Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1570
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 stuff. The khaki shorts that proclaimed
his forgotten service. Well, all that was over,
but not the class war that denigrated the dead
face down in the sand, beyond Alexandria.
The flags pinned to a map. The prone crosses
of tourists sprawled out far from the red lifeguard’s flag,
like those of his comrades with sand seaming their eyes.
Major Plunkett, along with his wife, has retired to St. Lucia, following service for Britain in the Second World War. Wounded in the war, Plunkett examines the tourists who visit the island, comparing them to the corpses of the Nazis killed in North Africa, when Plunkett served under General Bernard Montgomery...
(The entire section contains 1570 words.)
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