Marlon James has written many novels but his book A Brief History of Seven Killings won a Man Booker Prize in 2015 and it was inspired by the murder of Bob Marley who died when Marlon was a kid. Marlon is a professor at Macalester College where he teaches literature and creative writing.
The story of the novel is mainly religious however it does not claim to be the one. The relationship of Alex with Bob Marley highlights the religiousness present in the novel. As Alex travels to Jamaica, he does not understand that in Marley’s context he was a prophet to his people during the time of extreme political oppression.
As Plato said in The Republic that when intelligent people share their enlightenment and peace with their fellow community members the reward they get is assassination. This defines Marley’s religious opinions and these ideas are important to his life as well. His life is shaped by being aware of Jesus Christ and the gospel story of the Bible.
This does not certify him to be a normal Christian. He is a leading prophet in a mystic Christian faith commonly known as Rastafarianism which implies that he has also worshipped Ethiopian emperor Haile Salassie I as a resurrection of Jesus Christ which implies that he has worshipped God. Marley believed that humans can also be the avatars of Messiah and when Nina asks him to save his own life he resolves in a holy manner to stay and face his death.
As the novel draws to a conclusion, it is not clear whether he has been murdered by the gang members or dies due to foot cancer because all the stories have been hazed out as the gang members treated Marley’s followers with great violence. This is another similarity to the Bible because according to New Testament Jesus’s followers are killed in the same way Alex is killed in the novel.
It is not unusual to look upon Marley as a religious personality. The people who follow Rastafariansim look upon him as a prophet. This does not imply that Bob Marley was perfect and his family and close friends agree to the fact that he was very immoral in sexual matters and liberal but Marley’s life is a perfect example of love. He loved all the people in his life and also the society he lived in although it was a broken one.
The novel has references from Bible and it takes inspiration from Plato’s Republic as well. Bob Marley is known as a modern prophet in his culture and his music is considered to be holy by fellow Rastafarians and his followers. His prophetic belief is that people can live together in peace if they practice non-violence. He is continuously tortured for his belief and this ultimately results in his death.
When Alex goes on to publish his story as a holy account of Marley’s life he is badly tortured and beaten by the gang who might have killed Marley although it is said that he died because of foot cancer. We can say that the forces which operate via violence become aggressive and hostile whenever someone under their control reminds people that peace is an option.
The novel highlights how society can easily go into corruption. The novel shows political leaders start joining hand with gangs, the structure of the society starts shaking. The novel is filled with fear and premonitions. This can be seen when Nina asks Marley to escape his fate. However, Marley remains unshakable and says that he is ready to face whatever is written in his fate.
Even when he is attacked by a small group of gangsters he does not leave Jamaica. Marley is an accurate response to political terrorism. He believed that one should be free from fear as they are secured by justice. The novel has many instances of lies and misconceptions. The control of the gang is turned around three different times during the novel especially when backstabbing and in-fighting starts dominating.
The politicians are corrupt and nobody among the locals believes in the existing government as the political parties are trying to enforce their rule via gang terrorism. The central idea of the novel is justice and truth which Bob Marley continues to sing time and again through his music.
According to Marley, truth is a component of universal love and one’s willingness to work with patience and humility through brokenness. According to Alex, the United States CIA as well as Jamaica which was run by corrupt politicians played a major role in the killing of Marley. The gang themselves are filled with corruption from head to toe.
If we want to understand gang corruption we can take the example of Josie who is in prison for committing many first degree murders. He says he is still in control through his son Benji who is shot dead. Before Benji’s death, Doctor Love comes to visit Josie and tells him that Eubie had hired a hit on Weeper and Josey attacks him. The continuous self-betrayal is what defines the gang life at that time and this is what can be seen in the politics of Jamaica as well.
The novel shows how cocaine has made its way to certain neighbourhoods in New York City in a vast quantity. All the Jamaican gangs closely work with the government and Jamaican gangsters especially Josey travel to New York City to sell the cocaine they sell in Jamaica to other countries. The drugs and guns are supplied by Medelliin Cartel who is a Colombian drug emperor.
When Josey is in New York, we see how ruthless the supply chain is in criminal organizations. Josey comes to know that his dealers are using the drugs they are supposed to sell and he kills them all without having any knowledge of the fact that American Police arrests the people who do that as compared to Jamaican police which is very corrupt.
While in prison, he still says that he is the main link but it is understood that his empire has been inherited by Eubie. There is a complete picture of the basic supply chain from Colombian cocaine farms which paved the way for the cocaine epidemic in New York during the 80s. A Brief History of Seven Killings apart from being a novel is also an essay from New Yorker.
This makes the novel a symbol as we witness a reporter of the Rolling Stone telling about his time in Jamaica and also telling the truth about the legacy of Bob Marley and how he became a representative of love and hope in a broken nation. This publication is a symbol of the gospel sharing of Bob Marley with the modern generation.
This angel-like understanding is quite sensible as the next chapters show him being tortured and beaten as the story starts moving on. We can say that Alex is the first martyr of Marley who is called a prophet in the novel. If we go by the stories, it is said that Bob Marley is a true prophet of God.
The Rastafarians are a sect in Christianity who live in Jamaica and smoke marijuana while praying. They worship Haile Salassie I from Ethiopia as they believe that he is the successor of Jesus Christ and Marley being a staunch follower of Rastafarianism believed that Jesus Christ will take a human form after reincarnation.
The belief of his shaped his thought process as well as his music and he formed his philosophy around these ideas. Long back, he was considered to be one of the most important men for his entire nation as he practised peace and love. After years of terrorism when Marley died his legacy went on to grow by leaps and bounds because of Alex.
If we call Marley a Christ character in the story then Alex can be considered Paul who was a prophet who took the story further in foreign lands including America. It is a messiah story that checks all the boxes. The intent of the author is non-mistakable and it is done to lift Marley to the pace of religious authority. It can be said that the novel preaches that humans need to live according to the love that Marley practised throughout his life.
The religious stuff in the novel might sound nice and great but it is obtained at a great cost. Marley’s life is filled with threats and tortures. The government corruption is so much that all the political parties were fighting against him and used gang violence for this purpose. They attack his home with the help of CIA intelligence. The police kidnap Nina and try to rape her and they also kill Papa-Lo.
Josey’s violence is very ruthless in America. He cold-bloodedly murders people for using his drugs and not selling them. When Benji dies in the hospital, there is an angry protest in the neighbourhood. Josey attacks Doctor Love in the prison when he comes to know that Eubie killed Weeper. These pictures of violence show that Jamaica has a very violent, broken and horror past.
When we come to know that a CIA agent is flying to Jamaica the reader gets an impression that the US government wants to keep an eye on the Jamaican government as it is getting corrupt. However, Alex who knows the agent as he has travelled with him thinks that the agent has been sent to bring violence against Bob Marley.
This brings a big twist in the plot because we randomly meet the agent in Argentina on a different assignment without having any idea about what he has achieved in Jamaica. Although Bob Marley brings Papa-Lo and Sherrif who are rival gang members together they are still apprehensive about Marley as the rumours spread that he is a traitor working with PNP and Sherrif.
He ultimately becomes the target of many tortures, attacks and assassination attempts. Strangely, he never leaves Jamaica as he wants to become a pillar of Jamaican culture even at the cost of his martyrdom. Thus, we see that the novel worships Bob Marley as a religious entity.
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