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The Things That Fly in the Night

The Things That Fly in the Night: Female Vampires in Literature of the Circum-Caribbean and African Diaspora

Copyright Date: 2015
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 296
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  • Book Info
    The Things That Fly in the Night
    Book Description:

    The Things That Fly in the Nightexplores images of vampirism in Caribbean and African diasporic folk traditions and in contemporary fiction. Giselle Liza Anatol focuses on the figure of thesoucouyant, or Old Hag-an aged woman by day who sheds her skin during night's darkest hours in order to fly about her community and suck the blood of her unwitting victims. In contrast to the glitz, glamour, and seductiveness of conventional depictions of the European vampire, the soucouyant triggers unease about old age and female power. Tracing relevant folklore through the English- and French-speaking Caribbean, the U.S. Deep South, and parts of West Africa, Anatol shows how tales of the nocturnal female bloodsuckers not only entertain and encourage obedience in pre-adolescent listeners, but also work to instill particular values about women's "proper" place and behaviors in society at large.

    Alongside traditional legends, Anatol considers the explosion of soucouyant and other vampire narratives among writers of Caribbean and African heritage who in the past twenty years have rejected the demonic image of the character and used her instead to urge for female mobility, racial and cultural empowerment, and anti colonial resistance. Texts include work by authors as diverse as Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison, U.S. National Book Award winner Edwidge Danticat, and science fiction/fantasy writers Octavia Butler and Nalo Hopkinson.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-6575-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VI)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. VII-VIII)
  3. Preface
    (pp. IX-XII)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. XIII-XVI)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-34)

    Soucouyant. Ol’ Suck. Old Hige. Volant. Loogaroo. Gens-gagée. These words bring terror to the minds of children raised on Caribbean folk­tales about the elderly woman who keeps to herself, often chasing people from her yard or sleeping the day away, and then emerges from her skin at night, becomes a ball of flame, and plagues her community by drinking people’s blood—sometimes straight from their hearts. For adults as well as children, the word “soucouyant” and its equivalents conjure images of frightening old age; alarmingly bloody, skinless creatures; terrifying invasions of the home; and nightmarish penetrations of the body. This...

  6. 1 Conventional Versions: The Soucouyant Story in Folktales, Fiction, and Calypso
    (pp. 35-85)

    The soucouyant story is quite old; there are a number of references to these diabolical creatures in narratives by eighteenth- and nineteenth-century English and French plantation owners and visitors to the region who penned tales that had been repeated to them by African Caribbean locals. However, traditional African cultures were oral, and the prohibition against literacy for enslaved peoples compounds the problem of having a lack of early primary materials with which to work that were recorded by the same group who generated them. Caribbean musicologist J. D. Elder notes that many U.S. and British folklorists showed interest in African...

  7. 2 Nineteenth-Century Connections: European Vampire Stories and Configurations of the Demonic Black Woman
    (pp. 86-124)

    This chapter considers a coexisting influence on the soucouyant myths that were rooted/routed in West African cultures—another set of sites for the network—and on the contemporary renditions of Black female vampires, both within the African diaspora and without: nineteenth-century British narratives. The colonial presence of the British in the Anglophone Caribbean ensured the exposure to, if not absorption of, canonical English literary texts, historical narratives, and social norms by the resident population. As folkorists of the African Americas such as Melville Herskovits and, later, Roger Abrahams and John Szwed argued, “Peoples cannot live side-by-side, even in the most...

  8. 3 Draining Life Rather than Giving It: Maternal Legacies
    (pp. 125-158)

    In an ancient text from Kabbalistic Spain, there is a story detailing an encounter between Lilith, Adam’s first wife who refused to succumb to his authority, and the prophet Elijah. When he asks where she is going, she replies: “My lord Elijah, I am on my way to the house of a woman in childbirth … to give her the sleep of death and to take her child which is being born to her, to suck its blood, and to suck the marrow of its bones, and to steal its flesh” (Patai 299). Children were perceived to be the most...

  9. 4 “Queering” the Norm: Vampirism and Women’s Sexuality
    (pp. 159-188)

    As innumerable feminist critics have stated, battles for patriarchal control have often been fought for and on women’s bodies. The bodies of women of African descent are especially fraught sites, and the ideology surrounding these bodies is a legacy that must still be combated in the twenty-first century. Not only are there individual and state attempts to influence reproductive potential (as is the case with almost all women), but the experience of enslavement meant specifically racialized readings of the Black female body—one that was moved from place to place at the “master’s” will, one ever-available for and allegedly ever-desirous...

  10. 5 Reconstructing a Nation of Strangers: Soucouyants in the Work of Tessa McWatt, David Chariandy, and Helen Oyeyemi
    (pp. 189-220)

    As I discussed in Chapter 4, one of Nalo Hopkinson’s primary goals inBrown Girl in the Ringis to employ soucouyant folklore to interrogate gender norms in contemporary society, particularly those surrounding motherhood. Another prominent theme of the novel is the exploration of definitions of national identity for the immigrant and other subaltern populations of Canada. For example, when Premier Uttley—ostensibly the voice and representative of all Canadian people—awakens from the surgery in which the heart of African Caribbean Gros-Jeanne has been placed in her body, the rhetoric is suggestive: the politician refers to the heart as...

  11. 6 Shedding Skin and Sucking Blood: Playing with Notions of Racial Intransigence
    (pp. 221-252)

    In conventional vampire tales, part of the anxiety over the vampiric bite concerns the contamination of the blood of the victim, whether this corruption occurs inside the victim’s body or outside of it, in the body of the vampire. Even in contemporary scientific discourse—where blood, with its white blood cells and antibodies, is viewed as the human body’s best defense against germs and other invading elements—the narrative of a closed circulatory system rejecting “foreign bodies” promotes these feelings of anxiety. Up to the late 1930s in the United States, the American Red Cross refused to accept blood donations...

  12. Conclusions
    (pp. 253-264)

    As I began writing these concluding remarks, I had the opportunity to reread “The Goophered Grapevine,” a short story by U.S. African American writer Charles Chesnutt, first published in the collectionThe Conjure Womanin 1899. The character of Aunt Peggy is described as a woman who “rides folks” at night: a detail I did not recall when I first read the narrative in my undergraduate American Literature survey course. Besides being fascinating to me now as yet another example of the soucouyant figure in African Americas cultures, I am struck by the fact that rather than the conventional evil...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 265-272)
  14. Works Cited
    (pp. 273-290)
  15. Index
    (pp. 291-295)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 296-296)