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Fiction and the Incompleteness of History

Toni Morrison, V. S. Naipaul, and Ben Okri

Ying Zhu

With reference to Paul Ricoeur’s conception of the interconnectedness of history and fiction, this comparative literary study examines narrative strategies that three contemporary writers of fiction – Toni Morrison, V. S. Naipaul, and Ben Okri – have devised to counteract the incompleteness of historical representation. In her novel Beloved Morrison redefines the slave-narrative tradition and reveals an alternative history of slavery by unveiling the interior lives of her characters. Through a hybrid prose that mixes fiction with history in the novels The Enigma of Arrival and A Way in the World, Naipaul illuminates «areas of darkness» in the diasporic world of East Indian Trinidadians and provides new ways of transforming English literary and cultural history. Focusing on West African identity and community, Okri brings a mythic and fantastic dimension to postcolonial fiction as a way of giving a voice to people who are generally without power and almost without any place in a world of inequality and injustice. Probing into historical incompleteness, this study underscores the indispensable role of fiction in representing life, rectifying history, and enlarging reality.


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Acknowledgements 9


Acknowledgements This book is based on a dissertation submitted to The Chinese University of Hong Kong for my doctoral degree in English Literary Studies in 2005, and therefore, I owe this book to my dissertation committee professors. First of all, I am indebted to Timothy Weiss, for providing with continued attention, strong support and significant guidance during my study in Hong Kong. Without his vision, knowledge, and encouragement, this project, which was conceived in early 2003, would not have been possible. It has also benefited immeasurably by the careful readings, stimulating questions, and insightful suggestions of David Parker, Lisa Lai-ming Wong, and Barry Asker, to whom I am very grateful. I am also very grateful to Bill Mullen, who inspired me to develop a keen interest in African-American history and literature, and especially in Toni Morrison scholarship. Adam Schwartz deserves special appreciation for his generosity and help that made my short research in the library at Wellesley College both rewarding and memorable. I wish to express my gratitude to Paul Levine, a reliable mentor and warm friend, for constantly advising me on academic issues, to Ren Xiaojin for believing me from the very beginning, and to George Braine for always wishing me well. I would like to thank the English Department and School of Foreign Languages at Shanghai East China Normal University for offering me a reasonable grant, and especially Dean Zhang Chunbai for his understanding and thoughtfulness. I would also like to thank Alexis Kirschbaum at Peter Lang Publishers...

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