Woven Memories

In one of Shani Mootoo’s interviews, she was asked, “Would you say that to some extent you are writing your “selves” into being?.. Audre Lorde refers to the ‘‘telling’’ of experience, and part of Lorde’s meaning in that phrase is the ‘‘telling’’ or the ‘‘relating’’ of parts of oneself in order to share the experiences”(110). While Mootoo sidestepped this question in the interview, the concept of being able to write or tell oneself into being (or part of oneself) is very evident within Mootoo’s novel, “Cereus Blooms at Night. In Cereus Blooms at Night the main character, Mala, goes through extreme trauma throughout a significant amount of her life, starting from when she was a child. We see Mala deal with this trauma in her own way, often secluding herself into her mind and into the past, “fortified by the night’s display she wove memories. She remembered a little and imagined a great deal”(Mootoo 142). Memories are usually things that we think of as set, of things that happened in the past which are then unchangeable as a whole, however Mala “wove her own memories” implying that she was able to manipulate strands of her past memories like threads along with new imagined events to create new memories for herself. Mala draws within herself to create a version of her life, a version of her younger self, Pohpoh, in a new narrative, with a new ending. Mala “thought harder of Pohpoh… I, Mala Ramchandin, will set you, Pohpoh Ramchandin free, free, free, like a bird”(Mootoo 173). Mala thinks another Pohpoh into existence by telling and retelling herself the stories of her youth until she cannot distinguish her original memory from her woven memory, the created existence within her own mind. Through these woven memories of her own design, Mala creates a separate Pohpoh and lets her free. Pohpoh’s freedom, her happy ending, is soaring in the sky, away from the rocks that strangers threw at her, the bullies, the whispers of people who knew what her father was doing and did nothing, and most importantly far above her father’s reach and control.  This Pohpoh was one that Mala created a happy ending for, a happy ending that involved her (Mala) saving herself (Pohpoh) by finally freeing Pohpoh.

While Mootoo may not have written one of herself into being in Cereus Blooms at Night, or at least refused to speak on that, her character Mala thought and told a version of herself, Pohpoh, into a new being in the freedom both parts of Mala desperately needed. 

2 thoughts on “Woven Memories”

  1. I really love this analysis! I think considering memories, especially for people with trauma, is so difficult and so important. For many people who suffered through trauma over long periods of time, their memories shift in unpredictable ways, often as a protective response. It is highly common for trauma survivors to lose chucks of memories, or have difficulty recalling events during, before or after the experience. However, what I find so interesting is the language of Mala weaving her own memories. It is simultaneously an acknowledgement of the instability of her memories, *and* a display of strength and active addressing of Mala’s life. She takes her experiences into her own hands and reworks (by hand, if we follow the metaphor) them to fit in her head, in the place she calls home, fitting them so that they can be hospitable again. For a book with so many characters who are so frequently passive, I really appreciate you pointing out this innocuous place of quiet action taken by Mala.

  2. This is such an interesting concept that you bring up, the idea of essentially being able to manifest a new self and recreate a new being in order to overcome trauma or past harm. I feel like Otoh does this as well; though he was assigned female at birth (and this is a trauma that will never leave him) and given the name Ambrosia, he chose to reinvent himself with the name of Otoh and essentially write his own happy ending. A happy ending for Otoh was not in the cards until he wove it himself–became more male- than female- identifying–and (unconsciously, as opposed to Mala’s Pohpoh) allowed Ambrosia Mohanty to exist as a separate entity from Otoh Mohanty.

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