Derek Alton Walcott was a Saint Lucian poet and playwright who is well known for his contribution to literature in the Caribbean as he explored Caribbean culture. He was trained to become a painter but turned to write when he was young. He published his first collection of poems when he was fourteen (14). During his time alive, Walcott achieved many things two of which being the Order of Merit in Jamaica and Knight or Dame Commander of Saint Lucia. The biography of Nobel laureate Derek Walcott, written by Edward Baugh places emphasis on the artiste development as a poet, playwright and man of the theatre. The biography illustrates his influence to the development of literature in the Caribbean. The biography illustrates his influence to the development of literature in the Caribbean, with his reaction to the Caribbean’s colonial history as a dominant aspect. The book comprises of six chapters and a total of one hundred and five (105) pages. The author of this book, Edward Baugh, is an Emeritus Professor of English at the University of the West Indies, Mona, Jamaica. Baugh is a Jamaican poet and scholar who is renowned as an authority on the work of Derek Walcott as he edited and publicized some of Walcott’s poems. He is known as probably the best literary critic to West Indian literature, especially that of Anglophone Caribbean poetry. Within the constraints of this book report, the researcher will give an analysis of the text within the context of the themes and topics of the course, Caribbean Civilisation. In Addition, the text will be analyzed within its social and historical context. Henceforth, a discussion will be held on the values (if there are any) of the book to understanding Caribbean Civilisation.
The book highlights key themes discussed in the Caribbean Civilization course specifically speaking to, Identity, Diasporic Double Consciousness, Miscegenation, and Eurocentrism.
Throughout the tenure of the book, one dominant theme illustrated was Caribbean Identity. The Caribbean Identity is very problematic to define due to parameters. These parameters include politics, geography, location, culture and history. An individual’s identity is based upon the person’s characteristics which prove to be a fundamental basis upon which that individual is recognized. Abraham Khan argues that the term identity is difficult to define and can be broken down into two groups: the fact of identity and the sense of identity. The fact of 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 through this that Walcott enhanced his sense of belonging in the Caribbean. The Mona campus also provided Walcott with persons who shared similar characteristics as himself such as persons from the same race and ethnic background; persons whom he could relate to. It also provided him with activities such as pursuing his writing and directing student activity in creative writing, theatre and painting that enriched his selfhood. These activities proved to be beneficial because it is through these activities that Walcott was able to write journalistic pieces that enhanced West Indian literature and drama (page 37). It can be clearly seen that Walcott aided in the development of Caribbean identity through literature. “I have Dutch, nigger and English in me, / and either I’m a nobody or a nation” (page 2). This quote basically shows how Walcott has three sets of identities and does not know who he is as he wavers between these three sets of identities. Another example of identity taking place in the book was when Walcott won the Nobel Prize. “The principal thing is that West Indian literature has been recognized internationally, and that’s good” (page75). This shows that Walcott is pleased that he won this award for his people, the Caribbean people. Derek Walcott wrote poems and plays for the Caribbean to create our identity so that we could be acknowledged as a people.
Another key dynamic explored throughout the book is Diasporic Double Consciousness. For example in his poems, ‘The Prodigal’ and ‘Sea Grapes.’ John Pittman states, “Double-consciousness is a concept in social philosophy referring, originally, to a source of inward “twoness” putatively experienced by African-Americans because of their racialized oppression and disvaluation in a white-dominated society (2016). Diaspora can also be linked to migration as migration is the movement of people from one location to another with the intention of settling, whether it be permanent or temporary. An example of this is when Walcott lived in Trinidad for nearly two decades and it became his second home island. Double consciousness is a concept explored by W.E.B. DuBois. He discloses that double consciousness is when an individual is wavering between two sets of identities. Double consciousness makes it problematic for that person to have one unified individuality. It forces the individual to view himself from his own point of view but also from the standpoint of another. Double consciousness poses a problem for the Caribbean as we do not realize that we are ‘black.’ Derek Walcott’s poem, ‘The Prodigal’ speaks to Walcott’s travels from one region to another in search of his identity and meandering between the mainland and local land. It highlights how Walcott felt guilty for betraying his homeland and not staying loyal to it but allowed himself to be sucked into the European culture. Walcott felt torn between his homeland and Europe. “Prodigal, what were your wanderings about?” The question refers to Walcott’s travels from one place to another and his journeys of imagination across landscapes, cultures and history (page 65). Another example of him wavering between identities was his poem, ‘Here and Elsewhere.’ Sea Grapes consists of poems that reflect on Walcott’s sense of the United States of America landscape and finding himself in it. 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 was yearning to be home while in another country.
According to Berny Sèbe, “Miscegenation is referred to as the theory of the blending of the races, applied to the American White Man and Negro” (2016). This simply means that miscegenation is the mixing of two or more races. Miscegenation arouse from slavery when plantation owners use to mate with enslaved women. Walcott came from a mixed race, both his grandfathers were of European descendants and both his grandmothers were of African ancestry. An example of this can be seen on page 2, “I have Dutch, nigger and English in me…” Another example is on 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”. Both quotes highlight the fact 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 European culture is superior to yours. Eurocentric practice is the prerogative that European culture is better than others of the region. It tends to belittle the culture of Africa and Asia. Eurocentrism was more dominant in the colonial era. Non-European countries are perceived as uncivilized as they do not conform to the norms and values of European countries. “…he knew he would not be welcomed, being too Eurocentric and not sufficiently black in his poetics” (page 33). Walcott believed that in his poems he mainly focused on European culture and history even though he is from the Caribbean.
Succeeding the above analysis, the report will now be analyzed in its social and historical context. It is to be noted that the topics that the researcher will analyze are interrelated and cannot be separated. The social and historical setting in the book is one in which persons of a certain descent are often unrecognized. The themes mainly illustrated in the book within a social and historical context were education, religion, class and color or race.
The education system in Saint Lucia was that of European influence since the country was a British colony. The education system in the Caribbean is modeled after British education as they have primary, secondary and tertiary schools. Also, the majority of the schools in the Caribbean have devotion and pray at recess time. Religion had a great impact on the educational system as most schools were formed by churches. An example of this is shown in the book as Walcott attended a Roman Catholic school (page 5). The social context of education is to impart knowledge. Even in modern society, education is used as a means for a person to achieve upward social mobility. This is proven to be true as state Beth Akers states, “Higher education is often seen as an important enabler of upward social mobility.” A person from a disadvantaged group can use education as a means of climbing the social hierarchy. This will let them attain power, social status and wealth. Historically, education has its roots in the era of slavery. The earliest introduced level of education was Sunday school. It was used by the colonizers to create God-fearing believers and provide morality and education. Following the end of British slavery, most parents used education 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 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. So, in essence, Walcott mainly used his literature to create a sense of ‘Caribbeanness.’
The role of religion role, plays an important part in shaping the Caribbean as it has both social and historical relevance. Within the social context, religion is a mere means of helping an individual cope in challenging situations such as economic difficulties. However, the historical context speaks to the era of colonialism and indentureship. The Spaniards brought religion (Roman Catholicism) to the Caribbean in the hopes of creating a better colonial society. During the post-colonial time, religion was used to gain social power and dictated social norms. In modern-day society, the practicing of religion has lost some of its power as persons hardly go to church and some people only go because of traditions however, social norms are still present. Derek Walcott was from a Protestant (Methodist) religion in a country that was mostly Roman Catholic. It allowed him some amount of freedom in his expression but controlled his creative writing to that of Catholic beliefs and principles. Even though Walcott was pleased to not be a part of Roman Catholicism, he was still fascinated by it.
In the same vein, another topic from the course which has manifested its way in the book is that of class and color or race. “To consider Derek Walcott’s family background is to recognize the problematics of colour and class in West Indian society and culture” (page 2). Social stratification is referred to as the classification of individuals according to the criteria that is deemed as acceptable in society. One such criterion is race. Individuals are placed into a social hierarchy in which some individuals are positioned higher than others. The ranking of groups is based on a person’s perspective of class, color, race and ethnicity. The hierarchy is divided into three main groups namely, 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. In a present-day society in the Caribbean, whites are considered the upper class. M.G. Smith in his study of racial problems and social stratification referred to race as a term used to differentiate individuals biologically. Due to his research, we can see that race was used in slavery to validate the position they held in society. Race determines the class a person holds in society. It can be seen that in the post-colonial era race determines which job a person occupies in society. For example, whites were preferred to work in banks and as the receptionist in most organizations. This however has changed in modern-day society as colored individuals are the face of most organizations and they can be seen working in banks.
In conclusion, the writer was somewhat effective in linking the themes and topics to Caribbean civilization as he did not explore fully some of the topics. It is however relevant to the course, as it helps to give a better understanding of Caribbean Civilisation. Derek Walcott was influential in contributing to the development of the Caribbean through literature. Walcott devoted his life in writing poems and playwright that contributed to the identity of the Caribbean. 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.
- 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.