Although there are numerous characters in A Brighter Sun, the novel is essentially focused on Tiger. Even Urmilla is not foregrounded. She is (like Joe, Rita, Sookdeo, and Boysie) a foil to Tiger, though she is also the means of depicting the role of Hindu women in Indian social life. Joe is a nonphilosophical, pragmatic person, friendly yet distant; Rita is self-assured, congenial, and unpretentious—a fine example of a true neighbor. Tall Boy and Otto (Chinese shopkeepers) are introduced, it seems, merely to represent one of the minuscule racial and ethnic groups in the Caribbean. Tall Boy is the astute entrepreneur, the family man; Otto is the older, opium-addicted stereotype. They offer a Chinese analogue to the Indian communities in Chaguanas and Barataria.
Tiger is not given a family name (a not uncommon practice in Indian villages), and thus he can be accepted as a representative individual, rather like one called “Yank” or “Aussie.” He represents that large section of the population of Trinidad, Fiji, and Guyana who are descendants of the indentured plantation workers who were imported at the end of slavery to work on the large estates and who were long denied education, opportunity, and political representation. Accordingly, we can understand Tiger’s intense interest in language and education, in owning land and a house, and in entering politics. He has set his sights high and looks to the future with “a brighter sun” than that of the past. Symbolically, Tiger’s personal war against the old order (and against being regarded as a child) coincides with World War II, which cemented the superpower status of the Soviet Union and United States while setting into motion a number of revolutions in colonized lands in Central and Latin America, Africa, and Asia.
In the botanical gardens, Tiger contemplates the harmonious mixture of vegetation and what he calls “the big thought”: Why should he have to restrict his friends to members of the Indian community? His mind engages also other mature matters. Thinking about Sookdeo, he wonders, “What he come on earth for?” Tiger concludes that you “don’t start over things in life” but push on regardless of disappointments and failures. That is, only a few years after Tiger has turned sixteen, his mind has already become adult; he has developed from a physical creature to a thoughtful—if not yet wholly intellectual—one contemplating matters that impinge on himself, his family, his community, his nation, and humankind. Selvon has moved from observing children “walking in that sweet wonder of childhood” to observing Tiger walking in serious contemplation of life.
Joe, who is seen only occasionally and whom readers learn relatively little about, is an interesting character and an easy foil to Tiger, not only because he is static rather than dynamic but also because he is accepting, rather than questioning, by disposition. His transformation from “sweetman” (one who lives off the earnings of a woman companion) to provider has already occurred, and he has accepted the responsibility to rear Rita’s sister’s son as his own, showing his generosity and acceptance of the extended family. He has not bothered with a formal marriage, however. He sees Rita as property, he puts great value on ownership of a house and its modern appurtenances, and he is not generous beyond the extended family. He has few verbalized goals, perhaps because he believes that he has gained all that is achievable. For him there appears to be no idea of things becoming brighter; after all, “Joe might easily not have been born,” his aunt, Ma Lambie, says, alluding to his prostitute mother’s plan for an abortion. He has survived. Rita, confident, ebullient, courageous, is a perfect foil to Joe, and she is a model neighbor. She seldom thinks deep thoughts, but she acts with kindness and spontaneity, out of generous, commendable motivations.
Urmilla is a mere cipher: She is reticent,...
(The entire section is 1,505 words.)