MENTAL ILLNESS AND THE TRAUMAS OF APARTHEID A Psychoanalytical Reading of Zoë Wicomb’s Playing in the Light

University essay from Göteborgs universitet/Institutionen för språk och litteraturer

Abstract: Zoë Wicomb’s novel Playing in the Light (2006) critically examines the perilous times of apartheid in South Africa through the condition of play-whites. This thesis particularly focuses on the psychological unrest and traumatic experiences of two characters – Marion Campbell, and her mother, Helen Charles – whose disarrayed mental state is believed to be emblematic of the destructive ramifications of apartheid and the play-white act on the human psyche. By employing a psychoanalytical reading of their narratives in chronological order based on Frantz Fanon’s observation of neuroticism as portrayed in Black Skin/ White Masks and on Freudian dream interpretation that evokes the repressed, I argue that the two women in their different historical placements in South Africa embody an obsession with higher whiteness that is associated in the Fanonian sense with what I call ‘flamboyant’ neuroticism, or mental illness. The unmasking property of this essay takes a deconstructive form by moving between the childhood and adolescent years of the characters in order to conclude that the placement of whiteness on the pedestal of ultimate existence by the racially structured regime of South Africa proved to be fatal for Helen under the oppression of apartheid, whereas Marion despite her psychological traumas was able to embrace a hybrid identity, thus symbolizing the new South Africa.

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