Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 398
The Lonely Londoners is about the ambivalence and isolation that West Indian immigrants feel in London in the years after World War II. The book begins with a character named Moses going to fetch a new immigrant named Henry (nicknamed "Galahad"), who has just arrived in London. As he sees Henry try to adapt to life in London, Moses reflects on his own alienation.
As Galahad comes to understand what his life is like in London, he understands that his color literally colors his experience. He thinks:
"And Galahad watch the colour of his hand, and talk to it, saying, ‘Colour, is you that causing all this, you know. Why the hell you can’t be blue, or red or green, if you can’t be white? You know is you that cause a lot of misery in the world. Is not me, you know, is you! I ain’t do anything to infuriate the people and them, is you! Look at you, you so black and innocent, and this time so you causing misery all over the world!" (77).
Galahad realizes that his color will distance him from the world around him, and he feels alienated even by his own racial identity.
As a result of their color, the immigrants Moses comes to know in London are distanced from the life of England. Their connection to the city comes mainly from trying to date white women and from a connection they feel to the history of the place, mainly due to recognizing the names of neighborhoods and streets. For example, Galahad thinks:
"Jesus Christ, when he say 'Charing Cross,' when he realise that it is he, Sir Galahad, who going there, near that place that everybody in the world know about … he feel like a new man … Galahad feel like a king living in London."
Galahad's connection to the world around him is superficial, but he feels the immigrant's awe of the great place names he has heard in the past. He feels that he is living like a king simply by passing through Charing Cross, but he has no real entry into the real heart of London.
In the end, characters like Moses and Galahad remain ambivalent about their surroundings. Moses considers returning home but knows he can not make a living in the West Indies. He is forever suspended between worlds, a victim of colonialism.
Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 196
The Lonely Londoners presents the paradox of a society characterized by alienation that seems to depend on race and nationality but instead is an inevitable outcome of modernity. While the West Indian immigrants must navigate their adopted country within omnipresent racism and classism, they create a community based in their difference from the dominant majority. Samuel Selvon structures the novel to support the idea of community as he refrains from identifying a single protagonist and instead presents numerous, intersecting stories.
Each character faces challenges in making their way in British society—challenges which vary by the length of time they have resided there—but they understand the reasons for their exclusion. The white, usually native-born Londoners and other Britons they encounter, in contrast, find it more challenging to diagnose their displacement and angst. The more they interact with the white people they had hoped to emulate, the more the Trinidadians understand the need for solidarity and mutual support. These values are embodied in Moses, the longer-term resident who guides the newcomers, and Tanty Bessy, the mother figure of the group. Those who do not band together, however, are left to conform to the norm of loneliness.