Summary (Masterplots II: African American Literature, Revised Edition)
The Dragon Can’t Dance is the story of the existence of the people of Calvary Hill and the culture they create in the process of surviving. The novel is episodic, with a greater emphasis on character portrayal than on story line. Earl Lovelace uses a prologue to focus on those special elements that are responsible for and are manifestations of the culture of the Hill’s inhabitants.
The Hill attracts people from throughout Trinidad, who are quickly absorbed into the life and culture of the Hill, except the East Indian Pariag and his wife, Dolly. Carnival, a festival marked by steel band and calypso music, totally transforms the Hill and its occupants, so that even a snob like Miss Cleothilda can claim “All o’ we is one.” The time is the late 1950’s, a period marked by violent clashes between the politicized steel bands and between toughs known as “bad johns.” In this environment, Fisheye and the other bad johns assert their manhood and act out the aggression that colonialism has nurtured in them. Aldrick uses his Carnival dragon costume to threaten and intimidate.
All this is not to last, however; sponsorship and commercialism step in. The steel bands are quieted down, and their warriors are “emasculated.” Fisheye is asked to behave, and when he refuses, he is thrown out of his band. Aldrick’s dragon is unable to dance, Philo gives up on his “calypsos of rebellion,” and Carnival, once an expression of...
(The entire section is 553 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots II: British and Commonwealth Fiction Series)
The Dragon Can’t Dance chronicles the lives of a number of people living in the poverty-stricken Calvary Hill section of Port of Spain, Trinidad. No single person emerges as the main character because the third-person narrator treats the five or six main characters equally. Indeed, the main character may be said to be Calvary Hill itself, which is the subject of a lengthy description at the outset of the novel:This is the hill, Calvary Hill, where the sun set on starvation and rise on potholed roads, thrones for stray dogs that you could play banjo on their rib bones, holding garbage piled high like a cathedral spire, sparkling with flies buzzing like torpedoes.... This is the hill...its guts stretched to bursting with a thousand narrow streets and alleys and lanes and traces and holes, holding the people who come to the edge of the city to make it home.
In addition to the description, an anecdote introduces the character of life on the hill and burlesques the problem central to the lives of all of its residents: how to take meaningful action against the constraints of poverty. One day, a local evangelist named Taffy tells his followers that they should crucify and stone him, and that he would love them still. When they actually begin to stone him, however, he angrily swears at their stupidity for stoning him “with big stones when so much little pebbles lying on the ground.” The anecdote is rich with implications for the people of Calvary...
(The entire section is 791 words.)