George Lamming, born in Carrington Village, Barbados, was of mixed English and Black African heritage, and grew up in his native township of Carrington Village and also in St David’s Village, which was the workplace of his adopted father. Unlike many his age, Lamming had the opportunity of an education and with encouragement and particular influence from a teacher, Frank Collymore, Lamming became entangled into the world of literature, and the experiences books had to offer. Before long he began his own early writings before moving, and working from 1946 to 1950 as a teacher at ‘El Colegio de Venezuela’, which was a private boarding school for boys in Port of Spain, Trinidad. Lamming was then to once more move, this time across the ocean to England where Lamming worked briefly in a factory of London whilst working independently as a freelance writer, having already published some of his works in the Barbadian magazine ‘Bim’.
Lammings’ time spent in England was of great benefit in terms of his writing aspirations and Lamming had the opportunity to meet fellow Commonwealth citizens, Africans and Asians, and become aware of the problems and issues of ‘identity’ for the African Diaspora’s. George Lamming is one of the pre-eminent writers and novelists of the early generation West Indian writers, and it can be argued that his first piece of work, the novel ‘In the Castle of My Skin’, is the most widely read ‘Black’ novel to date. It was also this novel, wrote in 1953 that many believe to be the catalyst that allowed Lamming his rise to prominence. It was described as an ‘autobiographical novel of childhood and adolescence written against the anonymity and alienation from self and community that the author experienced in London at the age of twenty-three’. Lammings’ works were largely an expression of awareness and enlightenment of sorts, and he used them directly in relation to the Caribbean people’s history as a socio-political tool to express the discourses that are still present within the Black Caribbean communities, those such as the deep founded issue of conquest, colonisation, exile and identity.
“The indigenous Carib and Arawak Indians, living by their own lights long before the European adventure, gradually disappear in a blind, wild forest of blood. That mischievous gift, the sugar cane, is introduced, and a fantastic human migration moves to the New World of the Caribbean; deported crooks and criminals, defeated soldiers and Royalist gentlemen fleeing from Europe, slaves from the West Coast of Africa, East Indians, Chinese, Corsicans, and Portuguese. The list is always incomplete, but they all move and meet on an unfamiliar soil, in an unpredictable and infinite range of custom and endeavour, people in the most haphazard combinations, surrounded by memories of splendour and misery, the sad and dying kingdom of Sugar, a future full of promises. And always the sea! (Lamming, G. ’The Pleasures of Exile’ 1960)
George Lamming’s “In the Castle of My Skin” can be seen to explore issues relating to migration, slavery, suppression, (mis)representation, race, gender, place, and responses to the ‘influential master discourses of imperial Europe’ including history and philosophy but namely that of the fundamental issue of Language.
His next novel, ‘The Emigrants’, was based around a group of West Indian expatriates who, like the Author, lived in England. His works then began to take the form of semi-autobiographical form. ‘Of Age and Innocence’ and ‘Season of Adventure’ take place on a fictional Caribbean Island of San Cristobal. The novel was representative of Lamming’s inner struggle to rediscover a history of himself ‘by himself’.
“When I review these relationships they seem so odd. I have always been here on this side and the other person there on that side, and we have both tried to make the sides appear similar in the needs, desires, and ambitions. But it wasn’t true. It was never true. When I reach Trinidad where no one knows me I may be able to strike identity with the other person. But it was never possible here. I am always feeling terrified of being known; not because they really know you, but simply because their claim to knowledge is a concealed attempt to destroy you” (Lamming, G. ‘In the castle of my skin’ 1953)‘Water with Berries was his next novel, and was delicately, yet purposely structured to describe the flaws of West Indian society seen to himself, through the utilisation of the storyline and plot of William Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’ whereby he identifies with ‘Caliban’, who is a slave on an island in Shakespeare’s play.
Lamming often employed the technique of a shifting perspective and his works frequently switched between realism and allegory whilst also tracing the prompt changes of a colonial society on its way to independence. Within the shifts in points of view found in his work, Lamming examines the Caribbean colonial past, and specifically focuses on the exploration and representation of the earlier mentioned ‘common’ themes that can be seen fluently through Caribbean Literature in general, including decolonization, identity; of lineage, origin and that of his own self. An example of which is the parallel created between himself and ‘Caliban’ mirroring the relationships of colonizer and the colonized, both in physical terms, and that of a colonised spoken language.
“For I am a direct descendant of slaves, too near to the actual enterprise to believe that its echoes are over with the reign of emancipation. Moreover, I am a direct descendant of Prospero worshipping in the same temple of endeavour, using his legacy of language – not to curse our meeting – but to push it further, reminding the descendants of both sides that what’s done is done, and can only be seen as a soil from which other gifts, or the same gift endowed with different meanings, may grow towards a future which is colonised by our acts in this moment, but which must always remain open.”
A highly political author, Lammings works often are likened to those of V.S. Naipaul, Derek Walcott and Merle Hodge, whose work is also concerned primarily with the redevelopment and emergence of the Caribbean identity, which can be interpreted as having been ‘lost’ as a result of the suppression and oppression that is characteristic of colonialism.
“The novels of Kincaid, Hodge, and Lamming reflect the seeping in of the European civilization through the veins of the children growing up in the Antilles and receiving European education in schools. They highlight the narrow-minded schooling system which inculcates alien values, bringing about this gradual metamorphosis.”(The Two Worlds of the Child: A study of the novels of three West Indian writers. London School of Journalism, Ghosh and Basu, P.)”The West Indian’s alienation springs from his colonial relationship to that of England.”
A fervent opposer of colonialism, and neo colonialism, Lamming recognizes and expresses through his novels that language is a means of colonization and encourages a resistance to cultural imperialism:
“People are becoming aware that the overwhelming dominance of North American mass culture will destroy the society if there is not what one would call a force of cultural resistance to that.”
Beyond the represented brutality of the conquest normally affiliated with the colonisation of the Caribbean, colonialism is experienced on a more intimate personal front that is purposefully made easy to relate to and empathise with. Lamming uses fairly non conventional fictional writing techniques to achieve this, such as the rapid change of perspective and narrative earlier mentioned. This also involves the frequent incorporation of other genres, though with assurance to maintain a specifically Caribbean expression, which is always present with an unwavering attention to literary detail and expression.
“For I am a direct descendant of slaves, too near to the actual enterprise to believe that its echoes are over with the reign of emancipation. Moreover, I am a direct descendant of Prospero worshipping in the same temple of endeavour, using his legacy of language – not to curse our meeting – but to push it further, reminding the descendants of both sides that what’s done is done, and can only be seen as a soil from which other gifts, or the same gift endowed with different meanings, may grow towards a future which is colonised by our acts in this moment, but which must always remain open.”“The architecture of our future is not only unfinished; the scaffolding has hardly gone up.”
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