The Short Story “Red Dirt Don’t Wash” by Roger Mais
Roger Mais’ short story, Red Dirt Don’t Wash, has its setting in Jamaican society but follows the American style of narratives. The story is about a farmworker, Adrian, who is in love with a woman, Miranda. Adrian always stares at her as he admires her prowess in kitchen work and tableware. He is pleasant to her and expects that she will notice and get into a romantic relationship with her. However, there is a sharp contrast between the two in that Miranda is city-bred, full of self-esteem, and knows how to present herself well. Comparatively, Adrian is from the village, works in the garden, and never seems to get rid of the red dirt. To make the story interesting Mais employs several stylistic devices throughout the write-up. The essay analyzes how the author applies several literary techniques in developing the plot and communicating the message.
Imagery is a figurative language with a visual representation of reality used in giving a description. For instance, Adrian thinks of “her trim figure in her blue uniform, chic, neat-fitting, made his eyes swim in his head” (Mais 62). The readers can easily picture the beauty of Miranda as they create her in their minds. Likewise, Adrian is said to be “aware of his own soiled and patched clothes, and his own large bare feet, his own rough red skin” (Mais 63). The contrast in illustration between the two makes the readers appreciate why Adrian is always reluctant to approach Miranda. Thus, the use of imagery within this context is useful in showing contrast and placing the two characters at different levels.
The author uses irony to add humor in emphasizing the distinction between the protagonist and the antagonist. For example, he states that “she had refinement, culture…she was miles above him” (Mais 63). From the sentence, the reader can ignorantly believe that the two were from distinct social classes. However, Miranda was a housemaid while Adrian was a gardener, which places them within the same social class. Therefore, the exaggeration of the class differences points more to the insecurities of Adrian.
When writers use repetition, their intention is often to create emphasis on the context. When Adrian finally takes the courage to express interest in getting to spend more time with Miranda she laughs continually (Mais 65-66). Adrian asks Miranda if she could go with her to the movies and she sternly declines. Although she tries to explain her reaction Adrian gets the meaning and is hurt. Therefore, as the readers see multiple instances of “laughter” and the seriousness of Adrian proposing going to watch they can empathize with the latter.
Mais uses paradox in various instances to show contradictions in the relationship between Adrian and Miranda. A good example is when Miranda uses all his money to buy shoes and even admires the “gleaming shine” of his feet (Mais 67). The reader imagines that the shoes are comfortable but soon realizes that they do fit Adrian’s large feet. His walking style changes and he experiences great discomfort which makes Miranda laugh sarcastically at him. The contradiction between the expensive, shining, leather shoes, and the pain while walking makes readers understand the stupidity of Adrian as a lover. Thus, the readers cannot help but notice the double consciousness of Adrian.
In summary, the love of Adrian towards Miranda is full of twists, emphasized by the literary devices. Particularly, the author uses imagery to show the differences between the man and the woman. Irony clarifies to the reader that the difference between the two is more of a mental perception than reality. The repetitive laughter by Miranda is a mockery of the sincere efforts that Adrian makes to gain her love. In addition, the paradox surrounding the purchase of good shoes serves as an eye-opener to Adrian who finally realizes that the woman does not love him. Knowing Miranda’s stance helps Adrian resolve the double consciousness and accept his real identity.
Mais, Roger. “Red Dirt Don’t Wash.” The Oxford Book of Caribbean Short Stories, Oxford University Press, 1999, pp. 62-69.