"The Adoption Papers" by Jackie Kay.

Essay by bellj16A, September 2003

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The Adoption Papers

The story of Jackie Kay's life is as fascinating and complex as her literary works. The comparison is significant because several of Kay's pieces spring from her biography and they are all concerned with the intricate nature of identity. Kay's father was a black Nigerian visiting Edinburgh when he met Kay's white Scottish mother. After he returned to Nigeria, the mother discovered she was pregnant and decided to give up the child. Kay was then adopted by a white Glaswegian couple with a strong commitment to radical politics. As Kay grew up she also began to identify herself as lesbian.

Kay's writings reject easy platitudes and challenge readers to reject normative ideas of racial, sexual, and national identity. Although a poem like "The Adoption Papers" clearly stems from her autobiography, Kay uses biography as a starting ground from which to explore the broader conditions of multicultural Britain and identity in general.

Rather than a narrow exploration of one unique life, Kay's work has the power to challenge her readers' expectations about the relation of self to other. Yet even as Kay's work discomforts, it allows many voices to speak in a way that builds empathy and understanding for characters however different they may seem.

By using three voices, the poem foregrounds the importance of perspective, so that the reader sees how adoption affects the three figures in significantly different ways. Kay expresses the birth mother's pain of giving up a child through the contained quatrains, which make the birth mother seem indifferent but the paranoia of;

"Maybe the words lie

across my forehead

headline in thin ink


Shows that she is hiding her pain. Her regret is expressed through the way she cannot drive the thought of her baby out of her...