Critical Context (Masterplots II: African American Literature)

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

The novel did not emerge as a kind of literature in the English-speaking Caribbean until the twentieth century. After a slow start until the 1930’s, West Indian literature began to gain international recognition with the works of Claude McKay of Jamaica, the first Caribbean novelist to write of the experience of the native peoples of the islands. His third novel, Banana Bottom, includes the themes of alienation and exile that inform much of the later literature of the Caribbean. In the period between 1949 and 1959, more than fifty novels written by dozens of different Caribbean writers were published. Many of these novels dealt with the themes McKay had first delineated.

Writing twenty years after McKay, George Lamming has dominated the Caribbean literary arena, with six novels published between 1953 and 1972. He garnered strong reviews and a reputation as an important writer with the publication of his first novel, In the Castle of My Skin (1953). That novel and his fourth, Season of Adventure, have been his most popular and most critically acclaimed works. His other novels include The Emigrants (1954), Of Age and Innocence (1958), Water with Berries (1971), and Natives of My Person (1971). Lamming has remarked on several occasions that these six novels make up one long book, beginning with the semiautobiographical In the Castle of My Skin. These novels parallel the social and cultural upheaval involved in changing from a colony to a nation. His acclaimed collection of essays, The Pleasures of Exile (1960), traces the cultural and intellectual consciousness inherent in Caribbean literature.

His interest in social issues has linked him with other important black writers such as Langston Hughes, Jacques Roumain, and Richard Wright. All of his works have focused on colonialism and nationhood, dealing with the experiences of the native population of the Caribbean islands. Scholars agree that Lamming’s work has been groundbreaking. His influence on later West Indian writers remains unquestioned in critical circles.

Although he works primarily in England and the United States and has accepted invitations from several universities to fill the position of writer in residence, Lamming has kept his ties with his native island of Barbados. He returns to the Caribbean frequently to assist the Barbados Workers’ Union, involving himself in various educational and cultural projects.