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Ruchi Singh - ‘Individuation of Achille in Omeros’

Individuation of Achille in Omeros: A Jungian Reading
Consciousness, Unconsciousness, and Individuation

In his book The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, Carl Gustav Jung, a Swiss psychoanalyst, defined ‘Individuation’ as “the becoming of the self” (Jung 1981:35). He further amplified his definition in his subsequent essays, individuation as “development of the self, (that) lies in the identification of ego-consciousness with the self” (Jung 1981:145), “…the maturation process of personality induced by the analysis of the unconscious (Jung 1981:159), a process through which a person becomes a psychological ‘individual’, an indivisible unity or ‘whole’ (Jung 1981:275). To put it together, individuation means to make the consciousness aware of the unconsciousness and to accept one’s self with all its strengths and limitations, in their entirety. It is a process of self-actualisation, where an individual becomes a ‘whole’ concurrently distinct from others. Jung proposed that individuation is the primary process in the development of the human psyche and emphasised the primary importance of the individual psyche and the personal quest for ‘wholeness’ in his Analytical Psychology.

According to Jung, the structure of psyche is made up of consciousness, personal unconsciousness and the collective unconsciousness. The conscious mind is a depository of all the thoughts, feelings, emotions, relationships, identity, everything and everyone the person is cognisant of. The personal unconscious has contents specific to an individual. It contains the memories, thoughts, feelings, ideas, that have been wishfully forgotten or repressed. They have been acquired by an individual from his childhood, adolescent past and other psychological factors. They are repressed if considered incompatible but there is a possibility of keeping them conscious once they have been recognized. Various ‘complexes’ associated with a personality come from this personal unconscious. These often correspond to the ‘shadow’ that an individual meets in his dreams or fantasies. Therefore, the consciousness and the personal unconscious constitutes those portions that are acquired.

The conscious and the personal unconscious rest upon an inherited unconscious psychic dispositions which Jung calls the collective unconscious or impersonal or transpersonal unconscious. It is the storehouse of the repressed memories of an individual coupled with the memories of his ancestral past. The collective, unlike personal unconscious, is universal. This is the reason for resemblances in the unconscious processes, like motifs, symbols and rituals, of the most widely separated peoples and races. They are neither driven from personal experiences nor acquired. These are inherited from ancestors.

The collective unconsciousness has archetypal language that expresses itself through imagery, fantasies and symbols. For Jung, archetypes consist of universal, mythic characters that reside within the collective unconscious of people the world over. These archetypes represent fundamental human motifs of experience and evoke deep emotions, when confronted by the conscious. Jung registers these archetypes as the Self, the shadow, anima and animus, the Persona, the father, the mother, the child, the wise old man, the hero, the maiden and the trickster.

Achille’s Conscious Self
The conscious self of Achille unfolds in Book I of Omeros. Achille is a fisherman positioned, with many others on the island, within the Caribbean landscapes, its pastiche culture and rituals, creole language and religion, and other political and economic realities of the world of St. Lucia. The mongrelisation of the Caribbean is a constant reminder of the lost race, lost religion, lost identity, lost language of his ancestors. The destruction of the trees, their cutting and falling in the beginning of the poem, symbolically suggest the destruction of everything primordial in the process of colonisation. The name of the island has changed and none remembers the original name. The tribal gods have been replaced by the single Christian God, “the river was (also) satisfied./ It was a god too” (Walcott 1990:54). People only have Christian names, they have no memory of their original names. Afolabe, who later appears in Achille’s dream as his father, lets himself be renamed, without any resistance, by the admiral of the ship. “The bearded elders endured the decimation/of their tribe without uttering a syllable/of that language they had uttered as one nation” (Walcott 1990:6). In the process their native language is lost and the descendant Afro-Caribbeans do not use the language of their forefathers. Achille is agonized to see only the ruins of history left behind, if at all they can be called history. Too much had been forgotten and all he can see is “a white, amnesiac Atlantic…with old African signs” (Walcott 1990:61). History has been rewritten and revised by those who captured St. Lucia. Achille studied “a heaven whose cosmology had been erased/by the crossing” (Walcott 1990:113). Achille is consciously tormented by the transformation landscape of St. Lucia and mindscape of its multicultural inhabitants. “The young took no interest in canoes/ That was long time shit. Once it came from Africa,” (Walcott 1990:112). Like the sea will get accustomed to the noise of the new generation, the new generation has already got accustomed to the new world. They have no historical regret, it is a denial of racial trauma and inhuman slavery. Achille envied Seven Seas who could not see what was happening to the village that “was dying in its change” (Walcott 1990:111). As the canoes entered the sea they “agreed with the waves to forget their lives as tree” (Walcott 1990:8). He listened to ‘Soul brothers’ losing their soul. Achille is consciously informed that in the process of displacement the ancestors were able to retain and pass down only fragments of their African identity. He is traumatised by the loss of the African identity. Simultaneously, conscious of the ruin of St. Lucia, he laments that the island is undergoing transformation, the kind least desired by him and many others, like Philoctete, Ma Kilman, Seven Seas, even Major Plunkett.

Achille shares a violent love-hate relationship with the black and beautiful Helen, who also represents the island St. Lucia. “Her stubborness/ made him crazy” (Walcott 1990:38) and as he violently ripped her dress apart, “Achille felt his body drained of all the pride it/contained” (Walcott 1990:39) unable to hide his tears and pain. He is tormented by his betrayal. His lost faith in Helen has left him restless. Achille treats Helen with arrogance, humiliated her often. Being a lover, he dreaded her nights in the cafe. His love is accompanied by intense jealousy and hatred. He refuses to participate in the Friday night revelry out of his resentment. He questions her behaviour often, thinking her to be like a whore who can be won only with money. As he fights with Hector over Helen he realises “The rage that he felt against Hector/was shame” (Walcott 1990:17). What exasperates him further is the thought that “Men can kill/their own brothers in rage” (Walcott 1990:17). As Helen moves in with Hector, forlorn Achille feels lonely and as rotten as Philoctete’s wound. Helen’s independent attitude and consequent pride vexes him. Achille is bereft of peace because of his inability to possess Helen completely. Achille’s association with St. Lucia is epitomised in his relationship with Helen who also represents the St. Lucia in Omeros. His inability to possess Helen and anger is reflected in his conflict with the fragmented world and hybrid identity of the Caribbean. Achille has drifted away from both, the island and his beloved Helen. He is alienated from both.

After a laurel tree has been cut, in the beginning of the poem, Achille looks up at the hole that the cutting of the laurel had left “He saw the hole silently healing with the foam” (Walcott 1990:6), a process he will himself will experience later in the book. He saw a swift, a migratory bird, “far from its home” (Walcott 1990:6) metaphorically representing Achille, who is away from ‘home’ and conscious about the fact. The heel of the swift gripped in the horn is Achille gripped in amnesia. Achille frees the bird, also symbolic of his future, where he will free himself from amnesia. Achille carves a cross on trees, a symbol of shame and suffering as well as redemption, hinting at his future of being redeemed from the racial amnesia and ensuing affliction. Achille feels dead with no work at sea. As soon as he goes back to his fisherman job, he feels the joy and his spirits are uplifted on seeing the swift like a sunlit omen.

Achille’s Unconscious Self
The unconsciousness of Achille is formed by the collective racial memory. In his dream vision, Achille goes on a spiritual journey to his ancestral home, Africa. In “the Atlantic now, this great design/of the triangular trade” (Walcott 1990:129) he sees “some white memory/of a midshipman coming up close to the hull,/a white turning body, and this water go fill/with them…all corpses wrapped like the sail,” (Walcott 1990:129). Achille sees the bodies of young Plunkett, drowned fishermen whom he recognised but could not recall their names, and unaccounted African slaves who died in the Middle Passage. As the number of decomposed, bleached and disfigured corpses multiplied in tens and hundreds, his soul sickened. As Achille sees the body of his father “Then, for the first time, he asked himself who he was” (Walcott 1990:130). The floating corpses were the phantasms of his ancestors risen up to the surface of the Atlantic, summoning up the horrors of the transatlantic slave trade. The sunstroke has triggered a reverse Middle Passage and its horrors. Since the Caribbean Islands are populated by slaves brought from Africa through the Atlantic, the Middle Passage lies at the heart of their collective unconsciousness. The Middle Passage has separated the tribal Africans from their homelands, language, religion and cultural practices. Achille feels the unexplained tribal sorrow at the loss of African identity which even intoxication cannot drown. The chasm in his identity, hitherto dormant in his unconscious, now surfaces. The amnesia caused to the later generations of the survivors of the Middle Passage becomes pertinent.

The sea swift was towing the pirogue and “once Achille had questioned his name and its origin”, the bird “touched both worlds with her rainbow” (Walcott 1990:130) and Achille “felt he was headed home” (Walcott 1990:131). As he enters the mangroves, the swift screeching is the last sound he heard from the ‘other world’ that is Caribbean. As he sails with the river’s flow, Achille sees the images of mangroves, hippopotamus, crocodile, like the ones he had seen in African movies and yelped at in childhood. He also experiences the contrary feeling to scream, wanted the brown water to harden into road. In his stupor, he heard the God, saying that sea swift has been sent as a pilot to take Achille home. Swift whose wings is the sign of crucifixion represent the shame and redemption. The God warns him, he would have no God if he forgets His commandments. This is an assertion of Achille’s religious (Christian) identity that has assimilated into the unconscious. While his Christian God asserts itself, he is unable to recall the name of the river and the tree god, the pirogue, “his homecoming canoe” in whose body he steered to the settlement of his ancestors. The conflict of religious identity is quite conspicuous and shows his anxiety to find his place in Africa, to claim back the African God. Once again “Achille felt the homesick shame and pain of his Africa” (Walcott 1990:134) and weeps.

Finally, Achille reaches an African settlement where he is followed by a crowd curiously tugging at his different looking clothes and body. He witnesses the ghost of his father and in the similarity of features he “saw two worlds mirrored there” (Walcott 1990: 136), symbolically a self-realisation of his two identities. A conversation follows between Achille and his father. Afolabe’s primary concern is to discover his son’s lost name. Within the tribe, each name and each sound, signifies a quality, a virtue, that is associated with trees, a river, or a person. Without that connotation, Afolabe explains, a thing is meaningless, a person is nothing. Everything revolves around a name. Achille is unable to give any etymology of his name, he says, “In the world I come from/we accept the sounds we are given” (Walcott 1990:138). The tribe grieves at his amnesia and the fear of oblivion. Though Achille does not understand the difference between being called out by a name or by a sound, he yearns for the sound that is missing, expressing his desire to explore his roots. Afolabe instructs his son in the essential relationship of each name and the unique shadow it casts. To forget names is to forget one’s identity. To be called out by a sound is to be nothing. The fact that Achille “still do not care to know” (Walcott 1990:138) the meaning of the sound ‘Achille’ is once again an assertion of his St. Lucian identity.

Achille learns to chew in the ritual of kola nut, drink palm-wine, and heard the stories of the griot of triumphal sorrow. One of the stories was about a man from their tribe whose punishment for a blasphemous offence was that he forgot his parents, his tribe, and his own spirit, for other god. He was scarred so badly with this amnesia that he wanted to disinherit himself. He moaned to be back with the intertwined, deeply rooted interconnected lives of his tribe. This man symbolically represents Achille himself. In his conscious state he mourns for the loss of his native African identity.

Achille understands the language the tribesmen spoke about his future, a future he knew but could not speak about it to his own people, his own father. As he recites the names of his tribal gods, even the trees within hearing, ignored his incantation. It is the chasm, the void in his tribal identity. He is unable to connect with his own people and surroundings. In spite of being surrounded by his people, Achille feels estranged. Sitting near the river, he sees everything, the anchored canoe, the pier stakes, the trees, all looked the same in their reflections in the river, “but the shadow face/ swayed by the ochre ripples seemed homesick/for the history ahead, as if its proper place/lay in settlement” (Walcott 1990:140. His divided reflection is his divided self. His participation in their rituals does not make him feel less estranged which further increased his sorrows. To make it his home Achille will have to forget his future, that is his Caribbean identity as he says “Make me happier,/ make me forget the future” (Walcott 1990:141). The hybridity, rootlessness, mongrel culture of his Caribbean identity are too deep rooted in psyche to be denied. The African life has been left far behind in these three centuries.

As Achille witnesses the local dances with bamboo sticks, the drink, the clothes, the tools, the skirts, calabash mask, the musical instruments, he recognises in them origins of St. Lucian customs and devices. The same as is in his ‘home’ in St. Lucia. Everything he found was “rooted” deeply, the roots intertwining the entire tribe. But there was a difference, everything here was rooted, unlike everything in his world which is rootless.

Achille experiences the appalling brutality of slave trade. An African village is raided by the slave hunters. “The raid was profitable. It yielded fifteen slaves to the slavers waiting up the coast” (Walcott 1990:145). He felt the anger and the remorse, the will to change the future but he could not do anything. He felt helpless as he could neither fight nor hide. As he climbed up a hill top, Achille saw the chain of men linked by their wrists with vines. They moved in a line like ants. ‘Their whole world was moving,/ or a large part of the world, and what began dissolving / was the fading sound of their tribal name for the rain,…/ and always the word “never”, and never the word “again”’ (Walcott 1990:152).

When Achille sees another African, a member of the group that raided the village, rage swells up and Achille brutally kills the man and then sobs “with grief/at the death of a brother” (Walcott 1990:148). This brings into perspective what Walcott had said in an interview with Brown and Johnson that slavery began with black people capturing black people and selling them to the white man. Achille is now aware that Africans were not only the victims but also exploited. He saw a dog, a child and Seven Seas sitting in the abandoned village, all of them have disappeared. Achille heard “the griot muttering his prophetic song/ of sorrow that would be the past” (Walcott 1990:148). He tells the future of those taken away as the slaves. They will cross the transatlantic, experience the trauma the triangular passage and on the white sands they will yearn for their home, remembering their rooted lives.

Achille also experiences the pain and suffering of these Africans slaves, the trauma of their loss of place, of being in exile and the formation of New World and new identities. Though all of them were taken in different directions. Like reverberation they “went the Ashanti one way, the Mandingo another,/ the Ibo another, the Guinea. Now each man was a nation/ in himself, without mother, father, brother” (Walcott 1990:150). To keep themselves alive in the memories of the future generation, they carved their fading names on the wood, each carrying his own burden to the other world. After going through the trauma of the Middle passage they landed on sand. They might have been taken to separate worlds “Yet they felt the sea-wind tying them into one nation/ of eyes and shadows and grans, in the one pain/ that is inconsolable, the loss of one’s shore” (Walcott 1990:151). In their pain, they have cried not only for their loved one, their tribesmen, but also for their flora and fauna. They complained to their gods for not helping them when needed. As a very large part of their world moved ‘what began dissolving/ was the fading sound of their tribal name for the rain,/ the bright sound for the sun, a hissing sound for the river, and always the word “never”, and never the word “again”’ (Walcott 1990:152).

Individuation process of Achille
The process of individuation is set in motion by the stimulation of the unconscious. The heat stroke induces stasis and he enters into a state of trance. The reverse journey, both spatial and temporal, and the African experience, summons up the horror of the Middle Passage, conjuring the brutality of the slave trade and initiates Achille into his African identity. Achille’s African experience is a part of the racial memory, collective unconsciousness of the Africans, the racial psyche.

Jung distinguishes between ‘personal dreams’ and ‘collective dreams.’ The ‘collective dreams’ come from the realm of the collective unconscious and are archetypal in nature. The ‘collective dreams’ occur as a part of individuation process. The collective unconsciousness has archetypal language that expresses itself through imagery, fantasies and symbols. According to Jung, the process of individuation results in identification of these archetypes. These archetypes are the journey, shadow, anima/animus, the wise old man, father, the mother, the child and the Self.

These Jungian archetypes become the source of the symbolic productions in Achille’s dream that gradually bring the fragmentary aspects of his personality closer to totality through the unification of his unconscious with his conscious. The journey itself is a descent to the underworld equated with to the unexplored realm of the unconscious, in psychology. Achille undertakes journey through sea to trace his history and African identity. The sea symbolises the realm of the unconscious. Individuation begins with his symbolic journey. Father archetype is an authoritative and powerful figure. Achille considers the question of his identity first time when he witnesses the ghost of his father. Afolabe initiates his son into his forgotten tribal identity, encourages Achille to reclaim his African name and identity. The wise old man is a spiritual archetype who gives good advice and understanding into events when needed. The griot narrates the sufferings of the African slaves through the triangular passage. Achille is purged by going through the same pain. Seven Seas, who also appears in the dream, represents wisdom and has prophesied Achille’s journey to Africa. Syzygy is the combination of the anima/animus (female/male component) in an individual coming closest to ‘wholeness.’ Achille is introduced to his anima through a ritual of his forefathers in which male members of tribe dress up as a woman, representing the warrior woman, the figure of androgyne signifying the union of the conscious and the unconscious of Achille. When the anima, with positive traits, is allowed to express herself through a man's psyche, she brings the attributes of love, tenderness, compassion, commitment and creativity, thereby expanding the personality. The realisation of anima brings closer to the ‘Self.’ This good anima reflects in Achille’s relationship with his beloved Helen as well as St. Lucia. He has accepted Helen, with all her arrogance and pride, and her child even if it was Hector’s. The child archetype has been associated to the beginnings, birth and salvation by Jung. Achille sees a child with his dog, a symbol of loyalty, in the ruins of the village. The child symbolises his beginning of a new life on his return and salvation from the curse of racial amnesia. All these archetypes bring Achille to his ‘Self.’

The process of individuation leads to the realisation of the ‘Self’ which becomes known when the conscious integrates with the unconscious, representing the image of ‘wholeness’ emanating unity in personality. The ‘Self’ or wholeness does not appear in form of a specific Jungian archetype, instead exhibits itself in gradual transformation of Achille through a deeper understanding of his unconscious that is his ancestral history. Achille knows his genealogy, his tribal culture, its rituals, language and religion. This knowledge depicts his justified pride in his origins. His knowledge of the events that led to the formation of the Caribbean population, its culture and its language has enabled him to comprehend the reason for complex nature of Caribbean society. As he landed on shores of St. Lucia, he heard the song, a Marley reggae “Buffalo soldier” and he could see a smoky buffalo and its black rider and as “the black soldier turned his face, and it was Achille’s.” The song traces the roots of the Afro-race, it reiterates the theme of emancipation of the self from mental slavery and shame of race (skin colour). It is assertion of their identity, both native and hybrid and their contribution in the making of the lands to which they were brought. Bob Marley is an icon for the Afro-race, the descendants of African slaves. Actualization of the ‘Self’ generates mental and emotional healing of Achille. His conscious is in harmony with his unconscious. He comes back with memory but the pain that was with him when taking the journey, was gone because “they crossed, they survived. There is the epical splendour” (Walcott 1990:149). Most importantly, individuation process has informed him that Africa is not his ‘home’ anymore. His knowledge of African life does not make him African. Reclaiming the past helps Achille to comprehend his St. Lucian identity as an integral member of its Creole culture. Achille, a transformed self, is liberated “not from roots in Africa but from bondage to the idea of his place in Africa.” (Wilson-Tagoe 1998: 265). Achille accepts his identity as a transplanted man of the New World. The unification of Achille’s conscious self (Caribbean identity), has blended with his unconscious self (African identity) initiating the development of his personality in its ‘wholeness.’ Achille finds roots in rootlessness and harmony in the chaotic hybrid world of St. Lucia.


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  • Wilson-Tagoe, Nana. Historical Thought and Literary Representation in West Indian Literature. University Press of Florida, Florida, 1998.


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