Study Guide

The Chosen Place, the Timeless People

by Paule Marshall

The Chosen Place, the Timeless People Summary

Summary (Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Marshall’s novel is divided into four books: “Heirs and Descendants,” “Bournehills,” “Carnival,” and “Whitsun.” The first two books serve as exposition. In them, she delineates her characters. The second two books link the subsequent actions of those characters to major rituals on Bourne Island. In effect, Marshall demonstrates how her characters’ histories determine the events and outcome of the novel. By the end of the novel, she has illustrated her prefatory words, taken from the Tiv of West Africa: “Once a great wrong has been done, it never dies.” Readers discover the effects of colonialism on the Bourne Islanders as well as on other exploited people of the world.

In “Heirs and Descendants,” Marshall introduces the major characters, outlines their histories, and explores their aims. Saul, Harriet, Allen, and Vere travel by plane to Bourne Island. Vere entertains motor racing ambitions; Allen, who is returning to Bourne Island, seeks a refuge from the world; Harriet needs to “wield some small power”; and Saul wants to atone for his first wife’s death and past field-trip failures. As their plane nears the island, Merle is traveling to meet them by car. With her education and travel, she has ties to their world, yet she has her roots in Bournehills. Just as Harriet epitomizes the colonial spirit in her family history, with a will to control, Leesy represents the colonized, who look to the past and the future. Leesy’s photograph of the queen ties her to the colonial past, while one of Pearl Bailey relates her to the future. The groups meet at the home of Lyle Hutson, who, like Merle, has lived in both worlds but who, unlike her, has chosen the world of the exploiters.

In “Bournehills,” Marshall continues the exposition. Saul learns about Cuffee Ned’s successful rebellion against...

(The entire section is 756 words.)

The Chosen Place, the Timeless People Summary (Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Through her experiences as an American of Barbadian heritage, Paule Marshall embodies the cultural dichotomy that provides the major tension in much of her fiction, including The Chosen Place, the Timeless People. This novel, exploring the means through which an individual comes to identify with a group, moves beyond the individual. It examines the problems facing many Third World countries in their struggle to establish a national identity.

The novel is divided into four books, each individual title representing one aspect of the connection between the individual and the group. The first book, “Heirs and Descendants,” introduces the societal strata of Bourne Island, so determined by its colonial past, and introduces as well the newcomers who believe they have conic to change that past. The aging Jewish American anthropologist, Saul Amron, travels with his wealthy Philadelphian wife, Harriet, and a research associate, Allen Fuso, to Bournehills to study its primitive agricultural community and educate its people. They are part of the multimillion dollar development scheme of a major U.S. foundation. Saul’s plan is to carry out a careful anthropological survey of the district before applying his findings to the community’s development. As the researchers are quickly warned, other attempts to change the beautiful yet rugged island have failed. Particularly uncooperative have been the poor workers who have frustrated the civil servants of the island.

In book 1, the Amrons meet Merle Kinbona, a tense and eccentric middle-aged mulatta native who frightens Saul and Harriet with her seemingly disconnected chatter and boldness. Merle returns to the island from her studies in England after she receives news that her father...

(The entire section is 718 words.)

The Chosen Place, the Timeless People Bibliography (Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Brathwaite, Edward. “Rehabilitations.” The Critical Quarterly 13 (September, 1971): 173-183. Places Marshall’s work in the literary context of West Indian literature, identifies two main stories (one about Merle, one about Saul and Harriet), and comments on the effects of colonialism, especially on people such as Lyle, who is analyzed in depth.

Christian, Barbara. Black Women Novelists: The Development of a Tradition, 1892-1976. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1980. Regards Bournehills as a character in the novel, examines the characters in terms of their response to the island, comments on the four-part structure of the novel, and dissects the politics of colonialism. Essential for an understanding of the novel.

Kapai, Leela. “Dominant Themes and Technique in Paule Marshall’s Fiction.” CLA Journal 16 (1972): 49-59. Identifies four themes—identity, race, tradition, and sharing—in Marshall’s fiction and traces their development. Contains excellent analysis of Allen’s character.

Keizer, Arlene R. Black Subjects: Identity Formation in the Contemporary Narrative of Slavery. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2004. Includes a chapter analyzing The Chosen Place, the Timeless People from the point of view of Marxist cultural studies as intervening in the discourse of late capitalism.

Lynch, Joy M. “Beyond Recognition:...

(The entire section is 629 words.)