Themes

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 194

A Brighter Sun is a novel by Trinidadian author Samuel Selvon. The first noticeable theme in the book is the historical context of the events that happen to the main characters. Both local and world history are moving parts in a singular machine, yet global events are secondary, or are...

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A Brighter Sun is a novel by Trinidadian author Samuel Selvon. The first noticeable theme in the book is the historical context of the events that happen to the main characters. Both local and world history are moving parts in a singular machine, yet global events are secondary, or are in the periphery, in contrast to the personal histories of the characters. This concept articulates how even the grand history we all share as a civilization becomes minimized by events and experiences that personally affect us as individuals.

Another theme in the novel is the idea of amelioration, or the act of trying to improve our surroundings and condition. There is a Shakespearean, or perhaps biblical, allegory of mortals struggling to gain a higher plane of existence. This struggle's end goal is to usher in a new era—a spiritual revolution of sorts—but the past keeps the main characters anchored to their present circumstances.

The main characters try to feel their way into modernity whilst navigating through old traditions. Another theme of the book is the concept of a multi-ethnic society, which is a sign of modern phenomena such as urbanization and globalization.

Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 492

The title, A Brighter Sun, implies a comparative, and that is surely the new day, the new Trinidad that Tiger foresees. The dominant theme, therefore, is change. Tiger changes from boy to man; the countryside changes from a collection of market gardens to a suburban satellite town; the muddy track becomes the Churchill-Roosevelt Highway; Tiger and Urmilla’s mud shack becomes a furnished brick house; the newlyweds become parents; a backward colony is on the cusp of becoming an independent nation. Whereas in the early chapters Tiger and Urmilla are concerned with raising rice and other crops, later they are purchasing large fowls, rum, cigarettes, and household furnishings and borrowing knives, forks, and other symbols of Westernization.

Throughout the novel, there are references to rain, sunshine, and mangoes, all common enough in the Caribbean. These are major symbols in the story. It rains when things are not going well, such as when Urmilla is ill and when she is delivering her stillborn son—and when Tiger is working in his garden immediately beforehand. It is mango season when Urmilla discovers her pregnancies; Sookdeo buries his money box under the roots of a mango tree in his backyard, regarding it as a good omen, and when the tree is bulldozed, he dies. The sun is always a positive image and a symbol of prosperity, continuity, fecundity, and goodness. It brings Tiger out of his states of depression, and when he says that “always the sun shines” in Trinidad, it seems that Selvon is asserting the positive about his country.

Tiger’s constant ambition to build a house like Joe’s is noteworthy, as is his purchase of bricks, one at a time. It should perhaps be noted that in this respect, Selvon predates V. S. Naipaul’s famous A House for Mr. Biswas (1961) by a decade. In both novels, the house is the great goal and achievement, and both espouse the same sentiment, which Selvon phrases as “Trinidadians does only talk, dey don’t do nutting.” The Indians do.

In his use of dialect, Selvon is masterful. Though there may be some quibble about the accuracy of the reported speech of Otto and Tall Boy, the Chinese store-owners, there can be none about the verisimilitude of both the Creoles and the Indians; however, Selvon’s ear for the occasional white person’s English may be inaccurate. Notwithstanding any minor deficiencies and inconsistencies, dialect is of significance, and Selvon pioneered its use in West Indian prose fiction in A Brighter Sun.

The rather utilitarian, pedestrian prose of the opening pages of those chapters that provide situational and chronological context is in contrast to the evocative power of many of the descriptive passages. Selvon’s metaphors are very effective (“bees in the hive of his brain,” for example), but his similes reveal the touch of the poet: “teeth like brown, ugly stubs set in chocolate blancmange” or “emotions . . . like ropes across the breasts,” for example.

Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 406

Although World War II seemed remote to most ordinary Trinidadians, the reader of A Brighter Sun is frequently reminded of the war because of the fundamental political, economic, and social changes it was actually bringing about on the island. While the search for manhood and personal identity is one of the novel’s principal themes, the quest takes on a broader significance as Tiger gradually develops and embraces a sense of national identity. Parallel to Tiger’s development, and contributing to it, is Trinidad’s rapid transition from a sleepy backwater colony into a society on the brink of national independence. The war thrust Trinidad into the twentieth century and a confrontation with the possibilities and problems that follow on modern nationhood.

Samuel Selvon, himself of East Indian descent, makes clear that racial self-contempt is a factor in the way the colonized people see themselves: Rita asks why creoles “can’t live like Indian, quiet and nice,” and Urmilla wishes that Indians “could only be like white people!” Tiger’s experience leads him to abandon his parents’ ethnocentric racial attitudes (“Ain’t a man is a man, don’t mind if he skin not white, or if he hair curl?”) and he frequently denies growing up as an Indian. The influence of Boysie and the attractions of urban culture contribute to Tiger’s gradual creolization. At first Tiger objects to Boysie’s calling Indians “black people” but soon accepts Boysie’s point that, “As long as yuh ain’t wite, dey does call yuh black, wedder yuh coolie or nigger or chinee.” Late in the novel, Tiger vows to become a politician and fight for the rights of “all of we as a whole, living in one country.” By that time he accepts without question that to be a Trinidadian is to be creolized. Tiger’s concern for the problems of his society is genuine but, consistent with his character, his analysis is unsophisticated and his response simplistic. Selvon indicates that he understands that the problem of unity and national identity is complex and his response to the tensions which result from competing ethnic and class loyalties appears more fittingly ambiguous than Tiger’s; it is clear that for Selvon, a natural development, and part of the answer to the national question in Trinidad, is creolization, the merging of Indians and the members of other ethnic groups into the Afro-Caribbean society through a process of acculturation.

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