The Wine of Astonishment

by Earl Lovelace

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Last Updated May 21, 2024.

Eva Dorcas

Eva Dorcas, the narrator of The Wine of Astonishment, is a practical, perseverant woman focused on coping with hardships as well as she can and making a better life for her children. Eva’s practicality appears in her assessment of the Spiritual Baptists’ situation. She explains that they respect other faiths, never force anyone to join their church, and only wish to be left in peace to worship how they please. Their wish is simple: To be somewhere “you could hear your own voice shouting hallelujah and feel the Spirit spreading over the Church as the brethren sing and dance and catch the power.”

Yet Eva’s practicality also leads her to realize the limitations the Spiritual Baptists face and the consequences that come from breaking the law: When you break the law, you don’t hurt the law, you don’t change the law, you just make the law more the law.

So, for much of the novel, Eva accepts the toned-down services the church must celebrate. She endures and perseveres, hoping that change will come someday. In the meantime, she focuses on educating her children and making sure her family survives.

Eva works with what she has in front of her; her keen insights into human nature and the situation her village is in give her the perspective she needs to keep going. 

Even at the end of the story, when the Spirit does not descend upon the church right away, Eva keeps her balance. She knows the Spirit is working and tells her husband:

The Spirit will come back, Bee. We here, we and the children.

Bee Dorcas

Bee Dorcas—husband, father, preacher, and laborer—is a man filled with conflicts. He struggles to know what to do and how to do it in a world that constantly beats him down. For example, when the police crack down on the church, Bee changes the services so that they are acceptable to the government. He does not want to, but he feels he cannot do otherwise to keep the people safe.

Yet Bee’s choice eats at him. He hates giving in and failing to follow his principles. He promises to break the law, an act that demands immense sacrifice. The conflict over this promise rages within him until it overflows, resulting in him leading the church in traditional worship and, as punishment, being arrested and fined.

Still, the conflict remains. Part of Bee wants peace for his family and his village—that means conformity to the law and acceptance of what is. But another part of Bee wants to stand up as a man and fight against injustice and oppression. 

Bee has plenty of regrets at the end of the novel:

I shoulda never stop worshipping in the true Baptist way. We shoulda fight them, we shoulda kill Prince.

Throughout, Bee questions his choices, and the conflict remains. Yet as he walks next to Eva, he embraces hope, holding onto his faith that “God is great.”

Bolo

Bolo represents the old ways of Trinidad’s Black culture. He is a warrior who expresses himself through stickfighting, a custom that combines battle and dance. 

When the story starts, Bolo is the unofficial king of Bonasse. As such, he is generous, open, filled with laughter and jokes, and the kind of man everyone wants to be around.

But as the village changes and the residents adopt new ways and restrictions, Bolo changes, too. At first, he focuses on preserving the old ways, including Spiritual Baptist worship—even if he and his neighbors must use violence. 

When he says, “We have to kill Prince,” he means it. Eva notes that he says it “without vexation or hesitation or excitement or fear, calm, certain...

(This entire section contains 984 words.)

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like a judge.” Bolo confronts Prince when he arrests church members and is so committed to his beliefs that he refuses to back down, even in the face of injury and prison time.

When Bolo returns to Bonasse after serving his prison sentence, he quickly becomes hardened, especially after he tries to work within the system, only to find one frustration after another. He adopts a “badjohn” persona when no one will stickfight with him, and he challenges his neighbors again and again, resorting to insults and violence. People are horribly afraid of the man they once loved. Eva and Bee realize in the end, however, that Bolo is simply trying to wake people up, to anger them so that they stand up to him and recover their spirit, their manhood, and the traditions they have let go.

Ivan Morton

Ivan Morton’s focus in life is raising his status and power; he will do whatever he feels will further his ambitions. He leaves the Spiritual Baptist church and becomes Catholic, for instance, to get a teaching certificate and a job. When he is elected to the Council as the last defense against Western colonialism, he turns his back on his heritage, moves out of his family home, and adopts a whole new lifestyle, trying to be as much like a white man as possible. He does not even marry a woman from Bonasse but chooses a light-skinned woman from the city.

Ivan’s betrayal of Bonasse is especially prominent when he tells Bee—who has gone to request his support in legalizing Spiritual Baptist worship—that the Spiritual Baptists must “settle down and be civilized.” The way to get ahead, Ivan explains, is to change their attitude and “act white,” not to insist on worshiping like heathens and continuing to live in the dark ages. While the novel has many villains, Ivan is perhaps the worst, as it is his betrayal that seals the fate of Bonasse and, by extension, Bolo.

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