Banana Bottom Essay - Critical Context (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series)

Claude McKay

Critical Context (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series)

While McKay’s first novels, Home to Harlem (1928) and Banjo (1929), depict the world of men (mainly Caribbean) in distant urban centers (New York and Marseilles), Banana Bottom presents a Jamaican woman returning to her native land after having been introduced to urban life in England and Europe and attempting to find a middle way between the spontaneous expression of natural emotion that McKay always presents as the norm in Caribbean rural communities and the carefully measured (and often hypocritical), socially acceptable behavior that he sees as typical of urban life. Bita’s reading Blaise Pascal’s Pensées while enjoying the property that she inherited from Squire Gensir suggests that she has, in fact, managed to bridge the two cultures. Her husband, Jubban, has provided her with a child who constantly affirms her blackness; her benefactor has provided her with a home and culture that is a continual reminder of the white culture that she has absorbed and valued. Her characteristic openness, honesty, and independence of judgment reveal her to be an admirable person. She is perhaps the best-drawn character in McKay’s fiction: Though she never expounds a philosophy in the propagandistic fashion of Jake and Ray in the earlier novels, she nevertheless represents a way of life that is inescapably the one that McKay would have his readers accept. She is also dynamic: She returns from England a “made-over” islander, a...

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