Dream on Monkey Mountain

by Derek Walcott

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How does Walcott address the theme of race in Dream on Monkey Mountain?

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Walcott treats the theme of race in his play in a very complex, sophisticated manner. Through the moral growth of the central character of Makak, he shows his rejection of both anti-black and anti-white hatred. We can see Walcott's point of view illustrated most clearly when Makak finally wakes from his dream and learns to accept Caribbean society with its multiracial nature.

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Makak reacts to the racial oppression that he and all other Black Caribbean people have endured at the hands of British colonialism by seeking to retreat to a romanticized Africa, where he will be a powerful king. In doing so, he is not just rejecting colonial rule but also the multiracial nature of Caribbean society, as represented by the mixed-raced Corporal Lestrade.

Makak's dream is based on an idealized concept of Black separatism. He comes to believe that there is a pure racial identity that connects Black West Indians with their African ancestors. And it is only by asserting that identity that Black West Indians like Makak can begin to develop a new revolutionary consciousness that will help to bring about the end of white colonial rule.

However, the various problems associated with achieving such a dream are laid bare by the dream-within-a-dream that disabuses Makak of his illusions. Makak becomes a ruthless, vengeful tyrant who not only turns against his good friend Moustique, but kills the apparition of a white woman. The symbolism isn't very hard to detect here. Far from escaping violence, bloodshed, and racial hatred by traveling to Africa, Makak has brought it with him.

Once he finally wakes up from what has become little more than a nightmare, Makak realizes that rejecting the anti-Black racism of colonial rule does not, and should not, commit him to hatred of other races. Instead, he will return to his home on Monkey Mountain, and in doing so display his commitment to living in a multiracial society.

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