28 pages 56 minutes read

Derek Walcott

Dream on Monkey Mountain

Fiction | Play | Adult | Published in 1970

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Summary and Study Guide


Dream on Monkey Mountain, an example of post-colonial literature, is a 1970 play by the Noble Prize-winning poet and playwright, Derek Walcott. The play is an allegory that takes place on an unnamed island in the Caribbean, where a jailed self-hating black man has a dream in which a white goddess convinces him to become an African king with his former jailer as his new enforcer.

This guide refers to the 1971 edition of the text taken from Dream on Monkey Mountain and Other Plays.

Plot Summary

After a short epigraph (a quote by Martinique post-colonial political philosopher Franz Fanon), the play opens with a chorus singing a call-and-response while dancers cross the stage. Two jail cells appear. One holds Tigre and Souris, black men in jail for thievery, and the other is empty. The biracial Corporal Lestrade appears, dragging Makak, an older black man, whom he throws into the empty cell. Lestrade argues with the other prisoners, whom he views as animals, and then hosts an improvised trial. Makak, tired and confused, just wants to return to his home on Monkey Mountain. He claims an apparition of a white woman inspired him.

Makak dreams of a time before his arrest. His friend Moustique finds Makak on the ground outside his house, recovering from a fit. Moustique encourages Makak to come to the market, where they will sell the coal Makak has produced. Makak remembers a dream in which the apparition of a white woman told him to go back to Africa. Makak announces his desire to do so.

On a country road, Moustique finds a group of people gathered around a sick man. They light hot coals beneath him, hoping to sweat out the illness caused by a snakebite. Moustique offers to fetch his friend, a healer, in exchange for bread and money. The people accept, and Moustique returns with Makak, who performs a healing ceremony. The people are so grateful that they shower Moustique with gifts. Moustique wants to use Makak’s healing power for financial gain, but Makak refuses. They head toward the market.

At the market, Lestrade and an Inspector survey the scene. Rumors of a powerful healer have preceded them. Moustique appears, dressed as Makak, and puts on a show as a healer. When his identity is uncovered, the crowd surrounds him and beats him mercilessly as Lestrade watches. Makak arrives and runs to his stricken friend, but Moustique dies of his injuries, passing away in Makak’s arms. Makak falls to the ground in a fit.

After another short epigraph by Franz Fanon, Makak wakes up in a jail cell again. Lestrade wakes him, along with Tigre and Souris, who notice that Makak has money and decide to rob him. They convince Makak to kill Lestrade, and Makak agrees. He feigns illness and then, using a hidden dagger, stabs Lestrade. Makak releases his fellow prisoners, and they escape into the forest. Lestrade recovers—his wound is only minor—and gives chase. In the forest, Makak’s behavior becomes erratic. He promises to take Tigre and Souris to Africa and make them generals. Makak leads the others into hiding when they hear Lestrade approach. Becoming increasingly distraught, Lestrade repents his sins and joins Makak’s quest. Makak has also convinced Souris, who now also wishes to go to Africa with him. Only Tigre refuses when given the chance to accompany them. In response, Lestrade stabs Tigre. The others leave for Africa, where the Corporal announces that he will enforce the law on behalf of Makak.

A crowd carries Makak into an African court as a conquering king. Lestrade leads the calls for praise, and the crowd responds jubilantly, but Makak is not happy: He sees himself as a hollow ghost of his old self. Lestrade calls prisoners before the king. The first is a list of historical white people, many of whom are already dead. They are condemned for being white and written out of history as punishment. Next, Moustique is dragged before the court and accused of betraying Makak’s dream. Though he pleads with Makak, claiming that Makak has grown mad, old, and blind as king, Makak looks away. Moustique is taken away to be executed. Finally, the apparition of the white woman is brought forth. Lestrade demands her execution as she is a temptation. He hands Makak a sword. Makak insists on privacy, and, when everyone leaves, he executes the apparition.

In the Epilogue, the dream has ended, and Makak is once again in his jail cell. This time, when Lestrade asks him his name, he answers that he is Felix Hobain. He accepts his identity and, when Moustique arrives, Makak and Moustique return happily to Monkey Mountain.

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