Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

In an interview in 1972, C. L. R. James, in a reference to the setting of his novel, declared: “I went to live there, the people fascinated me, and I wrote about them from the point of view of an educated youthful member of the black middle class.” There is no doubt that Minty Alley is meant to be a realistic assessment of the lives of the working masses from a sympathetic middle-class point of view. Haynes’s descent into the barrack yard at Minty Alley parallels the author’s own movement and becomes the means by which the joys and sorrows, the struggles, and the trials and tribulations of the masses are reported with honesty and dignity. There is a vitality and a sense of endurance to this life, with its “drab surroundings” and its harsh living conditions.

The novel, however, does much more than explore barrack-yard life from a middle-class perspective. James is much more interested in the relationship between the middle class and the masses, represented by the inhabitants of the yard. The author had always been critical of the Caribbean middle class and its impotence in the face of the working class. Minty Alley gives him the opportunity to bring the alienated and dull middle class into contact with the working people. It is an education process that must take place if the society is to be saved.

Haynes’s stay at 2 Minty Alley results in extensive learning on his part. In the process, he becomes self-assured...

(The entire section is 582 words.)

Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Minty Alley attempts to portray the lives of the working-class poor of Trinidad, literally depicting the mint among the alleys, the pungency and fragrance of their lives, while displaying the tensions and forces which shape them, and the ways, not always noble, they react to the situations around them. They are not proletarian heroes as in The Salt of the Earth (1954); they are full-bodied, flawed, often vivacious people. Prejudiced in their own ways, warring among themselves, oblivious to any larger social or political ramifications in their lives, living from day to day, they are one generation, one class, one color of brown, one non-European race, one sex pitted against another, not ruthlessly, but perhaps inevitably, given the circumstances.

The book is not, however, a Socialist’s polemic. The lives of these people are filled with passion and pathos—sometimes pleasant, always colorful, very often bearable, they are genuine. The white oppressor never surfaces; the consequences of colonialism are never directly addressed. The reader does see that all the characters are trapped with little or no room to change; the fight for economic survival precludes movement. The ignorance and nearsightedness with which they live, the injustices they accept along with the injustices they inflict, also prevent change, for Haynes as well as for the rest, though he is the only character able to realize this fact.