Journal of Transatlantic Studies

, Volume 7, Issue 3, pp 279–293 | Cite as

Gender and colonial transitioning: Frantz Fanon’s Algerian freedom fighters in Moroccan and Caribbean novels?

  • Donna McCormackEmail author


This article analyses the ways in which Frantz Fanon’s revolutionary narrative in L’An V de la révolution algérienne is reworked in selected novels of Tahar Ben Jelloun and Shani Mootoo. Focusing on Fanon’s transitional politics, it draws out how these novelists employ gender transitioning to challenge colonial, nationalistic and familial violence. The article suggests that the intersections of anti-colonial rhetoric and familial discourse present in Fanon’s work are reconfigured in these novels through a questioning of assumed gendered, sexual and national taxonomies of belonging. It proposes a notion of community that seeks to avoid the reiteration of colonial and familial violence through a transitional politics and an ethics of becoming.


Post-colonial Frantz Fanon Tahar Ben Jelloun Shani Mootoo transitioning 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    Frantz Fanon, L’An V de la révolution algérienne (Paris: Editions La Découverte & Syros, 2001 [1959]), 94. All translations from this text are my own.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Judith Butler, Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence (London: Verso, 2004), 23.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    This text will be referred to throughout this article as L’An V.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Frantz Fanon, A Dying Colonialism, trans. Haakon Chevalier (London: Pelican Books, 1970).Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Max Silverman, ‘Introduction’, in Max Silverman, ed., Frantz Fanons Black Skins, White Masks (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2005), 11.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    See Neil Lazarus, ‘Disavowing Decolonisation: Fanon, Nationalism, and the Question of Representation in Postcolonial Theory’, in Anthony C. Alessandrini, ed., Frantz Fanon: Critical Perspectives (London: Routledge, 1999), 161–194.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    See Homi Bhabha, ‘Remembering Fanon: Self, Psyche, and the Colonial Condition’, in Nigel C. Gibson, ed., Rethinking Fanon: The Continuing Dialogue (New York: Humanity Books, 1999), 179–196.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Henry Louis Gates Jr, ‘Critical Fanonism’, in Nigel C. Gibson, ed., Rethinking Fanon: The Continuing Dialogue (New York: Humanity Books, 1999), 266, 253, and 267, respectively.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Frantz Fanon, Frantz, Les Damnés de la terre (Paris: Maspero, 1969 [1961]). Translated as The Wretched of the Earth, trans. Constance Farrington (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1967).Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Fanon, L’An V, 13–14 and 88–90.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Marie-Aimée Helie-Lucas, ‘Women, Nationalism, and Religion in the Algerian Liberation Struggle’, in Gibson, ed., Rethinking Fanon, 271–282.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    I use ‘beside’ rather than ‘beyond’ to evoke Judith Butler’s idea of the need to forge political alliances not by trying to move ‘beyond’ existing bodily and community taxonomies, which she sees as an impossibility, but by constantly re-imagining them through a perpetual undoing of the self in relation to others (Butler, Precarious Life, 23).Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Fanon, L’An V, 94.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Faulkner does briefly mention but does not expand upon the fact that Fanon ‘considers the occupation of land tantamount to the “occupation of its inhabitants”’ (Rita A. Faulkner, ‘Assia Djebar: Frantz Fanon, Women, Veils, and Land’, World Literature Today, 70, no. 4 (1996), 849).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. 15.
    Anne McClintock, Imperial Leather: Race, Gender and Sexuality in the Colonial Contest (London: Routledge, 1995), 366.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    Ibid., 367.Google Scholar
  17. 17.
  18. 18.
    McClintock, Imperial Leather, 367.Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    Fanon, L’An V, 100.Google Scholar
  20. 20.
  21. 21.
    T. Denean Sharpley-Whiting, Frantz Fanon: Conflicts and Feminisms (Oxford: Rowman & Littlefield, 1998), 72.Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    Ian Baucom, ‘Frantz Fanon’s Radio: Solidarity, Diaspora, and the Tactics of Listening’, Contemporary Literature, 42, no. 1 (2001), 17.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. 23.
    Sara Ahmed, Strange Encounters: Embodied Others in Post-Coloniality (London: Routledge, 2000), 180.Google Scholar
  24. 24.
    Judith Butler, Undoing Gender (London: Routledge, 2004), 3.Google Scholar
  25. 25.
  26. 26.
    Ahmed, Strange Encounters, 7.Google Scholar
  27. 27.
    Throughout this article I will follow the pronouns and names used in the novel. I will, therefore, switch between ‘he’ and ‘she’ and Ahmed’ and ‘Zahra’ as appropriate. However, at times, the protagonist exists in a state of ambiguity and I will refer to the character using Ahmed/Zahra’, ‘s/he’ and ‘her/him’.Google Scholar
  28. 28.
    Jay Prosser, ‘Skin Memories’, in Sara Ahmed and Jackie Stacey, eds, Thinking Through the Skin (London: Routledge, 2001), 52–68.Google Scholar
  29. 29.
    Tahar Ben Jelloun, L’Enfant de sable (Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1985), 8. Translated as The Sand Child, trans. Alan Sheridan (Baltimore, MD: John Hopkins University Press, 2000). All translations from L’Enfant de sable in this article are my own.Google Scholar
  30. 30.
    Ibid., 30.Google Scholar
  31. 31.
  32. 32.
    Ibid., 115–116.Google Scholar
  33. 33.
    Thomas W. Laqueur, Solitary Sex: A Cultural History of Masturbation (New York: Zone Books, 2003), 218.Google Scholar
  34. 34.
    Fanon, L’An V, 10.Google Scholar
  35. 35.
    Ibid., 100.Google Scholar
  36. 36.
    Sharpley-Whiting, Frantz Fanon: Conflicts and Feminisms, 70.Google Scholar
  37. 37.
    Ben Jelloun L’Enfant de sable, 112.Google Scholar
  38. 38.
    Ibid., 114 and 118.Google Scholar
  39. 39.
    Jarrod Hayes, Queer Nations: Marginal Sexualities in the Maghreb (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 166–186.Google Scholar
  40. 40.
    Ben Jelloun, L’Enfant de sable, 208.Google Scholar
  41. 41.
    Rebecca Saunders, ‘Decolonizing the Body: Gender, Nation, and Narration in Tahar Ben Jelloun’s L’Enfant de sable’, Research in African Literature, 37, no. 4 (2006) 137. The Istiqlal were the main party fighting for independence from French colonial rule.Google Scholar
  42. 42.
    Ben Jelloun, L’Enfant de sable, 208.Google Scholar
  43. 43.
    Tahar Ben Jelloun, La Nuit sacrée (Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1987), 6. Translated as The Sacred Night, trans. Alan Sheridan (Baltimore, MD: John Hopkins University Press, 2000). All translations from La Nuit sacrée in this article are my own. The narrator is asserting her authority by claiming she is the eponymous hero: the sand child, or the child of uncertain identity.Google Scholar
  44. 44.
    Ibid., 19.Google Scholar
  45. 45.
    Fanon, L’An V, 26.Google Scholar
  46. 46.
    Abbes Maazaoui, ‘L’Enfant de sable et La Nuit sacrée ou le corps tragique’, The French Review, 69, no. 1 (1995), 74.Google Scholar
  47. 47.
    Ben Jelloun, La Nuit sacrée, 158.Google Scholar
  48. 48.
    For criticism of Ben Jelloun’s treatment of genital mutilation, see Suzanne Gauch’s Liberating Shahrazad: Feminism, Postcolonialism, and Islam (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007), especially Chapter 3, andGoogle Scholar
  49. 48a.
    Evelyne Accad’s Sexuality and War: Literary Masks of the Middle East (New York: New York University Press, 1990), 157–158. I do not have the space to deal with the scene in detail but I would argue, contrary to Accad, that the novel condemns the fanaticism of Zahra’s sisters and exposes the power that the family holds over women. Ben Jelloun has repeatedly stressed in interviews that such a practice does not take place in Morocco.Google Scholar
  50. 49.
    Ben Jelloun, La Nuit sacrée, 161–171.Google Scholar
  51. 50.
    Fanon, L’An V, 100–102.Google Scholar
  52. 51.
    Ben Jelloun, La Nuit sacrée, 137.Google Scholar
  53. 52.
    Ibid., 189.Google Scholar
  54. 53.
    Fanon, L’An V, 41.Google Scholar
  55. 54.
    Ibid., 42–43.Google Scholar
  56. 55.
    Chandin is taken from his home by the reverend to ensure a ‘bright and prosperous future’ (Shani Mootoo, Cereus Blooms at Night (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1998 [1996], 29)). It is stated that to benefit from the resources offered by the missionaries, such as education, the South Asian-Caribbeans must (publicly) convert to Christianity and leave behind their Hindu heritage (Ibid., 29–32).Google Scholar
  57. 56.
    Ibid., 152. The Wetlanders are the colonialists on the island, and Ambrose bought this suit when he was studying abroad in The Shivering Northern Wetlands.Google Scholar
  58. 57.
    Ibid., 154.Google Scholar
  59. 58.
    Ibid., 228.Google Scholar
  60. 59.
    Ibid., 255.Google Scholar
  61. 60.
    Ibid., 30–31.Google Scholar
  62. 61.
    Ibid., 136.Google Scholar
  63. 62.
    Grace Kyungwon Hong, ‘“A Shared Queerness”: Colonialism, Transnationalism, and Sexuality in Shani Mootoo’s Cereus Blooms at Night’, Meridians: Feminism, Race, Transnationalism, 7, no. vn1 (2006), 89.Google Scholar
  64. 63.
    Mootoo, Cereus, 188.Google Scholar
  65. 64.
    Shoshana Felman and Dori Laub, Testimony: Crises of Witnessing in Literature, and History (London: Routledge, 1992), 58.Google Scholar
  66. 65.
    Mootoo, Cereus, 82.Google Scholar
  67. 66.
    Ibid., 267.Google Scholar
  68. 67.
    Ibid., 268.Google Scholar
  69. 68.
    Fanon, L’An V, 12–13.Google Scholar
  70. 69.
    Shani Mootoo, He Drown She in the Sea (New York: Grove Press, 2005), 260.Google Scholar
  71. 70.
    Fanon, L’An V, 100–102.Google Scholar
  72. 71.
    Mootoo, He Drown, 178.Google Scholar
  73. 72.
    Ibid., 122.Google Scholar
  74. 73.
    Ibid., 94.Google Scholar
  75. 74.
    Ibid., 238.Google Scholar
  76. 75.
    Ibid., 260.Google Scholar
  77. 76.
    Ibid., 251.Google Scholar
  78. 77.
    For a critique of hybridity, see Aijaz Ahmad’s ‘The Politics of Literary Post-Coloniality’, Race and Class, 36, no. 3 (1995), 1–20. For a more nuanced view, see Ahmed’s Strange Encounters.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. 78.
    Fanon, L’An V, 13.Google Scholar
  80. 79.
    Mootoo, He Drown, 182. The reference to Africa as a ‘country’ rather than a continent must be placed in the context of Uncle Mako telling a story of forced displacement that he ‘himself could make no sense of (Idem.).Google Scholar
  81. 80.
    Ibid., 182. See also Shani Mootoo in conversation with Robert Gougeon, Audio Blog @ The Writer’s Cafe, available at too_he-drown-she-in-the-sea.php, accessed December 2007.Google Scholar
  82. 81.
    Harry says this rather ‘mischievously’ (Mootoo, He Drown, 35) whilst flirting with a white Canadian woman, Kay.Google Scholar
  83. 82.
    Ibid., 260.Google Scholar
  84. 83.
    Ibid., 315.Google Scholar
  85. 84.
    Ibid., 317.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Board of Transatlantic Studies 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of English, Cavendish RoadUniversity of LeedsUK

Personalised recommendations