Model For a Marxist Analysis of Capitalism
Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1936
In the years following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the credibility of Marxism as a legitimate political program almost disappeared in the West. However, especially in the developing world, the ideas of Marxism have survived as a very compelling and powerful explanatory mechanism for answering the questions of why poverty and oppression and political corruption are so persistent in "Third World" societies. To many thinkers of the developing world, and many Western scholars sympathetic to their struggles, the "triumph of the Free World" is a misnomer, a euphemism constructed to put the best face on the real winner of the Cold War: large-scale corporate capitalism. What is termed "democracy" and "freedom," in the eyes of many Marxist scholars, is "the illusion of a popular democracy," the Caribbean writer George Lamming said in a recent interview; what is called our "freedom," Lamming argues, is simply our "expand[ed] access to an infinite range of commodities."
The Caribbean has been an especially fertile ground for Marxist ideas about oppression, colonization, and the harmful effects of capitalism. After all, while the United States and Spain and Britain reaped the profits of the sugar and fruit and coffee industries, these island countries provided the land, labor, and protection for First World owners. And when, as in the Dominican Republic, Haiti, or especially Cuba, liberation movements arose on behalf of workers and peasants and slaves, the First World powers attempted to put those movements down with military force.
George Lamming grew up in one of these countries, the British colony (later the nation) of Barbados. His 1953 novel In the Castle of My Skin is a vivid portrait of a small village in Barbados in the late 1930s. Written using shifting perspectives, stream-of-consciousness narration, and typically modernist explorations of a young boy's understanding of the world, the book has generally been analyzed in terms of its technique or in terms of its psychological insight. However, the novel's content and Lamming's own enduring concerns with political and economic justice demonstrates that readers view this novel politically, as an analysis of and commentary on the development of modern commodity capitalism in a rural, agricultural, quasi-feudal society.
The interrelationships between race, class, and colonialism are always Lamming's concern, and he has adopted a Marxist analysis of their combination. Colonial powers, he argues, used race and class to divide people from each other and, ultimately, to reinforce their economic system (in this case, the almost feudal system of post-slavery plantation labor). Race was "the device which the old plantocracy used to segregate the forces of labor [and to] maintain control over those divisions," Lamming wrote recently. As Lamming wrote in his introduction to the 1983 reissue of his novel,
The world of men and women from down below is not simply poor. This world is black, and it has a long history at once vital and complex. It is vital because it constitutes the base of labor on which the entire Caribbean society has rested; and it is complex because Plantation Slave Society ... conspired to smash the ancestral African culture, and to bring about a total alienation of man the source of labor from man the human person.
Race, although its importance in maintaining the social order should not be undervalued, is not the primary vector of power in In the Castle of My Skin. In the novel, it is the capitalist drive for enrichment—both among individual "capitalists" and as a free-floating force of history—that drives the events of the novel. For Lamming, the original source of the injustice in the Caribbean was the colonial endeavor, which in turn was simply the result of the endless demand for "economic development." Although he does not bear him any particular enmity except as the embodiment of colonialism, Lamming identifies Columbus as the infecting agent who brought the forces of "economic development" to the New World. In his recent essay "Labor, Culture, and Identity," Lamming writes that Columbus
was the carrier of a virus to which the people of the Caribbean would have no adequate response ... Materialism, linked to human progress, allowed the Western world to accept that even the enslavement of a people was morally justifiable if it contributed to the march toward economic development.
The term "economic development" is a crucial one here. In the United States and in the Western world generally, we have been taught by politicians and the media to regard this term positively: It means the material betterment of peoples' lives. However, Marxists view this term in a much different light. For them, "economic development" indicates the drive to obtain material value (or "capital") out of natural resources or human labor. "Economic development," for Marxists, is inherently exploitative. Lamming disagrees with those who see the "Age of Exploration" as being motivated simply by the desire to see and understand the world. For Lamming, the "Age of Exploration" was really an "Age of Exploitation," when the European powers (especially the Spanish, English, Portuguese, and Dutch) scattered exploration parties all over the world, looking for colonies with cheap labor that could produce such commodities as gold, sugar, spices, or textiles. The West Indies, with their brutal system of slavery and sugar plantations, are a perfect example of what "exploration" was really all about.
In In the Castle of My Skin, though, Lamming does not spend his time dissecting the plantation system or the immediate legacies of slavery. Rather, he sets the novel in the 1930s, at a time when the last vestiges of the plantation system were starting to disintegrate in the face of the immense power and energy of free-market capitalism. At the beginning of the novel, the town resembles a feudal estate of the middle ages. The "landlord," Mr. Creighton, owns the village and extracts rents from his tenants, who nonetheless go about their business largely on their own terms. Feudal society assumed that peasants essentially "belonged" to the land and to the lord of the manor and that the landlord could charge whatever rent he liked; in exchange, the church and other institutions of authority strongly encouraged lords to be fair and responsible for their tenants. Mr. Creighton follows this model: He provides a school and genuinely wants contact with his tenants. It is a paternalistic relationship that he wants, of course, but nonetheless it is a personal relationship.
Marxists point out that capitalism attempts to turn everything into a commodity that can be assigned a market value, bought, and sold. Slavery took this to its logical extreme when the Middle Passage took Africans from their homes, turned them into objects to be bought and sold, and brought them to American colonies. The Old Man, in his dream-reverie in Chapter 10, accesses what Jung might call his "racial memory," saying that "the silver of exchange sail cross the sea and my people scatter like cloud . . . Each sell his own."
But if slavery and the plantation system showed the truly brutal extent of capitalism, the aftermath of the plantation system succeeded, in a small and temporary way, in reversing history. Briefly, the plantations returned to feudalism. In a quasi-feudal society such as Creighton Village, selling the land is inconceivable, for the land is metaphorically part of the Creighton family. The intrusions of capitalism undermine this certainty. As he explains to the Old Woman, changes in Barbadian society—specifically, the "rape" of his daughter by local "vagabonds"—show him that the world is changing. The violent changes in the island's class structure, epitomized by the strike and riots, affect his family when people start to cross the previously unquestioned borders separating white landowner from black laborer. (The irony, of course, is that his daughter was "violated" not by a local but by a white officer attending Mr. Creighton's party.) He decides that he will sell his land, turning what had not been a commodity into something that can be bought and sold.
Mr. Slime is the most interesting character in the novel precisely because he embodies the contradictory, complicated nature of capitalism. He is the inaccessible mind of the marketplace; this aspect of his character is underscored by how he is much more often talked about than actually present in the novel. Certainly it is in the best interests of the inhabitants of Creighton Village to be freed from their feudal dependence on Mr. Creighton, and by representing their interests as laborers and providing them with a "Penny Bank and Friendly Society" Mr. Slime does exactly this. He yanks the villagers from feudalism into the new capitalist world. In this world, their freedom of activity is enhanced as the old strictures disappear—but the social support network they previously relied upon (i.e., the charity and goodwill of their landlord) also disappear. Mr. Slime's bank buys the village's land, driven partially by the idea that this will allow the bank to then sell the land to the villagers who have lived there for generations. But a bank is an organization that must make a profit or die, and in order to make a profit the bank has to sell this land to people who can pay for its "fair market value." Selling the land on the open market allows for land speculators and investors to buy the land and do with it what they wish, for the villagers do not have enough money to buy the land.
The reappearance of G.'s boyhood friend Trumper at the end of the novel underscores the changes that have taken place in village life since his departure for America years before. Trumper has been living in the very heart of capitalism, and his descriptions of America focus on those aspects of the country: "the United States is a place where a man can make pots of money." Trumper has new clothes, a silver chain, fans and telephones; he has benefited from capitalism in the most basic, material sense. Yet he does not seem to like it. "There be people there in the hundreds o' thousands who would have give anything not to get out their mother's guts," he tells G. and his mother. He is angered by the changes engendered in the village by the breaking-up of Creighton's estate and counsels resistance. More than anything, his experience in America has taught him not to trust the Mr. Slimes of the world.
G., the main character, has a different relationship to capitalism than do the villagers or Trumper. Unlike his friends, he is destined to have the advantages of talent and intelligence help him through life. He views his mother's imminent difficulties of where to go with a degree of detachment, knowing that he will be going to Trinidad. At no time in the book are his emotions fully engaged. He is an observer and a listener, someone destined to be a writer, it seems. But the people who surround him—his mother, Mr. Foster, Trumper, Bob—do feel the powerful emotions and have the traumatic experiences that stamp upon G.'s consciousness what effects this fundamental change in Creighton Village society has brought. In this, the book ends on a strange note, seemingly asking whether or not a writer can be truly engaged in the struggles of the world or if, in order to be a good writer, one must stand aside and hone the skills of watching and listening. If the theme of the book says no, its events tell us yes.
Source: Greg Barnhisel, Critical Essay on In the Castle of My Skin, in Novels for Students, The Gale Group, 2002. Barnhisel teaches writing and directs the Writing Center at the University of Southern California.
Carnival Strategies in Lamming's In the Castle of My Skin
Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2704
West Indian novelist George Lamming's In The Castle of My Skin takes its title from a couplet in Derek Walcott's juvenilia:
You in the castle of your skin
I the swineherd.
Walcott here invokes a conventional romance situation—unattainable mistress and infatuated, self-denigrating admirer—with the added pungency of racial overtones suggested by "skin." Lamming, however, changes the possessive pronoun, thus reversing the entire situation and seizing the castle for himself. By this sleight of hand, the naked (black) skin, with its connotations of exposure, shame, and deprivation, is transformed into an image of impregnability, strength, and self-sufficiency. By changing the joke, Lamming slips the yoke.
Indeed, the technique of turning deprivation into plenitude is the strategy of the entire novel. Lamming's fiction stands on the threshold between two worlds facing both ways at once. For while one
view of Castle shows a tragic mask of deprivation, failure, and exile, the other reveals a triumphant comic grin. Tragedy requires a scapegoat, but comedy, though it may permit the victim to be bound to the very horns of the altar, always allows him to evade the sacrificial role and escape to the sound of echoing laughter. It is on this very margin between tragic sacrifice and comic reversal that Lamming's first novel is situated.
Universally, cultures have recognized the power and danger of the margin or threshold by identifying a trickster-deity who shall preside over the rites of passage. In the West Indies, as in Afro-America, folk-tales are told of the Trickster Anancy—half spider, half man—who, though perennially in tight situations, is singularly adept at turning the tables on his oppressor and emerging more or less unscathed. His ability to extricate himself lies in his gift for "spinning yarns." In African mythology, Anancy is a god, responsible for creation itself, though his kindness to humans has brought about his fall from the favor of Nyame, the supreme Sky God. Rejected from the heavens, he finds himself positioned between earth and sky. Trader par excellence, Anancy enters the world to make things happen, to recreate boundaries, to break and re-establish relationships, to reawaken consciousness of the presence and the creative power of both the sacred Center and the formless Outside. Then he returns to that hidden threshold which he embodies and makes available as a passage to 'save the people from ruin.'"
Not surprisingly, given his capacity to hide in rafters and weave his web in any nook or cranny, Anancy survived the Middle Passage, and still spins his yarns throughout the Caribbean. His survival in folk imagination surely has to do with his capacity to transform disruption, discontinuity, brokenness, and defeat into triumphant new configurations of possibility. His perennial rebellion, and his use of comic trickery and deceit to expose the inadequacies of authority figures must surely have endeared him to the imagination of an oppressed folk. For it is the triumph of the Trickster to so deconstruct and invert the given "text" of authority that the destined scapegoat of tragedy turns the tables and emerges laughing in a comedy of ironic reversal—the castle of MY skin!
As symbol for the "limbo dance" of the West Indian novelist, Anancy is without peer. Poetry may well find its inspiration in jazz, blues, and calypso, but West Indian narrative, I contend, owes its beings to another Muse—Anancy. For, as Wilson Harris has argued, the West Indian artist is working in a limbo—a void between two worlds. Surrounded by and exiled from the structures of an alien world view, he must create his own world in this absence, or else be forever a negative, an exiled scapegoat. The very form of his art must be redefined. It is precisely here, in the interstices of structure, that the Anancy artist creates a world that describes its own center, thus marginalizing the oppressive structures of the Great House. Anacy re-creates the world— weaving a universe of relationships from the very substance of his being as he narrates his story in his way. For it is by way of his verbal ingenuity, his "yarn," that he can escape nonentity and strategically relocate the center of the cosmos.
Lamming, as an Anancy artist, confronts the world view of "Mr. Hate-To-Be-Contradicted," exposing the arbitrary nature of its premises and denying it the fixity and permanence it wishes to claim. He draws our eyes away from the structures of European domination to the folk themselves, to the spider weaving in the unswept corners of the house as it were. His strategy posits the possibility of a multiplicity of centers, and insists on relationships, connectedness, and pluralism as a necessary corrective to the inside/outside, above/below polarized hierarchies implicit in the Eurocentric expression of Great House/exploited tenantry.
Boundaries, thresholds, crossroads, and the marketplace of symbolic commercial intercourse are omnipresent in the rigidly structured Eurocentric landscape of Castle. They express a tragic world view in which hierarchies are inevitable, and principles of inclusion and exclusion are final and ultimate. High on the hill are the landlord's house and garden surrounded by a brick wall topped with broken glass, while below in the valley is the "tenantry"—the folk defined in terms of their relationship to the landlord:
To the east where the land rose gently to a hill there was a large brick building surrounded by a wood and a high stone wall that bore bits of bottle along the top.
At night the light poured down through the wood, and the house looking down from the hill seemed to hold a quality of benevolent protection. It was a castle around which the land like a shabby back garden stretched.
Yet another wall encloses the school yard:
In one corner a palm-tree, and in the others three shrines of enlightenment that looked over the wall and across a benighted wooden tenantry.
The three "shrines" are the church with "dark stained hooded windows that never opened" and an interior that is "dark and heavy and strange"; the head-teacher's house; and the school itself "with windows all around that opened like a yawning mouth". It is not without significance that a language of sacredness is used for this structured landscape in which the folk standprofana, feeding their children as human sacrifices to the yawning mouth of the system.
The landscaped village with its lighted Great House on the hill overseeing the tenantry in the valley, and the sacred middle ground between them of religion and education, is a microcosm of the novel's broader landscape in which Big England and Little England co-exist in the parent-child relationship typical of colonialism. "Landlords" of authority—England, the Great House, the School, the Church—all "look down" disdainfully across their boundary walls at the folk of the tenantry.
The Great protect their interests by means of a system of overseers, supervisors, and inspectors, but the folk, by contrast, are without protection; they experience invasion of their fragile defining boundaries at every point. The frail walls of the village suggest a corresponding frailty of the walls of personhood for those who live there:
The village was a marvel of small, heaped houses raised jauntily on groundsels of limestone, and arranged in rows on either side of the multiplying marl roads. Sometimes the roads disintegrated, the limestone slid back and the houses advanced across their boundaries in an embrace of board and shingle and cactus fence.
The villagers lack a clearly marked "road" of purpose. Defined by others, they are yet to define themselves. Their lack of identity, their constant experience of being "overseen," is symbolized in the incident of G' s bathtime. As the neighbor's son Bob balances on the paling to watch, his weight causes a fence to crash: "the two yards merged. The barricade which had once protected our private secrecies had surrendered" (18). A crowd is attracted to the scene:
On all sides the fences had been weighed down with people, boys and girls and grown-ups. The girls were laughing and looking across to where I stood on the pool of pebbles, naked, waiting. They looked at Bob's mother and the broken fence and me. The sun had dried me thoroughly, and now it seemed that I had not been bathed, but brought out in open condemnation and placed in the middle of the yard waiting like one crucified to be jeered at.
The scene recurs in different forms throughout the novel: shame and degradation consequent on the breaking down of defining boundaries, ritual beatings, ritual purifications. Mocking eyes rejoice over the trembling naked figure of another's embarrassment, glad to find a scapegoat for the shame they fear to confront within themselves. G's naked skin is his sole protection—his frail counterpart to the landlord's "castle" on the hill.
Boundary walls define the Great, then, but merely marginalize the folk, categorizing them as expiatory scapegoats for the Great. G and his friends transgress sacred boundaries when they secretly enter the grounds of the landlord's house to see what goes on at a party, and they witness the seduction of the landlord's daughter by a British sailor. Later, the story given out by the landlord is that his daughter was raped by the village boys. Here the "penetration" of sacred domains—the rape of class interests by the military—is projected onto the folk. Similarly, moral corruption within the ranks of those bonded together by a common "skin" is denied. Moral and economic problems are univocally displaced into simple racial hatred. Villagers conversing in the shoemaker's shop sum up the landlord's relationship with the folk with more acuity than they realize when one of them says; "He couldn't feel as happy anywhere else in this God's world than he feel on that said same hill lookin' down at us".
Ritual projection of guilt and shame onto an innocent victim is the recurring motif of the novel. Wilson Harris has already pointed to the number of ritual beatings and washing ceremonies in Castle. Repeatedly a scapegoat is singled out to bear the burden of another's disgrace. At the school's celebrations marking the Queen's birthday, the Headmaster, anxious to impress the inspector, is enraged when the ceremony is interrupted by a loud giggle. His response is dramatic. On the departure of the inspector he addresses the school in a voice "choked with a kind of terror". Punishment falls on the first available victim in ritualistic sadism: the innocent lad becomes a "human symbol of the blackest sin," is bound hand and foot, and a leather strap brought down repeatedly on his buttocks until his clothing is ripped and the "filth slithered down his legs." Like a sacrificial victim, the boy makes "a brief howl like an animal that had had its throat cut". Asked why he didn't run, the boy replies, "He had to beat somebody, and he made sure with me". Like the men in Foster's shop, the boy understands the human need for a sacrificial scapegoat. As his schoolfriends bathe away the filth and blood, the victim relates information about the Head teacher that fully explains the man's insecurities and his need to protect his image at all cost.
The pattern is repeated at a wayside revival service. Once again an authority figure humiliates and denigrates a victim while worshippers and onlookers alike exult in projecting their own shame onto the chosen scapegoat. Watching the preacher's tactics with a reluctant convert, G comments, "I was sure they were going to sacrifice him, and I wanted to see how it was done". The words "born again" disturb him: "There was something very frightening about them, and particularly the context in which they were placed. The hymn had been started in order to control the tittering of the spectators... The preacher was a kind of spiritual bailiff who offered salvation as a generous exchange for the other's suffering". Experience eventually teaches the lad that the circle of worshippers with the preacher at its center is a structured world akin to that of the landlord's walled houses on the hill; to enter it is to accept castration and assume the eternal role of child before the controlling authority of the Great.
When her pumpkin vine is trampled, G's mother has a sense of loss and futility that is wider-reaching than the immediate waste of the plant. Her voice "spoke as if from an inner void beyond which deeper within herself were incalculable layers of feeling". Her deprivation vents itself on G. The boy, completely innocent, stands naked in the center of a circle of spectators who rock with laughter as his mother engages in a ritualistic beating. A scapegoat is needed, and the naked boy serves the role. The innocent boy in the school, G in his mother's yard, the youth at the wayside service— all naked, all innocent, all chosen victims. The vulnerability of the naked self is evident.
Lamming's key metaphor for the invasion of boundaries and absence of defining walls of selfhood is the flood with which the novel opens. Water seeps through ceiling and floor into the house where G lives with his mother. Outside, a lily is uprooted from the soil by the force of the rain. Invading floodwaters anticipate the later "flood" of worker riots that will invade the boundaries of privilege but leave in their wake a muddy residue of bourgeois profiteering personified in Mr Slime, founder of the Penny Bank—an organization that, despite its promise, yields no benefits to the village. At an existential level the floodwaters provide an image for the novel's exploration of ways to build defining walls around the self. For repeatedly the self experiences invasion by the Other: "Deep down he felt uneasy. He had been seen by another. He had become part of the other's world, and therefore no longer in complete control of his own. The eye of another was a kind of cage".
Release and freedom are found only in the darkness—in the darkened cinema, in the school lavatory. To embrace the light is to lose one's freedom. Light from the landlord's house dictates the lifestyle of the villagers; light at the wayside revival service calls the people to forsake their manhood and be "born again" into submissiveness; and Ma calls Pa away from his dreams of silver, pork, and weddings, away from his ruminations on existence, away from his gaze through the open doorway into the freeing darkness and back to the circle of light thrown by the lamp in their home—a lamp that obediently takes its cue in unquestioning piety from the light on the hill. Lamming consistently inverts the Judeo-Christian metaphors of European tradition and associates light with exploitative control, darkness with freedom. The lad at the open-air meeting confesses his fear of the candles his aunt burns to "keep away the spirits"! In Lamming's revision of the European text, it is only when one has the courage to step out of the light—beyond the narrow circle of the known into the unknown, undreamed-of realm of darkness that a new order of things is made possible. The alternative is to be "a prisoner in the light, condemned to be saved".
Subtly Lamming inverts the conventional hierarchy of images. To be born again now appears as acquiescent auto-castration, and what Eurocentric authority calls enlightenment is discovered to be confinement within the denigrating oversight of an alien world view. By the end of his novel, Lamming brings us to the final inversion when the black skin itself, far from being a mark of shame and frailty, is revealed as a stronghold—a mask behind which the self is safe from invasion; "The likenesses will meet and make merry, but they won't know you, the you that's hidden somewhere in the castle of your skin", G exults. To be held in "le regard" of the other is to be misdefined. One moves into Being when the defining process is from within. G's drama is an existential taking possession of the boundaries of the self; he converts the cage of the already-defined into the fortress of the ever-signifying.
Source: Joyce E. Jonas, "Carnival Strategies in Lamming's In the Castle of My Skin," in Callaloo, Vol. 11, No. 2, Spring 1988, pp. 346-60.
The Myth of the Fall and the Drawing of Consciousness in George Lamming's In the Castle of My Skin
Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 3334
In 1958 George Lamming wrote that the modern black writer's endeavor is like that of "every other writer whose work is a form of self enquiry, a clarification of his relations with other men, and a report on his own highly subjective conception of the possible meaning of man's life." A writer's self-inquiry constitutes his first world—"the world of the private and hidden self, the world hidden within the castle of each man's skin." And if he is honest, he will bear witness to the impact that a second world, the social, has made on his consciousness. Finally, because a man cannot escape "the essential need to find meaning for his destiny," the writer must confront his third world, his "definition of himself as man in the world of men." When he looks fully into these three worlds of his self, he finds a "very concrete example of ... the human condition ... a condition which is essentially ... originally tragic." The contemporary human condition, writes Lamming, involves a "universal sense of separation and abandonment, frustration and loss, and above all, of man's direct inner experience of something missing."
All over the world and in different periods, that sense of absence has given rise to a myth of a past time of perfection from which man has fallen, a myth of a golden age or an Eden. In coming to terms with that archetypal sense of absence through the medium of the autobiographical fiction In the Castle of My Skin George Lamming revivifies the archetype of the Fall, now in Barbadian garb, as it touches each of his worlds. Not only is much of his personal life projected into the fictional character G, but the novel articulates the history of an entire village, as the protagonist individually and the villagers collectively come into historical consciousness and in so doing lose their innocence. "Archetypes come to life only when one patiently tries to discover why and in what fashion they are meaningful to a living individual," wrote Carl Jung. A fascinating example is the particular manner in which the myth of the Fall as a metaphor for maturation infuses Lamming's narrative, dignifying with eternal human significance the life of a poor, black child struggling to adulthood in Barbados.
Calling the biblical Fall "one of the most essential symbolic teachings of the Christian religion." Jung argued that the myth expresses the psychic fact that man experiences "the dawn of consciousness as a curse." Adam—the primitive man, responding to instinct, innocent without self-consciousness of his impulses and actions—rested secure in his trust of nature. That things were the way they were was not problematic. But in turning away from instinct and opposing himself to it, modern man, recognizing his nakedness, creates consciousness and with it the inevitability of choice, doubt, fear. Eating the apple from the tree of knowledge marks the sacrifice of the natural man, of the unconscious, of the capacity to live in the world through simple response without judgments of good and evil. And modern man, fallen, in an "orphaned and isolated state where [he is] abandoned by nature and driven to consciousness," aware of the insecurity implied by freedom to choose, said Jung, wishes he could avoid the problems thus engendered and may wonder whether the childlike, preconscious state were not preferable, he experiences loss and absence. Jung further argued that each individual reenacts the psychic history of the race in his emergence from preconsciousness and movement into the dualistic stage, characteristic of "youth" from puberty to mid-life, in which he experiences himself both as "I," the innermost psychic self, and as "also I," the self adjusting to making its way in the physical and social world.
In the early chapters of In the Castle of My Skin Lamming frankly acknowledges his use of Old Testament metaphor, but only to mock its simplistic nature. Humorously he compares the flood which opens the novel to the biblical Flood. Only once does he overtly contemplate the Garden of Eden story, which he merges with Lucifer's rebellion against God. In chapter three the schoolboys, having been denied knowledge of Barbadian history by the colonialist school system, speculate as to how Queen Victoria could have freed them from slavery. They arrive at a composite explanation which, though naïve, articulates the assumptions underlying British rationalizations for colonialist rule. Though in origin different, the Garden of Eden or heaven and the empire are identified with one another. Because both are products of God's will and under His dominion, to rebel against either is to become a moral outlaw, a Lucifer, a rebel against God. Rebellion, while offering the exhilaration of new possibility, produces loneliness so terrible that the rebels repent, preferring bondage to freedom. And bondage to the empire will facilitate their return to the true garden in heaven. Thus in his only overt consideration of the myth of the Fall, Lamming blasts the colonialists' exploitation of Christian theology in the interests of perpetuating economic and psychological enslavement. Lamming's analogy affirms that colonial Barbados was no paradise, except perhaps for the British.
Yet on a subtler level the myth does pervade the novel, and metaphorically Barbados is indeed a garden. A matured G, looking back, describes the house of the landlord Creighton as "a castle around which the land like a shabby back garden stretched." While the shabbiness under the colonial regime is never in doubt, neither—it turns out—is its gardenlike quality. In considering how the regime impinges on his second world, Lamming never retreats from resistance; still, when that rule is replaced by the native bourgeoisie, bringing about the sale of the land and destruction of a way of life, then the loss of that simple, harmonious community—poignantly symbolized by Pa's removal to the almshouse—is felt severely enough that village life seems in retrospect like an innocent paradise. The verdure of the land is known only after the trees are downed, and the land's value becomes evident only when it is sold. G's mother voices this truth in an aphorism: "You never miss the water till the well run dry; / You never miss a mother till she close her eye." Just as the child's lack of consciousness of being a person separate
from the mother gives way before the evidence that he is himself not her, so man—the villagers—no longer in a monistic relationship with the source of sustenance, the natural world, becomes forcefully conscious of his separateness with profound regret.
While the villagers experience the social and political changes as disastrous, the novel's judgment of these changes is more complex. For although throughout most of the novel G's experience of the world is like that of the villagers, their fall is single. His is double. The sociopolitical narrative of social change in a Barbadian village deals with the single fall, which is, it appears, a fall only in part. Even desirable change involves loss: "Whether you were glad or sorry to be rid of [things,] you couldn't bear the thought of seeing them for the last time." The narrator's fall, on the other hand, has a second part and a different quality, for he also becomes alienated from the village community. In gaining access to the narrator's double fall, we enter the writer's first world, the world of the innermost self, and perhaps not surprisingly find ourselves involved with issues of autobiography as a genre.
Of course Lamming, like G, was once a boy growing up in Barbados. But In the Castle of My Skin resembles autobiography more than superficially. First, its mode is self-reflective and so has a natural tendency toward irony. In autobiography the narrator is both the observer and the observed, and as such the genre can only be written after the writer has separated himself enough from living experience to objectify it. If the writer, now matured, tries to re-create experiences as he lived them (this Lamming does), his double vision characteristically produces irony. In Lamming's novel the double vision accounts for the humor in the early part of the novel, for he recounts events as the child and the villagers experienced them, but with the hindsight of the matured observer. Naturally by the end, as the ages and perspectives of the observer and the observed converge, the humor disappears, and the ironic distance diminishes.
The novel shares with autobiography a second feature: the use of Edenic imagery to depict childhood. In "The Myth of the Fall: A Description of Autobiography" Martha Lifson explores the curious fact that many autobiographies—those of Augustine, Rousseau. Wordsworth and Thoreau, among others—invoke garden-of-paradise imagery in describing childhood: "The light, the peace, the friendly insect, the stillness, and particularly the timelessness, are all images that recur frequently in autobiographical scenes of childhood." Later she adds to this list a "sense of order" and "abundance of nature."
Although "light" is not a prominent metaphor in his novel, Lamming sometimes uses light-dark imagery in crucial ways, as will be seen. "Peace" and "stillness," while indeed appropriate to the chapters at the beach, would not seem to describe the raucous, often quarreling interchanges of village life unless we understand them as commotion which occurs within the context of the steady rhythms of that life, commotion which signals no disruption. The theme of Edenic harmony emerges strikingly in depictions of the land, the sky, the sea, the sand of the beach with its wondrous crabs appearing and disappearing. The crabs, vibrating with luminous significance, are the Barbadian equivalent of Lifson's "friendly insects," emblematic of the eternal wonder of the universe, with which the child feels at one. It emerges in the fisherman, masterful and at ease in his element, who personifies man's harmony with the natural world and capacity for securing abundance from its unspoiled state. Though the village is poor and ragged, no one appears to be in real want. The rootedness of the village order and the unconscious assumption that the village will remain unspoiled are Edenic qualities too. G's friend Trumper alone voices what others only vaguely intuit.
When you up here [at the landlord's house] ... you see how it is nothin' could change in the village. Everything's sort of in order. Big life one side an' small life a next side, an you get a kin' o' feelin' of you in your small corner an' I in mine. Everything's kind of correct.
Still, as Lifson noted, it is the child's sense of timelessness which most emphatically evokes paradise.
In this novel chronological time belongs to the adult observer reflecting on how the village and he have changed. For the villager and the child, time does not exist. G is aware of time as sequence but not as progression. The villagers similarly cannot imagine the radical changes set in motion by Mr. Slime's formation of the Penny Bank and the Friendly Society. Thus the consequences, unexpected, shock them not just because of specific effects, but because they had not conceived that real change was possible. "This land ain't the sort of land that can be for buy or sell ... 'Twas always an' 'twill always be land for we people to live on," protests a bewildered woman.
Thus a maturer Lamming joins in choosing Edenic imagery to transcribe his childhood. For G and the villagers, conflicts occur within the unexpected, natural rhythms of life and create neither alienation nor self-division. The paradise Lamming evokes is one of naïve inner harmony, based on the assumption that the world is what it is and everyone has a secure place in it, not on the judgment of it as good in itself. So also affirms the book of Genesis: knowledge of good and evil arises only after the apple is eaten.
Although Lamming's evocation of Eden is powerful, equally if not more forceful are the images of disappearance and destruction, of the Fall, which resonate throughout the novel. Sudden, mysterious, unexpected disappearances of objects, emblems of the more catastrophic loss of psychic grounding, punctuate the text. The humorous story of the drunk man's penny and cent—one rolled into the gutter in full view under a full moon, the other was carefully secured under a stone, and both vanished—echoes through the narrator's later, nearly frantic search for the special pebble which, having seized the narrator's attention, vanishes contrary to all logical causality through some strange, indecipherable intervention, in the midst of security, in the Garden of Eden, without source or explanation, without preparation, cataclysmi-cally enters the serpent.
The novel tells of two falls: the simple sale of Eden itself (the village land) through the agency of the serpent Mr. Slime, and the more complex disinheritance of G, who loses his identity. Repeatedly, Lamming projects the predicament precipitating the fall as closed. Only two alternatives (they appear either as opposites or as identical—it makes no difference) are postulated, and the protagonist must choose between them. Although in the predifferentiated state G embraced both alternatives without conflict, yet with the coming of an unforeseen, intervening force he is compelled to choose between illusory alternatives. The refusal to choose places him in limbo; choosing leads him into exile or destroys him. Always he loses the harmony of his prelapsarian state.
The tales told by the boys at the beach rehearse G's later experience of this psychological predicament. Boy Blue tells the story of Bots, Bambi and Bambina, of a village man living contentedly with two common-law wives. Under external pressure he arbitrarily marries one of them. All continues the same until, without warning, the formerly warm and sociable man becomes silently morose, takes to drink and dies. The boys explain his enigmatic behavior thus: "Something go off pop in yuh head' an you ain't the same man you think you was". The story is preceded by Trumper's tale of Jon, who, similarly coerced into choosing between two women, Sue and Jen, attempts to watch his wedding from a tree, waiting to discover what will happen as, simultaneously in facing churches, his two brides-to-be vainly await his arrival at the altar. Images of a duality which is no duality repeat elsewhere—two moods of the ocean on either side of the lighthouse, the oppositions of life and death, Creighton and Slime, god and dog in Pa's dream. Always frustration and loss follow choice.
Such predicaments are emblematic of the narrator's situation near the end of the novel, when he finds himself separated from the village by his education and from his intellectual peers by his ties to village life.
I remained in the village living, it seemed, on the circumference of two worlds. 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.
Repeatedly as situations necessitate choice between false, arbitrary or meaningless alternatives, the individual remembers that it had formerly been possible to have wholeness, to appropriate all alternatives and so avoid loss. Trumper explains Jon's perspective: able imaginatively to marry both women as well as observe from the tree, he accepts the psychic reality as primary and fails even to consider as problematic the failure of the three events to proceed simultaneously in actuality. Instead he waits patiently for the groom, himself or another, to arrive for the weddings. Trumper comments, "P'raps it ain't [logical] ... but that don't make it not so." When Boy Blue objects that living a contradiction makes wholeness impossible, Trumper responds, "I don't know. ... P'raps you can if you feel you can". In dream, in memory, in imagination, the mind contemplates and realizes multiple, incompatible alternatives. Since all perceptions ultimately must be subjective, the subjective projection can become more actual than the objective manipulation of physical matter. Eden is not just a folk village, a childhood mentality, but also, as in Jung, a psychic position.
Lamming contrasts archetypally the atempo-ral, paradisiacal Barbadian life and Slime's modern, analytical approach to it. In introducing the novel, Richard Wright, speaking of the clash of the folk and the modern worlds, focuses on its sociopolitical dimensions, highlighting the Third World cultures versus modern industrialism. Wright further argues that the clash occurs in the mind of every man who grows up in the one culture to find himself an adult in the other. For the atemporal, dream-fantasy mode which accounts for the label "poetic" so frequently bestowed on the novel arises from the child's preconscious mode of mental activity, and the temporal perspective of the matured observer is generated from the analytic, linear mode of mental life.
Lamming has embodied the opposed modes, the "atemporal folk" and the "linear modern," within the novel's narrative strategy. The adult observer perceives the causality of events, analytically and linearly, revealing the dynamics of social change. But the villagers' and child's perspective is atemporal. Several narrative strategies create the impression of timelessness. First, the time lapses between chapters vary radically and indefinitely. Rarely does the reader know how old G has become. Second, the narrative voice ranges from primarily first person, to primarily third person, to— in the chapters which are dialogues between Ma and Pa—primarily dramatic. The voices narrate a whole unified by harmony rather than by logic. Third, images felt to be similar to one another in essence, though different in form, emerge at unforeseen points to create a narrative of mood subliminally felt to dominate the linear narrative of events. As in a dream where the insights of the psyche are disguised in symbols and meaning emerges from decoding the emotional reverberations (not from simply remembering the narrative of the dream), so the emotional content of the novel is structured by a process of freely associating images and symbols which resonate against one another, allowing the correspondences to surface.
When he juxtaposes atemporal and analytical narrative modes. Lamming gives concrete form to Jung's concept of the self in youth experiencing its own duality, itself as "I" and "also I." Pa's enigmatic dream in chapter ten exemplifies this. The dream, voice of the unconscious function of the psyche and a balancing corrective to conscious thought, is here presented as the voice of the slave ancestors. It would seem to be a dream emerging from a kind of racial collective unconscious within the individual psyche. That voice describes the origins of Barbados through slavery as a terrible mistake, as the formation of an illusory duality between oppressed and oppressors which never should have been, one begun symbolically here by the sailor Christopher Columbus.
The only certainty these islands inherit was that sailor's mistake, and it's gone on and on from father to son 'mongst the rich and the poor: in Slime and Creighton, landlord and politician, those who play at ruling and those at being ruled, and those who are neither one nor the other... The fate of these islands I do not know, but man must live like a god or a dog, or be a stone that is neither dead nor alive, a pool no wind will ever wrinkle. For there's always two worlds to one man if you're a man, two darknesses to one light...
The very concept of duality, of alternatives at once opposite and the same, is illusory. The necessity of choosing between Jen and Sue, folk and modern, unconscious and conscious, is an illusion. Here especially images of light, typical of Eden, become relevant. In Pa's dream, darkness represents the fallen state of the present; and light at the end of the dream—Pa's vision for the future— seems to signify a yearning for a final reintegration and return to what long ago, before the fall, had been whole. The hope of reintegration is what prevents Lamming's novel from representing life as in essence tragic, his later comments notwithstanding.
Source: Carolyn T. Brown, "The Myth of the Fall and the Drawing of Consciousness in George Lamming's In the Castle of My Skin," in World Literature Today, Vol. 57, No. 1, Winter 1983, pp. 38-43.