Corruption

Let’s Discuss — The White Woman on the Green Bicycle by Monique Roffey

I was white. White in a country where this was to be implicated, complicated, and, whatever way I tried to square it, guilty. Genocide. Slavery. Indenture. Colonialism — big words which were linked to crimes so hideous no manner of punishment was adequate (355)

Roffey weaves the personal story of George and Sabine Hardwood with the historical and political story of Trinidad. Readers are introduced to two individuals in a loveless marriage, which according to Sabine is largely the fault of her husband, George. From the moment the couple arrives in Trinidad, George falls in love with the island; enjoying the ideal, the picturesque, the exotic women, and a potential legacy he could never establish in the United Kingdom. Sabine, on the other hand, can’t stand the island. She wanted to leave before she had even arrived. She realizes she can never compete with a beautiful island which offers more to her husband than she ever could.  For a while, Sabine is in denial about the reality of her situation–that her fate and happiness are tied to someone else’s “ideas.”

The narrative is loaded with vivid, sensory descriptions of the island colloquial language and Trinidadian accents. The colorful atmosphere contrasts with the conflict happening on the island. There are two forms of conflict, that of Sabine and George’s drama, and the echoes of revolution in Trinidad. It’s almost as if their marital strife mirrors the socio-political strife on the island or vice versa. Sometimes the injustice, corruption and political uprisings in Trinidad become background noise to Sabine and George’s problems.

“Eric Williams will destroy this country.” Bonny’s eyes hardened.

“Oh really? He’s a well-educated man. He’s been to Oxford. He’s an historian. How many people here can claim that? Do you think there’s one person in this garden with a university degree?”

Bonny quivered, a snarl on her lips. “Williams is obsessed with slavery. It’s all about the past. He can’t let it drop. He should forget about it. It’s boring.” (249)

I may be alone on this one but George’s wrongdoings as a husband do not outweigh Sabine’s self-righteousness. Her apathy and borderline ignorance about colonial legacy and race relations is…irksome. Yes, George should catch some hell for his post colonial ideas and self-serving ambition, but at least he cares—he feels. At least he sees Trinidadians as individuals, as people.  Sabine is the worst kind of post colonialist person. Why?  Because she has no real intention of righting any wrongs (socio-political or personal) Maybe having friendships with her two maids is her way of righting the wrongs.

But there is something off about Sabine. She develops an intense, almost creepy obsession with Dr. Eric Williams, the leader of the PNM. Why would a white woman determined to leave Trinidad be interested in the country’s new revolutionary leader? Well, I have a couple of theories. One–it’s a tactic of self-preservation, or know-your-enemy. Eric Williams wants what she represents (colonial chains) out of the country. Understanding his motives helps define her own. My second theory might be a reach, but still a possibility– she’s having an emotional affair with Dr. Williams. I say emotional because her fear and physical repulsion of black men is too great for the affair to ever be physical. Sabine writes hundreds of unsent letters to Eric Williams complaining about her husband George and life in Trinidad. She compiles newspaper clippings of his speeches and appearances.  And she hides them away in her home office. Why? Because Dr. Eric Williams represents something she could never do, possess or act upon—the courage to lead her own revolution, to put her foot down in her marriage, to say enough is enough!

I don’t know why Sabine didn’t leave George.

Advertisements

Let’s Discuss — The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

It is a sad thing to think of, but there is no doubt that Genius lasts longer then Beauty. That accounts for the fact that we all take such pains to over-educate ourselves. In the wild struggle for existence, we want to have something that endures, and so we fill our minds with rubbish and facts, in the silly hope of keeping our place (14)

Basil Hallward paints a remarkable portrait of his friend and muse, Dorian Gray. It’s his best work, something to be admired. Yet the piece of art becomes an object of hate and fear. Basil has given eternal life and beauty to the Dorian in the portrait, whereas, the actual Dorian will eventually be marked with imperfection, age and ugliness. To Dorian it’s unfair and unbecoming, and somehow he inadvertently sells his soul for eternal youth.

Dorian undergoes an intellectual and moral transformation. The change of his psyche is contrasted with the stagnation of his physical being. He doesn’t age. He becomes a fickle person, seeking sin, pleasure or any experience that can satisfy his search for what he considers beauty or novelty of the moment. He commits a heinous crime, develops shady habits and ruins his reputation. He goes from loved by all, to detested by most. He has the face of youth, innocence and good, but not the soul to match.

I have such mixed feelings about this book. The beginning was rough for me because I kept running across passages like this:

He was bareheaded, and the leaves had tossed his rebellious curls and tangled all their gilded threads. There was a look of fear in his eyes, such as people have when they are suddenly awakened. His finely chiseled nostril quivered, and some hidden nerve shook the scarlet of his lips and left them trembling (23)

and this:

As he thought of it, a sharp pang of pain struck through him like a knife, and made each delicate fiber of his nature quiver. His eyes deepened into amethyst, and across them came a mist of tears. He felt as if a hand of ice had been laid upon his heart (27)

Aren’t they too…I don’t know–mushy?

I suppose they’re meant to be romantic and artistic, but I find the descriptions, and in particular, the use of the word quiver very irksome.

Maybe it’s just me.

Anyways, once I got over that, I was annoyed with Harry/Lord Henry. His musings, while very quotable, are silly. However, he’s such an important character in the book. It’s clear that his haughty attitude and naturalist view of society influence Dorian Gray substantially. In fact, Dorian becomes Harry’s social experiment. Harry poisons, pokes and prods hims; drops crumbs, which eventually lead Dorian to corruption.