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University of the West Indies
Notes on contributors
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VOLUME 21 NO. 3
Copyright reserved and reproduction without permission strictly forbidden.
University of the West Indies (iv)
Notes on Contributors (v)
V S. Naipaul and the Colonial Image 1
Michael V Angrosino
A Travalogue Begins 12
Commitment and Confinement Two West Indian Visions 15
The Road 28
Satire and the Birth of Haitian Fiction (1901-1905) 30
Curricula Syllabuses and Examinations in English 41
C. R. Gray
Poem Review 58
Book Review 60
UNIVERSITY OF THE WEST INDIES
R.M. Nettleford, Director of Extra-Mural Studies (Editor)
Lloyd Braithwaite, Pro-Vice Chancellor, U.W.I., St. Augustine, Trinidad.
Sidney Martin, Pro-Vice Chancellor, U.W.I., Cave Hill, Barbados.
Roy Augier, Pro-Vice Chancellor, Mona, Jamaica.
J.J. Figueroa, Professor, Faculty of Education, U.W.I., Mona, Jamaica.
G.A. AUeyne, Professor, Medical Research Council, U.W.I. Mona.
Lloyd Coke, Department of Botany, U.W.I. Mona.
Neville McMorris, Department of Physics, U.W.I., Mona.
All correspondence should be addressed to:
Department of Extra-Mural Studies,
University of the West Indies,
Mona. Kingston 7. Jamaica.
We invite readers to submit manuscripts or recommended subjects which they
would like to see discussed in CARIBBEAN QUARTERLY. Articles of Caribbean
relevancy will be gratefully received.
(b) Eastern Caribbean
U.S.A. and other countries
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Subscription orders may be forwarded to the Editor or to the Resident Tutor at
University Centre in any West Indian Territory served by this University.
List of Contributors
Director In-service Diploma Studies School of
Education. U.W.I. (Mona).
Lecturer. Department of Romance Languages.
Queens College of the City I Iniversity of New York.
Head. Department of Modern Language.
The University of Guyana.
Poet from Trinidad.
Poet. Drama Critic. Playwright. Director/Actor.
Book Reviewer. Editor.
Assistant Professor, Department of Anthropology
University of South Florida, Tampa, Florida.
Acting Head. Department of English,
With this issue. Caribbean Quarterly begins the first of two numbers to be
devoted to Caribbean literature, especially as it engages the problems of description,
definition and analysis of the amalgam of developing national cultures of the region
their commonalities and their particularities.
Michael Angrosino in a general review of the work of V.S. Naipaul points out the
fact, acknowledged possibly by many but not nearly many enough social scientists
(particularly those in Anthropology) of a people's, literary creations as a source of
social facts, presented in the setting of a wide social arena. In Commitment and
Confinement, Peter Dunwoodie's article compares the dissimilar postures toward
culture and colonization, of Naipaul and Joseph Zobel, writers of Anglophone and
Francophone backgrounds respectively The author suggests to us the provocative and
disputable notion that those writers of Francophone background, tend to face the
chaos and cultural anarchy of the past with commitment, and without the pessimism,
often bitter and ironic, that marks the works out of an Anglophone milieux, with
regard to the vision of the decolonized future.
The essay by Yvette Gindine focuses on three seminal figures of modern
Haitian fiction and reveals for the reader, by her analysis, affinities of their satirical
method with those of contemporary writers, in dealing with late 18th century early
19th century politics, in that first of Black societies to achieve independence in this
Within the larger framework of literature as broadly expressive of culture, C.R.
Gray's relevant piece on Curricula, Syllabus and Examinations in English
specifically confronts problems dealing with the structure, content and evaluation of
language education in a post-colonial context. The author grapples with this basic,
practical and immediate subject of the very purposes of education in the Caribbean.
The issue is rounded out by Edward Baugh's review of Walcott's extended poem
Another Life; and by Edward Brathwaites monograph entitled Contradictory
Omens-Cultural Diversity and Integration in the Caribbean, which is the
subject of a review article.
Guest Associate Editor.
V. S. NAIPAUL AND THE COLONIAL IMAGE
Anthropologists have long relied on oral (or otherwise traditional) folk"
literature in the study of cultures, but comparatively little use has been made
of "art" literature as a potential source of cultural information. A recently
published anthology by Spradley and McDonough is dedicated, in part, to the
proposition that a study of the literary productions of any given society can be
effectively used to restore to us the wholeness and vividness of life, the
immediate experiences the anthropologist knows in the field (1973:xiii),
factors which all too frequently get lost in the translation of field research
into scientific monograph.
The West Indies is one region which has produced a significant "art" litera-
ture which should be of interest to social scientists as well as to literary critics.
The work of the Trinidadian novelist V.S. Naipaul is an example of a body of
literature with much to say to the analyst of social systems.
Although he is relatively unknown in the United States, Naipaul is one of the
most highly regarded literary figures in Britain. In his native Trinidad, a furious
love-hate ambivalence characterizes Naipaul's relationship to his public. On the
one hand, he is idolized as a local-boy-who-made-good, and his books are on
sale in department store magazine racks and in high-brow book shops alike;
intellectuals make it a point to read all his works, and other people, although
they may -never have the opportunity to read books, know his name
and what he has done. On the other hand. Trinidadians find it diffi
cult to forgive him for the vehemence of his vow to "escape" Trinidad; they
were appalled by the explicit skewering he applied to the island in his non-
fiction travel book. The Middle Passage, and were incensed at his devastating
portrait of the West Indian "hero" in The Mimic Men, his most passionately
debated novel. In short, then, Naipaul is not "just one of them writer-fellers."
He is a national institution who has visibly touched a nerve deep in Trinidad
society. Someone with so obvious a finger on the centres of pain and passion
in a society is someone who is more than a source of aesthetic delight; he has
something to say about his native land which is important enough to have
caused vital comment within that society itself. He has caused a crisis of self-
reflection in a group which, as he himself recognizes,is all too often content
to look outside rather than inward.
For the purposes of this orief analysis, I would like to concentrate on the
key concept underlying Naipaul's work, the theme of his non-fiction historical
and journalistic analyses as well as of his novels and stories. This is the concept
of "the colonial."
Naipaul is a Trinidad Indian; that is, he is a descendant of people imported
from India to work on the West Indian sugar plantations beginning in the mid-
nineteenth century following the emancipation of the slaves. Although it is
customary to view the West Indies in terms of black and white, the Indians
make up at least one-third of the population of Trinidad, and despite their long
isolation as a tradition-minded rural and agrarian labor force, they are playing
an increasingly visible role in the island's social and political development. But
whereas the black West Indian remains concerned with the loss of identity
engendered by the slave system and with the psychosocial ramifications of
shared "blackness," Naipaul, as an Indian in the same society, is acutely aware
of the more general problem of which "blackness" is only a specialized case.
This is the general condition of "the colonial."
For Naipaul, the "colonial" is not just any oppressed or exploited member
of what is frequently called the "Third World." Rather, to be a "colonial"
implies that the psychological loss of identity which is the result of oppression
has occurred within a context of spatial displacement. Thus, although the
people of India and Africa suffered under the administration of colonial
authority, they are not truly "colonials," because once the imperialists left,
they were still in possession of their ancient homelands and of their "roots."
The West Indian, on the other hand, is a complete invention of empire. The
indigenous population of the islands was largely exterminated within 100 years
of European occupation; the multi-racial, multi-ethnic conglomeration of people
currently characteristic of the islands is the result of a series of labour migrations
over 300 years black slaves, Indian, Chinese, Portuguese and Javanese
indentured laborers, down-and-out adventurers from Europe, the Middle East
and Asia. They all came to the Caribbean because of the mercantile policies of
empire, and had no real identity because they were merely bodies filling outposts
of the grand imperial design. With the disappearance of that imperial design,
there could be no sense of "homeland" redeemed; rather, there is a sense of
drifting. It is not even a sense of loss; worse, it is a sense of "never-having-had."
Viewed in this light, the condition of the New World black ceases to be a
special problem to be resolved within the unique attributes of the common
black "soul"; rather, it becomes a larger problem of the cultural definition of
the migrant community, in general a problem that has been dealt with in various
ways by anthropologists. It is, however, true that Naipaul seems to be insuffi-
ciently aware of special problems that are, indeed, centered around "blackness,"
as opposed to the more general colonial case. In the West Indies itself, for
example, the Indians have not had to face the worst degradation of the colonial
displacement process the deliberate eradication of traditional culture as
experienced by the slaves. As a result, Naipaul's earliest novels, The Suffrage of
Elvira and The Mystic Masseur were roundly criticized by West Indian literary
figures of a nationalist bent, who felt th; the jolly, irreverent satires were
inappropriate responses to a dire psychological and social condition.
Yet, satiric whimsy, even that which is slightly off-target, is often a more
effective means of illuminating a social crisis than is heavy-breathing pontifica-
tion. On the U.S. literary scene, there is a case analogous to that of Naipaul:
that of Philip Roth. particularly as seen in the latter's Portnoy's Complaint.
Although widely dismissed as a funny, but essentially lightweight dirty book,
this novel illuminates the same social problems about which Naipaul was writing.
For Roth. the subject matter was the Jewish community in urban America, and.
like Naipaul's Indians, the Jews arrived as a minority group of decidedly alien
custom and demeanour. Like the Indians, the Jews were determined to cling tc
their ancient traditions as that which set them apart from those they saw as
barbaric riffraff around them. Both groups succeeded in erecting mental ghettos
made of the comforting orthodoxies of a religious tradition. Yet in both cases,
the lures of the outside the forbidden pleasures of the impure," non-ortho-
do\x world made sure that the group itself was never quite as pure or as
traditional as it would have liked. Though the migrations of which they write
ay have had dissimilar historical roots, both Roth and Naipaul paint effective
portraits of the migrant community caught in the "colonial" dilemma. Although
individual protagonists might sense the folly and futility of life within the
supposedly pure enclave, they are also incapable of leaving it completely
behind, for what is there outside but a threatening cultural void in which, to
the casual eye, everything is permitted and nothing has any lasting meaning?
Despite the hilarity of Roth's b L,, and of Naipaul's two early satires, the
pain inherent in these situations is clear enough. As a member of the society
of which he writes, Naipaul recognized the existence of this pain, but seemed
to avoid defining it. Like Roth's vaudeville Jews, Naipaul's burlesque Indians
seem to be only groping toward some sort of awareness of what their condition
is all about. And yet these comic grotesques serve to illuminate the existential
dilemma of the dispossessed colonial far better than many a more serious analy-
Naipaul continued to fill in the background of this existential condition in
the collection of short stories entitled Miguel Street and in the massive novel, A
House For Mr. Biswas. The former consists of a collection of "types," but
they reveal a psychological depth, a sensitivity and a feeling for time and place
that are remarkable in Caribbean literature. A House For Mr. Biswasis considered
by many to be the greatest of all West Indian novels, for although it deals with
the futile struggles of a hapless Indian man seeking his identity, it includes within
its panoramic, multi-generational sweep an image of changing West Indian social
conditions that would do credit to any historian or anthropologist. Mr. Biswas,
a man of few talents and of decidedly unprepossessing character and demeanour,
lives a life of not-quite quiet desperation; his major concern is to escape the
clutches of the wealthy and social prominent (and ostentatiously orthodox)
family he has almost accidentally married into, an escape symbolized by the
construction of his own house. Mr. Biswas finally gets his house, but it, like
everything else he has ever attempted, is a pathetic affair, and he ultimately
dies, having achieved a symbolic, but still pyrrhic victory over the circumstances
of his social position. Mr. Biswas is thus a quintessential "colonial," although
as of 1961, when the novel was first published, Naipaul had not yet begun to
use the term consistently. It was not, in fact, until he temporarily put fiction
aside that he was able to refine the concept, and then later to return to it with
even greater force and clarity.
Naipaul had been living in England for several years, first as a student and
then as a professional writer. In the early 1960's, he was invited by Eric Wil-
liams. Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, to return to Trinidad to write
about his experiences as a returning native son; at the same time, he was to tour
several other Caribbean territories and record his impressions. Unfortunately,
the trip turned out to be a fiasco from the point of view of public relations,
because Naipaul, who had vowed when still a secondary school student to
"escape" Trinidad, and who still felt that artistic creativity could never be
appreciated in his homeland, turned a decidedly jaundiced eye on Trinidad and
the other places he visited. The resulting book, The Middle Passage, is still,
even after a decade, the most cogent and perceptive analysis of the contemporary
West Indian scene, but it is an analysis deeply coloured by the author's bitter-
ness. It is a book not without sympathy for the people and situations described,
but it is utterly devoid of sentimentality. Stepping out from behind the novelist's
protective persona, Naipaul explicitly defined the "colonial" world as
a materialist immigrant society, continually growing and chang-
ing, never settling into a pattern, always retaining the atmosphere
of the camp (2969c:57-8).
Trinidad in particular is a "picaroon" society (1969c: 78-9) in which violence,
brutality and deception are accepted as norms because there are no meaningful
alternate standards of taste or fair play, except those of the "mother country,"
in this case England. But such standards were considered appropriate to England
by the English. and hence by their colonial dependents; it would have been a
waste of time and effort to try to apply them to Trinidad itself. Robbed of a
cultural identity, the West Indian, even after several hundred years, can act as if
his exile were only temporary, and consequently feel that an individual's actions
are meaningless because the place of exile itself is so meaningless. Just as people
feel free to raise hell in a transient labour camp, so the Trinidadian can be set
for adventure, fantasy anything but serious reality, at least "reality" as
defined by the great world outside. For the West Indian. the only standards
which are acceptable are those of "metropolitan" Europe or America, and these
are unattainable because of the barriers of education, money or social position.
To do something worthwhile, then. means to do something valuable in the
Euro-American context, yet do so means to cease being a West Indian.
Naipau's own self-exile was. after all. merely a recognition of the fact that
there is no real place for a professional writer in the Caribbean, since the only
meaningful reading public is in Europe or America, not in the islands.
Naipaul's bitterness was clarified and resolved into something more closely
approximating a "tragic vision" when he visited India, hoping to find his "roots"
The resulting book, An Area of Darkness, is a less coherently organized manu-
script than The Middle Passage; its scattering of events and impressions gives
the sense of an observer sinking into the vastness of the subcontinent.
However, Naipaul's reaction was not merely that of a tourist unsettled by a
large, complex and exotic land. Rather, it was the reaction of a "native son"
discovering that he wasn't a native at all. It is in this book that Naipaul most
clearly acts for us like a traditional anthropologist's informant telling us a life
history. The trip to India was the most significant "crisis point" in his life.
in that for the first time it was he, not Ganesh Ramsumair (the mystic masseur),
or hapless Mr. Biswas who was the victim of the colonial process.
Oddly enough, Naipaul approached the critical definition of the "colonial"
by referring in detail to the life of Gandhi. Although most westerners assume
Gandhi to have been the archetypal Indian, the Mahatma lived for more than
forty years in the migrant Indian community in South America after having
studied in England. Gandhi, then, was a true colonial. Says Naipaul,
He looked at India as no Indian was able to; his vision was direct,
and his directness was, and is, revolutionary. He sees exactly what
the visitor sees; he does not ignore the obvious No Indian
attitude escapes him, no Indian problem; he looks down to the
roots of the static, decayed society (1968: 73).
Gandhi's accomplishment was in making a conscious effort an effort which
consumed a lifetime to rediscover Indian culture, and to make himself con-
form to its ideals. This no "real" Indian ever could do. To be a true native, one
must ignore the obvious, accept for granted whatever is customary, traditional,
habitual. The colonial, like Gandhi, and like Naipaul, knows the "traditional"
culture only from books or from dim recollections; the reality of the culture
thus cannot be taken for granted it must be dealt with, even changed
drastically, in order to make it conform to the outsider's view of propriety. This
is the colonial outrage. This is the panic of a man desperate to grasp at ancient
foundations, but who then finds those foundations to be totally divorced from
"reality" as he has learned it, and hence rendered shoddy or otherwise
unworthy. A perspective on India acquired as an outsider made Gandhi a
revolutionary; it turned Naipaul into a writer more deeply committed than
ever to defining the historical problem which was the basis of his outrage.
It should be noted that implicit in Naipaul's discussion of colonialism is the
hypothesis that the various manifestations of the colonial's search for roots as
found among the New World Negroes whether the romantic-escapist-revolu-
tionary Ras Tafarian movement, or the more pragmatic political militancy of
the Black Power advocates is part and parcel of this same process of outrage.
It is merely a different level of response, and not an outgrowth of a special
condition of "blackness." We may also point out that Portnoy's response in
the same situation was total collapse; after bringing his vaunted sexual prowess
to Israel, Portnoy dissolved into impotence, ending up on the psychiatrist's
couch. Those who accuse Naipaul of copping out of the Third World "revolu-
tion" might do well to consider that his resolution to expose the condition as a
serious writer rather than as a political revolutionary is quite a brave one after all.
Part of Naipaul's response to this crisis was the production of his first novel
without a Trinidad setting, Mr. Stone and the Knights Companion, a slight,
sad, bitter and perspective tale of growing old and useless. In a sense, the
"senior citizen" in industrial society is a "colonial" an outsider whose "roots"
have been destroyed because the society at large is not willing to grant him
full membership status. The "revolution" of the senior citizen, like Mr. Stone's
attempt to stay active in his old firm, is inherently futile because he has become
an outsider with respect to the society he intends to reform. His revolution,
like that of most colonials, is doomed to failure. The irony of the situation is
that the colonial becomes a revolutionary because he is alienated from his
society, but that very alienation makes him incapable of influencing that society
in any meaningful way.
Of greater immediate impact, however, was the 1967 novel, The Mimic Men,
still a source of rankling hostility among Trinidad intellectuals. This rambling,
but extraordinarily powerful novel deals with Ralph Singh, an educated and
brilliant political leader from the island of "Isabella." Singh reaches higher,
achieves more and fails more desperately than any of the other Naipaul
characters. He is the true Trinidad Portnoy, albeit one stripped of the expected
jolly good-humour of a Naipaul character. He is a man who has achieved the
greatest dreams of a Biswas: he is independent, wealthy, well-educated, success-
ful, well-travelled. But in attaining these most cherished goals of his people,
he has lost his soul. Like any true colonial, he cannot fit in in the "great world"
outside; but like any man of accomplishment, he no longer fits in in, the colonial
society he should have left permanently behind. His misguided political aspira-
tions collapse and he surrenders, older, wiser and sadder, to a twilight life of
regret in an austere London hotel.
One of the book's central acts concerns the killing of a famous race-horse
owned by a member of the island's white elite. The killing had been perpetrated
by Singh's father, a political and labour leader of sorts, during a general strike.
It was this act which solidified the elder Singh's leadership of the island work-
ers' movement, and which helped pave the way for Ralph Singh's own assump-
tion of leadership later on. Yet Singh was always fully aware of the symbolic
betrayal inherent in this act. The father said he had performed the horse-killing
as an Asvamedha, the ancient Vedic Aryan horse sacrifice.
The horse-sacrifice, the Aryan ritual of victory and overlordship, a
statement of power so daring it was risked only by the truly brave;
purified by the tender Asoka; revived by those who came after;
and performed, memorably, by the grandson of the general of the
last Maurya to celebrate the expulsion of the Greeks from Arya-
varta, the Aryan land .. .. Asvamedha. Tainted oil, raw flesh ....
Now, deeply, I felt betrayed and ridiculed (1969e: 142).
His father, a petty leader of a small rebellion in an unimportant corner of a
greater empire, had tried to justify himself by linking his actions with the heroic
past of his people, but in doing so, he had trivialized the rite. and had made
manifest the folly of a man in his circumstances even thinking himself to be
part of a great tradition. As a man born to the fantasy world of the colonial,
in which dreams of a mythic past are all one has to give meaning to existence,
Singh was woefully unable to take on the real political movement so unexpec-
tedly set into motion by his father's foolish act.
Trinidad intellectuals are still incensed at this unflinching dissection of the
Caribbean "hero." The notion that the colonial can do no better than "mimic"
the models of reality, and that in doing so he makes himself ridiculous and
impotent, was considered galling to the Trinidadians, and once again Naipaul
was criticized for being an elitist escapist content merely to attack his own
country rather than take part in its betterment. However, one of Naipaul's main
points was that the "revolution" of a colonial is necessarily ineffective because
it is essentially a fantasy of displaced culture. Even Gandhi, for all the reverence
that came his way, was unable to transform India to suit his idealized image of it.
Why Naipaul asks, should he make the same mistake?
Naipaul's next effort was a scrupulously documented history entitled
The Loss of El Dorado, which dealt with an incident in the early years of British
colonial authority on Trinidad. The book demonstrates, by implication, that
the colonial condition was a factor of empire, not of race. Trinidad had been
ceded to the British by the Spanish after some 200 years of indifferent rule.
The island's influential group, however, was the French settler class, plantation
owners (and their slaves) who had been driven out of Haiti by the revolution
of 1803. Thus, from the very beginning, Trinidad was a collection of cast-offs
from mercantile imperial policy, very much the labour camp which served only
to grow sugar. The rich and the poor, the black and the white, the free and
the slave had no common purpose and hence no common "culture"
except to produce this commodity. Trinidad was merely a conveniently
located place where it could be done. "Culture," in the sense of shared tradi-
tions and values, was something for Europe. In Trinidad, people behaved as if
they were in a rowdy labour camp; nothing mattered beside making money and
then getting out again. While it is not recognized by anthropologists that even
transient communities can have their own "cultures," it is clear that such a
culture is almost always viewed as a "sub-culture" in some way a mere sub-
sidiary to a broader cultural tradition, even by the people who live within it.
Naipaul asks the ultimate "colonial" question: why, after all these hundreds of
years, must we rest content with a subsidiary culture? Is this really the best we
Partially in answer to this question, Naipaul refers back to Columbus, the
first of the many adventuring picaroons, who created the legend of the "terres-
trial paradise" in the islands and who set the pattern for considering the islands
as nothing but a huckster's dream market, a place to be exploited, but never
really valued in terms of human resources (1973: 203-7). Revolution in the
Caribbean can thus be seen as an extension of Carnival, which had always been
the slaves' escapist fantasy writ large. Revolution, as Naipaul sees it, is a public
relations stunt, a manifestation of the fantasy world of escape to antique or
foreign glories, so that one need not face the fact that there are few, if any,
similar glories to be found in the unacceptable subsidiary culture around them.
Something of the Carnival lunacy touches all these islands where
people, first as slaves and then as neglected colonials, have seen
themselves as futile, on the other side of the real world (1973:247).
An appreciation of the historical roots of a rootless society adds substance
to some of Naipaul's earlier short stories, collected in 1967 under the title A
Flag on the Island. The title story takes as its thesis the proposition that the
"gay, mad tropic paradise" image beloved by travel agencies was not the crea-
tion of the "natives" but of the tourists themselves. Bereft of any culture of
their own, the Trinidadians gladly played the game to fit the expectations of the
visitors because the approval of these visitors was really all they could hope for
in the way of a common tradition. Similarly, the Indian protagonist in "The
Christmas Story" wears his conversion to the "clean," rationalistic Presbyterian
Church as an emblem. Although he enters into an unhappy marriage and faces
social and economic ruin, he can hold his head up because he is a Christian, and
hence a member of the "great world" outside. The petty adventures and the
day-to-day squalour and degradation of his "picaroon" homeland are immaterial,
as long as he can dress in suit and tie and go to church.
Perhaps the most definitive "colonial" in the collection is the hero of "The
Baker's Story." The baker is a black man who seeks to overcome his squalid
background by becoming an apprentice in a Chinese bake shop. He resents the
fact that the Chinese family keep him in the back all the time, but he learns his
trade well and subsequently sets out to open a shop of his own. It is a dismal
failure, and he begins to fear that even God, from whom he receives the cryptic
message, "Young man, you just bake bread," is mocking him. Finally, revela-
tion strikes. He suddenly sees that in Trinidad, all jobs are definitely attached
to one or another racial or ethnic group: coconut vendors are all Indian, ice
peddlers are all Negro, and so forth. A friend tells him that nobody not even
black folks like the thought of black hands handling bread, which is why all
the successful bakers on the island are either Chinese or immigrant German-
Swiss. The baker eventually marries a Chinese woman, hires a Chinese boy to
front the shop and he follows God's suggestion by "just baking bread." His
shop is an enromous success, and he eventually opens up a whole chain of
bakeries. He comments:
As I say, I only going in the shop from the back. But every Monday
morning I walking brave, brave to Marine Square and going in the
bank, from the front (1969d: 123).
The moral of the story is that only by acquiescing to the degrading stereotypes
of colonial society can the colonial hope to "make it." Furthermore, "making
it" consists, as it always has in the "picaroon" society, of making money, not
of achieving any of the "higher" aspirations of "civilization.
The basic problems of the West Indies as a true colonial society persist:
The small islands of the Caribbean will remain islands, impoverished
and unskilled, ringed as now by a cordon sanitaire, their people
not needed anywhere. They may get less innocent or less corrupt
politicians; they will not get less helpless ones. The island blacks
will continue to be the half-made societies of a dispersed people,
the Third World's third world. They will forever consume, they will
never create. They are without material resources; they will never
develop higher skills. Identity depends in the end on achievement;
and achievement here cannot but be small. Again and again the
protest leader will appear and the millennium will seem about to come
Nevertheless, in an article originally written in 1965; Naipaul came to a con-
clusion that definitely links him to the "anthropological perspective" rather
than to classic West Indian political nationalism or to the literary negritudee"
To be an Indian from Trinidad, then, is to be unlikely and exotic.
It is also to be a little fraudulent. But so all immigrants become
Immigrants are people on their own. They cannot be judged by the
standards of their older culture. Culture is like language, ever
developing. There is no right or wrong, no purity from which there
is decline. Usage sanctions everything (1973: 35-6).
He thereby implies that while it is necessary to understand the escapist fantasy
of the typical colonial in order to understand the West Indies (or any other
collectivity of migrant communities, for that matter), it is not necessary to
accept the condition of displacement as fate, or as a metaphysical condition
of the soul. There is no West Indian "culture," he feels, because there are only
fantasy ties to nonexistent ancient traditions and because of the desire to
"mimic" the only available standards, unattainable and irrelevant though they
are. The islands will never be an independent culture, because of the nature, of
their marginal economic and political position, but neither need they accept their
displacement as if it were irrevocable. Once they stop fantasizing that they
"really" belong elsewhere, and begin to come to grips with what they have
done (the "usage" of culture in the West Indies), they will come to an accept-
ance of their own unique worth and position in the world.
This much is social analysis as any perceptive observer might record it. The
value in studying the work of an artist, however, is that a deeper level of under-
standing might be revealed. For Naipaul, the eternal Trinidad Portnoy, the
core of the colonial experience is defined in the following incident:
A little over three years ago I was in British Guiana. I was taken
late one afternoon to meet an elderly lady of a distinguished Chris-
tian Indian family. Our political attitudes were too opposed to make
any discussion of the current crisis profitable. We talked of the
objects in her verandahand of the old days. Suddenly the tropical
daylight was gone, and from the garden came the scent of a
flower from my childhood; yet I had never found out its name. I
"We call it jasmine."
Jasmine! So I had known it all these years! To me it had been a
word in a book, a word to play with, something removed from the
dull vegetation I knew.
The old lady cut a sprig for me. I stuck it in the top buttonhole
of my open shirt. I smelled it as I walked back to the hotel. Jasmine,
jasmine. But the word and the flower had been separate in my mind
for too long. They did not come together (1973: 29).
For the anthropologist, the lesson is clear: until we understand the critical
disparity between the real and the ideal in the culture of the apparently
"assimilated" migrant societies of the New World. we will never fully understand
the psychological and cultural adaptations of the "colonial." nor will we under-
stand why the restlessness of that condition has led to so many explosions of
"irrational" violence in the West Indies recently. Although his conclusions are
not necessarily "new," Naipaul has given us a meaningful historic and social
framework for understanding the culture of the migrant community. This
framework is more applicable to the comparative anthropological approach than
is the mere exclusivist negritudee" school of thought regarding colonial oppres-
sion. In his particular aesthetic vision of this general problem, Naipaul trans-
lates the essence of a complex social dilemma into meaningful terms for the
social scientist, much as a native informant can reveal the basics of an exotic
culture to the anthropological field worker because he has lived it and desires
to convey his experience to the concerned notetaker who has appeared on the
scene eager to "understand." M V.
Michael V. Angrosino
1959 Miguel Street. London: Andre Deutsch.
1963 Mr. Stone and the Knights Companion. London: Andre Deutsch.
1964 The Mystic Masseur.. Harmondsworth, England: Penguin Books.
(orig. pub. 1957).
1969a The Suffrage of Elvira. Harmondsworth, England: Penguin Books.
(orig. pub. 1958).
1969b A House For Mr. Biswas. Harmondsworth, England: Penguin Books.
(orig. pub 1961).
1969c The Middle Passage. Harmondsworth, England: Penguin Books. (orig.
1969d A Flag on the Island. Harmondsworth, England: Penguin Books.
(orig. pub. 1967).
1969e The Mimic Men. Harmondsworth, England: Penguin Books (orig.
1969f The Loss of El Dorado: A History. London: Andre Deutsch.
1973 The Overcrowded Barracoon. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
Spradley, James P. and George E. McDonough
1973 Anthropology Through Literature: Cross-Cultural Perspectives.
Boston: Little, Brown and Company.
A TRAVELOGUE BEGINS
While these flourescent lights
on these lengthening years,
I will now choreograph
yes, in the silence of
the truce that hands
stained with death had stilled,
broken by the Cornwallis's
roars to German submarines
did my genesis begin.
The anaesthetic of love
cleaned that bare room,
almanac marked with
pencils of my Mother's pain.
The rain's pitter-patta
drummed her tired footsteps
hand strong, sewn neatly
in the coffee of her skin,
dark blue veins stood,
read the washings she survived,
the dawn she'd not escape
and in between Europe
lightened the colour
and added to the burden of we
her half coloured children.
In some strange streak as
when in drought some green
miracles awake shed coal
black from her loins.
In some essay of treachery,
chromosomes had lied again,
if sin begat life, then
white can begat anything
and so it was my father,
(Mt. Pelee's dust seemed clearer
on his cheeks which sun had worn)
as if to declare his wish to live
and I began.
It is not easy
in the morning's pain, with
nicotine pheigm curled in
nestling its slimy caricature
of the day spent
doing nothing except
wide awake world, mall
on the move smoke Kool
or harsh Camels hump
our fantasies, when the
world says yes, so says 1,
Benson and Hedges long
list of deaths, make me
feel, King-Super King.
When does this journey end,
forget the night,
forget the earth,
forget the tortured
memories of my birth.
Babbles of my youth
burst their bitterness
on coral, white as no
mid-wife's clinic tunic
dared to be.
Four by five galvanize erect,
palings we called it that
enclose our last inch of dirt,
the cliche clicked unsoundingly,
each corner of the plot held
years of my parents' life,
each angle pursed in it's
sharp edge dreams come home.
"clean the bush from the stake"
1 watched him like
some stunted emperor
stride his land,
hunger etched his hoe
and from his machete
fire danced as it swung
to meet the flint that
kissed the dirt.
He swung at each weed,
decapitate and like the
dragon's teeth sown in
my myths would rise again.
"Bring me some water"
" Wha you say"
"Yah def or wat bring me
the blasted water,
you always asking questions
yah want to be a lawyer or what"
and I with enamel cup,
white and chipped, beads
dusting its outside
guzzle the coolness, watch
his throat raised, relive
the execution of his hope.
"You gotta a plaster for
every sore" as if these scars
my birth had raised
suffering could be healed,
not even the liquid antiseptic
of the rain, nor the harsh washing
of the sea eases,'
my mother seems to forget.
COMMITMENT AND CONFINEMENT:
TWO WEST INDIAN VISIONS
Perhaps the most striking contrast between the novels of the French and
English-speaking Caribbean is the apparent rift between the generally positive
outlook of the French writers' "vision du monde" with its fairly well defined
parameters, objectives and constructive results on the one hand, and the
English writers' images of a pessimistic, often introverted, usually destructive
Weltanschauung on the other.I
While emerging from basically similar past conditions, while plagued with
often similar present difficulties, the two groups of novels, though closely
related, harbour profound differences. After all, if the writer is a product of his
environment, it is nevertheless an environment he strives to influence, to modify -
an effort implicit in the act of creative writing itself, for example. After images
of the dehumanisation of slavery, the stagnation of colonisation, come images
of the apparent chaos of emancipation and post-colonialism, at home, the
"pleasures" of exile and alienation abroad. While cultural oppression, systematic
devalorisation and, indeed, destructuration remain a frequent theme of the
Caribbean writer, new preoccupations (independence, revalorisation of national
traits, synthesis of diversified cultural heritage ) have emerged in an attempt
to identify the West Indian predicament, oppose assimilationism and verbal
mystification, while attempting to define positive goals and trace the path to be
followed. Unfortunately, the reverse of the coin is also prominent, and the
novel frequently portrays with disturbing fatalism the negative, chaotic aspects
of that predicament.
All too often the populist faith of so many English-speaking writers does
little to neutralize the impression of ultimately centripetal, sterilizing, auto-
destructive forces which frequently impose impotence and ineffectual soul-
searching, indeed soul-searing self-analysis on so many characters.
The present study brings together two novels Miguel Street (V.S. Naipaul),
Rue Cases-Negres (J. Zobel) which, while overtly portraying grossly similar
situations, while recreating the same archetypal figure, reflect these two starkly
opposed visions. From the populist and committed enthusiast on the one hand,
from the elitist and withdrawn ironist on the other, 2 come exemplary images
of a complex, often confused, but vital world. While their overt subject is the
process of an individual's maturation, the two authors identify and analyse the
evolution of a society 3 "Certains (. ), come Joseph Zobel" writes
Lilyan Kesteloot "decrivent les society's coloniales sans intention polemique
et sans rancune apparent: ce qu'ils montrent n'en est pas plus consolant pour
la conscience occidentale"4 nor, one might add were one to agree with
Kesteloot, reassuring for the West Indian's quest.
Miguel Street takes place in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, in the immediate pre-
and post-war years. The narrator is a young boy who comes to the city from
Chaguanas when he is about 8 years old, a year or two before the war. The story
is written a long time after the events, and is not chronological. It is divided into
17 chapters, all except the last being short stories describing various people of
the street. Each character appears in the boy's life for a period varying from
a few months to as long as eleven years, then is left behind. Failure destroys all
but three: two become gradually isolated and die, three go to prison and are
totally changed by the experience, four leave the street, one is taken to the
mad-house, two retreat into themselves and are isolated in their rooms, one sinks
from dreams of being a doctor, then a sanitary inspector, to driving a scavenging-
Rue Cases-Negres takes place in Martinique (the third part in Fort-de-France),
a few years after the war. The narrator here is a young boy, born at the beginning
of the war, who moves from Petit-Morne to Fort-de-France. It is written
chronologically, some time after the events, and covers a period of about 10
years. It is divided into three more or less equal parts (69, 83 and 73 pages), not
sub-divided into chapters: Rue Cases-Negres, school at Petit-Bourg, lycee at
The world portrayed in both novels is that of the working-class, rural and
urban. Miguel Street includes dust-cart driver, barber, 'carpenter' teacher,
servants and washer-woman. Emigration to join the 'spades' of Venezuela,
Curacao or Aruba is always possible when life becomes impossible at home.
Leisure time is spent chatting, usually on the pavement:
"When we who formed the Junior Miguel Street Club squatted on
the pavement, talking, like Hat, Bogart and the others, about things
like life and cricket and football (31).
rum-drinking, cricket, cock-fighting and 'womanising' In family relations the
husband is dominant, and often domineering. Physical beatings are common;
casual enjoyment of other women is the norm; partnerships end frequently;
no stigma is attached to illegitimacy, and pregnancy involves no obligation to
"If everybody married because woman making baby for them it go
be a hell ofa thing. What happen that you want to be different now
from everybody else in Trinidad?" (147).
In Rue Cases-Negres the narrator's working-class world is sub-divided into
plantation and town. Jobs are usually seen (and no doubt given) in terms of
colour: the negro is manual labourer whose sweat enriches others (196), whose
life-long suffering goes unrecognized (52); whose economic dependence per-
petuates the system:
"Hein! comment cela pourrait-il-finir si les peres y foutent leur
fils la-dedans, dans le mime malheur?" (62).
The mulatto, on the contrary, is the overseer, a hard task-master:
"Je I'entendis proferer des paroles de colbre centre les multtres(..),
qui, comme elle repetait a la moindre occasion, etaient toujours
prompts 'a flatter les bekes, et trahir les negres" (63).
In town the negro is house-servant, gardener, chauffeur, to 'bekes' or rich
mulattos. Their dependence has forced them into subservience (196).
Leisure time on the plantation comes only rarely, since time is merely
"une alternance de jours et de nuits. (47): the conversations, stories and
pipe after the day's work, the market and fete of pay-day. On the plantation
couples seem solid. In town illegitimacy is accepted as a fact of life (although
not by the middle-class), and sexual relations are seen as enjoyment, natural
ARCHETYPAL THEMATIC STRUCTURE
It is within this world that the narrators describe their evolution and through
their narration recreate the archetype of the initiatory journey. Naipaul's
narrator moves almost passively from a boy to his first cricket match to a man
with a job, drink and women. But this process is a parody of initiation literature:
there is no journey, instead one discovers an immobile, very restricted world;
there are no heroic struggles, instead those around him simply disintegrate, sink
into decay; there is no glory, no Holy Grail, only disillusionment, loss of
interest in people and a future which implies isolation and endless mediocrity,
no different from those at work in Miguel Street.
Though Zobel's narrator experiences a similar initiation, the process acquires
positive qualities to balance negative results similar to those at work on the
narrator of Miguel Street. The boy is a much more active participant and his
autobiography reflects his ultimate control of his own environment: it appears
at the end as a lesson proclaimed "aux aveugles et a ceux qui se bouchent les
oreilles" (240). His evolution, indeed, is in large part due to his personal efforts
(at school, for example) and the efforts of others: m'man Tine who keeps him
out of the petitess bandes" (36, 62) and sends him to school; Stephen Roc the
school-teacher who gets him a scholarship. Unlike the world of Naipaul, there-
fore, here the individual can dominate his environment, can influence his
The initiatory journey in Miguel Street is a journey from:
(i) fantasy, dream, to work, everyday reality or death;
(ii) an open world to a closed world.
1. Adult, child and adolescent are often mixed, but the attention of the narrator
is resolutely fixed on adult models. His peer group is hardly mentioned: one
does not learn what happens to Boyee or Errol; of those slightly older, Elias
goes on the dust-carts, Lorna has an illegitimate child then drowns herself,
Dolly marries an unpopular character and leaves the street.
Among the adults who stand out most clearly for the narrator the most
important is Hat, "official" initiator, to cricket, to worldly matters. He knows
the answers, uncovers unknown information (14, 91, 109 ). The book and
thus the narrator's journey opens and closes with him. When Hat goes to
prison, "part of me had died" When he is released, "I was no longer a boy.
I man earning money" (164), a man drinking too much (like George and Toni)
frequenting town brothels (like Hat).
Because of their early attempts to live in a fantasy world, others play an
important role. Popo the carpenter, maker of the thing without a name. Man-
Man, evolving inevitably into prophet and crucified Messiah. B. Wordsworth,
creator of "a poem that will sing to all humanity" (50). Morgan, who dreamed
of selling his home-made fireworks to the King of England and the King of
On a lesser scale, Bogart lives like a film actor, Elias dreams of exam passes,
Big Foot thrives on pranks and bullying, Titus Hoyt grows to success on his
own eloquence and enthusiasm for "education", Eddoes immerses himself in a
world of junk, Mrs. Herreira sacrifices herself for a lover, Bolo concentrates on
Thus each one in his own fantasy presents a lesson to the narrator and,
incidentally, exemplifies Titus Hoyt's only true idea:
"Look boys, it ever strike you that the world not real at all? It ever
strike you that we have the only mind in the world and you just
thinking up everything else?" (78).
Sadly, the crabs they don't find, the stream on Fort George which has dried
up, the poet's little house and its Eden-like garden destroyed, these are symbols
of a much grimmer reality, a premonition that such fantasies as these people
live by (and which are the guarantor of their individuality) will not stand up to
the oppressive, self-destroying environment which is theirs. That environment is
poverty, hunger, the struggle for education, the envy over a pair of "practically
new" shoes picked off a rubbish heap The laughter, optimism and fellowship
are inevitably eroded by such an environment, the fantasies and 6lan prove
abortive, eaten away by daily routine.5
For those who are unable to fit into such a sad reality, there is death:
"Within six months, George was living alone in his pink house. I
used to see him then, sitting on the steps, but he never looked at
me any more. He looked old and weary and very sad.
He died soon afterwards. (29);
"The papers next morning said, 'Pugilist sobs in ring'
Trinidad thought it was Big Foot, the comedian, doing something
Big Foot left Miguel Street, and the last I heard of him was that
he was a labourer in a quarry in Laventille" (62);
or madness (Man-man, p.44).
Yet even to learn to live with everyday reality is no protection against
solitude, as we see with Laura (91), Bolo (71-2), even Hat:
"Hat's homecoming fell a little flat. It wasn't only that we boys
had grown oider. Hat too had changed. Some of the brightness had
left him, and conversation was hard to make" (164-5).
The same solitude affects the narrator's mother (170) and, indeed, the narrator
himself (169, 172).
This picture is all the more pessimistic that Naipaul has equated decay and
disintegration of a world with the essential process of maturation.
The originally naive, gradually critical outlook of Naipaul's narrator is parallel
ed in Rue Cases where the child's early attitude toward the adult world is even
"Les grandes personnel formaient un monde qui nous impossait
surtout par son mystere. Monde mysterieux (. .) Monde strange!"
In such a world the simplest belongings of adults, 6 sometimes even the individual
himself, 7 take on mysterious proportions: In their world, the adults have,
without a doubt, quasi-magic powers:
ma conviction (etait) que les parents detenaient parfois des
pouvoirs prodigieux que les enfants ne comprendraient jamais"
The narrator becomes gradually conscious, however, that this "magic" is
ineffectual against the destructive power of the plantation (239), against the
"J'avais ele effare' de la retroilver (m'man Tine) plus diminuee par
l'emprise dissechante de la mis'ere. Sa chambre aussi devenait de plus
en plus sombre et delabrge. De nouvelles planches pourries, de
nouveaux trous dans la toiture (. .) 11 en 4tait de meme de toute
la Cour Fusil avec, au milieu, son caniveau ou croupissaient les
eaux de cuisine et de toilette de tous les locataires; de mme du
bourg entier don't je trouvais la rue retre'cie par des herbes et crottee
de tas d'ordures" (203).
2. At this point in our analysis, however, appears the major distinction between
the two visions.
"A stranger could drive through Miguel Street and just say 'Slum!'
because he could see no more. But we, who lived there, saw our
street as a world, where everybody was quite different from every-
body else" (63).
But this world is a closed world.
Thus, references to places outside Miguel Street are not numerous, and fall
into two main categories: where people have come from to live, usually only
temporarily, in the street (Mrs Herreira from Mucurapo, Nathaniel from the east
end, for example); where people retreat to on leaving the street (Dolly to
Sangre Grande, Big Foot and Toni to Laventille quarry). Some go further afield
for a time: to Venezuela, Curacao or Aruba as labourers, to British Guiana and
northern Brazil as smuggler and brothel-keeper.
It must be noticed that these places are never seen as positive goals, but more.
as limbo (or worse) after the fall from grace in the world of Miguel Street -
the "Fall" as tradition tells us, imposing on man work and alienation.
More important is the contrast within this closed world between the open
yard or pavement, place of exchange and comradeship during the individual's
"positive" period, and the closed house or little room into which he often
"It was as though Miguel Street belonged to these new people. Hat
and the rest of the boys were no. longer assured of privacy when
they sat down to talk things over on the pavement"8;
"Afterwards he lived to himself in his little room, seldom came out
to the street, never spoke to anyone .."
Such symbols are important since they indicate the underlying theme of a
particularly pessimistic Weltanschauung: the spatio-temporal drama which is the
lot of both characters and narrator. Spatial in that the closed world of Miguel
Street disintegrates and people are lost either outside it or, more tragically,
within it. From a world of comradeship where little work was done (at least
by the men), or where the work was at least enjoyed, Miguel Street itself
becomes a prison, a world of isolation, non-communication. Temporal in that
the forward rush of growing up gradually evolves into the shrinking monotony
of habit and repetition, where time itself becomes indeterminate, where the
only end is death "escape" being too positive a word to use in such a world.
Time within Miguel Street is itself structured as a form of confinement:
the endless repetition of the gradual decay of human beings, the succession of
victims linked in the monotony of similar destinies. The tragic circle is expli-
citly closed by the author who presents Hat as the beginning and end of his
narration. And yet, there is no reason for the novel to end when it does: to the
16 major characters presented in these pages more could be added through the
description of everyone in the street (Sergeant Charles and Miss Ricaud, for
example,) through the integration of younger groups as they in turn grow up.
The circle has no end; nor does the destructive process portrayed by it. The
present is endless repetition, and all that is not present does not exist. 10
Opposed to this closed world of Miguel Street and the extremely pessimistic
vision of the Caribbean which it implies, a vision which I feel is shared in varying
degree by many West Indian novels, including those mentioned in the introduc-
tion to this article is the positive, open world of Rue Cases:
"En plus de Petit-Mome, de ses traveilleurs et de nous-memes, nous
savons que la terre s'etend encore plus loin, au-dela de l'usine don't
nous apercevons les cheminees, et que par-dela les moines, qui
cl8turent la plantation, il y a d'autres plantations semblables.
On sait aussi qu'il y a la ville, Fort-de-France (. .).
M'man Tine m'a dj'a entretenu d'un pays tres lointain qui se
nomme la France (. .) M. Medouze evoque un autre pays plus
lointain, plus profound que la France (. .): la Guine'e" (45).
Later this vision becomes more precise, and the outside world is a constant
reality, symbolized by:
"un voilier que poussent vers la ville des vents alizes qui chevauchent
la mer des Antilles. Ou bien c'est un cargo qui tourne (. .) et
denoue dans I'air une chevelure de fumee et de sifflements qui
peignent sur le soliel couchant des mirages de Marseille, Bordeaux,
More, it is a reality that the narrator himself has the power to attain:
"On a dit a ma mere que je pourrais en sortir avec assez de savoir
pour aller en France et devenir medecin, avocat, ingenieur. ." (172).
With the exception of the mysterious garden of Saint-Louis and the ominous
house of Mme. Leonce in Petit-Bourg, all houses seem open to the narrator,
both in la Rue Cases and later in Fort-de-France (where he visits the house of
his mother's employer, for example). From the hut of M. Medouze where he
entered freely (51) to his own home where Carmen enterswith a whistle (1971),
the narrator experiences the house as a meeting-place, source of learning, ex-
change and enjoyment.
This open world is, not surprisingly, very different from the static, imprison-
ing world of Naipaul. It appears as a world of change:
"ce que j'appriciais en ce quarter naissant (. .), c'etait surtout
le spectacle de ces gens qui, mus par un besoin de bien-etre et
d'inde'pendance, b'tissaient Ifele-mele des cabanes que leur satis-
faction triomphale faisait paraitre belles comme toute oeuvre de
pior i'ers" (194).
Indeed, e' dhe irony used to describe the young men recently returned from
France, attacking their desire to conform and their rejection of their
origins, implies social and occupational mobility. Whereas colonisation no doubt
implies decay and stagnation for both authors, the positive role which, as we
shall see, Zobel forecasts for his protagonist, is far removed from Naipaul's
denunciation of post-colonial chaos.
The time structure of Rue Cases thus suggests not the repetition of the
pessimistic vision but a firmly linear development, enhanced by the chronological
account of the narrator and the structuring of the novel in clearly defined
sections, each.dealing with a definite time span, 1 and 3 closed by the death of
a character important in the initiatory process. This therefore strengthens the
progression towards the end of the novel which itself suggests a positive future -
stemming from a sequence of experiences basically similar to those of the boy
in Miguel Street, but where the dominant reaction of both narrator and reader
is experienced as evolution, not repetition.
The process of initiation undergone by the young narrator of both novels is
essentially that of the acquiring of knowledge and the subsequent loss of inno-
cence such knowledge implies.
Arriving in Miguel Street as a very young boy, the narrator is first intro-
duced to both the urban world (bus) and the wider, natural world (sea).
Later Hat, whose role as initiator begins here, introduces him to cricket. Little
by little he will meet "a poetic man" (culminating in this case in his special
relationship with the poet B. Wordsworth who consciously opens his eyes to a
world in which "you can cry for everything" 11); then his "first artist" (123).
Interestingly, he implicitly defines his concept of the artist as one whodoes
something "for the joy of the thing", who never worries about money (Popo
and the objects never sold, Wordsworth and the poems never sold, Bhakcu and
the vehicles he took to pieces). It is precisely turning to the utilitarian, working
for money, which he regrets in the decaying characters around him and which
causes him to reject them.
In the early stages, the narrator can see Miguel Street as a world "where
everybody was quite different from everybody else" (63). Gradually, however,
two major factors are instrumental in bringing about important changes:
(i) the decay of individuals as they 'fall from grace', (which we have already
seen); and, as a necessary corollary to this,
(ii) the narrator's success in education: consciousness of a better way of life
comes to him since his school is in a "nicer" part of town; pride in his
success makes him conscious of his worth:
"Bolo said: "How you getting on with your lessons?"
I didn't want to boast" (135).
This inevitably produces the gradual process of separation narrator-neighbours
and underlies the judgements which intervene in his descriptions. In the three
years of Hat's imprisonment he "had grown up and looked critically at the people
around him" (165); earlier ambitions and admirations are discarded, Growing-up
has meant a new outlook on the physical world, a new preoccupation with the
self; education has created new values and yardsticks by which neighbours are
inevitably found wanting.
Earlier, when Hat had brought a woman home, the narrator had defined him
"He had become a man with responsibility and obligations" (165).
Now he can say of himself:
"I was no longer a boy. I was a man, earning money" (164).
The ultimate wall has thus been thrown around the individual: work, responsi-
bility, producing to earn money. Life has now shrunk to this self-perpetuating
equation anchored in mediocrity and monotonous repetition.
The narrator's world thus remains closed and indeed his restlessness in the
yoke, his "wildness" itself is "not (his) fault really. Is just Trinidad. What else
anybody can do here except drink?" (167). The spiral of descent into the sordid,
everyday, endless mediocrity which has destroyed the enthusiasm of so many
Miguel Street characters has already swung down to include the narrator.
Ironically, only a bribe to an arrivist Minister (who has himself turned his back
on his milieu and his culture) can enable the narrator to break out of the
As a boy in rue Cases-Nigres the narrator acknowledges that:
"tout l'attrait de ces seances de devinettes est de decouvrir comment
un monde d'objets s'apparente, s'identifie a un monde de personnel
ou d'animaux (. .) Ainsi, sur la simple intervention de M. Me'douze,
le monde se dilate, se multiple, grouille vertigineusement autour de
Later, school is seen firstly as a source of greater knowledge: a new physical
world (84), games (88), new horizons, both physical (161) and mental (179-80).
It is also a promise of a better life:
"le baccalaureat nous appara^t comme une porte e'troite au-dela de
laquelle existe l'immensite'offerte" (206).
Disillusionment is, however, always present, and he fails to see himself going to
France (172) and is not attracted by the jobs available (225).
The initiation process is thus undermined in both books because the passage
from innocence to knowledge does not remain uniformly positive. In the early
stages it involves the acquisition of a new way of looking at the world, which
stems from popular beliefs, folk legends and customs, and positive fusion with
the total environment. However, this essential folk knowledge is challenged by the
non-indigenous education which school provides. The poet, the artists, the
heross" of Miguel Street, the riddles, magic, metamorphoses and spirits of Rue
Cases lose their power, indeed their reality, as an alienating culture is acquired.
Naipaul's narrator coldly remarks:
"I no longer wanted to be like Eddoes. He was so weak and thin,
and I hadn't realized he was so small. Titus Hoyt was stupid and
boring, and not funny at all. Everything had changed" (165)
Zobel's narrator grows conscious of his strongly negative attitude towards the
plantation (163), of being cut off from old friends and neighbours (204-5).
And, perhaps most revealing:
"Tu es encore a l'ecole?
Oui, je suis au lycee.
Je ne sais pas si j'ai reussi a mettre dans ma response la simplicity
objective par laquelle je veux effacer toute difference entire mon
comrade et moi" (217).
The acculturation seems complete. An irrelevant, assimilating education
system and a confusing politico-cultural environment have produced yet
another educated but alienated individual.
Revolt is obviously the only answer to their situation, but the ineffectual
gesturings of Naipaul's protagonist are obviously powerless to extradite him
from the spatio-temporal drama he, in common with all his people, is experienc-
ing. Even escaping the country is promised to failure, since travel does not
liberate. He is to study a subject in which he has no interest, and then return
to the very environment of confinement and decay in which his existence no
longer has any meaning. Moreover, the people 'outside' among whom he is to
live, are negative:
"fat Americans (. .) drinking strange drinks at the bar. American
women wearing haughty sunglasses, (who) raised their voices when-
ever they spoke. They all looked too rich, too comfortable" (171).
Exile abroad, acculturation, confinement and decay at home, such are the
parameters of the narrator's tragic dilemma. If he has escaped Miguel street, it
is only into another prison, not out of the closed world. The endless monotonous
circle of identical destinies has not been broken, the decay has not been stopped.
Unlike Miguel Street, alienation is notthe final stage of Rue Cases-Negres and
if the death of the narrator's grandmother finally severs all remaining links with
a past rooted in the plantations,12 this second stage in his evolution is itself now
complete and forecasts albeit as yet uncertainly his future.
The passage from the traditional village life to town life, when the child left
Rue Cases for school, was accompanied by the passage from the oral tradition
(Me'douze's riddles and stories, the songs and stories of the "maitre-conteur",
the ritualistic "he cric. .he' crac" or "he cric. .he et de") to the world of the
written word which gradually prefigures his future. His final "je devrais par
example leur center une histoire" (240) culminates in the book we are reading.
The authors so appreciated by Carmen are surely a reflection of the aim of
the narrator once his initiation is complete and his social and racial
consciousness has moved into revolt. Balzac, Gorki, Tolstoi, painters of huge
social frescos, believers in the richness and goodness to be found in the common
people. But above all, Rene Maran and Claude McKay, spokesman for the
disinherited black masses.13
Ce'saire once proclaimed that the Caribbean intellectual's task was to "hater
la de'conolisation (. .) preparer la bonne decolonisation", because "l'homme
de culture (. .) fait faire 'a son people l'economie de l'apprentissage de la
liberte (. .) parce que, dans la situation colonial elle-meme, I'activite'culturelle
creatrice, devancant l'experience collective concrete, est deja cet apprentissage"14
Flanked by simple working-class friends (and the populist faith underlying
so much West Indian writing is once again proclaimed here), the narrator begins
to sense precisely this task. He will become a mouth-piece of his people, to
enlighten not his compatriots (whose story, after all, "est tout a fait semblable
'a la (sienne)" (240), but others, those who, through ignorance, indifference or
hostility can be held responsible not for:
"le metier bizarre qu'exercait m'man Tine, mais (pour) ces perpe-
tuelles sensations de de'nuement, de honte et de mort lente imanant
de ce metier" (138).
The narrator will thus turn to the written word to rationalize his problems,
order his experiences, articulate his revolt by forging a harmonious structure from
hostile, chaotic surroundings. At the same time, writing will enable him to force
this new-found consciousness on those who were responsible for his progressive
alienation. Finally in a future totally removed from that coldly heraldedby
the lonely, definitive, sterile departure of Naipaul's narrator communication
will spring from alienation, and with it human interaction, and thus the possibil-
ity of change.
1 E.g., Dealing with the Negro: R. Mais, The Hills were Joyful together,
1953, Brother Man, 1954; A. Salkey, A Quality of Violence, 1959, The
Late Emancipation of Jerry Stover, O. Patterson,The Children of Sisyphus,
1968. With the white Creole: J. Hearne, Voices Under the Window, 1955;
Jean Rhys, Wide Sargasso Sea, 1966. With outsiders: J. Hearne, Autumn
Equinox, 1959, Land of The Living, 1961.
2 Like Gordon Rohlehr, I feel that however acerbate Naipaul's irony, it
does not preclude sympathy. Cf. 'The ironic approach. The novels ofV S.
Naipaul', The islands in between, 1968, p. 139.
3 The social group, not the individual, remaining the primary preoccupation
of the West Indian novelist.
4 L. Kesteloot, Les e'crivains noirs de langue franchise, Thesis, 1965, p. 304.
5 E.g. when Popo comes out of prison: "But for me he had changed. And
the change made me sad. For Popo began working" (21).
6 "Pensez done si ce jardin hantait notre imagination et torturait notre
curiosite. Nous en avions de la crainte pourtant. Comme la haie, a une
certain saison, tait bourr6e de nids d'oiseaux, ce jardin,malgre le mystere
qui s'en degageait, la science avec laquelle il etait protege, demeurait pour
nous un objectif inviolable mais attirant" (40).
7 et lorsque sa tate se penchait dessus pour allumer sa pipe, la lueur
lui appliquait surlevisage un masque hallucinant (. .) Son visage fixe et
came reprend encore'a la lueur des flames (. .) des expressions fantasti-
8 P 27, Cf. also pavement pp. 25, 31,69, 71; open yard or house pp. 12, 17,
9 P. 138, Cf. also closed house pp. 22, 29, 91, 101, 69, 162; little room
p. 5 1; prison pp. 14, 164.
10 E.g., "It was just as though B. Wordsworth had never existed" (52);
"The night before I left, my mother gave a little party. It was
something like a wake. People came in looking sad and telling me
how much they were going to miss me, and then they forgot about
me and attended to the serious business of eating and drinking"
11 P 46. In this case the rites end fittingly in the almost ritual death of the
initiator in the presence of the neophyte once the ultimate and here,
characteristically, destructive truth has been disclosed.
12 Severance heralded, and indeed initiated, much earlier by Medouze's
death and the child's "il me fut assez facile, pourtant de me consoler de la
disparition de mon vieil ami Mgdouze. Le grand dveniment qu'annoncait
tous les jours m'man Tine se produisit enfin. (84) which proclaims
his entry into a new world.
13 Zobel himself acknowledged being influenced by both traditional and
French Negro writing and by Russian literature. Cf. Kesteloot p. 238.
14 'L'Homme de culture et ses responsabilites', 2e. Congress des Ecrivains et
Artistes Noirs, Rome 26 mars-ler. avril, 1959. In Presence Africaine, f&v-
mai, 1959, pp. 117, 120.
I wake the night
to see a man die
as he walking the road
of this island.
I see how he stop
and walk in the sun
car passing he by
till he fall in the gutter
like a unknown sailor,
his family on his lips,
And I could hear them singing
Chalky, Valentino and Stalin,
to tell how men walking
this island of Trinidad.
Leaders like cane
rancid after fire,
building they life
Moko Jumbie grabbin
to bank in Switzerland.
Hear that rumble steel sound
one hundred men beating
one thousand foot shufflin
Tokyo, All Stars and Invaders
Harmonites, Starlift and Despers
walking the road as one.
Some whistlin to speak
of doom an revenge
walking like Robbers
Changin they names
talking of Africa
an lands where they wander
carrying guns make from paper,
big speech for money
paid by the Jumbie.
You could hear them sweet old minors
Chinee Patrick, Attila, Lord Executor,
talking high treason
to tell how men was walking
this island of Trinidad.
chain like we.
Burroquite playing ass
for all to see, but
them pliyin smart man
sitting in the stand.
Hear that rappin skin sound
one hundred men beating
ten thousand fist raised
Port of Spain, Caroni, Tunapuna
People's Parliament to Carrera
walking the road as one.
SATIRE AND THE BIRTH OF HAITIAN FICTION (1901 1905)
At the beginning of this century, when Haiti was officially celebrating
amidst grave difficulties its first hundred years as an independent nation
(1804 1904), a curious literary tribute was offered to the sovereign republic
by three satirical novelists who dared to expose the political anarchy ravaging
their own society.1 As homage to a Centennial, a critical inventory of national
failure hardly seems suitable, yet these irreverent chronicles of corruption and
greed enriched notably Haiti's cultural patrimony, indeed inaugurated a new
phase in Haitian literature.2 By deliberately holding up a mocking mirror to
vexatious Haitian realities an unprecedented choice both of subject and
treatment Frederic Marcelin, Justin Lherisson and Fernand Hibbert became the
founding fathers of modern Haitian fiction.3 Their first and best novels all
appeared within a four year period (1901 1905): long out of print, they have
recently been reissued by small local publishing, presses in a laudable effort to
acquaint Haitian readers with their hitherto unavailable classics.4
But these early examples of West Indian socio-political awareness surely
deserve a larger audience. They also invite comparison with the rare Caribbean
novels of that era as well as the many recent expressions of Caribbean self-
criticism. Debunking the pretence of venal mediocrities in charge of the nation's
future, the three pioneering works share an approach variously applauded
as constructive indictment or rejected as mere escapism by contemporary
Antillean writers, but which for Haitian fiction has proven a useful instrument
of literary renewal. Historically, satire remains inseparable from the birth of
the Haitian novel. The vital sense of humor inherent to the Haitian spirit and
evidenced in folklore combines with the literary influences of the French
ironist tradition then represented by Flaubert, Anatole France and Courteline -
in order to deride and ridicule an untenable system which appears on the verge
of breakdown. Yet Haiti's survival as a nation was a key preoccupation for all
lucid patriots, faced with the deterioration of their country after a century
of nominal freedom.5 Behind the mask of mockery such was also the concern
of Marcelin, Lherisson and Hibbert.
In their caustic depiction of the Haitian scene, the three authors single
out as joint target the politician, manipulating his dupes into costly ventures and
actively pursuing his two interchangeable goals, power and money. Always set
in an urban milieu, the loosely constructed, linear plots feature a more or less
elaborate swindle, recalling the familiar pattern of Haitian folktales where
Ti-Malice, the rascal, invariably outwits stupid Bouqui. The point of view is
maintained by a neutral omniscient narrator, with the didactic role assigned to
a raisonneur voicing the author's comments. However these variations on an
identical theme make use of different comic registers, operate in distinct social
strata and reflect separate attitudes towards the impending crisis.
Modestly subtitled "a little Haitian tale," the trailblazing The'mistocle
Epaminondas Labasterre (1901) is the first novel of Frederic Marcelin, a
seasoned and controversial political figure diplomat, deputy, former Finance
minister who had previously turned to apologetic or expository writing
whenever faced with inactive spells of public life.6 Published in Paris during a
temporary exile and designed to oppose his former idol. The unwarranted killing
of the hero, shot at 23 years of age, stands as bitter antithesis to the triumph
of the villain and underlines the futility of direct challenge to the system.
An extensive descripli 'n of lower middle-class life in Port-au-Prince during the
1870's occupies the first third of the novel, handled in the manner of 19th
century French realism. This richly detailed account of petit-bourgeois activities
in a family of si, all shop-keepers retains a great documentary interest with its
evocation of Saturday markets, Sunday in the countryside, New Year's Day
rituals, church ceremonies, fires and "couris" panics in town. Marcelin
eschews the exotic temptation but his account is often blurred by nostalgic
effusions since the hero's early years recapture the author's own childhood.7
However, once the growing-up phase has ended, the point of view shifts abruptly
from empathy to detachment and this inconsistency weakens the impact of the
figure, a complex but imperfectly realized character.
The abstemious Labasterre, previously seen as a student of history endowed
with a questioning and sensitive mind, becomes overnight a fanatic follower
of T6lemaque, a deputy then posturing as champion of freedom and adept at
flaunting liberal principles when they serve his personal cause. Spellbound by the
demagogue's hollow rhetoric, writing fan letters duly published in the Opposition
newspaper, Labasterre experiences the joy of seeing his name in print, followed
by the humiliation of a night in jail a mild warning which only confirms his
"revolutionary" vocation. Yet this self-image as martyr of the popular cause
hardly prevents simultaneous attempts at social climbing. The young cad
abandons his fiancee, a simple and loving girl from a humble background, and
starts courting a rich German businessman's daughter. Promptly rejected, the
rebuffed suitor then assuages his wounded pride with thoughts of bloody
revenge on the bourgeois world. At this stage Labasterre epitomizes the self-
seeking arriviste ready for compromise and he is depicted as an object of mild
contempt by the author.
The final section, quite unexpectedly, shows his adamant refusal to
collaborate with the erstwhile idol who, since his access to power, has become
a sworn enemy of reform. This curious reconversion to earlier values stems from
an ambiguous motivation, a mixture of pride and principle, combining irre-
pressible rage at having been duped so long with sincere anger born out of moral
conviction. But irony and melodrama cancel each other out during the awkward
confrontation scene. Fortunately an effective balance between satire and
sympathy is restored in the last chapter, when Labasterre's gesture in taking
from his pocket a copy of the Constitution is interpreted as armed resistance by
a guard who shoots him dead in front of the hall where he was going to preside
at an Opposition banquet. If the author's express intention was indeed to provoke
among his young Haitian readers a revulsion against the sordid game of politics,8
this ultimate lesson makes its point with sobriety.
Marcelin's deft portrayal of the Haitian demagogue, the first delineation
in Haitian fiction of an all-too-familiar political figure, received immediate
acclaim, even from the most reluctant of his Haitian critics.9 T61maque's
individual ascent recapitulates habitual maneuvers and also illuminates national
traits, prejudices and foibles still derived by contemporary Haitian satirists. 10
The impostor's career is emblematic from its very start, when he returns from
two years of presumed studies in France and basks in the glory automatically
conferred by a mere visit to Paris, the Haitian cultural Mecca. Mostly concerned
with sartorial etiquette, he remains idle since real work is considered
demeaning and indulges in daily gossip sessions with male cronies who are
impressed by his gift of gab. On the basis of his verbal preformance, he is asked
to join a Freemasons' lodge and becomes their official orator, thereby gaining
further exposure at the innumerable functions of the secret society. Thanks to
a relative who belongs to a self-styled "revolutionary committee" the "Outs"
have once again displaced the "Ins" he is able to launch a newspaper where
he bravely supports the designated chief of state. As a reward, his name is
entered on the official list of deputies and he is unanimously elected in a district
he has never even visited. Once a member of the National Assembly, he poses
as financial expert and avoids embarrassing queries on the use of public funds by
orating at length on safe topics, such as the history of the budget through the
ages, culled from an obscure encyclopedia.
After he loses a Committee presidency to the Palace favourite, Telemaque
decides to plunge into the Opposition: he denounces the Cabinet ministers for
betraying their leader whose sole blemish is excessive kindness to unworthy
advisors. Meanwhile he keeps reminding the government that parliamentary
imihunity is a sacred right, and for greater safety relocates next to the U.S.
legation, then granting asylum. With another military uprising soon underway,
the usual scenario is reenacted: the deposed caudillo flees with the treasury, the
"sovereign people" waits for the "army of liberation" to arrive in the capital,
a new "revolutionary committee" is formed, this time with Tilemaque at the
helm. A new Constituent Assembly enacts a new Constitution which names the
winning strongman president. Now in charge of three ministerial posts, Tle-
maque proclaims that revolution has triumphed and that popular bliss is there-
This devastating expos of verbal sham campaign speeches, parliamentary
eloquence, public thanks or rebuttals unmasks the use of rhetoric as method
of deception, formal manipulation of cliches devoid of significance. Language -
not money is Telemaque's main weapon, and his speech-making reflex, always
in search of outlets, is exercised at the slightest provocation. His oratorical
flights are pure cultural mimetism: they share with the French officialese
parodied by Flaubert a varietyof stylistic devices. 1 But sophistry and pretence
cannot hide the bleak reality: contempt for personal rights, utter disregard of
individual life, graft and pilfering on all levels, institutions corrupted to fhe core.
Yet if the call for reform finds no echo, if Labasterre is a forgotten casualty,
how can .the "necessary evolution" title of the 1898 study by Marcelin be
A tentative answer is supplied by the author's spokesman, a French
professor living in Haiti, Labasterre's teacher and first mentor. Hodelin's
world-view is closely modelled on Anatole France's smiling and skeptical
philosophy, then in vogue, which regards be-nighted mankind with irony and
pity.12 Since chronic instability is responsible for the lamentable state of the
nation he urges the genuine Haitian patriot to abstain from useless conspiracies:
violent overthrows merely replace one despotism with another, often worse.
Social regeneration can only come with peace and through education: the
responsible citizen should work within the existing system in order to effectively
"propagandize democracy." This type of collaboration may well have coincided
with the author's own practice as minister in several governments but it hardly
constitutes a program for change. Nor does the cultural solution, upheld as
panacea, which bypasses crucial economic issues. It is curious to note that the
Haitian financial situation, with its foreign entanglements, is never discussed in
this novel written by the foremost expert on the subject, author of several studies
on Customs and Banking. Anyway, the humanist outsider is totally committed
to his adopted country: pacifist, tolerant, devoid of snobbery, exempt from
prejudice, he sympathizes with the peasants, celebrates the beauty of the Haitian
landscape and admires the voodoo priest as a wise arbiter of rural conflicts who
practices a folk religion comparable to any other cult.13 Hodelin's edifying
agony he is stricken with yellow fever is turned into the hymn to life of
a pantheist sage, shaking Labasterre out of his callous complacency. His death
ironically provides Tlemaque with the opportunity to deliver another of his
graveyard speeches. But in spite of Marcelin's effort to integrate the raisonneur
dramatically, Hodelin is more message than character, and the message remains
Compared to Marcelin's panorama, La Famille des Pitite-Caille (1905) by
Justin Lh6risson seems a mere vignette, yet this unpretentious spoof emerges
as an experiment of great originality, both in structure and language.14 Within a
narrative framework adapted from the Haitian oral tradition, it explores for the
first time the comic potential of the creole vernacular and of creolized French.15
Set in the 1870's like the preceding novel, Lherisson's slight anecdote claims to
be excerpted from a typical Haitian "audience," a rambling and humorous story-
telling session which constantly shifts from popular idiom to official tongue.
The colloquial vigour of the dialect contributes to preserve the illusion of a spon-
taneous spoken performance and many comic effects depend on pronunciation
transcribed by spelling. Proverbs, songs, invocations, retorts and comments in
creole alternate with the French narrative voice and are neither translated nor
explained. While the basic structure remains the ruination of a naive soul by a
clever crook, the treatment tends towards farce and burlesque.
Whereas Marcelin's impostor professes liberal principles and frequents high
political spheres, Lhdrisson's Bouteregre is a small-time operator on the make,
a cynical ward-leader who recruits illiterate voters in exchange for cash.
Labasterre is a misled but idealistic student who proves capable of moral fervor:
Lherisson's protagonist, Eliezer Pitite-Caille, is a pretentious, middle-aged
nouveau-riche whose sudden itch for politics can only be ascribed to social
vanity.15 Marcelin casts as raisonneur an intellectual given to reflection ongeneral
issues: Lhdrisson ruses narrator and moralist into a sardonic observer of the
Haitian comedy wl.,i harbours no plans for reform. In Marcelin, satire is mixed
with other approaches: it is the governing perspective in Lherisson's work,
unifying the tone of the meandering discourse. Aiming at a foreign market,
Marcelin makes accessible to his French readers an unfamiliar Caribbean society:
no such concessions are granted by Lherisson who presupposes instant recog-
nition and complicity from his public.
The protagonist, a man of humble social extraction, holds a series of
menial jobs until he married wealthy Velleda, a clever card-reader of similar
low-class origin, who has made a fortune by catering to the superstitions of
society ladies and bourgeois politicians. After a ritualistic trip to Paris,
indispensable to social status, the couple begins to entertain lavishly and acquires
various hangers-on. Semi-literate but given to erudite disquisitions which his
flatterers applaud, Eliezer decides to get himself elected as first deputy of the
capital. He engages the services of a campaign-manager who drains him of much
money and organizes so well his publicity that the authorities, irked by this
unapproved candidacy, throw them both in jail. Once liberated, Elihzer refuses to
thank the police chief for his generous pardon: as a result, he is arrested anew, this
time under the pretext of hiding weapons, and he is released only to die of
"indignation" while his consulting physicians embark on a Molieresque dispute.
His widow joins the harem of an affluent general, the daughter is ruined by the
upperclass rake she wanted to marry, the son vegetates after squandering the
remnants of his inheritance.
Boutenegre, the con-man, a small cog in the machine, functions as
intermediary between the inept but wealthy candidate and the penniless
constituents ready to be bought. His various arrangements and schemes, all in
the line of duty, illustrate the mechanism of the so-called free elections, from the
providing of food and drinks to the costlier purchase of voting bulletins and the
subsidizing of music-makers, song-writers and voodoo priestesses. A thorough
pragmatist, he also teaches his client the elements of showmanship for a would-be
"popular" candidate, and his lesson in public relations, conducted in hilarious
Franco-creole, indicates that the future representative, besides generous spending,
must prove his closeness to the masses by handshakes, salutes, and specially
by demonstrations of dancing ability. Still unperturbed when imprisoned
Boutenegre explains to the indignant Eliezer who complains that such a treatment
would be unthinkable in a "civilised" country that "France is France and
Haiti is Haiti." According to his axiom a creole proverb "Black has fooled
Black ever since Guinea," and since "calbindage" creole for dissembling is
the local rule of behaviour, one should simply know when to enter the game and
how to leave it unscathed, sheer survival being at stake. A recommended
expedient is to obtain a foreign nationality, the best protection against
Political satire, the main interest of Marcelin and Lherisson, is no longer an
exclusive concern for Fernand Hibbert in Sena (1905).16 In this ironic"education
sentimentale" the protagonist, a fifty-year old paterfamilias, is apprenticed to a
sophisticated bachelor half his age and sexual conquest replaces the thirst for
power already satiated. Instead of the usual throwback to the 1870's a safe
historical distance the novel is set in the present, i.e. the early 1900's. The
Haitian capital figures as background, but only in the first part of the book: a
journey by boat occupies the second section and Paris, always present in the
Haitian dream, serves now as location for the third episode. The protagonist's
evolution ceases to dominate the whole narrative: subplots proliferate, involving
two categories of characters hitherto neglected, bourgeois ladies and male
representatives of the Haitian intelligentsia. In contrast to the insularity of the
earlier novels, cross-cultural comparisons are introduced as a result of the Haitians
Abroad theme, Hibbert's special contribution and a great source of comedy.
Like the previous specimens of demagogues, the hero Sena a diminutive
of Senator and the preferred nickname of Jean-Baptiste Renelus' Rorrotte is
an ignorant, vain and self-seeking mediocrity. But whereas his predecessors,
monopolized by political ambition, give little time to amorous escapades, Sena
who has consolidated his fortune can indulge in the luxury of amorous pursuits
and devotes considerable energy to the seducing of an upper-class young
widow who has just returned home after years of carefree Parisian splendour.
Under a facade of languid fragility, Carmen Daltona, "the black-eyed sphinx,"
is a consummate tactician who in exchange for her favours demands that her
suitor negotiate the sale of a worthless property to the State. The Haitian
government, duly pressured, subsidizes Sena's mistress, but as soon as the
transaction is effected, the femme fatale departs for Paris on account of her
son's presumed illness, in fact to rejoin a costly but adored French lover. This
type of Haitian coquette is often studied by Hibbert whose oeuvre offers a vast
repertory of upper-class Haitian women. Worthy counterpart to the swindler, she
deploys an arsenal of feminine wiles ranging from marivaudage to blackmail and
money is her chief concern.
Six months later, a suspicious but still hopeful Sena follows the beloved to
France and his memorable Ocean voyage brings him in contact with other
nationals and sundry representatives of the Haitian bourgeoisie. Through the
vigorous interacting of heterogeneous clans a typical occurrence in a "ship of
fools" situation Hibbert provides a microcosm of the stratified Haitian"elite"
and to a limited extent portrays Antillean diversity and mutual suspicion.17
Heated debates on trifling matters are initiated by the cantankerous bores and
answered with light-hearted banter by their sophisticated compatriots whose
attitude remains one of tolerant amusement. Yet political concerns eventually
come to the fore and the author inserts a long, forceful analysis of the Haitian
predicament, cooly articulated by the young raisonneur, Gerard Delhi, in reply
to the sarcastic questioning of a German businessman who implies that such
stagnation is a proof of racial inferiority.18
In this lucid expose, Delhi examines the role played by neo-colonial
interests since Independence and underlines the pervasive influence of former
slavery patterns on contemporary Haitian practices. Successive Haitian cliques
have assumed power, aided and abetted by foreign supporters in search of easy
profit: both parasitical groups merely perpetuate the traditional exploitation of
the peasant masses, for the system imposed during the colonial period has
remained unchanged, irrespective of nominal sovereignty. After the expulsion
of the French, the liberated but unprepared Haitian leaders could not create
new methods of government and simply reestablished the familiar model of
despotic rule. Thus started an infernal cycle of civil wars, financed by interested
outsiders and intensified by colour prejudice, another legacy of the white capitalist
minority which had used it as means of controlling the freed mulattoes and the
black majority. The enormous indemnity exacted by France to recognize
Haitian independence has led to financial disaster and continued indebtedness to
foreign banks. Commercial activities are in the hands of Syrians and Germans.
By a crowning paradox, the foreign investor enjoys better guarantees and a
surer profit in "free" 20th century Haiti than in the colonial clays of plantation
economy. Hibbert's cogent assessment of the external and internal factors which
contribute to the national plight is in marked contrast with Marcelin's super-
ficial considerations and Lherisson's silence on the matter.
In a lighter vein, the Parisian holiday recounts the adventures of the "Innocents
Abroad" as they discover, each to his fashion, the mysterious ways of the
French metropolis. The "capital of the civilized world" supreme in Haitian
mythology, receives different tributes from its votaries. For the educated
visitors, Paris is a repository of esthetic and intellectual values, but when judged
by Sena the City of Light is praised for its meat, its women and its street-cleaning
efficiency. However the melodramatic reapparition of Carmen Daltona, now
abandoned, repentant and dying, and the ensuing enlightenment of Se'na,
humanized through suffering and transformed by Delhi's moral influence, bring
to an incongruous conclusion an otherwise sprightly lampoon of the Haitian
Philistines in the throes of cultural shock. Similarly Delhi's duel with a
Frenchman on account of a mistress he barely tolerates seems a fashionable
concession to Bell Epoque mannerisms, even though it represents for Sena a
triumphant vindication of Haitian valor in a white man's country.
The wry Hibbertian perspective is restored in the epilogue, a brief coda
sketching the political destinies of the Haitian travellers after their return to
the homeland. The argumentative vulgarians of the "central core" are fully
reintegrated as office-holders, but Sina who has become a defensor of the public
weal is promptly denounced by his colleagues and thrown in jail where he dies
with stoic dignity. Delhi and his two friends the honest and qualified young
generation live in isolation, alienated from the system, exiles in their own
country. Frustrated and powerless, these unhappy few realize that no militancy
is possible. The cult of the mind is their refuge and outlet, and they find some
solace in personal relations, mostly friendships, rarely love.
Satirical self-examination came to a stand-still during the American Occu-
pation (1915 1934), a traumatic experience which also served as cultural
catalyst and brought about a proud affirmation of national identity, starting with
the Indigenist movement of the late 1920's. Still undaunted, however, the
confirmed satirist Fernand Hibbert, sole survivor of the great triumvirate, did not
hesitate to expose pseudo-patriotism as another variant of Haitian shamin his last
book, Les Simulacres (1923).19 But the novels published towards the end of the
Occupation generally projected the upper-class Haitian as noble figure and cast
the American invader in the role of villian.20 After the "second independence"
(1934), the Indigenists writers celebrate the Haitian peasant as victim or hero,
and with rare exceptions21 satire loses its importance in fiction to be
rechanneled towards the theater.
1 Civil war raged in 1902, financial scandals implicated prominent figures
(Affaire de la Consolidation, 1904) inflation was rampant, foreign claims
multiplied. For an analysis of the general disillusionment among Haitian
intellectuals of the period, of Roger Gaillard's Etzer Vilaire (Port-au-Prince:
Presses Nationales, 1972).
2 Nineteenth century Haitian novels emulated French models in setting, plot
and character as well as technique. Demesvar Delorme's Francesca (1873)
and Le Damne'(1 877) are romantic exercises in the manner of Dumas pere
and Victor Hugo; Louis Joseph Janvier's Une Chercheuse (1889), study of
a liberated French woman, evokes Balzac, Bourget and Dumas fils. The
exception is Eric Bergeaud's Stella (1859), an allegorical account of
national history where the goddess of liberty laments the unrelenting feuds
of blacks and mulattoes, each group being represented by a symbolic
3 Homage is also due to Antoine Innocent for his Mimola (1906), an
extensive and sympathetic treatment of voodoo, then considered a
forbidden topic. This much underrated novel deserves separate analysis.
Jules Domingue locates in Haiti Les Deux Amours d'Adrien (1902), but
this sentimental recall of lost loves, in the tradition of Eugene Fromentin's
Dominque, bears little reference to the Haitian milieu or psychology
4 The first novel to appear, Marcelin's Themistocle Epaminondas Labasterre
(1901) has been reproduced in off-set only in 1974 (no place, publisher or
date mentioned). The second, dating from 1905, Lherisson's La Famille
des Pitite-Caille, benefited from an earlier reedition (Port-au-Prince:
Imperimerie des Antilles, 1963). Hibbert's complete works are being
reedited by the Editions Fardin, starting with Se'na (1905) (Port-au-Prince:
Editions Fardin, 1974).
5 Between 1900 and 1910 several studies appeared, dealing with the causes
of national stagnation and advocating various remedies. It was justly
feared that further deterioration of the country would be a pretext for
U.S. intervention. The Marines occupied Haiti in 1915 and stayed till
6. The novels of Fre'deric Marcelin (1848-1917) include, besides Themistocle
Epaminodas Labasterre (Paris: Societe d'Editions litteraires et artistique,
1901, La Vengeance de Mama (Paris: Societe d'Editions litte'raires et
artistiques, 1902), a melodramatic sequel where retribution is meted out
to the villain by the fiancee of the victim, Marilisse (Paris: Societe'd'Edi-
tions litteraires et artistiques, 1903) where the central character is black
servant girl, and La Confession de Bazoutte (Paris: Socie6t d'Editions
litteraires et artistiques, 1909). Marcelin defended his first two novels in
Autour de deux romans (Paris: Kugelmann, 1903). He also wrote studies
on Haitian parliamentary and financial history, biographies, memoirs, and
founded a bi-monthly review, Haiti litteraire et social (1905-1907) which
helped promote Haitian culture.
7 Cf. Autour de Deux romans and Au gre' du Souvenir (Paris: Challamel,
8 Cf. Autour de deux romans.
9 Cf. Georges Sylvain's review of Labasterre in La Ronde (15 October 1901).
10 Cf. Fortune Bogat's Idles et Reminiscences (Port-au-Prince: Imprimerie
Central, 1968), Roger Gaillard'S Charades (Port-au-Prince: Imprimerie
National, 1972), Maximilien Laroche's Portrait de l'Haitten (Montreal:
Editions de Sainte Marie, 1968).
11 Polysyllabic vocabulary, mixed metaphors, prolonged conceits, periodic
sentences, frequent hyperbole, abundant use of cliches and classical
12 For casting a foreigner in the delicate role of judge, Marcelin received a
sharp reprimand from nationalist critic Georges Sylvain who declared
that only a Haitian could feel with any acuity "the problems of the
Haitian soul" ibidd).
13 This implied parallel with Catholicism was highly shocking in a period
where voodoo was either ignored or considered a shameful superstition.
Marcelin's treatment of the houngan as wise man of the mountain and his
presentation of the peasants are both extremely idealized.
14 Justin Lherisson (1873- 1907), lawyer, journalist, history professor and
poet, wrote a Manuel d'Histoire d'Haiti (1907) and composed the text of
national anthem. "La Dessalinienne." He launched in 1899 the newspaper
Le Soir which he directed till his death. La Famille des Pitite-Caille
(Port-au-Prince: Imprimerie Heraux, 1905) was dedicated to Fernand
Hibbert who had praised the "new genre" of this experiment, and its
publication encouraged by Marcelin. It was announced as the first
installment of a projected series entitled "Les Fortunes de chez nous"
which did not progress beyond a second episode, Zoune chez sa nainnaine
(Port-au-Prince: Imprimeris Heraux, 1906). The family name Pitite-Caille
is creole for "Son of the Great House." nickname of Eliezer's father,
favourite servant of a planter's wife and progenitor of 69 children.
Rabelaisien posterity whose names and racial types are catalogued in
parody of high-class genealogical mania.
15 An excellent stage adaptation by Pierre Mayard in 1943 undoubtedly
stimulated the writing of plays in creole in the fifties, whether comic
sketches by the prolific "Languichatte" alias Theodore Beauburn or
adaptations of Greek drama, such as Antigone by Morisseau Leroy and
Oedipus by Frank Fouche. In Lherisson's time. original poetry in creole
had already been attempted by Oswald Druand. Massillon Coicou. and
Georges Sylvain's Cric-Crac, a creole adaptation of La Fontaine's fables.
had appeared in 1901.
16 Femand Hibbert (1873- 1929) spent his student years in Paris, later
taught history and held a number of political posts. Besides four one-act
plays and a collection of short stories (Masques et Visages, 1910), his
novels include Sena (Port-au-Prince: Imprimerie de I'Abeille, 1905), Les
Thazar (Port-au-Prince: Imprimerie d I'Abeille, 1907), Romulus (Port-au-
Prince: Imprimerie de l'Abeille, 1908), Le Manuscrit de mon ami (Port-au-
Prince: Imprimerie Cheraquit, 1923) and Les Simulacres (Port-au-Prince:
Imprimerie Cheraquit, 1923).
17 The non-Haitian passengers number two Dominicans, Guadeloupans who
avoid their Martiniquans neighbours, Martiniquans who associate only with
the French, three dour Englishmen, two German expatriates living in Haiti,
French civil servants on leave from the colonies.
18 Barely touched by Marcelin and Lherisson, the question of racial
prejudice and ethnic stratifications reviewed historically by Hibbert and
its manifestations in Haitian society recorded with sarcastic accuracy,
specially the search for the white spouse and epidermic pride. The
characters' color is stated: Delhi is a mulatto, his two best friends are
black, Sena's "alezan" complexion allows him to'side with any group.
Hibbert satirizes what will be called by Jean Price-Mars Haiti's "collective
bovarysm" (La Vocation de l'elite, 1919) a syndrome whereby the Haitian
projects himself as white.
19 The types examined include the greedy spoilsman in patriotic trappings,
the admirer of Haitian opposition for opposition's sake, the cynical
collaborator who claims a real-politik approach.
20 Cf. my article "Images of the American in Haitian literature during the
Occupation (1915 1934)" (Caribbean Studies, vol. XIV, no. 3).
21. From Canape-Vert (1944) to All men are mad (1970), the Marcelin
brothers Pierre and Philippe-Thoby, descendants of Frederic maintain
an ironic tone in their treatment of low-class social types.
CURRICULA, SYLLABUSES AND EXAMINATIONS IN ENGLISH
It is often said with regret that teachers in the Caribbean neglect the education
of their pupils to prepare them for examinations. Most of the time it is a teacher
bemoaning this alleged state of affairs. Referring to the position in England ten
years ago Brian Jackson wrote "There is no bigger blockage to the serious
teaching of English than the English language paper at '0' level." (Jackson, 1965).
But just as often, in lamenting the, neglect of education for examination results,
teachers put the blame on the parents, the society, 'the system' and other
nebulous entities. Sometimes a defiant self-defence is made with the statement
that the pupils have to pass their examinations, regardless of any 'idealistic'
talk, if they are to get 'good' jobs. The issue often appears to be whether the
teacher can afford the luxury of educating the pupils and endangering their
chance to pass the examination they have to sit sooner or later. But are those
really the alternatives? Is the teaching of pupils so that they can pass an exami-
nation necessarily neglecting to educate them? One answer to that seems to be
that it depends on the examination, the syllabus it encompasses, and the kind of
teaching done by the teachers.
Nevertheless, it must be admitted that teachers in the Caribbean and elsewhere
(exceptions there must be but they are not easy to find) seem to nake themselves
the slaves of textbooks and the prisoners of examination syllabuses. Jackson
made this point "All examinations in English purport to be testing devices.
All experience shows that their techniques immediately become teaching
devices." (op. cit.) The truth also seems to be that if some other state of affairs
becomes desirable and desired in the Caribbean it will not appear before another
decade or two. That the syllabus and questions set for an examination determine
what is taught and how it is taught can still be taken as a fact of life in Caribbean
secondary schools. Yet, there should be regret or anger at this only if the
examination set does indeed damage or limit the pupils' chances of being
educated. It seems perfectly reasonable to say that it is possible for a teacher to
educate pupils and get them through examinations at the same time if the
examination syllabus is one conceived with the ends of education in mind. If
such a syllabus can be devised by the teachers in our schools slavishness to its
requirements would then become instead the greatest virtue.
Perhaps, however, in the real circumstances, the teacher himself or herself,
since he/she tends to accept control by any given syllabus, does not need, as an
individual, to consider what education is. Perhaps that responsibility lies, in our
present circumstances, in the hands of the syllabus planners. Of course the
syllabus makers should be the teachers themselves, but, in any case, somebody
must consider the question if the syllabus to be monitored by the teachers
is to be educative. The teacher who wants to be more than a monitor andwho
wants to educate young people would want to consider for himself what
educating means, what it implies for teaching methods and the material, content
or syllabus to be taught. It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking all teaching is
educating. Most of us do. However, a little effort at reflection must raise doubts.
As soon as we begin to ask whether a person can be said to be educated regard-
less of what and how he/she has been taught we are doubting whether there is
not a distinction between having learnt (and, therefore, having beer taught)
and being educated.
Does being educated mean having been initiated into 'worthwhile activities'
(Peters, 1966)? Does it mean being able to grow and enjoy 'adequacy of life,
irrespective of age' (Dewey, 1916)? Is it being trained to make full use of human
resources (Ulich, 1961)? Is it having certain good and desirable states of mind
such as 'capacities for the different forms of thought and awareness of which
the human mind is capable' (Downie. et al, 1974) or having the capacity for 'the
good life' in terms of self-determination, self-realization, and self-integration
(Broudy 1961)? Perhaps it means having acquired the art of the utilisation of
knowledge (Whitehead, 1932), having achieved human excellence (Aristotle,
circa 350 B.C; Macdonald, 1965), or excellence in schooling and intellectual
development (Bruner, 1960). Whatever the nature of education is taken to be
the committed teacher has to be guided by it as he/she sees it because
'the uncommitted teacher has no business to be a teacher' (Reid, 1962 p. 37).
This writer has contended elsewhere (e.g. Gray, 1974) that since the process
of education is necessarily some sort of changing of a person a teacher must keep
in his/her mind what he/she is changing the pupils to become. It seems reasonable
to say that it is only when the teacher has an answer to that question that he/she
can begin to try to effect desired changes. But in arriving at an answer that
satisfies this probing the educator is asking and answering to his/her satisfaction
why certain changes are desirable in a human being. Which of the many innate
capacities given to every human being ought to be developed, and why? That
is the question that provides the chance for a teacher to see what the changes
are that he/she has to arrange his/her teaching to effect. It appears to this writer
that when we consider human needs for human living the picture ought to show
that an educated person is one in whom these powers have been developed and
(a) the powers of inquiry, i.e. finding out about and understanding the
(b) powers of reasoning and judgement, i.e. the attitude and the skills
of critical awareness, skepticism and objectivity; and
(c) powers of feeling and experiencing, i.e. being able to apprehend
diverse facets of living, to enjoy and interpret them, to respond with
For instance, whatever be the specifics of the environment a person living in
it can thrive only if he/she is able to learn about that environment: how it
works, what are its 'laws' and how to survive in it. Living in the Amazon forest
requires abilities to find out and do things necessary to survival. No less are such
abilities necessary in the increasingly complex industrial and agricultural environ-
ment of a Caribbean country today. For the teacher that fact means equipping
the learners with the skills to get that knowledge because the teacher cannot
transmit all, or even any substantial amount, of the knowledge now available
and necessary for thriving in the environment. For the teacher of English it means,
therefore, ensuring that the learners have the skills to comprehend what they
listen to and read when they require knowledge.
Then, in all modern societies the individual always has to apply reasoning and
judgement to facts and information to assess their relevance and degree of useful-
ness in a context of a need. Still more does the individual need to be able to use
judgement and reasoning if he is living in a democratic political and social system
where the quality of life of each member can be heavily dependent on the
wishes of the majority. So, together with knowledge acquired through the
ability to enquire and comprehend, the wise exercise of choice in such systems
requires the crucial capacity to weigh and consider views and arguments in
order to get to, at least, formal truth. Perhaps, though, the most important use of
critical thinking is in keeping one's state of being as a person or self (Reid, 1962)
in the face of forces that press us all to be robots, automatons and puppets.
(Packard, 1957) The dehumanising influences are strong and numerous around
us. To save ourselves we have to be able to see through their disguises and their
motives (Thompson, 1964).
Being human also means having the capacity to react with suitable emotions
to sensations, perceptions, concepts and experiences which belong to a plane of
understanding that other animals do not seem able to reach. Man perceives
how experiences affect him. He strives to express what he experiences. He creates
not only means of securing food and shelter but also forms of art to communicate
his insights and his sufferings, his joys, his satisfactions. He turns to what
others have succeeded in expressing in those forms for further illumination and
confirmation with feeling of what he has lived through and also felt about. It is
true that in West Indian societies it is not common to see people seeking
sustenance from works of art few are capable of doing so. But that only serves
to emphasise for the teacher of English that from schooling every pupil 'should
have gained sufficient pleasure in drawing on the wisdom of all forms of verbal
culture to feel, as he lives on, the need to read something of. .literature'
(Holbrook, 1961 p. 27)
It is being argued here that if what is practised as the process of educating
the young in any society is failing to develop the individual's power of enquiry,
of judgement and reasoning, and of experiencing and feeling, education is not
taking place whatever other changes are effected in the individual. Hence, it is
being proposed that a teacher who wishes to educate will select the components
of the curriculum specifically to bring about the development of those powers.
From a more concrete angle teachers of a language have to be controlled in
their choice of what their pupils must learn by the needs people have for language
in their daily lives, remembering at all times that the two major aspects of needs
are understanding and expression which together constitute communication.
Taking the curriculum to be 'a programme of activities designed so that pupils
will attain, as far as possible certain educational ends or objectives' (Hirst, P. 1968)
we have to face the fact that teachers of English in secondary schools in the
Caribbean often have to include activities for the acquisition of basic language
structures and forms in their main work of extending the abilities to understand
and produce language in all its various modes and contexts. English is still the
language used for giving and acquiring most information and knowledge, expected
to be used for argument in many situations, and resorted to for certain forms
of exploration of the experience of living. Whether an examination is in the
use and understanding of Jamaican English, Guyanese English or Trinidadian
English it is the needs for its use by an educated person that must guide us.No
Caribbean secondary school is fulfilling its role unless it is guided by Frank
Whitehead's charge: the true task of English teaching is to help children to
refine, polish, raise to a higher level of sensitivity, effectiveness and precision a
language they already possess .' (F. Whitehead, 1966).
It is, therefore, an analysis of the functions of the language in living a full life
that gives us our concrete base for choosing what to use our energies to try to
teach. The life of the learner as we would wish it to be is the goal we have to
head for. To ignore the language needs for living a full life is to misappropriate
the time and lives of those we aim to educate. Those needs have now to be con-
One way of doing that, of analysing the functions of language in satisfying
living, is to look at a day in the life of the person we would like our pupil to be.
We would immediately see doing a job to earn a living as a necessary part of that
day. We could not avoid seeing certain forms of recreation, sports, fun, games
and social intercourse taking up some hours of that day. And we should see the
pursuit of broadly civic (nor merely political) interests, duties and obligations.
such as attending a meeting or discussing a social issue, as part of many of those
days. Thus. one might look at how language is needed and used for vocational
purposes, how it is used and needed for leisure and recreation, and its role in
those contexts where the interests of the community as a whole are being spoken
or written about. For it is the ways language is used in such contexts that
determines the decisions affecting the quality of life of every member of a
community. The forms of leisure and recreational activities could be on the same
level as those enjoyed by rabbits, mice, dogs or birds; or they could be ones which
draw on human powers of discernment, understanding, discrimination and
response. "The point and the justification of leisure are not that the functionary
should function faultlessly and without a breakdown, but that the functionary
should continue to be a man .that he should fulfill himself, and come to full
possession of his faculties, face to face with being as a whole." (Peiper, 1952).
Which forms of leisure are we to spend their time preparing our pupils to enjoy?
There is no doubt that the pressures are heavy on teachers to prepare their
pupils to be functionaries that function faultlessly during those hours of the day
spent doing their jobs. Very few indeed are the times when a teacher in the
Caribbean questions whether the total purpose of education is for living or
earning a living. (Holbrook, 1961). The persons of influence and loud voice in
West Indian societies are those whose only interest in people seems to be an
economic one and teachers easily succumb to their vociferations (frequently
vocalised through the mouths of political representatives). The other interest
easily seen is in the 'good behaviour' of the masses of the societies. But
apart from those two aspects of preparing people to come to terms with their
environment it must truthfully be said that comparatively little else gets
emphasis in Caribbean countries.
Now and then a little lip-service is paid to the idea of preparing pupils to think
for themselves. But that does not always mean making an independent judg-
ment. Most often it means seeing an issue in the same way as the speaker or
writer. And it would be much further from the truth to say that teachers are
pressured in any way to prepare their pupils to pursue leisure time interests and
activities which involve intellectual creativity of any kind. Who really cares
(does something), for example, about getting them to prefer good quality films,
although the cinema and the television will occupy so much of their lives? As
Albert Hunt wrote 'If you go to see rape and murder, rape and murder are what
you are likely to respond to; a fact which makes it all the more important to bring
to the screen an active critical judgment.' (Hunt, 1964) Isn't it taken that leisure
time is time to be filled with doing almost anything (although preferably charity
work and sports) as long as time is filled until the workshops, or office or
factory opens again?
Yet, while training a person to be employable as a functionary whether
curing the sick or driving a tractor is not necessarily educating him/her, that
person does need to be able to understand and produce language to perform
efficiently whatever the job or function is. Some functions possibly require a
lower level of critical, creative thinking than others, and the capacity to feel and
experience does have less place in executing most jobs than it has in personal
growth and being. But it should easily be accepted that the two needs for
language most felt by most people in the context of earning a living are for
getting information and for giving information. Giving directions, instructions,
demonstrations, explanations and so on constitutes a large part of what most
jobs involve, which is not to disregard that getting and giving information is as
essential in contexts of civic activity, such as a trade union meeting, for instance.
A language curriculum in a school must, then, give pupils the skills and habits
to enable them to get information as they need it to continue to perform job
functions efficiently, at least, as well as to enable them to give information to
others in a clear, complete, concise and precise manner. If, for example, in
attempting to communicate to others a foreman uses value terms which lack
precision and common meaning, or is verbose, or presents ideas in an order which
hinders clarity, confusion is very likely to be caused. Efficiency suffers. The kind
of language habits and skills needed in such a context are those which belong
to the impersonal, objective use of language and the organisation of ideas for
impersonal understanding. Most curricula in schools show a recognition of the
importance of giving the pupils the skills for effective communication of that
kind and both internal and external examinations attempt to measure those
skills in some way.
However, when we are executing functional tasks as well as when we are not
the expression and receiving of opinion (as distinct from the giving and getting of
factual information) is a pervading phenomenon of group life. But opinions can
be expressed in heady subjective language as well as in language that is nearly
completely impersonal. Owens and Marland (1970) put this into perspective "
as important as inducing children to feel is getting them to think. Just how
the transition is made from personal to impersonal writing is still not clear, but
unquestionably one of our major tasks is to help children to think clearly and
logically, to stick to the point and avoid non-sequiturs, to retain the thread of
an argument, to watch carefully for bees in the bonnet and red herrings in the
flow of the argument, and to link phrase to phrase, sentence to sentence and
paragraph to paragraph in a connected sequence." Discussion and argument may
be mostly done, generally speaking, in situations where civic (social and
political) questions are the points of issue. But they are done with almost equal
frequency in other situations of daily living. The need to be able to evaluate the
worth of an opinion or view shows itself in all three facets of living referred to
above: vocational functioning, civic activity, and the enjoyment of leisure. It
is incontestable that the language learning activities in any school must prepare
the pupils for both expressing and judging opinions. Traditionally examinations
have often aimed to measure the abilities needed for effective expression of
opinion. But not yet has anybody found it important enough to measure the
skills for evaluating opinions expressed. Yet we do a lot of talking about
democracy. Is it that the people of power and voice in our societies do not want
the masses to have those skills? Why do we condone any examination that
ignores the testing of the candidate's ability to analyse and assess expressions of
Perhaps employers are not interested in whether their employees are able to
protect their minds against destructive assaults. What they should be but are
certainly not interested in, as employers, is what has been described as the
capacity to feel and experience. Holbrook (1961) calls this 'the very culture of
the feelings' and names one of its enemies as the pressure towards standardisation
which inhibits the engagement of teachers and pupils with the imaginative
power of the word with which we must all be concerned even when acquiring
fact and technological skills. The importance of what that means can perhaps
be suggested by pointing to the difference in the level of existence between
human beings who can respond to experience communicated by art, by music,
and by the language of novels, short stories, plays and poems, and human beings
who cannot. The capacities of the latter to enjoy, to understand, to respond are
limited to what their very immediate environment and actions provide, and to
those aspects of living which do not require the efforts of the educator; the
gratification of physical appetites and the emotional excitement of physical
But man has always used language to communicate the feeling and meaning
of personal experiences. The urge to do that is as strong as the urge to
communicate anything else. And man has also always drawn on such communi-
cations for interpreting, understanding and illuminating his own individual
experience. 'An additional mode of existence' is how one writer puts it.
(Flower, 1966). Hitherto Caribbean teachers as a whole have given as little
time as possible to tli development of such sensibilities in their pupils. And,
worse, examinations tuat pretend to test what is called literature have always
been designed with another objective in mind, viz. to measure what the
candidates can remember of what they have been told about a certain few
specified texts. instead of measuring whether they have the ability to read (or
listen) and receive the feeling and meaning of communicated experience and
insights infused into the art forms of language.
In short, if we are not to rob our pupils (and ourselves by robbing our society
and our culture) of dimensions of life that enrich human living we cannot omit
adequate emphasis on preparing them to derive the satisfactions and pleasures
from language used in fictional ways as literature; as well as on preparing them
to be able to communicate their personal and special perceptions of human
experience to others who in turn will enjoy pleasure and satisfaction. Deriving
pleasure from certain uses of language and giving pleasure by producing
language used in certain ways seem to be as vital abilities for complete living
as any that can be thought of. The teacher who wishes to educate will plan a
curriculum to develop those abilities and ensure that the examination the
pupils have to be tested by measures those abilities. We have to regard language
as 'the predominating medium for all forms of experience and conscious
knowledge' (Gurrey, 1958).
Finally, in considering the total scope of the curriculum, the teacher will
underpin all activities with the importance of the ability to speak and write the
language correctly. That, of course, is not a separate aspect of the preparation
we have been taking to be the language teacher's share in the process of education.
The correct use of the language being acquired and extended or refined is implicit
in three of the six major applications referred to: in giving information, in ex-
pressing opinions, and in communicating experience. Nevertheless a grave danger
threatens when correct use of the language is taken to set the limits of the
curriculum, when teaching about the language (what every West Indian teacher
means by teaching grammar) is thought to be the means of getting learners to
use the language correctly, and when, consequently, examination questions are
asked to test knowledge of categories and terms used in describing the language.
This is the greatest threat of all. To ask a person to define or point out an
adverbial clause is completely irrelevant to finding out whether he/she can use
such clauses effectively. To assume as nearly every one of us does that
teaching learners to distinguish relative pronouns, dependent clauses, objects of
prepositions and so on is helping them to use the language correctly is to ignore
all that every teacher of experience knows and what the bulk of research
confirms: there is no connection between knowing what a verb is, for instance,
and the habit of using verbs correctly. As Flower points out (1966) "Studies
by other researchers reveal the same complete lack of correlation between the
teaching of grammar and the pupils' improvement in the writing of English."
One researcher who investigated the value of teaching grammar as teachers
understand the term concluded that 'Its real value appears at Sixth Form level:
first in examining with specialist curiosity the formal structure and abstract
pattern of the language (Harris, 1962) He came to the view that it does not
do what it is being used to do for the fifteen-year-old. But any teacher who
teaches grammar for many years, especially in primary schools, becomes aware
of the ineffectiveness of the time spent in so far as getting the learner to produce
the language. Curriculum activities to help the pupils acquire habitual use of the
correct forms and structures of a language are explained and demonstrated in
numerous texts (e.g. Tiffen, 1969; Moody and Gibbs, 1967; Moody, 1966;
Dacanay, 1963; Pittman, 1967; Billows, 1961; Close; 1962; Allen, 1965;
Hornby, 1959, 1961, 1964, 1966). Every teacher of English in the Caribbean
has the pressing responsibility of becoming familiar with those activities and
placing them in the over-all plan of the language curriculum with emphasis in
proportion to the levels of language acquisition already reached by their
THE EXAMINATION SYLLABUS
If teachers of English in our schools accept the responsibility for developing
the language abilities suggested in the preceding section of this paper, as well
as the educational objectives outlined, the language curricula of schools would
undergo several changes in content and emphasis and an examination would have
to be designed to measure those abilities and objectives which the teachers are
concerned about. Facing the fact that many teachers will seldom teach what is
not in an examination syllabus and that the examination syllabus, therefore,
tends to determine how much educating pupils get in schools and understanding
that any examination paper tests a sample of what the candidates are expected
to have learned, we become impelled to outline a syllabus that takes into account
the whole spectrum of all the refinements and needs for language in the life of the
educated persons we want our pupils to be.
In a syllabus structured to give the pupils what they need for a full life there
must of course, be activities to increase comprehension and to increase curiosity.
Training to develop information-getting skills will not be left to chance or the
indeterminate periods called 'comprehension lessons' The syllabus must name
the precise comprehension skills to be taught and tested. (See e.g. Lewis and
Sisk, 1963; Massey and Moore, 1966; DeBoer and Dallman, 1970; D'Arcy,
1973, Gray, 1973). The school library will be seen as the heart of the school
and of the syllabus. Class libraries (which may just be large portable cartons
filled with paperbacks) will be used as the main arteries. Library skills and
note taking will be taught and tested. Pupils will be allowed to read and not be
exhorted to but prevented by excessive homework. Regularly pupils will do
'research' and use will be made of what has been read or listened to.
When information obtained from listening or reading or observing is channeled
into use, the teacher will be aiming to see that the pupils attain the insights,
habits and skills to communicate information clearly, concisely, accurately and
completely. The relevant insights, habits and skills will be set out in the syllabus
and measured in examinations given to the pupils.
The ability to evaluate opinions heard and read will be an important
objective of the syllabus. The pupils will be exposed to the presentation of
views and opinions in such a way as to lead them to learn how to discern the
logical and honest from the illogical and biased. Material from radio talks,
newspapers and television will be increasingly used going up the school. The
pupils will be trained to detect when their feelings are being manipulated for the
profit of others; when their minds are being twisted away from a truth-finding
course; specifically, for example, in recognizing bias in coloured terms. Every
vehicle of propaganda will at one time or other be used to supply material,
from personal letters and conversation to more formal discussions and debates
(oral, written and recorded). The teachers' reference library in the school will
have useful texts such as those by Marland (1967) (a) and 1967(b),Braithwaite.
(1972), Anderson (1963), Firth (1968), Gordon (1966), Tucker (1966) and
Complementarily, the syllabus must offer clear-cut organised training in
sound argument. This cannot be left to chance, with the hope that it will come
out of the goalless activity we call class discussions and debates. With the help
of the analyses of Jepson (1948), Stebbing (1939), Thouless (1953), Flesch
(1951), St. Aubyn (1957) and Emmet (1960) a syllabus can be planned for the
upper forms of the school naming the special skills and insights the pupils must
acquire to avoid the pitfalls of faulty argument such as unsupported general-
isations, baseless inferences, inadequate definitions, and so on. For the satisfying
life our pupils need to be able to put their views convincingly and with honesty
in the vocational and civic contexts of living, and often, too, in those situations
where leisure is being used for humane purposes and with humane values.
Hayakawa (1965), who might well be the teacher's prophet in this respect,
reveals very convincingly what this kind of language in action really means in
our daily lives.
Above all,understanding that the real difference in the quality of life between
one person and another, while probably having an economic base, has its
manifestations in the kind of leisure pursuits that time is given to. teachers of
English will lay down a syllabus that ensures that every school-leaver has the
necessary abilities and inclinations to derive the real satisfactions that literature
has to offer. For some teachers this will mean changing the classroom activity
from one of learning ABOUT literature to one of learning HOW TO READ
literature. The special comprehension skills needed for reading the best novels,
stories, plays and poems will be listed in the syllabus. And any sensible exam-
ination will be arranged so that what is measured in the candidates is not how
much they can remember but how well they can read. For those teachers, the
very few, who now wisely aim at giving their pupils abilities and dispositions
rather than knowledge it is still important to reiterate that it is only literature
which has to do with life and living as the pupils know it that can start the growth
of those abilities and dispositions. For West Indian children it must be West
Indian literature to begin with.
Many teachers will see it as just as important to develop those skills which
enable people to give expression to experience in ways that give pleasure and
satisfaction. Even people responsible for setting the present inadequate exam-
ination tasks as tests ask candidates to write about their personal experiences
as well as form, of experience in their environment, e.g. 'Popular Music in
Your Country' Some teachers, lacking in insight into the value of that for
the human ,syche. or not being interested in people as human beings, dismiss
or de-emphasise those skills because they do not seem to serve any 'utilitarian'
purpose, such as are required for earning a living. So, activities which are
unfortunately called 'creative', and thereby given a connotation of specialness
and elitism, are still too often regarded as dispensable from the syllabus when
the teachers view their pupils as 'dull' or 'low-class' or inadequate in their mastery
of the mechanics of English. Personal writing in all its forms, includingverse
writing, and the writing of stories and plays is necessary to promote the growth
of all our pupils regardless of their particular linguistic and other circumstances.
Dixon (1967) gives ample stress to the school's role in this regard. Alington
(1961) says 'This reflection upon experience, difficult though it might be to
contrive practically, is one of the important activities of the mind which we do
not yet encourage sufficiently in schools.' But several teachers have demon-
strated that it is not too difficult to contrive practically (e.g. Gwynne and
Gurrey, 1967; Langdon. 1961: Bolton, 1966; Druce, 1970; Clegg, 1964; Alington,
1961; Gurrey, 1954: Schiller, 1967; Rosen, 1967; Clements, 1967; McCree,
1969). There should be little doubt that a syllabus must specify the learning
which have to take place in this regard, and any examination or test must measure
those learning in an appropriate way.
What is, without doubt, emphasised by probably seven out of every ten
teachers in our secondary schools and ten out of ten in our primary schools
is an activity called teaching grammar. In the context of syllabus planning this
has to be referred to again. Many misguided teachers and the people who
control teachers merchants, journalists, civil servants, politicians, industrialists
expect that an examination in English (and consequently the school
syllabus) must test what the pupils know ABOUT the language, assuming in
their ignorance that knowing ABOUT the language is the same as being able to
USE the language. Hence, a huge waste of pupils' time in school is the common
practice. Time that should be spent immersing the pupils in the language well-
used, and in giving them practice in using the language well, is spent giving
so-called explanations of the forms and functions of words and the parts of
sentences and their functions, as if the learners have already acquired the
language and can now spend time analysing it like scholars. Any syllabus for
English teaching in one of our schools today should stipulate the grammatical
structures and patterns those particular pupils need to acquire and the order in
which they are to be drilled in so the pupils can use them habitually and spon-
taneously in appropriate situations. As said before, curriculum activities will
take the form of interesting ways of getting that drill and practice done.
The same applies of course to other conventions of the mechanics of language
production, e.g. punctuation. How this could be measured will be referred to
TESTING THE ABILITIES
It is assumed that to set up a form or scheme of examination for pupils
in a school or for those leaving school the teachers will first set out the
objectives they wish to achieve through their teaching. Bloom's analysis of
behavioral objectives (1956) might be of some use, but Krathwohl's (1964)
although of necessity less overt, are certainly as related to the work of the
teacher of English in Caribbean secondary schools. In any case it is the teachers
who must clarify their objectives, then work out the curriculum (see definition
above) to achieve those objectives and finally they too, must measure the attain-
ment of their objectives (Wiseman, 1961). An idea of what ought to be
measured has already been suggested. How the measurement should be done
depends on agreement on what is to be measured.
The essay-type test item seems a valid way to test the abilities related to
the production of language to express factual ideas, opinions, and personal
and creative insights. It is the least reliable method of examining because of the
large element of subjective judgement that enters into it. However, this danger
has been focused on for some time and studies such as those done by
Britton, et al (1966) have helped to indicate how large subjective inputs by
examiners could be evened out. On the other hand objective-type tests items
seem suitable for testing understanding of the language, both with regard to
impersonal and personal communications. Comprehension skills seem to be
validly and reliably tested by batteries of objective items, and it should not be
too difficult to use them to measure a person's ability to discern bias,
weakness of argument, emotional force of language used and interpretive
meaning of poems, stories and so on (Hudson, 1973; Secondary Schools Examin-
ation Council, 1964). Britton's experiments did not offer conclusive evidence
that a mark for mechanical accuracy in compositions (grammar, punctuation,
spelling) was a valid measure of such written work, but it is possible that if
teachers wish to get some separate guage of a candidate's mastery of mechanical
accuracy objective tests could be used for such a purpose. This writer's
experience of using such tests for that purpose leads to the view that they do
not tell anything of the pupil's competency in using the language.
On-going assessments of pupils during all or a period of school life can be done
internally by the school or externally by a panel of examiners, or a combination
of both. It seems, however, to he a fact lof life in the Caribbean that jealousies,
competition, rivalries, envy and mistrust will have to be eliminated to a significant
extent for any form of internal assessment, on-going or not, to be run smoothly,
even granted agreement among all teachers on what constitutes different levels
and stnadards. Forty-three years ago Whitehead (1932) wrote 'no educational
system is possible unless every question directly asked of a pupil at any exam-
ination is either framed or modified by the actual teacher of that pupil in that
subject.' Numerous countries follow that line of thought but only over the past
twenty years or so have teachers in the United Kingdom given thought to ways
of doing it. (Secondary Schools Examinations Council, 1963) The mode 3 of
the C.S.E. (Certificate of Secondary Education) there allows a percentage of
a pupil's final grade to be accounted for by work done by the pupil in the
normal course of schooling. Have we been taught so well to mistrust one
another that we cannot start now with allowing, say, 20% of a candidate's marks
to be arrived at by internal on-going assessment, increasing the proportion as we
gain confidence? Dixon's(1966?) survey for the N.A.T.E. of England reported
that nine out of fourteen regional examining Boards conducting the C.S.E.
included course work. The weights ranged from 10% to 30% of the grade given
to a candidate.
In the United Kingdom the Schools Council (1955) issued useful guidelines
for setting up school-based examinations and teachers in the Caribbean could
learn from that exercise. As Dixon asked (1966): 'If teachers cannot be trusted
to examine, why trust them with children's intellectual, emotional and moral
development at all?' The experience of some teachers in organising school-based
examinations in English and in Physics was reported by the Schools Council
in Examinations Bulletin No. 15 (1967). All the steps taken between May 1964
and April 1965 are clearly set out. The methods of examinations used were:
(a) written (i) essay type
(ii) objective type
(c) practical (for physics, or project work for English)
(d) study of course work
(e) continuous assessment
The question of testing our pupils' mastery of oral communication should
now be taken up as a vital one. It is certainly a vital objective that everybody
is concerned about. Isn't it strange that there is no clamour for it to be the prime
feature of any examination in language? Not even a shout for it to be part of
the examination at all? No-one thinking about it and realising how it goes to the
heart of the matter would let that realisation blind him/her to the problems to be
solved in examining oral English, especially for a single Caribbean examination.
But no-one interested in an examination in language communication should allow
those problems to appear to be insuperable. In Examinations Bulletin No. 11
(1966) the Schools Council gave an account of an experiment in examining oral
English. Four methods were selected for experimentation:reading aloud, prepared
talk. private conversations about a visual stimulus and group discussion. The
problems that emerged most strongly were those traced to the attitude of the
candidate towards the particular examiner causing reticence and nervousness,
and problems related to the nature of oral examining, such as what 'communi-
cation' means, is social ease to be judged and the ability to talk about serious
issues, and what speech norm is to be posited. Caribbean teachers will, no doubt,
have to have an oral test of some kind in an examination which is measuring
one's acquisition of language skills. Do we need the linguisticians to keep on
reminding us that language is speech?
Another question that ought to be considered is whether there are not times
when an open-book examination is a better and more appropriate test. Dixon
for the N.A.T.E. of England reported (1966) that five out of thirteen regional
examining boards allowed texts in the examination room when candidates were
being examined in the reading of literature. This seems in keeping with measur-
ing the ability to read rather than the gift or memory. The Schools Council
(1967) said that candidates are 'required to show they have read with understand-
ing and appreciation literature selected from a given list' This forces a teacher
who finds the list one that his/her pupils cannot understand nor appreciate
to resort to getting the pupils to retain the teachers lectures. The N.A.T.E.
thought 'the effort was being made to see that the examining of literature is a
real sampling of understanding and response' (underlining mine). This attitude
allows for texts to be brought into the examination room or for unseen extracts
to be presented for response as was done by five of thirteen examining boards.
But perhaps the most obvious use of the open-book method is to test the
candidates reference skills. This writer once had to do such a test and it proved
to be a much more true-to-life and valid test of competency.
Some of the abilities set out in the previous section, e.g. the ability to evaluate
opinions and make judgements about them, might seem unexaminable at first.
The area of reacting to views expressed by others can be probed indirectly as in
these questions set by the Southern Regional Examinations Board in May 1965
(Schools Council 1967): (a) A newspaper must be owned, directed, organised
and generally run by somebody or something. What then, do you think, is
meant by a free press? (b) Show with examples taken from the press, television
and hoardings, how some advertisements take unfair advantage of people's
feelings and emotions to persuade them to buy something they may not want
or need. (c) 'In a democracy advertising plays a vital part in giving the people a
choice between various brands of the same product thus ensuring that the
public gets value for money.' Discuss this comment on the part played by
advertising in this country. (d) Intelligent and educated people should be able
to discuss or debate matters together clearly and without quarrelling. Why,
then, is it necessary for every Committee Meeting or Debate to have a Chair-
A more direct test of the candidate's acuteness in this respect is aimed atin
this question by the Welsh panel (Dixon, 1966?):
'Two masters write these reports on David:
(a) David shows an intelligent interest in most subjects and has a mind
of his own. He shows some originality and thinks for himself.
He could develop valuable qualities of leadership.
(b) David has been very impertinent this term and questions the
decision of those in authority. He is stubborn and argumentative
and is beginning to have a bad influence on his fellow pupils.
( i) From these class reports what kind of boy do you think David is?
(ii) Both statements really say the same thing though the two masters see
him very differently. Can you think of any reason for this?
(iii) Make a list of favourable words or expressions in (a) and unfavourable ones
in (b) which create the impression desired by the writer and which really
describe the same traits of character in David.'
This is a crucial time in the development of the level and quality of education
in the Caribbean. If a poor examination system is now substituted for the
Cambridge '0' Level examination we would have taken a step backward,
instead of seizing the chance to go forward. The key to that growth is the
syllabus. Let us formulate a syllabus to educate our pupils in the fullest sense
and let the examination follow the syllabus. In no single year will an examination
be able to test all that the syllabus requires to be learnt. And there is where our
goal will get its chance to be achieved: teachers will have to teach the whole
syllabus to give their pupils sufficient preparation for the sampling the examin-
ation will make. An outline of the elements of such a syllabus has been offered in
this paper as the basis of what we should call our Certificate of General Education.
That outline is not by any means too much to prescribe, unless we are, in fact,
afraid to really educate our children.
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ANOTHER LIFE. By Derek Walcott. London: Jonathan Cape; New York:
Farrar. Straus and Giroux; Toronto:Clarke, Irwin, 1973. Pp 152. $4.65, paper.
The last line of this magnificent poem consists of two words, two names for one
of the main characters in the poem. The line is "Gregorias, Apilo!" and it is as if
the accumulated strength and meaning of the poem have been distilled into
Walcott's marvelling, reverential, hushed yet triumphal uttering of these alter-
nate names of his friend and, in terms of the poem, almost-other-self, Dunstan
St. Omer, the painter whose boyhood he shared in their native island
of St. Lucia in the eastern Caribbean.
"Gregorias" is a name which Walcott gives to St. Omer in the poem in his
attempt to define St. Omer's place in his imagination and in his vision of what
they aimed to do as artists in St. Lucia when they were full of the self-confident
ambition of youth:
I christened you with the Greek
it echoes the blest thunders of the
because you painted our first,
because it sounds explosive,
a black Greek's!
"Apilo." used on one other occasion in the poem, is a nickname which St.
Omer has had since schooldays and by which he is still commonly known in
St. Lucia. Together the two names the arty name by which Walcott has in a
sense idealized St. Omer. and the common name, uttered unthinkingly by all, by
the common folk and by those who care nothing for art sum up the reality
that is St. Omer as well as the poem's involvement with the relationship between
art and reality, its exploration of the reality of art. The reader's attention is dir-
ected to the centrality of these questions by the quotation from Malraux
Psychology of Art which is used as epigraph to the first part of the poem, "The
Divided Child." The quotation ends: "What makes the artist is the circumstance
that in his youth he was more deeply moved by the sight of works of art than by
that of the things which they portray."
Each name (Gregorias. Apilo) in its way names a real and an ideal St. Omer,
and so. more completely than either, does the tensior in which each holds.
contradicts and sustains the other. He is not truly Apilo unless we see him at
the same time as Gregorias. while any romanticizing inherent in "Gregorias"
is balanced by the everyday and common "Apilo." And Walcott's shifting from
one name to another during the poem Dunstan (used once), Gregorias and
Apilo is itself an acknowledgement of the indefinable nature of reality, of the
contradictions intrinsic in any attempt to define. The poem is a celebration of this
dwelling in contradictions and ambiguities which it sees as a condition of the
poetic, metaphorical process and vision. This is the despair and glory of the poet:
in every surface I sought
the paradoxical flash of an instant
in which every facet was caught
in a crystal of ambiguities.
my sign was Janus,
I saw with twin heads,
and everything I say is contradicted.
The theme of reality comprehends all possible meanings of a poem whose
concerns include the tyranny of memory and the horror of forgetting, belonging
and separation, friendship and betrayal, love and death, the nature of history
and the West Indian love-hate relationship with history, the relationship between
the artist and his society, the exhilaration and conflicts of the West Indian
cultural heritage. All of these concerns are realized through Walcott's re-creation
of his life (or certain aspects of it) in St. Lucia up to the time when he left it
at the age of twenty. For most of the way, the poem is an attempt to define
once and for all the quality of that other life, to find the form and meaning in it
to chart the way by which it led to the poet he became. In succeeding as
splendidly as he does, Walcott has more than fulfilled the act of homage to his
origins which in a sense his whole life's work has been. The poem is powerful
penance which more than compensates for his feeling of having betrayed the
life and those origins by his exile.
Walcott has waited until the height of his maturity to disburden himself of
the autobiographical "first novel" beyond which so many writers never really
progress. I spoke earlier of the characters in the poem. The portraiture of St.
Omer. a towering figure in the book as in life, has the kind of density which one
associates with the novel. And almost as memorable as the main characters,
in their own small way, are the many cameo portraits which, taken together,
enhance the sociological, peopled reality of the particular time and place which
the poem re-creates, and which in turn gives body and meaning to the figure of
the protagonist-narrator. Further, the unflagging narrative thrust blends with
a sustained lyric intensity in a carefully, though not mechanically shaped whole
which moves by deft transitions over an awesome range of poetry from
passionate, finely modulated passages of love poetry to moments of high and
dazzling invective. As the reader is carried along by the poem, he finds himself
wanting to read it aloud, even if there is no audience, although the mind is
repeatedly wanting to linger over the subtleties and complexities of the
language. The total impression is of that "truly tragic joy," the "exhilarating
despair" which Walcott speaks about in the introduction to his Dream on
Monkey Mountain and Other Plays (1970). Another Life reassures us that in
these days of the casual and the studiedly casual, of understatement and the
throwaway line, of emotion-dodging, it is still possible to write verse grandly and
well. Edward Baugh
Contradictory Omens Cultural Diversity and Integration in the Caribbean
(Savacou Publications Mona 1974, 80 pages)
Edward Brathwaite's monograph is a follow up and elaboration, as he ack-
nowledges in introducing it, of some of the major themes presented in his lucid study
of the development of society in Jamaica in the late 18th and early 19th century. That
work provided us with a diachronic perspective on the creole social entity of the
period in terms of the major regulatory institutions, established and sanctioned by
and or on behalf of the colonial power.
While it also dealt with the values and attitudes toward each other of the princi-
pal ethnic and cultural segments of the population, in addition to providing some
glimpses of their interaction, the predominant methodological focus spotlighted
"society" in terms of structural and institutional relationships (against a backdrop of
events) in analytic contradistinction to "culture", in terms of the content of those and
other non-enacted institutional relationships. No criticism is implied by that obser-
vation, it is merely intended to preface the point that the present monograph though
related to the earlier work, focuses more on culture, in the sense previously used, and
above all on cultural process.
From one point of view this is an equally valid if not more comprehensive
point of vantage for the investigation of a theme which runs throughout, but is most
emphatically adumbrated in the last chapter of the "parent work" to wit. Creoli-
zation is the most important factor in the development of Jamaican society"
That is the major premise of the present work out of which flows the argument that
the failure of Jamaican and West Indian society then, and one of the sources of its
present crisis of identity, stemmed from incomplete creolization and the acceptance
of a "bastard metropolitanism"
Before coming to grips with that, it is of interest to note that in his introduction
to the monograph Dr. Brathwaite takes note of some reactions to it, when it was
first presented at a conference at Johns Hopkins University in 1973, of a number of
distinguished social scientists including Mintz, Handler and R.T. Smith. There
apparently was from them, an expression of concern particularly to do with the
unorthodox methodology and structure of the paper, combining as it does a number
of disciplinary approaches and styles. Professor Smith is quoted by the author as hav-
ing been of the three, the most sympathetic. However, according to Professor Brath-
waite he characterized its effect as that of an "ole-fashioned fan dance rather than
full frontal nudity"
Dr. Braithwaite himself appears to have accepted the metaphor as an
accurate depiction of his intention and his unique approach in this work, to the
problem of dealing with the process of cultural pluralism and national integration in
the Caribbean. One is however, left with the impression that he is by virtue of his
acceptance of this characterization, and a less than customary lucid defense of the
style of the monograph, allowing for the far too simple conclusion that a fragmented
reality requires a fragmented methodology as an instrument of definition and
explanation. A clearer presentation of his methodology beyond the vagaries of "mon-
tage melange" "interdisciplinary" would be of value if only for the enlightenment
of others "hoeing the same row" However it must be said in fairness to the author
that he describes the monograph as "a working paper, as much a reaction as a first
step towards description"
The fact of the matter is that the fan-dance metaphor suggesting as it does a
titillating entertainment made up of debased and incongruously mixed classical
patterns of dance promising all and showing little, is, for all its wit, an unfair
characterization of the paper. I mention it only because of the prominence given it
by the author and its apparent acceptance.
In this view, in terms of its structure, the monograph represents a creative and
valiant attempt by an author who brings to the task, highly developed gifts as a
scholar, poet and sensitive product/subject of Caribbean culture, to fashion an
instrument of cultural analysis which can help us to understand the past in a way that
will reflect some light on the present and on the direction of the future. The latter,
particularly in terms of the development of a live culture and the choices to be made
with respect to that development. That the attempt fails, has less to do with the mono-
graph's architecture and the techniques used in achieving it, than it has to do with
faulty premises on which the thing is based.
Dr. Braithwaite argues that the process of creolization functioned in two
ways; the first by acculturation a process by which one of two cultures in contact is
absorbed by the other, the second through interculturation the process by which
cultures relate in a reciprocally intermixing and enriching relationship. The clear
implication in the case of the process of acculturation is that the absorbing culture is
in an advantageous position by virtue of power. With regard to the mixing of cultures
through interculturation, the subordinate position of one culture is not a factor.
Dr. Braithwaite makes it clear that the process of acculturation and intercul-
turation are aspects of a complex total ferment which are distinguished for
The question raised, is how can the dominant reality of acculturation, typified
at the outset, by the contact of two cultures in subordinate/superordinate relation-
ship be debasing at one and the same time as being reciprocally enriching a contra-
dictory omen indeed.
Malinowski, not a man noted for his sentimentality, observed in The Dyna-
mics of Culture that of all the features of the colonial situation which may have
had influence on the process of cultural exchange "the selective gift" was the most
significant. The carriers of the subordinate culture were never allowed any more than
selective access to the dominant culture. But more important than that obstacle to
enriching osmosis from the point of view of the subordinated, is the basic error
resident in the theory of interculturation.
Cesaire in "Culture and Colonizatior'(1956) puts the case well when he argues
that cultural borrowing is only valid when it is counter-weighted by a psychological
state that calls for it freely. A state that assimilates it after absorption so that it be-
comes one. This, is not the "reinterpretation" of foreign religious forms and symbols
into native indigenous terms, that Herskovits distinguishes in his theory of accul-
turation. What Cesaire means is a process that could perhaps be best described, using
Anthony Wallace's model of Revitalization movements, as "mazeway resynthesis"
The difference in this case being that the new cultural entity produced after the
shattering of the original, the new mazeway resynthesized, takes place from a position
of "historic initiative" And true political independence is the basis for that initiative.
The colonial neo-colonial or para-colonial situation is antithetical to initiative and
authentic creativity. The process of acculturation in a colonial situation produces a
mixture of styles blended inharmoniously, and the manifestations of these styles in
enacted institutional form as well as in social and psychological terms, reflect unease,
ambivalence and harlequinade at its most benign. At its worst it reflects violent and
Dr Braithwaite would perhaps not disagree with this view, but in his
effort to redeem something positive from the consequences of acculturation, he must
identify a process interculturation by which creolization takes place, and claim for
it creative potential. Creative potential it no doubt had and has, but it is a potential
which cannot be realized within the inauthentic circumstance of colonialism.
Inauthentic because one group of culture carriers held the initiative psychologically,
politically and socially and another held nothing but an imponderable spiritual re-
source. It is a difficult choice but one which I believe must be faced that in defining
the motley entity which developed in a certain historic situation, we call a spade a
spade. By so doing, we by no means refute or deny the elan vital, of the cultural
expressions of African slaves which survived among the folk and survives, most visibly
in the religious institutions of the "folk"
For example, acculturation looked at in the larger context of the cultural
sphere of Plantation America reveals the music of Jazz as an expressive tradition which
developed acculturatively. The music combines elements of Europe and Africa into a
new and unique expression. Yet no serious commentator would label Jazz schizo-
phrenic, motley or culturally anarchic. At the same time, Jazz is a cultural expression
it is not culture i.e. way of life for a whole people.
It is a tribute to Dr. Brathwaite's creativity that in attempting to account
for the unique cultural mosaic of the Caribbean, comprising as it does, most signifi-
cantly in Trinidad and Guyana the Indian presence, that he develops the notion of "la-
teral creolization a cultural leakage" between various ethnic subordinate groups.
However the benign diffusion of cultural traits between subordinate groups is an
explanatory problem of less magnitude than the question of cultural development,
cultural choice and national integration in the face of centrifugal forces set in motion
by physical withdrawal of the dominant colonial presence as Despres has shown in
his study of party politics in culturally plural Guyana. The conflict of these forces
may appear to express themselves in political/power terms, but it is the trophy of
culture that is ultimately being contested. The unity of the one out of the many is a
unity that can only be "forged" in the crucible of freedom and self-confidence.
Against the backdrop of colonialism national cultural integration is not a process
which can function by way of cultural diffusion neitLer lateral nor vertical.
Dr. Braithwaite's monograph represents a useful attempt to devise an
explanation for the unique complex of Caribbean cultural ferment, in particular its
anglophone variants. By its style it offers a liberating and creative approach for those
engaged in this context, in the business of national definition, self analysis and
cultural development. By its substance, (and che dichotomy implied is purely analytic,
since style and substance are parts of the same cultural dynamic) it forces us to
clarify our own ideas and to respond as men of culture must to the responsibilities of
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