Sam Selvon's Dialectal Style and Fictional Strategy


144 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-7748-0364-9
DDC C813'.54





Reviewed by Kenrick E.A. Mose

Kenrick E.A. Mose is an associate professor of Spanish Studies at the
University of Guelph.


Wyke’s comprehensive study of the rфle and evolution of dialect in
the work of Trinidadian novelist Samuel Selvon, is a welcome addition to
the criticism on West Indian literature.

Wyke brings to bear on his task an insightful knowledge of Trinidad
Creole English, with its varied flections and social implications, and
the linguistic and literary background to make interesting comparisons
with more standard English and its literature. He has also made good use
of the existing bibliography to illuminate his theme and bring it within
a more general discussion of the problematic choice of linguistic

The preface gives basic background facts on Selvon; the introduction
explains Wyke’s methodology, which focuses on linguistic, textual
analysis within such extratextual factors as period, audience, and
environment to account for Selvon’s style. A discussion of Trinidad
Creole English, its features, and its relation to Standard English
prepares the reader for the examination of Selvon’s works that follows
in the next three chapters, each of which is devoted to a
chronologically defined cluster of the fiction. First is the early
period, represented by A Brighter Sun (1952), An Island Is a World
(1955), Lonely Londoners (1956), Ways of Sunlight (1957), and Turn Again
Tiger (1958). The middle period covers I Hear Thunder (1963), The
Housing Lark (1965), The Plains of Caroni (1970), and Those Who Eat the
Cascadura (1972). The late period includes Moses Ascending (1975) and
Moses Migrating (1983).

Using close textual analysis, Wyke argues coherently that several
factors—including audience, natural linguistic evolution among the
human beings who constitute his material, sense of place, and authorial
perspective—may explain notable differences in the modulation of
dialect. Wyke is generally sympathetic to the many dilemmas faced by an
author whose major strength came from the authenticity of his language
and to Selvon’s response to them. Yet Wyke is also sensitive to the
fact that Selvon, at times, seems lost in grappling with changes in his
world and within himself, so that, especially in the middle and late
periods, the dialectal voice may be reduced to a false representation.

An interesting analysis, clearly written and cogently composed, this
book is a solid contribution to the basic problem of voice in West
Indian narrative. Its quality is marred by the excessive number of
typos, which careful proofreading should have eliminated.


Wyke, Clement H., “Sam Selvon's Dialectal Style and Fictional Strategy,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 25, 2024,