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What is so interesting about this novel is that Morrison sets her tale in the seventeenth century at the beginning of the institution of slavery in America. As such, she goes back to a time when America was characterised by a tremendous difference as huge numbers of immigrants--both slaves and free--collided together in this new world that was viewed as almost a second Garden of Eden by various people. The novel thus features characters who are all immigrants to this new world coming from Africa and Europe, but it also includes indigenous people in the Native Americans as well, who are, the novel suggests, exiled from their original homeland through the loss of their territory and way of life. Each of these characters try to create a new home for themselves, in spite of the exile that they face, yet the novel clearly presents the original identity of characters as continuing to be incredibly important. Consider the following quote:
Their drift away from others produced a selfish privacy and they had lost the refuge and the consolation of a clan. Baptists, Presbyterians, tribe, army, family, some encircling outside thing was needed. Pride, she thought. Pride alone made them think that they needed only themselves, could shape life that way, like Adam and Eve, like gods from nowhere beholden to nothing except their own creations.
Even though individuals try and leave their group and move on to set up a new identity, the novel clearly presents such attempts as being very difficult, if not impossible. You cannot shape your own life the way you want to free from your past and free from what defines you, whether that is your country of origin or your religion or any other aspect of your identity. Humans are presented in this novel as not being the kind of blank slates that the land of America was thought to be. Home, exile and migration are therefore presented as states that impact greatly on the identity of individuals, even when the individuals themselves seek to try and move beyond their former identities.
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