Brother Man

Topics: Caribbean, Samuel Selvon, Novel Pages: 8 (2959 words) Published: March 20, 2013
A Brighter Sun
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A Brighter Sun The Novel
Because A Brighter Sun opens with a catalog of events, both local and international (and repeats this device subsequently), it might be approached as a quasihistorical narrative; however, this technique places the characters, their actions, and aspirations in social perspective, counterpointing major and minor happenings and emphasizing the concerns of the ordinary struggling individual. World events are distant; local and personal concerns dominate the characters’ lives. The arrangement of the novel into twelve chapters suggests the form of the epic, with its hero battling against great odds, and the title (like that of Ernest Hemingway’s 1926 The Sun Also Rises) intimates the possibility of amelioration, of the dawn of a new era, of the potential for achievement. The novel is clearly a Bildungsroman, a story of the maturation of a youthful hero who sets goals for himself and overcomes disappointments and setbacks; furthermore, it is in the tradition of the social realist novel that depicts a section of working-class life in detail and with sympathy. Tiger, though disappointed in life, nevertheless adopts a mature philosophy: He rejects a return to his family’s village and life on the sugarcane estate or a departure from Trinidad for either America or India in favor of making a life for his family in Barataria’s multiethnic community. That is, he rejects a return to the past and accepts a modern social attitude. Rather than being merely the record of the first five years of Tiger’s married life, the novel is a study of changing mores in Trinidad (and hence the West Indies), with Tiger as a metonymic character, one who represents the larger community. The plot is chronological, though only half the novel concerns Tiger himself: The rest consists of episodes from others’ lives that provide Tiger with material for his growth. The marriage of Tiger and Urmilla (he did not even know the name of his arranged- marriage bride before the wedding) was for the Chaguanas district “the biggest thing to happen, bigger than the war,” for Tiger, a nonreligious Hindu, had accepted his ethnic imperatives to maintain the cohesiveness of the Indian community. Immediately, however, the new couple moves to Barataria, which both physically and symbolically represents a break with tradition, for it is a newly constructed, distant, mixed community. Tiger’s father, Baboolal, provides Tiger’s new mud hut and land—but no furnishings. Tiger, though still boyish, thinks that marriage has made him a man; nevertheless, he smokes, drinks, and abuses his wife in the belief that these are necessary indications of masculinity. When Chandra, their daughter, needs a bonnet, Tiger goes to Port of Spain with Boysie to buy one. Here, Tiger is introduced to racial discrimination when a creole clerk serves a white customer first, though Tiger was the first to arrive. In the quiet of the botanical gardens, he muses on the necessity of education and the effect of wealth. He decides to work for the Americans building a road through the development and plans to save to build a house comparable to his neighbor Joe Martin’s—with sewer, power, and floor. When he learns that Urmilla is pregnant again, he suspects infidelity and mentions this to Rita, who throws him out of her house.

A Brighter Sun


Because he can read a little and is complaisant—even fawning at times—Tiger receives preferments on the surveying and construction crews. He expands his vocabulary, seeing language as a means to status and power, and he invites his American bosses to dinner, for which Rita provides the necessary utensils and furniture—even stringing an electric light from her house (to Joe’s chagrin). The dinner is a pathetic example of inept cultural communication, a semiotic disaster. When Urmilla is ill, Tiger seeks a doctor in the wet...
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