Trevor Rhone's Old Story Time
Length: 1855 words (5.3 double-spaced pages)
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In Old Story Time Trevor Rhone mirrors a Jamaica struggling with similar subjects in the mid century. Concerns that are brought out in Old Story Time are still evident in the Jamaican society today. The issues of class and colour that are presented within the play are still issues in Jamaica today.
In the effort to rise to a European standard of beauty, blacks are still slaves to this mentality. This European standard of beauty (aquiline nose, long hair, and white skin) was not only considered as the epitome of beauty within Caribbean societies in the past but is still largely accepted in Caribbean societies today. Despite the fact that there is nothing wrong with European beauty, this becomes an issue when a racial class considers itself inferior to another racial class because of years of mental conditioning. Trevor Rhone ingeniously highlights this issue through the personalities of the characters in Old Story Time. The mental inferiority shown in these story bound characters as a result of years of slavery and colonization are still evident within our society today, and are here discussed as they are show in Old Story Time.
Black women of antiquity were legendary for their beauty and power. During this time, the African woman with her typical African physiognomy was believed to be the standard of beauty in that part of the ancient world. As shown in the character of Mama/Miss Aggy in Old Story Time, Mama was driven with the similar strength as her ancient female counterparts in her wanting to see her son Len become successful. In her effort to see her son succeed, she was willing to do anything for him. However, in order for Len to have progressed on the social ladder, it was Mama's belief that Len had to work towards particular "standards" for his advancement. One of these standards was that of beauty, according to Mama, "Miss Margaret, Revered Greaves daughter, a nice brown girl with tall hair down to her back, She is advancement " (14) Noticeably in her comment, Mama refers to Margaret as "Miss", by referring to a young girl like Margaret as "Miss" Mama is abasing herself for this young girl. Also, in Mama addressing Margaret with superiority without seeing any fault with her words, this instance can be compared to the days of slavery, wherein all white members of a household, regardless of age, were referred to as Ms, Mr, or Mrs. Mama evidently and without her own knowledge has held on to principles attached with slavery.
As a consequence of years of mental conditioning, as is evident in the Caribbean today, Mama showed in Old Story Time that fair skinned or white individuals are to be shown a greater level of respect than blacks. Rhone truly represents the issue of this mentality through Mama by having an adult lower herself for a little girl without being cognisant of her own action. Consequently, Mama appears to have been cultured in this manner, as are many Jamaicans in the society today. Therefore, Mama is not as crude as she appears to be, she is actually a product of her society.
Another issue that comes up as Mama is reprimanding Len for carousing with Pearl is the issue of beauty. Mama refers to Pearl as "Miss Esmeralda frowsy-tail, jiggerfoot, jeysey ears, board head gal " (14) It is after describing Pearl in this manner that Mama tells Len that she has a girl picked out for him " a nice brown girl with tall hair down to her back" (14). To quote a famous African writer Kola Boof in her book Diary of a Lost Girl:
"Black women come from Africa blood so most of them do not have long, naturally flowing hair like the women in movies, television, commercials and the women in the NBA .Long flowing hair simply isn't a biological characteristic of authentic black women and of course there has NEVER been a single pre-colonial society in Africa, not even in Egypt or Ethiopia where long [flowing-added by writer] hair was the standard of beauty (at least not until 1900)"(166).
Apparently, the same misconceptions of beauty that Mama had in Old Story Time still exists today, wherein many individuals of African decent have been poisoned and brainwashed into thinking that the genetic beauty of Europeans is better than the genetic beauty of Africans. Mama derogatorily refers to Pearl as a "board head gal", this racist statement, made in Mama's ignorance, insults the naturalness of Pearl's hair. Mama's understanding was that Pearl could never be compared to Margaret who had long straight hair down to her back. Moreover, in the society today, a black woman is generally looked down upon if she has the courage to walk about without having a perm. This need for a black woman to straighten her hair has become so permeated in the media that one cannot help but see and hear commercials asking black women to straighten their beautiful hair. In Essence Magazine for example, there is an advertisement which shows a flustered-looking, very pretty black woman with wild African hair. The commercial then shows her on the next page with bone-straight permed hair looking more relaxed, relieved and smiling. Hence, women are being shown that to be psychologically well and thus less frustrated with their God given black beauty they are to accept the standard of beauty shown to them in these advertisements.
Another issue brought out in Mama's statement is that of colour as she refers to Margaret as "a nice brown girl" (14). This significant statement that Mama makes has ballooned into a critical issue within the society today. What Mama is convinced of is that people of a fairer complexion have all the advantages. The best complement for her educated son Len is therefore the "brown" girl Margaret. Thus, Mama could not conceive of a black girl complementing her son when he had achieved in life. As a part of the "status quo" a brown girl with hair down to her back was the epitome of beauty for Mama, and seeing that Mama wanted the best for her son, Margaret suited Mama's ambitions for Len perfectly.
Furthermore, as in Old Story Time, skin colour remains an issue within the society today. Blacks have resorted to skin bleaching in an attempt to become more socially acceptable. An article on the web site www.africana.com said:
"One Kenyan TV ad features a young woman staring lovingly at her boyfriend in a college cafeteria. Another pretty woman with slightly lighter skin walks by, upon which the man jokingly asks the girlfriend how he can tell the woman that she is the "most beautiful girl I have ever seen." Devastated, the young woman responds to a voiceover advising her to use "Fair and Lovely," a skin cream promising "special fairness vitamins" and guaranteed to lighten her complexion in just six weeks. The young woman uses the cream and, sure enough, keeps her man."
This quote taken from an African commercial shows how pervasive "skin bleaching" has become. It is not only Caribbean nationals who are suffering but blacks around the world even in our mother country Africa. Skin bleaching has also promoted another issue, the issue of "self-hate". So loathsome has one's black complexion become that individuals are willing to go against medical advice that speaks of the risks of bleaching one's skin. According to Doctor Dr. Neil Persadsingh, a leading Jamaican dermatologist and author of the book Acne in Black Women,
"Some of these creams work by killing melanin, the substance that lends skin its pigmentation and protects the skin from the cancer-causing ultraviolet rays of the sun. All people have melanin in their skin; the more melanin present, the darker the skin."
In addition, he says, the bleaching preparations contain large amounts of hydroquinone a white crystalline de-pigmenting agent that is fatal in large concentrations. Victims will suffer from nausea, shortness of breath, convulsions and delirium. Damage to the skin wrinkles, severe acne, marks may be irreversible after prolonged use. Seemingly, regardless of the consequences of skin bleaching, the minds of blacks have been so conditioned since slavery, that they will risk even death to change their complexion. Similarly, although the character of Mama in Old Story Time did not resort to skin bleaching as Jamaicans do today, Mama was willing to give her life to see her son with Margaret. Mama could not fathom how her son could have fallen for a beautiful black girl like Lois.
Consequently, Rhone has skilfully presented in a controlled manner the issues of colour affecting Western cultures. This skill of Rhone's is aptly seen in Pa Ben's commentary on the wickedness done by George and his counterparts to Len:
Here, boy. On the double, boy! Clean my shoes, burnish it till you see your big black ugly face in it, boy! An' boy don't forget we need for the Easter play. We have you down for three parts- Judas Iscariot, one of the thieves, and both ends of the donkey. Ha, ha, ha! Sport, what sport? (2.1 p. 50).
In closing, Len was humiliated by George and his friends to the extent that he was indifferent to women and even his own mother. The horrid experiences that Len underwent as "Cassava Nova" among other cruelties as the target of George Mcfarlane shows the evil any class colour or creed may exhibit; to this fact George was no exception:
That'll teach you, lover-boy! That'll teach you. Next time we cut it off. This was just a rehearsal. Next time it's for real, so let this be a lesson to you, lover-boy. You Cassava-Nova you. Cassava-Nova yeah, Cassava-Nova, breathe a word of this to anybody and you know what you will get, you hear me, boy. Don't forget. (84).
Rhone effortlessly showed the cruelties performed by the "supposed" higher class in the society. Indeed, in the end the sins of George Mcfarlane came to light and he was seen as a wolf in sheep clothing. Rhone ultimately shows that the significance of skin is nil, and that it is the beautiful characteristics layered within the person that are important. Thus, in the end of Old Story Time the eyes of Mama are opened to her own ignorance and she sees George for who he really is, and accepts Lois as the kind hearted girl she has always been and the wife of her son.
Boof, Kola. Diary of a Lost Girl. USA: Door of Kush, 2003.
Persadsingh, Neil Acne in Black Women. Jamaica: Neil Persadsingh, 1998
Rhone,Trevor. Old Story Time. U.K: Longman, 1981.
Wang, Penny. "Black Beauty." Essence magazine March 2006: 49-54.
Zadu, Annette. Black Gems, Black Diamonds.
2003. 2006 http://www.africana.com