Journal article Open Access

Precarious Discourse, Discursive Precarity: Chris Cleave's (Postcolonial) Refugee Novel Little Bee (The Other Hand) (2008)

Sandten, Cecile

Flight narratives and asylum accounts give voice to refugees in order to convey their extreme experiences of persecution, precarity and poverty during their often life-threating journeys to, but also the unwelcoming hostility in, the host country. Alongside the need of refugees’ or asylees’ physical and mental support, flight and asylum accounts, apart from focussing on the hardships and terrors, often posit the critical importance of language. The vital resources of knowledge and power that come with language are crucial for survival in the foreign, precarious and dangerous environments that refugees inevitably face and often illegally inhabit. More precisely, language plays a central role for refugees’ accounts in order to be granted the official status of refugee. Yet, language also controls the representation of refugees in the dominant social and media discourse in the host country, since their reception and treatment (and accordingly social inclusion or exclusion) are strongly affected by existing prejudices and stereotypes prevailing in the host culture.

In this paper, Chris Cleave’s 2008 novel Little Bee (a.k.a. The Other Hand, henceforth: Little Bee) that recounts the story of a 16-year-old refugee, Little Bee, from the Nigerian violent oil conflicts, will be analysed with regards to the linguistic mimicry which is necessary for the girl’s survival in order to try and move beyond her precarious postcolonial condition. Through its dialogical structure as well as linguistic specificities related to New Englishes, in his novel Cleave critically scrutinises the neo-colonial power structures that are at work in contemporary Britain in which refugees have to cope with an arbitrary and wilful refugee regime that through a double-edged degrading discourse and practice enhances the discursive precarity of the postcolonial ‘other’.

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