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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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Chapter Three - A little chasm filled: the transformation of history in V.S. Naipaul’s The Enigma of Arrival and A Way in the World 75


Chapter Three A little chasm filled: the transformation of history in V.S. Naipaul’s The Enigma of Arrival and A Way in the World ‘[I]t is only by means of the unending rectification of our configurations that we form the idea of the past as an inexhaustible resource’ (Paul Ricoeur, The Reality of the Historical Past, p.2). Drawing upon ‘the past as an inexhaustible resource’, Toni Morrison and V.S. Naipaul have established literary enterprises that continually rectify and re-interpret the past in a different light (Ricoeur, Reality, p.2). Though their purposes and strategies of tapping into this ‘inexhaustible resource’ may be different, Morrison and Naipaul have cast light on delicate sensibilities and hidden complexities of the hist- orical past. Looking back once again at Morrison’s historical mission in Beloved, this opening section will also introduce Paul Ricoeur’s The Reality of the Historical Past as the theoretical framework for this chapter, and forecast the broad scheme of discussing Naipaul’s transformation of history in the chosen novels. Morrison’s commitment to construct a literary archaeology demonstrates, on the one hand, that she has incorporated historical material into her fictional invention, and on the other hand, that her engagement with the past proposes to change it. Morrison has ex- pressed clearly her narrative intentions: ‘I can’t change the future but I can change the past’ (Taylor-Guthrie, p.xiii). The past, personal and historical, is a predominant concern in her creative imagination. Therefore, it would not be too much of an exaggeration to say that her...

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