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Empire Islands: Castaways, Cannibals, and Fantasies of Conquest

Rebecca Weaver-Hightower
Copyright Date: 2007
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 312
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  • Book Info
    Empire Islands
    Book Description:

    Rebecca Weaver-Hightower argues that by helping generations of readers to make sense of—and perhaps feel better about—imperial aggression, the castaway story in effect enabled the expansion and maintenance of European empire. Drawing on readings of works from Thomas More's Utopia and The Tempest to lesser-known works, Weaver-Hightower examines themes of cannibalism, monstrosity, and the concept of going native. _x000B_

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-9870-7
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Introduction Islands and the Narrating of Possession
    (pp. ix-xxx)

    Gilligan’s Island. Robinson Crusoe. Fantasy Island. We are fascinated with islands, both real and imaginary, mysterious and elemental. Combining the allure of sexy sunset beaches with the titillation of risk, islands evoke romance and danger. This lure of islands permeates literature. Particularly popular are stories, written during fifteenth- through early twentieth-century Europe’s colonization of much of the world, which typically tell of a person—most often a single man—stranded on an island, a castaway. He is forced to survive, usually on wits and coconuts alone, the perilous situations that island life often brings: hunger, loneliness, madness, fierce weather, cannibals,...

  4. 1. Monarchs of All They Survey
    (pp. 1-42)

    The story is familiar: a castaway, brave and lucky, survives a shipwreck and initial despair to make the perfect home of an alien island, meanwhile evolving, himself, from survivor to colonist. The latter, that crucialpsychologicaltransition from survivor to colonist, occurs in tale after tale through a well-known series of events, including one oft-repeated scene in which the castaway views the island from an elevated site, often from a mountaintop. But what happens, we might ask, in the castaway’s mind during those familiar events? What leads to his sense of possession? And what can tracing this psychological transition from...

  5. 2. Disciplined Islands: White Fatherhood, Homosocial Masculinity, and Law
    (pp. 43-90)

    Most fictional castaways are men. And in their behavior, most are essentially interchangeable: they remain strong in the face of adversity, stoic when confronted with despair, equipped for every threat and challenge, disciplined in mind and body. They are manly men, and when more than one male is stranded together, the white man most strongly displaying behaviors of strength, stoicism, and self-discipline becomes leader and commander of the island.

    In the examination in chapter 1 of how bodies can provide subconscious means for imagining control of island space, I left aside for that moment that those bodies, of course, are...

  6. 3. Voracious Cannibals, Rapacious Pirates, and Threats of Counterincorporation
    (pp. 91-127)

    Time and again, in tale after tale, the castaway feels forced to defend his island from an invader. Typically the invader is an intruding native (a cannibal) or treacherous white man (a pirate), and frequently, as inRobinson Crusoe, the castaway repeatedly and successfully defends against both the cannibal’s feast and the pirate’s foray. The ubiquity of these attempted invasions raises several questions, the first being: Why would writers of island narratives bring the pirate and cannibal so repeatedly into their plots? Since, as argued in the last chapter, the manly castaway commands the island through his disciplined body, what,...

  7. 4. “Falling to the Lowest Degree of Brutishness”: Wild Men, Monsters, and the Bestial Taint
    (pp. 128-169)

    When in the last chapter I noted that Gideon Spilett, the leader of Verne’sMysterious Islandcastaways, warns his companions that they need to guard “against enemies from the interior as those from outside” (115), I promised to return to further examine that warning’s rather significant phrasing. I was then in the midst of analyzing those enemies “from outside” the island and empire, invading cannibals and pirates. I argued that a fantasy of disciplined body boundaries enables castaway and reader to imagine guarding against those “outside” foes. But I now ask, what about the “enemies from the interior” that Spilett...

  8. 5. Island Parodies and Crusoe Pantomimes: Resistance from Within
    (pp. 170-204)

    Our examination of how island castaway narratives contributed to empire has so far only hinted at a range of tales that were produced alongside those narratives and also parodied them. Centuries before the twentieth-century revisions of the island story with which I opened this book—like Coetzee’sFoeand Walcott’sPantomime—came novels like Jonathan Swift’sGulliver’s Travelsand dramas like Gilbert and Sullivan’s operettaUtopia Limitedand Thomas Duffett’sThe Mock Tempest, which take as their comedic subject the castaway island story, mocking and in some cases subverting that foundational myth of British imperialism. Some of these texts, such...

  9. 6. The U.S. Island Fantasy, or Cast Away with Gilligan
    (pp. 205-224)

    I would like to close this book by circling back to the questions with which it began. In my introduction I asked what was so powerful about the colonial island story that postcolonial writers felt compelled to rewrite it and colonial authors to repeat it. The power of the island and its story, I have argued, comes from its ability to sustain a fantasy of natural bodily command of space, a fantasy important to legitimizing colonial expansion both at home and with the newly colonized peoples. The second question with which I opened this study asked how those stories of...

  10. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 225-228)
  11. Notes
    (pp. 229-244)
  12. Works Cited
    (pp. 245-266)
  13. Index
    (pp. 267-278)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 279-279)