Although the physical action of the novel centers on Leon’s preparation for the Blue Riband bicycle race and his eventual triumph, the novel’s most important and interesting developments take place within the mind and heart of Sylvia. Leon simultaneously values and pities Sylvia for her seeming lack of a personality independent of his own; “she was always cool, always easy, always pliable to his will.” It is a view with which Sylvia herself concurs; her enforced loneliness and the boredom of her job, however, cause her to become more reflective and self-aware. At twenty-one, she leads a life of slightly prudish respectability, but her growing friendship with the disreputable May and her consciousness of the hypocrisy which often lies beneath the veneer of Trinidadian propriety lead her to recognize her own potential for coarse thoughts and immoral behavior.
Sylvia’s heightened awareness of Carnival and her liking for the melodies of calypsoes whose Iyrics she considers “vile” and “almost all immoral” reflect the moral ambiguity which soon leads to acquiescence in her seduction by Mohansingh, a married man. Sylvia’s decision to trick Leon into accepting Mohansingh’s baby as his own is not only an act of desperation and retribution but also an admission of moral weakness and the acceptance of a sense of debased self-worth.
Leon’s quest for glory illustrates an aspect of the importance of sport in preindependence Trinidad, a poor country where opportunities for respectable members of the working class to distinguish themselves were severely limited. Leon’s participation in cycling is predicated on an obsessive will to win and not on enjoyment of sport for its own sake. He is proud of his strong body and is willing to endure pain to turn it into an efficient instrument of his ambition, but the constant monitoring, massaging, and observation of his physique verges on the narcissistic; in his own way, he is every bit as preoccupied with the flesh as any Carnival reveler. Leon feels some shame for his...
(The entire section is 836 words.)