Girl in the Ring,
written by Nalo Hopkinson, is set within a Caribbean-Canadian
community in Toronto and it is a reflection on the unique national
and ethnic identities of the Caribbean diaspora. The language plays
an important role in the story, since it serves as a means to
identify not only the various national distinctions within this
Caribbean community, but also the relationship between the Caribbean
community and the larger Canadian society. However, through
Hopkinson’s description of “serving the spirits”, the story
depicts a pan-Caribbean identity inside the Caribbean diaspora
Toronto. In this concept of “serving the spirits”, the author
gathers numerous African-derived religious traditions that are found
throughout the Caribbean and combines them into one religious
practice, creating a unique pan-Caribbean identity.

story is set in the decaying inner city of Toronto, after the
collapse of its economic base. The city center is inhabited by the
poor and homeless and ruled by the story’s antagonist Rudy. The
protagonist is Ti-Jeanne, a young Caribbean-Canadian girl. She lives
with her grandmother, Mami Gros-Jeanne, who owns a business in herbal
medicine and is a faithful follower of the spirits. However,
Ti-Jeanne does not believe in the effects of herbal medicine and
thinks that her grandmother’s African-derived spirituality should
play no role in the lives of practical and sane people. Nevertheless,
Ti-Jeanne finally has to face her spiritual heritage or risk her own
life and the lives of her family. In the climatic scene in Brown
Girl in the Ring,
Ti-Jeanne manages to summon the Eshu Legbara , connecting the earthly
and the spiritual world and finally being able to end the evil which
is plaguing her city, starting the process of healing and recovery.

Caribbean community in Toronto consists of several cultural
identities and some members of the community keep the identity of
their nation of origin. In Brown Girl in the Ring, several
characters are identified by their country of origin, but when
not explicitly depicted, it is reflected by their language.

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author uses language in order to reveal this hybridized world of the
Caribbean-Canadians. Throughout the book, characters often switch
between language uses, according to the situation. For example, while
interacting with white Canadian children, Mami Gros-Jeanne switches,
from her typical creole, to a standard Canadian dialect
(Hopkinson p.63). There is a similar situation with Tony (Hopkinson
p.19). Tony seems to be proud for being able to speak Caribbean
creole, but he also knows how necessary the standard Canadian English

is a sharing and communication within the Caribbean community, which
forges a pan-Caribbean identity. This identity acknowledges the
differences within the community while keeping a form of boundary
between the Caribbean and the Canadian community. There is one
example of the distinction between the Caribbean and the Canadian
culture, when Ti-Jeanne talks about Tony’s fear of “obeah”
(Hopkinson p.26). Even though Tony has a western/Canadian
understanding of life, he still maintains a view of the obeah
religion, which he was taught as part of his Caribbean heritage. This
pan-Caribbean identity is evident through the author’s use of the
term “obeah” to describe the spiritual beliefs of several

language serves as a means to identify and distinguish the
characters’ Caribbean and Caribbean-Canadian backgrounds, Hopkinson’s
concept of “serving the spirits” functions the opposite way. By
using religious markers, rather than linguistic ones, the author
blends the various African-derived religions and establishes a
pan-Caribbean identity particular to the diaspora communities.

Gros-Jeanne’s concept of “serving the spirits” depicts the fact
that the members of the Caribbean communities do have shared African
religious traditions, which again share common themes. One important
example for this is the spirit Eshu (or Legbara). In Brown
Girl in the Ring,
Eshu is described as the master of the crossroads and the gatekeeper
between the spiritual and the temporal world. As the master of the
boundaries between life and death, Eshu’s presence connotes the need
of negotiating the relationship between the living and their

story’s antagonist Rudy has a great knowledge of the traditional
African religions and uses it to summon Eshu, with the goal of
accessing the type of power which allows him to manipulate the dead.
After being summoned by Rudy, Eshu teaches him how to animate the
dead and turn them into wandering spirits; he teaches Rudy how to
create a “duppy”, a spirit of a dead person whose powers can be
used for good or evil deeds. After creating a duppy, each day one of
Rudy’s enemies dies.

also has a connection to the spirits of the Caribbean African-derived
religions. At the beginning of the story, she suffers from dreams of
haunting spiritual creatures and visions of death. As she walks by a
group of drug dealers, she has a vision and sees their terrible
lonely deaths (Hopkinson p.16-17). She also has another vision of a
devil-like monster while she is walking through the streets
(Hopkinson p.18).

does not know who or what the creature is. All she knows is that she
is being haunted by death visions and haunting creatures. That is
why, after having another nightmare, she finally decides to consult
Mami Gros-Jeanne and asks her for advice. Ti-Jeanne describes her
dream where she saw a “fireball whirl in through the window glass”
(Hopkinson p.44). The fireball transforms
an “old woman, body twist-up and dry like a chew-up piece a sugar
cane. She flesh red and wet and oozing all over, like she ain’t have
no skin.” (Hopkinson p.44).

is later revealed that Ti-Jeanne’s patron spirit is actually Eshu
(or Legbara), who moves around her in various manifestations of
himself. On one occasion, Ti-Jeanne sees the Ghede (Hopkinson
p.80-81). Ti-Jeanne is terrified and dismisses her sight as a vision.
Later on, as Mami Gros-Jeanne performs a religious ritual, it is
revealed that Ti-Jeanne is being possessed by Eshu (Hopkinson p.94).
The Prince of the Cemetery, or Eshu in one of his manifestations,
communicates through Ti-Jeanne and tells Mami Gros-Jeanne that
Ti-Jeanne is his daughter and argues that this is evident, due to her
visions of death.

these and several other examples from Brown Girl in the Ring,
Hopkinson manages to combine the different traditional
African-derived religious beliefs into one pan-Caribbean religious
system; the system of “serving the spirits”, which turns out to
be the greatest resource for the novel’s characters. By serving the
spirits and “living good”, Ti-Jeanne and Mami Gros-Jeanne try to
live a life of respecting the ancestors and life itself (Hopkinson
p.219), which eventually helps Ti-Jeanne triumph over evil and start
a process of healing in Toronto. 


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