The Hills of Hebron Sylvia Wynter's Disruption of the by xwj18813


									The Hills of Hebron:
Sylvia Wynter’s Disruption of the
Narrative of the Nation
Shirley Toland-Dix

        AbstrAct: Sylvia Wynter’s 1962 novel, The Hills of Hebron, is both a narrative of the nation and
        critique of the extant vision of the nation. Writing her novel from the perspective of a theorist,
        Wynter introduces insights and concepts that she has since developed in her extensive body of
        theoretical essays. This article looks particularly at the strategies she uses to incorporate gender
        issues into her novel.

In a 2000 Small Axe interview with David Scott, Jamaican critical theorist, cultural critic,
playwright, and novelist Sylvia Wynter reminisces about growing up in Jamaica in the 1940s,
in the midst of the anticolonial struggle: “You cannot imagine today how total a system colo-
nialism was. . . . How could it ever have occurred to you then, before the struggles erupted,
that you as a ‘native’ subject could take any action on your own?” Describing the impact of
attending high school while “a wave of social protest movements” went on all around her,
she exclaims: “It was as if you were suddenly in a different dimension . . . the whole sense of
activity, of a self-initiated new beginning—I would say that movement determined everything
I was going to be or have been” (emphasis added).1 Wynter explicitly provides a generational
context for her body of work when she returns to this point throughout the interview, repeat-
edly emphasizing the lifelong impact of experiencing her “own political awakening during the
anticolonial struggles.”2 Tellingly, she adds: “where I think there is a great distance between

 1. David Scott, “The Re-Enchantment of Humanism: An Interview with Sylvia Wynter,” Small Axe no. 8 (September
    2000): 125.
 2. Ibid., 168.

small axe 25 • February 2008 • p 57–76 • ISSN 0799-0537
58 | SX25 • The Hills of Hebron

        today’s feminists and myself is that then we knew that it was as a population—men, women,
        and children—that we had thought we could not do anything.”3 Over a period of almost
        fifty years, Wynter’s engagement with feminism has been complex but consistent. Despite
        contemporary challenges, she continues to present feminism and women’s rights as issues that
        are subsets within her analysis of Western humanism and the consequences of its racially based
        definition of “man.”4 Factoring in her generational perspective provides additional insight
        into both the strengths and the impasses in Wynter’s approach to the particular issues facing
        African and African-descended women.
              With The Hills of Hebron, a narrative of the emerging nation published in 1962, the year
        Jamaica became independent of British colonial rule, Wynter audaciously inserts herself into
        a discourse generated almost exclusively by Caribbean male authors and dares to envision the
        Caribbean nation. Not content to merely discuss what the West Indian novel should do from
        a detached and prescriptive space, Wynter creates a narrative of the nation, experimenting
        with the possibilities of the genre, experiencing frustration with the genre’s limitations. Wynter
        approaches writing a novel from the perspective of a theorist, introducing insights and con-
        cepts that she later develops in stunningly brilliant and erudite theoretical essays. Among the
        theoretical inquiries she incorporates into the novel: an interrogation of the role of the artist
        and the intellectual in emerging nations, her rejection of mono-conceptual frameworks, her
        engagement with the role of groups most marginalized or liminal within societies, and a sug-
        gestive investigation of gender dynamics within the black community. The Hills of Hebron is
        experimental, complex, and paradoxical, both epic narrative of the nation and critique of the
        extant vision of the nation. Moving beyond a celebratory approach, Wynter is concerned with
        exploring how newly independent Jamaica could become a viable, cohesive, and progressive
        society. Through her depiction of the Revivalist counter-community of Hebron, she examines
        the challenges the new nation will face and queries how a society responsive to the needs of
        all of the citizenry can be created.
              In “The National Longing for Form,” Timothy Brennan observes that historically a direct
        link has existed between the novel and the nation, for nations are “imaginary constructs that
        depend for their existence on an apparatus of cultural fictions in which imaginative literature
        plays a decisive role. . . . the rise of European nationalism coincides especially with one form of
        literature—the novel.” However, Brennan continues, since the Second World War, the fictional

         3. Ibid., 138.
         4. In the above-referenced interview, Scott summarizes Wynter’s engagement with “the question of gender” as “not so
            much a strategic question of the subordinate place of the concept of gender but that race has a fundamental priority
            because of the place of race in the epistemic break that you point to. . . . there is a foundational epistemological
            priority of race vis-à-vis gender.” To this statement Wynter replies: “Exactly.” Ibid., 183.

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