Songs of Silence – LITERATURE NOTES ABOUT CURDELLA FORBES * Born in Claremont, Hanover, in Jamaica. * Taught at the University of the West Indies from 1990 to 1995. * She is currently a professor of Caribbean Literature at Howard University. CURDELLA FORBES’ NOVELS * Songs of Silence, 2003 * Flying with Icarus, 2003 * A Permanent Freedom, 2008 * From Nation to Diaspora: Samuel Selvon, George Lamming And the Cultural Performance of Gender, 2005 SUMMARY The book is about the recollections of a female narrator called Marlene (Nice).
Her recollections are dispersed chronologically, and appear to have no rational order, but many of the same characters can be found in most of the ‘stories’, which occur in and around the same district. SETTING * Rural Jamaica. * Recollections/ stories are set in the 1960’s. MAJOR CHARACTERS: Marlene, Effita, No Name, Nathan, Miss Minnie, Raymond, Ionie, Maas Barber, Long Man, Cudjoe Man, Dolly, Minna, Mr. Papacita. RECOLLECTIONS/ STORIES 1. ‘EFFITA’ This is a recollection of the Sunday ritual of taking food to Aunt Sare. Her habit of praying for the carrier of the food is explored in great detail.
The comedic telling of Effie’s death announcements is another detail that is explored. We learn what happens when she gives a wrong announcement for Melwyn, and no announcement for Son Son. This recollection ends with Effie’s death in 1995, with the implication that few people attended her funeral, despite the fact that most of the people in the district were related. SETTING: Green Town, Maaga Bay, Lucea, Montego Bay. CHARACTERS: Marlene/ Nice – the protagonist and narrator. Effita – the person who did informal death announcements for the district.
Son Son – the narrator’s male schoolmate who died, also Effie’s nephew. Melwyn – Marlene’s cousin who was shot by Chisel Bwoy, then given an incorrect death announcement by Effie. Aunt Sare – the elderly lady who was a mid-wife. She would pray for every child that delivered food for her. Ionie – Marlene’s mother Chisel Bwoy – the police constable who shot Melwyn Miss Zeta – the shop owner. Maas Levi – the only person in the district with a car, an old Chevrolet that the villagers called ‘May Reach’. Mass Rat – the carpenter and coffin maker. Miss Herfa – Man Teacher’s wife and a teacher herself.
Man Teacher – the principal of the local school. THEMES – death, old age. 2. ‘A STORY WITH NO NAME’ This is the story of a lady with no name. It is reputed that she was abandoned by her wealthy family. She is an anomaly in the district because she is high coloured, did not speak, was very expressive in church before her silence, and was reclusive. She put her reclusive nature on pause once a month, when she went to town in order to visit the post office to collect packages. The story gets interesting when she got pregnant and no-one knew the father.
The child became her life, and she shared him with no one, but kept him to herself. He turned out to be even more silent than his mother. It was, however, rumoured that Maas Barber, Marlene’s father, was the child’s father. In between the telling of this story, is Marlene’s explanation of her own silence. SETTING: Tam Briscoe Hill, Baltree District, CHARACTERS Marlene/ Nice – the protagonist and narrator. No Name – the light skinned lady who was related to the Briscoes (rich landowners in the district)Ionie – Marlene’s mother. Maas Barber – Marlene’s father. Magsie – Marlene’s sister.
Long Man – a traveler who used to pass through the district and stay at the narrator’s house. Luce Blagrove – the person who spread the rumour that Paul was Maas Barber’s child. Miss Clemmy – the lady who ran the post office. Paul – No Name’s son. Evert Briscoe – He was the only member of the Briscoe family who came home sometimes, he owned the piece of hill and the land that Maas Barber oversaw. THEMES: Racism, Alienation, Women in Society, Silence 3. ‘NATHAN’ This is the story of Nathan, Marlene’s brother. They were two years apart and were different from their other siblings because they were companions silence.
Details are told of Nathan’s extreme ‘tightness’, or thriftiness, versus his sister’s need to give everything away. He eventually married a woman whom he adored, despite the fact that she was very loud, and had three children. Marlene describes Nathan as a very stubborn man. She reports a particular incident with an MP where he won a substantial settlement due to his stubbornness. Marlene maintains that they still have a good relationship. Great details are given about Marlene’s silence, along with her struggle to accept her brothers when/ while they were going through puberty. SETTING: Baltree District
CHARACTERS Marlene – The narrator. Nathan – Marlene’s brother who was stubborn and very quiet. Everette – Marlene’s sister who likes to go to court to listen to the cases. Marlene heard the story of Nathan’s altercation with the MP from her. Tony -Marlene’s older brother. MP – The person that Nathan got in a fight with and received a settlement. THEMES: Love and family relationship, silence. 4. ‘THE IDIOT’ This recollection speaks about school and education. It begins with the story of Ionie’s pride taking a beating when she had to ask some-one, whom she had previously snobbed, for help.
The story continues with Marlene explaining why she liked school. She speaks of her two scholastic rivals, Ezekiel and Wellesley, as well as the class dunce, Bas. She explains the phenomena of partially going to school due to farming responsibilities. We then learn that, in high school, she was the only person that would grudgingly speak to Ezekiel, who eventually dropped out of school. He ended up being very successful and Marlene felt bad because she did not treat him well. SETTING: Maggoty, Black Shop, St. James, St. Andrew. CHARACTERS
Marlene – The narrator, extremely bright, was placed above her age range, in the class, due to her strong scholastic ability. Magsie – Marlene’s older sister. Bathsheba Watkiss – Ezekiel Watkiss’ sister and a teacher. Miss Herfa – A teacher and Man Teacher’s wife. Man Teacher – The principal. Pa Brown – The man who Ionie snubbed, and he had to help her to cross the river. Ezekiel Watkiss (Hog) – A student in the class who was her scholastic rival, despite not going to school consistently. Miss Celine – A teacher. Bas – the duncest boy in the class, did not attend school consistently.
Wellesley Black (Goggleeye) – Another scholastic rival at school, he attended school regularly and was the correct age for the class. Nerissa Black – Wellesley’s sister and a pupil teacher who taught the lower grades. THEMES: childhood lessons, education and society, silence. 5. ‘MISS MINNIE’ This is the story of Raymond and Miss Minnie. Miss Minnie got married to Lester after his girlfriend deserted him, as well as their young son Raymond. Miss Minnie was an extremely good mother to Raymond, making him the centre of her life, especially after Lester died.
Raymond became a successful individual and took Miss Minnie with him to live in Kingston. Great changes occurred in Kingston because he met his mother and brothers, which created waves in the relationship between himself and Miss Minnie. She was eventually diagnosed with depression and low self esteem. This created another change in their relationship, to the point where Raymond would not allow another woman to get between him and Miss Minnie. Marlene declares that, based on this fact, she cannot wait on him because he will never marry as long as Miss Minnie is alive.
SETTING: Baltree District, Lucea, Kingston. CHARACTERS: Marlene – The narrator, she was in a romantic relationship with Raymond. Miss Minna – Raymond’s step mother who made him her life, she sells in the market, went to live with Raymond in Kingston in order to take care of him. Lester – Raymond’s father. He is very quiet and died while Raymond was still young, he was a shoe maker. Maas Baada – He read the newspaper to the men in the shoe shop and was affectionate towards Raymond, where his father was not.
Raymond’s mother – Rumoured that she was a go-go dancer, she left when Raymond was a young child, instigated a meeting with him when he was a successful adult, attempted to become a part of his life. Sam & Nichol – Raymond’s half brothers, from his mother’s side. THEME – Love and family relationship, silence. 6. ‘Morris Hole’ This is the story of how Marlene lost the river. She explains what the river meant to her through her visual description of Morris Hole, as well as the activities that use to occur there.
She lost the river when her mother abruptly told her that she could not use it, without any explanation. She then recounts her white ancestry, as well as the traumatic experiences associated with her paternal great grandparents. SETTING – Baltree District, Morris Hole. CHARACTERS Marlene – The narrator, she is entering puberty in this recollection. Miss Retinella Martin – Marlene’s aunt. Munchie – Marlene’s cousin. Ionie – Marlene’s mother, she is grappling with her daughter entering puberty. Miss Clemmy, Miss Nellie – part of the group of Seventh Day Adventist women who wash by the river on Sunday mornings.
Sister Sis – Marlene’s great grandmother who did not know the father of her child, and therefore named Gussie Bugess. Maas Gussie Burgess – a very pretty man, tall and brown with nice hair, who lived in Maaga Bay, named as grandpa Eric’s father. Granpa Eric – The ‘supposed’ product of a union between Maas Gussie and Sister Sis. Puppa ; Mummah – Maas Barber’s grandparents and his children’s great grandparents, they are white. Maas Barber – Marlene’s father. THEME: Race, loss of innocence. 7. ‘TRAVELLERS, OR FATHERS, OR LITTLE FOOL-FOOL’ This is the story of different kinds of love.
There is parental love, as represented by Cudjoe Man and Dolly. Cudjoe Man is admired throughout the district for his devotion to his mentally challenged daughter. He combs her hair, dresses her, provides for her every need and is extremely protective of her. He even disregards his attraction to Minna, a possible love match, in order to concentrate on his child. We also learn of a contrasting relationship between Minna and Samson. The romantic love between theses two people is polluted by physical abuse. This abuse is whispered throughout the district, but things come to a head when Samson beats Minna with such trength and aggression that she is hospitalized. This beating occurred because Minna got in a fight with Dottie over Cudjoe Man. This confirmed Samson’s paranoia about Minnie cheating on him, and the result was beating her senseless, and then being attacked by Cudjoe-Man. Cudjoe Man ended up in jail and Dottie stayed with a family in the district until relatives from Kingston came to get her. SETTING: Baltree district, St. Ann, Green Town, Grant Ridge, Somerset St James CHARACTERS: Uncle Cuthbert (Cuttiie) – A traveller in his young days who told the children stories of his journeys.
Cudjoe Man – A traveller who decided to stay in Baltree district and a devoted father to Dottie. Dolly (Fool-Fool/ Doll-Doll) – Cudjoe Man’s mentally challenged daughter. Pappa Lazzy – The gentleman who gave Cudjoe-Man a place to rest before he decided to stay in Baltree district. Long Man – A consistent visitor/ traveller to Marlene’s family. Lobie – He was famous in the district for his womanizing, began ‘noticing’ Dottie. Big Man Cassels – Lobie’s father, it was rumoured that he made inappropriate comments about Cudjoe Man and his daughter’s relationship.
Linval – Marlene’s brother Miss Herfa – A teacher, Man Teacher’s wife. Minna – Samson’s girlfriend, flirted with Cudjoe Man, brutally beaten by Samson after the fight. Dottie – Cudjoe Man’s girlfriend, fought with Minna when she heard of the flirting incident between Minna and Cudjoe Man. THEMES: Love, love and family relationship, women in society. 8. ‘SO FEW AND SUCH MORNING SONGS’ Mr. Papacita’s story tells of the great love that he has for his wife. They played together and were very romantic with each other. The story also highlights Mr.
Papacita’s beautiful voice, how he charmed everyone with it, how he lost it when his wife died, and regained it – to an extent – when he found the church. Mr. Papacita was a happy and carefree man when his wife was alive, but when she died, he became self destructive. He was always drunk, and literally passed out in the road when he was on one of his drunken tirades. He spent three weeks in the hospital and came out a changed man. He became very quiet, and one day he surprised everyone by going to church, becoming baptized and regaining a bit of his beautiful voice. SETTING – Baltree district. CHARACTERS Mr.
Papacita – Miss Aita’s husband, he had a beautiful voice, lost himself to grieve initially, but eventually found the church. Miss Aita – Mr. Papacita’s wife, she died of cancer. Miss Nellie – Town gossip. Maas Levi – Owner of the Chevrolet, the only car in the district. Maas Don – The taylor THEMES: Love, religion 9. ‘EPILOGUE: A BEGINNING’ This epilogue takes the reader to the point at which Marlene is leaving the district to attend teachers’ college in Kingston. She was afraid, excited and glad – all at the same time – at the prospect of leaving her home. She reflects that all the characters in her reflections are a part of her.
GLOSSARY OF TERMS Ackee – A yellow fruit that, when cooked, looks like scrambled eggs. Blue Boot – Your best clothes. Bruk dung – Dilapidated. Bulla cake – A round, flat cake, that has the texture of a hard cookie. Bauxite – A reddish brown rock that was mined in Jamaica. Congotay – Deceitful or deceiver. Coolie royal hair – Hair type that is a cross between Indian and Black, leaning more towards Black, wild in nature. Cotta – A circular and twisted cloth that is placed on the head to cushion a load. Cry cree – To beg for mercy, usually used when people are playing.
Cucumaka stick – A stick that comes from a tree, of the same name, that is believed to help in abortions, despite no scientific evidence to prove this. Dulcimina – A big, old fashioned looking suitcase. Duppy – A ghost Faas with – To trouble someone or get in their personal business. Facety – Describes a person that is rude, or behaviour that is rude. Four eye – Word for some-one who is clairvoyant. Hootiah – A person who has not been well brought up. Jacket/ give jacket – To name a man as the father of a child when he is not, the child is the ‘jacket’ that the man is given. ibber – to keep your mouth shut, not talk. Peenie-wallie – A firefly. Pickni – A small child. Gleaner – A local Jamaican newspaper. Maas – Mr. / Mister. Mirasmi – Malnutrition. Mouthamassy – someone who talks too much and gossips a lot. MP – Member of Parliament Pocomania – A religious cult that blends Christianity and African beliefs. It carries the stigma of obeah and is not widely accepted. Tegereg – A boisterous and uncouth person. UC – University of the West Indies Hospital. Yaws – A sore that has persisted for so long that it has become infected.