Performing West Indian Childhood across Oceans and Time: Gender and Identity in Marlene Nourbese Phillip’s <em>Harriet’s Daughter</em>, Merle Hodge’s <em>For the Life of Laetitia</em>, and Cyril Dabydeen’s <em>Sometimes Hard</em>

  • Cynthia James University of Winnipeg


In lieu of an abstract, here is an excerpt from the article: In this paper, I discuss both the established roles which circumscribe the characters in the novels because of their places within their societies and cultures, and just as important, the ways in which the characters respond to those roles by resisting, adapting, and varying them. In other words, I argue that the fluid spaces of adolescence, time, and transnational movement combine in the young adult novels examined to present characters with the challenges of trying out and reconstituting evolving West Indian identities. The process of reconstitution requires them to negotiate generational perspectives, and make quick shifts between old and new cultural patterns. The characters achieve these quick role changes through instruments such as dream, impersonation, and the adoption of the role of satirist, calypsonian, and class clown. When their acts fail, they seek physical escape or suffer psychological breakdown. The characters’ performances of reconstituted identities are examined first against a background discussion of the performative in West Indian and Black-diasporic-postcolonial discourse, and subsequently, under four headings: (1 negotiating modernity, (2) negotiating the body as transmigratory space, (3) negotiating totems of West Indian culture, and (4) negotiating the Creole and other empowering speech acts. The paper concludes with a brief comment on ideological issues surrounding writing West Indian childhood into the twenty-first century.