A Far Cry from Africa

by Derek Walcott

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How can we analyze "A Far Cry from Africa" using a post-colonial criticism approach?

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Using a post-colonial criticism approach to analyze "A Far Cry from Africa," the poem explores the cultural and power dynamics between colonizing and colonized societies. The speaker, of mixed African and European descent, grapples with his divided identity, reflecting the broader impact of colonialism. The poem highlights the violence and internal conflicts resulting from colonial rule, emphasizing the impossibility of reconciling these intertwined yet opposing cultures.

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Post-colonial criticism does not necessarily seek to approach a work from the "opposite" viewpoint to what might be traditionally considered, but it does consider the work against the backdrop of the colonial society it reflects, taking into account elements such as power dynamics, cultural interaction, and political context.

"A Far Cry from Africa" is particularly concerned with cultural interaction between the colonizing and the colonized cultures, with the speaker expressing the impossibility of separating his African identity from his white identity. As a mixed-race individual, he represents the uncertainty and insecurity of colonial rule: "poisoned with the blood of both," he feels he can neither "face such slaughter and be cool," nor "turn from Africa and live." The speaker's dilemma reflects, in microcosm, what has been done to the colonized nation. It can no longer go back to what it was before it was invaded, nor can it continue easily side by side with the culture imposed upon it.

This duality is seen throughout the poem with the use of non-English words, such as "kikuyu", appearing within sentences in the dominant language, English. The two cultures have become intermingled, but the intermingling is rife with violence: language like "drum," "bloodstream," "hacked," "savages," and "dead" reinforce this point.

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Post-colonial criticism analyzes literature from the point of view of the colonized, the people who are oppressed by colonial power. It expresses the subaltern point of view, often called the view from below. 

While Walcott, a poet of mixed African and European descent, feels torn in his loyalties, the poem primarily depicts the damage caused by rationalizing the destructive force of colonialism. 

Corpses are scattered through a paradise.

Only the worm, colonel of carrion, cries:

“Waste no compassion on these separate dead!”

A colonel would most likely be a colonial official, here likened to a worm feeding on the flesh of the dead. While the colonizer uses "statistics" to justify the brutality of "colonial policy," the narrator juxtaposes the cold rationality of colonialism, a system which for a long time brought great wealth to the colonizers, to the damage it does to both the colonizer and the colonized. The narrator says the statistics mean nothing either to the "white child hacked to death" or to "savages" (how the colonizers characterized native peoples) who he ironically calls as "expendable as Jews."

Acknowledging that he contains the "blood of both" European and African, the narrator wonders how to choose

      Between this Africa and the English tongue I love?

He cannot turn away from the bloody violence wrought by colonialism. At the same time, he has internalized the culture and values of the oppressor and values "the English tongue." At the end of the poem, he expresses a common post-colonial theme: that of one's identity being torn between two cultures.

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From a postcolonial point of view, Walcott's poem brings out a condition that has been caused by the presence of the "master" over "the slave."  In this colonial dialectic, the pain and suffering endured is not something that exists on one side.  Walcott brings out that the landscape of Africa that has become marred with violence is a result of the colonial policies where European aggressors did much to ruin the balance and harmony that might have existed prior to what is presented in the poem.  The result, as can be seen in the ending, is that there is a genuine feeling that what is present in Africa and what has been in Africa causes a feeling of displacement because both realities and those who have perpetrated it have moved far from the original identity of Africa.  Additionally, Walcott points to a hybridity of violence, a condition where there is enough blame to pass on from the colonizers to the colonized.  The theme of a hybrid identity is inverted a bit when Walcott questions both the British and the African leadership that has brought violence, pain, and suffering to continent and people.  At this, Walcott seems to be loyal to both ends, though disappointed with them, providing the reader with a hybridity of unhappiness.

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