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Grace Chin



Grace Chin graduated from University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur, in 1991 and later embarked on an MA thesis, entitled "Silence: The (Re)discovered Feminine Language in Villette, Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights." She obtained her MA in 1996 from the same university, and is currently a journalist with an English daily, The Star, in Malaysia.

Publication details

Volume 4, May 1999

Angry Ghosts: the Furious Power of the Marginalized Other
in Beth Yahp's The Crocodile Fury

Many third world countries have experienced the humiliation of having a western culture and language imposed upon them. But for the colonized woman, there are the added shackles of male domination from within native paternal system as well as foreign. In her article, "Semiotics, Experience and the Material Self: An Inquiry Into the Subject of the Contemporary Asian Woman Writer," Shirley Geok-Lin Lim observes that "colonial and post-colonial women have suffered a double colonization, alienated from the free exercise of their power by a foreign race and also by a native patriarchal society." She also writes that "in order for the woman to write in this doubly colonial world, the self must be in exile; she has to leave the rule of her community and become, if only in her writing, undomesticated, wild." (14-15)

This description would seem to apply to Malaysian-born and bred Beth Yahp who produced her novel while "exiled" in Australia. And there are certainly elements that hint at the "undomesticated" or "wild" in her writings. Born in 1964, Yahp left Malaysia to sudy in Australia in 1984, and has been based there since. While she followed the well-trodden path taken by many non-Malay writers in the 60s and 70s in leaving her country, albeit under different circumstances and conditions 1, Yahp nonetheless occupies a singularly unique position in the Malaysian English scene. For her novel signals a radical departure in its embrace of a post-modernist vision.

Yahp's compelling vision is both rebellious and anarchic in its refusal to recognize specific boundaries and definitions; it defies conventional theories of narration, subverts the male gaze and eludes his possession. And this rebellion is targeted at the white male colonizer. Running through the pages of novel is the fury of the oppressed and marginalized other, the crocodile fury, which is described thus:

My crocodile is not one for cursing. His is a fury that starts out slow, that boils and bubbles, and hitches its back against the weight of all the jokes and jibes, the petty slights and discriminations accumulated over the years; all the back-bitings, jealousies and injustices involved in the scramble for favour, the aches of being owned body and soul. (324)

The "crocodile fury" effectively voices the anger of the oppressed, of those who have endured "discriminations accumulated over the years", and worse, who have been owned "body and soul" through the imperialistic politics of colonial powers. I liken this metaphor to that of angry ghosts - subtle but insidiously powerful forces that insist on disrupting textual writing. But angry ghosts also refer to the marginalized other who, in her dislocation, suffers the fate of ghosts which are relegated to the "other"-world.

This paper has a two-fold purpose; firstly, to examine some of the ways in which the marginalized other has been oppressed in the novel, and secondly, how Yahp empowers and thus liberates woman from the multiple colonial binds that have chained her, through the cogent metaphor of the crocodile fury. As an invaded colony, Mat Salleh hill must be tamed by the rich man who "built a fence around his hill, fixed a stake to its foot with a sign bearing his name.... He hired soldiers to patrol his boundaries, to keep both bandits and jungle spirits out."(70) Western patriarchy's territorial hunger for properly demarcated spaces effectively creates boundaries; not only between spheres, but also between the imperial self/man and colonized other/woman. The insidious power perpetuated by the structure of the binary oppositions is not only sexist but also racist as it inherently favours the white man's status as the fixed 'I' at the centre of the universe, as symbolized by the hill.

The separation between imperial self and colonized other creates a social hierarchization in which "everyone and everything . . . had a certain position" (222) and right at the very top of this hierarchy sits the rich man whose self-defined superiority has elevated him to god-like status:

The rich man's word was law, the rich man's actions were like the actions of the ancient gods and spirits, needing no cause or explanation. Like them the rich man only needed to be humoured, worshipped and obeyed. (221)

The belief that ''whole cities could be run . . . by division and an iron rule'' (108), the colonizer's rule, is thus satirized as a state of dictatorship in which his servants are possessions to be owned "body and soul" (222).

Grandmother is one such possession. Her slavish mentality towards her colonial master reduces her to resemble a trained dog when she eagerly obeys her master's commands, which in this instance are conveyed through whistles and silent signals instead of words:

Grandmother came running at his whistle. When he whistled, she dropped everything, she made faces at the sullen faces of the other servants as she ran.... Grandmother stood waiting for the rich man's signal with her mouth watering, her eyes like bits of rounded glass. She wore her best clothes, her arms and legs wiped clean of kitchen grease, her face patted with cooling powders to an unnatural white. When the rich man signalled, Grandmother leapt to the center of the room. She jumped and spun till the rich man signalled her to stop. (49)

Through Grandmother, Yahp reinforces the view that the colonized woman is a piece of property which is proudly displayed by the colonizer in his desire to flaunt and emphasize his power and control.

Grandmother's colonized mentality is significantly reflected through her "unnatural white" face which is symbolic of self-effacement, a blanking-out even, of her own racial identity as a woman of colour. Grandmother in fact betrays her self, as well as her own potential as a human being and must thus be viewed as her own worst enemy. But the most obvious and overt form of woman's oppression in the text is depicted through the lover's story. All of Yahp's other marginalized characters, Grandmother, mother, the protagonist, bully, and Lizard Boy, are colonized by western imperialists in their very own land. But the lover's case embodies a different kind of colonizing, for she had been violently wrenched from her own world and thrust into a totally alien environment. The displacement suffered by the lover is akin to the violence of enslavement:

The rich man caught the shape mid-spiral, discerned arms and torso, a gown that tangled, a slippery skin. The sharp glint of a knife. The rich man gripped.... His prisoner breath pounded in his chest for release. In his arms the shape was turning, was a shape now suddenly long and scaly, now bloating, now ridged with spikes. Still the rich man gripped. His underwater grimace was a smile. His fingers on the dragon-shape, the reptile-shape, the fish-shape eased themselves around a single scale. The rich man gripped. He wrenched hard. Such were the dreams of the drowning, of the breath pounding for release. In his arms the shape was suddenly still.... The rich man kicked upwards. He broke surface, released his gasping breath. The men in the ship were signalled with a triumphant wave. As one they heaved. They plucked the rich man and his burden from the grasp of the sea. (135-6)

The frantic beat pulsing through this dark and grim passage echoes the fear and anguished terror of a woman who has been captured against her will, and continuously "gripped" until a single scale was torn off. The trauma suffered by her is further stressed by the disquieting silence which marks the entire episode. The silent, thus suppressed, violence delineated merely accentuates woman's powerlessness in the debilitating world of patriarchy and colonialism.

The passage is also disturbing in another sense - it stresses that the tearing of even one single scale is an act of a violation during which the mental, emotional and spiritual rape of woman's self takes place. This violation also entails the mutilation and castration of woman's being as depicted by the lover's back, which is "laced bloody from the tear." (144)

But while the colonizer believes that he owns the lover, "body and soul" (which, incidentally, is his favourite phrase), Yahp makes it clear that only the lover's body can be possessed, for her soul will always remain inviolate, and hence, elusive to his grasp: "The rich man crooned at the lover, Lily, Lily, but she was never kind. She never looked at him kindly. She stared through him, she turned her face to the wall." (252) The lover's explicit rejection of the rich man's advances is not only a measure of self-preservation, but also a form of empowerment as it signifies her denial of his presence, indeed, his very being and existence. This small, silent gesture speaks volumes--the lover cannot, and will not be possessed completely, no matter how hard the rich man tries.

However, the lover's rejection elicits a horrible response - incarceration within the impenetrable "two feet thick" (252) walls of the "basement room, the old punishment room" (252) where the rich man attempts to subjugate the lover's defiance through her fear; "her terror was a thing he could touch" (253). Yet, subjected to sexual and bodily humiliation, the lover still refuses to give in to his complete possession and control:

In the basement room, she fell into his arms. She wound her arms around him.... But still she was not kind. When the rich man pressed his lips to one cold cheek after the other, she shuddered. She turned her face to the wall." (253)

Yahp demonstrates that woman has reserves of courage and strength which affirm her own existence and self. It is this inner, uncharted dimension where woman roams free. This wild, untamed part of woman will always remain the essence of her power in her struggle and resistance against established male authority. It belongs solely to woman, and is known only to her. The beautiful lover and her myriad shapes must then be seen as representing woman's rich, bountiful beauty and complex many-dimensional self.

Although the rich man enjoys complete power and prestige in his kingdom, Yahp nonetheless emphasizes that his unhealthy obsession for totalitarian control over those in his domain, especially woman, is ultimately self-destructive. As shown, the violent possession of the lover eventually costs his life. And the rich man is not the only colonizing force in the novel, for the convent too has a hand in converting natives to Western ways of civilisation. As one of the colonizer's tools, the convent must thus be seen as another prime example of patriarchal imperialism at work. Gilbert and Gubar in The Madwoman in the Attic have pointed out that "masculine domination . . . pervades all forms of Christianity from its myths of origin to its social institution" (415). The convent often has a dual role to play. While it is primarily a means of spreading western and patriarchal religion in foreign lands, it also, at the same time, functions as an educational institution which teaches western ways to native children, and in this manner, colonize them:

Convent girls must learn civilisation. They must spread it to their parents and friends and later their children. They must learn to wash their hands after using the toilet, and to not spit, to definitely not blow their noses into the gutters in the street.... Civilisation is the convent girl's duty. It is inevitable: something colonial, spreading like fire through the colonial family of the civilised world. (110-1)

Women are very often the targets of oppressive forces whether by patriarchy or colonialism. Here, women who enter the cloistered confines of the convent often find it doubly restrictive and oppressive:

The enemy of convent girls is everything outside the convent. This is what the nuns say.... The convent girl's greatest weapon is fear. If convent girls practise avoidance and listen to their fears, they will lead tranquil, productive lives. Everything will be in order. Chances are they'll never do anything wrong.... A convent girl's best defence is to keep her eyes lowered, her mouth shut, her ears open. To never go out at night, and walk everywhere in groups, and emulate her elders, and follow their advice. (57-8)

The convent girl is already marginalized within native and phallocentric system, but as a colonial product, the convent girl who toes the line ironically fulfils western patriarchy's ideal of female femininity--the perfect angel who will "never do anything wrong." To achieve this state of feminine perfection however, a convent girl must "keep her eyes lowered, her mouth shut, her ears open." Both powers of voice and sight are thus denied, and with it, the inherent human desire for self-expression. The world of the white male colonizer effectively nullifies the convent girl's existence by subjecting her to lifelong passivity and silence. The convent girl might as well be dead.

Yahp's novel acts as a vehicle which challenges all preconceived notions fostered by western imperialist powers. More crucially, it voices her open rebellion against phallocentric order and possession. One method of undermining the foundations of imperialist authority is through language, one of the most influential tools used to colonize both natives and women. French feminists have questioned the entire basis of western ideology and doctrine which they believe is male-oriented. According to them, philosophy, religion and language are inherently sexist creations which serve to establish man's power and status through woman's oppression.

In her article ''Is there such a thing as Women's Writing?'' Xaviere Gauthier argues that "women find their place within the linear, grammatical, linguistic system that orders the symbolic, the superego, the law. It is a system based upon one fundamental signifier: the phallus.'' (162). The imperial mechanism of language used to oppress woman in the West is now merely extended to the colonies in the white signifier's blind and parochial assumption that Western language and ways (which he defines as "civilised") are superior to the language and culture of the colonized. As a western patriarchal institution, little wonder then that the convent plays a major role in perpetuating the colonizer's "linear, grammatical, linguistic system":

The nuns say the bully's way is not the way to tell a story. Convent girls must learn to do it properly. A story starts at the beginning, with a description of the people and the place.... Convent girls must speak plainly and clearly until they get to the end.... Every story has a meaning which can be applied to the lives of convent girls. Only when they see this meaning does the story end. (40)

The bully on the other hand tells stories in a haphazard manner:

Everyone knows how the bully tells stories.... She is so excited she doesn't know where to begin. She mixes the story up, starts in the middle, then goes to the beginning, then diverts, starts again, forgets how to end. The words rush from the bully's mouth in spurts that tangle the story with her breathing. (39--40)

The bully's inability to tell stories in the way defined by the nuns depicts at a deeper level, her unconscious refusal to conform to the nuns' way of thinking. As a result, she and her stories are both rejected. The bully's attempt at self-expression, and thus self-realization, is silenced. Under such oppressive conditions, she is unable to grow, mentally or emotionally, as reflected by her physical body:

No one knows exactly how old the bully is, no one cares to count.... Other girls get taller and wider, or slimmer and shapelier, but each passing year sees the bully looking the same. The bully grew until she was fourteen, the end of the second cycle, and then she stopped. Perhaps she didn't know which way to grow.... But how can the bully act her age when she doesn't know what her age is? How can she know which way to grow? All her time is spent waiting for a yes or no. Before she can turn, before she can sit or stand or go to the toilet, or choose a book to read, a class to attend, she has to raise her hand and wait for a no or yes. (340-1)

The demoralising influences of colonialism which restrict all forms of freedom of speech and action have resulted in mental enslavement which colonized countries are familiar with. But the bully escapes the system when she undermines the nuns' authority with her convoluted narratives which effectively dismantle the linear, linguistic network of the logos. She must thus be seen as a subversive force of power in the novel.

The bully's fragmented style of story-telling mirrors Yahp's. Yahp begins one story, stops abruptly in the middle and jumps into another story, another description, another character. Stories are left unfinished and this unsettling process is repeated throughout the novel. Yahp's multi-layered narratives overlap each other. As a result, repetitious phrases and recurring situations populate the text and the reader finds her/himself in a deja-vu situation as s/he has read fragments of the story in previous pages. This devious technique results in a hypnotic rhythm which lulls the reader into a dream-like surrealistic world whose reality is further undermined by roaming ghosts, lizard-like boys metamorphosing into crocodiles while lovers are actually sea-creatures.

These subterranean nuances or rhythms can only be detected at the level of what french feminist Julia Kristeva calls the semiotic; the "prelinguistic, unrepresentable memory" (239) that is formed between mother and infant during the pre-Oedipal period (when the infant believes itself as inseparable from the mother - it has not conceived its own individuality yet). This maternal language is hidden within the silence of "rhythms, intonations, and echolalias of the mother-infant symbiosis" (157). The Father's intrusion however breaks this dyadic union (Oedipal phase) and the knowledge of a previous language and bond is now repressed within the unconscious. But according to Kristeva, the speaking subject's repressed memories nonetheless find release through the rhythms underlying both male and female writings. These unconscious rhythms are part of the semiotic.

If we were to listen closely to the rhythmic undercurrents surging through these pages, we would find that they run in circular motions. They stress an asian view that is essentially holistic in nature - that life is a cyclical motion as upheld by the tenets of Hinduism and Buddhism. Thus Yahp's story must necessarily begin with "the hill with the convent and the jungle" and end there as well; "That's the place to finish. The hill with the convent and the jungle is called Mat Salleh hill."

The Crocodile Fury is deliberately made into a huge jigsaw puzzle whereby fragmented pieces of the stories must be fitted together. But unlike an actual puzzle, the novel will not yield a unified whole. There are still many unresolved voids left gaping in the novel; loose ends that are left open to questions, and thus frustrate our attempts at exegesis. Furthermore, the foundations of western and male-oriented theory - that all stories must be based on truth, told in a chronological manner and contain a meaning that can be applied to one's life - are undermined by Yahp who poses her own challenging, and disquieting questions: What if truth and reality are subjective? What if there is more than one meaning in one's life? What if there is no ending? A whole list of what ifs... Take for example, the many descriptions of "crocodile" that proliferate in the text. With so many conflicting versions of the crocodile's character, little wonder that the reader is often confused. Crocodile or Lizard Boy is an integral part of the process of history-making for the colony as he represents the spirit of emancipation. As a famous leader of a "gang of bandits" who actively fought for independence of both land and people, Lizard Boy is relegated to legendary status, King Crocodile, a figure made more mythical through the many tales and songs which regaled his and his bandits' exploits and heroic feats:

Their names were spoken by young men and women with reverence, by older folk with a twist to their lips.... Their physical attributes were discussed intimately, their personalities as though they were personally known.... Sayings about bandit doings were woven into songs and stories.... (103-4)

Despite the reverence for King Crocodile and his bandits, we find that fourteen years after his mysterious disappearance, memories dim and he is reduced to part of a charm for warding off bad luck:

Twisting their fingers into goodluck shapes poor cityfolk continue to whisper the name of the most famous of the famous bandit leaders. Faced with calamity they cry "King Crocodile!" as if invoking a charm. King Crocodile for miraculous escapes, for a nose thumbed at death! (104)

History becomes confused when truth is subjected to different viewpoints. Thus the champion of liberty would have, in Grandmother's hating and biased eyes, degenerated into an uncivilized savage who terrorizes innocent girls and ''wears nothing but a loincloth and carries a knife'' (18). Mother's version on the other hand erases all romantic notions about Crocodile. To her, the idea of the heroic and brave Crocodile is just a ''fantasy'' or ''nonsense'' (125). He is "just one whose luck is very bad.'' (162) Perhaps we should believe in the nuns' definition: "there are many different types of crocodiles... thin crocodiles, fat crocodiles, ones with greased hair. Especially beware of the ones who roll up their sleeves and ask girls over to their lair to hear them play guitar." (186).

Truth becomes subjective as it is opened to varying interpretations just as reality is. Because each character interprets life according to his or her own perception and beliefs, we find that history can be re-written, distorted, and even manipulated, depending on the hand that wields the pen.

Western conceptions of truth, reality and history are destabilised in Yahp's desire to elude meaning and definition. By resisting the meanings and signs dictated by western patriarchy, The Crocodile Fury succeeds in evading the colonizer's possession. The novel's textual elusiveness is yet another insidious tactic employed by Yahp in her battle against the colonizer's world and his oppressive rules.

The host of questions that arise from the many textual ellipses ultimately lead to the core concern of identity in the novel. But even the concept of a fixed identity becomes unfixed, deconstructed even, when Yahp shows that the doubly colonized woman's being and self cannot be defined by the naming systems imposed upon her by the white signifier. To stress this point, the novel's main characters are deliberately denied their personal names. We know them only through the roles they play - Grandmother, lover, etc. By escaping the confinements of a personal name, Yahp opens up spaces for woman to (re)discover herself through the universal roles played by Everywoman in her journey of life - Grandmother, mother, daughter, and lover.

But even these traditional roles are undermined in Yahp's desire to delineate an all-inclusive picture of woman's multi-faceted self and being. Woman cannot, and must not be restricted to only one-dimensional roles for she is the composite of many complexities and facets which the lover's multiple shapes suggest. Thus the reader's expectations are again frustrated when the protagonist's Grandmother isn't really her Grandmother while the lover turns out to be some shape-shifting creature from the ocean's depths. Yahp also continuously reiterates that woman's identity cannot be separated from location or the process of history. That's why the lover's varied forms mirror the changeable fluidity of the sea, the world in which she belongs. This is also the other reason why the novel begins and ends with the "hill with the convent and the jungle" (7).

In the novel, the hill is the seat of the colonizer's power who built his mansion (later converted into the convent) there. But Yahp indirectly undermines his authority by describing the hill as "curiously twisted... in the shape of a woman turned away from the harbour, in the act of turning back" (7). This defiant act of woman's turning back, or rejection, echoes the lover's action. The hill embodies woman's open revolt against colonial binds, and is therefore the perfect site to locate Everywoman's story or "herstory." But Yahp's calculated subversion of the known white and masculine economy can also be seen when she refuses to comply with patriarchy's insistence on boundaries and specificity. By positing a post-modern setting whose shifting landscape (rich man's mansion to bandit's lair to convent) is a colony peopled by ambiguous characters like the lover, or universal figures like Grandmother and mother, Yahp avoids being bound to a particular nationality, or country.

It was this aspect that I found disturbing. I kept looking for descriptions of a Malaysian landscape, having been accustomed to details of a particular cultural and/or national identity. But there was little evidence of this in the text. Apart from the occasional mention of "Mat Salleh," a Malaysian colloquial slang used to describe the caucasian, and pontianak (76), a female vampire in Malay folklore, the novel could be situated anywhere in Asia. Many Malaysian writers attempt to locate both voice and identity within the perimeters of specific cultural and/or geographical contexts. Poets and writers choose familiar landscapes, drawing inspiration from locales and/or sights and scents once known. In Chin Woon Ping's collection of poems, The Naturalization of Camellia Song, she mentions the famous Ampang road in "To My Second Aunt" and affirms the Malaysian site by evoking both images and scents of "fried bananas and Ceylon brew washed pale with evaporated milk" (39) - typical Malaysian food, during tea time. Similar examples can be drawn from the works of other Malaysian Chinese women novelists. Yeap Joo Kim's Of Comb, Powder and Rouge is a bildungsroman of a Peranakan woman, Bebe, whose life is intricately woven with the rich details of the Penang Straits Chinese culture.

In contrast, Yahp's anarchic post-modern novel rejects the definitions and boundaries imposed by specificity. The novel is held together by the nameless, featureless "I". We hear her voice, but have no concrete, visible picture of her. Nor do we know of her opinions, feelings and thoughts. The protagonist's featurelessness therefore acts as a metaphorical blank page - a page to be inscribed with the stories told by Grandmother and mother, upon which the protagonist's identity is created. Each story thus involves the formation of the nameless 'I', her being, and perception of life. Herstory or woman's story thus spans three generations of female story-tellers: Grandmother, mother and the protagonist. But the stories told by the protagonist are very seldom hers. They are always about Grandmother, mother, Lizard Boy, the bully, the convent girls, the lover, the rich man; but they are never hers.

Of all the voices in the text, it is certainly Grandmother's that is the loudest. And so it is that Grandmother forms the biggest part of the protagonist's life and identity, as indicated through her body. For example, the protagonist's hair is tightly bound in a restrictive braid as desired by Grandmother, she places Grandmother's strongest amulet under her tongue, she wears Grandmother's leaf and root collection around her waist, she makes Grandmother's favourite sign "avert!" and imitates Grandmother's fiercest "tiger glare." Furthermore, she often refers to Grandmother in her narratives; Grandmother says this, Grandmother says that. Grandmother is the highest authority in her life. Truly, the protagonist seems to be a miniature version of Grandmother. But Grandmother's influence is not always beneficial. At the end of the novel, we find that Grandmother has yet to relinquish her cherished memories of the old colonial days. By clinging to her red pyjama suit, a potent reminder of past associations with the rich man and his world of opulence and tyranny, Grandmother is a prisoner who is emotionally trapped in the past; she is still very much shackled by the chains of colonialism.

Matters are made worse when Grandmother perpetuates her colonized views and desires to mother and the protagonist by insisting that they enter the convent to master the colonizer's tongue. She thus imposes upon them the unfamiliarity of an alien, foreign language. The bully, like Grandmother, is also unable to let go of the past. Her photograph collection symbolically traps her in a bygone era as surely as the photo frames capture past images and their ghostly, marginalized denizens. The paralyzing grip of the past causes her growth to stagnate as well. Both the bully and the protagonist are at the end of their "second life cycle" (328) or fourteenth year, an age which marks them at the threshold separating adolescence from adult/womanhood. Unlike Grandmother and the bully, the protagonist must learn to release herself from the suffocating binds of that same past if she were to discover her own identity and self, one that is distinct from her Grandmother's, mother's or anybody else's for that matter.

I've already mentioned that the stories told by the protagonist are never hers. It is thus time for her to begin (re)inscribing her self, and (re)invent in this manner, her own unique, individual self and voice. It is only through the creation of a new story that is wholly hers, that the protagonist is liberated. The freedom sought for and desired by the protagonist, is not only the freedom of self-expression but also the freedom to explore the rich abundance of woman's multi-faceted self. But before such liberty can be achieved, the loss of an old self must first take place:

I'm still laughing as I tug at the ribbons fastening my too-tight braid. I ease Grandmother's leaf and root collection bag from my waist, dig into its folds for the never-fail matches and ghostburning candles she makes me wherever I go. I have another plan for Grandmother's unfinished business, other than burning it up. I have another plan for finishing. I crumple the matches and candles, slip their pieces into the grave. I slide Grandmother's strongest amulet pouch from under my tongue, toss it into the grave where perhaps a lily will grow. I lift my skirt to piss on it for good measure. This spot: the end of my second life cycle. The beginning of the next cycle, where the lover's footprints have left my feet and are pointing. (327-328)

The shedding of old associations, even relationships that have been formed during childhood and adolescence signify the symbolic death of the protagonist and a subsequent rebirth of a new identity. The entrance into womanhood is depicted through the significant act of donning the lover's gown:

I clasp [the lover's] gown to my breast like rubies and diamonds and strings of pearl. One deft turn and my arms are in its armholes, my shoulders shrugging to a perfect fit. The gown fountains round my feet, my hands are lifted to stroke its fine pleatings, my chin to smile at the juxtaposition of branch and leaf patterns just over the bully's left shoulder, the sudden wreath of jungle mist curling to the shape of a woman turned. The woman turns to face me . . . the lover and I smile at each other.... My hair uncoils from Grandmother's braid, it slithers untangled and free. The bully can't help staring. Suddenly I am the most beautiful woman she has ever seen. (327-8)

It is in the death of a past self that the seeds to woman's growth, maturity and emancipation are found. Again, this holistic notion of death and rebirth keeps very much in harmony with the Hindu philosophy of life as a cyclical motion.

The birth of woman's liberation and an emphatic new identity can only occur when the protagonist embraces the spirit of woman's illuminating and affirming qualities, which the lover represents. But the embracing of such positive, vibrant aspects of woman's self must entail a forgetting of the past. For both the protagonist and the lover to be truly liberated, they must travel the path of forgetfulness the way Lizard Boy did. Hence a lily, "the flower that makes people forget their troubles" (145) (and which the lover was named after), must grow in the grave where the past is buried. All privations and discriminations suffered in the past must be forgotten, erased even, before a new chapter, a new cycle of life can begin.

There is then a bright, promising future after the Crocodile fury is over. It is a future filled with laughter and optimism:

So I laugh, and run. The lover matches me step for step.... I run to start the next cycle. The lover clings to my hand like a promise, her hand fits the palm of my hand. Her joy is something I can touch. Our laughter shakes the birds and small animals from their perches, the jungle leaves from their trees. Our thirst is a scraping that makes us run and run. East, towards the sea. (329)

The infinite sea of choices and possibilities which abound for the woman who dares to face an unknown future must also be perceived as the site which represents her creative fecundity and multi-faceted self. Yahp reinforces once more, that woman's many-dimensional self cannot be adequately described nor pin-pointed by the colonizer's reductive naming systems.

Through the metaphor of the crocodile fury, Yahp empowers her marginalized characters, herself as well as those of her readers who are able to hear the subtle nuances of anger running through this many-layered complex tapestry which she aptly titles The Crocodile Fury. But underscoring this anger, is the equally subversive language of laughter, one which "shakes the birds and small animals from their , the jungle leaves from their trees" (329). It is also the laughter of a woman who knows she is about to transcend the racist and sexual politics practised through the double binds of colonialism.

Sharp and ironic observations of human conditions are delineated through mockery and satire, both of which are tools of laughter used extensively in the text. The celebration of woman's wisdom, indomitable spirit and self-regenerative strength, would be incomplete without the accompanying awareness that life encompasses both pain and joy, anger and laughter. An exhilirating sense of freedom flows through Yahp's novel. It stems from a vision that annihilates barriers and walls, and refuses to acknowledge definitions and rules. The anarchic and arbitrary qualities of such a vision makes it fearful, yet paradoxically exciting, challenging and liberating at the same time.

The Crocodile Fury heralds an utopian and feminist vision of a future that is freed from the shackling restrictions of both patriarchal and colonial imperialism. The protagonist's going away from the fixed centre of the colonizer's world into the open ambiguity of an unknown future is the ultimate expression of freedom for the doubly colonized woman. And freedom in its purest, undiluted form, can only be located when, to echo Shirley Lim's words again, the self is in complete exile. 2 Only then can woman begin life anew in the writing of a new self on a new blank page.


1. In Malaysia, marginality is an issue often grappled with by non-Malay writers whose adopted first language is English. The gazetting of Malay, the mother tongue of the race who forms the majority in the country, as the national language, Bahasa Malaysia, have led many to perceive the move as another form of colonialism.

Poet Ee Tiang Hong in his essay, "Literature and Liberation: The Price of Freedom" argues that the winds of change sweeping through Malaya after the rise of nationalistic (read: Malay) fervor during the 60s and 70s have uprooted many potential non-Malay writers and poets: "Malaysian writers have chosen to protest by leaving the country, preferring the uncertainties of exile to the certainties of being humiliated, overtly or in many subtle ways." (20)

2. Yahp's ending posits one possible escape route for the doubly colonized woman, yet it is paradoxical that for the woman to locate her voice and identity, the self must suffer dislocation or exile. Just like death and madness, these are problematic solutions in feminist works.

* This paper was first presented on January 8, 1997 during the Asian Women Writers' Conference at Universiti Malaya, Kuala Lumpur. Some modifications have been made for its reproduction in print.


Ee, Tiang Hong. "Literature and Liberation: The Price of Freedom" in The Writer's Sense of the Past: Essays on Southeast Asian and Australasian Literature. Ed. Kripal Singh. Singapore: Singapore UP, 1987. 11-41.

Gauthier, Xaviere. "Is There Such a Thing as Women's Writing?" Trans. Marilyn A. August. New French Feminisms. Eds. Marks, Elaine, and Isabelle de Courtivron. New York: Schocken, 1981. 161-4.

Gilbert, Sandra M., and Susan Gubar, eds. "The Buried Life of Lucy Snowe" in The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination. New Haven: Yale UP, 1979. 399-440.

Kristeva, Julia. Desire in Language: A Semiotic Approach to Literature and Art. Trans. Thomas Gora, Alice Jardin, and Leon S. Roudiez. Ed. Leon S. Roudiez. Oxford: Blackwell, 1981.

Lim, Shirley Geok-Lin. "Semiotics, Experience and the Material Self: An Inquiry into the Subject of the Contemporary Asian Woman Writer" in Writing South East/Asia in English: Against the Grain, Focus on Asian English-Language Literature. London: Skoob Books, 1994. 8-30 .

Yahp, Beth. The Crocodile Fury. Singapore: Heinemann Asia, 1992

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