Walcott and Rhys
Discuss the importance of the ideas of roots and rootlessness in post-colonial writing by comparing at least two different texts you have studied. Ideas of ‘roots’ and ‘rootlessness’ are important features of post-colonial writing due to the writers’ concerns with the effects of neo-colonialism. ‘Roots’ conveys ideas about heritage, background as well as race and culture thus ‘rootlessness’ occurs when people lose these identities. The loss of identity could be when people do not have history to refer back to; one of the key themes in Walcott and Rhys’ writings.
Due to colonialism, the traditional way the colonised used to live can not be found easily anymore. From where Walcott and Rhys comes from, the Caribbean, the colonialists had changed the official language to English and changed many different customs; this perhaps causes the feelings of ‘rootlessness’ as they loose their cultural identity. Both Walcott and Rhys explore these ideas in their writing to show how ‘roots’ and ‘rootlessness’ is important to the society in general, but also how they were personally affected. In ‘Almond Trees’, Walcott explores the ideas of ‘roots’ and ‘rootlessness’ by connecting ‘roots’ to ideas of history.
Walcott opens the poem with a short line of ‘There’s nothing here’, showing emptiness with bitter feelings. Although he’s describing the Caribbean, the readers feel uneasy about whether Walcott has positive attitude towards his homeland or not. One of the effects of the colonialism was because of the change of tradition thus the cultural identity was lost. This is similarly explored in Wide Sargasso Sea when Rochester renames Antoinette as ‘Bertha’. This can be seen as a microscopic picture of the wider events during colonialism.
Anglicised name given to Antoinette gave Rochester to be more in control as Antoinette felt her lost. When Antoinette says that ‘he never calls [her] Antoinette now’, she experiences that she has lost her identity, thus she feels ‘rootless’. In the same way, in Walcott’s poem ‘missing the sea’, the narrator ‘stuns mirrors/ Till reflections lack substance’. Images of ‘mirrors’ are used by both Walcott and Rhys to present each character/ however the fact that the ‘reflections lack substance’ suggest that the narrator has lost him/herself that s/he does not have a clear identity anymore; likewise to Antoinette.
As soon as people feel lost of their own identity, finding themselves having to question about whom they are, they start questioning their ‘roots’; as a result, they feel ‘rootless’. On the other hand, in the poem ‘Homecoming’ Walcott comes home where ‘there are homecomings without home’, exploring the ideas of ‘rootlessness’ well. He witnesses the changes made to the society and is not quite as how he remembers it. The title ‘Homecoming’ is ironic as it reflects on who Walcott is thus represents his ‘roots’. Walcott comes from Anse La Raye, a Quarter in St Lucia, where there are mainly fishers and agricultural workers.
However over the years, the town developed a large tourist industry where they attract thousands of people every year. This perhaps is one of the reasons why Walcott feels uneasy about his homeland despite the ambiguity of whether Walcott himself has changed thus his homeland does not feel like his home anymore. Yet, he explains that he suddenly feels like he is like one of the tourists; “seems a tourist’s”. His “heart’s sore” by the fact that he found his homeland as such different place that ‘you sway, reflecting nothing’.
The fact that he uses mirror image shows his confusion to who he is, thus questions his ‘root’ feeling ‘rootless’. Rhys conveys related ideas to Walcott when Antoinette is taken to England. The readers will recognize the key difference of Walcott and Rhys; Walcott is returning to Caribbean where he finds himself to be out of place, whereas Antoinette has come to England, not her home, thus feels out of place. However, the fact that the characters are trying to find out who they are, going through various emotions, are equally explored.
For example, the fact that Antoinette feels that she is in a ‘cardboard house’ shows how suffocated she feels and she feels that she does not belong there; thus she feels ‘rootless’. Antoinette says she does ‘not want to see that ghost of a woman who they say haunts this place’, which is quite ironic as she is looking at herself but she refers herself in a third person; she describes herself to be someone else. This directly linked with the ideas of self-reflected images in Walcott’s poem; both look at themselves as if they are looking at someone else.
This can be seen as loss of identity hence they can not define their ‘roots’ feeling ‘rootless’. Furthermore, this leads into questioning ideas about the changed homeland thus their identity has been affected. Walcott introduces ideas of history with ‘twisted, coppery, sea-almond trees’; this brings in the existence of the ‘sea-almond trees’ which had been there since the Caribbean was discovered by the colonialist. However, the augmented images of ‘twisted, coppery’ suggest the ages of the tress and the length of the tree’s existence.