What Happened by Austin Clarke
In What Happened by Austin Clarke we have the theme of racism, love, friendship, education, idealism, realism and anger. Taken from his When He Was Free and Young and He Used to Wear Silks collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and after reading the story the reader realizes that Clarke may be exploring the theme of racism. Henry found it hard to get an apartment for himself and Agatha because of the colour of his skin. Being a black man he was considered to be inferior to the white landlords. Something that annoyed Henry so much that he painted a swastika on the door of one landlady’s home. What is also interesting about the story is that Agatha, a white woman, appears to be very idealistic when it comes to race. Where she imagines how a black person should be, Henry is more realist because of his experiences with white people.
In fact it would appear as though the only thing that drives Henry is his anger towards white people. For him, he feels as though he is a victim and very may well be. Henry does not have the same capacity as Agatha to see black people as beautiful. Something that is noticeable by the pictures on Henry’s apartment wall. The picture of the three young girls being an example. Agatha and Boysie think the girls are beautiful but all Henry can see is three malnourished girls. Which only fuels Henry’s anger. Which very may well be justified. No person, regardless of their skin colour, wants to be victimized. Though it does look like Henry revels in the role of victim.
There is no doubting that Henry and Boysie are friends and that they can say anything to one another without the fear of reprimand or the friendship being dissolved. They even go as far as sharing the same mistress (Brittany) and this does not have a negative effect on their friendship. However one area they do disagree seriously on is the matter of Boysie thinking how lucky Henry is to have Agatha because she is so educated. Henry does not see this as an advantage at all. Possibly because he is against the idealism that comes with Academia. Again Henry is a realist and believes that experience and not idealism shapes the person. Boysie on the other hand believes in the importance of education and is envious if not jealous of Henry. Something that Henry simply does not understand.
Though Henry has cheated on Agatha and hit her the end of the story highlights the fact that in reality he really loves her and has the ability to get in touch with his deepest feelings. In reality he knows that Agatha is a good match for him regardless of what he might say to Boysie. If anything, through the poem, it would appear as though Henry is trying to fight against his instinct of causing damage to others because of his own experiences. He knows that he is a better man for being married to Agatha and understands that she has taken a risk, particularly with her family, by marrying him. Agatha’s parents disagree with the marriage because it is interracial. This is important as it plays on the theme of racism again. Agatha’s parents do not feel as though Henry is worthy of Agatha’s love. Something that some readers might agree with considering how Henry has previously treated Agatha. The only redeeming quality for some readers might be the fact that Henry has the capacity to change. Though he may not possibly forget his life experiences.