VOL. 29, NO. 2 JUNE, 1983
Copyright reserved and reproduction without permission strictly forbidden.
1 Great and Neglected West Indian-American Writer: Frank Hercules
Keith S. Henry
11 The Social World of Phyllis Shand Allfrey's The Orchid House
22 Two West Indian Heroines: Bita Plant and Fola Piggott
30 Images of Self-awareness in Garth St Omer's J-, Black Barn and the Masqueraders
44 Into this Beautiful Garden Some Comments on Erna Brodber's Jane and Louisa
54 Exile, Philosophic Myth, Creative Truth, Thrust and Necessity: An Interview
with Wilson Harris
63 In Defence of Naipaul's Guerrillas: A Reply
from the MS The Summer of Lilacs
Tomb of a Hero: NWM
74 BOOK REVIEWS
Notes on Contributors
Instructions to Authors
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Janet Liu Terry, Associate Editor
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The editorial intent of this issue had been to focus on, to adapt Keith Henry's portentous
phrase, 'the great-neglected writers' of Caribbean fiction. This, admittedly, is not fully
realized, for included in the issue are certain West Indian writers who, far from being
neglected, are in danger of over-exposure. This mix will probably be welcomed by readers
who may wish to see both sets of writers receive the even-handed treatment that they
Elaine Campbell focuses attention on two female portraitures by, interestingly,
two male writers: the one restrained and the other prolific. Perhaps it is a reflection of
the times that they inhabited. Claude McKay struggled within a colonial context of pat-
ronage and racism which could have limited his output. Whereas by the time Lamming
came on the scene things had changed somewhat (for the better?) and he has grasped the
opportunities to write in greater volume. According to Campbell, 'it is only in McKay's
third novel, Banana Bottom, that he is able to create a fully integrated protagonist':
Bita Plant, whose 'assertion of individuality, which so clearly reflects McKay's own,
emphasizes the element of choice denied Jake and Banjo who are locked into their primi-
tive nature . .' and in 'his final rejection of the city, McKay may have created a definitive
distinction between Afro-American and Afro-Caribbean fiction. If so, Bita Plant stands at
the intersection of the two genres'. For George Lamming the peasant context provides
the Caribbean writer with his authenticity. It is not surprising, therefore, that his novels
should be 'shot through and through with the urgency of peasant life'. Campbell points
out that whereas Lamming was 'unable to confront the personal problem of fatherlessness
through his earlier male protagonists, he is finally able to do so through Fola. It is as if
the camouflage of Fola's sex provided Lamming with the freedom to probe the pain of
In A Great and Neglected West Indian-American Writer, Frank Hercules, author
Keith S. Henry lionises Frank Hercules who hails from Trinidad and has four book-length
works to his name. Our first reader wrote of Henry's article thus: "I recommend . this
engaging article. Whether or not your readers share its high valuation of Frank Hercules,
the article does a valuable service, redirecting attention to an author who is indeed one of
those . who have received less than their fair share of critical attention from intellec-
tuals in the Caribbean."
The next article, Garth St. Omer's J-..., Black Bar and the Masqueraders, engages
the attention of Peter Dunwoodie. A critique of the article states, that it is "well inform-
ed, perceptive and well structured. It shows a capacity for engaging closely with the
text, and the analysis of the imagery of 'the seeing-seen dualism' is particularly illumi-
nating. It also sets the novel meaningfully into the contexts of studies of the psychology
of colonialism and the literature of Existentialism".
Irving Andre analyses the social world of Phyllis Shand Allfrey whose The Orchid
House depicts the white plantocracy which has not received much sympathetic literary
attention except perhaps by Jean Rhy's Wide Sargasso Sea. More often than not "busha"
and his offspring, be they white or "off-white", suffer the criticism of the victims of
their "hegemony and domination". However, in novels concerning the whites as in
Mittelholzer's The Harrowing of Hubertus, Jean Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea and in Allfrey's
The Orchid House, the "victors" are always at the mercy of the majority [black] popu-
lation. The whites, while brandishing the whip, are also victims of sudden poisonings,
inexplicable fires and guerrilla ambushes. The shifting 'balance of power' is the theme of
many a successful Caribbean novel.
Very few readers realize that Caribbean Quarterly welcomes correspondence from
readers. This absence of response is perhaps due to the quarterly appearance of the journal
which robs the reader of the piquancy and immediacy of a reply, unlike our weekly and
monthly counterparts. However, this issue carries a response, belatedly, but aptly I hope,
by Harold Barratt to Selwyn Cudjoe's critique of Naipaul's Guerrillas (Vol. 25 No. 4).
Whether the reader will agree, like Anthony Boxill in his book, that Naipaul mined a
particular vein of literature in order that the Caribbean region "might improve itself', is
open to question. But there is no doubt that more light is shed each time a writer puts
his/her mind to examining Naipaul, who, as one critic quipped, 'is always vindicated'.
Pam Mordecai's comments on Jane and Louisa Will Soon Come Home highlight the
fact that Erna Brodber occupies a strategic place in the emerging tradition of women
prose writers because up to now the novels of Caribbean women writers have been
concerned with telling the tale. In Jane and Louisa the balance between artful tale and
crafted telling is tipped in favour of the telling. Pam Mordecai also declares that indis-
putably an important part of the achievement of the book is the author's use of language.
Brodber ranges through the overlapping system of lects from creole to "standard" English.
An Interview with Wilson Harris is offered by Kalu Ogbaa of Nigeria. The interview
touches on exile, philosophic myth and creative truth, thrust and necessity: important
because Harris speaks with admirable frankness. Besides, we do not interview our writers
enough nor do we lionise them enough. It is only when we valorise our own will others
begin to see them and hear them and end the denigration. Not only do we need inter-
views we need portraits, voice recordings, films, sculptures, busts, photographs so that
when their biographies come to be written we shall have material with which to enhance
and enliven the publications.
A GREAT AND NEGLECTED WEST INDIAN-AMERICAN WRITER
KEITH S. HENRY
Although one may speculate the reasons, it can hardly be doubted that the established
post-WWII West Indian writers in the United States have received less than their fair share
of critical attention from intellectuals in the Caribbean.1 The neglect is of long standing.
Neither critical nor even bibliographic treatments of Caribbean literature dealing with the
earliest stages of the Caribbean novel commonly notice the Trinidad novel's admittedly
undistinguished beginnings in Trinidadian-American Archer Tracy. the most authoritative
work on the West Indian novel, Kenneth Ramchand's The West Indian Novel and Its
Background, merely quotes a passage by Robert Bone that lists tracy's name,2 and,
remarkably, he is not even mentioned in the acknowledgedly historical or bibliographic
works by Sander, Herdeck and Bandara.3 As a figure of some pertinent historical interest,
and as an illuminating contrast to the special subject of this study, Frank Hercules, Tracy
deserves passing notice.
Archer Tracy, a medical doctor of Trinidad rearing, practised in the American South
at the turn of the century and published his novel, The Sword of Nemesis, in New York
in 1919.4 Undoubtedly written several years earlier, it is a poor man's Hamlet, a highly
derivative, unrealistic, melodramatic novel set in Montserrat and Trinidad. The Hamlet
tale is updated with an unsubtle Darwinist coloration and discourse, occasionally
tempered by the more sober social observations that a writer, even one as benighted as
Tracy, must extract from an upbringing in Trinidad. Tracy even makes the obligatory
turn-of-the-century, West Indian sally at racist visitor, British historian J.A. Froude: his
book, in fact, was very arguably designed, however ill-conceivedly, as largely an advertise-
ment of its author as an example of black erudition and of his achievement, as he would
see it, of Afro-Saxondom.
Of our own day, three novelists immediately come to mind: Barbadian-American
Paule Marshall, and Trinidadian-Americans Frank Hercules and Rosa Guy. The critical
neglect of these novelists is surprising, for they reside at the very summit of Caribbean
literary achievement. In his standard work of 1970, Ramchand does not discuss any of
the three, although their first novels were published in 1959, 1961 and 1966 respective-
ly, and although all three works are very memorable.5 Marshall's and Hercules', more-
over, are undeniably West Indian. The case of Hercules is the most puzzling, for Marshall
has at least been minimally noticed and Guy, accomplished as she is, has preferred, since
completing her first novel, Bird at My Window, to concentrate on an adolescent audience.
But Hercules is perhaps the Caribbean's most urbane writer, blessed with unusual powers
and great versatility: furthermore, his full-length works have all been published by
prominent New York publishing houses and have been honoured with translations into
European languages. This paper will be devoted to an examination of the work of Frank
Frank Hercules is the son of the distinguished West Indian nationalist, F.E.M
Hercules, whose admirable career of political work and advocacy following the First
World War has, like that of others, been overshadowed by Marcus Garvey's greater spell6
"Frank Hercules"; we learn from the dust-jacket of his latest work, "was born in Trini-
dad" of a San Fernando family of some distinction "where he grew to early man-
hood. He studied law in England for a time". He moved to the United States in 1946 or
1947 where he worked in the business world for some ten years before devoting himself
fully to writing. His first novel, Where the Hummingbird Flies, was published in 1961.
Hercules has produced four full-length works. His first novel was followed by
another, I Want a Black Doll (1967), and then by a long work of historico-political
commentary, American Society and Black Revolution, published in 1972. His third novel
and most recent full-length work is On Leaving Paradise, published in 1980.7
Where the Hummingbird Flies
Hercules' novels display very different ambitions, although, as we shall see, common
threads can be discerned in their design. Where the Hummingbird Flies is a wide-ranging
but closely-observant, and frequently very diverting, social tour of Inter-War Trinidad
incorporated into an effective novel. The recall of social and political structures and
custom of the period is very faithful and many characters, events and even verbal ex-
changes in the novel deliberately echo well-remembered historical figures and episodes.
The famous response of M'zumbo Lazare (died 1929) to Queen Victoria in 1897, an
occasion still the subject of fond reminiscences in the 1930s, is recalled as that of one,
the Honourable Malam N'Bobb (p. 137), for example, and in the white liberal expatriate
Dr Griffiths it is difficult not to see the figure of Dr Vincent Tothill.8 Much of Trinidad
makes an appearance, from the still English governor of the colony, through many
varieties and graduations of ethnicity, colour and status, to the uninhibited city washer-
woman and the rustic "Spanish" huntsman, from the city fishinarket to the Roman
Catholic pilgrimage to Siparia, to an obeahwoman's "bush bath". The novelist's unusual
mastery of Trinidad lore, foibles and dialect is evident. Yet issues are not prematurely
resolved, strong emotion is aroused, and it is no little achievement that, despite the
work's fidelities to familiar social and political history, the reader's interest in the unfold-
ing of events and in the fate of major characters inhabiting the novel is, if anything,
enhanced as the novel progresses. The narration is always urbane, sometimes droll. One
of Hercules' finest achievements indeed is to neatly weave some of his most comic
moments into an essentially tragic situation without contaminating either, and he is
only briefly tempted by his comic gift to descend into meaner parody and fantasy.
Hercules' taste for derisory nomenclature, an undeniably proper indulgence in his third
novel, and his uncensorious light-hearted preoccupation with concupiscence in that novel,
are nicely prefigured and combined in passing notice of self-abuse at Cambridge by the
undergraduate, "Fairey-Jones". A clue to the identity of the model for the novel's un-
lovable Chief Justice undoubtedly lies in his name, "Sir Cato Bombass".
The emotional centre of the novel, which in essence is about the social and political
commitments of Trinidad's urban middle class, is the cycle of destructiveness and self-
destructiveness we see being bred by the gruesome colour-consciousness of the island's
inhabitants. We early meet its most odious advertisements, the brown wife of black
Dr Napoleon Walker and the contemptuous and contemptible young mulatto Carlo
she is desperate to "grace" her social affairs with. In her self-abasing social ambitions,
Dr Walker is her active collaborator, yet his darker colour and American education and
occasional self-questioning introspection introduce a note of possible tension, even un-
predictability, into their marriage and social world. Horrifying as the social spectacle
progressively becomes, and unabated as our distaste remains, our primary engagement
insensibly moves to the problem of deciding how much of what we are witnessing here
may be merely the enduring human condition, more irksome, confessedly, in its local
colonial particulars. We become conscious of a distracting welter of instances of
perverted ambition and honest myopia, of unexpected scruples and moral recesses, skil-
fully adduced by the author to blunt our moral certainties. The cardinal figure, as
symbol and agent, in the condition of moral indeterminacy partially induced is the
brilliant brown lawyer, Mervyn Herrick. Herrick is subtle, eloquent, empathetic, univer-
sally admired, even by the white expatriates. The impulses of his social conscience are
detained by the philosophic reservations of a discerning and reflective mind, and by his
mature experience and unusual broad and sobering knowledge of every class in the island.
If anyone can lastingly mute the disgust we feel at the ugliness the island's social mores
breed, it will be Herrick. We hang on to his reflections for that possibility., And it is
Herrick, indeed, who finally persuades us that even Mrs Walker is, after all, "essentially
... a kindly woman of harmless ambitions, but twisted into silly attitudes by social tradi-
tions to which fear blackmailed her into blind, cowering submission" (p. 210); and it is
Herrick who muses that all these varied people in his acquaintance, none excepted, even
the expatriates or himself, Herrick, "all, all were Trinidad; clamant, prismatic ... ardently,
exultantly human ... harlequin in this little Island ... their island our island this
Trinidad, where the hummingbird flies" (p. 211).
We hang on also for the elegance and insight of Herrick's reflections, bpt increasingly
urgently also to see whether the deteriorating social climate can arouse him from his
inaction, to see whether Francis Herbert, the attractive young radical, can depend upon
the use of his unrivalled skills in his hour of need. Finally, as we observe Herbert in his
admirable "seditious" address at the Library, this young man, whose fine temper and
predicament exert a rapidly widening influence on even settled perceptions in the island,
becomes the object of our anxiety and our speculation as the novel draws to its close.
He becomes that even more than does Mary Redeson, another young Trinidadian who is
differently entrapped in the island's social quagmire and whose artful extrication there-
from, on carefully prepared ground, is one of the felicities of the novel. In the novel's
dying moments, we are company, as we were at the beginning of the work, to Mrs Walker
drawing up her guest list for another of her parties. Her additions and deletions record
for us the impact of the social and political developments to which Herbert's career added
The return to Mrs Walker's guest list at the end of the novel recalls an important
feature of Hercules' fiction. He is very partial to this circular form in the construction of
all his novels and it lends dramatic force to them. Whereas, in the later novels, the form
is in essence reminiscent of a cinematic flashback, used to immediately create and event-
ually relieve, suspense, it is especially enhancing in Where the Hummingbird Flies, the plot
being significantly advanced at the closing of the circle. In the novel, too, the form is
perceived as, in addition, merely one part of a restrained music of re-stated themes, subtly
developed or illuminated.
Many lives undergo delicate, surprising and conjoined evolutions in this beautifully
crafted, bejewelled novel. As for Herrick's among them, his mind and temper, power-
fully actuating but also discreetly receptive, remain compelling to the end. And of
Francis Herbert, we must note, his Venezuelan birth, his initials and his profession of
teacher are only three of the arresting resemblances he bears to Hercules' own father,
For expositional grace and intellectual sophistication, as for his comic gift, Hercules
is clearly a master among West Indian writers and a rival of the very greatest anywhere.
Characterization is very economically managed and, in Where the Hummingbird Flies, the
author's objectives are such that it is sufficient that his characters tend to be intellectual
or mental presence rather than physical. They are often brilliantly evoked ones, it
should be added. For one of Hercules' considerable talents is his undoubted ability to
effectively present and reveal his middle-class men and women in their contempla.
tive, introspective moods: the notice of the Chief Justice, momentary though it is, is a
Although in this novel we come upon Trinidad streets and backyards and urchins,
this is not a Caribbean novel of the "yard", however that West Indian literary concept is
nuanced. The outdoor world appears periodically and it is one aspect of Hercules'
versatility that he can be magnificent on the action, or even impending action, of natural
forces. The storm attending Mary Redeson's birth is one example. Yet we miss Paule
Marshall's subtly different willingness to imbue nature or artifacts with indeterminate
potential, with indeterminate expectancy and dramatic presence, with personality.
Hercules tends to prefer human dramatic agency. Artistically, the accomplice at Mar's
seduction is not the verdant hillside at hand harbouring her and her lover, but the distant
drum-roll of the police band.
The novel is primarily one of domestic encounters of minds and manners and, at
critical junctures, of inner debate. When bustle, rambunctiousness, even radical public
speeches occur, they remain carefully contained. Herbert's challenging political speech
takes place in a library. Even Dulcina, who, in a variety of settings, provides a taste of the
more uninhibited Trinidad, does this only on private, nearly always other people's
A West Indian-American writer has of course the special burden of avoiding any
hint of feeling that might be misinterpretedd by his Afro'-American audiences as West
Indian chauvinism, or as flight from the racial struggle into the luxuries of "false objec-
tivity" and idealistic pluralism. Hercules has nothing to fear on this account, for his novel
is redolent of sophisticated appreciation of the black dilemma in America. America,
including very much Black America, is a valuable, sometimes crucial, critical presence in
the novel at one point in the form, very unusual in a Caribbean novel, of a visiting
black American. Even Trinidadian Dr Walker's dispiriting experiences in the United
States become an instrument of exhilaration in the suffocating atmosphere of prejudice
and empty hauteur in his professional and private lives.
In the above respects, it may be added, Hercules is a long way from the example set
by his Trinidad-American novelist-predecessor, Archer Tracy. In 1906, Tracy chose the
prominent Afro-American journal, The Voice of the Negro, as his outlet for a highly
fictitious account of West Indian social life and of Port-of-Spain's architectural and other
splendours.9 He wrote, for example, of "the bond of harmony between the races"
(between whites and blacks specifically), and noted of Port-of-Spain that "its sanitary
condition is faultless" and that it "possesses all the adjuncts of an advanced civilization
... striking and magnificent structures are to be seen on all sides".10 Against this backdrop,
we see in Where the Hummingbird Flies the following: "His Britannic Majesty's Carib-
bean Colony of Trinidad has two principal towns of no remarkable size or consequence:
Port-of-Spain the capital and San Fernando".' Of Port-of-Spain, we read that "the
town has its drawbacks ... the odor of poverty, a pervasive reek" and learn of the possi-
bility of the "night smell of an agitated cesspool""12 in some neighborhoods. No
attempt to delude here. Where the Hummingbird Flies is a brilliant, many-sided achieve-
I Want a Black Doll
Hercules' next novel, I Want a Black Doll, covers very different ground. It is very
much the tale of an inter-racial marriage in New York by two sensitive and intelligent
people, black John Lincoln and white Barbara Wakeley, and of the accumulating stresses
on their marriage. One or the other has our immediate attention throughout almost the
entire work following their first appearance. The stresses are initially external but every
vulnerability in their personalities is mercilessly exploited by a hostile environment, both
white and black.
As with Where the Hummingbird Flies, there is a (limited) social tour of black
America, and even unpleasant little excursions into "liberal" white America, much of
which here is clearly kin to the expatriates of Where the Hummingbird Flies with their
carefully calibrated "good will" toward selected blacks. The tour is more tightly woven
into the main theme here, e.g. the Southern white family's solicitous black housemaid, a
brothel, the battle to get into medical school, Harlem society's soirees, the Harlem
learned professions, intra-racial prejudice. Mrs Galloway would probably be Mrs Walker
in Trinidad's circumstances. As we expect, Hercules' intellectualities are superior, effec-
tive and appropriate; his use of black vernacular is good. But we discover new riches in
Hercules in this novel. In I Want a Black Doll, a certain sensuous physicality in his major
characters, not especially noticeable or necessary in his first novel, adds a powerful
dimension to the play of moods and intellectual combat. In both novels, incidentally,
that play of moods and intellect is itself enhanced by the author's keen eye for fleeting
but telling gesture. One reason for the addition of this new element is the much larger
role of lovemaking and other physical encounter in this second novel, for, in describing
men and women in action, Hercules' work can be very fine indeed. A violent physical
duel early in this novel between two powerfully built young men, black John Lincoln
and a white stranger, achieves almost visual power.
Yet Hercules' favourite ground is the encounter of minds and moods and the ferment
of the solitary mind, managed and conveyed always with great play and subtlety, and we
are treated to many fine moments here. Characterization is naturally enriched by the
greater attention to physical encounters and by the physiognomic resonances that linger
in the mind long after their conclusion. In the case of John Lincoln, especially, the
central figure whom we meet from birth early in the novel, and who is a volatile mix of
physical power and emotional turbulence, his personality is brilliantly and vividly assem-
bled for us in the course of the work.
I Want a Black Doll is a beautifully wrought novel, taut and finely crafted. But there
are undoubted minor weaknesses. Hercules' irresistible taste for farce and parody is
occasionally allowed to become obstrusive. For example, regarding names, for marrying
John, Barbara is dismissed from her firm, "Norman, Saxon, German and Gaul". A
prominent Harlem lawyer is Solon Sharp Galloway, the clergyman at a funeral is Dr
Mordecai Pious. And the unease felt in Where the Hummingbird Flies at the unnecessary
indications by Hercules of what is implied by the presence of Dr Griffiths seated with
Mary Redeson and her father at Herbert's.trial, the disappointment at this lack of con-
fidence in his readers' powers of apprehension on this occasion, this unease is felt again
here when we visit the brothel. At the brothel, the compelling resemblance to the
historic American slave mart of one scene where whites haggle over the price of a new
and hesitant brown girl becomes disappointingly explicit. Yet, this is a matter of
judgment and Hercules may be right in not leaving perception to chance.
Discursive elucidative dialogues are also in evidence in the late stages of the novel,
one incongruously presented in the course of a robbery-murder by street thugs, and a
second in the lengthy prelude to another murder. A number of coincidences are adduced
to assure the novel of symbolic weight and dramatic intensity, but at the novel's closing,
one already characterized by the unexpected discursiveness just mentioned, they finally
lend this part of the work something of a melodramatic, theatrical character. But
Hercules is a very fine writer of major sensibilities who can afford to assume such bur-
dens. The novel, different as it is in major theme and locale from Where the Humming-
bird Flies, is quite as indisputably a very memorable accomplishment.
Work of non-fiction
Frank Hercules' major non-fiction work is American Society and Black Revolution.
One sees opinions in this work occasionally reflected in the language of a character in
his novels. For example, the dismissal of Martin Luther King as a "cut-rate Gandhi" by
a character in I Want a Black Doll is enlarged on here. But the work clearly stands apart
from the novels.
In form, American Society and Black Revolution is a free-floating, erudite, loosely
historical social and political commentary on West European white racism; more, it is a
commentary on that racism's depredations, very especially as it shaped American society
and, most immediately and depressingly, as it expressed itself to blacks. In the pages
following about page 150 (in a work of 430 pages), the responses of black leaders and
seminal figures assume a dominant place. The figures chosen for analysis are ones, Martin
Luther King being the clear exception, whose careers Hercules approves of; they are
essentially post-Emancipation personalities, very often of our own times, of generously
broad range and acclaimed on a variety of grounds.
The weaknesses in the work, coming especially after the meticulous construction and
control of I Want a Black Doll, are very apparent. It is not always attentively structured
and repetition is noticeable. The early pages are perhaps the weakest, the later pages
having to repair the appearance of over-writing and dismissiveness in the earlier. The
major strength of the book, a very great strength indeed, lies in its lengthy and magnifi-
cent analyses of the seminal resistance figures of Afro-American post-Emancipation
history, some of them not very highly regarded in the fashions of the time. The reflec-
tions of an eloquent and perceptive mind, on a wide range of subjects germane to the
understanding of race relations, are reward for reading the rest of this absorbing book.
Two other minor features of American Society and Black Revolution may be
noticed. One is an occasional willingness in the author to engage in doubtful speculation
on the social role of genetic inheritance (as notably on p. 185). The other is that, writing
in 1972, in a turbulent period when "bougies" and "West Indians" were sometimes fierce-
ly attacked as the source of divisions in black ranks (as in Harold Cruse's widely read
work). 13 Hercules perhaps found it prudent to launch a fierce attack on middle-class
West Indians (pp. 22-28). He would undoubtedly be correct in supposing that his sensi-
tive treatment of Black America in Where the Hummingbird Flies would be unknown
among the reviewing ambush parties and he perhaps preferred to err. if he had to, by
excess. The critique of West Indian anglophilism and of resultant social debilities was
clearly dated, however: by 1972. West Indian defences of Great Britain, to take one
particular, were rarely as vigorous as even the measured one Hercules himself offered
a few pages later (p. 47) regarding English legal practice touching blacks.
Droll Recall of Youth
The dustcover of On Leaving Paradise describes it accurately as "an elegantly written
fable". In this work Hercules' affection for farce and caricature is given legitimately
free rein. The novel in essence is the droll recall by young Trinidadian scion Johny de
Paria of the formative events in his life in Trinidad in the earlier decades of this century,
and, further, of a series of diverting episodes in the lives of a small number of his friends,
acquaintances and relatives. The mood is set immediately as we learn of Johnny's deep
interest in the art of passing water, preferably as practised by the socially distinguished.
No wonder! Johnny's tutor, it very rapidly emerges, is Professor Dr Dr Dr Dr von
Buffus zu Damnitz, a learned man of "astral scholarship" whose unique, if hardly envi-
able, speciality is the arcane science of urinometrics, that is. "divination by measuring
the parabolic arch of water passed in the act of urinating" (p. 5). Prompted by sudden
developments of an improbable kind, Johnny finds himself on a boat bound for England.
En route, at Madeira especially, a number of unexpected events take place, events to
which an impressive number of emotional oddities and psychological deformities in the
company, Johnny not excepted, contribute. Sovereign among these events is the im-
minent loss of Johnny's virginity at the late age of twenty-one years, a loss he stoutly
Of course, writing a long fable, designed to maintain interest while studiously avoid-
ing intentions of moral uplift or intellectual engagement, is a demanding exercise. Person-
ality and character must be kept constant and uncomplex lest unwelcome issues of
motivation and psychological depth obtrude. A distinction between the marvellous and
the miraculous should be maintained if the uncomfortable designations of "fairy-tale"
or "fantasy" are to be avoided. Particular moral conventions may not be too con-
sistently assaulted unless the tale is set in a carefully delimited circle lest it appear
that a case is being made for the advocacy or rejection of particular social values.
However, Hercules is favoured by his preference for Trinidad. That island's social
life in former years did lend itself unusually well to "fabulous" treatment; it offered a
high quotient of bacchanalianism. superstition. class incongruities, ethnic curiosities and
colonial culture-lag. Much of this, along with other Trinidad properties, such as the
mordant patois and addiction to comic antics and dialogue, will greatly aid an author in
maintaining a firm distance from the more immediately serious issues of life.
Hercules is favoured too by his talents and tastes. Among the native Trinidadian
characters, we detect what appears to be a pattern of sensitivity in all of Hercules' novels.
Some of Johnny's own names. "Alexander Caesar Octavian", among his divertingly large
number, or his aunt Jocasta's, suggest, as do John Lincoln's in the second novel and
Napoleon Walker and his brother Scipio's in the first, a fascination with the poignancy
and exoticism of naming patterns in the black slave and semi-servile past. The fascina-
tion would be natural in a socially-conscious intellectual named "Hercules". In the
context ol a light-hearted fable, however, these names mightily and properly resist
any distractingly serious concern by the reader with the fate of their owners. The hu-
mour in other naming is very Trinidadian. Johnny's boyhood companions were the two
Chinese brothers. Ah Sam and Ah See, Johnny's timorous step-father, artfully coaxed by
tormentors into a disastrous show of manhood, is Mr Pooch. At least one other name,
that of Father Maginot, along with some apparent echoes of significant passages in
Trinidad's recent social history ("so advanced" was it that "only two people in the world
were able to understand [Professor von Buff us u Damnitz' mathematical treatment of
urinometrics] (p. 5) ), alerts us to another possible general characteristic of Hercules'
oeuvre. It is that On Leaving Paradise is, in part, a roman 'a clef, as Where the Humming-
bird Flies indubitably is.
Hercules' knowledge and use of Trinidad's rich and vigorous culture are great and
affectionate. The protagonist-narrator, Johnny himself (when he is not on occasion
supplanted by an omniscient narrator of similar style), is arch and circumlocutory, and
the effect is only heightened by sudden rude irruptions of Trinidad dialect. Moreover,
the narrator's highflown language itself bears a fabulous disembodied air since it is that
of the same Johnny who, as a character in the fable, speaks the veriest Trinidadian. Any
distance from the Trinidad characters implied here is not an unfriendly one, however.
Genuine censoriousness is absent, for one thing. For another, the narrator's language
is associated here with cultures and characters which stand for, on the subdued level
of a fable, menace and degeneracy. The most profound remark by a character in the
fable, one noticeably relevant to this very matter of cultural valuation that one, when
faced with the choice of being a man or a gentleman, should choose the former (p. 300)
- comes from the unpolished wife of an unpolished Trinidad Indian ship passenger.
Hercules is careful in other ways too. For instance, the sorry cases in his novel of
psychological deformity, dissoluteness and naivete are distributed among the major
ethnic groups a moral imperative in a tale with roots in multiracial, multicultural
Trinidad. Perhaps also, Portuguese Joe Caldeira's geniality here redeems Trinidad com-
patriot Carlo da Silva's uniquely total degeneracy among the central characters of
Hercules' first novel.
Yet great as are the utilities of the Trinidad culture presiding in this tale, it is a
familiar and identifiably realistic one with its own demands. It will be difficult in a
lengthy fable to consistently inhabit the realm of the wondrous without ever quite
seeming to invade the closely adjacent domains of fantasy, the fairy tale, or a sterile
unrealism. Every reader will have his own view as to when the spell is broken, or if it is.
Some particular readers may wonder, for example, whether the recurrent appearance of
unembarrassed clerical sexual incontinence in a twentieth-century fable does not finally
add a discordantly disputatious note to the properly dominant sense of playful wanton-
For this reader, difficulty arose from two main sources. One is that Johnny is first
presented to us as a culturally authentic, recognizable, mischievous vagabond young
Trinidadian growing into a love of cock-fighting, his guitar and calypso-singing, his
hammock and his rum-punch. In the light of this, his quite remarkably naive perform-
ance in a Madeira bordello, and, equally, his more than heroic resistance to the loss of his
virginity, both become difficult to accept even in a fable. The other problem is that we
have been spoiled by Hercules' earlier fiction. There is certainly delight, whimsy, wit
and fun enough to sustain a fable but Hercules is less wicked here, more sparing than in
Where the Hummingbird Flies of his special, diabolical touch. His most successfully
exuberant, unaffectedly Trinidadian, character remains Dulcina of Where the Humming-
1. The reference here is to writers of West Indian birth or parentage who display in their writings
an alertness to the West Indian cultural heritage and its creative possibilities.
2. Kenneth Ramchand, The West Indian Novel and Its Background (London: Faber and Faber,
1970), p. 240.
3. These works are: Reinhard W. Sander ed., From Trinidad: An Anthology of Early West Indian
Writing (New York: Africana Publishing Co., 1978); Donald E. Herdeck ed., Caribbean Writers:
A Bio-Bibliographical-Critical Encyclopedia (Washington, D.C.: Three Continents Press, Inc.,
1979); S. B. Bandara, "A Bibliography of Caribbean Novels in English," Journal of Common-
wealth Literature XV (August, 1980), pp. 141-170.
Bandara's list of over five hundred "Caribbean novels" includes many items of essentially
antiquarian interest or of marginal qualification. Ironically, one work by a West Indian-American
included, Hugh Mulzac's A Star to Steer By, is a non-fiction autobiography.
4. R. Archer Tracy, The Sword of Nemesis (New York: The Neale Publishing Co., 1919).
5 Paule Marshall's first novel is Brown Girl, Brownstones. Hercules' is Where the Hummingbird
Flies and Guy's is Bird at My Window.
6. See W. F. Elkins, "Hercules and the Society of Peoples of African Origin", Caribbean Studies
XI No. 4, (January, 1972), pp. 47-59.
7. The editions of Hercules' works used in this study were: Where the Hummingbird Flies (New
York: Harcourt, Brace and Co., 1961); 1 Want a Black Doll (New York: Simon and Schuster,
1967): American Society and Black Revolution (New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, Inc.,
1972): On Leaving Paradise (New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, Inc., 1980).
8. Dr Tothill, who practised in the town of San Fcrnando in the 1930s and who wrote an in-
teresting memoir and social commentary titled Doctor's Office (published 1939), is remembered
with a similar fondness by older intellectuals as "Tottie".
9. R. Archer Tracy, "The West Indies Islands", Voice of the Negro 1906, p. 418 ff.
10. Ibid., pp. 420, 423, 425. The irony of including a picture of the St James Police Barracks,
among the photographs of "striking and magnificent structures" with which Tracy accompanied
the article, escapes him.
11. These are the opening lines of Chapter Two. Chapter Twelve opens on this identical note, using
the very same phrasing, but enlarges not on Port-of-Spain but on San Fernando.
12. Frank Hercules, Where the Hummingbird Flies (New York: Harcourt. Brace, Jovanovich, 1961),
13. Cruse's work is referred to at pp. 379-380.
THE SOCIAL WORLD OF PHYLLIS
SHAND ALLFREY'S THE ORCHID HOUSE
IRVING W. ANDRE
In her novel The Orchid House, Phyllis Allfrey gives expression to a theme in West-Indian
literature popularised by Jean Rhys in Wide Sargasso Sea.1 The fallen planter class under-
went painful and intense psychological re-adjustment after the demise of slavery in 1834.
Jean Rhys gives a compressed account of one such family on Coulibri Estate in Wide
Sargasso Sea. In that novel, Antoinette points out to her husband that 'there are four
hermits in the island', all literally marooned without the necessary financial means for
escape. Allfrey's The Orchid House2 delineates a similar fate of one such family in the
twentieth century, amidst the ascendency of a coloured middle class and an incipient
consciousness among local labourers.
The assumption, therefore, holds that Allfrey's novel contains an element of social
realism which cannot be ignored in an analysis of it. This assumption might not be
illogical since Allfrey, a former Fabian Socialist, implicitly acknowledged that creative
activity whether political or literary, had to be grounded in reality in order to be mean-
ingful. While the white family in The Orchid House might be a fictitious one, it reflects the
circumstances of a whole generation of white settlers in Dominica, the West-Indian
island in which Allfrey bases her story.3 The symptoms of financial adversity, physical/
psychological disease occasioned by adverse circumstances, and migration encompass the
realities of a number of white settlers after World War 1. the period in which The Orchid
However, while the author maintains fidelity to the general aspects of this decline,
the manner in which she combines character and circumstance to create a story is based
entirely on her imagination. Indeed Allfrey's The Orchid House exists as an imaginative
account of one white family's encounter with self and society in a former 'adjunct of
Plot and Theme
The 'plot' is simplicity itself. A servant, Lally, narrates the fortunes of the unnamed
family after the 'Old Master's' return from World War I. Benumbed by his experiences
during the war, he initially settles into a town house, Maison Rose and later moves to
L'Aromatique, the family's old estate house. Lally's account proceeds with the return
of the three daughters from overseas, each singularly bent on recapping 'lost time'
occasioned by their exile. All reveal that their lives abroad comprised a listless journey
without arrival and their return to the island implies a psychic resuscitation for each.
All three perform acts which collectively provide plot and 'intrigue' within the novel.
Stella, the eldest, attempts to arrest her father's descent into becoming a drug addict
by destroying the dope-peddler Mr Lillipoulala. Joan returns from an uneasy marriage
to take up the cause of the labourers while the frivolous Natalie rescues her cousin
Andrew from the illicit relationship and tuberculosis in which he languishes.
The novel highlights two important themes, both of which manifested in Rhys's Wide
Sargasso Sea, Voyage in the Dark and some of the stories in Sleep it Off Lady.4 Allfrey's
emphasis on the disease and beauty of the landscape elaborates the view that Dominica
possesses 'the fatal gift of beauty'.5 The relative inaccessibility of the interior, the source
of the island's beauty, has militated against economic development and decay has been
the inevitable result of neglect. The Moyne Commission Report for example, noted that
'of all the British West-Indian islands Dominica presents the most striking contrast
between the great poverty of a large proportion of the population and the beauty ... of
The theme of return also receives expression in the novel. In 'Temps Perdi', one of
Rhys's short stories depicting her return to Dominica in 1938. the author implicitly
expresses nostalgia for a life she 'lost' by leaving the island. All three sisters in The Orchid
House express a similar sentiment. However, Allfrey makes a precise reference to Marcel
Proust's A La Recherche du Temps Perdu, the meaning of which is lost in Lally. Yet as
Mamselle Bosquet, former tutor to the girls, observes, it implies being,
In search of the past ... of lost days ... but the effort is nearly always useless.
Indeed Stella laments that.
All the while when I lived in New York City. I noticed the awful smoothness of
things ... I longed to have a cocoa-pod in my bare hands and turn it over and
throw it far into the roughness of dead leaves and broken branches, p. 55
I got so dizzy with the smell of orange blossom and coffee that I nearly smashed
the windowglass frosted with snow flowers to escape. p. 57
Stella therefore returns to the island, 'to forget the lost years ... to grab the past and feel
how rough and real it is, p. 59
Chimerical as this notion might seem. it undoubtedly provided a powerful stimulus
to return to the island. The three sisters' return to L'Aromatique, the house of the
'sweet smells', which remained in the family's possession as a result of the money left
by Natalie's deceased husband. A whole world of difference exists between Maison Rose,
the townhouse and L'Aromatique, situated 'up the little mountain'. p. 51 Elaine
Campbell ignores the social implications of this by noting, in the preface to The Orchid
House, that Aromatique is 'so named for its attached conservatory where the exotic
blossoms native to the island are nurtured'.
The house derives its name partly from the fact that it rests atop 'the little mountain'
called St Aromant. Furthermore. Allfrey's passing description of L'Aromatique. that of a
one storey structure with a circular driveway, indicates that the author is replicating in the
novel, her own family's former residence in the island. Significantly, St Aromant
represents the residential area of the ascendent coloured middle class. An awareness of
this seems to portray more concretely the family's 'descent' into relative poverty and its
residence in Maison Rose, situated in the low-lying capital of Roseau.
But for Miss Natalie's generosity, this descent would have been permanent. As it is,
all the main characters in the novel outside the immediate family, make a pilgrimage 'up
the little mountain' to reckon with the white family. As will be seen later, this modifies
the notion that the remnants of the white dominant class relinquished influence and
social status in the island. Indeed, even as their small world changes, it retains significant
continuities with the past.
The emphasis on the past however, does not constitute the thematic centre of
The Orchid House. While the three sisters return to iccover 'lost' time, the slow march of
historical changes within the society continues unabated. The social world of the white
creole slowly deteriorates under the siege of 'coloured' aspirations. As the coloured
elites encroach on the economic privileges of the whites, the latter take refuge in a literal/
psychological 'Petit Cul de Sac' as Andrew does.
Ascendency of the Coloureds
The pace of change however is evolutionary rather than revolutionary. The coloured
population enjoyed political privileges since the post-emancipation period. One visitor in
1840, Joseph John Gurney, observed that,
A majority of the lower house, in the Legislature, is composed of coloured
persons duly chosen ... by the freeholders of the island. It may naturally be
asked whether a body of persons, so constituted, show any tendency to dis-
quietude or disaffection. To such an inquiry the answer is most satisfactory;
they are remarkable for their loyalty the zealous friends and supporters of the
These latent cultural affinities which the coloured freeholders share with the whites,
mitigated any 'revolutionary' activity in the island.
Nevertheless, the white characters in The Orchid House manifest the psychological
repercussions of this coloured ascendency. These effects comprise a form of repressed in-
dignation at the relative loss of status. According to Stella,
Nothing changes here, except that the colored merchants grow richer and the
white people poorer. p. 80
Marse Rufus, who pragmatically aligns himself to the 'coloured' notes that 'nowadays,
one coloured merchant is worth two white officials'. p. 152. Lally further observes that,
'in the old days, it used to be that poor coloured girls like Cornrlie were no-account girls'.
p. 82. In her role as the barometer through which these changes are measured and re-
corded, the narrator regrets that,
Now it was Cornelie who had land and new dresses and considered herself to be
in society; and it was Miss Joan who enjoyed the company of common people,
and had no fixed station at all. p. 180
Nothing illustrates this process of decline more than the epithet backra flung at Joan
by a number of labourers. p. 145 Its usage here conveys the impression of a social betrayal
of the status afforded to the white person on the island. This Miss Joan apparently does
when she establishes a working partnership with the Negro, Baptiste. Indeed, people of
'colour' in the island's rural areas are also referred to as backra or bekay pauvre since their
colour belies their low status in society. The labourers react with contempt to Joan's
liaison with one of their own kind.
An appreciation of this ambivalent attitude towards the whites sheds new light on
Kenneth Ramchand's assessment of The Orchid House. According to the critic,
We might use the phrase 'terrified consciousness' to suggest the White minority's
sensation of shock and disorientation as a massive and smouldering Black popu-
lation is released into an awareness of its power.7 (emphasis mine)
Numerous factors combine to force one to modify this statement. For the most
part, whites sold off their possessions and migrated from the island before becoming fully
destitute. Again too, and as Marse Rufus illustrates, those who remained managed to
form amicable relationships with the coloureds who still crave approbation from the
whites for their actions. Finally, the Black population's ambivalence (and even loyalty as
with Lally) towards the whites severely mitigates whatever 'revolutionary' action, or
complete break with the white world, that they might entertain. The deference which
Baptiste heaps on Miss Joan amply illustrates that. The complex social situation pre-
sented in The Orchid House bears out the view that West Indian societies
are extremely paradoxical. While being eternally revolutionary, they are con-
sistently conservative. They are essentially eclectic yet basically stable. The
constant influx of new modes may accompany the perseverance of the old
Hence Allfrey presents a complex phenomenon of stasis within change in The Orchid
House. The economic position of the whites might have been severely eroded but their
social utility remains unquestioned. Indeed, the coloured merchants would have been the
most likely to reflect a 'terrified consciousness' as a result of the labour activities of
The three sisters of course become aware of the process whereby they are being kept
out of the economic life of the island. Miss Joan's political activities represent the swan
song of a dying period even while it serves as the harbinger of a new era of worker
politics. Allfrey portrays the genesis of a class society at the broad period between
1919-1950 when economics supersede race as the main criterion for social standing in
Dominica. As Baptiste astutely observes, 'It's a question of economics, not of color'
The transformation proceeds along lines defined by economic wealth. However,
the process had not been fully completed by the 1950s. Colour prejudice proved a
difficult animal to destroy. Indeed, 'the two major banks in Dominica, only begar
hiring people of darker complexion in 1965' but only those who came from the coloured
families with 'big' names.9
That the ascendancy of the coloureds resulted in part from the numerical decline
of the resident whites in the islands is pretty obvious. From a total of about three
hundred whites in 1900, the 'static white population (amounted) to hardly more than
fifty persons by 1950.'1o As their numbers declined, the whites augmented their presence
with relationships with the lighter-skinned Negroes. Marse Rufus has a large number
of children in the island. The scion of the unnamed family, he becomes the mouth-
piece of his 'business and family connections'. Well does he boast that 'I've helped to
make a lot of people who were hardly accepted respectable', p. 152 In the marriage
of convenience between white and social aspirant, the former acts as the lever whereby
the latter gains social respectability.
Members of the Old School
This tension between status quo and change manifests itself not only between social
elites but within the characters themselves. Ostensibly, Lally represents a strong bulwark
against whatever pretensions to social significance which exist on the part of the 'ragged
laborers', p. 83 The tenacity with which she clings to her role as 'servant' to the family
at L'Aromatique exemplifies a commitment to the old order not found in many of the
local inhabitants. As Andrew discovers, Lally, Majolie and Fifine are among 'the last of
the slaves, and out of fashion'. p. 86 Lally herself delights in the knowledge that, 'I've
always been above patois-speaking'. p. 77 Baptiste, rightly, categories her as being a
member 'of the old school'. p. 141 Proud of being 'a book-taught English-speaking
Negress', (p. 14) the narrator observes:
I had come fresh from Montserrat in my middle years, and being an English
Negress and proud of my skin, not Frenchy and Catholic and boasting of a drop
of white blood, like Christophine, I could not understand the talk of this island
very well. p. 4
Not surprisingly, Lally regards her 'Englishness' as a measure of being a 'cultured' Negress
in contrast to the 'coarse' Mimi Zacariah and Christophine, for instance.
However, Lally has strong historical as well as cultural reasons for professing
ignorance of French. As an immigrant from Montserrat, a small English colony north of
the island, Lally experienced none of the French influence evident in those migrants from
Guadeloupe and Martinique. While Lally might share racial affinities with Cornelie,
Christophine and Baptiste, she betrays a closer cultural proximity than the others to the
white family. She suffers from an internal malady; the tumour is also symbolic.
Lally represents an appendage, albeit vestigial, of a world slowly encountering its
own nemesis. The womb of Lally's conservatism, there harbours a new consciousness,
probably the result of her increasing preoccupation with the Bible. Far from being
'anaesthesized by custom', the narrator betrays a concern.for the local inhabitants long
subsumed by her concern for the family. In a sense, recounting the story of the family
implies a Bildungsroman as the narrator becomes more aware of the individuals beyond
the immediate white family. In retrospect, she confesses:
when you are working for white people whom you love, you can only think
of those people and their wants, you hardly notice anything else. I did not
even pay any attention to my own people, the black people, in those days. but
now I am observing them and seeing what is happening to them. I am seeing how
poor they are, and how the little babies have stomachs swollen with arrowroot
and arms and legs spotted with disease. pp. 8-9
The narrator however fails to make the connection between the poverty of the local
inhabitants and the elite sectors of the society. Her enlightenment cannot free itself from
attitudes inculcated during twenty-eight years of service to the family. Allfrey, to her
credit, does not underestimate the debilitating influence of a deeply ingrained superior
attitude on Lally's outlook. This explains the narrator's continued hostility to Miss Joan's
alliance with Baptiste and their efforts on behalf of the labourers. Lally therefore dismisses
A great horde of those worthless, no-work labourers ... singing in a dreary way.
They sat down in the paddock holding out their hands for food ... But I did not
trust them a little bit. Long after they had gone I went about the house with a
hurricane lantern, shining it around outside to make sure that none of those
vagabonds was hiding in a corner to murder us in our beds. pp. 190-191
At best, Lally's benevolence does not move beyond an ambivalence towards her
fellow Negroes. She seems too immersed in her role as protector of the family to become
sympathetic to the folk in The Orchid House. The tragedy of her role stems from the fact
that by allowing her service to become synonymous with servility, she affords no tempo-
ral hope for the local inhabitants. The collective burden of this hope ultimately falls on
the shoulders of Baptiste, son of a servant to the family.
Baptiste and the New World Order
Allfrey's choice of the name 'Baptiste' as a pioneer of sorts or the repository of an
indigenous consciousness has strong historical antecedents. The full name 'Jean Baptiste'
has a number of connotations not the least being 'John the Baptiste', archetypal symbol
of redemption and a new life. Furthermore, 'Jean' implies 'gens' which in the Dominican
context means 'people'. Hence, Baptiste's concern for the 'ragged laborers'. However,
the name assumes a special significance when used within a Dominican context.
In the eighteenth century a French iunigrant from Martinique, Jean Baptiste
Laudat, settled in the island and founded a village in the hills east of Roseau. He brought
with him a young female slave and subsequently has a number of children. The village
became well known to European and American visitors in the eighteenth and nineteenth
centuries particularly as the progeny of Jean Baptiste Laudat acted as guides into the
In the late-nineteenth century, one visitor described the village Laudat as being com-
prised of five families 'ruled over by the present Jean Baptiste, who inherits his power
from his deceased grandfather' (emphasis mine). He further notes that,
Baptiste ... exercised a sort of paternal sovereignty over me, as the first white
man who had honoured his little hamlet with his presence, and many a day had
he staid (sic) from work in the mountains to procure something for my table,
or some new bird.11
Ironically in The Orchid House, Miss Joan exercises a 'paternal sovereignty' over
'young Baptiste'. Lally's emphasis on 'young' probably indicates that the name exists as
an heirloom, passed from one generation to another.
Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea reinforces this impression. Set in the post-Emancipation
period, the novel presents an 'earlier' Baptiste. Significantly, he oversees the estate
Granbois/Geneva Estate, situated in an area originally settled by the French. Rhys
portrays a fairly elderly man who has become part of the few trusted workers on the
ruined plantation. He speaks good English but maintains a latent distrust of Antoinette's
husband. According to the latter, Baptiste epitomises the unfathomable nature of the
environment, reluctant to welcome strangers to its bosom. When Rochester loses himself
in the forest, Baptiste is the one who finds him.
Rhys's Baptiste betrays some of the characteristics of the narrator of The Orchid
House. He remains loyal to the family at Granbois though not necessarily to Antoinette's
husband. He maintains the strictest reticence in the Englishman's presence. The latter
complained that Baptiste 'seldom smiled and never spoke except to answer a question'.
p. 117 While Baptiste does not become involved in any social action as his namesake
in The Orchid House,he implicitly heaps contempt on the Englishman for the cruel fate of
Antoinette. As they left the island, Antoinette's husband observed:
I remember that as we turned the corner, I thought about Baptiste and
wondered if he had another name I'd never asked, p. 142
Neither Rhys nor Allfrey divulges this information. This very anonymity reinforces the
continuity of the ancestral figure in the literature about the island.
One aspect of Rhys's Baptiste has recently emerged in the writings on Dominica.
Divorced from all other life except the cyclical routine at Granbois, Baptiste possesses no
conception of chronological time. His conception of time encompasses the cycle of day
and night, the hurricane season or indeed the celebration of Christmas. Undoubtedly,
the obliviousness to chronological time underpins the impression of tasis which lies at
the heart of Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea. In the words of Antoinette's husband, 'a hundred
years, a thousand, all the same to le bon Dieu (Good God) and Baptiste too'. p. 134
The theme of the local inhabitant's ignorance of a sense of chronological time and
events has received the fullest articulation in an essay by Jonathan Wylie, a North
American anthropologist.12 The object of Wylie's essay, to depict 'The Sense of Time,
Social Construction of Reality and the Foundations of Nationhood' in Dominica and
some Norwegian islands, highlights the absence of historical continuity among the native
inhabitants. Symbolised in the figure of 'Baptiste', they have no idea of slavery, how
they were freed and what independence and nationhood implies.
Wylie's 'Baptiste' turtnermore betrays all the 'white' values which one attributes to
Allfrey's Lally. The anthropologist notes that, from Baptiste's viewpoint,
Pretension to respectability must be expressed in white terms. Elements of
white culture are attached like labels to the fabric of everyday life, lending it a
borrowed dignity even as they obscure its native weave.
Wylie furthermore discovers that 'history in the sense of a collectively maintained descrip-
tion of the past scarcely exists'. He exploits this aspect of the primordial Baptiste to
conclude that the inhabitants' 'future looks as dim and discordant as their past'.13
Wylie's study clearly demonstrates the fallacy of applying preconceived notions of
identity and superimposing them on a particular area. His conclusion, predicated on the
hypothesis that tradition is necessarily transmitted verbally (in these 'primitive' islands)
from generation to generation, founders under closer scrutiny. The scholar's argument
postulates that the former slaves, in order to achieve 'true' identity or nationhood, must
be painfully conscious of their former enslavement, reject 'white' values and embrace
independence as the culmination of their national efforts. Hence, the degree to which
they have inculcated 'white' values serves as the sensitive measure of their 'pastlessness'
and lack of identity.
The strength of Allfrey's portrayal of the young Baptiste in The Orchid House lies in
her tacit rejection of this conception of the native Dominican. Significantly, this pheno-
menon of 'pastlessness' is not attributable to the island only. In the book, Searching for
the Invisible Man: Slaves and Plantation Life in Jamaica (1978), Michael Craton inter-
views Isaac Brown, a rural worker, and found a similar absence of the knowledge of an-
cestors and other historical data. Jerome Handler in his Plantation Slavery in Barbados:
An Archaeological and Historical Investigation (1978) has also acted on the assumption
of the existence of ruins, physical/psychological, within the West Indian self/landscape.
Yet, as Orlando Patterson astutely points out,
The most important legacy of slavery is the total break, not with the past so
much as with a consciousness of the past. To be a West Indian is to live in a
state of utter pastlessness. 14
Allfrey's Baptiste therefore moves from this state of 'pastlessness' into one of an
incipient worker consciousness. He harbours no ancestral 'hatred' for Joan and conse-
quently educates himself, under her tutelage. His growth is still too much within its
embryonic stages to be labelled proto-nationalism. However, Baptiste's 'journey' repre-
sents a positive advancement on the transcendental redemption sought by Lally at the
end of the novel.
Significantly, the road to consciousness rests in the literature of his white patrons.
(p. 21). While the books afforded young Baptiste an inside look at the European cultures,
he instinctively realises that they are irrelevant to his society. He seeks to read 'real'
books probably those to which he could relate. By the time Miss Joan returns from
abroad, he has already been involved in a local union.
One of Allfrey's weaknesses in The Orchid House results from her failure to 'explain'
more fully Baptiste's growth into becoming a labour unionist within the novel. That he
read widely, one can assume from Lally's account. Furthermore, Joan apparently kept
writing to him during her absence, thereby winning him to the cause of the local workers.
The narrator fails to mention whether Baptiste migrated or not, as seems to have been
typical of labour leaders during the period. His conversion to worker agitation probably
resulted from the social inhibitions placed on persons of darker complexion within the
Only the affluent coloured families with 'big names' enjoyed upward social mobility
during the period. The goal of respectable labourer or minor clerk represented the
occupational possibilities for Baptiste. Even 'with all [his] education', he probably
knows that he cannot aspire to anything higher than respectable servility within the
society. He therefore awaits Miss Joan to engage in a more meaningful activity.
Baptiste seeks justification for political activity in the poor condition of the
labourers and their families. The narrator notes that they collectively suffer from 'dysen-
tery or the kaffirpox'. p. 42 The verve and vigour of the young pioneer reflects reformist
zeal at its most innocent. Baptiste seems willing to acknowledge Joan's leadership in their
partnership. However, he maintains an ironic distance between himself and Joan since
his mother works as a servant to her white family. More than this,
Baptiste regarded her with such an air of reverence that she could have told him
the most outrageous, the most preposterous lies and he would have taken
them to heart. p. 147
While Joan provides the initial stimulus towards forming the union, Baptiste bears
the brunt of the task of informing the workers. He understands the native psychology,
its ambivalence to protest, much better than Joan. Knowing full well that the labourers
would not respond en masse to a plea for 'justice' or workers' 'rights', he reminds them
that Joan was 'the grand-daughter of Old Master, who cured their sores in the old days'.
p. 176 Hence attending the meeting partly represented a deference to the Old Master and
not social defiance of the established order.
That Baptiste stands as a fictional presentation of a real pioneer labour unionist in
Dominica has already been noted.15 Completed in 1953, The Orchid House prefigured a
fruitful political relationship between Emanuel Loblack and the author. The former estab-
lished the first labour union in 1945 and ironically achieved national attention in 1949 by
preventing the new owners of Geneva estate, formerly owned by Jean Rhys's family,
from evicting 'squatters' from the land. Allfrey's Baptiste manifests a degree of sincerity
which reflects that of Loblack, the local leader who, according to Cuthbert Thomas,
made the party [the Dominica Labour Party] a mass party. Between 1957
and 1964. Loblack was behind the party helping its leaders to make it big.
He used to open all public meetings of the party by singing 'We Shall Over-
come' and closing them with a heated indictment of the power structure.
Loblack, more than anyone else, was responsible for the penetration, communica-
tion, and integration which the party had achieved by 1966.16
However, the partnership between Baptiste and Joan does not proceed very far. It is
short circuited by Stella's act and the efforts of the Catholic clergy to stave off potential
unrest among the labourers. Father Toussaint tries in vain to offer Baptiste a job if he
possessed 'the wisdom to submit to his [the Catholic Bishop's] guidance'. p. 196 Joan is
blackmailed into giving up her activities for fear that the clerics would implicate her sister
in Mr Lilipoulala's devth. She succumbs to the clergy's pressure and agrees 'not to engage
personally in political activity in the island'. p. 234 Ultimately, she sends for her husband
Edward, to further pursue her efforts on behalf of the labourers.
The end prefigures a conflict between Allfrey's Dominica Labour Party, founded in
1955, and the Roman Catholic Church, over land ownership. The one who ultimately
rescues the party is not Edward. Joan's husband, but Edward O. Leblanc, a local agricul-
turist turned labour unionist. By the 1960s he would wrest political control from the
coloured merchants and keep them in abeyance throughout the 1960s and indeed the
1970s. Ironically, both Allfrey and Loblack would be expelled from the party in 1962-
The role of the Church
The discussion has made only a peripheral reference to the role of the Catholic
Church in the world of The Orchid House. Both in the novel and in reality however, it un-
derpinned the social relations which formed the basis of the society. Functional parallels
exist between its importance to the society portrayed in The Orchid House and that in
Derek Walcott's Another Life.
That it existed as a potent stabilizing force in the society emerges from the efforts
made by Father Touissant to halt the activities of Joan and Baptiste. The most important
school any young girl could aspire to attend was the Convent. Attendance there auto-
matically conferred a badge of respectability on the student. In addition to the school,
the Church controlled the Island Bugle, the main newspaper in the community. A pre-
condition for Rufus to become editor of the Bugle was to consent to marry a devout
Catholic in order to become dignified and respectable. Furthermore, Father Touissant
takes it unto himself to 'discipline' Christophine for having four children with as many
fathers. p. 25 He severely rebukes Baptiste, after the latter's refusal of a job offer by
I hope you never regret throwing away this opportunity to earn an honest
living, to be a worker, and what is more, to have your past overlooked (emphasis
mine) p. 196
The deep religious devotion of Lally and Cornelie indicates that having one's past
overlooked was crucial to respectability in the society. The more so in Cornelie's case,
since she formed an illicit relationship with her cousin of sorts, Andrew. Really, it is
probably this Christian conversion which prompts Lally to write her story.
Symbolism in the Novel
Allfrey/Lally did not restrict herself to simple narrative to portray the fate of the
family in the context of the slow evolution of the society. The novel is replete with sym-
bolism which highlights themes of death and decay. sickness and redemption in the
Images of disease and beauty commingle to create an atmosphere of ominous fore-
boding. Strange events occur without explanation. The mysterious fall of the puppy
Flanders (p. 33) prefigures the death of Mr Lilipoulala who 'falls' from a swingbridge.
Miss Joan notes: 'a hummingbird flew in through my bedroom window and beat
itself to death against the ceiling', p. 178 Its patois name fou-fbu underscores the
madness and desperation slowly overtaking Andrew and the Old Master. On the other
hand, La Belle, a firefly, suggests light and redemption. The narrator therefore says that
'one of these La Belles flew in and settled on my Bible'. p. 175
Then there are those symbols suggestive of death providing life for others. In the
forest, a beautiful bromeliad sapped a tree 'like a disease but growing to be even stronger
and more beautiful than the tree itself. p. 178 Again too, a great whale washes up the
Roseau seashore, its bloated carcass providing sustenance for the labourers.
The latter symbol seems a fitting image for the white family washed ashore by the
ebbing tide of fortunes on one hand and bad marriages on the other. The coloured
middle classes slowly gnaw away at the fortunes of the whites, purchasing old estates too
encumbered by debts to be productive. The author seems to be implying that the persis-
tence of the world of the white signifies an abortion of the lives of the rest of the society.
However, even while the coloureds are consolidating their control, a labour organization
emerges. Allfrey, the Fabian Socialist, seems to suggest that each social reality contains
within it the means whereby it will finally be superseded.
1. Jeap Rhys, Wide Sargasso Sea, (London, 1966). Subsequent quotes are derived from Penguin
2. Phyllis S. Allfrey, The Orchid House, (London, 1953). Subsequent quotes are derived from edition
by Virago Press, 1982.
3. See Basil E. Cracknell, Dominica, (London: David and Charles, 1973), pp. 87-92.
4. Jean Rhys, Sleep it off Lady, (London, Andre Deutsch, 1976). The stories include, 'I used to
Live Here Once'; 'On Not Shooting Sitting Birds'; 'Fishy Waters' and 'Pioneers, Oh, Pioneers'.
5. Fred A. Ober, Campus in the Caribbees, (Boston, Lee and Shepard, 1886), p. 6.
6. Joseph John Gurney, A Winter in the West-Indies, (New York: Mahton Day and Co., 1840), p.65.
7. Kenneth Ramchand, The West Indian Novel and its Background, (London: Faber & Faber,
1970), p. 225.
8. Franklin W. Knight, "United States Cultural Influences on the English-Speaking Caribbean
during the Twentieth Century". Unpublished paper.
9. Cuthbert J. Thomas, "From Crown Colony to Associated Statehood". Unpublished Ph.D.
Thesis. University of Massachusetts, 1973, p. 105.
10. Patrick L. Fermor, The Travellers Tree (N.Y.: Harper and Bros, Publishers, 1950), p. 103:
11. Ober, Campus in the Caribbees. p. 28.
12. Jonathan Wylie, 'The Sense of Time, the Social Construction of Reality, and the Foundations
of Nationhood in Dominica and the Faroe Islands'. Comparative Studies in Society and History,
v. 24 no. 3 (July 1982), pp. 438466.
13. Wylie, ibid, p. 466.
14. Orlando Patterson, 'Recent Studies on Caribbean Slavery and the Atlantic Slave Trade'. Latin
American Research Review, v. 17 no. 3 (1982), pp. 251-276.
15. Elaine Campbell, Introduction to The Orchid House, p. xiv.
16. Cuthbert J. Thomas, "From Crown Colony to Associated Statehood", pp. 173-174.
TWO WEST INDIAN HEROINES: BITA PLANT AND FOLA PIGGOTT
Kenneth Ramchand. author of The West Indian Novel and its Background, names Jamai-
can Claude McKay the precursor of the West Indian literary movement, explaining that
McKay left his island home for a literary career abroad well before the great exodus of
West Indians which followed the conclusion of the Second World War. McKay's emigra-
tion from the British West Indies was distinctive because he went to the United States
rather than to England or Canada the more usual goals of his later compatriots from
the British Caribbean. The history of McKay's engagement with the Harlem Renaissance
and of his lengthy sojourn in France and North Africa is well known. His superb poetry,
recording the shock he experienced when exposed to the overt racism practised in the
United States, is even better known than his history of self-imposed exile. Less well known
than McKay's poetry and biography are his three novels Home to Harlem, Banjo, and
Banana Bottom and of these three, Banana Bottom is the least known, perhaps because
it focuses on the Jamaican homeland where McKay spent his childhood, youth and early
manhood rather than on the Harlem Renaissance with which McKay has become tradi-
In McKay's two earlier novels the author presents protagonists who are in some
ways correlatives of the urban locations in which McKay places them. Jake of Home to
Harlem seems at times to be a personification of the Harlem setting which McKay por-
trays with such affection and enthusiasm. The pulsating rhythm of the streets and clubs,
the rich and imaginative clothing of the characters, the tempting scents of ethnic cooking
all complement Jake. Jake embodies Harlem and Harlem absorbs Jake. Likewise, Banjo of
the novel named in his honour is as much an extension of the French port city of Marseille
as Jake is of the Harlem section of New York City. Banjo, in fact, is a more diffused pro-
tagonist than Jake because he shares his importance as a central figure with a larger cast
of more individuated secondary characters than is the case in the first novel. Malty, Bugsy,
Ginger, Latnah and Dengel all join with Banjo to establish the special ambiance of the
Marseille waterfront. Banjo is, like Home to Harlem, a prose poem celebrating the vitality
of a cosmopolitan setting for which McKay obviously entertained admiration.
McKay. however, appears to have been aware of the lack of depth that Jake and his
counterpart Banjo exhibit because he attempted to supply the dimension missing from
these two characters by creating for each a split or other half possessing attributes lacking
in the two men of action. In Home to Harlem, Ray serves as the thinking half to Jake's
man of action and in Banjo Ray performs the same service for Banjo. Ray, the Haitian
intellectual Jake meets while working as a cook on the Pennsylvania Railroad, immediately
recognizes the essential nobility of Jake's nature. He confesses envy of Jake's temperament
and even wishes at times to be like him. But Ray's wish, of course, incorporates his reali-
zation that he cannot be like Jake.
Ray can't be like Jake because Ray is the thinking man the half missing from
Jake's unselfconscious nobility. While Jake acts with grace, Ray examines historic and
philosophic abstractions. At their first meeting, Ray tries to teach Jake a capsule history
lesson in black pride ranging in time from the story of Sheba's liaison with King Solomon
to the more recent history of Haiti's successful revolution. A repository of all the formal
education that Jake lacks, Ray provides McKay with a mouthpiece for expressing his own
racial discontent, his nostalgia for a lost West Indian homeland, and his respect for Classic-
al and European literature. Ray is the aristocrat of talent who matches Jake's aristocracy
of nature. But there cannot be any fusion of the two functions because the two characters
are drawn as separate and distinct entities. Even when their friendship grows and they
spend increasing amounts of time together, they never exchange functions. At the end of
the novel Jake leaves for Chicago with his girl friend Felice, and Ray leaves on a Europe-
bound freighter because he is fed up with working as a railroad waiter. Their separation is
final at the end of the story, and when at their farewell party Jake looks into Ray's eyes
Jake's glance is described as that of "a black Pan out of the woods". Jake, then, remains a
black Pan while Ray, the intellectual, returns to Europe to resume his analysis of the
Published in 1929, the year after Home to Harlem, Banjo hardly moves McKay
beyond the stalemate of the bifurcated protagonist. Set in Marseille instead of in Harlem,
the second novel is a variation on the theme of the first. Ray reappears in his old role of
black intellectual, and Banjo is a reincarnation of Jake. Like Jake. Banjo is contemptuous
of mercenary values, refusing to collect money for the music he plays on the instrument
that bestows his nickname. Also like Jake. he is personable and good-natured and has
little regard for the constricting routines that preoccupy more ordinary people. He is
McKay's happy wanderer. The authorial voice refers to him frequently as a vagabond and
the designation carries only positive connotations.
Ray grows a trifle closer to the authorial persona in Banjo. Still supplying the
reasoning quotient to the split protagonist, Ray's contemplative bent is alleged to be
somewhat deeper than in the first novel: "Desperate in the dump of deep problematic
thinking", Ray craves to express his concerns in writing. He, thus, progresses beyond the
intellectual to the artist. It is this added feature that contributes the only possible identi-
fication beyond their racial one linking Ray and Banjo. Both are artists: Ray, a
writer: Banjo, a musician. This is as close as McKay moves in his second novel towards
an integrated protagonist. Significantly, at the end of Banjo, Ray and Banjo leave Marseille
together to pursue their vagabondage as a team.
It is only in McKay's third novel. Banana Bottom, that he is able to create a fully
integrated protagonist. Written after a lapse of four years, Banana Bottom returns to the
scene of McKay's Jamaican boyhood. In the artistic affirmation of his West Indian
motherland that McKay was able to achieve only in full literary maturity, he transcends
the construction of the divided rational/emotional protagonist and presents his best
developed and most credible central character: Bita Plant. A number of critics have
remarked upon the successful delineation Bita represents while the general superiority of
the third novel is lauded by Richard Priebe, Michael B. Stoff and Roger Rosenblatt.L Its
superiority is defined in terms of its resolution of ambivalence and its attainment of
community. Stephen Bronz says that "the first hundred pages of the book are probably
the best fiction McKay ever wrote".2 But no critic has emphasized the curious fact that
in Banana Bottom McKay was able to draw an integrated protagonist as a female figure
whereas hitherto he had been unable to do so with male figures.
McKay's successful synthesis of educated mind and primitive soul in the character-
ization of Bita Plant is the most noteworthy aspect of Banana Bottom; nevertheless, quite
a few of the critics who have examined the novel have denigrated Bita in one way or
another. For example, Robert Bone offers a sexually chauvinistic view of Bita, claiming
that "the major conflicts in a woman's life will be sexual" and that "Bita's struggle ...
will naturally assume this form".3 Bone thereby slights Bita's role as synthesizer as well as
the novel's search for community for all blacks regardless of sex. Stoffs analysis of Bita
reduces her to an ikon for the "tension . between the conflicting value systems of
Anglo-Saxon civilization and the Jamaican folk culture". Stoffs argument of "thematic
dichotomy" ignores Bita's synthesizing function and misrepresents the hegemony of
Obi-worship over Jesus-worship in a novel which ridicules both forms of worship. The
most drastic reduction of Bita is offered by Addison Gayle who dispenses with McKay's
use of Bita as a synthesizing agent in his irritation that McKay's heroine is neither male
nor North American:
That the way home would be found by the young
sensitive woman, instead of by one of McKay's intellec-
tual vagabonds, or that the problem of black identity
cannot be found in America but outside, is symbolic of
McKay's growing confusion concerning identity him-
self a confusion to be obviated in but a few years,
when he will find his identity in the Catholic Church,
will surrender the god, Obeah, for the most demanding
of the Christian Gods.4
In one swoop by calling McKay "confused" Gayle would undermine the femaleness
of McKay's protagonist, the West Indian-ness of the novel, and the Catholicism of
McKay's eventual religious solution to his personal psychological fragmentation. Gayle's
forced relation of McKay's conversion to Catholicism to the centrality of Bita Plant in
Banana Bottom is, of course, a blatant example of the biographic fallacy, and it does
nothing to advance understanding of how Bita's characterization works in resolving
McKay's earlier bifocal characterization.
But Bita is a sufficiently assertive woman to speak out for herself, and McKay gives
her frequent opportunities to do so. In addition, he contributes sufficient authorial com
mentary on her reactions and opinions to prevent critical confusion about the novel's
function in his canon. A combination of Bita's personal experience and McKay's authorial
gloss is illustrated when Bita joins the household servant Rosyanna at the market shortly
after Bita returns to Jamaica following an absence of seven years in England. At the
marketplace Bita experiences a "big moving feeling" which she had never felt when visit.
ing the marketplace as a young girl. The authorial voice moves from a description of
external phenomena into an exposition of internal process. McKay articulates, perhaps
for the first time in the literary history of West Indian fiction in English, the significance
of the native's return. Recognizing that it is her long expatriation in England that has
given her a perspective from which to view her native island, Bita reflects "that if she had
never gone abroad for a period so long . she might never have had that experience". In
other words, it is the insider's view from outside that makes it possible for Bita to evalu-
ate the market scene more accurately than can either the uninformed outsider or the pur-
blind insider. This is the same conclusion that George Lamming's Mark Kennedy reaches
later with greater sophistication in Of Age and Innocence, and it is this "epiphany" that
may well account for the superiority of Banana Bottom over the earlier novels which
were McKay's own outsider's romantic view of Harlem and Marseille.
The "long perspective" from which McKay was able finally to view Jamaican life
informs Banana Bottom. His overseas perspective of Jamaica was certainly from a greater
distance both in years and in miles than was Bita's perspective gained after seven years
abroad. Not yet having lapsed into the sentimentality later displayed in "My Green Hills
of Jamaica", McKay's perspective rewarded Bita with her "big moving feeling" and
McKay with Banana Bottom. It also gave him a background out of which he could build
a novel concerned with deeper issues than a popular celebration of primitivism the
factor that helped the first two novels achieve best-seller status. Writing about a familiar
motherland, McKay appropriately created a female protagonist who, to his great credit,
serves as much more than a sort of archetypal mother figure. Bita's intelligent expressions
of both thought and emotion individuate her as a young woman who must and does solve
the dilemma of divided loyalty aroused by dual social, national and racial allegiance. Her
vibrant individuality is the key to her successful characterization, and it is an individuality
that she best expresses in her own words.
Bita extricates herself once and for all time from the chaos into which her critics
would plunge her by speaking out in defense of her individuality. When her fiance' chides
her for emulating Squire Gensir's free-thinking attitude toward formal religious practice,
saying "Bita, you're not a white person to go crazy from education", Bita.delivers her
most forceful speech:
Let me tell you right now that a white person is just
like any other human being to me. 1 thank God that
although I was brought up and educated among white
people, I have never wanted to be anything but myself.
I take pride in being coloured and different, just as an
intelligent white person does in being white. I can't
imagine anything more tragic than people torturing
themselves to be different from their natural unchange-
able selves. I think that all the white friends I ever
made liked me precisely because I was myself. I hope I
shall never hear any more of that nauseating white-
and-black talk from you.5
Bita's assertion of individuality, which so clearly reflects McKay's own, emphasizes
the element of choice denied both Jake and Banjo who are locked into their primitive
nature, however attractively manifested. Closer to Ray, who has the advantages of educa-
tion and the possibility of choice, Bita is nevertheless a full step ahead of Ray who can
only admire Jake wistfully but who cannot act upon his admiration for Jake's thought-
less elegance. Exercising her freedom of choice, Bita selects a village life with a peasant
husband. She rejects the city in preference for the country Banana Bottom. It is pos-
sible that, as Amritjit Singh believes, 6 Bita's choice of the country over the city repre-
sents McKay's final refusal to accept the new city identity of the new world's black
population a repudiation, in part at least, of his romanticism of Harlem and Marseille.
In his final rejection of the city, McKay may have created a definitive distinction between
Afro-American and Afro-Caribbean fiction. If so, Bita Plant stands at the intersection of
the two genres.
Peasant Life in Novels
That Afro-Caribbean fiction is sited in a peasant context has been stoutly main-
tained by George Lamming, the spokesman for post-World War II West Indiar hterature.
In The Pleasures of Exile, Lamming claims that the substance of West Indian novels -
"their general motives and directions" is of peasant derivation. Lamming considers this
a fascinating situation because, despite their "more or less middle-class Western culture,
and particularly English culture", the work of West Indian writers, is, according to
Lamming, "shot through and through with the urgency of peasant life". Lamming was
apparently unaware of McKay's Banana Bottom when he wrote The Pleasures of Exile
because he credits the post-war West Indian novelists Sam Selvon, Roger Mais, Andrew
Salkey and Jan Carew with having made "for the first time, the West Indian peasant ...
other than a cheap source of labour. He became, through the novelist's eye, a living
existence, living in silence and joy and fear, involved in riot and carnival". Lamming
concludes, "It is the West Indian novel that has restored the West Indian peasant to his
true and original status of personality."7
When Lamming wrote The Pleasures of Exile, he had already published In the
Castle of My Skin, The Emigrants, and Of Age and Innocence. His next novel to be pub
lished was Season of Adventure, and it is here that he displays the centrality of the
peasant identity in West Indian fiction written in English. At the same time he departs
from a more-or-less autobiographical male protagonist. (G of the first novel seems a
version of young George himself growing up in Barbados, and Mark Kennedy of Of Age
and Innocence is the sensitive native son returning to his West Indian island after a
lengthy expatriation in England. The Emigrants captures the ocean voyage from the West
Indies to England of a group of West Indians for whom the narrator artist Collis acts as
spokesman.) In Season of Adventure, Lamming arrests the plot movement between
England and the West Indies and creates his first female protagonist. Moreover, in this
novel Lamming confronts the core issue of his protagonists' displacement. Significantly,
he is able to do all this through the mediation of his most fully drawn central figure to
date: Fola Piggott. It does not take too much critical insight to detect correspondences
between Lamming's Fola and McKay's Bita.
Fola Piggott and Fatherlessness
Lamming's deep commitment to Fola's portraiture is indicated by the detailed
exploration he conducts of her various crises of identity. These crises personal, social
and cultural coalesce into the theme of fatherlessness, a West Indian problem Lamming
first introduces in In the Castle of My Skin. Early in Season of Adventure Fola identifies
her personal lack of paternal identity as somehow related to her discontent as a member
of San Cristobal's upwardly mobile bourgeoisie. Whereas Lamming remained unable to
confront the deeply personal problem of fatherlessness through his earlier male protagon-
ists, he is finally able to do so through Fola. It is as if the camouflage of Fola's sex pro-
vided Lamming with the freedom to probe the pain of fatherlessness. Like Flaubert's
"Bovary c'est moi". Lamming might say, "Fola c'est moi."
In typical Lamming fashion, the mystery of Fola's missing father is revealed in a
double construction. Because Agnes, Fola's mother, was raped as a young woman by
both a black boy and a white boy in rapid succession, she has been unable to determine
which boy might be Fola's biological father. In restitution, she marries Piggott, an older
suitor, in order to provide Fola with a foster-father. When Fola grows up she creates, with
the cooperation of a peasant artist, a fictitious father in an effort to satisfy her yearning
for assured paternal identity. This highly over-compensated structure of fathering pro-
vided by Lamming two possible actual fathers, one foster-father, and one fictitious
father suggests an authorial response in excess of the plot requirements. That paternal
identity continues to concern Lamming is further illustrated in the later novel Natives of
My Person in which he universalizes Fola's individual problem onto broader cultural
Just as Fola is perplexed by dual paternity (possible black and white fathers), so
too are the narrator of Season of Adventure and his brother Powell provided with two
mothers. The condition of dual motherhood is implicit throughout West Indian prose and
poetry coming from the formerly British islands. Loyalty must somehow be accommo-
dated to both a native Caribbean island and a motherland across the sea, and the West
Indian Creole, regardless of his or her skin colour, must sort out loyalties. Beyond the
essentially political question of where does a West Indian place his or her greatest national
regard lies the even more tangled question of how a West Indian of many generations
resolves his racial loyalty, if at all. Jean Rhys, for example, was never able to resolve the
problem of her racial loyalty as evidenced in Wide Sargasso Sea, Voyage in the Dark and
Smile Please. Derek Walcott openly acknowledges his dual racial heritage and transmutes
his acknowledgement into first-rate poetry. But Lamming and McKay pursure a more
covert route to reconciliation, using Bita and Fola as artistic means for achieving resolu-
tion. Both writers turn to female protagonists for implementing advances they could not
Fola's "big moving feeling" occurs as does Bita's in a communal setting. It is a
vodum tonelle rather than a marketplace that provides Fola with her "backward glance".
Fola's presence in the tonelle, like Bita's in the marketplace, offers the occasion for a
hitherto unrealized moment of recognition. Lamming had witnessed such a "ceremony of
the souls" as a tourist in Haiti four years before writing Season of Adventure, and in the
novel Fola replaces Lamming as the observer who brings to the event the same sort of
view from the outside that Bita brings to the market scene where she sees massed before
her the village folk with whom she eventually chooses identification. Empathizing with
the spirit of a young boy who wishes to know who his mother is another sex transfer,
this time one from the theme of the missing father Fola, with somewhat less clarity
than Bita, begins her journey along the path to self-assertion and self-determination. She
will be rewarded with success when, again like Bita, she eschews the advantages of a
middle-class social position for a lower-class or peasant life. Fola and Bita's choice rep-
resents Lamming's and McKay's artistic visions of class renewal since neither Lamming
nor McKay returned either to live on his West Indian island home or exchanged an
achieved bourgeois life for a return to a peasant one. Bita and Fola, then, on still another
plane, enabled their creators to accomplish a feat they could not otherwise perform.
Lamming's route to Fola's creation is deeply buried In the problem of mixed
ancestry. Never plagued with questions of personal parentage or racial origins,8 McKay's
concern with divided loyalty was confined largely to a literary task of representing intel-
lect and emotion in co-operation. Lacking the assurances that McKay possessed,
Lamming's concerns include a broader field of inquiry, and his imaginative leap to a
female protagonist in Season of Adventure is accompanied by rationalizations almost
baroque in design. Fola is introduced as "a stranger within her own forgotten gates"
whose social refinement is a product of the careful behaviour cultivated by her parents
and their circle of friends. Fola's parents, Agnes and Piggott, aspire to the niceties of
English expatriate behaviour and to the perquisites of power whereas Bita's parents,
Jordan and Naomi, never repudiate their rural and agricultural origins even when they
become affluent. The upward social change of Fola and her parents can be accompanied
by a decision on Fola's part to return to lower-class origins, but it is not as easy for Fola
to make a similar racial decision when her unknown paternity bars a racial return. Conse-
quently, Fola's identity crisis and its solution are more social than racial although both
Fola and Bita do explore racial identity. It is noteworthy that both Bita and Fola decide
that a solution of social identity is more important, and this may well be attributable to
the fact that race is less imperative in the British Caribbean than in the United States
where blacks are minority members of the overall population.9
McKay refers obliquely to racial duality in Banana Bottom when he makes young
Bita the foster-child of the white Christian missionaries, Malcolm and Priscilla Craig.
The Craigs adopt Bita after she has been raped by a local boy and they send her abroad,
away from the scene of her humiliation. Bita, however, rejects the Craigs as foster-
parents after she returns to Banana Bottom; her affirmation of Jamaican peasantry is at
the cost of her relationship with her foster-parents much as Fola's affirmation of prole-
tarian Forest Reserve is at the expense of her relationship with her foster-father Piggott.
But Fola's foster-father is not white; her rejection of him is social rather than racial.
Lamming's statement has broader application than McKay's because it cancels colour
lines in a search for ultimate cultural security.
It is true that both Lamming and McKay implicitly reject white English cultural
patterns and explicitly affirm black West Indian peasant lifestyles through Bita and Fola.
It is, however, more important that in both instances the heroines' decisions are not
arrested at rejection but move beyond rejection of white standards to a novelistic resolu-
tion through affirmation of black mores. Lamming is able to progress beyond McKay for
the simple reason that he expanded his canon by two additional novels after Season of
Adventure whereas McKay's fiction stops with Banana Bottom. In the last of Lamming's
novels to date, Natives of My Person, Lamming takes the lesson of reconciliation beyond
black/white, West Indian/English, proletarian/bourgeois relationships into the arena of
male/female interaction. Delivering what Earl Cash calls "the most effective feminist
fiction to date",10 Lamming extends the lessons of choice and assertion that Fola learns
in Season of Adventure to the lessons that the women on the ship Penalty must learn and
in turn must teach to the men with whom they will colonize the West Indies. That these
men and women are white is incidental because the same lesson applies with equal valid-
ity when at other stages of Caribbean history the men are white and the women black.
The lesson transmitted from Fola to the Lady of the House and her sister-wives aboard
the Penalty is that women must resist colonization by men, regardless of whatever social
sectors are involved. In the words of the Lady of the House: "We are a future they must
1. Richard Priebe, Studies in Black Literature, 3, No. 2 (Summer 1972). pp. 22-30; Roger
Rosenblatt. Black Fiction (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1974), pp. 96-97; Michael B.
Stoff, "Claude McKay and the Cult of Primitivism", The Harlem Renaissance Remembered
(New York: Dodd. Mead & Company, 1972), p. 139.
2. Stephen Bronz, Roots of Negro Racial Consciousness (New York: Libra Publishers, Inc.. 1964),
3. Robert A. Bone, The Negro Novel in America (New York and London: Yale University Press,
1965), p. 73.
4. Addison Gayle Jr., The Way of the New World: The Black Novel in America (Garden City:
Anchor Press, 1975), p. 133.
5. Claude McKay, Banana Bottom (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Inc.. 1961), p. 169.
6. Amritjit Singh, The Novels of the Harlem Renaissance (University Park and London: The
Pennsylvania State University Press, 1976), p. 54.
7. George Lamming. The Pleasures of Exile (London: Michael Joseph. 1960), p. 39.
8. In typescript of "My Green Hills of Jamaica." McKay establishes that his father was descended
from West Africans "I think he was of the Ashanti nation" and describes his mother's
people as coming from Madagascar "The legend goes that her people came from Madagascar".
In contrast, Lamming supplies no personal background beyond the BIM biography (July -
December 1957, p. 32) that states he was "born of miyed African and English parentage in
Barbados in 1927".
9. In The Pleasures of Exile, page 33, Lamming describes the social assurance that numerical
superiority over whites has given black West Indians.
10. Earl A. Cash, "Natives of My Person", C.L.A. Journal, 15. No. 3 (March 1972), p. 382.
IMAGES OF SELF AWARENESS IN GARTH ST OMER'S
J-, BLACK BAM AND THE MASQUERADERS
"It is only the strong, not the impotent, who can
afford not to compromise". (p. 98)
There can be little comfort in the utter despondency, the seemingly banal void with
which Garth St Omer concludes J-... and, to a large extent, the quartet of which it is
more the naair tnan the climax'. The petrification of both individual and society, the
ceaseless repetition implicit in the novel's ending, these can go no further. This is not to
say, however, that the characters have reached the end, since to have done so would at
least be some consolation, and St Omer's characters are not that fortunate! They remain,
on the contrary, totally unable to control either their social or psychological worlds,
condemned to a common, endless, often directionless search for identity2, the victims of
both their society and their lucidity.
We face, in the world created by St Omer, the individual's struggle for self-aware-
ness and, as a seemingly inevitable corollary, his inability to fit into his society or,
perhaps more precisely, the inability of that society to integrate meaningfully the indi-
vidual because it is itself static, chaotic, apparently meaningless. Little wonder, then, that
St Omer's protagonists are unable to define themselves in terms of a positive existence
when their every legitimate demand (career, personal relationships, intellectual and
spiritual quest) is thwarted.
St Omer's analysis goes beyond this, however, and through the socio-cultural
dimension he nudges his reader towards a growing awareness of the universal existential
dilemma which, equally bleakly, accompanies it. What follows is an attempt to trace
these two levels through the novel.
The (post-)colonial society portrayed here reflects, naturally enough, the major
characteristics commonly associated with it: the devalorisation of the local and West
Indian specificity, bringing in its wake a need to imitate the dominant (White) culture
and the inevitable feeling of inferiority such a reactional attitude encourages. The collec-
tive Weltanschauung, made up of culturally acquired myths, prejudices and attitudes,
reflects the mythical, degrading portrait of colonized peoples analysed by numerous
writers and which, "wilfully created and spread by the colonizer .. ends up by being
accepted and lived with to a certain extent by the colonized ".3 The most eloquent illus-
trations of this are undoubtedly in the protagonists' mother (otherwise sympathetically
portrayed) referring to a fellow West Indian as "vieux negre" when angry (p. 39), and in
her maid driving children away with a "ti-n'egres sales". (p. 78)
The novel tends to stress, however, a more complex reaction which, under the guise
of the masqueraders, is to become its symbolic core: the urge to imitate those who were
once the masters and still remain, in the world of Peter and Paul, the ideal.
We are like children declares Peter mindlessly
imitating adults, informing our fantasy with total and
high seriousness ... We are so busy imitating others
that we have no time to do anything of our own.
His wife is, similarly, criticised because
her language was the language of a child, or-of a slave
to whom language had not been taught . . More
than a century after Emancipation her language was
still a makeshift one used not so much to express as
to indicate. (p. 63)
Paul is very conscious of the same shortcomings and eventually describes his girl-friend's
mother in equally destructive terms: "I made her, who wore their cast-off clothes [those
she washed for], see herself as the cast-off version that she really was of those who had
worn them before her".4
The need to imitate, to disguise oneself in the 'uniform' or attitudes of one's ideal
is perfected by Paul and his father who attempt to identify with an old white man, to
integrate his perceived qualities into the image of themselves they are trying to forge:
Your father, too, had observed him. Sometimes, I
remember your father sitting before the open window
of our house ... sitting so obviously on display, his
pipe in his mouth (as sometimes that old man had his
pipe in his) ... But it was many years before I
heard your father express openly his admiration for
the man he, too, imitated. (p. 28)
Paul in fact seems to attempt a quasi-magical transference of being by a recurrent reactual-
ization of the event in a game context:
when we played ... if I was the old man, and you
the driver and you always were the driver my un-
smiling face looked straight beyond you ... My
stern, authoritative silence, I hoped, was exactly like
that of the old white man I had so carefully observed.
That the attempted transference is, naturally, without any real efficacity Paul's
father, for example, eventually refuses to sit at the window, "as if he wished his new
impotence not to be seen by those whom, for so many years, he had been posturing to"
(p. 30) merely exacerbates the dualism involved and reinforces the depersonalisation
and alienation which is the cause of their attempts. As Rene Menil put it in an article on
the colonial image, this outcome of cultural oppression provokes "a suppression of the
particular national soul (history, religion, customs) in order to introduce into the collec-
tivity what we will call a 'metropolitan-other-soul. s
An awareness of the shortcomings of their society and a desire for change can, of
course, also appear as a solution in cases such as Peter's, where imitation has been rejected.
Thus he had, on his return from university in England,
talked about the islands, called them anachronisms;
made fun of the towns . He had spoken of the
Shadow Politics and the Shadow Religions all
unexamined, none understood ... And he had
sneered at independence as it seemed the leaders of
the islands understood it".6
Unfortunately, the happiness and responsibility which he proposes are too vague, too
weak in a stagnant, petrified society such as the one portrayed here. Cut off from its past
by the systematic devalorisation perpetrated by colonialism, unsure of its future because
of external political pressures and continued economic exploitation, it lacks the dyna-
mism and self-assurance to forge even a meaningful present, remains little more than "a
mask under which it slowly smothers and dies".7 It is thus hardly surprising that Peter's
concern should be smothered. (pp. 14, 62, 63)
These debilitating pressures are exerted systematically by both the education
system and the family. Thus "(Peter) thought of
the children he and Phyllis had been, untaught to
question or examine, expected trained merely to
obey and to follow in the paths of those who had
walked before them . ." (pp. 68-69)
College education and therefore even more surely Peter's university education had
isolated Paul from his friends and acquaintances (pp. 34, 44, 46), had increased his social
snobbery through a systematic reinforcing of his 'difference'. He now prefers a world of
quiet, uncluttered streets, the Arts Society and the Country Club (even though he
belonged to neither .. .), while "the smell of shops and rum-shops where (he) lived dis-
gusted (him)".8 His education had neglected as far as possible his country's culture, past
etc. and devalorised what it could not neglect; had inculcated shame and contempt for
local reality; and thus instilled in him a permanent, inner duality as the lasting outcome
of his continued participation in two conflicting psychical and cultural worlds.9
This is made clear in J-. . by the carefully plotted relations between Paul and his
father since the family is an (unconscious .. .) agent in this process. Food, non-communi-
cation, his father's pretence, his righteousness and his posturings are all remembered and
condemned. Yet while the father actualizes through the son the dreamed-of transforma-
tion of his own insignificant role in the socio-economic world (p. 59), the son incorporates
into the projected personality he is constructing certain significantly negative traits
of his father: his intolerance and aversion for the objective world in which they are forced
to work out their destinies (p. 30), his will to dominate others in order to prove his own
existence and his power to render others subservient (pp. 52, 57), his ultimate refuge in
'madness' in order to escape from a destructive existential situation. (pp. 30, 103)
Eventually Paul can admit: "I no longer hate him. Neither for his excesses nor for
his pretence. I understand why he had to create his own world." (p. 30) Yet this progress
towards the internalisation of certain traits of the father is itself destructive since, as usual
in a (post-)colonial situation, "the model is a weak one. His universe is that of the van-
quished. But what other way out is there? By a curious paradox, (the) father is simul-
taneously weak and possessive".10 One can, indeed, justifiably see in the father's eventual
physical paralysis a symbol of the intellectual petrification of his sons, the destructive
role of continuous self-analysis which leads only to paralysis unless accompanied by
meaningful action. The force for change and social progress which revolt against the
father normally permits is deviated into an emasculating circularity in which the father's
weakness (and the school's bias) dominate. The narrator creates an obvious ironic con-
trast to illustrate this in the image of a father who never compliments, or even comments
on his son's achievements, yet who encourages an "exaggerated", "ungraceful and
inelegant" performance by a masked dancer, thus undermining valid effort (whatever
its motives) and valorising the meaningless and insignificant.
Faced with the progressive degradation of both interpersonal and socio-cultural
relationships by a situation in which these have been devalorised, the protagonists attempt
to forge valid human ties outside the socially approved mechanisms which they perceive
as conditioning, therefore alienating. Paul resorts to an affair with Patsy whose "firm,
well-shaped body invited (him)" (pp. 52, 59), but who is rapidly objectified and denigra-
The pink umbrella, the glint of the sun on over-
oiled hair, the stockings all were part of that which
I was so intolerant of and, at that moment, felt
so superior to. They were, all of them, objects of my
contempt. (p. 58)
Similarly, Peter at first responds to Phyllis' "complexion and her hair . The lightness
of her skin and the quality of her mulatto hair . ." (p. 65), but she is soon abandoned,
beaten and reified. (pp. 76, 106) Both brothers rapidly turn these relationships, therefore,
into negative images of the master-slave, dominator-dominated paradigms with which
their socio-cultural patterns had made them familiar, symbols not only of the specific
master-slave relationship of early colonialism but of the centre-circumference patterns
and the White-Black cultural domination and economic exploitation.
This relationship, coupled with its inevitable tendency to concentrate on the 'sex-
object' dimension inherent in it, undermines any positive role for woman in the situation
St Omer presents. Indeed, the European stereotype of woman as sex-object, dependent
being ('weaker sex') and mother is manifest in the presentation of Patsy, Phyllis, Anna
and Jeannine. Black, mulatto or white, the women in J-. . are, essentially, objects,
usually pleasure-giving, often troublesome, always dominated. They can consequently be
rejected (Patsy) or reified: "Squinting he looked at her as at another piece of furniture
then turned again to face the wall" (Phyllis).
It should thus be clear, from this brief analysis, how completely St Omer reproduces
in J-. . the ideological deformation and socio-political aggression which combine to
produce a concrete situation which reinforces the inferiority and dehumanisation of
colonialism. This perpetuates in the protagonists a permanent duality through the coexis-
tence in them of conflicting, mutually antagonistic worlds.
The alienation which is the inevitable outcome of this situation can be seen as the
actualization of certain specific ontological categories, as proposed by Existentialism. It is
therefore to this that we must now turn our attention, since French existentialist influ-
ence on St Omer's vision seems probable.
His protagonists' lucidity leads them to question their existence, to strive in what
can be seen as an attempt to overcome their essential 'contingency' to minimise the
existential element in their lives, to search for "pure Being", divorced from a dependency
on the World, on Others. This reaction is illustrated by their attempt carried through the
novel by the themes of masks and madness which protect their being-for-itself, their
consciousness. Before such 'solutions' are found, however, they have first to come to
terms with themselves, not as free agents but as objects, a necessity illustrated through
the symbols of the mirror and the photograph.
The seeing-seen dualism which articulates the individual's existence in the world
and his relation to others is the fundamental structure of human consciousness because of
which we automatically and inevitably reify others. Indeed St Omer might be said to have
turned this fundamental trait into an almost neurotic voyeurism, as illustrated in the case
of Paul and Patsy (pp. 47, 53), Paul and his father with the old white man (p. 28), and
Phyllis with Peter. (pp. 26, 109) It is, for example, this power of reification which ex-
plains Paul's defeat of Patsy's mother:
I replaced her as audience and she had been unable to
persuade or explain to me. Or herself. ... I made
her . see herself as the cast-off version that she
really was of those who had worn [the clothes]
before her (p. 93)
precisely because, relinquishing her power to dominate reifyy) him, she had accepted to
see herself through his eyes, as object, as being-for-others. It is only after Paul has chosen
madness to escape from such conflicting situations that she can regain control.
Peter's relationship with Phyllis (and, earlier, Anna) provides the central illustration
of this tendency. Reacting to Phyllis originally in a stereotyped, quasi-fetishistic manner,
admiring her hair and complexion, Peter at first attempts to recognize her subjectivity in
a meaningful mutual relationship. (p. 62) When his personal doubts and inadequacies
(about the relevance of his education and his career) overwhelm him, his recognition of
her quickly disintegrates: he attempts to reify her (pp. 23, 24), then to deny her very
existence. (pp. 71, 89)
Allowing their being-for-others to dominate their relationship with the world, that
is defining their being (as their father had done) by explicit or unconscious reference to
others whom they either identify as socially and/or racially superior and hence attempt
to emulate, or hold in contempt as inferiors unable to enhance their own positions -
both Peter and Paul are hyper-conscious of being looked at. Paul indeed has adjusted his
entire existence in order to be admired: through sport (p. 34), by standing aloof from
The Arts Society and masquerades. (pp. 35-36) Peter, equally conscious of his unwilling
subjection to the gaze of others, sees it primarily as an attack:
And more than once in his room, in hers, at a
restaurant she had taken him to he had felt her
gaze, like that of a small animal standing up-wind to
smell him, as though her eyes were fingers within a
second-hand establishment poking surreptitiously for
quality. (p. 67)
The gaze has here solidified, metamorphosed into animal and fingers" which grope
clumsily at his inner self.
Equally revealing, Phyllis' gaze and her constant accompanying smile (pp. 65, 72
84, 86) are interpreted as attempted violations of his personal freedom. The subsequent
defensive withdrawal which results necessitates a complementary advance by the other
person (often expressed by their ceaseless talking as a response to his silence: Phyllis
pp. 85, 92; Anna p. 67; Jeannine p. 15), which is in turn seen as a further, more insistent
aggression. Unable to protect his subjectivity as Paul has apparently learned to do, Peter
resorts to their reification and, ultimately, to the denial of their existence.
A less dramatic process, however, seems to be developing in his relationship with
Jeannine: he had become silent, physically and emotionally distant when not making love
(p. 14), but Jeannine has learned to look at his profile rather than the "contradictions of
his open face" and, in particular, "the eyes that were both dead and piercing" (p. 13),
physical symbol of the attempt to protect oneself from the aggression of others while at
the same time aggressing, penetrating, reifying them. It seems that Jeannine at least has
accepted to withdraw her gaze, that is the challenging other-consciousness which the indi-
vidual cannot relate to without acknowledging its inevitable conflictual dimension.
Locked in an ontological reality thus defined in terms of a seeing-seen conflict,
the male protagonists attempt to reject its absurdity and the increasingly limited, passive
role they see themselves forced to adopt. Such attempts are immediately undermined,
however, as soon as the individual turns his gaze upon himself, here illustrated in the
mirror and photograph.
The use of the mirror to convey the theme of self-awareness is, of course, not new.
Among the French Existentialists, for example, Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre have both
created eloquent mirror-images: in The Stranger, Caligula, The Fall and Nausea, for
example. It is usually associated not only with the protagonist's self-awareness but, more
specifically, with the duality inherent in the structure of the human consciousness.
Indeed Paul here reproduces the passage from awareness of one's dualism to practice of
duplicity which is brilliantly portrayed in The Fall.
The first, seemingly anecdotal reference to mirrors appears at the end of the last
chapter describing the 'other-negating' relationship of Peter and Phyllis:
Going past the bedroom that had been theirs, ...
he saw a part of her dresser and a fraction of his pass-
ing face behind the half-open door (p. 92)
symbol of his unreal, fleeting and yet continuing presence in a relationship from which he
had voluntarily excluded himself as a measure of self-defence, and of the fractionalised
person which, like Paul, he unwillingly continues to submit to the gaze of others.12
More revealing, however, is the second reference in which the duality is made expli-
cit, the closing image of the book:
And then, at the sink and about to wash his hands,
Peter saw his face .. Suddenly his reflection began
to laugh, soundlessly, rocking before him, its eyes
grave, half-closed ... He laughed. His eyes in the
mirror were grave. A vein stood out on the neck in
front of him. He stopped laughing to regain his
breath, turned away from the mirror and was sur-
prised to see Phyllis watching him. He had forgotten
This face is the one that Jeannine now prefers not to look at, a face of which age is
making a mask, distancing it progressively from the idealised image which the individual
harbours within himself. The split now seems complete and, like Camus' Meursault,
gravity and laughter are associated with two distinct personalities. One would no doubt
be forgiven for suggesting that Paul's madness was taking the form of schizophrenia in his
brother ... Be that as it may, this confrontation between consciousness and its objective
being-in-itself is 'resolved' only when he turns away to find himself continuing to be
the object of another person's look.
While not explicitly referring to the mirror, Paul also adopts this concretisation
when referring to his son, the image of himself:
Michael was only the very badly cracked image of the
son I might have had. I could not bear to look at him.
The vision of that son whose place he had usurped.
had been too complete, even though it, too, . had
been an exaggeration. (p. 51)
The 'vision', idealised image created in his imagination, renders him incapable of accept-
ing the objective image his real son presents, just as the idealised image he had created of
himself could face the objective world only by refusing to participate, by retreating into a
defence zone protected by walls of madness, perfect illustration of existential bad faith,
since the consciousness remains aware that it has chosen this 'solution' to the insoluble
problem of the human condition. The result, of course, is debilitating confusion:
Both of us, my son and I, appeared to me only as a
travesty and an imperfect imitation. I found it in-
tolerable to look at us. (id.)
Finally, unable to respond to the fundamental freedom (and lack of justification)
which their existential situation supposes, Paul can only refuse to look, Peter can only
turn away, reactions obliquely referred to through the image of the photograph, which
stresses the artificial, enforced stasis which must be seen as the antithesis of the indi-
vidual's fundamental process of becoming.
Thus, with the second reference to Peter's photograph (the first accompanying the
mirror sequence above) its significance is rendered explicit:
The sense of futility and irrelevance it evoked remain-
ed with him . .(p. 92)
The effects of this alienation are strikingly symbolised by the photograph of the
soldier which appears in the closing stages of the novel:
.. the picture he had cut from a magazine and
pasted on the wall of a soldier killed in action and
lying next to his severed head like a fowl (p. 92)
He is finally left alone with the picture of the soldier, yet another session in the lava-
tory,14 Phyllis' silent gaze, and the sound of the baby suckling her breast. (p. 109) The
picture of the void, where even despair is too positive a concept, is now complete.
The function of the photograph of Paul during his sporting days was also to fix an
instant of the past which implied a certain attitude to life and to one's role:
I had wanted the picture to be more than the simple
record of the successful athlete. I wanted to preserve
in it something of the new social atmosphere I moved
in (p. 46)
to objectivise and eternalise, in other words, the coincidence (momentary. but recognized
by others) between subjective desire and objective attainment. The futility experienced
by Peter is here parallelled by Paul's reaction of "pain" and "unpleasantness". (p. 45)
Not only has Paul changed physically -which, itself, implies growing into another 'mask'
- but his attitude to life has evolved. The "lean face that smiled back at (him)" was
already a mere image to be superimposed both on the "black, greasy forehead" of his
newspaper photographs (p. 47), and the present perspiration which all these memories
provoke. (p. 10) Striking images of a search for stasis which is only a futile attempt to
protect oneself from reality, i.e. others and time, conflict and becoming. The total lack of
permanence, the "fuite en avant" of Sartre's 'being what one is not, not being what one
is' could not be more aptly illustrated.
The other photographs mentioned in the novel, while also implying this same con-
flict between fixednesss' and becoming, seem to function primarily as the means of con-
veying objective existence under the gaze of another person. Thus Phyllis' existence
(negated by Peter) is reaffirmed when Anna finds her photograph (left, like Paul's, in a
little-used book). Later the roles will be reversed and Anna (and Daphne) will be per-
ceived and judged by Phyllis, image of the denial of the freedom to act, to evolve which
Thus, through photographs, the various characters can be united, fleetingly, vicari-
ously, but long enough for their existence to be recognized, and thence challenged, by
others, long enough for the reader to become aware that there is no escape from this
Faced with such a situation but unable to come to terms with it, Paul's analysis pro-
poses two complementary 'solutions' of bad faith: masques and madness.
Having abandoned the desperate (and, in the social context, obviously vain) efforts
to produce the "solid achievements" which would have enabled him to turn his back on a
mediocre, local reality (p. 43), precisely because such achievement was so easily destroyed
(pp. 81-82), Paul discovers a unique existential 'pose' in madness. This is chosen as a
protection against the violence inherent in others (p. 93), precisely because it allows the
individual to situate himself outside any direct relationships, as well as allowing his con-
tempt and superiority to continue unchallenged:
It seemed that I had glimpsed something . (which)
concerned me intimately. It was as if I had come face
to face with contempt suddenly and for the first time
... As if I had only just recognized it and under-
stood its worth. I felt that I, too, to survive, would
need to be as contemptuous as J- had been. Was it
then that I decided I should become mad? . They
say I'm mad. I know it's only that I have chosen a
way to live with my confusion and with the pain that
results from my inability to resolve it.
Just like your father. (pp. 102-103)
One need scarcely introduce here on the experiential level the reaction of respect mingled
with fear with which madmen are treated in certain societies (and which would, in itself,
serve Paul's egocentric needs), in order to uncover the magical solution such behaviour
represents. Such an individual is unassailable on the level of perception and reification by
others because he has effectively severed all meaningful links with his existential reality in
favour of his being-in-itself. His bad faith is a travesty of man's tragic situation: "Months
later, when I decided to become mad, it was to preserve my identity whole for myself
that I reflected its bits for others to look upon".15
Masks and masquerading are, obviously, the basic leitmotiv of the novel, from the
title to their fusion with madness in the last pages of Paul's letter (curiously intellectual
for someone who was "unable to cope with the outpouring" of his memory), p. 7
The rejection of the steel bands in favour of the European songs of the Arts Society
(p. 33) is obviously an example of the devalorisation of native cultural forms in favour of
foreign ones though bad faith is not absent even here, since he is aware that "they were
failures, despite their costumes and their performances . (since) They were not pro-
fessionals ... and they were not white". (pp. 33-34 In so far as they defined them-
selves in relation to others (culturally superior) they failed, yet their very failure, the pre-
tence itself allowed them to project a being-for-others which both they and their (inferior)
onlookers conspired to valorise. Thus "their failure . held out for Paul a means of
success". (p. 34)
Centrally important to this theme of acting for others is the masquerade ofJ- and
Black Barn, counterpoint to the middle-class Arts Society performance. The description
of J (p. 101), frayed suit, down-at-heel shoes, dirty shirt and crumpled trousers, imme-
diately evokes a Becketian image of decayed European man, mirrored by his (unwilling)
imitator. Equally Becketian is Black Bam's situation: roped to two companions, one
pulling from in front, the other restraining him from behind. (p. 99) In such an image
appears not only the individual's apparently insoluble (post-)colonial situation, but
man s confusing, contradictory ontological situation: his very facticity inevitably limiting
his becoming other than what he is, determining (and undermining) the freedom that is
Paul finally explains the fatal mechanism which leads from the conscious posturing
for (and aping of) others to the tragic situation where the individual can no longer distin-
guish between being-for-itself and being-for-others, where in fact consciousness is swamp-
ed, stifled by such posturing:
I know now that it is only we, the serious, uncertain
masqueraders, fearful of the laughter of those who
observe us, who commit excesses. Eager to convince,
we intensify our posturing until the impersonation we
intended as reality for others begins to assume reality
for us. We play less and less for those who watch us
and, in the end, it is ourselves only that we fool. It is
then that, more than ever, we need to continue to
perform, otherwise our world ends ... (p. 93)
Echoes of Jean Genet (Les Nigres, for example) are strong in this tragic epiphany which
leads only to the false salvation of the denial of any interdependence self-others (seen, in
the end, only as dependence), in the fracturing of one's self thus perhaps preserved, but
at the expense of alienation.
Unfortunately, the attempt to postulate one's individual existence, to assert one's
individuality, inevitably involves others. Alone, the protagonists cannot be sure they are
really alive . They must therefore live, however unwillingly, for someone or, when that
fails, at least with someone, that other consciousness which both guarantees their exist-
ence and challenges its essential freedom.
No doubt the basic irony of the novel resides in the fact that both what the indi-
vidual perceives and what he inevitably projects for others to see are fake. Consciousness
of this is naturally found principally in the introspective, expository pages of Paul, but
Peter proves himself conscious of it too.
The father's "shoddy facade" (Paul, p. 32), his "mania for pretence and delusion"
(Peter, p. 73), though despised by his sons, was nevertheless finally imitated by them.
Academic robes and sports clothes, for example, were primarily disguises meant to impress
the audience. Eventually the succession of disguises, of masks that followed through the
years was donned, not only for the audience but, more damagingly, for the individual
himself. Yet even here the fundamental dualism functions since they aim to appear at
the same time centre of another's world (and one is here reminded of Sartre's category of
"fascination" in which one makes oneself object in order to capture the other person's
freedom) and a fraud. As always, self-assertion and self-destruction are interdependent,
and the Absurd in this world view is total since even their self-awareness is alienating.
It thus appears that the individual's quest for something "reasonable" is doomed to
failure, while the attempts to live outside the self-other relationship are equally impos-
sible. Even 'mad' Paul has merely instituted a new, degraded form of communication by
his madness, as well as by his writing. Since inter-relationships are shown to necessitate
masquerading, the individual decides to accept the inherent absurdity of his situation
(p. 93), and hence perpetuates his situation through bad faith.
If, as has been suggested, "the novel translates essentially the path followed by the
individual towards a totality, a coherence, a being whose image he harbours within him-
self" 1 St Omer's characters realise only its impossibility, attain only incoherence and
the debilitating consciousness of the shattered self-image that they attempt to hide within
themselves. In an island where social mechanisms continue to be alienating for some
reflection of, for others result of, a deeper existential alienation they all seem, finally,
to espouse that alienation under the guise of madness:
(Peter) found himself thinking of his father's mania
for pretence and delusion, heard again the quiet
English-accented voice of his brother Paul, who had
never left the island17 . explaining that he was
not really mad but only pretending to be. And it
seemed for a moment ... as if all the antecedents of
the unborn child (Phyllis) carried, himself included.
had manifested, in one way or another, the madness
each contained within him. (p. 73)
This situation, however negative, could be changed if the antagonistic dualism
which informs it could be replaced by the (hegelian) dialectic called for by such writers as
Fr Fanon: "They recognize themselves as mutually recognizing each other". In other
words, the recognition that the West Indian must become the basis of his own Being,
instead of constantly living out a reference to outsiders, must become the in-itself-for-
itself which alone permits freedom. "The colonized's liberation must be carried out
through a recovery of self and of autonomous dignity" wrote A. Memmi,S1 and this can
only be effective when the insecure, reactional, imitative element in the psyche of charac-
ters such as those portrayed by St Omer is replaced by individual action, from which
freedom and equality can emerge. Not an easy task, but an essential one since, as Aime
Cesaire declared to M. Thorez in 1956, "our paths towards the future . .both political
and cultural, are not ready-made . they are to be discovered".
Reflections on a structure:
The social and historical situation through which the hero could demonstrate his
freedom thus becomes, instead, an excuse for inaction because imposed (the "social
destiny" of Sartre's Critique of Dialectical Reason). The structure of the novel reflects
this impression of coercion, determinism, stasis, as the basic dualism becomes dominant.
Firstly, a subjective, retrospective account by Paul of his evolution towards 'madness', in
which he reorganizes his material as memories provoke associations with other memories
or examples. This is interspersed with the narration of Peter's story 'objectively' by an
unidentified, omniscient narrator, possibly Paul himself recreating Peter's past.
In the chapters dealing with Paul the reader is thus presented with a first-person
narrative. Paul is seen from 'the inside', committing to paper a retrospective analysis of
his past in which the distance between the act of narration and the events narrated varies.
It is presented as a conscious effort on his part to "cope with", "order", "control" the
memory of past events. But his memory also forces other "overwhelming" images into his
conscious mind, thus disturbing the ordered reflection on the past, on the control which
his being-for-itself can have over the being-in-itself which his past has become. The retro-
spection, the effort of a present consciousness to define, delimit its past 'I', culminates in
the text (confusion or, perhaps, indictment) we are reading. The repetitions, interruptions
and digressions discernible in his text obviously support the impression of an uncontrol-
lable "outpouring". 19
His confession is, therefore, both a description of the false images he had, earlier
in life, wanted to project, and an image of his present self: a mirror (now given a temporal
dimension) in which Peter in turn (whom the text is perhaps being written for, p. 7) will
see an endless hall of mirrors: both his brother and himself, images of Paul's 'madness',
his perception of Peter's becoming a "void"; thus not only individual failures but the
social and psychological situations prevalent in the islands as well as man's wider, existen-
Significantly, the narrator's 'real' self is never visible, since each personal situation
described has developed out of the images projected earlier, not to express the authentic
self but to imitate, dominate, escape judgement. Looking at himself, Paul does not see,
and thus the reader will not see, an authentic self, but mere projected images, an object
to judge, describe, disculpate. His self-awareness, probably heightened by the mirror that
his confession has become for him, leads only to further alienation from others and from
himself. The confession therefore seems to function as an attempt to strip off the multiple
masks of its author in order to reinforce them!20
The episodes concerning Peter are narrated in the third person, non-chronologically,
again introducing a (more indeterminate) varying distance between protagonist and events.
His life, his attempts at protecting himself from the aggression of others, his incapacity to
define an image worth projecting, his obvious decision to sink into a "void", a meaning-
less, auto-destructive routine of sex and alcohol, all this constitutes a mirror into which
Paul looks in order to see himself more clearly.21
The two protagonists appear in fact to be intended as mirror images of each other,
lived-out solutions to an absurd existential dilemma, which have failed. Peter in particu-
lar, if narrated by Paul (that is, created from what the latter has perceived of him),
appears as a projection of what Paul is writing about himself, his relation to others (and
indeed his existence) entirely dependent on Paul's perception and, since we are dealing
with a confession or, at least, the memories conjured up by retrospection, both his
apparent desire to recount them honestly and hie in-arncity to do so.
Thus Peter marries and fails, attempting to negate his wife's existence; therefore
Paul will not marry (p. 94), but will succeed in his desire to reify Patsy. Paul rejects such
local activities as swimming in the harbour or steel bands in favour of a foreign education,
left incomplete; Peter participates in both, and completes an (irrelevant) university edu-
cation. Anna and Jeannine, Peter's former (black) and present (white) mistresses can be
linked in the same way: Anna who hates both White and Black, will have to return to the
islands, while Jeannine, the French girl fleeing France, is rejected by Jacques (mulatto)
and Peter (black). As for the future, Paul's son is a failure in his father's eyes (p. 51);
Whereas Peter can still take pleasure in a daughter whose future he cannot foresee. (p. 92)
In this hall of mirrors tne basic existential 'trap' parallels that of Sartre's hero,
On the wall there's a white hole, the mirror. It's a
trap. I know I'm going to let myself be caught. That's
it. The grey thing has just appeared in the mirror. I
move closer and look at it, I can't move away.
Having relinquished any attempt to attain authenticity under the pressure of the void,
under the gradual erosion of an absurd social and philosophical situation, St Omer's
characters are trapped into becoming mere things, an emptiness both reflected and reflect-
The structure of the novel thus underpins the negative socio-cultural and philoso-
phical dimensions, reiterating an image which his earlier novels had already presented.
The various themes involved are, perhaps, best summed up by the sad words of A. Memmi:
So goes the drama of the man who is the product
and victim of colonization. He almost never succeeds
in corresponding with himself.22
1. Shades of Grey, 1968; A Room on the Hill, 1968; Nor any Country, 1969; J-..., 1972. All
published by Faber and Faber, London.
2. On this subject, see e.g. Wilson Harris, 'Tradition and the W. I. Novel', Tradition, the Writer and
Society, Critical Essays, New Beacon Publ., 1967; William Demas, 'Prospects for decolonisation
in the West Indies', Graduation Address, U.W.I., Mona, 1973.
3. Albert Memmi, The Colonizer and the Colonized, Boston 1965, p. 83. (Orig. French edition
4. p. 93. The wider significance is explained p. 109: "The performers . had reminded him of a
picture he had once seen, of slaves celebrating their independence, dressed up in the clothes of
those who had enslaved them and who soberly watched them celebrate".
5. R. Mnil, 'Sur l'exotisme colonial', La Nouvelle Critique, mai 1959. Our trans.
6. He seems to have fallen back (consciously or unconsciously) on the negative (mythical) charac-
teristics of the colonized individual. Cf. Memmi, op. cit. pp. 80-89.
7. cf. Memmi, op. cit. p. 99.
8. p. 31. cf. also pp. 78 and 19.
9. This is hardly surprising when one remembers the process which such individuals underwent.
cf. e.g. Fanon, Peau noire, masque blanc, p. 122 (Edit. de Seuil, 1952): "Little by little begin to
form and crystallize in the young West Indian an attitude, a way of thinking and seeing which
are essentially white". Our trans.
10. Memmi, op. cit. p. 100.
11. One is inevitably reminded here of the insects, animals and hands which recur in Sartre's works.
The outcome reflects the "automatons" criticised in A Room on the Hill, and parallels the
"petite femme automate" of The Stranger, for example.
12. The next page, in fact, contains Paul's ". . I reflected its bits for others to look upon" (p. 93).
13. Such an episode seems directly inspired by two major Camus episodes: "I shined up my tin
pannikin and studied my face in it. My expression was terribly serious, I thought, even when I
tried to smile. I held the pannikin at different angles, but always my face had the same mourn-
ful, tense expression". (Stranger p. 83). "I went into the bathroom to drink a glass of water.
My reflection was smiling in the mirror, but it seemed to me that my smile was double."
14. The full significance of this recurrent image is more explicit in Room on the Hill: seeing his
reflection in a mirror as he sits on the bowl, an old minister discovers that "for his parishioners,
to remind them of their mortality, a mirror in the lavatory might be a good thing", p. 104. An
updating of the traditional memento mori theme which approximates some of the more 'physi-
cal' passages in Sartre for example!
15. p. 93. One can justifiably liken this solution to that of Dostoievski's Ivan Karamazov, that
seminal figure for so much European existentialist literature: his madness results partly from
his inability to harmonize his spontaneous, subjective feelings with the objective theories he
preaches and struggles to internalize.
16. M. Zeraffa, Roman et Societd, P.U.F., Coll. SUP, Paris 1971. Our trans.
17. Once a symbol of social prestige ...
18. Memmi, op. cit. p. 128.
19. A parallel with Dostoievski's famous 'confessional' novel The Underground Man is revealing:
the uncertainty of whether the narrator is writing for himself or for others; self-awareness and
the (unwanted) necessity of one's recognition by others; on the formal level, the inclusion of a
narrative section in the confession which treats the protagonist's deliberate destruction of a
20. The Fall represents a conscious exploitation of this dual function of which the narrator
explicitly warns his listener.
21. He can, for example, talk about Patsy because of Peter's marriage (p. 51); refuses to marry
because of Peter's failure (p. 94).
22. Memmi, op. cit. p. 140. cf. also Fanon's condemnation of this state described in Black skin,
TIM TIM TALES
CHILDREN'S STORIES FROM GRENADA, WEST INDIES
General Editors: BEVERLEY A STEELE Resident Tutor
BRUCE ST. JOHN U.W.I., Cave Hill
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"INTO THIS BEAUTIFUL GARDEN" -
SOME COMMENTS ON ERNA BRODBER'S JANE AND LOUISA
With the publication of her first novel, Jane and Louisa Will Soon Come Home, Erna
Brodber joins a small but growing number of women writers' in the Caribbean. Among
the earliest of these are Jean Rhys and Phyllis Shand-Allfrey of Dominica: Miss Rhys, a
cousin of Mrs. Shand-Allfrey, died in 1979, when her work (a not inconsiderable oeuvre)
had only just begun to receive appropriate critical attention. Mrs. Shand-Allfrey still lives
in Dominica and up until recently was involved in publishing a small newspaper there.
Not long ago she received a national award for her contribution to cultural development
in her country. Her only novel, The Orchid House,2 is not particularly well known in the
Caribbean, though it was first published in the U.K. in 1953, subsequently in the U.S. in
1954 and then in France in 1955.3 Her four collections of poems are not represented in
the West Indies Collection of the Main Library at the University of the West Indies, Mona
It took these two women a lifetime before any serious recognition was given to
their work.5 Perhaps other women writers of a more recent vintage, like Marion Patrick-
Jones of Trinidad, Paule Marshall of Barbados, Zee Edgell6 of Belize, Sylvia Wynter-Carew
and now, Erna Brodber, of Jamaica will fare better at the hands of the (largely male)
The Tale of the Telling
Miss Brodber occupies a strategic place in the emerging tradition of women prose
writers. Someone I forget who has made the useful distinction between "the tale of
the telling" and the "telling of the tale". In "the tale of the telling", the how of what is
being said becomes itself a significant part of the statement; in "the telling of the tale",
form is a part of the statement only insofar as it is its channel or vehicle. Up to now
novels of Caribbean women writers have been concerned with telling the tale. A novel like
Paule Marshall's A Chosen Place, A Timeless People7 suffers to some extent because the
burden of the tale weighs so heavily on the telling. On the other hand, Simone Schwarz-
Bart's The Bridge of Beyond" achieves, even in translation, a special exuberance because
the ranconteur is as crafty with the form of the telling as with the content of the tale.
In Jane and Louisa the balance between artful tale and crafted telling is tipped in favour
of the telling. Brodber's tale is as much about the felt shapes of the people, the configura-
tions of their language and the rich texture of their place, as these are received into her
young heroine, as it is about what happens to Nellie. Rather than subject being embed-
ded in setting, the two are made to coalesce by the author's particular choice of narrative
mode. The places and times, moods and events are the remembering of Nellie: the story
of her progress through experience is the account of how, from her revisioning of her
ancestors, she discovers, or begins to discover, her own integrity, or, as her Aunt Alice
puts it, how to "do her part". It is from the rehearsing of their experience (revitalized in
her recalling in such a way that the choice, and shape, of the language of memory, is
itself the revivification) that Nellie Decomes able to discover and assert herself. By this
process of exhuming the being, wit and wisdom of her people, Nellie learns to operate as
Anancy counsels Tacuma to do:
Don't follow no firefly boy. Look inside of yourself
and row. Them will los' you. Them will put you out
of your way .. when you find out where you want
to go, you watch for them other one what going there
and you use their light. (p 124)
Dialogue and interior monologue carry the burden of the telling. The story traverses
diachronic space at will, from the generation of Albert and Elizabeth Whiting, poor-white
great-great grandparents of Nellie, the heroine, through Tia and William Alexander Whiting,
to Kitty and Puppa Richmond, and to Nellie's own parents, and Nellie's own growing-up
The telling catalogues synchronic time no less adeptly: most carefully and intensive-
ly, the country life in the "mossy covert, dim and cool" of Nellie's earliest years; but also
"Sam's country" (Uncle Sam's?) whither she goes to be a "foreign student", and there-
fore to be "walking home from classes, free at last, through the streets with a mop in her
hand". (p 27) In a brief 'Miniature' early in the book, she describes the senior common
room of the university where "men sat at a bar ... Wordlessly in unison, waiting. Waiting
for what?" A rhetorical question which Nellie answers: "Perhaps for their women. But
Aren't they all around them?" (p 41) The "they" and "them" are pointedly ambiguous.
The dialectic continues as Nellie presses on to her experience, in the enigmatic "To Waltz
with You", of life in a government yard (which tenants must pay 25 cents to leave) as a
member of a zealous political group. Their activities offer Nellie little solace after
the night (her) young man got caught up in the spirit
and burnt to grease like beef suet caught in a dutchie
pot. (p. 52)
Nature/Progress of the Telling
These events accumulate in an eclectic fashion, in symbolic rather than chronologi-
cal order. Evelyn O'Callaghan sees the development of the novel as a sort of analogue of
the psychic progress from fragmentation through reconstruction to a tentative wholeness,
so that the whole first section of the novel, bits and pieces of the early experiences and
conversations from the heroine's childhood represent the personality in its state of disin-
tegration.9 (The author confirms that the initial purpose of thp novel was to serve as a
case study of the disassociative personality for her students.)'0 Later on these bits and
pieces are "explained and developed ... as the healing process of reconstruction gets
underway."" Finally, as the personality achieves coherence, the fragments of the past
come together and eventually, in O'Callaghan's interpretation -
In one of the final episodes of the novel, 'The Moving
Camera', the film is allowed to run smoothly, un-
edited, recounting the family history that has pro-
duced Nellie. This is the final state of reintegration.12
One is tempted to question the idea of coherent personality, however defined, but
this is not the place. Whatever the author's purposes, although it is true that as the novel
goes along an increasing relatedness between things emerges, this "coherence" can equally
well be seen as a product of the growing affirmation of her origins and personal history as
Nellie touches them again and again, with diminishing reluctance, in her memory. Out of
Nellie's memory and unconscious, historical and psychic events are summoned so that
they may be, gradually, accepted and assented to. (Sometimes, as with the series of events
signified by the trail of the snail and the related image of the slimy yam her father
feeds Nellie (section 4 of "Still Life") the arbitrary manner of the remembering effects
its own catharsis: the subconscious wrestles with its own symbols and resolves them by its
own methods. So Nellie remembers how she steeled herself to receive the slimy yam from
her father's spoon, how she "let it on to my tongue so that he might speak" ... Perhaps
the "long nasty snail" (p 28) similarly has to be suffered in anticipation of the sharing of
the sexual "word") . Thus in my view the "connectedness" of events is able to emerge
because the events reside in and define one person's experience, and the person says
"amen" to this residence and definition. The psychic dysfunction is occasioned by the
self at war with its own history and the healing is effected, not so much by the person
discovering logical or chronological relatedness, as by the person succumbing to her
history, even the painful, shameful aspects of it, receiving it, identifying it, owning it. It is
in this way that release from the kumbla is enabled.
Thus, it seems to me misleading to regard the clearer chronology and logic of the
latter part of the book as evidence of the reintegrated persona. Certainly it is not the best
evidence. Psychic healing does take place in the course of the book, and the small bits and
pieces of the beginning section "My Dear Will You Allow Me" do not reoccur. But
there are still fragments at the end if that is what they are. The difference is that these
fragments are longer. It is, for me, rather as though Nellie dips into her memory at the
beginning, reluctantly, in terror, and therefore only in brief snatches. In "To Waltz With
You" she passes through a psychic crisis, emerging from it with the recognition that it is
necessary, as Baba puts it, to "want herself". That self-wanting is manifest in one impor
tant way by her "degenerating" into cussing in the creole and using obscene language -
an act she herself is horrified at. It is a first step in self-valuing, assenting to her origins
In parts Eight, Nine and Ten of this section, Nellie sees increasingly clearly the need
for asserting this identity, and the assertion itself begins with that-insight. Consequently
in "Into this Beautiful Garden", which is the climax of the book, Nellie's memory is
released to forage in her past, lingering with affection over persons and events in the com-
munity of her growing up. When her memory moves through the last six segments (28
pages in all) of "Jane and Louisa Will Soon Come Home". which represent the novel's
denouement, it pauses over each remembering, trying to sort things out, to find a shape.
But the attempt is as often unsuccessful as not, its fruit a question rather than an answer.
And the logicality, the smooth-running film of "The Moving Camera," essential though
it is for Nellie's consciousness (to satisfy the mind schooled in "foreign" to the virtues of
linear logic?), lacks in the literary work (as, probably, in the work of rooting her psyche)
the power of the Nancy story in "The Kumbla", the passages of monologue/dialogue in
"The Spying Glass", and the gentle, wild images in "The Fish".
It is not, then, the interpretation which the "reintegrated" Nellie discovers, that is
her triumph; the meanings offered are less important than her determination to discover
them, her confidence that they are there. This is why on the very last page of the book
Nellie describes a dream in which she sees herself prepared for birth and bearing down in
an effort to born a parrot fish which she can see stuck crossways in a square gold fish
bowl which her belly has become. "Strangely enough," she tells us, "I felt neither sadness
nor frustration nor even pain that the fish couldn't come for after all I could still see it."
p. 147 (The fish is itself an interesting image, a Christian symbol of faith and hope, the
Messiah as the consummate achievement of human person. The work as poem resonates:
it was Mass Mehiah who "cut down his bastard cedar trees and let the sun in" . That
image, occurring at the beginning and end of the book, is part of what gives it its shape.
The Messianic wholeness, the author may also wait to be born into.) The fish is still to be
born, as the fullness (rather than coherence?) of Nellie's person is still to be arrived at.
But she knows now where she must look for it, and that it is possible for her.
Departure from Linear Narrative
Jane and Louisa is special, then, because it departs from the simple linear narrative,
or the kinds of variations of this chronology that other Caribbean novelists have up to
now employed (Naipaul in The Mimic Men or Lamming in Water with Berries, lor in-
stance). The difference lies in the fact that the interest in this book is not so much in
the nature of events, the "external action" of the tale, as in their psychic repercussions,
the "internal action". Consequently events often have less significance in themselves than
they have as symbols, shapes resonating in Nellie's psyche with a power beyond the
cumulative effect of their sequential development. When eight-year-old Nellie receives at
Easter, notjust the new dress that was her right for her birthday, since she was April-born,
but also an Easter dress, white shoes and yellow socks and a yellow leghorn hat to go with
her birthday dress, (p. 26) and from Aunt Becca "the most beautiful bag you've ever
seen", it is too much for Nellie to stomach. She feels as if everyone is watching her as if
to say "now little kitten, eat and be choked." (p. 26) Her concept of herself does not
include the right to such plenty. The plenty isolates her -
I was done here ... Me one with two dresses at Easter!
Aunt Becca's bag would be my crowning shame. No
one would speak to me and I would forget my lines.
I refused to wear it but they wouldn't listen to me.
How dare I when so many sacrifices had been made,
was what they said. And I forget my lines as Aunt
Becca knew 1 would.
Aunt Becca did you send that bag to shame me, to
whittle down my world, to stop me from enjoying
it? (p. 26)
The abundance becomes a curse, an indictment. The connection with Aunt Becca is not
accidental. She it was who "threw away Tanny's child and made herself a mule" (p. 33)
for respectability's sake. Nellie cannot enjoy all her fine clothes, her straw bag and her
success at reciting her lines, in the same way that Aunt Becca could not have both her
child and her status in the community. Something in the nature of things does not so
permit. One of the problems which Nellie must therefore solve is whether she does
have a right to fullness, to "chew her bounty with (her) own teeth thirty-two times as I
know I should". (p. 29)
Thus, too. Nellie's joy in Mass Stanley whom she loves "and nobody seems to
mind", her delight in the performance of Miss Sada and himself and the dancers at the
country fair (pp. 100-' 103), become a powerful image signifying an incipient understand-
ing of the harmony, dignity, grace and beauty that the individual may achieve when he
discovers how to play his part in the dance that is human community.
Use of Language
Indisputably an important part of the achievement of the book is the author's use
of language. Brodber ranges through the overlapping system of lects from creole to
"standard" English, deploying them at will, code-sliding and code-switching through
registers and formal and informal linguistic devices with a kind of abandon that seems,
increasingly, a special talent of the women writers in the region. (Compare, for instance,
the short stories of Olive Senior and Velma Pollard. and the poetry of Lorna Goodison.)
Among the male novelists only Selvon and Lovelace and perhaps Austin Clarke manage
the range of Caribbean language with this kind of freedom and authority.
Constraints of space do not permit an extensive treatment of the author's use of
language in this article, and one or two comments on its (perhaps) less obvious aspects
must therefore suffice.
Because this is a first novel, the author is concerned to clear her psychological space,
to sort out issues related to her being a woman in a community that has not yet adequate-
ly freed its women into the possibility of achieving their potentialities. Part of the prob-
lem, as Brodber sees it, is that the community is crippled by a certain historical "dead
weight", by attitudes to colour, class, religion, and here especially, womanness, that
reduce and alienate its members. Language is an important tool in sorting out this social
and psychological confusion, witnessing to what is wholesome and ferreting out what is
sordid, mean and deprecatory, and often carrying the burden of a terrifying ambivalence.
The fact that the beginnings of Nellie's self-acceptance are signified by Nellie's cussing in
the creole and using obscene language has already been noted. But there is ambivalence of
other kinds. Thus. in Nellie's first sexual experience the rawest meanings are mediated
through sentences carefully shaped, with formal qualities that convey emotions and
behaviours which the semantic elements do not carry. The male member as Nellie encoun-
ters it, is
/V / V V /. V .V / V. V
One long nasty snail, curling up straightening out
tV sh V wl V V i V V V V
to show its white underside that the sun never
touchess. p. 28
If she rejects it in the overt statement, the shape of the sentence, its patterned cadence,
in some way conciliates, receives, contains the horror, promises that contact between the
sexes need not be so.
The next sentence behaves differently, its aspect dramatic. Nellie rushes at what she
must do, not out of eagerness to do it but out of anxiety to get it over and done with:
"Popped it out of its roots, stripped off its clothes and jammed my teeth into it sucking".
(p. 28) The shape of the sentence reflects the nature of the event, the frightened necessity
of the actions reduced to the three unembellished clauses tumbling one into the other,
with the 'and before the last clause gathering up what has gone before and "opening" the
syntax of the sentence for its final bite. Under the horror, a certain exhilaration.
It is necessary, then, to consider the manipulation of the language not only in terms
of its multi-lectal aspects, with their sociological significance, but also for the sake of
subtler meanings. Because there is this tight structural relationship between style and sub-
stance, it can be argued that large sections of the book indeed, perhaps the whole work
- are as much poetry as they are fiction. It would no doubt be fruitful to analyze the
book as one would a "long" poem (for the term "narrative' does not comfortably fit)
but that would have to be an undertaking in itself.
The Snail in The Kumbla
Nellie's personal crises are all intimately bound up with the fact that she is a woman:
her psychic dislocation is a product of the spiritual confusion in the community, and also
symbolizes that confusion. If Nellie has not sorted out sex, nor has the community, and
so on ... It is appropriate, then, for the psycho-social dilemma of the community to be
portrayed from the point of view of the traumatized heroine, since her dilemma is theirs.
An extended metaphor leads the reader through the psychic maze in which both
the woman person and the dislocated community are trapped: it is the image of "the snail
in the kumbla". The elements of "kumbla" and "snail" appear separately in the book
(except as the author joins them to provide the title for one of the subsections of "My
Dear Will You Allow Me". the first movement of the work): but the fleshing out of the
whole symbolic statement binds them together in such a way that the one evokes the
other. If the kumbla is the security and safe-guardedness that the individual is impelled to
seek by hiding or isolating himself, the strongly sexual image of the snail is the inevitable
tug, the impulse to joining "other", that at once threatens integrity and secures it.
The combined image of "the snail in the kumbla" is a complex one and its elusive-
ness is one source of its power. The part of it we meet first is the kumbla. In "Voices"
(part 5) Nellie tells us
Mass Mehiah is cutting down his bastard cedar trees
... He is making a new meeting house . Strange
voices floating in through bamboo poles, carrying
news of outside . The sun is walking bravely now
and has cracked my neighbour's calabash. While he
turns his back to fix it, we'll ship this one out with
the evening sun. Go eena kumbla. (p. 15)
If the whole text is scrutinized carefully, the symbols and events-as-metaphor separated
out, the neighbour's calabash which the sun (which "walks bravely" once the "bastard
(Italics mine) cedar trees" are cut down) has cracked, offers itself at the start as a defini-
tion of "kumbla". The kumbla is a calabash, an indigenous container into which things
can be put for safekeeping: you have one; your neighbour too. But it is a fragile vessel for
hot sun will crack it, and hot sun is what comes in when you cut down bastard cedar trees
to make a new meeting house. So Nellie must be shipped out in her kumbla with the
evening sun a less hot, less clear star. And she must be sent off in secret, while the
neighbour's back is turned to fix his kumbla. If your kumbla protects you, it also isolates
you. No meeting for those inna kumbla ...
These significance are elaborated as the metaphor is spun out in the course of the
work. Other significance accumulate and the image, as it is added to, becomes more
powerful. The five sections entitled "The Tale of The Snail in The Kumbla' introduce a
set of personal/sexual significance for the image, compounded now with the element of
"snail". The kumbla becomes the person of Nellie's (woman) body. a place of isolation
once the "something strange" of puberty happens to it. "It" i.e. puberty. Nellie's inci-
pient womanness "corrupted" Mass Stanley who complains that Nellie has deserted
him, though Nellie claims they both know that this is untrue. (p 121) The boys, with
whom she has wrestled and rolled and tumbled in uninhibited play up till then, suddenly
withdraw. Her father notes her maturing in a moment which Nellie construes as aban-
Papa looks at me from head to toe, focuses on my
middle and says with strange solemnity:-
My. But you have shot up -and my balloon stinks
with shame. Something breaks and there is no
warmth no more. So I am different. Something is
wrong with me. (p 23) (Italics mine)
Nellie tells us in Section One of "The Tale of The Snail" that at university "a compound
with eight hundred men and women, they press you, Auntie. Everywhere: trying to spoil
your life". (p. 18) The snail (in its crudest and narrowest significance, a symbol of the
male sexual member) is determined to get into Nellie's kumbla. Eventually, in the last
section of the tale, it does. But in precisely this paragraph which describes the violation of
Nellie's intactness by her sucking the "mekke mekke snail", it becomes clear, as we have
noted, through the "poetic" elements in the language, that Brodber is talking at symbolic
levels about numbers of other things. There is sound and rhythm and symbol ("it feels
good but it doesn't taste good" (p. 28) promising a snail comfortably accommodated
in the kumbla ... We discover that Nellie's mother has also run from the snail. So that
from generation to generation the fecundity in woman, her promise of sexual as well as
personal fullness, has not been accommodated by the community. Successive communi-
ties which Nellie has encountered have defined what it is to be a woman in the narrowest
terms, as by "achieving" sexual contract with a man -
You want to be a woman, now you have a man,
you'll be like everybody else. You're normal now!
Vomit and bear it. (p. 28)
But Nellie knows there is something basically wrong with this, as the last paragraph in the
segment indicates; somehow the accommodation of this snail is related to her release into
enjoying the completeness of herself; somehow it nas to do with equipping her to deal
honestly with whatever is to sustain her being, for
Cane don't sweet in false teeth brother. Can't you salt
those snails so that I can face you, so I can chew my
bounty with my own teeth thirty two times as I
know I should ... (p. 29)
Again the ambivalence: to salt the snails will make them palatable, to salt the snails will
make them melt away ...
It is one of the strong points of the work that it handles these concerns in a way
that does not hide their rawness and at the same time manages to demonstrate that the
issues at bottom are really complex, fragile, psycho-social ones that do not involve just
the individual and his or her sexuality, but are rather related to male/female relationships
within the community in their dimensions as man to woman, father to daughter, etc.,
etc., etc. When Nellie complains in Part 4 of "To Waltz With You", "who told him that
he could touch part of us that we elected to leave untouched", the sentence vibrates with
the stimuli of the sexual touchingg" described in "My Dear Will You Allow Me" But the
touchingg" that Baba has been concerned to promote have little to do with sex the
doll he carves in the course of his attending the meetings of the group is sexless (p. 61)
or with particular persons at this point in the story. Nellie explains -
It could be applied to us singly or as a group. Baba's
point was that we should stop hiding and talk about
ourselves. (p. 61)
The kumbla in this version is a sort of communal self-deception, or self-abnegation. At
the end of section 9 of "To Waltz With You". Nellie, who has recovered from the worst
part of her psychic crisis, assures us "Brer Nancy in a Kumbla but he still has power, to
show you the way". (p. 77) Anancy in the Kumbla is an image of the submerged tribal
continuities, the togetherness of original African community, lost or gone underground.
At any rate, Nellie sees healing in terms of her restoration to community: "Morning had
broken. I was no longer alone. Baba had settled me in with my people". (p. 77) The set-
tling in is for Nellie a way out of her kumbla. Nancy, in his, leads Nellie out of hers. This
duplicity about the snail/kumbla image obtains almost every time it is used. Nellie tries
hard to push her relationship to Baba in the direction of the man-woman contact she has
shared with Robin, her dead lover; when Baba will not succumb, she describes his reluct-
And like a snail he would curl up into himself. A
little bit of sweat but no tears and a snail's sweat can
hardly even erase a common i ... pp. 68, 69.
The snail is at once the rawest sexuality and, here, a reticent disavowal of it for the sake
of a larger kind of contact. (Baba tells her, "that sex will come later, after I have met
you". (p. 69) Towards the end of the book Nellie explains:
The trouble with the kumbla is getting out of the
kumbla. It is a protective device. If you dwell too
long in it, it makes you delicate. Makes you an
"albino" skin white but not by genes. Vision extra-
sensitive to the sun and blurred without spectacles.
The individual in and through the community, and the community itself, must
discover and assent to their identities. To shy away from these, however puzzling or ugly
or potentially dangerous they are, is a route to a kind of self-preservation but hardly one
worth having. In the meeting of community and the assertion of its language, culture and
traditions is the promise of personal self-realization, at once release from the kumbla and
the happy accommodation of the snail inside it.
There are some flaws in the book. The image of the spying glass the confused
fragments of community/traditions which are capable of generating new and meaningful
wholes is less successfully deployed. I could not feel my way into a satisfying interpre-
tation of the connection mentioned more than once between the glass and the
stretchmarks on Nellie's bottom. Also, towards the end of the book the issue of whiteness
seems to assume an importance larger than it deserves when its place in the rest of the
story is considered.
But these are small faults. They disappear in the face of Brodber's use of language
her irony and wit, the tight organicism of the work, the exhilarating account of the
physical and social texture of Nellie's "mossy covert dim and cool" and the firm and
tempered grappling with the issues of sex and identity that cripple both the women and
the societies of the Caribbean.
I have suggested elsewhere that the problem of the restoration of community in the
West Indies, the possibility for the West Indian man to re-enter communal relationship, is
intimately bound up with his resolution of the dilemma of his relationship to woman.13
Jane and Louisa points to precisely these issues, powerfully, but with neither hostility
nor hysteria. Perhaps we are getting ready ...
This article was submitted in 1982
1. "Women writers" refers only to prose writers. There are a larger number of women poets in the
region and a somewhat stronger tradition of women writing poetry. Still, the only woman poet
whose work is well known regionally and abroad is Jamaican 'folk' poet, Louise Bennett-
2. Recently re-issued by Virago Press (1982) with an introduction by Elaine Campbell.
3. U. K. publication was by Constable: Dutton published the novel in the U.S. and Librairie Stock
produced it in France as La Maison des Orchidees. For further bio-bibliographical information
on Phyllis Allfrey see Herdeck. Lubin, Figueroa et al Caribbean Writers: a Bio-bibliographical
Critical Encyclopaedia. Three Continents Press, Washington, 1979, pp. 18-21.
4. An example of the difficulties involved in collecting rare West Indiana. The West Indies Collec-
tion at the UWI Library, Mona, was set up in the mid-seventies; the collections of poetry were,
with one exception, published in the 1940s and 50s. Palm and Oak II was published in 1973
by the Star Printery, Roseau, Dominica, and in a limited edition (300 copies) in 1974.
5. In this regard the recent reprint of The Orchid House by Virago Press is heartening. Still. there
is a further problem. Promotion and distribution of works by regional authors, even when they
are published by multinational presses, is a continuing bone of contention. The critical commu-
nity must also take some of the blame for whimsy, chauvinism, or both, in some of the works it
has elected to celebrate, on the one hand, and to neglect, on the other.
6. Edgell's first novel, Beka Lamb, was published (London, 1982) in Heinemann's Caribbean
7. Harcourt, Brace and World, Inc., 1969.
8. Published as Pluie et vent sur Telumee Miracle by Editions du Seuil, in 1972, in Paris; then, in
a translation by Barbara Bray, in London, in 1975, by Victor Gollancz. Heinemann recently
issued the book as translated by Bray, with an introduction by Bridget Jones, in its Caribbean
Writers Series (London & Kingston, 1982).
9. "Jane and Louisa Will Soon Come Home: Rediscovering The Natives of My Person", paper
presented at The Inter-Departmental Conference on Literatures in English, U.W.I., Mona, May
13. See Pamela Mordecai, "The West Indian Male Sensibility in Search of Itself: some comments on
Nor Any Country, Mimic Men and The Secret Ladder" in WLWE Vol. 21 No. 3 Autumn 1982.
EXILE, PHILOSOPHIC MYTH, CREATIVE TRUTH,
THRUST AND NECESSITY: AN INTERVIEW WITH WILSON HARRIS*
K.O. Mr Harris, except for the brief times you have served as a writer-in-residence in
some universities, you live in and write from England. I'd like to discuss with you
the problems and advantages of one writing in exile. What influences and/or effects
has living in exile had on your writing?
W.H. I think it is important to realize that virtually every significant and important writer
from the Caribbean (and in this context I include the Guianas in South America,
whether from the English-speaking areas, or the French-speaking areas, or the
Spanish-speaking areas) has emigrated from the Caribbean to other countries in this
century; a few names come to mind: Claude McKay, C. L. R. James, Damas,
Mittelholzer, Lamming, Naipaul, Cesaire and many others. And even those writers
who have remained at home have the same thrust. For instance, Walcott and
Brathwaite live at home but travel a great deal. Walcott lives, I would think, as
much in the United States as in the Caribbean; Brathwaite, I think, spent eight
years in Africa and he was educated at Cambridge; so he spent some considerable
time in England, and he travels a great deal.
Clearly there are historical and economic reasons for this. One has to remem-
ber that the population of the Caribbean, including the Guianas, is about six million,
I think. Also one has to remember that the main languages in South America, the
Caribbean or Central America, are Spanish, French, Portuguese and English. Such
languages imply a global audience. Exile, therefore, is a paradox; it may imply an
enrichment by way of responsive community. What I would add is that there are
personal reasons that may move an individual writer, reasons he or she alone may
Let us return to the emphasis on "exile" in your question. The characters
who appear in a writer's fictions are, in a sense, his or her creations. But there is
another sense in which those characters seek him out and create him in turn. And I
think this bears on the theme of exile.
In my travels in Guyana, it is interesting to note, for example, that the
characters who appear in one of my novels, Palace of the Peacock, are characters
whose names are drawn from a crew on expedition into the interior of the Guianas
in which I travelled as a young land surveyor. At a certain level, those characters
sought me: Carroll, Jennings, the daSilva brothers, Wishrop, Cameron, and others.
Not Donne; I brought him into the narrative for various reasons, in order to temper
*This interview took place on November 3, 1981, in the English Department at the University of
Texas at Austin, U.S.A., where Harris is serving as a writer-in-residence.
the conquistadorial imperative with metaphysical passion and beauty. It is true that
when the novel was written, each figure of memory had subtly and complexly
changed. A kind of alchemy had occurred that had altered them in my imagination.
Nevertheless, at a certain initial point in this kind of peculiar dialogue, they had
sought me out. They were the origin of a movement that led inwards in the first
instance in order to encompass other directions that one calls "exile".
"Exile" then is an inner and outer summons that may pull the imaginative
writer to meet the character of the future. There are compelling voices that reside
everywhere that bear on the reality of community, that bear on necessity; and this
seems to me central to the writer's imagination. By community I mean the kind of
imaginative truth that makes it possible for one to see that no culture is sufficient
unto itself; all cultures are partial; they are parts of a greater whole and they
illumine each other. Something that may tend to atrophy or fossilize in one culture
is activated by another, illumined by another, and a writer may be drawn around
the globe by a summons that resides in the very fabric of the kind of world in which
one lives. Therefore, exile is not a moving away into some ground where participa-
tion ceases. Participation, in fact, is deepened.
K.O. In other words, you are saying that even though you may be physically away from
the Caribbean, that it is a matter of changing physical location but in the imagina-
tive realm you are still in the Caribbean?
W.H. No, no! I wouldn't say I'm still in the Caribbean. What I'm saying is that when I
travelled in the Guianas, a kind of native phenomenon presented itself to me in
terms of the landscape, in terms of society. Many cultures, old ana new, existed.
Even though the population was less than a million, the mixtures of people were
phenomenal: people from Asia, from Africa, from Europe, from the ancient Ameri-
can world the Arawaks, the Macusis. the Arekunas, the Wapishanas, and others.
The native phenomenon presented itself in such a way that "place" was a complex
book, and complex printing, a complex sculpture, a body of intuitive clues whose
substance was universality. And, therefore, to move out of the Caribbean deepens
implications one already sensed in native South America or native Caribbean.
In other words, wherever one lives, one is in exile, because the tasks which confront
us today are tasks that cannot be solved in a one-sided manner. They seem to me to
thrust very deeply into the heart of being that bears on the very fate of life on this
It is true that knowledge about the steps humanity should take remains, in
my judgment, limited. Humanity is now beginning to explore outer space; as our
resources deepen, the intuitive imagination deepens. For it is in that context that
leaps occur, new connections are made, gaps are filled, new gaps appear. Not only is
this century an age of innovative science, it is an age of refugees. Millions have been
uprooted in two great wars in Europe, famine stalks Africa and Asia, refugees have
fled across the sea from Vietnam, Haiti and Cuba. The link between native crisis
and complex universality moves and reshapes the human imagination if it is to over-
come catastrophe and bias.
K.O. In your answers, you've used the following terms: "imaginative thrust", "imagina-
tive necessity", "imaginative truth". Could you expand on their use and meaning?
W.H. By "imaginative truth" I mean that a writer, in my judgment, is profoundly aware
of certain visualizations he or she pursues that test him or her to great depth:
therein lies his honesty and his courage; and I think that must come before any
group. If he became a spokesman for a group and betrayed imaginative truth, he
would be ultimately useless to all groups, to himself, and to the community of the
When it comes to "imaginative thrust", I mean that a voyage, an exploration,
is going on. That is thrust. And that voyage means that there are innovations which
are occurring. "Imaginative thrust" implies a voyage and an innovation rooted in
true change; when communities cease to evolve they regress.
Finally, "imaginative necessity" has to do with what I was saying about the
character of an age. That is, that the writer creates characters, but characters seek
him out as well and create him. And there may be necessity in this. A writer who
lives, let's say, in an area in the Americas may discover that there are characters that
have summoned him into other continents and that summons is the necessity of
fate as of freedom.
K.O. By Fall 1982, your sixteenth novel,"The Angel At The Gate", will be published.
How has your living in England contributed to your great achievements as a writer?
In other words, do you find writing comes easily to you over there?
W.H. My living in England has been an essential ingredient in writing The Angel At The
Gate. One character comes from India, two from Jamaica, and there are English
characters. There is a connection with Africa in terms of a figure who appears in the
In England at this time, there are about two million people from the West
Indies, Asia, and Africa. All these constitute a significant minority, and therefore,
it isn't surprising that one should find oneself profoundly aware of the shape of the
past-in-the-present-in-the-future. Mind you, I am in no way involved in sociology or
journalism though I respect sociologists and journalists.
The thing that I feel about Europe is that there are levels of tradition in
Europe that interest me enormously, and at certain levels one could sense a very
remarkable kind of dialogue taking place. It is as if the tradition is nourished from
many sides. However, this is not necessarily apparent on the surface because one
tends to find that many of these communities preserve their own customs and so
on, and yet one knows that they impinge on each other. Despite the great difficul-
ties in a changing Europe, there are great energies of tradition, and these, I pro-
foundly believe, are on the side of imaginative truth.
K.O. One suspects that your decision to live and write outside of your native Guyana is
due in part to your aiming to write with some degree of detachment (to maintain
some aesthetic distance, that is) and/or in part to the fact that you want to avoid
being regarded as a spokesman of your people, a role which might reduce the
literary qualities of your writing. Any thoughts on this observation?
W.H. I think I made this clear in my previous answers. That is what I regard exile to signify,
why I don't accept myself as a spokesman for any group. I mean. I dealt with it in
terms of imaginative truth, the way in which one feels that one is creating character.
if you want to put it like that, but that one is also sought out and changed by the
character of one's age. Also I mentioned that tensions exist in Europe. Tensions
exist everywhere: they exist in the Caribbean, they exist in Africa, and they exist in
Asia. There are all sorts of conflicts that are occurring. Take the Middle East.
Wherever one happens to be, conflict affects one deeply. I sense that in Europe
there are layers of tradition that nourish the ground of imaginative conscience.
Nothing, of course, can be taken for granted.
K.O. How old were you when you left Guyana for England and when did you begin your
W.H. I was in my late 30s when I left Guyana in 1959. When you say professional writing,
my first novel, Palace of the Peacock, was written in England in 1959. But I must
point out that there were three novels before that which 1 had written in Guyana
and discarded. And that first published novel in 1960 has roots in much earlier
K.O. Have you attempted since then to refurbish and publish them .. .? Don't they
count among the sixteen novels that we are talking about?
W.H. No. all those were destroyed . .; no, the working drafts I kept came after Palace.
Some of the drafts of later manuscripts were acquired by universities.
K.O. Although most of your writing is about the Caribbean, could you tell us who your
primary audience is?
W.H. . one's audience really is the English-speaking world. And translations occur into
French and Spanish which also bear on the audience. I think this is true of all
imaginative writers today, particularly those who come from territories like the
Caribbean that are significant because of human potential and the problems that
exist there. At a certain level, these are marginal territories in terms of the size of
the population; but significance cannot be judged by gross quantity. And when I
speak of layers of tradition in Europe, I find that there are connections between
these layers that run into native legacies in the Americas, so that one side may pro-
foundly illumine the other.
I think this applies to African writers, although Africa is in a different posi-
tion; certainly Nigeria is. I think the population of Nigeria is about 80 million. And
that means that it is possible that writers may be nourished there in an economic,
quantitative sense, within the Nigerian territory. This is certainly not true of the
K.O. I am speaking of audience in two senses: the audience to whom you are primarily
feeding your thematic materials, so to speak, and then the general audience who
may buy your books and read as a matter of general interest. Take for example
Chinua Achebe who uses his novels as a medium of re-educating the Africans who
in the past were taught by the early European Missionaries and teachers to despise
things African. By re-evaluating African colonial history, cultures or traditions in
his fiction, he makes the African readers his primary audience, while not excluding
European and other readers from all over the world.
W.H. I don't quite make that distinction when I write. My reasons are as follows: I have a
profound sensation that I have an audience out there who read what I write. But I
do not presume that I am appointed by fate to teach that audience. By that I mean
that I am not talking down to the people who read my novels. To presume to
educate or re-educate anyone may imply paranoia, I do not know. What I do feel
intimately and profoundly is that what one discovers in a book one writes or reads
presses so deeply, one would like others to see. But that is not always possible
because the unique value of discovery lies beyond the realm of dogma. One has to
go step by step. One has to be. first of all, true to what one perceives from many
angles rooted in exploration. At the heart of the quest is a command not to betray
I make a distinction here between ego and self. The self, for me, is rich. rich
soil that goes very, very deep. Ego on the other hand is the historical identity.
Perhaps that's not the best way to put it, but by that I mean that ego is committed
to the immediate historical situation, whereas the self has its roots in the past, far
back, even as it changes or evolves within the newborn future.
K.O. Well, it's not really obvious as such. What I mean by education and re-education is
that you read a novel and learn new things, possibly borne in the themes of the
novel. The author does not consciously tell you that you must know about this or
that. He is trying indirectly to use his writing as a medium of informing and edu-
cating people on a matter of primary importance to him. For example, if I may
preempt a question I wanted to ask later on, here in the United States of America
as well as in the Caribbean, one of the social and political issues is racial discrimina-
tion. Anybody reading your novel "Palace of the Peacock" will realize that you are
in a sense saying that all the peoples of the world belong to that visible and invisible
family of human community. This to my mind is a kind of education. If we realize
this by reading your books, knowing that we cannot separate the Spanish from the
African, or the Russian from the French in that family, then we begin to take our
racial relations more seriously and more sympathetically. At that illusive realm of
existence, then the skin colour does not matter very much. That's what I mean by
education, not coming down on people and saying to them that racism is bad as
W.H. Well, let me make this distinction: what you are saying one sympathizes with
enormously, but the point I was trying to make, perhaps not as clearly as one
would like to, is this: that much as one feels that what one is doing does bear on
the complex of one's time, the ways in which this dialogue develops lie outside of
one's control. And one has to be careful not to see oneself too obviously as educat-
ing people. By that I mean the way this dialogue runs, it is a dialogue that tests one
to the core. In other words, we may be discussing a matter which one seeks to
explain. Why does one seek to explain? Because one feels that the person one
addresses is intimately involved in this dialogue and therefore one seeks to explain
something, but an imaginative work is less direct than that, in that it moves out and
circulates. But the phenomenon is that it may address someone outside of the
boundaries which, one would at first sight think, are the obvious boundaries.
In other words, it may so happen that one's audience (the persons who are respond-
ing to what one is doing) lies more outside one territory than another. This is
something completely beyond the writer's control. So for the imaginative writer
to bend himself obstinately towards a territory and say, "Look, I have to get this
territory! This territory must understand what I'm doing . ." is paranoia, I think.
I'm not sure, of course. Perhaps it is a very real concern but it is something I don't
think I could do, because I would feel that what I'm doing there is not necessarily
helpful. In fact, you might arouse antagonisms, you might arouse hatred. One might
appear to be dogmatic. mean.
K.O. Because of the Apartheid policy of the South African Government, one cannot
compare the social, political and economic conditions of the black people in South
Africa and the Caribbean. However, how do you as a writer in exile compare with
South African writers in exile, especially with Dennis Brutus and Cosmo Pieterse?
W.H. Well, I would feel, first of all as someone who is aware of the horrors of the South
African regime, a great deal of sympathy for Dennis Brutus and others. I suppose
the difference would be a difference really of individual imagination. My sensation,
as I was saying earlier, is that there are certain realities that exist in each culture
that will atrophy or fossilize if one could not see them through the eyes of other
cultures. Therefore, it becomes all the more necessary in the kind of brutally
polarized world in which we live to follow a cross-cultural truth.
K.O. Some writers have the opinion that politics and belles lettres don't mix, yei great
writers such as Yeats and Swift of the U.K., Emerson and Baldwin of the U.S.A.,
and Achebe and Brutus of Africa, to name a few, think otherwise. What can you
say about art for the service of the suffering people?
W.H. You see, some of this we have touched on already, but I will say this: I wouldn't
be surprised if you have in mind, when you say suffering people, certain traumas of
history. My feelings about such traumas is that one has, in some degree, to pene-
trate them because the deprivations which exist in the world secrete parables -
they may be transformed into parables; one knows that humanity has a resilience
and a flexibility.
There is a tendency for groups that protest to lock themselves in. They never
get beyond protest. Protest becomes an institution and if those groups are offered
a way out, they will not take it because they have vested interests in protest. Thus,
they are imprisoned by the very thing against which they are protesting. Protest is
a valuable tool until it is institutionalized.
K.O. To rephrase and pursue the preceding question further, early black writers in Africa
and the U.S.A. used their novels as organs of protesting the traumas of history of
colonialism, racism and imperialism in their respective societies. What do you think
of such books as works of Literature?
W.H. May I observe that Ralph Ellison who wrote The Invisible Man is a major American
writer. I find that a novel in which you can trace very remarkable features of myth,
and what seems to me to be of greatest interest about that novel is that it bears on
the whole American situation and the American imagination. Have you read it?
K.O. Yes, I have read it. My idea is that Ellison, in that novel, is talking about a situation
from the universal point of view without actually localizing the narrative action to
bear specifically on the plights of the blacks like other black writers, such as
Richard Wright and James Baldwin, have done. In a word, his invisible man is an
everyman. Well, that kind of universal emphasis serves its purpose and that's okay.
Nevertheless, considering the social, economic and political situations of blacks in
the U.S.A. conditions which needed to be advertised in the form of literary pro-
test Ellison should have emphasized the local more than the universal themes as he
has done in that great novel. I can imagine I would be accused of legislating creative
process, but that is my subjective view of the novel. However, we all know that
writers wear masks as they create characters who seek them out, to paraphrase you.
If Ellison as well as other writers like him ignore the local black characters who seek
them out in order to find the universal characters first, probably to pursue art for
art's sake, then one would question the relationship of history and current affairs
to contemporary literature. In the light of what I have said, how do you evaluate
W.H. Well, it all depends on how you look at a novel like that. I find that Invisible Man
has very concrete particulars and far-reaching phases. There is the first phase which
has to do with the boxing ring; in that phase the old black woman appears. Also,
the blonde woman beside the ring. The invisible man suffers a kind of metaphoric
death and then comes up again to move into the second Bledsoe phase, then into
I don't want to go into the particulars of the novel, but what is striking about
it is that in each phase the invisible man undergoes a crucial transformation. I grant
that each metamorphosis is bleak because of the deprivations of muse figures in the
fiction, deprivations that tend to remain uniform.
My argument is that a novel like that, whether written by a black man or
white man, would seem to me to bear profoundly on a community that can res-
pond to it. We come back to education. No-one can compel people into an appre-
ciation of innovative literatures. If they understand what is at stake, they may begin
to question their own assumptions and biases.
K.O. Let us talk about "Palace of the Peacock" specifically: "Palace of the Peacock" is a
novel of ideas in the sense that it serves as an exemplification of your theories of
creative writing. For example, in your "Talk on the Subjective Imagination", you
said, "My purpose is to show how in this novel the architectural, dynamic revision
and reconstruction of the past works itself out through a store of images intimately
related to Guyanese experience." Given the educational, political and economic
development of the people, do you think many Guyanese people are capable of
appreciating the message of the novel in terms of using it to solve their practical
W.H. My experience of Guyana was one that was tormenting at a certain level but very
rich psychically, because the journeys I made into the interior were an invaluable
source of reflection and action, a sense of cosmos in the body of rivers, rain forests,
savannahs, a sense of imprints of expedition from pre-Columbian age into so-called
The tides of the Atlantic coast have an architectonic moment in their restless
function. When you go deep into the interior, you come into the rapids which are
above the tidal regions, and you find rocks in the rapids that are, in fact, geological
tides, whereas the tides in the Atlantic are in a metaphoric sense rocks. I mean you
could see the tides in the Atlantic as moving or fluid rocks, and rocks in some areas
of the rapids as sculptured tides. The passage from one to the other subsists on a
reality that wears many masks, sometimes fluid, sometimes hard. One is tempted to
eclipse that reality within polarized institutions that need therefore to be revised in
the spirit indicated in the quotation to which you refer.
You have spoken of a novel of ideas. This is not true of Palace. Palace is not a
novel of ideas unless by ideas you mean forces that constitute a kind of visualiza-
tion of active myth. And the way that active myth marries character and medium
of place into celebration of consciousness.
K.O. Yes, the actual journey you made served as inspirational material that helped you
to write, but the finished product (the novel, that is) could be seen as a novel of
ideas in that you have used what you saw in that journey to ruminate some of the
social problems facing the Caribbean and man at large. For example, the actual
crew which embarked on the exploration journey was composed of people from
Africa, Asia, and Europe. How they worked together and related to one another
seems to espouse the idea of apocalyptic existence as well as that of unity in
diversity. Can't one talk about the novel in those terms?
W.H. Well, let me explain, in some degree, what seems to me to be at stake. Normally
when people use the term, "novel of ideas", they are talking about a different kind
of experience from the one we are now discussing. You may remember that early
in the novel, the woman, Mariella, appears. She appears as a woman who is ill-
treated by Donne. At a later stage, the crew arrives at the "Mission of Mariella",
a place, a settlement. On this Mission, they come upon an old Arawak woman. She
looks worn and ancient as though imprinted by living fossils. In a sense, she is also
Mariella seen at great depth within an evolving ascent and descent of sensibility.
Thus, in the boat itself, she is suddenly transformed, at a moment of acute peril
affecting the crew, into a majestic, human gateway of memory, not ancient this
time but abnormally young and painted by sky and water.
Another and later transformation of Mariella strikes us as pertinent to the
woman who appears like an illumined candle dressed in her long, flowing hair.
Without going too deeply into the matter, I think that these transformations are an
implicit marriage occurring between the human element and elements of nature
alchemized into a quest for the city of god and the symphony of God. Tone, creati-
vity, leaps of capacity, may issue into insight but they came first or are so inter-
woven together that origin origin of insight, origin of tone remains mysterious.
This conception, in my judgment, is not ideological nor is it dogmatic. It is a
concert of imagination with place and being by way of creative re-shaping, visualiza-
tions that cut backwards and forwards. It is a curiously active process. Nothing is
possible without the strange life of imagination that accepts itself at involuntary
and voluntary levels. That kind of alchemy may be interwoven with visionary and
philosophic myth, but the intuitive depth and unpredictable range of tradition that
informs it I do not know how to label.
K.O. Is one wrong to brand "Palace of the Peacock" as an apocalyptic writing in the sense
that you have attempted to achieve literarily a synthesis of many cultures, especial-
ly considering the naming and delineation of the characters?
W.H. It isn't a synthesis except as cross-cultural interaction by which each agent is
deepened or illumined through others. Presences are involved with presence
through, absences. Thus, the I-narrator vanishes for a while and then comes up
again. He seems to submerge himself in imprints of the buried past, he becomes,
shall I say, a miniscule counterpoint within and against occasionally larger-than-life
embodiments of event. The interweaving, inter-penetration, of macrocosm and
microcosm, of what is partial (however apparently larger-than-life) and what is
pointillist spirit, would seem to me the mystery of universality planted in the native
phenomenon, the native host of consciousness.
K.O. Thank you, Mr. Harris!
IN DEFENCE OF NAIPAUL'S GUERRILLAS: A REPLY
Professor Cudjoe's essay, "Revolutionary Struggle and the Novel," tries to show that in
Juminer's Bozambo's Revenge, Naipaul's Guerrillas and Carpentier's Explosion in a
Cathedral, "revolutionary struggle in the novel is utilized with a well-defined intention".1
A substantial part of the essay deals with Guerrillas which Professor Cudjoe condemns as
"one of Naipaul's worst novels."2 Cudjoe's criticism of Guerrillas is excessively severe,
and it seriously mars what is an otherwise largely rewarding essay. His criticism, moreover,
is noticeably subjective, and several of his comments remind us of ad hominem argu-
ments. Professor Cudjoe, surely, is preoccupied more with the man Naipaul and less with
his fiction. He accuses Naipaul of the following sins: egotism, insincerity, irresponsibility,
insipidity, racism. Naipaul is also guilty of contempt for those less fortunate than he.3
None of these serious charges can be substantiated by an examination of Guerrillas. It can
also be said that this sort of vituperative criticism sometimes forces Professor Cudjoe to
draw rather questionable conclusions. Harry's contemptuous rejection of the reggae is an
excellent case in point. It is really Naipaul, not Harry, who is sneering at "one of the
creative contributions of Caribbean peoples to the treasure trove of world culture".4
Harry, in a word, is merely Naipaul's mouthpiece. The novel will not support this
interpretation which denies Harry his own characteristic idiosyncrasies. Because he is
obsessed with the need to resist all stereotyping, Harry turns to extreme, inflexible
behaviour. He will show the people of Toronto that he is not your typical "Calypso
Harry",s that he cannot be expected to perform, automaton-like, at the first sound of
music. Harry, therefore, has never tapped his feet to music. Given the psychology of his
character, this is an altogether appropriate response. It is equally appropriate for him to
reject the reggae out of hand.
This essay challenges some of Professor Cudjoe's conclusions, and at the same time
offers a different reading of Guerrillas, one drawn largely from an examination of
Naipaul's source, The Return of Eva Peron with the Killings in Trinidad,6 absolutely in-
dispensable reading for an understanding of Guerrillas.
The setting of Guerrillas is not, as Professor Cudjoe implies, a vague country "trying
to shape its own distinctive national character".7 The setting is much more specific than
this. Naipaul's island bears what is considerably more than a mere superficial resemblance
to Trinidad, and indeed the relationship between Guerrillas and the story of Malik and
the black power killings in Trinidad in early 1972 is intimate and crucial. Naipaul, Pro-
fessor Cudjoe complains, denies "the possibility of any revolutionary activity at any given
level and treats it as a squalid farce whenever it appears".8 This is not an altogether just
complaint. Jimmy Ahmed's "commune" is the fictional equivalent of Malik's absurd com-
mune in Arima, a slumbering town a few miles from Port-of-Spain. Both communes are
essentially farcical from the pretentious names of Jimmy's Thrushcross Grange and
Malik's Christina Gardens to the embarrassingly amateurish attempt to do "agriculture".
Trinidad "was far enough away," Naipaul writes; "and so, in a country town, in the
mature garden of a rented suburban house, Malik could say that he did agriculture, with
his new commune". (Killings, p. 5) The reality was, of course, considerably more prosaic:
Malik incorporated the activities of neighboring small farmers into his commune.
"Everything in Malik's commune existed; nothing belonged to him. It was like a return,
in maturity," Naipaul explains, "to that time of his childhood in Belmont when he had
stolen a bicycle and had been arrested". (Killings, p. 54) In Guerrillas only the very
obtuse take Jimmy and his revolutionary commune seriously. "Everybody," says Jane,
"is pretending that something exists that doesn't exist". (Guerrillas, p. 30)
The bleakness of Guerrillas, which Professor Cudjoe finds so disconcerting, can be'
found in Naipaul's source. Drought and sterility images, which are sometimes set along-
;side the sterility of human decadence, are written deep into the novel's idiom, and these,
more than anything else, give the novel its sour flavour. There was much rain in Trinidad
in 1972; but 1973 "opened with drought. Every day the hills smoked with scores of
separate fires; bamboo clumps ignited; fire, almost colorless in the sunlight, crackled on
the roadside verges". (Killings, p. 66) In Guerrillas we are constantly reminded of the
smoking hills: "above the settlements lower down, . drought had browned the hills;
and through this brown the bush fires had cut irregular dark-red patches ... The grass
verges had been blackened by fire, and in some places still burned". (Guerrillas, p. 10)
Naipaul distils the sterility of Malik's commune a year after its destruction by fire -
in a long passage full of marvellous resonances. One of these comes readily to mind: "The
garden was overgrown, the grass straggly and brown," Naipaul writes; "but the drought
had drawn out bright color from every flowering plant, and bougainvillaea was purple and
pink-red on the wire mesh fence". (Killings, pp. 68-69) Jimmy's garden is equally
scorched and overgrown; "but the drought that had killed the land and set the hills on
fire had drawn out the tenderest blooms from the unpruned bougainvillaea and the
almost stripped hibiscus shrubs", (Guerrillas, p. 23) Triniddti's densely populated north-
west, which Naipaul accurately describes as "an urban or a semi-urban sprawl, seemingly
unplanned and grabbing" (Killings, p. 54), matches the equally chaotic squalour of
Naipaul's fictional city:
the hillsides are scratched higher and higher with
houses and squatters' shacks and show more brown
every year . The built-up areas choke; the highways
are clogged with motorcars ... Black carrion cor-
beaux guard the entrance to Port of Spain; and over
much of the eastern end of the city, where green hills
have been quarried by illegal immigrants from the
other islands into dusty red shanty towns, there now
hangs the reek of the city's new rubbish dump, burn-
ing in the mangrove that once sheltered the scarlet
ibis. (Killings, p. 55)
The sun ... picked out all the ridges and dips of the
scorched hills, that smoked . The junked cars
beside the road ... the burning rubbish clump, lorries
and people amid the smoke and the miniature hills of
confetti-like refuse, the big-breasted black corbeaux
squatting on the fence-posts ... the shanty-town re-
settlements, their population spilling out of rows of
identical tin-and-concrete huts . the bauxite pall;
the hot, squalling afternoon city, melting tar, honking
buses and taxis and enraged, sweating cyclists. (Guer-
rillas, p. 250)
One cannot find a more palpably accurate description of the reality that is Port-of-Spain,
and indeed it is difficult to resist the conclusion that Naipaul is thinking of his 1960 visit
to Trinidad when he would flee to the country to escape the eternal, raucous noises of
The problem with Jimmy, Professor Cudjoe writes, is that "in his haste to deal with
the wrongs of his society he allowed idealism to get the better of him".10 Cudjoe, surely,
has misunderstood Naipaul's uncompromising exposure of Jimmy Ahmed. Again, a care-
ful examination of Naipaul's source will shed considerable light on the personality of
Jimmy. Jimmy and Malik are, we may say, virtually of a piece. They resemble each other
in several, even ostensibly minor, ways. There is, for example, the tendency of both men
to travel in "style", that is to say, to use large, ostentatious American cars with preten-
tiously attired chauffeurs. The psychological reasons for this sort of behaviour are so
obvious that no explanation should detain us. There is also Jimmy's simplistic revolu-
tionary manifesto, described as "a fairy story, a school composition, ungrammatical and
confused" (Guerrillas, p. 17), and Malik's equally absurd plans for the founding in Trini-
dad of the first International University of the Alternative, "the seat of the counter-culture
of the Alternative". Killings, p. 22) More important than either of these are the darkened
minds that led both men to commit murders of appalling brutality, a fact which Professor
Cudjoe simply ignores. (Cudjoe does refer, almost parenthetically, to the death of Jane as
if it were an inconvenience for Jimmy, forcing him to recognize the loneliness of his posi-
Jimmy Ahmed, like his counterpart Malik, is an unoriginal and essentially un-
remarkable man. Their "revolutions" were doomed to failure not because as Professor
Cudjoe implies Naipaul believes that the allegedly uncreative peoples of the West Indies
are incapable of significant revolutionary activity; the revolutions fail because the leaders
are merely entertainers, jesters, rather transparent con artists. There are other reasons, of
course; but this aspect of the two leaders should be more closely examined. Naipaul's
penetrating examination of Malik's career clearly shows how he was regarded by both
Trinidadians and the middle-class liberals of London:
To the Trinidad crowds Malik had become a "charac-
ter," a Carnival figure, a dummy Judas to be beaten
through the streets on Good Friday. Which was all
that he had been in London, even in the great days
of his newspaper fame as the X: the militant who
was only an entertainer, the leader who had no
followers . (Killings, pp. 22-23)
In London Malik "the jester was recognized and accepted as a jester, but was otherwise
kept at a distance". (Killings, p, 32) In Trinidad only the most obtuse were perhaps
taken in by Malik. "It was known what he was," Naipaul concludes, "but among the cyni-
cal and parasitic new men of Trinidad that was like respectability". (Killings, p. 56) In
London Jimmy Ahmed was also a "plaything" (Guerrillas, p. 26) as Meredith discovers
when he visits him in Wimbledon:
... all I saw then was a white woman in a big house.
She was arranging all the publicity, and I sat down in
that big drawing-room and watched that man behav-
ing like one of those toys you wind up. And that tall
woman with the flat hips was looking on, very, very
happy with her little Pekinese black. (Guerrillas, p.
Meredith's description of Jimmy as "one of those toys you wind up" is particularly perti-
nent: it is a rather accurate description of Malik. Malik "was the total 1960s Negro in a
London setting," Naipaul says, "and his very absence of originality, his plasticity, his
ability to give people the kind of Negro they wanted, made him acceptable to journalists".
(Killings, p. 23) Jimmy shares Malik's plasticity: "he can be programmed," says Meredith;
"he's the most suggestible man I know." (Guerrillas, p. 142) Roche has "never found
him so," (Guerrillas, p. 142), to be sure; but notice that it is only the ineffectual, naive
Roche who takes Jimmy seriously, "more seriously than the people who gave Jimmy
money". (Guerrillas, p. 53)
An essential ingredient in the farcical careers of Jimmy and Malik is the simple, but
important, fact that neither "leader" is really black that is to say, not as the Trinidad-
ian conceives of it. Both men, we notice, regard the circumstances of their birth with
distaste and shame. Malik's father was a Portuguese shopkeeper; his mother was a black
Barbadian alienated in "the tight lower-middle-class Negro community of Belmont".
(Killings, p. 26) Jimmy is "a hakwai chinee", one "born in the back room of a Chinese
grocery, a half-black nobody, just a Chinaman's lucky shot on a dark night". (Guerrillas,
pp. 27; 62) Naipaul makes much of Malik's (and Jimmy's) mixed blood; but his intention
is neither racist nor belittling. Malik's mixed blood was an essential element in the man's
shallowness: "he was everybody's Negro, and not too Negroid." Moreover, "only some-
one who knew he wasn't really a Negro," Naipaul explains, "someone who knew that
when the time came he could go off and play another game could have worked so hard
at the role, and so guyed it". (Killings, p. 23) Malik's half-white status, in a word, "was
the sweetest part of the joke". (Killings, p. 23) Jimmy's mixed blood is equally crucial:
"I think you are being naive, Peter," Meredith remarks during the radio interview with
Roche; "You were a stranger when you came ... But did you think, after you'd got here,
that someone with a Chinese shopkeeping background could be in tune with aspirations
of black people?" (Guerrillas, p. 207) Professor Cudjoe is especially upset by this ques-
tion, which he sees as evidence of Naipaul's racism: "He is Chinese and according to
Naipaul he cannot be in tune with the aspirations of 'black' people. This to me smacks of
racism, and many have long made those charges against Naipaul.""1 Professor Cudjoe
ignores, rather unfortunately I think, one indispensable fact the nature of race relations
in Trinidad. Race prejudice in Trinidad as sociologists who have studied the matter and
anyone who has lived in Trinidad has discovered is an intricate and complex matter,
and differences in shades of colour within the same racial group are as crucial and impor-
tant as differences between the various races. (This sort of prejudice can sometimes be
found even among members of the same family!)12 Naipaul's perceptive comment about
Malik's half-white status and Meredith's question do not therefore point to the author's
alleged racism; instead, they are particularly pertinent to the sort of society Naipaul is
vividly depicting. The reality is that many would question the right of Jimmy (or some-
one of similar stripe) to lead a black revolt.
Jimmy's hatred for the middle class, especially the English middle class who made
him its plaything, is a rather strong motif in Guerrillas. It is part of the explanation for his
brutally contemptuous killing of Jane. This hatred, moreover, is thinly disguised: Jane
recognizes it in her very first meeting with Jimmy. "He is an enemy to all privilege," she
says, "and I am middle class born and bred and I know that in spite of his great civility and
urbane charm he must hate people like me. I only have to look in his eyes to understand
the meaning of hate". (Guerrillas, p. 40) Naipaul culled Jimmy's hatred for the English
middle class from his close study of Malik's primitive novel. Malik's resentment of the
English middle class turned into hatred soon enough. He came to hate "the people with
money or connections who patronized him in both senses of the word, who were secure,
who could fix anything, who held Negroes in contempt but were fascinated by him".
(Killings, p. 37) Gale Benson, the white woman in residence at Malik's "commune", was
Malik's ideal victim, and Naipaul draws largely from her personality when he came to
delineate the character of Jane in Guerrillas. Naipaul is again following his source rather
carefully. Members of Malik's retinue actually believed that Gale Benson might have been
a British secret agent, and Jimmy also makes a covert allusion to Jane as a possible agent.
However false these suspicions are, they are nonetheless implicit motives in the murders.
Jane and Gale regard themselves as secure members of the privileged English middle class.
This is instructive: their tragedies lie in this all-abiding faith in that security. Consider
Gale Benson. for instance. "Everything that is remembered of Benson in Trinidad,"
Naipaul says, "suggests the great uneducated vanity of the middle class dropout". (Killings,
p. 6) She was a fake; but so too were Malik and his disciples. (Jimmy Ahmed is also a
fake.) "But to be a fake among fakes: in the melodramatic atmosphere of the commune
that was dangerous". Killings, p. 6) Gale, like Jane, brought to Trinidad "the assump-
tions, not only of her class and race ... but also of her ultimate security". (Killings, p. 71)
The alien, impenetrable Gale reminds us of the equally alien, withdrawn, "unreadable"
Jane, whose own whiteness is of a kind distinctly different from that of the island's whites.
(Guerrillas, p. 14) But Jane also shares Gale's spurious security. She is, indeed, one of
those "who keep up with 'revolution' as with the theatre, the revolutionaries who visit
centers of revolution, but with return air tickets, the people for whom Malik's kind of
Black Power was an exotic but safe brothel". (Killings, p. 29)13
Naipaul's perception of Gale Benson's murder is remarkably sound. Surprise may
have been the motive for the killing: "the surprise, a secure life ending in an extended
moment of terror". (Killings, p. 6) The element of surprise is certainly prominent in the
killing of Jane. Jane, we notice, is led to the slaughter by Jimmy who disingenuously talks
of her house in England, at the same time giving her covert, obscene hints of the horror
to come. This horror is described in disconcerting detail, and it probably explains in
part, at any rate Professor Cudjoe's abhorrence of the novel. But what is Naipaul's
intention? He is certainly not exploiting the sensational, obscene elements in the killing.
There is no evidence in the novel to support this; nor is there any evidence in Naipaul's
canon to suggest that he is given to this sort of exploitation. Naipaul's treatment of Jane's
murder is utterly honest, and again we would do well to compare the fictional killing with
its real counterpart. Naipaul also describes the killing of Gale Benson with candid and, we
may think, brutal detail. His intention, I suggest, is to emphasize the ghastly abyss into
which hate, lunacy and stupidity can plunge human beings. He draws upon the murder of
Gale for several details in the killing of Jane. Even the killer's cry for assistance is incor-
porated into the fictional killing. But more important than this detail is the ritualistic
aspect of the Benson killing: "blood," Malik told his disciples, "was the only thing that
could keep them together". (Killings, p. 79) We notice a somewhat similar aspect to
Jane's killing: to a certain extent the killing serves to bring about a reconciliation of
Jimmy and Bryant. Moreover, Jimmy, we remember, had quite early in the novel told
Bryant, rather darkly: "I'll give her to you". (Guerrillas, p. 90) I apologize for quoting
the killing of Gale Benson in some detail, but it is necessary to bring my point home:
He held his right hand over her mouth, twisted her
left hand behind her with his left hand, and jumped
with her into the shallow hole. Kidogo jumped in at
once with his sharpened cutlass and began to use it
on her, cutting through the African'gown, aiming at
the heart . He just slashed and stabbed, inflicting
superficial cuts; and Benson was asking him why,
speaking "intimately" to him . Kidogo . was like
a madman, and with the three of them in that small
hole Abbott began to fear that he might himself be
killed. In his panic and confusion he called out,
stupidly, "Somebody help! Somebody do some-
thing!" Steve Yeates . went to the hole ... With
his left hand he placed the sharpened point of the
cutlass at the base of Benson's throat; with his right
hand he hit the haft hard . Of all the men there
Yeates was the one with the purest hate. The broad
blade went in six inches, and Benson made a gurgling
noise. She fell and began "to beat about" in the hole.
(Killings, pp. 83-84).
This obscene killing of an utterly defenceless woman by three men (a murder planned
with chilling detachment, incidentally) was the fruit of Malik's agricultural commune.
And it is only after the equally obscene killing of Jane that we come to fully understand
the bizarre irony of Jane's comment early in the story: "to me he is like a prince helping
these poor and indigent black people". (Guerrillas, p. 62) (One also thinks of Gale
Benson's deification of Jamal, Malik's right-hand man at Christina Gardens.) The desola-
tion Jimmy experiences after the killing is matched, we notice, by Naipaul's brilliant
distillation of the human dereliction and the sterility of Malik's commune. (Killings,
pp. 68-69) We may say that reality not only matches, it actually surpasses the fictional
The buggering of Jane moments before she is killed might also explain why Profes-
sor Cudjoe regards Guerrillas as a vulgar novel. But this act, of which the killing is the
climax, is part of the total degrading of Jane, the white, liberal, middle-class female,
one of those, we remember, "who come flashing their milk white thighs and think they're
contributing to the cause" (Guerrillas, p. 42. My italics). Revolt or revolutionary struggle
are not caused, Cudjoe writes, because the perceptions of leaders "are shaped largely as a
result of unfulfilled relations with white women". Revolt "occurs when people are pro-
foundly dissatisfied with the nature of their lives".14 Professor Cudjoe is, of course, right.
Nor does Naipaul imply any connection between revolutionary struggle and the sort of
perceptions Cudjoe mentions. Now the black male-white female syndrome is a topic that
has virtually been worked dry. Nonetheless, it is not useful to ignore it since it stands out,
rather prominently, in both Guerrillas and its source. It is certain that in Guerrillas the
white female, precisely because she is white, is Jimmy's victim. This is not to say that
Jimmy does not abhor her middle-class complacency. The novelist never lets us forget
Jimmy's contempt and hate for Jane. We have already seen Gale Benson as victim of the
Malik commune. She had become a source of strain for Jamal who, "when he understood
that Trinidad wasn't the United States, began to feel that in an island where the majority
of the population was black, he didn't 'look good' with a white woman at his side".
(Killings, pp. 73-74) Gale had to be eliminated.
Jimmy's treatment of Jane clearly demonstrates that his intention is to degrade her,
to show her that she is indeed "rotten meat". (Guerrillas, p. 239) Roche is aware of
Jimmy's intentions. "Has he taken a picture of you naked? Did you pose for him with
your legs open?" he asks her. "Isn't that what they do with the women they've degraded?
Keep them in their wallet to show the others. Or did he do the other thing? The other act
of contempt". (Guerrillas, pp. 224-225) If we study Jimmy's treatment of Jane care-
fully however unpleasant an exercise this is we notice that Jimmy is doing consider-
ably more than deliberately inflicting upon the white female a painful cruelty. More
pertinently, what we notice is the male impressing upon the female, as effectively and
unmistakably as he can, the fact of her total submission to him. Jane must be broken in.
(Guerrillas, p. 238) And there is more. A passage from Naipaul's source will help to
deepen our understanding of this scene. Naipaul is writing about the buggering of women
in Argentina, but it is not unlikely that he was thinking of this when he wrote the scene
The act of straight sex, easily bought, is of no great
moment to the macho. His conquest of a woman is
complete only when he has buggered her. This is what
the woman has it in her power to deny ... Contem-
porary sexologists give a general dispensation to bug-
gery. But the buggering of women is of special signifi-
chance in Argentina and other Latin American coun-
tries . By imposing on her what prostitutes reject,
and what he knows to be a kind of sexual black mass,
the Argentine macho ... consciously dishonors his
victim. So diminished men ... diminish themselves
further . (Killings, p. 155. My italics)
Professor Cudjoe describes Guerrillas as "a dismal failure".15 This criticism is
understandable if we accept Cudjoe's premises, one of which is that Guerrillas does
not "address itself to the nature of guerrilla warfare." The novel, Cudjoe adds, "really has
very little to say about the contemporary Caribbean condition or that of any developing
society for that matter".16 But Guerrillas is obviously not meant to be a sociological
treatise on developing societies and guerrilla warfare. Nor is Naipaul, as novelist, obligated
to expatiate upon these matters in Guerrillas any more than, say, Graham Greene was
obligated to deal with the nature of British colonialism in Africa in his novel The Heart of
the Matter. This is not to say that Naipaul is ignorant of the problems of developing
societies. There are significant themes in Guerrillas, certainly; it would be a mistake, how-
ever, to treat Guerrillas as if it were designed as a roman a these. Naipaul's emphasis in
Guerrillas is upon people, especially Jimmy Ahmed, a man who, having become obsessed
with his own self-conception, is a victim of his own chimeras. Like his counterpart Malik,
Jimmy is a man who was "led to lunacy by all the ideas he had been given of who he
was". (Killings, p. 87) Like Malik at Christina Gardens, Jimmy also lived at Thrushcross
Grange "with an illusion of achieved power". (Killings, pp. 87-88) In short, Jimmy is
not Heathcliff. He will not be offered a crown. Nor is he "the leader they're waiting for".
(Guerrillas, p. 62)
Guerrillas is not a particularly exhilarating novel. It is even unpleasant. (But so
too is, say, Tess of the D'Urbervilles.) It does not, however, deserve Professor Cudjoe's
scathing denunciation. It may not be Naipaul's finest work, as some commentators claim.
It is certainly not "one of Naipaul's worst novels", as Cudjoe argues. Rather, Guerrillas is
probably Naipaul's most disturbing and challenging novel insofar as the novelist invites us
to examine rather closely those ironic, bizarre and intensely disconcerting areas of human
darkness. And it is not a coincidence, it seems to me, that at the very end of the novel
Roche deliberately chooses niot to turn on the light, and the novelist, using this easily
overlooked action as a subtle symbol, shows us Jimmy and Roche talking to each other in
the deepening darkness of each other's desolation.
1. Selwyn Cudjoe, "Revolutionary Struggle and the Novel," Caribbean Quarterly, Vol. 25, No. 4
(December, 1979), 1-30.
2. Ibid., 9.
3. Ibid., 9.
4. Ibid., 12.
5. V. S. Naipaul, Guerrillas (Penguin Books, 1976), p. 129. All subsequent references are incor-
porated in the text.
6. V. S. Naipaul, The Return of Eva Peron with the Killings in Trinidad (London: Andre Deutsch,
1980). All subsequent references are incorporated in the text and cited as Killings.
7. Cudjoe, 9.
8. Ibid., 13.
9. See V. S. Naipaul, The Middle Passage (Penguin Books, 1969), pp. 58-59; 66.
10. Cudjoe, 16.
11. Ibid., 16.
12. In a recent book about Eric Williams' PNM government and his role in it, former Health Minis-
ter Dr Winston Mahabir makes much of the racial differences among members of the PNM. Let
me say, rather quickly, that I am not charging Mahabir with racism; it does demonstrate, how-
ever, the Trinidadian's preoccupation with subtle racial differences. See Winston Mahabir, In
and Out of Politics (Port-of-Spain, 1978), pp. 93-95.
13. Jane also reminds us of the thirty-year-old Englishwoman narrator of Malik's novel. She res-
ponds to Malik's well-appointed house in Arima in a way that recalls Jane's response to Jimmy's
sitting. See Killings, p. 60 and Guerrillas, pp. 23-24.
14. Cudjoe, 16.
15. Ibid., 10.
16. Ibid., 9.
from the MS The Summer of Lilacs
This is my lilac, echoing Whitman : : the first poem in months.
But poem's misleading : : it's really a work of that sheer gen -
re I fashioned, : language-in-music. It combines the two hills,
Don't be put off by the odd punctuation. The stops of language-
in-music are strict and precise. How can one colon suffice when
exactly twice a pause is required? Seems silly to me to stay in
off music when a lark could sing thru the work
In a poem by Galway Kinnell the persona eats the turd of a bear
to stave off starvation. I wonder at hunger so black. Stories e-
merge of shipwrecked men drawing lots to see who next will be
eaten. Such an act must shake the whole cosmos. If sharks could
read such aberrant minds, even the lethalest white might stop
his meal for the moment. Although it's immortal, perhaps the
Patrice, my son; and Lucy, my mother. If either died 1 would
curse the loveliest flowers. I would curse the sapphire sea. As
far as I go death is some recalcitrant madness. The bodily rhy-
thm of every last one is clearly eternal: : heartbeat and breath.
One day ghosts will quit us, wreath upon wreath, then all will be
dancers on the green earth
TOMB OF A HERO: NWM
Inconvenient man, spare, angular dream-
er, the ascetic of the hustings, they ,
could hardly wait to structure round you grey
even as if the stream
of a bright purpose, once corralled, once domes-
tically cradled, drew beatitude
from word-slurry and wordsludge
still greyer platitude.
We could hardly wait. Our hearthless homes
required an icon, and you were it, while
you yet breathed: the soldier's aptness for
reality ('One thing more, always one more
thing'): death's equivocating ridicule
of all our jauntiness, this book you gave
yourself a long time ago, we had to have.
Prisoner like Toussaint in that heaven
of the will to its own
annihilation plighted, yours
then is the tradition of the gaming
man who in uneven
stakes of history
proffers the solitary
token of a life. For
which, the one flutter
where loser wins, agape, the
utterly jaded world
in our hearts' waste
who poured out your hope on
our barrenness, teacher, lover
of the mountain
rigour, visit again
from some shy fastness your spirit graces
our encompassing ruin.
The Jamaicans by Victor Stafford Reid. Kingston: Institute of Jamaica, 1976. 266 pp.
The serious intent of Reid's latest novel is completely stated in two simple, categorical
propositions: nationalism is good, and black is beautiful. More particularly, the aim is to
encourage nationalistic feeling in Jamaicans and pride of race in black Jamaicans. There is
nothing to read between the lines, no complicating irony or ambiguity informing Reid's
vision. The sentiments, of course, are honourable, although nationalism is not one of the
"pure" emotions. The whole effort arises primarily out of the national hero-making
faculty, which is not exactly one of the highest faculties.
The method of fictionalising these sentiments is itself categorical, if not arbitrary.
It is a method of exhortation by example, and the examples rest as much on what we
don't know as on what we know of Jamaican history. The time is not long after the
capture of the island from the Spanish by Cromwell's men in 1655. The English have
already begun to show signs of intending to establish a colony and are entrenching them-
selves at St Jago de la Vega (subsequently to become Spanish Town, the island's first
English capital). Meanwhile, driven to the north coast, Don Arnaldo de Ysassi, last Spanish
Governor, is still hoping to drive out the English, with the help of Spanish reinforcements
from Cuba as well as Maroon guerrillas.
For the Maroons, in their mountain stronghold, anxious to preserve their freedom,
this situation poses a problem. Their chief, the fabled Juan de Bolas, senses, rightly, that
the English will eventually drive out the Spaniards completely. So he decides that it is
with the former that he must play politics, siding with them to complete the inevitable
rout of the Spaniards, whom he has hitherto assisted. But Juan shrewdly calculates that
before he commits himself to fighting with the English he must show his strength con-
vincingly to/against them, so that they will treat him with respect, and so that his inde-
pendence and free access to the island will be guaranteed when they come to power.
However, Juan must be cautious and diplomatic towards his own people in carrying out
his plan, because the Maroons, in Reid's account, have become very hispanicised. Their
affection for the Spaniards, whose Catholicism they have espoused, is felt by none more
strongly than by Pablo, Juan's chief lieutenant, to whom de Ysassi, qualifies as a true
Jamaican, second only to the mountain-men themselves.
The question of the supposed Jamaicanism of the Spaniards is central to the plot,
and to Juan's problem of political strategy, since Jamaicanism as such is being posited by
Reid as an ideal and a basis for value judgements. Juan is presented as a super-hero,
acting not only out of the instinct for self-preservation, or out of political expediency,
but also in the aura of glowing nationalistic feeling. His choices are determined, in the
current phrase, by "the national interest", although there is as yet hardly a nation. He
represents a kind of artistic opportunism, created as he is at a time when Jamaican air is
hot with charges and counter-charges of selling out the island-nation to one or other
foreign power. We may see him as one model of "a principled foreign policy", to use
another current phrase.
But there is a problem with Reid's portrait of Juan de Bolas. Historical records
indicate that his crossing over to the English was not just an abrogation of his arrange-
ment and friendship with the Spaniards, in whatever light we may see that, but also a
betrayal, into the vengeful hands of the English, of his own people who did not cross over
with him. A definitive article to this effect has appeared since the publication of The
Jamaicans: "Juan de Bolas and His Pelinco", by S. A. G. Taylor and David Buisseret,
in Caribbean Quarterly, vol. 24. nos. 1 & 2. March-June 1978. Taylor and Buisseret
point out that they are not the first historians to have deemed Juan de Bolas traitor rather
than hero, and it may also be inferred that the documents which they cite were not in-
accessible to someone as interested in the matter as Reid. Of course, there is a certain
licence allowed to imaginative literature in its use of history, but this is not unqualified.
Besides, it would seem that for Reid's nation-building motive he specifically wanted to
find a historically valid hero; in which case, and for whatever reasons, he has erred.
Apart from the problem of the historical validity of the protagonist, there are other
difficulties in Reid's presentation of the Maroons as a whole. Not every reader will believe
in the seventeenth-century Maroons' "fierce love" for Jamaica, or in their full, untroubled
acceptance of Christianity. What of Africa they remember they remember with pride, but
there is no hankering after the old country, no clash of religions, no cultural disquiet. The
transition seems to have been unbelievably easy. Reid is "shooting a line", and the reader
will either take it or leave it. It may also have some polemical value. It is easy to imagine
another writer positing, just as arbitrarily, the seventeenth-century Maroons as afflicted
by all the Black trauma and rage and Africa-longing of the twentieth century. We project
our wishes and prejudices on to the uncertain past.
The difficulty of the reader's "suspension of disbelief' extends more generally to
Reid's romantic idealising of his Maroons. They are all supermen, moving grandly and
gracefully through a paradisal land. The picture is not significantly balanced or deepened
by the inclusion of Wamba, the silly "poet who thinks he is a planter and who plants as
badly as his verse". (p. 93) "They ran in a beautiful balance, head and neck bent over
nearly parallel to the ground, their muscles in flow and a clear-headed listening to the
land". (p. 80) Their "jewelled blue-black bodies" twist and gleam "all summer" in the
rock-pool. (p. 80) "They were wild and strange, racing against the skyline. ." (p. 114)
and "they went leaping down the broken countryside, silently, in a wild exultation of
black and olive bodies". (p. 149) Wild and strange to whom? Is Reid unable to shake off
the myth of the noble savage, the view of the "native" as exotic?
'Tantum ergo, sacramentum'. the guerrillas sang in big voices, their heads lifting".
(p. 36) When Pablo laughs, it is "with a noise like silk on silk". (p. 30) But the dwarfish
English pikeman Tubbs, "who had no Spanish, could only look into the abyss below and
croak, 'Luvaduck!" (p. 26) In such reversals there may be therapy for wounded Black
Reid's Maroon demi-gods drip machismo. It infects the novelist's style. His pen-
chant for "poetic" prose falls into affectation, a straining after "authentic" (a recurrent
word) Spanish flavour with a sort of sub-Hemingway "macho" cuteness. Wamba, contem-
plating the land he wishes to farm: "O land, he said silently to it, I will make much love
to you". (p. 58) Kedela, the black Diana, contemplating the boar she is about to kill:
" 'Boar,' whispered Kedela, 'you are very authentic.' (p. 110) And everything is
Still, in spite of the annoyances. The Jamaicans provides "a good read" in its
way. The novelist tells a gripping tale of derring-do. When he is not too carried away by
"style", he is good at evoking tension and suspense, at describing physical action and
combat. One thinks of the account of Pablo's capture of Tubbs, of the raid on St Jago,
and of Pablo's final stalking ofJuan and their fight-to-the-death. In this last we get beyond
the excitement of mere physical action and touch for a moment something like tragedy,
in the inevitable, fatal confrontation of two temperaments, of different ideals and ideas
of honour, of two friends, two comrades-in-arms, two brave and honourable men.
A quarterly journal of the Institute of Social and Economic Research,
University of the West Indies, SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC STUDIES
is devoted to the social, economic, and political problems of the
Canbbean in particular, and of developing counties in general.
Subscribe by sending the coupon below to:
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The Black Protagonist in the Cuban Novel by Pedro Barrera, translated by Page Bancroft,
the University of Massachusetts Press, Amherst, 1979.
Much attention (perhaps too much) has been paid to the Cuban literary vogue of
the nineteen thirties that came to be known as Afro-cuban poetry, but apart from sundry
critical studies of uneven worth, mainly on individual novels dealing with the black man
in Cuba, little interest has been shown by critics in a proper study of the black prota-
gonist in the Cuban novel even though it is this genre that more fully explores this funda-
mental component of Cuban society. Pedro Barrera now fills that gap with a compre-
hensive analysis of sustained quality, examining the relevant major Cuban novels of the
nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth.
To give us a socio-historic appreciation of the contexts that inform the writers
examined. Barrera first summarizes the history of the incorporation of the Black into
Cuban society, with a focus on the period of slavery. The introduction is helpful in con-
necting the nineteenth century novels in particular with their historical contexts. How-
ever, Barrera could usefully have continued his introduction beyond the abolition of
slavery, since although it is true, as his concluding paragraph to this chapter states, that
"the blacks' political rights were recognized in the constitution of 1901 and reaffirmed in
that of 1940" (p. 12), what is more pertinent, as his study of the novels attests, is the social
and cultural relationship of the ethnic forces in the society, and abolition was if anything
the start to the complication of this relationship, not its resolution. Barrera defends as
beyond doubt the view that "Cuba is a mulatto nation, and the Cuban is, if not biologi-
cally, at least psychologically a mulatto" (p. 1), but if this is acceptable, it is perhaps the
post-abolition interaction that needs to be examined to arrive at such a conclusion, even
if a base was set by the interaction under slavery.
Barrera next gives a very informative and compact summary of the Black theme in
Cuban literature, from its earliest manifestation up to the mid-twentieth century. This
chapter shows a prime common feature of the literary works examined throughout the
study: the inextricable relation of writer to the historical period and its paramount
literary styles. Thus the earliest interpretation of a Black presence cited by Barrera a
poem of Silvestre de Balboa's, 1608 presents the black character in the epic hero tradi-
tion of the age of conquest, as it sings of the prowess of Salvador, "an Ethiopian worthy
of praise" (p. 14). As Barrera will show with much of the subsequent literature on the
Black, he is transformed by the writer into a stereotype, too obviously serving a literary
tradition or a social cause, with detrimental effect on his authenticity as a human indivi-
dual and on his full artistic possibilities as a novelistic character.
The main section of the study is developed in four chapters in chronological
sequence, examining thirteen works in all, starting with the early nineteenth century (and
including the non-fiction autobiography of Juan Francisco Manzano), through the
Romantic manifestations of the mid-nineteenth century, the introduction of naturalist
and 'pure art' techniques at the turn of the century, and finally the criollist, avant-garde
and real-maravilloso expressions of the twentieth century. The objectives have been as
varied as the techniques. There is an interesting parallel revealed by Barreia between
objective and technique, where the writers move gradually and generally away from a
stereotypic and/or topical use of the black Cuban to a position, in novels such as Caniqui
(1936) or Reino de este mundo (1949), where the writer is able to develop a protagonist
whose perspective is more authentically within the cultural worldview of the black Cuban,
rather than the mouthpiece of a white writer perceiving the Black largely from the
dominating white Cuban cultural values. At the same time, Barrera suggests, these novels
achieve a deeper, more universal, impact. They also develop a more indigenous literary
Indeed, many of the nineteenth century novels that use the black slave or mulatto
as protagonist within the body regarded as anti-slavery literature are shown to impart to
their black protagonists many of the values and behaviour patterns of the white world,
and moreso of the European literary influences of the period. Thus Francisco, in Suarez's
novel of that name in 1839, is undisguisedly a Romantic character sobbing at an impos-
sible love and driven to suicide over it. Barrera correctly assesses the problem of these
writers when he states that "the author is caught in his own social environment and
cannot rid himself of the points of view that characterize it" (p.57). Although Barrera
does note that these writers were trying to express an environment and people very
different from their own cultural backgrounds, the study could be more explicit in the
racial contradiction that occurs in much of the novels about blacks: they are written in
the overwhelming majority by whites, and in one case by a mulatto (if we omit Manzano's
memoirs of 1839). The gap between both cultures and experiences has been reflected in
the literary contradictions in the novelistic characters, and perhaps the diminution of this
contradiction in the twentieth century speaks more for the creolization of the society
than it does for artistic ability to present an authentic character. Indeed, the first real
novel by a black Cuban with an autonomous black protagonist, Granados' Adire o el
tiempo roto, appears after the Revolution and so falls outside the scope of Barrera's
study, and even then Granados' protagonist is forced by historical circumstances to
respond to the dominating white society in a continuing quest for liberation.
Barrera unfortunately tends to accept without much question the legitimacy of the
label 'anti-slavery novel' of the mid-nineteenth century. However, a greater exploration of
the mechanisms of control used by the 'patron of letters', Domingo Del Monte, and the
effect of these controls on the type of protagonist encouraged by him would have use-
fully exposed how this white liberal and his literary circle were subtly culcating a reform-
ist rather than abolitionist approach to slavery through literature. Manzano's autobio-
graphy, for instance, has been seen by some critics, including Lloyd King and Richard
Jackson, as really separating out the good slave-masters from the bad, rather than
denouncing the system itself, although Jackson has argued, in Black Writers in Latin
America (1979 also), that this was the only way Manzano could get access to publication.
Interestingly, both Barrera and Jackson quote the same statement from Manzano for their
differing emphases: Barrera takes the statement [that] ". . seated in a corner of my coun-
try, tranquil, assured of my safety and my subsistence, I may write a truly Cuban novel"
as revealing Manzano's ideology of mestizaje and Cubanity, stressing 'my country' and
'Cuban'. Jackson, however, reveals the preamble to this statement: ". . a part of the
story of my life, reserving its most interesting events for some day when . ." and takes
this, along with the subtly expressed fears for position and income, as reflecting the stra-
tegies of an underdog who has to dissimulate his real views in order to be accepted.
Similarly, Barrera does not note, as Jackson does, that the Del Monte group removed a
subversive character from Suarez' novel, Francisco, nor that Calcagno posits in his
Romualdo that "being a slave-owner is no crime, but abusing that privilege is". The reader
could therefore wrongly be led to believe that there was a genuine abolitionist zeal in this
nineteenth century white literary circle.
Another interesting phenomenon that Barrera reveals, but does not examine com-
prehensively by itself, is the recurring use of a mulatto rather than a black as protagonist,
especially in the nineteenth century novels. Ostensibly used as a physical expression of
the violence of the ethno-social relationships in slavery, the mulatto is also a mid-point
that allows the writer to deal with a character closer to his cultural frame of reference:
the mulatto, caught between the differing values of the black and white cultures, has both
historically and in the literature studied sought to be incorporated into the dominating
culture, the white value system. The tension in many of these 'mulatto' novels lies in this
struggle and the virtual impossibility of its successful resolution. However, Meza's
Carmela (1886) gives an embryonic alternative, albeit unconvincingly presented: the
mulatto can turn to the black world for an identity. This is perhaps the first expression of
the swing away from the hegemonic centrality of the white culture in the consciousness
of the nineteenth century writers, manifested in their literary production. While Barrera
has properly included the mulatto under his definition of 'Black' for the purposes of his
study, since that is what the global reality of Cuban society confirmed, an examination of
the mulatto dichotomy as a more complex ethno-cultural relationship within this overall
framework would have made a worthwhile addition to the work, revealing as it would the
psychological traumas centred on ethnicity that were the product of slavery and colonial
Barrera has approached the study with a commendable distancing from the literary
works. The result is that there is real critical assessment, in which he is able to identify
the subjective features of the novels, and connect the literary work with the novelists'
own contexts and the broader social situation, revealing the deep rooting of literature as
social process. This balance between an aesthetic analysis and a socio-historical situating
provides the reader a richer understanding both of the internal mechanisms of the novel
as artistic creation and the external motivations and limitations that determine its scope.
If his concluding summary is unduly brief, the body of Barrera's study itself has made a
wide range of points arising from competent research and analysis and enriching the
reader's understanding of the perception and use of the black protagonist by a largely
white literary world intent on coming to terms with an integral part of their total Cuban
context in dialectic relationship with their dominating Eurocentric culture.
Interim, by Neville Dawes. Kingston: Institute of Jamaica, 1978. 216 pp.
Interim traces developments leading up to an imaginary revolution, and the subsequent
putting-down of the revolution by reactionary forces, in the Jamaica of the immediate
past, the story beginning about 1930. A black country-boy of peasant origins, who is
bright enough to win a place at an elite high school in the city, leaves school prematurely,
in a characteristically free-thinking, rebellious gesture, and enlists in the Royal Air Force.
The Second World War is in progress. His experience in the war brings to maturity his
awareness of social injustice in his island, which had been developing in him since school-
days. After the war he returns and, with a handful of his former schoolmates, leads a
successful coup against a corrupt, neo-colonialist government. However, the revolution is
doomed to failure. Soon, the insidious power of the brown bourgeoisie reasserts itself,
working through betrayal of the revolution from within and with the help of the U.S.
Marines. Through this scenario the novel looks boldly at certain deep-seated, unattractive
patterns in the Jamaican socio-political fabric, seeing them in historical perspective.
Dawes is giving us a view of his generation and his times.
It is a wise tactic on his part to make the major event of "public" history, in a
historical novel, something that did not happen. This tactic is reinforced by the way in
which he uses historical persons. The effect is to obviate the danger, very real in historico-
political novels depicting the present, of reader and novel becoming ensnared, pointlessly
perhaps, in considerations of "Well, it/he wasn't quite like that, so your analysis of/
prognostication from the situation won't hold." For example, the late Monsignor
Gladstone Wilson made possible the character of Father Surtees, and there are suggestions
of Michael Manley in the revolutionary leader Lucien Taylor; and readers may even see
the late Sir Alexander Bustamante behind the assassinated Chief Minister Samuel Derby.
However, it would be simple-minded and dangerous to read any of these characters as a
portrait of the person in question. Dawes, I think, is not concerned so much with the sur-
face truth of historical events and personalities, as with defining, through his fiction, the
basic forces, pressures, tensions, trends that he sees in historical events.
The first fifty-five pages of the novel are devoted to a warm, easy-paced, full yet
uncluttered;account of the rustic boyhood of the narrator, James. Duncan, in the high
country of Nesfield Village. This is pimento country; life revolves around the crop and is
"perfumed with the three odours of pimento". (p 1) James's best friend is Lucien Taylor,
in whose pranks, fearlessness and inborn talent for leadership we see the revolution being
nurtured. These qualities are sharpened by the boys' half-innocent awareness of the socio-
economic tensions of the village, the generally accepted, historically entrenched, uneasy
compact between the black villagers and Busha Burton, the white, coarse, autocratic over-
seer of Nesfield Estate. Burton, who stands for a system of privilege and snobbery, is bent
on keeping his mulatto daughters away from the village boys. His son, Donald, wins a
scholarship to Victoria College, which will ensure his being educated away from the
village. Lucien's sense of his own worth and his capacity for resistance are also fostered
by the example of his father's "homeric and lost struggle with Busha Burton". (p 16)
Perhaps Lucien's political consciousness is a bit too precocious when, at the news of the
Land Settlement scheme,he leads the other boys along the main road, shouting, "We free.
Nesfield gone. Land Settlement! We free tiday, pappy. Nesfield gone, O!" (p35) Dawes
also over-points the political direction of the novel when, at the close of the Nesfield
section, he sketches a few of the minor, memorable village "characters" and then says, in
summary, "So many, whose hard lives stamped us forever with the insignia of struggle".
(p. 55) The emotion which this reflection invokes feels like an imposition on the charac-
ters as drawn, vividly, by Dawes. What we feel when he is describing them is not hardship,
but the particular vitality, even endearingly comic eccentricity, of each.
James and Lucien win scholarships to Victoria College, and the next stage of the
story shows us the future revolutionaries being further moulded by their experience of
the "classic" colonial education. In this stage the tone of the novel shifts towards satire,
in the amusing, scathing re-creation of the ambience of the Jamaica College which Dawes
attended. The initial impact of the elite city school on the country boys is cleverly and
pointedly suggested by a shift from the Standard English narrative voice of the Nesfield
section to the Jamaican Creole narrative voice with which the Victoria College section
opens, from "We left them there, still in a simple and firm relationship to the land,
impoverished but unalienated" to "Man, we jump into a school bigger than Busha Burton
lost house in Nesfield property." This strategy not only conveys the idea of the sharp
clash of different worlds; it is also psychologically right as an example of that instinctual
falling back upon one's first language in moments of shock and disorientation. At the
same time, it also helps, paradoxically, to put the world of Victoria College "in its place",
by using so authoritatively the very language which, along with the way of life it repre-
sents, Victoria College seeks to expurgate from the boys.
The Victoria College section comes to a climax with Lucien's premature, dramatic
departure from the school. He decides, with typical fearlessness and determination, to
leave, against all the peacemaking efforts of his schoolmates, after refusing to take a can-
ing for alleged insubordination to a master. But the narrator convinces us that the occa-
sion of Lucien's departure was not so much a matter of heroics as a pretext under which
he could satisfy his increasing boredom with school, his anxiety to be "doing things" in
response to the lonely, visionary, still confused impulses that were growing in him. He
joins the R.A.F. and goes off to Canada and the war.
About a year after Lucien's departure, James graduates from Victoria College and
drifts briefly through a lazy, lethargic Civil Service and into a job as newspaper reporter.
He drifts, too, into a rather casual involvement with a "progressive", somewhat amorph-
ous political discussion group of young people which includes some of his friends from
Victoria College days. The group is a product of the growing socio-political restlessness of
the time, and one aspect of their development is their increasing awareness of the sham
and neo-colonial opportunism that is Samuel Derby, flamboyant popular leader, "the
first Jamaican Chief Minister". (p. 109)
On to this waiting stage walks Lucien Taylor, returning without fanfare from the
war, a sort of saviour figure, ascetic, unencumbered by personal property, driven by an
absolutely, almost arrogantly sure sense of political purpose, an iron will, and a seemingly
limitless capacity for hard work. The laughter, the prankishness is gone out of him. His
zeal has a magnetism that attracts disciples, but in spite of the fire there is something
steel-cold about the portrait, which may not have been altogether intended by the author.
Towards the end of the novel, Lucien explains that for "[his] type of leadership to be
effective, [he] must continually conceal individual pain and try to articulate collective
suffering". (p 192) The trouble is that all we see is the result of the concealment, not the
pain or the effort to conceal it.
The latter half of the novel, dealing with Lucien's methodical preparing and effect-
ing of the revolution, and with the subsequent counter-revolution, is of a different quality
and texture from the earlier part. The feel now is of a theorem being worked out. Situa-
tions are not so fully realized as before. Localising detail often seems perfunctory. It is not
clear why an armed revolution was necessary in the circumstances as described. Derby
seems more of a clown than a formidable obstacle. Lucien declares that the upheaval is
a question of the flesh and blood of people who will
not take any more, who don't even know, probably,
that they won't take any more until somehow a
collective will is formed . (p. 185)
But, outside of the assertion, that "flesh and blood", the emergence of that "collective
will" is not realized in the process of the narrative. It is only fleetingly alluded to in
generalised references such as that to "some trouble on the estates". (p. 128) And because
the reader is left so much to take for granted the groundswell of popular feeling, the
activity of the young revolutionaries can seem like a matter of a few privileged ex-Victoria
College boys playing at politics.
Besides, despite the narrator's reasonableness of tone, and his apparent willingness
to look all round a question, the novel has a way, on reflection, of boiling down to black
and white, or rather black and brown, "goodies" and "baddies". With a seemingly pre-
determined "logic '. the brown people, almost to a man, betray the revolution one by one.
But perhaps that view of things is what commitment to a side means. At any rate, some
of the more convincingly realized moments in the latter part of the novel are those which
depict the snobbish, crass, arch-conservative brown middle-class with their veneer of
sophistication. Indeed, the main driving force of the story seems to be the narrator's
animosity towards that class, a desire to "settle a score". In this he displays the classic
lust/revenge syndrome of the black colonial psychosis. His most deep-seated fears and
repressed urge to violence flash out at revealing moments, as when he tells us that he
"hated the contemptuous white dresden face of the Pan-Am hostess, absurdly exquisite in
make-up". (p. 177)
The class/colour war is crystallised in James's "guts-tearing love affair" (again a
quality more asserted than realized) with the sophisticated, "off-white" Majorie Reynolds,
who pretends to involvement with the progressives but is eventually unmasked as the
fraud all of her kind must, presumably, inevitably be. James's animus expresses itself at
times in postures variously naive, romantic (e.g. the idealised sketch of his working-class
girlfriend Rosalie) and pettishly juvenile; but these, while not likely to endear all readers
to him, nevertheless animate an otherwise indifferent character. In his last act of copula-
tion with Marjorie he "batters" her with his oversize penis (the only really remarkable
thing about him), which he salaciously exposes to the reader. And before he takes to the
hills to escape the counter-revolutionary take-over, he goes on a fine little revenge spree at
Her bungalow was locked up, so I broke through a
window. She wasn't there. One of the Brigaders and I
took bayonets and went through, methodically rip-
ping everything into strips sheets and mattresses in
the bedroom and the resonant cushions in the sitting-
room which was soon a sea of crimson flecked with
green. I said once, under my breath, 'You off-white
bitch, you twat, you Beauty Queen.' The Brigaders
helped me pour petrol on everything that would burn
in this house which I told them belonged to a danger-
ous class-enemy. (p 215)
Some revealing images there: the phallic bayonet, and the sea of crimson (blood/sex/vio-
lence/the radical Left/revolution); but the carefully posed piece of invective is singularly
James Duncan's narrative stance is that of the self-effacing, would-be-objective
reporter. However, one of the clever things about the novel, something the reader probab-
ly realises more in retrospect than during the actual process of reading, is James's almost
imperceptible evolution from an easy-going, pleasure-loving, half-reluctant participant in
Lucien's revolution, into a fully committed revolutionary in his own right, holding centre-
stage at the end. Ultimately, he is not just the eyes through which we see the action, not
just Lucien's biographer. It can be argued that he, and not Lucien, is the protagonist, in a
story about the making of a revolutionary. Dawes's use of Duncan is a strategy which
helps him in the aim of persuading the reader to sympathise with the revolution. Duncan,
the average, well-meaning individual, mediates between the reader and the revolution, and
his slow, reluctant coming to a full acceptance of it helps to make it seem, as far as it does,
like a "real", difficult development, especially since it can otherwise seem like a rather
glib trading of facile, prepared punches.
There is one moment at the end of the novel, a well-conceived climax, which
clarifies by contrast what I mean by the comparative weakness of realisation in the latter
part of the book. Lucien discovers, too late, that Donald Burton, Busha Burton's son, but
now a trusted member of the revolutionary council, has sold him out to the Yanks.
This is a terrible blow to Lucien. He orders that Donald be taken outside and shot.
Mercedes, Donald's sister and now Lucien's wife, who is passionately devoted to her hus-
band, springs forward as if to carry out the command and marches Donald outside. But
what happens next is not what Lucien had ordered. This moment of tragedy between
these three former childhood playmates touches deep levels of being and is resonant with
a human complexity which, whatever the author's intention, transcends the narrator's
attempt to reduce the episode strictly to a clear-cut demonstration of the ideological
Q.E.D.: "... they had to win; Nesfield Great House. no matter how moss-grown and
ruined, had to beat him." (p 212)
At the end, after the success of the counter-revolutionaries, James Duncan and a
small remnant of Lucien's supporters retreat to the hills, where James will write the story
of Lucien Taylor and, determined to renew the struggle, will gradually rebuild the revolu-
tionary army. ("And every day we grow stronger in the hills." p. 216) A telling develop-
ment is quietly recorded when they find Tony Mais waiting for them at Mount X. Tony,
who had been sacked by Lucien because of his Communisml is the only one of the light-
skinned middle-class to prove faithful to the cause to the end. Is lie the exception that
proves the rule? Or is he the "proof' that only by acceptance of a Communist-oriented
position, with its basic analysis of society in terms of a class war, can the middle class
make any significant contribution to social change? Is his ominous reappearance at the
end a final criticism of Lucien's relatively benign and conciliatory revolution? Was Lucien
himself acknowledging a weakness in his own position when he said prophetically (the
saviour-prophet about to die): "Tony's time will come. He will survive me. And you.
James, shall his lieutenant be, if you ever get serious enough and begin to believe in any-
thing" (p 191)? Or is Tony's reappearance merely the cynical fulfilnent of Marjorie's
cruel parting-shot at James, during their last sexual encounter: "Another thing. Tony
Mais is the natural leader of this Movement. Simply because he is white" (p 201)? And is
the fact that Tony is white, rather than brown, of any significance, even, perhaps, the key
Questions like these help to make Interim deserving of serious reflection. even if
at times we inay wonder whether some of the questions are more a matter of confusion
than of complexity, less the result of the essential ambiguity of things than of a certain
evasiveness on the narrator's part, that evasiveness itself being a function of his narrative
Latin American Literature and Arts
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Haiti (Volume 39 of World Bibliographical Series) compiled by Frances Chambers, Clio
Press, Oxford, 1983
This annotated bibliography of Haitian history, geography and culture is compiled with
the general reader in mind and attempts to give an impression of the uniqueness of the
Haitian experience. It contains 558 entries organised under 37 subject headings. These
range from Prehistory to Politics, from Anthropology to the Arts. It does not pretend to
be an exhaustive list but rather a general introduction to Haiti for the average English-
speaking reader. It includes not only books and monographs but articles published in
periodicals which are intended to "make Haitians and their country better known and
perhaps better understood".
The reader is also given much useful information as to where these various publica-
tions can be located. In the section on "Libraries and Archives" we have a list of some of
the better known libraries where Haitian materials are stored. Perhaps, insufficient atten-
tion is paid to North American collections. For instance, the Moorland-Spingarn Collec-
tion of the Howard University Library is not mentioned. It is a rich source of Haitiana
because of the special relationship which has existed between members of Howard Uni-
versity such as Alain Locke, Rayford Logan and Mercer Cook and artists and intellec-
tuals in Haiti.
At times there is the odd error which could have been easily corrected. For example
David Nicholls' name does not appear after his book From Dessalines to Duvalier (342)
and similarly Faustin Wirkus is not mentioned as the author of The White King of La
Gonave (186). Even though one is tempted at times to think that the less said about
Wirkus and his racist delusions the better. Also Zora Neale Hurston's description of Jam-
aican and Haitian folklore should be entitled Tell my horse and not Tell me horse.
Almost anyone going through such a wide-ranging selection of works on Haiti will
find fault with the areas he knows best. Even though we are told that this bibliography is
not meant to be exhaustive, surely only seven entries covering Haiti from 1934 to 1981
are less than adequate. Also the section on "Travellers' Accounts" which contains some
of the more unintentionally hilarious and wildly improbable accounts of Haitian life ever
written, as is suggested in such titles as A puritan in Voodooland and Black Bagdad -
makes no mention of Langston Hughes. Hughes was one of Haiti's more famous visitors
and his article "People without shoes" in I Wonder as I Wander is a perceptive analysis of
colour and class in Haitian society which irritated the Haitian elite in the Thirties. One
also feels that if the objective is to give an idea of the uniqueness of Haiti's experience,
some attention should be paid to its major literary figures. In this regard the literature
section has many regrettable omissions. Nor is there any mention of Haitian writers in
exile -the new Haitian diaspora that has emerged since the 1960s. No indication is given
of the literary and intellectual activities of those well-established communities in Montreal
and New York. Even th'e well-known periodical. Collectif Paroles, originating in Montreal
is not mentioned.
However, given the compiler's clearly stated aim to introduce Haiti, it is difficult to
quarrel with this work. It is essentially a list of works in English about Haiti and Frances
Chambers has provided a useful document for the uninformed English-speaking reader
interested in Haiti. In general her choice of material in each category is sensible. The
short summaries that follow each entry will also be invaluable in guiding the reader over
the unfamiliar and sometimes bizarre, physical and cultural, terrain of Haiti.
J. MICHAEL DASH
V. S. Naipaul's Fiction in Quest of the Enemy, by Anthony Boxill. York Press 1983
This easily read book is an interesting analysis of ten of V.S. Naipaul's novels starting
with Miguel Street (1959) and ending with A Bend in the River (1979). In his introduc-
tory chapter, Boxill identifies the quest of the enemy as a central theme in V.S. Naipaul's
works and uses this as the viewpoint from which to discuss the novels. He observes that
Naipaul has chosen to label man's problems as the enemy and that many of his characters
tend to see their struggle in life as between themselves and the enemy.
Boxill notes that with The Mimic Men (1961), we have a significant recognition of
the fact that man is not only a part of his environment, but that to a large extent, he is
responsible for his environment. Therefore, if man is going to identify his environment as
the enemy, then he must be logical and see himself as part of that enemy. It is man's
inability to face up to the enemy within which inhibits him and prevents him from
attaining true self-realization. According to Boxill, this enemy will not be faced until man
assumes more responsibility for his predicament. It is this sense of responsibility which
rescues Naipaul's vision from being totally pessimistic. The darkness is not hopeless, for,
once the enemy has been identified as human pride and human weakness, man will be
able to make that vital contact with his environment and his fellow human beings.
The quest for selfhood Boxill sees as occurring within a landscape which is often
sterile a barren wasteland. However, once man has learnt to overcome selfish motiva-
tions and to accept his limitations, he will develop and mature. This maturity informs life
with vitality and prevents man from being merely an unaccommodated being in an alien-
ated landscape. In his analysis, Boxill argues that several of Naipaul's characters, having
acquired this new consciousness, are saved from hopelessness and absurdity. Boxill's
identification of the theme of the enemy as being a central one in Naipaul's work is legi-
timate and is convincingly presented.
Apart from dealing with the theme of the enemy, Boxill also attempts an explora-
tion of possible sources of Naipaul's fiction. The first he identifies as Naipaul's father:
Seepersad Naipaul. In the chapter entitled "Father and Son" he presents an analysis of
Seepersad Naipaul's book, Gurudeva and other Indian Tales (1943). Here, Boxill shows
how concerns of psychic disintegration, entrapment and the need to establish an authen-
tic identity, pervade the works of father and son. Despite the similarities, however, Boxill
notes that V. S. Naipaul is no mere copier. Although he obviously used his father's book
as a source for his own writings, he also improved what he borrowed. Whereas Seepersad
went in for easy sentimentality and happy endings, V. S. Naipaul's work does not contain
this flaw and is a more convincing portrayal of reality. Using basic symbols and themes
present in his father's work, V. S. Naipaul has been able to create works of considerable
complexity with greater aesthetic effect.
Boxill's discussion of V. S. Naipaul's sources also extends to a comparison of
Naipaul's works with that of such writers as Shakespeare, Conrad, T. S. Eliot, Sartre and
Dickens (to name only a few). Boxill argues that Naipaul cannot be placed in the tradi-
tion of either European or Indian literature. Naipaul also defies the tag of being a purely
provincial writer of interest only to West Indians. He makes the point of Naipaul's uni-
versality, observing that the themes, problems and people he contends with are repre-
sentative of man's universal struggle to survive in a chaotic world. Boxill, however,
discredits the facile deduction of Naipaul as existentialist. He concludes that Naipaul,
having no traditions to turn to, must create his own. This tradition he sees as having its
roots in the rootlessness of West Indian society. This observation of Naipaul having no
tradition comes as rather a surprise when throughout the chapter Boxill has shown
Naipaul, though no mere plagiarist, consciously using other writers as models. One may
also wish to question Boxill's concept of the "rootless West Indian society". It may well
be that this view of the West Indies is one propagated and popularised by writers such as
Naipaul and is not a true reflection on the real West Indian situation.
Perhaps, the most important aspect of this book is its attempt to present Naipaul in
a more positive light than he has formerly been seen, especially by West Indian critics. Of
particular interest is Boxill's interpretation of Naipaul's famous statement from The
Middle Passage: "Nothing was created in the West Indies". He sees this statement not as
indictment against the slaves and indentured servants but against the corrupt European
colonial governments.. He argues that the slaves cannot be held responsible for not
creating since they lacked power. It is in fact the European nations who failed to create a
coherent society in the West Indies.
Throughout the book there is a conscious effort to rehabilitate Naipaul to the West
Indies. Not only does Boxill found Naipaul upon a West Indian tradition but he also sees
him as denying the decay and sterility of a society in which nothing was created. He
therefore interprets Naipaul's novels as offering hope to the oppressed peoples of the
Third World. He writes that, though it may be that Naipaul does not like blacks, his harsh
portrayal of these people may be-seen as an attempt to shock them out of the compla-
cency of their mimic lives. He therefore sees Ralph Singh, the protagonist of Mimic Men,
as finding something constant in himself "which permits him to transcend the meaning-
less flux of his various bastard worlds". Biswas also is seen in a positive light as a character
who learns to recognize the shortcomings of his world and who is able to "create some-
thing out of nothing".
This optimistic reading hinges on what Boxill recognizes as the West Indians' need
to come to terms with the history and landscape of the West Indies. However, man's
exact relationship with his environment is not made clear. In the case of A House for Mr
Biswas, Boxill maintains that Biswas' creativity comes through his ability to root himself
to the landscape. Boxill also notes that "Naipaul's probing of West Indian history makes
it necessary for him to forsake West-Indian vegetation and landscape as something posi-
tive which West Indians should strive to make contact with". The disparity noted here
seems to weaken Boxill's argument somewhat.
Boxill is insistent and argues well that Naipaul asserts that real self-awareness
releases one from the cells imposed by racial, social and other obsessions". This new
consciousness enables the individual to establish meaningful relationships with others on
the level of humanity "unhindered by barriers of race and class". Boxill's book is there-
fore important as it serves as a guide for the reader who wishes to see Naipaul's vision as
being other than purely negative.
This book will prove invaluable to students pursuing studies on V.S. Naipaul's
fiction. Its wealth of footnotes and bibliographical data serve as important aids to re-
searchers. Since Boxill, in presenting his analysis, does not ignore the critics who see
Naipaul in a less positive light, the work should help the enquiring student to formulate
his own opinions on Naipaul's works. It should prove to be an important study guide and
a stimulant towards further discussion and debate on the novels examined. Such a work,
since it presents another side of the "Naipaul coin", cannot fail to be important since it
challenges the reader to examine closely Naipaul's fiction, and not to fall into the trap of
forming opinions based on easy and convenient ways of seeing.
DAVID N. REID
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NOTES ON CONTRIBUTORS
Keith S. Henry
Irving W. Andre
J. Michael Dash
a British Virgin Islander from Tortola, received her doctor-
ate from Brandeis University in English Literature. Current-
ly lecturer in English at Regis College. she has published
widely on West Indian Literature in international journals.
is affiliated to the Black Studies Department of the State
University of New York at Buffalo. His main current aca-
demic interest is in Caribbean and Caribbean Diaspora
is at the Johns Hopkins University. Baltimore. Maryland.
works at Goldsmith College. University of London.
is at the Department of English. College of Cape Breton,
Nova Scotia, Canada.
is Editor of the Caribbean Journal of Education, published
by the Faculty of Education, Mona, poet, and literary critic.
a graduate of the University of the West Indies, is pursuing
his M. Phil. in English Literature.
is professor of English at the University of the West Indies
at Mona. Jamaica.
is head of the Department of Spanish at the University of
the West Indies. Mona. Jamaica.
is one of Jamaica's major poets.
is pursuing graduate work at the University of the West
Indies, Mona. Jamaica.
is Head of the Department of French and German at the
University of the West Indies, Mona, Jamaica.
is Senior Lecturer in English at Imo State University,
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Bibliography of Grenada, by Beverley Steele, published by Extra Mural Studies Depart-
ment, University Centre, Marryshow House, Tyrrel Street, St. George's, Grenada, 1983,
pp 119. No price.
Haiti: World Bibliographical Series (Volume 39), by Frances Chambers, published by
Clio Distribution Services, 55 St. Thomas' Street, Oxford OX1 1JG, England, 1983,
pp 177. Price UK 19.50.
Explorations, by Wilson Harris, published by Dangaroo Press, Pinds Hus, Geding Sovej 21,
8381 Mundelstrup, Denmark, November, 1981, pp 145. Price: UK 14.95.
The Third World and International Law: Selected Bibliography 1955-1982, No. 5,
published by United Nations, Library, Geneva, 1983, pp 100. No price.
When they'll Neither 7 nor 11 Try Recycling for Reading: A Reading Remediation
Teachers Guidebook by A. J. M. Rhodd, published by Golding Printing Service Ltd., 106
East Street, Kingston, Jamaica, 1983, pp 212. No price.
Standard and Non-Standard Language Attitudes in a Creole Continuum by John R.
Rickford, published by School of Education, University of the West Indies, Mona, King-
ston, May, 1983, pp 27. No price.
Vierteljahresberichte-Problems of International Co-operation, Volume 1983 (4 issues),
published by Neue Gesellschaft, Godesberger Allee 143, 5300, Bonn 2, West Germany,
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Children and Race by David Milner, published by Sage Publications, Inc., 275 South
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First Time: The Historical Vision of an Afro-American People by Richard Price, publish-
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Price: US25.00(HC), US$12.95 (PB).
African Muslims in Antebellum America: A Sourcebook by Allan D. Austin, published by
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December, 1983, Price: US$75.00.
Spaniards and Indians in Southeastern Mesoamerica: Essays on the History of Ethnic
Relations, Ed. by Murdo J. Macleod & Robert Wasserstrom, published by University of
Nebraska Press, 901 North 17th Street, Lincoln, Nebraska 68588, U.S.A., December,
1983, pp 291. Price: US$23.95 (Cloth).
The Dominican People 1850-1900 by H. Hoetink (Translated by Stephen K. Ault),
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April, 1982, pp 243. Price: US$22.50.
Los Paraquas Amarillos: Los Poetas Latinos En Nueva York by Ivan Silen, Ed. by F. F.
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Hanover, New Hampshire 03755, U.S.A., 1983, pp 254. Price: US$7.00 (Paper).
Monthly Bibliography: Part I, Books, Official Documents, Serials, Nos. 11-12 (Novem-
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The Rape of Fair Helen (A Play) by Stanley French, published by Carib Printers Ltd.,
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Histoire De L'Architecture Dans La Caraibe by David Buisseret, published by Editions
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Singing in Steel: Poems on the Steelband by Ven L. Thomas, published by Creative Crew,
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So Spoke the Uncle by Jean Price-Mars, published by Three Continents Press, Inc.,
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