Professor Steven Alvarez
20 February 2011
Issues of Identity: The Importance of Ancestry and History in Derek Walcott’s Omeros
Derek Walcott’s Omeros poetically depicts the plight of the people of St. Lucia in the post-colonial setting they must endure. The locals of this beautiful island must put on a daily performance for tourists who provide a source of income for the islands economy. Using a post-colonial lens, Walcott delves beyond the surface issues of tourism and exposes how the natives of St. Lucia lack a personal identity. Walcott reveals how the affects of slavery and colonization leave the African descendents now living in St. Lucia feeling detached from their ancestors and history, therefore feeling like they do not know themselves. Achille, an African descendent who lives as a fisherman in St. Lucia, illustrates just how separation from ones history can result in an identity crisis. Achille’s questions about his own identity lead him back to Africa in a dream where he encounters his father, Afolabe. Afolabe tells his son:
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)
Directly after Achille “asked himself who he was” (Walcott 130) for the first time, he ends up in Africa reflecting on the parts of his past that he no longer remembers. Afolabe asks Achille what his name means and Achille realizes that he does not know the answer. Afolabe reminds Achille that a “name is a blessing” and that if a name means nothing then “you would be nothing”. Achille cannot recall the meaning of his name, showing that he has forgotten his ancestral beliefs about the importance of a name relating to your own identity. Afolabe recognizes that Achille resides in another “kingdom”. The use of the term “kingdom” puts Achille in an entirely different realm, perfectly depicting how disconnected Achille has become from his history, ancestry, and Africa itself.
The first time Achille truly realizes that he does not have a clear idea of his identity, his subconscious brings him directly to an encounter with his African heritage. This comes as no coincidence since without knowledge of his past and background, he cannot clearly define his place in the world. Living in St. Lucia constantly surrounded by tourists and western culture has separated Achille from his African culture just as slavery has tore him away from Africa and his people. Achille states that he has forgotten “his parents, his tribe, and his own spirit for an albino god […]” (Walcott 139). Not only does Achille acknowledge the fact that forgetting his parents and his tribe results in forgetting “his own spirit”, his own identity, but he also recognizes the fact that an “albino god” has played a role in his forgetting. Achille has fallen victim to the new western influences and religious views in post-colonial St. Lucia.
Walcott, Derek. Omeros. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1990. Print.