Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The anonymity of the narrator suggests that this story is representative of the experience of many young West Indians. The characters fit neatly into two groups: the young, who will either stay in Barbados and try to assume positions of power or emigrate and achieve self-satisfaction, and the old, who are adjusted to the limitations and oppressions or perquisites of island life. Together, they suggest that there is no viable middle way. Some readers may find the constant repetition of “I am leaving” too repetitive (it occurs seventeen times, and there are five additional variations of the same idea); however, it clearly is intended to convey the narrator’s obsession with departure. It becomes a leitmotif.

There are several vivid expressions that suggest Clarke’s skill at both characterization and description, for example, “the smell of stale urine and of sweat and faeces whipped me in the face,” and “The two large eyeballs in the sunset of this room are my father.” The inclusion of snippets of the godmother’s conversation throughout the story indicates that her remarks, unsettling rather than comforting, are a constant irritant. Most of the dialogue is void of the idiosyncracies of Barbadian dialect; as a result, the story becomes more than a single-island story and can be seen as a metaphor for all islands or small, isolated communities.

Historical Context

(Literature of Developing Nations for Students)

This story takes place in Barbados, an island nation in the Caribbean. As Clarke is originally from Barbados, many of his stories either take place there or are about immigrants from Barbados to the U.S. and Canada. Ninety percent of the population of Barbados is made up of people of African descent. The official language is English, but Bajan, a dialect of English, is also spoken. The capital of Barbados is Bridgetown. Barbados was colonized by the British from 1627, when they first established a settlement there, to 1966, when the island achieved national independence. In the seventeenth century, sugar plantations became the primary basis of the economy of Barbados. Africans were forcibly brought to Barbados to work as slaves on these sugar plantations. A slave rebellion was waged in 1816, but slavery was not abolished in the area until 1834. Nevertheless, Barbadians of African descent continued to be employed primarily on sugar plantations and continued to occupy the least privileged socioeconomic strata. Labor disturbances in the 1930s, however, led to various reforms in the 1940s, which made it possible for black political organizers in the region to gain power and influence. Barbados achieved complete internal self-rule in 1961, and national independence in 1966, although it remained part of the British Commonwealth. Throughout the 1980s, the political system of Barbados was considered one of the most stable in the English-speaking Caribbean.

West Indies
The island nation of Barbados is part of the West...

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Literary Style

(Literature of Developing Nations for Students)

This story is set in Clarke's native home of Barbados, the ‘‘island place’’ referred to in the story's title. Like the narrator and protagonist of his story, Clarke left Barbados as a young man in order to attend college in Canada. Thus, many of Clarke's stories are about immigrants who leave Barbados for North America. ‘‘This island place,’’ in the story, represents not just home but the narrator's entire familial, ethnic, cultural, and socioeconomic roots. Thus, ‘‘leaving this island place’’ represents for the narrator the sense that he is abandoning his cultural roots in pursuit of socioeconomic success in the white-dominated Western world.

Point of View
This story is narrated from the first-person point of view. This means that the narrator is a character in the story, and that the reader is given only information, thoughts, or ideas available to that character. In this story, the narrator is not named, but is the protagonist of the story. First-person narration is important to this story because it concerns the narrator's inner conflicts as he prepares to leave his native island of Barbados to attend college in Canada. The reader is presented with the narrator's thoughts about his family and his socioeconomic standing. The first-person narration also presents impressions and descriptions of the protagonist as reflections of his own inner anxieties; for instance, when he is visiting his dying father, many of the people and objects he sees around him are described in terms which refer to death.

Clarke is celebrated among critics for his skillful rendering of the rhythms of speech of his Barbadian characters. Anthony Boxill, in the Dictionary of Literary Biography, makes note of his "unerringly sharp ear for Barbadian speech patterns and rhythms’’ which contribute ‘‘much to the richness of his characterization.’’ An example of this is the speech of Miss Brewster, who shows the narrator to the room in the almshouse where his father...

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Topics for Further Study

(Literature of Developing Nations for Students)

Clarke was born and grew up in Barbados, which is in the West Indies. Find a map of the West Indies, a grouping of many island nations. What other countries are part of the West Indies? Learn more about one of these countries, including its culture and history.

Clarke can be categorized as a Canadian author, and therefore as part of the Canadian literary tradition. Learn more about Canadian literature. What historical trends and developments have characterized Canadian literature? Learn more about another Canadian author and his or her principal works. Read and discuss a story by this author.

Clarke is a native of Barbados. Learn more about the history of Barbados and also about contemporary Barbados. What significant events or developments have occurred there?

Clarke's fiction can be categorized in the literary tradition of the West Indies. Learn more about the history and significant developments in West Indian literature. Who are some other West Indian authors of note? Read and discuss a story by another West Indian author.

Clarke's fiction is concerned primarily with the experiences, struggles, and achievements of immigrants from Barbados to Canada. Learn more about another population of immigrant to your own country or local area. What are and have been the immigration patterns of this group of people? What particular issues and concerns face immigrants from this particular nation or culture? What is the policy of...

(The entire section is 236 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Literature of Developing Nations for Students)

From Ink Lake: Canadian Stories, edited by Michael Ondaatje and published in 1990, contains Clarke's story ‘‘Leaving This Island Place.’’

Clarke's The Meeting Point (1967) is the first novel in his Toronto Trilogy. The novel is about a group of immigrants from Barbados to Canada.

Clarke's Storm of Fortune (1973) is the second novel in the Toronto Trilogy, and follows the further experiences of the characters presented in the first.

The Bigger Light (1975) is the third novel in Clarke's Toronto Trilogy.

Growing Up Stupid under the Union Jack: A Memoir is Clarke's autobiographical story of his childhood in Barbados.

The Black Writer in Africa and the Americas (1973), edited by Lloyd W. Brown, contains a piece contributed by Clarke.

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Bibliography and Further Reading

(Literature of Developing Nations for Students)

Boxill, Anthony, ‘‘Austin C. Clarke,’’ in Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 53: Canadian Writers since 1960, Bruccoli Clark, Gale, 1986, pp. 124-29.

Further Reading
Clark, Austin C., Amongst Thistles and Thorns, Heinemann, 1965; McClelland & Stewart, 1965. Amongst Thistles and Thorns tells the story of a young boy growing up in Barbados.

----, The Bigger Light, Little, Brown, 1975. The Bigger Light is the last of Clark's "trilogy" following the fortunes of characters introduced in The Survivors of the Crossing and Storm of Fortune.

----, The Meeting Point, Heinemann, 1967; McClelland &...

(The entire section is 134 words.)