“Explore the way that Kay portrays family relationships in Trumpet. In what way does this theme relate to the struggle for identity? ” Joss Moody the protagonist of Jackie Kay’s novel Trumpet lived in a world full of contrasts – internally Josephine but to all who knew him the famous trumpet player Joss. Having to deal with so much contrast so close to home can make a person wonder who is right and what to believe leaving them struggling to figure out who they are amongst it all.
Being that the novel has a 70 year time span starting in 1927; the reader has the chance to experience society at different points in Joss’ life and we can infer what the norm and day to day life would have been for Josephine. For example, in the 1930’s homosexuality was a taboo subject and racism was common whereas when the book was published in 1998 and now, homosexuality isn’t as much of a controversial topic and racism has declined.
This rounded view of society is Kay’s desired effect on the reader as she wants the novel to be read with a clear mind and a full appreciation of what society was and is like for a black, homosexual woman. Within the novel identity and family are central themes and it is through the construction of these that Kay explores the way in which those involved struggle to find a sense of their own identity as well as the impact this struggle has on the identities of those around them. Within the novel, the reader is able to hear separate accounts of Joss’ life though the narrative voices of his wife and son; Millie and Colman.
Symbolically the difference in their accounts of Joss highlights the breaking down of their own relationship. Though their reactions to his death are very different, they do express their individual thoughts on a common theme – the deception that came with Joss’ life choices – which have a profound effect on them both. Millie and Colman aren’t the only narrators in this multiple narrative novel and the reader gets too hear from five or six different people that knew Joss at different stages of his life i. e. Edith being his mother and recounting his childhood or his cleaner who could outline part of his life in adulthood and fame.
The multiple narratives give us a complete perspective of Joss that is unbiased and this structure allows the reader to create their own fair opinions and judgements on him, relating to what Kay wanted to achieve by producing a novel in which the audience was forced to have an unbiased outlook on the supposed controversial issues being raised. Joss’ wife Millie is content and extremely accepting but at ome point in their married life, she lost her own identity. “I know that I loved being the wife of Joss Moody. ” Referring to herself as “the wife of” instead of Millie Moody gives the impression of her being owned – an item. She is the property of Joss Moody, almost like an ornament. She is put on display for only him to see and no one else has a say, nobody else matters.
Following Joss’ death, Millie becomes acutely aware of this; “It used to be such a certain thing, just being myself. Now he is gone however, it is much harder to assert herself especially since others are desperate to place an alien identity on her – that of a lesbian lover. This label is easy for others to assert over her as the outside world were not as accepting of Joss’ secret as Millie was and this therefore creates a divide between her and the rest of society leaving her alone and in a vulnerable position. Millie and Colman’s relationship is as complex as Millie and Joss’. Although there was the love of a mother and her son, it was a strained, almost forced relationship.
Whist recalling a memory of Colman’s childhood, Millie says of him “whatever he is…” This suggests that she doesn’t understand Colman because there are perhaps too many different sides of him; it also suggests that she is clueless as to how Colman feels; therefore she can’t help him deal with his emotions and feelings. The resulting conflict between mother and son stems from the fact that Joss and Millie share a secret and understanding that they haven’t shared with their son. “Whatever” is a dismissive word often used by a mother who having grown tired of repeating the same thing over and over, has given in and has ultimately stopped caring.
Only once, they overcome this barrier, are Colman and Millie able to grieve together. Following this is the relationship between Edith and her husband. Though we never hear from her husband, we learn about him through Edith. Edith is an elderly white lady who has been widowed for a long time. Her husband was a black man who had come from Africa to Scotland on a boat. He came over as a young man at the ‘turn of the century. ’ At this time, racism was still very prominent and so interracial couples were virtually non-existent. Edith says that people were shocked that she was “going out with, no, married to, a black man. A black man in a ‘white’ country at the beginning of the 20th century was almost certain to encounter racism and inequality. Like Joss, Edith’s husband was lucky enough to meet and marry someone who accepted him for who he was as a person. This total acceptance and love for a man who society at the time said she should discard and look down on as beneath her gives promise that had she of been told, she would have been accepting of Joss’ choice to become a man in the best embodiment that he could achieve as Edith has been portrayed as a non-judgemental, un-conforming and loving character.
Trumpet is a novel that is full of problematic relationships, and this is emphasised further though Kay’s depiction of the relationship between Sophie Stones and her sister, Sarah. From the things Sophie says about her sister it is clear that Sophie is envious, jealous and aspires to be like her. This stems from when they were children as Sophie says “she’d turn and say to me that I was too fat too be decisive. ” Sarah basically told her that ‘she wasn’t good enough to decide who she was’.
Name calling and telling her that she was ‘fat’ clearly has a negative impact The link with Millie’s comment about Colman is clear and like Colman, Sophie changes herself because of her sister. It can be argued that because of this, name calling, especially at a young age and by the people closest to you, causes psychological damage and has it seems, forever implanted the idea into Sophie’s mind that she isn’t good enough. As a consequence, Sophie strives to be better and more successful than her sister, but in doing so, she loses the sense of who she actually is.
She says of success in her career “My parents will have to stop saying, ‘Sarah this and Sarah that’ to everything. ” Sophie is a grown woman but she still has a child’s envy and longing of the support of her parents over her sister. “Everything” insinuates that Sophie feels like her parents put Sarah on the top of their list as the most important thing in their lives and she overrules everything. Sophie feels that if this book is a success then her parents will stop talking about Sarah and start talking about her. In many respects, Sophie’s relationship with her parents also mirrors Colman’s. Her questions “will they love me?
Is success lovable? ” creates a clear sense of the insecurity that she feels since in her mind, her parents don’t love her as their daughter. As a consequence, she tries to change herself to become something they will love but in doing so she, like Colman, loses herself even further. The family often acts as a primary form of socialisation; it is inevitable that they will play a part in shaping your identity. However, as Kay clearly shows in Trumpet, the family is also the source of confusion and conflict and it is only when the character is able to address their own emotions, are they able to move forward in their relationships with others.