Leaving This Island Place

by Austin Clarke

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Characters

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Miss Brewster
Miss Brewster is the head nurse at the almshouse who shows the narrator to the room in which his father lays dying. The narrator's description of her evokes images of death which express his anxieties about his dying father: ‘‘She is old and haggard. And she looks as if she has looked once too often on the face of death; and now she herself resembles a half-dead, dried-out flying fish, wrapped in the grease-proof paper of her nurse's uniform."

Cynthia
Cynthia is the narrator's girlfriend. She is of a significantly wealthier family and higher socioeconomic class than the narrator. Her class status is symbolized by her Jaguar sports car. When the narrator tells her that his father is dying, she laughs and says she didn't even know he had a father. Cynthia promises the narrator that she will be at the airport to see him off when he leaves for college, but she does not show up. The narrator laments, "Cynthia is not coming through the car park in her father's Jaguar. She has not come, she has not come as she promised.’’

Narrator
The narrator of the story, who is not given a name, is the central protagonist. The story is told from his first-person point of view. The story centers on a period of time as he is preparing to leave his native Barbados to attend college in Canada. As the story opens, he is going to visit his estranged father, who is dying in an almshouse. Although the narrator comes from an underprivileged socioeconomic class, he has worked his way into the world of the privileged through his education and his success as a cricket player. His girlfriend, Cynthia, is from a wealthier family than he, as are his friends, who throw a going-away party for him. In addition to his class status, the narrator is aware of the fact that he is a "bastard"—a child born without a legally named father—and therefore carries his mother's last name. He feels guilty to be leaving for college while his father is dying—yet his desire to "leave this island place" and escape his family and cultural roots in pursuit of a higher education prevails and he boards the plane as planned. Nonetheless, the class differences between the narrator and his girlfriend also seem to prevail: she fails to see him off at the airport, as she had promised. As his plane takes off, the narrator reminds himself once again, ‘‘I am leaving the island‘‘—a statement he has repeated throughout the story, which expresses a mixture of regret, guilt, alienation, and the overriding desire to escape his own background in order to start a new life in a foreign country.

Narrator's Father
As the story opens, the narrator's father lies dying in an almshouse, where the narrator goes to visit him. The narrator explains that his father and mother were not married, and so he does not carry his father's surname and was raised by his mother and stepfather. The narrator relates that his father had been the captain of the village cricket team, but had been broken down physically and in spirit from repeated arrests for drunkenness by a local policeman. Although his mother forbade the mention of his father's name for eighteen years, the narrator occasionally risked getting in trouble in order to visit him. The narrator feels guilty for leaving the island when he father is dying, but he also feels estranged from his father, and tries to comfort himself with the idea that he is leaving the island anyway and that it doesn't really matter that his father is dying.

Narrator's Mother
The narrator's mother became pregnant by his father out of wedlock, and so the narrator carries his mother's last name, rather than that of his father. His mother married a man who became his stepfather and forbade the mention of his biological father's name in the household.

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