In the Castle of My Skin

views updated

In the Castle of My Skin
George Lamming

Author Biography
Plot Summary
Historical Context
Critical Overview
Further Reading


In the Castle of My Skin, the first novel by Barbadian writer George Lamming, tells the story of the mundane events in a young boy's life that take place amid dramatic changes in the village and society in which he lives. First published in London in 1953, the novel uses such characteristic devices of modernist fiction as shifting perspectives and unreliable narration to recount the boyhood of a fairly traditional fictional protagonist: a sensitive, unusually intelligent young boy, with a protective mother, who grows up among his peers but, because of his intelligence, takes a different path.

The novel's main concern, however, is not the individual consciousness of the protagonist. Rather, Lamming uses the growth and education of G. (his hero) as a device through which to view the legacy of colonialism and slavery in Caribbean village society in the middle of the twentieth century, and to document the changes that time brings to this sleepy hamlet. The novel's primary concerns are larger than the experience of G. as an individual. Through his eyes, we see the effects of race, feudalism, capitalism, education, the labor movement, violent riots, and emigration on his small town and, by extension, on Caribbean society as a whole. In later books, Lamming continued to examine the Caribbean experience, as his protagonists migrated to London and the United States, returned to their homes in the Caribbean, and helped their home countries obtain independence. But in In the Castle of My Skin, as befits his choice of protagonist, the scope of perception is limited to the personal, domestic, and village spheres. Through this restricted view, the reader receives a comprehensive image of significant sociocultural changes in a tradition-bound part of the world.

Author Biography

Along with the novelist V. S. Naipaul and the poet Derek Walcott, the Barbadian novelist George Lamming is one of the most important figures in Caribbean Anglophone (English-speaking) literature. Lamming was born June 8, 1927, in Carrington Village, a small settlement about two miles from Barbados's capital, Bridgetown. Carrington Village was much like Creighton Village in the novel In the Castle of My Skin, in that it retained the basic structure of a plantation settlement. Lamming was raised by his unmarried mother and by Papa Grandison, his mother's devoted godfather.

Lamming attended the Roebuck Boys School in Carrington Village and was awarded a scholarship to attend Combermere High School, where a teacher encouraged his writing. When he was nineteen, Lamming left Barbados for the nearby island of Trinidad, where he obtained a teaching position at El Colegio de Venezuela. While in Trinidad, Lamming continued his involvement with the Anglo-Caribbean literary journal Bim and came to know a number of other writers like himself.

In 1950, feeling that Caribbean society was stifling his artistic ambitions, Lamming sailed for London. His literary output, previously limited to poetry, expanded. By 1960, Lamming had published four lauded novels and his study of cultural identity, The Pleasures of Exile. During this decade, he worked for the overseas division of the British Broadcasting Service and, as a result, traveled extensively, including a trip to the United States in 1955. During these travels, Lamming began to interest himself in political independence movements in the Caribbean islands.

In the 1960s, Lamming published no new book-length fiction, although he served as the editor of two special issues of New World Quarterly, one dedicated to the independence of Barbados and the other to the independence of Guyana. During this decade he was extremely active in the promotion of Caribbean literature, receiving fellowships, writing television scripts, serving on literary prize juries, and occupying the chair of Writer in Residence at the University of the West Indies.

In 1971, Lamming returned to fiction with the publication of his novel Water with Berries, a novel about anti-West Indian bigotry in England. Another novel, Natives of My Person, followed in 1972. In the last thirty years, Lamming has published no new novels, but in the 1990s he published three books of criticism, focusing on his enduring concerns: political self-determination, racism, and the legacy of the fraught relationships between the European powers and the peoples they colonized and enslaved.

Plot Summary

Chapter 1

In the Castle of My Skin opens with an image of what becomes the main motif of the book: flooding waters. The as-yet-unnamed protagonist, on his ninth birthday, is looking out the window of his house and talking with his mother about the unusual rains in the village. His mother tells him about his relatives. The chapter is narrated by the boy, who also uses the opportunity to describe the village.

Chapter 2

In the second chapter, the scope of the boy's vision widens to include others outside of his household. His mother bathes him in the yard outside his house while the neighbor boy, Bob, climbs up the fence to watch and laugh and call to the other boys. G.'s mother calls them "vagabonds" and curses at them when they tear down the pumpkin vine by playing on it. As she scolds Bob, Bob's mother emerges and hits Bob very hard on the ear and G.'s mother drags him away. A number of boys and girls come to gawk. As G. stands there naked, his overwrought mother tries to whip him with a branch for being so stupid.

The mothers of the village start talking among themselves about the "botheration" that their children bring them. Miss Foster tells a story about how Gordon's fowlcock befouled a white man's suit. As the children and mothers disperse, Bob and G. talk. Following these conversations, the narration subtly changes tone, as if G. is no longer narrating and has been replaced by an older, more experienced voice. This voice tells us about the history and social milieu of the village, focusing on the role of the landlord's overseers and describing how the power in the village reinforced the sense that black people and their language were inferior.

The narration returns to G.'s perspective and the setting changes to the village showers. The boys play around in the showers and are ejected by the supervisor for "fooling around," then they go to the railroad tracks to place pins and nails on the rails. As they walk back to the village, they stop and get food from a vendor. The chapter closes with Miss Foster, Bob's mother, and G.'s mother talking about the effects of the flood. Miss Foster talks with awe about how the landlord treated her well, giving her tea and sixty cents.

Chapter 3

Chapter 3 expands the scope of G.'s experience even more: we have gone from his immediate household to his neighborhood and, now, to his school. The narration also moves once more beyond G.'s immediate consciousness. The chapter begins with a description of the schoolyard and moves quickly to a description of the boys' assembly for Empire Day. The inspector gives them a speech about the special relationship between Barbados and England before inspecting the classes. A boy misbehaves and is flogged. The narration is then transcribed as lines spoken between a number of boys, like a play. Their conversation concerns their feelings about their parents, until the play-style narration ends with a long story about the relationship between the teacher and his wife which is told by the flogged boy, whose mother is the teacher's servant.

The boys, back in class, inquire about the process of making coins with the King's face on them. They are curious about slavery, but their school tells them little or nothing about it. The head teacher receives an envelope containing a letter regarding his wife and a picture of her with another man. As the teacher, in a state of shock, ponders what to do about this letter and whether or not the students understand what is going on, the narration shifts to his perspective. He thinks about his responsibilities to the village, his obligation to be an example to the whole community. He contemplates possible reactions to this discovery of infidelity, how he should balance his personal feelings with his role as a teacher and his position as an icon of English reserve and propriety. Looking at his class, he demands silence.

The narration then returns to the boys' consciousness. One of the boys attempts to explain the roots of slavery by citing examples from the Bible. After a brief time in the boys' heads, we return to the mind of the head teacher, and the chapter closes as the boys examine the pennies given to them by the inspector for Empire Day.

Chapter 4

The narration shifts dramatically in the fourth chapter, where two entirely new characters are introduced, an "Old Man" and an "Old Woman." The two, who represent the old ways of the village, discuss the events in the village in the year since the floods with which the book opened. Mr. Slime has opened a "Penny Bank and Friendly Society" in which all of the inhabitants of Creighton Village put their money. They compare Mr. Slime to Moses. They foresee conflict between Slime and Creighton. Going to bed, they talk about Barbadians who have left the island, formerly for Panama and presently for America.

Chapter 5

The fifth chapter opens with the image of Savory, the fried-food vendor, arriving to sell cakes to the village. The villagers gather to buy food and discuss the events at the school and with Slime. Slime, now a village leader, has been involved with a strike at the docks in the capital city and has explained the situation to the villagers, some of whom work at the docks. The villagers discuss whether they would be willing to strike and lose their livelihoods. They talk about how Creighton is part owner of the shipping company and about how any outlay of money causes him great pain. The villagers discuss the writings of J. B. Priestly, which address the dangers of colonial administrators sympathizing too much with the inhabitants of the colonies, and talk about the growing civil disturbances in neighboring Trinidad.

The topic then turns to cricket because Barbados is soon to play a match against its neighbor. The villagers change the discussion from cricket to exchanging memories of the revolutionary Marcus Garvey as they talk about the inevitable end of the British empire. The chapter ends back at Savory's cart, where two women fight over accusations of an illegitimate pregnancy.

Chapter 6

The chapter begins, like the first chapter, with images of dripping water—this time, it is the dew dripping from the "hedges and high grass" of Belleville, the white neighborhood that G. and Bob cross to get to the beach. The neighborhood contrasts strongly with G.'s own neighborhood: the houses are "bungalows high and wide with open galleries and porticoes" and servants can be seen through the windows. The boys observe the changing shape of the clouds as they approach the shore. Arriving at the shore, G. notices that a tension is present between the boys and G. wonders about its cause. G. decides that it is a result of events earlier in the week involving his mother.

G. joins a group of boys—Trumper, Boy Blue, and Bob—as they joke with each other on the beach. Bob leaves, and Trumper muses philosophically about the passing of time before telling a long story about Jon and Brother Bannister. The boys try to catch crabs while they discuss marriage, fidelity, and polygamy in reference to the story of Bots and Bambina that Boy Blue tells. They watch a fisherman maneuver his net. Boy Blue, trying to catch crabs, gets caught in the undertow and the fisherman comes out to rescue him but tells him, "I should have let you drown." The boys walk back down the beach to get their clothes and return to the village.

Chapter 7

The boys, walking back to the villagers, pass a gathering of worshippers seated around a table who speak in tongues and dance. The worshippers try to get them to stay but Trumper encourages them to move on. As they do, Boy Blue presciently observes that in the village "there be only two great men round here, Mr. Slime and the landlord." They discuss Mr. Slime's plans to sell the land to the villagers. From there, the conversation turns to a discussion of American automats; the boys decide they like the traditional ways of food preparation better. They pass near the landlord's house and are clearly intimidated by the large wall outside. Sneaking around the fence, they observe an elegant party going on at the house in honor of the newly arrived ship, Goliath, and compare the behavior of the sailors they know with the manners of these officers.

As they sit under a tree watching and talking about the party, they hear a noise by the trash heap. Creeping over to where they heard the noise, they discover a man and a young woman making love in the shadows; the young woman appears to be Mr. Creighton's daughter. Realizing they are crouching on an anthill, they yelp, alerting the two lovers to their presence, and flee. The overseer and sailors chase them, looking for "native boys," but they disappear into the crowd of worshippers.

Chapter 8

With this chapter, we return to the narration featuring the transcribed "lines" of Pa and Ma. The old woman had gone up to the landlord's house to pay the rent and he, apparently disturbed by the changes in the village, talks with her about them. He is especially concerned about the violation of his daughter, which he and the old woman blame on "vagabonds" from the island, thus absolving the sailor whom she was really with of his responsibility. The old woman describes to her husband the "responsibility" Creighton feels for the village, but adds that he is thinking of selling the land and leaving.

Chapter 9

Again, as in the first chapter, it is morning, but this morning "broke foul" in the village. Men have not gone to work and the disturbances of the city have begun to affect Creighton Village. The head teacher tells a student that there is fighting in the city, but nobody seems to know exactly what is happening. The police are absent, the school and shops are closed. The old man persistently tries to find out what is happening, but nobody knows. Trumper comes running down the road back to the village, asking if Bob has returned yet and saying that the police might be looking for him. He says that the two of them had walked to the city, and that when they got there they saw that cars were badly damaged and that fighting had taken place. They got caught up in a battle between police and workers. Bob has returned by then and tells of getting involved in the rioting. He says that the strike had begun the previous night, spurred by a mass meeting at which Slime was a featured speaker. An old drunk woman staggers into town and relates that her son, Po King, has been shot to death. The village, agitated, waits for the fighting to reach it. With the help of the old woman, they reconstruct the events that led to the riot.

The villagers nervously wait for something to happen. Miss Foster says that she saw some men come into town with weapons and hide. They seem to be waiting to ambush the overseer. Soon after this, the village sees Mr. Creighton, with dirty clothes and a terrified face, walk through the town. Some men wait to attack him and follow him as he walks down the road. Mr. Slime appears, and without his approval the men are reluctant to actually set upon Mr. Creighton, and the landlord walks out of sight and escapes.

Chapter 10

After the passing of some years, "nothing" changes and the landlord stays. The old man has a dream and, as his wife listens, he utters a reverie of deep memories of slavery and the Middle Passage.

Chapter 11

Again the narration changes, this time back to first person in the voice of G., who talks about hiding a pebble. He tells of Trumper's departure for America and his own scholarship to the high school. He describes the differences between the village school and the high school, and talks of his alienation from his village friends. History continues to impinge upon his consciousness from afar; at the school they hear of the war in Europe (World War II), but it does not affect him in any immediate way until he hears that France has fallen to the Germans. A number of students leave to enlist; later that year, a large merchant ship is torpedoed in the harbor.

Life continues in the village as G. finishes high school. Boy Blue and Bob join the police force and Trumper has already emigrated. G. forms a friendship with an assistant at the school who encourages his intellectual development. Trumper writes G. telling him of America, and G. is given a job teaching English at a boarding school in Trinidad.

Chapter 12

For the first time, the old man and G. speak to each other. They talk of the changes in the village, especially of the growth of Slime's Penny Bank and Friendly Society and of the departure of Mr. Creighton's daughter. The old man is certain that Mr. Creighton himself, however, will never leave. As the chapter ends, the overseer surveys parcels of land.

Chapter 13

Chapter 13, like many of the previous chapters, opens as dawn breaks in the village. Savory arrives to sell his cakes, but the village's attention is taken by a fierce argument between the shoemaker and a man who claims ownership of his land. The village has not been officially notified of the sale of Creighton's estate to smaller landholders, but these landholders are already notifying the inhabitants that they will have to leave. The arguments that the residents make, based on length of tenure, are invalid against the claims of ownership. At noon the scene shifts to the house of Mr. Foster, who is also being evicted. He is furious, and the new landlord is afraid of getting the police involved because of the new "will" of the poor, as demonstrated in the riots. The overseer posts a bill officially notifying the village that Mr. Creighton has sold the land.

The head teacher goes to the house of the old man (whose wife is now dead) and informs him that his land has been sold as well. Since he is too old to find his own place, he will relocate to the Alms House. Resigned, the old man asks the teacher how Mr. Slime managed to acquire the whole village for resale.

Chapter 14

The final chapter returns to G.'s narrative voice. He comes back to the village from his high school and goes to his mother's house. She and G. quarrel about how he is not doing as well in school as he should, and about their differing visions of his upcoming life in Trinidad. As much as he wants to rebel against his mother, he realizes he will miss her cooking and he thinks about how to make cuckoo.

Trumper arrives at the house, having just returned from America, noticeably changed. He is more self-confident, speaks more quickly, and has adopted a black nationalist outlook that does not exist in Barbados. In America, he was confronted both by the vast economic opportunities (he impresses G. and his mother with his tales of telephones and electric fans) and by the United States' naked racism and discrimination. Trumper and G. go out and have a beer at Kirton's and talk politics. Trumper pulls out a small tape player and plays a recording of Paul Robeson. As the young men return to G.'s house, they hear men attempting to move the shoemaker's house, which collapses. Trumper and G. part ways. G. runs into Pa, on his way to the Alms House, who tells him that the changes in the village date from the floods that occurred on G.'s ninth birthday. As the book closes and G. prepares to leave for Trinidad, the thought occurs to him that he is saying farewell to this land.



Bob is one of G.'s friends from the village. As the book starts, he watches G. being bathed by his mother, climbs up the fence, and knocks it over. Bob's mother attempts to beat him for this but he runs away. During the riots, Bob and Trumper sneak into town to watch the events and are caught up in the fighting. Bob has to run back to the village, fearing being caught by the police. At the end of the book, he and Boy Blue become policemen.

Bob's Mother

Bob's mother is G.'s next-door neighbor. Bob is one of her two children. She is fed up with Bob's mischief and loses her temper with him after he knocks the fence down, but later apologizes. When G.'s mother laughs at the children's antics, Bob's mother complains about the "botheration" the children bring her.

Boy Blue

Boy Blue is one of G.'s friends. He takes part in almost all of their activities, and when they go to the beach he tells the long story about Bots and Bambina. He also almost drowns and has to be saved by the fisherman. At the end of the book, he becomes a policeman.

Mr. Creighton

Mr. Creighton (also known as the landlord) is the white man who owns the village. He is descended from the original English plantation owners who settled the island, set up sugar plantations, and imported slaves to work the plantations. After the abolition of slavery and the decline of the sugar plantations, many of the plantation-owning families (such as the Creightons) stayed on in the West Indies, living off of the rents paid to them by the descendants of the slaves who lived on their land. The plantations became villages, named after the former plantation owner.

Mr. Creighton is one such landlord. His relationship to the village is almost that of a feudal lord. The rent he charges on the land is his primary source of income, but he also has the responsibility for the upkeep of the village. The floods at the beginning of the novel cause a great deal of damage to the village's roads, and Mr. Creighton greatly resents having to pay for repairs. Other changes in the village (especially a greater degree of freedom among the black residents that results in a rape attempt upon his daughter, whom he sends back to England) make him feel dissatisfied with his situation. He also is part-owner of the shipping company against which the union strikes. In an action that serves as his farewell to his quasi-feudal role, he calls the Old Woman to the house to talk to her, then sells his land to the Penny Bank and Friendly Society headed by Mr. Slime. The sale of his land and the subsequent eviction of many of the residents mark the violent transition of the village into the modern, capitalist world.

Miss Foster

Miss Foster is one of G.'s mother's friends from the village. She has six children: "three by a butcher, two by a baker and one whose father had never been mentioned." After the flood, she goes to Mr. Creighton, who gives her tea and half a crown.

Mr. Foster

Mr. Foster works at the docks before the strike in the capital city. On the day of the riot, he does not go to work. When Mr. Creighton sells his land and the new owner comes to claim it, Mr. Foster attempts to treat him politely and respectfully but ends up losing his temper


G. is the main character of the novel, and in much of the book he is the narrator as well. The book opens on his ninth birthday as he is being bathed by his mother. The book recounts his activities: he goes to school, spends time trading stories with his friends, gets into trouble, grows up. He ends up receiving a scholarship to the high school and, although he does not do particularly well in the upper school, he obtains a teaching job in Trinidad. Returning home before leaving Barbados, he finds that his relationship with his mother has changed. At the end of the book, much like James Joyce's Stephen Dedalus, he finds himself ready to fly away from the nets of his home island.

As a main character, G. is strangely unsatisfying; his psychological depths are not explored by the author in any great detail. It is not by coincidence that he is almost never named in the text (just about the only instance of his name appearing is in the second chapter, when Bob says "G. mother bathing him"). At times, G. seems to be a mirror, reflecting the events of the village, rather than living an independent life. Sandra Pouchet Paquet writes that G. "emerges as a figure whose personal experience crystallizes the experience of the entire community. In a sense, he is the village; the history of his dislocation echoes the dislocation of the village. He is a collective character."

G.'s mother

In Lamming's own words (from the introduction to the 1983 reissue of his novel),

the mother of the novel is given no name. She is simply G.'s mother, a woman of little or no importance in her neighborhood until the tropical season rains a calamity on every household; and she emerges, without warning, as a voice of nature itself.

She is stern with G., beating him at times, but her strictness is motivated by a desire for G. to improve himself. When he goes off to the high school in the city, she keeps on G. to do well, even though his grades are never particularly good and he never is a brilliant student. Near the end of the book, when G. returns home before going to Trinidad, he and his mother bicker with each other until G. begins to feel nostalgic for his mother's cooking.

The three women who figure prominently in G.'s life (his mother, Miss Foster, and Bob's mother) are not given much characterization. They are "three pieces in a pattern which remained constant," the narrator says. "The flow of history was undisturbed by any difference in the pieces, nor was its evenness affected by any likeness." Where the younger generation, with their energy and mischief and "botheration," represents the changes that are imminent, the women represent the way that things have always been, the way that history seems to have passed Barbados by.

The Landlord

See Mr. Creighton


See Old Woman

Old Man

The Old Man (also called Pa), the character from whose perspective some of the book is narrated, represents history—not just the village's history but the whole history of Africans in the Caribbean. Most of his appearances in the book take place in the company of his wife, but after she dies the author provides us with a scene between he and G. (for whom he has been a surrogate father-figure) and the scene of his eviction from his house to the Alms House.

Old Woman

The Old Woman (also called Ma) is the Old Man's wife. The two of them, together, represent the entirety of the history of black people in the islands. Mr. Creighton pays her the honor of talking to her as an equal when he decides to sell the land. She dies a number of years before he actually sells the land, however.


See Old Man

The Shoemaker

The Shoemaker is a self-educated villager, suspicious of the colonial ideology. When he is evicted from his land, he puts up a fight. The new landlord tells him he can keep the house but must leave the land, but when they try to move the house it falls apart.

Mr. Slime

Mr. Slime starts out as the fifth grade teacher at the boys' school but, by the end of the novel, plays a much greater part. His first appearance is not in person; he is the person photographed with the head teacher's wife. We learn about him indirectly throughout the book: people talk about Slime but he never actually appears as Slime until the end, when Trumper and G. see him at the bar.

Slime represents the amorality and complexity of the new world that is coming to Barbados. He is a teacher, a politician, a union leader, a financier, and bank owner, and the villagers, set in their one-role lives, cannot understand Slime's mobility. Slime rises from his controversial post at the school to lead the union that strikes against Creighton's shipping company. He founds the Penny Bank and Friendly Society, ostensibly to improve the lot of the villagers but most likely as a route to self-aggrandizement. The Bank then buys the land from Creighton and sells it to speculators and investors. He is capitalism personified, shifting roles quickly and taking advantage of every situation. The villagers and Creighton are at his mercy.


Trumper is G.'s boyhood friend from the village. When they are children, Trumper is an adventurous, daring boy. He was sent to a reformatory when he was nine, and during the riots he and Bob sneak off to the city to watch and have to flee back to the village. Eventually he emigrates from Barbados to America to seek his fortune. Returning to the village, he tells G. and his mother about the riches available in America but is strangely ambivalent about the U.S. He is unimpressed by the materialism of the nation, but his experiences with blatant Jim Crow-style racism taught him about black consciousness and nationalism.



The relationship between colonial powers and their colonies, and the effects that this relationship has on the inhabitants of the colonies, is the enduring concern of George Lamming. All of his works address these issues. As the first of his novels, In the Castle of My Skin appropriately anatomizes this dynamic as it bears upon a nine-year-old boy in one of Barbados' small rural villages.

The colonizing nation does not exert its power on the colonized people solely by using raw force such as that at the disposal of governmental or military bodies. Colonizing powers, especially those of European and Islamic origin, also felt themselves driven by the need to "spread the light" of their own civilization or religion, or at least many of their propagandists argued this. (The famous poem "The White Man's Burden" by Rudyard Kipling is perhaps the best known example of this idea.) More cynical observers have argued that these programs of education in colonized places serve, instead, as a type of psychological policing of the subject people. Colonizing powers often set up extensive structures of education in the values and objectives of the colonizing power and rewards for inhabitants who "play by the rules." In the schools, the colonized people are taught the colonizer's language (often having been forbidden to use their own) and instructed in the subject matter that the colonizing power feels to be the basis of a "real education." Students who follow the rules and show promise are given scholarships to continue their studies, with the eventual prospect of a secure government job. Less promising students are often offered the opportunity to join the colonizer's military or police forces. At all levels, though, the colonizing power attempts to steer people away from the possibility of resistance, whether physical or intellectual.

Compounding the colonizer's ability to reward those who follow the rules and punish those who don't are the almost inevitable differences between subjects and colonizers. In England's first colony, Ireland, the difference was religion. In Barbados, the difference is racial. In his introduction, Lamming writes that

Plantation Slave Society conspired to smash ancestral African culture … the result was a fractured consciousness, a deep split in its sensibility which now raised difficult problems of language and values; the whole issue of cultural allegiance between the imposed norms of White Power and the fragmented memory of the African masses: between White instruction and Black imagination.

Throughout the novel, in the boys' school or in the relationships between villagers and the landlord, Lamming shows how the colonizing powers devalue everything associated with Africans and exalt everything associated with white English culture.

Lamming's entire book dissects various ways in which the colonizer's values are instilled within a native populace, but in Chapter 3 he describes one of its most basic incarnations: Empire Day at the elementary school. At this holiday celebration, commemorating and exalting the ties between England and its colonies, the boys sing "God Save the King," learn about Barbados's ("Little England's") "steadfast and constant" relationship to Big England. No hint of dissent or irony is heard from these children until one of the boys explains to them his theory of the "shadow king." "The English," this boy tells them, "are fond of shadows. They never do anything in the open." Without realizing it, this boy opens the door to the possibility of resistance.


One of the first acts of a colonizing power, almost inevitably, is the imposition of language on the subject people. Fearing the possibility of plotting against them, the colonizers will generally forbid use of any language but their own in public discourse, and in some cases (such as among American slaves or with the Kurdish people of Turkey) will punish anyone who uses the unofficial language. Colonial schools will teach the colonizer's language, and students who use it particularly well will be rewarded—certainly Lamming himself, given scholarships and teaching jobs, is an example of this. Language can be power, as Trumper observes:

If you were really educated, and you could command the language like the captain on a ship, if you could make the language do what you wanted it to do, say what you wanted it to say, then you wouldn't have to feel at all. You could do away with feeling. That's why everybody wanted to be educated.


Closely linked to colonialism in Lamming's novel is the issue of race. European colonists felt that darker-skinned people were primitive, inferior, and dangerous. For many years, slavery was the cornerstone on which the West Indian economy was built. A debate rages among scholars as to whether European racism caused African slavery or whether European racism was constructed to explain the necessity of slavery, but what is indisputable is that, by the twentieth century, the islands of the British West Indies had two very distinct primary social classes: white landowners and professionals of English descent and black manual laborers whose ancestors came from Africa.

The lessons of racism and black inferiority were taught everywhere, though usually cloaked in the ideology of the "white man's burden," the notion of benevolent white settlers improving the lives of benighted savages in Africa and the Americas. In places such as Barbados, where more than eighty percent of the population is considered to be of African descent, people are encouraged to join the white society by means of hard work and education. Successful people become metaphorically more "white," whereas those who remain low on the social ladder retain their "blackness." In the second chapter, Lamming describes the process of socially separating the black overseers from the villagers:

Low-down nigger people was a special phrase the overseers had coined … The image of the enemy, and the enemy was My People. My people are low-down nigger people. My people don't like to see their people get on. The language of the overseer. The language of the civil servant.

Topics for Further Study

  • Lamming mentions, in passing, the names of a number of men who became heroes to West Indians of African descent: Marcus Garvey, Paul Robeson, even Patrice Lumumba. Research the lives of these men and of other important or inspirational figures such as Franz Fanon or Bob Marley. What qualities did they embody that addressed the desires of the West Indian population?
  • When were the West Indies "discovered" by Europeans? Who settled them first? What different colonizing nations have been represented there, and which nations continue to maintain their presence? What role did slavery and plantation agriculture have in their colonization?
  • In the novel, the character of Trumper leaves Barbados and emigrates to the United States. In this, he is like millions of other natives of the West Indies who came to the United States in the twentieth century and continue to come today. Where are the main communities of West Indians in the United States? What are some of the challenges they face? What tensions have arisen between West Indian communities and other immigrant or native communities in the United States?
  • Like many other writers throughout history, George Lamming became an "exile"; he had to leave the country of his birth to find his artistic voice. Research the lives and careers of some other famous exiles of modern or ancient literature (Ovid, Boethius, Dante, Lord Byron, or James Joyce, for example). Why were they exiled? How did their exile figure in their work?
  • Barbadians are proud to consider themselves citizens of "Little England," a place with a special relationship to the mother country. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, England built one of the largest empires the world had ever known. What were some of the other important colonies? How did England try to instill its culture and values in the colonies?

Because it is freighted with social and political meanings, the category of race becomes the dividing line between everything positive and nega-tive in the community. Later on in the book, when the boys stumble upon the landlord's daughter and a sailor in a compromising position, the sailor screams for the overseer to catch the "native boys" and, later, the landlord's daughter claims that black "vagabonds," not the white officer, claimed her virtue. The idea of their own racial inferiority is so ingrained in the villagers that even the Old Woman curses these fictional "vagabonds," not being able to imagine that the landlord's daughter would lie.



In In the Castle of My Skin, George Lamming makes use of many of the developments in narrative that took place in the first half of the twentieth century. The novel has always been a form that has permitted writers to experiment with points of view. Early novels were narrated by know-it-alls, as exchanges of letters, or, as in the case of Lawrence Sterne, by potentially pathological liars. Nineteenth-century novels continued these developments of narrative, but many of the most popular novels of that century relied either on omniscient third-person narrators with an ironic distance from the characters (such as Jane Austen's, Charles Dickens's, or George Eliot's) or first-person narrators who were characters in the story (such as Melville's Ishmael or Dickens's David Copper-field). Later in the century, writers such as the Frenchman Gustave Flaubert or the American Stephen Crane experimented with third-person narrators who, amorally, refused to pass judgments on the behavior of the characters.

Dramatic advances in psychology at the turn of the twentieth century brought writers' attention to the very roots of consciousness. Building on the theories of Freud, writers such as Virginia Woolf and James Joyce developed "stream-of-consciousness" narration, a technique that attempted to transcribe exactly the thoughts in a person's head. Lamming employs this and other techniques in his novel. Initially, the novel resembles an interior monologue, but although the language is not as carefully constructed as one would expect from a writer, the vocabulary is certainly above the level one would expect from a nine-year-old. The sentences remind one of how a nine-year-old would speak, however. Lamming suspends his narration between two poles. The lite erary scholar Sandra Pouchet Paquet explains this as the desire of the boys to be adults in their command of language; "their vocabulary and style of delivery," she argues

strain toward that of the adult community … they struggle for a language that will express and clarify their thoughts and feelings about subjects as varied as language, history, politics and law.

Later in the book Lamming changes techniques numerous times. Leaving G.'s consciousness, the narrator becomes an omniscient third-person narrator, entering the consciousness of G.'s mother or the overseer or even the old man. In some chapters the characters' voices are transcribed as if they were speaking dialogue in a play. After G. goes to high school and returns to the village to talk to Trumper, the voice is much more confident, sophisticated, and worldly—just as a teenager sure of his new maturity would be. In order to achieve his goals of melding the personal and the political, Lamming chose to use all of the narrative tools at his disposal.


As befits a novel set on an island only 166 square miles in area, In the Castle of My Skin is dominated by images of water. The first chapter opens with a hard rain, one that eventually causes devastating floods in the village. The second chapter, as well, depicts G. with water falling on him, this time from a skillet with which is mother bathes him. Throughout the book water is something that brings inconvenience (as with G.'s shower) or severe danger (as when Boy Blue almost drowns at the shore, or at the docks where the riot begins). Rain opens the chapter where the village learns about the riots, and Lamming uses the image of taps being opened to describe the village waking up in Chapter 13, the chapter in which the evictions are narrated.

Symbolically, Lamming equates the inexorable and irresistible motion of waters to what is often metaphorically called "the tide of history." The novel, although set in the life of a young boy turned young man, is really about the profound changes both in the village and in Barbadian society as a whole. The forces of history, of capitalism and colonialism and labor unrest and awakening racial consciousness, lap at the village like the tide, and there is nothing the village can do to stop them. All of the inhabitants of the village, from Creighton to G. to Mr. Foster, are caught up in these tides.

Compare & Contrast

  • 1930s: Barbados, a colony so closely linked to Britain that it is called "Little England" by colonial administrators, enjoys economic stability and a form of government that gives it more selfdetermination than many other British colonies. A growing labor movement (led partially by the Trinidadian Clement Payne, later deported, and Grantley Adams) attempts to organize sugar plantation workers and longshoremen.

    1950s: Because of labor unrest, persistent racial divisions, and the weakening of Britain after the Second World War, Barbadians strive for independence. The Crown grants the West Indian colonies the right to federate, which they do in 1958.

    Today: Barbados, after having achieved its independence in 1966, maintains ties to England as a member of the Commonwealth of Nations. In 1997, a commission is convened to discuss the possibility of cutting all ties with Great Britain.
  • 1930s: In the United States, racial discrimination is common. Many West Indians move to New York where they establish communities in Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Harlem. Once in the United States, they encounter growing ideas of black nationalism and pride, led by important figures such as Black Muslim founder Elijah Muhammad and West Indian Marcus Garvey.
  • 1950s: In the middle of this decade, spurred on by the landmark Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas Supreme Court decision, African Americans begin to use the law to challenge segregation. In Birmingham, Alabama, Rosa Parks is arrested after refusing to give up her seat to a white person and a bus boycott begins—an event generally considered to be the beginning of the civil rights movement.

    Today: Legal (de jure) segregation is against the law in all states, but social (de facto) segregation endures all over America. In New York, thousands of people of African descent from the Caribbean community join with huge numbers of Puerto Ricans to form a significant Caribbean minority in the city. Tensions between Caribbean communities and others, including African Americans, continue.
  • 1930s: Motivated by economic depression, a dramatically lowering standard of living worldwide, and scarcity of jobs, labor unions gain ground throughout the United States and in many other nations.

    1950s: The labor movement continues to grow, but many unions in the United States are infected by organized crime and corruption. Compounding their difficulties, conservative business-oriented politicians seek to thwart the labor movement, investigating it for "Communist influence."

    Today: As the U.S. economy moves from an industrial base to a service base, the labor movement finds itself at a crossroads. Unions in such industries as steel, manufacturing, and transportation remain strong, but new unions spring up to organize such nontraditional constituencies as illegal immigrants, graduate students, and temporary workers.
  • 1930s: Technology among the ordinary people of the Caribbean islands is essentially at a nine teenth-century level. Electricity has yet to reach most communities.

    1950s: Access to electricity and telecommunications gradually reach the interior of many of the Caribbean islands.

    Today: Telecommunications technology allows anyone with access to a telephone line and a computer to communicate with anyone anywhere in the world. Caribbean culture reaches the Western world: Jamaican music (exemplified by Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, and Jimmy Cliff) is heard all over the world, and Derek Walcott and V. S. Naipul each win a Nobel Prize for literature.

Historical Context

British Colonization

British explorers, led by a Captain Gordon, first landed on Barbados in 1620, but it was not until seven years later that the British established a colonial presence on the island. Realizing that on the Atlantic, or east, coast of the island there were no safe natural harbors or landing places, the British explorers and colonizers set up settlements on the "leeward" (Caribbean or west coast) shore of the island. Bridgetown, the eventual capital of the island and the city in which, in Lamming's novel, the riots take place, was an early settlement. But the island's population has always lived largely in the rural areas, as befits an island with an almost entirely agricultural economy.

The "father" of Barbadian settlement by the English was Captain John Powell, who stopped on the island in 1625 in a journey homeward from Brazil. Financed by himself and four other merchants, a party of eighty settlers arrived on Barbados on February 17, 1627. These settlers were looking not to spread Christianity or to find a "New Jerusalem" but solely to enrich themselves. Clearing land for plantations, they planted tobacco and imported slaves—eight months after the colony was founded, one of the settlers wrote home that of 100 inhabitants forty were slaves. Soon indentured servants outnumbered slaves; by 1638, out of a total population of 6000, there were 200 slaves and 2,000 indentured servants.

This quickly changed, however, when the planters began growing sugar instead of tobacco, in response to low prices and growing duties on tobacco. Sugar needed a larger initial capital investment, brought greater profits, required more labor, and encouraged consolidation of small estates into large plantations. With less available land to give out at the end of an indenture and longer, harder work the norm, slave labor became preferable to servant labor. Slaves were imported by the thousands—by 1652, the population of the island was estimated at 18,000 whites (freemen and indentured servants) and 20,000 Africans. The "peculiar institution" of slavery established the complicated and often oppressive relationships between the white and black inhabitants of Barbados. As Lamming's novel demonstrates, the effects of slavery were still being felt 300 years after its institution and more than a century after its abolition.

Labor Unrest

At the dawn of the twentieth century, the industrial revolution had enriched tens of thousands of people, made England the world's greatest economic and military power, and "opened up" much of the world to trade and development. But workers, for the most part, did not live much better than they had in the 1820s, and in fact many of the industrial workers who had flocked to the cities for jobs were demonstrably worse off than they had been in the impoverished countryside. In the United States, England, France, and Germany, organizations that attempted to organize workers had existed for decades, but it was not until laws changed at the turn of the century that unions found themselves with any legal rights. Organizers were often the targets of violence perpetrated by "security forces" in the employ of industrialists, and strikes were brutal, chaotic affairs.

The first few decades of the twentieth century saw the unions make great advances in organizing in numerous industries, and unions began to associate themselves with political causes outside of their immediate purview of labor issues. Because of this, politicians everywhere in the industrial world began painting the unions as meddlers, as Communist agitators, and as potential traitors to the nation. A "Red Scare" in the United States during the 1920s and 1930s provided a serious obstacle to unionization. In this period, unions found fertile ground outside of the industrialized nations. In many South and Central American nations, labor unions began organizing the vast masses of poor people working in factories, railyards, and docks in the cities. As happened everywhere, industrialists fought against unionization, often with violence—and they were met with similar violence. The industrialists were often backed by the governments of their own nation or, if the companies were foreign-owned, by the governments of the nations in which the companies were headquartered. In the Caribbean, American sugar and fruit companies were among the firms that used military and governmental power to thwart unionization.

Critical Overview

In the Castle of My Skin, George Lamming's first novel, was an immediate success in the Anglophone West Indian literary communities of London (where many writers lived) and the Caribbean. As one of the first important statements of the links between individual lived experience and the structures of racism and British colonialism, the novel (published with an introduction by the American Richard Wright, author of Native Son) was hailed as an important statement of the growing anticolonial movement in France and England. However, many also noted its skillful technique and elegant use of language.

Contemporary literary critics, as well, were positive for the most part. Graham Cotter of the Canadian Forum remarked that "if Mr. Lamming is at all representative of Barbadians, the colony has a more interesting 'personality' than any other West Indian Island. Certainly I have read no other West Indian literature which displays the keen perception and insight of this book." Cotter did feel, though, that the "sprawling structure" of the novel made it difficult to read. In the Chicago Sunday Tribune, M. S. Douglas effused that "one little Barbadian, grown up, has written in the most beautiful singing English a complex and brilliant novel of his boyhood and his people which miraculously has lost nothing of that dazzled wonder … probably very close to genius." H. C. Webster wrote in the Saturday Review that the novel was "highly rewarding both as a social and as a personal document." "Something strange, emotional and compassionate, something between garrulous realism and popular poetry … quite delightful," noted V. S. Pritchett in the New Statesman and Nation. And R. D. Charques praised the novel in the Spectator for being "a striking piece of work, a rich and memorable feat of imaginative interpretation."

Other critics, while still admiring the book, pointed out what they saw as faults, and most of these noted the loose structure of the novel. "The effect is one of a series of sharp and brilliant sketches rather than of a unit," Anthony West wrote in the New Yorker, and in Webster's largely positive review of the book (quoted above) in the Saturday Review, he added that it was "occasionally verbose [and] sometimes tedious." The most negative major review of the book appeared in the London Times Literary Supplement, which argued that

Mr. Lamming appears to have been unable to make up his mind whether to explore the world of adolescent consciousness or the world of social history … It is an artistic flaw which is so glaring that after a time it ceases to matter; the eye is less irritated by a beam than by a series of motes.

This very aspect of the book—its combination of the personal and the political—criticized by the TLS has been the source of much of its enduring praise. More importantly, though, this was Lamming's attempt to contribute to the theory of the oppressed that Frantz Fanon was developing at the same time. Fanon, in his books Black Skin, White Masks and The Wretched of the Earth, argued that the colonial system has deep and unacknowledged psychological effects upon colonized peoples. His theories explain these effects, while Lamming's novels illustrate them. In most of Lamming's later writings, he expanded upon these themes. Because of this political content, moreover, the French leftist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre bought the rights to translate the book into French and publish it in France in his journal Les Temps Modernes. The book won the Somerset Maugham Award for Literature in 1957.

Recent attention paid to Caribbean literature has paid off for Lamming's novel. The great success of such West Indian writers as V. S. Naipaul and Derek Walcott brought the eyes of the world to the English-language writers of the Caribbean, and to respond to this Schocken Books reissued the novel in 1983 (it was republished again in the 1990s by the University of Michigan Press). Lamming continues to write but has not published a novel since 1971. In the Castle of My Skin and the three books that followed continued the saga of a young Caribbean writer much like Lamming who went to London then returned to the Caribbean to involve himself in the independence struggle; they remain perhaps the definitive statement of the Caribbean colonial experience.


Greg Barnhisel

Barnhisel teaches writing and directs the Writing Center at the University of Southern California. In this essay, Barnhisel describes how Lamming's novel provides a model for a Marxist analysis of the advance of market capitalism in a small rural community.

In the years following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the credibility of Marxism as a legitimate political program almost disappeared in the West. However, especially in the developing world, the ideas of Marxism have survived as a very compelling and powerful explanatory mechanism for answering the questions of why poverty and oppression and political corruption are so persistent in "Third World" societies. To many thinkers of the developing world, and many Western scholars sympathetic to their struggles, the "triumph of the Free World" is a misnomer, a euphemism constructed to put the best face on the real winner of the Cold War: large-scale corporate capitalism. What is termed "democracy" and "freedom," in the eyes of many Marxist scholars, is "the illusion of a popular democracy," the Caribbean writer George Lamming said in a recent interview; what is called our "freedom," Lamming argues, is simply our "expand[ed] access to an infinite range of commodities."

The Caribbean has been an especially fertile ground for Marxist ideas about oppression, colonization, and the harmful effects of capitalism. After all, while the United States and Spain and Britain reaped the profits of the sugar and fruit and coffee industries, these island countries provided the land, labor, and protection for First World owners. And when, as in the Dominican Republic, Haiti, or especially Cuba, liberation movements arose on behalf of workers and peasants and slaves, the First World powers attempted to put those movements down with military force.

George Lamming grew up in one of these countries, the British colony (later the nation) of Barbados. His 1953 novel In the Castle of My Skin is a vivid portrait of a small village in Barbados in the late 1930s. Written using shifting perspectives, stream-of-consciousness narration, and typically modernist explorations of a young boy's understanding of the world, the book has generally been analyzed in terms of its technique or in terms of its psychological insight. However, the novel's content and Lamming's own enduring concerns with political and economic justice demonstrates that readers view this novel politically, as an analysis of and commentary on the development of modern commodity capitalism in a rural, agricultural, quasi-feudal society.

The interrelationships between race, class, and colonialism are always Lamming's concern, and he has adopted a Marxist analysis of their combination. Colonial powers, he argues, used race and class to divide people from each other and, ultimately, to reinforce their economic system (in this case, the almost feudal system of post-slavery plantation labor). Race was "the device which the old plantocracy used to segregate the forces of labor [and to] maintain control over those divisions," Lamming wrote recently. As Lamming wrote in his introduction to the 1983 reissue of his novel,

The world of men and women from down below is not simply poor. This world is black, and it has a long history at once vital and complex. It is vital because it constitutes the base of labor on which the entire Caribbean society has rested; and it is complex because Plantation Slave Society … conspired to smash the ancestral African culture, and to bring about a total alienation of man the source of labor from man the human person.

Race, although its importance in maintaining the social order should not be undervalued, is not the primary vector of power in In the Castle of My Skin. In the novel, it is the capitalist drive for enrichment—both among individual "capitalists" and as a free-floating force of history—that drives the events of the novel. For Lamming, the original source of the injustice in the Caribbean was the colonial endeavor, which in turn was simply the result of the endless demand for "economic development." Although he does not bear him any particular enmity except as the embodiment of colonialism, Lamming identifies Columbus as the infecting agent who brought the forces of "economic development" to the New World. In his recent essay "Labor, Culture, and Identity," Lamming writes that Columbus

was the carrier of a virus to which the people of the Caribbean would have no adequate response … Materialism, linked to human progress, allowed the Western world to accept that even the enslavement of a people was morally justifiable if it contributed to the march toward economic development.

The term "economic development" is a crucial one here. In the United States and in the Western world generally, we have been taught by politicians and the media to regard this term positively: It means the material betterment of peoples' lives. However, Marxists view this term in a much different light. For them, "economic development" indicates the drive to obtain material value (or "capital") out of natural resources or human labor. "Economic development," for Marxists, is inherently exploitative. Lamming disagrees with those who see the "Age of Exploration" as being motivated simply by the desire to see and understand the world. For Lamming, the "Age of Exploration" was really an "Age of Exploitation," when the European powers (especially the Spanish, English, Portuguese, and Dutch) scattered exploration parties all over the world, looking for colonies with cheap labor that could produce such commodities as gold, sugar, spices, or textiles. The West Indies, with their brutal system of slavery and sugar plantations, are a perfect example of what "exploration" was really all about.

In In the Castle of My Skin, though, Lamming does not spend his time dissecting the plantation system or the immediate legacies of slavery. Rather, he sets the novel in the 1930s, at a time when the last vestiges of the plantation system were starting to disintegrate in the face of the immense power and energy of free-market capitalism. At the beginning of the novel, the town resembles a feudal estate of the middle ages. The "landlord," Mr. Creighton, owns the village and extracts rents from his tenants, who nonetheless go about their business largely on their own terms. Feudal society assumed that peasants essentially "belonged" to the land and to the lord of the manor and that the landlord could charge whatever rent he liked; in exchange, the church and other institutions of authority strongly encouraged lords to be fair and responsible for their tenants. Mr. Creighton follows this model: He provides a school and genuinely wants contact with his tenants. It is a paternalistic relationship that he wants, of course, but nonetheless it is a personal relationship.

Marxists point out that capitalism attempts to turn everything into a commodity that can be assigned a market value, bought, and sold. Slavery took this to its logical extreme when the Middle Passage took Africans from their homes, turned them into objects to be bought and sold, and brought them to American colonies. The Old Man, in his dream-reverie in Chapter 10, accesses what Jung might call his "racial memory," saying that "the silver of exchange sail cross the sea and my people scatter like cloud … Each sell his own."

But if slavery and the plantation system showed the truly brutal extent of capitalism, the aftermath of the plantation system succeeded, in a small and temporary way, in reversing history. Briefly, the plantations returned to feudalism. In a quasi-feudal society such as Creighton Village, selling the land is inconceivable, for the land is metaphorically part of the Creighton family. The intrusions of capitalism undermine this certainty. As he explains to the Old Woman, changes in Barbadian society—specifically, the "rape" of his daughter by local "vagabonds"—show him that the world is changing. The violent changes in the island's class structure, epitomized by the strike and riots, affect his family when people start to cross the previously unquestioned borders separating white landowner from black laborer. (The irony, of course, is that his daughter was "violated" not by a local but by a white officer attending Mr. Creighton's party.) He decides that he will sell his land, turning what had not been a commodity into something that can be bought and sold.

Mr. Slime is the most interesting character in the novel precisely because he embodies the contradictory, complicated nature of capitalism. He is the inaccessible mind of the marketplace; this aspect of his character is underscored by how he is much more often talked about than actually present in the novel. Certainly it is in the best interests of the inhabitants of Creighton Village to be freed from their feudal dependence on Mr. Creighton, and by representing their interests as laborers and providing them with a "Penny Bank and Friendly Society" Mr. Slime does exactly this. He yanks the villagers from feudalism into the new capitalist world. In this world, their freedom of activity is enhanced as the old strictures disappear—but the social support network they previously relied upon (i.e., the charity and goodwill of their landlord) also disappear. Mr. Slime's bank buys the village's land, driven partially by the idea that this will allow the bank to then sell the land to the villagers who have lived there for generations. But a bank is an organization that must make a profit or die, and in order to make a profit the bank has to sell this land to people who can pay for its "fair market value." Selling the land on the open market allows for land speculators and investors to buy the land and do with it what they wish, for the villagers do not have enough money to buy the land.

What Do I Read Next?

  • In the Castle of My Skin was Lamming's first novel. In the same decade that this novel appeared, he also published three other important works of fiction: The Emigrants (1955), Of Age and Innocence (1958), and A Season of Adventure (1960). Each of these novels explores dimensions of the life experiences of Caribbean people interacting with colonial powers.
  • The Pleasures of Exile (1960), Lamming's "seminal work of self-inquiry and cultural assessment in the context of Caribbean cultural life," as described by Sandra Pouchet Paquet in The Routledge Reader in Caribbean Literature, may be Lamming's most influential and most-read book.
  • Born on Martinique and of the same generation as Lamming, Frantz Fanon is a writer whose works of cultural criticism and theory formed the intellectual structure for many of the anticolonial independence movements of the 1960s and 1970s. His most famous works, Black Skin, White Masks (1954) and The Wretched of the Earth (1961), analyze the psychological effects of colonization on the colonized people.
  • In 1992, the Caribbean poet Derek Walcott was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature. His career as a poet and playwright spanned half of the twentieth century, but perhaps his greatest work is the epic poem Omeros (1989), a retelling of the Odysseus myth in a Caribbean, postcolonial context. Walcott, along with the novelist V. S. Naipaul, continues to be one of the most important and influential Caribbean writers in the world today.

The reappearance of G.'s boyhood friend Trumper at the end of the novel underscores the changes that have taken place in village life since his departure for America years before. Trumper has been living in the very heart of capitalism, and his descriptions of America focus on those aspects of the country: "the United States is a place where a man can make pots of money." Trumper has new clothes, a silver chain, fans and telephones; he has benefited from capitalism in the most basic, material sense. Yet he does not seem to like it. "There be people there in the hundreds o' thousands who would have give anything not to get out their mother's guts," he tells G. and his mother. He is angered by the changes engendered in the village by the breaking-up of Creighton's estate and coun-sels resistance. More than anything, his experience in America has taught him not to trust the Mr. Slimes of the world.

G., the main character, has a different relationship to capitalism than do the villagers or Trumper. Unlike his friends, he is destined to have the advantages of talent and intelligence help him through life. He views his mother's imminent difficulties of where to go with a degree of detachment, knowing that he will be going to Trinidad. At no time in the book are his emotions fully engaged. He is an observer and a listener, someone destined to be a writer, it seems. But the people who surround him—his mother, Mr. Foster, Trumper, Bob—do feel the powerful emotions and have the traumatic experiences that stamp upon G.'s consciousness what effects this fundamental change in Creighton Village society has brought. In this, the book ends on a strange note, seemingly asking whether or not a writer can be truly engaged in the struggles of the world or if, in order to be a good writer, one must stand aside and hone the skills of watching and listening. If the theme of the book says no, its events tell us yes.

Source: Greg Barnhisel, Critical Essay on In the Castle of My Skin, in Novels for Students, The Gale Group, 2002.

Joyce E. Jonas

In the following excerpt, Jonas examines the idea of boundaries in Lamming's In the Castle of My Skin.

West Indian novelist George Lamming's In The Castle of My Skin takes its title from a couplet in Derek Walcott's juvenilia:

   You in the castle of your skin
   I the swineherd.

Walcott here invokes a conventional romance situation—unattainable mistress and infatuated, self-denigrating admirer—with the added pungency of racial overtones suggested by "skin." Lamming, however, changes the possessive pronoun, thus reversing the entire situation and seizing the castle for himself. By this sleight of hand, the naked (black) skin, with its connotations of exposure, shame, and deprivation, is transformed into an image of impregnability, strength, and self-sufficiency. By changing the joke, Lamming slips the yoke.

Indeed, the technique of turning deprivation into plenitude is the strategy of the entire novel. Lamming's fiction stands on the threshold between two worlds facing both ways at once. For while one view of Castle shows a tragic mask of deprivation, failure, and exile, the other reveals a triumphant comic grin. Tragedy requires a scapegoat, but comedy, though it may permit the victim to be bound to the very horns of the altar, always allows him to evade the sacrificial role and escape to the sound of echoing laughter. It is on this very margin between tragic sacrifice and comic reversal that Lamming's first novel is situated.

Universally, cultures have recognized the power and danger of the margin or threshold by identifying a trickster-deity who shall preside over the rites of passage. In the West Indies, as in Afro-America, folk-tales are told of the Trickster Anancy—half spider, half man—who, though perennially in tight situations, is singularly adept at turning the tables on his oppressor and emerging more or less unscathed. His ability to extricate himself lies in his gift for "spinning yarns." In African mythology, Anancy is a god, responsible for creation itself, though his kindness to humans has brought about his fall from the favor of Nyame, the supreme Sky God. Rejected from the heavens, he finds himself positioned between earth and sky. Trader par excellence, Anancy enters the world to make things happen, to recreate boundaries, to break and re-establish relationships, to reawaken consciousness of the presence and the creative power of both the sacred Center and the formless Outside. Then he returns to that hidden threshold which he embodies and makes available as a passage to 'save the people from ruin.'"

Not surprisingly, given his capacity to hide in rafters and weave his web in any nook or cranny, Anancy survived the Middle Passage, and still spins his yarns throughout the Caribbean. His survival in folk imagination surely has to do with his capacity to transform disruption, discontinuity, brokenness, and defeat into triumphant new configurations of possibility. His perennial rebellion, and his use of comic trickery and deceit to expose the inadequacies of authority figures must surely have endeared him to the imagination of an oppressed folk. For it is the triumph of the Trickster to so deconstruct and invert the given "text" of authority that the destined scapegoat of tragedy turns the tables and emerges laughing in a comedy of ironic reversal—the castle of MY skin!

As symbol for the "limbo dance" of the West Indian novelist, Anancy is without peer. Poetry may well find its inspiration in jazz, blues, and calypso, but West Indian narrative, I contend, owes its beings to another Muse—Anancy. For, as Wilson Harris has argued, the West Indian artist is working in a limbo—a void between two worlds. Surrounded by and exiled from the structures of an alien world view, he must create his own world in this absence, or else be forever a negative, an exiled scapegoat. The very form of his art must be redefined. It is precisely here, in the interstices of structure, that the Anancy artist creates a world that describes its own center, thus marginalizing the oppressive structures of the Great House. Anacy re-creates the world—weaving a universe of relationships from the very substance of his being as he narrates his story in his way. For it is by way of his verbal ingenuity, his "yarn," that he can escape nonentity and strategically relocate the center of the cosmos.

Lamming, as an Anancy artist, confronts the world view of "Mr Hate-To-Be-Contradicted," exposing the arbitrary nature of its premises and denying it the fixity and permanence it wishes to claim. He draws our eyes away from the structures of European domination to the folk themselves, to the spider weaving in the unswept corners of the house as it were. His strategy posits the possibility of a multiplicity of centers, and insists on relationships, connectedness, and pluralism as a necessary corrective to the inside/outside, above/below polarized hierarchies implicit in the Eurocentric expression of Great House/exploited tenantry.

Boundaries, thresholds, crossroads, and the marketplace of symbolic commercial intercourse are omnipresent in the rigidly structured Eurocentric landscape of Castle. They express a tragic world view in which hierarchies are inevitable, and principles of inclusion and exclusion are final and ultimate. High on the hill are the landlord's house and garden surrounded by a brick wall topped with broken glass, while below in the valley is the "tenantry"—the folk defined in terms of their relationship to the landlord:

To the east where the land rose gently to a hill there was a large brick building surrounded by a wood and a high stone wall that bore bits of bottle along the top.

At night the light poured down through the wood, and the house looking down from the hill seemed to hold a quality of benevolent protection. It was a castle around which the land like a shabby back garden stretched.

Yet another wall encloses the school yard:

In one corner a palm-tree, and in the others three shrines of enlightenment that looked over the wall and across a benighted wooden tenantry.

The three "shrines" are the church with "dark stained hooded windows that never opened" and an interior that is "dark and heavy and strange"; the head-teacher's house; and the school itself "with windows all around that opened like a yawning mouth". It is not without significance that a language of sacredness is used for this structured landscape in which the folk stand pro fana, feeding their children as human sacrifices to the yawning mouth of the system.

The landscaped village with its lighted Great House on the hill overseeing the tenantry in the valley, and the sacred middle ground between them of religion and education, is a microcosm of the novel's broader landscape in which Big England and Little England co-exist in the parent-child relationship typical of colonialism. "Landlords" of authority—England, the Great House, the School, the Church—all "look down" disdainfully across their boundary walls at the folk of the tenantry.

The Great protect their interests by means of a system of overseers, supervisors, and inspectors, but the folk, by contrast, are without protection; they experience invasion of their fragile defining boundaries at every point. The frail walls of the village suggest a corresponding frailty of the walls of personhood for those who live there:

The village was a marvel of small, heaped houses raised jauntily on groundsels of limestone, and arranged in rows on either side of the multiplying marl roads. Sometimes the roads disintegrated, the limestone slid back and the houses advanced across their boundaries in an embrace of board and shingle and cactus fence.

The villagers lack a clearly marked "road" of purpose. Defined by others, they are yet to define themselves. Their lack of identity, their constant experience of being "overseen," is symbolized in the incident of G's bathtime. As the neighbor's son Bob balances on the paling to watch, his weight causes a fence to crash: "the two yards merged. The barricade which had once protected our private secrecies had surrendered" (18). A crowd is attracted to the scene:

On all sides the fences had been weighed down with people, boys and girls and grownups. The girls were laughing and looking across to where I stood on the pool of pebbles, naked, waiting. They looked at Bob's mother and the broken fence and me. The sun had dried me thoroughly, and now it seemed that I had not been bathed, but brought out in open condemnation and placed in the middle of the yard waiting like one crucified to be jeered at.

The scene recurs in different forms throughout the novel: shame and degradation consequent on the breaking down of defining boundaries, ritual beatings, ritual purifications. Mocking eyes rejoice over the trembling naked figure of another's embarrassment, glad to find a scapegoat for the shame they fear to confront within themselves. G's naked skin is his sole protection—his frail counterpart to the landlord's "castle" on the hill.

Boundary walls define the Great, then, but merely marginalize the folk, categorizing them as expiatory scapegoats for the Great. G and his friends transgress sacred boundaries when they secretly enter the grounds of the landlord's house to see what goes on at a party, and they witness the seduction of the landlord's daughter by a British sailor. Later, the story given out by the landlord is that his daughter was raped by the village boys. Here the "penetration" of sacred domains—the rape of class interests by the military—is projected onto the folk. Similarly, moral corruption within the ranks of those bonded together by a common "skin" is denied. Moral and economic problems are univocally displaced into simple racial hatred. Villagers conversing in the shoemaker's shop sum up the landlord's relationship with the folk with more acuity than they realize when one of them says; "He couldn't feel as happy anywhere else in this God's world than he feel on that said same hill lookin' down at us".

Ritual projection of guilt and shame onto an innocent victim is the recurring motif of the novel. Wilson Harris has already pointed to the number of ritual beatings and washing ceremonies in Castle. Repeatedly a scapegoat is singled out to bear the burden of another's disgrace. At the school's celebrations marking the Queen's birthday, the Headmaster, anxious to impress the inspector, is enraged when the ceremony is interrupted by a loud giggle. His response is dramatic. On the departure of the inspector he addresses the school in a voice "choked with a kind of terror". Punishment falls on the first available victim in ritualistic sadism: the innocent lad becomes a "human symbol of the blackest sin," is bound hand and foot, and a leather strap brought down repeatedly on his buttocks until his clothing is ripped and the "filth slithered down his legs." Like a sacrificial victim, the boy makes "a brief howl like an animal that had had its throat cut". Asked why he didn't run, the boy replies, "He had to beat somebody, and he made sure with me". Like the men in Foster's shop, the boy understands the human need for a sacrificial scapegoat. As his schoolfriends bathe away the filth and blood, the victim relates information about the Head teacher that fully explains the man's insecurities and his need to protect his image at all cost.

The pattern is repeated at a wayside revival service. Once again an authority figure humiliates and denigrates a victim while worshippers and onlookers alike exult in projecting their own shame onto the chosen scapegoat. Watching the preacher's tactics with a reluctant convert, G comments, "I was sure they were going to sacrifice him, and I wanted to see how it was done". The words "born again" disturb him: "There was something very frightening about them, and particularly the context in which they were placed. The hymn had been started in order to control the tittering of the spectators … The preacher was a kind of spiritual bailiff who offered salvation as a generous exchange for the other's suffering". Experience eventually teaches the lad that the circle of worshippers with the preacher at its center is a structured world akin to that of the landlord's walled houses on the hill; to enter it is to accept castration and assume the eternal role of child before the controlling authority of the Great.

When her pumpkin vine is trampled, G's mother has a sense of loss and futility that is wider-reaching than the immediate waste of the plant. Her voice "spoke as if from an inner void beyond which deeper within herself were incalculable layers of feeling". Her deprivation vents itself on G. The boy, completely innocent, stands naked in the center of a circle of spectators who rock with laughter as his mother engages in a ritualistic beating. A scapegoat is needed, and the naked boy serves the role. The innocent boy in the school, G in his mother's yard, the youth at the wayside service—all naked, all innocent, all chosen victims. The vulnerability of the naked self is evident.

Lamming's key metaphor for the invasion of boundaries and absence of defining walls of selfhood is the flood with which the novel opens. Water seeps through ceiling and floor into the house where G lives with his mother. Outside, a lily is uprooted from the soil by the force of the rain. Invading floodwaters anticipate the later "flood" of worker riots that will invade the boundaries of privilege but leave in their wake a muddy residue of bourgeois profiteering personified in Mr Slime, founder of the Penny Bank—an organization that, despite its promise, yields no benefits to the village. At an existential level the floodwaters provide an image for the novel's exploration of ways to build defining walls around the self. For repeatedly the self experiences invasion by the Other: "Deep down he felt uneasy. He had been seen by another. He had become part of the other's world, and therefore no longer in complete control of his own. The eye of another was a kind of cage".

Release and freedom are found only in the darkness—in the darkened cinema, in the school lavatory. To embrace the light is to lose one's freedom. Light from the landlord's house dictates the lifestyle of the villagers; light at the wayside revival service calls the people to forsake their manhood and be "born again" into submissiveness; and Ma calls Pa away from his dreams of silver, pork, and weddings, away from his ruminations on existence, away from his gaze through the open doorway into the freeing darkness and back to the circle of light thrown by the lamp in their home—a lamp that obediently takes its cue in unquestioning piety from the light on the hill. Lamming consistently inverts the Judeo-Christian metaphors of European tradition and associates light with exploitative control, darkness with freedom. The lad at the openair meeting confesses his fear of the candles his aunt burns to "keep away the spirits"! In Lamming's revision of the European text, it is only when one has the courage to step out of the light—beyond the narrow circle of the known into the unknown, undreamed-of realm of darkness that a new order of things is made possible. The alternative is to be "a prisoner in the light, condemned to be saved".

Subtly Lamming inverts the conventional hierarchy of images. To be born again now appears as acquiescent auto-castration, and what Eurocentric authority calls enlightenment is discovered to be confinement within the denigrating oversight of an alien world view. By the end of his novel, Lamming brings us to the final inversion when the black skin itself, far from being a mark of shame and frailty, is revealed as a stronghold—a mask behind which the self is safe from invasion; "The like-nesses will meet and make merry, but they won't know you, the you that's hidden somewhere in the castle of your skin", G exults. To be held in "le regard" of the other is to be misdefined. One moves into Being when the defining process is from within. G's drama is an existential taking-possession of the boundaries of the self; he converts the cage of the already-defined into the fortress of the ever-signifying.

Source: Joyce E. Jonas, "Carnival Strategies in Lamming's In the Castle of My Skin," in Callaloo, Vol. 11, No. 2, Spring 1988, pp. 346-60.

Carolyn T. Brown

In the following excerpt, Brown looks at the myth of the Fall as a metaphor for maturation in Lamming's In the Castle of My Skin.

In 1958 George Lamming wrote that the modern black writer's endeavor is like that of "every other writer whose work is a form of self enquiry, a clarification of his relations with other men, and a report on his own highly subjective conception of the possible meaning of man's life." A writer's self-inquiry constitutes his first world—"the world of the private and hidden self, the world hidden within the castle of each man's skin." And if he is honest, he will bear witness to the impact that a second world, the social, has made on his consciousness. Finally, because a man cannot escape "the essential need to find meaning for his destiny," the writer must confront his third world, his "definition of himself as man in the world of men." When he looks fully into these three worlds of his self, he finds a "very concrete example of … the human condition … a condition which is essentially … originally tragic." The contemporary human condition, writes Lamming, involves a "universal sense of separation and abandonment, frustration and loss, and above all, of man's direct inner experience of something missing."

All over the world and in different periods, that sense of absence has given rise to a myth of a past time of perfection from which man has fallen, a myth of a golden age or an Eden. In coming to terms with that archetypal sense of absence through the medium of the autobiographical fiction In the Castle of My Skin George Lamming revivifies the archetype of the Fall, now in Barbadian garb, as it touches each of his worlds. Not only is much of his personal life projected into the fictional character G, but the novel articulates the history of an entire village, as the protagonist individually and the villagers collectively come into historical consciousness and in so doing lose their innocence. "Archetypes come to life only when one patiently tries to discover why and in what fashion they are meaningful to a living individual," wrote Carl Jung. A fascinating example is the particular manner in which the myth of the Fall as a metaphor for maturation infuses Lamming's narrative, dignifying with eternal human significance the life of a poor, black child struggling to adulthood in Barbados.

Calling the biblical Fall "one of the most essential symbolic teachings of the Christian religion." Jung argued that the myth expresses the psychic fact that man experiences "the dawn of consciousness as a curse." Adam—the primitive man, responding to instinct, innocent without self-consciousness of his impulses and actions—rested secure in his trust of nature. That things were the way they were was not problematic. But in turning away from instinct and opposing himself to it, modern man, recognizing his nakedness, creates consciousness and with it the inevitability of choice, doubt, fear. Eating the apple from the tree of knowledge marks the sacrifice of the natural man, of the unconscious, of the capacity to live in the world through simple response without judgments of good and evil. And modern man, fallen, in an "orphaned and isolated state where [he is] abandoned by nature and driven to consciousness," aware of the insecurity implied by freedom to choose, said Jung, wishes he could avoid the problems thus engendered and may wonder whether the childlike, preconscious state were not preferable, He experiences loss and absence. Jung further argued that each individual reenacts the psychic history of the race in his emergence from preconsciousness and movement into the dualistic stage, characteristic of "youth" from puberty to mid-life, in which he experiences himself both as "I," the innermost psychic self, and as "also I," the self adjusting to making its way in the physical and social world.

In the early chapters of In the Castle of My Skin Lamming frankly acknowledges his use Old Testament metaphor, but only to mock its simplistic nature. Humorously he compares the flood which opens the novel to the biblical Flood. Only once does he overtly contemplate the Garden of Eden story, which he merges with Lucifer's rebellion against God. In chapter three the schoolboys, having been denied knowledge of Barbadian history by the colonialist school system, speculate as to how Queen Victoria could have freed them from slavery. They arrive at a composite explanation which, though naïve, articulates the assumptions underlying British rationalizations for colonialist rule. Though in origin different, the Garden of Eden or heaven and the empire are identified with one another. Because both are products of God's will and under His dominion, to rebel against either is to become a moral outlaw, a Lucifer, a rebel against God. Rebellion, while offering the exhilaration of new possibility, produces loneliness so terrible that the rebels repent, preferring bondage to freedom. And bondage to the empire will facilitate their return to the true garden in heaven. Thus in his only overt consideration of the myth of the Fall, Lamming blasts the colonialists' exploitation of Christian theology in the interests of perpetuating economic and psychological enslavement. Lamming's analogy affirms that colonial Barbados was no paradise, except perhaps for the British.

Yet on a subtler level the myth does pervade the novel, and metaphorically Barbados is indeed a garden. A matured G, looking back, describes the house of the landlord Creighton as "a castle around which the land like a shabby back garden stretched." While the shabbiness under the colonial regime is never in doubt, neither—it turns out—is its gardenlike quality. In considering how the regime impinges on his second world, Lamming never retreats from resistance; still, when that rule is replaced by the native bourgeoisie. bringing about the sale of the land and destruction of a way of life, then the loss of that simple, harmonious community—poignantly symbolized by Pa's removal to the almshouse—is felt severely enough that village life seems in retrospect like an innocent paradise. The verdure of the land is known only after the trees are downed, and the land's value becomes evident only when it is sold. G's mother voices this truth in an aphorism: "You never miss the water till the well run dry; / You never miss a mother till she close her eye" Just as the child's lack of consciousness of being a person separate from the mother gives way before the evidence that he is himself not her, so man—the villagers—no longer in a monistic relationship with the source of sustenance, the natural world, becomes forcefully conscious of his separateness with profound regret.

While the villagers experience the social and political changes as disastrous, the novel's judgment of these changes is more complex. For although throughout most of the novel G's experience of the world is like that of the villagers, their fall is single. His is double. The sociopolitical narrative of social change in a Barbadian village deals with the single fall, which is, it appears, a fall only in part. Even desirable change involves loss: "Whether you were glad or sorry to be rid of [things,] you couldn't bear the thought of seeing them for the last time". The narrator's fall, on the other hand, has a second part and a different quality, for he also becomes alienated from the village community. In gaining access to the narrator's double fall, we enter the writer's first world, the world of the innermost self, and perhaps not surprisingly find ourselves involved with issues of autobiography as a genre.

Of course Lamming, like G, was once a boy growing up in Barbados. But In the Castle of My Skin resembles autobiography more than superficially. First, its mode is self-reflective and so has a natural tendency toward irony. In autobiography the narrator is both the observer and the observed, and as such the genre can only be written after the writer has separated himself enough from living experience to objectify it. If the writer, now matured, tries to recreate experiences as he lived them (this Lamming does), his double vision characteristically produces irony. In Lamming's novel the double vision accounts for the humor in the early part of the novel, for he recounts events as the child and the villagers experienced them, but with the hindsight of the matured observer. Naturally by the end, as the ages and perspectives of the observer and the observed converge, the humor disappears, and the ironic distance diminishes.

The novel shares with autobiography a second feature: the use of Edenic imagery to depict childhood. In "The Myth of the Fall: A Description of Autobiography" Martha Lifson explores the curious fact that many autobiographies—those of Augustine, Rousseau. Wordsworth and Thoreau, among others—invoke garden-of-paradise imagery in describing childhood: "The light, the peace, the friendly insect, the stillness, and particularly the timelessness, are all images that recur frequently in autobiographical scenes of childhood." Later she adds to this list a "sense of order" and "abundance of nature."

Although "light" is not a prominent metaphor in his novel. Lamming sometimes uses light-dark imagery in crucial ways, as will be seen. "Peace" and "stillness," while indeed appropriate to the chapters at the beach, would not seem to describe the raucous, often quarreling interchanges of village life unless we understand them as commotion which occurs within the context of the steady rhythms of that life, commotion which signals no disruption. The theme of Edenic harmony emerges strikingly in depictions of the land, the sky, the sea, the sand of the beach with its wondrous crabs appearing and disappearing. The crabs, vibrating with luminous significance, are the Barbadian equivalent of Lifson's "friendly insects," emblematic of the eternal wonder of the universe, with which the child feels at one. It emerges in the fisherman, masterful and at ease in his element, who personifies man's harmony with the natural world and capacity for securing abundance from its unspoiled state. Though the village is poor and ragged, no one appears to be in real want. The rootedness of the village order and the unconscious assumption that the village will remain unspoiled are Edenic qualities too. G's friend Trumper alone voices what others only vaguely intuit.

When you up here [at the landlord's house] … you see how it is nothin' could change in the village. Everything's sort of in order. Big life one side an' small life a next side, an you get a kin' o' feelin' of you in your small corner an' I in mine. Everything's kind of correct.

Still, as Lifson noted, it is the child's sense of timelessness which most emphatically evokes paradise.

In this novel chronological time belongs to the adult observer reflecting on how the village and he have changed. For the villager and the child, time does not exist. G is aware of time as sequence but not as progression. The villagers similarly cannot imagine the radical changes set in motion by Mr. Slime's formation of the Penny Bank and the Friendly Society. Thus the consequences, unexpected, shock them not just because of specific effects, but because they had not conceived that real change was possible. "This land ain't the sort of land that can be for buy or sell … 'Twas always an' 'twill always be land for we people to live on," protests a bewildered woman.

Thus a maturer Lamming joins in choosing Edenic imagery to transcribe his childhood. For G and the villagers, conflicts occur within the unex-pected, natural rhythms of life and create neither alienation nor self-division. The paradise Lamming evokes is one of naïve inner harmony, based on the assumption that the world is what it is and everyone has a secure place in it, not on the judgment of it as good in itself. So also affirms the book of Genesis: knowledge of good and evil arises only after the apple is eaten.

Although Lamming's evocation of Eden is powerful, equally if not more forceful are the images of disappearance and destruction, of the Fall, which resonate throughout the novel. Sudden, mysterious, unexpected disappearances of objects, emblems of the more catastrophic loss of psychic grounding, punctuate the text. The humorous story of the drunk man's penny and cent—one rolled into the gutter in full view under a full moon, the other was carefully secured under a stone, and both vanished—echoes through the narrator's later, nearly frantic search for the special pebble which, having seized the narrator's attention, vanishes contrary to all logical causality through some strange, indecipherable intervention, in the midst of security, in the Garden of Eden, without source or explanation, without preparation, cataclysmically enters the serpent.

The novel tells of two falls: the simple sale of Eden itself (the village land) through the agency of the serpent Mr. Slime, and the more complex disinheritance of G, who loses his identity. Repeatedly, Lamming projects the predicament precipitating the fall as closed. Only two alternatives (they appear either as opposites or as identical—it makes no difference) are postulated, and the protagonist must choose between them. Although in the predifferentiated state G embraced both alternatives without conflict, yet with the coming of an unforeseen, intervening force he is compelled to choose between illusory alternatives. The refusal to choose places him in limbo; choosing leads him into exile or destroys him. Always he loses the harmony of his prelapsarian state.

The tales told by the boys at the beach rehearse G's later experience of this psychological predicament. Boy Blue tells the story of Bots, Bambi and Bambina, of a village man living contentedly with two common-law wives. Under external pressure he arbitrarily marries one of them. All continues the same until, without warning, the formerly warm and sociable man becomes silently morose, takes to drink and dies. The boys explain his enigmatic behavior thus: "Something go off pop in yuh head' an you ain't the same man you think you was". The story is preceded by Trumper's tale of Jon, who, similarly coerced into choosing between two women, Sue and Jen, attempts to watch his wedding from a tree, waiting to discover what will happen as, simultaneously in facing churches, his two brides-to-be vainly await his arrival at the altar. Images of a duality which is no duality repeat else-where—two moods of the ocean on either side of the lighthouse, the oppositions of life and death, Creighton and Slime, god and dog in Pa's dream. Always frustration and loss follow choice.

Such predicaments are emblematic of the narrator's situation near the end of the novel, when he finds himself separated from the village by his education and from his intellectual peers by his ties to village life.

I remained in the village living, it seemed, on the circumference of two worlds. It was as though my roots had been snapped from the centre of what I knew best, while I remained impotent to wrest what my fortunes had forced me into.

Repeatedly as situations necessitate choice between false, arbitrary or meaningless alternatives, the individual remembers that it had formerly been possible to have wholeness, to appropriate all alternatives and so avoid loss. Trumper explains Jon's perspective: able imaginatively to marry both women as well as observe from the tree, he accepts the psychic reality as primary and fails even to consider as problematic the failure of the three events to proceed simultaneously in actuality. Instead he waits patiently for the groom, himself or another, to arrive for the weddings. Trumper comments, "P'raps it ain't [logical] … but that don't make it not so." When Boy Blue objects that living a contradiction makes wholeness impossible, Trumper responds, "I don't know…. P'raps you can if you feel you can". In dream, in memory, in imagination, the mind contemplates and realizes multiple, incompatible alternatives. Since all perceptions ultimately must be subjective, the subjective projection can become more actual than the objective manipulation of physical matter. Eden is not just a folk village, a childhood mentality, but also, as in Jung, a psychic position.

Lamming contrasts archetypally the atemporal, paradisiacal Barbadian life and Slime's modern, analytical approach to it. In introducing the novel, Richard Wright, speaking of the clash of the folk and the modern worlds, focuses on its sociopolitical dimensions, highlighting the Third World cultures versus modern industrialism. Wright further argues that the clash occurs in the mind of every man who grows up in the one culture to find himself an adult in the other. For the atemporal, dream-fantasy mode which accounts for the label "poetic" so frequently bestowed on the novel arises from the child's preconscious mode of mental activity, and the temporal perspective of the matured observer is generated from the analytic, linear mode of mental life.

Lamming has embodied the opposed modes, the "atemporal folk" and the "linear modern," within the novel's narrative strategy. The adult observer perceives the causality of events, analytically and linearly, revealing the dynamics of social change. But the villagers' and child's perspective is atemporal. Several narrative strategies create the impression of timelessness. First, the time lapses between chapters vary radically and indefinitely. Rarely does the reader know how old G has become. Second, the narrative voice ranges from primarily first person, to primarily third person, to—in the chapters which are dialogues between Ma and Pa—primarily dramatic. The voices narrate a whole unified by harmony rather than by logic. Third, images felt to be similar to one another in essence, though different in form, emerge at unforeseen points to create a narrative of mood subliminally felt to dominate the linear narrative of events. As in a dream where the insights of the psyche are disguised in symbols and meaning emerges from decoding the emotional reverberations (not from simply remembering the narrative of the dream), so the emotional content of the novel is structured by a process of freely associating images and symbols which resonate against one another, allowing the correspondences to surface.

When he juxtaposes atemporal and analytical narrative modes. Lamming gives concrete form to Jung's concept of the self in youth experiencing its own duality, itself as "I" and "also I." Pa's enigmatic dream in chapter ten exemplifies this. The dream, voice of the unconscious function of the psyche and a balancing corrective to conscious thought, is here presented as the voice of the slave ancestors. It would seem to be a dream emerging from a kind of racial collective unconscious within the individual psyche. That voice describes the origins of Barbados through slavery as a terrible mistake, as the formation of an illusory duality between oppressed and oppressors which never should have been, one begun symbolically here by the sailor Christopher Columbus.

The only certainty these islands inherit was that sailor's mistake, and it's gone on and on from father to son 'mongst the rich and the poor: in Slime and Creighton, landlord and politician, those who play at ruling and those at being ruled, and those who are neither one nor the other … The fate of these islands I do not know, but man must live like a god or a dog, or be a stone that is neither dead nor alive, a pool no wind will ever wrinkle. For there's always two worlds to one man if you're a man, two darknesses to one light …

The very concept of duality, of alternatives at once opposite and the same, is illusory. The necessity of choosing between Jen and Sue, folk and modern, unconscious and conscious, is an illusion. Here especially images of light, typical of Eden, become relevant. In Pa's dream, darkness represents the fallen state of the present; and light at the end of the dream—Pa's vision for the future—seems to signify a yearning for a final reintegration and return to what long ago, before the fall, had been whole. The hope of reintegration is what prevents Lamming's novel from representing life as in essence tragic, his later comments notwithstanding.

Source: Carolyn T. Brown, "The Myth of the Fall and the Drawing of Consciousness in George Lamming's In the Castle of My Skin," in World Literature Today, Vol. 57, No. 1, Winter 1983, pp. 38-43.


Charques, R. D., Review of In the Castle of My Skin, in Spectator, March 20, 1953, p. 354.

Cotter, Graham, Review of In the Castle of My Skin, in Canadian Forum, September 1953, p. 141.

Coulthard, G. R., Race and Colour in Caribbean Literature, Oxford University Press, 1962.

Douglas, M. S., Review of In the Castle of My Skin, in Chicago Sunday Tribune, November 22, 1953, p. 20.

Lamming, George, "Labor, Culture, and Identity," in Caribbean Cultural Identities, edited by Glyne Griffith, Bucknell University Press, 2001.

――――――――, "The Occasion for Speaking," in The Routledge Reader in Caribbean Literature, edited by Alison Donnell and Sarah Lawson Welsh, Routledge, 1996.

Moses, Knolly, Interview with George Lamming for Panmedia Features, (September 20, 2001).

Pouchet Paquet, Sandra, "George Lamming," in The Routledge Reader in Caribbean Literature, edited by Alison Donnell and Sarah Lawson Welsh, Routledge, 1996.

――――――――, The Novels of George Lamming, Heinemann, 1982.

Pritchett, V. S., Review of In the Castle of My Skin, in New Statesman and Nation, April 15, 1953, p. 460.

Review of In the Castle of My Skin, in Times Literary Supplement, March 27, 1953, p. 206.

Webster, H. C., Review of In the Castle of My Skin, in Saturday Review of Literature, December 5, 1953, p. 36.

West, Anthony, Review of In the Castle of My Skin, in New Yorker, December 6, 1953, p. 222.

Further Reading

Cudjoe, Selwyn, Resistance and Caribbean Literature, Ohio University Press, 1980.

Although this critical study does not write specifically about In the Castle of My Skin, it discusses the themes of political and cultural resistance to oppression and racism in a number of Caribbean novels, including Lamming's later works Of Age and Innocence and Water with Berries.

Parry, J. H., and P. M. Sherlock, A Short History of the West Indies, Macmillan, 1968.

Written in the mid-1960s, this book is certainly out of date, but as a brief history of all of the islands of the Caribbean up to approximately 1962, the book is more than sufficient. It is especially good at addressing the changing political relationships between the colonies and their colonial powers.

Taylor, Patrick, The Narrative of Liberation, Cornell University Press, 1989.

Taylor's book examines a number of topics such as Frantz Fanon, voodoo, and the trickster figure to come to an understanding of important strains in Afro-Caribbean life and thought. The final chapter, on Lamming and Derek Walcott, discusses how Afro-Caribbean people have used Western forms of literature to illustrate and comment on the social conditions of the West Indies. Taylor, surprisingly, finds Walcott and Lamming not radical enough in their analyses.

About this article

In the Castle of My Skin

Updated About content Print Article Share Article