Return to My Native Land Themes
by Aimé Césaire

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Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

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Although the central thematic concern of the poem is the importance for the person who lives as the subject of a colonized land to decolonize his or her own mind and sensibility, one of the central paradoxes of the poem is that it is written in French, the language of the colonialists, not in the native Creole of the Martinican population. Indeed, in their brief introduction to Aimé Césaire: The Collected Poetry (1983), Clayton Eshleman and Annette Smith point out the paradox that Césaire, the spokesperson for decolonizing the mind, who was later to become mayor of Fort-de-France, the city on which he focuses in Return to My Native Land, apparently never thought of Creole as a suitable language for his poetry.

Further, the traditions from which the poem seems to borrow are largely the traditions of French literature. Not only does the poem’s rush of bizarre and often grotesque images seem to place it in the context of French Surrealist literature, but, as Eshleman and Smith also note, the images of hardship and misery seem to owe much to such images in the works of Victor Hugo, the great French novelist of the nineteenth century, whose works Césaire read as he was growing up.

A partial resolution of this apparent paradox can be seen through an analogy to the writers of the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920’s, who were also greatly influential in Césaire’s poetry. The images of people from the whole history of the black race that the narrator includes and identifies with, may remind readers of Langston Hughes’s early poem, “The Negro Speaks of Rivers”; similarly, the ending of the poem, in which he speaks of transcending the binds and confines that have been placed on his people, bears a similarity in tone and spirit to another Langston Hughes poem, “I, Too, Sing America,” which talks of the inevitability of African Americans being included in the mainstream of American life.

Similarly, the type of revolution that Césaire seems to be advocating in this poem is not a revolution that results in the violent overthrow of the past; rather, it is a revolution through inclusion. Toward the end of the poem, the narrator speaks of rallying dances to his side, including the “ it-is-beautiful-good-and-legitimate-to-be-a-nigger-dance, ” as if to say that he wants to celebrate who he and his people are and can be, not dictate who they cannot be...

(The entire section is 621 words.)