Multifaceted migration and exile

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There have always been the same types and forms of migration triggered by the same circumstances and reasons. Yet, whether people choose to migrate or not, they do so somehow reluctantly. Some even experience exile without leaving and being expatriated.

I. Having to leave

1) For economic reasons

Dire poverty (l’extrême pauvreté) makes people leave their home in search of a better place. The Great Potato Famine (1845-1852) started a long process of Irish migration to the USA. For example, Frank McCourt’s memoir, Angela’s Ashes (1996), stresses his family left because of destitution. The same reasons lead people from South America to endure a long hazardous journey to the USA.

Similarly, the Oakies in John Steinbeck’s novel The Grapes of Wrath (1939) flee their home to try their luck in California because of drought, economic hardship and bank foreclosures (saisies).


The Oakies were destitute people forced to abandon their farms and migrate to California, when Oklahoma was hit by severe dust storms in the 1930s.

2) For social and political reasons

Colonialism and the rise and fall of the British Empire are closely linked to migration and exile. In an attempt to deal with overcrowded prisons, Britain sent convicts (prisonniers) away to settle in Australia. Such is the main theme of Botany Bay by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall (1941). Besides, decolonisation triggered such drastic changes and violence in former British colonies that it entailed migration back to Great Britain.

People can be driven out of their homes by conflicts and wars. The official poster “Women Wanted for Evacuation Service” shows British children who were evacuated during the Blitz. Many people, such as the Jews who ran away to escape pogroms in Eastern Europe and the Holocaust, also flee religious and / or political persecution. It’s the case of Beverley Naidoo’s young characters who flee Nigeria and take refuge in Britain in The Other Side of Truth (2000).

II. Being exiled at home

1) No sense of belonging

People who leave their home feel as exiles. Consequently, many emigrants, and even their children who were born and bred in their adopted country, dream of returning to their country of origin.


Exiles live away from home. They face obstacles (language, integration) and a sense of alienation (nostalgia, uprootedness).

Yet, it often proves a baffling (déroutante) experience for those who attempt it: they realise they are foreigners in their ancestors’ land. Colm Tóibín’s main character in Brooklyn (2009) does not feel at home either in the US where she chose to settle or Ireland when she comes back.

Being in between two worlds and cultures is also experienced by Native Americans as Sherman Alexie points out in Indian Killer (1996). They do not belong and are neither Natives nor Americans.

2) Exile from within

That feeling of estrangement is even worse for people who have not even left their own country. They may have been displaced to another part of it like Native Americans on the Trail of Tears and they may have undergone forced assimilation like the Stolen Generation in Australia. That form of exile is illustrated in Rabbit Proof Fence (2002) by Phillip Noyce adapted from Doris Pilkington’s novel.

Nadine Gordimer and André Brink chose to remain in South Africa while taking sides with Black people under Apartheid. They were thus forced to exile within their own country: they were subjected to severe censorship. Burger’s Daughter and A Dry White Season (1979) were banned in South Africa.