Identity Construction in Andrea Levy's "Fruit of the Lemon"

Term Paper 2016 21 Pages

English Language and Literature Studies - Literature


Table of Contents

1 Introduction

2 Identity - Theoretical Observations
2.1 Individual Identity Construction
2.2 Cultural Identity Construction
2.3 The Migrant and Identity

3 Constructing Faith's Identity in Fruit of the Lemon
3.1 Destabilization ofldentity - Part I England
3.1.1 Faith's English Identity
3.2 Identity Re-Construction - Part II Jamaica
3.2.1 Establishing a Family History
3.2.2 Becoming Part of the National Culture
3.3 Identity Integration - Part III England

4 Conclusion


1 Introduction

“Identity! Sometimes it makes my head hurt - sometimes my heart.” (Levy 2000) Andrea Levy proclaims what many may be thinking in an era of globalization and migration when the questions of origin and belonging become increasingly blurred. When integration becomes a central political concern, the question of identity is moved to the heart of public attention. The identity of the individual and public identities of culture, state and media have to come together to overcome exclusion and fragmentation in favour of inclusion and integration. It remains a question of great uncertainty how to accomplish these ideals in public representation.

The novel Fruit of the Lemon by Andrea Levy deals with the coming-of-age of Faith Jackson, daughter to black immigrants from Jamaica living in London. In the story identity construction can be examined on an personal and public level. This paper explores the means of identity construction utilized in the literary work. A look will be taken at the formation of national identity and the problematization created by a diversifying society that destabilizes the inherent illusion of homogeneity. The main focus will be on the individual identity construction of Faith, the main character and narrator of the story. By way of the internal focalization chosen in the narrative, the internals of identity construction can be closely examined. Faith's identity, being strongly British and thereby one-sided in the beginning, is destabalized by the exposure to racism which Faith cannot oppose due to her lack in migratory heritage. After the acquisition of aspects of Jamaican cultural identity Faith returns to England with a well- rounded identity that enables her to face discrimination as she has gained a new pride. The plot commences with Faith moving out of her parents' house and into a house with her best friend Marion as well as Simon and Mick. This and the following chapters take place in England, which constitutes Part I of the novel. In episodes from Faith's everyday life the reader is confronted with scenes of racism and bigotry which culminate in Faith suffering a nervous breakdown. Upon the collapse of Faith's identity, her parents resolve to send her to Jamaica to visit her Aunt Coral. In Jamaica, Part II of the book, she discovers her family history with her Aunt, her Cousin Vincent and several other participants. After two weeks of holiday in Jamaica Faith returns to England, which is Part III of the novel.

The first part of the paper gives a brief overview of sociological approaches to identity.

The second and main part of the text will analyse the novel. The analysis is partitioned according to the division of the narrative in the book. The first part will examine the starting point of Faith's identity, followed by a look at racism, its strategies and its effects on Faith. The second part focuses on Faith's time in Jamaica. Special emphasis will be on the effect of the telling of the family history as well as the process of Faith taking part in Jamaican national culture. The third part will sum up the effects of Faith's time in Jamaica on her identity formation and give a look at the future commencing with Faith's return to England.

2 Identity - Theoretical Observations

The concept of identity has been under investigation for several centuries. It has become the centre of much (scholarly) attention in recent decades. This new found interest seems to be grounded in the rise of migratory movements in an age of globalization. The most recent revision of the term took place in the post-modern era. This approach assumes identity to be fluid, changeable and in constant production. Stuart Hall inscribes the following definition:

This produces the post-modern subject, conceptualized as having no fixed, essential, or permanent identity. Identity becomes a 'moveable feast': formed and transformed continuously in relation to the ways we are represented or addressed in the cultural systems which surround us. It is historically, not biologically, defined. The subject assumes different identities at different times, identities which are not unified around a coherent 'self.' Within us are contradictory identities, continuously being shifted about.

If we feel we have a unified identity from birth to death, it is only because we construct a comforting story or 'narrative of the self about ourselves. The fully unified, completed, secure and coherent identity is a fantasy. Instead, as the systems of meaning and cultural representation multiply, we are confronted by a bewildering, fleeting multiplicity of possible identities, any one of which we could identify with. (Hall 2005, 598)

It is important to recognize in this description that identity is formed based on the environment the subject conceives of. This points toward the construct always being in process. The limitlessness of the process is something that is repeatedly emphasized. Hall states: “We should think of identity as a 'production', which is never complete, always in process, and always constituted within, not outside, representation.” (Hall 1998, 222)

Especially in the context of coming-of-age stories, such as the one discussed later, a certain stability of identity does form in the literary process. In a process of internal maturing the identity of a subject will form a stabilized base which stays intact even as certain identity traits such as opinions change. This stabilized foundation might include certain character traits as well as a specific understanding of the self in terms of gender, sex, class and many more. Of course, the base is changeable as well, but would take a stronger impact to shift.

2.1 Individual Identity Construction

As has been mentioned earlier, identity is realized in relation to the representation of our selves in cultural systems (Hall 2005, 598). The cultural system can manipulate the self­conception by process of interpellation that leads to a hegemonic state of culture from which the subject can never completely withdraw. While this observation leaves the subject in a passive state, the more proactive idea of situational choice comes in. The self is an assembly of multiple identity options. In each situation the subject forms a new combination of the identity traits. Hence, the production of identity is an open system (Hall 2005, 600). To avoid psychological dissonance the subject attempts to construct a coherent “narrative of identity.” (Hall 2005, 598) The narrative elements are just as important as the ability to combine them into coherence: “The question is not whether they're literally true, or not, but whether in the situation [...] they provide resources out of which to produce yourself. To produce yourself, collectively and individually, in a space which gives you more leverage.” (Hall 1996, 132)

This process of identification is triggered by a “lack of wholeness” of the subject's self. The subject then self-reflexively constructs the ideas from the “ways we imagine ourselves to be seen by others.” (Hall 2005, 608) This observation claims that identification is based on subjectivity. Hall concludes that psychologically speaking the search for identity is the urge to “recapture [the] fantasized pleasure of fullness” (Hall 2005, 608) This fullness could in literary terms be coined as coherence. Furthermore, he adds that identity construction is always a process of recreating the past into an idea of future: “Identities are as important about where you're going as where you're coming from. Where you're coming from are the resources that you put together in order to make that story give some semblance of sense and in order to locate the individual coherently in relation to it, but it is about mobilising those symbolic resources in relation to the future.” (Hall 1996, 131)

2.2 Cultural Identity Construction

Cultural identity could best be described as a communal identity based on a shared cultural experience. National identity marks a form of cultural identity. Stuart Hall describes national identities as “imagined communities.” (Hall 2005, 611) He claims that the national cultures into which a subject is born become a reference point of its personal identity (Hall 2005, 612). Similar to individual identity cultural identity is classified as a construct: “Conciousness of identity gains additional power from the idea that it is not the end product of one great man's 'audacity' but the outcome of shared and rooted experience tied, in particular, to place, location, language and mutuality.” (Gilroy 2001, 100) Hence, the nation becomes an entity that “produces meaning” and thereby constitutes “a system of cultural representation” (Hall 2005, 612). Thus, national culture is a discourse that influences the subject's conception of itself.

An element of this discourse prominently marked is the “narrative of nation” (Hall 2005, 613). It consists of publicized ideas, images and concepts of the nation which are related to the subject in educational channels, media, museums and many more. Form this exposition national symbols are derived. The members of the constructed community understand themselves as sharing a common (homogeneous) narrative. (Hall 2005, 613) The illusion of the shared narrative creates a strong bond, even if it is fictional. Hall describes this idea ofhistoricity linked to identity.

Cultural identities come from somewhere, have histories. But, like everything which is historical, they undergo constant transformation. Far from being eternally fixed in some essentialised past, they are subject to to the continuous 'play' of history, culture and power. Far from being grounded in a mere 'recovery' of the past, which is waiting to be found, and which, when found, will secure our sense of ourselves into eternity, identities are the names we give to the different ways we are positioned by, and position ourselves within, the narratives of the past. (Hall 1998, 225)

Another base for national identity lies in tradition, which forms a concept of continuity and originality. It intertwines with the idea of national identity pre-stepping history. In the narrative the identity is iterated as always having been there. (Hall 2005, 614)

Moreover, national identity is often grounded in the myth of purity (Hall 2005, 615). The dangerous idea of one homogeneous group of people with a common origin is smuggled into the discourse. In reality a national identity is always shared by a heterogeneous group that is iterated into unison (Hall 2005, 615). These observations will come into focus later as the forms of racism encountered in the novel are being analysed. To sum up the previous points there are “three resonant concepts of what constitutes a national culture as an 'imagined community': memories of the past; the desire to live together; [and] the perpetuation of the heritage.” (Hall 2005, 615f.) National culture is “also a structure of cultural power.” (Hall 2005, 616) As already mentioned, national culture is created in public spaces. This concept seems to strongly apply to the illusion of unity and homogeneity in public discourse. The illusion excludes diversity as a threat. Diversity is thereby suppressed in the attempt to create a simple, unified identity.

2.3 The Migrant and Identity

How do migrants fit into these conceptions of identity? Migrants form “minority communities” within nations. (Hall 2005, 628) They transport an 'inherited national culture' to their new place of residence where they are confronted with an additional national culture. Frequently, these cultures seem incompatible or even mutually exclusive. Therefore the migrant is forced to negotiate the two cultures to form an individual identity that seems coherent to avoid personal crisis. Slaman Rushdie describes the situation: “Our identity is at once plural and partial. Sometimes we feel that we straddle two cultures; at other times, that we fall between two stools.” (Rushdie 2004, 227f.)

A further effect of migration is the destabilization of the illusory unity of national identity. Including migratory groups into the collective culture creates multiplicity in the before seemingly homogeneous identity. This shift emphasizes the constructedness of communal identity. The heterogeneity of the resulting concept disrupts the fantasy of coherence. The resulting instability is perceived as a threat by groups of people who then retreat into emphasizing the myth of purity. “Letztlich fuhrt die Idee einer phanotypischen nationalen Homogenitat zur rassistischen Ausgrenzung dessen, was als fremd gilt.”



ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
Catalog Number
Institution / College
University of Rostock – Anglistik/ Amerikanistik
Migration Postcolonial Studies identity Black British Literature Andrea Levy Fruit of the Lemon Stuart Hall Identität Identitätsbildung identity formation



Title: Identity Construction in Andrea Levy's "Fruit of the Lemon"