A Far Cry From Africa: Divided Loyalties
Derek Walcott’s “A Far Cry from Africa” is a representation of ethnic strife and divided loyalties that are communicated through the referencing of the Mau Mau Uprising, which is essentially an amplification of the speaker's internal conflict in regards to his mixed heritage. "A Far Cry from Africa" cannot fully be understood without examining it through a Marxism perspective, which illuminates the issue of conflict in regards to ethnic strife and divided loyalties: "Marxists generally view literature not as works created in accordance with timeless artistic criteria, but as 'products' of the economic and ideological determinants specific to that era. Literature reflects an author's own class or analysis of class relations, however piercing or shallow that analysis may be" (Abrams 149). The cultures being examined in this piece are African and European and the author presents an analysis of each class in both "piercing" and "shallow" ways.
The poem is the "product" of the British ideologies in the 1950s regarding the Mau Mau: "The contemporary, colonial view saw Mau Mau as a savage, violent, and depraved tribal cult, an expression of unrestrained emotion rather than reason. Mau Mau was "perverted tribalism" that sought to take the Kikuyu people back to "the bad old days" before British rule" (Berman 181). Thus, the author's poem is a result of the then British ideology which in turn fosters the author's concept of the two classes.
The mentioned Mau Mau Uprising in the poem is symbolic for a war involving Africans against Europeans, which further addresses another level of conflict involving the speaker's half-African, half-European heritage. The speaker uses the conflict in the Mau Mau Uprising to characterize his inner battle regarding the dichotomy between his two ethnicities: "I who am poisoned by the blood of both" (Walcott 26). Although we can't be sure who the speaker is exactly, we can be sure that the author drew upon elements of his own life for inspiration of this poem.
Derek Walcott was born in the British West Indies in 1930. Walcott battled with his identity from an early age: "His backgrounds were indeed racially and culturally mixed: his grandmothers were of African descent; his grandfathers were white, a Dutchman and an Englishman" (Greenblatt 2800). The struggles Walcott had with his mixed heritage translate onto the speaker's struggles in "A Far Cry from Africa" as it becomes evident that the poem is not just a rhetoric of the Mau Mau Uprising, but on a larger scale, an account of a man's war against the two opposing versions of himself. Walcott paints a picture of a man divided, split between two allegiances: "Walcott has self-mockingly referred to his split allegiances to his African Caribbean and his European inheritances as those of a 'schizophrenic,' a 'mongrel,' a 'mullatto of style'" (Greenblatt 2800). The self-mocking terms demonstrate a man who is unsure of his identity and who has hatred for both sides of himself. This hatred could stem possibly from his understanding of each of his ancestor's classes during the time the poem was written. The poem gives way to the inner struggle Walcott faces in regards to not knowing which side to choose as projected through his speaker:
I who have cursed
The drunken officer of British rule, how choose
Between this Africa and the English tongue I love?
Betray them both, or give back what they give?
How can I face such slaughter and be cool?
How can I turn from Africa and live? (Walcott 28-33)
These lines indicate a man torn between two cultures and different ways of life. The speaker is divided on the thought of turning away from Africa,—which is the base of his existence,—for he is uncertain how to do so and live. In these lines, there is a presence of love and hatred as the speaker speaks of "cursing the drunken officer of British...