Critical Context (Masterplots II: African American Literature)

C. L. R. James, who has written volumes on areas as varied as history, political thought, sociology, cricket, literature, and philosophy, refers to Minty Alley as coming from a “prentice hand” in his masterpiece on cricket and other subjects, Beyond a Boundary (1963). For all this, Minty Alley, the only novel written by James and the first of the Caribbean novels written in English to be published in England, is pivotal to the development of the West Indian novel.

Although the novel was published in 1936, it was actually written nine years earlier, before the author had left Trinidad for England in 1932. The novel is a product of the emerging literary movement that the author, together with Alfred H. Mendes, another middle-class Trinidadian writer, intended to stimulate as a way of creating a nucleus for a genuine native literature.

James, in particular, had shown interest in the literary possibilities of barrack-yard life and had in fact written a short story, “Triumph,” that dealt explicitly and for the first time with the urban life and experiences of a Trinidad barrack yard where ordinary people live. “Triumph” is similar to Minty Alley in plot; it is obvious that the short story forms the basis for this novel.

In its focus on the harsh surroundings of the yard, the social activities of the people, the violence, the use of “obeah,” and the dialect of the inhabitants, Minty...

(The entire section is 500 words.)