Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Lovelace is consistently focused on the powerlessness of the black masses in the Caribbean and the consequent struggle they must go through to achieve dignity and peoplehood. In The Wine of Astonishment, the Spiritual Baptists are powerless against colonial law, which defines them as “illegal and illegitimate.” The result is that they cannot worship in the “true Baptist way.” They cannot ring their bell, burn their incense, and light their candles; nor do their ministers “have the authority to marry anybody.”

Refusing to exercise the power that rightfully belongs to them, the people in their collective impotence look upon the scholar, intellectual, and politician—in this case, Ivan Morton—to fight for them. In an obvious criticism of Caribbean political leadership, Lovelace depicts Morton as a man who alienates himself from his community and finally betrays that community as he promotes his self-interest.

The betrayal makes him one with the colonial overlord in the eyes of the village. He comes to the people only when he is seeking their votes, but once he is elected, he has no use for them. In time, the people come to see through these election gimmicks and begin to realize that “this sudden rush to answer applications for land, this sudden rush to put up crash programs to give a man a job for a week or two is just a trick for election.”

Lovelace suggests that it is only when the people realize that the power is with them, only when they look inward to themselves, will they be able to achieve their dignity as a people. Eva, clear-sighted woman that she is, reveals this notion to her husband when he seeks to lay the blame for their predicament on Ivan Morton: “For if we didn’t have the strength, if we didn’t have the power, if we wasn’t standing up on our own as a people, what was he there standing up for? We is a lot of people but we ain’t a people.” This is Lovelace’s way of criticizing the people of the Caribbean for placing too much emphasis on their political leaders and insufficient emphasis on themselves as a people.

Lovelace knows that the struggle for peoplehood demands sacrifice, for which the people must accept full responsibility. In the novel, Bolo embodies that sacrifice. He must die so that the people can survive. Very early in the novel, Eva observes that “the warrior was dying in the village as the chief figure.” The change in focus from warrior to scholar means that the people are ready to do...

(The entire section is 1023 words.)

Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Extending the metaphor of the Spiritual Baptists to the expression of life among the black community in Trinidad, Lovelace’s principal theme is the exploration of the consequences of colonialism upon the colonized subjects. The colonized in The Wine of Astonishment are not merely exploited laborers on the coconut plantations; they are a people stripped, racially and economically, of their African heritage. The art of their worship, despite its Christianity, poses too great an expressive challenge to the rationalism and control necessary for colonial dominance; consequently, once the identification of “heathen” practices and Africa has been made, Christian belief, ironically, becomes secondary to the racism which the Christian colonizers need in order to perpetuate and to justify their colonial dominance. Further, with a colonial system of education that honors only specific religions and teaches the superiority of British, or white, values, those blacks educated within that system, as they must be if they are to achieve economic and political power, are implicitly taught to hate themselves.

When other aspects of the culture begin to wane in the wake of religious repression, then there is little outlet for expression of any kind that will remind the people that they in fact have a cultural identity. Stickfighting becomes a parody of itself; songs no longer have a ceremonial, ritual function; even prayer can no longer affirm the voice of the...

(The entire section is 424 words.)