In the Wine of Astonishment, Earl Lovelace depicts the village of Bonasse and its people's struggle to form an identity. This struggle is clearly reflected in the life a champion stickfighter -- Bolo. Before the government outlaws the practice of the Spiritual Baptist religion, Bolo is content with his life in Bonasse. When the war begins and the West envelopes Trinidad and Tobago, it suppresses the villagers' very culture, not only by proscribing the practice of their religion, but by making it difficult to survive without conforming to the foreign culture. When the village is unable to assert themselves as a people in defense of the religion and culture, Bolo transforms into an angry, hate-filled man who dominates over the village, unopposed.
Before life becomes tainted with the influence of the West, the people admire Bolo for his grace, beauty, and intelligence: qualities which flourish in the stickfighting ring. He is lighthearted and kind to everyone; the embodiment of youth and innocence:
Oh, was to see him on pay-day Saturday, coming tall, perspiring, his chest unbutton, in the bright sun down Main Street, stopping to wave or make a joke with whoever call out to him (pp. 20).
Bolo would always stop to enjoy the company of the women in the market. He would be especially kind to the oldest vendor, Mother Ruby, by exchanging gossip or a joke with her, pretending to make the other women jealous. He lives without any of the weight of the world on his shoulders.
When Corporal Prince arrests his people, the Baptists, for unlawfully worshiping their religion, Bolo confronts Prince like a knight defending his Lady's honor: the champion of his people:
In the middle of the road, with his shoulders draw up, his body plant sideways and his two feet apart, one a little in front of the other, is Bolo, holding his hands down at his sides like a stickfighter waiting on the drums to begin the battle (pp. 67).
When the battle occurs, and none of the people come to Bolo's aid, he realizes that his people are weak and afraid to confront their oppressors. From this point forward, rage and a contempt for the weakness of his people replace the innocence of Bolo's youth.
After his release from jail, Bolo's behavior deteriorates to a level lower than that of the occupying West, in an attempt to unify his people by presenting a common enemy in himself:
"I want you people to be against me," Bolo say, and his voice, Bee tell me, was a terrible cry. "I want you to be my enemy. I want you to come and take these girls from me" (pp. 120).
Bolo's behavior is a result of his desperation, stemming not only from a desire to unite his people, but from what he understands as their behavior:
Everybody living for theyself. They hustling and killing one another to get a job, kissing the big shot backside to survive. That is the people (pp. 120)?
Bolo's attitude reflects the self-serving nature of the Baptists, who deny their faith, by not defending it, in order to live more comfortable lives.
Unfortunately, Bolo's efforts are in vain, because the people do not unite to face a common enemy, but instead remain passive and allow themselves to be dominated by those who abuse their power: the government, the West, and even Bolo:
"They bring police for me," he say over and over again in that soft voice full of astonishment, looking around him as if suddenly he want to sit down and cry. . . ."These is the people you bring to face me? These is the men of the village? This is the people" (pp. 126)?
Bolo is nearly shattered when he learns that Bee has brought not the people of the village to reclaim Primus' daughters, but the police: a tool of their tainted government. After the calamity transpires, Bee repeatedly mumbles, "We didn't kill him" (pp. 129).
Despite Bolo's efforts, the people do not gain the courage or the will to confront their oppressors. He does not, however, die in vain, since some of the people begin to realize how weak they have been, and his cause was a noble one:
"All o' you . . ." Taffy say, his voice breaking out of him, "all o' you stand up there and watch them beat him. And he was fighting for all you" (pp. 71).