France and its DOM: the Ambivalence of European Identity

  • Ute Fendler


While discussing European identity, one is very often inclined to forget the French West Indies, which are geographically far away from France but whose inhabitants are French citizens. The ambivalence of the European identity of the French West Indian can only be understood in the historical context. The main events of West Indian history are genocide of the natives committed by the European discoverers and settlers and, consequently, the slave trade between Africa and the Caribbean Islands, which was started in order to ensure the supply of plantation workers. At the end of the nineteenth century, after the abolition of slavery, other waves of migration followed: Indian and Chinese workers were hired to continue the work after the freed African slaves had fled. Although slavery was abolished, the living and working conditions did not change. As a consequence, the French played an ambiguous role: as colonizers, they were committed to bringing European civilization and its ideals and values like liberty, equality, fraternity to other peoples so that they could ‘profit’ from the benefits of European civilization. At the same time, colonization in the Caribbean meant enslavement and oppression of the non-European people and, therefore, negated these European ideals to which the non-European peoples should have adhered.


Literary Critic Short Story Literary History Ambiguous Role Caribbean Island 
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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1999

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  • Ute Fendler

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