Postcolonial Literatures Unit 9 Names

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Postcolonial Literatures Unit 9 Names

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Postcolonial Literatures Unit 9 Names Notes cover all the exercise questions in UGC Syllabus. Postcolonial Literatures Unit 9 Names provided here ensures a smooth and easy understanding of all the concepts. Understand the concepts behind every Unit and score well in the board exams.






1. What is the race Walcott is referring to in the first stanza of “Names”?

Ans: It is referring to Carribeans.

2. Why, in “Names,” are the palms greater than Versailles? 

Ans: They were made by nature, while Versailles was made by man.

3. Which of the following genres does Walcott’s use of repetition in the first section of “Names” recall?

Ans: It is folklore.

4. In “Names,” why do the Europeans call a pigsty “little Versailles” 

Ans: To mock it in comparison to their homeland.

5. Which of the following places are named in “Names”?

Ans: Canton, Benin and Benares.

6. Which of the following devices does Walcott use to establish a sense of rhythm in “Names”?

Ans: Repetition.

7. Why is the story that Walcott writes in the first section of “Names” insufficient? 

Ans: His people cannot remember a past before colonisation, so there is no beginning.

8. In the third stanza of the second section of “Names,” who does the phrase “Being men, they could not live” (58) refer to?

Ans: Europeans. 

9. Which of the following best summarises the themes of the first and second sections of “Names”? 

Ans: The first talks about the story of the race, and the second talks about language.

10. What is the attitude of the Europeans towards the Caribbean in “Names”?

Ans: Mocking and bitter.

11. Which of the following literary devices does Walcott employ in lines 8-9 of “Names”?

Ans: Repetition.

12. What is enjambment? 

Ans: Breaking a poetic line in the middle of a phrase.

13. Which of the following best describes the rhythm of the second section of “Names”?

Ans: Fragmented.

14. In “Names,” what happens to the names the Europeans imposed on the Caribbean landscape? 

Ans: The Caribbean people continue to use them even after the Europeans begin to forget their homeland.

15. Which of the following is an aesthetic function of repetition in “Names” 

Ans: It gives the poem a predictable structure.

16. What is Walcott really talking about in “Names” when he refers to “that moment / when the mind was halved by the horizon” (10 11)?

Ans: The European construction of false dichotomies.

17. How do the Africans use repetition against the colonizers in “Names”? 

Ans: They repeat the colonizer’s language in order to claim and transform it.

18. Which of the following motifs does appear in Names? 

Ans: Work, the sky and decay.

19. Why is the phrase “no man unmade them/except the worm”. subversive in “Names”? 

Ans: It suggests that the difference between humans and worms is not absolute.

20. Which of the following themes is least important to “Names”?

Ans: Faith.

21. The ending of “Names” most closely parallels which other Derek Walcott poem? 

Ans: Becune point.

22. Which of the following best describes how the Caribbean people respond to the names given to the landscape by Europeans? 

Ans: They transform the connotations of the names.

23. When was St. Lucia liberated?

Ans: In the year 1979.

24. “As a fishline sinks, the horizon sinks in the memory” is an example of what literary device?

Ans: Simile.


1. Discuss the theme of writing in English as a postcolonial poet. 

Ans: In “Names,” Derek Walcott uses English as a proxy for the broader difficulties of recovering cultural identity in the wake of colonial violence. The poem begins by considering the relationship between grammar and the ways people relate to their surroundings. Declaring “my race began as the sea began, with no nouns, and with no horizon,” Walcott emphasises that the grammatical features of English, like nouns, are culturally specific rather than universal. By drawing a parallel between a lack of nouns and a lack of horizons, Walcott suggests that nouns function to draw boundaries between different parts of the world. In a world without nouns, he goes on, his race could begin “with pebbles under my tongue, with a different fix on the stars.” Without nouns, he was able to hold pebbles under his tongue. This develops the theme of differentiation by implying that without nouns, the boundaries between the human body and the other parts of the natural world were less defined.

2. Discuss the summary of the poem. 

Ans: In the first section of “Names,” the speaker describes the beginning of his race, the Caribbean people. At first they were like the sea, undefined and looking down at the seafloor and up to the heavens, rather than across the land to other places and peoples. Now they are in the world. To trace the line from then to now, the speaker, like his race, must begin without knowledge of the past or the future. He looks for the moment where their collective view of the world shifted from the sea and became divided by the horizon, but he cannot find it.

His race of people came from countries across the colonized world Benares in India, Canton in China, and Benin, a country in West Africa and they have lost their memories of who they were before they were taken from their homelands. The speaker thus goes back to the only beginning of his race he can remember, a beginning like the harsh cry of a “sea-eagle” as his people first tried to articulate a sense of self when they arrived in the Caribbean. Yet that world left them with nothing.

In the second section, the poem shifts to discuss language and the ways the European colonizers shaped the map of the Caribbean. They mockingly named the bays and forests they encountered after the places they remembered in Europe, and called a pigsty “Versailles” (the name of King Louis XIV’s opulent palace). The Europeans grew resentful, starting to perceive the Caribbean as a place of exile and to resent its land and fruits.

As they grew resentful, they began to hate the memory of the countries they had lost, yet the names stuck. Europeans believed in “the right of everything to be a noun,” or felt that converting elements of the world into distinct items with names was a way of validating them. The enslaved African people brought to the Caribbean accepted this but changed the names as they repeated them back, used their own voices to transform this colonial register. They bent the names the way the wind bends the world.

Thus they came to see the world differently. The palms which the colonizer mockingly named Versailles are in fact greater than that palace ever was, because they were made by nature, not by man. The fallen trees, compared to fallen columns in the names of the Europeans, are greater than Castille because they too were destroyed by nature, not by man. In this configuration of the world, the worm is a greater emperor than any human ruler. The Caribbean children can thus look up to the heavens in a forest named for Valencia, Spain, and yet see the stars not as the European constellations, but as “fireflies caught in molasses”.

3.Give a brief analysis of the poem. 

Ans: The first stanza of “Names” establishes the sonic aesthetic of the poem, which employs repetition and deliberate syntax rather than rhyme or metre to establish a rhythm. Walcott repeats “began” in the first line, and repeats the phrase structure “with no nouns…with no horizon” in the second. The third and fourth line are slightly less constrained, but still begin with the word “with,” a repetition which also establishes a similar syntax for each line in the stanza. In a sense, the first stanza acts as a microcosm of the poem as a whole, establishing some of the strategies Walcott will use throughout, as well as introducing the most important themes.

The patterns of repetition established in the first four lines continue through the rest of the first section. Both the second and third stanza repeats a word or phrase at the beginning of multiple lines: “in the” in lines 6 and 7, “I began with” in lines 8 and 9. In lines 20 through 22, “The goldsmith from Benares/the stone-cutter from Canton/the bronzesmith from Benin,” Walcott repeats the same syntax three times while invoking different places from across the colonized world. 

Here, this repetition suggests the way that the colonization flattened the differences between these culturally and geographically distinct locations. Even as the poet names each specific location, and asserts that the people who came from them had both a national identity and a personal identity, such as goldsmith or stone-cutter, the structure of the poem has begun to erase those distinctions just as colonization and slavery created peoples who could not remember their homelands.

Walcott’s use of repetition suggests the conventions of folktales parables, which often rely on the repetition of certain phrases to aid the memory of the storyteller and create a sense of events building upon one another in the context of a simple plot. The story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears is a good example of this. On a purely aesthetic level, then, repetition makes the poem sound better, makes it more memorable, and reminds the audience to pay attention to repeated phrases. For example, the repetition of the word “began” stresses the importance of beginnings throughout the first section, reminding the reader that an origin point cannot be so easily moved on from, even if it happened in the distant past. On a structural level, the use of repetition suggests that Walcott here is creating a kind of folktale or myth for the beginning of his own Caribbean people.

Yet the story that Walcott tells about the beginning cannot be sufficient, because the forces of colonization have severed his people from their own past. He is instead caught in a futile search for “that moment / when the mind was halved by a horizon” (10-11). This moment is a reference to the idea that European rationality rests on the imposition of dichotomies, especially between the self and the other, or between the mind and the body. From there, 

European philosophical, cultural, and social tradition assigned power and superiority to one side of the opposition, and subjugated the other, most centrally, here, they imagined white society as the self-familiar, civilized, and knowing-and colonized peoples as the Other exotic, uncivilized, and known. Walcott equates the “moment when the mind was halved by the horizon,” or the moment when these dichotomies came into being for Caribbean people, with the beginning of his race. He is suggesting here that the very concept of a Caribbean people hinges on colonial ideas which designate a diverse group of people with distinct histories as one racial category, defined in opposition to whiteness. This is “that terrible vowel, / that I,” the speaker says: very act of asserting a selfhood, an “I,” is terrible because it occurs in the context of the violence that brings into existence a racialized self.

The poem therefore suggests that even the beginning for which Walcott is searching is a function of white supremacy and colonial history. For that reason, the very idea of storytelling or myth-making is put under pressure. As much as the first section embodies the aesthetics and priority of folktale, it can never really become one because it not only lacks its own beginning, but the beginning it seeks out is already troubled, already a function of the oppressive forces which Walcott is trying to write against. We see this theme explicitly in the last lines of the first section, where the speaker describes his people left on a coastline “with nothing in our hands/but this stick/to trace our names on the sand/ which the sea erased again, to our indifference” (31-34). 

The stick here symbolizes the act of writing or storytelling, which, according to the speaker, is all his people have left. Yet the sea returns to erase the story again and again. Rather than this being a moment of hopelessness, the people are “indifferent.” They aren’t attached to preserving a document of their story, even though the ability to write it is all that they have. Indeed, the poem identifies more with the sea, to which Walcott first compares his people, than with the act of writing.

The theme of writing and language becomes more central in the second section of the poem. Repetition as a literary device largely disappears in this section, with the syntax becoming more conversational and less sing song. Instead, Walcott employs frequent enjambment, or breaking a line in the middle of phrase, as in “Versailes’ colonnades / supplanted by cabbage palms / with Corinthian crests” (43-45). This device renders the poem more fragmented, replacing a soothing, and folkloric rhythm with one which is off-putting and ragged.

However, the idea of repetition becomes powerful here. The second section speaks to the way that the Europeans imposed language on the Caribbean. They superimposed the geography of their homeland onto the natural landscape they encountered; the palm trees became the colonnades of Versailles. They thus imagined that the landscape of Europe was repeated everywhere, only in an inferior form. By naming a pigsty “little Versailles,” they mockingly repeated and twisted their own language as a way to denigrate the colonized land. Eventually, these names took, even as the colonizers began to lose their memories of the land they had left; the language became a repetition without an original.

Describing the European process of naming the land, Walcott states, “Being men, they could not live/except they first presumed/the right of everything to be a noun” (58-60). The language here is pointedly ambiguous. The phrase “Being men” seems to suggest that language and naming is an inherent aspect of humanity, a natural thing that people do to understand their world. However, the broader structure of this stanza juxtaposes “the African” against the subject who “presumed the right of everything to be a noun.” Walcott thus implies here that Africans were not men. 

This might seem like a strange thing for an anti-racist poet to imply, but his point is that the very idea of who is or is not a human being is a constructed category based around whiteness. Race pseudo-science argued that people of colour, especially Black people, were less evolved, or were in-between human and animal, in order to justify oppression. In these lines, Walcott is arguing that white colonizers believed that the way they used language was inevitable, and that peoples who used language differently were less than human.

From this place, the colonized people began to reclaim repetition, to use it in their own way. In response to the Europeans who imposed names on the land, “the African acquiesced, / repeated, and changed them” (61 62). In other words, Africans agreed to begin perceiving the world as a set of nouns, but they also took those nouns, repeated them back, and eventually transformed them. Repetition thus became the first step to claiming language and making it their own. We see the conclusion to this process in the last two stanzas of the poem. The children look at the stars “over Valencia’s forest,” or over a forest named for a place in Spain (77 78). However, their sight is not constrained the way that of the Europeans was; they are able to perceive the place in their own way, not as a derivative of somewhere else. When they look at the stars, they see “fireflies caught in molasses” (83). Rather than simply naming their own constellations, variations on the classical idea of tracing pictures like “Orion” or “Betelgeuse” in the heavens, they understand the sky totally independently, seeing natural imagery upon natural imagery, rather than translating the natural night sky into man-made myth.

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