Empire's progeny: The representation of mixed race characters in twentieth century South African and Caribbean literature

Date of Completion

January 2006


Literature, African|Literature, Caribbean




This dissertation is an examination of the portrayal of mixed race characters in South African and Caribbean literature. Through a close reading of the works of representative Caribbean [Derek Walcott, Michelle Cliff, and Jamaica Kincaid] and South African authors, [Bessie Head, Zoe Wicomb, and Zakes Mda] my dissertation will construct a more valid paradigm for the understanding of mixed-race characters and the ways in which authors from the Caribbean and South Africa typically deploy racially mixed characters to challenge the social order imposed during colonial domination. These authors emphasize the nuanced and hierarchical conceptualizations of racialized identity in South Africa and the Caribbean. Their narratives stand in marked contrast to contemporary models of 'hybridity' promulgated by prominent post-colonial critics such as Homi Bhabha and his adherents. In this dissertation, I hope to provide a more historically and culturally situated paradigm for understanding narrative portrayals of mixed race characters as an alternative to contemporary theories of 'hybridity'.^ Current paradigms within post-colonial theory are compromised by their lack of historical and cultural specificity. In failing to take into account specific and long-standing attitudes toward racial identity prevalent in particular colonized cultures, these critics founder in attempts to define the significance of the racially mixed character in postcolonial literature. Bhabha, for example, fails to recognize that the formation of racialized identity within the Caribbean and South Africa is not imagined in simple binary terms but within a distinctly articulated racial hierarchy. Furthermore, Bhabha does not acknowledge the evolution of attitudes and ideas that have shaped the construction and understanding of mixed-race identity.^ After a brief survey of the scientific discourse of race in the colonial era, and a representative sampling of key thematic elements and tropes in early colonial literature to demonstrate the intersection of race theory and literature, close readings of individual narratives will demonstrate the limitations of current models of 'hybridity' and illuminate the ways in which individual authors and texts are constructed within (and sometimes constrained by) long-standing and pervasive discourses of racialized identity.^