This study analyses identity and space in five works of East African Asian, black and white writers based on the reasoning that these are significant issues in East African literature that reflect the nature of contemporary social relations in the region. The study uses a post-structural and postcolonial conceptual framework. Using comparative textual analysis, the study examines Going Down River Road by Meja Mwangi Homing in by Marjorie Oludhe Macgoye, The In-between World of Vikram Lall by M. G. Vassanji, In a Brown Mantle by Peter Nazareth, and Kosiya Kifefe by Arthur Gakwandi. The premise of the comparison is that the writers‘ different races have a bearing on their representation of Asian, black and white characters. Consequently, the basis of selecting these texts is threefold: the writer‘s race (and place of birth); the presence of Asian, black and white characters; and setting. The main objective is to show how characters from each of the three races perceive their own identity and that of characters from other races, and how the characters‘ location influences their sense of identity in relation to these places. The study further aims to show how the process of identity formation is represented. The study concludes that all the texts recognise that place and place meanings are significant in the formation of identity and that it is for this reason that groups seek to dominate place. It is the meanings attached to place, race and other categories that denote community that determine the type of spaces that the same produce. Prominent among these meanings is tradition which is important both as a space within which identities form and as the discourse with which communities define themselves.The study finds that a writer‘s race is a discursive position that infiltrates texts in subtle but significant ways, and that for the studied texts this does affect some of the writers‘ ability to deal with characters from other races. In relation to this, the study argues that those writers who write from marginal positions are more sensitive to cross-racial representation than those from dominant races. It is further argued that instabilities in the meanings of the lexical items that that characters rely on for self description and the description of others are responsible for the uncertainties in their identities.
Operational definition of terms
Dialogue: Dialogue refers to the presence of more than one perspective either within or between texts. It is the idea that issues that texts deal with are part of a broader discourse in which the texts participate. For this reason texts engage in implicit conversation with each other, as what each text says is just one among other perspectives on a specific issue. In this respect this study adapts both Edward Said‘s concept of affiliation and aspects of Mikhail Bakhtin‘s notion of the dialogic
Identity: This is a character‘s or group‘s conception of difference, the markers of belonging to racial / ethnic group or place and the process that facilitates it. The study understands identity as an interaction between what one perceives oneself to be and what they are perceived by others to be.
Hybrid: This is understood to mean entities whose composition is a product of encounters and interactions, and therefore mixtures. It is consequently the antithesis of notions of ‗purity‘ in the sense that it cannot be explained by reliance on just one of its features.
other: The dominant sense this word has in the study is belonging to a group that is different from that of the perceiver and to which it relates hierarchically. This is to be distinguished from the Lacanian ‗Other‘, which when used in the study is, in keeping with poststructural conventions, spelt with a capital ‗O‘.
Place: Place is the physical location of action and the meanings of such locations; it is also specific sites, areas or geographical features that are significant to the
characters‘ perception of difference. Important to the meaning of place are the activities that occur therein and the significance attached to the same.
Self: self are the ideas that constitute the condition of being or belonging. An individual entity is perceived to be distinguishable from other persons by essential signifiers.
Space: Space is understood as the conditions that allow the co-presence of multiple, often contradictory, notions of being and belonging. It is the condition that enables ideas about self in relation to location and the control one has over the same. Space presupposes the ability of place and other entities to contain and express difference. One of these conditions is the discourse within which the presentation of identity occurs.