chapter - 3 ti-jean and his brothers

"Black Man’s Confrontation with The White Devil”
hile THE SEA AT DAUPHIN dwells upon the fearful life of the fishermen
for whom ‘God is a white man’ and ‘His spit on Dauphin people is the
sea’, TI-JEAN AND HIS BROTHERS runs like a fable in which three brothers
fight 'the white planter devil’.
Like the Sea in the former here the devil
challenges the three brothers to a duel of wills.
Walcott’s play TI-JEAN AND HIS BROTHERS was first performed at the
Little Carib Theatre, Port of Spain, Trinidad in 1958. Significantly Walcott wrote
it far from home, on only a few days during his first trip to New York in 1957. His
brother Roderick and the St. Lucia Art Guild produced an early version in St.
Lucia in December, 1957, though the official opening was in Trinidad in 1958.
The play was revived by the Trinidad Theatre Workshop in June, 1970, at the
Town Hall, Port of Spain. For Walcott, the play was a personal success; he saw
it as a turning point in his life. He “generously credits Bertolt Brecht and Oriental
artists for his ideas and inspiration, but in fairness to his own creative abilities
reference must be made to the fact that he had already begun to incorporate the
elements of Carnival in DRUMS AND COLOURS and
TI-JEAN AND HIS BROTHERS is based on a St. Lucian folktale.
Vestiges of the African animal fable appear in the chorus of forest creatures :
Cricket, Firefly, Bird and their spokesman, Frog.
Allusions such as the Frog
excusing himself with the words “Aeschylus me’’! after sneezing are not likely to
be missed by the West Indians who from childhood become familiar with the rich
puns, metaphors and verbal play of fast-paced calypsonian rhetoric. “The
surface apperance is light : the movement is paced with music composed by
Andre Tanker dance, emphatic gesture and pause, asides to the audience, and
intervals of conversation among the animals about human behaviour”.2
This play is a parable of mankind’s various confrontations with the devil
and, more particularly, of “black man’s confrontation with the white devil”.3
Vexed force, vexed learning play into his hands ; instinct, wisdom, conscience,
sense and good humour defeat him, as far as the devil is ever defeated.
There are three archetypal sons of an old Mother in the play - Gros-Jean,
Mi-Jean and Ti-Jean. The eldest is proud of his physical strength, the second is
a self-educated fool and the third is tender, young, intelligent with a through
knowledge as to when to use physical strength and when to argue cleverly.
Some critics feel that in creating the two characters of Gros-Jean and Mi-Jean
Walcott may have had in mind Dessalines and Christophe, two military “generals
involved in the War of Independence”4
In the play the Devil sends a challenge to a poor mother and her three
sons who live in a forest. Any one human who can make the Devil feel anger,
rage and human weakness will be rewarded by the Devil; any one who fails to do
so will be eaten.
Bolom : The Devil my master
......... sends you this challenge !
Anyone human
Can make him feel anger,
Rage, and human weakness,
He will reward them,
But if any of your sons
Fails to give him these feelings,
For he never was human,
Then his flesh shall be eaten,
(pp. 99-100)
The first two brothers try, each in turn, to get ahead by dealing with the
Devil in the form of a White Planter.
Gros-Jean’s brute force and Mi-Jean’s
book-learning are easily outwitted by the cunning Devil. Ti-Jean’s humility and
common sense carry him through.
Unlike his two elder brothers, he pays
attention to his mother’s advice to be courteous to the animals of the forest and
leaves home obtaining his Mother’s blessings :
Instinct be your shield,
It is wiser than reason,
Conscience be your cause
And plain sense your sword.
(pp. 133-134)
Ti-Jean is kind to the forest-animals and is assisted by them. He refuses
to play the game by the Devil’s rules.
Unlike Gros-Jean he uses force
intelligently ; unlike Mi-Jean he puts his mind to practical use. Their penalty was
death (though they live in the memory of others) ; Ti-Jean’s reward is life, not
only for himself, but also for the Bolom, the unborn. Ti-Jean asks the Bolom ; Is
life you want, child ? / You don’t see what it bring ?’ and, like Jules in THE SEA
AT DAUPHIN, the Bolom chooses to enter life :
I am born, I shall die ! I am born, I shall die !
0 the wonder, and pride of it: I shall be man !
Ti-Jean, my brother!
(pp. 163-164)
Walter J. Meserve says :
brothers representing physical
strength, academic wisdom and
“man-wit, common sense” try to
unmasks the devil.
The Devil
brother, Ti-Jean, who argues
refusing to obey him is “a fool
like all heroes’’ and must be
helped by God.5
In the play the Devil’s tasks are to keep his goat tied up, to count his
canes and to clean his house. Ti-Jean “fixes" the goat (later eats it), burns the
cane field, and burns the house.
keep bargains”.
The Devil gets vexed, but he says, "I never
But, Ti-Jean’s course is supported by the Bolom, who is the
ghost of a hideous abortion. So, the Devil pays Ti-Jean money, but, in revenge,
shows Ti-Jean, his mother dying and taunts, “Now you can still sing ?” But,
Ti-Jean, falters and sings :
To the door of breath you gave the key,
Thank you, Lord,
The door is open, and I step free,
A men, Lord ...
The Devil, “dying to be human” (as said by the Bolom earlier) is moved to
tears-----Devil: What is this cooling my face, washing it like a
Wind of morning. Tears ! Tears !
(pp. 162-163)
For this experience the Devil grants Ti-Jean a wish and Ti-Jean responds
to Bolom’s pleading for life. So, Ti-Jean goes off with a new brother.
What makes the play so great is the sheer fun of it. This Devil is one of
the great comic devils, and driven by Ti-Jean, he goes on a great comic drunk.
For example, he sings ;
When ! was the Son of the Morning,
When I was the Prince of Lights.
He, then, breaks off:
Oh, to heli with that! You
lose a job, you lose a job.
(p. 151)
It is really a pleasant moment to see and hear a drunken Devil sing :
Leaning, leaning,
Leaning on the everlasting arms ...
(P- 152)
Perhaps for this reason alone Theodore Colson envies “those who have
seen this play”.6
Nevertheless, "Walcott seems to be suggesting a necessary interrelation
between good and evil, between God and the Devil, eternal absolutes’’.7 When
he himself goads the Devil into revealing his true face and sees it, Ti-Jean says :
‘this is like looking / At the blinding gaze of God’. The Devil,.replacing the mask,
concedes : ‘It is hard to distinguish us’.
In folk-lore Papa Bois is beneficent.
Traditionally Papa Bois is an old man who protects the animals of the forest from
hunters. The refrain’ Bai Diable-la manger un “ti mamaille !” (‘give the Devil a
child for dinner’) occurs in a traditional masquerade performed in St. Lucia at
Christmas and New year; the devils ('Jabs’, 'diables') threaten the crowd, receive
small gifts of money and put on short performances in the street. However, it is
not easy to distinguish good from evil, and evil may disguise it-self as good.
Ti-Jean recognizing that To know evil early, life will be simpler’, does not take it
for granted that the old man is what he seems to be ; So he examines him
thoroughly and , then, defeats him in the game.
The Bolom in the play is a figure out of Caribbean folklore. It is a foetus
whose birth has been frustrated, so that it constantly seeks entry into life. The
Bolom functions, like the more familiar Afro-Caribbean Eshu, “as an agent of
unpredictability confined in but always shaking the secure form of the play”.8
The Bolom is the most strikingly symbolic figure. The Devil says to him,
“For cruelty’s sake I could wish you were born’’; and Ti-Jean affectionately says,
“Is life you want child ? you don’t see what it bring ?’’ The Bolom, which works
for the Devil, "is the foetus of what would have been a first-born child, stolen just
before birth".9 Theodore Colson is of the opinion that the Bolom is “child of the
devil," and , it is strongly implied that he is Ti-Jean’s brother ; for as Ti-jean
represents all fool-heroes, the Mother is all mothers, and the Bolom is all
aborted human potential, in a world of black mothers and white planters. The
Bolom is such a monster that the Mother says of him :
The sight of such horror though you are
Would turn you to stone, my strong son,
Gros Jean.
(P- 98)
When the Bolom delivers the Devil’s proposition (challenge) to the family,
the Mother, and earth figure closely attuned to nature, senses evil before it
discloses itself. In her capacity as nurturer of living beings, she offers love and
compassion even to this aborted creature. The Bolom refuses her offer because
the Devil has promised him eventually the gift of life. Paradoxically, it is Ti-jean
that gets the gift of life sanctioned to the Bolom.
MOUNTAIN, the play TI-JEAN AND HIS BROTERS also, with the Bolom’s birth,
ends with morning light, the twilight of hope.
With regard to the metre employed in the play Walcott himself, in an
article, tells of having wanted ‘without really knowing it, to write a softly
measured metre whose breathing was formally articulated, yet held the lyrical
stresses of dialect speech’.10 Walcott explains how TI-JEAN's verse is linked in
his mind with the conditions of story telling in his St. Lucian childhood and with
the African art of the storyteller.
However, "he acknowledges a variety of
influences------ ‘tradition and the sweat of others before us, of whatever culture,
in the brotherhood of folk poetry”.11 He mentions specifically Lorca, Brecht and
the Japanese Noh theatre.
The love of dance, song and mime and music, is the source of the
ritualistic modes of observance which prevail in folk culture. What survives as
the love of song and music and dance in the West Indian temperament goes
back to this root instinct. Walcott thus seeks to revive the power of song, music
and dance in his theatre, in his effort to create a style based on our own
dramatic resources. “This has been developing as a central aspect of his style,
very successfully in plays like TI-JEAN AND HIS BROTHERS and DREAM ON
Walcott has desire to write a ‘stylised play’ with
songs, dances and a narrator and, then, TI-JEAN has been produced. Walcott
himself says:
The first real experience I had of
writing a stylised West Indian
play was in New York.
Indian fable
It was a
For the first time I used songs
and dances and a narrator in a
That was the fastest play
I’d ever written. I wrote it on my
first trip to New York
before I got the Rockefeller------in four or five days. It astonished
damned thing because J was
afraid to go out. Out of that play,
I knew what I wanted.13
is an allegory of the contest between good and evil.
It is a
political-historical allegory also besides others with various levels of meaning.
The black man contends with the white oppressor (the Devil disguised as a white
planter); "the Caribbean black man is seen in three stages of response to white
power, from slave violent rebellions (Gros-Jean), through the attempt to master
the white man’s book-learning (Mi-Jean), to the ultimate triumph of the small
man (petits gens—little people) combining force and native intelligence”.14
Ti-Jean frees the Bolom of the black or Caribbean future from thraldom to the
white oppressor.
TI-JEAN is a great play in its own right.
In the hierarchy of Walcott’s
plays TI-JEAN falls next to DREAM ON MONKEY MOUNTAIN in grandeur and
artistic design.
In TI-JEAN the West Indies is symbolized by the helpless Mother of three
sons who represent the black slaves in their relentless fight for emancipation.
The Slave-master is the Devil who appears as an Old Man with a mask or as
White Planter. Gros-Jean and Mi-Jean represent the “suicide squads of Negro
fighters, who, in Lemmonier— Delafosse’s memoirs, defied canons and
sacrificed their lives in the cause of freedom from oppression”.15 TI-JEAN
considered a dramatic re-creation of any or all of those who led slave rebellions
successfully in the West Indies. The West Indies has a long tradition of slave
rebellion, with a lot of bloodshed and mass murder of slaves. Those slaves had
reckless courage and braved danger. Though a large number of slave-rebels
were shot dead, they fought with confidence.
seemed to be the courage of the rest.
“The more they fell, the greater
They advanced singing, for the Negro
sings everywhere, makes songs on everything”.16
TI-JEAN reminds one of Aeschylus’ PROMETHEUS BOUND which is
hailed by the great poets like Goethe and Shelley as a parable of human revolt
against autocracy and established religion.
Promotheus was a Titan who
foolhardily pitched himself against the tyrannical and villainous god, Zeus.
Gros-Jean could be likened to Prometheus.
Gros-Jean’s pride in his physical
strength in fighting the Devil reminds one of the titanic strength upon which
Prometheus relies in his encounter with Zeus without much success.
befriending the experimental race of men, Prometheus becomes a victim of
divine oppression ; but his liberation does not lie in his own titanic force.
Similarly, the decline of the Devil in Ti-Jean does not lie in the brute force of
Mi-Jean is an unimaginative man of rhetoric, a shallow philsopher without
the spirit of perseverance when persecuted. Devil’s victory over Mi-Jean stands
for a political tyrant’s win over a force of resistance that lacks persistent courage
and endurance.
Ti-Jean is quite unlike his two elder brothers.
humility, endurance, an intuition and wisdom.
He possesses courage,
But, the merciless method
adopted by Ti-Jean to overcome the Devil resembles those vile tricks employed
by Negro slaves to get rid of their masters. M.G. Lewis says :
A neighboring gentlemen....................
has now three negroes in prison,
all domestics, and one of them grown
grey in his service, for poisoning him
with corrosive sublimate ; his brother
was actually killed by similar means.17
Ti-Jean, perhaps, could not have succeeded against the Devil if he had
not resorted to the vile trick of getting the plantation burnt down. However, he
has in him the meekness of a lamb, the wildness of a tiger, and the cunning of
the fox, with which qualities he triumphs over the planter.
The saying that pride goes before a fall proves true in the case of
His mother warns him not to rely much on his physical strength.
She advises him :
When you go down the tall forest, Gros-Jean,
praise God who make all things, ask direction of
the bird, and the insects, imitate them; But be
careful of the hidden nets of the devil,
Beware of a wise man called Father of the Forest,
The Devil can hide in several features,
A woman, a white gentleman, even a bishop.
Strength, ca pas tout, there is patience besides;
There always is something stronger than you.
If is not man, animal, is God or demon.
(p. 103)
This advice of the Mother to Gros-Jean resembles Tiresias’ warning to
Pentheus in Euripides’ THE BACCHAE :
Mark my words, Pentheus.
Do not be so certain that power
is what matters in the life of man;
do not mistake for wisdom the
fantasies of your sick mind.18
Pentheus, proud with might, neglects this advice and his end is as
disastrous as his cousin Actaeon’s.
Gros-Jean also disregards his mother’s
words out of sheer pride in his physical strength and ends tragically.
Mi-Jean’s flaw is intellectual indifference to others’ advice.
He turns a
deaf year to the warnings against danger given by the Frog, the Cricket and the
Bird. His academic pride does not help him in his argument with the PlanterDevil about the divinity of man. The Planter ridicules that the man is no better
than an animal and that
.,. he is a kneeling hypocrite who
capriped, prays to his maker, but
is calculating the next vice....
The Devil further taunts that a “goat... may be a genius in its own right",
and that Mi-Jean is but a 'descendent of the ape’.
Mi-Jean, the intellectual,
grows angry at this and consequently loses his life.
Ti-Jean, unlike his two brothers, asks for and receives his mother’s
blessings before leavig home.
He takes his Mother’s advice to his heart and
makes friend-ship with the Frog, the
Cricket, the Firefly and the Bird.
compares himself with the Biblical character David and hopes to Win over the
Devil as David Won over Goliath. In the Old Testment Goliath is described as a
huge giant.
He was the greatest warrior of the Philistines, the original
inhabitants of Palestine.
A war broke out between the Philistines and the
Israelites when Saul was the king of the Israelites.
Goliath challenged the
Israelites for a single combat and none dared to take up the challenge. Then
David, a shepherd boy, and the son of Jesse of Bethlehem came forward boldly.
He, with his sling, directed a pebble at the forehead of Goliath and it pierced
through the forehead of the giant and killed him.
Ti-Jean is fully equipped with his Mother’s advice and blessings, the
knowledge acquired from the smaller creatures, and his humility. So, he easily
beats the Devil in his own game. The fight, however, is not over though Ti-Jean
defeated the Devil, because the latter threatens :
We shall meet again, Ti-Jean. you, and
your new brother!
The features will change, but the fight is
still on.
(p. 164)
It is clear from the above that the struggle against evil is an unending
affair. The only thing that we can do is just to mitigate the Devil’s destructive
Albert Ashaolu says about the Christian allegory in the play TI-JEAN.
“The victory-dance of Ti-Jean at the end of the play reminds us of the typical
dance performed by the Acrobat in the crude mime show put on by Masquerades
at Christmas time in St. Lucia”.19 Papa Diable, followed by little devils (TiDiables), is challenged to a duel by the Acrobat who is knocked down by the
Devil. However, the Acrobat, with the help of two friends, or so, again attacks
the Devil (Papa Diable) and defeats the Devil. Then he performs an acrobatic
dance of victory.
The initial fall of the Acrobat in his fight with the Devil
resembles the death of Christ and his revival stands for Christ’s resurrection and
ascension and victory over Death. The Devil’s song in Ti-Jean, “Bai Diable-la
manger un'ti mamaille, un, deux, trois’ti mamaille"! is the same as that sung by
the Masqueraders performing at Christmas at St. Lucia.
The pronunciation of the word “Jean” suggests a pun on 'gens’ which
means folk, people, men. Gros-Jean stands for the gross individual symbolizing
the big power class in Society. Mi-Jean represents the middle-class people with
their learning and intellectuaiism. Ti-Jean, “the little man" is a name associated
with the little man in the moon in West Indian folk tale. Walcott has made the
best use of this folk tale for he makes the Frog say in the Prologue of the play :
If you look in the moon,
Though no moon is here tonight,
There is a man, no, a boy,
That .is Ti-Jean the hunter,
(P- 86)
Ti-Jean’s name also sounds like ’Ti-zanges’ (spirits of Haitian children
who die too young to have been sinful).20 Ti-Jean would be a metaphor for the
“little” people in society, the low class, noted for their humility and common
sense. Bolom also belongs to this class. Bolom, reborn, becomes the “foetus of
Caribbean aspirations, who chooses the pain of selfhood rather than continue to
be the Devil's emissary”.21
Walcott is very familiar with classical works. There are various classical
allusions in TI-JEAN which prove this fact. Before starting to narrate the tale of
the Mother and her three sons, the Frog sneezes and says “Aeschylus me
(p.85). This is significant.
In “The Argument” provided by J. Hookham Frere and prefixed to
Aristophane’s satirical play THE FROG,22
It is stated thus :
Dionysus, the patron of
the Stage, in despair at
dramatic art......................
determines to descend to
the infernal regions with
the intention of procuring
the release of Euripides,
Aeschylus already occupies the ‘tragic chair* in Hades, an honour which
Euripides vies for. Dionysus has to judge as to who deserves the 'tragic chair’.
A contest (‘agon’) is set.
In the end Dionysus who is a mouthpiece for
Aristophanes, gives the victor’s prize to Aeschylus.
this decision, is worth quoting here :
Pluto’s speech, following
Farewell then, Aeschylus, great and wise,
Go, save our state by maxims rare
Of thy noble thought and the fools chastise,
For any a fool dwells there.
Thus, the choice of Aeschylus by Dionysus reflects Aristophane’s
preference for Aeschylus over Euripides. Walcott also considers Aeschylus the
great and wise poet-playwright.
A Narrator like Frog needs Aeschylus as its
muse and source of inspiration. That is why the name of Aeschylus is put in the
mouth of the Frog. By invoking Aeschylus the Frog has elevated itself from the
low status of a mere folktale animal to that of an inspired Poet-Narrator with a
vision. The frog is usually a model of sagacity for the Africans. Here the Frog
is "as much Aeschylus as it is Walcott the artist himself presenting us with the
well-crafted drama of TI-JEAN”.23
Though Albert Ashaolu suggests six levels of allegory jn the play------ the
artistic, historical, political, moral, Christian and social----------they are not all of
equal significance. They revolve around a focal centre that is artistically unified
through literary allusion, dance and other stage conventions. The theme centres
on the characters’ methods of resisting malignant authority in their struggle to
survive and to improve their lot.
Gros-Jean, as put by Frog, is big but very stupid. The white Planter sets
him to counting the leaves in a cane field and collecting fireflies. Gros-Jean gets
discouraged after two days, but it is not the work that defeats him.
The Devil
forgets his real name and calls him continuously by other names. This insult to
his prowess exasperates Gors-Jean and makes him lose patience.
It results in
his death.
Mi-Jean is only half as stupid as his elder brother. He takes pride in his
Frog puns on his mental capacity, accompanied by comical
music :
When he going and fish,
Always forgetting the bait,
So between do bait and debate ...
The debate finally undoes Mi-Jean.
He manages most of the Devil's
assigned tasks. But, he fails to tie up an obstreperous goat. His main defense
is to answer in silence the Devil's annoying attempts to provoke him.
It works
until the Planter argues that the goat thinks and has as much soul as man.
Exasperated Mi-Jean responds : “When you animadvertently imbue mere
animals with an animus or soul, I have to call you a crooked-minded pantheist...
......... No, I’m not vexed, you know, but......... “(p.129). But, he loses life in the
hands of the Devil.
Ti-Jean is humble, willing to learn and he listens to the voice of
experience of his Mother and to the instinctive wisdom on Nature’s lowest
animals. By the time he meets the Devil, Ti-Jean has developed the ability to
face advertisty with equanimity and good humour. What the Devil cannot
calculate is Ti-Jean's sense of humour, and his nimble trickery. When ordered
to tether the goat that keeps evading, Ti-Jean castrates it and simplifies the task.
Asked to count and classify the leaves in the fields, Ti-Jean settles for the
expedient of burning the plantation.
He roasts the goat of the Devil on the
flames. He gets the Devil’s house also burnt down. Ti-Jean’s roguery causes
the Devil to laugh and rage in turn.
Thus, he wins the contest.
The Devil
concedes grudgingly, threatening to break his agreement unless Ti-Jean can
sing while his mother dies.
Ti-Jean’s voice falters as he sings, but his pain
moves even the Devil to tears. The Bolom now pleads with Ti-Jean to request
the Devil on his behalf the gift of life. Ti-Jean unselfishly uses the one wish
offered by the Devil to help the Bolom. Inspite of Paradoxical linkage of death
and life, the Bolom chooses mortality with its joys and sorrows, and he claims TiJean as his brother. But, their victory is only a temporary respite, as the Devil
cautions, before exits, that they will meet again.
The action of the play closes with a moral thus fulfilling the tradition of
many animal fables. Frog, the story-teller, says :
And so it was that Ti-Jean, a fool
like all heroes, passed through
the tangled opinions of this life,
loosening the rotting faggots of
knowledge from old men to bear
them safely on
his shoulder,
brother met brother on his way,
that God made him the clarity of
the moon to lighten the doubt of
shadowy wood of life..................
As a result of his victory, Ti-Jean has become the man in the moon. The
image of a man in the moon with a bundle of sticks on his back is not particularly
one might see its first “appearance in
Shakespeare’s THE
Hast thou not dropp’d from heaven ?
Out o’ the moon, I do assure thee : I was
the man I the moon when time was.
I have seen thee in her and I do adore
My mistress show’d me thee and thy
dog and thy bush.25
Several fables exist about the man in the moon, with a lantern, dog and
One old Christian story is that he is a man who is sent there as a
punishment for gathering fire-wood on Sunday, (the man who broke the
Sabbath-Number xv, 32-36).
Another version is that the man in the moon is
Cain, the first murderer, (Genesis, III, 18); another with Isaac,sacrificing on Mt.
Moriah, the bush being the bundle of thorns which he carried to make the fire for
his sacrifice (Genesis); yet another version associates him with Endymion of the
classical mythology with whom the moon goddess is in love. Of course, modern
Science has disproved all these stories.
It is a long-standing conviction of Walcott that even the most deeply
rooted myths to be unearthed in the Caribbean will necessarily turn out to be
creolized at the root, simply as a consequence of the region’s history.
aesthetic equivalent he has formed as an axiom is : “Maturity is the assimilation
of the features of every ancestor”.26 The language in the opening scene of the
play subtly insists upon this principle.
The action begins with animal noises.
Then the Frog sneezes. In Europen folklore the sneez is an omen that a story is
The animal noises “Greek-croak, Greek-croak" may be an allusion to
Aristophanes’ comic chorus of frogs. The traditional Caribbean formula to signal
the beginning of a story could also be heard in ’cric-crac’.
In the play the animals give things their names and the effects is more
Ovidian than Adamic. In naming the moon ‘Ti-Jean’, the play aims to enrich the
natural object with specifically Caribbean significance. There is an aspiration to
give one’s vision the force of myth and thereby make it available to the
audience: “When one began twenty years ago it was in the faith that one was
creating not merely a play, but a theatre, and not merely a theatre, but its
environment’’.27 Walcott not only puts West Indian life on stage in this play, but
also makes claims, projects about that life and its limitations in it, besides
presenting such life’s possibilities and its relation to life elsewhere.
TI-JEAN AND HIS BROTHERS presents itself not as an aetilogical fable,
but as an effectual one. The creatures of the place possess and use the story
as their own. In the beginning there is no rain and no moon. Frog tells the tale
of the origin of the moon, and that invocation makes it appear by recapitulating
its creation. The fable itself is a moral guide. So, the moon, whose presence is
both starting point and result of the fable, also stands as perpetual reminder and
guarantor of the lesson. In the West Indies the critical interpretations of the play
have been varied, spinning out moral, historical and even explicitly political
However, Walcott has achieved his goal : the spontaneous
appropriation of the work by the community for its own purposes.
The play TI-JEAN stands as Walcott’s first technically integrated West
Indian Drama as its message and manner of presentation are uniquely West
Indian in flavour. Robert D. Hamner says :
Overweening pride in strength and knowledge
follows the same pattern introduced by the
clansmen and the “civilized" teacher in IONE.
Also, like There sine the seer in IONE, the
mother is as closely attuned to the processes
of nature as any earth mother. Evil, rather than
drive within
personified in the devil, who in turn assumes
the guise of an old man and a white overlord.
There to recount the story is the om-niscient
narrator of oral tradition. More important than
all of these, Ti-Jean himself embodies the
character of the trickster hero, one of the most
popular figures in West Indian stories. Unable
to overcome by force of knowledge or physical
ancestors by outwitting those who have power.
Overall, the play exemplifies the kind of foot-,
life-, and earth-asserting force that Walcott
called for in “Meanings", It is perhaps his best
play between THE SEA AT DAUPHIN and
Ti-JEAN AND HIS BROTHERS has established Walcott’s reputation as a
poet and West Indian playwright. His early plays like TI-JEAN and DREAM ON
MONKEY MOUNTAIN resemble the dramas of francophone writers like Aime
Ce’ saire, Edouard Glissant, Daniel Boukman, and Ina Ce’saire.
Other West
Indians like Dennis Scott and Trevor Rhone (Jamaica) and Errol John, Errol Hill
and Earl Lovelace (Trinidad), share many of Walcott’s concerns, but none
matches his creativity and critical stature.
We find the theme of madness also in Walcott’s works.
Erskine Peters
defines the term ‘madness’ as "freedom from inhibitions resulting from living
under cultural, political, economic, social and philosophical proscription”.29
Those mad are able to delineate how the proscriptive forces operate.
Derek Walcott’s Makak, Ralph Ellison’s Surgeon Vet, Alice Walker’s
Meridian Hill and Ernest Gaine’s Copper confront with those who hold to the
same norm consider overwhelming and matchless odds.
The action of these
characters is deemed dangerously impertinent. Sander Gilman emphasizes the
link between madness and disguise, demonstating that “only in the mask of the
ultimate lack of freedom, in madness and in death, can freedom be assured ....
. (p.4). The mad characters of black writers usually lay themselves bare instead
of donning the mask.
They see the pragmatic value of the myth of blackness
and madness as a manner of manipulating those who believe in it” (p.25).30 The
fear of “potential destructiveness as a common feature of the nexus of blackness
and madness may be exploited by the mad characters of black writers.
In Walcott’s DREAM ON MONKEY MOUNTAIN the protagnist Makak
suffers from a slight mental imbalance as said by his friend Moustique. The very
first words of the Conteur in the Prologue of the play and repeated by the
Chorus suggest Makak’s madness :
Mooma, mooma,
Your son in de jail a’ready,
Your son in de jail a'ready,
Take a towel and band your belly.
Makak is put in jail for disturbing the peace. With the above words the fact that
the existence of Makak and his people is based on historical imprisonment, a
form of proscription in which their bodies, minds, tongues,
hearts and
generations are bound is established.
Makak lives on Monkey Mountain. The authorities feel that he belongs to
a biologically inferior race. Makak suffers from a troubled identity and he is like
a monkey.
His behaviour is frivolous and erratic.
He possesses dislocated
Although seeing life from Monkey Mountain may have its
vintage points, it seems ludicrous to expect to accomplish anything major in a
monkey state of mind.
Makak has to understand this if he wants to heal
historical and symbolic leprosy of his race. The true power of the mind is the
power to re-establish one’s identity and mental balance. Makak yearns to return
to Africa and come into contact with his submerged autonomous consciousness
and to undertake his needed regeneration towards principal strength.
characters like Makak exhibit the acute need to work to prevent alienation from
the self as well as from society.
Ti-JEAN AND HIS BROTHERS challenges historical victims of violence
to counteract their own rage or madness by manning the champion agent of
madness himself, the Devil, mad. The playwright’s desire is not so much that
the victims simply make the Devil mad, but that they will discern the formula
which made them rage and turn mad. Robert D. Hamner points out: “The theme
(of TI-JEAN AND HIS BROTHERS) centres on the characters’ methods of
resisting malignant authority in their struggle to survive and improve their lot’’.31
In the play Gros-Jean loses the battle with the Devil as he loses patience
with his tedious assignments to count the leaves in the canefield and to collect
the fireflies.
He moves toward rage and madness mainly because the white
Planter repeatedly forgets his true name. As with Makak, there is the sense that
to eclipse the name is to annihilate the potent self, along with one’s poise and
mental balance.
Walcott wants to teach a lesson that the memory of one’s
name, one’s identity, is sacred to oneself.
An exploiter always wants not to
acknowledge the identify of the exploited.
Any one would easily fall into the
Devil’s cunning-trap unless one is careful. Mi-Jean, too, is lured into infuriation
and rage and toward madness as he falls prey to the same vain expectation that
the planter exploiter holds sacred his human identity.
Even Mano’s words at the opening of Walcott’s another play DRUMS
AND COLOURS reveal the insanity of history.
The carnival form in the play
pageant is seen as questionable and Mano suggests that the comic form needs
to be changed to that of “War And Rebellion".32 While the usual functioning of
Carnival is the revising of the general order, Carnival here is indicated also by
the character Pompey as a confusion which needs to be changed “to a serious
play !” The concept of masking is important here.
The grand marshall of the play DRUMS AND COLOURS is memory.
Memory is the leader of the ceremonial procession, representing the progression
of history. Walcott allegorizes memory as the mace-bearer.
He uses memory
as an instrument against history as the mace is a heavy club. Memory stands
for unquestioned authority. Of course, it can also push one to madness. Thus,
to temper their
maddening memories, the carnival population often envelope
themselves in the farcical and the comic. History is a quarrelsome, mad force
against which one has to move with caution.
Ralph Ellison says : “One may have to risk walking on the borderline of
the gulf of insanity in order to avoid insanity’’.33
proscribed value system.
Madness is caused by the
One’s identity is closely involved with what one
values. In order to escape this one must invariably move into a certain void or a
certain dimension of a lack of identity for an existential moment or instant.
Taking this existential step is often portentous
and terrifying. One considers
whether there is more security in the existent state than there is in the
prospective chasm should one not be successful or not ingenious enough in
one’s attempt to manage his or her own metamorphosis.
Because all do not
survive the slaying of the dragon, since to slay the dragon often involves to
some degree the slaying of the self.
Walcott’s characters like Makak, Moustique in DREAM ON MONKEY
AT DAUPHIN or the poet-person a
in ANOTHER LIFE are “all living beings
precisely because they are complex,
perceived with tolerance, wryness,
compassion, and a bold honesty, a blend of realism and romanticism, which
The language of the characters is subtle, containing a true
balance between opposites held together in a creative tension.
characters seem to absorb their creator’s full attention, and ours.
The fictive
personality of the Devil is a marvelously entertaining character as well as a
racist white Planter and the archetype of evil.
Walcott’s Devil is a serious
philosophical comment on evil, on the effect evil has on the individual, and, at
the same time, a strong socio-political comment on Caribbean racism and
colonialism. He is also a witty individual.
ACC. »J!!&
Call. No.
TI-JEAN is a play with a simple Trindian folk fable in dialect, a
metaphysical verse play with music in plain but good English, a relevant black
parable inciting to anti-white revolution. It is a good deal to encompass in one
package, and it is not surprising that the string snaps.
But, there is a certain
"brazen ingenuity in the basic conception that is not without appeal....
The writing of the play is’’prosy in verse and prosaic even in prose :
unsophisticated sansculotte audience, heavily over-explanatory.
No symbol
goes unexplained, or, indeed unreexplained’’.36 Then, perhaps, to appease his
artistic conscience, Walcott throws in those literary echoes, and these, in the
native context, sound painfully ostentatious. Yet, the final flaw is in that contest
between a Devil, who, though perhaps not bright enough, is made interestingly
real; and, a hero, who, although vaguely resourceful, is not really interesting.
One feels that, “like Blake’s Milton, Walcott is , without knowing it, of the Devil’s
Eldred Jones once commented, “good works of art are notorious for
yielding more than their authors consciously put into them”.38
This comment
made with reference to J.P. Clark’s THE RAFT is quite true of TI-JEAN.
Because, Walcott may not have consciously designed the play the way it is now
being perceived.
Thus TI-JEAN AND HIS BROTHERS with its deceptive simplicity deals
with the study of a man who confronts evil boldly. Papa Bois, the Devil, in the
play is far too formidable an opponent to be overcome by mere brute force. In
other words it is a story of mankind’s various encounters with the Devil. This
theme, in a way, finds its place in MALCOCHON, OR THE SIX IN THE RAIN
that carries an epigraph from Sophocles : ‘who is the slayer, who the victim ?
1. Robert D. Hamner, DEREK WALCOTT, Updated Edition, New york : Twayne
Publishers, 1993, p. 50.
2. Ibid., p. 51.
3. Thedore Colson, “Derek Walcott’s play :Outrage and Compassion",
Hamner, Boulder & London : Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1997, p. 128.
4. Albert Ashaolu, “Allegory In Ti-Jean And His Brothers”, CRITICAL
PERSPECTIVES ON DEREK WALCOTT, ed. Robert D. Hamner, Boulder &
London : Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1977, p. 124.
5. Walter J. Meserve, “Derek Walcott”, CONTEMPORARY DRAMATISTS, ed.
James Vinson, London : St. James Press Ltd., 1977, p. 814.
6. Theodore Colson, “Derek Walcott’s plays : Outrage And Compassion",
ed. Robert
D. Hamner, Boulder & London : Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1997, p. 128.
7. Mervyn Morris, “Derek Walcott”, WEST INDIAN LITERATURE , ed. Bruce
King, London and Basingstoke : Macmillan Education Ltd., 1995, p. 187.
8. Laurence A. Breiner, “Walcott’s Early Drama", THE ART OF DEREK
WALCOTT, ed. Stewart Brown, Dufour: Seren Books, 1991, p. 75.
9. Mervyn Morris, “Derek Walcott", WEST INDIAN LITERATURE , ed. Bruce
King, London and Basingstoke : Macmillan Education Ltd., 1995, p. 188.
10. Derek Walcott, ‘Derek’s "Most West Indian play”, SUNDAY GUARDIAN
MAGAZINE (Trinidad), 21 June, 1970, p. 7.
11. Mervyn Morris, “Derek Walcott”, WEST INDIAN LITERATURE , Bruce King,
London and Basingstoke : Macmillan Education Ltd., 1995, p. 188.
12. Patricia Ismond, “Breaking Myths And Maidenheads”, CRITICAL
PERSPECTIVES ON DEREK WALCOTT, ed. Robert D. Hamner, Boulder &
London : Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1997, p, 261.
13. Derek Walcott, "Meanings (1970)”, CRITICAL PERSPECTIVES ON DEREK
WALCOTT, ed, Robert D. Hamner, Boulder & London : Lynne Rienner
Publishers, 1997, p. 46.
14.Mervyn Morris, “Derek Walcott”, WEST INDIAN LITERATURE , ed. Bruce
King, London and Basingstoke : Macmillan Education Ltd., 1995, p. 188.
15. Albert Ashaolu, “Allegory In Ti-Jean And His Brothers", CRITICAL
PERSPECTIVES ON DEREK WALCOTT, ed. Robert D. Hamner, Boulder &
London : Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1997, p. 120.
16. Ibid, p. 120.
(London, 1929), p. 126.
18. Euripides, THE BACCHAE, 11.309-312.
19. Albert Ashaolu, “Allegory In Ti-Jean And His Brothers”, CRITICAL
PERSPECTIVES ON DEREK WALCOTT, ed. Robert D. Hamner, Boulder &
London : Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1997, p. 122.
20. Lloyd Coke, “Walcott’s Mad Innocents”, Savacou, (5 June, 1971), p. 122.
21. Ibid.,
22. Aristophanes, THE FROGS, trans. by Benjamin B. Rogers, in John Gassner,
ed. A TREASURY OF THE THEATRE (New York : 1935 ; rev. 1967), V. I.
pp. 73-95.
23. Albert Ashaolu, “Allegory In Ti-Jean And His Brothers”, CRITICAL
PERSPECTIVES ON DEREK WALCOTT, ed. Robert D. Hamner, Boulder &
London : Lynnes Rienner Publishers, 1997, p. 119.
24. Laurence A. Briener, “Walcott’s Early Drama”, THE ART OF DEREK
WALCOTT, ed. Stewart Brown, Dufour: Seren Books, 1991, p. 75.
25. William Shakespeare, THE TEMPEST, ed. Dr. S.K. Benarji, Agra : Lakshmi
Narain Agarwal Educational Publishers, 1974, (Act II, Scene -ii), p. 192.
26. Walcott, The Muse of History’, in Orde Coombs (ed), IS MASSA DAY
DONE?, New York, 1974.
27. Walcott, “What the Twilight Says : An Overture’’, DREAM ON MONKEY
MOUNTAIN AND OTHER PLAYS, New York : The Noonday Press, Farrar,
Straus and Giroux, 1970, p. 6.
28. Robert D. Hamner, DEREK WALCOTT, Updated Edition, New york : Twayne
Publishers, 1993, p. 54.
29. Erskine Peters, "The Theme of Madness In The Plays of Derek Walcott",
CLA JOURNAL, 32 (2); p. 148-1998 Dec., Atlanta G,A,
30. Sander L. Gilman, “On Blackness Without Blacks : Essays on the Image of
the Black in Germany”, (Boston : G.K. Hall, 1982).
31. Robert D. Hamner, DEREK WALCOTT, Updated Edition, New york : Twayne
Publishers, 1993, p. 51.
32. Derek Walcott, “Drums And Colours”, CARIBBEAN QUARTERLY, Special
Issue, 7, No : 3, (1969), p. 3.
33. Ralph Ellison, INVISIBLE MAN, New York: vintage Books, 1972, p. 69.
34. Elaine Savory, “Value Judgements On Art And The Question of Macho
Attitudes : The Case of Derek Walcott”, ed. Michael Parket & Riger Starkey,
London : Macmillan Press Ltd., 1995, p. 253.
35. John Simon, “Debilitated Debbil" in NEW YORK MAGAZINE, © 1972 by NYM
Corp., reprinted by the permission of New york Magazine and John Simon),
August 14, 1972, p. 69.
36. Ibid.,
37. Ibid.,
38. Ed. Jones, “African Literature 1966 - 67", African Forum, 3, 1 (Summer,
1967) p. 5.