Masaryk University Faculty of Arts Department of English and American Studies

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Masaryk University

Faculty of Arts
Department of English
and American Studies

English Language and Literature

Veronika Šebešová

The Characters of Teachers and Pupils in Caribbean Novels

Bachelor’s Diploma Thesis

Supervisor: prof. Mgr. Milada Franková, CSc., M.A.

I declare that I have worked on this thesis independently,
using only the primary and secondary sources listed in the bibliography.


Veronika Šebešová


I would like to thank my supervisor, prof. Mgr. Franková, CSc., M.A., for her help and to PhDr. Pálenská, CSc. for her valuable advice. I would also like to express my gratitude to my family and friends.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents 5

Introduction 6

1 - Historical Development of Education in the Caribbean 7

2 –At School 9

2.1 Teaching Methods 9

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, teaching method is "[a] special form of procedure or characteristic set of procedures employed (more or less systematically) in an intellectual discipline or field of study as a mode [...] of teaching and exposition". There are three basic methods that are used by teachers in the novels – memorization, contemplation and dialogue. From the abstract of Dialogue in the Classroom, a research about correct timing in teaching by dialogue, it follows that "[t]here is [an] increasing agreement among those who study classrooms that learning is likely to be most effective when students are actively involved in the dialogic coconstruction of meaning about topics that are of significance to them" (Wells 379). According to that, only one out of all the schools mentioned in the novels provides effective or competent education for their learners. It is Greenslade Secondary School in To Sir, With Love (1959) by E.R. Braithwaite (Note 1). 9

Mr Braithwaite, the narrator, faces a problematic task – he has to manage and catch interest of difficult children who "in junior schools [...] have shown some disregard for, or opposition to, authority" (Braithwaite 28). Although they do not accept him immediately, eventually, he is successful. When talking about reading during their first lesson he always uses examples to demonstrate some point he is making. Furthermore, he tries to liken everything he teaches them to something they know, something familiar to them to show them "that the whole purpose of their education [is] the development of their own thinking and reasoning" (Braithwaite 79). He does all this to induce their attention and active participation in the form of a dialogue. At first, pupils start to ask questions about his personality and his background and then they gradually pass to questions about subjects discussed in lessons. 9

Mr Blackman, the character from Amongst Thistles and Thorns (1965) by Austin Clarke (N2), works as a schoolmaster of the fictional elementary school in a village on Barbados. His teaching method is based solely on memorization. As, for example, when he orders to recite the "Commandmunts" (Clarke, Thorns 27) by heart. When one of the pupils does not know a Commandment, he is punished and the headmaster behaves to him as if he committed a capital offence. Then they repeat the Commandments five more times. 10

At Combermere, secondary school in Growing Up Stupid Under the Union Jack (1980) by Austin Clarke (N3), the masters also demand from their pupils remembering things by heart. But they often forget to explain the subject to them. The narrator says that "at Combermere [he] learn[s] about two sides of an isosceles triangle; [is] told that x was equal to 2 and y to 3, if certain things happened; and [is] left alone in fear to figure out the value of z" (Clarke, Union Jack 15). The key words are 'left alone in fear', which suggests there is either no explanation by the teacher at all or that there is an explanation but not sufficient. 10

As another example can serve the fact that the narrator had to learn by heart the English translation of The Aeneid, Book Two, by Vergil and his comment "[t]here was no point in knowing the meaning of each word [in Latin] when you could sing it like Sleepy Smith" (Clarke, Union Jack 166). In fact, almost all of the masters use for their lessons a Key. A Key is "the key to all things" (Clarke, Union Jack 147). It is a book that contains all Latin texts used in Combermere. The masters use it when they are not sure about translations of more complex Latin sentences, when they are too lazy to plan their lessons, or when they read it some time ago and are reluctant to run through the texts again (Clarke, Union Jack 147). Pupils are not willing to learn individual Latin words and sentence constructions because they see their masters do not know them themselves. Both sides are satisfied with memorization, however inefficient the method is. As the narrator states elsewhere in the book "[t]o know things by heart [is] a sign of brilliance" (Clarke, Union Jack 120). Nevertheless, students try very hard to do their best because only few chosen can go to a university. 10

Learning by heart is considered important in Annie John (1985) by Jamaica Kincaid (N4) as well. When the narrator, Annie, attends a funeral, mother of the dead girl notes that the hymn they sang is "the first hymn [the girl] learned by heart" (Kincaid 11). Evidently, the mother is overcome by grief and everything about her daughter is now important, which is understandable but nevertheless, she uses the words 'first hymn' and not a more general word, such as song, as a measurement of her daughter's education. Therefore, it can be said that people believe that memorization of various things is one of the necessary steps on the road to education. 11

Another phenomenon that emerges in the novel is spending time in school in "contemplation and reflection" (Kincaid 38). The narrator is bewildered by her new secondary school because there was no such way of passing the time at her primary school. After finishing their essays the students assemble and read their works aloud and discuss them. Thus, they immediately get feedback. This method can be perceived as an intermezzo between sheer memorization and learning by dialogue because children are forced to formulate their own ideas about subjects. A similar attempt is done on the Greenslade Secondary School where students write their weekly reviews about anything they are interested in. Once again, they express their own thoughts. The reviews also help them to improve their "written English in terms of spelling, construction and style" (Braithwaite 65). However, they do not get feedback for them; they serve more as a feedback for the teachers. 11

2.2 The Curriculum 12

As for the primary schools, curriculums mentioned in the novels bear some common features. Apart from reading, writing, penmanship, and basic mathematics pupils learn geography, history, and Scripture. Great emphasis is placed on cleanliness and orderliness of pupils. In The Schoolmaster (1968) by Earl Lovelace (N5) there is no description of a typical day in school. However, in two other novels dealing with primary education every school day begins with the morning prayers. 12

In Growing Up Stupid Under the Union Jack pupils start their morning with singing Rock of Ages, a Christian hymn (written by Augustus Montague Toplady in 1776). The headmaster is very fond of singing; therefore, he forces his pupils to perform Ride on, ride on, in Majesty, another Christian hymn, as well. He very carefully watches whether all his learners sing and they are aware of his love of music. When on one occasion the narrator and few others come late, which means beating, they are determined to "let him know that [they] [love] singing, and that [they] [know] the words" (Clarke, Union Jack 11). Nevertheless, the headmaster flogs them very cruelly and he does that while singing a Christian hymns about mercy and love. Thus, he gives them a wrong model of Christian charity. At his school in Amongst Thistles and Thorns Mr Blackman uses a similar pattern. Pupils recite the Ten Commandments and then sing Ride on and the music is often preceded or followed by flogging. 12

The syllabus is prepared in England according to British standards and hence, primarily aimed at British pupils. Therefore, part of the curriculum is learning many things children cannot understand. One such example can be found in Amongst Thistles and Thorns. During the first years at school the narrator and his fellow pupils learn to read from a book called The First Reader For First Graders. Naturally, it was written by Englishmen, thus the children from the Caribbean find many peculiarities in it. On one page they see "an old woman who [is] pushing a red-and-white cow up a ladder to eat the blue grass on the roof of a house" (Clarke, Thorns 170-1). They laugh at the cow's colours because they have never seen such one – there are different kinds of cows bred in England. They also laugh at the stupidity of the woman. But when they find out that the book with the picture was made in England they are astonished because they are taught that "the wisest men and women and the best things [come] from England" (Clarke, Thorns 171). In order to conform to the only view of the mother country they know they quickly think up of a logical solution and decide that it is an English kind of cow and it could not get to the grass if it climbed down the ladder. 12

At secondary schools, learners' education gets new dimensions. New subjects are added to the curriculum, such as English literature, Latin, French, algebra, geometry, and trigonometry. Additionally, girls are given home classes or domestic science. This topic is explored in three following books, Growing Up Stupid, Annie John and To Sir, With Love. 13

Studying at a second grade boys' school such as Combermere in Growing Up Stupid Under the Union Jack means that students are "to be the new leaders of the country, and members of the [...] middle class" (Clarke, Union Jack 7). To a certain extent they are once again confronted with the amount of strange things they do not really need or understand, as it was at primary school. If they want to succeed and become lawyers (as almost all of them dream) they have no other choice than to believe everything the masters (for they are not called teachers at Combermere anymore) tell them. The narrator himself says that "believing [is] part of [their] education" (Clarke, Union Jack 163). And so they learn 13

about Kings who lost their heads; about Kings who kept their heads; and about Kings whose wives lost theirs; [...] about Parliament; [...] about a man who could have been Barbadian, who wanted to blow up everything, including the Houses of Parliament, and who lost his head. [...] [The narrator] [knows] all about the Tudors, Stuarts and Plantagenets; and the Wars of the Roses; but nothing [is] taught about Barbados (Clarke, Union Jack 68-9). 13

This mirrors in the children's imagination. They draw black Caribbean women in clothes after the fashion of European queens and noblewomen from the past centuries, imagine they are in England and feast with the kings, and hope to live in England some day, while walking past the church and imagining that it is a castle they saw in History of England book. The result is that they feel more natural in their fabricated world of England than in the reality of their native Barbados. They start spending their afternoons drinking tea in British Council and pretending to be Englishmen. Furthermore, the narrator often thinks of poems he learned, such as, for example, Fair Daffodil (meaning of course a poem Daffodil, or I Wandered Lonely As a Cloud, 1807, by William Wordsworth). Nobody on the island ever saw one and his friends question him about it and why he has to know it when there are many flowers in the Caribbean. He simply says that it is an English flower and after all, they are English as well. At one point, the narrator dreams about becoming a poet and his poems would be as poems by great English poets – Keats and Milton. For, he asks himself a question, "[w]hat other poetry would [he] know?" (Clarke, Union Jack 133). At school they do not learn about any Caribbean writers. 14

Besides the second grade subjects mentioned above students are taught manners and ladylike behaviour at the secondary school for girls in Annie John. Instead of some lessons, girls in the lower form are given extra time for "walks, chats about the novels [they are] reading, showing each other the new embroidery stitches [they] learned" (Kincaid 79), which is typical behaviour of Victorian women. They are also encouraged to express compliments to each other about tidyness of their uniforms or schoolbooks. Girls from the upper forms take very good care of their appearance and body bearing. The narrator considers them vain and mentions that "[t]hey ha[ve] no different ideas of how to be in the world" (Kincaid 90) suggesting they do not think for themselves. It can be partly a consequence of the emphasis in their education on appearance of a woman. 14

The Greenslade Secondary School in To Sir, With Love is a special case. The children often come from families of immigrants from all over the world so their situation is slightly similar to the Caribbean children – they are to be made Englishmen. However, their education is targeted on much more practical subjects. They do not learn Latin but, according to the narrator, "they [possess] character and confidence and an ability to speak up for themselves" (Braithwaite 113), which is the very opposite of what the Caribbean pupils and students have to learn. This school is also concerned with its students' welfare outside the classroom. Especially women teachers teach children basic hygienic habits as it is demonstrated in Mrs Dale-Evans sigh about a girl who wore one sanitary napkin for days and whom she had to lecture about that. Also Mr Braithwaite has his say about cleanliness of his students, especially boys. He reminds them that "[t]houghness is a quality of the mind [...] it has nothing whatever to do with muscles" (Braithwaite 75) or messy clothes for that matter. He goes even further suggesting they start to behave as adults, respect one another and call the girls Misses and the boys by their surnames. He engrains the basis of polite behaviour in them, which is similarly attempted at the Caribbean schools. However, he leads by example and that is the difference between Greenslade and most of schoolmasters in the books about Caribbean schools. 15

Mr Braithwaite teaches the children to be tolerant. He shows them that all people are built from the same substance and demonstrate it on an example of a skeleton. It does not stay only by words, he puts the theory into practice. When mother of one of his students dies he wants them to go to the funeral. At first, nobody is willing to go because, although she was white, she was married to a black man. The neighbours would make bad assumptions about white girls stepping into a black man's house. However, when the children see how very disappointed their teacher is by their conduct they decide to go to the funeral not caring for their neighbours anymore. It shows how big an influence he has on the students and how greatly they value him. It can be also said that he teaches them tolerance in practice. 16

2.2.1 Teaching Patriotism 16

Regardless of the grade, at all Caribbean schools in the novels (with the exception of the school in Kumaca) teaching patriotism is a recurring phenomenon. From the beginning of their education children are conducted to be proud of their mother country and to be grateful for being brought from barbarious Africa. This feature is most visibly present in the two novels by A.C. Clarke. 16

The headmaster in Amongst Thistles and Thorns takes the matter very seriously and every morning, besides reciting prayers and hymns, pupils sing a patriotic song Rule, Britannia! He also explains to them that they will never be slaves thanks to the British who freed them unlike the Americans who kept Africans enslaved for 30 more years. In one of his discussions with his friend Lester the narrator learns that he should be thanking the British for delivering his ancestors from Africa to a British colony because being an African means one "can't go to a school [...] and there ain't no books in Africa [...] and in Africa [...] [one] couldn't attend the Queen's Birthday parade" (Clarke, Thorns 171). As the reader can see in pupils' imagination England is a great country. 16

Sometimes, when the headmaster is in a good mood, he collects a few of the pupils around the globe and spins it. They can see only the red colour with which countries of the British Empire are painted and says to them that it is their empire giving them a feeling of gratification of belonging to such a powerful and grand country. He teaches them to be proud of their colonizer, Great Britain. 17

Patriotism plays an eminent role in Growing Up Stupid Under the Union Jack as well. It seems that the narrator is aware of the ever-present propaganda because he says that he "live[s] in [...] Union-jacked time" (Clarke, Union Jack 133). During his years at the primary school World War II is raging in the world. Every morning the headmaster forces the children to pray very long for the "men who ha[s] discovered [them]" (Clarke, Union Jack 14) because, being black Britons in the Little England (as Barbados is often called at that time), it is their duty to do something, too. And so they pray for the King and all British representatives. Then under his conduct the pupils sing a British patriotic song Rule, Britannia!. However, the narrator observes that not one of them "[remembers] to pray for the families of the Barbadian lost or dead at sea" (Clarke, Union Jack 15). They are more concerned about the distant mother country than their immediate surroundings and homes. 17

In Annie John teaching patriotism is not such a significant theme as in the two previous books but it can still be found in suggestions. As a reward for her educational success the narrator gets a book Roman Britain. She also attends Brownie Scout meetings (scouting is of British origin) where the girls are divided into four groups named after the creatures from the Celtic mythology: elves, pixies, fairies, and gnomes. At these meetings the scouts are gathered around the British flag and pledge allegiance to their country, meaning England. The narrator also remembers her old notebooks which have "on their covers a picture of a wrinkled-up woman wearing a crown on her head and a neckful and armfuls of diamonds and pearls" (Kincaid 40), the Queen. It is a proof that from an early age children are raised to love and be grateful to their mother country for taking care of them and their education. However, there is a difference between the curriculums of the secondary school portrayed in Annie John and two other books dealing with secondary education in the Caribbean. The narrator says that at school they have to "know the answer to many questions about the West Indies" (Kincaid 76) that the teachers ask, even those students who come from England. It indicates that the curriculums have already changed and concentrate also on Caribbean identity. 17

All the good and beautiful things the pupils are taught about England and in which they believe are being tested when the inspector comes to the primary school of Mr Blackman. The inspector comes from Great Britain and, of course, is white. The situation is nicely described in a quote by Kamugisha who says that "[t]here is never a doubt about the authority that both produces and sanctions violence in the colony" (Kamugisha 12). The inspector is depicted as "dressed in the white of colonial power" (Clarke, Thorns 176) with a luxurious tin he uses as his sandwich box and a "shining linen napkin like one […] [from] the Front Road" (Clarke, Thorns 179). The Front Road represents the minority of rich, white inhabitants of the village for whom most of the village women work. The edges of the visitor's sandwich are trimmed as it is always done for important people and his drink is lemonade with white sugar, commodity, which is very expensive and none of the black people in the book can afford it. And, of course, he drives a new, good, English car. The inspector mirrors the embodiment of prosperity. 18

But for the starved children observing the inspector seated on the platform so that the whole class can see him well while eating is like a torture. He does not seem to be bothered with it at all, although he asks the headmaster whether he regularly gives the children biscuits and Carnation milk donated by the British government and Queen. Then he inspects their hair and ears and the first part of the inspection is over. The second part is very stressful for both, the headmaster and pupils. The inspector starts to ask difficult questions because, according to the narrator, he wants to prove them that they do not know as much as he does. His eyes are cool and uncaring and the narrator compares them to bayonets. Pupils begin to cry and he whips them thinking that they cry because they are dumb, unaware of the fact that the reason for their crying is that he "sat in front of [them] and ate, while [they] were starving" (Clarke, Thorns 179). His flogging is even more brutal than Mr Blackman's. It is "without any feeling […] as if he were still in the midst of slavery" (Clarke, Thorns 179). This episode reflects that the behaviour of colonizers is not different from the times when slavery was practiced and the talk about Little England and being Englishman with all its priviledges means nothing to the white British people who are always given the learners as examples. 19

The idea of Great Britain as a wonderful country can be negatively influenced by an encounter between the children and the English sailors during the Second World War in Growing Up Stupid Under the Union Jack. They do not behave gentlemanly, they beat them and do not apologize and they do not always play by the rules as they can see during their game of cricket. These are supposed to be those great men and heroes who defend the whole British Empire, including Barbados, and democracy against Nazism and forces that try to destroy them. What is more, the boys know from the gossip that not even the whores in town like the sailors because they are too cheap and "[c]heapness [comes] to mean English" (Clarke, Union Jack 47). The learners are astonished by that because they are taught that anything English or English-made is the finest. 19

3 – Teachers' Relationships with Pupils 21

3.1 Punishments, Mockery and Rewards 21

3.2 Sexual Abuse of Pupils 29

4 - Teachers' Relationships with Other People 34

Conclusion 40

Notes 43

Works Cited 46

Primary Sources 46

Secondary Sources 46

Resumé 48

Résumé 49

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