Liminality as identity in four novels by Ben Okri and Tahar ben Jelloun
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This thesis compares two novels each by Nigerian writer Ben Okri and Moroccan writer Tahar Ben Jelloun. By examining apparently transformative moments in the lives of each protagonist, Azaro and Zahra, its principal aim is to show how liminality characterises their identities, and is a source of personal and potentially political liberation, mirrored in the narrative techniques. The Introduction demonstrates the centrality of identity to these novels and the domain of postcolonial studies and defines the key concepts in relevant literary, theoretical and political contexts: identity, hybridity, liminality, magical realism and the postcolonial/postmodern debate. Chapter I establishes Azaro and Zahra as liminal beings from birth, whose childhood rituals are incomplete and who continually subvert parental and social expectation. This examination of liminality may be extended by reading the characters as emblems of their respective nations-in-waiting. Chapter II focuses on the tension between biology and culture within Zahra's gendered identity and demonstrates empowerment in her choice to remain liminal in a 'potential space'. Azaro's shifting sexual awareness is examined as a manifestation of his liminality. The allegorical reading of Zahra's life is continued, and a connection made between sexual and political corruption in the English texts. Chapter III centres on the fluidity of Azaro's boundaries and perception. Like Zahra's, his liminality is chosen, as he decides to live in a potential space between human and spirit. Zahra, too, has a special relationship with the spirit world; she and Azaro are shown to have revelatory visions of political significance. The Conclusion brings together the analysis of Azaro's and Zahra's identities before extending the liminal states of the protagonists to those of reader and artist. It concludes that these texts offer new opportunities for the understanding of postcolonial texts and moving beyond the duality of the postcolonial/postmodern debate.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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