With a background that traverses different cultures and geographical locations, Elizabeth Nunez’s novel, Beyond the Limbo Silence tries to capture the wide range of emotions, and reactions of its protagonists as they move from individual beliefs to newer and more complicated feelings of racial bias. When the principal character of the novel, Sara Edgehill moves from a village in Trinidad to a college in Wisconsin, she has no inkling of the kind of attitudes that she is going to come across, vis-à-vis the color of her skin.
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In her native Trinidad, she was witness to a sharing of space by various religions. Demarcating lines were rarely drawn, between Catholicism and Anglicanism on the one hand and Obeah on the other. People who were considered pillars of either of the two churches did not have much of a problem in their flock (or followers) resorting to the panaceas provided by Obeah practitioners, albeit on the sly. There would be public outcries against this ‘primitive’ practice, which combined magic, witchcraft and the occult to produce a system which became a way of life for most of the British West Indian population; at the same time, nobody dared denounce the power that Obeah could wield in the island nation.
With such a background, Sara is stunned at the racial lines that are so vividly drawn in America, a place that she thought would be more tolerant (Nunez, p. 3). Christian tolerance, she learns, is more preached about than practiced. The necromancy practiced in her native land seems a lot milder than the racial bias she witnessed.
When it came to the question of enslavement, there were always more than two ways of looking at the problem. On the one hand, there was the legal abolition of slavery in 1833 with the Slavery Abolition Act; on the other, were the combined attitudes of both the slaves as well as the colonialists towards slavery as a social issue. Strangely enough, the slaves of the British West Indies found the Catholic Church willing supporters of their cause. The Anglican Church took a little longer to follow suit. The contributions of Beilby Porteus served to move most churchgoers in line with the general anti-slavery movements in the region.
Slave uprisings in the Atlantic region, were in no way different from those that rocked parts of America. As far as the Cuban slaves were concerned, the slaves working on the plantations found themselves caught between the legal system and the prevailing social attitudes (Barcia, p. 3). The former denied them practically every little thing they could want to own and the latter ensured that social integration laws, though unwritten, were very strongly ingrained into the collective social psyche.
Nunez’ portrayal of social integration, despite all odds, encompasses a wide gamut of passions, beliefs and faith. In their search for separate identities, the main characters battle with their childhood beliefs to come to terms with the reality of race, identity and protest: all ingredients of the highly potent Civil Rights Movement.
Barcia, Manuel. “Fighting With The Enemy’s Weapons: The usage of the colonial legal framework by nineteenth-century Cuban slaves.” Atlantic Studies 3.2 (2006): 159-181.
Nunez, Elizabeth. 2007.
Wikipedia. Emancipation of the British West Indies. 2007. Web.