March 15, 2012
No one is perfect dancing in the wind~The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time And Asperger’s Syndrome, Autism
It is my contention to share my knowledge of the novel “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” and the historical/cultural content in which it revealed regarding Asperger’s Syndrome, Autism and it’s major characters.
Themes throughout the novel: the value of truth/truth and perspective, human needs and relationships, the need for control/ stability/power, the nature of difference, communication, acceptance and the rites of passage…
Statistics: Autism is one of the most common developmental disabilities. Individuals are of all races and ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds. Current estimates suggest that approximately 400,000 individuals in theUnited Stateshave autism. Autism is three to four times more likely to affect boys than girls. Autism occurs in individuals of all levels of intelligence. Approximately 75 percent are of low intelligence while 10 percent may demonstrate high intelligence in specific areas such as math.
Autism is a psychological syndrome distinguished by an emotional shutdown of an individual. It is a fact that severely autistic people will shy away from human contact and social pleasure, often engrossing themselves instead in routines, repetitive tasks or private interests. We know that they are not mentally retarded, and can be extremely intelligent, talented and yes, different. As the cliché goes, “You can’t judge a book by its cover.”
In the autumn of 1998 the multifaceted emotions of his parents and the pain that they endured will always linger as a hidden secret. I speak of the protagonist, Christopher Francis and his parents Ed and Judy Boone from the book; The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. I would first like to declare that autism is as blind as a bat. It makes no difference if one is black, white, yellow or brown, rich or poor. There are no discriminatory factors within the disease. We all know someone who has been diagnosed with this heartbreaking syndrome, autism. But what does it look like? Have you seen the movie “Rain man” with Dustin Hoffman? Look around. Look at who is sitting next to you, or your friends, children or family. All of them could very well be the minority group of the faces of autism. Whether it is a daughter, son, brother or sister. That is why we are here. Have you ever experienced what those parents did in the novel? The tears, frustrations, anger and love as Ed and Judy Boone struggled with their own inner torments and joys which were only glimpses in the book? I’ll bet your answer would be yes. Could you relate to the evidence laid before you when someone you knew had almost a complete lack of understanding and mimetic ability making life very difficult for parents? Yes, again.
The characters within this text are shaped by living in a working class urban environment. The house in which Chistopher and his father lived in had a garden. Christopher described his hometown inSwindonas being small. Individuals within this town were capable of holding the power of their social status through their work, living in a society based on equality. As with Christopher’s parents, it was their independence and freedom of progression that became apparent when the reader discovered his father was a heating engineer who owned and operated a maintenance and boiler repair company and his mother was in search of herself and a career.
Whereas, the family values were depicted in a more negative light, “I used to think that Mother and Father might get divorced. That was because they hated each other. This was because of the stress of looking after someone who has Behavioral Problems like I have.” (Haddon, 2003, p.45). The structure of the family unit appeared fragile and weak resulting in not one but two marriage dissolutions.
His mother followed her dream to be independent and had to walk away from her family for her own sanity. She felt she was living in a falling tower and destruction was on her heels. She could not accept the trials and tribulations of being a mother of an autistic child and the loss of love within her husband. Motherhood was not a priority as she recognized her maternal instincts were insufficient knowing that she did not have the patience to cope with her son’s behavioral issues.
It was not only the mother who was barely coping, but also the long suffering father. Being a single parent for two years was extremely difficult for him. As hard as he tried he appeared to be insensitive to his sons needs. One can sense the torments and the power struggles of forbearance leading to his being short tempered, even inept when it came to his family yet, this character truly revealed his love and devotion towards his son. There was a dependence that was shared between the two of them. As a person with autism, his father took care of him in every meaning of the word and a small example of the reverse was when the reader was told his father never had to write down his bankcard pin number down, “…Father hadn’t written it down in a safe place, which is what you’re meant to do, but he had told me because he said I’d never forget it. And it was 3558.” (Haddon, 2003, p.135). Foucault made an interesting point, “…whose ideas have strongly influenced the development of new historian, power circulates in all directions, to and from all social levels, at all times.” (Tyson, 2006, p.284). Unfortunately, the end result was that Christopher became more of a loner than a family member. He was in need of a traditional family lifestyle and to feel protected in a secure place in which he could call his own in order for happiness to occur.
Here is the bottom line. You must know that your unconditional love can and does make a difference. We love these individuals and accept their innate disabilities and culture. Because what is culture but the essence of a society, of shared patterns, behaviors and interactions. Thompson (1997) commented, “that disability is another culture-bound, physically justified difference to consider along with race, gender, class, ethnicity and sexuality’.” (p.248). I believe if one thinks about it, are we not all born into a society and culture? Diversity is a part of life.
Within all cultures exists some type of language even in groups of individuals with life long developmental disabilities. It could be through gestures, drawings, physical actions and non verbal cues. Christopher utilized his communication skills through the world of art. As a child with autism drawing was means of relaying his message the only way he knew how. The wooden puzzle piece on page thirteen, the map of the street in which he lived on page thirty five, the constellation Orion on page one hundred twenty five, the Double Decker bus on page 211 and a more intricate wooden puzzle on page 217. These were clearly images that Christopher did not have the words to adequately express. This was one of many things he did because he had Asperger’s Syndrome. Tyson explained this as thick description. “Thick description, through close, detailed examination of a given cultural production – such as birthing practices, ritual ceromonies, games, penal codes, works of art, copyright laws, and the like – to discover the meaning that particular production had for the people in whose community it occured and to reveal the social conventions, cultural codes, and ways of seeing the world that gave that production those meanings.” (p.288). The main character was uncontaminated by societal logic and was limited by his own language. He appeared to be lacking in people skills, had difficulty in understanding tones of voices and difficulty with any type of gestures or body language. The National Autistic Society was quoted, “For people with autistic spectrum disorders, ‘body language’ can appear just as foreign as if people were speaking ancient Greek.” He is not the only one, for all children born with this disease share common characteristics, as a set pattern. There is what is called a triad of impairments and in layman’s terms means three social disorders are trapped within them. They have trouble with many aspects we all take for granted such as utilizing social/creative imagination, social interfacing and dealing with aspects of social communication. Let it be known that there are also differences within the population of individuals who have this disorder. No two are exactly alike.
How frustrating it must be not only for a child, but a parent when verbal communication is complicated or becomes unattainable. It has been said that most people inflicted with this disorder have difficulty effectively utilizing language. A daily occurrence, a constant struggle of understanding what a child wants or needs. Are they happy, sad, or maybe hungry? This was due to the fact that the child may experience emotions and feelings but, does not know and/or can’t express the meanings. Webster-Heard discussed her seven year old son’s ways of non-verbal communication, “My seven-year old, who is on the low end of the spectrum is nonverbal and is only able to show me what he wants by taking me to it or bringing a picture to me. The fact that he can’t communicate is the reason for most of his severe temper tantrums.”
With Christopher, his perception was only through conventional signs. Through piecing the puzzles together he was able to distinguish when his father shouted that he was angry or when there were tears it meant sadness. Consequently, all language subtleties whether they were ironies or metaphors were vague to him. He was disabled in his capability to efficiently interpret certain fundamentals he encountered, powerless to comprehend emotions in a normal fashion and found countless every day events to be intimidating and ordinary actions challenging. The coping mechanism he used was to surround him self with rules, rituals and math, “4 red cars in a row made it a good day, and 3 red cars in a row made it a quite good day, and 5 red cars in a row made it a super day and why 4 yellow cars made it a black day.” (Haddon, 2003, p.24).
It is unfortunate that the social order in place today has negative undertones of this brain disorder. As a young child, Christopher distinguished his thought process as a slicing machine in a bakery. This portrayed how his mind performed by certain regiments, at his own pace. His mind was configured as a machine or computer that transformed information. As with a computer, considering their intrinsic existence, the language of logic, and their ultimate determinate nature, it would seem that the machine of order and stability was the representation of the protagonist. At fifteen years old he was extremely intelligent, excelling in college level math and had held great deal of knowledge in technical and scientific facts.
An individual’s disability could be examined from many different lenses, whether it be the social construction, a medical standpoint, psychological or through a glimpse into the group dynamics as a minority. If one thinks about it, we all have our little quirks whether it is the type of food we eat, how we eat it and why. Or maybe it’s the colors in one’s wardrobe (is there a predominant theme?), or maybe…the list is endless. It is true that our “normal” world was significantly different from a person with development disabilities as in the main character. It can’t be easy for someone with a disability in our world which is consumed with competition, rivalry, restraint, and independence.
Point one: Who killed Wellington was an underlying theme in the novel? I would say the initiator of chaotic excess seemed to be the murderer ofWellington. Christopher loved animals, Toby his rat and dog’s because the canine portrayed characteristics he could relate to, “I also said that I cared for dogs because they were faithful and honest, and some dogs were cleverer and more interesting than some people.” (Haddon, 2003, p.6). This love of animals progressed into his search for order and stability. This was Christopher’s mind, literal, categorized and classified. Anything out of the “norm” jeopardized his happiness and feelings of safety. He observed the poodle’s death as representation of turmoil and disarray and therefore needed to be corrected in his mind due his high functioning Asperger’s Syndrome. The realization that he could not be in control all the time and not everything had logical explanations was disturbing to him. The only way he knew how to communicate and respond was through anger or logic. He concluded that the passing over of this creature was an event to him in which he experienced and therefore chose a logical way of dealing with it, and so began the search for the truth. This was the beginning of his rite to passage. His handicap had become his strength.
Point two: Communication in general comes in a variety of forms. Ed Boone’s character was shown as someone who utilized cursing and foul language. For example, when discussing Judy’s letter’s, “Wrote to him? What the fuck use is writing to him? (Haddon, 2003, p.196). It was also through his language that he emphasized just how difficult Christopher tended to make situations for him and unfortunately not taking into consideration the type of communication his child could absorb. At one point stating, “Then he said, “Holy fucking Jesus, Christopher. How stupid are you?” (Haddon, 2003.p.81). Although, the father seemed usually very patient and understanding with Christopher, signs were shown of his gradual uneasiness. He had chosen not to relay the circumstances behind the cruel murder ofWellington to his son. Christopher’s comments held true, “Most murders are committed by someone who is known to the victim? (Haddon, 2003, p.42). Art imitating life? As a man who had been disgraced by his ex-wife’s infidelity and flight from her responsibilities, he was in his own emotional turmoil. He had killed the animal in a state of rage knowing it was wrong from a societal point of view. He observed the death of the animal as a symbol of releasing his hatred of the situation, the anger he held inside, the circumstances in with he had no control or power over. Was he brought up in his cultural setting knowing right from wrong? Probably so, Yes. Were his morals askew? Yes. Was he penalized for his actions? No. He concluded that the intentional death had resulted in newer struggles with Christopher. A bridge, a larger gap between himself and his son, emotionally, physically and stemming from a lack of trust. Their communication had reached a different level in hopes of creating a stronger relationship.
Point three: Judy Boone’s concern and emotional feedback for Wellington seemed small and trivial. Her life had been revolving around making a home for herself and her new mate. Trying to pick up the pieces and begin a new. Although, she ran from her own fears and insecurities into her neighbor’s arms, a man who at one time owned Wellington. She had no other connection with her past which consisted of befriending her neighbors and their dog. She had observed the animal’s death as a representation of a past that was already put to rest, her personal historical closure in a sense. There were no real signs of sympathy, as she concluded that the tears of her past had already been shed.
Point 4: Eileen Shear’s character was a neighbor of Christopher’s and the ex-wife of Roger Shears. She too had gone through many struggles as one divorce themselves from a cheating spouse. She cursed and utilized foul language, “Let go of the dog”, she shouted. Let go of the fucking dog for Christ’s sake.” (Haddon, 2003, p.4). She was not a religious woman as she used words that some would say were spoken in vain. She became a female influence in Ed’s and Christopher’s home. “This is why Mrs. Shears came over and did lots of cooking for us after Mother died, because she didn’t have to cook for Mr. Shears anymore and she didn’t have to stay at home and be his wife.” (Haddon, 2003, p.42). A relationship progressed, blossomed and ended with her and Ed. She observed the death of her dog with anger but no tears. Is the reader to assume that she found out who killedWellington which led to the ending of their friendship? She concluded the death was a malicious action based on her past experience with Ed.
Point 5: Siobhan is Christopher’s teacher, mentor and friend with attributes of, “…long blonde hair and wears glasses which are made of green plastic.” (Haddon, 2003, p.5). She knows how to communicate clearly with Christopher. She enlightened him on the inner workings of society and proper behavioral actions and reactions within its complicated rules. She observed the death ofWellington to be a learning experience for her student. She guided him in showing him an outlet of his feelings, through a new art form with the hopes of educating him. Therefore, she concluded that even though it was a sad occasion and a loss, the death brought about a positive ending and the personal growth of Christopher.
In conclusion as these points suggest, “what is “right”, “natural,” and “normal” are matters of definition. (Tyson, 2006, p. 285).
Haddon, M. (2003). The curious incident of the dog in the night-time.New York: Vintage Books.
National Autistic Society. (2010). Retrieved January 1, 2010, from http://www.nas.org.uk/nas/jsp/polopoly.jsp?d=211
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Autism Fact Sheet. (2009).
Thompson. R.G. (1997). Extraordinary Bodies: Figuring Physical Disability in American Culture and Literature.New York:ColumbiaUniversity Press.
Tyson, L. (2006). Critical theory today; A user –friendly guide.New York: Routledge.
Webster-Heard, S. (2010). What Does Autism Look Like? Retrieved January 1, 2010, from http://www.comeunity.com/disability/autism/autisticchild.html
The cell is about 20 x 20 feet and holds 67 people. That’s about a 2 x 3 foot rectangle for each person, for 23 hours a day. To eat, to sleep, everything. What it can’t capture is the heat and the smell. It is easily over 100 degrees.
Bay kou bliye, pote mak sonje
He who strikes the blow, forgets; he who bears the bruises, remembers…
WE LIVED TO TELL…
The purpose of this paper is to offer my literary interpretation of The Dew Breaker. It is through three of the scenes that I have chosen to address the female/male and patriarchal stereotypes.
The Voices web site gave a synopsis of the author Edwidge Danticat who had been writing ever since she was a small girl of nine. While her parents thought that writing would never be more than a hobby for her and urged her to pursue another career, Danticat proved them wrong. She has received the 1995 Pushcart Short Story Prize and fiction awards from The Caribbean Writer, Seventeen, and Essence magazines, she is now widely considered to be one of the most talented young authors in theUnited States. Danticat was born inPort-au-Prince,Haiti, in 1969. When she was two years old, her father André immigrated to New York to be followed two years later by her mother Rose. This left Danticat and her younger brother Eliab to be raised by her aunt and uncle. It was during these early years that Danticat was influenced by the Haitian practice of story telling which developed because much of the population was not literate at the time. Danticat says, “That the memories ofHaitiare still extremely vivid in her mind, and that her love ofHaitiand things Haitian deeply influences her writing.” Danticat, staying much more within the realm of her own experience, dealt only with the torturers from Papa Doc’s time on. She draws on some famous cases which have appeared both in newspaper accounts and famous books onHaiti. State sponsored torture and brutality are a part of Haiti’s 200 year history. During the twenty nine year period (1957-1986) thatHaitiwas ruled by the father and son dictators, François “Papa Doc” and Jean Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, referred to as rural chief, a brutal regional leader and torturer who killed dissidents under the regime.
“Papa Doc” President Duvalier’s dictatorship exploited the labor force of people and took control with the deception of handing power to the black majority, but in reality it was for himself, for his personal executioners called the Tontons Macoutes, and for the elite, who continued to prosper under his murderous governmental corruption. The country was considered a large prison where power, control, torture and murders were part of the everyday life. InHaitithere was a division between the people: those who supported the presidency and those who were opposed. Children grieved and lost their fathers who either fled the country or died disagreeing with the President.
Within the Caribbean diaspora views regarding its survivors and refugees are ambiguous regarding nationality, class, race,gender, sexuality, and political economy which lead to the concept that there isnot one diaspora but many. Diasporas are spread through out Haiti, not only in the oppression of men and women but also corruptpresidents leading to the transnational individuals who fled to find safety. This book is a representation of the unchanged history of gender oppression.
The Dew Breaker throughout the book was portrayed as a father/husband/barber/landlord/former torturer and has touched each character directly and/or indirectly in the country of his birth. His victims, his victims relatives, his daughter, and his wife each describe a different aspect of a man whose life was full of turmoil and contradictions. As I read it I tried to see the side of the oppressor, the protagonist. I imagined him being a torturer out of obligation, perhaps because he really did believe that an individual who opposed to the government was a threat to the country. I thought that he must have been so deeply enveloped in his ideology that he believed he was doing the right thing, a good thing. Or was it possible that he had no choice but to continue serving the government because it would have been difficult for him to flee, especially if he was involved in the fight from the beginning. He knew the consequences too well if he betrayed the regime. Vince (2004) declared, “The researchers identified situations where individuals feel provoked, stressed or taunted – such as during war – as conducive to causing aggressive acts. And they say that the need to conform to their peer group and obey those in authority – or act in a way that they believe their superiors would approve of – could lead individuals to behave in a way that they would usually consider unacceptable.” So when I read the last story, my opinion drastically changed. I saw that he didn’t really feel guilty when he “did his job” of getting rid of subversives, even though I tried to distinguish some signs of repent, anywhere in the book. But, he enjoyed the torturing of people too much as Danticat (2004) pointed out, “It was becoming like any other job. He liked questioning the prisoners, teaching them to play zo and bezik, stapling clothespins to their ears as they lost and removing them as he let them win, convincing them that their false victories would save their lives. He liked to paddle them with braided cowhide, stand on their cracking backs and jump up and down like a drunk on a trampoline, pound a rock on the protruding bone behind the earlobes until they couldn’t hear the orders he was shouting at them, tie blocks of concrete to the end of sisal ropes and balance them off their testicles if they were men or their breast if they were women.” (p.198).
By looking through the lenses of feministic criticism, the struggle for women’s rights, it became apparent there were patterns of hierarchical and patriarchal domination, control, power and tyrannical authority that bound these women to a sisterhood of oppression through poverty, illiteracy, violence, sexual abuse and death. Tyson (2006) reported, “Therefore, the promotion of sisterhood – psychological and political bonding among women based on the recognition of common experiences and goals – must include respect for and attention to individual differences among women as well as an equitable distribution of power among various cultural groups within the feminist leadership” (p. 106).
Women were tortured and killed as the political servants took control using their power over what was considered the less significant class and gender. Tyson (2006) wrote, “That is, patriarchy treats women, whatever their role, like objects, women exist, according to patriarchy, to be used without consideration of their own perspectives, feelings, or opinions. After all, from a patriarchal standpoint, women’s perspectives, feelings, and opinions don’t count unless they conform to those of patriarchy.” (p.91).One woman fled to the United Sates because she was tied up in a prison and had the bottoms of her feet whipped until they bled, all for declining a date with one of the Tontons Macoutes, Danticat (2004) wrote, “He asked me to go dancing with him one night, Beatrice said, putting her feet back in her sandals. I had a boyfriend, so I said no. That’s why he arrested me. He tied me to some type of rack in the prison and whipped the bottom of my feet until they bled. Then he made me walk home, barefoot. On tar roads. In the hot sun. At high noon.” (p. 132). The women were considered to be objects like mindless creatures placed there for their pleasure. Tyson (2006) stated, “Women are also oppressed by what Guillaumin calls “direct physical appropriation,” by which she means “the reduction of women to the state of material objects” (74) and which she compares to slavery and serfdom.” (p. 99). Thus, the patriarchal state, as they knew it kept women dependant of men within their society. All acts of social interaction would mandate approval or be conceded by the male authority which was a constant reminder of submission that inhabited them.
In “The Book of the Dead,” an artist had been convinced that her father was a prison inmate inHaitifor a year, and had been driven by her respect and pity for him to sculpt him repeatedly in positions of powerlessness as he was considered the “other” and inferior. Tyson (2006) stated, “The word woman, therefore has the same implications as the word other. A woman is not a person in her own right. She is man’s Other: she is less than a man; she is a kind of alien in a man’s world she is not a fully developed human being the way a man is.” (p.96). The character had been subjected to patriarchal programming and was in search of a perspective beyond the ideology. Tyson (2006) wrote, “For example, related to the problem of the possibility (or impossibility) of getting beyond any ideology that dominates the way we think is the problem of one’s own subjectivity: one’s own selfhood, the way one views oneself and others, which develops from one’s own individual experiences.” (p. 95) She had the capability of interpreting the negative space within artwork and in life as Danticat (2004) wrote, “Ka, he says, “when I took you to theBrooklynMuseum, I would stand there for hours admiring them. But all you noticed was how there were pieces missing from them, eyes, noses, legs, sometimes even heads. You always noticed more what was not there than what was.” (p.19). Her artwork had shown the oppression that her father endured in her mind during his struggles in prison as the prey when in reality he was the hunter. To take it one step further, her artwork showed a part of her father that was not present, that could not be seen: powerlessness.
When the president escaped in exile, all his supporters were hunted down. The Haitian man who killed people for the government fled the country and started a new life inAmerica.
In “Book of Miracles,” the Haitian-American community organized a form of activism to try to uncover Emmanuel Constant, the Duvalier era war criminal who was allowed to relocate toNew York Cityafter the fall of the dictatorship. It was Anne’s story that unfolded as she was the wife/mother and victim of The Dew Breaker whose suppression of her anxiety was apparent through her religious beliefs and longing for miracles as she donned being the devoted wife to a reformed murderer. The threat of revealing the past lingers and haunted her as she walked the streets and passed fellow transnational individuals. She never knew when a gathering against “Baby Doc” or some other conflict might surface categorizing the man who holds her heart, the hardworking barber, the kind father of their daughter. Miracles to this character represented the hoping to confirm the transformation of her husband and the love she held for him considering her half brother the Catholic priest, was the last man her husband killed. Danticat (2004) stated, “It was always like this, her life like a pendulum between forgiveness and regret, but when the anger dissipated she considered it a small miracle, the same way she thought of her emergence from her occasional epileptic seizures as a kind of resurrection. (p. 86). She was the balancing force of forgiveness and was considered the “good girl” as her virtues were associated with the aspects of patriarchal femininity and domesticity. She was self sacrificing, patient and nurturing. Tyson (2006) stated, “Clearly, according to patriarchal thinking, the woman occupies the right side of each of these oppositions, the side that patriarchy considers inferior-heart, mother, nature, palpable, moon and passivity – while it is assumed that the male is defined by the left side of each opposition, the side that patriarchy considers superior: head, father, culture, intelligible, sun and activity.” (p. 100). Anne had reinforced the patriarchal stereotypes prevalent to the book when it was written, “My mother is whispering now, as though there’s a chance she might also be overheard by my father. “You and me, we save him. When I meet him, it made him stop hurt the people.” (p.25).
In “The Funeral Singer,” a group of three young Haitian women meet in a high school equivalency class inBrooklynfind themselves struggling to pass the GED test, which two of them consistently fail. The women met regularly at a restaurant one owned on theUpper West Side. The sisterhood was shared through the experiences of intertwined horrific memories stemming from the wrath of their oppression.
Rézia’s story began living in a brothel with her aunt, a woman who was active in the labor force and was the keeper. It unfolded tragically as a Tontons Macoute uniformed man utilizing his patriarchal manipulation and power, raped her. During the brutal and horrendous act, her aunt had no choice but to close her eyes and allow it while she was in another room. Tyson (2006) claimed “In other words, if one is born with the biology of a female, one’s place in society is accorded few rights – particularly the right to own and control one’s body sexually, both in terms of the kind and number of sexual relationships one will have and in terms of abortion and contraceptive rights – than if one is born with the biology of a male.” (p. 103). These two women were vulnerable, inferior and could have been sent to prison or worse. Danticat (2004) wrote, “I can always make myself faint when I’m afraid, Rézia says, fanning the smoke from the pots away from her face. When I woke up in the morning, my panties were gone. My aunt and I never spoke about it. But on her deathbed she asked for my forgiveness. She said this man had threatened to put her in prison if she didn’t let him have me that night.” (p. 173). It was obvious that the patriarchal culture and fear within the character and her aunt led to an unavoidable position of being the substandard ones. Irigaray (1985) wrote, “…women have two choices: (1) to keep quiet (for anything a woman says that does not fit within the logic of patriarchy will be seen as incomprehensible, meaningless) or (2) to imitate patriarchy’s representation of herself as it wants to see her (that is, to play the inferior role given to her by patriarchy’s definition of sexual difference, which foregrounds men’s superiority).” (Tyson, 2006, p. 101)
Another survivor, Mariselle, described the details of the events leading to her husband being shot and killed after painting an unflattering portrait of “Papa Doc” Duvalier. After his death, she was invited to sing at the national palace and refused. As per her mother’s request, she fled. The third, Freda, a daughter of a fisherman, told of her father who owned a fish stall that had been over powered by the Macoute and then taken and physically beaten only to return with a mouth full of blood and no teeth. He took his boat out to sea, never to be seen again. At his funeral she sang “Brother Timonie,” taught to by her father long before he was tortured.
The name of the song meant “steersman” and soon after she was in demand at other funerals. Danticat (2004) wrote, “The first time I ever sang in public was at my father’s memorialMass.I sang “Brother Timonie,” a song whose cadence rises and falls, like the waves of the ocean. I sang it through my tears, and later people would tell me that my sobs reminded them of the incoming tide. From that moment on I became a funeral singer.” (p.175). The women communicated, drank and sang explained by Danticat (2004), “…Brother Timonie, Brother Timonie, we row on without you. But I’ll know we’ll meet again.” (p.181) The psychological trauma lived within their hearts which was expressed by the author, “And for the rest of the night we raise our glasses, broken and unbroken alike, to the terrible days behind us and the uncertain ones ahead.” (181).
None of these women were able to leave behind the tortured island of their birth yet, each was in search of a way to release it. Each woman was subject to patriarchy in a different manner, no two experiences were identical. Paul-Austin (2007) had written, “Not discouraged, nor demoralized, Haitian women would reveal themselves to be resilient and resistant to male domination and the patriarchal manner of regulating social, economic and political life.” Beatrice was formerly a funeral singer inHaiti, and decided she must return home in order to fight against the causes that lead to the Dew Breaker’s reign, which is what caused her to sing for so many senseless deaths. She had reinforced the French feminist Beauvoir (1972) theory maintaining, “…that a woman should not be content with investing the meaning of their lives in their husbands and sons, as patriarchy encourages them to do.” (Tyson, 2006, p.97).
In reviewing the various theories I believe Womanism closely recognized the battles of these women as Ebunoluwa stated (2009), “The triple oppression of Black women wherein racial, classist and sexist oppression is identified and fought against by womanists, as opposed to the feminism main concern with sexist oppression.”
In conclusion as the book continued to unfold the characters began to portray more of a unitary gender system. Both men and women were being prosecuted. It made no difference if an individual was a male or female the oppression went across the board. Helliwell (2000) explained that many societies view the gender differences as non existent, “Gerai people see no differences between men and women.” (Tyson, 2006, p. 111) and neither did this dictatorship.
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Danticat, E. (2004). The Dew Breaker.New York; Vintage Books.
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Vietnam and its people were the “others”…right? Is this the reason for the title…kind of like an identity crisis?
Is it a portrayal of the destruction of the identity of the conquered to make them easier to govern?
Thank you, Duong Thu Huong for enlightening everyone on your book, “Novel without a name.” I believe through my research and knowledge, that little interest has been directed toward publishing your novel in Vietnam, could this reflect on how the Vietnamese War – Marxist society disagrees with the postcolonial theory. Could this explain the lack of postcolonial studies of this country and why your novel has never been allowed to publish within Vietnam?
As I look through the lens of Postcolonial, this novel made me question the characters, motives and interactions within the circumstances that led to hybridity, new identities, divisions, borders (Eastern front, Western front, the strategic regions, A, B, C and X) and a break down within their society. Vietnam is comprised of fifty four different ethnic groups and the novel illustrates how hybridity was utilized to combine a multifaceted system created by the repressive influential configuration in the North Vietnamese postcolonial society.
The subcategories that hybridity seeped into were:
1. Racial – Miss Hoa, Quan’s first love, became pregnant and was denounced by her people and it was possible that her child would have been born of a mixed race…someone from another native village, residence or district. “Last year, the village Party committee drafted her. Poor girl. By the end of the year, she was pregnant. No one wanted to claim the child. She refused to denounce the father. Shamed, her parents threw her out” (p. 139).
2. Linguistic – When Quan was heading to “Zone K” and met a young Van Kieu man named Te Chieng he asked, “How many miles off is it?” and the young man’s response was, “What’s a mile?” (p. 70).
The shorter man on the freight train stated, “ ‘Comrade’ can mean many things. From a linguistic point of view, it’s a lie. From a historical point of view, it’s an adaptation. And from a practical angle, well, it’s just a leader’s trick” (p. 159).
3. Culture – While saying goodbye to his liaison, Quan took out a can of meat and stated, “This is the last one I’ve got left. You have it comrade. The agent, “…scrutinized it like a connoisseur. “This is a real luxury for an ordinary soldier” (p. 34).
Mr. Buu commented that, “They study their Marxism-Leninism, and then come and pillage our vegetable gardens and rice fields with Marx’s blessing. In the name of class struggle, they seduce other men’s women” (p. 133).
A. Colonial subjects – The incident of soldiers shooting crates of medicine and Quan’s response, “This is medicine, energy food. The stuff they inject you with when you’re in the army hospital. His answer, “No Chief, you’ve got it wrong, Tuan shrieked. They …they injected me with Soviet medicine” (p. 270).
4. Religion – The little fat man stated, “Well? Did you see that? A nation of imbeciles. They need a religion to guide them and a whip to educate them” (p. 167).
5. Diaspora – Quan was caught in a personal and national identity crisis. Lye stated, “Otherness includes doubleness, both identity and difference, so that every other, every different than and excluded by is dialectically created and includes the values and meaning of the colonizing culture even as it rejects its power to define.”
The concept of violence is one that I don’t believe is new to the postcolonial concern. Within your novel the characters transform by changes in their status resulting in judging individuals in a different light. Zelia wrote, “ ‘Othering’: the process by which, through shifts in position, any given group can be ignored, trivialized, rendered invisible and unheard, perceived as inconsequential, de-authorized, “Other”, or threatening, while others are valorized” (Geever, 1990, p. 7).
Quan had been invited to an elite group by Vu, “Ha, ha – your district is right next to mine! We’re from the same province. So shall we swear to eternal brotherhood in the peach garden? Our little club already has about twenty-three members, and that’s just in my division. You want to sign up?” (p.201).
Quan and Kha shared a secret, they were both others in an army that had gone through withdrawing and reflecting, regrouping and rearming, all the while they were losing any sense of what the war was for and what they were fighting for, “I’ve thought a lot. I also listen to everything that’s said. You see, the people, they do exist from time to time, but they’re only a shadow. When they need rice, the people are the buffalo that pulls the plow. When they need soldiers, they cover the people with armor, put guns in the people’s hands. When is all is said and done, at the festivals, when it comes time for the banquets, they put the people on an alter, and feed them incense and ashes. But the real food, that’s always for them” (p. 275).
It seemed that in your novel the colonial subjectivity laid the foundation for mimicry, those who were raised to believe without resistance. Such as Commander Dao Tien when he stated, “My generation, we joined the army as soon as we reached the age to do our patriotic duty” (p. 75).
Utopia of a National Identity
The soldiers believed in a utopian society that would rise above the limitations imposed by boundaries, as was Quan, “This war was not simply another war against foreign aggression; it was also our chance for a resurrection. Vietnam had been chosen by History: After the war, our country would become humanity’s paradise. Our people would hold a rank apart. At last we would be respected, honored, revered. We believed this, so we turned away from those tears of weakness” (p. 31).
Tyson stated, “To be unhomed is to feel not at home even in your own home because you are not at home with yourself: your cultural identity crisis has made you a psychosocial refugee, so to speak” (p.421) Quan reminisces of his childhood, mother, young friends, remembers songs, poems and his dreams as these are his only connection to the culture he holds close to his heart.” The combination of these mimics reflects his lost culture. “I dream: A radiant young man leads me through a field of roses. The sun rises. A few wisps of fog still chasing some crazy dream. The air is fragrant. Roses bloom, opening passionately all the way to the horizon. We walk silently, obstinately” (p. 153).
“Quan The Impassive”
Huong, D. T. (1995). Novel without a name. New York: Penguin Group.
Lye, J. (1988). Some Issues in Postcolonial Theory. Retrieved December 9, 2009, from http://www.brocku.ca/english/courses/4F70/postcol.php
Tyson, L. (2006). Critical Theory today. New York: Routledge.
Zelia, G. (2004). De-Scribing Hybridity in “Unspoiled Cyprus”: Postcolonial Tasks for the Theory of Education. Comparative Education., 40 (2), 241-266.