Summary (Masterplots II: African American Literature, Revised Edition)
Banana Bottom is the story of a young Jamaican woman’s discovery of her country, her people, and herself. The novel begins with the return to Jamaica of twenty-two-year-old Tabitha “Bita” Plant, who has been abroad for seven years. After a flashback in which he explains the reasons for her absence, McKay tells the story of Bita’s life from her homecoming to her marriage, concluding with a brief epilogue that shows her as a contented wife and mother.
The tone of the book is detached, the pace leisurely. Like a loquacious village storyteller, McKay moves from episode to episode as if there were no direction to his narrative. When, at the end of Banana Bottom, Bita freely chooses a husband and a way of life, each of the earlier encounters takes on a new significance. It is then clear that every character, every incident, and every discussion in the novel has in some way affected Bita’s development.
Although as the first native black girl to receive an English education, Bita Plant returns home a celebrity, she had very nearly been ruined in her childhood, when she had sexual intercourse with a half-crazy musical genius. Although he was charged with rape and sent away, Bita’s reputation was tarnished. Fortunately, her father, the prosperous farmer Jordan Plant, could turn to the white missionaries Malcolm and Priscilla Craig, who took Bita to their home in Jubilee. Later, the Craigs decided to use her as an experiment, to show how an English education could transform a native girl. What they did not expect was that Bita would return to Jamaica with a mind of her own.
Bita’s vacillations between doing what is expected of her and making her own choices can be charted through her movements between her home in Jubilee, where the Craigs expect her to act in accordance with the rules of their strict denomination, and her home in Banana Bottom,...
(The entire section is 777 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series, Revised Edition)
In a series of flashbacks the reader learns that Bita Plant was “seduced” by Crazy Bow Adair (actually, it was a willing sexual union, but the social niceties of Banana Bottom required that a twelve-year-old had to be an unwilling victim); that she was adopted by the Reverends Malcolm and Priscilla Craig, who wanted to demonstrate their ability to transform a wayward black girl into a cultured Christian; that she was educated in England and had visited Europe before returning to Jubilee seven years later.
The Craigs have planned that Bita marry a local black theological student, Herald Newton Day, who is egotistical, ashamed of his blackness, and a perfect example of the transformation that the Craigs would like to effect in all the villagers; Bita immediately discovers that she has little in common with him, although she agrees to an engagement. Soon after her return, she meets Hopping Dick at a local market and is attracted by his undisguised sensuality and even by his reputation for being “wild.” She discovers his skill in dancing and romancing, and she learns that he is the antithesis of the Craigs’ ideal, Herald. Squire Gensir accompanies Bita to a “teameeting” at which the locals enjoy themselves with dancing, singing, and merriment; she dances enthusiastically and recognizes her affinity with the village folk. When Mrs. Craig learns of Bita’s behavior from Sister Phibby Patroll (the local midwife and gossip), she is apprehensive...
(The entire section is 583 words.)
Bibliography (Masterplots II: African American Literature, Revised Edition)
Cobham, Rhonda. “Jekyll and Claude: The Erotics of Patronage in Claude McKay’s Banana Bottom.” In Queer Diasporas, edited by Cindy Patton and Benigno Sánchez-Eppler. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2000. Reads Banana Bottom from the point of view of queer literary theory, emphasizing the role of whiteness in his novel and the use of the patronage relationship as a coded representation of homosexuality.
Cooper, Wayne F. Claude McKay: Rebel Sojourner in the Harlem Renaissance. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1987. Major biography, primarily intended to show that although McKay was an important figure among Harlem Renaissance writers, he was in no way typical of the group but disagreed with them in important ways. A sound and illuminating work.
Cooper, Wayne F. Introduction to The Passion of Claude McKay: Selected Poetry and Prose, 1912-1948, edited by Wayne F. Cooper. New York: Schocken Books, 1973. Excellent summary of McKay’s life and his literary development. Considers Banana Bottom the high point of McKay’s novels.
Davis, Arthur P. From the Dark Tower: Afro-American Writers, 1900 to 1960. Washington, D.C.: Howard University Press, 1974. Sees McKay’s primary theme, “the superiority of the primitive black to the middle-class Negro and to the white,” as untenable. Argues that despite McKay’s obvious talent, little of his work will last. In...
(The entire section is 644 words.)