Heroism and Hypocrisy in Postcolonial Education

Heather Sofield, Class of 2001, Brown University

Several of the stories in Charles Mungoshi's Coming of the Dry Season highlight, via narrative, the inherent problems of educational systems in post-colonial societies. In such societies, education is predominantly structured by the colonizing power. Success in the system is then determined by compliance with the ideals and theorems of that power. Space for study and cultivation of native culture does not exist. And so, as a student, one must choose to sacrifice a sense of native identity in the name of success, and the economic benefits hopefully to be accrued from such.

We find examples of this conflict everywhere in post-colonial literature. It appears as a central theme in the development of post-colonial states. How have nations been changed under occupation? To what extent must emerging generations forget their past and common heritage in order to assimilate into a new culture which promises the benefits and status of other much idolized western societies? What value is placed on native identity? Is co-existence possible?

In "The Hero", Mungoshi tells of Julius, nicknamed "Little Caesar", who imagines he has attained heroic status in the eyes of his classroom community for making a speech to the school authorities concerning the quality of student living conditions.

"I am not going to eat what you yourself would not willingly throw to your dog. I pay for the food here and I must have my money's worth. For a long time we have complained about the poor diet at this school, but you have plugged your ears with sealing wax..." (page 24)

He recognizes the bold elements of such a speech, the rebellious quality - which prove him to be bigger, better and stronger than fellow pupils who might continue to accept with docility whatever might be apportioned them. He grows in his own mind as he assumes he has grown in the minds of his peers.

"She could not help but see who he was now. He was not one of them. he led his own mysterious life. Mystery and danger, the key words. He was unique." (page 24)

But what occurs in Julius as he leaves the school? His balloon of self-glorification and pride rapidly deflates as he starts the long dusty trek home. The elation of standing up in front of the school community, of representing a cause, of proving his fearlessness, is immediately replaced with a deep sense of regret. He laments his own foolishness,

"What he had done, he felt, had been very childish. It was not as big as he had thought. He had achieved nothing." (page 25)

In only a few short pages, Charles Mungoshi manages to capture with amazing clarity, the emotions of this young boy as he is expelled from school. Emotions which can be seen as a snapshot of a greater conflict. He is called a young spoiled boy by the headmaster, but are Julius' demands really so unreasonable? Are they not ideas which have only come to him through contact with white society? Perhaps it would not have occured to him to refuse this food if he had not seen that there was better food to be had, even for dogs. And yet, the system which has given him a glimpse of what else is possible, punishes him for seeking it out. While he attempts to stand up for what he feels should be his rights, he ultimately finds himself bereft of all educational opportunities which might have been beneficial to him in the long term.

This story is just one caricature of a greater conflict which arises when native people are forced to compromise their own values in order to achieve success in a colonially imposed system. What are the goals of these schools? What are they actually aiming to teach in their dissemination of knowlege? What can be expected from a student - should they think clearly and independently or are they intended to be docile mimics? What could be the future of someone like Julius?

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