“We have to Stick Together” Gilroy’s Question of Solidarity within the Social Dynamic of Gail’s Corregidora and Selvon’s “The Lonely Londoners” – A comparative analysis.

Joe Mota

FLET 100

Professor L. Dare Fall 2010

Old Dominion University
“We have to Stick Together” Gilroy’s Question of Solidarity within the Social Dynamic of Gail’s Corregidora and Selvon’s “The Lonely Londoners” – A comparative analysis.

The concept of identity can be illustrated as a complex assembly, and more specifically as a group of collected observations. It can be derived from one’s view of self as a subject, to one’s view of self in relation to the other, and finally one’s identity in terms of relationships to others with shared sets of attributes, vernaculars, conditions, histories, etc. It is within the latter that the exploration of solidarity surfaces when looking at the post-colonial Black subject and their plight to finding their own sense of self in relation to others. In his text “British Cultural Studies and the Pitfalls of Identity”, Paul Gilroy introduces solidarity as an issue of identity and invites us to, “comprehend identity as an effect mediated by historical and economics structures, instantiated in the signifying practices through which they operate and arising in contingent institutional settings that both regulate and express the coming together of individuals in patterned social processes.”(230) The relationship between historical and economic structures, signifying practices, and conditional settings can be further explored by looking at postcolonial novels that tackle and embrace this question of solidarity, in specific Sam Selvon’s.

The Lonely Londoners and Gayl Jones’ Corregidora; in addition, problems of community and belonging are dotted across the landscape of the novels and the formation of these institutions are problematic in terms of gender and sexuality.

What’s worth noting is the importance of Gender Analysis. Gender is an important specificity in regards to belonging and community. With that said, taking a look at Selvon’s novel will enable us to explore a kinship between West Indian men who immigrated after a call for reconstruction to Britain during the 1950s for a better life and a new beginning. It is important to note, however, that race was a controversial issue at this time in Britain, specifically London, and discourse of the immigration seemed to unwelcome the pouring in of the “spades”. Therefore, with racial tension at height, the West Indian men in the novel, Moses, Cap, Galahad, and Bart to name a few, stuck together because of their shared concept of identity. The obvious of their solidarity would be that of their skin color, background, vernacular, and situation. Moses tells Galahad in the start of the novel that because of their similarities they must stick together, “both of we is Trinidadians and we must help out one another.” (Selvon 37) This episode signifies the importance of togetherness and an assimilated sense of fixed belonging that was influenced on the West Indian immigrants. The togetherness that was felt through the West Indian districts was held as one even by the ethic food they ate, Selvon uses Moses to describe how white British capitalized on the districts the West Indians settled in, and “from the time spades start to settle…he found out what sort of things they like to eat, and he stock up on a lot of things…and as long as spades spending money he don’t care.” (Selvon 77) The feeling of belonging can also be seen through the dialect spoken within the episodic novel which is that of a Trinidadian Patois mixed with the influence of proper British English. For example, when Galahad is talking to Daisy, a white girl, on their date she has trouble communicating. She says, “What did you say? You know it will take me some time to understand everything you say. The way you West Indians speak!” (Selvon 93) The conversation does more than just separate one from the other, but also puts the West Indians in their own class, as they are different from the British in Daisy’s eyes by more than just color and vernacular. They are different in her eyes, because of their situation “mediated by historical and economic structures, instantiated in the signifying practices,” (Gilroy, “Pitfalls” 230) from the way Galahad makes his tea to his housing to his speech, he is not like her and by solidarity neither are they, the West Indians.

As Selvon moves through the novel, there are more complex suggestions that support the issue of solidarity which can be seen by what Gilroy says is, “another issue that of the social constraints upon the agency of individuals and groups must also be addressed.” (“Pitfalls” 230) In other words, being oppressed as a group, although as a negative, displays the community of the West Indians as a living, breathing, struggling collection in the face of the other. An example of this coercion takes place within the living facilities, workplace, and in common occurrences in every day life. This feeling of oppression and solidarity within the working men can be seen when Galahad is talking to Moses, “Lord, what it is we people do in this world that we have to suffer so? What it is we want that the white people and them find it so hard to give? A little work, a little food, a little place to sleep. We not asking for the sun or the moon. We only want to get by, we don’t even want to get on.” (Selvon 88) By Galahad using the word ‘we’, he brings the men together, as if they are fighting this together, living this together, and struggling in this together. It is within the same passage that Galahad speaks of how his incident finding housing was not specific to him, but to all of them, the West Indians, and blames Black for it because it is Blacks fault that they are not equal. He refers to Black as an awful person, rather than a skin color. “I went to look at that room that Ram tell me about in the Gate, and as soon as the landlady see you she say the room let already. She ain’t even give me a chance to say good morning. Why the hell you can’t change colour?” (Selvon 89) Selvon uses this episode along with other similar stories to elucidate how the West Indians endured inflated housing prices, shared rooms, and discrimination in Britain during the 1950s. However, this prejudice did not just happen with housing, work was hard to find, even if one were a skilled worker. Galahad was a trained electrician from Trinidad, and traveled across the Atlantic Ocean for hopes of opportunity and change. But what he received instead was a manual labor job, as did many of the West Indians who worked overnight hard labor and other physically demanding jobs. The purpose was to leave the skilled labor for the British, which the West Indian thought they were but soon found out they were not seen that way, and this became a conflict and a tool to keep the men of the Caribbean together in roots, in location, and in oppression. “It have kind of a communal feeling with the Working Class and the spades, because when you poor things does level out, it don’t have much up or down.” (Selvon 75) Moses clarifies this feeling of solidarity amongst the men, and one realizes it is through their shared experience and relationship to each other. Paul Gilroy suggests in his novel Against Race that, “It is a fundamental part of how they comprehend their kinship-which may be an imaginary connection, though nonetheless powerful for that.” (99) Gilroy moves in the right direction as this “imaginary connection” provides the men with a sense of belongingness in a place where others might not or do not want them to belong.

Gender and sexuality also play a big role in terms of solidarity. Selvon’s novel, centered on a community of men, touches on the relationship between the West Indian man and woman. While the men held together in their fights of oppression and color, West Indian women faced oppression two-fold, one for being black and the other for being a woman. Selvon shows the power struggle within the male and the female immigrant when Lewis starts to beat up on Tanty because he hears that wives chat on their husbands with the milk man, and he becomes paranoid. It is important to recognize that throughout the novel, English women were a prize possession and means for competition for the West Indian men. A “piece of skin” was something worth fighting for and impressing, and even the name “skin” that the men give them embody sexuality. On the other hand, it was the West Indian women who were not mentioned sexually at all through the novel, and remain at the bottom of the power struggle

as Tanty did when she was abused for being a victim of suspicion. Moses even warns Lewis to stop hurting her, because “women in this country not like Jamaica, you know. They have rights over here, and they always shouting for something.” (Selvon 69) The patriarchy that existed over the husband and wife in Jamaica was a dynamic that deemed more progressive in Britain, as Moses claims when he mentioned “they have rights over here.” Tanty ends up leaving Lewis, which one is to wonder if that would be so in Jamaica, and one is to see how the family dynamic shifts in a more progressive society.

The West Indian women, while not key players in The Lonely Londoners, had their sense of solidarity with each other, and their situation. Tanty even commented on the mistrust of their men by grumbling, “White girls, is that what sweeten up so many of you to come to London. Your own kind of girls not good enough now, is only white girls!” (Selvon 73) Tanty becomes a victim of her own environment within her relationships, and it is the female who must also deal with sexist oppression beyond the economic, racial, and psychological struggles. Solidarity between women was powerful, because it not only a development of relationships based on similar histories and conditions, but “the basis for bonding was shared victimization, hence the emphasis on common oppression.” (Hooks)

For one to examine a woman’s identity through the formation of community and belongingness in terms of solidarity, Gayl Jones Corregidora would be an excellent example by providing a vivid look at the differences that surround a postcolonial male in contrast with that of the postcolonial female.

Corregidora, in terms of community, is quite different then that of The Lonely Londoners specifically because of gender. Corregidora is a novel based around women, specifically the heroine Ursa Corregidora, and explores black female sexuality as well as relationships with men, women, family, and colonial history. Hazel V. Carby writes, in relation to the black woman, that “Our continuing struggle with history began with its discovery of us.” (61) This discovery turns into a woman’s fight for identity and self, and is displayed through the eyes and consciousness of Ursa. Her struggle to discover her individual identity must be conquered by her historical and family solidarity. She is aware of who she is and who she comes from, “”I am Ursa Corregidora. I have tears for eyes. I was made to touch my past at an early age … Let no one pollute my music. I will dig out their trumpets. I will pluck out their eyes” (Jones 77) Ursa uses music as an outlet to escape the lucid pain from her past. Her mother repetitively tells her to “leave evidence. And you got to leave evidence too. And your children got to leave evidence……we got to keep it as visible as our blood.” (Jones 14) Ursa is pushed into reliving and overcoming the racial oppression and sexual abuse that her mother, grandmother, and great-gram endured while being slaved on a plantation in Brazil. Carby enlightens the reader about racial-sexual oppression, as endured by the women in Ursa’s family, by explaining that it is neither one entirely or the other, also she divulges that “rape of Black women by white men [w]as a weapon of political oppression” (63) This male dominance is seen in Corregidora when Ursa remembers the stories her mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother told her of the vicious slave owner Corregidora. They were forced into prostitution, as many woman slaves were, and subjected to numerous sexual encounters with the plantation owner as well as his white wife. Ursa’s mother was raped by her own father, Corregidora, who impregnated Ursa’s grandmother. Ursa’s mother found it necessary that these stories would be passed down as the evidence was burned, but the action of reproduction itself asks the Black woman to submit to her male dominator which this request appears somewhat contradictory. Carby explains, “We struggle together with Black men against racism, while we also struggle with Black men about sexism.” (63) Not only did Ursa resist Mutt’s persistence of her to stop singing the blues, but after Mutt pushed her down the stairs she lost her ability to ever bear children. The anxiety of not being able to pass down the legacies of the Corregidora women and possibly break the solidarity of their shared history demonstrated to be a whirlwind of emotion. “Ursa thus realizes that she must find a way of incorporating these ancestral lessons into her life story in order to bear witness to the atrocities of the Corregidora tale and at the same time protect the integrity of her voice, self and historical location.” (Harb) This, of course, is no easy task, and as the novel progressed we notice it takes Ursa forty-eight years to find that balance.

Beyond the solidarity that exists within the women holding the Corregidora last name, there lingers a bond of sisterhood among the relationships in women that Ursa interact with. There is Cat, who befriended Ursa on a more personal note when Ursa left Mutt because of the attack. Cat becomes a friend and an enemy to Ursa, as she begins her life without Mutt. She tried to tell Ursa not to marry Tadpole, and objects of any relationship with a man so soon, but possibly because of her new found sexual orientation. However, she does see that Ursa is overcome with ghosts from her past, and tells her “It seems as if you’re not singing the past, you’re humming it. Shit we’re all consequences of something. Stained with another’s past as well as our own.” (Jones 49) Cat tells Ursa to live with her, and to basically make it on her own as a woman, as Cat does with her business. Cat refutes the thought of being with a man anymore because she will not succumb to be dominated, and turns to Jeffy as a resistance object to her sexual oppression. Sexuality ties into belongingness here because while both want to be loved and want to act out on their sexuality, they refuse to face the oppression brought on to them by the Black man. Ursa, who was fondled by Jeffy herself, makes it clear that she finds the act of homosexuality disturbing, yet throughout the novel there lays a question of curiosity in Ursa. It is at the end of the novel where she runs into Jeffy that she remembers the sisterhood she shared with Cat, and considers paying her a visit. May Alice, a childhood friend of Ursa, also used her sexuality to feel a sense of belonging. She repeatedly has intercourse with a neighborhood boy, and even though the boy does not reciprocate the admiration for her she continues to urge Ursa to “do it” because it feels so good. May Alice ends up getting pregnant, and in turn tells Ursa that one day she will like that too, to which Ursa responds, “Naw, I wont, cause it ain’t gonna happen to me.” (Jones 165) This relationship goes beyond the sexual and sense of belonging comparison, but also to introduces the solidarity between women and belonging in same gender relationships. It also could support Carby’s thought of sisterhood by a “shared victimization.” The experiences shared in the friendships of the women in novel shed light on how the difficulties and oppressions by men and women do differ greatly in terms of sexuality, but remain similar is terms of comradery and community.

While Corregidora has more of a story and plot than The Lonely Londoners, it is important to look at one the climatic events that take place at the end of the plot driven novel. Ursa tells the story from a twenty-two year time span, and at the end of the novel she is alone and has continued singing the blues at a bar in Kentucky. She runs into Mutt, and after all this time she still loves him, and has forgiven him. The question at hand, however, is if she has changed and is willing to leave the past in the past, and make her own history. She submits to Mutt, pleasing him orally for the first time. This is a focal point, because not only is it an act where she puts the man before her, but an act that contradicts the pressures of her mother and the push for reproduction. Ursa, at this point, puts her shared experiences and histories aside, to conquer her own and conquer love. Bell Hooks explains that, “Women need to have the experience of working through hostility to arrive at understanding and solidarity if only to free ourselves from the sexist socialization that tells us to avoid confrontation because we will be victimized or destroyed.” Ursa worked through her hostility in the novel in her conflicts with Mutt, Tadpole, Cat and Jeffy, and her mother and grandmother to confront them all in this act of submission. Ursa is not dominated in this instance, because she has stood her ground, will continue to sing, to remember, and to be a woman of Corregidora, however, she is now free from the constraints that the past put on her future. Ursa made the decision not to bite Mutt like her great-grandma did to Corregidora, which she imagines, “In a split second I knew what it was, in a split second of hate and love I knew what it was, and I think he might have known too.” (Jones 212) This decision separates her from her great-grandmother, as she is willing and confesses to Mutt that she wants a man who won’t hurt her. She becomes, at the finale, heroine as she has conquered her loses and oppositions, and also finds her own sense of identity. In Against Race, Ursa’s development of identity can be grasped through what Gilroy explains, “Consciousness of identity gains additional power from the idea that it is not the end product of one great man’s “audacity” but an outcome of shared and rooted experiences tied, in particular,

to place, location, language, and mutuality.” (100)

While analyzing the two postcolonial novels The Lonely Londoners by Sam Selvon and Corregidora by Gayl Jones, the relationship between the formation of community and belonging in terms of gender and sexuality are compared to find out how solidarity works to help provide these formations of social and historic structures. Each novel, focuses on a different prospective, as Selvon’s gives a look into West Indian male immigrants of the 1950s, and Jones tells a story of a child of slavery in the early to mid twentieth century in a novel focused on women. As both novels were written in rather different historical and geographical contexts, it is important to mention that each character suffered from their own oppressions and remained cohesive in someway to help overcome or get through them. “This aspect of identity [solidarity] concerns how both connectedness and difference become the basis on which social action can be produced.” (Gilroy “Pitfalls”, 229) The connectedness and difference is what gave the immigrants and the women of the Corregidora family a sense of identity, and in turn a piece to gather a sense of self. It is their relationships to each other, their histories, their conditions, and so on that have helped develop each of them into a strong Black individual. In the words of Moses, “People in this world don’t know how other people does affect their lives.” (Selvon 76) Ultimately one learns that the concept of sticking together can help overcome any battle, issue, or racial class divide.
Biblography

Carby, Hazel V. “White Woman Listen! Black Feminism and the Boundaries of

Sisterhood.” Materialist Feminism: A Reader in Class, Difference, and Women’s

Lives. 110-128. New York, NY: Routledge, 1997. MLA International Bibliography.

EBSCO. Web. 18 Apr. 2010.

Gilroy, Paul. Against Race: Imagining Political Culture beyond the Color Line.

Cambridge, Ma: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2000. 97-133. Print.

Gilroy, Paul. “British Cultural Studies and the Pitfalls of Identity.” Black British Cultural

Studies: A Reader. 223-239. Chicago, IL: U of Chicago P, 1996. MLA International

Bibliography. EBSCO. Web. 17 Apr. 2010.

Harb, Sirene. “Memory, History and Self-Reconstruction in Gayl Jones’s Corregidora.”

Journal of Modern Literature 31.3 (2008): 116-136. MLA International Bibliography.

EBSCO. Web. 18 Apr. 2010.

Hooks, Bell. “Sisterhood: Political Solidarity between Women.” In Dangerous Liaisons:

Gender, Nation, and Postcolonial Perspectives, 396-411. Minneapolis, MN: U of

Minnesota P, 1997. MLA International Bibliography, EBSCOhost (accessed April 18,

2010).

Jones, Gayl. Corregidora. New York: Beacon Press, 1987. Print.

Selvon, Sam. The Lonely Londoners. White Plains, NY: Longman Publishing Group,

1956. Print.


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