Pierre Boulle published Planet of the Apes in 1963, at a time when the French colonial empire was coming to an end. In 1954, the country suffered a humiliating military defeat, losing its Southeast Asian colonies in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. In much of Africa, it granted independence peacefully—to Tunisia and Morocco in 1956, to Guinea in 1958, and to its remaining West African holdings in 1960. The French withdrawal from Algeria in 1962, however, was especially traumatic. Not only did the former colonizers lose possession of the vast reserves of oil recently discovered beneath the Sahara Desert, but a million French settlers, many from families that had lived in Algeria for three generations, had to abandon everything they owned and flee the country. A powerful French conservative faction insisted on holding Algeria at all costs; when they learned that President Charles de Gaulle had decided to abandon the country, many high-ranking military officers formed the O.A.S. (Organization of the Secret Army), tried to foment a civil war in France, and at least twice attempted to assassinate de Gaulle with bombs.
Boulle’s fantasy reenacts France’s worst nightmare of being defeated by the “dark-skinned,” “inferior” beings who had originally been invaded and colonized by the mother country (la mère patrie). His description of ape society satirizes racism by schematically depicting black-furred gorillas (equivalent to African Blacks), orange-furred orangutans (equivalent to Arabs), and brown-furred chimpanzees (equivalent to Asians), who combine to overwhelm pale-skinned caucasians. It simultaneously dramatizes the absurd view that racial others are bestial.
Boulle does not depict a historically accurate conflict between the colonized—whose main weapons were political assassinations, sabotage, and terrorism—and the colonizers—who denied free elections, resorted to torture in interrogations, and accepted the death of many noncombatants...
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