The Economy of Desire and Power in Colonial and Postcolonial Juvenile Fictions

Or Education and Identity in Rudyard Kipilg's "Kim" and Ayi Kwei Armah's "The Healers"

Research Paper (postgraduate), 2010

16 Pages

Professeur Bouteldja Riche (Author)

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This paper is concerned with the issues of mimicry and hybridity in two novels belonging to two antagonistic periods in contemporary literary history: the colonial and the postcolonial literatures. It explores through the genre of juvenile fiction the way Ayi Kwei Armah’s The Healers (1978) grappled with the legacy of Rudyard Kipling in terms of cultural and educational frames of reference. In effect, we postulate that, not only is Armah keen to distance his narrative from the far-reaching political and cultural implications inscribed in the colonial project of mimicry, but he is equally eager to take full advantage of the abrogative and appropriative thrusts inherent in the hybrid discourse in order to formulate a sense of identity and purpose that is new and native.


Cet article est une étude des questions de la mimique (mimicry) et de l’hybridité dans deux romans appartenant à deux périodes littéraires contemporaines antagonistes : la période coloniale et la période postcoloniale. Il explore à travers le genre de la littérature juvénile la manière avec laquelle la fiction de Armah The Healers (1978) s’attaque à l’héritage de Rudyard Kipling, en termes de culture et d’éducation. Notre postulat est que, non seulement Armah prend ses distances vis-à-vis des implications du projet colonial de mimique, mais aussi il exploite les strategies d’assimilation et d’abrogation latent dans le discours hybride en vue de formuler un sens de l’identité et d’objectif qui est nouveau et local.

Ayi Kwei Armah’s fifth novel The Healers (1978)[1] is concerned with a an episode of Ghana’s modern history that has not yet completely fallen into the past, an episode defined in terms of myth and legend as well as in terms of identity and culture. Patterned through the plot of adventure stories leading to personal development, the action in the novel moves steadily towards the realization of the protagonist’s cultural self and the reconstruction of an African cultural identity concerned with difference but moulded in authenticity. Viewed from the African post-Independence period of Neocolonialism, Armah’s endeavour can be read as part of that on-going process in the postcolonial quest for African identity, and discloses both his ideological collision with the colonial project of mimicry and his stand towards the question of cultural hybridity. Indeed, implied in Armah’s cultural construction is the issue of hybridity, the interplay of identity and culture, on the one hand, and power and race, on the other. During the colonial time, hybridity was assimilated to mimicry, an in-between sense of belonging wherein half-educated natives were given the rein of power to assist the political domination of the colonials and to accrue the surveillance of the colonized. In the postcolonial period, hybridity has taken on new ideological and aesthetic forms, and evolved into strategies of abrogation and appropriation whereby authors grappled, resisted or assimilated remnant aspects of colonial culture.

The issues of identity and culture inscribed in any hybrid discourse heavily pertain to the genre of adventure story in which The Healers belongs. However, even if Armah’s critics, such as Y. S. Boafo, Simon Gikandi and Bernth Lindfors, were eager to situate the fiction within this genre, they did not go far enough to examine the implications of the action of the protagonist on the ideological vision of the narrative, nor did they fully investigate the writing strategies Armah deployed in the text in order to account for the formation of his main character’s identity. Actually, critical focus has been laid so much on the writer’s racial vision that the discursive layers behind and underneath this vision have gone almost unnoticed. Thus the complexity of Armah’s cultural and ideological endeavour (i.e. the way the personal impinges on the political to imply further than a vision of a tortured episode in Gold Coast history as well as the intricate construction of desire woven around such themes as race, education, knowledge and leadership) has escaped many critics. It prompts us to deploy a cultural interpretation along the lines of the postcolonial paradigm of hybridity that resists the pitfalls implied by Bernth Lindfors’s reading of the novel as a juvenile fiction without serious ambitions. One such pitfall is Lindfors’s favouring of historical realism over imaginative reconstruction of history, which leads him to consider the novel as “a cartoon, still comic-strip history. It will not persuade adults because it falsifies far more than it authenticates” (1992: 275). It goes without saying that the implications of this point of view on Armah’s ideological creation are oblivious of the main thrust of the narrative, oriented as it is, not towards the sole reconstruction of Gold Coast (present-day Ghana) history as the critic thinks it to be, but also towards the construction of an African sense of identity and purpose that is likely to overcome the state of dependence inherited from the colonial period and perpetuated by the neo-colonial domination.

To assert the seriousness of Armah’s endeavour in The Healers, suffice us to evoke, at the outset, Jean Webb’s study of the culture issue in imperial English children’s literature. In this study, Webb (2000) begins by dismissing the point of view which presents children fiction as “innocent literature” and argues that it is “ideologically driven” (71). The ideological potential inherent in adolescent fiction is here to testify to the seriousness of Armah’s literary endeavour and to elude the comic triviality within which Lindfords would have liked to see it confined. But this is not the only argument in favour of the seriousness of Armah’s novel. Pursuing the investigation of her subject, Webb singles out three cultural patterns in the development of children’s fiction. The three patterns are as follows:

1- Suppressed cultures establish separation and identity by reflecting on landscape and a sense of cultural self;
2- Suppressed cultures force through the dominant culture by constructing and reconstructing myth;
3- Suppressed cultures realize identity by the rewriting of history (ibid.72).

In the following analysis it is our intention to develop all these patterns in The Healers through the comparison that we shall undertake between this novel and one lasting emblem of English colonial fiction, wherein identity, race and power are effectively put at work, namely Rudyard Kipling’s Kim[2]. By enlisting the comparison, we aim to unveil the strategies of desire in Armah’s and Kipling’s respective discourses in order to illustrate how the interaction of imagination (fantasy and myth, for example) with the real (history) within the former novelist’s fiction produces a narrative of cultural and political self/race-awareness. Personal identity being strongly underpinned in cultural and political awareness, it is our second objective to demonstrate that Armah deploys dialogical narrative strategies to account for the socio-political forces that shape his protagonist’s subjectivity. By dialogical narrative strategies, we mean a heteroglottic conception of the novelistic discourse wherein different discourses of power are represented. One of these discourses implicitly contained and countered is the project of mimicry advocated in Kipling’s narrative. It is true that Armah does not include any intertextual reference to the latter text. Yet, the economy of culture and power, the enduring facet of colonial desire, is strongly explored in his novel from a historical perspective that allows the articulation of a new exercise of power that is native and essential.


[1] Armah, Ayi Kwei. The Healers. 1978. Oxford: Heinemann, 1979. Subsequent references are taken from this edition and will be mentioned between brackets in the body of the text.

[2] Kipling, Rudyard. Kim. 1901. London : Penguin, 1994. Subsequent page numbers are taken from this edition and will be mentioned within the text of the dissertation.

16 of 16 pages


The Economy of Desire and Power in Colonial and Postcolonial Juvenile Fictions
Or Education and Identity in Rudyard Kipilg's "Kim" and Ayi Kwei Armah's "The Healers"
Mouloud Mammeri University of Tizi-ouzou  (Department of English)
Littérature comparée (Africaine et Britanique)
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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484 KB
Auteurs de l'article: Amar GUENDOUZI, Docteur en Littérature Africaine, chef du Département de Traduction et d'Interprétariat de l'Université de Tizi-ouzou et Bouteldja RICHE, Professeur en Littérature et Civilisation Anglaise, alumni du Séminaire de Salzburg Autriche, auteur de manuels scolaires en lange anglaise agrée auprés du Ministère de l'Education Nationale, Président du Conseil Scientifique de la Faculté des Lettres et Sciences Humaines, et Membre du Conseil Scientifique de l'Université de Tizi-ouzou.
Economy, Desire, Power, Colonial, Postcolonial, Juvenile, Fictions, Education, Identity, Rudyard, Kipilg, Kwei, Armah, Healers
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Professeur Bouteldja Riche (Author)Docteur Amar Guendouzi (Author), 2010, The Economy of Desire and Power in Colonial and Postcolonial Juvenile Fictions, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


  • jijiga aiboud on 1/7/2011

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    Alexander Graham Bell

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