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Examining The Culture Of Caribbean Literature English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 5427 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Caribbean literature is largely characterized by the plurality and the juxtaposition of both colonial and folk cultures. "The Caribbeans cultural plurality has made it one of the discursive centres for the African, the Afro-American, the European and the Pacific world (Parker & Starkey 17) .The multi-racial, multi-ethnic structure of the Caribbean islands overlaps Walcotts canon. Its cultural diversity is part of Walcotts endeavour to present scrupulous Caribbean culture which is based on illustration of the cultural fragmentation of its people. Opposing the Afrocentric or Eurocentric reading of the Caribbean Walcott asserts "the cultural cross-pollination" of the Caribbean region (Thieme 1) . The marks of Europe, nevertheless "have been impressed upon the terrain of the Caribbean, duplicating problematic meanings of selfhood, identity" (Parker &Starkey 18). Inhabitants of the modern Caribbean states were virtually "Unknown" before the "European intrusion" which "abruptly interrupted the original pattern of their historical development...severely altered their physical environment...diversified their diet, complicated their epidemiological systems, produced new biological strains, and linked them inextricably to the wider world beyond the Atlantic Ocean" (Knight & Palmer 1).Walcott concentrates on the metamorphosis of the region inhabitants. Though the Caribbean can now be identified as the "locus of the worst aspects of the imperial history-enslavement of what were defined as the 'other'...and extinction of indigenous people- in the past it has been the source of much western fiction about the lure and fascination of dangerous pleasures and islands of treasure".(Parker& Starkey 18).The term "West Indies" is itself a European constructed one referring to the Eurocentric conception of "the other" that may have different identity.

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The contingency of identity or identity reconstruction is one of the deep salient issues handled by Walcott as "the quest for Caribbean aesthetic is enacted on the level of form as well as theme" (Thieme 74). As Edward Braithwaite states, "The most significant feature of the West Indies life and imagination since Emancipation has been its sense of rootlessness, of not belonging to the landscape" (29). Whatever takes place among the set of characters and the inter-racial relationships represent microcosm of the cultural changes in the Caribbean region around the time of independence. Walcott's method is to make use of "a sound psychological basis for every action and emotion"(Barnes 52) .Dream On Monkey Mountain(1970) is essentially a psychodrama in which he usually externalizes the introspective into action.

The paper aims at the exploration of the Caribbean culture as it is presented in the dilemma of the natives who have been in search for identity in the post-colonial era. Questions of race and ethnicity are indispensable and require further elaboration. The paper, furthermore, aims at displaying the characteristics of Derek Walcott's Caribbean plays with reference to the postcolonial literature to which the play in question belongs. Displaying the structure of the play will help the reader to grasp Walcott's method of illustrating grave issues relative to the human identity.

As the Caribbean communities are made up of large divergent ethnic groups that are reflected in literature, it is necessary to define the term ethnicity. Ethnicity, strictly speaking, is distinguished from racism though the old usage of the term tends to identify ethnicity with racism. Both terms refer to the classification of groups of people according to certain characteristics. Whereas ethnicity implies such classification on the basis of cultural attributes, racism involves the division in terms of physical features. Cultural attributes of the ethnic separation include language, tradition, religion, race and origin or combination of these factors. The physical features of racism include traits of the facial type, the skin, the colour, cranial profile, and size or the biological traits in general.

Ethnicity is created whenever there are encounters or clashes between the industrialised states and subordinate groups including the immigrants or the foreigners. That is to say, it is generated when there is a sub-culture which is different from the original domineering one. It is relative to the cultural plurality in the United States and Canada as well as the Caribbean and South Asia. Whenever there is either occupation or immigration many ethnic groups are found, and discernible ethnicity prevails. The members of an ethnic group usually identify with each other on one or more of the aforementioned attributes. The implied division is consciously assumed by the members of an ethnic group.

Perhaps ethnicity and racism are fundamental categories in the West Indies heritage which includes slavery, colonizers and island natives. The island of Trinidad as representative of West Indies includes many racial and ethnic groups. Trinidad's official language is English though other languages are spoken as well. There are also many religions practised at the island including Catholicism, Protestantism, Hinduism, and Islam. This contributes to the diverse cultural nature of the island. The multi-ethnic complexities, the social and cultural diversity of the Caribbeans are derived mainly from the mixing of the different ethnic groups in the region as well as the cultural association of diverse ethnic factions within the Caribbean community. As Lamming demonstrates: "Whatever may be identified as cultural differences, between …Indians and Africans in the Caribbean, their own common experience is the culture of labour" (Lamming 3).

Walcott emphasizes the cross cultural nature of the Caribbean region especially in the post colonial era. For him culture creates steady "transition" and "reinvention" conditions (Thieme 4). As Thieme asserts: "poetics of migration" dominate his work in which the act of migration is fundamental since it has so many connotations. The very act is symbolic of transmission between cultures and the demolition of the hindering boundaries. The strategy he follows is to "use old names anew" in a way relevant to the "hybrid" West Indies (Olaniyan 3).

Walcott objects to any racial, ethnic or cultural purism since the Caribbean is characterized by hybridity and miscegenation as well as creolization. Hybridity is a key concept of the post colonial literature to which Walcott's play belongs. Walcott endeavours to develop a cross-cultural aesthetic discourse in a way that criticises the cultural imperialism. Hybridity is essentially a term which is used to create discourse of racial mixing. It simply means mixture and its effect on identity is obvious in Dream on Monkey Mountain. As Deloughrey,Gosson &Handley suggest:

The concept of hybridity was first utilized in European science of the natural (nonhuman) world. With the visible presence of racial mixture in the nineteenth-century West Indies, Europeans erected a science that argued for the degeneracy and ultimate infertility of the offspring of mixed-race sexual unions (Deloughrey,Gosson& Handley 16).

Historically speaking, the European argument of the supremacy of their undiluted pure culture was a means that justified colonialism and slave trade. Consequently, racial intermingling as seen in hybridity would be a threat to such discourse. As Edmond states:

The European obsession with Caribbean hybridity and degeneration can also be understood as a displacement of its fears of its own degradation and decline as a result of hybridization, a process observed in other empires as Europe extended its colonial reach. (42-43)

Opposing the colonial myths, Caribbean writers have weakened this discourse through stressing the human side of the hybridity process which includes intermingling of races and cultural production. They celebrate the indigenous citizen as they draw attention to "issues of personal and national identity, and their implications of political nationalism and freedom from colonial rule" (Birbalsingh xii).

Among the many forms which hybridity assumes are the political, and the cultural ones. Hybridity in literature is associated with the postcolonial theory that focuses on the influence of challenging essentialist thinking and practice -namely racism- and it has been associated with identity and multiculturalism especially by the Caribbean writers. Walcott is for Caribbean theatre and the national theatre for Trinidad in particular. He calls for "an eclectic hybrid dramatic practice and modes of production appropriate to the Caribbean situation" (qtd. in Theime 14).

Cultural hybridity is relative to the concept of national identity or the indigenous citizen which the postcolonial theory celebrates. The theory in question strives to drop Western thought and discourse in favour of the creation of a new self-awareness or identity.

Identity can not be established or reconstructed without referring to history. Walcott's idea of history is original and demands illustration. He differentiates between two concepts of history: "as time" and "as myth". History for Walcott is preferable as myth. History as time judges in absolute terms as it is evident in its accumulation of details whereas history as myth is "fiction, subject to a fitful muse, memory"(Olaniyan 97).The former is unimaginative whereas the latter focuses on imagination. Perhaps the following explanation by Walcott illuminates his authentic idea of history:

In the New world servitude to the muse of history has produced a literature of recrimination and despair, a literature of revenge written by the descendants of slaves or a literature of remorse written by the descendants of masters. Because this literature serves historical truth, it yellows into polemic or evaporates into pathos. The truly tough aesthetic of the New World neither explains nor forgives history. It refuses to recognize it as a creative or culpable force. This shame and awe of history possess poets of the Third World who think of language as enslavement, and who in rage for identity respect only incoherence or nostalgia (qtd. in Olaniyan 98).

In other words, Walcott has written against history. For him, it is full of claims that West Indies have no history."History is built around achievement and creation; and nothing was created in West Indies" (Naipaul 29). The other claim stipulates that if the West Indies people have history it has no outstanding event or basis to produce an achievement or it contributes largely to the experience of slavery, racism, and great invasions. The New World should be considered without history to have a new start.

Walcott, in brief, goes beyond the idea of history to the notion of transcending it as "Those who claim that there is no sense of history in the West Indies, that his people are without the sense of the past which fertilizes art as tough weeds fertilize a ruin, suffer from a longing for that decadence" (Walcott Dilemma 3) . Walcott's theory implies that the true New World writers should reject the idea of history as time for its original concept as myth. For them history is fiction which is relative to muse and memory. "Their philosophy, based on contempt for historic time, is revolutionary, for what they repeat to the New World is its simultaneity with the old"(qtd. in Baugh 10). For Walcott what matters is the loss of history or what he calls "the amnesia of races"(Baugh 10) and imagination is a basic requirement for the West Indies. Going beyond history or dealing with history as irrelevant is fundamentally his objective since men have tended to ill-treat the idea of history. For him, history is "an ideological construct that has served the purposes of a colonial discourse"(Baugh 12).

Lately Walcott has leaned towards the use of American mythologies. He portrays the New World as a second Eden which "owes much to some of the earliest European derived mythography of the Americas" (Thieme 15) .His mixed racial background and exposition to both colonial and folk cultures are assets from which his creative writings spring and develop.

Herein some of the characteristics of his work in general and his play in particular. As Thieme asserts: " Walcott's emphasis on Adamic naming as a strategy for reclaiming one's world from the colonizer, his career-long concern with eroding Manichean binaries and his development of his poetics of migration all strikingly anticipate subsequent developments of post-colonial theory" (198-9).He perhaps represents "the cultural side of decolonization and the new nationalism which in turn leads to post-colonialism" (King 4). Walcott plays are more congenial and accommodating as stated by Baugh (4). Most of his plays revolve around a story-that is why he regards himself a fiction- in which the hero is the "poet-persona, 'a character' who is gradually being discovered and created through various metamorphoses, contradictions and continuities" (Baugh 5-6). His plays denote "the sense of difference, the sadness, the rage and the longing" that are" a plangent chord in Walcott's writing"(Baugh 19) .His notable Caribbean theatrical corpus reveals an attempt on the part of the author to find cultural correspondence between Caribbean and non-Caribbean features. That is to say "Caribbean characteristically includes non-Caribbean" (Baugh 27).

Walcott's distinctive view about the West Indies theatrical style is revealing of the "vivid physicality inherent in the West Indian cultural Heritage" (Breiner 70-1) which is substantial in the mixing of both speech and action or what he expresses in the following statement. "The strength of the west Indies psyche is a fusion of formalism with exuberance, a delight in both the precision and the power of language"(Brenier 71).

In search for identity, Walcott dives deeply in the past and particularly the past of the colonial phase to "a classical and pre-classical, hybrid point of origin and authority"(Parker & Starkey 19).In Dream On Monkey Mountain Walcott handles a prehistoric phase and place where man was ape, where the voice must grovel in search of itself , until gesture and sound fuse and the blaze of their flesh astonishes them" (Walcott Dream 5).Walcott's return to the sources of language and being is partly designed to reveal the role assumed by the West Indian as the New World Adam.

The exploration of self realms to recognize desires is fundamentally central to his play Dream on Monkey Mountain. Accepting the self is of paramount significance since it is more effective than the absurdity of seeking racial revenge. The discovery and acceptance should be turned into art. Walcott's views of "the self" -or identity- religion, and "the home" have further connotations. Home or homeland should be established without following the patterns of belonging set by the dictatorial rulers. It involves summoning the old spirits within the West Indies communities and landscape. Walcott holds the view that the sense of self which belongs to a certain home is based on the change in the consciousness of the West Indian as well as the reinterpretation of the history of humanity which witnessed dichotomy between religion and Darwinism concerning man's evolution. Hence, new combinations and reapplications of the Caribbean myth, legend, and standards create rebirth. West Indians suffer from certain predicaments relative to the reconstruction of the identity within the heterogeneous setting. One of these inconveniences is "the need to find some social/cultural/artistic model which would elicit the participation of the heterogeneous aspects of the region" (Samad 228).Therefore, through that participation, a sense of the identity is secured especially in driving out the spirit of alienation and homelessness.

Relative to the identity quest in Walcott is the issue of creolization which forms a fundamental ideology in Walcott's repertoire of plays and literature in general. It is defined by Glissant - one of the outstanding Caribbean writers and theorists- as the state of "transformation" "through which people create a collective sense of identity from multiple cultural sources" (qtd. in Pollard 5). Creolization signifies the process of creating something in the colonies that is neither "indigenous to the region nor identical with its counterpart in the culture of origin" (Pollard 5) .As Pollard states: Walcott creates "New World Poetics"(5) that are not indigenous because they are driven from several Diaspora cultures including European modernism. However, such poetics are not correspondent with the previously mentioned trend because Walcott has naturalized its standards to reveal his New World Caribbean experience.

As Dash suggests : "This creolization does not...easily homogenize cultures to eliminate ethnic, cultural, national or ideological conflict, but it also does not ignore the cultural exchanges that occur despite these conflicts"( 47) . Creolization for Walcott, implies incongruity and difference as well as interdependence and resistance. Creolization is involuntarily made by the violent existence of colonisation in the Caribbean region and similar territories. For Walcott, cultural fragments must be united in order to create a new world culture based on the divergent Diaspora cultures of Europe, Africa and Asia .Walcott's method is illustrated when he asserts that his "poetry purifies speech by amalgamating and fusing the different dialects of the region. In blending the linguistic differences of indigenous and imperial forms of speech, Walcott aspires to contribute the sound of his own accent to the common, transnational, and interethnic language of the New World" (Pollard 11).

Walcott admits that process in "The Muse of History" in which he describes the central dilemma facing the Caribbean artist that is the lack of language symbols. Consequently his function is to purify the language without missing the vigour of the common speech while he uses the initial symbols or the alphabet of the official one.

What creates the new collective sense of identity is the creation of a new cultural tradition that blends the multiplicity of the region. This will be accomplished through mimicking to the point of mastering all the cultural traditions not merely the African or the European. Mimicry is not only fundamental but it is also creative since it is "an act of the imagination" (qtd. in Pollard 36) which includes something new. Encountered with the loss of history, or the separation from the Old World the artist should resort to imagination which is based on mimicking the fragmented Old World's cultural models. The use of such types through new contexts helps renewing the artist's method. As Burnett suggests, Walcott's "faith in art is still astonishing and beautiful" (103) since he believes in the sacredness of the text as words generate a state of hope in the community's future rather than despair and revenge by dwelling in the past. Poetry in Walcott -the technical device used in most of his plays- has a close affinity with religion for religious practices are based on people's faith and his aesthetic of mimicry comes out of belief, not doubt. Pollard explains:

Just as religious practices define a communal identity by encouraging people to participate in common rituals, he aspires for a poetry that mimics the rituals of literature in such a way as to contribute to the making of a New World identity. Just as religious practices renew hope through ritually recognizing historical experiences of suffering, he aspires to recast poetic rituals in order to imagine an ideal interethnic New World community emerging from the anguished historical experience of colonialism (37) .

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Dream on Monkey Mountain is essentially a psychodrama for "There is a sound psychological basis for every action and emotion". (Barnes 52). It is a dream that seems to take place within the consciousness of Makak , the central figure of the play as well as "the collective consciousness of all the characters" (Thieme 70).Walcott focuses on the humanity of the Caribbean man in general and the black one in particular. He handles the subject matter subtly while concentrating on the psychological aspect of the protagonists' dilemma. He, furthermore, "draws ...upon a vibrant range of popular Caribbean performance modes, which are seamlessly interwoven with contemporary stage technology and with theatrical conventions from European and other traditions" (Baugh 83). As Brenier suggests :the play's dream structure is "a moonstruck dream, initiated with evocative music and mime"(78) and is based on transitions , distortions of time and transference between reality and fantasy. It sheds light on the disordered consciousness of Felix Hobain (Makak) with special stress on the idea of metamorphosis. Makak's final killing of the white Goddess reveals that his rebellion is mainly internal, a psychological one. Identity quest as proposed in the play is relative to the exploration of the subconscious and has a close affinity with self-healing. There is a kind of tug of war or inner conflict in the West Indian people's identity or consciousness.

By shedding light on the identity of Makak's "reduced , race-containing"(Brenier 79) hero through speculations on his nature and how he should be called, the play questions the West Indian identity. The play furthermore responds to the discourse whether West Indian identity is rooted in the Caribbean or rather in Africa. Makak is presented as a man under endless tensions and pressures relative to the oppression he undergoes as his stature is highly determined by race, colour, and language. The history of colonialism results in a state of racial and cultural confusion in the region especially that it segregates the region into "colonial language groups" (DeLoughrey,Gosson, and Handley 12). Makak undergoes a severe crisis in his quest for personal and social identity. It is largely relative to having no sense of history, or achievement. Part of the colonial discourse is to assume that the islands are "a historical, passive, and idyllic landscapes" which spurs Walcott to "recover a sense of historicity".(DeLoghrey, Gosson, and Handley 12). Investigating the history of the region leads inevitably to questions about origin - the very issue of Makak's scrutiny. However, as Walcott explains, "nostalgia over a lost history whether African, European or any other, will lead us ultimately to 'a rejection of the untamed landscape'"(qtd. in DeLoughrey, Gosson, and Handley).The resolution "comes from sources more mythical and poetic than deep historical knowledge"(DeLoughrey, Gosson, and Handley 15).

Walcott is a proponent that the sense of belonging and one's cultural identity are to be explored in more than one perspective as they take many forms including the European and the African. As indigenous writer, Walcott relies on unifying traditions. He interweaves "the textual richness of language/race/geography with the discriminating oppositions of black/white".(Parker &Starkey 19). Dream on Monkey Mountain begins with Makak, a black charcoal burner who is imprisoned for being drunk and disorderly. The course of the play becomes the telling of a dream to reveal his fragmented state "to break with images of heroic pilgrimages, in order to restart the inner quest for human worth in a culture subjugated by imperial claims"(Parker &Starkey 19-20).Makak's imagination is extended to beheading of the White Goddess the representative of colonialism and the figure who inspires and enslaves him as well. Such act involves exorcising the models of belonging created by colonialism. Therefore the identity will be established by obliterating the division of the West Indian consciousness and summoning "the sleeping spirits that lay within the actual and archipelagal landscape of the West Indies"(Samad 228). New fusions and applications of archetypes and myths will lead to a kind of rebirth of the Caribbean identity. Walcott endeavours to combine the conflicting traditions of Europe and Africa in an attempt to eliminate the sense of disorientation and homelessness that are relative to the loss of identity in the play. Makak's alienation and humiliation are declared when he states that:

MAKAK: I have live all my life like a wild beast in hiding. Without child without wife/People forget me like the mist on Monkey Mountain /Is thirty years now I have look in no mirror,/Not a pool of cold water, when I must drink,/I stir my hands first, to break my image. (I.226)

He refuses to face his human image since he is black and fragmented the very facts which reveal that he loathes himself. Makak's yearnings for self-respect, physical completeness and the sense of belonging to a homeland make him fantasize. Mostique's confession:

I take what you had, I take the dream you have and I come and try to sell it. I try to fool them, and they fall on me with sticks, everything and they kill me (I. 273)

Has the effect of making Makak confront the materialistic side of humanity.

Makak summons his spiritual foundations:

Like the Cedars of Lebanon,

Like the plantations of Zion,

The hands of God plant me on

Monkey Mountain (I. 248)

Spiritually elevated he discerns the rest in their rootless, dispossessed state "like a twisted forest,/ like trees without names"(I. 248). He furthermore, spurs them to sing due to their agony and faith "Sing as you sing/ in the belly of the boat"(I. 249).

The possibility of a new identity, for Walcott, is through mimicry for there are no distinctive cultural identities. Walcott focuses on mimicry or imitation since "cultural can only be created out of this knowledge of nothing".(qtd. in Pollard 34).Walcott contends that mimicry is the "necessary, creative, trenchant, unifying and ephemeral poetics of the New World" (Pollard 34). The creation of a cultural identity with the absence of a core culture should be through fusion of cultural fragments and the repetitive imitation of whatever fragment available. The creation of a new collective cultural identity is through mastering the imitation of diversified cultural traditions. The process involves creativity despite the fact that it is imitation.

Makak's identity quest is primarily within highly complex Indian cultures. "Identity is a matrix of subject positions which may contradict one another. Indian subject identities are constituted in a multiplicity of discourses rising out of structures of religion, class, caste and gender"(Parker& Starkey 13).Such diversities lead directly to duality of consciousness or identity. The twofold worlds of Africa and Europe, or the Black and white have equal weigh on Makak's perception. Walcott dramatizes the previously mentioned worlds in his introduction to the second part of the play "Two worlds; that makes two bewitching; they dance all night and at dawn they crowd into the churches to hear mass; each day the split widens..." (II. 277).Due to the dichotomy in the play, Walcott implies that either alternative would definitely result in a denial of self, since both stem from cultural and psychological void rather than from the assimilation and fulfilment of identity forms. Makak's freedom comes from "embracing rather than escaping identity"(qtd. in King 268).In the light of such discourse the play's subject matter is the quest for identity and how colonialism harms that spirit.

Makak is an incarnation of the attempt to reconcile all oppositions to create a healing effect. Walcott not only realizes the cultural fragmentation of the Caribbean identity but also aspires for cultural unity. "Pointing to new and diversified syncretisms on the basis of a shared quest for meanings/roots"(Parker & Stanley 23). Walcott as a postcolonial writer, seeks to delineate the rich plurality in his histories to form a kind of dispossessed literature who strives to retrieve fragmented realities. Walcott asserts the importance of the landscape as a release of the Caribbean histories throughout the play.

Part of the structure of the play is relative to the postcolonial theory in which references are made to early European stories. Such references are interwoven with a new Caribbean style which is based on complexities and alienation of fragmented realities or identities.

Walcott's approach is psychological since it is based on creative 'schizophrenia' which he has cultivated and advocated as an electric fusion of the old and the new as stated before. The psychological aspect of the Caribbean man's plight who is in quest of identity is demonstrated through different terms such as the previously mentioned "schizophrenia" , "psychosis" and "neurosis". The epigraph of the two acts of the play has many connotations in its references to the aforementioned terms.

Thus in certain psychosis the hallucinated person, tired of always being insulted by his demon, one fine day starts hearing the voice of an angel who pays him compliments; but the jeers don't stop for all that, only from then on, they alternate with congratulations. This is a defence but it is also the end of the story. The self is disassociated, and the patient heads for madness (I. 211).

Due to issues of race and colour that ensue from the relationship between the colonizer and the colonized especially in regions like the Caribbean Makak is psychologically subdued and the outcome is a state of alienation and neurosis:

The Negro enslaved by his inferiority, the white man enslaved by his superiority alike behave in accordance with a neurotic orientation. Therefore I have been led to consider their alienation in terms of psychoanalytical classifications... In the man of colour there is a constant effort to run away from his individuality, to annihilate his own presence...The attitude of the black man toward the white or toward his own race, often duplicates almost completely a constellation of delirium, frequently bordering on the region of the pathological. (qtd. in Baugh 83).

This condition is embodied in the play's protagonist Makak who lives entirely isolated and alienated in the Monkey Mountain. Though the Charcoal burner has a real name he can hardly remember it. The idea that he is a mere monkey or mimic man has deeply influenced him that he is dehumanized by others who always mock him. For instance, the corporal of police satirizes him with reference to the parody of the creation myth:

In the beginning was the ape and the ape had no name, so God call him man. Now there were various tribes of the ape, it had gorilla, baboon, orange-outang chimpanzee, the blue-arsed monkey and the marmoset, and God looked at his handiwork, and saw that it was good. For some of the apes had straightened their backbone and start walking upright, but there was one tribe unfortunately that lingered behind and that was the nigger (I. 216-17).

Makak is a victim of the European hegemonic authority which belittles his human identity. It is contradicted by attempts of identity assertion by the dominated in the Caribbean region. He is overwhelmingly occupied with his inferiority complex that is imposed on him by the white man who imprisons him within the motto 'black is ugly, white is beautiful'. He lives as a "black ugly, poor...worse than nothing" (I. 237)

Despite the fact that he like others disdains himself, Makak has his dreams and aspirations and his own angel and therein exists his madness. "I suffer from madness. I does see things. Spirits does talk to me. All I have is my dreams and they don't trouble your soul (I. 225).

He undergoes hallucinatory fits every now and then. It takes the shape of a beautiful white woman who is totally perfect and idealized unlike his self-loathing image. She has the effect of raising his own spirit and evoking the chivalry in him especially when she sings to him. 'Lady in heaven, is your old black warrior /the king of


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