Proceedings of the 39th International Academic Conference, Amsterdam




This paper will explore a relatively under researched aspect of victim narratives, namely the role that shame in general, and gendered shame in particular, plays in the construction of these narratives. Although Antjie Krog’s Country of my Skull has received wide local and international attention, the dynamics of shame demand further scholarly attention. I will offer a feminist literary analysis of Krog’s text, in addition to her A Change of Tongue, Begging to be Black and There was this Goat (co-written by Nosisi Mpolweni and Kopano Ratele), through a theoretical rubric of shame studies. In the South African context, victim narratives have become part of the public consciousness through the post-apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Commission Hearings. In the contemporary South African milieu, the gendered and racialized female body is more susceptible to violence than ever before and the emergent victim narratives of women thus deserve additional scholarly scrutiny. It has become a widely accepted reality that gender violence remains severely underreported and women’s victim narratives are thus particularly vulnerable to silencing and elision from public discourses. The very nature of shame, with its impulse to shrink, hide and remain silent, makes this a phenomenon that shapes victim narratives in particularly insidious ways. In order to expose the dynamics of shame and their effects on the construction of victim narratives, I turn to literary texts as these provide a safe space from which to explore issues that are often immensely painful and traumatizing to the women who have been victimized. The prevalence of sexual violence in South Africa, with some of the highest rates of rape in the world, results in fiction writers often attempting to utilize the imaginative space of literary texts to grapple with this uncomfortable social reality. As a feminist scholar, I argue that these texts offer valuable analytical opportunities and I will explore Krog’s oeuvre in order to ascertain the role that shame plays in the construction of South African victim narratives. My analysis will demonstrate that assumptions about “proper” feminine traits and behaviour are so deeply embedded that shame about perceived deviation from these normative standards goes to the very heart of the construction of victim narratives by both the female characters themselves and the larger societies in which they are located.

Keywords: shame, victim narratives, gender, Antjie Krog

DOI: 10.20472/IAC.2018.039.032

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