Césaire and Achebe, on the Culture of the Coloniser (Bite-Sized Study Notes)


Achebe and Césaire offer very different views on the possibility of engaging with the culture of the coloniser, as outlined below.


Césaire is adamant that engagement with the culture of the coloniser, given the disproportion of power in their relationship, is impossible because the coloniser demands the surrender of the colonised man’s culture as well as submission to his own. Far from being against placing different civilizations in contact, she states that for them ‘exchange is oxygen’7, but draws a stark contrast between civilization and colonisation. The West is seen as a suffocating force with an insatiable appetite. Césaire views the coloniser’s culture (which she defines as ‘humanistic’, ‘capitalist’, ‘Christian’ and ‘bourgeois’8) as poisonous and harbours buried instincts for racial hatred, violence, greed and ‘moral relativism’9.



Achebe’s attitude towards this cultural exchange is more balanced. While he acknowledges the disruption caused by the colonisation of Africa, he credits it with the creation of larger, more secure ‘political units’10 (i.e. nations) and the enablement of their unification through a shared linguistic system. Achebe believes that inherent value of inheriting English language is often overlooked or underestimated. He challenges Wali’s assertion that native Africans cannot express themselves fully without their native tongue, pointing out the pliability of English and its usage. He observes that it is not necessary to use English like an Englishman: instead, the African voice is free to express itself creatively whilst still understood worldwide.


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