The Corpse of Algerian Identity:
Achour Ouamara's La Defunte [The Dead Woman]
Susan C. Haedicke, George Washington University

In 1962, Algeria won its independence from France after a bloody revolution and stood at the dawn of a new age, but by 1992, the glorious promise of the new nation all but disappeared as Islamist insurgents rebelled against the state plunging the country into a violent civil war which claimed over 100,000 lives.
Prior to independence, Algeria was often expressed metaphorically as a beautiful, but distant, woman, most notably in Kateb Yacine's Nedjma.
Achour Ouamara's play La Défunte, published in 2001, reworks the metaphor of another enigmatic woman identified with Algeria: that of a tortured and mutilated corpse whose nameless body hides her secrets from the investigators trying to discover who committed these atrocities. She represents the nightmare Algeria became in 1992 as the quest for a homogeneous culture, in itself antihistorical, reached murderous proportions. The dead woman embodies the deconstruction of a national culture through her dismembered limbs. Refusing to remain trapped in despair however, Ouamara reconstitutes the woman/Algeria through her words as the investigators read aloud the writings found with her person. By putting her words into their mouths, Ouamara transforms the indigenous theatrical tradition of the storyteller and begins the process of restoring the voice of a lost national identity. In the final scene, the reconstituted spirit of the woman appears on stage to wrest power from the investigators. Her dominant presence metaphorically warns the one remaining investigator (and the audience) that in spite of abuse and dismemberment, Algeria will rise and prevail. This paper will look at how La Défunte not only condemns the violence of the extremism of the 1990s on the individual and the nation, but also how the play speaks (at least metaphorically) for Algeria's ability to reconstruct itself through the current more moderate and inclusive political power under President Bouteflika.