Critical analysis of the novel Cambridge by Caryl Phillips


The novel narrates a story of a young English woman named Emily who travels to her father’s West Indian farm, the name Cambridge refers to a Christian slave who is enlightened given that he is a converted Christian. The novel has two chapters where the first chapter narrates the story of Emily and the other chapter narrates the story of Cambridge, in the novel conflict arises between Cambridge and Mr. Brown a manager at the estate whereby Cambridge murders Brown, the following is a critical analysis of the novel, its content, style and main theme.


The main theme of the novel is to show how Cambridge and Emily are close to each other and yet wide apart and also how their destinies are related, Emily traveled from England to the west Indian plantation whereas Cambridge traveled from Africa to England where he converted to Christianity and during a missionary voyage to Africa he is captured and sold as a slave to the west Indian plantation. Their destiny is related given that they both die alone.


The two chapters are first person narratives given that the first part of novel provides a chronological description of Emily’s journey to the West Indian plantation whereas the second part is also a chronological description of Cambridge life as in African then to England and in the West Indian plantation. The provides two perspectives of slavery where Cambridge provides a real life experience of slavery while on the other hand the first part provides another perspective of slavery from the slave master point of view.

Critical Analysis of the Novel Cambridge



The author also uses irony in the narrative, in the novel the character Cambridge name is changed from Olumide to Thomas, then his name is changed to Henderson and finally Cambridge, the character Emily on the other hand remain anonymous and is only revealed at the end of first chapter, also her second name Cartwright is only revealed at the end of the second chapter. The use of irony is also evident whereby the meaning and origin of the name Cambridge which is the title of the book is not revealed in the first pages of the novel and is only revealed at the end.


The novel contrast the life of Cambridge and Emily, the two are exiled in the state where that Cambridge is transported to the island against his will whereas Emily makes her choice to travel, another contrast is that both are engaged in writing whereby Emily writes to her father to inform her father about the reality in the island and Cambridge writes to justify his act of murdering Mr. Brown.


Critical Analysis of the Novel Cambridge

From the above discussion it is evident that the novel Cambridge is an exploration of slavery, Caryl Phillips creates two characters close to each other but are wide apart due to social class differences, the main theme of the novel is to highlights the impacts of slavery from the slave owner perspective and also from a real life perspective, the author uses irony and contrast to build his story and also connects the life of the two characters.


Caryl Phillips (1993) Cambridge, McGraw Hill Press, New York