21 pages 42 minutes read

Derek Walcott

The Schooner Flight

Fiction | Poem | Adult | Published in 1979

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Identity & Liminality

The speaker and central character of “The Schooner Flight,” Shabine is continually displaced from any kind of normative identity. Despite how he “lov[es] these islands” (Line 28), he also finds “they had started to poison [his] soul” (Line 30) with their corruption and racism. Even Shabine’s name is a “nickname […], the patois for / any red n*****” (Lines 37-38) of his racially diverse background. That the character is only referred to by this racial epithet suggests the process by which he constructs an identity out of a variety of cultural backgrounds. Instead of bucking the nickname, Shabine reaffirms it and claims it as his own name, mirroring his combination of cultures: “I have Dutch, n*****, and English in me” (Line 42). This variety leads him to claim, “either I’m nobody, or I’m a nation” (Line 43), pointing to both his multiplicity and his exclusion from any singular identity.

Shabine’s socio-cultural standing is characterized by liminality, a state of in-betweenness. The sailor makes this explicit, writing that people of color “said I wasn’t black enough for their pride” (Line 155), while white people “chain my hands and apologize, ‘History’” (Line 154). Even when he “met History once, […] he ain’t recognize me” (Line 160).