The Wine of Astonishment

by Earl Lovelace

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Student Question

How does poverty in the Bonasse community impact the villagers in "The Wine of Astonishment"?

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Poverty is a reality in Bonasse through a change in economic reality.  For so long, the citizens of Bonasse depended on their own traditional ways of generating income. Waning plantation profits and the exertion of Colonial influence caused unemployment in Bonasse, and economic hardship.  Indigenous people of Bonasse faced critical decisions. Either they embraced their own ways, meaning greater poverty, or they embraced the way of the Colonial rulers, in which school and assimilation moved one closer to greater economic control.  This cultural clash was one way in which poverty could be seen as impacting the villagers and the community of Bonasse.

American territoriality supplanted with European colonialism. American military influence and its bases caused economic and moral poverty in Bonasse. Economic prosperity was reduced to prostitution, criminal activity, and a seedier approach to making money. Again, indigenous identity was not valued, reflecting how economic prosperity was seen outside of it. The faint hope of economic security and flight from poverty caused the villagers to have to embrace foreign notions of the good as opposed to their own.

Eventually, this distancing from indigenous ways is seen in the path that the younger generation takes.  Citizens of Bonasse, its villagers, had to make choices in the face of economics that repudiated their own ways and, in particular, their own church.  When Bee's own sons become a police officer and flee any sign of indigenous life, it becomes clear that the citizens are impacted by poverty.  Indigenous culture is associated with poverty and "making it" is seen as the domain of assimilating to White culture.  This paradigm is reinforced in the indigenous religious worship that is reflective of poverty:  

We have this church in the village. We have this church. The walls make out of mud, the roof covered with carat leaves: a simple hut with no steeple or cross or acolytes or white priests or latin ceremonies. But is our own. Black people own it.  Government ain't spent one cent helping us to build it or to put a bench in it or anything.  

On an individual level, economic progress and advancement is not associated with the people of Bonasse, something reinforced in their religious worship.  Foreigners from Europe and later on America were seen as representing wealth, while indigenous identity is associated with poverty.

It is in this context where economic need supplants moral guidance.  Part of what makes Bolo so angry is that he sees how poverty has impacted the villagers.  It has not made them morally strong and righteous in defending their piety and sense of ethical duty. Rather, it has corrupted them into "easy money" and debased them.  Bolo's outrage lies in how little defense of that which is right is offered.  Bolo perceives the failure of the church as reflective of the failure of people.  The capitulation into ill- begotten money hardens him, making him antagonize and terrorize them into doing that which is spiritually right.

Poverty impacts the village of Bonasse and its people in how it draws perceived borders as to what constitutes economic success.  Indigenous identity is associated with economic limitations, something that helps to facilitate the moral wayward condition that drives much of the plot.  The lack of economic opportunity is what causes so many to spiritually and physically leave.  The novel depicts their return as where redemption and faith lie.

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