An Active Quest for National Identity Essays

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LIT 391 9 December 2011 An Active Quest for National Identity It is not easy to define clearly what national identity is since it can be influenced by a myriad of factors resulting in the formation of a complex composite- a nation. Among these factors are the historical incidents, political ideologies and language of the people as well as the geographical structure, water resources, and climate of the nation. In an almost mythical way, these factors all come together to form the identity, customs and culture that characterizes a nation (Doughetry). Often it is believe that an individual, born in a given country, automatically ascribes to the associated national identity. However, the complex and undefined manner of the formation of national identity makes an ascription, on such a passive basis, a capricious resolution that leads one only to a ceaseless quest for one’s true national identity. In the novel Exile According to Julia, Gisele Pineau presents a multidimensional portrait of the ostracism and alienation experience by emigrants in France, during the post-World War II era. Simultaneously, Pineau juxtaposes these realties, in France, against a vicariously experienced life in the French Antilles. Through this novel, Pineau not only demonstrates the complexity of forming a national identity but also the notion that such a formation is more of an active choice rather than a passive assignment through place of birth, or even ancestral bloodlines. Although France represents a beacon of freedom, equality and prosperity, immigrants, initially inspired by these ideals, realize the fallacy of these hopes through their alienation in the racist Parisian society. Despite serving the nation of France faithfully, Veterans from the French colonies and their families are confined to live in a housing project which, though located in the

middle of Ile de France, is remotely isolated from the heart of the Parisian society and culture. At one point or another, each member of the family is made to bear the weight of racial discrimination. The narrator, Felicie, opens with the list of derogatory terms used to describe blacks in France: “Niger/Nigresse a plateau/ Snow-White/Bamboula/Coal Black everywhere they went. Even the most educated and religious authorities among the French flagrantly belittle the existence on black immigrants in Paris. One such instance occurs when Man Ya’s, in a rush to pick the children from school, dons a French Arm coat and kepi, belonging to her son. Due to the sacred nature of this garb, she was accosted by the police who thought her, being a woman, and especially a Black woman, made her choice of attire even more sacrilegious. Equally disrespectful is Man Ya’s inability to speak French. In the end, she is only spared imprisonment when the policeman makes a connection between her and the only two black children at the school. According to Fulton, this association both underscores the racial isolation of [Felicie’s] family and condemns the children to a disdain that can only be mitigated by their own linguistic conformity. Therefore in order to fit within narrow mold of the Parisian identity, immigrants not only need to speak proper French but also possess the appropriate skin hue. Cognizant of her excess pigmentation, Felicie finds contentment in France, only because of her vicarious exploration of her Guadeloupian national identity through Man Ya. As a result, Felicie then pins her hopes on the idea of Guadeloupe as the site of a fully realized, unassailable identity. She not only faces much rejection and hostility in her birth country, France, but also she is admonished to: “Go home! To Africa!” (104). Though Africa is the motherland of her black ancestry, she struggles to construct an African nation identity for herself, since the continent consists of many different nations thus her dilemma of which national identity she should claim. Her fleeting and superficial memory of her time in Africa proves futile…