The Caribbean presents an unrealistic facade to outsiders; this region is the vacation hot spot with many beautiful tropical islands, perpetual sun, and clear waters – a place to rid yourself of all worries, and unwind. But there are many underlying issues in this region that most people are unaware of. In The Oxford Book of Caribbean Short Stories, written by Stewart Brown and John Wickham, there are many depictions of the difficulties that people experience in the Caribbean.
A common theme amongst many of these short stories is identity. In postcolonial societies, for example, the articulation of identity frequently becomes an upsetting process because of a historical, antagonistic relationship of domination and subordination that ruled the interaction of the diverse cultural groups within the colonial experience. Furthermore, domination still operates through a set of economic, cultural, and ideological mechanisms (otherwise known as neocolonialism).
Also, the portrayal of resistant subjects asserting their right to sociocultural self-determination can be found in several texts like “Caribbean Chameleon” by Makeda Silvera, “Blackness” by Jamaica Kincaid, and “” by sal;idhrgshof. These stories help to create a deeper understanding about the Caribbean. Silvera uses many literary methods in her short story “Caribbean Chameleon” to strengthen her piece. First of all, the title in itself, or pre-text has a deeper meaning; a chameleon represents adaptability and multiple identities—a prominent aspect of Caribbean identity.
The title therefore gives hints to readers about what the story will be about. This story is extremely informative while using minimum resources. It is also a great form of protest due to the fact that the author uses unique linguistic, stylistic, and cultural ideas. Her short, incomplete sentence structure and use of language amplifies the infuriated tone she uses in this story. The story is told in the point of view of a Jamaican who isn’t living there. The first paragraph, “[y]ard. Xamaica. Jamdown. Jah Mek Ya. JA. Airport. Gunman, mule, don, cowboy, domestic, refugee.” sets the scene of the story which takes place in an airport.
The narrator of the story is analyzing all the people passing through the airport, whom hold multiple Caribbean identities, in this paragraph. The author uses defamiliarization which is illustrated by her incomplete sentence structure and correspondingly instills a culture shock. This literary technique provides the audience with a sense of bewilderment, however it creates further engagement and desire to learn more about the Caribbean, or more specifically Jamaica.
Silvera creates a flow in “Caribbean Chameleon” that makes it seem somewhat poetic. The author also uses evocative imagery throughout this piece in order to give readers a deeper understanding of the story she is telling. Silvera uses descriptive, evocative wording throughout the short story to trigger critical thinking within the readers; each word has many meanings behind it, like certain images, history, and culture. For instance, the word “yard” is a historical reference to slave heritage.
“Xamaica” is proof of unfamiliarity to non-Jamaican readers, and shows erasure of Jamaica’s native population. It is amazing how much of an impact the first paragraph of this story has on its readers; it says a lot with minimal linguistic references. While the first paragraph discusses human identities, the second paragraph talks about people with their souvenirs. Each paragraph seems to be a story within itself, but they are similar because both profess a desire to leave. “Caribbean Chameleon” is also a counter-narrative because it presents different realities.
For example, the second paragraph examines the idea of ethno-botany: “Not to forget the tonic juices to restore nature–strong-back, front-end-lifter and put-it-back. A little ganja, lambsbread, marijuana, senseh, collie weed, healing herbs, mushrooms; you can get anything as long as there are U. S. dollars. ” These lines represent a counter-narrative because Caribbean’s use their own, different form of medicine; American pills versus Caribbean herbs. This quote also brings up another interesting fact, that the Caribbean isn’t as exotic and far-away as we think.
The phrase “you can get anything as long as there are U. S. dollars” shows that U. S. influence and power is obvious in the Caribbean region. This idea is supported by the movie we watched in class, “Life & Debt,” which expressed the overwhelming power of the U. S. economy in the Caribbean. Silvera describes all the different types of people that are seen in the airport, with cultural references. In the first paragraph, Silvera talks about multiple Caribbean identities, refers to slave heritage, and describes different reasons for leaving the Caribbean.
Silvera’s use of the repetition of the line “[l]eaving the Caribbean for the North Star” gives more impact on readers regarding the urgency of escape from oppression. This phrase expresses how there are no opportunities in the Caribbean and that there is a need to leave this area for the North. Furthermore, this story has themes of identity, migration, and escape. These themes are prominent in Caribbean literature. “Caribbean Chameleon” is about a woman in a “black polka dot pant suit” struggling through customs in the Jamaican airport upon returning from a visit.
Unlike others passing through security, this woman seems suspicious to immigration officers because she is a Jamaican who returned to Jamaica on vacation. Silvera explains that anyone passing through customs is “safe” as long as they comply with what the officers want to hear. In other words, in order to get through without trouble, one must say they are returning from vacation rather than just visiting. The customs officer proceeds to strip the woman in the black polka dot suit of her rights and dignity. The rummaging through her suitcase resembles the woman being stripped of her rights.
The “woman in the black polka dot suit” is “speaking in tongues” as she undergoes linguistic transference in to the “black polka dot woman. ” When the customs officer requires a body search, the woman performs acts of resistance and protest by stripping herself almost naked, and gets herself arrested for indecent exposure. Overall, “Caribbean Chameleon” by Madeka Silvera Another short story from The Oxford Book of Short Stories, “Blackness” by Jamaica Kincaid is about a woman discovering herself in the midst of “blackness.”
With the help of her daughter, the narrator becomes self-aware. “Blackness” is repetitive through the story and creates the depressing atmosphere. This story is very ambiguous and fragmented. Blackness is the “night that falls in silence,” as well as the color of skin. Blackness also presents an image of annihilation and erasure, but it also conveys renewal and rebirth. I believe that Kincaid uses the term “blackness” to challenge Western ideology that has historically demoted blackness as a form of inferiority.
Kincaid creates a paradox in which the loss of one’s self leads to the discovery of one’s self. The narrator describes the blackness that surrounds her, which represents oppression and violence: No longer could I see the blooming trefoils, their overpowering perfume a constant giddy delight to me; no longer could I see the domesticated animals feeding in the pasture; no longer could I see the beasts, hunter and prey, leading a guarded existence; no longer could I see the smith moving cautiously in a swirl of hot sparks or bent over anvil and bellows (Brown & Wickham 363).
Another example of blackness is described by an invading army. These soldiers are accountable for bringing darkness across the land, for they “blotted out the daylight and night fell immediately. ” This army also conveys going against nature, while at the same time depicting historical reality of European invasion of the Caribbean.