Michelle Cliff 's Utilization Of Language Essay

Michelle Cliff 's Utilization Of Language Essay

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Michelle Cliff’s utilization of language in Abeng is paramount to the novel’s discussion of nationality and identity. As it is a postcolonial text, Cliff faces the decision of what language she would adopt to tell the story, ultimately deciding on hybridizing formal English in narration and dialogue with occasional Patois dialogue. Her decision here communicates several of the underlying themes of the text that Cliff attempts to address. Throughout the novel, there is juxtaposition between Clare’s narration and the dialogue that occurs between her and other characters. Cliff introduces the juxtaposition in a way that it is difficult to notice at first, due to early encounters with characters being in English. However, as the novel progresses, it exposes the readers to further Patois and the juxtaposition is clear. Throughout the essay, I will be examining four examples of dialogue in Cliff’s novel, and what she calls attention to with her choice of language in the passages. I will argue that by calling attention to the politics of language, Cliff is urging the reader to recognize the alienating effects of language.
Typically, Clare continues to speak in formal English to people who respond in Patois for example, a conversation with Dorothy “’But how is he off, Dorothy?’ ‘Him is battyman – him want fe lay down wit’ only other men. No ask me no more’” (125) this suggests that Clare does not feel completely comfortable speaking Patois to people that she does not intimately identify with, such as Zoe and her grandmother. Therefore, suggesting that speaking Patois is a personal, cultural practice that is excluding Clare however, there is the possibility that she is excluding herself. Both of these situations add weight to the idea tha...

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...e novel allows the reader to interpret the text in multiple different ways. Here, Cliff employs it to convey closeness and distance, even taking it to the extreme of alienation. There is a significant attempt to rid the novel of the euro-centric overtones present in other texts. Moreover, she does this in creative and interesting ways, utilizing the juxtaposition between the formal English narration of Clare, and the Patois dialect that both Clare and the reader encounter throughout the text. At first, portraying this as ‘other’, however later in the novel the shift becomes that the English narration is the other, the Patois serving as the base of connection for Clare. However, the text never allows the reader to forget constant tension between the narration and the dialogue and it serves to highlight the alienation and distance that Clare feels throughout the novel.

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