Walcott's Collected Poems and Roy's The God of Small Things

Walcott's Collected Poems and Roy's The God of Small Things

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Post-Colonial and Post-Modernist View of Walcott's Collected Poems and Roy's The God of Small Things

       "Language was not so much a distinguishing sign of a soul or spirituality, which animals do not possess, as a social practice which enhanced survival of the species"-Nietzche. Nietzche reminded twentieth century intellectuals of the decisive role of language in the construction of human experience of 'reality'. With his 'perspectivism' and relativism, truth, whether artistic or scientific was seen as a social matter and a linguistic product, the displacement of one set of figures of speech by another, with knowledge the interrelations of signifiers in a field of experience made of prior interpretations. (Irving Howe, 80).


Thus in Walcott's poems and in Roy's 'The God of Small Things' modernism was further routed by inversion of ethical values as power tools for survival and exploitation, and of art as a veil over a reality describable only as wanton, godless procreation. This conception of a dynamic world of super changed energies of unimaginable force, often in violent conflict and ever-changing relations, came to resemble Freud's concept of id.


We observe, in their writings (Walcott and Roy) the apparently rational surface of consciousness hides a mass of tangled and conflicting desires, impulses and needs. The outer person is a mere papering-over of the cracks of a split and waring complex of selves driven by life and death instincts.


Walcott in his poem 'The Divided Child' writes,



was your heaven ! The clear

glaze of another life,

a landscape locked in amber, the rare

gleam. The dream

of reason had produced its monster :

a prodigy of the wrong age and colour.

(Walcott 145).


According to him, language was not the transparent tool for the objective representation of a stable reality: ethics was not expressive of a discovered system of absolute values or religion other than a desire for parental protection throughout life.


He writes in his poem 'Lampfall,'

And I'm elsewhere, far as

I shall ever be from you whom I behold now,

Dear family, dear friends, by this still glow

The lantern's ring that the sea's

Never extinguished

Your voices curl in the shell of my ear.

(Walcott 95).


When Roy was asked in an interview, 'What does it mean to be Indian?' she replied: 'Do we ask, 'What does it mean to be American or to be British?

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' as often? I don't think it's a question that needs to be asked, necessarily. I don't think along those lines, anyway. I think perhaps that the question we should ask is, 'what does it mean to be human?'.


Walcott and Roy's subversion of prior assumptions of the longstanding liberal humanist model have led them to feel that a change of cataclysmic proportions was occurring in human nature, human relations and human society. In the effects of Walcott and Roy, we identify a tendency to reunify life and art, to restore art and literature to a more central place in the evolution of a new consciousness. It is often said that 'the center cannot hold' and that uncertainty and chaos were taking over and old foundations collapsing, modernist writers like Walcott and Roy chose to face the collapse not by repressing or denying but by exploiting that very fragmentation, chaos, disruption and uncertainty rather than trying to shore up an old, failing order.


As post-colonials and post-modernists they are thought to have grasped this freedom with eagerness, even in the face of its darker implications. Thus we find in most of Walcott's poems exile and travel were ways of thematizing this pluralization and internationalism, and let to further developments in representational art. Sometimes novelists like Jamaica Kincaid, Arundhati Roy and Joseph Conrad portrayed characters in a state of tension and anxiety about these cultural confrontations, which threatened their reality. Sometimes they embraced the differences, which offered opportunities for passion and experiences outside what was not allowed at home. Indeed, sometimes novel like 'The God of Small Things' registers a tension between the portrayals of characters out of nineteenth-century fiction lost in the wilderness of twentieth-century literary forms. These 'exiled' characters portrayals, which exist uncomfortably within modernist landscapes, register the dislocation evident when, during a period of transition, literary conventions of one epoch linger or stray into the experimentation of the next. Aesthetically, the effects can be very interesting for the reader.


As Leverson suggests that the literature of this modernist period has been described as seeking spatial expression in language to represent time, by means of layering and topologies of depths rather than surface geometries of linearity. This was often achieved through the intensified use of extended metaphors or images involving not just phrases but structural properties, as well as characters doubled and even tripled to appear as 'sides' or aspects of a single mind. Narrative time was made to move in spiral and circles, language swirled with connotations and words were over charged with suggestiveness. (Leverson 79) .


This is made evident from Walcott's poems and in Roy's novel. From their writing we can observe that their attitude was characterized by a marked rejection of enlightenment and humanist faith in reason and progress, and an increasing awareness of the irrationality within the human psyche and society, more than ever before.


Roy's 'The God of small Things' offers a compelling plot replete with more than satisfying elements of mystery, she dazzles with her language. The plot centers on fraternal twins Esthappen and Rahel, witness to tragic events-including the drowning death of their causin Sophie Mol, whose funeral opens the book on a fateful December day in 1969. More than two decades later, Rahel and Estha, who were rendered mute by what they witnessed in youth, have returned to their childhood home in the state of Kerala in Southern India. They are now 31, the same age their divorced mother Ammu was when she died. Thirty-one, Roy writes in typically cryptic fashion, being an age 'Not old. Not young. But a viable die-able age' (Roy 5). Rounding out the cast is the twins'-failure prone Uncle Chacko, the divorced father of Sophie Mol; the twins' grand-aunt, Baby Kochamma, a spiteful spinster reduced to watching satellite TV wrestling matches in her old age; and Velutha, an ebulliently talented handyman tainted by his Paravan lineage. The clan endures its inexorable march toward disillusion, madness, guilt and betrayal at an inevitably doomed estate dubbed Ayemenem house, a dwelling capable of making the House of Usher seem a place of refuge. (Erik Spanberg -Book Review, Double Your Fun). Erik Spanberg writes, 'A linear story this is not. For those frustrated heavily layered and constantly undulating plots, 'The God of Small Things', will likely prove The God of Big Aggravating Narratives'.


Walcott in his poem 'Crusoe's Island' writes with consciousness of expression, which resembles Roy's attitude.


Past thirty now I know

To love the self is dread

Of being swallowed by the blue

Of heaven overhead

Or rougher blue below.

(Walcott 69).


These lines show the union of thought and passion, and give dramatic speech rhythm. Walcott's poetry is a kind of modernist experience, a struggle of the soul through the seething strife and turmoil of the world. Upon reading Walcott's poems it is clear that he adopted verse fibre, shows he cared for more precision and individuality. The poet is no longer sweet singer and his function is to render in mellifluous verse a self-indulged and personal emotion.


The twentieth century is an age of complete freedom when even women have liberated themselves from their domestic and matrimonial fetters and asserted their freedom from men and proclaimed equality, liberty and fraternity on par with men. They got completely liberated from all economic and moral/religious fetters; they could take the moral law and religious ideas into their hands and give them a twist as they willed. When such was the life of the people, literature had to reflect it and to effectively portray it and thus came a shift in writing poetry and novel.


When we read Walcott's poems, it is clear that they belong to the soul of the poet. It is recognizably his faiths and his versions offer more insight into the poet's mind. He walks through the lines of the poem and dramatizes his fantasies and dreams to his readers. In his poem, 'Crusoe's Journal' the last stanza reflects his notion,


'We learn to shape from them, where nothing was

the language of the race,'

and since the intellect demands its mask

that sun-cracked, bearded face

provided us with the wish to dramatize

ourselves at nature's cost' -

(Walcott 94).


As Conrad Aiken comments on Eliot's 'The Waste Land', is poetry not more actuated by life itself than by poetry. We can observe similarities in Walcott's poems as well. As Eliot says that the experience of a sunset for example in a painting or in a poem is more memorable than an actual sunset because the mind has participated more in the execution of it than in the absence of a direct sense stimuli. Like in Eliot's poems, we also find Walcott's poems full of allusions. Most of his allusions are veiled ones and only a very well-read man can fully appreciate this poetry; many may also observe when they don't make out the meanings of the allusions, that Walcott mercilessly leading them into the intricate literary mazes and inextricable paths of a jungle.


Similarly Roy blithely tosses conventional story elements aside, creating her own language of randomly capitalized words, double dosed newly minted compound words and torrents of one-sentence paragraphs, carefully culled references to earlier scenes that may send some readers scurrying backwards through this backwards told tale and allegedly alluring alliterative allegories. Her eye for detail and blistering prose are ample throughout, as evidenced by an early segment introducing Rahel's return to her childhood home- (Erik SpanBerg).


'It was raining when Rahel came back to Ayemenem. Slanting silver ropes slammed into loose earth, ploughing it up like gunfire. The old house...........................A drenched mongoose flashed across the leaf-strewn drive way' (Roy 4).


According to these Post-modernists, writing a novel or poetry is not inspiration, it is organization. The writer's mind is like a receptacle in which are stored a number of varied feelings, emotions and experiences. The writing process is the process of fusing these desperate emotions into new wholes. To them, perfect writing results when instead of 'dissociation of sensibility' there is 'unification of sensibility'.


In her novel, 'The God of Small Things', Roy writes: 'If they slept together like fetuses in a shallow steel womb, what would Hulk Hogan and Bam Bam Bigelow do? If the dish were occupied where would they go? Would they slip through the chimney into Baby Kochamma's life and T.V. Would genocide slide between the tiles?' (Roy 179).


Walcott in his poem 'Chapter-20' writes in various lines:

"I sent for Peggy, you remember her?

She's in the States now,'

'We lived in a society which denied itself heroes

(Naipaul), poor scarred carapace.'

'Gregorias, I saw, had entered life.'

'Re-reading Pasternak's Safe conduct



I saw him brutally as Mayakovsky' (Walcott 272-273).


We observe, from their writings post-modernism imbibe new forms from other cultures: it creates a multiculturalism, which, while always present in art, became greatly intensified. The border crossings and impurities, the transgressions of decorum along with the new hybrid forms, which defied literary properties and genre classifications, led to the realist and post-modernist forms whose very character seems internationalist. Post-modernism is characterized by its diverse mixings of 'foreign elements and its refusal to function as the cultural guardian of the national past.


In their rejection of their role in the representation of reality, or history they have shown us that what we label representational art, or literature, which looks conventional or uses ordinary language. Or even what we call realist, is better seen itself as a name for what has become absorbed into the cultural body of a society. That is, what we have finally been able to assimilate, however resistant we were at first, eventually becomes familiar enough to look representational, conventional and realist.


Walcott and Roy as post-modernists, sometimes we find in their work lack of content and familiar form, because, in part, of their challenge to space/time categories of mental organization, by means of intense surface disorder and stylistic innovation. Yet, this apparently cold impersonality was fused with an intensely interiorized, warm, subjective consciousness as 'content'. More over they also made use of silence, empty space or elusive non-messages, experimenting with new 'languages of the night,' with the dream and with that 'immediate present,' all designed to increase intimacy with the reader. And the words mixed the senses in rich synasthesia, polypsychism and multiple meanings.


To conclude, we can describe this (post-colonial and post-modernist) literature as intensely self-conscious, as intensely experimental, as stylistically and technically innovative, as poetic prose, as a language preoccupied with itself rather than with subject matter, as an art with multiple points of view, as relatively disorderly and indecorous, as emphasizing interiority, as often structured by images and symbols, as avoiding narrative descriptions of externally and so on.


Works Cited

Primary Sources:

Roy, Arundhati. The God of Small Things. New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 1998.

Walcott, Derek. Collected Poems 1948-1984. New York: The Noonday Press Farras, Straus & Giroux, 1986.


Secondary Sources:

Howe, Irving. ed. Literary Modernism. Greenwich, Conn., 1967.

Leverson, Michael. A Genealogy of Modernism. Cambridge, 1984.

Spanberg, Erik. Book Review- Double Your Fun. Web @ creativeloafing. com, 1997.
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