Seminar Paper: Contemporary English Literature



Question Two:  Give an account of some of the main concerns of “Dislocations” and the way in which they were received by selected critics.

1.   Significance of stories – they are valuable and varied because they concern the feelings and outcome of physical migration from one nation to another.

2.   Two major questions asked of characters are: why did you travel here and why did you remain?

3.   Due to the limited scope of the seminar paper only four (4) stories will be looked at.  These are:- “Happy Diwali”, secondly “Moving Out”, followed by “Waiting”, and finally, “Post after Post, the same Baggage”.

Significance of stories

1.  “Happy Diwali

- differing races, languages and nationalities.

2.  “Moving Out

- physical displacement from birthplace.

3.  “Waiting

- juxtaposition of one race with another

- a young North American woman and an Indian man

- concerned about his pregnant daughter in the U.S.

4.  “Port After Port, the Same Baggage

- sea journey of Doris Mortimer with her two daughters.

- turning point in story is where Doris is confronted with Emma somewhere in India.

- Nostalgia felt by the two friends in relation to their past and this is complemented by the exotic surroundings.

Janette Turner Hospital: “Dislocations

Question two:
Give an account of some of the main concerns of “Dislocations” and the way in which they were received by selected critics.
                                                                        By Evan Papamichael

The stories in “Dislocations” are valuable and varied, covering ten years of writing and four continents.  One third of the stories cover the feelings and outcome of physical migration from one nation to another.  The two same questions are presented in these stories to the characters:  why did you travel here and why did you remain?  An element of forgiveness is felt here.  The four stories discussed in this seminar paper are:  “Happy Diwali”, secondly “Moving Out”, followed by “Waiting”, and finally, “Port after Port, the Same Baggage”.

R. Groves (1988: 10) suggests that what we find of significance are the presence of differing races, languages and nationalities which are intertwined in the stories.  The first story “Happy Diwali”, exemplifies this point.  It shows the story of two young, well educated and Westernised East Indians in Canada who meet once a year at the festival of Diwali to perform their personal erotic ritual.[1]

The funny cultural misunderstanding of our Canadian or Indian protagonists centres on the eiderdown parkas, covering the silk saris, and golden cloth protected by snow boots.  International fantasy settles in, when the East Indian lovers lapse into joual, the French dialect of Montreal, white at the same instance showing Oriental ease together with western romantic regret at their impending arranged marriages.[2]

According to R. Groves (1988: 10) the common element circulating through these stories of physical displacement from one’s birthplace is a global yearning for what can be seen as extreme positions of East and West, the Canadian and American crossed with Chinese and Indian.  How can a person inhabit another’s soil without losing myth, meaning, continuity and intimacy?[3]

Furthermore R. Groves (1988: 10) highlights the problem of the multi-cultural community as outlined in “Moving Out”.  The question raised is how to control the Asians who inhabit the dignified bourgeoisie neighbourhood, with as many as six in one dwelling at a time.[4]  This is shown as:

“...What is the name?” “The name is Wong”.  “I knew it!  I knew it!”  Ada Watts gave a snort, part triumph at being undeceivable, part battle cry.  “The Wongs I suppose!  Own half the real estate in town!...”[5]

R. Groves (1988: 10) argues that “Waiting” is a remarkable study of one race in comparison with another at an Indian airline ticket office.  A young North American woman has her dreams of adjusting to life in India diminished, as she waits unintentionally to return home.[6]

H. Falkner (1986: 12) describes the same story as being about an Indian man waiting at an airline office.  He is constantly thinking about his married and pregnant daughter in the United States, considering the unknown outcome of her presence there.[7]  This is shown by the following:

“...a terrible thought suddenly presented itself to him.  If she had no servants, who is marketing for her?...”[8]

According to H. Falkner (1987: 12) the dreams of others are intertwined.  A counter clerk is concerned about the joy experienced with communist students during his days at university.  This consisted of fairly radical events such as street marchers with banners.  However this student considers whether such an occurrence will damage his arranged up and coming conventional marriage?  An American girl freeing herself from bland Indian stares and cultural restrictions, awaits attention from the counter clerk and is anticipating a return to Burlington, Vermont.[9]

H. Falkner (1987: 12) explains that the outcome of events are structured in sequence.  The Indian father, while still considering the state of his daughter – “...please do not send me sweet pickle.  I have no need of anything” ..., assists the American girl to seek out her flight details.  In a political struggle at the office the Indian counter clerk resolves the problem of his unpleasant past.[10]

…And in the meantime Janette Turner Hospital describes human nature and modem Indian cultural confusion in a few [skilful and comic] but very knowing moves, rather like on a chess board...[11]

A significant point of focus made by R. Groves (1988: 11) is that the interesting story, which is the only one in the series, involving travelling, is, “Port After Port, the Same Baggage”.  It centres around a subtle hallucination concerning a sea journey endured in the concluding stages of life.  We find the heroine Doris Mortimer heads off as an educated widow with her daughters in a cargo vessel destined for the tropics.  She studies yoga, finds companionship with some wayward sailors and becomes accustomed to unfriendly markets.[12]

R. Groves (1988: 11) points out that the turning point in the story occurs where Doris is confronted, somewhere in India, with her counterpart from a previous period.  This is Emma, who represents an image “...of English Edwardian womanhood in lace bodice, long sleeves, long skirt and parasol, that she transcends her former life in a cloud of sensory, sleeping-sickness illusions...”[13]

Hospital states:

...they spoke of many things as the oil lamps flickered and the perfume of the night – jasmine drifted in and out like fog.  From time to time there was the soft thud of a bat hitting the verandah eaves...[14]

Adding to this R. Groves states that... “there is something sensuous, female and [refining] about this journey towards death.  It’s an altogether striking and original story, Turner Hospital at her best...”[15]

These stories focus on the juxtaposition between the cultural interests and values of Westerners and other ethnic groups.  They grasp with subtlety and emphasis the sensuous feelings of certain locations and cultural environments which unite groups together.



1.   Falkner, Heather, “Superb maps of emotion”, Weekend Australian, 26-27 December 1987, p.12.

2.   Groves, Robyn, “The Appreciation of Grace”, Australian Book Review, December 1987/January 1988, pp.10-11.

3.   Hospital, Janette Turner, “Dislocations”, St Lucia, University of Queensland Press, 1994.

[1] Robyn Groves, “The Appreciation of Grace”, Australian Book Review, December 1989/January 1988, p.10.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Jannette Turner Hospital, “Dislocations”, 1994, p.51.

[6] Groves, op cit, p.10.

[7] Heather Falkner, “Superb maps of emotion”, Weekend Australian, 26-27 December, 1987, p.12.

[8] Hospital, op cit, p.59.

[9] Falkner, op cit, p.12.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Falkner, op cit, p.12.

[12] Groves, op cit, p.11.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Hospital, op cit, p.178.

[15] Groves, op cit, p.11.