I’m in the point in the chapter about Derricotte going around the world in 1928-29 where I have arranged primary sources into a narrative, done initial analysis, and gotten feedback from peers. What it is missing is an overall structure to contain the chapter, particularly after she leaves India and travels through East Asia (Singapore, China, Korea, and Japan). I’ve spent a lot of time and a conference paper thinking about Derricotte in India, but haven’t spent as much time analyzing her time in East Asia. So I thought I would use this space to try to force myself to explain what that part of the chapter is about. I should say that this is part of my writing strategy–to write my way towards a thesis rather than imposing a hypothesis onto the material before analysis. I forget that sometimes and it feels like a failure to have so much written without an overarching structure, but it is in fact a step towards success.
The chapter as a whole argues that Derricotte is both a Westerner and a person of color and that different situations bring out each side of her identity. Seeing the able and beautiful brown bodies in India brings out her connection to them. She delights in the magnificence of the Maharajah because it shows a brown king “doing things up to the notch” in front of her Western friends. At the same time she says she loves the British for giving her a warm bath and a clean house after an exhausting day of experiencing the Ganges. She also criticizes Western missionaries, not for trying to Westernize India, but for not living up to Western Christian values of charity and kindness, especially in their treatment of their servants.
The next point I make is that Derricotte fulfills and transforms the expectations of Western travel writers. As Nayar writes, English writers used their descriptions of India as a way of controlling and bounding the land. They praised the beauty of the land, but in a way that promoted the transformations that Britain had achieved. Derricotte also praises the marvelous and worries over the poverty, but she is also attuned to the desires of Indians themselves for the future of their land and their individual lives.
As you can see, even as I try to write about the chapter as a whole (which starts in Harlem and traces Derricotte’s journey through Europe,the edge of Africa, throughout India, to East Asia, Hawaii and California), my claims tend to be about the Indian portion of her journey because this is the portion I’ve thought through the most.
As I was rereading what I had already written about Derricotte in East Asia this morning, I’ve come to a couple of conclusions. Derricotte does not feel the same connection with East Asian bodies as she does with the brown bodies of India (which look so much like her own mixed-race body). She also focuses much more on the Westernization she spies in East Asia, in part because it is more rare than in the parts of India she visited. Throughout her trip, she tended to stay with and socialize with YWCA missionaries; however, she had more opportunities to live with and talk with Indians than she did with East Asians. She was in India for a month, while she was only traveling through East Asia on her way home. She focused much more on the role of Christian missionaries in East Asia, praising them for their fortitude whereas in India she criticized them for their hypocrisy. She continued to be struck by the contrast between beauty and poverty, using “ugly” and “beautiful” instead of “good” and “bad” for her moral descriptors. The beauty of the forbidden city even led her to consider the beauty that an imperial government can accomplish that a democracy cannot, contrasting the joy she felt seeing the city with the impoverish hordes outside of its gates, many of whom had been impoverished by the building and upkeep of the forbidden city. Was the beauty of the city worth it?
She was also less focused on political matters in East Asia than in India, where she frequently pondered the relationship between Britain and India. She seemed less concerned by the influence of the West on China, Japan, and Korea, although she did praise the YWCA for always having a Chinese administrator. She wanted to see the locals embrace Christianity for its own sake, and did not see Christianity as an imperial force. This links back to my definition of Derricotte as “Christian Internationalist.”
Hmmmm. I still have a ways to go to organize the section effectively, but I think this writing through the comparisons has been helpful. Thanks for “listening!”