H is for The Hangman’s Game

Written by Bénédicte Ledent for Caribbean Literary Heritage on Tuesday, August 4th, 2020

King-Aribisala is known for her dexterous use of puns and other word plays, and this novel is not an exception to this remarkable ability to handle words, symbolized in the hangman’s game of the title, which also punctuates the novel. One of its most striking formal features, however, is its intertextual use of fairy tales and nursery rhymes. These texts inform the feminist subtext of the novel in the sense that they are often regarded as harmless narratives meant for children, while they have been shown to possess a strong philosophical potential that goes well beyond the domestic sphere. The enigmatic nursery rhyme ‘Three Blind Mice’ is clearly referenced through the title of the novel within the novel and humorously indexes men’s sightlessness and the (sometimes destructive) agency of women, who are metaphorically able to cut men’s tails, their sexual organs, but also their tales, which are often equated with official history and compose the literary canon. Other famous traditional tales for children find their way into the text, among them the story of Rapunzel, which is evoked when Mary and the narrator arrange for their love rival’s opulent hair to be cut off (Joseph-Vilain). Unravelling such pervasive intertextuality may look like a daunting task, but it is certainly the best way of uncovering the multiple layers of meaning in this intriguingly rich novel.