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eIIlinist riters

Postmodern Feminist Writers
ThJ..s One
Feminist Writers
Dr. W.S. Kottiswari
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l Si Edition - 2008
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My Dear Mother
for Being My
Guiding Light
4.l.IIeur.;r j m a t e r ~
As a Postgraduate Teacher and Research Guide, I came
across the vast fictional corpus of women writers across
cultures and I was extremely impressed by the variety of
themes and techniques used by these writers to foreground
feminist ideology. What particularly caught my attention was
the subtle way in which these writers made use of the current
literary theories while attempting to critically confront
patriarchy. A noticeable factor, however, is a reluctance
among learners and scholars to view literary works from a
theoretical standpoint. Such a theoretical approach, I feel, is
necessary if one has to authoritatively assess the relative
merits of a literary work especially if it happens to be a work
written by a woman. Feminist writings become doubly
significant when viewed in the light of works written by male
A perusal of the solid and immense works written by
Margaret Atwood, a Canadian novelist
Toni Morrison
African American novelist, Gita Hariharan and Shashi
Deshpande who are Indian novelists made me think
innovatively of how these writers were influenced by their
respective cultures which
in turn made them adopt different
techniques and themes to highlight their feminist views. The
title Postmodern Feminist Wri ters-struck me as appropriate
since all these writers taken up for study are, iri one way or
the other, strongly influenced by postmodern ideology.
It is the modest aim of the present book to study the
major themes of these four novelists in the light of the latest
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theories. The discussion is largely illustrative and the aim
has been to understand the relevance of these feminist
writers' thematic concerns to feminism and
both being relevant ideologies of the present century.
I am thankful to SARUP AND SONS, New Delhi, for
having consented to publish my book. I thank my mother,
W.S.Jaya, my husband N. Sukumaran, my children
Mahalakshmy and Senthil Kumar and my son-in-law
Unnikrishnan for their constant support without which a
work of this kind would not have been possible.

When Jean-Francois Lyotard defined the postmodern
condition as a state of incredulity toward metanarrativ8s.
he set the stage for a series of debates about the role and
function of metanarratives in our discourses of knowledge.
Ever since Lyotard's definition, the close consensus and
differences between Feminist and Postmodernist ideologies
came to light since the metanarrative that has been the
primary concern offeminists is patriarchy. This book intends
to explore the much - debated problematics ofpostmodernist
and feminist ideologies by examining certain key texts written
by writers across cultures like MargaretAtwood, a Canadian
novelist, Toni Morrison, an African American novelist, and
two Indian novelists, Shashi Desbpande and Gita Hariharan.
The first chapter would highlight the theoretical frameworks
of PostmoderWsm and Feminism thereby pointing out the
various perspectives from which the works of the four
novelists would be analysed. Chapter two and three would
be devoted to Atwood and Morrison respectively while the
fourth chapter would take up the two Indian novelists
together. The fifth chapter would sum up the conclusion
arrived at after a close examination of the works taken up
for study.
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Abbreviations Used in the Book
The Edible Woman Woman
Life Before Mao Man
The Handmaid's Tale Tale
Lady Oracle Oracle
The Robber Bride Bride
Alias Grace Grace
In Search of ocr Mother's Gardens Gardens
The Bluest Eye Eye
Song of Solomon Solomon
Tar8aby Baby
The Thousand Faces of Night Night
When Dreams Travel Travel
Writing from the Margin Margin
The Dark Holds no Terrors Terrors
Roots and Shadows Roots
A Matter of Time TIme
The Sound and the Fury Fury
That Long Silence Silence
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1 Theoretjcal Modules Postmodernjsm
Femjnism Nexus
2 postmodernism jn the Canadian Context-
Margaret Atwood as a Postmodernist
3 pnstmndernjsm jn the American Context=
Toni Morrison as a Postmodernist
4 Postmodernism in the Indian Context.-Gjta
Hariharan and Shashi Deshpande as
5 Conclusion
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Theoretical Modules:
Feminism Nexus
The feminist literary criticism of today is the direct product
of the women's movement ortbe 1960's. This movement was,
in important ways, literary from the start in the sense that
it realized the .significance of the images of women
promulgated by literature and saw it as vital to combat them
and question their authority. Similarly. postmodernity is
characterized by smaller and multiple narratives, which
question metanarratives like Patriarchy, Capitalism,liberal
Humanism and Marxism. While postmodernism is against
classical realism and the fierce asceticism of nineteenth
century works, Feminism is against traditional
representation of women. Both Feminism and
Postmodemism have worked to make us understand the
dominant modes of representation at work in our society.
Cultural production is carried on within a social context and
an ideology. If the personal is political, then the traditional
separation between private and public history must be
rethought. In other words, feminists bave reconsidered both
the context of historic narrative and the politics of
Postmodernism can be seen as a complementary and
sustaining force in feminist theory and politics_ Against the
absolute, unitary conception of knowledge th-at is part ofthe
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2 Postmodem Feminist Wn'ters
modern episterne, the postmodernists propose a system of
discourses that are historical and contextual. Such a
discourse theory demands a new way of conceptualizing truth
and political action that breaks down dualistic
categorizations. Contemporary Feminism also questions the
concept of rationality and the unitary defmition of truth.
The postmodern perception as enunciated by Derrida
attempts to emphasize difference not in terms of binary
oppositions but in multiplicities and pluralities. This
provides a radically new way of talking about feminity,
masculinity and sexuality. Derrida's displacement of the
binary logic sets up for feminism a discourse that speaks in
a mUltiplicity of sexual voices. In opening up unlimited
possibilities of meanings, the woman writer exposes herself
to human experience uncircumscribed by purely feminine,
feminist or female experience. One of the major components
of postmodernism is the decanonization of all existing
mastercodes, conventions, institutions and authorities. Any
text that seeks to displace the dominant discourse becomes
postmodem. Postmodemism assumes different nuances in
the hands of men and women writers. Decentring of woman
is almost akin to the decentring of man in the postmodernist
episteme in which there are no essential subjects or objects
but only individuals caught in a network of historical and
psychological power relationships. The dominant theme of
contemporary women's fiction is the reconstruction of a new
history and a private space as a way of grappling with
Feminism has refocused attention on the politics of
representation and knowledge and also on power.
Decolonization as a metaphor acquires multiple dimensions
in postcoloniallpostmodernlfeminist writings. It means the
Ileed to liberate the self from all traditional structures.
Feminist writing is characterized by the singularity and
clarity of its resistance to the gender rooted aspects of any
tradition that possessed it once or is now possessing it. This,
in turn, leads to the construction of a private kingdom of
subjective powers. It challenges authority, stereotypes, icons
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Theoretical Modules: Postmodemism Feminist Nexus 3
and sexist values. No. expression or cultural value is
privileged over the other. It is a desperate act of self definition
and finding a "room of one's own". Reconstruction of
meanings is brought out leading to radical definitions of
freedom and selfhood.
It was perhaps Jean Francois Lyotard's 1979 reflection
of postmodernism as the questioning of master narratives
that provoked a spark of response among feminist critics.
Lyotard's model of postmodernism suggests the possibility
of conjunction with the already - existing feminist project of
questioning the basic masculine values of western culture
which had worked to oppress women and suppress the
feminine. In Gynesis, Alice Jardine has made the connection
between the postmodernist "crises of legitimation" of the
"master (European) narratives" and the feminist critique.
It is widely recognized that legitimacy is part of that judicial
domain which, historically, has determined the right to govern,
the succession of kings, the link between father and son, the
necessary paternal fiction, the ability to determine who is the
father - in patriarchal culture. The crises experienced by the
major western narratives have not, therefore, been gender-
neutral. They are crises in the narratiyes invented by men. (24)
What has been for earlier commentators a lamentable
loss of mastery became, in Jardine's view, a deconstruction
of falsely universalizing hierarchy of values dominated by
Western middleclass white males. By undermining the
master narratives, postmodernism seemed to create new
spaces for pluralism, marginality and differences, values also
stressed by feminists. Thus there is a close intersection
between the three popular - isms of our times -
Postmodernism, Postcolonialism and Feminism. The
common basis of the three movements is in what Linda
Hutcheon cal1s their shared '"'excentric" position and their
firm suspicion of centralizing tendencies. The literary text's
selfreflexivity has led to a general breakdown of the
conventional boundaries between the arts. It is also clear
that other boundaries are being challenged too, including
those between genres and even those between art and what
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4 Postmodem Feminist Wn"ters
we call life or 'reality'. It is almost a truism today that
women's writing in particular has led the way in the-new
explorations of (and against) borders and boundaries.
The postmodernist questioning of totalizing structures
proposed by Lyotard would seem inevitably linked to a new
concept of subjectivity, one that would necessarily put into
question what Janet Paterson has referred to as the "myth
of the unitary subject". Paterson sees this questioning as a
central characteristic of the postmodern novel. As she puts
The act of enunciation is not only characterized by the putting
into place of a narrative "I" but by a plurality of narrative
voices. These voices may be cut in half, doubled, fragmented.
These voices rarely produce a unified discourse. They refuse,
on the contrary, to admit a single vision and a single authority
and they subvert all notions of control, of domination and of
truth ... (they) allow a putting inOO question at the level of saying
- of notions of authority and a totalizing vision. (240)
Subjectivity in the Western libenil humanist tradition
has been defIned in terms of rationality, individuality and
power; in other words, it is dermed in terms of those. domains.
traditionally denied women who are relegated instead to the
realms of intuition, familial collectivity apd s,ubIpission. If
women have not been aHow'ed access to (male) subjectivity,
then it is very difficult for them to coq.test it. }V0i!len must
defIne their subjectivity before they can question it, they
must first assert the selfhood they have been denied by the
dominant culture. Their (Feminists) doubled act of
'inscribing' and challenging subjectivity has been one of the
major forces in making postmodernism a resolutely
paradoxical enterprise.
The critical stances of Feminists and Postmodernists
are s imilar because both underline and undermine received
notions of the represented subject. Parody is usually
cQosidered to postmodernism. Postmodern Brt
rummages through the image reserves of the past in such a
way 8S to show the history of the representations. With
parody, as with any form of reproduction, the notion of the

Theoretical Modules: Postmodernism Feminist Nexus 5
original as rare, single and valuable is called into question.
As Linda Hutcheon puts it
Parody is a typical postmod.ern paradoxical form because it uses
and abuses the texts and conventions of the tradition. It also
contests both the authority of that tradition and the claims of
art to originality .... It simultaneously exploits and undercuts
several recognizable traditions of the representation of women:
the passive female on her pedestal is here poised for action,
complete with unglamorous bathing cap; the erotic pin-up
bathing bea uty now refuses to engage the gaze of her
(coDventionally male) viewer ... The unevenly hung canvas
backdrop calls attention to itself 81l bacJcdrop, pointing to the
entire photograph's existence 88 Construction - not 88 reflection
- of woman 88 subject and also as object. By ret:a11ing the texts
of the past - .ofliterature or even ofhistory - po8tmodern novels
similarly use parody to question whether there can ever be such
a thing as a final, definitive 'inscription' of seltbood or
subjectivity in fiction. (lt38: 8)
Rel a ted to the problem of postmodernism and
subjectivity has been the equally conflictual relationship of
postmodemism and history. As feminists were struggling to
uncover the buried traces of women's past, they were
confronted with a postmodernism defined - in large part by
its critics - as hostile or indifferent to history. Yet, as Linda
Hutcheon has been concerned to demonstrat e,
postmodernism can more convincingly be construed as an
effort to reexamine the historical 'master narratives' in order
to question their claims to mastery, exposing his:toriography
as a human construction, not unlike the writing of fiction.
This does not mean that art has lost its meaning and purpose
but that it will inevitably have a new and different
significance. Postmodem Parody does not disregard the
context of past representation it cites but uses irony to
acknowledge the fact that we are inevitably separated from
that past today. Hutcheon places Parody within the greater
field of irony as "the ironic use of intertextual references"
(1988:146). There is continuum between the past and the
present but there is also ironic difference - difference induce.d
by that very history. Postmodern Parody is thus, both
deconatructively critical and constructively creative. As a
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6 Postmodern Feminist Writen
form of ironic representation, parody is doubly coded in
political terms - it legitimizes and subverts that which it
Postmodern parodic strategies are often used by
feminist writers to point to the history and historical power
of those cultural representations. In feminist art, written or
visual, the politics of representation is inevitably the politics
of gender. The way women appear to themselves, the way
men look at women, the way women are pictured in the
media, the way women look at themselves, the criteria for
physical beauty - most of these are cultural representations.
Postmodern parody is a kind of contesting r evision or
rereading of the past that confirms and subverts the power
of the representations of history. Parody, it becomes clear,
arises out of a paradoxical conviction of the remoteness of
the past and the need to deal with it in the present. In A
Theory of Parody. The 1eachings of7\ventieth Century Art
Forms (1985), Linda Hutcheon concentrates on the ways that
certain twentieth century art forms offer parodic allusions
to the art of the past. However, she concludes that it is wrong
to define parody by its polemical relation to the parodied
text (the bypotext, in Genette's terms), since many of the
contemporary art works that she discusses simply do not
have that polemical edge to them. Use of parody is, therefore,
a particular artistic practice which can work both ways:
towards the imitated text or towards the world'. For example
in section III of The Wast/eland, Eliot makes a parodic
allusion to Spenser's Prothalamion.
Sweet Thames, run softly till I end my song.
Sweet Thames, run aoftly, for I speak not loud or long.
But at my back in a cold blast I hear
The rustle of the bones, and chuckle spread from ear to ear.
(Eliot 1963 :70)
Eliot's parody of Spenser has as its polemical target
not the Prothalamion, but the contemporary (1920's) state
of the Thames, London, and indeed civilization. Spenser's
poem provides Eliot with a kind of standard by which to
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Theoretical Modules: Postmodemism Feminist Nexus 7
measure the ugliness of the modern world and the bridal
song of the hypotext measures the sordidness of the 1920's
sexual relations, indicated by the detritus that flows down
the river, including 'other testimony of summer nights'. Here
the parody is directed towards the world and it draws on
the authority of the parodied text to establish its own
evaluative stance.
A major theme in feminist theory on both sides of the
Atlantic for the past decade has been the demand that women
writers be, in Claudine Hermann's phrase "thieves of
language" or, in other words, "female Prometheus's". Though
the language women speak and write has been an encoding
of male privilege, what Adrienne Rich calls an "oppressor's
language" which transforms the daughter to the "invisible
woman" in the asylum corridor or "silent woman" without
access to authoritative expression (Landy 16), women must
also have it in their power to "seize speech" and make it say
what they mean (Landy 16). Re-vision is the act of looking
back, of seeing with fresh eyes, of entering an old text from
a new critical direction. For Women, Re-vision is more than
a chapter in critical history; it an act of survival (Landy 18).
Re-vision does not simply mean, "looking back" nor is
it a mere "act of survival". Rather if refers to a re-visionist
remaking of the past and re-invention of a new tradition so
much so that it becomes aD act of creation, transcreation.
Mythology seems an inhospitable terrain for a woman writer.
In myths one finds not only deities of pure thought and
spirituality who are superior to Mother Nature but also the
sexually wicked Venus, Circe, Pandora, Medea, Eve etc.
Whenever an artist employs a figure or a story previously
accepted and defined by a culture, he/she is using myth and
the potential is always present that the use will be revisionist
- that is, the figure or tale will be appropriated for altered
ends, old vessel filled with new wine; initially satisfying the
thirst of the individual poet but ultimately making cultural
change possible. Myth belongs to "high culture" and is
handed down through the ages by religious, literary and
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8 Postmodern Feminist Writen
educational authority. At the same time, myth is
quintessentially intimate material, the stuff of dream life,
forbidden desire, inexplicable motivation etc. The myth-
making of women writers grows from a subterranean
tradition of female self-projection and self-exploration.
Before I move on to a detailed examination of these
ideas, a brief Dote on the reason for choosing these writers.
As a point of contention, the" choice of Atwood, Morrison,
Deshpande and Hariharan 8S postmodernists may be
questioned. This book is an attempt "to study the
postmodernist tendencies that can be discerned in the works
of the four writers. Such a study is a direct consequence of
the notions of postmodernism that a reader brings to
readings of various texts and does not conform to writers of
one period only. If postmodernist elements may be found in
the works of Cervantes and Sterne, it is easier to identify
them in Morrison, Atwood, Hariharan and Deshpande.
There is a par81lel analogy between the positions of an
ethnic women writer like 'Ibni Morrison, an Indian writer
like Gita Hariharan and Canadian women novelist,
Margaret Atwood. These writers use a more disguised. form
of subversion and they often do so by means of parody; by
first recalling the (male", British, American) canonical texts
of their respective cultures, both 'high' fu"ld popular, and then
challenging them by undoing their status and power. Parody
and Irony, then, become major forms of both formal and
ideological critique in feminist fictions . Linda Hutcheon
speaks of the effectiveness of Parody in her book The
Canadian Postmodern by saying that the irony and distance
implied by parody allow for separation at the same time that
the doubled structure of both (the super imposition of two
meanings or texts) demands recognition of complicity. Parody
both asserts and undercuts that which it contests (Hutcheon
Arguably, the four writers are. realists and 80 their
works are incompatible with postmodernism. In ber
Apperulix to The Canadian Postmodern, Linda Hutcheon
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Theoretical Modules: Postmodernism Feminist Nexus 9
makes an insightful remark, which may be used as a defence.
According to Hutcheon, in the Canadian situation, there was
no loss of faith in the realist story and "the postmodernist
challenges to convention all came from within the
conventions of realism itself' (1988: 205). The blurring of
generic boundaries is a common device used by the four
writers to question the realist conventions. One of the major
components of postmodemism is the decanonization of all
existing master codes, conventions, institutions and
authorities. This warrants that any text that seeks to
displace the dominant discourse, becomes postmodern.
Speaking of feminist discourses which draw heavily on
postmodernist strategies, Jameefa Begum asserts that
-feminist discourse draws within it a configuration of
rhetorical and interpretative strategies. The concept of
language as fluid and mu1tiple frees it from its closed system.
One of the original insights of the wamen's movement was that
the personal is political, that is, the relation between experience
and discourse constitutes feminism. The consciousness of self,
like class or race consciousness, is s configur ation of
subjectivity, produced at the intersection of experience with
meaning. This consciousness of self is never absol ute or
identifiable because it is constantly being reshaped, as it is
grounded not only in personal history but also in the horizons
of knowledge and meaning dependent on culture specifics at
given moments. (145)
It is not difficult to see how feminist theory keys into
the deconstructive projects of postmodernism - with its
challenges to the authority oftraditionai discourses of power
at every level from the concept of a !Jtable coherent selthood
to established discourses of history, science and imperialism.
In being relegated to the periphery, women writers have
begun to explore the nuances and multiplicities of their own
natures in discourses that are open ended. All those Grand
narratives of Patriarchy are now open to question from.
feminist voices, which speak from the periphery.
Writing as a woman inevitably makes one a
postmodernist. Alienated from power structures,
constitutional rights, social recognition and crippled in
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10 Postmodern Feminist Write/':S'
expression with a language of which meaning is predicated
by the male, the woman writer, consciously and
unconsciously. renders a militancy of resistance to her
creations. Writing by women becomes a political and
existential act which involves decanonization; decolonization
leading to the building up of alternative worlds of private
power. Feminist fiction counters assertiveness
with inconclusiveness and multiple stances. Jameela Begum
sums up the critical stance of feminist writers by saying
Women writers in attempting to explore a deeper reality, are
caught between two la nguages - the "father tongue- and "tbe
language of the womb. Suspended between the two they end
up with a split relationship to language. This split makes the
writer a fractured female identity, making it difficult to either
center or to know self. The doubleness of woman's speech makes
for a shattered identity that begins to write stories to express
this. Language and genre consciousness become more obsessive
for they a re doubly marginalized. (147)

Postmodernism in the
Canadian Context-Margaret
Atwood as a Postmodernist
Internationally acclaimed 8S a poet, novelist and short story
writer, Margaret Atwood has emerged 8S a major figure in
Canadian letters. Using such devices as irony. symbolism
and selfconscious narrators, she makes brilliant use of
postmodem techniques in order to explore the relationship
between humanity and nature, the dark side of human
behaviour and power as it pertains to gender and politics.
Popular with both literary scholars and the reading public,
Atwood has helped to define and identify the goals of
contemporary Canadian litera ture and has earned a
distinguished reputation a mong feminist writers for her
exploration of women's issues.
Atwood is an extremely versatile writer and in every
novel she takes up the conventions of a different narrative
form - Gothic romance, fairy tale, spy thriller, science fiction
or history -working within those conventions and reshaping
them. Her writing insistently challenges the limits of
traditional genres. Her novels challenge the conventions of
realism while working within them. She draws
not only to the ways in which stories may be told but also to
the function of language itself; the slipperiness of words and
double operation oflanguage as symbolic representation and
as agent for changing our modes of perception. She also

12 Postmodem Feminist Writers
indulges in revision of traditional fictional genres by drawing
attention . to the cultural myths they embody and to the
multip.le inherited scripts through which OUT perceptions of
ourselves and the world are structured. Her works are a Re-
vision in the sense that she invokes traditional narratives of
8 culture and then reinterprets them from a new perspective
which offers a critique of the value structures and power
relations (the 'ideological implications) coded into texts. As
early as 1976 Atwood was explaining the relation between
her poetry and popular art in such revisionist terms: "In
Power Politics I was usingmyths such as Bluebeard, Dracula,
and horror comic material to project certain images of men
and women, and to examine them" (Conversations 42).
Atwood challenges the borders between fiction aod real
life and also between genres in many of her novels. Carol
Ann Howells speaks of Atwood's technique in the following
Obviously revisionist perspectives have narrative consequences
oot only for narrators but aiM for readera, turning our &.ttentioo
towards prooesses of deconstruction and reconstruction while
emphasizing the provisionality of any narrative structure.
Atwood's novels are characterized by their refusals to invoke
any final s uthority as their open endings resist conclusiveness,
offering instead hesitation, absence 01' silence while hovering
on the verge of new poesibilities. Their indeterminacy is a
challenge to read,ers, for one of the problema we have to confront
is how to find a critical language to describe Atwood's
'borderline fiction' with ita ironic mixture of realism and
fantasy, fictive artifice and moral engagement. (to)
Atwood was born in Ottawa, Canada. in 1939. Her
childhood was spent in the forests and small settlement of
Northern Ontario and Quebec with her parents and younger
brother since her father was a field entomologist. Atwood
went to School when her family .settled in Toronto and took
an Arts degree with honours in English at Victoria College,
University of Toronto. She went on a graduate fellowship to
Radcliff College, Harvard where she studied Victorian and
American Literature and began her Ph.D Thesis on 'The
English Metaphysical Romance'. During the 1970's Atwood
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Postmodernism in the Canadian Context: .. . 13
was extremely productive, publishing three novels, a book
of short stories, five books of poetry, a book of literary
criticism and a children's book. In 1969 she published her
first novel The EdibJe Woman which, according to The Times
critic in London, '"'stuck out above the rest like a sugar plum
fairy on top of it Christmas cake.-
It was really with the double production in 1972 of her
second novel Surfacing and her literary history Survival. A
Thematic Guide to Canadian Literature that she made her
first serious claim for critical attention. Her third novel Lady
Oracle (1976) marked the shift to Atwood's decisive
identification as a novelist and it was welcomed in Newsweek
as the kind of novel that makes reviewers send out fresh
green sprouts; Life Before Man published in 1979 received
enthusiaStic reviews in USA and Britain. In Canada Atwood
was becoming a prominent figure in cultural politics. Her
output as novelist, poet, critic and essayist has been
prodigious, often at the rate of more than one book per year;
in 1981 7hJe Stories (poems) and Bodily Harm (novel); in
1982 a collection of prose poems; Cat's Eye (novel); in 1993
The Robber Bride (novel) ete. I intend to trace her use of
poStmodem-strategies in each of her novels and it would be
treated in a chronological manner. Her novels might best be
characterized as 'experiments' always testing the limits of
theory and exceeding ideological definitions.
The novel The Edible Woman was published when the
women's liberation was becoming a political issue. It was a
time when Betty Friedan published her polemical treatise
The Feminine M,YBtique (1962) which provides a powerful
lens through which her ftrSt "novel may be read. The Dovel is
Atwood's imaginative response cast as comic social satire in
vividly metaphorical language. Atwood effectively makes use
of fantasy while delineating the predicament of a young
woman who rebels against her femi.nine destiny. It exploits
the power of laughter to reveal the absurdities within social
conventions. Parody is used very effectively as a postmodern
device in order to make the novel subversive. As highlighted
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14 Postmodern Feminist Write1'8
in the Introduction Parody is one of the most effective
postmodem strategies. A traditional comedy of manners has
for its theme marriage and in The Edible Woman Atwood
re-visioDs the traditional comedy in order to underscore and
satirically expose women's continuing conditions of
entrapment within their own bodies and within social myths.
Under a comic mask, Atwood explores the relation between
consumerism and the feminine mystique where one young
woman's resistance to consuming and to being consumed
hints at 8 wider condition of social malaise which the new
feminist movement was just beginning to address.
The story line of. The Edible Woman is deceptively
simple but Atwood bas made it very complex by using Parody
effectively. It is a 1960's story of a woman's identity crisis-
a woman who is pressurized by societal expectations to such
an extent that she starts developing an eating disorder. The
protagonist, Marian MacAlpin, is a young graduate in her
with an independent income. She lives in '!bronto
and shares an apartment with another woman. Ainsley
Tewce. Marian also has a boy friend to whom she becomes
engaged. He is Peter Wollander, an ambitious young lawYer
with a passionate interest in guns and cameras. On the
surface she would seem to be content with her destiny -
with her job in the marketing firm and then her forthcoming
marriage. The novel is divided into three parts - Pait I
narrated in the first person. P art II in third person and Part
III in the first person again. By the end of Part I, Marian
becomes a helplessly dependent woman, throws away her
university textbooks and prepares to think about a 'well
organized marriage'. Gradually. Marian feels threatened by
childbearing and gets alienated from her body. She develops
a horror of the body and fears marriage, maternity or the
office pension plan. She wants none of these futures and her
inward rebellion to feminity results in self-division which
gets manifested in her inability to eat. The third section with
its energetic return to a first person narrative tidies up the
plot when Marian, following ber own line of metaphorical
thinking, discovers a way to solve what for her is an

Postmodernism in the Canadian Context: ... 15
ontological problem. The test is of course the cake which
she bakes and then ices in the shape of a woman. However,
when offered the cake, Peter flees and seeks the arms of
Lucy, one of Marian's office friends. She also offers the cake
to Duncan, the graduate student in English who helps her
to eat it all up. Eating the cake is an act of celebration which
marks the decisive moment of Marian's recovery from a
hysterical illness and her return to the social order.
It is imperative to underscore how effectively Atwood
offers parodic images of traditional seduction plot and the
maternal principle. As a woman writer, Atwood has always
been intensely aware of the significance of representations
of the female body both in terms of a woman's self definition
and as a fantasy object. In Conversations she speaks
The body as a concept. has always been a concern of mine. It's
there in Surfacing as well. I think that people very much
experience themselves through their bodies and through
concepts of the body which get applied to their own bodies,
which they pick up from their culture and apply to their own.
It's also my concern in Lady Orade and it's even there in The
Edible Woman. (Conversations 187)
Inkeeping with her concern for the female body, Atwood
refers to female biological processes 1ike pregnancy,
childbirth and menstruation but with a measure of comic
detachment. Sexually mature female bodies are presented
as grotesque and Marian looks at her friend Clara's pregnant
body and the fat ageing bodies of her fellow office workers
with distaste and repulsion. Not only does Marian feel
threatened by child bearing bl1t she also feels alienated from
her body in other ways as weH. At the office Christmas party,
surrounded by the fat and ageing bodies of her colleagues,
Marian understands with sh.ock that she too shares the
mysterious female condition.
What peculiar creatures they were; and the continual flux
between the outside and the inside, taking things in, giving
them out, chewing, words, potato chips, burps, gTease, hair,
babies, milk, excrement, cookies, vomit, cofTee, tomato, juice,
blood, tea, sweat, liquor, tears and garbage .. . At some time she
would be - or no, already she was like that too. She was one of
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16 Postmodern Feminist Writen
them, her body the Bame, identical, merged with that other
flesh that choked the air in the flowered room with ita sweet
organic scent; sbe felt suffocated by this thick Sarga.&o sea of
feminil.y. ( WomaD 167)
While Marian bates women's biological destiny. her two
Clara and Ainsley celebrate it thereby parodying
motherhood. Clara, who is pregnant, appears to Marian as
a "boa-constrictor that has swallowed a water melon"
(Woman 31). Clara's attitude to motherhood is unmatemal;
for example, Clara's metaphors for her children included
"barnacles encrusting a ship limpets clinging to a rock"
(Woman 36). On the other hand. Ainsley an
intellectual approach to maternity as she embarks on it as a
social project with the aim of becoming a single parent. Her
programme is entirely ideological and in a curious way
academic and theoretical .. 'Every woman should have at
least one baby'. Sbe sounded like a voice on the radio saying
that every woman should have at least one electric hair-
dyer. It's even more important than eeL It fulfils your deepest
femininity" (Woman 41).
Atwood also parodies traditional seduction plot
exposing the dynamics of the sexual game in all its duplicity.
In The Edible Woman instead of a man pursuiDg a woman,
a woman pursues a man. Ainsley pursues a notorious
womanizer Leonard Slank and both pose to be what they
are not. Ainsley poses as an innoCent woman while Leonard.
poses as a world - weary When she reveals
that she is pregnant, Slank collapses in horror. Here. too,
there is a comic deconstruction of stereotypes because it is a
man who is the casualty in this battle between the sexes
and not a woman.
The party which Marian and Peter host as an engaged
couple represents the climax of Atwood's 'anti-comedy!
I think in your standard eighteenth century comedy JOO have
a young couple who is faced with difficulty in the form of
somebody who embodies the rwtrietive fon:ee or eociety IUld
they trick or overcome this difficulty and end up getting
married. The same thing h.appena in fte Bdible Wamaa GaJpt

Postmodernism in the Canadian Context: ... 17
the wrong person gets married ... The comedy solution would
be a tragic solution for Marian. (Conservations 10)
Atwood a)so presents a parody of lovemaking while
describing the brief liaison between Marian and Duncan, a
graduate student in English. The liaison begins as a parody
with Duncan's complaint that there is "altogether too much
flesh around here" but it ends with him stroking her 8S his
face nudges into ber flesh "like the muzzle of an animal,
curious and only slightly friendly" (Woman 254). In fact,
Duncan and his two other male graduate friends, Trevor and
Fish, form. 8 subversive trio. Atwood reverses the traditional
gender roles by making these two men dedicated to the
domestic arts of washing and ironing, cooking and parenting.
The male protagonists in the novel speak about femininity
from their own perspective revealing a surprisingly high level
of masculine anxiety about this topic.
Atwood experiments with split subjectivity, a prominent
characteristic of postmodem art. Marian loses any sense of
herself as a unified subject and begins to hallucinate her
emotional conflict in images of bodily dissolution and
fragmentation. She believes that her body is "coming apart
layer by layer like a piece of cardboard in a gutter puddle-
( WOIDan 218). She even fantasises about her future married
bliss with herself aPsent. The resolution of the novel presents
the three women better than the men. Marian is independent
since Peter has left her; Siank has had a nervous breakdown
and is cared for by Clara like another of her numerous
ch.ildren, while Ainsley has found a new father figure for
her unborn child and has fulfilled ber biological mission.
The final action of Marian who plunges "ber fork into
the carcase, [the cake], neatly severing the body from the
head- (Women 273) is 8 parody of vampire slaying with the
implication that the feminine image has been draining
Marian's lifeblood but will have the power to do 80 no more.
Speaking of the resolution in the novel, Carol Ann Howells
says that
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18 Postmodern Feminist Wn"ters
The domestic scenario raises ODe last point which relates to
the important question of female creativity. Marian haa chosen
to make her protest through a traditionally feminine mode
which bypasses language ... She thinks that she bad
accomplished bel' purpose though, as any reader in the 1990's
would note, none of the three young women - Marian, Ainsley
nor Clara - has escaped from their culturally defined gender
roles; they are still , producing cakes and babies. This leaves
unresolved the issue of women' s attempts to establish
themselves 8S independent speaking subjects working
creatively through writing or painting, a topic to which Atwood
will return in Surfacing, Lady Oracle and Cat's Eye. (17)
Her next novel Surfacing (1970) is one step ahead of
The Edible Woman because Atwood underscores the
PostmodernlPoststructurallgendered quest for a new
language; a split female self and a search for a unified self
and also hints at blurring borders between realism and
fantasy as the language shifts between realistic description
and metaphors of psychological space. The novel begins like
a detective story where the unmarried narrator goes back
to the place of her childhood in the Quebec bush to search
for her lost father who, as we later learn, has already
drowned in the lake while looking for Indian rock paintings.
Gradually she discovers that what she is really searching
for is her own past. She is looking for those lost bits of herself
buried in her repressed memories, and it is only in the
wilderness that she finds a way to heal the split within her
own psyche, thereby restoring her emotional and spiritual
health. The stor y traces the multilayered process of
rehabilitation by which a dislocated and damaged woman
manages to come to tenns with her past, while recognizing
that the past cannot ever to retrieved though it may be
partially reconstructed through memory and fantasy.
Even at the beginning of the journey, the protagonist
recognizes that she has experienced a death. Like the three
friends, Anna, David and Joe, who accompany her, she is
completely cut off from her past. This results in a splitting
of the self. Though a split self is hinted at in The Edible
Woman, Atwood explores the concept of a split female self
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Postmodemism in the Canadian Context: ... 19
more elaborately in Surfacing. This is done through the
device of the Mirror which is also a technique used by 'lbni
Morrison to point out the split within her female
protagonists. The mirror becomes a symbol of the split self
and one's own reflection functions like a kind of negative
doppelganger. Presumably the mirror provides a distorted
image of the self, robbing one of an identity. The camera is
another device which Atwood sees as revealing the split self
or doppelganger. Cameras, like mirrors, according to
Atwood's protagonist, can also steal the soul.
Her most crucial discovery occurs when the protagonist
dives down the lake looking for the Indian rock paintings
recorded in her father's drawings. She does not find them;
instead sbe sees a strange blurred image which mayor may
not be her father 's drowned body, but for her it is the
repressed memory of her aborted child. Fragments of memory
of the abortion itself - often described in terms of amputation,
cutting, splitting - causes such pain that she cannot accept
their reality. In order to become an autonomous, completed
self, however, the protagonist must heal yet another kind of
split- that between 'good' and 'evil'. Sbe must come to terms
with herself as perpetrator as well as victim. As a result,
she is stil1 divided, unable to achieve any resolution of such
opposites as life and death , creation and destruction.
Marriage, to her, is more a surrender than a commitment.
It is, for the woman, total immersion in the male world and
thus a further di vision of the female self. Such procedures
as refusing to feel and to relate to other people, however,
limit and divide the self. The protagonist longs for the ability
. to fee1. Coincidental with the inability to fee l is the
protagonist's inability to communicate. Some of the most
interesting questions the novel raises are arguably linguistic
ones and Atwood gives a hint of what these might be in an
interview in 1986. "How do we know 'reality'? How do you
encounter the piece of granite? How do you know it directly?
Is there such a thing as knowing it directly without
language?" (Conversations 209). Initially. the n ~ r r a t o r has
a deep distrust of words, seeing them as instruments of
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20 Postmodern Feminist Writers
deception and domination rather than of communication. As
a woman, she feel s 'trapped in a language that wasn't mine"
(Surfacingl06), placed in the position of victim in male power
games of love and war. So her quest for self-rehabitation is
8 J80 a quest to find her own 'dialect' amidst all the languages
available to her. In order to ever communicate again, the
protagonist thinks t hat she must fmd a language of her own.
The novel moves to the level of fantasy in the series of
visions the protagonist To be 'reborn', just to be born,
the protagonist must have a 'gift from both father and
mother. She must recognize that she is a product of both the
male and female principles. She must understand her
parentage and her origins before she can understand herself.
The father represents the best of the male principle - logic
without destruction. The mother's legacy is the revelation
of a drawing from the protagonist's childhood of a woman
"with a round moon stomach: the baby was sitting up inside
gazing out". The protagonist interprets the message of the
drawing as an instruction; in order to be alive and whoJe
she must resurrect that part of herself which she has killed
- the aborted fetus and the fertility aspect of the female
principle. which it represents. The protagonist has united
the two halves of herself, found her parentage; reconciled
the male and female principles within the self. She seeks
out her lover Joe and the conception itself is a religious act.
It is a psychological birth also, a healing of the divided self.
The protagonist also has a series of wilderness encounters
through which she undergoes a visionary education. Having
heard the other language of the wilderness, she has also
realized that words are a human necessity, for to be alienated
from words is to be alienated from one's fellow human beings.
Carol Ann Howells, commenting on the technique and the
title, says that
The narrator has surfaced through patriarchal la nguage with
its definitions of 'woman" and 'victim' and she has found an
appropriate form far her own story of survival within a quest
narrative that mixes realism and fantasy. Yet this is a quest
which is markedly incomplete and it is worth turning back now

Postmodernism in the Canadian Context: ... 21
to examine the significance of the novel's title. ' Surfacing' is a
gerund (a noun made out of a verb), indicating process and
activity rather than a completed action. Surfacing charts a
change in the narrator's subjective perceptions of reality. as she
shif\.s from a position of alienation and victimhood to a new
sense of the vital relationship between herself as human and
the land which she inhabits, though it also signals a further
stage which she has to face in coming to terms with human
beings in the modern world. That is literally her next step
forward. (32)
Lady Orade, Atwood's third novel is about the eating
woman. It is an uneasy mixture of Gothic parody and a
comedy of manners. It is also an escape novel which makes
effective use of fantasy. A Gothic novel is one that revolves
round fear and it has a specific collection of motifs and
themes. There is the phenomenon of ghosts, transgressing
boundaries between life and death while on the psychological
level there is the erosion of boundaries between the self and
the monstrous other. The protagonist Joan Foster narrates
the story of hAr life. While doing so, her burts and rage
appear to be funny but behind the comedy is
hidden a painful voice. Again, Atwood enjoins the readers to
become accomplices to Joan's exhibitionistic exploits. She
makes use of mirrors in an attempt to expose the
fantasies of Joan. Borders between realism and fantasy are
blurred from the beginning as Joan offers us multiple
narratives figuring and refiguring herself through different
narrative conventions. There are many stories within stories.
There is the story of Joan's real life in the present set in
Italy where she had escaped after her fake suicide in Toronto,
Canada. Within this story is her private memory narrative
of a traumatic childhood centering on her relationship with
her neurotic mother, of an adolescence when she escapes to
London and becomes a writer of popular Gothics, her
marriage to a Canadian, her celebrity as a poet, to be followed
by a threat of blackmail and her second escape from Canada
to Italy. Within this narrative are snippets from Joan's Gothic
romances which provide more glamorous and dangerous
plots than everyday life.

22 Postmodern Feminist Wn'ters
Joan, as a result oCher mother's persecution and obesity,
begins to develop persecutory fears which she fictionalizes
in her Gothic novels and that plague her 88 an adult in her
dreams and real life. Like her Gothic heroines, she feels
vulnerable and hunted down by malevolent pursuers. She
takes refuge in fat lady fantasies, which in turn, give birth
to her identity as the escape artist who fears exposure and
thus compulsively assumes a series of identities, each
identity becoming a new trap. Joan's obesity is a visible
signifier oCher thwarted and angry grandiosity and'her inner
defectiveness. She starts eating with stubbornness in order
to defy her mother. She envisions herself as a fat lady in a
pink ballerina costume walking the high wire, proceeding
inch by inch across Canada, applauded by the people. This
fantasy depicts Joan's a nxie ties about he r fragile self-
stability which is expressed as the fear of falling.
Atwood, it is clear, highlights Joan's split self and crises
of subjectivity through the fantasies she develops. In other
words, Fantasy is used as a means to depict Joan's split
consciousness. After Joan has stripped a way most of her
protective covering offat, the mother-daughter battle enters
a new phase and Joan leaves home, detennined to sever her
connection with her mother and to discard her past . She
begins her life-long habit of compulsive lying and story telling
as she invents, first for her lover Paul and later for Arthur
(her husband) and her adoring public, a "more agreeable"
personal history. She imagines the men in her life to be
romantic figures populating her Gothic novels. When she
meets Paul, the Polish Count, and listens to his story, she
thinks she has met a li ar as herself. Arthur seems a
melancholy fi ghter and the Royal Porcupine (another of
Joan's fantasy lovers) appears to be like Lord Byron. What
Joan seeks from the men of her life is the mirroring attention
she never got from her mother hut the men she loves are
also objects of fear. She splits men into dual identities: the
apparently good man is alurking menace, a hidden pervert
and a secret killer. Men are an embodiment of Joan's split
good/bad mother and her own hidden energies and killing
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Postmodernism in the Canadian Context; ... 23
rage. Joan, as a result, perpetually attempts a series of
identities and becomes a writer of Gothic novels. In her work-
in-progress Stalked by Love, Joan fictionalizes her
contrasting selves. Charlotte represents her socially
complaint, conventional female self (the role that she
assumes with Paul and Arthur) while the possessive, angry,
powerful Felicia embodies her camouflaged grandiosity.
Publicly, Joan plays the role of Arthur's self-effacing, inept,
always apologizing wife; in ,secret, she becomes Louisa
Delacourt, writer of Gothic novels.
The novel Stalked by Love progresses according to the
set formula but suddenly it swings out of control. Joan wants
her heroine Charlotte to go into the maze but, much to her
surprise, the plot does not conform to stereotype. It is the
villainess Felicia who enters the maze. There is a further
slippage of conventions in the scenario of the plot so that
Joan's book begins to look less like a Gothic romance. At the
maze's center, Joan - Felicia encounters her mirror selves.
There she fmds the fat lady, her defective self; she also finds
an embodiment of her identity as Louisa Delacourt, the
middle-aged writer of Gothic novels; Joan, the self-effacing
wife and Joan the powerful poet cult figure. She also discovers
yet another alter-ego, Redmond who transforms into the men
in her life.
The most effective use of mirror symbolism is seen when
Joan experiments with a u t o m a t i ~ writing. Sitting in the dark
in front of her triple mirror she imagines herself journeying
into the world of the mirror. The most significant thing about
an Oracle is that, it is a voice which comes out of a woman's
body and is associated with hidden dangerous knowledge
but that it is not her own voice. It is the Lady Oracle in Joan
that compels her to endlessly construct herself, each new
creation ultimately becoming a Dew trap. When Joan
publishes her Lady Oracle poems and consequently becomes
a cult figure, this only deepens the cracks in her fractured
self. When all the plots of Joan's life converge, her current
lover, the Royal Porcupine, wants her to marry him; Paul,
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24 Postmodern Feminist Writers
her former lover, traces her and wants her back; a blackmailer
hounds her; she imagines that Arthur is the persecutor
sending her death threats. Hence, Joan manages, therefore,
her second escape from Canada to Italy. Her faked suicide is
a signifier oCher desire to live , to rescue and repair her self.
'Ib the Italian village women, the resurrected Joan becomes
an object affear. As the nove) ends, Joan determines to stop
writing Gothic novels and to turn, instead, to science fiction,
a process she has already begun in her comic, self-parodic
depiction of beTa elf as a science fiction mODster.
The effectiveness of language is also seen when Joan
becomes a wieJder of words. She obliterates the mother who
attempted to annihilate ber. Achieving verbal mastery over
the men in her life who attempted to master her, Joan
secret1y attacks her perceived attackers and becomes a
hidden menace to those who menace her. She acts this out
in the novel's final scene when she assaults the reporter.
Carol Ann Howells speaks of the ending in the following
The ending is deliberately bathetic, for the man who Joan fears
has come for her life has in fact come for her life story. He is a
reporter and Joan tells him her story, which we realise is the
novel we have just been reading ... like Jane Austen Atwood
gives her plot a mischievous twist at the end: Joan revea1s tbat .
sbe has not yet returned to Toronto but that she is still in Rome
looking after the man whom she knocked on tbe head, ' I've
begun to feel that he's the only person who knows anything
about me'. Like the surface on the edge of the wilderness about
to step forward, this is a suspension bridge ending. (76)
In the next novel Life BefOre Man, Atwood subtly makes
use of science fiction fantasy in a seemingly realistic novel
thereby shifting between realism and fantasy. As in Lady
Oracle, Atwood underscores the poignancy of a young
woman's imagination who secures power by indulging in
Fantasy may be thought of as a kind of imaginative
indulgence which disdams the lofty idealism associated with
Coleridge's definition of the imagination. Fantasy is closer
j m a t e r ~
Postmodemism in the Canadian Context: ... 25
to Coleridge's Fancy in that it is concerned with concepts,
principles or ideals. Rosemary Jackson in her book Fantasy.
The Literature of Subversion (1981) draws attention to a
tradition offantasy writing in English Literature which goes
back as far as the Gothic novelists and further into fairytale
and folklore. Fantasy is seen to be subversive because it
seeks an alternative kind of reality.
Postmodernist Fantasy writing is one which is centred
on uncertainty of perception and of meaning; it is a literature
which seeks solutions knowing that solutions are not possible
and it is therefore a literature of frustrated desires; it is a
polemical literature which engages in a kind ofunderground
resistance; it is a confessional kind of literature in which
the dimly discerned goal seems to be self-revelation; it is a
}j terature which sets out to deliberately subvert any easy
notion of objective reality and is intent on holding reality up
to constant and unremitting interrogation. Jackson
distinguishes fantasy proper from fairy tale on the grounds
that fairytale creates a world which is safely removed from
the 'real' world, and so does not directly threaten the real
world, whereas fantasy is constantly challenging our notion
of the real world. She further distinguishes fantasy from
supernatural writings in that most of the latter presuppose
some kind of principle, plan or design whereas fantasy is
without principle or design.
Ljfe Before Man fit s s quarely into thi s mode of
pos tmodernist fantasy. [t is a novel which is at once
experimental , interrogative, confessional , polemical and
irrationally subjective. The reality of character as a separate
discrete entity is also called into question. The narrative
hovers uncert ai nl y between realism and fant asy
interrogating the ordinary notions of reality and logic. The
novel has a triangular plot where a wife takes a lover and
later the lover commits suicide, the marriage breaks up, and
the husband goes to li ve with another woman. The novel
appears like a slippery text because to the characters words
become the means of slipping away from the restrictions of
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26 Postmodem Feminist Writers
real life. The novel, thus, can be considered, like Atwood's
other novels, as an experiment in language. The novel uses
discourses 8S intertext - in particular Charles Darwin's On
the Origin of Species (1859) and The Descent of Man (1871).
The setting of the novel is the Royal Ontario Museum. in
Toronto where both the female protagonists work - Lesje,
the paleontologist and Elizabeth who is in charge of Special
Projects and Publicity. Against the background of prehistory
and the extinction of species, there are three multiple stories
from three different points of view.
The crucial incident that triggers the plot is the suicide
of Chris Beecham, Elizabeth's lover, one week before the
narrative action begins. For the first few days there is a
tight pattern of triple voices peT day but later, after the third
day, the rigid structure breaks down with variations in the
recurrence of voices and irregular time gaps as relationships
between characters shift and memories of the past occupy
relatively more narrative space. The novel spans a period of
two years by the end of which the domestic plots have
fragmented and reformed into different patterns.
Elizabeth is seen caught in the space between the real
and the imaginary since for her real time has ceased to exist
after the suicide of her lover Chris. There is also a shift from
first person monologue to third person narration. This
technique underscores the splitting of spatial and temporal
dimensions within consciousness. The space that she seems
to inhabit is the fantasy space of non-meaning and absence.
She imagines an abyss into which she resists falling herself
though sucked towards it by the shock of Chris's suicide.
Nate, her husband, is shut out from Elizabeth's life and his
mind is also fixed on Chris's death. This subjective position
is erratic, switching between jobs as he moves from his work
in Legal Aid at a Toronto lawyer's office to become a toy
maker and then back to his firm again. He tries to reinvent
himself as he occupies multiple identities as husband, father,
lover, son etc. He remains a resisting subject always open to
new possibilities. His thoughts wander to Lesje whose image
floats like a new romance in his mind.
j m a t e r ~
Postmodernism in the Canadian Context: ... 27
Lesje feels at home in fantasies which are escapist since
such visions open up spaces where she feels at home while
the realistic world does not giye her the satisfaction she
desires. A woman of multicultural upbringing - Ukranian,
Jewish and Canadian - she does not find solace anywhere.
Her scientific interest makes her take active interest in the
Royal Ontario Museum. She has always dreamed of making
the dinosaurs live. Since her relationship with men is
unrewarding, her imagined territory or, in other words, her
dinosaur scenario, provides the comfort she desires. Being
an escape artist, like Joan Forster in Lady Oracle, she flies
to the wilderness when discomfited in social life. It is to
sustain her self that she runs through the
upper Jurassic
out of her living room wearing her Adidas and navyblue
sweatshirt. When she becomes pregnant with Nate's Child,
her perspective on life changes and also her perspective on
history. As Howells puts it, her fantasy far from being
merely escapist or recreational, is a continuous reminder of the
origins of human species and of the possibility of savagery
latent within the conventions of civilized life. Within the
evolutionary story there is as much evidence of instability and
regression as there is of progress, so that Lesje's narrative with
its juxtaposition 'of prehistory and t.he present might be read
8 S illustrative of a continuity of irrationality and violence
rather t.han of the moral evolution of the human race. (101)
Elizabeth, however, stands alone but survives the
danger of being sucked into the black vacuum. She gains
confidence as she stands watching a picture.
The pict.ure is framed and glassed. Behind the glass, bright.
green leaves spread wit.h the hannonious a symmetry of a
Chinese floral rug; purple fruit.s glow among them. Three
women, two with baskets, are picking. Their teeth shine within
their smiles; their checks are plum and rosy as a doll 's.
(Man 315)
Elizabeth returns to everyday life and when the novel
closes "we find an optimistic Elizabeth who sees life in a
positive manner. Howell speaks of Elizabeth's story as
""resistant to threats of closure just as it resists the grand
narratives of science with their patterns of determinism
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28 Postmodern Feminist Writers
based on na tural law" (l03). The novel has mu1tivoices and
deserves to be called a Postmodern text in its questioning of
Grand narratives like science. Even
the Royal Ontario Museum has a double existence within the
contiguous discourses of realism and of fantasy, a solid edifice
which may at any moment disappear into scenarios of Jurassic
swamps or idealized Chinese landscapes. Such slippages open
the way out of the Museum and beyond the deterministic
narratives of prehistory contained there so that we may hear
the heterogeneous voices of human survivors in the prescnt -
in 'mid-hi story' 8 S Atwood described it - as the 'before' of the
tit.le reverses its direction to point not backwards to the distant
past hut forwards to the futurc. (Howells 104)
Bodily Harm is another version of Atwoodian Gothic
full of sinister games as Judith McCombs says in her essay
on Atwood's poetic sequences at the beginning of the 1980's.
"The Gothic terror and the Gothic horror, so divided and
redoubled, take place in a hall of mirrors, where reality is
constantly evaded and yet reflected, distorted and yet
(39). Rennie is not able to decipher what goes on
inside and outside her head as her narrative shifts from one
crisis to another.
A highly subjective narrative, the novel presents the
plight of Rennie who is a woman divided against herself.
The plot of the novel is not complicated in itself, although
some effort must be expended in order to reconstruct the
precise chronology of events from the intricate structure of
the work. The protagonist Rennie (Renata) Wilford is a
journalist living in Toronto with an advertising designer
named Jake. She is diagnosed as having cancer and
undergoes a partial mastectomy which is clinically
successful, although she continues to be haunted by the fear
of recurrence. She falls in love with Daniel, her physician,
but although he partially reciprocates her feelings the affair
is more a source of frustration than of fulfillment, and in
the meantime the relationship with Jake comes to an end.
Shortly afterwards, Rennie learns that somebody has broken
into her home in her absence and before being frightened
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Postmodemism in the Canadian Context: ... 29
away by the police has been waiting faT her "as if he was an
intimate". The intruder has left a rope coiled on the bed and
the police warn Rennie that he will probably return. This
sinister incident prompts Rennie's decision to travel to the
Caribbean and write a piece about the island of St.Antoine.
Among the-people she encounters here are Paul, an American
involved in contraband activities and his former mistress
Lora who exploits Rennie to smuggle weapons into the
country on Paul's behalf. Despite herself, Rennie becomes
embroiled in the turmoil of a local election, a political
assassination and an aborted uprising, and together with
Lora is arrested and confined to a subterranean cell in an
old fort. Here she is forced to witness various scenes of
brutality, culminating in the sadistic beating of Lora by the
prison guards. The novel ends with the anticipation of
Rennie's release through the interVention of Canadian
diplomatic authorities, although there is some uncertainty
as to whether this will in fact take place or is only a hopeful
fantasy on her part. .
Rennie is described as being almost neurotically
disengaged. She is a woman living alone at the end of an
affair and under threat, for her private space has been
invaded by a 'faceless stranger' and the coiled rope on the
bed would seem to signify the possibility of a malevolent
sexual attack. This event results in breakdown of Rennie's
image of herself. Much of Rennie's attitude to life is the direct
legacy afher upbringing in the small town of Griswold where
she was brought up by her lonely mother and grandmother.
One of Rennie's earliest recollections is of her grandmother
in Grisw.old prying her hands away finger by finger in
punishment for some unremembered transgression. This
emblematic episode of the severing of hand contact assumes
its place in an elaborate pattern of images constructed
around hands. The hands represent both vehicles of human
contact and also instruments of manipulation and
Rennie is first the victim of her own body's betrayal
and the diagnosis of breast cancer and her own mastectomy
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is the central trauma oCher life. The disease begins to restore
in the most brutal way possible the severed contact between
"surface'" and "depths", between the individual and her
"roots", between Rennie and the body in which she has upto
then merely been a tenant. She no longer sees her body as a
unified whole but as something being undermined from
within as the blood cells 'whisper and divide in darkness"
(Man 100). The fear of splitting open and of collapsing
boundaries, between inside and outside haunt and trouble
Rennie's psyche to a great extent. It is thus symbolically
appropriate that the operation through which Daniel
saves Rennie's life and at the same time initiates the process
by which she awakens to an understanding oCher own real
nature should be described in terms of a rebirth. When she
recovers from the anaesthetic after her operation, her hand
is being held by Daniel, which is seen as loving hands
responsible for resuming her from death. Daniel's hands are
juxtaposed with her grandmother's lost hands or the
mir.aculous healing hands of the old Caribbean woman or
even with the hand of the mute beggar wishing her luck.
She becomes a woman divided against herself, obsessed with .
loss and damage and this sense of her own body affects her
relationships with men in the novel. Her evolving view as to
the relative importance of surfaces and depths reveals itself
in her relation with two men who represent real or potential
aspects of herself - her companion Jake and her physician
Daniel. Jake, an adept in the field of advertising inhabits
the plane of disembodied appearances alone, manipulating
images which bear no relation to the world of substance.
Prior to her illness, Rennie has resembled Jake in evaluating
attitudes and beliefs not according to their intrinsic validity
but in terms of whether they are fashionable or not. After
her illness Rennie becomes obsessed with depths.
Daniel , by contrast, lives and works at the level of
depths rather than surfaces. Unlike Jake and Rennie, Daniel
is virtually unconscious of himself, indifferent to his own
surface or public image. She tries to trick him into an affair
but is unsuccessful in endeavour. Her incapacity to relate

P08tmodBrnism in the Csnadisn Context: ... 31
to Daniel on his own terms indicates her continuing failure
to come to grips with the depths at which he both literally
and figuratively operates.
Her decision to travel to St.Antoine is explained in tenns
of a search for anonymity. Paul, the American, whom she
meets in the Caribbean, remains an enigma. It is Paul who
serves as the agency whereby Rennie is at last restored to
her own body. At first she is afraid that the scar left by her
operation will repel him as it has Jake but these fears are
dispelled when she perceives his actual reaction. The
lovemaking scene implicates Rennie's final coming to terms
with her physical self.
The plot with Paul becomes very tangled and it is
through her affair with him that Rennie finds herself
involved in the revolutionary coup and thrown into prison.
Once again the process of discovery expresses itself
symbolically as a journey of descent, assuming the form of
Rennie's imprisonment in a cell on the charge of "suspicion".
Rennie is back in her Gothic chamber of horrors enclosed
within her own subjective space like a heroine in one of Ann
Radcliff's novels, "who does not gaze outward for clues
capable of solving the mysteries of her situation, but inward,
to the topography of dreams, to the pleasurably horrifying
spectral" (Mycak 471). In the cell she is forced to witness
the brutal bashing up of her friend Lora and through the
window the naked exercise of political power in the prison
yard. Atwood focuses on the vulnerability of human bodies,
male or female and when Rennie watches the events in the
prison yard the discourses of pornography and PQwer politics
are fused together. "It's indecent, its not done with ketchup,
nothing is inconceivable here, no rats in the vagina but only
because they haven't thought of it yet ... She's afraid of men
and it's simple, it's rational, she's afraid of men because men
are frightening" (Man 290).
The novel ends with a paradoxical statement that "She
will never be rescued. She has already been rescued. She is
not exempt. Instead she is lucky" (Man 300). As Howells
points out
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32 Eostmodern Feminist Writers
Renni e's narrative comes from tha t borderline territory between
fantasy and rea lity 8S she sits in the prisun cell beside t he
brutal ly battered body of a dead woman, realizing finally that
she is powerless and alone. Spoken from that interi or s pace,
her narrative is a r econstruction and a reinterpretation 8S sbe
laboriously tries to fit together the fragments of ber life, seeking
connection across t.he facts of Lora's damaged body and her own
mastectomy, as between the overt violence which she has not
seen in Toronto but which she knows is there. (124)
The book, undoubtedly. works on the post modern
premise of subverting those illusory categories that distance
the perceiver from the world and from herself-the contrast
between depths and surfaces, mind and body, 'r and 'thou'.
One can confront the Teal self that lurks within and outside
t he self only through a process of radical subversion, Atwood
seems to be saying through her novel Bodily Harm.
As a postmodern feminist novel, The Handmaid's Tale
(1985) is concerned explicitly with dismantling patriarchal
systems that oppress women. In an interview given in 1985,
several months before the appearance of The Handmaid's
Tale Atwood said. "The political to me is a part of life. It's
part of everybody's life" (96). What the writer means by
political here is "how people relate to a powerstructure and
vice versa. And this is really all we mean by it. We may
mean also some idea of participating in the structure or
changing it. But the first thing we mean is how is this
individual in society? How so the forces of society interact
with this person" (Interview :1985, 100).
At the thematic level, the novel carries patriarchal
power to its logical and nightmarish extreme and shows bow
women live .in such a situation and create female space for
themselves through various strategies. Set in 2195 in
Cambridge, Massachusetts, which is the center of the
Republic of Gilead, the novel is a poignant tale that presents
a futuristic, totalitarian society where women are separated
into rigid, subservient roles as wives, workers, whores and
where the Bible becomes a patriarchal narrative which uses
religion for subjugating women. Gilead is a highly alienating
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Postmodernism in the Canadian Context: ... 33
structure of society, especially for women. Women are
separated according to t heir function as Wives, Marthas
(h ou se keepers), Handma ids (Child-bear er s), Aunts
(di sciplinarian) Je zebel s ( pros titutes), and kept in
segregation. There is constant invigilation to prevent tbe
forging of relationships among women. Tbe narrator's story
is, on one level, a subversive act, because of the time in which
she lived. She lives in a dystopian time when there is
patriarchal state domination of information. The narrator
keeps a secret of her own name apart from the patronymic
Offred' . For Offred, narrating her own story validates
existence and makes ber exist. The narration is made ofT
and on; not chronologicaUy, into a recording machine and
preserved in tapes. The gaps between t he stories told in black
print can, despite tbeir apparent blankness, be read in a
number of ways. They are not necessarily invisible to the
reading eye. Anot her way of r eading the white spaces is to
view them as being essential to the black print. The black
print never acknowledge's dependence on the white spaces
with which it is discontinuous and thereby made perceptible.
The Handmaid is obliged to occupy the white space and to
live as usual.
The Republic of Gilead uses The Bible as authority for
their laws. The polygamy of the Old Testament provides them
with the sanction of Handmaids. In order to counter the birth
rate, which is low among the ruling elite, the Handmaids
ar e used to overcome a fertility crisis. The Commanders who
attempt to impregnate them once a month are indifferent to
their appearances. The Handmaids are permitted to consume
only that which the authorities consider will enhance their
health and fertility. Offred who witnesses the bloody
slaughter and dismemberment of women, begins to feel
shock, nausea and considers them as barbarous. She is alert
and occupies herself with memories of her husband and
daughter and s trongly desires to escape from her present
claustrophobic environment. Even within the restrictive
circumstances of Gilead, Offred yearns to fall in love again
and she does with the Commander's chauffeur Mick.
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34 Postmodern Feminist Writers
However, their love story is cut short when one day Nick
bursts into Offred's room accompanied by a party of Eyes
(secret police) to.take her away in tbe dreaded Black van for
dissidents. Her narrative ends with Offred laying herself
open to all risks and possibilities as she departs from the
Commander's house like a criminal.
Atwood uses Intertextuality and language games in
order to disrupt the autobiography/fiction, referentiality/self
reflexivity polarities in her novel. The boundary between
autobiography and fiction is disrupted both in the Cats Eye,
Atwood's next novel, and The Handmaid's Tale. Atwood
seems to ask how can a woman inscribe herself in a process
which turns on the name, face and unified lIeye of man, a
process s tructured by binary opposition, doubling and
divi s ion? Wh a t complicates the r elationship between
autobiography and fiction in Atwood's work is the instability
of names, which continuaUy shift, frustrating the reader's
des ire to locate a single proper name. The Handmaid's Tale
opens with an exchange of names. Describing the handmaids
who lie on their beds and lip-read rather than speak, Offred
remarks "' In this way we exchanged names, from bed to bed:
Alma. J anine. Dolores. Moira. June." (TaJe 14). The name
Offred becomes a circulating s ignifier which displays an
incessant shifting. Offred may be divided into "' of' and the
name "' Fred" and it can also be dismembered into another
proposition "off' and the adjective "red". Offred becomes
fascinated with the adj ective "red" as a signifier which
disrupts the signifier/signified, sign/referent correspondence.
Describing the red tulips in Serena Joy's garden and the red
smile of the hanged man, Offred remarks, "the red is the
same but there is no connection" (Tale 45). There are
intertextual connections between The Handmaid's Tale and
Sylvia Plath's poem Tulips. Sylvia Plath opens "Tulips" with
the speaker's words "I have given my name and my day-
clothes up to the nurses / and my history to the anaesthetist
and my body to sllrgeons"(Plath 160). After the subject of
Plath's poem becomes divested of her name, she then
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Postmodernism in the Canadian Context: ... 35
becomes, like the heroine of Atwood's text, divested of her
face, disfigured by the figure of autobiography.
Language becomes a powerful weapon to wrench female
space within the existing structures. She exposes the
shortcomings of conventional patriarchal language and the
encoded sexism in it. According to Olfred, language in the
Republic of Gilead is officially forbidden because the ruling
class recognizes the power of words as weapons that can
free the people from bondage. In her lecture "An End to
Audience" delivered in 1980, Atwood articulates thoughts
which five years later became the central issue of The
Handmaid's Tale.
In any totalitarian takeover, whether from the left. or the right,
writers, singers and journalists are the first to be suppressed ...
The aim of all such suppression is to silence the voice, abolish
the word, so that the only voices and words left are those of
the ones in power. Elsewhere, the word itself is thought to have
power; that's why so much trouble is taken to silence it. (350)
Sometimes Atwood takes up a traditionally used phrase
and turns it insi de out. For example, on the night of the
ceremony, the Commander takes up the Bible to read to the
household. "We are expectant. Here comes our bedtime story"
(Tale 98) comments Offred evoking a picture of childhood
innocence but the tone is deceptive. The Biblical story of
Rachel and Bilha is meant to justify the use of handmaids
in bed to produce children to ageing childless commanders.
The phrase 'bedtime story' becomes ambiguous. It is a story
of the bedding of the Bibbical handmaid and precedes the
bedding of the Gileadean handmaid. Olfred begins to break
the slavery syndrome by transgressing "the uniform of
language" ofGHead. She steals into her Commander's study
to play the game of Scrabble. The game of Scrabble which is
forbidden functions as a signifier of the power of language.
She is able to ask the Commander questions. Later she is
secretly presented by the Commander copies of women's
magazines like Vogue, unlabelled bottle offace cream, which
are forbidden to the Handmaids. She is also secretly allowed
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36 Postmodern Feminist Writers
the use of pen to write a line in Latirl on a notepad. She is
aware why "Pen is envy" (Tale 174). Verwaayen says
The strange wording "Pen is reduces Freud's infamous
doctrine of penis envy to pen envy, truncating, castrating penis
to pen, a subversion persistence at the literary level which
further removes the biologically - sanctioned locus of power in
Gilead to the realm of discursive construction, to the erection
of discursive practices. Biology thus need not be destiny because
the scripts can be rewritten, voiced over. (48)
It is now imperative to examine the final frame of the
novel which is provided by the Historical Notes which
introduce several crucial shifts in the narrative. After two
hundred years, Gilead had become ancient history and the
only traces remain in the form of scattered diaries and
lectures among which are Offred's cassette tapes. These notes
are a transcript of lecture given by a Cambridge Professor,
Darcy Pieixoto at an academic symposium on Gileadean
studies held in the year 2195. The extent to which Pieixoto
usurps Off'red's tale for his own purpose is evidenced by the
fact that Offred herself is barely present in the historian's
comments which focus almost entirely on discovering the
identity of her Commander. His reconstruction effects a
radical shift from 'her story' to 'history' as he attempts to
discredit Offred's narrative by accusing her of not paying
attention to significant things. Howells beautifully sums up
the overall effect of the dys topian science fiction The
Handmaid's Tale by saying that
the abrupt shift from OfTred's voice to the historian's voice
challenges the reader on questions of interpretation. We have
to remembe r that The Handmaid's Tale was Offred's
transcribed speech, reassembled and edited by male historians
and not by her. Really the tale is their structure, which may
account for some of the disruptions in the narrative. Her tale
has been appropriated by an academic who seems to forget that
his reconstruction is open to questions ofint.erpretation too. He
is abusing Offred 8S Gilead abused her, removing the authority
over her own life story and renaming it in a gesture which
parallels Gilead's patriarchal suppression of a woman's identity
in the Handmaid's role. (146)

Postmodemism in the Canadian Context: .. . 87
C B ~ S Eye (1990) also attempts to represent the female
subject in the text. There are close similarities between
Atwood's life and that of the protagonist Elaine Risley.
Atwood has told her interviewers, for example, about the
summers she spent as a child living in tents and motels while
the family accompanied her father, an entomologist, doing
research in the Canadian north. She is aware that her
audience is bent upon biographical readings of her fiction.
The novel is a highly, sophisticated expression of play with
her audience's expectations. The novel combines the
discourses of fiction and autobiography, science and painting.
Atwood undercuts the conventional notion that
autobiography privileges an autobiographical fiction as more
truthful than other forms of fiction. She shows us in Elaine
Risley, a painter/writer who may seem in a conventional
sense to be exploring the truth of her past but who in a truer
sense is creating, or writing, a past as she chooses now to
see it, rather than as it might have once existed.
Elaine Risley is a painter. The novel is full ofreferences
to her pictures and culminates in her first retrospective
exhibition of her art. Risley having returned to Thronto, her
hometown. for this exhibition provides the stimulus for her
curiously doubled narrative with its 'discu,rsive' memoir
version and its 'figural' version presented through her
. paintings. In the story she tells of her youth, Elaine offers a
retrospective of the woman she has been and the women
who have been important to her as she sees herself and them.
The image of the cat's eye is central since it represents a
world into which she has been anowed access; at the same
time, it is a world of inevitably distorted version.
The focus of the early chapters is the very young Elaine
Risley's struggle to find a model in the two women who are
crucial to ber formative years. The child Elaine suspects that
her mother bas failed her as the role model needed to help
her find her way in the world. Mrs. Smeath (the mother of
her friend Grace Smeath) is the Bad mother that Elaine
SUBpects her own mother of being for not having prepared
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38 Postmodern Feminist Writers
her for socialization. Mrs.Smeatb functions as Elaine's Muse.
This variety of the Bad Mother generates a whole series of
paintings through which Elaine vents her anger, hatred and
Elaine's story also brings to great detail her symbiotic
relationship with her friend/persecutor Cordelia. Her
paintings tell us a different story about Elaine 8S subject.
In the fmal Chapter titled 'Bridge'there is Elaine's quest fOT
Cordelia. She recognizes that her art has rescued her from
the spiritual death of a lifetime wasted in anger and
resentment. Having recognized the power of Cordelia within
herself, Elaine can at last release the Cordelia she has made
to appear in the final hours before she prepares to leave
home again.
The painting exhibition has the same kind of
provisionality 8S The Handmaid's Tale where Offred's
narrative transcribed from her tapes is presented as the
editor's version rather than as her own, The individual
paintings offer a disruptive commentary figuring events from
a different angle, It can be termed 'subversions', While her
narrative remains incomplete, her paintings offer a different
figuration, acting as a kind of corrective to the distortions of
memory and offering the possibility of the theoretical
solutions. Elaine also transcribes the words of ber dead
brother Stephen who grows up to become a theoretical
physicist and is later killed by terrorists. Both he and Elaine
are engaged in trying to reconstruct the past; he through
physics and sbe through memory and imaginative vision.
His discourse from theoretical physics provides the
conceptt;.al framework for her paintings. Hf'r late paintings
share a common structural feature. Through different spatial
patterning and different time dimensions each painting
contains several styles of representation while more complex
representations of space - time and vision are developed in
'Unified Field Theory'. Here the figural presents oppositions
as co-existing on the same plane: the past and the present,
' 8 vision' and 'vision' the sacred and the profane, science and
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Postmoderoism in the Canadian Context: ... 89
art, the universal and the particular. It is significant to
analyse the intertextual reference in the novel. Most of the
readers sense the irony in Atwood's borrowing the name of
one of Shakespeare's tragic heroines, but there are also
implications of a transfer being transacted here. Cordelia of
King Lesrreminds us how the innocent are swept up in the
destruction of war and civil disorder and perhaps also that
the innocent embody the redemptive power of love. At the
same time, it is the refusal of Lear's single faithful daughter
to speak, just as much as her sisters' hypocritical flattery,
which sets in motion the machinery of conflict and
destruction by which she and her family are overwhelmed.
In this sense, Elaine, perhaps following her mother's
example, is somewhat like Cordelia; choosing silence of
martyrdom rather than risk the anxiety and guilt of self-
While women in The Handmaid's Tsle slip in and out
of names, women in Cat's Eye become involved in an
exchange of names. The name Cordelia becomes emptied of
its meaning only to be filled with another. That the proper
name is not a static signifier which corresponds only to the
bearer of that name becomes apparent early in Atwood's
novel. The sense that Cordelia and Elaine are changing
places emerges early in Gat's Eye. It is notAtwood's character
Cordelia but rather the narrator, Elaine, who begins to
resemble the Cordelia of King Lear. In response to King
Lears demand that Cordelia compare her love for him with
that of Goneril and Regan, Cordelia simply utters the word
"nothing". At the beginning of Cat's Eye.it is Elaine who
answers 'nothing'to Cordelia's question' "what do you have
to say to YOUfself?" (Gats Eye 41). The parallels between
King's Lear's daughter Cordelia and Elaine Risley's friend
Cordelia again become disrupted when Elaine responds to
Cordelia's "what do you think. of me" with "Nothing .much"
(Eye 254).
Significantly, neither Cat's Eye nor The Handmaid's
Tslecloses with the centred lIeye. Instead, both works close
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40 Postmodern Feminist Writers
with the figure of Echo, the voices which are silenced by
oculocentric works. At the end of The HlUldmaids Tale
Professor Pieixoto asserts that the meanings conveyed by
those voices are lost, for they are "imbued with the obscurity
of the matrix out of which they come" (Tale 324). Cat's Eye
similarly closes with the image of echoes, which the eye
cannot see. Meditating on the stars, the narrator remarks:
"If they were sounds, they would be echoes, of something
that happened millions of years ago, a word made of
numbers. Echoes of light, shining out of the midst of nothing
(Cats Eye 421). By closing Cat's Eye and The Handmaid's
Tale with reverberating ecl:lOes,Atwood decanters the central
image of both works, the eye. In The Handmaid's Tale
perhaps the most predominant image is that of the single
winged eye. Not only does the eye constitute the central
image of Cat's Eye, but it also becomes closely associated
with the center. The deferred echoes of light at the end of
Cat's Eye rupture a correspondence between sign and
Cat's Eye and The Handmaid's Tale both remain open-
ended. Not only does the echoing voices at the end of each
novel suggest a process ofinfmite regression, but the voices .
engage what Derrida calls "the ear of the other'"(51). Indeed,
in Atwood's work the play between "'" and "you" pronouns,
between singular and plural, between voices and silences,
continually involves the reader's participation in both
hearing and producing the text. As Howells puts it
Through the multiple modes of narrative representation Elaine,
like Offred or Cordelia, 'slips from our grasp and flees' . By
telling the reader so much Atwood has paradoxically exposed
the limits of autobiography and its artifice of reconstruction.
The best Elaine Rinsley or Margaret Atwood can offer is a
Unified Field Theory from which inferences about the subject
may be made, but the subject herself is always outside in
excess, beyond the figurations of language. The 'I' remains
behind the 'eye'. (160)
The Robber Bride (1993) incorporates a whole range of
traditional motifs like vampires, spells, soul stealing and
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Postmodernism in the Canadian Context: ... 41
body snatching. However, in this mutant form of female
Gothic romance, Atwood twists and reverses the traditional
Gothic plot since, unlike the Gothic romance, there are no
rescuing heroes, no tombs, mazes or haunted houses. As
Howells puts it "The Robber Brideis a postmodemist fiction
which exploits the shock effects that occur when Gothic fairy
tale migrates into totally different genres like the failed
family romance, the detective thriller and documentary
history" (77). Atwood argues that Hi story is always a
"construct" since it is a combination of different kinds of
textual evidence like social documentation, private memory
narrative and imaginative reconstruction. As Hayden White
says "The narratives of history always reconstruct the
available facts of the past for readers in the present according
to congenial ideological perspectives and identifiable literary
patterns like the quest of the hero or fables of decline and
fall " (83).
The Robber Bride centres round Zenia about whom we
learn through the multiple narratives of her three friends,
Antonia Fremont known as Tony, Roz Andrews and Charls.
Zenia acquires meaning only through the multiple narratives
of these three friends. Tony is a military historian, Roz is a
successful business woman and Charis is a New Age mystic.
These three friends live in Toronto and they organize a
meeting on 23
October 1990 at a fashionable Toronto
restaurant called the Toxique. Tony points out the
postmodern self-reflexivity of the narrative who has a
historian's belief in the power of explanations but also
realizes the impossibility of accurate reconstruction. The
novel opens with Zenia's Gothic reappearance in the
restaurant five years after her memorial service and then
pictures the life stories of all the three so that Zenia can be
tracked down and finally ends a week later in the Toxique
where the final crisis occurs.
Tony's section of memory narrative is titled 'Black
Enamel'. She recounts her memories of meeting Zenia as a
student in the 1960's and also speaks of how Zenia attempted
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42 Postmodern Feminist Writers
to rob her oCher money, her professional reputation and her
beloved husband West. Through the section titled 'Weasel
Nights' Charls' unhappy childhood as a victim of sexual abuse
is pictured. Her memories of Zenia point to the 1970's when
there were hippies and draft dodgers in Canada. Her happy
family is disturbed when Zenia seduces her American
husband Billy which leads to his disappearance. Roz's section
is titled The Robber Bride and her flashback is similar to
that of her two friends. She speaks of her childhood,
marriage, motherhood, her successful business career till
Zenia interferes, seduces her husband Mitch who eventually
commits suicide. A traditional Gothic figure survives as a
powerful force in this novel which is about contemporary
social reality in the 1990's Toronto. Atwood has reassembled
parts of old legends and fairy tales in order to create her
female monster who damages the lives of three women.
What is noticeable in the novel is the way in which
Atwood has made use ofintertextuality, a postmodern device.
Zenia is a powerful 'other' who represents three different
things to the three women. She is presented as a fairy tale
figure in The Robber Bridegroom by the Brothers Grimm in
Roz's story. "The Robber Bride, thinks Roz. Well. Why not?
Let the grooms take it in the neck for once. The Robber Bride,
lurking in her mansion in the dark forest ... The Rubber
Broad is more like it - her and her pneumatic tits" (Bride
To Charis she is like the figure of Jezebel in the Old
Testament. Charls used to choose revelatory passages from
the Bible at random and when she confronts Zenia, she
connects her to J ezebel. "She realized it as soon as she got
up, as soon as she stuck her daily pin into the Bible. It picked
out Revelations seventeen, the chapter about the Great
Whore" (Bride 420).
Tony, on the other hand, always associates Zenia with
war and courage. While Zenia mostly takes on' a demonic
dimension in the novel, Thny gives her another dimension,
which is that of a guerrilla fighter. He associates her with
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Postmodernism in the Canadian Context: ... 43
the medieval French Cathar Woman warrior, Dame Giraude,
who in the thirteenth century defended her castle against
the Catholic forces of SimonDe MontfeTt. She was fmany
defeated and thrown down a well. Thny's view of her is one
of admiration. "Zenia is dead, and although she was many
other things, she was also courageous. What. side she was
on doesn't matter; not to Thny, not any more. There may not
even have been a side. She may have been alone" (Bride
The novel is also a fantasy novel which examines the
fantasies that underpin real life and fiction. Female sexuality
has led to male fantasies and it can be said that Zenia
inhabits that fantasy territory. "The Zenias of this world ...
have slipped sideways into dreams; the dreams of women
too, because women are fantasies for other women, just as
they are for men. But fantasies of a different kind" (Bride
She is the 'Other' woman since she is everything one
wants to be and everything they fear. She represents their
unfulfilled desires and is their dark double having multiple
identities. She remains a mystery right throughout the novel.
She lives in the stories of others which are all stories of
seduction, betrayal and humili ation. She belongs to two
different fictional discourses, that ofrealism and of fantasy.
She exists both as a character in the realistic fiction and
also as the" projection of three women's imaginations. She
represents their unfulfilled shadow selves.
It is imperative to note that the three women cannot
let Zenia go in spite of the fact that they have been tricked
and robbed by Zenia of men, money and self-confidence. They
need her so much that Zenia is resurrected back to life. Even
when Zenia commits suicide, the three friends stand looking
at her and even after they have scattered her ashes in Lake
Ontario at the end, their stories are still about Zenia.
The novel is also an expe rimentation with s plit
subjectivity as is the case with Atwood's other novels. All
the three women suffer from split subjectivity which is
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44 Postmodem Feminist Wnters
signaled in their doubled or tripled names. All the three suffer
from a split and Zenia operates on this edge of desire and
lack which is the borderline territory of the marauding Gothic
Other. The novel is Atwood's powerful comment on History.
When Tony repeats 'Zenia is history' it does not mean that
she is dead and out of the way but that her story will continue
to be retold in different versions and repeatedly speculated
upon. The final image of Zenia is given by Tony in her
ambiguous elegy. "She's like an ancient statuette dug up from
a Minoan palace: there are the large breasts, the tiny waist,
the dark eyes, the snaky hair, Tony picks her up and turns
her over, probes and questions, but the woman with her
glazed pottery face does nothing but smile" (Bride 470). AB
Howells sums up the effect of the novel
Atwood takes up Gothic conventions and turns them inside out,
weaving her illusion like any magician making us see what she
wants us to see, as she transgresses the boundaries between
realism and fantasy, between what is acceptable and what is
forbidden. Of course these are fictions; Lady Oracle and The
Robber Bride are illusions created by Atwood's narrative art,
but they speak to readers in the present as they challenge us
to confront our own desires and fears. Atwood, like the old
Gothic novelists, like Joan Foster and like Zenia, does it with
mirrors. (85)
AHas Grace, next novel published in the year
1996, critiques the historical novel and the detective story.
Her combination of a realistic narrative with fantastic
intertexts is typical of the contemporary genre that Hucheon
has labeled "historiographic metafiction. Jt Atwood parodies
the fictional conventions of the historical novel and the
detective story. Alias Grace is a historical novel in that it
deals with questions of historical consciousness in a
historically conditioned situation on the levels of author,
narrator, characters or action. The novel is about a historical
figure Grace Marks and Atwood supplies abundant historical
data about social reality and scientific life in nineteenth
century Canada and also gives a survey of the text's
documentary apparatus and extratextual sources that
provide material for the novel.

Postmodernism in the Canadian Context: ... 45
The novel fictionalizes the "true story'" of Grace Marks,
an Irish immigrant who, at the age of sixteen, worked as a
maid in the household of the gentleman Thomas Kinnear.
Together with the stableman James McDermott, she was
convicted of the murder of her em pi oyer and his housekeeper!
mistress Nancy Montgomery. McDermott was hanged but
Grace (alias Mary Whitney) escaped death because of her
lawyer's brilliant defense. Her sentence was commuted to
life imprisonment but Grace was . initially sent to a lunatic
asylum in Toronto after several fits of hysteria or "madness".
Though convicted of the crime, Grace pleaded not guilty and
her guilt has never been proved. In Atwood's novel there is a
psychoanalyst and detective Dr. Simon Jordan who tries to
discover the truth about Grace during psychoanalytic
The novel integrates real, that is, historical persons
with fictional persons. Both the historical and the fictive
Grace are products of discourse. Grace's story, based on
historical events, is a fictional COOBtruct. Grace's memories
(ber narrative construct) form the basis upon which Simon
hopes to discover the "true story" of what happened at the
time of the murder. Grace provides Simon with a wealth of
material details about her life, as a poor Irish im.migrant
who entered Canada in the 1840's yet the historical and the
fictitious Grace remain enigmatic in spite of these
biographical facts.
It is worth examining the way Atwood uses the detective
genre as a subtext and subverts it. The formal features of a
detective story are present. There is a crime and an inquest.
The is Grace and the interpreter is Simon Jordan
who acts as a detective. The novel is also an anti-detective
novel since .the author refuses to satisfy the expectations of
the reader interpreter. Simon knows that Grace has had fits
of madness in the asylum and attacks of hysteria in the
presence of doctors. Simon starts the session asking her to
ten her tale. However, Grace, while pretending to obey that
rule that Simon imposes on her; controls herself and

Postmodernism in the Canadian Context: ... 47
a ' dialogic relationship between a realistic, a fantastic, and a
poetic literary discourse parallels the central theme in the
novel, the dialogue between the self and the self as "other". The
"other- or the unconscious is excluded from the dominant
cultural order and is situated outside rational discourse.
Manifestations of the unconscious in the fantastic and visionary
realm are unrecognized and unrecognizable within tbe frame
of reference, within which Simon Jordan operates and within
that adopted by the dominant culture. Atwood brings to light
that which had been pushed into the margin of society. She
wants to make the unseen visible, without, however. claiming
to replace one type of truth by another. (446-447)
Atwood's novels are, undoubtedly, revisionary
narratives. By using language as a subversive weapon, the
wOIJ?,en characters in Atwood's novels create 8 female space
for themselves. The novels project Atwood's double vision
through which she manifests power politics at every level.
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46 Postmodern Feminist Writers
transforms her memories into an acceptable narrative. Simon
wants her to affirm the official (his) story, whereas Grace
says she would like to be seen "'face to face" (Grace 379)
meaning that she wants recognition as a subject with a story
and a voice of her own. Sbe resembles Offred in The
Haiuimsid's TaJe who counters the official language and
ideology of the totalitarian regime with her personal
(underground) voice. Grace attempts to provide Simon with'
a deceptive chronological account with a clear, linear plot
while Simon performs the role of 8 positivist detective who
wishes to find out the hidden and essential facts of the
murder. However, he fails because the solution provided in
the novel involves the acceptance of the fantastic. The voice
of the dead Mary Whitney admits having committed the
murder of Nancy Montgomery. Simon is at a 108s since no
rational explanation can be given for the supernatural events
in the novel. Here Atwood reverses the roles of victim,
criminQl and detective. The author is the criminal; the
detective becomes the patient while the role of detective is
given to the reader. .
Grace suffers from a multiple or dissociative identity
disorder as she dissociates into Grace Marks, the dominant
personality and Mary Whitney the secondary and lost part
of herself. Images and metaphors are used profusely to
represent the repressed memories of Grace. The content of
Grace's unstructured, chaotic inner world escapes easy
definitions. She remains, therefore, enigmatic to Simon. The
suppressed part of Grace is embodied by Mary Whitney, her
deceased friend and secondary personality. Mary is Grace's
double suggesting that Grace suffers from split subjectivity.
Mary's spirit remains invisible, trapped and at war with
Grace. As Hilde Staels puts it
Atwood undercuts the realist code of the nineteenth century by
interspersing conventions Gfrealism with fantastic and PGetic
intertexts. She interrogates Simon Jordan's positivistic,
monological perception Gf reality and his homogenizing
discourse, which reduces a complex r eality and deni es the
multiplicity of the subject. The narrative form that establishes
j m a t e r ~
Postmodernism in the
American Context-Toni
Morrison as a Postmodernist
This chapter would highligQt the remarkable achievement
ofThni Morrison, the African American novelist, by pointing
out her postmodem techniques, which provide Dew directions
to African AID.erican women's discourses. The first part of
this chapter would briefly describe the black women's literary
tradition in order to place Toni Morrison in the right
perspective, the second part would bring out the crucial
differences between white feminism and black feminism and
the third part would concentrate on the theoretical frame
work which would help understand the split subjectivity of
the Black female and then proceed to a detailed examination
ortbe various postmodem strategies employed by Morrison
in her novels. .
Black women's literary tradition can be traced back to
Phillis Wheatley in the eighteenth cehtury down to the boom
period - the seventies and the eighties' with its remarkable
talented writers like Paule Marshall, Alice Walker and Gloria
Naylor. W9men writers took it up as their duty to discover
black women's self entrapped in the white society. Barbara
Christian explains how difficult it has been for black women
writers to achieve such an overtly self-centred point of view
because of the way in which they have been conceptualized
by both black. as well as white society. She

Postmodemism in the African Amencan Context:... 49
The extent to which Afro-American women writers like Alice
Walker, Paule Marshall, Gloria Naylor, Alexis De.Veau, in tbe
seventies and eighties have been able to make a commitment
to an exploration of self, as central rather than margina1 is a
tribute to the insights they h:.ve called in a century or so of
literary activity. (234)
Early Mrican-American women novelists like Frances
Harper, Jessie Fauset and Nella Larsen wished to please
the white readers by creating a lady-like version of the
heroines whom the Americans are expected to respect even
though they are black. Ann Petry in her novel The Street
(1946) presented women and mothers struggling against the
social and economic hostilities stacked against them. 'One
notable exception to this trend in early African American
. women writers'works was Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes
were watching God (1937). She was one of the first black
women writers to attempt a serious study of the black
folklore and folk history. The major themes that emerged in
the novels of Hurston were search for black woman's self-
fulfillment through community, quest for the ideal
relationship between man and woman, black sisterhood and
significance of fidelity in interpersonal relationships.
However, there was a definite shift in the African..:
American women's writings towards the process of self-
definition beginning with Gwendolyn Brooks' Maud Martha
(1953). Maud Martha heralded the long awaited moment in
African-American literary history. which was to establish
the authenticity of women's true self by placing her
life in the context of black and community. The
African American women's literary tradition took a
qualitative leap into the worlds of ontological transmutation
of black women's existential conditions in America with Paule
Marshall's first novel Brown Girl, Brownstones (1981).
Marshall's women speak to their own self and try to
articulate that self with a great force. During the sixties
there was a perceptible change in the attitude of writers On
account of the black women's renaissance initiated by Paule
Marshall. This radical change in the late sixties manifested
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50 P08tmodern Feminist Wn'tem
especially in the works of Alice Walker. Alice Walker prefers
to call herself a 'womanist' because 'womanism', in her
opinion, expresses women's concerns better than feminism.
It appreciates "women's culture, women's emotional
flexibility ... and women's strength" (Gardens xi). She is
committed to exploring the oppressions, the insanities, the
loyalties and the triumpbs of black women. What she
professes in theory is practiced in her novels The Third Life
o[Grange Copeland (1970) and MeridisD (1976).
By the women writers
like Paule Marshall, Toni Morrison,Alice Walker, Toni Cade
Bambara and Gay) Jones had not only defmed their cultural
context as a distinctly Mrican-American one but also probed
many facets of the interrelationship of racism, sexism and
classism in their society. These three factors signify the
traumatic conditions under which African-Americans lived
in white America. They are systems of societal and
psychological restrictions that have critically affected the
lives of blacks in general and African-American women in
particular. Right from the days of slavery, the blacks,
irres pective of sex had realized the cruel realit;y of racism.
Sexism, more oppressive physically and mentally, was cause
of grievance to the black women who were sexually exploited
by both the black and white men. Just as blacks as a group
were relegated to an underc1ass by virtue of their race, 80
were women relegated to a separate caste by virtue of their
sex. Confronted on al1 s ides by raci a l and sexual
discrimination, the black woman has no friends but only
liabilities and responsibilities but, within the separate caste,
a standard of women was designed in terms of a class
definition. The ideal southern lady image of eighteenth
century America was obviously a white, beautiful rich woman
who did not work. The ideal concept of woman in the society,
then, is not only racist and sexist but also classist. Since
black women were, by nature of their race, conceived of as
lower class, they could hardly approxlmate the norm
They had t.o work; most could not be ornamenta1 or withdrawn
from the world; and, according to the aesthetics of this country,

Postmodemism in the African American Context:.. . 51
they were not beautiful. But neither were they men. Any
aggressiveness or intelligence on thei r part, qualities necessary
for participation in the work world. were constructed as
unwomanly and tasteless. (Christian 72)
Thus. African American women could not achieve the
standard of womanhood on the one hand and on the other.
they were biologically females with all the societal
restrictions associated with that state. In short. the black
women in America were made victims of triple jeopardy -
r acism, sexism and classism.
There are crucial differences between white feminism
and marginalized feminism. Alice Walker's defmitions of
"womanist" supplanting "feminist" indicate that Walker
celebrates a diversity of individual experiences while she
simultaneously preserves AfricanAmerican folk culture and
values. White feminism is critiqued for excluding the
presence and voices of marginalized women. Women of color,
although they also defy a patriarchal dominance just as white
feminists do, perceive the white female movement as another
form of racialized repression thus causing them to disavow
their advocacy for feminism.
The lack of subjectivity attributed to African-American
women in white feminist discourse is the major critique
rendered by women of color. Morrison and other womenof-
color writers fundamentally share with white feminists the
same concern for recuperating the neglected subjectivity of
their ancestors from patriarchal oppression. While the racial
and economic condition imposed by mainstream society
created many female - headed African-American families,
it also fabricated the myth of a black matriarchy to reduce
its fear of black women who took over the "male"
responsibility of sustaining a family. The dominant society
needed to undermine the confidence of the black women in
their ability to be emotionally and financially independent.
So they labelled them as deviant matriarchs who symbolize
'the 'bad' Black mother' who "allegedly emasculates (her)
lover and husband" (Collins 74). The other stereotypical role
is the tragic mu1atto who represents the conflict of values
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52 Postmodern Feminist Writers
that blacks face as a conquered people. Although she
physicalJy combines features of both races, she is illegitimate
and suffers from an identity crisis. The task of an
American womanist is to deconstruct these controlling
images and retrieve the subjectivity of women of color long
hidden under the masks of stereotypes and thereby to defy
the of sexual and facial oppression.
Morrison attempts to chal1enge the political , social,
racial and gender hierarchies in American literary discourse.
By placing a woman at the center of her novels, she takes a
historical approach in order to reconstructAfrican-American
culture and history in slavery. She takes a postmodeni stand
in altering Euro-American dichotomies by rewriting a history
written by mainstream hi storians. By doing so, s he
legitimizes the discredited past and presence of marginalized
African American women. Instead of western logocentric
abstractions, Morrison prefers the powerful vivid language
of women of color, such as the vernacular tradition of African
American narratives. This latter tradition has preserved the
values and history of its culture. She reinscribes the received
notion of slavery and history from a black female perspective.
She is committed to authenticating and reconstructing the
history of African Americans who were forbidden access to
literacy and were overlooked by mainstream historians. She
has attempted to establish a space for African Americans,
advocating the accommodation of the African-American
literary tradition in the canon. Without employing a
technically speciali zed language, Morrison transforms
political conditions into a rich aesthetics, thus implying a
theory of reinterpreted literature and revised history based
on African American folklore and stories. Her characters
emerge from the periphery, looking for ways to center their
complex significance in literary discourse.
In order to understand the theme of split subjectivity, a
postmodern feature of Toni Morrison's works, it is imperative
to examine the contingencies under which the black female
self shapes itself. The American blaek is weighed down by a
double burden as helshe is buffeted by two cultures, the

Postmodernism in the AfIlcan American Context:... 53
Western culture and hislher black heritage. Hislher
adjustment to the dominant culture is, therefore, marked by
a conflicting pattern of identification and rejection. It is a
well-known fact that the self-image of the blacks is
fundamentally related to a colour-easte system. Black writers
have time and again dealt with the crucial question of the
interaction of the black self with society. The black self, it is
generally seen, suffers form conflicting pulls in its desire to
conform to mainstream coc;les and at the same time to reject
them. The black American lives a precarious existence forced,
as helshe is, to confront images, both positive and negative,
which sift through hislher mind; some images are retained
and make a lasting impression while others are discarded.
In either case, for an evaluation of himaeWherself, the black
American peers into mirrors constructed by those who
. represent power and influence. W.E.B. Dubois's remark that
the black man has been forced to see himself through the
eyes of the dominant society expresses this dilemma . .
According to Du Bois, the Blackman is gifted with 'second
sight' and this double-eonsciousness results in his baving
"two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings, two warring ideals
in one black body" (1961: 16-17).
Such opposing concepts wreak irreparable havoc on the
black psyche. DuBois describes the poignancy of the resulting
]t is as though one, looking out from a dark cave in a side of
an impending mountain, sees the world paBsing and speaks to
it; spew courteously and showing them how
these entombed souls are hindered in their natural movement,
expression and development; and bow their loosening from
prison would be a not simply of courtesy, sympathy and
belp to them but aid tAi alJ the world ... It gradually permeates
tbe minds of the prisoners that the people passing do not hear,
that some thick sbeet of invisible glass is between them and
the world. They get e:r.eited, they talk louder, and tbey
gesticulate. Some of tbe pa.88ing world stop in curiosity ... They
still either do not hear at aU, or hear buL, dimly and even what
they bear they do not understand. Then the people within may
become hysterical. (1968:130)
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Postmodem Feminist Writers
This theme - the theme of split subjectivity - assumes
shape and form in 'lbni Morrison's novels. Morrison's success
as a great American writer lies in her recognition that her
double - consciousness can never be, perhaps never should
be, integrated into a single vision. Indeed, she is in the truly
remarkable position of being able to articulate with near
impunity two cultures - one black, the other white American.
By orchestrating this sense of connectedness between
cultures rather than attempting to dissolve the differences,
Morrison's successful career appears to have transcended
the permanent condition of doubleconsciousness that amicte
her fictional characters.
Morrison's novels can also be analysed for its exhaustive
use of myth since her novels are rooted in folklore and myth
that both inform and transform the consciousness of her
readers. In this she is essentially postmodern since her
approach to myth and folklore is revisionist. She engages
in a vigorous critique of the relationship between "the folk"
and American culture thereby proposing a revision of
received notions of gender, class and race. Morrison attempts
to achieve cultural transformation in three significant ways
- first she attempts to fill the cultural void that she perceives
to be existing in the wake of historical transition. The void
is in the lives of those black Americans who seem to have
lost the oral tradition of story telling that once sustained a
sense of community and enriched their lives. Second, she
attempts to endow commonplace people, places and stories
with the mythic grandeur and significance of archetypal
narrative and ritual to redeem or tescue neglected literary
material and the cultural vaJ\.tes on which it is based. The
myt!lic impulse incorporates myth as the "shifting reality"
(Strauss 3) that Claude LeviStrauss reminds us it is.
Thirdly, she attempts to make narrative a dynamic vehicle
for preserving, transmitting and reshaping the culture in
affirmative ways that celebrates the past, that give
continuity with the present and that offer faith in human
potentiaL Rather than mere mythical allusion, Morrison
accommodates mythic archetypes to modem realities.
j m a t e r ~
Postmodernism in theAfHcanAmerican Context:. .. 55
Morrison's first novel The Bluest Eye which was
published in the year 1970 is a literary translation ofW.E.B.
DuBois' theoretical premise - Double consciousness - as
formulated by him in The Souls of BlacJc Folk. The central
character, Pecola's means of achieving peace - double-
voicedness - is Morrison's means, through the complexity of
her narrative structure, of positioning her novel in
relationship to other Afro-American texts that explicitly
explore structural means of merging two antithetical
In The Bluest Eye Morrison presents the detrimental
effects of the way white culture prevents African American
girls from developing their own identities. The Lorain of 1941
is almost an industrial incarnation of the wastelandish
underground where blacks like ebolly and Pauline Breedlove
are pathetically relegated to a bidden, self-diminutive
existence. Pecola, their daughter, infers from ber daily
experitmces that her distinctive features as an African
American do not fit the standards of white aesthetics and
that her "ugliness" isolates her at school as well as at home.
The pictures of white girls produced by the media make
Pecola obsessed with blue eyes, especially those eyes of
Shirley Temple and Mary Jane which are presented as
perfect beauty by society. Offering a critique of mirrors and
reflection, Jacques Lacan notes that "the mirror image could
seem to be the threshold of the visible world" (Lacan 3). He
envisages the mirror stage as having a clear function in
growth because it gives form to the inchoate, disembodied
image of the earliest months of life. This specular image
both reifies and alienates the self or, in the process of
recognizing oneself, it even enables identification of another
as potentially compatible (Lacan 3).
Like many contemporary black women writers, such
as Maya Angelou, Gwendolyn Brooks and Paule Marshall,
Morrison too believed in the anxiety black girls/women feel
about what their mirrors tell them. She holds that girls
growing up black and female in a white society often
uteursr IljK j m a t e r ~
56 Postmodern Feminist Writers
experience the malady of internalizing the belief that an
aesthetically pleasing image is what constitutes the
necessary precondition fOT receiving love and security. Pecola
suffers from such a split consciousness. Sbe is enraptured
with the blue eyes of Mary Jane on the candy wrapper. For
Pecola, an approving mirror is equivalent to an approving
mother. From the beginning, Pauline Breedlove's mirror
reflects to ber daughter her own sense of inferiority, which
in t urn, Pecola radiates back to ber. The reverence for
whiteness. which is Peeola's most valued possession, is
passed on to Pauline through the intergenerational mirror
by her mother. She tells Pecala "So when I sees it (the baby),
it was like Jooking at a picture of your mama when she was
a girl. You knows who she is but she don't look the same"
(Eye 99). Pauline's mother worked as a maid for a white
family and by internalizing'its moves, allowed herself to be
encased in the glass coffin. The intergenerational mirror has'
already fractured Pauline's psyche and placed her beyond
redemption. She resists any concept of internal wholeness
based on cultural autonomy, believing that salvation will
come from outside.
Contrary to her dream of a life full of affection, caring
and peace, Pecola is raped and impregnated by her father
ebolly who does not know any more effective way to express
familial love toward his daughter. Devoid of mirrors
reflecting primary Cholly's sense of self is not
only wavering but also even fraught with simplistic notions
that life is just a matter ofligbt over darkness, power over
powerless and male over female or. father over daughter, to
be precise, The brutal rape robs Pecola'a.eXisting sense. of
autonomy by forcing ber to gaze into the same mirror he
himself was forced to gaze into during his childhood days.
She visits Soapbead Church, a minister who advertises that
his holy powers heal people's troubles. Following his advice
that she should poison bis landlady's dog, Pecola acquires
her blue eyes in im,agination. an experience of mental
disintegration, which totally segregates her from reality and
deprives her of the ability to communicate with others. In

Postmodemism in the Africl1I1 American Context:... 57
her insanity, she escapes from her miserable unfulfIlled life,
convinced into the delusion that she has the bluest eyes.
Although at the end she looks into a mirror and admires t he
false reflection, this fabrication foreshadows her failure. In
her imagination, the split self produces her imaginary friend.
She talks obsessively and nervously about her eyes with the
friend who sustains her fantasy. She tries to see the blue
eyes with the support of the imaginary fri end, del usively
arriving at a blurred sense of reality and consciousness. The
blue eyes promise Pecola's liberation from an unbearable
reality becoming the mechanism for coping with ber t rauma,
her loneliness, the rape by her own father and the consequent
Morrison provides textual ambivalence by portraying
the world c..f relationshlp in the McTeer family. As opposed
to Pauline's, the mirror that Mrs. Mc'Ther holds out to her
daughter provides enough sustenance and security t o her
daughter Claudia. Claudia develops a voice that surfaces
from the crisis of adolescence and blackness. In spite of the
stress and tension that she" encounters in white society,
Mrs. McTeer displays the "love, thick and dark as Alga
Syrup .. . sweet, musty, with an edge of wintergreen in its
base - everywhere ... " (Eye 14). The voices of her mirror
transform Claudia's blues into sweet, exotic songs. Claudia
She would sing about bard times, bad times and somebody -
done - gone - and - left - me times. But her voice was so sweet
and her ainging eyes so melty I found myself longing for those
hard times, yearning to be grown without a thin di-i-ime, to
my name ... Misery colored by the greens and blues in my
mother's voice took all of the grief out of the words and left. me
with a conviction that pain was not only endurable it was sweet.
(Eye 24)
Mrs.McTeer does not succumb to societal indoctrination.
She is able, therefore, to sustain her daughter's gaze. In
Claudia, one fmds what Lacan calls a perfect "dialectical
synthesis" of the internal self and the external reality. The
symbiosis with self and community is what Claudia has
j m a t e r ~
58 Postmodern Feminist Writers
inherited from the positive reflections of her maternal mirror.
By mirroring one another, the McTeer family especially the
mother, endows her daughter with a sense of identity and
self-worth, something that Pecola does not know.
A consideration of the mythic archetypes in the novel
exposes Morrison's innovative use of myths to underscore
the tragic plight of African-American women. She re-visions
myths in almost all her novels. She makes Use of the Demeter
- Persephone myth. Demeter, the ancient Greek goddess, is
in charge of the earth's fertility and its seasons; she is a
major face of the Earth mother and her bond to her daughter
Persphone symbolises loving, cosmic on-goingness, a
feminine ground of being. In The Bluest Eye Pauline is no
Demeter nor Pecola a Persephone signifying a nurturing
ground of authentic being. Thus the myth is deconstructed
by Morrison since in the African American context nature is
not a primal force that can nurture and rejuvenate. The chief
narrator of the novel, Claudia and her older sister Frieda
plant marigold seeds the year Pecola's father Cholly rapes
her. In the prologue, Claudia says that the earth, like Peco)a,
refused to grow the planted seeds and at the end she closes
the novel with the image of Pecola wandering, lost in
madness at the edge of the town among refuse and
sunflowers. The ungrown, sterile, marigold seeds symbolize
Morrison's sense of the earth as untrustworthy. Nature is
amoral and cares not at all if higher developed creatures.go
mad or become extinct. There is no affirmation of life in the
novel The life urge and spring reappear but they are for
Claudia connected with the ache of whipping, not the
resurgence of beauty.
Toni Morrison describes The Bluest Eye as a novel
"about one's dependency on the world for identification, self-
value and feeling of worth" (Gaston 197). In The Bluest Eye?
black girlhood assumes tragic propensities when it borrows
identity models from the mandates of white culture and from
the malevolent parental mirrors as welL As Gilbert and
Gubar put it "To be caught and trapped in the mirror rather
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Postmodernism in the AfTican Amen'can Context:... 69
than a window ... is to ~ driven inward, obsessively studying
self images as if seeking a viable self. This inward search is
necessitated by a state from which all outward prospects
have been removed" (37). Now, to seize upon and maintain B
foreign image - inappropriative mental image of the self -
seals the individual in the wBstelandish soil of psychic
underground, B terrain characterized by grotesque isolation
and fragmentation. Pecola, thus, becomes a split subject
unable to understand the gap between her reality and
Su/a (1973) is Morrison's detailed study of female
subjectivity. Here she presents a woman who transcends the
limitations imposed by society. In other words, she becomes
a floating signifier defying any classification. She is
emotionally isolated from other people. Both she and her
friend Nel are growing teenagers and solitary little girls.
They resemble each other in their emotional isolation from
other people. Their alienation from the large society paves
the way for Sula's rebeUion against the set norms which a
woman is supposed to follow in the black community. She
remains at best a social outsider, as she defies the role she
is supposed to play socially.
Morrison shows how power relations can have a bad
effect on the community as a whole. The look of white society,
supported by all kinds of material domination, not only
freezes the black individual but also classifies all blacks as
alike, freezing the group. The position of the black woman
is doubly difficult. Womanhood, like blackness, is other in
this society. Pecola in The Bluest Eye is the epitome of the
victim in a world that reduces persons to objects and then
makes them feel inferior as objects hut not all outsiders
become objects. Sula is one character who asserts herself
strongly. She is one who refuses to submerge herself in a
role. She is 'free' in the Sartrean sense of being her own
creator. She has internalized the look of the community,
Bottom, which reveals to her the idea that she is an outsider.
Sula returns the Look by defying the society.
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60 Postmodern Feminist Writers
While The Bluest Eye deals with the theme of split
subjectivity, Sula explores the theme of a radically new black
femininity. While doing so, Morrison makes her novel take
on the hue of a postmodem novel since it subverts the binary
oppositions black male I black female, past / present,
Individual / Community etc. As Madhu Dubey significantly
puts it
Rather than merely combining, Sula plays feminism and
nationalism against each other, staging the encounter of these
two ideologies as a dynamic contradiction. In a difficult double
move, the novel assumes a Ceminist perspective to clarify the
Jimits of nationalist ideology hut withdraws from a full
development or its own feminist implications. (70)
It is necessary to examine the black Nationalist
discourse and the importance of the black man in
perpetuating the discourse. The Black man is seen as the
object of racism and the black female is always assigned the
subsidiary role of healing the black man's damaged
masculinity. In other words, the black Nationalist discourse
projected the black man as sufferer and the black woman as
nurturer. BulB reverses or subverts this 'master' narrative.
The novel neatly fits into what Linda Hutcheon terms as
the predominant characteristics of postmodernism. As
Hutcheon says
It is easy to see, then, that., postmodernism in its broadeSt. sense
is the name, we give to our culture's 'narcissistic' obsession with
its own workings - botb past and present. In academic and
popular circles today, books abound that ofTer us new social
models, new frameworks for our knowledge, new analyses of
strategies of power. This phenomenon does betray a loss of faith
in what. were once the certainties, t.he 'master' narratives of our
liberal humani st cult.ur e. But that loss need not. be a
debilitating one. In postmodern literature, as in architecture,
it bas meant a new vitality, a new willingness to enter into a
dialogue with history on new tenns. It has been marked by a
move away from fIxed products and structures to open cultural
processes and events. There has been a general (and perhaps
healthy) turning from the expectation of sure and single
meaning to a recognition of the value of difference and
multiplicity, a turning from passive trust in system to an
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Postmodernism in the African American Context:... 61
acceptance of responsibility for the fact that art and theory are
both actively 'signifying' practices - in other words that it is
we who both make and make sense of our culture. (1988:23)
Sula opens the space for a new articulation of black
masculinity and femininity. SuJa "offers a view of female
psychological development that defies traditional male
centred interpretations of female development and calls out
for an expansion of the womancentered paradigm" (Gillespie
23). NelSula's union is, first and foremost , a great challenge
to Black Aesthetic, which insisted on black malefemale
relationships as necesSllry for the development of the Black
race. Nel from whom Sula receives security, love and identity,
constitutes Sula's other half. Their relationship is given a
typical, romantic flavour by Morrison. To Sula, Nel is 'the
closest thing to both an other and a seW (Sula 119). Their
fantasies are described as 'Technicolored visions.' Nel
imagines herself in a fairy tale heroine's posture of waiting
passively for a prince. while Sula is imagined as the active
prince galloping on a horse. Thus Sula takes on masculine
principles. Therefore, Sula is adventurous like a male while
NeJ is cautious and consistent. While Nellistlessly observes
the conventions of the society, Sula flouts the conventions.
Howeve r, SulaAjax episode points to the "noyel's
capitulation to heterosexual conventions" (Dubey 74). It can
also be said that sexism counts most in Morrison's potrait of
Sula. With Ajax, Sula becomes like the other black women
and lapses into the expected role of the black woman 'as
nurturer. When Sula seduces Jude, Nel's husband, the
friendship between Nel and Sula gets ruptured and even
aggravated. While Sula's seduction of Jude brings out her
rebellious' nature, Sula's capitulation to Ajax "appears to be
a compromise gesture that gives heterosexuality its due"
(Dubey 74). When Ajax leaves her, Sula becomes aware that
tJ:tere are no more new experiences in store for her and dies
of a mysterious wasting disease. Even her ending is given a
twist from the conventional ending. She feels proud that she
is different from the other women in the Black community.
As she tells Nel before she dies "I know what every Black
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62 Postmodern Feminist Wn"ters
woman in this country is doing. Dying just like me. But the
difference is, they dying like a stump. Me. I'm going down
like one of those redwoods" (Suls 143).
Sula, thus, represents unrestricted and multiple
perspectives in the novel. Morrison endows her with a
birthmark, startlingly appearing on the eyelid, that calls
attention to Sula's original powers of perception. The most
noticeable opposition in the novel is that between the past
and the present. Sula's new black feminity upsets this
relationship. This is seen in the conflict between Bottom,
the black community where the novel is set, and Sula. While
Bottom clings to an absolute, static vision of the past, Sula
perceives the present moment as pure possibility and by
rejecting the community attempts to derme for herself a new
identity in contradistinction to the values of the community.
The Bottom, situated high upon the hills, is ironically
designated. The naming of the Bottom denotes white man's
lack of sympathy and concern for the survival of blacks. The
Bottom presents a version of re9.1ity that closely resembles
a cyclic repetition of the historical injustices perpetrated
upon blacks. Sula's philosophy is pitted against that of her
. community. She views time as a medium of ceaseless change
and views self as sheer risk and imaginative possibility. She
rejects traditional notions of family, eschewing marriage,
babies and grandparental care. Her return to Bottom after
a ten-year absence marks no symbolic reintegration into the
community and her central position within it serves mainly
to offset a total inner detachment both from others and more
disturbingly from herself. Her growth traces a gradual
decentering from the :cole of. active participant to that of
passive observer, and from there to conscious self-exclusion.
This process can be traced from the episode where she
actively faces down Nel's tormentors by cutting offher finger
through Chicken Little's drowning where she is both initiator,
swinging him around and then helpless onlooker as his body
flies out over the water to the day when she stands by.
watching with passive complicity. as her mother bums to
death and culminating when, at her best friend's wedding,
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Postmodernism in theAfncan American Context:... 63
she refuses even the implicit involvement of the observer,
turns her back and leaves Medallion.
The novel also reverses the traditional association of
Black male with power. Morrison concentrates on women-
centred households thereby inflicting a serious blow on the
black male psyche. Eva is the founding matriarch and queen
of the line. She establishes the value of this line. When we
meet her, she is already in late middle age and the reigning
deity in her household of daughter (Hannah), granddaughter
(Sula) and various, adopted, interchangeable and peripheral
male figures. We see in -a flashback what Eva has overcome
in order to survive and give her children life. She was
deserted in 1895 by a man, who was abusive and childish
but she and her three children face starvation. In order to
feed her children, she has mysteriously sacrificed a leg and
regularly thereafter receives money to live on. She loses her
left leg which reflects the loss ofthe symbol-making, intuitive
side of the feminine, the softer, gentler values of the feminine.
She is strongly, fiercely, rationally and rQughly protective
until the end of her life. She lives on the top floor of the
house. She returns to her virgin state after Boy Boy, her
husband, leaves; men remain amusing toys to her, but all
her life energy is spent in establishing a home. She scarcely
ever descends to the lower floors of the house but sits on a
throne-like wagon device to receive her faceless, nameless
and interchangeable suitors. They surround and worship her
but they are weak forces of the masculine. Eva kills her other
two children. Her son Plum is the one male figure that Eva
iives autonomy, a face, a future and that she allows herself
to love with her full heart. She assigns her one son Plum the
role of the moving dynamic hero Prince who will sally into
the world and conquer it. Like the town's mad prophet
Shadrack, Plum loses his masculine impetus, his initiative,
in the white man's army. Shadrack returns mad. Plum comes
home a drug addict. Plum wants to be contained again by
his mother and sleeps his life away in a bedroom directly
beneath hers but when he comes of age, Eva kills her beloved
son. Speaking of the way the males and females die in the
novel , Demetrakopoulos says
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64 Postmodern Feminist Writers
Whether a character dies by fire or by wate r is crucial
thematically; for in this novel , the apocalypse seems to come
from within. All of Eva's progeny die by fire. Eva burns Plum's
bedroom with him in it; when Sula i s a teenager, Hannah
catches fire and Eva leaps from an upstairs bedroom trying to
suve bel'. Morrison implies that Eva smothers Hannah in the
ambulance because Hannah is 80 horribly di sfigured. Later 8S
the adult now in charge, Sula threatens Eva with fire to get
her out of the house and into an old people's home. Sula dies
of a terrible fever that comes on her after s he fall s in love for
the first time in her life. The Peace females thus die of a doubl e
dose of the masculine element of fire; the Peace males, of the
feminine element of water. It is important to see that Plum has
already s unk into the depths of the unconscious, has been
drowned by drugs, before Eva burns him. The adopted males
di e of literal water; the Dewey and Tar Baby are drowned on
National Suicide Day. Ea rly on, Sul a drowns Chicken Little.
It is as if the sexes are 80 polarized. That each di es of the other's
basic element. The contrasexual, the opposite gender, is so
unknown, so undifferentiated that it becomes demonic and
killing. The whole Peace line dies of it. (57)
Sula's subjectivity i s brought into clear focus by
contrasting her with her friend Nel. Nel is Everywoman.
She is forced to repress parts of her selfby her mother Helene
Wright. When ten-year old Nel goes with Helene to bury
Helene's pious grandmother, Nel meets her own still
beautiful prostitute grandmother. Helene lets her mother
Rochel1e know that she does not want to have anything to
do with her. Rochelle accepts this and leaves, but not without
a tight, hard, anguished final embrace of her grand daughter
The fear that her mother's blood may resurge in Nel
and destroy her makes Helene drive Net's young feminine
imagination underground causing the young woman to
repress many parts of herself that struggle to emerge. It is
imporlan't to see that"the women in Nel's family contain and
connect with adult males. Helene's husband Wiley Wright
is scarcely ever home because he is a seaman; he is peripheral
both in the actual home and psychologically. Jude's name
reveals his much more central role in Nel'slife as a Betrayer.
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Postmodernism in the African Amencan Context:... 65
Morrison makes us understand that Jude has his own reasons
for bitterness and hatred that make him betray Nel - the
pressures of being a Black man kept from promotion because
of white men. He abandons his family. It is Nel who ends up
as sole parent; she cleans houses to support the three children
who for many years become her life.
Nel and Sula represent the two sides of the coin that
stand for the total human personality. Both of them are
Morrison's favourite characters since they are symbolic of
the good and the evil persistently present in the society.
Morrison says "Yet she (Sula) and Nel are very much alike.
They compliment each other. They support each other. I
suppose the two of them together could have made a
wonderful single human being. They are like a Janus'
head"(Parker 253). In S u J 8 ~ Morrison creates a female
character who makes individualism supreme over the
collective. As Karan Stein says "the truest heroism lies not
in external battle, as in the wars which destroy the novel's
men, but in confrontation with the self' (149).
Morrison continues to experiment with traditional
Western notions of identity and wholeDess in her Dext novel
Song of Solomon. Patricia Waugh in Feminine Fictions:
Revisiting the Postmodern observes that the death of the
self is characteristic of all postmodern fictions. Waugh also
says that
for those marginalized by the dominant culture, a sense of
identity as constructed through impersonal and social relations
of power (rather than a sense of i.dentity as the reflection of an
inner -essence-) bas been a major aspect of their self-concept
long before poststructuralists and postmodernist s began to
assemble their cultural manifestos. (1989:3)
Apart from analyzing split subjectivity, SongofSO/omon
is, in many ways, a postmodern novel since Morrison
indulges in deconstructioD at many levels. She deconstructs
the implicatioDs of Christianity and the Bible which was
used as a controlling tool to regulate the behaviours and
feelings of the Blacks, deconstructs the white man's language
and most importantly combines the mythic sense of meaning
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66 Postmodem Feminist Writers
with the concrete situation of the blacks. Morrison plays
variations on the mythic Icarus story in order to project the
situation of the blacks in White America. In other words,
through Intertextuality and Irony as a mode of signifying
on the ancient myths, Morrison projects the dilemma or the
double-consciousness of the blacks.
Song of Solomon is essentially the story of Milkman
Dead's search for and discovery of meaning in his life. The
two parts of the novel correspond to the fundamental realities
with which he must come to terms: his community and his
family history. Part I treats bis current relationships with
others and thus represents the present. Part II which treats
Milkman's confrontation with the incoherent and fragmented
stories that others share with him about his ancestry,
represents the past. In Part I we learn that he was born the
day after the black community's insurance man, Mr.Smith,
committed suicide in an apparent attempt to fly from the
roof of the hospital. The song that is sung at the time of his
"flight" is actually the song of the myth of the flying African,
the puzzling song that Milkman will later have to decipher
if he is to understand the story of his ancestors. We then
learn of the loveless marriage of his parents, Macon Dead II
and Ruth, of the contrived circumstances that led to his
conception, of his mother's unnatural act of nursing him well
into his fourth year, of the neighborhood gossip's discovery
of this act as the origin of his losing his birth name, Macon
Dead III and being given the nickname "Milkman" (S%mon
15) and of his father's position as the most "'propertied Negro"
(S%mon 20) in town. We also learn of his eccentric Aunt
Pilate, of her daughter Reba and of Reba's daughter Hagar,
al1 of whom Macon calls a "collection of lunatics" (S%mon
20) because they embarrass him.
In Part I we learn of Milkman's alienation from his two
sisters , Magdalene, called Lena, and first Corinthians, of
his alienation from almost everyone but his close friend
Guitar Bains, the leader of a gang, and of his
prolonged but di sinterested love affair with Hagar, his

Postmodemism in the African American Context:... 67
cousin. In we learn of his parents' respective guilt-
ridden attempts to explain the past to him, of his decision to
end his affair' with Hagar, and of her subsequent monthly
attempts to kill him. Most important, at the end of Part I we
learn of his attempt, with assistance from Guitar, to steal a
bag from Pilate which his father leads him to believe contains
his inheritance of gold, of his discovery that this bag contains
only human bones and not gold, and of his subsequent
decision to leave home and head south in part to search for
the gold but primarily to flee from, the urban milieu and the
responsibilities and entanglements offamily, friendship, and
love so that he could "live his own life (Solomon 2). This
decision becomes the impetus for Milkman's journey to the
TUral home of his ancestors, a journey which is narrated in
the six short chapters of Part II.
His journey takes him first to a small Pennsylvania
town where he inquires about Circe, the midwife who cared
for his father and aunt when their mother, Sing, died in
childbirth. His inquiry leads him to a group of men who share
their memories of Macon Dead in a series of storytelling
rituals. He then finds Circe, the dreamy witch -like figure
who helps him make sense of the fragmented versions he
got from Macon and Pilate, and who tells him the location of
the cave where his grandfather's body had been dumped.
Unsuccessful at finding either the body or the gold in the
cave, Milkman decides the gold must be in Virginia, the state
from which his grandparents had migrated to the North.
Once he arrives in Shalimar, Virginia, his search takes on
all the characteristics of an initiation rite into manhood. He
participates in a verbal battle known as the "dozens", he
defends himself in a physical knife and bottle challenge, he
becomes a member of a hunting expetiition, he experiences
genuine sensuality for the first time, he deciphers the hidden
meaning of his ancestral song, he endures the betrayal of
friendship, and he discovers that his true inheritance is not
gold but a legacy of his great-grandfather's heroic flight from ..
oppression back to Africa. ]n the process of dIscovering that
there is no gold to be found, he that the bones Pilate
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68 Postmodern Feminist Writers
claims are her inheritance are actual1y the bones of her
father, who was killed by whites when he tried to save his
farm. Part II ends with his journey to Michigan just long
enough to get Pilate, whom he takes back to Virginia to give
her father 's remains a proper burial, with his recitation of
his ancestr al song to Pilate just before she dies, and with
his ambiguous yet symbolic gesture of reunion with his friend
Guitar at the end of the noveL
A brief synopsis of the nove] does not bring out the
complex postmodern strategies Morrison uses to project the
situation of Blacks in White America. Christianity, which
was not the native religion of African Americans, was
imposed upon them as a controlling tool to regulate their
behaviour and feelings. Morrison uses biblical names to
illustrate the effect of the Bible on the lives of black people.
Although the names of the principal women in Song of
Solomon are biblical, these names are ironic counterpoints
to the situation of their biblical namesakes. Morrison's
Rebecca, instead of being the exemp]ary wife, never marries
and has one lover after another. Magdalena called Lena is
not a reformed prostitute; s,hlf never takes a lover and
remains in her father's house. First Corinthians who accepts
the love of a working class man, Porter, is scorned by her
father, instead of being celebrated like the Corinthians in
the Bible. The way Macon Dead names his two daughters
shows his lack of interest in them without either expectation
or affection. He names the girls Magdalena called Lena and
first Corinthians by blindly selecting names from the Bible
without considering their implications. Moreover, the
daughter's inability t o articulate the cause of the emotional
detachment from the father and their displacement from
the neighbourhood parallels the lack of knowledge of their
names. Neither father nor daughters attempt to determine
the meaning of their names and understand the Mrican
American milieu that constitutes their most significant
cultural reaHty.
The complicated nexus of names form the crux of the
identity theme that runs' throughout the novel The best
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Postmodernism in the African Amencan Context:... 69
example is Pilate's name. Pilate is described as one who
literally wears her name; it was chosen in accordance with
an old AfricanAmencan tradition of selecting a newborn
baby's name from the bible. Her father who could not read
or write selected the name his finger pointed to first. Even
though the midwife tried to advise him against the "Christ
killing Pilate" (Solomon 19), he persisted partially out of
confusion and melancholy over his wife's death at childbirth.
At the age of hyelve, Pilate removed the paper that bears
her name from the Bible, folded it up, and placed it in a tiny
brass box which she wears as an earring. The fact that she
wears her name suggests the value she places on her identity
over her possessions - a quality that distinguishes her from
her brother Macon. Her role as herbalist and conjure woman
who saves Milkman's life is an ironic comment on her name.
All the novel s of Toni Morrison try to show the
machinery of myth, the ways that meaning can modify
experience. She insistently raises questions about mythic
or symbolic readings of life, often showing even the best
intentioned at meaning going astray. She adapts the myth
to the black historical context, reconciling freedom with
factity on both individual and collective levels. The multiple
perspectives not only qualify the myth by showing that any
specific situation may be a different myth for each of the
characters involved since each sees himself at the center of
it; they a1so make the myth's relevance clear by showing the
same problems manifested in many cases, so that Milkman's
solution is for all
Song of S%man more explicitly displays Morrison's
intention to use the image of flight to free the protagonist
from a confining encirclement. The story begins with the
failure of Robert Smith's attempt to fly from the top of No
Mercy Hospital. He is known as a black insurance agent
and later in the novel turns out to be a member of the Seven
Days, the secret radical group which takes violent and
merciless revenge on white people. Although his comrades
assert that killing the same ntimber of whites as blacks
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70 Postmodem Feminist Wnten
murdered by whites is the only way to retaliate against
racism, he appears to hesitate to believe in the dogma ortha
Seven Days and fInally takes his life instead of depriving
other innocent people of theirs. Morrison connects Smith's
flight with Lindbergh's suicide fOUT years-earlier which drew
a bigger crowd.
Milkman's birth occurs at the Hospital the day following
Smith'. failed fantasy of flight. From childhood Milkman i.
fascinated with the dream of flight but he is kept away. from
the possibility of flight due to his vanity. When Milkman
observes a peacock which alights on the roof of a building
spreading its tail and questions Guitar why it cannot fly,
the latter says "Too much tail, All that jewelry weighs it
down. Like vanity. Can't nobody fly with all that shit. Wanna
fly. you got to give up the shit that weighs you down"
(Solomon 179-80). It means that Milkman has to give up his
material possessions and arrogance to free his spirit for
flight. His quest begins with his separation from bis urban
community in Michigan and his initiation into the rural
Ip.ndscape, first of Pennsylvania, then of Virginia. His
reflections on the airplane are of his lifelong preoccupation
with flying. He reflects on bow the plane ride exhilarated
him, encouraged illusion and a feeling of invulnerability.
High above the clouds, heavy yet light, caught in the stillness
of speed, - sitting in intricate metal become glistening bird,
it was not possible "to believe he had ever made mistake, or
could ... This one time he wanted to go solo. In the air, away
from real life, he felt free, but on the ground, when he talked
to Guitar just before he left, the wings of all those other
people's nightmares flapped in his face and constrained him"
(S%mon 220).
Momson juxtaposes "the African American folklore of
a flying Mrican" with the Western myth bfIcarus in order to
show a racialized connotation of flight which differs from
the Western concept. Icarus fell fatally, because of his pride.
Flying is restricted to African Americans and hence the
African Americans created the myth of a flying hero which
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Postmodernism in tbeAfricanAmerican Context:... 71
~ a "fictional strategy that is one step removed from realism
in its referential relationship to everyday experience .. . myth
rewrites the rules of the social order" (Thomas 246).
Morrison also rewrites Greek myths. On Milkman's
arrival in Danville, he meets people and asks for Circe, the
midwife who brought Macon and Pilate into the world.
Unlike the Circe of Greek myth who turns the men of
Odysseus into swine, Circe in Song of Solomon is more like
a prophetess or sibyl. Milkman understands that Circe is
like Pilate, a "healer, deliverer .. (who) in another world would
have been the head nurse at Mercy'" (Solomon 2(6). She is
the one who directs Milkman to the cave that once held his
grandfather's remains and tells him that his grandfather's
real name was Jake and not Mason. She becomes a spiritual
midwife to Milkman. .
Mi1lk.man is drawn closer to the past and his roots in
Shalimar, the birthplace ofhis graodparent.. In this mythical
place, Milkman associates himself with the local people who
love hunting. Throughout his stay in Shalimar, pronounced.
"Shalleemone", (Solomon 261) Milkman hears children
singing. The children in Shalimar sing a slightly different
but similar :version of Pilate's verse "Solomon ,done fly,
Solomon done gone I Solomon cut across the sky, Solomon
gone home" (Solomon 307). He realizes the mystery of his'
ancestry that Sugarman in Pilate's song: 0 Sugarman done
fly/ O Sugarman done gq'ne ... .. (Solomon 9) is a
tran!:3figuration of his great grandfather Solomon or
Shalleemone as pronounced by local people. Solomon, an
African slave, decided to flyaway home back toAfrica leaving
his wife Ryna and twenty children. He tries to take his
youngest child Jake with him but drops him soon after he
gets in the air. Milkman realizes that "these children were
singing a story about his own people" (Solomon 304).
In the last scene of Song of Solomon, Milkman soars
from the Cliff, embodying the dream of flight of African
Americans. Moreover, Iris transformation into mythic
dimensions indicates that he has overcome the difficulties
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Postmodern Feminist Wnters
arms actual life, expelling his social and cultural limitation.
Milkman's flight is depicted in the image of a fleet and bright
lodestar. He empowers all African American slaves who ran
away from slavery, heading for the North following the
lodestar. Moreover, not only African-American slaves but
other travellers in different times and other places also relied
on that star a8 a landmark because it universally indicates
the north. The lodestar sustains hope for aU human beings.
Milkman's realization of flight, his sudden knowledge that
"If you surrendered to the air, you could ride it" (S%mon
341), also encourages the dream of anybody from any other
cultural or racial group.
In Tar Baby Morrison deeply examines the "double-
consciousness" so well explained by W.E.B. DuBois. Apart
from shattering mirrors and patriarchal language, she also
deconstructs the Biblical Fan myth by imbuing it with an
Mrican American perspective. Jadine Childs, a Sorbonne -
educated" dilettante comes to the island called Isle de
Chevaliers for an extended vacation from her world of
modelling, film and theatre. She is supported and brought
up by the white businessman, Valerian Street, who sees to
it that she gets assimilated into the Street family. With an
Art degree at the Sorbonne and her love for painting, Jadine
dismisses African art which is never discussed in her
Eurocentric art class. She denies African heritage and
withdraws he rself from African-American autonomy thereby
uprooting herself from her origins. She suffers from
psychological conflict. The ~ r r o r which society provides her
with is so distorted and prejudiced that it blinds her insight.
Her behavioural patterns, dress language associations and
ideology are all those of the ruling class. Her fiance is a
wealthy European Parisian who will bring her wealth and
unquestioned status. Her allegiance is [J)(Sre to the Streets
whom she regards "like family almost" than to Ondine and
Sydney who slave for her. It is this attempt, to be other than
herself, that causes Jadine's insecurity throughout the novel.
In Tar Baby. Morrison deconstructs the stereotype of the
black woman and reinscribes an autonomous black female,
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Postmodernism in the African American Context:.. . 73
introducing a woman free from the negative influence of
mirrors. A woman in a yellow dress, a magnificent Mrican
woman whom Jadine encounters at a supennarket in Paris
is not intimidated by her reflection in the glass door. Her
right hand holds three eggs and her left. arm is folded over
her waist. She floats through the glass door with dignity.
Her pride, dignity and beauty attract everyone . Here,
Morrison refutes the manipulative power of the mirrors by
creating the yellow woman.
Unlike Jadine, who internalizes capitalist white values,
Son reflects a people - class mentaJity. He is at once
aggressive and passive, logical and intuitive, carnal and
spiritual. Son attempts to launch a political education
campaign, his primary target being Jadine, and his indirect
target being the entire Street housebold. For tbe Mrican
mas ses , he has a special love, despite his fee li ng of
"disappointment nudging contempt for the outrage J ade and
Sydney and Ondine exhibited in defending property and
personnel that did not belong to them from a black man who
was one of their own" (Baby 124).
ln, Jadine and Son, Morrison accentuates the extreme
differences in their cultures. While Jadine represents the
best of white culture, Son represents the best of black culture.
Morrison subtly uses Christian symbolism. The Isle De
Chevaliers with its beautiful flowers is similar to Milton's
of Eden in Paradise Lost. Son's entrance into
the island threatens the peace and harmony of an already
flawed world. While in Eden, man's abuse was the forbidden
fruit, in Tar Baby Morrison points out the violation of the
rights of others. The greenhouse which Valerian Street owns
becomes symbolic of his attempt to recapture something that
he has lost. He spent most of his time in the greenhouse
because "it was a nice place to talk to his ghosts in peace
while he transplanted, fed, air layered, rooted, watered, dried
and thinned his plants" (Baby 14). Unlike Valerian, who-
ravages the natural system of the island with modern
technology for his exclusive use, Son who has great
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74 Postmodem Feminist Writers
knowledge not only revitalizes plants but also encourages
the residents to express their feelings. When Son comes to
the island, he undergoes a ritualistic cleansing, a baptism
and new beginning when he escapes his ship and swims
through water to the island. As some critics
have noted, Son becomes something oCa parody of the Christ
figure, a man who is wrapped in a fine pair of silk pajamas
in place of "straddling clothes" put in the 'manger' of the
guest room, and welcomed as the white god's surrogate only
Terry Otten considers Son to be a serpent in the Garden
of Eden but gives a different interpretation to his character.
Otten brings out the deCoDstructive impulse in Morrison by
saying that
More than the conventional tempter in the garden, Son is the
manifestation of the black pariah in Western Culture, the
terrorizing black male, the supposed rapist of white woman_ 1b
Margaret and the whitewashed blacks at the estate he
represents the 'Swamp nigger' a black 'beast' who jeopardizes
a distinctly white Eden_ He is the rebellious black who will not
hehave according to the rules or values of the system, and it is
precisely on such grounds that all the characters except
Valerian Street judge him. (Otten (4)
Son who is the intruder in Valerian' s discordant
household, serves as a nurturer and conservator of life and
music. He brings to life Valerian's plants by simply shaking
it. He is a man of the soil and nature. This is the reason why
he is unable to survive in New York where both he and Jadine
go. While the city makes her feel very happy, Son gradually
loses his ability to heal, followed by a decrease in his
emotional expression. He is not only physically trapped in
their small New York apartment but psychologically as well
without any external outlet.
While Jadine is too self-conscious and self-sufficient,
Son represents the community. She refuses to understand
Ondine's (who serves in the Valerian household) worry about
encroaching old age and her wish to live with Jadine (her
niece). She says "Please don't need me now, not now. I can't

P08tmoderniam in the AJi-ican American Context:... 76
parent now. I cannot be needed now. Another time, please I
have spent it all. Please don't need me now" (Baby 280).
Jadine evades personal responsibility and ignores Mrican
American practice of caring and nurturing. Ondine tells her
JadiDe, a girl has got to be a daughter 61'8t ... She bave to learn
that ... And ifshe never learns how to be a daugbter; she can't
never learn how to be a woman. I mean a real woman: a woman
good enough for a child: good enough for a man - good enough
even for the respect of other women. Now you didn't have a
mother long enougb to learn much about it and I thought I was
doing right by sending you to all them schools and so I never
told you it and I should have. You don't need your own natural
mother to be a daughter. All you need is to feel a certain way,
s certain careful way about people older than you are. (Baby
Ondine, though she works for white masters, still
remembers the importance of matriarchal tradition which
considers each individual as a whole person. Son, unlike
Jadine, treasures his birthplace, Eloe, as a repository oftbe
past. Moreover, the "original dime", the first money he has
earned and the icon of his past to which he is possessively
and emotionally attached suggests his retreat into the
confming past. It is to Eloe that he takes Jadine in order to
create in ber a sense of black tradition. Jadine confronts
racial ghosts in Eloe - all the black women in her life in the
dark outside the door.
The night women were not merely against her ... not merely
looking superior over their saggi ng breasts and folded stomachs,
they seemed somehow in agreement about her and they were
out to get her, tic her, bind her. Grab the person she had worked
hard to become and choke it ofT with their soft loose tits.
(Baby 262)
Both Son and Jadine are perched fixedly in the
extremities of their positions, unwilling to temper them, the
two now only pose ultimate to each other. Son needs Jadine
to direct him toward material achievement in life and Jadine
needs Son to give her a feeling of security and belonging.
Jadine fails to resolve the cultural conflict and personal
fragmentation. Son, on the other, does emerge as one who
:I materlaa
76 Postmodern Feminist Wnters
gets back to his roots so as to be in touch with himself. Hence
he becomes close to achieving wholeness in the end in spite
ofa contradiction of his cultural life style. Like a postmodern
novel, the ending is left ope n-ended in which Morrison
meshes opposites rather than pit them against each other
in an effort to communicate the intertwining nature of things.
Like all her other novels, she makes effective use of biblical
and theological myths to underscore the passage from
innocence to experience. Although Son may be compared to
the serpent in the Garden of Eden, as Terry Otten does, he
is seen as redolent of the black nationalist mal(: activists of
the 1960's and like Guitar in Song of Solomon he is the
terrorizing black male stereotype of Western culture and
challenges the blacks and whites on the island to face truths
about themselves. As Otten puts it
It is not the criminality of desire but selfdenial that he exposes.
In short, Son enter s paradise like the biblical serpent,
articulates J adine's forbidden desires, muted by her counterfeit
identity and her into action. In his insistence that
she acknowledge the ' darker' side of herself, the authentic black
self obscured in t he distorted mirror of her adopted Eden, Son
forces Jadine to see the 'beast ' in the glass. (46)
BeJovedis a novel which brings out Morrison's intention
to deconstruct s lavery, racis m, patriarchy, social and
historical conventions and even language. She proves herself
to be a postmodern writer as she defamiliarises social and
historical conve ntion. As De rrida notes, post structural
writers attempt to read peripheral margins in the work - a
footnote a recurrent minor term or image, a casual allusion
(Eagleton 133).
Henry Loui s Gates, Jr. in his book The Signifying
Monkey: A Theory of African-Amen'can Literary Criticism
(1988) speaks of signifying - one text playing upon another
- usually repeating it but making significant changes or
inverting it. However, he distinguishes between the African-
American usage of 'Signifyi ng(g)' from the European
linguistic concept 'signifying' by USi.Dg a capital letter and
by placing the final consonant in parenthesis. Gates argues
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Postmodernism in the AfTican American Context:... 77
that the Signifying(g) of black narratives - the linguistic
playing, punning, coding, decoding and recording found in
African-American texts - emerges from the pressing
necessity for political, social and economic survival.
Black people have aJways been masters of the figurative: saying
one thing to mean something quite other has been basic to black
survi vaJ in oppressive Western cultures. Misreading signs could
be, and indeed often was, fatal . 'Reading', in this sense, was
not play; it was an essential a spect of the 'literacy' training of
a child. This sort of metaphorical literacy. the learning to
decipher codes, is just about the blackest a spect of the black
tradition: (Gates 1988:6)
Morrison's novel Beloved does precisely this job of
'signifying(g). She sheds light on an African-American
incident considered 'minor' by white historians. She was
inspired to write Beloved because of a newspaper clipping
about a fugitive slave named Margaret Gamer who tried to
kil1 her own children (she was able to kill only one) rather
than see the child return to bondage in the South. Thus the
novel deals not only with 'reconstructed memory' but also
deconstructed history.
Set in post-civil war Ohio, this haunting narrative of
slavery and its aftermath, traces the life of a young woman,
Sethe who has kept a terrible memory at bay only by shutting
down part of her mind. The novel deals with Sethe's former
life as a slave on Sweet Home Farm, her escape with her
children to what seems a safe haven aOnd the tragic events
that follow. The novel binges on the death of Sethe's infant
daughter, Beloved who mysteriously reappears as a sensuous
young woman. Beloved's spirit comes back to claim Sethe's
love. Sethe struggles to make Beloved gain full possession
of her present and throw off the long, dark legacy of her
past. Morrison addresses the difficulties faced by former
slaves in keeping the horrors of their pasts submerged within
the subconscious. Ann Snitow says that Morrison "Twists
and tortures and fractures events until they are little slivers
that cut. She moves the lurid material -of melodrama into
the minds of her people, where it gets sifted and s o ~ e d lived
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78 Postmociern Feminist Writers
and relived, until it acquires the enlarging outlines of myth
and trauma, dream and obsession" (25).
Morrison uses the stream-of-consciousness technique
through the minds of various cbaracters to slowly reconstruct
a portrait of the past, both individual and communal. As
seen already. Morrison uses mirrors to display the dangerous
and destructive influence of white values imposed on black
women. The mirrors project the values oftbe dominant group
of people and these reflections repress black women's
experiences and consciousness in a complicated way. Mirrors
are often employed by men who have frequently attempted
to reduce women to a don-like status and to make them
believe in the male doctrine that female physical appearance
reflects their worth in order to undermine female self-
confidence, more particularly that of black women.
Beloved displays a picture completely different from
the distorted images reflected in the mirrors. Beloved
rearranges the broken pieces of mirrors by showing new life
and hope. The sorrows and agonies of those slaves who were
enslaved and exploited could be transformed into hope for
the future by rearranging the shattered pieces of glasses
and mirrors. In the epigraph of the novel Morrison's aim is
revealed. <';1 will call them my people/which were not my
people/and her beloved I which was not beloved". Morrison
expresses in the epigraph her intention to recover the
emotional lives of those who were never recognized in the
mainstream discourse by reconstituting African-American
Much of the significant criticism about black women
writers .has debated the issue of what makes their work their
own. Marjorie Pryse observes that" Alice Walker 'implicitly
disclaims genius' and hence originality for writing The Colour
Purple by na ming herself a metlium"(1). It amounts to
participation in the task of redef"ming a tradition which
involves disconnections and reconnection of the past. What
makes her works her own is the unique way in which she
negotiates the constraining influence of a given critical or
j m a t e r ~
Postmodemism in the African American Context:... 79
authorial power and ensures the participation of the reader
in the experience of the past. For her "love ... gossip ... magic
... (and) sentiment centralize and animate information
discredited by the west ..... (Morrison, "Memory, Creation and
Writing": 388). In Belovedshe achieves the unique authentic
voice by means of certain basic types of discourse as well as
linguistic codes related to a residually oral culture. Speaking
in many compelling voices and on many time levels, the
narrative of Beloved deals with Sethe Suggs' racial freedom
and psychological wholeness, Beloved the devil child and its
ghost story and the impact of slavery. The novel compels the
reader's involvement in actively constructing for himself an
interpretive framework which runs parallel to Sethe's
psychological recovery from the trauma of her own past.
Morrison deconstructs stereotype. Sethe's
remembrances of her painful and baunting past are vivid
. and dramatic. Sbe is the novel's dramatized narrator I
protagonist conveying traumatic events poignantly in direct
discourse. As Sethe teUs her story her memory is "loaded
with the past" (Beloved 70).
Paul D's visit to Sethe's house 124 initiates Sethe's
journey into the past. She remembers that though now a
haunted house once 124 had been a cheerful house where
Baby Suggs taught black people to love their lives and their .
flesh because the whites despised it. When Sethe arrived
with her newborn daughter tied to her chest, Baby Suggs
welcomed her. She initiated Sethe into the wisdom and
beliefs and souls of ber people. The first twenty eight days
Sethe spent in the company of Baby Suggs were followed by
eighteen years of disapproval and a solitary life because the
community that respected Baby Suggs held itself at a
distance when Sethe killed her own daughter, Beloved. Paul
D's visit makes Sethe remember her past and her present
collides with her past. Their past is represented through
stories and flashbacks. Paul D Garner, Paul F Garner, Halle,
Suggs and Sixo, the wild men, all worked at Mr. Garner's
farm Sweet Home along with Sethe. As Sethe and Paul D
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80 Postmodem Feminist Writers
exchange their past and want to catch up on eighteen years
in a day. Sethe tells Paul D that she has a chokecherry tree
on her back. The Chokecherry tree was the result of cowhide
beatings on Sethe's back and it is an image that recreates
her painful history.
In Morrison's fiction, sensuality is embedded in the past
and sensual descriptions explode the effects of alienation and
repression. Sethe's remembrance of girlhood sensuality at
Sweet Home coincides with her womanhood in Cincinnati.
Sweet home is the site where images aTe produced. Paul D's
desire to learn Sethe's sorrow, to share it with her, produces
a liberating effect. She remembers things with the hope that
the last of the Sweet Home men was there to catch her if she
sank. As Paul D dropped twenty-five years from his recent
memory to share bed life with Sethe, she remembers her
first experience with her husband, Halle, in the tiny cornfield
of Mr. Garner. Sethe spends a few months with Paul D who
resents the children. She had the code they used among
themselves that he could not break. Finally when Paul D
learns about Sethe's past, he sneaks away without saying
Language is a component, which Morrison tries to
deconstruct. She defies the paradigm of structuralism and
"'the exploitative nature oflogocentric orders" (Byerman 55)
which control the assumption of a fixed relationshipbetween
signifier and signified. Morrison is actually aware of the power
structure of the signifier anti signified in terms of language
under slavery, which draws the line between the
oppressor and the oppressed. In Beloved Sixo who is a slave
is executed by Schoolteacher. Nevertheless, he does not yield
to the master's dominance even though he has to risk his
life. He refuses to speak English "because there was no future
in it." (Beloved25). Sixo defies the language ofthe dominant
group, which denies the culture, and ideology of the
oppressed, imposing their own values. His strong spirit for
true emancipation does Dot die and is passed on to Paul D.

Postmodernism in theAfrican American Context:... 81
The multiplicity of voices is also characterized by various
kinds of language and discourse. They at:e the standard
American English, the feminist discourse of the iqlplied
author and the dramatized narrator respectively, the speech
of Denver (Sethe's child) for the primary audience, the
language of Baby Suggs transcending the logic of Logos,
the Gothic and surrealistic expressions of Beloved and the
collective healing language of the women's voices during the
ritual of exorcism.
The actual catalysis which forces Sethe to emerge from
her repressed condition, to come to terms with her past and
racist history is the engulfmg presence of Beloved. Beloved,
the baby ghost, is a deconstructing force, determined to
explode Sethe's household which holds Sethe's and slavery's
unspeakable past. Through the character of Beloved, whose
haUnting presence makes the boundaries between myth and
reality disappear, Morrison explores the possibility of the
existence of the ghost. At one level, Beloved's ghost is a
manifestation of Sethe's guilty conscience. She is haunted
by waking visions born out of guilt and fear. Once again,
Morrison explores the psyche of a slave mother who must
deal with haunted life on every level. In the .fmal part of the
novel, the roles of mother and daughter are reversed.
Initially, Denver, Sethe's daughter wishes to protect Beloved
from Sethe but fmany she wishes to protect her mother from
Beloved. Sethe's recovery from the trauma of having
committed infanticide and from almost getting devoured by
Beloved is brought about by the woman in her community
who sing and pray for her sake and her resurrected
companion, Paul D who had been gradually expelled from
the house by Beloved but who returns to Sethe with words
of comfort.
In an absorbing passage dramatically asserting the
reconciliation of Sethe and Beloved, individual past and
history, repression and relief, Mornson invents a new voice
out of a ghost and dead past. At the end of this section, in a
poetic chant the memories and minds of Sethe, Denver and
Beloved combine to make a mutual song of possession.
j materlaa
I waited for you
You are mine
You are mine
Postmodern Feminist Writers
You are mine. (Beloved 267)
When the women of the neighbourhood assemble
outside 124 and make the ghost of Beloved disappear in her
final leap, Beloved wheels into her mother's arms and then
is left behind alone, she flies freeing herself. The other voice
in the novel, the ultimate, is coHective. It is ortbe women in
the exorcism ritual toward the end of the novel. Its power
lies in the sensation of sound and not in the logical meaning
of the Logos. The women "... stopped praying and took a
step back to the beginning. In the beginning there were no
words. In the beginning was the sound, they all know what
that sound sounded like" (Beloved 318). As Deborah Gutb
pointedly says
In the last analysis, of course, Morrison's novels are themselves
acts of repetition both as remembering and as transformation.
Her extensive use of myth and folk belief to explore the
meaning of the present, the open musical architecture of her
work, the oral/aural narrative voice and communal story telling
techniques she deploys, all shows the degree to which she
herself draws on the past. More important, they dramatise the
act of imaginative transformation so central to her thought -
the possibility, that is, of recreating various traditional forms
within a modern, in this case, narrative context. On a broader
level , of course, the very composition of Beloved shows this
capacity not simply to descriptively repeat the past, but to
actually transform the chaos of history into a fable of love and
bereavement. By carefully maintaining the tension between
these two extr emes - pas t and present, hi story and its
imaginative transformation - she balances the need for return
with a constant awareness of historical distance and redefines
Ou Boi s's "double - consciousness" as a form of self-
reflexiveness about the function and the functioning of memory.
Jazz (1992) is typical of Morrison's fiction in its concern
with place and displacement and the interrelatedness of past
and present. It is typically postmodern since Morrison
experime nts boldly with narrative strategies and
deconstructs the Aristotlean plot line with a beginning,
j m a t e r ~
Postmodernism in the African Amencan Context:... 83
middle and end. The musical mode of Jazz is used to structure
the novel. As Henry Louis Gates points out "few musical
traditions ... have had more modern masters than has the
Mrican-Americi:m tradition, from the blues to rhythm - and
- blues, from soul to rap, from ragtime to Jazz" (1984:152).
No other black writer has attempted to draw upon Jazz as
the structuring principle for an entire work of art as 'lbni
Morrison has done in Jazz.
Like many Jazz pieces, the nove) has a fast opening,
establishing a dominant note and theme and then breaks
into different parts - various stories (passages) and voices
(instruments), various motifs, images and relative themes.
The novel has no numbered chapters and no chapter titles.
It is divided into unnumbered, unequal sections and
separated by blank pages. Each section is further cut into a
number of unequal subsections. The first few pages like a
twelve-bar Jazz tune tell the whole story of Violet, Joe and
Dorcas. There are various story strands but they do not
assume a plot pattern. The scene shifts from city to the
country and relates events not only in the lives of Joe, Violet
and Dorcas but also that of their friends and relations. The
novel tells the pathetic story of Violet and Joe Trace who
were married over twenty years. The narrative glides
between the present and the past to the TUral Virginia of
the 1880's where Joe and Violet met and from which they
eventually migrated to the magical place they call the city.
The backdrop of the action is New York of 1926. The black
community receives ajolt when Joe Trace ki11s his paramour;
an eighteen-yeaT old creamy-complexioned girl named
Dorcas. Joe shoots Dorcas dead at a dance party because
she has left him for another boy, Acton. His crazy wife Violet
crashes the funeral of Dorcas and disfigures with a knife
the dead girl's face. Along with this story there are many
more stories. Orphan Joe's story is connected with that of
Hunter who was present when Wild gave birth to Joe and,
as a father figure, taught him hunting skills and shaped his
sensibility. Intertwined with this are Hunter's escapades
with a white woman and the birth of Golden Gray, a mulatto.
l.IIeI,m;f j m a t e r ~
84 Postmodern Feminist Writers
Violet's story and that of her family is also a part of the
main story. It is a tragic story of poverty and dispossession
with an absent father and a mother who commits suicide. It
is Violet's gra ndmother, True Belle, a former slave who
rescues the family from despair and teaches them the lessons
of survival Jazz has several narrators. All these stories are
told by the seemingly simple device ofletting different voices
tell the story or related episodes of the same story. "Jazz
becomes a multiperspective novel in which the main narrator
and the characters are like the performers in Jazz band,
each, by turn, improving upon his respective past and then
merging into basic theme or composition" (Shourie 68).
The vision of Morrison's nameless narrator frames the
love story and this anonymous voice slowly draws the readers
into the rhythm of the city, especially Harlem, where Jazz
casts bewitching spells on the psyche of the people. It is a
disembodied narrator who slips easily from third person to
first person lyricism without ever relaxing its grip upon our
imagination. The fictional mode of Jazz establishes an
instant contact between the characters and the reader.
Morrison avoids authorial dominance. This leads to a sharing
of control as well as to a breaking down of the adversarial
writer-reader relationship. Such a technique is helpful in
initiating the novel's major theme, which is the impact of
the migration of Violet and Joe to the CIty on their psyche.
The journey from the rural South to the industrial North
changes the people totally. Rodrigues speaks of the effective
technique thus
In order to record and present this continuing process of change
in fict.i onal form, Morrison had to use unusual narrat.ive
strategies. A totally objective narrator would have been too
distant, too impersonal; an ordinary first person one too
involved, too limited, to understand the tribulations of a people.
Morrison makes use of a number of voices and teners. These
voices blend and change, t.hen shift into view points that switch
(at times in the same paragraph) and slide, then become voices
again. The process of thinking turns into a point of view, then
changes into a voice. A mysterious 'I' enters and speaks for a
while. turns objective. disappears, and reenters again and
j materlaa
Postmodernism in the African Amencan Context:... 85
again. We have to be alert at all times, the ear at tpe ready to
pick up and put together the 'arrangement' of echoes of 80und
and meaning that these connected voices release. Morrison
adopts the oral/musical mode of storytelling that relies on
listening and memory. (160)
As in her other novels, Morrison deals with split
subjectivity. Violet, the wronged wife, is a many-faceted
character and admits to many selves within herself. Once in
the city she becomes more concerned with possessions than
with love and communication. She thinks of Joe as hers
without bothering to communicate with him. She is silent
with Joe. She is mistakenly thought to be "violent". The novel
traces the path to the understanding of the self Violet comes
to in her relationships which are not quite apparent with
other black women. She attempts to show how Violet turns
"violent" and how she recovers her lost self by destroying
the violent in her self.
As Joe mourns for Dorcas, Violet wants to know more
about the girl she hates so much. She goes out in search of
Dorcas' past. As she learns more and more about her, she
also learns to associate herself with her. She recognizes that
Dorcas could have been the daughter she never had, or rather
miscarried, a daughter whose hair, she as a hairdresser,
would have liked to dress. Violet's relationship with Dorcas
becomes an affirmation of love of one woman for another,
although Violet starts out with hatred in her heart. Violet's
identification of self with the black women like Dorcas
gradually leads her to discover the real 'me'.
Dorcas too is driven by the city unleashes in heT.
Cut off suddenly from her mother's nurturing love, strictly
disciplined by ber terrified aunt, Dorcas becomes a rebel
and a wild creature of the city. Joe kills her because he
associates her abandoning him fOr another man with the
fact that his mother abandoned him years before. As in
Beloved. Morrison signifies on History. Morrison first came
across the story of star -crossed lovers when she read Camille
Billops' manuscript The Harlem Book of the Dead which
contains photographs and commentary by the great Mrican

86 Postmodem Feminist Wn"ten
American photographer. James Van Der Zee and poems by
Owen Dodson. Van Der Zee described to Camille Billops the
curious origins.ofhis photograph of a young woman's corpse
Sbe was the one I think was shot by her Sweetheart at a party
with a noisele8;8 gun. Sbe complained of being sick. at the party
and friends said, "Well, why don't you lay down? And they
taken her in the room and laid her down. After they undressed
her and loosened her clothes, they saw the blood on her dress.
They asked her about it and she said .,,1 tell you tomorrow,
yes, 111 tell you tomorrow, yes, 111 teU you tomorrow." She was
just trying to give him a chance to get away. (Gates 1993:53)
Morrison protected the seedling of this storyline
nurturing it for over a decade until it assumed the shape it
has in Jazz. Morrison provides a fuller picture of Dorcas as
she did of Sethe (her version of Margaret Gamer of history)
in Beloved. In both novels she constructs a narrative that
links the past with the present. Morrison uses intertextuality
profusely in order to bring out this connection. In Jazz she
draws on the classical tragedy of Oedipus to inform the story
of Golden Gray's quest to meet his father. Golden Gray is a
boy of mixed race who is brought up blind to his origins. He
dl?es not know that his father was a Negro slave, Gray is
brought up by white wealthy people who erase his lineage
to MricaD blood. When he discovers that his father is a black
man, he feels his father has polluted his identity as a white
man, His Oedipal angst is driven by the unassimilable Negro
trace that he discovers exists in his own skin.
Morrison's fiction has always been concerned with
deconstructing the frames of reference within which Mrican
American identity has been and is constructed. SiDce
Deconstruction stresses the limitless possibilities of meaning
that may be found in a text, Morrison uses this technique to
foreground the idea that a literary text is not self-contained
but derives its meanings from a network of associations and
relationships that can be found between' the constituent parts,
j materlaa
Postmodernism in the Indian
Context-Gita Hariharan
and Shashi Deshpande
as Postmodernists
Of the three "posts" - Postmodernism,
POfjtstructuralism and postcolonialism - postmodemism has
apparently come to serve as an umbrella concept for marking
the post-war attitude to art, life and thought - system. It
would be legitimate to regard postmodernism as inc1usiv.e
of poststructualism and postcolonialism as local phenomena
occurring, say in Canada,Australia, SoUthAfriC8, India and
elsewhere within the larger. global phenomenon called
postmodernism. This is possible because postmodemism is
a movement fundamentally opposed to any form of the
totalizing impulse and it is fully committed to
accommodating the voices of the ex-centric and the
Indian fiction in English has taken a "regressive" turn
by seeking literary antecedents in traditional narrative
forms. This can be considered to be a decentring impulse by
producing counter-discourses and most importantly, the
Indian writer's experimentation with form constitutes an
attempt to write difference. As Franz Fanon puts it, the
colonial's disquiet stems from bis recognition of his condition
of perennial exile - shut out of his past by his language and

88 Postmodern Feminist Wnter.s
education and rejected by the world whose ways be/sbe
desperately apes. Fanon attributes the native's return to his
roots to a desperate need for a 'secure anchorage' to fight off
"estrangement" and "contradictions" and deems it necessary
for preventing "serious psycho-affective injuries" which
might produce "individuals without an anchor, without a
horizon. colourless, stateless, rootless - a race of angels
(Fanon 135).
Thus arises the need to re-open a dialogue with the
forgotten past. Fanon mentions that when the native
intellectual, in the first flush of decolonisation. tries to
challenge imperialist hegemony by creating indigenous arts,
he ironically borrows the colonizer's techniques and seizes
on an aspect of his culture that consists of "mummified
fragments" thus exoticizing it in the process (180).
The awareness of the eastern worldview as one of the
many views follows but naturally in a post - Derrida universe
of "transcendental signifieds" and "no centre". The post
colonial space is now supplementary to the metropolitan
centre, it stands in a subaltern, adjunct relation that doesn't
aggrandize the presence of the west but redraws its frontiers
in the menacing, agonistic boundary of cultural difference
that never quite adds up, always less than one nation and
The question of Indian postmodernism is objected for
many reasons. The situations in the East and West .are in
many respects so different that the application of
postmodernism to the Indian context is not warranted at
all. It is usually argued that Postmodemism is primarily a
Euro-American phenomenon, which arose, initially, as a
significant counter-movement to the imperialist impulse
behind Modernist politics, culture and aesthetics in the west
whereas ours is a postcolonial culture, a victim of western
imperialism. In Lyotard's view, postmodernism is not to mean
after - moderni!im but anamodernism (Nicholls 15).
Makarand Paranjape, however, concedes that
postmodernism can have a use for us in India when it is
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Postmodernism in the Indian Context: ... 89
viewed 'as a kind of social criticism' and advocates its use in
India for ushering in glasnost and perestroika ' into our
political and ideological institutions. "The greatest
restructuring can take place in our notion of authority,
whether of the teacher or of the text. Institutional and
hegemonic readings have all but closed out access to the
great texts of India; they need to be deconstructed both inside
and outside the classroom" (162),
Soyinka's caveat to the writer to be at once local and
universal, to avoid the threat of being swal10wed by a faceless
gJobalisation (10) fits the Indian writer today - cosmopolitan
and eclectic, globally popular and multicultural - yet
drawing strongly on native sources.
Postmodernism, it becomes clear, is fully committed to
accommodating the voices of the excentric and the
marginalized. Herein lies the close connection between
feminism and postmodernism. The women writer
manipulates stances that critique domination and thus lays
bare the multivocal worlds of different societies and different
cultures. Indian women writers assert that a Feminist theory
should be explicitly historical, attuned to the cultural
specificity of different societies and periods, and to different
groups within societies and periods. They wish to analyse
the workings of patriarchy in all its manifestations, desire
to think in terms of pluralities and diversities rather than
unities and universals and articulate ways of thinking about
gender without simply reversing the old hierarchies or
confirming them,
In order to achieve these goals, Indian feminist writers
have exerted their energies to deconstruct the past,
reconstruct a more meaningful present. They have unraveled
the thick tapestries of male hegemony and analysed the
reasons for the persistent reproduction of conscious and
unconscious presumptions about women and they have
knitted up a woman's tradition. They have also made 8 study
ofsexual difference of what is 'male' and what is 'female'. In
such 8 venture, the postmodernist inquiry with its
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90 Postmodem Feminist Wn'ters
exploration of the pluralistic implications of a universal
culture becomes meaningful. Women writers have come to
resort to mOTe subtle (feminine) strategies of (re) naming
and (ra) affirming their identities. Tbey have sought to
expose the mechanisms of their misrepresentation by
restoring their past, generating accurate representations for
the present and by projecting their equivocal future.
Postmodem Feminism then is an epistemology that justifies
knowledge claims only in 80 far as they arise from a violation
of the universalist and the homogenized assumptions about
women. It dwells on. the politics of jdifference', Although
'difference' has become a catch-all phrase within postm.odem
feminism and is now a term to t>e found widely in literature,
les8 attention has been paid to specific analyses of its
implication in concrete settin$s. Not only do women diverge
in terms of how race, ethnicity, class, age, sexuality and
disability effect their experience, other factors such as
historical context and geographical location also need to be
part of the framework of feminist analysis. Postmodernism
too is about difference in a number of senses - it can be
disjuncture between objects of perception and the meanings
these have as symbols of representation. As put forth by
Derrida, it can refer to the multiplicity of voices, meanings
and configurations which need to be considered when trying
to understand the social world and which negate the
possibility of any particular authoritative account and it can
also relate to the multitude of different subject positions
which constitute the individual.
In the works ofGita Hariharan and Shashi Deshpande
we see a multilayering of post modern - feminist differences.
What these feminist stories bring out is that subjected to a
multitude of forces, often contradictory, the women in India
not unlike women elsewhere, have begun to move toward
self perception, self expression and selfdetennination, slowly
indeed and not entirely against tradition, within the family
bindings. The western concepts of equality, individual rights
and personal choice would challenge and dismantle the
Indian family structure, which is based on sharing and
j m a t e r ~
Postmodemism in the Indian Context: ... 91
accommodation. Deshpande and Hariharan's works dwell
on this "difference- of postmodern feminism. Vmey Kripal,
while diffenmtiating Indian postmodemism with Western
Postmodernism, avers that
... while the same themes of geDder relations and self-identity,
history, political and social reform, have been add.reaaed in the
Indian English novel since the 1920's, the technique has
changed dramatically since the 1980's. Again although the
Indian novel haa been influeDced by the dominant literary
trends and theories prevalent in the west, novelists have
invariably adapted them or chosen out of them eclectically to
suit representations of their society. Thus, the 1980's novelists
may have been iDfluenced by CUlT8nt postmodernist writing and
poebltructura.list modes of thinking but their noveLe can, by no
stretch of the imagination, be described as postmod.ernist in the
Western sense. The postmodern novels of the Euro.American
world are a continuation of the modern novel and carTY to the
extreme ita contratraditional experiments particularly those
with language. (Kripal 30)
Gita Hariharan's first Common Wealth Award winning
novel The Thousand Faces of Night may be read as re-
visionist myth-making program in which the novelist
attempts to renew the whole community of women through
representation of myths.
The Thousand Faces of Night could be described as,
what Malashri Lal calls "a narrative of split consciousness"
(l09). She maintains that there is a paradigm of the 'Law of
the threshold' in the Indian context that implies a strong
sense ofthe ' inside' and 'out there'. She adds that men have
partaken of both the worlds. The law allows 'multiple
existences' for men, a single for women and '8 step over the
bar is an act of transgression. She observes that '"women
have long been complicit in such gendered roles" (Lal l09).
After spending a few years in America, Devi comes to
India to live with Sits, her widowed mother. While returning
home she had to leave behind the memories of Dan, a black
American, for a better life in India which her mother
promises she sure would fmd. The main story of her life is
written by Devi herself and into this frame a number of other
j m a t e r ~
92 Postmodem Feminist Writers
stories are incorporated; the legends of the mythical heroines
narrated to Devi by her grand mother; the stories of wives
of saints and other pativrats8 recounted to Devi by her
father-in-law and real life experiences ofsctual women either
observed by Devi directly or narrated to her by her house
keeper Mayamma.
This commonplace story of marital discord and woman's quest
for identity outside marriage is turned into a remarkable
rendering of the collective struggle of women for self-liberation
through the author's play with narrative structures -framing
texts within texts, with texts overlapping in curious ways; her
carnivalesque accumulation ofintertexts ranging from the tales
from the Mshabharathato folk stories and herdeft. interweaving
of these with the lives of real women. Hariharan's narrative
voices strike a powerful chord in contempora ry literature
returning to the multi-dimensional vibration of voices unfolding
within a vast mythic social time space. (Vijayasree 177)
Devi becomes familiar with god-like heroes and
heroines from tbe stories of ber grandmother. Devi's
grandmother's narration is a kind of revisionist myth-
making in its own right - sbe does not dwell on the more
prominent figures of the Hindu myths - Sita, Savitri or
Anasuya-oft.en celebrated as paragons offemale virtue. She
retrieves marginal figures like Gandhari, Amba and Ganga.
When Devi questions her grandmother about her mother
Sita who is seen holding a veena in her hand in a photograph,
the latter tells her the story of Gandhari. Gandhari is an
example of a woman who turns her anger against herself.
Gandhari, the mythical figure in MahsbhsTSta was gi\'en in
marriage to the Prince of Has tina pur, Dhritarashtra. Though
initially she was impressed by the relmement of culture and
riches of the people of Hastinapur, later she became very
angry on knowing that she was married to a blind man. In
her anger she tore ofT a-piece of cloth and tied it tightly over
her eyes. "She embraced her destiny - a blind husband -
with a self-sacrifice worthy of her royal blood" (Night 29).
Devi's mother Sita resembles Gandhari. She skillfully plays
veena and is also well trained as a daughter-in-law. One
day the same music invites the anger of her father-in-law
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Postmodernism in the Indian Context: ... 93
when he fmds all things undone in the prayer room. In her
anger Sita pulls away the strings of her veena and never
plays it again in her life. She cuts )lerself off from the link
with the past in order to be a perfect housekeeper, a
blameless wife. The attainment of these goals too is rather
superficial, as over the years of her intense struggle, Sita
bas distanced herself from her "dreamer" husband and
"elusive" daughter.
Another figure in the Mahabharata who could be
regarded as the incarnation of penance is Amba. When
Bhish.ma went to KlI:shi he heard of a Swayamvara at the
king's palace. He went to the palace to get a girl for his step-
brother, Vichitravirya. He abducted all the three beautiful
princesses, Amba, Ambika and Ambalika from the
swayamvara. Nobody could stop them including the King of
Salwa who was about to be garlanded by the elder princess
Amba. Devi questions her grandmother why they did not
stop him. Her grandmother answers "Once he (Bhishma)
had laid his manly hands on her shoulders, Devi, she was
no longer a girL A woman fights her battles alone" (Night
36). Amba pleaded with Bhishma to let her go but the king
ofSalwa rejected her saying that it was Bhishma who had a
rightful claim over her as he had won them aU in the
Swayamvara. Amba returned to Bhishma and asked him to
marry ber but he rejected her because he had taken the vow
of celibacy. She tOok offence and with the desire to take
revenge on Bhishma went to the forest to perform penance.
Siva, pleased with her penance, touched her garland and
promised her that whoever wore it and fought Bhishma in a
battle would be able to kill him. She threw the garland
around a pillar in King Drupada's court and went to the
forest to meet her death. She was born again as Drupada's
daughter Shikhandi. She was brought up as a son and later
at the Battle of Kurukshetra she wore Amba's garland and
went to the battle to see Bhishma's death. Devi parallels
Amba's story with Uma's story who is Devi's cousin and a
common girl. Uma gets married in an affluent family. On
one occasion, Uma's father-in-law in a drunken condition
uteursr IljK j m a t e r ~
94 Postmodern Feminist Writen
kisses on her lips. She comes away from that house to stay
with her grandmother till the old woman's death. Urna is
unlike Amba since she does not have her fighting spirit.
The mythical stories become 80 much a part of her life
that Devi thinks of herself as the very incarnation of all the
avenging deities. If at all she is wronged she would be the
mythical Devi -lik.3 avenger. The illusory life orDevi comes
to an end when she is married off to Mahesh after her return
from America. He bas an executive job and enormous riches.
When Devi wishes to take up a job, he says that a woman
has much work to do at home as he cannot accept her liberty.
Mahesh thinks that marriage is only "'s necessity, a milestone
like any other. It's a gamble (Night 49). Devi reels cheated
like Gandhari. slighted like Amba. She seeka solace in the
presence of her father-in-law Baba, a retired Sanskrit
scholar, who tells her few stories that are supplementary to
her grandmother's stories. "Her stories were a prelude to
my womanhood, an initiation into its subterranean
possibilities. His define the limits. His stories are for a
woman ... an exacting touchstone for a woman, a wife" (Night
51). Baba tells her the story of Muthuswamy Dikshitar who
had two wives. Dikshitar's second wife asked for jewellery
to match her beauty. He said that when the goddess Lakshmi
was with him, why should he care for unworthy mortals.
The same night goddess Ambika, in her glittering jewellery
came in her dream. Overwhelmed with the sight of the
goddess sbe forgot her desire for ornaments. The story was
intended to show how a woman subdues her wishes for the
sake of her husband.
Devi fmds solace in story of Mayamma, the old
in Mahesh's house. Sbe narrates the story of
her own life, which is a tale of tears and traumatic
experiences. She is forced to undergo ten years of penance to
get a son but the son grows into a wastrel SOD. Finally he
dies. Mayamma then learns the strategies of survival and
as she herself puts it '*1 have learnt bow to wait, when to
bend by back, when to wipe tbe rebellious eyes dry" (Night

Postmodernism in the Indian Context: ... 95
Devi's interest in life is renewed with the arrival of
Gopal, a classical singer. Sbe decides to move out of the house
of Mahesh "seeking a goddess who is not yet made" (Night
95). Sbe accompanies Gopal's troop but, as months pass, she
no longer enjoys his concerts and becomes restless of this
life too. Her initial fascination for Gopal wanes since she
discovers that he is a flirt. Her life bas come full circle with
Devi choosing to come back to her mother to begin her life
afresh. As she nears her house, she hears the music of a
veena. Sita plays the veena for her selfsatisfaction and waits
for Devi to return to her. Sita too is reborn as she retrieves
her lost self by returning to her music. As Vijayasree points
The mothers of Devi's rebirth are, thus, manifold. Besides her
mentors, there are many other women whose lives ofTer new
and useful lessons to Devi. She draws on her biological
matrilineage as well as spiritual and mythical heritage. The
invisible energies of the ancient goddesses - Devi, Kali and
Saraswathi among others as well as genetic inheritance from
all women who lived in the past ages and experiential wisdom
of her own contemporaries - all these contribute to the eventual
psycho.spiritual growth of the protagonist. (181)
When Dreams Travel is a typical postmodem novel in
whicb Parody is effectively used. Hariharan incorporates the
past into the present by resorting to the past tale of The
Thousand and One Nights which according to the
Encyclopedia En'tannica (1974) [Vol.IX]
a collection of stories of uncertain date and authorship ... AB in
much medieval European literature, the stories - fairy tales,
romances, legends, fables, parables, anecdotes, and exotic or
realistic adventures - are set within a frame story. Its scene is
Central Asia or "the islands or peninsulae of India and China ...
tbe tales' variety of geographiea1 range of origin - India, Iran,
Egypt, Turkey and possibly Greece - make single authorship
unlikely ... By the 20'" century Western scholars agreed tbat
The Nights is a composite work consisting of popular stories
originally transmitted orally and developed during several
centuries, with mnterial added somewhat haphazardly at
different periods and places ... "

96 Postmodern Feminist Writers
The novel uses The Thousand Bnd One Nights as
Inte rtext. The novel can be terme d Historiographic
Metafiction as it signifies on History. It refutes the natural
or commonsense methods of distinguishing between
historical fact and fiction. It also refutes the view that only
history has a truth claim by ssserting that both history and
fiction are discourses, human constructs, signifying systems.
Such novels self-consciously remind us that while events did
occur in the real empirical past, we Dame and constitute
those events as historical facts by selection and narrative
positioning. Both History and Fiction are linguistic
constructs. Both are intertextual and they deploy the texts
of the past within their own complex textuality. The inoortext
used here foregrounds the feminist issue from a fresh
perspective. The story is based on the cruelty and hypocrisy
of a male king Sharyar who married a virgin every night,
deflowered her and then executed her the next moming. This
was going on for sometime till he married his vam's daughter,
Shahrzad. She turned out to be a perpetual storyteller who
kept the Sultan in tenterhooks. At sword point she was forced
to create new stories in the grim nuptial bed of the palace
dungeon. She talked with a sword hanging over her head "If
she coUapses, the roof could cave in" (TrsveI7).
The novel When Dreams Travel starts at a point of time
long afterwards The Arabian Nights (another name for The
1001 Nights) ends with the Shahryar's happy married life
and Shahrzad returning to a life of domesticity. This ending
is absurd, according to Hariharan
The mistake, of course, is.to imagine that a happy ending is
possible when you have survived a ,shipwreck in a sea of blood.
Shahryar should have killed himself in remorse, or at least
renounced the city and the world, become a mad hermit in the
desert. And Shahrzad? Can life continue static, people with
little events, commonplace milestones, after martyrdom.
(Travel 1056)
Hariharan, therefore, resurrects Shahrzad and gives
her a voice. In the initial text she was silenced by patriarchy.
Art was suppressed and there was no way out for a woman
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Postmodernism in the Indian Context: .. . 97
to come out of patriarchal. norms. Hariharan "interrogates
the patriarchal assumptions of the original tale and of the
culture in which the tale is.embedded, through a subversive
use of the devices of meta fiction, intertext and magic realism
in order to foreground her feminist discourse in the post-
modern context" (Kundu 151). The technique used by
Hariharan to dismantle patriarchal structUres is similar to
what Rushdie does in all his novels. Rushdie reads the Indian
political scene from a poststructuralist perspective adapting
certain strategies of the post-modernist novel and fashioning
a new technique for his fiction. Vmey Kripal opines that
Indian society with its traditionaJ, feudal, patriarchal structUI"Ela
(consolidated further during the period of colonization) seems to
offer sample materials and scope to a novelist desirouB of
subverting and dismantling power structures. Official versions
of history, patriarchal versions of womanhood. class/caste
versioDs of the subaltern are the discourses that are being
contested and undermined by the post 1980's Indian English
novelists. For example. history - writing is seen as ideological
and official history seen to serve those in power. The marginalized
protagonist challenges the hegemony of the state and even as
the official version is offered. it is simultaneously subverted by
other available, public versions. (27)
Hariharan does precisely this. Writing of tradition and
destabilizing it, turning it on its head and installing an
alternative has given a new freedom to her technique and
style. Dunyazad, the younger sister ofShahrzad, on learning
about the death of her elder sister, undertakes a long journey
from her husband's kingdom, Samarkhand to S ~ a b a d . The
moment she reaches the place her mind is activated by the
past and the present. Dunyazad meets Dilsad, a slave girl
and the two tell stories to each other for seven nights and
days. As they tell stories, Shahrzad is revived.
But Shahnad. like her own story is 8 survivor. The travelling
tale undergoes a change of costume, language and setting on
its way. It adapts itself to local conditions. to this century or
that, a pennanent fugitive from its officious parent, legitimate
history. And Shahrzad - she too has learnt the lessons of the
tales she told. She in now a myth that must be sought in many
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98 . Postmodem Feminist Writers
places, fleshed in different bodies, before her dreams let go of
Dunyazad or her descendants. (7hlve/25)
Dilshad and Dunyazad. the slave girl and the younger
queen, the two silenced women in the source text. listen to
each other's stories through seven days and nights. They
recreate their individual past, the terror and sadness. By
telling horrible tales which are sometimes funny they bring
the past alive. Once Dilshad had wanted to literally "'steal"
the stories of Shahrzad, the golden volumes (74). but she
got it as a reward for helping the prince to dethrone the old
The novel concludes with a vision of Shah.rzad - now aD old
woman-who is annoyed when the stories are attributed to her
over the subsequent years. Sbe remembers, witb some
reluctance, one or two stories that bave trickled back to her
with the obligatory postscript. 'This story. these words,
Shahrzad told the Shah in their marriage bed.' She cannot place
the story. A feature or two seem familiar, it is true; or a swift.
twist of irony. Could she have forgotten the rest? These stories,
her illegitimate children. (7mvel24)
Shahrzad is the creator and artist who is the author of
these stories. She at one point, even wants to disclaim these
stories and tell them "Go away she wants to say. I've never
seen you before" (Travel 274). Her act of storytelling itself
is seen as a desperate struggle of the imprisoned genius to
channelise its creativity, to achieve a feminine ecriture but
in the original tale she was suppressed as it was told and
written by male orators in an orthodox culture. Hariharan
wants to project her creativity and imbue her with power.
Bhattacharji spe.aka of the organization of the novel
The organization of this novel is a delight. in it8elf. For instance
the second of its two pa.rtB "'Seven Days and Seven Nights, is
in seven chapters, each with two stories. There is obviously a
stem maker in charge of the material who deliberately creates
holes in her own umbrella narrative. Is a man'a narrative
different from a woman's? Can there ever be right narrative?
la knowledge always conveyed through clear and logical
language or is a mystifying and mysterious style 88 useful? Like
a good storyteller, Hariharan prods readers into finding their
own answers. (11)
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Postmodemism in the Indian Context: ... 99
Her short story collection, titled The Art of Dying
stresses on the strategies women adopt to assert themselves.
In this collection Hariharan resists and renegotiates the
ideologies of gender inequaliti$!s. She defies codes of
convention and revolts against the patriarchal orientation
by projecting the incomplete and the marginalized into
positions of prominence. The title story The Art of Dying
pictures the day-to:day existence of women who are involved
in the usual activities of'wifmg' 'childbearing' etc. While to
the male eye it is a peaceful life, to women it is a negation of
self. They desire for change, even pain which would help
them to define themselves. Hariharan reveals the hidden,
unsaid and unrevealed miseries of women in the stories titled
'Forefathers' and 'The Closed Room.' In the former story a
daughter waits for her father's death who is the lord of his
daughters. Desperately one of them asks the crow, her oracle,
to tell her how long the "Cunning Tyrant" of a father would
continue to live and make her the nursemaid. The story also
points out the sufferings of women in the house who lack
privacy and even dressing and sleeping are communal
activities. In the latter story we meet a woman who, like a
true wife, is a faithful healer but is denied the role of creator
by her husband. In 'The Reprieve' Nagaraj Rao, the taciturn
'provider', the senior advocate and the head of a large joint
family suddenly discovers himself thinking lasciviously of
his late wife and their sex life. All his life he had but thought
about himself, his comforts and discomforts. He did not even
remember what he and his wife had talked about, how she
had slept and where and what actually she had looked like
for she was so distant and always wore a restrained look
she has been tutored to assume as the mistress of the house.
Thus like other postmodernist writers, Hariharan
makes effective use of irony and leaves the stories open-
ended with multiple perspectives. One has to probe for the
subtext hidden in the main text.
Doubts and uncertainties, passion and unsuspected guile
surface again and again in the stories as they set about with
great courage to tum the traditional conservative Indian life
j materlaa
Postmodern Feminist Wn"ters
upon its back, revealing a 8urprisingly soft. underbeUy. Here men
and women, aged and dying, or dejected and burnt-out,
reminisce about failure, about incompetence, about inability to
cope, not with a sense of guilt anger, but with a kind of detached
awe. (Pande 4)
There are also stories in which woman's desires remain
uncurbed. In 'The Remains of the Feast' a ninety year old
dying grandmother, now living the last days of her life -
could not resist the of the heart and the craving
of the tongue. She yearns for forbidden foods - garlic, chillies,
meat, Coca cola. All along she has been living a life
imprisoning her natural longings. She now breaks the
shackles of a Brahmin widow. She smuggles biscuits,
sarnosas, cakes and ice creams made by non-brahmin hands.
She realizes her destiny and fulfills all her needs before ber
death. Bhargava compares Haribaran's sbort fiction to
resistant texts and adds that
Narrating is never an innocent act and the narratives that
frame a situation allow writers w dramatise the results of the
telling. And this no doubt gives a signal to tbe reader tbat the
tale told can and sbould react on bislber own life - tbat
literature is not inconsequential. Just as narration is not
innocent so, too is the fonn of narration. Women's short fiction
is a mode of resisting and renegotiating the ideologies of gender
inequalities. The short story replicates the partial and the
incomplete constructs of the women writers. Just as women, it
is an intense, concentrated and a complex interweave of tbe
peripberal or the palimpsest. One is reminded here of Vidya
Rao's intriguing glimpse of an alternative model of the self
based on a morpbology of tbe specifically female body in ber
1990 a rticle 'Thumri as Feminine Voice.' Thumri is 8 small
intimate form of singing (erotic romantic). It. is constructed in
the male gaze and articulates female desire 8S patriarchally
constructed. Rao argues tbat it contains a subversive edge, to
be found in its structure and form. The space witbin tbe form
appears to conform with traditionally feminine allocations of
space in society. So also with tbe sbort story, whicb works on a
small canvas, with a limited repertoire, a smaller number of
scales and in an enclosed space. And yet the sbort story. like
the 'Thumri' can expand the space available to it, not linearly
but laterally, not outwards but inwards, relentlessly
questioning the established and accepted structures. (77-78)

Postmodernism in the Indian Context: ... 101
Sbashi Desphande's works can be read as falling within
a broadly postcolonial-postmodern feminist framework.
Although she does attempt to examine various ideologically
encoded binaries such as speech I silence, modernityl
tradition, male/female, oppressor I victim, central I marginal,
majority I minority etc. the politics of this strategy often
seem to be problematic. SusbeiJa Nasta in ber discussion of
the intersections of feminism, gender and postcoloniality
observes "Language is both source and womb of creativity, a
means of giving birth to new stories, new myths, of telling
the stories of women t b ~ t have been previously silenced, it
can also become a major site of contest, a revolutionary
struggle" (xiii). Language has the potential to stage a
'revolutionary struggle' and become a site of contestation
precisely because it is also the meaDS of social control and
cultural domination. In a multilingual country like India,
English can be seen both as an 'escape' from the overarching
gender discourses say in Hindi or Marathi and also as a
limiting factor fOT one who reads the work and how it is
received. Shashi Deshpande and Gita Hariharan use English
as their language of creativity and self-expression. While it
is not a dazzlingly post-modem or avant-garde use of the
language, it is one that articulates previously suppressed
voices - those of middle-class women trapped between the
conflicting demands of traditional expectations of a woman's
role and the search "for self-fulfillment and identity. The
Indian WOI:lan writer must struggle to overturn patriarchal,
racist ideologies, constructs and systems of representation
not only in an international context, but also at home in
subverting and deconstructing indigenous male writings and
traditions. .
A number of complex issues are involved in the uneasy
intersections of postcoloniality I postmodernity and
feminism. Nasta contends that negotiating these
intersections must involve more than simply setting up a
series of b i n ~ r y oppositions and sites of contestation.
It is not only a que8tion of redressing the balance; the
reclamation is more than simply shifting the ground of a Benes
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102 Postmodem Feminist Writem
of opposition. and areas of struggle: whether male/female,
colonizer/native, black/white, feminisUwomanist, postcolonial!
poststructural, third worJdJfirst world, traditional literary
canons/counter-discourses and forms - strategies of resistance
are necessary which subvert and question the dominant 'father
tongue' hut more critical is a need to break. through the notion
of a literature of opposition set up by the kind of dialectic
(mentioned above) and make space (or the expression of a
'multiplicity of perspeCtives' and literary poetics. (xvi)
In his analysis of two sorts of hybrid ties,
Radhakrisbnan argues that there is 8 difference between
metropolitan hybridity and po.,;: +colonial hybridity.
Postcolonial hybridity involves a painful 'inventory of one's
self' (753) that is, the self must be excruciatingly produced
to inhabit many discursive positions. This is seen in
Deshpande's work upto a point and is perhaps her way of
trying to articulate her subject position and identity without
claims to 'authenticity'. Througb a foregrounding of split
subjectivities and selves, Deshpande is able' to theorize I
make visible I legitimize the hybrid selfthrougb subversions
of institutionalized and systemic erasures. The attempt to
map out strategies of resistance in an Indian context is
. clearly visible in Deshpande's work. She tries to examine
and deconstrUct the binaries. Nasta posits that postcolonial
women writers often write novels of "becoming" (xix-xx)
where the voices of women from all sectors of the society are
explored; voices which often link and bridge the oraVliterary
mode and which frequently use a multiplicity of vision as a
means of telling the story of a previously unwritten history
or culture. The protagonistinarrator is almost always a
woman and the woman herself is not merely a passive
recipient, according to Carlston, of an identity created by
these forces. Rather she herself is part of the historicized,
fluid movement and she therefore actively contributes to the
context within which her position can be delineated ... (thus
the position of a woman) can be actively utilized as a location
for the construction of meaning, a place from where meaning
is constructed, rather than simply a place where meaning
can be discovered (Carlston 236). Deshpande creates spaces
from and into which silenced voices can emerge.
j materlaa
Postmoderniam in the Indian Context: ... 103
The idea of intertextuality and the means by which
women are discovering strategies to give voice to 'her stories'
and redefine the nature of woman as subject becomes crucial
to this strategy. In remapping and writing 'ber story' a new
dynamic is created which repositions the reader in relation
to the text. Intertextuality. reconstruction and 're-vision' are
used to discover 'her stories'. She engages in
demythologization of archetypes like Sita and Savitri
through her protagonists' search for self-identity and self-
expression. Deshpande not only deals with the topic of
women as marginalized figures but also implicitly examines
fiction written by women. She bas created for us, according
to Palkar, "imaginative .female historiography" (170).
An Indian who writes in English belongs, at the very
outset, simultaneously. to two different traditions - one of
language, the other of culture. Both -language and culture
- are living presences ~ d together they produce a text, which
is."written in a social context" (Ashcroft 298). Experience.
bQth sensuous and emotional, imagination and fancy,
intellectual inheritanceand engagement, all of these go into
the act of writing. These are experienced and felt in a s o c i ~
environment. In order to apprehend them and respond to
them, one needs a language. One also needs a language to
relate to temporality and futurity. George Steiner in his
essay. '"The Language Animal" has observed that man and
language are correlates; they imply and necessitate each
other; statement of self, formation of identity, reciprocity all
take cognizance of the other, which in the case of writing is
the reader I listener" (66-72). Thus there is a primary
relationship between the three adjuncts - culture, language
and narration to access the meaning. A writer should tell a
story which reflects the cultural social reality with all its
visible aspects like relationships, segregated spaces, modes
of behaviour as well as the invisible aspects like attitude to
time, moral values, philosophical undertones, echoes of
myths and oral narratives etc. In Writing from the Margin
Deshpande looks at this category of writing as an act of
j materlaa
104 Postmodern Feminist Wn'ters
I have known fOT a long time now through my own writing, that
when we write in English, we are, in effect, translating. I know
this when I find that in the course of a dialogue I find myself,
unconsciously, of course, translating the words of a non-English
speaking person from Kannada, or Marathi or Hindi into
English ... I remember Vikram Seth's remark about the Hindi
translation of his A 8w"table Boy that tbe book bad gone back
to its borne. Which is exactly the way I felt when my novel That
Long Silence was translated into Marathi and into Kannada.
(Margin 37)
Roland Barthes has distinguished between the readerly
text - one which is easily accessible to interpretation - and
the writerly text - one is much more complex and polysemic
and eludes easy categorization. Thni Morrison in Playing in
the Dark has projected another concept, that of 'writerly'
reading - an act of reading which goes behind the stage to
explore the faUing together of the 'meaning in place, an act
of reading which looks at the absences, the dark corners and
the hidden clues. She writes
My early assumptions S8 a reader were that black people
signified little or nothing in the imagination of White American
writers . .. But then I stopped reading 8S a reader and began to
read as a writer. Living in a racially articulated and predicated
world, I could not be alone in reacting to this aspect of the
American culture and historical condition ... Yes, I wanted to
identify those moments when American literature was complicit
in the fabrication of racism, hut equally important, I wanted
to see when literature exploded and undermined it. (15-16)
'Writerly' reading works at several levels. It begins to
look closely at the use of language, its changing shades, the
strategies, which the writer has employed to accommodate
his imaginative leap and 'the manner in which the
unconscious has surfaced through the written text. As a
'writer >reading' Morrison writes
I came to realise the obvious: the subject fabrication of an
Mricanist persona is reflexive and extraordinary meditation on
the self; a powerful exploration of the i:ears and desires that
reside in the writerly oonscious. It is an astonishing revelation
of longing, of terror, of perplexity, of shame, of magnanimity.
It requires hard work not to see this. (17)
j m a t e r ~
PiJstmodenusm in the Indian Context: ... 106
The use of a language other than the mother tongue or
the 'spoken' tongue of the society one lives in, is in ltself a
narrative strategy. ]t, at once, shifts the divisions between
readerships; it also simultaneously opens out spaces for
communication between the two cultures of the two
languages and writers cross over from one to the other in
different and at times highly individualized ways. ]n Shashi
Deshpande's case there is a meeting of two worlds - the
language of reading among the urban readership and the
emotional world of everyday experience. "My readers were
people who read English, but lived their personal and
emotional lives, like ] did, in their own languages." (Margin
32). Somewhere in some way, this meeting of two different
categories has to become meaningful; one of the two or both
of them have to lean to accommodate the other in order to
reduce the 'foreignness' and 'isolation' of the language and
to locate it in the vitality of a living society to pull both in
the same direction.
Deshpande writes a variety of Indian English that is
rooted in the ambience of regional cultures, those of the
states of Maharashtra and Karnataka. The culturally
specific words and sentences sit easily and naturally in her
body of work. Her search for the location of a self outside
the contested territories of conservative discourses slowly
~ subverts the binaries and transcends to a dimension where
the woman is matured and free to understand herself and
her Shadows'. She uses the narrative forms developed by
men to express masculine values, to emancipate the artist
and the feminine spirit. She never uses her writing as a mode
of resistance. Words never come to her to express a radical
break and declaration of self and independence. The
contested terrain of her narrative is full of echoes and voices
of a submerged life. In the process she is remapping a. new
region from the perspective .of the oppressed and the
marginalized. She does make attempts to go beyond the
limitations imposed upon her by carving out a distinct way
of narration, to confront her protagonist With the new hidden
dimensions of her own self with its distinct identity on the
uteursr IljK j m a t e r ~
106 Postmod'ern Feminist Writers
edge of a complete breakdown. Spa writes a narrative of a
feminine self that can stay away outside the frame of a
traditional accommodative self, created by religious,
nationalistic and feminist love to be governed by a male
desire and not bothered by multiple 8ubjectivities in tUDe
with the current critical thinking.
Split subjectivity is the theme of De sphan de's novel The
Dark Holds No 'lBrrors. Sarita, the central character, tries
to rediscover her true self. The novel begins by going back
to the beginning which is already well past, in the middle
age life of the protagonist, a life which Sarita constantly
describes as a pose or 8S a role she has been playing all
these years. Sbe understands the futility of marriage and
what happens to a woman who assumes fmsncial power.
The economic and social power that Sarita wields as a
successful doctor paradoxically causes her marriage to a
college lecturer husband to go to pieces.
Sarita, like Sula in Morrison's novel ofthe same
is fed up with the norms and values set up by the society.
She becomes a transgressor of the norms and wishes to
explore the potential hidden within her self. Her mother has
accused her of her brother Dhruva's death "why didn't you
die? Why are you alive and he dead?" ('/errors 34-35). That
he is a boy is important to her mother. Further, her father
has not taken any particular interest in her studies or
development; as a man "He had never exhibited what he
didn't have ... neither love, nor anger, nor dislike" ( '!errors
33). His "indifference" may be considered as an indirect
express10n of patrjarchy that is emotionally injurious. In
her many acts of violation of societal norms, Sarita defies
her parents in studying medicine and becoming a doctor,
defies them to marry Manohar and then breaks away from
domesticity as she cannot take his sadism any more.
In the next phase ofSaru's life, one finds her a successful
career woman enjoying the recognition of her individual
'identity'. She becomes the object of admitting attention of
her neighbours who come to her regularly for advice and

Postmodernism in the Indian Context: ... 107
help. Saru's gradual change in attitude towards Manu and
their marriage corresponds with her change in attitudes
towards sex. She finds the aggressive, virile masculinity a
mere facade and the recent beard a mask to hide something.
In due course, she feels utterly humiliated at the thought of
being used and reduced to insignificance. She sees sex as a
dirty word and the experience a terror, an inhuman insult
to her personality. Her husband becomes a monstrous sadist
inflicting inhuman torture on his wife. She fears
There is this strange new fear of disintegration. A terrified
consciousness of not existing. No. worse. Of being just a
ventriloquist's dummy, t.hat smiles, laughs and talks only
because of the ventriloquist. The fear that without the
ventriloquist., I will regress, go back to being a lifeless puppet,
a smirk pasted on its face. Perhaps my ventriloquist. is my
profession. For. as long as there is a patient before me, I feel
real. Between patients there is nothing. (Thn"ors 22)
In front of her patients, Sarita pretends to make notes
but only makes endless entwining circles on a piece of paper
or cuts up the paper into little bits and seeing them falling
down feels that they are bits of her mind falling down. Her
brief stint of adultery with Padmakar Rao, her classmate
and now a colleague, reflects not only the fall of her character
but also her maniac obsession with self. Such an arduous
journey for self-assertion must tell upon her psychic health
considerably. She now has to find another recluse for
convalescence and introspection. She realizes how in her
quest for freedom to be herself, she has merely exchanged
one role for another. She knows that somewhere on the way
she has lost contact with her real selfwhich now lies obscured
ifnot completely lost. She must peel away the multiple roles
in which she has swaddled herself before she can arrive at
the truth about herself.
It is not surprising, therefore, that when the text begins,
Sarita waits outside the old home, like Sudama in rags
waiting outside the palace gates of Lord Krishna and
Rukmini. Thus, back in her old home, Sarita slowly develops
j materlaa
108 Postmodern Feminist Writers
the courage and the trust in her self to relive all the myriad
items of loss and humiliation that she had sustained and
suffered through her childhood.
The novel shows Deshpande's meaningful and creative
re-interpretation of myths. By radically treating traditional
myths she generates feminist meanings. The divided woman
syndrome is given concrete representation in the novel. The
story orthe possession ortbe woman by the Devi belongs to
common folk mythology of South India. She is unable to
connect the divided woman's condition which she witnesses
in the temple with her own predicament. She sees a woman
who acts mad when possessed by the goddess in the temple.
As Devi, the Goddess, possesses the woman, so too is Sarita
possessed by her mother. Her relationship with her mother
is ambivalent. The reason for this dates back to a time when
she and her brother Dhruva had left h,ome to explore
forbidden territory and without her mother's knowledge.
Dhruva accidentally got drowned. Dhruva in Srimad
Bhagavathamahapuranam is a symbol of the respected child
who is ignored by his father. Deshpande wents to say that a
female child's position is unlucky when compared with this
symbol of neglect. Her mother curses Sarita since she feels
that she is responsible for her son's death.
Like Dhruva, Duryodhana is another symbol of rejection
in the Mahabharata. He is discontented and envious because
his cousins, the Pandavas, are preferred above him in various
ways. Duryodhana hiding in the lake at the end of the
Kurukshetra battle is similar to Dhruva's drowning in a pond
and Saru's state of being possessed in the water of the
mother's womb. Ancient myths may project only male
sufferers and Deshpande seems to point out the patriarchal
setup which highlighted only males relegating females to a
subordinate category.
Saru's search for understanding of her mother is a
search for her own feminine side and for the reunification of
her split self. Her journey is from a hostile attitude towards
the mother as the creative essence of the feminine. She
j m a t e r ~
Postmodernism in the Indian Context: ... 109
achieves her balance by communicating through the personal
mother, reaching up to the Mother Goddess: Devi , Shakti,
Demeter, Ishtar, Is is; wha tever the name, she is the
archetypal Great Mother.
Roots and ShadolVs assumes importance as a novel
which deeply explores the third world women's individual
subjectivity. Indu, the protagonist, is caught between
culturally determined stereotypes of carriers of tradition and
continuity and that of the liberated deviant in the western
world. Dina M.Siddiqi, a scholar from Bangladesh, looks at
"transnational in Bangladesh. Much of what she
has to say about Banglades h has echoes in the Indian
situation a well. She feels that though there has been a shift
away from the homogenizing tendencies of liberal feminism
in favour of cultural relativism, certain basic questions
remain unanswered. She fmds the current multicultural
agenda of American feminists limited to the "production and
consumption of a multicolour, all inclusive catalogue of
women's lives elsewhere . .. the effect of which is ... to
reinscribe gender as the primary axis of inequality(5). She
finds "history, pontics and power- relationality" absent from
such analysis (5). Instead she vouches for a
historically informed. culturally specific analyses of condition
of women, one within the history of modern imperialism
and which cautions against the unreflective use of hegemonic
epistemological frameworks ... The foregrounding of history, as
transnational feminist practices insist upon, points to the
impossibility of completely s eparating the discursive from the
material aspects of reality, of discussing contemporary gender
relations without confronting the spectre of Empire in whatever
form - colonialism, globalization structural adjustment or the
sa.-called war on terror. (18)
Thus the essential woman cannot be unravelled
independent of the forces that it, but from within
the very constructs that fashion it, the confluence of forces
from which subjectivities emerge. The novel Roots and
ShadolVs deals with a woman's attempt to assert her
individually and realise her freedom. It depicts how it brings
her into confrontation with the family, with the male world
j materlaa
110 P08tmodem Feminist Writers
and society in general. The novel revolves round a Brahmin
family who live together in the ancestral bouse built years
ago by Indu's great grandfather. The family is ruled once by
8 tyrant Akka whose impending death occasioDs a
conglomeration of dispersed family members and amongst
them is Indu, distant for more than ten years to the drama
that is enacted in the great Indian institution of the Hindu
undivided family. Indu in the novel is an example of a "post-
colonial hybrid", Hybridity, in the Indian situation, goes
beyond apparent east-west binaries of mainstream western
episterne to complex cultural intersection of
regional, linguistic, caste, class and gender affiliations"
(Sarbadhikary 146).
Indu is caught between two worlds - the familial past
she had rejected and the middle class metropolitan space
she inhabits. She leaves home at the age of eighteen to marry
the man she loves. She plays the role of wife to perfection to
keep her husband Jayant happy and satisfied. Despite her
reluctance, she continues the frustrating job of writing for
the magazine just to keep Jayant satisfied. Her public sphere
. is unsatisfactory because her profession as a journalist is a
continuous process of compromise, trapped into the
compulsion to shower adjectives on society dames and
spinning deceitful narratives for public consumption. Fleeing
the familial trap of tradition and religiosity she has landed
herself into another; the almost pathological middleclass
compulsions to be upwardly molbile in a materialistic society.
Indu occupies a liminal space. We can, as she
realizes " .. . flatter ourselves that we've escaped the
compulsion of the past: but we're still pinioned to it by little
things" (Roots 34). Indu returns home on being summoned '
by Akka, the domineering matriarch as she is on her
deathbed. Akka has made her the sole heiress of her property
and the household atmosphere becomes charged with
resentment by the family members. Indu wakes up to her
role as the new family matriarch. She no longer had "any
desire to mould people to change them, to reform society"
(Roots 15). So Indu decides to dominate 88 much 88 Akka

Postmodernism in the Indian Context: ... 111
had, but more discriminately and judiciously. The crucial
point is to decide between Mini's marriage and the selling
and subsequent dismantling of the family home, to use
Ak.k.a's money for the benefit of those within the family or
.those on its periphery. In both counts Indu sidesteps the
trappings of emotion and sentiment. She conducts her
cousin's Mini's marriage after explaining to the girl the
aftereffects of marriage. Indu is surprised to hear about
Mini's acceptance to the proposal in spite of the fact that the
boy had "heavy, course features and crude mannerisms"
(Roots 3). Mini decides to marry him because she is left with
no choice and she can do nothing about it. The house is sold
since she feels that it had already outlived its entire life.
Though a painful decision, she takes it boldly. Contrary to
Indu's promise to Naren not to help Vithal, he is the first to
benefit from Akka's money. Indu's process of self-knowing is
through what can be termed as multiple practices of self -
ways of knowing and governing ourselves that are inherited
from historical traditions and also through a defiance ofthoae
very traditions. "The subject is constituted through practices
of subjection, or, .. . througb practices of liberation, offreedom
... starting of course from a certain number of rules, styles
and convention that are found in culture" (Sawicki 288).
Indu assumes the role of aggressive sexuality. Her
physical relationship outside marriage with Naren becomes
a defining moment in her life. She decides she
would not leU Jayant about Naren ... That was not important.
That had nothing to do with the two of us and our life together.
But there were other things I had to tell him. That I was
resigning from my job. That I would at last do the kind of
writing I bad always dreamt of doing. That I would not, could
not enrich myself with Akka's money. That I would, on the other
hand, pay for Mini's Wedding. (Roots 187)
Indu's travails are an assertion of the self beyond the
restrictive structures of familial and social norms. The India
presented in the novel is one in which new subjectivities are
emerging. Indu's uncompromising and paradoxical feminine
self longs for self-expression. It finds its roots in the bome
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112 Postmodern Feminist Writers
and with her husband. In the end comes the realization that
freedom lies in having the courage to do what one believes
is the right thing to do and the determination and tenacity
to adhere to it. That alone can bring harmony in Jife.
Indu's experiences teach her that one should listen to
the voice of one's conscience and be faithful to it. Freedom
within marriage is possible if one dares to do what one
believes is right and tenaciously follows it. This alone can
bring harmony and fulfillment in life. She has confronted
her real self and she knows her roots. Indu discovers the
meaning of life in her journey to individuation.
A Metter of Time (1996) and Smell Remedies (2000)
ar e resistant texts. At its core, however the resistant
phenomenon is important primarily because it questions and
seeks solution. In the'se two novels the author poses a
problem, questions it, fights it and then works towards
acceptance and reconciliation. Resistance is a symbolic mode
of action. Resistance is never enacted in a vacuum and is
governed by larger socio-cultural constructs and hence in
reading resistance in literature, the entire structure within
which the action takes place is to be taken cognizance of.
A Matter of Time weaves an intricate pattern of
relationships within an extended family spanning across
generations. Manorama, Kalyani, Sumi and Aru belong to
four generations of the same family, each representing a
specific mode of experience. Manorama is the typical product
of patriarchal value system for she resented the birth of
Kalyani, her daughter, as she wanted a son. She forces a
marriage between two unwilling panners, her
Kalyani and her younger brother Shripati. Kalyani-Shripati
marriage is at the centre of the novel. Three children are
born of this marriage - Sumi, Premi and Madhav, a mentally
retarded child. Kalyani's real tragedy begins when her four
year old son Madhav is lost at the railway station Shripati
doesn't talk to Kalyani for the next thirty years and even
sends her back to her parent's home. He returns only after
his mother-in-law Manorama urges himon her deathbed to

Postmodernism in the Indian Context: . .. 113
return. Sumi faces the same plight when Gopal walks out of
the marriage. After Glpal's desertion, Shripati, Sumi!s father,
brings Sumi and her three daughters to Big House - their
parental home. Sumi tries to work out a strategy to
withstand the shock and the emptiness left behind by Gopa) .
Aru her eldest daughter is different from her mother since
she fights for the rights of women while Sumi tries to retain
The novel opens with a graphic but somewhat saddening
description of the 'Big House' named 'Vishwas' with roots
deep into the historical past where the future drama 'will be
enacted. It is to this house that Sumi returns with her three
daughters after Glpal's desertion. Their story helps to unravel
the history of the bouse and its three generations of master
and mistr esses. The Big House stands as a symbol of
patriarchy. It was built "by a man not just for himself but
also for bis sons and sons' sons" ( Time 3).
Part I titled 'House' begins with a line from the Brhad-
aranyaka Upanisbad "Maitreyi- said Yagnavalkya "Verily I
am about to go forth from this state (of householder)." The
author questions the entire patriarchal value system through
this noveL While in the ancient myth and in modern life a
man leaves the household, it is impossible for a woman to
leave her house. While Gopalleaves because he cannot cope
with the household activities, Sumi cannot. She, burdened
with three daughters, explores ways of coming to terms with
the painful reality and going on in life. She tries to get ajob
and learns t o ride a scooter and above all , discovers the
writing talent within her and produces a play for her school
children. Kalyani - Shripati , Sumi - Gopal in the novel
contrast with Maitreyee and Yagnavalkya in the Brhad -
Upanishad. This reiterates Deshpande's view that
... myths are both necessary and relevant. to huma n li ves, they
come out. of some human need ... We are looking for a fresh
knowledge of ourselves in them, trying to discover what. is
relevant to our lives today. We don't. reject the ideals, but
know we can't approximate to these pictures of ideal
womanhood. And we will not. bear any guilt. that we cannot. do

114 Postmodem Feminist Writers
80. More important than knowing what we are not is to know
what we are, what is possible for us? (Deshpande 1997: 8)
Part II, "The Family" points to the craving for son in
Indian families. The family becomes complete when a Bon is
born, a woman feels fulfilled as the mother of a male child.
Part III "The River" shows the flow of time. The epigraph is
from the Katha-Upanishad where Yama 8sks Nachiketa not
to probe the mystery of death. "Whatever desires are hard
to attain in the world of mortals, ask for all those desires at
they will "0 Nachiketa, (Pray) ask not about death" (Tim.
181). The epigraph highlights Nacbiketa's questioning not
Savitri's who had an equally strong argument with Yama.
The author is hinting at the male - orientation of the culture
and she effectively uses irony by opening the section with a
male who questions about abstract things like death and
presenting females who excel the men by their innumerable
achievements . While the males in the novel think of
existential philosophy and such other abstract ideals, the
females become assertive individuals shouldering the family
burden with great poise and commitment. Sumi becomes
self-assertive. Kalyani gets back her identity;Aru celebrates
her eighteenth birthday and becomes the focal point of the
novel. She asks a legion of questions and slowly she gets her
answers. Gopal, her father, has an unexplained existential
drive and he leaves everything behind, including a happy
family, in his quest for the self while her grandfather Shripati
locks himself up against all communication because of
frustration, anger and despair. For him, nursing his suffering
self is far more significant than caring for his wife.
Aru voices her resistance more vociferously than the
others. Aru and her sisters cannot take in their
grandmother's placid attitude and even their mother Sumi
comes under their bitter cynicism. To them, it is important
"that you speak out, state the truth, that you stand up and
defend yourself, that you refuse to be misjudged" ( Time 143).
Small Remediesis a multidimensional novel with death
at its foreground, music at its background and the
complexities of existence as its thematic basis. Here
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Postmodernism in the Indian Context: ... 115
Deshpande explores complex postmodern narrative
strategies. There are four narrative frames of the novel. First
of all there ' is the narrative frame involving Madhu's
proposed biography of Savitribai Indorekar. t:he second
strand is Munni's story; Baiji's (Savitri's) child born out of
wedlock. The third and the fourth strands are those of
Savitribai Indorekar and Leela. The Epigraph to the novel
indicates at the beginning.
Father of the earth,
Protect us;
Father of the sky
Protect us;
Father of the great and shining waters,
Protect us;
- To which God shall we offer our worship?
This prayer from the Rig Veda speaks of the human
dilemma. The small remedies that are external to us; "the
Ganeshas in the riches, the decorated Thresholds, the mango
leaftorans, the Oms, the Swastikas, the charms and amulets
- all to keep disaster at bay, to stave off the nemesis of a
jealous god" ( 11me 81) are but desperate remedies. Human
beings have to find their own strength to stand ftrlll and
that strength lies within. In the Prologue the reader is told,
"This is Sam's story. Or rather, Joe's story as related to us
by Som. To me the two men, narrator and object are equally
part of the Story, to remember is to think of both of them"
(11me 1). The novel explores the relation between memory
and mimesis. The narrative is woven of several interrelated
stories mapping a larger network of relations offering
genealogies of characters justifying their human and
existential contexts. There is profuse intertextual references
and the reader is invited to make sense of the complex
network of texts. Virginia Woolf is a major presence in the
text. Lily Briscoe's effort to paint Mrs. Ramsay in time,
coinciding with the narrative ending with Lily finishing her
frequent1y deferred painting job, matches with Madhu
coming to terms with Bai's biography.
j m a t e r ~
116 Postmodem Feminist Wn"ters
The novelist adopts the structure of a biography within
a biography. Madhu the protagonist, has been commissioned
by a publisher to write a biography on a famous c1assical
s inger, Savitribai Indorekar, doyenne of the Gwalior
Gharaoa. This story takes Madhu to BhavanipuT. Madhu
cannot begin the book because the strands become complex
and get more and more complicated. On the one hand, there
is an effort to separate each strand from the intermingling
of many both hidden and lost and on the other, the attempts
to retrieve Borne vital information from Savitribai who
zealously guards them as very personal that poses a real
problem for bringing the narrator into transparency. Madhu
wants to clear the controversies surrounding Savitribai's
reputation. She wants to reconstruct Savitribai's reputation.
She wants to reconstruct Savitribai's public image. A rebel
Brahmin bride, s he elopes with her Muslim tabla
accompanist and has a daughter from him. Now she wants
to recreate her past in such a way that the revised and
reconstructed links give greater clarity to her fading image.
Madhu discovers that Baiji's (Savitribai ) life is
intertwined with other lives. Chandru who commissions
Madhu's project wants to be a doctor of hearts to both Madhu
(who has lost her son) and her husband Som. Madhu's story
ofBai an.d her daughter Munni and lover Ghulam Saab does
not match the way Bai wants the story recorded. Baiji's
reluctance to acknowledge Munni (the child borne out of
wedlock) forces Madhu's memory along a track that is at
once ghastly and dangerous. It is Munni who figuratively
and literally presides over the intersections of Madhu's past
life as a small town doctor's daughter a nd her immediate
present as a doctor's wife and Adit's mother in Bombay.
One story is therefore linked with another. Madhu's
story is Sam's story. Munni's story is Arlit's story because
both a re kil1ed in the communal violence that stirred up after
Babri Masjid's demolition. The incident that Madbu wants
to exciude from her life involves a sexual encounter that she
has with Dalvi, a friend of ber father long before she met
j materl3a
Postmodernism in the Indian Context: ... 117
80m. 80m thinks this as an act of betrayal and is tonnented
by the thought of his wife's sexuality. When Madhu thinks
of 80m's response to the inci dent, uses
intertextuaJ citations from Faulkner's The Sound and the
Furry. Madhu's imaginary conversations with her son remind
us of confession sessions before Mr.Compson. "Father I have
committed incest Father I ha ve- (Fury 116). Madhu's
interpretation of Sam's pain is almost an ironic reversal of
Quentin's perverse obsession with the underbelly of his
sister's sexuality in Faulkner's novel. Madhu's images of
Baiji, of Guhulam SaQh and Munni, of Joe and Leela and
Som and Adit cannot stand apart from one another.
Everything is related to everything else.
With flashback and stream-oC-consciousness
techniques, Bai's story gets written. It is Leela's biography
as well. Savitribai and Leela were the rebels of their time;
hoth dared to dream and to achieve freedom. Both
surmounted the hurdles and achieved what they wanted -
the freedom to 1>e'. Leela is a communist and a very
independent woman. As a Leftist, she is against Gandhi's
Ahimsa and Satyagraha. She does not believe in caste and
marries Joe who is outside her caste. Though a die-bard
communist supporter, she becomes a victim of the gross
gender discrimination practiced in the communist party.
In Small Remetj.ies Madhu as a prospective biographer
is supposed to rework Bai's repetitions of her life and times
through a retrospective linguistic ordering. As a writer who
is given to re-gathering facts, the biographer enlists the
authority oftbe biographical subject.. Madbu is already under
her subject's power and her biographer's status is already
Desphande believes that the Indian mythic mode does
not really provide women with a strategy for liberation from
male hegemony. The Indian mythic image of women most
prevalent in the literature of the time was that of the
pativrata tradition - the Sits, Sati, Savitri image of the
silently suffering, sacrificial wife, mother and daughter. A
uteursr IljK
118 Postmodern Feminist Writen
critic like Dorothy Spencer recognizes the phenomenon and
comments on the subservient role played by women over
the ages.
It seems dear that in women as wife.., are dealing with a
literary ttadition. Sita., Savithri, Sh_knn

- At any rate,
they ...,...,ptify the ideal and th ......... ..aety'a valuea - that
-. husband is a woman.'. god- - how Sita .ubmitted to Rama;
abe followed him into the wiJ.ten.e. and afterwards. Whea be
baniahed. her, abe tuiued and went without one word., though
abe was i n.....,."t. (Shirwadkar 49)
Jaya in That Long Silence describes her situation after
Sita. The crisis in the novel erupts when Mohan, the
engineer, is implicated in a corruption case involving some
of the high_ranking officials. He and his wife Jaya who is
the central character and the narrative voice, move to an
unfashionable quarter of Bombay to ... k anonymity. Her
situation, Jaya says, is like -Sita following her husband into
exile, Savitri dogging death to r eclaim her husband,
Draupadi stoically sbaring her husband's travails . ..
(Silence 11).
This limbo of waiting allows Jaya to reflect on her own
life and come to terms with ber various roles 88 daughter,
sister, wife,mother, daughter-in-law, friend and writer of
genteel 'feminine' news paper pieces. her marriage
to Mohan and subsequently becoming the mother of two
children, she is lonely. Her husband cannot understand her
feelings as a result of which she is tom from within.
Jaya realizes the split in herself. Sbe realizes that she
has another self that she has forgotten: she was her
husband's Suhasini soft smiling placid motherly
woman. A woman who lovingly nurtured her family. A woman
who coped (Silence 15). She is different from Jaya or any
other middle-class housewife lost in the trappings of a
comfortable life; away from the problem of the rest of the
wor1d; she is like Sits. the woman of the weekly column that
Jaya writes and which she detests. Such roles do not offer
her the promises and the intimations of a fulfilled life. She
is far away from -rile job I wanted to take, t he baby I had

PostmodeInism in the lDdinn Context: ... 119
wanted to adopt and the antiprice campaign rd wanted to
take part in- (Silencs 120). Perhaps she had not cared to
pursue these ambitions on her own eventhough she accuses
Mohan fOT ber faj1jngs Jaya toeaes between several selves
without taking care to listen to tho prompting of her own
true station in life and u1timately emerges victorious instead
of submerging herself in the protective shadows of such
characters 88 8ila or Snbasini
At the end we find Jaya as a fully evolved consciousness
and at the threshold of a new life different from the ones
articulated through the cherac:ter of Site and Suhaaini. She
bas matured to write her own autobiographical narrative,
teIling the story of the development of a self' and anarrative.
She refuses to 8IlCCUIDb to any preaeribed role model and
thwarts any attempt to limit, circumstance or inhibit her
life. Ber "ability to gather the fragments of her life in a
cohered narrative ultimately lifta her up above the common
run of people. Vmay Kripal avers that
lle<onstructing the IUddeo ;deolog;.;. of palriarehal ...;ety that
mould a weman aod making a frontal attack on longrevered
traditional assumptions and stereotypea about women is
common to the many WOIIUUH:8Dtred. Ceminiat Indian Engliah
Dovels of the 1980's. Novels by Sha.bi Deabpande and.
Nayautara SahgaJ openly dismantle the prevalent modes of
socialization that go into the CODStnIctioo ofideal woman, wile,
mother_ Focus is also OD foregrounding certain 'women's'
ezperiences that have neYeI' earlieJ' received the attention they
deserved_ The experiences, for instance, of menstrua tion,
dlildbirtb, rape in marriage, sex are recorded with ease in
language that ahocks with ita uninbibitedDM" U Rao, in The
Serpent and the Rope eouJd celebrate a girl's first menstrual
esperience in classical aesthetie metaphors, Desbpande Jmoc:b
aD prudishnMs out of her readers by letting the menstruating
protagonist of The Dark Holds No 7erro1'll' deac:ribe heraelf as
-8 dark and amelly hole. (Kripal 29)
j m a t e r ~
An in-depth analysis of the works of Margaret Atwood, Thni
Morrison and the Indian novelists Shashi Desbpande and
Gita Hariharan, has brought to the fore the different ways
in which women writers across cultures have adopted
postmodern strategies to foreground feminist ideology.
The dominant cultural myth of Canada. which is the
pervasive influence of the wilderness, proves to be the most
fertile element for the female imagination to revise,
restnJcture and demystify in order to chart out a private
fictional world for the female identity to occupy as its own
exclusive realm. The Canadian feminist fiction deconstructs
the "traditional cultural dependences in its quest for a
physical and metaphysical freedom. This radical act of
decentering leading to a willful occupation of the
traditionally peripheral is the Canadian distinctiveness of
women's writing. Atwood's lines bring out this decentering
The true story lies
Among the other stories
The true story i. vicious
and multiple and untrue
after all Why do your
need it? Don't ever
ask for the true atory. ( Poems 58)
Atwood's novels are all situated at the interface between
language and what we choose to call reality thereby
j materlaa
Conclusion 121
highlighting the artifice of representation. She succeeds in
transforming and reinventing the real world within the
imaginative spacesoffiction. In her literary corpus spanning
a period of roughly twentyflve years,Atwood has scrutinized
social myths of femininity; male and female fantasies about
women, women's representations of women's bodies in art,
fiction, popular culture and pornography, women's social and
economic exploitation as well as women's relations with each
other. She has presented women artists and has scrupulously
examined woman as subject, the "Iwitness". The problem of
female split subjectivity - a theme very much included in
the postmodern agenda - occupies Atwood's attention right
from Surfacingto Alias Grace but the theme gets more and
more concretized from novel to novel. The 'surfacer' in
Surfacing never trusts her own vision and she struggles
through inherited patriarchal discourses to fmd a language
of her owo. She has yet to find her voice but her visionary
experiences have released the power within ber. Joan Forster
in Lady Oracle is different from the 'surfacer' since she is a
master of words being the writer of popular Gothic romances.
She adheres to Gothic conventions and is an expert in
automatic writing but it is dear that she is stiI) seeking an
appropriate language and subject matter. "But may be ru
try some science fiction ... I keep thinking I should learn some
lesson from all of this, as my mother would have said"( Oracle
3(5). Rennie, the protagonist of Bodily Harm is not much
bette.r than Joan Forster. She manages to break through the
false representation of her lifestyle journalism and makes
an effort to find her own voice when there is nobody to hear
it. She ties to imagine things differently and better than
they are and takes up the now vacant position of the most
fervently idealistic character in the novel. She has begun to
imagine a future which will be different from the present.
Offred in The Handmaid's Tele is slightly better off than her
literary sisters since she tries to reclaim her lost identity
and tell her story but she does it in secret and her history
becomes available only after her death. However, there is
also the danger of her recorded voice being drowned out by
j materlaa
122 Postmodern Feminist Wn'ters
the patriarchal voice of a male historian. In all the novels
Atwood projects the desire-of women to be speakers, to be
creative writers and painters who speak about their
difficulties, failures and suppression. In the later novels,
Atwood shows confident artists who gain confidence in their
vision and powers of interp!'etation. The novel form in the
hands of Margaret Atwood lends itself readily to paradoxes,
probing, self-reflexivity and questionings. What is perhaps
more interesting is the rich labyrinth of fragmented
discontinuities that are delineated. Elaine in Cat!9 Eye'sees
more than anyone else looking' (Eye 327) as she looks at the
world through her eat's eye talisman. She even dares to paint
8 picture with the title 'Unified Field Theory' and reinterprets
it through her private vision of human particularity. It is
Tony in The Robber Bride who approaches Atwood's concept
of a strong, creative female self. AB a story teller she takes
up the fragments of Zenia's story in an attempt to make story.
"She will only be history if Tony chooses to shape her into
history. At the moment sbe is formless, 8 broken mosaic; the
fragments of her are in Thny's hands, becau'se she is dead
and all of the dead are in the hands of the living" (Bride 461).
In Alias GraceAtwood tries to shift generic boundaries.
The shifting of generic markers allows Atwood to explore
and explode the distinctions between fact and fiction or
fiction and reality. Alias Grace critiques two genres that rely
on the classic realist code - the historical novel and the
detective story. She relies on Hutcheon's remark in The
Canadian Postmodern that "classifications of genres are
paradoxically built upon the impossibility of firmly derming
genre boundaries" (22). Atwood makes use of the fluidity
between the genres for "communicative and aesthetic
purpose" which offers spaces from which ideological
assumptions - whether social, political, historical or literary
- may be addressed. At the same time as she celebrates the
artifice of her: narrative constructions in a thoroughly
postmodem way, drawing attention to their mixtures of
discourse so she always insists on drawing the readers in to
participate in the dilemmas she is writing about. Her fiction
j m a t e r ~
Conclusion 123
draws attention not only to the ways in which stories may
be told but also to the function of language itself; the
slipperiness of words and double operation of language as
symbolic representation and as agent for changing our modes
of perception. As she pointed out in an interview
The word woman already has changed because of the dif(erent
constellation of meaning that have been made around it.
Language changes within our lifetime. As a writer you're part
of that process - using an old language, but making new
patterns with iL Your choices are numerous. (Conversations
l ~ ) .
Toni Morrison i!;l a mythbasher in a country where
writers have been canonized for creating and perpetuating
the myths that form the foundation of the American way of
thinking. The mainstream society has manipulated the
images of Mrican Americans in order to maintain its power
structure. Morrison refuses to be influenced by stereotypes
but rather attempts to depict her female characters as
subjects that emerge from an oppressed situation and who
seek survival.
As in Atwood's fiction, her women characters and even
black male characters ate constantly engaged in rwding a
voice and an identity of their own. However, Morrison's
postmodemism is TOOted in the African American culture
and its values. She creates a space for African American to
preserve their oral tradition in writing and this indicates
her challenge to the print-restricted discourse of mainstream
literature and history. This is done through music. In BulB
identity crisis dissolves through the effects of music, In Song
of Solomon the song Pilate sings leads Milkman to search
for his identity and family history. In Jazz the sounds of
saxophone, drums, c1arinet and songs on the streets of
Harlem reverberate. Tar BBby illustrates the effect of the
absence of music and singing not only on African-American
woman but even on a white man.
Fragmentation, shattering mirrors and breaking
conventional grammatical rules - all of which are
postmodem strategies - are effectively used in novel after
j materlaa
Postmodern Feminist Wn'ters
novel by Morrison in an attempt to reclaim MricanAmerican
history and culture. Morrison's use of mirrors display tbe
dangerous and destructive influence of white values imposed
on black women. In The Bluest Eye the controlling images
of the white society projected in the mirror leads to Peloca's
psychological split, In Song of Solomon Hagar (Milkman's
lover) is, like Pecola in The Bluest Eye, anotber victim of
white aesthetics as reflected in the mirror as a result of which
sbe is unable to identity herself as a positive figure. Nel's
mother in Bula also falls a prey to false image reflected in
the mirror and Jadine in '1hr Bsbyis seen reacting negatively
to the reflection of Son, a positive image of the African
American. She denies the positive efTort of Son's outstanding
potentiality fOT healing and nurturing. In Beloved, Morrison's
perfect work of art , the broken pieces of mirrors are
rearranged and a new life and hope are displayed.
Language is another component which Morrison tries
to deconstruct. Structuralism is inclined to La monolithic
because it is generally satisfied if it can carve up a text into
binary oppositions. Language, in such a context, functions
favourably only to the oppressors so as to maintain the social
order. Post-modem writers defamiliarise social and historical
conventions by deconstruction and, as Jacques Derrida notes,
poststructural writers attempt to read peripheral margins
in the work. Morrison explains her ambitious literary
motivation by noting that her literary career is inspired by
"huge silences in literature, things that had never been
articulated, printed or imagined and they were the silences
about black girls, black woman. It was into that area that I
stepped and found it to be enormous" (Eleanor 14A).
Morrison, like Atwood, takes advantage of the same
fluidity and flexibility of language which has allowed the
dominant group to manipulate the social order. In ~ r d e r to
reestablish a new meaning. she tries to take the power of
deciding authenticity away from those who are in power,
thus deconstructirig conventional values and thoughts. When
Language is free from dominance, it properly functions as a
j materlaa
Conclusion 125
means of communication indispensable for mutual
Myth is another terrain effectively explored by
Morrison. The search for myth in Morrison's work is
complicated by a society based on coercive power relations.
Myth in African American writing has great significance.
Morrison shifts the very meaning of myth as a traditional
story transmitted from one generation to another to myth as
a way of thinking - closer in meaning to ideology. She
combines an interest in myth with a strong awareness of the
concrete situation of the oppressed. Even western classical
myth is rewritten to serve a non-white ontology. For example,
in 7Br BBbythe biblical myth of Fall is adopted to the African
American context.
History is signified brilliantly by Morrison. Like Ralph
Ellison, she returns to History not to find claims for reparation
or reasons for despair but to find something subjective, willful
and compellingly human. She articulates a reconstructive
feminist voice within the fields of revisionist historiography
and contemporary fiction. Belovedis the best example of such
an attempt on the part of Morrison.
In the words of Aoi Morrison has attempted to
establish a space for African-Americans, advocating the
accommodation of th African-American literary tradition in
the Canon utilizing "information discredited by the West
discredited not because it is not true or useful or even of
some racial value, but because it is information held by
discredited people, information dismissed as 'love or gossip'
or 'magic' or 'sentiment"' (Mori-ison, "Memory, Creation and
Writing" 38). Without employing a technically specialized
language, Morrison transforms political conditions into a rich
aesthetics, thus implying a theory'ofreinterpreted literature
and revised history based on African-American folklore and
stories. Morrison's characters emerge from the periphery,
looking for ways to center their complex significance in
literary discourse.

126 Postmodern Feminist Writers
Feminism in India is different from Western feminism.
Since the late 1980's feminist theories and critics in India
have strained to unseat the romantic female subject who
animates much of the discourse inherited from Western
feminism. The category of Woman has been rendered critical.
as has the paradigm of Resistance and the activity of reading
resistance in texts. In "Can the Subaltern speak? Spivak
suggests that it is impossible for us to recover the voice of
the ' subaltern' or oppressed subject. According to Spivak,
natives are divided by differences of gender and those of
class, caste and other hierarchies. The issue of reading
resistance takes on a specific kind of complexity when we
deal with texts by Indian women. Ifsilence is powerlessness,
than the very act of writing can be designated as resistance.
]t is only when we bring the aesthetic and political to bear
upon each other in our reading that we can move beyond
the celebration of the fact of women's writing towards an
analysis of its actual achievement. Gita Hariharan's and
Sba,bi De,bpande', work, belong to tbe middle-cia"
emancipatory narratives. The texts by these two writers
frame a 'women's expressive a esthetic'. When other Indian.
writers in th.e 1980's and 90's were involved in the women's
confessional mode, Deshpande and Hariharan tried to
introduce 'open..endedness' in their novels. 'Open-endedness'
is a r a dical choice in its rejection of neat closures and
resolutions. Hariharan has subtJy encapsulated the effects
of the strong winds of change that have brought about far
reaching upheavals in women's lives in India. In order to
break the pressures of cultural politics in the .form of the
dominance of gender ideology, Hariharan has taken it upon
herself to deconstruct the past and thereby reconstruct a
more meaningful present. She has resorted to subUe
postmodem strategies in order to expose misrepresentation
of women in partriarchal culture thereby generating accurate
representations for the present. Bbargava terms such texts
as "fencing texts".
Indian women writer's texts are 'fencing texts' where not on1y
doos the nQlT8.tor wants to sit on a fence that demarcat.e& fields
j materlaa
Conclusion 127
of perception. but more importantly from where she likes to
fence - to be clad with gauntlets and masks, equivalents of
irony and subtexts and flick out at the opponent with fast, deft,
disguised strength and precise grace. The fimcer should love the
choreography of the game (the technique) ... Anger is a necessary
foil in Indian Women's n8lT8tiv68 - the middle passage between
suffering and healing, between passivity and activity, between
fear and forgiveness. Rage inspires movements, silence
announces death, but anger keeps one alive and thus the
question of a ' self' trying to find itse1f is kept alive in our
writings. (77)
In both her novels and short story collections,
Hariharan erodes the age-old wisdom contained in sayings
proverbs, stories, myths and beliefs. Her anger expresses
itself through the mode of satire, irony and sarcasm. Her
vision encompasses the whole history of woman's role and
edifies the emergence of a new woman who is true to her
own self. The struggJe for self still remains vital for women
as an ideal to be achieved. Deshpande's view on marriage is
different from what most of the Western feminists like
Simone de Beauvoir, Germaine Greer and Kat Millet hold.
Beauvoir views the relationship between man and woman
in terms of self/other or subject/object model and argued that
man's subjectivity is established only through opposition to
and dependence upon woman's absolute and eternal
otherness. Deshpande never subscribes to these views. She
argues for relational autonomy. In her essay 'why I am a
Feminist' she makes it clear that to be a feminist does not
necessarily mean to want to be like a man but to accept
one's womanhood 88 a Positive gift and not as a 1ack', to
affirm that one is "different, not inferior'. At the same time,
Desbpande challenges the definition of woman as a biological
mechanism suited only for the reproduction of the race as
weB as the related defmition of woman as one of self-
abnegation. She points out the instability that characterizes
the paradigm of gender (because of its entanglements with
caste, class or religion) thereby underscoring the fact that a
woman in varying situation may move between positions of
powerlessness and p o ~ e r . This is an issue that remains
j materlaa
128 Postmodern Feminist Writer.s
somewhat unresolved in Susie Tharu and KLalita's critical
agenda which they elaborate as the project of reading
women's texts "in a Dew way- to read them not for the
moments in which they collude with or r einforce the
dominant ideologies of gender, class, nation or empire but
for the gestures of defiance implicit in them. "(35) Susie Tharu
and K.Lalita acknowledge women's interpellation in ideology
but they also suggest that 'difference' and implicit resistance
are necessary features of writings by women because "women
a r t icul ate a nd r espond to ideologi es from complexly
constituted and 'decentred positions, within them"(35).
Hariharan and Deshpande's works belong to this realm. The
resistance of their protagonists lives in those moments!
conjectures, isolated or incremental, when the tight knit of
patriarchy is teased loose. As pa rt of r e-vis ionist myth-
ma king, old stories are retold in different ways from
gynocentric perspectives by these two writers. They demolish
the cultural stereotypes 'popularized and patronized by the
patriarchal set up. Both excel in the art ofre-visionist myth-
making and thereby forge a gynocentric heritage. Tbey create
new sacred space within the old discourse and recreate in
words a world wherein they would willingly be responsible
for their own survival.
Deshpandc invokes Hindu Philosophy and ethics. She
uses the Bhagavad Gita in the That Long Silence. This is a
part of the epic Mahabharataand is a dialogue between the
warrior Arjuna and his cha rioteer Krishna. At the heart of
the Gita lies the notion of'Dharma' which means doing one's
rightful duty appropriate to one's role in life, but in a selfless
way. Deshpande uses the last part 'Do as you desire'; as the
resolution of Jaya's crisis in That Long Silence. Jaya has
retreated from Mohan because she cannot cope with the truth
- he is facing corruption charges and may lose his job - after
a lifetime of a voiding serious issues. Krishna's advice to
Arjuna is interpreted as an expression of free human will
but it is equally suggestive.
Kri shna tells Arjuna what the right dharma is for a warrior,
but it is up to Arjuna to act or not act. upon it. Jaya realizes
j m a t e r ~
Condusion 129
that she too must. search (or her dharma, and t.hat she has a
choice to follow it, become a truly equal partner in the marriage
by opening channels of communication. (Silence 170)
Jaya has to make the overtures to her husband's
'steadfast' pos ition. She has to create equality out of
inequality. The concept of dharma is interpreted very
differently for men and women 'Stri Dharma' or rightful duty
for womankind is full of gendered violence and patriarcha1
morality, revolving a round the concept of ' pativTatya' -
absolute subservience and devotion to a husband. Arjuna,
by virtue of being high-caste and male, is given a certain
freedom by Krisha, a god in the Mahabharata but the same
text, like other Sbastras and Vedas, emphaticaUy denies it
(or at least severely restricts it) to women and to lower castes.
It is ironic that Jaya's epipbany about the future path she
must take as a 'liberated' woman, comes from an essentially
patriarchal religious discourse.
All the four women writers, while deploying postmodern
strategies in their works, primarily concern themselves with
the theme of female subjectivity. However, their treatment
of the fragmented, female self is different from the way it is
treated is postmodern novels. As Waugh points out,
The decentred and fragmented subject of the 'Postmodern
condition' is one which has been created, at least in part, by
postmodernism itself... It is present in much postmodecn
writing at least as a structure of feeling. Recent mature
scboloa rship has shown why women a re unlikely to liave
experienced history in this form. For femini st., therefore, the
goals of agency, personal a utonomy. self-expression and self-
determinat.ion, can neither be taken for granted nor written off
as exhausted. They .are ideals which feminism has helped to
reformulate, modify and challenge. Feminism needs coherent
subjects and has found a variety of ways of articulating them,
which avoid the fetishisation ()f Pure Reason as the locus of
subject.hood and the irrationalism born ()ut of the perceived
failure of this ideal. (125)
j m a t e r ~
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Studies Reader. eds. Bill Ashcroft, Griffiths and Helen Tiffin.
London: Routledge, 1997.
Atwood, Margaret. The Edible Woman. London: Vll'ago, 1979.
-:-_ Life Before Man. London: VIrago, 1982.
- . Bodily Harm. London: Virago, 1983.
- . "An Interview with Margaret Atwood". Interview. Elizabeth
Meese. Black Warrior Review 12.1 (Fall 1985).
- . The Handmaid's TaJe. Toronto: Me Clelland and Stewart, 1985.
-. "An End to Audience". Second Words: Selected Critical Prose.
Toronto: Anans), 1982.
- . C a ~ s Eye. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1988.
-. The Robber Bride. London: Virago, 1994
- . 'True Stories' in Poems 1976-1986. London: Virago, 1992.
-. Conversations ed. Earl.G Ingersoll. London: Virago 1992.
Begum, Jameela A. "'Postmodernism 8S Feminist Text: A Reading
oftheShort'1brlofCanadian Women Writers." Postmodernism
and Feminism, Canadian Contexts ed. Shirin Kudchedkar.
Delhi: Pencraft International, 1995.
Bhargava, Rajul. "Infidel Heterogloasia? Postmodern Feminist
Configuration in Githa Hariharan's TheArtofDying." ed. Rajul
Bhargava. Indian Writing in English: The Last Decade. New
Delhi: Rawat Publication, 2002.
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Africa, 11
African-American Folk Culture
Q1. 123, l24 '
African-American Folklore, 70
African-American Identity, B6
African-American Novelists, 49
African-American Texts, TI
African: American Tradition 69
African-American Women 50 51
. 58 ' '''-''..10:...=
African-American Writers, 50
African-Americans, II
Ancient Myths, lOB
Angelu. Maya, 55
Atwood, Margaret, 11-15 19...
Atwood's Novels, il
Australia, 8'I
Babri Masjid's Demolition, 116

Bangladesh. 109
Battle of Kurukshetra
(Kurukshetra Battle) 93
Bhagwadgita, 128
Bhattacharji, 98
Black Americans, SA
Black Women Writers, QQ. 55
Black Women's Literary
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Blacks in White America, 66
Brahadaranyaka Upanishad, 113
Brook, Gwendolyn, 55
Canada, B1
Capitalism, 1
Claude Levi-Strauss 54
. . .
Demetrackopoulo8, 63
Derrida, g. iQ. 'lli. 90
Deshpande, Shasbi, 101-
UN. 105 108 115. 117, 120
DuBois, WEB, 72
Dubey, Madhu. 60

English Literature, 2.5
Fanoo, Franz, S1. 88
Fausel , J essie, !!l
Fema le Sexuality, 43
Feminism, 1.. g. 126
Feminist Literary Criticism, 1
Feminist Theory, ~ 89:
Folk Mythology of South India ,
Gandhi 's Ahimsa & Satyagraha.
ill .
Greer, Germai ne, 127
Gloria , Naylor, ~
Guth, Deborah. 82
Hariharan. Gita, ~ ~ ~ ~
lQl. 126 121
Hari ha ra n's Works, 126 128
Henry Louis Gates Jr . 16
Hindu Myths, 92
Hindu Philosophy, 128
Hurt.son, .4.9
Hutc: heon. Linda, .. .. .. ~ 60
India , 51
Indian English, l.O5
Indian Feminist Writers, 89
Indian Post-modernism, 9.1
P03tmotiern Feminist Writers
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Jackson, 25
JameeJa Begum, 9
Larsen, Nella. !9
Lorain of 1941; 65
Lyotard, 4:
Lyotard's Model of Post-
Modernism, a
Mahabharata, ~ ~ 108 128.
Marshall, Pa ule, 48-50 55
Marxism, 1
Millet, Kat, 127
Modem Humanism, 1
Morrison, Thni , QQ. Q1. ~ 57-59
61-63. ~ .. 68.71. ~ 1i.
76-86. 104. 120 123.125
Nasta, SUJlh ila. 101. 1112
Paranjape, Makarand, sa
Petry, Ann, 4..9:
Pieixoto, Darey, Prof, 1lli. to
Plurali8m, 3
P06lrmodern Femini8t , 90
Poelrmodemi8m, 1.. i.!!:Q... 8&9l
Pryae, Marjore, IS
Radhakrishnan, l.O.2
RigVeda, US
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Royal Ontario Museum, ~ 27
Shahnad. _
Shastras, 129
Siddiqui, Dina M, 109
Simne de Beauvoir, 121
South Africa, 87
Spencer, Dorothy, ll.8.
Steiner, George, l.O3
Tbamee, 6
United Field Theory, 38
Vedas, 129
Vrjayaaree, 95
Vmey Kripal, ~ 11.9
Walker. Alime, ~ 50
Waugh, Patricia, ~ 129
Western Culture, ~ 76
Western Feminism, 126.
Western Feminiats, 127
Western Liberal Humanist
Tradition, .4-
Wheatley, Phillis, .4A
White Culture, 65.
Women in B1ack Community, ~
Women's Movement, 1
Wolf. Virginia, ill
Dr. W. S. Kottilwarl teaches at the
Depoibneut of Enllisb Mercy CoIJqe.
PalaUad. Kerala. She is also the
organizer o( the Researcb Centre (or
Comparative Studies. She ,was annted
a UGC Project OD P ,. W_
Writers, wliicb .... been ilistnuDelllal in
dle publication of this booI<. Her .........
include Comempcrary Literary 1bearie&,
African American Literature. Canadian
fiction, Ethnic Women's Writings,
European Fiction and Indian Womeu',
ISBN. 817fil5.8l1-4
lOO8, S .... Demy.
pp. l3tI+l4+_
j materl3a
I ~
The Book titled POSTMODERN
much-debated problematics of
postmodemist and feminist ideologies by
critically examining certain key-texts
written by women writers across
cultures. The writers ex.amined arc
Margaret Atwood. a Canadian novelist,
Toni Morrison, an African American,
novelist and two Indian novelislS, Sbashi
Oeshpande and Gita Hariharan. The
book is divided into five cbapU:n. 1be
fl1'Sl chapter hi&bligbts the theoretical
frameworks of Postmodcrnism and
Feminism thereby pointing out the
various perspectives from which the
works of the four DOvelists would be
analysed. Chapter two analyses nioc
novels by Maraarat Atwood, Chapter
three takes up six novels by Toni
MorrillOll while Chapter four is devoted
to an in-depth analysis of
Indian cootext and illustrates it though
an exploratioo of two DOvels and a short
IIOry coIIoctioo by Gila Harilwan and
five DOvels by Shasbi Dcsbpande. The
fifth chapter sums up the conclusion
anived at after a close examination of
the fictional COipus of the four novelists
taken up for stl'dy.

ourna[ Of
.... '"
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