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Marie-Sophie may be the heart of Patrick Chamoineau’s novel Texaco, but it is her father, Esternome, who is the story’s soul. A complicated novel with its roots in the tradition of oral story-telling passed down by generations of African slaves, Texaco is a sort of parable about the legacy of slavery and of institutionalized racism. The title itself is intended as an indictment of the colonialist policies that enslaved peoples across the Caribbean, with Marie-Sophie’s efforts at establishing a colony of her own on land controlled by the seemingly omniscient oil company that reaped untold millions of dollars from the exploitation of the island’s natural resources. Esternome is a human bridge spanning the island-colony’s transition from total to only partly subservience. He is uneducated, accustomed to being controlled by his white masters and unable to function without the structure slavery and enforced servitude provided. He is at the bottom of the social structure, and he knows it. Whites and mixed-race “mulattos” stood above him, and even the prostitute who occasionally favors him provides him only the leftovers – a metaphor in itself for the literal leftovers that were regularly the subject of disputes among the blacks employed in the whites’ homes. Esternome wanders the city, moving through it almost like a ghost, unable to fit in anywhere. He is, in short, the detritus of the French colonial experience. He has gained his freedom just as Martinique has gained its relative freedom, but neither is truly free, and both suffer the consequences of a history of victimization. While his daughter, Marie-Sophie, serves as the symbol of resistance to the post-colonial colonialization represented by the oil companies, Esternome serves as the symbol of the transition itself.
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