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“rule, Britannia!”: White Englishness And The Unheimlich Home

          In both physical and metaphysical experiences, postcolonialism is haunted by the continuous negotiations of the boundaries and borders of home. At the heart of colonialism is the drive to expand the borders of the homeland through imperial dominance. Yet within colonial ideology, the imperial home is constructed in direct opposition to the foreign empire which is both within the sphere of territorial belonging, but outside the sphere of the domestic homeland. Colonized spaces are subjected to dichotomous colonial discourse in which they are both home and not-home, foreign and familiar, threatening and safe, peripheral and central. For postcolonial subjects, the home is always a state of unheimlich. Published in 2009, Helen Oyeyemi’s haunted house narrative, White is for Witching, deploys the gothic trope of the uncanny to explore England as a colonial site of terrifying unhomeliness. Through the unhomely, Oyeyemi’s novel problematizes the boundaries on which colonial hegemony depends and questions the heart of what constitutes the English sense of self. Instilling the unheimlich into her narrative, Oyeyemi explores the haunting of contemporary English nationalism by colonial ideology through a haunted house animated by xenophobia. White is for Witching illustrates the haunting of England’s present by the spectre of its colonial past. The home, and the xenophobia that comes hand in hand with it, becomes the gothic villain that violently seeks nationalistic and racial homogeneity. Oyeyemi’s haunted house magnifies the enduring legacy of British colonialism, the continuing colonial fears of contamination, and whiteness as the essence of Englishness within colonial ideology. Highly politicized, the unheimlich house on the cliffs of Dover locates and exposes both the horrors of colonialism and the failures of English national allegory.

           Freud’s conception of the unheimlich oscillates between the familiar and unfamiliar, strange and recognizable—at its core is a feeling of the unhomely at home. Its counterpart, heimlich, refers to that which is safe, familiar, and homely, which points to the unheimlich as signifiying that which is threatening, foreign, and unsettling. In his seminal text, “The ‘Uncanny,’” Freud states, “the ‘uncanny’ is that class of the terrifying which leads back to something long known to us, once very familiar” (124). Doubled in its strangeness and familiarity, the uncanny offers both a threatening and safe experience. Freud argues that the unheimlich is that which is “intended to remain secret, hidden away, and has come into the open...in some way a species of the familiar” (131). Oyeyemi unearths and exposes colonial ideology as that which was “intended to remain secret” by exposing England’s foundations as dominated by the silent presence of white hegemony. Paul Gilroy encourages the explorations of violence perpetrated by colonial ideology, stating, “we need to ask how an increased familiarity with the bloodstained workings of racism—and the distinctive achievements of the colonial governments it inspired and legitimated—might be made to yield lessons that could be applied more generally, in the demanding contemporary settings of multicultural social relations” (4). Oyeyemi exposes the bloodstains of racism by “stirring the ‘unhomely’” (“The World” 141), shocking her readers with a xenophobia which comes to life and manifests itself as a house on the cliffs of Dover.

           The house in Oyeyemi’s gothic fairytale is the very experience of being at home in the unhomely. In her narrative, violent xenophobia manifests itself as a family home on the cliffs of Dover, purposefully marking the border of the English homeland. Fueled by fear of otherness, the house at 29 Barton Road attempts to safeguard itself against otherness through violently attacking racial others. The home at Barton Road is not a space of comfortable domesticity, but a manifestation of the inhospitality of English racism. Writing back against a history of the racial other as the source of the uncanny, Oyeyemi’s novel, White is for Witching, instills whiteness with a sense of dread, horror, and fear. The home functions double-fold in Oyeyemi’s novels, both as an examination of the dynamics of the Silver family, but also as an allegory for England as “home” within the context of the postcolonial condition. It is both unhomely in its representation of the private sphere, but also unhomely as a national allegory. Firmly entrenched in the postcolonial gothic, Oyeyemi turns colonial ideology on its head by locating the unheimlich within the borders of England and by exploring homogenous whiteness as horrific. Using the haunted house, Oyeyemi reveals how the central ideology of Englishness is fundamentally alienating, horrific, violent, and unhomely. Framed by the familial home, White is for Witching explores the haunting legacy of colonial inheritance, the unheimlich return of the past, and contemporary manifestations of repressed racism in England. The novel overflows with commentary on the social and historical conditions of the contemporary experiences of postcolonial subjects.

           Home to four generations of the Silver family, the house is a physical inheritance that is tightly bound with ideological legacies of previous generations. Miranda, the youngest of four generations of Silver women, is haunted by the xenophobic house while she battles her xenophilic desire to consume material otherness and physical others. Suffering from pica, a condition that drives her to ingest inedible object, Miranda struggles with her impulse to consume otherness, which lapses into more nefarious, vampiric desires. Infinitely ambiguous and irreducible, the house operates by consuming and animating Miranda’s maternal ancestors through the identity of the vampiric “goodlady”. The goodlady is described as “very strict. Everything she does is necessary, and she makes no exception to any rule [....] She’s like tradition, it’s very serious when she’s disobeyed. She’s in our blood” (Oyeyemi 61). Manifested as a house, the goodlady exists as a conglomeration of all of Miranda’s maternal ancestors, beginning with Anna Good, Miranda’s great-grandmother. After the death of Anna Good’s husband in Africa during World War II, the house declares, “she gave me my task. ‘I hate them,’ she said. ‘Blackies, Germans, killers, dirty...dirty killers. He should have stayed here with me” (Oyeyemi 109). Anna’s grief over the death of her husband provides the catalyst for the house’s violence, justified by the dangers associated with the racial other. Although Anna’s grief provides the incitement for violent racism, the house’s hatred for racial others moves beyond Anna herself. As the house declares, “Anna Good you are long gone now, except when I resurrect you to play in my puppet show, but you forgive since when I make you appeal it is not really you, and besides you know that my reasons are sound” (Oyeyemi 22). The house’s enduring xenophobia outlives Anna Good, pointing to the persisting legacies of racism—legacies which are like tradition. Motivated by hatred, the house takes up the task of protecting the family through expelling the “dangerous” racial others. In her analysis of White is for Witching, Aspasia Stephanou adeptly argues, “The house manifests hatred against all foreign visitors, black, Kurdish, refugees, and immigrants, expelling difference and non-white bodies; as a symbol of lost imperial power, it continues to insist on white supremacist ideology, feeding off and given life by old hatreds” (1246). The house feels further justification in its xenophobia when Miranda’s mother, Lily, is murdered in Haiti. Reacting to this, the house declares, “Stupid, stupid; Lily had been warned not to go to Haiti. I warned her. Why do people go to these places, these places that are not for them?” (Oyeyemi 8). The house transfers this same line of questioning to racial others living within the borders of England who prevent the house’s realization of a homogenized, white England. In the eyes of the house, foreignness is deeply instilled with anxiety and fear, which escalates into hatred and violence. Home, both within the walls of the house and within the borders of England, becomes a safe space, but safe only as long as racial others can be kept out. The Silver’s house on the cliffs of Dover is a violent, dangerous, and unsettling space which embodies the colonialist drive to foster white English purity by expelling racial bodies from its borders.

           Feeding on white supremacist ideology, the house comes to life and takes on an omniscient presence: “I am here, reading with you. I am reading this over your shoulder. I make your home home, I’m the Braille on your wallpaper that only your fingers can read—I tell you where you are” (Oyeyemi 69). The house declares that it makes itself home, but it also makes itself un homely. The house is unsettling precisely because it operates as an all encompassing force for the characters in the novel. It is both a seen and unseen authority; although the house manifests as a physical structure, its power reaches well beyond its walls. Collapsing the boundaries of the interior home and exterior world, the house at 29 Barton Road exists as an unhomely space precisely because its xenophobia bleeds out into the world. Following Freud, Homi Bhabha describes the unhomely as a process by which “the intimate recesses of the domestic space become sites for history’s most intricate invasions. In that displacement the border between home and world becomes confused; and, uncannily, the private and public become part of each other, forcing upon us a vision that is as divided as it is disorienting” (“The World”141). The public, historical circumstances of colonialism and white ideology invade and animate the private, domestic space of 29 Barton Road. Speaking to the unhomeliness of the house, Stephanou states, “Connecting past and present, the individual hauntings and estranging experiences of immigrants within the house are repetitions of the violent history of British imperialism and reminders of the current political climate of immigration and xenophobia in Britain” (1247). As a haunted house, 29 Barton Road fails to control its repressed colonial ideology which ruptures the cultural amnesia built up around England’s violent history. The violence that the house commits towards racial others speaks to the shocking “world-in-the-home, the home-in-the-world” (“The World” 141) in which the house’s xenophobia reveals the wider implications of the British social condition. As the contact zone between colonizer and colonized, the house brings into play the alarming racial and cultural tensions that manifest in contemporary English society. The house simultaneously enacts “the Heimlich pleasures of the hearth” while producing anxiety surrounding “the unheimlich terror of the space or race of the Other” ( Nation and Narration 2).

           While the house offers a hospitable space for the Silver family, it is dangerous for racial others. Run as a guesthouse, the influx of outsiders who are welcomed into its walls provoke a profound anxiety in the house. Suryaz and Deme, the daughters of the former housekeeper, express their hesitations about the house to Miranda in a letter, stating, “We do not like this house, and we are glad to be going away” (Oyeyemi 53). For Miranda, it is incomprehensible that the house could be dangerous to racial others; she expresses surprise that the girls do not like the house, feeling distanced from the girls because it seemed as if they “had lived in a different house from her when she’d thought they were all living in the same house, safe as little fishes in folds of the deep blue sea” (Oyeyemi 53). The house operates as a dangerous space for those that it identifies as not British, not white, and not belonging. When asked if there is something wrong with the house, Sade, the new Yoruba housekeeper, responds that the house “is a monster” (Oyeyemi 97). The discord between the house’s function as a guesthouse and its capacity for xenophobic violence creates a sense of uncanny dread for racial others such as Sade. Through the terror that the house incites for “outsiders”, Oyeyemi explores the anxieties prompted for those who are denied identifying with England as home. Bhabha argues that for the postcolonial subject, “Home may not be where the heart is, nor even the hearth. […] Home may be a mode of living made into a metaphor of survival” (“Halfway House”). 29 Barton Road thus produces the anxiety of belonging because of the haunting return of colonial ideology that reignites individual and collective traumas for the racial others that are victims to its violence.

           While Oyeyemi is concerned with the intimacy of the domestic space within the walls of 29 Barton Road, she also investigates the insidious power of nationalistic discourse surrounding Englishness through the trope of the home. Gilroy calls for the “frank exposure to the grim and brutal details of my country’s colonial past” ( Postcolonial 3), a task which Oyeyemi takes up by revealing the nefarious invisibility of hegemonic white ethnicity in contemporary England . Nationhood is established through creating a perceivable homogeneity amongst a group of people who are at home with one another through processes of inclusion, exclusion, and othering. In describing the social process of establishing national identity, John Drabinski states, “To become a part of a people, one learns and practices hatred of the political other. This social process thereby establishes a moral or even metaphysical sense of otherness and, in rendering the political meaning of this otherness, defines (or wants to define) one’s collective and individual self as something that endures across time and history” (8). Within colonial ideology, Englishness, as Oyeyemi identifies, is maintained by practicing hatred towards those identified as foreign or socio-culturally other. Within the same vein, Gilroy articulates the associations between whiteness and English national belonging in his seminal text Postcolonial Melancholia. Expressing the tensions in contemporary English society, Gilroy states, “Xenophobia and nationalism are thriving. In Britain, difficulties arising from what is now seen as the unrealistic or unwelcome obligation to dwell peaceably with aliens and strangers somehow confirm the justice of these sorry developments”  ( Postcolonial 2). Echoing Gilroy’s assertions, Oyeyemi examines xenophobia as a colonial safeguard for English nationalism through the racist hauntings of 29 Barton Road. Pointing to the fears of heterogeneity, Gilroy argues that under colonial ideology “diversity becomes a dangerous feature of society. It brings only weakness, chaos, and confusion. Because unanimity is the best source of necessary strength and solidarity, it is homogeneity rather than diversity that provides the new rule” ( Postcolonial 2). Being a racialized other is a fraught position within the context of contemporary British society as colonial ideology establishes that blackness negates British identity. The house establishes this negation of black British identities by setting up the Manichean binary of us/British and them/other.

           By implementing the Manichean binary, White is for Witching speaks to English anxieties over reverse colonization, the fear of invasion by racial others which leads to Imperial decline. To the house, the racial other threatens to transform England into an alien nation. The house fears an endemic of otherness that could contaminate national identity which the house believes relies upon whiteness. Fueled by fear of the racial other, colonial ideology views the racial other as an abject body, capable of contaminating the perceived purity of the homeland. White is for Witching critiques the colonial crisis of invasion through vocalizing the insidious racism and xenophobia that is intrinsically intertwined with concerns of English purity. Addressing the abjection associated with others, Sara Ahmed states, “The threat of contamination posed by strange bodies is precisely that those bodies already exceed the place in which they come to be encountered as such” (53). The house is explicit in its expression of xenophobia and fear of racial contamination: “How had Britannia become embarrassing and dangerous? It was the incomers. They had twisted it so that anything they were not part of was bad” (Oyeyemi 107). The house explicitly identifies “incomers” as the source of British Imperial decline, explicitly distancing them from the homogenous British identity by referring to incomers as “they”. The house attempts to establish itself as an impermeable border to maintain racial and cultural homogeneity. Yet the racial others threaten the borders of the home through their abjection. Ahmed argues that, “The abject both establishes and undermines the border between inside and outside: ‘It is as if the skin, a fragile container, no longer guaranteed the integrity of ‘one’s own and clean self’” (51). The house expresses this anxiety over maintaining the integrity of a “clean” self by describing racial others as a threat which could penetrate and contaminate English purity. Repulsed by Miranda’s lover, Ore, a Nigerian-British woman, the house describes Ore as an abject body that threatens contamination: “The squashed nose, the pillow lips, fist-sized breasts, the reek of fluids from the seam between her legs. The skin. The skin” (Oyeyemi 179). The house’s language is infused with hatred and revulsion towards Ore’s body which is rendered abject by describing her as horrifying conglomeration of body parts that threaten contamination. Ore’s body, which the house describes as “disgusting” (Oyeyemi 180), provokes anxiety in the house as the racially threatening other has come too close. The house fails to recognize Ore as English by birth because the house believes that blackness negates Englishness. In an attempt to scare Ore away from the house, the house litters her room with British National Party leaflets that read: “ Do you know how many immigrants are in the U.K.? Neither does the U.K. government... ” (Oyeyemi 210). Infused with racist ideology, these leaflets attempt to provoke fear surrounding the unknowability of these incomers. Incorrectly identifying Ore as a part of the immigrant population, the house attempts to send a message to Ore that she is unwelcome in the house and in England. Because of her skin, the house fails to acknowledge that Ore is just as English as Miranda and the Silver family.

           Gilroy points to the anxieties of a heterogenous Britain stating that “In Britain these arguments are tied to an obsessive repetition of key themes—invasion, war, contamination, loss of identity—and the resulting mixture suggests that an anxious, melancholic mood has become part of the cultural infrastructure of the place, an immovable ontological counterpart to the nation-defining ramparts of the white cliffs of Dover” ( Postcolonial 14). The location of the unheimlich house on the white cliffs of Dover marks the boundaries of Englishness, while simultaneously chronicling the anxieties that Gilroy notes. Sade, the Yoruba housekeeper, questions, “‘Didn’t they call Dover the key to England?’ she asked, slowly. ‘Key to a locked gate, throughout both world wars, and even before. It’s still fighting’” (Oyeyemi 100). Rather than a port of entry, Dover becomes a border to keep white Englishness in and foreign otherness out. As Helen Cousins argues in her analysis of Oyeyemi’s novel , “Historically, Dover’s white cliffs marked an English border, but in White is for Witching ’s contemporary setting, Dover becomes a site of alienation as a point of ingress for “others” whose material presence threatens to supplant Englishness” (Cousins 48). Fueled by colonial anxieties, a permeable border poses a direct threat to English homogeneity. Articulating the anxieties of national decline and racial miscegenation, Gilroy argues that through colonial ideology, “Alien cultures come to embody a threat which, in turn, invites the conclusion that national decline and weakness have been precipitated by the arrival of blacks. The operation of banishing blacks, repatriating them to the places which are congruent with their ethnicity and culture, becomes doubly desirable. It assists in the process of making Britain great again” ( There Ain’t no Black   46). Oyeyemi’s house operates under the exact ideology that Gilroy outlines; the house hopes to expel foreign black bodies in order to reinstate a white Imperial Britain. Desiring racial purity, the house expels black bodies through violent acts of racism.

           Within Dover, violence against racial others runs rampant, making the town itself an inhospitable place to live. Over the course of the novel, four Kosovan refugees are stabbed, another detained immigrant hangs themselves, and fifty-eight Chinese immigrants suffocate in the back of truck, as well as countless violent acts committed by the house. Observing all this violence to the racial other, Miranda questions “What is wrong with Dover” (Oyeyemi 100). The port town also features an Immigrant Removal Center, which Sade, the Yoruba housekeeper, describes as “a prison” in which immigrant bodies are rendered abject: “You come without papers because you have been unable to prove that you are useful to anyone, and then when you arrive they put you in prison, and if you are unable to prove that you have suffered, they send you back. That place up there is a prison” (Oyeyemi 110). Oyeyemi’s use of the Immigrant Removal Center uncovers the institutional violence against those who are deemed “outsiders” to the English identity. Through giving insight into the wider cultural climate of Dover, Oyeyemi reveals that the house’s racism and xenophobia are not exceptional, but are a reflection of the more insidious forms of violence against others in contemporary English society. Her novel attempts to expose what is wrong with Dover.

           Steeped in colonial ideology, the house relies on biological definitions of race to demarcate the pure English identity and to render black bodies abject. In an episode in which the house violently attacks her, Ore states, “I frowned and looked at my towel. Where it had touched me it was striped with black liquid, as dense as paint (don’t scream) there were shreds of hard skin in it. There was hair suspended in it. ‘The black’s coming off,’ someone outside the bathroom door commented. Then they whistled ‘Rule Britannia!’ and laughed. Bri-tons never-never-never, shall be slaves ” (Oyeyemi 198). Explicitly centered on race and British nationalism, the house attempts to strip Ore of her blackness. This moment pairs the imperialist anthem of “Rule, Britannia!” with the horrifying monstrosity of violent xenophobia, overlaying the familiar with the frighteningly unfamiliar, the safe with the dangerous. The house identifies Ore’s skin as the source of difference and attempts to eradicate her existence and the threat she poses to a homogenous British identity by erasing her skin. The repressed racism of British imperialism hauntingly returns in this scene with Ore, revealing the thriving legacies of colonialism. Used to legitimize the hatred and fear of contamination, skin colour becomes the central indicator of racial and cultural differences in the eyes of the house.

           While canonized colonialist texts, such as Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, paint the racial other as the uncanny source of dread and anxiety, Oyeyemi instills whiteness as a horrific and destructive manifestation of violence. Located on the white chalk cliffs of Dover, the house at Barton Road is cloaked in an aura of whiteness and feeds off white supremacist ideology. The purity associated with whiteness thus becomes truly un pure by the violence, repression, and hate that it incites. Speaking to the house’s obsession with racial purity, Anita Satkunananthan identifies that the “house attempts to inject whiteness into [racial others] by making them eat poisoned apples, cocooning them, or by stripping the black from their skin” (49). Echoing the fairy tale of Snow White, the house offers Sade an apple; “She bit at the white side—she bit! In my distraction I lost hold of the other black guests, the couple on the second floor who I had kept in their bed the past three days, curved around the bed like fitted sheets with their faces crusting over. The African with the silent chest chewed, swallowed and opened her mouth for more” (Oyeyemi 129). Oyeyemi further links whiteness as monstrous through deploying the imagery of the white apple as the vehicle for violence against the black body. The house also enables Miranda’s pica, a condition which weakened her maternal ancestors, making it easier for the house to victimize them. Yet, Miranda’s pica holds further symbolic significance. Echoing back to the white cliffs of Dover, the house offers Miranda white chalk to consume: “That first day, Miri found something on the floor of that room she’d picked as hers [...] It was a ball of chalk” (Oyeyemi 18). Whiteness is linked to monstrosity and horror through Miranda’s obsession with consuming chalk, a condition which makes her ill and susceptible to the violence of the house. Weakened by her consumption, Miranda’s skin whitens. Linked with her pica, whiteness becomes a mark of illness and of the contamination of white supremacist ideology, but also a marker of belonging within the walls of the house. At the opening of the novel, the house declares that “Miranda is at home (homesick, home sick) Miranda can’t come in today Miranda has a condition called pica she has eaten a great deal of chalk [....] she is stretched out inside a wall she is feasting on plaster she has pica” (Oyeyemi 3). Debilitated by her pica, Miranda falls victim to the house, physically embedded within its walls and only able to consume the raw material of the house. By encouraging Miranda to feast on the walls, the house has accomplished the ultimate feat of interiority for Miranda, in which she is not only trapped within the house, but only able to consume the house itself. Attempting to save Miranda from the house, Ore encounters the terrifying manifestations of whiteness in the basement of the house: “The corridor only stayed empty for a second—the next moment it was flooded with people who stared and said nothing [...] They were alabaster white, every one of them. I went after [Miranda]. They looked at me, crowded so close, murder in their eyes” (Oyeyemi 212). The “alabaster white” bodies create a dissonance between colonial ideology’s understanding of the white body as pure, civilized, and restrained, and Oyeyemi’s representation of these white bodies with “murder in their eyes.” Reversing previous colonial representations of black bodies as monstrous, Oyeyemi equates whiteness with monstrosity to reveal the repressed history of white English supremacism. Rather than representing purity and goodness, white becomes a vehicle for implementing hatred.

           Functioning as an allegory for the colonial social body, 29 Barton Road narrativizes the demand for sameness through maintaining racial homogeneity. Describing the processual nature of the sphere of belonging, Ahmed declares, “the social body is precisely the effect of being with some others over other others. The social body is also an imaginary body that is created through the relations of touch between bodies recognisable as friendly and strange; who one allows near, who is further away, and so on” (49). White is for Witching explores the drive for homogeneity within a home and the pressures for a unified, homogenous, national condition. As Gilroy laments, postcolonial England relies on “homogeneity rather than diversity” ( Postcolonial 2). Diversity poses a threat to a collective English nationalism, yet for the house, diversity poses a threat to its white homeostasis. Speaking the demand for the maintenance of boundaries to the Silver women, the house states, “We are on the inside, and we have to stay together, and we absolutely cannot have anyone else [...] They shouldn’t be allowed in though, those others, so eventually I make them leave’” (Oyeyemi 109-10). Emphasizing the collective “we,” the house creates and attempts to maintain a sphere of belonging defined by white English purity.

           Like previous generations of Silver women, Miranda’s identity begins to be consumed by the house, becoming inseparable. As she confesses to Ore, “We are the goodlady [...]The house and I” (Oyeyemi 202). The dissolution of Miranda’s identity as independent from the house becomes more clear by the end of the novel, in which she disappears into unlocatable spaces of the house. Through the act of expulsion, the house maintains its social body by being with others who are familiar. Speaking to the act of including or excluding others, Ahmed states, “those we know we treat with kindness, we let you in, we allow a relation of proximity or closeness. Those we don’t know turn us into the savages. The knowing of one from another is here determinate in the constitution of Law as savagery: as the cutting off of the stranger, as the determination of the standard of ‘letting in’ or ‘keeping out’” (56). The house operates through this ideology; it allows “a relation of proximity” between those it deems racially and culturally pure, while protecting its borders from dangerous others. As the house purposefully alienates Miranda from her black lover, she laments, “ Are you happy? She asked the walls, the ceiling, the floor. Are you happy that we have no one but each other? Are you happy are you happy... she lay motionless and everything she saw peeled back into whiteness, like a shelled egg from the centre out ” ( Oyeyemi 219). For the house, saving Miranda translates into imprisoning her within its white walls, just as the house did with Miranda’s maternal ancestors.

           Desperate to maintain white homogeneity and to protect Miranda from racial contamination, the house declares, “I would save Miranda even if I had to break her” (Oyeyemi 180).  Disgusted by the idea of anyone in the family leaving its premises, the house stops Jennifer Silver, Miranda’s grandmother, from “going to Milan with her Italian photographer boyfriend” (Oyeyemi 77). Closing a door behind her, Jennifer becomes trapped in the house as the house protects her from “those fears and doubts peculiar to her times” (Oyeyemi 79), which the house then identifies as the threat of the racial other. The house states that it saved Jennifer from “the war that sickened what it touched from miles away, the new kind of image that lashed the conscience to the nerves, the pictures of Phnom Penh burning with a kind of pagan festivity, the young bones in the mud at Choeung Ek, the Cambodians and yellow-skinned priests sprawled in graves dug poorly and in great fear, graves they dug for themselves” (Oyeyemi 79). Within the walls of the house, Jennifer is safe from the contamination and corruption of foreign others. The house enacts the same project with Miranda,  trapping her within its walls to relieve the fear of Miranda’s contamination at the hand’s of Ore: “It was in trapdoor-room that she fell, and the house caught her” (Oyeyemi 221). In reference to her relationship with Ore, the house further states that Miranda “has wronged me I will not allow her to live” (Oyeyemi 4). The house feels personally betrayed by Miranda’s relationship with Ore, a relationship which threatens the white homogeneity that the house has attempted to cultivate. Recognizing the monstrosity of the house and its violence against racial others, Miranda declares, “ I am going down against her,” referring to the goodlady who stimulates the house’s violence (Oyeyemi 217). The house is convinced that Miranda’s relationship with Ore poses a danger which must be remedied by alienating Miranda within the walls of the house.

           Through White is for Witching, Oyeyemi mirrors the monstrosity of colonial ideology and makes visible the uncanny manifestations of white supremacism in contemporary England. The house acts as reminder that colonial ideology is still a present force in contemporary English society that promotes discursive and actual violence against those who are denied an English identity. To the house, the racial other is displaceable within the English homeland—they are bodies to be physically expelled from the borders of home. The conclusion of the novel does not offer a happy ending or an easy resolution to the discursive and physical violence of colonial ideology. In its uncontainable monstrosity, the unheimlich house is neither destroyed nor expelled, nor are the protagonists liberated from the overwhelming force of white supremacism. Oyeyemi refuses to offer her readers a solution to the tensions of the postcolonial condition in England. Rather, her project for the novel is to narrate “the bloodstained workings of racism” ( Postcolonial 4) as a way to expose and critique the insidious silences of the persisting colonial ideology at work in contemporary England. Sidestepping utopian celebrations of English multiculturalism, Oyeyemi returns us to the insidious colonial ideology on which England rose to power and the continuing manifestations of colonial ideology in contemporary England.


Author’s Bio:

Sarah Kent is a Master’s student at the University of Calgary studying the intersections of postcolonialism and contemporary British literature. Her thesis focuses on alterity and xenophobia in the works of Helen Oyeyemi as a way to think through ethical engagement with others. Her research also spans the postcolonial gothic, gender studies, trauma theory, and affect theory.

Works Cited

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