In the Castle of My Skin Essay - Critical Essays

George Lamming

Critical Context (Masterplots II: African American Literature)

The important African American novelist Richard Wright wrote, in his introduction to the first American edition of In the Castle of My Skin, “One feels not so much alone when, from a distant witness, supporting evidence comes to buttress one’s own testimony.” Wright went on to refer to “Lamming’s quietly melodious prose.” This was high praise coming from a very distinguished voice very early in Lamming’s career. Sandra Pouchet Paquet writes that “The novel was very well received and has held its own as a classic of modern Black writing.”

Having written five other novels and The Pleasures of Exile by 1993, Lamming achieved recognition as the most important novelist to have emerged from the English-speaking Caribbean, perhaps barring V. S. Naipaul. C. L. R. James, the patriarch of West Indian writers, said in 1972, “I do not know at the present time any country writing in English which is able to produce a trio of the literary capacity and effectiveness of Wilson Harris, George Lamming, and Vidia Naipaul.” James was prone to effusiveness and bold remarks, though not to irresponsible claims. Critic Daryl Cumber Dance asserts that in making such a sweeping assertion James “was guilty neither of exaggeration nor of nationalism.”

Ian H. Munro, in a summary of Lamming’s career and the critical reception of his books, quotes novelist Ngugi wa Thiong’o as calling In the Castle of My Skin “a study of colonial revolt” and “one of the great political novels in modern ’colonial’ literature.” Munro notes that “Much of both the praise and the criticism of Lamming’s novels after Castle revolves around his obvious preoccupation with showing his characters and their actions as a product of historical forces outside their ken. Lamming’s works are all symbolic to some degree: his characters frequently embody themes and act out roles appropriate to their place in the symbolic scheme.” This tendency of Lamming is obvious in In the Castle of My Skin. As Munro also stated, “the political goals and issues of the novel ultimately bulk larger than the individual life of its characters.”