What are the main themes in "The Schooner Flight"?

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One of the central themes of the poem is the conflict of identities that exists within the souls of so many West Indians. The sailor protagonist Shabine is what is described as a "red nigger," which means that he is of mixed race ancestry. Shabine, by virtue of his patois,...

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One of the central themes of the poem is the conflict of identities that exists within the souls of so many West Indians. The sailor protagonist Shabine is what is described as a "red nigger," which means that he is of mixed race ancestry. Shabine, by virtue of his patois, or speech, as well as his blood, represents in his soul the unique hybrid of European and African that forms the basis of Caribbean culture.

As one can imagine, this process of hybridization creates something of an identity crisis for Shabine, as it does for many other West Indians. As Shabine laments to Jesus, he has no harbor, no "rest-place." There's no obvious solution to this problem; it isn't a simple matter of choosing one identity and then sticking to it. To do so would be a betrayal of Shabine's mixed heritage. He cannot pretend to be someone or something he isn't.

As someone without a definite place in history, then, Shabine must somehow forge an identity of his own, one that he creates through the writing of poetry. One of the few obvious advantages of Shabine's cultural hybridity is that it can allow him to create a culture of his own; he can be there at the birth of a new cultural awakening which will provide a place for himself and many others like him.

A man without a country, without a place to call home, Shabine can only display loyalty to the nation of his imagination. Neither fully black nor white, Shabine remains caught between two cultures, and this forces the poet-sailor back on the resources of his remarkable imagination, which gives him a place of permanent refuge in a world where the interplay of historical forces has denied him a stable identity.

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