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Abstract

When George Lamming says that “most West Indians of [his] generation were born in England,” he refers to the process of diasporic identity formation that took place as West Indian migrants relocated to Britain and bonded as a community through oral culture, particularly “the kind of banter which goes between islander and islander,” discovering their commonalities and privileging them over individual island identities, what I term dialogic diaspora formation. This paper presents a close reading of the train scene in Lamming’s The Emigrants as a transitional poem and illustration of dialogic diaspora formation. Characters in The Emigrants start this diaspora building on-ship in the first half of the novel and their community formation is reflected in the narrative technique that Lamming uses: a collective and ambiguous sense of narrator and narration, which, elsewhere, he calls “the collective human substance.” The train scene/poem is a moment of transition in the novel, positioned as it is between the port and the city and between sections of prose narrative. In the scene/poem, collective narration morphs into the competing and overlapping first-person voices as the emigrants connect as a diasporic community over their recognition of British brands and over a disappointing tea service. Both the recognition and the disappointment reveal the depth of imperial cultural hegemony, allow the emigrants to bond by critiquing the concept of the “mother country” as a land of milk and honey, and display Lamming’s great wit and ability to critique the colonial experience.

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