George Elliott Clarke

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George and Rue

Clarke, George Elliott

Last Updated: Apr-06-2023
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel


George and Rufus (Rue) are born one year apart into grinding poverty of a Nova Scotia community, to a violently abusive father and a frightened well-intentioned mother. They have mixed heritage, part Black, part Mi’kmaq. Battered and hungry, they struggle with learning and abandon school after several attempts at grade three. 

George is stolid, strives to be good, serves briefly (and badly) in the military, and is happiest doing heavy physical work for farms, gardens, and woodlots. But he can never hold a job for long. He marries Blondola and they start a family in Fredericton, New Brunswick. 

Rue is more dashing, calculating, and slippery. He has a self-taught talent for piano and cultivates an odd form of jazz. He falls in love twice and loses both times--first to an accidental death and next to his own imprisonment. Arrested for theft, he serves two years in prison and, upon his release, barges into George’s marginal existence, contributing nothing and menacing the precarious but loving home. 

When Blondola goes into hospital for the birth of her daughter, the doctor refuses to let her leave until his bill is paid. George needs money desperately. Rue convinces him to use a hammer to stun a white man – any white man—and take his money. Together they settle on targeting a taxi driver, but the man who responds to the call is George’s friend. He cannot go through with it, but Rue clobbers the driver, cajoles George into robbing the dying man and dealing with the evidence.

The brutal murder and shockingly clumsy aftermath of their barely disguised deeds results in their arrest. During the police interrogation, George tries to explain his innocence and blames his brother. They are tried within the racially intolerant British-inherited court system that wrongly flatters itself to have avoided American excesses of racism. They are executed on the gallows, hanging side-by-side. 

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