Shabine by Hazel Simmons-McDonald
In Shabine by Hazel Simmons-McDonald we have the theme of love, isolation, family, gender roles, race and power. Narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator the reader realises after reading the story that Simmons-McDonald may be exploring the theme of love. There is no doubt that the young boy who gives Justine the paradise plums longs for her. It is as though he is preoccupied with Justine. Something that is noticeable when the boy tries to study. He thinks only of Justine and how life would be with her. If anything the boy is not only in love with Justine but he is mystified by her. Though he knows something of her background he still doesn’t really know Justine. Which may be the point that Simmons-McDonald is attempting to make. She may be suggesting that in life one can never really know somebody despite knowing pieces of information about the person. The boy knows that Justine is teased or mocked by others but he may not fully understand as to why. Something which makes the story that more intriguing for the reader as the reader has complete knowledge of Justine’s background and is left wondering as to whether the boy would change his mind should he also be aware of Justine’s background. Justine is isolated by others because of her background (mixed race and assumed to be promiscuous).
What is also interesting about the story is the role of women. Justine’s mother who was black was a maid or servant to Madame Cazaubon. It is possible that Simmons-McDonald is trying to associate race to Justine’s mother’s role in the story. With black people being considered inferior to white people like Madame Cazaubon. Who does after all refuse to acknowledge Justine’s birth right even though she is fully aware that her husband had an affair with Justine’s mother. It is as though Madame Cazaubon is attempting to hold onto power and to ignore any gossip that might have come about due to Justine’s birth. Mr Cazaubon also refuses to acknowledge Justine as his daughter. The reader aware that life would have been easier for Justine and her mother should she have been acknowledged by Mr Cazaubon. Instead Justine and her mother were forced to live a life that is poverty stricken. Living in two rooms while the Cazaubon’s carry on regardless with their lives. Taking no responsibility for their actions. Particularly Mr Cazaubon.
The fact that Justine’s neighbours consider her to be promiscuous may also be important as they are basing their opinion on the differences between both her children. Gold and Silver do not look alike. Also Justine is flirting with the boy (who is eighteen) so this may not necessarily help her cause with an individual might judge someone else based on their appearance or on gossip. Which is very much true in the story. Everybody appears to have an opinion on Justine yet nobody really may know her or her true circumstances. Simmons-McDonald spends more time on the boy’s impression of Justine than on looking inside Justine’s mind. Which makes it difficult to really judge Justine as the reader does not know what Justine is thinking. Which again may be Simmons-McDonald’s point. She may be suggesting that rather than looking as Justine. Society needs to look at itself. Justine after all is only a product of how life has treated her. She is most likely badly or possibly totally uneducated due to her circumstances. So she is an easy target for those who like to gossip.
The end of the story is also interesting as it is clear that Justine likes playing with the boy and that he also likes her playing with him. However the boy is fully aware that should circumstances have been different and Justine was thought more highly of. Things might be very much different for the boy (and Justine). They may have gotten married and had their own child. Though it is clear to the boy that this is something that will not happen because of the rumours about Justine. Symbolically the wall between the boy’s house and Justine’s might be important as Simmons-McDonald may be using the wall to highlight the obstacles that face not only the boy but more importantly Justine. She may never find happiness due to her circumstances. Yet happiness is literally just over the wall for Justine. However the boy knows that the reality is that due to other people’s opinion of Justine he will never be afforded the opportunity of courting Justine. There is a permanent obstacle between both the boy and Justine. Social opinion. The best the boy can hope for is to dream about what life might be like with Justine. Her neighbours. However this may be the point that Simmons-McDonald is making.