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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Theme of rootlessness in West Indian fiction Jibodh, Cheryl Indra

Abstract

This thesis acknowledges that a combination of circumstances has produced in the West Indies an almost wholly-immigrant population whose fundamental condition is one of rootlessness. It attempts to show that rootlessness manifests itself negatively in the literature in an inability to regard the West Indies as home, in the placelessness that is brought about by emigration, in an uncertainty as to identity, allegiances and origins, and in an existential self-alienation produced by acculturation. Chapter One is a selective account of relevant historical and sociological data that demonstrates how the condition of rootlessness and the accompanying feeling of loss and deprivation arose. It ends by trying to draw a parallel between the particular West Indian condition of rootlessness that sprang from a slave society and existential rootlessness as generally understood by Western philosophy. Chapters Two, Three and Four are studies of selected prose texts which treat this theme. The texts are grouped according to their setting. Chapter Two attempts a detailed analysis of three novels set in the West Indies which depict the rootlessness of an individual or sector of society against a larger uncreated society. They reflect two fundamental reactions to the condition of rootlessness — refusal to come to terms with the environment, and its opposite, the attempt to ground one's existence meaningfully. The novels that have been selected are: Patterson’s The Children of Sisyphus, Naipaul’s A House For Mr. Biswas and Lamming’s Season of Adventure. The world of the immigrant is explored in Chapter Three. Austin Clarke’s The Meeting Point is set in Canada while Selvon’s The Lonely Londoners and Salkey’s The Adventures of Catullus Kelly are set in England. In these novels, the characters are cut adrift of any moorings and their rootlessness exacerbated in an even more alien environment in which they are totally disoriented. The Afro/Asian/European search for origins in the ancestral homeland and the chasm that separates the West Indian from his origins form the subject of Chapter Four. Naipaul’s Area of Darkness, Dennis Williams’ Other Leopards, and Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea and Voyage In The Dark demonstrate the impossibility of return, and the irreconcilability of the two worlds and the sensibilities born of them.

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