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Postcolonial bildungsroman: indigenous subjects and identity-formation
journal contributionposted on 2007-12-01, 00:00 authored by Clare BradfordClare Bradford
In the bildungsroman as it has conventionally been defined, individuals attain self-actualisation through a series of experiences whereby they accommodate their individuality to a social order. Protagonists negotiate their transition from childhood to young-adulthood by way of educative experiences, trials of various kinds, and a search for identity, which is generally formulated as a fixed or stable essence which they must discover or accept. In this paper I focus on two examples of bildungsroman by Indigenous Canadian and Australian authors: Jeannette Armstrong’s Slash (1985),and Richard J. Frankland’s Digger J. Jones (2007). Both novels feature male protagonists whose stories play out against the background of Indigenous activism in the 1960s. As they track the identity-formation of their protagonists, the two novels deconstruct simple or fixed ideas of national identity by pointing to the complex cross-cultural relationships which have characterised settler societies. At the same time,these novels dramatise the power of socialising practices which promote white superiority and position Indigenous peoples as supplicants or victims. Both novels draw on what Paul Havemann terms the "new politics of identity and cultural recognition" which characterise contemporary Indigenous activism, re-reading events and settings of the 1960s in the light of discourses of cultural recognition and self-determination.