“from my experience, when I have needed help it is people outside the church who have given it to me” (Wiltshire, 1985: 25).
In the preface of Living and Winning, publisher Maggie Hewitt explains from the outset her and Pauline had mixed views and experiences with religion, specifically Christianity. Hewitt explained that she understood that she and Pauline came from different backgrounds, and therefore their squabbles were inevitable: “One of the difficulties I had with the text was around Pauline’s attitude towards religion. We argued about it for hours. However, people who had grown up in the West Indies, or elsewhere, found her views perfectly understandable” (ibid,6/7). Hewitt, who is white, decided she needed to make sure Pauline’s voice and opinions were heard, so she did not change the text Pauline had initially come to her with. This is extremely important for people like Pauline, as her authentic memoir adds to the wider discussion around black autobiographical writers and their memoirs. As Flinn suggests, true accounts from people like Pauline “provide the environment and structure… which the Afro-Caribbean [person] can extend and build positive frames of reference, and a basis for white [people] to understand the Black presence in an anti-racist context” (Flinn, 2012: 30). Pauline’s memoirs stay true to her experiences and despite disagreements with Hewitt, her story is told how it happened, further showing the importance of black autobiographies and their need to be authentic in order to project real life events they experience and have opinions about.
Pauline has experienced the church in a positive and negative light. When she was young and growing up in Jamaica, she spent all of her free time at the ‘Church of God’ in Coleyville, a nearby Christian church. “Catholicism was one of the main religions in Jamaica” (Romain, 2017: 22), holding “the most churches of any country” (Matthews, 2018: np). Because she was in and out of different homes, school and hospital, she found refuge there; she felt a sense of belonging and stability. In her memoirs she broke down her weekly routine at the church: Sundays she, amongst “500-odd people” (Wiltshire, 1985: 20) would listen to the preacher and sing (of which she used to love), Tuesdays would be bible studies, Wednesdays prayer meetings and Thursdays would be group meetings (ibid). Pauline made many friends at this church, and was happy for a while. However, when Pauline became pregnant, all stability was lost from the Church. To begin with, she was confident that she would not lose respect or acceptance from the Church, and still attended. “I was still going to church after I had the baby because I really enjoyed going to church, and I knew God would forgive me for what happened. It was not really my fault I had this child” (ibid: 22). However, her preacher did not approve and told her that God did not forgive her for her actions. This was a pivotal moment for Pauline, as she believed he was not following the message Christians are supposed to adhere by and, quite literally, did not practise what he preached.
“I think if he was a real Christian minister he would say ‘O.K Pauline, I will think about it’. But he never said a word to me… since that happened to me I just lost faith in the Church” (ibid: 25). Pauline’s views didn’t change much when she arrived in England. In fact, Pauline believed that “Here in England some Christians are afraid that the distractions and temptations of society will take people away from the church” (ibid: 27). As Hewitt mentions in the preface, these feelings Pauline felt were not rare amongst Caribbeans. David Matthews, who I have referenced in previous blog posts, interviewed the ‘voices of the Windrush generation’ and their experiences growing up in both Jamaica and Britain. One interviewee states that “religion is a form of control” (Matthews, 2018: np), and often the people who scrutinise others for not following Gods wishes are “hypocrites” (Wiltshire, 1985: 26).
I think its important to note that Pauline has faced much scrutiny from people within the churches that she went to, and uses her memoirs as a platform for standing up against religious oppression and discrimination. Pauline believes that “what is important is what people do for others, not what they say” (ibid). Her contribution in regards to expressing her feelings towards religion shows she is able to talk about issues that are deeply rooted within religious rules and expectations and therefore she is able to freely challenge through her writing.
Flinn, A. (2012). Archives and their communities: Collecting histories, challenging heritage. Brighton: University of Brighton. Accessed: 4/5/2020.
Image 1: Jamaican Church in the 1950s.
Image 2: Wiltshire, P. (1985). Living and Winning.Centerprise publishers: Hackney.
Matthews, D. (2018). Voices of the Windrush Generation: The Real Story Told By The People Themselves. London: Blink Publishing. Accessed: 4.5.2020.
Ramone, J. (2013). Editorial Women’s Life Writing and Diaspora Life Writing. Vol. 10, No. 1, 1- 3. 2013 Taylor & Francis
Romain, G. (2017). Race, Sexuality and Identity in Britain and Jamaica: The Biography of Patrick Nelson, 1916–1963. London: Bloomsbury, Accessed: 4/5/2020.
Wiltshire, P. (1985). ‘Living and Winning’. Centerprize publisher: Hackney.