In her first novel, Sugar Cage (1992), Connie May Fowler, a white Floridian with Cherokee ancestry and an early exposure to Voodoo, employs some of the narrative conventions of magical realism as a way around the impasse of Southern race relations in Florida in the 1960s. Her otherwise modernist narrative technique of nine first-person narrators emphasizes the isolation of her characters at the same time that the variety of viewpoints encourages readers to see both the interracial and international connections that elude or confuse her characters. The cultural and transnational complexities she explores, especially as regards the importation of African and Haitian belief systems and Florida’s reliance on Haitian migrant workers, make magical realism an interesting, if perhaps contested, connective tissue between black and white worlds in Florida. In exploring the historical circumstances that produced South American magical realism, circumstances similar to those in the US South, Antonia Benitez-Rojo argues that Caribbean revolutionary discourses, which reacted to slavery, colonialism, and the plantation economy, inform the genre. He believes that such discourses when “passing into the genres of literature” attempt “to decenter the violence of their origins with their own excess, looking for legitimation in their own illegitimacy” (212-213). In a large cast of characters, Fowler’s most compelling focus is on a young interracial couple and an old African American cleaning woman, but the novel’s many subplots manifest a palpable desire to reach a sphere of “effective equality” which Benitez-Rojo attributes to creole cultures, “where the racial, social, and cultural differences that conquest, colonization, and slavery created would coexist without violence” (52). This is just the place that several of Fowler’s characters reach by the conclusion of Sugar Cage, crossing color lines, belief systems, and national boundaries to make personal connections, although hardly to effect institutional changes. Set in the seedy central Florida town of Tiama, “Prison Capital of the World,” the novel begins in 1945, spans more than two decades, and examines the race relations of two generations of Southerners. By including a migrant worker of mixed Haitian and Seminole Indian ancestry in her story of Southern race relations, Fowler complicates the received biracial history of the South and presents the interracial roman between Soleil Marie Beauvoir and Emory Looney as a model for interpersonal transformation. At the same time, she shows how agribusiness has produced a neo-plantation system that exploits migrant workers of color and lingers to the present day.
Copyright © 2012 Mississippi State University. This article first appeared in Mississippi Quarterly 65:1 (2012), 83-101.
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Jones, Suzanne W. "The Haitian Connection in Connie May Fowler’s Sugar Cage." Mississippi Quarterly 65, no. 1 (2012): 83-101.