Literature Review of Cambridge by Caryl Phillips

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For my Internal Assessment I have chosen to do a review of Caryl Phillips’ post-colonial work of fiction, “Cambridge”. This novel published in the year 1991, explores the interlocking of a variety of forms of marginalization, displacement and dispossession that emerge from the experience of cross-cultural encounters. It persistently raises questions of home, identity and belonging. Philips’ novel is set in an unnamed small Caribbean island during a transitional period, sometime between the abolition of the slave trade in 1807 and the emancipation of slaves in 1834. Phillips raises the consciousness of the readers by highlighting the brutality and horrors of slavery through perfected use of narrative techniques such as imagery, irony, symbols etc. He most wonderfully uses these techniques to address the thematic concerns of the novel such as, Racial Prejudice, Women Subjugation, Loss of Identity and Cultural Erasure.

This work of fiction constitute self-conscious fiction: to a greater extent, it is a pastiche of other narratives and deliberately calls attention to its intertextuality. Cambridge’s exploration of slavery comprises the juxtaposition of three main narratives framed by an epilogue and prologue. The first two of the three narratives are written in first-person voice: those of Emily Cartwright, the mistress of the plantation and Cambridge, a slave on the same plantation. The third narrative seems to be a reproduction of an unsigned report in a contemporary newspaper sympathetic to slave owners detailing the events leading up to Cambridge’s death.

Emily’s “fictional” journal which recalls as Evelyn O’Callaghan has observed “real” travel journals by nineteenth century women travellers such as Lady Nugent and Mrs. Carmichael. It describes her movement away from her home in England into “a dark tropical unknown”, where she intends to reside for no longer than three months. There seems to be doubt at the beginning of Emily’s journal as to where she...
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