Crick Crack, Monkey

Dialogues
1Crick Crack, Monkey was written by Merle Hodge, a Trinidadian woman, and published in 1970. It is the story of Tee, a young girl, growing up in Trinidad. Tee's mother dies in labor, and her father immediately emigrates, leaving Tee with her Aunt Tantie. Throughout the first half of the book, Tee lives with her cousins at her single, urban, lower class aunt, Tantie's. Here she learns urban skills such as independence and sticking up for herself. Tee's aunts, however, continually battle for her custody. Tee's middle-class and European-acting Aunt Beatrice, who Tantie refers to repeatedly as "the bitch," continually tries to win custody of Tee. Tee doesn't really know why this woman is "the bitch," because she barely knows her, and when she does occasionally come into contact with her, Aunt Beatrice gives her candy and asks if her Aunt Tantie is treating her well.

After Tee completes primary school at Tantie's, she is sent to her Aunt Beatrice's to attend secondary school. Tantie reminds Tee that she is going "to learn book," and warns her against letting her teachers put nonsense in her head. This advice doesn't seem to help. Between Tee's socialization in the European secondary school, her Aunt Beatrice's European ideal and primness, and Aunt Beatrice's daughter's blatant disregard for Tee and everything except their phone calls and light skinned friends, Tee is left with no option but to grow to hate the society from which she came.

Her family comes to visit her at Aunt Beatrice's after she's been there for quite a while, and Tee hasn't really anything to say to them. When they exhaust the possibilities for conversation, they hustle out, kissing Tee on the forehead, and she has "one fleeting urge to call them back."1 This does not mean she has become comfortable in her Aunt Beatrice's middle-class home either. She continually despises the way that her Aunt Beatrice treats her as a child, and limits her independence by clinging to her as another chance at raising a child. This dislike shows her non-belonging to anywhere. She also goes to visit her Grandmother occasionally at the ocean, who is representative of her African roots, and does not seem to understand this situation either. She does not feel she fits in with any of the places offered her.

Tantie decides to send Tee overseas to study after she visits Tee that one and last time. At this point, she finally gains the admiration of her cousins and her entire middle-class household, evincing their superficiality and surface value aspirations. Tee is going to leave all these families she's known so far in her life, because she doesn't feel she belongs to any of them. The book ends ambiguously, though, with no real resolution except that Tee would leave Trinidad. She thinks, "I desired with all my heart that it were next morning and a plane were lifting me off the ground."2

About the Author

Merle Hodge was born in Curupe, Trinidad, in 1944. She studied in Trinidad until 1962 when she went to England. She got her bachelor's degree in French from the University of London in 1965, and went on to get a Master's degree focusing on French Guinanese Negritude poet Leon Damas. She then taught secondary education for a while, and then was appointed as a lecturer at the University of the West Indies, where she also received her Ph.D.

Hodge has published a number of freelance articles, mostly about Caribbean social issues, a nonfiction piece in 1981 about the new government in Grenada, and two novels. For the Life of Laetitia is her newest novel, published in 1993. She currently lectures at the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine, and continues to write.

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  Dialogues

Childhood in Crick Crack, Monkey

Crick Crack, Monkey fits the mold of many West Indian novels that focus on the theme of childhood. This allows the child to move more freely between social contexts than an older narrator might, and also causes the narrator to be trustworthy because of the innocence of childhood. This also allows the author to manipulate the narrator's surroundings by giving the child some of the author's ideas at times (Note1).

This is also similar to satire in the way that it is left up to the reader to evaluate the situation. The author presents the information as the child's surroundings, but the author still chooses what surroundings to include (Note2). For example, Aunt Beatrice is a quite stereotypical bourgeois woman trying to assimilate to European customs, rather than a very conflicted woman trying to sort out her own identity. By making artistic choices such as these, the author presents the reader with particular material of which to make an evaluation. Satire is not overtly funny. It is funny because the reader is expected to know that what is being represented in the work is not right, just like the reader of Crick Crack, Monkey is supposed to see through the innocence of a child the torments that these social divisions put colonized people--especially children--through.

Appropriation

Many of the forces that work to change a colonized person's character can be seen in Crick Crack, Monkey. The main assimilatory forces shown are those of the school and those of the elders of the middle-class colonized families that long for their children to become "acceptable." The distinction between classes--even within the family--can be seen almost immediately in the novel because of Tantie's reference always to Aunt Beatrice as "the bitch." This evinces the spite the two aunts feel towards each other, and reminds one of the condescension an aspiring class often shows against a lower class.

Also, while Tantie and Aunt Beatrice represent different social classes inherent to the island, Ma, Tee's Grandma, represents not only another class, but also another culture. She tells the children "'nancy" stories and is closer to the family's African roots than any other character. When Tee is visiting, she realizes that "Ma's sayings often began on a note of familiarity only to rise into an impressive incomprehensibility, or vice versa, as in 'Them that walketh in the paths of corruption will live to ketch dey arse.'"3 This is representative of how each class was separated from each other. Tee couldn't even understand the stories--and therefore the culture--of her grandmother.

At school, Tee was expected to get the same education as the colonizer, thus "civilizing" her. Children were taught European things, and thereby acquired European culture. Her reading career "began with A for Apple, the exotic fruit that made its brief and stingy appearance at Christmastime," and then she had to learn about Jack and Jill and Little Boy Blue, all the time wondering, "what, in all creation, was a 'haystack'?" She also wondered why Little Miss Muffet "sat eating her curls away."4 Through all this confusion, if she didn't understand things, or misbehaved, she was beaten; her schoolmaster regularly whipped children's hands when they were out of line.

In Third Standard, Tee remembers Helen coming into existence. Helen is Tee's "double" that comes into existence because she becomes so enraptured by the books she reads--again, because of her education. According to Tee, "She was the proper me. And me, I was her shadow hovering about in incompleteness."5 This represents the split personality that a foreign education created in colonized children. Saturated with European fairy tales, education, and books, the European ideal began to become Tee's ideal. (Note3)

This rift in personality affected both individuals psychologically, and families physically. Even though there are already differences among Tee's family, they become more directly relevant to her when she moves in with her Aunt Beatrice. Aunt Beatrice gets her children the best European education she can at St. Anne's, and is a firm believer that her children should strive to fit into the new Anglicized middle-class society. At dinner one evening, Tee's cousin Jessica claims that "Sister Columbia don' like" her, and Aunt Beatrice barks back, "Sister Columbia doesn'tů!" She continues to tell Jessica that if she wants to talk "like ordnry market-people" then she can go live with "ordnry market-people." Jessica then claims that "they only pick the fair girls anyway," and this sparks a debate about whose fault it is that Jessica is so dark-complexioned, because it certainly isn't Aunt Beatrice's.6 This whole scene illuminates the pressures that affect colonized people and the resulting struggles, and shows the interconnection of the family and the education system in the role of "civilizing" colonized peoples.

The result of dichotomy

The physical and economic separation of Tee's family obviously literally represents the double consciousness that is required of her to occupy both social spheres. Tee's mother dies first thing in the novel, and this is immediately followed by her father's emigration. Meanwhile, Tee is left to be pulled between Tantie's urban Creole existence, and Aunt Beatrice's imported bourgeois life. This is a physical representation of the theme of double consciousness that is prevalent throughout Caribbean writing, and much post-colonial writing. This is exemplified in other Caribbean works like Michelle Cliff's novel No Telephone to Heaven, in African "third world-new world" stories such as Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart and Buchi Emacheta's The Joys of Motherhood. All these books deal with the narrator moving between their old society and their new society.

However, the death of her mother and absence of her father are particularly reminiscent of the motherless, and therefore homeless, character Clare Savage in No Telephone to Heaven. Both are "castaways," without nuclear families, and this at once elucidates different familial structures than the European patrilineal nuclear family, and draws the connection between no parents, and no home. While Tee is torn between her two aunts, each has relevant influence over her, because they are both related to her--one is her mother's sister, one her father's. This conflict can never be resolved if Tee tries to choose only one system and exclude the other (Note4).

One particularly interesting aspect of Crick Crack, Monkey, therefore, is that even though it explores these internal contradictions of Tee and her sense of belonging, it ends ambiguously. Post-colonial characters so often must make the decision of connecting their allegiance to something. This is exemplified precisely in Michelle Cliff's No Telephone to Heaven, when the main character, Clare, is asked, "to whom do you owe your allegiance?"7 Clare stresses place to evince all the different pressures pulling her identity, and refers to the many places she has lived and been educated. Tee also lives in various places, and is educated in different social spheres, yet she grows disconnected from all her previous lives because of the hatred between them. With Tantie always referring to Aunt Beatrice as "the bitch," and Aunt Beatrice instilling the middle-class ideas that lower class blacks are naturally much worse people while schools teach her the same thing, she can't grasp anything positive to link herself to.

However, she is still a child when the book ends, and this implies that there is still considerable time for her to come to such decisions. At the end of the book though, she is too mentally distraught, too psychologically torn, and too young to make any decisions regarding her social relevance. Is this because she was trying to choose only one system, while she was already intertwined in at least three? Was she representative of Trinidad? Trinidad itself was still young and at an early stage of development. Hodge admits in an interview, "I've often thought of those child protagonists as symbols, as representative of the Caribbean culture in its infancy."8 If Tee is representative of Trinidad itself and its many allegiances and influences, then perhaps so. Perhaps it also has something to do with the need to grow up before being able to piece everything back together. Or, perhaps it has something to do with needing an outside perspective on things to decide with whom one should stake their claim. This would be similar to No Telephone to Heaven again, because Clare Savage moves to America, and then studies abroad--all before deciding she owes anything to Jamaica. (Note5)

  Notes

1. The child narrator:

Roy Narinesingh discusses "the authenticity of remembered experience" in the introduction to Crick Crack, Monkey, published by Heinemann.9 He also examines how "the child vision and the adult vision are made to coalesce at several points in the novel." An excerpt from this introduction can be found in Caribbean Women Writers, edited by Harold Bloom. This is an excellent book for about ten excerpts of criticism on each woman included. It is a great introduction to the sorts of ideas critics have put forth about Caribbean women's work.

2. Satire:

In "Crick Crack, Monkey:A Picaresque Perspective," Ena V. Thomas looks at how Crick Crack, Monkey is a picaresque novel. He goes further to explain that a picaresque author's "aim in writing is twofold: first, to show how difficult it is for an outsider to gain respectability in a society that has only contempt for him and his culture, and second, to satirize the false values of a society of which he is a victim."10 This, then, is further evidence to link the book to satire.

3. Books:

The effect of fiction on people's psyche is discussed by Merle Hodge in an essay called "Challenges of the Struggle for Sovereignty: Changing the World Versus Writing Stories," which can be found in the book, Caribbean Women Writers: Essays from the First International Conference. In this essay, she acknowledges that "fiction has immense political power," and that it is often a "prime weapon of political conservatism."11 A brief essay on the purpose of Hodge's literature can be found on the Literary Style vs. Historical Accuracy theme page.

4. Choosing sides:

Marjorie Thorpe explores "The Problem of Cultural Identification in Crick Crack, Monkey."12 An excerpt from this article can also be found in Caribbean Women Writers, edited by Harold Bloom, which is mentioned in note 1 above.

5. Ambiguous endings:

Another interesting idea is brought up by Elaine Campbell in her article, "The Dichotomized Heroine in West Indian Fiction," in the Journal of Commonwealth Literature 22, no.1 (1987). In this article, she explores the idea that at the end of the novel, Tee is still "too young to address the selection of a mate," and this is the most notable difference from previous novels by female Caribbean writers.13 Many similar novels illustrate the social decision made by the heroine by her choice in a mate, but here Tee hasn't solved her problems yet, and she is left to solve them for herself.

  Links

***The Emory Post-colonial website has a page on Merle Hodge. It includes a biography, a bibliography of her work (including criticism), and a bibliography of work about her.

**Dr. Bill Clemente from the English Department of Peru State College wrote an intriguing essay, "The A, B, C's of Alienation and Re-Integration: Merle Hodge's Crick Crack, Monkey." In this essay, he examines just that: Tee's alienation and possible re-integration.

***NUS has a great postcolonial site, and this is the Caribbean section of it. Here you can get history of places, information about authors, Caribbean literature chronology, etc.

**The Journal of Caribbean Literature website has an essay that provides a good overview of Caribbean literature.

**Africana.com has a page that reviews several works from the Caribbean written in English.

**Feminist Studies Inc. has an essay about contemporary Caribbean women's writing.

***The Encyclopedia Britannica has a site for Trinidad and Tobago.

***Rootsweb.com has links to just about anything you want to know about Trinidad and Tobago. One particularly interesting link, for instance, is a history of the island.

**An Anansi story from the Caribbean can be found at Xscapehatch.com. This story is probably similar to the stories Ma would tell Tee.

*Fables from Trinidad, Ethiopia, Angola, Nigeria, and more can be found at kids zone. These are mostly for children, but are still completely interesting.

**About.com has a multitude of links and essays about Caribbean authors. It is a good site for finding an overview of the types of research and arguments there are on a subject-and this is true not only for Caribbean literature, but just about anything. You have to do a search, but it will give you lots of opportunities then.

  Teaching

Possible Beginning Discussion Questions

1. Of course Tee's familial situation is different at Aunt Beatrice's than it is at Tantie's, but it had to have some similarities too. Compare and contrast Tee's situation at each aunt's house. What about her situation at Ma's? Compare and contrast her experiences at Ma's with those at her aunt's houses.

2. How were the different schools Tee attended alike? How were they different? What does this say about colonial education? How do these schools compare to present-day American schools?

3. How was Aunt Beatrice's family like a present day American family? How was it different? What do these similarities and differences say about colonial Trinidadian society? What do they say about American society?

4. What do you make of Tee's "double," Helen? How is she like Tee, and how is she different? Why does Helen come to exist? Once she does, does she change Tee's life?

Also, always be sure to check out Vicki's teaching page.

  Citations

1. Hodge, Merle. Crick Crack, Monkey. London: Andre Deutsch, 1970, 154.

2. Ibid., 160.

3. Ibid., 27.

4. Ibid., 40.

5. Ibid., 90.

6. Ibid., 121.

7. Cliff, Michelle. No Telephone to Heaven. New York: Plume, 1996, p191.

8. Balutansky, Kathleen M. "We Are All Activists: An Interview with Merle Hodge." Callaloo, 12, 4 (Fall 1989): 653-654.

9. Narinesingh, Roy. "Introduction." Crick Crack, Monkey, by Merle Hodge. London: Heinemann, 1970, vii.

10. Thomas, Ena V. "Crick Crack, Monkey: A Picaresque Perspective," in Caribbean Women Writers: Essays from the First International Conference. Wellesley, MA: Calaloux Publications, 1990.

11. Hodge, Merle. "Challenges of the Struggle for Sovereignty: Changing the World Versus Writing Stories," in Caribbean Women Writers: Essays from the First International Conference. Wellesley, MA: Calaloux Publications, 1990.

12. Thorpe, Marjorie. "The Problem of Cultural Identification in Crick Crack, Monkey." Savacou: A Journal of the Caribbean Artists Movement, 13 (1977): 31-32.

13. Campbell, Elaine. "The Dichotomized Heroine in West Indian Fiction." Journal of Commonwealth Literature. 22, 1 (1987): 142.

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