Critic Stewart Brown said that “No matter the social Milieu in which they are set, [Caribbean short stories] employ essentially conventional devices of story-telling, plot their tales in a familiar way, develop their characters through dialogue and the details of description, move through time more or less sequentially…” (Oxford Book xxii). Roger Mais plots his short story “Red Dirt Don’t Wash” in a familiar fashion. I took the story at face value, reading it for cultural value and out of love for short stories (on top of reading it as a class assignment), but saw that it contrasted country and city life in Jamaica.
The story followed a plot format that a reader would normally face in stories written by authors from the United States. It is narrated in a limited omniscient voice, so the reader knows Adrian’s thoughts. The story begins with an exposition that describes Adrian’s feelings and actions as he watches Miranda, a girl he wants to date. The exposition describes both characters in great detail from Adrian’s point of view. The exposition includes a flashback which reveals a little bit about the situation and Adrian’s character. It also includes anecdotes about their relationship, setting the reader up for the big question Adrian will ask. The rising action takes us to some dialogue and following action, where Adrian walks Miranda home. Then we go into Adrian’s head, hear his thoughts, and see his past memories as he remembers them, including a flashback about the one time he wore shoes. Then the rising action continues where Adrian is walking Miranda home and asks her to go on a date with him. She looks down at his bare feet and laughs in his face. The next day Adrian buys some shoes, and the climax quickly follows: on Saturday Adrian dresses up and goes to pick Miranda up. She rejects him and laughs in his face. The falling action occurs as Adrian walks away disappointed, but is resolved to keep and wear the shoes. The story concludes with Adrian having a change of heart, realizing that he is never going to win Miranda. He cuts the shoes into strips while thinking about home, and he smiles. The story has all the pieces of a typical short story in the logical order: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action and conclusion. It even includes flashbacks as all short stories must do in order for the reader to understand it.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading the short story “Red Dirt Don’t Wash.” It was a short and easy read. Though I first read this short story because it was an assignment for class, I quickly picked it out as my favorite out of the four required readings. The title was my favorite out of the four as well, even before I read the story. It captures your attention, and it is clear, even before you read the story, that the title is something that a character says in the story because of the dialect. I read the story, tuning my ear to any cultural implications I might glean from it, such as the red dirt. I remember my professor saying that the dirt in Jamaica is red. Roger Mais is a Jamaican writer, hence red dirt is central to his short story, so much so that it is included in the title. Also, the story contrasts the classiness of a maid to a country gardener. One implication from the story is that people in the country do not wear shoes, but people in the city do. It also implies that people in the city are more sophisticated and more educated on fancy customs than people in the country, as when Adrian describes Miranda in all the ways that are opposite him in the exposition, for example, Miranda knows how to set a table and all the names of the utensils. Miranda’s rejection of Adrian also demonstrates class differences: they are both servants, yet the house maid is higher than the gardener, and the girl who is a city-dweller is better than the boy who is from the country.
I enjoyed the story for its originality. Nothing that I thought might happen happened. For example, I thought that Adrian and the maid were going to end up sleeping together, as it implies when the story uses words and phrases like “ravished,” “provocatively,” and “he wanted her” (Mais 62, 64). That does not happen. Also, the story does not end as a reader might normally suspect, but has a sort of neutral ending; it is original and creative. The reader feels sad for Adrian, that he could not get a date, but at the same time the reader is inclined to feel happy for Adrian, that he found out that he is truly happy just being himself and not changing for anybody, even for someone he likes very much.
In short, the short story “Red Dirt Don’t Wash” is a cultural piece from Jamaica that follows typical plotting seen in stories written by Americans: it makes use of flashbacks and includes an exposition, rising and falling actions, a climax, and a conclusion. I read the story for its cultural value and as a sort of contrast between city and country life, class or regional relations and valued its originality.
Mais, Roger. “Red Dirt Don’t Wash.” The Oxford Book of Caribbean Short Stories. Eds. Stewart Brown and John Wickham. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999. 62-69.