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Active and Passive Voices

Hummingbird's picture

When I started reading "A Journey into Speech," I was immediately struck by the way Cliff had to overcome a silencing of her culture – the African roots of Jamaica – in order to be able to accurately speak to herself. I was also struck by the way she had to bridge the gap between King's English and patois that was created by this silencing. For Cliff, words take on the role of tools to funnel her frustration and rage. She writes to expose the influence of the colonizerand in this exposure, she finds a voice that is separate from either King's English or patois. This new voice, though fragmented, is her way of showing the struggle of Jamaicans and other colonists to understand their dual identities – the mother country versus the colony. 

In contrast, Smith sees words as the end rather than the tool. In the introduction to "Fires in the Mirror," Smith describes her relationship with words as follows: "I had not controlled the words. I had presented myself as an empty vessel, a repeater, and they had shown their power." Unlike Cliff, whose words were difficult to find and difficult to fit together because of her fragmented history, Smith acts as a more passive writer. She uses language as a tool for learning too, but she doesn't so actively use it as a tool for change. In fact, she's not even chanelling her own feeling or emotion, but others' feelings and emotions. 

I felt a stronger connection to Cliff's piece because I could empathize with the desire to reconcile dueling identities. I didn't connect as much with Smith's idea of taking on others' shoes because it felt like a less active way of using one's voice.