Critical Context (Masterplots II: African American Literature)
In its frank discussion of the Indian-African theme, The Dragon Can’t Dance broke new ground. Lovelace examined critically the position of the East Indian as an outsider in West Indian society and considered what could be done to reverse this position. In this, he showed a remarkable sensitivity toward the Indian reality.
In his use of the language of the ordinary folk as the medium of expression, Lovelace distinguished himself as a pioneer, infusing into folk language the rhythms of steel band and calypso music. To do this, he eschewed grammatical convention, focusing instead on capturing the sensations of music and dance in his writing. Lovelace also gave literary value to the speech of the carnival people of the Hill.
When The Dragon Can’t Dance was published in 1979, Caribbean critic and scholar C. L. R. James stated that nowhere had he seen “more of the realities of a whole country disciplined into one imaginative whole.” James was merely expressing what so many others saw as the supreme achievement of Lovelace’s novel. Until that time, no novel had focused so directly and so comprehensively on the historical basis for and evolution of a people’s culture within the English-speaking Caribbean. The novel, like no other before it, explained the critical social function of culture in the Caribbean.