Demystification of the Postmodern Dialectics of Space and Identity in Peter Carey’s Jack Maggs
Anjan Saikia is Assistant Professor, Department of English, Kamargaon College, Golaghat, Assam. He completed his M.Phil and is currently pursuing his Ph.D from the Department of English, Dibrugarh University.
The discourse of “Postmodernism” is an exasperating and problematic one to define precisely due to its encapsulation of a wide range of objects and phenomena, and the diverse levels of conceptual abstractions. Its complex anti-modernist strategies erupted into the scene from the late 1950s and received widespread momentum during the 1970s and 1980s at an unprecedented level. Apart from freeing it from any extraneous influence, it also brings into critical discussions the seminal ideas of indeterminacy, plurality, fragmentation, fracturing, and rejection of grand and metanarratives as such. In fact, the different aspects of postmodernism have impacted the contemporary social, economic, political, philosophical and cultural productions in a significant manner and extent. The paper frames the notions of space and identity as operating within postmodern discourse and how these emerge as representations in the works of Peter Carey.
Keywords: Peter Carey, space, identity, postmodernism.
In the Postmodern discourse, the notion of ‘space’ has occupied a central position for its thematic and conceptual importance. It has, in fact, re-emerged as an important means of analysis in literary and cultural studies in recent years. In other words, the discourse of postmodernism has especially emphasized the importance of space, geography and cartography, especially in relation to modes of transgression, transcendence, multi-focalization and fragmentations as well. Besides, in the aftermath of the hyper-localization of experience, there have been calls for orienting and re-orienting the efforts of mapmaking and space. In the “Preface and Postscript” of the book Postmodern Geographies: The Reassertion of Space in Critical Social Theory (1990), Edward Soja significantly states
Today, however, it may be space more than time that hides consequences from us, the ‘making of geography’ more than the ‘making of history’ that provides the most revealing tactical and theoretical world. This is the insistent and promise of postmodern geographies. (1)
Similarly, the notion of ‘identity’ has also been given the status of a focal issue of discussion in the postmodern era owing to its significance, relevance, and complex and intricate nature. Interestingly, the very processes of identity formations on the part of individuals as well as the nations have essential and inevitable connections with the spatial dimensions. Hence, postmodernism has reckoned both these complex areas under its purview and has widely promoted these for discussions from different and diverse perspectives. Both the notions of space and identity have their interconnections, and thus, both of them also involve and echo multiplicity, relativism, ambiguity, fluidity, theoretical frameworks, and subjective experiences as well.
Peter Carey is a significant writer in contemporary Australian English literature and is widely regarded as the legitimate heir to Patrick White in Australian literature. Carey, a two time Booker prize winner, has thirteen novels to his credit till date, and in almost all his novels, he explores the issues of territorial, racial, national and cultural significance in the nation of Australia. In other words, the issues of history, identity, space, subjectivity, reconciliation, indigenous aboriginals, and so on are very much prominent in the novels of Carey.
The basic objective of the article is to demystify and examine critically the postmodern dialectics concerning the notions of space and identity through the meticulous reading of Peter Carey’s Jack Maggs, one of the important texts in the canon of Australian English literature. The article delves deep into the postmodern intricacies and ambivalences connected to space, location, geography and the eventual impacts of these into the very issue of identity formation and assertions through the reading of the novel Jack Maggs in the context of Australia.
In the article, analytical method is applied to study the text Jack Maggs from postmodern theoretical approaches to space, place and geography and its essential connections with the processes of identity formation. In this context, the article directs to study the Australian contexts, the aborigines and the white ambivalences, and their backlashes through the study of the novel Jack Maggs. The secondary sources are comprised of the books including edited ones, the articles and the essays taken from diverse sources.
Postmodernism which came to the scene in the second half of the twentieth century championed new models and designs in terms of socio-cultural and political life. By embracing everyday life, mass media, consumerism, sub-cultures and others alike, postmodernism experimented with almost every important sphere of human life and existence, and challenged the modernist narratives. It is such a context, the statement of the French philosopher Jean-Francois Lyotard in the book The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge regarding the modern rationalist stories and the metanarratives poses immense significance. Here in the book, Lyotard writes that “the great “metanarratives” or grand rationalist stories of Enlightenment rationality” (45) have started to exhaust in the wake of the new condition viz. Postmodernism.
The philosophy of space has been under intense revisions in the modern (nation-building and emergence of physical borders) and postmodern times (globalization, crossing of borders), and thus today, there is a larger and broader application of the term space, occupying not only physical or geopolitical concerns, but also a large number of implicit and explicit areas as well as aspects and ideas about the human experience. Hence, the notion of space has been widely proliferated in different disciplines accompanied by their appropriate streams of logic in the postmodern times. Emphasizing the re-emergence of space in the Postmodern discourse, Edward Soja in Postmodern Geographies: The Reassertion of Space in Critical Social Theory (1990), strongly argues:
…Space was treated as the dead, the fixed, the undialectical, the immobile. Time, on the contrary, was richness, fecundity, life, dialectic.’ To recover from this historicist devaluation, to make space visible again as a fundamental referent of social being, requires a major rethinking not only of the concreteness of capitalist spatial practices but also of the philosophizing abstractions of modern ontology and epistemology. (119-120)
Again, in postmodern deliberations, space is reckoned as nothing but a production which incorporates within its ambit a great number of complex issues. Pointing out that, Lefebvre writes in the Preface of the book The Production of Space (1991):
The more so in view of the further claim that the space thus produced also serves as a tool of thought and of action; that in addition to being a means of production it is also a means of control and hence of domination, of power; yet that, as such, it escapes in part from those who would make use of it. (XII, 27)
Significantly, human experiences are inevitably connected with the notion of space and this is what J. E. Malpas foregrounds in the book titled Place and Experience: A Philosophical Topography (2004). Here Malpas interestingly explores the essential relations of space with subjectivity and identification of the individuals and writes in the following manner:
…-the very identity of subjects, both in terms of their own self-definition and their identity as grasped by others, is inextricably bound to the particular places in which they find themselves and in which others find them, while, in a more general sense, it is only within the overarching structure of place as such that subjectivity as such is possible. (176)
Thus, space has its essential connectivity with identity which has become a key term in contemporary social, political, and philosophical understanding and analysis. Identity is, however, a prodigiously discussed and debated term with an enormous variety of philosophical, social and political nuances and applications. Simply speaking, identity is constructed and fluid and multiple in nature and is engaged in hard dynamics and essentialism. Its proliferation is quintessentially filled with significance, and that’s why, the term has become a hotbed of discussion in postmodern epoch in the aftermath of various circumstances and unprecedented happenings. Hence, conceptualizing identity as something that people have sought to construct and negotiate would be something just working at the surface level. Rogers Brubaker and Frederick Cooper opine in the essay “Beyond Identity” (2000) that identity in actuality engages within “it all forms of belonging, all experiences of commonality, connectedness and cohesion, all self-understandings and self-identifications” (2). Rogers Brubaker and Frederick Cooper quite pertinently write the following lines on identity in the essay “Beyond “Identity’”:
If identity is everywhere, it is nowhere. If it is fluid, how can we understand the ways in which self-understandings may harden, congeal, and crystallize? If it is constructed, how can we understand the sometimes coercive force of external identifications? If it is multiple, how do we understand the terrible singularity that is often striven for - and sometimes realized - by politicians seeking to transform mere categories into unitary and exclusive groups? How can we understand the power and pathos of identity politics? (1)
It is thus suggested that the formation of human identity takes place within spatial and temporal contexts. The spatial and temporal contexts shape the humans’ experience of environment and influence in the construction of culture and history. Since people define themselves through a sense of place, therefore context has become the most important component in the process of identity formation. All these have become viable because of the fact that space is no longer perceived and sensed merely as a geographical location with physical boundaries; but because of the fact that it is intimately tied to lived experience and is supposed to be increasingly associated with social, historical, and cultural identities and ideologies.
The works of Carey has covered much of the geography of the Australian experience and hence his novels chronicle his country’s history from the mid-nineteenth century to the contemporary reality in Australia. Carey’s exploration of the wide-ranging issues including the convict system, the doctrine of terra nullius, the Kelly outbreak, colonialism in its various stages, to the shifting stance of national identity of the nation of Australia on the pages of his novels can be traced through Bliss (1981), Illywhacker (1985), Oscar and Lucinda (1988), The Tax Inspector (1991), The Unusual Life of Tristan Smith (1994), Jack Maggs (1997), True History of the Kelly Gang (2000), My Life as a Fake (2003), His Illegal Self (2008), Parrot and Olivier in America (2009), The Chemistry of Tears (2012) and Amnesia (2014) . In all these novels, Carey fully explores the critical potential of self-consciousness, and quite importantly, it is the self-awareness of his narrators that he addresses issues of constructed ness and arbitrariness of the reality of the past and the present along with his constant interrogations of truth and authenticity.
Carey’s Jack Maggs which was published in the year 1997, however, bears inter-textual references in terms of characters, their names and plot elements with an important novel in Victorian English literature, i.e., Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. The protagonist of the novel Jack Maggs is a counterpart of Dicken’s Magwitch, and in this context, it is important to note here that Dickens, a widely known and read English novelist of the Victorian era, has been adapted and remained present in Australian literature much before the writing of Jack Maggs. In The Bluebird Café published in the year 1990, Carmel Bird transforms this great Victorian author viz. Dickens into a contemporary of the protagonist of the novel, and in the novel the protagonist here writes letters and exchanges such things to Dickens. Michel Noonan in his novel Magwitch, published in the year 1982, distinctly recounts Pip’s sojourn to Australia and the recovery of a second Magwitch fortune. Although Carey is also found replicating some of the distinctive areas of Dickens famous novel, yet Jack Maggs can’t be considered as a sequel or interpolation of Dickens’ novel due to the fact that Jack Maggs by Carey is a new and distinctive creation and is filled with great inventiveness in terms of character portrayal, contexts, style, content, intentions, directions and ending as well. In an interview, Carey answered his position regarding his modeling of the novel Jack Maggs in the line of Dickens Great Expectations with great clarity. Carey says:
It is such an Aussie story that this person who has been brutalized by the British ruling class should then wish to have as his son an English gentleman, and in that matter what pains he has, what torture he has suffered, that would be what he would want. I think that that’s a very Aussie thing. I hope it’s of the Australia of the past, not the Australia of the future. (241, Gaile)
Jack Maggs is about the story of dispossession, appropriation and retaliation, and here in the novel, the central character Jack Maggs is an orphan who has been betrayed and brutalized by an uncaring society. Jack Maggs, in the course of the novel, returns to England in search of his home and this quest of Jack Maggs for home becomes a continuing mental bondage to his illusions about England, his past, family and other sources of his identity.
The narrative of the novel is set basically in metropolitan London and is precisely dated from 15 April to 7 May, 1837. Interestingly, 7 May is the day in which the assassination attempt on Maggs is done by none, but by his endearing son, Phipps. Hence the novel is set in the early nineteen century London and concentrates on the events on a period of three weeks. How Maggs arrived in London at 6 o’clock from Australia on 15 April with all the risks of hanging, if discovered anywhere in England, is described in the very beginning of the novel:
It was a Saturday night when the man with the red waistcoat arrived in London. It was, to be precise, six of the clock on the fifteenth of April in the year 1837 that those hooded eyes looked out of the window of the Dover coach and beheld, in the bright aura of gas light, a golden bull and an overgrown mouth opening to devour him-the sign of his inn, the Golden Ox. (1)
The protagonist of Carey i.e. Jack Maggs is a convict who returns illegally to his motherland in search of Phipps and is subsequently threatened with death penalty upon his discovery. Before his deportation to Australia as a convict and owning his status as a permanent outsider, Maggs was reared by his foster-mother, Mary Britten who symbolizes Mother Britain here in the novel as a foundling and was trained for a criminal career for her own profit. In the course of his criminal activities, Maggs is captured and sentenced to transportation to Australia to serve the rest of his life as a convict. Quite interestingly, although Maggs has spent a considerable amount of his life in the new land oscillating amidst spatial and identity ambivalences, still Maggs always wishes to return to that motherland which has already rejected him as a valid child of the land. For all these intricacies, he personally retains his Englishness including in his use of the English language in spite of spending the last twenty five years of his life in Australia as a convict. Therefore, after his return to England, Maggs fondly and boisterously quotes Shakespeare in his speeches, corrects the servant girl viz. Mercy’s cockney pronunciation and shows his familiarity with the works of Adam Smith. How Maggs keeps himself abreast of the things happened in England during his stay in Australia as a convict is evident in Chapter-59 of the novel:
It was a scheme, in all its very definite Divisions of Labour, which would have met with the approval of Mr. Adam Smith, but I do not think that this was an author I ever heard Silas mention, although he was a well respected scholar and able to recite long passages from the Bible and from Shakespeare. (214)
Jack Maggs is, in fact, a novel of self-delusion where the protagonist searches for motherly love and comfort and eventually defines his identity in a new way under different circumstances. As the novel unfolds, Maggs still considers him an Englishman although he had been in Australia in the last twenty five years as a convict, and that’s why, he wants to return to London where there is every possibility of his hanging if discovered. Even if such risks are involved in his return journey to Ma Britten which symbolizes mother Britain, he is found to be exceptionally enthralled thinking his coming to homeland and introducing him as an Englishman with all the pomp and pride. How Maggs still considers England as his home is evident from his conversation with Ma Britten in the aftermath of his arrival in London in the novel Jack Maggs:
‘What do you want Jack?’ said the old woman, and this time her voice quavered. ‘What are you doing here in London?’
‘It’s my home,’ Jack said, raising his voice and revealing the fiercer character which the porter at the Garden Ox briefly glimpsed. ‘That’s what I want. My home.’ (5)
Such an action and assertion on the part of this convict manifests the importance of place and home in one’s life. Hence this great significance of space, home, locations and geography has made him dared enough at the time of his return to London to keep behind all the risks including the possibility of his impending arrest and sentencing if discovered.
As revealed in the novel, Maggs considers himself as an old dog who has been treated badly in his own country, and therefore, he wishes to reconnect with his own people and establish his Englishness. But to his utter dismay, the people that he thinks as his own consider him the otherwise. In the discussions among Tobias Oates, Mr. Buckle and Miss Warriner, Jack Maggs has been referred to with derogatory manners and terms. How his own people look towards him is manifested when Tobias Oates says that “I got the rascal” (86). The “rascal” mentioned here is referred to none, but Jack Maggs. Again the statement of Mr. Buckle in the same conversation saying that “I guessed he was a bolter from New South Wales” (87) is equally important in this context. Moreover, such a statement of Oates on Maggs as “Did you not see his back, man? He is a scoundrel”(87), testifies the very attitude of the people of the land that he fruitlessly boasts of his own for such a long time. Besides, Maggs has been seen by his compatriots as “a vermin” (127), “a cockroach (128) and finally as “the criminal”. The statement that Mr. Oates made before the doctor where he says that “it was the criminal, in all his wild and slovenly dishabille, who answered the call” (182) is extremely significant in this respect. He has been constantly refereed in the novel by his own countrymen as “the criminal” (228) even after cutting twenty five years of punishment as a convict in Australia. Moreover, his original name has been eradicated and replaced with the tag “convict” which is clearly evident in Chapter -25 of the novel:
“At first the convict had been astonished to read Dabareiel’s flowery speech-he could not believe that such an educated being might exist within him-but he accepted it soon enough, …to hide the true nature of his exploration.” (91)
His convict status is showed again in Chapter 56:
“The convict writhed against his magnetic chains. He sat up, straining forward, his dark eyes glaring bright as grin. Tobias…but now all thought of gain was put aside.” (202)
Thus, Maggs has been dubbed as the transported convict all the time even after passing two and a half decades of after transportation in Australia. Maggs like many other compatriots deported to Australia as convicts is actually the victim of a cruel system of justice and these deported convicts as epitomized by Maggs here swing back and forth in the new land, longing for that land only which is the force behind their rejection as the sons of the land and the consequent infliction of such severe punishments, tortures and placement in an alien and hitherto unknown space. All these contexts clearly testify how institutions including political ones also work as the markers of space and identity in some contexts
Quite ironically if he is rejected as her son only because of the fact that he is a convict, then the question regarding who has actually made him a convict and in which land easily comes into mind. It is important to note here that it was in his motherland that he had been given the training to become a thief and it was Ma Britten who was largely accountable for his training as a thief and his consequent conviction and transportation. The irony lies here in the fact that it was in England where he was given the training to become a thief and it was the same country which deported him to a hitherto unknown land for his theft. Maggs once states in Chapter 26 that if he were given a space in his homeland, he might have a different career:
I could have chosen, she is the one I would have wished to claim me as her own. She was a force of nature, the Ma-her long arms, her wild hair, her skin always smelling of snakeroot and tansy. She could fill a space. She could stand her ground. She was the Queen of England in that white little white washed room, delivering our neighbours’ babies, serving soups, examining the bones and offal on the rickety pine table” (92-93)
Such a treatment puts the protagonist in great ambivalences where he could neither acclimatize himself in the new land nor could get a place in the land which he is longing for such a long time. Interestingly, the forced and new landscape and the space there makes him greatly restless and his subsequent hankering after for reconciliation and reestablishment of contacts with the motherland namely England haunts his mind every time while living in the country of Australia for the last two decades and a half. In the novel, one can see how obsessive Jack Maggs is regarding his coming to England and how intensive he is to identify himself as an Englishman:
I know, God damn. I do know, Sir. But you see, I am a fucking Englishman, and I have English things to settle. I am not to live my life with all that vermin. I am here in London where I belong.’ (128)
He also further asserts such belongingness vociferously and identifies himself with England in a robust manner. In the conversation between Jack Maggs and Mercy, readers can see his assertiveness regarding his English origin, English space and English identity:
But it was obvious to her now. She saw it. Perhaps she had always known. ‘You have babies in the place where you have come from.’
His mouth tightened in denial.
‘My son is an Englishman.’
‘I meant your real children.’
‘I am not of that race.’
‘The Australian race,’ he said. ‘The race of Australians.’
‘But what of your babes?’
‘Damn you, don’t look at me like that. I am an Englishman.’ (312-13)
How a convict in spite of the inhuman treatment of his homeland seeks comfort, homeliness and security in the same pain inflicting land is quite evident from the reading of the novel. However, Maggs as stated above has not mentioned anything about his pain, suffering and inhuman treatment in Australia in his letters sent to Phipps, his endearing child in London, whom he wishes to see as an English gentleman. Actually, Maggs underwent great pains in Australia both physically and mentally because of the cruel justice system of his homeland. In other words, the justice system of his homeland viz. England and her rejection to accept him as her son is the basic reason behind his inhuman treatment and great sufferings in a compulsive and exiled land. In spite of the rejection of his homeland, he always seeks returning permanently to that land even after knowing that that land would never accept his presence as a valid child. Moreover, the people of his homeland do not look him as a son of England, but consider him a criminal, ultimately, thus, rejecting and nullifying any possibility of his existence in that country. The malicious treatment, sufferings, and pains that he received in Australia due to the cruel justice system and political institutions of his homeland are evident in the novel. Buckle and Oates in the novel discuss about this criminal and his life in Australia, and though, Maggs has not told anything about the suffering inflicted by his own homeland in Australia, still they have understandably guessed and conceived his position in Australia. They read his scarred flesh as the evidence of his whipping in Australia, and thus, they discuss in Chapter 24:
“‘Well, we saw a page of his history,’ said the little grocer stubbornly. ‘Whatever his offence, anyone with half a heart can see that he has paid the bill…’” (88)
“‘Did you never imagine yourself in his position? I felt that damned thing. Forgive me Miss Warriner, but damned is the right word for it.’ (88)
Again in another context, Miss Warriner shows the cruelty that Maggs underwent at the hands of his own countrymen in Chapter 23:
The footman turned. As Lizzie Warriner raised her eyes, she gasped at the sea of pain etched upon the footman’s back, a brooding sea of scars, of ripped and tortured skin. (86)
The words “tortured skin”, “pain” etc are not just telling the physical tortures but also telling about the insidiously inflicted inside prison, pains, and sufferings as well. Maggs does not relive and recount his nightmarish experience and punishments in the forced and transported land viz. Australia except in his dreams by Captain Logan who was known and feared for severe punishment. Maggs reminds in his dreams the dreaded punishment inflicted in Australia by his own countryman, Captain Logan:
“One hundred lashes, cried Captain Logan, and lay them on until I see the bone.
Maggs was standing, then he was falling. He could not bear to be seen in such a state. He walked past Parker’s Hut.Ahead at the archwayof the prisoners’ barracks where the cursed triangle stood, Rudder, the flogger, was standing at attention.” (112)
How he considers Australia as a dark land is reflected in his only description about Australia while responding to a question of Mercy about Australia in Chapter-89:
“You would not…You don’t know nothing about what it was to be in that place. You would not be judging me. You would shoot a man you saw treat a dog as we were treated. You might blow his brains out and not think yourself a bad’un for having done the business. As for me, Miss, I had no more wife than a dog has a wife. A girl like you cannot imagine what it was, to live with such darkness.” (317)
Again he says in the same Chapter about Australia: “We were beyond the King’s sight. Not even God Himself could see into that pit” (318).
It has become clear that Maggs is severely punished and whipped along with the other convicts in the country of Australia, but quite interestingly, that whipping in that remote and distant land is inflicted by none, but by the country which he dreams and longs even after transportation and whippings. Hence Phipps in the novel elaborately epitomizes the institutions and the country that banishes convicts like Maggs and denies any existence of them in England even though such convicts yearn for the same in their lives. Unlike Dickens Pip who reconciles with Magwitch, Carey’s Phipps is found to be quite repressive and violent, even pointing a pistol to his father, and thus, such actions of compatriots, family members and siblings have concretely pushed convicts like Jack Maggs in a position where they don’t have any place to identify themselves.
His returning to London after spending twenty five years as a convict in Australia and his working as a footman in the house of Buckle brings into fore some of the much needed descriptions of London in particular and England in general. Unlike in his dreams and imaginations, he finds his motherland after his return from Australia as a dark and dirty place filled with almost all the possible variants of criminality including theft, rape, child prostitution, abortion and so on. Everywhere he feels the image of a prison which itself reflects the prison inside his mind after his transportation to Australia. Once his illusions about London and England have been shattered, only then he could realize the gravity of his current no space and no identity position and also the fruitless yearning in his broken and dubious mind for a land that doesn’t accept him as her son and also does not allow him to live peacefully in the transported place too. From all these, it is lucidly manifested that Maggs has remained alive for such a long time with an inside prison, horrors and haunts of space, geographical distances and identity as well. Such propositions distinctly show how space and identity are subject to productions under the rubric of various causes, circumstances and so on and so forth. It also highlights that it is circumstance which plays a crucial role in determining identity and spatial proposition on the part of individuals.
Once Maggs is denied an English identity and space in England by the King and Queen, the political institutions and the English society as well, Maggs is left with no other option but to identify himself with the country that received him and provided land and space for so many years. Again, after encountering the attempted parricide in London by his endearing son Phipps, Maggs in utter distress and disillusionment for shattering his hopes and dreams finally returns to Australia, and thus, he leaves behind forever that space which he longs in his entire life and also the wishes to become an English gentleman. Thus his return to Australia realizing the very necessity to accept and turn his adoptive, new, and compulsive land into his homeland is very significant, and from thereon, Maggs looks to be very firm in the rest of his life. His deterministic views and ideas to become an Australian by nature, space, and identity have made him very prosperous and dignified with financial and social successes.
As described in the novel, Maggs, thereafter, willingly accepts his new and compulsive space as his ultimate space and recovers him from a no space positioning into a permanent space occupier. That new and compulsive land eventually becomes his own space in the wake of oscillating so many times in his life for a home space. The last chapter in the novel i.e. Chapter-91 shows how Maggs in the new home space succeeds in every venture including financial and social successes and creates a family filled with filial love, harmony and free from the erstwhile oscillations and searches for a home space. The final adaptations and acclimatization in the adoptive land and the eventual transformation of the same into the homely space is quite interesting considering the history of the nation of Australia and the encounters between the aboriginals and the non-aboriginals. The family of Maggs that grows in the after years of his return to Australia has accepted this new home as theirs on the line of the aboriginals and that’s why, in the last chapter i.e. Chapter-91, it is seen that the family of Maggs in Australia looks pretty settled and is described:
Dick Maggs was eleven years of age when Jack returned from England. He had twice been up before the magistrate, and little john, who was four years younger, had the same hard belligerent face, the same dark and needful eyes. It was not an easy role for Mercy Larkin, yet she applied herself to being their mother with a passion. She who had always been so impatient of the ‘rules’ now became a disciplinarian. She brushed their hair and wiped their faces. She walked with them to school and saw they stayed there. It was she who moved the family away from the bad influence of Sydney. And in the new town of Wingham where they shortly settled she not only civilized these first two children, but very quickly gave birth to five further members of ‘That race.’ (327)
As showed in the novel, Jack Maggs, the protagonist, who longs so heavily to come to the motherland in spite of the possibility of his hanging has started negotiating his space and identity finally, depending upon his subjective experiences, maltreatment and humiliation of the utmost sort at his so called home space, and hence, he has finally transformed himself from an Englishman into an Australian. His eventual inclination and priority to the generous, egalitarian, and reconciliatory Australian culture is quite important behind addressing his spatial dilemma and identity dislocations. In fact, the processes of his spatial and identity transformations are hugely the outcome of the shattering dreams, the pain of un-belongingness and de-recognition for quite a long time. In other words, the patchy position of his self and identity are the prime causes behind his eventual transformation and vigorous identifications with the adopted land. Hence, it can be said here that space and identity are found to be negotiable, multilateral and fluid in nature and contexts.
The relationship of Maggs with Mercy Larkin is quite interesting from the novelistic purposes. Her attitudes and actions in the novel bring forth the very aspects of love, protection, identity, and space needed for a complete life. She brings mercy into the life of Maggs which his own country does not provide. The intense longing of Maggs to have a space and an English identity in the country which has inflicted pain and torture has not only compelled him to oscillate and sense unsecured; but also kept his children in Australia in abeyance. When Maggs went to England to establish affinity with that country, it is Mercy who reminds of his children in Australia and educates them later until Maggs takes in hand in his new and deterministic life in Australia. When Maggs obsessive love for Ma Britten does not yield any result, then he ultimately shifts the gears of his life, and thereafter, takes his own responsibility and rears his children in great love and fondness. Like Maggs, Mercy also decides to follow him to Australia and finally chooses a career in that land which Maggs considers a dark one for the last twenty five years. Hence, the point of responsibility is also intricately connected with the determination of one’s space and identity as is evident in the case of Jack Maggs.
Again, once Jack Maggs has asserts his identity and locations with the Australian land, he has also starts the very process of freeing himself from the prison of illusions and the wishes of reconciliations with that motherland which has already aborted and rejected him. He also feels the void of his dream of an idyllic London and English gentleman ship once things have started to expose. Henceforth, he starts the process of his emancipation from the inside prison and no-place and no identity positions and finally recognizes, reconciles and settles in that space and land that he once considers as very dark and pit. Thus, Maggs has turned that dark land in his mind into a lighted one and subsequently frees himself from his inside prison and no-space and no identity zone. From such references as manifested in the novel, it can again be stated here that the notions of space and identity have their intricate relations with subjective experiences and psycho-physical reactions of the individuals too.
From all these assertions, it is quite clearly manifested that the ending of the novel propels the idea of the growing mind among the convicts like Jack Maggs to acclimatize themselves in the new and compulsive space as their home space and place of identity formations now in the wake of rejection, criminal status, victimization of the cruel justice system, humiliation and so on. In other words, rather than looking for the erstwhile home space viz. England, the convicts like Maggs push them from no space and no identity position into a newly adapted home space and new horizon of identity formation in Australia, the very place of their transportation as convicts. Hence the ending of the novel appears to be quite optimistic, resolving, and vigorously Australian in tone, depth, and nature. The shifting of space and identity as described above quite clearly reflects the dialectics of the notions of space and identity and the fluidity and multiplicity associated with these.
The descriptions of Maggs and his prosperous years in Australia after his decision to lift himself from the no space position into an Australian space and identity are quite interesting in determining the fortune of a nation. The underlying differences between the indigenous and non-indigenous people and the resultant crumbling society has finally proceeded to paving the ways for an ambience of belief, reconciliation, acceptance, demolition of their bonded and mental prisons, immense sufferings, inhuman treatment, existential crises, identity divergences and so on and so forth. The novel also shows how the determination and certainty of home space and identity brings stability, productivity, bonhomie, harmony, dignity, idyll, peacefulness, prosperity, magnificence, and grandeur in people’s lives.
After all, Carey’s Jack Maggs, unlike Dickens’ Great Expectations, has different ending as well as directions and here in the novel he writes an original Australian narrative concerning the basic issues of the nation of Australia and the very basis of the contemporary Australian society. While writing this Australian narrative, Carey focuses upon the core issues and the processes behind the formation of the Australian society and the intricacies associated with these. Carey here deconstructs the narratives surrounding Australia and England and finally subverts all these narratives regarding the English and Australian societies. Hence in the novel, the grand narratives surrounding English gentleman ship and Convicts ridden Australia have been constantly put into question and the validity of such notions have been dismantled eventually throughout the novel.
In short, in Jack Maggs Carey brings into light the perspectives of the convict whites in Australia and the very insecurity, lack of affinity, space, identity and the ambivalences that these people encountered in their lives. Throughout the novel, Carey shows how constant rejections of the convicts in their homeland have led them usher in new acceptance and realities and how all these realities have become integral parts in the evolutionary and evolving process of the land of Australia. Thus the dismantling and the rejection of the grand narratives have been achieved quite commendably here and the novel puts into place another mechanism replete with new reality, acceptance, acclimatization, reunification and reconciliation.
That eventual shifting and transformation of space and identity on the part of the convicts in Australia as disclosed in the novel through Jack Maggs, his family, Mercy and other characters as well shows and demystifies how these seminal concepts of space and identity are dialectical in nature and subject to production and also incorporate lack of fixity, dynamism and other multiple aspects. Hence it is quite significant to note here that this shifting of space and identity on the part of the characters especially in the case of the convicts like Jack Maggs is not because of the luxuries and comforts that Australia has to offer or has offered to them, but because of the compulsion to settle, ensure a plausible life, create a space, and revamp themselves from the position of no-space and no-identity, and existential crises into a livable and amenable space, existential authenticity and identity as well.
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