It is remarkable for its form – brief, separate paragraphs that build up the tensions of the events of one day; the rhythmic, almost ritualistic quality of its language; and its acute sense of the meeting point between outward lives of total constriction and inner mind-worlds in which desires and rationality cannot be suppressed.
In a world where all persons, including the plantation manager, have become commodities, the body becomes the site of struggle and the mind/brain the only organ that cannot be wholly owned. Sex is at the heart of a paradox. Mr Johnson, the owner, commands the bodies of any of the women he wants, to do whatever he wants; he also owns enslaved men as studs, and women as breeders. But it is precisely this connection through sex that provides one of the plot motives of the novel, when Mr Johnson suspects he may have caught a dose of the clap from Johnson, the dominant male in the community of the enslaved. There are other goals at work in this “huis clos” world. Mary, the cook, who has created some space for herself through her skills, has reason to want to humble Johnson for the way he has treated her, and then what role will Wiseman, the obeah man, whose assistance is sought by all, play in the day’s unfolding events? Not least for what it has to say about gender in the context of slavery and the construction of masculinity, Wages Paid was and is a groundbreaking novel.