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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 592

The Wine of Astonishment is the story of the struggle of a Spiritual Baptist community, from the passing of the Prohibition Ordinance in 1917 until the lifting of the ban in 1951. It is told by one of the members of the church. Eva begins her narrative of the trials and sufferings of those of the Spiritual Baptist faith with the notion that there is a purpose behind it all.

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The only hope for the villagers of Bonasse, as they see it, lies in Ivan Morton, a teacher turned politician, the new man in the legislative council of the country. They would like Morton to intervene on their behalf to lift the ban so that they can be free to worship in the way that they choose. Morton disappoints them and reveals his loyalty when he abandons the “house that his father build with his own two hands.” With his wife, he leaves the village, taking nothing, to live in the big house “on top of Bonasse hill looking over the sea and the whole village.” The house, which some say is haunted, has itself been abandoned by the Richardsons, colonials who have returned to England.

Meanwhile, the village undergoes significant changes with the coming of the war. An American base is established in the country, resulting in prostitution and the corruption of the youth. At the same time, the Spiritual Baptists suffer persecution at the hands of the police and government. At the center of this harassment is the cruel and relentless Corporal Prince, whom Bolo, the warrior and champion stick fighter, suggests should be killed. Bolo challenges Prince as Prince takes the worshipers to jail, but he is beaten and arrested by the police while the others look on passively. For his action, Bolo is sent to jail for three years of hard labor.

While the warrior Bolo is in jail, the people of Bonasse, believing this to be the time of the intellectual, work to elect Morton to the legislative council, seeing him as “a man to plead [their] cause, to change the law, to right the wrong that is going on against [them] for those long years.” Bolo returns from jail only to find his efforts at making an honest living frustrated by the bureaucracy.

Contemptuous of the community, Bolo challenges the stickmen to do battle with him, but no one obliges. From this point on, the warrior in Bolo degenerates into the “badjohn.” He terrorizes the Bonasse community “with his recklessness and vexation and wickedness boiling up in him.” The community’s outrage reaches a limit when Bolo takes the two daughters of one of the villagers to live with him. Determined to show him “we is a people,” Bee, the leader of the Spiritual Baptists, decides that they “have to go against him with strength and anger.” They must take up their “manhood challenge that [they] turn away from for too long.” Bolo is finally killed by the police in a showdown.

Shortly thereafter, with the approach of elections, a law is passed allowing the Baptists the freedom to worship in their own way. When the church congregation gathers to celebrate its freedom, however, the “Spirit just wouldn’t come,” in spite of the impassioned preaching, incense burning, and candle lighting. The sadness that Eva, Bee, and the others experience at this realization is assuaged by the music of the steel pans that they hear on their way home. They are convinced that the pan music has in it “the same spirit that we miss in our church.”


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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1407

Eva’s opening meditation begins in medias res as she describes her husband Bee’s frustration from the lack of change that has occurred since Ivan Morton’s election to the Legislative Council in 1946. The immediate occasion of Bee’s inner turmoil is Morton’s failure to lift a ban on the manner in...

(The entire section contains 1999 words.)

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