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Publication Type
Conference Proceedings
Author, Analytic
Robinson-Walcott, Kimberly A.
Author Role
Presenter
Author Affiliation
Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of Social and Economic Studies
Paper/Section Title
Taking, or Spurning, the Imperial Road: White West Indian Writers and their Black Protagonists
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Proceedings Title
The Third International Humanities Conference
Date of Meeting
August 2-5, 2005
Place of Meeting
University of Cambridge. Cambridge, United Kingdom
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Notes
A version of this paper was also presented at the Jean Rhys Festival and Conference. June 10-13, 2004. Dominica. http:; www.uwichill.edu.bb/bnccde/dominica/conference/rhys/robinson.html
Abstract
How have ‘white’ West Indian writers negotiated their ‘whiteness’ in their literature, in an environment where the majority of the population is black? While acknowledging the fluidity of the term ‘white’ in a West Indian context, this paper nevertheless identifies certain trends in the creative writings of this minority group. Historically, there has been a tendency to display an insecurity of status, a ‘terrified consciousness’ on the part of the white protagonists, as pointed out by Kenneth Ramchand in his seminal 1970 work on the West Indian novel. Ramchand in that same work, noted that the depiction of blacks in white West Indian literature was usually of a comforting-nanny and/or ominous-obeah woman stereotype - the former possibly reflecting the limitations of whites’ encounters with blacks, and the latter, the perceived precariousness of the white person’s position in a black hate-filled environment. The Caribbean-based work of Jean Rhys, most especially Wide Sargasso Sea, seems, at first, to be consistent with the above observations. Yet the positive strength depicted in the characterization of the black nurse Christophene in contrast to the frailty of Antoinette may even tentatively undermine that stereotype. This paper, after a brief, preliminary examination of some common threads in the works of white West Indian writers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, identifies a number of writers, from Rhys through to the contemporary Anthony C. Winkler, who have elected in their works to depict black protagonists who are outside of the stereotypes observed by Ramchand, some of whom, particularly Winkler, have done so with great success. The author suggests that despite the sense of un-belonging and marginalisation experienced by many white West Indians and communicated so poignantly by Rhys, such success may disturb stereotypical perceptions of the exclusivity of the white West Indian identity held by nonwhite West Indians. Notwithstanding, any current trends in Caribbean intellectual thought towards the Utopian notion of creolité, race seems to matter more than ever in Caribbean society, and the divisions based on ethnicity/race/class widen steadily. Nevertheless certain white writers like Winkler break through such divisions and transcend the limitations imposed on them by history, and ultimately give one hope of the eventual possibility of a creole cohesion described some forty years ago by Edward Kamau Braithwaite.....
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