The Fortunate Traveller

by deniseahking

Denise Ahking

To first understand “The Fortunate Traveller” we must first understand its writer: Derek Walcott. It can be interpreted that the fortunate traveller is in fact Walcott himself. Having grown up in the post-colonial West Indies, it has had a profound effect on his work. Having a dual identity as a privileged white man and a sympathizing black man gives his work unique meditation. Sharing both heritages, how can he return to the comforts of Western opportunity while the plight of the Third World African exists?

Famine is used as an agent of example of the injustices of the world. The theme can be found in the poem’s epigraph, Revelations 6:6. The verse speaks of the four horsemen of the Apocalypse, in particular the third: Famine. However, a voice calls for restraint to hurt not the oil and the wine, traditionally used in religious ceremonies with no real purpose of sustenance. Walcott’s intentions are also seen in his dedication to Susan Sontag. Sontag was a controversial American writer who once said, “The white race is the cancer of human history”. It is interesting to note, however, that although Walcott denounces the corrupt politicians of the European world, he repeatedly uses western allusions of works or public figures to emphasize his points. It also seems that while the speaker begs for mercy, he is in fact also the perpetrator of injustice. This reflects Walcott’s conflicting identities. Equilibrium is brought by the notion that though famine ravages Africa now, it will one day spread the breadth of the earth. Famine shall have not charity, the weevil will make a desert out of America’s heartland, and the tiniest of creatures shall crush the superpower that is Russia.

Written in 1981, “The Fortunate Traveller” is every bit as relevant today, if not more so. With today’s food shortages and inflation, Walcott gives an interesting insight to the sorrows of the world, how ever dreary the outlook may be.


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