The Lonely Londoners

by

Sam Selvon

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on The Lonely Londoners can help.

The Lonely Londoners: Section 3 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The narrator circles back to tell the story of Moses’s arrival in London many years ago. When he first comes ashore, Moses looks for a cheap place to live, somewhere he can eat and “meet the boys and coast a old talk to pass the time away—for this city powerfully lonely when you on your own.” Luckily, he finds a hostel where many immigrants first stay before “branch[ing] off on their own.” While living here, Moses meets a Nigerian transplant named Captain, or Cap for short. To this day, Cap wears a greenstripe suit and suede shoes—his only outfit. Originally, Cap comes to London for law school, but he soon spends all his money on women and cigarettes, and his father stops sending him allowance. Swept up in the fast city life, Cap becomes a schmoozer, leeching off his friends and dating white women to access their money.
Because Moses is such an admirable advocate for newly arrived immigrants like Galahad (despite his occasional grumblings about always having to show people around), it’s no surprise that he himself yearned for a community of immigrants when he first arrived in London. He immediately sought out a place where he could talk to other transplants, a place where he could combat the feelings of solitude and estrangement that come with uprooting oneself from home. Knowing what it’s like to feel “powerfully lonely” in a new city, he understands the importance of welcoming people like Galahad to London, helping the young man acclimate to London as best he can.
Themes
Immigration and Community Theme Icon
“The old Cap have the sort of voice that would melt butter in the winter,” writes the narrator. Although he never works, he successfully borrows money from friends and lives a lavish life. The narrator notes that there are men in the world who “don’t do nothing at all, and you feel that they would dead from starvation, but day after day you meeting them and they looking hale, […] and in truth it look as if they would not only live longer than you but they would dead happier.” Whenever Cap does get a job, he only remains for several days before quitting. After some time, the landlord at his and Moses’s hostel kicks him out for not paying rent. Luckily, Cap is staying in Moses’s room, where he secretly remains even after the landlord evicts him.
Cap is the ultimate manifestation of the kind of person who Moses says “muddies the water” for other black immigrants by refusing to work an honest job, instead “antsing on the State” and borrowing money from friends and lovers alike. What’s interesting, though, is that this lifestyle seemingly puts Cap ahead of Moses. Cap is one of those people who never works but somehow still looks “hale,” managing to live a “happier” life than his fellow immigrants who work hard to earn money in an honest manner. It’s not hard to see that this would be quite disheartening to somebody like Moses, who only wants to attain upward mobility by laboring in whatever job he can secure.  
Themes
Upward Mobility Theme Icon
Related Quotes
One day, the landlord knocks on Moses’s door, wanting to check if Cap is inside. While Cap hides in the closet, Moses covers for him. Afterward, he tells Cap he’s going to have to leave. Nonetheless, Cap stays on, straining Moses with his presence. Eventually, Cap starts seeing “a white pigeon flying over his bed” in the middle of the night, jumping up and swatting at it. Finally, Cap leaves the hostel, going to a hotel and telling the front desk that he’s a student and that he’ll be receiving money from his father very soon. A confident liar, he convinces the clerk to give him a fancy room, where he sleeps late everyday and entertains women each night.
It’s worth noting that, although Moses thinks people like Cap “muddy the water” for other immigrants, he can’t seem to keep himself from helping him. In fact, he even puts himself at risk by lodging Cap behind the landlord’s back, putting his own housing situation in jeopardy. This is yet another example of Moses’s soft heart and his willingness to aid fellow immigrants despite the strain it puts on his own life. This is why he is the unofficial leader of the immigrant community: his capacity for kindness outweighs his self-interest. Always making sacrifices for his friends, he finds himself unable to focus on his own ascent up the socioeconomic ladder. 
Themes
Immigration and Community Theme Icon
Upward Mobility Theme Icon
Before long, the hotel staff grows suspicious about Cap’s financial situation and tells him to leave. As such, Cap simply goes to a new hotel, beginning a long succession of temporary lodgings, all of which he obtains by lying about his nonexistent allowance. In a conversation with Galahad about Cap, Moses says, “Is fellars like that who muddy the water for a lot of us.” Not only does Cap deceive hotel workers, but he also misleads the women he dates. For example, one of his lovers—a well-dressed Austrian woman—urges him to get a job, so he goes out during the day and pretends to work when, in reality, he passes the hours flirting with other women before returning home.
The narrator’s description of Cap’s dishonesty provides readers with the first glimpse of how some characters in The Lonely Londoners leverage romantic and sexual relationships to reap various social and economic rewards. Hopping from lover to lover, Cap benefits in a very tangible way from his romantic encounters, which is most likely why he seems to especially gravitate toward affluent white women. Unwilling to work for himself and disenfranchised by white society, Cap achieves something like upward mobility by parlaying his love life into economic prosperity.
Themes
Romance and Sex Theme Icon
Upward Mobility Theme Icon
Get the entire The Lonely Londoners LitChart as a printable PDF.
The Lonely Londoners PDF
After several weeks of deceiving his Austrian girlfriend, Cap tells her he’s left because the job is too difficult. How is it, the narrator asks, that “no matter how bad a man is, [women] would still hold on to him and love him?” In keeping with this sentiment, the Austrian woman remains with Cap despite his deception, even pawning her jewelry to help him stay financially afloat. When this isn’t enough, Cap sends her to his friend Daniel to borrow money, encouraging her to cry hard in front of him because he “can’t bear to see a woman cry.”
Cap exploits Daniel’s kindness by sending his Austrian girlfriend to borrow money from him. Cap, it seems, is the exact opposite of somebody like Moses, who does whatever he can do uplift his fellow immigrants. In contrast, Cap abuses the kindness of his friends, taking advantage of the immigrant community’s tight-knit bond.
Themes
Romance and Sex Theme Icon
Immigration and Community Theme Icon
One time, Cap becomes involved with a German woman and an English woman at the same time. After borrowing eight pounds from the German woman, he finds himself unable to repay her, so she threatens to call the police. Afraid of the “law,” he steals the English woman’s watch, which he pawns. Using the earnings from the wristwatch, he repays the German woman. Later, understanding that he can’t possibly keep seeing the English woman—who is rich and has expensive taste—he brings her to Daniel, who courts her by taking her to ballets and other fancy events. The English woman eventually tells Daniel that Cap stole her watch, and Daniel confronts him about it. Unable to make an excuse, Cap calls the English woman a whore and prostitute, accusing her of abandoning him for Daniel. He then storms out and avoids Daniel until the matter has been forgotten.
Once again, Cap’s exploitation of his romantic and sexual relationships comes to the forefront of The Lonely Londoners, although this time he finds himself trapped by his own promiscuity, unable to keep up his constant scheming. When he takes his English girlfriend to Daniel, though, he leverages sexuality in a different manner, counting on the fact that Daniel will fall for her and thus ease his own burden of having to repay her. In this way, he essentially trades his girlfriend as if she herself has a monetary value, though in the end this fails because Daniel doesn’t view women in the same misogynistic and opportunistic manner.
Themes
Romance and Sex Theme Icon
Upward Mobility Theme Icon
On another occasion, Cap meets a French woman and pretends to be a part-owner of his friend’s car garage. Lying through his teeth, he tells her he’ll soon be leaving Britain to accept a better job with the Nigerian Government. The woman believes him so wholeheartedly that she agrees to marry him, thinking they’ll soon be leaving for Nigeria. As such, the two near strangers get married, but because he has nowhere to live, Cap gives his wife Daniel’s address, claiming it’s his own home. When she arrives at the apartment, Daniel is deeply confused, but Cap plays off his friend’s magnanimity, eventually asking to borrow eight pounds. Because Daniel wants to impress Cap’s new French wife, he relents, parting with the money even though giving away eight pounds puts a significant financial strain on him.
Once again, Cap takes advantage of one of his friends, banking on Daniel’s kindness and his soft spot for white women, in front of whom he doesn’t want to look poor or stingy. When Daniel gives Cap eight pounds, readers see yet again how Cap manipulates his kind-hearted immigrant community. In order to continue reaping the benefits of being married to a high-society white woman, Cap first takes advantage of Daniel, thereby entering into a seemingly never-ending cycle of dependency and deception.
Themes
Romance and Sex Theme Icon
Immigration and Community Theme Icon
Taking Daniel’s money, Cap and his wife rent a hotel room for seven-guinea per night. Luckily, the French woman receives money each week, and so when the couple runs out of Daniel’s cash, they simply move to a new hotel and live off of this steady income. When his wife asks when they’re going to move to Nigeria, he simply tells her that he’s “waiting on some papers” from the embassy. Despite being newly married, Cap carries on with his promiscuous love life, sleeping through the day while his wife works in a store, and going out to party at night with other women. “Day after day,” the narrator writes, Cap lived, “defying all logic and reason and convention, living without working, smoking the best cigarettes, never without women.”
When the narrator writes that Cap “def[ies] all logic and reason and convention,” readers recall the notion that people like Cap somehow manage to look “hale” and lead prosperous lives even though they don’t work steady jobs. Indeed, while Moses toils away each night as a manual laborer, Cap does nothing but lounge around, lie to his wife, and manipulate everybody around him—and yet, he is the one who smokes “the best cigarettes” and leads a contented life. Attaining upward mobility as an immigrant seems to require that a person give up notions about hard work and commitment, instead living in a manner that will seemingly (and most unfortunately) confirm white Britons’ stereotypical belief that immigrants are lazy and detrimental to British society.
Themes
Racism Theme Icon
Romance and Sex Theme Icon
Immigration and Community Theme Icon
Upward Mobility Theme Icon