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Colonial Fiction: Mister Johnson Essay

1177 words - 5 pages

Colonial Fiction: Mister Johnson

The relationship between Rudbeck and Mister Johnson is extremely revealing with regards to the experience of the European administrators and the co-operation of the Nigerians in the colonial endeavour. Johnson is keenly aware that superiority for natives directly depends upon being on good terms with the coloniser. He consistently emphasises his belief that Rudbeck is his ''good friend'', and how he is ''mos' indispensable to ... His Majesty's service'' (85). It could be argued that this should not be passed off as simple native fantasy, put in for the amusement of the European reader. In many cases, Johnson is ''indispensable'' to the inexperienced Rudbeck, and throughout the novel, Johnson is constantly seen as the innovator in the relationship.

In two important and inextricably linked areas, finances and roadbuilding, it is not the colonial government which responds to the needs of Rudbeck, but Johnson. As if to push this European dependence on the native a little further, Cary suggests that Rudbeck relies on Johnson in his personal life as well. For example, while Rudbeck is working on the road, Johnson is left to entertain his wife, Celia, an act of trust that both shocks and impresses the natives. We are told that ''this greatly increases [Johnson's] prestige in Fada, where the Emir does not even trust his chief eunuch with his wives'' (87).

Concern over finances is a predominant theme throughout the novel, both for Johnson who constantly seems to be in debt, and Rudbeck who, due to the stringency of the Treasury, never has sufficient money or resources to carry out developments to the extent he would like. The reader is given the impression that, if he could , Rudbeck would be doing much more with Fada. He is a man of action, who longs to get out on the roads, working hard physically. Yet his ambitions are constantly frustrated, and he is left ''suffering'' (57) in his office, itching to get out again. On many levels - financial constraints, inexperience, communication difficult - his hands are tied.

Johnson's personal finances never seem to pose the same extent of problems to him as do Rudbeck's. When dealing with finances, Rudbeck's ''many sudden depressions'' (77) often climax, and he simply concedes that everything is ''all damn nonsense, anyhow'' (53). Rudbeck knows only too well that he can expect no leniency from the Treasury. Once his expenditure limit has been passed, he is forced to pay ''out of my own pocket'' (77). This seems to have been one of the most significant problems the administrators faced. They had been informed that their job was to play an important role in the colonisation of Africa, and that they were assured of governmental backing. Yet, to Rudbeck, the actions of the Treasury seemed to flatly contradict this. In reality, the British Government only gave minimal assistance to its employees. For this reason, Fada has been left undeveloped for the last twenty...

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