Race, Creole, and National Identities in Rhys’s “Wide Sargasso Sea” and Phillips’s “Cambridge”

Posted in Articles, Caribbean/Latin America, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive on 2010-07-12 22:34Z by Steven

Race, Creole, and National Identities in Rhys’s “Wide Sargasso Sea” and Phillips’s “Cambridge”

Small Axe
Number 21 (Volume 10, Number 3)
October 2006
pages 87-104
E-ISSN: 1534-6714, Print ISSN: 0799-0537
DOI: 10.1353/smx.2006.0035

Vivian Nun Halloran, Assoiate Professor of Comparative Literature
Indiana University, Bloomington

As postmodern historical novels dramatizing slavery and its legacy in the anglophone Caribbean islands, Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea (1966) and Caryl Phillips’s Cambridge (1993) problematize Englishness as a national and cultural identity that may or may not be dependent upon race and also reject the Creole as an identity subordinate in status to that of European. By questioning the prevailing nineteenth century assumption of an inherent relationship linking the observable geographical boundaries of a state and the essential character of its national culture, Cambridge destabilizes Englishness as a homogeneous racial signifier for whiteness in its depiction of London as a bustling metropolis with a small but visible population of Black Britons, while Wide Sargasso Sea portrays Creole Jamaican society, black and white, at a moment of crisis, on the eve of the arrival of the first wave of indentured servants from India. Both novels suggest that social demarcations between English and Creole cultural identities are artificial because they ultimately depend on chance — on the geographical accident of a given person’s or character’s place of birth…

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