Caribbean Literature

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How does Caribbean literature articulate and perform Caribbean identity?

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This, of course, is a vast and complex question, and while I will elucidate several key points, I would strongly suggest looking at the suggested texts and the below links. For one thing, to presume that there is a monolithic Caribbean culture would be a mistake. One way to approach the subject is to highlight its richness and diversity and focus on how individual cultures (for example, Cuban or Jamaican) each contribute a piece to a larger whole.

It is perhaps impossible to talk about Caribbean literature and culture without talking about the colonial/imperialist legacy of the Europeans who settled and conquered the region. A region that had many different languages, ethnic groups, cultures, and religions was subjugated, and both the human and the historical loss are massive. Many works of Caribbean literature reckon with this colonial legacy. There is both a need to engage with it as well as move past it and establish an independent art that is free from European baggage. For a useful lens, it would be worthwhile to look at some examples of post-colonial theory and criticism.

Another way to look at the question is to examine how, until the advent of a Caribbean literature that speaks for itself and represents the people, Caribbean people were solely represented by European (or American) authors. In other words, the stories of the conquered were told by the conquerors.

Finally, I have noticed that many Caribbean novels deal with the violent history of the region and find fictional ways of representing those histories, such as In the Time of the Butterflies, which is about the brutal dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo, or The Farming of the Bones, which is about a massacre of Haitians.

A select bibliography:

Caribbean Literature and the Environment: Between Nature and Culture (various)

The Black Jacobins by C.L.R. James

A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James

Crossing the Mangrove by Maryse Conde

Krik? Krak! by Edwidge Danticat

In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez

God Loves Haiti by Dimitry Elias Leger

Omeros by Derek Walcott

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