PREFACE The aim of my dissertation is to examine a Caribbean short story. My intention is to deal with its origin and background, the impact of literary periodicals on its development, and its major themes. The themes that appear in a large number of Caribbean1 short stories, and that will be discussed here are those of family life, exile, religion and education. I have decided to include the short stories by V. S. Naipaul, Austin Clarke, Dionne Brand and Cyril Dabydeen. I believe that my choice is sufficiently representative because these are well-established Caribbean writers whose works reflect different social, political and personal conditions they were subjected to. They come from various Caribbean countries and backgrounds, are of different ethnic origins, and represent two generations. Furthermore, these authors utilize different stylistic means of expressing their views on education, religion, social and gender discrimination, racism, exile, and search for cultural and personal identity. Since Caribbean writing is often perceived as a whole, without distinctive specifying features, I try to demonstrate that each of the writers represents a different approach to short story writing.
I divide my work into four chapters. In the first chapter I attempt to give an insight into the background of the Caribbean people and their language. I briefly discuss the influences, such as colonization and migration, on shaping different nations in the region, and outline distinctive features of their language. The following chapter concentrates on the development of short story writing. I give a brief account of its beginnings in the first decades of the twentieth century, and follow the subsequent development of this genre until present. Chapter three is devoted to the leading literary magazines which played a vital role in the development of Caribbean literature. They provided a forum for young writers to publish their first pieces of poetry and fiction, and thus helped start their careers and promote Caribbean literature abroad.
In the final chapter I analyze some of the major themes of Caribbean short stories. I classify them into four sub-chapters in which I deal with the themes of family life, exile, religion, and education. My discussion of family life focuses primarily on the portrayal of the family within the Caribbean region. Since family is the most basic form of social organization in Caribbean society, I believe it is necessary to understand its specific and distinctive features. I also briefly discuss the impact of migration on family life, such as separation and reunion, and the change of patterns in the family structure in the new environment. Despite some differences, the family life depicted in the short stories shows many common features. In this respect I concentrate particularly on the structure of the family, the role of women, and children’s upbringing. The theme of exile dominates the works of the majority of Caribbean, and in fact, many post-colonial authors. Although one can assume that exile may provide an opportunity to improve economic standards, broaden one’s mind and offer a unique possibility of plurality of vision, the overall impression that these writers give is that of a horrific experience. The theme of religion also occurs frequently in Caribbean short stories. Given by the various ethnic groups and massive migration, one can find many different religions including the belief in supernatural powers. I attempt to explore some aspects of religious practices as well as attitudes each writer has towards religion. Finally, I deal with the theme of education and related topics. Education plays an important role in Caribbean society. It is highly valued in its own right as well as the only means of upward social mobility. It is closely connected with social class. Caribbean writers often explore the theme of education for various purposes. First, schools and educational institutions, both in the Caribbean and in exile, serve as an attractive and dynamic setting, especially in those stories where the main protagonists are children. Second, it is a rewarding topic, which provides space for criticism of the post-colonial educational system, for example rejection of the biased curriculum in Caribbean schools.
When looking at the most important works of Caribbean literature, it is amazing to see how many volumes a single generation of writers produced 2. Some of the best known and prolific Caribbean writers were born in the 1920’s and 1930’s: Samuel Selvon (b.1923), Jan Carew (b.1926), John Hearne (b.1926), George Lamming (b.1927), Andrew Salkey (b.1928), Edward Kamau Brathwaite (b.1930), Vidiahar Surajprasad Naipaul (b.1932), Derek Walcott (b.1930), Austin Clarke (b.1934) and many others. Most of these writers grew up in the politically unstable decade of the 1930’s and spent their formative years in the era surrounding the Second World War and the period of decline in colonial power. Before establishing themselves as successful novelists or poets, they were first of all noticed as short story writers. In the course of their careers, many of them turned to a different genre, a novel, taking into account the commercial interest of publishing houses. However, the short story-form became essential for Caribbean writing and as Kenneth Ramchand claims, ”the Caribbean short story has always been more Caribbean than the Caribbean novel.” (Encyclopedia, 1466) Especially the works of V. S. Naipaul, Austin Clarke and Samuel Selvon illustrate a strong attachment to the genre of short story.
In Caribbean short stories, one can find, besides an impressive range of techniques and styles, a large spectrum of themes. They portray not only the universal and personal themes like love and sexuality, relationships, psychology but also cultural and national ones such as history, race, social injustice, identity and exile, all expressed by the many different voices in diverse ways. Caribbean short stories often portray unforgettable, even eccentric characters, whose lives are told with directness and passion. Above all they bring wit, humour and self-critical laughter, which, in my opinion, is one of the strongest points of Caribbean writing. Based on my own reading of collections of Caribbean short stories, I especially appreciate another aspect, and that is, that most collections are not merely gatherings of short stories but that they are carefully arranged into such constructions which let the reader progressively follow the characters and the changes which shape them. This is particularly noticeable, for example, in V. S. Naipaul’s Miguel Street and Cyril Dabydeen’s Black Jesus and Other Stories.