Introduction: The Power of Exile

  • Leah Reade Rosenberg


Between 1934 and 1938, strikes and protests spread across the British Caribbean from Belize to Jamaica in what many historians and literary writers have characterized as a revolution. Politicizing the working class and peasantry, these rebellions acted as a catalyst for the rise of national consciousness and movements for self-government. Writing in the 1930s, the Jamaican writer Una Marson captured the power many contemporary intellectuals saw in the labor revolts when she described the 1938 uprising in Jamaica as “the birth of a soul.” In the only remaining fragment of a play Marson wrote about this revolt, the middle-class protagonist, Peter, asks a woman friend to join him in the streets.1 When she asks where they are going, he explains that it is “a new sort of maternity case. The birth of a soul.” “Whose?” she asks, and he replies, “Our country’s.” Marson was but one of the many anglophone Caribbean intellectuals in the 1930s who saw the creation of national arts as an integral part of this national awakening. Whether located in the Caribbean or living in exile abroad, Caribbean writers dedicated themselves to establishing authentic national literatures based on working-class and peasant culture. Not infrequently, they referred to this national, folk literature as the soul of the nation or of the people.2


Literary History Black Working National Literature Folk Culture Cultural Nationalism 
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© Leah Reade Rosenberg 2007

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  • Leah Reade Rosenberg

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