"This Englishness will kill you": colonial(ist) education and female socialization in Merle Hodge's 'Crick Crack, Monkey,' and Bessie head's 'Maru.' (Third World Women's Inscriptions)
Education as the exercise of domination stimulates the credulity of students, with the ideological intent . . . of indoctrinating them to adapt to the world of oppression . . . The unfinished character of men and the transformational character of reality necessitate that education be an ongoing activity. (Freire)
British colonial aggression consolidated itself with the chalk and the blackboard. Issues of cultural domination, the role that"English Literature" played in a liberal colonial enterprise are recent areas of study that provide significant clues to current neo-colonial realities.(1) A study of the ideological underpinnings of colonial(ist) educational systems in former colonies in Africa, the Caribbean, and India reveals their lasting effects. Colonized peoples' mental colonizations through English language education, British values, and culture result in states of exclusion and alienation. Such alienations are experienced in conditions of mental exile within one's own culture to which, given one's education, one un-belongs, or in physical displacements evident in large expatriate populations of previously colonized peoples in the "west."
Although writers like Ngugi wa Thiong'o and others have discussed the den-igration of indigenous cultures by an English educational system, they deal mainly with issues of racial superiority and inferiority: "The colonial system" remarks Ngugi, "produced the kind of education which nurtured subservience, self-hatred, and mutual suspicion . . . Society was a racial pyramid: the European minority at the top, the Asian in the middle, and the African forming the base. The educational system reflected this inequality" (Homecoming 14). To such discussions, postcolonial(2) women writers add the crucial component of gender, and how a gendered educational system placed women in complex, sometimes worse positions than in pre-colonial times in relationship to their own communities. Education was devised to create a civil servant class, predominantly male, that would aid a colonial administration. This same class would continue to work for the colonizers' benefit even after their physical departure (Fanon's "black skin white mask" phenomenon).(3)
For this study, I use critical practices that theorize from within postcolonial women's texts, that allow the texts themselves to lead a literary, critical enterprise into an interdisciplinary approach that includes colonial history, education theory, political analysis, and "critiques of imperialism in its cultural forms" as Edward Said puts it (11). Such a method recognizes the distinctions of fields and avoids totalizations. It attempts to recognize the multiple and intertwined systems of power that buttressed a colonial and a postcolonial machinery. A recognition that in this context power is overdetermined would also open up possibilities of resistance. This method is an interplay between actual power relations - racial, sexual, class - and their theorizing and interpretation. Such a critical endeavor aims to be allied with progressive struggles for social change. As Merle Hodge remarks in her essay, "Challenges of the Struggle for Sovereignty: Changing the World versus Writing Stories," for her,
there is no fundamental contradiction between art and activism. In particular, the power of the creative word to change the world is not to be underestimated. . . . We are occupied by foreign fiction. Fiction which affirms and validates our world is therefore an important weapon of resistance. (202, 206)
In this essay, I undertake a cross-cultural study of the impacts of Engish education on the female protagonists, Tee in Trinidadian Merle Hodge's Crick Crack, Monkey, and Margaret in Botswanan/South African Bessie Head's Maru. I analyze the role of English education in female socialization, namely how the study of English language and culture as imposed by colonial education alienates women from their indigenous cultural and linguistic frameworks. My comparative study avoids reductionism by acknowledging specificities of cultures, and of different historical, material, and ideological factors in these societies. In probing the differences between writers such as Hodge and Head from distinct geographical locations, I also discover the uses of a shared British colonial history. I analyze how both Trinidadian and Botswanan societies as depicted in these two novels deal with racial superiority inculcated through English education.
I argue how in both texts female socialization takes place at the intersection of English education and indigenous prejudices, be they racist, sexist, or classist. I discuss how English education simultaneously and paradoxically privileges the female protagonists even as it renders them into outsiders in their own communities. Hodge and Head, like other postcolonial women writers, demonstrate that the privilege of English education is not an unalloyed advantage. They regard education as a double-edged sword, not always or unilaterally liberating especially for female protagonists. Education comes with costs for women. It creates new types of boundaries within which female protagonists must act, especially because English education does not challenge the patriarchal status quo. And educated women have to work harder than their un-English educated sisters to belong within the patriarchal codes of their cultures. Educated women are rendered into outsiders in their communities, and they often find themselves in states of mental and physical exile. As outsiders, their psychic health is often in danger. The pain of the outsider status is experienced at times physically, as if the women are exiled from their female bodies.
English education played an important role in female socialization since it was gendered according to colonial patriarchal principles. Although it is important to historicize and contextualize patriarchy and not to use it as a universal system of male domination, I find useful correspondences between indigenous and colonial patriarchies. They often colluded, which resulted in doubly controlling colonized women.(4) At times, educated women like Margaret, in their need to belong, to have a home, become complicitous with patriarchal authority even as they are caught between conflicting identifies. Similarly, Maiguru in Nervous Conditions, even with an M.Phil. degree, decides to "efface herself" so that her husband's identity remains secure. Maiguru subscribes even more rigidly to norms of wifehood and subservience than do the uneducated women in the text.
Neither Hodge nor Head romanticizes an indigenous, pre-colonial past. Rather, they probe with seating honesty the paradoxes of racist, sexist, classist prejudices that exist within their own cultures. Further, they reveal how such prejudices are exacerbated by colonial practices, and how indigenous patriarchies were reinforced by the colonial Victorian beliefs of female education - to train women as good wives and mothers.
Tee and Margaret are initially underprivileged in their societies because of race, class, and gender. Both suffer internalized prejudices from their own people. Tee is dark and grows up in working-class Tantie's household; Margaret belongs to the Masarwa group, considered outcasts by the dominant Batswana people. Both are then granted the privilege of an English education, which raises their class status. Tee is brought into middle-class Beatrice's bourgeois world so that she can attend the privileged St. Ann's School; Margaret is adopted at birth by an English woman, and unlike other Masarwa people to whom she belongs, she is given an education. The process of education leads both protagonists, already set apart (before their formal education begins) thanks to local prejudice about class and color, into a further "outsiderness" from their communities. Both texts provide open-ended resolutions that evoke a problematic kind of feminist politics: Tee is summoned by her father to England, and Maru decides to make a political statement by marrying the Masarwa woman, Margaret.
Although Hodge and Head acknowledge the constructive aspects of knowledge and learning, they take a searing look at the ways in which colonial education can also disempower their female protagonists. Paulo Freire's call for "pedagogical action," namely, the need to change educational methods that perpetuate dominant ideologies, is necessary in postcolonial societies. Unfortunately, in the realm of education policy, the postcolonial world remains by and large colonial. We have not yet arrived at forging a pedagogy, to use Freire's phrase, "with and not for the oppressed."
Neither protagonist is raised by her own parents - indeed both their mothers die in child-birth. At the beginning of Crick Crack, Monkey, Tee's mother dies, and since her father leaves for England, Tee is raised by two aunts, working-class Tantie and middle-class Beatrice, both of whom struggle for Tee's soul. Margaret of Maru is adopted at birth by an English woman, a missionary's wife, described as "a scientist . . . with a lot of fond, pet theories, one of her favourite, sweeping theories being: environment everything; heredity nothing" (15). She is excited at the prospect of having "a real, living object for her experiment. Who knew what wonder would be created?" (15). She calls the child Margaret after herself. One never knows if Margaret had a Masarwa name, a significant marker of her identity, like Tee, who never knows her "true-true name."
Margaret is brought up as an "experiment" without much love from a scientist-mother. Margaret has a kind of anaesthetized childhood. There seemed to be "a big hole" in her mind about who she was, or how she perceived herself as a child. Her adoptive mother sets out to create "something new and universal, a type of personality that would be unable to fit into a definition of something as narrow as tribe or race or nation" (16). The "experiment" had to do something "to help her people" when she grew up. Margaret Sr. is a do-gooder whose "false generosity," to use Freire's words, does not challenge the unequal racial and class hierarchies in that society. As Freire notes aptly: "An unjust social order is the permanent fount of this 'generosity' . . . Any attempt to 'soften' the power of the oppressor in deference to the weakness of the oppressed almost always manifests itself in the form of false generosity" (29).
Head, racially marginalized in her personal life, remarks in an interview, "I longed to write an enduring novel on the hideousness of racial prejudice. But I also wanted the book to be so beautiful and so magical that I, as the writer, would long to read and re-read it." In Maru, she explores the origins of irrational racisms that haunt nearly every culture, what nurtures them and why they persist. Early in Maru, the narrator's somewhat preachy voice sets up this hierarchy with whites at the top, who regard Asians as "a low, filthy nation," and the Asians in between who "could still smile - at least, they were not Bushmen. They all have their monsters" (11). The prejudice is located in "looking different . . . then seemingly anything can be said and done to you as your outer appearance reduces you to the status of a non-human being" (11).
Both protagonists are raised into a higher class than the one in which they are born. Their benefactors can afford to give them an education. These do-gooders belong either to the local community, like Aunt Beatrice and Maru, or they come from outside, like Margaret Cadmore. Margaret's education equips her to be a school teacher, unusual for a Masarwa, and her very role becomes a challenge to the local community and the school officials' racial prejudices. The "experiment," in that sense, has succeeded. Even as the very combination of Masarwa and teacher in one female body, Margaret's, makes a political statement, the emotional costs of the prejudices she endures on a personal level are enormous.
In both texts, the protagonists are already set apart and criticized by their own people even before their education - Tee is "too dark" in that color-conscious world, so she "must try harder." Margaret belongs to the outcast group, the Masarwa, upon whom the Batswana look down. Next, their schooling paradoxically both transforms and deepens the prejudices against them. Education gives Margaret a chance to be part of the dominant community. Its cost is that she is cut off from her own people, the Masarwa. At her middle-class Aunt Beatrice's house, Tee is required to deny her former "ornery and niggery" self. Even as she is anguished and conflicted internally about her new middle-class habits, her status externally rises when she is called by her father to England.
Hodge evokes race and class prejudices within the community embodied in Auntie Beatrice, "The Bitch" who looks down on working-class Tantie. Beatrice cultivates bourgeois values that despise blackness in every form - skin-color, speech patterns, food. Such attitudes are rooted within a colonial education system that inculcated the denigration of black culture. In post-independence Trinidad, as Hodge states, a struggle for "cultural sovereignty" continues:
Caribbean people suffer great ambivalence regarding their culture. We do not acknowledge or give value to our most deeply rooted behavior patterns, our most intimate psychology. In the first place, we are not fully aware of what constitutes our specificity. We recognize our culture only in a negative, rejecting way: we see in our people tendencies and characteristics which we regard as aberrations to be stamped out. (203-04)
Hodge notes especially the "disrespect and active suppression in the home and in the education system" of Creole English that is, in fact, used by the majority of the people. "Think of the implications for our mental health we speak Creole, we need Creole, we cannot function without Creole, for our deepest thought processes are bound up in the structure of Creole, but we hold Creole in utter contempt" (204).(5) Hodge would agree with Freire's remarks: "The testimony that must be given to students as we teach the standard form is that they need to command it not exclusively in order to survive, but above all for fighting better against the dominant class" (73).
Tee's childhood years are set in different locales that test the boundaries of indigenous color and class prejudices as well as racist superiority in English schools. The irrelevancy of the curriculum is criticized humorously: "we recited nursery rhymes," remarks the narrator, "about Little Boy Blue (what, in all creation, was a 'haystack'?) and about Little Miss Muffet who for some unaccountable reason sat eating her curls away." The more insidious effects of imbibing English values, of "speak(ing) properly," are explored when Tee moves into Aunt Beatrice's bourgeois household. The superficiality of middle-class values, slavishly imitative of the worst in English behavior, is soundly satirized.
In Crick Crack, Monkey, the notion of being "brought up properly" includes a knowledge of standard English. The girls memorize nursery rhymes with cultural references as remote as snow is from Trinidad. Getting an education went hand in hand with respecting "The Mother Country" and reciting "Children of the Empire Ye are Brothers All," or singing "God Save the King and Land of Hope and Glory." The education of the mind was reinforced by a saving of the soul, particularly since colonial education was often conducted by missionaries and this often continued after independence. Some of the confusion that Tee feels is related humourously: "Now at school I had come to learn that Glory and The Mother Country and Up-There and Over-There [London] had all one and the same geographical location . . . And then there was 'Land of Hope and Glory/Mother of the Free'" (30). Mrs. Hinds "naturally" takes it upon herself to do whatever she could "towards our redemption." Tee faithfully reports that each "day began and ended with the intoning of the sounds which we could perform without a fault while our thoughts drifted elsewhere behind our tightly-shut eyes":
Our father (which was plain enough) witchartin heavn HALLE owedbethyname THY kingdumkum THY willbedunnunnert azitizinevn . . . (26-27)
At Sunday school when Tee is given "a picture and a Bible verse - pictures of children with yellow hair standing around Jesus in fields of sickly flowers" she recites what amounts to a denial of her very self:
Till I cross the wide water, Lord My black sin washed from me Till I come to Glory Glory, Lord And cleansed stand beside Thee, White and shining stand beside Thee, Lord, Among Thy blessed children . . . (30)
Colonial documents justifying "negro education" state clearly, as in Rev. J. Sterling's report to the British Government in 1835, that the production of "a civilized community will depend entirely on the power over their minds." This quotation is part of a historical study of colonial female education, Rhoda Reddock's "Women, Labour, and Struggle in 20th century Trinidad and Tobago: 1898-1960," which is useful for an analysis of sexual, color, and class divisions that made or denied educational opportunities to women. Reddock's study of Trinidad can be extended to the Caribbean region as a whole and to other British colonies.
Since "brute force could no longer be the main form of labour control," remarks Reddock,
new ideological forms had to be found and popular education was one of them . . . Colonial education was not meant to liberate the colonized. Rather, it was the means through which the values and interests of the colonizers and masters would be internalized by the colonized and perceived as their own. (217-18)
Reddock cites an article in The Schoolmaster, no. 1, 1903 that pleaded for women's education since wives could be more effective "helpmates" to their husbands, and could "come up to the ideal of what a cultured woman ought to be" (223). She argues further that the colonizers' gendered educational policies colluded with indigenous patriarchal traditions, as evident in this 1836 comment on women's education: "We did not wish to see our young ladies and daughters become 'blue stockings,' we did not ask for Creole de Staels and Mary Somervilles" (222).
The actual content of girls' education was a matter of debate. Reddock notes that a gendered emphasis in colonial education was introduced with the controversial Education Code of 1935. In the early part of the century the content of female education embodies what Reddock terms "the actual process of Western European 'housewifization"' (226). Sarah Morton, Canadian missionary, writes about the subjects that the mission's Girls Training Homes covered: worship with the family, gardening, sewing, writing, scripture, washing, ironing. "In the daily sewing class the girls learned to cut and sew garments of many descriptions including English dresses and jackets." The girls were also "initiated into the mysteries of English dishes . . . imposing cakes were made for our brides" (226). The purpose of such "housewifization" was to prepare women to marry suitably and avoid "the danger of being given to non-Christian or otherwise unsuitable men," as Morton put it. Reddock's carefully historicized study is useful for a contemporary assessment of continuing gender inequities in higher education.
Although Tee's education does not focus on sewing and cooking, it inculcates colonial values that denigrate, even deny her own culture and physical environment. Chimneys, apple trees, snow become more "real" to Tee than the tangible tropical vegetation in her own backyard. The young, impressionable Tee ponders this situation and arrives at a child-like answer at the end of the following passage:
Books transported you always into the familiar solidity of chimneys and apple trees, the enviable normality of real Girls and Boys who went a-sleighing and built snowmen, ate potatoes, not rice, went about in socks and shoes from morning until night and called things by their proper names . . . Books transported you always into Reality and Rightness, which were to be found Abroad. (61)
As she indulges in this kind of fantasizing, which has nothing to do with her own landscape or culture, Tee creates "Helen, my double . . . the Proper Me," through whom she can live the many white ways of life that she reads about in books - tea at four, wearing socks all day, pretending that rainy mornings were like winter. Fortunately, this role-playing does not last long - "Helen was outgrown and discarded somewhere" (62). Instead a much more serious and self-destructive kind of alienation confronts Tee when, in order to utilize her scholarship to St. Ann's, a much-coveted middle-class school, she must move to Aunt Beatrice's home.
Tee's contemporary experience echoes a historical reality, namely that education and class advancement go hand in hand. However, during the early 19th century, secondary education "was the prerogative," notes Reddock, "only of the white and colored bourgeoisie and a few of the upper middle strata" (222). Not only color prejudice, but moral norms, excluded blacks and largely working-class populations from these opportunities, primarily in the stigma of "illegitimacy" that automatically excluded them from schools. By the 1850s only a few black or colored boys had the opportunity "to win 'exhibitions' or scholarships to secondary school" (222). No scholarships were available for girls. Even when girls took part in "exhibition scholarships," and even if they won, their options were severely circumscribed. Reddock recounts the case of Elsie Padmore, who won a handicraft exhibition scholarship in 1926, but "was refused entrance to every branch of handicraft she chose to pursue" (227), such as photography or book-binding. The master-craftsmen "were not keen on having girls." Reddock remarks:
It was truly amazing that no attempt was made to challenge the status quo. The existing sexual division within education and career preparation was accepted as an unchangeable given . . . That women's education . . . was a force for maintaining rather than changing the system was clear from the case of Elsie Padmore whose scholarship was not honoured. Rather than force the craftsmen to accept women apprentices, girls were withdrawn from the scholarship examinations. This raises fundamental questions as to the illusory character of education as a mechanism for changing the position of women in the society. (228-29)
In contemporary times, Tee's scholarship to St. Ann's is honored. Whereas earlier, in primary school, Hodge had criticized the content of Tee's education at school, now Hodge satirizes the dangerous informal education at home, namely, bourgeois values epitomized in Aunt Beatrice. Ironically, bourgeois values such as eating with forks and knives assume more importance in that household than the far more serious situations of Beatrice's two daughters treating her with disrespect. They look down on Tee as the poor relative who has been rescued into their middle-class household. Unfortunately, Beatrice's is a dysfunctional family caught up in appearances, and in superficial values of proper speech and dress.
Although Tee was happier at working-class Tantie's home, now with her education, she is confused. She feels ashamed when Tantie brings Tee's favorite foods to Beatrice's since they smell too aromatic in that prim living-room. Tee is embarrassed at Tantie's boisterousness. She is unhappy, though relieved when Tantie leaves. At the end of the novel, Tee is at an impasse. Her confusions could hardly be sorted out if she were to remain at Beatrice's; nor can she return to Tantie's. So, an opportunity to leave the environment altogether and go to her father in England might give her a new perspective. At this stage she is unable to represent herself. Her identity is overdetermined by the factors of race, class, and gender within her own culture that have nearly overpowered her. With distance, age, reflection, Tee might be able at a later stage to reconceptualize what home, identity, and belonging mean.
In Maru, the prejudices against Margaret first hit her when she goes to school and encounters screaming, shouting, and spitting. Her "social isolation and lack of communication with others, except through books" (19) is painful. Margaret is silent: "she had no weapons of words or personality" (17). The reader is not told, as with Tee, the actual content of Margaret's education. The goal is to get her qualified as a school teacher. The older Margaret retires, leaves for England, and the "experiment" is left hearing "the tin cans rattling."
Margaret is accustomed to living "like the mad dog of the village, with tin cans tied to her tail" (9). She finds work in Dilepe, a village where the Masarwa exist only as slaves. Margaret has a way of disarming the prejudiced by saying simply and openly, "I am a Masarwa." She is hardly bold or aggressive. This kind of openness she derives from her education. Pete, the principal, wants to get rid of her: "It's easy. She's a woman," he says, but the community, prejudiced though it is, has to recognize that she is the educator of their children. Despite Margaret's education, the males in charge have power to retain or dismiss her.
The pettiness and prejudice of the so-called "educated" males in charge of the school cast a negative light on what knowledge and education can accomplish, particularly against deeply ingrained and socially legitimized sexism. Ironically, education reinforces patriarchal male power (as discussed earlier with regard to Babamukuru in Nervous Condmtions), and disempowers women in terms of conforming to traditional codes. Educated males gain further social legitimacy for their prejudices through their newly acquired language skills. However educated a woman might be, she is after all "only a woman" - such prejudice is explored by other female writers.(6)
Knowledge and femaleness combined in Margaret raise significant questions of power. Does the education that she is equipped with enable her to struggle against prejudice? Does that education empower her, or is her position as an educated Masarwa such an anomaly, such an oddity, that the very advantages of book-knowledge paradoxically render her very alone and powerless? Can the prejudices against her as outcast (read, Masarwa), and supposed inferior (read, female) be transformed with education? In short, is education liberating or does it create new types of prisons and boundaries within which Margaret must act?
Tee and Margaret paradoxically find themselves both centered, given the power of English education and economic benefits, and marginal, given that they are set apart from their own un-English educated communities. Marginalization is not a given. It is the end result of a complex process. In this context, the entire process of schooling from girlhood into adolescence, the inculcation of British values, leads to the experience of multiple marginalities - from the colonizer's culture, from one's own people, even from one's own voice as it articulates English and other "forgotten" and consciously re-memoried tongues.
The Englishness in which the mother steeps her adopted daughter Margaret renders the child out of touch with the Masarwa, and her own culture. She is simultaneously uprooted and advantaged. The tools of her knowledge do equip her to work, though under extremely difficult and lonely conditions in a prejudiced society. Margaret as a teacher has a vital role to play in the village school, but she connects to that reality in the barest way. Freire's remarks on the importance of both teachers and students being "subjects," being active participants who are "co-intent on reality . . . not only in the task of unveiling that reality . . . but in the task of re-creating that knowledge" (56), would enable Margaret to find a real space within the community through her work. As she and her students jointly undertake the very production of knowledge, they would "discover themselves," in Freire's words, "as its [reality's] permanent re-creators."
But Margaret remains isolated and has no community. She lives within herself, and on the margins of the community literally and figuratively. Biddy Martin and Chandra Mohanty's remark in "What's Home Got to Do with It?" about "a constant recontextualizing of the relationship between personal/group history and political priorities" is useful to grasp Margaret's outsider status. "Community is related to experience, to history," remark Martin and Mohanty. "For if identity and community are not the product of essential connections, neither are they merely the product of political urgency or necessity" (210).
Margaret's outsiderness echoes some painful aspects of Head's personal history. Head, colored, born out of a union between a white woman and a black man, was not fully accepted by either family. Head's mother was judged "insane" and confined in a mental asylum where Bessie Head was born. As a child, Head was shunted from one foster home to another, never fully accepted because she was colored. The pain of this personal trauma was intensified within the inhumane apartheid system in South Africa. Head left "the stench of apartheid" on an exit-permit (which meant that she could never return: sadly, Head did not live to witness the demise of apartheid) and spent most of her life in exile in Botswana. Her traumatic life and untimely death poignantly embody what I describe as some of the actual conditions of marginality faced by writers today - in terms of race, language, and geography. Each marginal position from her personal history (colored, English speaker, exile) finds a creative counterpart in her novels, and each position is empowered by the end of the narrative, almost through the act of writing itself. Different aspects of marginality are represented in Head's work - geographical marginalization is figured in the exile Makhaya in When Rain Clouds Gather, and racial/ethnic marginalization in Maru. The search is always for ways of belonging, for being accepted as an individual who is also part of a community. The struggle is within the human soul battling the forces of good and evil, power and greed, and the discovery of those inner "suns of kindness."
The very physical exclusions by virtue of which Head's racial and ethnic status is defined and the conditions under which her work was produced give us new ways of thinking about marginality. Her work demonstrates the human spirit's tenacity in creating, to use her phrase, "new worlds out of nothing," out of the conditions of linguistic and geographic marginalities. The image "new worlds" has a concrete, earthy connotation that figures centrally in Head's work. What she refers to on one level is the very struggle to produce food in "a vast, semi-desert, drought-stricken land" such as Botswana. On another level, Botswana, as a location, holds the possibility for Head to "create new worlds out of nothing," since as she states in an autobiographical piece,
All through its history, it attracted few white settlers. A bit of ancient Africa was left almost intact to dream along in its way . . . My work was always tentative because it was always so completely new: it created new worlds out of nothing; it battled with problems of food production in a tough semidesert land; it brought all kinds of people, both literate and semiliterate together . . . I forcefully created for myself, under extremely hostile conditions, my ideal life.
Margaret's and Maru's very names evoke tradition and change, which can be paralleled to their being insiders and outsiders in the community. Maru is a hereditary chief, who on the surface is the embodiment of tradition. But in his ideals he seems more an outsider, a radical who wants to bring about change: "If I have a place" he remarks, "it is to pull down the old structures and create the new." However, in order to fulfill his desire for "the freedom to dream the true dreams, untainted by the clamour of the world" (68-70), he must give up his traditional role. Margaret's name is clearly Western, on the surface, a sign of change. However, such Westernisms as names, or her English schooling, do not in themselves guarantee change.
Both Margaret and Maru are trapped in the paradoxical duality of the individualizing and representative nature of their identities, encapsulated in their very bodies - Margaret, visibly a Masarwa, Maru, visibly a hereditary chief. The novel explores how both paradoxically embrace and reject their identities as representative of their narrow ethnicities. Maru has more power, will and choice; Margaret is more passive though her very presence as an educator is a challenge to the community's prejudices. Her creativity through her art is non-verbal, and although externally manifested in paintings is inherently inward. Margaret does not have the power to express resistance in words or action - both paths are dangerous for her as an outcast. So, she turns to the non-verbal form of painting, perhaps endorsing a situation shared by other oppressed groups who find covert ways to convey their thoughts when overt ways are risky.(7)
Margaret, as outsider, like Head (as exile) creates an inner space for herself through her art. Margaret paints, Head uses orality and language. Head contests the marginal, unrecorded, or misrepresented histories of colonized peoples by becoming a modern-day griot herself, a scribe, a historian. In her text Serowe, Head, as a sympathetic listener/recorder, faithfully preserves what she beautifully terms "a precarious orality." It is ironic that Maru claims the one space that Margaret has for self-expression, namely, in her paintings. He appropriates Margaret's imaginative world when he asserts that he had dreamt the same dreams and that Margaret is merely a faithful recorder. Head rather troublingly takes away Margaret's fragile sense of agency in her artistic expression.
The pain of the outsider status that both Tee and Margaret endure is felt physically at times, as if they are exiled from their own female bodies. The search for belonging, for "an imagined community," also includes a search to belong within their female bodies from which, given the process of education and socialization, they feel alienated. Such mental anguish is internalized often self-destructively by female protagonists, for instance, Tee's desire "to shrink, to disappear." As Tee gets more and more confused about who she is and where she belongs, she reaches a crisis point in her sense of alienation. She wishes "that [her] body would shrivel up and fall away, that [she] could step out new and acceptable" (97). Similarly, Nyasha in Nervous Conditions hardly belongs within her female body, which becomes, in her anorexia and bulimia, the sad victim of her mental anguish.
Margaret's un-belonging is heightened by her secret love for Moleka. Since she lives on the margins of the community, she is shocked when she finds out that Moleka is going to marry Dikeledi. Her emotional collapse is described by Head in physical terms: "No sound reached her. A few vital threads of her life snapped behind her neck and it felt as though she were shrivelling to death, from head to toe" (118; cf. Tee's desire "to shrivel up"). She somehow finds her way home: "She pushed the door shut. The remaining threads went snap, snap, snap behind her neck and she half-stumbled, half-reeled to the bed and fell on it in a dead faint" (120). Since Maru communicates with Margaret telepathically, he knows about her anguish and loss, but in his characteristically objective and clinical language, he declares: "She's not dead . . . It's only her neck that's broken." As Maru coaxes her out of her collapse, her revival is also described in physical terms: "She moved her limbs and they tingled painfully from idleness but the blood in them began to flow . . . She struggled to an upright posture . . . what filled her now was this slow inpouring of life again" (121).
RESOLUTIONS/ENDINGS OF BOTH NOVELS
The resolutions of both novels are open-ended and problematic - both protagonists, in their society's eyes, have transcended class barriers and racial prejudices. Tee is on the brink of making that familiar journey to the M/Other Country, a relocation that will further complicate her own identity, her relationship to "home" and where she belongs. Margaret passively acquiesces to marry Maru. She says nothing, and as the narrator puts it: "What could she say, except that at that moment [of her physical collapse] she would have chosen anything as an alternative to the living death into which she had so unexpectedly fallen?" (124).
Both resolutions reinscribe the female protagonists within patriarchal boundaries, new in terms of their relocations and familiarly old in terms of gender hierarchies: Tee goes to her father, Margaret, to a husband. Tee goes to London, and Margaret leaves in a fairy tale kind of ending with Maru: "They were heading straight for a home, a thousand miles away where the sun rose, new and new and new each day" (125). Both resolutions are troubling in terms of a feminist politics where a personal self-transformation experienced through the agency of a particular woman leads to personal change, and later, to the possibility of social change. Though both Tee and Margaret arrive at new self-revelations, they have no say in their destinies at the end of the novels. Margaret, especially seems to be sacrificed as an individual for the greater good of the Masarwa people. Head's idealistic ending is problematic and particularly uncharacteristic in its sacrificing of a personal for a supposed "political" end.
The older Margaret's intentions to save Margaret from ignorance and poverty raise crucial questions, such as the lack of control that the Masarwa have over the means of improving their own condition. Can they, the oppressed, be the authors of designing a better life for themselves and their children, or do they have to rely on well-intentioned do-gooders like Margaret Cadmore to intervene on their behalf? By the end of the novel one wonders which solution was better - education and environment as conceived by the English woman, or intermarriage as Maru's indigenous solution to racial prejudice? Both solutions are problematic, especially since Margaret has no agency in either decision: her schooling as a child, or her marriage as an adult.
Maru might be seen as parallel to Margaret Cadmore, local and foreign do-gooders. Both wield authority among their people, and both use Margaret not because they care for her as an individual but for what she represents - an educated Masarwa. Sadly enough, despite her education, her talents as an artist, the space that Margaret occupies finally is as Maru's wife. Education does not liberate her, especially not from sexist patriarchal structures. She is reminiscent of the educated Maiguru in Nervous Conditions, who assumes the role of subservient wife so that her husband can taste his full power as head of the household.
The sexism in Maru's decision to marry Margaret is bothersome. It is mystified by the romantic imagery and the idealized tone of the narrative. He marries Margaret in order to "set the tone for a new world." Head depicts him as a visionary and one who wants to effect social change. As a charismatic male leader, he takes a radical step by using a woman. He makes a political point by marrying a Masarwa; it is incidental that this Masarwa is Margaret. The problematic sexual politics in the novel present the marriage as a "solution," as a way of belonging for the outsider Margaret. Ironically, as an individual, she is still outside any community, silent and voiceless. She remains an anomaly for both groups of people - for the Masarwa, and for the dominant group who hate the Masarwa.
One needs to distinguish Maru's sexual politics from his social vision. Within a mystified circle of power that Maru creates around him, Margaret becomes his wife. In Head's world-view, powerful males can be transformed often through the healing, communal-spirited influence of a female character, for instance, Paulina's influence on Makahya in When Rain Clouds Gather. Will Margaret be such an influence on Maru? Head has a proclivity to create idealized male heros whom she represents as enlightened dictators. This is a contradiction in terms, though Head's purpose in playing with this paradigm is her exploration of how human beings abuse power. Head's interest in enlightened leadership in Africa even took her into exploring the factual history of Botswana in A Bewitched Crossroad, where she celebrates Khama, who "represents the literate heart."(8)
In marrying Margaret, Maru is exercizing a male version of the personal-as-political. He forces her into marriage, a personal decision, in order to make a political statement - a marriage of political expediency, one that becomes a powerful symbol of liberation for the Masarwa. He exerts power sexually over Margaret as female, and racially over the Masarwa as an oppressed group. The novel's ending is idealistic:
When people of the Masarwa tribe heard about Maru's marriage to one of their own, a door silently opened on the small, airless room in which their souls had been shut for a long time. The wind of freedom which was blowing throughout the world for all people, turned and flowed into the room. As they breathed in the fresh, clean air, their humanity awakened. They examined their condition. . . . They started to run out into the sunlight, then they turned and looked at the dark, small room. They said: "We are not going back."
This imagined Masarwa liberation is won at the cost of Margaret being sacrificed. The Masarwa community is awe-struck at Maru's marriage "to one of their own"; it hardly matters who that individual woman is.
The open-ended ending of Crick Crack, Monkey can be interpreted positively or negatively. There is perhaps more hope for Tee since the novel ends when she is an adolescent and she will have more opportunities to grow, to evaluate her English education, and to be reintegrated into her own culture than Margaret who is more grown up, and who is "saved" (read imprisoned) by her marriage to the authoritarian Maru. Tee also has a solid cultural heritage that forms the fabric of the first half of the text when she lives in Tantie's warm, caring home, and amidst a close-knit community. Although Tee's exposure to middle-class life has shaken some of these early cultural resonances from her mind, one hopes that as she gets older, she will be able to negotiate among different cultures without losing sight of her own heritage and identity.
Another reason for a hopeful reading of the resolution lies in a significant childhood experience, described in wistful, almost mythical terms, that Tee shares with her grandmother, Ma. "Ma's land was to us an enchanted country, dipping into valley after valley . . . cool green darknesses, sudden little streams . . . We went out with Ma to pick fruit . . . All the holidays at Pointe d'Espoir were one August month, especially in the middle part of the day . . . the agreeableness of sitting clamped between Ma's knees having one's hair plaited" (14-18). Every summer, away from her English school environment, Tee is reintegrated into this natural world to which she belongs. Further, Ma makes her an integral part of their family heritage: "Ma said that I was her grandmother come back again." Ma's lyrical words evoke a striking portrait of that "tall straight proud woman who
lived to an old age and [whose] eyes were still bright like water and her back straight like bamboo, for all the heavy load she had carried on her head all her life. The People gave her the name Euphemia or Euph-something, but when they called her that she used to toss her head like a horse and refuse to answer so that they'd had to give up in the end and call her by her true-true name . . . They'd never bent down her spirit and she would come back and come back and come back. (19)
Ma longs to live long enough "to see Tee grow into her tall proud straight grandmother" (19). But, by the end of the novel, Ma dies. Only "in her last days Ma had suddenly remembered her grandmother's name and wanted it to be added to [Tee's] names." Tee herself, at the height of her alienation and confusion at Beatrice's, does not visit Ma and never finds out the name. Ma does tell Tantie, but sadly, "Tantie hadn't even bothered to remember it" (110). The construction of that sentence is important - perhaps Tantie has forgotten the name temporarily. And perhaps the inner "spirit" of her ancestor that Tee carries is stronger than an external name that can be changed, desecrated, or forgotten. Tee will, one hopes, grow into "her tall proud straight grandmother."
As an adult, and ironically after she leaves Trinidad, Tee will have a chance to son out the prejudices of her own society and to get reeducated as pan of an ongoing process of decolonization and reterritorialization. The persona in Olive Senior's "Ancestral Poem" evokes a similar negotiation of identities, homes, and languages:
Now against the rhythms of subway trains my heartbeats still drum worksongs. Some wheels sing freedom, the others Home.
Still, if I could balance water on my head I can juggle worlds(9) on my shoulders.
In conclusion, this study of Margaret's and Tee's socialization illuminates the multiple fallouts of English education and indigenous prejudices. Education is not always a tool for liberation. These texts raise questions about education that are significant for any dominated group of people: what kind of education? Is it relevant or irrelevant? The content of a colonial education that made England the center of the universe denigrated indigenous cultures. As Olive Senior's poem "Colonial Girls School" puts it, this education
harnessed our voices to madrigals and genteel airs yoked our minds to declensions mn Latin and the language of Shakespeare Told us nothing about ourselves There was nothing about us at all.
These two novels demystify the racist, gendered, and classist agendas within indigenous cultures, and their reinforcement by colonial schooling. Tee and Margaret are left at a crossroads of belonging. Racial prejudice may be confronted on one level through education. However, the personal costs are nearly fatal - as in Tee's suicidal thoughts, and her self-denying desires, "washing away her black skin"; or as in Margaret's unvoiced love for Moleka and her silencing by Maru, who claims, by marrying her, both to save her life and to "liberate" the Masarwa.
The politics of mental colonizations, of internal exiles, are some of the harsh realities facing these protagonists and several postcolonial writers in contemporary times. Wole Soyinka, in a recent essay entitled "Twice-bitten: The Fate of Africa's Culture Producers," searingly forces us to recognize the "internal brain-drain" of African writers hounded by their own governments. In Head's case, racist apartheid lies at the very root of her tormented life and her premature death. In our work as educators, we must make such racist states accountable for the loss of creative talents, for the silencings, censorships, and self-censorships that so many contemporary African and Caribbean writers face.
1 See Viswanathan and Rajan.
2 I use the term "postcolonial" to refer to geographical areas once colonized by Britain - India, parts of Africa and the Caribbean. I recognize that "postcolonial" is not the best or the most adequate word to describe these vast and diverse areas. "Postcolonial" caries the baggage of "colonial", as "third world" raises the spectre of the "first" world. The issue of naming this field is still a matter of debate. I also recognize the need, at this historical moment, to have a word that brings these diverse peoples and cultures together in a continuing process of decolonization, and to forge political alliances.
3 Sangari and Vaid present a useful feminist historiography that deals with how "each aspect of reality was gendered" by a colonial administrative machinery in India.
4 In Dangarembga's Nervous Conditions, Babamukuru's colonial, patriarchal education reinforces his male privilege in the family. The fact that he has "chewed many books" doubles his already high male authority.
5 The language issue concerns several Caribbean writers, notable among them Edward Kamau Brathwaite (History of the Voice) and Marlene Nourbese Philip (She Tries Her Tongue: Her Silence Softly Breaks). For Caribbean writers the situation is particularized by the fact that there is no language to return to. Philip argues for a subversive English transformed from "Queenglish and Kinglish." Although writers speak in favor of patois forms, the mainstream society still endorses standard English. For instance, a recent newspaper editorial in The Daily Gleaner argues that intellectuals are being irresponsible in "romanticizing" patois, and that standard English is the only way for Jamaicans to advance and compete in this world. There is no argument made for a coexistence of both languages.
6 For instance, in Buchi Emecheta's The Slave Girl, Ojebeta as a child is sold in slavery by her brother. By the end of the text, as an adult, even as an educated 35-year old woman, Ojebeta is "changing masters," i.e., from slave-owner to husband. Another example can be cited from Nervous Conditions. Tambu remarks, "The victimization was universal. It didn't depend on poverty, on lack of education, or on tradition . . . Men took it everywhere with them . . . Femaleness as opposed and inferior to maleness" (115-16).
7 I am reminded here of Rex Nettleford's influential work on how dance preserves cultural memory in the very physical body of the slave even as that body belongs to a slave-owner.
8 Khama, a Christian convert, implemented his literacy to institute schooling for his people. He introduced social reforms beneficial to women. He worked against customs like polygamy. Africa's history in the twentieth century has several dictators, all male, "a parade of monsters," as Wole Soyinka terms them in his satiric drama A Play of Giants. Dictators like Idi Amin are a far cry from the enlightened leadership of powerful leaders such as Khama.
9 The image of "juggling worlds" also evokes "juggling words," especially varieties of English in standard and Creole forms.
Dangarembga, Tsitsi. Nervous Conditions. London: Women's, 1988; Seattle: Seal, 1989.
Freire, Paulo. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. 1970. New York: Continuum, 1983.
Head Bessie. A Bewitched Crossroad: An African Saga. New York: Paragon, 1986.
-----. Maru. London: Heinemann, 1971.
-----. Serowe: Village of the Rain Wind. London: Heinemann, 1981.
-----. When Rain Clouds Gather. 1968. London: Heinemann, 1987.
Hodge, Merle. "Challenges to Sovereignty: Changing the World Versus Writing Stories." Caribbean Women Writers. Ed. Selwyn Cudjoe. Amherst: U of Massachusetts P, 1990. 202-06.
-----. Crick Crack, Monkey. London: Heinemann, 1970.
Martin, Biddy, and Mohanty, Chandra T. "Feminist Politics: What's Home Got to Do with It?" Feminist Studies/Critical Studies. Ed. Teresa de Lauretis. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1986. 191-212.
Rajan, Rajeswari Sunder. The Lie of the Land: English Literary Studies in India. New York: Oxford UP, 1993.
Reddock, Rhoda. "Women, Labour and Struggle in 20th Century Trinidad and Tobago: 1898-1960." Unpublished Ms.
Sangari Kumkum, and Vaid Sudesh, eds. Recasting Women: Essays in Colonial History. New Delhi: Kali for Women, 1989.
Viswanathan, Gauri. Masks of Conquest: Literary Study and British Rule in India New York: Columbia UP, 1989.
Katrak is professor of English at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. She has published widely in African and third-world literature, and is author of Wole Soyinka and Modern Tragedy (Greenwood 1986).
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|Author:||Katrak, Ketu H.|
|Date:||Feb 1, 1995|
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