Constructions of identity in Marguerite Poland's Shades (1993) and Iron Love (1999)
Jacob, Mark Christopher.
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In this thesis I will examine Marguerite Poland's two novels, Shades (1993) and Iron Love (1999) in terms of how they provide constructions of identity in a particular milieu and at a particular time. In order to do this; the thesis will focus on Poland's historical context and that of her fiction as represented in these two works. My primary aim is not to present a particular interpretation of colonial history, but rather to put into perspective personal, social and cultural identities that emerge from particular periods in South African history, especially as pertains to the Eastern Cape and Kwa-Zulu Natal, and particularly as illustrated in Poland's fiction. My approach would be to look at constructions of identity from a feminist as well as a Marxist perspective: "To Marx, man was a being whose identity and nature arose out of his purely practical attempts to make his livelihood in what amounts almost to a struggle with a hostile, physical environment" (Robertson 1985:204). This implies that socio-historical conditions are largely responsible for forming ideology and consciousness, which I will argue, is true for Poland's fiction under discussion. Poland's own position as a broadly liberal feminist will also be discussed. I have chosen the above-mentioned novels of Marguerite Poland not only because she is one of South Africa's leading contemporary writers of children's literature and adult fiction and has received numerous awards for her books and stories; but also because she is a most inspirational and perceptive writer meriting serious academic study. Her novel Shades (1993) - a matric setwork in 1998, 2001 and 2002 - proved highly successful as a setwork and was nominated for the MNet Fiction Award. Shades deals primarily with love, dispossession and identity, and the title itself refers to the spiritual manifestation of those gone before. Poland chose the title because she was writing about her own 'shades', her ancestors and the role they played in the small valley of the Mtwaku River in the Eastern Cape at the end of the nineteenth century (Poland 2000). Her core source was her great-grandmother's diaries, which related anecdotes about life at the St. Matthew's Mission. In 1999, Poland wrote Iron Love, again using her great-grandmother's diaries, but she insists that this book is not a sequel to Shades (Jacob 2002). Furthermore, the main character, Charlie Fraser, is a descendant of Poland's ancestors. In Iron Love (1999) Poland depicts the role of colonial private schools in indoctrinating young colonial leaders. The book \\ subtly questions the humanity inherent in a system teaching the suppression of emotions, sexuality, individuality, freedom"(Webster 2000:8). The thesis will open with an introduction outlining reasons for my choice of writer, her novels to be discussed, and the theoretical approaches I intend using. I will discuss the life and works of Marguerite Poland in an historical context and discuss the factors that influenced her in the writing of her novels. In this chapter I will also discuss identity construction in terms of feminist and Marxist ideology on patriarchy, religion, and capitalism. Chapter Two and Chapter Three will focus on a literary analysis of Shades (1993) and Iron Love (1999) respectively. Both novels demonstrate how identity is shaped by socio-historicaI forces, which I will analyse in depth in this thesis. Chapter Four will conclude my thesis further confirming the importance of socio-economic forces in determining ideology as manifested in Poland's fictional characters and in her own life.