Post Colonial Literature in English: Canada

Self-loathing in Cereus Blooms at Night

Sarah Topol, English 365, Northwestern University, 2003

Now the fact of the matter is that you are not the first or the only one of your kind in this place. You grow up here and you don't realize almost everybody in this place wish they could be somebody or something else? That is the story of Lantancamara. [238]

The characters in Mootoo's novel Cereus Blooms at Night resemble each other in one important feature of their personalities. On a general level, all the characters in the novel have a wish to alter themselves and become something they are not. Throughout the novel, self-loathing leads characters to attempt to beome like someone one they greatly admire. The self loathing and need to reconfigure themselves that all the characters experience does not have the same root cause, but rather, in the novel, Mootoo explores a variety of reasons self-loathing and alteration of self occurs.

The self-loathing is at times a projection of colonialism, a feeling of otherness, and embarrassment at one's race. This is the self-loathing experienced by Chandin, who "felt that his people's lack of these things was a result of apathy and a poverty of ambition. . . . he felt an immense distaste for his background and the people in it" (32). Despising his background translates into a hatred of everything about himself: "he began to hate his looks, the colour of his skin, the texture of his hair, his accent . . . his real parents" (33). He begins to wish he were born white so he could win Lavinia's love, and his self-hatred makes him attempt to change himself by replicating the actions of his adopted white family; "he would change, he decided once and for all . . . Chandin took note of the reverend's rigid, austere postureŠhe practiced sitting upright . . . Other times he diligently studied and imitated the Reverend's pensive stroking of his chin" (34). When he fails to achieve his goal, he recoils in anger and begins his downfall.

Self loathing at other moments comes from a feeling of otherness based on homosexuality. Tyler experiences self-loathing at his difference in sexual preference. He wishes to reform himself so that he can be socially accepted, or to step outside of his gender-prescribed role so as not to care about his difference at all. He tells the reader that he "loathe[s] my unusual femininity" (71). His self-loathing, however, takes on a different trajectory than Chadin's when he finds a people with whom he can be himself. Tyler finds refuge from his own self loathing through his relationship with Mala, because "she was not one to manacle nature, and I sensed she was permitting mine its freedom" (77). She encourages him to accept himself for who he is, and his self-loathing is diminished. "I had never felt so extremely ordinary, and I quite loved it" (78). His relationship with Mala and with Ohoto keeps Tyler from becoming a victim of his own self-loathing although it plagues him throughout his life and the text.

In relation to the theme of constantly searching for ways to change oneself, Otoh's role in the novel is very interesting; he, too, at a young age is unhappy with who he/she is. This unhappiness leads to one of the most vivid transformations in the text -- the reconstruction of gender. At first, this change is encouraged by his parents and then seemingly forgotten. "Elise, hungry for a male in the house, went along with his (her) strong belief that he (she) was really and truly meant to be a boy" (110). Otoh's reconstruction appears to be one of the most successful in the novel. In an island where everyone wishes to be someone else, it appears that Otoho, who is one of the most triumphant in his transformation, is happier than others with his resulting self.

The dream to be someone other than oneself is also prominent in the character of Mala. As a child Mala's wish to be part of a different family appears in her nighttime wanderings through other family's houses (157-59). She actively admits in her later years that "She had rather disliked her[self] many years before" (173). As a young adult, too, she appears to hate and find shame in her family situation. She imagines herself to have a different life "in a flower-print dress . . . twirling in the arms of her coat tailed top-hatted Ambrose and stepping from star to star all the way across the Lantanacamaran sky" (208). Mala does not attempt to change her fate after Ambrose abandons her, but loathes herself until acceptance dawns on her in her later years. It appears as all the characters in the novel are plagued at some point in their lives by self-hatred brought on by situations in which they find themselves born. Some characters make marked attempts to change who they are, and some try break down gender or social norms. Some characters' attempts to change themselves are fruitless, and they end up living in a state of self-loathing; however, some characters do change who they are, and end up happy, or find themselves accepting who they truly are and become content. This self anger at situations which are mostly unchangeable is a reoccurring theme in Mootoo's Cereus Blooms at Night and is a part of every character's life.


Mootoo, Shani. Cereus Blooms at Night. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1998.

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Last modified: 8 December 2003