Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 492
In the Castle of My Skin is a very oddly structured novel. Its alternation of first-and third-person narrators seems undisciplined (the author was, after all, only twenty-three years old when he began writing it) but is, in fact, a bold and considered device for conveying a sense of the village’s communal identity while simultaneously narrating G.’s coming-of-age and his eventual, inevitable emigration. Lamming, using the first-person narrator, the ostensible protagonist, as his surrogate, intends the same effect in this novel as in his collection of autobiographical literary essays The Pleasures of Exile (1960). Critic Sandra Pouchet Paquet’s remark about The Pleasures of Exile could be said with equal justice about In the Castle of My Skin: “Autobiographical values are determined by the narrator’s acute and pervasive sense of participating in a great historical moment. His valuable life surrenders its meaning in a gesture of collectivity.”
In the novel, then, as in the book of essays, the unusual, unexpected main character is the community at large. This fact establishes Lamming’s political and social values and sympathies. The tragedy of the land sale near the novel’s end is the community’s communal tragedy. At the same time, the individual protagonist, the first-person narrator G., is separating himself from the community by emigrating to Trinidad. Although he does not yet know it as he prepares to leave, his emigration is preparatory to the writing of the narrative.
G. is not well prepared for the outside world. His academic achievements are modest and disappointing to his mother, who is tenacious and fiercely ambitious for him. “She would talk about pulling through; whatever happened she would come through, and ’she’ meant her child.” At the same time, by virtue of his education at the High School, he no longer belongs in the village. He is caught between two worlds. Of his friends he writes: “Whether or not they wanted to they excluded me from their world just as my memory of them and the village excluded me from the world of the High School. . . . It was as though my roots had been snapped from the centre of what I knew best, while I remained impotent to wrest what my fortunes had forced me into.”
Trumper, Bob, and Boy Blue, G.’s friends, serve to throw the narrator’s predicament into relief. Ma and Pa, the old couple, are wise, sad commentators on the changes taking place. Other characters, such as the Shoemaker, Mr. Foster, Miss Foster, and Bob’s mother, are given individual identities, though always carefully within a structure that limits their awareness of the world and their own roles to those of villagers. The outside world impinges on the novel through Trumper’s departure for and return from the United States and through the narrator’s later awareness, as he writes, of the political and historical significance of events such as the riot, the land sale, and his own emigration.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 775
G., a young Barbadian boy who is the narrator and protagonist. He is eight years old at the opening of the novel, which spans the subsequent nine years of his life. He tells the story of his childhood, which was spent in a small village (the fictitious Creighton’s Village) in Barbados, where he attends the local school with his friends. Unlike his friends, he wins a scholarship to go to high school. After he has been graduated from high school, he goes to Trinidad to become a teacher in a small school for Venezuelan and other South American students. The novel ends on the eve of his departure to Trinidad. G. is a sensitive and imaginative child whose developing consciousness also records an important part of the history of Creighton’s Village and Barbados.
G.’s mother, portrayed by G. as a person who is as capable of laughter as she is of wielding a whip to “roast his tail.” She is a capable woman who rears her son single-handedly and works hard to give him his education.
Pa, the father figure of the village. He is the repository of village history and is revered by all the villagers. He apparently earned some money in his youth in Panama, but in the novel he is quite poor. He sells his house after his wife’s death and, at the end of the novel, is preparing to move into the Alms House, knowing well that he does not have much longer to live.
Ma, his wife. She is described as balding and wearing a white cloth on her head. She is an intuitive person who is filled with foreboding at the future of Creighton’s Village. Significantly, she dies at the end of the riots.
Mr. Creighton, the landlord who owns the village. During the course of the novel, he loses his authority to Mr. Slime. Mr. Creighton figures prominently in the riot scene, when the striking workers from the city come into the village and prepare to attack him. He walks alone through the streets of the village, fully aware of the impending danger; he is saved by the opportune arrival of Mr. Slime, whose mere presence saves Mr. Creighton’s life.
Mr. Slime, the village schoolteacher, an entrepreneur, and ultimately the person with the most power in the village. In the beginning, he teaches fifth grade in G.’s school, but he is forced to resign because of his liaison with the wife of the head teacher. He founds the Friendly Society and Penny Bank, which ultimately help him to take control of the economics of the village. He is simultaneously feared and revered by the villagers.
Trumper, one of G.’s childhood friends. He goes to America, discovers the music of Paul Robeson, and is brought to an awareness of his racial identity. He tries to impart this newfound sense of identity to G. when he returns to Barbados.
Boy Blue, another childhood friend of G. He participates in G.’s childhood adventures, along with Trumper and Bob. He eventually joins the police force in the village.
Bob, the fourth member of the quartet of children featured in the novel. He figures prominently in the riot scene when he accidentally strays into the city during the riot and returns to the village with eyewitness reports of the bloodshed in the city. He also grows up to be a policeman.
The shoemaker, a significant villager. His shop is the center for intellectual debates on politics. He has the unique distinction of having read a book, a novel by J. B. Priestley that he uses as his political gospel when trying to interpret important historical events such as World War II.
Mr. Foster, another important villager. He figures prominently in various important sections of the novel. He refuses to leave his house during the flood and is carried down to the river on its roof; he has to be fished out of the water by a rescue party. During the feared riots, he assumes charge of the situation in the village. At the end of the novel, he voices his protest against the takeover of the land by Mr. Slime.
The overseer, the middleman who negotiates between the landlord and the villagers. He is despised by the villagers for his assumption of authority and for rejecting his origins among the villagers. He later is promoted to supervisor of roads, and his pride at this event does not endear him any further to the villagers.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1595
Bob is one of G.'s friends from the village. As the book starts, he watches G. being bathed by his mother, climbs up the fence, and knocks it over. Bob's mother attempts to beat him for this but he runs away. During the riots, Bob and Trumper sneak into town to watch the events and are caught up in the fighting. Bob has to run back to the village, fearing being caught by the police. At the end of the book, he and Boy Blue become policemen.
Bob's mother is G.'s next-door neighbor. Bob is one of her two children. She is fed up with Bob's mischief and loses her temper with him after he knocks the fence down, but later apologizes. When G.'s mother laughs at the children's antics, Bob's mother complains about the "botheration" the children bring her.
Boy Blue is one of G.'s friends. He takes part in almost all of their activities, and when they go to the beach he tells the long story about Bots and Bambina. He also almost drowns and has to be saved by the fisherman. At the end of the book, he becomes a policeman.
Mr. Creighton (also known as the landlord) is the white man who owns the village. He is descended from the original English plantation owners who settled the island, set up sugar plantations, and imported slaves to work the plantations. After the abolition of slavery and the decline of the sugar plantations, many of the plantation-owning families (such as the Creightons) stayed on in the West Indies, living off of the rents paid to them by the descendants of the slaves who lived on their land. The plantations became villages, named after the former plantation owner.
Mr. Creighton is one such landlord. His relationship to the village is almost that of a feudal lord. The rent he charges on the land is his primary source of income, but he also has the responsibility for the upkeep of the village. The floods at the beginning of the novel cause a great deal of damage to the village's roads, and Mr. Creighton greatly resents having to pay for repairs. Other changes in the village (especially a greater degree of freedom among the black residents that results in a rape attempt upon his daughter, whom he sends back to England) make him feel dissatisfied with his situation. He also is part-owner of the shipping company against which the union strikes. In an action that serves as his farewell to his quasi-feudal role, he calls the Old Woman to the house to talk to her, then sells his land to the Penny Bank and Friendly Society headed by Mr. Slime. The sale of his land and the subsequent eviction of many of the residents mark the violent transition of the village into the modern, capitalist world.
Miss Foster is one of G.'s mother's friends from the village. She has six children: "three by a butcher, two by a baker and one whose father had never been mentioned." After the flood, she goes to Mr. Creighton, who gives her tea and half a crown.
Mr. Foster works at the docks before the strike in the capital city. On the day of the riot, he does not go to work. When Mr. Creighton sells his land and the new owner comes to claim it, Mr. Foster attempts to treat him politely and respectfully but ends up losing his temper.
G. is the main character of the novel, and in much of the book he is the narrator as well. The book opens on his ninth birthday as he is being bathed by his mother. The book recounts his activities: he goes to school, spends time trading stories with his friends, gets into trouble, grows up. He ends up receiving a scholarship to the high school and, although he does not do particularly well in the upper school, he obtains a teaching job in Trinidad. Returning home before leaving Barbados, he finds that his relationship with his mother has changed. At the end of the book, much like James Joyce's Stephen Dedalus, he finds himself ready to fly away from the nets of his home island.
As a main character, G. is strangely unsatisfying; his psychological depths are not explored by the author in any great detail. It is not by coincidence that he is almost never named in the text (just about the only instance of his name appearing is in the second chapter, when Bob says "G. mother bathing him"). At times, G. seems to be a mirror, reflecting the events of the village, rather than living an independent life. Sandra Pouchet Paquet writes that G. "emerges as a figure whose personal experience crystallizes the experience of the entire community. In a sense, he is the village; the history of his dislocation echoes the dislocation of the village. He is a collective character."
In Lamming's own words (from the introduction to the 1983 reissue of his novel),
the mother of the novel is given no name. She is simply G.'s mother, a woman of little or no importance in her neighborhood until the tropical season rains a calamity on every household; and she emerges, without warning, as a voice of nature itself.
She is stern with G., beating him at times, but her strictness is motivated by a desire for G. to improve himself. When he goes off to the high school in the city, she keeps on G. to do well, even though his grades are never particularly good and he never is a brilliant student. Near the end of the book, when G. returns home before going to Trinidad, he and his mother bicker with each other until G. begins to feel nostalgic for his mother's cooking.
The three women who figure prominently in G.'s life (his mother, Miss Foster, and Bob's mother) are not given much characterization. They are "three pieces in a pattern which remained constant," the narrator says. "The flow of history was undisturbed by any difference in the pieces, nor was its evenness affected by any likeness." Where the younger generation, with their energy and mischief and "botheration," represents the changes that are imminent, the women represent the way that things have always been, the way that history seems to have passed Barbados by.
See Mr. Creighton
See Old Woman
The Old Man (also called Pa), the character from whose perspective some of the book is narrated, represents history—not just the village's history but the whole history of Africans in the Caribbean. Most of his appearances in the book take place in the company of his wife, but after she dies the author provides us with a scene between he and G. (for whom he has been a surrogate father-figure) and the scene of his eviction from his house to the Alms House.
The Old Woman (also called Ma) is the Old Man's wife. The two of them, together, represent the entirety of the history of black people in the islands. Mr. Creighton pays her the honor of talking to her as an equal when he decides to sell the land. She dies a number of years before he actually sells the land, however.
See Old Man
The Shoemaker is a self-educated villager, suspicious of the colonial ideology. When he is evicted from his land, he puts up a fight. The new landlord tells him he can keep the house but must leave the land, but when they try to move the house it falls apart.
Mr. Slime starts out as the fifth grade teacher at the boys' school but, by the end of the novel, plays a much greater part. His first appearance is not in person; he is the person photographed with the head teacher's wife. We learn about him indirectly throughout the book: people talk about Slime but he never actually appears as Slime until the end, when Trumper and G. see him at the bar.
Slime represents the amorality and complexity of the new world that is coming to Barbados. He is a teacher, a politician, a union leader, a financier, and bank owner, and the villagers, set in their one-role lives, cannot understand Slime's mobility. Slime rises from his controversial post at the school to lead the union that strikes against Creighton's shipping company. He founds the Penny Bank and Friendly Society, ostensibly to improve the lot of the villagers but most likely as a route to self-aggrandizement. The Bank then buys the land from Creighton and sells it to speculators and investors. He is capitalism personified, shifting roles quickly and taking advantage of every situation. The villagers and Creighton are at his mercy.
Trumper is G.'s boyhood friend from the village. When they are children, Trumper is an adventurous, daring boy. He was sent to a reformatory when he was nine, and during the riots he and Bob sneak off to the city to watch and have to flee back to the village. Eventually he emigrates from Barbados to America to seek his fortune. Returning to the village, he tells G. and his mother about the riches available in America but is strangely ambivalent about the U.S. He is unimpressed by the materialism of the nation, but his experiences with blatant Jim Crow-style racism taught him about black consciousness and nationalism.