Gender and ethnicity in the body politics of everyday life: Leone Ross's All the Blood is Red/Gundelik yasam politikalarinda cinsiyet ve etnik kok: Leone Ross'un All the Blood is Red.
Keywords: body politics, mixed and same race relationships, race relations/power relations, Passing, sexuality, identity formation, belonging.
With Zadie Smith's White Teeth and Andrea Levy's Small Island hitting the bestseller lists, winning prestigious awards and being translated into many languages shortly after publication, writing by black British women has finally received the critical acclaim and the acknowledgement by a wider reading public it so rightly deserves. (1) Even though prior to the success of the two above mentioned writers several black British female authors were studied in postcolonial and feminist academic circles--most prominently. Joan Riley and recently Bernardine Evaristo--black British women's writing has yet to receive the attention that the work by the two most prominent African-American women writers, Toni Morrison and Alice Walker, has been given. Yet, other black female voices articulating gender and ethnicity issues are worthy of attention as I will demonstrate with this discussion of Leone Ross's novel All the Blood is Red (1996) which to my knowledge has not received much critical attention as the writer herself has commented. (2)
In this her first novel, Leone Ross, herself a hybrid of mixed Jamaican/ Scottish background, relates the stories of three young black British females: Jeanette, a Psychology student, Alexandrea (Alex), a successful journalist and Nicola, an actress en route to fame. However, the lives of the three main characters are thrown into crises through their encounters with the opposite sex. The novel depicts the painful process of self-recognition and self-acceptance that the women have to undergo in order to recover the self and regain wholeness and self-esteem. The main narrative is interspersed with several sections of a watered down Jamaican vernacular (printed in italics) that traces the life story of Mavis, whose identity as Jeanette's mother is only revealed towards the end of the novel. Though the text vacillates between different times (the past and the present) and different locations (Jamaica and England) the focus is on the present day and on Britain. The inclusion of Mavis's story--her poverty, her gradual slide into prostitution and her subsequent escape to England--nevertheless provides an anchorage to the past and a link to a place of origin. In terms of content, the novel thus establishes a connection with the concerns of former, especially first generation, immigrants and their narratives.
As far as narrative technique is concerned, the main part of the novel is told from a third person omniscient perspective. However, at the beginning and end, personal testimonies by each of the three main characters function as a frame to the main narrative. Keeping in mind that Mavis's testimony is written entirely in the first person, this narrative strategy of polyphony and dialogue--allowing for a plurality of voices to negotiate different perspectives in writing--follows in the post-colonial tradition of giving formerly marginalized peoples a voice. For that matter, the entire book, dedicated to the black female experience, can be regarded as an exemplary moment of subaltern enunciation.
By way of introduction it seems that the term "translocational positioning" introduced by Floya Anthias is of relevance for the present discussion. In a recent talk (3) the sociologist called for stronger attention to be paid to structural processes relating to gender and class issues. With respect to the notion of location (or dislocation), she explained that a person may be disadvantaged in terms of gender and ethnicity but may belong to a privileged social class. Anthias thus aims to dislodge the idea of a hegemonic identity, replacing it with a non-essentialist, dynamic notion of identity. I contend that this conception of identity applies to the young black female protagonists in Leone Ross's novel. All three of them are successful and are members of the middle class with Jeanette having embarked on her university studies, Alexandrea mixing with the rich and famous and Nicola on her way to becoming so herself. The obstacles that these young women are up against are thus not so much determined by a struggle for sheer survival, or a desire for a lost homeland, but rather as Laura Moss entitled her essay on Zadie Smith's White Teeth, they are about "The Politics of Everyday Hybridity" (11-17).
Similar to the way in which Laura Moss has argued for the characters in White Teeth, the characters in All the Blood is Red do not find themselves in an 'in-between situation', as has been the prevalent suggestion by postcolonial scholars such as Homi Bhabha and Stuart Hall. This generation rather positions itself in a 'post in-between situation'. Therefore, Sonia Boyce, a second-generation black British artist, remarks that she is not "in-between Britain and the Caribbean ... she just is British. She doesn't need to re-invent anything" (13). Unlike the previous generation of writers (including authors such as Caryl Phillips, Hanif Kureishi or Sunetra Gupta) who still found themselves "troubled and conflicted as it attempt[ed] to create identities that defy the borders of the modern construct of the Western nation/ state" (Williams), this new generation has turned to the quotidian existence of contemporary life and moved into the next phase of what some postcolonial critics have referred to as a "post-post-colonial state" (Moss 12). It would seem that a shift to the everydayness of cultural and racial 'otherness' has occurred in the concerns of contemporary black British literature. The present novel is one representative example of this change--a change that reflects contemporary multicultural and multiracial Britain. This doesn't mean, however, that this new 'post in-between situation' is unproblematic; it just means that the nature of the problems has shifted. In this sense, All the Blood is Red does not foreground the culture of racism but neither are race relations ignored. On the contrary, it reflects the current situation of modern, contemporary black British women and the gender and race issues that they still have to struggle with. This novel is, therefore, representative of an articulation of a new and more complex sense of identity.
In the remainder of this paper, I will discuss the novel as decidedly feminine, as an example of ecriture feminine in the sense that Helene Cixous used the term. As Leone Ross herself commented regarding her concerns when writing All the Blood is Red: "I did want to express my politics in Blood, so I did do that ... Feminism comes through, my attitudes to gender issues [...] It's also woman stuff, man stuff, how you feel about your body stuff, life stuff, career stuff" (Henry 2, 5). The topics the novel emphasizes are about everyday living, yet they are culturally inflected by gendered and racial existence. My discussion will in particular focus on the novel's treatment of body and gender politics. More precisely I will look at the following themes: mixed and same race relationships, race relations/ power relations, the concept of passing, sexuality, identity formation and belonging.
In the portrayal of all four women, the body is central. Mavis is a former prostitute, Alexandrea is a victim of sexual harassment, Jeanette is a rape victim and Nicola has created a second self, a mask, which she calls Mona--possibly a reference to Mona Lisa--to disguise what she perceives as her physical shortcomings. In all four cases the violated black female body is the focal point: Mavis sells it, Alexandrea feels insecure about it and damages it through alcohol abuse, Jeanette initially celebrates it and then painfully learns to heal it, while Nicola feels alienated from it. Nicola's case is further complicated through her exclusive predilection for relationships with white men through which she seeks approval and power in a white, male-dominated world.
Jeanette's entry into the other two women's lives and, in particular, the terrible circumstances of her rape, function as a wake-up call for Nicola and Alexandrea. Nicola's cover is seriously challenged by Jeanette's appearance on the scene: "It was Jeanette that called most compellingly for her real self" (Ross 195). (4) Alexandrea's already low self-esteem--she has been abandoned by her boyfriend and is sexually harassed by her new boss--is further threatened by the (sexually) self-assertive Jeanette.
In the following I will examine how the three young women work through their crises and, in the process, slowly rediscover their loyalty to themselves, to each other and to women in general. Mavis serves as an example of the first generation immigrant who has not been able to deal with her past and her pain.
One of the themes foregrounded in the novel is that of race relations in combination with the issue of power relations. Alex is the only character who was born and raised in Britain, yet, she feels completely alienated from the white majority culture and moves almost exclusively in black circles. As a result of her negative experiences, she in fact practices reverse racism, stereotyping and othering whites with recourse to an animalistic metaphor: "she was intrigued with them. She didn't understand. She watched them as if they were sheep. As remote and as different as that. Crowded into the tube she felt like the only human" (47-48). Simply the thought of dating a white man offends her. Even for Julius (Nicola's white boyfriend), whom she likes, she feels resentment "for what he represented" (30), namely dominant white male British society. (5) In other words, Alex rejects Julius for precisely the same reasons that Nicola feels attracted to him. While for Alexandrea Julius serves as a negative projection surface, for Nicola he serves the exact opposite.
Ever since she was a teenager in Jamaica, Nicola had a penchant for white boys: "She had always wanted white men ... Their power, the things they took for granted ... the flash of success" (94). For Nicola white men are the epitome of power, success and privileges of which she wants to partake. As a result, she exclusively seeks white (male) approval and significantly does not look for white female friendship or contacts. On the contrary, she feels bothered and threatened by a white female journalist who seems to have "studied" blacks (82). A white man thus constitutes a valuable 'object' of pursuit. In describing what value white men have for her, Nicola refers to them alternately as "trophy" (217), "the prize, the ultimately unattainable" (94) and reveals her feeling of "triumph when she had a place beside them" (95).
It seems that one of the motivations for Nicola's construction of Mona is her desire to reject the traditional roles and limitations prescribed to black womanhood. She realizes that in Jamaica black men offer little opportunity for fulfillment--be it sexual, intellectual or economic--for a black woman: "She wanted them [white men] because she had something to prove, and because she knew a black man couldn't provide that for her ... No black man would appreciate Mona ... In Jamaica black men were what the teasing school crowd had to settle for ... In England they were too busy fighting the good fight, being black men, angstful, complaining, the lot of them" (95).
Nicola defines herself exclusively through the eyes of others. She "crave[s] acknowledgement" (33) which she sees "reflected in the melting eyes of the men, and the jealous eyes of the women" (33). Creating Mona, Nicola uses the other's gaze to confirm her identity. For her it is of utmost importance that "the world accepted Mona" (33). Having suffered as a young black female for not being "anything the ads said were pretty" (33) she creates her alter ego not only as a disguise but also as an aid to control and power. Right at the beginning of the novel she says: "It's hard being me, innit?" (24).
Nicola's sense of alienation from her body is accompanied by a strong sense of powerlessness, which makes her pursue white men to seek part of their power and drives her to invent Mona: "She wanted to have different hair, not the kind of neigar, nappy-headed brownish stuff ... her mother had scolded her. Be glad you're not too black. But she had known that she was ugly, bean-poley, red-skinned. So she had begun to rewrite it all in her mind. She wouldn't be Nicola anymore. As Mona, she would turn heads. [...] She had re-birthed herself." (33).
With the novel's emphasis on the body, its racial identity, and power and the relentless negotiation that marks the relationship between them, Leone Ross picks up a dominant theme in much black female writing, since, according to Mae Gwendolyn Henderson "[i]n their works, black women writers have encoded oppression as a discursive dilemma, that is, their works have consistently raised the problem of the black woman's relationship to power and discourse" (263). This connection between power and discourse is most clearly captured in Nicola's attempt at literally "rewriting herself for several years ... She had written this person down, on a piece of paper" (32).
Alex in fact seeks power just as much as Nicola saying that, "[s]he herself had wanted it since the tender age of six. Power. If she had power she could make sure that no-one suspected her insecurities" (28). Unlike Nicola, she tries to empower herself through excelling at work: "Give her power and it wouldn't matter" (28). The fact that Alexandrea is a successful journalist with access to the power of the (phallic) pen seems to further reinforce the link between discourse and power. Even though, when watching Nicola perform on stage Alex is intrigued by her friend's total transformation and wants to know "how it felt, to change, to be what you are not", she concludes that "[i]t was too much power" (60). In other words, she rejects Nicola's change as too empowering so that when she is sexually harassed at work by her new boss she poignantly feels her "lack of power" (123) and resorts to alcohol-abuse as her only way out.
For all four characters, sexuality is either a crucial tool for empowerment--as in the cases of Nicola and Jeanette--or for disempowerment--as in the cases of Alex and Mavis. Leone Ross has pointed out for both her novels that sexuality is "certainly being used as a cope strategy. Characters in both novels take great satisfaction in it, and power from the fact that they are wanted sexually" (Henry 5). Nicola furthermore instrumentalizes her sexuality in combination with her blackness and consciously "played with the stereotypes of their whiteness and blackness, not sure of what else to do [...] she could feel herself becoming their archetype" (95-96). Wearing the disguise of Mona, Nicola, in effect, caters to the stereotype of the seductive, black femme fatale: "the glances she got were always about sex" (22). However, the episode with the masturbating fellow passenger seated next to Nicola on the airplane, most clearly attests to the fragility of black female sex roles. She is indeed 'punished' for her attempt at using sexuality as a means of empowerment and painfully reminded of the racist inscriptions of the black (female) body as sexually wanton and as possessing unlimited erotic promise. This episode shocks her into the recognition of the limitations imposed upon her as an inhabitant of a black female body by a male-dominated white culture.
Nicola is indeed trying hard to escape the race issue "not feeling her blackness, but not wanting to be white, she lived with a constant vulnerability [...] trying to walk a tightrope of racial consciousness" (95-96). Nicola retreats into a private sphere since all she wants is "peace. Romance. Adoration" (95) asserting at one point: "(who needs the race politics in bed with you)" (54). In Nicola we see a character who is struggling hard to become an emancipated, self-assertive, black Jamaican woman living in England. In her attempt at 'making herself' and in creating Mona, Nicola tries to avoid the question of identification with either the oppressor or 'her' people while she is desperately looking for a third space--to take recourse to Homi Bhaba's famous phrase: "She sought comfort in Mona, for in the mirror she belonged to no community but her own" (95). However, this "rebellion" (216) is lost when she finally realizes that "she was living a hypocrisy" which for her had become "[a] life-saving habit" (196).
In an analysis of several female characters in Toni Morrison's novels Cynthia Davis discusses the internalization of the 'Look' of the majority culture and points out: "The problem with such internalization is not that it is ambitious, but that it is life-denying" (30). In Nicola's case, she does not internalize the dictates of white standards of beauty. However, as Mona she has become a more perfect and enviable object for the white (male) gaze. Nicola tries to 'make herself'--a project that was also pursued by Sula who in Toni Morrison's eponymous novel asserts in a much-quoted passage: "I don't want to make someone else. I want to make myself" (2034). However, Nicola's attempt at identity formation is twisted and distorted and ultimately leads to an abandonment of her self. The use of reflexive expressions like "re-birthed herself" (33) and "making herself" (33) further emphasizes the forced aspect of Nicola's willful, controlled attempt at identity construction. In fact, at one point she criticizes others saying that they could re-birth themselves too (33). In her essay Davis reaches a conclusion, which seems to be equally valid for Nicola: "The adoption of a rigid role, the withdrawal from life is ... a failure" (30).
The mirror, the special possession that facilitates Nicola's daily fairy-tale metamorphosis from Cinderella into the beautiful maiden, is significantly given to her by her father--in Lacan's terms he would represent the symbolic order--who is trying to help his daughter build self-confidence. However, for a woman and especially for a black woman, this attempt at constructing an integrated self is destined to fail. In her analysis of French feminist theorists, Toril Moi observes that there is resistance to concepts of selfhood as defined by Lacan:
As Luce Irigaray or Helene Cixous would argue, this integrated self is in fact a phallic self, constructed on the model of the self-contained, powerful phallus. Gloriously autonomous, it banishes from itself all conflict, contradiction and ambiguity (8).
This is, however the integrated self that Nicola seeks--a self modelled on the power of the phallus, which is, of course, white and male; hence, her exclusive predilection for relationships with white men.
Moreover, this belated re-enactment of Lacan's mirror stage underlines Nicola's alienation from her true self even more, since according to Julia Kristeva "in order to capture his image unified in a mirror, the child must remain separate from it ..., which fragments him more than it unifies him in a representation" (100). If, as Lacan argues: "the specular image is the 'prototype' for the 'world of objects'", (in Kristeva 100), then Nicola is, in fact, turning herself into an object and othering herself in the process.
As a traditionally ambivalent symbol, the mirror tells the truth and deceives at the same time. Nicola's mirror is a distorting mirror that creates a double and reflects only the illusion of a new, unified self, which ultimately leads to self-denial and an erasure of the self. Nicola has become a reflecting image consisting only of surface, like the mirror itself: "Nicola was in full make-up. The room was littered with mirrors that cast her image, crooked and satin-painted, reflections of reflections of reflections" (emphasis mine) (60). She has converted herself into a projection surface for the world's gaze and stereotypical fantasies. In this way Leone Ross perverts Lacan's concept of the mirror stage in the representation of Nicola, that is: "if we understand the mirror stage as an identification, in the full sense that analysis gives to the term: namely, the transformation that takes place in the subject when he assumes an image [...] [an] imago" (Lacan 122-123).
Nicola does not identify with herself but with the fake second self that she has molded around the constraints of a white male dominated culture; and her sense of alienation and self-abandonment is additionally highlighted through recourse to two animal metaphors: "She felt like a lab rat" (82) and "She felt like a performing seal. She was a hit" (194). With both statements stressing the fact that Nicola has de-humanized herself, the first quote underlines the notion of being at somebody's (the 'world's') mercy, while the second passage emphasizes the histrionic aspect of Nicola's impersonation of Mona. Ironically, however, performing her circus-animal number signifies guaranteed success.
For a further discussion of Nicola's effort at identity formation the notion of passing seems useful. Sara Ahmed discusses this concept as a "particular form of proximity to strangers" (125) and goes on to argue that,
The subject who passes for that which they are not has increasingly become a point of entry for an approach to identification that emphasises fantasies, ruptures and breakages which prevent identity from being assured as the ontological given of the subject (215).
Nicola has indeed several fictional precursors; the most prominent ones being Clare Kendry, an African-American woman who 'passes' for white in Passing, (1929), a novel by Harlem Renaissance writer Nella Larsen and Jadine Childs, the pale-skinned black woman in Toni Morrison's novel Tar Baby who has 'passed' in white culture. Even though Nicola doesn't try to pass for white, I would contend that Gilbert and Gubar's assessment of Nella Larsen's novel Passing equally applies to All the Blood is Red which also examines the ways in which the effort at passing "embeds the black woman in a series of desperate pretenses and thereby destroys her" (144). Nicola is engaged in a form of passing, if not for white, in an effort to pass for something which she is not, in a kind of social masquerade, in order to gain entry and acceptance into white male European culture. In that sense, Mona functions like a second, protective skin.
What the two aforementioned characters furthermore share with Nicola is that they, too, have abandoned their roots, ancestry, and identity. As Sara Ahmed further develops her discussion of the concept of passing, it makes the passer extremely vulnerable:
Passing becomes narratable as an individual act only through being joined to forms of social and national belonging in which being passed [as white], by others, allows one to pass into an invisible and privileged community. The difference between the white subject who passes [as white] and the black subject who passes [as white] is determined by a different relation to this imaginary space: the crisis of 'not belonging' for the black subject who passes becomes then a crisis of knowledge, of knowing there is always a danger of being seen (128).
Ahmed supplies a number of important key words here: being passed by others, privileged community, social and national belonging, 'not belonging', the crisis of knowledge, being seen. Hence, the concept of passing embraces several of the aspects of Nicola's attempt at identity formation: the importance Nicola places on being approved by white others; her wish to become a member of the privileged society through bonding with a white man; her desire to 'belong'; and the constant underlying fear that her impersonation of Mona will be uncovered: "perhaps they were laughing at her facade [...] The new thought that she had fooled nobody had terrorized her and blotted Mona's image from the mirror" (81). By making Nicola an actress, Leone Ross illuminates a connection between acting and passing which seems to specifically underline the inauthenticity of this attempt. Nicola is involved in a fiction-making process, creating her own personal fictive character seeking power, self-assertion and acceptance. The fact that she is an actress is therefore a most appropriate metaphor for her (painful) attempt at identity construction and at the same time it reveals the illusionary nature of the imagined construct. 'Acting out' her sham existence, her alter ego, Ross dramatizes the inefficacy of Nicola's effort to pass and negotiate between the black and white milieus.
Nicola could indeed be described as a female Othello. Like her famous male precursor, who makes desperate efforts to 'belong' to white Venetian society and cuts off all ties with his origins, she is similarly afflicted. Like Othello, Nicola "craves (white) acknowledgement" (33), seeking entry into the dominant culture through sexual union with a member of the power structure. In a way both Othello and Nicola are engaged in a form of prostitution. Nicola is prostituting herself, adjusting her body and demeanor to the expectations of white culture. Significantly, Ross says that when she initially wrote Mona "she was a prostitute" (244)--thus also establishing a link to Mavis who in actual fact sold her body for money. Traditionally, sexual relations have always been a sure option for the outsider to gain access to the insider community. This effort recalls a psychological disorder Frantz Fanon has called affiliation neurosis (in Burton 63, note 17) and is therefore ultimately a pathological condition that can only lead to failure and a de(con)struction of the self. Of particular relevance for the present context is Patricia Waugh's argument 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 identity as the reflection of an inner 'essence') has been a major aspect of their self-concept long before post-structuralists and postmodernists began to assemble their cultural manifestos" (3). If this is true for anyone who finds him/herself on the periphery of the dominant culture, this deconstruction of the self is experienced even more radically by those twice alienated on the basis of gender as well as race. It seems that for Nicola the issue still is "The 'High Anxiety' of Belonging" as Caryl Phillips subtitled one of his essays in A New World Order (303-309).
Nicola is seemingly destined for destruction like Othello when Mona begins to shrink from her and she feels "her own self fighting, returning, making her too tall, turning the charm of her clumsiness into disorientation" (194). Nicola is ultimately saved through her decision to reconnect with her abandoned black roots. At the end of the novel she significantly feels the need "to walk the footsteps that her mother had walked" (235), with the mother functioning as a simultaneous symbol of the search for her origins and the notion of a new beginning, a true re-birth.
Only once does Nicola identify with her background and that is when she watches Sankofa, a movie about the pains of slavery that significantly Julius had brought her. The film has an extremely disturbing effect on Nicola and for the first time opens up a gap between her and Julius. There is a mutual feeling of a lack of understanding with Nicola repeating, "you don't understand" and Julius feeling unable to "understand what it had to do with him, with them" (103). This episode allows a brief glimpse of Nicola's true self and foreshadows her later decision to return to Jamaica in search of her past.
Jeanette is the only one of these women who is initially portrayed as unselfconsciously savoring her body. For instance, in the passage in which she is described dancing on the bus:
Forget all the things that we have been taught matter. Forget gender. Color. Fashion. Morality. Religion. [...] She danced to reggae, but she also danced to life. [...] She danced silently and she made them dream. Everything was the dance. [...] What was most touching about the way she moved her body was her lack of self-consciousness: she was dancing for no-one but herself, the movement was in itself an end, a reason for being" (36-37).
Her enjoyment of her body is also apparent in her passionate commitment to sexual experimentation: "She was the same when she made love" (37). Jeanette's experience is evocative of Helene Cixous's jubilatory statement in "The Laugh of the Medusa":
I, too, overflow; my desires have invented new desires, my body knows unheardof songs. Time and again, I, too, have felt so full of luminous torrents that I could burst--burst with forms much more beautiful than those which are put up in frames and sold for a stinking fortune ... I said to myself: You are mad! What's the meaning of these waves, these floods, these outbursts? (246).
However, Jeanette is brutally punished for her sexual assertiveness and celebration of her body when she is savagely raped and beaten by the one male she has fallen in love with. In other words, her body changes from a site of celebration to a site of subjugation. The ensuing trial turns into a political confrontation between the supporters of Sean who is viewed as a representative young black male caught up in the fangs of a racist white justice system and the handful of friends who support Jeanette. With her 'history' even her own community (including her mother who actually watches the rape) does not believe that she was raped and maintains that she deserved what happened to her: "There were no prayers for her. Black skins prayed for Sean Boothe despite everything. He had been the sacrificial lamb" (221). Sean--who is portrayed as a psychopath full of self-loathing and a major inferiority complex when it comes to women (65-67)--is acquitted. Apart from viewing the trial as an instance of structural violence exerted against a woman, it is further complicated through the race politics at stake. It can indeed be called an example of political correctness stood on its head with the rape victim becoming victimized for a second time. Thus, the black woman experiences double victimization on the basis of her gender and of her ethnicity. Leone Ross herself has responded to criticism from the black community for her representation of Sean as a negative black male character as follows: "[D]o Black men rape? It is not one of the most 'positive' things I can write about but it is one of the truths I can write about". She further explains that this criticism comes "from a communal consciousness of the way the British media deals with Black people, its persistent racism and myopia" (Henry 6).
As the novel progresses dancing proves to be a crucial force in Jeanette's life. If initially she dances for the pure joy of living, it later serves her as a coping strategy:
She would dance. She had to. She was slow. Her body was stiff. But she had to. She moved her head from side to side, hypnotizing herself, trying to feel the pulse, the heartbeat [...] and it was terrible, terrible in its force and she knew that she could go with it, be with it, felt the cracks come together, neatly, pushing the shadows away, the glow and the warmth taking her away from her whole body. This was her religion, her praise (232).
Indeed, as some dance theorists have suggested, our bodies form records of our personal history; once the body is set in motion, the dancer is both celebrating that history while at the same time exorcising the painful memories that have marked it. Theory and Ross' text suggest that this process is crucial for healing. Hence when Jeanette's body moves, the rhythms are generated by a physical core, her heart, but also by a need to evoke her history and transcend it, "pushing the shadows away" (232), rewriting, in motion, some of its hurtful chapters. Ultimately, she rediscovers her body and its erotic promise, while her kinesthetic motion establishes the terms of ritual for her newly awakened worship of her body and its limitations but also spiritual and wondrous potential. (6)
References to blood run through the novel like the literal red thread. A fragment from the lyrics of a Prince track gives the novel its title. (7) This fragment is later picked up twice in the novel -during Jeanette's rape when Sean "smiled because his lips were red with blood (and all the blood is red, my love)" (160), and during the scene of Alex's empowerment when, with her colleague Ruby, she decides to expose her boss Tony Pearson for sexual harassment: "'Face the music. When I cut you, all the blood is red'" (234). Ruby's interpretation of the lines seems to hint that Leone Ross uses blood as a simultaneous emblem for women's pain and suffering and a newly emerging solidarity and sisterhood, here among Ruby and Alex united in their decision and later in Alex's changed attitude towards Jeanette.
At the end of the novel Alex has indeed rediscovered a form of sisterhood, bonding with other women, whom she felt initially threatened by when she finally sympathizes with Jeanette and acknowledges her difference and her pain and approves of the new relationship between Jeanette and her brother Michael. She also abandons her separatist standpoint to a degree and manages even to joke about the possibility of having a relationship with a white man (242). Alexandrea begins to transcend the rigid gender and race boundaries she had created, implementing what Simone de Beauvoir describes as follows in The Second Sex: "It is possible to rise above this conflict if each individual freely recognizes the other, each regarding himself and the other simultaneously as object and as subject in a reciprocal manner" (in Davis 30).
Aware of the fact that through her return to Jamaica she is "becoming an old cliche" (243), Nicola nevertheless needs to reconnect with her roots first and in the process try to find herself (243): "It was the only way to answer her questions. It had all started there. And she needed to go, if she was ever to have an answer for her father or herself. She had never said if she could love a man who looked like him. [...] She only knew that she loved a man who looked nothing like her father. Perhaps one day it would be enough" (235-236). In the effort to go beyond the boundaries of race Nicola attempts to surmount the old pattern and tries a truly integrated approach. She is trying to forge a new synthesis; yet, as Ross' novel suggests this cannot be achieved through an annihilation of the self and an abandonment of one's ancestry.
Jeanette finds healing power in her dancing, in a new relationship with Michael and in the child she is expecting: "I'm going to like this child. It dances inside me" (246). As this is the closing line of the novel the dancing child in fact acquires symbolic value for the entire novel suggesting that with a new life there is hope for a better future.
It is only Mavis who never comes to terms with her past and her suffering and remains unchanged. Right up to the end of the novel she clings to an extreme form of Christian piety stubbornly repeating her mantra: "If you cyaan hear, you mus' feel" (228). Mavis's inability to deal with her own history, reinforced by her escape into religion, finds its most extreme expression in her total lack of sympathy even for her own daughter's pain:
Now she know dat is bad genes mek her do what she did do, lie on the man, tek him inna de big-big court and talk out de business dat spose to be between a man an' him woman, maybe she will change. Maybe she will tek it to the house of de Lord. Maybe she will all come deh one day, wid me (239-240).
By way of conclusion, considering that blood is also a racial fetish All the Blood is Red may be understood as a call for more solidarity not only between women and between the sexes, but also between black and white, a call for an abandonment of all stereotypes, for a recognition and a celebration of the diversity and the humanity of all human beings.
(1) When I use the term black British I follow Bronwyn T. Williams who favors this term over any other labels saying that "[r]ather than being a dangerously essentialising ethnic and nationalist term, 'Black British' actually becomes more useful because of the shifting nature of what each word signifies" opening up "possibilities of narratives and identities" (no page numbers).
(2) Towards the end of the interview with Kirk Henry when asked if there has been a down side to her success Leone Ross says: "What has been lacking is critical response" (7).
(3) At Intercollege, Nicosia, Cyprus, 6 March 2004 entitled "Gendered Belongings in a Globalising Unequal World: Understanding Translocations".
(4) Subsequently the page numbers will be given in parentheses in the text.
(5) See also comments Alex gets from white people regarding her skin color and her ensuing categorization of white people: "A: This white person agrees with me that it's hot, full stop. B: This white person thinks that I should be used to the weather because I am black, but is too polite/hypocritical to say so. C: This white person doesn't want to be talking to a black person. D: This white person hasn't seen me because I am black, and has merely grunted because they heard a noise. E: None of the above.)" (47).
(6) For a discussion of the regenerating properties of dance as well as its connections with racial, gender, and sexual politics see Stavros Stavrou Karayiannis' recent study: Dancing Fear and Desire. Race, Sexuality, and Imperial Politics in Middle Eastern Dance. Ontario: Wilfried Laurier UP, 2004.
(7) Leone Ross was a major Prince fan at the time of writing the novel. For more details see her essay on Prince entitled "Black Narcissus." The Penguin Book of New Black Writing in Britain. Eds. Courttia and Kadija Sesay London: Penguin, 2000: 409-413.
Ahmed, Sara. Strange Encounters: Embodied Others in Post-Coloniality. London and New York: Routledge, 2000.
Burton, Jonathan. "'A most wily bird': Leo Africanus, Othello and the trafficking in difference". Post-Colonial Shakespeares. Eds. Ania Loomba, and Martin Orkin. London and New York: Routledge, 1998. 43-63.
Cixous, Helene. "The Laugh of the Medusa". New French Feminisms. An Anthology. Eds. Elaine Marks and Isabelle de Courtivron. New York and London: Harvester Wheatsheaf,1981. 245-264.
Davis, Cynthia. "Self, Society and Myth in Toni Morrison's Fiction". Toni Morrison. Ed. Linden Peach. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1998. 27-42.
Gilbert, Sandra M., and Susan Gubar. No Man's Land. The Place of the Woman Writer in the Twentieth Century. Volume 3. Letters from the Front. New Haven and New York: Yale UP, 1994.
Henderson, Mae Gwendolyn. "Speaking in Tongues: Dialogics, Dialectics and the Black Woman Writer's Literary Tradition". Colonial Discourse and Post-Colonial Theory. A Reader. Eds. Patrick Williams, and Laura Chrisman. New York: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1993. 257-267.
Henry, Kirk. "Blood Oranges. An Interview with Leone Ross. 2001. 15 November 2006. <http://members.tripod.com/leoneross/leone.htm>
Kristeva, Julia. "Revolution in Poetic Language". The Kristeva Reader. Ed. Toril Moi. Oxford: Blackwell, 1986. 89-136.
Lacan, Jacques. "The Mirror Stage as Formative of the Function of the I as Revealed in Psychoanalytic Experience". Modern Literary Theory. A Reader. 2nd ed. Eds. Philip Rice, Patricia Waugh. London: Arnold, 1993. 122-127.
Moi, Toril. Sexual/ Textual Politics: Feminist Literary Theory. 2nd ed. New York: Routledge, 2002.
Morrison, Toni. Sula. The Norton Anthology. Literature by Women. The Traditions in English. 2nd ed. Eds. Sandra M. Gilbert, and Susan Gubar. New York and London: Norton, 1996. 1994- 2072.
Moss, Laura. "The Politics of Everyday Hybridity: Zadie Smith's White Teeth". Wasafiri, 39 (Summer 2003): 11-17.
Phillips, Caryl. "Conclusion: The 'High Anxiety' of Belonging". A New World Order. Selected Essays. London: Secker and Warburg, 2001. 303-309.
Ross, Leone. All the Blood is Red. London: Angela Royal Publishing, 1996.
Waugh, Patricia. Feminine Fictions: Revisiting the Postmodern. New York: Routledge, 1989.
Williams, Bronwyn T. "A State of Perpetual Wandering: Diaspora and Black British Writers".n.p.15October2006. <http://social.chass.ncsu.edu/jouvert/v3i3/willia.htm>
Kendisi de Jamaika asilli Iskoc olan Leone Ross, ilk romani olan All the Blood is Red'de (1996) uc cagdas siyah Ingiliz genc kadinin oykulerini anlatmaktadir. Metin farkli zaman dilimlerinde (gecmis ve simdiki zaman) ve farkli mekanlarda (Jamaika ve Ingiltere arasinda) bocalamasina ragmen, odak noktasi simdiki zamanda ve Ingiltere'dedir. Bircok koloni-sonrasi elestirmen simdilerde, yeni nesil siyah Ingiliz yazarlarin eserlerinde cagdas yasamdaki gundelik var oluslarina yonelerek 'somurgelestirme-sonrasinin-sonrasi' olarak tanimlanan bir sonraki asamaya dogru hareket aldiklarini iddia etmektedir. Bu nedenle, bu roman, Ingiliz toplumunun cok kulturlu dogasini arastiran yeni ve daha karmasik bir kimlik olgusunun bir temsili niteligi tasimaktadir. Benim inceleme alanim romanin ozellikle beden ve toplumsal cinsiyet politikalari ile cinsellik uzerine odaklanacaktir. Baska bir deyisle, su konulari inceleyecegim: fiziksel ve psikolojik siddet, kadin bedeninin somurulmesi, cinsel taciz, karma ve irkdas iliskiler.
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|Date:||Mar 22, 2007|
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