Houseboy: Novel Analysis Part 6: Themes, Message, Lesson, Philosophy & Relevance of the Novel



Theme is the main idea or ideas in a story. This is also a statement or the basic idea expressed by a work of literature. The theme develops from interplay of characters and plots. A theme may be broken up into several themes of ideas.
Every work of art has one theme which is expressed in one sentence or a short paragraph. This is called a main or dominant theme. However, this theme can be broken into various issues as result of actions of characters in the story. 
The Houseboy's dominant theme is the Hypocrisy and Segregation Policy of the French colonialists towards the Africans. However, the novel can be broken into the following issues/themes: 
DESTRUCTION OF MORAL VALUES/IMMORALITY
The whites in the book are shown as not having any self-values and self-esteem. Oyono shows this cultural contrast when Madame says, "You don't know? Contraceptives: contraceptives. Go on, tell everybody. What a subject for all the houseboys in Dangan to talk about. Go on. Get out.'" Through this we can see that even the usually hidden sexually relationship is being made public and Madame does not have any self-values when she lets Toundi know what the rubber bags" are.
IMPERIALISM
In general, the major thread of the novel is the evil of imperialism or foreign administration and the exploitation of Africans by whites.
Like Meka in The Old Man and the Medal, Toundi watches the development of events with his eyes gradually opening to the realities of French imperialism.
COLONISATION
The novel reflects Africans in Cameroon are under colonial domination. First, they were under German domination and later under French colonization in which Assimilation Policy was introduced.
EXPLOITATION
The nature of most colonialists is to exploit the indigenous. The Cameroonians are also being exploited by the French colonialists. Toundi, his father, and other Africans are intensively exploited by the French colonialists. For example, Toundi wakes up early at 5 oclock daily and works until midnight but he is not paid and is badly fed.
OPPRESSION
The author shows that Africans are oppressed and dehumanized. They are tortured and treated like animals. For example, Fr. Gilbert kicks Toundi so often and strokes his ear as if he is a pet animal. All the blacks seem the same to the white men. Sophia says, We dont mean anything to them. All French Africans are assimilated and treated the same. This is the hypocrisy of the white French men.
HUMILIATION
The Africans are humiliated. Father Gilbert gives Toundi old clothes. That is the way he is to him; just a thing to dump used and old things to him. Toundi and other Africans are humiliated and treated by the white men with no respect of human dignity.
CHRISTIANITY
Father Gilbert and Father Vandermayer are the Catholic priests who preach water but drink wine. This means that they preach good things from the Holy Bible but what they do is different. They preach love and equality but they still treat Africans as the same and animals to them.
Worst of all, Christianity was their perfect weapon to indoctrinate Africans. The same Madam asked Toundi to start forming a family since they were paying him enough. He replied.
"Perhaps, Madame, but my wife and children will never be able to eat and dress like Madame or like white children"
She replied
"Oh dear, you are getting big ideas. You must be serious. Everyone has their position in life. You are a houseboy, my husband is Commandant... nothing can be done about it. You are a Christian, aren't you"
AFRICAN TRADITIONS
Africans have been shown by the author as the people who observe their traditions. These are the social values and customs that are part of their experiences. The novelist has portrayed traditions like:
- Hospitality and Kindness;
- Traditional foods such as cassava, fish and porcupine;
- Village leadership like presence of Chief Akoma, the king of kings and Manguema in Dangan;
- Initiation ceremony as a qualification to adulthood;
- Extended family and other African traditions.
For example, Toundi lives with his sister and his brother-in-law. Toundi also is shown when he escapes to live Fr. Gilbert and leaves the initiation ceremony that is used to prepare the young people into adulthood. Toundi runs away from home on the eve of the initiation day when he should have met the famous serpent who watches over the men of my race, thus symbolically turning his back on the traditional life of his ancestors.
Instead of returning the child to his family, the white man accommodates him as some kind of Good Samaritan but in actual fact he is tearing him away from the bloodline of family relationships.
POSITION OF WOMAN 
In this novel, the author has portrayed women in the following manners: 
Housekeepers. Author has portrayed women in this novel as housekeepers. For example, Sophie is Agricultural Engineer's house girl.
Caretaker of the family. In the novel, Toundi's and Anton's wife are portrayed as the mothers who take care of the family. They always make sure that the family is well fed and taken care of. 
Kindness. Women have also been shown as kind people. In the novel, Anton is helped by his wife to host Toundi.
Infidelity in marriage. This is the condition of having an affair with another man or woman outside the marriage line. Madame Suzy has an extra marital affair with the Prison Director, M. Moreau.
Harshness. Some women in the novel have been labelled as harsh people because of what they do. For instance, Madame Suzy treats Toundi unfairly when she finds out the Toundi is the one who leaks information about her affair with M. Moreau.
Prostitution. The author of the book has also portrayed the issue of prostitution. For example, Kalisia, who is Madame's new chamber maid, used to live as a prostitute at the Coast.
Counsellor. The women in this novel are shown as ones who advise people. For instance, Kalisia is the one who advises Toundi to leave the Commandant's Residence because the commandant is planning to kill him.
BETRAYAL
The betrayal in this novel can be seen in two ways. First, French white men have betrayed Africans for treating them differently from what religious and human values should be. Secondly, some Africans also like Toundi and others who have been assimilated into French Africans have betrayed their fellow Africans and their African traditions.
PROTEST
Africans especially who become aware of the evils, hypocrisy and malpractice of white men, begin to protest against them. For example, Toundi who has become aware of their ignorance, begins to disrespect them and protest against what they believe and do.
TORTURE AND BRUTALITY
The Africans are tortured by the French colonialists. Africans are whipped by the whites. For example Father Vandermayer who derives pleasure from whipping the black Christians while they are naked.
RACIAL DISCRIMINATION
The French white men abuses Africans because of their color or because they are Africans. When the novel first introduces Father Vandermayer we are told that He loves to beat the Christians who have committed adultery  native Christians of course.He makes them undress in his office (page 15) From this quote we can note that, the priest is firstly beating instead of forgiving, and secondly he is being racist by only beating the natives that commit adultery.
HYPOCRISY
White Frenchmen are hypocrites.
"It was terrible. I thought of all the priests, all the pastors, all the white men, who came to save our souls and preach love of our neighbours. Is the white man's neighbour only the white men? Who can go on believing the stuff we are served up in the churches when things happen like I saw today..."
IRRESPONSIBLITY
White men are irresponsible of moral values. They also represent African leaders who are irresponsible for preaching the things they do not do.
INFIDELITY IN MARRIAGE
This is also common in the novel. The author shows that people do not respect their marriage. For example, Commandants wife makes love with M. Moreau when her husband is on tour.
UNAWARENESS
Most Africans are portrayed as unaware of the hypocrisy of the white men. They are treated the same and like animals but they fail to realize at first. However, some Africans like Toundi becomes aware after realizing the evils and hypocrisy of the white men.
WHITE MEN'S TRUE IDENTITY
The author's portrayal of Toundi's naive reactions towards the obscenities spoken by the whites is used to show the perception towards the whites by the blacks. Churchmen are supposed to be suave and serene, however when they speak Ndjem while giving sermons, they sound obscene. This is used to show that however highly Toundi thinks of the whites, they will still be the ignorant whites who colonized Africa and made blacks their slaves. If this is the main message of the author, then why has he made the persona such that the persona has no negative attitude towards his colonials? This is so, because Oyono wanted to give the reason why the blacks were easily deceived and colonized; the fact that they believed that they were inferior and tried to be like the whites or as close as possible, "I am now the dog of the king".
Furthermore, these naive reactions can be contrasted to the "insulting" obscenities spoken by toundi's father, "you can take your mother to bed."
This obscenity truly insult Toundi and he replies back saying that he can't do such a thing. When this is compared to the shouts he got from the Commandant for being careless, we realize that the reactions are contrasting each other. For the latter, the reaction is just accepting the fact that one cannot argue back with a white master (however, you can with your real father).
The sexual innuendos are used to further ridicule the whites by satirizing their lustful nature. This degrades their superior nature and shows that anyone can reach the level of a dog, including the whites, and the blacks can climb the power hierarchy.
DISILLUSIONMENT
Africans are disillusioned or disappointed with the unfaithfulness and false promises. In the novel, The Commandants wife brings out the unfaithful nature of the Europeans, on the other hand. Her sexual relations with Mr. Morreau and her infidelity, gives the reader the impression that the Europeans are generally not trustworthy. They are not faithful to their own people, so why would they be faithful to the natives. This reflects what truly occurred during the colonial period in Cameroon because the French Assimilation Policy was nothing but a sham, the poor Cameroonians were deceived, due to their naivety, into believing that they would be treated as equals regardless of their colonization, and clearly the novel shows that the Frenchmen made false-promises.
CONFLICT
Conflict in this novel happens when character disagrees on something just as in other literary works. In this novel, the following conflicts can be seen:
  • Toundi vs His Father.
  • Toundi vs Fr. Gilbert.
  • Toundi vs Fr. Vandermeyer.
  • Toundi vs Madame Suzy.
  • Toundi vs Commandant.
  • Toundi vs M. Moreau.
  • Toundi vs Gullet, Police Chief.
  • Toundi vs Agricultural Engineer.
  • Toundi vs himself.
  • Madame Suzy vs Commandant.
  • Commandant vs M. Moreau.
  • Africultural Engineer vs Sophie.
MESSAGE
The novel portrays the hypocrisy of French colonialists during the period they introduced Assimilation policy in their African colonies like Cameroon. The novel is an example of how modern leaders are hypocritical because they do not practice what they preach about.
LESSONS (MORALS)
The novel teaches us that hypocrisy is not good. It is better to practice sincerity. The novel also teaches the modern leaders in our societies that they should practice what they say through actions, not only through words of their mouths.
PHILOSOPHY
The belief and the viewpoint of the writer is that he believes that a good society can exist only if everyone practices sincerity and avoid any kind of segregation. The author also believes that leaders can be popular if they practice what they say and meet the demands of the common people.
RELEVANCE OF THE NOVEL
The novel is relevant to the society we live. There are leaders in our society who fail to set good examples for young generation to copy. These leaders are like the characters in the novel whom despite their high social status they still behave irresponsibly to the people they lead. Young people like Toundi should learn from elders like Fr. Gilbert , Fr. Vandemayer, and Commandant but these people are the ones who lead them into evils. The novel is also relevant to the society that entertain racism.

References
The Herald (2013)http://www.herald.co.zw/oyonos-houseboy-exposes-white-hypocrisy/. Accessed on 19/07/2016 

Oyono, F (1956) Houseboy, Heinemann African Writers Series.

See also:


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5 Comments

  1. Nice analysis..big up,keep on feeding the generation

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  2. good morning sir kachele,,I do appreciate your hints and notes as they are helpful for us,,,,what I like is the way you summarize by using very simple and understandable language,,,keep it up sir

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    1. Thank you very much Mr. Enock Sultan. I tremendously appreciate your compliment. This helps me improve and work hard for the betterment of everyone. Thank you very much!

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  3. good morning sir kachele,,I do appreciate your hints and notes as they are helpful for us,,,,what I like is the way you summarize by using very simple and understandable language,,,keep it up sir

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