A Study of African Short Story

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A Study of Two African Short Stories: “The Garden of Evil” by William Saidi and “The Wicked Tongue” by Mohammed Moulessehoul
The stories incorporated in the book, Hot Days Long Nights, which also comprises the two stories to be studied, relate different scenarios and pictures of the African continent. They are compact and precise, giving the readers an insight to the customary laws and traditions of its people. Some of them depict the painful collective memory of wars, while the others narrate the story of an individual or the encounter between different people, even on the level of the colonized and the colonizer. At the same time, every story is pervaded with a sense of pain and longing, a justification of Chinua Achebe’s assertion in the foreword of the book: “The common factor in all the stories is a pervasive atmosphere of pain and life’s injustice”.[i]

“The Garden of Evil” narrates the story of Mwanza, a gardener in a white man’s house. What is worth mentioning in this story is the link that Mwanza has with the garden. He imagines himself to be a royal when he works in the garden among the plants and vegetables. The garden is also referred to as his “kingdom, his own little garden of Eden”.[ii] In the world of Mwanza, this little patch in the Parker household becomes the only space where he can exercise his liberty. It becomes a ground of power and equation whereby Mwanza can converse freely with and to the plants. The garden provides an anesthetic sensation for Old Mwanza; it becomes a transitory paradise where the evils and commotions of the real world are forgotten, even though for a short while. Moreover, the connotation that can be derived from the garden is that it symbolizes ‘land’ and the native’s attachment to it. Postcolonial criticism has often cited the intimate connection the native has with nature especially when it comes to land. Incidentally, the writer of this particular story William Saidi is a native of Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). It is said that this country was once a part of the ‘settler colonies’- a term used to define countries, where the imperial power settled, seizing lands and cultivating them. In such a scenario, the colonizer gradually became a permanent settler- “In taking possession of the land and cultivating it, there was never much thought of returning home.”[iii] The white settler, therefore, becomes a static dominant figure. In “The Garden of Evil”, the attachment that the protagonist feels with the garden can be derived as an attempt to reclaim the native land. In the mind of the native, land- as a physical space points towards ownership and propriety, even signifying the formation of identity. For Old Mwanza, the garden in his master’s house becomes a symbolization of a space or a territory, in which he is the sole owner. Everything that the garden gives life to, including the land itself becomes a possession for him. Perhaps Mwanza aligns this sense of possessiveness to the attachment that any native would have with the homeland. Therefore, in his kingdom, even Mr. Parker is treated as an intruder and is being watched with scrutiny lest he steps on the plants and vegetables. “He treasured his attachment to the garden to the point of being insanely possessive and jealous.”[iv] Moreover, the garden, for Old Mwanza becomes a remedial necessity. Memories of war and his youthful heydays prove to be no longer blissful. Rather, what pleases him and puts him at ease are only his little garden, and the memory of his belated wife. Also, his two sons have begun to fail him with their involvement in the ongoing revolution against the white people in the cities and towns. Despite the hatred that the natives harbor against the white people, Mwanza recognizes the dominance and superiority of his master as an imperial figure and owner of the place. He chooses to remain subservient and reticent: “To laugh with your master presumed equality. It could spell the end of a good...
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