Green Days By The River - Chapter Summaries
Chapter 1The first thing the reader will notice about Green Days by the River is the narrative style and Caribbean dialect of the characters. The first person described is Mr Gidharee, an Indian plantation owner whose constant companions are four large and imposing Tobago dogs. The narrator speaks to him for the first time and we learn that he has a daughter, called Rosalie, who is described as dougla, i.e. a racial mix of Indian and West Indian. The conversation also reveals that the narrator is West Indian and young. We sense he has an interest in Rosalie by the way he thinks of her 'laughing eyes and curly hair'. Mr Gidharee offers the narrator some work on his plantation, as he knows his father is sick and confined to bed.
The narrator goes inside to his father who is lying on a bed in the living room. His mother is the breadwinner of the family and has to go out to work everyday. The narrator explains about Mr Gidharee's offer but his father says he must ask his mother for permission. They speak a little about Rosalie. Again we get the impression that the narrator is keen on her, although he has only seen her once. He sets off to find his mother, after refusing to give his father his tobacco pipe. He wishes his father were fit and healthy like Mr Gidharee.
Under the cashew nut tree he meets some boys and joins in their game of trying to knock down fruit with stones. He is new to the area and doesn't know any of these boys, even though they are about the same age as him. One of the boys, Lennard, seems to be the leader and is the most friendly. He teases another boy, Joe, about Rosalie, saying she is his girlfriend. Joe is agitated by the talk and does not admit to this. There is another boy present who says very little, only interjecting at one point to imply that Leonard likes Rosalie too. At this point the narrator leaves them and walks to the beach, thinking about the conversation.
- What have you found out about the narrator in this chapter?
- Compare and contrast Mr Gidharee and the narrator's father.
- What is your impression of Rosalie?
- What is your impression of the boys?
Chapter 2The narrator tells Mr Gidharee he can work for him, but he still has a day ahead with nothing to do. He goes back to the cashew tree where he meets Lennard. They talk about Rosalie and Joe, and the narrator learns that Joe and Rosalie are not really together. Lennard tells him she is fourteen years old and that he thinks she is the 'sweetest thing in the whole of Mayaro'. He is waiting for her to come outside, but there is no sign of Rosalie.
- What do you make of Lennard?
- What do you think the narrator makes of Lennard?
- What is Rosalie's impact on the narrative so far? Is it significant that she has only been talked about so far?
Chapter 3The next morning, while the narrator waits for his new employer, his father wonders about Mr Gidharee's motives for his kindness. The narrator understands the implication that it is something to do with Rosalie, but draws no conclusions about this. Notice that the narrator and his father talk freely and openly and that his father is influential to him, despite his infirmity.
The narrator is excited by the prospect of his first day's real work. He is pleased to find he is dressed like a miniature version of Mr Gidharee, albeit in short pants and with a less impressive knife. On the way to Cedar Grove, the narrator helps with the four massive dogs and is surprised to find them quite manageable and friendly. They walk for a long time, chatting along the way. We learn that the narrator is called Shellie, or Shell. The jungle environment is new to Shell, who is from 'Down-the Beach'. Mr Gidharee begins to teach him how to cope with it. The plantation is made up of rice fields and fruit crops, with coca fields lying beyond. Mr Gidharee shares his produce generously with Shell and he enjoys climbing the trees to get the fruit.
- Why do you think Mr Gidharee is being so friendly to Shell? How might Rosalie be relevant to this?
- How is the relationship between Shell and Mr Gidharee developing?
- Is it significant that it is via Mr Gidharee that we learn Shell's name?
- Cedar Grove is a huge stretch of land. What does this tell us about Mr Gidharee?
Chapter 4Shell and Mr Gidharee work together in the rice fields and Mr Gidharee shares his food with Shell. He also tells Shell that, 'what you cut is yours'. Mr Gidharee is very understanding and sympathetic about Shell's father's illness, and Shell finds that he is extremely touched by this. At the same time he feels a bit embarrassed, as if he were accepting charity from him.
As they work, one of the dogs arrives with an iguana in its mouth. Shell is appalled to see that Mr Gidharee is pleased with this and goes on to ruthlessly behead the animal. This doesn't sit well with Shell's impressions of his new friend and he can't make sense of it.
- Does Mr Gidharee's kindness have an ulterior motive or should it be taken at face value?
- Is Mr Gidharee's behaviour what you would expect from an employer?
- What is the significance of the incident with the iguana?
- Why does Shell experience conflict when Mr Gidharee kills the iguana to eat?
Chapter 5A week later Shell sees Rosalie (whom he still refers to as 'the dougla girl') under the cashew tree. She initiates a conversation with him, and already seems to know quite a lot about him. She has talked to her father about Shell. As they are speaking, Lennard arrives and he and Rosalie begin to play a chasing game. Although this is a childish game there is clearly some flirtation between the pair, and this creates a confusing overlap between adult and childish behaviour. Lennard asks if she is going to the Discovery Day fair, and this indicates that this is an important social event. When Rosalie wants to leave, Lennard encourages her to stay, addressing her intimately as Rosa. Shell feels that he is in the way, and leaves them alone together.
- What do you make of Rosalie's behaviour? Is she being innocently friendly or flirtatious?
- Is it significant that Mr Gidharee has discussed Shell with Rosalie? Does this suggest anything about his plans for his daughter and Shell?
- Do you think there is anything occurring between Lennard and Rosalie?
- Rosalie modestly tries to keep herself covered as she gathers the cashew nuts. Is she aware of her sexuality?
- Shell makes no comment on the relationship between Lennard and Rosalie. Is this significant? What does his silence tell you?
Chapter 6The next time Shell meets Rosalie he is much bolder. He initiates the conversation, despite his nervousness about what to say. He notices her clothes and her figure and is clearly attracted to her. He asks if she is Lennard's 'jane',or girlfriend, and she says no. He is afraid to pursue this line of conversation by asking about Joe too. Instead he talks about the coming fair. He tells her his father's illness may prevent him from going and she is sympathetic. Thinking about how ill his father is makes Shell distressed. The dogs arrive and Rosalie goes inside again after some more brief banter between them, during which Rosalie ignores Shell's revelation that he likes someone.
- How does Shell behave towards Rosalie? What does this tell you about his feelings for her?
- How is his father's illness affecting Shell?
Chapter 7At the discovery day fair Shell is obsessed with Rosalie. The place is crowded with people he doesn't know and he searches for her in the throng. Lennard's surprise approach annoys him but he softens when Lennard is so friendly to him, noting how good he looks and tacitly acknowledging that they both like Rosalie. When the dancing starts Shell watches from the sidelines until Lennard approaches him and offers his dancing partner. Shell declines and shortly afterwards sees Rosalie with Joe. He is upset by this and agrees to dance with Lennard's girl, Joan. He is further upset to realise that Rosalie really likes Joe, but that the feeling is not reciprocated. As the music starts he tries to focus on what he is doing. Despite knowing that he is a good dancer, he tells Joan he can't dance. However he is soon lost in the music and spinning Joan around like a professional. They enjoy dancing together and he finds he really likes her company and the way she feels in his arms. Joan is from Sangre Grande and is staying with a family in Pierre Hill for the fair. After the dance Shell returns her to her seat in case he should offend Lennard. He meets Joe and his thoughts return to Rosalie, whom he believes must be dancing with Lennard. He is surprised, therefore when she approaches. She is angry with Joe for leaving her and he is clearly not bothered. He goes to find Lennard, leaving Shell with Rosalie. He begins to flirt with her and plucks up the courage to ask her for a dance. She agrees and he becomes excited at the prospect.
- What do you make of Shell's comments on Joan?
- What about Rosalie's behaviour in this chapter? Is she fickle in her affections?
Chapter 8Rosalie and Shell dance together and talk to each other. They compliment each other on their dancing. After the dance he takes her back to her seat, where Joe is waiting. Shell still thinks she likes Joe. Joe takes Shell to the bar. The barman is Freddie, a friend of Lennard's, who serves them with rum. Shell quickly becomes drunk and has to be taken out of the fair with Joe and Lennard supporting him and Freddie commenting on his lack of discretion.
- What is the significance of Shell getting drunk so quickly?
Chapter 9Shell's father takes a turn for the worse and is taken to hospital. Many neighbours offer consolation, including Mr Gidharee and Rosalie. Shell is so upset he breaks down in front of them and they stay to comfort him and his mother. The house feels empty with his father gone and he and his mother pray for him together.
- Describe the relationship between Shell and his parents. Why is it significant that his father has gone?
- What is the significance of the Gidharee's offering comfort?
Chapter 10Shell does another day of work with Mr Gidharee. We know this is a regular occurrence because the dogs are more used to him. Because of his father's illness Shell has decided to look for work instead of going back to school. Shell works hard but is afraid to bathe away his sweat in the river because of alligators. Mr Gidharee treats Shell like an adult and they are at ease with each other. Mr Gidharee asks Shell how old he is and we learn that he is nearly sixteen. Mr Gidharee comments that Rosalie is nearly fifteen, and Shell is unable to meet his look.
- What changes do you notice in Shell and his relationship with Mr Gidharee?
- Why does Mr Gidharee mention Shell and Rosalie's age? What is the effect of this questioning on Shell?
Chapter 11Having had no news of Shell's father, his mother decides he must go to Port-of-Spain to visit him in hospital. Things have been quiet for Shell now all his friends are back in school. He has heard that Joe has gone away to study motor mechanics. Before he leaves town he visits Freddie's café, where he learns that Rosalie has told people about his father. He tells Freddie he is going to Port of Spain and Freddie asks which route he will take. He realises he could go through Sangre Grande and visit Joan. He decides to visit Lennard for her address. Before he leaves the café, Freddie gives him a drink and as he looks around Shell admires a picture on the wall.
- Discuss Shell's state of mind at this point.
- What is your impression of Freddie?
- Shell decides very quickly that he wants to visit Joan. What does this tell you about him?
Chapter 12Shell begins his journey, full of thoughts about Joan. He will visit her on the way home. He thinks about her for most of the journey, becoming increasingly more excited at the prospect of seeing her again. However, as he nears Port-of-Spain his thoughts turn to his father.
- Describe Shell's feelings towards Joan. What are they based on?
Chapter 13Port-of Spain is busy and confusing so Shell takes a taxi to the hospital. It is not visiting time but the nurses allow him to see his father anyway. He has just been 'tapped', a procedure that draws fluid from him, and he is sleeping when Shell arrives. Naturally shocked at his father's condition and over-awed by the hospital, it is a few minutes before Shell wakes him up. He speaks to his father about how he is and tells him about life at home. They fall into their usual ease and even make each other laugh. At this point a stern nurse arrives to scold them. Shell is shocked when he catches a glimpse of the blood soaked dressing on his father's stomach. He is even more alarmed when his father tells him that a family arrived to visit someone only to find that he had been dead for three weeks. His father, however remains cheerful and Shell is forced out of his misery. His father asks him about Rosalie and Shell is surprised at how perceptive he is. After this he has to leave. He walks back to the station, unable to stop thinking about his father.
- What impression do you have of the hospital?
- How does the visit make Shell feel?
- How does his father cope with his illness?
- Comment on the relationship between Shell and his father.
Chapter 14When Shell arrives at Joan's house she is there with her mother, sister and baby brother. She teases Shell about his drunkenness on discovery day and her mother finds it funny. Eventually Joan's sister goes to school and her mother sets about her chores. Shell and Joan talk about discovery day and Shell comments that Joan's mother is very trusting to allow this visit. Joan is very straightforward with Shell and when he asks if she has a boyfriend she replies yes. He notices her baby brother and begins to play with him. At this point Shell becomes uncomfortable and says he will leave but Joan persuades him to go for a walk with her and Jake.
Shell is admiring Joan and her grown up looks as they walk. She asks him why he came and he tells her he can't stop thinking about her since they danced together. She is very astute and comments that she thinks he likes Rosalie. He denies that there is anything between him and Rosalie. At this point he hints that he wants to go back and soon heads off to catch the bus home. He realises he had forgotten to buy Jake some sweets, as he had intended to, but he is relieved to have left before her father and brother come home.
- What do you think Shell wants from Joan?
- Is it true to say there is nothing between him and Rosalie?
- What is the significance of Shell's attitude and actions towards Joan's baby brother, Jake?
Chapter 15Shell's father unexpectedly comes home from hospital. Shell is alone when he arrives and, much to his father's annoyance, he cannot stop from crying. They discuss Shell's future. His father is angry that he has chosen to give up school but Shell feels that he has no choice but to work and bring some money in. His father reveals that there is little chance of recovering from his illness and that he will probably die soon.
When his mother gets home Shell goes outside to give them some time together and sees Rosalie. He tells her he can't talk because of his father but afterwards realises he should have told her Joan is his girlfriend now. He thinks that Joan means more to him now and he should no longer flirt with Rosalie.
Later that night Shell starts to tell his father about Rosalie and Joan. His father notes that Rosalie likes him. They are interrupted when Shell's mother returns and decide to continue the conversation the next day.
- What effect does his father's return have on Shell?
- Why does Shell feel able to talk to his father but not his mother about personal issues?
- Were you surprised to discover Joan is now Shell's girlfriend? Why?
- Why does Shell's father think that Rosalie likes Shell?
Chapter 16Mr Gidharee pays a visit to Mr Lammy, Shell's father. Mr Gidharee wishes him good heath and offers to do anything he can to help. He argues that this is how neighbours should behave towards each other. He also makes many complimentary comments about Shell. Shell's father likes him very much and when he is gone he encourages Shell to be friendly with Rosalie. Shell replies that he prefers Joan and wants to marry her. They discuss this for a while with Shell's father arguing that they should wait at least five years. As Shell wants Joan to visit he also suggests that Shell needs to tell his mother about the relationship, which he is nervous about. Shell realises that his father will respect his decision whatever it is.
- Why do you think Mr Gidharre visits Mr Lammy?
- What is Mr Lammy's opinion on Shell's relationships with Joan and Rosalie?
- How does Mr Lammy treat Shell?
- Do you think Shell's decisions about his own future are rational?
Chapter 17In the run up to Christmas, Shell works on a cocoa plantation. It is very tiring work, but every evening Shell finds time to write a letter to Joan. He tells her about a girl he works with called Sonia. Once after work Sonia appeared when Shell was bathing naked in the river. Shell felt very nervous about this and asked her to leave. He was shocked when she laughed and teased him, interpreting this as flirtation. Eventually he realises she really did come there because she had left her cocoa rod behind, as she said.
He relates that Joan is coming to visit for New Year's Eve and describes the Christmas preparations in his home. He is pleased to have been able to give his mother some money.
As night falls Shell goes outside and his thoughts turn to both Rosalie and Joan.
- What is the significance of the incident with Sonia?
- Why does Shell tell Joan about Sonia?
- Why does Shell continue to think about both girls?
- What is the significance of Shell being able to contribute money to his family?
Chapter 18Shell and Mr Gidharee do another day of work together. Shell has bought some new clothes including long trousers and a new cutlass. His attire is almost identical to Mr Gidharee's.
On the way to work there is an incident in which it appears that one of the dogs kills a wild pig. Shell notes how powerful all the dogs are.
Mr Gidharee asks Shell if he is going to the New Year's Day fair and tells him Rosalie will be there. Shell doesn't answer but realises he has asked Joan to go. He doesn't mention Joan to Mr Gidharee. Instead they get on with their work of planting seeds. During work Shell ponders the river nearby. It reminds him of the picture in Freddie's café; 'The Flotsam and Jetsam of the Sea'. After this Shell secretly quizzes the extent of Mr Gidharee's knowledge of patois by asking him if he knows the meaning of 'jeune male' (young male). He realises Mr Gidharee can indeed speak patois and realises he will now have to disguise his own knowledge.
After the work is done, Mr Gidharee surprises Shell by asking him if he is taking Rosalie to the fair. Shell agrees to this.
- What is the significance of Shell's new clothes?
- Why doesn't Shell mention Joan to Mr Gidharee?
- Why does Shell test Mr Gidharee and what is the outcome? Is it significant that the phrase in question was 'young male'?
- Why does Shell agree to take Rosalie to the fair?
- Throughout this chapter there are references to the four dogs. Describe their importance to the text so far.
Chapter 19On Christmas morning Shell remembers the events of the previous night when he went out with Lennard, Joe and Freddie and told them about Joan. The following morning he is hung-over and not quite ready for the day. When his mother calls him in they have a drink together and toast his father's good health. Later on he also has a drink with his father.
After this he goes outside, where he meets Rosalie. She has brought him a Christmas present of a bottle of wine. She discovers that Joan has sent him a card but he doesn't tell her the full story. She has had a card from Joe, but says she didn't reply to it. When Shell presses her about the situation between her and Joe she says that she didn't reply because of Shell. He asks her to repeat what she said but the conversation moves on.
Shell invites Rosalie to come to his house later when Lennard, Joe and Freddie come to visit but she declines. Instead she proposes that they meet under the cashew tree and Shell agrees to this.
In the second part of the chapter, Shell meets his friends. They spend some time at Freddie's drinking and talking about girls. Shell becomes very defensive when Lennard says he is not attracted to Joan. Later that evening they invite a group of girls to join them for a party.
- Why doesn't Shell tell Rosalie about Joan?
- Do you think Shell heard Rosalie's comment that it was him that happened to her and Joe?
- Comment on Shell's behaviour in this chapter? Does he live up to the standards he professes to have?
- How willingly does Shell agree to meeting Rosalie later that day?
Chapter 20The party goes ahead and, despite his good intentions, Shell gets so drunk he can't remember how he got home and obviously didn't meet Rosalie. The next day he feels very ill and spends most of the day in bed. When he wakes up it is the evening. He goes outside, where he meets Rosalie.
When Shell comes back in hours later he cannot sleep for thoughts of Rosalie. He also thinks about Joan. He is worried about this. Eventually he drinks some rum to help him sleep.
- What do you learn from the fact that Shell got so drunk?
- What do you think is about to happen?
- What is the effect of the final section of this chapter?
- Nothing is made explicit about the events in the last part of the chapter. What do you think has happened and why doesn't Shell think about it directly?
- How does Shell choose to handle his problems?
Chapter 21The day that Joan is due to arrive Shell considers his position. He is surprised her mother has allowed the visit and very nervous about Rosalie. He hopes it will go well and that Joan will like Pierre Hill.
- Why do you think Shell is so nervous?
- What is Shell's opinion of himself at this point?
Chapter 22When Joan arrives Shell is impressed by her looks and figure. He carries her bag even though he finds it heavy. He is anxious about the walk to his house as thay have to pass by Freddie's café and Rosalie's house. On the way Joan makes it clear that she is respectable and nothing untoward will happen between them. As they arrive Shell realises Rosalie has seen them.
- Comment on the relationship between Shell and Joan.
- What sort of qualities do you think Shell admires in Joan? With this in mind, why do you think he likes Rosalie?
- How does Shell deal with the situations he is nervous about? What does this tell you about him?
Chapter 23Shell makes excuses to avoid going to the fair. Instead he and Joan go for a walk into the bush. Joan talks about her friend's poetry. Shell decides to cut some coconuts and climbs a tree to impress Joan. Eventually Shell tries to hug Joan but she is initially resistant. She only agrees after emphasising that nothing will happen between them by telling him quite clearly that she does not want to get pregnant. Shell tells Joan that he wants to marry her. She is pleased but says in four or five years, which does not please Shell.
They head back home, with Shell taking some coconuts for his father. Joan carves a heart into a tree, which Shell secretly peeps at.
- Do you think Shell's marriage proposal was clearly thought out?
- Compare and contrast Shell and Joan's attitudes to their relationship.
- Do you think Shell and Joan make a good couple? Why?
Chapter 24Shell and his father discuss Joan while she goes to visit a friend. Mr Lammy likes her but has some reservations. He suggests they should wait a few years before getting married. Once again, Shell is annoyed by this idea.
In the evening, Shell and Joan walk to the beach. On the way Shell tells her why he likes Freddie. When she responds he is lost in thought and does not listen to her. She is cross about this and it is a while before he wins her back to him. At the beach they talk about Joan's school. Before they go home Joan invites him to kiss her. She is much more relaxed with him and trusts him completely.
- Do you agree with Mr Lammy's views?
- Why is Shell so impatient to marry Joan? What does this tell you about him?
- Shell is jealous when Joan goes to visit her friend. What does this tell you?
Chapter 25Some time has passed. Joan has gone home and Mr Lammy is back in hospital. He had told Shell he thought he should marry a woman who was younger and less educated than himself. Shell did not agree.
With his father gone, his mother becomes more of a presence in Shell's life. She interprets many things as signs that he is going to die.
Shell describes the day before his father left. The family prayed together for him to be saved. Both Shell and his mother begged to God for his life to be spared, but Mr Lammy was far more accepting of his fate and thanked God for his life and asked that his family would be happy without him.
- Comment on the influence of superstition and religion.?
- Comment on Mr Lammy's opinions on marriage.
Chapter 26Once again, Shell goes to work with Me Gidharee, but this time he is very nervous as he suspects he knows about him and Rosalie. The dogs are behaving aggressively and Mr Gidharre tells Shell he has been giving them a supplement to make them so.
The long walk to Cedar Grove is tense. Conversation is stilted and the dogs' behaviour is erratic. Shell is becoming increasingly more convinced that Mr Gidharre knows, especially when he tells him about a friend who threatens to cut up any boy who touches his daughter, Sonia (the girl from the cocoa plantation). Shell cannot comment but begins to shake and sweat.
Mr Gidharee makes an excuse and leaves Shell alone with the dogs. Almost immediately they begin to savagely attack him and a fight ensues. Shell is forced to kick and punch the dogs in the long battle that follows. He is bitten several times. By the time Mr Gidharre comes to save him he has caused a lot of damage to the crops and he passes out. When he comes round, hours later, he is alone.
- Did Shell deserve this kind of punishment?
- How does this chapter affect your opinion of Mr Gidharee?
- What do you think will happen next?
Chapter 27Shell is still recovering from the attack when a telegram arrives from the hospital telling them to go to the hospital. As his mother is clearly not up to it, Shell disguises the extent of his illness and says he will go. His mother thinks she can scrape up enough money for the ticket. She mentions that Mr Gidharee has visited, and it is not the first time. He has helped her by giving her money and has been very kind to her. She appears to have no idea about Shell and Rosalie. When his mother breaks down in tears because she is worried about the cost of the funeral, Shell comforts her by saying there is no need to worry because he and Mr Gidharre are good friends. It is clear that they have made an arrangement.
- Shell pretends he is in better health that he really is to help his mother. What does this suggest about his character?
- What do you think has been arranged between Shell and Mr Gidharee? What is the effect of leaving the reader to draw their own conclusions about this?
Chapter 28Shell makes a second journey to Port-of-Spain, but this time he avoids Sangre Grande. On the way he thinks of his father and all the things he will miss about him. At the same time he realises he should be glad that his current situation with Mr Gidharee means he is secure for the rest of his life. He realises that he can gain some comfort from throwing himself into the job of running the plantation.
Shell goes on to describe how he has not replied to any of Joan's letters and is trying to forget her. He thinks this is his only choice.
After reaching the hospital he phones Mr Gidharee to tell him to make funeral arrangements for his father. This is how we learn that he has died.
- Is Shell's only choice to ignore Joan's letters? How else could he have handled this?
- Is it significant that his father died at this point? What impact will this have on Shell?
- Discuss Shell's decision to change his focus from girls to work.
- Discuss the role of Mr Gidharee.
Chapter 29A week later Shell and Mr Gidharee head off to work again. The dogs are strangely absent and in their place Mr Gidharee has a gun. On the way they discuss Shell's forthcoming marriage, which will be a Hindu ceremony. The book draws to a close with Mr Gidharee reassuring his son-in-law to be about the future and Shell accepting these reassurances.
- What do you think has happened to the dogs? What is the effect of not making their fate explicit?
- Do you find the ending reassuring?