LITERATURE: THE ARTIST IN THE BALM-YARD: ‘SEASON OF ADVENTURE’

On the other side of the fence, Lamming studies the development of Fola’s relationship with the peasant world of the deprived masses. He does this through her particular involvements with Chiki an artist full of compassion but troubled m his own right by an apparent drying up of inspiration; and with Powell, the political fanatic who finally makes an uncompromising and murderous assault upon the light-skinned girl because he thinks it impossible, and too late for people of her type to break with their traditional attitudes to the black masses.

Each of these relationships is presented with such realistic particularity, and each is so urgent as to become absorbing in itself rather than as a segment of Fola’s complex problem of adjustment. Further, each relationship carries a symbolic burden which Lamming wants us to respond to as intensely as we do to the literal situation. Agnes is not only a secretive mother unable to communicate with an impatient rebelling daughter, she is, like the islands, both the willing prostitute of the ages and the passive victim of a rapacious history, waiting now, like the islands, to be made respectable to those she has nourished. And Powell is as much an embittered individual as the extreme, somehow subtle spirit of Black Power repudiating a class whose capacity to betray it has experienced only too often: “What I do I do alone,” said Powell, “no help from you an’ your lot, ’cause I learn, I learn how any playing ’bout with your lot bound to end. You know the rules too good, an’ it too late, it too late for me to learn what rule! you have for murderin’ me. So is me go murder first. Otherwise is you what will murder me, or make me murder myself” (p. 328).

The reader has to accustom himself to responding at the same time to the fullness of each relationship and to its being part of a larger web, its realistic particularity and its symbolic representativeness. A further source of difficulty is that although Fola is given most exposure in the novel, each of the other characters (whether Belinda the prostitute, or Piggott one of the new exploiters of the people) becomes a centre of interest in tum. The author’s compassion for his characters in the toils of a pressing set of social and political circumstances never permits the reader to rest on a selective principle in the way it is possible to rest with one character in Naipaul’s A House for Mr. Bistoas for example. This kind of compassion is impressively witnessed at the end of chapter XIV, where an Author’s Note on the character, Powell, seems in theory to break the fictional illusion but in fact serves to strengthen it. The last paragraphs of this note run:

I believe deep in my bones that the mad impulse which drove Powell to this criminal defeat was largely my doing. I will not have this explained away by talk about environment; nor can I allow my own moral infirmity to be transferred to a foreign conscience, labelled imperialist. I shall go beyond my grave in the knowledge that I am responsible for what happened to my brother.

Powell still resides somewhere in my heart, with a dubious love, some strange nameless shadow of regret; and yet with the deepest, deepest nostalgia. For I have never felt myself to be an honest part of anything since the world of his childhood deserted me.

(Season of Adventure, p. 332)