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Representations of Matrifocality in Contemporary Anglophone Caribbean Fiction

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posted on 2019-01-30, 14:10 authored by Leighan Renaud
This thesis explores the representation of African Caribbean matrifocality in the novels of five twenty-first century writers from the Caribbean: Jacob Ross’ Pynter Bender (2008); Marlon James’ The Book of Night Women (2009); Erna Brodber’s Nothing’s Mat (2014); Marie-Elena John’s Unburnable (2006); and Nalo Hopkinson’s The Salt Roads (2003). Matrifocality, meaning mother-centric or mother-focused, has been of interest within the social sciences for almost a century, particularly within the Caribbean region, and continues to be a subject of interest within the discipline. My thesis offers an analysis of the representation of matrifocality in fiction, and a consideration of what fictional engagement with the phenomenon contributes to existing and emerging debates. By situating my literary analysis of my key texts alongside debates from sociology, anthropology and history, I advocate for a multi-disciplinary approach to Caribbean literature that positions fiction as an interesting site of analysis within wider cultural studies. This thesis argues that matrifocality is represented in my five key novels as an integral component of family and community life, and functions as a driving force for each text’s storyline. I argue that each of the novels I analyse engages with existing debates about matrifocality in the Caribbean – such as tropes of missing or marginal men, the African influence on the phenomenon, and a rejection of patriarchy. Though each novel is highly unique, each positions matrifocality as a symbol of resistance against patriarchal and Eurocentric normativity, and as an important literary trope. I suggest that the novelists imagine and write matrifocality as a distinctively Caribbean phenomenon that has been influenced by the African traditions of the region’s majority population, and each attempts to reject dated misconceptions of matrifocality as a fractured system, by positioning it as a family and community structure that encourages strength and autonomy among African Caribbean women.



Evans, Lucy; Feghali, Zalfa

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Department of English

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University of Leicester

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