The narrator explains that Tanty lives in an area known as the Working Class, where the streets are packed and the houses huddle tightly together. Constantly hustling and working hard, the residents “don’t know what happening in the room next to them, far more the street, or how other people living.” The narrator notes that the entire city divides itself into “little worlds, and you stay in the world you belong to and you don’t know anything about what happening in the other ones except what you read in the papers.” And despite the stark division between the rich and poor, there is a “communal feeling with the Working Class and the spades, because when you poor things does level out, it don’t have much up and down.”
In this section, the narrator takes a moment to meditate on London’s layout and the various socioeconomic considerations that come along with living in the Working Class. The fact that everybody leads highly independent lives without knowing “how other people” are living contradicts the notion that there is a tight-knit immigrant community. However, poverty is cast as a unifying quality, something that inspires a “communal feeling” amongst the people of London’s Working Class neighborhood, suggesting that much of the camaraderie in which Moses and his friends partake has to do with the fact that they are all, for the most part, leading similar lives and struggling against the same obstacles.
Waxing poetic about the interactions between London’s rich and poor, the narrator explains that sometimes “old fellars” walk the streets singing in “high falsetto[s],” and now and again a window will open and coins will drop. The narrator envisions the lush apartments from which this money falls, saying, “it must be have some woman that sleep late after a night at the Savoy or Dorchester, and she was laying under the warm quilt on the Simmons mattress, and she hear the test singing.” The narrator muses about why such a person would be moved to throw money down, eventually concluding that “if she have a thought at all [about the singer], it never go further than to cause the window to open and the [sixpence] to fall down.”
This image of a wealthy woman dropping money from her window without even looking at the person below is a perfect encapsulation of the separation between London’s rich and poor (and, for that matter, the separation between blacks and whites, too). This kind of exchange requires almost no actual human interaction, supporting the narrator’s previous assertion that people in London “don’t know what happening in the room next to them, far more the street, or how other people living.” This is an important dynamic to keep in mind when considering the various romantic and sexual escapades the black immigrants in The Lonely Londoners have with wealthy white women, as sexual activity emerges as one of the only things that stands to break down racial barriers.
The narrator describes a grocery store in the Working Class that stocks West Indian goods, a shop owned by a white man who quickly found out “what sort of things” his immigrant customers wanted and immediately changed his inventory to include these items. Similarly, there is a tailor shop owned by a Jewish man who treats black men very kindly, offering them free cigars on Saturdays and decorating the store with photographs of famous black people. He even tells his West Indian customers, “Ah! Yes, I do a lot of business with you boys, and guarantee complete satisfaction.”
By showcasing the stores that cater specifically to West Indian immigrants, the narrator shows readers that not all Londoners are averse to these newcomers—in fact, some of them have even recognized that immigration might even bolster the city’s economy, thereby adapting to the changing landscape of their clientele. In this way, it becomes evident that the West Indian presence in London is quite strong—strong enough to change the city itself.
Tanty shops every Saturday at the grocery store that stocks West Indian delicacies, where she consorts with other housewives, “getting on just as if they in the market-place back home.” And although the owner of the store originally bars anybody from opening a line of credit—which is, according to Tanty, a common practice in the West Indies—Tanty manages to convince him otherwise. Slowly but surely, the entire neighborhood gets to know Tanty, who isn’t afraid to haggle with vendors or tell Britons how things are done in Jamaica. In this way, she ingrains herself in the community, treating her close surroundings like a small village instead of just one section of a large city.
Tanty’s established routine in the Working Class illustrates just how quickly a person can acclimate to a new environment. Indeed, she wastes no time becoming familiar with her immediate surroundings. At the same time, though, it’s worth noting that the process of acclimatization is seemingly a two-way street, meaning that London doesn’t only change Tanty, but Tanty changes London. This is made clear by the fact that she’s able to convince the grocer to accept credit, a practice that reflects the way business is handled in Tanty’s native Jamaica. In this way, Selvon illustrates the kind of growth a community undergoes when it accepts newcomers with open arms.
Tanty is comfortable existing in London’s Working Class, but she never ventures beyond its small boundaries to travel deeper into the city. Nonetheless, she learns the particularities of public transportation, committing the system to memory so she can ask visitors where they transferred on the train or which line they took to reach her. One day, though, Ma accidentally takes the cupboard key with her to work, and so Tanty has to journey forth into the city, navigating the “tube” and asking a police officer for help. Once underground, she feels overwhelmed, “but the thought that she would never be able to say she went [into the city] made her carry on.” On her way back, she takes a double-decker bus, and though she’s too scared to look out the window, she’s proud that “now nobody [can] tell she that she ain’t travel by bus and tube in London.”
Although The Lonely Londoners is a novel that examines a group of immigrants and their lives in a foreign city, there aren’t many scenes in which a character is forced to step outside of her comfort zone. When Tanty has to make her way to Ma—taking the tube and a double-decker bus—readers witness the ways in which being an immigrant tests a person’s limits. Above all, this scene allows Selvon to demonstrate the fact that integrating into a new environment requires great tests of courage, even when the task at hand might seem harmless and ordinary to a native citizen.