Toxic Imperialism: Memory, Erasure, and Environmental Injustice in David Chariandy’s <i>Soucouyant</i>


  • Desiree Hellegers Washington State University
  • Pavithra Narayanan Washington State University


David Chariandy, Soucouyant, toxic imperialism, memory and dementia, environmental justice


Critical literature on David Chariandy’s Soucouyant has explored the dementia suffered by the protagonist’s mother Adele as a metaphor for the erasure of Black experience from cultural memory and dominant historical narratives, and as a response to the traumatic effects of imperialism. “Toxic Imperialism” builds on these critical insights, while mapping new critical terrain to argue that in Chariandy’s novel, dementia is both an effect and symptom of the multiple sites of chemical exposure that disproportionately impact low income communities of color. From Adele’s and Roger’s birthplace in Trinidad, to their home and work environments in Canada, the family’s multiple encounters with unequally borne byproducts of industrial production are inseparably linked to legacies of colonialism and racism. The analysis traces the roots of Adele’s trauma in environmental and cultural disruptions wrought by the U.S. military occupation of Trinidad during World War II, while also examining the novel’s critique of Canada’s discourse of neoliberal multiculturalism, and its relevance to Indigenous-Black solidarity to address racism, white supremacy, and injustices in Canada. In its attention to epistemologies of memory and multigenerational effects of (neo)colonialism, Soucouyant is a literary intervention in support of local and global decolonization struggles for social, environmental, and ecological justice.

Both authors contributed equally to this work.

Author Biographies

Desiree Hellegers, Washington State University

Desiree Hellegers is Associate Professor of English and affiliated faculty of the Collective for Social and Environmental Justice at Washington State University Vancouver. She is the author of No Room of Her Own: Women's Stories of Homelessness, Life, Death and Resistance (Palgrave Macmillan 2011) and Handmaid to Divinity: Natural Philosophy, Poetry, and Gender in Seventeenth-Century England (U of Oklahoma P, 2000). Her research interests include environmental justice ecocriticism, ecofeminism, oral history, civil liberties, militarism, and social movements.

Pavithra Narayanan, Washington State University

Pavithra Narayanan is Associate Professor of English and affiliated faculty of the Collective for Social and Environmental Justice at Washington State University Vancouver, USA. She is the author of What Are You Reading?: The World Market and Indian Literary Production (Routledge, 2012). Her research areas include the history of the book, processes of decolonization, Indigenous land rights and movements, civilian resistance movements, postcolonial ecocriticism, social and environmental justice, nationalism, and global capitalism.