The Hummingbird Tree a Review

Published: Sunday, 19 February 2012 Written by Bernelle Titre

Title: The Humming Bird Tree

Author: Ian McDonald

ISBN #: 9780435989347

 

The mind of a child is traditionally described as malleable and unfathomable. In “The Hummingbird Tree,” McDonald explores the depths of children’s minds in the unbreakable bonds of childhood friendship. It is in this state of childhood innocence that the young and rich white Master Alan finds friendship among his poor servants Kaiser and Jaillin, two Indian villagers. Alan did not understand why his parents forbade him from playing with his two Indian friends. Alan, despite many efforts to convince himself that he is not ashamed of his friendship with the Indians, does not play with them in the presence of his white friends and he insists to his parents and white friends that the Indians are not his friends. Kaiser and Jaillin know that they are not allowed to play with Alan in the presence of other whites. They do not fully understand why, but know that this is what is expected of them and simply stick to the status quo.

 

Kaiser, with his vast knowledge and skills, his fearlessness, his manliness, is Alan's hero. Similarly, his love for Jaillin is unfettered by any clue that a bi-racial relationship comes with various hardships and social repercussions, especially in pre-independence Trinidad, where colour and class is everything. He wants to see her increasingly often and blushes at the very thought of taking their relationship further than friendship. He knows he is thrilled when she looks at him, he knows he must marry her when they grow up. And in his young mind that's all there is to it.

 

But soon 'reason' begins to take a toll on Alan, and his Indian friends begin to seem vulgar. And so time passes and Master Alan loses the unsoiled beauty and innocence of a child. The splendor of the land, with all its wildlife, landscape and vegetation, becomes decreasingly significant and the obligations and expectations of his upper-class life come into sharp focus. Afternoons spent hunting with Kaiser soon give way to more ‘suitable and constructive’ activities. Before long, Master Alan is about to go off to Cambridge to study History and further his education; much to his parents' relief, Alan now accepts his superior lot in life.

 

But truly, he is unhappy. The striking Jaillin has eluded him, like the beautiful native butterflies they used to try to catch when they were younger; he can never love another like he loves her, but he realizes now that being with her is just not that simple. He is overcome by uneasiness, awareness that he has betrayed a trust, that he has betrayed his true self, by taking the path of conformity, weighs on his conscience and plagues his mind.

 

As he speaks to Jaillin for what may be the last time, Allan feels a sense of loss and longing for what could have been. Jaillin and Alan seem to accept their places in society and simply exchange pleasantries, neither wanting to crumble with longing and surface from their façade. The ending of the novel is truly melancholy, leaving readers with a sense of depression and pining for what may have been; between the three friends and the budding romance between Alan and Jaillin. Though the ending may be deemed unsatisfactory or disappointing to some, it was a potent reminder that things do not always the desired way in life and that each person has a part to play in society. The real choice is not between love and duty. Rather, we are to find a balance between the two and simply do what is rightFriendships can last forever.

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