Colonialism, imprisonment, and contamination in French Guyana: Leon-Gontran Damas's "Retour de Guyane" and Patrick Chamoiseau's "Guyane: Traces-memoires du bagne"

Date of Award




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)



First Committee Member

Marc Brudzinski - Committee Chair


Cultural identity in French Guyana rests on an amalgam of racial and social issues shaped by colonialism. The prison established there by the colonial government serves as a locus for reflection and contestation of these complexities. Drawing on postcolonial approaches to slavery, race, and history, I analyze how Damas (1937) and Chamoiseau (1994) each represent and interrogate the prison along with French West Indian identity. Coincidentally, and despite the distance in time, both authors describe the prisoners as signs of the "contamination" brought, according to them, by French colonizers into the colonies. The term "contamination" guides the discussion of colonialism and imprisonment and both authors interpret historic events in the French West Indies using the same parameters. For them, "contamination" translates into a discussion of the prisoners as agents and objects of an infection that is not literal. In Damas's work, his bourgeois values and ties to the Negritude movement appear in the discussion of the prison. Chamoiseau uses the same parameters associated with the prisoners to convey his idea of justice. Despite Creolite's celebration of diversity, Chamoiseau, like Damas, aims for an idea of a pure pre-colonial moment, before the arrival of "contamination", brought in by colonization and by the institution of the prison.


Literature, Modern; Literature, Romance; Literature, Caribbean

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