Footprints of the African in the Caribbean: Part Three


CHARACTERISATION is an important aspect of any creative writing.
A good writer succeeds through employment of a variety of stylistic devices and this includes an incisive portrayal of characters.
Characters are people who populate a novel or short story or play.
But these should not be viewed as real people as in real life.
They are in fact embodiments of ideas, the writer’s ideas.
If you are persuaded to identify with any character, you should know therefore that you are being coaxed to embrace the idea the character represents.
To this end, characterisation is part of the story-telling.
Through characterisation, we gain a vicarious experience of the societies being narrated.
That is to say you do not need to visit the Trinidadian society of Lovelace’s imagination.
You have it in the novel which is thus a mirror of the society with all its historical complexities.
The Dragon Can’t Dance is the story of the existence of the people of Trinidad and the transformation they go through in the process of interacting with new forces. Literally most of the characters are developing characters who register shifts of character, personality and perception as they experience new developments in their lives.
Others such as the main character are complex in the way they respond to the forces challenging tradition.
In fact, the novel is full of episodes which put more emphasis on character delineation than on the story line.
This stylistic move gets the reader to traverse the inner-souls of the characters and subsequently gain psychological insight into how these characters respond to change.
As observed before Calvary Hill attracts people from throughout Trinidad, who are quickly absorbed into the life and culture of the Hill, except the East Indian Pariag and his wife, Dolly.
Carnival, a festival marked by steel band and calypso music, totally transforms the Hill and its occupants until new forces of modernity and commercialism force everyone to reconsider who they are and who they can become.
Meanwhile, it is important to observe that the character of all characters is interwoven with that of others with that of the dragon playing the magnetic centre.
The first chapter opens with Miss Olive and Miss Caroline criticising Miss Cleothlida, a proud mulatto widow who owns a parlour store, but runs it as “if she were doing a favour to the Hill, rather than carrying on a business from which she intend(s) to profit” (18).
Miss Cleothilda has chosen her costume for the carnival and proudly asserts herself as Queen of the Band as usual.
Her arrogance arises from her legendary beauty and her magnetic effect on men at her advanced age.
Philo, a calypsonian man, has been tantalised by her for 17 years in vain.
Miss Cleothilda only treats people well only during Carnival, but looks down upon those of darker (‘inferior’) colour throughout the year.
On the other hand, at 17 years of age, Sylvia is the most desired woman on the Hill. The novel moves back in time to reveal how she has constantly been a symbol of temptation and sexuality.
When Miss Olive fails to come up with money to pay the rent, Sylvia is asked to go up to Mr Guy’s house and perform sexual favours.
However, as hard as many men have tried, Sylvia has outsmarted all of them and has managed to retain her virginity.
We only learn later that she is attracted to Aldrick who ironically exudes hatred for anything to do with sex and marriage.
Their nocturnal conversation about costumes for Carnival betray their hidden sensualities.
Even as works on his costume later, thoughts of Sylvia invade the peace in his mind.
Aldrick comes across as one who treads cautiously when it comes to love, but his social life demonstrates immense responsibility and compassion for the less privileged.
This is shown by the way he confronts the violent Fisheye over his abuse of his step-son, Basil.
The novel jumps back in time to reveal Fisheye’s violent family history, describing them as, “…tall strong men who could handle their fists, and were good, each one of them, with a stick, since their father, before he became a preacher, was a champion stick fighter who had himself schooled each one of them in the art of stick fighting.”
Through Fisheye’s character, we see the introduction of musical bands, whose behaviour emulates street gangs.
But Fisheye’s violence is not entirely random.
It is directed against the white population which oppresses and despises them as the black folk.
As the leader of the steelband, he mobilises several bands into a single collective force to “fight the people who are keeping down black people … the government.”
Fisheye’s Black consciousness is revealed by the way he allows himself to be pacified by Aldrick.
Then we have Pariag, the Indian.
Even after two years living on the Hill, Pariag, is still seen as an outsider.
Pariag migrates to the city with his wife Dolly from the New Lands in an effort to break away from the country lifestyle and become part of something bigger.
The novel jumps back in time once again, this time to reveal the entrepreneurial spirit of the Indian outcast.
Pariag’s first job in the city involves buying empty bottles and re-selling them to Rum companies.
Initially, he enjoys the task because he is able to talk to people and demonstrate that he is more than just a simple Indian boy.
After realising that this job brings him no meaningful social interactions, he ventures into selling roasted peanuts and boiled and fried chenna at the race track on Saturdays and at football games on Sundays.
In an effort to become noticed by others on the Hill, Pariag buys a bicycle a week before Carnival, a very exciting time for people on the Hill.
Pariag’s new acquisition gets him the name ‘Crazy Indian’ and makes people in the neighbourhood nervous about his ambitions.
The buzz of Carnival and Pariag’s new acquisition sets the people’s tongues wagging.
Miss Cleothilda visits Aldrick and expresses her concerns about Pariag’s bike.
Mr Guy also approaches Aldrick with the excuse of Pariag’s bike, although his real intention is to collect the month’s rent.
Then comes Philo and soon Aldrick is fed up with the gossip about the Indian and the bike.
It is clear that Aldrick is the centre of attraction in the Hill society.
Everyone expects leadership from him and this exposes his complex nature.
The dragon has to balance out racial hatred against rationality to achieve peace among warring ideals.
To be continued


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