The Characters

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Lovelace’s technique is to present his characters one after another in successive chapters, imposing upon each chapter the title of the role the character plays, both in the actual Carnival and in the life of the yard, itself a carnival. This role is crucial to an understanding of each character.

“Queen of the Band” may be a sufficiently appropriate title for Miss Cleothilda, who believes that her mulatto complexion and her fading beauty entitle her to be queen not only on Carnival day but throughout the year as well. “To her being queen was not really a masquerade at all, but the annual affirming of a genuine queenship that she accepted as hers,” Lovelace writes. The role assigned to Aldrick, though, falls far short of encompassing his total character.

As protagonist, Aldrick is the one character who is connected to everyone else on the Hill, as well as being the one character who undergoes a profound change in the course of the novel. Like Miss Cleothilda, Aldrick takes his Carnival role seriously, but unlike her, he knows that it lasts only two days of the year. While it lasts, however, the role becomes the means through which he asserts himself, through which he demands that “others see him, recognize his personhood, be warned of his dangerousness.”

Lovelace focuses on Aldrick’s attitude toward his skill and toward the significance of what he weaves into his costume in order to make a statement about Aldrick himself. The author invokes religious imagery to describe Aldrick’s attitude toward his dragon costume. He is “Aldrick the priest,” for “it was in a spirit of priesthood that Aldrick addressed his work.” Aldrick’s costume depicts the racial...

(The entire section is 700 words.)

The Dragon Can't Dance Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Aldrick Prospect

Aldrick Prospect, a thirty-one-year-old man who has never had a regular job and whose only concern throughout the year is the creation of a new costume for his perennial role as dragon during the Trinidad Carnival. Seeing himself as embodying the power of ancestral African warriors and his dispossessed community’s potential for rebellion against its oppressors, he deliberately cuts himself off from ordinary ambitions—for love, possessions, a home—to devote himself to the partly mystical and priestly role through which he also asserts his own identity and humanity. He feels the impulse to love and protect Sylvia, but when she offers herself to him, he chooses, despite feelings of guilt, to maintain the emotional isolation and austerity that his role dictates. He gradually becomes alienated from most of his neighbors and is unwilling to act as guardian of the community code or to continue his role as dragon. He acts out his rebellion by scorning his neighbors, betraying his successful friend Philo, and taking part in a foolhardy hijacking of a police vehicle. Released after five years in prison, changed but undefeated, he seeks out Sylvia. Learning of her impending marriage to Guy, he leaves the hill.


Sylvia, a seventeen-year-old girl with special qualities of vitality, beauty, fragility, and desirability. The women of the Calvary Hill slum hope that she can miraculously escape the inevitable and common destiny of sexual exploitation, early pregnancy, and defeat and that her youth and promise will not be destroyed. Unable to establish a relationship with Aldrick based on love and the hope for an ordinary life, Sylvia faces the reality of her fatherless family’s...

(The entire section is 714 words.)

The Dragon Can't Dance The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

The Carnival masquerade provides the characters a medium for sometimes conscious, sometimes unconscious expression of their relation to society. Miss Cleothilda, who presides over the gossip and lives of the people of her “yard,” dresses every year as the queen of the steelband. The young beauty, Sylvia, unsure of herself at seventeen, is undecided whether to be a princess or a slave-girl, thereby defining the two roles traditionally possible for her in life. She must either, like Miss Cleothilda, become a domineering busybody or, like her own mother, become subservient to the burdens of motherhood. Aldrick advises her to choose the slave costume because, as he says, she is already a princess. Her choice signifies a concession to Aldrick (though he fails to recognize it) as well as an ironic acknowledgment of the true cost of her costume. Mr. Guy, the most influential man in the district, has offered to buy the costume for her in return for her becoming his mistress. To him, it is an arrangement of convenience. Yet for the young Sylvia, it means that she has given up her youth, her virginity, her whole store of promise for escaping the toilsome, hopeless life of Calvary Hill. The image of her dancing at Carnival in the slave costume is a precise metaphor for her actual condition of servitude against which she will continue to assert her vitality.

Aldrick is the dragon, a very special character in Carnival. He works on his dragon costume nearly all...

(The entire section is 401 words.)