Date of Award
Master of Arts
Caribbean literature of the late 20th and early 21st century emphasizes the physical, emotional, and sexual violence women continue to suffer in countries destabilized by successive waves of colonization, slavery, and military occupations. Sexual violence towards women is especially present in Caribbean novels that feature patriarchal dictatorships that cultivated hypermasculine cultures in the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Cuba. In these novels, women are reduced to sexual objects by men, which takes away women's humanity and normalizes objectification, physical abuse, and rape.
In Chapter 2, I address how Yunior's narration affects the readers' understanding of Beli's character in Junot Díaz's The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (2007) to show that Beli's story is actually one of empowerment, resistance to oppression, and hope for a better future. The way Yunior skips around in time when telling Beli's story skews reader's perception of Beli, creating the image of a love-sick, ungrateful, hypersexualized girl, rather than a powerful, defiant woman who is the lone survivor of her entire family under the Rafael Trujillo regime. Narrated solely by Yunior, Beli's voice is absent in the novel, creating a biased perception that originates from Yunior's personal mistrust of Beli and Yunior's cultural perceptions women, which he carries from his childhood in the Dominican Republic. Yunior criticizes, ridicules, and objectifies Beli's body, inviting readers to mock her along with him. Beli thus becomes a caricature in the novel, never taken seriously as an empowered woman who resists oppression out of hope. I show that Beli's body and character is vital to understand both the potential harm of, and resistance to, Trujillato.
Chapter 3 discusses the silence surrounding sexual violence in Mayra Montero's In the Palm of Darkness (1995) by analyzing the novel's creation of parallel narratives. In the novel the oppression of women runs parallel to – and is sometimes masked – by narratives of endangered frogs, and the male characters label women as having frog-like physical features. The comparison creates an allegory of women's oppression in Haiti by illuminating women's social status during this time. The narrator of the novel acts both as a voice for the women and as a perpetrator of the gendered, normalized violence that he grows up in, blurring boundaries and illustrating the complexity of political oppression.
A direct link between state violence embodied by a dictator and the oppression of women is illuminated in Chapter 4 in which I contrast the perception of women as sexual objects in Cristina García's King of Cuba (2013) and Dreaming in Cuban (1992). The national narratives are juxtaposed as King of Cuba describes Cuban American culture during Fidel Castro's last years from the perspectives of men while Dreaming in Cuban tells it from the viewpoint of women throughout Castro's first years of the revolution and into the early 21st century. Reading these novels together, the texts complement one another to form an overview of Cuban life under Castro through the eyes of those who found success during Castro's reign and those that suffered the consequences of his tyranny.
Together, this thesis argues that the discussion of women's political oppression in the Caribbean is a deeply complex topic that requires multiple narrators with non-linear, intergenerational frames to articulate the trauma of, and resistance against, patriarchal dictatorships. Although objectified and violated, in these novels women are able to show power against terrorizing regimes, but their resistance is also often problematic. By taking away their humanity, women are resigned to use their sexuality and sexual expressions to gain autonomy in terrorizing regimes that see them as objects to be violated. As a group, the novels analyzed in this thesis show writers illuminating human-rights violations and the work required to create equality in countries destabilized by waves of political violence.
Chartrand, Anik, "Articulating silence, sexuality, and survival: Women's lives under Caribbean dictatorships in literature" (2020). Graduate Theses and Dissertations. 17917.