Walcott, Derek (Vol. 9)

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Last Updated on November 17, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1609

Walcott, Derek 1930–

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Walcott is a West Indian poet and playwright. With the publication in 1962 of In a Green Night, he was hailed as the first outstanding Caribbean poet. A recurring theme in Walcott's verse is the isolation of man, and in particular the isolation of the artist. His drama is characterized by a concern with the influences modern society brings to bear on man. (See also CLC, Vols. 2, 4.)

[The Caribbean plays of Derek Walcott] are not precisely Latin American, having been written in English and Trinidadian patois, not Spanish or Portuguese…. Yet Walcott's plays are not in the naturalist and/or militant mainstream of North American black drama of the past decade. Whether or not the Latin American influence is direct, indirect, or coincidental, the affinities of Walcott's poetic folk dramas to such plays as The Mulatto's Orgy and On the Right Hand of God the Father are greater than to the uncompromising naturalism and revolutionary exhortation of Bullins and Baraka. Surely the white exploitation of black folk materials in such entertainments as The Green Pastures and Cabin in the Sky has soured such materials for North American black writers.

Walcott does not anathematize the part of his sensibility which is white. Nor does he fully accept it. He recognizes that it is part of what he is as a writer and as a man. He notes the colonial oppressiveness which created the subservience and self-hatred of "native" culture, but he realizes that the past cannot be obliterated, that he must accept the cultural schizophrenia which has formed him. "My generation looked at life with black skin and blue eyes," he states in the poetic prologue to his collection of plays [Dream on Monkey Mountain, and Other Plays]. His roots are in Warwickshire as well as in Africa, and his literary tradition is in a very real sense that of Chaucer and Shakespeare. His God, as remorseless and irresponsible as He is, is Christian, and his Devil is Milton's Lost Angel. One theme which unites his plays is "one race's quarrel with another's God."

The acceptance of the complexity of human personality and culture, the unwillingness to sacrifice the ambiguity and self-doubt which leads to self-discovery, the simultaneous homage to the claims of the old and the demands of the new—distinguish Walcott's plays. First and foremost, this is poetic drama. Nuance, irony, metaphor—these are the demands the playwright makes of his language. In all the plays he roots his dialogue in Trinidadian dialect, a patois of English and French. But it is not naturalistic: he has attempted to forge "a language that went beyond mimicry,… one which finally settled on its own mode of inflection, and which began to create an oral culture of chants, jokes, folk songs and fables." And to imbue this diction with the resonance of the great English poetic tradition.

Walcott's language, when he is not striving too consciously for high poetic effect, works well theatrically, particularly in his major plays. In the shorter plays, The Sea at Dauphin and Malcochon, the language as well as the forms of the plays themselves aspire too strenuously for traditional tragic resonance. In both the former play—which attempts to evoke for impoverished Caribbean fisherfolk the stoic dignity of Synge's Riders to the Sea—and the latter—a folk tragedy which finds Man "between beasthood and godhead groping in a dream"—the tensions between the indigenous materials and the traditional tragic forms are not wholly resolved. One senses too ardent a desire to claim that these people deserve the mantle of tragic nobility as well as Hamlet or Lear. The author's aim—"an electric fusion of the old and the new"—is not fully achieved. In the two major plays in the collection—Ti-Jean and his Brothers and Dream on Monkey Mountain —however,...

(The entire section contains 1609 words.)

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Walcott, Derek (Vol. 4)