The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

The Kaywana novels contain more than two hundred characters, of whom less than half are directly connected to the van Groenwegel family. Despite the variety of individuals within the family itself, two types of characters are generally recognized: those who are strong or dominant, and those who are weak and passive. Most of the van Groenwegels exhibit a combination of these traits, but there is no doubt that the one most admired is the one embodied in the family motto: “The van Groenwegels never retreat,” or “The van Groenwegels never run.”

The tough, fighting spirit behind this tradition can be traced back to Kaywana, the matriarch of the clan. Her Amerindian name “Kay” meaning “old” and “wana” meaning “water” links her firmly to the society in Guiana and to its struggle for survival under harsh, chaotic, colonial conditions. This society in which the Dutch vie for power among themselves, among other Europeans, and among the Amerindians, breeds ruggedly individualistic and self-sustaining values. In struggling constantly against her own people, and against Europeans, Kaywana exhibits striking qualities of defiance, resolution, hatred, and revenge. Although passionately loyal to her lovers and blood relations, she is fiercely hostile to their enemies, as shown by her outlandish passion toward Adriansen and August, and fierce defiance of Wakkatai. Kaywana is a product of Guiana in the throes of colonial occupation. In these circumstances, she is bolstered by an almost fatalistic belief in the inherent cruelty of the natural order.

Of Kaywana’s descendants, none expresses this belief more faithfully than Hendrickje, daughter of Laurens, and great-granddaughter of Kaywana. Hendrickje is a good example of the inbreeding that exists among the van Groenwegels, encouraging family pride in the “old blood.” On her mother’s side, Hendrickje is descended from Kaywana and August, while on her father’s side, she is descended from Kaywana and Adriansen. Another possible influence on Hendrickje is the fact that her grandmother on her mother’s side is an African slave....

(The entire section is 864 words.)