Derek Walcott's A Far Cry from Africa

By Marion A. Davis
2009, Vol. 1 No. 11 | pg. 1/1

Derek Walcott’s “A Far Cry from Africa” expresses how Walcott is torn between “Africa and the English tongue [he] love[s]” (30). Several of Walcott’s poems – “The Schooner Flight” and Omeros – include some elements of French patois and West Indian English. The West Indies had “traded hands fourteen times in…wars between the British and French” (Norton 2770), and Walcott tied each of these languages together to convey to his readers the extremity of his “racially mixed ancestry” (Farrell 2) and the indeterminacy that often follows such a varying ancestry. In “A Far Cry from Africa,” Derek Walcott uses the advantages of hybridity to express unhomliness.

Derek Walcott often described himself as a “mongrel”; both grandmothers were African and both grandfathers were European (Norton 2770). He hated the English but loved the English and empathized with the Irish for they were also the victims of colonization. In “A Far Cry from Africa,” Walcott does not express all aspects of British and African culture; instead he focuses only on the brutal history of both. He is “poisoned with the blood of both,” and he is torn between the two horrific options of a bloodied Africa or the attacker that is England (26).

In order to effectively colonize another’s land, the colonizer’s culture has to become so widely spread and deeply embedded in the colonized land’s culture so that the indigenous peoples will begin to accept that they are inferior to the colonizers. Mimicry is a term used to explain the natives’ imitating the colonizing country due to their want to be “accepted by the colonizing culture” and their feeling of inferiority and shame for their own culture (Tyson 221). In order to fully dominate a land by supporting their culture as superior, the colonizer must use one of the most powerful conveyances for the dispersion of ideologies: language. When the British colonized the West Indies, they enforced English as the official language, the main means of causing the natives to accept the British culture as their own. However, in “A Far Cry from Africa,” Walcott ironically describes how he rejects the British culture – the colonialist ideology – but accepts the British language as superior.

As a colonial subject, Walcott would have been seen by the colonizers as an other, and as half-European, Walcott would have been seen as different from the completely indigenous peoples. While these full-blooded natives would also have learned Standard English along with the French Creole and emulated British culture, their hybridity would not be as extreme as Walcott’s background. As a person of mixed blood and having family members that were European, Derek Walcott would have had a First World upbringing in a Second World country.

“A Far Cry from Africa” uses metaphors, such as “colonel of carrion” (5), and ironic statements, such as “corpses are scattered through a paradise” (4), to describe the death and destruction and inhumanity that has occurred in both Africa and Europe. As half-European and half-African, Walcott was privileged to bear both horrible histories. The full-blooded natives’ desire was to look and behave like the colonizers. However, they did not have to bear the burden of being genetically similar to the colonizers, and not only being torn between two cultures but “divided to the vein” (27). Derek Walcott uses his genetic hybridity and cultural hybridity to express the extremity of his unhomliness.


Farrell, Joseph. “Walcott’s Omeros: The Classical Epic in a Postmodern World.”

South Atlantic Quarterly. 96.2 (1997): 247-274. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. Georgia State University Lib., Atlanta, GA. 11 Dec 2007 .  

Norton Anthology of English Literature. 8th ed. New York: Norton, 2006.

Tyson, Lois. Today: A User-Friendly Guide. New York: Taylor & Francis Group, 2006.

Suggested Reading from Inquiries Journal

In his Nobel Lecture, Derek Walcott described the experience of watching a Ramleela performance in a village in Trinidad, remarking: "... Two different religions, two different continents, both filling the heart with the pain that is joy.” The pain that fills Walcott’s heart is the pain of... MORE»
Advertisement
The formation and expansion of the U.S. Africa Command (USAFRICOM) signals the increasing strategic importance of Africa to U.S. security interests, especially in light of the 2014 U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit on strategic... MORE»
This essay first explores how Romantic poets William Wordsworth and Percy Shelley invoke the medium of language, specifically poetic language, to opine on the relationship between the reader’s sense experience and... MORE»
Regionalism—the efforts of a group of nations to enhance their economic, political, social, and cultural interaction—can assume various forms, including regional integration/cooperation, market integration, development integration, with the intent of accommodating the changing national, international, and regional environment... MORE»
Submit to Inquiries Journal, Get a Decision in 10-Days

Inquiries Journal provides undergraduate and graduate students around the world a platform for the wide dissemination of academic work over a range of core disciplines.

Representing the work of students from hundreds of institutions around the globe, Inquiries Journal's large database of academic articles is completely free. Learn more | Blog | Submit

Follow SP

Latest in Literature

2017, Vol. 9 No. 05
Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko offers a complex representation of the semiotic and socio-political meaning of seventeenth-century torture and death and the intersectional manner in which physical agony coincides with authoritative colonial politics... Read Article »
2017, Vol. 9 No. 05
The fascination with death and the sensationalizing of suicide are prevalent metaphysical themes which traverse all Shakespearean tragedy. These brooding themes, despite their ubiquitous portrayal, take on an idiosyncratic ethical meaning in King... Read Article »
2017, Vol. 9 No. 05
The character of Benjy Compson from William Faulkner’s 1929 novel The Sound and the Fury is a mythic and Christ-like figure with the divine gift of prophecy rather than the retarded man-child that the other characters in the novel view him... Read Article »
2017, Vol. 9 No. 04
Music functions as a source of healing in Toni Morrison’s Jazz, both to the bird who is inexplicably sad and for the broken relationship between Violet and Joe, the novel’s two main adult characters. The bird cheers up and regains its... Read Article »
2017, Vol. 9 No. 03
From the point of view of childhood, modern Western society shows many parallels to the Romantic Age. While the industrial economy caused rapid changes to the landscape and lives of children, forcing millions of them into labor, the informational... Read Article »
2017, Vol. 9 No. 03
Anyone in pursuit of knowledge is bound to encounter sex somewhere along the way. In the early 19th century, a period during which sex was unspeakable, fiction writers developed a distinct penchant for the unknown.[2] Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein... Read Article »
2017, Vol. 9 No. 02
Commonly believed to be the single greatest writer and poet of the English language, as well as one of the most distinguished and esteemed dramatists in the entire world, William Shakespeare is credited with authoring approximately 38 works of theatre... Read Article »

What are you looking for?

FROM OUR BLOG

Finding Balance in Graduate School
Writing a Graduate School Personal Statement