History as the Key to Unlock the Future in Omeros:Philoctete’s Healing, Achille’s Completion, and the Narrator’s Inspiration

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History as the Key to Unlock the Future in Omeros:Philoctete’s Healing, Achille’s Completion, and the Narrator’s Inspiration

“Time is the metre, memory the only plot” (129)

Derek Walcott forced the literary world to disagree with him when he denied that Omeros was an epic. Some critics suggest that, like his narrator, Walcott is not sure where his work belongs. Others suggest that Walcott denies its obvious genre in order to avoid being categorized. Regardless, Derek Walcott repeatedly says that the purpose of his writing is to wrestle with the duality within himself and that of the Caribbean islands, specifically St. Lucia. Despite occasionally downplaying the significance of any existence, Walcott utilizes a history/ time motif to explore history’s importance in forging an identity and the future (Bloom 135).

Set in St. Lucia, Walcott’s Omeros reveals an island possessing a rich past. St. Lucia, a former colony, has a history of ‘pagan’ religion and tradition, a different language, and an economic background based namely on fishing. Locals must try to reconcile their heritage prior to colonization, the influences of colonization, and how to create a new culture from the ashes of the others (Hogan 17).

Through most of, if not the entire epic, the island is related to a woman. At times the references are general and at times they refer specifically to Helen. These references take many forms including a nurturing nature and physical attributes. The significance of relating the island to a woman lies in a somewhat matriarchal past where women would hold the secrets to healing and have a close link to the intrinsic nature of the island. This is in contrast to the men, who are all in search of something, and while closely linked with the island, they shy away from tradition – cutting down trees, turning from the old gods, focusing on tourism and money.

Characters like Philoctete and Achille try to reconcile their knowledge of the old traditions with the new island, where tourism becomes a staple, as does the Christian religion. Others, including the Narrator, search for a place to belong. In the opening of the epic poem, Philoctete recounts to tourists the chopping down of a sacred grove of trees for canoes, replacing the old gods and values with a new God and varying values. This replacement, or at least shift, of the old with/ to the new runs throughout the epic following most, if not all, characters, each possessing a wound, which only heals upon some sort of reconciliation.
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