This paper argues that it is important to realise that Trinidadian author Earl Lovelace’s 1979 novel The Dragon Can’t Dance presents an implicit but identifiable stratigraphic history of Trinidadian carnival practices in formal, social and political development, from European and African origins, through the colonial era, to independence in 1962 and beyond. To be able to identify how Lovelace relates the political development of Trinidadian carnival is to be positioned to analyse, crucially, why his novel presents its main narrative as detailing in particular with a crisis of social and cultural politics in post-independence, contemporary Trinidad from the late 1950s to the early 1970s. To understand why the titular dragon of Lovelace’s novel cannot dance come the text’s conclusion, and why Lovelace wishes to indicate that the cessation of the dance is so telling about changes and even fractures in Trinidadian society, one needs to know via historicist close reading what that dance had once meant politically to the people of Trinidad as a voice of collective self-identification.

In other words, once one understands the novel’s colonial-era historical contexts, surrounding representations of carnival’s cultural politics as a means of communal anti-colonial rebellion, one is better placed to realise the political force of the novel’s depictions of carnival’s declining radical potentiality in the independence era. One perceives much more fully the pertinence of Lovelace’s portrayal of how post-independence competitive economics have begun to supplant the old anti-colonial Trinidadian doctrine, once celebrated so vibrantly in raucous street festivity, of ‘All o’ we is one’.