Caliban Inside And Out Essay Research Paper

Caliban Inside And Out Essay, Research Paper Caliban Inside and Out Question: Compare or contrast the ways in which roberto Fernandez Retamar and George Lamming

Caliban Inside And Out Essay, Research Paper

Caliban Inside and Out

Question: Compare or contrast the ways in which roberto Fernandez Retamar and George Lamming

construct national identity through the figure of Caliban. Use Shakespeare’s “The Tempest”

if you need to to discuss Caliban.

In order to discuss the ways in which Retamar and Lamming have

constructed a national identity through Caliban it is essential to discuss the

cultural background of these writers. Retamar and Lamming are about as

dissimilar as night and day, and this is evident in both the lives that they

have led, as well as the essays that they have constructed. Their

differences have come from their experiences, and how they have

attempted to establish an identity for themselves and their people. It would

be easy to label them the ?pessimist Retamar,? and the ?optimist Lamming,?

or the Communist Retamar, and the Imperialist Lamming, yet this would

oversimplify a definition that is in no way simple. Rather, I shall use the

terms internal and external. For both of these men have traveled abroad in

their studies, and in their solidifying of the concept of Caliban, each has

chosen a separate point of view to attempt to identify the same ideal. For

Retamar his focus, as well as his point of view is wholly internal, while for

Lamming he looks on from the outside, the external, and writes of what

comes from Caliban, and how the world sees it.

I shall begin with Retamar. Here is a man who had tried early in his

life to give a face to Caliban. Retamar, a Marxist writer, described

Caliban by first pointing out that his very name is Shakespeare?s anagram

for cannibal. He is meant to be an Anthropophagus, a bestial eater of his

own kind. This was quite clearly an illustrious exaggeration on the part of

Shakespeare, and yet in Shakespeare?s time there were certainly islands

whose inhabitants would not hesitate to eat human flesh. But rather than

dwell on the cannibalistic or monstrous aspects of Caliban, as that would

surely not lend a helping hand toward the creation of a national identity,

Retamar focuses, from the beginning, on the one single aspect of Caliban

that has a meaning for him — rebellion. ?Our symbol is not Ariel, as Rodo

thought, ?he says, ?but rather Caliban. . . what is our history, what is our

culture, if not the history and culture of Caliban? (Retamar-14).

Retamar, as did Lamming, traveled in his youth, and taught school in

the United States. He had a chance to be away from his ?third world?

roots, and yet at the first sign of rebellion in Cuba, at the first opportunity

to be a part of the ongoing process of change, he left the U.S. He had to

go back to the islands, to be a part of the internal struggle. He tells of

having written articles supporting the downfall of Batista, and as soon as

he finds out that Batista has been ousted, and that Fidel Castro is the new

ruler of Cuba he leaves the U.S. He leaves a prestigious teaching job at

Columbia University in order to go back to Cuba where he teaches for more

than 30 years. Why did he leave? Because to Retamar, being a

descendant of Caliban means being a revolutionary. It means being

someone who wants change, and who pushes for change. Yet change, for

him, can only come from within. He wants desperately to be a part of the

creation of a culture that is unique. Not Latin-American, or

Ibero-American, etc, but something that is new.

Retamar even expresses a feeling akin to guilt at the proposal of the

use of Caliban as the symbol of his people, ?In proposing Caliban as our

symbol, I am aware that it is not entirely ours, that it is also an alien

elaboration, although in this case based on our concrete realities. But how

can this alien quality be entirely avoided?? (Retamar-16). Of course

Retamar does manage to escape this guilt when he credits Lamming and

Brathwaite with being the first writers to concretely connect the character,

Caliban, to their respective countries which today make up the modern day


Retamar lived long in the islands, and drank heavily from the chalice

of Marxist rhetoric, this is evident in such passages of his as, ?Our culture

is — and can only be — the child of revolution, of our multisecular rejection of

all colonialisms.? (Retamar-38). It is also interesting to compare the

similarities between Retamar and Shakespeare?s Caliban. While away from

Prospero and gathering wood Caliban comes upon Stephano and Trinculo.

He immediately begins to offer his obeisance to these two new men, whom

he has never met before. He does this because, for him, this union must

not only be better than his relationship with Prospero, but through this new

allegiance he can have Prospero killed, and thus his immediate problem

solved. The similarity that I see here is that Retamar was willing to speak

out against Batista, although terrified, so he used a pen-name. He finally

became distraught with the knowledge that it was quite possible that

Batista would reign in Cuba forever, so he leaves and goes out in to the

U.S. (the woods). Yet when he hears of Castro?s success he quickly rushes

back to offer his allegiance to his new master. Perhaps Retamar is more

Caliban than even he realises.

George Lamming is a completely different voice on the matter. He is

an exile by choice, and happy about it if one were to assume anything from

the title of his book, The Pleasures of Exile. He sees Caliban as more of a

?condition? than a cultural identity, yet unlike Retamar, he is looking from the

outside, inward. Having exiled himself to London, he writes from the

vantage point of a comfortable onlooker. He is not touched by the events

that happen in the Caribbean anywhere near as much as is Retamar, and

yet his thoughts seem to go much deeper and give a substantially greater

volume to the definition of what it means to be ?Caliban.?

Lamming writes from many different perspectives in his book,

possibly in an internal attempt to identify that which is Caliban. He uses

different identities, rhetorical conversations, even disguises. An example of

this is found when he describes an hypothetical encounter, and subsequent

conversation between an English woman, and three young Caribbean boys,

Singh (who represents the Indian contingent of the Caribbean), Lee (who

represents the Asian contingent), and Bob (who represents the African

contingent). His little African boy ?Bob? never goes into detail about how he

came by his name. Upon the woman asking about his name his reply is,

?Bob whatever you like? (Lamming-18) This is a way of pointing out, early

on, that some of the cultures that have flowed into the Caribbean are much

more dominant, as in Singh and Lee, and have retained some of their

original identity, while others are submissive, a they have been since they

were first brought forth from Africa into slavery, like ?Bob?, or in Lamming?s

case, ?George.? Neither of these are names that one would have found

among an Ashanti native tribe in Africa at the time, but were most

common in England, as well as the U.S.

For all of the voices that Lamming uses, and all of the guises, he

seems to be pointing to the fact that all of this variety has gone into what is

now the Caribbean, and hence Caliban. The many have become one.

?Caliban cannot be revealed in any relation to himself; for he has no self

which is not a reaction to circumstances imposed upon his life?

(Lamming-107). Caliban is, as Jose? Vasconcelos writes, a new and unique

race, ?made with the treasure of all previous ones, the final race, the

cosmic race.?1 Lamming reinforces this in the following, ?Caliban is the

very climate in which men encounter the nature of ambiguities, and in

which, according to his desire, each man attempts a resolution by trying to

slay the past? (Lamming-107). He describes Caliban?s history as turbulent,

as well he should. There has been civil unrest and uprisings in that part of

the world from the day that it was colonised, and henceforth enslaved, until

the present day. Lamming has left all of this behind to go into his self

imposed exile in London, and yet he cannot leave the ?identity? behind, for he

is the very embodiment of the identity that he has tried so hard to define.

To leave his homeland, and take his identity with him is not the real

difficulty. ?The difficulty,? he says,? is to take from Caliban without suffering

the pollution innate in his nature. To yield to Caliban?s natural generosity is

to risk the deluge: for his assets — such as they are — are dangerous, since

they are encrusted, buried deep in the dark. It is not by accident that his

skin is black; for black, too, is the colour of his loss; the absence of any

soul? (Lamming 107-108).

Even though Lamming has chosen to live on the ?outside? and write

about the ?inside? he has a good sense of the spirit of what is Caliban. Yet

unlike Retamar, Lamming has another sense. He has a sense of the

people around him, of the people in the Metropolis that is London. Where

Retamar has made up his mind that Caliban is practically synonymous with

?revolution,? Lamming sees Caliban as a potential for growth and change.

Retamar?s views are probably somewhat isolated after 30 years of writing

and teaching within the Communist Castro regime, he lacks the ability, it

would seem, to be able to see anything beyond the past. He carries the

past with him. Yet Lamming looks to the future. He describes the points

of view of three hypothetical children, of different origins in an attempt to

get at the future. Perhaps the most optimistic view that he offers us

comes from a discussion that he has with a young boy in London.

Lamming, after having grown excited that the boy didn?t just accept his

answer of having come from the West Indies at face value, but rather gets

a map to look it up, says that though, ?That boy was no more than nine

years old. If he can preserve that spirit of curiosity and concreteness, his

generation will save West Indians and others the torture of adult

indifference? (Lamming-16). To Lamming, this boy represents the future,

and the good that may still come out of that which is Caliban.

Lamming, George, The Pleasures of Exile, 1992, Michigan

Retamar, Roberto Fernandez, Caliban, and Other Essays, 1989, Minnesota

Shakespeare, William, The Tempest