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.
SummaryPhiloctete 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.
Summary Major Plunkett,...
(This entire section contains 1570 words.)
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 (“Monty”). In the conquest of the Germans, Plunkett sees a parallel with the “conquest” of the Caribbean islands, now part of the British Empire. He feels that with the coming of the British, the islands have been used up; little left of their formerly rich culture. Receiving a head wound pro honoris cause (for the sake of honour), Plunkett wonders: for whose honor he fought? Plunkett gradually grows tired of the colonial life among the British. He despises their attempts to form a “Raj” (ruling class) on St. Lucia as they had done in India. Trying to transplant British culture in such a tropical venue is awkward and artificial. Plunkett, tired of the “ruling class” mentality, resigns from the British club. He looks down on the tourists, seeing them as part of the invading army.
Essential Passage 3: Chapter 35, Section 3
Empires practiced their abstract universals of deceit: treaties signed with a wink of a pen’s eye dipped in an inkhorn, but this was not Versailles
with painted cherubs, but on the Dakota Plains. She had believed in the redemptions of History, that the papers the Sioux had folded to their hearts
would be kept like God’s word, that each signatory, after all that suffering, had blotted out their hates, and that peace would break out as widely as the moon
through the black smoke of clouds that made the lake-water shine stronger than the lanterns. Then she hears the loon, no pain in the cry this time, but wooden laughter.
SummaryCatherine Weldon appears in the narrative in a story line that takes place completely outside the Caribbean setting, having little to do with it other than the theme of colonialism. Weldon (an historical person) visits the Sioux Indians, studying their ways that were fast disappearing due to the encroachment of American settlers and the decimation brought about by the U.S. Army. As she observes the dwindling culture, she is disgusted. The American government has tricked the Native Americans into signing numerous treaties, all of which the government has broken. She notes the differences between the treaties signed with Native Americans and those signed between America and the European powers following World War I. Yet she believes that, contrary to the American government’s intentions, those treaties would be kept, that peace would come despite the military interventions, and that somehow the Native Americans would be able to renew their traditions and their culture.
Analysis of Essential PassagesSt. Lucia, as presented by Derek Walcott, is a multicultural melting pot, including native peoples, Africans, and Europeans. Yet it is not the racial effects that Walcott investigates so much as the difficulties that have arisen from the practice of colonialism, both voluntary and involuntary. When Europeans brought African slaves to St. Lucia, the ethnic make-up of the islands was forever changed.
Philoctetes, even more than Helen, represents the heritage of the people of St. Lucia. Descended from the African slaves, as well as the natives, Philoctetes is symbolic of the oppressed peoples that have resulted from the practice of colonialism. The wound on his ankle, which does not heal, is (to him) the result of the slavery inflicted upon his grandfathers. He thus becomes associated with the Fisher King in the Arthurian saga, whose unhealed wound, the result of the Dolorous Stroke, resulted in the desolation of the land. In the same way, colonialism has turned St. Lucia into a Waste Land, waiting for the healing of its wound, bringing redemption to the nation.
Major Dennis Plunkett, as a member of the “conquering race,” recognizes the damage caused by colonialism. Although as a member of the British army, he deplores the loss suffered by the native peoples of St. Lucia, while at the same time enjoying his sojourn. As much as he sees fit, Plunkett has thrown off the trappings of the Raj, the ruling race that has set up its own culture in a completely segregated society. The Raj has placed itself in a position of being “in the world, but not of it,” preserving its British culture in such places as private clubs and churches. Turning his back on these “farts,” as he calls them, Plunkett turns toward the island itself, examining its struggle to survive in the decades and centuries since the cultural invasion. What that new culture is, neither Plunkett nor the St. Lucians have yet to determine.
The character of Catherine Weldon is often criticized as being out of place in a story centered on the Caribbean islands. Yet by Walcott’s inclusion of her and her observations among the Sioux nation in the United States, Walcott emphasizes the theme of colonialism as a whole, not just within the confines of St. Lucia. The Sioux serve as a parallel to the St. Lucians. The juxtaposition of the two reinforces the concept of the overwhelming destruction brought about by colonialism from the viewpoint of the native people.
The bleakness of the future as presented at the conclusion of Omeros is a direct result of the colonial influences. Neither the native culture nor the imported British culture can flower in the present climate. The uneasy mix of the two has resulted in poverty and despair, not only economically but also culturally. Omeros is a portrait of a culture in a slow transition, from a “primitive” native culture, through a colonial subject nation, and finally to an amalgamation. Rather than a dream of the future, this poem becomes an elegy for what has gone.