The Death of Devin Drew and the Ghost of Colonialist Past.

Jamaica Kincaid in her book, My Brother, tells the real-life story of the author’s brother, Devin Drew, who got sick from and then died of HIV/AIDS in 1996 at the age of thirty-three. The book is written like a diary or a memoir from the author’s point of view and in first-person where she shares an account of her visit back to Antigua (her native homeland), a small island in the Caribbean that was once under European colonial rule until 1981, to visit her then sick brother. She retells this story as an older adult and informs us that she left her family at the age of sixteen, and moved to the United States to start her life in the ‘New World’ (i.e. “First-World countries” and The New World Order of the U.S. hegemony post-1945). 

Although Devin Drew contracted “de chupidness,” what he called HIV/AIDS, there were several external factors that led to his death. His death was not solely due to his personal bad decision-making or negligence. On page 31 she said, “The reason my brother was dying of AIDS at the time I saw him is that in Antigua if you are diagnosed with the HIV virus you are considered to be dying; the drug used for slowing the progress of the virus are not available there; public concern, obsession with the treatment and care of members of the AIDS-suffering community by groups in the larger non-AIDS-suffering community, does not exist.”  There was a stigma surrounding AIDS in Antigua, but the author informs us further into the book that this was not because the people in Antigua were particularly homophobic. However, it does appear that there was no sense of urgency and priority to help those with AIDS. There was a sense of hopelessness and indifference to anyone who contracted it. The lack of resources, money, health education, etc, has made it difficult for the country to invest in medicine, and find a cure to HIV/AIDS, even getting their hands on the AZT drug which slowed HIV/AIDS that Jamaica Kincaid was able to gain access to because of being privileged to be living in the US.

Dependency was created between Antigua and superpowers like Europe and the US. The dependency on vital resources in contrast to the limited resources within Antigua, has crippled the country, thus leaving the Antiguans impoverished and dependent like children. Natural disasters like hurricanes also played a role in destituting the island. She said, “…most people suffering from the disease could not afford to buy this medicine; most people suffering from the disease are poor or young, not too far away from being children; in a society like the one I am from, being a child is one of the definitions of vulnerability and powerlessness (pg 32). The young will obviously be more poor and unable to afford the medicine to help with HIV/AIDS. Therefore those who were raised poor in Antigua will most likely be the ones to contract the disease, especially if nothing is done about it to stop the spreading. Since most people suffering from the disease are poor or young, thus not self-reliant and independent adults, they will more likely contract the disease because of the bad decisions they make, like having unprotected sex and/or not being tested knowing a disease is out there that could easily kill them. It’s almost as if Devin did not care, and would prefer to die from HIV/AIDS; it’s unclear why.

The dependency of Antigua on other countries mirrors the extreme dependency Jamaica Kincaid’s mother fosters in her children. Her mother was overbearing and coddled her children to the point they all hated her. Why did the mother want to feel superior to her children, and didn’t want them to grow to their full potential? The mother had her own issues and demons to battle, possibly due to the death of her parents, and the relationships she had with the father(s) of her children, which negatively affected the way she mothered her children. The dependency Devin had on his mother drove him to act out in ways he would not have had if the mother hadn’t raised her children in that particular way. Rather than letting the children become fully realized adults, and allowing Antigua to become truly independent and interdependent with other nations, which means ‘depending upon one another’ and the point of globalism in an interconnected world, the state of dependency of Antigua’s colonialist past, led to the death of Devin Drew. Meanwhile, Jamaica Kincaid by living in the US–a more powerful and developed country in terms of industrial and technological prowess, escaped the grips and the suffocation of her mother’s nurturing, and the vulnerability and powerlessness of Antigua, but at the same time, her past made her who she was. In this book, she confronts her past, despite wanting to erase it from her memory. This effort on her part to face it shows growth and redemption.

Commonwealth sources:

2 thoughts on “The Death of Devin Drew and the Ghost of Colonialist Past.

  1. I like the connection you made between the dependency of Antigua on other nations and the dependency Kincaid’s mother forces on her children. I also liked how you argued that when Kincaid expresses being powerless and vulnerable as a child we can also draw a connection to the government of Antigua. I think you could write your whole final on what the actions of Kincaid’s mother represent throughout the novel. Your argument got me thinking of how, even though the mother coddled her children and forced them to be dependent, she was also abusive towards them. Kincaid accuses her mother of being verbally abusive and a woman who subjugated her children. She says her mother “protects and reserves her right to verbally humiliate her children.” It could be this environment of hostility and verbal abuse, alongside the dependency, that played a part in driving her brother’s self-destructive actions in his adulthood that eventually led to his death. Of course, there was an enormous factor of self-responsibility that Kincaid acknowledges. But in the same way that the Antiguan government’s abuse in its corruption and negligence played a role in her brother’s death, the mother’s dependency and abuse also did

  2. 2 de diciembre


    Both of your analyses are quite thoughtful and well-researched. I also agree, Kyla, that Jeremy has a wide body of work in which he could pull from for his final assignment. I might add that although Kincaid’s mother comes across as very abusive in “My Brother,” I think, ultimately, we each arrive at a time in life when we realize the tough tough tough parent(s) we might’ve thought we had in our youth, simply wanted to prepare us for a world they felt would not always be caring about our comfort or survival in it. For example, a sense of empathy Kincaid’s mother has for her becomes evident when she beats up some schoolgirls whom she felt were brutalizing her daughter. Further, she sends a young Kincaid [Elaine] to stay with her grandmother, in Dominica, when she hears one of the girls’ mother boast of casting an obeah spell on Elaine. We can argue this is unconscious love (what science deems as truth), where her abuses are conscious (ways we behave for survival).

    I believe that somewhere in the aforementioned, as well as in both of your observations, there is something to be noted about a fracturing of tenderness that seems to exist in the lives of many people [families] in African diasporas of the Americas.

    The brutality and insult of the Atlantic slave trade clearly have a lot to do with this (Kincaid’s mother, closer to slavery than she was, likely had many peers whose children also deemed them abusive). But I also believe it is a legacy that today still contributes to the physical oppression and sexual exploitation of women who are poor, Black and Brown. These are women who are continuously striving to advance in a world of many obstacles; we see them in a time of Claude McKay’s Harlem Renaissance, and we also see them in a current one — under the likes of R. Kelly, P. Diddy and such others.

    -Roger French

Comments are closed.