Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 760
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...
(The entire section contains 1505 words.)
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- Critical Essays
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, withdrawn to the point of obsequiousness, and unquestioning in her obedience to customs and to her husband. She is stereotypical and static, even pathetic. Many readers feel deeply for her (especially when she is kicked and abused), yet she is uncomplaining about not having a floor, a bed, or working kitchen equipment. Her single goal seems to be to please her domineering husband.
The many minor characters are presented in vivid and memorable detail through vignettes, cameo appearances, anecdotes, and occasional allusions or rumors. They serve an important role as models to be imitated or avoided, as foils, and as part of the mosaic that is Trinidadian society.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 745
Tiger, a Trinidadian peasant of East Indian descent. Curious, ambitious, diligent, and determined to become a man, he moves, after an arranged marriage at the age of sixteen, from a traditional community on a sugar estate to a multiracial village near Port of Spain. Contemplating life’s mysteries and dreaming of what education might have afforded him, he sometimes resents the burden of his young family but resolves to understand and control more of his life. Turning from most of the old ways and prejudices toward the ideal of a more integrated society, he learns to read and consciously changes and improves his use of language to prepare for the inevitable changes and opportunities he envisions. He develops a love for his pastoral surroundings but, seeking advancement and contact with a bigger world, obtains employment with the American military, constructing a highway. He is fearful of becoming like Sookdeo, but, tense and culturally confused, he drunkenly beats his pregnant wife, causing her to lose their child. Penance paid, in his early twenties he is mature and responsible, a nascent community leader with an uncertain but optimistic view of his own and his nation’s future.
Urmilla, Tiger’s wife. Long-haired and frail, with sad black eyes, she is married at the age of sixteen and soon pregnant with a female child. Although she is friendly with her Creole neighbor Rita and would like to laugh and talk with Tiger and share his worries, she is a traditional Hindu wife, passive, obedient, hardworking, and eager to please.
Joe Martin, a laborer and Tiger’s Creole neighbor. Born to a prostitute in a Port of Spain slum and reared by his great-aunt, Ma Lambie, he suffered physical abuse, hatred, and hunger until, at the age of sixteen, he finally beat her in return. Big, strong, and without ambition, he works for the Americans and gives his money to Rita, who tries to moderate his tough, slovenly behavior in a suburban setting. Content in his illiteracy and limited knowledge, he is initially against mixing with his Indian neighbors but, as a result of Rita’s influence and his own essential good nature, he gradually becomes their friend.
Rita Martin, Joe’s common-law wife. Generous, decent, strong-willed, and combative, she lifts Joe and herself above their slum origins and, unable to have children, rears her nephew Henry as her own. Rita ignores racial differences to befriend Urmilla, serving as her midwife and acting as the principal agent in the Indian couple’s assimilation.
Ma Lambie, Joe’s brutal great-aunt. A large, frowning, ugly black woman with huge breasts, she is a barren former prostitute who seeks comfort in her old age from Joe, a child abandoned at birth. When Joe hits her, she becomes a cringing and obsequious old woman fervently singing for salvation at roadside prayer meetings. After it becomes clear that she will get nothing from Joe, she turns her hostility and sharp tongue on Rita.
Boysie, an East Indian farmer and friend of Tiger. Familiar with both the country and the city, he is an influence on Tiger and introduces him to the cosmopolitan life of Port of Spain and a broader horizon. An advocate of racial mixing and bored by the village ways, he enjoys shocking traditional Indians by showing off his Creole girlfriend. He saves money to leave for England or America after the war.
Sookdeo, an old East Indian farmer who teaches Tiger to read. Misshapen by work, small, and dark, with a gray beard and straggly hair, he is the village drunk and trickster. His comic antics hide feelings of fear and desolation at growing old and never having a son.
Tall Boy, a Chinese shopkeeper with many children. Popular, fair, clever, and generous, he gives his customers credit and has integrated well into the community, adopting local manners and habits. Hardworking, ambitious, and frugal, he sends money to relatives in China.
Chief, two white American servicemen with whom Tiger works. Good-humored, enthusiastic, and naïvely secure in the superiority of their own values, they enjoy the superficial introduction to the exotic foods and customs of poor East Indians that Tiger and Urmilla provide. Ignorant of the dislocation their visit already has caused and relaxed by too much rum, they unwittingly encourage the further breaking of taboos; the result is Tiger’s drunken beating of Urmilla.