Chandin occupies the position of "the colonized" in Cereus Blooms at Night. After he is taken away from his family, "freed from his karmic destiny" (26), he is indoctrinated with western teachings and ideals. However, with all the western training, he is unable to completely assimilate because of his dark skin. Therefore, he, as the colonized, is alienated from his parents culture as well as the dominating culture and religion of the European colonizing force.
Under the tutelage of Reverend Thoroughly, Chadin attends seminary school and soon becomes the Reverends tool to proselytize. Reverend Thoroughly, as the colonizer, manipulates Chadin: "even before he entered the Reverend's seminary he was unwittingly helping to convert Indians to Christianity" (29). The Reverend reinforces his position of power in his ability to change Chandins name at will. In doing this, the Reverend chooses to shape the identity of the young Chandin, not according to the child's welfare, instead, according to increasing the chances of converting Indians. Therefore, the Reverend, though benevolent from his own point of view in converting the Indians, is not in fact practicing the parental role that he should assume with respect to Chandin. He only assumes the paternal instincts that colonizers had adopted towards the colonized in the European model of colonization by leading them to the word of God. In the end, the Reverend decided against changing Chandin's name because people were most likely to be swayed by one of their own kind Chandin's own name would win his peoples trust" (30). Reverend Thoroughly understands the penchant for ones own people to trust each other and manipulates it to his own advantage. This type of race-based thinking is not a phenomenon located only in the Indians' minds. Reverend Thoroughly fails to escape this mindset as well, a topic we will explore later.
Acting as a tool of the western colonizing project, Chandin becomes alienated from his own family and culture. He occupies a space in between Indian and European cultures wherein he longs to completely divorce himself from his Indian heritage ("He felt immense distaste for his background and the people in it" (31)) and embrace western mannerisms. Residing in Rev. Thoroughlys home, Chandin's social and cultural values are shaped entirely by western ideals. This complete redefinition of values is manifested in his intense desire to own a chandelier: "Gazing awestruck at the chandelier, he would daily renew his promise to be the first brown-skinned person in Lantanacamara to own one just like it" (32). Furthermore, his sexual desires are conditioned by a western ideal in that he lusts after a European girl, the Reverend's daughter, Lavinia. Chadin's conscious embracing of western norms is manifested in his attempts to shed his darkness by trying to adopt the Reverend's "rigid, austere posture," or his "pensive stroking of his chin or tapping of his fingers against a book" or trying to make "strides as wide as the towering Reverend's, and he clasped his hands, similarly, in a little entwined knot behind his back" (34).
However, his darkness is inescapable. Mootoo infuses the text with images of Chandin as a black presence among white people: he "saw what he most feared: a short and darkly brown Indian-Lantanacamran boy with blue-black hair" (14), "Chandin's dark brown ears" (15), he was "the only person of Indian descent at the seminary. He was, in fact, the only non-white person there" (18), and "one of the few brown-skinned people on shore" (42). These scenes of emphasized otherness seems contradictory to the proselytizing mission of Reverend Thoroughly, which seeks to conform all people to one religion, Christianity. Nevertheless, the Reverend maintains his distance most clearly by his rejection of Chandin's desires for Lavinia, revealing the Reverend's underlying racism.
The Reverend makes it clear that Chandin is only a "brother to Lavinia and nothing more" (37). The Reverend frames his objection to Chandin loving Lavinia in terms of incest when in fact the most prominent reason is Chandins skin color. This contention is substantiated when compared to Chandins foil, Fenton. When Lavinia leaves Lantanacamara for the Shivering Northern Wetlands, she weds Fenton, her cousin. But the Reverend defends this marriage by asserting, He is not truly her cousin. You see, my brother married a woman who had been married once before and brought with her a child Fenton -- as you can see he is not a true relation" (45). Clearly, Chandin was in the exact same position as Fenton, since both are not blood relations but share social familial relations. But Chandin never had a chance of wedding Lavinia since he was dark skinned.
This discrimination extends far beyond race to gender issues, as reflected in Tylers case. Chandin is also a foil to Tyler, since both hate themselves, and therefore, try to shed their ties to a discriminated minority. Tyler even says, he loathe[s] his unusual femininity" (71). Just as Chandin makes a vow to himself that he will change, "He would change, he decided once and for all, what he had the power to change" (34), so too does Tyler, "I would change my own feelings about myself. I would, I must, cast him [Mr. Hector] out of my thoughts and stand tall" (71). The decision to "stand tall" is a direct parallel to Chandin's later efforts to imitate the Reverend by changing his posture to appear taller.
The effect of colonization is that Chandin has no place either in Indian society or in European society. His values do not align with his Indian heritage, but his skin color separates him from the European family that adopted him. Chandin embraces his position as other in that he becomes a pariah in society. After he is denied the happiness of a loving wife, Chandin becomes the very epitome of anti-Christian values as he physically abuses his daughters, becomes an alcoholic, and leads a generally pitiful existence begging for odd jobs. From the physical abuse that she suffers, Mala seems to inherit this otherness in society. Mootoo, however, does not associate otherness only with aversion. Mala's otherness becomes a site of attraction, not only from Ambrose, but from Tyler and Otoh. Further exploration of otherness as it relates to the colonized position as depicted in Mootoo's Cereus
Blooms at Night reveals the complications of not only Chandin's position, but Mala's and Tyler's as well.
Mootoo, Shani. Cereus Blooms at Night. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1998.
Last modified: 25 November 2003