“LIFE HUNG ON A WORD”: SHIBBOLETHS AND GENOCIDE IN DANTICAT’S THE FARMING OF BONES, WIESEL’S NIGHT, AND COURTEMANCHE’S A SUNDAY AT THE POOL IN KIGALI
This thesis explores how shibboleths, or cultural passwords, function as markers to signify identity and group membership status among coexisting ethnic groups. Specifically, shibboleths are critical for identity detection in genocidal conflicts where a particular ethnic group is targeted for mass extermination by another group. As shibboleths demarcate identity by analyzing performative characteristics that are difficult to imitate, such as linguistic patterns, ethnic backgrounds, or facial features, they are overwhelmingly successful at detecting outsiders by members of an assailant group who naturally exhibit those characteristics. Examples of shibboleths being implemented in pass/fail identity tests are illustrated in the works of Edwidge Danticat's The Farming of Bones, Elie Wiesel's Night, and Gil Courtemanche's A Sunday at the Pool in Kigali. These literary works explore examples of linguistic shibboleths in the Parsley Massacre in the Dominican Republic in 1937, legally classified shibboleths in the Holocaust in Europe from 1941 to 1945, and phenotypical shibboleths in the Rwandan Genocide in 1994, respectively. Considering the role of shibboleths in genocides through a literary lens humanizes the countless number of victims from these conflicts and creates a self-reflexive appreciation for the underlying factors the allow conflict to culminate in genocidal violence.
shibboleths; genocide studies; holocaust; shoah; rwandan genocide; parsley massacre; interethnic conflict; cultural password; identity detection; extermination; passing; linguistic phonetics; identity cards; phenotypical expression; french canadian literature; romanian literature; survivor testimonies; historical fiction; haiti; dominican republic; hisapaniola; twentieth century; post-colonical literatures; multicultural and transnational literatures; english; master's thesis
East Carolina University