In the Castle of My Skin

Dialogues

In the Castle of My Skin was written in 1970 by George Lamming. It is the story of G., an autobiographical character. The novel is also seen as the story of the Caribbean as well as the coming of age story of G.

We start out on G.'s ninth birthday and are immediately thrown into the context of what it is like growing up as a native in the Caribbean without a father. Lamming takes us to school with G. and his friends where we see just how the colonizers treat the colonized. On page 39, the inspector comes to the boys' school and proclaims Barbados as "little England." The students cheer because that is the attitude the schoolteachers send to them.

There is a scene where the boys are studying and discussing the bright pennies they received after inspection (52). This leads one to understand just how poor these natives are, to think that a penny is worth so much to them, they can't even think how they would spend it. Maybe money just isn't how they place value on things.

In chapter four, Lamming changes the point of view. It is still third person limited, but he switches characters from G. to and Old Man and Old Woman who are still talking about what is happening in the village with the schoolmaster and the local bank. In this chapter we see a slower pace of life. It is far less "fun" than the boys' lives.

Later, we are back to seeing things from G.'s point of view. We see many tale of crab catching, teasing women and preachers, and trouble with the overseer. With all the tales of the boys and the conversations between the old man and old woman, the reader is treated to a behind-the-scenes look at native Caribbean life. We see riots through all eyes, young and old.

The book ends nine years after it began with Trumpter telling G. about his race and his people and what it is like in the States. It ends with G.'s realization that in order to love his village, he needs to leave it.

 

 

About the author: George Lamming was born in Barbados in 1927. He was educated through high school then he left for Trinidad. Lamming emigrated to England, where worked in a factory, and broadcast for the BBC. Lamming's childhood was G.'s.

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  Dialogues

This novel reminded me of No Telephone to Heaven mostly because of the extreme poverty the natives suffer. I understand that the time period of both novels are decades apart, but that just makes one wonder how much things can change. The islands are different, but the colonizers are the same. The lives of the colonized people in these two novels parallel the lives of the colonized people in the other novels we've read, like Things Fall Apart and Joys of Motherhood. In all of these texts, the natives live simply until the colonizers appear. Once this happens, the natives are forced to assimilate to the ways of the imperialists, throwing away their culture and traditions. Because the indigenous peoples only have experience in their culture, they have trouble adjusting to the culture and economy forced upon them. The children have a better chance because they have a chance to be trained by the "Motherland" to be efficient in the colonies and be productive for the colonizers. This is true for Clare Savage as well as Nnu Ego's children in The Joys of Motherhood, who leave and only come back to bury their mother.

It shouldn't be surprising that this is the case for postcolonial people. Once a people is forced to give up its traditions and culture, it doesn't want to go back to the "harder" way of life. One could say that it is only harder because it is not the mainstream. It's easier to give up what is not normal than stick to what has worked for generations. When this happens, the elder, wiser people are left to fend for themselves. And because these natives are immediately differentiated from the colonizers by color, they are looked on as good for nothing but manual work. This is true as far back as Shakespeare's time, as in The Tempest, which Cesaire comments on by writing his play A Tempest. Caliban is good for only cutting wood and fetching water, while the lighter-skinned Ariel does Prospero's more "delicate" work that's closer to him, very similar to the field slave versus house slave concept.

  Notes

I seem to remember talking in class about these "coming of age" novels that Caribbean writers have produced, like No Telephone to Heaven and Crick Crack Monkey. I've also come across it in my research that these Bildungsromans are built on the growing of their countries or colonies. I was something to think about. I tried to find some criticism on the topic with great difficulty. Although, it was from Lamming himself that I discovered what I was looking for. In the 1983 introduction to the novel (xxxvi), Lamming says "And what I say now of In the Castle of My Skin is also true of other Caribbean writers. The book is crowded with names and people, although each character is accorded a most vivid presence and force of personality, we are rarely concerned with the prolonged exploration of an individual consciousness." That would explain his use of the multiple narrators.

He goes on to state, "The Village, you might say, is the central character. When we see the Village as collective character, we perceive another dimension to the individual wretchedness of daily living." He goes on to say that critics have a hard time with this method of narration because it isn't tidy. "There is often no discernible plot, no coherent line of events with a clear, causal connection. (xxxvi)"

Lamming's thoughts are that the Novel's function in the Caribbean is to restore lives of the poor "to a proper order of attention; to make their reality the supreme concern of the total society (xxxvii)." He goes on to talk about the Plantation Slave Society conspiring to smash its ancestral African culture, which may account for the emptiness G. and Trumpter talk about in the last chapter of In the Castle of My Skin, which is a totally different topic.

  Links

***http://www.worldbank.org/poverty/povlit/povlit2p3.htm This is a wonderful page in a website dedicated to literature of poverty. It is included with the likes of Frank Mc Court's Angela's Ashes and Frederick Douglas's Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglas an American Slave.

**http://www.emory.edu/ENGLISH/Bahri/Lamming.html is a page is basically a biography of George Lamming with links to a Postcolonial site based out of Emory University. It is good for information on Lamming and a bibliography, but it is limited.

***http://www.runmuki.com/paul/writing/lamming.html is a website article on George Lamming's In the Castle of My Skin. The article is excellent. It connects the novel to Lamming's view of the Caribbean.

**http://www.thecaribbeanwriter.com/volume13/v13p190.html is a portion of an interview with Lamming by Erika J. Waters originally appearing in The Caribbean Writer in 1999. It is interesting because in it, Lamming talks about In the Castle of My Skin. He wishes that it hadn't been his first novel because everything else he's written gets compared to it. Worth at least taking a look at.

**http://www.panmedia.com.jm/features/lamming.htm is another interview with George Lamming by Knolly Moses. Moses asks him his views on the economy and migration in the Caribbean. This interview along with the one with Erika J. Waters gives the reader some idea of the kind of man Lamming is.

 

  Teaching

George Lamming: In the Castle of My Skin 1970, Study Guide is a great online study link. It helped me tremendously in reading the book on my own. It asks pertinent questions of the text. Paul Brains, a professor at Washington State University, created this study guide and published it online to help his students. It would be a help to any student of the book and of Lamming. The study guide not only asks questions: it give background notes to the text and the political and economical atmosphere of the Caribbean and Barbados. This study guide along with the links above would provide great background for a lesson on the book.

Some movies one could show are:

People of the Caribbean. 1980. 59 minutes. This program profiles the heritage of minority groups that trace their origins to the islands of the Caribbean. It focuses on the countries that have sent many black and Spanish-speaking people to the United States, including Puerto Rico, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Barbados, Cuba, and Jamaica.

Toured: The Other Side of Tourism in Barbados 1992. 38 min. Portrays the experience of tourism from the perspective of those who are "toured", in this case, on the Caribbean island of Barbados. It examines the realities of making a living in a tourist economy, dealing with stereotypical "ugly Americans', and witnessing one's traditional culture change under the impact of foreign visitors

http://www.smplanet.com/imperialism/toc.html is a website with pages of teaching resources. There is also a page with the history of U.S. Imperialism.

  Citations

 

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

D'Loughy, Mickey. URL: http://www.wmich.edu/dialogues/texts/crickcrack.html , 2001.

Dorn, Paul. "Seen From All Sides: George Lamming's In the Castle of My Skin." URL: http://www.runmaki.com/paul/writing/lamming.html , 1995.

Emecheta, Buchi. The Joys of Motherhood. New York: G. Braziller, 1979.

Lamming, George. In the Castle of My Skin. Ann Arbor:University of Michigan Press, 1991.

Colonial & Postcolonial Literary Dialogues

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