More on Voice: Jamestown

Stickboy tells us:

We ran through the woods. The always imperfect air, of which there’s not enough in any single breath, rushed in and out of my mouth. My friends–I’ll call them that for now; to call them by a truer name would take breath I still can’t spare–chatted while I gasped. Their skin was dry and mine was damp with sweat. What a curse to be born Stickboy, though had Frank or Joe been born Stickboy and I Frank or Joe, Stickboy would then be the name of someone cunning, swift, and strong; a man can purge himself of his name but not his body of its theme nor his life of its fate.

. . .

Their King, who shouldn’t be, was the only plump one of the lot, but even he had changed. The flesh of his face, which had used to billow from the bone like a pink cumulus cloud, now was gray and subject, like a rag, to Earth’s gravitational pull. “So,” he said, “you’ve come for the guns we promised you,” and as the flesh of his face hung loosely from the skull it clung to, so this remark of his hung loosely from the truth, though as with ample flesh that covers bone, his words his the exact shape of what lay beneath them. (185-187)

In a lot of ways the novel is about that sweet ignorance that comes of language and its metonymic system. I don’t mean any one language, but the human systems of communication, telling, and synthesis. In Jamestown, language is everything and nothing. The king mentioned above is John Ratcliffe, the ineffective leader of our group of adventurers. Stickboy, as written through the epistolary voice, refers to him as Rat Cliff. Jack Smith is Jacks Myth. Reading the men’s names this way changes them slightly, alters the angle from which they can be viewed. But, as Stickboy himself writes, “a man can purge himself of his name but not his body of its theme nor his life of its fate.”

Earlier, Pocahontas writes:

I walked with Stickboy out into the woods. I want to write a fabulous description of the woods for you in the exciting language of English, but it’s going to be hard. I don’t know the English names for woodsy things. There’s a kind of moss that’s soft and green and smells like the neck of my mom, who died when I was one. I guess I’ll call this moss mom’s neck. Mom’s neck drips or droops from the branches of the trees. The branches have leaves that fall off in autumn and grow back in spring. The leaves in the spring are green and round or spear-shaped or heart-shaped or radiant. The air in the woods this time of year is wet and green. When I open my mouth in the woods it fills with green. When I speak in the woods my words come out green.

This is true. Pocahontas’ words are green, green to us, new, hanging like leaves. She is green, vernal, and all the images these words will provoke, including naivety, but never just the words themselves. “Woodsy things.” This nameless generalization is a start, but “mom’s neck” becomes a personal, specific language, a name as prism.

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