Literary Criticism and Significance
Originally entitled A Wake for Toycie, Beka Lamb has received considerable attention worldwide as a debut novel for a debut country. The novel was published in 1982, soon after Belize achieved its independence on September 21, 1981. Author Zelma (Zee) Inez Edgell is the first Belizean writer to be published internationally, and according to Professor Julie E. Moody-Freeman (Assistant Professor in African and Black Diaspora Studies), the work is part novel and “part historic and sociological document of traditions and traditional places of colonial resistance in Belize."
Zee Edgell is currently a professor at Kent State University and gives frequent interviews that provide insights into her purposes in writing. All of her novels reflect the political changes and cultural themes of Belize from the 1950s to the present. She describes a matriarchal society where a minority of educated women has risen to success in politics, education and business but where the majority is still limited by lack of education and poverty. In Beka Lamb, this dichotomy is represented by Toycie and Beka. According to Edgell, when high school students in Belize complain about the fact that Toycie dies in the novel, Edgell replies, “Well, make her live!”
Edgell’s writing style is succinct but rich. Full of colorful imagery, the reader is transported to the Caribbean with its positive and negative elements. One can smell the “honeyed scent of flowering stephanotis” and taste the bitter-sweet tang of green mangoes. One can feel the cool evening breeze that ushers in the scent of the sea. Yet that same sea produces a violent hurricane and tidal waves that send the inhabitants hunkering down in their homes, swatting mosquitoes in the stifling indoor air. Caribbean motifs abound—flowers, weather, color, clothes, food, animals, water, and island folklore. The language is mesmerizing as it lulls readers into feeling like they are actually being read to: once upon a time, a girl named “Beka Lamb won an essay contest at St. Cecilia’s Academy....” The narrative is peppered with folk tales about the evil “Obeahman” and “Tataduhende”, who prowls about seeking unprotected girls and boys “to break off their thumbs.” The author weaves Creole dialect into the story, but it is never so overpowering that it interferes with comprehension.