University of the West Indies / Caribbean Quarterly






Source: Caribbean Quarterly, Vol. 37, No. 4 (DECEMBER, 1991), pp. 9-22

Published by: University of the West Indies and Caribbean Quarterly

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Race & Community in Sam Selvon's Fiction









All of Sam Selvon's novels are concerned with race and ethnicity. Often this theme is worked out in a dialectic process with types of communities ranging from: the unconscious communal village, where membership is by race or ethnicity; to the creolized town, with temporary and exigent neighbourhoods; to the city, where the sense of community is abandoned to racial, political, ideological, and monetary competition; to immigration abroad with subsequent loss of culture and identity. Finally, there is a self-conscious and psychologically laborious recursion of the process in a quest for the good life. In association with the search for values and authentic identity, discipline, exemplified by sexual continence, and what Michael Fabre calls a "half-formulated mysticism" or sensitivity to the elemental, serve as minor chords in Selvon's fiction.1


Having identified these as recurrent concerns in Selvon's work, it is interesting that, in the abstract, they parallel much of Mahatma Gandhi’s "experiment with the Truth." For example, Gandhi was greatly concerned with the evils of caste and communal prejudice. He scorned urban life,2 founding Sevagram as a model community. Gandhi's discipline, which he also exacted on his followers, was legendary. He called a major form of his discipline, brahmacharya, sexual continence. Finally, the mystical motivation in Gandhi’s life eclipses that of any of Selvon's characters. Rather than claim that Selvon was greatly influenced by Gandhi, I think it more plausible to say that the parallelism in their work stems from similar concerns about traditional communities and the multiple threats to their existence posed by modernization. Moreover, because Selvon advocates creolization, he must mute, if not renounce, the communal identification that championing Gandhi's principles in the Caribbean would cause.



In Lonely Londoners (1956) each of the West Indian immigrants struggles against the racism he finds in London. One of them, Galahad, muses on the status of blacks: "Lord, what it is we people do in this world that we have to suffer so? What it is we want that the white people and them find it so hard to give?"3 Yet when given an opportunity to speak "on the colour problem," to give Londoners "the real dope on the question," Galahad funks the opportunity. Neither an intellectual nor artist, Galahad cannot articulate his suffering. This is left to Moses, the narrator, who we find at the end of the novel, "wondering if he could ever write a book" about his experience.4


Selvon's recent  novel, Moses  Ascending (1975), is presented  as Moses' "magnus opus".5 Moses satirizes Black Power  rhetoric, but is also very conscious about  "My People" amid white Londoners·6  lndeed, his memoirs are a strategy to hold on to his dwindling memory of Caribbean culture and identity. Moses' resolve is also evident in the rise of his tenants to choice rooms in the apartment building, while Moses, the landlord, finally settles in the basement, unable to cross the Jordon and do battle with the Philistines.


In An Island World (1955), Selvon most directly presents the elements of his recurrent theme: race and community. The novel concerns two young Trinidadian friends of different ethnic backgrounds. Andrews, a broad-minded black Trinidadian, hopes to transcend race and be a citizen of the world. However, after suffering loneliness in London for some time, he writes of his naiveté: "it's lonely feeling, as if you don’t really belong nowhere. I used to think that this had merit ... that we wouldn't have prejudices."7 Faced by implacable prejudice, he realizes "that all those idealistic arguments we used to have at home don't mean a thing," especially when he is thwarted in his love for a woman: "we can't marry because your skin is white and mine is black."8&9 Andrews returns to Trinidad, vaguely looking for a community that will offer direction and purpose to his life. Learning from his friend that England is a dead-end as a model community for newly independent West Indians, Foster, an ethnic Indian, considers the attempt to discover identity and community in the "Back to India” movement, in which  "men who had forgotten their nationality in the cosmopolitan population became aware of themselves as Indian."10 Although this may provide a solution for a few, it fails to offer Trinidad a mythology similar to that which Jamaica found in Marcus Garvey's "Back to Africa" cry. Thus Foster admits: "I don't know anything about India. I've never thought of myself as belonging to any particular race of people. I’m a Trinidadian, whatever that means."11 In a later conversation, when Foster is again cynical about Trinidadian nationalism, Andrews declares that "It's up to us to produce such people" who do know what it means to be a Trinidadian·12The question is, of course, how to create such a consciousness. It would need to achieve a delicate balance to preserve ethnic traditions against the ravages of urbanization, technology, politics, and money, while, on the other hand, not permitting ethnic and communal identity to annul commitment to the larger society.


  In this work, Selvon's answer is suggested by the novel's title and articulated by Father Hope, who is committed, not to saving the world, but perhaps a few souls in a model village.13 By looking to England or India for identity and patterns of behaviour, Trinidad "builds on a rotten foundation."14 It is significant that Father Hope is self-ordained and self-appointed to his mission. Thoroughly indigenous, like Gandhi, he is committed to the project of developing a model village to show the nation how to overcome the problems of race and the ravages of modernization. He is, as Andrews suggested, producing Trinidadians; as is Selvon by illustrating in his work what it is to be a Trinidadian. Foster is chosen to continue Father Hope's work in an ending which, along with Turn Again Tiger, is the most hopeful of all Selvon's novels.


The Housing Lark (1965) continues to chronicle racial problems faced by West Indians in London but goes beyond the earlier novel, where each of the characters makes his own "lonely" struggle, by suggesting the formation of a community. Luxuriating in food and friendship at a community fete, Battersby idly asks an ethnic Indian Trinidadian, Syl, why you don’t go back to India boy? That is your mother country." Syl responds: "Brit'n is my country." The claim is absurd as every experience of the immigrants illustrates. However, the banter continues: "Man, you don’t know if you Indian, negro, white, yellow or blue," perhaps reminding us of a boast from a few pages earlier, when a character says: "I am a creole of the first degree.”15&16 Nonetheless, Battersby speculates on a plan to co-operatively buy a house to avoid predatory landlords and, in effect, create a tiny ethnic village. When people begin giving him money, the scheme seems too good to be true. Although he does not recognize it, Battersby has tapped the subliminal hopes and needs of an exiled people, just as did Marcus Garvey. When it becomes clear that Battersby lacks the leadership and knowledge to bring the promise to fruition, Jean, his sister, takes him -- and all the other exiled West Indian men -- to task: "No ambition, no push. Just full your belly with rum and food, and you all belge and fart around and look for lime to pass the time, walk about, catch women, stand up by the market place talking a set of shit day in and day out. That is what you come to Brit'n to do."17 The obvious implication is that one comes to Britain to get ahead: to work hard, make money, be a success. One can operate in this urban culture only after renouncing the island culture. Battersby's housing scheme, a lark to him, becomes a grim commitment for Jean, who seems more than willing to pay the price of assimilation: denigration and eventual eradication of her Caribbean roots. Thus it is ironic that the novel ends with Bats pandering his past, scheming to manage a man he hopes will be a British calypso star.


In I Hear Thunder (1963) Selvon brings his concern for race back to Trinidad in a novel that is more cynical than compassionate. None of the characters possess redeeming qualities, nor is there the ingenuousness of the London novels. The protagonist, Adrian, is an ethnic Indian who, disgusted by ubiquitous sexual immorality, decides to be chaste for a year. Without religious theory or foundation, Adrian's "experiment" in discipline nonetheless brings to mind Mahatma Gandhi’s experiments with what he called brahmacharya.

Adrian is engaged to Polly, an ethnic Indian whose name suggests how far removed she is from her Indian heritage. Bored with Adrian's self-absorbed chastity, Polly becomes pregnant by Randolph, a white and accomplished womanizer. Her father blames her mother: "You didn't bring that girl up Indian, you know. She too creolised for my liking. If you did bring she up Indian, that never happen!" He goes on to champion the notion of racial and ethnic purity, derived from notions of caste: "She let the race down! I don't know about your family, but none of mine ain't interbreed up with no nigger or chinee of white man, you hear!" He ends by admonishing caste purity: "Indian got to stick together, we got to keep we own block and don't mix up." 18


Another of Randolph's conquests has a very different idea about racial purity. Josephine is an ethnic African, "her skin was dusky, not dark, and that made a hell of a difference in Trinidad."19 In a graphic and nearly offensive image, Selvon writes that Randolph "was living in an island where the white colour of his skin was more desired than food and drink and opened a gateway which was like the legs of a woman spread apart."20 So it proved with Josephine. Pregnant by Randolph, with "no hope of a marriage," Josephine's mother exults: "It ain't him we want, girl, is the colour! Bastard, lanyard or mustard, is a white child you going to have! The good Lord smile on you and you ain't know it."21


Much of the immorality that depresses Adrian is symptomatic, a subliminal legacy of black slavery and Indian indentureship. Josephine's mother expresses the cynical recognition of racial power in the legacy of slavery and colonialism. Polly's father acknowledges the erosion of traditional ethnic communities and their power to dictate morals. Another character, Mark, suggests the vacuity of the new urban world. Mark is a black Trinidadian who has fulfilled the colonial dream: he has obtained a British M.D. and a white wife. Ironically, he spends much of his time trying to recapture his white identity. Rather than face the future or the tangle of sexual involvements among all the aimless characters, Mark plunges into the fantasy of Carnival. Adrian comments on the character of contemporary life in Port of Spain as well as literally answering a question concerning Carnival nonsense verses, asked by Mark's wife, when he says: "I been playing Carnival for years, but to tell you the truth, I don't know. I hear what everybody singing, and I sing that too. If you want to play mask, just do and sing as the crowd, and you'll have the time of your life.22


With this irrational abandon to the swirl of life, Adrian, who has slept with Mark's white wife near the end of his year-long bramacharya exercise, and who has now reconciled with pregnant Polly, renounces what a Hindu would call the way to salvation by discipline (karma-yoga) and accepts the way of love or compassion (bhakti). Like Walt Whitman, he reflects that: "he was not only going to be like everybody else, he was going to be the outcome of all their experiences, and emotions, the symbol of a steady, reliable, collected man."23 Both part of the swirl and, as artist or mystic, at the still eye of the hurricane, Adrian's resolution is distinctly Hindu and requires a text like the Bhagavad Gita for full explication, where, for example, Krishna explains that he is "outside of beings, and within them, / Unmoving, and yet moving.”24&25

   In I Hear Thunder Selvon uses Carnival as a symbol for a new nonracist society where: "Black, white, brown and yellow, rich and poor, doctors, lawyers, and Government officials, all were out on the streets jumping up in the bands." The problem is that Carnival cannot last. Mark is exhausted, "determined to carry on to the 'Last Lap', even if he had to play on his hands and knees." Nonetheless, the holiday must end with "straight-laced Trinidadians, who sniffed at the hoi polloi and their 'disgraceful' behaviour at Carnival time,'' back in control.


The Plain of Caroni (1970) is Selvon's bitterest novel. Race is again the focus, the setting Trinidad. The plot concerns an Indian mother's obsession with insuring that her son, Romesh, succeeds. Seeta, the mother, is thankful that Romesh "come out more clearskin than the others." She hopes that he can "squeeze in" to make money and gain power while whites and blacks are distracted fighting each other. Thus she explains "that racial discrimination is strictly a matter between the white man and the Negro."26 She also explains that these are Trinidadian whites, "born and living in this country," who thus "have all the nasty, scheming Trinidad ways on top of their white colour." Seeta counsels that to succeed, Romesh must adopt their methods: "Them is the sort of people you got to use and exploit. Same way how they exploiting the common working man, black or Indian."27 As a tool of his mother, Romesh succeeds so well that he is called "a white Indian."28&29 Like many of Selvon's novels, the book ends in ambiguity. Romesh plans to go to England to do graduate work, but it seems clear that he will return to marry the white girl, whom his mother chose, and fulfill his father's prophecy: "All these things what happening in Trinidad making you forget you is an Indian, and all we customs and religion." Here is no Carnival of racial harmony and prosperity. Romesh has abandoned his ethnic identity to become a white Indian, a scientific manager, and urbanite with little family or past. Ironically, the pattern of colonial exile, which George Lamming explicated so well (Exile, 25-50), has been brought borne. Romesh is exiled from his past and his culture, even though he lives in Port of Spain.


Those Who Eat the Cascadura (1972) is also concerned with race. ln the plot an Englishman visits a Trinidadian plantation where he falls in love with an ethnic Indian, whom he feels cannot be transplanted from the primitive world which has produced her. Racism proves more powerful than Garry's love for Sarojini. The theme is echoed in an uglier and more perverse form when we discover that Roger Franklin, the plantation owner, surreptitiously "visits" Indian women at night and is consequently the likely father of Sarojini -- a practice as old and ugly as slavery. By indulging in the hysteria and clamor of Carnival, Mark refused to hear the distant thunder. In Those Who Eat the Cascadura the storm has grown into a hurricane that threatens the entire society of Trinidad.




Selvon's most direct answer to the problems of race and communalism,  and the opposite threat of urban anonymity, is provided by the character of Tiger, developed in the two novels, A Brighter Sun (1953) and Turn Again Tiger (1958). We first meet Tiger on the occasion of his arranged marriage. Illiterate and accustomed to following his father's orders as a child, at age sixteen he is married and placed in a village far from his parents, to live very much on his own. This early independence, at an age before he has formed an adult ethnic identity, and involvement with a multiracial, creolized set of neighbors in Barataria, sensitize Tiger, who is by nature reflective and analytic, to become very self-conscious, insecure, and purposeful in achieving a distinctive identity.


Beyond the influence of Babolal, his father, Tiger fortuitously becomes involved with his next door neighbor, Joe Martin, a black man who becomes a surrogate father to Tiger. Perhaps the most essential bit of wisdom Joe imparts to Tiger concerns community. Although Joe and his wife, Rita, have no children of their own, they become parents to Henry, their nephew. The lesson suggested by the Martins is that a family is the product of love and decision, not biology. Analogously, Tiger will learn that a desirable community, symbolized by creolized Barataria, is based on commitment, concern, and dedication, not race. A rough character spawned by an urban slum, Joe is no philosopher. In fact, like many male characters in Selvon 's work, Joe is saved or, at least, improved by his wife. Thus when Rita loans Urmilla a bed on which to have her baby, Joe asks: "Who de arse tell yuh to interfere in de coolie people business?" Rita tersely replies: "Is yuh neighbour!" Meanwhile, Urmilla is telling Tiger: "They really good to we, and look how they is creole and we is Indian!" 32


When Urmilla has a daughter, Tiger's disappointment causes him to become more self-conscious about his Indian heritage and to move a step closer to the creolized community. When his and Urmilla's parents come to see the baby, Tiger invites the Martins: "come over, neighbour, and meet we family."33 The Martins are met by frowns while "an atmosphere of strain crept in; only Tiger and Urmilla seemed at ease."34 After the Martins have been driven out , Babolal tells Tiger: "you must look for Indian friend .... Indian must keep together." Urmilla is quick to speak for both her and Tiger: "these people good to us; we is friends"·35 That night, by himself, Tiger recollects the big thought he had postponed .... Why I should only look for Indian friend? What wrong with Hoe and Rita .... Ain't a man is a man, don't mind if he skin not white, or if he hair curl?"36 Unable to articulate this idea, which cuts at root of Indian tradition by rejecting the notion of caste, Tiger symbolically rejects the constraints of his ethnic heritage by adopting a spontaneous and non-traditional attitude towards his wife, who is struggling for a similar liberation: "she knew that Indian women just kept the house and saw after the children and didn't worry their men. But she wanted it to be different with them, that they could talk and laugh together, and share worries."38

Rejecting the example of his father and the implicit wisdom of the traditional communal village, Tiger relies on a friend, Boysie, to explore the urban world of Port of Spain. "Boysie was mixed up good and proper with the cosmopolitan atmosphere of the city," but craves even more excitement than he finds in Port of Spain.39 Planning to go abroad after the war, he marks time by parading the streets with his black girlfriend, delighted to see "the stares of deep-rooted Indians," shocked by disaffiliation of ethnic loyalty.40

Instead of seizing new opportunities and freedom in the city, Tiger's exploration centers on a racial incident in which a black girl, employed as a retail clerk in a department store, snubs him to attend to an obnoxious write woman. Perceiving the futility of asserting his claim to be served first, Tiger walks away while the clerk apologies: "Ah sorry, madam, but yuh know how dese people rude." What is interesting is that the girl is not alluding to racial prejudice, but inviting the white woman to collude in a feeling of urban superiority: "He look as if he just come from de country."41 In this incident, Tiger receives no respect, not so much because of race, but because of a lack of money and position in the urban world. Nonetheless, Boysie interprets it as racism, telling Tiger: "is one ting yuh have to learn quick, and dat is dat wite people is God in dis country." When Tiger protests, "I ain't black. I is a Indian," Boysie informs him: "Don't mind! As long as yuh ain't white, dey does call yuh black, wedder yuh coolie or nigger chlnee."42 Boysie's wisdom parallels that of a character in George Lamming's In the Castle of My Skin (1953), who, returning to Trinidad from America, says: "If there be one thing I thank America for, she teach me who my race was."43 Selvon, who is so concerned with race, might have pressed this point to argue for a creole solidarity and a movement parallel to the emerging black American consciousness described by Lamming in 1953: "Now there ain't a black man in all America who won't get up an' say I'm a Negro an' I'm proud of it. We all are proud of it. I'm going to fight for the rights o' the Negroes, and I'll die fighting. That's what any black man in the States will say."44 Instead of using this scene to argue for a militant, urban, and abstract politics of race (creole in the sense of a self-conscious identification with every other Trinidadian), Selvon uses it to foreshadow what might be called, an anthropology of creolization: the spontaneous, natural, and subliminally occurring community affiliations fostered among the three races in villages like Barataria after communal prejudice and custom are relaxed, relations which have no ideological origins or goals.


Tiger's world is never abstract. He has no interest in the impersonal city with its competition for money, politics, and prestige gained from arcane careers. However, he has rejected the ethnic Indian community: "I never grow up in too much Indian custom. All different kinds of people in Trinidad, you have to mix up with all of them."45 In his search for an alternative community, Tiger considers not only Port of Spain, where he could see "representatives of all the races under the sun," but also the world beyond Trinidad.46 Having obtained a job with the American forces in Trinidad, Tiger invites two of them home for supper. Although the thought never becomes conscious in Tiger's mind, it is clear that he does not have the ambition to succeed in the American's world.  For example, Tiger both directly and indirectly expresses his loyalty to his superiors, declining a promotion because he says: "I wouldn't like to stop working with you."  Instead of appreciating such loyalty to himself and enjoying the pleasure of communal security, the American brusquely dismisses the sentiments, saying "Oh, never mind that! It's a better job, and you'll make more money.  You want to make money, don't you?"49 The question is a virtual loyalty oath to American values, to which Tiger nominally assents. The American then goes on to lecture "John," as he calls Tiger, on the necessity of being involved in politics: ''I've already  seen you're an easy going people," that is to say, not politically contentious. It's politics that builds a country, John, don't ever forget that. Don't sit back and let things happen to you." Ironically, Tiger takes the advice. He unconsciously rebels at the American attempts to make a success out of him by being peripatetic about his job and finally preferring manual labor. Although Tiger cannot articulate it, he feels that success in money, politics, and technical expertise is accomplished at the expense of family and community.


Near the end of a A Brighter Sun, Tiger struggles to articulate his hard-won and still developing sense of what is important, both for himself and his society.  When Joe suggests that he return to India, Tiger responds, asking, "What I would go back there for Joe?  I born in this country, Trinidad is may land." He goes onto develop the idea of creolization, of Trinidad as a "melting pot": "it look to me as if everybody is the same.  It have so many different kinds of people in Trinidad, boy! You think I should start to wear dhoti?  Or l should dress as everybody else, and don't worry about Indian so much, but think of all of we as a whole, living in one country, fighting for we rights?"  Joe responds with another rhetorical question, suggesting that Tiger's dilemma is contrived: "Ain't yuh is ah Trinidadian? Ain't yuh is ah Trinidadian? Ain't yuh creolize?"47


Finally, readers should not be misled by the talk about “rights to be fought for," adopted from the American Civil Rights struggle. Selvon makes it clear that he has his own Trinidadian understanding of this struggle. Thus, Tiger, thinking of national unity and the obstacles of communalism and race, acknowledges: "Is always wite man for wite man, coolie for coolie, nigger for nigger."48  By referring to three races, Selvon suggests that the problems of Trinidad, the Caribbean, and perhaps much of the third world, are not exclusively due to white colonialisms; nor will political independence miraculously solve all the problems.  Of course, this is a truism today, after the tragic tribal wars in newly independent African nations, but it was an astute prediction in 1952.



As the novel, Turn Again Tiger (1958) begins, Tiger is committed to a unique direction of development. The usual colonial pattern, illustrated by Selvon 's London novels as well as by Naipaul in such books as Mimic Men runs in this direction: from a primitive settlement like Chaguanas or Five Rivers to a village like Barataria to a capitol city like Port of Spain and from there to destinations abroad, such as London. In the beginning of the novel, Tiger "remembered his early years in Chaguanas. In those day he never thought about what he did".49 Illiterate, isolated, and ignorant of the world beyond immediate experience, life was familiar, "like drifting along the stream, nothing much happens." But, even from the minimal distance provided by Barataria and hard-won literacy, Tiger is able to disassociate himself from the immediacy of living, to consider the quality and direction of his life. Thus, he reflects that despite the opportunities after World War Two, to become involved in the world-wide industrial economy, "He had done nothing. He hadn't even gone into Port of Spain to work." Whereas many of the people he knew, "must have gone ahead and done what they wanted to do."50


The crucial question is, what does Tiger want to do? Unresponsive to money, politics, and involvement in the technical world, we are told that: "Tiger could read and write but he didn't know how to live."51 Selvon risks the plausibility of his peasant character, Tiger, on this essential issue of values. For Tiger is preoccupied about the quality of peasant life, even though he seems to have had little opportunity to achieve the necessary distance, by living in a city or abroad, to recognize its value. Once again, Lamming's character makes the relevant point when, concerning the recognition of race, he says: "you can't understand it here. Not here. But the day you leave an' perhaps if you go further than Trinidad you'll learn."52 On the other hand, one might argue that this lack of distance contributes to Tiger's confused and emotional struggle for identity and that Tiger's position -- straddling two worlds -- is essential for a resolution that, in Sandra Paquet's words, affirms a "faith in the creative thrust of a peasant life" (xix). More distance would irrevocably take Tiger too far away to recover a peasant life, a tragedy illustrated by Selvon's London novels and The Plains of Caroni.


When Tiger returns to a primitive settlement, like that in which he grew up, he reflects on the loss of the amenities in Barataria, differences which a more sophisticated urbanite might not be able to discern: "What a fool he had been to leave the security he had worked so hard for."53 Tiger's bathos is especially humorous when compared to the pitiful loss of culture and identity experienced by Selvon's London exiles. Even though he is not conscious of what he hopes to find in Five Rivers, Tiger resolves not "to drift around and get lost in direction."54 However, Tiger does not return to live with his father in an isolated settlement because he has failed in the urban world. Nor is he dedicated to an ideological course of action, like Father Hope. He returns, in part, in order to analyze the quality of the life in a peasant village, such as that of his youth, to know exactly what he has given up and what he has gained by moving to Barataria and making the concomitant cultural move from primary identification with the ethnic Indian community to the creolized Trinidadian community.


Before leaving Barataria, Tiger begins to discern the desirability of a creolized community by recognizing the stultifying nature of communalism. Tiger is given a farewell to which Tall Boy, the Chinese grocer, is uninvited: "Nobody ever thought of asking Tall Boy to come, and this hurt him, though he kept it to himself. But the idea just never occurred to anybody." When Tall Boy is audacious enough to show up, no one thinks anything of it. ln fact, Joe Martin congratulates Tall Boy on his liberality, saying: "You is a real creolise Chinee."55 Delighted by Tall Boy's sociability, but also regretful about the earlier social exclusion of the Chinese, Tiger muses: "Why it is that we hide things from one another? The way how we really think ... why it is, that when we get together, we don't talk about that at all?"56 A large part of the answer is that each ethnic community is ethnocentric. Patterns of discourse, subliminally communicated in the process of acquiring a native culture, are not easily recognized, nor easily shared with those inhabiting another culture. Moreover, it takes someone as sensitive and reflective as Tiger, or as artistic as Selvon, to recognize and express the dynamics of the dialectic between communalism and creolization.


Tiger's developing consciousness of the value of a culturally diverse but nonetheless authentic community, is aided by the counter-example of an artificial community, a legacy of colonial imperialism. When the white supervisor comes to distribute the workers' salaries, Babolal paternalistically tells them how to act: "What you want the supervisor to think, that we so dirty and careless in Five Rivers?" He advises them: "We have to give a good impression. I hope everybody sweep their yard, and dress the children in clean clothes." Finally, he comes to the essence of his lecture: "show some respect in front of the supervisor."57 Tiger makes a political resolve to rebel against such groveling and demeaning behaviour, but he is psychologically undone by the supervisor's alluring white wife, who’s disturbing presence demonstrates to Tiger the superficiality of his pose. To adopt the manner and pose of the white master is to continue to be controlled by nonindigenous values and ultimately uncontrollable psychological forces. It is an erotic style of life. The example, in this regard, is Romesh, the "white indian," who successfully "gets" the white girl. Tiger deplores his loss of self-possession in sexually reacting to Mrs. Robinson, but he is saved by his peasant values. Beyond the easily exhausted pornographic stereotype, he has no use for the white woman, much less her world. Thus it is important when, after the Robinson's have left, a cane worker says: "You is one of we, Tiger.... You just like one of we, don't mind you could read and write."58


    On closer examination, the sentence implies a recognition of Tiger's difference from the others, making him "like one of we." Tiger's self-consciousness and conception of himself as a totally free agent, whose future can be decided entirely by rational analysis and decision, characterizes him as an heir of the Western philosophic tradition. Indeed, among the books he has read are those by Plato, Aristotle, and Shakespeare.59 He nearly abandons allegiance to peasant tradition, and almost paraphrases Socrates' adage concerning the unexamined life, when he resolves to be cautiously analytic: "Now not like long time, to do things hastily and regret afterwards."60 But after achieving this rational freedom, Tiger is disappointed because it destroys community and leaves the individual radically isolated to, at best, enter into a self-interested social contract with other similarly independent and isolated individuals. Thus, Tiger reflects that: "Each man was occupied in a little world of his own, unconcerned with the rest."61 Knowing that he cannot be satisfied with such a formal and loveless society, just as he has not been satisfied with ethnically formal roles in marriage, Tiger makes the vain attempt to abandon reason and plunge back into the life of the peasant: "But I done with them damn books. They only make me worry. Instead, I just going to go on living like everybody else.”62 Hoping to be distracted by stories told by More Lazy, the peasant artist, Tiger and Sam Selvon recognize how they are irrecoverably alienated from the ingenuous peasant stock and tradition, which, ironically, they have partially lost in the very process of recognition and affirmation: "'The ting is,' Tiger spoke as if to himself, 'you not conscious of how you are .... You just naturally tat way.'"63


Near the end of the novel, Tiger is criticized by one of the cane workers for his lack of community involvement: "When you first come you had a lot of grandcharge about how you could read and write, but you ain't help out anybody."64 lt should be remembered that the occasion which brought Tiger has been involved with his own psychological experiment, which required isolation and privacy. Five Rivers is more his father's community than Tiger's. When he is accused that, "This whole year you spend in Five Rivers was a waste of time," Tiger softly respond: "I feel more like a man than when I first come."69 Having experimented with three or even four worlds -- the ethnic tradition-ridden village; the casteless creolized community of Barataria; the urbanscape of Port of Spain; and the world beyond, London and America -- there is no more adolescent hesitation, indecision, nor hope for paternal guidance, when Tiger announces that he is going "back to Barataria ... where I have my own house and garden."65


Finally, because he knows that most of his readers live in the cities of America and Britain, Selvon emphasizes how different Barataria is from the ethnic villages of Five Rivers or Chaguanas. When Tiger confides to Joe Martin, "You know I burn all my books and I turn my back on all them things," Joe tells him: "’Well, turn again.' Joe said that like an order. 'You can't change, boy. If you is a thinker, you stay a thinker all you life.'"66 Tiger has successfully renounced the worst elements of the illiterate, stultifying, and brutalizing communal village life, without becoming a victim of modernization: a lonely exile, wandering in an urban wilderness with the ironically named Moses, in search of a life they have forgotten. Tiger has found freedom, dignity, and community in Barataria, which, like Gandhi's Sevagram for India, is Selvon's model for Trinidad and, with local adaption, for the Caribbean. Because it is a community of choice and dedication, Barataria is a home for all castes and races.





1. Fabre, Michael. "Samuel Selvon," in West Indian Literature, ed Bruce King. Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, 1979, p. 113.

2. Jones, E. Stanley. Gandhi: Portrayal of a Friend. Nashville: Abington Press, 1948, p. 124.


3..           . The Lonely Londoners. London: Alan Wingate, 1956, p. 96.


4.           . P. 171.


5.          .   Moses Ascending. London: Heinemann, 1975, p. 103, p. 125.


6.           . P. 125.

7.Selvon, Sam. An Island is a World. London: Alan Wingate, 1955, p. 131.

8.          .  P. 132.


9.           .  P. 188.


10.           . P.196.


11.           . P. 219.


12..          .P.258.


13. .          . P. 90.


14..          . P. 92.

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16.           . P. 122.


17.           . P. 145.


18.           . P. 145.


19.           . P. 152.


20.          . P. 153

21.           . P. 154.


22.           . P. 179.

23.           . P. 192.

24. Bhagavad Gita. Trans. Franklin Edgerton. New York: Harper, 1944, p. 18.

25.      _    . I Hear Thunder: New York: St. Martin's Press, 1965, p. 15.


26. .          . The Plains of Caroni. London: MacGibbon & Kee, 1970, p. 14.


27.          .  P. 35


28.           . P. 152.


29.     _     . P. 159.


30.         _ . P. 22.


31.        __  .  The Pleasure of Exile. London: Michael Joseph, 1960, p. 26-50.

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33.        _  . P. 40.


34.          . P. 45.


35.          . P. 46.


36.           . P. 47.


37.          . P. 46.


38.           . P. 49.


39.           . P. 78.


40.          . P. 79.


41.          . P. 93.


42.          . P. 95.

43. ___   _ . P. 304.


44.          . P. 306.


45.          . P. 117.


46.          . P.90.


47.          . P. 170.


48.          . P. l73.


49.    ____ . P. 195.


50.          . P. 196.


51..          . Turn Again Tiger . London: Heinemann, 1958, p. 2.

52.          . P. 7.


53..          .  P. 38,

54.           . P. 305.


55.Paquet, Sandra. Foreword to Turn Again Tiger. Sam Selvon, London: Heinemann, 1979, p.19.

56.          . P. 48

57.           . P.43.


58.          . P. 15.


59.           . P. 18.

60..          . P. 57.


61.          . P. 62.


62.          . P. 112.


63.          . P. 89.


64.             . P. 111.


65.             . P. 115.


66.             . P. 113.


67.             .P. 150.


68.             . P.l69.