Power and transgression: margins, crossings and monstrous women in selected works of Bharati Mukherjee and Angela Carter

Doctoral Thesis


Permanent link to this Item
Journal Title
Link to Journal
Journal ISSN
Volume Title

University of Cape Town

This study focuses on power and transgression in selected works of two disparate authors, Bharati Mukherjee and Angela Carter. Despite their differences of origins, cultures and styles, both writers articulate a vision of transgressive, unruly women, often situated at society's edges, who dare to challenge boundaries and who are capable of monstrous, larger-than-life acts. Setting these two authors side by side illuminates how the margins can unleash an energetic potency and reveals how transgression produces a liberatory effect that both unsettles power and provides a necessary advantage for those who wish to inhabit the space of power. Three main areas of investigation are covered. The initial section addresses people at the 'Margins' in terms of Carter's use of the carnivalesque and Mukherjee's application of chaos theory; unexpected confluences emerge which paradoxically speak to the symbolic force of those cast to the side or consigned to the edges, suggesting that the margins themselves can become places of power. The section on 'Crossings' looks at transgression both literally, as a crossing over from one space to another, and metaphorically, as a violation of normative codes of behaviour. For both authors, crossings of one kind or another, whether metaphoric, literal, or textual, foreground a transgressive edge. An analysis of the texts reveals how, in very different ways, Mukherjee and Carter articulate transgression as contesting established authority and creating space for a divergent form of ascendancy. The final section on 'Monstrous Women' deals with how women and foreigners are framed as 'freaks' or monsters in order to devalue their significance within hegemonic patriarchal structures. Ironically, this framing can be recuperated so that it simultaneously subverts power through parody, excess and violence, and creates a gap for accessing it. Borders, gaps and crossings underpin this entire study and drive the rationale for reading these two authors together, revealing the spaces between them, and how they criss-cross, meet, collide or fail to align. The journey of this thesis has travelled a counterpath: it has demanded openness to the encounter with the unexpected, resulting in the discovery of insights, and being surprised and enlightened by unsuspected alliances and evocative mismatches.