Although physical violence can leave bad scars and wounds, it is psychological violence that leaves a bigger rot. In the early parts of the novel, Toundi leaves his village and adopts a new father. This migration brought unto him cultural alienation and a form of spiritual exile, where he got cut off from native social attachments. Fanon speaks of how the native looks upon the settler with lust and envy for his possessions. He says that “it is true, for there is no native who does not dream at least once a day of setting himself up in the settler’s place” (The wretched of the earth: page 30). So to Toundi it seemed ideal to work for the white man, to learn his language and behavioral patterns. He even states how other boys from the village were envious of his position: “all the boys in Fia were so impressed by these that they came to ask Father Gilbert to take them on as well” (page 13). This is where Toundi’s humiliation, dehumanization, objectification and infantalization were to start.
Projection is another strong form of psychological mechanism defense. Father Gilbert made Toundi believe that his ancestors were cannibals, taking his unacceptable part of himself and attributing it to Toundi. By this he looks upon his history as that of savagery and his ancestors as uncivilized. Another psychological atrocity is the paternalistic attitude shown to him at the Resident. This is dangerous because he has left his father’s house for another ‘father’ whom he calls his benefactor. He actually starts believing that his parents are dead (page 14) and now he has got a new father. This natal alienation robs him of a culture to follow and social traditions to embrace. When he gets to the Residence he accepts a new name (Joseph) which causes a further division. Through objectification the colonizers are able to violate his psychological integrity. He starts seeing himself as objects; for example, a parrot (page 13), a pet animal (page 14), a dog (page 20) and “a thing that obeys” (page 22). And he does not seem to see anything wrong in his description as a masterpiece (page 15). Frederick Douglas observed that the slave “must be able to detect no inconsistencies in slavery; he must be made to feel slavery is right, and he can only be brought to that when he ceases to be a man” (Narrative of the life of Frederick Douglas, An American slave 1982: 135).
[Steve Bantu Biko, who Fanon obviously influenced - for better or worse in his essay, We Blacks wrote that, ‘But the type of Black man we have today has lost his manhood. Reduced to an obliging shell, he looks with awe at the white power structure and accepts what he regards as the “inevitable position”. Deep inside his anger mounts at the accumulating insult, but he vents it in the wrong direction – on his fellow man in the township, on the property of black people” . He goes on to write that, “All in all the balck man has become a shell,, a shadow of man, completely defeated, drowning in his own misery, a slave, an ox bearing the yoke of oppression with sheepish timidity’ – I Write What I like (Ravan Press)]
This observation is not far fetched and resonates that of fanon where he says violence seeks to dehumanize the colonized and wipe out their traditions and language for their own. The dispossession of culture and loss of identity is vital in turning a ‘slave’ into a thoughtless one; into a thing that obeys, a boy.
Ultimately the colonizers are able to break Toundi down. They over worked him, robbed him of his identity and culture and subjected him to physical violence. He cannot be blamed for persevering through these conditions because to him it was not perseverance; he saw it as a way of life. Leonard Kibera deduces that “… he never has the courage to get away precisely because his psychological attachment to white aesthetics is already too great. Indeed the more we read the diary, the more we realize that it is not about Toundi’s development but about his mental regression”. All he yearned for was harmonious living with his ‘new father’, to learn his language and ways of living. In one instance he states that he is “the Chief European’s boy. The dog of the King is the King of the dogs” (page 20). He was convinced that he has a special relationship with whites because he worked for the Commandant and spoke French. He then loses a grasp on reality and fails to realize that he is in serious danger, besides all the obvious signs and the warnings from Kalisia (page 100). The situation he finds himself in has managed to blind his mental vision and annihilate his power of reason so much that he detects no danger and waits until the river has swallowed him completely.
I think Toundi should be studied with pathos more than blame because of all the violence he is subjected to. The seniors at the Residence succeed in turning him into an ideal slave though objectification, dehumanization, infantalization, projection and turning him into an automaton through long hours of work. He endures a lot of physical and mental violation that leads him to his death. Even on his death bed he is uneasy and perplexed, trying to find answers to the question “what are we black men who are called French” (page 4).
1.Fanon, F. The wretched of the earth. Presence Africaine: 1963
2.Kibera, L. Colonial contact and language in Ferdinand Oyono’s Houseboy, African Literature Today. Volume 13: 1983
3.Corti, L. Colonial violence and psychological defenses in Ferdinand Oyono’s Une vie de boy. Research in African Literatures 34, 1 (2003): 44-47
4.Douglas, F. Narrative of the life of Frederick Douglass, An American slave. 1982