New Day (novel)
New Day marks Jamaican writer V. S. Reid's first novel published in 1949. On its release, Reid’s fictional and historical narrative was well received by the literary audience and “caught hold of people’s imagination in a kind of way that [Reid] couldn’t imagine would happen in Jamaica.” Unprecedented in its use of Jamaican vernacular as the language of narration, New Day stands as the first Jamaican novel to apply this stylistic device, according to Mervyn Morris.
Reid had employed the Jamaican dialect as a springboard for creating a distinctive literary variant and for achieving a greater depth in the English language. Reid was motivated to write New Day by his discontentment with how the leaders George William Gordon and Paul Bogle of the Morant Bay Rebellion (1865) were depicted in the foreign press; by reworking as characters in his novel those who had been negatively portrayed as rebels, he aimed to refute what he viewed as unfair misrepresentations of history. The Morant Bay uprising also provided the historical backdrop for a number of works written by Reid's literary counterparts, most notably fellow Jamaican writer Roger Mais. Mais's play George William Gordon also functioned to repair the historical figure Gordon, who had been portrayed as a villain in prevailing narratives of colonialism, as a martyr and hero for Jamaican nationalism.
New Day recounts the story of Jamaica's first outcry against the English Crown rule that cemented a socio-economic and political framework of oppression three decades post-emancipation. The novel is framed as the aged narrator John Campbell's account of the Morant Bay Rebellion of 1865 and the series of uprisings and negotiations that finally culminates in the creation of the New Constitution in 1944.
Recognized for its particular approach to the historical novel, the narrative opens with the elderly narrator John Campbell reminiscing of his family and country's long-standing history over the course of 79 years, as he lies awake on the eve of Jamaica's Constitution Day and his memory refuses to elude him. The narrative quality of New Day is evident when the aged narrator transitions from past-tense into present voice as old Campbell struggles to recall the events of the past (“remember I remember”).
The protagonist John Campbell, of both African and European descent, is a member of a family that has risen to greater standing with each generation. Since the abolishment of slavery, Campbell explains that the large estates in Jamaica have ceased to function. Many droughts devastate the island and the state of the poor population only worsens. Anger and resentment grow towards the Governor's administration and the wealthy land-owners, in turn sparking the Morant Bay Rebellion. John's older brother Davie Campbell, whom John idolizes, joins forces with the Jamaican radicals of Stoney Gut. The British open fire on and kill forty men from Stoney Gut and Morant Bay. The rebels kill 40 militiamen in retaliation.
Although John's father, Pa John Campbell, is a peaceful and devoted Christian, he and all of his family, excluding John and Davie, are eventually killed by the time the English stop the reign of terror that Governor Eyre deemed to be the solution to the rebellion. Subsequently, John escapes with Davie and Lucille Dubois, the girl who marries Davie. The three proceed to live on a small cay until the English have stopped hunting them. It is not James Creary, son of Lucille and David, but their grandson Garth Creary who assumes leadership in the struggle. Garth, a wealthy lawyer and businessman, is ultimately responsible for executing the series of propaganda, lawsuits, strikes, and negotiations that eventually pave the way for a new Jamaican constitution. The new political day is celebrated on the morning following old John Campbell's long and restless night. Jamaica's partial self-government gives way to the country's "New Day".
In the interest of readership and commercial viability, Reid crafted the language of narration in New Day as a merging of Jamaican dialect and standard English. Reid intended for the novel to transcend language barriers and to be understood by all literary audiences who could read English, while still retaining “the beautiful rhythm of all the West Indian English-speaking people.”
The novel is divided into three parts: Part One is written in the modified Jamaican dialect, the language of narration in Part Two contains a diluted rendering of the same Jamaican vernacular, and Part Three is written entirely in traditional English.
The use of nation dialect as the language of narration is evident in a passage taken from Reid’s New Day:
“Father stopped quick, his breadth going with rush. Surprise there was on him, which made me wonder why; for Naomi and me knew well about Moses and my sis Ruthie. When we reached home, I asked Naomi why surprise should ha’ taken Father, but she laughed and said all menfolk were fool-fool….But I am a-tell you of Father’s voice that night. When he lifted his coco-macca stick and dropped it on Moses’s shoulder, heard I heard in his voice all what I hear now as he shouts at my bro’ Davie.” (p. 20)
Here, the repetition of “fool” and “heard” is employed for stylistic purposes of emphasis and rhythm, which both confer the dialect usage its distinctive and poetic character. Moreover, the author’s recurrent use of inversions such as “surprise there was on him” and elisions such as “ha’ ” (to denote have) further operate as Reid’s loose adaptations of Jamaican speech. Reid’s reworking of Jamaican spoken word also manifests itself in the use of Jamaican adverbs such as “quick” in lieu of the standard English adverb “quickly”. Here, the word “quick” does not denote the English adjective. In effect, it may very well be that Reid’s ultimate goal of establishing a Jamaican voice was derived from his passion for music and the desire to uphold a “stately but natural rhythm in writing.”
- Reid, V. S. (1 May 1986), “The Writer & His Work: V. S. Reid". Edited transcript of a talk given by Vic Reid in the Caribbean Seminar Series of the Faculty of Arts at the Mona Campus of the U.W.I.
- Morris, Mervyn. “Introduction” to V. S. Reid’s New Day. Caribbean Writers Series 4. Kingston & London: Heinemann, 1973.
- Cooke, Michael G., “V. S. (Vic) Reid”, Dictionary of Literary Biography, vol. 125: Caribbean and Black African Writers, second series. Detroit: Gale Research, 1993, pp. 256-60.
- Reid, V. S. New Day. NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 1949.