Derek Walcott’s “Dream on Monkey Mountain” and “Ti-Jean and His Brothers”

3 pages, 12-pt Times New Roman, double-spaced.

Derek Walcott’s Dream on Monkey Mountain and Ti-Jean and His Brothers both explore the effects of colonialism in the West Indies. Walcott’s work is a product of both English literary traditions and Caribbean experiences and language. As Walcott is also a poet, he uses highly poetic language and metaphors in both plays. Specifically, he uses the metaphor of the white Devil throughout both plays to explore characters’ shifts in identity and the eventual reclamation of their black identity.

The classical structure of the play is a continuation of an English literary tradition, unlike other plays from similar regions, for example Jean Smalls’ Black Woman’s Tale, which is much more loose in structure than either of Walcott’s plays. Dream follows a less linear narrative and is quite ambiguous, while Ti-Jean­ is more literal and linear, at least until the ending. As Walcott is also a poet, the language in both plays is extremely lyrical and dream-like.

In both plays, there are connections drawn between white women and the Devil. In Scene One Act One of Dream, Moustique asks Makak if his apparition is simply a white woman or a Devil. The Apparition/Woman is described as “the white Goddess” and thus rendered as a fantasy. However, the apparition tells Makak that he is descended from kings, according to Makak, even though it is still uncertain whether or not Makak is mentally unstable or simply dreaming. When death, demons, spirits, etc. come on stage after Moustique dies, the woman is described as “cleft-footed” and having a face at the end of Act One. A man with a goat’s head appears in this scene, and the white woman also wears a mask.

In Scene One of Ti-Jean, the Mother warns Gros Jean, “The Devil can hide in several features, a woman, a white gentleman, even a bishop.” Here, the Mother warns her son that the Devil can hide in many forms, including those people who are supposed to be good or helpful—women, white authority, and religious figures. As the Devil meets with each brother, he makes attempts to disguise his feet and tail, but does not do a good job—Ti-Jean is the only brother who makes the connection between the Devil’s physical features and his true identity.

Ti-Jean is more explicit with its metaphors, as the Devil owns a plantation and wears a white mask throughout the play. However, while Dream’s metaphors are more ambiguous, they nevertheless reveal the same kind of information. For example, in Act Two, Scene Two of Dream, Makak asks Tigre what he sees in the fire. Tigre responds, “I see hell. I see people black like coals, twisting and burning in hell. And I see me too.” In Dream, a black spider gives birth to white eggs, and Moustique is afraid of spiders. The spider and its birthing can be seen as a metaphor for colonialism and the loss of black identity throughout each subsequent generation.

Masks are an important feature in both plays, and they are prominent metaphors as they are used by white characters to hide their true selves. In the Epilogue of Dream, Makak reclaims his black identity, as the Corporal asks if Makak wants a mask, and Makak refuses and shakes his head. In Scene Three of Ti-Jean, Ti-Jean demands to see the old man’s real face, and he reveals his true self as cymbals clash. The Devil, now unmasked, tells Ti-Jean, “Now, you will work!” In earlier scenes of the play, the Devil never removes his white mask for Gros Jean or Mi-Jean, but he still makes them work hard, and without breaks. In this sense, the Devil is an explicit metaphor for white plantation owners, a sad part of the colonial history in the West Indies. Even though the Devil has revealed his true identity, he still demands that Ti-Jean go to work.

Both plays explore the reclamation of black identity through various actions. At the end of Act Two Scene Three of Dream, the Corporal demands that Makak kill the woman, calling her “the wife of the Devil.” Makak beheads the woman, and in doing so, he reclaims his black identity. Even though she has previously told Makak that he is descended from royalty, it is necessary for him to kill her, as she was previously revealed to be another white demon.

In Ti-Jean, Ti-Jean reclaims his identity by outsmarting the Devil and making him angry, something his brothers were unable to do. Ti-Jean also realizes that he cannot act alone. While the Devil berates him, Ti-Jean enlists help and courage from his mother, the forest animals, and Bolom, a servant of the Devil. Even Bolom agrees that Ti-Jean is entitled to his fortunes, as he has upset the Devil by burning down his house. In his appreciation for life and faith, Ti-Jean is able to defeat the Devil and strengthen his resolve.

Derek Walcott’s Dream on Monkey Mountain and Ti-Jean and His Brothers explore the repercussions of white colonialism in the West Indies through metaphor and action. Throughout the plays, black characters fight with white oppressors. Throughout the course of these actions, the black characters defeat the white/Devil characters, and in doing so, the black characters are able to reclaim their identities from white colonialist oppressors.

 

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Published in: on October 11, 2010 at 3:09 PM  Comments (2)  
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