Critical Evaluation

An internationally acclaimed writer and filmmaker, Ousmane Sembène was a self-taught man. In search of employment, Sembène traveled from his native Senegal to France, where he wrote and published his first novel, Le Docker noir (1956; Black Docker, 1987), which launched his literary career. Over the next thirty years, he wrote several novellas and novels, published short stories, and directed and produced a number of films based on his own literary works. Often referred to as a modern-day griot, a term designating the traditional African storyteller, Sembène dramatized the sociopolitical issues affecting the African people and their society.

Apart from his first work, Sembène’s novels are set primarily in Senegal. Placing less emphasis on his former preoccupation with the effects of French influence on African society, he concentrated in his subsequent works largely on issues such as corruption, poverty, illiteracy, and other social ills perpetuated by the African elite at the expense of the poorer classes. Xala focuses, in particular, on the leadership of postindependence Senegal.

In this novel the forcefulness of Sembène’s criticism is intensely conveyed through the symbolic connection established between xala and the impotence of the Senegalese leadership. A profoundly powerful work, Xala uses traditional elements to create a unique narrative style. The sense of a parable is effectively developed through the unanticipated decline of El Hadji’s business affairs. The introductory scene displays the false sense of optimism among the new African masters. By moving from the national context to El...

(The entire section is 683 words.)