Critical Context (Comprehensive Guide to Drama)
Although more widely known abroad as a poet, Derek Walcott has been the director and chief playwright of the Trinidad Theatre Workshop since he founded it in 1959. Dream on Monkey Mountain, his first play to gain international acclaim, won the Obie Award for a Distinguished Foreign Play when produced in New York in 1971, following its premier in Canada. As well as being staged in various parts of the United States and Europe, it was presented as part of the 1972 Olympics cultural program.
Walcott, in both his poetry and his drama, draws heavily upon his experience in the West Indies. Born in 1930 and descended from two white grandfathers and two black grandmothers, he grew up in a colonial environment on the tiny island of St. Lucia, where his mother was a headmistress in a Methodist grammar school. Walcott addressed this twofold identity in one of his poems, “A Far Cry from Africa”:
Between this Africa and the English tongue I love?I who am poisoned with the blood of both,Where shall I turn, divided in the vein?I who have cursedThe drunken officer of British rule, how chooseBetween this Africa and the English tongue I love?Betray them both, or give back what they give?
Walcott, the 1992 Nobel Prize in Literature recipient, has managed to betray neither, but to meld the two parts of his heritage into a consistently humane expression through his art. Dream on Monkey Mountain, with its call for the revolution of self before the political revolution, remains central to an understanding of his work. The play shows that Walcott, although “divided in the vein,” has enlarged the colonial experience and given it universal meaning. He is not revolutionary in the mode of the angry, didactic writer; he is instead a revolutionary in the matters that concern the human spirit.