Earl Lovelace Essay - Critical Essays

Earl Lovelace Drama Analysis

Earl Lovelace’s plays are frequently experimental, avoiding straight-line plot exposition and incorporating allegorical elements that signal their deeper relevance. In each play, singing and dancing exemplify traditional cultures resisting change.

Critics have correctly stressed the importance of achieving personhood in Lovelace’s work. In every play, characters struggle to discover who they are and to gain individuality, despite the homogenizing pressures of an impersonal urban world. The plays explore the anxieties created by Trinidad’s ethnic diversity and deplore the impact of urbanization and modernization on traditional Trinidadian life and culture.

Lovelace’s plays clearly reflect the social tensions that divide Trinidad’s ethnically varied population. Forty percent of the inhabitants are descended from African slaves imported during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. After emancipation in 1838, the island’s plantation economy faced a shortage of labor. In 1845 Great Britain agreed to permit importation of indentured laborers from India—always referred to as East Indians to differentiate them from nearly extinct original West Indians. In the twentieth century, East Indians became approximately equal in number to blacks. Some 18 percent of Trinidadians are of mixed heritage, while 2 percent are of European or Chinese descent. Although East Indians view themselves as culturally superior and maintain their own social and religious customs, blacks consider East Indians socially inferior, and the lightest skinned blacks join Europeans at the top of the social hierarchy.

Lovelace dramatizes the impact of modernization on traditional cultural and social practices. Trinidad’s blacks transformed African patterns of singing and dancing into indigenous forms, notably calypso songs and the elaborate festivities of Carnival. However, as sugar plantations declined in importance, Trinidad’s population shifted from rural areas to cities. By the end of the twentieth century, nearly three-quarters of the population lived in urban places. Few people had the skills to profit from the growing importance of the oil and petrochemical industries, and many families lived in poverty-stricken slums. The presence of United States troops during World War II introduced Trinidadians to American consumer goods and patterns of consumption. Leading characters in Lovelace’s plays strive, with limited success, to maintain African-inflected customs against pressures for change.

My Name Is Village

The central action of the play concerns the struggle of Towntest with Roy Village. As the play begins, the older villagers come home from the fields singing work songs while four unemployed young men practice karate and break into a dance. Several high school girls arrive, joining Roy and his friends, Quickly and Smart, in singing and dancing. Towntest and two Yes Men, echoing everything he says, enter, revealing the urban world of pleasure and progress to the villagers. Towntest’s enticements attract Roy. After Roy’s father, Cyril Village, praises the beauty of their rural home, Roy rejects Towntest’s blandishments. The play ends with everyone singing a hymn celebrating village life. For the first performance of the play in Port of Spain, in September, 1976, Lovelace used a cast consisting of neighbors he...

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