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Great and irrevocable changes have swept this land of ours in the last few years and out of these changes a new art is springing. Historically art gives a picture of contemporary life, philosophically it contains within it the germ of the futureâ€¦short stories, essays, plays and poems fills both these roles; in them is the picture of our life today, the way we think, the acts we do, but underlying the picture of the present is the trend of the future, when new values will predominate and a new approach to things will be born.
The short story form focuses on the theme of oral effects in written literature, sometimes depicting the musical dimensions inherent in the cultures to which the story relates. This orality and musicality therefore, has the potential for integration with the vernacular traditions and to create representations of the consciousness of the people upon whom the stories may be patterned. As a result, orality and community are inextricably interwoven, creating emphatic relations between the authors and the readers. The short fiction authors draw upon the daily life of their homelands to infuse their short stories with the oral language, that is, dialect. Regardless of the different cultures, countries and historical influences, the themes purported are similar, for example, voice, culture and community, and are suggestive of the far-reaching implications of orality (and musicality) in the short story art form.
In the Caribbean, the indigenous forerunner to the scribal short story was the oral story-telling tradition which was derived from three main influences: the Caribs and Arawaks, the African slaves, and the East Indian indentured labourers. Until recently, Anglophone Caribbean short fiction has been seconded to other genres, for example, the novel. Based on the British literary tradition and its influences on the art form of writing in the Caribbean, the novel was seen to be a superior form of literary expression to the short story. Notable as well was the fact that there were no significant publishing houses in the Caribbean and Caribbean writers published their works through British publishers. Thus, a debut onto the writing arena with a novel was considered to be the norm, even for authors such as V.S. Naipaul, who was advised to publish two novels - The Mystic Masseur (1957) and The Suffrage of Elvira (1958) - before he was able to publish Miguel Street in 1959.
If one reads Naipaul's Miguel Street in a chronological order, it can be viewed not only as a collection of short stories, but rather a bildungsroman, which traces the development of the main character/narrator as he matures amidst the setting of characters who inhabit the fictional Miguel Street. The collection of stories/ novel "spans the spectrum of ethnic and racial types in Trinidad, all tragicomic 'failures' for whom escape from their condition of natural and cultural impoverishment is a virtual impossibility" (Tewarie, 3). The inhabitants of Miguel Street are a community of individuals who, amidst the pervading theme of failure in the stories, show themselves to be a resilient group, overcoming obstacles and above all, surviving. Naipaul uses the adolescent point-of-view in his narrator in order to emphasize the naÃ¯ve consciousness awakening to the realities of life.
Within the collection of stories there may be seen to be a recurrence of themes - immigration/exile, poverty/suffering, and racial prejudice/alienation - themes which are found to be prevalent in most Caribbean literature of the period. That is not to say that Naipaul was not one of those who contributed to the nurturing of the Caribbean short fiction art form. His stories graphically portray the social realism of the East Indian persona. Although not completely explicit, because of the naÃ¯veté of his narrator, he did not shy away from depicting the sexual, violent in some cases, and bitter, cynical lives of his characters. Naipaul also does not hide the harsh socio-economic aspects of the times. However, amidst the squalor and poverty, he highlights the characters' resilience, vitality and zest for life. He provides particulars of the East Indian day-to-day life with a documentary exactness, displaying an expert knowledge of the traditions and culture of the people, yet simultaneously accentuating, through characters such as Hat and the narrator, the psychological deviations from the cultural and traditional expectations of the East Indian community: "I always looked upon Hat as a man of settled habitsâ€¦Cricket, football, horse-racing; read the paper in the mornings and afternoons; sit on the pavement and talk; get noisily drunk on Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve" (Naipaul, 160).
In a similar vein, Forbes' Songs of Silence may also be viewed as a type of bildungsroman, however, the perspective differs in that Forbes' narrator is a young girl, Marlene, who chronicles for the reader a reflection of life in the Jamaican countryside during the 1960's. The eight short stories in this collection are linked through the child's consciousness and growing awareness, however the simplistic quality of the voice of the narrator allows the reader to view the stories on a multi-faceted, symbolic level as well as a reflective account of the narrator's experiences. The narrator's voice also becomes representative of the collective voice of the characters in the stories, affording the reader an insight into the characters' purpose as well as the 'moral' evident behind the tales. As Naipaul, Forbes' stories also reflect the growth of the narrator/ character, yet conversely Forbes' feminist perspective and interpretation brings a new element to the stories rendering them more associative for the reader.
Although designed along similar structures, in that the stories in both Naipaul's and Forbes' collections can be read collectively as a novel, and additionally reflect analogous time periods in the history of the islands, there are distinct variations in the two works. Primarily, Naipaul's language is that of the Trinidadian Creole, his references based in the experience of the Hindu-Trinidadian living on the island: "Bhakcu was underneath the car, whistling a couplet from the Ramayana. He came out, laughed, and said, 'You getting frighten, eh?'" (Naipaul 170). Contrastingly, Forbes' stories exhibit an interplay of Standard English and the Jamaican Creole, with her illustrations grounded in the Jamaican culture and tradition of the folk: "Sometimes my head weave stories inside itself, spinning like a whole Anancy web of things that don't really go so but always feel realer than the things that go so. My Aunt Edna say is because my eye cast like hersâ€¦She say cast eye is a kinda mix up four eye, your brain don't come too straight." (Forbes 93-94). Even though Forbes' stories are told from the child's perspective, her use of language appears to suggest that there are really two narrators juxtaposed, with an adult omniscient narrator using the child's recollection as foundation for the recount of the tale: "Effie's rhythmic chant would increase in volume with the progress of her advance and the paroxysm of her trance." (Forbes 4). From the analysis of this reader/writer, it seems apparent that this level of expression is not concurrent with the expressive ability of a child and illustrates the voice given to the 'second narrator' in the novel by the author. However, what may also be gleaned from this technique is that the vacillation between Jamaican Creole and Standard English, and the propensity of the author for ascribing contrasting thought pattern in her narrator(s), serves only to highlight the stylistic flexibility and confidence of the author.
Another contrast which strikes the reader of these two collections is that of the author's connectedness to the work. As noted by the critic Mervyn Morris, in Sir Vidia and The Prize, Naipaul's works exhibit a disassociation and displacement of author. His tales are a recount of the social situation: "A stranger could drive through Miguel Street and just say 'Slum!' because he could see no more. But we, who lived there, saw our street as a world, where everybody was quite different from everybody else." (Naipaul 63). However Forbes' collection exhibits a symbolic quality wherein the reader is given the task of deciphering the underlying meaning in her tales: "Long after when I learn to cull up and stitch together the threads, between what observe and what leave unsaid, I put two and two together and make fiveâ€¦" (Forbes 90). The stories effectively bridge the gap between implicit meaning and understanding, so that the reader, although left to a certain extent to infer on an interpretive level, senses the voice of the author in the work and is able to relate to the explicit message of the stories.
In order to glean an appropriate appreciation of the immense value of these authors' work to the Caribbean Short Story genre, they must be examined in correlation with other short fiction authors. For example, if one chooses to compare Forbes' "A Story With No Name" to Olive Senior's "Do Angels Wear Brassieres?" there is the similarity of the child narrator's voice examining issues which affect the Jamaican society. Both Marlene and Katie display a realistic understanding of the world in which they exist while both authors display an ability to utilize 'voice' to translate the contradictions evident in the adopted British values versus the Caribbean values. The oral nature of their stories forms an innate aspect of the narrators' mode of writing as their rebellion against the British form is grounded in the choice of topics broached and language used. The narrators belong to the community and recall specific events in the neighborhood life or their own lives within the society, and who utilize the Jamaican Creole as the medium of expression.. The limitations between the oral and scribal become indistinct as the narrators offer no explicit excuse for the use of a lexicon which differs excessively from Standard English. Thus the aesthetical value of the oral tradition is depicted:
Right now she consoling about Beccka who (as she telling Auntie Mary)every decent-living upright Christian soul who is everybody round here except that Dorcas Waite about whom one should not dirty one's mouth to talk yes every clean living person heart go out to Aunty Mary for with all due respect to a sweet mannersable child like Cherryher daughter is the devil own pickneyâ€¦"But see here Miss Mary you no think Cherry buck up the devil own self when she carrying her? Plenty time that happen you know. Remember that woman over Allside that born the pickney with two head praise Jesus it did born dead. [â€¦] And Miss Mary I telling you the living truth, just as the baby borning the midwife no see a shadow fly out of the mother and go right cross the room. She frighten so till she close her two eye tight and is so the devil escape."
(Brown and Wickham 305).
Similarly, this technique can also be witnessed in Forbes' writing:
Did her silence break, perforce? Did speech uncover her nakedness, once and for all, so that she had to cook cucumakka stick and throw away the baby? Where was the baby? In one of the graves between the naseberry trees, buried deep and dark in the earth's cocoon of silence? Did she go there when the peenie wallies came out, to feed the dead?
Thematically, the stories are dissimilar, however the display of the African oral traditions are highly evident in both authors' reference, through the medium of the language used, to the indigenous roots of the life of the folk of Jamaica.
One can also derive a comparison between Naipaul's enagaging of the social issue of prostitution if one compares his work in "George and the Pink House", with an author such as Zora Neale Hurston, in her rendition of "Story in Harlem Slang". Thematically, both stories reflect the idea of the 'pimp' in George and Jelly, however, as a result of the differing viewpoints from which the stories are told, the Caribbean reader's sensibilities are more affected by the portrayal of Naipual's character, even though Hurston does a commendable job of incorporating the musicality of the African-American tradition of Jazz and Blues into her story. The simplicity of Naipaul's narrator's "The pink house, almost overnight, became a full and noisy place. There were many women about, talking loudly and not paying too much attention to the way they dressedâ€¦some of them did things with their mouths, inviting me to 'come to mooma'" (Naipaul 26), contrasts sharply with Hurston's " 'I wouldn't mislead you, baby, not with all the help I got.' Then he would give the Pimp's sign, and percolate on down the avenue." (Course Collection 52). The perceived ambiguity in Naipaul's expression still allows the reader to infer based on the limited information displayed by the youthful narrator's recount, however, Hurston's tale leaves the reader in no doubt regarding the focus of her story. The explicitness of the detail, while commendable for highlighting the African-American culture of the folk, does not, for the average Caribbean reader, and in the opinion of this reader/writer 'measure up' to the implicit reading of Naipaul's prose.
A feature of the Caribbean short story which may be considered of great importance to note is the manner in which the authors delve into the issue of self-definition as defined by the postcolonial experience. Jamaica Kincaid's "Blackness" is a meditation that explores inner and outer confusion of this topic. The symbolic blackness recalls the corruption that overwhelms the naÃ¯ve: "The blackness fills up a small room, a large field, an island, my own being. The blackness cannot bring me joy but often I am glad in it. The blackness cannot be separated from me but often I can stand outside it." (Brown and Wickham 362). The narrator's biological mother engenders the narrator's defiant struggles against indoctrination at school, however the 'mother' is also representative of the British postcolonial authority which subsumes rather than nurtures. The dislocation of the narrator is expressed in her linguistic alienation: "I can no longer say my own nameâ€¦I have been my individual self, carefully banishing randomness from my existence, then I am swallowed up in the blackness so that I am one with it." (362). Naipaul's examination of this topic is evident in his stories, for example, "How I left Miguel Street", in the narrator's thoughts: "We got to Piarco in good time, and at this stage I began wishing I had never got the scholarshipâ€¦I wanted to put off the moment." (Naipaul 169). Again, the reader notices that the topic is not engaged with the same intensity as Kincaid, as her narrator struggles to define identity and self, however in Forbes' "Morris Hole", the author engages the issue with alacrity: "I work this out because my father, my two uncles Easton and Alfred and my Aunt Beatrice, who had mostly different fathers, was full black, but my great-grandfather white as sea salt and my great-grandmother have two long jackass rope of hair wrap round her sambo head like black tobacco." (Forbes 90-91). Her narrator expresses a similar dislocation to that of Kincaid's, as well as a reflection of the society in the aftermath of the postcolonial experience.
What may also be seen by the reader in an examination of the works of Naipaul and Forbes is their ability to transcend the boundaries of spatial limitations. Another author who expresses this effectively is Roger Mais in his story, "Red Dirt Don't Wash". Through his central character, Mais expresses a tragic view of life and a dignified response to it. The writer paints for the reader an accurate picture of the real Jamaica and the dreadful condition of the working classes. We find in the work, accordingly, a stark and realistic picture of impoverished people trapped in a portrait that is identifiably Jamaican, yet transcends that oceanic boundary and depicts as an idealism to which any reader can assimilate, surpassing the boundaries of time: "They reminded him of his own mountains that seemed so far away, almost unreal-veiled as with a mist-and the mist was in his own eyes-trying to see beyond the St. Andrew hills, beyond the stars, horizon, space limitless like that." (Brown and Wickham 69). The poignancy evident in Mais' work is consistent with that expressed by Naipaul and Forbes as their narrator's embrace a new future: "I left them all and walked briskly towards the aeroplane, not looking back, looking only at my shadow before me, a dancing dwarf on the tarmac." (Naipaul 172); "I knew them all because they were all the people I had beenâ€¦I knew that for the time it was all right, because always there would be the river and beyond it the glimpse of the sea." (Forbes 152).
There can be no doubt, when one examines the short fiction works of Naipaul and Forbes, that their contribution to the aesthetic form is boundless, revealing immeasurable aspects of the Caribbean life and experience. Naipaul may be considered to be a pioneer in the field, one whose writing aided in the initial shaping and defining of the Caribbean literary canon, but Forbes' contribution, though recent, also has to be considered among pioneer works in the art. Her work brings a refreshing, new perspective as she expertly examines contemporary concerns. Both authors appear to allude to the postcolonial experience which has dictated to a great extent the literary achievements of the works of the region; what is most prominent, is the fact that both writers have effectively translated the postcolonial experience and contribute to the continuing development of literature in the Caribbean. To quote in part, Edna Manley, in Focus Magazine (1943), "underlying the picture [they present] is the trend of the future, when new values will predominate and a new approach to things will be born".(Simpson).