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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 Four - An undiscovered continent: Ben Okri’s The Famished Road and the enlargement of historical reality 107

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Chapter Four An undiscovered continent: Ben Okri’s The Famished Road and the enlargement of historical reality Poetry and myth are not just nostalgia for some unforgotten world. They constitute a disclosure of unprecedented worlds, an opening on to other possible worlds which transcend the established limits of our actual world.’ (Paul Ricoeur, ‘Myth as the Bearer of Possible Worlds’, p.489–90). Ambiguously, ending either in a literal or in an imaginative ‘cere- monial return’ to homeland Trinidad, The Enigma of Arrival and A Way in the World obtain a mythic grandeur in the sense that V.S. Naipaul continues to reveal new ways of rewriting personal and col- lective histories, as well as the necessity of re-imagining and remaking the world (Way, p.379). Above all, Naipaul’s transformation of history and exploration of cultural space are made specific through his inventive mixing of travel writing, character analysis, social com- mentary, and cultural critique with history and fiction. Perhaps it is interesting to note that Morrison’s Beloved also ends in the baby ghost’s deferred ‘ceremonial return’ to the land of the dead, ac- companied by the ritual singing of the community women. Most significantly, Beloved demonstrates Morrison’s commitment to re- create an unavailable past and reclaim a forgotten reality by combining historical documentary, slave narrative, ghost story, oral tradition and fictional discourse. Ben Okri’s The Famished Road, which won the 1991 Booker Prize, is also a genre-mixing novel. Blurring the boundaries of myth, folklore, history and fiction, The Famished Road leads to a...

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