Hodge, Merle 1944-
Merle Hodge 1944-
Trinidadian novelist and essayist.
Hodge is recognized as the first black Caribbean woman to publish a major work of fiction—the novel Crick Crack, Monkey (1970). Centered on the childhood and adolescence of a young woman in the British colony of Trinidad, the novel treats such subjects as the search for identity, racism, gender, social divisions, and colonial education. In 1993 Hodge published a second novel, For the Life of Laetitia, a narrative aimed at young adults.
Hodge was born in 1944 in Curepe, Trinidad. She attended primary school in Trinidad and was among the small number of Trinidadian children who went on to secondary school. She won a scholarship while in secondary school, which enabled her to enter University College, London, where she earned an undergraduate degree in 1965 and a master of philosophy degree in 1967. She then traveled, taking odd jobs such as typist and child care worker to finance her sojourns in Eastern and Western Europe. She also lived in Africa for a time, visiting Senegal and Gambia. During this period she wrote Crick Crack, Monkey. In the early 1970s she returned to Trinidad, where she taught English, French, and West Indian literature. Moving to the University of the West Indies in Jamaica as a lecturer in the French department, she began studying for her doctorate. In 1979 she was hired by Maurice Bishop, prime minister of Grenada, to direct the development of a socialist education program. Leaving Grenada in 1983 after Bishop's assassination and the invasion by U.S. troops, Hodge accepted a position at the University of the West Indies in St. Augustine, Trinidad. In addition to her duties at the university, Hodge also travels as a speaker to conferences or other institutions in such places as the United States, Africa, and Europe.
Crick Crack, Monkey is a novel about social divisions, about moving between a traditional Afro-Caribbean past and the culture of a conquering country, and about the colonial educational system, where colonizers target indigenous cultural beliefs and attitudes. Related by the adult Cynthia "Tee" Davis, who looks back on her childhood in Trinidad, Crick Crack, Monkey follows twelve-year-old Tee, whose mother has died and whose father lives in England. At first Tee resides with her Creole-speaking black Aunt Tantie, who lives among the urban working-class poor. After receiving a substantial scholarship, however, Tee moves in with her lighter-skinned Aunt Beatrice so she can attend a well-regarded secondary school. Contrary to the passionate and contented Aunt Tantie, Aunt Beatrice is a bourgeois woman who strives to fit into the Anglicized middle-class society. At school Tee is taught the superiority of the British Empire over the marginalized Trinidadian culture and begins to scorn her Afro-Caribbean race and heritage and even look down on her beloved Aunt Tantie. In the end, Tee rejects both Aunt Tantie and Aunt Beatrice, even though she has accepted Beatrice's culturally void middle-class values. Tee then departs for England to live with her father.
For the Life of Laetitia turns on the title character, a poor, intelligent young girl who leaves her Caribbean village home to attend an urban secondary school. Living with her father and his second wife, she experiences disillusionment from fellow students, teachers, and even from her best friend, who obsesses about becoming like her own overburdened mother. The novel examines the limited opportunities for Caribbean women and highlights education as a way to escape poverty. Hodge also has written essays on Caribbean social topics, Grenada's government, and French Guyanese writer Leon Damas.
A dominant critical trend in discussions of Crick Crack, Monkey focuses on the protagonist, Tee, as being representative of Trinidadian culture. Brenda F. Berrian has pointed out that the young Tee embodies the conflicts facing the development of a Trinidadian culture, which must contend with such concerns as a British educational system that condemns traditional Afro-Caribbean values, and the racial divisions within the black population itself, which discriminates along the lines of skin tone and class divisions. Other reviewers have described the novel as satire, since it depicts a new arrival attempting to gain acceptance into a society that feels contempt for her and shows that individual trying to fit into a society that is void of value. The language and speech patterns in the novel have generated commentary, as critics have observed how speech represents social divisions and how characters' speech changes as traditional African influences fade in the face of the dominant culture of the colonizers. Other critics have commented on the complexity of the novel. Some scholars have linked Aunt Tantie's traditional Creole world with positive qualities like security and love, while Aunt Beatrice's colonized world is linked with negative characteristics like estrangement and disorder. Yet critics have pointed out that Tee begins to develop feelings of inferiority and insecurity while still in Tantie's world, triggered in large part by the British-based schooling that has engulfed Trinidad. According to these critics, the novel thus viewed cannot be read as a simple clash between two disparate cultures. As Joyce Zonana has demonstrated, the novel's complexity is also related to the new identity that can be adopted by Caribbean subjects, which is hinted at near the end of the novel when a neighbor calls the protagonist "Cyntie," blending the more formal, English-sounding "Cynthia" with the traditional, Creole-sounding "Tee."
The ending of Crick Crack, Monkey has continued to attract critical attention. Focusing on the ambiguity of the novel's close, some scholars have viewed Tee's departure for the "Mother Country" as her only means of escaping the dilemma of being caught between two cultures. Others have proposed that Tee will gain insight into the meaning of her experiences in childhood only in adulthood, as she distances herself both physically and emotionally from these events. Commenting on the adult narrator who tells the story from memory, several critics have noted that by adopting this critical distance Hodge was able to comment effectively on colonialism in Trinidad and its results. M. Keith Booker and Dubravka Juraga (see Further Reading) have called Hodge "the founder of the Caribbean female postcolonial bildungsroman," a popular genre for postcolonial women writers. In general, critics laud Hodge's ability to both portray the private life of her protagonist and critique such issues as social status, gender, and race.
Crick Crack, Monkey (novel) 1970
For the Life of Laetitia (young adult novel) 1993
Wendy W. Walters (essay date September 1992)
SOURCE: Walters, Wendy W. "More Than ‘Girl Talk’: Language as Marker in Two Novels by Women of African Descent." Pacific Coast Philology 27, nos. 1/2 (September 1992): 159-65.
[In the following essay, Walters investigates colonial influences on language in both Crick Crack, Monkey and Flora Nwapa's Efuru, focusing specifically on the ways in which speech is used to signify social divisions and how one's interactions with differing social strata influences one's speech patterns.]
Frantz Fanon has written that "to speak a language is to take on a world, a culture" (38). The novels Efuru, by Nigerian writer Flora Nwapa, and Crick Crack, Monkey, by Merle Hodge of Trinidad, are dominated by female characters whose speech marks out social stratifications along potentially intersecting but oppositional axes, the most common such opposition being bush or farm versus town and market. The social stratifications marked by these speech differences can be seen both as those of class movement away from rural or agrarian toward bourgeois mercantilism, and as those of modernization, or movement away from traditional or older social and occupational arrangements. What I hope to demonstrate is the way the characters' speech is shaped by their encounters with the language, world, and culture they "take on." Simultaneously it will also be important to recognize the ways in which speech functions not only as a marker, but also as a tool, often a bearer of the very culture it may seem to mark itself out against.
Set in Trinidad, Merle Hodge's Crick Crack, Monkey traces the young life of Tee, the novel's female heroine. Her changing vocabulary maps her encounters with the colonial culture of Britain and her simultaneous movement away from her island roots. Tee's youth is dominated by three powerful women who each exert very different linguistic influences on her. Tee's earliest years are spent with her paternal aunt, Tantie, with occasional visits to her grandmother, Ma. These two women provide protective, nurturing, warm, and free surroundings for many young children, including Tee. The language of Tantie, with whom Tee spends the most time, is loud, raucous, and punctuated by creolisms, curses, and squawks. Tantie is emblematic of the multi-faceted woman in West Indian literature described by critic Leota Lawrence as "strong, indomitable, very verbose, and fiercely loyal to her children and her man" (238). From her aunt Tantie, Tee learns verbal toughness. When she and her friends are "raiding the estate" of an old white man they think is a ghost, Tee suddenly finds herself alone, face to face with the very ghost/man himself. She narrates:
He was a few yards away and I was facing him, paralysed. Then I heard my voice: ‘Marche-shoo!’ I was hissing wildly. ‘Marche-shoo whitey-cockroach! Whitey-kinkalay!’ But he was still coming. So then I summoned to my rescue every obscenity I could think of, and let fly like a machine-gun. He stood stock still and his mouth fell open. Then I ran.
Later when she is being reprimanded, the kindly principal of her school tells Tee that Tantie used to curse as a child too, and that, "‘She would have given the Governor a cussing if he'd looked at her too hard! … Even the headmaster was a little afraid of her’" (59). The power to shock and/or frighten through curses and verbal artistry those in positions of authority is a power passed down from Tantie to Tee, and has strong reverberations throughout communities of peoples of African descent (ie: signifying, the dozens, rap, etc.)
Tee's other strongly nurturing female relative is her grandmother, Ma. Ma possesses many traits common to women in African literature: she tells the children Ananse stories in the moonlight, and she calls out to her female neighbors in an African style of greeting. She is also physically and occupationally aligned with traditional West African market women since she has a spot in the local market each Sunday morning where she sells fruits, vegetables, jams, etc. What I see as the most important aspect of Ma's speech for Tee, however, is Ma's telling Tee stories of her own grandmother whom Tee resembles. Tee narrates:
Ma said that I was her grandmother come back again. She said her grandmother was a tall straight proud woman who lived to an old age … The People gave her the name Euphemia or Euph-something, but when they called her that she used to toss her head like a horse and refuse to answer so they'd had to give up in the end and call her by her true-true name … She couldn't remember her grandmother's true-true name. But Tee was growing into her grandmother again, her spirit was in me.
It is apparent that those who would rename this female ancestor were slave owners, and we learn here of Ma's repeated efforts to remember this grandmother's true-true name as opposed to her slave name. Thus this passage can be seen as a complex combination of the African belief in the importance of ancestry and identity and how these have been both sundered and retained in the New World as a result of slavery. The double adjective in "true-true name" is an Afro-Caribbean linguistic style of heightened emphasis. The paradoxical aspect of this passage is of course that Ma, who here passes on to Tee the knowledge of and pride in her grandmother, cannot produce the key to the story: her grandmother's true-true name. This idea of naming one's ancestors is fraught with contradiction and paradox for the Afro-Caribbean or African-Americanas opposed to the African person. The only name which Ma can remember for her grandmother is, in fact, the slave name, Euphemia, which is an especially telling statement by Hodge about the power of one culture to erase another since Ma's grandmother refused to answer to that name, and "they" had to call her by her true-true name instead. And this inability to speak her grandmother's name gives Ma great sorrow. Significantly, Ma remembers the name as she is dying, but at this point it is too late for Tee, as we shall see.
Tee's first encounters with a world other than the loving, freely expressive environments of Tantie and Ma occur in school and church—traditionally the front lines of colonial assault on the indigenous culture of the colonized. In her early encounters, since she strongly identifies with Ma and Tantie, the language of school and church appears as nonsense to Tee, words she intones while her thoughts are elsewhere. But after a few years spent in this religious and educational environment which openly glorifies the colonial center and all things white, the words stop sounding like nonsense to Tee. By the time she is in Third Standard her developing personality splits, and she invents an English double of herself, as a product of her extensive library reading. In the following passage we see especially the impact which her reading of English literature has on her views of language itself:
Books transported you always into the familiar solidity of chimneys and apple trees, the enviable normality of real Girls and Boys who went a-sleighing and built snowmen, ate potatoes, not rice, went about in socks and shoes from morning until night and called things by their proper names, never saying ‘washicong’ for plimsoll or ‘crapaud’ when they meant a frog. Books transported you always into Reality and Rightness, which were to be found Abroad.
(61; my italics)
Here Tee has begun to deride creolisms in favor of what she has been taught in school is the correct language. Hodge's use of the words, familiar solidity, enviable normality, proper names, and the capitalization of Reality, Rightness, and Abroad are all extremely ironic since things like sleighing and snowmen are completely unfamiliar to Tee and are in no way part of her lived reality. She has here begun the psychologi- cally damaging process of destroying her cultural self, as described by Frantz Fanon in Black Skin, White Masks. Fanon tells us that,
Every colonized people—in other words, every people in whose soul an inferiority complex has been created by the death and burial of its local cultural originality—finds itself face to face with the language of the mother country. The colonized is elevated above his [sic] jungle status in proportion to his adoption of the mother country's cultural standards. He becomes whiter as he renounces his blackness, his jungle.
That Tee is developing such an inferiority complex is evident when she tells us that her imaginary English double, Helen, "wasn't even my double. No, she couldn't be called my double. She was the Proper Me. And me, I was her shadow hovering about in incompleteness" (62; my italics)
Tee's success in the colonial educational system wins her a scholarship to attend St. Ann's High School, and she must move in with her maternal aunt Beatrice and her family, members of the growing bourgeoisie of the island who all are bent on becoming as "white" and British as possible. In contrast to Tantie's "loud, hilarious" speech, Beatrice's talk is "tittery" and "clipped-off at the edge" (37-38). Beatrice tries to make her speech British, changing rather to "rorther" and Father to "Forther" when she's trying to be most impressive. She also displays color prejudice against her own youngest daughter, who is darker than the two older girls, and continually berates this daughter and her domestic help, for speaking "‘like any old ordnry market-people’" (83). Beatrice's actions can be seen as strategies by which the rising bourgeoisie attempts to both close the gap between itself and the colonial center (or in Beatrice's case, the revered White Ancestress) and at the same time separate itself from the local peasantry, ie: market-people.
One of the most destructive evidences of Beatrice's self-negating reverence for the colonial culture is her adoption of its racist slang. She labels Tee's favorite dress, made for her by Tantie, as "niggery-looking" (77). Indians are "coolies" in Aunt Beatrice's Britishized vocabulary. And as Tee matures under this linguistic influence, we see her slowly adopting Beatrice's language and world views, to the destruction and deprecation of Tantie's. But this movement is one fraught with psychological ill-health for Tee, since she never "fits in" Beatrice's household, and only with Ma or Tantie had she ever been happy and free. What I see as perhaps most tragic for Tee is the death of Ma and the fact that Ma remembers the name of her slave grandmother as she is dying. Her one desire is to see Tee and add the slave grandmother's name to her names. A somewhat resentful Tantie tells Ma that Tee has no time to see her, and the name is lost. This name is important both symbolically and concretely for Tee. Ma had hoped "to live to see Tee grow into her tall proud straight grandmother" who couldn't be bent down by slavery (19). Perhaps if she had seen Tee before she died and had given her this symbolic and historical true-true name, her belief that Tee was like her grandmother might have rubbed off on Tee. In any case, that name added to Tee's names would have been something she could carry with her all her life, a living legacy of the language and actual history of her island self. That the name is lost forever, forgotten, is a telling result of the fracture which colonialism causes on modern day islanders. Tee does not emerge whole from these confrontations with an oppressive culture, and ends up emigrating to the colonial center of oppression, England, at the novel's close.
The study of a West African novel reveals a slightly different linguistic result of the colonial encounter. Comprised as it is almost entirely of dialogue among women, Flora Nwapa's Efuru is an excellent vehicle by which to study the ways language is used in a traditional, but modernizing, Igbo village. These women's conversations reveal the complex intertwined oppositions and mergers of the young and the old, representing the modern and the traditional, the farm and the market. Additionally, like Ma and Tantie, the women pass on to each other vital information and knowledge about a diverse range of subjects, from debt collecting, to child rearing, to male infidelity. In fact, advice-giving is so prevalent that it seems at times, even to the characters, like meddling. Many of the advice-givers preface their remarks with a reiteration of their familial connection to their listener, but because so many people in the village are related in some way, the definition of "relative" becomes quite broad by Western standards.
Some of the ways that Nwapa uses language skillfully to recreate an Igbo world view are her use of traditional proverbs, salutation names, and untranslated Igbo phrases. Traditional structures of address and greeting are very important to the older members of the community, and when Efuru, the main character, correctly addresses a dibia (traditional medicine man) he responds, "‘Good, my child, good. That is my salutation name … I am glad you have not forgotten our customs’" (191). It is in these verbal customs that the people define their group identity and community in a rapidly changing society. Language itself becomes an important marker of group membership. When someone "forgets" a village custom she is accused of "talk- ing like a stranger." It is important to note, however, that this use of custom for group definition and solidarity is not rigid. An example of the syncretic combination of an old custom with perhaps new ideas occurs after the death of Efuru's two-year-old daughter, when all the village women visit her in the traditional custom of sympathizing. When one woman thoroughly, torturously, recounts all of the sufferings of Efuru, her sister-in-law, Ajanupu, steps in to protect Efuru from this verbal custom, cutting off the depressing speech. Since other women present agree that this is unhelpful sympathizing, the reader gets the idea that Ajanupu may be helping to maintain the proper practice of a custom. It seems a bit strange then that the woman accused become embarrassed and apologizes saying, "‘We are old women and therefore know nothing’" (88). Usually it is the old women who are more knowledgeable in the ways of traditional practices. I think what Nwapa is showing here is the dynamic nature of custom in an ever-modernizing society. She is presenting the idea that though traditions should be maintained, they must also be flexible and subject to alteration for the good of the community.
Almost all of the women in Efuru are market women as well as wives and mothers. Efuru herself is a very successful business woman who acts as a shrewd financial advisor to both her husbands. In fact her independence of mind is first demonstrated when she informs her first husband that he may go to the farm if he likes, but she intends to trade in the market. Market trade soon proves the more profitable venture, and here I think Nwapa is depicting a contrast, brought on by the colonial encounter, between farming and market trade. This opposition retains many of the characteristics of the bush (farm) versus city (market) duality. The market is soon seen as a center for verbal information. No longer are the women confined to their family compounds, but instead, they regularly associate with many different people who visit the market.
By contrast to these more worldly market women, women who still farm are much more isolated. The antithesis between farm and market bears distinct resemblance to the social class differences present among Hodge's Aunt Beatrice and the shop-keepers of Trinidad. There is even in Efuru the idea of uplift, commensurate with movement from bush / farm to town / market, and the concomitant devaluation of farm lifestyle. Efuru's maid, Ogea, is a person whom Ajanupu continually tries to "raise up." The visiting Ajanupu asks Ogea, "‘Where is Ossai? You timid child, haven't your bush ways left you yet? You came here bush, you want to leave here bush’" (96). This conversation is markedly similar to those that take place between Aunt Beatrice and her maid, Eudora.
Language differences between characters in these two novels by women of African descent can be seen as social markers. In some cases, as especially in Crick Crack, Monkey, language marks social class differences among characters. In other cases, as in Nwapa's writing, language is used by community members to establish and maintain group identity in the face of Western influence. Though this function may seem in some ways similar to that described in Crick Crack, Monkey, I think the difference is found in the fact that the overt concern with language among Hodge's middle-class characters is one that would break away from the more traditional community. While in Nwapa's novel, the maintenance of linguistic styles is more properly seen as a conservative function for the purpose of retaining aspects of tradition. However, these traditional linguistic structures in Nwapa's novel must be flexible and open to syncretism with more modern ideas if they are to survive. What emerges then as a continuous theme uniting the specifics of language in these two novels is the influence of an outside (Anglo) culture on the worlds of the characters. Tee's language has been influenced by the colonial educational system, Christian church, and her partially white, European-aspiring, middle-class aunt. Efuru and her fellow villagers have all been influenced by the alcohol, religion, laws, and medicine brought by the colonizers. For Tee this influence has been psychologically damaging. Merle Hodge depicts the mental disease caused in the colonized subject and the internalized inferiority complex created by each encounter with the cultural dominance of the colonial center. We have also seen in her novel the damage to the indigenous culture, the erasure of names, the rewriting of history. Nwapa, however, in Efuru, presents a village which has not been so devastated by this outside influence. Instead we see the various blendings of tradition and modernization as the younger generation adapts old customs to suit new situations. I think the differences of portraits are, however, certainly a result both of the differing historical realities that have formed Nigerian and Caribbean life—the specific ways in which colonizers have entered those various societies; and also the personal backgrounds of each author and her relationship to the experience of colonialism.
Fanon, Frantz. Black Skin, White Masks. Trans. Charles Lam Markmann. New York: Grove Press, Inc., 1967.
Hodge, Merle. Crick Crack, Monkey. London: Heinemann, 1970.
Lawrence, Leota, "Three West Indian Heroines: An Analysis." CLA Journal XXI (December 1977): 238-250.
Nwapa, Flora. Efuru. London: Heinemann, 1966.
Brenda F. Berrian (essay date December 1994)
SOURCE: Berrian, Brenda F. "Claiming an Identity: Caribbean Women Writers in English." Journal of Black Studies 25, no. 2 (December 1994): 200-16.
[In the following essay, Berrian concentrates on the relationships between daughters and mother figures in Crick Crack, Monkey, Michelle Cliff's Abeng, and Mary Prince's The History of Mary Prince, a West Indian Slave, examining in particular how the mother figures function as mediums through whom knowledge of Afro-Caribbean culture and history pass.]
This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions.
This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions.
This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions.
This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions.
This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions.
This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions.
This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions.
This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions.
Joyce Zonana (essay date 2006)
SOURCE: Zonana, Joyce. "‘Tee,’ ‘Cyn-Cyn,’ ‘Cynthia,’ ‘Dou-Dou’: Remembering and Forgetting the ‘True-True Name’ in Merle Hodge's Crick Crack, Monkey." In Middle Passages and the Healing Place of History: Migration and Identity in Black Women's Literature, edited by Elizabeth Brown-Guillory, pp. 139-54. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2006.
[In the following essay, Zonana centers on the search for identity as a major theme in Crick Crack, Monkey.]
Trinidadian writer Merle Hodge's Crick Crack, Monkey has been called "the first major novel published by a black Caribbean woman" (Maes-Jelinek and Ledent 177), and "the first major novel by a postcolonial West Indian writer to problematize and emphasize questions of difference and the quest for a voice" (Gikandi 14). Appearing in 1970, "far in advance of any recognizable Caribbean feminist tradition" (Cobham, "Revisioning Our Kumblas," 46), it has been credited with "ushering in a new era in the writing of women in the English-speaking Caribbean" (Cudjoe, "Introduction," 43). Indeed, one of the first collections of Caribbean women's writing—Her True-True Name edited by Pamela Mordecai and Betty Wilson—took its title from a key passage in Hodge's novel. Yet, although the novel has been studied and celebrated by critics of Caribbean literature, it remains relatively unknown outside specialist circles. I hope that this essay will introduce the book to a wider audience and demonstrate its relevance for explorations of migration and identity in the specifically Caribbean context of the African diaspora.
Writing from an unspecified vantage point as an adult, Crick Crack, Monkey 's endearing first-person narrator dryly recounts her experiences as a child in colonial Trinidad, from the day of her mother's death until the eve of her departure for the "Mother Country," England. Deceptively simple, the short novel offers an understated but pointed critique of a world that teaches the narrator to be ashamed of the "ordinaryness" and "niggeryness" (105) of her Afro-Caribbean identity, insisting that she value instead the "Reality" and "Rightness" to be found only in books or "Abroad" (67). Torn between her working-class dark-skinned Tantie who lovingly calls her "Tee," and her middle-class, lighter-skinned Auntie who primly calls her "Cynthia," the narrator can find no authentic self—no proper name—of her own. Yet while the novel's plot offers no alternative but migration to the young girl's conflict, the text's narrative strategies suggest that the narrator's voluntary passage from Trinidad to England teaches her to value the elements of identity preserved by her ancestors during their involuntary Middle Passage from Africa to the Caribbean.
As Simone Alexander has argued, the European "Mother Country," the African "Motherland," and the Caribbean "mother'(s) land"—an "extension" of the African Motherland—provide a useful framework for understanding the fictional autobiographies of Afro-Caribbean women writers, including Paule Marshall, Maryse Condé, and Jamaica Kincaid (4). Hodge's work is no exception, though in Crick Crack, Monkey, the Caribbean "mother('s)land" cannot unproblematically be associated with the African Motherland. It is, rather, a complex and conflicted new land, with legitimate ties to both Africa and Europe (and Asia, in the case of Trinidad)—a place in which an indigenous, hybrid, "sovereign" identity is in the process of being formed (Hodge, "Challenges of the Struggle for Sovereignty," 203).
In the words of Martinican novelist and critic Edouard Glissant, Caribbean identity cannot be contained by the "fixed Being" of what he calls the "Sameness" of European ontology and epistemology. Instead, it partakes of a "Diversity" that "establishes Becoming" (98). Because "reversion" to the Africa before the Middle Passage is impossible for the Afro-Caribbean subject, and because "imitation" of the European colonial culture inflicts "insidious violence," it is only "diversion" that can lead the Caribbean self "somewhere" (Glissant 16-22). Yet, as Glissant insists, "Diversion is not a useful ploy unless it is nourished by reversion: not a return to the longing for origins, to some immutable state of Being, but a return to the point of entanglement, from which we were forcefully turned away" (26).
Thus, the Caribbean writer will not deny trauma by relying on what Dominick LaCapra calls "conventional" or "redemptive" narratives structured by the biblical model of "Paradise, Fall, History … and then redemption" (156); instead, practicing the "art of Diversion" (Glissant 85), she will write "experimental, nonredemptive" texts that work to come to terms with trauma (LaCapra 179). Crick Crack, Monkey is such a text, showing that the atrocities of the Middle Passage, slavery, and colonialism remain facts that cannot be denied or undone. The Caribbean subject must move forward, not back, creating a complex modern identity that neither clings to nor refuses the African past. As Silvio Torres-Saillant writes in Caribbean Poetics: Toward an Aesthetic of West Indian Literature, "the colonial condition has turned the Antillean man or woman into an existential migrant, a person who wanders between worlds, between spaces, between traditions" (32).
The narrator of Crick Crack, Monkey is herself a migrant, shuttling between different spaces and oscillating among a variety of competing identities. These competing identities are signaled by the variety of names by which she is called. Her "Tantie" calls her by the informal name "Tee"; her "Aunt" uses the formal "Cynthia." At school she is "Cynthia Davis," and when she over-invests in that institutional identity, her foster brother mockingly calls her "Ma Davis." In moments of heightened emotion, Tantie calls her "Doudou," using the Creole term of affection; other relatives playfully call her "Cyn-Cyn." And at the very end of the novel, a neighbor calls her "Cyntie," suggesting a possible resolution of her conflict. Naming—and who gets to assign those names—is foregrounded within this novel, which puts language itself at its center, exploring the interrelation of language and identity.
The plot is built around a series of migrations: first, that of the narrator and her brother from their parents' home to that of their paternal aunt, "Tantie"; second, that of their father to the Mother Country, England; third, the children's "capture" by their maternal aunt, Beatrice; fourth, their periodic journeys to their grandmother Ma's home in Pointe d'Espoir; fifth, the journey of Tantie's ward Mikey to the United States; sixth, Tee's voluntary migration to Aunt Beatrice's house; and finally, Tee's anticipated journey to England. Each of these migrations—with the exceptions of the visits to Pointe d'Espoir (Point Hope)—constitutes a rupture, a break in being, and each is accompanied by linguistic and psychological shifts.
As a very young child at home with her Tantie Rosa, "Tee" experiences a sense of belonging and unproblematic, unselfconscious selfhood. With Auntie Beatrice, with whom she lives while attending secondary school, "Cynthia" is at first dislocated and alienated, yet in time she comes to be ashamed of her earlier self. Tee/Cynthia experiences other worlds that give rise to other identities—the idyllic, sensuous landscape associated with her grandmother "Ma," and the idyllic entirely mental landscape she encounters in books. If the African Motherland associated with Ma, and the Mother Country limned in books, are extreme ideals, the contrasting realms of Tantie Rosa and Auntie Beatrice represent the conflicted but all too real aspects of the "mother('s)land" that does violence to those ideals, even as it evolves towards something new.
The novel begins with young Tee and her brother Toddan posted at Tantie's window, awaiting their mother's return from the hospital. "‘We gettin a baby!’" the children shriek to all passersby (1). But both mother and her infant die, and Tee and Toddan become the center of a tug of war. The narrator recalls "a voice like high-heels and stockings" saying, "We will take the children" (2-3). These are the words and voice of Aunt Beatrice, condemning Tantie ("Look at you, you aren't fit!"), with whom their father wants the children to stay. Tantie manages to prevail over "that bitch," and Tee's father goes off to "sea."
Much later in the novel we learn the source of the conflict between the two aunts. Beatrice tells Tee that her sister, Tee's mother, was a fair-skinned "beautiful little girl" who might have been taken to England by the people "up on the Grange"; instead she was adopted by "low-class" Godparents who lived in "the bush" (90). And then she chose to marry a darkskinned man—Rosa's brother—a "misdemeanor" as far as Beatrice is concerned. Still, she wants to raise Tee and her brother, to give them a "quality" life and to win from them the love her own children deny her. For Beatrice's three daughters, having learned their lessons all too well, have turned their backs on their own mother as they work to be accepted by "nice" society.
In the aunts' competition for possession of Tee/Cynthia, Hodge dramatizes competing models of identity and modernity for Caribbean individuals as well as for Caribbean nations. Tantie Rosa is an emotionally expressive, sexually open woman who is happy to be who she is. She serves as a loving foster mother for the narrator and her brother, as well as for an older boy, Mikey. And she speaks in a colorful Creole—her very name in the novel, "Tantie," evoking the original French base of Trinidadian Creole. She is, in fact, one of the "self-possessed" Caribbean women Hodge admires, "women who did not seem to pattern their lives after the rules laid down by nice Trinidadian society, by the church or the storybooks" ("Challenges" 208). Aunt Beatrice, on the other hand, is a restrained and repressed married woman who carefully enunciates her formally correct Standard English sentences in her effort to be accepted. As Tee/Cynthia moves between their two worlds, she finds herself torn not only between their different value systems but also between their two forms of language.
While living with Tantie, young Tee listens to the singing of a drunken neighbor, "Gimme piece o' yu dumpling Mae dou-dou" (1); she hears her aunt lambasting Mikey, "An' before you look to help-out yu mother an' she forty-nine chirren no yu prefer siddong on yu arse wid them long wu'tless young men down at that bridge" (5); at the bridge with the "cream of Santa Clara's unambitious" (6), she follows a discussion of Westerns: "An' then the other guys reach, an' then, ol'-man, then yu jus' see Red-Indian falling-dong all over the place—ba-da-da-da-da—pretty, boy, pretty!" (9). In this environment Tee has days of glory, days when "it was the long, long walk with the sun all around and stinging and blurriness rising from the road and the smell of asphalt, and the road soft under you toes and the grass at the sides no cooler and just when it was getting too much we'd turn off the road and plunge between the bushes and down down the precipitous path to the water" (6). As she describes such moments, the adult narrator's language falls into the rhythms of Creole, the same rhythms she reproduces when recording Tantie's speech in free indirect discourse: "what she ain't tell that bitch is what she forget" (13).
In Aunt Beatrice's realm, on the other hand, Tee is introduced to the formalities (and hypocrisy) of Standard English. She overhears her aunt chastising a servant who calls a dress a "frack": "If you can't speak properly when you speak to these children then don't bother to say anything at all!" (38). Purchasing supplies at a country market, Beatrice makes "a systematic effort not to understand a word of what the shop-people said to her, and when she spoke to them it was loudly, slowly and emphatically, with much pointing and sign-language" (99); her daughters' voices "arch" through the house as they talk on the telephone: "so well I said well dorling why don't we just go and pick the others up orfterwards" (89). And although the book is not written in the exaggeratedly proper tones of Auntie's family, it is, for the most part, written in Standard English rather than Creole. Best to say, perhaps, that it is a hybrid of Creole and Standard English.
Discussing the title of her novel, Hodge explains that "the word monkey is meant to have all the associations of aping and imitation" (Balutansky 657). Aunt Beatrice's world is the "monkey" world, the "makebelieve" colonial world in which children of the African diaspora strive to take on the attributes of the colonial master. As V. S. Naipaul puts it, "In the pursuit of the Christian-Hellenic tradition, which some might see as a paraphrase for whiteness, the past has to be denied, the self despised. Black will be made white" (63). Beatrice is a victim of the "alienation" Frantz Fanon attributes to the Caribbean person deformed by the "constant effort to run away from his [sic] individuality" (Black Skin, White Masks 60), in quest of a constantly elusive identification with the master that often takes the form of imitating the master's speech.
The distinction between Creole and Standard English is fundamental to the experience of Caribbean peoples. Jamaican writer Mervyn Morris notes that although Creole is the "language of feeling," the "most intimate language," Caribbean literature still privileges Standard English (9). Guadaloupan Maryse Condé argues that Creole languages are the "first example of the Caribbean syncretic culture," and reminds us that "language is power: who names, controls" (Créolité without Creole Language? 102). And Helen Pyne Timothy, in an important article, "Language as Subversion in Postcolonial Literature," catalogues numerous ways in which Creoles can function positively for Caribbean writers. Among other things, they assist the "creation and recreation of an identity" distinct from that of the colonizer; they assist "the reclamation and the recording of a history which is separate from that of the Master"; "they create a nexus" between oral and written traditions; and they "provide subliminal linkages to the slave past and the African ethos" (10). Hodge herself foregrounds the importance of using Creole languages to express the distinctive Caribbean worldview. "We speak Creole, we need Creole," she writes, "we cannot function without Creole, for our deepest thought processes are bound up in the structure of Creole, but we hold Creole in utter contempt" ("Challenges" 204). In Crick Crack, Monkey, she uses the interaction between spoken Creole and Standard English to demonstrate her narrator's self-division, as well as to suggest her ultimate integration.
Allied to the distinction between Creole and Standard English is that between spoken and written culture, oral folktale and written literary text. Thus, if the title of Hodge's novel points to what Glissant calls the "insidious violence" of imitation, it also has its roots in the very oral culture the European colonial masters (and their Caribbean imitators) sought to destroy (16-22). The title echoes the words sung at the conclusion of a "'nancy-story," one of the ubiquitous Caribbean folktales that take their collective name from Ananse, the spider-god of West African folklore who "survived the middle passage" (Jonas 51). These folktales, "outlawed by and in" colonial schools, celebrate the "artistcreator" trickster figure whose "subversive activity" is deeply "interrogative of the Anglo-inherited written culture" (Tiffin 56-57).
In Crick Crack, Monkey, Tee is told )nancy stories by her grandmother, Ma—always at night, always outdoors, always under a moon. "If the night was too dark or if it was raining there was no story-telling—it was inconceivable to her that one should sit inside a house and tell 'nancy-stories" (15). In Hodge's second novel, For the Life of Laetitia, a schoolteacher shocks his students by expressing interest in their "moonlit world of people who were half beast, half spirit or half god," explaining that the Tales of the Greek Heroes "were just somebody else's 'Nansi stories" (52-53), and writing the names of "these beings whom we knew" on the board. "What would they be doing up here in our high-school literature class?" the narrator of For the Life of Laetitia wonders (53).
In Crick Crack, Monkey, the narrator recalls:
And when at the end of the story she said "Crick crack?" our voices clambered over one another in the gleeful haste to chorus back in what ended on an untidy shrieking crescendo:
Monkey break 'e back
On a rotten pommerac!
In evoking this rhyme in her title, Hodge signals her interest in exploring "orature for the symbols and organizing principles" of her written text (Cobham, "Revisioning Our Kumblas," 47). She also invokes the "trickster spirit" of Ananse as muse, a practice Joyce Jonas suggests is common among Caribbean writers (53). Edouard Glissant offers another possible gloss on the novel's title. "In a great number of folktales heard during childhood," he reports, "the storyteller tells about receiving at the end of the story a kick in his bottom that hurled him into his audience" (84). The oral storyteller becomes one with his or her audience, abandoning a position of mastery, all self-importance lost. Such a stance is particularly appropriate for a novel whose narrator reveals herself to be anything but a master of her own identity.
Tee is first brought to Ma's land after her temporary capture by Auntie Beatrice. This capture reenacts in miniature the forcible seizure of Africans by slave traders in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. It occurs when "The Bitch"—Tantie's name for Beatrice—arrives in a car offering sweets and smiles to the children. "Well how would you like to go for a nice drive in your Uncle Norman's car?" she offers, and while Tee is skeptical, Toddan enthusiastically accepts (12). Upon their return, Tantie is furious: "we had jus' nearly get we arse kidnap!" (14); the next day she packs the children off to Pointe d'Espoir, to stay with Ma, their paternal grandmother.
This migration brings Tee to an "enchanted country" (16), a timeless realm where the "air smelt brown and green, like when the earth was being made" (20). She imagines that the characters of the 'nancy tales—"Brar Anancy and Brar Leopard"—"roamed the earth" in just such a place (16). In this almost mythic world, the children become Ma's "acolites" (20), and Ma herself is endowed with the solidity of an earth goddess. "She rose at a nameless hour," Tee says, "and in my half-sleep I saw a mountain shaking off mist in one mighty shudder and the mist falling away in little drops of could" (18). Imperceptibly, the narration shifts from a description of one specific visit to Ma's land to an evocation of all the visits, year after year. "All the holidays at Pointe d'Espoir were one August month"; ordinary time becomes "fix[ed] into eternity" (19-20).
Although the narrator had been happy while living with Tantie, she is ecstatic while staying with Ma. At Tantie's, she was always wary of Tantie's rages; but Ma "equal to all the vagaries of childhood" never "rampage[s]" (17). And while life with Tantie is marked by the rhythm of all-night parties that are "loud" and "hilarious," life at Pointe d'Espoir follows the quiet rhythms of nature: Tee helps Ma as she harvests fruit "with a cutlass" and prepares preserves and jellies for the Sunday morning market (16). Ma's life is continuous with a rural African past. She is at one with her environment, capable of "rapture" as she communes with the natural world (20).
The narrator is first named for us during her visit to Pointe d'Espoir. At Tantie's, she was simply one of the children, absorbed in the collective "we" that dominates the narration of the earliest sections of the novel. At Ma's, among an even larger group of children, she is singled out as "Ma's own-own bold-face Tee" (21). The child and her grandmother engage in a playfully loving ritual:
"Sometimes when the others were not about she would accost me suddenly:
An who is Ma sugar-cake?"
"An who is Ma dumplin'?"
… "Who tell yu that?"
"Ma tell mih!"
Thus it is with Ma that Tee acquires a firm identity, a self that is mirrored back to her in love.
Self-division and self-contempt—initiation into colonialism and racism—begin for Tee when she enters school. Although she had "looked forward to the day" when she could read (22), literacy brings with it the imprint of colonial power. Her textbook opens with "A for Apple, the exotic fruit that made its brief and stingy appearance at Christmastime" and continues with the "fortunes and circumstances of two English children known as Jim and Jill, or it might have been Tim and Mary" (27-28). Tee puzzles over nursery rhymes: "what, in all creation, was a ‘haystack’?" (28), while her teacher, who has "been up in England in his young-days," instructs her to recite "Children of Empire Ye are Brothers All," "God Save the King," and "Land of Hope and Glory."
Tee's experience at school is typical of Caribbean children taught to value the "universal/imperial at the expense of things local" (Tiffin 44). As Jamaican poet Kamau Brathwaite writes, "We haven't got the syllables, the syllabic intelligence, to describe the hurricane; whereas we can describe the imported alien experience of snowfall" (qtd. in Talib 85). V. S. Naipaul recalls that "it seemed impossible" to turn the life he knew in Trinidad "into a book" (qtd. in Talib 96), and another Trinidadian writer, Sam Selvon, describes how he recited "English verse under a mango tree in the schoolyard" while dreaming of "green fields and rolling downs, of purling streams and daffodils and tulips" (qtd. in Talib 85-86). Hodge herself notes that "Caribbean people are capable of a kind of ‘mental desertion’ of their own environment, which is not matched, I think, by any other people on earth." ("Challenges" 206).
For Tee, the worst moment occurs when a teacher chastises a student who fails to recognize that the letters "g-r-a-p-e-s" accompanying a picture do not stand for "chennette," a local fruit. "You'll never get anywhere," Mr. Hinds thunders, "you'll never be anything but … piccaninnies! … little black nincompoops!" (32). Thus it is that a black man, imitating his colonial masters, initiates Tee into racism. Her education in self-contempt is furthered when at Sunday school she is offered "pictures of children with yellow hair standing around Jesus in a field of sickly flowers" (33). She quickly develops a "pretty good idea of what kind of a place Glory must be"—the place to which her mother has gone, the place which is the same as "The Mother Country and Up-There and Over-There" (33). With her classmates, she sings:
Till I cross the wide, wide water, Lord
My black sin washèd from me,
Till I come to Glory Glory, Lord
And cleansèd stand beside Thee,
White and shining stand beside Thee, Lord,
Among Thy blessed children
In this way Hodge quietly demonstrates the damage done to a young black child as she encounters the negative or zero image of herself, taught to see "white as the symbol of goodness and purity; black as the symbol of evil and impurity" (Gerald 131).
Still, despite these onslaughts, Tee manages to retain a positive sense of self. She manifests this the next time "The Bitch" enters her life. Accompanied by a policewoman, Beatrice brandishes a court order as she carries off the children. Now it is the law that legitimates the children's capture, enforcing their migration to Auntie Beatrice's home, where Beatrice's oldest daughter objects to Toddan's nose, "calling him Flat-Nose" (37). But Tee beats up her cousins at every opportunity and urges Toddan to be naughty so that they might be sent back to Tantie. When Beatrice insists on calling her Cynthia, "as if I were in school," and Toddan "Codrington," Tee takes "personal offence": "‘He name Toddan,’ I informed her sharply. ‘Is I who name him’" (40). Here Tee unabashedly uses Creole as she claims her own power of naming. And she is "distraught with joy" when Tantie arrives with a court order of her own. "Look mih girl!," Tantie exclaims when she sweeps the children up. "Tee! Dou-dou!," she calls, restoring to the narrator the name she feels is hers (42).
Yet, colonial education, as it progresses, separates Tee from her Afro-Caribbean reality and identity, from her name and her power to name. She learns to value the world she finds in books, the world of "real Girls and Boys who went a-sleighing and built snowmen," and "called things by their proper names, never saying ‘washicong’ for plimsoll or ‘crapaud’ when they meant a frog" (67). By the time she reaches Third Standard, she has invented an imaginary friend named Helen, an English girl who spends summers by the sea with "her aunt and uncle who had a delightful orchard with apple trees and pear trees" (67). Helen's fancied orchard with apple trees replaces the very real breadfruit tree at Pointe d'Espoir; even more significantly, the Helen whose identity is derived from books replaces "all the other characters" in the "unending serial" Tee had been "spinning" for her brother and neighbors "from time immemorial" (67). In this way, Hodge dramatizes the replacement of a vivid oral tradition with the alienating—but "proper"—literary world.
Around this time Tee begins to wear shoes from "the moment I woke up on mornings" (67). Her action causes "hilarity" in the household, and Mikey, another one of Tantie's wards, mocks her, calling her "Ma-Davis." When she starts to wear socks every day, Tantie is not amused: "Look, Madam, when yu start to wash yu own clothes then yu could start to play the monkey" (68). But Tee is lost in her fantasy world now, longing for the identity that comes to her from books. Looking back, she comments on the "doubleness" she had come to take for granted: "Why, the whole of life was like a piece of cloth, with a rightside and a wrongside. Just as there was a way you spoke and a way you wrote, so there was the daily existence which you led, which of course amounted only to marking time and makeshift, for there was the Proper daily round … which encompassed things like warming yourself before a fire and having tea at four o'clock" (68). While books might occasionally portray "Natives" and "Red Indians," these are only "for chuckles and for beating back" (68).
In effect, then, Tee has already migrated, in her imagination, to the European Mother Country, where "Right prevaileth" (68), abandoning both African Motherland and Caribbean mother('s)land. Her mental colonization is complete, and the next time Auntie Beatrice shows up, she goes willingly to live with her, abandoning Tantie. Just before Tee's departure, Tantie had suffered another loss—the migration of her ward Mikey to New York, where he had obtained a job. "It ain' have no blasted Heaven here," Tantie exclaims as she tries to persuade him to say, "but it ain' have that no-whe" (70). Once Mikey leaves, she goes about "looking dazed and absent-minded" (72), and she does not protest when Beatrice arrives to take Tee. For Tee has won a government scholarship and Beatrice promises to get her into "the very best" secondary school (75). But Tantie rouses herself when Beatrice promises to buy Tee's uniforms: "Well thank you Madam, but we will see about that," Tantie counters, demonstrating her mastery of Standard English when she wants to use it.
Sadly, Tee's voluntary migration to Beatrice's shows her how far she is from her colonial, European ideal. While living with Tantie, she could "play the monkey." But at Aunt Beatrice's she is reminded every day of her distance from the values, behaviors, and skin color of the world into which she seeks admittance. "Uhm … what's your name again?," her cousins cruelly ask, "I can't remember—Agatha or Emmalina?" (77). Beatrice "suppress[es]" the clothes Tee has brought with her, calling them "niggerylooking" and inappropriate for "nice people" (85). She disapproves of the food Tee likes and rages when Tee makes the mistake of serving herself rice in a bowl and eating it with a spoon. "Don't bring your ordryness here!" Beatrice exclaims (105). Because of the darkness of her skin, Tee is turned down for participating in exclusive dancing schools, and she cringes when she overhears her cousin describing her to friends: "Oh, that's some lil relative Mommer found up in the country" (89).
Even more devastating than the violence inflicted upon Tee by her relatives is the violence she inflicts on herself. The deciding moment comes when she acquiesces to Auntie's wish that she not go to her East Indian neighbor Moonie's wedding, what Beatrice cruelly calls that "coolie affair," that "simmy-dimmy" (86). Humiliated, Tee hides her disappointment. While living with Tantie, Tee had been on intimate terms with her Indian neighbors. Doolarie, the daughter of "Neighb' Ramlaal" (11), was her constant companion, and she had attended many Indian festivals. East Indians form 40 percent of Trinidad's population, and their culture is an important part of the unique heritage of the island. But Aunt Beatrice wants to distance herself not only from dark-skinned blacks, but also from "coolies," descendants of the people brought over in the nineteenth century as indentured servants to work the sugarcane plantations against which the newly liberated slaves had understandably turned their backs.
In abandoning her intimacy with Moonie—a "coolie"—Tee abandons a central part of her self. When Carnival time arrives, she discovers that she does not want to go home. Instead, she joins her cousins and goes to "the Stands," where she sits "primly" in the company of tourists to watch the bands. With shame, she remembers how she used to ride in "Ramlaal's inelegant truck" with a "herd of neighbours and neighbours' children" (94), determined now to distance herself from "all those common raucous niggery people and all those coolies" (95). A few months later, when Tantie comes to visit along with Toddan and Doolarie, Tee is mortified: "The worst moment of all was when they drew forth a series of greasy paper bags, announcing that they contained polorie, anchar, roti from Neighb' Ramlaal-Wife, and accra and frybake and zaboca from Tantie, with a few other things I had almost forgotten existed, in short, all manner of ordinary nastiness" (118). Tee fears that her cousins will find out about Ma, "who was a market-woman," and tries to erase all evidence of her former life. Still, her memories persist, as she longs for the unselfconscious freedom she once knew. She imagines making her way back to Pointe d'Espoir, envisioning Ma's delight at her arrival: "And then we would sit down facing each other; and the picture stubbornly snuffed itself out" (120).
Back when Tee had been able to face Ma and find in her a positive reflection, she had learned about her great-great-grandmother, "a tall straight proud woman who lived to an old old age and her eyes were still bright like water and her back straight like bamboo, for all the heavy-load she had carried on her head all her life" (21). Characterized by Ma in vividly figurative language that relies on natural images (eyes "bright like water," "back straight like bamboo") and Creole rhythms ("tall straight proud," "old old age"), this ancestress is indomitable; she "would come back and come back and come back," and, according to Ma, she has "come back again" in Tee (21).
This ancestor appears to be an African woman who survived the Middle Passage, or, at the very least, a daughter of such a woman, for she has retained her African name. "The People gave her the name Euphemia, or Euph-something," Ma tells Tee, "but when they called her that she used to toss her head like a horse and refuse to answer so they'd had to give up in the end and call her by her true-true name" (21). The European name imposed on the African ancestress, "Euphemia, or Euph-something," is brutally ironic, suggesting as it does the term "euphemism," the substitution of a "good" word for a purportedly "bad" reality. The imposed name represents the European masters' attempt to control the African woman. In her refusal to answer, she asserts her autonomy and integrity, despite her enslavement. What the colonial masters would identify as bad, she claims as good; in insisting that they use her "true-true" name, she demands that they honor her essence.
This great-great grandmother—along with Ma, who introduces her to Tee—is one of those "timeless people whose relationship to the characters are benevolent, instructive, and protective" that Toni Morrison sees as so vital to black identity (201). "If we don't keep in touch with the ancestor … we are … lost," Morrison asserts (202). Yet Tee's relationship with her ancestor is flawed. Maria Diedrich, Henry Louis Gates, and Carl Pederson write of the ancestors before the Middle Passage: "they had always known who they were. They had always known their parents' names and their parents' parents'" (5-20). But Ma has forgotten her grandmother's "true-true name"; try as she might, she cannot call it back. What the Middle Passage has failed to destroy, life in the New World has erased. As V. S. Naipaul observes, "Twenty million Africans made the middle passage, and scarcely an African name remains in the New World" (63).
For all Ma's preservation of African traditions, she has failed fully to "defend the ‘I am’ against the onslaught of definitions the ‘masters’ imposed upon the ‘black other’" (Diedrich, Gates, and Pedersen 17). Tee may well be a new incarnation of her ancestor, but without her name her identification is incomplete. Thus, Hodge refuses to offer a "redemptive" narrative celebrating unproblematic unity with a traditional past; instead, like Paul Gilroy in The Black Atlantic, she emphasizes rupture as she foregrounds the losses wrought not only by the Middle Passage but also by the years of slavery and, most significantly, the colonialism that continued for over a hundred years after the abolition of slavery.
In contrast to the unnamed African ancestress, there is another ancestress in Crick Crack, Monkey, the ostentatiously named "White Ancestress," Elizabeth Helen Carter. Memorialized in Aunt Beatrice's home in the form of a faded photograph, this ancestress has not one but three names repeated among her descendants. The photograph, "reddish-brown with age" and surrounded by "a heavy frame of gilded foliage," forces itself "into the attention of all who entered the livingroom" (90). Tee's fair-skinned cousin Carol resembles this ancestress, and so her middle name is Elizabeth, as was the narrator's "poor mother" (90). When Tee invents her imaginary British friend, it is no accident that she calls her "Helen." Yet while we learn again and again of the White Ancestress's names—and Tee sees her "indistinguishable" looks—we learn little of her spirit, nothing of her essence (91). The nameless African ancestress is all essence, a living presence; the White Ancestress is an empty name, a faded textual remnant. Still, she manages to make Tee "thoroughly ashamed" of herself: "it seemed to me that my person must represent the rock-bottom of the family's fall from grace" (91).
The opposition between the (black) unnamed African and the white named (European) ancestresses vividly dramatizes the conflict that rends the narrator's life. Emilia Ippolito argues with respect to Caribbean women's writing in general—and to this text in particular—that such a conflict may be understood using the terms of Lacanian psychoanalytic theory. If the unnamed African ancestress suggests "the real but erased mother tongue (representing the Real to which access is denied)" and the White Ancestress is identified with the "British mother tongue (representing the Law of the Father or the Symbolic Order)," then it is only in the realm of the Imaginary, "the space of the literary text" (92), that a reconciliation can be achieved. Language enables the "diasporic imaginings of a self which needs to be reconstructed" (93), and it is only "in a continuous exchange between the symbolic and the imaginary" that the "post-colonial subject" can "resolve its past history of colonization … and begin again, as a hybrid form" (92). Tee uses the "Imaginary"—the text she narrates—to fight "the Symbolic," associated with Aunt Beatrice, which "denies the ancestral part of her identity" (125) and "which suffocates her" (126).
Yet while it is tempting to employ such a psychoanalytic model to understand Crick Crack, Monkey and other Caribbean texts, Dominick LaCapra offers an important caveat in his Writing History, Writing Trauma. Arguing that his is not a simple binary opposition, LaCapra distinguishes between "historical" and "structural" trauma, asserting that structural trauma appears in "different ways in all societies and all lives" (77). Structural trauma encompasses "the separation from the (m)other, the passage from nature to culture, the eruption of the pre-oedipal or presymbolic in the symbolic, the entry into language, the encounter with the ‘real,’ the alienation from species-being, the anxiety-ridden throwness of Dasein, the inevitable generation of the aporia, the constitutive nature of originary melancholic loss in relation to subjectivity, and so forth" (77). By contrast, historical trauma is generated by specific historical events that devastate a specific person or a specific people—events such as the Middle Passage, slavery, colonialism, and, in the twentieth century, the Holocaust. It is vital, LaCapra argues, "not to hypostatize particular historical losses," not to "present them as mere instantiations of some inevitable absence or constitutive feature of existence" (65). In other words, while the psychoanalytic model may provide a convenient paradigm for understanding the works of contemporary Caribbean women writers, such a model may gloss over the all too real historical suffering of the African ancestors and their descendants. To use LaCapra's terms, by conflating a universal human "absence" with a specific African diasporic "loss," the psychoanalytic model short-circuits the work of mourning, suggesting that the historical trauma of the African diaspora is as inevitable as the psychological trauma of the separation from the mother. "Historical losses call for mourning—and possibly for critique and transformative sociopolitical practice," LaCapra writes (68).
In Crick Crack, Monkey, Hodge uses another strategy to forestall the easy psychoanalytic formulas that might tempt the critic: for in this text the White Ancestress is on the mother's side, the African ancestress on the father's. Thus Hodge complicates the binarism that has become a critical commonplace in the study of works by women of color: mother is to father as black is to white, native to colonial, authenticity to alienation, etc. For Tee, identification with her light-skinned mother leads towards her European heritage. But because her darker father has migrated to the Mother Country, identification with him also leads to Europe. There is no "pure" identity Tee can claim, no "Sameness," only "Diversion."
Thus, when Tantie realizes how self-divided Tee has become through her schooling and her association with Auntie, she arranges for Tee's father to send the children tickets to England. The first time Tee had been captured by Beatrice, Tantie had sent her to Ma's—in effect, to the Motherland. Now she sends her to the Mother Country—perhaps the only place from which Tee can finally make a decision about her actual mother('s)land.
On a final trip back to Tantie's before she is to leave for England, Tee learns to her dismay that Ma has died just the week before. Tantie tells her that Ma had asked for her, but Tantie had said Tee had no time to visit. "In the last days Ma had suddenly remembered her grandmother's name and wanted it to be added to my names," Tantie tells Tee, but she "hadn't even bothered to remember it" (122). The true-true name of the ancestor is thus lost, and the reader, along with Tee, must mourn. There is, for Tee, no going back, no return to the ancestral past nor even to her own former unified identity. "Everything was changing, unrecognizable, pushing me out," she writes (122) as she records her longing to be "lift[ed] off the ground" by the plane taking her to England (123). On her final night in Trinidad, Tantie is "mirthlessly drunk," and one of the compès urges Tee to "come and dance for the last." Calling her "Cyntie," he reminds her that "they don' do much o' that whe' allyu goin, yu know, come dance, man!" (123).
Crick Crack, Monkey, then, concludes with no fully formed identity for its narrator, no resolution of the conflicts that tear her apart. The plot offers no redemption for the colonial subject, no restoration of wholeness. Indeed, it is on a note of loss and mourning that the novel ends—with no hopeful vision for the future, no promise of self-integration. Yet the use of the name "Cyntie" on the last page of the novel suggests the possibility of melding of the two identities, "Cynthia" and "Tee," as does the narrator's blending of Creole and Standard English throughout the text. Migration to the Motherland or to the Mother Country—in imagination or in fact—are equally illusive options. It is only by standing still—or by dancing—on the mother('s)land to which she belongs that the narrator can claim the modern Caribbean identity that includes Africa and England (and India) in a unique, as yet unnamable hybridity. "You see, when I wrote this novel I was in England," Hodge recalls, "and one of the things I was aware of … was that whole busi- ness of all these Caribbean and African people going to European countries and discovering there that all they'd been told about their own countries was a lot of hogwash, and that their own culture was valid" (Balutansky 654). The reader can only hope that Cyntie has made the same discovery—that she returns to the mother('s)land with a renewed sense of self-acceptance, and a commitment to "cultural sovereignty" ("Challenges" 203). Her narrative suggests that this is so—as does Hodge's choice, unique among contemporary Caribbean women writers, to live and work in the land of her birth.
Alexander, Simone A. James. Mother Imagery in the Novels of Afro-Caribbean Women. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2001.
Balutansky, Kathleen M. "We Are All Activists: An Interview with Merle Hodge." Callaloo: A Journal of African-American and African Arts and Letters 12.4 (Fall 1989): 651-62.
Cobham, Rhonda. "Revisioning Our Kumblas: Transforming Feminist and Nationalist Agendas in Three Caribbean Women's Texts." Callaloo: A Journal of African-American and African Arts and Letters 16.1 (1993): 44-64.
Condé, Maryse. "Créolité without Creole Language?" In Caribbean Creolization: Reflections on the Cultural Dynamics of Language, Literature, and Identity, edited by Kathleen M. Balutansky and Marie-Agnès Sourieau, 101-9. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1998.
Cudjoe, Selwyn R. Introduction to Caribbean Women Writers: Essays from the First International Conference, edited by Selwyn R. Cudjoe, 5-48. Wellesley, MA: Calaloux, 1990.
Fanon, Frantz. Black Skin, White Masks. Translated by Charles Lam Markmann. New York: Grove,  1967.
———. The Wretched of the Earth. Translated by Constance Farrington. New York: Penguin, 1967.
Gerald, Carolyn F. "The Black Writer and His Role." In African American Literary Criticism, 1773 to 2000, edited by Hazel Arnett Ervin, 206-222. New York: Twayne, 1999.
Gikandi, Simon. "Narration in the Post-Colonial Moment: Merle Hodge's Crick Crack, Monkey." In Past the Last Post: Theorizing Post-Colonialism and Post-Modernism, edited by Ian Adam and Helen Tiffin, 13-22. New York: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1993.
Gilroy, Paul. The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993.
Glissant, Edouard. Caribbean Discourse: Selected Essays. Translated by J. Michael Dash. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, Caraf Books, 1989.
Hodge, Merle. "Challenges of the Struggle for Sovereignty: Changing the World versus Writing Stories." In Caribbean Women Writers: Essays from the First International Conference, edited by Selwyn R. Cudjoe, 202-8. Wellesley, MA: Calaloux, 1990.
———. Crick Crack, Monkey. 1970; Oxford: Heinemann, 2000.
———. For the Life of Laetitia. New York: Farrar Straus, 1993.
Ippolito, Emilia. Caribbean Women Writers: Identity and Gender. Rochester, NY: Camden House, 2000.
Jonas, Joyce. Anancy in the Great House: Ways of Reading West Indian Fiction. New York: Greenwood, 1990.
LaCapra, Dominick. Writing History, Writing Trauma. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001.
Maes-Jelinek, Hena, and Bénédicte Ledent. "The Novel since 1970." In A History of Literature in the Caribbean, vol. 2, edited by A. James Arnold, 149-98. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2001.
Mordecai, Pamela, and Betty Wilson, eds. Her True-True Name: An Anthology of Women's Writing from the Caribbean. Oxford: Heinemann, 1989.
Morris, Mervyn. Is English We Speaking and Other Essays. Kingston: Ian Randle, 1999.
Morrison, Toni. "Rootedness: The Ancestor as Foundation." In African American Literary Criticism, 1773 to 2000, edited by Hazel Arnett Ervin, 198-202. New York: Twayne, 1999.
Naipaul, V. S. The Middle Passage: Impressions of Five Colonial Societies. 1962; London: Picador, 2002.
Talib, Ismail S. The Language of Postcolonial Literatures: An Introduction. New York: Routledge, 2002.
Tiffin, Helen. "The Institution of Literature." In A History of Literature in the Caribbean, vol. 2, edited by A. James Arnold, 42-66. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2001.
Timothy, Helen Pyne. "Language as Subversion in Postcolonial Literature: The Case of Two Caribbean Women Writers." MaComère: Journal of the Association of Caribbean Women Writers 1 (1998): 101-114.
Torres-Saillant, Silvio. Caribbean Poetics: Toward an Aesthetic of West Indian Literature. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997.
Booker, M. Keith, and Dubravka Juraga. "Merle Hodge: Crick Crack, Monkey." In The Caribbean Novel in English: An Introduction, pp. 50-63. Portsmouth, N.H.: Heinemann, 2001.
A study of Crick Crack, Monkey as a postcolonial bildungsroman.
Greene, Sue N. "Report on the Second International Conference of Caribbean Women Writers." Callaloo 13, no. 3 (summer 1990): 532-38.
Detailed summary of the participants (Hodge among them) and the discussions that took place during the 1990 conference held at University of the West Indies in St. Augustine, Trinidad.
Hodge, Merle, and Kathleen M. Balutansky. "We Are All Activists: An Interview with Merle Hodge." Callaloo, no. 41 (autumn 1989): 651-62.
Contains Hodge's views on such topics as family structure in the Caribbean, her status as a woman writer living in the Caribbean, her choice of narrative perspective in Crick Crack, Monkey, and the indoctrination of native Caribbeans into the culture of Europe.
Lawrence, Leota S. "Women in Caribbean Literature: The African Presence." Phylon 44, no. 1 (spring 1983): 1-11.
Includes a brief discussion of the female characters in Crick Crack, Monkey in an essay analyzing various works of Caribbean literature in order to "reveal parallels between Afro-West Indian women and their African counterparts."
Additional coverage of Hodge's life and career is contained in the following sources published Gale: Encyclopedia of World Literature in the 20th Century, Ed. 3; and Literature Resource Center.