Conflict and the black servant in Oyono's "Houseboy" and Gordimer's "July's People"


Scientific Essay, 2015

22 Pages


Excerpt

Content

ABSTRACT

Introduction

ANALYSIS OF HOUSEBOY

JULY’S PEOPLE

CONCLUSION

BIBLIOGRAPHY

ABSTRACT

This study intends to compare the portrayal of conflict in Ferdinand Oyono’s Houseboy and Nadine Gordimer’s July’s People. Specifically, it looks at how the black servant is forced to balance the loyalty he has for the white employer and for his African roots. The analysis of Houseboy will focus on how conflict is represented between whites and blacks, how it can satirically have a positive influence on others and lastly, how conflict among the blacks can be very destructive. Houseboy shows how conflict can be prompted by stereotypes; how it can be a shield from other pressing concerns and even how conflict itself can provide an outlet for humour. The analysis of July’s People will on the other hand focus on how people can live together under pretences that they are at peace with one another when in actual fact they are not; how the black servant can be in conflict with people of other races or their traditions as well as how that servant can be in conflict with fate or destiny. In conclusion it will be shown how Houseboy is more explicit in portraying conflict than July’s People due to the events that happened in the two texts. An argument can be made therefore if conflict experienced by black servants during the colonial period was more in the open as opposed to that of apartheid South Africa.

Keyword: conflict; race; apartheid; colonialism

Introduction

Race relations in African literature have roots that go beyond Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (1899) and can be seen in Ryder Haggard’s King Solomon’s Mines (1885). In all these Eurocentric texts, the conflict brought about by a clash of cultures has illuminated that prior to colonialism blacks have had to endure being defined in relation to the white framework of identity, what Franz Fanon has termed the ‘manichean delirium’. However, African texts written by African writers have shown conflict in a more holistic sense by moving beyond black – white dichotomies to focus on a more intriguing case of black on black conflict within a setting where the white man is still lord. Nadine Gordimer’s July People and Ferdinand Oyono’s Houseboy show how conflict is experienced by the black servant who operates in the white man’s house and how the relationship is one where trust is a concept frequently mulled over but rarely extended to the other. The intention of this paper is to analyse how conflict particularly affects the black servant across and within the colour lines in a racially stratified society. However, it is important to say a few things about conflict first.

According to Muller (1995); characters may be involved in a variety of struggles; against other people, society, and nature, opposing forces within themselves, fate or destiny. A character may be involved in a struggle against another character from moral, religious or social differences, and may be verbal, emotional or physical conflicts. A character may also struggle against the morals of their culture or government, or they may find themselves at odds with forces of nature or the environment. Struggle against fate occurs when a character is compelled to follow an unknown destiny. Furthermore, Giddens states that “it is illusory to claim that characters tend to live amicably with one another most of the time, even when there are no open confrontations, they say, there remain deep divisions of interests which at some point are liable to break out into active conflict.” (Giddens 1993: 718)

What this means is that people may live together without others being aware of their differences, but not essentially indicating that they are constantly at harmony or in good books with one another. Their differences may be shadowed by the actuality that they do not use obscene language when talking to each other, or their attitude toward each other.

There are very strong suggestions of the above quote in Houseboy though they take a more personal angle between Toundi and the Madame. Also in July’s People, one can use Giddens point of view to ascertain how people tend to camouflage their true behavior and intentions from their employers.

Karl Marx points out that an ‘intricate web of social relationships emerges when any group of people engages in the production of goods, a few will be employers. It is the bourgeoisie who takes control of society. Eventually these upper classes will articulate their beliefs, values and even arts. Consciously and unconsciously, they will force their ideology on the working class, thus controlling them…In this system; normally the rich become richer, while the poor get poorer and more oppressed. (qtd. in Bressler, 213) As shall be pointed out in Houseboy, this may be a contributing factor to conflict given that the whites are the only ones with cars and money and they live in much better houses, and this is also evident at church however, July’s People does not show this struggle between the rich and the poor, the conflict I believe is social and presented through beliefs and opinions.

Feagin (1997:23) states that ever since the days of slavery, several white people have benefited from the presence of a large number group of subordinate African American workers and those of similar status. Large employers benefit from the lower wages of the black workers and from the divisions created between the black and white workers, which reduces the likelihood of working-class organization to fight exploitation of workers. However, in Houseboy, though there is conflict brought about by colour differences, financial exploitations is not much of an issue .This paper will also attempt to show the conflict of wills between characters, for instance, Toundi and Madame. It will also be interesting to note how July’s people subscribes to Feagin’s point, given that money is a control issue topic between black employee and white employer.

The analysis will start with the earlier publication of Houseboy and then move on to July’s People. The paper will be in two parts. The analysis of Houseboy will focus on how conflict is represented between whites and blacks, how it can satirically have a positive influence on others and lastly, how conflict among the blacks can be very destructive. It will be demonstrated how conflict can be prompted by stereotypes; how it can be a shield from other pressing concerns and even how conflict itself can provide an outlet for humour. The analysis of July’s People will on the other hand focus on how people can live together under pretences that they are at peace with one another when in actual fact they are not; how people can be in conflict with people of other races or their traditions as well as how people can be in conflict with fate or destiny.

ANALYSIS OF HOUSEBOY

Ferdinand Oyono’s masterpiece told through the eyes of a naïve yet increasingly observant houseboy, Toundi, poses several interesting issues regarding how conflict is portrayed.

The analysis of this book will focus on how conflict is portrayed between whites and blacks, how conflict can ironically have a positive influence on others and finally, how conflict among the blacks can be very destructive. Houseboy shows how conflict can be triggered by stereotypes; how it can be a shield from other pressing concerns and even how conflict itself can provide an outlet for humour.

The prison director expresses a type of conflict that illustrates how stereotypes formulate opinions about people. This in turn strengthens attitudes and resentment by one person to another. The stereotyping is seen when M. Moreau is on one of his amorous visits to Madame, the commandant’s wife at the Residence.M.Moreau takes a dislike to Toundi by giving him ‘a dangerous look’ (79). Toundi has not uttered anything disrespectful nor has he behaved in a manner that undermines the white man. However, this does not stop M. Moreau from venting his dislike for the houseboy, both verbally and physically.

‘Come here,’ said the prison director, beckoning me. Then he said to Madam, ‘You see, he can’t look us in the eye. His eyes are shifty like a pygmy’s. He’s dangerous. Natives are that. When they can’t look you in the eye it’s a sure sign they’ve got some idea fixed in their wooden heads…’He grabbed me by the neck and forced me to look at him. (79)

The conflict that we see here has no immediate stimulus. The prison-director simply explodes without any provocation. He is motivated by his own unjustifiable opinions on blacks to see Toundi the way that he does. This type of conflict is difficult to resolve since it stems from a psychological point of view that is engrained in the very psyche of the colonial master. The violent language portrayed by M.Moreau here affirms that he views violence as the only possible way in which this conflict can be resolved. The irony here is that M.Moreau’s hatred for Toundi is not reciprocated by the houseboy. The boy does not harbor similar sentiments towards the white man. As such, the conflict we see is entirely self-generated and imposed on an individual without justification. What is clear is that a person’s position of authority allows him to physically vent his frustrations on those he sees as inferior to him. This concept of inferiority is both in terms of race and status. In the above example, the prison director does not trust Toundi- not only because Toundi might expose his infidelity with Madame to the Commandant, but more importantly because he is a native.

What is even more important to consider in the confrontation that M.Moreau has with Toundi is the boy’s reaction. We have a situation in which the conflict is resolved by one person, primarily because it is one sided. Toundi in no way retaliates to the prison director’s aggressive behavior. He does not speak in his own defense or in defense of blacks stereotyped by M.Moreau. Instead we see Toundi being submissive, allowing the Madame and M.Moreau to talk over him as if he is a piece of furniture.

[...]

Excerpt out of 22 pages

Details

Title
Conflict and the black servant in Oyono's "Houseboy" and Gordimer's "July's People"
College
University of Botswana
Author
Year
2015
Pages
22
Catalog Number
V311155
ISBN (eBook)
9783668098916
ISBN (Book)
9783668098923
File size
437 KB
Language
English
Tags
conflict, race, apartheid, colonialism
Quote paper
Wazha Lopang (Author), 2015, Conflict and the black servant in Oyono's "Houseboy" and Gordimer's "July's People", Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/311155

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