G Grace Nichols

Price We Pay for the Sun by Grace Nichols

The author of ‘Price We Pay for the Sun’, Grace Nichols, grew up in a village on the coast of Guyana, one of the Caribbean Islands. Generally, when one thinks of the Caribbean, cruises, and luxurious vacations. With ‘Price We Pay for the Sun’, Grace Nichols intends to present a different view of the islands. Through the speaker of this poem, she reveals the other side of island life. Her own experience growing up on an island gives the author authority to speak through her speaker in a way that compels her listeners. Many readers have seen the Caribbean islands or at least a picture of an island. The speaker brings the readers into the realization that there is fear and poverty behind the picture-perfect idea of a Caribbean island.

Price We Pay for the Sun by Grace Nichols

 

Price We Pay for the Sun Analysis

Stanza One

These islands

not picture postcards

(…)

these islands split

bone

The opening stanza of ‘Price We Pay for the Sun’, which you can read in full here, immediately offers a new insight on the island to which the speaker refers. She opens by saying, “these islands/not picture postcards”. Because she mentions the postcard, the readers can immediately picture a beautiful island while simultaneously coming to the realization that there is a lot more to those islands than what they had previously known. Then, the speaker refers to the “unravelling tourist”. Her description of the tourist as “unraveling” implies her own admission that she does not understand everything about the life of the tourist. Rather, he unravels as he tours through the island, revealing more and more about himself as time goes on. It is not entirely clear whether the speaker has a positive or negative view of tourists, but she certainly believes that they do not understand the true nature of island life.

She goes on to proclaim to the tourist and to the readers that island life is more than what they know. She says that it is “real”, that is is more real, even, than “flesh and blood”. The speaker mentions the “stone” and the “foam” because those are concrete things the tourist has seen and the reader can recognize. One can imagine the foam of the sea and crash up against the stone. But then, the speaker says, “these islands split/bone”. This is strong language, and it implies that these islands are not just a luxurious vacation spot. They also mean back-breaking work for some people.

 

Stanza Two

my mother’s breasts

like sleeping volcano

(…)

sifting sand

water mirroring palm

With this stanza of ‘Price We Pay for the Sun’, the speaker brings her family into the discussion. Now, it is more personal. She has already revealed to the tourist and her hearers that there is more to the island than a picture-perfect postcard view. She has revealed that the islands have split bones. Now, she mentions her own family members. It becomes clear that the speaker is giving her personal experience when she talks about island life. When she refers to her “mother’s breasts” as “sleeping volcanoes” she reveals a small part of island life. It is no small thing to live every day near a sleeping volcano that could erupt. The comparison of her mother’s body to the volcanoes simply reveals how close to home the volcanoes really are. The speaker then refers to the volcanoes as “sulph-furious”. This is humorous as she combines the words “sulfur” and “furious” to make the volcanoes seem alive and angry. The cancer caused by the sulfur in the volcanoes appears to be part of the wrath of these furious volcanoes. The reality of cancer on the island also causes the readers to understand this island as more than just a vacation spot. It is home to people who experience tragedy and loss just like everyone else. It is home to people who battle cancer and live in fear of an erupting volcano.

The speaker continues to describe the island in terms of her family members. She reveals the hard work of her father when she says the wind is “constantly whipping my father’s tears”. For her father to show tears reveals the depth of pain experienced in island life. The speaker then mentions the “salty hurricanes”’ and her “grandmother’s croon”. All of these descriptions reveal that every member of her family is affected by the and the fear of volcanoes and hurricanes, and cancer, and by the back-breaking work of island life.

 

Stanza Three

Poverty is the price

we pay for the sun girl

run come.

With the final stanza of ‘Price We Pay for the Sun’, the speaker finally reveals the true cause of the pain involved in her life on the island. While hurricanes, volcanoes, and cancer all play a role, she seems to believe that poverty is the true cause of the anguish of island life. Poverty is what keeps them there, living under such circumstances. But poverty, also, is what allows the island to be a place of tourism in the first place. This is why the speaker says that poverty is “the price” they “pay for the sun”. The picture-perfect postcard of a Caribbean island is only possible because of the poverty of the people who actually live there. With the last two lines of the poem, the speaker is suddenly addressing someone, a girl in particular. She tells her “run come” at the end of this poem. This seems like an odd way to end the poem, considering the rest of it was exposing the poverty of island life. Then, the speaker reveals that she has been talking to a young girl the entire time. It is unclear whether this young girl is a tourist or another native girl. Either way, the speaker ends the poem with the hopeful attitude that life goes on and one must run with it. The end of ‘Price We Pay for the Sun’ suggests that nothing can stop them from running forward in life: not volcanoes or hurricanes or even poverty.

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About
Allisa graduated with a degree in Secondary Education and English and taught World Literature and Composition at the high school level. She has always enjoyed writing, reading, and analysing literature.
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