The Dragon Can’t Dance Characters

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1979

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Social

Time of work: Early 1960’2-1971

Locale: Port-of-Spain, Trinidad

Characters DiscussedAldrick Prospect

Aldrick Dragon Can’t Dance, TheProspect, a thirty-one-year-old man who has never had a regular job and whose only concern throughout the year is the creation of a new costume for his perennial role as dragon during the Trinidad Carnival. Seeing himself as embodying the power of ancestral African warriors and his dispossessed community’s potential for rebellion against its oppressors, he deliberately cuts himself off from ordinary ambitions–for love, possessions, a home–to devote himself to the partly mystical and priestly role through which he also asserts his own identity and humanity. He feels the impulse to love and protect Sylvia, but when she offers herself to him, he chooses, despite feelings of guilt, to maintain the emotional isolation and austerity that his role dictates. He gradually becomes alienated from most of his neighbors and is unwilling to act as guardian of the community code or to continue his role as dragon. He acts out his rebellion by scorning his neighbors, betraying his successful friend Philo, and taking part in a foolhardy hijacking of a police vehicle. Released after five years in prison, changed but undefeated, he seeks out Sylvia. Learning of her impending marriage to Guy, he leaves the hill.

Sylvia

Sylvia, a seventeen-year-old girl with special qualities of vitality, beauty, fragility, and desirability. The women of the Calvary Hill slum hope that she can miraculously escape the inevitable and common destiny of sexual exploitation, early pregnancy, and defeat and that her youth and promise will not be destroyed. Unable to establish a relationship with Aldrick based on love and the hope for an ordinary life, Sylvia faces the reality of her fatherless family’s poverty and gives herself to Guy in return for gifts, rent, and eventually a place of her own. Seven years later, on the eve of the wedding that will formalize and secure her relationship with Guy, she goes in search of Aldrick.

Belasco “Fisheye” John

Belasco “Fisheye” John, a tall and powerfully built man with bulging eyes. He is a “bad John,” indulging in violence to vent his bubbling rage. In his mid-thirties, he joins the Calvary Hill steel band more as a fighter than as a musician. Having found a purpose in life and a sense of pride and belonging, he is able to express a humanity that had been hidden. Unable to accept the end of the steel-band wars, he is expelled from the band, returns to his antisocial ways, and is sentenced to seven years in prison for leading an attack on the police.

Miss Cleothilda Alvarez

Miss Cleothilda Alvarez, an aging mulatto who, at Carnival, plays Queen of the Calvary Hill Carnival band. She is a parlor owner and former beauty queen. By virtue of her color, looks, and money, and the credit she extends to her customers, she exercises a condescending and manipulative control over her resentful but compliant neighbors. Gossipy and vindictive, she is superficially transformed at Carnival time into a generous advocate of unity and brotherhood. Forever coquettish, she scorns Philo, her black would-be lover; she loses her superior status when, after many years, she finally accepts him.

Samuel “Philo” Sampson

Samuel “Philo” Sampson, a forty-two-year-old singer and friend of Aldrick. A pleasant, smiling, boyish man, he becomes affluent when he turns from calypsos of social protest to popular smut. Wanting old friends to understand that he is still one of them, he is confused and hurt when his generosity is rejected.

Boya Pariag

Boya Pariag, a budding entrepreneur of East Indian descent, a newcomer to Calvary Hill. Shy, introspective, and with a desperate need to belong, he is excluded by his Creole neighbors. Hard work brings him financial success but not, as he had hoped, his neighbors’ appreciation of his true self.

Dolly

Dolly, Pariag’s wife through an arranged marriage. She is uncomplaining, patient, and understanding, seeing financial success as protection against prejudice.

Miss Olive

Miss Olive, Sylvia’s mother. Slow, stout, and six feet tall, she takes in washing to support her seven children. Dutifully suffering Miss Cleothilda’s demands and pomposity out of pity as much as respect, she has no heart to expose Cleothilda’s weakness.

Guy

Guy, a middle-aged property owner and rent collector who makes Sylvia his mistress and later plans to marry her.

BibliographyBarratt, Harold. “Metaphor and Symbol in The Dragon Can’t Dance.” World Literature Written in English 23 (Spring, 1984): 405-413. Argues that the rebellion and Carnival are forms of expression by those seeking to claim their “personhood.” Explores the larger theme of the quest for identity in the major characters.Gates, Henry Louis, Jr. Black Literature and Literary Theory. New York: Methuen, 1984. Overview of the subject that includes a discussion of Caribbean literature. Useful for placing Lovelace’s work in context.Ilona, Anthony. “’Laughing Through the Tears’: Mockery and Self-Representation in V. S. Naipaul’s A House for Mr. Biswas and Earl Lovelace’s The Dragon Can’t Dance.” In Cheeky Fictions: Laughter and the Postcolonial, edited by Susanne Reichl and Mark Stein. New York: Rodopi, 2005. Argues that derisive humor in The Dragon Can’t Dance tears down individual characters’ egos in order to make possible a more authentic representation of the complexity and diversity of collective Caribbean identities.King, Bruce Alvin, ed. West Indian Literature. Hamdon, Conn.: Archon Books, 1979. Survey of the West Indian literary scene published contemporaneously with The Dragon Can’t Dance. Index, bibliography.Meeks, Brian. Narratives of Resistance: Jamaica, Trinidad, the Caribbean. Mona, Kingston, Jamaica: University of the West Indies Press, 2000. Compares the representation of resistance in The Dragon Can’t Dance to that in Michael Thelwell’s Harder They Come (1994).Nazareth, Peter. Review of The Dragon Can’t Dance, by Earl Lovelace. World Literature Today 56 (1983): 394-395. Argues that Aldrick carries the message of the text. His development as a character demonstrates that self-understanding, which comes from looking inward and not from material possessions, is the key to life.Ramchand, Kenneth. “Why the Dragon Can’t Dance: An Examination of Indian-African Relations in Lovelace’s The Dragon Can’t Dance.” Journal of West Indian Literature 2 (October, 1988): 1-14. Argues that it is possible to focus on Pariag and still offer a response to the whole novel, since the theme of the African-Indian relationships allows for an examination of the concepts of alienation and selfhood.
Categories: Characters