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The Crick Crack Monkey By Merle Hodge

The novel Crick Crack Monkey was written by Merle Hodge, who was born in Trinidad and Tobago. The novel was first published in the year 1970 by Heinemann Publishers Limited.

The story is narrated through the eyes of an unbiased child protagonist. The child’s innocent outlook, humour and vigour is used to delve into issues such as the destructive effects of colonial education and the complex intersections of race and class in cultural identification.

The story begins with Tee, a young Trinidadian girl, whose mother, Elizabeth, dies during labour. Her father consequently emigrates, leaving Tee and her younger brother, Toddan, in their aunt’s care.

Throughout the first half of the novel, Tee lives with her single, lower class Aunt Tantie and Tantie’s godson, Mikey. There, she learns how to be independent and how to stick up for herself. During this time, Aunt Beatrice, her mother’s sister, fights for their custody because she feels that the lower class Tantie is not suitable to raise the children. Here, Tee spends her holidays with Ma, who is her paternal grandmother. Ma’s culture is different from that of Tantie; still, it is Ma who makes the biggest impression upon Tee’s life. During this part of Tee’s life she feels totally secure and self-confident. Her time spent with her grandmother seeks to further seal in her contentment, her sense of belonging and self-worth. Life at Ma taught Tee to love and appreciate nature and her local surroundings. “The air smelt brown and green, like when the earth was being made. From a long way off the river was calling to us through the trees…” (p. 20). She is totally at ease with both cultures and embraces them fully. During this stage of Tee’s life, she feels important. She feels that she can contribute something to this world. She says, “I looked forward to the day when I could pass my hand swiftly from side to side on a blank piece of paper and leave meaningful marks in its wake.” (p. 22).

These expectations shatter on her first encounter with school when all the rules and the environment itself seem to be a place that was designed to suffocate her spirit. She finds the school to be a “grim and joyless place” where they are educated in European ways. She states, “My reading career also began with an A for apple, the exotic fruit that made its brief and stingy appearance at Christmas-time” (p. 27)

At this stage of Tee’s life, the colonial education does not affect or change Tee very much at this stage. She still has Tantie and Ma around to subdue its effects; but the changes, however small, are visible when Tee creates an imaginary persona, Helen. Tee imagines Helen to be her double; only different in that Helen spends “her summer holidays at the seaside with her aunt and uncle, who had a delightful orchard with apple trees and pear trees…” (p. 67). Helen took part in activities and ate food which had nothing to do with Tee’s Trinidadian way of life.

Tee’s life changes drastically when she wins a scholarship which gives her a chance to go to one of the more prestigious girls’ high school in Trinidad. Aunt Beatrice seizes this opportunity to haul Tee out of her “ordinariness and nigeriness” and asks that Tee comes to live with her. It is then that Tee’s ambivalence begins. She enters Aunt Beatrice’s Europeanized world and suddenly becomes “Cynthia” since Aunt Beatrice does not tolerate nicknames. She feels very uncomfortable with their alien, imported European culture and to make matters worse, her cousins, Jessica, Carol and Bernadette treat her like an intruder with the worst contempt they could muster. Tee feels isolated and soon she begins losing her identity. She is cultured in the ways of the European both at school and at home which causes her to lost sight of her rural culture at an even quicker rate. It is there that Tee learns that the closer you were to “whiteness” in both appearance and behaviour the more acceptable you were .Tee declares, “I was given up as a hopeless case, as think skulled as was expected… Although my place in class was never lower than third. Carol’s academic position wavered between twelfth and twenty-fifth…” (p. 108). Tee begins to lose her self confidence and her love for her previous life with Tantie. She resents Tantie for not allowing Aunt Beatrice to take them when they were little to raise them properly. Tee longs to fit in and the despise she feels towards the life she once lived with Tantie and Ma grows even more. She is ashamed of the life she lived with Tantie and was horrified that they might learn of her life with Ma. She feared that they would ridicule her even more for it. At school, she is set apart as a result of her darker complexion and social status. She instinctively sits to the back of the class. She states, “I had a feeling that it would be somehow presumptuous of me to sit anywhere but in the back row” (p. 80). She realises and accepts that her lower class background and darker skin colour made it very difficult for her to be accepted in this society. Here, Tee has changed from this child with high expectations of leaving her mark in this world to one who passively accepts the cruel treatment and prophesies of the “nobody” she would become. Tee’s loss of identity eventually moves her in the direction of self-destruction. She is now in a dilemma because she despises the culture in which she was raised and she longs to be a part of a culture which by default rejects her in all ways. When she goes on vacation with Aunt Beatrice and her family, she runs away from Aunt Beatrice and hides. There she has many thoughts. She says that the only agreeable thought she had was the thought of drowning herself. She sometimes wished that her body would just “shrivel up and fall away” and that she would step out “new and acceptable”.

Tantie hasn’t seen Tee in a while and decides to visit. When Tee learns of Tantie’s impending visit, she is petrified. She is ashamed of the only people who accepted her just as she was; those who never thought that she was not good enough. When they arrive she is so uncomfortable that she could barely speak to them. Their whole nature embarrasses her. Tantie notices the change in her but says nothing about it.

Tee is continually looked down upon until her father sends for her and her brother Toddan. She believes that it was this was Tantie’s doing in an attempt to save her from her impending self-destruction. Suddenly, she is a star. Teachers at school now recognize her and pay attention to her. Her aunt’s daughters now refer to her as their first cousin who is very smart. Aunt Beatrice even throws a going away party for her and invites all the bourgeois people.

In Crick Crack Monkey, we see the disillusionment that European thinking has on the African mind. We see the cultural ambivalence, the alienation and isolation, the search for identity, and the conflict between rural folk culture and urban middle-class society. We see the hypocrisy that lies within it all when Tee is finally accepted by those middle-class people in the end just because her father is away and is sending for her.

The story ends with Tee still feeling like she does not belong to any of the two families. There is no real solution to the problems Tee faces except that she would be leaving the next day. She states, “I desired with all my heart that it were next morning and a plane were lifting me off the ground” (p. 123).

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