[Caribbean Literature]

Pantomime and Polyrhythm

Part Two: The Mortality of Empire and Conclusion

David P. Lichtenstein '99, Brown University, Contributing Editor, Caribbean Web

Where does the beat of Harry's drum fit into the complex rhythm of Pantomime? His admissions of his past life in England prove the first step in chiselling away the pedestal on which he rests. His acknowledgement of his dead son, his wife's abandonment, his flagging acting career which he gave up all help to place a mortal, humble face on the dragon of empire. More importantly, the weight of this troubled past seems to knock Harry down, down to the point where he needs Jackson. Although he never admits this, statements like "everything I own is sunk here" (136) and "a desperate man'll try anything" (136) hint at the fact that Harry doesn't simply need a servant. He needs a companion, one who will listen to him and help him work out his anger with his wife, one who will sit and drink with him, "man to man". In short, Harry ends up compelling Jackson to play not simply the supporting role of servant, but a more starring role as companion and friend.

In conclusion, Harry's needs seems to be Walcott's successful manipulation in Pantomime. The playwright focuses on a character who in past times might have played only the bit role, the subordinate part of servant, and instead gives him top billing. By virtue of his intelligence, his indignance, and his commanding personality, Jackson Phillip goes far beyond the traditional status accorded to men of the West Indies, be it by British or West Indian writers. He has moved past the limited, colonial heroism of Bee or Bolo from Earl Lovelace's The Wine of Astonishment, or even that of Ma or Pa from George Lamming's In the Castle of My Skin. Jackson's heroism crosses the boundaries of the West Indian characters who precede him, taking on degrees of power and sophistication that they never possesed. In short, Jackson represents an evolution in West Indian characters. Like the steel drum, which evolved from the simpler rhythms of bamboo sticks, he rises from similar origins (as his predecessors) to take a new, perhaps brighter, place on the stage.

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