Western representations of the Congo in twentieth-century fictional texts (2021)
Through the close analysis of four Western texts set in the Congo Free State, Belgian Congo, and Zaire, this thesis examines how representations of the Congo and its indigenous people changed over the course of the twentieth century. The intrinsic relationship between language and Western culture is best reflected through the term ‘colonialist discourse,’ which is based on colonisers’ assumption of their own superiority, contrasted with the alleged inferiority of the indigenous peoples of the lands they colonised. The purpose of this thesis is to explore how fictional representations of the Congo in Western fiction both reinforces and undermines this colonialist discourse. The fictional texts analysed in this study are Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (1899), Herge Tintin au Congo (1931), Graham Greene’s A Burnt-Out Case (1960), and Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible (1998). In what follows, I examine the development of anticolonialism in European and American fictional texts over the course of the twentieth century, and utilise various theoretical frameworks from postcolonial critical theory to analyse the relationship between Western characters and indigenous Congolese in the selected texts. Guided by the works of key postcolonial theorists, such as Bill Ashcroft, Homi Bhabha, Frantz Fanon, Abdul R. JanMohamed, Edward Said, and Gayatria Spivak, I argue that cultural hegemony, Eurocentrism, and imperialistic attitudes are challenged and critiqued in Western fiction over the course of the twentieth century. My findings indicate that the hierarchical binary opposition between ‘Western’ characters in the Congo and indigenous Congolese is destabilised through transculturation, with the Self versus Other dichotomy becoming drastically less prevalent as the texts chronologically move towards the end of the twentieth century.
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