During the earlier part of the twentieth century, Caribbean writers expressed their identities and culture using the language of their colonizers. However, after attaining independence and with a newfound sense of self-determination and pride in their heritage, authors began utilizing local styles and vocabularies in their works (Caribbean Literature). As a result, black women felt the need to establish their own identities and movement, leading to the adoption of the oral tradition of storytelling. Caribbean women writers have become exceptionally skilled in incorporating storytelling into their texts to the point where it is now deemed customary in their writings.
Many Caribbean women writers utilize this form of writing to communicate a multitude of ideas: to establish personal identity, to trace the character’s development and the transformative experiences that influence them, as a form of liberation, independence, and self-reinvention. This is what renders storytelling immensely potent. These women had limited avenues for self-expression and were deprived of the ability to voice the trauma and mistreatment inflicted upon them. They were forbidden from preserving their customs, culture, and traditions, instead forced to adopt the ideologies of their oppressors.
When women started telling their stories, they found liberation from the past. One example is Tan-Tan, who was mistreated and forced into exile by her father, Mayor Antonio, and step-mother Jauntiest. However, it was only when she assumed the identity of the Robber Queen and shared her story that she managed to overcome the pain and trauma inflicted by them. Tan-Tan had reached her breaking point and ultimately killed her father.
The guilt comes down upon her head, and the Robber Queen is born out of excruciation. Tan-Tan’s own admission reveals her evolution as an individual. Uttering these lines allows her to speak the unspeakable, which she has kept silent for a long time. This silence has burdened her, but now she finds relief in gaining a voice and expressing herself.
The Robber Queen persona allows her to eloquently address the issue of women writers struggling to break free from limiting boundaries that affect their ability to communicate effectively. These boundaries not only pertain to narrative style, but also involve challenging traditional notions of characters and language. In her article, Mary Arrogate highlights how storytelling helps preserve tribal languages, as seen in Hypnosis’s innovative use of her own distinct style of writing.
By using the patois, she empowers her characters and enables them to resist the language imposed by the tyrants, taking control of their own narratives and defying the linguistic colonization. The book commences with verses that address the language imposed on the enslaved and colonized individuals, reflecting their struggle with identity. “This tongue, at times my only instrument, though not entirely mine, what really is? The crisis of identity and the substitution of language have led them to lose sight of their true selves and question their very existence.”
In a way, it compels individuals to resist Standard English, as it does not truly reflect their identity or native language. Thus, they cannot fully connect with it. Nevertheless, by employing patois, Hopkins enables both characters and audience members to better relate to the text, situation, and circumstances on a personal level. Throughout the text, the two narrators utilize this patois to grant their stories greater depth and authenticity, fostering a stronger bond between the characters and the audience.
In her study of the post-Apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Committee in South Africa, American International Affairs professor Lyn Grabbing notes that storytelling is powerful in revealing societal issues that were previously suppressed. She highlights that storytelling allows victims, perpetrators, and bystanders to collectively create a shared memory of the past. While it may not eliminate pain or completely resolve conflicts, sharing stories at least serves as a starting point for progress.
In Midnight Robber, storytelling served as a way for Tan-Tan to reveal the hidden truth about her incestuous relationship with her father. Through the character of the Robber Queen, she could express what she couldn’t on her own. The impact of this taboo on Tan-Tan was evident in her physical and psychological state, as she struggled to sleep and experienced repeated nightmares. Unable to express her emotions and confront the rape, she became helpless and saw a decline in her mental well-being. This led to a split in her personality, with the emergence of the Bad Tan-Tan voice mocking and demeaning her. However, once she shared her story, she found relief and freedom, allowing her to fully be herself. In Midnight Robber, folklore is used by the author as a moral support for those who are enslaved, oppressed, and mistreated.The Sees utilizes the character of the Robber Queen as a source of inspiration and a legendary female figure who fights against injustice faced by marginalized and underprivileged individuals. Hopkins employs folklore as an integral element in his storytelling approach.
The Sees in the novel serves as a potent means of conveying Tan-Tan’s experiences and the folklore of Caribbean women. Folklore plays a crucial role in safeguarding history, traditions, customs, and practices that may have become obsolete or overlooked over time. It represents an ageless method of narrative that exposes both forbidden truths and subjects people would rather erase from memory. Tuba gains insight into the struggles faced by women, including his mother Tan-Tan, who is recognized as the Robber Queen, through the Sees.
Some Caribbean women writers depict a female protagonist who narrates her own story and gains self-awareness while navigating her circumstances. This is prominently displayed in the novel, where Tan-Tan transforms herself from a victim into a heroic figure, known as The Robber Queen. By leveraging folklore, Tan-Tan reshapes her identity and refuses to accept being abused and oppressed. Instead, she turns her experiences into a catalyst for aiding others who may have gone through comparable hardships.
When we consider Tuba as the main audience for the folklore, we can see that the writer is trying to put an end to the cycle of incest that his father/grandfather inflicted on his mother. This shows the power of storytelling through folklore, as it has the ability to stop, prevent, and bring an end to societal problems. Folklorist William Bassos explains that folklore has various cultural aspects, including providing an escape from societal consequences. Moreover, folklore can also validate a culture and transmit its morals and values.
According to Arrogate, folklore can serve to assert or alleviate social pressures, such as humor and carnival. By delving into these narratives, we can gain insight into the past, while passing on the values, thoughts, and beliefs of a nation to future generations for exploration. This is exemplified in the story told to Tuba. Overall, Hypnosis’s use of storytelling as a form of literary expression was incredibly effective and skillfully executed. Storytelling is undeniably a potent technique that will continue to be embraced by numerous Caribbean female writers, including Hopkins.
The use of writing as a medium enables writers to preserve history, culture, customs, and traditions. It also provides an avenue for escaping societal issues while delving into personal identity and self-expression. This technique resonates with writers due to its alignment with their unique writing style, reflecting their true nature. Readers who appreciate this form of writing value its capacity to captivate them personally and offer a fresh perspective on the narrative being conveyed.