In the Castle of My Skin is an autobiographical novel by a young native of Barbados living in England. The novel’s plot covers the years from the time of a great flood when the narrator is nine years old to the eve of his departure for the larger island of Trinidad at the age of seventeen.
The virtually unnamed narrator, G., clearly is a surrogate for the author, though Lamming’s narrative strategy of alternating first-person and third-person narrators has the effect of submerging G.’s identity beneath the larger collective identity and situation of the inhabitants of Creighton’s Village. The larger intended effect of the occasionally confusing alternation of narrators is that two mutually reinforcing stories are told within one narrative frame. The first is the story of the ostensible protagonist’s coming-of-age and the dawning of his political awareness. The second story concerns the great social upheavals that occur over the years, especially following the sale of the village by Mr. Creighton, the landlord, to a group of men including Mr. Slime, the populist leader who betrays the villagers’ trust.
In the Castle of My Skin begins during a rainstorm on G.’s ninth birthday, a reference to an actual flood that afflicted Barbados when Lamming was a child. The early scenes of G.’s disappointment and his mother’s response (she “put her head through the window to let the neighbour know that I was nine, and they flattered me with the consolation that my birthday had brought showers of blessing”) effectively establish the setting as well as the sense of collective identity, awareness, and suffering that are crucial to the novel’s purpose. The first-person narrator makes this explicit as he describes his mother visiting with two neighbor women:Miss Foster. My mother. Bob’s mother. It seemed they were...
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Told in the first person and the third person, this is the story of G., but it is also the story of Creighton’s Village as it experiences major changes ranging from the break-up of the feudal colonial plantation system with its dominating white Landlord and Great House to a new age of labor unrest, an emergent black elite, and awakening nationalism. Richard Wright’s introduction to the novel notes that the work is “a symbolic repetition of the story of millions of simple folk who . . . are today being catapulted out of their peaceful, indigenously earthy lives and into the turbulence and anxiety of the twentieth century.”
The four boys (G., Trumper, Boy Blue, and Bob) at the center of the tale, with their experiences and with their own tales within the larger tale, serve for the reader as keys to the community. They share their sport and contemplations, but eventually their paths diverge when G., unlike the others, after succeeding at an examination, goes on to high school, with its aura of a different class: “The High School was intended to educate the children of the clerical and professional classes, while the village school served the needs of the villagers, who were poor, simple and without a very marked sense of social prestige.” At this crucial point, some go to the left and others to the right, and once parted, most of them never really meet again. Thus, G. becomes more and more of an exile, alienated from both the urban high school and the village even as he tries to keep his feet planted in both worlds.
The novel exposes some of...
(The entire section is 643 words.)