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“ ‘It ain’t have no sort of family life for us here’ ”: Community and its Discontents in Sam Selvon’s The Lonely Londoners
  • Kirk Greenwood
Kirk Greenwood
DeSales University, DeSales University

Corresponding Author:[email protected]

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Abstract

Sam Seldon’s The Lonely Londoners depicts an emergent collectivity of black immigrants who lead literally and metaphorically subterranean lives in 1950s Britain. Against the backdrop of a city undergoing an ambivalent transition from colonial metropole to postmodern cosmopolis, Seldon’s “boys” remain largely inscrutable to and estranged from not only white Londoners but also one another. Critics have associate a depoliticized preoccupation with the everyday and eschewal of critical consciousness in Seldon’s work with widely critiqued features of Anglophone modernism. The present analysis suggests several reasons why political collectivity remains elusive to Seldon’s black male immigrant characters. Specifically, they face discriminatory access to the labor market and social services, loci of possible solidarity with working-class white Londoners where formal political resistance might be coordinated. These systemic pressures combined with an atmospheric racism cause many of the boys to internalize the racialist, individualist, consumerist, and heterosexist attitudes and behaviors of the dominant white culture, which they adopt as survival strategies, in effect undermining black group identity and cohesion. If a note of optimism is to be sounded amid the many challenges to inter- and intraracial community the novel presents, it is in the potential undoing of black cultural nationalism that cultural theorist Paul Gilroy sees as a crucial step in the making of an egalitarian, convivial postcolonial world. The novel contests the homogenizing impulses of essentialist identity politics by portraying the heterodox, sometimes paradoxical, affinities that emerge between characters and communities.