Journal article Open Access

Annie John, the Postcolonial Palimpsest, and the Limits of Adaptation

Woltmann, Suzy

Revisions of canonical English literature are almost en vogue in what has become
the postcolonial canon. William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, written in 1611, and
Charlotte Bronte’s 1847 Jane Eyre have been revised time and again in ways that
give voice to the colonized subject. Two of the most popular adaptations of these
works, Aime Cesaire’s 1969 A Tempest and Jean Rhys’s 1966 Wide Sargasso Sea,
adapt their source texts in a way that exposes colonial ideology by shifting narration
to the colonized subject and location to the Caribbean. Jamaica Kincaid’s
1985 Annie John further responds to this practice of Caribbean revisionism by
signifying not only The Tempest and Jane Eyre, but also their most prominent postcolonial
Caribbean adaptations. Annie John intertextually references Cesaire, Rhys,
and their source texts through layers of nuance. In A Tempest, Cesaire explores
contemporary race and colonial issues by pointing out these issues in a classic
work of British literature. Wide Sargasso Sea demonstrates the sexism and fear of
the Other implicated in the colonial gaze that Jane Eyre leaves unsaid. And in Annie
John, Kincaid revises the masculinist ideology of A Tempest and racism of Wide
Sargasso Sea but uses their own revisionist rhetorical strategies to do so. I argue
that she particularly explores queer islander sexuality in a way that intertextually
invokes a history of postcolonial Caribbean revisionism.

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