Document Type


Date of Degree

Fall 2014

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

French and Francophone World Studies

First Advisor

Anny Dominique Curtius

First Committee Member

Russell Ganim

Second Committee Member

Michel Laronde

Third Committee Member

Roland Racevskis

Fourth Committee Member

Sujatha Sosale


In the French Caribbean islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique, the father is stigmatized because he is often absent from the family structure. The possible reasons for his absence can be found in the Code Noir [Black Code] promulgated in 1685 in the French Caribbean colonies and in 1724 in Mauritius and Reunion. The Black Code is intended to regulate the lives of slaves in the colonies by monitoring their lifestyles, their religion (imposed Catholicism) and their status as commodities. More important, the legal document positions women at the head of the household by defining the legal status of children according to that of their mother, and subsequently denying the black man a role in the family except as procreator. Article XII of the Code stipulates that [c]hildren born in marriages between slaves will belong to the masters of the female slaves and not to those of the husband". As for article XIII, it claims that "[i]f the husband married a free woman, their children, boys and girls, will be free like her no matter the status of their father but if the father is free and the mother is a slave, the children will be slaves like their mother". Thus, it is because she is deprived of a spouse who is her equal that the black woman must occupy the two functions of both mother and father in the family.

After the abolition of slavery, French colonial authorities called for cheap and abundant labor, coming mainly from India, to replace the former slave population on the plantations. The arrival of Indian indentured servants (called Coolies), initially hired for five years, transformed the existing social, cultural and economic structure of the islands because Indians replaced the former African slaves at the bottom of the social ladder. Consequently, like the former slaves of African descent, Indian laborers experienced a new language, a new land, new standards and more importantly, they were subjected to the laws of the Black Code that were not originally applicable to them, but still prevailed even after the abolition. Therefore, what I call a Black Code mentality, articulated in the passage from African slavery to Indian indentureship, is what determines the relationships between men and women, of both African and Indian origins. The mentality extends to the post-slavery, colonial and postcolonial situations of these societies of the Caribbean and the Indian Ocean, until today.

The purpose of my dissertation is to examine the persistence of a widespread monoparental pattern in these regions as a logical consequence of the application of the 1685/1724 Code Noir. My thesis underscores the rearticulation and renegotiation of the role of the father, of African and Indian descent, in both his family structure and his community of origin, as a function that was codified, legitimized and predetermined by the Black Code. Besides, I contend that the ethnic, social and cultural components of these societies are, in many respects, relayed by social laws and decrees that have had a significant impact on family structures in the Caribbean and the Indian Ocean.

Through the critical analysis of contemporary literatures and films from Guadeloupe, Martinique, Reunion and Mauritius, my thesis compares two different geographical areas that are legally connected by the Black Code during slavery and evolve, after the abolition, towards a different political status: Guadeloupe, Martinique and Reunion became French Overseas Departments in 1946 whereas Mauritius became independent in 1968. This comparison allows me to question four major critical concepts pertaining to postcolonial theory: Creolization, Creoleness, Indianness and Coolitude, as they relate to the identity politics of two populations present in the Caribbean and the Indian Ocean: the African diaspora and the Indian diaspora.

Public Abstract

This dissertation examines the reasons why there is a pattern of the absent father in the family structures of Guadeloupe and Martinique, in the Caribbean, and in Reunion and Mauritius, in the Indian Ocean. I explain this pattern by the persistence, to this day, of a plantation mentality that took shape in times of slavery.

Through the analysis of contemporary literatures from Guadeloupe, Martinique, Reunion and Mauritius, my thesis compares the Caribbean (Guadeloupe and Martinique) and the Indian Ocean (Reunion and Mauritius) from the shared experience of slavery and colonization and their respective evolutions in times of post-slavery and post-colonization.

Through an analysis of the representations and the roles of fathers or father figures in families, communities and islands in times of slavery, colonization and post-colonization, the dissertation points out the political, social and cultural evolutions and negotiations that fathers, as well as mothers, put in place to survive or counteract laws and policies aimed at historically and culturally relegating them to a position of subaltern within their own families.


publicabstract, Caribbean, Francophone Studies, Mascareignes


ix, 241 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 235-241).


Copyright 2014 Vanessa Christine Borilot