Themes

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 329

The themes of Aimé Césaire's play, A Season in the Congo, are familiar ones in the narrative of developing countries. Colonialism, oppression, a messianic politician, evil Western financial institutions, nationalism, corruption, and civil war. The play is the story of Patrice Lumumba's rise and fall. Since we already know the tragedy for Congo that ensued after his murder, we can read the play—or indeed watch it—with an extra-sharp sense of foreboding and despair.

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All the small themes of the play are presented against the backdrop of corruption and neo-colonialism. Western bankers and mining interests bribe, manipulate, and threaten Congolese politicians and, in the end, suborn Lumumba's murder. He was killed because of his resistance to the influence of global interests and his willingness to play sides in the Cold War.

Lumumba is the hero of the play, which is presented almost as a Manichean struggle: Lumumba and the ordinary Congolese are good, while corrupt politicians, Western bankers and influences, and army officers are bad. There's no in-between, and in my opinion, that's the tragedy. Lumumba might have known it, and he pressed ahead with his agenda anyway. In the play, he is certainly aware of his likely end and accepting of it.

That backdrop of corruption and neo-colonialism is actually the point of the play. Lumumba is the vehicle by which Césaire frames his critique of the West. The way it's told, these larger themes caused all the smaller ones. The strong implication is that without Western greed, there would have been no colonialism, oppression, civil war, or post-colonial Congolese tragedy. What Césaire doesn't express, though, is that without colonialism there may have been no Patrice Lumumba. We the readers—or viewers—are left to make up our own minds about that.

The play is great, and I highly recommend you watch it as well as read the text on which the production is based. It's powerful, whether or not you agree with it.

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