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Marxism

Reading Class in Anglophone Caribbean Literature

Authored by: Glyne A. Griffith

The Routledge Companion to Anglophone Caribbean Literature

Print publication date:  June  2011
Online publication date:  June  2011

Print ISBN: 9780415485777
eBook ISBN: 9780203830352
Adobe ISBN: 9781136821745

10.4324/9780203830352.ch33

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Abstract

Writing about the early West Indian novel and its achievement, George Lamming states:

For the first time the West Indian peasant became other than a cheap source of labour. He became, through the novelist’s eye, a living existence, living in silence and joy and fear, involved in riot and carnival. It is the West Indian novel that has restored the West Indian peasant to his true and original status of personality.

(1984: 39) Lamming suggests that the peasant class rather than the middle class in the anglophone Caribbean functioned as the source of narrative interest for the burgeoning prose fiction of the 1950s and 60s. Indeed, even beyond this period of literary development we observe writers as varied in craft and perspective as V.S. Naipaul, Kamau Brathwaite, Wilson Harris, Derek Walcott, Samuel Selvon, Merle Hodge, Erna Brodber, Paule Marshall, Michelle Cliff, Patricia Powell, and many others representing the travails, triumphs, and agency of the peasant or the rural poor, as well as the transplanted urban slum dweller, in anglophone Caribbean prose fiction and poetry. Given the Caribbean region’s history of colonialism, and colonialism’s obvious intersection with the growth and expansion of global capital, it is not surprising that Caribbean literature and criticism would examine, across the arc of its own development, the legacy of disenfranchisement, exploitation, and alienation that presented itself for observation and critique at every turn. As a result, Marx’s reading of history as a narrative of political economy revealing class conflict that is rooted in capitalism’s exploitation of labour for the benefit of the bourgeoisie resonated with many early Caribbean writers and critics. Indeed, that resonance can still be discerned in several contemporary writers and critics whose intellectual labours are energized by Caribbean experience and thought.

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