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.)