Aimé Césaire’s The Tragedy of King Christophe has been greeted by struggle, as readers and audiences have difficulty understanding the work, which is based on historical events. Henri Christophe was, in fact, the leading general in the forces of Toussaint Louverture. After the defeat of the French slave masters in Haiti under the command of Christophe and Toussaint Louverture, Christophe became a rebel and revolted against the new Haitian democracy that was then headed by Alexandre Pétion. A city named Pétionville exists in Haiti, but no city in Haiti bears the name of the egotistical Christophe. Traitors deserve no honors.
Christophe had himself named emperor of Haiti, and he governed in an area of northern Haiti that he called the Kingdom of Haiti. Haitians still consider Pétion to be one of the three great early leaders in Haiti, along with the martyred Toussaint Louverture and Jean-Jacques Dessalines, who became the leader of the Haitian Revolution in 1802 after the arrest and deportation to France of Toussaint Louverture. Dessalines declared Haitian independence in 1804 and was assassinated in 1806. Toussaint Louverture died under mysterious circumstances in April, 1804, while he was imprisoned in France.
Interpreting this tragedy is even more complicated because Césaire’s unsympathetic title character argues against colonialism in a way that contradicts the arguments developed by Césaire in his Discours sur le colonialisme (1950; Discourse on Colonialism, 1972). Like many tyrants, Christophe is an effective orator, and he knows how to manipulate people by adapting his arguments so that what he says is...
(The entire section is 682 words.)