The Contradictions in Emily, and Their Suppression

Part 5.4 of Drama in English from Singapore and Malaysia

Chitra Sankaran, PhD, Department of English Language and Literature, National University of Singapore

Adapted from Post-Colonial Literatures in English, ed. Rajeev S. Patke, 1998, by George P. Landow, Professor of English and Art History, Brown University; Distinguished Visiting Professor, NUS, 1998-99.

At a cursory glance, Emily, too, seems to show evidence of such contradictoriness and uncertainty. Emily struggles to affirm her self and construct her subjectivity as a woman, through a challenge to the Othering imperatives built into patriarchy. But, paradoxically, it is this patriarchy that lies at the heart of exactly the Peranakan experience on which the play's act of post-colonial reconstruction is based. Moreover, the experience itself is shown, towards the end, as a dying experience, whose passing, in the face of modernisation, is mourned nostalgically. And with its passing we see the decline of Emily, who is eventually thwarted in her assault on patriarchy.

The text, however, seems to want to cushion us from the destabilising potential of all this. Through emotion and nostalgia it solicits approval for both Emily and the Peranakan experience which embodies what she struggles against. The audience feels shock and pain at the news of Richard's death as powerfully as they do the nostalgic pull of the fading Peranakan experience. The effect of such overriding emotions is to erase the disturbing effect of the contradictory features of the play, at least for its contemporary Singaporean audience.

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