Lingering Issues- Portrait of America

“This was history. I had no power to change it.

And yet I still felt that this had happened before.

I knew it would happen again, but how strange it

 

was to have seen it in Boston, in the hearth-fire.”

– Walcott, Omeros Book V, Chapter XLIII, Part III

As we were saying in class, Books IV and V get confusing with all the jumping around, but I think the images of America that Walcott uses in them are worth a closer reading. As a whole, these passages don’t have many positive things to say about America, except maybe about its beautiful landscape and some of its hard-working, honest inhabitants doing jobs such as farming and fishing. Even so, these few positives are tainted by the American history and ongoing attitudes. For example, in Chapter XXXV of Book IV Walcott writes, “‘Somewhere over there,’ said my guide, ‘the Trail of Tears/ started.’ I leant towards the crystalline creek” (177). Obviously, even though this takes place in a beautiful setting, the place has an ugly history that can’t be ignored.

Walcott also mentions more modern places, where even though they have been built up, the history of them can’t be ignored. For example he writes, “My face frozen in the ice-cream paradiso/ of the American dream, like the Sioux in the snow” (175). This serves as a reminder that in this land where everyone is pursuing the “American dream,” it is bound to come at a price for some and has already caused grief to many in the past.

In class we’ve already discussed the modern lingerings of racism portrayed in the poem. Like not being able to get a cab, or being feared because of skin color.

So why include this view of America? I think we have to go back towards the beginning of our discussions and the poem. For example, we spoke about resorts in places like the island (St. Lucia) in this poem and how their purpose is to serve the tourists and only show what is glamorous about the place. This is why I think Walcott put a negative view of America in the poem… to avoid allowing a country with a history of slavery and war from being glamorous. He even mentions the glamour of southern estates and lavish museums but makes sure to surround them with criticisms. I think Walcott also wanted to draw attention to America’s tendency to take what they want when they want it, while not necessarily considering how it will affect those who are already established in their own ways of life.

Just some thoughts… What have you guys been thinking?

One Response to “Lingering Issues- Portrait of America”

  1. Kristina Tkac says:

    Well I agree but I also think he was thinking more broad in the terms of trying to describe the tragedy of African enslavement, the tribal losses of the American Indian, along with the inner suffering of individuals in the American way of life. He wants the reader to understand what America has done as a whole and to come to terms with it I do not think he is trying to completely put a negative view on America. I think he is more trying to have the reader understand what America has done to grow as a country.
    This is very interesting though! Very informative post, thank you 🙂