Study Guide

A Brighter Sun

by Samuel Selvon

A Brighter Sun Summary

Summary (Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Because A Brighter Sun opens with a catalog of events, both local and international (and repeats this device subsequently), it might be approached as a quasihistorical narrative; however, this technique places the characters, their actions, and aspirations in social perspective, counterpointing major and minor happenings and emphasizing the concerns of the ordinary struggling individual. World events are distant; local and personal concerns dominate the characters’ lives.

The arrangement of the novel into twelve chapters suggests the form of the epic, with its hero battling against great odds, and the title (like that of Ernest Hemingway’s 1926 The Sun Also Rises) intimates the possibility of amelioration, of the dawn of a new era, of the potential for achievement. The novel is clearly a bildungsroman, a story of the maturation of a youthful hero who sets goals for himself and overcomes disappointments and setbacks; furthermore, it is in the tradition of the social realist novel that depicts a section of working-class life in detail and with sympathy. Tiger, though disappointed in life, nevertheless adopts a mature philosophy: He rejects a return to his family’s village and life on the sugarcane estate or a departure from Trinidad for either America or India in favor of making a life for his family in Barataria’s multiethnic community. That is, he rejects a return to the past and accepts a modern social attitude.

Rather than being merely the record of the first five years of Tiger’s married life, the novel is a study of changing mores in Trinidad (and hence the West Indies), with Tiger as a metonymic character, one who represents the larger community. The plot is chronological, though only half the novel concerns Tiger himself: The rest consists of episodes from others’ lives that provide Tiger with material for his growth.

The marriage of Tiger and Urmilla (he did not even know the name of his arranged-marriage bride before the wedding) was for the Chaguanas district “the...

(The entire section is 836 words.)

A Brighter Sun Summary (Critical Guide to British Fiction)

The story of Tiger’s development from an illiterate peasant boy on a rural sugar estate to a young man with a heightened sense of himself and his society begins with his arranged Hindu wedding to Urmilla, another sixteen-year-old, whom he has never seen before the ceremony. Tiger accepts his wedding and his new wife as part of the pattern of life imposed on him by forces and authorities upon which he has never reflected, let alone understood. His community’s expectations are summed up for Tiger by an elder who tells him, “You gettam house which side Barataria, gettam land, cowwell, you go live dat side. Haveam plenty boy chile—girl chile no good, only bring trouble on yuh head. You live dat side, plantam garden, live good.” Barataria, the village where Tiger moves to establish his own home, however, is undergoing the transition from rural settlement to suburban town; this new setting combines with his own curiosity and inchoate ambition to foster his search for manhood and a personal identity not bound by the old ways.

Tiger’s neighbors in Barataria are Joe and Rita Martin, a creole (black) couple who have managed to escape a slum in the city of Port of Spain. In contrast to Tiger and Urmilla, who live in a mud hut with a thatched roof, the Martins are models of modernity, living in a concrete brick house with electricity and running water. Despite the traditional animosities and suspicions common in the racially diverse Trinidadian society, the two couples, representing the two major groups (black and East Indian), become fast friends. Rita serves as midwife not only at the birth of Tiger and Urmilla’s first child (a girl) but also, in a sense, in the development of the young Indians’ racial tolerance and their gradual “creolization.”

A Brighter Sun is suffused with humor and filled with details of Trinidadian life; the novel is loosely constructed and episodic with the central action relating to Tiger and his quest. He wishes to be seen as a man but must first discover the essence of manhood for himself. He begins to realize the necessity and...

(The entire section is 858 words.)

A Brighter Sun Bibliography (Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Barratt, Harold. “Dialect, Maturity, and the Land in Sam Selvon’s A Brighter Sun: A Reply.” English Studies in Canada 7, no. 3 (Fall, 1981): 329-337. Takes issue with both Birbalsingh and MacDonald (below). First, Barratt demonstrates that Tiger’s developing consciousness is the paramount element of the novel and that the novel is more than “a mere photographic representation of quaint, exotic local customs”; second, he argues that Tiger’s focus is not on dialect and language but on education, and that he does not want to escape from the land.

Birbalsingh, Frank. “Samuel Selvon and the West Indian Literary Renaissance.” ARIEL: A Review of International English Literature 8, no. 3 (1977): 5-22. Proposes that the narrative technique in A Brighter Sun is freely associative, loosely interweaving episodes in Tiger’s life with occasional insights into politics and sociology, and that the dominant tone is comic and farcical rather than pathetic.

Cartey, Wilfred. “The Rituals of the Folk: The Crossing of Rhythms.” In Whispers from the Caribbean: I Going Away, I Going Home. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1991. Argues that A Brighter Sun depicts rigid ethnic and racial attitudes in the older folk but a movement toward a merging of races in the younger ones. There is harmony...

(The entire section is 465 words.)