Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Much of the economical effect of Cambridge is obtained through Caryl Phillips’s sense of language. This sense not only provides the novel with a certain amount of period flavor but also underlines the importance of point of view in the transmission of experience. Like most individuals, Cambridge and Emily are limited by their points of view. The reality that they perceive is not necessarily the reality that they would be best served by perceiving. It is by means of this dichotomy that they so persuasively inhabit their given realities. What is before their very eyes is so exigent and demanding that the possibility of evaluating it in the light of a more objective perspective is not available to them. Because of this, the foreignness of their presences in their respective worlds is rendered.

The emphasis throughout is on the characters’ experience and on the degree of innocence that is necessary in order to undergo experience. The trust that Cambridge, in particular, places in the various Anglophone worlds to which he finds himself transported is especially ironic, since it receives endorsement and encouragement from the Christians he encounters. His acquisition of English is consistent with his identification with the Christian message, a message that enables him to accept his travail as the expression of a greater power. In learning to speak his masters’ language, he impresses his instructors and gains their favor and support, and he...

(The entire section is 573 words.)