Date of Award
Mary Balkun, Ph.D
Simone A. James Alexander, Ph.D
grotesque, annie john, danticat, kincaid, adolescence, sexuality, gender
Adolescence is a transitory time in human development, characterized by internal and external bodily changes. Edwidge Danticat and Jamaica Kincaid employ the first-person narrative style in their respective debut novels, Breath, Eyes, Memory and Annie John, to amplify the female adolescent voice and provide unmitigated access to the female adolescent experience. During adolescence, the female body is in sexual flux – steadily losing its amorphousness as puberty runs its course. The adolescent female body peregrinates the biological threshold that distinguishes males from females. In Rabelais and His World, Mikhail Bakhtin describes the grotesque body as “a body in the act of becoming” (317), which is the task the female body begins during adolescence – becoming – and continues until death. It is the conspicuous and ceaseless nature of female sexual development, through cyclical body changes – growing breasts and widening hips, the onset of menses, and a decades-long oscillation of hormone levels – that creates a grotesque perception of the adolescent female body. It is the inherent otherness of the female body that makes this eternal becoming a grotesque spectacle.
Both Danticat and Kincaid employ grotesque imagery to scream, as opposed to speak, on behalf of the female body. Of primary importance are pivotal scenes within both novels where adolescent female protagonists adulterate the boundaries between body and material, between dream and reality, in revolt against gender norms and what Hélène Cixous would classify as “phallologocentric” ideals of female sexual purity. In both Breath, Eyes, Memory and Annie John, three generations of women are represented to provide an evolutionary perspective that clearly depicts a past, present, and future attitude towards female sexuality and gender fluidity. In this study, I examine Danticat’s and Kincaid’s unique employment of the literary grotesque in Breath, Eyes, Memory and Annie John as a mechanism of resistance against the cultural traditions that marginalize the female body as “other,” making it grotesque. I also explore the ways in which the protagonists reclaim their adolescent bodies, thereby recapturing and celebrating the beauty of the, albeit grotesque, fluidity of feminine space.
Bennett, Telia, "The Adolescent Grotesque: Transgressing Boundaries of Female Sexuality in Edwidge Danticat’s Breath, Eyes, Memory and Jamaica Kincaid’s Annie John" (2016). Seton Hall University Dissertations and Theses (ETDs). 2199.