A Brief History of Seven Killings

A Brief History of Seven Killings


Marlon James

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A Brief History of Seven Killings Themes

Themes and Colors
Violence vs. Peace Theme Icon
Masculinity, Sexuality, and Homophobia Theme Icon
Jamaican Culture and Identity Theme Icon
Politics, Power, and Corruption Theme Icon
Witness and Storytelling Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in A Brief History of Seven Killings, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Violence vs. Peace

A Brief History of Seven Killings is an extraordinarily violent book, and one of the overarching struggles that defines the narrative is the effort to instil peace in the midst of cyclical, pervasive violence. The book opens at a point of crisis in Jamaica, in which, according to the radio, “crime and violence are taking over the country.” The reader witnesses this violence first-hand through the multiple perspectives of characters who live in the Kingston…

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Masculinity, Sexuality, and Homophobia

Although there are female characters in the novel, A Brief History of Seven Killings is largely populated by men and is centrally concerned with the theme of masculinity. Where stereotypes about black Caribbean men (and gangsters in particular) indicate that their masculinity is defined by aggressive, promiscuous heterosexuality, the novel challenges such assumptions by featuring, instead, a much more complex and nuanced depiction of maleness and male sexuality. Some of the most mercilessly violent characters…

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Jamaican Culture and Identity

Jamaica achieved independence from the United Kingdom on August 6, 1962, and thus at the time the novel begins (1976) the country is still very much in the process of developing an independent national identity. This is presented as a difficult task, in part due to the country’s traumatic history of colonialism and slavery, issues which are in turn linked to questions of political power, racism, colorism, religion, class, and respectability. Some Jamaican characters remain…

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Politics, Power, and Corruption

Much of the novel centers around the political history of Jamaica in the post-independence period, and two general elections serve as major climaxes in the plot. The first takes place in 1976, won by the People’s National Party (PNP), and the second in 1980, in which the Jamaican Labour Party (JLP) is victorious. Both elections involve a surge in violence, emphasizing that politics is an extremely charged issue in Jamaica. This is in part due…

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Witness and Storytelling

A Brief History of Seven Killings is a work of historical fiction based on real events, yet in its fictionalization of reality, the novel calls into question whether it is possible to understand history as a single narrative. The book features fourteen narrators, and together they tell different versions of the action taking place over five days. That each section of the novel covers only a single day can be hard to believe, given the…

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