Dr Stephanie Fullerton-Cooper is an Associate Professor of English at the University College of the Cayman Islands (UCCI). She has a passion for promoting Caribbean, and Cayman, literature. The views expressed here are not those of UCCI.
Theatre should be “a process of deconstruction and reconstruction of self to continue to build society”, says Dr Frank McField. Theatre, like any other art form, offers a means by which society sees itself, and it becomes a powerful tool through which writers examine society’s ills and agitate for change. As seen in part one of this article, Time Longer Dan Rope conveys multiple messages through its content and form. A number of thematic concerns were highlighted last article, and I postulated that it is through characterisation that McField conveys messages. According to this Cayman writer, the characters represent and re-present him and his own beliefs, making it imperative that we dissect characters and find hidden gems.
An unusual name, Beatman is said by McField to have been named for a popular local man whom he admired. He died early, and McField honoured him in this way. Despite the literal explanation, his name is also seen as metaphorical. Beatman – the man who beats – does indeed hit his wife and threatens his children. He is a seafarer who returns home, beaten by what he has seen and experienced, and unable to relate to the children who know him too little. He seems to have the respect of his friends, but he is the bad man who harnesses the respect that comes from a rootless individualism. Beatman returns to Cayman with a lot of cash. He also returns with behaviours, mannerisms, speech, and lessons he learnt from sea and foreign land experiences. There is the notion that the mother he respects and waits to bury as a good son should, did not teach him the values he displays. So where did he learn them, if much of what he displayed were not what his “Maama” taught him? What made him hit his wife and beat an old man in a bar? These haunting questions remain unanswered, leaving readers to draw their own conclusions.
His wife Ella is representative of the black Caribbean woman often presented in Caribbean literature who is beaten but survives. Her ambition for her children is strong, and she works tirelessly to care for her home. Caribbean literature critics believe that women have traditionally been taught that right behaviour for them is silence. To paraphrase Davies and Fido in Out of the Kumbla, what is meant by ‘silence’ is an absence of the woman’s voice or opinion on given subjects, with no specific female stance on what are important Caribbean issues; but Ella refuses to be silenced. Understandably, Katherine, the white wife of investor, Wilder, admires her - “I wish I had your strength”. Despite Beatman’s insistence that she gives him no lip, Ella continues to defy him and anyone else who puts restrictions on her. When her husband demands food, she “pours cocoa, slices some bread and defiantly places it on the table”, saying “Here! And I hope it chokes ya”. When he grabs her, she frees herself; when he hits her, she hits back. This refusal to be dominated is admirable and though she wants him to provide, she worked hard during his five-year absence to support her family. Through Ella, McField seems to agree with Jamaican author, Erna Brodber - whose protagonists in two of her novels are also named Ella - that Caribbean women should not comply with stereotyped images of them. Like the typical Caribbean mother, wife, “phenomenal woman”, Ella, supported by her own mother, sets a standard for her daughter, and refuses to give up.
Eveline and Willie are interesting characters, not individually, but what they seem to represent as they often beg to go to school. McField shares that in 1979, he was fired from the National Council of Voluntary Organisations for having publicly agitated for early childhood education. The belief was that schooling should start at the primary level, but he believed this was too late. McField incorporates this belief in Time Longer Dan Rope. He wanted his theory recorded, so later people would see that potential repercussions of non-implementation had been prophesied. According to McField, people often “think of prophets as associated with superstition more so than reasonable arguments and propositions”. His early childhood education theory is promulgated in the fact that young Willie dies and is denied his dream of being educated. Was Willie’s death symbolic of aborted potential should early childhood education not be considered? Was Willie’s death McField’s indication of Cayman’s future being threatened should education not be a primary consideration? A memorable scene is when Willie’s ‘duppy’ visits Beatman who admits feeling guilty for all that went wrong in his family. He tries to kill Willie’s ‘duppy’, but this scene proves cathartic, as it ends with Ella encouraging Beatman to hope again.
Other characters are impacting. Through Bam-Bam, the beaten, old man, McField questions the thin line between intelligence and perceived craziness. Bam-Bam says, “Ya all make me crazy cuz ya is afraid if ya didn’t call ma crazy ya would have to call ma intelligent …”. This raises questions of stereotypes of Blacks as ignorant, a theory advanced through the characters of Wilder, and attorney, Phillip, who conclude that “island people can learn [only] if you teach them”, and that “educated negroes … are responsible for the fact that coloured servants no longer serve us with pride”. This investor is hell-bent on “selling the islands to the Americans”, as, his wife Katherine, calling herself his possession, admits that her husband’s investment plans for Cayman, make her “feel sick for the [island’s] future”.
There is insufficient time to explore the magnitude of these thoughts – insufficient time for Koolidge, Beatman’s friend who leaves but plans to return and address locals like Leigh who sell Cayman’s inheritance - insufficient time to explore themes of color, race and class, themes of poverty, death, and loss. Undoubtedly, McField’s Time Longer Dan Rope is a work that presents the intricacies of Cayman writings and the profundity of the issues we grapple with even today. A play well worth reading!