There is no single criterion that provides a necessary basis for identity, and neither is there a threshold, a critical mass of sufficient conditions. It is possible to assume that because “a” happened to a person, and “b” happened to the same person that he or she is a “c”-type person; however, it’s impossible to make up a definition which covers all that there is about identity. In the novel I am a Martinican Woman by Mayotte Capecia, the reader sees the main character, Mayotte, hopelessly striving to find a static definition of her identity. Mayotte has a need to feel anchored in something that she can define herself as, yet at the very same time, she feels torn between who she is and what she needs in life. These contrasting feelings only lead to the exaggeration of Mayotte’s emotions through her thoughts and actions, and her lack of identity becomes magnified to the reader. By analyzing the theme of racial identity and the strong presence of patriarchal structures within the Martinican society, one is able to see the difficulty in Mayotte finding a separate identity for herself.
Throughout the novel, Mayotte denigrates blacks, when, in fact, she is partially black. At the very beginning of the novel she depersonalizes herself from the “groups of young black girls” that carry baskets filled with food on their heads (Capecia, 34).
” On Being Told I Don’t Speak Like a Black Person” tells a story of the importance in identifying your own speech and how there is nothing more personal than your own speech. Many people change their attitude, personality and in some cases the way they speak based on their environment and surroundings. The meaning of what the author wants to get across to the reader is ...
Mayotte observes them and their graceful manner, but in no way associates herself with them, and even ventures to describe the crude details of how the girls stopped “to [meet] a need right there on the path; after which, she would simply wipe herself with her skirt and go on her way” (Capecia, 34).
After her mother tells Mayotte the story about her grandmother, she expresses how proud she is that she had a white grandmother, yet she ventures to ask “How could a Canadian woman have loved a Martinican?” (Capecia, 63).
She is amazed, it seems, that a white woman would stoop to marry a black man. Mayotte specifically states that a “grandmother was less commonplace than a white grandfather” (Capecia, 62).
Here, it is evident, that Mayotte sees blacks as inferior. But at the same time, she is partially black. Many critics see this as an expression of the “lactification complex,” or the mind frame of idolizing whites as well as a desire to be white, that silently existed within not only Martinican society, but also throughout the Caribbean (CLA, 260).
The reader must not forget that this novel is written in first person, and not everything that is read is known by the other characters. On the day of Mayotte’s confirmation, when her mother tells her that she looks like an angel, she imagines herself in a white dress with pink cheeks. She is shocked once she looks down at her hands “that became even darker in contrast to the startling white of the dress” (Capecia, 66).
In Mayotte’s mind she sees angels and God himself as white, and she even states that “God conceived with Negro features” was “not [her] idea of Paradise” (Capecia, 66).
This goes back to the silent idolatry of whites by blacks, and how blacks actually belittled themselves and saw whites as superior. However, one cannot make one’s race disappear and at one point in the novel she describes how in her dreams “the little black imps who had roused [her] with their clamor were chasing [her] and [she] could not get rid of them” (Capecia, 103).
The People, Leisure, and Culture of Blacks During the Harlem Renaissance It seems unfair that the pages of our history books or even the lecturers in majority of classrooms speak very little of the accomplishments of blacks. They speak very little of a period within black history in which many of the greatest musicians, writers, painters, and influential paragon' emerged. This significant period ...
This description exhibits how Mayotte is haunted by her blackness. It is something that she can never get away from, despite her efforts. However, she does her best: she breaks things off with Horace and promises “no more would [she] touch those colored men, those skirt chasers” (Capecia, 108).
She keeps this promise, despite the change in opinion about whites since the fighting began. And although her family feels that she has betrayed her race, she is “proud that [Francois] was white” (Capecia, 153).
This constant inner tug between her desire to be white and her physical definition as black causes an ambivalence in her identity. She wants to be identified as white, yet at the same time, she is continuously preyed upon by reality. The situation for French Caribbean women of color has always been different, facing not only the racism of the white world, but also the sexism that crosses racial boundaries. Most of the decisions of a woman are made by either her father or her husband.
Because of this limitation in choice, the woman’s identity is usually fused with or subsumed within that of some other male. Throughout the novel, it is apparent that Mayotte’s identity is dependent upon a male figure at every time. Initially, her dependency is upon Paul, her friend who made her a wooden bracelet, but soon she “no longer thought about Paul” and “no longer wore his wood bracelet” and falls in love with the new priest. She only learned her catechism lessons to please him. Once the priest left and her mother passed away, Mayotte is demanded to take care of him and nurse him.
She expresses how “at last, [she] began to love [her] father and to develop a great admiration for him” (Capecia, 79).
From this point, until she begins her romantic involvement with Horace, she becomes dependent on her father, and partially remains so the entire novel. Once she receives news of her father seeing a younger girl she is shocked and is takes on an attitude of jealousy towards his young conquest, Renelise. At one point she states, “I can’t even stand looking at you any more” (Capecia, 85).
Minrose Gwin's book, Black and White Women of the Old South, argues that history has problems with objectiveness. Her book brings to life interesting interpretations on the view of the women of the old south and chattel slavery in historical American fiction and autobiography. Gwin's main arguments discussed how the white women of the south in no way wanted to display any kind of compassion for a ...
The reason she says is that Renelise doesn’t have morals. The two girls get in an argument until Renelise started crying and Mayotte left the room, thinking to herself that “Perhaps, now she understood the harm done to me by her presence” (Capecia, 86).
Mayotte no longer had the sole responsibility of taking care of her father and the household, and this made her feel worthless to some degree. It was not until she became romantically involved with Horace that she “no longer envied Renelise” (Capecia, 91).
Her relationship with Horace faded quickly, mostly likely due to the fact that he didn’t dominate her enough. Once with Andres, she was contempt. She was happy to let him know that she “belonged only to him” (Capecia, 121).
Mayotte wanted to sacrifice all that she had for Andres and wanted him to know that he was the only one.
She knew, however, that he would never marry a black women; thus keeping her in a constant position of inferiority. Once she gives birth to Francois, she does not give up wanting to get married, she just begins to understand that “a colored woman is never quite respectable in the eyes of a white man- even if he loves her” (Capecia, 153).
Mayotte’s selfhood is sustained only through the male figures that she encounters in the Martinican society, making it impossible for her to have a separate identity. Nostalgia and knowledge of the past are key words when dealing with the subject of identity. In I am a Martinican Woman, not only are we shown an accurate interpretation and documentation of sociopolitical conditions in Martinique during the Vichy Occupation in 1941, but we are also shown the effects from this on personal identity. While there are multiple themes within the novel, and one could go on for pages analyzing the ambivalence within Mayotte’s character dealing with the themes of miscegenation, superstition, hypocrisy, rural life, and exile, the theme of racial identity and the presence of patriarchal structures within Martinican society lay down a base for her simultaneous conflicting feelings..