Miseries Of The African Communities English Literature Essay
The African communities, over different time and space, were not able to cope up with the Europeanised socio-political norms and laws, after gaining their independence from their ‘white’ rulers. The European colonisers had successfully converted the African ‘barbaric tribes’ into so-called ‘civilised communities’ by enforcing their ‘superior’ culture, religion, language and aesthetics with the help of the gunpowder; yet they could not erase from the minds of the several million slaves the idea of their own roots which they had left behind in the ‘black continent’ ever since the beginning of the policy of colonisation and the establishment of socio-political and economic hierarchy and supremacy by the Europeans. The African communities after gaining freedom from their ‘white’ rulers were however unable to manage the state of beings, leading to widespread misery, desperation, melancholy and desolation in their own community. They, as a matter of fact, had inherited not only a so-called ‘civilised’ religion, language, dress code or food habits from their European masters but also imitated the Europeans in their exercise of ‘political power’, ‘corruption’ and ‘oppression’, after gaining liberation from the ‘whites’.
Let us take into consideration four novels, all written in the twentieth century in European languages, which clearly throws some light on the miseries faced by the common people of the African communities and the desperation that they stand in front of. The Kingdom of This World (El reino de este mundo), a novel by the Cuban author Alejo Carpentier, published in 1949 in Spanish, is a work of historical fiction which conveys the story of Haiti before, during, and after the Haitian Revolution against the French colonisers, as witnessed by its protagonist, Ti Noel. Ahmadou Kourouma’s first novel The Suns of Independence (Les soleils des indépendances), published in 1970 in French, posted a criticism to the post-colonial governments in Africa and provided a determination to protest against the betrayal of legitimate African aspirations at the dawn of independence in Côte d’Ivoire. Toni Morrison’s Jazz and Richard Wright’s Native Son, both published in English and both of which are set in two of the major African-American infested areas of the United States of America, the neighbourhood of Harlem in New York City and Chicago’s south-side ghetto respectively, in the twenties and the thirties of the earlier century, are both projections of the miseries and the humiliations faced by the African-American community in the United States of America, even after the banishment of slavery.
Alejo Carpentier’s The Kingdom of This World takes place prior to, during, and after the Haitian Revolution which led to the pronouncement of Haitian independence in 1804. This revolution was a turning point in global history as unlike the American Revolution, the Haitian Revolution witnessed the rise of a ‘black’ ruler of African origin replacing the French colonisers which was unthinkable and therefore challenged the prejudices of its time. Embedded with magic realism, the novel through the perspective of its central character, Ti Noel, describes the oppressions conducted by the French colonisers and the plantation owners over the African slaves; the mythical beliefs and the importance of voodoo in the African culture through the character Mackandal; the vulgarity and the crudity of the rebellion of the slaves against the colonisers; and the oppression of the African community as faced during the rule of Henri Christophe, the first black ruler of Haiti. Ti Noel after buying his passage from a plantation owner based in Santiago, comes back to discover a free Haiti. Now much older, he realizes that he has returned to the former plantation of Lenormand de Mezy for whom he used to slave. Though Haiti has been freed from the colonisers and is being ruled by a ‘black’ man, he is unexpectedly thrown into prison and once again made to work as a slave among children, pregnant girls, women, and old men.
Henri Christophe, formerly a cook and now the king of Haiti, after the uprising against the colonisers, is using the slaves to construct lavish statues, figures, and a magnificent fortress. According to Ti Noel, slavery under Henri Christophe was worse than that endured at the hands of Lenormand de Mezy. He escapes and returns to the former plantation of his old European master, where he stays up for some time, and later returns to the city to find it completely wrapped up by the fear of Henri Christophe's regime.
The oppression faced by the African community during the rule of Henri Christophe, as projected by Carpientier, surpasses that which has been portrayed to describe the domination of the French colonisers and the plantation owners. Carpientier has clearly shown that though the revolution had brought about the advent of a ‘black’ ruler, it had changed nothing for the common masses of the African community. With the new government being equally oppressive and corrupt, it only brought about much more misery, ignominy and desolation for the common people of the African community.
Determined to speak out against the oppressive nature of the post-colonial African nations, Ahmadou Kourouma writes an experimental fiction, his first novel, The Suns of Independence, while still in exile. The central character of the novel, Fama, the last chief of the once-powerful Dumbuya tribe that ruled over Horodugu, an area that has now been divided between two newly independent African states, the Ebony Coast and the Socialist Republic of Nikinai, is a Malinke who inherits the position of the leader of this once great territory. But according to Kourouma, “In a world turned upside-down, Fama had inherited an honour without the means to uphold it, like a headless snake.” (Kourouma). He has been transformed into a poor city dweller and is far removed from his home-town, and is quite unable to find his own place in this complex new world. The other members of his society still show respect for who he is, and yet he is quite naturally a part of a world that has largely been lost.
Fama is married, but he and his wife, Salimata, have not been able to have a child and he is aware of the fact that his lineage will die out with him. The beautiful but increasingly desperate Salimata also has a tragic history, as her initiation into womanhood (a brutal ritual) was botched, and she then taken advantage of. She is now obsessed with becoming pregnant and always tries to do good, being generous and devout, but goodness here is rarely rewarded. She certainly suffers for it.
The disinherited heir of Dumbuya royalty, Fama ekes out a living using his status to beg at ceremonies, and through the efforts of his wife Salimata. Arriving in Binja, where Salimata is from, he, according to the author, “was prepared to unsheath his tongue and lash out with a cut-and-thrust denunciation of the bastard politicians and suns of Independence. But they cut him short. The republic's single party forbade villagers to listen to anything people arriving from the capital city might say about politics.” (Kourouma). He does not fit well in this changed world and his personality clashes with the post-independence expectations. People still make allowances for him for what he stands for, but it is clear that he is a relic from an archaic period.
When his cousin dies, he returns to his native village to reclaim what is left of his inheritance, which he succeeds in doing with the help of a praise-singer and a fetish-priest. He arrives in his native Togobala, a place of “seething passivity” and the people are worn out by the turmoil of the post-independence adjustments. Traditions are upheld and the burial ceremony of his cousin, the previous chief of the Dumbuya, is celebrated as elaborately as possible, nearly as in the old days. But the world that existed in the post-colonial period is not the same. According to the author, “Truly the suns of Independence are unsuited to great things; they have not only unmanned, but also unmagicked Africa.”(Kourouma). When he returns to the capital with one of his new wives, however, he unwisely becomes involved in politics and is imprisoned and later is freed and it all remains incomprehensible to him. He tries to focus only on his duty, on what he knows must be done, but he largely fails here too. Finally he tries to swim across the river in order to go to his homeland but instead is killed by a crocodile.
Kourouma projects the miseries of an individual, a Dumbuya chief who is stripped of his royalty, and who loses all his importance in a period of post-colonial Africa. His presentation is not taut, as threads are picked up and lost, but as both Fama and Salimata are lost souls this mild disorientation works well and he tells a variety of tales and describes the conditions of the people belonging to the ‘new’ order of the world in a post-colonial state of mind.
Toni Morrison’s novel, Jazz, is a projection of the lifestyle lead by the African community in the neighbourhood of Harlem in New York City. This novel is set up in the twenties of the earlier century, when the United States had already been freed from the curse of slavery; where the common ‘black’ man is still oppressed socially, economically and even politically; where a member of the African- American society still has to suffer for his skin-colour and creed; where he is still searching for a way-out to establish his own national identity.
Jazz begins with a recap of Dorcas's murder and Violet's attack on her corpse. The couple, Violet and Joe Trace, that kills and then defaces the young girl seem immediately to be evil and immoral characters but surprisingly Morrison goes on to flesh them out and to explain, in part, that their violent acts stem from suppressed anguish and disrupted childhoods. Morrison traces the violence of the urban characters back to Virginia, where generations of enslavement and poverty tore families apart. Subtly, Morrison suggests that the black on black violence of the City carries over from the physical and psychic violence committed against the race as a whole. She interweaves allusions to racial violence into her story with a neutral tone that lets the historical facts speak for themselves. Further, her descriptions of scenes are often filled with violence, as she discusses buildings which are cut but a razor like line of sunlight. Even her narrative is violently constructed with stories wrenched apart, fragmented, and retold in a way that mirrors the splintered identities of the novel's principal characters.
The novel borrows its title from Jazz music and the idea of music is discussed throughout the novel. Alice Manfred, an elderly woman who happened to be Dorcas’ aunt, and the Miller sisters, Dorcas’ baby sitter, interprets jazz music as the anthem of hell. The passion and pleasure that Dorcas and Violet find in the music is contrasted with the musical treatment of Joe’s crime. When he stalks and shoots Dorcas, it is at a party where loud music is being played to incite passion, “boil” the blood and “encourage” misbehaviour. For the entire novel, music is the weapon that the City wields to control its citizens. The seasons and weather are determined by the presence of clarinet players in the street. Music also bears a sadness that can be juxtaposed to Violet’s ribaldry and Joe’s flared passion. Wild's disappearance takes place as her body is replaced with a trace of music and this sound haunts Joe’s memory for the rest of his life. Similarly, the “blues man” who walks the streets becomes the “black-and blues man” and finally, the “black-therefore-I’m-blues man,” providing a critique of racism. The “blues” songs that the characters evoke are largely the consequence of suffering brought about by America’s racist traditions.
Like in Toni Morrison’s Jazz, Richard Wright in his novel, Native Son, had proposed the notion that racial discrimination and oppression was one of the main reasons of committing a crime in the nineteenth century and the earlier half of the twentieth century in the United States of America by individuals coming from the lower strata of the African-American community.
Richard Wright’s treatment of his protagonist, Bigger Thomas’ psychological vices provides us with an alternative viewpoint on the oppressive and harsh effect racism had on the people belonging to the African-American community in America in the earlier half of the twentieth century. The disturbances in Bigger’s psychological nature, a twenty year old uneducated African-American who grew up in the southern side of Chicago, are due to the constant racial oppression that he faces since his childhood, due to the racist propaganda in the society at that time. He grew up in a family which lived in overcrowded and unclean conditions, enduring negligence and a socially imposed state of impoverishment and with almost no opportunity for pursuing education. Bigger Thomas’ consequential approach toward whites is an impulsive amalgamation of anger and fear. He does not treat the whites as an individual instead he conceives of them as a strong and hostile force that he has to oppose and overcome in life. To him, the whites are one entity who cannot be trusted at any time.
Bigger kills Mary Dalton, the daughter of his employer, and in order to hide his crime, burns her body in the house’s furnace. But his murder of Mary does not incite the feeling of guilt in him, as a matter of fact, he experiences a strange triumph as he feels that he has affirmed his own identity in opposition to the white community that have plotted against them to destroy their society.
After Mary’s murder, Bigger feels confident that he can overcome the whites. He plans to send a letter to Mr. Dalton, his employer and Mary’s father, asking for a ransom against the release of his daughter, who still knows that Mary is alive. But the bones of Mary are discovered from the Dalton’s furnace. He then escapes with his girlfriend, Bessie, to an uninhabited building, whom he later raped and then beat with a brick to death. He was finally arrested and put on trial. The ‘whites’ use Bigger’s offence as a ploy to terrify and terrorise the whole South Side of Chicago that was inhabited by the blacks.
Jan, Mary’s communist boyfriend, visits Bigger in prison and realises about the fact that they actually frightened Bigger, earlier, by violating the social taboos that were created due to a grave racial discrimination in the United States of America. He appoints his friend Boris A. Max to fight his case in the court of justice. They treat him benevolently, giving him the respect of a human being. Wright has then portrayed that the conception of Bigger, in respect to the whites, changes and he starts seeing them as individuals and not a single entity, as he used to.
Max attempts to bail Bigger out of the death penalty, stating that while he is accountable for his offence, it is also essential to understand the fact that he grew up in a social environment which has been oppressed, humiliated, abused and exploited by the white administration and hence a share of the blameworthiness for Bigger’s crimes also fall on the apprehensive, discouraging reality that he has experienced since his birth. Max cautions that if this inequality and racial oppression does not end then this vicious sequence of detestation and retribution will continue without doubt. In spite of Max’s presentation of his ideas, Bigger is not waived off the death sentence.
All through the novel, Richard Wright demonstrates the manner in which the racist whites oppresses and compels the African-American into a cornered and hence a precarious psychological mindset. Blacks are overwhelmed with the adversity of economic oppressions and are enforced to perform mannerly before the whites, their oppressors. Provided with such surroundings, as Max debates, it is almost anticipated that people belonging to the African-American society such as Bigger will respond with aggression and abhorrence. However, Wright highlights the vicious cycle of racism and its effects. Though Bigger’s hostility arises from racial discrimination, it only amplifies the feelings of racism in the American society because it validates the basic fear that the racially prejudiced whites’ experiences about the blacks. In Wright’s depiction, ‘whites’ efficiently change the blacks into negative stereotypes whom they can detest. Richard Wright, through the portrayal of Bigger Thomas’ character in The Native Son has presented the perspective that racism and oppression is one of the basic causes for committing a crime.
Finally, to conclude, we can clearly see how the African communities, once transformed into European clones not only fails to cope up with the Europeanised worldview but also faces an ultimate form of misery, melancholy and desolation to keep up with the social changes. Alejo Carpentier’s novel, The Kingdom of This World, project the fascist nature of the Haitian black ruler Henri Christophe, soon after the Haitian independence from French domination; and the miseries of the ‘black’ society in Haiti. Ahmadou Kourouma’s first novel, The Suns of Independence, shows the efforts made by a Dumbuya chief, Fama, to search for his own identity in the midst of a changing world in the post-colonial era in Africa; and his desolation from the real state-of-beings in the society. Toni Morrison’s Jazz and Richard Wright’s Native Son are both projections of the violence, despondence, and the trauma of the African-American community in a racist and oppressive society.
Finally, as Gabriel García Márquez, in his noble lecture, puts it in case of the Latin American countries, also does apply to the African communities in the different parts of the world who spend every day in fear, misery, desperation and solitude that “In spite of this, to oppression, plundering and abandonment, we respond with life. Neither floods nor plagues, famines nor cataclysms, nor even the eternal wars of century upon century, have been able to subdue the persistent advantage of life over death. An advantage that grows and quickens: every year, there are seventy-four million more births than deaths, a sufficient number of new lives to multiply, each year, the population of New York sevenfold. Most of these births occur in the countries of least resources - including, of course, those of Latin America. Conversely, the most prosperous countries have succeeded in accumulating powers of destruction such as to annihilate, a hundred times over, not only all the human beings that have existed to this day, but also the totality of all living beings that have ever drawn breath on this planet of misfortune.
On a day like today, my master William Faulkner said, “I decline to accept the end of man”. I would fall unworthy of standing in this place that was his, if I were not fully aware that the colossal tragedy he refused to recognize thirty-two years ago is now, for the first time since the beginning of humanity, nothing more than a simple scientific possibility. Faced with this awesome reality that must have seemed a mere utopia through all of human time, we, the inventors of tales, who will believe anything, feel entitled to believe that it is not yet too late to engage in the creation of the opposite utopia. A new and sweeping utopia of life, where no one will be able to decide for others how they die, where love will prove true and happiness be possible, and where the races condemned to one hundred years of solitude will have, at last and forever, a second opportunity on earth.” (Márquez).
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