Césaire, Aimé


Image of Aime Cesaire

Image by Parti socialiste/CC Licensed

Aimé Césaire was born in 1913 in Martinique in the French Caribbean. He left for Paris in 1931 at the age of 18 with a scholarship for school. During his time at the Lycee Louis-le Grand, he helped found a student publication, Etudiant Noir.  In 1936, Césaire started working on his famed piece Cahier, which was not published until 1939. He married fellow student Suzanne Roussi in 1937, and the couple moved back to Martinique with their son in 1939. Both Aime and Suzanne got jobs at the Lycee Schoelcher. In 1945, Césaire began his political career when he was elected mayor of Fort-de-France and deputy in the Constituent Assembly on the French Communist Party ticket. During the 1940s, Césaire was busy writing and publishing many collections of his work. He seemed to be influenced by art because he wrote a tribute to a painter named Wilfredo Lam and one of his collections has illustrations by Pablo Picasso. In 1956, Aime Césaire resigned from the French Communist Party and two years later he began the “Parti Progressiste Martiniquais.” During these years, Césaire attended two conferences for Negro Writers and Artists in Paris. In 1968 he published the first version of Une Tempete,  an adaptation of Shakespeare’s play The Tempest. He continued writing poetry and plays and retired from politics in 1993. He passed away in April of 2008 and was given a state funeral. All of Césaire’s writings are in French with a limited number having English translations.


Césaire’s poetry has been described as a style between “artistic ‘modernism’ and black consciousness” (14). His writing can also be characterized as surreal. Césaire is associated with “negritude,” which signifies the black youth’s attempt to maintain a positive racial identity (3). Many of his works combine the two ideas of negritude and surrealism, which is an aesthetic movement that combines materials from an artist’s unconscious to create dream-like and fantastic aesthetic forms.


Césaire began to focus on drama with the use of the poem “Chiens.” In 1968 he published Une Tempete, a version of Shakespeare’s famous play The Tempest. He wanted to reflect black America in this play but the setting is the Caribbean. Davis argues that “The central paradigm of the colonizer/colonized relation, as it is constructed in The Tempest, embraces the totality of the black experience in the New World” (157). Many critics believe Cesaire’s version of The Tempest is about the relationship between the colonizer and the colonized and the struggle for absolute power. In the play, Prospero is the master of the two men, Caliban and Ariel. Prospero is the colonizer and both Caliban and Ariel attempt to gain their freedom from him. Caliban’s approach to freedom is through rebellion while Ariel tries “to appeal to his [Prospero's] moral conscience”(161). In the end, Caliban’s rebellion fails. In his final speech, Caliban charges Prospero with lying to him and holding him inferior. It is a classic example of the colonized rejecting the colonizer.  This is a quote taken from this final speech by Caliban:

Prospero, you are the master of illusion.
Lying is your trademark.
And you have lied so much to me
(lied about the world, lied about me)
that you have ended by imposing on me
an image of myself.
underdeveloped, you brand me, inferior,
That is the way you have forced me to see myself
I detest that image!  What’s more, it’s a lie!
But now I know you, you old cancer,
and I know myself as well. (162)

Works by Aimé Césaire

Collected Works

  • Césaire, Aimé. Euvres Completes. Vol.1 (Poesie), Vol. 2 (Theatre), Vol. 3 (Euvre historique et politique).  Fort-de-France: Editions Desormeaux, 1976.
  • Eshleman, Clayton and Smith, Annette, trans.  Aimé Césaire: The Collected Poetry. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983.
  • Maximin, Daniel and Carpentier, Gilles, eds.  La Poesie. Paris: Seuil, 1994.


  • Césaire, Aimé. Cadastre.  Paris: Seuil, 1961.
  • —. Cahier díun retour au pays natal. Paris: Presence Africaine, 1956.
  • —. Corps perdu. Paris: Fragrance, 1950.
  • —. Ferrements. Paris: Seuil, 1960.
  • —. Les Armes miraculeuses. Paris: Gallimard, 1946.
  • —. Moi, laminaire . . . Paris: Seuil, 1982.
  • —. Soliel cou coupe. Paris: Editions K, 1948.


  • Césaire, Aimé. Et les chiens se taisaient.  Paris: Presence Africaine, 1956.
  • —. La Tragedie du roi Christophe. Paris: Presence Africaine, 1970.
  • —. Une Saison au Congo. Paris: Seuil, 1974.
  • —. Une Tempete. Paris: Seuil, 1969.

Works Cited

  • Césaire, Aimé. Lyric and Dramatic Poetry 1946-82. Clayton Eshleman and Annette Smith, trans. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1990.
  • Davis, Gregson. Césaire, Aimé. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997.

Author: Brooke Ritz, Spring 1999
Last edited: April 2012

Kureishi, Hanif

“From the start I tried to deny my Pakistani self . . . it was a curse
and I wanted to be rid of it. I wanted to be like everyone else.”
- Kureishi, “The Rainbow Sign”


Kureishi speaking

Image by Brett Weinstein/CC Licensed

Born December 5, 1954 in Bromley, England, to an Indian father and an English mother, Hanif Kureishi grew up experiencing first-hand the racial and cultural clashes that he addresses in most of his work. The inspiration for his work has been drawn from his own life’s trials and tribulations as a culturally hybrid individual of two different races and cultures. Kureishi decided that he wanted to be a writer from a young age, and began writing novels that were considered for publication while he was still a teenager.

He studied philosophy at King’s College, University of London, and then supported himself by writing pornography under the pseudonym Antonia French. After a humble beginning as an usher for the Royal Theater, Kureishi later became the theater’s writer in residence. His first play, Soaking Up the Heat, was produced in 1976 at London’s Theater Upstairs. His second play, The Mother Country, won the Thames Television Playwright Award in 1980. His breakthrough came with his first play for the Royal Court Theater, Borderline, about immigrants living in London. This led him to have his work, Outskirts, performed by London’s Royal Shakespeare Company.

Kureishi’s first efforts with film were successful and gained him a larger audience, especially in America. His screenplay for My Beautiful Laundrette was written in 1985, and tells the story of a young Pakistani immigrant who opens a laundromat with his gay, white lover. Critics from both sides of the Atlantic praised Kureishi; one reviewer, Ian Jack, said, “Here at last is a story about immigrants which shows them neither as victims nor tradition-bound aliens. They’re comprehensible, modern people with an eye to the main chance, no better or worse than the rest of us.” Despite the rave reviews, some Pakistani organizations felt that they were being portrayed in a negative manner as homosexuals and drug dealers. To them, a character of Pakistani origin represented the entire Pakistani community, and should display a positive stereotype to American and British audiences. Kureishi rejects the politics of representation; he does not assume this role of an ambassador representing his minority, preferring to depict the harsher realities of racism and class divisions.

After My Beautiful Laundrette won several awards, including the Best Screenplay award from the New York Film Critics Circle, Kureishi scripted his next film with the controversial title Sammy and Rosie Get Laid. Exploring the world of a racially mixed couple living in London during the race riots, it received less critical acclaim than his previous film. Kureishi made a triumphal return in 1990 with his first semi-autobiographical novel, The Buddha of Suburbia. It is about the life of a young bisexual man, who is half-Indian and half-English, growing up in London. It won the Whitbread Book of the Year Award for the first novel category of the Booksellers Association of Great Britain and Ireland.

In 1991, Kureishi made his directorial debut with London Kills Me, which he also wrote. In this film, he expanded on his interest in street life by focusing on the world of drugs and gangs. He also returns to one of his recurring themes by addressing homelessness. As the son of an immigrant, Kureishi has written a great deal on the concept of home, describing the complexities involved in finding a place to belong. In another novel, The Black Album, he delves into the painful, lonely, and confused world of a young man of Pakistani origin, who finds himself having to choose between his white lover and his Muslim friends. The novel makes many references to pop culture, especially music and drugs, which feature in a great deal of Kureishi’s writings.

Selected Works by Hanif Kureishi


  • Kureishi, Hanif. Birds of Passage. Hampstead Theatre, London. September 1983. Performance.
  • —. Cinders. Adapted. Janusz Glowacki. Royal Court Theatre, London. Winter 1981. Performance.
  • —. The King and Me. Soho Poly Theater, London. January 1979. Performance.
  • —. The Mother Country. Riverside Studios, London, 1980.
  • —. Mother Courage (1984) Adapted. Bertolt Brecht. Royal Shakespeare Company, London. Winter 1984. Performance.
  • —. Soaking the Heat. Royal Theatre Company Upstairs, London. 1976. Performance.
  • —. Tomorrow-Today!  Soho Poly Theatre, London. 1981. Performance.


  • Kureishi, Hanif. London Kills Me: Three Screenplays and Four Essays. London: Faber, 1991.
  • —. My Beautiful Laundrette. Contained in My Beautiful Laundrette and The Rainbow Sign, London: Faber, 1986.
  • — Sammy and Rosie Get Laid : The Script and the Diary, London: Penguin, 1988.
  • — My Son The Fanatic. London: Faber and Faber, 1997.
  • — Hanif Kureishi Plays One. London: Faber and Faber, 1999.
  • — Sleep With Me. London: Faber and Faber, 1999.
  • — Collected Screenplays Volume I. London: Faber and Faber, 2002.
  • — The Mother. London: Faber and Faber, 2003.
  • — Venus. London: Faber and Faber, 2007.
  • — The Black Album (adapted from the novel). London: Faber and Faber, 2009.

Radio Plays

  • Kureishi, Hanif. “The Trial”. Adapted. Franz Kafka. BBC. London. October 1982. Radio.
  • —. “You Can’t Go Home” BBC. London. 1984. Radio.


  • Kureishi, Hanif. The Buddha of Suburbia. London: Faber and Faber Limited, 1990.
  • —. The Black Album. New York: Simon and Schuster Inc., 1995.
  • —. Love in a Blue Time. New York: Simon and Schuster Inc., 1997.
  • —. Intimacy. New York: Scribner, 1999.
  • —. Midnight All Day. London: Faber and Faber, 2000.
  • —. Gabriel’s Gift. New York: Scribner, 2001.
  • —. The Body. New York: Scribner, 2004.
  • —. Something To Tell You. New York: Scribner, 2008.


  • Kureishi, Hanif.  The Buddha of Suburbia. Dir. Roger Michell. British Broadcasting Corporation, 1993. Film.
  • —. Intimacy. Dir. Patrice Chéreau. Téléma, 2001. Film.
  • —. London Kills Me. Dir. Hanif Kureishi. Channel Four Films, 1991. Film.
  • —. The Mother. Dir. Roger Michell. BBC Films, 2003. Film.
  • —. My Beautiful Laundrette. Dir. Stephen Frears. Channel Four Films, 1985. Film.
  • —. My Son the Fanatic. Dir. Udayan Prasad. BBC Films, 1997. Film.
  • —. Sammy and Rosy Get Laid. Dir. Stephen Frears. Channel Four Films, 1987. Film.
  • —. Venus. Dir. Roger Michell. Miramax Films, 2006. Film.

Essays and Non-Fiction

  • Kureishi, Hanif. “Bradford”. Granta. 20: 1986.
  • —. My Ear at His Heart. London: Scribner, 2004.
  • —. The Word and the Bomb. London: Faber and Faber, 2005.

Selected Criticism on Hanif Kureishi

  • Buchanan, Bradley. Hanif Kureishi (New British Fiction). New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007.
  • Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 64, Gale, 1991, 245 – 255.
  • Chicago Tribune Book World, April 6, 1986, 26.
  • Driscoll, Lawrence Victor. Evading class in contemporary British literature. New York : Palgrave Macmillan, 2009.
  • Economist, July 21, 1990, 92.
  • Hunter, Jefferson. English filming, English writing. Bloomington, IN : Indiana University Press, 2010.
  • Interview, July, 1987, 94.
  • Los Angeles Times Book Review, June 3, 1990, 10.
  • MacPhee, Graham and Prem Poddar. Empire and after : Englishness in postcolonial perspective. New York : Berghahn Books, 2007.
  • Moore-Gilbert, Bart. Hanif Kureishi (Contemporary World Writers). Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2001.
  • New Yorker, November 16, 1987, 140 – 141.
  • New York Times Book Review, May 6, 1990, 6.
  • Pesso-Miquel, Catherine and Klaus Stierstorfer. Fundamentalism and literature. New York :Palgrave Macmillan, 2007.
  • Ranasinha, Ruvani. Hanif Kureishi (Writers and Their Work). Devon: Northcote House Publishers Ltd, 2002.
  • Reichl, Susanne and Mark Stein. Cheeky fictions: laughter and the postcolonial. Amsterdam ; New York : Rodopi, 2005.
  • Thomas, Susie (ed). Hanif Kureishi (Readers’ Guides to Essential Criticism). Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.
  • Time, March 17, 1986, 78.
  • Times Literary Supplement, January 22, 1988, 87.
  • Times Literary Supplement, May 2, 1986, 470
  • Washington Post Book Review, May 27, 1990, 7.

Author: Surbhi Sharma, Fall 1997
Last edited: July 2012

Field Day Theatre Company


The Field Day Theatre Company began as an artistic collaboration between playwright Brian Friel and Actor Stephen Rea. In 1980, the duo set out to launch a production of Friel’s recently completed play, Translations. They decided to rehearse and premiere the play in Derry with the hope of establishing a major theatre company for Northern Ireland. The production and performance of Translations generated a level excitement and anticipation that unified, if only for a short time, the various factions of a divided community.

Although Field Day has never put forth a formal mission statement, their intention was to create a space, a ‘fifth province,’ that transcended the crippling oppositions of Irish politics. The term ‘fifth province’ — Ireland consists of four provinces — was coined by the editors of an Irish Journal, The Crane Bag, to name an imaginary cultural space from which a new discourse of unity might emerge. In addition to being an enormous popular and critical success, Field Day’s first production created just such a space. After the production of Translations, Seamus Heaney, Ireland’s most prominent poet, recognized the importance of what they had accomplished and urged Friel to continue with the project. He asserted, “This was what theatre was supposed to do” (cited in Richtarik, 65).

Translations also introduced many of the central issues related to the Northern Irish crisis that would occupy Field Day’s intellectual and artistic explorations. The play examines the relationship of language to identity, memory, history, and community. It is a statement, albeit an ambiguous one, about colonialism, and about the problematic and complex spectrum of choices the colonized faces between resistance and acquiescence.


Derry, Northern Ireland’s “second city,” was a significant choice for both geographical and historical reasons. Its proximity to the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic, as well as its prominent role in the events leading up to the most recent round of violence known as “the Troubles,” underlines the well known partition between North and South. Its western location and its relationship to  the Belfast, Northern Ireland’s east coast capital, underline a second historically older division in Ireland — the division between the cosmopolitan east and the rural, romantic west.

More Than Theatre

What began with a desire to develop a local Northern Irish theater and make it available  to a popular audience, quickly grew into a much larger cultural and political project. Even before the company’s opening performance, four prominent Northern Irish writers were invited to join the project — Seamus Deane, David Hammond, Seamus Heaney, and Tom Paulin; they would eventually become Field Day’s Board of Directors. (Thomas Kilroy, the only member from the Republic, joined the board in 1988). All of the members of Field Day agreed that art and culture had a crucial role to play in the resolution of what had come to be known as “the Troubles”:

[The directors] believed that Field Day could and should contribute to the to the solution of the present crisis  by producing analyses of the established opinions, myths and stereotypes which had become both a symptom and a cause of the current situation. (Ireland’s Field Day, vii)

Field Day became an artistic response to the violence, history and politics which divided  Northern Ireland into a series of seemingly irresolvable dichotomies; Orange/Green, Unionist/Nationalist and Protestant/Catholic are only the most prominent.

Field Day Publishing

Every year saw a new production open in Derry and began a tour of venues, large and small, throughout both Northern Ireland and the Republic. While Field Day’s artistic venture continued to fulfill its original mandate of bringing “professional theatre to people who might otherwise never see it” (Richtarik  11), in September of 1983, they launched a project whose target audience was primarily the academic community. The Field Day Theatre Company began publishing a series of pamphlets “in which the nature of the Irish problem could be explored and, as a result, more successfully confronted than it had been hitherto” (Ireland’s Field Day, viii).

The first set of three pamphlets were written by directors of the Field Day Company — Tom Paulin, Seamus Heaney and Seamus Deane. The pamphlets were largely responsible for entering Field Day into the political debate whose calcified terms the project had originally wanted to explode. With Tom Paulin’s Riot Act  (1984) the division between critic and artist began to crumble, the politics of the pamphlets were finding their way into the plays (Richtarik 242).

In the 1990 introduction to Nationalism, Colonialism, and Literature –a collection of three Field Day Pamphlets by Terry Eagleton, Fredric Jameson and Edward Said — Deane writes: “Field Day’s analysis of the [Northern Irish] situation derives from the conviction that it is, above all, a colonial crisis” (Eagleton 6). In this essay, Deane calls for a re-engagement with the concept of nationalism, and positions Field Day in a squarely antithetical position to those he refers to as revisionist historians and critics, whose chief aim is “to demolish the nationalist mythology” (6). The categories of revisionist and anti-revisionist were all to easily superimposed onto the categories of unionist and nationalist, and the space between them, created by the production of Translations, was closing fast. For some, Seamus Deane had become the de facto spokesman, and Field Day became increasingly associated with nationalist politics and Post-Colonial Theory.

By this time Field Day was no longer a novel experiment; it was part of the establishment: “That Field Day was attacked for being nationalist and for being anti-nationalist was a positive sign in so far as it proved that the company was raising questions generally, but the fact that the debate had narrowed so quickly to the old terms indicated that Field Day was losing the moral and artistic high ground” (Richtarik 249).

The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing, 2005.

The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing, 2005

The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing

From the beginning Field Day’s struggled to establish a cultural identity, not just for the North, but for the Irish. Much like the stated intentions of the Irish National Theater established by W. B. Yeats and Lady Gregory almost one hundred years earlier (Harrington, vii), the goal was not just to reach or represent an audience, but to create an audience. History, and Field Day’s post-colonial sensibilities, determined that the construction of Irishness would often be worked out against notions of Britishness. In a pointed and humorous verse epistle,”An open letter,” Heaney responds to his inclusion in the The Penguin Book of Contemporary British Poetry:

You’ll understand I draw the line
At being robbed of what is mine,
My patris, my deep design
To be at home
In my own place and dwell within
Its proper name–       (Ireland’s Field Day, 26)

The Field Day director’s recognized that in order for Ireland to claim “Its proper name” Irish literature would need its own comprehensive anthology.

In 1990, Field Day published the three volume Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing, edited by Seamus Deane.  The project, according to Deane, was nothing less then an “act of definition” (FD Anthology, xx), one which he hoped would be inclusive and representative of the plurality of Irish identity: “There is a story here, a meta-narrative, which is, we believe, hospitable to all the micro-narratives that, from time to time, have achieved prominence as the official version of the true history,political and literary, of the island’s past and present” (xix). The Anthology was immediately attacked by Field Day’s critics as politically biased. The anthology’s  most conspicuous flaw, however, was the paucity of women writers. In response to the accusations that Field Day had elided the female voice, the director’s, all men, commissioned a fourth volume to be edited by women and dedicated to women’s writing. But for the critics of Field Day, and even to some of there supporters, a separate volume, issued as an afterthought, became emblematic of their marginalization of women within nationalist and cultural discourse.

Field Day Productions

  • Translations (1980)  by Brian Friel
  • Three Sisters (1981)  an adaptation of Chekhov’s play by Brian Friel
  • The Communication Cord (1982)  by Brian Friel
  • Boesman and Lena (1983)  by Athol Fugard
  • The Riot Act (1984) Tom Paulin’s version of Antigone
  • High Time (1984) Derek Mahon’s transition of Molière’s Ecoledes Mas
  • Double Cross (publ. 1986) by Thomas Kilroy
  • Pentecost (publ. 1989) by Stewart Parker
  • Sainte Oscar (publ. 1989) by Terry Eagleton
  • The Cure at Troy (1990) by Seamus Heaney
  • The Madame Macadam Travelling Theatre (1991) by Thomas Kilroy
  • Cries from Casement as his Bones are Brought to Dublin (1992) by David Rudkin

Field Day Pamphlets

  • no. 1  “A new look at the language question” (1983) by Tom Paulin
  • no. 2  “An open letter” (1983) by Seamus Heaney
  • no. 3  “Civilians and barbarians” (1983) by Seamus Deane
  • no. 4  “Heroic styles: the tradition of an idea” (1984) by Seamus Deane
  • no. 5  “Myth and motherland” (1984) by Richard Kearney
  • no. 6  “Anglo-Irish attitudes” (1984) by Declan Kiberd
  • no. 7  “The whole Protestant community” by Terence Brown
  • no. 8  “Watchmen in Sion” by Marianne Elliot
  • no. 9  “Liberty and authority in Ireland” by Robert McCartney
  • no. 10  “Dynamics of coercion” by Eanna Mulloy
  • no. 11  “The apparatus of repression” by Michael Farrell
  • no. 12   “Law and constitution: present discontents” by PatrickJ. McGrory
  • no. 13  “Nationalism: irony and commitment” (1988) by Terry Eagleton
  • no. 14  “Modernism and imperialism” (1988) by Fredric Jameson
  • no. 15  “Yeats and decolonization” (1988) by Edward Said


  • Deane, Seamus, ed. Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing. Derry: Field Day Theatre Company, 1990.
  • —, ed. Ireland’s Field Day. London: Hutchinson,1985.
  • Eagleton, T. Jameson, F. Said, E. Nationalism, Colonialism and Literature. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1990.
  • Harrington, John P., ed. Modern Irish Drama. New York: W.W. Norton, 1991.
  • Pine, Richard. Brian Friel and Ireland’s Drama. New York: Routledge, 1990.
  • Richtarik, Marilynn J. Acting Between the Lines: The Field Day Theatre Company and Irish Cultural Politics 1980-1984. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994.

Author: Eduardo Paguaga, Fall 1998
Last edited: June 2012

Friel, Brian


Born 9 January 1929, Catholic, in Omagh, County Tyrone in Northern Ireland, Brian, Friel is one of Ireland’s most prominent playwrights. In addition to his published plays, he has written short stories; screenplays; film, TV and Radio adaptations of his plays; and several pieces of non-fiction on the role of theatre and the artist.

Friel’s father was a native of Derry and a primary school principal. His mother was from Donegal and Friel spent many holidays there. In 1939 the family moved to Derry, where Friel’s father had a teaching position at the Long Tower school. Friel attended the same school and then went on to attend secondary school at Saint Columb’s College, Derry. He attended the Republic of  Ireland’s national seminary, Saint Patrick’s College, near Dublin but instead of going on to the priesthood, he took a post-graduate teaching course in Belfast. He started teaching in Derry in 1950 and wrote in the meantime. His first radio play A Sort of Freedom aired  on BBC in 1958. In 1959 his first short story, “The Skelper,” appeared in the New Yorker  and his first stage play, The Francophile, was performed at the Group Theatre, Belfast. In 1960 he retired from teaching to write full-time.

Friel’s early life had a strong influence on his writing. Though his  father was a teacher, his grandparents, whose first language was Irish, were illiterate peasants from County Donegal. Thus his own family exemplifies the divisions  between traditional and modern Ulster and Ireland, a recurring  theme for Friel. Donegal features strongly  in Friel’s life and work. He moved there in 1969 because he always felt his roots lay in Donegal. He wrote he moved there “partly to get into the countryside and  partly to get into the Republic”. He left the political situation in  the North, where he says, “The sense of frustration which I felt under the tight and  immovable Unionist regime became distasteful” (qtd. in Andrews 2).  He had joined the  Nationalist Party in Derry but had left in 1967, disappointed with its lack of initiative. Many of his plays are set in Ballybeg, “a remote part of Donegal” and, as Seamus Deane notes, resides in “that borderland of Derry, Donegal, and Tyrone in which a largely Catholic community leads a reduced existence under the pressure of political and economic oppression.” (qtd. in Andrews 2). In 1980, Friel helped found the Field Day Theatre Company which is committed to the search for “a middle ground between the country’s entrenched positions” (qtd. in Andrews 6) to help the Irish explore new identities for themselves.

Brian Friel married Anne Morrison in 1954 and has four daughters and one son. Shy, elusive, yet playful and sceptical, he has made very few personal statements.  In his “Self  Portrait” he says,

I am married, have five children, live in the country, smoke too much, fish a bit,  read a lot, worry a lot, get involved in sporadic causes and invariably regret the  involvement, and hope that between now and my death I will have acquired a religion, a philosophy, a sense of life that will make the end less frightening than it appears to me at this moment. (qtd. in Andrews 2)

Often compared to Anton Chekhov, Brian Friel resists all explanation and categorisation. In “The Man from God Knows Where,” the title of an interview of Friel, he says,

The interviewer’s chestnut: When did you know you were going to be a writer? The answer is, I’ve no idea. What other writers influenced you most strongly? I’ve no idea. Which of your plays is your favourite?  None of them. Which if your stories? Most of them embarrass me. So you think the atmosphere in Ireland is hostile or friendly to the artist? I’m thinking of my lunch. So you see any relationship between dwindling theatrical audiences all over the world and the fragmentation of what we might call the theatrical thrust into disparate movements like Theatre of Cruelty, Tactile Theatre, Nude Theatre, Theatre of Despair, etc., etc., Or would you say, Mr. Friel, that the influence of Heidegger is only beginning to be felt in the drama and that Beckett and Pinter are John the Baptists of a great new movement? Well, in answer to that I’d say that—I’d say that I’m a middle-aged man and that I tire easily and that I’d like to go out for a walk now. (qtd. in Andrews 3)

Awards and Achievements

Brian Friel’s plays have premiered and been produced at prestigious venues like the Abbey Theatre, London’s West End and Broadway and have been highly successful everywhere. His first major play, Philadelphia, Here I Come! was the hit of the 1964 Dublin Theatre Festival. In 1972 he was elected as a member of the Irish Academy of Letters.  In 1981, Translations, one of his seminal pieces, was awarded the Ewart-Biggs Peace Prize. After co-founding Field Day, Friel continued his interest  in the arts as a member of Aosdana, the national treasure of Irish artists, to which he was elected in 1982.  He was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Literature by the National  University of Ireland in 1983, and in 1987 was nominated to the Irish Senate. Dancing at Lughnasa, probably his most successful play so far, received three Tony Awards in 1992, including Best Play.


Friel’s plays deal with identity, the notion of truth, and communication, which he explores through the nature of language. Identity is formed through memory, both public and private, and it is the collective memories of a community which distinguish it from others. However, communal memory often conflicts with individual experience and several communal memories may exist simultaneously even within an individual.

The different associative and emotive memories and experiences of individuals and communities allow for different perspectives and perceptions of reality to exist. In examining the issue of memory, Friel exposes the falsity in the notion of a single, comprehensive history or truth. What becomes important is not a factual history or identity but exploring different histories and identities.

Language, for Friel, is closely implicated with identity.  The names of places, for example, contain within them the history and memories, both public and private, associated with them.  However, because of this difference in association, there is always a gap in communication.  Friel’s later plays expose the inadequacy of language in any real communication and move towards an exchange beyond language.


Translations, 1980.

Playbill for Translations, 1980.

Translations was the first play produced by Field Day.  It is set in a rural, Irish-speaking community in County Donegal in 1833. Into this world arrives a corps of Royal Engineers to conduct an Ordnance Survey of Ireland, which would map the country and ‘standardise’, or rather, anglicise, the place-names.  Captain Lancey and Lieutenant Yolland are being assisted by Owen, son of the local hedge-school master, Hugh O’Donnell.  The romantic Lieutenant Yolland is enchanted not only by the Irish names and culture but also Maire (Owen’s brother, Manus’ fiancee) with whom Yolland falls in love. Yolland disappears, and as a punishment, Captain Lancey threatens to destroy several places in the County.  Ironically, the names of these are read in English and Owen must translate them
back into the Irish for the sake of the locals.

Translations shows the forces of cultural imperialism at work through the colonial project of cartography and the demise of the hedge-schools in favour of the national schools that use English as a medium of instruction.  At the same time, it also reveals the forces of modernisation, for Maire wants to learn English and go to America before the arrival of the English soldiers.  The fallacy in living in a mythical past is expressed through the character of Jimmy Jack, who is so far removed from reality that he inhabits the stories of the mythology he studies.  As Hugh says,  “it can happen that a civilization can be imprisoned in a linguistic contour that no longer matches the landscape of fact” (351).

Friel says of Translations,  “The play has to do with language and only language” (qtd. in Pine 146).  The play revolves around the subject of names and their relation to identity, culture, and the possession or dispossession that comes with naming.  Sarah, who struggles with saying her name, and consequently with establishing her identity, is silenced once the colonisers arrive.  The efforts of Maire and Yolland to comprehend each other had been unsuccessful because of the differences in culture embodied in language that fall through the gaps of translation.  In the love scene between Maire and Yolland, however, it is ultimately when they move beyond language, when the Irish names become just a litany devoid of conceptual meaning, that the two are able to establish any real communication.

Making History

Friel had always been fascinated with Hugh O’Neill, Earl of Tyrone (1550-1616), who is the main character of this play.  Making History is “an informative, entertaining, ironical play on the theme of the living man helplessly watching his translation into a star in the face of all the facts that had reduced him to poverty, exile, and defeat” (qtd. in Pine 21). Peter Lombard, an archbishop and an historian, takes on the task of writing “The History of Hugh O’Neill”; however, as Hugh accuses him, it becomes the history of the person writing it.  As Lombard says, there is no such thing as a single history based on truth:

I don’t believe that a period of history — a given space of time — my life — your life — that it contains within it one ‘true’ interpretation just waiting to be mined.  But I do believe that it may contain within it several possible narratives: the life of Hugh O’Neill can be told in many ways. And those ways are determined by the needs and demands and the expectations of different people and different eras. (15-16)

Peter Lombard mythologizes O’Neill as an Irish hero, distorting or omitting aspects of O’Neill’s life, such as his English wife, Mabel Bagenal, or his early childhood with Sir Henry Sidney in England. The irony at the end of the distance between Lombard’s version of O’Neill and the drunken O’Neill we see, reciting his statement of surrender to the Queen, shows how history is constructed through language by “imposing a pattern on events that were mostly casual and haphazard and shaping them into a narrative that is logical and interesting” (8). Ambiguities in O’Neill, “the schemer, the leader, the liar, the statesman, the lecher, the patriot, the drunk, the soured, the bittered emigre,” are set aside in order to construct this narrative, just as O’Neill ultimately has to choose sides between the divided loyalties he has between Ireland and England.

Friel, through the character of O’Neill, insists upon a complexity of identity for his hero, for both the private and the public, in order to reveal the relativity of truth as well as the existence of several simultaneous truths and histories, for single versions of history are often those produced by those in dominance and obscure the truths of others.

Dancing at Lughnasa

One of Friel’s most popular plays is set in 1936. Dancing at Lughnasa is a memory play told by a narrator, Michael, twenty-five years later. Michaelis the son of Chris, the youngest of the five Mundy sisters, Kate, Agnes, Maggie, and Rose. Living during the oppressive Catholic ethos, the women live repressed lives, unable to express their emotions or sexuality.  Friel contrasts them with Father Jack, who was repatriated from Africa because he had “gone native.” He too has lost the ability to express himself: “My vocabulary has deserted me” (71). But this is because he, among the Ryangans, has found a way of expression beyond rational thought, an expression that taps into a deeper spirituality that accommodates the sensual in wordless, ritualistic ceremony. Gerry, Michael’s father, and the other man in the picture, represents the appeals of the future and the world outside: he has a London accent, speaks of adventure, and can fix the radio to make music. He is a smooth talker who awakens the sexuality of the women in the novel, but he is also a dancer, who ultimately carries them beyond words: “Don’t talk…Not a word” (32). The order that Kate represents, however, is one that is suspicious of both the ritualistic past, like the pagan celebration of Lughnasa, as well as the forces of change.

The dancing in the play represents the breakdown of rational order and the inevitability of change.  The play deals with this issue on several levels:

The great merit of the play is the unmistakeable tension we feel between the very  human desire for order and stability and the equally strong desire for excitement and new experience. This tension has various forms. On one level, it is a struggle  between Christianity and paganism, on another, it is the challenge offered to civilised value by an irruption of repressed libidinal energy, at yet another, it is the harassment of the symbolic order of ‘ordinary’ language and fixed structure by a semiotic force outside language which disrupts all stable meanings and institutions. (Andrews 223)

Through the dancing at the end of the first act, the sisters tap into their deepest impulses while at the same time they attune with the rest of the group, forming a far more meaningful form of communication: “dancing as if language had surrendered to movement — as if this ritual, this wordless ceremony, was now the way to speak, to whisper private and sacred things, to be in touch with some otherness” (71).

Michael recalls this period, but even in the memory of it, language, order and fact fails: “what fascinates me about that memory is that it owes nothing to fact… atmosphere is more real than incident” (71). Moreover, the memory itself is arbitrary and unreliable; like history, expressing memory in language is a construction: “memories offer themselves to me” (70). The scene he paints in the end, where “the stage is lit in a very soft, golden light so that the tableau we see is almost, but not quite, in a haze” and it is set to “dream music”, with an almost imperceptible movement, however, expresses this memory in which past and present coexist and “everything is simultaneously actual and illusory” (71).

Major Works

  • Friel, Brian. The Saucer of Larks: Stories of Ireland. New York: Doubleday, 1962.
  • —. Philadelphia, Here I Come! New York: Farrar Straus and Giroux, 1965.
  • —. The Gold in the Sea. New York: Doubleday, 1966.
  • —. The Loves of Cass McGuire. New York: Noonday Press, 1966.
  • —. Lovers. London: Faber and Faber, 1969.
  • —. Crystal and Fox. London: Faber and Faber, 1969.
  • —. Crystal and Fox and The Mundy Scheme. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1970.
  • —. The Gentle Island. London: Davis-Poynter, 1973.
  • —. Freedom of the City. London: Faber and Faber, 1974.
  • —. The Enemy Within. Newark: Proscenium Press, 1975.
  • —. Living Quarters. London: Faber and Faber, 1978.
  • —. Volunteers. London: Faber and Faber, 1979.
  • —. Selected Stories. Dublin: Gallery Press, 1979.
  • —. Aristocrats. Dublin: Gallery Press, 1980.
  • —. Faith Healer. London: Faber and Faber, 1980.
  • —. Translations. London: Faber and Faber, 1981.
  • —. Three Sisters by Anton Chekhov. Dublin: Gallery Press, 1981.
  • —. American Welcome. Best Short Plays 1981. Ed. Stanley Richards. Radnor: Chilton Books, 1981.
  • —. The Diviner: Best Stories of Brian Friel. Dublin: O’Brien Press,1983.
  • —. The Communication Cord. London: Faber and Faber, 1983.
  • —. Fathers and Sons. London: Faber and Faber, 1987.
  • —. Making History. London: Faber and Faber, 1988.
  • —. Dancing at Lughnasa. London: Faber and Faber, 1990.
  • —. London Vertigo. Oldcastle: Gallery Press, 1990.
  • —. A Month in the Country. Oldcastle: Gallery Press, 1992.
  • —. Wonderful Tennessee. Oldcastle: Gallery Press, 1993.
  • —. Molly Sweeney. Oldcastle: Gallery Press, 1994.
  • Give Me Your Answer, Do!, New York: Dramatists Play Service, 1997.
  • Uncle Vanya (Chekhov adaptation), Oldcastle: Gallery Press, 1998.
  • The Yalta Game (one-act Chekhov adaptation), Oldcaste: Gallery Press, 2001.
  • The Bear (one-act Chekhov adaptation), Oldcastle: Gallery Press, 2002.
  • Afterplay, Oldcastle: Gallery Press, 2002.
  • Performance, Oldcastle: Gallery Press, 2003.
  • The Home Place, Oldcastle: Gallery Press, 2005.
  • Hedda Gabler (Henrick Ibsen adaptation), Oldcastle: Gallery Press, 2008.

Works Cited

  • Andrews, Elmer. The Art of Brian Friel: Neither Reality Nor Dreams. New York: St. Martin’s, 1995.
  • Friel, Brian. Dancing at Lughnasa. London: Faber and Faber, 1990.
  • —. Making History. London: Faber and Faber, 1988.
  • —. “Translations.” Modern Irish Drama. Ed. John P. Harrington. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1991.
  • Pine, Richard. Brian Friel and Ireland’s Drama. New York: Routledge, 1990.

Selected Bibliography

  • Boltwood, Scott. Brian Friel, Ireland, and the North. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007.
  • Dantanus, Ulf. Brian Friel: A Study. London: Faber and Faber, 1988.
  • Friel, Brian, Csilla Bertha, Mária Kurdi. Brian Friel’s Dramatic Artistry: “The Work Has Value”. New York: Peter Lang, 2006.
  • Kerwin, William, ed. Brian Friel: A Casebook. New York: Garland,1997.
  • Maxwell, D.E.S. Brian Friel. Cranbury, New Jersey: Associated University Press, 1973.
  • McGrath, Frances Charles. Brian Friel’s (post)colonial Drama: Langauge, Illusion and Politics. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1999.
  • O’Brien, George. Brian Friel. New York: Gill and Macmillan, 1989.
  • Peacock, Alan J., ed. The Achievement of Brian Friel. Gerrards Cross, Great Britain: Colin Smythe, 1993.

Related Link

Ireland: Colonial Discourse and Post-Colonial Theory B

Brian Friel Theatre

The Guardian

Author:  Shirin Keen, Fall 1998.
Last edited: June 2012

Khan-Din, Ayub


“This was our Pakistani life; this is how we existed outside Salford. A life none of my friends knew or could understand…I think in [East is East] I came as close as possible to understanding my father’s motivation in the way he tried to bring us up,” explains Ayub Khan-Din with regard to his award winning play (Khan-Din, xi). The 38-year-old playwrite is originally from Salford, England. He is the eighth of ten children to a Pakistani father and British mother. With one brother four years his senior and another three years his junior, Khan-Din admits: “I wasn’t part of the older kids or younger kids. I lived in my own world and spent a lot of time daydreaming. It paid off in the end” (qtd. in Wolf). Strangely enough, throughout his childhood, and well into teenage years, Khan-Din had severe difficulty reading and writing. With such poor linguistic skills, it was impossible for anyone to believe that his daydreaming would ever really pay off.

At the age of sixteen, Khan-Din left school and worked at Lee’s Salon, where he went on to become “the worst hairdresser in Manchester.” Khan-Din’s inspiration to become an actor stemmed from David Niven’s autobiography entitled The Moon’s a Balloon, in which Niven writes about his own decision to pursue a career in acting after having served many years in the army. Indeed, Khan-Din also transitioned into the acting profession. His on-screen credits include “My Beautiful Laundrettez” and “Sammy and Rosie Get Laid”.  He remembers his acting experience to be a tumultuous one, mostly because of his bicultural background: “I had no idea after leaving drama school that I would suddenly be stamped with an invisible mark that said BLACK ACTOR!  So while more of my contemporaries went off to rep, I had the added disadvantage of trying to find a company that enforced integrated casting — I didn’t work for a year!” (Khan-Din, ix). Although Khan-Din wasn’t “working” in the traditional sense per se, he was in process of creating what would later become his ticket to success, East is East. The play is based heavily on Khan-Din’s own life and experiences growing up in a bicultural, working-class background: “The parents are drawn directly from my own family. The youngest boy, Sajid, is me as a child. All the arguments in the film, all the theories behind the father’s way of thinking are my own arguments and theories which I developed from writing the first draft of the stageplay to the last draft of the screenplay. The different issues, the different aspects of the relationships — they’re all very similar to my own background.” (A Quick Chat with Ayub Khan-Din). Khan-Din’s mother passed away because of Alzheimer’s disease soon after he graduated from the Mountview Drama School. As a tribute to her and in an attempt to understand his past, Khan-Din decided to delve into the complexities of his childhood by writing East is East as a stage play. He later produced it as a screenplay for Miramax films. Khan-Din has received harsh criticism from more traditional members of Asian society for what they believe to be a somewhat derogatory depiction of Pakistani culture. In response to such comments, he claims: “It was a personal story. I wasn’t writing about any specific community, I was writing about my father.” (A Quick Chat with Ayub Khan-Din). Khan-Din is currently married and has authored several other plays including  So Soon, So Soon and Belmondo Sahib. In 2007 and 2010, Khan-Din’s plays Rafta, Rafta and the sequel to East is East titled West is West premiered.  His work has received mixed reviews, but the overall consensus of critics is that East is East remains his most solid and compelling play.

East is East: Major Themes

Plot Synopsis

East is East poster

East is East poster

Khan-Din’s autobiographical play, East is East, is his most well-known and best received work. It explores the trials and tribulations of George and Ella Khan as they raise eight  rebellious and rambunctious children. George, the children’s Pakistani father is adamant that his children wed other Pakistanis, while Ella, George’s British wife would rather their children marry whomever they choose. The central paradox that the Khan children grapple with is the fact that their own father has married someone outside his race. As critic Les Gutman eloquently states: “The play’s weight… arises from the complex bundle of contradictions that George represents. He is a devout Muslim, proud of his Pakistani heritage and culture. He anguishes over the current fighting between India and Pakistan [...] and longs for the family he left behind. He is firm in his intent to rear his children as Pakistani Muslims which prompts the controversies central to the play.” Indeed, it is George’s own insecurities about his lifestyle and decisions that lead him to place unbearable pressure on his family. George and Ella have been married for nearly twenty-five years and she is his second wife.  “Mrs. Khan number one” as George calls his first wife, lives in Pakistan and is always referred to when George is upset with Ella. George and Ella own and run a fish ‘n’ chips shop, the wages from which are barely enough to support their family. Within the family itself are 7 boys, Nazir, Tariq, Abdul, Maneer, Saleem and Sajid and one girl, Meenah. Khan-Din’s characterization of the Khan children is particularly interesting. On one hand, he cannot develop them to the extent that novels can, so in a sense they are stereotyped. On the other hand, he does provide his audience with just enough information to understand each character’s underlying personality. Nazir breaks away from George’s edict of matrimony very early in the play and is consequently considered no longer part of the family. Tariq, the most strong-willed son and Abdul, the most passive one, are focused on heavily because it is their wedding that George is trying to arrange and what most of the action is centered around.

The entire play hinges on the problems encountered in bicultural families and raises important issues concerning whether two very different cultures can coexist. Additionally, the play has strong historical relevance because it takes place during a very turbulent time in Indian history. The year is 1971 and Bangladesh is trying to gain its freedom and talks of Enoch Powell are always in the air. With so many relevant ideas and themes, the play raises extremely important questions in regards to whether two opposing groups of people can coexist or whether Rudyard Kipling’s quote, from which the play borrows it’s name, holds true that, “East is east and west is west and never the twain shall meet.”


There are a variety of issues and themes that Khan-Din explores throughout his play. Most of them can be classified as social, historical, or symbolic in nature.

Social Themes

Bicultural families: Khan-Din is particularly interested in illustrating the obstacles that bicultural families must surmount in order to maintain some level of stability and contentment within them. The cultural differences within the Khan household present various problems for all of its members. Careful exploration of George’s character reveals that he longs for his Pakistani heritage and compensates for it by instilling Pakistani ideals on his children. As Les Gutman states, “East is East beautifully harmonizes the bedlam of life in a large family and the personal crisis of its conflicted immigrant father. The former is at once touching and very funny; the latter, tormented and ugly.” George is a Pakistani man living in Britain during a time in which bi-racial marriages were looked down upon. Although George loves Ella and his family, the reader understands that he longs for his own homeland as well. As for Ella, the dual cultures within her family force her to compromise her thoughts and beliefs heavily. Despite her lack of refinement in behavior, Ella is a loyal wife and mother. However, many problems arise in trying to satisfy her husband’s wishes as well as her children’s. Throughout the play, Ella always feels as though she must choose between the happiness of her children and the happiness of her husband, since both seem to be mutually exclusive.

Gender Roles:  The roles of men and women deserve a close exploration as well. However, Khan-Din is more concerned with depicting the dilemmas faced by his female characters. His principal female character, Ella, challenges many of the societal roles that have been relegated to women. Ella is an interesting character because, on the surface, she is the direct antithesis of femininity. She curses and insults her husband and children, but underneath everything, she is extremely vigilant in regard to her family and sacrifices a lot in order to hold it together. In his representation of women, Khan-Din compels his readers to consider the roles they played in order to hold the family together. The only other character that Khan-Din develops is Meenah. Due to such strong male influences, Meenah is something of a tomboy. Although George tries to enhance Meenah’s Pakistani side, there are  instances which attest to the fact that Meenah simply does not ‘fit’ into George’s ideals.  Even when she is first introduced, she is wearing a sari and it is pointed out that it “makes her look like a sack of spuds” (Khan-Din, 4). Khan-Din’s presentation of women is intriguing and provides many key insights concerning the workings of the Khan family.

Historical Themes

Bangladesh Liberation War: East is East is set in 1971.  During this time period, Bangladesh is trying to gain its independence from Pakistan. In March of 1971, the Pakistani army committed genocide against the east Pakistani people. This prompted the Bengali people to wage a war for their own independence. Because India helped Bangladesh do this, George is always making negative comments about this throughout the play.

Enoch Powell: This historical figure has a foreboding presence throughout the play. Although he is not an official character, he is a major part of the historical backdrop of the play. During the early 1970′s this prominent politician and writer launched attacks on the immigrants taking away British jobs. Of both historical themes, Khan-Din asserts: “Bangladesh’s war of independence had a big effect on our household, because what happened in the house always revolved around the TV news. In a way, it was almost as if the disintegration of Pakistan was happening in our house at the same time. It affected everything that was going on” (A Quick Chat with Ayub Khan-Din).

Symbolic Themes

Sajid’s parka:  Sajid, the youngest of the Khan’s, and Khan-Din’s representation of himself, is associated with the parka that he constantly wears. The parka is supposed to be the boy’s shield from the harsh realities of the family, as well as the harsh realities of the world. Although Sajid is the youngest member, he is certainly not the most spoiled. He relies on his parka to protect him from what his family cannot. At the end of the play, Sajid makes a landmark decision to discard his parka. The meaning behind this action can be interpreted in many ways, but most readers see this as his readiness to take on the complexities of his lifestyle.

On Stage

Khan-Din originally intended for East is East to be performed as a stage play. It opened first at the London Royal Court Theatre in 1997 and in The Manhattan Theater Club in 1999. Scott Elliot, the artistic chief and director of the Manhattan Theater Club exclaims: “Its unbelievably original…when you read it, you think ‘What is this?’ And then you find out most of it is true, so that really increases your interest. You just know where this play is coming from–the warmth and heart and love and rage that are in this family.”  Khan-Din echoes these sentiments in regards to the play: “The anger is there. But you can get your message across much stronger, I think, through humor and showing humanity. That’s the only way an audience is going to come in. And if you’re not going to get an audience, at the end of the day, your play is a dead duck.” Khan-Din’s play was anything but dead– it sold out in all productions in both London and New York. Additionally, Khan-Din was awarded the Writer’s Guild Award for Best New Writer as well as Best West End Play.

On Screen

In 1999, East is East was distributed to Miramax Films who asked Damien O’Donnell to direct a film version of the play. The cast included Linda Bassett as Ella and Om Puri as George. Although both cast member were a part of the original theater productions of the play, some viewers felt that the film failed to retain the same appealing qualities as the stage play. As Kristine Landon-Smith states: “The film is totally different from the stage play…I found that some of the characters lost their nuances on screen and became stereotypes” (qtd. in Ahmad). Despite a few criticisms, the film received overall positive reviews. During the first week of its release in Britain, the film grossed one million dollars at the box office–pulling ahead of the box-office smash “The Sixth Sense.” Later in 1999, Khan-Din was nominated for best screenplay at the Evening Standard Awards, one of London’s most distinguished honors. Khan-Din did not win, although East is East did receive the award for the best film of 1999. Indeed, Khan-Din’s progress as a writer is best reflected in his plays. However, equally as admirable, is his ability to present his complicated life as understandable pieces — both for his audiences as well as for himself.

Works Cited

  • Guthman, Edward. “Old, New Ways Clash in East’; Pakistani Father Raises a Family in London.” (15 Sept. 2000) Lexis Nexis Academic Universe.  9 Nov 2000. Web.
  • Gutman, Les.  “A CurtainUp Review: East is East.” (2, June 1999) 24  Nov 2000. Web.
  • Khan-Din, Ayub. “East is East.” New York: Hyperion, 1999.
  • “A Quick Chat With Ayub Khan-Din.” (6 Oct. 1999). 9 Nov. 2000. Web.
  • Toscan, Richard.  “Guidelines for Play Competitions.” (1995) The Play Writing Seminars Homepage. 9 Nov. 2000. Web.
  • Wolf, Matt.  “East is East and West is an Off Broadway Stage.” (23 May  1999). Lexis Nexis Academic Universe. 9 Nov 2000. Web.

Selected Bibliography

  • Ahmad, Shazia. “Din’s Own Story.” American Theater. Vol. 17. (2000). Lexis Nexis Academic Universe. 9 Nov 2000. Web.
  • Bassett, Kate. “I Owe It All to David Niven.” The Daily Telegraph. (1999).  Lexis Nexis Academic Universe. 9 Nov 2000. Web.
  • Donnell, Alison. Companion to Contemporary Black British Culture. London: Routledge, 2002.
  • French, Philip. “A Fate Worse Than Death?” The Observer. (1999). Lexis  Nexis Academic Universe. 9 Nov 2000. Web.
  •  Hingorani, Dominic. British Asian theatre : dramaturgy, process and performance. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire ; New York : Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.

Related Links

Reviews of the film


Official Sites

http://www.eastiseastmovie.com (Miramax official site)
http://www.eastiseast.co.uk/index.html (U.K. official site).

Bangladesh Liberation War Site


Author: Tina Bhatnagar, Fall 2000

Last Updated: July 2012

Soyinka, Wole


Image by Chidi Anthony Opara/CC licensed

Wole Soyinka, the Nigerian born writer of international renown, is an artist proficient in multiple genres. Soyinka has written in the modes of drama (Death and the King’s Horseman and Madmen and Specialists), poetry (Idanre and other Poems), autobiography (Ake: The Years of Childhood), the novel (The Interpreters), literary and cultural criticism (Myth, Literature and the African World), and political criticism (The Open Sore of a Continent: A Personal Narrative of the Nigerian Crisis). He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1986.

Soyinka not only writes for the stage but is also active in directing and producing theater. Soyinka believes that the role of performative art is very important in shaping and regenerating the culture and political identity of a people and a nation. Art connects the culture of a people with the cosmic and the archetypal primal sources of beginnings. Soyinka’s belief in the interrelation between a culture’s art and its cosmic history is manifested in his depiction of  Yoruban cosmology in his writings. Due to the infusion of Yoruban deities and folklore some of Soyinka’s writing may be very distant from the average knowledge and expectations of western readership. The cultural intricacies and weight of Yoruban myth will not be explicated here, but the relation between Soyinka’s use of Yoruban myth and his ideas about western mind and reader will be examined.

The Place of Colonial Discourse in Soyinka’s Work

In the “Author’s Note” prefacing the text of Death and the King’s Horseman, Wole Soyinka quietly inserts a very important message to potential readers of his works:

The bane of themes of this genre is that they are no sooner employed creatively than they acquire the facile tag of “clash of cultures,” a prejudicial label which, quite apart from its frequent misapplication, presupposes a potential equality in every given situation of the alien culture and the indigenous, on the soil of the latter. (In the area of misapplication, the overseas prize for illiteracy and mental conditioning undoubtedly goes to the blurb-writer for the American edition of my novel Season of Anomy who unblushingly declares that this work portrays the ‘clash between old values and new ways, between western methods and African traditions!’) It is thanks to this kind of perverse mentality that I find it necessary to caution the would-be producer of this play against a sadly familiar reductionist tendency, and to direct his vision instead to the far more difficult and risky task of eliciting the play’s threnodic essence.

Death and the King’s Horseman is a play that tells the historically accurate events of the tragic demise of Elesin, a Yoruban king’s horseman, and the moment of cosmic crisis that this brings upon his culture as a whole. As the king’s horseman it is Elesin’s role to follow his king into death through self-sacrifice. The play opens after the death of the king and thus Elesin’s death is imminent. Contrary to most western readers’ expectations, Elesin is not wracked with self-pity and rage against his fate. Elesin knows that he holds the highest honor due to his active role in continuing the Yoruban cosmos by easing the transition of their fallen leader to the realm of the dead. The moment of outward crisis comes for the Yoruba when Elesin’s self-sacrifice is stopped by the British District Officer who sees the act as a suicide that breaks civilized, legal, religious, and moral codes. What Soyinka alerts us to in the “Author’s Note” is to search for deeper human conflicts through a closer reading of the text. It was actually Elesin’s own pride and lust for the material goods of this life that caused his hesitation to commit the self-sacrifice. This moment of hesitation granted the District Officer enough time to disrupt the ritual. This story is extremely relevant to both postcolonial concepts of art and political/cultural self-projections by nations in a postcolonial situation. It contextualizes colonialism as a matter of modern history and allows art and culture to go beyond and deeper into the innate human soul to find its sources of creation. Art produced in a postcolonial situation even within the framework of colonial difference and oppression is not confined to finding its roots in this imperial opposition. Colonialism remains a framework of a story where the “threndonic essence” inherent to humanity can be created. The colonized must not always be seen as only existing in opposition to a colonial force. The self-definition of a culture can also arise out of its own cosmic history.

Soyinka and Philosophic Traditions: European and African

In Myth, Literature and the African World Soyinka discusses the intellectual history of the search for the African essence and whether the essence was destroyed for the majority of Africa during the colonial “clash of cultures.” Soyinka places himself in opposition to the search for “Africanness” by Negritude writers by proposing that the majority of Africans “never at any time had cause to question the existence of their — Negritude” (135). Soyinka identifies the basis of the misreading by the Negritude movement in their incorrect application of a supposedly universal set of western philosophical ideas to the colonial African situation:

The fundamental error was one of procedure: Negritude stayed within a pre-set system of Eurocentric intellectual analysis both of man and society and tried to re-define the African and his society in those terms. In the end, even the poetry of celebration for this supposed self-retrieval became indistinguishable from the mainstream of French poetry (136).

It must also be noted in light of this critique of western ideas that Soyinka is a student and contributor to the western philosophical and artistic traditions. Throughout his texts Soyinka uses the work of Nietzsche, Sartre, and Fanon as well as re-writing ancient Greek drama. Soyinka creates an ingenious parable where Descartes is written into a philosophic confrontation with an African and his famous “cogito ergo sum” is rewritten by the African:

Let us respond, very simply, as I imagine our mythical brother innocent would respond in his virginal village, pursuing his innocent sports, suddenly confronted by the figure of Descartes in his pith-helmet, engaged in the mission of piercing the jungle of the black pre-logical mentality with his intellectual canoe. As our Cartesian ghost introduces himself by scribbling on our black brother’s — naturally — tabula rasa the famous proposition, “I think, therefore I am,” we should not respond, as the Negritudinists did, with “I feel, therefore I am”, for that is to accept the arrogance of a philosophical certitude that has no foundation in the provable, one which reduces the cosmic logic of being to a functional particularism of being. I cannot imagine that our “authentic black innocent” would ever have permitted himself to be manipulated into the false position of countering one pernicious Manichaeism with another. He would sooner, I suspect, reduce our white explorer to syntactical proportions by responding: “You think, therefore you are a thinker, white-creature-in-pith-helmet-in-African-jungle-who-thinks and, finally, white-man-who-has-problems-believing-in-his-own- existence.” And I cannot believe that he would arrive at that observation solely by intuition (138-139).

Soyinka wants to dispel the idea of the “feeling intuitive African” in opposition to the “rational thinking European.” It is not a difference of reason versus emotion but a difference of world views and modes of thought. The African finds it ridiculous to compartmentalize the mind in this way. Soyinka rewrites the western obsession with the nature of the human subject as a neurotic weakness. It is immodest to reduce the existence of being to a human “particularism” of “thinking.” This passage is complemented by Soyinka’s play The Road. The character of the Professor is on a quest to find “the Word.” “The Word” or “the Scheme” carries both significations of Christianity’s complicity in colonialization and the Professor’s own obsession with compartmentalizing and consuming knowledge. The Professor is a delusional egomaniac who ironically resembles the ghost of Descartes from above, for the Professor evaluates the Africans on the Cartesian value of the written thought:

PROF: (speaking to SAMSON, to his mind a “authentic black innocent”): You are a strange creature my friend. You cannot read, and I presume you cannot write, but you can unriddle signs of the Scheme that baffle even me, whose whole life is devoted to the study of the enigmatic Word? (204)

The Professor is the neurotic Cartesian subject searching for the ultimate particularism of being: “the Word.” This obsession with the search for the knowledge of Death ultimately leads to the Professor’s destruction. However, opposite to the Professor is Murano, a mute. His silence is the antithesis of the verbose Professor craving the greater knowledge of being. Just as the Professor strives to carve up and consume more and more of Knowledge, Murano exists in a content oneness with the spiritual world. The Professor’s mastery of the Word never competes with the power Murano has through his silence. For while the Professor neurotically searches for the philosophic Word, Murano is attuned to the cosmic world through the ritual dance and evocation of the deities. Murano defies the logic of the western Word through the interconnectedness of the Yoruban cosmology of cyclic time. The unborn, the living, and the ancestral exist simultaneously and without definite boundaries. The Yoruban can access knowledge of  “the Scheme”  because of the cyclic transition that exists between death and life in the Yoruban cosmos unlike the western static idea of life and death. Soyinka sees the African artistic or cultural essence never being absent or dependent upon western ideas. It has been forced into a silent existence but never denied its own being. The African cultural identity is neither anachronistic nor a philosophical import but viable in the past and present of ritual theater.

Works Cited

  • Soyinka, Wole. Death and the King’s Horseman. New York: Hill and Wang,1975.
  • —. Myth, Literature and the African World. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1976.
  • —. The Road. from Collected Plays One. New York: Oxford University Press, 1973.

Selected Works by Soyinka


  • Soyinka, Wole. The Interpreters. London: Heinemann, 1965.
  • —. Season of Anomy. Boston: Arena, 1973.


  • Soyinka, Wole. Aké: The Years of Childhood. New York: Vintage, 1981.
  • —. Ibadan: The Penkelemes Years. Altona: Spectrum Books, 1994.
  • —. The Man Died: Prison Notes. Brighton: Africa Book Centre Ltd, 1972.
  • —. You Must Set Forth At Dawn. New York: Randomhouse, 2006.


  • Soyinka, Wole. Death and the King’s Horseman. New York: Hill & Wang, 1987. 
  • —. The Lion and the Jewel. London: Oxford University Press Ltd, 1963.
  • —. Kongi’s Harvest. London: Oxford University Press Ltd, 1967. 
  • —. Madmen and Specialists. New York: Hill & Wang, 1987.
  • —. A Play of Giants. London: Methuen, 1984.
  • —. Requiem for a Futurologist. London: Rex Collings, 1985. 
  • —. The Road. London: Oxford University Press Ltd, 1965.
  • —. The Strong Breed. London: Oxford University Press Ltd, 1963.
  • —. The Swamp Dwellers. London: Oxford University Press Ltd, 1963.

Related Sites

Nobel Prize biography

Author: Joseph Wilson, Fall 1997
Last edited: May 2012



A Kathakali performer in the virtuous pachcha (green) role at Kochi, India, 2009/ CC Licensed

A Kathakali performer in the virtuous pachcha (green) role at Kochi, India, 2009/CC Licensed

Kathakali, literally translated as “story-play,” is a classical Indian dance rooted in Hindu mythology that is briefly mentioned in Arundhati Roy’s novel, The God of Small Things. This dance is indigenous to Kerala, a small state in southwest India. Thematically, the dance focuses on the “treasure-trove of the ancient Puranas chronicling the lives, loves, and conflicts of the gods and the supermen of mythology” (Bhavnani xiii). The dance itself is performed in a makeshift open-air theater provided by a temple courtyard or a family mansion. A pair of attendants holds up a patchwork quilt, which functions as a curtain. The most important accessory to the performance is a brass oil lamp, as its quivering wick greatly accentuates the various shades of expression on the painted faces of the actors (Bhavnani xiii). In the actual performance, there are three main types of characters: the Satvik (virtuous beings) which include gods, kings or heroes; the Rajasik, characters with specific vices, such as greed, lust, or vanity; and the Tamasik, the evil characters, such as demons (Massy 54). The basic moral is always that of the eternal warfare between Good and Evil (Ambrose 62). Some very well known and popular subjects of the Kathakali dance are as follows: Bhagavat Doothu, Lalita, Rukmani Kalayanam, Sita Kalayanam, Rama Charitam, and Prahlada Charitam (Bhavnani 48).

Training and Technique

Kathakali dancers spend at least twelve years training and studying, so they may learn to achieve a necessary perfect control of their body and limbs (Ambrose 63). Training begins with massages and oil baths that will make the body soft and flexible, thereby “awakening” each muscle, joint, and nerve. Each part of the dancer’s body is disassociated from the others, and is taught to function separately. These massages are designed to help the dancer achieve the basic posture of Kathakali, which is a specific arrangement of the entire body (Bowers 78). The chin presses tightly against the throat, and the face looks straight ahead. The buttocks push back so the spine forms a concave curve from the back of the head to buttocks. The knees are widely spread apart, so that the profile of the body has a flat thinness, and the front view shows a perfectly shaped diamond. The arms are extended straight out from the shoulders and are parallel to the ground, and the wrists form right angles between the hands and arms, while the hands hang limply (Bowers 79).

The basic step of Kathakali is a sort of box step. While holding the basic position as described above, the step moves as follows: right forward one step, left foot joins it; right foot to the right one step, left foot follows; right foot back one step, left foot follows; left foot to the left one step, right foot follows, and repeat. (Bowers 79). Explanatory gestures and movements compliment the step, and the tempo may vary in speed, from a simple walk to bouncing leaps. Dancers also undergo a rather painful training of the eyes, so that they develop the ability to communicate a wide range of emotions and experiences entirely through the eyes, and without any benefit of supplementary gestures (Bowers 81).

The Gesture Language

Kathakali includes a gesture language composed entirely of hand symbols. This gesture language is grammatically equivalent to speech, and is used within a dance to creatively perform acts, describe objects and scenes, rhythmically express sentiments, and translate the poetry of words into mimic gestures (Devi 104).


The Kathakali dancers wear elaborate make-up, which takes several hours to apply, in order to enhance the facial expressions and the overall dramatic effect of the performance. The make-up  itself is composed of rice powder that is enhanced by lime and certain paints. Each face mask represents a different character (Bhavnani 46).


The Kathakali orchestra stands behind the actors in a semi-circle. Within the orchestra, there are two to four different kinds of drums, as well as some flutes, a gong, and a chief singer.  One musician might also play on the harmonium, and another might hold a tamburu (a triangle of steel) while a third acts as a time beater (Pandeya 139). The following is a list of more detailed descriptions of instruments used in the orchestra:

  • Cenda is a drum that is suspended by a cotton thong or leather strap from around the neck, and is played with two slightly up-turned bamboo sticks by both hands. It produces a shrill, high staccato sound.
  • Maddalam is a drum fastened to the waist by a cotton belt. It is played on both ends by both hands, with the right-hand fingers covered with metal thimbles in order to produce a powerful and sharp sound, and the left hand holding a stick.
  • Gong is a thick, small, round, metal-alloy plate. The singer holds it by a thread-loop that runs through a hole pierced in its bent rim, and he beats it with a small stick. The primary function of the gong is to give rhythmic beats.
  • Singers also stand in the orchestra, generally in a group of two or three. They sing songs that are based on old modes of melodies in Karnatak music sung in Kerala temples.  Such songs are narrative, and what the singers sing is communicated by the actors (Pandeya 141-142).

The Performance

A Kathakali performance may last as long as sixteen hours.  At sunset, the program begins with a drumming that announces the performance, followed by a series of religious songs and praise to the gods.  Around nine or ten o’clock, the “behind the curtain dance” (known as Todayam) begins. Audience members who want to watch may walk behind the curtain to see. Following this dance is more devotional singing and drumming, and then the dance drama begins, which is performed in sequences that reveal a plot and tell a connected story (Bowers 67). Entire episodes from ancient epic poems, such as the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, are danced and enacted (Bhavnani 42). The performance usually ends with a religious dance that is performed by an actor costumed as one of the Hindu gods, so that the evening is concluded with a general benediction that showers blessings on all who witnessed and participated in the holy spectacle (Bowers 67).

Works Cited

  • Ambrose, Kay. Classical Dances and Costumes of India. London: Whitefriars Press Limited, 1950.
  • Bhavnani, Enakshi.  The Dance in India: The Origin and History, Foundations, the Art and Science of the Dance in India – Classical, Folk and Tribal. Bombay: Taraporevala Sons & CO. Private Ltd.,1965.
  • Bowers, Faubion. The Dance in India. New York: Colombia University Press, 1953.
  • Devi, Ragini. Dance Dialects of India. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Pvt. Ltd., 1972.
  • Pandeya, Avinash C. The Art of Kathakali. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers Pvt. Ltd., 1999.
  • Massy, Jamila and Reginald. The Dances of India: A General Survey and Dancer’s Guide. London: Tricolor Books, 1989.
  • Roy, Arundhati. The God of Small Things. New York: Random House, 1997.

Selected Bibliography

  • Bharatha, Iyer K. Kathakali: The Sacred Dance-Drama of Malabar. London: Luzac, 1955.
  • Daugherty, Diane.  “Fifty Years On: Arts Funding in Kerala Today.” Asian Theatre Journal Vol. 17, Issue 2 (2000): 237-252.
  • Dezsy, Eric Salzman and Thomas Desi. The new music theater : seeing the voice, hearing the body. New York : Oxford University Press, 2008.
  • Erdman, John L.  “A Tradition of Change: The Role of Patrons and Patronage in the Kathakali Dance-Drama.”  Arts Patronage in India: Methods, Motive, and Markets. New Delhi: Manohar, 1992.
  • Lowen, Sharon and Videshi Kalakar Utsav. The performing arts of India : development & spread across the world. Gurgaon, India : Shubhi Publications, 2005.
  • Mahabharata: Music, Songs & Rhythms From Kathakali.  June 2000. CD.
  • Singh, Nagendra Kr and David Bolland. The Ramayana in Kathakali dance drama. Trans. David Bolland. Ed N.K. Singh.  Vālmīki. New Delhi : Global Vision Pub. House, 2006.
  • Zarilla, Phillip B. The Kathakali Complex: Actor, Performance, Structure. New Dehli: Abhinav, 1984.
  • —. Kathakali Dance-Drama: Where Gods and Demons Come to Play.  New York: Routledge, 2000.

Related Web Sites

Kathakali Audio Clips
Kathakali : Classical Dance Drama of Kerala, India
Kerala: God’s Own Country!
Virtual Kathakali: Gesture Driven Metamorphosis

Author:  Jeanette Issa, Fall 2000

Last Updated: July 2012

Schwarz-Bart, Simone


Simone Schwarz-Bart is an internationally known writer in the company of Guadeloupean novelists Maryse Condé and Myriam Warner-Vieyra. Born in 1938 in the French West Indies to a teacher and military man, Schwarz-Bart studied in Pointe-á-Pitre, Paris and Dakar. Her four novels have each achieved laudatory reviews in The New York Times Book Review, The Sunday Times, Présence Africaine, Figaro Littéraire, The French Review, Savacou, Nouvelle Revue Française, The New Yorker, and many others in the United States and abroad. Her oeuvre lucidly narrates the harsh realities Caribbean women endure in the clutches of slavery and colonization. Publication of her six-volume work, Hommage à la Femme Noire (In Praise of Women of Color) in 1989, testifies to her lifelong commitment to unearthing the unknown history and culture of black women of the diaspora. In her lifetime, Schwarz-Bart has lived in France, Africa, and Switzerland. She currently resides in both Lausanne, France and Guadeloupe.

The Schwarz-Bart Partnership

Last of the Just, 1960

Last of the Just, 1960

When she was eighteen and a student in Paris, Simone met writer André Schwarz-Bart. They married in 1961 and, two years later, he won the Prix Goncourt for Le Dernier Des Justes (The Last of the Just). A Polish Jew, André Schwarz-Bart lost both of his parents during the Holocaust. The Last of the Just charts the history of one Jewish family since the year 1000. Both deeply politically committed, the couple began a stunning creative collaboration which resulted in two first-class historical novels, Un Plat de Porc aux Bananes Vertes (A Plate of Pork With Green Bananas) and La Mulâtresse Solitude (A Woman Named Solitude). Well-received by critics, A Plate of Pork with Green Bananas recounts a Martinican woman’s alienation from French society and her search for her lost Caribbean identity. Elderly and disabled, Mariotte spends her final days in a Paris asylum for the aged as she revisits her past.

In their second collaboration, the couple continue to revisit history from the perspective of a woman of color. Reconstructing the events of one slave woman’s existence in the late eighteenth century, La Mulâtresse Solitude portrays Solitude’s disturbing encounters during colonial slavery in Guadeloupe. Critics often attribute full authorship of this novel to André Schwarz-Bart, not always giving equal credit to Simone. In her essay on La Mulâtresse Solitude, Charlotte Bruner acknowledges this collaboration as she points to the work’s publication history. In its publicity, Simone is mentioned as a collaborator who is part of the couple’s shared purpose of “telling the history of Guadeloupe in a cycle of novels of historic reconstruction.” However, the Seuil edition names only her husband. When it was translated into English the year of its original publication, Simone finally attained credit as co-author. Simone is further attributed credit in Donald Herdeck’s Caribbean Writers: A Bio-Bibliographic Critical Encyclopedia. Mention of the joint authorship of Solitude also appears in Le Dernier des Justes, in the list of André Schwarz-Bart’s forthcoming works. The publisher note reads “in collaboration with his wife, Simone, André Schwarz-Bart has embarked on publication of a sequel in the form of a novel” (Bruner 238). To date, no studies exist which consider the Schwarz-Bart partnership in depth.

Major Themes

In her later novels and one-act play, Ton Bon Capitaine (Your Handsome Captain), Schwarz-Bart weaves the multiple locations and languages of her heritage as she constructs a matrilineal narrative of Guadeloupean women’s identities. Publishing widely beyond the two novels she and her husband composed together, her first solo act, when it first appeared in 1972, enjoyed critical acclaim and was later translated into twelve languages. The story of three generations of Guadeloupean women, Pluie et Vent sur Telumée Miracle (The Bridge of Beyond), is hailed by critics for its lyrical examination of exile as it doubly impacts the lives of West Indian women. Her fourth novel, Ti Jean L’Horizon (Between Two Worlds), fuses magical realism with science fiction in its depiction of a legendary Guadeloupean folk hero. As with all of her fiction, her play Ton Beau Capitaine dramatizes the unyielding trauma of exile and the subtleties of patriarchal domination. Inspired by her grandmother’s wisdom and integrity, Simone Schwarz-Bart’s unforgettable women characters use the power of expression to combat the abuses of racial and sexual domination.


  • Schwarz-Bart, Simone. “An Author’s Perspective on Her Own Creation: Reflections of Simone Schwarz-Bart on Her Novel Pluie et Vent Sur Télumée Miracle.”  BIM 18. 71 (December 1987): 27-35.
  • —. Hommage à la Femme Noire (In Praise of Women of Color). Paris: Éditions Consulaires, 1989.
  • —. La Mulâtresse Solitude (A Woman Named Solitude). Paris: Seuil, 1972.
  • —. Pluie et Vent sur Télumée Miracle (The Bridge of Beyond). Paris: L’Harmattan, 1972.
  • —. Ti Jean L’Horizon (Between Two Worlds). Paris: Seuil, 1979.
  • —. Ton Beau Capitaine (Your Handsome Captain). Paris: Seuil, 1987.
  • —. Un Plat de Porc aux Bananes Vertes (A Plate of Pork With Green Bananas). Paris: Seuil, 1967.


  • Bruner, Charlotte. “A Caribbean Madness: Half Slave and Half Free.” Canadian Review of Comparative Literature 11.2 (1984): 236-48.
  • Busia, Abena P.A. “This Gift of Metaphor: Symbolic Strategies and the Triumph of Survival in Simone Schwarz-Bart’s The Bridge of Beyond.” Out of the Kumbla: Caribbean Women and Literature. Eds. Carole Boyce Davies and Elaine Savory Fido.  Lawrenceville, NJ: Africa World Press, 1990. 289-301.
  • Black Literature Criticism Supplement. Detroit: Gale Research, 1999.
  • Black Writers: A Selection of Sketches from “Contemporary Authors.” Detroit: Gale Research, 1994.
  • Herdeck, Donald, ed. Caribbean Writers: A Bio-Bibliographical-Critical Encyclopedia. Washington: Three Continents Press, 1979.
  • Karamcheti, Indira. “The Geographics of Marginality: Place and Textuality in Simone Schwarz-Bart and Anita Desai.” Feminist Explorations of Literary Space.  Eds. Margaret R. Higonnet and Joan Templeton. Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 1994. 125-146.
  • McKinney, Kitzie.  “Memory, Voice, and Metaphor in the Works of Simone Schwarz-Bart.” Postcolonial Subjects: Francophone Women Writers. Eds. Mary Jean Green, Karen Gould, Micheline Rice-Maximin, Keith L. Walker, and Jack A. Yeager. Minneapolis/ London: University Minnesota Press, 1996. 22-41.
  • Robinson, Lillian. Modern Women Writers. NY: Continuum, 1996.

Author: Michelle Hunter, Spring 2000

Last edited: June 2012

Dangarembga, Tsitsi


Tsitsi Dangarembga in 2006

Image by David Clarke/CC Licensed

In 1959, Tsitsi Dangarembga was born in Rhodesia, now called Zimbabwe, in the town of Mutoko. She spent her early childhood, ages two through six, in Britain. She began her education in a British school but after returning to Rhodesia with her family, she concluded her early education, her A-levels, in a missionary school in the City of Mutare. Later, she went back to Britain to attend Cambridge University where she pursued a course of study in medicine. Dangarembga was not destined to stay in Britain; after becoming homesick and alienated she returned to her homeland of Rhodesia in 1980 just before it became Zimbabwe under black-majority rule.

She continued her educational pursuits in Rhodesia and began a course of study at the University of Harare in psychology. During her studies, Dangarembga held a job at a marketing agency as a copywriter for two years and was a member of the drama group affiliated with the university. This is where her early writing was given an avenue for expression. She wrote many of the plays that were put into production at the university. In 1983 she directed and wrote a play entitled “The Lost of the Soil”. She then became an active member of a theater group called Zambuko. This group was directed by Robert McLaren. While involved in this groups she participated in the production of two plays, “Katshaa!” and “Mavambo.”

While involved in theater she also explored prose writing. In 1985, she published a short story in Sweden entitled “The Letter” and in 1987, she published a play in Harare entitled “She No Longer Weeps.” Her real success came at age twenty-five with the publication of her novel Nervous Conditions. This novel was the first to be published in English by a black Zimbabwean woman. In 1989, Nervous Conditions won her the African section of the Commonwealth Writers Prize. Prior to this award she had won a second prize in a short story competition of the Swedish aid-organization, SIDA. After Nervous Conditions was published in Denmark, she made a trip there in 1991 to be part of the Images-of-Africa festival. Dangaremba continued her education in Berlin at the Deutsche Film und Fernseh Akademie where she studied film direction. While in school she made many film productions, including a documentary for German television. She then made the film entitled Everyone’s Child in 1996. It was shown world wide at various festivals including the Dublin Film Festival. In 2006, she published The Book of Not: A Sequel to Nervous Conditions.

Nervous Conditions

“The condition of native is a nervous condition.”

Nervous Conditions is a partially autobiographical story of Tambu, a young girl who lives on an impoverished Rhodesian farm during the late 1960s. The death of Tambu’s brother forces her to live with Babamukuru, her uncle who has been educated in the west, and become the provider for her family. She quickly accepts this situation because it offers her the opportunity of missionary schooling and the knowledge of a western educated family. Tambu has great aspirations for her personal education despite the obstacles that stand in her way: race, class and sex. The topics of education and its relation to gender are important facets of this novel. Education is used as a type of power by many characters in the novel, most importantly Babamukuru. The novel also follows the story of Tambu’s cousin who has anorexia, an illness not usually associated with African countries. This disease is used in the novel as a form of control for Tambu’s cousin who is torn between two cultures, that of her home, Rhodesia and that of England. The novel also discusses the many facets of poverty and the effects that it has on people. Poverty affects each character in the novel creating in each of them a type of nervous condition.

Selected Bibliography

  • Buck, Claire.  The Bloomsbury Guide to Women’s Literature, New York: Prentice Hall General Reference, 1992. 247.
  • Creamer, Heidi. “An Apple for the Teacher?: Femininity, Coloniality and Food in Nervous Conditions,” in Anna Rutherford, ed. In to the Nineties. New South Wales: Dangaroo Press, 1994. 344-360.
  • Dangarembga, Tsitsi. Nervous Conditions, Seattle: Seal Press, 1989.
  • Vizzard, Michelle. “Of Mimicry and Woman’ Hysteria and Anti-colonial Feminism in Tsitsi Dangarembga’s Nervous Conditions,”  Journal of the South Pacific Association for the Commonwealth Literature and Language Studies. 1993.

Links to Related Sites

Nervous Conditions synopsis and information

Postcolonial pathology in Nervous Conditions

Information about Everyone’s Child

Author: Rebecca Grady, Fall 1997
Last edited: May 2012

Devi, Mahsweta


Photo of Mahasveta Devi

Image by Wildtierreservat/CC licensed

Mahasweta Devi was born in 1926 in the city of Dacca in East Bengal (modern day Bangladesh). As an adolescent, she and her family moved to West Bengal in India. Born into a literary family, Mahasweta Devi was also influenced by her early association with Gananatya, a group who attempted to bring social and political theater to rural villages in Bengal in the 1930s and 1940s. After finishing a master’s degree in English literature from Calcutta University, Devi began working as a teacher and journalist. Her first book, Jhansir Rani (The Queen of Jhansi), was published in 1956. This work also marked the beginning of a prolific literary career. In the last half century, Devi has published twenty collections of short stories and close to a hundred novels, primarily in her native language of Bengali. She has also been a regular contributor to several literary magazines such as Bortika, a journal dedicated to the cause of oppressed communities within India. In 1984, she retired from her job as an English lecturer at a Calcutta university to concentrate on her writing. Devi has been the recipient of several literary prizes. She was awarded the Jnanpath, India’s highest literary award in 1995. In the following year, she was one of the recipients of the Magsaysay award, considered to be the Asian equivalent of the Nobel Prize. She currently resides and works in Calcutta, India.

Major Works and Themes

Imaginary Maps book cover

Imaginary Maps, 1994

Mahasweta Devi’s first work, Jhansir Rani, was a fictional reconstruction of Laxmibal, the Picture of woman ruler who died fighting the British Author army in the mid-nineteenth century. Several of her other early works such as Amrita Sanchay (1964) and Andhanmalik (1967) are also set during the British colonial period. The  Naxalite movement of the late 1960′s and early 1970′s were also an important  influence in her work. Devi, in a 1983 interview, points to this movement as the first major event that she felt “an urge and an obligation to document” (Bandyopandhyay viii). This leftist militant movement, which started in the Naxalbari region of West Bengal, began as a rural revolt of landless workers and tribal people against landlords and moneylenders. In urban centers, this movement attracted participation from student groups. Devi’s Hajar Churashir Ma (Mother of 1084) is the story of a upper middle class woman whose world is forever changed when her son is killed for his Naxalite beliefs. This book has recently been made into a Hindi-language movie called Hazaar Chaurasi ki Ma by director Govind Nihalani .

Breast Stories book cover

Breast Stories, 2002

Another important theme in the works of Mahasweta Devi involves the position of tribal communities within India. She is a long-time champion for the political, social and economic advancement of these communities, whom she characterizes as “suffering spectators of the India that is traveling towards the twenty first century” (Imaginary Maps, xi). These concerns can be seen in works such as Aranyer Adhikar (Rights of the Forest) and anthologies such as her 1979 Nairhite Megh (Clouds in the Southwestern Sky). Aranyer Adhikar, which was published in 1977, is based on the life of Birsa Munda, a tribal freedom fighter. She has also donated the prize money from both the Jnanpath and Magsaysay awards to tribal communities and continues to use her work to further the position of these groups in India.

This activism is central to Devi’s understanding of the role of a writer in society: “I think a creative writer should have a social conscience. I have a duty towards society. Yet I don’t really know why I do these things. The sense of duty is an obsession. I must remain accountable to myself.”

Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, who has  translated two collections of Devi’s stories including those in Imaginary Maps into English, suggests that this interplay of activism and literary writing in Devi’s fiction can be of substantial interest to current academic discourse and practices. Spivak insists that Devi’s work suggests a model in which activism and writing can reflect upon each other, providing a necessary vision of inter-nationality, and the possibility of constructing a new kind of responsibility for the cultural worker (Imaginary Maps, xxvi).

In response to the question, “What would you like to do for the rest of your life?” in a 1998 interview, Devi replied: “Fight for the tribals, downtrodden, underprivileged and write creatively if and when I find the time” (Guha). Devi is currently an editorial advisor for Budhan: The Denotified and Nomadic Tribes Rights Action Group Newletter. The newsletter is named after Budhan Sabar who was brutally killed in March 1998.

Other Major Works

  • Agnigarbha (Womb of Fire, 1978)
  • Bitter Soil. Trans. Ipsita Chandra. Seagull, 1998. Four stories.
  • Choti Munda evam Tar Tir (Choti Munda and His Arrow, 1980) Trans. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak.
  • Dhowli (Short Story)
  • Dust on the Road. Trans. Maitreya Ghatak. Seagull, Calcutta.
  • Our Non-Veg Cow. Trans. Paramita Banerjee. Seagull Books, Calcutta, 1998.
  • Bashai Tudu. Trans. Gayatri Chakraborty Spivak and Shamik Bandyopadhyay. Thima, Calcutta, 1993.
  • Titu Mir
  • Rudali
  • Breast Stories. Trans. Gayatri Chakraborty Spivak. Seagull, Calcutta, 1997.
  • Of Women, Outcasts, Peasants, and Rebels. Trans. Kalpana Bardhan, University of California, 1990.
  • Ek-kori’s Dream. Trans. Lila Majumdar. N.B.T., 1976.
  • The Book of the Hunter. Seagull India, 2002.
  • Outcast. Seagull, India, 2002.
  • Draupadi
  • In Other Worlds: Essays in Cultural Politics. Trans. Gayatri Chakraborty Spivak. Methuyen and Company, 1987.
  • Till Death Do Us Part
  • Old Women
  • Kulaputra. Trans(Kannada). Sreemathi H.S. CVG Publications.
  • The Why-Why Girl
  • Dakatey Kahini

Major Awards

  • 1979: Sahitya Akademi Award (Bengali) for Aranyer Adhikar.
  • 1986: Padma Shri
  • 1996: Jnanpith Award
  • 1997: Ramon Magsysay Award for Journalism, Literature and the Creative Communication Arts
  • 1999: Honoris causa from the Indira Ghandi National Open University
  • 2006: Padma Vibhushan
  • 2010:Yashwantrao Chavan National Award
  • 2011: Bangabibhushan
  • 2012: Hall of Fame Lifetime Achievement SAHITYABRAMHA

Related Sites

Interview with Mahasweta Devi

Outlook Magazine Interview


The Rediff Interview


Works Citied

  • Bardhan, Kalpana. “Introduction”. Of Women, Outcastes, Peasants,and  Rebels. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1990.1-50.
  • Bandypadhyay, Samik. “Introduction.” Five Plays. Calcutta: Seagull Books, 1986. v-xxx.
  • Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty. “The author in conversation.” Imaginary Maps. New York: Routledge Books,1995. ix-xxiii.

Author: Shibani Baksi, Spring 1998.
Last edited: June 2012