•  
  •  
 

Abstract

In this paper, I read Caryl Phillips’s 1997 post-colonial The Nature of Blood as a novel that exemplifies Michael Rothberg’s theory of “multidirectional memory.” Rothberg’s theory, which argues against the dominant competitive model of memory in the United States, asserts that memory is a “productive, intercultural dynamic” (Rothberg 3). In other words, memories of different groups of people, specifically African-Americans and Holocaust survivors in his essay, are intertwined and inform each other in a modern setting. Phillips’s novel depicts a relationship between the Holocaust and colonization through the use of multiple narratives interwoven throughout the novel. Those narratives begin with the Stern family, specifically Eva Stern, a survivor of a Nazi death camp who eventually commits suicide, and Eva’s uncle Stephan, a man who abandoned his family in order to join Israel and who eventually regrets his decision. The novel also explores other lives: Othello, the Moor of Shakespeare’s Othello before the events of the play during the early modern period; three Jews falsely accused of the murder of a Christian boy in the town of Portobuffole during the 15th century; Malka, a struggling Ethiopian Jew in Israel during Operation Solomon in 1991. The painful and bloody similarities in the relationship between the Holocaust and colonization are created through the nonlinearity of time and the refutation of modernity, which combine to depict the still ongoing consequences of genocide and colonization. The invalidation of modernity, which is the notion that humanity is forever moving toward a better civilized future, is significant because modernity is a lie despite some people’s belief otherwise. The nonlinearity is evidenced through the novel’s traversing of multiple historical periods. As Rothberg notes, it constellates these different histories in order to emphasize their commonalities. This paper extends this insight by focusing on the centuries of othering described in the novel that have resulted in the tragic relationship they share and the involvement of canonized works such as Shakespeare’s plays and The Diary of Anne Frank. The Nazis were not the first people to decide that Jews needed to be isolated and killed, though that does not make Eva’s story any less disheartening. Stephan was not the first Jewish man trying to achieve something better for his people and, ignoring any possible success or failure on the matter, he is unable to reap any potential rewards for his sacrifices. Othello was destroyed in Shakespeare’s play, but the novel describes his treatment and the internalized racism that led to those fateful events. The three Jews were killed senselessly because of a rumor despite doing everything in their power to survive. Malka, the youngest character in a temporal sense, is merely the latest depiction of the combined racism and anti-Semitism that has ruled the European world for centuries. If modernity were true, then the treatment of all of these characters would improve over linear time and the presence of racism and anti-Semitism would vastly decrease; however, that is not the case. All of these characters also survive a tragedy and/or assimilate if the dominant culture is to be believed; however, the novel demonstrates how monstrously untrue that lie is in actuality.

Share

COinS