M asaryk University Faculty of Arts Department of English and American Studies

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5.5Myth and Refuge of England

While Clare was taught that England was her home in Jamaica, she chooses not to identify with it after living in Britain and actually getting to know the country ´from within´. Formally, her knowledge of Britain´s history and culture is tremendous, she knows British monarchs by heart (109), can recite Tennyson's "Lady of Shalott" or know the location of Commonwealth countries (110) since "To speak a language is to take on a world, a culture. The Antilles Negro who wants to be white will be the whiter as he gains greater mastery of the cultural tool that language is" (Fanon 38).

She comes to England with a certain assumption of how the mother country will be and should be. Yet, she is not prepared to see darker women at Heathrow airport cleaning toilets, something that perplexes her, "she tried to put them from her mind" (109). Like many other post-colonial writers, Cliff shows Clare disillusioned with the place and confused. Her journey, however, is a part of her quest for her identity and makes her realise what she is not and what she does not want to be.

The disillusion comes from the fact that England was presented overseas as an epitome of civilisation, a country of sophisticated culture and justice (Toland-Dix). Thus coming to England with myths and assumptions provides for an experience of bewilderment. Lamming describes meeting one Trinidadian who came to Britain and was shocked to see 'white' people doing manual work which was something he would not see in the streets of Port-of-Spain (Lamming 25-6).

When Clare comes across the novel Jane Eyre, she cannot bring herself to identify herself with Jane even though she, too, felt “betrayed, left to wander, solitary, motherless and with no relations to speak of” (Cliff 116). Yet she cannot identify with her because she is not pale, small nor English and chooses Bertha instead – “captive, ragoût, mixture, confused, Jamaican, Carib, Canibal, Cimarron” (116).

The assumptions and stereotypes also work the other way round and there is the myth of the Caribbean that Britons believe Clare and her friend put this on a show when they pretend they are the king and queen of Benin to the British couple vacationing in Jamaica. They mention voodoo and zombies and state they "devour enemies": “But no, the poor fool, now released, took the whole story back to his table to tell his wife he had spoken with African royalty, and, oh, dear, they are as we feared" (125-6). Clare believes this is the story they want - exotic, African, full of hot nights and mystery (126). In this respect, Clare relies on her reflexivity, the ability to be the object of her own thoughts and actions and she fulfills the role expectations by stereotyping that (un)consciously makes her act out while the tourists reflect the desire of cultural consumption of the ´other´ as they search for authenticity in a place that their own culture had exoticised.

After she comes back to Jamaica, Clare starts to teach, write and rewrite history. She acquires knowledge via speaking to older people, leafing through archives, going to historic sites because “some history is only underwater” (193). Therefore the stay in England did not provide her with just disillusion about the ´mother country´ but also distrust in the colonial narrative. In the same way as Caryl Phillips asserts in his nonfiction, Clare suggests the role of the writers as keepers of history that is not always in concordance with the main ideological narrative.


It was my objective for this thesis to establish the common concepts and themes that predominate the works of writers from the West Indies who immigrated to Britain in the second half of the twentieth century and to analyze the socio-political context of the period to evaluate how social constructs - that are often presented as essential and immutable - change through time. In this context, the experience of West Indians in the second half of the twentieth century presents an opportunity to see how representation of minorities was re-evaluated, how discrimination practices have changed and how the overall perception of West Indians shifted from hostile anxiety of the postwar period to a more positive evaluation decades later when being different often means, in Mousavizadeh´s words, being “interestingly different” (138).

The main and uniting concepts discussed evolve around the experience of discrimination, the negotiation of identity, the notion of home and belonging throughout generations and the paradoxes of history that illustrate the background and causativity of the experience. The parallels connecting certain concepts and themes such as race, class and power or stereotypes, myths and prejudice functioning in and influencing the representation and perception of West Indians in Britain were exposed and analyzed. There are several factors which make West Indian immigration to Britain unique and are interwoven in the shared history with the former British Empire. These factors include the ideological burden of Britain as the 'mother country' for West Indians coming after WW II and the cultural connection to Britain due to the shared history. Other aspects of the experience are common to immigrant or diaspora experience in general. Thus the thesis concentrates mainly on the perspective of West Indians in Britain which proved an insightful position in exposing the rationale behind acts of discrimination or the assumptions behind beliefs, prejudices and stereotypes. On the other hand, much is revealed about the Caribbean identities which is also a theme analyzed due to its hybrid, culturally syncretic nature which is then again enriched by the relocation to Britain and negotiation of both identities. The social and political aspect had to be touched upon as well in order to grasp culture in all its complexities and in this respect, the works analyzed can be linked to a larger framework of diaspora, social injustice and globalized world.

The experience of West Indians exposes clearly the hybridity of the British nation (and nations in general) since they gradually gained recognition as being part of the new multicultural Britain which, nevertheless, did not abolish the notion of the ´common enemy´ that was re-constructed and redefined; the Other shifted its conceptual content in the second half of the twentieth century.

The experience further demonstrates the foothold hybrid and transnational identities have gained in recent decades It is a process that was greatly helped by globalization, recognition of multiculturalism instead of assimilationist pressures of the British political agenda and, last but not least, the subsequent generations' of Britons of West Indian background willingness to discover and explore the land of their ancestors which co-occurs with a mild erosion of national identity.

Cliff, Phillips and Levy thus contribute to voicing (hi)stories which were repressed or silenced before as well as explore and reflect in their work the shifting notions of identity, home and belonging in a period of fast social change and generations´ shift.

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English Summary

The thesis ´West Indian Experience in the Second Half of the Twentieth Century: Bittersweet Homecoming' analyzes the aspects of West Indian immigration to Britain which marks the beginning of a new, multicultural era in Britain. In 1948, the Empire Windrush carried 492 passengers from Jamaica who were to settle in Britain and this date is symbolically referred to as the beginning of multicultural Britain.

    In the thesis, I analyze the works of Michelle Cliff, Andrea Levy and Caryl Phillips. All of them explore the experience of Britain through a West Indian perspective which offers a different point of view on the British society.

A comparative and thematic analysis of the chosen works by Michelle Cliff, Andrea Levy and Caryl Phillips expose different aspects of the West Indian experience in Britain and are complemented with secondary sources drawing on sociological, political, cultural and anthropological research in order to demonstrate how the texts reflect the British society, West Indians in Britain and overall change in terms of decades. Before the analysis, a brief exposition of concepts and themes is briefly explained. The selected concepts and themes are quite numerous yet, while they encapsulate the different facets of collective and personal experience (which is in no way totalising nor essentialising but suggests certain transcendence of common experience), cross-cut and interweave in many aspects. These parallels will be foregrounded in order to provide the most complete analysis possible.
  In Cliff's chapter, the main focus is on historical paradoxes, 'silenced' history and national identity, in Levy's chapter, the primary focus turns to discrimination and in Phillips' chapter, the notions relevant to belonging and exile are examined. While all three authors write about experiencing Britain from an etic perspective, certain concepts and themes are analyzed recurrently. Since three generations of post-Empire Windrush West Indians have lived in Britain, the comparison of how the selected concepts and themes unfold throughout the second half of the twentieth century will be drawn.
West Indian experience in Britain can be linked to diasporas throughout the world but due to the shared history of the British Empire, the West Indies' special relationship with Britain cannot be overlooked - and examining literature by West Indian authors reveals as much about Caribbean identities as it does about Britain. Thus it is an interesting journey that involves three continents, multiple identities and hybrid Britishness. The aim of the thesis was also to prove the instability of social constructs over time – certain constructs such as the British national identity, the myth of England in the Caribbean or the conceptual content of the common enemy, the ´Other´, have all been re-defined while other constructs have become more powerful, such as multiple identities which benefited from recognition of hybridity and transnationalism in an era of globalization.


Resumé v češtině

Diplomová práce ´West Indian Experience in the Second Half of the Twentieth

Century: Bittersweet Homecoming' je založená na srovnání literární tvorby Michelle Cliff,

Andrey Levy a Caryla Phillipse a textová analýza je doplněná historickými, kulturními, politologickými a sociologickými zdroji. Cílem předložené práce je poukázat a osvětlit určité aspekty imigrace z Karibiku do Británie po druhé světové válce do současnosti. Tato imigrace sdílí určité prvky s dalšími skupinami imigrantů, ale zároveň poukazuje na určité aspekty, které jsou jí specifické – např. mýtus Británie v Karibiku a kulturní prvky karibské identity, které pochází ze společné historie.

Tři hlavní oblasti jsou analyzovány – diskriminace a rasismus, historické a kulturní aspekty, které významně ovlivnily celkový charakter britského přijetí imigrantů z Karibiku a koncept ´belonging with vigilance´ - ´ostražité sounáležitosti´, který je symbolickým tématem karibské diaspory. Tyto oblasti jsou rozvedeny do dalších podsekcí, které spolu úzce souvisí, např. diskriminace a její souvislost se sociálním postavením, mýty a stereotypickým zobrazováním imigrantů, předsudky a sexualitou; aspekty kolonialismu a institucí, které byly utvořeny v Karibiku za účelem upevnění loajality obyvatel Commonwealthu, kontinuita britské identity a demografické změny v Británii. V neposlední řadě bylo také cílem poukázat na mezigenerační změny a celkovou změnu britské společnosti v jejím vztahu k imigrantům, národní identitě a své vlastní historii. O redefinici historie či britské národní identity se také pokusili výše zmínění spisovatelé, kteří vystavují čtenáře novým perspektivám na život v Británii z pohledu imigranta či neúplně uznaného člena společnosti.

Vybrané texty se zabývají problematikou imigrace z Karibiku, Levy a Phillips se také věnují dalším generacím, tzn. Britům s karibskými předky, kteří se ale narodili v Británii.

Diplomová práce dokazuje, jak se určité společenské konstrukty mění a redefinují v čase. V tomto případě je názorně ukázana souvislost mezi britskou národní identitiou, rasismem, předsudky a mýty. Zároveň je tato souvislot ukázana v kontextu ve kterém se, díky různým vlivům, změnily. Na druhou stranu další společenské konstrukty získaly na síle díky vlivu multikulturalismu a globalismu.

1 Walker, Peter. "Brown to apologize to care home children sent to Australia and Canada." Guardian. 16 Nov. 2009. Web. 21 Nov. 2009.

2 backra - white or white-identified. Probably from the West African mbakara, he who surrounds or governs. Some Jamaicans believe it derives from the word back-raw, the condition of a slave's back after whipping (Cliff, 209)

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