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Themes in Leave Taking

In the play Leave Taking by Winsome Pinnock, a range of themes paint a detailed image of the immigrant experience in the UK. These themes not only explore the complexities of identity, generation gaps and spirituality but also bring to light the harsh realities of immigration.

Understanding these themes will give us a deeper insight into the characters’ lives and the social commentary that the play offers.

Cultural identity

In Leave Taking, Brod and Enid, both first-generation immigrants, struggle to feel at home in the UK. Brod in particular longs for the life they had in Jamaica. This is shown in a comic moment where he reminisces about the more animated pastors that they had when growing up. He imitates talking in tongues, which causes Enid to laugh despite her glum mood.

Their close tie to the Caribbean is reflected in their West Indian accents and dialects, which contrast the London accents of Viv and Del. Also, Enid keeps many of the habits she had in Jamaica, such as sitting in the dark in the evening because “I’m used to sitting in the dark. You think me mother could afford electricity?”

However, Enid’s daughters, who are second-generation immigrants, also struggle to find their identity in England. Del expresses the difficulties she faces in the workplace, and police harassment. Viv longs to find out more about her Caribbean roots, wanting to spend a year in Jamaica, and also rejects her Euro-centric education, saying:

“no matter how hard I search for myself in them books, I’m never there.”

She rebels by missing one of her exams, but eventually finds a better way to find her identity through education by taking a degree in Black Studies.

Generational conflicts

The opening scene lays out the tension between Enid and her rebellious daughter, Del. Enid feels that Del should work hard in employment, but Del just wants to enjoy herself, asking:

“All I did last night was dance. What’s wrong with that?”

Enid worries that Del will become pregnant, but rather than following Mai’s advice to let Del be, she continues to impose on her life and freedom. This pushes her daughter further away.

After her mother’s death, Enid reveals some of the difficulties that she had with her “Mooma”, who was cold and hard towards her, demonstrated when she refused to even acknowledge her daughter’s presence when Enid came to say goodbye before leaving for England:

“In the end I had to give up, walk away. (Slight pause). It wasn’t easy to leave.

Through hearing of her difficult marriage from Brod, Del gains some empathy and understanding of her mother. It’s also partly due to her close – and sometimes difficult – relationship with Mai. Mai teaches Del about being an Obeah woman and urges her to reconcile with her mother.

In turn, Enid acknowledges that she has been too hard on her daughter, and recognises the challenges she faces in her life. The two of them reconnect when Del gives her mother a palm reading.

Immigration

Brod is the character who talks most about their experiences as immigrants. This is in contrast to Enid, who is happier to not discuss it, wanting her daughters to focus more on the English side of their cultural identity.

Enid talks about seeing her uncle emigrating to America. She mentions how the material goods he had when he visited, particularly his wife’s clothes, inspired her to want to leave and find a better life. She no longer wanted the perils of living in a country that relies on food from the “land”, where if it “fail you, you might as well be dead.”

However, the immigration experience of those looking for a better life in England is shown to be far from easy. First, Brod speaks of a friend, Gullyman, who did his best to settle into the country. However, he was the victim of such horrific racist abuse that he ended up with severe mental health problems and became homeless. Later, Brod tells Del about the racism their father received at work, and how this made him hard and cruel when he came home to Enid. Their father’s cruelness and physically abusive behaviour led to the end of his and Enid’s marriage.

Enid, too, has experienced humiliating racism, as shown in a story told by Del about her mother attending a staff work event looking “beautiful”, but when a colleague vomited on the floor: “in front of everyone, matron tells you to clean it up . . . you get a mop and bucket and clean it up.”

Enid says that she knows her daughters have a better life in England in terms of education and material goods. Especially when compared to her experiences in ‘the poorest family in the whole of Jamaica’, where she would be so hungry at times that “you think you going mad with food.” However, she also acknowledges that in many ways life was better for her in Jamaica. There she felt more like part of a community, and “you kill a cow, you share it up, everybody in the district gets a piece. Here, you poor an’ you by yourself. Nobody cares.”

Enid and Brod have had to reapply for citizenship at the cost of fifty pounds each (which was worth a lot more at the time the play is set). This demonstrates that, however long they live and settle in Britain, there is always a fear for immigrants that new laws will make their lives difficult.

The Windrush Scandal took place 35 years after the play was first performed, and saw many immigrants from this generation wrongly deported or denied legal rights. This is a testament to the real fear that Brod and other immigrants feel.

Spirituality

Spiritual practices are associated with the older, more traditional Caribbean way of living. An Obeah woman would use healing practices that were used in the Caribbean and derived from traditions in West Africa. Therefore, it is also a connection to the cultural and ethnic roots of Mai and Enid.

There is more scepticism from the younger generation. We see this at the beginning when Del describes it as “mumbo-jumbo nonsense”. However, the fact that she lingers after the rest of her family has left and attempts to steal a charm, demonstrates that she is in fact interested in Mai and her practices.

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