‘Broken-off Like Limbs from a Tree’: Fractured Identity in Caryl Phillips’s Crossing the River (1993)

Abid Larbi Labidi


My major purpose in studying Caryl Phillips’s widely acclaimed novel Crossing the River is to examine, through a close textual analysis, the severe identity crisis inflicted upon slaves under the three-century long slavery institution. I explore how slaves’ tragic rift of separation from their African homelands led to a disastrous loss of identity. I particularly call attention to the ways slavery profoundly ‘shattered’ such identity-shaping factors as home, family, belonging, memory and roots. Quite curiously, this identity destruction was not only undergone by African slaves who experienced The Middle Passage firsthand, but has been ‘transmitted’ to their descendants in the contemporary realities of the black diaspora. I, therefore, look into the historical and psychic continuum that binds the slaves’ experience of home loss with their descendants’ exilic identity and space impermanence. Central to this paper is also the exploration of how the slaves’ identity fracture is reflected at the level of the language, narrative forms, genre mixing, and the temporal and spatial fragmentation Phillips freely experiments with in his narrative.

Keywords: Crossing the River, Caryl Phillips, slavery, identity, diaspora, narration

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