Women's Choices in Mayotte Capecia's "I am a Martinican Woman"
Mayotte Capecia gives us a wonderful glimpse of life in Martinique from the perspective of a woman in her novelette, I am a Martinican Woman. Capecia’s mother said, “Life is hard for a woman.” Her friend, Loulouze said, “above all for a colored woman” (Capecia 62). These two statements, made by Martinican women, confirm that life was difficult for women in Martinique. In this male dominated, race conscious society, Mayotte Capecia had the courage to grasp her independence and make choices to guide her own life.
In the story, life for a Martinican is set early by two factors: class and race. Capecia is from a poor, black family, and she is a woman. It may appear that she hasn’t been dealt the best hand if life. However, she chooses to be independent, which helps her to overcome these ‘obstacles.’ “I…had decided to be independent, and even today, although I have not always been able to enjoy it as I would have liked, I believe that there is nothing better in all the world than independence" (Capecia 30). She declared her independence at an early age by resisting her school work and catechism lessons. She was content to go on adventures through the woods, or by the river, instead of doing her algebra homework.
Mayotte Capecia grew up in a male dominated society. As a child, she was living in her father’s house, under his rules. Martinican women were expected to move from their father’s home when they married. Then they were expected to live in their husband’s house, under his rules. After Mayotte’s mother died, she was expected to take on the household duties. Not long after her mother died, her father began to run around with very young women. Mayotte was hurt and angry; she believed that her father was betraying her mother. After finding her father cheating on his new, young wife with another young woman, Mayotte decided to leave her father’s home. This was a brave decision.
Living and working in Fort-de-France on her own, Mayotte had to work very hard just to eat and put a roof over her head. However, she didn’t regret her choice. She had the independence that she always craved.
Martinique was also a race conscious society. The social consciousness in Martinique was that white is better than black. Mayotte, a light skinned black woman – her grandmother was white, - obviously believed in this. She prefers white men to black men. I believe she made this choice early in life. Mayotte was in love with the blond haired, blue eyed priest that taught her the catechism. She chooses to be with white men, even though she knows the consequences. She knows that she will be looked at as a traitor to her African heritage by other blacks. She knows that she will never be accepted into white society. She rediscovers these lessons, engrained in her since childhood, after falling in love with Andre, a white naval officer.
Mayotte and Andre were in love. They lived together, but they never married. A marriage between the two would not have been accepted by society. Mayotte wasn’t even accepted as Andre’s companion. One evening, she accompanied him to Didier. She writes,
We spent the evening in one of the villas that I had admired since childhood with two officers and their wives. These two women treated me with a forbearance that was insupportable to me. I felt too heavily made up, inappropriately dressed and that I didn’t do justice to Andre, perhaps simply do to the color of my skin (Capecia 120).
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Her interracial relationship was not only condemned by whites, but also by blacks. Mayotte returned to her childhood village of Carbet with her white child after Andre left her to go to war. The black people of Carbet looked down on her for being an unwed mother with a white child. According to them, she had betrayed her race.
In spite of the discrimination she faced, Mayotte loved her white son. She continued to desire white men as well.
I wanted to get married…I would have liked so much to be a respectable woman. I would have liked to marry, but with a white man. Only, a colored woman is never quite respectable in the eyes of a white man – even if he loves her, I knew well (Capecia 153).
Mayotte Capecia was a woman driven by independence. She chose to live her life on her own terms. She chose to leave her father’s home even though she was not married. She chose to have relationships with white men even though society frowned on interracial relationships. She chose to keep and raise her white child even though she was not married. I’m sure she found the words of her mother and Loulouze to be true. However, I don’t think that she ever regretted her choices. She made all of these choices in order to guide her own life. She chose the things in life that made her happy, even if they didn’t make her fit into the mold society placed on women.
Written by Donna Hilbrandt. 2012.
© 2012 Donna Hilbrandt