Lamming And The Search For Freedom

“Caliban is sympathetic, for he knows the pain it has cost him to realize the change within himself. He is a child of the backward glance with recollection of a time when he was not even accorded the right to be angry. He has known what it means to have one’s past appropriated, then languageless as his aboriginal neighbours. But Caliban accepts this predicament as part of his historic acre of ground. He has been precipitated into his change. He has made it, and it has made him. Now, it is Prospero’s turn to submit to the remorseless logic of this own past”.

We see that continuity which links Lamming’s works and creative vision together in that Fola, too, becomes a child of the ‘backward glance’. The first part of Season of Adventure traces her ‘backward glance’, but that is after Caliban has become master of the word. Now the world is no longer Prospero’s alone, and a new way of seeing informs the lives of West Indians, Africans and many former colonial peoples who can now sympathize with Prospero’s predicament which is:

“To change or not to change? That is the question which has already set up an atmosphere of change in Prospero. Colonized by his own ambition, Prospero’s role is now completely reserved. Prospero is once again face to face with what is urgent and near-impossible. And he is terrified.”

The dialogue between Caliban and Prospero continues even with the beginning of freedom, yet certain positive changes have taken place in Caliban’s situation, changes which bring many ‘problems, many possibilities. This is how Lamming puts it:

“The world from which our reciprocal ways of seeing have sprung was once Prospero’s world. It is no longer his. Moreover, it will never be his again. It is ours, the legacy of many centuries, demanding of us a new kind of sight for viewing the possible horizons of our own century.”

The emigrants from a colonial society where, they claim, boredom, complacency and unawareness, prevail, seek the kingdom of Prospero, looking for a change in their lives. They leave their islands with preconceived notions of that kingdom, positive in their desire for a better break. They are all fleeing for one reason or another, hoping to get ‘papers’ which would validate their futures and provide them with possbilities, But the change which they all seek, the dreams to which they aspire, all dissolve
and become a chimera.

In The Emigrants, exile is not pleasure, exile leads to disillusionment, degredation and solitude. The novel is an ironic statement which show that to inherit the kingdom of Prospero does not of necessity lead to a throne. In its very structure, the author achieves the irony of the fate which befalls all the emigrants. For the novel constantly moves from high expectation to disillusionment, from laughter and ‘old talk’ to seriousness and serious discussion. During the first part of the journey, when the passengers are still close to the islands, cheerful warmth and easy banter prevail. Then, gradually, as the distance from the islands widens, the passengers speak of the problems of the islands from which they flee. With the nearer approach to England, their uncertainty of their futures oppresses their language. Now only momentary flashes of the initial cheerfulness occur. They end their journey in the blur and greyness of their ‘kingdom’. In the second part of the novel, there is the same movement from humour to cheerlessness, from ‘sky lark’ about having tea ‘with or without’, and ‘half pint ‘o bitter’ to ‘it get cold, sudden as hell’ and ‘it dark’, ‘so cold’, ‘so frightened’.

“If you had two continents, for example,

‘you’d keep one an’ give the odder nation one.

“An’ if you had two islands, you’d keep one and give the other country one.

“An’ suppose you had one island? ‘what happen then?

“You’d make a boundry an’ keep half, giving the odder person half.

“Tis only a question o’ half for you an’ half for me?

“An’ if you had a banana, an’ yuh next door neighbour want some. Him goin’ start asking all sort o’ stupid questions.

“It ain’t stupid question, cause ah would like to know if he’d divide up dat cigarette between his ear, since this socialism is what he say it is. You have to descend to all kind of personal plane.
“Who talkin’ anything ’bout cigarette?

“Tis just what ah mean. You can divide as much as you like once what you dividing ain’t belong to you.”

It is in the character of Higgins we see this movement of disintegration, as his hope and aspirations arc blown up, then as quickly shattered. His dream. like the movement of the ship through the water, explodes, and the ensuing darkness in the cabin deepens. Here, the process of disintegration and the interplay of phenomena with man’s emotions which become dominant novelistic procedure in Of Age and Innocence and Season of Adventure, begin to appear.

The emigrants stumble about after their arrival in England, lose their footing and scurry around in their search for security. They all undergo change. Tornado, who had before been vigorous, became passive, accepting the worsening circumstances which befall all the men in England. Symbolically as they descend basement stairs, the atmosphere forecasts their plight.

“The change was too obvious for comment, and their silence suggested that the atmosphere had produced a similar sensation in each. The stairs descended uncertainly like raindrops, trickling down the wounded face of a rock. The angle sharpened here, the next step was missing, and suddenly like a blow on the head, the foot made a final drop, and the body fought for its balance before preparing to move on. They drew closer now, waiting without word for someone to explore the dark. It was dingy and damp, a hole which had lost its way in the earth, and they put their hands out along the wall and over the floor like crabs clawing for security.”

After experiencing their separate tragedies, they end up in loneliness as they walk out into the darkness of the night. Even the tone of the novel has undergone a change. No longer do we have stories such as the one of the Governor’s unfaithful wife nor the ‘pappy show’ and ‘old talk’ of the respective merits of their islands, nor such amazing definitions of socialism, as the following:

The experiences which they undergo in England bring about a feeling of togetherness, giving them a sense of being West Indians. Now their search for identity, their relationship to England and their allegiances to the West Indies become paramount in their thinking. Experiences suffered in England dictate much of Shephard’s political quest for Independence. He lives between a season of insanity and a dramatic adventure for political independence. In him, as in many of the characters in Of Age and Innocence, illusion and reality are contiguous, merge, both at times becoming the goad to action or to reaction. Shephard reacts, attempts to change the image which the colonizers have given him, to change their way of seeing him, to assume another reality to become ‘Shephard in spite of…’, to become ‘man in spite of…’.

“To be a man in spite of, in spite of. It is the other’s regard which he has set out to alter. He would begin by accepting the verdict of his enemy as a way of changing himself and the enemy as well. He would begin by accepting all that he had set out to rebel against. To be Shephard in spite of….. To be Penelope in spite of……To be man in spite of….”

His rebellion against the image will lead to an ambivalence and anguish which eventually become the action, guiding his search for Independence and directing his search for self. For in Of Age and Innocence, all the characters are searching for their own individuality. Their interplay, their interaction, ordains the movement of the Independence of San Cristobal.

Lamming explores the motive spring of actions which sometimes come about unprompted, unreasoned, without positive intentions. They occur. Where as Shephard becomes ‘Shephard in spite of’ through the conscious action of the will, Penelope’s transformation comes on suddenly, but with a stealthy movement. No clearly defined incident informs her, nothing demarcates the transformation, her hands seem to become obedient to a will of their own. Yet Lamming skillfully presents the steps by which Penelope becomes attracted to Marcia. First, she rallies to Marcia’s need for comfort. Marcia’s wish makes Penelope offer complete assurance. Marcia’s need for comfort goads Penelope to a sense of duty and loyalty to their group. Penelope’s arms will become a substitute for Mark’s and take on the power of maleness. But later, her hands of their own accord seem to demand the feel of Marcia. She moves between illusion and reality not really knowing which prompts her action. Penelope’s reality has undergone a radical change, but her outward appearance, the image which others have of her is constant. She is ‘Penelope in spite of’.

Lamming explores the domains of appearance and reality and extends his exploration into the evolutionary process of becoming. Mark, after the claim given him by the crowd, becomes ‘Mark almost in spite of’. His identity is assumed by the reaction of the crowd to him, by their way of seeing him. Just as Penelope’s hands moved with a will of their own, Mark’s speech was an involuntary ejaculation occasioned by the moment’s intensity. The glance of the crowd gives Mark identity and Shephard’s conscious seeking gives him a new image of self, so too Singh’s loyality to Shephard. The regard in which Thief is held by Bill and Penelope, give them both a new sense of loyality. Essentially Thief’s hands ‘in spite of himself’ would snatch the object, but the new self, occasioned by loyality prevents from stealing anything from their house. It is loyality too, which binds Singh to Shephard. Singh in whom there is no ambivalence, in whom appearance and reality are one:

“His knowledge was physical, integral as a root to the branch and body of the tree. He did not have to summon it according to his need. There was no distance between the thing he knew and the man he was. He was his knowledge. And when that knowledge was shaken, the man was in danger”.
The same way Singh’s knowledge is integral as the root to the branch and body of the tree, so too, the movement of phenomena and elements are integral to movements of men’s passions and emotions. Lamming comingles all phenomena, bringing together all images, orchestrating all the sounds pertaining to the movement. Thus it is that Marcia, at the climax of her madness, breaks like the clouds, “her face was hot and wet, and the sweat poured like rain down the back of her neck”.

In like fashion, Lamming projects his landscape into feeling. Mark after Marcia’s death is as unburdened as the clouds which drift about:

“The clouds had taken care of my interest, and I could feel their lack of intention. They were moving as I was moving, without interest or desire, and when their burden left them, they split their weight upon the earth, they would go on moving, without malice. And the evening surrounded the trees, passed over the grass like a hand.”

In Season of Adventure, night informs all of Fola’s actions. All the changes that take place in her search for self through otherness, are reflected in the face of the moon, and the complexion of the night. Often hallucinations, and fever or the proximity to insanity give objects a blinding clarity. Objects become vital and rooms take on dynamic movement.

“For a moment, she had lost touch with the ordinary details of the room. The walls sprang to an awkward altitude, the ceiling dozed and sagged above her head. The bed rocked her gently to one side like a raft swimming in circles over a stagnant pool. She could feel a gradual dissolution of things, eddying cautiously through the light. The mirror yawned, widening to the furthest limits of the room, and the light broke into a blinding shower of splintered glass entering her eyes. Her body was frozen stiff, but she could feel a gradual quickening of the blood cruising through her head. A slow procession of noises altered her ears, and her eyes were stung into a sudden clarity.”

Landscape, phenomena. elements, ideas and emotions all interplay. In landscape, there can often be omens of doom which forecast an event. For everywhere in Lamming’s latter novels, a sense of doom and darkness hovers. Insects, wasps, sandflies, dogs, rain and floods and the swift descent of darkness are all portents of destruction. But landscape and elements become more than portents of destruction, they become the possibility of resurrection. For it is from the sea that the souls rise from purgatory, crying out for rest. Here Lamming accepts, as do many African ontological systems, the proximity of the living to the dead. The total chronology and continuity of being. During the night of All Souls, three boy, Bob, Lee and Singh symbolically think of the presence of the foreigner, the presence of the dead.

“An’ dead as we know him dead there,’ … ‘the recollection make him real, real, like he was listenin’ from the next side of the grave.”

“They reach round you everywhere,’ …. ‘little dead and big dead, but while we last, he can count himself with the livin’.”

In Season of Adventure, Lamming sweeps us along to the resurrection of the past, a ‘backward glance’ to search for heritage and paternity. The Ceremony of the Souls, which is an inheritance from the Voodun ritual, impels Fola in her search for a past. Symbolically, one of the souls of the dead which was being resurrected at a ceremony witnessed by Fola, while living had been barren. He comes, however, from the sea and through the night searching for his mother, a natural mother, Fola’s step father, too, is barren and Fola goes in her ‘backward glance’ looking for a father. Yet her paternity had been double. She had been the bastard issue of a white Bishop’s son and a black man, brother of Chiki.

The Ceremony of the Souls resurrects the past which the rhythm of the steel drum beats out. Ceremony and music are Fola’s patrimony, these are her double paternity. Fola leaps from the past to the beyond, she rejects that part of her past which would have made of her a colonial continuation. She rejects the language of education which would ordain colonial values. In a mystical cleansing. she desires pure memory, knowledge of her essential self. That education which Belinda strives to acquire for her son by prostituting her body, the education rooted in colonial values, Fola rejects. She tries to shed all the colonial values which betray the newly won Independence of San Cristobal. Informed by the Ceremony of the Souls and urged by the rhythms of the drums, which control her movements, insighted by the art of the painter Chiki (for the ververs is the source of all art in San Cristobal):

“It’s the source of all the visual arts in San Cristobal.”

Fola becomes, Fola and other than, she has moved beyond. Lamming’s glance has moved beyond. The Season of Adventure has taken us beyond the meaning that informed the word, colonial.

The freedom which is the natural attribute of people has been achieved by Fola, the symbol of Independence acquired through suffering and conscious action. For Freedom is as natural to man as the wind, even as servitude is an alien to his understanding. That is the essential message of Lamming’s writings. In his visit to Ghana, Lamming felt the full effect of Freedom.

“And here one saw the psychological significance of freedom. It does something to a man’s way of seeing the world. It is an experience which is not gained by education or money, but by an instinctive re-evaluation of your place in the world, an attitude that is the logical byproduct of political action.’
For Lamming, Freedom is “something a-logical, something that seems always outside the reach of any demands that a particular situation might make of, you, freedom as an experience or the self in a state of unconditional awareness. I do not attain to this freedom. It is an attribute of me.”

The destiny of the artist in this pursuit of Freedom and Independence is to always glance beyond, to push things to a destiny which remains open.

“But if politics is the art of the possible, then your work should be an attempt to show the individual situation illuminated by all the possibilities, which keep pushing it always towards a destiny, a destiny which remains open. But you close it, if you get bogged down by thinking how things change and yet remain the same.”

But for Lamming change involves action and duration. He says:

“My role, it seems, has rather to do with time and change.
Yet there is always an acre of ground in the New World which
keeps growing echoes in my head.”

The echoes of the moment resound with the music of Independence. Lamming proclaims that we cannot speak with conviction of important matters, unless related to an important occasion. The occasion here is the coming Independence of Barbados. The glance which Lamming gives to this occasion had been illuminated by the future hopes of the occasion. His convictions became directives leading to a possibility of action and otherness, the occasion of seeing, being seen and of seeing in a new way. That is Independence.

Even as the drums have changed in Season of Adventure, so changes will come to pass with this new occasion, this new Independence, this new tomorrow. In children lies promise, for Innocence has learned from Age. Gort had learned the magic of rhythm from Jack o’ Lantern. Child, too, had learned the magic of colours from a teacher, Fola had learned otherness, newness from her past. Changes will occur, the drums are not the same, but the music must continue.

“The music has not stopped, but everyone knows and says that the drums are not the same. In the evenings, he will assemble the children, and teach them how to play. It is the only way of proving what he argues. He admits he is no prophet. He cannot name tomorrow, but hoisting Liza as example on his knees, he begs simply to say, Gort will say:

“As a child treads soft in new school shoes, and a man is nervous who knows his first night watch may be among thieves, so the rhythms are not sure, but their hands must be attentive; and so recent is the season of adventure. So fresh from the miracle of their triumph, the drums are guarding the day. The drums must guard the day.”