A Brighter Sun Essay - Critical Context (Masterplots II: British and Commonwealth Fiction Series)

Samuel Selvon

Critical Context (Critical Guide to British Fiction)

A Brighter Sun was Samuel Selvon’s first novel, published two years after he had left Trinidad for England, where he lived for almost thirty years before moving to Canada in 1978. Selvon has published poetry and written scripts for radio, television, and film dramas; he is best known, however, for his dozen volumes of fiction, the most successful of which are A Brighter Sun, his collection of short stories Ways of Sunlight (1957), and the episodic novel The Lonely Londoners (1956). Turn Again, Tiger (1958) was a sequel to A Brighter Sun, but, because it repeated many of the same elements, lacked the freshness of its precursor.

In addition to his warm humanity, Selvon’s strength is in the capturing of an authentic voice for his dialect-speaking Trinidadian characters and in the creation of a narrative voice which skillfully exploits the expressive possibilities of the wide range of language available to him. Selvon is at his best in the creation of telling episodes rather than in adequately controlling the more complex structures demanded by the novel.

A Brighter Sun, which remains Selvon’s most important work, played a significant role in what became known as the West Indian literary renaissance. It certainly helped to set the stage and create an audience for other West Indian writers such as Selvon’s compatriots Michael Anthony and V. S. Naipaul. Kenneth Ramchand holds that “it is in this novel that dialect first becomes the language of consciousness in West Indian fiction.” Regardless of whether Selvon was first, it is clear that his use of dialect in A Brighter Sun was more extensive and subtle than had ever been attempted before; the use of various forms of Trinidadian vernacular not only to create humor but also to express mental and emotional states and to reflect differences in class, race, and education was so successful that, in a sense, the novel is about language itself.