Makak and Corporal Lestrade: Their Journey of Self-Discovery

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1527

Most critics agree that Derek Walcott's Dream on Monkey Mountain is an intricate play, full of complicated, sometimes contradictory images and metaphors. Because of the text's richness, Dream on Monkey Mountain has attracted numerous interpretations of its many aspects. At the center of numerous critics’ reading of the play is Makak and the dream voyage he goes on that leads to his self-acceptance. Some have compared Makak to Christ, while others have focused on his name—which means monkey—and how the play chronicles his emotional evolution to manhood.

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From the beginning of Dream on Monkey Mountain, it is obvious that Makak is suffering. The old man of African descent has been put in jail for drunken and disorderly conduct after demolishing a local café. When questioned, Makak can only give the name he gave himself to the authorities: Makak or monkey. He has forgotten his real name, symbolic of his nonacceptance of himself. Makak also tells them that he has not seen his own image in over thirty years. In part one, scene one, as his dream begins, the play goes back to the beginning of the day that led to Makak's jailing.

As he relates to his only friend and business partner, Moustique, Makak was visited by a white woman, an apparition, in the light of a full moon. She told him that he was a descendant of African kings and lions, and advised him to live among men. Makak decides to journey to Africa. Moustique accompanies him despite his belief that Makak is crazy. Along the way, Makak learns that he has the power to heal the sick and lead other men. Souris and Corporal Lestrade join his cause.

When Makak makes it to Africa in part two, scene three, he is a tribal king who passes judgment on others and decides their fate. At the end of his dream, Makak must kill the white apparition to free himself from what she represents, that is, the oppression of his soul by white colonials. After he beheads her, he awakens to reality in his cell. Makak now accepts himself and his place in society. He remembers his name and who he is. With Moustique, Makak returns to Monkey Mountain a different man.

Thus Makak's dream is dense and complex. One particularly interesting aspect is how he incorporates Corporal Lestrade into it. Like Makak, Lestrade is a conflicted character. He is a mulatto, who at the beginning of Dream on Monkey Mountain identifies only with the white, English, authoritative side of his heritage. This is underscored by his job in both Makak's dream and reality. He is the jailer, the man who explains the ropes to the market inspector in part one, scene three. In the prologue, which is still reality, Lestrade expresses racist opinions about the black men he has jailed. Playing on Makak's appearance and a comment by prisoner Souris (calling Makak ‘‘some mountain gorilla’’), Lestrade states, ‘‘Now if you apes will behave like gentlemen, who knows what could happen?’’ Yet Lestrade is half ‘‘ape’’ himself.

Lestrade plays a prominent role in Makak's dream. Indeed, if we take the dream as solely a product of Makak's imagination, his way of working out his problems, he imagines that Lestrade goes on his own journey of self-discovery as well. It begins after Makak has a revelation of his own. He breaks a man's fever and saves his life. Wanting to cash in Makak's gift for profit, his friend Moustique impersonates him in a public marketplace. It is here, in part one, scene three, that the dream Lestrade is introduced.

The dream Lestrade is working with Market Inspector Caiphas J. Pamphilion. Lestrade carries a pistol while accompanying the inspector as he distributes certificates among the vendors. Lestrade tells the Inspector that he has to carry the pistol ‘‘to protect people from themselves.’’...

(The entire section contains 15400 words.)

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