Resistance, Oil and Awakening: Textual Responses to the Butler Strike and its Aftermath

  • Michael K. Walonen
Keywords: Butler Strike, black nationalism, Trinidadian nationalism, proletarian literature, oil


The 1937 Trinidad oil field labor uprising, commonly known as the Butler Strike, has come to be seen as a watershed moment in the nation’s history by the various poets and prose writers, indigenous and exogenous, who have sought to represent and define Trinidad as a place. Collectively, they present a broad conceptual range of Uriah Butlers (the strike’s leader or figurehead) and the events that would come to be associated with his name--their individual articulations of the Butler strike conditioned by their overriding aesthetic projects, genres of choice, political ideologies, and subject positions. This paper argues that while there can be no definitive textual Butler Strike, the ways that the strike and its major players are represented keenly evince their authors’ ideas regarding Trinidad’s emerging postcolonial identity, négritude/black power, and the confluences of class, racial, and anti-colonial struggle. From C.L.R James’s would-be proletariat hero hampered by religious zealotry, to Eric Roach’s Toussaint l’Ouverture manqué, to V.S. Naipaul’s racial fanatic adrift in large historical currents he cannot successfully navigate or comprehend, Butler and the struggle he has come to be seen as embodying present enduring subjects through which authors seek to historio-culturally comprehend the complexities and contradictions of late colonial and early postcolonial Trinidad.

Author Biography

Michael K. Walonen

Michael K. Walonen is a specialist in transatlantic modern and contemporary cultural studies, postcolonial studies, and world literature. He is the author of the book Writing Tangier in the Postcolonial Transition: Space and Power in Expatriate and North African Literature and articles that have appeared in the journals Interdisciplinary Literary Studies, Studies in Travel Writing, African Literature and Culture, and African Studies Quarterly, as well as the collections Geocritical Explorations and On and Off the Page: Mapping in Text and Culture.

Caribbean Literature Cluster