How do the voices in The Other Side of Truth undermine authority?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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One distinct way in which the voices in Naidoo's work undermine authority is in how they are betrayed by it.  Sade and Femi are themselves undermined by the authority structure in the different settings of the novel.  For example, the shooting of their mother and the threatening of the children's father represent authority undermining them.  The political and social setting of Nigeria where corruption and intimidation are the methods authority used signifies an undermining of the children's universal rights to live a childhood free from death and destruction.  This authority undermines the father so that he must say that  “The truth is the truth. How can I write what’s untrue?" The fact that he is pigeon-holed into such a position represents how authority has undermined the children.  A setting in which state-sanctioned murder of civilians is not only tolerated but encouraged as a means of attaining power is another example of how authority undermines the children.

It is in this condition where the voices of the children serve to undermine authority simply by existing.  The mere act of living undermines an authority structure that has no problem usurping the rights of children: "If we get the family first, what does it matter?”  This is why there is a significant undermining of authority in the way in which the children come to view authority.  When they arrive in London, the children are advised to trust no one and not to tell people their narrative for fear of exposure and deportation. Mrs. Bankole's advice represents how authority is not to be trusted.  Once again, children's voices are used to undermine authority because authority has undermined them.  If the authority structure would be able to validate their voices, the children could trust authority and use it as a force for good in a world where it is rare. For example, the children's fear of the police in London is reminiscent of how authority in the form of local police betrayed them in Nigeria.  The experiences at school with Marcia and the other girls who "don't like Africans" is another example of how social authority undermines the children.  

The voices in The Other Side of Truth represent the voice of dissent, a clarion call to action against authority structures that have abdicated their responsibility to the greater good.  Instead, this social and political authority structure embraces power and control.  It is in this light that the children's resistance does undermine authority, but also represents how injustice must be undermined at each and every opportunity.  When Sade remembers her father's words  ("we have to stand up to bullies, Sade-girl") it serves as a reminder that the voices in Naidoo's work seek to undermine unjust authority structures.

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