Sam Selvon, The Lonely Londoners
Sam Selvon, The Lonely Londoners

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Sam Selvon, The Lonely Londoners

Background

In June 1948 the SS Empire Windrush arrived at Tilbury Docks in England at the end of a journey from Jamaica that brought around 500 West Indians to Britain. The British Nationality Act earlier that year had granted free entry to Britain for all Commonwealth citizens, as the government tried to recruit extra labour to help national reconstruction after the Second World War. This led to a large increase in the immigrant population of Britain, mostly from the Caribbean, India and Pakistan. Although the Windrush brought the first substantial migrant influx from the Caribbean, it was not until the mid-1950s that others followed in large numbers, with over 100,000 migrants arriving between 1954 and 1958.

During the war, some 10,000 West Indian servicemen were based in Britain. As Robert Winder has shown, the reception offered to these servicemen was generally hospitable; those West Indian soldiers posted to RAF bases, for example, ‘were embraced as friends by their neighbours; some even resolved to come back once the fighting was over’ (2004, p. 330). The story was very different, though, for many who did come back and others who made their first journey to Britain in the early post-war period. They experienced discrimination, and regular employment and decent housing were often hard to find. What, then, was the appeal of England for those Caribbean migrants who uprooted themselves from their homelands to travel thousands of miles to a country so different in terms of its social structure, cultural norms and values, and climate? The discussions of Selvon’s novel in this course will offer some possible answers to this and other questions, through an emphasis on the themes of migration and memory.

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