Identity Transformation and Multiculturalism in ‘Sea of Poppies‘ by Amitav Ghosh

Identity transformation and multiculturalism in ‘Sea of Poppies‘ by Amitav Ghosh

Amitav Ghosh’s ‘Sea of Poppies’ is a novel of indentured migration. The period of indentureship arose after the industrial revolution and the abolition of slavery. The story is set in India in the year 1838 just before the opium war (1839 – 1842).
In ‘Sea of Poppies’ indentured labourers are brought from India to Mauritius for its sugarcane plantations. The schooner ‘Ibis’, a former slave ship, plays an important role for all the characters in the novel. In this response paper I would like to focus on the individual characters and the transformation of their identities during the story. Furthermore, multiculturalism and multilingualism play a significant role in the novel as I will stress later.

The story has various plots in which different characters are introduced separately and find themselves all on the schooner ‘Ibis’ in the middle of the novel due to different circumstances which I will illustrate exemplary with the main female character’s story. It begins with a young Indian woman called ‘Deeti’. You get to know her as Hukam Singh’s caring wife and following the plot as a widow. Deeti is saved from her in-laws and her husband’s funeral pyre by Kalua, an Indian low-caste man. During their escape they fall in love with each other and were able to get on board of the ‘Ibis’ as indentured servants by destiny. This is how they meet other characters who are introduced in the novel (Jodu, Paulette, Zachery, etc.).

Each character develops during the story. Therefore, identity construction is an important element in the novel. In the beginning and in the middle of the story every character behaves differently. Each of them belongs to a different community, religion or caste (which has been shown exemplary by the story of Deeti and Kalua) and are bound to strict conventions. The identity transformation of the individual characters takes place on board of the ‘Ibis’. When they...