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Minty Alley

Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: McTeague to Nancy [Freeman] Mitford Biography

C. L. R. James's only novel, written before he left Trinidad in the mid-1930s, published in London in 1936. Set in a ‘barrack-yard’ in a poor part of Port of Spain, it is the story of Haynes, a young black man from a lower middle-class background, who on his mother's death has to find cheaper lodgings. He takes a room at No. 2, Minty Alley, a community of working-class people dominated by women: the landlady Mrs Rouse; her spirited niece Maisie; the Nurse, who is having a clandestine affair with Mrs Rouse's lover of eighteen years, Benoit; Miss Atwell, another lodger; and the trusted East Indian maid Philomen. Minty Alley's day-to-day dramas are seen from the perspective of Haynes, who has little previous experience of ‘real life’. Initially a voyeuristic outsider, but increasingly a participant in events, he becomes a confidant and authority figure for the other inhabitants, who defer to his superior education and seek his guidance and judgement. By the time the Minty Alley group breaks up and Haynes moves on, he has undergone a change, and acquired a new maturity. In his treatment of the estrangement of the West Indian intellectual from the common people, James reflects a unique identification with the vitality of those at the bottom of society, and his pioneering concern for class, colour, and race relations in the Caribbean was to become central to the works of writers who were to follow.

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