The idea of art and any literary forms as a way to break away from implanted ideas can be exemplified in Sam Selvon’s the Lonely Londoners which breaks away and challenges the normative literary ideologies of the period.
In the Lonely Londoners Sam Selvon has distinguished himself from the other authors of his period throughout different aspects and on both the form and the content. First, the uniqueness and special features of the “form” of his book can be divided into three aspects; the audience, the structure of the plot and the language used in the text. I will start with the audience and how Sam Selvon managed to write a book that addresses two different audiences by using different techniques. Indeed, one of Sam Selvon’s goal was to touch as many people as possible and not only a Caribbean audience – and he uses a lot of processes in this text to reach this goal as I will show and explain later – as he explained when questioned about it; “What I try to do with my work is try to universalize it: … I never wrote for Caribbean people, I wrote to show Caribbean people to other parts of the world and to let people look and identify” (A Passage Back Home: A Personal Reminiscence of Samuel Selvon, Austin Clarke, p.76) Thus, the Lonely Londoners is addressing Caribbean immigrants – which is understandable as a Trinidad-born writer – as much as English people – to try and follow the Birtish literary institutions so that his work could be received and accepted in the “cultural centre” and thus be accepted; “It will also become clear that Selvon’s ?ction dramatizes and articulates many of the anxieties and concerns of both mainstream society and culture, and marginalized black subcultures in 1950s Britain.” (Form and Language in Sam Selvon’s the Lonely Londoners, Nick Bentley, p.68) This fiction is as much for the Caribbean subcultural groups that were growing and establishing in the late 1950s in Britain and who were trying to construct a solid and distinct black identity and collectivity and who could easily identify themselves in the characters and the plot, as for the “mainstream white audience” who could receive this fiction as some kind of “reportage novel”; “But tell me, sir, why are so many Jamaicans immigrating to England?” (The Lonely Londoners, p.7). Thus, the Lonely Londoners not only speaks to two distinct groups of “addressee” it also combines two literary genres which are realism – the faithful representation of reality – and modernism – to overturn the traditional modes of representation and express the new sensibilities of the time; “Selvon’s ?ction engages with this understanding of the ideological function of the realist mode, but his engagement with realism reveals a writer who is questioning the political assumptions associated with the form.”(Form and Language in Sam Selvon’s the Lonely Londoners, Nick Bentley, p.70) Furthermore, modernist writings are often seen as something that is addressed to more cultivated people with some educational privileges and thus which are inaccessible for the working class or marginalized groups. Even the representation of these same marginalized groups in modernist writings were not destined to them and wasn’t seen as a way to create a collective community or a way to transmit a political commitment. However, Sam Selvon uses modernist techniques at the same time as realist techniques – which carry according to ideological ideas a “political role” in fiction and who are the techniques convey a “committed literature” the most in order to make the readers see the political inequalities, inconsistencies and abuses of power – which completely puts into perspective the normative ideological view of these techniques. For example, the use of stream of consciousness in the Lonely Londoners (p.92 to p.102) can once again be seen from two different perspectives. First, it can be seen as a way for Sam Selvon to show the alienation, marginalization and loneliness of the Caribbean immigrants in London, but it can also be seen as a way to link the “individual” to a “collective subcultural” identity of similar immigrants which completely echoes the feelings of the characters themselves who all feel alone in this new city and culture and who can’t find their place “Is a kind of place where hate and disgust and avarice and malice and sympathy and sorrow and pity all mix up. Is a place where everyone is your enemy and your friend” (the Lonely Londoners, p.27) and the sense of collectivity they sense within each other “Always every Sunday morning they coming to Moses, like if is confession, sitting down on the bed, on the floor, on the chairs, everybody asking what happening but nobody like know what happening” (the Lonely Londoners, p.135). Furthermore, it introduces a “stream of consciousness” voice that takes the shape of all the black-working class characters. With that in consideration, the use of the stream of consciousness technique in the Lonely Londoners is “not primarily to indicate an individual’s alienated experience of the modern metropolis but to show its applicability for the political representation of black individuals as a collective experience” (Form and Language in Sam Selvon’s the Lonely Londoners, Nick Bentley, p.72). Moreover, this assumed distance between the modernist techniques and the preconceived ideological implications of literary fiction can also be seen in the construction of the plot in the novel. Indeed, the Lonely Londoners presents the reader with fragmented narratives of individuals as an expression of individual experience. Once again, the use of this narrative technique has a dual function in the novel. On the one hand, it conveys the experience of marginalization, alienation and loneliness of these Caribbean immigrants who arrives from a colony to the metropolitan centre, which is London, throughout “fragmented expressions”. On the other hand, – and in some contradictory and paradoxical way – the gathering of all these diverse narratives end up contributing to the creation of a collective narration with minority representation.