Miguel Street's book cover by V. S. Naipaul

Miguel Street’s book cover by V. S. Naipaul

The various countries that make up the Caribbean have experienced contact with modernity in various ways. By conceiving the colonizing country at a distance, various authors have come to different assessments.

Post-colonial theory suggests that the line that divides the colonizing country and the colonized periphery persists because it can make the colonial subjects an “Other.” In other words, one of the tools used by the imperial power (whether Spain, Britain, the United States or France) to legitimize its power is to note the cultural differences that exist between those who live in the home country and those who live in the colony. In this way, the “Other” is that which does not fit into the established parameters of the cultural norm in the colonizing country.

According to scholars such as Sidney Mintz, modernity came to the Caribbean with the industrialization that created capitalist investment. Modernity, in this sense, is a controversial process, as it implies both benefits and problems. One of these problems is upheaval of the notion of cultural identity. In the case of Puerto Rico, for example, this is reflected in the short story “En el fondo del caño hay un negrito” by José Luis González. While the Puerto Rico in the story is going through the modernization process created by the Popular Democratic Party, the black child must confront his own reflection, although with fatal consequences.

On the other hand, authors such as Virgilio Dávila and Luis Lloréns Torres wrote numerous poems in which they contrasted country life with life in the big city. The imagery of the life in the country tended to be idyllic and was associated with memories of childhood, warmth and favorite foods, while the images associated with the colonizing country spoke of cold, corruption and suffering. Over the decades, this duality continued until the appearance of Puerto Rican literature written in exile.

While it is true that some Caribbean writers have openly affirmed their cultural coordinates, others have adopted the point of view (and prejudices) of the colonizing countries toward the Caribbean and the Third World. For post-colonial theorist Edward Said, this is the case for authors such as V.S. Naipaul. In his novel Miguel Street, for example, Naipaul nostalgically recreates the society in the capital of Trinidad. That recreation, however, presents a Port of Spain where ignorance and incompetence reign and where everyone wants to escape. The destination invariably is Great Britain or the United States.

Additionally, some authors have turned their attention to sectors of the Caribbean where modernity and economic backwardness coexist. These are islands split between modern areas and their less developed zones. Such is the case in Texaco, by Martinique writer Patrick Chamoiseau. The Caribbean of Chamoiseau’s novel is contradictory, simultaneously urban and rural, both metropolitan and colonial. It is not by chance that the residents of the town of Texaco confuse an urban planner with Christ himself.

Author: Alejandro Carpio
Published: July 23, 2012.

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