Austin Criticism - Essay

Frank Ryan (review date 1974)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of When He Was Free and Young and He Used to Wear Silks, in Best Seller, Vol. 33, No. 19, January 1, 1974, p. 434–35.

[In the following review, Ryan praises Clarke's skillful use of memory as a source of inspiration for the characters in When He Was Free and Young and He Used to Wear Silks.]

That the black man from Barbados (and the West Indies in general) encounters unique problems when he enters Canadian and American cultures is made clear in [When He Was Free and Young and He Used to Wear Silks] this collection of eleven stories. He remembers the beauty of Barbados, its white sand, warm sun, family life, leisurely pace, and...

(The entire section is 746 words.)

Keith Garebian (review date 1985)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Review of When Women Rule, in Quill and Quire, Vol. 51, No. 7, July, 1985, p. 59.

[In the following review, Garebian evaluates Clarke's depiction of racism and its brutal impact on the West Indian immigrant characters in When Women Rule.]

The title of [When Women Rule] is slightly misleading in that it suggests a gender imperialism as its major theme. Although women do dominate psychologically and physically several of the male protagonists, Austin Clarke's true themes are indignity and embarrassment, caused by racial and economic conditions rather than gender distinctions.

The eight stories deal with the passions of West Indian immigrants to Canada. The tensions and motifs are certainly familiar to anyone who has read Clarke's novels and earlier short fiction, but they do not lose their force because of this familiarity. Brutality dominates the mood of most of the stories, for it penetrates the social milieu the characters inhabit and distorts perceptions and responses. The world evoked is one of hard-luck, downtrodden victims, lost in illusions of their fallen past and present. Sometimes the stories are trite; Clarke depends too often on the ethnic flavour to engage the reader's sympathies. Sentimentality—even on the side of justifiable anger at social humiliation—is always a danger to fine writing because it can tilt fiction too far in the direction of stock moral responses, weakening the work's aesthetic structure.

However, there is some fine work in the book. “Griff!,” a story about a Barbadian man who wreaks vengeance on his adulterous wife, has a strong sense of rhythm and musicality. “The Man” is a touching but ultimately explosive story about a man who fights time and his own insignificance. And “The Discipline” crystallizes a collision of two antithetical worlds posited on contrary concepts of moral and psychological control. Here Clarke uses language to satirize his protagonist and to politicize opposite sides.

Neil Bissoondath (review date 1985)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: “Flaws in the Mosaic,” in Books in Canada, Vol. 14, No. 6, August/September, 1985, p. 21.

[In the review below, Bissoondath praises Clarke's skillful depiction of the complex relationship between West Immigrants and Canadian society in When Women Rule.]

In an interview in a recent issue of Magazine Littéraire, the Spanish writer Juan Goytisolo says of exiles: “There are people who remain mentally or effectively attached to their country of origin; they camp. There are others, on the other hand, who adapt, change language, become French or American. There is a third category, to which I undoubtedly belong. While growing distant from my country of...

(The entire section is 702 words.)

Diana Brydon (review date 1986)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: “Cultural Alternatives?” in Canadian Literature, No. 108, Spring, 1986, pp. 160–62.

[In the review below, Brydon describes Clarke's short story collection When Women Rule as misogynist, and suggests that Clarke loses control of his material.]

Meredith Carey's critical study Different Drummers: A Study of Cultural Alternatives in Fiction purports to examine the cultural alternatives offered the reader by fiction devoted to the lives of people “who don't fit in.” Her system would probably classify the short story collections by Trinidadian-born Bissoondath and Barbadian-born Clarke, both Canadian residents who write of dislocated...

(The entire section is 1130 words.)

Lloyd Brown (essay date 1989)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: “Inside the Mosaic,” in El Dorado and Paradise: Canada and the Caribbean in Austin Clarke's Fiction, University of Western Ontario Press, 1989, pp. 85–105.

[In the following essay, Brown explores the relationship between Canadian fiction and Caribbean nationalism in Clarke's writing.]

In the Clarke short story, “Doing Right,” a street fight between a black and an Asiatic Indian inspires some sly jesting at the expense of Canadian multiculturalism: “… multiculturalism gone out the window now … I remember how one minister up in Ottawa say different cultures make up this great unified country of ours. I remember it word for word. All that lick up...

(The entire section is 5174 words.)

Lloyd Brown (essay date 1989)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: “Adam and Eve,” in El Dorado and Paradise: Canada and the Caribbean in Austin Clarke's Fiction, University of Western Ontario Press, 1989, pp. 131–51.

[In the following essay, Brown discusses the roles of Clarke's men and women in his fiction.]

There is a certain familiarity about the image of May Thorne at the conclusion of Proud Empires—a matronly Eve in the middle of a decayed plantation Eden. The image actually confirms John Moore's speculations, in The Prime Minister, about the basis of political power in the Caribbean. Women, Moore muses, know that they exercise ultimate power through their sexuality: “Of that forbidden tree...

(The entire section is 4371 words.)

Lloyd Brown (essay date 1989)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: “A Sense of Style,” in El Dorado and Paradise: Canada and the Caribbean in Austin Clarke's Fiction, University of Western Ontario Press, 1989, pp. 152–85.

[In the following essay, Brown discusses Clarke's conception of style and spiritual power.]

Clarke's mastery of the Barbadian dialect as a narrative form has always been one of his most obvious strengths as a writer, and this talent has become a somewhat tired commonplace in popular reviews of his work. In fact, Clarke's facility with his dialect forms is rooted in a strong self-consciousness about language and style, one that encompasses standard English as well as the Barbadian form of...

(The entire section is 3876 words.)

Lloyd Brown (essay date 1989)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: “Myth as Affirmation,” in El Dorado and Paradise: Canada and the Caribbean in Austin Clarke's Fiction, University of Western Ontario Press, 1989, pp. 186–91.

[In the following essay, Brown delineates Clarke's transformation of New World myths, and claims that Clarke's work is part of the New World literary tradition.]

As satire, Clarke's fiction is a sustained attack on moral and social failures in both Canada and the Caribbean. But his satiric contempt for individual and collective corruption does not wholly define his work. It coexists with an affirmative idealism which is reflected in the typical ebullience of his style and characterization, and which...

(The entire section is 1793 words.)

Victor J. Ramraj (essay date 1989)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: “Temporizing Laughter: The Later Stories of Austin Clarke,” in Fac. Des Lettres & Sciences Humaines, 1989, pp. 127–31.

[In the following essay, Ramraj examines Clarke's harsh depiction of the abuses West Indian immigrants often face, and concludes that Clarke's militancy intrudes upon otherwise skillfully written and conceived stories.]

Austin Clarke's early stories about West Indian immigrants in Toronto are uncompromisingly blunt depictions of their harsh experiences. These stories are informed by a passionate authorial anger that Clarke makes no effort to control or keep out of his work. Clarke is now perhaps the harshest, bluntest, angriest, most...

(The entire section is 2572 words.)

Stella Algoo-Baksh (essay date 1994)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Austin C. Clarke: A Biography, University of the West Indies Press, 1994, pp. 108–15, 158–63.

[In the following essay, Algoo-Baksh discusses the autobiographical elements in When He Was Free and Young and He Used to Wear Silks and When Women Rule.]

Of the total of sixteen stories in the Canadian and American edition of When He Was Free and Young and He Used to Wear Silks, two are set in Barbados, ten in Canada, and four in the United States,1 and as a group they run the gamut of the types of crises, dilemmas, and trials Clarke has himself faced, seeming in many cases to be vehicles that allow him to make sense of the complexities of...

(The entire section is 5148 words.)

Glenn Sumi (review date 1994)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Review of There Are No Elders, in Books in Canada, Vol. 23, Summer, 1994, p. 51.

[In the following review, Sumi is critical of Clarke's There Are No Elders for its heavy-handed prose and morose themes.]

With its title and epigraph taken from Derek Walcott (“There are no more elders / Is only old people”), Austin Clarke's There Are No Elders promises insights into deep social problems. In particular, one expects it to address the much-discussed lack of role models—or “elder statesmen,” as it were—in many urban communities.

What we get instead is a poorly edited book of stories, each with a theme lifted (it might...

(The entire section is 344 words.)

Smaro Kamboureli (essay date 1995)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: “Signifying Contamination: On Austin Clarke's Nine Men Who Laughed,” in Essays on Canadian Writing, Vol. 57, Winter, 1995, pp. 212–34.

[In the following essay, Kamboureli focuses on Clarke's self-reflexive introduction to Nine Men Who Laughed as a tool for understanding Clarke's relationship to postcolonial discourse.]

For a writer to “wrestle with his shadow,” he must be certain of casting one. …

—Françoise Lionnet (322)


It has become almost typical for writers of postcolonial and multicultural critical discourses to begin by...

(The entire section is 9098 words.)

George Elliott Clarke (essay date 1997)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: “Clarke vs. Clarke: Tory Elitism in Austin Clarke's Short Fiction,” in West Coast Lines, Vol. 22, Spring/Summer, 1997, pp. 110–28.

[In the essay below, Clarke analyzes the representation of class in Austin C. Clarke's short stories and argues that Clarke ironically upholds bourgeois Canadian nationalism despite his critical stance towards it in his non-fiction writing.]

Perusing Austin Chesterfield Clarke's short stories, one catches, at times, the distinctive odour of the late British writer Ian Fleming's sorry James Bond spy adventures. Certainly, both authors stud their pages with references to pricey autos and shapely women. (Or should that be shapely...

(The entire section is 7050 words.)

Dan Coleman (essay date 1998)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: “Playin' ‘mas,’ Hustling Respect: Multicultural Masculinities in Two Stories by Austin Clarke,” in Masculine Migrations: Reading the Postcolonial Male in ‘New Canadian’ Narratives, University of Toronto Press, 1998, pp. 29–51.

[In the following essay, Coleman uses Judith Butler's theory of gender performance to understand the use of masculinity as an assertion of cultural resistance in Clarke's short stories, “A Man” and “How He Does It.”]

Austin Clarke has published fifteen volumes of fiction and autobiography since 1964, making him one of the most prolific writers living in Canada today. Yet, despite the Barbadian-born writer's...

(The entire section is 10226 words.)