Caryl Phillips' The Nature of Blood
On its most immediate level, Caryl Phillips’ The Nature of Blood narrates several stories of the Jewish Diaspora, using the familiar Shakespearean character Othello to provide a counterpoint to the others’ experiences of displacement. The Nature of Blood thus initially seems to fit awkwardly among texts by other West Indian authors who use the Caribbean as the setting of their work or incorporate West Indian characters into their work. Through his multi-stranded narrative, however, Phillips creates a geographical setting that mirrors the multi-regional influence of the Caribbean. The triangular space of Europe, the Middle East, and Africa shaped by the character’s stories parallels the historical and cultural exchange among Europe, North America, and Africa: the triangular trade which produced the African diaspora. Unlike people of African descent in mainland North America, those of Caribbean background have historically had a more fragmented allegiance to home, negotiating between African and European influences. Likewise, The Nature of Blood illustrates its characters’ discomfort in claiming one particular space as home and in maintaining ties to one space as they move to another.
Each of the characters in The Nature of Blood illustrates the challenges that geography, culture, and memory pose to claiming a singular home. Moshe and Eva, both affected by the Holocaust, convey ambivalence as they seek literal geographical spaces in which to rebuild their lives. Malka’s relocation includes the additional obstacle of cultural and racial differences which mark her past home and prevent her from assimilation in her new space even as she attempts to leave her old one behind. And, Stephan faces the burden of memories of home, which haunts his attempts to construct a resettled future. Through these characters, Phillips thus conveys the impossibility of establishing a singular home for diasporic populations, exploring the effects of uprooting through a triangular framework: physical space (geography), social space (race and culture), and mental space (memory). This triangular situation of spaces in turn allows Phillips, while not specifically addressing the region, to explore the condition of the Caribbean diaspora.
The first narrative of The Nature of Blood unsettles the existence of geographical “home” by questioning optimistic views of settlement. Stephan opens the novel, explaining plans for the creation of the new state of Israel to Moshe, a Romanian Holocaust survivor. Their dialogue reveals Moshe’s unease with the claim to Israel as a new Jewish state, even as Stephan expresses optimism: “‘Tell me, what will be the name of the country?’ ‘Our country,’ I said. ‘The country will belong to you too’” (Phillips 3). While Stephan insists upon claiming Israel both for himself and Moshe, Moshe resists this possessiveness, hence his inquiry about “the country” rather than “his country.” Even after...