World Literature in English, Spring, '98

Students' Final Take-Home Exams
Spring, 1998

  • The Empire Writes Back--see explanation in "The Empire Writes Back to and from the Centre"

  • *. What does it mean on the thematic, stylistic and linguistic levels?  What does "writing back" achieve?(e.g. the use of creole language in Caribbean texts, the use of intertext in Midnight's Chidren and Wide Sargasso Sea
    The writing of personal history vis-a-vis national in the Midnight Children creates history and rewrite it again from the point of view of the people themselves and not as perceived by those in authority or the colonizers. This story is satirizing the government after the independence of India and also its former colonizers. In its comparison of Saleem's life and his family and that of India, we can see, for example, that Saleem's birth which takes so long, is compared to India's delayed independence. According to secondary sources, Saleem's confusing tangle in terms of his possible parents tells of every Indians possession of a mixed cultural heritage, and Methwold's cuckolding Winkie is a comparison to Britain's illegitimate occupation of India. In Wide Sargasso Sea, we can see how the former slaves are directly resisting the white people or the Creoles who were slave owners before and in a violent way drove them away from place. The heroine of the story, a Creole, who is also an underdog and is rejected by both the black people and the white ones, showed resistance by being silent and ultimately getting mad, than being servile. Mr. Mason, the Englishman, is portrayed as not able to understand the black people till it was too late. We are told that Jean Rhys got an inspiration from Jane Eyre, with Rochester having a mad wife at the attic who comes from the West Indies. In Jean Rhys story, this mad woman becomes the heroine, the underdog of one of the widely read novels in English literature. By writing the story as such, there is a sense of rewriting history,¡¦ as it becomes now 'her story.'¦ In terms of language, the Midnight Children uses Babu-English, not only the standard English language. In "Waiting for Aunty to Cough,"¨ the words are different from the usual English (subverting the language, I would say), and the grammar and sentence construction are different (e.g. lime¡¨ for hangout, or I aint see Brackley a long time, man.¡¨) I think to use nonstandard English is to establish a kind of identity among themselves as immigrants, something which they can call their own, and not just imitating. We know though, that because of this, the white people would consider this way of speaking as inferior and one would be even suspected as capable of doing bad. The narration part in Midnight Children and Wide Sargasso Sea makes the story realistic and supports the view of some critics that these stories unmake a past history, both personal and national. There is also humor especially in both Midnight Children and Waiting for Aunty to Cough,¡¨ but it is filled with social criticism (Saleems comment on time at the start, which is variable and constant as Bombays electric power supply¡¨ or Brackleys naive way of solving problems and his humorous way of discovering London which enable him to live there even if at times its dangerous). I would agree with what Rushdie says about writing ones own story as unmaking it¡¨ and that the personal birth has only meaning if seen in the sum total of the incidents in which it occurs.¡¨ The way I see it is that it seems Rushdie or Rhys gives importance to personal or family account yet relates this account to national event. In this relationship, both individual and national events take on a different meaning: the individual uplifts its position as an important being in the nations history while the nation recognizes its need for individuals to make its own history.

    These stories open our minds to a lot of possibilities and not just passively accept whatever is there already. If it is impossible to go back to times past and change history, at least we can do it by writing and through it, we open possibilities for the point of views of the ones colonized or those underdogs in the former stories to take the center page, so to say, and let the former protagonists see themselves being put in the corner. I do believe that writing is a potent weapon for change in terms of ideas and consciousness, which hopefully and in the right time, would open a way to a change in the manner people see and relate to those groups who are different from them because of race, culture, or religion.