In the Castle of My Skin by George LammingTable of Contents
1. In the Castle of My Skin: Introduction
2. In the Castle of My Skin: George Lamming Biography
3. In the Castle of My Skin: Summary
4. In the Castle of My Skin: Characters
5. In the Castle of My Skin: Themes
6. In the Castle of My Skin: Style
7. In the Castle of My Skin: Historical Context
8. In the Castle of My Skin: Critical Overview
In the Castle of My Skin: Essays and Criticism
¨ Model For a Marxist Analysis of Capitalism
¨ Carnival Strategies in Lamming's In the Castle of My Skin
The Myth of the Fall and the Drawing of Consciousness in George Lamming's In the Castle
of My Skin
10. In the Castle of My Skin: Compare and Contrast
11. In the Castle of My Skin: Topics for Further Study
12. In the Castle of My Skin: What Do I Read Next?
13. In the Castle of My Skin: Bibliography and Further Reading
14. In the Castle of My Skin: Pictures
In the Castle of My Skin: Introduction
In the Castle of My Skin, the first novel by Barbadian writer George Lamming, tells the story of the mundane
events in a young boy's life that take place amid dramatic changes in the village and society in which he lives.
First published in London in 1953, the novel uses such characteristic devices of modernist fiction as shifting
perspectives and unreliable narration to recount the boyhood of a fairly traditional fictional protagonist: a
sensitive, unusually intelligent young boy, with a protective mother, who grows up among his peers but,
because of his intelligence, takes a different path.
The novel's main concern, however, is not the individual consciousness of the protagonist. Rather, Lamming
uses the growth and education of G. (his hero) as a device through which to view the legacy of colonialism
and slavery in Caribbean village society in the middle of the twentieth century, and to document the changes
In the Castle of My Skin 1
that time brings to this sleepy hamlet. The novel's primary concerns are larger than the experience of G. as an
individual. Through his eyes, we see the effects of race, feudalism, capitalism, education, the labor movement,
violent riots, and emigration on his small town and, by extension, on Caribbean society as a whole. In later
books, Lamming continued to examine the Caribbean experience, as his protagonists migrated to London and
the United States, returned to their homes in the Caribbean, and helped their home countries obtain
independence. But in In the Castle of My Skin, as befits his choice of protagonist, the scope of perception is
limited to the personal, domestic, and village spheres. Through this restricted view, the reader receives a
comprehensive image of significant sociocultural changes in a tradition-bound part of the world.
In the Castle of My Skin: George Lamming Biography
Along with the novelist V. S. Naipaul and the poet Derek Walcott, the Barbadian novelist George Lamming is
one of the most important figures in Caribbean Anglophone (English-speaking) literature. Lamming was born
June 8, 1927, in Carrington Village, a small settlement about two miles from Barbados's capital, Bridgetown.
Carrington Village was much like Creighton Village in the novel In the Castle of My Skin, in that it retained
the basic structure of a plantation settlement. Lamming was raised by his unmarried mother and by Papa
Grandison, his mother's devoted godfather.
Lamming attended the Roebuck Boys School in Carrington Village and was awarded a scholarship to attend
Combermere High School, where a teacher encouraged his writing. When he was nineteen, Lamming left
Barbados for the nearby island of Trinidad, where he obtained a teaching position at El Colegio de Venezuela.
While in Trinidad, Lamming continued his involvement with the Anglo-Caribbean literary journal Bim and
came to know a number of other writers like himself.
In 1950, feeling that Caribbean society was stifling his artistic ambitions, Lamming sailed for London. His
literary output, previously limited to poetry, expanded. By 1960, Lamming had published four lauded novels
and his study of cultural identity, The Pleasures of Exile. During this decade, he worked for the overseas
division of the British Broadcasting Service and, as a result, traveled extensively, including a trip to the
United States in 1955. During these travels, Lamming began to interest himself in political independence
movements in the Caribbean islands.
In the 1960s, Lamming published no new book-length fiction, although he served as the editor of two special
issues of New World Quarterly, one dedicated to the independence of Barbados and the other to the
independence of Guyana. During this decade he was extremely active in the promotion of Caribbean
literature, receiving fellowships, writing television scripts, serving on literary prize juries, and occupying the
chair of Writer in Residence at the University of the West Indies.
In 1971, Lamming returned to fiction with the publication of his novel Water with Berries, a novel about
anti-West Indian bigotry in England. Another novel, Natives of My Person, followed in 1972. In the last thirty
years, Lamming has published no new novels, but in the 1990s he published three books of criticism, focusing
on his enduring concerns: political self-determination, racism, and the legacy of the fraught relationships
between the European powers and the peoples they colonized and enslaved.
In the Castle of My Skin: Summary
In the Castle of My Skin opens with an image of what becomes the main motif of the book: flooding waters.
The as-yet-unnamed protagonist, on his ninth birthday, is looking out the window of his house and talking
with his mother about the unusual rains in the village. His mother tells him about his relatives. The chapter is
narrated by the boy, who also uses the opportunity to describe the village.
In the Castle of My Skin: Introduction 2
In the second chapter, the scope of the boy's vision widens to include others outside of his household. His
mother bathes him in the yard outside his house while the neighbor boy, Bob, climbs up the fence to watch
and laugh and call to the other boys. G.'s mother calls them "vagabonds" and curses at them when they tear
down the pumpkin vine by playing on it. As she scolds Bob, Bob's mother emerges and hits Bob very hard on
the ear and G.' s mother drags him away. A number of boys and girls come to gawk. As G. stands there naked,
his overwrought mother tries to whip him with a branch for being so stupid.
The mothers of the village start talking among themselves about the "botheration" that their children bring
them. Miss Foster tells a story about how Gordon's fowlcock befouled a white man's suit. As the children and
mothers disperse, Bob and G. talk. Following these conversations, the narration subtly changes tone, as if G.
is no longer narrating and has been replaced by an older, more experienced voice. This voice tells us about the
history and social milieu of the village, focusing on the role of the landlord's overseers and describing how the
power in the village reinforced the sense that black people and their language were inferior.
The narration returns to G.'s perspective and the setting changes to the village showers. The boys play around
in the showers and are ejected by the supervisor for "fooling around," then they go to the railroad tracks to
place pins and nails on the rails. As they walk back to the village, they stop and get food from a vendor. The
chapter closes with Miss Foster, Bob's mother, and G.'s mother talking about the effects of the flood. Miss
Foster talks with awe about how the landlord treated her well, giving her tea and sixty cents.
Chapter 3 expands the scope of G.'s experience even more: we have gone from his immediate household to his
neighborhood and, now, to his school. The narration also moves once more beyond G.'s immediate
consciousness. The chapter begins with a description of the schoolyard and moves quickly to a description of
the boys' assembly for Empire Day. The inspector gives them a speech about the special relationship between
Barbados and England before inspecting the classes. A boy misbehaves and is flogged. The narration is then
transcribed as lines spoken between a number of boys, like a play. Their conversation concerns their feelings
about their parents, until the play-style narration ends with a long story about the relationship between the
teacher and his wife which is told by the flogged boy, whose mother is the teacher's servant.
The boys, back in class, inquire about the process of making coins with the King's face on them. They are
curious about slavery, but their school tells them little or nothing about it. The head teacher receives an
envelope containing a letter regarding his wife and a picture of her with another man. As the teacher, in a state
of shock, ponders what to do about this letter and whether or not the students understand what is going on, the
narration shifts to his perspective. He thinks about his responsibilities to the village, his obligation to be an
example to the whole community. He contemplates possible reactions to this discovery of infidelity, how he
should balance his personal feelings with his role as a teacher and his position as an icon of English reserve
and propriety. Looking at his class, he demands silence.
The narration then returns to the boys' consciousness. One of the boys attempts to explain the roots of slavery
by citing examples from the Bible. After a brief time in the boys' heads, we return to the mind of the head
teacher, and the chapter closes as the boys examine the pennies given to them by the inspector for Empire
The narration shifts dramatically in the fourth chapter, where two entirely new characters are introduced, an
"Old Man" and an "Old Woman." The two, who represent the old ways of the village, discuss the events in the
village in the year since the floods with which the book opened. Mr. Slime has opened a "Penny Bank and
Friendly Society" in which all of the inhabitants of Creighton Village put their money. They compare Mr.
Slime to Moses. They foresee conflict between Slime and Creighton. Going to bed, they talk about Barbadians
In the Castle of My Skin: Summary 3
who have left the island, formerly for Panama and presently for America.
The fifth chapter opens with the image of Savory, the fried-food vendor, arriving to sell cakes to the village.
The villagers gather to buy food and discuss the events at the school and with Slime. Slime, now a village
leader, has been involved with a strike at the docks in the capital city and has explained the situation to the
villagers, some of whom work at the docks. The villagers discuss whether they would be willing to strike and
lose their livelihoods. They talk about how Creighton is part owner of the shipping company and about how
any outlay of money causes him great pain. The villagers discuss the writings of J. B. Priestly, which address
the dangers of colonial administrators sympathizing too much with the inhabitants of the colonies, and talk
about the growing civil disturbances in neighboring Trinidad.
The topic then turns to cricket because Barbados is soon to play a match against its neighbor. The villagers
change the discussion from cricket to exchanging memories of the revolutionary Marcus Garvey as they talk
about the inevitable end of the British empire. The chapter ends back at Savory's cart, where two women fight
over accusations of an illegitimate pregnancy.
The chapter begins, like the first chapter, with images of dripping water—this time, it is the dew dripping from
the "hedges and high grass" of Belleville, the white neighborhood that G. and Bob cross to get to the beach.
The neighborhood contrasts strongly with G.'s own neighborhood: the houses are "bungalows high and wide
with open galleries and porticoes" and servants can be seen through the windows. The boys observe the
changing shape of the clouds as they approach the shore. Arriving at the shore, G. notices that a tension is
present between the boys and G. wonders about its cause. G. decides that it is a result of events earlier in the
week involving his mother.
G. joins a group of boys—Trumper, Boy Blue, and Bob—as they joke with each other on the beach. Bob leaves,
and Trumper muses philosophically about the passing of time before telling a long story about Jon and
Brother Bannister. The boys try to catch crabs while they discuss marriage, fidelity, and polygamy in
reference to the story of Bots and Bambina that Boy Blue tells. They watch a fisherman maneuver his net.
Boy Blue, trying to catch crabs, gets caught in the undertow and the fisherman comes out to rescue him but
tells him, "I should have let you drown." The boys walk back down the beach to get their clothes and return to
The boys, walking back to the villagers, pass a gathering of worshippers seated around a table who speak in
tongues and dance. The worshippers try to get them to stay but Trumper encourages them to move on. As they
do, Boy Blue presciently observes that in the village "there be only two great men round here, Mr. Slime and
the landlord." They discuss Mr. Slime's plans to sell the land to the villagers. From there, the conversation
turns to a discussion of American automats; the boys decide they like the traditional ways of food preparation
better. They pass near the landlord's house and are clearly intimidated by the large wall outside. Sneaking
around the fence, they observe an elegant party going on at the house in honor of the newly arrived ship,
Goliath, and compare the behavior of the sailors they know with the manners of these officers.
As they sit under a tree watching and talking about the party, they hear a noise by the trash heap. Creeping
over to where they heard the noise, they discover a man and a young woman making love in the shadows; the
young woman appears to be Mr. Creighton's daughter. Realizing they are crouching on an anthill, they yelp,
alerting the two lovers to their presence, and flee. The overseer and sailors chase them, looking for "native
boys," but they disappear into the crowd of worshippers.
In the Castle of My Skin: Summary 4
With this chapter, we return to the narration featuring the transcribed "lines" of Pa and Ma. The old woman
had gone up to the landlord's house to pay the rent and he, apparently disturbed by the changes in the village,
talks with her about them. He is especially concerned about the violation of his daughter, which he and the old
woman blame on "vagabonds" from the island, thus absolving the sailor whom she was really with of his
responsibility. The old woman describes to her husband the "responsibility" Creighton feels for the village,
but adds that he is thinking of selling the land and leaving.
Again, as in the first chapter, it is morning, but this morning "broke foul" in the village. Men have not gone to
work and the disturbances of the city have begun to affect Creighton Village. The head teacher tells a student
that there is fighting in the city, but nobody seems to know exactly what is happening. The police are absent,
the school and shops are closed. The old man persistently tries to find out what is happening, but nobody
knows. Trumper comes running down the road back to the village, asking if Bob has returned yet and saying
that the police might be looking for him. He says that the two of them had walked to the city, and that when
they got there they saw that cars were badly damaged and that fighting had taken place. They got caught up in
a battle between police and workers. Bob has returned by then and tells of getting involved in the rioting. He
says that the strike had begun the previous night, spurred by a mass meeting at which Slime was a featured
speaker. An old drunk woman staggers into town and relates that her son, Po King, has been shot to death.
The village, agitated, waits for the fighting to reach it. With the help of the old woman, they reconstruct the
events that led to the riot.
The villagers nervously wait for something to happen. Miss Foster says that she saw some men come into
town with weapons and hide. They seem to be waiting to ambush the overseer. Soon after this, the village sees
Mr. Creighton, with dirty clothes and a terrified face, walk through the town. Some men wait to attack him
and follow him as he walks down the road. Mr. Slime appears, and without his approval the men are reluctant
to actually set upon Mr. Creighton, and the landlord walks out of sight and escapes.
After the passing of some years, "nothing" changes and the landlord stays. The old man has a dream and, as
his wife listens, he utters a reverie of deep memories of slavery and the Middle Passage.
Again the narration changes, this time back to first person in the voice of G., who talks about hiding a pebble.
He tells of Trumper's departure for America and his own scholarship to the high school. He describes the
differences between the village school and the high school, and talks of his alienation from his village friends.
History continues to impinge upon his consciousness from afar; at the school they hear of the war in Europe
(World War II), but it does not affect him in any immediate way until he hears that France has fallen to the
Germans. A number of students leave to enlist; later that year, a large merchant ship is torpedoed in the
Life continues in the village as G. finishes high school. Boy Blue and Bob join the police force and Trumper
has already emigrated. G. forms a friendship with an assistant at the school who encourages his intellectual
development. Trumper writes G. telling him of America, and G. is given a job teaching English at a boarding
school in Trinidad.
For the first time, the old man and G. speak to each other. They talk of the changes in the village, especially of
the growth of Slime's Penny Bank and Friendly Society and of the departure of Mr. Creighton's daughter. The
old man is certain that Mr. Creighton himself, however, will never leave. As the chapter ends, the overseer
surveys parcels of land.
In the Castle of My Skin: Summary 5
Chapter 13, like many of the previous chapters, opens as dawn breaks in the village. Savory arrives to sell his
cakes, but the village's attention is taken by a fierce argument between the shoemaker and a man who claims
ownership of his land. The village has not been officially notified of the sale of Creighton's estate to smaller
landholders, but these landholders are already notifying the inhabitants that they will have to leave. The
arguments that the residents make, based on length of tenure, are invalid against the claims of ownership. At
noon the scene shifts to the house of Mr. Foster, who is also being evicted. He is furious, and the new landlord
is afraid of getting the police involved because of the new "will" of the poor, as demonstrated in the riots. The
overseer posts a bill officially notifying the village that Mr. Creighton has sold the land.
The head teacher goes to the house of the old man (whose wife is now dead) and informs him that his land has
been sold as well. Since he is too old to find his own place, he will relocate to the Alms House. Resigned, the
old man asks the teacher how Mr. Slime managed to acquire the whole village for resale.
The final chapter returns to G.'s narrative voice. He comes back to the village from his high school and goes
to his mother's house. She and G. quarrel about how he is not doing as well in school as he should, and about
their differing visions of his upcoming life in Trinidad. As much as he wants to rebel against his mother, he
realizes he will miss her cooking and he thinks about how to make cuckoo.
Trumper arrives at the house, having just returned from America, noticeably changed. He is more
self-confident, speaks more quickly, and has adopted a black nationalist outlook that does not exist in
Barbados. In America, he was confronted both by the vast economic opportunities (he impresses G. and his
mother with his tales of telephones and electric fans) and by the United States' naked racism and
discrimination. Trumper and G. go out and have a beer at Kirton's and talk politics. Trumper pulls out a small
tape player and plays a recording of Paul Robeson. As the young men return to G.'s house, they hear men
attempting to move the shoemaker's house, which collapses. Trumper and G. part ways. G. runs into Pa, on
his way to the Alms House, who tells him that the changes in the village date from the floods that occurred on
G.'s ninth birthday. As the book closes and G. prepares to leave for Trinidad, the thought occurs to him that he
is saying farewell to this land.
In the Castle of My Skin: Characters
Bob is one of G.'s friends from the village. As the book starts, he watches G. being bathed by his mother,
climbs up the fence, and knocks it over. Bob's mother attempts to beat him for this but he runs away. During
the riots, Bob and Trumper sneak into town to watch the events and are caught up in the fighting. Bob has to
run back to the village, fearing being caught by the police. At the end of the book, he and Boy Blue become
Bob's mother is G.'s next-door neighbor. Bob is one of her two children. She is fed up with Bob's mischief and
loses her temper with him after he knocks the fence down, but later apologizes. When G.'s mother laughs at
the children's antics, Bob's mother complains about the "botheration" the children bring her.
Boy Blue is one of G.'s friends. He takes part in almost all of their activities, and when they go to the beach he
tells the long story about Bots and Bambina. He also almost drowns and has to be saved by the fisherman. At
the end of the book, he becomes a policeman.
In the Castle of My Skin: Characters 6
Mr. Creighton (also known as the landlord) is the white man who owns the village. He is descended from the
original English plantation owners who settled the island, set up sugar plantations, and imported slaves to
work the plantations. After the abolition of slavery and the decline of the sugar plantations, many of the
plantation-owning families (such as the Creightons) stayed on in the West Indies, living off of the rents paid
to them by the descendants of the slaves who lived on their land. The plantations became villages, named after
the former plantation owner.
Mr. Creighton is one such landlord. His relationship to the village is almost that of a feudal lord. The rent he
charges on the land is his primary source of income, but he also has the responsibility for the upkeep of the
village. The floods at the beginning of the novel cause a great deal of damage to the village's roads, and Mr.
Creighton greatly resents having to pay for repairs. Other changes in the village (especially a greater degree of
freedom among the black residents that results in a rape attempt upon his daughter, whom he sends back to
England) make him feel dissatisfied with his situation. He also is part-owner of the shipping company against
which the union strikes. In an action that serves as his farewell to his quasi-feudal role, he calls the Old
Woman to the house to talk to her, then sells his land to the Penny Bank and Friendly Society headed by Mr.
Slime. The sale of his land and the subsequent eviction of many of the residents mark the violent transition of
the village into the modern, capitalist world.
Miss Foster is one of G.'s mother's friends from the village. She has six children: "three by a butcher, two by a
baker and one whose father had never been mentioned." After the flood, she goes to Mr. Creighton, who gives
her tea and half a crown.
Mr. Foster works at the docks before the strike in the capital city. On the day of the riot, he does not go to
work. When Mr. Creighton sells his land and the new owner comes to claim it, Mr. Foster attempts to treat
him politely and respectfully but ends up losing his temper.
G. is the main character of the novel, and in much of the book he is the narrator as well. The book opens on
his ninth birthday as he is being bathed by his mother. The book recounts his activities: he goes to school,
spends time trading stories with his friends, gets into trouble, grows up. He ends up receiving a scholarship to
the high school and, although he does not do particularly well in the upper school, he obtains a teaching job in
Trinidad. Returning home before leaving Barbados, he finds that his relationship with his mother has changed.
At the end of the book, much like James Joyce's Stephen Dedalus, he finds himself ready to fly away from the
nets of his home island.
As a main character, G. is strangely unsatisfying; his psychological depths are not explored by the author in
any great detail. It is not by coincidence that he is almost never named in the text (just about the only instance
of his name appearing is in the second chapter, when Bob says "G. mother bathing him"). At times, G. seems
to be a mirror, reflecting the events of the village, rather than living an independent life. Sandra Pouchet
Paquet writes that G. "emerges as a figure whose personal experience crystallizes the experience of the entire
community. In a sense, he is the village; the history of his dislocation echoes the dislocation of the village. He
is a collective character."
In Lamming's own words (from the introduction to the 1983 reissue of his novel),
the mother of the novel is given no name. She is simply G.'s mother, a woman of little or no
importance in her neighborhood until the tropical season rains a calamity on every household;
In the Castle of My Skin: Characters 7
and she emerges, without warning, as a voice of nature itself.
She is stern with G., beating him at times, but her strictness is motivated by a desire for G. to improve
himself. When he goes off to the high school in the city, she keeps on G. to do well, even though his grades
are never particularly good and he never is a brilliant student. Near the end of the book, when G. returns home
before going to Trinidad, he and his mother bicker with each other until G. begins to feel nostalgic for his
The three women who figure prominently in G.'s life (his mother, Miss Foster, and Bob's mother) are not
given much characterization. They are "three pieces in a pattern which remained constant," the narrator says.
"The flow of history was undisturbed by any difference in the pieces, nor was its evenness affected by any
likeness." Where the younger generation, with their energy and mischief and "botheration," represents the
changes that are imminent, the women represent the way that things have always been, the way that history
seems to have passed Barbados by.
See Mr. Creighton
See Old Woman
The Old Man (also called Pa), the character from whose perspective some of the book is narrated, represents
history—not just the village's history but the whole history of Africans in the Caribbean. Most of his
appearances in the book take place in the company of his wife, but after she dies the author provides us with a
scene between he and G. (for whom he has been a surrogate father-figure) and the scene of his eviction from
his house to the Alms House.
The Old Woman (also called Ma) is the Old Man's wife. The two of them, together, represent the entirety of
the history of black people in the islands. Mr. Creighton pays her the honor of talking to her as an equal when
he decides to sell the land. She dies a number of years before he actually sells the land, however.
See Old Man
The Shoemaker is a self-educated villager, suspicious of the colonial ideology. When he is evicted from his
land, he puts up a fight. The new landlord tells him he can keep the house but must leave the land, but when
they try to move the house it falls apart.
Mr. Slime starts out as the fifth grade teacher at the boys' school but, by the end of the novel, plays a much
greater part. His first appearance is not in person; he is the person photographed with the head teacher's wife.
We learn about him indirectly throughout the book: people talk about Slime but he never actually appears as
Slime until the end, when Trumper and G. see him at the bar.
Slime represents the amorality and complexity of the new world that is coming to Barbados. He is a teacher, a
politician, a union leader, a financier, and bank owner, and the villagers, set in their one-role lives, cannot
understand Slime's mobility. Slime rises from his controversial post at the school to lead the union that strikes
against Creighton's shipping company. He founds the Penny Bank and Friendly Society, ostensibly to improve
In the Castle of My Skin: Characters 8
the lot of the villagers but most likely as a route to self-aggrandizement. The Bank then buys the land from
Creighton and sells it to speculators and investors. He is capitalism personified, shifting roles quickly and
taking advantage of every situation. The villagers and Creighton are at his mercy.
Trumper is G.'s boyhood friend from the village. When they are children, Trumper is an adventurous, daring
boy. He was sent to a reformatory when he was nine, and during the riots he and Bob sneak off to the city to
watch and have to flee back to the village. Eventually he emigrates from Barbados to America to seek his
fortune. Returning to the village, he tells G. and his mother about the riches available in America but is
strangely ambivalent about the U.S. He is unimpressed by the materialism of the nation, but his experiences
with blatant Jim Crow-style racism taught him about black consciousness and nationalism.
In the Castle of My Skin: Themes
The relationship between colonial powers and their colonies, and the effects that this relationship has on the
inhabitants of the colonies, is the enduring concern of George Lamming. All of his works address these issues.
As the first of his novels, In the Castle of My Skin appropriately anatomizes this dynamic as it bears upon a
nine-year-old boy in one of Barbados' small rural villages.
The colonizing nation does not exert its power on the colonized people solely by using raw force such as that
at the disposal of governmental or military bodies. Colonizing powers, especially those of European and
Islamic origin, also felt themselves driven by the need to "spread the light" of their own civilization or
religion, or at least many of their propagandists argued this. (The famous poem "The White Man's Burden" by
Rudyard Kipling is perhaps the best known example of this idea.) More cynical observers have argued that
these programs of education in colonized places serve, instead, as a type of psychological policing of the
subject people. Colonizing powers often set up extensive structures of education in the values and objectives
of the colonizing power and rewards for inhabitants who "play by the rules." In the schools, the colonized
people are taught the colonizer's language (often having been forbidden to use their own) and instructed in the
subject matter that the colonizing power feels to be the basis of a "real education." Students who follow the
rules and show promise are given scholarships to continue their studies, with the eventual prospect of a secure
government job. Less promising students are often offered the opportunity to join the colonizer's military or
police forces. At all levels, though, the colonizing power attempts to steer people away from the possibility of
resistance, whether physical or intellectual.
Compounding the colonizer's ability to reward those who follow the rules and punish those who don't are the
almost inevitable differences between subjects and colonizers. In England's first colony, Ireland, the
difference was religion. In Barbados, the difference is racial. In his introduction, Lamming writes that
Plantation Slave Society conspired to smash ancestral African culture ... the result was a
fractured consciousness, a deep split in its sensibility which now raised difficult problems of
language and values; the whole issue of cultural allegiance between the imposed norms of
White Power and the fragmented memory of the African masses: between White instruction
and Black imagination.
Throughout the novel, in the boys' school or in the relationships between villagers and the landlord, Lamming
shows how the colonizing powers devalue everything associated with Africans and exalt everything
associated with white English culture.
In the Castle of My Skin: Themes 9
Lamming's entire book dissects various ways in which the colonizer's values are instilled within a native
populace, but in Chapter 3 he describes one of its most basic incarnations: Empire Day at the elementary
school. At this holiday celebration, commemorating and exalting the ties between England and its colonies,
the boys sing "God Save the King," learn about Barbados's ("Little England's") "steadfast and constant"
relationship to Big England. No hint of dissent or irony is heard from these children until one of the boys
explains to them his theory of the "shadow king." "The English," this boy tells them, "are fond of shadows.
They never do anything in the open." Without realizing it, this boy opens the door to the possibility of
One of the first acts of a colonizing power, almost inevitably, is the imposition of language on the subject
people. Fearing the possibility of plotting against them, the colonizers will generally forbid use of any
language but their own in public discourse, and in some cases (such as among American slaves or with the
Kurdish people of Turkey) will punish anyone who uses the unofficial language. Colonial schools will teach
the colonizer's language, and students who use it particularly well will be rewarded—certainly Lamming
himself, given scholarships and teaching jobs, is an example of this. Language can be power, as Trumper
If you were really educated, and you could command the language like the captain on a ship,
if you could make the language do what you wanted it to do, say what you wanted it to say,
then you wouldn't have to feel at all. You could do away with feeling. That's why everybody
wanted to be educated.
Closely linked to colonialism in Lamming's novel is the issue of race. European colonists felt that
darker-skinned people were primitive, inferior, and dangerous. For many years, slavery was the cornerstone
on which the West Indian economy was built. A debate rages among scholars as to whether European racism
caused African slavery or whether European racism was constructed to explain the necessity of slavery, but
what is indisputable is that, by the twentieth century, the islands of the British West Indies had two very
distinct primary social classes: white landowners and professionals of English descent and black manual
laborers whose ancestors came from Africa.
The lessons of racism and black inferiority were taught everywhere, though usually cloaked in the ideology of
the "white man's burden," the notion of benevolent white settlers improving the lives of benighted savages in
Africa and the Americas. In places such as Barbados, where more than eighty percent of the population is
considered to be of African descent, people are encouraged to join the white society by means of hard work
and education. Successful people become metaphorically more "white," whereas those who remain low on the
social ladder retain their "blackness." In the second chapter, Lamming describes the process of socially
separating the black overseers from the villagers:
Low-down nigger people was a special phrase the overseers had coined... The image of the
enemy, and the enemy was My People. My people are low-down nigger people. My people
don't like to see their people get on. The language of the overseer. The language of the civil
Because it is freighted with social and political meanings, the category of race becomes the dividing line
between everything positive and negative in the community. Later on in the book, when the boys stumble
upon the landlord's daughter and a sailor in a compromising position, the sailor screams for the overseer to
catch the "native boys" and, later, the landlord's daughter claims that black "vagabonds," not the white officer,
claimed her virtue. The idea of their own racial inferiority is so ingrained in the villagers that even the Old
Woman curses these fictional "vagabonds," not being able to imagine that the landlord's daughter would lie.
In the Castle of My Skin: Themes 10
In the Castle of My Skin: Style
In In the Castle of My Skin, George Lamming makes use of many of the developments in narrative that took
place in the first half of the twentieth century. The novel has always been a form that has permitted writers to
experiment with points of view. Early novels were narrated by know-it-alls, as exchanges of letters, or, as in
the case of Lawrence Sterne, by potentially pathological liars. Nineteenth-century novels continued these
developments of narrative, but many of the most popular novels of that century relied either on omniscient
third-person narrators with an ironic distance from the characters (such as Jane Austen's, Charles Dickens's, or
George Eliot's) or first-person narrators who were characters in the story (such as Melville's Ishmael or
Dickens's David Copperfield). Later in the century, writers such as the Frenchman Gustave Flaubert or the
American Stephen Crane experimented with third-person narrators who, amorally, refused to pass judgments
on the behavior of the characters.
Dramatic advances in psychology at the turn of the twentieth century brought writers' attention to the very
roots of consciousness. Building on the theories of Freud, writers such as Virginia Woolf and James Joyce
developed "stream-of-consciousness" narration, a technique that attempted to transcribe exactly the thoughts
in a person's head. Lamming employs this and other techniques in his novel. Initially, the novel resembles an
interior monologue, but although the language is not as carefully constructed as one would expect from a
writer, the vocabulary is certainly above the level one would expect from a nine-year-old. The sentences
remind one of how a nine-year-old would speak, however. Lamming suspends his narration between two
poles. The literary scholar Sandra Pouchet Paquet explains this as the desire of the boys to be adults in their
command of language; "their vocabulary and style of delivery," she argues
strain toward that of the adult community . . . they struggle for a language that will express
and clarify their thoughts and feelings about subjects as varied as language, history, politics
Later in the book Lamming changes techniques numerous times. Leaving G.'s consciousness, the narrator
becomes an omniscient third-person narrator, entering the consciousness of G.'s mother or the overseer or
even the old man. In some chapters the characters' voices are transcribed as if they were speaking dialogue in
a play. After G. goes to high school and returns to the village to talk to Trumper, the voice is much more
confident, sophisticated, and worldly—just as a teenager sure of his new maturity would be. In order to achieve
his goals of melding the personal and the political, Lamming chose to use all of the narrative tools at his
As befits a novel set on an island only 166 square miles in area, In the Castle of My Skin is dominated by
images of water. The first chapter opens with a hard rain, one that eventually causes devastating floods in the
village. The second chapter, as well, depicts G. with water falling on him, this time from a skillet with which
his mother bathes him. Throughout the book water is something that brings inconvenience (as with G.'s
shower) or severe danger (as when Boy Blue almost drowns at the shore, or at the docks where the riot
begins). Rain opens the chapter where the village learns about the riots, and Lamming uses the image of taps
being opened to describe the village waking up in Chapter 13, the chapter in which the evictions are narrated.
Symbolically, Lamming equates the inexorable and irresistible motion of waters to what is often
metaphorically called "the tide of history." The novel, although set in the life of a young boy turned young
man, is really about the profound changes both in the village and in Barbadian society as a whole. The forces
of history, of capitalism and colonialism and labor unrest and awakening racial consciousness, lap at the
village like the tide, and there is nothing the village can do to stop them. All of the inhabitants of the village,
In the Castle of My Skin: Style 11
from Creighton to G. to Mr. Foster, are caught up in these tides.
In the Castle of My Skin: Historical Context
British explorers, led by a Captain Gordon, first landed on Barbados in 1620, but it was not until seven years
later that the British established a colonial presence on the island. Realizing that on the Atlantic, or east, coast
of the island there were no safe natural harbors or landing places, the British explorers and colonizers set up
settlements on the "leeward" (Caribbean or west coast) shore of the island. Bridgetown, the eventual capital of
the island and the city in which, in Lamming's novel, the riots take place, was an early settlement. But the
island's population has always lived largely in the rural areas, as befits an island with an almost entirely
The "father" of Barbadian settlement by the English was Captain John Powell, who stopped on the island in
1625 in a journey homeward from Brazil. Financed by himself and four other merchants, a party of eighty
settlers arrived on Barbados on February 17,1627. These settlers were looking not to spread Christianity or to
find a "New Jerusalem" but solely to enrich themselves. Clearing land for plantations, they planted tobacco
and imported slaves—eight months after the colony was founded, one of the settlers wrote home that of 100
inhabitants forty were slaves. Soon indentured servants outnumbered slaves; by 1638, out of a total population
of 6000, there were 200 slaves and 2,000 indentured servants.
This quickly changed, however, when the planters began growing sugar instead of tobacco, in response to low
prices and growing duties on tobacco. Sugar needed a larger initial capital investment, brought greater profits,
required more labor, and encouraged consolidation of small estates into large plantations. With less available
land to give out at the end of an indenture and longer, harder work the norm, slave labor became preferable to
servant labor. Slaves were imported by the thousands—by 1652, the population of the island was estimated at
18,000 whites (freemen and indentured servants) and 20,000 Africans. The "peculiar institution" of slavery
established the complicated and often oppressive relationships between the white and black inhabitants of
Barbados. As Lamming's novel demonstrates, the effects of slavery were still being felt 300 years after its
institution and more than a century after its abolition.
At the dawn of the twentieth century, the industrial revolution had enriched tens of thousands of people, made
England the world's greatest economic and military power, and "opened up" much of the world to trade and
development. But workers, for the most part, did not live much better than they had in the 1820s, and in fact
many of the industrial workers who had flocked to the cities for jobs were demonstrably worse off than they
had been in the impoverished countryside. In the United States, England, France, and Germany, organizations
that attempted to organize workers had existed for decades, but it was not until laws changed at the turn of the
century that unions found themselves with any legal rights. Organizers were often the targets of violence
perpetrated by "security forces" in the employ of industrialists, and strikes were brutal, chaotic affairs.
The first few decades of the twentieth century saw the unions make great advances in organizing in numerous
industries, and unions began to associate themselves with political causes outside of their immediate purview
of labor issues. Because of this, politicians everywhere in the industrial world began painting the unions as
meddlers, as Communist agitators, and as potential traitors to the nation. A "Red Scare" in the United States
during the 1920s and 1930s provided a serious obstacle to unionization. In this period, unions found fertile
ground outside of the industrialized nations. In many South and Central American nations, labor unions began
organizing the vast masses of poor people working in factories, railyards, and docks in the cities. As happened
everywhere, industrialists fought against unionization, often with violence— and they were met with similar
violence. The industrialists were often backed by the governments of their own nation or, if the companies
In the Castle of My Skin: Historical Context 12
were foreign-owned, by the governments of the nations in which the companies were headquartered. In the
Caribbean, American sugar and fruit companies were among the firms that used military and governmental
power to thwart unionization.
In the Castle of My Skin: Critical Overview
In the Castle of My Skin, George Lamming's first novel, was an immediate success in the Anglophone West
Indian literary communities of London (where many writers lived) and the Caribbean. As one of the first
important statements of the links between individual lived experience and the structures of racism and British
colonialism, the novel (published with an introduction by the American Richard Wright, author of Native Son)
was hailed as an important statement of the growing anticolonial movement in France and England. However,
many also noted its skillful technique and elegant use of language.
Contemporary literary critics, as well, were positive for the most part. Graham Cotter of the Canadian Forum
remarked that "if Mr. Lamming is at all representative of Barbadians, the colony has a more interesting
'personality' than any other West Indian Island. Certainly I have read no other West Indian literature which
displays the keen perception and insight of this book." Cotter did feel, though, that the "sprawling structure"
of the novel made it difficult to read. In the Chicago Sunday Tribune, M. S. Douglas effused that "one little
Barbadian, grown up, has written in the most beautiful singing English a complex and brilliant novel of his
boyhood and his people which miraculously has lost nothing of that dazzled wonder ... probably very close to
genius." H. C. Webster wrote in the Saturday Review that the novel was "highly rewarding both as a social
and as a personal document." "Something strange, emotional and compassionate, something between
garrulous realism and popular poetry ... quite delightful," noted V. S. Pritchett in the New Statesman and
Nation. And R. D. Charques praised the novel in the Spectator for being "a striking piece of work, a rich and
memorable feat of imaginative interpretation."
Other critics, while still admiring the book, pointed out what they saw as faults, and most of these noted the
loose structure of the novel. "The effect is one of a series of sharp and brilliant sketches rather than of a unit,"
Anthony West wrote in the New Yorker, and in Webster's largely positive review of the book (quoted above)
in the Saturday Review, he added that it was "occasionally verbose [and] sometimes tedious." The most
negative major review of the book appeared in the London Times Literary Supplement, which argued that
Mr. Lamming appears to have been unable to make up his mind whether to explore the world
of adolescent consciousness or the world of social history ... It is an artistic flaw which is so
glaring that after a time it ceases to matter; the eye is less irritated by a beam than by a series
This very aspect of the book—its combination of the personal and the political—criticized by the TLS has been
the source of much of its enduring praise. More importantly, though, this was Lamming's attempt to contribute
to the theory of the oppressed that Frantz Fanon was developing at the same time. Fanon, in his books Black
Skin, White Masks and The Wretched of the Earth, argued that the colonial system has deep and
unacknowledged psychological effects upon colonized peoples. His theories explain these effects, while
Lamming's novels illustrate them. In most of Lamming's later writings, he expanded upon these themes.
Because of this political content, moreover, the French leftist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre bought the rights to
translate the book into French and publish it in France in his journal Les Temps Modernes. The book won the
Somerset Maugham Award for Literature in 1957.
Recent attention paid to Caribbean literature has paid off for Lamming's novel. The great success of such
West Indian writers as V. S. Naipaul and Derek Walcott brought the eyes of the world to the English-language
writers of the Caribbean, and to respond to this Schocken Books reissued the novel in 1983 (it was
In the Castle of My Skin: Critical Overview 13
republished again in the 1990s by the University of Michigan Press). Lamming continues to write but has not
published a novel since 1971. In the Castle of My Skin and the three books that followed continued the saga of
a young Caribbean writer much like Lamming who went to London then returned to the Caribbean to involve
himself in the independence struggle; they remain perhaps the definitive statement of the Caribbean colonial
In the Castle of My Skin: Essays and Criticism
Model For a Marxist Analysis of Capitalism
In the years following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the credibility of Marxism as a legitimate political
program almost disappeared in the West. However, especially in the developing world, the ideas of Marxism
have survived as a very compelling and powerful explanatory mechanism for answering the questions of why
poverty and oppression and political corruption are so persistent in "Third World" societies. To many thinkers
of the developing world, and many Western scholars sympathetic to their struggles, the "triumph of the Free
World" is a misnomer, a euphemism constructed to put the best face on the real winner of the Cold War:
large-scale corporate capitalism. What is termed "democracy" and "freedom," in the eyes of many Marxist
scholars, is "the illusion of a popular democracy," the Caribbean writer George Lamming said in a recent
interview; what is called our "freedom," Lamming argues, is simply our "expand[ed] access to an infinite
range of commodities."
The Caribbean has been an especially fertile ground for Marxist ideas about oppression, colonization, and the
harmful effects of capitalism. After all, while the United States and Spain and Britain reaped the profits of the
sugar and fruit and coffee industries, these island countries provided the land, labor, and protection for First
World owners. And when, as in the Dominican Republic, Haiti, or especially Cuba, liberation movements
arose on behalf of workers and peasants and slaves, the First World powers attempted to put those movements
down with military force.
George Lamming grew up in one of these countries, the British colony (later the nation) of Barbados. His
1953 novel In the Castle of My Skin is a vivid portrait of a small village in Barbados in the late 1930s. Written
using shifting perspectives, stream-of-consciousness narration, and typically modernist explorations of a
young boy's understanding of the world, the book has generally been analyzed in terms of its technique or in
terms of its psychological insight. However, the novel's content and Lamming's own enduring concerns with
political and economic justice demonstrates that readers view this novel politically, as an analysis of and
commentary on the development of modern commodity capitalism in a rural, agricultural, quasi-feudal
The interrelationships between race, class, and colonialism are always Lamming's concern, and he has
adopted a Marxist analysis of their combination. Colonial powers, he argues, used race and class to divide
people from each other and, ultimately, to reinforce their economic system (in this case, the almost feudal
system of post-slavery plantation labor). Race was "the device which the old plantocracy used to segregate the
forces of labor [and to] maintain control over those divisions," Lamming wrote recently. As Lamming wrote
in his introduction to the 1983 reissue of his novel,
The world of men and women from down below is not simply poor. This world is black, and
it has a long history at once vital and complex. It is vital because it constitutes the base of
labor on which the entire Caribbean society has rested; and it is complex because Plantation
Slave Society ... conspired to smash the ancestral African culture, and to bring about a total
alienation of man the source of labor from man the human person.
In the Castle of My Skin: Essays and Criticism 14
Race, although its importance in maintaining the social order should not be undervalued, is not the primary
vector of power in In the Castle of My Skin. In the novel, it is the capitalist drive for enrichment—both among
individual "capitalists" and as a free-floating force of history—that drives the events of the novel. For
Lamming, the original source of the injustice in the Caribbean was the colonial endeavor, which in turn was
simply the result of the endless demand for "economic development." Although he does not bear him any
particular enmity except as the embodiment of colonialism, Lamming identifies Columbus as the infecting
agent who brought the forces of "economic development" to the New World. In his recent essay "Labor,
Culture, and Identity," Lamming writes that Columbus
was the carrier of a virus to which the people of the Caribbean would have no adequate
response ... Materialism, linked to human progress, allowed the Western world to accept that
even the enslavement of a people was morally justifiable if it contributed to the march toward
The term "economic development" is a crucial one here. In the United States and in the Western world
generally, we have been taught by politicians and the media to regard this term positively: It means the
material betterment of peoples' lives. However, Marxists view this term in a much different light. For them,
"economic development" indicates the drive to obtain material value (or "capital") out of natural resources or
human labor. "Economic development," for Marxists, is inherently exploitative. Lamming disagrees with
those who see the "Age of Exploration" as being motivated simply by the desire to see and understand the
world. For Lamming, the "Age of Exploration" was really an "Age of Exploitation," when the European
powers (especially the Spanish, English, Portuguese, and Dutch) scattered exploration parties all over the
world, looking for colonies with cheap labor that could produce such commodities as gold, sugar, spices, or
textiles. The West Indies, with their brutal system of slavery and sugar plantations, are a perfect example of
what "exploration" was really all about.
In In the Castle of My Skin, though, Lamming does not spend his time dissecting the plantation system or the
immediate legacies of slavery. Rather, he sets the novel in the 1930s, at a time when the last vestiges of the
plantation system were starting to disintegrate in the face of the immense power and energy of free-market
capitalism. At the beginning of the novel, the town resembles a feudal estate of the middle ages. The
"landlord," Mr. Creighton, owns the village and extracts rents from his tenants, who nonetheless go about
their business largely on their own terms. Feudal society assumed that peasants essentially "belonged" to the
land and to the lord of the manor and that the landlord could charge whatever rent he liked; in exchange, the
church and other institutions of authority strongly encouraged lords to be fair and responsible for their tenants.
Mr. Creighton follows this model: He provides a school and genuinely wants contact with his tenants. It is a
paternalistic relationship that he wants, of course, but nonetheless it is a personal relationship.
Marxists point out that capitalism attempts to turn everything into a commodity that can be assigned a market
value, bought, and sold. Slavery took this to its logical extreme when the Middle Passage took Africans from
their homes, turned them into objects to be bought and sold, and brought them to American colonies. The Old
Man, in his dream-reverie in Chapter 10, accesses what Jung might call his "racial memory," saying that "the
silver of exchange sail cross the sea and my people scatter like cloud . . . Each sell his own."
But if slavery and the plantation system showed the truly brutal extent of capitalism, the aftermath of the
plantation system succeeded, in a small and temporary way, in reversing history. Briefly, the plantations
returned to feudalism. In a quasi-feudal society such as Creighton Village, selling the land is inconceivable,
for the land is metaphorically part of the Creighton family. The intrusions of capitalism undermine this
certainty. As he explains to the Old Woman, changes in Barbadian society—specifically, the "rape" of his
daughter by local "vagabonds"—show him that the world is changing. The violent changes in the island's class
structure, epitomized by the strike and riots, affect his family when people start to cross the previously
unquestioned borders separating white landowner from black laborer. (The irony, of course, is that his
Model For a Marxist Analysis of Capitalism 15
daughter was "violated" not by a local but by a white officer attending Mr. Creighton's party.) He decides that
he will sell his land, turning what had not been a commodity into something that can be bought and sold.
Mr. Slime is the most interesting character in the novel precisely because he embodies the contradictory,
complicated nature of capitalism. He is the inaccessible mind of the marketplace; this aspect of his character is
underscored by how he is much more often talked about than actually present in the novel. Certainly it is in
the best interests of the inhabitants of Creighton Village to be freed from their feudal dependence on Mr.
Creighton, and by representing their interests as laborers and providing them with a "Penny Bank and Friendly
Society" Mr. Slime does exactly this. He yanks the villagers from feudalism into the new capitalist world. In
this world, their freedom of activity is enhanced as the old strictures disappear—but the social support network
they previously relied upon (i.e., the charity and goodwill of their landlord) also disappear. Mr. Slime's bank
buys the village's land, driven partially by the idea that this will allow the bank to then sell the land to the
villagers who have lived there for generations. But a bank is an organization that must make a profit or die,
and in order to make a profit the bank has to sell this land to people who can pay for its "fair market value."
Selling the land on the open market allows for land speculators and investors to buy the land and do with it
what they wish, for the villagers do not have enough money to buy the land.
The reappearance of G.'s boyhood friend Trumper at the end of the novel underscores the changes that have
taken place in village life since his departure for America years before. Trumper has been living in the very
heart of capitalism, and his descriptions of America focus on those aspects of the country: "the United States
is a place where a man can make pots of money." Trumper has new clothes, a silver chain, fans and
telephones; he has benefited from capitalism in the most basic, material sense. Yet he does not seem to like it.
"There be people there in the hundreds o' thousands who would have give anything not to get out their
mother's guts," he tells G. and his mother. He is angered by the changes engendered in the village by the
breaking-up of Creighton's estate and counsels resistance. More than anything, his experience in America has
taught him not to trust the Mr. Slimes of the world.
G., the main character, has a different relationship to capitalism than do the villagers or Trumper. Unlike his
friends, he is destined to have the advantages of talent and intelligence help him through life. He views his
mother's imminent difficulties of where to go with a degree of detachment, knowing that he will be going to
Trinidad. At no time in the book are his emotions fully engaged. He is an observer and a listener, someone
destined to be a writer, it seems. But the people who surround him—his mother, Mr. Foster, Trumper, Bob—do
feel the powerful emotions and have the traumatic experiences that stamp upon G.'s consciousness what
effects this fundamental change in Creighton Village society has brought. In this, the book ends on a strange
note, seemingly asking whether or not a writer can be truly engaged in the struggles of the world or if, in order
to be a good writer, one must stand aside and hone the skills of watching and listening. If the theme of the
book says no, its events tell us yes.
Source: Greg Barnhisel, Critical Essay on In the Castle of My Skin, in Novels for Students, The Gale Group,
2002. Barnhisel teaches writing and directs the Writing Center at the University of Southern California.
Carnival Strategies in Lamming's In the Castle of My Skin
West Indian novelist George Lamming's In The Castle of My Skin takes its title from a couplet in Derek
You in the castle of your skin
I the swineherd.
Carnival Strategies in Lamming's In the Castle of My Skin 16
Walcott here invokes a conventional romance situation—unattainable mistress and infatuated, self-denigrating
admirer—with the added pungency of racial overtones suggested by "skin." Lamming, however, changes the
possessive pronoun, thus reversing the entire situation and seizing the castle for himself. By this sleight of
hand, the naked (black) skin, with its connotations of exposure, shame, and deprivation, is transformed into an
image of impregnability, strength, and self-sufficiency. By changing the joke, Lamming slips the yoke.
Indeed, the technique of turning deprivation into plenitude is the strategy of the entire novel. Lamming's
fiction stands on the threshold between two worlds facing both ways at once. For while one
view of Castle shows a tragic mask of deprivation, failure, and exile, the other reveals a triumphant comic
grin. Tragedy requires a scapegoat, but comedy, though it may permit the victim to be bound to the very horns
of the altar, always allows him to evade the sacrificial role and escape to the sound of echoing laughter. It is
on this very margin between tragic sacrifice and comic reversal that Lamming's first novel is situated.
Universally, cultures have recognized the power and danger of the margin or threshold by identifying a
trickster-deity who shall preside over the rites of passage. In the West Indies, as in Afro-America, folk-tales
are told of the Trickster Anancy—half spider, half man—who, though perennially in tight situations, is
singularly adept at turning the tables on his oppressor and emerging more or less unscathed. His ability to
extricate himself lies in his gift for "spinning yarns." In African mythology, Anancy is a god, responsible for
creation itself, though his kindness to humans has brought about his fall from the favor of Nyame, the
supreme Sky God. Rejected from the heavens, he finds himself positioned between earth and sky. Trader par
excellence, Anancy enters the world to make things happen, to recreate boundaries, to break and re-establish
relationships, to reawaken consciousness of the presence and the creative power of both the sacred Center and
the formless Outside. Then he returns to that hidden threshold which he embodies and makes available as a
passage to 'save the people from ruin.'"
Not surprisingly, given his capacity to hide in rafters and weave his web in any nook or cranny, Anancy
survived the Middle Passage, and still spins his yarns throughout the Caribbean. His survival in folk
imagination surely has to do with his capacity to transform disruption, discontinuity, brokenness, and defeat
into triumphant new configurations of possibility. His perennial rebellion, and his use of comic trickery and
deceit to expose the inadequacies of authority figures must surely have endeared him to the imagination of an
oppressed folk. For it is the triumph of the Trickster to so deconstruct and invert the given "text" of authority
that the destined scapegoat of tragedy turns the tables and emerges laughing in a comedy of ironic
reversal—the castle of MY skin!
As symbol for the "limbo dance" of the West Indian novelist, Anancy is without peer. Poetry may well find its
inspiration in jazz, blues, and calypso, but West Indian narrative, I contend, owes its beings to another
Muse—Anancy. For, as Wilson Harris has argued, the West Indian artist is working in a limbo—a void between
two worlds. Surrounded by and exiled from the structures of an alien world view, he must create his own
world in this absence, or else be forever a negative, an exiled scapegoat. The very form of his art must be
redefined. It is precisely here, in the interstices of structure, that the Anancy artist creates a world that
describes its own center, thus marginalizing the oppressive structures of the Great House. Anacy re-creates the
world— weaving a universe of relationships from the very substance of his being as he narrates his story in his
way. For it is by way of his verbal ingenuity, his "yarn," that he can escape nonentity and strategically relocate
the center of the cosmos.
Lamming, as an Anancy artist, confronts the world view of "Mr. Hate-To-Be-Contradicted," exposing the
arbitrary nature of its premises and denying it the fixity and permanence it wishes to claim. He draws our eyes
away from the structures of European domination to the folk themselves, to the spider weaving in the unswept
corners of the house as it were. His strategy posits the possibility of a multiplicity of centers, and insists on
relationships, connectedness, and pluralism as a necessary corrective to the inside/outside, above/below
polarized hierarchies implicit in the Eurocentric expression of Great House/exploited tenantry.
Carnival Strategies in Lamming's In the Castle of My Skin 17
Boundaries, thresholds, crossroads, and the marketplace of symbolic commercial intercourse are omnipresent
in the rigidly structured Eurocentric landscape of Castle. They express a tragic world view in which
hierarchies are inevitable, and principles of inclusion and exclusion are final and ultimate. High on the hill are
the landlord's house and garden surrounded by a brick wall topped with broken glass, while below in the
valley is the "tenantry"—the folk defined in terms of their relationship to the landlord:
To the east where the land rose gently to a hill there was a large brick building surrounded by
a wood and a high stone wall that bore bits of bottle along the top.
At night the light poured down through the wood, and the house looking down from the hill
seemed to hold a quality of benevolent protection. It was a castle around which the land like a
shabby back garden stretched.
Yet another wall encloses the school yard:
In one corner a palm-tree, and in the others three shrines of enlightenment that looked over
the wall and across a benighted wooden tenantry.
The three "shrines" are the church with "dark stained hooded windows that never opened" and an interior that
is "dark and heavy and strange"; the head-teacher's house; and the school itself "with windows all around that
opened like a yawning mouth". It is not without significance that a language of sacredness is used for this
structured landscape in which the folk standprofana, feeding their children as human sacrifices to the yawning
mouth of the system.
The landscaped village with its lighted Great House on the hill overseeing the tenantry in the valley, and the
sacred middle ground between them of religion and education, is a microcosm of the novel's broader
landscape in which Big England and Little England co-exist in the parent-child relationship typical of
colonialism. "Landlords" of authority—England, the Great House, the School, the Church—all "look down"
disdainfully across their boundary walls at the folk of the tenantry.
The Great protect their interests by means of a system of overseers, supervisors, and inspectors, but the folk,
by contrast, are without protection; they experience invasion of their fragile defining boundaries at every
point. The frail walls of the village suggest a corresponding frailty of the walls of personhood for those who
The village was a marvel of small, heaped houses raised jauntily on groundsels of limestone,
and arranged in rows on either side of the multiplying marl roads. Sometimes the roads
disintegrated, the limestone slid back and the houses advanced across their boundaries in an
embrace of board and shingle and cactus fence.
The villagers lack a clearly marked "road" of purpose. Defined by others, they are yet to define themselves.
Their lack of identity, their constant experience of being "overseen," is symbolized in the incident of G' s
bathtime. As the neighbor's son Bob balances on the paling to watch, his weight causes a fence to crash: "the
two yards merged. The barricade which had once protected our private secrecies had surrendered" (18). A
crowd is attracted to the scene:
On all sides the fences had been weighed down with people, boys and girls and grown-ups.
The girls were laughing and looking across to where I stood on the pool of pebbles, naked,
waiting. They looked at Bob's mother and the broken fence and me. The sun had dried me
thoroughly, and now it seemed that I had not been bathed, but brought out in open
condemnation and placed in the middle of the yard waiting like one crucified to be jeered at.
Carnival Strategies in Lamming's In the Castle of My Skin 18
The scene recurs in different forms throughout the novel: shame and degradation consequent on the breaking
down of defining boundaries, ritual beatings, ritual purifications. Mocking eyes rejoice over the trembling
naked figure of another's embarrassment, glad to find a scapegoat for the shame they fear to confront within
themselves. G's naked skin is his sole protection—his frail counterpart to the landlord's "castle" on the hill.
Boundary walls define the Great, then, but merely marginalize the folk, categorizing them as expiatory
scapegoats for the Great. G and his friends transgress sacred boundaries when they secretly enter the grounds
of the landlord's house to see what goes on at a party, and they witness the seduction of the landlord's daughter
by a British sailor. Later, the story given out by the landlord is that his daughter was raped by the village boys.
Here the "penetration" of sacred domains—the rape of class interests by the military—is projected onto the folk.
Similarly, moral corruption within the ranks of those bonded together by a common "skin" is denied. Moral
and economic problems are univocally displaced into simple racial hatred. Villagers conversing in the
shoemaker's shop sum up the landlord's relationship with the folk with more acuity than they realize when one
of them says; "He couldn't feel as happy anywhere else in this God's world than he feel on that said same hill
lookin' down at us".
Ritual projection of guilt and shame onto an innocent victim is the recurring motif of the novel. Wilson Harris
has already pointed to the number of ritual beatings and washing ceremonies in Castle. Repeatedly a
scapegoat is singled out to bear the burden of another's disgrace. At the school's celebrations marking the
Queen's birthday, the Headmaster, anxious to impress the inspector, is enraged when the ceremony is
interrupted by a loud giggle. His response is dramatic. On the departure of the inspector he addresses the
school in a voice "choked with a kind of terror". Punishment falls on the first available victim in ritualistic
sadism: the innocent lad becomes a "human symbol of the blackest sin," is bound hand and foot, and a leather
strap brought down repeatedly on his buttocks until his clothing is ripped and the "filth slithered down his
legs." Like a sacrificial victim, the boy makes "a brief howl like an animal that had had its throat cut". Asked
why he didn't run, the boy replies, "He had to beat somebody, and he made sure with me". Like the men in
Foster's shop, the boy understands the human need for a sacrificial scapegoat. As his schoolfriends bathe away
the filth and blood, the victim relates information about the Head teacher that fully explains the man's
insecurities and his need to protect his image at all cost.
The pattern is repeated at a wayside revival service. Once again an authority figure humiliates and denigrates
a victim while worshippers and onlookers alike exult in projecting their own shame onto the chosen
scapegoat. Watching the preacher's tactics with a reluctant convert, G comments, "I was sure they were going
to sacrifice him, and I wanted to see how it was done". The words "born again" disturb him: "There was
something very frightening about them, and particularly the context in which they were placed. The hymn had
been started in order to control the tittering of the spectators... The preacher was a kind of spiritual bailiff who
offered salvation as a generous exchange for the other's suffering". Experience eventually teaches the lad that
the circle of worshippers with the preacher at its center is a structured world akin to that of the landlord's
walled houses on the hill; to enter it is to accept castration and assume the eternal role of child before the
controlling authority of the Great.
When her pumpkin vine is trampled, G's mother has a sense of loss and futility that is wider-reaching than the
immediate waste of the plant. Her voice "spoke as if from an inner void beyond which deeper within herself
were incalculable layers of feeling". Her deprivation vents itself on G. The boy, completely innocent, stands
naked in the center of a circle of spectators who rock with laughter as his mother engages in a ritualistic
beating. A scapegoat is needed, and the naked boy serves the role. The innocent boy in the school, G in his
mother's yard, the youth at the wayside service— all naked, all innocent, all chosen victims. The vulnerability
of the naked self is evident.
Lamming's key metaphor for the invasion of boundaries and absence of defining walls of selfhood is the flood
with which the novel opens. Water seeps through ceiling and floor into the house where G lives with his
Carnival Strategies in Lamming's In the Castle of My Skin 19
mother. Outside, a lily is uprooted from the soil by the force of the rain. Invading floodwaters anticipate the
later "flood" of worker riots that will invade the boundaries of privilege but leave in their wake a muddy
residue of bourgeois profiteering personified in Mr Slime, founder of the Penny Bank—an organization that,
despite its promise, yields no benefits to the village. At an existential level the floodwaters provide an image
for the novel's exploration of ways to build defining walls around the self. For repeatedly the self experiences
invasion by the Other: "Deep down he felt uneasy. He had been seen by another. He had become part of the
other's world, and therefore no longer in complete control of his own. The eye of another was a kind of cage".
Release and freedom are found only in the darkness—in the darkened cinema, in the school lavatory. To
embrace the light is to lose one's freedom. Light from the landlord's house dictates the lifestyle of the
villagers; light at the wayside revival service calls the people to forsake their manhood and be "born again"
into submissiveness; and Ma calls Pa away from his dreams of silver, pork, and weddings, away from his
ruminations on existence, away from his gaze through the open doorway into the freeing darkness and back to
the circle of light thrown by the lamp in their home—a lamp that obediently takes its cue in unquestioning
piety from the light on the hill. Lamming consistently inverts the Judeo-Christian metaphors of European
tradition and associates light with exploitative control, darkness with freedom. The lad at the open-air meeting
confesses his fear of the candles his aunt burns to "keep away the spirits"! In Lamming's revision of the
European text, it is only when one has the courage to step out of the light—beyond the narrow circle of the
known into the unknown, undreamed-of realm of darkness that a new order of things is made possible. The
alternative is to be "a prisoner in the light, condemned to be saved".
Subtly Lamming inverts the conventional hierarchy of images. To be born again now appears as acquiescent
auto-castration, and what Eurocentric authority calls enlightenment is discovered to be confinement within the
denigrating oversight of an alien world view. By the end of his novel, Lamming brings us to the final
inversion when the black skin itself, far from being a mark of shame and frailty, is revealed as a stronghold—a
mask behind which the self is safe from invasion; "The likenesses will meet and make merry, but they won't
know you, the you that's hidden somewhere in the castle of your skin", G exults. To be held in "le regard" of
the other is to be misdefined. One moves into Being when the defining process is from within. G's drama is an
existential taking possession of the boundaries of the self; he converts the cage of the already-defined into the
fortress of the ever-signifying.
Source: Joyce E. Jonas, "Carnival Strategies in Lamming's In the Castle of My Skin," in Callaloo, Vol. 11, No.
2, Spring 1988, pp. 346-60.
The Myth of the Fall and the Drawing of Consciousness in
George Lamming's In the Castle of My Skin
In 1958 George Lamming wrote that the modern black writer's endeavor is like that of "every other writer
whose work is a form of self enquiry, a clarification of his relations with other men, and a report on his own
highly subjective conception of the possible meaning of man's life." A writer's self-inquiry constitutes his first
world—"the world of the private and hidden self, the world hidden within the castle of each man's skin." And
if he is honest, he will bear witness to the impact that a second world, the social, has made on his
consciousness. Finally, because a man cannot escape "the essential need to find meaning for his destiny," the
writer must confront his third world, his "definition of himself as man in the world of men." When he looks
fully into these three worlds of his self, he finds a "very concrete example of ... the human condition ... a
condition which is essentially ... originally tragic." The contemporary human condition, writes Lamming,
involves a "universal sense of separation and abandonment, frustration and loss, and above all, of man's direct
inner experience of something missing."
The Myth of the Fall and the Drawing of Consciousness in George Lamming's In the Castle of My 2S0kin
All over the world and in different periods, that sense of absence has given rise to a myth of a past time of
perfection from which man has fallen, a myth of a golden age or an Eden. In coming to terms with that
archetypal sense of absence through the medium of the autobiographical fiction In the Castle of My Skin
George Lamming revivifies the archetype of the Fall, now in Barbadian garb, as it touches each of his worlds.
Not only is much of his personal life projected into the fictional character G, but the novel articulates the
history of an entire village, as the protagonist individually and the villagers collectively come into historical
consciousness and in so doing lose their innocence. "Archetypes come to life only when one patiently tries to
discover why and in what fashion they are meaningful to a living individual," wrote Carl Jung. A fascinating
example is the particular manner in which the myth of the Fall as a metaphor for maturation infuses
Lamming's narrative, dignifying with eternal human significance the life of a poor, black child struggling to
adulthood in Barbados.
Calling the biblical Fall "one of the most essential symbolic teachings of the Christian religion." Jung argued
that the myth expresses the psychic fact that man experiences "the dawn of consciousness as a curse."
Adam—the primitive man, responding to instinct, innocent without self-consciousness of his impulses and
actions—rested secure in his trust of nature. That things were the way they were was not problematic. But in
turning away from instinct and opposing himself to it, modern man, recognizing his nakedness, creates
consciousness and with it the inevitability of choice, doubt, fear. Eating the apple from the tree of knowledge
marks the sacrifice of the natural man, of the unconscious, of the capacity to live in the world through simple
response without judgments of good and evil. And modern man, fallen, in an "orphaned and isolated state
where [he is] abandoned by nature and driven to consciousness," aware of the insecurity implied by freedom
to choose, said Jung, wishes he could avoid the problems thus engendered and may wonder whether the
childlike, preconscious state were not preferable, he experiences loss and absence. Jung further argued that
each individual reenacts the psychic history of the race in his emergence from preconsciousness and
movement into the dualistic stage, characteristic of "youth" from puberty to mid-life, in which he experiences
himself both as "I," the innermost psychic self, and as "also I," the self adjusting to making its way in the
physical and social world.
In the early chapters of In the Castle of My Skin Lamming frankly acknowledges his use of Old Testament
metaphor, but only to mock its simplistic nature. Humorously he compares the flood which opens the novel to
the biblical Flood. Only once does he overtly contemplate the Garden of Eden story, which he merges with
Lucifer's rebellion against God. In chapter three the schoolboys, having been denied knowledge of Barbadian
history by the colonialist school system, speculate as to how Queen Victoria could have freed them from
slavery. They arrive at a composite explanation which, though naïve, articulates the assumptions underlying
British rationalizations for colonialist rule. Though in origin different, the Garden of Eden or heaven and the
empire are identified with one another. Because both are products of God's will and under His dominion, to
rebel against either is to become a moral outlaw, a Lucifer, a rebel against God. Rebellion, while offering the
exhilaration of new possibility, produces loneliness so terrible that the rebels repent, preferring bondage to
freedom. And bondage to the empire will facilitate their return to the true garden in heaven. Thus in his only
overt consideration of the myth of the Fall, Lamming blasts the colonialists' exploitation of Christian theology
in the interests of perpetuating economic and psychological enslavement. Lamming's analogy affirms that
colonial Barbados was no paradise, except perhaps for the British.
Yet on a subtler level the myth does pervade the novel, and metaphorically Barbados is indeed a garden. A
matured G, looking back, describes the house of the landlord Creighton as "a castle around which the land like
a shabby back garden stretched." While the shabbiness under the colonial regime is never in doubt, neither—it
turns out—is its gardenlike quality. In considering how the regime impinges on his second world, Lamming
never retreats from resistance; still, when that rule is replaced by the native bourgeoisie, bringing about the
sale of the land and destruction of a way of life, then the loss of that simple, harmonious
community—poignantly symbolized by Pa's removal to the almshouse—is felt severely enough that village life
seems in retrospect like an innocent paradise. The verdure of the land is known only after the trees are
The Myth of the Fall and the Drawing of Consciousness in George Lamming's In the Castle of My 2S1kin
downed, and the land's value becomes evident only when it is sold. G's mother voices this truth in an
aphorism: "You never miss the water till the well run dry; / You never miss a mother till she close her eye."
Just as the child's lack of consciousness of being a person separate
from the mother gives way before the evidence that he is himself not her, so man—the villagers—no longer in a
monistic relationship with the source of sustenance, the natural world, becomes forcefully conscious of his
separateness with profound regret.
While the villagers experience the social and political changes as disastrous, the novel's judgment of these
changes is more complex. For although throughout most of the novel G's experience of the world is like that
of the villagers, their fall is single. His is double. The sociopolitical narrative of social change in a Barbadian
village deals with the single fall, which is, it appears, a fall only in part. Even desirable change involves loss:
"Whether you were glad or sorry to be rid of [things,] you couldn't bear the thought of seeing them for the last
time." The narrator's fall, on the other hand, has a second part and a different quality, for he also becomes
alienated from the village community. In gaining access to the narrator's double fall, we enter the writer's first
world, the world of the innermost self, and perhaps not surprisingly find ourselves involved with issues of
autobiography as a genre.
Of course Lamming, like G, was once a boy growing up in Barbados. But In the Castle of My Skin resembles
autobiography more than superficially. First, its mode is self-reflective and so has a natural tendency toward
irony. In autobiography the narrator is both the observer and the observed, and as such the genre can only be
written after the writer has separated himself enough from living experience to objectify it. If the writer, now
matured, tries to re-create experiences as he lived them (this Lamming does), his double vision
characteristically produces irony. In Lamming's novel the double vision accounts for the humor in the early
part of the novel, for he recounts events as the child and the villagers experienced them, but with the hindsight
of the matured observer. Naturally by the end, as the ages and perspectives of the observer and the observed
converge, the humor disappears, and the ironic distance diminishes.
The novel shares with autobiography a second feature: the use of Edenic imagery to depict childhood. In "The
Myth of the Fall: A Description of Autobiography" Martha Lifson explores the curious fact that many
autobiographies—those of Augustine, Rousseau. Wordsworth and Thoreau, among others—invoke
garden-of-paradise imagery in describing childhood: "The light, the peace, the friendly insect, the stillness,
and particularly the timelessness, are all images that recur frequently in autobiographical scenes of
childhood." Later she adds to this list a "sense of order" and "abundance of nature."
Although "light" is not a prominent metaphor in his novel, Lamming sometimes uses light-dark imagery in
crucial ways, as will be seen. "Peace" and "stillness," while indeed appropriate to the chapters at the beach,
would not seem to describe the raucous, often quarreling interchanges of village life unless we understand
them as commotion which occurs within the context of the steady rhythms of that life, commotion which
signals no disruption. The theme of Edenic harmony emerges strikingly in depictions of the land, the sky, the
sea, the sand of the beach with its wondrous crabs appearing and disappearing. The crabs, vibrating with
luminous significance, are the Barbadian equivalent of Lifson's "friendly insects," emblematic of the eternal
wonder of the universe, with which the child feels at one. It emerges in the fisherman, masterful and at ease in
his element, who personifies man's harmony with the natural world and capacity for securing abundance from
its unspoiled state. Though the village is poor and ragged, no one appears to be in real want. The rootedness of
the village order and the unconscious assumption that the village will remain unspoiled are Edenic qualities
too. G's friend Trumper alone voices what others only vaguely intuit.
When you up here [at the landlord's house] ... you see how it is nothin' could change in the
village. Everything's sort of in order. Big life one side an' small life a next side, an you get a
kin' o' feelin' of you in your small corner an' I in mine. Everything's kind of correct.
The Myth of the Fall and the Drawing of Consciousness in George Lamming's In the Castle of My 2S2kin
Still, as Lifson noted, it is the child's sense of timelessness which most emphatically evokes paradise.
In this novel chronological time belongs to the adult observer reflecting on how the village and he have
changed. For the villager and the child, time does not exist. G is aware of time as sequence but not as
progression. The villagers similarly cannot imagine the radical changes set in motion by Mr. Slime's
formation of the Penny Bank and the Friendly Society. Thus the consequences, unexpected, shock them not
just because of specific effects, but because they had not conceived that real change was possible. "This land
ain't the sort of land that can be for buy or sell ... 'Twas always an' 'twill always be land for we people to live
on," protests a bewildered woman.
Thus a maturer Lamming joins in choosing Edenic imagery to transcribe his childhood. For G and the
villagers, conflicts occur within the unexpected, natural rhythms of life and create neither alienation nor
self-division. The paradise Lamming evokes is one of naïve inner harmony, based on the assumption that the
world is what it is and everyone has a secure place in it, not on the judgment of it as good in itself. So also
affirms the book of Genesis: knowledge of good and evil arises only after the apple is eaten.
Although Lamming's evocation of Eden is powerful, equally if not more forceful are the images of
disappearance and destruction, of the Fall, which resonate throughout the novel. Sudden, mysterious,
unexpected disappearances of objects, emblems of the more catastrophic loss of psychic grounding, punctuate
the text. The humorous story of the drunk man's penny and cent—one rolled into the gutter in full view under a
full moon, the other was carefully secured under a stone, and both vanished—echoes through the narrator's
later, nearly frantic search for the special pebble which, having seized the narrator's attention, vanishes
contrary to all logical causality through some strange, indecipherable intervention, in the midst of security, in
the Garden of Eden, without source or explanation, without preparation, cataclysmi-cally enters the serpent.
The novel tells of two falls: the simple sale of Eden itself (the village land) through the agency of the serpent
Mr. Slime, and the more complex disinheritance of G, who loses his identity. Repeatedly, Lamming projects
the predicament precipitating the fall as closed. Only two alternatives (they appear either as opposites or as
identical—it makes no difference) are postulated, and the protagonist must choose between them. Although in
the predifferentiated state G embraced both alternatives without conflict, yet with the coming of an
unforeseen, intervening force he is compelled to choose between illusory alternatives. The refusal to choose
places him in limbo; choosing leads him into exile or destroys him. Always he loses the harmony of his
The tales told by the boys at the beach rehearse G's later experience of this psychological predicament. Boy
Blue tells the story of Bots, Bambi and Bambina, of a village man living contentedly with two common-law
wives. Under external pressure he arbitrarily marries one of them. All continues the same until, without
warning, the formerly warm and sociable man becomes silently morose, takes to drink and dies. The boys
explain his enigmatic behavior thus: "Something go off pop in yuh head' an you ain't the same man you think
you was". The story is preceded by Trumper's tale of Jon, who, similarly coerced into choosing between two
women, Sue and Jen, attempts to watch his wedding from a tree, waiting to discover what will happen as,
simultaneously in facing churches, his two brides-to-be vainly await his arrival at the altar. Images of a duality
which is no duality repeat elsewhere—two moods of the ocean on either side of the lighthouse, the oppositions
of life and death, Creighton and Slime, god and dog in Pa's dream. Always frustration and loss follow choice.
Such predicaments are emblematic of the narrator's situation near the end of the novel, when he finds himself
separated from the village by his education and from his intellectual peers by his ties to village life.
I remained in the village living, it seemed, on the circumference of two worlds. It was as
though my roots had been snapped from the centre of what I knew best, while I remained
impotent to wrest what my fortunes had forced me into.
The Myth of the Fall and the Drawing of Consciousness in George Lamming's In the Castle of My 2S3kin
Repeatedly as situations necessitate choice between false, arbitrary or meaningless alternatives, the individual
remembers that it had formerly been possible to have wholeness, to appropriate all alternatives and so avoid
loss. Trumper explains Jon's perspective: able imaginatively to marry both women as well as observe from the
tree, he accepts the psychic reality as primary and fails even to consider as problematic the failure of the three
events to proceed simultaneously in actuality. Instead he waits patiently for the groom, himself or another, to
arrive for the weddings. Trumper comments, "P'raps it ain't [logical] ... but that don't make it not so." When
Boy Blue objects that living a contradiction makes wholeness impossible, Trumper responds, "I don't know. ...
P'raps you can if you feel you can". In dream, in memory, in imagination, the mind contemplates and realizes
multiple, incompatible alternatives. Since all perceptions ultimately must be subjective, the subjective
projection can become more actual than the objective manipulation of physical matter. Eden is not just a folk
village, a childhood mentality, but also, as in Jung, a psychic position.
Lamming contrasts archetypally the atempo-ral, paradisiacal Barbadian life and Slime's modern, analytical
approach to it. In introducing the novel, Richard Wright, speaking of the clash of the folk and the modern
worlds, focuses on its sociopolitical dimensions, highlighting the Third World cultures versus modern
industrialism. Wright further argues that the clash occurs in the mind of every man who grows up in the one
culture to find himself an adult in the other. For the atemporal, dream-fantasy mode which accounts for the
label "poetic" so frequently bestowed on the novel arises from the child's preconscious mode of mental
activity, and the temporal perspective of the matured observer is generated from the analytic, linear mode of
Lamming has embodied the opposed modes, the "atemporal folk" and the "linear modern," within the novel's
narrative strategy. The adult observer perceives the causality of events, analytically and linearly, revealing the
dynamics of social change. But the villagers' and child's perspective is atemporal. Several narrative strategies
create the impression of timelessness. First, the time lapses between chapters vary radically and indefinitely.
Rarely does the reader know how old G has become. Second, the narrative voice ranges from primarily first
person, to primarily third person, to— in the chapters which are dialogues between Ma and Pa—primarily
dramatic. The voices narrate a whole unified by harmony rather than by logic. Third, images felt to be similar
to one another in essence, though different in form, emerge at unforeseen points to create a narrative of mood
subliminally felt to dominate the linear narrative of events. As in a dream where the insights of the psyche are
disguised in symbols and meaning emerges from decoding the emotional reverberations (not from simply
remembering the narrative of the dream), so the emotional content of the novel is structured by a process of
freely associating images and symbols which resonate against one another, allowing the correspondences to
When he juxtaposes atemporal and analytical narrative modes. Lamming gives concrete form to Jung's
concept of the self in youth experiencing its own duality, itself as "I" and "also I." Pa's enigmatic dream in
chapter ten exemplifies this. The dream, voice of the unconscious function of the psyche and a balancing
corrective to conscious thought, is here presented as the voice of the slave ancestors. It would seem to be a
dream emerging from a kind of racial collective unconscious within the individual psyche. That voice
describes the origins of Barbados through slavery as a terrible mistake, as the formation of an illusory duality
between oppressed and oppressors which never should have been, one begun symbolically here by the sailor
The only certainty these islands inherit was that sailor's mistake, and it's gone on and on from
father to son 'mongst the rich and the poor: in Slime and Creighton, landlord and politician,
those who play at ruling and those at being ruled, and those who are neither one nor the
other... The fate of these islands I do not know, but man must live like a god or a dog, or be a
stone that is neither dead nor alive, a pool no wind will ever wrinkle. For there's always two
worlds to one man if you're a man, two darknesses to one light...
The Myth of the Fall and the Drawing of Consciousness in George Lamming's In the Castle of My 2S4kin
The very concept of duality, of alternatives at once opposite and the same, is illusory. The necessity of
choosing between Jen and Sue, folk and modern, unconscious and conscious, is an illusion. Here especially
images of light, typical of Eden, become relevant. In Pa's dream, darkness represents the fallen state of the
present; and light at the end of the dream—Pa's vision for the future— seems to signify a yearning for a final
reintegration and return to what long ago, before the fall, had been whole. The hope of reintegration is what
prevents Lamming's novel from representing life as in essence tragic, his later comments notwithstanding.