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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 Five - Conclusion 141

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Chapter Five Conclusion [T]hrough th[e] recovery of the capacity of language to create and re-create, we discover reality itself in the process of being created. So we are connected with this dimension of reality which is itself unfinished, which is […] the potentiality to see things in terms of potentialities and not in terms of actualities (Paul Ricoeur, ‘Poetry and Possibility’, p.462). In concluding this book on the comparative study of fiction and history in the works of three contemporary writers – Toni Morrison, V.S. Naipaul and Ben Okri – I would like to explore a bit further the specific narrative strategies they have designed to combat historical negation, absence and incompleteness for African-American, Indo- Trinidadian, and Nigerian people and community. In their works of fiction, Morrison, Naipaul and Okri revisit and render particular phases and experiences in human history. That is, Morrison gives voice to the unspoken aspect in the interior life of African-American slaves and ex-slaves, Naipaul deals with the unwritten experience in the diasporic world of East Indian Trinidadians, and Okri lays emphasis on reinvigorating and reassessing the mythic structure of African aesthetics and worldviews in a postcolonial and post-inde- pendent milieu. In light of Aristotle’s perception that history expresses the particular and poetry the universal, Morrison, Naipaul and Okri have raised universal human issues by probing and re-creating particular segments of history in their novels. Morrison, Naipaul and Okri have also commented on the word ‘universal’ in one way or another on different occasions. For Morrison, the...

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