The Characters

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 693

Unlike the conventional novel, The Lonely Londoners has no protagonist. Moses Aleotta, to whom readers are initially introduced, has a certain status, but this derives not from his social position, his special resources, or his extraordinary experiences. It derives instead from the length of time he has been in London....

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Unlike the conventional novel, The Lonely Londoners has no protagonist. Moses Aleotta, to whom readers are initially introduced, has a certain status, but this derives not from his social position, his special resources, or his extraordinary experiences. It derives instead from the length of time he has been in London. Seniority gives Moses an authority and significance in the eyes of the group that has formed around him. In the eyes of newcomers, Moses is a vital mentor, guide, and informant. Such a view makes Moses increasingly conscious of the human cost of his immigrant status, as revealed in his rather embittered and nostalgic conversation with the younger, fresher Galahad toward the end of the novel. Although none of the characters is immune from the loneliness of the novel’s title, it is Moses who is the most complete embodiment of unsensational, unsentimental isolation.

Galahad, on the contrary, makes a much more obvious effort to enter English society in his pursuit of white women. His date with Dolly, however, is not exactly what either partner expects; Galahad is somewhat disappointed by the girl’s grade of culture, while she is unaccustomed to his standard of hospitality. The conflicts that are gently implied in this episode are repeated in various ways throughout the novel. They are most obviously in evidence in the area of sexual relations, but they also exist between West Indian family members, as in the case of Tolroy’s brother and sister-in-law, and between members of the West Indian community generally, as the pretentious behavior of the impresario Harris demonstrates. These remain conflicts without issue. Dolly appears and disappears. What she is thought to represent remains poorly defined, elusive, unsettling, and symptomatic of being unsettled.

Cap, however, seems to be the exception required to prove the rule. His unpredictable and vaguely anarchistic way of life, driven by his opportunistic momentum, represents in extreme form the unorthodoxy of the immigrant presence. Cap’s ways of dealing with money, with women, and with lodgings are fraught with irregularity and improvisation. The fact that he proceeds unscathed by his experience seems to render him invulnerable to the loneliness that informs West Indian lives. Cap’s experience also places him beyond the fringe of society, giving his behavior an egotistical vehemence entirely lacking from the ambitions and adventures of Moses and fellow countrymen.

On the contrary, what characterizes the experience of the vast majority of the characters in The Lonely Londoners is its harmlessness. It would be too facile to say that the journey that Tanty makes from the Harrow Road to Great Portland Street, from her restricted domicile to the world of work and white people, is symptomatic in its straightforwardness and potential trauma of the passage from home to England that is a continual source of reflection in the novel. Nevertheless, the singularity of Tanty’s trip is a reminder of West Indian guilelessness, as represented by the author. It is true that the Barbadian nicknamed, on account of the darkness of his complexion, Five Past Twelve, does smoke marijuana at the fete. Another of the novel’s numerous minor characters bets on the football pools, a form of legalized gambling on the results of soccer games. This is the extent of their vices. Unlike other members of immigrant groups, these characters do very little drinking, and in only one case is sporting expensive cigarettes part of a character’s style.

In this way, and also by the text’s consistent emphasis on the characters’ desire for gainful employment both as an economic matter and as a matter of dignity, the author tactfully but explicitly calls attention to his people’s fitness for full citizenship and counteracts the stereotypes frequently imposed on immigrants, on black people, and on black immigrants. It may be that readers encountering The Lonely Londoners long after it was first published may find themselves impatient with the simplicity of the characters and the general lightheartedness that informs their lives. Part of the function of such strategies of representation, however, is disarming, intended to render an assimilable depiction of the immigrants that neither belittles them nor threatens the host society.

Characters Discussed

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 725

Moses Aloetta

Moses Aloetta, a factory worker on the night shift, a dialect-speaking Trinidadian immigrant who arrives several years before the large influx of West Indians into England. He is softhearted despite himself, generous, and relatively responsible. Newer immigrants often contact him for help in getting settled. Having confronted the problems of racism and low status in securing lodging and employment himself, he is knowing, weary, and tolerant, initiating others in the ways of survival in London but concerned that black people not be seen as social parasites. A wry observer of the passing scene, he has an active sex life but decides never to marry. Often lonely, miserable, homesick, and ambivalent about life in the metropolis, he is sustained, and sustains others, by maintaining close contact with a circle of fellow West Indian exiles for whom he is a natural, though unofficial, leader and father-confessor. Worried about the future and his lack of progress, with a sense of impermanence but little to return to in the Caribbean, he nevertheless preserves his calypsonian sense of humor and essential delight in life.

Henry Oliver

Henry Oliver, called Galahad, a Trinidadian immigrant befriended by Moses. An electrician at home, he acts brash and overconfident but soon turns to Moses for guidance. Determined to avoid going on the dole, he finds night work in a factory. Arriving in winter wearing only a tropical suit over his pajamas and with only a toothbrush for luggage, he is an eccentric who sweats in the cold and freezes in the summer; he later acquires a large wardrobe and takes elaborate care of his appearance. At first wounded and puzzled by British color prejudice, he is gradually swept along by the excitement of his encounters with English girls and the romance of finally living in a great and famous city.

Captain (Cap)

Captain (Cap), an unemployed Nigerian immigrant and former roommate of Moses, who thinks that Cap gives black people a bad name. Sent to England to study law, Cap spends all of his time and money womanizing and has his allowance canceled. Innocent-faced, ingratiating, irresponsible, and amoral, he refuses to work, preferring to live off his many white girlfriends and other, mainly West Indian, acquaintances. Occasionally having to trap and eat seagulls to get by, he is a cheerful if slightly mad survivor, “doing nothing, having nothing, owing everybody, and yet . . . living on and on . . . with women left and right.”

Tolroy

Tolroy, a frugal Jamaican factory worker who saves his money to send for his mother but, to his annoyance and dismay, unexpectedly ends up with five relatives, including Tanty Bessy, who reared him as a child.

Tanty Bessy

Tanty Bessy, Tolroy’s aunt, an old Jamaican woman who moves to London with her relatives. Though boisterous, loud-voiced, gossipy, and indiscreet, she is generous and warmhearted. Having cared for many of the children in her extended family, she continues her role of housekeeper and custodian of family values, criticizing black men, including Tolroy, for preferring white women. Unintimidated by her new surroundings, she becomes a well-known personality in her working-class community and teaches a local merchant to grant credit West Indian-style.

Lewis

Lewis, a Jamaican factory worker married to Tolroy’s sister Agnes. Gullible and jealous, he is encouraged by Moses to think that Agnes is unfaithful and beats the innocent woman until she leaves him.

Daniel

Daniel, a West Indian friend of Moses who enjoys showing that black men can have culture and sophisticated tastes by taking lower-class English girls to concerts and the ballet. Generous and protective of women, he is exploited by Cap.

Bartholomew

Bartholomew, a light-skinned Trinidadian clerk who unsuccessfully tries to distance himself from his black compatriots and pass himself off as a South American. Pretentious, penurious, jealous, and insecure, he loses the only white girl he ever had and then searches for her obsessively.

Big City

Big City, a Trinidadian with an English wife, no job, and an uncertain source of income.

Five Past Twelve

Five Past Twelve, a very dark Barbadian truck driver and friend of Moses. Fond of drink, marijuana, women, and parties, he delights in acting badly at Harris’ functions.

Harris

Harris, a well-mannered black Jamaican who organizes dances, knows the socially prominent, and attempts to copy their speech and dress, thus inviting the derision of some of his West Indian acquaintances.

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