"Passing women" : gender and hybridity in the fiction of three female South African authors
Marais, Marcia Helena
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A key aim of this study is to shed light on the representation of coloured women with reference to racial passing, using fictive characters depicted in Sarah Gertrude Millin’s (1924) God's Stepchildren, Zoë Wicomb's (2006) Playing in the Light, and Pat Stamatélos's (2005) Kroes, as presented by these three racially distinct female South African authors. Since I propose that literature provides a link between a subjective history and the under-represented narratives from the margins, I use literature to reimagine these. I analyse the ways in which the authors present 'hybrid' identities within their characters in different ways, and provide an explanation and contextual basis for the exploration of the theme of 'passing for and as white' within South Africa's complex history. I provide a sociological explanation of the act of racial passing in South Africa with reference to the United States by incorporating Nella Larsen's (1929) Passing. Since the analyses will concentrate on coloured females within the texts, gendered identity and female sexuality and stereotypes will be the focus. I look at the act and agent of passing, the role of raced and gendered performance in giving meaning to social identities, and the way in which the female body is constructed in racial terms in order to confer identity. Tracing the historical origins of coloured identity and coloured female identity, I interrogate this colonial, post-colonial, apartheid and post-apartheid history by employing a feminist lens. A combination of postcolonial feminist discourse analysis, sociological inquiry and feminist narrative analysis are therefore the methods I use to achieve my research aims. Chapter 1: The concepts of 'coloured', 'coloured identity', and 'passing' are introduced. I provide a historical overview of the origins of 'colouredness' in the South African context to examine the historical, ideological and social implications of the subject matter under discussion. Chapter 2: Set over a period between the years 1821 to 1921 God's Stepchildren deals with a family spanning four generations, bound by 'tainted' blood. I focus on the character Elmira who represents the third generation of the initial 'miscegenation'. I look at the effect the racist social milieu has on the author’s representation of coloured women and how this translates into apparently insurmountable beliefs that stereotypes equal nature. Chapter 3: Playing in the Light confronts racial passing through an unwitting passer and her intentionally passing parents. I analyse how Wicomb presents the protagonist's struggle to relocate her identity in contemporary South African society. I compare the attitudes toward race presented by the characters, especially across the two generations of passing women in the novel in order to demonstrate a progression in attitudes toward passing. Chapter 4: Kroes, published in 2005, is partially biographical. The novel is set in urban Cape Town and Johannesburg of the late 1950s to 1970. The protagonist, and central passing figure, narrates the story in the first person using Cape vernacular Afrikaans. I look at the way in which women are influenced by internalised inferiority, and how arbitrary skin pigmentation is deemed to decide their fate. Chapter 5: I draw together the common themes found in the three works of fiction, and draw inferences from my findings about the representation of coloured women.