I’ve been reading High Wind to Jamaica by Richard Hughes. It’s a children’s classic – but so far it had passed me by. Perhaps, when I was the right age, the ‘classic’ tag put me off, or the dull binding on the shelves of the school library.
Hearing it discussed recently on ‘ A Good Read’ piqued my interest and I decided to give it a try. I’m glad I did. We see the world chiefly through the children’s eyes, interpreted by a sympathetic narrator. This odd perspective transforms Jamaica and, later, the pirate ship, into random places governed by strange riles and events that are only half understood or explained. It isn’t an amoral universe, but judgments are skewed limited by the children’s understanding.
They are kidnapped – but accept their new life as readily as they accepted the prospect of being sent overseas by their parents to go to school in England. The one event makes as much sense – to the child – as the other.
The adult world intrudes on theirs quite randomly and with little comment. One of them falls to their death, another – the eldest girl – disappears into realm of the pirates and though we see her fear, we have no insight (in the book at least) into what might be happening to her. The world it draws for us isn’t kind or safe or nice and you have the sense – as any slightly feral child must have – precariousness where falling into pleasure or utter disaster are equally likely and equally outside of your control or understanding.
I think this gives a sense of the author’s view of the children he describes:
The inside of Laura was different indeed: something vast, complicated, and nebulous that can hardly be put into language. To take a metaphor from tadpoles, though legs were growing her gills had not yet dropped off. Being nearly four years old, she was certainly a child: and children are human (if one allows the term ‘human’ a wide sense): but she had not altogether ceased to be a baby: and babies of course are not human – they are animals, and have a very ancient and ramified culture, as cats have, and fishes, and even snakes: the same in kind as these, but much more complicated and vivid, since babies are, after all, one of the most developed species of the lower vertebrates. In short, babies have minds which work in terms and categories of their own which cannot be translated into the terms and categories of the human mind. It is true they look human – but not so human, to be quite fair, as many monkeys. Subconsciously, too, every one recognises they are animals – why else do people always laugh when a baby does some action resembling the human, as they would at a praying mantis? If the baby was only a less-developed man, there would be nothing funny in it, surely. Possibly a case might be made out that children are not human either: but I should not accept it. Agreed that their minds are not just more ignorant and stupider than ours, but differ in kind of thinking (are mad, in fact): but one can, by an effort of will and imagination, think like a child, at least in a partial degree – and even if one’s success is infinitesimal it invalidates the case: while one can no more think like a baby, in the smallest respect, than one can think like a bee.
Hughes, Richard. A High Wind In Jamaica (Vintage Classics) (p. 98). Random House. Kindle Edition.