Study Guide

Goats and Monkeys

by Derek Walcott

Goats and Monkeys Themes

Themes and Meanings (Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Walcott deceives the reader of “Goats and Monkeys,” for until the last two lines it appears that the poem follows the traditional view that black is evil, white is good; black is corruption, white is innocence; black is the destroyer, white the creator. In the final lines, the poet contradicts what he has seemingly argued. Othello, the “mythical horned beast” so carefully and effectively drawn to this point, the poet states, is “no more/ monstrous for being black.” The words “comic,” “mockery,” and “farcically” appear in the final stanza, perhaps to hint that the reader is not to take literally what has been presented in the first four stanzas. In effect, Walcott subverts his own poem.

Walcott’s ancestors were Africans brought to the Caribbean as slaves to work on sugar plantations; he has some Anglo-Saxon blood as well. Several generations later, Walcott grew up in an educated home, aware of his African heritage but thoroughly schooled in the English language and the British tradition dominating his tiny West Indian island. Walcott was in his early twenties when the Caribbean colonial outposts gained independence from Great Britain. As a child of the faded British Empire, he has often addressed the experience of colonialism in his poetry, an experience he describes as divisive. Yet, unlike many other postcolonial writers of non-Anglo-Saxon origin, he has never promoted a back-to-Africa movement as the panacea for this...

(The entire section is 451 words.)