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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 412

From the beginning, it is necessary that Helen be perceived as an exceptional woman because she is pivotal to the action of the epic on four levels. First, she is the cause of the conflict between Achille and Hector, just as conflict between Paris and Menelaus in the Odyssey over her namesake, Helen of Troy, was the cause of the Trojan war. Second, Walcott, as a participating narrator, is inspired to immortalize her in Omeros. Third, the character of Dennis Plunkett undertakes to base a history of St. Lucia on her. Fourth, she embodies and symbolized the island of St. Lucia itself, since the island has been fought over so many times by France and England that it has earned the epithet "Helen of the West Indies." In spite of all the Homeric paraphernalia surrounding her, Walcott insists on her existence as a real person. As he explained to J. P. White (see Sources for Further Study), Helen is based on a woman he saw in a transport van he described in the poem "The Light of the World."

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Helen is called Penelope as she awaits impatiently for Achille's return from the prolonged dream of Africa; Achille once refers to her as Circe when he feels unworthy to approach her sexually; and when the Major responds to the full power of her charm, he compares her to other memorable women of the past: Helen of Troy, Judith, and Susanna from the Apocrypha. The woman carrying all this metaphorical weight in Omeros is out of work and unsure whether the father of her unborn child is Hector or Achille. She had been a maid to the Plunketts until they fired her when her proud assurance made them feel like intruders in their own home. Then there is the question of the low-backed yellow dress that Helen may have stolen or that may have been given to her by Maud Plunkett. Walcott leaves the issue ambiguous through most of the poem.

Hector's untimely death in book six leaves Helen to Achille. Both Walcott and Major Plunkett abandon their desire for Helen when both men realize that by regarding her as an idealized object, they are repeating the shameful pattern of hundreds of years of imperial domination. Many of the ambiguities surrounding Walcott's reliance on classical allusions are resolved when, in the text, he and Plunkett recognize Helen's right to be herself, untainted by the various meanings that they have tried to heap on her.


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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 372

The title character is an ageless blind man who has settled in St. Lucia after sailing the oceans of the world. Omeros, like both the island's sightless patron St. Lucia and the Greek Homer, possesses the gift of inner vision. Omeros is a citizen of the earth, not limited to citizenship of a single place and time. For most of the story Omeros is a trusted counselor among the villagers of Gros Het, but Walcott takes him through a series of reincarnations. In book three, he joins Afolabe as a tribal griot in Achille's African dream. In book four he reappears as a Sioux shaman. Walcott encounters him in Trafalgar Square in London while on his own odyssey, clutching a worn manuscript of his odyssey— testimony to the fact that Homer, Omeros, and Walcott are engaged in the same enterprise. This particular incarnation reinforces Walcott's explicit statement in an interview with Robert Brown and Cheryl Johnson (see Sources for Further Study) that his poem has nothing to do with the renowned Homer of classical tradition. While he may exploit affinities with Homer's legacy, his purpose is to do for his own island nation what the itinerant wanderer Homer did for the emerging people of his Mediterranean.

The earthy Omeros of Walcott's conception steps forward to advise the Caribbean poet that "a girl smells better than the world's libraries," but a greater cause for an epic is "the love...

(The entire section contains 4791 words.)

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Critical Essays