Tania Zulli (University of Rome 3)

Posted on Friday, March 5th, 2010

‘“Where I’m to find them whites?”: New Cultural Orientations in The Beach of Falesa

Stevenson’s skepticism about the white civilizing influence on Polynesian populations fostered a gradual departure from the standards of European colonial principles and a concurrent approach to the values of native culture. The Beach of Falesà has variously been analyzed as a work marking Stevenson’s separation from the values of imperial adventure narrative (see P. Brantlinger 1998, R. Jolly 1999, J. Reid 2006). While moving between the two axiological opposites of assumed colonial authority and feared native degeneration, the narrative finally suggests a new white individual identity apparently built on ideological immobility but actually relying on cultural and intellectual dynamism. At the end of the story, Wiltshire is ‘stuck’ on the island, trying to come to terms with his new condition and at the same time coping with a ‘personal hidden wound’ (Ambrosini, 2010) caused by the unrealized wish of a life in Europe. His position as a white among the natives is quite far from the contemporary standard images of colonizers; not completely introduced in the native world, nor out of it, Wiltshire epitomizes a condition of relativism that generates new ‘cultural orientations’. If, on the one hand, his life is built on ‘a series of essentially unheroic but honest compromises” (Brantlinger, 1988), on the other hand, it represents a new individual state implying a rethinking of racial hierarchies based on transcultural principles. This calls attention to ‘the impossibility of essentialism’ advocated by Robert Young (1995) in the construction of cultural and literary identities, and reiterates the idea that orientating Stevenson’s fiction in the wider panorama of colonial narrative implies recognizing the cross-cultural sophistication of his work as a crucial intrinsic potential.

Categorized as Abstracts

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