African Settings in Contemporary American Novels

By Dave Kuhne | Go to book overview

Chapter 6
Africa: Postmodern, Postcolonial, and "Other" Wise

Works of postmodern fiction are often set in zones that are "discontinuous and inconsistent," zones that juxtapose "worlds of incompatible structure" with the intent of undermining established norms or ways of perception ( McHale 44). Because Africa is often viewed as being in binary opposition to the West and because African methods of perceiving the world are frequently seen as being different from Western methods of perception, a number of contemporary American novelists use African settings to indicate that the Western way of thinking is not necessarily the only way in which reality can be understood.

Moreover, Westerners have traditionally considered Africa an empty space, and McHale observes that "if the map is blank, the corresponding area of the real world too must be a kind of empty space offering minimal resistance to the realization of adventurous fantasies" (54). Therefore, postmodernist texts may not "reflect objective African realities, but they do faithfully reflect our culture's ontological landscape, which allots a certain space to an unreal zone called Africa" ( McHale 55). Because Westerners tend to think of Africa as "unreal," alternative visions of reality thrive in postmodern fiction set in Africa. Furthermore, in addition to this interest in undermining established norms, postmodern fiction is also concerned with the status of the "other" ( Linn 63), and several contemporary American novels, beginning with Paul Bowles The Sheltering Sky, examine the role of Westerners as "others" in Africa.

Indeed, the status of outsiders such as Westerners and Asians is a major concern of novels set in postcolonial Africa. Novelists such as Paul Theroux, Maria Thomas, and Richard Dooling examine the status of outsiders in postcolonial Africa and detail the political and social situations in newly independent African states. While critics argue that some of these novels, particularly the work of Maria Thomas,

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