Earl Lovelace Long Fiction Analysis
No travel book, no matter how copious its factual data, could match the novels of Earl Lovelace in their depiction of the living reality of his native Trinidad. The central settings of the novels vary—urban apartment dwellings in Port-of-Spain for While Gods Are Falling, a remote mountain settlement for The Schoolmaster, a hillside slum for The Dragon Can’t Dance—thus Lovelace touches nearly every segment of the population as widely different individuals confront the shifting problems of modern life. Complicating the plot of each novel are the problems of characters adjusting to societies in transition.
While Gods Are Falling
True to his name, Walter Castle, theprotagonist of While Gods Are Falling, is engaged in preserving the security of his home. As Lovelace makes abundantly clear, Walter is threatened not so much by the restless young men who turn streets into battlegrounds as by a pervasive sense of life’s aimlessness. With no more gods to claim meaningful authority, the younger generation has no guiding purpose. Fearful for his family because of the random violence and discouraged by his slow advancement at work, Walter’s first impulse is to escape to peaceful farm life.
Stephanie Castle’s reluctance to follow her husband’s rash decision provides subtle motivation for thenarrative’s ebb and flow. In the intervals between their arguments, Walter reminisces about his childhood and his growth through a series of jobs into adulthood and marriage. Lovelace uses such flashbacks to indulge his love of Trinidad’s lush forests and colorful rural folkways, and the contrast with the city’s hectic turmoil is quite effective. In the end, however, Stephanie aids Walter as he discovers the necessity of choosing a more responsible course.
At this point, Lovelace expands his message to encompass the larger community. As Walter assists a desperate mother in reclaiming her wayward son, he enlists the support of prominent neighbors. Just enough realistic obstacles exist to prevent the solution from appearing facile. Walter and his friends eventually accept the fact that individual members of a community must not rely on institutions of state or religion for social progress. In the void left by the withdrawal of colonial rule, personal integrity and values reside more than ever in the hands of the citizenry.
Although messages are available in The Schoolmaster, this second novel avoids didacticism by refusing to offer a definitive solution. The central conflict arises when a pastoral village decides to open a local school and end its isolation. Despite the dire predictions of their priest, the peasants of Kumaca have to accept exposure to civilization’s corruption as the price for giving their children a chance in the modern world. Ironically, corruption takes the form of the schoolmaster who is responsible for preparing the children for the future. When he rapes his assistant, he sows the seed of destruction for an innocent way of life. The pregnant girl commits suicide, the villagers conspire to hide the circumstances of the schoolmaster’s violent death, and the inevitable transformation of a rustic society takes its toll.
The West Indian poet Edward Kamau Brathwaite has argued that the question of faith is central to the plot of The Schoolmaster and that the priest and the old mule driver, Benn, should have carried more of the story. Father Vincent, whose faith depends on Church doctrine, is unable to protect his flock from evil, and, in the end, his weakness allows him to accept the schoolmaster’s ill-fated scheme to marry the girl he has violated. Going against his knowledge of human nature, he hopes for a miracle. Old Benn, who believes only in the rigors of a hard life, is able to instruct the priest in the lessons of experience. Their first serious dialogue leads...
(The entire section is 1611 words.)