The Harder They Come: Getting My Share. An Analysis of Two Worlds

Within the film “The Harder They Come” written and directed by Perry Henzell and Trevor Rhone, the city plays a fundamental role in depicting the intransience of colonialism. Kingston embodies the features of the colonial world cut in two and this is evident if one observes the racial, political and geographical concerns present in the film. This follows the theory of decolonization put forward by Frantz Fanon who states that the “colonial world is a compartmentalized world.” The issue lies in the strategies deployed by leaders and citizens in “new” postcolonial countries: they chose to adopt a culture of enlightenment, mirroring European government, racial, gendered outlooks, thus, they failed to adequately reconstruct and question the Eurocentric which meant their societies simply refashioned oppression and inequality. These nationalist approaches lead to instances witnessed in the film where there basically exists an invisible boundary with the colonizers’ privileged off springs on one end and the common folk on another, experiencing the city in antithetical ways. It is through this divergent postcolonial landscape that the status quo of the society in the film is maintained.

If the viewer pays attention to the geographic arrangement of the city in “The Harder They Come”, he/she will be able to examine the covert situations which support and preserve a refined form of colonialism. In the opening scenes of the movie, Ivan makes his way out of a rural, and presumed traditional environment, into the modish and vibrant streets of Kingston. The journey takes Ivan into the hub of the city where vehicular and human presence increases. In the beginning scenes, Ivan sees a light blue convertible exiting an all-white shopping center[1] with a black male driver and two black female passengers. In this point-of-view shot, the area appears to be clean, spacious and inhabited by a few people. 2.jpgThe parked cars are privately owned and arranged neatly in their designated parking spots. Contrasting this “Uptown” area is the hustle and bustle of “Downtown” Kingston which provides limited space for its occupants to manoeuvre through. There are more public transport vehicles moving haphazardly, to and fro; the buses are rickety and overcrowded with passengers and luggage. When pedestrians cannot afford to pay the stipulated bus fare, they rely on the hand-cart man instead. There are no Chevrolet cars in these scenes; the typical means of transport for the lower-class citizens are buses, carts, bikes and bicycles. The areas where the British settled and procreated, along with their favoured compatriots, effectively become commercial and upper-class districts. Later, aspiring citizens on the periphery such as Ivan point to these locations with a smile and a wave, hoping to become a propertied bourgeois. c0a7f2895f65021f5065ac9fab424d23.png

The film explores the boundaries within the city even further by juxtaposing the images of the posh suburbs with the ramshackle environment of Shantytown. The uptown areas Ivan visits can be described as aesthetically pleasing.  The houses are predominantly white with white picket fences complimented by spacious green lawns. The trees and flowers that line the fences are beautifully arranged. Cars are parked in each yard and the roads are paved, smooth and clean. There are no sounds to be heard but the chirping of birds. Individuals can be seen reclining in comfort on their front porch such as the haughty female Ivan approaches for a job. 8.jpgThe woman tells Ivan she does not require a worker and orders Ivan to close the gate behind him, reminding one of the exclusivity that belongs to the rich. Similarly, Mr. Ray is seen relaxing in a hammock in his back yard as Jose frantically discusses the issues of the ganja trade.  His comfort reflects that which is seen at the glamorous hotels that only cater to the well-off: Ivan’s stroll through the pool area reveals that it is populated by the wealthy lounging on benches, basking in the sun and swimming in the pool. 

The “downtown” environment lacks the many commodities that the “uptown” areas enjoy. This sharp contrast is made when the camera cuts to a scene of the Riverton Dump, immediately following the footage of the suburban landscape. The multitude of garbage and flies seem endless as the johncrows (vultures) fly overhead. Like the vulture, the poor people are mere scavengers digging their way through the waste in the hopes of finding some marvelous trash left-over by the more fortunate. Ivan looks on in sadness and realizes there are “many rivers to cross” before he can reach the other side where the grass is always greener. the-harder-they-come-1972-720p-largescreenshot1.jpgThe footage also extends to the derelict houses of shantytown where the structures are built haphazardly; there are no steel fences or concrete walls but zinc and board all round. Residences are often marked by zinc enclosures bearing paint that reads “don’t piss or urine at this gate, people are living here.” The roofs are the color of rust and rubbish covers the roadside along with carcasses of old cars.  Even the roads are unpaved, stony and dusty. These shots reveal how socio-political abandonment fuels communal abandonment; the respect for property is diminished in such disorganized infrastructures that lack basic amenities. They are the “wretched of the earth”, living in “a disreputable place inhabited by disreputable people. [They] are born anywhere, anyhow. [They] die anywhere from anything” (Fanon, 4).

In Kingston, the division of labour also reflects a taking up of what the colonizers left off since the black majority work for the wealthy, Eurocentric minority who often exploit them. The poor citizens often occupy the informal market space and are also engaged in manual-labour occupations and industrial work. This is exemplified in the film where black men seeking employment form a long line outside a construction site. A light-skinned overseer decides whether to employ or reject the men desiring work. Even in the hotel scene one witnesses how the black workers cater to the affluent, proudly guarding the white doors[2]. As mentioned by Aggrey Brown in Color, Class, and Politics in Jamaica, a black man, with supervisory authority often “abuses his unaccustomed power in dealing with his own and toadies to the white boss” (1). Additionally, within the movie the dispossessed no longer cut sugar canes but sell ganja which becomes the postcolonial crop of the village. The plant is cultivated by the lower-class population yet the bulk of the profit still finds its way to the bourgeoisie. It can be likened to a modern-day plantation with the owner on one side (Mr. Ray) and Jose along with the other traders on the next side as paradoxical free slaves. Within the film, not much has changed in the postcolonial city where one’s job description is dependent on colour, background and money.

The poorer half of the society, as expressed in previous paragraphs, is largely populated by darker hued individuals who, like Ivan, dream of crossing over one day. It is interesting to note how the positions of power held in the film are by “brown” men such as Mr. Hilton, Mr. Ray, the radio spokesperson and various drivers of expensive Chevrolet cars. the-harder-they-come.jpgThis can be compared to the fact that those who reside in the pristine upscale areas are usually white, ‘mixed’ or light-skinned individuals. As noted by Fanon, “looking at the immediacies of the colonial context, it is clear what divides this world is first and foremost what species, what race one belongs to.” The colonial world espouses a love for “whitedom” and an ambivalence and often rejection of “blackdom”; the white or brown/ light-skinned people are considered civilized by varying degrees and by default, are able to access more resources than their “crude” “black” counterparts. The border dividing the upper classes from the lower classes consists of the police, soldiers and political representatives. These individuals monitor and control the common folk in order to prevent an insurgence, similar to the plantation overseer in the colonial period. They maintain the invisible walls through the use of their rifle butts, intervening between the maltreated and the exploiter. Communication between the two worlds in the film seem futile, one group is always excluded from the world of the other; as expressed by Fanon, “the colonist’s feet can never be glimpsed, except perhaps in the sea, and then you can never get close enough.” This is evident when we see how the brown elite drops the roof of his car when Ivan runs up begging some money at the hotel entrance. The same can be said of Mr. Hilton who is always being chased by those hoping for a bridge across the social gap. Ivan, like the other men with big dreams, calls out to Mr. Hilton from behind a latticed fence. This is symbolic of the tangible and intangible barriers which separate the prosperous from the needy; a world that excludes yet invites you in and otherizes you if you dare reject it. Fanon contends that the human reality is that “you are rich because you are white; you are white because you are rich.” This inequity leads many underprivileged citizens to perceive the ruling class and their allies as “Babylon”, “the oppressors” that they will overthrow by any means necessary. This explains why the traders would not provide the location of Rhygin even after Mr. Ray brings the ganja trade to a standstill.

In the city of Kingston, the gap between the two worlds are also widened by the coping mechanisms employed by the lower classes. Whereas the postcolonial upper classes laze around in the sun at their fancy resorts, the black population, unable to copy British culture or conduct, nestle themselves in the dancehall, at the bar, at the movies or on the street corner playing dominoes. 4.jpgThe latter often partake in these activities to quell their frustration and reservations. These behaviors date back to the colonial period where the slaves (usually at harvest time) would assemble and dance/sing in tune with African drums while the plantation owners hosted soirées. The entertainment centers within Kingston likely offer what Fanon relates about the phenomena of dance: a “muscular orgy during which the most brutal aggressiveness and impulsive violence are channeled, transformed and spirited away” (19, 20). An additional boundary marker between the two worlds in “The Harder They Come” is the church. 2311997470_aaafc230ed_o.jpgThe film pays special attention to the presence of this social institution for while the colonizers and their descendants have the land, the slaves are mainly left with the Bible. The church is an epicenter which not only consoles the colony but acts as a mediator between the subjugated and the authorities. The disenfranchised are taught patience, forgiveness, obedience and tolerance. In “The Harder They Come”, one does not see the elite attending church, perhaps because they are rich and do not need God for comfort?  The church, as articulated in Marxist philosophy, is the opium of the people; it often represses rebellion and promotes acceptance of one’s exploitation. Fanon asserts that “it does not call the colonized to the ways of God… [but] to the ways of the oppressor.” For instance, in the film, the choir sings “Jesus hear my plea” and the preacher tells the congregation that “whereas God so clothed the grass of the fields…shall he not so much more clothe you? Oh yea of little faith!” The poor folk are essentially told to be patient and wait for the “pie up in the sky”. Hence, religion in the film fails to encourage critical thinking about the reality of the people along with the possible solutions that might assuage inequality and poverty.

The film, “The Harder They Come”, clearly demonstrates that Jamaican society is divided in matters of labour, infrastructure, leisure, travel and worship. The colour and race of individuals often determine how easily they can access the nations’ resources. In order to eradicate the mental and literal boundaries colonialism erects, Jamaican society, like most recolonized landscapes, must confront its antinomy. Questions must be asked: How best can a country and its government spread its resources/opportunities evenly so that crime does not become a logical alternative, so that capital moves beyond the “brown” or “uptown”? In what way can the country re-imagine its people to be more than British imitators in speech and action, bearing in mind that Caribbean people are creolized? These answers, along with others, will impact the lives of literal Ivans who are often faced with an ultimatum of drawing on their talent or drawing weapons.

[1] Known today as Manor Park Plaza, an area frequented by middle – upper class individuals, typically of lighter hue.

[2] Note how “white” colors symbolize the desire to be legitimate, that is, to do as white colonizers did: own white houses with white fences, gates, and well-tended gardens.


You love like the seasons

The spring in your step renewed me

Your summer lips subdued me

You weakened my limbs and I did fall

But your touch foretold winter after all.

And you left – for what? To recycle a lie,

To bring forth new flowers just to let them die.

Kei Miller’s ‘The Bus Driver’



Kei Miller, a West Indian poet, uses his poem, ‘The Bus Driver is Accused of not Wearing Uniform’ to depict a real life situation and present a social commentary. He presents a conventional, old-time bus driver who finds himself in trouble with the law as he has failed to wear navy blue pants while driving as sanctioned by the government. Instead, he wears brown pants. This man is firmly devoted to past tradition (how he was raised) and religious values. He speaks forthrightly to Judge James at the Traffic Court in Spanish Town and expounds through witty reasoning why he must wear his brown pants. By orchestrating language and structure, Miller skillfully reveals the emotion of the driver and the reality of his situation. Also, diction, rhyme and figures of speech play a focal role in developing meaning through the driver’s arguments and feelings. Hence, through the poetic presentation of a working class citizen, Kei Miller reveals the injustices of the legal system along with its inconsistencies. Even so, ‘The Bus Driver’ exposes the fact that a person’s apparel tends to be read as a reflection of their character.

‘The Bus Driver’ is done in first-person narrative; however, it gives both a single and plural point of view; that of his fellow bus drivers. The poet does this to relay that this is a first-hand experience, hence, increasing the poem’s genuineness and persuasion. The language of the poem is English-Creole which allows both a Creole and Non-Creole reader to understand the poem. By allowing the bus driver to address the judge informally in Jamaican Creole, Miller reveals how frank and bold he is. When the driver asks ‘what’s so wrong in that?’ the rhetoric allows his defiant attitude to show. In addition, the driver yells ‘I won’t drive in rags, your honour!’ The exclamation at the end of his statement creates an auditory image, that of a high pitched shout. Hence, the tone of the persona can be identified as both defiant and defensive which aids in persuading the reader. In addition, the persona constantly repeats ‘I plead guilty…’ throughout the poem. This helps to add balance, and most importantly, shows that the driver’s justifications, in parts, are of equal importance. He pleads he is ‘half’- guilty of ‘shame and good manners’; ‘guilty of a pair of brown pants and ‘old time ways.’  These mocking declarations are able to appeal to a person’s sense of logic. It would be ridiculous to send someone to jail just for a ‘pair of brown pants’. Thus, Miller highlights that the driver’s brown pants is really insignificant compared to someone holding a ‘knife against [yuh] neck.’ Hence, the driver’s tone shows how strongly he regards how his mother raised him as well as convincing the reader of the ridiculousness of the law.

The tone and feelings of the persona can not only be interpreted through language but structure. The poet imposes a pattern in her poem, that is, 14 stanzas, each of three lines. This makes the poem look ordered and symmetrical which suggests a positive sentiment. The driver’s confident statements backed by balanced verses convey to the reader the driver’s sense of security. Not only that, these proportioned lines suggest an inside logical order, an order which the legal system and government lacks. Most importantly, it reveals the bus driver‘s determination to not wear navy blue pants and break away from his beliefs and values. Hence, the pattern of the poem reinforces its message through optical appeal.

Within ‘The Bus Driver’, rhyme is utilized as the poem moves from the driver’s personal reflection to that of the raggedy criminals of ‘today’. This contrast is highlighted through half-rhymes ‘boring’ and ‘growing’, ‘neck’ and ‘guess’. Miller does this to suggest something untidy and wrong about piercing one’s ears and growing one’s hair wild by stressing the ugliness of the words. This is effective in helping the reader to grasp the disorder brought on by today’s deviance. However, in the ending stanza, there is an internal rhyme on tear and wear. This is important in creating a wider impression of finding an order in a respectable appearance. Furthermore, the shift in perspective may also represent the societal shift in law enforcement and male attire. Rhyme then is an important medium used which supplements language.

Literary devices within ‘The Bus Driver’ also help to enhance interpretation and in doing so may acquire the reader’s support and attention. In the beginning stanza, the bus driver describes how his ‘blue cotton shirt’ was ‘buttoned up and tucked in.’ The use of assonance in this line creates a pleasing kind of near rhyme which emphasizes the words. These stresses on the words help to sum up a perception of the possibly neat and coordinated dressing of the driver.  Through the use of simile, the persona compares his pants to what ‘men wear on Sundays.’ The poet even skillfully paints religious overtones by using words such as ‘Sundays’, ‘dignified’ and ‘Judgment Day.’ This is done to affiliate the pants to something sacred and righteous which is undeserving of negative scrutiny. Hence, the persona cleverly illustrates the brown pants in a religious light to convince the court and the reader that cleanliness is close to Godliness.

The bus driver’s pride in his physical appearance is also portrayed through diction and symbolism. The driver ‘splashes’ cologne onto his chest ‘each morning.’ This is exaggerated in order to emphasize the degree of satisfaction and pride the driver gains from smelling good and looking good. When the persona declares that the navy blue pants are ‘always sporting holes’, it not only suggests the deterioration of clothes but of the law. It symbolizes a government which is weak and declining in moral. Even the word ‘sporting’ denotes to the act of being fair and generous, which, ironically, the justice system is not. Hence, the driver’s rejection of navy blue pants embodies his rejection of present society’s nonchalance towards muddled dressing and behaviour. Miller then allows his readers to see how law principles sometimes overlook fundamental problems in pursuit of petty issues.

Strange truths are revealed in the poem when words are juxtaposed. Within stanzas eight, nine and ten, Miller evokes humour and understanding through satirical and contradictory representation. The driver states he does not see ‘[any criminals] in court today’, he guesses they are not present because ‘bad bwoy never out of uniform.’ The poet makes the driver relay this information through satire in order to startle the reader into attention. The idea of labeling a ‘bad bwoy’ with anything which suggests order is ludicrous. The paradoxical statement is absurd, yet it underscores the truth.  Criminals are not caught and tried by a court of law as much as persons who commit trifling offenses. The line too is effective in revealing that these ‘bad bwoy[s]’ wear ‘uniform’ characters, whether external or internal; proving they ‘come from nowhere and answer to nobody.’ Therefore, the poet enables his audience to realize the warped focus of the justice system.

‘The Bus Driver’ offers a bona fide interpretation of the government and its legal system through a citizen’s eyes. It puts forward a genuine perspective of a working class man who tries to maintain his dignity by wearing durable brown pants. Through satirical arguments one is exposed to how obtuse law principles are when you can get in trouble for attempting to dress decently but not for dressing wildly. Through symbolism, language and structure, the poem cleverly depicts that how you dress, reveals who you are and that within the Caribbean, tattered and wild fashion has now become a trademark for a deviant.  The brown pants then becomes an ideal symbol for traditional values and morals to show that one must never submit to negative social change. With this done, on judgment day – not court day – you can proudly say you have lived without falling victim to any mechanism of deviance and disorder.




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