The Theme in Caribbean and Mexican Studies

The present state of every country of the world has been determined by the course of human history. The present economic, political, and social situation is nothing more than the outcome of the net of historical changes and past events. When studying some country, it is not only useful but also necessary to resort to different literary sources to analyze the past of the country in its connection with the present situation. There are several events in the world history that have affected all countries and they were the main factors that determined the particular development of the world: colonization, slavery, and plantation. These phenomena are the decisive ones in the development of the Caribbean, their effect may be traced throughout history and it is clearly observed in the present situation in the region as well. The five literary sources studied in the framework of this course contain the same ideas and in complex they make up a bright picture that resembles a quilt where the each author makes his/her contribution to the general image of the Caribbean from the historical perspective.

Since the present work considers the events from historical perspective, it is necessary to start with the first important event that is analyzed by Crosby in “The Columbian Exchange”: Columbus’s discoveries in their relation to the Caribbean. As the title suggests, the book is devoted to the description of the biological and cultural consequences of one of the most controversial historical events, the voyages of Columbus and their well-known consequences. The book provides the smallest details that contribute to the understanding of the remote period in the Caribbean history. At first it may seem that Crosby writes about biological consequences of the events of 1492, and the one who wants to find them in the book will surely succeed in it but the cultural changes in societies connected by the voyages are much more important. We get to know that “the Spanish had created in the Caribbean the wherewithal to conquer half a world” (Crosby 77). The author offered information about the animals that were brought to the islands and influenced the Conquest a lot. This episode deserves special consideration due to its symbolism. Crosby states that “three animals which played the leading roles in that conquest were the hidalgo (the Spanish nobleman), the pig, and the horse” (Crosby 77). The author’s putting the Spaniard into one semantic chain with a pig and a horse is rather symbolic: he disapproves of the invasive actions of the conquistadors. However, purely “biological” information is of great importance as well. In fact, the abuse of indigenous population started at that time and oppression and invasion had their roots there. The diseases that were brought by the conquistadors and turned out to be mortal for the indigenous people were the first ordeal that the natives had to come through, the subsequent ordeals included slavery, colonization, and plantation.

The book “Labyrinth of Solitude” by Octavio Paz is significant due to its zest and originality of deep psychology disclosed by the author throughout the book that is useful for the understanding of the nature of the Mexicans. It may seem that the essays gathered under the title “Labyrinth of Solitude” let the reader lean over the edge and look straight into the soul of a Mexican to see endless solitude that fills his soul. The whole book is full of picturesque details and deep thought-provoking episodes but one of the brightest examples of great importance for us is the description of the Mexicans’ attitude towards fiesta: “a return to a remote and undifferentiated state, prenatal or presocial” (Paz 52). Fiesta is an attempt to feel communality; it is an attempt to find a real Mexican self that has been hidden with the help of self-denial. It has turned out to be the consequence of the mixture of two cultures: the indigenous one and the Spanish culture that imposed itself on the Mexicans and gave rise to the feeling of solitude. This book is inestimable due to its deep psychology that may be also applied to other peoples who have lost their indigenous identity with the arrival and conquest of the Europeans.

Though the psychological world of the Mexicans is masterfully depicted by the author, the primary interest of the present research lies in the sphere of history, mainly the Conquest and events related to it. This accounts for the special interest to the fifth chapter, “The Conquest and Colonization”, for this chapter ties the book with other sources analyzed in this paper through the same events and phenomena, the conquest and colonization. The common erroneous and shallow opinion suggests the existence of nothing more than a primitive aboriginal society before the Spaniards’ arrival in Mexico and the Caribbean. However, Paz stated that when the conquistadors arrived in Mexico “they found complete and refined civilizations” (89). Then he stated that “Mesoamerica was made up of a complex of autonomous peoples, nations and cultures, each with its own traditions… Mesoamerica was a historical world itself” (Paz 90). He also sets a striking example of the parallel between Mesoamerica and “the Hellenic world at the moment when Rome began its career of world domination” (Paz 90). The consideration of the previous book and this one has enabled us to draw a conclusion that the Conquest appeared to be a tragedy in the life of the Caribbean and Mexican people as it imposed new rules, culture, almost resulted in extinction of indigenous population because of the European diseases, brought slavery, colonization, and feeling of painful solitude of people. The idea uttered by Paz, in fact, reveals the truth and explains many things with the help of several words: “colonial world… closed itself within itself” (111).

The theme of colonialism is carried on by Mintz in his “Sweetness and Power”, the book about sweetness of sugar and bitterness of colonial life. It is the book about the evolution of sugar industry and changing attitudes towards this commodity that once used to cost more than gold and was the real sign of wealth. It may be shown by the following words: “Sugar and gold were both luxury imports; as medicines they even overlapped slightly in use” (Mintz 100). The anthropologist gives detailed account of the changing attitude towards sugar in the course of time, from almost magical substance to the commodity consumed by common people everyday without noticing it and without presuming the past importance of the substance. However, the thing of primary importance for us is not sugar itself; it is the colonial world of the Caribbean that has made sugar so widely spread. The bitterness of the process of production described by Mintz creates an eloquent opposition between the sweetness and painful process of sugar production. The author gives the reader the opportunity to get acquainted with sugar plantations and hard conditions that are imposed on the poor slaves in order to satisfy the British “sweet tooth” (Mintz 16). However, one more important factor concerning the Caribbean colonies is that they demonstrate the beginning of capitalist relations based on the division of labor on the plantations:

The specialization by skill and jobs, and the division of labor by age, gender, and condition into crews, shifts and ‘gangs,’ together with the stress upon punctuality and discipline, are features associated more with industry than agriculture – at least in the sixteenth century (Mintz 45).

Thus, sweetness was bought with hard labor, sweat, and blood of the Caribbean people who got only poor economic development in exchange.

The book “The Negro” by Du Bois is of special interest for the present work as it establishes the connection between all colonized people, not only people who have African descent due to its special emphasis on slavery. If other sources analyzed in the present work only tackle the phenomenon of slavery, this book is devoted to the phenomenon that has also played an important role in the history of the Caribbean and the present situation of the region. Du Bois offers a detailed excursion into the origin of slavery as “a system whereby captives in war are put to tasks about the homes and in the fields” (143). Then he traces the development and evolution of the relationship between white people and black people in the course of history. However, the work does not belong to imaginative literature, it is rather a historical investigation of the phenomenon of slavery and it is the main strong point of the source. It provides numerous historical details that explain the significance of slavery as the decisive factor in the historical development of the Caribbean creating obstacles and stifling the development of the region. This book, in complex with the previous one analyzed, proves great importance of the era of slavery for the Caribbean.

Finally, the most modern source should be considered, “A Small Place” by Jamaica Kincaid that sums up the information offered by other authors stressing the negative consequences of colonialism for Antigua. The zest is in the fact that the author is a woman and her work differs from those analyzed above by the passion that may be felt in the words and read between the lines. Her final word may be used as the summing one, the authoress presents contemporary situation in the Caribbean and she goes back to the past as well, searching the roots of the present poor situation in her motherland. Antigua may be used for the Caribbean on the whole since it reflects general situation of the region with its post-colonial vestiges, poverty, and distorted self-awareness of the people. Kincaid describes the present situation on the island as paradoxical in richness of natural beauty and extreme poverty of the inhabitants in contrast with the tourists who come to admire Antiguan nature and turn a blind eye to the problems of the people. The tourists, in fact, awoke an association with the intruders that once came to the land along with their leader, Columbus. They have broken into their home in the same way as modern trespassers do today.

The authoress also reminisces about the colonial past of the country when it was under the rule of Great Britain and she draws the parallels with the poor present of the island. Colonialism is presented by Kincaid as the worst punishment, it has resulted in the distortion of indigenous culture and absorption of the English one with subsequent elimination of the notion of racism so frequently exercised towards the Antiguans but unrecognized by them. The colonial past has destroyed self-awareness of the Antiguans; even the language of intruders has been used for communication with one another. The island is occupied by foreign cars, foreign mansions and elite clubs but nothing is left to the native people (Kincaid 12). Thus, the themes of lost identity and ruinous consequences of colonialism are evident in the book.

Drawing a conclusion, it is necessary to state that the analyzed sources determine several factors that are accountable for the present poor situation in the Caribbean region: colonization, slavery, and plantation. The Columbian conquest manifested the beginning of inequality and oppression that lasted during centuries by means of oppression of indigenous people by slavery and hard work on plantations. The same ideas were carried through all the sources with the emphasis on the harmful outcomes of colonization and slavery: indigenous people lost their connection with their roots and with their country; it resulted in lost sense of identity and solitude of the people.

Works Cited

Crosby, Alfred W. The Columbian Exchange: Biological and Cultural Consequences of 1492. : Greenwood Publishing Group, 2003.

Du Bois, William Edward Burghardt and Gregg, Robert. The Negro. : University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001.

Kincaid, Jamaica. A Small Place. NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000.

Mintz, Sidney W. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. NY: Penguin (Non-Classics), 1986.

Paz, Octavo. The labyrinth of solitude: and the other Mexico ; Return to the labyrinth of solitude ; Mexico and the United States ; The philanthropic ogre. NY: Grove Press, 1985.

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