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Brother Man

The Hills Were Joyful Together

Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Bridgnorth Shropshire to Anthony Burgess [John Anthony Burgess Wilson Burgess] Biography

the second of R. Mais's three novels, published in 1954; it features the Kingston shanty town that was also the setting for Mais's earlier The Hills Were Joyful Together. The book's eponymous protagonist is a shoemaker and an adherent of the Rastafarian religious movement that began in Jamaica in the early 1930s, a response by a minority of the under-privileged black community to the hopelessness of their situation but for its first three decades seen as a threat by the majority. Brother Man—whose actual name is John Power—and his Christ-like progress is the focus of the story; with his growing reputation as healer and holy man he seems to embody the roles of both John the Baptist and Jesus for the urban proletariat among whom he lives. But the people of Orange Lane as a group express clearly the author's socio-political commitment. There are three central pairs of characters: Brother Man and Minette, a young woman who is physically attracted to him but whom he apparently thinks of only as a daughter; Girlie and Papacita, who passes counterfeit coins and whose moral degeneracy contrasts with Brother Man's spiritual purity; and the sisters Jesmina and the disturbed Cordelia, who represents a force for evil. Papacita desires Minette and vows to find a way to separate her from Brother Man. The discrediting of Brother Man begins when counterfeit coins are found planted in his house; eventually, general feelings of betrayal make people turn against him. Attacked by a mob, he is stoned unconscious. Three days later, in a symbolic resurrection, he regains consciousness, to learn that neighbours have been enquiring after him, and his faith in brotherhood appears to be confirmed. The structure of the novel is complex and original, likened by E. K. Brathwaite to that of jazz, broken into five episodic chapters each introduced by a ‘Chorus of People in the Lane’ interpreting the action, establishing the mood, and preparing the reader for what is to happen. The language effectively alternates between Standard English and Jamaican patois, with biblical echoes in Brother Man's simple and direct expression.

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