Free and French in the Caribbean: Toussaint Louverture, Aimé Césaire, and Narratives of Loyal Opposition

By John Patrick Walsh | Go to book overview

6 Haitian Building
la tragédie du roi Christophe

IN THE PREVIOUS chapter, I argued that Césaire looks back to Toussaint and to the legislative debates of the First French Republic, particularly those leading up to the first law of departmentalization in 1798, in order to deliver a profound critique of the aftermath of a similar law passed by the Fourth French Republic. Like Toussaint, Césaire authored (and legislated) a delicate balance between France and the Caribbean. He adamantly defended departmentalization for its extension of administrative rights and economic protection but clearly lamented the failure to improve racial and social inequality. Following James, Césaire risked a near hagiographic portrait of Toussaint inside a larger historiographical account of the links between French republicanism and its colonial mission. I now shift from Césaire’s essays to his playwriting. This is pivotal because it reflects the choice to go beyond Toussaint without leaving behind Haiti’s beginnings. It is a transition from Toussaint’s revolution to Christophe’s kingdom.

In a book that brings together Toussaint and Césaire, it may appear odd to conclude with Christophe. I would like to suggest, however, that it is essential to the core argument: As a revision of the foundational problems of the French Caribbean, La tragédie du roi Christophe mediates Toussaint Louverture. Toussaint was not the only voice of dissent, nor was he only a voice of dissent. Césaire’s research and travels led him to examine additional historical figures, and to experiment with another genre. The transition to Christophe—and, as we will see, the central role of the king in the tragedy—invites criticism for its insistence on the figure of the hero. Be that as it may,

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