"My Marbles Are Many-Coloured". The Colours of Age in Jackie Kay’s "These Are Not My Clothes"


Essay, 2020

5 Pages, Grade: 1.0


Excerpt

‘My Marbles Are Many-Coloured'

The Colours of Age in Jackie Kay's ‘These Are Not My Clothes'

In 2012, Jackie Kay published her third collection of short stories Reality, Reality, which was immediately considered to rank amongst “the best of the genre” (Evaristo). For Bernardine Evaristo, the reading experience of the collection is “like eavesdropping on private thoughts and secret lives of a host of disparate women, many of whom share a quiet desperation and self-delusion” (Evaristo). One of these women is Margaret, the first­person narrator and protagonist of the second story of the collection: “These are not my clothes”. Margaret is an elderly woman living in a retirement home where inhabitants are treated awfully - both physically and mentally. However, through the story's witty and unreliable first-person narrator and the use of colour, the collection questions the societal concept of ‘the elderly' and the concomitant fear of age and growing old. The colours of the story namely make up the versatile mosaic of the life of the protagonist Margaret whose identity is thereby communicated as fluid as she simply refuses to be reduced to the singular identity factor ‘age'. This is typical for Kay as she rarely assigns one category to her characters so that fluidity of identity can be expressed. The story ‘These are not my clothes' thus deconstructs the concept of age as something frightening entirely and establishes it as something one can choose to view in one's own perspective. It challenges the reader to rethink his or her own perception of age.

Even though Margaret is restricted to the inside of the retirement home, she is able to transgress the border and ‘be' in the outside by perceiving it in a very detailed and colourful way: the pot isof an “electric blue” (Kay 25), the flowers within the pot are of a “dusty pink” (26), and the sky is a “light grey, the colour of doves” (26). After a rain shower, thegrass is viewed to be of a “deeper green” (35), instantly referring to the, in this situation literal, pun “the grass is greener on the other side” before associating the colour green with the 1967 song “the green, green grass of home” by Tom Jones. Margaret also repeatedly comes back to the “empty wooden table in the garden with a red umbrella downin the middle because there is no sunshine” (19), however Margaret never seems to perceive this view negatively, not even when she cannot see all ofitasshe cannot “crane round far enough” (20). This comical depiction of the degenerative inconveniences of advanced age shows that Margaret is not defined by the single identity factor ‘age' as she simply puts together her own colourful mosaic of life. On the outside, she does so by observing the inaccessible in a very detailed way. On the accessible inside, however, her observations are also bound to actions.

The soup given to the retirement home's inhabitants, for example, is red. Margaret, however, does not simply take the red soup as tomato soup, but as asoup separated from differently coloured soups. To her, the soup is only red “because it couldn't be blue. But yesterday it was yellow, you can get yellow soup and green soup, you know, but you can't really get black soup or blue soup” (21). This poststructuralist view on soup, as its colour can only exist in relation to another, is a humorous depiction of the instant and allegedly confusing associations Margaret continuously yet unknowingly experiences. Whereas the reader might interpret these confusing associations as clear signs of dementia and inevitably ascribe the factor ‘age' to her identity, for Margaret, it is simply another facet to her personal mosaic.

Red is also the colour of the cardigan the narrator orders through her favourite caretaker Vadnie. As a form of rebellion, Margaret requests a “cherry red cardigan of the colour of the soup” (24). The narrator then adds that “cardigans can be the same colour as soup”, something the caretaker is already familiar with as “she knows that's the kind of complicated world” (24) they live in. Again, Margaret's perception of the world is shared in a grinning way as the reader is left to humorously question whether this really makes up the complexity of the world that we live in. The colour red can be seen as a symbol of power as in a traditional Western context it is usually associated with energy and passion. Applied to her own clothes, Margaret attempts to reclaim power over her own life: “If I were dressed head to toe on my own clothes [i.e. the red cardigan], I might have a chance of getting out of here” (28). Interestingly, the tomato soup appears again towards the end of the story, yet it is no longer the cardigan that is “red as the soup” but the soup that is “red as the cardigan” (36). This shows that even without properly possessing the red cardigan, the narrator already experiences a sense of empowerment which is expressed through her witty provocation towards the matron: “This soup is actually very woolly, I say and Matron looks at me in a calculated fashion” (36).

Her empowerment is further supported by her demand for a “pair of navy blue slacks” (28) with the colour blue symbolising stability and confidence. Whereas the cardigan does not need explanation to Vadnie as shown before, the pair of slacks does: “Vadnie might not know that slacks means trousers, any person under fifty might not know that” (28), which can be read as a humorous allusion to the narrator's age. This proves that Margaret is willing to accept the factor ‘age' for her identity yet only in certain situations and only if she actively decides to do so.

The most drastic use of colour, however, can be seen inthe illustration of the treatment the elderlies receive in the retirement home. Margaret describes the inhabitants' bruises in the most dazzling colours:

The bruises can go from blue and black to yellow and a sort of green you know; they change like traffic lights. If you mix two primary colours, you get another colour. I used to know them all: blue and yellow makes green, and red and blue makes purple, but before you know it when you think of colours you are back to bruises (27)

The sad and heart-breaking topic of physical abuse is communicated with the help of the humorous images of “traffic lights” and “primary colours” thereby making the topic approachable to the reader. However, as described by Margaret, many of the inhabitants are of “colours [they] shouldn't be” (27) yet no one seems to be able to say or do anything about it except Margaret: “I'm certainly the one who should most fear because I'm the one who still has my marbles. My marbles are many-coloured, like great and glorious eyes” (27). As Margaret's “great and glorious eyes”, her marbles are her tools with which she sees the world in her own way. Her “many-coloured” Marbles stand for her “many­coloured” identity and her reluctance to accept the singular, or single-coloured, identity factor ‘age'. It is only with these marbles that Margaret is able to construct the colourful mosaic presented to the reader.

Margaret also rebels actively through small resistances when she refuses to take naps (25), hang her head during grace (22) or soak her biscuit in her tea (24). However, she is subconsciously aware that the personnel want to ascribe her the singular and stable identity of the ‘elderly woman', as she is repeatedly called a “bloody baby” (19), “dummy” (21) or “broken record” (24). This is taken yet to another level when Margaret actively expresses her awareness of it: “Of course I know that the matron wants me dead” (22). The gallows humour behind this quote is exemplary: The reader's instant reaction is laughter yet followed by immediate reflection on the actual truth behind it: that Margaret, as an elderly woman, is most likely to die soon. However, the story does not end on a negative note as two birds of different colours land before her window: “It comes as a complete surprise, the little red robin that arrives from nowhere to sit on the bench and the black bird that comes to sit on the empty table under the red umbrella. I'm breathless with excitement” (37). Even in the darkest of all colours she still sees beauty as she is able to perceive the colours and the beauty of nature in her own way. It is Margaret's colourful mosaic of age and life presented through the story that holds a mirror in front of the reader and forces him or her to think about the individual mosaic of life with its many, or little, colours.

All in all, Margaret assembles and reassembles her identity as she pleases without following societal rules. As a common theme in Kay's stories, the ‘fluidity of identity' is successfully applied to a protagonist one might have easily ascribed the singular identity of ‘the elderly'. Yet Margaret completely deconstructs this notion as the reader is constantly forced to re-evaluate his or her opinion of age identity. How Margaret perceives her world shows the reader how he or she can perceive the world - since it is all a matter of perspective. As long as one's marbles are “many-coloured, like great and glorious eyes” (27), age does not seem to be as frightening as our society tries to portray. The chosen narrative and the incorporation of colourismhave thus successfully offered an alternative perspective to the reader and provoke him or herto further reflect upon the ‘concept' of age as we know it.

[...]

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Details

Title
"My Marbles Are Many-Coloured". The Colours of Age in Jackie Kay’s "These Are Not My Clothes"
College
University of Freiburg  (Englisches Seminar)
Grade
1.0
Author
Year
2020
Pages
5
Catalog Number
V1030974
ISBN (eBook)
9783346432803
Language
English
Tags
marbles, many-coloured, colours, jackie, kay’s, these, clothes
Quote paper
Marnie Hensler (Author), 2020, "My Marbles Are Many-Coloured". The Colours of Age in Jackie Kay’s "These Are Not My Clothes", Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/1030974

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