Migration Themes in Caribbean Literature: More Social Problems Than Solutions

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Migration Themes in Caribbean Literature: More Social Problems than Solutions

Migration is a prominent theme within Caribbean literature. Despite the migrants’ initial perceptions of good fortune, the foreign countries are invariably a place of social inequalities and uncertainty. This paper discusses the varying ways in which migration is portrayed through the medium of Caribbean writing. Migration is exhibited in novels, short stories, and poems. Migration itself is portrayed with curiosity, trepidation, regret, but most often with fear; fear of being discovered, fear of ‘not making it’, fear of not being accepted, fear of the unknown situations. These elements are exposed in George Lamming’s novel The Emigrants, Edward Brathwaite’s poem The Emigrants, and Sam Selvon’s The Lonely Londoners and “When Greek Meets Greek”. The common link within each of these works is that they all portray individuals who have left their native West Indian homelands in search of a better life. In Lamming’s novel, the emigrants are unknowingly searching for a different life, as they somehow find themselves traveling to Europe. Some have a more definite goal while others have just come to the inner realization that their reason for leaving was for this better life. In the initial exposure of the novel’s theme, an anonymous voice states, “…we all know it…every man want a better break, and you know what ah mean by that. ‘Tis why every goddam one o’ we here on this boat tonight. You says to yuhself ‘tis no point goin’ on as you goin’ on back home. You can’t live yuh life over two or three times, chum, an’ you want to do somethin’ for yuhself with the life you got here an’ now” (Lamming, 37). This statement seems to set the stage for the aura of the entire novel. The response to this statement indicates a universal feeling among the men lying in their dark bunks, en route to the shores of Europe. The response is silence, a silence which indicates that everyone is pondering the unacknowledged reality of their presence on the ship: “Whatever the difference in their past experience they seemed to agree on one thing. They were taking flight from something they no longer wanted. It was their last chance to recover what might have been wasted…This silence was an obvious agreement, an unspoken declaration of what they had thought and felt” (Lamming, 37). The men continue to discuss and debate the islands from which they came; deliberating the prominence of their respective homelands and arguing for their trivial significance which are apparently and understandably important to them. However, a man identified as The Governor, who has experienced England with the RAF, adroitly silences their banter with his cynical words, “Lemme tell all you something…education or no education, the whole blasted lot o’ you is small islanders. I know Kingston like I know Port-o-Spain, ol’ man, like the palm o’ my hand, and’ I say the whole lot o’ you is blasted small islanders. O.K.?” (Lamming, 41). The Governor effectively silences the lot by showing them that they are coming from nothing, and foolishly debating their homes like they still mean something. Because, as he later indicates, none of the men are sorry they are leaving their homes, and they are doing so because they want to live a better life. Basically, it is pointless to debate which island is better, since everyone is leaving because they feel that their home is not sufficient. Perhaps Collis adequately summarizes their predicament when he thinks, “Now I see more clearly in what way I belong to this group which has one thing certain. Flight! We’re all in flight; and yet as Tornado says we haven’t killed. We haven’t stolen, I never killed, I never stole. Yet I’m in flight. Tornado knows the place he’s sailing to, but he doesn’t want to go back. We others don’t know the place yet we’re all anxious to arrive…Whatever the island each may have come from, everything...
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