Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 353
Isolation and Alienation The characters, who are from the West Indies, live in London but are largely excluded from the society around them. In one telling example, Galahad (whose real name is Henry), realizes that while he wants to fit into English society, his color prevents his full immersion into...
(The entire section contains 1477 words.)
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- Critical Essays
Isolation and Alienation
The characters, who are from the West Indies, live in London but are largely excluded from the society around them. In one telling example, Galahad (whose real name is Henry), realizes that while he wants to fit into English society, his color prevents his full immersion into English life. Galahad thinks to himself:
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!"
His baptism into English society has come with the knowledge that skin color prevents the West Indian immigrants from fully joining their new society, and they suffer from isolation and alienation as a result.
Identification With One's Country
Another theme is the way in which Britain stands for something larger and more meaningful in the lives of the characters. Galahad, for example, thinks to himself:
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. (84-85)
While the West Indian immigrants in the book do not feel part of English life, they are to some degree in awe of British history and hope to claim a part of England just by associating with the places and names that are in fabled English history. These names become a way for them to connect with a culture that largely excludes them.
A final theme is the immigrants' own ways of constructing community in England. They gather in Moses's rooms to talk. The book itself is a construction of anecdotes about Moses's companions, and it is written in a kind of vernacular that gives voice to the Caribbean experience in England. The structure of the book suggests that these immigrants have established a community in England that sustains them.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 718
There is no protagonist in The Lonely Londoners. Although some characters are more engaging than others, are more sharply drawn than others, or are given to more outrageous behavior, none is superior. For the most part, they share very similar backgrounds, and their situations are uniform in all important respects. Their futures also have a sameness. The author is careful to arrange the text so that no character’s stories take precedence over another’s. By this means, the organization of the material in The Lonely Londoners is a facsimile of the fragile community that its characters constitute, a fellowship held together by memories of the past, various experiences of rejection in the present, and some elementary forms of male bonding whereby they attempt to project a future for themselves.
The communitarian ethic that underlies the novel’s lack of a protagonist reveals the condition the immigrants share to be essentially a holding operation. They find themselves with no alternative but to live for the day, and they are prepared to live that way with a will. The lack of a protagonist also means the absence of a plot. This absence is not necessarily to be regretted, since The Lonely Londoners is a novel shaped by the spirit of its material rather than by the letter of precedent and the tradition of the English novel. The absence of plot, however, expresses the absence of a particular scheme of action, with the promise of productive activity, instructive encounters, and a specific outcome. None of these possibilities is pertinent to the lives of Samuel Selvon’s characters.
The nonexistence of two of conventional fiction’s most fundamental structuring elements is an indication of how a sense of loss permeates The Lonely Londoners. The attachment that the characters have for one another arises out of a need for protection, a need to adhere to representatives of a known world. There is no indication that once the attachment has been formed it can be used in an activist manner, either to redress or at least protest against discriminatory practices, or more modestly to allow the immigrants to be recruited for or join a cricket team, an area of experience in which West Indian expertise has been universally acknowledged, even in England. The reason these options are not available is that it is the ordinariness of his immigrants that the author wants to stress—the fact that they have no particular qualifications or aptitudes and possess, as the various references to clothing and Galahad’s first appearance suggest, only what they stand up in.
They exist in the cultural nakedness of their mere blackness. Their education offers them no protection, they have no special skills to give them the illusion of indispensability, and they are not sufficiently talented to avail themselves of the spurious assimilation of a career in show business. They are as devoid of religious feeling as they are of criminal tendencies. In view of such lacunae, the characters are deprived of access to the world at large, the world of cultural codes and sublimated energies. As in the case of the novel’s ostensible structural deficiencies, these deprivations and omissions instruct readers as to the author’s inescapable emphasis. The sense that he conveys of his characters is that of their insistent and inescapable physical presence, a presence conveyed by their blackness, by their capacity for laboring work, by the affectation of fashionable wardrobes, and by their unrepressed sexuality.
The undeniability of the characters’ maleness, and their understandable incapacity to forgo it, is not introduced solely for prurient reasons. On the contrary, it crystallizes the cultural conflicts that underlie the immigrants’ experience and that have no issue in The Lonely Londoners. The abortive, inconclusive, and anticlimactic pursuit of white women is less a trope of sexuality than, as its provocative potential indicates, a cultural trope. To date a white woman is regarded as an obvious proof of the existence of a color bar and of the immigrant’s ability to cross it. Although recognition of this ability is culturally conditioned and couched in clichés of display and other elements of machismo, nevertheless it articulates a fundamental component of humanity. By emphasizing the human needs and aspirations of his characters, Selvon reinstalls what society at large has tended to deface.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 406
The principal themes of the novel arise from the historical fact that most West Indians are the products of an exile enforced by slavery. The feeling of having been cut off from ancestral roots often makes more poignant the individual’s desire for a coherent sense of self and makes more difficult the search for a personal identity. The theme of homelessness frequently appears in West Indian literature. In The Lonely Londoners the double exile experienced by the Caribbean immigrants to England results in the further dislocation of personality and a wandering that seems both restless and aimless.
The former power of the British Empire depended to a great extent on the labor of the colonized, mainly black, peoples; West Indians were taught that England was the “mother country” but, when they moved there in increasing numbers, hope turned to disappointment as they discovered that they were unwanted aliens who were treated worse than white foreigners. The cultural confrontation that resulted when tropical provincials moved to the northern metropolis was compounded by differences in race and color. For survival as much as for nostalgia, the West Indians in the novel hold on to what they can of the old life: patterns of behavior such as the hanging-out of the Trinidad “lime,” creole food, and, most especially, language. Selvon underlines the isolation of his characters from the world they inhabit by employing an omniscient third-person narrator who speaks to the reader in a modified Trinidadian dialect. While easily accessible to non-West Indians, this narrative voice conveys the feeling of an authentic insider’s view of the action; the world of the novel is observed and interpreted through the consciousness and language of a West Indian.
Racism in its many guises is a theme that runs throughout the novel. The blacks are baffled by it and come to assume that it is a constant factor in most of their dealings with whites. The poisonous effects of racism are disturbingly seen in the many references to sexual activity. In the novel, white women seem interested in black males only as exotics or sex objects or both. The West Indian men in turn seldom refer to a woman as more than “white pussy” or a “piece of skin.” Most relationships between black men and white women are portrayed as being without a hint of affection; they are often obsessive or perverse, with exploitation playing a large part on both sides.