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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 777

Banana Bottom is the story of a young Jamaican woman’s discovery of her country, her people, and herself. The novel begins with the return to Jamaica of twenty-two-year-old Tabitha “Bita” Plant, who has been abroad for seven years. After a flashback in which he explains the reasons for her absence, McKay tells the story of Bita’s life from her homecoming to her marriage, concluding with a brief epilogue that shows her as a contented wife and mother.

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The tone of the book is detached, the pace leisurely. Like a loquacious village storyteller, McKay moves from episode to episode as if there were no direction to his narrative. When, at the end of Banana Bottom, Bita freely chooses a husband and a way of life, each of the earlier encounters takes on a new significance. It is then clear that every character, every incident, and every discussion in the novel has in some way affected Bita’s development.

Although as the first native black girl to receive an English education, Bita Plant returns home a celebrity, she had very nearly been ruined in her childhood, when she had sexual intercourse with a half-crazy musical genius. Although he was charged with rape and sent away, Bita’s reputation was tarnished. Fortunately, her father, the prosperous farmer Jordan Plant, could turn to the white missionaries Malcolm and Priscilla Craig, who took Bita to their home in Jubilee. Later, the Craigs decided to use her as an experiment, to show how an English education could transform a native girl. What they did not expect was that Bita would return to Jamaica with a mind of her own.

Bita’s vacillations between doing what is expected of her and making her own choices can be charted through her movements between her home in Jubilee, where the Craigs expect her to act in accordance with the rules of their strict denomination, and her home in Banana Bottom, where she has more latitude. After her return to Jamaica, Bita at first moves back in with the Craigs and, just as easily, accepts the plans they have made for her, even agreeing to marry another of their projects, the ministry student Herald Newton Day. Although she enjoys the activities at the mission, however, Bita soon becomes fascinated with her own culture, as represented by the effervescent horse-dealer and gambler Hopping Dick Delgado. Although she does not at the time realize it, when she sneaks away from the mission to go with him to functions of which the Craigs disapprove, Bita is beginning the process of rejecting Jubilee in favor of Banana Bottom and the culture of her own people.

Additionally, the more Bita sees of her self-centered, self-important fiancé, the less she wants to spend her life with him. When her stepmother Naomi Plant (Anty Nommy) becomes ill, Bita is shocked to find herself secretly delighted, because in leaving the mission, she will be escaping from Herald.

At Banana Bottom, Bita is free of the restraints that she always feels in Jubilee. She has long conversations with the freethinker Squire Gensir, a white British aristocrat, who places great value on native folklore and customs. She also comes to appreciate the power of Obi, the African god of evil, who may very well be responsible for Herald’s disgrace: Herald sexually abuses a nanny goat, an episode that ends his career in the church as well as any expectation that he will marry Bita.

When Bita returns to Jubilee, however, it becomes clear that Bita’s unhappiness at the mission was not merely the result of Herald’s proximity but instead reflected her growing rebellion against the Craigs’ view of life. Simply because she feels so imprisoned, Bita declares her intention of marrying Hopping Dick. Desperate, the Craigs send for Anty Nommy, who first disposes of Bita’s suitor by appearing to expect an immediate wedding and then takes Bita home with her. It is obvious to everyone that Bita will never again be able to live at Jubilee.

At Banana Bottom, Bita can at last decide her own destiny. Freed from the Craigs’ expectations, she comes to recognize the worth of her uncle’s trusted foreman, Jubban, who, though uneducated, is wise, courageous, and good. At a suitable time after the tragic deaths of Jordan Plant and both of the Craigs, Bita and Jubban are married in a double wedding, along with Hopping Dick, who has been captured by Bita’s friend Yoni Legge. At the end of the novel, Bita has inherited Squire Gensir’s property and, with Jubban and an increasing family, is enjoying the simple life of a well-to-do peasant.

Summary

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 583

In a series of flashbacks the reader learns that Bita Plant was “seduced” by Crazy Bow Adair (actually, it was a willing sexual union, but the social niceties of Banana Bottom required that a twelve-year-old had to be an unwilling victim); that she was adopted by the Reverends Malcolm and Priscilla Craig, who wanted to demonstrate their ability to transform a wayward black girl into a cultured Christian; that she was educated in England and had visited Europe before returning to Jubilee seven years later.

The Craigs have planned that Bita marry a local black theological student, Herald Newton Day, who is egotistical, ashamed of his blackness, and a perfect example of the transformation that the Craigs would like to effect in all the villagers; Bita immediately discovers that she has little in common with him, although she agrees to an engagement. Soon after her return, she meets Hopping Dick at a local market and is attracted by his undisguised sensuality and even by his reputation for being “wild.” She discovers his skill in dancing and romancing, and she learns that he is the antithesis of the Craigs’ ideal, Herald. Squire Gensir accompanies Bita to a “teameeting” at which the locals enjoy themselves with dancing, singing, and merriment; she dances enthusiastically and recognizes her affinity with the village folk. When Mrs. Craig learns of Bita’s behavior from Sister Phibby Patroll (the local midwife and gossip), she is apprehensive about “saving” the atavistic Bita.

Bita escapes from Jubilee and visits her own village, Banana Bottom, for a weekend. Here she notices Jubban, her father’s drayman, who is a stalwart, self-confident, and absolutely admirable black laborer of fine physique and natural dignity: Their mutual attraction is obvious. Bita visits the swimming hole where, as a child, she had many delightful moments: In the Edenic situation her sexuality is aroused (and described in truly poetic prose). In this situation she realizes that her roots lie in the rural countryside with the folk rather than with the Westernized and Christian converts.

On her return to Jubilee and at a harvest festival, Bita introduces Herald and Hopping Dick; Herald’s pomposity repels her and his superficiality impresses Squire Gensir. (Discovered in an act of bestiality, Herald is dispatched to Panama.) Yet when Bita decides to marry Hopping Dick, he backs out and converts to Christianity, forsaking his unrestrained folkways.

Bita attends a revival meeting with Squire Gensir, but when it becomes a nonChristian religious orgy, she succumbs, dancing wildly and surrendering to masochistic flagellation. She is rescued by Jubban—who also subsequently rescues her from the sexual advances of Arthur Glengley, a wealthy near-white, and later marries her.

During a hurricane and flood, Malcolm Craig and Jordan Plant, Bita’s father, are drowned returning from a church meeting. Mrs. Craig dies shortly after, “worried to death by disappointment”: Her speechless adult son is dead, Herald has disgraced both the Craigs and their whole little world, and Bita has forsaken the values and lifestyle of the white community.

Squire Gensir returns to England, dies, and leaves his Jamaican property and house to Bita, who is rearing her son, Jordan, in an environment that represents an amalgam of the best of West Indian rural values modified by some of those of European society. Thus, the reader sees the significance of Bita’s full name, Tabitha, which is also the name of a free-spirited gazelle, a coarse-woven silk (taffeta), and (in the form “tabby”) a cat of variegated color.

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