Themes in the works of Carribean Author Earl Lovelace
Themes in the Works of Caribbean Author Earl Lovelace
Earl Lovelace is a Caribbean writer who was born in 1935 in a town called Toco in Trinidad. He is an award-winning novelist, playwright, journalist and a writer of short stories. Lovelace is principally renowned for his expressive, dramatic fiction on his culture. He has been able, time and again, to use Standard English and Trinidadian dialects to extensively describe and reconcile rural and urban cultures (Gates, 24). Lovelace is the author of novels like The Wine of Astonishment; The Dragon Can’t Dance, The Schoolmaster, and Volumes of Short Fiction, essays, and Plays. Publication of his long-awaited sixth book called Is Just a Movie was done in 2011.
Generally, it is valid to say that books are written by Lovelace usually speak of, to and for folks in a country who are not typically the subjects in their history. No matter how unique he expresses his vision, he manages to echo, clarify, problematize and extend people’s worries, wisdom, as well as their philosophies (Barthold, 209). In this paper, the sharp focus will be on the two books The Wine of Astonishment and Dragon Can’t Dance; these were published in 1983 and 1979 respectively.
The Wine of Astonishment
As stated earlier, this novel was published in 1983. Earl Lovelace in this novel tells a story of the struggles that a Spiritual Baptist community undergoes since the time Prohibition Ordinance was passed by the time it was lifted. Eva, one of the characters in this novel narrates the trials and suffering members of this faith passes through with a notion that all was happening for a certain reason. For the Bonasse villagers, the only hope they are left with is Ivan Morton, a politician who was also a teacher (Overton, 230). He was one of the representatives in the country council. Villagers demand that Morton intervenes so that the burn to be lifted for them to worship in the manner they like. Later, Morton disappoints them completely.
As all these accounts unfold, significant and radical changes take place in the village as the war is planned. A base for the American’s is established in their country, and as a result, this results into more and more vices being adopted in the region- the natives are surprised to witness both corruption and prostitution taking place in the region. The practices rampantly affect the youths. Similarly, Spiritual Baptists are prosecuted by the police and government at large.
Major Themes in the Novel
In Bonasse, Poverty is a reality. It is evident in the process of reality economic change. For a long time, Bonasse citizens have heavily relied on their traditional methods of income generation. As a matter of reality, the colonial influence exertion and waning plantation profits resulted in problems of unemployment in Bonasse as well as economic hardships. Natives of Bonasse had to face critical decisions. Here, they were either to stick to their traditional ways and remain in greater poverty, or they embrace colonial rule ways that required schooling and assimilation for one to inch close to better economic control (Bradley, 88). The evident clash of cultures was a strong indicator that poverty as affecting the people of Bonasse. The presence of prostitution in this area clearly suggested that poverty was eating into the villagers. American military in Bonasse resulted into moral and economic poverty. It is because economic prosperity was left to criminal activities, prostitution, and uncouth means of making money quickly.
Change and Colonialism
Throughout the narration, Lovelace manages to bring out the theme of change to the readers. Initially, there was togetherness in the village of Bonasse, they were like a single family that firmly and happily adhered to the traditions and cultures of the land, some radically followed the traditions, for instance, Mitchell. He manages to discard his old ways for new lifestyle that would see his wealth increase (Overton, 188). Mitchell’s decision to work at the base for the American’s was purposefully designed to allow him to make money quickly easily; upon ending of his job, he finds it difficult to get back to his initial mannerisms or living style.
He was completely assimilated by the life in the American base-touching girls inappropriately because he thought he had a lot of money and flashing his wealth about. On the contrary, there is Bolo, whom despite plenty of money at his disposal, he always wanted to earn more; for instance climbing a coconut tree to earn some small cash compared to money he could make when in the base working for Americans. Furthermore, he still valued the community togetherness despite being affluent just like Mitchell. This shows that Bonasse witnessed both negative and positive changes during this period.
This quality is seen in Bee. He is an exceptional preacher and a man of the people. His faith makes him determined to accomplish his desires. As a leader, he exhibits patience and is willing to do what his people sees is right for them. It is perfect to describe him as a guy of his words. As a preacher, he is also a courageous and strong stick fighter who has never lost any battle. To the people of Bonasse, he is a champ and a beacon of hope; people admire him and wish to be like him. His advice to his people to fight like warriors do in all their troubles and never imagine of failing. Such character of wisdom depicts Bolo as a fearless man and a man of victory (Barthold, 209).
As earlier stated, most hardships people in Bonasse face are geared towards religion issues. To start with, the spiritual Baptist goes through all sorts of hardships- for instance, they are persecuted in the hands of police and government. Worse still, the challenges they face escalates further when they are forbidden from performing certain practices, the worship centers being closed, not being allowed to ring the bell while praying and clapping loudly. The author clearly illustrates that that there was religion discrimination (Lovelace, 67). For instance, if one were not from Anglican and Catholic denomination, he/she would not be respected. Furthermore, if you were not either an Anglican or a Catholic, and no matter the education level, you could not make any positive progress in life. This was evident when Morton’s mother discovered this her son had sat for examinations some times, despite the fact that he was smart enough- she was forced to make her son convert to Catholic.
Power and Authority
Power and Poverty is a predominant theme in this novel. First of all, we witness the colonial government passing laws that forbid locals from worshipping in their respective churches in Trinidad. As result of this ban, the local magistrates were given power by the colonialists to handle and prosecute all the law breakers who will not be keen on this rule. Later, the author tells the readers how the police wrongly use their powers to harass the believers in Bonasse by assaulting through matching them down to their stations to surcharge them for not observing the set rules (Lovelace, 113).
They excessively used force in arresting the worshippers that were not in order and obviously, it was against human rights. It is as well surprising the way British colonialists used their powers to ban locals from attending the church of their choice by citing the wrong manner of praying while in the church. For instance, shouting and ringing the church bell.
DRAGON CAN’T DANCE
This novel is Earl Lovelace’s third publication that took place in 1979. It was typically set in Port of Spain, Trinidad, and Tobago’s capital. The author tells a narration of a young guy called Aldrick Prospect who together struggle with the problems of racial discrimination and chains of colonialism during carnival festival. The book is sporadic, having a weighty emphasis portrayal of characters than on flow of story line (Nazareth, 395). In this novel, the readers witness how Calvary Hill fascinates folks in the entire Trinidad, who are absorbed quickly into the culture and life of the Hill, with the exception of East Indian Pariag and Dolly (Wife). Calypso music and Steel band are the kinds of bands that make Carnival festivals live through totally transforming the occupants of the Hills.
The Hill is later marred with violence between toughs called “bad Johns” and between politicized steel bands. In this circumstance, “bad Johns” act out aggression and that was nurtured in them by the colonialists. Aldrick decides to use his carnival dragon costumes in threatening and intimidating.
This theme is prevalent in this novel. Carnival festivals depict how the people on the Hill closely observed their cultural practices. Firstly, the dances, the costumes, music, and the calypso that strengthens at Carnival time, are both products of endurance and existence of people. They are a true depiction of the culture of the people from the Hill, shaped both out of their past and current environment. It is worth to say that the environment is of stagnation and deprivation, where kids lose their innocence immediately they are born; in actual sense this kind of environment breeds the likes of “bad Johns” like dragon Aldrick and the Fisheye (Nazareth, 394). The two are as a result of the same will that in the past gave rise to “Bush Negroes”, “Maroons” and the “Rebels” Similarly, it is the similar environment that resulted to people cultivating again with no less enthusiasm with its Laziness, Waste and Trinity of idleness.
Racism-African-Indian Relationships in Trinidad
This theme is much explained by the presence of Pariag in the book. The author realizes that it is vital to reconcile the presence of these two cultures and races, for genuine cooperation and progress to be realized in the society. Pariag represents the Indian community-he chose his wife in a way that conforms to the tradition of Indian culture. However, the yard fails to accept him since he falls out of the experience shared by its inhabitants (Ramchand, 114). Their idleness addiction, non-possession philosophy, and laziness completely vary with the desire Pariag had to materially progress. But in the end, the author provides an answer to racial problems through a fusion vision of Indian-African music.
Power Struggles for Recognition
It is a vital theme in the novel. A good example is Miss Cleothilda, who feels threatened by the panorama that the position of head woman on the Hill might be taken over by Sylvia. The excerpt reads that “Miss Cleothilda never took a longer time in discovering that some new situations had arisen in the yard, the situation made her feel threatened because of the “queens” position. As a result, Miss Cleothilda saw it necessary to begin early readjustments. If Miss Cleothilda’s primary identity of what makes her the “queen” is in jeopardy, a quest for survival creeps in. In this novel, it is evident still, that it is a paramount thing to be recognized- the exact reason struggles are evident in the novel. It is because, on Calvary Hill, there are limited opportunities for expressing intrinsic value and self-worth; to an extent, it is an honor being assigned any communal jobs especially the marginalized and alienated groups like women.
Throughout this novel, characters are seen struggling to accept themselves. For instance, the Indian known as Pariag has the same feeling about moving in a new setting to be part of the larger community. As a result, this move makes him feel better. He says “the reason he came to the city was solely for the reason that he links up with folks and be part of something huge.” He truly wanted to undergo the sense of belonging. He perfectly agreed that it was only through new relationships that he could manage to feel his life had a meaning (Ramchand, 233). On the other hand, Aldrick will never play the dragon because he acknowledges that the dragon does not expose wholly what is buried beneath him. Also, Philo comprehends that the image he was projecting does not reflect his real self- that is concealed in the gaudy kind of clothing and his residence-middle-class.
Throughout his books, it is evident that Earl Lovelace was seriously bitter with the conflicts in the society that started as a result of colonialists coming in Trinidad and Tobago. Both the novels heavily discuss the effects of the colonialists on the locals and how they changed the normal way the society operated. In The Wine of Astonishment, the author exposes how women were viewed in the society, how colonialists capitalized on their power and authority to change the culture and practices of the time, and lastly how they used religion to colonize the area. Similarly, Lovelace intelligently brings out related themes in the Dragon Can’t Dance. Here, he emphasizes on the effects of colonialism, violence, racism, power and culture, and how characters were struggling to accept themselves. Therefore, Lovelace keenly reflected on what the society was going through and decided to speak for them since majority lacked the voice or guts to do the same (Gates, 258). Indeed, the two novels are a true reflection of struggling society having myriad challenges that critically require radical decisions to address. Personally, I would recommend it to anyone.
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Gates, Henry Louis, Jr. Black Literature and Literary Theory. New York: Methuen, 1984.
Nazareth, Peter. “Review of The Dragon Can’t Dance.” World Literature Today 56 (1983):
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Ramchand, Kenneth. “Why the Dragon Can’t Dance: An Examination of Indian-African
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