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Literature / A Brighter Sun

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A Brighter Sun is a novel by Trinidadian author Samuel Selvon, published in 1952.

Set in World War II-era Trinidad, the story centers on a young Indian native named Tiger, who is placed in an arranged marriage at age 16. Leaving home with his equally-young bride Urmilla, Tiger struggles to come to terms with his newly-acquired adult status and proving that he has, in fact, reached true manhood.

The story also delves into the lives of Tiger's multi-ethnic neighbors in his new community of Barataria, the racism that is both subtly and openly expressed there and throughout Trinidad at large, and how the nation as a whole is affected by the war happening hundreds of miles away from the Caribbean shores.

The book was Selvon's first of 10 novels, published by Longman Publishers.

Tropes present in A Brighter Sun:

  • Abusive Parents: Joe Martin's grand-aunt, Ma Lambie, frequently beat him during his childhood.
  • Accidental Misnaming: Tiger's boss, Chief, calls him John. It's played with in that Chief knows what Tiger's name actually is, but simply calls him John for ease of reference.
  • The Alcoholic: Sookdeo is the village drunkard, and can never go without a drink; some persons claim that he'll die from either too much rum or lack of it. The latter case turns out to be true; he refuses to have a drink when his land is taken over, having lost his reason and will for living.
  • Arranged Marriage: Tiger's marriage to Urmilla at age 16 is this to an extreme level—not only did he not know her before, he didn't even known about the wedding until his father told him about it.
  • Author Avatar: Tiger is noted in the novel's commentary to be Selvon's point-man on the unification of a racially-split Trinidad. Selvon himself, though Indian, was brought up with exposure to Creole food and culture.
  • Character Development: Tiger gets this over time, learning what it means to really be a man and to grow into maturity. Urmilla also grows, becoming more confident as a wife and mother.
  • Coming of Age Story
  • Cool Big Sis: Rita becomes this for Urmilla.
  • Cool Old Guy: Sookdeo.
  • Cultural Rebel: Tiger and Boysie. Tiger admits at one point that he was never into the habit of attending the various Indian feasts in his village, and he doesn't subscribe to the notion of only interacting with members of his own race. Boysie openly parades around with a black girlfriend, enjoying the stares he gets from old-fashioned Indians for it, and makes a point of hailing couples who are similarly mixed-raced whenever he passes them on the street.
  • Death of a Child: Tiger and Urmilla's second child dies.
  • Dinner with the Boss: Late into the story, Tiger invites two of his American bosses, who've long wanted to eat Indian cuisine in a genuine Indian home, to come to his home for dinner. Unfortunately, since Tiger decides to inform Urmilla of this the night before the scheduled home visit, Urmilla is put under pressure to make things go perfectly for the Americans. With help from Rita (and borrowing some of the latter's furniture, cutlery and an electrical wire to get electricity into the house), she manages to pull it off. Unfortunately, a drunken Tiger doesn't appreciate her effort and beats her for talking back to him, causing her to miscarry later.
  • Domestic Abuse: A regular occurrence between Joe and Rita, with Joe usually being the aggressor. However, Rita can dish out as much as she takes.
  • Executive Meddling: "A Brighter Sun" was not Selvon's first choice of a title for the novel, according to its foreword; instead, he had intended to call it "Soul and Soil," or "Highway in the Sun," the name which was eventually given to the novel's radio version 15 years after its first publication. Still, the current title is an appropriate one, as the foreword also admits.
    At the end of the novel, Tiger, chastened and humbled by experience, looks forward, as does the country he is made to represent, to a brighter sun, shedding its lambent light of independence, racial harmony, and increasing knowledge.
  • Happily Adopted: Henry, Rita's nephew, was left with her by her sister, who ran off to Venezuela with a man. Despite this, he's come to accept Joe and Rita as his parents, even calling them "Pa" and "Ma," and they care for him too, in part because Rita can't have children of her own.
    Joe: Don't mind Henry ain't my child, it's just as if he was mine.
  • Happily Married: Tall Boy and Mary. Tiger and Urmilla gradually work at becoming this.
  • Jerkass: Numerous characters, but Deen and his wife stand out in particular. Tiger gradually becomes this as well; however, he gets much-needed Character Development.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Tiger feels intense remorse for beating Urmilla, but it only comes after he's sobered up and gotten a What the Hell, Hero? from Joe.
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: In Joe's backstory, at age 16, he gives one to Ma Lambie in retaliation for her constant abuse of him. Tiger later inflicts this on Urmilla while drunk, causing her to miscarry.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Sookdeo.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Both Tiger and the narrative only ever refer to his American boss as Chief.
  • Parental Abandonment: Joe's mother left him with his grand-aunt Ma Lambie, and nobody ever knew who his father was. Also, Henry's mother left him with Joe and Rita (his uncle and aunt) to live with a boyfriend in Venezuela, and his father is out of the picture as well.
  • Rule of Symbolism: The sun as a figure of hope; hence, the novel's title. Also, sugar-cane fields as a figure of enslavement.
  • She Cleans Up Nicely: To prepare for Tiger's bosses coming home for dinner, Rita has Urmilla put on some makeup, including lipstick and rouge, despite Urmilla insisting Tiger won't like it. Unfortunately, Urmilla's right.
  • Shrinking Violet: Urmilla.
  • Supreme Chef: Both Rita and Urmilla.
  • This Is Unforgivable!: Near the end of the novel, Tiger calls out two doctors (one an Indian, one a Negro) who had earlier refused to come and see Urmilla in her moment of illness because of their assumptions born of racist elitism.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: Tiger and Rita.
  • Wham Line: "...the baby born dead.".
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Rita gives Tiger a savage telling-off when he expresses suspicion of Urmilla cheating on him (and the lecture takes up a whole long paragraph). Later on, Joe subjects Tiger to a much shorter but more threatening lecture for ignoring Urmilla in her time of illness shortly before her miscarriage.
    Joe: What happen? You don't see your wife at home sick? You carrying on like a little boy still. If I was your father, I beat you till you can't stand up.
  • Who Names Their Kid "Dude"?: Tiger's boss remarks on how odd his name is.
    Chief: How come you have such a funny name, John? Why did they call you Tiger?
    Tiger: I don't know, I must be resemble a tiger!
  • Would Hit a Girl: Joe Martin fights regularly with his common-law wife, Rita, and Tiger also recalls that Deen, another of his neighbors, once kicked his wife in front of everyone simply because she came into Tall Boy's shop while he was having a drink and asked him for money. Tiger himself, early in the novel, determines that he'll "bully the life out of" Urmilla if she doesn't do what he tells her. He later does beat Urmilla while drunk, but it results in her miscarrying.