Summary (Masterplots II: African American Literature, Revised Edition)
Although Natives of My Person has a historical setting and deals with the voyage of the Reconnaissance, a vessel ostensibly engaged in the slave trade, a specific historical phenomenon, it is only partly accurate to describe it as a work of historical realism. Its realist component is not to be found in its fidelity to period costume, living conditions, or similar revealing detail. Instead of the veneer of verisimilitude that such usages provide, the novel locates its realism in the way in which it elaborately recapitulates an outlook.
In order to focus readers’ attention on this enactment of a mindset, there are no reliable geographical or historical bearings. Two powerful nations are mentioned, Lime Stone and Antarctica. Although they are traditionally enemies, their enmity derives from a common commitment to the type of exploration and exploitation that the slave trade brings into being. In Lime Stone, the nation to which the Commandant and the crew of the Reconnaissance supposedly owe allegiance, the ruling institution is known as the House of Trade and Justice. The titular head of this house is Gabriel Tate de Lysle, a name perhaps intended to evoke the firm of Tate and Lyle, a real-life British sugar company with substantial plantations in the Caribbean. Antarctica, on the other hand, is represented by the pilot, Pinteados, and an admiral, signifying its maritime interests. In both cases, the appearance of cohesiveness that these spheres of accomplishment provide is deceptive. The activities emerge as a kind of shadow-play, the manifestations of which are not material but psychological.
Similarly, the voyage of the Reconnaissance lacks geographical specificity and nautical detail. Nor is its purpose the traditional one of adding to the coffers of the House of Trade and Justice. Although mention is made of the Guinea...
(The entire section is 772 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots II: British and Commonwealth Fiction Series)
The action of Natives of My Person is narrated both in the third person and in the first person, the latter largely in the form of logs and diaries of several principal characters. By such devices, and by the use of well-placed flashbacks, author George Lamming endows his characters with complexity and depth.
The first section of the novel, “Breaking Loose,” presents the officers and crew of the ship Reconnaissance as they resolve to leave their home, the fictitious European Kingdom of Lime Stone. Lime Stone, torn by civil strife, is dominated by the House of Trade and Justice, a powerful capitalist consortium controlled by merchant adventurers who are rising as the feudal world is collapsing. The ruthless Lord Treasurer of the House wields the real power in the realm, which is becoming increasingly corrupt.
The existence of the Reconnaissance has to be kept secret from the House, which would crush the mission and its participants. Thus, the Commandant has carefully recruited his crew. They plan to lay “the foundations of a new and enlightened society on the Isles of the Black Rock appropriately named San Cristobal. All the men will share in the labor and enterprise of the new settlement.
The voyage to San Cristobal, Lamming’s composite Caribbean island, is made via West Africa, where most of the crew entertain visions of taking on profitable “black cargoes,” African slaves. Though the...
(The entire section is 586 words.)
Bibliography (Masterplots II: African American Literature, Revised Edition)
Boxhill, Anthony. “San Cristobal Unreached: George Lamming’s Two Latest Novels.” World Literature Written in English 12 (April, 1973): 16-28. Discusses Lamming’s Water with Berries (1972) and Natives of My Person, examining in detail the latter’s treatment of historical and colonial questions.
Campbell, Elaine. “West Indian Sea Fiction: George Lamming’s Natives of My Person.” Commonwealth Novel in English 3 (Spring/Summer, 1984): 56-65. Discusses the different nautical dimensions of Natives of My Person and relates them to the maritime tradition of the Caribbean novel.
McDonald, Avis G. “ ‘Within the Orbit of Power’: Reading Allegory in George Lamming’s Natives of My Person.” Journal of Commonwealth Literature 22, no. 1 (1987): 73-86. An elaborate and complex reading of the novel’s allegorical character, which is interpreted as, ultimately, a meditation on the consequences of power as a force for coherence in the world.
Munro, Ian. “George Lamming.” In West Indian Literature, edited by Bruce King. London: Archon Books, 1979. A general introduction to Lamming’s work, concentrating on his novels. The works’ various treatments of emigration and colonialism are identified. The survey also indicates ways in which Natives of My Person can be considered the culmination of Lamming’s fiction.
Paquet, Sandra Pouchet. The Novels of George Lamming. London: Heinemann, 1982. Contains a chapter on Natives of My Person. Provides a broad overview of the novel’s economic, sociological, and historical underpinnings. Also has a substantial bibliography.
Peterson, Kirsten Holt. “Time, Timelessness, and the Journey Metaphor in George Lamming’s In the Castle of My Skin and Natives of My Person.” In The Commonwealth Writer Overseas: Themes of Exile and Expatriation, edited by Alastair Niven. Brussels: Marcel Didier, 1976. Highlights the journey theme in Lamming’s works and considers the contribution made by the works in relation to the establishment of a specific West Indian mentality and culture.