Jamestown and Voice

Matthew Sharpe’s Jamestown was a wonderful journey through “the idea” of voice. I write “the idea” because the novel can be read as an exploration of that difficult concept and its manifestation in the novel. Jamestown pulls it off beautifully in a space of imagined future and anachronism, where language and its complexity has survived, and since language is still used in this future, voice follows.

But the voices, in some cases, also appear to be translated into the language of the novel. Pocahontas is multilingual and makes frequent reference to English and her native tongue and their differences and similarities. The voice she speaks to the reader is the same voice that she uses with Johnny Rolfe, though mingled in with her voice is a frequent phonetic jumbling of ideas and names, such as Jackshit for Jack Smith.

Regardless, here’s a little thought on Pocahontas:

I am reclining in one of my stilted corn shacks that constitute my diffuse home in this grim passage of my life. There is a vernal crispness in the air that my bosom feels as gloom, and here comes Frank, whose nicknae is Knifeface, and whose face does indeed seem to want to cut your eyeball just for looking at it. Out the back chute of the shack I go, and am running low along the stalks of corn. What the corn thinks of this it won’t say.

. . .

I feel raindrops on my skin and they hurt, not because I’m going through a period of heightened sensitivity but because sometimes when it rains each drop contains a fire that burns the skin. What moments ago was vernal crispness is now shifting over to vernal blur, vernal pain, vernal fear of the fiery rain.

Voice is always in itself, even for the third-person narrator. It calls back what it once said or thought, what it once compared or saw, and reforms it, casts it differently as the ever changing object, changes its mind and its intent or meaning. Persona have memory and all its complications. Pocahontas is vernality. She has and thus is springtime. But she can also concatenate crispness and blur. She can feel crispness as gloom and fear. We go inside her language and follow her, as Pocahontas, through it. Pocahontas is her voice.

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