Orlando Patterson Biography
(1940– ), The Children of Sisyphus, An Absence of Ruins, Die the Long Day
Jamaican novelist, born in Jamaica, educated at Kingston University and the London School of Economics; he subsequently taught at Harvard University. In his first novel, The Children of Sisyphus (1964), Patterson, like Roger Mais, exposes the squalor, violence, and dehumanization of Jamaican slum dwellers, but he also suggests Sisyphus-like defiance and resilience especially through the story of Dinah, a prostitute who attempts to escape from her degrading circumstances. In the process, he paints a sympathetic portrait of the Rastafarians, millenarian cultists who regarded the former Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie as divine. An Absence of Ruins (1967) turns from social documentation to the psychological analysis of alienation in an educated, black Jamaican. Die the Long Day (1972) puts the author's researches to good effect by portraying a slave plantation in eighteenth-century Jamaica. Patterson's reputation as a novelist rests largely on his first novel, while his fame as a scholar grew with such books as The Sociology of Slavery (1967) and Slavery and Social Death (1982). Freedom in the Making of Western Culture (vol 1, 1991) is the first of a two-volume analysis of concepts of freedom from sixth-century Greece onwards. In 1971 Patterson was awarded an honorary degree from Harvard University.