Acculturation in Sam Selvon's "The Lonely Londoners"

Seminar Paper, 2006

16 Pages, Grade: 1



1. Acculturation – Interfaces between Cultural and Literary Studies

2. Terminology

3. Historical background

4. The Acculturation Process

5. Contact and participation
5.1. Language
5.2. Wage Employment
5.3. Daily practice
5.4. Age

6. Acculturation Attitude
6.1. Assimilation.
6.2. Integration
6.3. Marginalization
6.4. Separation

7. Acculturative Stress – Identity Confusion

8. Acculturation – Fiction and Reality

9. Bibliography

1. Acculturation – Interfaces between Cultural and Literary Studies

Acculturation is a phenomenon whose importance is more and more increasing due to our modern society that is becoming more mobile and the world becoming more and more a place in which people move either freely or forced (refugees, emigrants looking for a better place to live etc.). Of course, there are certain obstacles that make this process of mobility more difficult. People from one culture leave their roots and start a new life in a new culture. As a consequence, they are forced to adapt to and to adopt this new culture to a certain extent. This is a very complex progress that is described by cultural studies.

Just like any other experience, acculturation can be dealt with in literature. Literature can serve as a mirror that reflects cultural phenomena, human experiences, events in history etc. Literary studies deal with the interpretation of these depictions (or reflections) in literary works.

Since literary and cultural studies can partly deal with the same topics, there are interfaces. The focus of this research paper will be on acculturation theories and their application to Sam Selvon’s The Lonely Londoners with a further focus on the historical background that is intended to provide a better understanding of the acculturation process Selvon’s characters make through. It will also be analyzed how Selvon depicts his characters in their acculturation process, whether he uses stereotypes or a differentiated depiction and which problems the characters have to face. It will be shown in how far literature can reflect cultural phenomena and in how far this could be achieved in The Lonely Londoners.

2. Terminology


“1. activities involving music, literature, and other arts.”
“2. a set of ideas, beliefs, and ways of behaving of a particular organization or group of people.”
“2a. a society that has its own set of ideas, beliefs, and ways of behaving.”
“2b. a set of ideas, beliefs, and ways of behaving of a particular society.” (Macmillan, 338)

Here we can clearly see the interfaces between literature and culture. Literature along with the other arts is one aspect that belongs to the “behaving of a particular group of people”. On the one hand literature shapes culture and on the other hand culture influences literature that reflects cultural phenomena as a consequence. Culture is both “a set of ideas beliefs, and ways of behaving” and the group of people that is characterized by this “set of ideas, beliefs and ways of behaving”. This should be kept in mind when the term culture is used in the following chapters.


1. “Acculturation comprehends those phenomena which result when groups of individuals having different cultures come into continuous first-hand contact, with subsequent changes in the original culture patterns of either or both groups.” (Berry, 458)
2. Acculturation means “culture change that is initiated by the conjunction of two or more autonomous cultural systems.”

The main difference between these two definitions is that the first one describes the acculturation process of individuals and the second the acculturation process of a whole group of people, an “autonomous cultural system”. In this paper the focus will be on the acculturation process of the individual characters in Selvon’s The Lonely Londoners.

3. Historical background

The foundation for West Indian immigration was set in World War II when “several thousand West Indians were recruited into the armed forces of Britain” and others got the opportunity (or order) to work in war factories. After the war these men returned home and had to face the fact that they had got used to the live in Britain. Their home country suddenly seemed disappointing to them. Jobs were scarce and the standard of living could not keep up with the British. Nevertheless, since they were officially “citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies” they had free access to Britain due to its “open door policy”. (Ramchand, 3-4).

They went back to Britain due to different motives: Some wanted to help the “mother country”, though everybody wanted to help himself or herself too. The immigrants expected to earn money and to have new experiences in the country. Furthermore, they wanted to provide a better life for their children – better education and better chances in their future lives (Phillips, 109). Those West Indians who were living in Britain then reported their experiences and the opportunities in the rapidly developing post-war Britain to their relatives back home. Through this they themselves were encouraged to emigrate. Shipping companies saw this type of people as a gap in the market and offered cheap shipping to Europe, which made immigration increase even more (Ramchand, 4).

From 1948 to 1962, when the Commonwealth Immigrant Act was passed that should restrict the flow of immigrants, approximately 250.000 West Indians came to Britain (Phillips, 109). The Lonely Londers was published in 1956. This was the period when the annual figure of West Indian immigrants was over 25.000 and when “extended families would materialise in the thin air of Waterloo Station” (Ramchand, 4).

Selvon uses his character Tolroy, a Jamaican immigrant, to reflect these historical events of family reunions and of people coming to Britain encouraged by their relatives and friends:

“Meanwhile Tolroy gone down by the bottom of the train, stumbling over suitcase and baggage as he trying to see everybody what coming off the train at the same time.

A old woman who look like she would dead any minute come out of a carriage. […]

‘Oh Jesus Christ,’ Tolroy say, ‘what is this at all?’

‘Tolroy,’ the first woman say, ‘you don’t know your own mother?’

Tolroy hug his mother like a man in a daze, the he say: ‘But what Tanty Bessy doing here, ma? and Agnes and lewis and the two children?’

‘All of we come Tolroy,’ Ma say. ‘This is how it happen: when you write home to say you getting five pounds a week Lewis say, ‘Oh God, I going England tomorrow.’ Well Agnes say that she not staying at home alone with the children, so all of we come.’

‘And what about Tanty?’

‘Well you know how old your Tanty getting […].’

‘Oh God ma, why you bring al these people with you?’ “ (Selvon, 29-30)

Selvon manages to create a differentiated picture of immigrant families in his novel. He makes the reader aware of the fact that whole families do not always necessarily come to a foreign country due to selfish reasons and to exploit the country. Selvon shows that there are also other motives like the feeling of missing a beloved person or the impossibility to leave the family back home because its members are not able to get by on their own.

Many West Indian immigrants – like many other immigrants – believed that the streets in Britain were paved with gold. But when they came to Britain they realised that the situation for immigrants was completely different there. They had to face hardship in different ways which influenced their process of fitting in, of adapting, of beginning to feel at home – their acculturation process.


Excerpt out of 16 pages


Acculturation in Sam Selvon's "The Lonely Londoners"
University of Innsbruck  (Department of English)
New Ways of Writing Englishness
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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520 KB
Acculturation, Selvon, Lonely, Londoners, Ways, Writing, Englishness, New, Englishes, Postcolonial
Quote paper
Stefan Hinterholzer (Author), 2006, Acculturation in Sam Selvon's "The Lonely Londoners", Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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