Culture, Identity and Appropriation in Lyle Saxon's 'Children of Strangers'
While in many ways a sympathetic portrait of the Cane River gens de couleur in Louisiana, Lyle Saxon's CHILDREN OF STRANGERS in many ways also demonstrates a profound and revealing anxiety about indeterminate racial categories. First, his novel collects and exhibits the culture and folklore of the Cane River Creoles while at the same time it condemns this same impulse to objectify and trade in the identity of the "other". Second, the novel appropriates nineteenth- and early twentieth-century racial views in order to present the Cane River Creoles as culturally feeble: quaint, but incapable of adapting to the modern world. Third, Saxon orchestrates the life of the main character, Famie, to suggest that complex ideas of racial hybridity must yield to the binary system of racial order that displaced the Latin tripartite or multipartite systems of Louisiana's colonial past. In this way the novel anticipates debates over the future of cultural Creolization and the place of hybridity in the US as well as current anxieties about how to incorporate the "other" into national dialogues about identity. In order to bracket this concern, I will compare Saxon's novel with more recent works of fiction such as Lalita Tademy's CANE RIVER (2001) and Elisabeth Shown Mills' ISLE OF CANES, which seek to recover the history of Cane River's Creoles of Color.
Keywords: Creoles, Creolization, Race, Louisiana
Dr. Thomas Fick
Professor, English Department, Southeastern Louisiana University