The Post-colonial Dialectic of Change

Emilie Cassou '00, English 27, Autumn 1997

In Aké: A Story of Childhood, the post-colonial writer Wole Soyinka calls much attention to the word "change," most notably in the passage that introduces the episode on Folasade's death. The sentences that contain the word relate it directly to the plot, and the statements of change concern specifics of Wole's life. But because "CHANGE" figures with added emphasis, thus printed in capital block letters, the author seems to signal a broad and abstract significance of change, over and above the immediate sense of the word relative to each sentence in which it is employed. Change is indeed a key term in the autobiography's overall theme work. If in Aké, change plays a prominent role in themes on the subjects of death, religion, gender issues, tradition, the politics of independence, or individual self-realization, it is no less central to various themes found repeatedly in other post-colonial works. In a body of literature that, by definition, emerges from countries marked by the changes incurred by national independence, "CHANGE" is a recurrent post-colonial motif.

I shall explore the ramifications of change in the themes of Nehanda and The Slave Girl, comparing its treatment by their respective authors, Vera and Emecheta. Each comments on the nature of change, having situated it in nearly opposed contexts around the colonial pivot, since Vera's work takes place at the time of Zimbabwe's conquest, whereas Emecheta carries her novel to the last decades of colonial rule.

In Ethnic Groups in Conflict, Donald L. Horowitz offers an analysis of change that sheds light on both The Slave Girl and in Nehanda. According to him,

Group members ultimately must decide whether to emulate the behaviour of the ethnic strangers in order to compete. Ethnic strangers, Weiner continues, often create an unwelcome "compulsion for change" -- unwelcome because, although necessary for competition, "the very notion of changing oneself to compete may be anathema." Moreover, the specific qualities perceived as the reasons for the strangers' success may be qualities group members 'would prefer not to emulate [...]' There is much evidence already cited that backward groups [by this he means technologically less advanced] regard the success of advanced groups as not worth achieving because it entails behaviour regarded as unacceptable.

Nehanda illustrates this perspective, from which success derives from resistance to change. Emecheta's work, however, speaks languorously of change which is meant to strike a modern reader to whom any human being's oppression is unacceptable, as an urgent social necessity. According to Horowitz, what the world of The Slave Girl lacks is an enlightened leader, such as that incarnated in Nehanda, to set society on a spiralling cycle of change, leading to liberation (or hope thereof), rather than letting it drag around a closed circle of stagnation and perpetual reenslavement.

Zimbabwe OV Yvonne Vera Overview Postcolonial Theory