Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Fifty Shades of Green: The Individual and his Identities in Lloyd Fernando’s Green is the Color

Green is the color primarily associated with nature; it is also the color that represents our natural state of existence — that is, as individuals belonging to the human race, unified by our common humanity. Green, as the representative color of universal human identity, is notably mentioned only towards the end of the novel when Siti Sara went out of the house one evening and sensed how “the color of the leaves differed from bush to tree and from tree to tree, in dazzling shades of green after the rain” (192). 

Shades of green in nature signify chromatic harmony despite the variation of shades or, to aptly demonstrate this in the novel, the shades of identities are exemplified in the characters of Dahlan, Sara, and Omar –  all Malaysian colonial subjects who acquired Western education which produced “dazzling shades” or ambivalent effects on their respective identities: Dahlan advocates against racial inequality for minority groups; Sara struggles with her individualism and attachment to her restrictive culture; and Omar embraces fundamentalist Islam and nativist ideology through an elimination of all “traces of colonial legacy”.

While the reference to color green appears to be a mere passive mention in the story, its symbolic quality is being emphasized pervasively through our historical reading of the text. The depiction of greenery sets the backdrop for tropical Malaysia where different shades of green are visibly painted on its multicultural, multi-religious, and multilingual landscape. 

Malaysia, as a modernizing yet tradition-oriented society, grapples not only with sociocultural differences between racial groups but more significantly with economic disparity among them. Green, as a known representation for envy and resentment, characterizes Malaysia’s classic problem of racial, political, and socioeconomic divide: the dominant Malay group perceives themselves to be at an economic disadvantage in the agrarian countryside against the Chinese and Indian minority who prosper in urban centers, respectively for their handling of most commercial enterprises and constituting the country’s professional sector.

It is important to note how this racial strife in the country originally stemmed from British colonial policy that previously encouraged Chinese and Indian migration to supply the demand for labor in the country’s flourishing rubber and tin industry. Green, in this sense, becomes the symbol for money as the capitalist Britain, during its occupation of Malaya, concerns itself not with the promotion of cultural harmony among racial groups but merely for financial gains from its colonial activities. As such, racial conflict emerging from colonial policies dominated Malaysia’s postcolonial history after it gained independence in 1957.  

Referred in the novel as the “unsightly scab” in Malaysian history, these racial discords, which later erupted into a widespread racial riot in May 1969, provided the main backdrop for the story where multiracial characters representing their shades of identity are at odds not only with their inner selves but also with their distinctly cultural as well as universal human identity. What Lloyd Fernando tried to portray in the novel is how ultimately, the human identity, with love as one of its universal qualities, prevails over both sociocultural and personal identity.

Being green is embodied in the bold and “transgressive acts” of the main characters, Sara and Yun Ming as well as Dahlan and Gita, who are involved in interracial relationships. Green is the color associated with nature primarily because it does not discriminate but rather celebrates diversity through love in its varying shades of existence. 

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