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



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2.Concepts and Themes


The thesis' main aim is to establish recurring themes of Afro-Caribbean experience in Britain in the second half of the twentieth century. While the Caribbean area is extremely diverse in many respects, many West Indians in Britain had very similar experiences as a result of a social climate that put stress on differentiation among people on the basis of their skin colour. Such shared experience included overt and covert racism, discrimination, burgeoning and strengthening of prejudices and stereotypes (often based on myth or popular representation). From a migrant´s perspective, such shared experience involved negotiation and re-definition of identity, roots, belonging, negotiation of approach to the new country – whether it was assimilation, integration or more recent acknowledgement of hybridity and generational change. For historical reasons, I find it imperative to draw attention to postcoloniality as it clarifies many aspects of West Indian experience in post-colonial Britain. As a result of the society's change, it is relevant to attempt to construct 'imaginary' borders around the British and European identities because of the gradual preference for cultural racism in Britain. Lastly, the recurring theme of disillusion with Britain as the 'mother country' who failed its West Indian settlers is a theme of great importance since it was a culturally powerful and disheartening experience, often undertaken in literature by authors of Caribbean origin.

The chosen concepts and themes are based on the novels by Cliff, Levy and Phillips and secondary sources are applied in order to analyze and deconstruct the recurring experiences and establish the link between the novels and the theoretical approaches to the concepts and themes.

In this work, I use the term West Indian interchangeably with Afro-Caribbean (even though the West Indies are a multiracial society, most settlers to Britain were predominantly from Jamaica and Barbados and the population there is mostly of African stock, Hiro viii).

2.1Historical Overview

The economy of colonial West Indies was geared towards providing goods for the British Empire, however, without the country receiving adequate profits. As a result, the area has been underdeveloped and lacking investment. Politically, Jamaica was granted self-government in 1948 and independence in 1962 but the independence did not stop West Indians from leaving the country as the economy's long-lasting plunge forced many West Indians to migrate outside the country. Legally, those who came to the UK had few entrance problems since they were coming from the former Empire and Britain was eager to add to its post-war workforce which was further enabled by the British Nationality Act of 1948. Most West Indians who came between 1955-64 were motivated by several factors - among them were the push factors: the lack of opportunities at home, among the pull factors were the difficulty to enter the US due to the McCarren-Walter Act of 1952, historical connection to Britain and Britain's labour shortage. Even though Britain was encouraging the migration, the general agreement has it that they were not very welcome (Pilkington 33-9). For a long time after the Second World War, Britain was trying to impose restrictions on immigration and on the other hand combat racial disadvantage and integrate people who had come to Britain (Pilkington 9).


2.2The Post-Colonial Question

The term ´post-colonial´ seems to indicate that the colonial history is strictly a matter of the past, that the world has dealt with the issues the colonial legacy had left behind. Even though the decolonization took place decades ago, the history has had a deep impact on the demographics and culture of the Caribbean and Britain and continues to shape the population of the Caribbean and its diaspora.

The themes of exile and migration are often treated in the works of Caribbean writers and the themes naturally stem from the intricate history of the area. As Caryl Phillips puts it in his book A New World Order:

Politically, culturally and linguistically, the Caribbean artist is a special kind of migration. Wherever one happens to be in the Caribbean, at least two or more continents and cultures have already provided the bedrock upon which one's identity has been forged. It is a birthright that embraces Europe, Africa and Asia. (131)

It is worth noting that about three quarters of the people living in the world today have had their lives shaped by the experience of colonialism (Ashcroft, Griffiths, and Tiffin 1). Thus the term post-colonial absorbs all the influence that colonization has had on culture until the present (ibid., 2).

The end of colonialism brought new diasporas and the globalised world enabled the idea of diaspora to become reality as spatially separated communities could identify with each other (Gilroy, "Route Work: the Black Atlantic and the Politics of Exile" 20). In fall 2009, Plaza published a study on "transnational identity" maintenance via the Internet. His research of the content of websites constructed by second-generation West Indians in the United States, Canada and Great Britain shows that many second generation students of Caribbean origin choose to live in a transnational culture in which ethnicity and cultural identity are "fluid, situational and volitional." This arguments supports the claims of many scholars such as Anzaldúa (1995), Hall (1996), Rosaldo (1989), and Nagel (1994) who "work within a postmodernist framework, theorize identity as hybrid, dynamic, fluid, and multi-layered." They argue against essentialist notions of identity as fixed and bounded (qtd. in Plaza). Angela McRobbie asserts as well that cultural studies tend to prefer an anti-essentialist approach to the study of race or sexuality since "there are many ways of being black . . . or a woman" (37). Nevertheless, McRobbie points out to the lack of description of these different identities as well as frameworks that would allow to pursue them (McRobbie 37). The notion of rigid boundaries between cultures and cultural identities becomes less clear. The concept of transnationalism is not new, however, only recently it gained in popularity and it describes well the present tendencies:

Transnationalism is defined as the process by which immigrants forge and sustain multistranded social relations that link together their societies of origin and settlement through the creation of cross-border, and inter-continental networks (Glick-Shiller 1998; Portes 1999; Vertovec 1999; & Basch et al. 1994). Although transnationalism is not a new phenomenon, it has been facilitated more recently by space and time compressing technologies which include telephone, email, and relatively easy low cost long-distance travel across borders. (Plaza)

It is not surprising then that many postcolonial novels, engaged in themes of exile and migration, bring about the theme of national consciousness which is crucial for identity formation. Since the process of de-colonization began, the anti-colonial writer from Martinique, Frantz Fanon, argued for a need of a national consciousness as a means of overcoming the legacy of colonialism (Richards). On the personal level, internal decolonization had to happen as well, whether it was via reinvention of Africa, Christianity or Rastafarianism (C. Hall 69).

The novels I am going to discuss belong to the post-colonial time framework. In this thesis, the identity formation is understood to be hybrid and dynamic. However, it is important to remember works of social scientists such as Frantz Fanon. In his research, he used the method of psychoanalysis to show the inferiority complex the colonizers had managed to instill in the (un)conscious mind of the colonized. He published his research in his book Black Skin, White Masks in 1952. As such, the colonized will try to imitate the culture of the colonizer because it is projected as more sophisticated and desirable. The colonized's indigenous culture had been denigrated through the growth of the British Empire, the linguistic conquest of English and at the unconscious level, constructed values such as civilization or humanity that were naturalized and this naturalization, conversely, helped to create categories of "primitive", savagery or native, standing in binary opposition to civilization and humanity. The cultural denigration, a conscious and unconscious oppression, does not only affect the culture, but it also has an influence on the personality and the perception of the self (Ashcroft, Griffiths, and Tiffin 3; 9). Since European cultures have been obsessed with belief in continual progress since the Enlightenment, it was easy to justify the attempt to reform the indigenous culture, to make the world a better place. Darwin's impact on the evolution of humans has been extended to cultures as well and Lewis Henry Morgan, a 19th century anthropologist, came up with a theory on social evolution which contains three stages: savagery, barbarism and civilization. However, the etic perspective, ethnocentrism and the imposed model of the superior Western culture have helped the justification of colonialism, imperialism and racism; making it seem an inevitable course in history where the fittest cultures survive and the weak ones have to perish via a natural order.

2.2.1Legacy of Colonialism

When the British Empire had disintegrated, Britain has become a post-colonial nation. Britain has lost its white identities "rooted in a sense of superiority derived from the power exercised over racialised others" (C. Hall 67). The European history seen from a European perspective may lack objectivity since some imperial pasts can be repressed or represented in a favourable fashion. The reason why minority writers in Britain are important is their providing for new fresh perspectives of the past, the present and the future. The world after the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the way we describe it has also dramatically changed. The colonization seems to be strictly confined to the deep past while the construction of New Europe is being paid most attention to. Yet the British imperial history is present in everyday life in Britain - names of the streets, sugar in tea, coffee, cocoa, the mango chutney, the memorials, the public monuments and still the colonial past seems to be rather dismissed as "many Europeans, concerned to forget that past, look to a future which focuses on Europe . . ." (C. Hall 66). Intrinsically, the British post-nation is ethnically varied, inclusive and culturally diverse (ibid., 69).


2.2.2 Caryl Phillips, Andrea Levy and Michelle Cliff as Post-Colonial Writers


The post-colonial period brought national and cultural awakening which is reflected in the works discussed. The national consciousness and embracing of one's cultural roots are important aspects that have helped the post-colonial reconciliation. Accepting and embracing one's cultural roots or racial belonging (and pride) help the development of transnationalism and feeling of belonging in the British society instead of dwelling on its margins.

The issues Caryl Phillips and Andrea Levy are touching upon in their writings are slightly different from those of Cliff's since Phillips and Levy are more focused on recent experiences of people of Caribbean descent in Britain. Cliff's themes are connected to the decolonization era and the impact it had on people living in Britain and the former Empire.

Caryl Phillips's (1958) ancestors came from Africa yet he was born in the Caribbean. He was brought up in Great Britain and currently lives in New York City. His works of fiction and nonfiction more than often focus on the ever-changing notions of home, identity and belonging. As he describes his first visit to sub-Saharan Africa in his collection of essays on belonging, A New World Order, it is clear that the dynamic and hybrid qualities of identity are interwoven in his discourse since the beginning, "I am thirty-two. I recognise the place, I feel at home here, but I don't belong. I am of, and not of, this place" (1).

Andrea Levy (1956) is British and was born in London to Jamaican parents who immigrated to England on the Empire Windrush in 1948. Her background provided her with ambivalence and confusion as she explains, "I want to belong to anywhere but this place where I am made to feel like an outsider - not welcome, definitely not welcome at all" (Levy, “This Is My England”). She addresses the complexities of identity in her writing because "any history book will show that England has never been an exclusive club, but rather a hybrid nation. The effects of the British Empire were personal as well as political. And as the sun has finally set on the Empire, we are now having to face up to all of these realities" (ibid.).

West Indians´ roots and history are not firmly located in one particular area which means that maintaining a strong identification with and connection to 'home' is problematic. The definition of home loses its distinct qualities (Thompson 122). Even though Phillips and Levy have not actually experienced colonialism and devote a lot of space to Britain in their writings, their lives and writings are still very much influenced by the history of it.

Michelle Cliff (1946) is a Jamaican-American writer, mostly known for her novels Abeng and No Telephone to Heaven. In her work she often devotes attention to issues of construction and borders of socially-conditioned identity.

Postcolonialism is closely linked to other concepts such as ethnicity, race, nationalism, home and location. In the following analysis of the novels, much attention will be paid to how these concepts shape and impact identity and its formation.

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