As If She Were God

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
This is a critical essay I wrote in my second year of college.

Submitted: February 13, 2017

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Submitted: February 13, 2017

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Taylor Cathey English 424 Maria Lima 12/15/15

As If She Were God

Dionne Brand's At the Full and Change of the Moon depicts the journey of Marie Ursule, the novel’s first matriarch, from the harsh realities of slavery to the troubled and unhappy lives of her descendants. Marie Ursule is described as a slave who has lost her ear, having received 39 lashes and a sentence of two years wearing shackles in her feet after the failed rebellion of 1819. Marie Ursule is known as the queen of a secret slave society called the Sans Peur Regiment, later orchestrating a mass suicide in the de Lambert plantation in Trinidad. The imprint around Marie Ursule’s leg makes her not only a slave, but a woman held at a higher purpose.

Marie Ursule narrates the realities of her life under slavery, a young girl sold by the Ursuline nuns: “A nun who looked more weary than her slave but who haggled for a good price nevertheless and who looked out of the corner of her eye and smiled at Marie Ursule, and turned cold when Marie Ursule said, “You going to live long. Take the money from him. You owe me an eternity”" (Brand 18). Though she is where her origin commands her to be, Marie Ursule blazes a path through her captivity. She brings forward a new life, a daughter called Bola. In Marie Ursule’s words, Bola's arrival has been in the shape of a moon, and the baby is blessed with teeth, a sign of supernatural powers. From Bola’s traits, Marie Ursule holds the child to be a leader, a key to unlock the end of slavery. The novel also depicts Marie Ursule’s spiritual connection to the land around her as a sign of her power, a power that exists outside the body/ mind binaries. The novel describes the body's limitations: “They knew that the body was a terrible thing that wanted to live no matter what. It never gave up, it lived for the sake of itself. It was selfish and full of Greed. The body could pitiably recover from lashes, from weight and stroke. *Only in the head could you could kill yourself, never in the body. It would thrash and heave it's way back. So their minds were made up, knowing this. And each night, in the months before they had plotted together they had given the mind this mystery to work out, how to ignore the body, how to reach the other shore” (17).

Referencing to Slavery and Contemporary Black Canadian Writing 241 of “Demotic Knowledge, Ancestors, Genealogy”: “Gingell, Leslie Sanders notes that instead of peace or shade, for Brand there is “only bitter history barley written, and when in question, the speaker evokes only a “history which had taught my eyes/ to the “malicious horizon” as merciless limit of earlier island slave flight and related to wish “to fly gravity” (241)

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Though M.Ursule does not proclaim herself a God, the betrayal she has suffered by the nuns she worked for, to de Lambert's hold over her, has not foreshadowed her rage, and power. Without fear Ursule describes her execution as “ This is but a drink of freshwater to what I have already suffered” (Brand 24). Marie Ursule’s death leaves an imprint on the generation that follow, starting with her daughter.

Creation: The choice of preserving the life of her daughter, her vanity, shows the reader what Bola is useful for. Not looking for remembrance of the body, but what has been left of the person's intent, or power. As Brand writes:“In another century without knowing of her because centuries are forgetful places, Marie Ursules great grandchildren would face the world too. But even that forgetfulness is true speech if anyone listens. This is the plain arrangement of the world, they would think, even if they know different, even if they could have remembered Marie Ursule” (Brand 18)

The narrator later describes Bola now as an old woman, who lingers from day to day in imagination and past recollections of her descendents.

The use of Bola’s Sexuality is a tool to breed babies as a test to see what child is the strongest to endure the struggles of the world around them: (Bola filled the semicircle with her children, discovering her hunger for people after the drought of her years with Kamena; then gave them away or kept them, depending on a whim. Depending on which one had something written in her face that said cloth or iron” (68). The memories of Marie Ursule have left Bola lost inside of her own mind. Only to bring a future of procreations that are susceptible or dispensable to what her creator's envisions: “If the language describing their life was her lusory idiom, it was not because she gave it but because she gave it blood without the thought of gratitude” (68).

The descendants of Marie Ursules are used as her portals:

The only child who was made in dry-season confronted the fate of the sea is Bola’s daughter, Augusta. The reason for why Bola keeps Augusta is because she preserves a power that did not require a need for anything material, or the wantings like the ones of her scattered brothers and sisters: “Augusta was as blind as her father with the leaning head (though not from her eyes, but from her ambition), and she learned her father's way of sounds and surfaces. She could tell a name by a footstep” (72). Augusta is susceptible to the figment of Bolas Imagination because she resembles her father and how he held his head. Her limitations are used to her benefit as a Cathey 3

portal to bring forward an heir who will bring justice to their family. Samuel Sones, a descendent of Marie Ursule, and grandchild of Bola. Samuel is described as a child who wanted and feared too much of his grandmother. He has feared her since he was small child, when she would dig through his pockets for candy, and would beat him if he did not have any. Samuel would go out of his way to mistreat her: “Don’t cry. When you’re wicked you can’t cry. Who will hear you?”(81).

Samuel Sones lives his life in fear and dishonor:“He is twenty when he went away to England in the year of 1917. His mother, Augusta, insisted that he be baptized the Sunday before her left. He clasped his hands and swallowed chunks of sky and cupfuls of land as the preacher dipped his body back into the water. His grandmother Bola sucked her teeth when he came back up from the water, her face sour like a lemon, saying, “Foolishness, that don’t save nobody.” Augusta believed that the baptism would guard Samuel on his journey through the war.

Readers will be reminded here of the“Cloth/Iron” remark for seeing which of the descendents is strong enough to face the war, and who could handle the tribulations of the sea. Bola does not share the idea about Augustas child, Samuel, as being made of Iron. Samuel's choice to participate in the war is seen as useless and unimaginable to Bolas use : “If the children born to her took more from her, or from Marie Ursule, whom they did not know, or from these lovers, it was nothing to her, she just gave them what she had, which was her senses all tuned to their pitch, tuned as greed, slovenliness or mystery or idiocy or curdling charm” (68). The only susceptible quality of the daughter and grandson is that they offer glimpses of Marie Ursule and Kamena of Bolas past at a point in time. Augustas portal was later diminished when she catches a cold and is soon pronounced dead: “Your mother gone, oui. She not strong. She catch cold easily” (85).

Coping: The page of this descendent is connection to page 2 of Brands paragraph on the greed of the body/safety in the mind. Priests double life of testing love comes together as a tool. “If her descendents might emerge, sore and disturbed in another country-well, it reflected only a moment in her mind, a little passion which she indulged herself in, and Bola would add the rest, all beginnings, all catastrophes, like Lust” (18).

Descendant Sayman, was described as a wanderer, the one who stole Bolas foot-prints, left home at the by his own will. In the woods, he finds a woman and her children. He joins the group and helps lead them to Terre Bouillante. Soon after a family is born.

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Carlyle “Priest” is the grandchild of Sayman. The character of this descendent is described as a man with a vicious soul, with the demeanor of well influenced godly presence. Carlyle’s journey through Terre Bouillante is a series of disasters: from the attack of a store manager while he is caught stealing, to the betrayal of his mother at the slap of her hand. This recollection of his past self makes him build another person inside of himself. “He is not no ordinary person. He does deal with the devil. That is why he does not get through” (Brand 156). Instead, he is the devil, a doppelganger, called Priest.

Priests demeanor creates the power and respect that he craves from others. He uses the test of this delusion to a benefit that suits him. Those around him he calls his family, his wife Gita, he craves obedience and fear from her, to his sister Maya, he desires lust and fear. The main idea, or reason, for use this descendent is a contact that involves the mindset of another person, that is more powerful to his own being; “So this need to test love, to probe Love, to break it open, to see how far it would go to examine it like a line of the Horizon until it disappeared was Carlyle’s Possession” (141). The portal use of this descendant is to show how greed can be used. A tool to control the kindness of others to benefit his own needs. Perhaps the pain that his late grandmother, his god (Marie Ursule) suffered at the hands of her owner probed this destiny to show Priest what it means to be stripped of your name.

Lacking a real core identity also characterizes Adrian, Priest’s “double.” The complexity of Adrian can be traced when he is in America. Priest and Adrian work together as smugglers. He describes his journey in the U.S. as a travesty. A choice to submit himself to drugs and rape for survival, makes Adrian question his sanity and worth: “ a name was a liability. And anyway, by the time the world was finished with you, you were not your name” (190). The portal of this descendent is proved to be weak. Adrian succumbs to being dependent on a mission of which he is robbed of by a partner. Easily manipulated, yet passive, his view of others and himself are seen with this paragraph : “He was tired of running away from men who were like iron, men who prided themselves on knowing everything if they didn't. These men like his father made a lot of mistakes with other people's lives. They were so certain. They left him speechless because in the end he couldn't be so sure of anything. Most of all how to make himself like these men” (202).

Readers view him as a “Soft Man,”which will remind them of the cloth analogy to characterize the difference between Marie Ursule’s descendants: they can either be cloth or iron. The fate of Adrian is confronted with relinquishing the function that he is born with as a betrayal: His skin was burning, a stinging spreading burning. Like a high starting at the back of his neck. He Cathey 5 couldn't see. He called out. Something soft, slippery, was in his hands. He remembered thinking what he never wanted to see the world again. Never. His eyes were in his hands” (205). He cannot trust what he sees because of the damage of his destiny. Adrian has fallen into his grandmother's sanctuary.

Compared to his cousin's power of bringing forward revenge, the liability that this descendent has left of M.Ursule name is weakness of heart, over the mind. Like M. Ursule, Priest wanted his demise to be a symbol. In connection to Ursule’s death:“ She herself would not take the knife to her veins. She wanted to see the faces of de Lambert and the rest when they discovered her. She wanted to vow to them that it was she, Marie Ursule, who devastated them” (18), to (149) paragraph of Priest:”His rage was absolution from piety and his piety absolution from rage” . A symbol like Marie Ursules of what was taken from her, to let them know, her power still reigns in death and future. In death, his body could be killed, but in future, that is his mind, could not be silenced.

The hold that M.Ursule creates around her Descendents: Bola’s interpretation of what being a mother is, is seeing her duty through Marie Ursules spiritual presence. The mindset of Bolas mothering was declared the day she was born; “The gift her mother had given her, allowing Bola to fall out of her belly like a moon, this gift makes Bola see beyond the conclusions that flesh came to” (38). Bolas little interaction with others, expect involving the opposite sex was instilled in by her mother:” a little passion which she indulged herself in, and Bola would add the rest, all beginnings, all catastrophes, like Lust” (18).

Surrendering to the Sea: The use of these portals were proved to be powerful in M.Ursule s revenge. The other portals that proved less than satisfying are destined to the sanctuary of their mother. The gift that Ursule had bestowed upon her daughter would be the conclusion of her descendants: “The first time she saw the sea she did not see it. It was night and she heard it break and wash before she saw it. She had heard it's noise big as her breath when she’d opened her mouth in the swamp sky. Kamena had said to her, that is the sea, when she'd asked what noise was that that sounded like her breath. That is the sea, don't play with it” (39). Usually the title of the sea is used as burial ground, a hell put correctly, for slaves (Cargo) who were thrown overboard like waste. Readers are reminded of descendant Adrian's compliance of relinquishing his livelihood and worth and succumbs to the sea: “Things fall into an ocean, he thinks, like bodies and small pieces of buckles, and bits of shirt cuffs, cloth washed threadbare. Things that eventually belong

Cathey 6 in the Sea and are indescribable on land. Sometimes you find that the smallest grain of sand was a button once. Water is like road if you really think of it” (204). The sea was placed into Bola’s possession as preserving a heaven to the scattered children she had abandoned to the world.

Because she has not been responsible for the life she creates, Marie Ursule cannot be seen as a god. The function that God instills into people's lives is an invisible presence that evolves into a out of body, in mind theory, a sign that leads a path within us to show that we are not one person when we are born under his name, but we are him. It could be that M. Ursule’s power over Bola’s intent inhabited into her children during the departure of their directions in life:“Life will continue,” she tells the children, “No matter what it seems, and even after that someone will remember you”(298). In this case, Bola herself could not proclaim the title of a God. If the children do not possess a purpose that they are born with that can bring together the revenge that their late grandmother would have wanted, they will serve another, not by Bola or their god, (Marie Ursule). Bola views the people she is surrounded by as not equal to her intent (M.Ursule’s). The descendents left in the Sea “1841,1846,1849,1850 1863, 1881“ were considered to be cloth, they had no use of connection to Bola, thus making them dispensable. A God does not abandon her children. Ursule ‘s attempts of making her name live on through the bloodline of her daughter had only left a statement of herself as a God, as Brand writes: “No one is anyone’s” (298)

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Work Cited Brand, Dionne. At the Full and Change of the Moon. Grove Press, 2000. As Beckoned by the Past: Slavery and the Inheritance of Namelessness in In Another Place, Not Here. Slavery and Contemporary Black Canadian Writing.


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