Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

In his author’s note to New Day, Victor Stafford Reid set out his principal aims as attempting to capture “some of the beauty, kindliness, and humour of [his] people” and through fiction to give a true impression of “the way by which Jamaica and its people came to today.” By using a first-person narrator who speaks a modified version of Jamaican peasant dialect, Reid tries to inject the feeling of authenticity which his first aim required. The effect, however, is dissipated because the language is overly poetic and stylized; the use of Jamaican vocabulary, expressions, and aphorisms (a glossary is provided) is often forced and annoying.

Reid’s nationalistic theme is also weakened by his muddled and sometimes inaccurate use of history, of which the novel’s anachronisms are only a symptom. For example, the hymn “Onward! Christian Soldiers” figures prominently in the novel’s action and structure. Pa John orders his family to join in singing it as he marches to his death in 1865, seven years before the hymn’s composition.

The novel stresses that Jamaican political and economic development must be predicated on a national unity which transcends racial and economic divisions. The way to self-government and the redress of historic wrongs is not, as seen in the novel’s depiction of Bogle, through recklessness, violence, and revolution, but through a determined but moderate approach based on the needs and will of an educated populace. Again Reid runs into problems by seldom dramatizing the lives of the poor and disenfranchised black masses. Instead he concentrates on leadership embodied in a near-white family which inexplicably, for any clear fictional, historical, or sociological reason, becomes increasingly less black in each generation.

The novel seeks to establish the necessary connection between the essentially rural and peasant roots of the population and the consciousness of any man who would hope to lead them. The novel’s greatest success is in the first section, where the sense of Jamaican rural life is most powerfully evoked.