Last Updated on June 22, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 374
The event upon which the residents of Calvary Hill focus much of their life is Carnival: “Carnival it is that springs this hill alive.” Regardless of the poverty and the hopelessness that besets them, it is the answer that makes it all bearable:
Dance! If you catching hell, dance, and the government don’t care, dance! Your woman take your money and run away with another man, dance! Dance! Dance! Dance! It is in dancing that you ward off evil.
For the protagonist, Aldrick, the creation of his dragon costume for Carnival is symbolic of his life and his people’s history:
Aldrick worked slowly, deliberately; and every thread he sewed, every scale he put on the body of the dragon, was a thought, a gesture, an adventure, a name that celebrated some part of his journey to and his surviving upon this hill.
Beyond the symbolic act of Carnival, there is a wish for something that will enable a revolution, an actual change in the Trinidadian world. Another character, Fisheye, wishes that the steel band to which he belongs can foment a transformation:
Fisheye watched for it to go beyond this. He watched for the bands, the warriors to come together to do something, to make some dent in the real world.
Later in the story, Aldrick, Fisheye, and others hijack a police van and briefly hold two officers hostage. There is no actual violence, but the men are sentenced to long prison terms. As they are holding the police officers, Aldrick’s thoughts go to the heart of the matter:
He did not know what had come over him. There was suddenly a feeling of excitement, of power. He felt that they were soldiers in truth, warriors, an army, and he saw before him again, his mother rocking the baby and his father coming up the street striding . . . and there was something he wanted to say, something he wanted to shout.
Though the symbolic act comes to nothing, it is a turning point. In spite of the poverty and disenfranchisement of the residents of Calvary Hill, a positive feeling emerges in the closing pages of the book, indicating that there is a way out, no matter how desperate the people may feel.