World Literature in English Sam Selvon
Bio Patois Dictionary
Issues for Discussion: 

 Background of Caribbean immigration to U.K. 
The Lonely Londoners
"Waiting for the Aunt to Cough"

Works Cited
Related Sites 

Sam Selvon


Selvon, Samuel Dickson (1923-) 
was born to East Indian parents in San Fernando, Trinidad, and was educated at Naparima College, Trinidad.  Graduating in 1938 with a Senior Cambridge Certificate, Selvon subsequently equipped himself for his writing career through professional experience and on-the-job training.  . . . between 1945 and 1950, .  . .he published a number of short stories, poems, and articles in Caribbean magazines.  Between 1950 and 1952 Selvon was a free-lance writer in England, where he became internationally recognized.  He moved to Canada in 1978.  . . . 
His work:
    Selvon began his international career with his first novel, A Brighter Sun, which is set in Trinidad and explores peasant experience during socio-economic change.   . .. 
    With the exception of The Lonely Londoner, [Selvon's] novels [before The Lonely Londoner] focus on the everyday experience of islanders in Trinidad.   The Lonely Londoner portrays in a humorous manner the experience of the expatriate West Indians in London.  . . . 
    A sequel to The Lonely Londoner-- 
Moses Ascending (1975) expresses what may be Selvon's most trenchant social criticism, which he communicate through a hybrid form of English that combines Trinidad creole English and Standard English. 
Moses Migrating (1983)  Moses returns to Trinidad as an ambassador of British cultural pride, providing the reader with many ironic contrasts between colonizer and colonized. 

His major concerns:
...[he employs] Trinidad Creole to 'educate' the English reader, whom he considers to be ignorant of the Caribbean. 

Unlike Naipaul, who portrays his fellow islanders as disadvantaged victims who are rootless, unimportant, and uncreative, Selvon writes with a genuine pride in his people and in their country, despite the social disadvantages and faded dreams that define their world. 

Selvon's career places him in the two worlds of colonial and post-colonial experience.  His work extends from the period of waning colonial control by Britain, through the dislocating experience of exile ( The Lonely Londoner ) and the disappointing search for synthesis and completeness in Moses Ascending, to the hopeful resumption of the search in  Moses Migrating, which combines the ironies and contrasts of failed experience and fantasy.  (Benson, 1434-35) 

Background of Caribbean immigration to U.K.
  • The large flow of immigrants to U.K. after WW II.
[After a lot of Caribbean were recruited into the armed forces of Britain in the second World War], 
    they went home "to find a disappointing situation.  Jobs were hard to find and the standard of living they could expect in their home islands was much lower than that which they had enjoyed in Britain.  There were no restrictions on their entry into Britain, for their passports bore witness to the fact that they were 'citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies'.  They began to trickle back to Britain to seek their fortunes and began to write home glowing accounts (backed up by cash remittances) of the varied opportunities available in the booming post-war British economy.  Shipping companies, sensing a new avenue for profit, began to offer cheap fares to Britain in vessels returning to Europe and the migration developed rapidly.  (R.. B. Davison qut in "An Introduction to this Novel" by Kenneth Ramchand, The Lonely Londoners  Harlow, Essex: Longman, 1956: pp. 3-4.)

    By the 1956, when The Lonely Londoners was first published, the annual figure for migrants from the West Indies had reached over 25,000.  This was the period when extended families would materialise in the thin air of Waterloo Station ... ( Ramchand 4)

  • The large flow stopped in the 60's

  • By the mid-1950s the traditional open door policy to Commonwealth citizens began to be questioned, and in November 1961 a Commonwealth Immigrants Bill to restrict this flow was introduced in the House of Commons. The figures for 1960 and the first ten months of 1961 (52,655 and 52,849 respectively) represent a surge of panic arising from anti-immigration rumblings in the United Kingdom.  But by this time, too, nobody believed that the streets of London were paved with gold or that the natives were all friendly. 
    Differential incorporation of West Indians in UK (Stuart Hall's view) 
    By the end of 1950's, the strategy of "Black assimilation" had already been cast aside…
    Next came the strategy of  "acceptance" which meant that Blacks took on and accepted the role of second-class citizens.  Hall writes that "what was primarily at issue  here was the differential incorporation of the Black community into the White respectable working class.  Its outcome would have been, not fusion with, but "informal segregation" within, the culture of a subordinate class.  …
    Another strategy was to separate West Indians even further from mainstream society.  In order to do this, West Indians had to form an enclave community, or what Hall calls "a colony society"
      formation of the ghetto "colony"  was defensive and corporate response.  It involved the Black community turning in upon itself . . .in the face of public racism that rapidly developed. . .  through the 1960's.  In another sense, the foundation of colony society meant the growth of internal cultural cohesiveness and solidarity within the ranks of the Black population.  (Henry 15)
    UK in comparison with Canada
  • 1. [Internal colonial model] Its applicability to the Canadian context is evident in the growth of a Black underclass in Toronto. . . . The development of a stigmatized underclass or "colony" further divides the Caribbean community, the majority of whom are among the "respectable working class"’ and the middle class.  

  • Differences:
    1.  Britain began earlier, included more of the less educated and skilled . . .Although Canada encourage women to emigrate to fill domestic service vacancies, the number never reached significant proportions.  
    2.  UK -- settle in and around London and the Midlands, the industrial area of the country.  They are ghettoized in specific areas of cities.  In Canada, . . .the pattern of industrial decline, . . . has not happened to the same extent as in Britain.   (Henry 21)

    Gender Relations
    Perhaps one of the most basic relates to the ways in which male-female relationships are formed within Caribbean society, in which the bonds between men and women tend to lack emotional depth.  The concept of westernized romantic love is, to some extent, missing in societies such as this in which instrumentality rather than affection appears to be the primary motivation in forming relationships, at least to the point of sharing a common household. . . . Men want sexual gratification and attention to their food, laundry, and other domestic needs.. . .A woman, on the other hand, is primarily motivated by the need to find a man who can offer economic support to her, her children, and possbly other relatives. (Henry 87)

"Waiting for the Aunt to Cough"

LIME OR LIMIN'  :    group of people hanging out, loafing, pleasure occasion 
LIMER              :    an idle person 
(from Patois Dictionary)

  • the oral quality of the narration;
  • associative, anecdotal narrative method
  • What does "late lime" in London mean to Brackley? (e.g. 231; 232)  Brackley could complain, be frightened, or even get into trouble (p. 233), why does he still like it?
  • What's the importance of which is London and which is "country"?
  • Why is the aunt's coughing so important?

Benson, Eugene, & W. Conolly, eds.  Encyclopedia of Post-Colonial Literatures in English.  2 Vols.  New York: Routledge, 1994.