Lamming, George 1927-

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George Lamming 1927-

Barbadian short story writer, autobiographer, poet, novelist, essayist, and critic.

For additional information on Lamming's career, see Black Literature Criticism, Ed. 1.


Lamming is credited with helping to shape a Caribbean national identity in the twentieth-century postcolonial era. His novel In the Castle of My Skin (1953) is considered a classic of West Indian literature. Lamming's exploration of the effects of colonial language on indigenous people's sense of selfhood is of particular importance in the Caribbean literary canon; in his fiction he deliberately experiments with linguistic and narrative forms and frequently uses Creole in his characters' dialogue to express the tension they experience between their colonizers' linguistic norms and their own lost cultural heritage. Lamming's stories often depict the mixed experience of Caribbean immigrants living abroad—their hopes of a better life, as well as their disappointment and alienation.


Lamming was born in Barbados in 1927 and has witnessed and participated in much of the social and political upheaval that has taken place in the West Indies during his lifetime. Throughout the 1930s, rapid population growth, widespread economic depression, and the shift from a primarily agrarian economy to an industrial one profoundly altered traditional Barbadian village life. Trade unions became an effective political force and organized labor led the drive for political reform, ultimately resulting in the Barbadian independence movement. All of these factors had an impact on Lamming's life and are reflected in his works. As a child, Lamming attended Roebuck Boys School and earned a rare scholarship to Combermere High School. In 1946 he left Barbados and traveled to Trinidad, where he worked at El Collegio de Venezuela as a teacher. During this time, he met several important Trinidadian writers, including Clifford Sealy and Cecil Herbert, and published poetry in literary magazines. In 1950 Lamming moved to England, where he worked for the British Broadcasting Corporation and as a journalist while pursuing his literary career. He quickly established himself as a writer and an intellectual. Lamming's first two novels, In the Castle of My Skin and The Emigrants (1954), were successful and well received. In 1955 Lamming visited the United States on a Guggenheim Fellowship, serving as a writer-in-residence at the University of Texas. In 1956 he was a participant in the first international Congress of Black Writers and Artists in Paris. The following year In the Castle of My Skin received the Somerset Maugham Award for Literature.

Lamming returned to the Caribbean and became active in various political causes, including the movement for Barbadian independence, which was achieved in 1966. He published two novels, Of Age and Innocence (1958) and Season of Adventure (1960), and a book of essays, The Pleasures of Exile (1960), in rapid succession. In 1962 he received a Canada Council Fellowship; in 1967 he was writer-in-residence at the Mona, Jamaica, campus of the University of the West Indies. After a twelve-year hiatus from writing, he published two more novels, Natives of My Person (1972) and Water with Berries (1972). In 1975 Lamming was a writer-in-residence at the University of Dar-es-Salaam and the University of Nairobi. The following year he was awarded a British Commonwealth Foundation grant, a traveling fellowship that took him to major universities in India and Australia. He has been a visiting professor at the University of Texas at Austin, the University of Connecticut, the University of Pennsylvania, Cornell University, and the University of North Carolina. He has also acted as the director of the fiction workshop at the University of Miami's Summer Institute for Caribbean Creative Writing. In 2004 he was named a Distinguished Lecturer at the University of the West Indies. This was followed by a visiting professorship position at Brown University's Africana Department. Lamming remains associated with educational and cultural projects of the Barbados Workers' Union and the Barbados Labor College while dividing his time among England, the Caribbean, and the United States.


Lamming's first novel, In the Castle of My Skin, is a coming-of-age story set on the fictional island of San Cristobal, and follows the progression of its male protagonist, identified only as G., from childhood to adolescence. But Lamming's bildungsroman is unique in that it is told from multiple narrative perspectives to illustrate the fragmentation produced by colonialism in a person's psyche. First G. narrates his own autobiography; then G.'s story is told in the third-person through conversations between characters identified as the Old Man and the Old Woman. Lastly, another third-person account depicts the experiences of G. as filtered through those of his entire village. The story concludes with G. at the age of eighteen, preparing to leave San Cristobal to pursue his education in London. In his second novel, The Emigrants, Lamming explored the massive post-World War II migration of West Indians to Great Britain. Lamming's story focuses on a group of emigrants who travel by ship from the Caribbean to England, a place they have been conditioned to believe is culturally superior to their native islands. Once settled in their new environment, the emigrants become alienated and disillusioned when they discover they are not welcome in the homeland of their colonizers. Lamming's next novel, Of Age and Innocence, intertwines the fates of three men on San Cristobal: a black Caribbean revolutionary named Shepard; an English writer named Mark; and an English radio personality named Bill. As the three men become enmeshed in a political crisis on the island, Mark and Bill are implicated in the deaths of Shepard and both of the men's wives, leading them into disillusionment and utter moral turpitude. Season of Adventure concerns Fola, a light-skinned, middle-class West Indian girl whose comfortable existence is upset by her homeland's new independence and the political and cultural issues that arise in a postcolonial nation. The essay collection The Pleasures of Exile offers further evidence of Lamming's nationalistic sympathies. The essays challenge the values and beliefs that colonizers have imposed on native populations, as well as the assumption that European culture is superior and brings civilization to indigenous peoples. The core symbol in the collection is the character Caliban, from Shakespeare's The Tempest. A common metaphor for the disjunctive existence of colonized peoples, Caliban was the protagonist Prospero's slave—a figure chronically torn between the values of his native land and those of his master.

In 1972 Lamming published two novels almost simultaneously: Water with Berries and Natives of My Person. In Water with Berries, Lamming again turned to The Tempest for inspiration. In that novel, three artists (Derek, Roger, and Teeton) leave the West Indies and travel to England seeking what they believe will be enlightenment and opportunity. Like the group in The Emigrants, their quest for fulfillment ends in failure. Natives of My Person focuses on slave traders in the sixteenth century, reconstructing the voyage of the ship Reconnaissance, which is led by a character known as the Commandant. To atone for his past cruelties and barbarism, the Commandant plans to establish a Utopian society on the island of San Cristobal. The enterprise fails for many reasons—fighting among the crew members, loss of interest, greed, and an inability to let go of the past. The novel argues that an ideal society cannot be built by those who have committed moral atrocities in their past, intimating that atonement is ultimately impossible. Lamming's most recent publications have been two collections of essays, interviews, and lectures: Conversations. George Lamming: Essays, Addresses, and Interviews, 1953-1990 (1992) and Coming, Coming Home. Conversations II: Western Education and the Intellectual (2000). In the latter, Lamming explores the effects of Western-style education on the intellectual development of Caribbeans.


While In the Castle of My Skin was an immediate success and has been widely considered a classic of colonization literature, Lamming's succeeding novels have met with mixed reviews. Most critics regard them as important examples of postcolonial literature, but some have difficulty with Lamming's writing style and plot construction. His use of multiple points of view and abrupt shifts in narrative has been derided by some scholars as an indication that Lamming's works lack form and cohesiveness. But others have praised these qualities and see the shifts as an allegory for confusion and upheaval in the lives of West Indians. Generally, reviewers agree that Lamming is most successful in his fiction with autobiographical themes, citing In the Castle of My Skin as an example. Lamming's essay collections are generally more favorably reviewed, and it is the ideas he expresses therein that have, along with In the Castle of My Skin, led to his reputation as one of the West Indies' most prominent intellectuals. In particular, Lamming's use of the Caliban figure as a metaphor for the fragmented existence of colonized peoples is considered highly successful and useful in explaining an untenable situation to readers who are likely to be outsiders from imperial cultures.


In the Castle of My Skin (novel) 1953

The Emigrants (novel) 1954

Of Age and Innocence (novel) 1958

The Pleasures of Exile (essays) 1960

Season of Adventure (novel) 1960

Natives of My Person (novel) 1972

Water with Berries (novel) 1972

Conversations. George Lamming: Essays, Addresses, and Interviews, 1953-1990 (essays, lectures, and interviews) 1992

Coming, Coming Home. Conversations II: Western Education and the Intellectual (essays) 2000


Christopher J. Odhiambo (essay date summer 1994)

SOURCE: Odhiambo, Christopher J. "Outside the Eyes of the Other: George Lamming and Definition in Of Age and Innocence." Research in African Literatures 25, no. 2 (summer 1994): 121-30.

[In the following essay, Odhiambo explores colonial characterizations of the Caribbean in Lamming's novel Of Age and Innocence.]

The subject of Caribbean definition has occupied and engaged almost every writer of the Caribbean region.1 This is natural because in so many respects writing is a form of self-definition within a certain defined society and culture. Writers write from experiences within particular societies, and their work necessarily defines both the experience and the society. As Ngugi wa Thiong'o has noted in Homecoming, commenting on the relationship between a writer and his society:

A writer responds with his total personality, to a social environment which changes all the time. Being a kind of sensitive needle, he registers, with varying degrees of accuracy and success, the conflicts and tensions in his changing society…. For the writer himself lives in, and is shaped by, history.


Thus, a writer defines his society through his portrayal of experiences within it. At the same time, the experiences of the society shape his writing. It is in both these senses that writing becomes a process of defining.

To define is to characterize, to describe the nature of something, making it clear, stating precisely its meaning, making it become more vivid. But defining the Caribbean in such terms has been particularly problematic for the writer in the Caribbean. This is because the problems of definition have to do with the problems of a broken history and a discontinuity in culture. The history of the Caribbean has been perpetually marked by displacement, the after-effects of conquest, slavery, and colonialism. European conquest of the region resulted in the decimation of the aboriginal population in most areas of the region, thus hindering historical and cultural continuity. The uprooting and importation of African slaves to toil in plantations, the introduction of Indian indentured laborers to replace African slaves after the abolition of slavery, as well as the presence of European settlers led to the creation of a society of immigrants, all with broken cultures and history. This then resulted in what is commonly referred to as the "melting pot" situation that brought people of myriad cultural and linguistic backgrounds together without the real cohesion what could unify them: people who, as Naipaul's protagonist says in The Mimic Men, "would have found fulfilment in the landscapes hemmed by their ancestors." The lack of relationship with past and landscape estranged peoples of the region from their ancestral pasts and cultures, robbing them of mythology, tradition, and a sense of origin.

In nineteenth-century historical writings this condition gave rise to the idea of the Caribbean championed by Froude and Trollope which saw the region as a no man's land where people lacked a common purpose and identity. "There are no people there in the true sense of the word with a character and a purpose of their own," the British historian Anthony Froude said in 1888 (306). Impressions like Froude's presented a negative view of the region, denying it a character and a sense of achievement. In twentieth-century historical writing, this idea of Caribbean definition is still problematic, giving rise to diverse interpretations even among historians. An historian such as M. G. Smith, for instance, championed the idea of a plural society in the region, whereas in his book The Development of Creole Society in Jamaica, the historian Edward Brathwaite identified a certain cohesion in the creolizing processes in the region.

In the literature of the Caribbean, the subject of definition has been equally problematic. V. S. Naipaul echoes Eurocentric historians when he asserts that "history is built around achievement and creation, and nothing was created in the West Indies" (Middle Passage 29). His view gives a desolate impression of the West Indies as a derelict and uncreative place. Such a view of the region, determined by historical circumstances and largely advanced by the vision of outsiders, is what most West Indian writers struggle to counteract as they strive to create new and alternative interpretations of the region's past and its peoples.

Lamming, like most Caribbean artists, confronts this negative definition of the region and attempts through the imaginative possibilities offered by the novel to explore new visions and meanings of experience in the Caribbean. From a close study of the content and form of Lamming's novels as they have developed through his career, it is easy to see how the novelist interprets and invests new meaning in human experience in the region. In Lamming's view, the Caribbean artist is compelled to move beyond the confines of history and experience, to explore new alternatives and possible meanings even in a history of displacement, slavery, and subjugation. He asserts that:

… the mystery of the colonial is this: while he remains alive, his instinct, always and forever creative, must choose a way to change the meaning and perspective of this ancient tyranny.

          (Pleasures 229)

For Lamming, this ancient tyranny is the whole colonial structure of awareness which is the self-perception and personality created by the colonial experience. All Lamming's novels are preoccupied with the dramatization of this colonial structure of awareness while at the same time they explore new and counteracting interpretations of these experiences, enabling the Caribbean to transcend the history of subjugation and displacement. In so doing, Lamming lays bare the psychological damage and the cultural and economic dependence while also exploring new ways of overcoming these barriers.

In exploring the damaged psychology of the colonial, Lamming dramatizes how the personal lives of his individual characters reveal their frustrations, inadequacies, and feelings of abandonment. But at the same time he shows how his characters can overcome such feelings. Furthermore, Lamming also explores new ways of changing the relationships between the colonizer and the colonized by creating new levels of understanding which will liberate them. This preoccupation is what I would call Lamming's "way of seeing," his vision as delineated in his literary and creative explorations.

It is within this very broad and general background that this essay will explicate the nature of definition in Lamming's Of Age and Innocence. In this novel, Lamming seems to explore with more intensity and complexity the political drama that had been initiated in his first novel In the Castle of My Skin but which, however, was never fulfilled; the participants had not transcended their personal history and colonial relations. It appears that Lamming is still grappling with the nature of political freedom and its implications for Caribbean definition. At the same time he is also re-exploring those possibilities of exile which he had initiated through Trumper in In the Castle of My Skin and relentlessly explored in his second novel, The Emigrants. Of Age and Innocence also dramatizes the role of the returning emigrants in the struggle for political freedom. Thus, presumably, the emigrants in Of Age and Innocence can be assumed to be the very same emigrants who had left the Caribbean island in search of a better break and fulfilment in The Emigrants and now seem to be returning home with new visions and sensibilities but are nevertheless still alienated.

It can be argued that after their failure to make a better break and their inability to enter mainstream English society, the emigrants, symbolized by Shephard and Mark, return home, intending to redefine themselves through political action. The returning emi- grants believe very strongly that through political action they will achieve political freedom, which will eventually offer possibilities for new definitions. Shephard, the returning emigrant in Of Age and Innocence who subsequently becomes the leader of the political movement, explains his relation to politics in these terms:

‘It is truer to say I went into politics in order to redefine myself through action. And just as it was a certain deception which preceded a certain understanding, it would seem that a certain regression is necessary for any leap I may make, for any other me to emerge.’


After the bitter discovery that England (like the white woman who deceived him) was not part of his reality, Shephard decided to return home to San Cristobal, realizing now that San Cristobal, not England, was his promised land. As he declares to the other passengers in the plane:

‘I know San Cristobal. It is mine, me … all its separate parts. No new country, but an old land inhabiting new forms of men who can never resurrect their roots and do not know their nature. Colour in their old and only alphabet. The whites are turning whiter, and the blacks are like instinct which some voice, my voice, shall exercise. San Cristobal, so old and so new, no place, this land, but a promise. My promise, and perhaps yours too …’


The experience of exile in England, though it disillusioned and crushed the immigrants, gave them a new insight, a new appreciation and identity with their island. It seems that for Lamming, emigration is on one level a form of self-exploration, a process of re-assessing and evaluating one's identity, as well as a process of self-knowledge which the emigrants must acquire in order to overcome the colonial syndrome that makes them hanker after other landscapes. The detachment and self-searching afforded by emigration enable them to have a better perception of themselves as well as their landscapes, and as an experience, it provides them with a certain impetus and drive for political action. Shephard seems aware of this possibility when he confesses to Penelope:

‘You may not be of a turn of mind to understand my feelings. This is private, and perhaps, I have given the matter an unnatural attention. That is what you will say. But I could never escape, and I do not see how you can call such an awareness my fault. This is the truth. Of all the senses which serve our knowledge of those around us it is the eye which I could not encounter in peace. It is as though my body defined all of me, and then played the role of traitor for those who watched. So that the eye of the other became for me a kind of public prosecutor. I felt surrounded by a perpetual act of prosecution. I was judged finally by the evidence which my body, a kind of professional spy, always offered. And there are times when I have felt my presence utterly burnt up by the glance which another had given me. I wanted to disappear or die. I don't think I have always had this feeling, but I was aware of it for the first time in England, and then a certain relationship helped to put it beyond my control…. It became an obsession which possessed me completely …’


Shephard's experience in England as an emigrant for the first time made him realize that the eye of the "Other," the colonizer, defined him because of his color; that his skin became the sole determinant of his existence, preventing him from entering mainstream English society. There is a double-edged perception of exile here. On the one hand, it creates negative sentiments in the colonial, but on the other, it is a spur to political action. The colonial, forced by exclusion and irrelevancy to reassess himself, is spurred to action. This is vividly portrayed in Penelope's insight into the difference between her condition and Shephard's:

But she wanted to let him know that those he called the enemy were equally torn by a similar contradiction which made him a hero in San Cristobal. There was only this difference, she thought: his enemy was without the energy which had urged him to seek some release in action. They could not recapture this turbulent peace which would always haunt his life with anguish and promises of reward.


Penelope can do nothing to change her condition, whereas at least Shephard can be stirred into politics as a release and means of definition. Thus in the end it is the colonizer's attitude towards him that propels Shephard into political action in order to define himself outside the colonizer's eyes. He envisages the struggle for political freedom as leading inevitably to a new identity, which in turn will offer a new political vision to the whole island.

As a leader of the political movement, Shephard stands above the other leaders in the movement because of the self-knowledge he derives from exile. It is the same kind of knowledge evinced in Trumper in In the Castle of My Skin, a knowledge that provides both characters with a new way of seeing. For instance, that image of a chair, which Shephard aptly evokes, shows his level of political awareness as a result of his new knowledge:

‘Most people do not discover anything…. They learn things, or they hear about them, but that is different from seeing, really seeing something. I discovered that until then, until that experience, I had always lived in the shadow of a meaning which others had placed on my presence in the world … that meaning, like a chair which is wholly at the mercy of the idea guiding the hand of the man who builds it.’

… It is impossible for a chair to object to the way it is being made, to say I prefer to look like this … a chair could never object to being a chair.’

‘… Now take me. I am not a chair, but this meaning placed on my presence in the world possessed me in the same way that the idea of chair is from the start in complete possession of any chair, irrespective of its shape, size, usefulness. Any chair, is a chair. Similarly, the meaning I speak of had already made me for the other's regard. A stupid me … any me you can think of always remained me. But like the chair, I have played no part at all in the making of that meaning which others use to define me completely.’


The colonial, according to Shephard, has never participated in the making of his definition because he has never had political freedom. This is what has consistently pushed him to live in the shadow of the "Other," accepting other people's definition of him. For Shephard that relationship wherein the colonial is seen as an object can only be reversed through political action. It is political action that will inevitably create a new order in which the colonial can define himself outside the colonizer's values and definition of him. As he himself elaborately explains, he had attacked Penelope in the plane because he had seen her as a symbol of that which had defined him without his consent. Now, through political action, he wanted to be seen as a subject rather than an object. As he points out to Penelope, "When I attacked you in the plane, I was attacking the meaning which had made me and to which I was exposed utterly by the woman who looked like you in every detail" (203). Indeed, Shephard believes that, through revolution in the form of political action, he will eventually change the meaning that has been bestowed on him by the colonizer:

‘Take the chair again. I begin by behaving like a chair. Now I have reached the stage of behaving like an extraordinary chair. I am like a chair which understands and which revolts by saying, fine I accept that I am a chair, for all practical purposes of human regard, I am a chair, but I shall behave on occasions as though I were not a chair. For example, I will only let you sit on me when I feel like it! Similarly, I accept me as the meaning I speak of has fashioned me. I accept. For all purposes of simple understanding, I agree that I am that me. But from now on, I deny that meaning its authority. When it suits my purpose, I shall use it, when it doesn't, I shall be hostile. In fact, I am at war…. But neither the whites who get scared, nor the natives who are glad, quite know my real meaning. And the whites are terrified because I say that if I win power, and there is no doubt about that, I shall begin my business by changing the whole curriculum of privilege in San Cristobal.’


On the other hand, Shephard discovers that for political action to become a reality he must first accept the self that he has been made to reject, hate, and despise. For it is through accepting this submerged self that he can meaningfully re-define himself:

I am just a particular brand of man who, in certain circumstances which are old may remain with us for a long time, refuses to be that man. When I speak of regression I simply mean that my rebellion begins with an acceptance of the very thing I reject, because my conduct cannot have the meaning I want to give it, if it does not accept and live through that conception by which the others now regard it. What I may succeed in doing is changing the conception of me. But I cannot ignore it.


It seems that through Shephard, Lamming suggests that political freedom should entail a deeper psychological adjustment than the mere "re-ordering and rearrangement of the curriculum of privilege on the island."

However, as Lamming demonstrates later on in the novel, Shephard's political vision has certain loopholes. As an exile, his disillusion and detachment initiate introspection, self-assessment, and political action, but the very alienation which leads him into exile remains a disability which he must overcome. Lamming shows that as a leader of the political movement, Shephard exhibits a form of split personality because of the very alienation fostered by the exile. He is unable to transcend his personal history, and as Thief recognizes, "Tis like Shephard … something split a man right down the middle in two, an' one half never make a meetin' with the next" (393). Because of this alienation, Shephard fails as a leader. For the same reason, his motive is clothed in selfishness, personal desires, and ambition. He participates in the political drama largely as a revenge against the deceptions and frustrations he encountered in England as an exile in the hands of a woman who deceived him. This is clearly dramatized through his character and actions in the plane as well as through the apt observation made by Ma Shephard:

He is not out of his head … but a new ambition hold in bondage, an' all because o' that England, an' some woman who wear him out all night with the worry in his sleep. It is a war, it is a war he would like to purge his feelin' with. An' that is bad…. A man must clasp his feelin' like a shirt, fit it right, an' move on clean as the sun an' in courage.


Lamming seems to believe that political leaders as well as the collective folk must transcend their personal histories if they have to transform political action into real freedom. This view seems to explain the reason for his elimination of Shephard even when victory seemed so obvious and inevitable. Mark, the other returned exile in the novel, also suffers from a split personality which hinders his participation in the political movement. Like Shephard, Mark also fails to overcome the alienation that is the result of exile. As a result, he is unable to use the insights he acquires through his "backward glance"2 to recover his submerged self and history. His speech moves the crowd into drama, frenzy, and possession, but because of his personal fears, he fails to connect with the crowd and unite them in order to translate this insight into political action. In the end he remains alienated both on his island and in England. Indeed, as both Marcia and Bill observe, "He has lived away from San Cristobal for twenty years and he was never really at home in England" (46).

The failure of Mark and Shephard is therefore, in Lamming's view, a problem of an alienation fostered in them by their situation of exile. In their political coalition and agenda, Singh, their Indian-descended colleague, also fails because, as a direct victim of colonialism, he does not transcend his personal history. Having suffered as a can cutter on the sugar plantation, he reacts emotionally, exhibiting feelings of bitterness and hatred, not caring much about the future as long as there is a rearrangement of privileges when the political movement claims power.

Because the returned exiles fail as political leaders, the movement they lead does not achieve its goal. The leaders cannot inspire the collective folk to comprehend the real meaning of freedom and nationalism. Their response to politics is marked with drama, frenzy, religion, and possession, which apparently are not genuine manifestations of a mature political awareness. As Mark reminds them in his elaborate and moving speech, nationalism, the source of political struggle

‘… is not only frenzy and struggle with all its necessary demand for the destruction of those forces which condemn you to the status we call colonial. The national spirit is deeper and more enduring than that. It is original and necessary as the root to the body of the tree. It is the source of discovery and creation. It is the private feeling you experience of possessing and being possessed by the whole landscape of the place where you were born, the freedom which helps you to recognise the rhythm of the winds, the scheme and aroma of the night … mornings arousing nature everywhere to the silent and sacred communication between you and the roots you have made on this island. It is the bond between each man and that corner of the earth which his birth and his work have baptised with the name, home. And the freedom you sing … freedom …’


For Lamming, nationalism is a prerequisite to political freedom because it gives the colonial an identity and definition that enable him to discard his desires and illusions for other landscapes.

Apart from the drama and frenzy which preponderously characterize the people's response to politics, Lamming shows racial- and self-interest working against the possibility for political freedom. Because of his own greed and selfishness, Baboo, an Indian, kills Shephard so that Singh, a fellow Indian, could easily get the opportunity to lead San Cristobal. As he confesses later to Singh:

‘Was only for you, Singh, was only for you I do it … from infancy I dream to see someone like myself, some Indian with your achievement rule San Cristobal. My only mistake was to wish it for you Singh, was only for you I do what I do….’


In the end, the murder of Shephard totally changes the trend and pace of the political actions. Shephard's death demoralizes the spirit and enthusiasm of the people. They feel frustrated, disillusioned, and cheated. The illusions and hopes that they had nurtured in the quest for political freedom are completely shattered; all the excitement and drama aroused by the political action come to an abrupt conclusion. The situation becomes tense as the society seems to drift back to the status quo.

It seems that Lamming dramatizes a political possibility which ends in failure. To counteract this failure, he explores a contrasting possibility in the political alliance created on a small scale by the youngsters. This alliance, both in personal relationships and commitment, becomes a foil to the larger alliance. The larger alliance failed because its leaders had not transcended their personal histories. All of them continue to harbor feelings of distrust, suspicion, and fear against each other because of their diverse racial backgrounds. In contrast, the boys of the secret society do not suffer from alienation but rather sincerely appreciate their land and its history. Indeed, it is the islands and myths which give them courage and enable them to transcend their personal histories. By upholding this attitude toward the land and its past, Lamming is showing that a sense of the past is of paramount importance for political freedom. In his descriptive account of San Cristobal, Lamming himself suggests a background that encompasses the perception, appreciation, and appropriation of a past that is different from the colonizer's and from which the colonial would draw inspiration and authenticity. The statues celebrating the colonial rulers as history makers are in fact overshadowed by the legends and myths representing the island's history. Lamming shows that the island had a pre-colonial history, one that is embodied in Ma Shephard's oral history and in the rituals and legends of the island. In this view, the boys' genuine and total response to this aspect of the land is what saves them from the alienation of the grown-ups.

Thus the boys' secret society is Lamming's vision for the future, a future where there are possibilities for harmony, love, and trust and where political action cannot be stalled by alieantion and personal crisis.

Lamming's exploration of political freedom as a means of self-definition greatly influences the form of Of Age and Innocence. The novel is structured to reflect the theme of political awareness and political action, and the plot develops with this theme. It shows how the growing political consciousness becomes yet another ritual in the island, marked by possession, religion, and frenzy.

As happens in In the Castle of My Skin, the structure of Of Age and Innocence attests to Lamming's conception of history as an active rather than a static phenomenon. The novel is structured in such a way that it presents "antagonistic opposition and contrasting situations" which become a challenge to the colonizer's history and at the same time offer possibilities for transcending the colonial situation. The contrasting visions of history and contrasting possibilites are used to move history towards a collective endeavor. Colonial history as manifested in the statues assumes that history began with the colonizers, but such implications are challenged by Ma Shephard, the repository of another history embodied in myths, legends, and rituals. The myths, legends, and rituals of the collective folk become a catalyst for the political action against the colonizer. Moreover they are also images of self-perception through which the people can see themselves against the colonizer. Through the use of oral tradition, Lamming celebrates that other version of history which is outside recorded history and which the status of the colonizer seems to deflate. The myth associated with the origin of the island gives the island a distinctive character and also marks the struggle for freedom. To enhance this kind of history, Lamming also employs the legend of "The Tribe Boys and the Bandit Kings" to show that there has always been a struggle for freedom and dignity on the island. Indeed, it is this very legend that inspired and invigorated Mark when he addressed the political rally. The legend is for him a form of a "backward glance," which unfortunately he does not utilize fully and transform into political action, à la Fola in The Season of Adventure:

It was the legend of the Tribe Boys which had aroused the feeling which made the theme of his speech. He could hear his voice like the echo of the crowd pursuing him across the garden. Freedom and Death. He had spoken the language they understood.


The legend of "The Tribe Boys and the Bandit Kings" becomes a form of shared experience for the collective folk. It is this same legend that spurred the boys of the secret society into action when the troops invaded the island.

In Of Age and Innocence, Lamming envisaged political freedom as a possibility for identity and definition. The search for political freedom fails not because such possibilities are exhausted, but simply because those involved in the drama fail to transcend their personal histories. Thus Lamming has made us change our way of seeing and made us see history as the collective experience of people. In this way, history becomes active and dynamic, rather than an account of cause and effect.


1. This paper was part of a large work, entitled "Caribbean Definition: Its Effect on Form and Vision in George Lamming's Novels," presented at Kenyatta University in 1991.

2. "Backward glance" is a ritual, a form of recovery that can help colonials retrieve their submerged self and history. This process is well dramatized in Season of Adventure.

Works Cited

Brathwaite, Edward. The Development of Creole Society in Jamaica. London and Oxford: Oxford UP, 1972.

Froude, Anthony. The English in the West Indies. London: Longman, 1888.

Lamming, George. In The Castle of My Skin. London: Michael Joseph, 1953.

———. The Emigrants. London: Michael Joseph, 1960.

———. Of Age and Innocence. 1958. London: Allison and Busby, 1981.

———. The Season of Adventure. London: Allison and Busby, 1960.

———. The Pleasures of Exile. 1960. London and New York: Allison and Busby, 1984.

Naipaul, V. S. The Middle Passage. London: Andre Deutsch, 1962.

———. The Mimic Men. London: Andre Deutsch, 1967.

Ngugi wa Thiong'o. Homecoming. London: Heinemann, 1972.

Viney Kirpal (essay date April 1997)

SOURCE: Kirpal, Viney. "George Lamming's In the Castle of My Skin: A Modern West Indian Novel." ARIEL 28, no. 2 (April 1997): 103-14.

[In the following essay, Kirpal advocates reading In the Castle of My Skin as an example of oral literature rather than as a work in the tradition of the English novel.]

Doubt about the merit and stature of postcolonial literary texts—rather than their paucity—is the factor that most likely discourages many Departments of English in India and elsewhere from formally introducing them into their syllabi. To change this situation, critics have to direct and show readers how to read and appraise these works so that they develop the necessary confidence in their literary and cultural value. In the absence of suitable critical guidelines, these Departments of English Literature seem content to preserve the status quo (that is, the study of British literature). Perhaps, they consider it safer to continue with English literature texts whose worth is well established. On the literary critical front, although many contemporary critics have written on postcolonial texts, few have been able to break out of the Eurocentric mould (perhaps unintentionally) thus contributing further to the confusion. I shall illustrate my point by responding to Neil ten Kortenaar's article "George Lamming's In the Castle of My Skin : Finding Promise in the Land," published in ARIEL, in 1991.

George Lamming's first novel, In the Castle of My Skin (1953), winner of several literary awards, is considered by many to be a major novel.1 Although Kortenaar acknowledges that the novel has a "special place in the hearts" of West Indian readers, he sees it as a "flawed" narrative, as a "formless" work, which "reveals the travail that gave birth to something new" (43). He proceeds to say that this novel takes on a formlessness when the novelist is depicting the undeveloped ego or self of the West Indian village community. He allows that towards the end, when Trumper returns from the US with a better sense of the world and a clearly defined self-identity, the novel achieves some control over the structure. Ignoring the protagonist G.'s rejection of Trumper's propagation of a Negro identity as romantic, Kortenaar concludes:

By giving Trumper the final word, the novel implicitly agrees with Trumper's vision. The novel's close validates a point of view that condemns most of the text itself…. The novel stands self-condemned of sterility and paralysis, but in the end it affirms that the West Indies stands ready to make its own narrative.


For Kortenaar, it is enough that there is a "hero" to write about, a narrative to engage in at last, because Trumper fulfills the usual fictional expectation of a journey from innocence to experience. Reading Kortenaar's Eurocentric analysis, few would feel inspired to include Lamming's seminal text in their syllabi. I wish therefore to examine his major arguments in detail, to indicate his misreadings and questionable critical pronouncements, and to set right the record about the status of In the Castle of My Skin as a major work of modern West Indian fiction. It is necessary to do so because of the adverse and pervasive influence the article could have, considering the fact that it is published in ARIEL, a reputable and widely read journal.

Kortenaar makes three points. First, he argues that In the Castle of My Skin has an "ungainly style" and "erratic narrative" (43). The novel is raw in "feel" and "abjures all narrative hooks, all novelistic techniques that arouse the reader's interest in what happens next" (44). It has, Kortenaar claims, no climax, no emotional catharsis. The flood with which the novel opens could have constituted its climax (as do floods in The Mill on the Floss and in The Virgin and the Gypsy, in which they suggest death and rebirth, and baptism and regeneration). Instead, it appears at the beginning of the book where there are no expectations to be fulfilled as yet.

The other scene, Kortenaar observes, that could have been explored for its climactic value is that of the violent riot in Creighton's Village. Unable to understand the meaning of this incident using English fictional norms, Kortenaar dismisses it as insignificant and amusing:

The violence is reported to be coming to Creighton's Village; the villagers take refuge behind their barred doors; they come out and take a look around, scurry back behind their doors, peep out, see some suspicious characters, and pull back their heads. The build-up is drawn out to such a length that the scene almost becomes comic.


As disquieting as Kortenaar's misreading is his use of imagery and diction that reduce the simple villagers to a pack of mice, frightened and ill-organized. Yet, as even a short extract from the three-page, suspense-ridden depiction of the scene demonstrates, it is the landlord, Mr. Creighton, who is demoralized and scared when he sees the villagers, armed with bottles, sticks, and stones, waiting to attack him.

The landlord turned the corner…. The terror of his face was indescribable…. The men waited. The thought of his death was terrible…. It was incredible. [Mr. Foster] had never seen nor imagined Mr. Creighton could look like that…. The men were waiting till he reached the next corner. They wanted to attack from the back…. He walked shakily like a man exhausted and drunk…. His face was white as a pebble.

          (206-07; emphasis added)

Clearly the text is operating on two levels—the stated and the suggested. It is part of the complexity of the novel—and Lamming is writing a modern West Indian novel—that the villagers do not kill the white landlord. Colonized for centuries, coerced into unconditional submission, they are not only unable to "fire" the stones at the white "master" but they even experience guilt—"the thought of his death was terrible." They wish to defer the moment of his murder as long as possible and unconsciously employ delaying tactics. They are visibly relieved when the landlord escapes to safety as they "wait" for Mr. Slime's orders to attack him (207-08).

Kortenaar quotes a much older Lamming, who has said, looking back at his first novel, that he should have had the white landlord killed at this point in the text, but that this modification would have been purely for political reasons and not out of narrative compulsions. What Lamming means is that killing the white landlord would have been a politically correct gesture. But Kortenaar misses the point and concludes almost in exasperation that "presumably [Lamming] still has no qualms about the narrative slackness of the text" (44). The yearning for a tighter, better organized text can be traced to allegiance to the norms of English fiction.

It is such Eurocentric criticism (or criticism from a non-indigenous perspective) that prompted me to write the article "What is the Modern Third World Novel?" in an attempt to modify the Third World literature critical scene:

[Third-World] novels are plotless in the Western critical sense, that is, they lack formal logic. They are loosely structured, circular, reverberative, and they do not follow the usual pattern of development and action in the Western novel…. The Third-World novel with its unstructured, meandering, unbound, episodic quality suggests the absence of sequentiality, very much in the manner of traditional narratives…. The Third-World novel is not constructed without a sophisticated knowledge of structuring fiction. The difference is that its structuring principle is borrowed from the indigenous narrative forms, and it is the native world view that it aspires to picture and image with genuineness.


This is true of In the Castle of My Skin. It is my proposition that unless its constructive principle is located in the oral art of storytelling (although Lamming is writing a novel and not an oral tale), the novel will always be evaluated as a blemished manifestation of the English novel. For taken as a novel, Lamming's text has autonomy of space and time, but taken as oral narrative it erases causal and spatial relationships. It seeks to grow in meaning through juxtaposition of episodes and through accretion rather than through attainment of a climax (as in English fiction). To look at In the Castle of My Skin from this point of view is to have an altogether fresh and positive perspective of the novel's structure and characterization.2

To begin with, the book does not flow sequentially towards some grand climax. The flood, with which the novel opens, signifies not death or rebirth but the hopelessly static conditions of the deprived, penurious Barbadian, particularly the woman (often a single parent), under colonization: "As if in serious imitation of the waters that raced outside, our lives—meaning our fears and their corresponding ideals seemed to escape down an imaginary drain that was our future" (10). Yet the scene is not imbued with existentialist despair. As the relentless rain floods home and hearth, G.'s mother breaks into a folksong that is picked up first by one neighbour, then a second, and a third, until "the voices seemed to be a gathered up by a single effort and the whole village shook with song on its foundation of water" (11). (The absence of the definite article before "song" evokes the power of a great collective presence.) The oppressive, bleak, wet, and dark atmosphere notwithstanding, the brave villagers offer solicitude and comfort to one another in their togetherness. The scene evidently is not intended to lead to a climax.

Again, the novel seems to have an "ungainly," "erratic" narrative because of its episodic nature. It is a collection of many stories, many lives, many details not strictly necessary to the development of the "plot." In that sense, it is "plotless." But as in oral narratives the stories as well as the details are as important as the whole, though they together constitute the whole. The organization of Chapter 2 illustates this. It com- prises 10 brief scenes: the bathing of G., the mothers at gossip, the boys at cricket, the landlord's house, the boys at the Public Bath, the boys flattening nails on railway tracks, the pudding vendor, couples in the woods, the old woman, and Miss Foster's visit to the landlord. Each scene is independent yet contributes to the whole, like motifs in a collage.3 The individual segments, as in an oral narrative (see Mukarovsky), would not lose their importance or independence if they migrated to some other section in the chapter. For example, it matters little if the Bathing-of-G. scene is interchanged with the Boys-at-the-Public-Bath scene. The effect of the whole remains the same since the chapter draws its meaning from a combination of "free-floating units … migrating from one whole to another" as in oral narrative, on which In the Castle of My Skin seems to be based, albeit unselfconsciously (Lamming, "In Conversation" 183-84). Such narration would seem erratic and formless if judged by the norms of written literature. Possibly, it needs to be evaluated by the principles of oral art, which Lamming seems to have used to flout the norms of English fiction. The litmus test in such evaluation is whether or not a theoretical model explains the different elements of the work satisfactorily. In the absence of a convincing model, the attempt would be to force the work to fit the model (as was done in the Ptolemaic explanation of the universe).

Since Kortenaar's main model is the English novel, it is not surprising that he is also dissatisfied with characterization in In the Castle of My Skin. He points out that Lamming does not give centrality to any one character. Though G. is present in the first two chapters, he disappears from the text for the next hundred pages or so. Kortenaar wonders where G. is during the school scenes or why in the beach scene he never utters a single word, the conversation being confined to Boy Blue, Bob, and Trumper. Besides, he is puzzled why the novel has such a host of characters with such labels as First Boy, Second Boy, Third, Fourth Boys as if they were secondary characters in a play (45). He notes also that there is a Mr. Foster, a Trumper, and a Boy Blue, characters "whose names are merely names, with no deeper significance" (51). This, he concludes, is typical of a village community with an undeveloped self; the characters in the organic community have no identity—"Three, thirteen, thirty. It does not matter" (24). Surprisingly, Kortenaar quotes from a section in the novel where Lamming is deliberately emphasizing village custom. Equally surprisingly, Kortenaar leaves out an earlier, more substantial reference, in which, Lamming, using similar statistics, represents the village community as an ever-growing, vital, creative, life-generating, and life-sustaining force:

In the broad savannah where the grass lowcropped sang in the singeing heat the pattern had widened. Not three, nor thirteen, but thirty. Perhaps three hundred. Men. Women. Children. The men at cricket. The children at hide and seek. The women laying out their starched clothes to dry. The sun let its light flow down on them as life let itself flow through them. Three. Thirteen. Thirty. Three hundred.

          (25; emphasis added)

Ideological selection or genuine choice, the meaning that Kortenaar has given to the scene is very different from the one offered by Lamming.

Once again, if we wish to understand the characterization in the novel, we may have to turn to the principles of oral narrative on which much of Third-World fiction is modelled:

Are there other features too that distinguish the Third-World novel from the Western? For example, is characterization in the Third-World novel more "illustrational" and archetypal than "representational"? Is there no character development or character introspection as in the Western novel? Are the characters ideals, types, "essentials" more than "individuals," as in traditional narratives?

          (Kirpal 152)

Opposing the use of universalist criteria of Western literary criticism for reading Third-World fiction, Arun Mukherjee makes a related point about characterization. She uses Indian novels as an example: "All these novels are crowded with characters who may be considered extraneous if one went by the conventions of a main plot and central characters" (15).

Such a view of characterization enables us to understand characterization in In the Castle of My Skin. There is no central consciousness in the novel (as in a Jamesian novel) through whom the events of the book have been refracted. Yet, all its characters (including the unnamed shoemaker who is always referred to as the shoemaker and not as a shoemaker) acquire a presence and centrality that Lamming in writing this novel aspired to give to the West Indian community. In The Pleasures of Exile (1960), Lamming declares his autonomy from English literary criteria. We, as critics, ought to heed his fictional policy statement:

What the West Indian writer has done has nothing to do with the English critic's assessments. The West Indian writer is the first to add a new dimension to writing about the West Indian community.


The independence of Third-World writers such as Lamming demonstrates and advocates here is to be respected if we are not to fall into the same trap that en- snares Kortenaar: he wishes to praise the book but is uncomfortable doing so because he finds the book "flawed" according to his criteria. So he does the next best thing: he praises it by rationalizing the "flaws" as theme-determined technical necessities. This unfortunately has been the tenor of most available criticism on Third-World/post-colonial fiction.

Kortenaar's third point makes this still clearer. He states that In the Castle of My Skin is repetitious not in the way postmodern novels are (in postmodern novels, it appears, repetition is a virtue) but in a way that "drains everything of meaning" (50). Postmodernists subvert narrative sequence in a way that draws total attention to the words and offers double readings. But according to Kortenaar, in Lamming's novel this does not happen:

Lamming's text is repetitious. He can never say anything once, but must repeat it a dozen times in words that vary only slightly. But this is not the repetition … [that] allows that text to acquire a surfeit of meaning.


Repetition in Lamming's novel only leads to "black holes that absorb meaning" and point to a colonial society that "lacks imaginative wholeness" (52). The entire assessment smacks of unpardonable superciliousness. Injustice is done both to the writer and to the community Lamming was seeking to honour. When such literary criteria begin to reduce the worth of a work so mindlessly, it is time to look around for alternative criteria.

The novel's repetitiousness derives not from postmodern novels but from oral tales—though Lamming is not writing a "traditional" narrative. The repetition does not siphon away meaning, as Kortenaar alleges, but rather amplifies meaning. Repetition, a common feature of orature, if employed in writing could became monotonous but repetition can also lead to clarity by underlining and reinforcing what is repeated (Winters 62). In providing many details where one would suffice, the text defines and explicates more fully. For example, the ten scenes of Chapter 2 are in ten different ways of reinforcing the value and meaning of the rich, cohesive community in which G. and his friends grew up. By the end of the chapter, the West Indian village community becomes a vivid, multi-layered, vibrant conceit in our minds.

Since Lamming employs a number of digressions in his novel (the story of Jon, Susie, and Jen, and that of Bots, Bambi, Bambina are two obvious examples), he often repeats sentences to pull the narrative back into control. For instance, Boy Blue tells the story of Jon, Susie, and Jen in three parts. Part 1 is recounted in pages 122-25; this is followed by a discussion of the island folks' attitude towards black skin colour. Part 2 resumes on page 128 with Boy Blue remarking: "I was thinkin' 'bout the story…. I think they should put Jon where you say they put those people you mention" (128). The story restarts only to be interrupted again by a fascinating and detailed account of the colour of crabs' eyes and bodies (128-29) that has nothing to do with the story. Part 3 begins with this dialogue:

"You don't like crab?" Trumper asked, nudging Boy Blue in the ribs. "I like crabs all right," Boy Blue said, "but I wus thinkin' 'bout Jon. Why he choose the cemetery of all places?"

          (129; emphasis added)

The story of Jon, Susie, and Jen—which concludes in Part 3—is broken into parts and told in installments of uneven length as in an oral narrative. It is interspersed with digressions that are distinct from the digressions in a modern novel. Each return after the digressions carries the story forward but not in a linear manner—unlike the digression in the opening chapter of James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man:

Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming down along the road and this moocow that was coming down along the road met a nicens little boy named baby tuckoo….

His father told him that story: his father looked at him through a glass: he had a hairy face.

He was baby tuckoo. The moocow came down the road where Betty Bryne lived: she sold lemon platt.


The digression here is brief and purposeful. It denotes Stephen Dedalus's pre-speech level recall. It suggests remembered associations registered by the individual mind of that lost, forever period, namely childhood. It conveys the nostalgia and total self-absorption typical of children recalling their own infancy. An easily identifiable narrative marker—"His father told him that story"—consciously explains the presence of the digression. The structure of the opening of Joyce's novel runs in a somewhat "linear," cause-effect manner, thus: the story; then Father told Stephen that story; then Stephen was baby Tuckoo, etc. This kind of coherence and clarity is not evident in In the Castle of My Skin, as is seen in the structural components of the section under discussion: the narration of the story of Jon, Susie, and Jen; the description of the sea; the description of the landscape; the portrait of Boy Blue; the portrait of Trumper; the discussion of black skin colour; the resumption of the story of Jon, Susie, and Jen; the description of crabs' eyes and bodies; the resumption and completion of the story of Jon, Susie, and Jen. No explanations are offered for the various digressions. Cumulatively, however, they construct the acute tragedy of a deeply colonized people, who despise not only their own traditions but even their skin colour. This development of the novel through accretion of independent motifs, originates in the structure of oral narrative.

Further, the technique of breaking up the story (the Jon-Susie-Jen story is a story within a story) is not only akin to the method of oral narration but also to the method of repetition that is used to gain control over the narrative. Both Parts 2 and 3 of the story, after two lengthy digressions (about skin colour and crabs) are reined in, using almost identical sentences: "I was thinkin' 'bout Jon." This manner of repetition, as explained by Isidore Okpewho, is the method of the "ring composition." "Ring composition," not only helps the narrator to inflate and expand in order to clarify and reinforce but it also controls a meandering narrative when required.

However, this is not the repetition of postmodern novels where a critique of the text is self-consciously embedded in the text itself, leading to double readings. Such novels, as Kortenaar has rightly observed, "subvert a sequence and with it causality and connection, they draw attention away from story, character, and theme, focussing it on the words themselves" (50). In Lamming's text, the repetition, instead of subverting, develops the story, expands the theme, and weaves the characters at the leisurely pace of an epic. The focus is not on the words but on community life under the stress of changes from within and without. In his novel, repetition amplifies meaning. Thus, the repetition that Kortenaar, evaluating the novel from a postmodern critical perspective, sees as "drain[ing] everything of all meaning," can be seen from another critical perspective—that of orature—to actually extend and add layer upon layer of significance to the text.

In the Castle of My Skin is not a flawed novel, as Kortenaar contends but one constructed according to the principles of oral storytelling. At the same time, George Lamming is writing a modern and complex novel, with complete awareness of the techniques of the modern English novel. He has used the Joycean one-day narrative technique most conspicuously in Chapter 13, where the action is divided by time into Morning, Noon, and Evening. But he does this by not employing the stream-of-consciousness technique, possibly because he does not perceive his characters as the sophisticated intellectuals and isolates of modern English fiction. Indeed, the assimilation of oral and written narrative structures renders Lamming's novels stylistically one of the best modern texts. It ought to be judged not Eurocentrically but on its own terms as a work straddling different "literary" traditions while remaining firmly rooted in the indigenous.4


1. In the title of this article, I have described In the Castle of My Skin as "A Modern West Indian Novel." I have done so to distinguish it from the modern Euro-American novel and also to emphasize the fact that it is a technically sophisticated novel.

2. Most Third World novelists have acknowledged their indebtedness to orality as having consciously or unconsciously influenced their technique and their writings. Many claimed to have fused the conventions of oral narratives with the norms of English fiction to create a new form that is a mixture of the scribal and the oral. While orality as a general category cannot and should not cover every stylistic feature of all Third World texts, it is broad enough to take care of many of the features that these texts seem to have in common. This is because orality encompasses not only narratological skills and structures but also the philosophy, values, cultural texts and practices, religious texts and practices, attitude to time, etc. Speaking in very general terms, there is much in common among the Third World countries with respect to these parameters than with the Western world. Third World discourse is also governed by polymorphism as against classes of successively subordinate grades in Western discourse (cf. Cairns). It can carry together fairly complex gradations on the same platform. Thus it is possible for orality as a critical category to explain both "strong" characters such as Okonkwo in Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart and the panoply of undistinguishable characters such as G. and his friends in In The Castle of My Skin. However, this is not to overlook the fact that orality also differs in specific details from one Third World country to another, and they have their own impact on the novel forms emerging from different Third World countries.

3. The comparison with a collage is merely illustrative since even a collage has a distinct underlying organicity that is absent in an oral narrative.

4. This article is a modified version of a paper I presented at the IACLALS Conference, Mysore, 27-29 January 1995.

Works Cited

Cairns, P. "Style, Structure and the Status of Language In Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart and Arrow of God." WLWE [World Literature Written in English] 5:1 (1985): 1-9.

Joyce, James. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. 1916. London: Jonathan Cape, 1975.

Kirpal, Viney. "What is the Modern Third World Novel?" The Journal of Commonwealth Literature 23:1 (1988): 144-56.

Kortenaar, Neil ten. "George Lamming's In the Castle of My Skin: Finding Promise in the Land." ARIEL: A Review of International English Literature 22:2 (1991): 43-53.

Lamming, George. In the Castle of My Skin. 1953. London: Longman, 1970.

———. "In Conversation with Frank Birbalsingh." The Journal of Commonwealth Literature 23:1 (1988): 182-88.

———. The Pleasures of Exile. 1960. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 1992.

Mukherjee, Arun. Towards an Aesthetic of Opposition: Essays on Literature Criticism and Cultural Imperialism. Toronto: Williams-Wallace, 1988.

Mukarovsky, Jan. The Word and Verbal Art. Trans. John Burbank and Peter Steiner. New Haven: Yale UP, 1977.

Okpewho, Isidore. The Epic in Africa: Towards a Poetics of the Oral Performance. 1975. New York: Columbia UP, 1980.

Winters, Marjorie. "An Objective Approach to Achebe's Style." RAL [Research in African Literatures] 12:1 (1988): 56-66.

Ngugi wa Thiong'o (essay date 2002)

SOURCE: Ngugi wa Thiong'o. "In the Name of the Mother: George Lamming and the Cultural Significance of ‘Mother Country’ in the Decolonization Process." In Sisyphus and Eldorado: Magical and Other Realisms in Caribbean Literature, edited by Timothy J. Reiss, pp. 127-42. Trenton, N.J.: Africa World Press, Inc., 2002.

[In the following essay, Ngugi examines the mythologized idea of the colonizer's "motherland" and its significance for colonized peoples.]

"I can understand our missionaries going to Africa and the West Indies … they need what they're being told…. But it's the strangest thing to me such people leaving their own people to go to England to do what's most needed in their home."

          (Lamming, The Emigrants 73)

"Why the hell a man got to leave where he born when he ain't thief not'in, nor kill nobody, an' to make it worse to go somewhere where he don't like…. 'Cause I'll tell you somet'ing, if there's one place under de sun I hate like poison, 'tis that said England."

          (Emigrants 37)

"Today I shudder to think how a country, so foreign to our own instincts, could have achieved the miracle of being called mother."

          (Lamming, Introduction, Castle xii)

The relationship between the colonizer and the colonized in Africa started as a one-way flow of human traffic from the home of the colonizer, usually portrayed as the mother country, to the home of the colonized, that is to say, the colony. But post-World War II saw a counterflow of human traffic from colonial territories to the "mother" countries, a phenomenon summed up in Salmon Rushdie's notion of the empire striking back. This phenomenon continues in the postcolonial era, so that today in the homes of all the former colonial and semicolonial powers there are sizable populations from the former colonies. Nowhere is that counterflow of human traffic better illustrated than in the historic emigration of West Indian workers, students, writers, intellectuals of all sorts, to Britain in the fifties. This generation of counter-emigrants are the parents and grandparents of the Black Britons who came of age in the Thatcherite era and who, for the first time, voted their Black representatives into the erstwhile all-white mother of parliaments. It was part of a historical trend. In all the homes of the former colonial powers the empire is striking back in every area of economic, political, and cultural life. The question of why and its implications, a puzzle to both colonizer and colonized, still looms large in postcolonial politics, theory, and practice.

In Pleasures of Exile, describing the journey that brought him and his fellow writers to the England of the fifties, the Barbadian George Lamming, who was part of the first wave of flight, talked of these emigrants as of people largely "in search of work. During the voyage we had got to know each other very well. The theme of all talk was the same. It had to do with some conception of a better break" (212). Can the phenomenon be adequately described in terms of economics alone when in fact most end up at the bottom of the economic ladder? When they still come even in the postcolonial era? Lamming has made that question and its implications, in the context of the relationship between colonizer and colonized, central to his work. In the process, he finds it necessary to hold a dialogue with Shakespeare.

The English bard was there at the rosy dawn of capitalism with its roots in slavery and colonialism. The contradictions in western modernity, which begins with the loot and plunder of other peoples, are reflected in his work. Lamming was there at the sunset of capitalism in its colonial form. Capitalism had already bloomed into an imperialism engulfing the whole globe, but was everywhere being challenged. Western modernity was turning into postmodernity and colonialism into postcolonialism. The modern and postmodern are thus rooted in colonialism. In looking at Shakespeare, Lamming is examining the beginnings of it all. The key text is The Tempest. In this text Prospero has left his home to occupy Caliban's island. In Lamming's texts Caliban is constantly going back to Prospero's home. Lamming has stated in The Pleasures of Exile that the subject of his works was the emigration of the West Indian Writer, as a colonial and exile, from his native kingdom once inhabited by Caliban to the tempestuous island of Prospero and his language. What is it that so fascinates Caliban in the home of Prospero?

In an interview published in Black World soon after the issue of his two novels Water with Berries and Natives of My Person, Lamming talked about Caliban's relationship to Prospero's language as a contract. Once Caliban had accepted the language, or even if forced to accept it, his development would always be "inextricably tied up with that pioneering aspect" of the colonizer. "Caliban at some stage would have to find a way of breaking that contract, which got sealed by language, in order to restructure some alternative reality for himself" (Kent 88-9). Concealed in and by language was another contract, a contract with the idea of the home which had produced that language. For the colonized, the first encounter with the colonizer's home is through its definition in the language learnt, in the books read, in the stories told, in the pictures painted, hints expressed in so many ways, all pointing to the home as the source of everything that is good and noble, in contrast to Caliban's savage environment and being. The country that sent out these emissaries of light to the dwellers in Plato's dark cave … how much more luminous must be the light that bathed its sky?

In his first novel, In the Castle of My Skin, Lamming had shown how the classroom had shaped the ideas of Big and Little England in Barbadian children. Barbados was Little England to the Big England that was also Great Britain, home base of Empire. This idea, planted in the colonial classroom, haunts the world of all Lamming's novels from Castle to Water with Berries. In this last novel, set almost entirely in England, the characters are exiles from the upheavals of a postcolonial situation foreseen with so much clarity in Season of Adventure. The England in which they live is no longer the home base of a world power. Its influence on the Caribbean has been supplanted by that of what the narrative depicts as the big neighbor to the North. The characters may have grown up with the idea of England the mother country as a refuge, but according to Lamming, "they are experiencing in their consciousness the disintegration of that idea, the irrelevance and the falsity of that idea beside the hitherto obscured reality" (Kent 89). In Water with Berries of 1971, the characters are revisiting and traversing a territory earlier visited and trodden by the generation of the fifties, a time when much of the Caribbean was still under direct colonial rule. This is the territory of The Emigrants, a novel that Lamming published in 1954.

That the contract with the idea of the colonizer's home is an unexpectedly active force in people's lives is borne out by the testimony of other writers and sources. An extract from To Sir with Love, the autobiographical narrative of E. R. Braithwaite from the then-British Guiana, makes the point. In the narrative, Braithwaite describes how he had grown up with the idea of the British, himself and others literally becoming British in every way, shaped by an idea transmitted from generation to generation: "Myself, my parents and my parents' parents, none of us knew or could know any other way of living, of thinking, of being; we knew of no other cultural pattern, and I had never heard any of my forebears complain about being British" (To Sir 31). Braithwaite was an RAF pilot for the British during the Second World War. England may have been wounded in this war, but it is still the home base of Empire. The idea was so active that in the fifties it drew thousands of Caribbean people from their lives on the islands in pursuit of the England of their childhood memories, dreams, and hope.

This same idea and these same memories, as much as economic necessity, are what also attract the characters in Samuel Selvon's novels to England. While in Andrew Salkey's novel, Escape to an Autumn Pavement, it is against a middleclass upbringing expressed in just this kind of Britishness that Johnie Sobert rebels. At a later moment, Jamaica Kincaid recounts this same burden. She tells how the map of England impacted on her when as a child in school she was asked to draw it:

I did not know then that the statement, draw a map of England, was a declaration of war, for in fact a flat out declaration of war would have put me on alert, and again, in fact, there was no need for war—I had long ago been conquered. I did not know then that this statement was part of a process that would result in my erasure, not my physical erasure, but erasure all the same. I did not know that this statement was meant to make me feel in awe and small whenever I heard the word England: awe at its existence, small because I was not from it.

          ("On Seeing" 32)

She recounts seeing England in History and identifying with its heroes and successes, condemning its villains and failures. The idea of England came to dominate her consciousness and it took many years before she could exorcise the idea's ghosts from her system.

In the minds of the fifties emigrants before their arrival, England was still the idea, implanted in the colonial classroom, of a mother who cared. This is what Lamming set out to explore in The Emigrants, whose characters include teachers, writers, students, and workers from almost every island then governed by Britain. They are all in the same ship literally and metaphorically. For whatever their island of origins, whatever their vocations, and whatever their individual motives, their lives are linked together in the common feeling summed up by one of the characters as a search for that better break that Lamming himself talks about in The Pleasures of Exile. England is their common hope for that break. But it is still an England more of idea than reality.

They fall into two main groups: workers and students in the one; in the other, middleclass intellectuals and professionals. Included in the first are all those who hope to get jobs and at the same time educate themselves to acquire some kind of profession: "Anything you can get some papers for an' go back home … an' make a good an' proper living" (Emigrants 59). Higgins, for instance, intends to go to a school in Liverpool for six months' or a year's training as a cook. He has big ambitions for the children he has left behind and wants to give them an "education an' qualification an' distinction" (60). Their search for papers is thus also linked to a conception of selfworth: papers and qualifications are outward signs that a person has put god-given talents to some purpose. In old age, the person can look back and be proud of having spent "the time God give [you] well and proper" (59). The echo of the biblical story about the five talents is relevant to their social situation: the man with the five talents is condemned, not because his talents are small or limited but because he did not use them fruitfully. For the Caribbean worker, purposeful living is to be measured by how far a person has climbed away from the surrounding deplorable social conditions. England is seen as offering a chance to trade a person's talents fruitfully, a chance denied them by the colonial underdevelopment of the island countries of their origins.

The other emigrant group is largely of middle class upbringing and education. For different personal reasons, they want to escape what they consider a restrictive and suffocating atmosphere in the islands of their various origins. Such is the narrator, who could be Lamming or the equivalent of Boy G in Castle, who feels that the personal freedom felt on first entering Trinidad from Barbados was finished. He describes this freedom as having been precious and fresh, like a child's freedom or that of some emancipated colonial. But after four years in Trinidad, he feels a desire to get out into a wide world. England is that world. In this psychological category fall people like Dickson, a schoolteacher, whose mouth is set into a permanent scold, and who would not mix with the workers. His middleclass snobbery gets only momentarily satisfied when he is talking to white people on board. He is in a permanent nervous condition because he is really in flight from his skin color. He lives in mortal terror of the possibility of people seeing through him to the hollow man within. Miss Bis is running away for similar reasons, really escaping from the consequences of her attitudes to skin pigmentation. She had broken an engagement with a darkskinned doctor in favor of a whiteman she barely knows and who in turn jilts her on her wedding day. She becomes the subject of a calypso. The shame is too great for her to remain at home. She now wants to forget the past and graft herself to a new stem which is England itself (59).

Though the two groups are separated by their educational and social positions, they are all involved in a similar flight from the social and psychological limitations of the past. They are equally unsure about the future. But it is the common historical experience they share that is the basis of their individual and collective uncertainties about the past and present; and also of their hopes for a future made possible by the fact of England. "Flight! We're all in flight," thinks Collis (49), and this is what makes him see clearly what really connects him to the group. The ship acquires a symbolic significance: it is the whole Caribbean territory, and the journey is a voyage of discovery into their Caribbean identity. Their contract with English and the idea of England is a common bond. Initially they don't know it. They are all objectively Caribbeans. But they have to know it. They have to come to a knowledge of it, to become aware of it, to own it. The talk and interactions in the ship help generate that self-awareness of their common origins, experience, and hope. As Tornado puts it:

We got to suffer first and then come together. If there is one thing England going to teach all o' we is that there ain't no place like home no matter how bad home is. But you got to pay to learn, an' believe me I may not see it but those comin' after goin' make better West Indian men for comin' up here an' seein' for themselves what is what.


Being is one thing; becoming aware of it is a point of arrival by an awakened consciousness. This involves a journey. This process of becoming is what The Emigrants dramatizes, particularly in the actions that take place in the ship.

When the emigrants first gather for talk, they are full of chauvinistic views about their own places of origin. They vie with one another in enumerating the virtues of their individual islands. The Barbadian is for instance categorical about his island having the best climate and education. The Grenadian claims for his island the best beaches and the best socialist party. It's the man they call The Governor, a person of wide travel and experience, who shatters their narrow views.

To him, they are all "blasted small islanders." All of them, he tells them, are his "brothers," and he warns them against what he calls "this monkey-talk 'bout big islan' an' small islan'" (39). He challenges them to look into themselves: the islands they are leaving behind, the unknown to which all have committed themselves, and even their motives for leaving. It is in the process of doing so that they discover their similar aspirations arising from the common bond of their past colonial experience. The Jamaican best articulates their new feelings when he argues that the water between the islands does not separate them: "Different man, different land, but de same outlook. Dat's de meanin' o' West Indies" (60). Their present venture, the search for a better break, is symbolic of a new nation's need to prove its ability to create and to act. People and nations are always proving something to themselves. This is more true in the Caribbean context where people view themselves as "a complete new generation or race the Almighty Gawd create yesterday" (65), and so are more sensitive about who they are. They want to prove and assert their identity. If you ask what they "want to prove, the answer sound a stupid answer. Them want to prove that them is themself" (65). The Caribbean experience has a universal dimension. Struggle is the basis of human progress and identity: "The interpretation me give hist'ry is people the world over always searchin' an' feelin', from time immemorial, them keep searchin' and feelin'" (66).

The ship and the voyage then function as catalysts for their collective self-awareness as West Indians, a tremendous experience and prerequisite before they can meaningfully meet the challenges of the wider world they are about to enter. The Barbadian who had been the most chauvinistic at the beginning of the voyage best articulates the new vision of shared Caribbean identity: "You say a marvellous thing 'bout provin' something. It makes me feel that I r'ally belong to something bigger than myself. I'd feel now that whatever happen to you or you or you wus happening to me an' the said way round" (75). Thus whatever their individual responses, they will be experiencing the reality of the idea of England as West Indians. This in itself is not the answer to the problems each individual will experience. For while they enter Britain with a new awareness of themselves as West Indians and during their exile will orbit the same social centers, each person encounters shattering experiences; and how deeply any one is lacerated by them depends ultimately on an individual sensitivity, stamina, and outlook on life and thought. There are, of course, things they suffer as foreigners, as Caribbeans, and as workers in a race-conscious and class-structured society. But their West-Indianness is put into relief in their relationship with other peoples, for instance, continental Africans and the English.

The African in the narrative is presented as more confident and surer of himself than his West Indian counterpart. He is mysterious, at times cunning and arrogant, but this stems from his confidence. Azi, the African, is for instance contrasted with Dickson, the West Indian schoolteacher, to the disadvantage of the latter. If Azi speaks English with a correctness that is almost fastidious, it is because for him, indeed, English is a language learnt from textbooks. Such correctness is affectation in Dickson, who was born into the language. The African has not as much need to prove himself. When the barber speaks of the need for West Indians to prove that they are as good as those who ruled over them, Azi retorts that the need to prove oneself "might mean that at the moment you don't believe you are" (133). Although Azi is not a political activist, he is the one depicted as having the self-confidence to make all sorts of connections. In the sections of the novel that follow arrival in England and residence in London, Azi emerges as the main link in the chain of events that affect most characters. Lamming attributes this to the African's relationship to his culture and certainly to his experience of freedom. This positive depiction of the African presence was obviously affected by the anti-imperialist mood of optimism sweeping through Africa at the time.

The Emigrants was written at a time when the struggle for independence in Africa was intensifying, best symbolized by Kwame Nkrumah and the Convention Peoples Party. In Kenya and Algeria there were armed struggles. Everywhere on the continent were calls and militant marches for freedom. Ghana became independent in 1957. In 1958, Lamming visited Ghana, where he spent some time with an Ashanti family. "Here," he has written of Ghana in Pleasures of Exile,

one saw the psychological significance of freedom. It does something to a man's way of seeing the world. It is an experience which is not gained by education or money, but by an instinctive re-evaluation of your place in the world, an attitude that is the logical by-product of political action. And again one felt the full meaning, the full desecration of human personality which is contained in the word: colonial. One felt that the West Indian of my generation was truly backward, in this sense. For he was not only without this experience of freedom won; it was not even a vital force or need in his way of seeing himself and the world which imprisoned him.

          (Pleasures 165)1

The African presence in the narrative is used to highlight the debilitating West Indian obsession with the idea of England. In their encounter with the African, Caribbean characters are shown to be evasive and suspicious. Sometimes they react to that presence as if they have internalized English racism, thus practicing on the continental African the same prejudices under which they themselves have suffered under the English. At a hairdresser's shop run by a West Indian, the girls pass derisive comments on their own boys who go out with the English, treating them to everything "and you'll never find an Englishman to even look in our direction." Yet the same lot speak of Azi in derogatory terms. Imagine Azi in any of the West Indian islands, they gossip: "Why, he'd be the laughing stock of the town with all them funny marks on his face" (Emigrants 153). An African girl, Krawnaula, actually Azi's cousin, comes to the shop to have her hair done and Miss Docking refuses to serve her: "You must not think that I have something against you, … but I only do it for my friends," she is told (167).

While in the narrative there are reasons why Miss Docking should act suspiciously—for one, the premises are not licensed and she runs the business illegally—she is nevertheless depicted as reacting to the African girl with an inbred irrational fear. In Pleasures, Lamming seems to argue that this fear stems from the West Indian's faulty education about Africa, which "did not provide him with any reading to rummage through as a guide to the lost kingdoms of names and places which give geography a human significance." The continent is known "through rumour and myth" propagated by the colonizer, and "through the gradual conditioning of his education" the West Indian comes to identify Africa with "fear: fear of that continent as a world beyond human intervention" (Pleasures 160). The negative depiction of Africa and blackness and the past of the Afro-Caribbean, and indeed of other regions outside the "mother country," contribute to and intensify the mystification of the idea of England. The negative dark otherness of Africa contributes to the luminous ideal which is Britain, an ideal that includes the contours of her history, geography, architecture, and the quality of motherly care.

In England, Lamming wrote in Pleasures, the West Indian student did not "feel the need to try to understand an Englishman, since all relationships begin with an assumption of previous knowledge, a knowledge acquired in the absence of the people known. This relationship with the English is only another aspect of the West Indian's relation to the idea of England" (25).2 In the West Indian consciousness, Lamming wrote in the Introduction to the 1983 edition of Castle, "empire was not a very dirty word, and seemed to bear very little relation to those forms of domination we now call imperialist." So one aspect of this idea was of England as the land of opportunity, "heritage and place of welcome" (xii), an idea very graphically and forcefully dramatized through the consciousness of Collis in Emigrants.

As the boat brings the voyage to an end at the Albion shores of Liverpool, his thoughts fly with anticipation: "He saw the land, England. There was something beyond the porthole. There was life, life, life, and wherever there was life there had to be something, something other than no-THING which did not matter. It mattered to be in England" (Emigrants 106-7). What he has read in a newspaper about housing shortages and unemployment does not worry him at this moment of arrival. It does not interfere with the idea of England and her benevolence. The report does not matter because "there beyond the water too large for his view was England rising from beneath her anonymous surface of grey to meet a sample of men who are called her subjects and whose only certain knowledge said that to be in England was all that mattered" (107). "It is the measure of our innocence," Lamming recalls that period in the Introduction to Castle, "that neither the claim of heritage nor the expectation of welcome would have been seriously doubted. England was for us not a country with classes and conflicts of interests like the islands we had left. It was the name of a responsibility whose origin may have coincided with the origin of time" (Castle xii).

Another aspect of the idea, almost contradictory, is the view of the English as a hostile race. English people are seen as out "to squeeze a man like me any day they see him." They don't like West Indians in their country and are only concerned to drive them back to the islands, "as though they [the English] ever stay where they live." If you become prosperous, "they make a point o' pushin' a spoke in yuh wheel…. You ain't home, chum. You in the land o' the enemy, an' if you doan' keep yuh eye open for when they ready to stab you in the back you'll end up bad for so" (Emigrants 67). This being the case, it calls for the West Indian emigrants to stay alert, suspicious, and to keep the right company. Above all they must not be deceived by the Englishman's smile. It has teeth that can bite. England is thus also the land of the enemy, and how you deal with an enemy is always dictated by tactical necessity. The West Indian must survive, in this land of the enemy, by outwitting and outmaneuvering the English. So the idea of England is a complex of contradictory attitudes and emotions.

The idea of England, chiefly these two aspects, is of course modified by the emigrants' encounter with reality. They are soon revolted by the physical environment, baffled by English social habits, and especially by what they consider their coldness: "no talk till you talk. No speak till you speak, no notice till you notice, no nothin' till you somethin'" (111). In a comic scene in the Pearson's house, Collis takes refuge in a lavatory to escape from the restraint and cold formality of the place: "He would have liked to kick him in the stomach, not in anger, but as a way of evoking some genuine emotion. Only violence could make Mr. Pearson feel" (157). Alas! Mother England does not welcome her subjects with open arms and a smiling face: "Why do you people come here?" (115). Their tone of speech is patronizing: "You speak excellent English for a foreigner. Much better than the French" (117).

The emigrants literally and metaphorically go through the English fog into their various encounters with the reality they now experience both as a group and as individuals. Collectively they have difficulties in finding jobs. England is after all not the land of opportunity where the emigrants can get a better economic break. The appalling social conditions reduce some like Lillian to pawning a friend's clothes. Higgins, who had talked so hopefully of qualifications and papers, finds that the school for cookery has closed. Within two weeks after arrival, he is held by the police on suspicion of peddling drugs. He is actually innocent. The shock drives him mad, and towards the end of the narrative we find him desperately trying to stowaway back home. Miss Bis, who has come to England to escape her past, changes her name from Ursula Bis to Una Solomon, is involved in a lesbian relationship with Peggy, an English woman, and later murders another emigrant, her own friend Queenie. As Una Solomon trying to escape her past, she ends up in the hands of Frederick, the ex-colonial white, the very person who had jilted her. She does not recognize him. Only the reader grasps the implication that one cannot escape the past.

Dickson, who on the ship would not talk with the group and who sought only the company of the white people on board, is finally humiliated by an English couple who lure him into undressing, only to discover that their single desire—which he has mistaken for the woman's love for him—is actually to see him naked. More, they had invited their friends to this show of black nudity. Consciousness of the invasion of his body by all these anthropological eyes is so intense that he almost shares the same crazed fate as the Higgins from whom he had tried to ensure social distance during the voyage. In the end, he is seen seeking the company of the very group he had earlier rejected. He desperately wants to make peace with them and be admitted into their lives as a way of restoring himself to his violated body: "He had to be assured that he was still there under his clothes, inside his skin, and these were possibly the only people who could probably restore the life, the identity, which the eyes of others had drained away" (268). Phillips the student finds himself in a painful dilemma. He gets a girl pregnant, but for her to have the child would mean loss of his scholarship and all hopes of an academic qualification. Yet remembering that he himself had been born out of wedlock, he recoils from the reality of abortion: what right has he to deny another life? He changes his mind too late: the guilt would forever eat into his peace. Thus the worker, the student, members of the middle class, all experience forms of racism. Race is a significant political reality.

Every emigrant is thus involved individually and collectively in one shattering experience or other that alters his or her view of life, England, and the world. Perhaps the biggest transformation is in Tornado who earlier, in the barber's shop, had been English people en masse as the enemy. In the crucible of experience and hardships, he matures to a more discriminating and accommodating vision. While rejecting the injustices and humiliations inevitable in a class- and color-conscious society, he finds solidarity with suffering humanity. Love, for him, now becomes a healing medecine:

"I been gettin' the feelin' lately … that I ain't got no right to hate nobody, 'cause a man ain't nothin' in particular."

"Not even the English?"

"Not even them…. But even take the English. My feeling for them wus no hate, not real hate, 'cause when I come to think of it, if they'd just show one sign of friendship, just a little sign of appreciation for people like me an' you who from the time we born, in school an' after school, we wus hearin' about them, if they could understan' that an' be different, then all the hate you talk 'bout would disappear."


Imperialism is of course the root and basis of racist hate and not the other way round. Universal human love is possible only through the end of imperialism and the class system that generate racist oppression. What Tornado is driving at is that racism is not rooted in biology but in the social make up. What is social can be changed by the intervention of human beings.

Nonetheless, Tornado's tone pervades the novelistic resolution of the emigrants' harsh encounter with the reality behind the idea of England. In his 1983 Introduction to Castle, Lamming lamented the mildness of the resolution of that novel's riot scene, where the landlord is threatened but not physically molested. He tried to distinguish between the realism of what is and that of what could be: "The novelist does not only explore what happened. At a deeper level of intention than literal accuracy, he seeks to construct a world that might have been; to show the possible as a felt and a living reality" (xiii-xiv). The same comments could apply equally to The Emigrants. The intensity of the first section of the novel, entitled "A Voyage," when the emigrants are virtually driven by the idea of England almost as a political fatal attraction to the land of the enemy, is not matched by that of the second section, "Rooms & Residents," or the third, "Another Time." Something more should have happened to balance the intensity of the expectations of the first section. The mood in the second and third parts may be closer to the historical reality of the period, but not necessarily to the reality of the spirit of history. The racism these emigrants encounter was to generate, years later, in the eighties, resistance that took the form of the Brixton race riots.

Water with Berries, published in 1971, is almost a revisiting of the second and third sections of The Emigrants. The three main artists, three versions of Caliban in reverse—call them three Calibans in Prospero's country—could have been versions of Collis and other middle class intellectuals of Emigrants. Teeton, Roger, and Derek choose England as their place of exile because they are conditioned by the same idea of England as inheritance and refuge. In this narrative there is more violence in the resolution of conflicts. Once again these conflicts have their origins in the colonial situation. For although the San Cristobal of their upbringing and site of political struggle is now independent, it is so only in form. It is now under the more ruthless control of the finance capital of its northern neighbor. The ruling ethic is still one that makes peace with imperialism.

The historical roots of this temperament lie in that colonial era of British Imperialism which had shaped the minds of the ruling class and made them "pupils to its language and its institutions" (Castle xii). They are an extension of the overseer class described in Castle as looking down on the masses as "low down nigger people" standing in the way of progress (Castle 27). Members of this class had been schooled to carry the "world of the others' imagined perfection" like "a dead weight upon their energy." They spoke of their own people as the enemy: "You never can tell with my people. It was the language of the Government servant, and later the language of lawyers and doctors who had returned stamped like an envelope with what they called the culture of the Mother Country" (Castle 27).

In the Black World interview, Lamming states his belief that it was against all reason to suppose that colonialism as a history that had held communities and peoples in so much oppressive violence could come to an end in any cordial manner:

That horror and that brutality have a price, which has to be paid by the man who inflicted it—just as the man who suffered it has to find a way of exorcising that demon. It seems to me that there is almost a therapeutic need for a certain kind of violence in the breaking. There cannot be a parting of the ways. There has to be a smashing.

          (Kent 91)

The acts of violence in Water with Berries, albeit occurring at a personal level, are therefore meant as symbols of the "end of a social order that deserves to be destroyed" (Castle xiv).

This may explain the one problematic aspect aspect of Water with Berries : the fate of the women characters. Lamming is as sensitive to gender oppressions as he is to those of race and class. Yet all the main women characters in this novel end up dead or violated at the hands of the male. Roger, the musician, drives his white American wife, Nicole, to her death with the accusation that the child she carries is not his. What he really fears is the whiteness of the child she might bear, a reversal of Shakespeare's Prospero fearing the blackness of the children Caliban might have had with Miranda. Derek, the actor, tries to rape a girl on stage, negating the role of corpse that he had been relegated to playing. This is another replay of Caliban's alleged attempt to rape Miranda. Then there is Teeton's encounter with Miranda on Hampstead Heath through a symbolic ceremony of the souls.

In this mysterious encounter played entirely in the dark, Teeton learns that Miranda had been gangraped by the slaves on her father's, that is Prospero's, plantation in San Cristobal. Teeton's wife, Randa, who is talked of in the narrative but never makes an appearance, commits suicide. Seven years before, in San Cristobal, she had given herself to the American ambassador so that this representative of the northern neighbor would intervene with the neocolonial regime to secure Teeton's release from prison and let him escape an almost certain death because of his involvement in revolutionary politics. He cannot stand being eternally indebted to the representative of imperialism for his very existence. But in England he comes under the protection of the Old Dowager, a repeat of water with berries, for it turns out that she is no other than the resurrected Mrs. Prospero. In the end he kills her to free himself from being subject to her in a neoprotectorate.

Is Lamming romanticizing the therapeutic effects of violence? When Fanon talked of violence as constituting the decolonization process, he was basically talking about organized revolutionary violence, not necessarily such individual acts of violence. Lamming would share Fanon's revolutionary ends of overturning the entire socio-economic regime. However, Lamming works in Symbols. Water with Berries, as much as the earlier Emigrants, is dealing with the colonially-nurtured image of the colonizing country, Prospero's country, as mother: the Mother Country. The clue to the author's symbolic intentions in Water, then, lies in the Old Dowager's name: Mrs. Gore Brittain. Teeton is breaking the psychological contract with the colonizers' country. His independence is dependent on his cutting himself loose from the dependency complex implied in the colony's accepting the colonizer's view of himself as the Mother.

The psychological "contract" with the idea of the base of the colonial order so well dramatized in Emigrants gives a clue to an understanding of neocolonialism as a phenomenon in history and world politics. Colonialism not only made communities captives of foreign economies and politics but also turned them into psychic captives through cultural control. An aspect of that control is the obsession of the colonized with the image of the "mother" country. Dwellers in the colony, at least the educated upper echelon, come to do more than identify with the language and culture of their colonial inheritance. They become obsessed with it, almost as if gripped by a spiritual possession. Even the most progressive are not immune from this spirit possession by the image of the benevolent mother.

Recently in Jeune Afrique, the Congolese novelist Henri Lopés could write in glowing terms of endearment about "la francophonie" and the French language. For him French has become a superafrican language despite the fact that even in his own country it is spoken only by a minority: "Le français n'est plus une langue étrangère. C'est désormais une langue africaine," "French is no longer a foreign language. It is henceforth an African language." He moves from the concept of Francophonie as language to its perception as a social and political family: "La francophonie c'est pour moi tout à la fois une langue, une famille et, peut-être, une politique," a language, a family, and perhaps a politics (Lopés 25).

Lopés is following in the footsteps of Léopold Sédar Senghor. Senghor kept his French citizenship even as President of Senegal, and chose France as his place of retirement. Bokassa of the Central African Republic recreated for his own coronation the symbols of a similar coronation of the Napoleonic era in France. C. L. R. James in The Black Jacobins explains the failure of Toussaint L'Ouverture in terms of the same obsession with the "mother" country: he could not conceive of the future of Haiti without France (e.g. 290, 364, but passim). Aimé Césaire, author of the brilliant Discourse on Colonialism and Notebook of a Return to the Native Land, pathfinder of the radical line of Negritude stretching from him to its progressive fruition in Fanon, opposes the independence of Martinique from France. How does one explain this phenomenon except in Lamming's terms of minds stamped like envelopes with the culture of the mother country? It is the classic psychological case of children's attachment to their mothers and refusal to be weaned from mother's milk.

In the name of the mother, the native ruling elites in the postcolonial era have made a cultural contract with the country of their colonizer. And once again Lamming, in 1954, before many countries in Asia and Af- rica and the Caribbean islands were independent, was able to capture its psychic hold on the colonized. His work as a whole, from In the Castle of My Skin, The Emigrants, Of Age and Innocence, and Season of Adventure to Water with Berries and Natives of My Person, is a grand epic of the decolonization process. The deconstruction of the mother image is integral to his revolutionary aesthetics. His aesthetics are also dialectical. Breaking the mental contract with the colonizer's country is a necessary step in the liberation process. Complete economic and political decolonization is not possible without cultural and psychological liberation. Equally true, psychological and cultural break with the mesmerizing power and worship of the colonizer's language and culture is not possible without political and economic liberation. People can never be free without the liberation of the whole of their economy, politics, and culture.

This explains why Lamming's work is an argument with Shakespeare. For Shakespeare became one of the prime symbols of British culture. Even the revolutionary aspect of Shakespeare's work which evoked sympathy and recognition in the colonial intellectual was tamed and coopted by the colonizing classes: it was part of the package of Shakespeare as an icon of Western civilization. Had any of the native cultures produced an epic, let alone a Shakespeare? Shakespeare the icon demonstrated the superiority of Western civilization over native cultures, particularly those which, though rich in orature, were without a written script.

Lamming's work seems to be saying this: Shakespeare had a mother, yes; but so have all the Lammings of the world. Prospero had a mother language; so had Caliban. But it is possible for a Caliban to be so mesmerized by the claimed universality of Prospero's language as to forget that the claim was, and still is, an instrument of economic and political control. Caliban has to find his real connection with Sycorax his mother and her language. Here is the basis of his dialogue with all the sons and daughters of all the other mothers in the world.


1. In the interview with George Kent published in Black World, Lamming says that during this stay he was shown a postcard of the family with whom he was living. "These are all natives of my person," he was told in reference to the children. Years later this was to be the title of his novel, Natives of My Person (Kent 4). The incident shows how real historical events force their way into Lamming's imagination as he writes. In Castle, he had shown that he was very much aware of world events and that he could write of them even where he did not have a direct personal experience. Trumper is for instance depicted as having visited the USA and experienced pan-Africanism, though Lamming at the time of writing had not been to the US.

2. For this reason, Lamming thinks it would be beneficial for West Indians to go and study in a different European country.

Works Cited

Braithwaite, Edward Ricardo. To Sir With Love. London: Bodley Head, 1959.

Kent, George E. "A Conversation with George Lamming." Black World 22.5 (March 1973): 4-14, 88-97.

James, Cyril Lionel Robert. The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L'Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution. 2nd ed. rev. 1963; rpt. New York: Vintage, 1989.

Kincaid, Jamaica. "On Seeing England for the First Time." Transition 51 (1991): 32-40.

Lamming George. The Emigrants. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1954.

———. In the Castle of My Skin. New York: Schocken, 1983. (1st ed. 1953.)

———. Natives of My Person. Trinidad: Longman Caribbean, 1972.

———. Of Age and Innocence. London: Michael Joseph, 1958.

———. The Pleasures of Exile. London: Michael Joseph, 1960.

———. Season of Adventure. London: Michael Joseph, 1960.

———. Water with Berries. London: Longman, 1971.

Lopés, Henri. "Francophonie: demain, peut-être." Jeune Afrique 1822 (7-13 Dec. 1995): 25.

Salkey, Andrew. Escape to an Autumn Pavement. London: Hutchinson, 1960.



Brown, J. Dillon. "Exile and Cunning: The Tactical Difficulties of George Lamming." Contemporary Literature XLVII, no. 4 (2006): 669-94.

Addresses the "difficulty" of Lamming's prose in the context of whether he was writing for a West Indian or an imperialist British readership.

Lamming, George, with Caryl Phillips. "George Lamming with Caryl Phillips. In Writing across Worlds: Contemporary Writers Talk, pp. 163-97. London and New York: Routledge, 2004.

Interview in which Lamming discusses his experiences as an immigrant in England in the 1950s and the importance of England and English literature in the development of his identity as a writer.

McDonald, Avis G. "‘Within the Orbit of Power’: Reading Allegory in George Lamming's Natives of My Person." Journal of Commonwealth Literature 22, no. 73 (1987): 73-86.

Examines Lamming's use of allegory in Natives of My Person to recreate the roots of colonization in the Caribbean.

Simoes da Silva, A. J. The Luxury of Nationalist Despair: George Lamming's Fiction as Decolonizing Project. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2000, 226 p.

Explores the issues of nationalism and imperialism in Lamming's works.

Additional coverage of Lamming's life and works is contained in the following sources published by Gale: Black Literature Criticism, Ed. 1:2; Black Writers, Eds. 2, 3; Concise Dictionary of World Literary Biography, Vol. 3; Contemporary Authors, Vols. 85-88; Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vols. 26, 76; Contemporary Literary Criticism, Vols. 2, 4, 66, 144; Contemporary Novelists, Eds. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7; Contemporary Poets, Ed. 1; Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 125; DISCovering Authors Modules, Ed. MULT; Encyclopedia of World Literature in the 20th Century, Ed. 3; Literature Resource Center; Major 20th-Century Writers, Eds. 1, 2; Major 21st-Century Writers (eBook), Ed. 2005; Novels for Students, Vol. 5; and Reference Guide to English Literature, Ed. 2.