Heather Carlberg '93 (English 32, 1989)

Negritude, originally a literary and ideological movement of French-speaking black intellectuals, reflects an important and comprehensive reaction to the colonial situation. This movement, which influenced Africans as well as Blacks around the world, specifically rejects the political, social and moral domination of the West. The term, which has been used in a general sense to describe the black world in opposition to the West, assumes the total consciousness of belonging to the black race.

In contrast to this broad definition, a narrower one pertains to artistic expression. The literature of Negritude includes the writings of black intellectuals who affirm black personality and redefine the collective experience of blacks. A preoccupation with the black experience and a passionate praise of the black race, provides a common base for the imaginative expression in association with romantic myth of Africa.
The external factor defining the black man in modern society is colonialism and the domination by the white man, with all the moral and psychological implications. Negritude rehabilites Africa and all blacks from European ideology that holds the black inherently inferior to the white -- the rationale for Western imperialism.

Leopold Sedar Senghor, president of Senegal, who further defines Negritude in his poems and writings, rejects the classical white/black view that races can be mutually exclusive saying, "Race is a reality--I do not mean racial purity. There is difference, but not inferiority or antagonism." Senghor believes in the expression of values of traditional Africa as they are embodied in the thinking and institutions of African society, but he does not desire a return to outmoded customs, only to their original spirit. His interpretation of Negritude has become the most clear definition and a model for other writers.

In contrast, Wole Soyinka reacts against Negritude, which he sees belonging to colonial ideology because it gives a defensive character to any African ideas. The artist, for him, is a reformer who draws on the past for significant lessons and proceeds to what he calls "the re-appraisal of the whole human phenomenon." This view balances the more romantic view of the early Negritude writers.

Soyinka takes into account the imperfections of the past, which he accepts as inherent to the human condition and which he takes as an invitation to question the present. He provides something important to the idea of Africanism that he finds missing from Negritude. In the colonial period, the innocence of Africa had to be stressed, but the new generation of African writers and intellectuals have been freed from colonial restraints and express African reality very differently.

Some Questions?

  1. Although Soyinka criticizes Negritude, doesn't the drawing on past African myth and experience to understand and express the present black man's situation define Negritude in the best sense?
  2. How does this new emergence of Black pride and the old problem of human prejudice relate to the works we've studied this year in English 32?
  3. How does Conrad's view of Colonialism in Heart of Darkness compare to the modern black writers?
  4. How does Negritude relate to the poems of Soyinka and his imprisonment?

Reference: Abiola Irele, The African Experience in Literature and Ideology (1981)

Postcolonial OV discourseov Bibliography

Last Modified: 3 May, 2002