemed foreign.

Steeped in colonial ideology, the house relies on biological definitions of race to

demarcate the pure English identity and to render black bodies abject. The house defines Ore as

an abject body and proceeds to target her in the hopes that she can be expelled and white purity

can be reestablished. The house violently attacks Ore, attempting to strip her skin, the symbol of

her difference, away from her body. Ore recounts, I frowned and looked at my towel. Where it

had touched me it was striped with black liquid, as dense as paint (dont scream) there were

shreds of hard skin in it. There was hair suspended in it. The blacks coming off, someone

outside the bathroom door commented. Then they whistled Rule Britannia! and laughed. Bri-

tons never-never-never, shall be slaves (198). Explicitly centered on race and British

nationalism, the house struggles to destroy Ores blackness. Speaking to the houses obsession

with racial purity, Anita Satkunananthan identifies that the house attempts to inject whiteness

into [racial others] by making them eat poisoned apples, cocooning them, or by stripping the

black from their skin (49). The houses attempt to strip Ores blackness pairs the imperialist

anthem of Rule, Britannia! with the horrifying monstrosity of violent xenophobia, overlaying

the familiar with the frighteningly unfamiliar, the safe with the dangerous. The positive

attachment to English nationalism, which defines its community as white, produces a negative

attachment to bodies that are viewed as foreign, strange, and unfamiliar. The house identifies

Ores skin as the source of difference and attempts to eradicate her existence and the threat she

poses to a homogenous British identity by erasing her skin. The repressed racism of British

imperialism hauntingly returns in this scene with Ore, revealing the thriving legacies of

colonialism. Used to legitimize the hatred and fear of contamination, skin colour becomes the

central indicator of racial and cultural differences in the eyes of the house.

The house fails to recognize Ore as English by birth because the house believes that

blackness negates Englishness. Mobilized by its xenophobia, the houses hatred for impurity

lapses into violence towards Ore. In an attempt to scare Ore away from the house, the house

litters her room with British National Party11 leaflets that read: Do you know how many

immigrants are in the U.K.? Neither does the U.K. government... (210). Infused with racist

ideology, these leaflets provoke fear surrounding the unknowability of these incomers. The

language of the pamphlets gestures to narratives of crisis, pointing to England as already

contaminated by the impure bodies of foreigners. Centered on provoking concern for the

normative white English subject, the pamphlets attempt to generate hatred for bodies that are

other, while simultaneously constituting England as an injured party that is damaged by invasion.

Suggesting that Ore is a part of the dangerous, immigrant population, the house sends an explicit

message to Ore that she is unwelcome in the house and in England. Because of her skin, the

house fails to acknowledge that Ore is just as English as Miranda and the Silver family.

The house describes Ore and Mirandas relationship as Disgusting (180) and is

horrified by the idea of interracial relationships because of the threat of contamination.

Regarding Ore and Mirandas blossoming love, the house declares that, These are the things

that happen while youre not looking, when youre not keeping careful watch (180). The house

emphasizes the need for constant policing, implicitly declaring that borders can be transgressed

when monitoring of racial others is lax. The house expresses the fear of contamination, stating,

When clear water moves unseen a taint creeps into itmoss, or algae, salt, even. It becomes

foul, undrinkable. It joins the sea. I would save Miranda even if I had to break her (180).

Functioning as a metaphor for Ores abjection, the undrinkable and foul water speaks to the

fear of heterogeneity and the threat of impurity that Gilroy notes in his theoretical work.

The British National Party is a far-right political party in England that advocates for white nationalism

Functioning as an allegory for the colonial social body, 29 Barton Road narrativizes the

demand for sameness through maintaining racial homogeneity. Describing the processual nature

of the sphere of belonging, Ahmed declares, the social body is precisely the effect of being with

some others over other others. The social body is also an imaginary body that is created through

the relations of touch between bodies recognisable as friendly and strange; who one allows near,

who is further away, and so on (Strange 49). White is for Witching explores the drive for

homogeneity through the vehicle of the home and simultaneously explores the pressures for a

unified, homogenous, national condition. As Gilroy laments, contemporary England relies on

homogeneity rather than diversity (Postcolonial 2). Diversity poses a threat to a collective

English nationalism, yet for the house, diversity poses a threat to its white homeostasis. Speaking

the demand for the maintenance of boundaries to the Silver women, the house states, We are on

the inside, and we have to stay together, and we absolutely cannot have anyone else...They

shouldnt be allowed in though, those others, so eventually I make them leave (109). The

collective we sets up a direct dialectical opposition with the those others, who are perceived

to threaten the safe interiority of the house. Emphasizing the collective we, the house creates

and maintains a sphere of belonging defined by white English purity. The houses declarative

statements function as a demand for maintaining white homogeneity; those others who

transgress the borders of the house are made to leave through the violence that the house

deploys. Through the expulsion of others, the house ensures that the white family stays together

and is safe from those others that shouldnt be allowed in (109).

Through the act of expulsion, the house maintains its social body by being with others

who are familiar. Speaking to the act of including or excluding others, Ahmed states, those we

know we treat with kindness, we let you in, we allow a relation of proximity or closeness. Those

we dont know turn us into the savages. The knowing of one from another is here determinate in

the constitution of Law as savagery: as the cutting off of the stranger, as the determination of the

standard of letting in or keeping out (Strange 56). The house operates through this ideology;

it allows a relation of proximity between those it deems racially and culturally pure, while

protecting its borders from dangerous others. As the house purposefully alienates Miranda from

her black lover, Miranda laments, Are you happy? She asked the walls, the ceiling, the floor.

Are you happy that we have no one but each other? Are you happy are you happy...she lay

motionless and everything she saw peeled back into whiteness, like a shelled egg from the centre

out (219). Directing her plaintive questions to the house itself, Miranda recognizes the houses

project of isolation. The houses happiness is reliant on ensuring that Miranda and her maternal

ancestors are enshrouded in the safety of whiteness. As Miranda pleads with the house, her

vision peel[s] back into whiteness, like a shelled egg, which emphasizes the protective

interiority of the house. The house, like the shell of an egg, ensures Miranda remains safe on the

inside. For the house, saving Miranda translates into imprisoning her within its white walls, just

as the house did with Mirandas maternal ancestors.

The house enables and exacerbates Mirandas pica, a condition that drives her to

consume inedible substances. Mirandas maternal ancestors suffered from the same condition.

Through the exacerbation of this condition and the degeneration of Mirandas health, the house

has greater control over policing the Mirandas behavior, ensuring that she does not transgress

the borders that the house has established. Yet, Mirandas pica holds further symbolic

significance. Echoing back to the white cliffs of Dover, the house offers Miranda white chalk to

consume: That first day, Miri found something on the floor of that room shed picked as hers...It

was a ball of chalk (18). Whiteness is linked to monstrosity and horror through Mirandas

obsession with consuming chalk, a condition that makes her ill and susceptible to the violence of

the house. As Miranda deteriorates, her skin whitens. Examining herself in the mirror, Miranda

does not recognize herself: She was not quite three dimensional, this girl. And so white. There

couldnt be any blood in her. She was perfect. Miranda but perfect. She was purer than crystal,

so pure that she dissolved (73). Miranda views her whitened body as pure and perfectan

uncontaminated body. She states that she is so white that she dissolve[s], suggesting that the

whiteness has taken a toll on her identity; as she whitens, she becomes less real. Mirandas

whiteness is an indicator of her vulnerability and fragility, as she falls victim to the houses

ideology. Linked with her pica, whiteness becomes a mark of illness and of the contamination of

white supremacist ideology, but also a marker of belonging within the walls of the house.

At the opening of the novel, the house declares that Miranda is at home (homesick,

home sick) Miranda cant come in today Miranda has a condition called pica she has eaten a

great deal of chalk...she is stretched out inside a wall she is feasting on plaster she has pica (3).

Debilitated by her pica, Miranda falls victim to the house and becomes physically embedded

within its walls and only able to consume the raw material of the house. By feasting on the

plaster in the walls, the house has accomplished the ultimate feat of interiority for Miranda, in

which she is not only trapped within the house, but only able to consume the house itself.

Operating through the anxiety of xenophobia, Mirandas containment within the houses walls

safeguards her from the threatening and contaminating otherness of foreign bodies. Mirandas

relationship to the house functions symbiotically; Miranda feeds off the materiality of the house,

while the house feeds off Miranda. Entombed within the physicality of the walls, Miranda

becomes part of the house, making the collective we even stronger. Like previous generations

of Silver women, the house consumes Mirandas identity and their relationship to one another

becomes inseparable. Miranda confesses to Ore, Please understand. We are the goodlady...The

house and I (202), which further reinforces that Miranda is no longer an independent subject,

but part of the collective identity of the house. The totalizing dissolution of Mirandas identity

culminates when Miranda disappears into unlocatable spaces of the house.

Attempting to save Miranda from the house, Ore encounters the terrifying manifestations

of whiteness in the basement of the house: The corridor only stayed empty for a secondthe

next moment it was flooded with people who stared and said nothing...They were alabaster

white, every one of them. I went after [Miranda]. They looked at me, crowded so close, murder

in their eyes (212). These alabaster white bodies are described as non-subjects, simply bodies

that occupy space who do not speak, but stare at Ore. The alabaster white bodies create

dissonance between colonial ideologys understanding of the white body as pure, civilized, and

restrained, and Oyeyemis representation of these white bodies with murder in their eyes.

Reversing previous colonial representations of black bodies as monstrous, Oyeyemi equates

whiteness with monstrosity to reveal the repressed history of white English supremacism. Rather

than representing purity and goodness, white is affectively charged as a vehicle for implementing


Desperate to maintain white homogeneity and to protect Miranda from racial

contamination, the house declares, I would save Miranda even if I had to break her (180).

Disgusted by the idea of anyone in the family leaving its premises, the house stops Jennifer

Silver, Mirandas grandmother, from going to Milan with her Italian photographer boyfriend

(77). The house closes a door behind Jennifer when she attempts to leave, trapping her within the

walls of the house as a way to protect her from those fears and doubts peculiar to her times

(79), which the house then identifies as the threat of the racial other. The house states that it

saved Jennifer from the war that sickened what it touched from miles away, the new kind of

image that lashed the conscience to the nerves, the pictures of Phnom Penh burning with a kind

of pagan festivity, the young bones in the mud at Choeung Ek, the Cambodians and yellow-

skinned priests sprawled in graves dug poorly and in great fear, graves they dug for themselves

(79). Within the walls of the house, Jennifer is safe from the contamination and corruption of

foreign others. Through descriptions of disease, decay, and violence, the house expresses the fear

that the war has the potential to contaminate Jennifer. Concerned for purity and safety, the house

protects Jennifer by ensuring that she is not exposed to the violence of foreign others.

The house enacts the same project with Miranda, trapping her within its walls to relieve

the fear of Mirandas contamination at the hands of Ore. In reference to her relationship with

Ore, the house violently asserts that Miranda has wronged me I will not allow her to live (4).

The house feels personally betrayed by Mirandas relationship with Ore, a relationship that

threatens the white homogeneity that the house cultivates and fosters. The house is convinced

that Mirandas relationship with Ore poses a danger that must be remedied by alienating Miranda

within the walls of the house. Recognizing the monstrosity of the house and its violence against

racial others, Miranda declares, I am going down against her, referring to the goodlady who

stimulates the houses violence (217). Mirandas affirmation of dissent gestures towards the

possibilities for future generations to disavow the continuation of colonial ideology. Yet, for

Miranda, her protection of Ores life results in her own entrapment within the walls of the house.

Miranda is precluded from enacting a happy ending by being reunited with her lover. Instead, her

opposition to colonial ideology seals her unhappy fate. Through Mirandas unhappy trajectory,

Oyeyemi reveals the magnitude of colonialism; racist ideology cannot be easily shirked.

Through White is for Witching, Oyeyemi unmasks the monstrosity of colonial ideology

and makes visible the uncanny manifestations of white supremacism in contemporary England.

The xenophobic discourse that Oyeyemi reveals acts as a reminder that colonial ideology is still

a present force in contemporary English society that promotes discursive and material violence

against those who are denied an English identity. The racial other is displaceable within the

English homelandthe otherness of the foreign body demands the physical expulsion from the

borders of home. The conclusion of the novel does not offer a happy ending or an easy resolution

for the ongoing manifestations of colonial ideology. In its uncontainable monstrosity, the

xenophobic house is neither destroyed nor expelled, nor is Miranda liberated from the

overwhelming force of white supremacism. Oyeyemi refuses to offer her readers a solution to the

tensions of the postcolonial condition in England. Rather, her project for the novel is to narrate

the bloodstained workings of racism (Postcolonial 4) as a way to expose and critique the

insidious silences of the persisting colonial ideology at work in contemporary England.

Sidestepping utopian celebrations of English multiculturalism, Oyeyemi returns the reader to the

insidious colonial ideology on which England rose to power and the continuing manifestations of

xenophobia in contemporary England.

Chapter 3

Something is really wrong with me: the Unheimlich Third Space in The Icarus Girl

Reversing utopian constructions of multiculturalism, Oyeyemi claims in-betweenness as

a location of uncomfortable resistance in The Icarus Girl. The binary pressures of colonial

ideology attempt to impose unitary identities on subjects, forcing individuals to either occupy the

position of colonizer/colonized. Within the power structures of colonial ideology, the positions

of colonizer/colonized are translated into self and other. These binarisms foreclose the

possibility of inhabiting any other space. Oyeyemis novel interrupts this dichotomy. The

multiplicity exemplified by The Icarus Girl creates the possibility of an in-between space that

disavows the hierarchal dominance of cultural hegemony, offering liberation, but simultaneously

situated as a site of tension. Jessamys multiplicity foregrounds cultural ambiguity and resists

dominant conceptions of a pure subjectivity. Her heterogeneity operates as a counter-hegemonic

device that disrupts unitary conceptions of identity. Shutting down the desire for pure origins,

hybridity retains difference and negates hierarchy, but is still a place of tension, conflict, and

instability. The plural identity that Jessamy occupies is in a state of constant (re)definition.

Endlessly oscillating between self and other and unable to be categorized, inhabiting the hybrid

identity is both liberating and painful. Through Jessamys struggle with her hybrid identity, The

Icarus Girl facilitates a movement beyond dichotomous discourse and creates a new cartography

of alterity in the unheimlich Third Space. Oyeyemis text is not a utopian celebration of Homi

Bhabhas Third Space, but features Jessamys negotiations with the discomfort of inhabiting a

hybrid identity. While Oyeyemi effectively subverts colonial binarisms through Jessamys in-

betweeness, Jessamy struggles to find a site of comfort and belonging.

Although The Icarus Girl is situated in magic realist and gothic conventions, the pain of

Jessamys experience translates into the real-world horrors of marginalization for those who

inhabit the spaces between binary identity categories. To inhabit the Third Space provides

resistance to colonial constructions of identity, yet it simultaneously evokes the pain of

unbelonging. The text does not illuminate a way out of the oppositional self/other dichotomy, nor

does it offer a solution for the fraught position of hybrid subjects. Rather, Oyeyemi brings the

horrors of binarised ideology into focus by elucidating the Third Space as inherently unhomely

because of the workings of colonialism. Forced to occupy the middle passage between two

opposing identity categories, Jessamy experiences the uncanniness of her own hybridity. While

her occupation of the Third Space is a source of resistance to colonialism, her embodiment of

hybridity takes its toll on her physical and psychological health.

Homi Bhabha explores the Third Space as a theoretical concept, which he defines as a

revolutionary interstitial space of identity that defies homogenized singularity and stasis. The

Third Space allows for the possibility of transgression, by questioning and challenging rigid

categories and moving beyond essentialized definitions of identity. The Third Space, neither the

one nor the other (Location 37), challenges the operation of binary opposition and offers a

space of indeterminacy. Subjectivity is thus constantly negotiated and reworked through the

transgression of seemingly immovable borders. This movement through the middle passage

creates the possibility for hybridity that entertains difference without an assumed or imposed

hierarchy (Location 5) through reconceptualizing identity not as unitary, but as multiple and

kinetic. The resistance to fixity offers the potential for resistance to colonial constructions of

ethnic absolutism and cultural purity. As Bhabha argues, hybridity can be located both within the

individual subject and the cultural sphere. Hybridity offers a movement away from conceiving

the world in binaries, envisioning a world where Manichean ideology is not the dominant mode

of thought. The plurality of the subject that inhabits multiple interstitial spaces confirms that the

borders of identity and culture are permeable, suggesting that they are not natural categories, but

constructed, and thus, susceptible to deconstruction. Opening up the Third Space allows a

reflection on the failures and artificiality of binarisms while simultaneously exposing hegemonic

power structures. Edward Said gestures towards the same transgression of binaries to open up the

possibilities for non-unitary identity: Gone are the binary oppositions dear to the nationalist and

imperialist enterprise...new alignments made across borders, types, nations, and essences are

coming into view, and it is those new alignments that now provoke and challenge the

fundamentally and static notion of identity (xxviii). Bhabhas theoretical framework offers a

strategy of unveiling hegemonic colonial discourse as a way to transcend identity boundaries and

defy dominant culture.

Bhabhas conception of the Third Space speaks to the ambiguity and insoluble paradox of

hybrid identities. Hybridity can not be traced linearly as if it is two parts that compose a whole,

but is a Third Space which offers the potential for other and multiple positions. Hybridity is thus

unrecognizable. As Bhabha suggests, by exploring this Third Space, we may elude the politics

of polarity and emerge as the others of ourselves (Location 56). Inhabiting multiple spaces

offers the potential for social solidarity by removing the hierarchical structures that determine

bodies that belong or do not belong. Bhabha argues:

the importance of hybridity is not to be able to trace two original moments from which the

third emerges, rather hybridity to me is the third space which enables other positions to

emerge. This Third Space displaces the histories that constitute it, and sets up new

structures of authority, new political initiatives, which are inadequately understood through

received wisdom. (Third Space 211)

Hybridity is not the combination of two separate parts, but the creation of an indistinguishable

category where origins are indeterminate. Hybridity is an unsettling difference that foregrounds

the processual nature of identity and destabilizes the absolutist discourse of colonialism.

Bhabha encourages a celebration of the Third Space, yet The Icarus Girl reveals that the

Third Space cannot be celebrated while colonial ideology continues to proliferate and denigrate

hybrid subjects. Hybridity is not a utopian celebration of multiculturalism, but is haunted by

constant tension and negotiations. The continued reliance on colonial ideology as the primary

mode of thought in England disavows the possibility of comfortably inhabiting a hybrid position.

Gilroy gestures to the fraught negotiations involved with hybridity, stating, occupying the space

between [identities] or trying to demonstrate their continuity has been viewed as a provocative

and even oppositional act of political insubordination (Postcolonial 1). The discomfort

surrounding hybridity is caused by the shift in traditional markers of race that have made it more

difficult to ascertain racial difference. In the context of shifting racial markers, hybridity thus

becomes dangerous, revealing border-anxiety as a symptom of contemporary colonial ideology.

The Third Space is a site of discomfort and danger precisely because it undermines the colonial

socio-cultural and political constructions of binarisms.

Race and gender theorist bell hooks illuminates the radical potential of marginal spaces,

arguing that, Understanding marginality as position and place of resistance is crucial for

oppressed, exploited, colonized people. If we only view the margin as sign marking the despair,

a deep nihilism penetrates in a destructive way the very ground of our being (231). She further

articulates that the space of radical openness is a margina profound edge. Locating oneself

there is difficult yet necessary. It is not a safe place. One is always at risk. One needs a

community of resistance (227-8). hooks commentary on marginal positions aligns with

Bhabhas conception of the Third Space as a site of resistance. Yet the critical difference in

hooks understanding of marginality is her acknowledgement and emphasis that the margins are

unsafe. Occupying the Third Space is to occupy the margins; it is to remain unnamed in

dominant discourse and to be in tension with the taxonomic nature of colonial ideology. hooks

maintains that to operate in the margins is to situate oneself in a site of resistance, stating that the

margins offers to one the possibility of radical perspective from which to see and create, to

imagine alternatives, new worlds (229). What is critical in hooks explanation of marginality as

resistance is that she emphasizes that it places the subject at risk. While the Third Space offers

the potential for counter-hegemonic action, occupying the marginal space is inherently

uncomfortable. Marginality ushers in pain because of its dislocation from dominant modes of

belonging. It is a space that defies fixity or universalization. It is a space that, under colonial

ideology, should not exist. Colonial ideology attempts to negate the possibility of occupying this

place-that-should-not-exist by rendering the Third Space invisible through dominant discourse.

For Jessamy, the Third Space, the space that should not exist, is profoundly unsafe.

Oyeyemi deploys the gothic trope of the uncanny in her text to illustrate the pain of

unbelonging for hybrid subjects, portraying the Third Space of hybridity as a site of discomfort.

Jessamys narrative reveals how profoundly unheimlich the world is for hybrid subjects because

of the machinations of colonialism. Sigmund Freuds conception of the unheimlich oscillates

between the familiar and unfamiliar, strange and recognizableat its core is a feeling of the

unhomely at home. Its counterpart, heimlich, refers to that which is safe, familiar, and homely,

which points to the unheimlich as signifying that which is threatening, foreign, and unsettling. In

his seminal text, The Uncanny, Freud states, the uncanny is that class of the terrifying

which leads back to something long known to us, once very familiar (124). Freud argues that

the unheimlich is that which is intended to remain secret, hidden away, and has come into the

open...in some way a species of the familiar (131). Doubled in its strangeness and familiarity,

the uncanny offers both a threatening and safe experience.

The uncanny is intimately tied up with the postcolonial experience. Bhabha takes up

Freuds conception of the unheimlich in his discussions of the unhomely. Hybridity, an

untraceable amalgamation of other identities, is inherently unhomely in its registration between

familiar and unfamiliar positions. Under the power structure of colonial ideology, hybridity is

that class of the terrifying as it undoes the binary of self/other and colonizer/colonized. It is an

identity position that colonial ideology intended to remain secret (Freud 131), but has

inevitably come to light. By extension, the Third Space also exudes the uncanny as it is a site that

is doubled in its strangeness and familiarity. The hybrid subject that inhabits the Third Space is

similarly uncanny, as they are innately ambiguous in their oscillations between familiar and

strange. The uncanny is always in tension with taxonomic categorizations as it fails to be pinned

down, located, or fully identified.

Setting the tone for her engagement with the uncanny, Oyeyemi opens her novel with

lines from Emily Dickinsons poem, Alone, I cannot Be. The epigraph, Alone I cannot be/

For Hosts do visit me/ Recordless Company, sets the atmosphere for the novel of a haunting

presence and absence. The poem foreshadows the host, TillyTilly, who visits Jessamy, because

of her alienation and unbelonging. TillyTilly is the spectre that visits Jessamy, who feels

overwhelmingly lonely and desperately desires an other. Jessamy voices her fear of being alone.

The poems emphasis on Recordless Company offers insight into TillyTillys absent presence.

To be recordless is to be voiceless, to not fully register, to not be remembered. The poem

gestures to TillyTillys desire to be remembered, a project that she enacts through haunting

Jessamy. The poem further frames Oyeyemis novel as within the gothic convention, setting the

reader up to closely encounter the postcolonial uncanny.

The Icarus Girl politically employs the uncanny to address the ongoing systems of

colonial power that force individuals to be dislocated from a sense of belonging. Oyeyemi

underpins the Third Space with the unheimlich as a reminder of the pain that is involved with

inhabiting hybrid identities. Her use the uncanny and the Third Space works on multiple levels,

including the unhomeliness of the Bush, the multiplicity of Jessamys hybrid identity, and the

unknowability of the spectral TillyTilly. Centering the narrative on Jessamy, Oyeyemi subverts

the conventional colonial framework of developing the hybrid subject as inherently other. While

colonial ideology passes belonging off as natural or intrinsic, the novel disrupts this

construction and exposes how the categories of familiar or other are set in play by the workings

of colonialism. Although Oyeyemi constructs the Third Space as unhomely, she does so to

expose and critique the operations of colonialism that disallow for the existence of spaces

between identity categories. Her narrative also suggests the subversive potential for occupying

the Third Space as it becomes a strategy for disrupting the existing constructs of identity

categories. The Icarus Girl employs images of the uncanny to symbolize deeper psychological

and material traumas linked to the aftershocks of colonialism.

Oyeyemi provides an extended reflection on the contemporary experience of hybrid

subjects through The Icarus Girls protagonist, Jessamy, who grapples with inhabiting a hybrid

identity and struggles with the pain of unbelonging that accompanies her position. Articulating

the alienation of hybrid subjects, Oyeyemi focuses her narrative on Jessamys unresolvable

identity crisis that plagues her from the outset of the novel. As the child of a Nigerian mother and

a white English father, Jessamy describes categorizing her identity as a source of pain:

Sometimes I feel like [my mother] wants me to...I dont know. She wants me to be Nigerian or

something. And I dont want to be changed that way; I cant be. It might hurt. Hurt? said Dr

McKenzie. Yeah, like...being stretched (242). Jessamy articulates how her hybridity prevents

her from being slotted into pre-determined identity categories and that falling into one category

would be painful like being stretched. Positioned between two binaries, Jessamy describes how

she never fully occupies one category, and that to acknowledge only her Nigerian heritage would

be to stretch her into a singularized space. Jessamy also expresses the familial pressure she

experiences to find a place of belonging. She recognizes that she cant be Nigerian, despite her

mothers perceived desire to transfer Jessamy into a singularized identity position.

Jessamy experiences the world as alienating, compelling her to rub up against the limits

of identity. Her marginal position forces her to constantly battle the strictures of identity. Falling

between the binaries of white and black, English and Nigerian, Jessamy feels unhomely in her

identity as a mixed-race child and profoundly displaced from the dominant sphere of belonging.

In her analysis of The Icarus Girl, Jordan Stouck notes that Jesss experiences can be read as

embodying the conflicts and losses of hybridity and exposing dissolution of identity that

hybridity can, in certain contexts, entail (107-8). Identifying herself as other, Jessamy struggles

with her dual heritage. She is uncomfortable with sacrificing one part of her identity in favour of

the other, but is caught in the hyphenation between Nigerian and British: shed be English.

Noshe couldnt, though. Shed be Nigerian. No (243). Her declarations of identity are

quickly followed by recognition that she cannot fulfill the expectation for that national identity.

As Sarah Ilott and Chloe Buckley suggest, Jessys fear of a surplus of identity stems from a

mixed heritage that leads her to identify as (at least) two people (6). Operating between the

boundaries of binarisms, Jessamy can never fully assimilate to a single identity position because

of the paradox that colonialism creates out of hybrid identities; Jessamy can be neither fully

British, nor fully Nigerian under the workings of colonial ideology. Her verb choice of

couldnt, when she states that she couldnt be English, reflects that colonial ideology has

predetermined that she cannot occupy the English identity. Speaking to Jessamys negation of

British nationality because of her blackness, Michelle Brown argues that, Jesss attempts at

belonging, even as a native Briton, are doomed to fail because her racial difference trumps her

nativity (128). Mirza echoes the dominant perception that blackness negates British identity:

We are told that you can be either one or the other, black or British, but not both (3). Jessamy

verbalizes this pressure by recognizing that she cannot fully occupy the English identity, despite

England being her material homeland.

Jessamy fails to acknowledge that she already inhabits the Third Space between English

and Nigerian because binary identity has failed to create hybridity as a livable space. Madelaine

Hron argues that Oyeyemi makes it clear that the hybrid space that Jess inhabits is not a

liberatory space or even a workable one (35), which asserts that Oyeyemi is critiquing the

systematic workings of colonialism that denigrate hybrid subjects. Hrons declaration that

Jessamys hybridity is not workable reflects the ways in which colonial ideology has

constructed the Third Space as unlivable. The machinations of colonial ideology ensure that

Jessamy does not recognize the alternative possibility of a third mode of being.

Internalizing the tensions that she is exposed to socially, Jessamy begins to resent her

hybridity because it locates her in the margins. Jessamys search for social and cultural affiliation

leaves her feeling alienated and isolated as she is unable to situate herself within the frameworks

of belonging in England. Brown reveals Jessamys anxieties of belonging, stating, Jesss

continual attempts to assimilate only draw attention to her difference (128). Jessamys continual

efforts to locate herself within the English sphere of belonging reveals how desperately she

desires a normative identity position. Marked as other by her peers, Jessamy becomes the victim

of racialized abuse at school. Jessamys difference is tied explicitly to her hybridity by the girls

at her school: [Colleen] had said loudly, with several glances to make sure Jessamy was

listening, Maybe Jessamy has all these attacks because she cant make up her mind whether

shes black or white! (82). Colleens statement declares that Jessamy only has two options

available to her: to be black or to be white, yet her options are only an illusion of choice.

Jessamy is not white enough be white, nor black enough to be black. She cant make up her

mind because her identity forecloses the possibility of being either black or white, when she is

neither black, nor white, but an amalgamation of multiple identity positions. The racist bullying

reflects the normativity of binary approaches to identity, as her abuser is unable to identify that a

third alternative may be available to Jessamy.

The abuse further ascertains that Jessamy is not viewed as complying with societal

norms; Colleen verbalizes Jessamys difference, stating Youre one of these people wholl

never be normal! (102). Through her perceived abnormality, Jessamy is developed as the

uncanny stranger, a figure that is never fully at home because her hybrid identity clashes with the

homogeneity of dominant spheres of belonging. Colleens declaraction of Jessamys difference

emphasizes that Jessamy will never be able to occupy the normative sphere of belonging.

Jessamys difference has already foreclosed the possibility of her ever belonging. Ilott and

Buckley point to Jessamys struggles with her perceived otherness, stating Oyeyemis

protagonist is uprooted and dislocated, identifying as British yet identified by some as Other due

to her skin and Nigerian heritage (2). She is not normal, nor can she ever be a part of the

normality of her peers because she is marked as other by her hybridity. The abuse escalates when

a peer associates Jessamy, and her hybrid position, with madness: Did you hear me? You

stupid freakshow! Everyone thinks youre mad, you know! (Icarus 102). The binary logic of

being black or white leaves no other option for Jessamy, whose dislocation from her identity is

associated with abnormality and madness. Her peers criticism of her identity speaks volumes to

how colonial ideology has associated abnormality with hybridity; to be a hybrid subject is always

to be abnormal. Gesturing to Jessamys anxieties of belonging, Stouck asserts, Jess is forced at

the beginning of the novel to recognize the otherness that haunts any identity position she might

assert racially, culturally, and as a child on the brink of puberty (100). Jessamys intense desire

for belonging incites her negative orientation towards hybridity; her hybrid identity position is a

burden. Jessamy is continually confronted with her difference through racialized abuse, which

culminates in her intense alienation from others in her English homeland.

Labeled as not normal by the girls in her class, Jessamy desperately craves normativity

and validation from others that she belongs. Jessamy locates her difference as a source of anxiety

that alienates her from those around her as she is constantly aware of the wrongness in her"

(154). Jessamys sense of alienation from her hybridity is exemplified by the uncomfortable

relationship she has with her difference. Jessamys totalizing alienation is a result of the binary

ideology that constructs boundaries between self and other and establishes self/other as being in

tension with one another. She marks herself as too different and her difference becomes a source

of pain. Jessamy wishes to be more, well, normal (188), but connects normativity, as

constructed by colonial hegemony, directly with love and affection.

Jessamy confides her feeling of otherness, lamenting, theres something about Dulcie

and Tunde and even the others, even Colleen, thats too different from me. It makes me...weird. I

dont want to be weird and always thinking weird things and being scared, and I dont want to

have something missing from me, and (116). Her expression of alienation highlights the

oppressive power of colonial constructions of identity. Her points of comparison, Dulcie and

Tunde, also further compound her feelings of alienation and hybridity. Tunde, a Nigerian name,

is inferred to be fully black and not the product of white and black parents. Dulcie, Jessamys

cousin, is from a fully white family who Jessamy describes as a picture book family: blonde

man, blonde woman, cute little blonde child (152). Jessamy locates foreignness within herself

because of how colonial ideology has characterized and denigrated hybrid identities. She does

not fit into the same binary positions that Dulcie and Tunde are able to occupy. Her awareness of

her otherness is painfully expressed when she declares that, Something is really wrong with me

(171). By locating alterity within herself, Jessamy experiences the unheimlich as something

which is wrong with her, as her identity is both strange and familiar. Neither identifying as

English nor Nigerian, Jessamys socio-cultural footing is precarious. The taxonomic demands of

colonialism evoke anxiety for her, as she is not able to locate herself within the borders of an

identity position.

Recounting a song that she sang at assembly, Jessamy tells her mother that we sang this

song about everyone being the same, and I cant remember all of it, but some of it went:

Whether black or white skin/ With a frown or a grin,/ Well, the Lord loves us all just the

same... (214). Jessamy takes comfort in the song as it explicitly undoes the hierarchies of race

by stating that the Lord loves both black and white skin equally and that love is equally

distributed among every member of society. Yet the song continues to perpetuate the dominant

understanding of race as a binary. The song accentuates the existence of binaries through

verbalizing black or white skin and failing to recognize that there is an identity position that

exists outside of this framework. The implicit message of this song is that the Lord loves black or

white skin, but does not love neither black, nor white skin. Jessamy finds pleasure in the song

because it is about everyone being the same (214), reinforcing her desperation to fit into the

normative socio-cultural sphere. Because Jessamy is neither black, nor white, she is not able to

fit in to the binary identity categories and thus is unlike the constituents of the song. Jessamys

hybrid identity, located between black and white, is never accounted for by dominant discourse.

Jessamys identity as a mixed-race child negates her identification with England as home,

yet she is also dislocated from Nigeria, her maternal homeland, and a place that seems foreign to

her. Having no first hand experience of Nigeria, Jessamy feels intensely other, which exacerbates

her devolving identity crisis. As Brown suggests, Unanchored by her mothers alien status in

England and her own alien feeling in Nigeria, Jess, citizen child of an exiled parent no matter

which continent she inhabits, has no homeland (135). Just as Jessamy does not feel at home in

England, she also does not feel at home in Nigeria. On the flight, Jessamy expresses her fear and

unease with Nigeria through the physicality of her body: On the plane, Jess threw a tantrum. It

was Nigeria. That was the problem. Nigeria felt ugly (9). Although Jessamys mother plans the

trip to Nigeria as a way to quell Jessamys degenerating mental health, Jessamy does not identify

with Nigeria as a space of belonging. Jessamys declaration that Nigeria feels ugly further

enforces the Manichean ideology built around the dark continent. Jessamy imagines Nigeria as

an unheimlich space: It was looming out from across all the water and land that they had to

cross in the aeroplane, reaching out for her with spindly arms made of dry, crackling grass like

straw, wanting to pull her down against its beating heart (9). By personifying Nigeria as a

monster, Jessamy evokes the tangible fear that she feels at being embraced by otherness, a

country that reach[es] out for her and want[s] to pull her down against its beating heart. Her

first experience of Nigeria as an intensely nightmarish entity emphasizes that, for Jessamy,

Nigeria is not home.

Upon arriving in Nigeria, Jessamy is called an oyinbo, which Jessamys mother

translates as somebody who has come from so far away that they are a stranger! (16). While

Jessamys mother frames the word as denoting someone that is new, the more insidious reading

of this moment shows that Jessamy is the uncanny stranger. The moment solidifies that Nigeria

also cannot be home for Jessamy because she is already a stranger in a strange land. Her

perception as a foreigner echoes back to Jessamys unbelonging in England; just as Jessamy is a

stranger in a strange land in England, she is also a stranger in a strange land in Nigeria.

Jessamys reunion with her extended family in Nigeria further alienates her and results in

the degeneration and destabilization of her identity. Meeting her grandfather for the first time,

Jessamy is shocked to hear her Nigerian name: [her grandfather] half said, half announced, a

name: Wuraola. Who? She froze, not knowing what to say or do. Of course, she knew that

Wuraola was her Yoruba name (19). Jessamy reacts by questioning who Wuraola could be and

leaves her feeling paralyzed by how to proceed. The new name causes further anxiety for

Jessamy, leaving her feeling troubled and disjointed from her sense of a unified identity. Jessamy

does not connect with her Nigerian name as an extension of herself: Wuraola sounded like

another person. Not her at all (19). The name also poses a new possibility to Jessamy: Should

she answer to this name, and by doing so steal the identity of someone who belonged here?

Should she...become Wuraola? (20). Jessamy perceives that the name Wuraola is tied to a

specific place, a specific homeland, and specific sphere of belonging. Yet Jessamy approaches

the name Wuraola as if it does not belong to her and as if it has another and an other identity tied

to it. She believes that she would have to steal the identity, rather than merely recognize that

the name already belongs to her; Jessamy believes that undertaking the name Wuraola would

incite a process of becoming, a transformation that would move her from the liminal space of her

hybrid identity into the post-liminal space of belonging.

Jessamys identity crisis escalates when she meets TillyTilly, a Nigerian child who is

ambiguously an imaginary friend, an abiku12 spirit, and/or the ghost of Jessamys dead twin. Like

Jessamy, TillyTilly occupies the space of uncanny stranger because of her marginality, her

absent presence, and her unfamiliarity. Jessamy is thrilled to encounter TillyTilly, who she finds

living in the abandoned servants quarters of her familys compound. Their friendship is

solidified within minutes of their first meeting: [Jessamy] laughed too, glad that the two of them

were there, one standing, one sitting, in the sunshine, glad that she had been so eager to be

friends with somebody for once (45). Jessamy feels an overwhelming sense of happiness

because of her connection to TillyTilly and the implications that she might find a sense of

belonging: She had never been sought out this way before. It was funny and pleasing, like a

bubbling fizz growing in her stomach (45). Jessamys affinity for TillyTilly initially provides a

comforting reassurance to the reader that Jessamy has found her sphere of belonging; TillyTilly

initially offers the possibility that Jessamy could have a happy ending.

Jessamy is excited to be desirable; she feels intense joy that she connects with TillyTilly.

In this initial encounter with TillyTilly, Jessamy experiences the normativity of friendship and of

Christopher Ouma offers a close reading of the abiku figure in his text, Reading the Diasporic Abiku in Helen
Oyeyemis The Icarus Girl. Ouma illuminates that in Yoruba belif systems the abiku spirit is a child who has died
and returns to haunt their mother. The abiku is a transgressive figure who occupies multiple spaces, including the
Bush (Ouma 188).

being with an other. TillyTillys friendship reassures Jessamy that she is normal; their friendship

dissolves Jessamys fear of alienation. Suggesting that TillyTilly is a manifestation of Jessamys

loneliness, Christopher Ouma declares, Jess develops an imaginative subjectivity, in which the

various narratives of belonging, drawn from textual worlds, become a bulwark against the

negative and racialized reactions of her classmates (193). Ouma suggests that TillyTilly is a

psychological protective mechanism that comforts Jessamys alienation. Regardless of whether

TillyTilly is actually an imaginary friend, their initial friendship incites the pleasure of belonging

for Jessamy. Ilott further supports the claim that TillyTilly offers a sense of belonging that

Jessamy has not previously experienced, suggesting that, In Tilly, Jess recognises the

opportunity for flight and an enviable ally against school bullies (New Postcolonial 74).

TillyTilly clears Jessamys feelings of alienation and ostracism through their relationship and

affinity for one another: Tilly approached Jess and wrapped her thin arms around her shoulders.

They rocked quietly back and forth and Jess felt her breathing slow, the heaving movements of

her chest growing still as her friends cool hands and the smell of some sort of light, leafy

pomade in Tillys hair comforted her. She closed her eyes. It was the embrace of someone who

could protect her (113). Jessamy feels an overwhelming sense of pleasure that she has found a

meaningful relationship, a relationship that is concretized through the tactility of an embrace.

She feels safe in TillyTillys arms. TillyTilly comforts Jessamy through holding her close,

breaking the barriers that separate self and other.

Jessamy becomes intensely attached to TillyTilly over the course of her stay in Nigeria

because of the joy that their friendship stimulates. The framework of their friendship offers

Jessamy a normal childhood experience, yet she becomes increasingly aware that their friendship

is not entirely normal. She discovers that TillyTilly has magical abilities through their adventures

together. Upon realizing that TillyTilly may not be real, Jessamy expresses that if it was a

choice between there being just her and Tilly or her and real people, shed much, much rather

have Tilly (150). Jessamy is so desperate to salvage the normativity of her friendship that she is

willing to disengage from reality. For Jessamy, the comfort that TillyTilly provides is tangible.

She is willing to sacrifice real people in favour of her connection with TillyTilly, which

reveals the level of commitment, affiliation, and affection that Jessamy has for her other half. For

Jessamy, it does not matter if TillyTilly does not exist in the real world, because TillyTillys

presence makes Jessamy feel less alone.

While their first few interactions are heart warming, the novel emanates an uncanny tone

that troubles the affection and interdependence between Jessamy and TillyTilly. Jessamys

relationship to TillyTilly undermines the self/other categorization and effaces the simplicity of

binary identity. Her unsettling presence asserts a plurality that cannot be confined by

categorization and shatters the limits of subjectivity. She shatters Jessamys understandings of

the limits between self and other. In Jessamys first encounter with her, TillyTilly repeats every

word that Jessamy says, as A veritable Jessamy-echo (43), marking her as an other Jessamy.

During their initial meeting, Jessamy is unable to pronounce TillyTillys actual name, Titiola,

and reverts to calling her TillyTilly (44), a doubled name that echoes the building motif of

multiplicity. Stouck gestures to the significance of TillyTillys name, stating that The moniker

TillyTilly, of course, is inherently double, embodying the figures duality, as we later find out,

as both subject and not, real and not, part of this living world and not (101). TillyTilly herself

exists in the multiple, unable to be pinned down by singularity: [Jess] had to remember that

there were two Tillys (240). TillyTilly introduces the proliferation of the multiple into

Jessamys world. Jessamy begins to fear TillyTilly because of her plurality as TillyTilly begins

to spiral out of control: TillyTilly, who was fragmenting and becoming double (237). This

moment speaks to the endless oscillation between a lack (fragmenting) and an excess (doubling)

that TillyTilly introduces into the world. Jessamys existence begins to crumble through

TillyTillys ontological destabilization.

TillyTillys spectrality calls attention to the past; she functions as a metonym for the

horrors of colonialism and the pasts continual haunting of the contemporary world. While

TillyTilly takes the form of a ghost, she becomes increasingly more present and physical in her

violence. Jessamys relationship to TillyTilly transitions from amicable and familial to terrifying

as Jessamy begins to fear TillyTilly as a foreign, and as Stouck suggests, abject other (100).

TillyTillys spectral presence carries with it a primitive fear of the unknown. Her spectrality

intensifies the eruption of binary categories as she is always already absent, yet still hauntingly

present. She simultaneously marks the conjunction of the dead, the living, and the spirit worlds,

temporally shifting between the past, the present, and the future. TillyTillys position as a

doppleganger functions as a gothic trope of the uncanny; while she exists as Jessamys double,

she is also intensely other. TillyTilly occupies the unheimlich Third Space, displaced temporally,

materially, and psychologically. She expresses her feelings of displacement and dislocation,

lamenting, There is no homelandthere is nowhere where there are people who will not get

you (236). In analyzing this quotation, Jane Bryce suggests, Where there is no homeland,

inhabitation becomes the painful alternative: denied the right of belonging, ghostly presences

and haunting are intrinsic to the diasporic condition (64). TillyTilly inhabits the painful

alternative to a homeland; her occupation of the Third Space is intensely unheimlich. TillyTillys

declaration that There is no homeland echoes back to Jessamys displacement from a sense of

belonging in Nigeria and England. Like TillyTilly, Jessamy is dislocated from home. TillyTilly

further asserts to Jessamy that neither of them are able to occupy the dominant sphere of

belonging, furiously proclaiming, Stop looking to belong, half-and-half child. Stop. There is

nothing (236). TillyTilly expresses that Jessamys occupation of the Third Space as a half-

and-half child forecloses the possibility of her ever entering the dominant sphere of belonging

because the workings of colonialism have precluded her from affiliation.

TillyTilly draws on her experience of the physical and emotional trauma of exclusion

when she introduces the violence associated with unbelonging. Her dislocation temporally,

materially, and psychologically emphasizes the unviability of the Third Space and further

demands Jessamy and the reader to bear witness to how colonialism has displaced certain

populations. Bhabha suggests that the Third Space acts as a site of witnessing, stating, My

insistent focus on the third space as an interstitial moment produced through the negotiation of

contradiction and ambivalence must now be understood as a site of the witnessthe work of

witnessingin the stirrings of a consciousness of justice (Neighbours 6). TillyTilly, in her

habitation of the Third Space, forces the witnessing of the horrors of the colonial past that

continue to inform the contemporary moment. Her absent presence incites a call for the

consciousness of justice by recognizing the violence that colonialism caused and continues to

cause. TillyTillys anger erupts in the novel: Do you suffer through making your own suffer?

Tilly raged. And then our blood...spilt like water...like water for the drinking, for the

washing...our blood...Im a witness; twins should know what each other suffer! (236).

TillyTillys rage is tangible in these moments. She expresses the violence of colonialism through

the language of physical pain, evoked through the image of blood being spilt like water. As a

witness, TillyTillys role is to disrupt the amnesia surrounding colonialism by bringing trauma

into the light. She demands that Jessamy, as her twin, recognize her suffering.

Twins, within Yoruba narratives, are also scattered between multiple spaces13, as

Jessamys mother recounts to her, twins are supposed to live in, um, three worlds: this one, the

spirit world, and the Bush, which is a sort of wilderness of the mind (182). Dislocated and

multiple, the twin is never at home, always partially present and absent in the material world, the

spirit world, and the Bush. Using the motif of the twin, Oyeyemi begins to develop a multiplicity

and schizophrenic identity that follows Jessamy throughout the narrative arch. Yet the motif of

the twin functions as both excessive and lacking, as a twin complicates the binary between self

and other. TillyTilly reveals that Jessamy once had a twin: Your twins name was Fern. They

didnt get to choose a proper name for her, a Yoruba name, because she was born already dead,

just after you were born. You have been so empty, Jessy, without your twin; you have had no

one to walk your three worlds with you (161). TillyTilly articulates that Jessamys loneliness

and unbelonging precipitates from the absence of Fern. The emphasis on Ferns stillbirth, by

being already dead, draws attention to the oscillation between presence and absence. Fern is

already present because of her relationship to Jessamy as a twin, but is already absent because of

her premature death. While Jessamys identity position is multiplied by being a twin, she also

suffers from a lack, an emptiness, because of her twins physical absence. The death of her twin

forces Jessamy to negotiate the three worlds alone.

After discovering the absent presence of her twin, Jessamy expresses her longing for

connecting with someone who is like her: Fern would have looked just like her, and the

similarity would have given Jess that confidence to connect and tell her things...confide in her

instead of screaming our her fears. Could it be that simply? I scream because I have no twin

Pilar Cuder-Domnguez offers insight into the common motif of twins in Nigerian literature, stating that the
exceptionally high rate of twin births in Nigeria has cultivated specific socio-cultural beliefs regarding twins (279).

(163). She suggests that the pain she experiences stems from the absence of her twin, asking

herself whether her fear stems from her lack. Jessamy desires to feel at home in her identity,

which she believes would be attainable if she could locate her own difference in an other, and

thus feel a connection through similarity. Jessamy laments for a twin who knew everything

because she was another you (199). Stouck speaks to the ambivalence of Jessamys position,

arguing that, the concept of a twin, an other self from which one does not part, can be

interpreted as a form of abjection which dramatically destabilizes the boundaries of self (102).

From the outset of her existence, a unified sense of self is outside Jessamys grasp because her

position as a twin complicates the binary between self and other. Deploying the discourse of the

unheimlich, Ouma identifies that As an abiku and twin child, [Jessamy] is a cosmological

vagrant not only lacking a specific home and at war with her spiritual companion(s), but also in a

constant struggle with the imbalance of her soul, as her dead twin has not been appeased by the

ibeji statue ritual (200). Ouma attends to Jessamys unhomeliness, as she is in constant tension

with negotiating her identity that excessively spills over pre-determined identity categories.

Oumas connection between Jessamys alienation and vagrancy illuminates how Jessamy is

never static; she is in a constant state of becoming that forecloses the possibility of ever fully

adhering to the strictures of belonging.

Jessamys psychological and material traumas of alienation cause her to experience

herself as other, but also as multiple and limitless because of her position as a twin. TillyTillys

encroachment on Jessamys identity further destabilizes Jessamy sense of a unified self.

Complicated by the hyphenation in her identity, Jessamys position becomes increasingly

precarious because TillyTilly destabilizes the foundations of identity. Jessamy questions herself,

pondering, Two of me. No, us. TillyTilly, JessJess, FernFern, but thats three. TillyTilly and

JessFern? Or FernJess? (237). She realizes that her identity position is multiple because

TillyTillys presence forces a movement beyond the dichotomy of twins. Her calculations of how

to fit three names into only two positions poses more questions, leaving her wondering if she is

TillyTilly and JessFern? Or FernJess? (237). Jessamys question of how to combine three

identities into two categories speaks to the taxonomic pressures she experiences to clearly define

her identity position and her relation to others. Through voicing her concern on how to establish

a hierarchy between herself, her twin, and TillyTilly, Jessamy reveals that her identity is

inarticulable. Stouck points to the multiplicity of Jessamys identity, arguing that, She is always

both excessive and lacking as a subject (excessive in that she is overly defined and lacking as she

does not conform completely to any one definition) (101). The question mark at the end of

JessFern and FernJess is essential to understanding that there is no answer to the multiple;

Jessamy does not come to a definitive conclusion of who she is exactly.

Jessamys confusion with an essentialized identity is further muddled by TillyTillys

presence and forced inhabitance of her body. Jessamy experiences an intense feeling of disgust

upon realizing that TillyTilly occupies her body: (Dear God, please take my skin, take my feet,

and my hips, because shes been in them and spoiled them and made them not work.) Then she

knelt down and prayed to be free from TillyTilly (194). Jessamys disgust at being colonized by

another points to the horrors of the abject, where otherness transgresses the borders of the self.

Stouck gestures towards this fear being intricately intertwined with abjection: Jesss difficulty

distinguishing between self and other, the cause of her phobia, is the in-between state of

abjection (103). Jessamys fear of the other transgressing boundaries leads her to desire an

expulsion of otherness from her body; she prays to be free from the other, but her fear of

otherness also leads her to view her body as being spoiled by TillyTillys contamination. Ilott

and Buckley identify the importance of the borders of the body for Jessamy, arguing that

Jessys fear of a surplus of identity, engendered by her dual inheritance, express themselves

through her concerns about a physically expanding body (7). The body manifests as a material

thing that keeps the self in and otherness out through the very limits of the skin. As Ahmed

suggests, The skin is also a border or boundary, supposedly holding or containing the subject

within a certain contour, keeping the subject inside, and the other outside; or in Frantz Fanons

terms, the skin becomes a seal (1975:9) (Strange 45). Ahmeds framework of the skin as a

border that feels (Strange 45) illuminates Jessamys terror that an other can inhabit her body

and that her skin has been spoiled. Jessamy is horrified that her body is a permeable border and

that her skin, the material boundary of her body, has been transgressed. Ahmed further connects

the skin, as a border that protects the self from others, as tying the individual body with the

political (Strange 46). The unified, homogenous bodythe body that can keep otherness out

functions metonymically as the body of the nation, the body-at-home. Jessamys body, a body

that is porous and can let otherness in, is then situated as a site of fear, especially given the

implications for a nation that could become heterogenous and thus chaotic. Through Jessamys

horrifying orientation towards her body, Oyeyemi identifies the materiality of strange encounters

with an other because Jessamy feels the other physically.

Jessamys sense of self disintegrates, leading her to feel fearful of who or what she may

be and who or what may be infiltrating her body. Attempting to comfort her, Dr. McKenzie,

Jessamys psychologist14, states, When your eyes are closed, youre inside yourself, and no one

can get you there (199) and that this should be a safe place (199). Because of Jessamys

Ouma frames his approach to The Icarus Girl with psychoanalysis and offers close readings of the scenes that
feature Dr. McKenzies assessments of Jessamy.

experience of the multiplicity of self, she fails to grasp how being inside yourself could

constitute safety from others: Why cant someone get me inside? she asked. He shook his

head at her as if she was silly for not knowing (199). Jessamy knows that her body is permeable

and thus susceptible to the perceived contamination of otherness. Jessamy experiences the

disintegration of the boundaries between self and other and feels intensely vulnerable in her own

body because she has been indoctrinated with the belief that identity should be unified,

homogenous, and impenetrable to otherness. She acknowledges that being inside herself does not

constitute safety from others; she is not alone inside herself. Jessamys fear of her own otherness

echoes hooks statement that marginality is not a safe place. One is always at risk (hooks

227-8). Forced to occupy even the margins of her body, Jessamy is always at risk.

Jessamys phobia of her own otherness gestures towards Freuds conception of the

unheimlich as that which was intended to remain secret, hidden away, and has come into the

open...in some way a species of the familiar (131). Jessamys realization that her own body can

harbour otherness provokes a profound anxiety related to the uncanny. Ideology that is based on

binary structures intends for self-otherness to remain hidden and thus non-existent within

dominant thought. Jessamys ontological fear is borne out of ideological constraints that demand

the expulsion of otherness as a way to form a cohesive, impenetrable identity. The Third Space,

or the space between self and other, becomes horrifying to Jessamy: She couldnt bear a

halfway gap; it had to be a chasm or not there at all (223). This moment reveals Jessamys

terror of being between two opposing categories; the halfway gap is a site of fear.

Following the three worlds that twins walk between, The Icarus Girl moves between

three spaces as the narrative passes through Nigeria, England, and finally culminates in the

uncanny space of the Bush15. Jessamys battle for self-definition takes place in her body and in

the material and psychological Third Space of the Bush, where she is faced by TillyTilly, her

uncanny other. Jessamys mother defines the Bush as a wilderness of the mind (182), which

points to the Bush as unknowable and unable to be pinned down. Located between binary

constructions, the liminality of the Bush acts as a point of comparison for the Third Space. It is

the halfway gap that Jessamy fears. The Bush is both a physical and metaphysical construction,

located neither here nor there, but in a place between. Under the workings of binary ideology, the

Third Space, and thus the Bush, should not exist. Diana Mafe asserts, Like the Gothic tale, the

bush tale involves symbolic dark settings, uncanny occurrences, unnatural beings, and an

underlying atmosphere of dread. The bush landscape is implicitly an outside and therefore

vulnerable space, which is removed from humanity (23). The Bush sets the tone for Jessamys

battle for her body because of its liminality and, as Mafe states, serves as a haunted proving

ground for her selfhood as a hybrid postcolonial subject (22). The unheimlich nature of the

Bush provides the perfect stage for Jessamys battle with TillyTilly, her strange and familiar


Jessamy experiences the Bush as a materialized space after a violent car crash in Lagos.

Although Jessamys body is physically present in the hospital after the accident, Jessamy

wanders the Bush as if it is an actualized landscape. Inhabiting the Bush provokes anxiety in

Jessamy that she may never be able to return to the material world: It was a wilderness here and

Jess had been getting lost and beginning to despair that shed ever find her way out until

someone came and bore her away on their back, away, but still not home. Not home, never

Mafe articulates the importance of the Bush to Nigerian culture in her essay, Ghostly Girls in the Eerie Bush:
Helen Oyeyemis The Icarus Girl as Postcolonial Female Gothic Fiction.

home, no (299). Jessamy feels paralyzingly alone in the Bush; she desperately desires for

someone to rescue her from the discomfort of the Third Space, revealing how frighteningly

dependent she is on others. The Third Space is uncomfortable for Jessamy; it is not a safe space

where she feels comfortably at home. Jessamys reflection, but still not home. Not home, never

home, no, echoes back to TillyTillys assertion that There is no homeland (236). Her thought

process that she cannot return home reflects the impact that TillyTilly has had on her ideology

related to belonging and home. It is significant that Jessamy comes to this conclusion only once

she has materially entered the physicality of the Bush, the manifestation of the Third Space. The

uncanniness of the Third Space, the unheimlich Bush, allows Jessamy to reflect on her position

as a hybrid subject. Because of the taxonomic nature of colonialism, Jessamy realizes that for her

there is no heimlich home; her hybrid identity does not allow her to exist in the singularity of one

position. The wilderness is a place of despair.

The conclusion of the novel troubles dominant understandings of identity by rupturing

the very understanding of identity as unified, homogenous, and cohesive. The battle for

Jessamys body in the Bush does not lead to a successful amalgamation of her conflicted

identities, nor does it offer any solutions to the tensions that are at play as part of her hybridity.

The ending only raises further questions about the future of hybrid subjects and the continuing

painful and conflicted nature of the Third Space. In the steps towards a unified self, Jessamy

must distinguish between what is and is not intrinsic to herself. In the Bush, Jessamy meets her

twin for the first time, an other who is also herself: Jess realised with a feeble, drowsy awe that

she was looking at herself (300). The moment of recognition of herself is quickly followed by

the realization that this girl is Not...herself. Its...her (301). After recognizing that the girl is

her dead twin, Fern, Jessamy offers to share her name, opening herself to the other. After

offering Fern her Nigerian name, Wuraola, Jessamy feels prepared to face TillyTilly.

The stand-off between Jessamy and TillyTilly inverts the relationship, where Jessamy

becomes the perpetrator of violence and TillyTilly takes on the position of victim: Dont,

Jessy, please, TillyTilly pleaded in a scream that ran in Jesss ears (302). TillyTilly no longer

holds power over Jessamy; TillyTillys pleading scream reveals how scared she is of the power

reversal. In the final moments of the novel, Oyeyemi leaves her readers with an uncertain

ending: and hop, skip, jumped into Tillys unyielding flesh as she clawed at Jesss presence (it

hurt them both burningly) back into herself. Jessamy Harrison woke up and up and up and up

(302). Jessamy is the instigator of abjection in this scene where she jumps into Tillys

unyielding flesh, attempting to insert herself into an other. The pain of this insertion, which

hurt[s] them both burningly, suggests that encompassing otherness is traumatic and violent.

Mafe indicates that in this moment, Jessamy and TillyTilly blend together, stating, I am not

convinced of Jesss self-destruction...The relationship between [Jessamy and TillyTilly] is

always more complex and more subtle than the angel/monster dichotomy. As such, Jesss

eventual merger with (as opposed to exorcism of) this Other seems strangely appropriate (33).

Jumping into TillyTillys skin, Jessamy attempts to reclaim her body, but, as Mafe suggests, this

results in the encompassing of the two identities, rather than the consolidation of two identities

into a singularity. TillyTilly is not expelled, but absorbed. Jessamys identity continues to be in


The beginning of the novel foreshadows Jessamys dark irresolution: she might have got

better if only (Oh, if only if only if only, Mummy) she hadnt gone [to Nigeria] (6). This moment

gestures to the possibility that Jessamy never gets better, in the sense that she can not take up a

normative, unified identity. The title of the novel itself, The Icarus Girl, gestures to the unhappy

ending of the Icarus myth. Like Icarus, Jessamy flies too close to the sun in her strivings for a

singularized identity. As a hybrid subject, colonialism has predetermined that Jessamy cannot

have a happy ending. The repetition of the final lines, up and up and up and up, an allusion to

Icarus flying towards the sun, points to the continuing multiplicity of Jessamys position. As

Brenda Cooper asserts, the signs are not good as Jessamy soars up and up like the doomed

Icarus (63). The final lines would gesture to a much more hopeful future if Jessamy had only

singularly woken up. Instead, Jessamy is faced with the proliferating multiplicity of her position,

which forecloses the possibility of a cohesive self. Her narrative marks a continued unhappiness

for hybrid subjects whose identities are denigrated by the workings of colonialism. As Ilott and

Buckley articulate, There is no awakening into a stabilized sense of self, no positive

transformation into a hybridized identity, but the struggle nonetheless continues (13). Like Ilott

and Buckleys claim that there is no finality for Jessamys identity, Stouck argues that, The

uncertainty of the ending and whether Jess ever definitively returns or remains a Symbolic

subject confirms the negotiation with otherness which is ongoing for all human beings (104).

The final moment of the novel confirms that hybrid subjects do not have cathartic or utopian

futures ahead if colonial ideology continues to insidiously produce the Manichean binary.

Jessamy is trapped in the Third Space, a site that is painful, anxiety-inducing, and precarious, yet

the Third Space in its existence between binaries is still an inherently counter-hegemonic space.

Despite refusing to offer a solution, Oyeyemi reveals the persistent forces of oppressive socio-

cultural mechanisms that attempt to definitively categorize identity.

The conflict of Jessamys identity provides a microcosm for Oyeyemi to explore the

wider implications of colonial ideology, binarised identities, and the pain of occupying the Third

Space of hybridity. The negotiations of Jessamys identity matter politically. Ilott and Buckley


Jessys contested sense of identity centres upon the negotiation, transgression, and

reinforcement of physical borders, from the national borders of Nigeria and the UK that

have been rendered permeable through multiple waves of colonization and migration to

the fleshy borders of her own body, which is allegorically figured as the battleground on

which the fight for her national identity will be won. (6)

Through Jessamy, Oyeyemi moves hybridity beyond a personal identity crisis in order to

allegorize traumas that occur because of the violence that colonialism incites towards the Third

Space. The Third Space offers proliferating possibilities for reconstructing identity as multiple

and mutable, and suggests that the borders of identity are in a constant state of reformation.

Difference is disruptive. The Third Spaces heterogeneity ruptures and challenges existing

binarised categories, yet colonial ideology ensures that the Third Space is an uncomfortable

space of difference. Oyeyemi centers the narrative on Jessamys discomfort with her hybridity,

but points to this discomfort as the repercussions of colonialism. Jessamys experiences of

isolation can be linked to the haunting presence of colonial ideology in the contemporary world

that informs and determines the tension she experiences of being Nigerian and British. Stouck

illuminates Oyeyemis choice in colonial criticism, stating Given the violent and oppressive

history of relations between Nigeria and England which has included slavery, colonization, and

more recently, resource-based exploitation, purely celebratory forms of Nigerian-British

hybridity are unlikely, if not impossible (107). Jessamys continuing pain tied to her hybridity

forefronts the realization that the closure of the colonial period is never fully actualized. Stouck

points out that With a history of violent relations between the two parts of herself, Jesss

experience of hybridity cannot be one of celebratory, creative possibility, but is repeatedly

fractured by the past (107). The text acknowledges that the past will continue to haunt the

present, both in Jessamys life and the lives of every postcolonial subject, because there have

been insufficient reparations for the traumas of colonialism.

The uncanniness of The Icarus Girl is not explained away, but is left to haunt the reader

with lingering questions and unresolvable paradoxes. What Oyeyemi suggests through The

Icarus Girl is that the workings of colonialism disavow the possibility of a happy ending for

hybrid subjects. If the machinations of colonial ideology continue to penetrate and shape the

contemporary world, then the Third Space will continue to be a space of discomfort. The text is

subversive in its illumination of the violent underpinnings of colonial ideology that exile certain

subjects from the comforts of the dominant sphere of belonging. Jessamy grapples with the

binary power structures that dislocate her from the comfort of inhabiting her hybrid identity. Her

emotional and physical torment, documented in The Icarus Girl, illustrates the damaging nature

of taxonomic constructions of identity as deployed by colonial ideology. Oyeyemi offers an

ethical duty of remembrance to shatter the amnesia surrounding the history of colonialism. Using

the framework of the Third Space, Oyeyemi employs gothic tropes to speak to the unhomeliness

of inhabiting a hybrid identity in the contemporary world when the aftershocks and repercussions

of colonialism continue to inform and determine identity and belonging. Although The Icarus

Girl opens up the Third Space, Oyeyemi simultaneously situates it as a site of pain because of

the machinations of Manichaeism under colonialism. She reveals the horrors of colonial ideology

that construct the Third Space as uncanny and further exposes the lived-experience of

unbelonging for hybrid subjects.

Chapter 4

Fear, Hatred, Violence: Narrating the Traumas of Colonialism

Helen Oyeyemis narratives do not celebrate British multiculturalism; her texts reveal

that utopian narratives of multiculturalism repress Englands dark history of oppression, racism,

and colonial power. The impetus to transform the image of England as a colonial superpower

into the positive national allegory of England as multicultural repeats the forms of violence that

it seeks to redress. Colonial power structures are rendered invisible by the rise of good feelings

surrounding British diversity. Uncovering the hidden machinations of colonialism through

narrative interrupts the placation of the positive affectivity of multicultural discourse. Oyeyemis

interruption of the good feelings of diversity with the bad feelings of Englands colonial history

situates her as a killjoy. The rising political rhetoric of inclusion, diversity, and multiculturalism

seeks to foreclose the possibility of critiquing the more insidious forms of racism that continue to

surface in England. Through voicing violence, Oyeyemi makes racism and hatred hypervisible in

contemporary England.

The Icarus Girl and White is for Witching do not verbalize trauma in order to harmonize

the histories of colonialism as a form of permanent closure or catharsis; the narratives are not

intended to enact a finality regarding the horrors of colonialism. Cathartic models of articulating

suffering, which are deployed in order to overcome a traumatic event16, disavow the potential for

facilitating continuing ethical engagement with the suffering of others. Instead, Oyeyemis

narratives allow for ongoing declarations of unhappiness with the state of socio-cultural and

racial relations in England. Oyeyemi mediates legacies and conditions of trauma through the

Trauma theory ruminates on the question of whether articulating and narrativising trauma can offer healing. Cathy
Caruths seminal text Unclaimed Experience: Trauma, Narrative, and History revolves around this possibility.

representation of violence against those who are deemed not-white and not-British enough to

belong. The traumas of colonialism are not seated in the past, but continue to proliferate in the

present. To disregard the traumas of the past and present is to be complicit in the continued

violence against others. Repressing the horrors of colonialism does not cease the colonial cycles

of violence enacted in the present moment. Gilroy notes,

Repressed and buried knowledge of the cruelty and injustice that recur in diverse accounts

of imperial administration can only be denied at a considerable moral and psychological

cost. That knowledge creates a discomfiting complicity. Both are active in shaping the

hostile responses to strangers and settlers and in constructing the intractable political

problems that flow from understanding immigration as being akin to war and invasion.

(Postcolonial 102)

As he argues, colonial ideology actively promotes the hostility of English society to racialized

others, despite the belief that the formal constructions of colonialism are over. Suppressing the

knowledge of colonial injustice continues to authorize the silencing and devaluation of

postcolonial subjects. Gilroy calls for the disinterring of Englands colonial past and an

acknowledgement of the horrors of colonial ideology.

The intentional amnesia of colonial history will continue to propagate violence against

racialized others unless these cycles of violence are arrested through mourning the horrors of

colonialism. Oyeyemi enacts this mourning. This emotional labour is not easy; working through

Englands disgraceful history is intensely unsettling. Colonialism, as Gilroy argues, is a source of

discomfort, shame, and perplexity (Postcolonial 98). Denying the horrors of colonial history

because of discomfort speaks to the pure narcissism of white Englishness, xenophobia, and white

supremacism. Oyeyemi declares her persistent unhappiness with colonialism, which privileges

the white English subject. By revealing the violence and hatred of colonial ideology, Oyeyemi

demands the recognition of the continuing trauma and vulnerability of racialized subjects. Gilroy

suggests that confronting the traumas caused by colonialism offers the potential for a productive

and ethical exercise:

The multilayered traumaeconomic and cultural as well as political and psychological

involved in accepting the loss of the Empire would therefore be compounded by a

number of additional shocks. Among them are the painful obligations to work through the

grim details of imperial and colonial history and to transform paralyzing guilt into a more

productive shame that would be conducive to the building of a multicultural nationality

that is no longer phobic about the prospect of exposure to either strangers or otherness.

(Postcolonial 108)

Oyeyemi deploys unhappiness to understand the ways in which colonialism has caused and

continues to cause trauma. She parses the multilayered trauma of colonialism in order to arrest

ongoing cycles of violence.

Deploying Violence

The violence in White is for Witching and The Icarus Girl speaks to the lived-experience

of racism in contemporary British society. These novels reveal that the mobilization of racist

hatred is a way to maintain difference and fortify colonial power structures, which continue to

flourish in the contemporary world. By verbalizing the violence that underpins contemporary

British society, Oyeyemi illuminates the larger ethical questions at the heart of living with others

in the world. Through narrating the violence incited against racialized others, she elucidates the

horrors of Englands colonial history and resists hegemonic discourse surrounding alterity.

Oyeyemis novels document extreme manifestations of violence in order to reveal the

mundane and normalized economies of hatred that create hostility to the racialized body. Racism

is so normalized in contemporary England that hatred is not solely located in white supremacist

ideology or ultranationalist discourse. The hatred that Oyeyemi documents is not limited to

extremism, but is part of the production of the ordinary (Cultural 56). Hatred is not political

extremism; to argue that it is extremist is to exculpate individuals from any ethical duty

regarding violence. Oyeyemi reveals that racism provides the foundations for the assumptions of

English nationality, a nationalism that elides the traumatizing reality of colonial violence. She

reveals the barriers and exclusions engendered by colonial ideology that force black British

subjects to negotiate between race and national identity. The Icarus Girl and White is for

Witching reveal how black British subjects challenge the colonial understanding that English

citizenship is intrinsically tied to whiteness. Oyeyemi exposes the fragile and precarious

existence of hybrid subjects under colonial ideology by registering the unhomely nature of

contemporary England. She discloses the complicity of contemporary English society with the

ongoing socio-cultural exclusion, oppression, and trauma of black British subjects. Oyeyemis

texts enact political declarations of unhappiness by tracing the repression of xenophobia and

white supremacism in the present world order. She reveals how colonial ideology functions as a

crucial structuring agent in the configuration of British national identity through chronicling the

limits of national belonging in her novels. Renouncing romanticized visions of multicultural

harmony in England, Oyeyemi subversively displaces the amnesia surrounding colonial violence.

Her novels enact a process of exhuming the violence of colonialism as a way for British subjects

to reflect on ontological constructions and the normalization of racism.

Reverse Colonization: Fear of the Other

Fear and anxiety secure the colonial home of the white nation through the imperative to

maintain borders and simultaneously naturalize colonial hierarchy. Fear is border-forming. As

Ahmed asserts, fear does not involve the defense of borders that already exist; rather, fear

makes those borders, by establishing objects from which the subject, in fearing, can stand apart,

objects that become the not from which the subject appears to flee (Affective 128). Fear

shapes communities through determining which subjects should be feared, and thus kept at a

distance, and which subjects should not be feared, and thus included within the sphere of

belonging. Yet when a subject encounters an object of fear that comes too close, the fear of the

others proximity degenerates into hatred of the other, revealing the interconnectedness of these

two affects. The inevitable slippage from fear to hatred in colonial ideology functions to secure

the borders of belonging and fortify the homogeneity of the white social body. Fear, according to

Ahmed, is narrated as a border anxiety: fear speaks the language of...being invaded by others,

against whom the nation must defend itself (Affective 132). Fear of foreign others produces

the anxieties of invasion, a narrative which has entwined itself with the political framework of


White is for Witching and The Icarus Girl highlight the anxieties of reverse colonization,

a narrative repeatedly featured in British fiction17. Reverse colonization hinges on the fear of

civilized spaces being overrun and colonized by foreign others, reversing the dichotomy between

colonizer/colonized and powerful/powerless. Mass migration and unprecedented mobility have

Stephen Aratas text, The Occidental Tourist: Dracula and the Anxiety of Reverse Colonization presents a
compelling reading of Bram Stokers Dracula as an articulation of the fear of transgressing borders. Helen Cousins
examines Aratas reading of Dracula in her article on White is for Witching.

enabled a global constriction, bringing people into close proximity with one another. The rise of

migration from the global south to the global north contributes to the growing anxiety around

claiming a space and place of belonging in England. Gilroy points to the anxieties of a

heterogenous Britain stating that, In Britain these arguments are tied to an obsessive repetition

of key themesinvasion, war, contamination, loss of identityand the resulting mixture

suggests that an anxious, melancholic mood has become part of the cultural infrastructure of the

place, an immovable ontological counterpart to the nation-defining ramparts of the white cliffs of

Dover (Postcolonial 14). White is for Witching and The Icarus Girl undertake narrating the

phobias surrounding invasion, war, contamination, loss of identity in order to highlight the

ways in which colonial ideology underpins the construction of British nationalism. Oyeyemis

novels problematize the boundaries on which colonial hegemony depends and questions the heart

of what constitutes the English sense of self. The phobia of invasion, war, contamination, loss

of identity (Postcolonial 14) all hinge on an intense fear and hatred of otherness. The other

threatens to invade, to enact violence, to contaminate the self, and to invoke a loss of national

and personal identity. Through the discourse of fear, hatred is insidiously suffused throughout

the English community and subsequent social relations.

TillyTilly in The Icarus Girl exposes the fears of reverse colonization by seamlessly

crossing borders; she transgresses the borders of the nation and the personal boundaries of

Jessamys body. Although Jessamy first encounters TillyTilly in Nigeria, TillyTilly magically

appears in England after Jessamy returns home. TillyTilly thus epitomizes the fear of the foreign

other invading the borders of the colonial nation to wreak havoc. While she is initially welcomed

by Jessamy, TillyTillys presence becomes negatively charged as she begins to violently haunt

Jessamy. TillyTilly thus echoes British narratives that incite anxiety for the dangerous other, who

subversively transgress the borders of the secure nation. She is part of the peripheral that

destabilizes the centre; her migration from Nigeria, a former British colony, to England functions

as a reminder of the end of Empire.

National narratives of reverse colonization draw attention to the intrinsic fear of the other

and the anxiety for the precarious balance of power in the dichotomy between

colonizer/colonized. Oyeyemi attends to the colonial fear of imperial decline in which the

relations between colonizer/colonized begin to break down and blur. In White is for Witching, the

question of English downfall is asked and answered; the influx of foreign (and thus dangerous)

others has incited the collapse of English dominance. The xenophobic house asks, How had

Britannia become embarrassing and dangerous? It was the incomers (White 107). The

incomers, under colonial ideology, become a source of negative affect, a negative affect that

abjectly contaminates all of Britannia, reforming the nation as embarrassing and dangerous.

Speaking to the power of fear to retain normativity, Ahmed articulates that The present hence

becomes preserved by defending the community against the imagined others, who may take form

in ways that cannot be anticipated, a not-yetness that means the work of defense is never over

(Affective 135). Fear is always oriented to the future in its not-yetness and the possibility of

fear coming to fruition in the future. White is for Witching voices this anxiety; if the incomers

continue to populate England, then Britannia will continue to socially, culturally, and politically

decline. Fear and hatred thus function as an affective technique of containment in which the

failure to maintain the normatively white community is a justification for the containment.

Within colonial ideology, Britains national crises stem from the decline of empire.

Operating twofold, the decline of empire is precipitated by racialized others and racialized others

function as a reminder of the collapse of empire. The collapse of English control over colonies

results in the influx of racialized others into the borders of the nation. During the height of

colonialism, the British Empire established a model of centre (England) and periphery (colonies),

yet the influx of racialized others from the colonies destabilizes this political construction.

Colonial ideology clearly asserts that Britannia cannot become great again if outsiders continue

to cross its borders, moving from the peripheries to the centre.

Deploying Hatred

Through colonial ideology, ultranationalism and white supremacism function as

fortification and protection of the purity of white England. The foundations of colonialism foster

hatred for the racialized other and police, manipulate, and enforce this affective norm as a way to

maintain and naturalize this power structure. Colonial ideology, and the hatred that underpins its

foundations, shapes the affective landscape of the interaction between selves and others.

The institutionalization of hatred as part of the politics of colonialism ensures the production of

violence and further sustains the structures of power. Hatred renders racialized bodies vulnerable

and precarious through declaring the vulnerability of the white supremacist subject. Colonial

ideology claims the white identity as a site of injury and oppression at the hands of the dangerous

black subject, a subject who violently terrorizes the purity of the white social body. This injury

and oppression functions as justification and political permission for the mobilization of hatred.

The white colonial community is hypersensitive to its own suffering because of the belief that

England is afflicted by the changing racial landscape. The decline of British imperial dominance

fosters resentment towards racialized others, who become scapegoats and are then exploited for

the resurgence of ultranationalism and white supremacism, as evidenced by the politics of the

British National Party.

White is for Witching voices the nostalgia surrounding Englishness and articulates

Englands haunting desire for the greatness of colonial ideology through the use of Thomas

Arnes eighteenth-century patriotic anthem, Rule Britannia. Oyeyemi crafts the interaction

between Ore and the house as a way to speak to the nostalgia for imperial dominance, as

expressed by the celebrations of Britannia through the patriotic anthem. The assimilative cultural

politics of England fail to create a homogenous nation, because the very basis of British identity

is premised on whiteness under the umbrella of colonial ideology. Through colonial ideology,

the black British subject is constructed and read as abject. Oyeyemi narrates this construction of

abjection through the houses relationship to Ore; the houses disgust for Ores black body

speaks to the heightened racial antagonism that marks the historical repressions of colonial

England. The house experiences Ores black body as an intensely affective figure that embodies

historically, politically, and socio-culturally anxieties about miscegenation, racial purity, and

colonial power. Iconographies of the excess and horror of racialized others are reanimated in

Oyeyemis novels to reveal the perpetuations of colonialism in the contemporary world. The

violence that the house deploys is symptomatic of the explosion of anxiety surrounding the

perceived contamination of the white British community. Gilroy asserts that, racist violence

provides an easy means to purify and rehomogenize the nation (Postcolonial 111). Violence is

thus a response to the increasing heterogeneity of England; the expulsion of the racial other via

violence provides the means of returning to the (imaginary) white English nation.

Like Ore, TillyTilly takes up the position of abject other through her excessive

transgression of borders; TillyTilly destabilizes Jessamys bodily boundaries through blurring the

distinction between self and other. The narrative centers on the impetus for Jessamy to expel the

foreign other and thus to enact a process of purifying herself and rehomogenizing her identity.

Yet Jessamy is not and never was a homogenous subject; Jessamy herself is both excessive and

lacking because her hybrid identity situates her between categorized conceptions of race.

Hatred is used to instrumentally classify bodies according to social desirability and is

thus used as a defense mechanism to keep difference out. Always in relation to alterity, to hate is

to hate difference. Hatred reveals and constitutes social place by moving bodies both materially

and figuratively; bodies are expelled and borders are formed. As Ahmed suggests, Hate is

involved in the very negotiation of boundaries between selves and others, and between

communities, where others are brought into the sphere of my or our existence as a threat

(Cultural 51). Ore, in White is for Witching, experiences the houses radiating hatred. Her black

body is marked as a point of difference that is unassimilable; her alterity provokes the houses

hate. The house hates Ore because her body exemplifies the markers of difference.

The Icarus Girl functions as a vehicle to reveal the difficulties in articulating

transnational identity because of the exclusionary nature of white Englishness and colonial

ideology. Under the machinations of colonialism, Jessamys hybrid identity forecloses the

possibility of belonging. Performing a utilitarian function in maintaining systems of power,

hatred demarcates the limits of belonging, marking some bodies as unassimilable within the

dominant sphere of belonging. Ahmed argues that The politics of racial hatred involves

attributing racial others with meaning, a process we can describe as the making of unlikeness

(Cultural 55). Jessamy intensely experiences this process of being unlike her normative

classmates. The social reaction to her difference is the deployment of racist abuse. Jessamy is

constructed as being unlike her peers and is explicity labeled as abnormal. Framed by the

language of abnormality, Jessamy experiences the making of unlikeness (Cultural 55) and is

thereby isolated from the social realm. She is too different to be assimilated within the dominant

sphere of belonging, yet she also experiences herself as alien and unknowable. Oyeyemi

articulates this power of rendering black British subjects as other through Jessamys narrative.

The disgust for the hybrid subject is intimately bound up with and authorized by the community-

forming power of hate. Jessamys rejection by her peers speaks to the underlying social crisis

and anxiety surrounding miscegenation. The hybrid subject is imbued with negative affect,

which circulates and shapes social relations; Jessamy is too black to be white and thus English,

and too white to be black and thus Nigerian. Oyeyemi reclaims the representation of the hybrid

subject by speaking to the ways in which colonial ideology attempts to negate this figure. The

narration of Jessamys struggles with her hybrid subjectivity allows for an acknowledgement of

the Third Space, but also a recognition that colonial ideology has rendered hybridity intensely

uncomfortable because of the deployment of hate.

Hatred regulates the relations between selves and others and forms socio-cultural

identities and affective communal space. In White is for Witching, Mirandas grandmother, Anna

Good, expresses her hatred for racial others: I hate them, she said. Blackies, Germans, killers,

dirty...dirty killers (White 109). By verbalizing her hatred for others, Anna forms communities:

communities of white selves and communities of racial others. Race is emotionally mediated

through the repeated expressions of hate for those deemed not-white enough. Hatred works to

not only give meaning to the figure of the racial other, but more complexly to constitute a

category of being. Annas declaration equates Blackies and Germans with dirty killers,

thereby identifying their otherness as an explicit danger. Through her speech act and the

abjection of Blackies and Germans, Anna identifies racial others, those who are not British,

as a subhuman category of being. Hatred is always at the expense of another; by hating the other,

the subject marks the other as an object to be hated. The other may exist in close physical

proximity, but a barrier between self and other is created through the emotional distancing of

hatred. Marking difference is invoked and deployed in instrumental ways to affectively block

racial mobility and transgression of racial binaries. By deploying narratives of hatred in her

novels, Oyeyemi reveals the wider socio-cultural and racial power relations that haunt

contemporary England.

Hate is projected onto the black body, but also functions to attach subjects to what is

threatened by racialized others, including the white nation, the white English family, and the

pure white community. By voicing her disgust for the foreign body in White is for Witching,

Anna implicitly articulates her love for the white nation. While the circulation of negative affect

marks the black body as an object to be hated, it also marks the white English nation as an object

of love. The white supremacist subject asserts an entitled relation to national space. The

xenophobe loves the nation and enacts their love by hating the foreign other that threatens the

purity of the nation. Ahmed suggests that in hating another, this subject is also loving itself;

hate structures the emotional life of narcissism as a fantastic investment in the continuation of

the image of the self in the faces that together make up the we (Cultural 52). The xenophobic

house featured in White is for Witching enacts this narcissism; the houses love for whiteness

mobilizes the violence against racial others. The maintenance of white Englishness is constructed

as a responsible moral choice through the disciplining power of colonialism. Normative

whiteness thus becomes desirable as a way to fend off crises instigated by the racial other.

Difference is invoked as the cause of national decline. The racial other is constructed as the

catalyst for the purported downfall of national greatness through the deployment of racist and

xenophobic discourse, which in turn allows for the maintenance of white supremacism.

The fear that revolves around Jessamys hybridity stems from the anxieties surrounding

racial miscegenation and the desire for maintaining racial purity. Jessamys mixed race identity

threatens the homogeneity of the nation. Her mixed-race identity is unsettling as it undoes the

traditional markers of race. Her identity as British and Nigerian echoes the downfall of England

as the colonial superpower; Jessamy is the direct result of the influx of Nigerian subjects into the

colonial centre of England. In this way, Jessamy is the recipient of hate because she represents

the degeneration of Empire; she embodies the demise of Englands Imperial prestige.

Vulnerability, Disposability, and Ethics

Hatred, as a productive strategy, functions as a way to mitigate vulnerability and pain and

delegitimizes certain bodies and constructs them as out of place from the norm. Eruptions of

violence to racialized others are inherently linked to hierarchies of (un)belonging. Hatred enables

the differential distribution of vulnerability, whereby some bodies are determined to be valuable

and others are disposable. The disposability of the lives of those who exist on the margins is

naturalized, which is what makes marginality so unsafe. Oyeyemis novels overflow with the

violence of occupying marginal spaces; in White is for Witching, fifty-eight Chinese migrants

suffocate in a truck, four Kosovan refugees are stabbed, another detained immigrant commits

suicide, and the xenophobic house murders countless racialized subjects. Apathy and

indifference to the horrific racialized violence that black British subjects experience constitutes a

devaluation of the lives of these individuals. The lack of public outrage in White is for Witching

for the deaths of racialized others speaks volumes to the apathetic nature of English society.

Complacency and the lack of ethical concern are as problematic as the active hatred of black

British subjects. Oyeyemis novels harness violence as a constructive and creative outlet to

express the horrors of colonial ideology and to facilitate the recognition of the material nature of

violence and the universality of human vulnerability.

Judith Butlers seminal text, Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence,

provides an insightful examination of the ways in which witnessing violence can produce ethical

relationality, but only if the subject is willing to recognize the vulnerability of the other. Butler

argues that Violence is surely a touch of the worst order, a way a primary human vulnerability

to other humans is exposed in its most terrifying way, a way in which we are given over, without

control, to the will of another, a way in which life itself can be expunged by the willful action of

another (29). Violence ties the body to its vulnerability; violence reveals that life is precarious.

The recognition of our own bodily vulnerability and the perceived inevitability of violence can

provoke a profound fear, yet Butler asserts that we must sit with this vulnerability: We cannot,

however, will away this vulnerability. We must attend to it, even abide by it, as we begin to think

about what politics might be implied by staying with the thought of corporeal vulnerability

itself (29). Suggesting that we cannot let violence foreclose the recognition of our vulnerability,

Butler insists that we must contemplate our own vulnerability in order to think further about the

vulnerability of others.

Oyeyemi reveals the horror of colonial ideology and the construction of the disposability

of the lives of racialized others, forcing a contemplation on the precarity of life. Colonial

ideology renders racialized subjects disposable, labeling them as abject. The dehumanizing

nature of abjection forecloses the possibility of ethical reflection. Speaking to the differential

distribution of vulnerability, Butler states that Certain lives will be highly protected, and the

abrogation of their claims to sanctity will be sufficient to mobilize the forces of war. Other lives

will not find such fast and furious support and will not even qualify as grievable (32).

Through her novels, Oyeyemi employs the same question as Butler by asking, Who counts as

human? Whose lives count as lives? And, finally, What makes for a grievable life? (20). The

Icarus Girl and White is for Witching reverberate with Butlers ethical questions. Violence is

normalized in the pages of Oyeyemis novel as a way to address the power that operates to

differentiate the value of some lives from other lives. She shocks her readers by exposing the

unremarkability of disposable lives and socially sanctioned violence fueled by colonial ideology.

She distresses her readers by revealing that colonial ideology only constitutes white lives as

grievable lives.

In The Icarus Girl, Jessamys grandfather voices the ethical underpinnings of Oyeyemis

novels, pensively stating, Two hungry people should never make friends. If they do, they eat

each other up. It is the same with one person who is hungry and another who is full: they cannot

be real, real friends because the hungry one will eat the full one. You understand? (Icarus

248). This declaration functions as a metaphor for the foundations of ethical sociality. If the base

desire of a relationship is selfish, then every proliferation of that relationship will be unethical.

Jessamys grandfather states that only two subjects who are full can truly engage in an ethical

relationship. If both subjects misrecognize the precarity of the others life, then they will both

destroy each other. As Butler states, To the extent that we commit violence, we are acting on

another, putting the other at risk, causing the other damage, threatening to expunge the other. In a

way, we all live with this particular vulnerability, a vulnerability to the other that is part of bodily

life, a vulnerability to a sudden address from elsewhere that we cannot preempt (29). The Icarus

Girl declares this vulnerability and the ethical foundations that every relationship requires.

Butler argues that cycles of violence can be arrested if the subject is prepared to

recognize the suffering of others and not to concede to the violent defense mechanism provoked

by the other. She insists that Suffering can yield an experience of humility, of vulnerability, of

impressionability, and dependence, and these can become resources, if we do not resolve them

too quickly (150). Witnessing the suffering of others allows for the formation of ethical

relationality; recognizing the others life as precarious offers the opportunity to cease the

repetition of violence. Witnessing offers the opportunity to undo the unethical framework of

colonialism, which only values white lives. Oyeyemi builds this framework of ethical witnessing

through her narratives by forcing the reader to attend to the violence that black British and hybrid

subjects experience.

Miranda, in White is for Witching, struggles with the violence that she witnesses and is

unsure of how to mourn or memorialize the lives of racialized others. After hearing of the death

of the fourth Kosovan refugee, Miranda wonders, Or maybe it seemed feeble somehow, like

making a list of things that were a shame, grouped in order of quantityshame number seventy-

three (73): loss of four (4) Kosovans (White 27). The imaginary list that Miranda compiles,

ordered by quantity, speaks to just how much there is to feel shame about in contemporary

England. Her production of a list of shames emphasizes the repressed guilt of English society.

Cataloguing the death of the Kosovans as shame number seventy three (White 27) stresses the

length of the list and the normality of violence. Miranda functions as a witness of trauma through

her exposure to the suffering of racialized others. Her extensive catalogue of shame attempts to

think through how the devalued lives of racialized others can be revalued through an

acknowledgment of trauma.

Jessamy, in The Icarus Girl, witnesses the violence and traumas of the past through

TillyTilly. TillyTilly expresses her hatred for the systems of colonial power that have

marginalized her presence; her anger stems from the systematic devaluation of her life.

TillyTilly, embodying the traumas of the colonial past, demands to be acknowledged as a

grievable life and uses her haunting of Jessamy as a vehicle to voice this demand. While

TillyTilly personifies the traumas of the colonial past, Jessamy embodies the traumas of the

colonial present. Jessamy experiences continuing material and psychological violence because of

her identity position as a hybrid subject. The reader thus functions as a witness to the ways in

which colonial ideology continues to devalue the lives of others.

Unearthing Horrors for Alternative Futures

While her novels do not offer new models for intersubjective encounters, Oyeyemi

reveals the precariousness of human existence and the particular vulnerability of black subjects.

Through narrating the violence that black British subjects experience, Oyeyemi forces readers to

reflect on ethical relations. White is for Witching and The Icarus Girl function as testimony in

order to reveal the unhealable material and psychological traumas that are caused by colonial

ideology. Oyeyemi pours salt onto the wounds of repressed colonial ideology in order to expose

the ways in which colonialism and the desire for Empire continue to underpin English society.

She does not offer a way to dissolve the fetters of whiteness and Englishness, nor are her novels

therapeutic or cathartic; her novels draw dramatic attention to the forces of marginalization and

xenophobia by narrating the traumatizing effects of colonial ideology that cannot be overlooked.

White is for Witching and The Icarus Girl do not seek out a premature closure, nor do they

function as a re-traumatization of the horrors of colonialism, but subversively force readers to

feel unsettled by the ways in which colonialism continues to penetrate the contemporary world.

Precipitated by the exclusion of racialized British subjects in the dominant sphere of

belonging, Oyeyemis novels demand a re-examination of the racist ideology that underpins

contemporary English society. The narration of violence towards racialized subjects in

Oyeyemis novels reveals the internal contradictions at play in British society; utopian

celebrations of multiculturalism attempt to obscure the darker histories of Englands colonial

history. Englands performance of tolerance and diversity is undercut by the historical exclusions

of subjects whose identities do not correspond with prescriptive white Englishness. Oyeyemis

novels do not suggest that harmonious multiculturalism is impossible in England, but that the

horrors of colonialism must be processed before British society truly becomes inclusive. The

violence in her texts functions as a catalyst for reflecting on intersubjective relations. She reveals

romanticized multiculturalism as an attachment to fantasy rooted in the facade of Britains

progression away from its colonial histories. Oyeyemi not only offers a critique of the

naturalization of Englishness as a synonym for whiteness, but also speaks to the larger cultural

narratives and national allegories that shape English society. White is for Witching and The

Icarus Girl trace the atrocities of Englands colonial histories, forcing an acknowledgement of

the traumatizing nature of unbelonging. By voicing the losses sustained through the

machinations of colonial ideology, Oyeyemi marks the trauma of the present by the return of the

past. She examines how hatred for the racial other and the hybrid subject has been sedimented by

the fear-mongering discourse of colonialism.

Contemporary English society is haunted by the cultural traumas that have not yet been

processed; colonialism continues to be an open wound in the contemporary world despite the

socio-cultural and political insistence that the past has been healed. Unrelentingly, Oyeyemi

undertakes Gilroys call for an unearthing of the horrors of colonialism in the hopes that an

examination of the brutalities of Englands colonial past will stimulate new forms of ethical

relationality. As Gilroy asserts, England has an obligation to confront the traumas of colonialism

in order to transcend the immobilizing and repressive guilt that haunts the present moment. The

emotional labour of acknowledging the shame of Englands past and the continued racism of

contemporary society is necessary work. While it is exhaustive, examining the traumas of

colonialism in the past and present allows for the possibility of alternative futures. As Gilroy

states, The hidden, shameful store of imperial horrors has been an unacknowledged presence in

British political and cultural life during the second half of the twentieth century. It is not too

dramatic to say that the quality of the countrys multicultural future depends on what is now

done with it (Postcolonial 102). The productive shaming of Englands racist past opens the

possibility for ethically reorienting contemporary English society, so that the foundations of the

nation are not constructed on fear and hatred. Fearlessly ventur[ing] into secret places of pain

(Promise 83), Oyeyemi reveals the shameful histories of Englands colonial past. By killing joy

through White is for Witching and The Icarus Girl, she radically announces a persistent

unhappiness with the machinations of colonial ideology.

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