The myth of island paradise in contemporary Caribbean and Sri Lankan writing

  • Melanie Ann Murray

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


A colonial discourse has perpetuated the literary notion of islands as paradisal. The aims of this study are to explore how these entrenched notions of paradise, which islands have traditionally represented metonymically, are contested in the works of four postcolonial authors: Jamaica Kincaid, Romesh Gunesekera, Jean Arasanayagam and Lawrence Scott, from the island nations of Sri Lanka and the Caribbean. I have chosen three diasporic authors while the fourth, Arasanayagam, is an indigenous writer who still lives in Sri Lanka. Arasanayagam’s experience of living in a refugee camp in 1983 caused her to feel displaced in a way similar to those who have left their homelands. The purpose of including these particular authors in my study is to explore how their very diverse cultural experiences -- migrant or native, privileged or non-privileged, hybrid ancestry or culturally hybrid -- exemplify Homi K. Bhabha’s “hybridisation as a force of creative interaction” (Bhabha 1997: 2). I will use their work as examples of his theory of liminal space as a site of negotiation between cultures (Bhabha 2004). The mixed cultural heritage of these authors represents a doubleness which can be linked to the ‘double relation’ that Bhabha refers to in explaining hybrid translation as a process of cultural cross-reference. The study traces how the notions of island paradise have been represented in European literature, the oral and literary indigenous traditions of the Caribbean and Sri Lanka, a colonial literary influence in these islands, and the literary experience after independence in these nations. Persistent themes of colonial narratives foreground the aesthetic and ignore the work force in a representation of island space as idealised, insular and vulnerable to conquest; an ideal space for management and control. English landscape has been replicated in islands through literature and in reality the ‘Great House’ being an ideological symbol of power. Dorothy Lane has suggested that “the island can also be usefully employed by postcolonial writers to interrogate many of the assumptions of insularity” (Lane 1995: 4) and that “island discourse often incorporates several analogous figures of management and enclosure — such as the house and garden” (Lane 5). Using this as a point of departure for my study I have chosen texts which focus on gardens, island space and houses to explore how these writers from island cultures have responded to colonial narratives. These texts have previously been under-researched in the context of island motifs. This thesis explores how the selected postcolonial writers use these motifs to re-vision colonial/contested sites and in so doing offer an alternative space for negotiating the ambivalence of hybridity
Date of Award2006
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Northampton
SupervisorJanet M Wilson (Supervisor)

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