Ti-Jean and His Brothers: Act 1

Act One Synopsis

  • Gros-Jean has decided to leave home to make his own way in the world. Although his mother tries to give him advice about protecting himself from the devil; he disregards her advice by stating, ‘I knows all of this already’. This indicates that he believes that he knows best. We see that he has no respect for nature (kicking the frog and cursing the small critters) although his mother suggests that he should.
  • To Gros-Jean, physical strength equals power (‘I have an iron fist’). Therefore, he is now a man who can make his own fortunes instead he kicks leaves his mother and heads
  • Gros-Jean believes brute force is the solution to all his problems. Gros-Jean wants a shortcut to success so the Old Man advises him to go and work for the White Planter (the Devil).
  • The twist to the plot is that Gros-Jean agrees to work for the Devil; however, if he gets angry the agreement states the devil can eat him. The Devil provokes Gros-Jean by calling him several names and insisting he goes back to work. Gros- Jean finally explodes in anger. The scene ends with the devil consuming him.

Analysis of Gros-Jean

  • Gros-Jean boasts of an arm of iron and a sharp ax, but he ironically keeps the latter rust free by not using it when he should. This may imply an inability to effectively employ all resources at this disposal. He is unable to cope when the Planter handicaps his strength by giving him repetitive tasks that call for brain rather than brawn. The Devil gave Gros-Jean the tedious task of counting the leaves in the cane field and to collect the fireflies. This pushes him to lose his patience. Gros-Jean moves towards rage and madness because the Planter repeatedly forgot his true name.
  • Gros-Jean elements of a limited type of resistance to enslavement and colonial rule. He is aspirational and he sees a future where he is in charge of his own destiny: ‘Because I come from the mountain forest, don’t mean I can’t come like you or because I black. One day this could be mine!’ (page 39).
  • He boasts of an iron arm and a sharp ax, but ironically, he keeps his ax rust free by not using it when he should (cutting wet trees – page 27). This may show that he is not capable of using the resources that he has at his disposal effectively. He is unable to cope when the Planter handicaps his strength by giving him repetitive tasks that call for brain rather than brawn.
  • If we follow the traditional structure of a fable, we see that Gro-Jean’s journey was one of material success instead of one of spiritual success. He disregards the advice given to him by his Mother and the forest creatures, and even the ironic guidance of the Old Man/Papa Bois, whom he knows over and threatens with violence the Old Man ironically replies ‘With your arm of iron, the first thing to kill is wisdom?’ (page 36). His approach to life is captured perhaps mocked, by the martial music that is his accompaniment in the stage directions.

Ms. Gumbs English Literature 2018-2019