Oppression, Freedom, and Oppression: An Examination of Gopal Baratham's A Candle or the Sun

John Yang, English 119, Brown University, 1999

Part 3 of "Representation and Resistance: A Cultural, Social, and Political Perplexity in Post-Colonial Literature"

A nation strives for independence andin order to escape the oppressive bonds of its colonizers. As a rallying cry, this nation denounces the oppression and exploitation of its citizens by the imperial power. However, upon achieving independence, the new government often imposes a form of oppression similar to or even greater than that of its previous colonizers. Much like the post-colonial history of Vietnam and the Philippines, Singapore, according to Baratham, suffered through a period of oppression from its own government immediately after it struggled to achieve its political freedom.

With a theme reminiscent of George Orwell's 1984, Gopal Baratham's A Candle or the Sun portrays the life of Hernando Perera, a furniture department store manager turned government writer, who ultimately suffers when he attempts to beat an oppressive government. His childhood friend Samson offers him a position writing for the government. Hernando realizes that his duty is to counter the street papers produced by his lover Su-May's "Children of the Book" cult. He will act as a mock-subversive for the government, deliberately attempting to invoke fear into the minds of Singapore's citizens so that they will ignore the street papers:

Once I accepted Sam's job, I was sure I would have to do things I found distasteful. In my writing, I would support causes of which I disapproved, distort reality if my masters wished, suppress truths inimical to their purpose. I suppose this loss of self-respect is what distressed me. It must be something that all whores grappled with. (85)

Why would government use subversive tactics in an attempt to control or sway public opinion? More importantly, why would a government seek to oppress and subjugate its citizens when it was this very oppression that drove them to pursue independence? As I have mentioned in my examination of Jeyaretnam's Abraham's Promise , independence ushers problems such as the need to create organization, focus, and direction. A revolution suffers from the possibility of breaking down into anarchy. New governments therefore sometimes use excessive measures to control its population and to restore a sense of order. Anuita, Samson's lover, expresses the government's viewpoint in a conversation with Hernando:

Did you not realize that culture is a matter of security? . . . Did they never tell you that on this island of paradise of ours trade is a matter of security, education is a matter of security, health is a matter of security, how you wash your underwear is a matter of security. (104)

Unfortunately, an oppressive government is at times the consequence for political independence. It seems as though the first item of business after achieving independence is to preserve the freedom, even if it means taking away certain freedoms of its citizens. Colonial oppression sometimes begets post-colonial oppression. Even the United States struggled many years after the American Revolution to establish a working government acceptable by its citizens. Independence is a difficult concept to follow, and Baratham depicts elegantly the struggle of a post-colonial nation to maintain control over its population.

[For a similar discussion of A Candle or the Sun, see What Are the Prices To Be Paid For Peace and Prosperity? ]

Representation and Resistance: A Cultural, Social, and Political Perplexity in Post-Colonial Literature

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