The Adoption Papers
The story of Jackie Kay's life is as fascinating and complex as her literary works. The comparison is significant because several of Kay's pieces spring from her biography and they are all concerned with the intricate nature of identity. Kay's father was a black Nigerian visiting Edinburgh when he met Kay's white Scottish mother. After he returned to Nigeria, the mother discovered she was pregnant and decided to give up the child. Kay was then adopted by a white Glaswegian couple with a strong commitment to radical politics. As Kay grew up she also began to identify herself as lesbian.
Kay's writings reject easy platitudes and challenge readers to reject normative ideas of racial, sexual, and national identity. Although a poem like "The Adoption Papers" clearly stems from her autobiography, Kay uses biography as a starting ground from which to explore the broader conditions of multicultural Britain and identity in general. Rather than a narrow exploration of one unique life, Kay's work has the power to challenge her readers' expectations about the relation of self to other. Yet even as Kay's work discomforts, it allows many voices to speak in a way that builds empathy and understanding for characters however different they may seem.
By using three voices, the poem foregrounds the importance of perspective, so that the reader sees how adoption affects the three figures in significantly different ways. Kay expresses the birth mother's pain of giving up a child through the contained quatrains, which make the birth mother seem indifferent but the paranoia of;
"Maybe the words lie
across my forehead
headline in thin ink
MOTHER GIVES BABY AWAY"
Shows that she is hiding her pain. Her regret is expressed through the way she cannot drive the thought of her baby out of her mind: despite trying to distance herself from or disown her baby the thought obviously still lies at the back of her mind, brought across in the way she relates the ordinary feeling of "the constant chug" of the train to "a rocking cradle". The birth mother tries to keeps these thoughts out of her mind by thinking about other things and the boring, uninteresting, trivial things she thinks of like "I forgot to put sugar in the flask" and the repetition of "Land moves like driven cattle" shows that they are just surfacing thoughts and that deep down she is thinking about her baby. The birth mother's need to forget about her baby is shown through the image of the birth mother burying the clothes she bought her baby because it is like she is burying the memory the memory of her child. The religious element of the baby "Lazarus" and the reading from the "book of Job" make it more realistic of a real burial ceremony, emphasising her need to forget completely. The naming of the child "Lazarus", the name of the man Jesus raised from the dead, despite the child being a girl may represent the birth mother's deep desire that the buried memory of the child may also be raised from the dead and the child will one day come back to her.
The adoptive mother articulates her anguish of not being able to give birth and states her frustration with the racism she meets from raising a Black child in predominately white Glasgow. However, she does not have to deal with racism in the way her daughter does. The adoptive mother thinks that racism is "daft" and refuses to deal with it head on and dismisses it. The difference between the adoptive mother and the daughter is shown through the way the adoptive mother's voice seems calmer, written in a looser stanza and in long sentences. The calm sentences of the adoptive mother contrasts with the angry, rushed sentences from the daughter Emphasizing the difference between the two and the separateness. The daughter is angry at being judged while the adoptive mother is not. The short sentences, which the daughter speaks in, could be to represent Her age and her anger at being judged or thought of as...
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