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  • Print publication year: 2016
  • Online publication date: April 2017

Leaving Home/ Returning Home: Migration & Contemporary African Literature



Ideas of return – intentional and actual – have been a consistent feature of the literature of Africa and the African diaspora: from Equiano's autobiography to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's latest novel, Americanah. African literature has represented returnees in a range of different positions including feeling located in an ideal home and having a sense of belonging, being alienated in a country they can no longer recognize, or experiencing ‘multi-placedness’, through ‘feeling at home’ but not ‘declaring a place as home’ (Brah Cartographies of Diaspora: 197).

From the early to mid-twentieth century, the typical protagonist of the return narrative was a man educated abroad (usually in the colonial country or the US) who was returning home. The position of the returnee in literature bears some resemblance to that of the ‘native intellectual’ described by the anti-colonial theorist Frantz Fanon in his important essay ‘On National Culture’. Fanon's paradigm of the three phases the native intellectual, such as the writer or artist, passes through is well known: the first is the assimilationist phase in which he adopts European culture as if it were his own; the second, the attempt to return to his ‘roots’; and the third, the fighting phase, in which he awakens people from their lethargy. ‘On National Culture’ was first delivered as a conference speech in 1959 in the period just before the decolonization and independence of most African countries when liberation struggles were still being fought. Fanon's model, therefore, cannot be said to fit exactly the situation of the intellectual returning to his/her country post-independence. Nevertheless, his descriptions of the transition from the first to the second phase do resonate with the ways in which the returnee has been represented in African literature.

Fanon argues that after assimilation, the native intellectual sometimes realizes that taking on European attributes has made him ‘a stranger in his own land’ (176). He, then, seeks to separate himself from the culture he has assimilated but if he fails to find another culture equal to that of the colonial power he often ‘fall[s] back upon emotional attitudes and will develop a psychology which is dominated by exceptional sensibility and susceptibility’. This results in what Fanon calls ‘muscular action’ (177) and consists of a desire to become as native as possible.

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ALT 34 Diaspora & Returns in Fiction
  • Online ISBN: 9781782048589
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