Examination into the true heart of experience and meaning, Charles Johnson’s Middle Passage looks at the structures of identity and the total transformation of the self. The novel talks about the hidden assumptions of human and literary identity and brings to view the real problems of these assumptions through different ideas of allusion and appropriation. As the novel tells Rutherford Calhoun’s transformation of un-awareness allows him to cross “the sea of suffering” (209) making him forget who he really is. The novel brings forth the roots of human “being” and the true complications and troubles of African American experiences. Stuck between posed questions of identity, the abstract body is able to provide important insight into the methods and meanings in Middle Passage.
Middle Passage’s protagonist , Rutherford Calhoun, shows that identity is a dangerous “middle” experience for the African American offspring that endured the middle passage. As a survivor of a unknown place and subject to total isolation of his own personal experiences we find Rutherford searching for meaning. The novel questions the structure of human and literary identity by testing the power of duel oppositions and abstraction to portray the meaning of experience: "Our faith in fiction comes from an ancient belief that language and literary art all speaking and showing-clarify our experience" (Being 3). By questioning the African-American experience, Johnson radicalizes faith and is able to show the complexities of experience and change. Johnson’s examination into identity, which we can see as both human and textual, depends mainly on the appropriation for its literal and pensive methods. This contradictory space of allusion and appropriation, opens space for a smooth transition in which Rutherford transforms. The novels examination of both the human and literary identity can be looked at in three different areas: the body, culture and text. As the fundamentals of the text work to show explanations of meaning and motive the text tends to confront its own contradictory claims to imagination and inaccuracy. These three different areas use allusion and appropriation to set up the text’s body and its essences of questioning the self.
The body occupies an important part of Middle Passage, for small moments such as Rutherford’s hiccuping whenever he seems to get himself into a philosophical dilemma (125-260) to the enfolding of death and unconsciousness that marks Rutherford’s most profound transformation: “Then I fainted. Or died. Whatever. (171)” The boundaries between body “non-body”, between individual experience and universal process, break down in the novel's process to loose the reliance on the body for its identification. This lose of identity brings forth Rutherford's shifting perspective on gender relations, and the encounter with the Allmuseri. Rutherford's grasp on the boundaries of life and death, gender shifts from the...