Academic journal article Ethnic Studies Review

Resistance and Reinvention of the Subject in Jackie Kay's Trumpet

Academic journal article Ethnic Studies Review

Resistance and Reinvention of the Subject in Jackie Kay's Trumpet

Article excerpt

In her work Methodology of the Oppressed, Chela Sandoval claims that although inequities in material sources and subordination by race, class, nation, gender and sex continue to operate under the protection of law and order, a new kind of psychic penetration that respects no previous boundaries is evolving. She argues that "Mutation in culture, today, makes new forms of identity, ethics, citizenship, aesthetics and resistance accessible" (36.7).

In short, the contemporary schizophrenia of cultural globalization opens up a liberating mode of consciousness for the scapegoated, marginalized, enslaved, and colonized of every community. These groups have taken this schizophrenia as an opportunity for re-cognition, as turning points in their life history. They have discovered that freedom and triumph have been forbidden to them and have turned toward something else to be, developing modes of perceiving, making sense of, and acting upon reality all of which are the basis of effective forms of oppositional consciousness in today's world.

Influenced by a newspaper article upon the death of jazz pianist Billy Tipton, a white woman who lived her life as a man, Kay constructs Joss Moody, a black Scottish trumpeter who lived his life as a man and was discovered to be anatomically female after he died. Trumpet is about the life and death of Joss Moody or Josephine Moore as told by the various people who have come into contact with him. The novel is set in the aftermath of Joss's death. The only character who knows or has known about his being a woman is Millie, his grieving widow, who is white. Joss's story is told from her point of view and their adopted son Colman's, who didn't know the true nature of his father's sex. Other ordinary people too add to the music, some of them have known Joss, while others have been exposed to his woman's body but not to his personality. Kay herself says the novel is all about the effect that his secret has on the ordinary lives of the various characters: the registrar, the drummer who worked with Joss, the cleaner, the tabloid journalist who plans to make millions on the story of his life, his girlhood friend who loved him when he was a little girl. She claims that she wanted her novel to resemble jazz music where all the notes blend into one another. Through this blending, she traces the affirmations and constructions of selfhood in order to parody and expose the discontinuities of dominant myths of nation and sex/gender systems within a series of dislocated familial, sexual and racial identities. Kay carefully maps out the racial context of the British black, although she claims that race is not the pivotal point of the novel.

When musing over about her wedding, Millie recalls that her family almost didn't come. She reminisces:

I didn't want to believe it of them. I didn't want to believe my own mother could be prejudiced in that way. When I told her I was marrying Joss, she said she had nothing against them, but she didn't want her own daughter. People should keep to their own, she said. It wasn't prejudice, it was common sense, she said. Then she said the word, 'Darky,' I don't want you marrying a 'Darky' (27).

Colman, the adopted son, also has memories. One of them is what his parents have told him that the agency from which he was adopted was extremely pleased given his color.

He states:

London was seething racist. I don't remember much about Glasgow. ...My father kept telling me I was Scottish. Born there. But I didn't feel Scottish. Didn't feel English either. Didn't feel anything. My heart is a fucking stone (51).

One of his earliest memories is an incident that took place on a bus when a black man got on and a passenger called him an ape. When his mother got angry:

[The man said] 'No wonder' or something. And the black man who had been called an ape....was just sitting with his eyes low, looking at the bus floor (549).

Colman is, in fact, quite often reminded of his color. …

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