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Identity Crisis in Christopher Hampton Play "white Chameleon"

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Identity crisis

    Christopher Hampton, a British playwright, screenwriter, translator and film director, was born 1940 in the Azores, where his father was working as an engineer. He grew up moving from one place to another. Hampton was five when his family moved to the Egyptian city of Alexandria. It was 1951, and the start of a golden era in his life But it wasn't to last. His play “white chameleon” is an autobiographical one about the years in which he spent his childhood in Egypt, Alexandria specifically. The play is narrated by older Christopher as he tells the story of Chris, a ten years old boy, living with his parents in Alexandria during a critical time in Egypt, from 1952 till 1956. Written in 1991, the play adopts most of the issues of the modernist period. The objective of this essay is to show to what extends Hampton manged to reflect the post-colonial theme of identity crisis through incidents of his play “white chameleon”.

     The question of identity is the most controversial issue in post-colonial time and literature. It can be regarded of utmost importance because of its crisis. In modern world and with the increase of the immigrant numbers, hybrid nations, and constitution of countries with different culture diversities the question of identity came to the surface. The identity crisis is not only related to the political loss of identity but to the cultural as well. As Bill Achcroft put it in his book (The Empire Writes Back) “about more than-three quarters of the people living of the world today have had their lives shaped by the experience of colonialism though there was a political change, many nations got their independence and no more they are colonies, but culturally and economically there appeared many dilemma and crisis, they were still in confusion about their culture and identity”. The characters in post-colonial period were unable to extricate themselves from the conflict between whom they are and whom they supposed to be. In Hampton’s “white chameleon” such conflict faces the protagonist of the play Chris. He is unable to determine his political identity feeling cast-out in all the countries he lived in and among kids of his age. He always suffered from bulling for being different.

     From the very beginning of the play, Hampton paves the way for the audience to depict the problem of lost identity through the character of Chris. In his birthday party all the children are dressed in the customs of an imaginary hero’s like ROOBEN HOOD, SITTING BULL’ a ‘LORD NELSON’ and a ‘ ROB BOY …etc. while Chris takes the role of pirate with its usual custom, showing the conventional state of a rootless pirate who does not have a land to belong to. “By this time CHRIS has reappeared, wearing a pirate suit with a black eyepatch”; this shows the inner feeling of Christopher who suffers from loss of identity.  

     In “Victoria College” in Alexandria, for instance, young Chris had been spat on, thumped and called names such as "filthy English”. This was not because the Egyptian boys had any grudges towards him personally, but for the fact that to them he is one of the British who are trying to colonize their land and whose army have killed around 15 Egyptian policemen in Ismailia. Chris himself, although being very young to understand such complicated political aspects, justify the young Egyptian boy’s actions as being out of revenge for the British attacks on Egypt. He asked his father not to write a letter to the school complaining about what had taken place. Although his father has previously written a letter because Chris was bullied by a nun for eating with his left hand at his school in Aden, Chris understand that this time “this is different”. The boy is very mature, although being in young age, as he could understand that in the Egyptian boy’s case there was an excuse to what they have done however, in the Aden school, it was a merely religious extremity from the nun’s side that was unjustifiable and without any excuse. Although, Chris is much attached to Egypt and its culture even more than the Egyptians themselves, he cannot fit in with the Egyptian boys and be counted as of an Egyptian identity.



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