Cop nIgliu reserved and reproduction without permission strictly Iorbidden.
1 The Black Woman Comes of Age
10 Rewriting the History of Afro-Cuban Woman: Nancy Morejon's "Black Woman"
19 Woman as Storyteller in Wide Sargasso Sea
37 Like Mother, Like Daughter: Women in Jean Rhys and George Lamming
49 Gender and Religious Leadership in West Indian Novels
Norman R. Cary
58 Cultural Connections in Paule Marshall's Praise Song for the Widow
Another Sydney Migrant
When your window overlooks neon on a long night
73 BOOK REVIEWS
92 Notes on Contributors
93 Instructions to Authors
Front cover: Three Sisters (1975) by Seya Parboosingh. Reproduced by kind permission of Tony Hart.
VOL. 34, Nos. 1 & 2
UNIVERSITY OF THE WEST INDIES
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Lloyd Coke, Department of Botany, Mona
Neville McMorris, Department of Physics, Mona
Janet Liu Terry, Associate Editor
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Department of Extra-Mural Studies.
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Is the characterisation of Bita Plant "a splendid resolution" of all the positive attributes
of Claude McKay's personae? Did she exhibit the invincible self of the Harlem Dancer,
Felice's sensuality, Agatha's intelligence and Latnah's independence? Was the acceptance
of her "high" western education and her community roots part of this resolution? Despite
McKay's own doubts critical consensus provides Bita Plant with its resounding approval.
These and other insights are brought to the fore by Jean Lowrie-Chin in her piece, "The
Black Woman Comes of Age".
In "Rewriting the History of the Afro-Cuban Woman: Nancy Morejon's Black
Woman, C. Rose-Green Williams uses a poem about the Afro-Caribbean woman to high-
light the methods used to subvert established racist ideology through poetry and to
redefine the black woman's New World experience with a counter discourse which
dislodges the marginalization and distortion of her history.
"But no matter where the religious practices would appear on this spectrum [from
orthodox Christian denominations through Afro-Christian groups to African cults]
female religious leaders in West Indian fiction are almost always negatively pictured.
Either they are allied from the first to evil, or they are unsurpers of male roles, or they
use their powers destructively." This is the conclusion drawn by Norman Cary in his
article, "Gender and Religious Leadership in West Indian Novels".
With Valerie Roper in "Woman as Storyteller in Wide Sargasso Sea" the counter dis-
course is continued with Jean Rhys attempting to give the other side, the West Indian
side, to Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre. Rhys's depiction of rejection, alienation, isolation,
and disintegration reflects the journey undertaken by uprooted migrants whether ex-
perienced in the Old World or the new. However, this counter discourse is not anchored
in negativisim as V. Roper highlights the potential of West Indian women, despite the
disintegration, in psychic awareness which ultimately liberates woman from her circum-
stances and from history.
Mother and daughter relations in the works of two authors, Rhys and Lamming,
are examined by Vyonne Ochillo, who shows that "the mother's an 'iety over her daughter's
weal quite often engineers a strained relationship between the two". Ochillo shows that
all of Rhys's women "never seem to strive towards a sense of unconditional independence
where they are free to make choices . They move about as if womanhood is a fated
condition, thereby making gratuitous any meaningful actions on their part". While
Rhys wrote about West Indian white society, Lamming protrayed the interactions of
black West Indian men and women either at home or abroad. Despite Lamming's desire
"to [create] a society with the potential to chart its own history", his portrayal of women
is "subject to drawbacks similar to those of Rhys, if only because both the white and
black world agreed that women were creatures of men".
The focus of "Cultural Connections in Paule Marshall's Praise Song of the Widow"
by Velma Pollard is in "the cultural connections between black people of the diaspora
despite the dissimilarities of the superficial feature of their environments". Pollard
believes that Marshall introduces "a new level of subtlety to an old argument". The cul-
tural connections in Marshall's heroic tale are a "subterranean essence in the background
of the narrative."
Two poems, "Another Sydney Migrant" and "When your window overlooks
neon on a long night", by Beverley Brown and seven book reviews complete this double
THE BLACK WOMAN COMES OF AGE
McKay's art achieves "a splendid resolution in the serene pages of Banana Bottom where a
surer grasp of technique matches a sudden access to understanding,"' comments Kenneth
Ramchand. Ironically, McKay, perhaps depressed by the apparent failure of the book,
wrote to Max Eastman "Banana Bottom was a lazy dream, the images becoming blurred
from long-distance photography."2 Had McKay lived long enough he would have realized
that this long-distance look at his native Jamaica peopled with vivid characters was in fact
a keen and perceptive sighting. In A LongWay From Home McKay tells Frank Harris
that he had gone to America because "Jamaica was too small for high achievements.
There, one was isolated, cut off from the great currents of life".3 Giles finds this state-
ment, published after Banana Bottom, "intriguing and perplexing". "No character McKay
created," he maintains, "is as much in tune with 'the great currents of life' as Bita Plant,
and none achieves more."4
The invincible "self' of the Harlem Dancer, Felice's sensuality, Agatha's intelli-
gence and Latnah's independence are strikingly evident in the characterisation of Bita
Plant, the novel's heroine. Ray's perpetual conflict between his western education and his
Black roots is resolved in Bita's acceptance of both. The "warm group life" he longs
for enfolds Bita, strengthening her in her resolve to preserve her racial and cultural
The novel opens with Bita's return from England to the district of Jubilee where
her first formal meeting with the community is at a church concert. Early in this first
chapter McKay demonstrates the self-assuredness of the young women in the com-
munity who were "in no way intimidated by Bita's years of higher and foreign culture"5
and their acceptance of Bita after testing her:
. they were united on testing . Belle Black, tall
and haughty like a black thatch, started a race with
the piano regardless of time and beat . Bita was
able to keep up the pace . So when the cantata
was over they ringed around Bita with congratula-
tions ... Bita had passed their test. (p.2)
With her father by her side. Bita goes "from one ring to another to shake hands and
kiss the Jubilee folk". Having established the fact that this is a well-bred young woman
who nevertheless is fully accepted by and accepting of her humble community, McKay
relates her past. She has had a premature sexual encounter with the eccentric musician
"Crazy Bow". Though described by the villagers as rape. McKay's account of the incident
casts the 12-year-old Bita as the seducer (pp. 9-10) and the prying Sister Phibby Patroll
says knowingly to the Minister's wife Priscilla Craig, "she was ober-womanish ob a ways
the folkes them say" (p. 16). Thus McKay warns us that Bita has a passionate and in-
dependent nature, not likely to be stifled by conservative English upbringing. The dis-
cussion of the matter between sister Phibby Patroll and the prim Mrs. Craig underlines
the duality of influences to which Bita is subject:
So Sister Phibby told the tale to Priscilla Craig. And
although she thought it was a sad thing as a good
Christian should, her wide brown face betrayed a
kind of primitive satisfaction as in a good thing done
early. Not so that of Priscilla Craig's. It was a face
full of high a face that generations upon generations
of Northern training in reserve, restraint and
Christian righteousness had gone to cultivate, a
face fascinating in its thin benevolent austerity.
The Craigs resolve to help Bita, whose "rape" is now the talk of the village, by
adopting and educating her at the Mission. While "Mis. Craig wanted to demonstrate
what one such girl might becomes by careful training . by God's help" (p. 17). Bita
shows herself to be endowed with natural aptitude and endearing habits:
Bita surprised the Craigs themselves by straightly
taking their hearts and brightening up the family
life of the mission. Surprised them in that they
didn't have to make any special Christian effort to
regard her as their own child . She was as apt as
learning croquet as she was at the piano (p. 28).
It is because of Bita's exceptional progress that Priscilla Craig decides to give her
"a thoroughly English education". So determined is Mrs. Craig that Bita"would be
English trained and appearing in everything but the colbur of her skin" (p. 31) that she
is never brought home for vacations, but is taken instead to visit European countries.
Despite this, Bita remains proud of her country and, in one of the first conversations
with Mrs. Craig after her arrival, she quickly disagrees when the woman criticises Jamaicans
for leaving to work on the Panama Canal:
.. the black labour [is] the best down there,"
Bita remarked pridefully." especially the Jamaicans
"Yes, but it is a pity that that Canal is swallowing
up some of our best native lads who might be better
here using their talents as preachers and teachers,"
said Mrs. Craig. (p. 35)
Bita eventually chooses a husband from neither of the two professions so vaunted by Mrs.
Craig. When she mentions the theological student Herald Newton Day as a possible
husband, Bita is non-committal.
The formal, restrained conversation between the two contrasts with Bita's visit to
the market. Belle Black, on seeing her, "exclaimed joyfully over Bita" (p. 39) and when
Bita moves through the crowded market "It gave her the sensation of a reservoir of
familiar kindred humanity into which she had descended for baptism" (p. 40). The
culture of Europe is no match for her own. "The noises of the market were sweeter
in her ears than a symphony" (p. 41). Her sensual nature gives her the impulse "to touch
and fondle a thousand times more than she wanted to buy" (p. 41).
The first sign of conflict between Bita and Mrs. Craig comes when the Minister's
wife tells her that the village dandy Hopping Dick is not a "fit person" to be seen with.
Bita wonders if she will be able to adjust to life at the Mission.
Malcolm and Priscilla Craig pursue their plans to marry Bita off to the pompous
Herald Day. Bita does try to please her adoptive parents by agreeing to marry Day but
is relieved when he disappears from the scene after an act of bestiality. Herald Day is
a cautionary character. His white-oriented education has made him superficial and in-
sensitive. He preaches "like a person who was full of self-satisfaction and, considering his
youth, on too intimate terms with God" (p. 97). He shows no regard for his race when,
having proposed to Bita, he declares: "I thought that perhaps only a white woman
could help me. One having a pure mind and lofty ideals" (p. 100). He implies that he will
accept Bita because she is trained "just like a pure-minded white lady". Day's natural
instincts have been perverted because they no longer seem acceptable in his white-oriented
sanctimonious world. His descent into bestiality is the physical manifestation of his
psychological and spiritual perversion.
Bita subsequently becomes romantically involved with the village dandy Hopping
Dick. This sparks a final argument with Priscilla Craig and Bita's departure from the
Mission to her home district Banana Bottom. Jordan Plant is proud of Bita's decision to
She had grown out of that soil, his own soil, and had
gone abroad only for polishing. Her choosing of her
own will to return there filled him with pride (p. 234).
If her visit to the market was a baptism, her participation in a revivalist meeting is a con-
firmation of her inextricable bond to her people. Bita is "mesmerized by the common
fetish spirit". McKay's description captures the strength of the ritual's attraction:
Those bodies . seemed filled with an ancient
nearly-forgotten spirit, something ancestral re-
captured in the emotional fervour, evoking in her
memories of savage rites, tribal dancing . The
scene was terrible but attracting and moving .
Magnetized by the spell of it Bita was drawn nearer
and nearer into the inner circle until with a shriek
she fell down (p. 250).
Out of this swoon Bita awakens to a new perception of Jubban, her father's dependable
drayman who had saved her from the ritual whipping at the meeting. She rejects the
"troop of suitors", arousing the anger of a light-brown suitor's relatives (p. 253). Jubban
is projected as a strong silent protector: he fights the offensive near-white Marse Arthur
when he tries to assault Bita. He knocks the symbolic planter's helmet from Arthur's
head showing himself to be, like Bita, unmoved by the power of the near-whites in his
country (pp. 265-6). Bita, momentarily disturbed by Arthur's remark that she is "Only
a nigger gal", examines her beautiful Black features in the mirror and mulls over tne in-
sult until she laughs it "to hell away" (p. 269).
McKay shows the delicate sensibility of Jubban when he chooses to silently de-
clare his love at a community tea meeting. He pays the high price required to kiss the
"queen" on her mouth:
When Bita saw Jubban appear in the . boudoir
she was all a trembling piece of excitement. Jubban
marched determinedly towards his desire, the veil
was lifted Bita gave him her mouth, and he planted
a sweet kiss in it (p. 277).
Bita is again struck by Jubban's dark attractiveness: "his skin possessed a velvety
indigo-black tone like an eggplant . among all the men .. .he was the most appealing"
(p. 279). In spite of her white-oriented education, it is Jubban's quiet blackness which
attracts Bita. In describing Jubban, McKay portrays the Black race at its best. The re-
ference to Jubban's indigo-black complexion symbolises a vanished empire. Jubban is
regal and dignified in his simplicity. It is this quiet authority which gently restrains Bita
whose strong sexuality could have jeopardised her reputation.
When she surrenders to Jubban's embrace in the dray transporting her father's
body home she feels herself "upon the threshold of a sacrament" (p. 289). There are
religious overtones to this encounter, symbolising Bita's emotional coming of age and
contrasting with her first sexual experience when she ungracefully approaches Crazy
Bow on all fours:
Her spirit was finely balanced between the delicate
sadness of death and the subdued joy of love and
over all was the glorious sensation of life triumphant
in love over death (p. 289).
On the way to her wedding, Bita's horse bolts. She "keeps her seat and her head"
(p. 302), showing the concerned men that she is in control. So is Jubban who, unlike
Hopping Dick, refuses to mix his drinks and stays sober on his wedding night.
Bita prepares good local food for Jubban and his favourite beverage, "crude cane
sugar and water with juice of bitter oranges" (p. 311). Yet she regards?words from
Pascal's Pensees as "A thought like food". McKay sees balance, not conflict in this
Her music, her reading, her thinking were the flowers
of her intelligence and [Jubban] the root in the
earth upon which she was grafted, both nourished
by the same soil (p. 313).
Michael B. Stoff comments that in Bita. McKay "succeeds in farming the aesthe-
tic solution to the Black intellectual's problem of social incongruence".6 Like Jake
and Felice, Bita and Jubban have a promising child, little Jordan, and the novel ends
with Anty Nommy exclaiming in delight at his strength "what a pickney, though! what
a pickney!" (p. 315).
Mckay is careful that Bita's rejection of the life at the Mission is not read as a
rejection of her education. It is in fact not the type of education of which Mrs. Craig's
"dear Queen Victoria" would have approved: "Now was a time of inquietude . the
times were full of ideas. Socialist and Feminist and Freethought" (p. 45). Giles observes
that although she "rejects the corruption and perversion of the Anglo-Saxon world
with the simple Black life [she] still retains what is of value in that white culture".7
Her independence of mind augurs well for her race as McKay explains through Ray in
Banjo: "there is greater material advancement among those white nations whose women
have the most freedom."8 Bita's former schoolmates who have not had the benefit of
higher education "had had children, one, two, three, some as many as five, without
the benefit of a steady male and were now heavy-footed and flabby-breasted and worried
under the weight of motherhood" (p. 51).
Bita relates well to the scholarly Englishman Squire Gensir who has made his home
in Jamaica. When Busha Glengley remarks that she has been "educated above her station",
Gensir counters with "One cannot be educated above one's station. Real education is
an intrinsic thing and not the monopoly of any class" (p. 129). McKay credits Bita's
education for her clear-sightedness in the matter of class and shade prejudice:
S. .the vision of climbing and pushing and trying to
crash the barred gates was not inspiring to her. She
had been educated to the point where she was able
to look down and see how futile and mind-racking
was such a manner of existence (p. 101).
When Bita moves permanently to Banana Bottom, she has access to the Squire's
books: "He marvelled that Bita was devouring his profoundest books . and that she
did not merely parrot intelligently" (p. 240). The legacy of his house and money to
Bita vindicates her actions; the village had been gossiping that because of Bita's way-
wardness, Priscilla Craig had previously willed her estate to the Society for the Prevention
of Cruelty to Animals.
Priscilla Craig's rigid mentality and repressed sexuality is a foil for Bita's sensual
joie de vivre. Unlike Malcolm Craig, her attitude to the local people is patronising -
the helper Rosyanna picks this up with annoyance when Mrs. Craig tries to remove
evidence that she has slept with her own husband before Rosyanna tidies his room. The
African masks in her nightmare grin and dance around her and "Patou" her retarded son
is seen among them. "Priscilla has almost realized her inner fear and hatred of blacks,
of her own sexual nature and of the bond in her subconscious between the two,"9
comments Giles. Patou is the manifestation of the grotesque and the unnatural attitude
which Priscilla bears toward sex, he explains. The willing of her estate to benefit animals
instead of human beings supports this interpretation.
Banana Bottom is graced by strong and interesting Black women. Anty Nommy
and Mother Day are comfortable, maternal figures who prepare delicious Jamaican
meals which McKay describe with mouth-watering nostalgia. Anty Nommy assists in the
"house-field-and-market work" and blames herself for becoming ill during the planting
season. She shrewdly solves the Bita-Hopping Dick problem by telling the notorious
marriage dodger that he will have to marry Bita. Priscilla Craig is horrified by the sug-
gestion until she realises that it is a ploy:
A glint of a smile warmed Malcolm Craig's grave
face and Priscilla's relaxed its rigidity as she thought
that Anty Nommy was shrewder, after all, than
she had guessed (p. 224).
Mother Day prepares "a formidable dinner" (p. 96) to honour Bita and her son
and shows pride in his accomplishments. It is for her that McKay invokes the greatest
sympathy when Herald Day disgraces himself. Bita regards her as "good old Mother
Day" and "felt she could have sacrificed herself to the marriage if that might have saved
Mother Day from the pain and shame" (pp. 180-181).
McKay uses imagery from the natural environment to emphasise the rootedness
of the characters within their community. Bita Plant's surname is symbolic and McKay
plays upon its meaning when he describes her as "one precious flowering" (p. 11) and
as being "grafted" to Jubban and "nourished by the same soil" (p. 313). Belle Black is
"tall and haughty like a black thatch" (p. 2). Rosyanna is described as "broad, dark
blue and spreading like a pruned orange tree" (p. 38). Mother Day's face beams on her
son "like polished oak . sweet with affection" (p. 96). Unlike them, Priscilla Craig
is described in hard, cold terms. She speaks "stonily" to Sister Phibby and presides
over dinner "like a piece of sculpture" (pp. 90-91). Her face turns "frigid" (p. 223)
as she listens to Anty Nommy sorting out the problem of Bita and Hopping Dick.
Priscilla's attempt to "uproot" Bita from her race and community fails because
of the strength of the community which has moulded Bita. Priscilla's dream of shaping
Bita into her own special creation becomes a nightmare because it is a joyless, insensitive
dream, geared at denying Bita's natural development and culture. Though Priscilla views
her "project" as a failure, Bita is in fact victorious. Her roots have held firm despite the
white woman's effort to shake them loose from the nurturing soil of Banana Bottom.
Unlike the isolated Priscilla Craig, the Black women are close and supportive of each
other. Bita comforts Mother Day and nurses Anty Nommy, Belle Black covers for Bita
when she trysts with Hopping Dick and Yoni Legge confides in Bita. When Bita arrives
at Banana Bottom with her father's body, "the women crowded around [her], weeping
and commiserating . (p. 290). The double wedding of Bita and Yoni with Belle Black
fully involved in the preparations cements the sisterhood. "Bita belongs to a sustaining
community," Remchand observes. . .It is because Bita belongs, and because the
community is realized as having spontaneous values of its own that we can credit her
fictional process."10 The proud Belle Black voices these values when she becomes angry
with a mulatto sales clerk in Kingston:
"In de country where ah come from you got to show
some'n' moh'n a li'l' turn colour to make class.
You got to be something, you got to hab something"
Bita has achieved both and therefore has "made class" in her Black community.
Bita Plant is unshakeably rooted: her choice to remain at Banana Botton is a quiet
triumph sung sweetly by McKay as he celebrated the coming of age of his own percep-
tion of the Black person's salvation.
"You are an African," Frank Harris told Claude McKay. "You must accomplish
things for yourself, for mankind, for literature."11It was a challenge which the writer
heartily accepted: throughout his fictional works as well as his poetry, McKay strongly
represented the Black cause. While his skill as a storyteller accentuates the realism in his
novels, it is the larger meaning which gives his message its power. Giles observes when he
examines The Harlem Dancer, "the unmistakable Black protest in this poem about
oppression is made subordinate to the individual tragedy of this one woman".12But if
the protest is unmistakable, McKay has achieved his goal. This finely drawn woman is
the embodiment of all Black people who must steel themselves to bear the pain of their
It is significant that McKay's fictional works show a progressive bias towards the
Black female character. The main female characters in Home to Harlem and Banjo are
portrayed positively but not as strongly as the male characters. In Gingertown where a
mosaic of men and women face the problems of race and culture, it is the woman who
stands out sharply in her suffering and her eventual emergence from her dilemma. Mattie
will not allow Jay to exploit her as Myra exploits Nation Roe; Rhoda is more willing to
sacrifice for her family's future than her husband Barclay; and Sue flouts the social
and religious codes of the day, winning the love of her village despite her "freeloving
There is a distinct evolution of the Black female character in Claude McKay's
fiction. Although Home to Harlem has a loose plot'in which Jake is continually searching
for Felice, she herself appears in only a few pages and one learns so little of her in the
first encounter that one is almost puzzled by his obsession to find her. The character
of Latnah in Banjo is more substantial, yet her air of mystery and undefinable age and
race make her elusive. She is the earth mother, the healer, the Amazon of the Ditch she
is larger than life. The reader is rarely allowed to enter Latnah's consciousness, thus
limiting the empathy which one feels with this character. In contrast, the depiction of
Bita, the only one of these women to be the protagonist of a McKay novel, is vivid and
strong. Her history, her actions and her feelings are clearly and sympathetically described.
For example, while Latnah's swim is seen through the eyes of a spectator she
"was a beautiful diver and shot graceful like a serpent through the water" (Banjo, p. 34)
the reader enters Bita's consciousness as she enjoys the river:
How delicious was the feeling of floating! To feel
that one can suspend oneself upon a yawning depth
and drift, drifting in perfect confidence without the
slightest intruding thought of danger (Banana Bottom,
Bita's sense of freedom contrasts with the pressure under which Latnah must live.
Latnah must cut her swim short and run for cover when she sees the Police approaching
(p. 35). Bita's full education enables her to relate to the most accomplished man in the
country. She has a close friendship with the brilliant English aristocrat Squire Gensir and
converses at length with the Doctor who attends to her Aunt. While Felice's and Latnah's
speech reveal limited formal education, Bita is equipped to articulate and realise the
thoughts and dreams of her fictional counterparts.
So it is that, by presenting a rich panoply of Black female characters in his fiction,
McKay finds the most potent way of projecting not only the triumphant, life-enhancing
and sustaining qualities of the Black woman but the valiant struggle of the Black indivi-
dual to preserve his identity in spite of the relentless pressure of Western culture. By
deliberately emphasising the negative counterpoint of the white woman, McKay under-
lines the positive qualities of the Black female.
In his three novels and the Gingertown collection of short stories, McKay presents
a prolonged and sustained symbolic statement, a journey culminating with his arrival at
Bannana Bottom, the source from which he came. It is after he has experienced what he
termed as "the great currents of life"13that he appreciates the strength and endurance of
his Jamaican roots. McKay's deep longing for his homeland is reflected in his vicarious
return to Jamaica. Like McKay, Bita has received a cosmopolitan education, has been
exposed to the highest learning and some of the finest minds of her time. Her choice to
remain in her district and marry one of her own will not carry the "eternal inquietude"
which Ray must bear. The artist comes of age in the actions of Bita even if his physical
circumstances denied him the real journey home. It is the harshness of life which he has
experienced in First World countries which makes the memory of his homeland a preciously
vivid one. Indeed, the little Jamaican district is portrayed as feminine in personality a
warm bosom into which Bita nestles and by which she is nurtured. McKay portrays the
Black women as isolated and embattled outside of his native Jamaica. Felice, Agatha,
Bess, Mattie and Rhoda are relatively alone compared to Sue and Bita whose native world
is peopled by several generations of caring relatives and friends.
In the strange white world McKay emphasises the male-female relationship while
in his native Jamaica he emphasises relationships on various levels within the community.
The Black man and woman have greater expectations of each other when they are faced
with the hostility of a system which is bent on keeping them out of the mainstream of
development. Yet the very system frustrates their relationships Bess tries to look white
because her Black man prefers "yaller" girls and Ginhead Susy pursues light-skinned
men. It is those men and women who feel a sense of security in their colour who achieve
happiness with their own kind Jake settles with Felice, Jack Newell with Bess.
In a stormy white world, McKay portrays the Black woman as a safe harbour for
her man. Jake pursues in Felice the stability of home and family. Ray finds it fleetingly
in Agatha and Latnah but his restless spirit leads him into vagabondage with Banjo.
In Jamaica the "warm group life" so vaunted by Ray produces confident and successful
men like Nat Turner, Jordan Plant and Jubban. They thrive within their communities
and are comfortable in their marriages. Their wives, Sue, Anty Nommy and Bita have
strong, positive personalities but are nonetheless warm and loving.
"There is fulfilment in every sense in the new world of Banana Bottom,"14 observes
Ramchand. Bita herself is the new territory wherein East and West can dwell together
in harmony. In this highly evolved character, Claude McKay has staged an eloquent
revolution, one which his contemporaries may have thought far-fetched but one which
has become a reality for Black women not only in today's Jamaica but throughout the
1. Kenneth Ramchand, The West Indian Novel and its Background (London, 1970); p. 248.
2. The Passion of Claude McKay. ed. Wayne Cooper (New York, 1973); p. 211.
3. A Long Way From Home (New York, 1937); p. 20.
4. James R. Giles, Claude McKay (Boston, 1976); p. 129.
5. Banana Bottom (New York, 1933); p. 2. Subsequent references to this work are by page in
6. Michael B. Stoff, "Claude McKay and the Cult of Primitivism", The Harlem Renaissance
Remembered, ed. Anna Bontemps (New York, 1972); p. 141.
7. Giles, Claude McKay, p. 98.
8. Banjo (New York, 1957); p. 206.
9. Giles, Claude McKay, p. 103.
10. Kenneth Ramchand, op. cit. p. 260.
11. A Long Way From Home (New York, 1937); p. 21.
12. James R. Giles, Claude McKay (Boston, 1976); p. 43.
13. A Long Way From Home; p. 20.
14. Kenneth Ramchand, The West Indian Novel and its Background (London, 1970); p. 259.
REWRITING THE HISTORY OF THE AFRO-CUBAN WOMAN:
NANCY MOREJON'S "BLACK WOMAN"
C. ROSE-GREEN WILLIAMS
The process of destabilization of the generic boundaries seen traditionally as separating
history (fact) from literature (fiction) is one sign of the movement away from the ten-
dency to think in binary opposites which has been a hallmark of the Western intellectual
tradition. In his 1961 essay, "The Historian and His Facts", E. H. Carr dismisses as a
"preposterous fallacy" the notion of history as a set of facts independent of the inter-
pretation of the historian.' "The facts of history", he observes, "never come to us 'pure',
since they do not and cannot exist in a pure form: they are always refracted through
the mind of the recorder."2 This view of history as interpretation corresponds to recent
theories of literature as discourse, that is, as informed and underlain by ideology rather
than as 'neutral' reproduction. Sandra Drake sees a direct relationship between Caribbean
history and Caribbean literature:
Sometimes literature does not reconstruct tradition;
it constructs its. Sometimes literature does not do
this in the light shed upon reality by history, but
rather the literature itself becomes the writing of the
history of a people, the creation of a tradition, and
a people's contemporary definition of itself. Such a
formulation seems especially appropriate in discussing
a region like the Caribbean.3
In the tradition of Spanish Caribbean poetry, the black woman has been defined
and constituted often through ahistoricist discourses especially those which stress her
ethnoracial or sexual character. Some poets, seeking to rehabilitate the black image, have
had recourse to mythification of the black woman, with the marginalization or the
distortion of history being a frequent result. There are also those poets who have used
real historical experience as the context for their portrayal of the Afro-Caribbean woman,
but who have sometimes reproduced, albeit unwittingly, those discourses which tradi-
tionally have served to legitimize racist ideology. In focusing on a recent example of a
poem about the Afro-Caribbean woman, this paper highlights the methods by which
it subverts certain established discourses in order to redefine her New World experience.
The ideological underpinnings of this counterdiscourse will also be disclosed in the
Nancy Morej'n is the leading black female poet writing in contemporary Cuba.
"Black Woman", published in 1979, is one of her most frequently anthologized poems:
I still smell the foam of the sea they made me cross.
The night, I can't remember it.
The ocean itself could not remember that.
But I can't forget the first gull I made out in the distance.
High, the clouds, like innocent eye-witnesses. 5
Perhaps I haven't forgotten my lost coast,
nor my ancestral language.
They left me here and here I've lived.
And, because I worked like an animal,
here J came to be born. 10
How many Mandiga epics did I look to for strength
His Worship bought me in a public square.
I embroidered His Worship's coat and bore him a male child.
My son had no name. 15
And His Worship died at the hands of an impeccable English lord.
This is the land where I suffered
mouth-in-the-dust and the lash.
I rode the length of all its rivers. 20
Under its sun I planted seeds, brought in the crops,
but never ate those harvests.
A slave barracks was my house,
built with stones that I hauled myself.
While I sang to the pure heat of native birds. 25
I rose up.
In this same land I touched the fresh blood
and decayed bones of many others,
brought to this land or not, the same as I.
I no longer dreamt of the road to Guinea. 30
Was it to Guinea? Benin?
To Madagascar? Or Cape Verde?
I worked on and on.
I strengthened the foundations of my millenary song and of my hope.
I left for the hills. 35
My real independence was the free slave fort
and I rode with the troops of Maceo.
Only a century later,
together with my descendants,
from a blue mountain 40
I came down from the Sierra
to put an end to capital and usurer,
to generals and to bourgeois.
Now I exist: only today do we own, do we create.
Nothing is foreign to us. 45
The land is ours.
Ours the sea and the sky,
the magic and the vision.
Compaiieros, here I see you dance
around the tree we are planting for communism 50
Its prodigal wood resounds.4
Three moments in Cuba's history provide the discursive terrain of this poem: trans-
plantation of the Negro from Africa and plantation slavery, the independence struggle
and nationalist movement, and the Castro Revolution with the attendant changes in the
social formation. History functions as both a structuring device and a theme in the poem,
which not only locates the black woman within the context of Cuban history but which
may also be read as a conscious meditation on that history. The ideological parameters
within which this vision of the Afro-Cuban woman unfolds are clearly shaped by the poet's
own historical vantage point.
Since the 1940s Caribbean historians have been engaged in a rewriting of Caribbean
history which repudiates the hitherto dominant, 'official' Eurocentric versions of that
history, and have sought thereby to encourage positive attitudes to their past in Carib-
bean people of African descent. Traditional slavery historians have depicted the institu-
tion from the slave master's world and have tended to privilege the institution over the
slave. Revisionists have broadened the focus to include the perspective of the slaves and
their experience of the institution. Vindication of the slave is also one intention of these
revisionist efforts, which have now made available to the creative writer alternate dis-
course modes and new ways of constituting the slave as a human subject. However, as
has been the case with some historical revisionists, some Spanish Caribbean poets who
have assumed ostensibly anti-slavery postures have betrayed subliminally pro-slavery
attitudes. The submissive, contented slave, for example, has been a persistent poetic
figure. It is against the background of these developments that one needs to place "Black
The revisionist perspective evident in the poem's reconstruction of the trajectory
of the black woman from Africa to the Caribbean and the process of transformation of
her African identity into that of the Creole has its own special features. Beginning with
the Middle Passage journey, the speaker de-emphasizes the often cited trauma of the
diasporic experience. She records her responses through the use of a markedly non-
emotive discourse, thus separating this poem from the tradition of sentimental anti-
slavery literature, exemplified by nineteenth century Cuban novels. "Black Woman"
does not contain any of the expressions of self-pity or any lament which might evoke
pathos or reinforce the notion of slave passivity, such as is seen in these lines by the
Cuban slave poet, Juan Francisco Manzano:
'Tis been thirty years since I came to this land;
Thirty years in mournful state
by grievous misfortune
afflicted where'er I go.5
Yet Morej6n's poem repudiates implicitly, but unequivocally, pro-slavery ideology.
The slave persona foregrounds, not her victimhood and martydom. but her strength and
indestructible capacity for survival. Subtlety, indirection and ellipsis are the means
employed to convey protest against her slave experience. The line, "I embroidered His
Worship's coat and bore him a male child" (1.14), is more powerful in its impact because
the disconnection between the act of embroidering for her master and the result of bear-
ing his child points starkly to the reality of the sexual exploitation of the black woman,
which is immanent in the history of slavery. Similarly, the discrepancy between her
instrumentality in supporting the economic system and her economic deprivation is
encapsulated in the ironic twist given by '[I] never ate those harvests" (1.22) to the
preceding "I planted seeds, brought in the crops" (1.21). These lines are, more specifi-
cally, an allusion to the Marxist view of slavery as one instance of alienated, non-creative
labour. It also connects with the final stanza of the poem, where, in the context of the
Revolution, achievement and benefit are seen to be commensurate with contribution
(11. 41-46). The persona recognizes the difficulties of her slave experience but perceives
herself as having transcended its negative psychic consequences. This is achieved through
a series of rebellions and political struggles. The beginning of her resistance is located
during the period of slavery and emblematized in the free slave fort referred to in line
36. J. L. Franco points out that these forts were for a long time the only centre of con-
tinuing opposition to the colonial regime and of protest against slavery.6
In charting the Afro-Cuban woman's historical course through the Caribbean
beyond the experience of slavery, "Black Woman" also speaks to the question of her
psychological relationship to her African origins. Edward Brathwaite has used the term
"heartland" to designate the spiritual proximity of the New World slaves to their cultural
roots,7 and Gordon Lewis treats the slave subculture, with its "emphatic africania",
as a form of protest and assertion.8 The person of Morejon's poem recognizes this African
continuity, but with apparent reluctance: "Perhaps I haven't forgotten my lost coast,/nor
my ancestral language" (11. 6-7). Here the use of 'perhaps' has the effect of diminishing
the notion of the slaves' spiritual proximity to Africa, a curious stance when one con-
siders the bold affirmations of the African connection found not only in Morejon's
compatriot Nicola's Guille'n and in French negritude poets, but also in current Caribbean
anthropological thinking. The statement also appears to minimize the inescapable reality
of African retentions in language and the African-European syncretism now accepted as
the constitutive element of many aspects of Cuban culture.
At the same time the poem rejects the interpretation of slavery as a process of in-
voluntary cultural mutilation. Thus, it collides with the view of Brathwaite, for example,
who maintains that there was some loss of crucial elements of African culture, and that
this was not voluntary but imposed by Europeanization and Christianization.9 For the
persona of "Black Woman", however, this process was a conscious act of disconnection
from a past which came to lose its relation to present circumstance: "How many Mandinga
epics did I look to for strength/I rebelled" (11. 11-12). Here, a double rebellion seems
to be suggested: against slavery and against the contemporary movement for psychological
recuperation of Africa.
The posture assumed here acquires its full meaning when placed in the context
of a broader and on-going Caribbean polemic. In the process of defining national character,
there has been considerable debate over the question of whether the Caribbean Negro
should affirm an African or a New World identity. The speaker in "Black Woman"
assumes the posture of those who emphasize "Caribbeanness'. Although the poem places
the Afro-Cuban woman's origins in Africa, it also makes an explicit effort to avoid the
putatively atavistic ethos of affirmation of an African identity. In fact, the line, "I no
longer dreamt of the road to Guinea" (1. 30), is a specific contestation of the desire for
reconnection with Africa expressed by Haitian poet, Jacques Roumain, in his poem
It's the long road to Guinea
death will lead you there ....
It's the long road to Guinea
Your fathers wait patiently there for you.1
Morejdn's protagonist not only declares her separation from this past but also demythifies
the belief in a single African homeland to which all Caribbean blacks belong or can
return when she asks. "Was it to Guinea? Benin?/To Madagascar? Or Cape Verde?"
(11. 31-32). By citing the geographical and, inferentially, cultural distinctions among
African peoples, she seems to undercut the the ethnogenetic thrust of black nationalism
which underplays ethnic and cultural differences in order to foment black unity.
But while the poem seems to eschew the ideology of black nationalism, it contains,
on the other hand, a strong affirmation of the black women's Cuban nationalism, born
A slave barracks was my house,
built with stones that I hauled myself.
While I sang to the pure beat of native birds.
This is a view endorsed by Carlos Moore, a black revisionist of Cuban history, who
attributes the first manifestation of nationalist consciousness in Cuba to the black slaves:
this process of "Cubanization" on the part of the black
slaves, taking place in the midst of the harshest con-
ditions imposed by slavery, did not involve the
Spaniards in any way; in other words, the blacks
were becoming Afro-Cubans whereas the whites were
The Afro-Cuban woman's relation to the independence struggles of the nineteenth
century is condensed in the line "and I rode with the troops of Maceo" (1. 37). Such an
explicit alignment with the Afro-Cuban leader can be read as a rejection of that version
of history which has lionized certain members of the nineteenth century white racist
intelligentsia as the founding fathers of Cuban independence. It is an identification,
however, based not merely on race but also on ideology, since Antonio Maceo was part
of that group of leaders who countered the ideology of white supremacy by espousing
the idea of Cuba as a pluralist society in which national patriotism should take prece-
dence over ethnic identity.
With the intensification of Caribbean nationalist movements in the 1920s and
after, some negrista poets (especially in Puerto Rico) saw the mulatto woman as the
natural icon of Creole identity, epitomizing, as she does, the racial and cultural conjoin-
ing of Africa and Europe. Through the depiction of the black woman in her poem,
Morejdn offers an alternative Creole image, defined less by race or cultural identity and
more by the firmness of her Cuban roots and commitment. In the light of this comment,
the predominance of verbs which signify work and effort ("I worked", "I embroidered",
"I planted seeds, brought in the crops", "I hauled", "I worked on and on") constitutes
a vindication of her claim. The use of these verbs suggests an attitude of defiance in the
speaker who now lays claim to a central place in the social order, based on the con-
sistency of her past investment of labour in both economic and political life. It is a
strategy which therefore gives legitimacy to her challenge to both those who, by per-
petuating the system of colonial domination, sought to condemn her to a marginal
social position, and those who, by stressing her African origins, underestimate or fail
to recognize this right. This spirit of vindication is also displayed by Carlos Moore, with
the significant difference that his criticism of the continuation of anti-black racism under
the Castro regime contradicts the intimations in Morejdn's poem that the regime has
eliminated that problem.12
Such a view of the Afro-Cuban woman as primarily a social actor is also under-
lain by a distinct feminist consciousness. Morejo'n's protagonist rebels against dominant
male-created images of the Afro-Caribbean woman found in literary and other discourse
genres. Autobiographical identification is suggested by the use of the first person mode,
but the female voice chosen by Morejdn pretends to speak for all Cuban black women
and to embrace their communal history.
Both literary and historical accounts have tended to omit or underplay the political
role of black women in Cuban history. Carlos Moore has been engaged in one of the most
spirited campaigns to debunk the white version of Cuban history, but his is a project
which involves the use of mainly black male examples to destroy the canon of white
founding fathers. Morejon's poem also participates in a similar revisionist enterprise,
but in a manner that counters the "great Man" theory of history. She focuses instead
on the political involvement of the anonymous Afro-Cuban woman, which is generally
overlooked in the male heroic tradition. The speaker in "Black Woman" insists on creat-
ing a view of herself as undertaking various struggles for political liberation. And there is
evidence that early in the first war of independence freedwomen chose to make their
contribution through military service rather than through field work,13 and that black
peasant women, such as Mariana Grajales, also took part in later stages of the struggle.14
The issue of female agency is incorporated into this poem's discourse through
the semantic nuances in the verb forms. In the first two stanzas the third person con-
struction of "they made me cross" and "they left me here" conveys the notion of the
black woman's involuntary transplantation from Africa. And the counterposed phrase,
"and here I've lived", emphasizes her subsequent adjustment to life in Cuba. Yet this
adjustment is not a sign of passivity. All her subsequent responses, indicated by first person
active verbs, are represented as conscious acts of accommodation or resistance. This view
of the Afro-Cuban woman as historical agent is extended to her relation to the Revolu-
tion, where she is seen, not as a mere beneficiary of a struggle waged by others, but as
an active participant in the creation of a new economic, political and social order:
I came down from the Sierra.
to put an end to capital and usurer,
to generals and to bourgeois.
Both the revisionist impulse and the feminist consciousness are, however, sub-
ordinated to the poem's dominant imperative: Revolutionary ideology. Many poets
writing in contemporary Cuba are committed to the socialist government and frequently
use their work to reaffirm its ideology. Even those who may not be seen as actively pro-
moting socialist theory tend to avoid statements which could be interpreted as counter-
"Black Woman" provides a good illustration of the ideological possibilities and
constraints confronting the Cuban artist who writes from the official socialist position.
It is this ideology which not only colours the persona's historical vision but which admits
certain discourses and disallows others. In this regard, one is reminded of Castro's 1961
speech, "Words to the intellectuals", in which he issued the now famous injunction,
"Within the Revolution, everything; against the Revolution, no rights at all."' 5 It is
obviously this idea which has set the conceptual parameters within which a poem such
as "Black Woman" is written, and which accounts for the dialectic of transgression and
orthodoxy which it exemplifies.
On the one hand Morejdn has chosen the path of departure from certain earlier
discourses and she has opened a new terrain for the elaboration of the image of the
Afro-Cuban woman. This woman has been moved from the margin to the centre of
Cuban history. She is projected as a social and political actor rather than as a mere
victim. The erstwhile voiceless, she is here given a voice, thus displacing the male view in
which she has traditionally been constituted as the Other. But the confinement of this
transgression within the boundaries of revolutionary teaching will be a source of disquiet
for many a Caribbean reader. For one is left with the impression that while nationalist
sentiments are considered politically legitimate certain racial sentiments are not. But
focusing on the Afro-Cuban woman's adaptation to her new situation, Morejon reflects
the desire to show another side of her displacement from Africa. But this is realized
at the cost of some distortion of history. The de-emphasizing of her links with the
Africans past and of her racial and cultural specificity would tend to imply acquiescence
with the Cuban Communist Party's alleged discouragement of "separatist" ideologies
and "anti-social" practices, such as Afro-Cuban religious cults. In fact, the underlying
assumption of the poem does not seem incompatible with the belief expressed by Che
Guevara in 1963, that black people in Cuba need to study Marxism-Leninism, not African
history."6 A view which competes with this position is offered by Carlos Moore, an Afro-
Cuban who is not favoured by the Castro regime and who recognizes the ethnocidal
potential (intention?) of such statements. 7
It is also clear that the will to use the black woman in this instance as the spokes-
person for pro-revolutionary ideology is what leads to the poem's unquestioning accept-
ance of the assumption of the Castro regime that the problems of Cuban blacks have
been resolved in the new social order. In "Black Woman" the speaker views the Revo-
lution as the absolute panacea: it is the means through which she has finally attained an
identity "Now I exist" -an identity which, it is implied, is socially and politically
constituted, without specific regard to race; it is not only the remedy for her earlier
material deprivation, but also the source of liberation of her creative energies "only
today do we own, do we create" (1. 44). In this instance the use of the verb 'create'
is very pointed, for it alludes to the Marxist ideal of non-alienated (creative) labour,
achievable under socialism. And so, according to this writing of Cuban history, the Re-
volution marks both the culmination and the successful conclusion of the struggles of
the black woman. The equality claimed or implied by the reference to other "heirs"
of the revolution as "companeros" (1.49) further serves to disseminate the myth that the
end of the class struggle is simultaneous with the end of racial discrimination.'8 In their
assessment of the achievements of the revolution, other black writers have protested
against the perpetuation of anti-black racism in many areas of Cuban life.1 9 In her poem,
however, Morej6n has, in effect, suggested the Afro-Cuban woman's complicity with
the writers of the "official" version of her history.
This poem and the critical scrutiny to which it has been submitted illustrate the
dynamic and dialogic nature of the field of discourse.20 "Black Woman" must be read
as a subversion of an established historical discourse but, to the extent that it seeks to
impose the revolutionary interpretation of history, it becomes itself susceptible to sub-
versive critical readings.
1. E. H. Carr, What is History? (Great Britain: Penguin Books, 1964), 12.
2. Carr, p. 22.
3. Sandra Drake, "The Uses of History in the Caribbean Novel." Diss. Stanford University 1979,
4. Nancy Morejon, Where the Island Sleeps Like A Wing, trans. Kathleen Weaver (San Francisco:
Black Scholar Press, 1985) 87-89.
5. Ramdn Guirao, Orbita de la poesia afrocubana 1928-1937, 1938; rpt. Nendeln, Germany:
Kraus, 1970), p. 307. (my translation).
6. J. L. Franco, La presencia negra en el nuevo mundo (Havana: Casa de las Americas, 1968), 96.
7. Edward Brathwaite, "The African Presence in Caribbean Literature," in Slavery, Colonialism,
and Racism, ed. Sidney W. Mintz (New York: W. W. Norton and Co.. 1974), 81.
8. Gordon K. Lewis, Main Currents in Caribbean Thought (The Johns Hopkins University Press,
9. Brathwaite, p. 75.
10. Jacques Roumain, La montagne ensorcel6e (Paris: Les Editeurs Franpais Re'unis, 1972), 253.
11. Carlos Moore, "Cuba: The untold Story," Presence Africaine, (English ed.), Vol. 24, No. 52
(1964), p. 182.
12. Moore, op. cit.
13. Rebecca Scott, Slave Emancipation in Cuba (Princeton University Press, 1985), 49-50.
14. Vilma Espin, "The Early Years," in Women and the Cuban Revolution, ed. Elizabeth Stone
(New York: Pathfinder Press, 1981), 35.
15. Quoted by G. R. Coulthard, "The Situation of the Writer in Contemporary Cuba," Caribbean
Studies, 7 (April 1967), p. 27.
16. Moore, p. 218.
17. Carlos Moore, "Congo or Carabali? Race Relations in Socialist Cuba," Caribbean Review, Vol.
15, No. 2 (1986), pp. 12-15.
18. This stance is maintained, for example, by Cuba's national poet, Nicolas Guillen, in an inter-
view with Jaime Sarusky, Recopilacidn de textos sobre Nicolas Guillen, ed. Nancy Morejdn
(Havana: Casa de las Amdricas, 1974) pp. 44-45.
19. See, for example, John Clytus, Black Man in Red Cuba (Coral Gables: University of Miami
20. According to M. Bakhtin, "A word discourse, language or culture undergoes 'dialogization'
when it becomes relativized, de-privileged, aware of competing definitions for the same things.
Undialogized language is authoritative or absolute." M. M. Bakhtin, The Dialogic Imagination,
trans. Caryl Emerson and M. Holquist, ed. M. Holquist (University of Texas Press, 1981), 427.
WOMAN AS STORYTELLER IN WIDE SARGASSO SEA
VALERIE P. ROPER
'Is there another side ?' "I said.
'There is always the other side, always.'
'It isn't as it seems to be.' (p. 148)
Through woman as storyteller, in Wide Sargasso Sea, Jean Rhys gives the other side, the
West Indian side, to Bertha Mason's life in England. Jean Rhys was concerned that in
Charlotte Br6nte's novel, Bertha was dismissed as insane without any information being
given about her past that could explain her insanity except the assumption of heredity.
With Wide Sargasso Sea, Rhys fills in Bertha's past in the West Indies by novelizing
in Antoinette Cosway's life the story of Bertha's childhood, early adulthood and marriage,
to show the circumstances that led up to her incarceration in an attic in Thornfield Hall.
Antoinette Cosway, then, is Bertha Mason Rochester's West Indian self before her en-
counter with, and the control of her life by, the English, portrayed by her stepfather, Mr
Mason, Richard Mason his son, and her husband. Father, son and husband, represent
successive stages in an all mighty male power in her life.
As Antoinette sits imprisoned in her room isolated from everyone except Grace
Poole, the woman who takes care of her, she is conscious in her lucid moments that some-
thing went wrong with her life. In her effort to find out what happened her mind reaches
back into the past. She finds too that she is better able to concentrate after she has tasted
the drink (gin?) that Grace kept in her room.
When she is snoring 1 get up and have tasted the drink
without colour . When I get back into bed I could
remember more and think again (p. 147).
Antoinette finds that she is able to have a coherent review of her past with the help of
strong drink. What she had buried in her subconscious could surface because there is no
Antoinette's storytelling takes place on the level of consciousness. Through her con-
sciousness she retraces with brutal honesty her psychological journey from isolation to
disintegration. She concentrates on her childhood experiences which reveal her futile
search for love and understanding and the stages of her rejection, alienation and disinte-
gration. As scenes unroll in her consciousness, Antoinette reviews them with care for she
is in search of an explanation for her condition and her imprisonment.
Mother and Childhood
Antoinette's earliest recollections are of her life on her father's Coulibri Estate in
Jamaica where she lived with her mother, her crippled brother Pierre, and two black ser-
vants, Christophine and Godfrey. Her story begins at the point where she becomes aware
of some drastic changes in the society which directly affect her family. She realizes there
was trouble but she had only a vague idea of its cause. Of one thing she was certain: her
mother was caught up in whatever it was.
They say when trouble comes close ranks, and so the
white people did. But we were not in their ranks. The
Jamaican ladies had never approved of my mother
Antoinette's mother is central to her story. She understands the changes around her main-
ly through their effect on her mother, and her family's isolation from the creole society.
She noticed that "so few people came to us" (p. 15), and after her mother's only friend,
Mr. Luttrell, killed himself "no one came near us" (p. 15).
In revealing the society's withdrawal from her family, Antoinette explains that this
situation did not affect her personally at first, "I got used to a solitary life", but she
makes reference to its effect on her mother:
.my mother still planned and hoped perhaps she
had to hope every time she passed a looking glass ...
She was young. How could she not try for all the
things that had gone so suddenly, so without warning
Her comments reveal an awareness of her mother's problem which eventually leads to a
better understanding of her own.
Antoinette remembers her natural curiosity about the changes in their lives and
how she questioned her mother about the past. She recalls Annette's reluctance to tell
her anything. "Why do you pester and bother me about all these things that happened
long ago?" (p. 18). Antoinette sees that she was unable to understand or gain a sense of
belonging to a past which Annette had shut away from her. She realizes that, being de-
nied any knowledge of the past, she was deprived of an important part of her heritage and
identity and that her rejection and alienation had their roots in the past that was closed
Another feature of the changes that Antoinette remembers was the black people's
increasing hostility towards her mother as their economic situation worsened and her
mother persisted in observing the European values of the plantation life in a post-slavery
She still rode about every morning not caring that the
black people stood about in groups to jeer at her,
especially after her riding clothes grew shabby .
Antoinette records that the negroes' hostility led to their sabotaging of this privilege. They
poisoned her mother's horse and so cut off her communication with the white people.
This was the negroes' attempt to force Annette to face the reality of her poverty. Antoi-
nette hears Godfrey voicing the negroes' attitude. "When the old time go, let it go. No use
to grab at it" (p. 16).
In describing Annette's response to her isolation from the creole and to the negroes'
aggression, Antoinette gains some information about her own life. She notes Annette's
inability to cope with the changes brought about by emancipation because of the contra-
dictions in her situation. She sees her mother's changing reaction to her and to the diffi-
culties she faced. She becomes aware of Annette's ironic situation. She possessed the
values of the European society but was without the economic resources to realize what
these values required in the development of her physical resources of beauty and proper-
ty. Her poverty, a condition she was now experiencing in common with the negroes, made
her prey to the negroes' long suppressed hatred of the creole who were once protected
from aggression by the status money had given them.
Antoinette at this point in her re-experiencing remembers that the hostility of the
two classes and their rejection of her family was reflected in the landscape which was
once in the control of the whites and developed by negro slave labour. Because of neglect
it took on a threatening eerie quality.
Our garden was large and beautiful ... But it had
gone wild. The paths were overgrown and a smell of
dead flowers mixed with living smell. Underneath the
tree ferns, tall as forest trees, the light was green ...
Coulibri Estate had gone wild .. (pp. 16-17).
She feels the landscape conspiring with the other forces to isolate them and increase their
As Antoinette describes the physical changes she reveals her own reaction to them.
"This never saddened me. I did not remember the place when it was prosperous" (p. 17).
This comment implies that she begins to be aware that her own problem was not caused
directly by these physical changes but by a more intimate source, her mother's rejection
of her because of her own experiences. She reveals that at this stage, when she needed it
most, she lacked the love and nurturing from her mother that would give her the sense
of security with which to face the problems and challenges of her own time. Antoinette
understands that her mother is faced with great problems although she does not know
their nature. Her attempts to communicate to her mother her intuitive understanding of
her plight were met with cold rebuff.
But she pushed me away, not roughly, but calmly,
coldly . as if she had decided once and for all that
I was useless to her (p. 17).
Antoinette remembers that in addition to her lack of economic, cultural and psychologi-
cal resources she was given her independence though only a child. Her mother felt she
"was old enough to look after [herself]" (p. 17) and this added to her problems.
She had the potential of youth but her innate psychic powers were not yet nurtur-
ed and fostered; therefore she was unable to take on the responsibilities of independence
to explore and exploit her potential for development. Besides, independence for her did
not mean freedom. Pressure from the older negro and white societies prevented her
expression of self.
Antoinette in her review reveals her mother's inability to meet her psychic need as
a defect in Annette's own development. She depended on values which were imcompati-
ble with her present situation. Antoinette does not blame her mother for her values nor
her negative attitudes toward her; instead she remembers trying to offer her love and
understanding but Annette was unable to respond to this childlike affection. She with-
draws from Antoinette. "Oh, let me alone," she would say, "let me alone" (p. 17).
Antoinette realizes that Annette's rejection of her initiated her own withdrawal
which she voices.
Once I would have gone back to watch her asleep on
the blue sofa once I made excuses to be near her
when she brushed her hair, a soft black cloak to cover
me, hide me, keep me safe.
But not any longer. Not any more (p. 19).
She sees herself resigned to her situation.
In revealing her mother's experiences, Antoinette not only compares her own with
her mother's but sets up contrasts between them,
She was so lonely that she grew away from other
people . It happened to me, but it was easier for
me because I had hardly remembered anything else.
For her it was strange and frightening (p. 107).
Through her reviewing of her mother's life Antoinette reveals an earlier stage of the creole
woman's disintegration. At the same time, her own increased perceptiveness and sensitivi-
ty to her cultural environment are seen as a stage beyond her mother's own understand-
ing. This understanding heightened the conflict within her.
Antoinette sees, as she re-experiences her past, that her personal need for love,
understanding and nurture drives her to Christophine who was her nurse. She sought
refuge in Christophine's company to compensate for her mother's rejection.
"I spent most of the time in the kitchen which was an
out-building some way off. Christophine slept in the
little room next to it" (p. 17).
Antoinette recalls that Christophine became her surrogate mother. She nourished Antoi-
nette's cultural development. Through her songs, stories and the food she prepared, Chris-
tophine provided her with a psychic rather than an economic development but this creat-
ed further problems for her with the negroes.
Antoinette realizes that this attempt at establishing contact with her cultural envi-
ronment came under attack from the young emerging black society outside her home. It
rejected her complexity. It saw only the negative and contradictory aspects of her colour
and poverty. She recalls her experience of a young black girl's open hostility and rejec-
One day a little girl followed me singing. 'Go away,
white cockroach, go away, go away.' I walked fast
but she walked faster. 'White cockroach, go away, go
away. Nobody want you. Go away' (p. 20).
Antoinette registered her shocked response to this attack of instinctive hatred which she
felt but could not understand.
When I was safety home I sat close to the old wall at
the end of the garden. It was covered with green moss
as soft as velvet and I never wanted to move again.
Everything would be worse if I moved. Christophine
found me there when it was nearly dark, and I was
so stiff she had to help me get up (p. 20).
With this incident Antoinette shared her mother's experience of the negroes' hostility and
understood why she withdrew into herself.
After this experience Antoinette records Christophine's efforts to bridge the gap
between her and the young emerging black society. She remembers being introduced to
Tia, a negro girl about her own age. Tia exposed and shared aspects of her culture with
her but despite the efforts she makes to become like Tia there is no real integration be-
tween them. They meet on neutral ground. There is no overlapping of interests, although
their paths lead them towards the river which is a symbol of consciousness.
I met her nearly every morning at the turn of the
road to the river . Late or early we parted at the
turn of the road.
Their paths always meet to diverge.
During her association with Tia, Antoinette noted her mother's lack of interest in
her activities, "My mother never asked me where I had been or what I had done" (p. 20).
Her mother's interest for her and Christophine's diverged. Thus, Antoinette sees that the
two important aspects of her cultural and feminine qualities represented by these two
women were unable to unite within her to create her real self. This failure to integrate the
creole and the negro qualities is reflected in the breakdown in Antoinette's and Tia's
Antoinette recollected that Tia forced her to make a definite choice, to identify
with her poverty and not with her colour. Tia challenged her to a change in conscious-
ness symbolized by a somersault in the river, but she was unable to accomplish it proper-
ly. Tia followed up this challenge by cheating Antoinette of her coins, and then ridiculed
She hear all we-poor like beggar. We ate salt fish no
money for fresh fish. That old house so leaky, you
run with calabash to catch water when it rain . .
Real white people they got gold money. They didn't
look at us. . Old time white people nothing but
white nigger now black nigger better than white
nigger (p. 21).
after which she took away Antoinette's clean dress leaving her dirty one for her. With
these actions, Tia symbolically deprived her of her creole status, forcing her to come to
terms with the negroes' assessment of her.
Through Tia's attitude Antoinette sees herself as an object of ridicule. She is forced
to realize that money was at the root of her problem of identity with each class. She sees
that she was bound to one class by colour and to the other by culture but was isolated
from one and rejected by the other because of poverty. This situation was most ironic as
Antoinette was seeking love and understanding. She had no interest in money unlike her
mother who had come directly out of this economic system.
As Antoinette looks back she realizes that it was her experiences with Tia which
resulted in a confrontation between Annette and Christophine and was the catalyst for
drastic changes in her life. When she appeared in Tia's dirty dress Christophine criticised
her upbringing. She "told [Annette] loudly that it is shameful. She run wild, she grew up
worthless. And nobody care" (p. 22).
This point in Antoinette's life is very significant. She sees herself registering bewil-
derment at the conflicting attitudes of each class towards her efforts to accommodate
them. She finds it impossible to integrate them within herself and be acceptable to any,
for the nearer she gets to one the farther she is from the other. She sensed that she could
not be whole without both of them, but each rejected the other in her. She reveals that
this division disoriented her, but ironically increased her sensitivity to intrusion from an
outside source. Antoinette becomes conscious of her first intimation of the threat of in-
vasion from outside when she encountered her mother's new friends, the Luttrells, after
the confrontation with Tia.
Her premonition of danger is echoed by Christophine. "Trouble walk in this house
today. Trouble walk in" (p. 22). Her instinctive fear is reflected in and recorded by her
first of three dreams.
S. I was walking in a forest. Not alone. Someone
who hated me was with me, out of sight (p. 23).
Antoinette's dream provides a warning of danger which she knows she is powerless to
avert. Knowing that she was without cultural or racial resources Antoinette convinced
herself that her physical resources, her familiar surroundings and the landscape, would
provide refuge from that great threat and a barrier against invasion.
I am safe. There is the corner of the bedroom door
and the friendly furniture. There is the tree of life in
the garden and the wall green with moss. The barrier
of the cliffs and the high mountains. And the barrier
of the sea. I am safe. I am safe from strangers (p. 23).
Although she hopes for safety from intrusion Antoinette is forced to acknowledge that
things had already gone beyond the point of no return. It would change and go on chang-
ing" (p. 23) within herself and around her.
Antoinette sees that a combination of circumstances set in motion by the unex-
plained past caused drastic changes in her life. She realized that her appearance before her
mother's English friends in Tia's dress, and Christophine's criticism of Annette's attitude
aroused Annette from her inertia. Her mother began to plan and make frantic efforts to
counter the negroes' influence on her. She re-established contact with the outside world,
the white people, through the Luttrells. Antoinette later describes this important point in
her life to her husband, and blames herself for what happened to her mother and herself,
... there was that day when she saw I was growing up
like a white nigger and she was ashamed of me. It was
after that day that everything changed. Yes, it was
my fault . that she started to plan and work in a
frenzy, in a fever to change our lives (p. 109).
Antoinette sees this ironic situation as the first step towards a definite loss of the identity
for which she was reaching. She sees herself in an instinctive effort of self-preservation
taking refuge in the landscape which though hostile and indifferent was constant.
I went to parts of Coulibri that I had not seen, ...
And if the razor grass cut my leg I would think. 'Its
better than people' black ants or red. .., rain that
soaked me to the skin once I saw a snake. All
better than people. Better, better, better than people
She could have a kind of contact with it, which she could not have with people. In her
extreme loneliness she "loved it because there was nothing else to love" (p. 107).
Antoinette realizes that her constant struggle to get to know and preserve her com-
plex identity was further threatened when her mother marries Mr Mason in order to pro-
vide them with economic security. In a tone of stolid acceptance Antoinette mentions
this marriage. She sees the search for her real self frustrated by Mr Mason's presence and
his condescending, paternalistic attitude. His inability to comprehend Antoinette's and
her mother's intuitive understanding of the negro, and to acknowledge that aspect of
their personality, created a barrier between them and further alienated her from the ne-
Antoinette records this difference in understanding and Mr Mason's underestima-
tion of the negroes' potential for good or evil and his assumption about them. When
Annette tells him of the negroes' hatred for her he replies,
'They are curious. It's natural enough . You ima-
gine enmity which doesn't exist (pp. 27-28).
This statement revealed to Antoinette Mr Mason's total lack of sensibility to the negroes'
Antoinette remembers that she shared her mother's understanding of the negroes
and her frustration with Mr Mason's misunderstanding of them. She recalls, too, that Mr
Mason presence aggravated the negroes' hostility. She is convinced that,
In some ways it was better before he came though
he'd rescued us from poverty and misery . The
black people did not hate us so much when we were
poor (p. 29).
Antoinette also sees the futility of trying to get her stepfather, "so sure of himself, so
without a doubt English" (p. 30), to understand their position as he is locked into his
insensitive and preconceived ideas about the negroes.
my mother knows but she can't make him believe
it. I wish I could tell him that out here it is not like
the English people think it is. I wish . (p. 29).
What Antoinette sees compounding their problem was that Mr Mason's intentions were
good despite his lack of understanding, but that condition made his domination of their
lives less obvious and more insidious.
A further development which Antoinette saw complicating their problem, cut off
from the negroes as they were then, was that she felt drawn to the English life and cul-
ture, though she instinctively distrusted its influence and sensed that it was wrong for her.
We ate English food now . I was glad to be an
English girl but I missed the taste of Christophine's
cooking (p. 30).
She tried to convince herself at this point that economic security was as important as
There are more ways than one of being happy, better
perhaps to be peaceful and contented and protected,
as I feel now peaceful for years and liked him" (p. 31).
Antoinette even finds herself agreeing with Mr Mason against her mother about leaving
Coulibri, "for once I agreed with my stepfather. That was not possible" (p. 27). When she
saw the change in her mother that the marriage brought, "for the first time I was grateful
and liked him" (p. 31).
In the reviewing of her life, Antoinette sees that in her mother's efforts to provide
economic security she traded psychological independence; also that their problem was
compounded by Mr Mason's lack of understanding which increased the negroes' hostility
and caused them to set fire to Coulibri. The destruction resulted in a loss of place and
identity, which caused psychological disorientation for both her mother and herself. With
the loss of Coulibri Antoinette sees herself losing everything with which she could iden-
tify. She made one last desperate effort to re-establish contact with her cultural back-
ground through Tia, to preserve something of the self she knew.
I saw Tia . and I ran to her, for she was all that I
had left of my life as it had been. . As I ran, I
thought, I will live with Tia and I will be like her. Not
to leave Coulibri. Not to go. Not. When I was close I
saw the jagged stone in her hand (p. 38).
Tia's violent rejection of her resulted in Antoinette's initial disorientation and her being
trapped in the English male society, unable to realize the self she yearned to be. "It was
as if I saw myself. Like in a looking-glass" (p. 38). That self was out of reach. She was cut
off from it by an invisible but very solid barrier.
Antoinette is seeing as she re-experiences her past life that no one thing led to her
disorientation, incarceration and disintegration. An accumulation of circumstances, set in
motion by the past that was closed to her, had frustrated her efforts to gain self-know-
ledge and resulted in the lack of control of her own life. The loss of Coulibri which also
caused the loss of her son, Annette's hope of her being restored to her former status,
resulted in her mother's disorientation on a much greater scale than hers at the time.
Antoinette was young but she was left without a place, minus part of her cultural
identity and fast losing her personal creole identity. She sees herself becoming more dis-
oriented because of fear and regarded by the negroes as insane. "Look the crazy girl, you
crazy like you mother" (p. 41). She was also exposed to the similar threat of illegal sexual
exploitation, as her mother was after she became disoriented; a negro boy, a travesty of
the English, threatens, "One day I catch you alone, you wait, one day I catch you alone"
Antoinette sees herself taking refuge from the assumptions, threats and persecution
of the negroes in a convent. In this cloistered world she is exposed to European religious
values in a creole English environment and is still under Mr Mason's control. She is
accepted at the convent as Antoinette Mason, which signifies a loss of her creole identity.
In the convent she escaped from the harsh realities of life in the outside world but this
security was short-lived. Mr Mason hinted at her marriage to an English man. Her reaction
to this further invasion of her life and further loss of creole identity is expressed in her
second dream which prefigures her marriage and her imprisonment. Her mother is mixed
up in this dream.
I saw her in a mended habit riding a borrowed horse,
trying to wave at the head of the cobblestoned road
at Coulibri (p. 51).
This dream took her mind back to her mother's efforts to restore their creole status and
the disastrous consequences of that reinstatement for both of them.
Antoinette sees her life, then, becoming a repetition of her mother's. She was inca-
pable of taking control of it because she had no inner resources. She was not only aware
of the similarities in their situation but realized that her own experience was a further
stage in the deterioration of the creole woman, just as her mother's experience was a
stage beyond Aunt Cora's.
This shadowing of her life by her mother's and Aunt Cora's reveals the creole
woman in a peculiar situation. Antoinette's story reveals that, whatever her circumstances,
this woman ends up trapped, the victim in a male-dominated society. In the lives of her
Aunt Cora, another creole woman who sought economic security by marriage to an
English man, her mother and herself, Antoinette reveals stages in what appeared to be a
process of increased economic independence but which in reality was an increasing econo-
mic dependence and a tightening of control. This situation was especially tragic and ironic
as these women's lives also reveal stages in the growth of woman's psychological aware-
ness. This economic control conflicted with psychological awareness and resulted in great-
Antoinette's direct consciousness reveals her childhood experiences but little about
her marriage. This part of her story is seen within her husband's consciousness. In her
husband's consciousness Antoinette continues her storytelling as character. She sees her-
self making an effort to initiate her husband into the West Indian culture through a ritua-
listic pattern of eating, drinking and bathing, similar to her own initiation into the negro
society by Tia and into the religious creole society at the convent.
Antoinette emerges as narrating consciousness within her husband's consciousness.
As consciousness, she registers his rejection of her and her visit to Christophine to ask her
help to restore his love. In this part, also, her consciousness admits the part she plays in
her own entrapment. She did not follow her own intuition, "I'm afraid of what may hap-
pen" (p. 66), and Aunt Cora's advice not to marry. Although she had misgivings she did
not put up a strong resistance to Richard's effort to marry her off to an English man, for
the situation had some appeal for her despite her doubts. She remembers that, when her
husband suddenly rejected her, she appealed to Christophine for some magic potion, for
she remembered the part the white people assumed Christophine played in her mother's
Antoinette sees that, ignorant of the real reason for her husband's rejection, she did
not seek to find out what it was. She was also afraid of independence and made excuses
not to leave her husband. Her fears and excuses along with her wish to go to England
prevented her from taking a decisive step to grasp independence when Christophine
advises her to "Pack up and go" (p. 90). She remembers that, when she refused to leave
her husband, Christophine suggested that she tell her husband the truth about her mother.
Have spunks and do battle for yourself. Speak to
your husband calm and cool, tell him about your
mother and all that happened at Coulibri and when
she get sick and what they do to her (p. 96).
Antoinette is aware that Christophine understood her husband's problem, and his wish
to know the truth about her. "How can one discover truth I thought... No one will tell
me the truth" (p. 86). His consciousness within hers reveals that the stories he hears con-
firm his suspicions and assumptions about her and increase his feeling of being betrayed
into a marriage with an insane woman. Christophine's remarks confirm the source of this
Plenty people fasten bad words on you and on your
mother. I know it. I know who is talking and what
they say. The man not a bad man, even if he love
money, but he hear so many stories he don't know
what to believe. That is why he keep away (p. 94).
As character Antoinette follows Christophine's advice to tell her husband the truth about
her mother to counter Daniel's version of it which he had readily accepted. Daniel who
claimed to be her half-brother had written to Antoinette's husband giving his version of
her family's insanity. Daniel's letter confirmed her husband's suspicions about her and
Antoinette now sees that her behaviour in her response to Amelia's provocation, immedi-
ately after he read the letter, strengthened these suspicions.
She . sat on the bed and with clenched teeth, pul-
led at the sheet . She took a pair of scissors from
the round table, cut through the hem and tore the
sheets in half, then each half into strips (p. 84).
Antoinette also saw that her fear of independence and her disorientation prevented her
from following up on her husband's suggestion. After he heard her story he tells her:
I want to do the best for both of us .. So much of
what you tell me is so strange, different from what I
was led to expect. Don't you think that Christophine
may be right? That if you went away from this place
.. for a time, it might be the wisest thing we could
do? (p. 112).
She realizes that fear robbed her of the opportunity to take positive action for them to
come to a mutual decision, Her dependence on a mystical solution prevented them from
experiencing a dramatic psychological change. In her desperate need for love she wanted
an overnight solution to her problem.
Antoinette sees that her anxiety for immediate action, her lack of vision to encour-
age a gradual building up of relationship based on a mutual understanding of truth, des-
troyed for ever the frail chance of nurturing their relationship into genuine partnership.
She sees her husband become resentful, vindictive and disoriented. She became his victim,
a target for his mixed up feelings. She sees the contradictory aspect of their continuing
relationship. He is rich because he has married her. He does not love her but she awakens
some need in him and so he will not let her go. She presented a new aspect of woman that
he finds stimulating. He senses that within her had been the secret to a new development
within him that both of them had destroyed. "She left me thirsty and all my life would
be thirst and longing for what I had lost before I found it" (p. 141). He blames Antoi-
nette for the loss of opportunity for their development, "She need not have done what
she did to me. I will always swear that, she need not have done it" (p. 113), and because
of that will not let her go.
Antoinette realizes that her withdrawal pushed him beyond rational thinking and
reasoning. He seeks only to keep what legally belongs to him Antoinette and her
money. Antoinette sees at that stage that she had given up trying. She was filled with a
corresponding hatred for her husband. As her actions robbed him of a chance of knowing
her, his retaliative action, his sexual relationship with Amelia not only robbed her of
place by destroying the sanctity of Granbois but also the sanctity of her marriage. She
was humiliated by the most ingenious of weapons another woman. "Do you know
what you have done to me? . I loved this place and now you have made it a place I
hate" (p. 121). And as if that were not enough he deprived her of the last shred of her
real identity by calling her Bertha, to which she responded:
Bertha is not my name. You are trying to make me
into someone else, calling me by another name
After this, Antoinette sees herself giving up the struggle for the preservation of her iden-
tity. She succumbs to the assumption of her husband and the society for she sees her
fight as ineffectual.
Antoinette's review of her story makes plain to her that the trouble was not only
because of her mother's rejection of her or the hostility of the negroes, nor even her hus-
band's rejection. The trouble was also within her. Her complex personality and acute cul-
tural sensibility made her different, confused and isolated. She sees that in her case as in
her mother's the society, and her husband, acting on their assumptions, created condi-
tions which aggravated the existing ones and contributed to her disorientation. Christo-
phine voices an opinion about Annette which showed the society's definite contribution
to her disorientation. In response to Antoinette's husband's question, "And that her
mother was mad. Another lie?", she replied,
They drive her to it. When she lose her son she lose
herself for a while and they shut her away. They tell
her she is mad, they act like she is mad. Question,
question. But no kind word, no friends and her hus-
ban' he go off, he leave her . In the end mad I
don't know she give up. She care for nothing
Antoinette sees Christophine's response a prefiguring of her own condition.
The Other Side of Insanity
Antoinette's story does not deny her insanity nor confirm it. She gives, with the
help of many voices in her consciousness, a view of her life from the inside. She learns
about her mother's insanity and Pierre's illness which when seen through the eyes of some
characters in the story can appear to verify their assumptions of insanity by heredity. But
with these views Antoinette gives another side, and shows the reality of the situation.
Besides providing her with a balanced view of her life, her story gives different per-
spectives of her insanity and not just the negative view of a mental breakdown. She re-
veals her schizophrenic condition as having a positive aspect, as an escape from the harsh
realities of life, alienation and rejection, to which she was subjected. She reveals insanity
as a condition which she accepted to place her beyond external limitations and control. It
could also be seen as a retreat for self-preservation to recoup and marshal available re-
sources to make one final effort to express her own individuality and independence.
A Search for Self
After this review of her life she has her third dream, a recurring one about the fire
at Coulibri and in it she finds a positive solution for the futility of her incarceration. She
realizes the step she must take: "Now at last I know why I was brought here and what I
have to do" (p. 156).
Although Antoinette's story is seen in her consciousness, she is a storyteller in her
own right. She incorporates her mother's story into her own. It parallels hers, arouses
interest, explains and illumines it. In Antoinette's efforts to gain self-knowledge and in
her quest for love and understanding she shows determination, but she lacks assertiveness
and knowledge of her feminine personality. She was paralyzed by fear of the consequence
of being assertive and independent.
Antoinette's story reveals her as a dependent and inhibited woman, a divided per-
sonality unable to express the essence of her being. She is without self-knowledge, for an
alien image of woman was thrust on her, symbolized by the name Bertha given to her by
her husband who completed the change in her personality which was begun by her step-
Antoinette's story is experienced and dramatized in her direct and indirect con-
sciousness as she sits in a room that had become a prison for her body but not her mind.
While re-experiencing her story Antoinette'undergoes changes. In the first part she is a
narrating voice, in the second she grows into a character who participates in the drama of
her own life-story that takes place in her husband's consciousness. Finally, in the third
section, she is an individual who gradually assumes control of her life. These changes are
symbolic of her growth in the awareness of her true self.
This dramatic presentation of her story contrasts her intense internal activity with
her passivity, parallels the stages of her disintegration as creole woman with her symbolic
development of personality, and portrays her escape into insanity as a positive but ironic
attempt at self-preservation.
Antoinette's review of the stages of her isolation, rejection and alienation embodies
her search for identity and place, and culminates in her search for meaning.
I ... wonder why I have been brought here. For what
reason? What is it that I must do? (p. 146).
Antoinette's re-experiencing of her past is a positive approach to her problem. Her quest
helps her to answer other questions which perplex her, "What am I doing in this place and
who am I?" (p. 147). She did not know where she was or who she was before re-expe-
riencing her story, for her name had been changedby degrees from Antoinette Cosway to
Bertha Mason Rochester.
Names matter, like when he wouldn't call me Antoi-
nette, and I saw Antoinette drifting out of the win-
dow with her scents, her pretty clothes and her look-
ing-glass (p. 147).
After her review she knows her real name but does not know how this Antoinette that
she knows looks. "There is no looking-glass here and I don't know what I am like now"
(p. 147). When she sees herself in a mirror in her dream she recognizes her reflection as
the ghost she has been hearing about.
It was then that I saw her the ghost. The woman
with streaming hair. She was surrounded by a gilt
frame but I knew her (p. 154).
It is the picture of her mother as she remembered her and which she had become.
Antoinette not only has problems with her personal identity but she is also clear
about where she is.
They tell me I am in England but I don't believe them.
We lost our way to England. When? Where? I don't
remember, but we lost it (p. 148).
Her experience of England does not coincide with her concept of it. Yet she does know
and like England, not the prison where she sees "everything still, fixed forever like the
colours in a stained glass window. Only the clouds move" (p. 98), but the natural real
(That afternoon we went to England.
There was grass and olive-green water and tall trees
looking into the water. This I thought, is England.
If I could be here I could be well again and the sound
in my head would stop ... (p. 150).
Antoinette sensed that being deprived of freedom contributed to her loss of self.
Antoinette's search for her real identity as woman, and for that woman's place and
purpose in society, is embedded in Rhys's dramatic presentation of her story. Its form
and content is expressive of Rhys's ideology of life. Rhys sees woman, especially, and life
generally, as a complex unity of multiple associations. Through Antoinette's story she
presents on one level a psychologically complex woman in a decadent, materialistic and
insensitive male world. Submerged in this world, she presents a woman's world, a new
exciting feminine world revealed through a whole spectrum of woman. Caught up in this
new and exciting world is a young male from the old world. In Antoinette's story Rhys
shows how this man and this woman see each other and each other's world.
Through a complex interlocking of consciousness and an intricate but clear pattern-
ing, Rhys presents Antoinette's story and reveals her search for identity, place, meaning
and purpose and through this search questions the assumptions about woman and about
madness. Antoinette, as a storyteller within the walls of a room and in her consciousness,
functions within Rhys's dramatic presentation in a limited but very explosive sphere.
Antoinette's voice comments on the scenes on the screen of her mind. Within her
consciousness many voices are heard. Her husband's is the dominant voice. Her mother's,
Christophine's, her Aunt Cora's and Mr. Mason's are among the other important ones.
Each voice contributes something specific toward the development of her story and helps
to present a composite view of her life.
Woman as Storyteller
Antoinette's story gives a coherent, chronological account of her life, but behind
Antoinette's dramatic re-experiencing is Rhys the producer and director, the puppeteer
who manipulates her puppets to tell the tragic story of a woman who was aware of her
complexity but was unable to realize her real feminine personality.
Rhys, as author of Wide Sargasso Sea, is woman and also storyteller, and so with
Antoinette's story, the concept, woman as storyteller, has a telescoping form and effect.
In her further use of this telescoping, Rhys skilfully combines the cinematic effects of a
film with the dramatic techniques of a play and in beautifully poetic language weaves a
complex compact compelling story. She increases the story's dramatic intensity when she
incorporates and utilizes the characteristics of schizophrenia which portray and explore
aspects of Antoinette's life which were hidden in her consciousness. Consequently, Antoi-
nette's story is a series of fragmentation which dramatically mirrors her physical, social
and psychological state.
Although Antoinette is not consciously and deliberately communicating her story
to anyone, her re-experiencing of her life is not an aimless gesture. She explores, for her
own personal reasons, characters and situations in her past through which she recognizes
the problems and conflicts she faced and so comes to understand her inability to articu-
late and explore them effectively in the past.
Antoinette's storytelling is simple, coherent and direct. Its satirical undertone
gives it a detached, impersonal quality which prevents it from appealing directly to the
emotions. Though her story does evoke sympathy and deep feelings, its greatest appeal is
to the understanding. Antoinette reveals situations as she remembers them, and her
description of characters and incidents relates directly to her purpose to find out who she
is, where she is, the reason for her incarceration and what she should do about it.
In her description she uses details of physical appearance of people and things to
reveal aspects of character or focus attention on a situation.
Christophine is the only person Antoinette describes in any great detail for she
plays a very important part in Antoinette's life. She is the most dominant character in
Antoinette's story. Antoinette's story sets up Christophine as a contrast to her mother
and a complement to Aunt Cora who is another positive influence for Antoinette but
who also has aspects of her mother. Christophine is strong, independent, resourceful and
resilient. Although persecuted because of the English assumptions about her, Antoinette's
spirit is not cowed. Christophine loved and cared for Antoinette but her personality never.
dominated Antoinette's. She constantly encourgaed her to take control of her life and she
was always there when Antoinette needed her. Nor was she afraid to rebuke her. Antoi-
nette remembers when she was playing the English lady after her marriage and was lying
in bed expecting to be waited on, Christophine told her,
"Get up girl, and dress yourself. Woman must have
spunks to live in this wicked world (p. 84).
That reprimand is an important recipe for woman's survival in any age.
Antoinette describes her mother but not as fully as she does Christophine. Her des-
cription of her mother's appearance focuses mainly on her beauty. She mentions her
beauty mainly in relation to how it affects her relationship with people -
The Jamaican ladies had never approved of my
mother, 'because she pretty like pretty self Christo-
phine said (p. 15) -
or her dependence on it to survive, "perhaps she had to hope every time she passed a
looking-glass" (p. 16). Through Annette's dancing Antoinette expressed her mother's
passionate sexuality and its mystic quality. "There was no need for music when she
danced" (p. 25). Antoinette here hints at the great potential and creativity in woman
waiting for the opportunity to be expressed.
Although Antoinette pays close attention to details and repeats words and phrases
to emphasise special points, she is very economical with words. This economy causes the
repeated words and phrases to assume great significance. In her repetition of the word
"better" in, "All better than people. Better. Better, better than people" (p. 24), she
compares the hostility of the landscape to that of people and suggests the great inhumanity
abd cruel indifference of people. Antoinette also has the ability to communicate, by
using a succession of single words, a great variety and intensity of feeling. Remembering
Annette's great wish to go away from Coulibri Antoinette sums up her mother's feelings
very concisely and adequately in "But she'd speak about going away again. Persistently.
Angrily" (p. 28).
Antoinette's economy of words also emphasizes her limited experience and under-
standing of the changes in her life. It is a significant contrast to the wealth of information
hidden in her consciousness and presented under the smooth elegant surface of her decep-
tively simple story. Antoinette was able to achieve this poetic compactness through Rhys's
historical, biblical, social and psychological allusions which not only cause her story to
be symbolic but make it resonant with meaning.
In placing Antoinette's psychic awareness and disintegration against the background
of emancipation Rhys makes a satiric comment about the freedom implied by it. She also
uses the problems of emancipation to give validity to Antoinette's complexity and to
provide a basis for her subsequent schizophrenic condition. Rhys shows Antoinette as
woman and symbolic of the West Indian society having within her seeds of a new con-
sciousness and power but she also reveals the contradiction inherent in this stage. She
reveals through Antoinette's story that the circumstances which give birth to a new con-
sciousness in woman, and in a class or race, are unable to nurture its development and
eventually contribute to its destruction.
Rhys heightens Antoinette's search for meaning by setting the scenes of her narra-
tors' intense internal activity within the lush tropical West Indian islands and their exter-
nal passivity against a cold English background. With Rhys's constant juxtaposing of
opposites she pits harsh realities against the superficiality of appearances, a feminine
world against a masculine world, passion against reason, the search for self against the
search for truth. Rhys's aim with these contrasts is to enable her readers to see clearly
Antoinette's psychological dilemma and bring into focus for objective scrutiny, evalua-
tion and assessment the various problems with which Antoinette was confronted as
woman and as individual in society.
In addition to this, Rhys utilizes a male and a female consciousness to tell one
story. In a telescopic slotting of a female consciousness within a male (Antoinette as
character within her husband's consciousness), and the male consciousness within the
female (her husband's consciousness framed by hers), she symbolizes the need not only
for a new female consciousness in the male but the need for an awakening male conscious-
ness within the female. She implies the necessity for an awareness of both aspects of con-
sciousness within an individual in order for that person to gain true self-knowledge. Also,
through the two narrating consciousnesses, Antoinette's and her husband's, Antoinette's
life is seen from the inside out and from the male as well as the female perspective.
Antoinette and Jean Rhys, as women and as storytellers, work together as a team to
focus attention on woman. They portray woman's psychic potential and reveal the cir-
cumstances which prevent her proper expression and development. Rhys also uses Antoi-
nette's experience as child and woman to expose the deficiencies and weaknesses of a
materialistic society. She criticises the crippling effects of its domination on the intuitive,
unexplored and undeveloped feminine potential.
Rhys as woman did not need to create a female character as storyteller in order to
give a feminine viewpoint as male writers need to do. She uses Antoinette to give a parti-
cular perspective and to distance her personal views and feelings, but she did need to
create a masculine consciousness to give a male perspective of woman and of the society
in which she lives. Rhys not only gives a male view, but a specific European male view.
Through this male view Rhys verifies Antoinette's comments that there is always another
side. This view embodies the other side of the female as well as the different ways men
Subsequently, Rhys explores through her two narrators, and the various voices
heard within their consciousness, different ways of seeing Antoinette. These different
subjective views make up Antoinette's story, which explodes again into a variety of objec-
tive views. Through this technique Antoinette's consciousness becomes like a prism into
which all the different stories converge and then diverge to give varying perspectives of
Antoinette is the dominant storyteller in Wide Sargasso Sea. Her direct narration
frames that of her husband. His part of the story is told within her story and therefore
within her consciousness. It illuminates, parallels and complements Antoinette's story
yet provides a contrast of views which not only extends and increases vision but multi-
plies perspectives. In addition to revealing Antoinette, Rhys presents a view of the world
not necessarily through Antoinette's eyes, but through the circumstances of her life.
1. Jean Rhys, Wide Sargasso Sea, Penguin Books Ltd. (England, 1966), p. 106.
2. All further reference to this text will be included in this chapter in parenthesis.
1. Abel, Elizabeth, 'Woman and Schizophrenia: The fiction of Jean Rhys', Contemporary Litera-
ture, Volume 20, No. 2 (Spring, 1979), pp. 155-177.
2. Kaplan, S.J., Feminine Consciousness in the Modern Novel, University of Illinois Press, (U.S.A.,
1975), pp. 1-7.
3. Lai, Wally Look, 'The Road to Thornfield Hall', New Beacon Readers, Villier Publications Ltd.,
(London, 1968), pp. 38-50.
4. Mellown, Eligin W., 'Characters and Themes in the Novel of Jean Rhys', Contemporary Litera-
ture, Volume 13, No. 4, (Autumn, 1972), pp. 458-475.
5. Nebker, H., Jean Rhys' Woman in Passage: Wide Sargasso Sea, Eden Press, (Women's Publica-
tions, 1981), pp. 126-144; 167-170.
6. Ramchard, Kenneth, An Introduction to the study of West Indian Literature, Nelson Caribbean,
(Kingston, 1976), pp. 71-107.
7. Ramchard, Kenneth, 'Terrified Consciousness', The West Indian Novel and its Background,
Faber and Faber, (London, 1970), pp. 230-236.
8. Rowbotham, Sheila, Woman's Consciousness, Man's World, Penguin Books Ltd., (England,
1981), pp. ix-xvi; 3-11; 26-46; 116-126.
9. Staley, Thomas F., Jean Rhys, (University of Texas Press, 1979), pp. 100-120.
10. Todd, Janet, 'Women and Literature; The Humanization of Edward Rochester', Women by Men,
Holmesand Meir, (New York, 1981), pp. 118-125.
11. Wahlstron, Ruth, The Fiction of Jean Rhys, (Michigan, 1978), pp. 332-339.
12. Wolfe, Peter, Wide Sargasso Sea, Jean Rhys, Twayne Publication, (Boston, 1980), pp. 137-159.
LIKE MOTHER, LIKE DAUGHTER: WOMEN IN
JEAN RHYS AND GEORGE LAMMING
George Lamming and Jean Rhys both moved away from the West Indies, but this is the
cultural climate which informs their work, an environment in which women black or
white, irrespective of their status hovered precariously on the periphery of the societal
landscape, taking their cue from the dominant male. This is not to say that oppression of
women is peculiarly West Indian, but when one considers the sociopolitical development
of the islands, the societal oppression of women takes on some unique dimensions.
The approach in this study, however, emphasizes mother and daughter relations.
Using selected novels by Rhys and Lamming, I intend to show how the mother's anxiety
over her daughter's weal quite often engineers a strained relationship between the two.
Tension is not inevitable, but highly probable, for as long as the male-powered society
suppresses women, they are inclined to react the way underdogs generally react they
may recognize that they are partners in misery, yet they define themselves in terms of
their exploiter. As a consequence, they unwittingly perpetuate the very societal norms
which contribute to their victimization. Because of the limitations of space, the dis-
cussion will focus on four novels only two by each writer, but this will in no way
compromise the conclusions reached, because the works chosen are representative of the
Whether one approaches Rhys's novels selectively or comprehensively, randomly
or chronologically makes no difference somehow, her women never seem to strive
towards a sense of an unconditional independence where they are free to make choices.
Like mothers, like daughters. They move about as if womanhood is a fated condition,
thereby making gratuitous any meaningful action on their part.
Julia, the protagonist in After Leaving Mr. McKenzie, actually moves through
life as though she is devoid of any responsibility either to herself or to any one else.
She admits that "I felt as if all my life and all myself were floating away from me like
a smoke and there was nothing to lay hold of nothing" (264). Floating, because Julia
does not actively shape her life. Always, she is the passive object who must be steered
as only automatons should be steered, because she prefers to think that womanhood is
While Julia is on the street surviving as she may, her sister Nora is engaged in what
Julia perceives to be "the tremendous tragedy" of caring for their dying mother. Many
people admired Nora for placing her life completely at her mother's service, but attending
to her mother provides Nora with a crutch. For the truth is: Nora is in hiding. She is too
bored with life to fight back, being "trained to certain opinions which forbid her even
the relief of rebellion against her lot" (274).
The lives of Julia and her sister Nora are a bleak commentary on mother-daughter
relations. It is significant that when we meet their mother, she is an invalid "dead to all
intents and purposes" (274). Julia goes to see her mother as she would execute any
annoying obligation. The sign on the doorbell, "out of order", augurs a sense of fore-
boding. Her mother "doesn't know anybody" (274); she is just "a huge shapeless mass
under the sheets and blankets" (287). Her condition precludes any meaningful com-
munication between them. Julia calls her mother "Darling", in the same manner that a
salesclerk calls her patron "Honey", for Julia does not feel any emotional attachment to
her mother "her heart was dead" (287). She equates her mother's moans and cries
to those of "a dog howling", and when her mother finally seems to recognize her, she
stares at Julia with surprise and anger, asking, "Is this why you have come back? Have
you come back to laugh at me?" (290).
Julia was blessed with childhood memories of her mother. She remembers when
her mother was the centre of her world, warm and loving; but unable to explain the
reasons for her mother's strange behaviour, she simply says that something snapped
and her mother grew irrational. Later in life, she is able to understand that her mother
was "unconsciously thwarted", for she found her own short life to be a "long succession
of humiliation and mistakes and pains and ridiculous efforts" (309). Julia could not find
in her paltry existence the child of yesterday. That confidence "where you are yourself"
has disappeared, leaving her at that endless stage where "you stop being yourself; you
become what others force you to be. You lose your wisdom and your soul" (325) in
other words, identity.
For Julia is a prostitute. She sees society as constituted of men such that she
doesn't have "a dog's chance" to prevail (245). Julia cannot take the leap to seize control
of her own life because always her point of orientation and gravity is the male. She
supposedly got married to get away from life in England. Once she is divorced and is
therefore overwhelmed by life in Paris, she wants to escape back to London because
she has a rich male friend. "He'd help me . I want not to have to worry for a bit"
Mr McKenzie is this rich man on whom Julia becomes so dependent that when
he breaks with her, she is broken "I didn't believe in myself any more. I only wanted
to go away and hide" (262). Even after their estrangement, Julia is still dependent on
Mr McKenzie. Julia is what Davidson calls an "accommodating sufferer".2 Her experiences
do not make her any less vulnerable. She merely uses them to buttress her ill-found
theories. Cheryl Dash suggests that Rhys's women are victims of learned helplessness,
unable to achieve a sense of selfhood because in all actuality they perceive themselves "as
extensions of their male counterparts".3 So servile is Julia that when she is informed that
McKenzie would terminate her weekly allowance as if she is his ward "she felt
bewildered, as a prisoner might feel who has resigned herself to solitary confinement
for an indefinite period in a not uncomfortable cell" (243). Julia's imagery is apt,
because she essentially imprisons herself. Having juxtaposed her own life against her
mother's and found where both were wanting, the logical next step would have been
for Julia to forge some continuity with the confident child she once was. Her mother, she
says lost her footing once she became irrational, but Julia's response to her own thwarted
life is no less unreasonable. She is too indolent and uncreative to impose order or meaning
on her chaotic existence. And so, inasmuch as she had haughtily thrown at Mr McKenzie
the final fifteen hundred francs he allotted her, it is to him that she returned to borrow
a hundred francs. In a way, she is the wandered in Thompson's City of Dreadful Night,4
finding at the end of her tedious journey from England to Europe and back confirmation
only of her weakness, a condition which Rhys delineates through the utilization of arche-
typal symbols she encounters, on her way to meet Mr McKenzie, a thin man "like a
clothed skeleton, drooping in a doorway", and the horses waiting there resembled "statues
of patient misery" (341).
The phantom scene is in tune with Julia's decadent life. She is, like her mother,
mentally at least, a cripple. Meanwhile, outside, "the street was cool and full of grey
shadows" (343) the shadows that mirror her life, for as Helen Nebeker puts it, "julia
will continue to believe that woman is victimized by man's sexual demands, unable to
see that it is woman . who seeks both sexual abasement and economic support".5
The setting of Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea differs from the previous one in that the
immediate background is post-Emancipation West Indies. From the outset, there is bad
blood between the women. The young widow. Annette, Antoinette's mother, is the object
of derision. She is jeered at by her former servants who associate her with their oppres-
sion. Threatened by indigence and alienated from friends, she sings to Antoinette doleful
songs about loneliness and desertion. But when Antoinette tries to caress her forehead
and proffer the emotional support her mother so desperately needs, she dissociates
herself from her, seeing her as antithetical to the "peace and quiet" she desires.
Antoinette recalls going to her mother for protection, asking her to "hide me,
keep me safe" (468). But that was during Annette's enterprising days. However, once
she compromised her independence in exchange for economic support from Mason,
whom she marries, she becomes his pawn. She never was the same after that night of
the fateful fire in which her son perished, and so Mr Mason decides that her interests
would be best served by isolating her from her family.
Antoinette remembers visiting her mother in isolation, and being told that her
visits vitiated her mother's condition. She wanted to kill anyone who hurt her mother,
yet she consented to the devious plan of saying that her mother died when she was a
child. The lie was manufactured to protect Antoinette from gossip, so that she might
have her own beginnings, and increase her chances of being courted by eligible suitors.
Her mother's derangement was a liability the male world would not approve of
Antoinette if she identified with a mad mother. As Annette's daughter, society had
already prejudged her. Daniel, supposedly her half-brother, warns her husband, "she
look you straight in the eye and talk sweet talk and it's lies she tell you. Lies. Her
mother was so. They say she worse than her mother . ." (534).
Daniel's gossip disposes Antoinette's husband to see her as "the infamous daughter
of an infamous mother" (571). The real problem is that he is in a position to dispense
with her as he sees fit.
Antoinette was wealthy. Time was when Coulibri Estate was in disarray and the
family was so poverty-stricken that Antoinette's mother was ashamed of her. Antoinette
mirrored her indigence, and Annette feared for her daughter because a white male would
not like the "white nigger" into which her daughter was developing. Even for her
daughter's sake she must find some attachment that will enable her to secure her
daughter's welfare. Through her marriage to Mason, a wealthy Englishman, she succeeds
in making her daughter economically independent, but Antoinette's wealth does not
empower her to make choices concerning the general run of her life. For she is the
object of a scheme between her stepbrother and his friend Rochester. So as to rid him-
self of any responsibility towards her, he arranges her marriage to Rochester's son, the
booty being Rochester's control of her wealth. In spite of her initial reluctance, she
agrees to the marriage because Antoinette, like so many of Rhys's women, is emotionally
incapacitated without a male partner.
Antoinette's miserable life with her husband prompts her to reminisce about her
mother. She is convinced that justice never offered her mother any protection against
the malicious acts inflicted on her. Her mother was told that she is mad, and without
proper support she did indeed become mad. She realizes that, physically, her mother
would have died because of hard times had she not met Mr Mason. Yet the same Mr
Mason was responsible for her confinement. After her mother's death, her dream of her
in "her mended habit riding a borrowed horse" crystallizes her outrage at the injustices
which were meted out to them. Tearfully, she is moved to question the reason for such
terrible experiences. Yet she regarded her mother with ambivalence. She did not think
her mother cared for her really and, upon her mother's decease, she could neither weep
nor offer up for her any meaningful prayers.
In Wide Sargasso Sea, the mother-daughter link is more firmly established than
in the previous novel. We enjoy the privileged position of seeing mother and daughter
interact during the daughter's adolescence. But even though Antoinette enjoys the
guardianship of her own mother, she turns out to be no less confused or powerless
than Julia. Perhaps Jean Rhys is saying that a woman is a powerless creature regardless,
and that her powerlessness increases her vulnerability to the societal pressures that are
likely to prevail against her. Rosalind Miles contends that Rhys's heroines are constantly
thrown against "institutionalized masculine hostility" in its various shapes "the law,
the professions, the police, the bureaucrats".6 This pattern, it seems to me, is hardly
applicable to Julia since, to a large extent, she engineers her own demise. But Antoinette
is victimized by this "masculine hostility" which eventually incapacitates her.
The wealthy Antoinette has lost her bargaining power. Annette sought to carve
out for her daughter a secure niche in the male-powered society, but she left her open
to the machinations of that society. It was Christophine, acting as surrogate mother,
who counselled Antoinette to "have spunks and do battle for yourself" (528). But
Antoinette is now her husband's ward. He has the authority to rename her "Bertha"
because of his fondness for that name. He tells her, "I think of you as Bertha" (540).
As Selma James says, he regards her as an underling the inferior woman and so he
must redefine her in his image.7
Rochester capitalizes on Antoinette's weakness her sexual desires or, rather,
her compelling need for him. Ruminating on their relationship, he thinks of her as "Vain
silly creature, Made for loving, Yes, but she'll have no lover, for I don't want her and
she'll se no other" (550). Contemplating on what she considered to be Mason's rescue
of her family, Antoinette had conceded that "there are more ways than one of being
happy, better perhaps to be peaceful and contended and protected" (479). It is primarily
this need to be protected that is the undoing of Rhys's women. They seem to accept
protection no matter how morally exorbitant the price. (One notes that in Wide Sargasso
Sea, it is not Antoinette but Christophine who advises Rochester that Antoinette too has
pride, that self-respect is not a male commodity.) Ironically, Antoinette does eventually
find the protection she desires, though not in her husband's arms as she would have
liked, but in her mad private fortress, because her husband decides that she is dangerous
Davidson asserts that while Rhys's women lament "the gross injustices that their
society inflicts" on them, they nevertheless "persistently embrace them".8 Indeed, they
are automatically losers because in the final analysis they are either male-hungry or male-
dependent. Directly or indirectly, they transmit this sense of dependence or the need for
male protection to their daughters. Their mutual anxieties one for the other in the face
of their chronic dependence obstruct their loyalty and indeed their feelings for one
another. Consequently, even when they are minded to rebel against bondage imposed
on them by the domineering male, they cannot, because they would rather accept his
dubious protection than face life on their own.
An artist is without a doubt moulded by the experiences which he in turn shapes.
Hence, while Jean Rhys portrays relationship in the white society, George Lamming
writes about the interactions of black West Indian men and women either at home or
abroad. Rhys's background enabled her to focus on women born to be wives, and to
have at their command male and female servants whose only ambition, presumably, was
to cater to the frequently ridiculous whims of those they served. While, as their husbands'
subordinates, they were inevitably oppressed by the chauvinistic arrogance of the male
world, the unwritten commandment was that as members of the ruling class the world
would provide for them. They were not expected to take thought for tomorrow, and so
they never felt the need to develop survival skills that would not entail sacrifice of their
human dignity. Concomitantly, they did not undergo the racist and psycho-social brutal-
ities which were an integral part of Lamming's world. According to Carole Angier, Rhys
said "all she wanted to be was an ordinary, happy, passive and protected woman".9
Rhys saturated her women with her dependency syndrome.
Given Lamming's commitment to the shaping of a national consciousness and to
creating a society with the potential to chart its own history, he could not conceivably
endorse the subjugation of women. However, because he attempts to interpret honestly
the world of his social relations, his women are subject to drawbacks similar to those of
Rhys, if only because both the white and the black world agreed that women were
creatures of men.
Lamming's women are maliciously oppressed by the system and somewhat con-
sciously by their menfolk. However, they do not vegetate into the helplessness of Rhys's
women. They are as spunky as Rhys's Christophine, and because they grow up knowing
that their survival is at best a tough game, they are forced to muster courage and con-
fidence enough to assume responsibility not only for themselves but for their children.
For in the West Indies, single-parent households among the peasantry were the rule
rather than the exception. And even when women had husbands, because of social and
economic hardships they had to shoulder their own burdens. So, in spite of their bondage,
Lamming's women, by and large, could not afford to harbour the chronic insecurities
and languor which maimed Rhys's women.
In the Castle of My Skin, and Seasons of Adventure both have specific settings -
Barbados, and the fictitious San Cristobal, respectively yet their socio-political rele-
vance encompasses West Indian islands as a whole. And just as Powell is a "composite
member of West Indian society", 0 the characters in the novels, in spite of their in-
dividuality, may be seen as representatives of certain social groups.
In In the Castle of my Skin,11 the Creighton villagers eke out their precarious
existence with a kind of stoic endurance. Victimized by floods, they were also at the
mercy of uncaring landlords who imposed on them feudal restraints. One consequence
of this political structure is that the whole society men, women and children was
held in check. Pa, the oldest member, revered by the peasant community, is to be ruth-
lessly uprooted from his home not even he can escape exploitation. Given the lot of
the male, it is not surprising that women were regarded as less than.
A conversation between a group of young boys, in which mothers and fathers are
compared, is revealing. To one, 'Tis different with a mother. She sort of has better
feelings. A mother's sort of very soft" (39). Many of them live in single-parent homes
where the mother is head. Even so, male superiority is a fact of life. The boys conclude
that even when father and mother are not on friendly terms, the mother will report her
son's behaviour to his father not because she is psychologically dependent on him to
handle the big problems, but because women tend to be garrulous. "They can't keep any-
thing inside, not that they want to get you in trouble, they don't, but they can't keep
anything . .They got to let it out" (39).
The above conversation is emblematic of the boys' view of women in general -
soft-hearted, instinctive but inconsiderate and these are the boys who later grow
into men. Women do not fare any better at the hands of their men. Tired of being op-
pressed by the colonial-capitalist regime, the men decide that "there got to be somebody
to do something" (99) something that would decolonize their lives and motivate them
to realize their potential. But they choose to exclude women from any serious non-
domesticated undertaking under the guise that "they shop in the morning talk 'bout
they children all day long, . an' in the night they cook a tumblin' load of food" (99).
In the social scheme of things, women were at the bottom of the totem pole because
that pattern fitted snugly into the male-ordered scheme of things. Despite their demon-
strated multi-dimensionality, they do not band together to release themselves from male
dominance. Rather, they sometimes choose to be vehicles through which their men
could prop up their injured psyches. One good example of women's fragile self-perception
may be seen in the Bambima-Bots-Bambi relationship. The two women are reasonably
content because their association with Bambi gives them a sense of belonging. Once
Bambi yields to outside pressure and marries one, all hell breaks loose. When he dies
shortly after, they expend their energies fighting for ownership of a corpse. The young
Boy Blue cannot fathom their enigmatic behaviour. He remarks, "I've never heard before
in all my born days that the livin' fight for the dead" (142).
The women are not daft. They fight because each one feels a sense of obligation to
ensure the dead a proper burial. Their attitudes towards the dead crystallize the basic
difference between them and Rhys's women. While the latter depend on their men for
survival, the former are industrious enough to sustain their men even at the risk of being
portrayed negatively. This has nothing to do with henpecking. Rather, oppressed by a
system which was determined to emasculate the male, they realized that castration of
their men would be tantamount to the castration of the whole community. Consequently,
they tended to interpose themselves between the ruling authorities and their men in
order to shore up the dignity of their men.
In the Castle of My Skin readily lends itself to a discussion of mothers and sons,
but it is important for this study because of the various perceptions it affords on women,
on mothers -their own self-perception and how they are viewed by others. We also
note that women are regarded as the transmitters of values. As G. prepares to leave home
in search of better opportunities, his mother counsels him concerning her expectations
of him. She anticipates his coming of age but she wants him to remember that "even
then you got to respect me. 'Tis all I ask that you show me the right and proper respect
that a chil' should have for a mother" (271).
It was a mother's duty to prepare her daughter for the role of womanhood, to train
her in such a way that her adjustment to her role and to societal expectations would be as
unprecipitous as possible. The mother's ambition would largely dictate her daughter's
formal education, but much of her informal training would issue from the intra-group
relationships and the confidences the women exchange one with another.
Communication between mother and daughter would address the importance of
character, particularly in terms of men-women relationships. A mother would want to
protect her daughter against possible unpleasant experiences. She would warn her that:
A character is something that can't be bought
A girl has one. A boy does not.12
But her good intentions may adversely meet with resentment from a daughter who sin-
cerely believes that her life will be different. It is from this that tension generally origi-
nates, as in Seasons of Adventure.' 3
Fola, the protagonist, is the progeny of a rape. Whether she was fathered by the
white student or the black young man from Forest Reserve is anyone's guess. However,
her mother Agnes is fully devoted to her. In fact, she overcompensates as if she is guilt-
ridden over her daughter's illegitimacy. In keeping with her middle-class aspirations,
she turns to marriage as a way out. She expects Pigott, her husband, to protect her
daughter and her. However, where Jean Rhys's women abandon themselves and their
children to the goodwill of servants and their men, Agnes keeps a fierce watch on Fola.
Inasmuch as she desired marriage and the social benefits that it brought, Agnes did not
always defer to Pigott during their courtship or even after. When he puts pleasure before
Fola's welfare, she counters his thoughtlessness abruptly. She warns him, "I can't leave
my child . Think how the child would feel all by herself in a house that size ... If it's
how you feel, then don't come back" (76).
Once Pigott and Agnes got married, a bond was established between Fola and him
that lasted into her womanhood. On the other hand, Fola grew suspicious of her mother.
She felt that her mother was hiding from her some strange secret. Because of this resent-
ment, even when her mother scolds Pigott on her behalf, she misinterprets her mother's
endeavours, seeing her not only as a liar, "but also ungrateful. And always using me ...
to make her lies real" (77).
It is unfortunate that Fola did not understand her mother's overriding concern
for her well-being. As tempting as it was for Agnes to accept Pigott's share of the dia-
monds which came from some dubious source her loyalty to her daughter super-
seded any thought of social glamour or success. She refuses to place her daughter in a
compromising situation. She chides Pigott for his social esurience at Fola's expense:
little Fola start life with misfortune not having
no father as she should; but while I got strength
to work an' eyes to see ... nothing go happen to put
more strain on what I bring into this world. You
can choose right here an' now. Take your share o'
what you three find, an 'finish this marriage ..
Don't argue Piggy . .' cause I hearing only with
Fola's ears . (338).
Yet, Fola would rather confide in Pigott than in her own mother. Agnes complains to
Pigott about Fola's coldness towards her, "like I ain't mean nothing to her" (104). Fola
is her only child, yet she feels the constant humiliation of being treated like a stranger.
Pleading for her husband's sympathy, she cries, "Fola will talk with you . .she'll talk
with Veronica. She'll talk with this body an' the next. Fola will even talk her secrets with
Therese (the housekeeper). But always I come last" (105).
Pigott attempts to mediate between mother and daughter. He assures Agnes that
Fola talks about her "with all the gratitude and everything any mother could expect"
(105). But this only cuts deeper into Agnes's wounds. She rebuts, "Then why she can't
tell me? ... If it so, why she can't bring herself to let me heart straight from her mouth?"
(105). Fola is indeed grateful for the care both Pigott and her mother have given her.
She assures Pigott, "You give me equal and better than any girl my age and class gets ...
and Aggie . is the same" (127). The San Cristobal community knew of Agnes's deter-
mination to give Fola the best. A conversation between Gort and Crim, two of the local
men who live in the poor neighbourhood of Forest Reserve, attests Agnes's commitment.
all these years she been 'training' that daughter to
make up for whatever it is she do. She train that
daughter like she was studying' for the Grand National.
Only to make up for whatever happen, 'cause nobody
know to this day who that girl father is, where or
when the mother get that fatal poke what start she
an' the daughter in a race no horse can match them
Nobody knows. That is precisely what Fola wants to know. Who is her father?
What is the truth of her origins? Fola wants to know of her past, a curiosity that will
drive the wedge further between her mother and her. For that was Agnes's secret, her
pride did not permit disclosure.
Once Fola experiences the moral and economic degradation of life in the tonnelle.
her restrictive life with the social climbers of the Federal Drive community no longer
suits her. She wants to participate in improving these conditions, but she cannot actively
support the peasants' struggle without distancing herself from parents and friends. She
does not specifically blame Pigott or her mother, for she now sees them as "victims of
some general lie" (244), the lie that is synonymous with middle-class life in San Cristobal.
But she will sever herself from her parents' attention because "their love was a prison
built to secure her loyalty. A prison which was securely guarded by the families' arrange-
ments for her future" (244). Fola, then, is no longer just in search of her father, to know
who or what he was. "She wanted to find him in order to see what would happen to
those who had deprived her of this knowledge" (246).
One may fault Agnes for keeping secret Fola's lineage on the grounds that she did
so to shore up her own pride and self-esteem. But one also has to admire Agnes even for
giving birth to Fola. In the first place. Fola is the product of a rape. Secondly. it was
socially unacceptable for a young middle-class aspirant to give birth to an illegitimate
child. (We note that Eva dies from complications after an abortion.) And although
Agnes very much wanted to legitimize Fola's childhood through marriage, the fact that
she made Fola her point of reference is confirmation enough that Agnes enjoyed a modi-
cum of freedom from middle-class conditioning. Where Antoinette and Julia see their
mothers as a liability to their social advancement. Fola, on the other hand, is cold towards
her mother because she sees her as obstructing her search for peasant origins. But as
events unfold, Lamming demonstrates that both mother and daughter actually need
each other. When Fola becomes overwhelmed by the fear and ramifications of Raymond's
death and faints, her need for her mother crowds out any other concern as she regains
For the time being . it didn't matter if her father
came to life, if Chiki's perjury had been revealed ...
She cared for no one but her mother. Some old and
dormant blood had come alive (282).
Yet, inasmuch as Fola would have liked to enjoy a close relationship with her
mother, her commitment to fighting against the abuse of privilege by the middle class,
to which her mother belongs, stands in the way of their relationship. All Agnes's efforts
are now threatened because she had methodically sought to build for Fola a future which
she thought would insulate her from worry or hardships. Conversely, Fola accuses her
and her husband of exploiting her, of using her "as a way to exalt themselves" (244).
Agnes had disagreed with her own mother, but that relationship was never mended.
Now, in spite of the distance between Agnes and Fola, because ofAgnes's own experiences,
the nerve ends are left open for them to undergo a renewal of their love for each other
and a rebirth. Lamming has also portrayed women whose passion is social status. The
women of the Maraval Hills permit money to control them as though they have no life
of their own. Mrs Raymond and her clique are committed to keeping intact the burgeon-
ing privileges of the bourgeoisie. They all want their daughters to imitate the European
"Missus", and to uphold the power structure through marriage. But this strain to arrive
sometimes creates tensions and fierce rivalry not only between families, but even between
mothers and daughters. Fola was apprehensive, for instance, that her mother would not
approve of her close associations with Chiki or with any male from Forest Reserve, and
that is partly why she would sooner take Therese, the housekeeper, into her confidence
than even Piggott, since he was himself an avid social climber. Yet they are not Jean
Rhys's women, a difference which may be explained in terms of cultural background.
Jean Rhys's women were members of the privileged class. As such, neither they nor their
daughters were ever taught how to survive the hard bumps of life. But Lamming's women
are by and large either members of the peasant class who must fend for themselves, or
middle-class women, eager to arrive, and who feel the compulsion to prove they they
qualify to be arrivants. To turn to prostitution or to remain passive in the hands of
Fortune would have defeated their purpose.
Moreover, if Jean Rhys's picture of women was motivated by her personal frus-
trations with male chauvinism, Lamming sought to view women in another light. He
wanted women to assume the responsibility of liberating themselves and their people
from servility, and from the insecurities which grew out of colonialism. While there are
those like Mrs Raymond and Lady Clare who pretentiously play the role of the traditional
housewife, he gives us Agnes and Fola mother and daughter whose misunderstanding
of each other causes a strained relationship, but whose refusal to say yes to corrupt
bourgeois values vestiges of the colonial system serves to redeem them.
The women in both Lamming and Rhys's works are taken for granted -they are
inevitably oppressed because they were perceived as inferior to men. In Lamming's
novels, however, because women were the underdogs in a society which equated black-
ness with indigence, with ignorance, with backwardness, a kind of stoic endurance was in-
culcated in young girls at a very early age. For even when they would be fortunate
enough to have a male partner, it was their responsibility to cut corners here and there
-so as "to make ends meet". There was no need for mothers to explain this role to their
daughters, because custom and observation make powerful teachers. In Season of Ad-
venture, Agnes reminds Pigott that not only is she capable of looking after herself but
that she has also assisted him:
You had all your senses when you decide to do what
you do [that is, marry her]. Remember that ...
An' remember . I didn't sit back like one o' those
women too lazy to move .. An' I didn't help to
prove I could hel.' I help 'cause it was your own
ambition eatin' up your brain. Don't forget to re-
member that the moment you start ridin' your high
Agnes's description of "one o' those women too lazy to move" recalls Jean Rhys's women
in general and Anna in particular, for Walter Jeffries had imaged her "like a stone that I
try to roll unhill and that always rolls down again" (31).
Although, like Rhys's women, Lamming's women are, politically speaking, ir-
relevant, a liability in some cases, they are economically more aggressive and less miser-
able by far. It is also encouraging that Fola develops a political awareness even though
it effects her estrangement from her mother. But Fola's mother herself should not be
underestimated. It is from Agnes that Fola gets the pluck which enables her to be the
liberalizing agent of change who can establish a vital link between the elitist middle class
and the less fortunate peasants.
Writing about West Indian women, George Campbell portrays them as history-
makers. In a poem by the same name, he utilizes conventional language to depict the
endurance of these women in the face of adversity. They are both "stone breakers" and
"child makers". That is, they symbolize new beginnings as well as continuity but, physi-
cally, they are equally capable with
Hard white piles
Lamming's women are at once conventional but different they defer to their
sometimes rambunctious men without suffering from the mental torture of doing so. His
female characters are by and large representative of women whom he knew, women who
were treated by men as though they were dependent creatures, but who were basically
hardworking and self-supporting. Rhys's women became whores before they developed
that handy instinct of self-preservation that is, before they learned how to be bitches.
And that is what makes both mothers and daughters pathetically boring. Conversely, as
downtrodden as are Lamming's women, discriminated against racially and sexually,
their refusal to be objects of compassion makes them relatively interesting. Yet, because
both groups are a composite of the real world, we cannot dismiss either. Rather, in spite
of their weaknesses we can learn from them, and dare to transcend their condition so
that we may improve on our relationship with our daughters and indeed the rest of
1. Jean Rhys, The Complete Novels (New York: W. W. Norton and Co., 1985). All references
are to this edition.
2. Arnold Davidson, Jean Rhys (New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., 1985), 134.
3. Cheryl Dash, 'Jean Rhys' in West Indian Literature, Ed. Bruce King (London: Macmillan,
4. The reference is to James Thomson's poem "The City of Dreadful Night" in which London is
5. Helen Nebeker, Jean Rhys. Woman in Passage (Montreal: Eden Press, 1981), 38.
6. Rosalind Miles, The Fiction of Sex (London: Vision, 1974), 99.
7. See Selma James, The Ladies and the Mammies: Jane Austen and Jean Rhys (London: Falling
Wall, 1983), 664.
8. Davidson, p. 134.
9. Carole Angier, Jean Rhys (New York: Viking. 1985), 15.
10. George Lamming. "West Indian People." New World Quarterly, 2 No. 2 (1966), 72. Powell
represents the peasants in Season of Adventure.
11. George Lamming, In The Castle of My Skin) (New York: McGraw Hill, 1954).
12. A common aphorism which mothers pass on to their daughters hoping that they will maintain
their self-respect in their interactions with men.
13. Season of Adventure (London: Allison and Busby, Ltd. 1979).
14. First Poems (Kingston, Jamaica: City Printery, 1945), 61.
GENDER AND RELIGIOUS LEADERSHIP IN WEST INDIAN NOVELS
NORMAN R. CARY
Before we can look at religious leadership roles in West Indian novels, we must under-
stand that the region has a history of conquests by European colonial powers which
imported slaves from Africa and agricultural workers from India. They brought their
traditional African religion and their Hinduism to interact with the Christianity of the
white colonists. The question of gender only arises regarding African religion and
Christianity, since, as Cary has demonstrated. Hindu religious leaders in West Indian
fiction are exclusively male.' There is as well the influence of black religion from the
United States.2 The result is a spectrum from "orthodox" Christian denominations
through Afro-Christian groups to African cults. But no matter where the religious practices
would appear on this spectrum, female religious leaders in West Indian fiction are almost
always negatively pictured. Either they are allied from the first to evil, or they are
usurpers of male roles, or they use their powers destructively. Male figures, on the other
hand, can be either positive or negative, though many negative characters have a positive
side to them.
An early example of this is H. D. de Lisser's The White Witch of Rosehall, in
which a female religious figure is set in opposition to two male figures. The title character
is the beautiful Annie Palmer, a plantation owner who as a girl in Haiti learned voodoo
from a priestess. She seduces the handsome Robert Rutherford, who has come out
from England, posing as her bookkeeper in order to learn how to run a plantation. When
her rival for Robert's affections, the half-caste Millie, accuses Annie of murdering three
husbands, Annie strikes her with a spirit which sucks out her life and eventually kills her
despite the ministrations of her grandfather, an obeahman (conjure man) who eventually
kills Annie during the Montego Bay rebellion in 1831. De Lisser's condemnation of
voodoo, which may reflect the fact that women can be officiants in vodun,4 is hardly
surprising, but his portrayal of a white woman as the possessor of diabolic power may be
a subconscious rejection of a whiteness of which he. as a light-skinned man, seemed to
In A Quality of Violence by Andrew Salkey. most of the negative religious figures
are female.6 Especially notorious is Mother Johnson, who attempts to assert the authority
of her dead husband Dada Johnson, an ex-con who duped his followers until he died in a
frenzied rite of flagellation. The fanaticism of his leadership is mimicked by five-year-old
Linda Marshall and her playmates who establish a secret shrine. Linda calls her friend a
'Judas' when she reveals their secret: then Mother Johnson, in a bid for power, pronounces
Doris bewitched and has the skeptical Brother Parkin captured and beaten when he
objects. But when Doris dies and her mother sides with Parkin, the widow goads the
people into stoning her to death. This is hardly an assertion of African religiosity, as
Bathersfield claims, but a ghastly parody of the crucifixion.7
The Children of Sisyphus by Orlando Patterson presents the reverse of this situa-
tion.8 Here the same character, Dinah, is involved with two religious groups, each time
experiencing a pattern of initiation, violence, and death. First Dinah is raped by a
Rastafarian fisherman who pronounces himself Adam and her Eve; then he takes her to
the 'Dungle', the garbage heap outside Kingston to which the police have driven the
Rastafarians. Later she flees to a more respectable district and is taken up by a 'Revival
Zion Baptist of God' congregation and becomes the 'chosen one' of Shepherd John, the
pastor. Soon he declares that he has been called to England, but before he can leave,
the Elder Mother, the former leader of the congregation who has been jealous of Dinah,
kills John and puts the bloody knife into Dinah's hands. Then the people attack Dinah
and tear her apart, so that she barely manages to crawl back to her Rastafarian lover
before she dies.
Michael Drayton's Christopher provides two religious guides to a young planter's
son.9 The more menacing of the two turns out not to be a threat, but the pious one is
the more disillusioning. Christopher is fascinated by what he has heard about obeah
from the black servants, especially old Gip, his nurse. At first he merely wishes to work
obeah against a bothersome plant in the garden but soon learns that magic is used against
people; so he threatens to have Rose the obeahwoman put a curse on the new cook whom
he dislikes. She, it turns out, has visited the obeahwoman herself and, when Christopher's
mother dismisses her for fear of gossip, warns the white woman that she is carrying a
dead child. Christopher is terrified until his mother reassures him, and the boy can think
of obeah with 'mock awe'. Christopher is more disillusioned by Gip when she falls ill
and withdraws into her bible and prayer book. At her funeral he rebels against God,
finding more religious meaning in the beauty and possible destructiveness of nature.
Beka Lamb by Zee Edgell is unusual because it balances a negative religious leader
with two positive ones.10 Sister Virgil, the head of the Roman Catholic girl's school
attended by Beka, is rigid, cold, and racist. She wants to suspend Beka for voicing doubts
in a religion class. Worse, she does expel Beka's friend Toycee after the girl gets pregnant
and insults Beka's father, when he objects, with veiled insults to his Protestant back-
ground as blacks are traditionally Protestant in Belize. Later, when Beka wins an essay
contest and comes forward to receive a medal, the headmistress gives her 'a frosty smile
that blighted the morning'. Countering Sister Virgil's coldness are two other nuns. The
first is an American named Sister Gabriel, who urges Beka to submit the essay about the
history of the Order in Belize. Later, when the girl is absent from school after a hurricane
kills Toycee (who has gone mad after her expulsion from school), Sister Gabriel comes
to cheer the Lamb family. The other sympathetic figure is the Mother Provincial of the
Order which runs the school, who on a visit presents Beka with her award, enjoys the
native folk songs sung in her honour, and seems to go against the prevailing racism by
urging the native students to consider religious vocations. These positive women are the
more remarkable because they function within a male-dominated ecclesiastical structure.
A novel which presents two sympathetic religious leaders one female and one
male in seeming rivalry is The Harder They Come by Michael Thelwell. Thelwell
follows Ivanhoe Martin from boyhood to his career as 'Rhygin' (raging), a Kingston singer
and 'bad john', until he is hunted down and killed by the police. Martin is raised by Miss
Mando (Aunt Amanda) in an edenic hill community. Miss Mando is a believer in the
Afro-Christian cult of Pocomania, and when her nephew begins to be attracted by the
'cool' lifestyle of the wicked city, she withdraws into her prayers and bible reading. She
also takes care to arrange for herself a traditional funeral complete with massive feasting
and a 'nine night' ritual when the spirit which has been 'walking' is put to rest with a
second burial. Among the mourners are her Pocomania sisters led by Mother Anderson;
but they appear to be outshone by the drummer, Bamchikolachi, the "man of power"
who calls spirits with his drum. At first the mourners are mesmerized by the drummers,
but eventually Mother Anderson becomes part of the "Kumina" and begins dancing a
dance of the spirit-possessed. The African rituals here allow for both female and male
participation, though the male role emerges as dominant.
When we limit our consideration to male religious leaders in the fiction, the situation
is quite different. There are, of course, "bad" men. Some are comic and some are ex-
ploitative, even vicious. But there are others who are sympathetically depicted despite
their dubious religiosity.
The most comic villain is Hoggy Cumberbach in J.B. Emtage's caustic novel Brown
Sugar.12 Cumberbach is a butcher who becomes Minister of Rural Trade in 'the first
all-coloured government' until he is ousted when the government is involved in a financial
scam. He still has considerable capital (gotten illegally, no doubt), and so he buys an
abandoned plantation. Here he begins to grow ganja or marijuana, used sacramentally by
Rastafarians, who are depicted as the 'angry young men' of the island their beliefs
ridiculous, and they are prone to violence. Soon Cumberbach's plantation takes on a
distinctly theological tone: he becomes known as 'the Lord Gong' and surrounds himself
with 'angels' (henchmen) and female consorts who aid him in a career of murder: he
kills his rivals and selected police officers according to methods suggested by bible verses.
White religious figures, who appear only incidentally, are both negative and positive.
There is a 'shortish and spare' Anglican bishop who insists that a local schoolmaster be a
classicist because 'all scientists are atheists'; but there is also a local cleric who looks and
behaves like Jesus when he saves a visiting British M.P. from being thrown off a cliff into
a sunset-reddened lake the prooftext being Revelations [sic.] 13, which describes
Death on a white horse being thrown into a lake of fire.
Mention has already been made of Dada Johnson of Salkey's A Quality of Violence,
a 'confidence trickster' who manages to gain a comfortable living by duping his followers
while enjoying the gratifications not only of power but also of sexual 'service' to dis-
tressed women, which he provides on the altar table. All the while he knows that the
rites he performs are play-acting, a mixture of biblical language and 'black art'. His
violent death comes when he and his assistant beat each other to death in a ritual of
propitiation designed to end an island-wide drought but his baleful influence continues
to be wielded by his wife until she brings on her own death by stoning.
In The Harder They Come "Preacher" is a more complicated leader. After Mando's
funeral, Ivan goes off to Kingston looking for his long-absent mother and searching for
fame as a singer. He finds his mother in a 'yard' shanty, tired and worn; but she gives
him a paper with Preacher's name on it. After a period of desperate poverty, Ivan finds
the paper and goes to the clergyman for help. The older man is fat and comfortable,
enjoying the support of Southern Baptists in the United States who regard his church
as their mission. He gives Ivan a job until the young man gets involved with Elsa, Preacher's
ward; then he goes slightly mad out of sexual frustration (he has been secretly attracted
to the young woman) and is shipped to the United States for 'correction' by his spiritual
sponsors. At the novel's end, to save the sick son of the gentle Rastafarian Ras Pedro,
Elsa goes to Preacher and tells him the whereabouts of Ivan (Rhygin), who has killed a
policeman and is hiding from the authorities. She does this in exchange for Preacher's
promise to help the child. Preacher is not a conscious trickster, but he is a creature of
his American sponsors, he enjoys his power and unconsciously resents Ivan as a sexual
rival until he has the opportunity to betray him.
The Children of Sisyphus gives us a sympathetic trickster who, out of love for his
followers, leads them to disaster. After narrating Dinah's kidnapping to the Dungle,
Patterson gives lengthy descriptions of the squalor and filth of the place, as well as the
simple songs, prayers, and utterances which comprise the Rastafarian religious services -
all directed towards the hope of salvation by Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia, who
will bring the black man to Africa, the promised land. The Rastafarian leader, Brother
Solomon, is an Anglican celrgyman who was raped by the parson's wife. declared insane,
and defrocked. Now he has arranged for emissaries to go to Ethiopia. A letter comes
back announcing the date when the imperial ship will rescue the faithful. However,
the emissaries write that they have been rebuffed by Ethiopian bureaucrats, whereupon
Brother Solomon admits that the previous letter was concocted by him to give the
people a few more days of hope, after which he hangs himself. This disaster serves to
highlight the desperate situation of the Rastafarians.
A similar leader is Bashra in Salkey's The Late Emancipation of Jerry Stover.13
Bashra seems wise and strong to the sophisticated Jerry, for whom his family's Roman
Catholicism is virtually meaningless (except during Lent, when he temporarily gives up
his obsessive drinking). Jerry is one of the 'Termites', well-educated young Jamaicans
who attempt to mask their boredom with alcohol and sex. When a young English girl
who is working as a reporter takes Jerry along to interview a Rastafarian leader for a
human interest story, Jerry is at first depressed at the fifth of the Dung'll but he is
impressed by their leader and tells him how meaningless he finds life. When Bashra
informs him of the Rastafarian hope in Africa, Jerry is 'confident and serene'. He goes
back to town and resigns from the Termites and later walks out of the Roman Catholic
cathedral in the midst of Good Friday mass. Soon he finds himself staying at the Dung'll
and involved in a campaign to get the local political and charitable organizations to help
the poverty-stricken Rastafarians. The outside world is not interested. Frustrated, Jerry
begins to feel bored again, and a bit hopeless about the Rastafarians; the implication is
that no purpose and no discipline is possible in a decadent postcolonial society. Finally,
all his friends are killed in a landslide, and Jerry realizes Inat his life is a failure. As the
novel ends he is walking aimlessly down the streets listening to the chants of the 'Blood
and Thunder Brethren', but religion and everything else seems pointless.
Sylvia Wynter presents another positive dupester, 'Prophet Moses'. in The Hills of
Hebron.14 At first he preaches a more or less standard evangelicalism but after he falls
from a tree he has climbed to be 'taken up' into heaven, he is sent to an insane asylum
where he is influenced by the anti-colonial raving of its drunken Irish director. Subse-
quently he invents for himself a prophetic identity which includes adoption by a 're-
incarnated daughter of the Pharaohs', tutelage by an American Baptist preacher, and a
vision of God as a burning bush. As bizarre as this mixture seems, Wynter is careful to
ascribe to Moses a believably human mixture of sincerity and hypocrisy: he is not merely
the comic figure that Ramchand sees. He, like his namesake, leads his people to a promised
land to Hebron, in the hills outside Cockpit Centre, where, when their faith flags, he
has himself tied to a cross. But his act is not salutary, for he dies and their faith ossifiess'
into a memory of his crucifixion. His young follower Obadiah inherits Moses' leadership
but at the end Obadiah decides to leave the settlement and has a vision which has been
interpreted as a confirmation of his African religious heritage but which seems instead an
affirmation of a universalism 'where there are no far places and no stranger'. The author
seems to accentuate the positive nature of these black leaders by juxtaposing them to a
negative white character, Richard Brooke, a Wesleyan minister who comes out from
England to convert the black and the poor. Instead, he loses his congregation to the more
snobbish Anglican parish, gets a black girl pregnant, then (to keep himself from being
discovered) underwrites Prophet Moses' purchase of Hebron, and finally disappears from
the scene by going off to Africa as head of a mission school.
Brother Man in Roger Mais's novel of that name is the most famous Rastafarian-
style leader in fiction.1 Though he has left the brotherhood, his theology and lifestyle
are influenced by Rastafarian beliefs and practices: he thinks that black people are
God's chosen race, will not cut his hair, and will eat no meat. Still, he sees himself not as
a miracle worker who offers supernatural salvation but as a 'channel for life' to the poor.
He preaches that human dignity is in everyone, and carries out his beliefs by rescuing a
young girl from the streets. But he is opposed by a jealous and greedy obeahman, and
suffers persecution and near-death at the hands of a mob who beat him as a vicious
Rastafarian. Though Brother Man is distinctly Jamaican, Mais has universalized his hero
by giving him a Christ-like love for the people, an evil antagonist, and a brush with death.
There is no personal resurrection, though the people are delivered from their craven
fear when they become ashamed of their treatment of him.
The magic worker or obeahman, another Afro-Caribbean religious figure, is often
presented with sympathy from his first appearance in Hamel, the Obeah Man.1 6 One
might expect this representative of African religiosity to be entirely villainous, but
Hamel is not only a diabolic magician who is in league with those who are rebelling
against their white masters. He is also soft-spoken and self-confident, eloquent about the
wrongs done to the blacks, loyal to his white master, and a trenchant observer of the
hypocrisy of the Methodist minister Ronald, who utters abolitionist sentiments and
professes to be more pious than those around him but in fact participates in devilish
rites to preserve his life and, out of ambition, plots with the rebels, is implicated in the
death of a black child, and poisons his jailer when he is arrested for these misdeeds. The
two rival religious leaders are disposed of appropriately: Ronald dies repentant of his
sins, and Hamel is rewarded for his loyalty to the whites and sails away to the land of
his mother (presumably Africa). The overturning of the expected racial stereotypes is
surprising, and may be explained by attributing anti-evangelical and anti-abolitionist
views to the anonymous author.
Subsequent fictional obeahmen exhibit a similar complexity. In The White Witch of
Rosehall, Takoo attempts to exorcise his granddaughter in an African ceremony des-
cribed in bloodcurdling detail, but his grief for Millie is touchingly presented, and his
dispatching of the wicked Annie is a justifiable act of vengeance. This novel also includes
two white clergymen, one negative and one positive. The clergyman with whom Ruther-
ford stays when he first arrives in Jamaica is a mere extension of the British class system,
for he is hospitable only because Rutherford's father is an old schoolmate. Then at
Rosehall Rutherford meets Rider, an alcoholic ex-priest who provides skeptical explana-
tions of Annie's powers, but resumes his priestly duties at the bedside of the dying
Millie. Having gained the reader's sympathy, Rider is killed by a bullet meant for Ruther-
ford by a former lover of Annie.
The most complete depiction of the obeahman is in Ismith Khan's The Obeah
Man.17 For Zampi, obeah is not a link to African religion but a means to reflection about
the meaning of life and ethics. Zampi was a rum-swilling dissipate in Port-of-Spain, but
then became the disciple of old Jimpy, and later his successor. Now Zampi wonders
whether obeah is good or bad, whether he is aiding people with his charms and spells, or
serving the devil. He is also distressed because his old girl friend, Zolda, has deserted him
for the stickman Massahood. Massahood is motivated by selfishness and anger, and, in
subduing the stickman in personal combat and taking back Zola, Zampi learns not only
self-discipline but also the purging of other people's sins by taking them upon himself,
thus becoming not only a conjureman but a saviour. His spiritual victory is confirmed
by a vision of beauty associated with the natural loveliness of old Jimpy's place in Blue
Basin, as well as his new sense of responsibility for his fellows.
Perhaps the most sustained presentation of the quest for meaning appears in the
fiction and plays of the Trinidadian writer Earl Lovelace.18 Two of Lovelace's novels
include religious leaders as major figures. In The Schoolmaster, the central conflict
between tradition and progress is focused in the opposition of the village priest to the
building of a road to town and the hiring of a schoolmaster. 9 His fears for the settled
life of the village turn out to be justified, for the new teacher rapes the village beauty
and is killed by a villager who has long opposed his influence. Still, the road is built
and a new schoolmaster will be hired. Throughout the-novel we see the priest struggling
with his own faith, unable to match the wisdom of the peasants or confront the lechery
of the schoolmaster. The Wine of Astonishment is a story about Spiritual Baptists, Afro-
Christians whose worship was outlawed by the colonial authorities for being noisy and
"unseemly".20 One might expect that Eva, the narrator and a strong believer, would be
the leader of the persecuted congregation but, surprisingly, she effaces herself and talks
about her husband, Bee, who is presented as standing up to the authorities and suffering
for his flock in a way that recalls Jesus. Eva's self-effacement seems to reflect the actual
attitude to women among the Spiritual Baptists. Herskovits and Herskovits observe that
men are the leaders, whereas women have responsibilities relating to religious training and
ritual.2 Stephen Glazier, in a later study, remarks that women can theoretically be
"paramount leaders" among the Spiritual Baptists, but in fact these roles are usually
filled by men.22 That these leadership patterns might have African roots may be inferred
from Bee's charge that the authorities are suppressing the African heritage of the people.
How do we account for the largely negative depiction of female religious
leaders, and the more diverse and often positive depiction of males?
The easiest explanation is that all the authors except Edgell and Wynter are men,
and would tend to identify with male characters. It is no surprise, then, that the most
clearly positive female religious leaders appear in Edgell's Beka Lamb. If that explanation
seems simplistic, one could note that West Indian society is male-dominated. Two women
who interpret West Indian social patterns from a Christian perspective have recognized
this. Dora Dixon comments on the impediments to marriage among Caribbean blacks
as well as the vulnerability of women.23 Hazel Byfield says that the heritage of centuries
of plantation slavery has rendered the female completely dependent on the male;24 she
does not mention that the European-based churches legitimized this dependence. The
novels, then, mirror social reality. Joycelynn Loncke25 and J. Fullerton26 make the
connection between societal and fictional roles in their studies of women in West Indian
More specifically, we can say that the religious traditions in the novels are male-
dominated. This is true of the Roman Catholic church and the Protestant denominations
of European origin, so that male religious leaders of these groups are to be expected in
fiction. When we come to the Afro-Christian groups, however, the question becomes
more complicated. Is the African Traditional Religion which informs the belief and prac-
tice of these groups also male-dominated? Geoffrey Parrinder generalizes that, contrary
to Islamic or Christian practice, in African religion 'women may be priestesses, and
frequently they are as prominent as men in the conduct of religious affairs'.27 Similar-
ly, Friday Mbon claims that women function as priests and officiants at sacrifices and
offerings.28 John Mbiti assumes female access to such roles when he states that priests
are "men and women of respectable character".29 But none of these researchers buttress
their generalizations with specific examples, and the fact remains that most studies speak
only of male priests. Mbon mentions women as diviners and healers; but women are more
likely to be witches or sorcerers (Simpson, Yoruba Religion 75-81; Lawson 23-24;
Mibon 13) clearly negative influences.30 There are only occasional references by other
scholars to women who wield salutary religious power in the West African tribes which
provided the slaves for the New World. C.K. Meek describes a priestess and a female,
Eze or ruler who carries out certain priestly functions among the Ibos in Nigeria.31
Finally, G.E. Simpson mentions that the officiant at the rites of a Yoruba women's
cult can be a female (Yoruba Religion).32
But did the memory of such female figures cross the Atlantic so that women were
able to become leaders of Afro-Christian groups in the Americas? We have noticed the
role of women in voodoo. The exhaustive accounts by Simpson of cult practices in
Trinidad and Jamaica mention the obeahwoman, as well as female Shango (a cult of
Yoruba origin) and Revival Zion leaders but most cited cult leadership is male.33 As for
Rastafarianism, there is no mention in the fiction of the sexual equality that Hazel
Byfield claims characterizes its devotees; the novelists seem to agree with the comment-
ators who claim that women hold a distinctly inferior position in that movement.34 One
must conclude that the paucity of positive female authority-figures in West Indian fiction
is not merely a result of male authorship but a reflection of the religious situation both
in Africa and in the Caribbean.
1. Cary, Norman R. "Religion and the West Indian Novel" Commonwealth Essays and Studies
10.2 (1988): 98-106.
2. Simpson, George Eaton. "The Acculturative Process in Jamaica Revivalism." Men and Cultures:
Selected Papers of the Fifth International Conference of Anthropological and Ethnological
Sciences. Ed. Anthony F.C. Wallace. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania Press, 1956. 332-41.
3. De Lisser, H.D. The White Witch of Rosehall. 1929. Kingston: Macmillan Caribbean, 1982.
4. Thompson, Robert Farris. Flash of the Spirit: African and Afro-American Art and Philosophy.
New York: Random, 1983.
5. Ramchand, Kenneth. The West Indian Novel and Its Background. 2nd ed. London: Heinemann,
6. Salkey, Andrew, A Quality of Violence. 1959. London: New Beacon, 1978.
7. Bathersfield, Patricia. "Treatment of Black Religion in the Caribbean Novel." Diss. Howard U,
8. Patterson, Orlando. The Children of Sisyphus. London: Hutchinson, 1964.
9. Drayton, Geoffrey. Christopher. 1959. London: Heinemann, 1972.
10. Edgell, Zee. Beka Lamb. London: Heinemann, 1982.
11. Thelwell, Michael. The Harder They Come. New York: Grove, 1980.
12. Emtage, J.B. Brown Sugar. London: Hunt & Clarke, 1827.
13. Salkey, Andrew. The Late Emancipation of Jerry Stover. London: Hutchinson, 1968.
14. Wyntcr, Sylvia. The Hills of Hebron. London: Jonathan Cape, 1962.
15. Mais, Roger. Brother Man. 1954. London: Heinemann, 1974.
16. Hamel. The Obeah Man. 2 vols. London: Collins, 1966.
17. Khan, Ismith. The Obeah Man. London: Hutchinson, 1964.
18. Cary, Norman R. "Salvation, Self, and Solidarity in the Worksof Earl Lovelace." World Literature
Written in English 28 (1988): 103-114.
19. Lovelace, Earl, The Schoolmaster. 1968. London: Heinemann, 1979.
20. Lovelace, Earl. The Wine of Astonishment. 1982. London: Heinemann, 1983.
21. Herskovits, M.J., and I.S. Herskovits. Trinidad Village. New York: Knopf, 1947.
22. Glazier, Stephen B. Marchin' the Pilgrims Home: Leadership and Decision-Making in an Afro-
Caribbean Faith. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1983.
23. Dixon, Dora. "The Sociological Pattern in the West Indies." London Quarterly & Holborn
Rev. 185 (1985): 23-27.
24. Byfield, Hazel G. "Women in the Struggle for True Community: A Caribbean Perspective."
Mid-Stream 25 (1986): 49-56.
25. Loncke, Joycelynn. "The Image of the Woman in Caribbean Literature: With Special Reference
to Pam Beat and Heremakhonon." Bim 64 (1978): 272-281.
26. Fullerton, J. "Women in Trinidadian Life and Literature." New Voices 5.9 (1977): 9-31.
27. Parrinder, Geoffrey. African Traditional Religion. 1962. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1976
28. Mbon, Friday M. "Women in African Traditional Religions". in Women in the World's Religions,
Past and Present. Ed. Ursula King. New York: Paragon House, 1987. 7-23.
29. Mbiti, John. African Religions and Philosophy. New York: Praeger, 1969.
30. Simpson, George Eaton. Yoruba Religion and Medicine in Ibadan. Ibadan: Ibadan UP, 1980.
31. Meek, C.K. Law and Order in a Nigerian Tribe. 1937. New York: Barnes and Noble, 1970.
32. Simpson, George Eaton. Yoruba Religion and Medicine in Ibadan. Ibadan: Ibadan UP, 1980.
33. Simpson, George Eaton. Religious Cults of the Caribbean: Trinidad, Jamaica, and Haiti. Rio
Piedras, PR: Institute of Caribbean Studies, 1970.
34. Morish, Ivor. Obeah, Christ and Rastaman: Jamaica and Its Religion. Cambridge: James Clarke,
1982. Owens, Joseph. Dread: The Rastafarians of Jamaica. 1976. London: Heinemann, 1979.
CULTURAL CONNECTIONS IN PAULE MARSHALL'S
PRAISE SONG FOR THE WIDOW
Paule Marshall's Praise Song for the Widow1 will probably be viewed primarily as a major
addition to the growing collection of novels written by women about the condition of
woman which has received considerable attention during the United Nations Decade for
Women now drawing to its close. The present analysis, however, focuses on the novel less
in these terms than on the claims it might justifiably make for a place in the literature on
the cultural connections between black people of the diaspora despite the dissimilarities
of the superficial features of their environments. And while the need for such a focus
might easily be dismissed with the comment that it has all been said before, Marshall's
means of involving this notion in her heroic tale, its existence as substrate consciousness
in the heroine and subterranean essence in the background of the narrative (rather like an
underground stream constantly refreshing the surface and spurting out at intervals to take
its place in the story), introduces a new level of subtlety to an old argument, one more
convincing in the long run than more obvious attempts might be.
Marshall writes of a unity that is best described by a phrase used by Edward
Brathwaite in a prose work on the Caribbean, with different but related connotations:2 it
is a "submarine" unity. In Marshall's novel it is the cultural unity which joins the black
people of the Sea Islands of the Southern US to the black people of the Caribbean and, by
implication, to all dispora people a unity resulting from the cultural retentions from a
common ancestor, one or other of the kingdoms of the African continent, from which
the black populations were taken.3
While the claims for cultural connection between the territories of the Caribbean
have been documented and.have been implied with some consistency, in the imaginative
literature of the region, the inclusion of black people from the USA in this connection
has largely4 been the work of anthropologists5 and of linguists who have studied Gullah,6
the creole language of the Sea Islands which lie off the coast of Georgia and South
Carolina. Comparisons between Gullah and the creoles of the Caribbean have establish-
ed relationships, undoubtedly the result of similar linguistic histories. The African sub-
strate to which all these languages are heir has come to be regarded by some linguists as the
basis for most of the similarities between the creoles no matter to which European
language their lexicon is related.7
While Marshall makes use of the available results of linguistic research in the novel
under consideration, her use of gross outline rather than detail and of paralinguistic more
This article was first published in World Literature Written in English, Volume 25, No. 2.
than linguistic features makes language important. but part only of a large substrate unity
of culture, an approach which, because of its wholeness, is finally more convincing than
exclusively linguistic comparisons have been. The very selection, however, of the
linguistic environment for the significant contact in the novel a creole of French rather
than English lexicon is indeed a subtle claim for the relatedness of the languages.' For the
heroine whose language is American English must relate to a culture which is articulated
mainly in a creole whose lexicon is based in French.
The heroine is an aging black American widow whose youthful beauty has matured
into a dignified attractiveness emphasized by good taste in clothes. The story turns on the
life crisis which confronts her after a dream experience aboard ship on her annual Carib-
bean cruise with two female travelling companions. The experience is so powerful that
she is visibly upset, quits the cruise, to the horror and disgust of her friends, and moves
into what the blurb describes as a "harrowing Odyssey" which brings her "finally to an
understanding of what she has lost and -found". Our concern here is with what the child
of Sea Island ancestry lost as she matured in her social and economic rise in a Northern
city: what she finds in a small Caribbean island and the entity which makes them part of
the same circle, despite the geographical space that separates them.
The effectiveness of Marshall's novel as a tribute to the cultural connection between
people of the diaspora is largely the result of her understating dissimilarity to such an
extent that similarity is highlighted. The first dilemma in which the heroine finds herself
provides a clear example. She disembarks from the cruise ship confident that a flight to
New York that day or the next would provide no problem at all but discovers that even
finding a taxi is a problem one which stems not only from the overcrowdedness of
the wharf in its holiday mood but also from the fact that people do not perceive her as a
stranger and so do not note her dilemma. And perhaps this is not remarkable: the woman
is black, so are the people coming and going. But she is an elegantly dressed black resident
of suburban New York. All this should be obvious in her dress and the "set of matching
luggage at her side" (p. 69); or so she thought. But even when she drew on her gloves and
"folded her hands in such a way that the gloves could not escape notice", people still
kept smiling and waving at her in a way that was "overfriendly" even by the standards of
her earlier exposure to other Caribbean islands. The ultimate experience is a hand on her
elbow and a man's voice thus:
"Ida. doux-doux, qu'il est-ce qu'il y a?Ma'che!
Ma'che-" (p. 71). (Ida, my dear, what's the matter?
and his eventual apologetic comment:
"Don't ever let anybody tell you, my lady, that you
ain' got a twin in this world!" (p. 72).
The significant comment in the text runs:
It was as if the moment they caught sight of her stand-
ing there, their eyes immediately stripped her of
everything she had on and dressed her in one of the
homemade cotton prints the women were wearing .
Their eyes also banished the six suitcases at her side
and placing a small overnight bag like the ones they
were carrying in her hand, they were all set to take
her along wherever it was they were going. (p. 72).
When she does get a taxi the driver explains away the excessive crowd, the overfriendli-
ness and the language all the people on the wharf were bound for the same place, an
"outisland" off the coast of Grenada, the island on which she had disembarked. They
were all natives of Carriacou returning home the one time of the year when, ritually, they
did the boat trip:
They don' miss a year. No matter how long they been
living over this side. even when they's born here,
come time for the excursion they gone . (p. 73).
He also explains away the language patois where she had expected English (she was.
after all, on an Anglophone Caribbean island)- and the bilingualism of the man, for
example, who thought she was Ida:
.Patois, creole, whatever you want to call it . Is
just some African mix-up something. You used to
hear the old people 'bout here speaking it when I was
a boy, but no more. Only the outislanders still bother.
That's another thing about them. They can speak the
King's English good as me and you, but the minute
they set foot on the wharf for the excursion is only
Patois crossing their lips ... (pp. 75-76).
Avey Johnson the heroine of the story recognizes the language. She had heard it in
Martinique three days earlier and, while the words were unintelligible, the cadences had
reminded her, if fleetingly, of a language associated with her childhood. The vision that
had hurtled her into her snap decision to quit the cruise had been of her great aunt Cuney,
proud resident of Tatem near Ibo Landing on one of the Gullah-speaking Sea Islands. She
had heard the language and that night had dreamt of her great aunt.
The question of why a great aunt whose annual holiday contact had ceased half a
century earlier should appear in her dream may well have been answered by the heroine's
own sense (p. 67) that the lilt of the language she had heard in Martinique resembled the
way people spoke in Tatem; in fact she comments:
Sometimes the least thing seen or heard during the
day or merely thought of in passing, could trigger a
dream of people and events long forgotten. (p. 67).
The casual admission that the lilt of French patois of Martinique could so resemble the
lilt of the English-based creole of the Gullah speakers as to be a possible trigger is note-
worthy. For while the linguists have been looking at lexicon aid more recently at syntax
for the substrate that is likely to be the influence of West African languages brought by
the slaves to the New World, equal academic interest cannot be said to have been taken in
the sound shapes8 which are perhaps the most obvious part of the West African legacy.
Avey Johnson makes the comparison thus:
There had been the same vivid, slightly atonal music
underscoring the words. She had heard it and that
night from out of nowhere her great aunt had stood
waiting in her sleep . (p. 67).
Whatever might have triggered it off, the dream has far more significance than mere
language similarity operating on the psyche. Indeed, it is the trauma of this dream that
allows for the strange turn of the story. The leaving of the cruise is only the beginning of
a tremendous revelation with far reaching effects. This event, the appearance of a person
already dead, is expressed in the Anglophone Caribbean by the verb "dream" used active-
ly with the dead person as subject. "Her great aunt dream her", roughly translates the
experience. Implicit in such an event is a dream message. Here in the novel the experience
is reported as being so traumatic that it drains the heroine physically. Her great aunt and
herself had been "trading . blow for blow" in a fight that ended up on the lawn of her
suburban home in New York with all the white neighbours looking on in shock and satis-
faction . .(p. 44).
The struggle connected with dream or with vision is, of course, an old symbol
appearing in traditional references: Jacob and the Angel of the Old Testament; Hamlet
and his decision-making, in Shakespeare. The point of the struggle, however, true message,
only becomes clear after the next dream sequence.
The second and contrasting dream sequence begins more in reverie than in deep
sleep and introduces not the great aunt but the husband of the heroine. The struggle
which lies at the core of the novel is between the influences of these two strong charac-
ters, both dead. They are, eventually, symbols of contrasting mores so different as to be
incompatible. The appearance of the husband triggers a retrospective description of the
journey of the classical black family which moves from accepting the crumbs to eating a
piece of the pie that is the offering of corporate America. The physical move is from
Harlem to White Plains. The contrast is between the cultural values of the black great
aunt and the target values of white America.
The story which Avey Johnson re-lives has been told a hundred times over in the
lives of subject people who have "made it" from unfortunate circumstances. In the
Caribbean it is the story of the "hurry-come-up" (nouveau riche) family. What Marshall
describes is what the new arrival sometimes loses in the superhuman effort to achieve
what he gains. Avey Johnson describes the rejection of himself by her husband, the man
arrived Jerome Johnson who by the time he died could-speak,,in the third person,
about black people; who could not identify with his daughter's interest in the "black
struggle": who rejected physical love from his wife because he needed the time and the
energy to follow through his ambition ("love like a burden he wanted to be rid of..."
(p. 129): and who was a member of an exclusive lodge (a Master Mason) and the proud
owner of an accounting firm in Brooklyn, bearing that name which even his wife used
when she thought about him. He had become, for her, Jerome Johnson successful and
aloof, a poor replacement for the loving, lustful and sometimes carefree "Jay" she had
married. Avey Johnson awakens from her second dream to a choice between the cultures
represented by her late great aunt and her late husband.
Two invocations mark the break at the end of this section of the book, the begin-
ning of the next . One is a voodoo introit invoking Legba, a Dahomean god -
"Papa Legba, ouvri barrier pou' mve" (p. 148) (Papa Legba open the gateway for
me!) It is an invocation that has been used elsewhere in the literature of the diaspora; in a
cry for help used for example by Brathwaite9 at the end of a poem which seeks suitable
linguistic and environmental replacements for the aspects of colonialism that need to be
dispensed with. Brathwaite's note on Legba says that he is a "crucial link between men
and the other gods"; that he usually presents himself as an old and lame man and that
"the celebrant possessed by Legba assumes an aged, limping form and uses a crutch."
(p. 273) The other invocation is from contemporary poetry. Here a call for physical
release complements the call for psychological release implied by the earlier invocation:
"Oh Bars of my ... body, open, open, open"'0
In this novel the psychological and physical realities constantly complement each
other. An upset stomach, hardly attributable to the meal on board ship, follows the
appearance of Aunt Cuney. The narrative which follows these two invocations, the wak-
ing of the heroine from the dream that relives her marriage, describes a smell to which
she half-awakens. It is the smell of an oversweated baby who needs to be stripped, changed
and dried. She goes through motions that are 30 years old, walks towards the crib in the
dingy backroom that is the nursery of her youngwomanhood ... It is in fact her own
stench the result of the long exhausting sojourn of her fully clothed body on the hotel
"the baby smell was nothing more than her own flesh
in the slept-in clothes" (p. 150).
An ablution follows. Avey bathes and dresses in a haphazard fashion that so contrasts
with the well-dressed black woman who entered the hotel before, that the desk clerk
cannot dissemble the shock on his face. The analysis of the life that has gone has
removed the barriers which might prevent her entering the phase that is to come. The
bath prepares her body for it.
Now with the psyche exorcised "like a slate that had been wiped clean, a tabula
rasa upon which a whole new history could be written" (p. 151), Avey Johnson sallies
forth to meet the next and most significant "connection" a "disagreeable old man"
locking up his bar just as she stops there desperately in need of a glass of water after a
long and dizzying walk along the beach.
An inner circle forms within the larger circle that is the entire narrative (beginning
with a dream on a cruise ship and ending with the decision to return to the site of that
dream and all the implications of that return). This man's bar is closed "for the excur-
sion". And the taximan's voice "Come time for the excursion they gone!" (p. 75) comes
back to her, making a circle of sense in the old man's eventual concession:
".. .Any other day you could sit as long as you want-
ed, oui .'. but everybody knows that come this time
of the year the place is closed. The excursion, oui ...
I's closed for the excursion . ." (p. 162).
And the old man is Legba with his hipshot walk and his ancient mariner eyes. His enthu-
siasm so mesmerizes Avey that she agrees to cross the water and to experience what the
excursion goes to celebrate. But there is much that must be learnt before this decision is
made. The psycho/cultural space newly available in her mind must be filled. The emphasis
on the physical appearance, the exterior behaviour of this man makes him the Dahomean
god who puts man/woman in touch with the other gods opens an entire pantheon ...
It is he who brings bits and pieces of Old World/New World black history to fill the spaces
in this lady's mind.
Lebert Joseph is a stoop-shouldered old man, with one leg shorter than the other,
but when he has to draw himself up with pride, to clarify Avey's vague reference to
Carriacou as "some place, some island I forget the name", the text records: "he looked
tall enough suddenly to reach up and touch the roof of the thatch . 'Carriacou . the
name of the island is Carriacou' ". (p. 162). His face is lined; he seems to be about ninety
but the lines on his face are "like the scarification marks of a thousand tribes." He can be
tall and he can be agile. In his excitement he crossed the room "with a forced vigour that
denied both his age and infirmity. And his hands, large, tough-skinned, sinewy, looked
powerful enough to pick up Avey Johnson still clinging to the chair and deposit her out-
side . ." (p. 161).
He speaks of a thousand tribes and tells the reasons for the "excursion", giving the
most important last:
Is the Old Parents, oui . The long-time People.
Each year this time they does look for us to come
and give them their remembrance ... and when it
comes time at the Big Drum to dance their nation for
them . (p. 165).
He has to dance two "nations" the primary Chamba for his father's people: "Is a
Chamba! From my father's side of the family . ." and the secondary Manding for his
mother: "My mother now was a Manding and when they dance her nation I does a turn
or two out in the ring so she won't feel I'm slighting her . ." (p. 166).
Finally his "unsettling eyes" ask Avey "And what is you? What's your nation? ...
Arada .. .? Is you an Arada? ... Cromanti maybe .. .? Yarraba then .. .? Moko .. .?"
All that his audience is, as her answer betrays, is "... a visitor, a tourist, just someone here
for the day . ." (p. 167).
This is what the heroine of the novel tells the old man. But the reader knows better.
For had not Avey's great aunt explained to her over and over those many summers,
decades earlier, why the point where the waters around the ancestral village Tatem met
the open sea had been labelled Ibo Landing? Did she not know it was the point where the
Ibos, so the story went, having cast long and terrible looks at the white people who had
brought them there just ". . upped and walked away . ." into the water?" Hadn't this
behaviour been sanctified when to Avatara's question, "How come they didn't drown,
Aunt Cuney?" the answer had come in the form of another question: "Did it say Jesus
drowned when he went walking on the water in that Sunday school book your Moma
always sends with you?" (p. 40)
There is a coming together of Aunt Cuney of Tatem and Old Joseph of Carriacou
here. The futility of the efforts of the one to save Avatara from the ignominy of forget-
ting her roots is obvious as the Avey Johnson the child has become declares:
"I'm from the States. New York ..."
The depth of it is implied when the other, lowering his head in shame, confesses:
"I has grands and great-grands born in that place. 1
has never seen!. . Josephs who has never gone on
the excursion: who has never been to a Big Drum!
Who don't know nothing 'bout the nation dance!
it is almost as if Aunt Cuney were here lamenting Avey and her offspring and their tacit
rejection of Tatem.
Beginning with light banter describing how she came to stop at the old man's rum
shop. Avey finds herself telling him her story, a kind of reversal of the Ancient Mariner
role, starting with the dream she had on board ship.
The text reports that the old man's gaze never leaves her face:
Intense, probing, it was like a jeweler's loupe he
might have fitted into his eye to get at her inner work-
ings. There was no thought or image, no hidden turn
of her mind he did not have access to. Those events
of the past three days which she withheld or over-
looked, the feelings she sought to mask, the mean-
ings that were beyond her he saw and understood
them all from the look he bent on her . ." (p. 171).
The reader recognizes that look, that ability to see. This half Chamba, half Manding
shares that with the Ibos Aunt Cuney had spoken about:
.. those pure-born Africans was people my gran
said could see in more ways than one. The kind can
tell you 'bout things happened long before they was
born and things to come long after they's dead ..
And when Avey's voice fails because she sees the intruding figure of Jerome Johnson the
New Black man and his disapproval as he had appeared to her earlier, the comment is:
It didn't matter that she could not go on because the
man already knew of the Gethsemane she had under-
gone last night, knew about it in the same detailed
and anguished way as Avey Johnson, although she
had not spoken a word ... .(p. 172).
Coconut water "laced" with Jack Iron (bush rum) from Carriacou not only revives a
physically failing Avey but lifts the "pall over her mind". And the old man pronounces
You's not the only one, oui ... It have quite a few
like you. People who can't call their nation. For one
reason or another they just don't know. Is a hard
thing. I don't even like to think about it. But you
comes across them all the time here in Grenada. You
ask people in this place what nation they is and they
look at you like you's a madman. No you's not the
only one . ." (p. 175).
And that, he admits, is why when he kneels at the Big Drum ritual, singing the "Beg
Pardon" to the ancestors, he sings not for himself alone:
"Oh, no! Is for tout moun ... I has all like you in
These are the people who cannot dance when the "nation" dances are called but must
wait till the "Creole dances start up later in the fete" (p. 175).
The old man cannot believe the depth of his audience's ignorance; he feels sure
there is some aspect of these things she is aware of, so just as he did in the case of the
tribes he calls out dances beginning with Creole ones "Belair" "Cariso" . and pauses at
the Bongo, whose lyrics tell the sad tale of slave parents shipped one to Haiti the other to
Trinidad while the children are left in Carriacou. The song is in Patois but the emotion is
so clear that Avey "without understanding the words . felt the tragic weight that under-
scored them pressing her down in the chair" (p. 177). He mentions the Hallecord, the
Dana and stops at the Juba because here there is some recognition of word at least from
Avey. "Did you say Juba?" (And the reader remembers here that the dreamer Avey had
been surprised that Aunt Cuney's hands long dead were firm, and not, as one might ex-
pect, fleshless bones like "clappers to be played at a Juba" (p. 40)). At this long-hoped-
for intervention, the comment in the text is:
the man's relief at this was so great it weakened him
and he had to sit down ...
"So you know you remember Juba!" (p. 178)
and while his audience's mind concerns itself with the difference between the legendary
city and the modern reality of a forgotten backwater, the old man repeats the question
"Come show me how they dances it where you's
from .. ."
"No one dances it anymore. It's only something you
might hear or read about"
the black woman from New York admits.
"We still dances it!" exclaims the black man from Carriacou, and he does the dance;
and he sings the accompanying song in a youthful and feminine voice, "his hand snapping
an invisible skirt while he complains:
"A skirt! I needs a real skirt! Is the skirt in the Juba
gives it beauty" (p. 179).
His audience, in spite of herself, is actually laughing now. He invites her to join him:
"I needs a partner. The Juba calls for a pair ..."
Suddenly the old man becomes serious and issues the larger invitation:
"You must come today-self so you can see the Juba
done proper . ." (p. 180).
The ensuing discussion the mountains thrown up as obstacles by the New Yorker, to be
made mole-hills by the man from Carriacou -- has the predictability of any comparable
discussion between the native and any foreigner who is not an anthropologist. Less pre-
dictable at this point in the narrative, but entirely in consonance with the cultural fatal-
ism of the plot, is the acquiescence of the heroine:
"All right. 1 think I'd like to see the place." (p. 184)
The thrust and parry between the old man and his guest is the psycho/cultural struggle
which runs parallel to the earlier dream struggle with Aunt Cuney (p. 44) and leaves
Avey "as exhausted as if she and the old man had been fighting actually, physically
fighting, knocking over the tables and chairs in the room as they battled with each other
over the dirt floor and that for all his appearance of frailty, he had proven the stronger
of the two ." (p. 184)
This is the climax of the story. The resolution of the struggle lies in the heroine's
words: "All right I think I'd like to see the place". And the physical reaction is immedi-
". she realized that the strange discomfort in her
stomach was gone and her head had stopped aching
The rightness of the decision cannot now be in doubt. The widow is free in mind and
body. And here the narrative might well have ended.
But the journey on the water must be made if the total cultural connection is to
be achieved. It was water that broke the connections over the middle passage. It was
water that separated the Mainland and Avey's parents from Aunt Cuney's Tatem. The
homecoming had to be across water. And this decision to accompany the old man home
held no foreboding for Avatara whom Aunt Cuney had tutored. The fearlessness here is in
direct contrast to what Avey had felt earlier when among the excuses for not taking the
trip she had included a plan to be "home" that night in her own house. On the screen of
her mind, the text reports, there was a replay of something she had seen just before
Jerome Johnson had entered her reverie in the hotel. The dining room at home to which
she had returned had become a "museum at the foot of Mount Pelee in the wake of the
eruptions that had taken place during her absence and had reduced everything there to so
many grotesque lumps of molten silver and glass" (p. 181). It was then that the clogged
bloated feeling had returned to her stomach that feeling which so imperceptibly dis-
lodged itself when she decided to go on the out-island journey "home".
While the journey itself and the mood of the company are both worthy of com-
ment, what is significant for our study is the symbolism of each small experience the
heroine undergoes, in terms of the "connections" on which this paper focuses. As she
embarks, Avey remembers another boat ride the annual trip up the Hudson on which
hers and so many other black families escaped the monotony of their jobs and the dinge
of Harlem, to relax as they consumed large quantities of chicken and potato salad and the
rice which was obligatory because her father was a Gullah black. What she remembers
most, however, is the connection she used to feel then with those around her:
slender threads streaming out from her rfavel and
from the place where her heart was, to enter those
around her ...
The thrust of this novel, the aspect this paper wishes to represent is encapsulated in that
comment and its continuation. What the woman feels now is related to what the child felt
... And the threads went out not only to people she
recognized from the neighbourhood but to those she
didn't know well, such as the roomers just up from
the South and the small group of West Indians whose
odd accent called to mind Gullah talk and who it was
said were as passionate about their rice as her
The threads streaming out from her even entered the
'few disreputable types who occasionally appeared in
their midst from the poolrooms and bars ... Then it
would seem to her that she had it all wrong and the
threads didn't come from her, but from them, from
everyone on the pier, including the rowdies, issuing
out of their navels and hearts to stream into her as
she stood there ... for these moments, she became
part of, indeed the center of, a huge wide confrater-
nity .. (pp. 190-191).
Aboard the "Emmanuel C" en route to Carriacou Lebert Joseph leads her to where
a group of women, the oldest women aboard, are sitting and the text records here the
"shock of recognition" as she regards them:
sitting there in their long sombre dresses, their black
hands folded in their laps and their filmy eyes oversee-
ing everything on deck ... They were she could
have sworn it! the presiding mothers of Mount
Olivet Baptist (her own mother's church long ago) -
the Mother Caldwells and Mother Powes and Mother
Greens, all those whose great age and long service to
the church had earned them a title even more distin-
guished than "sister".
These were the women whose "powerful 'Amens' propelled the sermon forward each
Sunday"; whose arms "reached out to steady those taken too violently with the spirit"
and, most important for the analogy here, whose "exhortation . helped to bring .
through . sinners and backsliders" making their way shamefacedlyy" to the pulpit in
response to the pastor's plea "Come/will you come ..?"
The acceptance of the grandniece of Aunt Cuney by the women among whom
Legba places her is the acceptance of the backslider by the redeemed. And Avey Johnson
had been a backslider in the sense that she had followed, without too much resistance, an
ambitious husband to a place, if uneasy, in the wider Euro-centred culture of corporate
America and away from the narrow Afro-centred culture of her childhood summers at
The Mount Olivet Baptist Church, the religious body providing the metaphor in the
text, is one of a number of Christian groups with recognizably non-European behaviours
found throughout the Caribbean and among blacks in America. In the literature they are
referred to as black religions13 of the New World or as black religious cults14 and are
described as lower-class movements. They are in fact a strong social organization within
the communities where they operate.'5
The church as a symbol is a wise choice here. It joins Tatem to the Northern Cities
the Ring Shout of Aunt Cuney's youth is a more fundamental version of the Mount
Olivet Baptist service -and both to the Caribbean.
The visual parallel between the boat women and the women of the church is so
close that Avey begins to relive an experience of her childhood, in which the endless-
ness of the pastor's sermon caused a minor tragedy resulting from a stomach upset, when
she could not get out of the church fast enough. The reality is that her stomach is upset,
at the point on the water where there is, significantly, "the channel with the two
currents". At the level of symbols, again there is conflict; something to be rejected, some-
thing to be kept. At every emission the kind women support her and respond "bon"
But this emission does not complete the cleansing. The boat has passed the channel;
the sea is calm and silken; the stomach is clear and empty, yet Avey feels horribly ill and
knows without a doubt she is about to repeat what happened at Coney Island when she
was seven or eight and her younger brother refused to open the bathroom door . The
heroine has sweated; she has vomited but must go through the last ignominy -the cleans-
ing of her bowels. The plot requires that the metaphor of rejecting the orientation of a
lifetime be played out fully. And there must be ablutions. After the sweating she had
bathed herself in the hotel room. But after this "casting" up and down, the ablutions
must be done in another way at another place and by other people.
It is the house of the daughter of Lebert Joseph, the mother and grandmother of
some of the children referred to earlier grandsds and greatgrands who has never gone on
the excursion'). In spite of her squeamish objections Avey is bathed, small area by small
area by this woman and her silent handmaid. Eventually she relaxes and there is recogni-
tion again. It is the galvanized tub over which the woman wrings the washcloth a
replica of the one at the back of the house in Tatem the same size and "with the
same three or four grooves by way of decoration" (p. 221). Her great aunt would
administer the weekly scrubbing as she sat up in it ... And Rosalie Pavay the daughter of
Lebert Joseph has transformed her into that child again. Afterwards she rubs her back
gently with a kind of scented oil ("thou anointest my head with oil/my cup runneth
over") "to see to it you skin don' dry" (p. 222). Finally she kneads and stretches Avey's
limbs in the same way that Avey herself had treated her own children to ensure that their
bones would grow straight. The sluggish flesh grown "thick and inert" from years of
confinement under a long-line girdle is treated as if it were dough being made into bread
or clay to be shaped and fired (p. 223).
This is the physical re-making of the woman. It is the end of one journey, the
beginning of another. The island woman has oiled and moulded the body, wooing it with
sweet patois sounds till eventually Avey feels in her loins and through her body "the
warmth, the stinging sensation that was both pleasure and pain" (p. 224), that sensation
which had characterized her physical contact with Jay before he became Jerome Johnson
to whom love was a burden. This re-making hints at something further back than birth;
it is the environment of conception; out of this something is born.
Paule Marshall has avoided the hackneyed Christian/western symbol of cleansing by
baptism (water and the blood). The rituals that are really important in the parent African
societies are birth and death. In her state of physical and emotional alertness, the
ex-New Yorker is able to accept, unquestioningly,"the candle and the innocent ear of
corn" on the buffet the "foods" she had been informed by Legba in the rum shop that
the ancestors expected, Now they are as natural as the "plate of food that used to be
placed beside the coffin at funerals in Tatem" (p. 225).
What follows is again predictable. Avey attend the Big Drum ceremony; sees the
dances she had been told about, including the Juba, and joins in the Carriacou tramp. Most
important: she remembers as she announces her name, following the villagers' lead, her
grandmother's admonition to give her whole name "Avey, short for Avatara".
The new lady is to spend her retirement inTatem where she will build a house. One
of her children will understand the youngest; the one she had tried so hard to abort;
who had marched with the blacks in demonstrations (to her father's anger and shame);
who had visited Nigeria and brought back films and knew the importance of New Yam.
This one worked with poor black children. Avatara16 would request that some of those
children be sent down and every summer she would request that her grandsons be sent to
her in Tatem ...
The African connection has been treated before in the fiction, written by black
writers in America especially since the decade of the sixties. But the connection has been
a two-way connection, Africa-U.S., U.S.-Africa. Paule Marshall, by including the Carib-
bean, Anglophone and Francophone, in her consideration has extended this connection to
show a pervasive and tenacious cultural substrate with its origins on the African continent.
The unexpressed implication is that, wherever slaveships went, the connection is likely td
exist, worked over though it might be by the superstrate of the master culture.
This is not the first novel in which Marshall treats the coming together of cultures,
nor is it the first in which she isolates communities which have retained something special
and different not necessarily approved of by the larger society. Bournehills, for example,
the "conscious" village in The Chosen Place, The Timeless People,"1 source of embarass-
ment to the middle class, is related in many ways to Tatem and to Carriacou although this
last is, by the standards of the plot of this novel, obviously more evolved. In the earlier
novel, however, the focus is on cultural dissonance. In Praise Song the author, by shifting
the focus from difference to similarity, replaces the clash with symphony.
A New Yorker of West Indian parentage,18 Marshall is uniquely placed to assess
difference as well as similarity in the cultures. The question of whether the unity des-
cribed here represents reality or a personal dream is less important than the fact that the
novel celebrates a triumph in the removal of layer after layer of cultural overlay to expose
a being that finds an important core which she had lost.
1. All page references are to the Virgo press, London (1983) edition.
2. Brathwaite coins the term to describe the links which wait to be uncovered between the differ-
ent cultural backgrounds of "the people who came" to the Caribbean (Contradictory Omens,
Mona, Savacou Publications, 1974)
3. There is no suggestion here of a mono-culture on the African continent but rather an accept-
ance of the existence of certain cultural similarities across the continent.
4. See however "New World A-comin", "Tom" and "All God's Chillun" in The Rights of Passage
(pp. 9-21) and "Jah" in Islands (pp. 162-164) from Brathwaite's The Arrivants, (London,
Oxford University Press, 1973).
5. Melville Herskovits must be regarded as a pioneer in this area with the publication in 1941 of
The Myth of the Negro Past.
6. Lorenzo Turner's Africaniams in the Gullah Dialect (Chicago, Univ. of Chicago Press, 1949) is
among the earliest of these and has become a point of reference for later studies.
7. For details of research in this area and some perspective on it see the Introduction to Mervyn
Alleyne's Comparative Afro-American (Ann Arbor. Karoma Publishers, 1980)
8. See, however, Suprasegmental Phenomena in Jamaican Creole, Lawton D. L. (Ph.D Diss. Michi-
gan State University 1963); "Tone in Guyana Creole" Hubert Devonish (Paper presented at
Linguistics at Mona, Jamaica, 1983) and Hazel Carter's presentations to the Society for Carib-
bean Linguistics Biennial meetings 1978, 1980, 1982, 1984. Carter's "How to be a Tone
language" has been published in Studies in Caribbean Language, (Carrington et al (eds), St.
Augustine, Trinidad, Society for Caribbean Linguistics, c/o School of Education. 1983).
9. "Negus" in The Arrivants, (pp. 222-224)
10. The lines are attributed to Randall Jarell, a modern American poet.
11. This behaviour has been explained elsewhere as the result of the slaves' thinking they could
swim back to Africa. The story from Tatem perhaps suggests this in the comment:
"... they didn't bother getting back into the small boats drawed up here boats take too
much time . ." (p 38)
12. Note that the Rastafarians of Jamaica (for whom repatriation to Africa is a goal), place great
emphasis on the "eye"/"I" and the ability to see (thus RastaFARI = Rasta far-seeing eye).
For more on this see Pollard "The Social History of Dread Talk" in Carrington et al (eds) of
13. See for example Leonard Barrett's Soul-Force African Heritage in Afro-American Religion
(New York, Doubleday 1974).
14. See for example G.E. Simpson Religious Cults of the Caribbean: Trinidad, Jamaica and Haiti,
(Rio Pedras, Univ. of Puerto Rico, 1970) and J. R. Washington's Black Sects and Cults (New
York, Doubleday 1972) especially Chap. 2 "African Roots in the Afro-american Experience".
15. For a moving comment on the quality of this church as a strengthening and cohesive force
among lower class blacks in a village in Trinidad and the fragmentation resulting from its repres-
sion, see The Wine of Astonishment by Earl Lovelace (London, Andre Deutsch Ltd. 1982)
16. The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary gives the meaning "descent" for Avatara (from Sanskrit)
with the detail "Hindoo Myth. The descent of a deity to the earth in an incarnate form".
17. For in-depth commentary on this see Carolyn Cooper's "The Oral Witness and Scribal Docu-
ment; Divergent Accounts of Slavery and the Development Process in two novels of Barbados".
Paper presented at Conference of Caribbean Studies Association: St. Kitts. May 1984
18. See the almost autobiographical Brown Girl, Brown Stones.
Another Sydney Migrant
I've come a lonely to this land,
my dreams already mazed with reasons.
From Blue Mountains tropical and
to Blue Mountains sometimes-snowy capped
I came westwards against time
to meet a woman
from the Ukraine, a woman
with a heart-warming sigh.
She knows me that
I've never seen the Dnieper
nor the Vladimir hills
when they're so green
the poets can only say
"How true the Vladimirs green".
She shows me golding pictures
of a watercity Kiev,
of the three Graces of Pavlovsk,
and a brindle cat outside her window;
but of all the strange sights
she was the most wrapt of all,
lost from the Vladimir hills.
When your window overlooks neon on a long night.
see now, how
the stretched red
is drawn taut across
the gas-lit rods
falling into silvers of light -
See red drip in
and you are a fired
learning dangerous curves
on a night lonely for heroines.
St. Lucian Creole: A descriptive analysis of its phonology and morpho-syntax. Lawrence
D. Carrington. Hamburgh: Helmut Buske Verlag. 1984. One map pp. xv, 180.
Dr. Carrington's descriptive analysis of St. Lucian, first presented in his doctoral
thesis in 1967, has been a veritable mine of information about that variety for approxi-
mately two decades. For this reason, among others, the book under review must be
seen as a most worthy and long overdue addition to the published literature on Caribbean
The French-lexicon Creoles had, of course, received a fair amount of attention
prior to 1967. For example, Dominican, which like St. Lucian co-exists with English,
had been described in detail by Douglas Taylor in a number of articles (e.g. 1947, 1951).
Dr. Carrington's description was, however, the first one to concern itself with St. Lucian.
The task could hardly have been placed in mere capable hands.
The work is largely Structuralist in orientation. By 1967, that long-dominant
approach had already been widely dethroned by Chomsky's Transformational-Generative
theory. Nevertheless, actual application of the new approach was still mainly confined
to long-studied languages, especially English. This, of course, has long ceased to be the
case. Nevertheless, in preparing for the publication of his book, Dr. Carrington deliberately
chose to make very little change to the original thesis, justifiably considering that "re-
taining the type of analysis was itself important for historical . reasons" (Preface:v).
The Introduction includes, in addition to background information on the geography
and history of the island and research and notational details, a very thorough and per-
ceptive evaluation of the use of Creole in St. Lucia and of attitudes to it. The descriptive
analysis of structure begins with Phonology, as in normal in a Structuralist work. Vowel,
semi-vowel and consonant phonemes are identified, their variants described and their
distribution discussed (pp. 17-45). A striking similarity to Dominican is observable.
The only differences between Carrington's phonemic inventory and the one given for
Dominican by Taylor (e.g. 1977:204) is the inclusion, for some dialects of the latter
variety, of /i/, representing a high central unrounded vowel, /n/, representing a palatal
nasal, and /rW, representing a labio-velar fricative.
St. Lucian, like other Creoles, has few, if any, affixes. What are illustrated in the
section headed Morphology (pp. 46-51) are in fact patterns of observable relationships
between sets of free morpheme pairs. It seems, however, that reduplication (p. 50)
could justifiably be seen as a derivational process in St. Lucian. A separate section (pp. 52-
63) is devoted to morpho-phonemic variation, a particularly striking feature of French-
lexicon Creoles. Syntax is handled in two sections, the first of which (pp. 64-132) deals
with identification of sentence components and the second (pp. 133-163) with sentence
structure. These sections are full of insightful details. These are especially evident in
those cases where Dr Carrington attempts to give some predictive power to his mainly
taxonomic description. They include the conditions governing the conjoining of nominals
(pp. 87-88), the recognition (p. 117) of the syntactic equivalence, despite the meaning
difference suggested by the English glosses, of sentences such as /mwe ale/ 'I went,
and /mwe malad/ 'I am ill' and of the aspectual implications of this fact, and also the
contrasts identified (pp. 120-23) between /sa/ and /pe/, described as predicative auxiliaries.
Dr Carrington was clearly aware of the limitations of exclusive reliance on dis-
tributional criteria in his analysis of morpho-syntax. This is illustrated by the fact that,
although he uses syntactic criteria in identifying the main sentence components, sub-
categories of these are distinguished on the basis of semantic criteria. Sometimes, how-
ever, recourse to meaning has encouraged unnecessary fragmentation. For example,
a generalization seems to have been missed in the description of the sub-classes of noun
qualifiers which are given as numerals, quantitatives, indefinites, distributives, negative
and interrogatives (pp. 77-81). All or most of these could have been subsumed under
the general heading of Quantifiers, numerals being further considered as definite and the
rest as indefinite (cf. Bailey, 1966:30).
Some traditional part-of-speech labels have been retained without comment in cases
where their appropriateness might now be questioned. For example, postposed /la/
is identified in the book as definite article. However, as Valdman (1977:163) has pointed
it does not have a one-to-one semantic relationship with the French definite article. It
is also noticeable that, despite the given definition of a pronoun as "a class of mor-
phemes . (p. 68), some sub-groups of pronouns identified are clearly not single
morphemes. For example, the so-called possessive pronouns, such as /sa (a) mwe/
'mine', represent a combination of demonstrative, optional connecting particle and per-
It is also hard to see the justification fir regarding the /te/ occurring in copula type
sentences as independent of the past tense particle. In the former case, /te/ is described
(e.g. pp. 138-139) as a completive aspect copula. The evidence suggests, however, that
the form /te/ has the same function in all its occurrences, i.e. it indicates past time
reference. This illustrated by comparison of
/mwe te ni moso te gara/
'I had a piece of land at Garrand'
/mwe te o sase/
'I was a hunter'
The problem is traceable to the fact that /sete/ has been incorrectly analysed as a
single morpheme. This form, too, is defined as a completive aspect copula. It occurs in
all copula type sentences requiring completive aspect marking, except those in which
"the syntactic unit which precedes the copula is a personal pronoun of first or second
person singular or plural" (p. 138). In the latter instances, /te/ occurs. If /sete/ were
treated instead as two independent morphemes, /se/ copulaa' and /te/ 'past tense
particle', the single function of each in all occurrences would become evident.
A certain amount of overlap would have been avoided if some indication of basic
sentence structure had preceded the identification of sentence components. As happens,
verbs, for example, are sub-classified with regard to frames in which they occur (p. 100)
and, later, types of verbal predicates, differing from each other in respect of these same
frames, are defined in terms of the sub-class of verb which occurs in them (pp. 113-115).
It must, of course, be stressed that the foregoing should not be seen as implying
criticism of the description as a whole. Most of the comments made here have had the
benefit of hindsight. Dr Carrington would no doubt be the first to admit that his analysis
of morpho-syntax stood to gain a great deal from revision, in certain respects at least.
Like all other linguists, he must certainly be aware of the great strides made in the last
two decades with regard to the analysis of language in general and of Creoles in particular.
Some interesting differences between St. Lucian and Dominican are suggested by
the description even though, in general, it is evident that the two varieties are very close
indeed. For example, /kaj/ appears to be the single marker, for St. Lucian, or what
is referred to as the modal category 'prospective' (p. 118). In Dominican, on the other
hand, the corresponding form alternates freely with /ke/. Again, the incompatibility
in St. Lucian between /te/ 'past tense particle' and the copula substitute /je/ (p. 148)
is not reflected in Dominican, as is illustrated by the presence of both in
/ke le i te je/ 'What time was it?'
The distribution of the positional variants /baj/ and /ba/ is the source of still
other differences between the two varieties in question. In St. Lucian, both forms may
occur either as verb, meaning 'to give' or as preposition meaning 'to', 'for' (p. 60). The
corresponding preposition in Dominican is always /ba/, though the verb may be re-
presented by either form as is the case in St. Lucian. The verbal forms do not have
identical distribution in the two varieties, however. In St. Lucian, /ba/ 'to give' is re-
stricted to the position immediately preceding personal pronouns. /baj/ occurring before
other nominals. In Dominican, on the other hand, the verb is always /ba/ immediately
preceding indirect complements, but it is /baj/ everywhere else (Taylor, 1977:366).
Lexical differences noted include the following:
St. Lucian Dominican
/boku/ /apil/ 'many
/mamaj/ /negjo/ 'child'
/is/ /zafa/ 'child'
/de/ /hod/ 'from'
/krene/, /kene/ /kujone/ 'to trick'
The only significant addition to the original material is a postscript dealing with
the sociolinguistic situation on the island (pp. 165-176). This, of course, forces comparison
with the earlier situation described in the Introduction. Causesand manifestations of changes
which have occurred in the intervening years are identified and described with the same
sharpness of vision and clarity of expression that are manifest in the rest of the book.
Each language variety, St. Lucian and English, is seen as having gained some ground at
the expense of the other in response to various socio-political and economic develop-
ments, including the advent of political independence and its consequences. Of particular
interest is the description of steps wh ch were taken in the early 1980s towards the
instrumentalization of St. Lucian (p. 175). These included agreement on an orthographic
system for this and other Antillean varieties. Dr Carrington was a major participant in
The postscript fittingly rounds off the book by emphasizing the social context
in which the described variety is spoken. Its inclusion reflects the increasing awareness,
on the part of linguists, of the close interrelationship between linguistic and social factors.
The author, in his conclusion, expresses the hope that his work will contribute to re-
cognition of St. Lucian as a language with a grammar and an orthography of its own. If
it does not accomplish this, the blame cannot be ascribed to him.
Department of Linguistics
Bailey, Beryl 1966 Jamaican Creole Syntax Cambridge. Cambridge University Press.
Taylor, Douglas 1947 'Phonemes of Caribbean Creole'. Word 3:173-179
1951 'Structural outline of Caribbean Creole' Word 7:43-59
1977 Languages of the West Indies. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins.
Valdman, A. 1977 'Creolization: Elaboration in the Development of Creole French Dialects'. In
Pidgin and Creole Linguistics: Bloomington: Indiana University Press: 155-189.
To Shoot Hard Labour: The Life and Times of Samuel Smith, an Antiguan workingman
1877-1982 by Keithly Smith and Fernando Smith, Edan's Publishers, Ontario, 1986,
"Every time an old man dies a book is lost". A son (Hilson Smith), and two grandsons
(Keithlyn and Fernando Smith) of Samuel Smith, a working-class man who lived in Anti-
gua from 1877 to 1982, have made sure that his book has not gone with him to the grave.
The writing of post-emancipation West Indian history has suffered from the absence of
slave testimonies of the sort which have given depth and feeling to many accounts of sla-
very in the United States of America. This book is not slave testimony, but it is as near to
it as we can now hope to get: it is the life story of a second generation post-emancipation
estate labourer. Samuel Smith as a boy in the 1880s listened to stories of slavery from his
grandmother (Countis born early in the post-emancipation period), who heard them
from her mother (Fanny), and her aunts (Barba and Minty, sisters of Fanny) all three of
whom had experienced slavery. At the head of the family tree stood Mother Rachael, an
African-born slave woman (mother of Fanny. Barba and Minty) who was taken to Antigua
about 1800, and survived to see the formal end of slavery in 1834.
The rationale for the book is the extraordinary longevity of Samuel Smith (105
years), his intelligence and knowledge of estate life in the 19th and 20th centuries. It is
the long view which gives additional significance to Papa Sammy's testimony. Papa Sammy
was never a principal actor in any of the events he relates, apart from the routine grind of
estate life. He was never a rebel; he was not a hero in any sense except his power to over-
come brute labour with intelligence. Samuel Smith got some "promotion", but never
totally escaped field labour though he was for some time a favourite part-time coachman
of planter Goodwin. His perspective is that of a field labourer, not that of a domestic ser-
vant. He looks at a society from the bottom up; and his sight rarely went beyond planter
and magistrate. For him these authorities were the 'government'. Hence Smith offers a
corrective to the accounts of professional historians who perceive governments down-
wards from the Colonial Office and the Legislative Council to the masses.
The message of Samuel Smith is that the brutish material conditions of slavery did
not cease for estate workers in 1834; their labour conditions, housing, food, relations
with the planters all remained essentially the same throughout the 19th century and
well into the 20th century. The first turning point to a better life was about the time of
World War 1, and the break point into what we might to call 'modern' times was about
the late 1930s with the formation of the union (Antigua Trades and Labour Union).
Smith's recollections affirm the persistent power of the white planter class, the frustrating
powerlessness of the descendants of the slaves, the solidity of the alliance between planter
and magistrate, between 'government' and planter, despite the existence of Crown colony
government (which he does not even mention).
The most striking revelation in the entire book is recurrent references to the con-
tinuation of corporal punishment (whipping) on the estates by the planters or their agents,
for a multitude of "offenses', especially for failure to turn out to work. It is a regime of
'forced' labour that Smith describes; and he was not writing about indentured East Indian
or African labourers, but about 'free' black labourers. It must be the task of professional
historians using the documentary sources to ascertain the extent to which such punish-
ment was according to statute 'laws'. Smith himself refers to no laws; punishment seemed
customary, entirely arbitrary; Smith saw no difference between a whipping administered
by estate agents of the planters and whipping ordered by a magistrate. Associated with cor-
poral punishment was an astonishingly high level of physical violence against estate work-
ers by planters which went uninvestigated and unpunished. Mysterious disappearances,
induced 'suicides', poisonings, murders these were the hazards of estate life for workers
who fell foul of planters. Women were not uncommonly victims. Blacks had no human
rights, no freedom.
The traditional countervailing influences to planter and estate hardships such as the
Protestant missionary churches, an independent peasantry, urban alternatives, middle
class opportunities, seem extremely feeble or nearly completely absent from Smith's expe-
riences. There is very little peasantry in sight. Some land did become available, but appa-
rently for use rather than purchase. The estates dominated the island completely and
with only one small urban centre which many estate labourers never saw in a lifetime -
there was no escape from the planters. In Smith's account there was no social group or
institution (before the union) to protect estate workers. A significant disclaimer of
Smith's testimony was that neither the vaunted Moravian nor Methodist missionary
presence exercised a protective function for black estate workers as a group. Smith, a God-
fearing man, rejected completely (like his mother) the institutional church. His life style -
including at least 47 mostly uncared for children, "plenty" women and an aversion to
christian marriage was not cramped by the ideology of the missionary churches. His
good manners and unfailing obedience towards his 'betters' he credits to his own pru-
dence and instinct for survival.
For a man who had very little formal education supplemented by limited self-educa-
tion on planter's books and newspapers Smith language if as claimed the authors have
written down exactly what he said is much nearer to the Standard English end of the
language spectrum than one would expect at first. But then Smith has not told us any-
thing about the development of his own consciousness.
University of the West Indies, Mona
Jan Crew, Grenada: The Hour Will Strike Again, (International Organization of Journa-
lists, Prague, 1985), 269 pp.
An eloquent testimony to the distinct historical significance of the Grenada experience in
the period 1979 to 1983 is to be found in the voluminous literature that it provoked.
Naturally enough, not all of it will find a place in the grateful memory of the Caribbean
people. There is much of it that the Grenadian people and the revolutionary leadership of
those years could have done without. But, hostile fulminations and diatribes apart, there
was nonetheless an abundance of good, stirring analysis and commentary on the heroic
achievements of those four years. As Maurice Bishop himself was to say often enough in
the midst of the revolutionary struggles, it would be difficult to explain the outpouring of
literature, both good and bad and it was frequently the bad that Bishop had in mind -
in terms of Grenada's size or population, or strategic significance. Rather it was the geo-
political and ideological impact of the revolutionary experiment that explained it.
In the period since the collapse and destruction of the revolution, the literary flow
first increased as a consequence of the dramatic character of the fall, and it has now de-
clined. But if the quantity has diminished, not so the quality of some of the more serious
publications. It is in this category that Jan Crew's book must surely be numbered.
Of all the books written on Grenada both during and after the revolutionary ex-
perience this is the first written by an acknowledged Caribbean writer of the first rank.
Jan Crew has for years been one of the leading figures in the regional literary establish-
ment. His works have an assured niche in the edifice of Caribbean and novel writing
that emerged in the period since the Second World War. He himself possesses credentials
that go beyond the merely technical; he is not only a first class literary technician, he is
also a revolutionary Caribbean man.
That is why it is no exaggeration to say that his book is unique in the literature
that has so far appeared on Grenada. In one sense it is a kind of historical essay reminis-
cent of the book written by Vidia Naipaul sometime ago on the early history of Trinidad.
But The Loss of El Dorado was a kind of enigma though: a book written about nothing
that said nothing. It may be in that genre of historical essay that Carew's book is located,
but it is a book with a totally different spirit. It is imbued with the spirit of commitment,
of hope, of optimism but also of judgment of those who unmade the Grenada Revolution:
So Rupert Bishop died on the 21st of January, 1974 defending Grenada's children,
and nine years later, has his son would die defending the whole nation from enemies
without and within.
This book is an attempt explaining the events of October and November 1983 in
historical terms. Readers interested in an explanation of the rise and fall of the Grenada
Revolution, in its contemporary aspects, will have to look elsewhere. But those who wish
to associate that process with the sweep of Grenadian history and to explain the revolu-
tionary tradition, such as it is, in the history of Grenada will be well rewarded by a read-
ing of Carew's book.
The point is that for Carew the Grenada Revolution was an episode at once promis-
ing, tragic and prophetic. History will recall that what was promised in the period 1979 to
1983 failed to materialise. That failure was circumscribed by events of pure tragedy in-
volving, in the classical sense of that word, the termination of a life which in a brief stage
of time had assumed heroic proportions only to be snuffed out because of a fatal leader-
ship flaw, to wit, an explicable insouciance in the management of political power.
The book is organised around three seminal processes in the history of Grenada:
first of all, the struggles of the original peoples, the heroic Caribs of Camerhogne. the ori-
ginal Carib name for Grenada; secondly, the struggles of the slaves particularly in the
period of the French Revolution when at the height of the southern Caribbean aspect of
that major international crisis, Julien Fedon emerged as the apotheosis of the Grenadian
revolutionary movement; and, finally, the post-emancipation struggles when a sub-series
of popular movements culminated in the emergence of Maurice Bishop at the head of the
most radical, revolutionary upsurge to seize political power in the Anglophone Caribbean
in the period since 1838.
But the movement that seized power did not retain it, and the manner of suppres-
sion prompted the natural question as to whether or not the revolutionary movement had
died for good. Of course there are those who hope that it has. There are also those who
know that it has not, and Jan Carew is clearly among them. His book is a clarion call to
optimists, and still more so to revolutionaries. It is to be noted that in the brief period
since it has been published, the tide of affairs has noticeably changed in Grenada and
elsewhere in the Caribbean. The promised rivers of gold that sweetened the bitter-sweet
portion of imperialist intervention in October 1983 have failed to materialise. The "Reagan
revolution" so-called has collapsed. And mortal and other attritions have weakened the
regional reactionary movement. Decent men these days put as much distance as possible
between themselves and those who supported the United States intervention in Grenada.
It is in its prophetic dimension that his book will live. The hour will surely strike
again; new processes will emerge, new heroes and heroines will arise. The people of
Grenada, already several times denied, will ultimately triumph.
On the literary level, the book has its share of typos and errors normally associated
with publications in a country whose first language is not english. It is adequately foot-
noted and heavily dependent upon George Brizan's then unpublished manuscript The
Children of Camerhogne: from Carib's Leap to People's Revolution. It also features a
most enlightening introduction written by Don Rojas, Press Secretary to Maurice Bishop
and eyewitness to the rise and fall of the Grenada Revolution.
Department of History
UWI, St. Augustine
The Jombee Dance of Montserrat A Study of Trance Ritual in the West Indies by Jay
Dobbin, Ohio State University Press, Columbus 1986, 202 pages.
If for nothing else, Jay Dobbin's book is valuable for recording the elements and texture
of an extremely interesting ritual dance. It is a near-dead folk dance of African origin in
which human and spirit beings supposedly intermingle to cast benign or malevolent in-
fluences on human affairs. For Dobbin, the jombee dance is folk religion comparable in
some ways to Jamaican Cumina and Haitian voodoo. The book does more than recording
through well established research techniques such as interviews and participant observa-
tion. It utilises concepts developed by certain anthropologists to analyse and interpret the
dance within the context of Afro-Caribbean folk religion.
In researching the dance, Dobbin was in search of a doctoral degree, but his work
has turned out to be something of a cultural rescue mission. Some local scholars had re-
cognized the importance of the dance for Montserratian folklore and folk life and had of-
fered brief descriptions (Dewar 1977; Fergus 1984); and John Messenger (1973) and
Stuart Philpot (1973) and given it some attention, particularly Messenger. (Montserratian
scholar Dr. George Irish had described the dance as a form of ancestral worship.) But
Dobbin's is the first extensive and incisive study.
Treating the dance as religion, the author explores its connections and parallelism
with western christianity in which the people of Montserrat are steeped. This makes sense.
Montserratians are too respectful to conceive of priests as the counterparts of obeah men
(the author is himself a priest), but much of the paraphernalia of Roman Catholicism -
saints, candles, icons, prayers for the dead are, in the minds of some Roman Catholics and
Protestants alike, associated with superstition and the world of necromancy. Dobbin not
only touches on this inter-religion nexus, but he also explores the complex contextual
ramifications of the dance. The six chapter headings indicate the rich context: Religion
in Montserrat; a Case Study of One Jombee Dance; The Jombee Dance as Social Drama;
The Jombee Dance as Liminal; The Jombee Dance as African Derived.
Part of the rich context that Dobbin unveils has to do with plantation society. He
appreciates the fact that Afican cultural manifestations became marginalised, given the
dynamics of plantation life aided by laws aimed at outlawing anything that was anti-
christian and seemingly socially disruptive. What he has not shown is that there has been
a demystification of the jombee dance and related beliefs in the light of education and
social progress. He also downplays the duping and charlatan elements associated with
dance in which some persons use the African-derived religion for economic gain and to
secure power over their fellows. This would, one suspects, detract from his basic view that
the Montserrat world is suffused with spiritism or as he would say, utilising a Roman
Catholic metaphor, 'transubstantiated' an interesting concept.
Admirable and valuable as this study is, one gets the impression that some of the
information was too uncritically accepted and some of the generalisations are tenuously
based. For instance, children seldom participate in the jombee dance. So when the author
sees them as 'informal apprentices waiting for the threshold of adulthood and approval
from kin' (p. 55), one cannot but be skeptical since he attributes to the dying dance an
institutionalization which it lacks. When, too, he surmises that the demise of the dance
may be due to the expense of staging it, he is wide of the mark. The dance flourished in
the days when folks found it more difficult to make ends meet. Dobbin seems reluctant
to concede that it is natural for the dance to lose its mystical value as greater enlighten-
ment comes to the people in the wake of development. When he is told that the jombees
have vanished with the coming of island-wide electricity, his informant is making a serious
comment about the correlation of certain beliefs and practices with the darkness of igno-
rance. It is a serious comment made jestingly, or even cynically. Caribbean people have a
penchant for poking fun at themselves with a subtlety that often escapes the foreigner. As
the author claims, some educated persons may well be embarrassed over this aspect of the
culture, but that does not gainsay the fact that some of the issues he raises and some of
the claims he makes are controversial.
On the whole, the book is a very useful contribution to the study of Afro-Carib-
bean folkways and folk religion. The work can be used to illumine the study of similar
subjects elsewhere. The work is scholarly, but it is written in an attractive and easy style.
It is a worthy addition to the literature on Caribbean society. Even where Dobbin makes
what 1 regard as controversial claims, some of these can be considered as useful hypo-
theses for further investigation.
Department of Extra-Mural Studies,
A.M. DEWAR, Music in the Alliouagana (Montserrat) Cultural Tradition (Unpublished typescript in
Caribbean Studies, UWI, Barbados, 1977.
H.A. FERGUS, Montserrat Emerald Isle of the Caribbean, London, Macmillan, 1983.
J. MESSENGER, 'African Retentions in Montserrat', African Arts, Summer 1973.
A Civilization that Perished: The Last Years of White Colonial Rule in Haiti by Moreau
de St. Mery, translated by Ivor D. Spencer, University of America, Maryland, 1985.
nothing calls to mind the idea of a great city. Someone once
said, even, that Port-au-Prince was like a "camp of Tartars'" This re-
mark may have lost some of its truth but cannot be considered entirely
This observation was not made by a visitor to Port-au-Prince in 1986 but by Moreau de
St. Mery in 1789 in his Description topographique, physique, civil, politique et histori-
que de la parties franscaise de I'isle de Saint-Domingue now made available in English with
the catchy title A Civilization That Perished. It is a detailed and aggressively observed
account of life in France's richest colony just before the War of Independence and the
emergence of the Republic of Haiti in 1804.
This abridged and edited translation of St. Mery's longer work emphasizes the fact
that colonial society in St. Domingue was on the verge of irrevocable and dramatic change.
Both assertions contained in the title A Civilization That Perished are justified. St Mdry's
observations indicate the extent to which the French colony of St. Domingue was a vi-
brant and wealthy one. It was also a society that was obliterated in the economic and
social upheavals of the ensuing years. Both the strengths and weaknesses of this world
were familiar to St. Mery who practised law for a number of years in Cap Francois.
His account of St. Domingue is as fair-minded and humane as was possible for a
slave-owning European in the 18th century. He tends not to accentuate the brutality of
the plantation system and dismisses the Vaudoux religion as "a diabolical spectacle".
However, he does show the extent to which the savagery of slave society had a coarsening
effect on all those who fell under its influence. St. Mdry is objective enough to speak open-
ly of the frivolity and arrogance of the white creole planter . "Disadaining all that does
not bear the stamp of pleasure, he surrenders himself to the whirlwind". However, he ulti-
mately emerges as an apologist for colonisation and is eager to point out that blacks in
the colonies are superior to Africans because "The nose elongates, the features soften,
the yellow tint of the eyes diminishes".
This work combines the traveller's wide-eyed curiosity about random details with
an encyclopedist determination to explain. We are treated to details that range from the
danger of hull worms to the underwear of mulatto women, from the quality of the teeth
of inhabitants to the use of hypnosis to cure constipation. However, in spite of the lavish
entertainment, theatrical activity and flourishing newspapers, this is a society over which
future events have already begun to cast an ominous shadow. The final chapter hints that
blacks outnumbered whites; that the mixed-bloods had been alienated; that the spirit of
Revolutionary France was pervasive these conditions would change the world that St.
Mery knew. What Ivor Spencer has made available in this translation is an invaluable in-
sight into the lives of the doomed actors in an important episode of Haitian history.
J. MICHAEL DASH
Department of French
David Barry Gaspar, Bondmen and Rebels: A Study of Master-Slave Relations in Antigua,
with Implications for Colonial British America (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University
Press, 1985), pp. xvii, 338. US$38.50.
In attempting to understand the pattern of slave rebellion in the Caribbean it is necessary
to study the failures as well as the successes and to analyse the forces of repression as
well as the character of resistance. It is well known that rebellions were frequent in some
territories while other places experienced relatively little public turbulence, and that some
periods were marked by much more activity than others, but the reasons for these vari-
ations remain uncertain. Some historians have placed emphasis on the role of external
factors, as for example the influence of the French Revolution on St. Domingue. Other
scholars, notably Orlando Patterson, have stressed the importance of structural forces
such as the density of population, the ratio of slaves to whites, and topographic con-
ditions. Recent works, including Michael Craton's Testing the Chains and Hilary Beckles'
Black Rebellion in Barbados, have placed increasing emphasis on the development of
political ideology among the slaves. In Bondmen and Rebels, David Barry Gaspar con-
tributes significant new elements to this debate by placing rebellion squarely at the centre
of an analysis of slave society, and using rebellion as a window onto the whole com-
The focus of Gaspar's book is the failed slave conspiracy of 1736. In that year
slaves in Antigua planned an islandwide insurrection to commence on the night of October
S1, the occasion of the annual ball held in St. John's to commemorate the coronation of
George II. One of their leaders, Tomboy, a carpenter, was to obtain the task of making
the seats for the ballroom in order to plant gunpowder. After the gentry had been blown
up, parties of slaves of 400 men were to have entered the town at different points and put
the whites to the sword. Other slaves were to attack in the countryside and to seize the
island's forts. The revolt was carefully planned for months, but was discovered when the
ball was postponed. Executions and trials followed. In four months a total of 88 slaves
were executed, five being broken on the wheel, six gibbeted alive, and 77 burned.
Gaspar argues that the origins of the plot were overwhelmingly internal. In terms of
structural variables, he makes the interesting point that although Antigua lacked the
physical conditions conducive to guerilla warfare found in Jamaica it was possible, or
perhaps essential, for slaves to organise islandwide resistance in places like Antigua
because of their relatively confined space. He considers the slave/white ratio, but con-
cludes that the perception of this factor is difficult to tie down. He also traces the impact
of economic recession on slaves conditions of life, which produced a ground swell of
resistance prior to the plot. But Gaspar concludes that "Lax enforcement of slave con-
trols, enhancing opportunities for slave resistance, was perhaps the single most important
precondition of the Antigua plot" (p. 222). The role of charismatic slave leaders, many of
them privileged non-field creole slaves, was important, though Gaspar seems uncertain
whether to side with the precipitate creole Tomboy or the cautious Coromantee Court
(pp. 5 and 20).
Probably the most striking feature of Gaspar's book is the rich detail he provides,
much of it derived from slave testimony given at the trials. His research has been extremely
thorough, and he is able to provide very valuable information on recruitment to the
conspiracy, initiation rituals, and the extraordinary crowning (enstooling) ceremony of
Court. Gaspar's study of the African ethnographic literature enables him to turn to
suggest a link between the organisation of the Antiguan plot and Akan social organisation
The structure of Gaspar's book is less than ideal, however, and it requires patient
reading. He begins with an account of the 1736 conspiracy and the trials. The second
part of the book (chapters 4-7) treats the development of slave society in Antigua over
the whole period from the 1670s to the 1760s. The third (chapters 8-11) deals with
changing patterns of slave resistance and provides an analysis of the causes of the 1736
plot. The relationship between part two and the rest of the volume is not always clear
and it constitutes something of an interruption to the narrative flow. Readers must wait
for the evidence to be gradually revealed, but the effort is rewarded. Both for its intricate
study of a failed conspiracy and its contribution to the analytical corpus Gaspar's book
forms a welcome addition to the literature of slave resistance.
Department of History
Hazel Campbell Woman's Tongue. Savacou Publications, Kingston, 1985, 103 pp.
Mrs Hazel Campbell has another successful book of short stories to her credit, the first
being The Rag Doll and other stories, 1978.
Woman's Tongue is a collection of eight absorbing and delightfully readable short
stories which express the writer's insight into basic human situations and emotions, as she
reveals, through an intimate and intense style, how women generally think and feel. Most
of the stories, however, are concerned with how the Caribbean woman, in particular,
views her life, especially as regards man/woman interrelationship. The title aptly describes
the tone of these narratives. The stories are told frankly, with the "tongue" of a woman
who is a literary technician with the skill to vividly express that which is fully understood
and thoughtfully analysed.
In the opening story, "The Ebony Desk", the writer immediately establishes con-
tact with the reader by an effective, interest-arousing introduction, in 'nation language'.
It is one thing I always fraid of is people's "dead-lef"
things; especially furniture and jewellery ...
Then, in the conversational tone, which is employed throughout the story, the reader is
told about this large desk which so imposes itself on the persons in the narrator's home,
and so affects her writing that it eventually has to be taken away. The story makes fasci-
nating reading because Mrs. Campbell anthropomorphizes the ebony desk, referring to
its "exquisitely carved bow-legs", to it as a piece of furniture which "one wouldn't dream
of insulting by putting a typewriter on it". When ink is spilt on it, it is "almost as if it
were dripping black blood". The vivid description of the desk and the reactions of the
narrator's children depict the imposing nature of the desk's presence in the home. Take,
for example, the teenage son's response:
"But this ya desk too dread, lya. Is like everywhere I
man turn it eyeing I. You no see't?"
A remarkable piece of storytelling. "The Ebony Desk" also gives its readers a glimpse of
the writer's approach to her craft and her sense of control over her creation, for the narra-
tor is seen sitting at the desk, writing "the kind of story which could become mawkish,
but I was sure that I knew how to handle it".
"The Painting" is a fine example of controlled and beautiful writing. It is an intri-
cately weaved composition in which Mrs. Campbell explores, simultaneously, the "other"
in the creative process, true love. a woman's resilience and the communicative value of
The painting which Karen gives Peter is of a young woman in this posture:
She was kneeling on one knee . Her hands were
outstretched, cupped together as if she was holding
something in them, something which she was about
to offer as a sacrifice on an altar ...
It represents her feelings of fear and apprehension, as she enters a new relationship with
him after being jilted. The plot is fast-moving with a surprise ending when Peter presents
Karen with a painting, similar to hers
except that instead of a girl, there was a man kneel-
ing before the sun-drenched altar, hands outstretched
offering his sacrifice.
For his picture portrays his confidence in now being able to confront a situation from
which he had fled, thereby necessitating a five-year abandonment of his family. Mrs
Campbell blends compassion and humour, as she takes a searching look at the nature of
man/woman relationship portrayed in the effective image of mingling (or non-mingling)
Sometimes two people meet and their energy fields
simply melt quietly into each other and become one
and that's a nice experience," he said, reaching out to
touch her face.
She smiled, pleased by the touch.
"Look at the people at this party for example," he
said. "You can tell whose energy fields are mingling
or not ..."
Karen looked keenly at the couples he had singled
out and there seemed to be some truth in what he
was saying. Sally and Sam did seem to be sharing an
awareness of each other that was completely absent
between Jerry and Maxine. "Sometimes," he con-
tinued, "the people don't even have to be in the
same room to share the same space."
A display of excellent storytelling, "The Painting" presents a serious, poignant situation
in a pleasantly readable form.
In the manner of a subjective report, "Why Not Tonight" is recounted by a sixteen
year-old girl whose thoughts, as she sits beside her mother in church during a sermon, are
described. The writer looks questioningly at what it means, or should mean, to be "born
again". The very effective setting is, therefore, the mind of the young girl the daughter
of a "pious" mother and a "sinful" father who ponders over the meaning of being
saved, as she listens to the evangelist urging the congregation to respond to the altar call.
She compares the quality and happiness of the lives of the churchgoers with that of
sinners like her father. As is characteristic of Mrs Campbell's style, she injects a humor-
ous note to diminish the tension of the situation and to make the story enjoyable. For
the only exchange which takes place between the mother and daughter is the following:
Vivette shifted again and her mother, mistaking her
discomfort, touched her knee and whispered, "If the
Lord is speaking to you Viv, go up and answer his
call ... Without planning to, she found herself whis-
pering back to her mother, "I dying to wee-wee."
With genuine insight, Mrs Campbell narrates "The Thursday Wife", the story of
Bertie who, after years of selfish, inconsiderate and uncaring behaviour towards his wife,
recognizes her virtues when it is now too late for them to have a meaningful relationship:
he lay there wondering how he had got himself into
so much confusion. That most of all he was wonder-
ing how he had left this good woman to get involved
first with Connie and now with the devil who was out
to mash up his life.
He thought of Connie and her two children and how
lately she had started nagging him ...
And he thought of Mary, patient Mary, who through
all the years had never even questioned him when
many other women would have made a stink. He
thought how she always welcomed him, never turned
him away even though she had more than good
reason to do so ...
What a mess! he thought. The best thing to do,
perhaps, was to come back to his wife Mary. He was
getting bored of those other demanding women.
Similarly, as we have seen in the other stories concerning man/woman interrelationship,
Mrs Campbell centres attention on the woman's feelings and reaction:
"Cho! Mary," he said, turning around suddenly and
startling her. "Turn off the light no, and come to
Mary, dutiful as ever, sighed. She hoped he had no
amorous thoughts. That night more than ever she
would not be able to accommodate him.
Perhaps she wouldn't ever be able to accommodate
Set in the resort town of Negril, "Miss Girlie" offers fresh insights into the intri-
cacies of certain domestic associations in the Caribbean. Specifically, it reveals the psy-
chological and emotional suffering of the woman faced with the demands of a man who
priorities material possessions over expressions of love and tenderness. Such topics as
lack of communication, distrust, a woman's stoic acceptance of her "role" skilfully
intersect, as we see Miss Girlie whose boyfriend encourages her to prostitute herself with
a white American tourist so that he can get money to buy a motor boat. She reacts in this
Ivan wanted her to become a whore! He who was the
first and only man she had known in her twenty-four
years, for they had been childhood sweethearts. Ivan
had always treated her as if she was special. I-Queen
he called her. And now he was sending her out just
like all the other men he used to talk about with
scorn; now he was sending her out to sell herself ...
suddenly money was so important to him it didn't
matter how he got it.
Unknown to Ivan, Miss Girlie refuses to be a prostitute. Instead, she strategically obtains
American and Jamaican dollars which she gives him. He had planned that after a while,
when he had enough money for his boat, she would stop "selling herself" and he would
set her up in a little cafe. But, meanwhile, her sister. Babs, would take Miss Girlie's place
at his home. Again we are shown Miss Girlie's reaction to this unfair treatment, in her
demonstration of the dignity of her womanhood and of the acquired strength and the
spirit of self-sacrifice necessary to cope with her situation:
... the unfairness of everything made her want to cry
again. But she wouldn't cry, never again as easily as
she used to. Her name was woman.
She would have to be strong. No more weeping. She
would do the things her man wanted her to do. Help
him to get the things he wanted even though it meant
heartache for her. Girlie didn't actually put these
thoughts into words but she felt them, instinctively
knowing what her role was. This was her birthright.
Her time had come.
"Supermarket Blues" focuses on an important facet of the experience of the
Jamaican homemaker, faced with food shortages. The writer pictures women who have to
fall into the habit of "haunting" supermarkets and "begging" for goods, women who
sometimes are "nearly trampled in the rush for rice when a few packs are brought out".
Then. despite such unpleasantness, they have their patience tested in this way:
Mrs Telfer . could do without many of the things
she had to hunt and scrounge for, but her husband
and her two sons were forever complaining when she
told them that the things they liked just weren't avail-
able. She would patiently explain that it was the only
"You just write your sister in Chicago or John and
tell them to send you some decent soap," he would
command her. "Is better you didn't bathe than use
this. You smell stinker after you use it," and he
would bang the bathroom door to emphasize his
"Mummy, you sure them don't have no Kellogs?" her
elder son would wail, both elbows on the table, lean-
ing over the porridge he didn't want.
"No Joseph," she would patiently explain for the
millionth time. There's no Kellogs. Eat your porridge
before your father leave you again this morning.
"I don't like this black sugar." the little one would
then begin. "It don't taste good."
They nagged her as if all these changes were her fault.
As if she could manufacture the things they wanted,
the things they had been accustomed to, out of thin
Mrs Campbell gives an intimate depiction of this aspect of human relationship in our
society, perceptively considering, as she usually does, the woman's emotional response to
the situation portrayed.
In "Easter Sunday Morning", the writer gives a portraiture of the atmosphere of
Easter and the Mini Harvest Festival in the Church, by employing a cluster of visual and
in addition to the white lilies and other Easter flowers,
the church overflowed with the many other gifts of
the earth: red otaheite apples, bright yellow oranges
and grapefruits, sugarcane, yams and sweet potatoes.
Green bananas hugged each other in large bunches,
voluptuous ripe plantains tempted the touch.
This forms the setting for a gripping story of Mother White, obeah-woman, who "went
too far" in the Anglican church, when the parson refused to give her communion on that
The final story of Woman's Tongue is an attempt to allegorize certain idiosyncrasies
of our society. Entitled "Princess Carla and the Southern Prince" A C'bbean Fairy
Tale, and structured in Part I and Part II, it exposes such shortcomings as our tendency to
close our eyes to the reality of what is happening in our society, to be shortsighted in our
economic planning and the more generally human inclination to confuse loving with
This fairy tale forms a disappointing conclusion to the preceding finely chiselled
narratives. It is lacking in the precision and conciseness which characterise the other seven
stories. It is a bold effort at this product of folk literature, but it needs the subtlety of
language which is the hallmark of a good fairy tale. In this passage, for example, the
moralizing is too obvious:
She saw people living in want, fighting pigs and crows
for pickings from the dungle; people sick and dying
without care or attention; people fighting; people
despairing and she whimpered in pain as the awful
scenes unfolded before her.
"Ah Carla," the Southern Prince said ... "This is
reality for more people than you could ever count."
"If this is reality, I prefer my dreams," she cried.
"No Princess. To hide oneself from truth helps
nobody. You will have to face reality and do what
you can to help those around you who need help .. ."
Woman's Tongue, undoubtedly, is of great merit. Reading these fine stories is a
literary experience that must not be missed. Moreover, their content should be of interest
to Caribbean men and women who wish to read thought-provoking stories about the
essence of their interrelationships.
SHELIA Y. CARTER
Department of Spanish
NOTES ON CONTRIBUTORS
C. Rose-Green Williams
Norman R. Cary
is senior lecturer in the department of educational studies,
University of the West Indies, Mona.
is a graduate of the department of English, University of
the West Indies, Mona and a public relations practitioner.
is a lecturer in the department of Spanish at the University
of the West Indies, Mona.
is faculty member in the department of English language
and literatures at Wright State University, Dayton, Ohio.
is associate professor of English in the division of the
humanities at Dillard University, New Orleans, Louisiana.
is a graduate of the department of English, University of
the West Indies, Mona.
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CARIBBEAN QUARTERLY VOL. 35, NO. 3
UWI's 40th ANNIVERSARY: THE ST LUCIA LECTURES
LIST OF CONTENTS
1 Guest Editorial
4 The Caribbean: The Cultural Imperative
16 Federations: Then and Now
25 St Lucia in the Economic History of the
Windward Islands: The 19th Century
35 The Right to Choose: Some Lessons of
Independence in the Field of External
43 Vivat, Floreat, Crescat
CARIBBEAN QUARTERLY VOL 35, NOS. 1 & 2
MARCH -JUNE, 1989
WOMEN AND CARIBBEAN DEVELOPMENT
1 From the Guest Editor: Crisis and Challenges -
Report of the Consultation and Symposium Peggy Antrobus
6 Caribbean Crisis and Challenges to year
2000 Rex Nettleford
17 Crisis, Challenge and the Experiences of
Caribbean Women Peggy Antrobus
29 Alternative Visions: Women and the New
Caribbean Rhoda Reddock
36 Women's Responses in the 70s and 80s in
Trinidad: A Country Report Patricia Mohammed
46 POEMS Merle Collins
56 Vigilance, Confidence and Coalitions An
Afterword Lucille Mair
60 APPENDICES: i. Findings of the Panel Discussions
i i. The Hastings (Barbados) Statement
ii i. Participants Consultation and Symposium
CARIBBEAN QUARTERLY VOL. 35, NO. 4
ESSAY AND LECTURES BY C.L.R. JAMES
LIST OF CONTENTS
West Indian Personality
15 Immigrants to Britain: Formerly Colonial Peoples
35 The Artist in the Caribbean
39 Socialism or Barbarism
49 A New View of West Indian History
C.L.R. JAMES CRITIQUE & TRIBUTE
73 What Do Men Live By? Autobiography and Intention
in C.L.R. Jame's Beyond a Boundary Consuelo Lopez-
89 Caliban and Ceasar Richard Small