Publication Details

Jones, D. L. (2001). Surveying the Promised Land: Elizabeth Jolley’s Milk and Honey. Semeia Studies, (88), 97-111.

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The Bible proved a significant resource for European imperialism both in aiding colonisers to impose their own culture on those they conquered and in justifying their annexation and administration of other peoples' territory. Metaphors drawn from biblical accounts of the garden of Eden and the promised land offering a new home to Jews who had been held captive in Egypt were mobilised in relation to European colonisation. In the biblical context, these motifs emphasised God's cherishing or protection of chosen people to the exclusion of all others and so could be used to justify many forms of containment and exclusion in a colonial situation. The garden of Eden and the promised land also resonate as metaphors within a postcolonial context, and writers have drawn upon them when exploring issues of personal, national, and communal identity. Elizabeth Jolley engages in such exploration in her novel Milk and Honey as she presents Australia, not through the eyes of newly arrived colonists, but from the viewpoint of refugee migrants escaped from Europe during World War II. In a novel permeated with biblical allusion, she portrays the costs both of cultural and social exclusivity and of breaking down barriers erected to preserve identity.