Caribbean literature is written in Spanish, French or English. A central theme in Caribbean literature is the process of Creolization, a term describing a process of mixing old traditional cultures with new modern elements of an inherited culture. This word developed in the Caribbean countries, where, as a result of colonization, people from African, European and Caribbean cultures mixed together, eventually leading to the formation of new identities.
Both colonial and postcolonial literature represent cultural mixing and fusion. The complexities of cultural identities are well expressed through characters who are undergoing creolization. The works of writers such as Edouard Glissant and Daniel Maximin are prime examples.
Edouard Glissant (1928–2011) was a French-speaking poet from the West Indies. He was a student of Cesaire, founder of the Negritude movement. The movement's purpose was to create a unique African culture, unbound by colonialism and its influences. Glissant's poetry reflected colonialized people's stirrings toward freedom. His novel Le Ouatrième Siècle reviewed the history of slavery in Martinique. It described how young West Indians would awaken and reclaim their lands. His 1961 play Monsieur Toussaint centers around a Haitian hero.
Daniel Maximin, born in 1947, is a writer from Guadeloupe. His 1981 novel, L'Isolé Soleil, reflects on the implications of the Caribbean experience.
The native residents of the Caribbean did not survive the Spanish colonization of the 16th century, so the Caribbean lacks an indigenous literary tradition. For 400 years, Caribbean literature was not different from the literary models of England, France, Spain and the Netherlands.
A cultural identity did not emerge in Caribbean writings until the end of the 18th century. The Haitian hero and liberator Toussaint-Louverture wrote letters and speeches reflecting the emergence of Spanish and French Caribbean writers beginning to identify with other black West Indians instead of white Europeans.
Early leaders of the nationalistic movement were Luis Palés Matos of Puerto Rico, Nicolás Guillén of Cuba, Aimé Césaire of Martinique and Léon Damas of Guiana. Jean Price-Mars, a Haitian, succeeded in turning the rhythms of the islands' speech patterns in poetic forms.
British Caribbean writers joined their French and Spanish counterparts after 1945. They developed a national literature with novels using local dialects. Examples are Vic Reid's New Day (1949), George Lamming's In the Castle of My Skin (1953) and V.S. Naipaul's Mystic Masseur (1957). Edward Kamau Brathwaite wrote poetry that attempted to reclaim the place of Africa within the Caribbean.
French-speaking Caribbean writers, along with African writers, spearheaded the Negritude movement. This literary crusade of the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s began as a protest against French colonial rule. The writers especially opposed France's policy of assimilating the citizens of its colonies.
The Harlem Renaissance in New York influenced the founders of the Negritude movement. The black artists and thinkers of the group fought for acceptance in a hostile society. The French adopted the idea of black pride, adding to it a struggle against assimilation. They believed that assimilation was based on an assumption of European superiority compared to Africa. They compared the bondage of slavery to the coercion of colonial rule.
The leaders of the Negritude movement called on committed writers to use African subject matter and poetic traditions and to arouse desire for political freedom. The organization's core beliefs included gaining strength from the mystic warmth of African life and looking to Africa's cultural heritage to find values and traditions that translated to modern lives. The movement also asked its followers to connect to African closeness to nature, in contrast with Western culture's soulless materialism. Once African countries had gained independence in the 1960s, the movement faded away.
Later West Indian literature critiques the new society that evolved after independence was achieved. Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago gained their freedom in the 1960s. Writers from those islands write about the present way of life. One motif is lack of economic growth. Few work options exist, and many citizens resist taking ordinary jobs. In the novels, characters demonstrate that effort and initiative are not valued. Work is associated with colonialist values, which are deemed outdated and inauthentic.
The division between European and Caribbean work attitudes is apparent in the writings of George Lamming of Barbados, Jamaica Kincaid of Antigua and Earl Lovelace of Trinidad. The citizens of colonized islands tended toward self-division. Those who study abroad carry the cultures of the European countries, while natives who encounter them feel ambivalent about their colonial orientation. Even after independence, government leaders displayed colonial attitudes, breeding resentment among the locals.