The Caribbean-born, Harlem Renaissance writer Eric Walrond is beginning to receive increased attention among scholars interested in transnational modernisms, Black diaspora cultures, and postcolonialism. Although he died in obscurity, his collection of short stories, Tropic Death (1926), was once much lauded for its modernist portrait of the Caribbean during the US construction of the Panama Canal. This essay tries to show that Walrond’s allusions to the US South in Tropic Death and his later fiction reveal his abiding preoccupation with the modern US empire’s fundamental indebtedness to Southern plantation codes. As the relationship between capitalism and slavery comes under new scrutiny, Walrond’s fiction offers one avenue into a long-established Caribbean critical tradition, the key figures of which are C. L. R. James, Fernando Ortiz, and George Beckford, who insist that the plantation represents a prototypically modern regime. Reading Tropic Death through the lens of this critical tradition illuminates Walrond’s grappling with the persistent postslavery legacy of the plantation as a transnational, technological, scientific, and essentially capitalist institution. In representing the modern plantation environment, the essay argues, Walrond’s fragmented, experimental style manifests a multivocal, multiperspectival cross-culturality that the plantation unintentionally produces and then cannot adequately contain.

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