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International Journal of English

and Literature (IJEL)


ISSN(P): 2249-6912; ISSN(E): 2249-8028
Vol. 6, Issue 3, Jun 2016, 43-52
TJPRC Pvt. Ltd

THE EXPECTED GENDER PERFORMANCE, SUBVERSION OF IT, AND


POST-COLONIAL DISCOURSE IN THE GRASS IS SINGING
FAHMIDA HOQUE MEEM
Research Scholar, St.xavier's College, Ahmedabad, India
ABSTRACT
The aim of my research is to find out that how the black colonized society and the women irrespective of color
have been oppressed by the male and the white colonizers. The Grass is Singing offers a form of oppression of women
which ultimately ends up with the same result that is destruction and violence. Mary wants to torture the black men
inferior to white men and women to fight back the white patriarch society. She subconsciously heads in the destruction
of the colonization. She fights back the violence which is imposed on her. By subverting the expected gender role, a
woman wants to find her own identity.
KEYWORDS: Violence, Oppression, Protest, Colonization, Performativity and Subversion

LITERATURE REVIEW
There has been a lot of researches on post colonialism and feminism for a long time. the women and the
black people have been oppressed through the centuries. There is certain level of tolerance after which the women
have started to fight back. M. H Abrams says The rejection of the master narrative of Western imperialism
in which the colonial other is not only subordinated and marginalized, but in effect deleted as a cultural

Original Article

Received: May 13, 2016; Accepted: Jun 08, 2016; Published: Jun 14, 2016; Paper Id.: IJELJUN201607

agencyand its replacement by a counter-narrative in which the colonial cultures fight their way back into a
world history written by Europeans (Abrams 277). The women have been trying to fight back the constraints of
the male dominated culture. Doris Lessing and Jean Rhys focus on the rebellion of women adopting the path of
violence while women are thought to be victims of violence. Judith Fetterly elaborates the concept that women are
always portrayed as victims and submissive. They are thought to be submissive to the patriarchal society. Women
are assigned to perform some certain roles decided by the male society. The subversion of performance is
necessary to establish the identity by women themselves. Loxley says the performativity that establishes the norm
turns back to challenge it (Loxley 126). Judith Butler says a feminist view argues that gender should be
overthrown, eliminated, or rendered fatally ambiguous precisely because it is a sign of subordination for women
(Butler 13). Frantz Fanon discusses the way of decolonization which results in violence. Aime Cesiaire has
pointed out the brutal effects of colonization in Discourse on Colonialism which fits into the category of womens
oppression. This study tries to focus on the fact the colonization starts with violence and results in violence and in
patriarchal and colonial society, the women or the colonized are forced to head in the direction of violence to get
rid of violence itself. Another important aspect of this study is to know that how a true self of a woman is hidden
by many shades created by the patriarchal society.

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Fahmida Hoque Meem

INTRODUCTION
Doris Lessing has written her first novel The Grass is singing in 1950 which reflects the destructive aspects of
colonization and the patriarchal society. I would like to see the novel in a way where a victim of the patriarchal society
becomes the oppressor of the black people.Lessing spent most of her childhood in Rhodesia, where she witnessed the
discrimination against the natives of the country, and this was reflected in her early novels. Wide Sargasso Sea is a 1966
postcolonial novel by Dominica-born British author Jean Rhys. The novel is written as a prequel to Charlotte Brontes
noted novel Jane Eyre (1847). This novel shows the another form of oppression and violence faced by Antoinette which
results in destruction eventually.
Generally, in the post-colonial novels, the presence of women is totally ignored. In Heart of Darkness, there is no
presence of any woman as a character. Even, they do not have name. Things Fall Apart barely notices the remarkable role
of women. They are portrayed dependent on their husbands. Women are supposed to be under the domination of their
husband. They do not have theory own choice to lead their life as the patriarchal society will not let it happen for their own
interest.
There is a link between Mary of The Grass is Singing and Antoinette in Wide Sargasso Sea. In Wide Sargasso
Sea, Antoinette is a woman who also suffers from oppression and mental dilemma. Mary and Antoinette are two woman
coming from different background. the oppression links Mary and Antoinette in the queue of dissention. One thing they
have in common is that they subconsciously fight back the constraints of chauvinistic male dominated society. Their way
of protest also takes the different form. Mary tries to protest by torturing black men while Antoinette tries to find shelter in
black people. Both of them are pushed to adopt violence as a form of rescue. In yellow wallpaper, the narrator also looks
for rescue from the patriarchal society by using madness as a tool which is violently imposed on her. She finds it better to
adopt madness rather than yielding to submissiveness. The women are colonized within the mainstream of culture. Their
ideologies, values, attitude etc. are shapened by the patriarchal society.

DISCUSSIONS
The process of colonization and suppressing women are pretty much similar in the form of execution.
Decolonization is process to get out of the cruel colonial life. Decolonization is the process of fighting back to establish
the identity. Decolonization is the process of revealing and dismantling colonialist power in all its forms. This includes
dismantling the hidden aspects of those institutional and cultural forces that had maintained the colonialist power and that
remain even after political independence is achieved. (Ashcroft et al 56)To have the independence to live proper human
life, the colonizers tend to rebel against it. What they desire first of all and above all is not the improvement of their
economic or material situation, but the white mans recognition of and respect for their dignity as men, their full human
value (Cesaire 58). Here, women need to be recognized as human beings which, in reality, are hid by many constraints.
Women are the other as opposed to men or self who are the controlling factor of the society. The women
characters of the two novels I have chosen, choose to fight back, though they do not end up being successful. I want to
focus on the fact that if women choose violence, then why? Is there any true being of a woman?
The black women suffer more than the white women. But, the white women also fall victim of oppression and
suppression as well. The white women are subaltern in their condition as they live in the mainstream culture ruled by the
male class. In The Bluest Eye, Cholly cannot stand up against the white men. He showed his hatred towards the black
Impact Factor (JCC): 4.4049

Index Copernicus Value (ICV): 6.1

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women and children as Pecola has been raped by Cholly. The white women as well cannot go against the white men. They
turned their hatred towards black race. The same thing happens with Mary turner who tortures black men as she is
incapable of rebel directly against the androcentric society.
Feminism is intensely connected with post-colonial discourse as both deal with oppression of the oppressed
classes. Feminism is of crucial interest to post-colonial discourse for two major reasons. First, both patriarchy and
imperialism can be seen to exert analogous forms of domination over those they render subordinate. Hence the experiences
of women in patriarchy and those of colonized subjects can be paralleled in a number of respects, and both feminist and
post-colonial politics oppose such dominance. Second, there have been vigorous debates in a number of colonized societies
over whether gender or colonial oppression is the more important political factor in womens lives (Ashcroft et al 93)
Postcolonial feminism focuses on the struggle of non-western and colored women. It displays how the black women are
oppressed by male society. One thing I would like to remark that the black women are also loathed by the white women
society. The white women want to free themselves from the grip of the patriarchal society as they are colonized by the
patriarchal society. They have been struggling for the centuries. Franz Fanon in The Wretched of the Earth deals with
many of the central ideas concerning the struggle for liberation against colonialism.
Frantz Fanon discusses the emergence of violence which is actually rooted in the brutal colonial system. The
chapter titled Concerning Violence portrays the base of the different levels of discourse regarding violence. the pivotal
aspect of the chapter is Fanons assertion that decolonization is always a violent procedure. It also is considered a way of
creating an identity of the individual being. Violence is the most adopted way to encounter the colonizers. But, it is not an
easy task to counter as it always results in violence. To get back independence, the colonized struggle hard which ends up
destroying the oppression of the colonizers. The colonizers tend to get independence at cost of violence if necessary. There
is no reform of colonialism in the struggle for independence, Fanon argues further; the destruction of colonialism must be
total. Central to Fanons ideas throughout the work is the role of violence in the struggle for liberation. Fanons ideas on
violence are complex. First, he notes that only force can meet force: Colonialism is held in place by soldiers and police
officers. In addition, the takeover of nations by European countries was a violent phenomenon that tried to obliterate the
ways of life of the indigenous peoples and to kill their spirits and their cultures. Hence, from its inception and in its
maintenance, colonialism is violent. Moreover, as Fanon knew, the colonialist powers could not be expected to leave
colonized areas peacefully. Therefore, violent struggle is a necessary agent for colonized peoples to gain independence.
In the colonized area like south Rhodesia, the black people were dominated by the White people. The black
women did not have any identity at all. In patriarchal society, whether a woman is black or white, it hardly matters.
The white women cannot escape from the domination as well. Joyce JenjeMakwenda puts the history in her writing like
this.
Southern Rhodesia was annexed as a British colony with internal self-government, and there were first elections
in 1924. The country was divided into African and European areas under The Land Apportionment Act in 1930.
This saw African people migrating from their traditional homes to go into the city in search of jobs. This
destabilized the African family affecting women and children. Although men were affected, there were in a much
better position. In the city there were no structures put in place for an African woman. African women
disappeared from almost all the structures that controlled the country and they became invisible in the history of
the country. Not much was mentioned about women except that they went about their domesticated business.
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Fahmida Hoque Meem

The white women have never been in a good position. Doris Lessing takes the white women\ to portray the
reality.
This is how Doris Lessing interpreted the role of white women in colonial society: "The woman was not
considered to be an equal to men. The White Rhodesian woman had to be pretty, a social asset to her man . . .
Their only power, indeed, lay in their control of household servants. Some women did enter the labour force but,
for most part, their jobs as secretaries, for example merely extended their roles as the providers of services
to men. Those who joined a profession were seen as odd. White women did not enjoy the public space as their
male counterparts and under these environment women could not even dream of being politicians
(MakwendaColonialism Stripped Women of Power in Zimbabwe).
<http://panafricannews.blogspot.in/2009/10/colonialism-stripped-women-of-power-in.html>
Women are never thought to be stronger than men other than submissive and weaker. Literature always defines
women to be submissive and the weaker characters who find satisfaction in sacrificing and forgiving. Women are
portrayed as the weak victims in literature. In Judith Fetterlys essay we find that she mentions eight novels for example
that women are always the scapegoats. They are sacrificed for the betterment of the society.
Judith Fetterley, in On the Politics of Literature, an introduction to her 1978 book The Resisting Reader: A
Feminist Approach to American Literature, discusses the power system in popular American fiction. The design of the
novels shows the authoritative power of men over women. It is shown quite natural. It is politics of men to dominate
women and sustain the patriarchy even in literature. In A Farewell to Arms and Birthmark, the maintenance of male power
is clearly shown. In Sherwood Andersons I want to know why, boys discover to overpower women, To retake this
power, she urges that the feminist critic mustbecome a resisting rather than an assenting reader andbegin the process
of exorcizing the male mind that has been implanted in us. American literature presents a reality where women are
dominated by men as universally true, women must try to identify with this reality even though it is counter to their own
experience of universal truths. In doing so, the female consciousness is confused and immasculated. She explains that
although the image of the castrating bitch is a common literary stereotype, the cultural reality is the immasculation of
women by men (xx). By immasculation, she means the process by which women are taught to think as men, to identify
with a male point of view, and to accept as normal and legitimate a male system of values (xx). Women are presented in
the literature the way the male society wants.
The binary division is usually a hierarchical one in which men and the muscular are seen as dominant or central,
and the opposite sex\ understood as marginal or subordinate, many versions of feminism have sought to challenge the
framework it underpins it. (Loxley 115)
Women are marginalized in the mainstream culture. The binary contols their life in a way that women do not have
anything of their own. The performance of women is decided by the male dominated society. Butler says performativity is
not a singular act, but a repletion and a ritual, which achieves its effects through its naturalization in the context of body,
understood, in part, as culturally sustained temporal duration. (Butler 15)
Butler also denies the fact that all of the internal world of the psyche is but an effect of a stylized set of acts. She
thinks that that it is a significant theoretical mistake to take the internality of the psychic world granted.
Butler has looked at the concept of performativity to pinpoint the construction of gender identity. The identity
Impact Factor (JCC): 4.4049

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that we describe through the terms of gender is constituted through the performance of a set of acts that serve to forge us as
gendered subjects, which is not at all the way that the customary understanding gender roles would have it (Loxley 118)
Loxley quotes butler. It seems fair to say that certain kinds of acts are usually interpreted as expressive of a gender core or
identity, and that these acts either conform to an expected gender identity or contest that expectation in some way. (qtd. in
Loxley 118)
Women are gendered at the moment of their birth. There are certain characteristics which are imposed on the
women. Butler talks about Irigary who says the patriarchal society excludes some features which fall into women category
and gender is established through the performance of certain rules.
The repressed desire and subjectivity are linked which leads a person to execute the expected or unexpected
performance. Freud says psychoanalysis does not try to describe what a woman is- that would be a task it could scarcely
perform- but sets about inquiring how she becomes into being, how a woman develops out of child with a bisexual
disposition (psychoanalytic feminism, 16 may, 2011, googleweblite.com Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy
Mary Turner is colonized in her own country by the patriarchal society. She adopts violence to get herself free.
But, the difference is that she adopts violence against the black men and women. She does not have power to stand against
the patriarchal society. In this level, she is suppressing who is dying to come out of suppression.
In this novel, a woman is shown as an authority of the male society. Dick Turner has been submissive to Mary and
she has power to rule over the male though they are black. But in this patriarchal society, a woman cannot be an authority
for a long time. Marys dependence on Moses portrays a womans weakness.
It is evident that the society never allows a girl to live alone. It is assumed that women need to get married and
continue to look after the house. The destiny that society traditionally offers women is marriage (Beauvoir 502) Though
the condition of colored women is worse, the life of women is yet to better as a human being. Even, the female class cannot
take a girl living alone. During the 18th century, womens work was extremely difficult, exhausting, and
underappreciated. Most colonial women were homemakers who cooked meals, made clothing, and doctored their family as
well as cleaned, made household goods to use and sell, took care of their animals, maintained a cook fire and tended the
kitchen gardens. Middle class and wealthy women also shared some of these chores in their households, but they often had
servants to help them. Both men and women had great social pressure on them to marry. Young girls were often married
by the age of 13 or 14. Women who were not married by the age of 25 were socially humiliated. Women married mostly
for

social

and

economic

reasons,

not

for

romantic

ones.

<http://www.iroquoisdemocracy.pdx.edu/html/colonialwoman.htm>
Womens thoughts are molded by the patriarchal society. Mary Turner unlike the conventional women is not
emotional towards family, marriage or husband. She is a self-independent woman who wants to lead her own life. But, the
patriarchal society, where women also become the barriers of womens development and independence, never accepts that
a girl will live her life according to her choice.
Mary Turner is brought up in an unhealthy environment which is responsible for her cruel mentality. She saw her
father drinking and mother shouting. They lost their children. They did not have money to pay the bills. They never
quarreled over anything but money (15). Her mother tried to show the feelings of indifference to her father. Mary starts to
live in a boarding school. She feels afraid to go to her home during holidays. She has lost interest in conjugal life. She has
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distaste for sex and male. She had inherited from her mother an arid feminism (16). She says Men! They get all the
funs.(17) Subconsciously, the hatred for marriage is embedded in her mind. She marries Dick Turner, who is an
unsuccessful farmer. I think Mary Turner finds the image of her father in her husband. She gets frustrated.
Mary turner gets thirty. But, the thought of marriage never bothers her. She works in an office and leaves in a
girls club. Nobody ever thought of telling her to leave the place. She was free. She enjoys to pass her time with the girls
and hearing their stories. In office and club, she enjoys the importance given to her. She enjoys to be a free girl. When she
eavesdrops her friends mocking her, she has to decide to marry. Her friends make mocking comments on her sense of
dressing. They say that Mary will marry a man about her fathers age.
The surrounding of Mary including women pulls her towards the domination of the society. She faces violence as
she cannot live on her own choice. Violence never ends up bringing anything good. She cannot accept the violence which
eventually turns her into a violent person.
Mary meets an old man. But she flies away from him, when he attempts to make love. Later, Mary meets Dick
turner, a farmer. Dick falls in love with her. Mary marries him but there is lack of interest. When she goes with her
husband in farm, she gets frustrated. Even she does not enjoy the love making. It meant nothing to her (Lessing,26)
Mary for the first time comes into contact withthe black people. In her childhood, she was forbidden to talk with
the natives. They are nasty and might do horrible things to her. (27)In new environment, she is alone. For first few days
she passes her time in shopping and embroidery. Dick was a sensitive man. He wants her to love him on her own accord.
He treats her like her brother. Later, Mary whitewashes the walls. She starts to read her read novels again.
When she takes the authority of the kitchen, she starts to misbehave with Samson, the native servant of Dick. She
accuses him of stealing in the kitchen. She cuts the salary out his wages. Samson was docked two shillings. Samson leaves
the service. Dick really gets upset.She was filled with wonder and even repulsion (31) Mary feels weird to see Dick feel
bad for the black men. Dick is so sad that he is going to lose Samson. He understands them very well. He considers Marys
behavior as childs one. Mary starts to dislike Dick to see him personal with the native.
Mary is happy with her husband\s submissiveness. She feels herself victorious to see her husband submissive. She
used to feel affection for him when he asks her forgiveness for bringing her here. His cravings for forgiveness, and his
abasement before her was the greatest satisfaction though she despised him for it (31)Mary is requested by Dick to take
bath with less water as there is cost of money to fetch water. It is a hot weather. But Mary continues to waste water. She
does not want to yield to her husbands request.
Dick is supposed to be a dominant husband as expected by the gender performance. He is polite. Mary Turner
takes the advantage of his politeness. She tries to show her anger on him as he is apparently weaker than her.
When a new boy comes, Mary teaches him everything in a hard way. The new boy never works in a white mans
house before. Everything is new to him. Dick suggests Mary to go easy with him. But Mary does not want to let her
standards go down. She gets angry at everything the new boy does. She enjoys torturing him. He is a machine to her. She is
obsessed with the thought that he steals. She makes him clean the bathroom which is actually not dirty. She makes the
servant work for a whole day without giving him food. Dick is unlike her. He says hes a human being, isnt he? (37).
though he considers them savages, he knows how to behave well and manage them. She started to say loudly with her
husband that she never wants to be treated like this. The way she talks resembles her mother. It is not Mary, the
Impact Factor (JCC): 4.4049

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individual. She just wants to show the suffering of a female.


Dick Turner starts to work harder to afford children he wants to have. He could not succeed in any business. He
has opened a store to sell cycles. Mary is requested to sell them. Mary Turner hates black women. If he dislikes men, she
loathes black women. (46)
The black women live in the periphery of the marginalized class. Barbara smith says For whites, this specialized
lack of knowledge is inextricably connected to their not knowing in any concrete or politically transforming way that Black
women of any description dwell in this place. Black women's existence, experience, and culture and the brutally complex
systems of oppression which shape these are in the "real world" of white and/or male consciousness beneath consideration,
invisible, unknown.
<http://webs.wofford.edu/hitchmoughsa/Toward.html>
Mary Turner also suffers from inferiority complex as they live in poverty. When CharlySlatters wife praises her
new decoration of home, she misunderstood her and felt resentment.
Looking for an identity is instinctive in human beings. Mary wants her own identity. She wants to be an
independent woman. After marrying a failure husband, she struggles to hold on her identity. She is not happy with her
husband. But she never thinks of running away because she has heard that her friends will again mock her not to sustain
her married life. She loves to think the past when she lived as she pleased before they get them married! (47)
But, she runs away to her old town. But she does not get permission to live in the girls club anymore. She
ultimately becomes the wife of a poor farmer. Dick brings her back to home. He cannot think of his house without Mary.
Dick gets ill after six years of marriage. He wants Mary to look after the farm. Mary refuses him but eventually, she agrees
to go the farm. She starts to look after the farm and its worker with extreme hatred and cruelty. She only thinks them as
dirty savages. She gets the sense of authority while supervising them. She has a long leather. It gave her a feeling of
authority, and braced her against the waves of hatred that she could feel coming from the gang of natives (53)
Mary Turner is a colonizer. She wants to dominate them and make them yield to her. She has not shown any
mercy to them. Though her husband requests her to be soft with them, she said scornfully, `I don't believe in treating them
soft,'`if I had my way, I'd keep them in order with the whip.'(56). She becomes more violent when she comes to know that
Black people can complain against her. It hurts her ego as she is a white woman.
When we think of colonization, we cannot think of women as colonizers. When Mary turner turns into aggressive
women towards the black men, it is obvious that no male will accept it. Mary is brought up thinking that black people are
animals. She tends to be more masculine rather than to be feminine. But male society will never accept women as
masculine. Charly says Niggers dont understand women giving them orders. They keep their own women in their right
places. (10)
She tortures Moses more which makes her dependent on him eventually. Mary wants to get shelter from her
sufferings, failure and mental agony. Mary has no ability to show her anger on this patriarchal society. She shows her
anger on the weaker part of the society, the black. She begins to take this hatred out on Moses. Her relationship with him is
highly ambiguous. She becomes ever more dependent on him. She starts to have relationship with him eventually. But,
Moses kills her to take revenge of his humiliation.

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Mary turner is a depressed woman. She has found her way to avoid her inner sufferings by torturing the black
men. She hates black men from the core of her heart. Her hatred, her sufferings, her loss of independence, her sense of
superiority over the black all work together to lead her towards the destruction.
The white never considers the black as human beings. The life of black people has no meaning at all to them.
After killing a black man, Charley has to pay only fees. he had once killed a native in a fit of novel (Lessing, 5) Franz
Fanon has put focus on White colonials who suffer from a Prospero complexlike the character Prospero in Shakespeares
The Tempest, they want to rule it over the natives.
Mary turner is a victim of patriarchal society. The irony is that she becomes the oppressor of the male though they
are black. Lessing has portrayed the characters of the novel to satire her own society. Mary fails to continue her cruelty
over the African people. Moses revenge of killing Mary implies his anger towards the colonized people and the rise of the
Africans as well. In the beginning of the novel, the tragic of white Africans is shown. Marys death symbolizes the ending
of so called brutal colonization. The dogs are licking at her.(7)
Marywas happy to be herself. She as woman stays at the binary of the mainstream culture which actually never
gives heed to the desire of the peripheral class. The abjection of Mary leads her to the violence she adopts to get rid of her
mental pressure.

CONCLUSIONS
Mary seems to be a violent woman. Indeed, she has become a violent woman. She despises the male community.
Obviously, the black men trigger the hatred more in Mary as the black men are so-called barbarians. She does not regard
black women even as a human being. Mary is disgusted at the submissiveness, the degrading and mainly the color of the
black women. The black women never get focused in the form of literature. In The Heart of darkness, black women are
portrayed as wild.
Mary does not become successful in her process as she could not fight back. But, the colonized Moses fights back
against Mary. In both cases, a woman is a victim. Mary was taught to be against the black people. The black people were
bound to go against white as they deserve the rights of human beings. Mary subverted their gender performance to fight
back as Loxley says the performativity that establishes the norm turns back to challenge it.(Loxley 126).
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Abrams, M.H and Geoffrey Galt Harpham. A Glossary of Literary Terms. 9th ed. Boston: Wadsworth Cengage Learning,
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Ashcroft et al. Post-Colonial Studies. 2nd ed. New York: Routledge, 2007.pdf.

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Beauvoir, Simon De. Second Sex. Trans. Constance Borde and Sheila Malovany-Chevallier. New York: Vintage Books, 2011.
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Butler, Judith. Gender Trouble. New York: Routledge,1990. Print.

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Cesaire, Aime. Discourse on Colonialism. Trans. Joan Pinkham. New York: Monthly Review Press, 2000. Print.

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Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. Dhaka: Friends, 1993. Print.

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Fanon, Frantz. The Wretched of the Earth. Trans. Richard Philcox. New York, Grove press, 1963. Pdf.---. Black Skin White

Impact Factor (JCC): 4.4049

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Masks. Trans. Charles Lam Markmann. New York, Grove press, 1967. Print.
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