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Cramer and Campbell on Literature

Ben Cramer ’17 – From the daemon in The Golden Compass to the patronus in Harry Potter, the animal familiar is a common trope in children’s literature, so though Lauren Beukes’ Zoo City could hardly be considered suitable for kids, I was prepared for the story’s universe to follow similar rules. Typically, the animal companion is the embodiment of some essential element of one’s personality and in some way informs characterization. However I was thrown for a loop by some of the animal pairings. They’re not very consistent with textual personality traits. There’s something to be said for a disaffected film student becoming an Afghan warlord and getting, incongruously, a penguin, though Odi Huron has an apex predator while being the Big Bad at the end of the novel. Most troubling for me actually is Zinzi’s Sloth. Time and again we see she’s one of the hardest working characters in the novel, so a sloth really does not make sense. On a meta level, Zoo City is not a children’s book, so such simplistic approaches to character personalities would be a bit insulting to the reader. However, I’m also not content to read this as though the animals are arbitrary or random, and having only half or some of the animals mean something is lazy in a way that Lauren Beukes is not.

 

Ty Campbell ’16 – “Uncle,” a short story compiled within Njabulo Ndebele’s Fools: And Other Stories, describes a visit made by the main character’s maternal uncle. The uncle is a popular musician whom attracts attention of the village in which he is visiting. His musical ability can be viewed by the reader as being a unifying symbol of the oppressed while also being a symbol of colonial resentment. Through the introduction of the uncle, the reader is able to conceptualize a unifying factor of the South African anti-apartheid movement: music. Lightly during the short story, jabs and remarks made by characters tell the story of the oppressive nature of white rule and dominance in South Africa. The uncle, who is an active traveler, makes comments about the large control the State has on the village in which his sister and nephew live. As stated by the uncle, “…this being a small place, you can feel the foul breath of those stupid Boers going down your neck much more than you can in a big place like Jo’burg” (Ndebele 79). The uncle is likely referring to the strong police presence in the small town that enforces white culture upon the predominantly black African residents. Also, within a flashback to the main characters prior memories with his uncle, he remembers interactions his uncle would have with local men. In a conversation with the men about the news, the main character remembers, “They would reading the Golden City Post of the Sunday Times. After greeting, Uncle would say: ‘So what does the white man say today?’ ‘The usual thing,’ they would say. ‘So why keep on reading?’ ‘To make myself angrier and angrier!’” (Ndebele 71). The passage processes humor but is meant to be critical of the relationship between the whites reporting the news and the black Africans reading the media. Ndebele adds these types of scenes within the short story to set up the significance of Uncle’s character.  Self-expression and resentment to the oppressive white culture is a significant aspect of black South African rebellion to colonial rule. In the videos we have seen in class, music and dance were ways in which black Africans were able to resist cultural oppression while maintaining their native practices. In a description given by brother Mandla about Uncle, “this is how you are when you play the trumpet. When you play you are exaggerated. You are bigger than what you normally are because you have become all those who are listening to you” (Ndebele 78). The description is a great way of explaining how music is used as a unifying symbol, the music and movement is bigger than any one individual. At the end of the story, the villagers and come together outside the main characters’ home and collectively celebrate the expression of their culture. Uncle’s musical ability is a great example of the black South African unifying symbol of music.