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Discuss The Life Journey Undertaken By Avey Johnson As She Searches For Herself, In The Novel "A Praise Song For The Widow" By Paulie Marshall

1478 words - 6 pages

As an epigraph to the section entitled "LAVÉ TÊTE," the third section of her novel Praisesong for the Widow, Paule Marshall uses a brief quotation from a poem by Randall Jarrell: "Oh, Bars of my ... body open, open!" (148). It is in this section that Avey Johnson, the novel's protagonist, becomes aware of her body as a repository of memory, as a place where physical sensation echoes emotional feeling. This awareness is pivotal in Avey's progress from a state of denial to acceptance of her heritage. This essay aims to explore Marshall's construction of a fictional body as a site of cultural expression and memory. Avey's body communicates to her what she has taught her conscious ...view middle of the document...

The idea, suggested in the novel, that Avey's memories of Africa are an essential part of her being, while her American identity is a socially constructed one is problematic. In the present time of the novel's opening chapters Avey Johnson has become so detached from her own heritage that she does not consciously recognize that it has been lost. She is alerted to what is missing in her life in two ways: by her subconscious, through the bodily symbols in a dream; and by her physical reaction to her situation, her body's illness. These two developments precipitate Avey's hurried departure from the cruise ship on which she is traveling, but instead of returning to her home in New York as she anticipated, events conspire to take her on a journey of grieving and discovery. The actual excursion upon which Avey is embarked while her metamorphosis occurs, recalls other culturally significant journeys, which Avey must remember in order to restore her physical and emotional health. At significant moments during the Caribbean cruise she is taking, and the subsequent journeys she makes to escape it, Avey recollects childhood trips up the Hudson with people from her neighborhood, trips to her family's old home in South Carolina, a legendary journey of Ibo slaves' return to Africa, and the original journey of the slave passage. In all of these journeys the body is of crucial significance.Avey Johnson reveals subtle, if ultimately optimistic, modeling of resistance to the insidious, internalized effects of racism and Western acquisitiveness. In Praisesong, the island of Tatum, offers such a strong psychic pull that Avey deserts her luxury cruise in order to embark on what turns out to be a middle passage in reverse, a spiritual return to her African roots and the ritual healing of a self stunted by years of conformity and acquisition. The island is located Far East among the Caribbean Islands, very close geographically to Africa. For me, the importance of crossing cultural lines in the Praisesong makes it especially relevant not only to my own work as a Latin scholar deeply concerned about racism, Latin privilege, and cross-cultural understanding, but also to our need as citizens (and those who aren't citizens) in this country to live together with dignity and hope. As well as to stay true to whom they truly are. The must learn that their roots are their very souls and that to lose your roots is to lose your soul. Writing about crossing cultural lines means that I cannot stay cautiously on my "own" turf. Yet I recognize that, for myself, "venturing out" is a time-honored tradition full of entitlements and privilege, that academic criticism is tainted by its institutional contexts. This character is examined in terms of belonging to various social groups. Praisesong for the Widow is in many ways the closing point of Marshall understands and concern for fractured West Indian psyche. The main characters Avatara (Avey) and her husband Jerome have lost who they...

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