A Far Cry from Africa: Summary, Critical Analysis,Theme, Questions
Category : PROSE LESSONS
A Far Cry from Africa Summary
“A Far Cry from Africa” talks about the events of the Mau Uprising in Kenya in the early 1950s. In the mid-twentieth century, British colonialism was a blurring but at the same time, it was an intense power on the earth. In the African country of Kenya, British colonists had settled and acquainted European ideas with the local people: money, tax collection, and land ownership. At the point when the British asked, ”Who possesses this land?” tribal people reacted, ”We do,” and the British assumed that “we” alluded to the tribal government, despite the fact that the land was really owned by individual families. Since the British were supplanting the tribal government with their own, they then asserted all the land for the sake of the new British government. Naturally, the Kenyan individuals were outraged. Now, rather than owning and cultivating their own land, they were decreased to being workers for the British proprietors. As representatives, they were additionally offended by being paid just a small amount of the sum a British worker got for doing likewise work.
The Kikuyu tribe was the biggest in Kenya, and the most learned. In 1951, some Kikuyu upheavals of violence against the British happened, and in 1952 a mystery Kikuyu society known as the Mau Mau started a war of violence against the British and any Africans who were faithful to them. By October of 1952, the circumstance was so intense that the British got out troops to battle the agitators, and a three-year war followed, during which 11,000 rebel warriors were executed and 80,000 Kikuyu men, ladies, and youngsters were locked up in confinement camps. One hundred Europeans and 2,000 Africans faithful to them were murdered. Afterward, the leader of the rebellion, Jomo Kenyatta, was chosen prime minister of Kenya when Kenya became independent from Britain in 1963.
In the poem, Walcott presents some graphic images of the conflict and asks how he can be expected to choose one side over the other since he is of both African and European descent. He cannot condone the colonialism of the British, or the violence of the Mau Mau, because choosing either side would mean he is turning against that part of himself.
“A Far Cry from Africa” uses metaphors, such as “colonel of carrion, and ironic statements, such as “corpses are scattered through a paradise” to describe the death and destruction and inhumanity that has occurred in both Africa and Europe. Walcott was privileged to bear both horrible histories as a half-European and half-African. The desire of the full-blooded natives was to look and act like the colonizers. They didn’t have to bear the strain of being genetically comparable to the colonizers, however, and not only being torn between two societies but being “divided to the vein,” Derek Walcott utilizes his genetic hybridity and cultural hybridity to convey the extreme of his unholiness.
Violence and Cruelty:– The wind” ruffling Africa’s tawny pelt” relates to the Mau Mau Uprising that took place in what is now independent Kenya from about October 20, 1952, to January 1960. The White Government called an emergency conference during this period against a secret Kikuyu community that came to be known as Mau Mau and was devoted to overthrowing the White regime. The short-term cruelty of the Mau Mau insurrection erupted against the backdrop of a cruel, long-lasting British colonialism.
STYLE:” A Far Cry from Africa” has four mainly iambic tetrameter stanzas. The poem actually begins in iambic pentameter, the predominant form of poetry published in English, but it quickly veers off course metrically— a shift reflecting the evolving scene and viewpoint in the poem— with lines of differing length and amount of stresses. The use of masculine endings (lines ending with accented vowels) and masculine rhymes (one syllable rhymes) by Walcott is a point of consistency. Rhyme is just as uncommon as a meter. The first stanza’s rhyme scheme could be rendered as ababbcdecd.
When analyzing” A Far Cry from Africa,” most critics comment on the message of the poem and what it shows about the poet, rather than technical elements of its creation. In an essay titled” West Indies II: Walcott, Brathwaite, and Authenticity,” Bruce King comments,” The poem is noteworthy for its emotional complexity” and that it” treats the Mau Mau uprising in terms that mock the usual justifications and criticisms of colonialism.” King notes that the narrator is hit by” confused, irreconcilably opposed feelings:…
In his critical biography of 1993, Derek Walcott, Robert D. Hamner observes,” For Walcott, it is not a easy decision between cultures, but a matter of laying claim to his mixed heritage.” This” mixed heritage,” which the Swedish Academy took on a range of often-paradoxical forms when it awarded Walcott the 1992 Nobel Prize for Literature, known as” the complexity of its own position.” For instance, Walcott is genetic ancestry of both English and African. In his veins flows the blood of colonizers and colonizers, oppressors and oppressed. Derek Walcott often described himself as a “mongrel;” they were both African grandmothers and they were both European grandfathers. He disliked the English culture but loved the English language and empathized with the Irish because they were the colonization victims as well.
Walcott does not convey all elements of British and African culture in “A Far Cry from Africa,” but focuses solely on the violent history of both. He’s “poisoned with the blood of both,” and he’s torn between a bloodied Africa’s two terrible choices or the England murderer.
A Far Cry From Africa “is the story of a half-African and half-English man who witnesses the death and destruction of his homeland as a result of South Africa’s English colonization. However, in his description, he does not favor one side over the other, but rather focuses on the injustices of both cultures.The narrator shouts at the end of the poem, wondering how to choose between the two. Several elements of this poem demonstrate indications of transculturation. Perhaps the most evident sign to write this poem is the adoption by the narrator of the dominant English language. This element of English culture has, in reality, become such a component of the narrator that he refers to the language as “the English language[ he] loves.”
The narrator’s adoption of derisive European names for uncivilized people to describe the Kikuyu is another sign of transculturation. The narrator likes the Kikuyu “to savages” and a “gorilla,” for instance. The narrator also borrows the phrase, “a waste of our compassion,” from the phrase he characterizes as being British in line six. The narrator demonstrates another sign of transculturation in the last stanza by”[ cursing]/British rule’s drunken officers.” These subtle rejections and adaptations of British imperialism can be discovered throughout the poem, all signs of transculturation.
In the last stanza of Walcott’s poem arises the personal struggle characteristic of this transculturation:
Where shall I turn, divided to the vein?
I who have cursed
The drunken officer of British rule, how choose
Between this Africa and the English tongue I love?
From this, it is evident that in his personal fight with transculturation, the narrator finds it difficult to choose between the two cultures. In an article entitled “Conflicting Loyalties in’ A Far Cry from Africa,'” the writer, Heather Bradley claims, “this severely pessimistic image illustrates a consequence of displacement—isolation”. In fact, the final lines of the poem contain several pictures of isolation, and even the headline takes part in the withdrawn tone of the remainder of the poem.
However, isolation does not always have to be the resulting state of personal battle as long as one can determine the culture to which he or she is most loyal. But then Bradley goes one step further, claiming, “an individual’s sense of identity arises from cultural influences which define his or her character according to a particular society’s standards.” While one’s perceived identity can be defined by the norms of a specific society, real identity can only be acquired through self-analysis, such as transculturation’s private fight. The transculturation method describes one’s identity at the junction of two cultures.
Homi Bhabha’s concept of “colonial mimicry” will serve to explain exactly why personal struggle is characteristic of transculturation. According to Bhabha, “colonial mimicry is the desire for a reformed, recognizable Other, as a subject of a difference that is almost the same but not quite” (1). In essence, “colonial mimicry” is the process by which a subjugated people are driven to reproduce the characteristics and ideals of a dominant culture in a way that closely resembles the true dominant culture; hence, it is a form of transculturation. On a more personal level, this concept may translate to one individual’s mimicry of someone who wields power over him or her. The result of this mockery is ambivalence the subordinate feels towards his superiors: on one hand, he respects and envies the power of his superiors and on the other hand, he scorns their oppression of him. The subordinate’s search for balance between respect and scorn for his superiors is a form a personal struggle, and this ambivalence is reproduced almost exactly in Walcott’s “A Far Cry from Africa”: the narrator curses his tyrant English conquerors at the same he time worships the language they speak.
African mimicry of British themes, which Bhabha sees as indicative of ambivalence, and thus personal struggle, can be seen throughout Walcott’s poem. For example, the Kikuyu are characterized as flies that “batten upon the bloodstreams of the veldt” (3) just as the English are represented by a worm, the “colonel of carrion” (5). In addition, the murder of an innocent white child in bed mimics the holocaust-like genocide of the natives. The narrator also mocks the English by reproducing their language only to curse and criticize British imperialism. Even the title mocks British rule. By calling British colonization “a far cry from Africa,” the narrator is criticizing the attempt of the British to civilize Africa and make it a better place. All these images of mimicry are signs of the narrator’s personal transculturation of British paradigms.
Returning to Pratt with a better understanding of transculturation in its context as a personal struggle, the drawback of viewing transculturation as an emotionless transition becomes apparent. In her article, Pratt cites three examples of transculturation on an individual basis: an Incan under Spanish rule, a class taught by a teacher, and a child discovering the world of baseball. However, in each instance, Pratt fails to recognize the emotion characteristic of personal struggle involved in the transculturation process. When discussing her six-year-old son, Pratt casually mentions that baseball cards taught him “what it means to get cheated, taken advantage of, even robbed.” She doesn’t even spend one sentence analyzing what kind of effect these types of lessons would have on a six-year-old kid. Pratt then goes on to objectify the life’s work of the Incan under Spanish rule by treating his letter as a monumental example of “autoethnography” instead of what it simply is: a plea to King Phillip III of Spain to end the oppression of the Incas. In the classroom, Pratt is “struck” by the realization that “the lecturer’s traditional (imagined) task–unifying the world in the class’s eyes by means of a monologue that rings equally coherent, revealing, and true for all…[is] not only impossible but anomalous and unimaginable”. Whatever she teaches to a diverse group of students will be received and interpreted by each student differently. That which is surprising to Pratt is self-evident to those who understand transculturation in its context as a personal struggle. The student has the power to accept or reject all aspects of the instruction based on his own values and therefore must every day take part in his or her own intellectual development through personal transculturation. Hence, it is important to analyze cultural intersections on a small scale as well as a large one and to pay attention to how each individual is affected by cultural interaction.
After all, Walcott’s narrator isn’t just an individual assuming a dominant culture’s traits; he is one man torn between loyalties to two opposing countries. He is one man “divided to the vein” (Walcott 18), struggling with himself. In order to effectively colonize another’s land, the colonizer’s culture has to become so widely spread and deeply embedded in the colonized land’s culture so that the indigenous peoples will begin to accept that they are inferior to the colonizers.
The term mimicry is used to describe the imitation of the colonizing nation by the natives because of their desire to be “accepted by the colonizing society” and their sense of inferiority and shame for their own society (Tyson 221). The colonizer must use one of the most strong conveyances for the dispersion of ideologies to fully dominate a territory by promoting its culture as superior: English. They implemented English as the official language when the British colonized the West Indies, the primary means of causing the natives to embrace British culture as their own. However, in “A Far Cry from Africa,” Walcott ironically describes how he rejects the British culture – the colonialist ideology – but accepts the British language as superior.
Walcott would have been seen by the colonizers as another colonial subject, and as a half-European subject, Walcott would have been seen as different from the entire indigenous peoples. Although these full-blooded natives, along with the French Creole, would also have learned Standard English and emulated British culture, their hybridity would not be as extreme as the context of Walcott. Derek Walcott would have had a First World education in a Second World country as a person of mixed blood and family members who were European.