Essential Quotes by Character: Helen
Essential Passage 1: Chapter 1, Section 1
…Men can kill
their own brothers in rage, but the madman who tore
Achille’s undershirt from one shoulder also tore
at his heart. The rage that he felt against Hector
was shame. To go crazy for an old bailing tin
crusted with rust! The duel of these fishermen
was over a shadow and its name was Helen.
Achille and Hector, two natives of the Caribbean island of St. Lucia, are in perpetual conflict. Achille is a fisherman, in love with the sea and all its beauty. Hector, however, has abandoned fishing to become a taxi driver. This difference in their visions is foundational to their disagreements. In this conflict, Achille had borrowed a tin from Hector’s canoe. Hector had warned Achille to keep his hands off of his boat; Achille ignored him. Hector approaches Achille with an old sword, and Achille picks up his own knife, ready for the combat. Followed by a crowd, they go down to the beach. With the crowd cheering them on, the two have at it. Walcott, as the omniscient narrator, informs the reader that this conflict is only on the surface about a canoe. It is in fact about the attentions of Helen, who has left Achille to live with Hector. Helen is pregnant with the child of one of the two; even she is not sure who the father is.
Essential Passage 2: Chapter 5, Section 3
…Helen needed a history,
that was the pity that Plunkett felt towards her.
Not his, but her story. Not theirs, but Helen’s war.
The name, with its historic hallucination,
brightened the beach; the butterfly, to Plunkett’s joy,
twinkling from myrmidon to myrmidon, from one
sprawled tourist to another. Her village was Troy,
its smoke obscuring soldiers fallen in battle.
Then her unclouding face, her breasts were its Pitons,
the palms’ rusted lances swirled in the death-rattle
of the gargling shoal; for her Gaul and Briton had mounted fort and redoubt, the ruined barracks
with its bushy tunnel and its penile cannon;
for her cedars fell in green sunrise to the axe.
Major Dennis Plunkett is a retired British officer. With his wife Maud he retired to St. Lucia shortly after World War II, claiming it as his new home. Yet despite his long residence there, he realizes that he is still merely a tourist. The people who had lived here for generations, such as Helen, were the only ones who could truly call it home. In Helen, Plunkett sees the island itself represented. Paralleling The Iliad, Helen represents a cause for which to be fought. However, it is not just the fight between Achille and Hector over her, but the fight of the native peoples and the Europeans who conquered the island that is the true history. Rather than make Helen merely a representation of the other Helen in The Iliad, Major Plunkett decrees that she needs her own story. She represents any cause for which men have fought. She is the personification of conquest as well as resistance...
(The entire section is 1339 words.)
Essential Quotes by Theme: Imperialism
Essential Passage 1: Chapter 1, Section 3
“Mais qui ça qui rivait-“ous, Philoctete?”
“But what is wrong wif you, Philoctete?”
“I am blest
with this wound, M Kilman, qui pas ka guérir pièce,
Which will never heal.”
“Well, you must take it easy.
Go home and lie down, give the foot a lickle rest.”
Philoctete, his trouser-legs rolled, stares out to sea
from the worn rumshop window. The itch in the sore
tingles like the tendrils of the anemone,
and the puffed blister of Portuguese man-o’-war.
He believed the swelling came from the chained ankles
of his grandfathers. or else why was there no cure?
That the cross he carried was not only the anchor’s
but that of his race, for a village black and poor
as the pigs that rooted in its burning garbage,
then were hooked on the anchors of the abattoir.
Philoctete mirrors Philoctetes in Homer’s The Iliad, like so much in Omeros. In the original epic poem, Philoctetes is bitten by a snake on the way to Troy. The wound, however, would not heal and gave off a terrible odor, so he is exiled to an island until he recovers. Yet Philoctetes is a valuable mediator, so he is brought to Troy to intercede between Hector and Achilles. In the same way, Philoctete serves as a mediator between Hector and Achille in their fight over Helen. Philoctete is wounded by a rusted anchor. This wound, like that of his namesake, would not heal. Philoctete believes that this unhealed wound is the result of the crimes against his ancestors, captured in Africa and brought in chains to the islands. Because this crime had never been punished, his wound has not healed. Only with the healing of the tragedy of slavery and colonialism could his wound be healed, and thus the island be redeemed.
Essential Passage 2: Chapter 5, Section 1
…We helped ourselves
to these green islands like olives from a saucer,
munched on the pith, then spat their sucked stones on a plate,
like a melon’s black seeds. Pro honoris causa,
but in whose honour did his head-wound graduate?
This was their Saturday place, not a corner-pub,
not the wrought-iron Victoria. He had resigned
from that haunt of middle-clarse farts, an old club
with more pompous arses than any flea could find,
a replica of the Raj, with gins-and-tonic
from black, white-jacketed servitors whose sonic
judgement couldn’t distinguish a secondhand-car
salesman from Manchester from the phony pukka
tones of ex-patriates. he was no officer,
but he’d found himself saying things like “Luverly,”
“Right-o,” and, Jesus Christ, “Ta!” from a wicker chair,
with the other farts exchanging their brusque volley
in the class war. Every one of them a liar
dying his roots, their irrepressible Cockney,
overdoing impatience. Clods from Lancashire
surprised by servants, outpricing their own value
and their red-kneed wives with accents like cutlery
spilled from a drawer. For them, the field of his valour,
the war in the desert under Montgomery,
and the lilac flowers under the crosses were
preserved by being pickled at the Victoria.
He’d played the officer’s pitch. Though he felt ashamed,
it paid off. The sand grit in his throat, the Rover,
all that sort of...
(The entire section is 1570 words.)