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The Journal of English Language and Literature , Vol.63, No.2, 281 ~ 298, 2017
The Storytelling Quilt: Ethnic Narratives in Zakes Mda`s Cion
Ilsu Sohn
This essay aims to analyze the quilt in Zakes Mda`s novel Cion as a Benjaminian storytelling. As a communal heritage from the time of slavery, the quilt bridges two stories, the one of the Quigley family in the present time and the other of their ancestors from the nineteenth-century Virginia slavery plantation. The slaves stitch their memories, escape accounts, and folktales on their quilts to assist with their fellow slaves` journey to freedom. Rather than merely communicating cartographic information, however, the quilt affects its carriers/readers as a spiritual guide and facilitates further interpretation and addition, thereby exemplifying a storyteller according to Walter Benjamin`s theorization. According to him, the storytelling does not transmit verifiable information or an individual author`s consciousness but combines collective myths, undocumented voices, and talks of spiritual wisdom. The quilt also helps to render the residents` ethnic identity as a storytelling. For the Quigley family and neighbors of a mixed racial background, the ethnic identity that the quilt represents is not one that is determined from the beginning by an essential origin or a particular author but one that new generations reinterpret and rewrite to cope with their present concerns. The quilt-like open, collective, and mnemonic narrative of ethnic identity is of the nature to be constantly reinvented through collective efforts so that it allows encounters between different times and between different spaces, and thus invokes new forms of intimacy, belonging, and solidarity.
Key Words
quilt, storytelling, memory, history, ethnicity
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