Omeros and St Lucia Derek Walcott's Omeros is an epic story which fits well into the classical tradition. Its numerous echoes of Homeric writing combined with the use of characters' names from Homer's stories are clear evidence to the fact that there is a major parallel to Homer's Iliad and Odyssey. There is no debate in this obvious fact. Omeros and Derek Walcott's writing, however, are much more than a mere reproduction of classical Greek and Roman themes.
Arguing this fact is an insult to Walcott and his masterful work. There are specific references in Walcott's writing which make this work more than a reproduction of someone else's stories and ideas. Omeros, although it is inundated with references to the works of Homer, is primarily the story of the island of St. Lucia. This island is the home of Derek Walcott, and so there is a natural connection between the author and this isle. Numerous episodes in the pages reflect different parts of the history of this island.
Omeros is still most definitely a work of the classical tradition, but it is Walcott's reflection on the island of St. Lucia which occupies the majority of the pages of this epic poem. It just happens that he uses the classical method to tell the story of this island and its history. Before going into the places where the story reflects the history of St. Lucia, it would be beneficial to go over a brief history of the island. It was first settled in around 200 CE by Arawak (or Arak) Indians.
However, by 800, they had intermingled their culture with that of the Caribs. Europe's relation and discovery of this island is a bit hazy. One belief is that Columbus discovered the island in 1502, although the more widely accepted belief is that it was discovered by Juan de la Cosa around the turn of the Sixteenth Century. There were, however, no European contacts on this island until the 1550's, when a pirate in the area intermixed with the local residents of St. Lucia. The first attempt at colonization of this island occurred in 1605, when a group on English colonists were blown off course and ended up on the isle.
However, after a short stay the few who were still alive were forced to leave. In 1639, a second group of Englishmen also failed in their attempt at colonization. The French began to take an interest in the island, and in 1746 the first European settlement was created on St Lucia (Soufriere), and by 1780 there were twelve settlements on the island. The French and English had many battles near this island, including the Battle of Cul de Sac and the Battle of the Saintes, which has a significant impact in the pages of the poem. Major Plunkett, in his of the history of St Lucia, becomes very interested in an Ensign Plunkett, who (only in Omeros) is part of the Battle of the Saintes. Today, St.
Lucia is a multicultural democracy which became independent from English rule in 1979. This conflict of these two European powers is a theme which Walcott carries over to the story. In Omeros, Walcott uses Achille and Hector to show the struggle between these two nations. In one place, Walcott says, '...
An island called Helen... ,' ; Bk 2, XIX, i). Obviously, this is a clear reference to Helen being used as a figure of St. Lucia. He uses Achille and Hector's mutual pursuit of Helen to signify France (Hector) and England (Achille) 's constant struggle for the control of St. Lucia.
This struggle is seen from very early on in the story: 'The duel of the fisherman / was over a shadow and its name was Helen'; (Bk 1, III, i). When Hector sells his boat while Achille remains a fisherman, it makes reference to the Navy of England's domination over that of the rest of the world. At first, we see that Helen is with Hector when she moves in with him in chapter XXII, just as the original control of the island was in the hands of the French. In chapter VII, Achille spies Helen and Hector, just as the British continually were watching the island and waiting until they could possess it. In Chapter LIII when Helen goes home with Achille, there is an obvious reference to the shift of control of St.
Lucia to the English. When Hector dies, it signifies how France eventually, because of the French Revolution and later the fall of Napoleon, became less of a world power and England became the dominant nation of the world. Obviously, Achille's representation of England and Hector's portrayal of France show that Helen is an obvious figure of the isle of St. Lucia and its history. In the beginning of the story, Walcott uses Ma Kilman's bar, the No Pain Cafe, as a small metaphor for the inhabitants of the island. In chapter III, we find a vast assortment of people in the bar.
Present are Seven Seas, a blind singer, and Old St. Omer e. Ma Kilman regarded the words of Seven Seas as unclear, and thinks of them as, '... Greek to her. Or old African babble,' ; (Bk 1, III, ii). This statement obviously shows the great diversity of people contained on the island due to the different Caribs and Indians which originally inhabited it, and also the colonization of the island by both the French and the British.
This is not a huge part of the entire story, but nevertheless shows yet another part where Walcott keeps the parallel of the island in the underlying background of the story. While all of these different parts of the story most definitely bring the island of St. Lucia into the plot and help to further develop the ideas which Walcott presents, there is one main reason behind Walcott incorporating the isle into the story. This reason is because of his personal connection to the island, his feelings towards it, and because of the continual in habitation of the isle by outside influences. Walcott uses two separate characters to develop this theme. They are Major Plunkett and Achille.
Through their journeys and struggles throughout the epic poem, Walcott shows his personal feelings toward his homeland and the continual loss of its culture due to the influx of outside cultures. In this story, the character of Major Plunkett finds himself in a great deal of personal turmoil. He is struggling to accept the fact that his marriage did not produce a child and that his heritage and family name are no longer going to continue after he dies. There is, '...
No heir: the end of the line. /No more Plunkett,' ; (Bk 2, XVI, i). The fact is that Walcott, writing this book in the late 1980's, saw the influx of outside ideas to the island and realized that the numerous different peoples inhabiting St. Lucia were creating a westernized culture which is soon to eradicate the beliefs island which he knew. Plunkett is obviously an important figure for Walcott, who reminisces, just as Plunkett does, about the way things would be if he had an heir (or for Walcott, if the island were not so rapidly changing). The story of Achille in Omeros, however, even better relates to the personal struggle which Walcott is experiencing and attempting to solve in the poem.
In numerous places, Achille and his actions represent either Walcott's struggle to accept the fate of the island, or representing the changing of the island. In chapter VIII, Achille dives for buried treasure, and the verse says that, 'Money will change her... .' ; (Bk 1, VIII, i). Here Achille is speaking of Helen. The idea of Helen as a metaphor for St Lucia recurs here, as Walcott is saying how the money of outsiders (Europeans, etc who are beginning to dominate the island in the present) who continue to eat away the native heritage of his homeland are changing the entire island.
In chapter XXI, Achille himself rages over the loss of heritage and past culture. Walcott in this instance is portraying his own feelings on what is going on upon the isle into the feelings of one of the main characters. In chapter LIX, Achille would, '... howl/ at their [the tourists] clacking cameras, and hurl an imagined lance,' ; (Bk 7, LIX, iii). This obviously shows a dissatisfaction with the tourists present on the island and the continued loss of heritage and culture due to the influx of outsiders. Finally, in chapter LX, Walcott comes to a final realization.
In this chapter, Achille and Philoctetes journey to find a new cove because there are so many outsiders present in their native Gros Islet. However, they, 'found no cove [they] liked as much as [their] own/ village,' ; (Bk 7, LX, i). This is where Walcott comes to grips with the fact that the native heritage of St. Lucia is slowly slipping away, and, sadly, there is no where else where one can find it. It is a fact which must be accepted and dealt with, there is no getting around it.
Obviously Walcott utilized the character of Achille and put a great deal of his own character and beliefs into him. This powerful epic poem reaches greatness on many levels. It is a poem which expresses the Homeric tradition of a classic epic work. However, interpreting Omeros as simply a modern day version of the Iliad or Odyssey takes away from the greatness of this work. Not only does Walcott borrow and play off ideas and themes expressed by Homer, but he brings his own life experience into the story and makes it part of the tradition.
The way which Walcott uses Omeros to tell a great deal of the history of his native island of St. Lucia is remarkable. Walcott's writing and telling of this epic poem is a credit to his heritage, homeland, and the classical tradition, and show that the epic poem is still an outstanding work of art when used by a masterful writer such as Derek Walcott.