Makak and Corporal Lestrade: Their Journey of Self-Discovery

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

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...

(The entire section contains 15400 words.)

See This Study Guide Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this study guide. You'll also get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

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.

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.’’ Yet he also identifies with the mostly black people present, calling them ‘‘my people.’’ He says, ‘‘I would like to see them challenge the law, to show me they alive. But they paralyze with darkness.…They cannot do nothing, because they born slaves and they born tired.’’ Clearly, Makak imagines Lestrade in a kinder light than Lestrade presented himself at the beginning of the play.

Despite such sentiments, Lestrade remains primarily the white-leaning authority figure. He uses racist language similar to that used in the prologue. By part two, scene three, Makak is in Lestrade's jail. Lestrade arrested him when he endangered his friend, the market inspector. Though Lestrade still regards himself as ‘‘an instrument of the law’’ with ‘‘white man work to do,’’ he also believes, ‘‘In some places the law does not allow you to be black, not even black, but tinged with black.’’ The law is everything to Lestrade; it gives him his identity and his power.

To continue on his own journey, Makak must get out of jail. To that end, he tries to bribe Lestrade. When that does not work, he allows the other prisoners, Tigre and Souris, to talk him into escaping. Makak stabs Lestrade and they escape, leaving the Corporal for dead. Though Makak feels guilty about it, he still takes the opportunity that presents itself. Lestrade, however, does not die. He lives, claiming that he wants them to run ahead so he has an excuse to kill them. Lestrade knows that they are ‘‘attempting to escape from the prison of their lives.’’ He will hunt the lion.

In the forest, both Makak and Lestrade undergo further transformations. Makak seems more insane, yet more confident of his journey and his growing self-worth. He makes Tigre his general. As Makak, Souris and Tigre grow closer, Lestrade appears in the forest. The trio hides as Lestrade starts speaking in the same kind of crazy, illogical thoughts as Makak. Lestrade has his own epiphany at this point. Basil, the symbol of death throughout Dream on Monkey Mountain, appears and demands that Lestrade confess his sins on the implied threat of death. The other characters present do not see Basil, just like no one else saw Makak's white apparition.

Confessing to Basil, Lestrade comes to terms with his blackness. He tells Basil, ‘‘Too late have I loved thee, Africa of my mind, sero te amavi, to cite Saint Augustine who they saw was black. I jeered thee because I hated half of myself, my eclipse.… Now I see as new light. I sing the glories of Makak!’’ After this unbosoming, Makak sees that Lestrade has been transformed, though it takes Lestrade some time. The healer convinces Lestrade to join them, though Tigre immediately resents the Corporal's presence and Souris's loyalty to the old man. Lestrade stabs and kills Tigre with a spear. Though Lestrade and Makak's journeys now follow the same path, some things do not change.

Indeed, Lestrade now seems the leader in giving Makak his African crown. Lestrade pushes the old man forward, following him but acting as his primary advisor and support with the help of Souris. While Makak is unsure where to go, Lestrade remains fundamentally concerned with the rule of law. In part two, scene three, Makak finally reaches Africa and is a tribal king. Lestrade, however, really runs the show. As Makak's right-hand man, he gives the orders for the prisoners to be presented, asks the gathered tribes their opinions on the tribute offers, and keeps Makak making decisions.

The crowning moment of their joint path to enlightenment is when the apparition appears before Makak as a prisoner asking for forgiveness. The Corporal tells him what he must do—behead her—but Makak has a hard time accepting this. Lestrade uses manipulative imagery to get him to finish the deed. His language reflects his acceptance of his dual racial heritage, but also shows how his interpretation of the law is most important of all. Lestrade tells Makak, ‘‘She is the mirror of the moon that this ape look into and find himself unbearable. She is all that is pure, all that he cannot reach.… I too have longed for her.’’ Makak can only be free of what she represents when he kills her, but he insists on doing it alone. Only then, away from Lestrade's eyes, can Makak symbolically complete his journey. Lestrade has already gone as far as he will go.

At the end of Dream on Monkey Mountain , the scene shifts back to reality. Makak knows his real name and is freed by a somewhat kinder, gentler Lestrade. He tells Makak, and later Moustique, that they put the old man in jail because of his behavior but only intended to keep him overnight. When Lestrade frees Makak he tells him, ‘‘Believe me, old man … it have no salvation for them, and no hope for us,’’ and ‘‘our life is a prison.’’ Makak accepts himself for all that has gone on in his head. Lestrade is different, too, though he could not possibly know Makak's dream for him. To Makak, Lestrade will always be the law, but he imagines that the Lestrades of the world will realize their worth as well.

Source: Annette Petrusso, in an essay for Literature of Developing Nations for Students, Gale, 2000.

Mimeticism, Reactionary Nativism, and the Possibility of Postcolonial Identity in Derek Walcott's Dream on Monkey Mountain

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on June 1, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 7481

Establishing both a social and a personal identity which are not determined by the oppressor has been a recurrent theme of subaltern writers, from post-colonials, to women, to racial and ethnic minorities. Whether spoken of in terms of ‘‘decolonizing the mind,’’ ‘‘ecriture feminine,’’ or the ‘‘black aesthetic,’’ it has been a central task of literary artists from dominated groups. A number of writers have chosen to look at this issue from the other side, examining the ways in which oppressive ideologies undermine personal identity and even lead to madness. This approach has been particularly common in feminist critiques of patriarchy. Some of the more obvious instances from the post-colonial canon would include Antoinette in Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea, the narrator in Atwood's Surfacing, Elizabeth in Head's A Question of Power, Annain Lessing's The Golden Notebook, Nyasha in Dangarembga' s Nervous Conditions, and the title character in Kincaid's Annie John.

Derek Walcott's Dream on Monkey Mountain is a particularly complex and interesting example of this genre. Yet it has received relatively little critical attention. This is surprising not only because of Walcott's stature, but because the play presents an important variation on a common theme. Post-colonization literature treating the disintegration of personal identity in the face of oppression has tended to focus on women. Even the male authors who have addressed this issue have often dealt with female insanity (see, for example, Phillips's The Final Passage). One result of this is that the disintegrating effects of colonialism and racism have been less fully explored in post-colonization literature than one would expect. While a number of writers besides Walcott have dealt with racial or colonial issues along with patriarchy—Head has done this particularly effectively—the feminist concerns of their works, and the feminist focus of much of the criticism on these works, has tended to limit the literary study of racism and psychopathology. This is particularly unfortunate, because the topic is clearly and necessarily central to the post-colonial situation. Indeed, a number of writers have explored it in theoretical work, most obviously Frantz Fanon in ‘‘The Negro and Psychopathology,’’ Chapter Six of Black Skin, White Masks. Walcott is one of the few anglophone post-colonial writers to have taken up the problem of racism, identity, and madness, developing and extending Fanon's observations through a literary medium.

In the following pages, then, I should like to consider not only what is going on in Dream on Monkey Mountain, but what insight this play can provide into the problems of colonialism and identity. In other words, in thinking about the play, I also hope to use the play to think about the world, about the problems which Walcott tries to represent and work through. Before going on to the play, however, it is important to consider some of the more general principles of social and personal identity as they relate both to madness and to the post-colonial condition.

Personal Identity and Social Stratification
Following Lacan and others, we may understand personal identity not as some direct and immediate sense of self, but rather as a ‘‘constitution’’ of the self, a sort of synthetic self-conception. When I think of an object—my car, for example—I think not of some particular isolated detail, but of a complex of elements and relations: its color, its shape, how it runs, when it was last serviced, etc. As some cognitive scientists would put it, I ‘‘access’’ a ‘‘schema’’ of my car. When I think about another person, a friend perhaps, I do much the same thing; I access a schema which includes not only his/her appearance, but also typical and particular behaviours, attitudes, beliefs, preferences, etc. When I think about myself, I do the same thing. I access a schema of myself. This too includes a representation of my appearance, my attitudes, my behaviours, etc. What is perhaps most important to note about this self-schema is that it is in large part not the product of introspection, but rather of external attribution. In other words, to a considerable degree, I have been told what I am. My self-schema is formed by the statements and attitudes of others to a far greater extent than we are usually aware. As Lacan put it, our self-image is ‘‘more constituting than constituted’’ (my translation), more a construction of us than a construction by us.

As a simple example, consider body weight. I cannot know by introspection or even observation if I am overweight or underweight or neither. This is, in effect, something I am told, directly or indirectly. And, as research on eating disorders has demonstrated, the advertising and entertainment industries lead many women (and some men) to form a false (and debilitating) conception of themselves as overweight. As Naomi Wolf recently pointed out, a 1984 study indicated that 75% of young women believe that they are overweight, while only 25% are medically overweight; indeed ‘‘45 percent of the underweight women thought they were too fat.’’ This is a particularly interesting case, because it illustrates the degree to which even one's perceptual self-constitution, one's conception of one's own appearance, is shaped by attribution, by being told what one is like. People with eating disorders tend, in effect, to see themselves as overweight. Even when looking in a mirror, we do not simply see what we actually look like. Rather, we see what we are told we look like.

The ascriptive character of self-understanding is particularly clear in the case of evaluative terms—such as ‘‘overweight,’’ as well as ‘‘beautiful,’’ ‘‘ugly,’’ and so on. The person who is told he/she is beautiful, treated as beautiful, and so on, will see beauty when he/she looks in a mirror. The same holds for ugliness. Less obvious, but equally true, is the fact that when we look in the mirror we see ourselves in terms of attributed descriptive categories. A white person does, most often, have light skin. But it is due to an attribution of race that he/she sees him/herself as white. A black person does, most often, have dark skin. But it is due to an attribution of race that he/she sees him/herself as black.

More exactly, our self-constitution or self-conception or ‘‘ego’’ (as we might call it, following one usage of Lacan) is organized by a hierarchy of physical, mental, and other properties. We believe a range of things about ourselves, but some of these things are more important than others. For example, it is much more central to my self-conception that I am a teacher than that I own many pairs of shorts. The higher we go in this hierarchy, the more important the property is to our sense of our own identity. At the highest levels of this self-schema are the properties which were attributed to us in childhood, the first properties and relations which formed the basis of our later self-conception. These fundamental attributes are themselves determined by a social hierarchy. Specifically, they are the attributes which function to structure the society into which one is born, especially those attributes which structure a society hierarchically. In every society, sex is one of these properties, for it defines a crucial principle of social stratification. Thus being male or female is universally a central property of personal identity. Race, ethnicity, religion, economic class are common and powerful elements of personal identity in societies hierarchically structured by these categories as well.

Clearly, then, the basis of personal identity is nothing other than social identity: being male or female, white or black (or coloured or Indian), European or African (or Asian), Christian or Yoruba (or Ibo or Hindu or Jewish), etc., defines our personal identity as social identity. Whatever one may think of it—whether one finds it a fact to celebrate or to deplore—each of us begins his/her self-constitution on the basis of a series of social categories which are the result of attribution, not experience, and which locate us in one or more social hierarchies. Equally clearly, such a location is problematic, especially for those who have been placed in a socially devalued position. Their basic principles of identity—often undeniable principles concerning the colour of their skin or the nature of their reproductive organs—are not only devalued in themselves, but linked with a series of other devalued attributions which are either putatively absent from the dominant group or are more variable and temporary. For example, in a certain racist aesthetic, which has only recently begun to lose its dominance, black skin is considered to be ugly in and of itself. Individual white people, in this view, may be ugly or may be beautiful; even an ugly white person has some hope of improving his/her looks. But black is ugly by necessity; to be black is necessarily to be ugly. As a result of this sort of constitution, racist, sexist, and other oppressive structures may define a subaltern personal identity which is pervaded by self-denigration and self-hatred.

In considering the social constitution of personal identity, we may distinguish both conceptual and perceptual components of particular relevance to the present study. Specifically, since race (as well as sex) is a socially visible property—in a way that, for example, religion or economic class need not be—we would expect that perceptual self-constitution would be of particular importance in connection with the constitution of a racial subaltern identity. In addition, at the conceptual level, we would expect a close connection between racial identity and social history. Since racist stratification typically justifies claims of racial inferiority by reference to putative cultural inferiority—that is, these two social hierarchies are typically identified—one's relation to one's forebears and to ancestral traditions becomes as definitive and as denigrated as one's face and mind.

Lacan outlines a similar structure of perceptual and cultural/familial factors in identity when he isolates the mirror image and the Name-of/from-the-Father as the two crucial moments in the constitution of the ego. We need not follow Lacanian psychoanalysis in its details to see the particular relevance, to colonial and postcolonial identity, of the mirror image and the ancestral name (whether patronymic, as Lacan assumes, or not), the ways in which these may serve as pivots of subaltern self-constitution. Indeed, in many ways, Lacan's emphasis on naming fits colonial societies, such as those of West Africa or South India better than it fits European societies. Take, for example, traditional Yoruba culture, to which Walcott frequently alludes as a major force in Afro-Caribbean identity. As Roland Hallgren points out, the name given to a Yoruba child fixed not only sex, but a range of other social relations: ‘‘occupation, family traditions, which deity was worshipped,’’ etc. Indeed, Lacan is in a sense recapitulating Yoruba beliefs in his system, for the traditional Yoruba view is that ‘‘the name has a psychological effect on the behaviour and character of the bearer.’’ The name thus becomes a particularly important node of social and personal identity. As we shall see, both the name and the image figure importantly in Walcott's exploration of colonial and postcolonial identity.

The Whiteness of Blackness: Mimeticism and Reactionary Nativism
As we have already indicated, Dream on Monkey Mountain is a play which explores the ways in which racism defines an unlivable identity for oppressed people, an identity which pushes toward madness. At various points, Walcott makes this theme explicit. For example, he draws the epigraph for Part One from Sartre's prologue to The Wretched of the Earth: as a result of ‘‘always being insulted,’’ the self becomes ‘‘dissociated, and the patient heads for madness.’’ Or, as the coloured Corporal Lestrade puts it later, in dialogue with the sinister Basil: ‘‘My mind, my mind. What's happened to my mind?,’’ he asks; ‘‘It was never yours, Lestrade,’’ Basil replies. His mind, we may infer, was never his own because it was always defined by the attributed categories of racism, because his identity was always and necessarily a matter of what he was told he was.

Walcott devotes much of the play to exploring the absolute valorization of whiteness, and the absolute devaluation of blackness, in colonial racist ideology. For example, Moustique explains: ‘‘when I was a little boy, living in darkness, I was so afraid.… God was like a big white man, a big white man I was afraid of.’’ But Walcott is less concerned with the details of racist ideology than with the effects of this ideology on black people. When all value is associated with whiteness, blacks almost necessarily seek to repudiate their blackness—which is impossible. As Lestrade puts it early in the play: ‘‘is this rage for whiteness that does drive niggers mad.’’

In connection with this, Walcott explicitly defines the issue of subaltern identity in terms of the sort of perceptual and ethnic self-constitutions which we have been discussing. The play centers around a character who foregoes his legal name for the derogatory and implicitly racial epithet ‘‘Makak,’’ or ‘‘Monkey.’’ When arrested for disorderly conduct, he actually forgets his legal name. The delirium from which he suffers is clearly connected with this inability to link himself to family or culture. He has, in effect, been formed by an ideology which strips him of the individual and human identity implicit in the name and which seeks to structure his personal identity around a racial typology according to which black is to white as monkey is to human. Lestrade summarizes Makak's condition: ‘‘this is a being without a mind, a will, a name, a tribe of its own.’’ Lestrade is adopting a colonial and racist perspective, but he nonetheless articulates Makak's complete alienation from any culture which might provide a positive alternative to colonial, racist ideology.

Unsurprisingly, Makak also repudiates any visual self-representation, any image which will remind him of his blackness. Shortly after explaining that he lives ‘‘without child, without wife,’’ hence without links to a family and to the culture which such a family might imply, Makak explains that he has also lived without an image of himself: ‘‘Is thirty years now I have look in no mirror.’’ The reflection only brings him face to face with his own blackness, thus the impossibility of value in a colonial situation. Indeed, he even takes care not to glimpse himself in water: ‘‘Not a pool of cold water, when I must drink, / I stir my hands first, to break up my image’’ (the fragmentation of the reflection foreshadows Makak's related fragmentation in madness). When Makak looks at himself, he sees what a white racist sees. He is, in effect, a metaphor for those legions of colonized subjects who, in Walcott's words, ‘‘looked at life with black skins and blue eyes’’ (‘‘What the Twilight Says’’), suffering the ‘‘contradiction of being white in mind and black in body’’ (or, more accurately, white in self-perception and black in body). His identity, his understanding of the world, his evaluation of himself and of others, all have been determined by white perceptions, white ideas—which is to say, by ascriptions which serve to support racial hierarchies.

Late in the play, Makak comes to consider the situation of blacks in a society structured by white racism. In a moment of despair, he says: ‘‘we are black, ourselves shadows in the firelight of the white man's mind.’’ Here, Walcott is alluding to Plato's allegory of the cave, in part to develop the points we have just been considering. One meaning of this line is that, in a world dominated by whites, blacks have no more free volition, no more power, than shadows. It also suggests that the selves or egos of blacks are reduced to shadows by the white racist's perception of them. Whites are like the men in Plato's cave who confuse shadows with reality. The white understanding of blacks is as distant from black reality as the understanding of a shadow is from the understanding of a man or woman. But Makak does not say, ‘‘We are black, appearing to whites like shadows in the firelight of their minds.’’ Rather, he says that ‘‘we are … ourselves shadows,’’ implying that blacks have accepted and internalized the racism which reduces them to shadows. In this sense, Walcott presents blacks as prisoners in the cave. And the shadows they see on the wall are not images of others, but of themselves, the only images they have of themselves.

Of course there is more to Makak than a disvalued and disrupted constitution, a disintegrating ego formed from shadows deep in the mines of racist ideology. Makak experiences himself and other blacks as human, and whites as a force of natural or supernatural evil. Indeed, this is what brings about his delirium, for he can neither resolve this contradiction nor live with it. In his hallucinations, Makak becomes a saviour of his people, the man who will revive their culture, return them to the time before colonial degradation, lead them out of the cave where they see only shadows, and bring them into the light where they will see the truth. He links himself to his ancestry, proclaiming himself ‘‘the direct descendant of African kings.’’ And he will save his race in part because he is ‘‘a healer of leprosy’’; he can cure the disease that turns its victim white with decay and causes him/her to disintegrate bit by bit. The people he seeks to lead have, like Makak, lost their identity—their names, their link with a tradition. He addresses them: ‘‘I see you all as trees, / like a twisted forest, / like trees without names, / a forest with no roots!’’

Elsewhere, Walcott speaks about ‘‘racial despair,’’ by which he seems to mean the sense of complete human denigration which drives Makak mad. He links this to the sense of being ‘‘rootless,’’ of having no connection with a tradition which gives one personal value—even of having no home, of being a stranger in a home owned by someone else, by whites. After Makak is arrested, Lestrade mockingly asks him, ‘‘Where is your home? Africa?’’ The implication is that he has no home, no homeland. Makak replies, ‘‘Sur Morne Macaque,’’ which he translates as ‘‘on Monkey Mountain,’’ but which means something more like ‘‘on despondent Makak’’—he lives, in a sense, on racial despair. In his delusions, Makak's first project is to return to Africa, to find his home, his ‘‘roots.’’ Later, he tells his followers, ‘‘We will see Africa’’; he explains that they will be transported, suddenly, when they open their eyes after making a wish, just as if they ‘‘have eaten a magic root.’’ Africa is, in effect, that magic root which he wishes will fix him deep in the soil of a homeland.

But this project is always uncertain. Unlike Souris, when Makak looked at God, he saw not ‘‘a big white man,’’ but ‘‘blackness.’’ A good thing? It is hard to say. As Lestrade asks: ‘‘What did the prisoner [i.e., Makak] imply? That God was neither white nor black but nothing? That God was not white but black, that he had lost his faith? Or … or … what.’’ The alternatives are significant, but none is satisfactory. As to the last option, even those who do not believe in God are likely to admit that a despairing loss of faith is not a good thing. And if Makak has lost his faith, it is almost certainly not a positive development—an achievement of human community, for example, a turning away from the promises of an afterlife to a social affirmation of this life. It is, rather, a sign of racial despair. On the other hand, suppose Makak has decided that God is black. Certainly, this is better for Makak, and for other people of African descent. But one thing that Souris makes clear is that the first problem with thinking of God as white is that it racializes divinity, and thus value. To make God black is to repeat this racialization, if in an inverted form.

Asserting God's racial blackness is part of what I refer to in the title as ‘‘reactionary nativism.’’ By ‘‘reactionary nativism,’’ I mean the general inversion of colonial and racist hierarchies such that members of the oppressed group affirm their racial and cultural authority in precisely the manner of the colonizers. This is a reactionary tendency in that it is a reaction to the physical and mental brutality of the oppressors, which it denies but does not overcome. As I am using the term, the relation between reactionary nativism and colonial racism is analogous to the relation between conscious and unconscious impulses in ‘‘reaction formation.’’ Suppose, for example, that I have strongly aggressive impulses toward someone, which disturb me so much that I repress them. As part of my defense against these impulses, I may develop a ‘‘reaction formation’’ and come to behave toward this person with excessive affection and care. Though my outward behavior and conscious attitude are solicitous and loving, they are both in fact determined by my defense against aggression and hatred. Reactionary nativism is similar in that it is an affirmation of one's racial and cultural superiority which is based upon and guided by an underlying denigration of one's race and culture. In other words, it is a sort of reaction formation against colonial racism.

Thus reactionary nativism is a rejection of colonial racist ideology which presupposes the acceptance of that ideology. Put differently, reactionary nativism is the obverse of mimeticism—mimeticism being the formation of one's identity in terms of the concepts and values ascribed to one by one's oppressors. Mimeticism is what leads to racial despair, to the sense that one has no value, as well as to the imitation of white culture, devotion to white law and rule, white ideas and language (i.e., ideas and language which are categorized by whites as superior and as their own—even when those ideas had their origin outside of Europe). Mimeticism creates both Makak's madness and Lestrade's pathetic and cruel conformity. It is also what creates reactionary nativism. Anti-colonial and post-colonial theorists from Frantz Fanon to Ashis Nandy have noted the close connection between a desire to become European and a subsequent repudiation of all things European. As Walcott puts it, ‘‘Once we have lost our wish to be white we develop a longing to become black, and those two may be different, but are still careers.’’

Three Moments of Subaltern Identity
To a great extent, the plot of Dream on Monkey Mountain is organized by reference to mimeticism and reactionary nativism. It in effect maps the development of the latter out of the former. More exactly, Walcott implicitly isolates three stages of development in the social and personal identity of his characters. Moreover, in each stage he implicitly distinguishes what we might call ‘‘popular’’ and ‘‘anti-popular’’ versions, which is to say, versions which arise out of or in solidarity with the people (or some sub-group of the people) and versions which arise out of an individualist or careerist alignment with the foreign oppressors. (As shall become clear, the ‘‘popular’’ versions do not necessarily contribute to the well-being of the people; the fact that they are ‘‘of the people’’ does not imply that they operate in the objective interests of the people.) In exemplifying these alternatives, Walcott presents us with a valuable, if tacit, anatomy of subaltern identity.

Specifically, Walcott begins with mimeticism divided into the figures of racial despair and mimetic collaborationism. The former—exemplified in Makak—is what I am calling the ‘‘popular’’ tendency, for those who suffer racial despair identify themselves with the people. Though they see themselves and the people through ‘‘blue eyes,’’ they do not set out to distance themselves from the people. In contrast, the collaborationist tendency—exemplified in Lestrade—is marked by an insistence on difference. Lestrade is proud of being part white and he repeatedly refers to blacks in brutally racist terms: ‘‘Animals, beasts, savages, cannibals, niggers.’’

Makak's mimeticism manifests itself in many ways. Most obviously, his ‘‘name’’ alludes not only to the racist identification of blacks with apes, but also to the adage ‘‘Monkey see, monkey do.’’ Indeed, at one point, Lestrade—representing white power and authority—has Makak imitate him in a series of meaningless actions. He concludes: ‘‘Everything I say this monkey does do, / I don't know what to say this monkey won't do. / I sit down, monkey sit down too, / I don't know what to say this monkey won't do.’’ But the most significant image of Makak's mimeticism is probably the mask. When arrested, Makak is carrying a white mask. This is the mask of mimicry, the mask which imitates white people. Makak is, of course, not unique in wearing such a mask. It is a mask that all blacks learn to wear as children. When Moustique finds the mask in Makak's hovel, he calls it ‘‘cheap stupidness black children putting on.’’ Later, Moustique confronts a crowd seeking release from oppression, and makes the connection explicit: ‘‘you all want me, as if this hand hold magic, to stretch it and like a flash of lightning to make you all white.’’ Of course, he cannot. All he can do is train them in mimicry. ‘‘All I have is this,’’ he says, pulling out the mask, and explaining: ‘‘blackfaces, white masks!’’

Mimeticism manifests itself not only in relation to authority and divinity, but also in relation to desire. Within a racist society, the dominant racial group assumes official authority for all evaluation, and enforces that authority. In the cases we have been discussing, the mimic seeks the respect of his/ her oppressor. But there are other cases in which imitation aims at love. And just as respect is definitive only if it comes from a white person, so too is love absolute only if it comes from a white person—a white woman, in this case. Thus, for Makak and for others whose identity has been formed by racism, the white woman becomes, a sort of alternative to racial despair. To be loved by a white woman—that would mean one has value. In Dream on Monkey Mountain, the white woman is represented by the moon. Thus, Tigre imagines Makak ‘‘masturbating in the moonlight,’’ which is to say, fantasizing the carnal love of a white woman. And later, in a moment of despair, Makak explains that ‘‘I can [never] reach that moon; and that is why I am lost.’’ Connecting the desired white woman with the mother—a connection which will become important later on—Souris explains what ‘‘they teach me since I small’’: ‘‘To be black like coal, and to dream of milk,’’ milk being the whiteness he can never achieve, but also the white woman and the white mother he can never have.

When Makak begins to go mad, he hallucinates the visit of a white woman who loves him. This love inspires him, seemingly returns his identity. First, he explains, ‘‘she call out my name, my real name,’’ thereby restoring to him his culture, the sense of ethnic and racial connection he had lost. In addition, her love gives him pride in this heritage: ‘‘She say that I come from the family of lions and kings.’’ And, yet, this new ethnic valorization is not unproblematic. Makak is still linked with nature, not humanity; as a lion, he is ‘‘king of the jungle.’’ More importantly, in making him a lion, this imaginary white woman makes him white. Later in the play, Walcott sets up three parallels: milk and coal, day and night, lion and monkey. The primary significance of ‘‘lion’’ in this sequence is as a signal of whiteness. Through the imagined love of the white woman, Makak has to some extent gained access to values which need not constrain his identity to that which is worthless. But even so, those values are defined precisely by their whiteness. Indeed, the substitution of ‘‘lion’’ for ‘‘Makak’’ is colonial in another way. Etymologically, ‘‘lion’’ derives from Greek and Hebrew roots, making it firmly Judeo-European, ‘‘Makak,’’ in contrast, derives from Fiot, a Bantu language; indeed, ‘‘Makak’’ avoids the French/English, Portuguese, and Latin spellings (‘‘macaque,’’ ‘‘macaco,’’ and ‘‘macaca’’), employing instead the standard transcription of the Fiot (see, for example, the entry for ‘‘macaque’’ in The American Heritage Dictionary). Thus, while the value placed on Makak by the white woman does give him a sense of worth, it is worth which in virtually every way derives from colonial valorization of whiteness and European culture. This is why Moustique identifies her with the white mask. The values she allows Makak to celebrate are ultimately mimetic, however anti-mimetic they may appear.

Nonetheless, Makak does move out of mimeticism per se into a form of reactionary nativism—a transition adumbrated at the beginning of the play through the identification of ‘‘the round moon’’ (representative of whiteness and, particularly, the white woman) with ‘‘the white disc of an African drum’’ (representative of a rediscovered African tradition). Specifically, Walcott represents two stages of reactionary nativism. The first, which tends to precede national independence, is what I will call ‘‘Romantic Nativism,’’ in its popular form, and ‘‘Opportunistic Nativism’’ in its anti-popular or individualist form.

Romantic nativism is a celebratory idealization of (what one perceives to be) the culture and history of the subordinated group. Walcott is harshly critical of this view. Elsewhere, he calls it ‘‘a schizophrenic daydream of an Eden that existed before … exile’’ (‘‘What the Twilight Says’’). Unsurprisingly, Makak accepts the colonial view of black Africans as living in a natural state, at one with the jungle. His romantic nativism tends to be a romantic naturalism related to his new self-image as the (white) lion, king of the jungle. Specifically, Makak urges Souris to find himself ‘‘at home’’ as ‘‘One of the forest creatures’’ and makes himself, in the words of Souris, ‘‘Half-man, half-forest.’’ Along similar lines, when Lestrade is converted to nativism and affirms his race rather than rejecting it, he is suddenly naked in the jungle. Makak then identifies him and all his African forebears with nature, asking: ‘‘Don't you hear your own voice in the gibberish of the leaves? Look now how the trees have opened their arms. And in the hoarseness of the rivers, don't you hear the advice of all our ancestors?’’

In connection with this turn from law to nature, from the court to the jungle, from civil authority to natural authority, the object of love shifts from the nubile white woman and inaccessible moon to Mother Earth or Mother Africa, black with fertile soil, the true home, always there, always waiting. In this context, love becomes a return to the patient, ever-loving mother or motherland, one's origin and destiny. Though only humoring Makak, Tigre presents this theme when he exclaims, ‘‘Ah, Africa! Ah, blessed Africa! Whose earth is a starved mother waiting for the kiss of her prodigal.’’ And as he approaches his conversion, Lestrade cries out to ‘‘Mother Africa, Mother Earth’’; as he removes his clothes in preparation for his rebirth as African, he announces, ‘‘I return to this earth, my mother.’’

In contrast with this naive view, opportunistic nativism is the cynical manipulation of the people's hopes and desires through an insincere celebration of non-European values and customs—a celebration aimed merely at one's own advancement. The obvious example of this is Moustique' s fraudulent preaching and impersonation of Makak, after Makak has achieved success as a political and religious leader. Walcott criticizes such demagoguery. But at the same time he allows Moustique alone to recognize the close connection between romantic nativism and mimeticism (in the passage already quoted concerning the Fanonian ‘‘black faces, white masks’’). Moustique's cynicism is not entirely misplaced.

Indeed, the kernel of truth in Moustique's cynicism is made evident when there is a sudden change in the situation. Independence has been achieved. But instead of the expected peace and harmony, Africans are fighting against Africans. There is violence and brutality everywhere. Makak is at the head of an unstable state with many enemies. This is the third moment of post-colonization identity, and it too has a communal and an individual version. I will refer to these as Sectarian Nativism and Neo-Colonial Nativism. Neo-colonial nativism here is in effect a version of the mimetic collaborationism of the first moment. The primary difference is that it is not overtly mimetic. Neo-colonial nativists celebrate indigenous traditions in order to advance their own interests as junior partners of the former colonies. They frequently do so by supporting sectarian nativism, the affirmation of small-group identities within the former colony. Sectarian nativism involves the affirmation of narrow linguistic, religious, ethnic, or other identities—for example, Hindu vs. Muslim in India or Yoruba vs. Ibo in Nigeria. This is clearly the same sort of affirmation as initially created the broader sense of identity in romantic nativism, where an identification with Africa relied on a specific repudiation of Europe. In other words, sectarian nativism continues the identification of all value with one particular culture, but narrows that identification (e.g., from ‘‘Africa’’ to ‘‘Yoruba’’). Indeed, it narrows the identification in a way which can be extremely brutal. Finally, it maintains the mimetic basis of romantic nativism. Value is still understood as white value—even though both sectarian and neo-colonial nativists may violently reject all whiteness (the former sincerely, the latter cynically).

Makak describes the situation after independence, as sectarian nativism spreads: ‘‘The tribes! The tribes will wrangle among themselves, spitting, writhing, hissing, like snakes in a pit … devouring their own entrails like a hyena.’’ He also explains that this is the direct outcome of the racist ideology of colonialism and the mimeticism of the colonized. They devour ‘‘their own entrails’’ because they are ‘‘eaten with self-hatred.’’ ‘‘The tribes! The tribes!,’’ he laments, ‘‘One by one they will be broken.’’ But Makak too succumbs to sectarianism. The people who ‘‘rejected’’ his ‘‘dream’’ ‘‘must be taught, even tortured, killed.’’ The reign of terror begins: ‘‘Their skulls will hang from my palaces. I will break up their tribes.’’

Unsurprisingly, Lestrade, formerly the mimetic collaborationist, is now the neo-colonial nativist. He names himself: ‘‘Hatchet-man, opportunist, executioner.’’ He initiates the sectarian violence by killing Tigre, and encourages the reign of terror, telling Makak: ‘‘those who do not bend to our will, to your will, must die.’’ His work is to manipulate the nationalist leader (Makak) and the people in his own interests, and implicitly in the interests of the former colonizers. Now when he says, ‘‘I have the black man work to do,’’ we can hear, echoing just below the surface, his earlier statement: ‘‘I got the white man work to do’’; the repetition is not accidental. He establishes his cynical strategies: ‘‘Wow, let splendour, barbarism, majesty, noise, slogans, parades, drown out that truth. Plaster the walls with pictures of the leader.’’ But even in this, they all remain mere shadows in the fire of the white man's mind. Speaking of Makak, he says: ‘‘He's a shadow now.’’ The pomp and circumstance only thicken the shadows, but do not make them real. Referring to Makak's coronation, he calls out, ‘‘magnify our shadows, moon, if only for a moment.’’

Perhaps most interestingly, Lestrade deploys the rhetoric of nativism in order to support westernization. He urges, ‘‘Onward, onward. Progress’’ and, in keeping with his idea of progress, faces Makak toward the moon in order to ‘‘go forward,’’ clearly connecting ‘‘forward’’ movement and progress with the ideal of whiteness. Makak has a brief vision of what this means: the breaking of the tribes, the replacing of tradition by commerce, ‘‘the gold and silver scales of the sun and the moon … that is named progress.’’ But his response to this is mistaken, a deepening of reactionary nativism which continues to accept colonial racist ideology even as it denounces whiteness more vehemently and completely. When praises are sung in the new kingdom, they are pervaded with the images of whiteness. Makak is lauded as he ‘‘Whose plate is the moon at its full, / Whose sword is the moon in its crescent.’’ His peace is ‘‘gentler than cotton; his ‘‘voice is the dove,’’ his ‘‘eye is the cloud,’’ and his ‘‘hands are washed continually in milk.’’ And yet, as emperor, Makak proclaims whiteness to be guilt. He presents a list of names, explaining: ‘‘Their crime … is, that they are … white.’’ He continues, explaining the new official history which parallels and inverts the official histories written by whites: ‘‘a drop of milk is enough to condemn them, to banish them from the archives of the bo-leaf and the papyrus, from the waxen tablet and the tribal stone.’’ Again, the nature of this rejection is clear. It is a reaction formation; its vehemence is directly proportionate to the force of the mimeticism which it simultaneously represses and manifests.

In this context, the object of desire again becomes the white woman. But here, in a reaction formation, she is reconstrued as the object of hate and violence. Before his execution, Moustique accuses Makak: ‘‘Once you loved the moon, now a night will come when, because it white, from your deep hatred you will want it destroyed.’’ In reply, Makak asserts his blackness, his rejection of whiteness: ‘‘My hatred is deep, black, quiet as velvet.’’ But Moustique, as always, recognizes the mimeticism just below the surface: ‘‘you are more of an ape now, a puppet’’ and he sings ‘‘I don't know what to say this monkey won't do,’’ recalling the earlier scene with Lestrade and implicitly indicating Lestrade' s manipulative and collaborationist role in the new society. Subsequently, Lestrade does drive Makak to kill the white woman—indeed, not merely to kill her, but to brutalize her: ‘‘Nun, virgin, Venus, you must violate, humiliate, destroy her.’’ Like all successful propagandists, Lestrade mixes truth with lies. He is right that this idealization of whiteness ‘‘is the mirror of the moon that this ape look into and find himself unbearable’’; it is ‘‘white light that paralysed [Makak's] mind’’ and Makak must free himself from whiteness, ‘‘as fatal as leprosy,’’ if he is ever to achieve ‘‘peace.’’ But this repudiation of an idea is too easily mixed up with the repudiation of people—in this case, a woman, then all women. It turns too easily to misogyny—a frequent component of reactionary nativism, and yet another hierarchization which mirrors or repeats the stratification of colonial racism. Lestrade tells Makak that he must strive ‘‘to discover the beautiful depth of [his] blackness,’’ but such a project remains squarely within the racist problematic of colonialism: all self-understanding and value are based on race. Moreover, the supposed purity and ‘‘blackness’’ of this project is denied by the sectarian brutality of the regime and by its imagery of whiteness. Indeed, when Makak beheads the white woman, he does so with ‘‘the curved sword,’’ which was described at the beginning of the scene as ‘‘the moon in its crescent’’ (though it is at the same time reminiscent of Islam; perhaps Walcott is also criticizing the reactionary violence which Islam has been used to justify).

And yet, for Walcott, this reactionary, sectarian, misogynist brutality seems not to be entirely negative. When beheading the white woman, Makak announces, ‘‘Now, O God, now I am free.’’ Immediately thereafter, he recalls his name. It is now dawn—with all the symbolism this implies. Suddenly, he is part of no organized religion, but ‘‘I believe in my God’’—he has found an alternative to both religious despair and religious mimeticism. Most importantly, when Lestrade offers him the white mask, Makak refuses it. He leaves, perhaps for the first time since childhood, without the mask. In his final monologue, he claims that he has now found ‘‘roots’’ and a ‘‘home’’ and the chorus sings that he returns to his ‘‘father's kingdom,’’ which, one is left to assume, he finds by accepting himself, his image, his name, rejecting the white mask.

I am not the only critic to be uncomfortable with this ending. Jan R. Uhrbach tries to solve the problem of the execution by maintaining that the decapitated woman ‘‘is not the same figure who spoke to [Makak] in his dream,’’ but is instead ‘‘Lestrade's vision.’’ In this view, the execution is more like an attack on Lestrade than on any woman. Uhrbach's argument rests on her claim that the white woman is identified with the moon only late in the play. However, she is identified with the moon in the same sentence in which she is introduced: ‘‘I behold this woman … / Like the moon.’’ On the other hand, even if she were not immediately identified with the moon, Uhrbach's conjecture seems unsupported and implausible. In the only lengthy recent treatment of the play, Samad also addresses the execution, maintaining that the white woman represents ‘‘the polarized and static romanticized vision of his ancestral past,’’ a polarized vision ended by the execution. But, as we have seen, the brutality of the execution, its association with Lestrade and sectarian nativism, and the imagery surrounding the act, all indicate that it is necessarily part of such a polarization.

Perhaps Walcott is following Fanon here in linking violence with catharsis. Fanon wrote: ‘‘violence is a cleansing force. It frees the native from his inferiority complex and from his despair’’ and ‘‘is closely involved in the liquidation of regionalism and tribalism.’’ It is what prevents demagoguery, for ‘‘When the people have taken violent part in the national liberation they will allow no one to set themselves up as ‘liberators.’’’ People are ‘‘Illuminated by violence.’’ Indeed, ‘‘Violence alone, violence committed by the people, violence organized and educated by its leaders, makes it possible for the masses to understand social truths and gives the key to them.’’ Unfortunately, this does not really solve the problem. Admittedly, revolutionary violence is often unavoidable. And we should not fall into the trap of condemning the small violence of the revolutionaries while ignoring the massive violence of the oppressors. Yet, Fanon seems to be just wrong here. The history of revolutions hardly indicates that violence ends mimeticism or demagoguery, that it leads to social harmony or justice. Violent revolution brings the most violent leaders to the fore, habituates everyone to conceiving of problems and solutions in terms of force, power, weapons, terror. At best, violence is an unfortunate necessity. But it will almost invariably function to perpetuate itself. Moreover, it will tend to operate through and thus support the sort of stratified thinking, and thus identity, promulgated by colonial racism.

Elsewhere, Fanon presents a different solution to the problem of colonial identity: ‘‘the individual should tend to take on the universality inherent in the human condition.’’ More exactly,

As I begin to recognize that the Negro is the symbol of sin, I catch myself hating the Negro. But then I recognize that I am a Negro. There are two ways out of this conflict. Either I ask others to pay no attention to my skin, or else I want them to be aware of it. I try then to find value for what is bad—since I have unthinkingly conceded that the black man is the color of evil. In order to terminate this neurotic situation, in which I am compelled to choose an unhealthy, conflictual solution, fed on fantasies, hostile, inhuman in short, I have only one solution: to rise above this absurd drama that others have staged round me, to reject the two terms that are equally unacceptable, and, through one human being, to reach out for the universal.

Here, Fanon advocates the universalism also found in such writers as Bessie Head and Rabindranath Tagore, Ngugi wa Thiong'o and Samir Amin. Though unfashionable amongst academics (except, of course, those in linguistics), it is perhaps the one option which need not presuppose and repeat the structure of colonial racism.

But that is the topic of another essay, for universalism is not a solution which Walcott considers in Dream on Monkey Mountain. In 1967, when the play was first produced, perhaps the consequences of revolutionary violence were not so obvious. Perhaps the resolution, the discovery of name and roots, the rejection of mimeticism through the humiliation and murder of the white woman, would not have seemed so mistaken, so brutal, so close to misogyny. In any event, whatever one's view of its problematic ending, Walcott's play presents us with a powerful literary analysis of the constitution of colonial identity, its varieties and development (or dialectic). And the anatomy we have sought to abstract from his work should be of value not only in understanding other literature, but, one might hope, in conceptualizing and responding to the far more important issues of social and personal identity in the real world—the issues toward which, after all, Walcott sought to draw our attention and inspire our action.

Source: Patrick Colm Hogan, ‘‘Mimeticism, Reactionary Nativism, and the Possibility of Postcolonial Identity in Derek Walcott's Dream on Monkey Mountain,’’ in Research in African Literatures, Vol. 25, No. 2, Summer, 1994, p. 103.

Dream on Monkey Mountain: Fantasy as Self-Perception

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on June 1, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2493

Derek Walcott, a Third World poet and dramatist, born in the Castries, St. Lucia, began writing poetic dramas in 1948 with his first play, Henri Christophe, a play about the Haitian Revolution. Walcott has written 15 plays, which have been produced and published, and 10 volumes of poetry, seven of which must be called major collections. His own life as a ‘‘divided child’’—he is the son of parents of mixed European and African descent—embodies one of the prime tensions of the West Indian experience.

Walcott' s arch hero, Makak, in Dream on Monkey Mountain is taken from the author's early years in St. Lucia where Walcott recalls a childhood memory of an old, undisciplined woodcutter, who reflects regional history. Two of the major themes of the play are racial inferiority (Makak's French Patois name implies an apelike figure) and the thwarted potential of an independent spirit, ‘‘living on his own ground, off its elemental resources.’’ Walcott's drama illuminates the tragic struggle of Makak, his hopes, his fears, and his temporary freedom, which is itself a dream. Makak is a microcosm of all poor West Indians who suffer; he is offered a seeming identity only to return to his mountain hermitlike life, with dreams defeated again. The play, however, leaves the audience with a hopeful vision: Makak must and will descend again from his mountain isolation to face reality, regardless of the cost.

Walcott, in his introduction to Dream on Monkey Mountain, credits the theater as an outlet to show the legacy of racial oppression and subjugation of the West Indian natives. ‘‘[B]eing poor, we already had the theatre of our lives which we share with the agony of actors of all time.’’

Dream on Monkey Mountain is a mythic drama, a ritualized play of the West Indies, combining fantasy, obeah, music, dance, and poetry to expose the deeper, unconscious sources of identity and the nature of freedom. The cast includes seven black men, one white woman dancer-singer, a male chorus, drummers, and music. The play was first presented by the Trinidad Theatre Workshop in Toronto in 1967. Other productions were presented in the Eugene O'Neill Memorial Theatre in Connecticut; the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles; and in New York, where the play won the Obie Award for the best foreign play in 1970-71. In the 1971 production at St. Mark's Theatre, the White Goddess appeared singing in a huge cutout of the moon. When Makak's hallucination is over, the moon sinks into the sea. Edith Oliver, in her review of the play, tells how the setting, choreography, costumes, and lighting enhance the mood of the play. In this play, characters exchange roles, assume aspects of the protagonist's dominant personality traits, and serve as symbols; one who is twice killed returns alive again in the epilogue.

The play, ripe with satire, is structured around a series of interrelated themes within dream sequences echoing Cervantes’ Don Quixote. In these dream episodes, the protagonist, Makak, discovers his true self, neither God nor beast, only a man, an old black man who eventually learns his name and identity.

Walcott generously credits Brecht, Oriental artists, and Robert Graves's The White Goddess, who appears in Makak's dream as the white apparition representing inauthentic and limited African identity, for his inspiration. The play is also rich in puns, metaphors, and verbal play of fast-paced Calypsonian rhetoric. Unlike Brecht's productions, Walcott's plays demand a different kind of disciplined actor, dancer, and singer more like those who perform in Kabuki theater. All of these elements, including dream sequences and the introduction of the White Goddess, merge in Dream on Monkey Mountain.

Walcott's protagonist, Makak (monkey), who is an extension of Walcott's hero in his drama Henri Christophe, is a coal-burner who represents not only the blacks' righteous rebellion against the white master but also the heretical step of rejecting the equally oppressive role imposed by black racists. In a note on the production, Walcott, somewhat reminiscent of Strindberg, allows the producer freedom to amplify: ‘‘The play is a dream, one that exists as much in the given minds of its principal characters as in that of its writer.’’ Walcott also suggests Sartre's prologue to The Wretched of the Earth as another source of his theme: ‘‘Thus in certain psychoses the hallucinated person, tired of always being insulted by a demon, one fine day starts hearing the voice of an angel who pays him compliments.’’

In the Prologue, Makak has been jailed for being drunk and disorderly. He shares his cell with two fellow prisoners, Tigre and Souris, who merge with his hallucination and share his quixotic experiences, as does Makak's jailer, Lestrade. The names of the characters suggest fable: Lestrade, neither black nor white, is a straddler. Makak means monkey, taken from the name of the mountain where he lives. His two companions are the tiger and the mouse. Corporal Lestrade, like Charles Fuller's Sergeant Waters in A Soldier's Play, ridicules backward blacks. He attempts to prove that Makak is an old ape who must be told how to act and what to do: ‘‘Animals, beasts, savages, cannibals, niggers, stop turning this place into a stinking zoo.’’

When Lestrade interrogates Makak about his race, Makak replies, ‘‘Tired,’’ a one-word declaration of long-standing prejudice. Then Makak relates his dreams, claiming ‘‘All I have is my dreams and they don't trouble your soul.’’ The prisoner goes on to tell about his vision of the White Goddess on Monkey Mountain who calls out his ‘‘real’’ name and not the one he uses.

In Scene One, Makak is on Monkey Mountain with his friend, Moustique, whom he tells about his dream and the lady, the root of his problem, in his vision. Makak declares that the lady, after talking all night, commands him to regain his African birthright. He has been living all of his life, without a wife or children, on Monkey Mountain, working at his charcoal pit. Moustique does not believe his story but, like Sancho Panza, decides to accompany his ‘‘king’’ on his misadventures. The two men mirror the play's black consciousness in that both lack any positive identity, underscored by Moustique: ‘‘You black, ugly, poor, so worse than nothing. You like me, small, ugly with a foot like an ‘S.’’’ Obviously, Makak had one identity throughout his life—subhuman. His hallucinations slowly give him dignity and eventually his God-given identity of a man. The two travelers set out to prove Makak's birthright in a series of misadventures. The episodes are laced with satire and humor: ‘‘Saddle my horse, if you love me, Moustique, and cut a sharp bamboo for me.… Makak will walk like he used to in Africa, when his name was Lion!’’ Reluctantly, Moustique agrees to follow his master, but adds, ‘‘Is the stupidest thing I ever see.’’ To the music of flute and drum, they sally forth down the mountain to glory.

On their first encounter, Makak is instrumental in restoring a dying man to life. Corporal Lestrade, informed about the local ‘‘savior’’ appears in wig and gown, deriding the crowd's delusions: ‘‘It's the cripples who believe in miracles. It's the slaves who believe in freedom.’’ Moustique is quick to seize the opportunity for gain, like many other trickster heroes of West Indian folklore who convert faith and trust into a profitable enterprise. Caught impersonating his master, Moustique is beaten to death by a crowd of villagers who discover his attempt to be the miracle-working Makak.

In what appears to be reality, Makak is back in his cell with Souris and Tigre, enduring Lestrade's pointedly contradictory defense of white justice. In an attempt to sublimate his own problem of racial identity, Lestrade—once again echoing Fuller's Sergeant Waters—screams: ‘‘This ain't Africa. This is not another easy-going nigger you talking to, but an officer!’’ Angered, Tigre plans an escape for himself, Souris, and Makak, who pretends madness to bring Lestrade to his cell where he stabs him. After they leave the jail, the corporal rises and explains to the audience that the act is only what they dream of—their dream of revenge. As Lestrade begins his hunt for the fugitives, he warns: ‘‘Attempting to escape from the prison of their lives. That's the most dangerous crime. It brings about revolution.’’ Going through the forest on their way to Monkey Mountain (Africa), the fugitives become hungry. Makak dries ganja to smoke and tells Souris and Tigre that they will not need food when they smoke the plant. As the chorus chants, ‘‘I am going home to Africa,’’ Makak announces ‘‘The mind can bring the dead to life. It can make a man a king. It can make him a beast.’’

Lestrade, searching for the escaped prisoners, meets Basil, another apparition, a coffin maker and spirit of death, who admonishes the corporal and demands he repent his sins. Lestrade does not know if he is in the real world or in a dream himself. Coming upon Makak and the others, who see Lestrade apparently talking to himself, the officer, thinking of his sins, ‘‘goes native’’ and becomes the most fanatic convert to Makak's back-to-Africa movement. At this point, Makak himself is caught up in the frenzy for power and revenge. Makak promises to make Tigre a general when they arrive in Africa. Meanwhile, Makak is crowned king by his three followers. Souris is also converted totally to Makak's dream. Throughout the play all of the major characters, at one time or another, question their racial identity, their place in life. Makak wavers between reality and illusion. Another dream-death takes place when Lestrade drives a spear through Tigre, who, like Moustique, seeks only monetary gain from his newfound position of power.

In a quick change of scene, they are transported to Africa, and Makak sets up court and judgment is passed on the history of racial oppression. Lestrade insists on death for all the accused, including Makak's White Goddess. In one of the wittiest and most entertaining scenes in the play, Basil, who reappears in Africa, reads a list of the offenders, including Aristotle Shakespeare, The Phantom, Mandrake the Magician, and Al Jolson.

The revolutionists then consider the enemies' fate. Basil asks if the Pope is to be spared. A unanimous negation is the tribe's response. The same reaction is rendered at the names of the President of the United States, the Republic of South Africa, and the Ku Klux Klan. Also in this dream sequence, congratulatory letters arrive from several golf and country clubs. A gilt-edged doctorate from Mississippi University arrives, along with the Nobel Peace Prize, an autograph of Pushkin, the Stalin Peace Prize, an offer from the United Nations a sliver of bone from the thigh of Lumumba, and an offer from Hollywood. The scene then shifts from satire to ‘‘tragedy.’’ With the beheading of the White Goddess, Makak gains his total freedom—by killing his ‘‘problem’’: ‘‘She is the white light that paralysed your mind, that led you into this confusion. It is you who created her, so kill her! Kill her!’’ Moustique is also executed (his second death) for having betrayed the original dream. In this court, there is no room for personal relationships; there is only racial retribution.

The Epilogue makes it clear that the play's action has been real only in Makak's mind. He has cut through illusion to discover his essential self. Makak, the ‘‘Being’’ without an identity, without manhood, now has rejoined the world, taking on his ancestral name. His name is his identity; Makak, as the world has considered him, is a new man, equal to all other men and women. When he wakes in his jail cell, he recollects that his legal name is Felix Hoban. Moustique comes to take him from the jail and discovers Makak to be a new man. Together they set out for Monkey Mountain. Makak's last words are a prayer for the future: ‘‘Makak lives where he has always lived, in the dreams of his people! Other men will come, other prophets will come, and they will be stoned, and mocked, and betrayed. But now this old hermit is going home, back to the beginning of this world.’’

Walcott dismisses revenge as uncreative. Makak, after experiencing his dream, realizes he is a man, a man living off his own land and its native resources. He has found his own roots, which are just as sacred to him as the white man's roots are to the white man. It is his self-imposed image that Makak has learned to dismiss, not by seeking revenge on the oppressors such as Lestrade but by seeking in himself a positive image. His racial identity has been made up of a complex historical legacy, but this should not deter him from creating a new vision of renewal with dignity and purpose. This theme is reiterated throughout Walcott's work.

Makak has thus gone through the whole cycle from woodcutter to king to woodcutter again, but his experiences will keep alive the dreams of the people of the Caribbean, a dream of freedom that must be maintained in the colonized world. The play reawakens the anger at the legacy of bondage in the minds of the oppressed, but it also, in glorifying and idealizing Africa, displays the power of the theater in everyday life. The awakening of the colonized consciousness is seen in the acting out of the hallucinations of this old charcoal maker who refuses to accept the forced identity of a subhuman.

As the play ends and the house lights go on, the audience may doubt the fantasy of the play, for outside of the world of the theater, humans are still irrational. They still consult the astrologer; they still cross their fingers and knock on wood; and they are still, in a sense, religious. Then, as the house lights again dim, the actors renew their cult of nakedness. Life begins again every night when the house lights go out. Rehearsals are also life. They have accepted the twilight. Walcott teaches us that in the theater all the races are one race. He believes that there is no such thing as black or white literature. He notes that the reception of this play in New York (the critics viewed the play as part of the ‘‘Get Whitey Syndrome’’) would not be acceptable to a West Indian audience. What Makak recognizes after he awakes from his nightmare-dream is the lesson he learned from the horror of the blacks’ actions in Africa—tribes slaughtering each other—that human cruelty is raceless. Makak has come to realize that the first step in getting rid of his fear of everything white is his need for freedom and identity. The world can and must dispossess prejudice at all levels. Makak has given us a new meaning of life.

Source: Robert J. Willis, ‘‘Dream on Monkey Mountain: Fantasy as Self-Perception,’’ in Staging the Impossible: The Fantastic Mode in Modern Drama, Ed. Patrick D. Murphy, Greenwood Press, 1992, pp. 150-55.

Big Night Music: Derek Walcott's Dream on Monkey Mountain and the Splendours of Imagination

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on June 1, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 3899

In Derek Walcott's own words, ‘‘The play is a dream, one that exists as much in the given minds of its principal characters as in that of its writer, and as such, it is illogical, derivative, and contradictory. Its source is metaphor.…’’ This statement is crucial to any profound understanding of the work, and my purpose in this essay shall be to examine the nature and function of dreams in the play in an effort to elucidate one essential level of meaning in Walcott's magnum opus.

I
In the world of the work—that is, within the context of the play itself—we are presented with a dream and a dream-within-a-dream. But in the context of the work within the world—that is, beyond the text or enactment of the drama—we are also confronted with a dream: Walcott's creative vision which informs the play, and which is itself a part of a larger dream in the mind of mankind, an edenic dream of elemental freedom. Beginning on a ‘‘realistic’’ level in the play we move rapidly into the realm of poetic reality, spiraling evermore inward toward an essential core of meaning before ascending once more to the ‘‘logic’’ of the waking world. But this essential core of meaning, discoverable by the individual through an internal voyage, exists beyond the individual—or any individual work of art—in a collective consciousness which Art as a spiritual endeavour has always striven to articulate. So, at the play's conclusion, when we are told that ‘‘Makak lives where he has always lived, in the dream of his people,’’ the world within the work and the work within the world merge at the crossroads of the imagination. Makak comes from, and he returns to, the world of myth.

One of the perennial motifs of myth is that of the seeker, the defier of odds and gods, and his redemptive quest; and one of myth's lessons to mankind lies in the articulation of the rhythms of recurrence, the repetitive nature of experience. Walcott grasped these concepts early. He ‘‘recalls the familiar scene in his childhood when the story teller would sit by the fire to narrate stories involving a ‘hero whose quest is never done’, and explains how it became necessary for him to appropriate the image of that hero in his plays.’’ And his brother, Roderick Walcott, has noted that ‘‘The legends of Papa Diablo, Mama Glos, lajables, and the sukuya can remain if only we tell them over and over again.’’

Imagination solidified itself in the ambiguous person of an actual individual whom Walcott vividly remembers. ‘‘My Makak comes from my own childhood. I can see him for what he is now, a brawling, ruddy drunk who would come down the street on a Saturday when he got paid and let out an immense roar that would terrify all the children.… When we heard him coming we all bolted, because he was like a baboon.… This was a degraded man, but he had some elemental force in him that is still terrifying; in another society he would have been a warrior.’’

These images from Walcott's past, folkloric and literal, are fused in the character of Felix Hobain, whose metaphoric identity is Makak, the monkey-man, the lion and king. Makak, one of the lowliest of the low, is the one in whom the dream is invested. The dream that transforms Makak is, in a very real sense, Walcott's own dream, his artist's vision which espies the potential for greatness in ‘‘a degraded man,’’ which recognizes the raw power behind seeming impotence.

These dead, these derelicts, that alphabet of the emaciated, they were the stars of my mythology.

Makak then becomes representative of the downtrodden and impoverished blacks who long to be redeemed, and of the transformation that brings about, or at least prefaces, such redemption.

II
Speaking specifically of the anguish of the West Indian, Walcott says, ‘‘we have not wholly sunk into our own landscapes,’’ thus defining an inherent rootlessness. It is a concern that numerous writers share, but Walcott, like Wilson Harris, attempts the absorption into the indigenous landscape along with a corresponding exploration of a mind—or dreamscape: ‘‘a country for the journey of the soul’’ as Walcott calls it. Both of these geographies—the literal and the imaginative—are recreated and fused through language.

It is through language, in fact, that Walcott envisions the salvation of ‘‘the New World Negro.’’ ‘‘What would deliver him from servitude was the forging of a language that went beyond mimicry, a dialect which had the force of revelation as it invented names for things, 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.…’’ The poet in his primal role as maker is the one who can forge this recreative language that will provide a vehicle for the liberation of consciousness from its colonized state. But it is obvious here that the way forward is the way back: to roots. ‘‘For imagination and body to move with original instinct, we must begin again from the bush. That return journey, with all its horror of rediscovery, means the annihilation of what is known.… On such journeys the mind will discover what it chooses.…’’ But a choice made via the annihilation of the known can only be instinctual, unconscious, intuitive; it will not be rational.

The true arena of the drama, then, is that of the mind, of imagination. Its vehicle is dream, which enables Walcott to dispense with normal logic, linearity, literalness, and emphasize instead myth, recurrence, ambiguity. When the cages rise out of sight during Makak' s deposition—his first recital of his dream—we have a graphic representation of the liberating power of the imagination. This is Walcott's strategy throughout: to demonstrate the disparities between a consciousness that is creative and metaphoric, and one that is straightforward and imprisoning. Makak, for instance, is said to be in a state of ‘‘incomprehensible intoxication.’’ He may literally be drunk, or this could be merely a pejorative characterization of his dream and madness by someone who remains untouched by them. Especially the dream is described as ‘‘vile,’’ ‘‘obscene’’ and ‘‘ambitious.’’ The charges of being ‘‘uppity’’ and sexually depraved are those traditionally levelled at blacks by racists, and Corporal Lestrade has absorbed this mentality, or rather, he has been possessed by it.

‘‘Incomprehensible intoxication’’ might be one label a modern, scientific mind would apply to the trance states of mystics, seers and shamans. When Makak declares, ‘‘Spirits does talk to me,’’ a ‘‘rational’’ person would perhaps dismiss this as hallucination, but a ‘‘primitive’’ individual would know that Makak is in touch with the traditional world, which encompasses a nonmaterial reality. Makak is a visionary, and the visionary stance is fraught with peril. He is able to exorcise a dying man's sickness when ‘‘priest,’’ ‘‘white doctor,’’ and ‘‘bush medicine’’ fail, and he tries to do the same with his people, only to be rejected by them because they are incapable of belief. Makak is struggling with a pejorative limitation on his psyche and being which his dream helps him transcend. Failure to ‘‘dissolve in his dream’’ means that one remains imprisoned. Moustique, for example, masters the rhetoric of salvation but he lacks vision; he has not experienced the power of the dream but merely wishes to exploit it. Hence Basil says of him, when unmasking him in the marketplace, ‘‘The tongue is on fire, but the eyes are dead.’’

In his recital of his dream, Makak describes himself as walking through white mist to the charcoal pit on the mountain. He is ascending the slope of consciousness, journeying through whiteness to blackness, through vagueness toward a solid identity. ‘‘Make the web of the spider heavy with diamonds / And when my hand brush it, let the chain break’’—that is, the chain of slavery, both psychological and actual. The spider's web represents the entanglements of history, racism, colonialism; the diamonds are the oppressed. In his role as saviour, Makak is able to shatter this evil beauty with an almost casual gesture. The dream transcends time, telescopes spiritual and physical evolution, so that Makak moves, in the infinite space of a poetic moment, from ape to God:

I have live all my life / Like a wild beast in hiding … / And this old man walking, ugly as sin, / In a confusion of vapour, / Till I feel I was God self, walking through cloud.

Again, in the healing scene, Makak stands with a burning coal in his palm, chanting a formula for salvation, striving to save the sick man from an actual death and his people from the living death of degradation and despair. ‘‘Faith! Faith! / Believe in yourselves.’’ The energy released by the burning charcoal symbolizes the spiritual energy released by Makak's positive confirmation of his blackness. ‘‘You are living coals,’’ he tells them, ‘‘/ you are trees under pressure, / you are brilliant diamonds.…’’ The decomposed matter from primeval vegetation was transformed into coal, and diamonds are the result of coal under enormous pressure, over great periods of geological time. Burning coal brings light; diamonds reflect and refract light. Hence Moustique's echo, in the marketplace, of Makak' s metaphor: ‘‘One billion trillion years of pressure bringing light, and is for that I say, Africa shall make light.’’ Here, of course, Moustique is speaking better than he knows. The ‘‘revelation of my experience’’ that he talks of is that of his people, the broader dimensions of which Makak's dream calls back from a darkness of oppression, forgetfulness and ignorance.

The dream which redeems, the imaginative reversal that transforms a poor charcoal burner into royalty, has its roots in historical fact. In his book The Loss of El Dorado, V.S. Naipaul relates how the black slaves in Trinidad at the beginning of the nineteenth century created kingdoms of the night, with their own kings, queens and courtiers, elaborate uniforms, and other regal paraphenalia. During the day the blacks laboured and endured the cruelty and contempt of their masters; but beneath the moon these same slaves were for a time themselves metamorphosed into masters, issuing commands and miming splendours, while their white owners became the objects of mockery and fantasies of revenge. One of these nocturnal regiments, led by a King Sampson, was known as the Macacque regiment. In light of the condemnations meted out during the apotheosis scene in Dream, it is significant to note as well from Naipaul's account that ‘‘the role of the Grand Judge, who punished at night as the overseer punished by day, was important.’’

This nighttime pageantry was redemptive drama, an elaborate masquerade which enabled the oppressed to vivify their ancestral memories while at the same time reversing, if only momentarily, the bitter realities of the present. Naipaul remarks, ‘‘Negro insurrection, which seemed so sudden in its beginnings and so casual in its betrayals, was usually only an aspect of Negro fantasy; but an adequate leader could make it real.’’ It never came to this. In 1805, the imaginary kingdoms were revealed— practically voluntarily, as if the secret were too good to keep—and the slave aristocracy was executed or whipped. Still, until such time as the powers of rebellion proved to be sufficiently substantive, the dream remained as a possible vehicle of escape from despair; and, while they lasted, the kingdoms of the night must have been a positive force, a means of sustaining the slave in what were otherwise intolerable circumstances. There are those who would argue —and indeed the same criticism has been directed against Dream—that the blacks would have been better off had they refrained from fantasy and resorted instead to violence. But this is itself a form of romanticism. When you have been reduced to a dehumanized state, you must first regain your dignity; when you have been relegated to physical toil, the mind must sometimes soar above the body. If you are an animal, why not be a lion? If you are a slave, why not dream of being a king (especially when you may be the descendent of kings?) Dreams may be attacked as nothing more than dreams, but in the beautiful words of Delmore Schwartz, ‘‘In dreams begin responsibilities.’’

III
Monkey Mountain is depicted in the Prologue as ‘‘volcanic,’’ which suggests unpredictability, slumbering violence, submerged and smouldering energies that will one day demand release. Makak's dream touches and taps these hidden energies and gives them form and substance in a way that the criminality of Tigre or Souris or the oppressive mentality of the corporal (themselves crude manifestations of the need for self-assertion, of a refusal to accept identitylessness) cannot. Makak repeatedly insists that his dream is not a dream, whereas others characterize it, not only as a dream, but a bad one. They are literalists, fatalistic and unimaginative, like the politicians whom Walcott describes as ‘‘generation after generation / heaped in a famine of imagination.’’ Even though the charges that the corporal addresses against Makak clearly include incitement to rebellion, even though Makak himself declares that it is ‘‘better to die, fighting like men, than to hide in this forest,’’ Dream on Monkey Mountain cannot be said to advocate revolution in the circumscribed political sense. What Walcott thinks about colonialism, racism, oppression—the ‘‘dream of milk’’ as he calls it—ought to be evident from the play; but Walcott is equally clear about an opposite but attendant danger, characterized by him as ‘‘Witchdoctors of the new left with imported totems.’’ The solution is not politics. ‘‘The future of West Indian militancy lies in art.’’

One reason why this should be so can be adduced from the tension in the play between a fulfilling, integrative sensibility—represented by Makak and his dream—on the one hand, and divisive, reductionist tendencies—manifested in the likes of the corporal and Moustique—on the other. Plurality of experience is suggested by the number of doublings and pairings we find in the play. Makak and Moustique provide one dual, complementary partnership; Tigre and Souris present another pair who offer a similar contrast. Basil seems sometimes to be paired with the dancer, sometimes with the white apparition. The corporal is really a double in himself: he is both black and white, and shifts from one pole of being to the other partway through the play. The sun and the moon form another pair, the former representing ‘‘reality’’ and the latter ‘‘dream.’’ The prevailing tendency—which the play implicitly condemns—is to emphasize one aspect of identity or experience at the expense of all others. The corporal tries to be white, then reverses the process and strives to be as black as possible. The pragmatic aspect of Makak, symbolized by Moustique, dies twice. The moon is slain in order to free the sun. White supremacy is established on the myth of black inferiority, then black supremacy asserts itself.

According to Walcott's stage directions, the moon reversed becomes the sun; the two are opposed but joined, Janus-like. Makak ‘‘kills’’ the moon so that the sun can rise and free them all from the dream in which they are locked ‘‘and treading their own darkness.’’ Sun and moon each have their particular clarity; it is only that all things appear equal under the sun (Makak, Moustique, the corporal, the thieves are all ‘‘imprisoned’’). It is the moon and its attendant world of dreams beneath which we experience vital contrasts, revealing differentiations.

In the contradictory dreamworld, these differentiations become ambiguous; distinctions between things keep shifting, altering. But characters with restrictive, "logical" mentalities keep struggling to reduce things to simple black and white, and Corporal Lestrade is perhaps the pre-eminent example of this behaviour. In his role as the upholder of the rules of Her Majesty's government, the corporal functions as Makak's prosecutor. Later, in the important apotheosis scene, where the power of shaping history now lies with Makak and his retinue, the corporal is still functioning as a prosecutor, but this time upholding the law of the tribes against the threat of whiteness. He has changed his allegiance but retains his legalistic devotion, with its logic and rationalism. (When the corporal says of Makak, ‘‘I can both accuse and defend this man,’’ he is articulating his ability to switch sides easily, a testimony to his innate opportunism and uncertain sense of identity.) For him, the white goddess, who represents the negative aspect of his own previous possession (by ‘‘English’’ and all that it implies), is much more of a threat than she is to Makak, for whom she functions as muse. The corporal has reduced her to one (especially for him) damaging context: the mother of (Western) civilisation—in other words, Europe. (Eur-opë = ‘‘she of the broad face’’—that is, the full moon.)

IV
Walcott himself characterizes the apparition as having four roles (or phases): the moon, the muse, the white goddess, a dancer. All of these manifestations coalesce into a simultaneous complex of meaning, splendidly articulated by Robert Graves in The White Goddess. He writes, ‘‘Her name and titles are innumerable. In ghost stories she often figures as ‘The White Lady’, and in ancient religions, from the British Isles to the Caucasus, as the ‘White Goddess’.’’ She is the Muse, ‘‘the Mother of All Living, the ancient power of fright and lust—the female spider or the queen-bee whose embrace is death.’’ The Night Mare is one of her cruellest aspects. But it is she who inspires the magical language of poetic myth which ‘‘remains the language of true poetry.’’ Hence the goddess has complementary moods of creation and destruction.

One of the further aspects of the muse is Mnemosyne, ‘‘Memory,’’ and this is important for the play in that it is through the dream inspired by the white goddess that Makak journeys back to the roots of his heritage, to the time when he was both ‘‘lion and king.’’ Before his inspiration, Makak could declare, like the speaker in Walcott's poem ‘‘Names’’: ‘‘I began with no memory. I began with no future.’’ And when he does make a beginning, it is ‘‘where Africa began: / in the body's memory.’’

Since Makak is clearly posited in the play as a kind of Christ-figure, one is likely to question the simultaneous emphasis on the rather pagan white goddess, since, as Graves reminds us, the concept of such a creative anima was banned by Christian theologians nearly two thousand years ago and by Jewish theologians even earlier. But if we move outide the mainstream of orthodoxy, as artists are wont to do, there is no real contradiction or incompatibility, for the ancient Irish and British poets ‘‘saw Jesus as the latest theophany of the same suffering sacred king whom they had worshipped under various name from time immemorial.’’ Furthermore, the Gnostics held that Jesus ‘‘was conceived in the mind of God's Holy Spirit, who was female in Hebrew’’—which is enlightening in view of the fact that Makak refers to himself as ‘‘responsible only to God who once speak to me in the form of a woman on Monkey Mountain.’’ Graves goes on to remark that the ‘‘male Holy Ghost is a product of Latin grammar—spiritus is masculine—and of early Christian distrust of female deities or quasi-deities.’’ The corporal's indictment of the apparition—‘‘She is the wife of the devil, the white witch’’—contains strong echoes of this intolerance.

Makak in his role as the King of Africa and the saviour of his people is an image of the Sacred King who is the moon goddess's divine victim, who dies and is reborn in the cycle of perpetual renewal; and, as the madman, the dreamer, the visionary poet, he is also the muse's victim, for the two roles interpenetrate. But Makak refuses to die this death, slaying the white goddess instead, under the pressure of the corporal's vehement prosecution and the collective animosity of the tribes. In doing so he frees himself from the dream, but only on one level—a level on which, as Moustique correctly diagnoses, a betrayal of the true cause is taking place, blindness replacing vision, maleficent madness driving out beneficent madness. It is Moustique who dies, and, in so doing, attains wisdom; he who had himself betrayed the dream by attempting to market it is later able to see that the dream is now being prostituted by others for political ends. And the corporal has to go to the verge of death before he experiences a necessary (but not thoroughgoing) transformation.

Makak has to kill the white goddess for several reasons: one, because he cannot forever go on depending upon his source of inspiration but has to begin to rely upon himself (just as he had earlier insisted that the people have faith in themselves as well as in an outside force); two, he has to come back from the world of visionary truth to the everyday world, in order to translate and transmit the fruits of his experience; and, three, he has to escape from the somewhat perverted role of tyrant which the corporal and others have thrust upon him, as well as from the complementary role of saviour that is so fraught with agony and peril.

When Makak divests himself of his royal robe before he beheads the apparition, he is symbolically freeing himself from the bondage of kingship as well as that of the dream and all externally-imposed definitions of selfhood. Indeed, Makak's real name, Felix (‘‘happy’’) is only revealed in the epilogue, after he has finally discovered who he is. It is not quite as simple as waking up, because, paradoxically, on one level the dream continues right to the play's end. What happens is that Makak moves from his personal dream back to the realm of collective dream, where his experience becomes universalized and undifferentiated.

In an early poem by W. B. Yeats, Fergus of the Red Branch tells a druid of his desire to ‘‘Be no more a king / But learn the dreaming wisdom that is yours.’’ Taken as an admonition, these words could apply appropriately enough to Makak, who in the apotheosis scene witnesses the clarity of his vision being distorted by the blindness of revenge, the salvational role of leadership reduced to a rallying-point for fanaticism. Just as he must escape from the thrall of the muse, Makak must free himself from the perversions of power. The recognition of kingliness, the possibility of triumph, are sufficient for the satisfaction of the psychic hunger for reinforcement. It is similar to the realization that it is enough to travel to Africa in one's mind; indeed, that such an imaginative journey may be ultimately preferable to an actual one. Ironically, the dream seems to reassert reality once more, though on a higher plane of recognition. Makak, after all, is no king; he is merely himself—but that self is now endowed with dignity and a certain prophetic wisdom. As long as the dream remains a dream, we can awaken from it or dream it again. The danger is when people like Corporal Lestrade try to make the dream literal. Then there is no more imagining and no more awakening; no true freedom, only another confining structure.

Source: Robert Elliot Fox, ‘‘Big Night Music: Derek Walcott's Dream on Monkey Mountain and the ‘Splendours of Imagination,’’’ in The Journal of Commonwealth Literature, Vol. XVII, No. 1, 1982, pp. 16-27.

Illustration of PDF document

Download Dream on Monkey Mountain Study Guide

Subscribe Now
Previous

Critical Overview