Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Thematically, the novel develops a basic duality: the European belief in logic and order on one hand, represented by the French language and government bureaucracy, and the Creole sensibility, with its emphasis on magic, allusion, and a nonchronological concept of time on the other. It is important to realize that this duality is far from simple or absolute. The Creole worldview is itself largely composed of French language and values. Marie-Sophie’s enthusiasm for the writing of François Rabelais, which reminds her of her father’s Creole speech, and Esternome’s sudden enthusiasm for France during World War I are merely two examples of the positive contribution of France to the identity of the novel’s characters. At the same time, many aspects of French culture are portrayed as extremely hostile to the individuals who inhabit the novel: the institution of slavery, of course, but also the social hierarchy of Martinique, in which Blancs français (French whites) are at the top, followed by békés (white Creoles), brown Creoles, blacks, and every nuance in between. Finally, the title itself evokes the American as well as global impact of capitalism on the Third World, a force even more powerful than colonialism because it is more impersonal. Capitalism is an abstract enemy that looms over the novel and, more than the French government, is the reason why the community is doomed, even if Chamoiseau—the “Word Scratcher”—and the Urban...

(The entire section is 487 words.)