on March 18, 2013
After publishing his indicting Discours sur le colonialisme (1955), Martinican literary icon, Aimé Césaire comes up with yet another lampoon on the nefarious effects of colonialism on colonies-- Une tempête.It is an adaptation of Shakespeare's play titled The Tempest(1921). In Une tempête Césaire satirizes the much maligned mission civilisatrice hype of French colonization of Africa and other dominions. Une tempête is set on a mysterious island surrounded by the ocean. Prospero rules the island with his two servants, Ariel and Caliban. He has a daughter named Miranda. There are other characters such as Gonzalo, Antonio, le Maître, Alonso, Sébastien, Stephano, Trinculo and Ferdinand among others. When Prospero shipwrecked on the Island, Caliban and Ariel treated him kindly but Prospero later makes them his unwilling servants. We learn in reading this play that the language of Ariel is that of a slave who binds himself to his master without question; on the other hand, the language of Caliban is one that questions the authority of his master. He hates his master and describes him as an illusionist:"Prospero,tu es un grand illusionniste..."(88)
Unlike Ariel, Caliban craves for freedom throughout the play as seen in this excerpt: "La Liberté ohé! la Liberté!"(64) Notice the way Césaire capitalizes the word "Liberté!" in a bid to draw the reader's attention to the importance of this word to the revolutionary Caliban. It is this craving for independence that Césaire fictionalizes in Une tempête. The struggle for decolonization in France's colonies is captured in Caliban's acerbic words addressed to the colonizer:
Tu m'as tellement menti,
Menti sur le monde, menti sur moi-même
Que tu as fini par m'imposer
Une image de moi-même
Un sous développé, comme tu dis,
Voilà comment tu m'as obligé à me voir,
Et cette image, je la hais! Elle est fausse!
Et maintenant, je te connais, vieux cancer,
Et je me connais aussi! (88)
A keen examination of the passage above sheds light on the relationship between language, colonialism and power dynamics; the connection between language and race; and the constitutive, and, therefore, putatively ontological power of a dominant language. Caliban's anger toward his master is indicative of his desire to be freed from Prospero's domination. This theme of decolonization in Une tempête can be explored by examining the dynamics of power between Prospero, the supposed `colonialist' and the colonized natives--Ariel and Caliban.The encounter between Caliban and Prospero raises intriguing questions about the function of language and exercise of power in postcolonial literatures. The play provides one of the most telling illustrations of the critical importance of language in the colonial encounter.
Caliban's outburst against Prospero's half-truths, encapsulates the malaise and bitter reaction of many colonized peoples to centuries of linguistic and cultural imperialism: "le mensonge, ça te connaît" (88). Caliban's language is the product of a mind surely in a state of general discomfort and malaise. He rejects Prospero's language because Prospero has given him the tools of communication in a manner that leaves him lacking the freedom with which to use it: "Tu ne m'as rien appris tu tout. Sauf, biensûr à baragouiner ton langage pour comprendre tes ordres: couper les bois, laver la vaisselle, pécher le poisson, planter les légumes, parce que tu es bien trop fainéant pour le faire" (25).Caliban's rebellious attitude is an expected reaction from someone who feels he is being unjustly used and subjugated. By appropriating the master's language, Caliban is able to re-assert his right to use language the way he deems fit.
In a nutshell, Une tempête is a masterly piece on power dynamics between the colonizer and the colonized. It brings to the fore the hollowness of the much-vaunted civilizing mission of the French and other colonial powers. This would be insightful reading for students of postcolonial Francophone literatures. I highly recommend it for inclusion in college and university courses.
About the reviewer.
Dr. Peter Wuteh Vakunta teaches at the United States Department of Defense Language Institute in California. He is linguist and professor of Postcolonial Francophone literatures.
on May 7, 2010
Cesaire's Une tempête takes the original and hardly well-pondered arguments that Shakespeare brought to his drama The Tempest, and turns them "inside out" as a protest of slavery, colonialism and oppression. The original Tempest was a conflict between the rational/logical and the instinctive/passionate in human nature extrapolated as a reflection on the new worlds being discovered in the sixteenth century. Cesaire does Shakespeare one better by making this interpretation of the original play a more complex story where colonialism comes to the forefront and Caliban becomes the troubled redeemer of the oppressed. Ariel, the voice of reason in the original, now is portrayed as a dutiful overseer of the colonialists. In short, the new roles inserted in the Shakespearean characters make this interpretation a must-read for those interested in the cultural and behavorial aspects of colonialism and postcolonialism. This work should have a critical (re)translation to English so it can enter in a dialogue with the four-centuries-old original work.