Shabine by Hazel Simmons-McDonald is a story that explores the themes of racism, poverty, social isolation and love. The story is told in third person narrative where the narrator details the memories of an unnamed man who has been in love with Justine. The word “Shabine” means a woman of mixed race; half white and half black. The main character, Justine is constantly discriminated against by others and called the “Shabine”. The story was published in 1994 and was included in the collection called “A World of Prose”.
Shabine | Summary:
Shabine is a story about Justine’s rough life as she is cast out by others because she is a mixed-race woman. The story begins with a man watching Justine secretly. However, she shouts that she knows that she is being watched and she can see him as well. She steps into the light and demands him to come forward as well. He observes the way she looks in her alluring red dress, he is attracted to her but he feels nervous and he’s afraid to face her. He recollects that Justine is known to have a testy temper and he starts reflecting on what he remembers about her. She has two kids whom she calls Gold and Silver. She is often teased and called a whore and “jamette” by the neighbourhood children. Her children are mistreated similarly as they constantly have to hear abusive taunts too. Silver is more like their mother with a temper while Gold is well mannered. Silver tries to say taunts back but their mother gets mad and doesn’t want to encourage the bullies. She is protective of her children and it pains her to see slurs thrown at them by the whole neighbourhood.
She has been living in the same house since she was born. After her mother died she has been living there with her children. It is a two-room outhouse that belongs to Mrs And Mr Cazaubon and Justine’s mother used to be a maid at their house. Justine’s mother was black but somehow Mr Cazaubon got involved with her and that’s how Justine was born. But after Justine was born Mr Cazaubon refused to acknowledge that she was his child. Mrs Cazaubon despised Justine and her mother a lot, often mistreating them.
The man then remembers his younger days when he used to have a passionate crush on Justine. His grandmother used to live next to the Cazaubons and whenever he came to visit his grandmother’s house he would often hide and watch Justine from behind the mango tree in their yard. He used to leave paradise plums for her at her front gate and watch as she devoured the present, she used to know it was him but pretended that she didn’t. Once he turned eighteen, he remembers his grandmother warning him not to get involved with the “Shabine”. Justine’s mother disapproved of their relationship as well and didn’t want him “putting ideas in her head”. However, he sees Justine’s mother inviting white sailors into their house, implying that she brought them to sleep with Justine.
One rainy day while he’s preparing for his exams he finds out that Justine is pregnant, he is heartbroken. He hates everyone for treating her so horribly, he hates her mother for inviting those men in and he hates that he couldn’t be with her. He can’t concentrate on what’s written in his books, words replace themselves with “Shabine”. He reads ” Shabine makes hungry where most she satisfies.” We see how much he longs for her but can’t have her.
We come back to the present as Justine shouts again that she knows he is looking at her and she knows he wants to kiss her. She demands him to come out of the shadows but the man doesn’t dare to face her and she goes back into her house. He regrets not having spent those afternoons with her when they were younger. He wonders how different their future might have looked if they had been together.
Shabine | Analysis
The story is set in the Caribbean islands where mixed-race women are often labelled as “Shabine”. It focuses on the life of a woman named Justine who is subjected to racism and mistreatment all her life. It is obvious that Justine suffers from poverty and with the description of her clothes and appearance it can be assumed that she has to work as a prostitute. She is considered abnormal and thus pushed into isolation. She is called a whore by the whole neighbourhood and it’s because people judge her. She was born out of an illegitimate affair, she wears seductive clothes and both her children don’t look alike, all these create a promiscuous image of her in society. People call her names and gossip about her.
We see Justine through the man’s perspective who has been in love with her for several years. We see her through the man’s memories and thus learn how he is hopelessly attracted towards her. He loved her yet he never tried to court her. Maybe he feared his grandmother or maybe he feared being judged by society but whatever the reason he never confessed his feeling to Justine. He is mesmerized by her beauty and her body yet never gets to know her or understand her. He sees her suffering and hates the way people treat her but he can’t help her. He sees her as if he isn’t aware of her being different from others and maybe that’s what the author wants to say, love does not have boundaries. Love doesn’t discriminate based on race or class.
We see the story grapple with the issue of racism; it is the main theme of the story. Justine’s mother was a maid at the Cazaubon house; this shows how black people are often considered inferior and have to live their lives in poverty and humiliation. Justine’s mother was not accepted by Mr Cazaubon because she was black, neither was Justine for the same reason. If only he had given them an equal status their lives could have been different. Justine and her children suffer as they are shunned from society as well, showing how the cruel cycle of abuse continues for generations.
Character Sketch of Justine
Justine embodies the enchanting enigma that people see but don’t completely understand. We don’t learn anything about Justine’s real disposition. The readers see her through the eyes of the man but it doesn’t matter what kind of person she is because the main point is to show society’s unjust system. Justine is what the world made her, they considered her a disgrace and forced her into a life of poverty and prostitution but now they target her for gossip, which shows society’s double standards. Justine is portrayed as a fierce and strong woman. Despite being mistreated she doesn’t show shame or weakness. She fights her battles head-on as she is fearless and bold. She is a loving mother who tries to protect her children.
Shabine | Themes
Racism is one of the most prominent themes in Shabine. The reason why Mr Cazaubon refuses to accept Justine is because her mother is black and he doesn’t want to be associated with her. He forms relations with her in private but he’s ashamed to make it public. It highlights how white people often treat black people in a cruel and unjustified manner. Both Mr and Mrs Cazaubon pretend as if he didn’t have an affair with Justine’s mother. They disregard Justine’s existence. Justine’s mother is a victim in this story as well, we don’t know if she was sexually abused by Mr Cazaubon or if she willingly entered into an affair with him but the fact remains that she had to suffer a lot because of that affair. She had to raise Justine herself and couldn’t give her a proper education as she was too poor. She had to turn her daughter into a prostitute in order to provide her with a half-decent life. The Cazaubons lived their lives normally but Justine’s mother died because of “too much rum and grief”. It displays the helplessness of black people while the white people remain unaffected empowered by their status.
The man in the story has always been fascinated by Justine and thus he had developed an intense unspoken love towards her. As a child, he used to give her paradise plums as a gesture to show his feelings. These treats resemble how Justine’s life perhaps could have been sweet and delightful if she had married that man but that never happens. The man desires to be with her but he’s afraid perhaps of the judgment of the society, they might shun him if he’s with the “Shabine”.
Justine used to like the man too but given the circumstances, they never got to be together. If Justine was more respected and belonged to a good family they might have gotten married and had children and lived a happy life together. The man thinks that too as he thinks “There might have been plenty of copper”. Nevertheless, they are not just separated by the wall between their yards but also by the wall society places between them. Justine is forced to live in awful circumstances as nobody tries to help her or treat her better. She is cursed to live an unhappy life and fearing people’s opinion he will never dare to approach her.
Women in society
The story shows how women have limited choices in society. Justine’s mother had no choice but to live under the roof of a man who refuses to acknowledge her and her daughter. Mrs Cazaubon too has no choice as she has to live with an unfaithful husband. Mr Cazaubon provided both their shelter and financial support, it shows how due to social and economical burdens women are oppressed and helpless. Justine too has no opportunities to create a better life for herself, as she doesn’t have an education and nobody offers to marry her. We also see how women and men are judged differently for their sexual indiscretions, Mr Cazaubon lives a respectful life even after sleeping with his maid but Justine is labelled as a slut for sleeping with different men. Society sets different standards for men and women as shown in the ill-treatment of the women in this story.
About the author | Hazel Simmons-McDonald
Born in 1947, Hazel Simmons-McDonald is a writer, poet and linguist from St. Lucian. She used to work as a professor and administrator at the University of the West Indies. She is well known for her periodicals and contributions to linguistics as well as for her poetry collection Silk Cotton and Other Trees (2004).