The Unsettling Portrayal of Migrant Existence in Rawi Hage’s Urban Fiction

Hilde Staels


This essay considers the function of the grotesque mode in Rawi Hage’s novels Cockroach (2008) and Carnival (2012). The grotesque is a provocative tool with which Hage draws attention to the predicament of the class of poor and disadvantaged new immigrants in contemporary Montreal. He offers a male immigrant’s unsettling perspective on the Canadian multicultural ideal that proclaims the acceptance of ethnic and racial difference. 

Formal aspects that generate a grotesque effect include the first-person narrator’s self-image, his disruptive discourse of resistance, his disorienting view of urban reality, and spatial metaphors in the context of the protagonist’s social alienation and marginalisation. Julia Kristeva’s theory of abjection throws light on the sense of fear and repulsion felt towards the urban poor, and on the protagonist’s deliberate identification with vermin in the context of his discourse of resistance. 

Even though the underprivileged migrant is able to answer back, Hage’s novels are devoid of true regenerative and liberating power. The literary texts give prominence to the migrant’s isolation and socio-economic outsider position. Nonetheless, the grotesque mode also functions as a powerful tool with which the author depicts the recent immigrant as someone with a resilient and mobile identity.


Rawi Hage; 'Cockroach'; 'Carnival'; The grotesque mode; Abjection; Migrant existence

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ISSN: 2254-1179
Entidad editora: Universidad de Huelva. Servicio de Publicaciones