Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

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...

(The entire section is 718 words.)

Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

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...

(The entire section is 406 words.)