Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

In the burgeoning field of fiction and drama dealing with imperialism, colonialism, and their consequences, Natives of My Person is of particular significance not only for its stylization of the historical background but also for its treatment of its subject exclusively through the minds of the imperialists. Taking for its theme the moral and psychological strategies by which the avatars of empire articulate their moral natures, the novel dwells on the evasions, corruptions, sublimations, and impositions that are an unacknowledged but decisive force in the workings of those natures. In one sense, it is of little consequence that the voyage of the Reconnaissance to San Cristobal is abortive. What is at issue is not the conquest but the character of the would-be conquerors. Blind to their own human fallibility, they can hardly be expected to be alive to the humanity of those who seem different to them, whether the difference is in skin color or, as in the novel, in gender.

In one of the journal extracts that occur periodically throughout Natives of My Person, there is a rehearsal of some of the major tropes of racism. These include stereotypical assumptions regarding the untamed, indisciplined, sexually abandoned, and generally monstrous nature of those captured for enslavement. The inevitable conclusion is that such creatures are beyond the moral pale and must be considered alien to their captors’ codes of civilization....

(The entire section is 568 words.)

Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Lamming has noted that two phases of historical experience are embedded in the fabric of Natives of My Person. On the surface, the novel is an account of Europe and Europeans involved in colonial expansion. On this level, Lamming shows how the Europeans’ bright ambitions for a “new world” were corrupted from within, how the voyagers perpetuated the oppressive systems which they were ostensibly leaving behind. On another, implicit level, the novel proposes a comparison between the world represented on the Reconnaissance and the world of various postcolonial societies. In the very beginning of the colonial enterprise, Lamming suggests, one can find a paradigm of the postcolonial experience.

The ship, with its Commandant, pilot, officers, and crew, parallels the structure of a postcolonial society: leader, technicians, cabinet, and masses. With manifestations of arrogance and aloofness of leadership and lack of clear common resolve, the “ship of state” is prey to the danger of languishing in the doldrums or foundering and becoming easy booty for vigilant and manipulative outland opportunists. The House of Trade and Justice is echoed in the modern international corporation which may pull vulnerable “independent” countries by the noses. It becomes difficult, as in the case of the Reconnaissance, to maintain one’s own course and break away cleanly from the jealously tentacled seat of mammon.

The novel ends on a somber note but not with pessimistic finality. The women realize that honesty to self and to others, especially to close companions, is a crucial prerequisite for living fulfilled lives. Their own opportunities are blunted, but the open ending of the novel suggests that lanes of liberation remain open.