Professor Steven Alvarez
12 April 2011
The Loss of Identity in a Postcolonial Nation: The Effects of Colonialism on Subjugated People in Derek Walcott’s Omeros
Derek Walcott’s Omeros captures the struggle of the St. Lucian people forced to live in a world now alien to them. They feel estranged from their own homeland due to the influences and changes forced upon them by invading countries. These outside countries not only bring with them tourism and financial agendas, but also violate the indigenous people by destroying their way of life. The experience of a woman named Helen, whose predicament easily represents or reflects all of the resident people of St. Lucia, reveals how St. Lucian people lose their culture and identity. In his article, “Colonialism and the Desiring Machine,” Robert Young uses a capitalist analysis to describe and connect to the postcolonial dilemma that exploited nations, such as St. Lucia, face. Walcott depicts the affects of colonialism that Young discusses with his images about Helen and St. Lucia when he writes:
She was selling herself like the island, without
any pain, and the village did not seem to care
that it was dying in its change, the way it whored
away a simple life that would soon disappear […] (Walcott 111)
Helen and the island of St. Lucia itself both sell themselves to the dominant Western civilization that infiltrates their community. As Young explains in his article, “Colonialism and the Desiring Machine,” the colonizers have reduced Helen and St. Lucia to “the abstract value of money” (82). They emerge from this degrading reduction “deterritorialized” (Young 82) by the colonizers, or taken out of all of their previous conceptualizations. Whatever Helen did before, or whoever she identified herself as, has been taken apart and “reterritorialze[d]” (Young 82) in monetary means for her oppressors. The island itself went through a similar experience, resulting in a “reterritorialize[d]” nation under the influence of the invaders who “do away with the institutions and cultures that have already been developed” (Young 82). Helen’s culture and identity, and inevitably the culture and identity of all of the people of St. Lucia, ends up fading away. The native people of the island and everything their identity hinges upon ends up “dying in its change”. The fact that the local people “did not seem to care” does not come from a heartless place, but a hopeless one. Playing the role that their oppressors allow them to develops into their only way to survive in this new environment. Their most stable and secure option remaining demands that they cater to the dominant group who holds power over them. Furthermore, the people of St. Lucia have gone through a process of “deculturation and acculturation”. They have not just simply turned their backs on their culture, but their culture faced obliteration and died out, resulting in a new way of life that they must adapt to and follow. As the epics main character, Philoctete, so vigorously states, the people of St. Lucia know how it feels to live “without roots in this world” (Walcott 21).
Walcott, Derek. Omeros. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1990. Print.
Young, Robert J. C. “Colonialism and the Desiring Machine.” Postcolonial Discourses: An Anthology. Ed. Gregory Castle. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers Ltd, 2001. 73-98. Print.