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The French Antillean Diaspora in the theater of Julius Amédé Laou

Stéphanie Bérard

After the Second World War, in 1946, under the new government of Charles De Gaulle and with the agreement of Aimé Césaire, the “deputé-maire” of Fort-de-France, the French former colonies of Guadeloupe, Martinique, la Réunion and French Guiana became officially part of France by getting the juridical status of D.O.M. (Départements d’Outre Mer/Overseas Departments). The “départmentalisation” led to a vast movement of immigration from the New World to the Old in the 1960s, at a time when France needed workers: the BUMIDOM (Bureau d’Immigration de la Main d’oeuvre Immigrée des DOM) was in charge of organizing the transfer of the Black population from the DOM to France. Do the people from the D.O.M. feel French, European or rather Guadeloupean, Martinican or Guyanese? The issue of identity for these people becomes a delicate subject even more for the ones who live or/and are born in France from Antillean parents.
To what place do they belong? Do they consider themselves as the children of the French mother homeland or the ones of the lost African mother? How are they welcome in France? Does France and now Europe recognize her Black children?

These questions nourish the literature of Guadeloupe and Martinique (Edouard Glissant, Daniel Boukman, Maryse Condé, André and Simone Schwartz-Bart, Gisèle Pineau). In this paper, we would like to focus on the dramatic work of Julius Amédé Laou, a Martinican playwright born in Paris, who has written plays about the schizophrenic feeling of being part of a world you do not belong to. His characters – the famous and successful pianist Richard Cambelroy in Sonates en solitudes majeures (a play written in 1986), a child of a black Martinican working family and married to a rich white American young woman, and the old Martinican woman, Mme Amélie in Folie ordinaire d’une fille de Cham (play written in 1985), confined to a French mental hospital for thirty years – suffer from the same illness, a neurotic scission of the being linked to the intern split, the impossible belonging of the being to oneself and to the multiple cultural worlds in which one is born and live. Could this madness be seen as a sign of the impossible integration of Antillean people in the French society? We will analyze the characteristics of the trauma of identity of Antillean people in these two plays, and question the meaning of being Black and French in a Western white world. We will attempt to answer the Richard’s question of what it means to be born Black in a White world. We will refer to the famous essay Peau noire masques blancs (1952) written by the Martinican psychiatrist Frantz Fanon to analyze the relationship between Blacks and Whites, between men and women of different races, addressing the issues of the inferiority complex, the search for power, recognition and the quest of identity.

Potential questions:

  • relationships between Blacks and Whites in Francophone literature

  • depiction of Africa by Antillean writers (in the search of the mythic mother land)

  • integration/assimilation of the “Domiens” (people from the D.O.M.) in France

  • racism in France

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