“You all see what it’s like without roots in this world?” (Walcott 21)
“Helen needed a history, / that was the pity that Plunkett felt towards her” (Walcott 30).
“Then, for the first time, he asked himself who he was” (Walcott 130).
“since every name is a blessing, / since I am remembering the hope I had for you as a child. / Unless the sound means nothing. Then you would be nothing. / Did they think you were nothing in that other kingdom?” (Walcott 137).
A major theme of this novel is about identity. The characters (Helen, Philoctete, Achille) are not able to hold a true identity due to their present being controlled by tourism and their lack of history after the affects of slavery. The island of St. Lucia itself is also losing it’s identity as it’s culture is being obliterated by the infiltration of western ways. In the first quote, Philoctete is speaking to the yams getting their roots chopped off, but is really applying the concept to himself. Philoctete feels like he has no roots in the world. He has no connection to his African ancestry. On top of this, he must perform for tourists on a daily basis, not being who he truly is but rather presenting who the tourists want to see: the indigenous native with a mysterious scar creating primitive canoes. Helen also experiences this lack of identity. The second quote shows how Helen “needed a history”. History makes up a big part of who you are and without it Helen cannot grasp her own identity. Plunkett, a white man who can trace his roots back in time, feels pity for Helen who cannot do the same. Helen must play the role and adopt the identity of the beautiful native female of St. Lucia, regardless of her anger and longing for peace inside.
Achille is yet another character who feels disconnected with himself and does not know his own identity. Achille goes on a journey and finally asks himself who he is. He realizes that he does not know the answer. On his journey he realizes he does not remember the names of the African river or tree-god he encounters. He does not even know what the name “Achille” means. He does not remember these parts of his history, which is what causes him to have trouble with his identity. Afolabe tells Achille that having a name is a blessing and is must mean something or “you would be nothing”. Since Achille does not know his history, in a way he is feeling like he is nothing.