Tuesday 04th of August 2020

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States of Insecurity, Insecurities of State: Home, Masculinity and Empire in David Mitchell’s Black Swan Green

Barbara Franchi, Newcastle University pdf_icon_30x30

 

barbara.franchi(at)ncl.ac.uk

 

Abstract: This article examines the role of nationalist rhetoric, post-imperial nostalgia and individual formation in David Mitchell’s Black Swan Green (2006). Indeed, the coming-of-age story of thirteen-year-old Jason Taylor centres around his dealing with the local, mundane reverberations of events which have global resonance. What are the roles of the historical context of the Falklands War, the 1981 British Nationality Act and Thatcher’s Britain in shaping Jason’s formation? How do representations of nationalism and imperial nostalgia define young masculine identities in a 1980s rural English community? How do acts of resistance address the local implications of global conditions of insecurity and instability? By considering the impactful presence of the Falklands War in a lower-middle-class village in the English Midlands and mapping them onto a young person’s narrative of development, I analyse how ideals of imperial masculinity determine the protagonist’s process of growth and sociability. In particular, I argue that the intersection between 1980s attitudes around family, traditional gender roles and patriotism, and imperialistic discourses on race promoted by Margaret Thatcher’s policies and style of communication, is a key locus of tension within the novel’s story of formation. Jason’s engagement with imperial models of masculinity is ambiguous: while driven by a desire to belong and also to grow up, Mitchell’s hero refuses to fully embrace a traditional and violent masculinity and is able instead to promote a different type of identity, one where he is at home in the world of dialogue and cross-cultural encounters. Ultimately, in this historical fiction Jason’s ambivalent stance towards the conservative attitude prevalent in his community endows him with a mobile identity, one in which his critical thinking represents a non-hegemonic, anti-imperial form of collective memory.

 

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