MARCH JUNE 1986
Copyright reserved and reproduction without permission strictly forbidden.
1 An Approach to Earl Lovelace's Novel Through an Examination ol Indian-African
Relations in The Dragon Can't Dance
16 Indians in the Novels of Edgar Mittelholzer
Frank M. Birbalsingh
24 The East Indian-West Indian Male in Naipaul's Eamil (Caiibbean Novels
38 The East Indian Female inThree West Indian Novels ol Adolescence
47 From Indentured Labourer to Anglo-Indian Immigrant: A Study of A. R. F.
Webber's Those That Be In Bondage
A Flute of Bone
5( BOOK REVIEWS
65 Notes on Contlribulo s
66 Instructions to Authors
VOL. 32 NOS. I & 2
UNIVERSITY OF THE WEST INDIES
The Hon. R. M. Nettleford, O.M., Professor of Extra-Mural Studies (Editor)
G. M. Richards, Pro Vice-Chancellor, St. Augustine, Trinidad
Roy Augier, Pro Vice-Chancellor, Mona, Jamaica
Keith Hunte, Pro Vice-Chancellor, Cave Hill, Barbados
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Neville McMorris, Department of Physics, Mona
Janet Liu Terry, Associate Editor
All correspondence and contributions should be addressed to:
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This double issue of Caribbean Quarterly takes a look at the East Indian person, whether
male or female, in the literature of the region. The contributors mainly come from those
English-speaking territories of the West Indies where there is/was a substantial East Indian
Kenneth Ramchand in his wide-ranging article takes a broad look at East Indians in
West Indian Literature before he focuses particularly on Earl Lovelace in "An Approach
to Earl Lovelace's Novel Through an Examination of Indian-African Relations in The
Dragon Can't Dance". Professor Ramchand believes that the theme of Afro-Indian rela-
tinships in the novel can be examined under two main heads: the meeting of cultures and
the interaction of individuals. Lovelace uses the Indian Pariag (acquisitive culture) and the
Creole-African Aldrick (non-acquisitive culture) relationship to unravel the involvement
of Indians in Trinidadian culture and society and about the interactions of Indians and
Africans. From Trinidad we are taken to Guyana and Trinidad by Frank Birbalsingh's
look at East Indians in Edgar Mittelholzer's novels, in which they are depicted as "the
lowest, poorest, social group in Guyana". Their family and social relationships are
"chaotic and crude, as vulgar as they are violent". Despite all these and including "self-
defensive clannishness, coloured by the racist tones of an ancient caste system originating
in India", the process of "creolization" is inexorable.
In the article entitled "The East Indian West Indian Male in Naipaul's Early Carib-
bean Novels", Jacqueline Finch demonstrates that the protagonist of the early novels
functions principally as husband, pundit, and writer and politician and moves from the
countryside to Port of Spain to London and back. How this East Indian West Indian male
succeeds or fails to accommodate himself in his community is a central theme to these
Childhood and adolescence do not escape the attention of our critics. Roydon
Salick takes "The East Indian Female in Three West Indian Novels of Adolescence" for
his topic and concentrates on The Humming-bird Tree. Danny Boy and Corentyne
Thunder in which "love in the multiracial context is presented as an ambivalent force; it
ennobles and brings out the best in individuals, but it also causes painful separation and
death". Salick writes: "Because of the racial history of Trinidad and Guyana, the coun-
tries in which the novels are set, there is a tragic-inevitability governing all three relation-
ships". According to Salick "The culprit here is the Caribbean racial history, objectified
as an inveterate and the possibly incurable hatred between Indians and negroes. Inspite of
education and co-existence the racial rift is as wide and pernicious as ever".
For those who believe that the West Indian novel began in the 1950s, A.R.F.
Webbers "Those that be in Bondage" is a clear reminder that Caribbean fiction dates back
much further than recent history will allow. Vishnudat Singh in his article "From Inden-
tured Labourer to Anglo-Indian Immigrant: A Study of A. R. F. Webber's Those that be
in Bondage" points out that it is the first work of note by a West Indian, the first in
which the immigrant and his descendants are presented sympathetically and with a degree
of realism, the first in which he moves from docile, tolerant, servile labourer, to partici-
pant in violent resistance to the actions and plans of the English plantation managers and
their assistants, the first in which he participates in the defining and creation of a West
Indian Identity and moves towards integration, Westernization, creolization and the
attainment of individuality and self-hood.
Two poems and two book reviews end this double issue.
AN APPROACH TO EARL LOVELACE'S NOVEL THROUGH AN EXAMINATION
INDIAN-AFRICAN RELATIONS IN THE DRAGON CAN'T DANCE
This paper examines the presentation of the Indian and of Indian-African relations in
Earl Lovelace's recent novel The Dragon Can't Dance (1979). Our concern is with part
of the meaning or content, but in a great novel it is not easy to separate content from the
artistic form which contains and shapes it; nor is it possible to pick up one theme without
recognizing its vital connections with others in the work. But these are lesser thorns
threatening our grasp than tokens of the integrity of the context from which we seek to
The populations of Trinidad and Guyana are fairly evenly divided between
descendants of Africans and descendants of Indians. Nearly one hundred years ago, an
English historian, James Anthony Froude wrote: "The African and Asiatic will not mix,
and the African being the stronger will and must prevail in Trinidad as elsewhere in the
West Indies" (The English in the West Indies, 1888 chapter 6); and in 1963 the
Barbadian poet Edward Brathwaite could observe in Bim 37: "When most of us speak
of 'the West Indian', we think of someone of African descent .. we are thinking of...
a more or less easily identifiable majority group, sharing, at least, a common history of
slavery." Issues arising from the meeting of African and Indian peoples have never been
the subject of open and rational discussion in these islands, and even twenty-five years
after the death of the West Indian Federation, the presence of Indians as a major com-
ponent in the structure of society in Trinidad and Guyana continues to be ignored
in favour of a blind approach which makes itself respectable by taking an over-all 'West
Indian' view and regarding the Indians as minorities.
The disappointments of Independence were covered up to some extent by the
fast money that came to Trinidad and Tobago accidentally through the phenomenal
increase in the price of oil in the early 1970s, and then by an intemperate and uncircum-
spect exploitation of the resource. But in the aftermath fundamental problems have
begun to show. Independence as it arrived came as a kind of moral anti-climax out of
the collapse of the Federation, a second-best solution to the problems of Crown Colony
status. Like the other British West Indian territories, moreover, Trinidad and Tobago
was granted Independence without having to fight for it, without the experience of a
struggle that might have burnished and unified us. We entered our Independence,
Africans, Indians, Chinese and White Creoles as separate, uneasy, and even disillusioned
groups. And now as each island goes its own way, the problem Froude was anxious to
pin-point has become a major issue in the evolution of Trinidad politics. As we shall see,
this long-dodged issue has cultural as well as social and political implications.
A quick survey of the presentation of the Indian in our literature before The
Dragon Can't Dance will help us to see if literature has imitated political life's neglect
of this crucial issue, and will form a useful background for discussing Earl Lovelace's
West Indian novelists tend to base their fictions upon the racial groups they grew
up in; not because they are writing to or on behalf of those groups but in the first place,
because they know those groups best. In general, therefore, the Indian character either
does not appear, or is peripheral in works by non-Indian writers. Novels by writers of
Indian origin, on the other hand, are peopled mainly by Indian characters. Such works
yield up to readers who already possess the facts (either from first hand experience or
from documentary sources) impressions and insights into the'facts such as the novel form
is peculiarly fitted to give. The Mystic Masseur (1957) and The Suffrage of Elvira (1958)
by V. S. Naipaul tell about the backwardness, insularity, cynicism, internal feudings and
directionlessness of Indian communities; in Yesterdays (House of Anansi Press, Toronto,
1972) the Trinidadian Harold Sonny Ladoo (1942 1973) impressed a violent and pas-
sionate account of the poverty and degradation of rural Indian communities of not so
long ago, conditions which Indians and Africans today, for different reasons, pretend to
be unaware of.
A different emphasis begins to appear in Naipaul's A House for Mr Biswas (1961),
one of the great West Indian novels, and by far the best about the Indian experience in
Trinidad up to the early 1950s. Here, the Indian world is shown clinging too long to the
myth of its insulation and self-sufficiency even as it yields to a process of seepage from
the larger society outside it, until, at the end, the enclave dissolves and the washed-up
Indians flock to the city to take part in the colonial scramble for advancement and
education. This general account of social and cultural changes in the Indian population
over the first fifty years of the twentieth century is vividly particularised, for it is the
teeming background against which the life of the main character, Mohun Biswas un-
folds. A formulation advanced in The West Indian Novel and Its Background (1970) is
handy for our present purpose: Mr Biswas is an Indian who marries into an Indian enclave
in Trinidad between the wars, he recognizes the blinkered insulation of this world from
the outside, and he senses its imminent dissolution. He spends most of his life trying to
escape its embrace, only to find that the future, the colonial society upon which he
wishes to make his mark, is yet uncreated. Mr Biswas struggles between the tepid chaos
of a decaying culture and the void of a colonial society. To put it like this is to gloss
C. L. R. James's remark that "after reading a House for Mr Biswas, many of our people
have a deeper understanding of the West Indies than they did before." To this one
might add, as an indication of the complexity of Naipaul's social understanding, that in
their encounter with the city, his Indians are shown as being exposed to that amphibian
state in which the most advanced creolisation is cursedly entwined with the furthest
degree of Westernisation and mimicry.
Other novels like Ismith Khan's The Jumbie Bird (1961) and the Obeah Man
(1964) deal in the emotions accompanying the attenuation of the Indian cultures and the
onset of the creolisation process, but it is in the novels A Brighter Sun (1952) and Turn
Again Tiger (1958) that we see a further development in the presentation of the Indians.
If in A House for Mr Biswas Naipaul shows his Indians confronting, not the Africans
themselves but the city where the Africans are in the majority, Selvon engineers an
encounter between Indians (from the country) and Africans (from the city) on middle
ground that is neither city nor country.
A Brighter Sun was the first brave attempt to deal, in fiction, with the crucial
issue of the kind of relationships that may exist between Indians and Africans. Selvon
employs a simple device to begin his story of African-Indian rapprochement: the newly-
married Tiger and Urmilla set up house in Barataria next to the African couple Joe and
Rita who have just left a Port of Spain yard. Systematically, the author takes us through
various stages: the mutual ignoring of one another; the dawning of friendship between
the two men and between the two women; and the gradual degrees by which growth in
understanding comes. By the end of the novel the men ponder the nature and future of
their shared society, and begin to entertain thoughts of self-government.
If Selvon relies on stereotypes in his presentation of his characters, his work finally
seeks to undermine those widespread racial categorisings; and his characters come over
as individuals full of idiosyncratic life through the use of dialect and dialect rhythms that
convey the living flux. But there is an inadequate exploration of the psyche of the person
of African origin; and in the portrayal of Tiger, Selvon doesn't give expression to what,
for want of a better term, we may call Indianness. The problem for a man like Tiger, of
what to do with his Indianness while becoming a Trinidadian is not raised or dealt with,
and if the novel implies anything at all it implies that the Indian should simply forget his
Indianness and be absorbed in the Trinidad character. One knows of course that this is
impossible. One cannot wipe out one's childhood; one cannot ignore a cultural heritage,
however, vaguely felt; and it is not possible for a descendant of Indians to stop looking
like an Indian. Depending on how strong a role the genes play in determining what we
are, and regardless of whether we think it necessary to identify it, there will always be
qualities, however nebulous, called Indianness and Africanness. Selvon does not enter
upon this kind of speculation in A Brighter Sun, though, when he comes to write Turn
Again Tiger (1958), he finds it necessary to return Tiger to Chaguanas, the Indian com-
munity he grew up in and must come to terms with before he can move on. A Brighter
Sun is a goodhearted, and, as the title implies, optimistic parable about the future of
African-Indian relations. Its virtue lies in drawing attention to a problem, not in resolv-
ing it either credibly in the novel, or prophetically in relation to how things have actually
worked out in the society.
Is it surprising that Selvon himself in a later novel, The Plains of Caroni (1970)
gives up the theme of racial integration to concentrate more resignedly on the dilemmas
of Indians striving to maintain supportive bonds with family and group while adjusting
to the social system? Or that in Fireflies (1970) and The Chip-Chip Gatherers (1973)
Shiva Naipaul portrays his young Indians in various hysterical states as people on the
verge of extinction, or absorption without trace in an uncongenial socio-political
The last twenty-five years have seen racial massacres in Guyana, continued racial
politics in that beleaguered country, and a Black Power disturbance in Trinidad whose
failure included a failure to involve the Indians. These occurrences lend support to the
proposition that the internal order of these two territories, and the prospect of regional
integration depend upon removing the distrust and the mutual ignorance of one
another that exists between African and Indians. It is this problem that George Lamming
sets himself in Of Age and Innocence (1958). This parable about the multi-racial society
moves symbolically, Age being burdened with all the distress and distrust of the too-
knowing world, and Innocence, while still innocent, eager to make and heal the world.
There is a pull, however, in a more socially realistic direction, the novel seeking to portray
the inter-action of the races as well as to describe an African-Indian effort to form a
multi-racial party. But the Barbadian author did not know enough about Indians either
to deal in a socially realistic manner with the relationship between Singh and the African
leader Shephard, or to give a credible even true-to-life sense of the Indian mass. At the
end, Shephard is assassinated by an Indian who believes he is clearing the way for Singh
to be the leader of the alliance. The multi-racial party breaks up, and the community
The Indians worked furiously with small push carts,
hurrying up and down along the pier. They were
cruel with labour to their bodies, and their faces
were strained with secrecy and spite and expectation.
They were going to rob the future of what was left.
The Negroes sat heavy, large, indolent, unwilling and
destructive. They rebuked all possessions by a show
of indifference. They were killing time with their
hands. Their labour was irrelevant and misplaced.
The Chinese moved everywhere with verve and stoic
reservation. They were not worthy of any interrup-
tion, and they were now no part of any alliance, but
they were going to earn their share of everything.
Of Age and Innocence (pp. 385-6)
Lamming's concern in this novel is matched by Naipaul's in The Mimic Men (1967).
Here, too, a multi-racial party fails to hold together when, as the narrator puts it, crunch
time comes. Defensive barriers put up by the respective racial groups ensure that Brown
and Ralph Singh have in common only the private hemisphere of school in their boy-
hoods at Isabella Imperial. Later, when they form a political party, they do so with the
barest knowledge of each other and with little or no experience of each other's racial
groups. Since the economy is still under external control, the ruling party finds itself
unable to satisfy the expectations it has aroused. Singh is expelled as a betrayer by the
Africans of the party hierarchy, the country erupts into racial war, and Ralph Singh,
even more alienated than he was as a youth, blames himself for having even permitted
himself to become involved in the political movement: "For the calamity that came -
there is no other word for open racial conflict in a small territory I must bear much of
the responsibility. It was a responsibility that began with that moment of return to the
slave island, that moment of morning stillness: it continued to the moment of my final
departure" (p. 240).
Before Lamming, no West Indian writer of non-Indian origin granted Indians
political significance in West Indian societies; and only Lamming and Naipaul have dared
to broach the problem implicit in Froude's remark quoted above. But it is where
Lamming and Naipaul leave off that Lovelace begins. First of all, it should be noticed
that the African-Indian theme is not given a political turn; Lovelace's emphasis is more
cultural and personal. This is not surprising. For in all his novels there are two over-riding
themes. There is first the theme of the liberation of the individual from imposed roles
and attitudes, the salvaging of the real self from the role self. an exploration as in Walcott
of New World possibility, "the possibility of the individual Caribbean man, African,
European or Asian in ancestry, the gently enormous, gently opening morning of his
possibility, his body touched with dew, his nerves as subtilised to sensation as the
mimosa, his memory whether of grandeur or of pain gradually erasing itself as recurrent
drizzles cleanse the ancestral or tribal markings from the coral skull, the possibility of a
man and his language waking to wonder here".' Lovelace is not always able to force his
imagination from more banal socio-political considerations but at his best he combines
the theme of the search for the real self with a more clearly socially inspired theme:
the discovery of meaning and value through an imaginative rendering and fulfilment
of cultural forms that have evolved out of the lives of the peoples who have met in these
Cultural and Personal Emphasis
In a sense, The Dragon Can't Dance-is an epic, singing the creole culture, restoring
calypso. steelband and carnival, meaningfully to the living communities whose original
self-expression they are, and celebrating the heroes and the crowds whose deeds went
into the making of what we have of ritual custom and ceremony. So, Aldrick, seeing the
masqueraders assembling in the stillness and half-light of J'Ouvert morning, recognizing
the awe in the eyes of the little boys watching the poised panmen, finds himself engaged
again in an ancestral rite and in hope for the present and future:
And watching, fascinated by it all, as if he were seeing
with the boys' eyes. Aldrick felt a tallness and a
pride, felt his hair rise on his head, felt: 'No, this ain't
no joke. This is warriors going to battle. This is the
guts of the people, their blood, this is the self of the
people that they screaming out they possess, that
they scrimp and save and whore and work and thief
to drag out of the hard rockstone and dirt to show
the world is people.' He felt: 'This is people taller
than cathedrals; this is people more beautiful than
avenues with trees.' And full to the brimming with
furious tears, Aldrick felt again the fierce love and
hope that he had doubted in himself, felt again a
sense of mission; felt that yes, there was a place here
for him, that there was something to say yes to, and
people before whom and on whose behalf he could
dance the dragon.
The Dragon Can't Dance (pp. 122-123)
It is into a creole world thus defined that Pariag the Indian seeks an entry. It is not a
creole world that he has helped to shape, and it is one which seems to regard him as
marginal or as someone to be absorbed without trace.
Pariag appears mainly in Chapter 5, 'The Spectator' where he is introduced. Chapter
10, 'Friends and Family', and finally in Chapter 16, 'The Shopkeeper'. in which he makes
his last appearance. On the surface, this might seem too little space and that little too
interrupted to impress the character upon a reader: and. considering the amount of
exposure, one could be reproved for making much ado about merely a minor character.2
The points are worth settling, since to follow them through is to come to a better under-
standing of some general features of Lovelace's art as a novelist, especially his use of the
omniscient convention and his approach to character and characterisation.
Lovelace has no qualms about making undisguised use of omniscience to articulate
his characters. This author does not pretend that he is not writing a novel, and does not
undertake to restrict himself to the point of view of one character as if that was always
and automatically the right thing to do. On the contrary Lovelace seems to insist: "All
my characters are important. All my characters have feelings and ideas, and I the novelist,
their creator shall enter into each one, in good faith, and tell you when necessary what
the character is really saying and thinking. I shall interpret him because he cannot always
An author so bold and free in his use of omniscience might well produce a work in
which analysis/commentary predominates over action and dialogue, a disposition which
tends to make a novel seem lifeless or static. Although analysis far exceeds action in
The Dragon Can't Dance, nearly every page is resonant with feeling and/or movement.
The author's account of Aldrick making his dragon costume on pages 36-45 of which
only part is here quoted, is a handy illustration:
Aldrick worked slowly, deliberately; and every thread
he sewed, every scale he put on the body of the
dragon was a thought, a gesture, an adventure, a name
that celebrated some part of his journey to and his
surviving upon this hill. He worked, as it were, in a
flood of memories, not trying to assemble them, to
link them to gei a linear meaning, but letting them
soak him through and through, and his life grew
before him, in the texture of his paint and the angles
of his dragon's scales as he worked. And working
now, he sewed scales for his grandfather, who he
remembered from the far distance of his boyhood
He knitted into his dragon this old man, stern
and stiff and unbending, the last pillar of a falling
building, whose slightest shift would collapse the
entire structure, puzzling over him, this man, his
mother's father, remembering him still holding on
then to the five acres of mountain and stone that had
exhausted its substance if it ever had any. years
before lie bought it, holding on with a passion so
fierce that it blinded him to the dwindling size of the
fruit the tired brown trees tugged out of the earth, as
if the land, that mountain and stone land, held some
promise that lie alone knew of, that was never
revealed to his wife or to his children, and that would
already be lost to Aldrick by the time he was old
enough to understand ...
It is not indicative enough of the distinctiveness of the narrating to say. true as this
may be, that there is persuasiveness in the sympathy. sincerity and imagination with
which the author comes to each character. The description of Aldrick making his costume
is teeming because it contains an account of the grandfather. of Aldrick's encounter with
Sylvia, and the present challenge of the boy Basil. The concrete and dramatic elements
thus kneaded into the author's analysis/commentary work against dryness. but even more
striking is the overlay of emotion which makes sections of The Dragon Can't Dance read
like a set of lyric poems.
A lyric does not describe actions: it is an expression of intense feeling in metred
language, and the prose that Lovelace invents, with its long vivid oral sentences, is a
lyrical prose which functions in relation to his characters in the evocative way that lyric
language works in relation to feelings. The lyricism in the narrating sections of a Lovelace
novel achieves a life of its own, and becomes a virtual substitute for action. Upon every
character -Aldrick, Sylvia, Philo and Pariag -the omniscient technique, fortified by the
intense and narrow focus of the lyric approach, bestows an importance and depth that
more conventional novelists usually retain for their main characters.
This account of the use of an all-embracing omniscient method as an instrument of
characterisation and as a surprising source of the novel's lyrical tone has been carried out
as a necessary preliminary. The procedure permits, and helps to justify the generalisation
that the world of The Dragon Can't Dance is a web in which each character is in turn the
main character visibly bound to the other characters. Hence. it is permissible to work
with Pariag and still offer a-response to the whole novel, to concentrate on a seemingly
minor character and yet broach the major issues.
The theme of Afro-Indian relationships in The Dragon Can't Dance may be
examined under two main heads: the meeting of cultures, and the interaction of indivi-
duals. Lovelace's prime concern, of course, is the selflood of his characters; and it is
implicit in his work that neither the meeting of cultures nor personal interaction can be
deep if there is no grounding in some sense of basic self. Before going further, therefore.
and at the risk of simplification it is worth offering a resume of the notion comprehended
in the phrase 'the self and the veil', a notion which is always active in his work and which
Lovelace set out in a talk during the Second Conference on Indians in the Caribbean held
at the St Augustine Campus of the University of the West Indies in 1979.3
In any given social situation there are veils shrouding the individual, giving him a
sense of identity with others like himself and ensuring some degree of privacy. They
include things like racial identity, religion, social status, material possessions and educa-
tional qualifications, to cite the most common of them, as well as more idiosyncratic
forms of self-presentation. Some of the veils may be deliberately and elaborately put in
place. while others are simply there without the wearer's conscious connivance. Some-
times, the veil exists more in the eye of the beholder than anywhere else. But the veil
which can protect can also smother or pen in, and what gives a sense of identity to a
group can exclude others, and make it difficult for them to see the individual. Lovelace
recognizes the necessity of veils but points to the saving virtue of being conscious of one's
veils as veils, as well as to the dangers of allowing the veil to become a permanent mask.
For if the latter occurs, the self is denied: or else, it becomes impossible either to begin to
know one's self or to be known by other selves. If persons or groups are to meet and
interact there must be a willingness to look behind the veils of the other, and a willingness
in turn, to be seen behind the veils.
-low the existence of veils can retard or prevent the meeting of individuals or
cultures can be seen in Pariag's reflections on his first two years in the Yard on Alice
Street where he is 'the Indian' or 'Channa Boy', and where there is as yet no recognition
of what he is behind the veils: "They saw him come in the Yard and go out. They saw his
wife fetching water at the pipe, scrubbing over the tub, hanging clothes on the line to dry.
They had to know that he was somebody, a person" (p. 87). But if the Yard refuses to
see Pariag, its members also refuse to let him see them: "But, after two years on Calvary
Hill, no one had made any effort to be friends with him; instead, he could sense them
watching him as if they couldn't trust him, as if they shared among themselves a secret
which they were afraid he would discover, and were debating whether to reveal it to him
or to chase him out of their midst entirely" (p. 88).
Pariag had left the New Lands sugar estate and come to the city "so that he could
join up with people, be part of something bigger": he longed to enter "a world where
people could see him, and lie could be somebody in their eyes: for this Trinidad was itself
a new land and lie had not seen it yet nor had it seen him" (p. 78).
Lovelace depicts nearly all his characters as wanting to be seen and wanting to be
part of something bigger Fisheye, for example, becomes a Bad John: and later, having
found a more satisfying role as a panman. hle urges that the bands should stop waging war
upon one another and unite against their common oppressor. But here the similarity
between the Indian and the character of the Yard ends. In his frustration at not being
seen the newcomer unwittingly breaks one of the Hill's traditions, the tradition and philo-
sophy of non-possession. In the Prologue this tradition is traced back to the days of
enslavement, is seen in the unceasing escapes of the Maroons, and is interpreted as being
manifest after Emancipation when "refusing to be grist for the mill of the colonial
machinery that kept on grinding in its belly people to spit out sugar and cocoa and copra,
they turned up this hill to pitch camp here on the eyebrow of thie enemy, to cultivate
again with no less fervor the religion with its Trinity of Idleness. Laziness and Waste ...
(pp. 10-- 11). The opting out of the system by the inhabitants of the Yard is extolled at
this point as the time's form of resistance to Ihe new face of slavery.
Pariag's elation at being seen on that reckless ride through the crowded streets of
Port of Spain ("Look at that crazy Indian. Look at him.") subsides as he gets to the Yard,
and so does his hope that the possession of a new bike would at last cause him to be seen
and accepted. Within an hour. "the fact of Pariag's new bicycle had settled upon the Yard
like a death." Miss Cleothilda, the parlour keeper, and Guy, who collects rent, instigate
the call to the dragon to punish the transgressor.
Here, the close interweaving of several elements in the novel shows to the enhance-
ment of each one. The meeting of the cultures, in this instance the collision between the
Indian and the Yard occurs at a time when the Yard's philosophy of non-possession is
being modified in two ways: already, members like Miss Cleothilda and Guy are succumb-
ing to the opportunities to secure economic advantage over the rest; more crucially,
Aldrick has begun to withdraw into himself to question his present way of avoiding all
possession and all responsibility:
You see me here, I is thirty-one years old. Never had
a regular job in my life or a wife or nutten. 1 ain't
own a house or car or radio or race-horse or store ...
They killing people in this place, Philo. Little girls,
they have them whoring. And I is a dragon. And what
is a man? What is you or me, Philo? And I here play-
ing a dragon, playing a masquerade every year, and I
forget what I playing it for, what I trying to say. I
forget. Philo. Is like nobody remembering what life
is, and who we fighting and what we fighting for ...
Everybody rushing me as if they in such a hurry. I
want to catch a breath, I want to see what I doing on
this fucking Hill. Let the Indian buy his bike. Guy
and Cleothilda ain't fooling me. The Indian is a threat
to them, he ain't no threat to me.
The Dragon Can't Dance (p. 110)
From a consideration of Pariag's process we are drawn smoothly into the parallel growth
of Aldrick. Beginning with guilt over his failure to respond to the challenge of Sylvia and
to Pariag's overtures, and with compassion for the boy Basil, Aldrick slowly moves to an
Ash Wednesday confession: "He had been living in the world of the dragon, avoiding and
denying the full touch of the Hill. He had been cheating himself of the pain, of the love,
of his living. He had been living here for seventeen years" (p. 131); by the end, after
participation in an abortive attempt at revolution, after years of painful thinking in prison,
Aldrick is liberated from a posture which has survived its usefulness by so long that it has
become hollow. The dragon decides to enter the world as a sign painter, no longer con-
tent to opt out of the system, no longer afraid that it would consume him: "Maybe he
could paint some new signs, signs of life, of hope. of love, of affirming, and let his own
living match and mirror them" (p. 205).
Ultimately, The Dragon Can't Dance erodes the contrast between the practitioners
of the philosophy of non-possession and those who quietly engage in the accumulation of
economic strength. The Prologue, indeed, celebrates the resistance of the formerly
enslaved to a system that devours the self. But in the very same place, there are words and
phrases intimating that the stubborn cultivation of property as a possession is now a
reflex, "a pass-key whose function they only half-remembered", which has grown "rusty",
and which is worn almost superstitiously like "a charm, a charmed medallion". Pariag's
purchase of a new bicycle comes as a challenge forcing Aldrick to recognize that to con-
tinue the separation between being and having is to settle for a half satisfactory life in the
real world: "All we thinking about is to play dragon. All we thinking about is to show
this city, this island, this world that we is people, not because we own anything, not
because we have things, but because we is" (p. 111).
Urged to attack the Indian for being acquisitive, Aldrick begins contrarywise to
re-think his attitude and that of the Yard as a whole to owning things. And during the
attempted revolution, he makes a speech which points to the risks involved in trying to
live in a society with its inevitable economic arrangements while yet continuing to resist a
new form of slavery:
'Make no peace with slavery.' Aldrick cried. 'Make no
peace, for you have survived. You are filling up the
shanty towns, prisons, slums, street corners, mental
asylums, brothels, hospitals. Make no peace with
shanty towns, dog shit, piss. We have to live as people,
people. We have to rise. Rise up. But how do you rise
up when your brothers are making peace for a few
dollars? When sisters selling their souls, and mothers
and fathers selling their children. How can you rise
with rent to pay and children to school, and watch
hunger march across your yard and camp inside your
house? How can you not make peace?
The Dragon Can't Dance (p. 179)
In a sense, Aldrick's own answer to the question, "I don't know", is the novel's broad
answer. For Aldrick, however, there is work as a sign-painter, a decision taken without
prejudice. "Each man Pariag included had the responsibility for his own living, had
the responsibility for the world he lived in, and to claim himself and to grow and to
grow" (p. 204).
To see Pariag's action as a challenge to the philosophy of non-possession, then, is to
be led to the novel's primary concern with selfhood. Aldrick can begin to participate in
the system because with the emergence of a self anxious to grow it is possible at last to
possess things without being possessed by them, to take part in the world without selling
the self to the world. The problem for persons like Pariag seems to be different. But just
as the descendants of those who had been enslaved are trapped by their stance in living
conditions not far removed from those of slavery, so the descendants of indentures are
shown to be caught by their own industry in a continuation of indentureship.
In the village, Pariag "had watched his brothers and his father and his grandfather
work, bound still in that virile embrace to the sugarcane estate to which his grandfather
had been the first to be indentured, renewing their indenture year after year as if it were
an inheritance that no repeal of law could force them to relinquish." He is determined to
escape and resist, but in the chapter entitled 'The Shopkeeper' we see Pariag questioning
his life in almost exactly the same terms that Aldrick questions his own. For in the five or
six years following the attempted revolution, the alienated Pariag (see p. 142) had let go
of his self and re-indentured himself to the economic system:
What it is you doing? What you doing? What you
doing? questions which, while they touched the
sorest centre in himself, he had allowed himself to
neglect, seeing that the shop in which he was cease-
lessly at work had the appearance of an answer the
whole world would understand, if not applaud. Now
it settled into him, this sense of loss and the aloneness.
as a pain no one knew of, but one that he was some-
times grateful for, as a nostalgia for the earlier pur-
pose that had moved him out of the bosom of his
family and New Lands to encounter men like Fisheye
and Aldrick in Port of Spain.
The Dragon Can't Dance (p. 206)
We can attend to what Lovelace says about the meeting of cultures and racial groups
because we are never allowed to forget that behind the veil is a person wanting to be seen,
a person engaged ideally in a mortal struggle to find and release the true self. However,
different from Pariag the members of the Yard consider themselves, even they respond to
the challenging dignity of the Indian, seeing him for the first time. ironically, just when
they have violated him by smashing the bicycle. Pariag sets the bike on the one wheel that
could still roll and pushes it through Alice Street:
He had no intention of making a report to the police.
He walked the bike as if it were a wounded brother
whom he was carrying in his arms through the very
city, among the very people that had maimed him, so
that the fellars at the Corner, hard, tough men like
Fisheye, who since he came out of the hospital had
left Calvary Hill steelband and surrounded himself
with a few young fellars, rebels all, recognized in him
that calm, tall, dangerousness that wasn't even anger,
was beyond it. Aldrick was standing with them that
afternoon, and he thought that he alone had seen it
until he heard Fisheye say 'Look at that fucking
Indian!' Everybody grew silent. They watched Pariag
carry-push the bicycle and in that moment they felt
themselves closer to him than they ever had! It was
suddenly as if he had become alive, a person to them;
and that moment, which was sacred, for it joined
people together to a sense of their humanness and
beauty, they would remember and recall long after-
The Dragon Can't Dance (pp. 140- 141)
We can concentrate on Pariag without missing the whole novel because parallels
with other people in the Yard are being constantly evoked and because Lovelace traces
the Indian's process alongside the process of the main character. Aldrick, with whom
Pariag anxiously seeks relationship.
Lovelace's view of how the Indian might enter the Creole culture is scrupulously
worked out in the novel. First. Lovelace sets up a contrast between Pariag, and Balliram
another Indian with whom Pariag had worked for a while buying empty bottles for a
petty capitalist called Seepersad: "Balliram was from San Juan. He liked to cuss and get
on like Creole people. He was always boasting about his Creole girl friends and about the
dances he went to. The biggest thing in his life was talking to Pariag about the time he
played masquerade portraying Viva Zapata in Corregidors steelband" (p. 83). Balliram's
creolisation is a mimic creolisation which Pariag rejects: "Balliram liked to pretend he was
a Creole. He understood better now. But he, Pariag, was not a Creole, and he didn't
intend to play one. But he wanted them to see him" (pp. 91-92).
Lovelace shows Pariag thinking not only about the Creole world, but about his rela-
tionship to the village too. When, driven by nostalgia "for family, for home, for New
Lands playground, playing all fours with Seenath, Ramjohn and Bali, for the smell of
home", Pariag makes a visit to Family and friends, the original choice is confirmed. Like
Mr Biswas, Pariag feels the sustaining quality of the clan but he is also conscious of its
limiting, imprisoning aspect. Although the outside world had shown its power to hurt
and bruise him, Pariag, like Mr Biswas, must set out to test it again: "He wanted to be a
man, to join the world, be part of a bigger something in a bigger somewhere, to stretch
out, extend himself, be a man among people" (p. 147).
Pariag's discovery as he looks at the weekly television Indian talent show gives him
at last an insight into the way in which his life in the village and his Indian cultural
heritage can be part of his life in the larger world. The show has always struck him as too
smooth and easy:
And now he saw something that was always missing
for him in these shows. He realized what it was now.
for the first time. It lacked the guts of the struggle he,
Pariag, had lived and Dolly had lived and his father
and his uncle Ramlochan. It didn't have the sugarcane
and the cow dung in it and the roasted peanuts and
the boiled and fried channa in a basket round the
Savannah with Colts playing Malvern (Maple done get
licks already). It jingled with jewels, and leaves fell
and there was perfume; but it didn't have bottles in
it. It didn't have Balliram and Vishnu on the bottles
truck at five o'clock in the morning, and Seenath.
Bali and Ramjohn playing all fours in the pavilion of
New Lands Recreation ground. It didn't have his
struggle with the Hill, in it. Yet, as distant as it was
from him, it was close, very close to him, and he was
glad to have it as one is glad to have the memory of a
self; he just wished that there was more of himself in
The Dragon Can't Dance (pp. 208 -209)
It is by now fairly widely accepted that where there is a meeting of cultures neither
side should be expected to reject and submerge itself in the other. Although there can be
no engineering of these matters to create a pre-determined shape, and although the way
in which cultures interact is not to be decided by proportional representation, there must
be a context in which a free play of cultures can take place. It is a virtue of The Dragon
Can't Dance that Pariag comes more and more to seek this kind of space by a dramatic
Thus, it is only after failing to win acceptance in the Yard, that Pariag can put it to
himself that his entry into the Creole culture depended not upon his abandoning or
suppressing the Indian heritage but rather upon bringing it with him so that it might alter
and be altered by the Creole construct. The passage on p. 210 is worth quoting in its
I wish I did walk with a flute or a sitar, and walk in
right there in the middle of the steelband yard
where they was making new drums, new sounds,
a new music from rubbish tins and bits of steel and
oil drums, bending the iron over fire. chiselling out
new notes. New notes. I wish I would go in there
where they was making their life anew in fire, with
chisel and hammer, and sit down with my sitar on
my knee and say: Fellars, this is me, Pariag from
New Lands. Gimme the key! Give me the Do Re Mi.
Run over the scale. Leh er Fa Sol La! Gimme the
beat, lemme beat! Listen to these strings. And let
his music cry too, and join in the crying. Let it
scream too. Let it sing 'bout Dolly in the old
ramshackle house in Tabaquite, with the smell of
green grass and cow dung, let it laugh with Seenath,
Bali and Ramjohn playing all fours, singing bullseyes
in the pavilion of New Lands recreation ground, let
it groan with the groaning weight of tins and tons of
sugarcane on top his grandfather's frail shoulders.
Let it smile with his uncle Ramlochan sitting at the
window with his dark shades on. And he smiled,
thinking of Miss Cleothilda and her All o' we is one.
No. We didn't have to melt into one. I would be me
for my own self. A beginning. A self to go in the
world with, with something in my hands to give. We
didn't have to melt into one. They would see me.
The Dragon Can't Dance (p. 210)
I have been trying to unravel in a fairly literal way what The Dragon Can't Dance
says about the relationship of Indians to Trinidadian culture and society, and about the
relationship between Indians and Africans. The issue is important in itself. At the same
time, however, there has been an attempt to suggest what can bear repetition here: the
truth of Lovelace's novel, the belief it commands as we read, comes from the author's
successful creation of characters and situations in a carefully fabricated world, and what
it says on social and cultural matters gains in persuasiveness from being said as something
subservient to a larger vision of selfhood.
Resolution by Mental Engagement
It remains now to examine Lovelace's resolution of what comes over not so much
as an actual relationship as a mental engagement between Aldrick and Pariag. Through-
out the novel, the two men are at least on the fringes of each other's consciousness.
Pariag's presence helps to awaken Aldrick's conscience, and the call on the dragon to
punish Pariag drives Aldrick to put into words his misgivings about Guy and Miss
Cleothilda and more crucially, his uneasiness about the philosophy of non-possession.
The two men never really speak, and at the end, standing outside Pariag's shop. Aldrick
realises that he did not really know Pariag "though lie might have known him if he had
known himself", telling himself that even if the Yard could have explained its life to
Pariag, they might have had doubts about offering him that life: "Could they have
offered him the dragon. Carnival, rebellion, the possession of nothing?'
As a statement about how things were before Aldrick's growth, this is unexcep-
tionable. But it is hard to accept Aldrick's gloss on his present action:
For a moment Aldrick was tempted to go in and talk
to Pariag, but he felt there was nothing to explain.
really. Each man Pariag included -had the res-
ponsibility for his own living, had the responsibility
for the world he lived in, and to claim himself and
to grow and grow. No. There was nothing to explain
The Dragon Can't Dance (p. 204)
The aphoristic quality of the second sentence, and Aldrick's growing stature in the work
would persuade us to accept that there is indeed nothing to explain. But the truth of the
novel is that Aldrick does have things to explain to Pariag, and is now able to do so. It
is possible that at this point Lovelace slips from fictional truth and presents a societal
fact, for more people in our society hold the view that there is nothing to explain than
one would have liked to believe.
Whatever the reason for this seeming lapse, the novel moves into surer ground
when Pariag, lamenting that he did not call out to Aldrick, resignedly equates what one
is with what others see. His wife Dolly is quick to protest: "You is more, Boya. More
than what you show them. I is more than what I show you. not so?" Dolly goes on to
agree that Pariag should have called out to Aldrick. but at this point Lovelace's explora-
tory novel takes a new turn:
'I see now,' Dolly said. 'You shouda talk to Aldrick
But he was thinking of something else, seeing some-
'We have to start to live, Dolly, you and me.'
'Me and you?' Dolly asked, her voice choking. 'Me
What did he know of this woman? She had tears in
her eyes and she was looking at him with a kind of
astonishment and respect, the same way she had
looked at him when he had said, 'You going to have
to live in Port of Spain.'
The Dragon Can't Dance (p. 212)
If Lovelace's resolution of the relationship between Aldrick and Pariag seems insufficient,
the reason might well be in the author's sense that there is more of the self to be found
before the African and the Indian can dare to expose themselves to each other. Some-
where, Sylvia is drifting slowly back to Aldrick to complete his growth, and at the same
time Pariag and Dolly are on the edge of the chastening and exciting experience of get-
ting to know someone nearer home, "who know you too long and don't know you at
1. See 'The Muse of History' in Is Massa Day Dead, ed. Orde Coombs (NY, Doubleday Anchor,
2. Although this essay purports to focus on the theme of African-Indian relations as a distinctive
Trinidadian theme, there is also an intention to read The Dragon Can't Dance as a distinctively
Trinidadian novel in other senses as well.
3. Kenneth Ramchand 'What is Indian-ness: Earl Lovelace's Exposition' in The Trinidad Guardian,
INDIANS IN THE NOVELS OF EDGAR MITTELHOLZER
FRANK M. BIRBALSINGH
Eight of Miltelholzel's twenty-lliec novels are set in his homeland. Guyana, where a
nmjority of the population are descendants of indentuied labouiers who came from India
over a seventy- or eighty-yeai period beginning in 1838. Indian characters appear in some
of these Guyana novels, and in A Morning at the Office' which is set in Trinidad. In
general, Mittelholzer's treatment of Indian social life seems given "en passant", while he
reserves his main attention lor othei subjects and themes. Only in Corentyne
Thunder,2 his first published novel, can Mittelliolzer be said to exaiiiiiie Indian people
and customs, or Indian society in the Caribbean in more than cuisoiy or passing detail.
Indians in Mittelholzer's First Novel
The main action ol Corentyne Thundel takes place sllolly beloic World War
II and illustrates the care of Ramgolall. from his early years as an indeituled Indian
labourer in Guyana, to his death as a miserly cow-minder when lie is over sixty years old.
The novel sets out to provide a comprehensive account of Raigolall's family lelation-
ships within the context of his wide social activities and peasant life style. Miserliness is
only one feature of a rustic way of life that includes ignorance and supeLslition, poverty
and greed, squalor and violence, and a whole range of equally impoverished social
habits characteristic of people afflicted by the cumulative effect ol widespread social, cul-
tu al and economic deprivation.
In Mittelholzei's novel, Indians are portrayed as the lowest. poorest social group in
Guyana. Since their behaviour is regulated only by the most flexible of moial sanctions,
their personal, family and social relationships are chaotic and crude, as vulgar as they are
violent. Ramgolall not only starves himself into sickness in ordei to hoard money: he is
reluctant to pay for medical treatment to get well. He has five children Ifom two
marriages. Sosee. a daughter by his first wife, becomes the mistress of Big Man Weldon,
a wealthy, coloured cattle ranches: and Katlrce. by his second wife. becomes the lover of
Weldon's son Geoffrey. Beena, his third daughter has an alffar with Jannee, a married
man, who is later accused of murdering Boorharry, himself a Don Juan of some
Towards the end of the novel, Beena steals the bulk of her father's patiently
hoarded life's savings to pay Jannee's legal fees and secure his acquittal. Shock on dis-
covering his loss kills Ramgolall; and when Beena and Kattree return from the count-
house, overjoyed by news of Jannee's acquittal, they Find their rather lying on the floor:
He lay very still, one thin leg bent upward. His eyes
stared glassily at nothing and his mouth gaped a trifle.
Near him is old canister lay still, too. It lay on its
side wide open and empty. Rags of cloth, pebbles
and copper coins were scattered all over the floor.
shillings, too, and lumps of dried mud.3
The bleakness and squalor of Ramgolall's death is consistent with the bleak and squalid
portrait of his own life and of the lives of the entire Indian society to which he belongs.
That Mittelholzer's portrait is largely authentic may be confirmed by the accounts
of historians or sociologists.4 Certainly Mittelholzer is accurate in the broad outlines of
Indian society that he presents. Indians do, historically, form a majority in the Corentyne
district of Guyana. Speyerfield, the fictional name of a sugar estate in Mittelholzer's
novel, is typical of any Guyanese sugar estate where, since the days of slavery, the labour
force has been predominantly Indian, and the overseers either white or coloured.
Mittelholzcr's Indians have little contact with the other main racial groups the blacks,
whites or coloured. Blacks are scarcely mentioned in the novel, while the whites and
coloureds are encountered in limited contact, as members of the professional and pro-
prietorial classes: Big Man Weldon is a proprietor, Roy Matthias is a doctor, and Wickham
and Burlock are lawyers. In contrast, the Indians are mainly farmers and labourers and
the few Indians who are not acquire jobs only slightly less menial. Boorharry, for
example, is a porter at the hospital gale, and Jairamsingh is butler at the overseers' mess
In his autobiography,5 Miltelholzer describes the social status of Indians when he
was growing up in the nineteen-twenties and thirties. Mittelholzer lived in New Amster-
dam, the chief town in the county of Berbice where the Corentyne district is situated:
The East Indian family to the west of us had been
accepted into middle-class circles, for Mr Edward
Luckhoo was a solicitor -a legal man who, profes-
sionally, was on the same footing as that of Mr Tyner
Egg on our east. But these were the days when only a
very few East Indians had 'emerged' from the planta-
tion swarm of coolies a people looked down upon
socially by the whites and middle-class admixtures.
So even though we were friendly with the Luckhoos
-and this continued until I was about fifteen or six-
teen there persisted among my aunts and my
mother a continual whispering snobbism ... My sister
and I were made to feel that we could go over and
play with the children, but that it must not be over-
done . 'After all, they're not really our sort,' my
mother might murmur. Or my aunt: 'Those are
people you can't trust. They're so secretive and cun-
Baijan, perhaps the character in Corentyne Thunder who is most like the Luckhoos,
achieves greatest success in evading the restriction of his Indian social background:
Baijan said he had over five thousand dollars in pro-
perty and nearly two thousand dollars in the bank,
and if this year's rice crop proved fair he would be
worth nearly ten thousand dollars, for he had some
big deals pending. In October he hoped to export
five thousand bags of rice to Guadeloupe, and, in
November, about three thousand to Trinidad. Besides
the rice mill at Number Sixty-eight Village, he had
bought a fair-sized cottage in the same village where
he and his bride would live. He was to be married
with Christian rites, not with Hindu. He had turned
Christian. In February, year before last he had got
baptized under the name Charles Christopher, in the
Anglican Church, and in July of the same year he had
been confirmed. Ramjit and his family were
Christians too. 'It carry more influence in business
when you is a Christian,' Baijan explained. 'Ramjit
was a big-church-man in Essequibo. Since he was
young he join the Church. Deh mek 'im church-
warden. He talk wid estate-manager an' 'e shake
hands over an' over wid de Lord Bishop of Guiana.
I see it wid me own eyes.'7
The process of social evolution mentioned by Baijan has been called "creolization": it
involves the gradual adoption of Caribbean manners while relinquishing Indian customs in
pursuit of social recognition and acceptance. At the time of the main action in Corentyne
Thunder -- the nineteen-thirties few Indians were "creolized"; but as the experience of
Baijan and Ramjit would suggest, the process was already at work in Guyana.
Indians in Mittelholzer's Second Novel
Morning at the Office indicates that by the 1940s, compared with their Guyanese
counterparts, Indians in Trinidad may have become more "creolized". Although
Mungalsingh exhibits the drunkenness and brawling so typical of Ramgolall's associates,
he lives in the city, albeit as a skilled pickpocket. Mittelholzer adds a footnote describing
Mungalsingh as "a creolized Hindu of the West Indies whose ancestors arrived as labourers
indentured to the sugar estates, a century or less ago". Despite his dubiously "creolized"
status, or maybe because of it, Mungalsingh is still called "nigger" by an Englishman.
Mungalsingh's furious reaction to this insult reveals something of the general fluidity of
Caribbean social mores whereby Indians, at any rate in Guyana and Trinidad, can
co-operate with blacks to achieve some degree of cultural assimilation, while at the same
time trying to assert their separate Indian cultural identity. Because of their self-contra-
dictory or, at least, ambivalent response to "creolization", Caribbean Indians are some-
times regarded by socially superior whites and coloureds as equivalent to or lower than
the blacks in social status.
The two principal Indian characters in A Morning at the Office, Mr Jagabir and Miss
Edna Bisnauth, vividly demonstrate the dubiously shifting and seemingly contradictory
effect of "creolization" on Caribbean Indians. Mr Jagabir, excessively mild-mannered and
abjectly servile, is an assistant accountant in a Port-of-Spain firm. Miss Bisnauth, steno-
typist in the same firm, comes from parents who have achieved economic prosperity
through typically Indian means commerce. Miss Bisnauth's clerical, city job is the result
of her parents' willingness in freely using their money to promote their children's edu-
cation and improve their chances of social advancement. But Miss Bisnauth has romantic
problems: her suitor Arthur Lamby is of mixed blood:
But though her parents thought well of Arthur, they
could not be persuaded to see him as their son-in-
law. They were thoroughly Christian and western in
outlook, like their parents before them Hinduism
had ceased with their grandparents, the sugar estate
coolies but they were still clannish; it was as
though this trait had continued subconsciously in
them from the seed of their forebears, so that when-
ever there came a decision that involved a mixture of
racial strains it rose to the surface. They had told her
that an East Indian should marry an East Indian.
They just felt so; they could offer no explanation of
Several of their friends were coloured, and were invit-
ed to the home on such occasions as a birthday party
or a Christmas or Easter party. The Bisnauths spoke
not a word of Hindustani; they belonged to the India
Club, but the India Club is run on western lines; its
members wear European clothes and dance to English
and American dance music, play tennis and bridge,
drink rum and whisky at a bar no different from the
bar in any other club.8
Self-defensive clannishness, coloured by the racist tones of an ancient caste system ori-
ginating in India, is yet another feature of the complex response which "creolization"
evokes in Caribbean Indians. This is more true in Guyana and Trinidad where Indians
settled in their largest numbers. It is less true in Jamaica, Barbados and the smaller terri-
tories of the English-speaking Caribbean where the paucity of Indians ensures more rapid
Mittelholzer's Portrait of Indians Assessed and Compared
Although the general accuracy of Mittelholzer's social presentation has been rightly
acknowledged, it is important to qualify this acknowledgement a little; for while the
social features identified by Mittelholzer do undoubtedly exist, there is some doubt about
the effect that these features have on the people he describes. Ramgolall's miserliness
is too excessive without balancing virtues; and the same excess can be noticed in the
presentation of Jannee, Jagabir, Edna Bisnauth, and many others. There is a strong hint
of caricature and exhibitionism in most of these characters, and the effect is often to
detract from the full conviction and exactness of the social features that are observed
through the behaviour of these characters. The following conversation between Geoffrey
Weldon and Kattree is typical:
'When is your birthday, by the way?'
'Me na know,' she smiled, shaking her head.
'You don't know! But how do you mean? Don't
you know how old you are?'
'Yes, me know me sixteen or seventeen, but me na
know fo' sure wha' day me born on or wha' exact
'Doesn't Ramgolall know? You've never asked him?'
'Yes, me ask 'e, but 'e na know. 'E na even know 'e
own age, fo' certain,' she smiled.
'Well, well. What a terrible state of affairs.'
He looked at her for a while, a faint smile on his face,
and then he said abruptly: 'But I wonder what it
must be like living as you all do.'9
The exact significance of Kattree's simple-minded ignorance is exaggerated out of all pro-
portion, so that the reader is left with a misleading impression of its consequences. In her
unsophisticated, rural circumstances, Kattree, and thousands like her, live in unlettered
innocence without it restricting or depriving them to the degree suggested by Geoffrey's
gawking wonderment. Perhaps the focus of the author's point of view as a coloured
middle-class observer might explain why his social presentation is more accurate in its
general observation than in its record of individual human reactions. For the point of
view is essentially that of a sympathetic outsider, one who perceives the general limita-
tions of the group he observes, but who lacks the balancing knowledge of an insider's
complete experience to be able to render the plausible human response of individual
group members to the limitations of their group.
In Mittelholzer's "defence" it should be remembered that Corentyne Thunder and
A Morning at the Office are the first two of his published works in which his skills as a
writer are not fully developed. More important, it should be noticed that social
documentation, as found in the novel of manners, is not a literary mode which appealed
much to Mittelholzer. As the majority of his later works show, where social documenta-
tion appears, its function is invariably secondary to the psychological subjects and themes
which Mittelholzer relished and wrote about with almost compulsive vigour. While there
are occasional references to Caribbean social manners in many of his sixteen novels which
employ a Caribbean setting, his views on Caribbean society remain most fully expressed
in the first two novels, in his autobiography, and in his travel book With a Carib Eye.10
Partly because of his racial and social origins, therefore, and partly because of his
literary preferences, Mittelholzer (in his fiction) does not provide a sensitive, informed, or
complete portrait of Caribbean Indian society. For such an account, involving themes of
exile and cultural displacement, of loss and alienation, readers will inevitably rely on the
fiction of those West Indian writers who themselves are of Indian descent -V. S.
Naipaul, Samuel Selvon, Ismith Khan and Lauchmonen. The views of non-Indian writers
like Mittelholzer are nevertheless valuable insofar as they describe the perceptions, atti-
tudes and general response of other Caribbean peoples, towards the Indians who live
among them. Nor should this distinction between Indian and non-Indian writers be
considered perverse or racist: few artists, after all, find it easy to write with any degree of
seriousness, about subjects outside of their immediate and earliest social experience. If
Lawrence wrote a great novel about English middle-class society, or Melville, Conrad and
Henry James wrote superb fiction about subjects outside of their immediate and earliest
social experience, those are a few exceptions that prove the rule.
Indians in the Contemporary International Context
The subject of Indians and their role in a dynamic, even volatile Caribbean environ-
ment, is certain to provoke strong reactions from Indians and non-Indians alike. Indians
may be worried by the feeling that the plight of Caribbean blacks has won widespread
international interest and sympathy (though not much ameliorative action) while the
plight of Caribbean Indians, especially in Guyana, is virtually unrecognized.11 The likely
reaction of blacks is fear or suspicion of divisiveness in discussing features of one Carib-
bean group, at a time when group identity (and difference) should be played down in the
interest of fostering the evolution of genuinely "creolized" social forms. Both reactions
are natural. On the one hand, the international liberal Establishment tends to perceive
blacks the victims of the slave trade, and the majority in the Caribbean as the only
Caribbean victims of an unjust and exploitative world order designed to perpetuate the
cultural and economic victimisation of all Third World peoples. On the other hand, those
who base their hopes for the future on cultural mixing and the gradual adoption of creole
values, are bound to regard any consideration of the Indian presence in the Caribbean as
having an arresting or halting effect on already existing assimilative social and cultural
trends which need to be accelerated rather than arrested. If there is any resolution to the
issue, it may help to look at the subject of Indians in an historical and international con-
The massive exodus of Indians out of India during the second half of the last
century is a subject which has not yet received the scholarly interest and attention that it
deserves. From this point of view alone, a consideration of Indians in the Caribbean is a
feasible subject of study. Secondly, while it is invidious to measure or compare the dimen-
sions of human tragedy, it is salutary to remind ourselves of tragedy when it happens. The
Jewish holocaust of World War II continues to receive deserved scholarly attention, and
the lamentable trade in human beings across the Atlantic has, at last, since the nineteen-
fifties, begun to attract more and more study. As far as the Indian experience is con-
cerned, Indians were taken in large numbers to many areas in Africa (principally East
and South), to various parts of the Caribbean (principally Guyana and Trinidad), and
to islands as remote as Mauritius and Fiji. The human consequences of this diaspora -
the term, first used of Jewish experience, may be legitimately applied both to the black
experience of slavery, and the Indian experience of indentured labour ought surely
to be explored as much as those of any other process involving the forced migration of
large numbers of people to alien lands.
For many Indians, strong links of family and culture connected the first settlers
abroad to their origins in India. But the strength of those links had been greatly eroded
by more than a century of continuous separation from India. Links are probably still
strong in some places, but for most Indians abroad, the originally alien lands in which
they settled are now their only home, and India an increasingly sentimental, ancestral
memory. This is certainly true for Indians in the Caribbean where fast-receding Indian
memories have given way readily to Caribbean actuality, because the Caribbean terri-
tories are so far away from India (farther than Africa, for instance, or Mauritius), and
because Caribbean social experience has been severely fragmented by the brutalizing
effect of slavery. Caribbean Indians are therefore faced with two alternatives. One is
emigration, chiefly to Britain and North America; although this has become virtually
impossible in recent years because of deterrent immigration laws in Britain, Canada and
the USA. The other alternative the only realistic option, in fact is active participa-
tion in the gradual evolution of a plural Caribbean society which embraces cultural mix-
ing, social assimilation and political flexibility in humane proportions and fairly equit-
I. Edgar Mittelholzer, A Morning at the Office, London, Hogarth Press, 1950.
2. Edgar Mittleholzer, Corentyne Thunder, London, Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1941.
3. Ibid., p. 228.
4. For example, see Chandra Jayawardena, Conflict and Solidarity in a Guianese Plantation,
London, 1963, and Raymond Smith, British Guiana, London, 1962.
5. Edgar Mittelholzer, A Swarthy Boy, London, Putnam, 1963.
6. Ibid., p. 33.
7. Corentyne Thunder, p. 143.
8. A Morning at the Office, p. 75.
9. Corentyne Thunder, p. 186.
10. Edgar Mittelholzer, With a Carib Eye, London, Seeker & Barburg, 1958.
11. This perception does not ignore the plight of Indians, especially those who are a numerical
majority, as in Guyana. When looking at the Caribbean area as a whole, outside observers
rightly see blacks as a numerical majority. It is ironic that when the sympathy of these observers
is directed toward Guyanese blacks, it in fact helps to support the domination of the demo-
cratic Indian majority by a minority of blacks. According to figures taken in 1968, Indians
formed 50.41 per cent of the population in Guyana, and blacks 31.09 per cent. For relevant
statistics on population distribution, see Dwarka Nath, A History of Indians in Guyana,
London, 1970, p. 232.
THE EAST INDIAN WEST INDIAN MALE IN NAIPAUL'S
EARLY CARIBBEAN NOVELS
In three of his Caribbean novels, The Mystic Masseur, A House for Mr Biswas and The
Mimic Men, V. S. Naipaul comments on the role of the West Indian husband, pundit,
writer, and politician of the Indian community. Keith Garebian posits that
as an East Indian West Indian Naipaul inherits some-
thing of the insecurity of the exiled or transplanted
colonial with an ambiguous identity, who has to
invent an explicit mythology of his new land to
explain his status.'
As he matures as a writer from 1957 to 1967, Naipaul's depiction of West Indian culture
takes the reader from the Trinidadian countryside to Port-of-Spain to London. Naipaul
shows his own alienation from his homeland as he progresses from the farce of The
Mystic Masseur (1957) through the bitter satire of A House for Mr Biswas (1961) to the
stark irony of The Mimic Men (1967). While his hero does not always fulfil the afore-
mentioned roles, he is affected by them.
Naipaul found the Indian community of Trinidad decadent, stifling and obtrusive.
His solution was to remain in England after his education at Oxford University. His
heroes also move in the direction of separation and exile from family. The message of the
Caribbean novels is that the acculturation of the East Indian into the predominantly
black community of Trinidad is to be resisted. Rather, the Indian becomes increasingly
isolated from this culture into which he is born and finally becomes in The Mimic Men a
man without a home.
Ganesh Ramsumair, the first Naipaul hero, is absorbed into the Trinidadian com-
munity as depicted in The Mystic Masseur. When he goes to St. Joseph, the town college,
he is dressed as an Indian and accompanies his father, conversing in Hindi. During his
school days, he befriends another Indian, Indarsingh. After achieving only the second
grade of the Cambridge School Certificate, Ganesh goes on to the Government Training
College for teachers. Failing to adapt to the laissez-faire teaching methods, Ganesh quits
the school, returns to Fourways, his birthplace, and is swallowed up by his Indian rela-
tives. At this point, he makes the transition from child to man and begins his accultura-
tion. His father has died and Ganesh must now make his own decisions. His efforts to
succeed as husband, pundit, writer, and a politician begin. He says of this period in his
autobiography, The Years of Guilt, "It was only then, for the first time, I felt 1 had some-
thing big ahead of me."2 According to John Thieme, in this novel
Naipaul depicts a society in which the individual is
forced to use subterfuge, if he is to survive. For
Ganesh and his fellow-Trinidadians there is a real
freedom of moral choice.3
Ganesh's refusal to imitate Miller. a colleague at the Government Training College, to use
subterfuge at the Port-of-Spain school, is a mistake that he never makes again.
Ganesh first shows this skill in his role as an Indian husband. His father had wanted
him to marry once he graduated from St Joseph, but Ganesh resisted the parental pres-
sure. However, the pressure at Fourways from Shri Ramlogan, Leela's father, is too
persistent. Ganesh does begin to court Leela, but he is always in control of the situation.
Though he considers his marriage to her "preordained" (p. 46), he skilfully negotiates the
terms of the dowry and sets the rules of his marital life. His refusal to eat the kedgeree to
seal the marriage vows surprises Ramlogan who had told Ganesh that in modern times a
man wouldn't want a dowry; he would say "To hell with the kedgeree man" (p. 51).
Ganesh ignores this advice. He forces Ramlogan to provide a splendid dowry: "a cow and
a heifer, fifteen hundred dollars in cash, and a house in Fuente Grove. Ramlogan also
cancelled the bill for the food he had sent to Ganesh's house" (p. 57) to feed Ganesh and
his relatives attending the wedding. Although Ramlogan is furious with Ganesh, he
accedes to Ganesh's control of the situation.
Ganesh's marriage to Leela is flawed nevertheless. His wife is supportive only when
she feels that Ganesh is successful. Before their marriage, Leela saw Ganesh as a former
teacher, novice pundit and potential writer. Thus "already she looked chastened and
impassive, a good Hindu wife" (p. 55). When he beats her on her wedding night, "it
meant much to both of them" (p. 60), for this first of beatings gives her status equal to
other Indian wives.
Leela, however, is susceptible to the taunts of her family. Ramlogan and her sister
Soomintra can make her ashamed of Ganesh. She sympathizes with Ramlogan when
Ganesh bests him over the dowry ante and when Ganesh slights him by dedicating his first
book to Beharry. Childless herself, Leela finds it hard not to envy her sister's success as a
mother. When it is clear that Leela cannot have children, she begins to order Ganesh
about. She leaves Ganesh after a year when, like her father, she is convinced that Ganesh
is "a total loss and a crook beside" (p. 85). She returns only after he has published his first
book. She stays with him because Ganesh's success makes this tradesman's daughter
happy, for "money is all she and she father does think about" (p. 88).
For unswerving support, Ganesh must look to the Fourways shopkeeper Beharry,
also known as Suruj Poopa, who "alone in Fuente Grove read the newspaper" (p. 69).
Beharry and his wife Suruj Mooma represent a stable and traditional Indian couple. They
are strict with their sibling and accord each other proper respect. They nurture their
neighbour Ganesh when Leela leaves him. And, Beharry is always encouraging him to
write. Yet, Beharry remains dedicated to his trade. When Ganesh becomes a successful
mystic, Beharry prospers too after he convinces Ganesh to persuade his clients to buy
"the ingredients for offerings only from Beharry's shop" (p. 154). Beharry is thus able to
send his son to Naparima College, prepare for a fourth child and rebuild the shop.
If Ganesh's marriage is less than ideal, his success in other roles is based on happen-
stance or perhaps divine intervention. His start as a pundit is shaky. Ganesh is flattered
when Ramlogan encourages him to become a masseur, as his father had been, after curing
Leela's foot. Ganesh almost suffers the fate of his father who, while massaging a girl with
appendicitis, killed her and "had to spend a lot of money to keep out of trouble" (p. 35).
Ganesh unknowingly has a potential scare when he prescribes an ineffective mixture for a
young boy who has an abscessed foot. The boy does not die; a doctor cures him. But,
Ganesh who is in the midst of preparation to become a mystic does thus endanger himself.
Fortunately, Ganesh fails as a masseur because he "continued to offend his patients
by telling them that nothing was wrong with them" (p. 73). He learns that he must rely
on his own intelligence to cure his patients. After his first cure as a mystic, he exults,
"You know, sometimes I glad I get a college education" (p. 132). In this role, he stum-
bles on the value of standard English. "Like many Trinidadians Ganesh could write
correct English but it embarrassed him to talk anything but dialect except on very formal
occasions" (p. 76). When he, Beharry and Leela had attempted to "talk the people
language good" during a casual conversation, they could not. The trappings of education
are appropriate only in certain settings. The temple of the mystic, Ganesh discovers, is the
appropriate place. When Hector and his mother arrive, Ganesh's salutation is curt and
formal "because he wanted to speak properly" (p. 125) to impress them with his training
for the position of mystic just as he later speaks "pure dialect" (p. 129) to convince
Hector that he has seen the cloud also. This elemental use of his education in the back-
ward village of Fuente Grove to solve problems "which called for all his intellectual and
spiritual strength" (p. 138) launches Ganesh on the spiralling road to fame and fortune.
His venture as a writer is also beset by false starts which Ganesh overcomes. His first
published prose is his wedding invitations. "When Ganesh saw the cards ... come out
with his prose miraculously transformed into all the authority of type, he was struck with
something like awe" (p. 49). He reiterates, this time to Basdeo, the printer, that he was
going to write a book. "It all seemed preordained" (p. 50). But this reverence for publish-
ing results in an awful product. The simple-minded "kyatechism" (p. 109), a book of
"thirty small pages; and so thin nothing could be printed on the spine" (p. 97), with the
ludicrous title of A Hundred and One Questions and Answers on the Hindu Religion,
won't sell despite Ganesh's elaborate advertising and Bissoon's peddling.
It is ironic that his book sells only after he becomes renowned as a mystic "on the
local grape-vine, on the Niggergram, an efficient, almost clairvoyant, news service"
(p. 137). His books are printed and his writing career flourishes only as long as he is a
mystic, for all of his works, as well as his political speeches, are platitudes "about the
good life, about happiness, and how to get it" (p. 161). Once he makes the transition
from writer to politician, he ends his career as mystic and writer. His political activities
conflict with these other roles. Once Ganesh becomes "the most popular man in Trini-
dad", he suppresses his autobiography published only four months before and closes his
own publishing company. His writings have become "an embarrassment" (p. 213).
Although Ganesh is initially a very popular legislator, his political knowledge is
minuscule, if not nonexistent. His fight with Narayan, editor of The Hindu, is not over
political concerns about Hindu representation in government but over his own pique that
Narayan is lauded as "chain-smoking. balding, C. S. Narayan, veteran journalist" (p. 171)
not just to local readers but to Britishers as well. The political future of the Trinidad
Indians is ancillary to this slap to his vanity as a writer. Once Ganesh has usurped
Narayan's position in the Hindu Association and launched his political career, he does not
know how to function once he is elected. He is a buffoon in the legislature, "dismissed as
an irresponsible agitator with no following" (p. 214). Yet Ganesh becomes a Member of
the British Empire (MBE).
Although the events which supposedly help Ganesh become an MBE are given, his
success in this role is forced. A deus ex machine (perhaps his namesake Ganesa, the
elephant god and Hindu god of success) appears to launch him in every way, except as a
husband, his least visible role.4 Ganesh is blessed, for all of the disruptions in his life
portend good fortune. When he quits his teaching position, he is happy to leave Port-of-
Spain, for "it was too big, too noisy, too alive" (p. 31). After lying around in Fourways
for two months, he desires to be a masseur when "Ganesh remembered the queer feeling
he had of being separated from the village people" (p. 35). With his house overrun with
belching relatives, instead of being distraught about the chaos, Ganesh "thought it almost
a miracle that so many people could live happily in one small house without any sort of
organization" (p. 52). His failure as a masseur and Leela's barrenness "these disappoint-
ments which might have permanently broken another man, turned Ganesh seriously,
dedicatedly, to books" (p. 75).
His being mistaken for "the clurkist" (p. 81) in a San Fernando bookstore and his
panic buying of a ream of paper spark his writing drive. When Leela berates Ganesh for
his failure to produce any writing, he says quite philosophically, "Poverty and sickness is
what every writer have to suffer" (p. 88). He is even unperturbed when his first book
does not sell. In The Years of Guilt, he writes, "Everything happens for the best. If for
instance, my first volume had been a success, it is likely that I would have become a
mere theologian" (p. 112). He tells Leela that the exorcism of Hector's cloud "is the most
important case any body ever handled in the world" (p. 132). Even after he has become
the "mystic masseur" (p. 137), Ganesh is destined for higher climes. "Without Narayan's
attacks Ganesh would never have taken up politics" (p. 206).
As he enters the rarefied air of the Trinidadian establishment, Ganesh seems to be
fighting his ascent. His first dinner at Government House was mortifying. He became
"a terror in the Legislative Council" (p. 212) and, during his speech to striking sugar
estate workers, Ganesh is told "keep your tail quiet" (p. 218). And Ganesh is made a
member of the Executive Council and an MBE.
Naipaul has written a farcical adventure of an Indian's adaptation to his West Indian
culture. William Walsh remarks, "The core of the fiction, the change which is both magical
and inevitable, from con-man into man worthy of confidence, is an ancient theme in
Indian writing."5 But the cost of the change is high, too high. Ganesh, the sincere school-
teacher, degenerates into a fake pundit whose lucky cure of a paranoiac enables him to
practice sham politics. Along the way, he sheds his Indian clothing and finally his Indian
name. When addressed in the epilogue as Pundit Ganesh Ramsumair, Ganesh rebuts:
'G. Ramsay Muir,' he said coldly" (p. 220). Harriet Blodgett sees this name change as an
"appropriate climax to the game of falsified identity that Ganesh has been playing all
The Transformation of Mr Biswas
While Ganesh is less than a model statesman, writer, husband or pundit, he does
succeed in his dubious roles. Poor Biswas in A House for Mr Biswas has no divine, bene-
volent god to help him escape the decaying environment entrapping him. "The substance
of the novel has to do with the transformation of Mr Biswas, a slave to place, history and
biography, into a free man, the sign and realization of that emancipation being his
house."7 Things go wrong for Mohun Biswas, beginning with his birth. When Raghu, his
father, inquires about the birth of his fourth child, the midwife tells him, "Boy, boy. But
what sort of boy? Six-fingered and born in the wrong way."8 The midwife predicts that
"this boy will eat up his own mother and father" and the pundit advises that "the boy
will be a lecher and a spendthrift", a liar, and should be kept away "from trees and water"
(p. 16). "He will have an unlucky sneeze" (p. 17). Only his name, which the pundit and
Raghu create together, provides some cheer for his existence, for it means the beloved
"and was the name given by the milkmaids to Lord Krishna" (pp. 17--18). As a young
child, Biswas is kept away from water as a precaution against the negative prophecy of
the pundit. Yet, he is fated to indirectly cause his father's death; Raghu drowns diving for
Mohun who Raghu believes is in a pool. How ironic that Mohun is instead hiding under
the bed of
the only house to which he had some right. For the
next thirty years he was to be a wanderer with no
place he could call his own, with no family except
that which he was to attempt to create out of the
engulfing world of the Tulsis (p. 40).
Once Biswas, his siblings Prasad, Pratap, Dehuti and his mother Bipti leave Parrot
Trace after his father's funeral, the family disperses. Biswas and Dehuti accompany their
mother to her sister Tara's house at Pagotes. There he attends school, for he is too puny
to be considered as an estate labourer, the occupation of his brothers.
Biswas is destined to try several jobs during his lifetime, but his very limited success
occurs only in the field of writing. Lal, his teacher, first calls him a sign-painter after
Biswas prints "cancelled" (p. 47) over a mathematics problem. This skill will sustain
Biswas during several crises of his life. He tries to be apprentice pundit and rum-shop-
keeper and fails. He meets Alec, a former school friend, who secures a sign-painting job
for Biswas just when he had despaired of finding a suitable occupation. Biswas had
announced to his mother, "I am not going to take any job at all" (p. 69). While painting
the Tulsi Store in Arcawas, he pens a note for Shama, daughter of the owner. Mrs Tulsi
reads the note and pressures Biswas into marrying Shama. After the wedding, Biswas
remarks that he was never paid for his work at the store. Arriving at the Chase, he is
buoyed after painting a sign for the Tulsi-owned store, changing the name from the Tulsi
Shop to The Bonne Esperance Grocery. While a sub-overseer to Seth, his mother-in-law's
brother, at Green Vale, he is subjected to threats from disposessed labourers. Biswas drew
placards, "more and more elaborate messages of comfort for his walls," (p. 265) which
did not calm him. Unlike Ganesh, who could use his intelligence to banish the "black
cloud," Biswas "surrendered to the darkness" (p. 267).
His meeting with Misir, "the Arcawas correspondent of the Trinidad Sentinel"
(p. 102) introduces Biswas to journalism. Though of the basest sort, Misir's occupation
attracts Biswas. He attempts "thinking out subjects for the articles he had promised to
write for the New Aryan, a magazine Misir is planning. He couldn't concentrate" (p. 127).
He is fascinated by Misir's short stories and asks the resolution of one story. Misir, though
the author of the story, advises, ". .Why you asking me? Use your imagination" (p. 167).
When Biswas becomes a reporter, he is to follow Misir's advice. Yet his initial writing was
flawed: "He became irreverent and facetious as soon as he began to write" (p. 183),
perhaps because the Tulsi family were his subjects.
Unemployed following his nervous breakdown at Green Vale and living in Port of
Spain, Biswas lands a job at the Trinidad Sentinel as a sign-painter though he wanders
into the newspaper offices thinking of writing stories like Misir's. At thirty-one he begins
a sustaining career, for on his second day at work Biswas submits a story, "Four Children
Roasted in Hut Blaze," which the editor analyzes. Four weeks later, he becomes a ship-
ping reporter. Flush with success, he enrols in a correspondence journalism programme
and eagerly writes four articles which are rejected by several publishers. As Mr Barnett,
the editor of the paper, prepares to leave, Biswas boasts that he will start a magazine and
sell it himself. Again, this echo of Ganesh's activities does not spell success for Biswas. He
remains with the Sentinel after Barnett leaves and is transferred to assignments on court
reports, funerals and cricket matches, which Biswas does not think is writing. Then he is
assigned to-do a weekly feature in the Sunday Magazine. He is forced "to put himself on
the side of the grotesque" as he adheres to "the Sentinel's new policy of sobriety, that
this was the best of all worlds and Trinidad's official institutions its most magnificent
aspects" (p. 375). He takes no pleasure in this kind of writing which subverts his imagina-
tion. Unlike Ganesh, however, he cannot suppress his writing.
His self-esteem is further denigrated when he is appointed investigator of the
Deserving Destitute Fund, determining who among "the multilate, the defeated, the futile
and the insane" (p. 441) is most deserving of the daily monetary award. Yet, he adjusts to
this assignment also, experiencing "a mark of status" (p. 444) when he is offered bribes
that he refuses. The destitutes finally encamp on his doorstep and Biswas seeks refuge by
accepting a better paying job. Unused to public attacks as a civil servant, Biswas is
relieved to return to the Sentinel when the job is abolished. There he works until he is
fired because of his poor health at forty-six.
Even in death Biswas is thwarted as a writer. "He had also said that when his own
death was reported he would like the headline to be Roving Reporter Passes On. But the
Sentinel had changed and the headline he got was Journalist Dies Suddenly" (p. 589).
Biswas was a total failure in his role as pundit: his involvement with pundits always
has negative results. As a child he receives training in Hindu ceremonies and Hindi while
living with Pundit Jairam for eight months. Just as a pundit "cursed" Biswas at his birth,
Pundit Jairam's action upon discovering that Biswas has eaten a banana without permis-
sion puts another curse on him. Forced to eat seven bananas, Biswas was extremely dis-
comforted. He "never ate another banana. That morning also marked the beginning of his
stomach trouble; ever afterwards, whenever he was excited or depressed or angry his
stomach swelled until it was taut with pain" (p. 55). After defiling a handkerchief and
an oleander tree whose flowers had been used at the puja, a Hindu ceremony, Biswas is
sent back to Bipti in disgrace. Pundit Jairam says that Biswas is "trying to destroy him."
His later temporary association with Pankaj Rai, a Protestant Hindu missionary, is
primarily to provoke his Tulsi in-laws, especially Hari, a brother-in-law who practices
orthodox Hinduism and serves as a pundit. Pundit Rai, the antithesis of Pundit Jairam,
ridicules Hinduism: "after thousands of years of religion idols were an insult to the
human intelligence and to God; birth was unimportant; a man's caste should be deter-
mined by his actions" (p. 116). Almost a convert to this philosophy, Biswas taunts Hari,
calling him "the constipated holy man" (p. 120). Yet after Pankaj is sent back to India,
Biswas allows Hari to bless his various domiciles. The Bonne Esperance Grocery, the
house in Green Vale and the Shorthills estate home.
But again, the pundit's presence bodes ill for Biswas. During the house-blessing
party, Biswas reprimands a child for breaking bottles in the shop: as a point of honour, a
sister-in-law and mother of the child beats the child, ruining the blessing although Hari
"droned imperturbably on" (p. 124). Hari whined out the prayers at the Green Vale
house, perhaps resembling the whines of Biswas during his collapse. When Owad, the
Tulsi heir, leaves for medical school, Biswas' actions again clash with those of the pundit
Hari. Biswas brings the Sentinel photographer to Owad's farewell, auspiciously to get a
good news story; Biswas also hopes to acquire status through his relationship with Owad.
But, the article in the next day's paper is ignored as most of the family, not preparing for
the send-off, "were at the service Hari was conducting in the tent" (p. 361). Hari's death
at Shorthills accelerates the disorder and decline of family life there and the Tulsi estate
in general, but the absence of a pundit in Biswas's life heralds the advent of good luck.
Though his association with pundits has brought him bad luck, Biswas thinks of a
career as pundit until he recovers from the Green Vale experience back at Hanuman
House. When Biswas returns to Hanuman House after his abortive venture at the Chase,
he regards the Tulsi home as "a sanctuary" (p. 188). He is a chastened man and therefore
accepted by the family as long as he remains humble. He is compared to Hari and parti-
cipates agreeably in discussions with visiting pundits. He thinks about his "secret ambi-
tion" (p. 189), to follow in Pundit Jairam's footsteps. Later, in despair after the destruc-
tion of the Green Vale home, Biswas considers pretending to be a pundit. "But he
couldn't see himself as a holy man for long" (p. 303). The physical appearance dhoti,
beads and top-knot he could tolerate, but not the intellectual vacuum. He fears that
some one would discover him reading heretic books such as The Manxman or The Atom.
While Biswas is attracted to a career as a pundit, the curse of his birth prevents any mean-
ingful participation. He does not have the heritage upon which Ganesh can build, no
father to prepare the way. Bruce MacDonald states that "all the old ceremonies and
beliefs have been emptied of human significance and have become mere trivial forms".9
Biswas' delving into politics is even more pathetic and of shorter duration. While
under the influence of his friend Misir, Biswas meets Shivlochan and agrees with the
radical resolutions these men pass regarding education and marriage. He is the dupe of
legal manoeuvres when he tangles with Mungroo who refuses to pay his debt to The
Chase store. At Moti's instigation, Biswas hires L. C. Seebaran of the Petty Civil to serve
Mungroo with a warning to repay Biswas in ten days or face legal procedures. Mungroo
counters with a communication from the Attorney General; Mungroo's lawyer has more
political influence than Biswas. With alarm, Biswas reads, "Oh God! Look, look. Mungroo
bringing me up for damaging his credit" (p. 180). Biswas must borrow two hundred
dollars from Misir to pay Mungroo to drop his suit and pay both lawyers. Thus, Biswas
incurs a debt that he spends much of his remaining time at The Chase paying off and is
too frightened to attempt to collect from any other creditors.
He moves from this peripheral participation in petty politics into a more active role
in his job as Community Welfare Officer of the newly established Community Welfare
Department. Offered a salary fifty dollars a month higher than that he was receiving from
the Sentinel. Biswas jumped into this new job without knowing what the position
entailed. He is content as long as he concentrates only on his actions. "He distributed
booklets; he lectured; he formed organizations and became involved in the complicated
politics of small villages" (p. 529). But he cringes at the results of the actions of his
department, at the public letters of attack and the political pressure to abolish the depart-
ment. The raw politics of Port-of-Spain is daunting. Family politics, the bane of his exist-
ence, perhaps deters Biswas from any serious political pursuits. His defeats by the Tulsis
on innumerable occasions cannot have given him any confidence when assessing his per-
suasive powers, the skills needed for a successful political career. Ganesh dupes his father-
in-law, the townspeople, the country as he rises to become MBE. Biswas fools no one but
It is in his role as husband that the ritual of provider is ludicrously portrayed by
Biswas. His most fervent and cherished dream is realized when he purchases the home in
Port-of-Spain. At least he can be the head of his household. He recalls during his final
How terrible it would have been, at this time, to be
without it (the house); to have died among the Tulsis,
amid the squalor of that large, disintegrating and
indifferent family; to have left Shama and the chil-
dren among them, in one room; worse, to have lived
without even attempting to lay claim to one's portion
of the earth, to have lived and died as one had been
born unnecessary and unaccommodated (p. 14).
The plot of A House for Mr Biswas is the story of his accommodation.
Throughout his life after Parrot Trace, his birthplace, Biswas is trying with little
success to root himself within the Indian community, to have his own home. During his
childhood, he is dependent upon the largesse of his Aunt Tara and her husband Ajodha
who provide a mud hut for them in a back trace of Pagotes. Biswas reads Samuel Smiles'
books and pictures himself as the hero who, though young, poor, and struggling, "had
rigid ambitions and lived in countries where ambitions could be pursued and had a mean-
ing" (p. 78). While working with Alec as a sign-painter, he waits"for the world to yield
its sweetness and romance" (p. 80). It is this sense of optimism that sustains Biswas
throughout his life. He will not submit to the dictates of his horoscope which curses his
His role as husband, whenever he is under a Tulsi roof, is that of an entrapped man,
for the Tulsi influence acts like tentacles which ensnare him and prevent him from being
independent and able to function as head of his household. Unlike Ganesh who can mani-
pulate Ramlogan and other of Leela's relatives. Biswas' marriage to Shama is orchestrated
by Mrs Tulsi and her attendants. David Ormerod states that Biswas' "weakness over the
marriage really springs from his desire for a house; with Shama, he thinks, he will escape
hovels" (p. 599).10 Biswas not only does not obtain a dowry for Shama. he is never paid
for his sign-painting job that brought him to the Tulsi Store. Gordon Rohlehr notes that
"a traditional Hindu custom requires the bride to join her husband's household and
become almost a servant of her mother-in-law"." As long as he suffers the hospitality of
the Tulsis, Biswas acts the part of an Indian wife, albeit a rebellious one. It is Biswas who
is beaten into submission by Govind, one of several acts that mark theTulsi dominance in
his marriage until Biswas moves to Sikkum Street. Shama, because of her family's influ-
ence, is contemptuous of Biswas. She bears his children but feels no loyalty to him.
Biswas cannot even name his own children. Shama allows Seth and Hari to name her
firstborn Savi. Later, her destruction of Savi's dollhouse, which cost Biswas more than a
month's wages, symbolizes her allegiance to her family in opposition to Biswas.
Biswas fails to provide for his family under the Tulsi regime. At The Chase, his six
years as a storekeeper are fruitless and Seth advises an "insuranburning" to extricate
Biswas from the legal entanglement with Mungroo. At Green Vale, Biswas realizes the
influence of the Tulsis on his family and himself, and decides to build his own house.
"Unless he started his house now he never would. His children would stay at Hanuman
House, he would remain in the barrackroom, and nothing would arrest his descent into
the void" (p. 237). But Biswas has not reckoned with the sinister effect of the Tulsis on
their workers. When Seth revokes the rental of twenty acres of land, the labourers blame
Biswas. It is their menacing presence, coupled with his obsession to build the house, that
causes his nervous breakdown. This first attempt to physically extract himself and his
family from the Tulsis does fail but Biswas is not a broken man.
His sojourn at Shorthills further instructs him on the destructive force of the Tulsi
clan. Their mutilation of this elegant estate symbolizes their degeneracy. With the deaths
of Sharma, Padma, and Hari, along with the erosion of the once fertile land, "the luck, the
virtue had gone out of the family" (p. 418). Biswas escapes from the dereliction to build
another house and invites his mother to move in with his family. Shama now accepts the
role of Hindu wife and is respectful to Bipti. Thus, for a fortnight, the marriage of Biswas
and Shama becomes a traditional one. But misfortune strikes again in the guise of a fire
which levels the Biswas home and forces them to accept Tulsi hospitality once more in
Port-of-Spain. Michael Thorpe suggests that as Biswas asserts himself, "Shama and their
children gradually become his equivocal allies.12
It is Biswas' purchase of the house on Sikkim Street which finally extricates him and
his family from the Tulsis. The house is a prime example of jerry-building with a multi-
tude of defects. But the Biswas family is nurtured in this setting, Biswas has finally
acquired the one possession which gives him stature as a man, a husband and a father. His
wife joins him, perhaps for the first time, in deceiving her family, by hiding the defects
of the home. "Shama had learned a new loyalty to him and to their children" (p. 8).
Biswas is still in debt but the debt is to a member of his own family. Barry Argyle argues
that Biswas' struggle has been so unrelenting even to his deathbed, that Biswas has noth-
ing to bequeath to anyone, even his own son.13 Biswas is finally free of the Tulsis and he
exults in his "stupendous" move.
The Mimic Men
Ralph Singh, protagonist of The Mimic Men, is defeated by his environment. Unlike
Biswas, whose odyssey was to obtain his own home, Ralph searches for
a landscape he can claim as his own. He never finds
that landscape and our image of him is of a frenetic
traveller seeking a sense of place first in his native
Caribbean island of Isabella, then in London as a
student, once again in Isabella as a suburban land
developer and politician, and finally in London when
his political career fails.14
Singh is not blessed by the gods like Ganesh nor is he cursed like Biswas. Rather, he is
ignored; the gods are indifferent to his existence. At mid-life, he is fading into obscurity
and has had no lasting impact. He is a man in exile, alone and forgotten. Only his memo-
ries stand as a record of his life as writer, husband, and politician.
Singh writes his autobiography during a fourteen-month period "to impose order"
on his own past.15 But the writing yields another, unexpected result for him: "a continu-
ous, quiet enjoyment of the passing of time" (p. 245) in exile. It is ironic that writing
should be a beneficial exercise to a man who has been disdainful of the craft. He remem-
bers as a child Major Grant of Isabella Imperial School who joked that "a boy who did
badly at school could either join the staff of one of our newspapers if he failed English,
that is or join the staff of the City Council and ever after ride through the streets in
glory on his own blue rubbish cart" (p. 130). He is unimpressed by the dubious references
in Anthony Froude's The Bow of Ulysses and Stendhal's The Red and the Black which
the Deschampsneufs claim are citations about their illustrious family.
Yet it is a classmate from Isabella Imperial and a Deschampsneufs who encourage
Singh through writing. Ethelbert Browne, who wrote mimetic songs and started a typical
slave novel, asks Singh to finance The Socialist, a political paper Browne has started, and
write the main article about his father. Singh's affiliation with this erstwhile Buffoon,
teacher and pamphleteer launches their political careers. It is Singh's essay on his father
and the many others that follow which convince the populace of Isabella that Browne
and Singh should lead them. As disillusion sets in during his five-year tenure, Singh's
letter-writing to Browne and Wendy Deschampsneufs' brother in Quebec reveal to him his
sense of "a secret, deeper life" (p. 207) than that of politician or public dandy. In retro-
spect Singh regards the period of his life from his arrival in London as a student to his
return in exile as "that period in parenthesis" (p. 32).
Singh regards his autobiography as an expiation for the lies written in his political
essays and speeches and a measure of truth about his life. He had regarded writers as men
who used writing as a substitute for living until he experienced the contentment it
afforded him. The ease of writing comes, however, only after he has disabused himself of
romantic notions: "to sketch a subject which, fifty years hence, a great historian might
pursue" (p. 32) or to write only as an old man living at a lush cocoa estate plantation
house surrounded by fertile vegetation and docile labourers, his "literary labour interdigi-
tating with agricultural" (p. 34). The reality is a man of forty ensconced in a cheap hotel
room fronting a busy London thoroughfare. Writing becomes for Ralph Singh a process
of life which clarifies his past but does not illumine his future. John Hearne remarks,
This is not 'Art for Art's sake,' which is a proposition
of dubious validity, but which is at best debatable.
This is art as anodyne, as aspirin.16
Singh has none of the disadvantages of Ganesh or Biswas. Unlike Ganesh's, his
academic career is not arrested after high school. Singh wins the coveted scholarship to
study in England. And, unlike Biswas, his childhood is not fraught with poverty, punish-
ment and betrayal. Singh is born into a middle-class Indian family.
However, there is no pundit to give him religious instruction. As a child, he peruses
The Missionary Martyr of Isabella which includes an account of his father as a proselytiser
of Christianity, not Hinduism. When his father abandons his family and his teaching
career to become Gurudeva, Singh tries to ignore his father's actions which culminate in
the ritualistic sacrifice of Tamango, the Deschampsneufs' prize racehorse. How ironic
tht his father achieves success among his people wearing the Hindu mendicant's robe and
espousing Hindu doctrine, though couched in Christian terms and phraseology. Singh is
unsure whether this act was a community atrocity or a tribute to Asvamedha and feels
betrayed and ridiculed by his father. No Hindu lesson is learned. Singh, indeed, has
already renounced his Indian heritage, as symbolized by his change of name from Ranjit
Kripalsingh to Ralph Singh at the age of eight. And his father sanctions the change by
signing an affidavit when Singh is twelve. Singh embraces Christianity but the Hindu
customs cling. During his political fall, he can posit himself as a messiah, "the man doing
penance for the world" (p. 207) but he knows that this vision of self is a madman's lure.
Bruce MacDonald believes that Singh repeats the "same symbolic cycle as his father" at
the novel's end.17 Singh remarks that he has experienced the four divisions of life set
forth by his Aryan ancestors. "I have been student, householder and man of affairs,
recluse" (p. 250).
Singh's childhood resembles Owad Tulsi's, one of the "gods" of A House for Mr
Biswas. His mother's family are the "Isabella millionaires" and his father is a respectable
schoolteacher. He appears to have the background and intelligence to be a success but he
fails, watching his defeat dispassionately. He considers himself "shipwrecked" as the
abandoned husband and the exiled politician.
Singh has a warped viewpoint about marriage. As a child, he regards the practice as
an "oddity" that two unrelated people would pair off. When asked the feminine of hus-
band, Singh whispers in his teacher's ear, wife: "then thirty years later, the man agrees
with the child; it is a terrible word" (p. 90). His parents do not provide a good role
model for marriage. His father, who lorded over his mother, as schoolteacher marrying
shopkeeper's daughter (like Ganesh), when they first marry, resents having to acknow-
ledge her superior status as daughter of rich industrialist once her family secures the
Coca-Cola distributorship. The estrangement which develops between his father and his
mother's family does not hamper Singh's development. Like Aswand, Biswas' son. Singh
leaves home for London. There his debauchery culminates in "a textbook example of the
ill-advised mixed marriage" to a woman consumed by self-love.
Like Ganesh and Biswas, Singh does not get to offer a proposal of marriage. No
parental pressure is exerted in Singh's case, however. It is Sandra who snaps "with a look
of total hatred, 'Why don't you propose, you fool?' (p. 46). And Singh lives up to the
epithet, fool, in the months to come. He and Sandra are not suited to each other and
their return to Isabella only heightens the incompatibility. While Sandra feels abandoned
during Singh's dockside reunion with his wailing mother, Singh exults that his marriage
will improve his status on the island. She is exposed by their Isabella friends as a woman
without class or education who is elevated into a society by a man "besotted" by her
When Singh becomes a wealthy land developer, he can build the house of his
dreams. There is no attempt at jerry-building, the bane of Biswas' home, for money is no
object. But the dwellings of this couple lack the warmth and comfort of a home. Singh
and Sandra have no personal effects strewn about to give the house character. The
kitchen is barely used. They commune best in a crowded restaurant. They sleep in
separate rooms, and their sexual desire for each other wanes. The dissolution of their
marriage begins that afternoon when Singh realizes that, like him, Sandra may have
pleasant remembrances of recent lovers. Thus, this marriage based on a tenuous sexual
attraction reinforces Singh's negative feelings about the word wife.
Singh's attitude toward politicians is as gloomy and pessimistic as his feelings about
"wife", yet he weds himself to politics with the same disastrous result. William Walsh
notes that "Singh's political role had been prepared for by his antecedents", his mother's
wealth and his father's grassroots movement.18 Singh admits that he lacks the tempera-
ment of a politician. He says, "I never had the frenzy, the sense of mission, the necessary
hurt" (p. 37). As a child, he felt shame for the "barefoot boys", the politicians who
boasted of their humble origins. He recalls that these men were "slightly ridiculous
figures" (p. 190).
Singh and Browne play at being politicians, treating their first term as an exciting
drama with a young Isabella millionaire and a radical as the star cast. Karl Miller calls this
venture a charade, "one of the 'truths' of emergent politics" in an obscure New World
plantation, the island of Isabella.19 While Browne learns to manipulate his role to stay in
power, Singh becomes dispirited as he realizes that his power consists of meaningless
rhetoric, "a matter of words". His sense of drama ebbs, and his flight to London Singh
feels is his only option. In retrospect, he acknowledges his lack of will to succeed as a
politician; he threw away his opportunities to regain favour with the people once his
reform legislation backfired. He readily accepts the provisions of Isabella's new leadership
- free passage to London and fifty thousand dollars, a painless abdication of power. Peter
Nazareth, who views The Mimic Men as a study of corruption, concludes that there are no
idealistic leaders in this unremittingly pessimistic novel.20
The East Indian male born and raised in the West Indies, as portrayed in these three
Naipaul novels, has unpalatable choices concerning place in the West Indian community.
Family intrudes on personal freedom. Religion does not give solace. And politics is
rewarding only for those willing to be corrupt. Success for Ganesh Ramsumair can occur
only when he agrees to imitate others. Mohun Biswas emerges from a morass of family
entanglements only at death, and he is only forty-six. And Ralph Singh who easily
accrues all the trappings of success the beautiful home, wealth and stature in the com-
munity which Ganesh and Biswas labour to achieve renounces all the attributes of his
acculturation, opting for exile. The East Indian in Naipaul's fictive world moves inexor-
ably toward the fulfilment of Naipaul's prophecy; Singh speaks for them all when he says,
We pretend to be real, to be learning, to be preparing
ourselves for life, we mimic men of the New World,
one unknown corner of it, with all its reminders of
the corruption that came so quickly to the new.21
1. Keith Garebian, "V. S. Naipaul's Negative Sense of Place", The Journal of Commonwealth
Literature, X, No. 1 (1975), p. 23.
2. V. S. Naipaul, The Mystic Masseur (London: Penguin Books, 1969), p. 31; subsequent page
references to this novel are given in parenthesis.
3. John Thieme, "V. S. Naipaul's Third World: A Not So Free State", The Journal of Common-
wealth Literature, X, No. 1 (1975), pp. 10-11.
4. Landeg White, V. S. Naipaul: A Critical Introduction (London: Macmillan Press, 1975), p. 64.
5. William Walsh, V. S. Naipaul (Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd, 1973), p. 6.
6. Harriet Blodgett, "Beyond Trinidad: Five Novels by V. S. Naipaul", South Atlantic Quarterly,
73 (1974), p. 393.
7. William Walsh, "V. S. Naipaul: Mr Biswas," The Literary Criterion, 10, ii (1972). p. 29.
8. V. S. Naipaul, A House for Mr Biswas (London: Penguin Books, 1969), p. 15; subsequent page
references to this novel are given in parenthesis.
9. Bruce MacDonald, "The Birth of Mr Biswas", The Journal of Commonwealth Literature, XI,
No. 3 (1977), p. 53.
10. David Ormerod, "Theme and Image in V. S. Naipaul's A House for Mr Biswas", Texas Studies
in Literature and Language, VIII (1967), p. 599.
11. Gordon Rohlehr, "The Ironic Approach: The Novels of V. S. Naipaul", in Islands in Between,
ed. Louis James (London: Oxford University Press, 1968), p. 135.
12. Michael Thorpe, V. S. Naipaul (Essex: Longman Group, 1976), p. 17.
13. Barry Argyle, "Commentary on V. S. Naipaul's A House for Mr. Biswas: A West Indian Epic",
Caribbean Quarterly, 16, No. 4 (1970), p. 66.
14. John Cooke. 'A Vision of the Land': V. S. Naipaul's Later Novels", Caribbean Quarterly, 25,
No. 4 (1979), pp. 34-35.
15. V. S. Naipaul, The Mimic Men (London: Penguin Books, 1969), p. 243; subsequent page
references to this novel are given in parenthesis.
16. John Hearne, "The Snow Virgin: An Inquiry into V. S. Naipaul's Mimic Men", Caribbean
Quarterly, 23, Nos. 2 and 3 (1977), p. 32.
17. Bruce MacDonald, "Symbolic Action in Three of V. S. Naipaul's Novels", The Journal of
Commonwealth Literature, IX, No. 3 (1975), p. 51.
18. William Walsh, V. S. Naipaul, p. 57.
19. Karl Miller, "V. S. Naipaul and the New Order: A View of The Mimic Men", in Critics on
Caribbean Literature, ed. Edward Baugh (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1978), p. 78.
20. Peter Nazareth, The Mimic Men as a Study of Corruption", East Africa Journal, 7, No. 7
(1970), p. 20.
21. V. S. Naipaul, The Mimic Men, p. 146.
THE EAST INDIAN FEMALE IN THREE WEST INDIAN NOVELS
This paper looks at the treatment of the East Indian female in three West Indian novels
of adolescence: The Humming-Bird Tree, Danny Boy and Corentyne Thunder. While
focus is primarily on the adolescent heroine, attention will necessarily be paid to other
female characters. This combined focus presents a revealing picture of the adolescent
East Indian female as an individual, as a member of an East Indian family and com-
munity, and as a member of a larger plural society. It is instructive to remember that
none of the three authors is himself East Indian and vital to note that none of the male
protagonists who are the lovers of the East Indian heroine is East Indian. Alan Holmes
in The Humming-Bird Tree is white; Danny Thorne in Danny Boy is negro; and Geoffry
Weldon, although he has East Indian blood, is for all intents and purposes non-East
Indian. In each case the East Indian heroine combats against a non-East Indian reality,
rendered artistically in The Humming-Bird Tree as a colour/caste consciousness, in
Danny Boy as an inveterate racial hatred, and in Corentyne Thunder as an unbridgeable
Love in the multiracial context of the novels to be discussed is presented as an
ambivalent force; it ennobles and brings out the best in individuals, but it also causes
painful separation and death. Because of the racial history of Trinidad and Guyana,
the countries in which the novels are set, there is a tragic inevitability governing all three
relationships. It is not Alan's fault that he and Jaillin separate; neither is it Geoffry's
fault that he and Kattree cannot be together: nor is it Danny's fault that Lily is dead
at the end of the novel. The real culprit, it would seem, is the race/caste prejudice
which the young are willing to combat, but which the older generation perpetuate in their
belief that they know best. Thus Mr and Mrs Holmes, Oswald Servall and the Weldons
tell their children that getting involved romantically with Indian and negro can only end
in shame and tragedy. Curiously enough, the three novels show that the older generation
are right. Whether this is tantamount to saying that McDonald, Bradner and Mittelhozer
endorse the older generation's view of things is hard to say. I believe that these writers,
like others, are engaged in depicting a historical and social reality that still exists in the
Caribbean. Even Anthony had to make Rosalie a "dougla", so that his narrative could
have a ring of authenticity.' It would be an exceptional Indian father indeed who would
entrap a negro as a husband for his Indian daughter.
The Story of Alan and Jaillin
Alan Holmes' story in a sense begins and ends with Jaillin, the young Indian girl
with "glowing deep brown skin".2 Though he spends more time with Kaiser, her brother,
Jaillin is the impulse of Alan's early life. In a way, she is to Alan what Gip is to
She was at the heart of all the crises which one
by one moulded me. When I first met her I was a
child, the last time I was with her childhood suddenly
came to an end. Looking back she seems to appear
in every picture I have of that short span of life. It is
as if in painting the pictures my memory must put
her in, dominating the composition perhaps, perhaps
just a glimpse, a flash of colour, in one corner, but
always there. My manhood is without her. What I am
no longer comprehends what she is (p. 19).
In the paragraph from which the foregoing quotation comes, McDonald summarizes
his narrative from beginning of the relationship between Alan and Jaillin to their inevit-
able separation. McDonald makes it clear that there is a reciprocity of feeling, tender and
deep, between his hero and heroine, although there is no recognition of this reciprocity
of feeling by either. It is only in their final meeting, before they share a last supper,
that Alan discovers just how Jaillin felt towards him all along. With nothing to lose now,
Jaillin confesses, knowing that they will never meet again:
"All right, Master Alan, Iwas so sweet in love with you
that time I could a gone to sleep to die." There was
the silence of the centre of a stone. "Indian girl grow
up early, you know. I was loving you like a big
woman then. You know how nothing could happen.
An' you was white an' I was a brown girl and things
in every way was different. Boy, I use' to cry like a
dam' stupid baby sometime" (p. 178).
In a novel with an exquisite portrayal of the sights, sounds and colours of child-
hood, grown and white become the two large polar colours. Alan's attempt to blend the
two is thwarted by an intransigent social reality. He still feels passion and excitement
when he thinks of seeing Jaillin again after a long time:
I looked once towards Jaillin and for the first time
noticed with pleasure that she was wearing the silver
earrings she had worn that day up the river when I
gave her the purple orchid for her hair. Her clean
white blouse was low over her breasts and suddenly
I felt desire mount in my belly and testicles. (p. 177)
Jaillin rebuffs him and destroys any attempt at romance by repeating what Kaiser had
apprised him of earlier that she has grown to "hate white people these days" (p. 180).
This sentiment is a long way from the feelings Jaillin nursed during her fateful
holiday in Mayaro. In the chapter, entitled "The Sea Madonna", the relationship between
Alan and Jaillin reaches a climax. The chapter begins with Alan's confession that he was
beginning to feel acutely the contest between "opinion" and feeling, and ends with Mr
Holmes discovering Alan and Jaillin bathing naked in the ocean. The symbolic high point
of the chapter is the children's visit to the sea madonna, during which McDonald endows
his heroine with the stigmata. Hers is an intensely religious experience as she is lost amidst
the hopelessness of the differences among religions:
She clutched her hands hard, hard suddenly when she
said that. We were silent. Kaiser looked at her darkly.
I felt a surge of hurt, not definable. Jaillin's face
relaxed. She opened her hands slowly. She looked
down at them. Surprise gathered in her face. The nails
of her middle fingers had pierced each palm and made
both bleed. She held her spread hands slightly
towards us. We looked wonderingly at the blood
coming out of her crescent marks (p. 107)4
Alan is given a degree of understanding when he says, "perhaps I sensed she had
made even a blood sacrifice for her friendship" (p. 107). Much of the meaning of this
symbolic moment lies in the fact the Alan attempts deliberately without success to give
himself stigmata: "I clenched my hands and tried to make my palms bleed. But my nails
were not long enough" (p. 113). Jaillin becomes the sacrificial victim in this relationship,
though it should be noted that it is not easy for Alan. His love for Jaillin, and his child-
hood prayers that he might marry her when he grew up (p. 54) are destroyed by an adult
awareness of the harsh facts of Caribbean history.
Her being sacked for being discovered bathing with Alan causes Jaillin to hate white
people. For her romantic dream of white and brown being one (p. 138) is shattered.
Ironically, she finds herself working as a stripper for a white man whom she abhors. But
her racial hatred is exaggerated, and can hardly be justified in terms of the novel. If
anyone should be hurt it should be Kaiser, who through no fault of his, loses the rare
opportunity of becoming an estate foreman. But he is resilient enough to turn adversity
into advantage, and we find him, having been converted to Roman Catholicism, keeping
the books in Ramlal's new shop in Tunapuna.s He has educated himself, makes fair
money, and does not appear to bear any grudges against Alan or white folk.
For Alan growing up is an unfolding of a painful awareness of the ways of the older
generation. Although he enjoys his life with Jaillin and Kaiser much more than life with
his own kind, he is forced to choose between them. He is repeatedly told by his parents
that he is "different" from Kaiser and Jaillin, and the repetition makes him realize that
"different" means "superior". He realizes, too, that he ought to stay with the "solemn,
happy, artificial, sweet life" of the plantocracy (p. 162). Though he will never be able to
forget "the world of brown faces" (p. 147), especially the faces of Jaillin and Kaiser, Alan
returns to the fold. His future is in a world quite different from that of his brown child-
hood friends. With the occasional memory of his former life, at about eighteen, Alan
I drew apart from the world of brown faces. I dis-
engaged myself from the village and all to do with it.
I entered the white colonial world which from birth I
had belonged to but from which I had walked away
for a time (p. 147).
Alan takes the only practical course open to him. To rebel against a world in which he
was comfortable and happy would be foolhardy. Rather than a colourless figure, as
Rohlehr describes him,6 Alan is uncompromising in his honesty, and richer, having
learned that the differences between brown and white are largely the result of growing
up, tradition and "opinion".
Crucible of hatred and death
Racial conflict is far more obvious and deleterious in Danny Boy7 than it is in The
Humming-Bird Tree. The romance between Danny Thorne and Lily Servall takes place
within a crucible of ossified racial hatred and death. Death is everywhere in this novel,
which opens amidst a sunset funeral in the Mahdia cemetery and closes with one of
Danny's regular visits to Lily's grave in the same cemetery. Death is far more tangible and
pervasive in this novel than in any other West Indian novel of adolescence. The narrative
time, as in The Humming-Bird Tree, is six years, from the twelfth to the eighteenth year
of the hero's life. Here, however, the historical period is somewhat later, between 1957
Danny Thorne is a few days shy of his twelfth birthday when the novel begins. He
is a negro orphan, adopted by a childless white couple, Oscar and Rosita, whose relation-
ship of passion and mutual understanding is a romantic norm, towards which Danny and
Lily consciously move. Oscar and Rosita came to Mahdia and found it to be their "dream
village". Mahdia is a gold-mining town which became "a landmark on the map, achieving
economic success in its maturity" (p. 15). The boom brought many races to Mahdia and
Bradner uses the multiracial nature of the town symbolically. It comes to represent
Guyana of the late fifties and early sixties divided by the politics of race.
Lily is the Indian daughter of Mr Oswald Servall, whose wife, Lily's mother, has
been dead for four years. Lily, Bradner informs us, has "attained puberty, [and was]
beginning to mould like her mother" (p. 27). She and Danny are academically bright, and
and her father, the village schoolmaster, has been responsible for laying their scholastic
foundation. Danny and Lily display in their relationship an intensity and quality of feel-
ing reminiscent of the passion shared by Romeo and Juliet. Indeed, one is tempted to
read Danny Boy as a sort of creolized version of the great love tragedy. They are matched
emotionally, academically and passionally, but are different in race and religion. Lily, like
young Alan Holmes, is ignorant of racial prejudice and mistakenly believes that religion
would be the major stumbling-block to their marriage (pp. 30-31). Both would soon
learn that racial conflict is a constant in Caribbean life, especially the deep-rooted hatred
between negroes and Indians in such countries as Guyana. As they sit on Pepper Hill,
admiring the scenery and each other, both have premonitions "that something awful will
happen to [them]" (p. 31). As in Romeo and Juliet, where the premonitions are stronger
in the heroine, here they are stronger in Lily. As with their literary ancestors they kiss
and pledge undying love. Almost as if to show that their fear is not groundless, Somir,
the human villain of the piece, emerges to disturb their privacy and thoughts. He is bent
on having Lily no matter what the cost. His private thoughts reveal a tenacious attitude
common to a portion of the Indian population in the Caribbean: "The whore! Imagine
he, Somir, an Indian . like her! Yet she preferred the company of a nigger! She was less
than a whore! The bitch" (p. 34).8 In Blakeian terms, he is the "invisible worm" that
destroys the flower of Mahdia.
Somir's diabolic plan to win Lily from "the f-ing nigger" entails physically beating
fear into Danny. In a fight that is meant, I believe, to recall the more famous fight
between Tybalt and Mercutio, Danny escapes bloody and trembling. Danny. "broken-
hearted", is forced to confront blind racial prejudice for the first time:
Why was he different? What corruption had he
brought to Mahdia? Why was he despicable in their
eyes? Was he evil? What? Why? God! From the awful
wilderness called grief he sought to escape, but the
words "nigger bastard," screamed at him, giving no
respite. Few could have known his soul-shattering
grief during those agonizing moments (p. 39).
Somir also sends a note to Mr Servall informing him of what he saw on Pepper Hill.
The note provokes two reactions one predictable, the other unforseen. Somir, tapping
the same vein of racial prejudice in a fellow Indian strikes gold. Mr Servall, reeking of
liquor, an imagistic link with Somir, rushes over to the Thornes' residence to "wring
[the] blasted neck [of the] little nigger". Bradner allows us to see just how similar Somir
and Servall really are deep inside:
Servall spent half an hour brooding over Lily's shock-
ing conduct before he finally stormed into her room.
What happened on that hill! Nothing, Daddy. Did she
do anything wrong? No, Daddy. Did he touch her?
No, Daddy. Did she understand what he was asking?
Yes, Daddy. Didn't she know that the thought of a
nigger for a son-in-law would drive him insane? Was
she mad? No, Daddy. She had dragged him into the
filth with disgrace. Did she know that? Did she know
that he was going to crucify her? Slut! (p. 41)
Later, when Danny is sent off to school in Georgetown, and when Lily's marriage to
Dianand, a "decent East Indian", is imminent. Servall further reveals his anti-negro feel-
ings (p. 61). In Danny, Bradner presents an obvious answer to Servall's racial prejudices.
Somir had not anticipated that Servall would find a husband for Lily. The obstacle
between him and Lily is no longer Danny, but an Indian like himself. Blinded by con-
sumptive desire for Lily, he is at a total loss as to what he should do to win her. Voye-
urism fortuitously suggests the means. He watches in the moonlight as Rudolph, the
village Lothario, who had ruined almost every woman he desired, seduces a struggling
Morna Welsh. His diabolic plan is made clear to him in this object lesson: "Somir's blood
ran hot. He had learned an invaluable lesson. In matters of the heart, the strong-arm
method yielded the finest results .. When the thin moon reigned, he would strike"
(p. 65). On 23 October under a thin moon, Somir realizes his devilish scheme, raping
Lily even though she is unconscious. For his debauchery of innocence he becomes a social
pariah, knowing fear, hunger and insomnia.
Lily's rape effects enormous changes in Mahdia, not the least of which is the decline
in Servall's equanimity. He attempts suicide, but is saved by Oscar. In his delirium, he has
a great moral revelation, and he asks contritely Danny's forgiveness, Lily, rehabilitated
through the acceptance and comfort of Rosita and Oscar, reopens the village school, and
begins to look forward to Danny's return. Bradner builds his suspense by having everyone
including the reader anticipate a comic ending, with Somir caught and with Lily and
But such is not to be, the Tragic outcome may be Bradner's reading of Guyana's
insoluble racial problem. Somir, the evil one, and a victim of society's ills, orphaned and
deprived, is still at large, living like the animals he has come to resemble in habits. The
perverse desire for Lily is as strong as Danny's love for her. Lily, evidently with a death-
wish, disregards the warnings of the chance event of having her dress sprinkled with the
blood of an egret shot in flight (p. 119), the warning of nightmares (p. 120), and the
advice of her father and Rosita to be careful. Having accepted a Christian view of things,
she feels invincible in her spiritual sublimation: ". . my happiness is so supreme,
[Rosita], even ifanything were to happen to me, my soul will be free; free to love Danny,
to honour God for returning him to me" (p. 124). Lily, endowed by her creator with a
martyr complex, climbs her Calvary, Pepper Hill, to contemplate her future with Danny.
At "the zenith of her dreams", Somir appears with knife in hand and stabs her repeatedly.
She lives long enough to see Danny and to tell him that it is God's will that she will die.
Somir, snake-bitten, and at the end of his tether, is finally shot to death by Servall.
Lily, the beautiful, innocent Indian flower of Mahdia is destroyed by Somir, who
represents the widespread anti-negro feeling of the Indian. Bradner, in the drastic change
that comes over Sam and Servall, suggests that there might be hope that the inveterate
racial hatred can be defeated. But in depicting a Somir that does not change, he is fact
representing reality as he sees it.
As in The Humming-Bird Tree, the hero and heroine of Corentyne Thunder belong
to two very different worlds, and it would have been a grave artistic flaw to marry them
or to have them expecting marriage to each other.9 Mittelhozer has written what must
have been a shocking novel in 1941, for he presents a young Beena in love with a
married man, and worse, Kattree in a hopeless love relationship with her nephew, at the
end of which she is pregnant by him. Artistically justifiable, yet shocking, is the reason
why Ramgolall, Kattree's father, acquiesces in her pregnancy. One is almost tempted to
see in Corentyne Thunder, as in Tess of the d'Urbervilles, the passing of the peasantry,
still untouched by urban life.
An obvious difference between Corentyne Thunder, on the one hand, and The
Humming-Bird Tree and Danny Boy, on the other, is portrayal of the relationship be-
tween men and women. Regardless of social class, the relationship between men and
women is not one between equals, but one in which the woman is definitely inferior,
merely the child-bearer and slave to man's passions and caprices. Big Man Weldon metes
out to Sosee, who has borne his five children and who has now lost her sex appeal, treat-
ment that can only come from one who despises her. His attitude towards her emerges in
a scene after Weldon's bout of Malaria is over, and just before his eldest Geoffry, the
pride and joy of his life, returns from school in the city:
At length, Big Man spoke, "Sosee, you're keeping my
house in filthy condition. I've spoken to you about it
before and I'm not going to continue speaking. The
next thing I'm going to do is to kick you out of the
bloody house and get someone who can keep the
place clean and not like a damned pig-sty . If I
come down and find that room cluttered as it general-
ly is, I'm going to kick you as you haven't been
kicked before." (p. 34)
For Sosee there is no way out because she loves her children and their father. It is much
the same for Sukra on a lower socio-economic level. Jannee, her husband has threatened
to abuse her physically simply for talking to Boorharry. Corentyne's version of Rudolph:
"He would strike her hard or kick her if he found out" (p. 5 1).
In a sense Beena and Katree are better off than either Sosee or Sukra, no doubt
because they are not married. Ramgolall works them very hard and keeps them under-
clothed, under-nourished and penniless. But, in true Indian fashion, both girls accept their
lot quite cheerfully, and deviate from their accustomed ways only when they fall in love.
Both young women in love cause their father anguish, pain, and Beena is instrumental in
causing his death. Beena sacrifices her father's life to save Jannee who has murdered Boor-
harry. She steals his money to pay for a lawyer who succeeds in getting Jannee acquitted.
The discovery of pebbles and lumps of mud kills the old man. Miltelhozer. eschewing
Eliot's romanticism, allows his miser to die without confession, compunction or revela-
Kattree is courted, bought and seduced by Geoffry, the son of Weldon and Sosee,
her eldest sister. Geoffry is the product of a quadroon father who easily passes for white
and, of course, of an Indian mother. Both parents, like Mr and Mrs Holmes, are very con-
scious of class and colour. Mittelhozer has Belle, one of the twins, sum up her family's
feelings towards Kattree, Beena and Ramgolall: "Oh, they're a common dirty lot ... I
certainly won't have anything to do with them" (p. 55). Geoffry is a sort of Byronic hero
- wealthy, handsome, megalomaniacal, bright and romantic. His male chauvinism comes
as no surprise to us, revealed in a conversation with Stymphy, his closest friend and confi-
dant. Geoffry has been informed that he has made Clara pregnant, and he replies to
Stymphy's moral concern:
But you'll have to marry her.
Nothing doing, I've got all my plans cut ou1t olr the
future. I'm not going to have them upIPse all for this
little all for this comtemptible little foetus inside
Marriage spoils one's chances. and I've got to get
somewhere in this world. No ordinary Iamlily life fol
But what about her? Aren't you going to consider at
all? Consider her the deuce! I didn't tell her to go and
get pregnant. She should have prevented it in some
way. Worst with these females .. (p. 85)
Geoffry, like his father, has no use for women ollci than as objects of whimsical
sexual pleasure. He views women as hindrances in a. male-dominated world, somewhat
like the Hemingway hero.
Geoffry, confessing that he is "an unscrupulous sort of cad" (p. 112), finds some-
thing perversely attractive about his simple aunt. He allows passion to sweep him along,
and not fearing, or caring about, the thought of getting her pregnant, he makes love to
her several times during his holiday. Sex to him is an obsession, but not the mania money
is to Ramgolall. On the way to the beach, he pours out his heart to her:
Every girl I meet sooner or later "falls for me" as the
phrase goes, and there you are. Another sex affair
materializes. It's sort of monotonous. In a way, the
thought of sex irritates me. It seems so petty and
contemptible. And yet it attracts me such a terrific
lot that I can't do without it. That's what makes me
want to commit suicide sometimes, you see (p. 196).
Kattree hardly understands anything he says, happy in the knowledge that she loves
him. No fear of pregnancy bothers her; in fact, a desire to get pregnant makes her rela-
tionship with Geoffry more pleasurable and meaningful. She has thrown caution to the
wind in this act of subversion. Her indomitable romantic spirit is wholly admirable, and
so is her knowledge of what she wants. No doubt saddened by Geoffry's final farewell,
she is neither bitter nor despondent. She has got what she wanted someone to love,
money and a child, whom she feels will be a boy who would "be able to read and write
and talk like his father" (p. 212). Unlike Jaillin, she is able to turn adversity into advan-
tage, and unlike Lily. she celebrates life. Like Jaillin, she bares her body for a "white"
man for money, thought there is a world of difference between a go-go dancer and a
woman in love giving herself willingly. Like Lily, she is at peace with herself and the
world as she says goodbye to her lover. Unlike either, however, she sees the future bright
with promise for her and per putative son.
The three novels discussed depict the East Indian adolescent female as sexually
desirable to their non-Indian lovers. This attraction crosses class/caste line, and is at best a
temporary deviation, and at worst, a tragedy. Jaillin and Alan are in fact horribly mis-
matched, and Alan emerges the richer and the stronger; Geoffry and Kattree, inspite of
propinquity, live in vastly discreet worlds, and she emerges the happier. It is unlikely that
Kattree will ever find a husband among her own, but this is no great personal tragedy.
Jaillin, on the other hand, almost certainly will find a husband among her own kind. The
failure of the relationship between Danny and Lily is a social and romantic disaster. For
unlike the other two pairs of lovers, these are separated only by race. Danny and Lily are
two compatible, well-matched individuals who love each other deeply. The culprit here is
the Caribbean racial history, objectified as an inveterate and possibly incurable hatred
between Indians and negroes. Inspite of education and co-existence the racial rift is as
wide and pernicious as ever.
1. Michael Anthony, Green Days by the River (London: Heinemann, 1973).
2. lan McDonald, The Humming-Bird Tree (London: Heinemann, 1974), p. 19. All further quota-
tions are from this edition.
3. Geoffrey Drayton, Christopher (London: Heinemann, 1972).
4. Gordon Rohlehr in his somewhat racially angled introduction (1974) has many good things to
say about the novel, but is mistakenly over-ingenious when he reads into Jaillin's palmary cres-
cent marks Islamic significance. With her sari and "Tikka", tilakk", or "ahandu", "the blob of
scarlet in the middle of her forehead" (p. 146), she is almost certainly Hindu.
5. Kaiser in this regard follows many Indians, who saw conversion to Christianity as necessary for
social mobility. See Kelvin Singh, "East Indians and the Larger Society", in Calcutta to Caroni:
The East Indians of Trinidad (London: Longman, 1974), pp. 39-68.
6. Gordon Rohlehr, Introduction to The Humming-Bird Tree, p. xxiii.
7. James Bradner, Danny Boy (London: Longman, 1981). All references are to this edition.
8. See Bridget Brereton, "The Experience of Indentureship: 1845-1917", in Calcutta to Caroni:
The East Indians of Trinidad (London: Longman, 1974), pp. 25-38.
9. Edgar Mittelhozer, Corentyne Thunder (London: Heinemann, 1970). All references are to this
FROM INDENTURED LABOURER
A STUDY OF A. R. F. WEBBER'S
THOSE THAT BE IN BONDAGE
In 1917 the system of Indian Indentureship on the sugar plantations of the West Indies
and Guyana. came to an end. In the same year. A. R. F. Webber, a "coloured", West
Indian creole who had lived in Tobago and British Guiana, published Those That Be In
Bondage: A Tale Of Indian Indentures and Sunlit Western Waters.' There had been other
works of fiction dealing with the Indian presence in the Caribbean but this was the first
work of note by a West Indian, the first in which the immigrant and his descendants
are presented sympathetically and with a degree of realism, the first in which he moves
from docile, tolerant, servile labourer, to participant in violent resistance to the actions
and plans of the English plantation managers and their assistants, the first in which he
participates in the defining and creation of a West Indian identity and moves towards
integration, Westernization, creolization and the attainment of individuality and self-
It is difficult to determine the kind of reception the work received at the time
of publication, or whether it was noticed and discussed at all. West Indian criticism in
the last twenty-five years has either ignored it completely, or made only passing remarks
on it. Anthony Boxill, for example, gives it two lines: "A. R. F. Webber wrote a novel,
Those that be in Bondage (1917), which is a strange mixture of romantic sentimentality
and protest against the treatment of East Indian indentured labourers on Guyanese
plantations. Nothing more is heard of these writers".2
One of the reasons for this is clearly that the novel has a significant section deal,
ing with the West Indies as a romantic, sunlit paradise, and the goings on therein are
treated accordingly. This is the kind of exoticism and tourist-guide casualness that one
associates with writers like Anthony Trollope (The West Indies and the Spanish Main,
1859) and Charles Kingsley (At Last: A Christmas in the West Indies, 1871), with an
alien, imperialist, non-West Indian literary consciousness. This exoticism is apparent
from the title itself: Those That Be In Bondage is elegantly archaic, removed from the
suffering of those who experienced deprivations and the denial of individual rights and
freedoms on the plantations. The use of the present tense suggests continuity and
duration and even the notion that what is being said and done in this novel has a
universal application far exceeding the sordid, teeming sugar plantations of Guyana. It
seems to suggest further that "bondage" is a lasting condition from which one is unlikely
to emerge, but this view is reversed in the novel.
The novel does in fact deal with multiple forms of bondage: indentureship of the
Indian Immigrants, the contracting and the lack of prospects of the English overseers,
public school boys doomed to lives of loneliness and near penury, many of whom end
up as "P. B. O's", "Poor Broken Overseers"; those who are bound by the conventions of
colonialism and the plantocracy, and even those bound by the rigorous conventions of
the Catholic church, whose tentacles spread outwards from Rome into remote Tobago
and Demerara, not to mention "the almost entirely Catholic city" of Port-of-Spain
(167), even those bound by ties of love and sexuality that make them unwelcome in the
strait-jacket of the colonies.
It is a "Tale", clearly suggesting a fictional presentation, but because it deals with
the historical situation of indentureship and the concomitant social realism, it can be
read as a tale with a strong moral and somewhat reformist quality, that is not the
moralisingg" that the title seems to suggest. The "Sunlit Western Waters" point again
to the exoticism characteristic of so much early writing about the region, but in the
novel, the Tobago section, dealing primarily with the growth and early womanhood of
Marjorie Hamilton, the Anglo-Indian daughter of the beautiful but doomed Bibi Ursula
Singh, is where she begins to come to terms with herself, becomes creolised and Western-
ised, at the same time retaining important aspects of her Indo-Caribbean background.
The exoticism may therefore be deceptive, since Tobago is also the scene of the climactic
sexual encounter that leads to considerable suffering and tragedy, as well as being the
retreat of the matronly Marion Hamilton, who has escaped from her Guyanese bondage
only to discover that she cannot really run from her pain and suffering.
The novel is dedicated "To The Memory of The Late Lieut. T. Gordon Davson",
a real colonial hero, it appears, who dies in "the blood-soaked plains of Flanders" and
who had revealed the "capacity of Colonial genius" in his writings about the "love and
temptations of the hills, and the plains and the sunlit western waters". Presumably
Webber finds it appropriate to imitate the archaic diction of his late friend and military
associate to show again the capacity of Colonial genius, this time from the perspective
of a creole. And the heroism of Davson is perhaps an indication that we are to read in
the lives of our heroes and heroines the courage, the dignity, even the nobility of these
individuals, qualities that emerge even from the most sordid and destructive of situations.
The 'Foreword' talks about the novel as a ship, completely constructed by the
hands of the artist. an independent venture, without sources, privately published, and
expecting a fate marked, perhaps, by total obscurity. It is a ship "sailing to the West",
duplicating the Middle Passage (this time all the way from India as well) and finally
attempting to return "home", to begin anew or perhaps to continue in spite of the de-
gradation of life in the colonies, where everything is alien, the managers, the labourers,
even (lie sugar-cane itself. The ship's colours are vermillion, white and royal purple,
suggestive again of the possible linkage, the forging of ties among the Indian, the white
creole and the English, possibly even on English soil.
The novel is stylistically deficient as well. Tlhe language is not ou1l alchaic and
exotic, like the liteiature of tlie early nineteenth century in lthe United States, it is
vitiated by frequent authorial interventions. He uses his editorial omniscience to com-
ment, to explain, to summarize and to philosophise so that at times the novel becomes
subjective summarising ("telling"), rather than revelation of objective detail ("shol, ing").
He wants to explain Guyana to those who stay at home (p. 1 the clearest indication that
the novel is addressed to metropolitan readers. Although lie is some distance from the
action he keeps putting his finger in the pan. as it were, leavimg us in little doubt as to
the manner in which a scene or a character is to be interpreted. At times he realises
that things may be getting out of hand: "But these are things beyond this time of
writing, and the scribe must his tale unfold." (p. 1) At times, where it is not self-con-
scious, the descriptive narration is quite competent, as in the presentation of the struggles
between the Indian immigrants and their English bosses, quick action generally, and
details of journeys.
As we would expect, he uses tile equivalent of Standard English at all times in the
narrative sequences and almost completely in the dialogue. There are a few exceptions
to this: the conversations of some of the creoles: "Boss, le' me brew that swizzle up fo'
you" (p. 10); the speech of a down at heel Scottish overseer, and the dialect of the Afro-
West Indians: "mass Harold" (p. 85), "a mouthful of grass fo' de animals" (p. 116), "we
will mek much of eet an' be tenkful" (p. 117). "De man gie dem so; and 'e tell me to lef
(leave) dem so; and I leffing dem so' (p. 164). Even in these instances the dialect is not
natural and unforced; though it has some elements of authenticity, it is necessary to
explain parts of it. It may even be a problem of orthography. What is in no doubt is that
dialect usage is an indicator of class, education, social position and economic status. Not
one of the major characters uses an identifiable dialect or creole. In fact the narrator
remarks that the voice of the venerable old immigrant, Afridi Singh, is "musical and he
spoke with a correctness of diction that was remarkable" (p. 32). His speech has non-
Standard elements ("the paper has arrived which drives me away" [p. 32]) but it is close
to Standard, though a bit dated in syntax and diction, a characteristic of English on the
Indian sub-continent. To blame Webber, however, for not using dialect more frequent-
ly is to be unfair to him, since by 1917, it was unlikely that another West Indian writer
would have attempted it either. The novel has its weaknesses but it has several worth-
while elements and his presentation of these is quite unexpected for the period and from
a man of his background.
The title of the novel clearly indicates that it is going to deal with "Indian
Indentures". Immigration is seen as leading to tragedy: "born ol that system of immi-
gration which was at once . pride and ... worry. A tragedy deep as night, warm as the
sun in . cane-fields. and subtle as the centuries whose guile and song have changed but
little the hearts of women and fancies of men". (p. 2) Even before this, immigration has
been as "the wonder of economics" and at the same time "the anathema of the Cobden
school purists". It is cleai that he is sceptical about immigration and its repercussions.
It is a tragedy of human exploitation (by exploiters who are themselves exploited),
of degradation and dehumanization, of enforced servitude and of sex.
The Indian immigrants are themselves presented as complex and ambiguous. Some
are described as "complaisant", others are conniving and cunning enough to invite sexual
relationships between their women and the English supervisors because of the benefits
that accrue. Some are the stereotyped native: lazy and immoral; in any case they can
hardly help it, since "on a sugar estate . .the whole atmosphere reeks of sex and its
trying implications". (p. 6) This sexual dimension is the vehicle for the romantic as well
as the realistic concerns of the novelist. It is the result of the shortage of women (both
Indian and European), and leads to sexual jealousy and rivalry, conflicts based on
notions of honour and punishment, danger and romance.
Among the Indian indentureds, too, are those who are born troublemakers, like
Abdool Karim, a driver on the plantation. He is "hot-headed and educated above his
station", implying of course that the driver is entitled only to a certain rudimentary
level of education. He indulges in "some of the fancies of advanced Indian Socialism"
(p. 26) He is a cut above the average immigrant and he is the leader, the natural leader, of
the dissidents, the trouble-makers who stand up for what they perceive as their rights.
Webber severely undercuts his character even before we meet him and it is additionally
suggested that he is motivated by sexual jealousy. Indeed, when halfway through the
novel he is placed on trial for the murder of his erstwhile rival Edwin Hamilton, his
counsel pleads leniency and justification since, according to him, Karim has been
deprived of a consort by one who could easily have chosen a wife from among the very
highest in the land, while Karim would have tremendous difficulty finding someone
outside of his race,even among the better class of negroes. (p. 65) On this latter point it is
significant that the Indian is concerned only with possible relationships with the better
class of negroes, and Africans on the other hand regard the Indian "with considerable
prejudice" (p. 65). On the surface it appears that the barrister has a point, but we have
already been warned by our narrator that Ihe barrister "practically took no notice of
questions of fact" (p. 64) and so we are meant to ignore this line of argument. In any case
for Karim and his counsel to argue along these lines is to intensify further the state of
bondage since it deprives individuals of freedom of choice. In this situation it would
have deprived Bibi, and very significantly, her father Afridi Singh, of any choice in her
marital arrangements, denying her humanity and her selfhood. It seems to me that
Webber is subtly insinuating that for the Indian to rise above the degradation of the
plantation he must be free to choose, to make mistakes even, but to lake his destiny in
his own hands.
Even Karim is not completely evil. In spite of his attempt to enforce a relation-
ship upon a presumably unwilling partner, he has to be seen as one who believes in the
enhancement of the welfare of his people, one who is prepared to take up arms to
defend what is true and valuable. It is natural, therefore that he is the leader of the group
of defiant Indian immigrants who refuse to concede the right not to be moved from
plantation to plantation at the whim of the managers or of the "big Croshy", the
Immigration Agent General. He challenges the power of those in authority to deprive
the workers of their rights, even their right to "property" without due process. Although
he might have a rather primitive attitude to women, although ihe accuses Bibi falsely,
although he is suspected of preying upon the labourers, he is a leader, at times also the
spurned lover with a representative function, the individual acting to avenge the wrongs
and ameliorate the sufferings of the tribe.
The major Indian presence in the first part of the novel is Afridi Singh. He tells
his story to Edwin Hamilton, the young overseer with whom he has struck up a strange
friendship. Edwin himself is not the typical colonial; he is meditative, reads a lot, and is,
on the whole, a misfit at the manager's table and at social events in Georgetown. Old
Singh is also different. He is "a type by himself", aloof, uncommunicative, a kind of
"pundit", highly respected by the other immigrants. He is also referred to as "the Ameer"
(a Lord, a Chieftain), as well as Abdullah and we are told that he believes that the will
of Allah is stronger than the will of the "big Crosby" (p. 16). Afridi's story is that he has
run away from India, not in search of better economic conditions, but to escape the
wrath of a Hill Chief, the father of the young woman with whom he has fallen in love
and eloped. In his escape he has been assisted by the British Raj, and perhaps we are
meant to deduce that the colonial masters were not all bad. Anyway he has ended up in
Guyana with his beautiful young daughter Bibi, also called Ursula out of her father's
gratitude to the Mission School he attended. He came from a wealthy, land-owning
family, and had been destined for a university career. He is also clearly not the typical
indentured labourer. His names, however, are confusing, being a strange, an unholy
combination, of Hindu, Moslem, and, possibly, Sikh. He is regarded as a "pundit"
(Hindu) but he invokes Allah (Moslem). It appears at first that Webber is unaware of the
significance of the names, or, possibly, he does not care. But it could also be that
Singh is meant to be a composite figure, able to bring together in his person the best of
Hindu, Moslem and Sikh. He is dignified, he cannot be easily deceived, he is wise, he has
suffered in two continents and across two oceans. He is a "warrior spirit", as his surname
implies, and therefore the patriarch and the leader of the entire Indian immigrant com-
munity, not merely the dissidents, over whom he also wields some control. He is prepared
to adjust, to make concessions in the hope of progress, to denounce meaningless violence,
but always to operate on his own terms.
When we meet him he is in a dilemma. He is disturbed at the order to leave his land;
the Indian attachment to the soil has been retained across the black waters; worse, he
has been given no reason for the planned removal. Even so, he might have been prepared
to go were it not for his daughter whom he will protect with his life: again the characteris-
tic attitude to children and the honour of the family. Old Singh is given tremendous
stature, remarkable for the period and for a non-Indo-Caribbean writer. When he is
presented with a way out of his difficulties, he doesn't grasp unthinkingly at it. His
worldly-wise heart feels that many difficulties will prevent the successful marriage of his
daughter to the young English overseer. This is as is to be expected: he is only being
realistic. But he appears to act out of character when he agrees to leave his daughter
with Edwin: "At last Edwin set the old man's fears at rest, as neither was bound by
convention and each had the utmost trust in the other." (p. 39) He is the representative
Indian but he is prepared to dispense with convention. He is prepared to trust another
human being, even an Englishman. He regards the word of Edwin as almost sacred and
his trust is rewarded. What is being stressed is not merely his love for his daughter but his
innovative spirit which had led him to leave India in the first place. His action here is a
real test of his wisdom and his humanity. When the confrontation between the inden-
tured labourers and the Police is taking place, his daughter Bibi is "being joined in Holy
matrimony" to the Englishman, Edwin Hamilton. On the one hand. a battle, on the
other, a marriage that symbolically brings the two groups together. On the literal level,
the marriage is meant to prevent bloodshed and to halt the process of law that will
result in the removal of the Singh family from "Never Out". The Hindu-Moslem-Sikh
girl is married to the Christian, uniting the parties on a symbolically religious level as well.
In the conditions of plantation life, such attempts are doomed. The intervention
of Abdool Karim results in the shooting to death of Edwin, and Bibi dies soon after.
Bibi has been a minor character, hardly appearing in the novel, and hardly speaking even
when she does. She is always in the company of her father or husband, the traditional
Oriental wife/daughter: fair, beautiful and Caucasian-looking. In the discussion which
precedes her sudden marriage to Edwin, her views are hardly considered, but we are
told that "she had long secretly loved the Sahib Hamilton", who had treated her with
"grave and distant courtesy". (p. 37) When they are married and move to the outskirts ol
the plantation "Never Out", she shows wonderful aptitude for Western ideas but her
husband insists that she retain her Oriental dress and attitudes. She shines in her im-
mediate surroundings "as an Indian lady of grace and refinement". (p. 59)
Harold and Marjorie
Her daughter, Marjorie Hamilton, combines some of her mother's virtues with more
Westernised, "creole" attributes. After the death of her parents she is taken to Tobago
where she is brought up by her English aunt, who has brushed aside "with due concilia-
tives, the stately protests of the infant's maternal grandfather" (p. 69), that is Afridi Singh.
But the aunt's presence does not matter too much, since, as was said of her mother,
the warrior spirit of the Afridis runs through her veins. She is a child of nature, as she
has been a child of love. (p. 72) There are few young people around her, so she associates
with the older folks from whom she learns the tales of her adopted island, and the stories
of the slave period. This is supplemented by her tremendous capacity for reading, and she
develops rapidly, "with all the precocity of the tropics and her Indian blood" (p. 72).
She is self taught, an independent, and a leader. She speaks largely in Standard English,
but she is a real native nevertheless.
What is remarkable is that although she is brought up among older, prudish women,
she is the most radical, independent and unconventional person in the novel. She is there
with her aunt in Tobago but her consciousness and her imagination run free. She wants
to know everything, to experience all, to lose herself in action and ultimately to be a
real person,- a New World figure, a true West Indian. She is bold and daring, swimming
in the nude, for example, shedding the trappings of mindless middle-class conventionality.
and immersing herself in the local. She is a "wildcat" who buries herself in life, as against
her cousin Harold who, in becoming a priest "buries himself for life". (p. 96, p. 98).
Before lie enters the priesthood Harold is her one real friend and companion, with
whom she explores the physical territory of Tobago, and meets the "common" people,
learning of their lives and their myths. On one of these trips they visit "Robinson
Crusoe's Cave". As usual she is prepared to go much further than Harold and the guides:
she is prepared to risk her life to explore the new and the unknown. She leads the party
through the Cave to the light at the other end. She insists that one must expose oneself.
one must go the whole way to see the real thing, like Forster's Adela Quested, who
insists on seeing "the real India". These are not the Marabar Caves, but they constitute
part of the myth of the colonial encounter, of the meeting and confrontation between
native and coloniser. She has to explore the unfamiliar to get to the core of things, even
though all one finds is the skull of a "Daady" goat.
When Harold leaves for the priesthood she is thrown back on herself. She engages
herself in music and literature, including Pope's "Essay on Man"; she is particularly
interested in the lines concerning "the natural Indian" (p. 120). Again the two sides of her
character are brought into focus. She is different, a blend of East and West, the inden-
tured labourer now Anglo-Indian Caribbean woman, sure of herself, possessing charm
and grace and looseness of limb, and the full timbre of a "native voice".
She is attractive even to her cousin Harold; she is specially attractive and tempting
to him, even though he has now taken holy orders and the name Father Dominic. In a
climactic scene before he leaves for Trinidad, she innocently and spontaneously initiates
an action that results in their fall from sexual innocence. The effects are nearly disas-
trous for Harold but she revels in her new-found love. not noticing or understanding her
kinsman's misery. Is she being selfish and insensitive? It seems to me that she is
embodying a new morality, a new attitude to pleasure and a defiance of convention,
the Caribbean consciousness shed of its Victorian puritan morality. It is significant too
that their sexual encounter has taken place on Carnival Tuesday night. It is the culmina-
tion of the festivity in which they have participated. Harold is concerned with penance
on Ash Wednesday, while she is ecstatic in her new awareness. Harold does not yet realise
it but she has liberated him. through the pleasures of the flesh, into his true self. He
now begins the journey into West Indianness, returning to the plantations where he comes
face to face with exploitation and despair among the aliens. She has also liberated him
from the bondage of the Catholic church, whose Cathedral in Guyana, he has unwitting-
ly helped to destroy, and which he now wants to rebuild with, significantly, all varieties
of local lumber on a concrete base. He has realized the significance and value of the local,
of the need to create with indigenous resources and to shed the trappings of colonialism.
At the end of the novel we are told of Marjorie: "The metal of her nature was
passing through the furnace, and being beaten on the anvil of life." (p. 226) The image of
the gentle beauty associated with her mother has now been replaced by an image of metal
refined and reshaped by fire. She is strong, she has shed her impurities, she has suffered
and has come out whole. She virtually commands Harold to give up the Church and its
affairs, preferring to believe in no God rather than the God they teach (p. 234), and to
believe that her sexual union with Harold is the equivalent of sacred marriage vows.
Like Pearl in Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter the new. realized, independent woman
can move where she wants. She knows herself, her roots, and she is free, untrammelled.
Marjorie decides to go to London, reversing the middle passage of her father and grand-
father. She plans to survive on a reassertion of her Indianness. She has already been
successfully writing under her mother's name, Ursula Singh, and now she sets out to see
the world and to try to make her way in it. The indentured labourer's daughter is now the
Anglo-Indian Caribbean voyager. The stylistically flawed novel which embodied charac-
ters that are memorable and convincing, has treated the processes of maturation on and
off the plantations and has now launched its central character out in the world.
1. Georgetown, Demerara, B. G.: The Daily Chronicle Printing Press, N. D. . All quotations
are from this text and page numbers are included in parenthesis after the quotation.
2. Anthony Boxill "The Beginnings to 1929", Ch. 3 of West Indian Literature, Edited by Bruce
King (London. Macmillan, 1979), p. 42.
A FLUTE OF BONE
My body's a hallowed
stick of bone, a flute
through which you
I am those
parallel eyes of air
along my spine,
your heavy rhythms
vibrating in my marrow.
play gentle, love
my frail reed's
can scarcely hold
Out flew this bird
on a telepathic
winging to your
shores, from my head.
it had grown
into a swan
too heavy now
its wing, kept
it a pigeon anklestrung,
The Penguin Book of Caribbean Verse in English edited by Paula Burnelt. (4.95 in UK)
Reviewed by John J. Figueroa
The publication of this interesting anthology raises once again, for West Indian writers
and scholars, a painful and interesting question: why is it that for so long research into
language and literature in the area has tended, on the whole, to be done by either visitors,
or W.I. exiles returning for a while, or by foreigners not too well acquainted with the
variety and richness, and confusion, of the culture of the place? Of course, part of the
answer lies in the location of those who hold the resources and the power, and of those
who really make the important decisions. But part of the answer also lies in the limited
vision of many of us West Indians, and in the propensity of the Third World, not dis-
couraged by the "First", to buy-in foreign "experts" while giving the minimum of real
help and encouragement to local researchers. There was a time when the rationale for this
practice was an imagined or real absence of suitably trained and willing natives. But even
then it might have been that suitable local persons occupied themselves, or were occupied
by institutions like University of the West Indies, with busy work, some of it quite un-
important, e.g. committees which only appeared to have the power of making top policy
decisions. We shall have to return to this question later.
At present let us turn to this useful anthology which Paula Burnett has edited for
In 1953 a woman, interested in West Indian literature, wrote to Henry Swanzy, the
creative editor of the BBC's Caribbean Voices, expressing dissatisfaction with a compila-
tion of Caribbean Voices which Henry had done for the old BBC. Third Programme.
Henry sent her his original script which had been cut by an all-knowing producer. Her
reply was: "After seeing the longer script one realizes what a difficult and frustrating job
editing must be".
One should keep this firmly in mind in reviewing our editor's work in PBCVE. The
trouble is that editing can be as frustrating to the reader as it is to the editor especially
when the reader has some insight into the "longer script". For one thing the influence,
mostly hidden, of the Metropolitan centre upon the "Periphery" is still so powerful
as to make a Penguin Book of Verse only a little less authoritative than the Roman
Calendar of Saints. Because of this we have to take seriously our editor's claim, clearly
stated in her full Introduction:
I have chosen what seemed to me to be the best and
most interesting, with an eye on representativeness,
both within a poet's work and in the selection as a
This is a clear and large claim, setting up palpable criteria even if there is a certain hedg-
ing of bets in evoking both the "best" and the "most interesting", and in the phrase
"with an eye on . ."
The spread and scope of PBCVE is wide indeed. After a forty-page Introduction,
the selections start with an Anonymous work-song published in London by J. B. Moreton
Tink dere is a God in a top,
No use me ill Obissha!
Me no horse, me no mare, me no mule,
No use me ill, Obissha.
It then goes through some ninety pages of the Oral Tradition ending with What a Rain, by
Valerie Bloom. A comparison of these two poems would be a most interesting way of
discussing whether the "Oral Tradition" has moved much in two hundred years! It would
also raise the whole question of what is the meaning and usefulness of the term "Oral
Tradition" in the context of PBCVE.
The second part of the anthology The Literary Tradition occupies 269 pages.
This section starts with an anonymous Pindarique Ode on the Arrival of Sir Nicholas
Lawes, Governor of Jamaica, published by R. Baldwin, Kingston, Jamaica, 1718. It
includes part of a Latin poem by the famous Francis Williams, the black gentleman,
tested as to his native genius at Cambridge, about whom no less a person than David
Hume is reported to have written:
I am apt to suspect the negroes, & in general
all the other species of men, . to be naturally inferior to the whites.
No ingenious manufactures amongst them; no arts, no sciences ...
In Jamaica indeed they talk of one negro [here we get to Francis
Williams] as a man of parts and learning; but 'tis likely he is admired
for very slender accomplishments, like a parrot, who speaks a few
words plainly .
The whole anthology does provide a number of poems not easily obtainable before,
not only in its Oral section, but also in the Literary section where such people as Jean
Rhys, Phyllis Shand Allfrey, Robert Lee and some much less known people such as
Horatio Nelson Huggins, of St. Vincent, appear.
There are, however, some odd omissions, and the emphasis given to some of the
writers hardly fits in with claims about either representativeness, or interest or quality. In
fact, if these claims are tested against some of the actual selections and omissions, and
proportion of space given to some people, they seem rather bizarre.
One wonders also whether the division into the Oral & Literary Tradition, which
splits this book in two, is either useful, or helpful, or true to the concept of poetry, or to
the facts of Caribbean culture. Are the poems, in this anthology, of Louise Bennett, Lillian
Allen, Oku Onuora, more "Oral", or from a more "Oral Tradition", than those of James
Berry and Eddie Brathwaite? Yet the two latter authors are in the Literary section; the
former are in that of the Oral Tradition.
And here we must return to an aspect of the question with which we started. How
is it that there are so many West Indian individuals, generously mentioned by Paula
Burnett, who could give her, a stranger working in Jamaica for two years, invaluable
literary and cultural advice, and yet, apparently, not be deemed suitable to be joint or
for that matter, sole editor of a major anthology of Caribbean poetry? An anthology,
be it noted, not printed privately, but published by one of the leading houses in the UK?
Let it be immediately clear that no one is putting up "No Trespassing" signs, or
blaming our editor for her clear enterprise; nor is one denying the hard work and commit-
ment which have gone into PBCVE. But it does seem at least odd that the West Indies,
with a University now nearly forty years old, & with poets, writers & scholars of some dis-
tinction, has left the process of canonization for that is what in the real world of power
a Penguin Book of Verse might well mean to some one who has not spent more than
three years living in the culture in which these poems have grown! Certainly this is an odd
situation which does not so much reflect on the braveness of Paula Burnett, as on the
conditions and contortions of Caribbean life, and on the activities of those who should be
the guardians and caretakers of its culture.
It seems apparent that there are personal as well as structural reasons for this state
of affairs. While one is tempted to say: the fault, dear Brutus, lies not in the stars but in
ourselves that we are underlings, one realises that there is much more to it than that.
For one thing, the relation between the Caribbean & the UK has been a symbiotic
one for some three centuries. (And this adds to the importance of this Anthology.)
Unfortunately, for too long the paternalistic aspect has been uppermost. Just imagine a
West Indian scholar or poet approaching Penguin (or any other UK publisher) and offer-
ing to do an anthology "with an eye on representativeness", an anthology of Twentieth
Century British Poetry. I have a shrewd suspicion that either it would be felt by the
publisher "That such an enterprise would not justify our investment". Or, if the West
Indian person was really of outstanding merit, it just might be suggested that he/she
should take on a British partner "just to make sure the thing has balance".
But it is not only that the power structures in the UK & the US know how to
protect themselves from competition, undue or otherwise, and are strong on keeping
standards high when it suits them! (When it does not suit them they publish some
really second rate stuff, which is either full of prurient sex of some of Mittelholzer! -
or ride feminist and ethnic band-waggons.) But it is also true that native West Indian insti-
tutions, and scholars, have been slow to investigate their own material, or in the case of
the former have been slow to spend their own money on basic local research. No one pre-
tends that there has ever been much money for any kind of research, but one remembers
so clearly how the University (College) of the West Indies gave the impression that the
Ford Foundation alone was somehow obliged to spend money on urgently needed lin-
guistic investigations in the West Indies.
As Albert Marquardt put it to me, after a Vice-Chancellor had been particularly
rude to him, "You keep telling me how essential to the Caribbean and to communication
in the Caribbean linguistic research is. I am nearly persuaded, but it would help if the
UWl found it possible to spend even one brass farthing of its own money on linguistic
In the event, with respect to CARIBBEAN poetry, in English, Paula Burnett is the
person who has done the anthology, even though, as far as I know, Jamaica is the only
part of the Caribbean in which she has lived for any length of time. She is to be con-
gratulated; and we must consider ourselves lucky to have PBCVE.
But it must not be taken as THE canon: its claim to be representative is not really
realized. It omits too many poets, and some of its emphases are hard to justify. To cite a
few examples: are Markham & Eddie K. Brathwaite really equally "representative" of
Caribbean writing in English? And are Una Marson's bletherings worthy of so much
space? She was indeed a lonely person, and she was a hard worker in many a good cause,
but so was Clare McFarlane, who perhaps made the mistake of not being a woman writer
when women writers might be thought to have been scarce. But there are other women
writers who wrote every bit as well as Marson who are not represented. Let us put some
of their work side by side with hers:
(p 158, PBCVE)
a. Gwine find a beauty shop
Cause I ain't a belle.
Gwine find a beauty shop
Cause I ain't a lovely belle ..
I's gwine press me hair
And bleach me skin
What won't a gal do
Some kind of man to win.
Second, Mary Lockett, who is not in PBCVE,
(p 34, CV vol. I)
a. Calm weather is for calm souls,
But the light that comes through the whirling trees
When the wind is high
Stirs the blood of the wild creatures.
Who dance to the rhythm
And sing with the singing leaves ...
Calm weather is for calm souls;
But the soul of the outcast
Gathers wild weather into itself
And rides the rim of the world!
And again Marson
(p 161, PBCVL)
b. To wed or not to wed: that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The fret and loneliness of spinsterhood
Or to take arms against the single state
And by marrying, end it?
(The rest is to be found on page 161, for your avid attention and
Now, Vivette Hendriks, who does not appear in PBCVE:
Leda and the Swan.
(p 56, CV vol II)
Leda, her naked body on the grass,
Watches by stealth beyond the river's curve,
A giant swan come slowly down the stream ...
And now the urgent bosom plunges past
The reeds, and with its cloud-like wings outspread
The bird descends on Leda. Through her cries
She knows at last
The power of his head,
The crushing weight of breast and throat and bill,
And in the cold, unmoving eyes,
The triumph of a hunter at the kill.
Selvon & Lamming & Mais, we are told, "who went on to become well known
novelists are left out", "for reasons of space". But Wilson Harris & Jean Rhys are inclu-
ded because of the light thrown on their prose by their poetry. I suspect that much of
Lamming's prose is missed by any one who does not know, & experience, that he was first
of all a poet; further, it is more than likely that both his poem on Marion Anderson & on
the Swans throw a great deal of light on In the Castle of My Skin. They are also most
(p 112, CV vol II)
Now blank desertion fills the senses
Over the howling city
Louder than the cry of industry
The moon sheds a contagion of madness,
And water fills the eyes of the visitor
Entering the legend of this historic river ..
Lamming's Birthday Poem for Clifford Sealy certainly incorporates concerns which were
very important and interesting when it was written, and which are still being argued
Or at nightfall over their new habit of tea
Argue with an elephant's lack of intelligence
Our culture must be spelled with a West Indian C.
The explanation for the omission of some poets over & above Lamming, Selvon &
Mais, would be, I should imagine, that of "lack of space". But I am not convinced. After
all fifty pages are given to eight poets, and Una Marson has more space than Claude
McKay! It's not really a matter of the space the editor had at her disposal, but rather the
emphases, and omissions, which exist within the limits of that space. No convincing
reason is giving for including Wilson Harris & Jean Rhys, who certainly have become
known through their novels, and leaving out Selvon, Lamming & Mais.
There is an inconsistency on the part of our editor which worries one. One can't
help wondering how often great Homer has nodded when she has been dealing with
matters, fruit of her hard won researches, about which we have little knowledge & less
opportunity to test. It is not only over taste in choosing poems, but over such matters
as not letting the gentle feelings in much of Mais's poetry also throw light on his rather
As anthropologists know, and have said, "cultures are mutually exotic". Or as Henry
Swanzy put it long ago, developed industrial societies have a way of asking tropical
"warm" societies to deal not with their own problems but with those of the metropole.
So it is not to be wondered at, one supposes, that a woman from a modern European
citified culture, with its bandwagons of feminism & antiracism and its fears of loss of
"Orality" through TV should so highly prize Una Marson & Archie Markham, both
excellent workers in their own right, as to exclude Christine Craig, Cecil Herbert, Ian
McDonald, Harold Telemaque and H. A. Vaughan.
The last named, besides being an excellent poet of his own time and often some-
what ahead of it, exemplifies a central part of the cultural history of the Anglophone
Caribbean, and of its writers: he was born outside the English-speaking region, beyond
the patronage of London, in La Republica Dominicana. Just as in another field of excel-
lence George Headley was born in Panama. Among writers, however, Vaughan was typical
of a cultural trait shared with: Andrew Salkey (born in Colon), John Hearne (in Mon-
treal), Sylvia Wynter (in Cuba), and Ulric Simmons (in Guantanamo).
We are lucky, then, to have PBCVE, and we have it because of the enterprising
researches of Paula Burnett, the power of Penguin, and the goodwill of many West Indian
writers and critics. It should be widely read.
And closely tested by those well read in Caribbean literature, and intimately con-
nected with the culture in which Caribbean literature has struggled to grow. But PBCVE
is not to be taken as THE canon as Penguin with its prestige might like it to be.
Consider for instance, finally, the following quotations from authors who do NOT
appear in the 368 pages of this volume. Consider, and wonder why.
Extend, metaphorically, to our peripheral, Caribbean condition their poetic
"message". Perhaps, after all, it is not so strange that London would leave them out:
In our land,
We do not breed
That taloned king, the eagle,
nor make emblazonery of lions...
Old, we are old before our prime
(Springs of laughter ran dry
And hearts atrophied) and in qur time
Have heard lips lift their cry
To the stone-deaf skies, have seen
How the hawk has been
Stripped of pride
In necessary propitiation;...
Turn sideways now and let them see
What loveliness escapes the schools,
Then turn again, and smile and be
The perfect answer to those fools
Who always prate of Greece and Rome,
'The face that launched a thousand ships'.
And such like things but keep tight lips
For burnished beauty nearer home ...
(H. A. Vaughan)
JOHN J. FIGUEROA
Dance, Daryl Cumber, ed. Fifty Caribbean Writers: A Bio-Bibliographical Critical Source-
book. New York: Greenwood Press, 1986. pp.
It is generally known among writers and critics of the English-speaking Caribbean that the
literature of this region has for some time suffered the lack of an up-to-date, comprehen-
sive sourcebook which addresses all the major areas of literary research biography,
bibliography and criticism. The lack has been rendered all the more severe by the tend-
ency of critics to treat extensively only a few of the writers of the area, many other
deserving writers being relegated, consequently, to virtual critical obscurity. In a region
whose literature attests to a range and diversity rivalling the nature of the society which
it treats, such a lack eventually allows the creation of an atmospheric matrix which
generates, ironically enough, the kind of literary chauvinism which most Caribbean
writers reject. Moreover, the failure to exploit the critical potential inherent in the litera-
ture as a whole encourages a narrowness of creative ideas and artistic perspectives not
only in the literary criticism but also in the society at large. When one remembers the
international indeed, the global locations and experiences of many Caribbean writers,
the need to fecundate a more comprehensive criticism may well be regarded as crucial.
Happily, there is reason to think that this situation will change and. soon. The
reason is the publication of Fifty Caribbean Writers, an encyclopedic compilation which
is remarkable in its breadth, quality and compression, As editor of this book, Daryl
Cumber Dance accomplishes a feat which should not only enhance public awareness and
understanding of the Caribbean literary scene but should also expand the focus ot inten-
sive and extensive criticism of Caribbean literature. Such expectations are not unrealistic,
for in all its dimensions biography, bibliography and criticism the work should prove
to be seminal: It introduces the reader to "a wide range of important Caribbean writers,
from the pioneers to the contemporaries" (p. 7), and "significantly updates, supplements,
and expands the biographical, critical, and bibliographical information available on most
of those writers who have been considered elsewhere" (p. 7). And in the introduction,
which is a brilliant condensation of the history of Caribbean literature and criticism,
Dance provides a well-wrought framework within which the contributions of all the
writers and critics assume greater significance. In fact, the Introduction appropriately epi-
tomises the same taut scholarship which characterises the approach of the thirty-five
critics (Dance, who pens essays on four of the writers, included) who collectively survey
the lives, works, and critical reputations of fifty Caribbean writers.
Since the biographical sections make generous use of letters and interviews (many
of which were occasioned by the compilation of this book), the reader gets not only a
compendium of critical approaches and interpretations but also a sense of the personality
behind each creative work. This emergent sense of personality testifies to one of the more
subtle successes of the book, the fact that the biographical sections manage to traverse
the thin line between familiarity and intrusion. That is, while they do increase the fam-
iliarity between reader and artist and while they do supply the philosophical and socio-
cultural contexts which often render the writers' works more accessible, the biographies
do not generally intrude on the critics' interpretations of those works. Furthermore, the
degree to which this sense of personality informs a writer's work is a consideration which
the critics leave as well they should to the reader and is, consequently, the kind
of critical conjecture bound to demonstrate the organic constraints of Fifty Caribbean
The essays which survey and expand critical commentary on the major works and
themes of the writers these essays are necessarily panoramic in critical approach -
not only attempt to apprehend the thematic essence of the works but also allow the
reader to place each work thematically and chronologically in the context of the writer's
oeuvre. Effectively evincing a happy marriage between the critic's acumen and the artist's
sensibility, each essay demonstrates a surehandedness of approach which the general read-
er should find simultaneously reassuring and stimulating. Collectively, the essays convince
the reader that the exciting world of Caribbean literature demands and deserves a much
wider critical response and a more encompassing critical focus than it has elicited in the
Although a small majority of the contributors to this book are Caribbean critics
writing about (and surveying what others have written about) Caribbean writers some
of these critics are themselves subjects of critical commentaries in this book Fifty
Caribbean Writers takes on a global, at least a Western, perspective, thanks to the wide
range of educational and professional exposure and ethnic backgrounds represented by
this coterie of critics and writers. While numerical considerations force the omission
of writers such as Una Marson (Jamaican pioneer poet) and Trevor Rhone (Jamaican
contemporary playwright), no one who has even a dilettante's knowledge of Caribbean
literature is likely to find serious fault with Dance's selection of writers or, for that
matter, her selection of critics. However, all readers (including advanced scholars and
researchers) should find much to applaud in this book, which celebrates literary accom-
plishment and makes less tentative the notion that the gap between creative and critical
achievement in Anglophone Caribbean literature is about to be shortened.
MELVIN B. RAHMING
NOTES ON CONTRIBUTORS
is professor of English at the St. Augustine Campus of the
University of the West Indies and author of numerous arti-
cles and books on West Indian literary criticism
teaches at the Department of English, York University,
is full-time staff member at the College of the Virgin Islands,
St. Croix Campus, US Virgin Ilsands.
lectures at the Department of English, Cave Hill Campus,
University of the West Indies.
is lecturer at the Department of English. St. Augustine
Campus, University of The West Indies.
is Associate Professor at the Department of English and
Linguistics at Morehouse College, Atlanta, Georgia
is retired academecian and former professor of Education at
the University of the West Indies.
works out of New York and has been published in several
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Vol V No.2 & 3 June September 1986 ISSN 0280-2791
Forum on Peace Studies
J David Singer
The Missiles of October-1988: Resolve, Reprieve, & Rclorm 5
.1 David Singer
From Promised Land to Garrison State: The Israeli Scarch for Securityl4
Nuclear Weapons and the Renewal of Democracv 25
Winston E. Langley
Irenology and the University for Peace 51
Industrialization, Militarization and Bureaucratization in South Asia: Com-
plementary or Contradictory Developments? 65
Stockholm Peace Conference (CSCE) 1984-86 Issues and Achievements97
Forum on Caribbean and Central America
Intervention as a Third World Dilemma: Grenada 141
James Lee Ray & Fred R. Harris
The U.S. Mexican Nicaraguan Connection:Past and Present 176
U.S. Anti-Imperialist Movements in Two Contexts: the War in Indo-China
and the Intervention in Central America 209
The Containment of Central America 247
Wallace C. Koehler, Jr.
Island Ministates and Interdependence: Energy and the Insular Caribbean271
Book Reviews 290
Thii iv a journal ofinterdiscift liniui r.o l seieic' s special v de\lv i'ted lo tlie
studies ofgenuline development related to hIiaic /I111huiIn needs sais faction
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