The Hummingbird Tree Themes and Summary
Alan The story is told by Alan who is also the central character in the novel - The Hummingbird Tree Themes and Summary introduction. Most of it is told by the older Alan in flashback. Through-out the novel the servants and villagers refer to him as ‘Master Alan’ although he is a child, this has to do with the social climate at the time. Several things mark off Alan as being superior to the other children; his clothes are better, he uses standard English, he can read, his manners are refined.
The major conflict he faces rests in the fact that he gets along far too well with the brown faces; his parents, though quite conservative when compared to other whites at the time, do not want him to get too involved with them. They prefer for him to make friends with people who share their social standing. Alan must choose whether to obey his parents or follow his heart. Several events througout the text calls for him to choose. He obeys his parents when the pressure is too great for him to do otherwise, but he goes against their wishes when he sees that he can get away with it. Kaiser
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Kaiser is a few years older than Alan. He is a handyman at Alan’s house. He is Jaillin’s brother. As a worker he is reliable and trustworthy and so Alan’s father has handpicked him to train him to become a foreman on the estate when he is older. When he is not ‘on the job’ he is a playful youth. He takes Alan on many adventures, showing him how to blow birds’ eggs, make catapult, taking him to Ramlal’s bar, the cockfight fete, and generally making him apart of his life. Kaiser does not usually refer to Alan as “Master” because he sees him as an equal, although he does perform his duties with respect.
To Alan he is a hero; he can do so many things and he does not seem to be afraid of anyone or anything. However as they grow older, and the differences between them become more pronounced, Alan comes to view him with contempt. Jaillin Jaillin is Kaiser’s beautiful sister whom Alan finds extremely desireable. She is on the verge of becoming a woman, and so sometimes she appears to be only a little girl and at other times she appears to be a woman. Sometimes she is very reserved and shy, holding her eyes down, not looking at Alan, not speaking to him. At other times she is bold, even making sexual advances at him.
She cries like a baby when she is teased, yet she does her job like a growrn up. As she grows into young woman she becomes more spirited and self-willed, even though beyond that tough exterior is the delicate child Alan remembers. Unlike Kaiser who holds no grudge against Alan for his betrayal, the experience (maybe along with others that we are not told about) makes Jaillin become angry and bitter to the extent that she hates all white men. Summary The story is told by the grown-up Alan who recalls how a friendship that was very important to him fell apart.
As a child he practically worships Kaiser, an older boy and a servant in his home. He is infatuated with Jaillin, who is Kaiser’s sister and also a servant. He spends many hours with them at their village, at the river, at a cockfight fete. He enjoys their friendship more than he does the other white children’s, the friends his parents would prefer for him to have. However, at his birthday party, he betrays Kaiser and Jaillin by not insisting to his parents that they be invited, and later by joining his guests in insulting them.
Both Kaiser and Jaillin are trained to accept their place and the friendship is quickly repaired. But the rift comes when Kaiser and Jaillin are fired after Alan and jaillin are caught skinny dipping together. Alan experiences no real heartbreak over it until years later when he is able to appreciate the friendship he lost. By this time the gap which seemed great as a child is now a huge chasm. While Kaiser has forgiven him, Jaillin is now further from his reach than ever. Ian Mcdonald’s novel, The Hummingbird Tree, is a social commentary on post-colonial Trinidad seen through the eyes of a teenager.
There are four obvious themes that bring out McDonald’s critique of the Trinidadian society at this time: Love, Interracial friendships, Loyalty and Obligation. Post-Colonial Caribbean society inhibit the protagonist, Alan from being his own individual/himself by preventing him from freely sharing in love and friendship with Jaillin and Kaiser. The challenge Alan faces test his character and his innocence as a child but also a young man who the world changes instead of him asserting his own beliefs. The book explores sexuality and innocence at the adolescence level and the purity of love untainted by race.
The novel is more than a romance piece for it shows how despite the conditioning of whites to feel superior to coloureds, affection can spring between the races as with Alan,Kaiser and Jaillin. Alan is torn between two worlds that are becoming increasingly antagonistic. The right of coloured people to govern themselves and to decide their destiny against the status quo of a white dominated society and Alan in a position where he has to choose between his friends and his predetermined associates. Alan takes his place into the world as any other child but he conforms to the world instead of challenging it.
He avoids the inevitable confrontation between whites and coloureds in a post colonial world by taking the easiest route out. Where status plays such a critical role in a racially divided country, we sympathize with Alan for his weakness and feel proud of the fact that there might be a break through to the problem of racism if children of modern day grow up to be more like Alan. We also commend the author Ian McDonald for opening our eyes to the racial victimization of children in a brutal and cruel world. Not only blacks but white young ones who end up suffering greatly) Themes Power vs Powerlessness Alan in the book had tremendous power but he sought not to use it. Kaiser and his sister were powerless but the took all the opportunities given by Alan(not using his power) and promoted themselves to powerul over the young white boy. Prejudice (leave what you believe) Racism The parents hated the little native for friends with their “handsome and beautiful” whithe children. Their children were never to be seen playing with these children.
It can be alluded to the fact that Kaiser and jaillin wer not allowed to attend Alan’s party because the were of different race. Friendship Alan, Kaiser and Jaillin had a relationship that was inceprable. The were friends no matter the looks or the different environments they came from Themes in a humming bird tree are quite simple actually. They are class and social status, love and friendships, home environment and nature. he major themes in The Humming-Bird Tree (1969) are tradition, colonialism, love and relationships, and the most dominant theme of prejudice.