Derek Alton Walcott was a famous poet and playwright from Saint Lucia who is recognized for his contribution to literature in the Caribbean.as he showcase the authenticity of the Caribbean culture. He was a trained painter but his passion for writing led him to publish his first collection of poems at the age of fourteen. Walcott achieved many awards some being Queens Gold Medal in Poetry, Common Wealth Award of Distinguished Service, Order of Merit in Jamaica and Knight or Dame Commander of Saint Lucia. The biography of Nobel laureate Derek Walcott by Edward Baugh illustrates his influence to the development of literature and culture in the Caribbean. The biography places emphasis on his contribution to the development of literature in the Caribbean, with his concern for the legacy of Caribbean history. The book is made of six chapters and one hundred and five (105) pages in total. Edward Baugh, the author is an Emeritus Professor of English at the University of the West Indies, Mona, Jamaica. Edward Baugh has garnered an international reputation as an authority on Anglophone Caribbean poetry. He is considered as the best literary critic to West Indian literature. In this book report, the researcher will give an evaluation of the text highlighting the context of the themes and how it is shows changes of emphasis on terms limiting the definition of the Caribbean history or history on a whole and Caribbean Civilisation. In Addition, the book will be reviewed based on the historical and social context. Subsequently, a discussion will be surrounded around themes that conceptualize the understanding of Caribbean Civilisation.
The book highlighted some themes that will be discussed throughout the analysis of this report. The themes are Diasporic Double Consciousness, Miscegenation, Eurocentrism and Caribbean Identity.
Throughout the book, Diasporic Double Consciousness was highly explored. Examples of this was shown in his poems an example of that is “the Prodigal”. Double consciousness is a concept Stonequist (1935) described as “The marginal person as one who lives at the interstitially of two (or more) cultural groups; one dominant, the other subordinate, and emanates from a cultural conflict due to either cultural or racial differences”. Double consciousness was also analyzed by W.E.B. DuBois. He deems it as the fluctuation of an individual between two sets of identities. Double consciousness makes it problematic for that person to have one unified individuality. Double consciousness implores the individual to take into consideration to point of view of the most dominant society’s concept as the correct way of seeing themselves. In the Caribbean, we do not term ourselves as ‘black.’ ‘The Prodigal’ speaks about Walcott’s traveling from one region to another to come to terms of what his identity entails rotating between the mainland and local land. This emphasizes on how Walcott felt when he betrayed his homeland by adopting European culture. “Prodigal, what were your wanderings about?” this line from his poem hinted towards Walcott’s mobility, his journeys of imagination across landscapes, cultures and history (page 65). An example of him wavering between identities can be found in Sea Grapes. These poems reflect on Walcott’s view of the United States of America landscape and how he envisions himself there. During one of his trips to the United States, he felt a longing for his home in Saint Lucia (page 23). Walcott displays signs of double consciousness as he wished to be home while residing in another country.
“Miscegenation is referred to as the theory of the blending of the races, applied to the American White Man and Negro” (2016) says Berny Sèbe. In layman's term miscegenation is the mixing/merging of two or more races to create families. This was practiced from slavery days when plantation owners use to impregnate enslaved women. Walcott came from a mixed race, his grandmothers being African descendants while his grandfathers were European descendants. Examples could be seen on page 2, “I have Dutch, nigger and English in me…” and page 4, “A syndicate in which, far back, a negligible ancestor might have been a member, greeting me a product of his empire’s miscegenation in old St Martin”. These lines show that Walcott was from a mixed race.
Sam Richards and Paul Saba argue that European society and history is a point of reference in imposing external definitions of other societies so that they are considered ’backward’ or ’stagnant’ if their history doesn’t contain specifically European features. Eurocentrism is the belief that one’s culture(European) is superior to others. Eurocentric practice is the prerogative that European culture is better than others. It tends to belittle the culture of many regions like Africa. Eurocentrism was very dominant in the colonial era. Non-European countries are perceived as uncivilized because they do not contain little to no features of European culture. An example from the text was“…he knew he would not be welcomed, being too Eurocentric and not sufficiently black in his poetics” (page 33). Walcott thought even though he was from the Caribbean his poems focused mostly on Europe.
The social and historical context of the book is one in which persons of a certain descent have often been unrecognized these topic are very similar so they are hard to separate. The themes mainly illustrated in the book within a social and historical context were education, religion, class and color or race.
The Caribbean education system was structured like the European education system due to those countries being British colony. The education system in Saint Lucia is modeled after British education as they have levels of schools like the European society. The majority of the schools in the Caribbean practice praise time called devotion. Religion greatly impact the educational system as most schools were formed by churches. For example, the school Walcott attended was a Roman Catholic school (page 5). Socially education is to impart knowledge and remains the same in present times education is used as a means for a person to achieve social class mobility. This is evidently true based on Beth Akers who states, “Higher education is often seen as an important enabler of upward social mobility.” Persons who are considered to be low on the social class ranking use education as a means of climbing the social hierarchy. This allow for the attainment of power, social status and wealth. Historically, education in the Caribbean is rooted from the slavery period where it was introduced as Sunday school. Colonizers use this to their advantage by creating God-fearing believers and providing morality and education. When British slavery ended, education was used as the marker of respectability and upward social mobility. An example of Walcott receiving a British education was when he said, “For most of my sentence here, I despised the place, its jaded, predictable curriculum, for not being the University of the West Indies, as I watched Englishmen guide the direction in which I should go. The format was too familiar” (page 14). Even while attending the University of the West Indies, Walcott was still being taught under the colonial education system. He was trying to find a way to articulate the views of the ordinary folk people, ‘Caribbean people’, but the system was highly rigid and colonial so he felt trapped. This system tends to affect every year of your life as colonial value takes over leaving little to no room for Caribbean teachings or for Africa. Even the University of the West Indies favors colonial teachings. Walcott used his literature to create a sense of ‘Caribbeanness.’ So there was some form of identity for the region.
Religion played an important part in shaping the Caribbean as it is socially and historically relevant. Socially, religion is a way to help an individual cope with a challenging situation such as financial difficulties. However, the historical context speaks to the pre-slavery and post-slavery periods. Roman Catholicism was bought to the Caribbean by the Spaniards in the hopes of creating a better colonial society. While on the other hand, during the post-colonial time the purpose of religion was to gain power and dictate norms. In modern-day society, the practicing of religion has lost power to some extent as people hardly go to church and some persons only go because of tradition but social norms are still intact. Derek Walcott was a Methodist even though the majority of his country were Roman Catholic which he was fascinated by. It allowed him some amount of freedom in his expression but it still created an impact on his writing.
“To consider Derek Walcott’s family background is to recognize the problematics of color and class in West Indian society and culture” (page 2). This line show that color and race was a factor that also intertwine with social stratification. Social stratification is the classification of individuals according to the criteria that is deemed as acceptable in society in different levels of hierarchy. The main criterion is race. Individuals are placed into a social hierarchy in which they wealth, race and power decided their level of social status. The ranking is based on a person’s perspective of class, colour, race and ethnicity. The hierarchy is divided into three main classes, upper class, middle class and lower class. Social stratification has been embedded in our society since slavery when plantation owners was at the top of the social ladder and blacked or colored enslaved at the bottom but this system was more rigid with no form of mobility. Even now whites are still considered the upper class. The race has always been the determining factor of the class a person holds in society. It is evident in the post-colonial era race determines which job a person occupies in society but in modern-day society has changed as colored individuals are the face of most organizations and they can be seen working in banks.
While traversing the book it was seen that Caribbean Identity was a well-emphasized theme. An individual’s identity is based upon the person’s characteristics which prove to be a fundamental basis upon which that individual is recognized. It is heavily argued that the term identity is difficult to define and can be broken down into numerous groups. Identity speaks to a group situation where the features concentrated on are objective and individuals of the group share similar characteristics for example gender. However, the sense of identity is subjective and denotes to a person’s point of view of the world and his individual identity. Walcott’s fact of identity and sense of identity was illustrated in the book and I quote, “by way of his extra-curricular activities, the Mona campus also gave Walcott some pleasurable and profitable years that strengthened his sense of West Indianess” end quote (page 14). It was during this stage Walcott enhanced his sense of Caribbean Identity. The Mona campus also provided Walcott with persons who shared similar characteristics as himself who he could relate to. This setting creates opportunities for his writing and directing student activity in creative writing, theatre and painting that enriched his identity. These activities proved to be beneficial because it is through these activities that Walcott was able to write journalistic pieces that improve and portrayed West Indian literature and drama (page 37). Which was when Walcott aided in the development of Caribbean identity through his work. “I have Dutch, nigger and English in me, / and either I’m a nobody or a nation” (page 2). This quote expressed Walcott’s three sets of identities and his cluelessness about how to go about embracing these three sets of identities. An example of identity was when Walcott won the Nobel Prize. “The principal thing is that West Indian literature has been recognized internationally, and that’s good” (page 65). Walcott was pleased that he won this award for not just for himself but the Caribbean. Derek Walcott wrote poems and plays for the Caribbean to create an identity for us.
In conclusion, the writer used a very interesting technique of linking the themes and topics to Caribbean civilization while in some aspects he just skimmed the surface but hinted towards further reading. It was relevant to the course and allowed for better understanding of Caribbean Civilisation and how it develops a sense of identity for the Caribbean on a whole. Derek Walcott contributed a whole lot to the Caribbean through literature to the region a sense of uniqueness. Through the works of Derek Walcott, Edward Baugh commented on the topics and themes of Caribbean identity, Diasporic double consciousness, Miscegenation and Eurocentrism religion, education class, and race to give the reader an new angle to generate conclusions about societal problems that demine cultures based on their own norms and value to disallow an identity for that region.
- Akers, B. Increase social mobility by reducing risk in higher education. “Brookings.” Brookings, 04 April 2016. Web. 12 November 2018.
- Pittman, John P. Double Consciousness. “Stanford Encyclopaedia Philosophy.” The Metaphysics Research Lab, 21 Mar. 2016. Web. 16 Nov. 2018.
- Richards, S., Saba, P. Colonialism and Eurocentrism. “Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line.” Class Struggle, Vol. 9, No. 5, June 1985. Web 16 Nov 2018.
- Sebe, Berny. Miscegenation. University of Birmingham, U.K., (2016). Web. 05 Nov. 2018.
- Smith, Michael G. Racial Problems and Social Stratification in the Caribbean. “M.G. Smith.” Unpublished Manuscripts Series, 1968. Web. 12 Oct. 2018.
- Josias Alun, Disaporic Double Consciousness, creolite and coloured, Cape Town, (2015) http://gsblibrary.uct.ac.za/researchreports/2015/Josias.pdf