Walcott and the Sea

Walcott physically embodies the Caribbean’s hybridity and translates it into his work. This hybridity can be seen very clearly in his use of the sea in his works, which is responsible for the hybrid identity of the Caribbean people in the first place. The characters’ connections to the sea explore the ideas of hybridity, its connection to the sea, and how identities are connected to and are constantly being altered by the water. 

In The Sea at Dauphin, both the livelihood and identity of the people of St. Lucia are dependent upon the sea. On a basic level, Dauphin is a fishing village that is full of fishermen who work to catch food that helps to feed their families and the town. The sea, however, also was the source that helped to shape the mixed language and culture that make up their identity. The characters in the play speak a mixture of Creole and English, a language reflecting those of the real Caribbean inhabitants. This language is the result of the native islanders’ interactions with the French and English colonizers, who came to the island via the sea and forever changed their identity and that of the island. While older characters such as Hounakin are not as directly connected to the physical sea, the younger characters are all directly connected to the sea in some way. This suggests that the future of the islanders and their identities are even more inherently connected to the sea and the hybridized identity that it brings than the older generation had been. 

 In “The Schooner Flight,” Walcott explores what effects traveling the sea has on Shabine’s hybridized identity. Shabine leaves behind his home and ventures out to the unfamiliar sea. This is different from The Sea at Dauphin, where people venture to sea to fish but further travel is not mentioned. As a result of this, Walcott gives the reader a closer look into what happens to the already hybridized identity of a Caribbean person when they venture off of their island. Shabine’s experience depicts how one carries their identity with them, even when they leave, and how it comes to be affected and even further hybridized through travels. While Shabine is leaving behind the island physically, he carries the memories of it—most notably in his constant reminders of his lover, Maria. No matter what Shabine does or how far he travels, he is unable to shake the memory of her and his longing to return. His identity, as well as his remembrance of her shifts, however, as he gains a greater sense of the colonizer’s religion. Maria and this religion become intertwined and his travels on the sea work to alter and form a greater sense of hybridity within his identity. 

 As Heaney mentions, Walcott gives space in his works to explore the different facets of identity. In these works, we see examples of the Caribbean’s hybridized identities in both those who stay and those who choose to venture away from the islands. In both cases, the sea not only was the initial source of mixing in the Caribbean that brought about hybridized identities, but the place that continues to bring about further mixing. Walcott’s use of the sea and his clear connections to how it comes to mix the identity of the people has helped me not only to understand the hybridized identity of the Caribbean, but also to better realize the functions of sea on all identities—especially in relation to groups that we have looked at this semester.

One Reply to “Walcott and the Sea”

  1. This also builds on the idea of memory that we talked a lot about earlier this semester. As you said, when Shabine moves across the sea he carries his past with him, which includes his hybridized identity and his memories of his lover and family. As movement continues across the sea, new and shared memory mixes as the forming hybrid identities encapsulate a variety of histories, backgrounds, and experiences. Hybridity shows that when we move to a new place, our memory is not forgotten or left behind. Rather, it is incorporated into the new.

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