‘Creolisation and On Beauty: form, character and the goddess Erzulie'

King, Nicole. 2009. ‘Creolisation and On Beauty: form, character and the goddess Erzulie'. Women: A Cultural Review, 20(3), pp. 262-276. ISSN 0957-4042 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

There are many facets of feminist creolisation within Zadie Smith's novel On Beauty (2005). This article locates and analyses the novel's feminist subtext by assessing the characterisations of black women and Smith's use of Vodou symbolism in the form of the goddess Erzulie. The argument is made that Smith's black women, imbued with aspects of Erzulie's diverse personae, defy their marginal positions in the narrative and become its driving force. After outlining the principles of creolisation and the attributes of the goddess Erzulie, this work identifies where and how Smith has incorporated both creolisation and feminist creolisation into the structure of her text. Glissant's notion of creolisation as, in part, being ‘open to change’ provides a rubric for understanding and analysing the relationships and the key differences between and amongst black women in On Beauty, in addition to their alignment with Erzulie. These overlapping threads are taken up in an analysis of Carlene Kipps, one of the text's most marginalised characters. In discerning the attributes of Erzulie (a syncretic, creolist figure) in Kipps, and to a lesser extent in Kiki Belsey, these women are revealed as multi-dimensional rather than simplistic, powerful rather than passive. An analysis of Smith's alignment of her black women characters with Erzulie causes the surfacing of a subtle erotics of friendship between Kipps and Belsey. As complex New World subjects, Smith's black women are not just shaped by creolisation, they also operate as its agents. In conclusion, the article maintains that Smith's feminist and creolist aesthetic not only structures the novel through form and characterisation, but also crucially shapes its standpoint and perspective.

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Departments, Centres and Research Units:

English and Comparative Literature


18 November 2009Published

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Date Deposited:

04 Apr 2018 14:58

Last Modified:

04 Apr 2018 14:58

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.



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