Sunday, July 26, 2009

And the Dogs Were Silent

In And the Dogs Were Silent, Césaire attempts to decolonize his mind, interestingly using the language of the colonizers’, French, do it. The Rebel in Césaire’s play murders his blue-eyed master. He is forced into the colonial prison until he is punished for his crime by a public death. Césaire reenacts the universal suffering and sacrifice of the colonized black individuals with the play’s colonial prison, the Lover, as well as the Rebel himself.

Césaire describes the colonial prison to depict the arrival of the whites in Africa using the chorus chants to signal their landing. The resulting slave trade is depicted through the verbal exchanges of the colonial administrator and the bishops. Césaire uses this scene to point out the absurd justification of European invasion. “Ah we are alone, and what burden! To bear alone the burden of civilization!” (pg 5 Césaire) The whites’ invasion took place for greedy purposes, but justified as the whites’ gift of science, and thus of civilization, to the ‘natives’. “My name is Discoverer, my name is Inventor, my name is Unifier, the one who opens the world to nations!” (pg 12, Césaire) With science as a tool, Europe had taken over the Caribbean. Whilst doing so, the Europeans justified their invasions and taught the enslaved and themselves, into believing their actions as a gift to the colonized nation.

The chorus’ cry for “death to the whites, death to the whites” (pg 15, Césaire) serves as a reenactment of the black revolution and the emotions that carried it. “Ah here comes the worthy messenger of this greedy race. Their pallid complexion woven out of gold and silver. Waiting for prey has hooked their bestial noses a steel gleam nests in their frigid eyes. Ah, a race without velvet” (pg 44 Césaire)

The Lover’s desperate urgings represent the compromise blacks had previously taken on for the sake of survival. The Lover begs the Rebel to consider their son in an attempt to sway him away from his self sacrifice. The Lover is used to voice the reasons behind blacks’ compromises, while the Rebel’s response is meant to challenge her compromise and to voice Césaire’s opinions against it. “Ah that is what destroys all of you and the country destroys itself by wanting at any cost to justify accepting the unacceptable.” (pg 34 Césaire)

Many times, colonized nations are often viewed as “’the other world’, the antithesis of Europe and therefore of civilization. A place where a man’s vaunted intelligence and refinement are finally mocked by triumphant bestiality.” (Achebe, pg 1) Using this sort of logic as a weapon, Europe had taken over the Caribbean. Whilst doing so, the Europeans justified their invasions while leading others, and quite possibly themselves, into believing their actions as a gift to the colonized nation. In fact, colonialism is the incomplete gift. It is the gift that requires the receiver, in this case ‘blacks’, to give back more than he is given. As Achebe questions whether a novel which continues the traditions of the age long attitude of dehumanizing Africa and Africans, can be considered a great work of art, once must also consider why a novel that questions and challenges this practice is not held high standard.


  1. A fine subject, and very fine points. It does seem structured around the work rather than the question of post-colonial theory. That is, while a reader familiar with our class might sense what you're up to, another reader might read this more as a summary. You could bring in more explicit reference to post-colonialism and its aims earlier, and that would probably keep them on the right track.