Banana Bottom is the story of a young Jamaican woman’s discovery of her country, her people, and herself. The novel begins with the return to Jamaica of twenty-two-year-old Tabitha “Bita” Plant, who has been abroad for seven years. After a flashback in which he explains the reasons for her absence, McKay tells the story of Bita’s life from her homecoming to her marriage, concluding with a brief epilogue that shows her as a contented wife and mother.
The tone of the book is detached, the pace leisurely. Like a loquacious village storyteller, McKay moves from episode to episode as if there were no direction to his narrative. When, at the end of Banana Bottom, Bita freely chooses a husband and a way of life, each of the earlier encounters takes on a new significance. It is then clear that every character, every incident, and every discussion in the novel has in some way affected Bita’s development.
Although as the first native black girl to receive an English education, Bita Plant returns home a celebrity, she had very nearly been ruined in her childhood, when she had sexual intercourse with a half-crazy musical genius. Although he was charged with rape and sent away, Bita’s reputation was tarnished. Fortunately, her father, the prosperous farmer Jordan Plant, could turn to the white missionaries Malcolm and Priscilla Craig, who took Bita to their home in Jubilee. Later, the Craigs decided to use her as an experiment, to show how an English education could transform a native girl. What they did not expect was that Bita would return to Jamaica with a mind of her own.
Bita’s vacillations between doing what is expected of her and making her own choices can be charted through her movements between her home in Jubilee, where the Craigs expect her to act in accordance with the rules of their strict denomination, and her home in Banana Bottom,...
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