I believe this chapter is close to Levy’s heart as she talks about racism and gives the reader insight about herself as well as the character Gilbert. This could be one of the most important chapters in the book as it is the first chapter where Gilbert talks about his feeling and emotions.
This chapter shows the reader that the black people have accepted racism as they always expected the white people to have glamorous lifestyles, so when they first saw “A white man sweeping the road” they were flabbergasted. When the Jamaican boys first came to England, Gilbert said, “this thought-I-knew-you place – was bewildering the Jamaican boys”, this quote conveys that Gilbert feels a sense of cleverness and more experience compared to them. However, since this is all homodiegetic we can question the validity of what Gilbert says, which means he may have exaggerated the Jamaican boys reaction to make himself feel superior after the months of racism and looking down on. On the other hand, if Gilberts words were taken to be the full truth, Gilbert may be reasonably experienced as he remains calm and relaxed in the middle of war which the other Jamaicans are not able too, “They looked shocked when billowing black smoke puffed its way round the white washing hung on drying lines”.
The beginning of Gilbert’s journey in London is explained in chapter 19 which remained ambiguous until now. The reader gets to know where he lived (whilst outside of the war zone) before he met Queenie and she took him in. On page 215 Levy portrays the struggles of the Jamaicans, as they are not provided lodgings wherever they may search, due to the colour of their skin. This is even crueler as they had moved across the ocean to fight for the Mother country they all share. Gilbert for the first time (in the book) questions racism, even though throughout the rest of the book he accepts it. We can tell this by the quote “Man, there was a list of people who would not like it if I came to live”? Maybe Gilbert’s views are different now and he feels as though racism is the norm, as this chapter is analeptic we can tell he has learnt to dismiss it from his time in England.
Even though there are many chapters where Gilbert is a homodiegetic narrator before and after chapter 19 this is the only chapter that gives the reader a real insight of him. “I was about to bend my knee so I could reach the brooch when hear this… it flew away. … That jewel was no more than a cluster of flies caught by the light”. This quote shows that Gilbert is rather clueless and naïve. However, this could also convey that he has high hopes and dreams even though he does not express them, until this chapter, when he says “faith that we would get a nice place to live in England – a bath, a kitchen, a little patch of garden.” The flies disguised as a jewel could forebode that these high expectations and dreams will not be fulfilled. However, this chapter also shows that Gilbert has a fighting spirit. Even though he is living in terrible and congested conditions he still had faith, which is completely opposite to Hortense as she demanded everything as soon as she reached to London.
In this chapter the reader is able to decipher that Gilbert has grown extremely fond of Hortense from their letter writing. This can be told by the quote “Hortense, deep green brooch would look pretty on her.” Before the quote he says it would be moral to hand it to the police station, but thinking of Hortense clouds his judgment, which is a clear indication that Gilbert has feeling for her. However, despite all the love he has for Hortense, he has some problems with her in chapter 1 of the book. In chapter 19 the readers can put the pieces together and fully understand why their problems had arisen. They contradict each other in many ways; this engages the reader into the book. In chapter one Hortense’s expectations of England are great and she does not want to believe it isn’t as glamorous as she thought, “mark you, shabby in grand sort of way.” Whereas, Gilbert does not expect the luxurious lifestyle, as he knows that much hard work is involved to get to those heights.
Another immense difference between the couple is their expectations of the social status they are in. In chapter 1 Hortense shows she wants to fit in and act superior, as she believes the white people to be, “I straightened my coat… I adjusted my hat.” The quote “Eventually the originator of this colour prejudice would have to stand there before me. And I would say to their face, ‘so its you that hates all niggers, I presume,’” suggests that Gilbert is moreover relaxed when it comes to racism and he does not take it to heart as he believes there is nothing to be ashamed about if your dark skinned. He finds the comical aspect of everything. However, it could also be a coping mechanism for him, but whatever the matter he will always find a way to laugh about it.
However, both of their narratives are homodiegetic, thus the validity of their stories and feelings must be questioned. Also, I believe Levy was trying to make a point whist writing chapter 19. By making Gilberts and Hortense’s character so contrasting she is trying to show that racism is wrong and white people should try to stop the prejudice. In the chapters before this, Gilbert was conveyed as a hot-tempered Jamaican such as Hortense, but this chapter puts him under a new light.
This chapter focuses on racism and troubles of Jamaicans and Levy’s personal feelings towards it. Thus, it is one of the most important chapter to her as well as to the reader because it unravels many unanswered questions.