Repository logo

Nation-building novels : symbolism and syncrecity.

Thumbnail Image



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



Nation-building novels are novels which attempt to weave the experiences, values and richness of a variety of cultures, language groups and social contexts into a national heritage that creates a sense ofnational identity and identification for all people within a particular nation-state. This dissertation explores how Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie, Keri Hulme's The Bone People and Margaret Laurence's The Diviners all use the particularly illuminating metaphor of family to explore nation-building in India, New Zealand and Canada respectively. In questioning traditional definitions of family through the image of the adopted child (or changeling in the case of Midnight's Children), the novels also explore new ways of understanding "belonging" and the "other". Since the meaning of these terms is rooted in the past, these novels also question the "truth" of the past by exposing the fallibility of memory. In chapter one a working definition of "nation" and "nation-building" is given and the vision, purpose and characteristic features of nation-building novels are discussed. Chapter two focuses on Rushdie's novel in which the metaphor of pickling is used to explore history not as a collection of hard facts but as a conglomeration of subjective, sensuous, manufactured and carefully created and preserved flavours. In chapter three Hulme's novel is discussed, particularly in relation to what is "other" and the importance of names. The narrator's idea of "commensalism" is explored as an ideal of syncrecity which does not deny individual identity. Chapter four looks at the development from consolation to contradiction to construction in the development of a hybrid national identity in Laurence's novel. Chapter five looks at the narrative techniques used in order to convey the prophetic nature of the novels' message and discusses the importance of the intertexts of each novel. Chapter six focuses on belonging as it looks at the return of each narrator to her/his symbolic or literal home. The chapter also discusses how the novels attack linearity by separating "time" and "space" (instances of social interaction) from "place" (specific geographical locations) in order to "disembed" their message to emphasise its universal applicability.


Thesis (M.A.)-University of Natal, Pietermaritzburg, 1998.


Identity (Philosophical concept) in literature., Nationalism In Literature., Group Identity In Literature., Rushdie, Salman . Midnight's Children., Hulme, Keri, 1947- . Bone People, The., Laurence, Margaret, 1926-1987. Diviners, The., Theses--English.