The Misunderstood Message of Aime Cesaire's A Tempest
A Tempest, by Aime Cesaire, has been the center of controversy for over twenty years now. The argument is not concerning whether the play has substance, or whether its themes are too racy; the criticism is about its parallel to another work. The work in question is that of The Tempest by William Shakespeare. Cesaire has been bluntly accused of mirroring, misrepresenting, and misinterpreting Shakespeare's last play. I challenge these critics to research Cesaire and his works, rather than pick apart this most insightful play. It is pertinent to understand a few key ideas when examining A Tempest because Cesaire was not attempting to mirror Shakespeare; he was merely using him as a reference. Cesaire, who understood that Shakespeare is an icon of the Western world, himself is iconoclastic. He knew by adapting The Tempest to his own voice, he would draw attention from the West and raise awareness of his intended audience, the oppressed blacks of the world. But valuing this idea requires the reader to be aware of who Aime Cesaire is, what ideas he embraces, and the message he wishes to convey to his readers.
Aime Cesaire was born in Martinique, that time an island under the rule of the French. He was heavily involved in the politics of his colony, being mayor of Fort-de-France, a member of the French Communist Party, and later founder of his own party, the Parti Progressiste Martiniquais (Davis). Cesaire grew up in the 1960's, a time when his country was fighting for independence, many African nations were doing the same, and blacks in America were pushing for the equality of races. He was a strong advocate for independence, and understood the effects that colonization has on a nation. As William Allison so eloquently states, "Shakespeare writes from a European perspective about the New World on the eve of colonization, and Cesaire writes from over three hundred years hindsight and experience about the effects of colonization" (2). It is not only noteworthy to understand Cesaire's background it is important to be familiar with his relationship to other black writers from places of colonial dominance.
Understanding his association and philosophical connection to other black intellectuals of the time is imperative in analyzing Cesaire and his work. He was one the founders of a movement known as Negritude. Negritude, originally a literary and ideological movement of French-speaking black intellectuals, rejected the political, social, and moral domination of the West. The focus of Negritude is further narrowed when defining it in terms of literature. Black authors affirm black personality and retell the collective experience of black peoples. Negritude attempts to rehabilitate blacks from the Western ideology that holds blacks inferior to whites. Cesaire was not attempting to present a work to exceed that of Shakespeare. The dialogue of A Tempest is...