Tuesday, January 26, 2010

El reino and power struggle

First of all, El reino de este mundo introduces me to an entirely new way of looking at Haiti. Though perhaps there are benefits of doing so, I tend not to look at the West Indies (or whatever you want to call those islands and lands south of the US, colonized by Europeans) with respect to their current colonial status. As a traveller, it takes a more discerning and speculative eye to make all the links; it’s also just a different perspective which doesn’t offer as carefree an experience. Immediately the tone is set in "Cabezas de cera"; thrown into a slave-owner narrative, from the slave's perspective (through a partial narrator). But it's not like what I've read before (in colonial/post-colonial literature, like Uncle Tom's Cabin and Benito Cereno) where I found the commentary to be more on the power struggle and dynamic between slave and master, and less on interesting, anecdotal bits like in Reino de este mundo.

I particularly liked the way Carpentier makes a COMMENT on this position dynamic (between Lenormand and Ti Noel) through the humorous and quite grotesque juxtaposition of the calf heads with the wig showcases. Ti Noel, though he cannot read, can and does still make the connection between a piece of meat showcased in a deli with a well to-do man prancing about with a wig and white powder on. Like John was saying in class on Monday (at the time, I was about to protest, but with this example I come to understand the point), the colonized one will understand both his culture and that of the colonizer, while the colonizer will understand only his own. The head scene is an indirect, playful and overall entertaining way to articulate this point. Even if they were viewed as ignorant, the underling slaves saw codes of conduct for what they were; early on, I know that the power dynamic of this novel is different than much colonial literature. That's all for now. :)


  1. i never thought about that concept before john mentioned it in class today - that the colonized plays the part of an observer to the colonizer's culture while the master's value of class structure and racial discrimination inhibits him from observing his slave's culture. This makes the master extremely vulnerable not only because he knows nothing about those he maltreats and exploits, but also because the slaves greatly outnumbered their masters. i like all the ingredients in the pot, i feel drama and rebellion a brewing

  2. You definitely saw things in the reading that I overlooked =P Now that you've mentioned it, this novel is quite different from other colonial literature in how they portray the power dynamic between master and slave. Usually, in literature that I have read, the slave is shown as the dominated and the master the dominator. However, in El Reino de Este Mundo, Carpentier gives much more credit to the slaves.