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Hybrid Journal of Literary and Cultural Studies, VOL 2 NO 1

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Hybrid Journal of Literary and
Cultural Studies
Volume 2 (NO 1) 2020
Royallite Global
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Hybrid Journal of Literary and Cultural Studies
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ISSN 2707-2150 (Online) ISSN 2707-2169 (Print)
Volume 2, Issue 1, 2020
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Editorial Board
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Department of Literature, Kenyatta University
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Prof. Ken Walibora, Independent Researcher
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Prof. Mwenda Mbatiah, University of Nairobi
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Dr. Justus Kizito Siboe Makokha, Kenyatta University, Nairobi
Email: [email protected]
Dr. Enock Bitugi, Chuka University
Email: [email protected]
Contents
Between Globalization and Localization: Aesthetic Manifestation of Globality,
Reflexivity and Social Change in Daya Pawar’s Baluta (2015) Gloria Ajami
Makokha & Justus Makokha Kenyatta University) .................................... 1
Langue Et Style Dans ‘‘C’est Le Soleil Qui M’a Brûlée’’ De Calixthe Beyala (Ibrahim
Osmanu, Mount Mary College of Education, Ghana) ............................. 14
Changing Spectres: Interweaving Loops in Kenyan Theatre (Emmanuel Tsikhungu
Shikuku, Kenyatta University) .......................................................................... 40
Influence of American Popular Culture in Naipaul’s Bogart (Maurice Simbili
Mwichuli, Kenyatta University)......................................................................... 51
The Poetic Cannon; Addressing Social Injustice Poetically: A Comparative Study of
Six Poems (Peter Murage & Waveney Olembo, Kenyatta University) . 56
Hybrid Journal Literary and Cultural Studies
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Hybrid Literary and
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Between Globalization and Localization:
Aesthetic Manifestation of Globality,
Reflexivity and Social Change in Daya
Pawar’s Baluta (2015)
Gloria Ajami Makokha &
Justus Makokha
Hybrid Journal of Literary and
Department of Literature, Linguistics and Foreign Languages
Cultural Studies
Volume 2, Issue 1, 2020
Kenyatta University, Kenya
Email: [email protected]; [email protected]
© 2020 The Author(s)
This open access article is
distributed under a Creative
Commons Attribution (CC-BY) 4.0
license.
Article Information
Submitted: 9th September 2019
Accepted: 5th October 2019
Published: 2nd January 2020
Conflict of Interest: Co-author is a
member of the editorial board
Funding: None
Additional information is
available at the end of the article
https://creativecommons.org/lice
nses/by/4.0/
ISSN 2707-2150 (Online)
ISSN 2707-2169 (Print)
Abstract
Daya Pawar posthumously clearly establishes his human
personality, laying bare to readers of his work, both his scars and
warts, his pride and shame. Through his story Baluta, considered
his autobiography and recently translated to English by Jerry Pinto,
he gives us a chance to reclaim our own humanity. In a society
where castes play a big role in determining both the present and
the future of a person, social change is the only way to ensure
equity and fairness to those regarded as the lower caste members,
a group to which Daya Pawar himself belonged. The text Baluta
thus comes in handy to both bring out the woes of the dalits, and
their importance on the flipside in the society, which the members
of the upper caste blatantly refuse to acknowledge, but left alone,
cannot perform these roles that are considered filthy. These Dalits
are born into savagery, hence they are compelled to live within this
cocoon, with minimum chances of ever changing this situation.
Baluta, however, as stated by Pawar is just but a tip of the iceberg,
hence there is still more to be deciphered concerning the plight of
the lower caste members in India. This paper entails an analysis of
Baluta, in terms of how globality, reflexivity and social change have
been reflected, with these three concepts oscillating between
globalization and localization.
Keywords: baluta, dalits, globality, mahars, reflexivity, social change
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1.0 Introduction
The contemporary world experiences dualities in its various manifestations including but
not limited to rich/poor, men/women, black/white and humans/animals. Such dualities are
a strength to those who consider themselves better than the others under the dictates of
the society. Personal experiences best express the damage of such categories to the
‘others’, and one such experience is that of Daya Pawar as expressed in his novel, Baluta.
Globality, Reflexivity and Social Change are the key concepts enhancing the analysis of
Baluta, which forms the basis of this paper. LISA and O'Hagan, as cited by Ying-ting Chuang
in ‘The Concepts of Globalization and Localization’ state that Globalization refers to a
product “‘that has been enabled at a technical level for localization’”, and localization
means “‘a process to facilitate globalization by addressing linguistic and cultural barriers’”
respectively. From these two definitions, localization can be regarded as a means to help
achieve globalization. Both globalization and localization, broadly, are means in response
to the expanding landscape, the ever-changing social context (2010, p.1). Sassen Saskia in
A Sociology of Globalization explains that “Studying the global, then, entails a focus not only
on that which is explicitly global in scale but also on locally scaled practices and conditions
that are articulated with global dynamics. Moreover, it calls for a focus on the
multiplication of cross-border connections among localities in which certain conditions
recur: human rights abuses, environmental damage, mobilization around certain struggles,
and so on” (2007, p.18). The caste system in India, as presented in Baluta express the
abuse of human rights and the struggle for survival by the Dalits, a global menace that
occurs across national borders in different forms for instance the rich vs the poor.
2.0 Aesthetic manifestation of globality, reflexivity and social change: a critical
analysis of baluta
Considering the translation of Daya Pawar’s Baluta to English quite recently, globalization
has already been noted, exposing the plight of the Dalits to the English speaking nations,
and its needs addressed. In this regard, Chuang agrees with an assertion by Newmark in
a paper titled "No Global Communication Without Translation", that “translation of all
kinds of texts plays an important role to help economic, technological, cultural and
commercial globalization, and at the same time, globalization of these aspects pushes
translation activities to become a part of the globalized process” (2010,p.1). Dollerup,
cited by Chuang further argues that if translation is to "‘form cultural identities to create
a representation of a foreign culture that simultaneously constructs a domestic
subjectivity’, as explained by Venuti, globalization is to select and represent translation
materials to construct a global culture and global identities, which are inevitably tied with
mainstream languages and cultures. English has been, undoubtedly, the most prominent
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among all for being the lingua franca since the latter half of the 20th Century” (2010, p.2).
Nandana Dutta in “View From Here – English in India: The Rise of Dalit and NE Literature”
clearly explains the importance of English to the globalization of Dalit literature thus:
Texts emerging from contemporary conditions feature in courses, with one
of the most significant of these transactions resulting in the incorporation
of Dalit and minority literatures into English Studies. Perceived as an
instrument of empowerment by Indians almost from the time it was
introduced, English has never quite lost this aspect of its role – and even as
the discipline has taken note of global expansions in the field through theory
and the incorporation of new areas, it has gradually acquired a strong
national/regional flavour that has helped turn the very real disadvantages of
practising the discipline outside of its primary Anglo-American sites of
production into a source of strength (2018, p. 202).
India, the country in which the novel Baluta is set is known for adhering to the
caste system. Ankur Barua in ‘The Solidarities of Caste: The Metaphysical Basis of the
‘Organic’ Community’ gives an example that comes from Saksena, who, while drawing
attention to the charge that the Indian social ethos is an ‘anti-individualistic’ one where
individuals do not have ‘equal rights’, argues: ‘One fact about India stands out prominently.
It is this highest regard for…over-individual ends [directed towards “social welfare” and
away from “atomistic individualism”] through which alone an individual is supposed to live
his [sic] life in society and be a significant individual. But this does not mean that the rights
of an individual are thereby disregarded’. While admitting the presence of the
underprivileged without the right to improve their social status, Saksena (1949:372)
stresses nevertheless that the ‘social theorists’, right from Vedic to contemporary times,
have sought to provide all individuals with opportunities to attain their social goals within
a social structure that is based on ‘duties and obligations rather than on rights’(2009, p.
99). This subdivision of duties has resulted into the members of the upper caste perceiving
those of the lower caste as filthy, thus their obligations include handling filth and carcasses,
announcing the village misfortunes among others.
Anita Madhav Bhosale in “Theme of social Injustice in Daya Pawar’s ‘Baluta’”
explains the caste system in details thus: “Since the time of the ancients, India has been a
place of cultural diversities in many aspects of life. Caste system is one of the major factors
that affects the life of each and every Indian individual which he or she gets hereditarily.
Every member of society has silent feelings of either superiority or inferiority due to his
belonging to a particular community. There are set but unspoken rules and regulations in
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the society and one cannot violate these rules and regulations and if he or she does, he
has to pay for it in many forms. A typical hierarchy is maintained in the society and the
people belonging to various strata of society are obliged to follow their limitations”. She
further adds that “Violations of these codes of conduct are harshly condemned and the
people who commit the crime of violation get punishment at mental, social, political and
cultural levels. In the 21st century also this sense of superiority and inferiority complex is
found here and there in Indian society (2016, p.133). Bhosale adds that: “In recent times,
we come across with so many incidents of violence against the people belonging to lower
castes. They are suppressed, they are humiliated and most of the time they are killed by
the so called ‘Sanskruti Rakshaks’ in our society. The people belonging to lower castes
face a mental trauma. They are humiliated, suppressed and tortured at the hands of the
so called upper caste people. They are compelled to fall prey to psychological paralysis”.
In addition, “They are made to feel depressed, they are made to feel inferior and the
system also helps to cater and flourish this mental set up. They are exploited physically,
sexually, economically, culturally to maintain their status in our society. They are made
dependent and they are compelled to lead a life of parasite. These people are called as
the ‘Dalit’. They are known by this name and the name itself stands for depressed and
suppressed classes of society” (2016, p.133). These sentiments are quoted in the prologue
of Baluta thus: “‘One of your academic friends abuses you, says you’re a Dalit Brahmin’”,
a confirmation that being a ‘Dalit’ was not by any standards anything to be proud of. It
was also ironical that in the village, “some Mahar youths had spent years working with
rich villagers. Invariably, they would form relationships with the Maratha women. These
women would allow the Mahar men to screw them; but they would serve them food or
offer them water from the regulation distance to avoid pollution. This was rather odd”
(Pawar, 2015, p.108). In this case, the village ethics that rendered the Mahars untouchable
seemed overruled when it came to sexuality, it would seem like the upper caste members
would still use the dalits to satisfy their sexual desires, hence sexual exploitation of the
dalits. Due to psychological torture, some dalits committed suicide, for instance, Shivatatya in Baluta who out of the frustration he underwent that made his life a tragedy, the
previously “happy-go-lucky” fellow took an “overdose of opium to kill himself” (Pawar,
2015, p.50). Dagdu, the narrator, also considered committing suicide at some point in his
life, as it was a life full of sorrows, all his memories were like a drop of acid, the placard
of his fate lay on his forehead and he shivered with pain. Despite all these, he pretended
on the outside to be fine, he says: “I cannot tell if you will meet this “Me” in the story.
The reflection of a man in the mirror does not know the whole story of the man it is
reflecting. Consider this: My real name is Dagdu;…Since my childhood I have hated this
name…It smacks of a clod on which a clod was born” (Pawar, 2015, p.4).
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Barua also notes that “These tensions and contradictions present in the traditional
attempts to reconcile hierarchy and inequality with an all-encompassing social order came
to the fore in a particularly acute mode during nationalist movements, and especially
during the mobilisations of Dalit identities in opposition to brahminical orthopraxy”(2009,
p.101). In this context, Andre Beteille has pointed out that while the British colonial
administration was ostensibly based on the principle of individual merit, members of the
Indian elite aspiring to posts within it experienced discrimination on the basis of race, and
this raised the uneasy question of the domestic discriminations along lines of caste. As
Beteille notes: ‘It would hardly appear reasonable on the part of these Indians to seek to
repudiate the distinctions of race if at the same time they sought to uphold the distinctions
of caste’ (1986, p.125). It is therefore not surprising that many influential Hindu figures of
this time, notwithstanding their in-house disagreements, were forced to distinguish
between two notions of caste, which we shall refer to as ‘mythic caste’
(varṇāśramadharma) and ‘empirical caste’ and argue that the latter, a proliferating
multiplicity, was a malignant excrescence of the former which had to be defended (Barua,
2009,p.114). ‘Mythic caste’ is based on the analogy of the well-functioning human body:
just as the members of the body are neither superior nor inferior to one another, so too
the varṇas, compared to four parts of a (social) body, cannot be ranked but are instead
united in a harmonious whole (Barua, 2009, p. 102).
The Dalit Reformation Movement, Bhosale notes, “came in to existence parallel to
Indian movement for Independence. The great leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Dr.
Babasaheb Ambedkar, and Mahatma Phule stood against the injustice done to this class.
Mahatma Gandhi called these people ‘Harijan’ meaning people of God. He fought against
the practice of untouchability and suppression of this class at the hands of the so called
upper caste people. The injustice done to these people was highly condemned by him and
he suggested many a good things to improve the condition of these downtrodden people.
The works of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar have proven to be a milestone which can be
compared with the Martin Luther King and Dr. Nelson Mandela” (2016, p.133).
Considering both Martin Luther King and Dr. Nelson Mandela’s origins, which are the
United States of America and South Africa respectively, it is notable then that the fight
against discrimination is a global issue, only that it re-invents itself depending on the
context, that is, while in India it is manifested through the caste system, in the United
States of America it is seen through the segregation of the Blacks and Whites, basing on
the skin colour, while in South Africa it was and still is evident through the strained
relationship between the black and white South Africans who constantly tussle over land
ownership. In Baluta, after efforts to fight for their rights ideologically, the Mahar
community was given fifty two rights after their honesty was recognized through a trusted
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Mahar who was to escort a beautiful young daughter of Padshah across a dense jungle.
On being accused of having raped the princess, the Mahar asked the Padshah to open a
box that contained something valuable to him, his penis, which he had cut off in advance,
so when the king asked the Mahar to make a request, he said: “ ‘I want nothing for
myself,’… ‘But give my community something that will last for generations’”, hence “The
king granted the Mahars the fifty-two rights. These are the glorious traditions that gave
rise to the Maharki, the entitlements of the Mahars” (Pawar, 2015, p.65). These rights
were a step in the right direction of dismantling the caste system, but the war is yet to be
won.
Gandhi, in 1920 was strongly against the afflictions faced by the Dalits, he said, ‘I
decline to consider it a sin for a man not to drink or eat with anybody and everybody’. A
year later, he went on to declare in stronger terms that the ‘[p]rohibition against
intermarriage and interdining is essential for a rapid evolution of the soul’ (Barua, 2009,
p.104). Both of these issues are addressed in Baluta. The Mahars could only marry fellow
Mahars as inter-caste marriage was forbidden. The narrator tell a story of a terribly poor
boy called Rokade, who was ironically very bright. He fell in love with a rich girl called
Kulkarni who was “pretty: plump cheeks, short but of a neat and shapely build, sparkling
eyes, skin the colour of ketaki”. After the SSC examination they joined different
institutions hence separated, only to meet after four years, but her family “refused the
match on the basis of his caste” (Pawar, 2015, p.182-183). In restaurants, cups were set
aside depending on the caste one belonged to: “The restaurants had different cups for
different castes; there were Mahar cups and Chambhar cups, Mang cups and so on. Our
cups were very often without handles and ant-infested. We had to rinse them ourselves
before ordering tea. We sat separately; either on the verandah or on a bench behind the
restaurant” (Pawar, 2015, p.42). A similar scenario would be observed at the market place
where custom dictated that villlagers sat in groups according to castes, with the Mahars
sitting near the Mari-Aai temple (Pawar, 2015, p.43). The Mahars’ area of residence were
squalid and small, compared to the size of a henhouse, with “two or three subtenants.
Wooden boxes acted as partitions. But they were more than that: we stuffed our lives
into the boxes. At night, temporary walls would come up, made of rags hanging from
ropes” (Pawar, 2015, p.7). This place called Kawakahana could not even be found on any
map of Mumbai (Pawar, 2015, p.7).Such bitter experiences thus led Gandi to declare the
Dalits as children of God, in a bid to equalize them to the upper caste members religionwise, with the hope that the mistreatment would be done away with considering God as
their creator too.
Ambedkar also argued that ‘The Hindu social order is based on the view that the
second is more significant than the first, which legitimises the vertical placing of the
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different classes on a chain of graded inequality. Therefore, he pointed out, almost as if
he were responding to a Radhakrishnan-style demythologising of caste, that the caste
system was not simply a division of labour, but more crucially a division of labourers into
hierarchical groups segmented from one another, based on the hereditary occupation of
their parents. More strongly, this division was a negation of the freedom of choice since
it did not allow them to choose professions on the basis of their capacities and
preferences, and was in fact based on the ‘dogma of predestination’ (Barua, 2009,p.106).
The Mahars as presented in Baluta were under slavery as they were subjected to bigar
labour. The jobs they were subjected to did not require any studies or skill, and they were
to avail themselves twenty four hours a day for the work. They were to take taxes into
town; run in front of the horse of any important person who came into the village and
tend to his animals; make proclamations announcing funerals from village to village; drag
away carcasses of dead animals; play music day and night at festivals and welcome new
bridegrooms at the village borders during weddings. Their payment was “Baluta, their
share of the village harvest”, for which the farmers grumbled as they queued to collect,
insulting them thus: “‘Low-born scum, you do no work. Motherfuckers, always first in line
to get your share. Do you think this is your father’s grain?’….This came with a stream of
abuse. The Mahars would ignore them completely as they tied up their bundles” (Pawar,
2015, p.66). They had learnt to accept their predicament and focus on their own welfare
amidst the difficulties encountered.
The notion that it was the upper castes who must bring about structural
transformation on behalf of or in place of the Dalits, since the Dalits themselves are
allegedly incapable of making any contributions in this regard, is one that is strongly
criticised by many contemporary Dalit writers. They have often viewed such upper-caste
overtures as disguised attempts to co-opt their struggles against discrimination by
inserting them into the caste hierarchy through the processes of Sanskritization
(Barua,2009,p.109). This situation led to constant fights between the upper castes and the
untouchables, for instance, Pawar states: “During the immersion of Ganpati, there was a
fight to make sure that the Mahar Ganpati did not take precedence over the upper-caste
Ganpati. Or the Mahars would take out a procession for the book Pandavpratap and the
upper castes would object” (Pawar, 2015, p.147). Reflexivity is evident here, whereby
both the political and social struggles around categorizations are observed. This is in line
with Bourdieu, as cited by Carstensen-Egwuom in “Connecting Intersectionality and
Reflexivity: Methodological Approaches to social Personalities”, whose argument “is based
on the understanding that the social sciences are part of everyday struggles around
categorizations”. These created groups, that end up being perceived as ‘real groups’ as
stated by Lippuner, who builds on the arguments of Bourdieu, imply that “Understanding
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intersectionality is a critical concept embedded in a struggle for recognition and social
justice thus also implies a non-essentialized understanding of the lines and difference that
it creates” (2014,p.270).
Social change is notable in Baluta as portrayed through notable figures like Dr.
Ambedkar, through whom Mahars converted to Buddhism, a religion that allowed them
to intermingle with the rest of the members without considering their castes (Pawar,
2015, p.106), abandoning their old ways after being entertained by the Raiwands (Pawar,
2015, p.85). Purnachandra Naik in ‘Baluta and Joothan amid Humiliation’ addresses the
changes in the Indian constitution thus: ‘After independence, the Constitution abolished
untouchability under Article 17 and provided the ex-untouchables with rights, which had
been systematically denied to them for centuries. The Constitution was a Magna Carta
that Dalits got as an independence gift from their liberator, B R Ambedkar, who knew
that formal independence meant very little for the Dalits who were still living in the
squalor of poverty, ignorance and deprivation’ (2016,p.20). A good number of the Mahars
also converted to Christianity in the text, owing to its disregard for the caste system. The
narrator also considers being converted, he says:
Christianity did not seem, to my eyes, much concerned with caste. But
Kharat never asked me to convert. Perhaps that is why I began to have a
green and moist spot somewhere in my heart for Christianity. And now I
think, truly, why didn’t I become a Christian? In the district in which I was
then living, a huge number of Mahars had converted. But no one in our
district had (Pawar, 2015, p.120).
Naik further explains that two Dalit authors, Pawar and Valmiki knew that
education remains a formidable tool to surpass the life of misery and squalor and to escape
from the clutches of untouchability, thus for that they bear taunts and humiliation in
school, attend class on an empty belly, sit away from the rest of the class, but never give
up on this new-found opportunity. He states that “Education brews a storm inside Pawar
and Valmiki. It germinates a quest to critique and question the established hierarchical
order of caste and untouchability. It opens up windows into seeing untouchability anew
and provides a new perspective to challenge it from within. It urges the consciousness to
perceive that something is amiss in the system that systematically victimises and humiliates
Dalits” (2016, p.20). For Pawar, with education “all sorts of question formed a raucous
tirade inside [his] head” (Pawar, 2015, p.46) and a new consciousness is generated vis-àvis baluta, the share of the food (Pawar, 2015, p.81), while a boy who used to swallow
insults and offences started changing as a “result of education” (Pawar, 2015, p.162). The
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village “seemed like a hell” with its preserved contempt and disrespect for him and he
acknowledges that the only way out was education Pawar, 2015, p. 86, 166, 21). Despite
the discouragement Aai was exposed to by Uma-ajya, who viewed schooling as meant for
Brahmins and Baniyas, and lowly jobs like loafing around, eating scraps and taking animals
to graze for the Mahars, regarding the schooling of Dagdu, she assumed and proceeded
to take him to school, an action that the narrator supposes arose from Babasaheb
Ambedkar’s statement: “‘What dreams do the women of Maharwada have for their
children? That their sons should become peons or sepoys? A Brahmin mother’s ambitions
are different: My son should become a District Collector, she says. Why do Mahar women
not harbor such longings?’”( Pawar, 2015, p.60-61). The discrimination at school was too
much and very open, a faint hearted dalit would easily have given up the struggle, but
Dagdu struggled through despite his poor performance in Mathematics. At the back of his
mind was the urge to get out of the tough life of being a Mahar, the hope of getting a
proper job at the end of his education. He narrates:
The school had classes up to the fourth standard but from the first to fourth,
we all sat in one large hall. We would take a piece of sacking to sit on, along
with our slates and schoolbags. I remember the early times well. We were
not allowed to sit with the Maratha children from the village. They faced the
teacher and we sat at right angles to them, facing in a different direction. If
we were thirsty, there was no water for us at school; we had to go back to
the Maharwada to drink. The Chambharwada was close by but they too
would not give us water (Pawar, 2015, p.45).
Dagdu found solace in books despite being mocked about his speech. He became more
sensitive with his education, it was his only way of seizing control of himself, and refers to
a poem from In Prison which read: ‘Why did I ever discover the world of books?/ I could
have been a stone in the stream,/Grazed cattle in a meadow./No need then to bear the
scorpion’s sting’, a description of his newly found life amidst living like animals in the
Maharwada. He was ‘filled with revulsion against the life [he] was leading and wanted to
get away’ without necessarily having anything to do with those who lived the life he had
wanted for himself (Pawar,2015, p.46-47). When he was considered of age to be married,
a girl from his rich uncle’s family in Aurangapur was chosen for him, the girl’s brother
would mock him on the basis of his education: “‘What’s an educated man going to do in
our house? Count the bags of grain?’”( Pawar, 2015, p.136). The narrator eventually lands
a job in Bombay Veterinary College, which he perceives both as an achievement and as a
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modernized version of what the Mahars were subjected to in the village: handling dead
animals.
Daya Pawar was born in a very narrow minded society, in which there was lack of
education, culture and open-mindedness, hence, a sensitive person like Dagdu Pawar was
totally collapsed because of the ill treatment given by the society. “The surrounding was
captured by the references of sex, extramarital affairs, family rivalries, quarrels with
relatives and what not. In Mumbai also he experiences extremely poor life and the
situations which convert a man into an animal”. At the beginning of the text, Pawar uses
a very beautiful simile of an iceberg to compare his life with, in which only some of the
part of the iceberg can be seen and but a large portion of it is hidden under water. This
major part of the iceberg is full of sufferings, pains and disgust (Bhosale,2016,p.134). Baluta,
Pawar’s autobiography has been written through the medium of his past identity which as
‘Dagdu Maruti Pawar’, a name that he disliked from the start.
The Dalits in Pawar’s Baluta are treated worse than animals and their mere
presence is usually banned by the upper class localities. Even then they are bound to hang
clay pots from their necks so that may not pollute the streets of the villages by their
spittle. They carry brooms tied to their bodies so that while passing through such ‘upper
lanes’ they can wipe away their footprints, an extreme form of humiliation. “Pawar points
out that their sufferings are not just the sufferings of an individual and there is nothing
romantic about it. Their problem is neither ideological nor philosophical. It is the basic
question of identity, of existence, of mental trauma, of harassment and a quest for social
injustice. They do not seek poetic beauty, similes, and metaphors. The reality of their life
is too hideously shock beyond the capacity of fantasy or imagination. Their tragedy is
universal, trampling them down and disfiguring their humanity” (Bhosale, 2016, p.134).
The names of the Dalits, as per the Indian Hindu Caste System very ordinary, common
and simple as they were considered backward people. For instance, they included ‘Dagdu’
meaning stone, ‘Kacharu’ meaning garbage and ‘Jabya’. Pawar hates his name, ‘Dagdu’
despite having had given reference of Shakespeare when he asks ‘What lies in name?’ It is
notable that the caste factor matters a lot when it comes to the first name of the child.
While in Mumbai they lived in ‘Kawakhana’ where they had a very small room including
bathroom and toilet. His grandmother and uncle’s family also lived in the same place
where surrounding environment was very bad and extremely shameful conditions faced
by the Dalit women. Their business was nothing but to collect wasted cloth pieces, papers,
glasses, iron, and cracked jars from the garbage outside the roads (Pawar, 2015, p. 7).
Domestic quarrels between two families, due to egoism were very common in the village
including families like ‘Pawar’, ‘Rupavate’ with several others experiencing domestic
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violence (Pawar, 2015, p. 16). However, the Mahars remained united at heart. Pawar
writes:
We loved each other intensely; we hated each other passionately. We
supported each other. During a fight, it would seem to the outsider that the
combatants would never speak to each other again; that afterwards we
would go our separate ways; but nothing like that ever happened. If you try
to uproot a bean-pod creeper, all the bean pods will fall. The Mahars were
no different (2015, p.10)
This situation resulted to Dagdu’s father getting caught up in a conspiracy, thus
being charged by police in a murder case, which fortunately he got acquitted for and
returned safely at home (16). Consequently, his father decided to shift his family to
Mumbai in ‘Kawakhana’, slum, a place you "won't find on any map of Mumbai"( Pawar,
2015, p.7). In the text, there are many references about Dagdu’s father’s adulterous nature
and drunkenness. His debauchery increased even though he was married and has the
children, resulting to their economic condition was decreasing daily. Dagdu’s mother
eventually became helpless after efforts to salvage her husband’s unbecoming character
became futile. The situation in the schools was not different either as the children from
‘Maharwada’ were ill-treated by the school authority because of ‘untouchability’. The
author became emotional and sensitive, and never liked his playmates.
Despite the slow, gradual societal change in terms of culture and time, elements of
inferiority and hatred are still being directed at the Dalits, whose superiority over the
upper castes is deemed unacceptable as yet. Bhosale notes that the Dalits are “burning
with a desire of revenge and this anger is reflected in poems like ‘You wrote from Los
Angeles’ by Daya Pawar. In the stores here, in hotels, about streets. Indians and curs are
measured with the same yardstick. “Niggers” “Blacks” This is the abuse they fling on me.
Reading all this, I felt so damn Now you’ve had a taste of what we’ve suffered in this
country, from generation to generation. (Pawar, Daya. Poem- ‘You wrote from Los
Angeles’)” (Pawar, 2015, p.135). In Baluta, social change is noted when the education
Pawar had been pursuing bore him some fruit as he secured a ‘respectable job’, he was
employed as a clerk-cum-laboratory assistant at the Parel Veterinary College. This job
entailed, in brief, the opening of parcels of shit of sick animals that arrive every day,
conveying the contents into jars with a glass rod, sifting the sediments, and transferring
the remains into a glass phial. In addition, in the anatomy department, he has to inject
alcohol into the skinned carcasses of animals hanging from hooks so that they do not
decompose before being dissected by vets in swan-white gowns that he, Pawar, wishes to
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see soaked in blood. He writes: "Damn it, after all this education, here I am doing the
work that my forefathers did". This made him feel like a gravedigger (Pawar, 2015, p.234).
It is notable, therefore, that the treatment of the Dalits in the rural still manifested itself
in the metropolis that is Mumbai, it has re-invented itself, but at least, the narrator had
gotten something to earn a living from, however bizzare, without having to move from
place to place, collecting garbage to find food from it as it was in the village.
Despite having tried his best to forget his past, the past was stubborn, it would not
be erased so easily from the narrator’s mind. His fellow dalits may have perceived what
he was doing as someone picking through a pile of garbage, similar to a scavenger’s
account of his life. His consolation, however is that “he who does not know his past
cannot direct his future”. His education did not elevate his status in the village. Having
been born a Mahar, there was no way out of it, he says:
When I went to the village temple a Maratha would say, ‘You motherfucker,
whose son are you? How dare you lean on me?’ Once in a rage, I replied,
‘Motherfucker yourself. I’m Maruti’s son.’ This was a first for me. I’d taken
his words, his style and thrown them back at him. It would have been truly
oddifhe hadnot got angry. I thought: damn it, I’ve studied, I’ve improved
myself, but in the village, the same accusation: ‘Hey you, Maruti the Mahar’s
son!’ My Mahar identity was a leech that would not let go. I was ashamed to
be called a Maruti’s son, especially since there were two men called Maruti
in the village (Pawar,2015, p.103).
S. Anand, a publisher in Navayana, quotes a speech by Babasaheb addressing to a
Dalit audience in 1942 where he said: "Ours is a battle not for wealth or for power. It is
a battle for freedom. It is a battle for the reclamation of human personality."
3.0 Conclusion
More writers are publishing Dalit Literature as a way of participating in this battle,
including Laxman Mane, Shantabai Krushnaji Kamble and Dinkar Gangal. This, it is
concluded, is a global battle, involving the search of identity for the so-called minority and
sidelined groups, including those affected by racism, albinism, female genital mutilation,
disabilities and gender based violence, with a hope of a world that acknowledges
everyone’s potential based on their capabilities but not their appearance and the families
they were born into.
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References
Barua, A. (2018). The Solidarities of Caste: The Metaphysical Basis of the ‘Organic’
Community. The Journal of Hindu Studies, (2), 97-122
Beteille, A., 1986. ‘Individualism and equality’. Current Anthropology (27), 121–34
Bhosale, A. M. (2016). Theme of social injustice in Daya Pawar’s ‘Baluta’. Asian Journal of
Multidisciplinary Studies, 4(12), 133-135
Carstensen-Egwuom, I. (2014). Connecting Intersectionality and Reflexivity:
Methodological Approaches to Social Positionalities. Erdkunde, 68(4), 265-276
Chuang, Y. (2010). The Concepts of Globalization and Localization. Translation Journal.
14(3), 1-3
Dutta, N. (2018). View From Here – English in India: The Rise of Dalit and NE Literature.
English. (67), 201–208
Naik, P. (2016). Baluta and Joothan amid Humiliation. Economic & Political Weekly. L1
(26&27), 19-21
Newmark, P. (2003). No Global Communication Without Translation (Anderman, Gunilla
& Rogers, Margaret eds.) Translation Today: Trends and Perspectives, 55-67
O'hanlon, R. (1985). Caste, Conflict, and Ideology. London: Cambridge University Press
Pawar, D. (2015). Baluta (Translator, Jerry Pinto). New Delhi: Speaking Tiger
Sassen S. (2007). A Sociology of Globalization. New York: W.W Norton & Company Inc
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Langue Et Style Dans ‘‘C’est Le Soleil Qui
M’a Brûlée’’ De Calixthe Beyala
Hybrid Journal of Literary and
Cultural Studies
Ibrahim Osmanu
Department of French
Mount Mary College of Education, Somanya
Volume 2, Issue 1, 2020
© 2020 The Author(s)
Abstract
This open access article is
distributed under a Creative
Commons Attribution (CC-BY) 4.0
license.
Calixthe Beyala is a unique writer who seeks to achieve a truly
feminine African writing. We find ourselves in front of a writer
who opts for an exploded, fragmented, lapidary writing,
hostile to the effects of unity, stigmatized in masculine writing.
As a result, she chooses to handle certain aspects of language
to justify herself. This act shows the presence of a feminine
subjectivity seeking to tell itself. Indeed, we note that at home,
it is the sun that burned me, a freedom of writing. Our
concern, in this respect, is to study certain aspects of the
language on which it relies to advance the condition of the
African woman.
Article Information
Submitted: 9th September 2019
Accepted: 5th October 2019
Published: 2nd January 2020
Conflict of Interest: No potential
conflict of interest was reported
by the author
Funding: None
Additional information is
available at the end of the article
https://creativecommons.org/lice
nses/by/4.0/
ISSN 2707-2150 (Online)
ISSN 2707-2169 (Print)
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Abstrait
Calixthe Beyala est une écrivaine unique qui cherche à réalisé
une écriture africaine véritablement féminine. Nous nous
trouvons devant une écrivaine qui opte pour une écriture
éclatée, morcelée, fragmentaire, lapidaire, hostile aux effets
d’unité stigmatisée dans l’écriture masculine. De ce fait, elle
choisit de manier certains aspects de la langue pour se justifier.
Cet acte pourra montrer la présence d’une subjectivité
féminine cherchant à se dire. En effet, nous notons chez elle
dans, C’est le soleil qui m’a brûlée, une liberté de l’écriture.
Notre souci, à cet égard, est d’étudier certains aspects de la
langue sur lesquels elle s’appuie pour avancer la condition de
la femme africaine.
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1.0 Langue compliquée
Calixthe Beyala, dans son premier roman, a choisi d’utiliser une langue un peu compliquée
à comprendre. En effet, on peut peut-être dire que l’emploi de cette langue est fait
spontanément par l’héroïne dans le but d’exprimer l’état d’exploitation de la femme. Nous
disons ceci parce que, dans le récit, Ateba Léocadie met l’accent sur l’homme qu’elle
considère comme cause de sa condition de prostituée. Prenons en considération ce
recueil de certains mots difficiles à comprendre qu’elle emploie tout au long du récit. Voici
comment la narratrice amasse des mots pour décrire l’émotion et la réaction d’Ateba
suite à l’annonce de la mort d’Ekassi :
Ateba continue à arpenter les rues, à avancer lentement dans les
odeurs de la mort boucanée, de l’herbe du Diable fraîchement cueillie
jusqu’à se retrouver devant la maison mortuaire. (p. 39)
Et puis elle décrit la situation du deuil en ces mots :
[…] Toutes les commères jacasseront, pleureront et se lamenteront.
La petite chipeuse d’hommes, haïe des fesses coutumières, deviendra
célèbre et adulée entre deux bougies anémiques. (p.42)
On identifie aussi l’emploi de tels mots imagés :
« virevoltent » (p .4) ; « … goguenarde, une maigrichonne…. » (p.25) ;
« paradoxalement déverse… » (p.52) ; « cataloguer la femme » (p.75) ;
« un regard langoureux » (p.86) ; « On tambourine à la porte » (p.103) ;
« …une détresse qui dulcifie l’âme. »(p.111) ; « … en grommelant après… »
(p.142).
En outre, Calixthe Beyala utilise beaucoup de vocables difficiles dans une phrase, ce qui
rend la compréhension de son message difficile compliauée. On peut supposer que ce
choix est motivé par son grand désir d’attaquer l’homme. Nous ne donnons que ces trois
exemples :
« La petite chipeuse d’hommes, haïe des fesses coutumières, deviendra
célèbre et adulée entre deux bougies anémiques » (P.42)
« La mémoire collective prise sans les métastases du ‘progrès’ s’est effrangée
comme les froufrous d’une dentelle. » (p.74)
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« Des jeunes garçons atteints de vice jusqu’à la moelle s’exercent au
dépucelage des portefeuilles. » (p.147)
En écho aux préceptes d’autoreprésentation, Beyala veut nous prouver aussi que « Le
corps féminin ne reste pas l’objet de discours des hommes ni de leurs divers arts mais
[devient] enjeu d’une subjectivité féminine s’éprouvant et s’identifiant. » (Cazenave, 1996:
180). L’écrivaine recourt aux vocables typiques pour décrire le corps dans ses états de :
joie, peine, plaisir, jouissance, et aussi de souffrance. Elle brise tous les tabous concernant
le corps et la sexualité. Elle parle sans haute de la chair et la décrit dans sa réalité crue,
sans rien cacher. Par exemple, l’on rencontre ces commentaires d’Ateba lorsqu’elle entre
dans une salle rouge : « Des culs se nouent et se dénouent. Beaucoup de femmes seules,
jambes libres et seins aigues. » (p.148) Elle utilise, pour ce faire, un registre vulgaire, voire
obscène à certains moments. Chez elle, « la libération du corps va de pair avec
l’affranchissement du texte, ce qui signifie à la fois subversion des codes littéraires
habituels et élaboration d’un nouveau discours romanesque » (idem: 64) marqué par la
violence.
Ainsi, nous notons la prolifération du lexème « sexe » où toute expression s’y
rapporte. Les mots ou expressions tels que « fesse, cul, entre les cuisses, pute, putain,
jambes dénudées, chair dressée, seins nus, clitoris,… jalonnent le texte. » Les organes
génitaux sont fréquemment décrits et le plus souvent avec une liberté déconcertante.
Ateba regarde dans la glace et découvre « ses seins aigus, son ventre durci par l’effort, ses
cuisses longues fines, son sexe de femme » (p.48)
2.0 Langue descriptive
Ce qui relève de l’esthétisme de cette femme-écrivain est son usage de la langue
descriptive et détaillée qui fait ressortir son but de bien présenter les situations qu’elle
veut ridiculiser. Elle veut montrer la situation de misère que subit la femme sous la
contrainte de l’homme. Calixthe Beyala fait une telle description d’une rencontre entre
Ateba et Jean :
Cette fois, Ateba lève les yeux. C’est obligé : l’homme a posé sa main
calleuse sur son bras. L’expression du visage est vulgaire. La chevelure
caramélisée et le front dégarni laissent apparaître un crâne haut comme une
crête de coq. La bouche déjà décolorée par l’alcool est charnue, le menton
mou. Ateba détourne la tête dans l’illusion de ne plus sentir sa main. La main
la rattrape, possessive, encombrante, sourde aux réactions de son corps, au
dégoût qu’elle jette dans ses reins et toujours agrippée… (p .120)
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Ce type de description qu’on rencontre tout au long du récit souligne la prouesse
narrative de l’auteure. À travers cette façon, le lecteur devine facilement le sujet de
l’exploitation de la femme qu’évoque Beyala. Ensuite, elle puise du registre spécifique d’un
domaine qu’elle veut critiquer ou railler. A cet effet, elle fait l’usage des vocables de la
sexualité pour mieux souligner l’image de la prostitution que peint l’héroïne.
Exemple ; Cul, Billet, fesse, (p.10).
3.0 Appui direct sur des termes locaux ou langue populaire
Calixthe Beyala, dans C'est le soleil qui m'a brûlée, emploie quelques termes locaux dont
aucun n'apparaît dans un dictionnaire de la langue française. Nous retrouvons l’usage des
termes tels que: " gâ (p. 11), haâ (p. 26), kabas (p. 24), gala et maffé (p. 51), kruma (p. 98),
le sadaka d'Ekassi (p. 119)". Ces termes s'éclaircissent par le contexte mais également par
la répétition du même mot dans différentes phrases, ce qui permet de bien cerner leurs
significations. Le premier mot ainsi introduit est " gâ " :
Il leur en fera voir à tous ces taxis qui refusent de l'amener : aujourd'hui
tout vêtu de lin, demain de cuir, après-demain de cachemire, hier de daim,
le tout griffé "Yves" et la gâ la plus platinée du monde suspendue à son bras.
(p.11)
D'après ce premier contexte, le lecteur peut deviner que "gâ" signifie " la femme ".
Cependant la proximité du terme "platinée" ouvre quelques interrogations sur le genre
de cette femme. En effet, dans l'imagination populaire, la couleur " platinée " est associée
à " la femme de mauvaise vie’’. Donc, est-ce que " gâ " ne signifierait-il pas, "prostituée" ?
Nous pouvons l’expliquer dans un deuxième contexte: « Rien de plus abject pour lui que
de sortir une gâ qui n'a pas de vernis » (P. 58). Ce deuxième exemple ne précise pas
vraiment le sens de " gâ ", cependant, il l'éloigne de celui de "femme " pour le rapprocher
de celui de "fille". Le deuxième terme découvert dans ce roman est "haâ": Voyons
comment ce mot est utilisé par la narratrice lors d’une cérémonie de circoncisons du fils
d’Etoundi :
Les femmes baissent la tête dans une attitude respectueuse. L’une
s'empresse, installe une chaise au milieu de la cour. Une autre lui tend un
verre de haâ qu'il ne daigne pas goûter. (p.26)
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Dès ce premier contexte, le terme est clairement explicité, bien que le lecteur ne sache
jamais de quelle boisson il s'agit. Ceci apparaît dans un deuxième exemple :
Des vieillards, assis en tailleur sous la véranda, se fendent leurs vieilles poires
édentées en se saoulant à petites doses de haâ qu'ils avalent cul sec. (p.119)
Deux expressions entourent le mot " haâ " et indiquent clairement qu'il s'agit d'une
boisson alcoolisée ; « en se saoulant » et « cul sec ». Ensuite, d'après son contexte, le
terme "Kruma " semble correspondre au terme masculin du mot " gâ " déjà observé. Dans
un de ses confessions, Irène dit ceci en présence de son ami :
« --J'ai levé quelqu'un hier soir. »
Et sur un ton extasié, elle poursuit : « Un kruma. Genre bedonnant, plein
de taches et de fric. » (p. 98)
Cependant dans la suite du passage un autre sens apparaît:
Il m'a emmenée au Sainte. Il y avait foule, et le mec dansait comme un pied.
Blancs, tu sais c'est pas la gloire pour danser. (sic) (p.98)
Les
Ici, Il semble donc que " kruma " serait un équivalent de "toubab", c'est-à-dire européen.
D'autres termes ne sont pas véritablement explicités par le contexte et restent
énigmatiques pour le lecteur. Observons les phrases qui les contiennent : « Sous leurs
longs Kabas, la musique constante des sachets en plastique où elles mettront les restes. »
(p.24), et
Puisqu'ils le réclamaient, elle donnait. Ils prenaient son corps. Lui prenaient
son cœur. Gala. Elle ne pensait pas, elle le vivait dans chaque main qui la
palpait, dans chaque homme qui inondait ses chairs. Longtemps elle avait
rêvé. Son ventre d'où il élèverait des cris d'enfants ; le maffé qu'elle lui
préparerait chaque jour à l'heure de la nuit. (p.51)
Particulièrement dans ce dernier passage, les deux mots employés restent énigmatiques
et il parait comme les clichés connus parmi les indigènes. Nous disons alors que l’emploi
de ses mots locaux aide les indigènes à mieux comprendre son message. Enfin, une
dernière expression a retenu notre attention: le " Sadaka d'Ekassi ". Observons son
introduction dans le texte :
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Après d'interminables discussions où chacun s'est efforcé de puiser dans ses
souvenirs les bribes du rythme traditionnel mais où nul n'était d'accord sur
la manière de mener la danse, le Sadaka d'Ekassi s'est transformé en une
fête "crépusculaire " où le disco se danse au rythme du tam-tam. (p.119)
Dans un premier temps, nous considérons le mot "Sadaka" comme un nom propre qui
est accolé à Ekassi. Mais par le contexte, il apparaît qu'il s'agit d'une fête funéraire, ou
d’une cérémonie funèbre devenue une fête. L'étonnement s'inscrit ici dans le fait que dans
la religion musulmane il existe une " sadaka " qui correspond à l'aumône qui serait ici
pratiquée à la suite de l'enterrement d’Ekassi. Mais, on sait que Calixthe Beyala n'est pas
de religion musulmane, devons-nous comprendre cette cérémonie comme un événement
d'origine culturelle ? Il semble qu’elle veut parfois faire allusion à des rites musulmans.
Nous observons que l'introduction directe du vocabulaire local est donc très importante.
Sous cette forme, ce sont principalement des termes considérés comme connus par le
lecteur français. Certains auteurs n'utilisent d'ailleurs que des mots consacrés par les
dictionnaires. D'autres comme A. Kourouma, qui va très loin en usant de ces vocables
locaux, innove en plaçant le lecteur devant un texte qui lui est étranger et devant lequel
il doit être actif.
L’emploi de ce lexique pose la question de savoir à quel public s'adressent ces
textes. En effet un public local n'éprouve aucune difficulté à comprendre de quoi il s'agit
et saisit même les subtilités du texte. Toutefois, ce public ne possède pas toujours la
connaissance parfaite de la langue française. Au contraire, pour un public ne connaissant
pas la langue locale, il y a le sentiment de frustration. Jusqu'à présent, nous avions
considéré les termes introduits directement et nous en avions conclu qu'ils font partie,
pour la plupart, de la langue française et que dans tous les cas, ils étaient explicités par le
contexte. Nous soulignons ici aussi que l'introduction de termes locaux enrichit non
seulement le récit, mais aussi la position de la narratrice au style direct. Pour nous
confirmer sa capacité de manier la langue, l’auteure fait le jeu de voix narratives
polyphoniques. Ceci fera le sujet suivant à aborder.
4.0 Le jeu de voix narratives polyphoniques
Notre lecture nous a amené à trouver que les premiers romans des femmes africaines
représentent des témoignages de certains faits. Nous pensons que c’est probablement
pourquoi le jeu de voix narratives polyphoniques s’est limité à un « je » qui se définit par
rapport à l’homme dans la sphère publique et privée. Les romancières africaines avaient
l’intention de faire le réquisitoire d’une société longtemps dirigée et dominée par des
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hommes. De ce fait, il y a eu une déconstruction du schéma classique des romans africains
de la première heure qui rompt avec une réalité africaine appréhendée comme rassurante
en présentant une image de la femme révoltée. Des écrivaines telle que Calixthe Beyala
met constamment en exergue la révolte de la femme face à un système phallocratique.
Pierrette Herzberger-Fofana (2000 :309) indique que:
L’univers dépeint par la romancière frappe par le sentiment d’horreur qui
émane du récit où domine la violence. Ateba exprime son dégoût pour
l’homme qu’elle n’entrevoit que dans des rapports purement érotiques et
brutaux.
L’instance narrative est une narratrice homodiégétique. Dans ce cas, on trouve « le
narrateur (qui) raconte l’histoire au moment où elle se produit. » (Yves Reuter, 2003 :60).
En ce sens, le narrateur peut être narrateur-agent ou narrateur- témoin. Pour sa part, elle
utilise le narrateur-témoin où ce narrateur n’est pas nécessairement le héros du récit.
Bien qu’elle fasse parler certaines personnages, l’auteure nous donne les détails du sujet
de la prostitution à travers la vision de la narratrice-témoin qui se présente en première
personne du singulier « je, moi ». Par exemple, nous voyons que le récit s’ouvre avec la
narratrice- témoin qui confirme qu’elle connaît tout du personnage principal; « J’ai connu
Ateba lorsqu’elle entrait dans sa dix neuvième année. […]» (p.5) Puis, elle ajoute qu’elle
peut même déterminer les pensées d’Ateba en disant :
[…]Je savais qu’elle lèverait la tête et clamerait son désir de parler, afin que
les mots obscurs dans leur clarté deviennent lumière dans leurs ténèbres.
Je savais qu’elle voulait parler ainsi afin que l’homme se découvre dans la
forme limitée de ses vérités. Je guidais son souffle, je guidais ses lèvres….
C’était mon rôle. (p.14)
Cependant, en utilisant la première personne, la narratrice semble à la fois être très
proche de l'héroïne mais en même temps en être très éloignée. Cet acte d’assumer deux
personnalités représente une narratrice à double face. Nous identifions cet instant :
Adossée à un arbre, bras et jambes croisés, Ateba ne répond pas. Distante,
l'air ennuyé, elle continue à regarder la masse bruyante des qugétistes. Mais
Moi, que nul ne saurait voir, je le savais, je savais que cette attitude
l'enveloppait d'un voile mystérieux ... (p.120)
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Dans cet extrait, nous voyons comment la narratrice s'inclut dans le texte et y participe
de loin. Il est nécessaire d’ajouter aussi que l’utilisation de la première personne comme
instance narrative consacre l’affirmation identitaire de la femme, voire la cristallisation du
corps féminin. Cette tentative reflète le rejet des schèmes d’infériorité, de sousreprésentation et de silence dans lesquels les idéologies hégémoniques veulent consigner
le corps de la femme. Cette figure narrative lui permet de décliner sous le mode personnel
des modalisations affectives. Sa voix où perce un immense sentiment de répulsion et
d’abjection fait écho à une catharsis pour se libérer. Surtout, le caractère engagé du
discours romanesque oblige la romancière à rallier l’expérience collective à l’individualité.
Ateba est une jeune fille douce, respectueuse et soumise, comme dans les cultures
africaines, devenue rebelle à cause des turpitudes de la vie et des épreuves douloureuses
telle que la mort de son amie qu’elle impute à l’homme. L’auteure exhibe son art de
narration en s’emparant des deux techniques que nous allons voir ci-après.
5.0 Alternance entre une voix narrative homodiégétique et une voix narrative
extradiégétique
Calixthe Beyala a consciemment fait une alternance entre une voix narrative
homodiégétique et une voix narrative extradiégétique pour souligner comment la femme,
l’héroïne, demeure écartelée entre son désir d’indépendance et son besoin d’amour.
Considérons à titre d’exemple cet extrait :
[…]Ateba dit que la femme devrait arrêter de faire l’idiote, qu’elle
devrait oublier l’homme et évoluer désormais dans trois vérités, trois
certitudes, trois résolutions. Je les connaissais : revendiquer la lumière,
retrouver la femme et abandonner l’homme aux incuries humaines…
Était-ce ce que je voulais ? (p.104)
Il nous importe maintenant d’étudier la structure des phrases qui exposent la personnalité
du narrateur.
6.0 Structure de phrase
La langue orale a une structure qui lui est spécifique et qui habituellement n'est pas utilisée
dans l'expression écrite. Cependant, dans la littérature moderne, il arrive qu'elle soit
employée. Nous essayerons donc de la relever et d'expliquer son emploi. La première
constatation de l'oralité dans le texte écrit passe certainement par l'emploi de phrases
simples dans un texte littéraire. En effet, dans un texte écrit on trouve habituellement de
nombreuses phrases complexes, qui permettent à l'auteur de montrer son aisance à
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manier les subtilités de la structure de la langue française. Au contraire, dans l'expression
orale, la tendance générale est d'utiliser des phrases courtes et simples qui conservent
une certaine concision au discours. Dans le roman que nous étudions, c'est souvent la
deuxième tendance qui est prioritaire. En effet, la narration se fait par des phrases courtes
et simples. Nous identifions ces phrases courtes et simples lorsque la narratrice veut
montrer l’état frustré et indécis de Jean Zepp qui cherche toujours à coucher avec Ateba
qui s’efforce de s’éloigner des hommes cruels :
Zepp attend. Il se porte bien. Il s’applique à le faire voir. L’œil offensif.
La bouche encourageante. Un pouce levé. Les taxis passent. Le temps aussi.
(p.9) […] Ateba se lève. Elle pénètre dans le salon. Elle ramasse un romanphoto. Elle aime lire. Elle a toujours aimé lire… » (p.52)
L’auteure marque également sa préférence pour les phrases courtes ou émaillées de
signes de ponctuation :
J’écoutais, je compatissais, je me proposais de l’aider de mon mieux.
J’appelais les astres, je chamboulais les états d’âme, personne ne m’écoutait,
personne ne me regardait, […] j’attendais, je vieillissais, je m’affaissais […]
je voulais… je voulais… Et la question ne venait pas, la question n’allait pas
venir, j’allais mourir dans mes vouloirs, sans avoir remonté ses sources, sans
m’être levée une fois d’entre les morts… Aujourd’hui, j’en ai marre ! J’ai
envie de parler… Je puis dire sans attenter à la vérité c’est sa faute… Tout
est sa faute… Et elle… Il a fallu qu’elle séduise les étoiles pour survivre (p.67).
Dans cet extrait, nous comprenons que la narratrice recourt à cette déclaration ponctuée
afin de montrer l’émotion désarroi, exaspérante et épuisante de l’héroïne. Dans ce
passage, nous dénotons l’usage abusif de signes de ponctuation qui obligent le lecteur à
faire de nombreux arrêts inopportuns. Les descriptions sont souvent rendues dans des
propositions composées de quelques mots, ou souvent en un seul mot. Nous
n’énumérons pas tous les cas ; nous présentons seulement quelques exemples récurrents
: « Cul. Billet. Fesse. » (p.10) ; « Garce…Pute…Salope… » (p. 12).
7.0 Proposition nominale
Les propositions nominales sont présentées dans la plupart du roman que nous sommes
en train d’étudier. Elles contribuent véritablement à créer une illusion d'oralité dans le
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récit. Dans C'est le soleil qui m'a brûlée, nous notons que les premiers paragraphes de
certains chapitres et phrases débutent ainsi :
Dimanche. Soleil. Incandescence. Climat de liesse depuis l'aube. Une
bruyante musique de danse. Une cour immense. Vociférations et
trépignements, vivats des invités à moitié ivres. C'est la fête. Le Sadaka
d'Ekassi. Sept jours ont passé depuis sa mort. (p.119)
À l’ exception de la dernière phrase, tout le passage est exprimé par des propositions
nominales. Dans ce paragraphe d'introduction, la narratrice traduit le maximum de faits
en un minimum de phrases. En effet, seuls les mots principaux de chaque phrase ont été
conservés. Ainsi la narratrice montre que seul le sens compte et est transmis de la
manière la plus rapide possible. Ces syntagmes nominaux donnent à la fois des indications
sur le lieu et sur l'atmosphère qui y règne. C'est principalement la joie qui apparaît. Par
opposition à ce paragraphe, la dernière phrase qui est verbale, « Sept jours ont passé
depuis sa mort », exprime une certaine tristesse puisqu'elle nous rappelle qu'il s'agit d'une
fête du souvenir pour Ekassi, qui est morte sept jours auparavant. Par la suite, toujours
par des phrases nominales, la narratrice tente de faire « sentir » l'atmosphère qui entoure
cette réunion: « Odeur de sueur, d'eau de Cologne, de brillantine, d'urine, de sexe… »
(p.119) Ensuite, tout un discours est exprimé par des monorèmes (Phrase qui ne se
compose que d’un seul terme) et des dirhèmes (la phrase qui s’associe à deux éléments,
l’un thématique, l’autre prédicatif) qui semblent le résumer :
Elle adopte un air « tu as raison mais je n'en pense pas moins » et elle
l'écoute déballer ses salades, parler, parler, les yeux déments, les narines
folles. Si elle ne fait pas attention elle va s'effondrer, ivre de mots. Évolution.
Métissage culturel. Technologie. Tradition. (p.121)
L'emploi de ces propositions nominales souligne le flot de paroles qu'accumule l'homme.
Par ces monorèmes et ces dirhèmes, il apparaît que seul l'essentiel a été retenu par
l'héroïne : les phrases ne sont pas complètement prononcées. Cette façon d’écrire aussi
paraît témoigner la colère que ressent le personnage. L’auteure qui veut verser tout son
sentiment de révolte contre l’homme, manie sa langue à travers différentes phrases. Elle
s’exprime soit d’une manière directe ou indirecte ou à travers des phrases libres.
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8.0 Phrases directes, indirectes libres
C'est le soleil qui m'a brûlée est un récit qui allie à la fois la première et la troisième
personne. Les passages d'expression directe y sont nombreux d'autant plus que Calixthe
Beyala a privilégié cette forme pour énoncer les propos des personnages. C'est ainsi que
dans le récit au lieu des phrases indirectes, la narratrice préfère les phrases directes. On
voit cet exemple-ci : « Elle voulait lui dire : « Betty, je t'aime. », il ne faut pas laisser trop
de liberté aux filles. Maman le disait toujours. « Donnez-leur un doigt et c’est la main
qu’elles vous bouffent.» (p.72) Il en est ainsi tout au long du roman : maintes phrases dites
ou pensées par certains personnages sont exprimées directement. Par exemple, au début
du récit la narratrice nous fait voir la frustration de Combi en ces mots; « Et, tous les
jours, Combi racontait la même antienne : « Si la vie n’arrête pas de me prendre à la
gorge, je mange le corps qui me vole mon homme. »(p.5). Et puis écoutons les pensées
d’Ada lorsqu’elle est entrain de donner la « dose d’ordres thérapeutiques » à sa nièce,
Ateba :
Elle marchait raide. Ada en était fière. A qui voulait bien l’écouter, elle
répétait : « J’ai réussi à lui (Ateba) programmer la même destinée que
moi, que ma mère, qu’avant elle la mère de ma mère ; la chaîne n’est pas
rompue, la chaîne n’a jamais été rompue. » (p.6)
Par l’emploi de ces discours, la narratrice vise à laisser le lecteur formuler ses propres
opinions à travers ce qu’il voit et entend. Ainsi il rend son récit objectif, fiable et
convaincant. De plus, le récit est souvent interrompu par de petits dialogues dans lesquels
nous écoutons les pensées et les opinions des personnages sur des sujets différents. Nous
choisirons l'un de ces dialogues où les femmes expriment leur impression sur la
circoncision et l’égoïsme.
La voix rauque de la grosse assise à côté d’elle la sort de ses réflexions.
« Tu sais pourquoi Etoundi nous a invités ?
-Non, Mâ…… Mais……
-Il circoncit son fils », interrompt la vieille. Voix basse. Rictus sceptique :
« je me demande s’il y aura du vin.
- Bofǃ dit la grosse, méprisante. Je me suis préparée à rentrer chez moi le
ventre vide. Etoundi est comme les autres. Tout dans la tête, rien dans les
mains.
- L’égoïsme, c’est la mode maintenantǃ Les jeunes ne savent plus donner.
Ce sont les Blancs qui leur collent ça dans tête.
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-Oh non ǃ C’est pas la faute aux Blancs ǃ (sic) Ce sont nos jeunes qui veulent
leur ressembler.
-Vous ne pensez pas qu’ils ont raison après tout ? intervient, (sic)
goguenards, une maigrichonne qui avait suivi la conversation depuis le début.
La famille, la famille, la famille, toujours la famille ! Il serait peut-être temps
qu'ils songent un peu à leur propre avenir.
-Et qui seraient-ils sans la famille ? interroge la grosse, railleuse. [ ….]
-Voilà Etoundi qui arrive. »
Un homme, petit et bien tassé sur son gras, se fraye un chemin dans la
foule. Les bouches se cousent. [….] Enfin, il parle : [….] (p. 25-26).
Ce passage relate une conversation entre trois femmes lors d'une cérémonie familiale. Le
dialogue est introduit par une phrase de la narratrice : « La voix rauque de la grosse assise
à côté d'elle la sort de ses réflexions » (p. 25). Tout en introduisant la conversation, cette
phrase donne des détails sur le premier des interlocuteurs. Le dialogue débute alors par
des guillemets et une question ; « Tu sais pourquoi Etoundi nous a invités? » (p.25) Ateba,
à qui la question s'adresse, ne peut y répondre, car une vieille femme l'interrompt pour
donner sa propre réponse : « Il circoncit son fils » interrompt la vieille. Voix basse. Rictus
sceptique: « Je me demande s'il y aura du vin. » (p.25) Cette réplique montre combien la
narratrice est incluse dans le récit puisqu'il s’y immisce pour indiquer les gestes ou la
manière dont la phrase est émise. Comme les interlocuteurs de cette conversation sont
des personnages secondaires, il paraît judicieux que la narratrice n'indique pas le nom des
différentes personnes mais signale simplement un trait de leur personnalité qui permet de
les différencier : " la grosse", " la vieille ", " la maigrichonne ". En ce qui concerne les
interventions de la narratrice, elles sont présentées dans la plupart des répliques, pour
indiquer tout d'abord qui parle, principalement quand ce n'est pas clairement établi, et
d'autre part pour donner des détails sur le locuteur. Ce dernier se voit dans telles phrases
du dialogue :
-- Vous ne pensez pas qu'ils ont raison après tout? intervient (sic)
goguenarde, une maigrichonne qui avait suivi la conversation depuis
le début. La famille, la famille, la famille, toujours la famille ! Il serait
peut-être temps qu'ils songent un peu à leur propre avenir. (pp.25-26)
Comme nous l'avons observé, Calixthe Beyala utilise dans son roman le style direct pour
introduire les propos des personnages. Cependant nous avons rencontré des passages
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dans lesquels elle mélange le style direct et le style indirect libre. Nous ne citons qu’un
passage qui reproduit une des exploitations des femmes par Yossep :
Yossep aime ces moments d’épanchement, ces moments où il peut la
prendre par le bras et l’emmener. Il tiendra une loque un peu ivre de
douleur. Il la conduira à son fauteuil. Il lui servira un hâa qu’elle boira cul sec
sans s’en rendre compte, sans même reconnaître tout à fait la saveur de son
alcool préféré. Et, un peu plus tard, quand le soleil aura tout à fait disparu,
elle lui donnera cet ordre, toujours le même : « Viens me faire l’amour. »
Il l’accompagnera dans la chambre. Il l’embrassera. Il plantera ses ongles dans
son dos. Il la caressera. Elle exigera que ça aille vite, très vite, qu’il se
dépêche. Il la prendra. [….] (p.73).
Dans ces phrases ci-dessus, l'absence de conjonction de subordination ou le verbe
introducteur montre qu'il s'agit ici d'un style indirect libre. Mais on note aussi une phrase
directe usée au milieu de la narration. Bien que la narratrice veuille être unique en
choisissant cette manière de narrer, elle cherche aussi à montrer l’image de l’action
amoureuse que prend Yossep en engageant sa proie.
9.0 Discours blasphématoire
Dans C'est le soleil qui m'a brûlée, l’auteure se sert aussi d’un discours frappant qui est rare
parmi les romanciers africains. C’est le discours blasphématoire. C’est rare de trouver les
romanciers mettant en question l’existence de Dieu ou des dieux dans leurs ouvrages.
Cependant, nous découvrons Calixthe Beyala qui en fait un de ses points forts dans ses
romans. À l’instar de bon nombre d’écrivains africains postcoloniaux, elle recourt à
l’écriture démystificatrice. Dans notre analyse, nous allons utiliser le terme blasphème
dont le premier sens est la violation du sacré. À cet égard, par blasphème, nous faisons
référence à ce qui est considéré comme sacro-saint par la religion. En effet, ce terme
‘blasphème’ se constitue de propos insolents tenus contre Dieu, les divinités ou la religion.
On découvre que souvent le blasphème est véhiculé par la parole et l’écriture alors que
le sacrilège est un acte commis. C’est ce que confirme Jonathan F. Cordero
(2000 :633), « Au mode verbal et écrit du blasphème s’oppose à la forme physique et
visuelle du sacrilège. » Dans C'est le soleil qui m'a brûlée, il consiste de blasphèmes dans la
mesure où la profanation du sacré de l’auteure prend la forme de discours au lieu d’un
acte. Le fait de qualifier l’histoire d’Adam et d’Ève de mythe dans son roman, montre
comment Calixthe Beyala ridiculise la notion de création d’inspiration divine. Elle laisse
Ateba décrire l’histoire d’Adam et d’Ève comme un mythe. Ce discours dénote son
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irréligiosité et sa confusion dans les circonstances dans lesquelles elle se trouve. De
surcroît, nous découvrons que l’auteure se donne le but de se rendre au service de
l’attaque anti-patriarcale et au service du féminisme. Par conséquent, elle met en question
l’existence de Dieu et ses jugements. La narratrice nous fait la description de l’homme
par l’entremise d’Ateba qui se présente devant Jean :
[…] Obsédée par Dieu, elle l’avait interrogé ? D’ou venait-il ? Qui était-il ?
Était-il marie ? […] La vie ne serait elle qu’un tableau peint par un fou pour
fuir la folie qui l’assaille ? Il y a trop de désordre dans son art. Souffrait-il ?
Avait-il le vertige d’où il était ? […] Elle décide que Dieu est vieux et
probablement sourd. […] Dieu a certainement raté sa vie pour avoir créé
de telles imbécillités. […] Elle souffre pour Dieu qui souffre d’avoir raté son
œuvre. (p.37-38)
Dans cet extrait, nous disons qu’il paraît qu’Ateba Léocadie s’en prend à Dieu à cause des
injustices perpétrées par l’homme, le représentant de Dieu devant la femme. Elle semble
reprocher l’homme qu’elle considère comme un être cruel. Mais plus pertinent encore
est le fait qu’Ateba met en cause la philosophie de l’homme qu’il peut se permettre tout
même au détriment de la femme, au nom d’un droit que Dieu lui a légué.
Puis, Calixthe Beyala cherche le moyen de couvrir d’injures la divinité patriarcale. A cet
égard, l’auteure s’ancre sur la condition intolérable d’Ateba et d’autres femmes pour
attaquer la divinité. Ateba, acculée à l’exploitation de Jean et à la prostitution, fait
certaines déclarations inattendues. Par conséquent, elle conclut que l’être humain n’a pas
besoin de Dieu pour s’implanter au monde et y former son destin au sein des
circonstances. Elle explose :
[…] La vie ne serait elle qu’un tableau peint par un fou pour fuir la folie
qui l’assaille ? Il y a trop de désordre dans son art. Souffrait-il ? Avait-il
le vertige d’où il était ? Les hauteurs donnent le vertige. Avait-il la nausée ?
Les femmes souffrent de nausée pendant leurs grossesses. Néanmoins,
Ateba était sereine. Dieu répondrait. […] Dieu n’est pas venu. Elle décide
que Dieu est vieux et probablement sourd. Si Dieu ne peut entendre, il ne
reste que le geste ou l’écrit. […] Elle pleure. Dieu a certainement raté sa
vie pour avoir créé de telles imbécillités. Et elle souffre, Ateba. Elle souffre
pour Dieu qui souffre d’avoir raté son œuvre. (p.37-38)
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En plus, nous notons que l’auteure évoque l’injustice divine et la dérive existentielle, en
utilisant une langue forte. Elle fait dire à Ateba :
Est-ce ainsi que Dieu avait imaginé sa création ? Tant de pas sur le
chemin pour encore plus d’erreurs, d’échecs, de méchancetés accumulées
dans les caves boueuses de l’histoire […] tu tueras au nom de Dieu. (p.45)
Cette position d’Ateba de l’incrimination et la négation de Dieu lui tente de dire tout. Elle
met en question la morale phallocratique. Face à cette libération du corps féminin, Ateba
déclare : « Le péché est une illusion, il n’y a jamais eu de péché, le péché est un mythe. »
(p.138) Voilà comment une auteure fait couler ses sentiments en mots et en discours qui
sont auparavant estimés blasphématoires.
10. Appui technique de protolangage
L’écrivaine est obligée d’utiliser un protolangage pour démystifier l’acte du musellement
de la femme. À travers le regard, l’héroïne, Ateba, fait passer le message qui décrit les
relations complexes entre l’homme et la femme. Ateba, par exemple, est attirée par Jean
mais son discours tend à la convaincre du contraire. Elle cherche à réfréner le désir qu’elle
éprouve pour l’homme en mettant autant de mépris dans son regard et de réticences
dans ses gestes pour le repousser. Elle devient ainsi le paragon de la suprématie féminine
et soumet la virilité de l’homme à rude épreuve. Nous trouvons une similitude de
contexte dans la plupart des romans de Calixthe Beyala où la femme est l’héroïne, et est
au centre des préoccupations sociales avec des référents symboliques divergents. Par
exemple, Andela, l’héroïne de L’homme qui m’offrait le ciel de Calixthe Beyala, est une
femme amoureuse qui a perdu toute capacité de discerner le vrai amour d’une aventure
au lendemain avec un homme marié. François Ackermann l’abreuve de mots doux et elle
se laisse langoureusement flotter sur les nuages qu’il lui apporte et le ciel qu’il lui offre lui
suffit. Chez Calixthe Beyala, c’est toujours l’homme qui est à l’origine des malheurs de la
femme : il la consume, l’attire vers le bas, vers la prostitution comme à la fin de C’est le
soleil qui m’a brûlée et la plonge dans un profond désarroi dans L’homme qui m’offrait le ciel.
11. Style de Calixthe Beyala
L’auteure de C’est le soleil que m’a brûlée montre un esthétisme d’art dans son choix de
style pour lancer une révolte contre l’exploitation de la femme et faire une critique du
système patriarcal. Elle se sert de style qui aide à véhiculer son message. Dans cette phase
nous allons relever des circonstances dans lesquelles l’auteure emploie son style
remarquable pour atteindre son but. Une de ces technique de style est le dialogue.
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12. Emploi de dialogue
Calixthe Beyala se sert du dialogue pour véhiculer son sujet. Prenons par exemple la
situation dans le récit où le dialogue nous fait comprendre les actions, les pensés et les
messages des personnages. Nous observons Jean et Ateba qui s’engagent dans une vive
conversation amoureuse. A travers ces dialogues, nous découvrons qu’Ateba est tiraillée
entre le désir de poursuivre la ligne de prostitution de sa mère et de rester forte pour se
venger des cruautés de l’homme. Bien qu’elle veuille s’éloigner de la prostitution, son
sentiment l’amène maintes fois chez Jean qui l’accoste avec des propositions d’amour.
Observons ce dialogue entre Jean et Ateba :
-
-
-
« Parle-moi de toi. »
C’est toi qui dois me parler de toi ; rétorque Ateba. Il ne m’arrive jamais rien.
Impossible, trésor. Tu mens. D’ailleurs je n’ai jamais compris pourquoi les
femmes ont toutes besoin de jouer le « Peau-d’âne » dès qu’on les drague.
Trêve de balivernes! Raconte-moi tes aventures.
Si tu veux savoir si j’ai déjà baisé avec un homme, alors la réponse est non !
Et si tu m’as invitée pour ça, alors ciao ! »’’
« Tu ne vas pas te vexer, ma douce. Toutes les femmes mentent. Et je trouve
cela charmant. Une femme n’est jamais aussi belle que quand elle est maquillée.
Se maquiller, c’est tricher. D’ailleurs…. »
« Pardonne-moi, chérie. Je t’ai blessée. Tu es différente des autres femmes, je
le sais. Je voulais seulement te taquiner. (pp.59-60)
Cet extrait nous fait savoir la relation sexuelle qui s’établit entre Jean et Ateba. Voilà une
scène qui surprend la narratrice et tout un lecteur. On trouve Ateba retourné chez
l’homme qui l’a violée. A la suite, nous allons examiner comment et pourquoi Beyala
utilise-il des images dans son récit.
13. Images
La violence est transmise dans l’expression de Calixthe Beyala à travers des images. Nous
trouvons la narratrice qui exprime la haine qu’elle ressent pour l’attitude de l’homme
envers la femme. Nous débouchons sur l’image de violence dans le roman
particulièrement liée aux scènes sexuelles narrées. Nous retiendrons cet exemple
caractéristique :
Il lui plie le bras dans le dos et l'oblige à s'agenouiller devant lui.
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« J'en veux pour mon argent, dit-il en frottant son sexe sur sa bouche.
Prends-le. »
Il l'empoigne par les cheveux, il la force, elle résiste la bouche pleine de sa
chair. Il se balance, les yeux mi-clos, la nuque ployée en arrière. Il s'enfonce,
il veut sentir le sommet de sa gorge. Il va tout au fond avec des petits coups
secs, rapides. Il souffle, il râle, elle le reçoit, la nausée dans le ventre. (p.151)
La violence qui s'inscrit ici porte sur la révélation exacte des faits. Il n’y a pas d’effort pour
adoucir les faits de cette scène de révolte. Ensuite, le caractère violent apparaît encore
dans une situation où la narratrice évoque un certain ressentiment envers la gent
masculine. Ceci se trouve dans la rencontre physique de deux êtres qui s'accompagnent
le plus souvent. Nous avons retenu deux rencontres physiques vécues par Ateba,
l'héroïne. Ces rencontres se situent à la fin du roman. Nous considérons la première de
ces scènes très violentes car elle décrit en fait un viol. Suivant le déroulement du récit, on
comprend que l’héroïne accepte volontairement d'accompagner un homme chez lui. Mais
lorsque celui-ci désire avoir des échanges sexuels avec elle, elle refuse. L’homme recourt
à la violence et viole la femme au lieu de la convaincre ou la séduire. Dès le début de
cette description, la violence est présentée par les détails très réalistes rapportés par la
narratrice qui utilise un vocabulaire particulier: « Il attrape son bras d'une main et de
l'autre continue à se branler » (p.131). Une action qui au départ aurait pu être une simple
relation sexuelle devient un abus de pouvoir avec toute la violence qui le caractérise:
Elle tente de se libérer. Il l'agrippe plus fort, l'oblige à s'allonger sur le lit.
Il s'abat sur elle, elle le frappe, il s'attaque à son slip, elle le mord, elle ne
veut pas, il s'évertue à la soumettre, il fonce sur le clitoris, elle se cabre, elle
serre les cuisses pour faire obstacle à la main qui se fraye un chemin à coups
d'ongles. (p.132)
Par cette description réaliste où les sentiments sont inexistants, la narratrice parvient à
nous donner une image négative de l'acte sexuel. Apparemment : « Déjà il est partout
collant comme de la boue après l'orage » (p.132). En effet, il faut dire que l'objectif de la
narratrice est alors atteint puisque l'acte sexuel n'est plus qu'un acte de violence où la
femme ne prend aucun plaisir:
La douleur est fulgurante, elle gémit, il n'entend pas, il dit : « Oh ! C'est
bon ! Tu es chaude », elle le griffe, il s'accroche à ses mots, elle pense aux
sexes qui ont éventré sa mère et au sexe en elle. D'un geste rageur elle
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accroche sa main au sexe, le retire, le serre, elle serre de plus en plus fort,
elle l'étrangle, elle a de la violence bandante dans ses mains. Elle se dit
qu'elle tient bon, qu'elle tiendra jusqu'au bout. Elle veut le forcer à jouir
hors d'elle, elle entreprend un mouvement de va et vient. Un râle, deux
contractions. C'est fini. (p.132)
Cependant malgré ce désir de ne pas répondre à l'homme, Ateba doit se soumettre à ses
propres désirs féminins qui ont besoin d'être satisfaits :
Il ne l'entend pas, il se laisse glisser le long de son corps, il s'accroupit
entre ses jambes, il soulève sa robe et place sa tête au creux de ses cuisses,
il fait aller sa langue. Elle ferme les yeux, elle l'empoigne par les cheveux,
elle l'oblige à activer son mouvement, elle roule des hanches, elle se frotte
sur son visage, elle veut que ça aille vite, qu'il se dépêche, qu'il aille tout au
fond, qu'il lui fasse l'amour avec le sommet de son crâne, il ne veut pas, elle
resserre les cuisses, elle le soumet, elle ne bouge plus. Il comprend qu'elle
jouit. (pp. 133-134)
C'est là l'une des seules scènes dans laquelle l'homme ne répond qu'au désir sexuel de la
femme. Cependant c'est également une scène négative pour la femme qui ne fait ici
qu'assouvir ses instincts. La violence accompagne également la deuxième scène annoncée.
Dans celle-ci, Ateba Léocadie nargue l'homme dans la mesure où elle se prostitue. En
effet, tout en donnant son corps, elle ne lui donne ni son amour ni son âme :
Maintenant, elle est allongée dans le lit et l'homme s'est jeté sur ses seins.
Il la mange, il la taquine, il commente leur fermeté, la finesse de l'aréole.
Puis brusquement il saisit les jambes et les pose sur ses épaules, attrape les
reins à bras de corps avant de s'enfoncer en elle avec un râle de plaisir (...)
Ateba n'a pas poussé un seul cri. (p.150)
Lorsque l'homme pense à la soumettre en déclarant « que Dieu a sculpté la femme à
genoux aux pieds de l'homme » (p.150), l’héroïne atteint son but à s'en libérer, en lui
soustrayant sa vie, en le tuant. Pourtant, elle cherchait un temps propice pour démontrer
sa révolte et confirmer sa vengeance contre l’homme selon la perception qu’elle a envers
lui. Nous découvrons ce qu’elle dit à propos de l’homme :
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En le regardant, elle comprend mieux pourquoi ces corps d’hommes ont
réussi à mettre l’humanité à leurs pieds. Ils sont de ceux qui détruisent,
saccagent, mutilent mais réussissent à se blanchir les mains en un clin
d’œil. (p.35)
Enfin, notre auteure devient trop agressive quand elle fait emploi d’images animalières.
Elle réduit les êtres humains à l’état des animaux. On rencontre beaucoup d’images liées
à la bête. Dès le début du récit, nous entendons ceci « Des rats jouent à cachecache. Des
chiens et des chats pelés se disputent quelques détritus….. » (p.9). Presque sur chaque
page l’auteure emploie cette langue animalière. Cet acte montre sa révolte contre le
patriarche. Elle nous fait comprendre que les animaux font partie du cadre du décor
humain et que les hommes se comportent comme eux. On trouve beaucoup d’images
obsédantes liées au monde animal auquel les hommes sont assimilés. L’auteure en tant
qu’africaine, se caractérise par son emploi d’un ou deux proverbes dans son roman.
14. Proverbes
L’homme a toujours été hanté par le désir de se faire comprendre. Ce qu’il dit n’est pas
toujours clair ou assez précis. Il cherche à convaincre son interlocuteur, et pour cela, il
utilise parfois des formules frappantes, différentes des formules habituelles. Le proverbe
s’emploie à cette fin. En Afrique, le proverbe s’emploie pour désigner généralement les
formes apparentées, comme l’adage, la maxime, l’aphorisme, le dicton qui, dans la tradition
occidentale, possèdent des critères propres de différenciation. D’après C. Maalu-Bungi
(2006 : 141) :
La raison en est qu’à quelques exceptions près, ces distinctions, inhérentes
à cette civilisation, n’existent guère en littérature africaine où il est souvent
difficile d’appliquer les critères utilisés pour établir ces catégorisations, celui,
par exemple, de l’existence d’un auteur connu qui caractérise la maxime,
l’aphorisme et apophtegme par rapport au proverbe réputé anonyme.
En effet, plus que par l’usage, comme c’est le cas pour la plupart des genres littéraires de
la tradition orale, le proverbe se définit essentiellement par son emploi. Il n’existe
seulement à l’intérieur d’une culture spécifique ; mais encore il faut l’interpréter
correctement, le resituer dans son environnement culturel. À cet effet, le proverbe est
récité textuellement par celui qui l’utilise, ce qui démontre une certaine pérennité.
D’ailleurs, comme nous l’avons déjà noté, chez les Africains, « le proverbe est avant tout
pragmatique. Il sert, il joue le rôle de conseiller et de redresser l’esprit qui s’égare. Le
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proverbe est une éthique » (Cabakulu, 2003 : 10.) On peut évoquer aussi cette autre
définition de l’écrivain nigérian Chinua Achebe qui écrit : « Chez les Ibo, l’art de la
conversation jouit d’une grande considération, les proverbes sont l’huile de palme qui fait
passer les mots avec les idées. » (Achebe, 1972 : 13.) En raison de leurs relations avec les
événements historiques d’une part, et avec la vision du monde d’autre part, les proverbes
constituent l’expression de la sagesse des peuples. Leur concision et leur précision leur
permettent de convaincre l’auditoire.
Dans le roman de notre étude par exemple, la narratrice de Calixthe Beyala
emploie avec modération des proverbes pour transmettre son message afin que cela
fasse l’impact sur le lecteur. Nous ne mentionnons que ces trois ; « […] car le sage
comme l’esprit ne doit répondre qu’à l’essentiel. », (P.7) Dans un dialogue où elles font
des commérages sur Étoundi, une vieille dit : « Le vent a des oreilles » (P.26) à son
interlocuteur pour éviter l’attention d’un passant. Puis, la narratrice nous fait comprendre
comme Ateba se revendique contre l’homme, Jean qui la viole. Après l’attaque d’Ateba,
la narratrice omnisciente commente : « Un berger ne marque-t-il pas ses brebis au fer
rouge pour les reconnaître ? » (P.31) Tous ces proverbes sont employés par les
personnages et la narratrice pour renforcer leurs arguments et pour enrichir leurs
conversations. Ce qui retient l’attention du lecteur à propos du style de Beyala est
l’emploi de la question rhétorique. Notre sujet suivant va alors se baser sur ce style.
15. Emploi de questions rhétoriques
Chez Calixthe. Beyala, on identifie aussi l’emploi des questions rhétoriques. Dans C'est le
soleil qui m'a brûlée, une interrogation directe est toujours employée pour associer le
lecteur au récit : « A quoi bon répondre ? " (P.121). Voilà une question introduite dans la
narration, à laquelle on n'attend pas de véritable réponse puisque celle-ci est sousentendue. De même, par la suite, il paraît qu’il existe une sorte d'échange entre la
narratrice et le lecteur:
Le moins qu'Ateba puisse dire, c'est que sa Betty n'était pas une sorcière.
Une traînée ? Peut-être. Mais pas une vampire (sic). Elle ne s'était jamais
nourrie de l'homme. (p.123)
Par l'emploi de l'interrogative et du dirème, ces quelques lignes présentent complètement
les caractéristiques de l'oral, en faisant intervenir le lecteur dans le texte. Il semble que la
narratrice anticipe ainsi les réactions de son lecteur. Nous allons maintenant considérer
le recours à des faits du passés ; l’analepse.
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16. Emploie de l’analepse
Souvent aussi, nous assistons à l’usage de l’analepse (le flash-back). Dans le cadre d’un
récit, l’analepse consiste à effectuer un retour sur des événements antérieurs au moment
de la narration. On recourt toujours à cette technique pour raconter certains événements
ou éclairer le passé d’un personnage. Nous trouvons que la narratrice faire recours à
l’événement passé dans l’œuvre où Ateba se rappelle sa mauvaise aventure sexuelle avec
Combi, son cadet de cinq ans. Cet acte indique l’influence indirecte des faits d’un
environnement sur les habitants. Dans cette situation anaphorique, nous constatons
qu’Ateba a été déjà initiée à la prostitution depuis quinze ans. De plus, nous débouchons
sur l’analepse concernant l’effet de la prostitution de Betty. Il devient évident que la
maladie de cette dernière provient de son rapport sexuel avec des hommes différents.
17. Métaphore
Bien plus unique, Calixthe Beyala se montre une véritable esthéticienne dans sa
présentation de la prostitution. En général, elle se sert de la métaphore. Dans le titre de
son roman ; ‘soleil’ se réfère à l’homme qui, selon elle, oblige la femme à se prostituer ;
‘‘brûlée’’ dans le titre signifie ‘enlaidie’. Alors, le titre renvoie au fait que c’est l’homme qui
a exploité et enlaidi la femme. L’auteure se sert de cette figure accrocheuse pour
communiquer son message-clé qu’elle dépeint. Elle affirme que la femme est complète et
parfaite en elle-même, mais c’est la violence de l’homme qui la corrompt. Ce fait pousse
Ateba Léocadi à garder rancune envers l’homme qui l’a violenté.
Symbolisme
Le symbole se présente également comme procédé de description de la prostitution chez
Calixthe Beyala. En décrivant les ébats sexuels des prostituées professionnelles, elle nous
laisse entendre ceci:
Irène habite au dernier poteau chez ses parents… qui assistent, sans
trop de douleur, à la déchéance de leur fille. Irène lui parlera de ses
« parties de jambes en l’air’ ». (p.76)
Le symbole ici c’est que ‘‘ les jambes en l’air’’ représente les acrobaties sexuelles d’Irène
lorsqu’elle rencontre les hommes, ses clients. Beyala passe ainsi par le biais de symboles
pour s’exprimer de façon pittoresque. En outre, nous voyons un symbolisme calorique
dans le titre ; C'est le soleil qui m'a brûlée. Le titre du roman prépare le lectorat à la
brutalité des événements comme le meurtre, les voies de fait, les violences familiales et
la révolte existentielle sanglante. Cette brutalité va de pair avec la violence verbale
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subversive et la langue scabreuse anti-patriarcale. Puis, nous notons que l’auteure use la
lumière pour représenter la femme. Pourtant la femme était la source de la lumière dans
les mythes camerounais, donc pour Beyala, les femmes doivent reconquérir la lumière
qui est affaiblie par l’homme. Mais c’est le soleil qui donne la lumière. Le soleil dans le
récit représente Dieu et Dieu pour Beyala contribue à la souffrance ou l’oppression des
femmes.
18. Anaphore
L’emploi de l’anaphore est remarquable chez C. Beyala. Elle se sert de l’anaphore pour
montrer le cheminement de son esprit qui rationalise les efforts de la femme pour vaincre
la violence prostitutionnelle dont la femme, son héroïne, est victime.
[…] Un jour, le passé viendra et, […] la femme froissera le présent en
boule et le jettera dans le fleuve des abominations. Et si elle avait tort ?
Et si elle poursuivait des Chimères ? Et si le passé ne revenait pas ? Et
si la femme continuait de vivre dans un monde déchu ? (p.25)
Ici, nous voyons comment semble travailler l’esprit de la femme-écrivain à travers ces
quatre périodes anaphoriques que nous citons. La première semble marquer une
hésitation chez la femme par rapport à la mise à terme de la prostitution. La deuxième
approfondit ce doute, déjouant ainsi l’œuvre de libération. La troisième exagère la
situation, la rend pire, car elle semble dire que se libérer de la prostitution est impossible.
Enfin, la quatrième veut traduire le refus de la femme de quitter le monde de la
prostitution.
19. Figure de réticence
Nous nous retrouvons sur cette citation de Dejean (1968), « Le non dit de l’écriture est
un dit biaisé » qui pourra être la source d’emploi d’une technique de style dans C'est le
soleil qui m'a brûlée. Beyala, convaincue de cette vérité littéraire, emploie la figure de
pensée, à savoir, la réticence. Cette figure consiste à s’interrompre avant d’avoir achevé
l’expression d’une pensée, tout en laissant entendre ce qu’on ne dit pas. Ainsi, décrivant
la prostitution de son héroïne, Ateba, Beyala fait dire ceci à sa narratrice ;
La garce en question divague. Son cœur déraille…ses tympans sifflent...
ses sens dérapent... De peur. Celle apprise, faite de morts-vivants, d’esprits
et d’horribles aventures. Et « si durant la nuit un esprit m’a emprunté mon
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corps … » et « si en me caressant je me suis...sans m’en rendre compte »
et « si … » Et « Non... » « Impossible, je m’en serais aperçue... » (p.67)
Nous nous servons d’un seul exemple de réticence à travers cette citation pour éclairer
l’emploi de cette figure. Ateba dit : « si en me caressant je me suis ... ». On peut
comprendre ce qui doit suivre, ce que l’auteur de la phrase veut dire en relation de ce qui
précède les trois points de suspension. Ce qui est sous-entendu dans ce cas particulier,
c’est ‘donnée à lui’. Cette réponse que nous fournissons s’enchaîne avec l’autre bribe de
la pensée qui suit à savoir, « sans m’en rendre compte ».
20. Appui sur allusion biblique
L’écrivaine utilise allusion biblique pour railler les personnages qui se défendent de leur
culpabilité. Par exemple, dans son humeur dérangée, Ada remarque quand elle attend son
amant dans un café pour la première fois. « […] qu’aurait fait le Christ s’il n’avait pas eu
son papa à ses côtés?»(p.57). Un jour après avoir satisfait son amant, Ateba Léocadie aussi
se demande : « […] peut-être attendent-ils la venue du Christ, la rédemption, la
résurrection ? » (p.118) pour questionner l’exploitation de la femme par l’homme. Puis,
on voit Ateba qui est déjà coupable du péché qu’elle est en train de commettre se défend :
La femme et la femme. Nul ne l’a écrit ; nul ne l’a dit. [...] « C’est parce que
le péché est une illusion, il n’y a jamais eu de péché, le péché est un mythe,
et Adam et Eve ? Un mythe… » (p138)
21. Absence des intertitres
Calixthe Beyala dans C’est le soleil qui m’a brûlée présente un paratexte riche et bien
construit. Tout au long du récit, l’auteure n’a pas introduit un intertitre. Un style qui est
presque rare parmi les écrivains. Nous constatons que le motif de cette absence
d’intertitre provient certainement du désir de ne pas dévoiler le récit avant la lecture du
texte, d’autant plus que le titre général n’apporte aucun élément sur la teneur du roman.
Le lecteur pourra donc découvrir, pas à pas, le récit sans idée préconçue.
22. Le ton des textes : l’oralité
Chaque auteur s’exprime sur un ton, qui lui est propre et cela constituera une
composante de son style. Calixthe Beyala à sa façon, emploie constamment le ton d’oralité
dans son récit. Par l’oralité, nous entendons l’introduction de formes du discours oral
dans le texte écrit. La forme d’oralité qu’emploie C’est le soleil qui m’a brûlée apparaît de
manière plus classique. En effet, cette oralité se trouve dans l’incipit qui constitue une
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sorte de préambule au récit. L'aspect oral apparaît, au premier texte, dans la répétition
des mêmes termes, ce qui crée un certain rythme d’oral:
Mais Moi, Moi dont les ténèbres avaient rendu la présence aussi invisible que
l'invisible, je savais que la bouche mentait, je savais que la langue mentait, je
savais que même les oreilles qui se tendaient timidement pour leurs doses
de prescriptions mentaient, tous mentaient ... " (p.6)
D'autre part la typographie de certains mots signale qu'ils sont prononcés différemment
des autres : « […] MOI, en un mot JE GÊNAIS, j'encombrais. » (p.6-7) Également la
construction symétrique de certaines phrases souligne l'oralité, comme dans:
J'attendais que vienne à Moi tous les enfants d'Afrique, tous les enfants de
l’univers. Je voulais qu'ils sachent comment l'homme pleure au lieu de rire,
comment il parle au lieu de chanter... (p.7)
Dans la deuxième ouverture, l'oralité est moins apparente, dans la mesure où il s'agit d'un
récit à la troisième personne. Cependant, dans ce texte aussi, le narrateur participe à la
narration ce qui accentue la côté oral du texte « ah ! La ! La! L’homme a de la barbe »
(P.13). Nous découvrons aussi le rythme de l'oral qui s'inscrit dans l'emploi de phrases
nominales telles que ; « Il a ouï dire que la gâ la plus platinée du monde n'aime pas la
famille ... A moins que ... Pas le temps aujourd’hui. Il y songera un autre jour. (p.11)
Dans un autre exemple, c'est particulièrement le vocabulaire choisi qui marque l'oralité :
« A jamais inscrite dans ses mémoires de fauché. Cul. Billet. Fesse. Tout diffère de cette
crasse qugétiste vidée de tout. » (p.10) Les termes que nous venons de soulever sont des
termes qui ne sont pas utilisés habituellement dans un texte écrit. Ils sont plutôt toujours
produits à l’oral. Mais Calixthe Beyala a choisi ce style non seulement pour se distinguer
et montrer son originalité mais aussi pour mieux avancer son message de la suprématie
détestable de l’homme vis-à-vis la femme. Enfin , l’écriture de Calixthe Beyala confirme
bien les remarques de Gabrielle Frémont à propos de ce qu’elle appelle « l’effet-femme »
dans la façon dont les femmes s’expriment : « Qu’une femme, ça ne parle pas comme un
homme, que ça ne parle pas ‘pareil’ paraît l’évidence même : voix intonation, hésitation,
silences, ruptures, lorsqu’il s’agit du discours oral ; fluctuation, approximation, fluidité,
ponctuation en manque ou en trop, quand il s’agit de l’écriture » (Frémont, 1979: 324).
La technique de langue et du style à la quelle recourt notre auteure marque la
caractéristique typique d’une femme africaine muselée, déprimée et blessée. C’est cette
situation amère qui donne lieu alors à la revendication et en une sorte de vengeance de
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ces humiliations. Calixthe Beyala n’est pas la seule écrivaine africaine qui cherche à se
revancher et à lutter pour la liberté de la femme par sa plume. Une autre femme qui doit
être observée aussi à cet égard est Mariama Bâ, une écrivaine sénégalaise. Alors notre
chapitre suivant se consacrera à Une si longue lettre de Mariama Bâ.
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Les références
Agyekum, Kofi. (2007). Introduction to literature. Accra: Media Design
Bâ, Mariama. (1979). Une si longue lettre. Dakar: Nouvelles Éditions Africaines.
Beyala, Calixthe. (1987). C’est le soleil qui m’a brûlée, Paris : J’ai lu
Bakhtine, M. (1978). Esthétique et théorie du roman. Paris: Gallimard
Barthes, Roland. (1972). Le Degré Zéro de l’écriture. Suivi de nouveaux essais critiques. Paris:
Seul
Barthes, Roland. (1953). Le Degré zéro de l'écriture. Paris : Éditions du seuil
Calas, Frédéric. (1996). Le Roman Épistolaire. Paris: Éditions Nathan
Cressot, Marcel. (1963). Le style et ses techniques. Paris: PUF
Frémont, Gabrielle. (1979). « Casse-texte », Études Littéraires, n°.12, 3, décembre
Genette, G. (1980). Narrative Discourse. Oxford: Basil Blackwell
Genette, G. (1983). Nouveau discours du récit. Paris: Seuil
Gengembre, Gérard. (1996). Les Grands courants de la critique littéraire. Paris : Seuil
J. Dubois, R., Lagone, G., Niobey, D., Casalis, J., Casalis, H., Meschonnic. (1966).
Dictionnaire du français contemporain. Paris : Librairie Larousse
Jefferson Ann and David Robey. (1988). Modern Literary Theory: A comparative
Introduction. London B.T. Batsford Ltd
Lehmann, Alise et Martin- Berthet, Françoise. (2008). Introduction à la lexicologie;
Sémantique et morphologie. Paris : Armand Colin
Lejeune, Philippe. (1996). Le Pacte autobiographique. Éditions du Seuil
Mounin, G. (1974). Dictionnaire de linguistique. Paris : Quadrige/P.U.F.
Patillon, M. (1974). Précis d’analyse Littéraire. 1 les structures de la fiction.
Paris : Nathan
Planté, Christiane. (1998). L'épistolaire, un genre féminin? Paris : Honoré Champion
Robert, Paul. (1975). Dictionnaire alphabétique et analogique de la langue française.
Paris (XIe) : Société du Nouveau litre
Robert, Paul (2004). Le Nouveau Petit Robert, Dictionnaire alphabétique et analogique
de la langue Française, Paris : Dictionnaires le Robert
Versini, Laurent. (1979), Le Roman épistolaire. Paris : Presses Universitaires de France
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Changing Spectres: Interweaving Loops in
Kenyan Theatre
Hybrid Journal of Literary and
Cultural Studies
Volume 2, Issue 1, 2020
© 2020 The Author(s)
This open access article is
distributed under a Creative
Commons Attribution (CC-BY) 4.0
license.
Article Information
Submitted: 9th September 2019
Accepted: 5th October 2019
Published: 3rd January 2020
Conflict of Interest: No potential
conflict of interest was reported
by the author
Funding: None
Additional information is
available at the end of the article
https://creativecommons.org/lice
nses/by/4.0/
ISSN 2707-2150 (Online)
ISSN 2707-2169 (Print)
Emmanuel Tsikhungu Shikuku,
Department of Communication, Media, Film and Theatre
Studies,
Kenyatta University, Nairobi.
Email: [email protected]
Abstract
Theatre critics have proclaimed the death of serious theatre
on the stages of Kenya, arguing that all that could be seen are
slapstick comedies which cannot survive beyond stage
performance. Theatre and art in general is not static; it feeds
on the changing needs of humans that produce and consume
it. An analysis of the different facets of Theatre in Kenya since
1960 revealed that there is indeed a weaving loop which
sustains the interest in theatre, although these genres mutate
with changes in socio-economic and political realities of both
the producers and the consumers. Noting that there are
several milestones that could be used to determine the
development of theatre, it is observed that this development,
far from being linear, is multidirectional and multi-generic so
that theatre could grow out of oral narrative as it has been
the tradition as well as comedies off-shooting from day to day
life engagements. This article, however, conclusively argues
that the concept of intermediality is slowly catching up in the
Kenyan theatre and this has blinded many critics into thinking
that theatre is dying when in actual sense it is simply fusing
itself with other genres/media to come up with other forms
of performance.
Keywords: alternative theatre, intermediality, Kenya, national
theatre, spectres
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1.0 Introduction
Newspapers reviews and theatre critics have proclaimed the death of serious theatre on
the stages of Kenya. Arguing that all that can be seen are slapstick comedies that cannot
survive beyond the stage they are performed on, the critics have lamented that long gone
are the days when the National Theatre was a respected institution in which Theatre
worth artistic merit was brewed and performed. They also point to the fact that most of
the other theatre avenues like, The Kenya Schools and Colleges Drama Festival’ are no
longer producing publishable plays since they cannot be sustained beyond the Festival.
They further point an accusing finger at the lack of radio plays; an avenue that nurtured
many theatre practitioners of the older generation. In contradistinction, I argue in this
article that what we are witnessing is simply an evolving phenomenon. Theatre and art in
general is not static; it feeds on the changing needs of humans that produce and consume
it. An analysis of the different facets of Theatre in Kenya since the 1960 will reveal that
there is indeed a weaving loop which sustains the interest in theatre although these genres
mutate with changes in socio-economic and political realities of both the producers and
the consumers. Noting that there are several milestones that we can use to determine
the development of theatre, I observe that this development, far from being linear, is
multidirectional and multi-generic so that we have witnessed theatre growing out of oral
narrative tradition as well as comedies off-shooting from day to day life engagements.
Furthermore theatre has been decentred from just the National theatre and other
traditionally acclaimed theatre Halls to schools, churches, bars and even market places
through the little village and town travelling theatres that perform school set-books as
well as for corporate entities. Lastly I propose to argue that the concept of intermediality
is slowly catching up in the Kenyan theatre and this has blinded many critics into thinking
that theatre is dying when in actual sense it is simply fusing itself with other genres/media
to come up with other forms of performance.
2.0 Mainstream theatre
Discourses on theatre in the post-colonial Kenya have tended to be span around two
larger threads; the mainstream and the alternate. The mainstream is the most obvious;
the one that declares that after political independence theatre in Kenya was still in the
claws of the minority white British expatriate community and the African community had
to wrestle it from them. This thread contends that the Kenya National Theatre and the
Kenya Schools Festival were the two arenas of a contest that only abated with the
installation of Africans as chiefs of the two institutions. The entry Theatre and Performance
by Evan Mwangi in the Columbia Guide to East African Literature in English Since 1945 hints
to the birth and tag of war for the Kenya National Theatre. Mwangi (2007) writes that
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the KNT was built by the colonial government to serve as a hub of theatre activities and
that the history of Kenyan theatre is tightly woven around this institution. In spite of the
funding coming from the government grants and from Nairobi City Council, he notes that
there was a feeling that the institution did not serve the interests of majority of Kenyans
since the colonial structures were still in place and favoured European tastes even after
independence. The National theatre was located in what was mainly a European rich end
of Nairobi, it was led by Europeans and one had to pay high performance fees that African
artists or even theatre goers could not afford. Thus then much of the 1960 and 1970s are
considered years of the struggle to Africanise Kenyan theatre. The apex of this
africanization came in the 70s when Seth Adagala was appointed the head of the Kenya
National Theatre.
In the same book, Mwangi (2007, p.166) also notes that the Kenya Schools Drama
Festival was established by British Council in collaboration with East African Theatre
Guild, another expatriate outfit to serve the interests of schools under the white
expatriate control. And after independence this minority group continued to exercise
control of the schools drama festival until 1979 when Wasambo Were was appointed the
first black organizing secretary of the festival. In between there was what Oyekan
Owomoyela (1993) calls ‘the Creative revolt of the Kenya playwrights, theatre actors and
directors of the 70s’ that involved a display of vibrant dramatic creativity in a variety of
communication media including radio, and theatre. (p.156.) High school and University
students wrote and produced plays in Swahili, vernacular and also English. With this
explosion of theatrical energy rose names like F.D Imbuga, Micere Mugo, Kenneth
Watene, Waigwa Wachira, David Mulwa, Seth Adagala, and Tirus Gathwe among others.
(Mwangi, 2007, p.156.) These artists went on to sustain the mainstream theatre for many
years thereafter. At the head of this creative revolt was Ngugi wa Thiong’o who wrote
and produced The Black Hermit in 1968 and went on to collaborate with other writers in
scripting the experimental plays that came from the Kamiirithu Centre i.e. The Trial of
Dedan Kimathi, I will Marry when I want and the unpublished Mother Sing for Me. (Mwangi,
in Gikandi and Mwangi 2007, p.156)
The mainstream thread showers immense laudation to these activities at the
Kamiriithu Cultural and Educational Centre as a key plank on the raft of Kenyan theatre
hence making Ngugi virtually the foremost celebrated theatre artist in Kenya in the 70s.
It then goes further to point a few names like FD Imbuga and David Mulwa as some of the
theatre artists who sustained the mantle of mainstream theatre in the 80s and 90s. And
after noting some of the changes in the Kenya Schools and Colleges Drama Festival; the
introduction of primary school children as participants as well as the entries of Dance,
verses and oral narratives as items of competition, the discourse of the mainstream
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theatre in Kenya goes blank. It is at this point that theatre reviewers and literary drama
critics announce the death of serious theatre in Kenya since we are not having any more
plays published by established theatre artists.
2.1 Alternative theatre
In contrast, critics of the alternative theatre weave a different thread noting that theatre
in Kenya has always fed on both mainstream and the alternative in more ways than one.
Theatre is no longer just serving its own sake but also other imperatives as it continues
to be anchored in the many social demands made on individuals and communities in Kenya.
A theatre anchored in the social demands cannot therefore afford to remain within the
strict rules of the canon but experiment with many other aspects. The slow-down in
publishing performed plays that the Kenyan theatre scene experienced between the
decades of 1990 to 2010 has informed some of the critics in the mainstream theatre into
erroneously singing the dirge of the Kenyan theatre as a whole. This mistaken view
emanates from what Etherton (1982) calls, ‘a tendency to regard the play text as the only
raison d’être of theatre practice.’ We agree with him when he says that indeed, ‘there is a
need to go deeper into the wider processes behind theatre productions; the contexts and
the historical actualities that have given rise to particular forms and particular
representations (Etherton as quoted by Odera Outa 2009, p.15). And again there is the
assumption that everything serious must be published to be allowed through the gates of
the canon because what is unpublished is considered either inferior or erased (not
existing). What is lost in such imaginations of death of theatre is the fact of marginal
theatre which thrives in alternative spaces and which has also expanded the meaning of
the ‘four walls.’ These new frontiers of theatre include the popular theatre, theatre for
development, theatre for education, travelling theatres, theatres in the vernacular, bar
theatre, community theatre, radio theatre, street theatre, religious theatre as well as
corporate theatre. These are forms that are bold and vibrant in their experimentation by
employing inter/multi-medial and multi-generic strategies. They tackle issues ranging from
the particular, religion to general and topical issues like development and education. They
are forms of theatre that Odera Outa calls the theatres of the Margins since they are not
considered proper by gatekeepers in academic institutions.
In his book Performing Power; Ethnic Citizenship, Popular Theatre and the Contest of
nationhood in Modern Kenya, Outa (2009) deals with the politics and art/status of the
theatre of the margins in the Kenya of the 1980s and 1990s; and its complex nuances of
how power was literally performed and staged in various spaces but most importantly in
marginal spaces. He dwells a great deal on what he refers to as the popular theatre; a
theatre that is many forms and types of ‘dramatic expressions created in the
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contemporary postcolonial period which attempts to marry indigenous performance
practices with various western styles directly or indirectly imbibed from the long contact
with western theatre modes.’ (p.2) Examples of the indigenous modes in the postcolonial
Kenya that he gives include Oby obyeroOdhiambo’s use of Sigana, an ethnic luo narrative
mode which Oby fuses with the western style of staging a play as exemplified in his play
Drumbeats of Kerenyaga. Another indigenous mode is Wahome Mutahi’s use of Gikuyu
(vernacular) in staging his plays that revalorized Gikuyu nationalism and attacked the
nationalism in Moi Era in his Citrus Theatre productions. Of greater significance, Outa
concludes that performance spaces in Kenya whether marginal or national as Kenya
Nation Theatre are both sites of ‘ambivalence, complexities and contradictions which do
not follow into neat, irreconcilable dyads of serious theatre versus unserious or national
versus foreign’ ( as is the case of Ngugi’s argument for the Trials of Dedan Kimathi), (p.6).
Thus he attempts to argue that contrary to the popular view that theatre had been
silenced during the Moi years of 1980s and 1990s by the expulsion of Ngugi wa Thiong’o,
Ngugi wa Miiri, and Micere Mugo from the country, actually alternative theatre thrived
in this difficult moments of suppression. And it existed side by side with the few serious
theatre productions of the moments like F.D. Imbuga’s works and many others that were
performed and written in Swahili. Even the so called serious theatre survived by employing
tactics of the theatre of the margin. Outa hints to the fact that Imbuga's satirical theatre
survived due to, what Ruganda (1992) calls, ‘strategies of transparent concealment’ where
the playwright tells the truth but laughingly in a bid to hoodwink the censor into laughing
at his own follies.
2.2 TFD and Intervention theatres
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, a discourse of development emerged in response to the
failure of government institutions to handle the country’s development agenda, placing
culture at the centre of the debates over national transformations. Once again Evan
Mwangi (2007) notes that UNESCO’s declaration, that made the 1980s the United
Nation’s decade for cultural development provided an avenue for many organizations to
turn to performance as a culturally acceptable way of disseminating knowledge on their
supposed ‘development’ that offered a better alternative to simply lecturing people. At
this time and in response to the failure of the formal theatre, many Theatre f or
Development outfits emerged as formidable forces for provision of instructional and
utilitarian theatre. Community theatres also emerged distinctly in this decade (local actors
performing for local audiences about local issues). These types of theatres which are rarely
discussed in mainstream theatre discourses employed folk cultural modes that were
transmitted through song, myth, dance and narration. The composition of the theatrical
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script usually lacked a particular author hence it became impossible to publish any of the
scripts. These kinds of theatres survived the harsh political times by locating themselves
in what Outa (2007) calls ‘unofficial places which include the bar, market centre, beer or
dance floor village arenas or even churches across the national landscape.’ Many of the
theatre for development outfits that sprung up within these moments have never been
fully researched on and documented. Although Odhiambo Christopher (2008) has
endeavoured to survey and analyse the practice of Theatre for Development in Kenya,
more needs to be done to establish their practice and the value they portend. For example
the activities and influences of the late Opiyo Mumma through KDEA have never been
fully accorded academic discourse hence we still don’t know how they impacted on
theatre in Kenya.
2.3 Corporate theatre
There is a new generation of poets, theatre artists and performers that have grown from
the straitjacket schools and colleges’ drama festival to make their own kinds of theatre
that is neither serious/academic nor popular. The mode of such performances include
what Jäger (2015) calls intermediality. Their languages are simple and direct a staple of oral
performances. They pursue, ‘aesthetics that defy the dichotomy between popular and
serious art, and sometimes rebelling against political commitment and the semantic
opacity associated with academic theatre.’ (Mwangi 2007, p.141). The themes range from
serious political themes to popular themes like romance and sex or urban decadence and
religious redemption. Their spaces of rendition are the least expected ones; ranging from
bars, to public wedding functions, to corporate functions to entertainment joint to curtain
raisings during serious theatrical performances etc. A branch of this kind of theatre exists
as what can be called the corporate theatre in which artists attach themselves to
corporate bodies for support and in turn perform in their functions or as one of the ways
of marketing a company’s products. Caroline Nderitus’s poetic/theatrical performances
exemplify this generation. She uses dance, recitation, enactment, popular Kenyan wisdom
and puns to attract the interest of what Mwangi (2007) calls, “a younger generation of
readers brought up on the rap music” (p.141). Caroline Nderitu started performing at the
age of four but honed her stage skills with the Kenyatta University Poetry Lab while she
was undertaking her studies for a Bachelor of Economics at Kenyatta University. Her
profile on her private blog, http://carolinenderitu.com/ tells of an accomplished writer,
and performer. But what is most striking is the fact that most of her clients are corporate
and large organizations like UN bodies and banks. It is from such influence that such small
theatrical organizations that mushroom around the country are shoving each other when
it comes to performing for corporate entities for the simple reason that such entities pay
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them more than the ticket collections that they may get during their performances’ in
theatre halls. Of course it can be argued that this is commodifying art and selling it to the
highest bidder; an engagement that can only lead to sterility and status quo. In
contradistinction, it can also be argued that the elastic nature of theatre itself allows the
theatre artist to bend it to suit the whims of the day and as such, Nderitu has bent her
performance to suit corporate needs. It is thus in the same vein of this argument that
theatre for Education, development communication, intervention theatre and theatre for
development anchor their premise. Thus then one agrees again with Outa (2009) that the
popular cultural practices of the postcolony Kenya should ‘not be studied as single track
narratives that have to be understood or defined through specific ideologies, or through
exclusive binary of either resistance or collaboration with the postcolonial regime’ as
Ngugi did ‘but rather a process that underpins the very establishing and contesting of
power by people who share the same living space’ (p.25).
2.4 Comedies, Parodies and Street Theatres
Another interweaving loop in theatre in Kenya arises from the idea of the thriving of the
comedy industry and specifically in the urban spaces. It is worth noting that many of the
present artists in the comedy industry be they film, television or stage artists have honed
their skills at the Kenya National Theatre and thus confirming the symbiotic relationship
between the institution as the custodian of the mainstream theatre and the alternative
theatre that it feeds. Most of the comedies that are screened on the Kenyan televisions
are by artists who are products of theatre comedies who performed at the French
Cultural Centre or the National Theatre. However, there are other forms of comedy
that have given a wide berth to the rule of the fourth wall and instead thrust their action
in the most of the public spaces. Comedians such as Nyengese are what may be called
street theatre performers as they made KENCOM bus stop their arena of performance.
They were later to be emulated by the Zangelewa group and all its offshoot and splinter
groups in performing on the streets of Nairobi. There lack of adherence to the fast theatre
rules made them even more experimental and marginal. But heir parody of the fat
government elites through stuffing their tummies and behinds to look ridiculously fat and
in colonial attire made sense to the street users since it resonated well with their
association of the government with the colonial regime and their fatness with excessive
greed and corruption.
2.5 Theatre of Evangelization
It has become fashionable in the postmillennial neo-Kenya to claim religious / gospel
celebrity. The country is experiencing an explosion of gospel creative artists in music and
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theatre. This gospel creative thunder was not created in a vacuum but was precursor by
the church music and drama Festivals organized mainly the Catholic, Anglican and PCEA
sects of the Christian religion. As early as the advent of colonialism, church going youth
and children were organized to perform such religious topics as nativity, passion and
crucifixion of Jesus. This eventually evolved into performances of the gospel during Mass
and services. In the postcolonial moment, church leaders felt that this theatre could serve
a more important aspect of the church ministry like evangelization. That is how religious
festivals came to be. Initially they were simple festivals organized at the Parish to Diocese
levels but eventually they grew to be organized as a competition up to the National level
and modeled on the structures of the Kenya Schools and Colleges Drama and Music
Festival. In the post millennial Kenya, the Festivals have grown so big, so fancy and so
competitive that they threaten the initial idea of evangelization as the artists search for
creativity beyond the confines of the gospel. The best example of this fancy theatrical
evangelization that is informing the current wave of gospel creativity is the PCEA Mavuno
Festival. Established in 1991 by an industrious theatre turned film director Bob Nyanja,
the Festival was aimed at staging plays that were of sound quality as any other play
performance but which also helps the congregation think deeper into its gospel message.
Since then, the Mavuno Festival has grown to such a tremendous extend that it nurtures
some of the best theatre and musical artists in Nairobi and beyond. Yet within the
mainstream theatre criticism, it is still peripheralized. Jewels productions from Winners
chapel. Igiza Festival, Christian unions from campuses and churches that have established
theatre groups has produced artisits such as Anthony Ndiema, Silas Owiti, Davis Ochieng,
Martin Njuki and Aaron Kakunza who have organized serious religious oriented festivals
at the Kenya National Theatre in August of, 2012, 2013 and 2014 (competitions of church
theatre groups) where Best performers in all categories were pooled together into a
project and Winning scripts were changed into screen plays and produced for the screen.
The patron of this festival was Dr. Julisa Rowe.1
2.6 Radio Theatres
For a long period of time, the state broadcaster, KBC (earlier on VOK) produced the
only Radio theatre in Kenya. The English service of the radio wing of the broadcaster
started a programme called Radio theatre to imaginatively create plays on topical issues
and air them on Sunday evening (9.30pm). Earlier on, the Swahili Service of the same radio
wing used to produce a programme called mchezo wa wiki and then later Ushikwapo
shikamana. There are critics who contend that the radio plays presented by the official
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state broadcaster were heavily censored to please the Moi regime (see Nyairo 2004).
Even if they were not directly censored, the producers already knew what will befall them
if they were to air government-unfriendly content hence they remained on the narrow
path of self-censorship so as to produce content that was in tandem with the official
discourse. It would be worth the while to study some of these plays or the works of
producers of such plays particularly the works of the late Nzau Kalulu, the producer of
the programme Radio Theatre.
2.7 Modes of the theatres of the margin
The theatre of the margins survives on what can be called intergeneric modes. It is a theatre
in the true sense of the performed text be it a poem, a play, or an oral narrative. It even
uses modern technology through video and Radio theatre productions. It knows no
linguistic boundaries as it is produced both in official and non-official languages, vernacular,
and national, foreign and local. Sometimes the theatre of the margin storms the centre
like when some schools bring to the KSCDF plays in vernacular languages e.g. Kisumu
Days, 2007choral Verse, Japuonj on the Bicycle or the play Olkirinyi by Olkejuado School in
1970’s. This theatre of the margins is constructed by artists who are themselves on the
margins and who are distinct for the fact that they ‘remain largely unpublished and are
virtually unknown in mainstream African critical practices’, (Outa 2005; p.13). These
specific individuals take it upon themselves to initiate new ideas or beat new paths by
either fusing existing theatre modes or revalorizing the dormant ones. The loop that
weaves through this theatre is the resistance to the order of the day in which the ideas it
seeks to pursue are suppressed by the imagined nationhood of the moment. Indeed these
forms of theatre open up other frontiers that feed on a long continuum of previous
participatory performative practices like the Sigana of the Luo and vernacular languages.
Thus the PPPs of the yesteryears form a very important strand in the interweaving loop
of theatre in Kenya.
2.8 Professional Outfits
The Kenya National Theatre has been a site of establishment and growth of many theatre
outfits either in rebellion to it or in search of alternatives to it. Right from independence
in 1964, when the exiled South African playwright Eskia Mphahlele established Chemchemi
Theatre Company in Kenya and used both English and Swahili as medium of
performance(Oyekan 1993, p.156) through the 80s and 90s when Miujiza players,
Mbalamwezi players and Mizizi arts centre, Sarakasi Ltd, Capricon theatre groups of the
1990s were established to the present day Heartstrings Ensemble among others, Kenya
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National Theatre has indeed formed a core upon which the theatre in the postcolony
revolves. (Obura, 1996)
3.0 Conclusion
The weaving loop in Kenyan theatre is not so much as to the written text but in its
performed text that is realized through multi-generic and intermedial performances. It is
a revalorization of the old traditional modes fused with Western modes of performance.
To understand these loops in Kenyan theatre one must of necessity differentiate between
literary drama which involves writing and publishing plays and the performance of the
texts. This is because the bulk of Kenyan theatre exists outside the canon as it is rarely
published (due to its urgency and immediacy) and relies on individuals outside the canon
to take on the politics of the moment against the grain. Lastly, the intermediality and multigeneric nature of the theatre allows it to define its space within and beyond the four walls.
It can be in the four walls of a school dining hall, Professional centre, Kenya National
Theatre or church or the French Cultural Centre. It also redefines the four walls like the
corporate theatre, bar theatre that ceases to be normal four walls but improvised and
creative four walls. Lastly it can be in the open like the village arena or market place
especially through intervention theatres; Theatre for Development or Theatre for
Education.
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References
Gikandi, S. & Mwangi, E. (2007). The Columbia Guide to East African Literature in English Since
1945. New York: Columbia University Press
Obura, O. (1996). ‘Kenya: Overview.’ In Rubin, Don, ed. The World Encyclopedia of
Contemporary Theatre, vol. 3. London and New York: Routledge, 162-165
Odhiambo, C. (2008). Theatre for Development in Kenya. Bayreuth: Bayreuth Africa Studies
Outa, G. (2009). Performing Power; Ethnic Citizenship, Popular Theatre and the Contest of
Nationhood in Modern Kenya. Charleston: Book Surge
Oyekan, O. (ed.) (1993). A History of Twentieth Century African Literatures, Lincoln and
London: University of Nebraska Press
Ruganda, J. (1992). Telling the Truth Laughingly; The Politics of Francis Imbuga’s Drama.
Nairobi: East African Educational Publishers
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Influence of American Popular Culture in
Naipaul’s Bogart
Hybrid Journal of Literary and
Cultural Studies
Volume 2, Issue 1, 2020
Maurice Simbili Mwichuli
Department of Literature, Linguistics and Foreign Languages
Kenyatta University
Email: [email protected]
© 2020 The Author(s)
This open access article is
distributed under a Creative
Commons Attribution (CC-BY) 4.0
license.
Article Information
Submitted: 9th September 2019
Accepted: 5th October 2019
Published: 6th January 2020
Conflict of Interest: No potential
conflict of interest was reported
by the author
Funding: None
Additional information is
available at the end of the article
Abstract
“Bogart” is one of the short stories in the collection Miguel
Street by V. S. Naipaul. The World War II Trinidad and
Tobago Caribbean society depicted in these short stories is
still grappling with self-identity issues but show a great leaning
towards the American Popular Culture in many spheres of
their existence and interaction. America is seen as a trend and
pacesetter for the world and especially the society of Miguel
Street, the setting of the stories. This paper seeks to establish
and critically evaluate the influence of the American Popular
Culture on the Miguel street society and specifically on the
story “Bogart”.
Keywords: Bogart, popular culture
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1.0 Introduction
“Bogart” revolves around the main character who goes by the same name. He suddenly
appears in Miguel street searching for a room and quickly ‘installs’ himself and starts
playing a game of cards (Naipul 1959 pp. 3). Nobody knows where he actually comes from
or what his real name is. He is initially given the name Patience because of his ability to
play cards from morning to evening when in reality he never likes cards. He is also quiet
most of the times. He is later christened ‘Bogart’ though nobody really had an idea of
where the name came from or why it was given to him. He wields some power over the
other inhabitants of Miguel Street and especially the men folk because they do not really
understand him. He disappears and appears severally in the story and each time, he
exhibits a new habit. Ultimately however, his past catches up with him and he is arrested
on a number of charges but chiefly bigamy- he had a wife from his original place but
impregnates another one in many of his sojourns. Throughout the story, there are visible
influences of the American popular culture.
2.0 Popular Culture
There are diverse perceptions of what is ‘popular’. Raymond Williams (1983) views
popular as some low class, unworthy and inferior work that seeks to endear itself to the
people by all means. This perception is extrapolated to the way the society seeks to form
identities as regards race, gender and class among others. John Storey (2003) further
equates popular culture to folk or mass culture of a people. Popular culture to him is like
an arena where uniformity is forged. For Marie Gibert (2015), popular culture is basically
the material we come across in our everyday life. From the foregoing, whatever it is that
we come across in our daily lives, our perceptions of ideas and events as shaped by the
currents and desire to belong, identify and be identified by constitute popular culture.
Miguel Street is not free of these influences that define popular culture. The main source
of these influences in the story “Bogart” is the American Popular Culture and of specific
interest is the role of the movie Casablanca in the story.
Casablanca is a war time American movie that captures a lot about the American
experience. It is a war story that depicts the choices one has to make in life as regards
love and work. A production of Warner Brothers, it captures the vagaries of war and the
plight of refugees. It depicts a senior and respected Army officer Rick Blaine played by
Humphrey Bogart, whose past comes calling in the form of his former girlfriend Ilsa Lund
(Ingrid Bergman) who is now married but seeks to escape to another country. Only Rick
can help them but he would be breaking the expected code of officers of his caliber if he
helps her. In the course of this unfolding drama, there is much that is revealed about the
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American popular culture which can be paralleled to the events and plot in the story
“Bogart”.
3.0 American Popular Culture in “Bogart”
Diana Crane (1992) offers that a text, and in this instance a movie like Casablanca, can
only be made popular if the messages fit the discourses that the readers or viewers use
to make sense of their experiences. The readers and viewers would look at the movie
and see themselves either as they are or as they wish to become some day. While
celebrating the 70th anniversary of the movie, Daniel Brown (2012) refers to Casablanca
as ‘thoroughly American’. This way, the influence it has on its audience is more of the
American popular culture. The name of the main character in the story was a product of
the movie:
It was something of a mystery why he was called Bogart; but I suspect that
it was Hat who gave him the name. I don’t know if you remember the year
the movie Casablanca was made. That was the year when Bogart’s fame
spread like fire through Port of Spain and hundreds of young men began
adopting the hard boiled Bogartian attitude. (pp. 1)
The members of this society easily relate to Humphrey Bogart and even take his name.
They see him as an epitome of the American society at that time and so if there is anybody
they admire or respect then he should be equated to the main actor of the movie. Bogart
in the story is said to be a boring person but whatever he did had a ‘captivating langour’
(pp. 1). So captivated was the main character of the story Bogart by Humphrey, the ‘real
Bogart’ that he had to dress and be entirely like the actor. We read that from one of his
sojourns he comes dressed in a hat and putting his hands in the pocket. He also almost
always had a cigarette in his lips and spoke in an American accent just like Bogart of the
movies. He behaves like the actors in Casablanca who, as observes by Pauline Kael in the
New Yorker and quoted by Nicholas Barber:’... those small roles being played by
Hollywood actors faking the accents’. Bogart fakes the accent and is even reminded not
to ‘act’ tough by the arresting police sergeant. Bogart is seeking for identity with the
character of the movie itself. The whole popular culture is portrayed as fake and quite
artificial. The people are actually acting and not being themselves just like in the movies.
Hat is also seeking to identify with another actor. He dressed, made his hair and even
tried to talk like another actor Rex Harrison. Hat did all he could to strengthen the
resemblance. This is a search for identity.
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Daniel Brown observes that Casablanca was a product of its time and also all times.
This means that it has an influence even long after its time settings in which it was
produced had elapsed. In line with popular culture, he further noted that the film lacked
a moral compass. (Brown, 2012) This influence can even be felt in “Bogart”. On coming
back to Miguel Street after being in the Americas, Bogart is changed. He laughs with a
twist in his mouth and talks rudely to the ladies. (pp. 4) He loves the bohemian life of
partying and spending money on things like liquor and women. After disappearing for
some time, he comes to his house and finds Eddoes with a woman in his bed. This is
immoral and disrespectful to use another’s house so. It is even surprising how Bogart
himself reacts. He just tells Eddoes to move over and he sleeps. Among the accusations
he is charged with is running a brothel and smuggling stuff. He also left behind his wife just
to show he is a man among us men. (pp. 7) This search for identity and recognition is a
by-product of popular culture.
This desire to show that they are men pushes women to the periphery but
overworks them leading to among other vices, immorality. Men sit down laying cards.
Even when Bogart says he wants to start a tailoring shop, it never works due to lack of
commitment. Popo’s wife works hard and even has to sleep with some other men to
provide for the household while Popo is busy making ‘a thing without a name.’ This thing
Popo is making is reminiscent of the struggle for identity that the characters grapple with.
The corporate identity and hegemony is a pointer to popular culture and in this case the
American variety.
4.0 Conclusion
There are so many elements of this story that show the influence from the American
popular culture. It is easier to relate to Hollywood and the make believe world of the
movies when one is debased and alienated like the characters in this story.
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References
Barber, N. (2017). Why Casablanca is the Ultimate Film about Refugees. Retrieved
from www.bbc.com/culture/20171124
Brown, D. (2012). Happy 70th Anniversary, Casablanca. 29th September, 2012. Retrieved
from https://theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2012/09/...casablanca/263040/
Crane, D. (1992). The production of Culture: Media and Urban Arts. Thousand Oaks: Sage
Publications
Naipul, V. S. (1959). Miguel Street. London: Andre Deutsch
Storey, J. (2003). Inventing Popular Culture. Malden: Blackwell
Williams, R. (1983). Keywords. London: Fontana
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The Poetic Cannon; Addressing Social
Injustice Poetically: A Comparative Study
of Six Poems
Hybrid Journal of Literary and
Cultural Studies
Volume 2, Issue 1, 2020
© 2020 The Author(s)
This open access article is
distributed under a Creative
Commons Attribution (CC-BY) 4.0
license.
Article Information
Submitted: 9th September 2019
Accepted: 5th October 2019
Published: 13th January 2020
Conflict of Interest: No potential
conflict of interest was reported
by the author
Funding: None
Additional information is
available at the end of the article
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Peter Murage & Waveney Olembo
Department of Literature, Linguistics and Foreign Languages,
Kenyatta University, Kenya
Email: [email protected]
ABSTRACT
This paper presents a comparative study of six poems drawn from
across Africa and beyond. One of the poems is drawn from the
USA and it is meant to provide a comparative element between the
predicament of the people of African origin living in Africa and the
Negroes in America. The paper seeks to examine the quality of life
that the Africans live under the oppressive post-colonial regimes.
Indeed the research establishes the irony of African masses who
lead lives of abject poverty while the political leaders live in
opulence. The particular poems selected include: “Naturally” by
Austin Bukenya; “Peasants” by Syl Cheney-Coker; “I am the People,
The Mob” by Carl Sandburg “A Song for Ajegunle” by Niyi
Osundare; A.J Seymour’s “Tomorrow Belongs to the people” and
Micere Githae Mugo’s “Up Here, Down There”. The selection of
these poems was based on the comparable element in their subject
matter where it was established that the poems sought to address
the oppression of the poor masses in the society. The ultimate
solution that each of these poems proposed is the awakening of the
masses through revolutions to redeem themselves from the
endemic shackles of oppression. The research thereby proposes
that the bane of Africa is not necessary the autocratic leaders but
the egocentric, corrupt, inept proletariat class that perpetrates acts
of oppression to the masses. It is only in getting rid of these
repressive social classes that the African masses can liberate
themselves.
Keywords: African, Gabriel Okara, Poetry
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1.0 Introduction
Gabriel Okara was born in Bayelsa state in Nigeria in 1921. He pursued his studies in
Government College Umuahia where he developed a passion in reading and writing
poetry. He later attended Yabba Higher College and on graduation enrolled for his
university education at North Western University in the USA. Okara has been hailed as
the first English Language African writer and the first poet of Anglophone Africa. Indeed
Okara’s immense contribution to Negritude philosophy largely championed by
Francophone scholars such as Leopald Sedar Sengor, Birago Diop, and Franz Fanon led to
his being fondly referred to as the “Nigerian Negritudist”. Okara’s writing
characteristically incorporates Negritude seminal ideas of African thought, African
religion, and African folklore. In his first novel Okara experiments the fusion of English
language with his local Ijaw language. Okara imposes Ijaw language syntax into English in a
bid to stretch this foreign language to accommodate his African experience. The result is
a novel that crafts a landscape that embodies the forces of African traditional culture
against a background of western materialism. Gabriel Okara’s novel The Voice presents a
protagonist Okolo, whose name means ‘the voice’. Okolo is in search for ‘It’ from the
beginning of the novel to the end. The author does not attempt at any point to explain
the meaning of ‘It’ rather he lets the reader work out the meaning of the concept ‘It’. The
complex meaning for ‘It’ does not emerge clearly for Okolo feels that ‘It’ should be
without a name. For Okolo “…Names bring divisions and divisions strife. So let it remain
without a name; let it be nameless…. (Okara 112). Our endeavour to find the meaning of
‘It’ will therefore best be achieved through the deconstructive reading strategy. The
protagonist in Okara’s novel The Voice is an embodiment of the African intellectual who
is estranged from the world of African contemporary politics. The novel The Voice is
therefore intended to address the inconsistencies demonstrated by the Africa political
elite. African political elites denounced certain social vices harboured by the colonial
masters only to perpetrate the same to their subjects upon gaining political power after
independence. These discrepancies are the ones Okara seeks to address in his novel The
Voice.
Goodley Nancy avers that attempts by literary scholars to give a restrictive
delimitation of the concept “It” in Okara’s novel The Voice are futile. Goodley notes that
“It” represents a type of threat to the political leaders. Arthur Ravencroft proposes that
“It” represents “a meaning of life” while Eustace Palmer argues that “It” embodies “that
indefinable thing” which gives integrity honesty, spiritual values and faith in God and man.
These scholars grapple with the meaning of the ephemeral concept “It” without much
success. Our research proposes to contribute to this debate on the true meaning of the
concept “It” in an ultimate bid to understand African post independent politics in depth.
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The nature and mode of expression of power is the epicenter of Edwin Thumboo’s
research. Thumboo studies the importance of context with English as an expression of
power in focus. Thumboo contends that the sense of power varies from culture to culture
a fact that has implications on the status of English and the literatures in English. Thumboo
argues that Okara explores a variety of possible “nativisation” of the English language and
the creative process. Ebi Yeibo examines lexical sets that exude related semantic
properties that have enabled Gabriel Okara to transmit his social vision. These lexical
Items, Yeibo argues, enables Okara to achieve artistic aesthetics in his novel The Voice.
Boukari Noureni and Leonard Koussouhon examine the overall message conveyed in
Okara’s novel The Voice. Noureni and Koussouhon’s study is grounded on systemic
functional linguistics. Their focus is on the investigation of the ideational meaning by
examining the transitivity patterns. Albert Ashaolu, examines Okara’s conception of the
allegory of the artist as a social reformer based on the mode of operation of Okolo, the
protagonist, in the novel The Voice. Ashaolu argues that Okolo’s tribulations represent the
predicament of the social reformer in a predominantly corrupt society. The misfortunes
of Okolo represent the dilemma of any intellectual who dares to speak up against the
corrupt regimes in Africa. Jacques Derrida proposes a reading of a text that involves a
search for the concealed contradictions within the text that undercuts its apparent unity.
For Derrida, deconstruction is not the ‘demolition’, but the ‘de-sedimentation’, the ‘deconstruction’ of all the significations that have their source in language. For Derrida no
language can be adequate in what it seeks to describe. Consequently then any given text
is susceptible to multiple meanings based on the particular reader involved in the reading
process. Indeed for M.H Abrams deconstruction involves a double reading where he
considers the first of these two readings as ‘construing’ and the second as
‘deconstruction’. Such a double reading is not achieved by a specific method but multiple
methods are involved. For Abrams deconstruction appears as a mode of thought rather
that a method or technique. Based on these arguments our reading of Gabriel Okara’s
novel The Voice is intended to unravel the multiple meanings to which the ephemeral
concept “It” can be ascribed.
2.0 ‘It’ as a political parable
Our first view is that ‘It’ refers to the political state of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in
the early 1960’s. We refer to the political situation of the federal republic of Nigeria
before the 1966 military coup. The political leadership was characterized by rampant
corruption, incompetence, greed and materialism. Okolo becomes a rebel and goes to
the villages asking the people whether they had got ‘It’. When confronted by Chief Izongo
Okolo puts forth his now seditious question:
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‘We know Okolo is in one dark corner there covering himself with darkness.
If you refuse to give him to me we will burn your house to the ground’ Chief
Izongo said… Here I am he said with a voice cool as cool water. Do not touch
her. If you want me I will come but you must tell me the bottom of it. ‘Do not
ask the bottom of things,’ Chief Izongo said after laughing a surface water laugh.
‘Do not ask the bottom of things my friend. I want you and that is the end.’
‘You have to tell me the bottom of it,’ Okolo insisted. (35-36)
Okolo confronts the otherwise unchallenged Chief Izongo. He proceeds to ask the
difficult question that no one in the village of Amatu can dare to ask. Okolo is concerned
with the kind of leadership that the village of Amatu has to grapple with. Evidently Chief
Izongo has managed to silence any voices of discontent from the midst of the villagers. He
can therefore boast to have the people solidly behind him. Chief Izongo’s stranglehold on
the residents of Amatu is an embodiment of the dictatorial powers wielded by political
leaders in the independent African nations. Chief Izongo is so powerful that Second
Messenger laments that he has leant to be complacent in all matters concerning the Amatu
village. The second messenger puts it thus: “As for me… if the world turns this way I take
it; if it turns another way I take it. Any way the world turns I take it with my hands. I like
sleep and my wife and my one son, so I do not think” (Okara 25). This kind of
complacency is indicative of the disillusionment that the citizens in the independent
African nations suffer. Most citizens are of the opinion that these dictatorial regimes are
likely to remain in power. These groups of citizens do not expect to any significant change
to take place in the political landscape of their countries. Okolo however sets out to
correct the wrongs in their society. He sets out as an advocate of social justice by pointing
out to the dictatorial regime their oppressive schemes. Okolo confronts Chief Izongo
thus:
‘You have a very ugly inside,’ Okolo said looking at him with strong eyes. ‘Look
my valuable friend,’ Chief Izongo a started in a low voice. In this town you and
your followers alone think so and you are only two. The whole town is at my
back. So what you say will do nothing to me.’ He ended in a very high voice.
(Okara 37)
Okolo declares that Chief Izongo has a very ugly inside. This statement refers to the
chief’s conduct as the village executive. Chief Izongo wields immense political power
therefore he cannot condone any form of dissenting voice. His word is law thus cannot
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be questioned on anything. The treatment that Okolo receives from the charged crowd,
for daring to confront Chief Izongo, is indicative of the dictatorial powers that chief Izongo
wields in Amatu. The treatment indicates how Chief Izongo’s regime is intolerant of
people perceived as dissidents. The crowd turns rowdy and manhandles Okolo:
The people snapped at him like hungry dogs snapping at bones. They carried
him in silence like the silence of ants carrying a clump of yam or fish bone. They
put him down and dragged him past thatch houses that in the dark looked like
pigs with their snouts in the ground; pushed and dragged him past mud walls
with pitying eyes; pushed and dragged him past concrete walls with concrete
eyes. (Okara 38)
The rowdy mob molests Okolo by pushing and shoving him up and down like a criminal.
The narrator notes that the mob snapped at Okolo, an indication that they battered him
as well. They then drag him past thatched houses which suggest the kind of poverty that
the villagers dwell in. By comparing the houses to pigs the narrators insinuates that these
poverty stricken villagers are greedy as well. Owing to the greed for cash handouts from
the political leaders’ the villagers trample on truth and justice championed by advocates
such as Okolo. The villagers are misused by the political leaders; Chief Izongo, to molest
Okolo, an advocate of justice in the village. The narrator further says that the villagers
dragged Okolo past mud walls with pitying eyes. These walls refer to the villagers who
empathize with Okolo for venturing to advocate for truth and justice in their rigid society.
Most of the villagers in Amatu are totally disillusioned. They feel the oppressive regime
will thrive to eternity. The narrator further observes that the concrete walls ‘have
concrete eyes’ which suggests that the village authorities are impermeable to truth and
justice. The village authorities are not willing to administer acts of justice to their subjects.
Rather Chief Izongo concentrates with gaining a political stranglehold on the villagers by
engaging more political cronies and henchmen. The narrator observes:
Outside he walked strongly with no fear in his feet and no fear in his inside. But as
he passed, women moved away from his front, casting bad eyes at him and from
his front, casting bad eyes at him and from dark interiors of houses people looked
at him with Chief Izongo’s eyes and behind him walked his friends walking with
Chief Izongo’s feet. (Okara 41)
The contempt that the villagers harbour for Okolo, for his ‘subversive’ activities of
advocating for truth and justice, proves that they are chief Izongo’s cronies. The villagers
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stare at him with Chief Izongo’s eyes a confirmation that they are solidly behind him. The
villagers abhor Okolo with as much vehemence as Chief Izongo, though he is championing
for their rights. The villagers consider Okolo a rebel without a cause thus they shun his
activities. Furthermore, the villagers consider Okolo to be insane thus they avoid any
contact with him. The narrator notes:
‘He’s coming he’s coming!’ Okolo’s feet stuck to the ground. Women grabbed
their children and ran. If the saliva from the mouth of one whose head is not
correct enters one’s mouth, one’s head also becomes not correct. So they ran
and some men too who had no chest or shadow in them also ran. (Okara 27)
This kind of treatment meted on the advocate of social justice is indicative of the fear that
the villagers harbour for the town authorities. It could also be symptomatic to the extent
of the damage caused by the smear campaign that Chief Izongo’s cronies have meted on
Okolo. The messengers proceed to seek Okolo from his hiding place then hand him over
to the authorities. The messengers in accomplishing their task successfully are thus
walking with Izongo’s feet; they were performing Chief Izongo’s errands. Chief Izongo’s
firm political stranglehold of his cronies is self-evident in the puppet-like behavior of the
villager elders. While in the presence of the almighty Chief, the elders behave like
marionettes. The elders laugh only when commanded by the chief: “Laugh! He
commanded, and the elders opened their mouths showing their teeth like grinning masks
and made a noise that could hardly pass as laughter” (Okara 41). The mechanical laughter
from the elders is indicative of their political cronyism. They do not have a brain or a mind
of their own, yet they are the village elders. They operate only to satisfy Chief Izongo’s
ego. The narrator notes:
Hear him… always asking questions. Questions will take you nowhere. I keep
telling you these teaching words. He looked at the elders and they nodded
their heads vigorously in their agreement. “Untie my hands. This is no question.
All I ask from you is to let me be free. At this Izongo laughed and the elders
taking the cue also laughed. (Okara 42)
The elders behave like marionettes, in their endeavour to please Chief Izongo. The elders
strongly agree that the political situation in Amatu is beyond reproach thus should not be
questioned. They also feel Chief Izongo is beyond criticism. This makes Chief Izongo gain
the status of a deity. Chief Izongo then becomes an embodiment of extremely powerful
heads of state that independent Africa countries nurtured after attaining their
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independence. Dictatorial regimes in Africa have a tendency of manipulating parliament to
legislate in their favour. Such regimes use coercion, intimidation and even corrupt deals
to control the legislative arm of government. This perspective is confirmed by Abadi’s
speech to the elders. Abadi opines thus:
What could you have been without our leader? Some of you were fishermen,
palm cutters and some of you were nothing in the days of the imperialists. But
now you are elders and we are managing our own affairs and destinies. So you
and I know what is expected of us, and that is, we must toe the party line. We
must have discipline and self-sacrifice in order to see this fight through to its
logical conclusion. (Okara 43)
The elders are said to have led normal lives till they were appointed to become elders.
The elders are the ones managing the affairs of the village. Furthermore the elders are
required to toe the party line. The elders then are an embodiment of parliament in the
independent African states. It is ironical that for the dictatorial regimes, the legislature is
under the control of the heads of state. Okolo, who claims to be the voice of justice,
laments that even the elites have joined bands of cowards and political conformists who
cannot dare to question the corrupt oppressive regimes. Abadi is one such elite who
prefers to work with the dictatorial regimes. Okolo laments:
You have your M.A., Ph.D., but you have not got it? Okolo interrupted him,
also speaking in English. All eyes including Chief Izongo’s left Abadi and settled
on Okolo. Abadi’s face became twisted in rage but he held himself. (Okara 44)
Okolo challenges Abadi that he lacks the insight and boldness that is expected of elite, to
question the ills perpetrated by the dictatorial regime to society. ‘It’ here means boldness
or ‘a daring spirit’ that questions the excesses of the oppressive regime. Indeed Abadi
confirms that he is one of the parliamentarians in Amatu. Abadi says:
I have my M.A., Ph.D. degrees… But I, my very humble self, knew where my
services were most required and returned to Amatu to fight under the August
leadership of our most honourable leader. I cannot therefore stand by when I
see our cause about to be jeopardized by anyone. (Okara 44)
Abadi returned from Sologa to Amatu after his studies to fight under the August
leadership. The term August house is usually used to refer to parliament. As a member
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of parliament, Abadi claims to be in a position to serve his people better. He claims to be
a protector of the liberty of Amatu. However Okolo accuses Amatu of joining politics for
selfish ends. Okolo feels that Abadi joined politics merely to benefit from the corrupt
deals characteristic of many African parliaments. Okolo Says:
Whom are you fighting? Okolo interrupted him. ‘Are you not simply making a
lot of noise because it is the fashion in order to share in the spoils. You are
merely making a show of straining to open a door that is already open. (Okara
44)
Okolo laments that in the independent African states, corruption is a deeply entrenched
vice. It is the motive behind some greedy individuals taking leadership positions. These
individuals lack ‘It’. In this case then ‘It’ refers to patriotism that would drive the leaders
to make sacrifices for their country. Such leaders, motivated by greed and materialism,
lacks nationalism thus can be said to lack ‘It’.
3.0 ‘It’ as African cultural purity
Okolo’s search for ‘It’ refers to his search for adherence to African culture and the African
philosophy of life. Okolo’s determination to search for ‘It’, is described as having been in
earnest. The opposition that he faces from the villagers is overwhelming. The villagers
proceed to brand him all sorts of names for his quest. The narrator observes:
Okolo had no chest, they said. His chest was not strong and he had no shadow.
Everything in this world that spoiled a man’s name they said of him, all because
he dared search for it. He was in search for it with all his inside and with all his
shadow. (Okara 23)
The villagers accuse Okolo of having no chest and shadow. In the African setting the
shadow would mean ‘the soul’ or ‘the spirit’ since African languages do not necessarily
differentiate the two entities. Okolo’s decision to retreat to Tuere’s solitary hut portrays
him as a wizard with Tuere as his witch companion. From a cultural perspective we infer
that Okolo is only safe in Tuere’s hut because of his adherence to African culture. Unlike
the other villagers who have contaminated their souls with Christianity and other foreign
religions, Okolo has remains true to the African culture. The other villagers confess that
they have embraced foreign religions. Seitu says: “’Stand!’ a voice from the crowd’s back
urged, ‘Stand’ she cannot do anything to us. We are all church people. We all know God.
She cannot do anything to us” (Okara 30). Those villagers who have embraced Christianity
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are estranged to Tuere’s life. Tuere becomes an embodiment of a traditional goddess; a
goddess of beauty. The fact that Tuere has been castigated to a life of seclusion, living in
a lonely hut at the edge of the forest, is an indication of the estrangement of the villagers
to African tradition and culture. Tuere is portrayed as an individual who possesses
supernatural powers from childhood. The narrator observes:
She had been a girl of unusual habits, keeping to herself and speaking to herself.
She did not flirt with boys though she had a hunger striking beauty. So it was
in the inside of everyone that perhaps she had no parts of a woman. They did
not because of these strange behaviors call her a witch. They openly called her
a witch when her mother and father died one after the other within a few
weeks and after every young man who proposed to her died one after the
other. (Okara 31)
Tuere’s supernatural habits are noted since her childhood; her failure to flirt with boys,
having no ‘woman parts’. The young men who dare flirt with her are mysteriously
eliminated. Tuere then strikes us as an African goddess but the villagers brand her a witch.
Okolo’s quest for ‘It’ takes him to Tuere’s ‘shrine’ at the edge of the forest. Tuere’s hut
becomes a fortress for Okolo and traditional African religion. Indeed Tuere accuses the
Christians of being hypocritical in their dealings with her. Seitu is accused of peddling lies
knowingly. Tuere says:
Is it you who speaks thus? Said Tuere. ‘Is it you Seitu? It was you who first called
me a witch and then others followed you to call me a witch. Now you say nothing
I can do to you. When did your belief in the powers of witchcraft finish in your
inside? You say you area know-God man be. (Okara 30)
The hypocritical nature of Christian converts in Amatu village is evident in their accusation
of Tuere that she is a witch. Furthermore Christian converts claim to be free from
superstitious beliefs yet they cannot dare confront Tuere. Seitu claims to be a staunch
Christian but still fears the ‘witchcraft’ practiced by Tuere. Tuere is falsely accused of
having eliminated her parents. Tuere says:
You know time finishes. Yet when my father’s time finished and he went away,
you people put it on my head. And when the time of my mother finished and
she went away, you said I killed her with my witchcraft. Whose time finishes
not? …our time is finishing just as the time of some of your relations. Your
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fathers and mothers finished and they went to the land of the dead. You did
not kill them with witchcraft. But it is I who killed my father and mother with
witchcraft. Yes you say I am a witch, so I am a witch be. (Okara 30)
The hypocritical Christian converts accuse Tuere of having murdered her parents through
witchcraft. This accusation is false since as Tuere argues even her accusers’ parents also
died. Though the parents of the Christianity converts died they do not take responsibility
over their parents’ death. The converts however accuse Tuere of having a hand in her
parents’ death. Tuere however manages to speak to the lost souls of her accusers. These
villagers cannot face her due to their guilty conscience. In addition, Tuere’s prowess as a
goddess scares her accusers and they free from her presence. As the narrator observes:
‘Then I to you come.’ As she said thus and moved slowly towards the crowd,
the crowd moved back and the people turned their backs, including Seitu, the
voice of the people, and ran. They ran with the backs of their feet touching the
back of their heads. Who would want to die of itches. So they ran with their
insides and with all their shadows. (Okara 32)
The Christian converts pretend not to be superstitious but they still believe that any
confrontation with a goddess would result to death. The community in Amatu believes
that such a confrontation would result to death through itches. The people run with their
‘insides’ and ‘shadows’ which means their ‘souls’ and ‘spirits’. The act of Christian converts
fleeing from Tuere, an African Goddess, indicates the ultimate subjugation of foreign
culture by African traditional culture. African traditional culture is inadvertently elevated
over the dominant foreign culture. Similarly traditional African religion is elevated over
western and eastern forms of religion like Christianity and Islam.
The dialogue between Okolo, the wizard, and Tuere, the witch, focuses on the need for
the villagers to embrace traditional culture. Tuere says:
How do you expect to find it? How do you expect to find it when everybody
has locked up his inside? …How do I know this, you want to ask me? I know.
I hear every happening thing in the town even though I am locked up here in
this hut. How or where do you think you will find it when everybody surfacewater-things tell, when things have no more root? How do you expect to find
it when fear has locked up the insides of the low and the insides of the high
are filled up with nothing but yam? Stop looking for it. Stop suffering yourself.
(Okara 34)
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Okolo’s quest to have the villagers in Amatu embrace tradition and shun modernity in all
its aspects has resulted in his expulsion from the village. He is forced to seek refuge in
Tuere’s hut. Tuere laments that the villagers have lost their cultural roots and embraced
modernity. Consequently the villagers have lost their cultural identity and uniqueness. The
mystery expected of a people rooted in their culture is missing thus “everybody-surfacewater-thing-tell”. A communities’ uniqueness and sense of secrecy can only thrive in their
traditional culture since modernity can be well understood in the global village. Tuere
further says that “things have no more root” which insinuates that the village has lost its
cultural roots. Tuere associates the villager’s act of embracing modernity and Christianity
with fear of probably being labeled backward. The inhabitants of Amatu, driven by fear
embrace modernity in a bid to rhyme with the other communities. Tuere is thus appalled
by the increased modernization and adoption of foreign religions in Amatu and Africa.
Tuere thus concludes that Okolo’s search for it is likely not to yield fruit.
4.0 ‘It’ as African ‘Humanism’ and Molarity
Okolo’s quest in the search for ‘It’, a concept that is not given a name forms the basis of
our study. The complex meaning for ‘It’ does not emerge clearly for Okolo feels that ‘It’
should be without a name. For Okolo: “Names bring divisions [in life] and divisions strife.
So let it be without a name; let it be nameless… (Okolo 112). Okara therefore puts the
meaning ‘It’ as a puzzle and the reader is expected to work out this meaning. Our
deconstructive reading of the text reveals yet another meaning of ‘It’ where we infer that
‘It’ means African humanism and values in life. Okolo interrogates his fellow villagers to
establish whether they still possess a ‘human heart’. From an African perspective,
humanism has a moral meaning connected with the value of an individual’s life in
relationship to the lives of their fellow men. The concept of African humanism can be
explained thus:
So Okolo sat with his knees drawn up to his chin trying not to touch anybody’s
body. This little he had now leaned. He smiled in his inside. But is it possible
for your body not to touch another body, for your inside not to touch another
inside, for good or for bad? (Okara 110)
Okolo feels that African humanism is founded on communal welfare. Every individual has
the responsibility of welfare of their neighbours. An individual’s ‘body’ must ‘touch
another body’. This means that African humanism is grounded on an individual’s concern
for the welfare of the other human beings in their neigbourhood. Such an individual is
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expected to mind the material and emotional wellbeing of their colleagues. An individual’s
‘inside’ is expected to touch the ‘inside’ of those in his environment meaning that they
not only live at peace with each other but also mind each other’s wellbeing.
Okolo’s bid to practice African Humanism is realized when he resolves to share his rain
coat with a fellow passenger in a boat on the way to Sologa. The narrator observes:
Okolo had a rain coat. He stood up and put it over his head and back and sat.
It was old and had holes but it stood rain more than ordinary cloth. The people
pressed each other for warmth. The girl who was going to her husband pressed
on Okolo. All her body was almost wet. Okolo looked at her. She had no
cover. He again stood up and with his elbows he opened out his raincoat to
cover the girl and sat. The girl from the waist up faced Okolo, hesitated and
then pressed closer to make rain cloth cover her body. (Okara 63)
Okolo’s humane act of sharing his raincoat with the passenger who sits next to him in the
boat is exemplary of African Humanism. Derived from African philosophy, African
humanism holds that an individual is merely part of the whole community. An individual is
never complete being without the other members of the community. In minding the
welfare of the wet shivering girl, Okolo practices African humanism. It is ironical that
okolo’s act of kindness in sheltering the girl from the raging storm is misconstrued to be
a heinous act of immorality. The girl’s mother in law laments that:
‘So in your silence you were knotting bad thoughts in your inside. This big thing
will not finish here. All of you my witnesses be. You saw how my son’s wife
was on his lap covered with raincoat. Did he anything to you do?’ she the girl
asked. ‘Did he no part of your body touch?’ (Okara 65)
The passengers in the canoe misconstrue Okolo’s act of kindness to be an act of flirtation
with the girl. The girl’s mother-in-law asks her whether Okolo was caressing her. No
amount of denial from the girl or Okolo can persuade the passengers otherwise. This is
an unfortunate state of affair since African humanism cannot thrive in a condition of mutual
mistrust. The kind of mistrust with which the passengers in the boat regard Okolo with
kills the spirit of African Humanism. African humanism is devoid of materialism. This
philosophy shuns vices such as greed and egocentrism while emphasizing communalism.
The passengers in the boat then lack ‘It’ since they are given to greed and materialism.
The policeman in the boat boasts of having accumulated considerable amounts of wealth
through corrupt deals. The narrator notes:
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This man had said he had taken home bags of money and was now returning
to Sologa. He was a policeman and to him on earth it was the best work,
especially if one has a lucky head. If you have a lucky head and if you catch a
rich trader stealing from a white man’s shop then on heaps and heaps of money
you stand up to your knees. Why take a man like that to the station when
stealing from a Whiteman’s shop? Whiteman take all our money to his country.
(Okara 60)
This particular man lacks African humanism since he is given to corruption. The man is an
accomplice to criminal activities yet he is a policeman who is expected to fight crime in
the community. The man’s greed has robbed him of ‘It’ which in this case is African
humanism. Similarly the rich trader who steals from a white man’s shop lacks African
humanism since stealing is a vice that is strongly castigated in the African philosophy. Such
a rich trader driven by materialism lack’s ‘It’ and is thus a human wretch. In addition
African humanism encourages humility while it discourages pride and self-conceitedness.
The middle aged woman in the boat boasts of having a son who was learned and was now
working as a clerk thus earning a lot of money. The narrator observes:
“She had with a deep masculine voice torn to pieces the engine’s sound saying
her son having passed standard six the previous year was now a clerk. A heap
of money he was now earning and the girl was his wife. …She it was who had
paid for her son’s training and for this job paid twenty pounds and for his wife
thirty pounds. (Okara 60)
The woman lacks ‘It’ since her conceited self boasts of her son’s prowess and success in
studies as well as in accumulating wealth. She claims to have promoted her son’s success
through fees payment and bribery for him to secure his job. Her act of bribery further
results to her failure to possess African humanism. The Whiteman’s cook also lack’s ‘It’
since driven by greed and materialism he boasts of having a son in college who would earn
a lot of money on graduation. The narrator notes: “He was the white man’s cook, so he
said. He had told everybody loudly that he had, with his cooking, sent his son to college.
His son would soon finish and join the council and then money ‘like water flow’ he had
said, rubbing his hands, and laughed a laugh which made the groaning engine sound like a
feeble buzz of a mosquito (Okara 59). The Whiteman’s cook is given to pride thus he
lacks in African humanism. His greed is evident in his act of bragging that his son would
earn a lot of money on graduation. He expects the son to join the council thus he
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attributes corrupt deeds to the council. This man thus lacks ‘It’ which means he lacks
African humanism.
5.0 ‘It’ as the meaning of life
Finally our deconstructive reading reveals that ‘It’ refers to the meaning of life. Okoro’s
search for it involves a search for the meaning of life. Okolo observes that the meaning
of life is elusive since everyone has their meaning to life. Okolo wonders thus: “What is
the meaning of life? No, they can’t one meaning have. Each man to one meaning of life;
each woman to one meaning of life. Each one has his meaning of life. …Yes each man has
a meaning of life to himself. And that is perhaps the root of the conflict” (Okara 111).
Different people have different meanings for their lives. Some approach life with the
prospect of accumulating wealth and living lives of opulence. Included in this category are
the political leaders like Chief Izongo and the Big One in Sologa. However even many
citizens attach the meanings of their lives purely to material gain or making more money.
Included in this category are the White Man’s cook, the Policeman, and The middle aged
woman only identified as Mother-in –Law. However Okolo feels that his meaning to life
is different. He feels that there his meaning in life is to advocate for social justice. The
narrator notes:
“Spoken words are living things like cocoa-beans packed with life. And like the
cocoa-beans they grow and give life. So Okolo turned in his inside and saw that
his spoken words will not die. They will enter some insides, remain there and
grow like the corn blooming on alluvial soil at the river side. Is his meaning to
of life then to plan it in people’s insides by asking if they’ve got it…? (Okara
110)
Okolo attaches meaning to a lived in advocacy for social justice. He argues that through
social emancipation the people in society would gain their liberation. Social emancipation
would involve giving knowledge through ‘the spoken word’. The words or ‘the spoken
word’ would never die but would blossom in people’s minds and drive them to agitate for
their liberation. Okolo further argues that it is unfortunate that different people have
different meanings in life. He feels that there should be some universally accepted
meanings which result to the attainment of universally acceptable living for all humanity.
Okolo puts it thus: “There may be only one meaning in life and everybody is just groping
along in their various ways to achieve it like religion – Christians, Moslems, Animists – all
trying to reach God in their various ways” (Okara 112). Okolo concludes that there is
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only one meaning in life and everybody is striving to realize it. The only difference is in
the modes through which people seek this ultimate meaning in life.
6.0 Conclusion
Gabriel Okara (1921-2019) is a renowned poet and novelist. His first novel The Voice is
an appropriate critique of the post-independence African states and the political climate
in these states. In this great literary work, Okara criticizes the autocratic leaders in the
independent African states who strive to achieve a totalitarian stranglehold on their
subjects thereby exterminating the last vestiges of democracy. The African intellectuals
are at a loss since they have to be submerged in the deep and perilous river of
complacency and political cronyism, just like Okolo, the Protagonist, in the novel. The
research established that Okara’s novel The Voice is a suitable sermon against vices such
as corruption especially among the leaders, moral decadence occasioned by western
culture and the increased infiltration of western culture at the expense of the authentic
African traditional culture. The novel challenges Africans to embrace the true African
humanism as the only path to salvation against western individualism. This research paper
was essentially a deconstructive reading of Gabriel Okara’s novel The Voice. The novel was
selected since in the novel, the protagonist, Okolo, is involved in the search for a concept
only vaguely identified as ‘It’. Our endeavour to join Okolo’s search for ‘It’ was best
achieved through the deconstructive reading technique. Our search established that the
concept it has various meanings including: ‘It’ as a political parable of independent African
nations; ‘It’ as African cultural purity; ‘It’ as African Humanism and molarity; and ‘It’ as the
‘true’ meaning of life. It is the hope of the researcher that we have contributed significantly
to the understanding of deconstruction and Gabriel Okara’s novel The Voice.
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References
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Wendell, H. (1992). Dictionary of Concepts in Literary Criticism and Theory. London:
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