Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Like many of the novels written while colonialism withered during the two decades after World War II, God’s Bits of Wood records the exploitation and inhumane treatment of the Africans by their colonizers. In one respect, Sembène has rewritten history to show the African side of the colonial experience. In re-creating an actual and significant strike that took place early during the struggle for independence, he attempts to show the Africans that they, once united, can continue to vanquish those who have seized their land and made them virtual slaves. In Sembène’s hands, the strike carries a symbolic note as one of the first African triumphs over colonialism. Writing at a time when negritude, the pride of being African, has developed from a concept into a reality, Sembène focuses on the Africans’ capacity to endure in order to overcome the obstacles that block their way to selfhood. He also examines those who sacrifice their negritude and turn into mere mimics of Europeans.

While Sembène relies on the Western novelistic tradition—the book suggests at times Emile Zola’s Germinal (1885; English translation, 1885)—he has managed to imbue God’s Bits of Wood with an African quality through the characters, the use of the native oral tradition, and the recorded history of the struggle against colonialism.