Writing back

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Postcolonial writers are interested in writing back to the Western discourse, for practising imperialism by representing and constructing marginalized people and their cultures as socially, culturally and morally inferior compared to the Empire. In their response to Victorian authors, postcolonial writers have been concerned with the politics of representation and who is allowed a voice. In this thesis paper, I examine Jack Maggs by Peter Carey, as a rewriting and alterative version of the marginal character Magwitch who was transported to the penal colony of Australia in Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations. The method I approach first, is a “contrapuntal reading” which is reading with an awareness of both the metropolis and the marginal against which the dominant discourse acts. Secondly, “psychoanalysis” of the divided self and how one imagines one’s sense of belonging, and thirdly, a “poststructuralist” way of how one interprets information and questions knowledge as truth. Placing Jack Maggs against Great Expectations, I first examine Dickens’s construction of Magwitch as both a sympathetic and unsympathetic character in order to reveal Dickens’s intention of displaying both emotions and show that Magwitch played the role of reflecting the faults and cruelty of the juridical system in England and as a reference to the colonial world, where Britain could project itself against what Magwitch and Australia was not – superior and sovereign. I then present how Carey addresses these issues of inferior and negative representations of Magwitch and Australia, by investigating the form and content of his rewriting. The results show an ambivalence of colonial discourse in both form and content. At the level of form, Carey imitates Dickens’s style and language and reverses his narrative form in order to dismantle the power of authority. At the level of content, Carey demonstrates the frustration of being trapped between two cultures and finding a hybrid identity by combining the two cultures. Carey suggests that the cause of the colonial subject’s divided-self and frustration is a symptom of how the colonial subject has been constructed as “Other” and “inferior” through colonialism. Carey criticizes Dickens, in the character Oates, for blending fiction and historical accounts about Australia, well knowing, that with Dickens’s authoritative influence readers would accept his account about Australia in his novels to be truth. Simultaneously stating that his version of Magwitch is no more, but no less valid than Dickens’s Magwitch. The significant of Carey’s novel is that one should always question meaning and knowledge as holding any truth – everything is open for interpretation.


Introduction 2

Theory 5

Methodology 6

Theory 9

Postcolonial Criticism 9

Australia as ‘Terra nullius’ 11

Cartography 12

The Theoretical Framework of Edward Said 12

The Theoretical Framework of Homi K.Bhabha 14

The Theoretical Framework of Benedict Anderson 17

How does Dickens generate sympathy for Magwitch in Great Expectations? 18

How does Dickens make us withhold sympathy for Magwitch? 23

How does Carey criticize Dickens through Tobias Oates? 26

The Level of Form and Content 26

Form 27

Mimesis: Jack Maggs’s mimicry of the colonizer 28

Mimicry: Carey’s pastiche of Dickens’s style and language 32

Content 34

The relationship between Jack Maggs and Tobias Oates 34

Jack Maggs and nation 39

Carey’s criticism of Dickens through Tobias Oates 46


Bibliography 55


A postcolonial approach of the rewriting of Peter Carey’s Jack Maggs (1997) to Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations (1861)

Postcolonial studies consist of a fairly new approach of re-readings of colonial and imperial literature, thus examining the relation between the European nations – the center and their former colonies – the margin as outlined by Said. At the height of the British Empire many Victorian novelists, Thackeray, Eliot, Gaskell, Bronte and Dickens, to mention a few, favored this as a useful narrative device. For the British public the access to textual descriptions of the margin were easier to get a hold of than firsthand knowledge, as a result the marginal colonies and its marginalized people were often established through literary representations than reality.

However, in modern times there have been an insistent and need for postcolonial authors to “write back” to colonial writers of history, that have portrayed marginalized people as the “Other as “savages” and “barbaric” to the civilized and reasonable “Self of the colonizer. Thus, it becomes crucial for postcolonial writers to resist and correct the myths created by colonial writers. Some of the recent examples of re-working of Victorian novels have been A Tempest (1969) to The Tempest (1611),Things Fall Apart (1958) to Heart of Darkness (1902), Foe (1986) to Robinson Crusoe (1719), and Wide Sargasso Sea (1966) to Jane Eyre (1847), which is perhaps the best known example of re-writing to date. What is essential in works of re-writing is the emphasis displacing the center to the margin, in order to dismantle authority. Thus, the notion of rewriting is a way of “writing back” to use Salman Rushdie’s phrase “The empire writes back with a vengeance.”1

Similarly, the novel chosen for this paper, a fairly recent example, address these questions with a political agenda as well, that is Peter Carey’s Jack Maggs (1997) a re-writing of Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations. (1861) As the approach of this paper is postcolonial, focus is placed on Peter Carey’s Jack Maggs, thus Great Expectations will function as a sub-text in relation to the investigations of this paper.

While Great Expectations is a classic of the dominant ideas found within canonical texts by first-person narration, the contemporary novelist Carey challenges this narrative structure. In Jack Maggs Carey re-tells the story of the convict Magwitch by taking up the last part of Dickens’s novel. Carey’s novel begins when the convict, in the name of Jack Maggs, after having served his time in Australia comes back to England, to see his adopted and financed son Henry Pipps. The novel is thus the telling of why and how Maggs became a convict sent to Australia in Dickens Great Expectations, thus giving him a voice and placing him at the center of the novel, like that of the Englishman Pip.

Similar to Great Expectations in which Pip’s story is the “coming-of-age,” Jack Maggs is also a bildungsroman, in that the hero – Jack Maggs, frees himself from his emotional attachment and relationship to his mother country, and conversely, accepts his home in Australia and embrace his hybrid identity, which is the result of two cultures. Carey offers an alternative version rather than provide it with a mere continuation as sequels usually do. Postcolonial re-writings challenge the narrative authority and is thus able to challenge the power that was once synonymous with colonialism - the metropolitan centre. Carey literally exemplifies this phenomenon by featuring a dishonest novelist, Tobias Oates, in the allusion of Dickens, who gives the world an inaccurate view of the convict in his fictional novel called The Death of Jack Maggs. By challenging the writing process of authorship, Carey puts the source-text into perspective as one version of the truth amongst possible others in order to make space for writings of alternative versions. In a very postmodern matter, Peter Carey challenges any claim to the truth. He points to his readers that (re)writing – including his own, Jack Maggs, means producing another ideological discourse, nor more but no less valid than the previous text.

Now, it seems obvious to ask why I have chosen to include Great Expectations as a sub-text to Jack Maggs. Since Jack Maggs is an independent work, why not only focus on that work. However, when we read Jack Maggs comparatively to Great Expectations, we are able to recognize the cultural form by studying the power relation between the hegemony culture in Britain and the subordinate culture in Australia. Thus, we see how Dickens construct and practice Western cultural norms in Great Expectations, by presenting Australia negatively. This for one allows the reader to imagine that a second chance in life for the lowest type of renegades is only possible in Australia. Secondly, that it is a place where one can financially prosper. Thus, Australia is imagined as a place of criminals and money, which does not make a good combination. However, when we read Jack Maggs comparatively to Dickens story, we are told the stories which Dickens left out. The most strikingly example is when Maggs accounts for his time in Australia, where he was whipped and treated like a dog. The fact that Dickens left out this kind of information in his novel shows the imperial domination through literature. What is worse is that when Dickens as an influential author portrays Australia and Magwitch as subordinate and negative, readers will most likely take Dickens information of Australia and their citizens as knowledge. Thus, maintaining the power relations between the empire and its colony through imperial practice in literature. Equally, Carey’s rewriting of Great Expectations is a resistance of “an alternative way of conceiving human history.” Thus, this leads to the research question for this paper.

How and why does Peter Carey rewrite the history of Magwitch in Jack Maggs from a postcolonial perspective?

In order to investigate this question we need to develop a set of sub-questions. First we need to examine the character Magwitch from the pre-text Great Expectations. How does Dickens generate sympathy for Magwitch in Great Expectations? How does Dickens make us withhold sympathy for Magwitch? It is only in light of our understanding of Dickens Magwitch that one is able to fully understand the psychological impacts of colonialism on the subject of Jack Maggs. Thus, how does Carey criticize Dickens through Oates? The argument for this research paper is the following:

In Jack Maggs, Carey rewrites the history of Magwitch by combining a form that both mimics Dickens’s style and subverts his authoritative narrative device in order to criticize what Carey sees as the unscrupulous writing process of the colonial world by the Victorian author, thereby expanding our sympathy for the former convict as part victim of Empire, in relation to political enterprises.

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