Houseboy: Novel Analysis Part 3: The Plot of the Novel

Houseboy: Novel Analysis Part 3: The Plot of the Novel

In this analysis, the plot of the novel will be covered.
The plot of the novel, 'Houseboy' is divided into two exercises (which are known as ‘diaries’ in this novel).
The novel’s plot can also be sub-divided into eight (9) important events.

LITERATURE IN ENGLISH Novel Analysis: 'Houseboy' - Part 3. THE PLOT OF THE NOVEL.
The plot of the novel is divided into two exercises (diaries). The novel’s plot can also be sub-divided into eight (9) important events which are named as follows:
(1)   Toundi is found at Spanish guinea.
The story starts in Spanish Guinea with a Frenchman on vacation, who finds a man named Toundi. The man will soon die. The Frenchman finds Toundi’s diary, which is called an "exercise book". At this Spanish Guinea, an island in Atlantic Ocean, Toundi, and a Frenchman from Cameroon is ill. He is found ill at the jungle village of M’foula. He cannot live to see tomorrow because his condition is bad. He has been badly injured and blood is covering his clothes. His hosts, Anton and his wife attend him. The drums beat and the people gather. The suffering man talks to his countrymen about how white men have mistreated him, and then he dies. He leaves one khaki bag, a comb, tooth brush, and two exercise books that he were using to keep his records as diaries. The rest of the story is of the diary (exercise book) that the Frenchman is supposedly reading. There is no further discussion of the Frenchman after this point.
The following is the whole story from his two exercise books (diaries).

(2)   His story begins at his father’s home.
The first "exercise book" starts with Toundi living with his family. His father beats him constantly, and one day he runs away from his home. He runs to the rescue of Father Gilbert, a priest who lives nearby. His father comes back for him, telling Toundi that everything will be alright if he comes back. He denies his father's offer and after this point he no longer acknowledges his birth parents. It is also said that Toundi decides to run away from home when his greed led to a quarrel between his father and his friend's father. It was this greed for simple things like a lump of sugar that led him to seek shelter at Father Gilbert's residence and later the Commandant.
Toundi's mother even predicts that his greed will lead him to his death.
My mother always used to say what my greediness would bring me to in the end...” (Page 4).
Toundi still defies his parents and leaves to work as a domestic male servant, a houseboy, for the white men in his village. From one household to another he narrated his experience in form of a diary.
In fact, he is fascinated by the European way of life.
(3)   Toundi’s life with Fr. Filbert.
Toundi treats Father Gilbert as his new father. Father Gilbert teaches Toundi to read and write, and he teaches Toundi about Catholicism. Toundi believes in Catholicism, but as the story progresses he drifts from his beliefs until the end, when he does not believe in God.
Gradually, he came to realize that all that glitters was not gold. He saw how the white men patronized and dehumanize his fellow villagers. As a result, he started finding fault with the principles of the "so called" Europeans. This, unambiguously, led to his downfall.
"Everybody told his own little African story to refute him and demonstrate that the African is a child or a fool....."
(4)   Fr. Filbert dies. Toundi comes under Commandant.
Father Gilbert dies in a motorcycle accident a few months after meeting Toundi. Fr. Vandermayer takes Fr. Gilbert’s position.  Toundi lives with Fr. Vandermayer for a short period of time. He tortures him and finally hands him to another white man.
Toundi is eventually taken to live with the Commandant, the man in charge of the surrounding colony. He serves as the houseboy for the Commandant, and later Madame, the Commandant's wife. It becomes very clear that the events that go on in the house are more important to Toundi than his own life.
(5)   The arrival of Commandant’s wife.
After about six months since Toundi comes to live with the Commandant, Madame, the Commandant's wife arrives from France. Commandant goes to Yaoundé and takes Madame Suzy, his wife from France. She initially is a warm and caring woman, who is very beautiful. She catches the eye of almost every man in town, much to the Commandant's dismay.
Soon after Madame arrives the Commandant leaves to go on tour again. Toundi is left with Madame to take care of the house. As time goes on, Madame becomes more and more hostile and disrespectful towards Toundi. When the Commandant returns, she is portrayed as a ruthless woman.  While the Commandant was still on tour, it becomes obvious that she is bored with her life. She begins to have an affair with M. Moreau, the man in charge of the prison. M. Moreau is perceived to be ruthless against the Africans. One of Toundi's first experiences with M. Moreau had him whipping two other Africans nearly to death.
The rumour that Madame and M. Moreau are in love spread like a fire. All people in Dangan now know their affair. Toundi who is always sent by Madame to Prison Director, M. Moreau, is accused of spreading the rumours. The relationship between Toundi and Madame is becoming worse now after the rumours. Madame starts deteriorating Toundi and Toundi becomes more irrespectuful to her as well.

(6)   Commandant returns from tour
The Second Exercise book begins.
The Commandant returns from touring, and it is later discovered that he knew about his wife's affair and returns because of it. The Commandant has a terrible argument with her, but after a few days they are getting along again.
Madame becomes very disrespectful towards Toundi, partly because she does not like being there anymore, but mostly because she knows that he knew about her affair.
(7)   Toundi is arrested.
One day, Sophie, an Agricultural Engineer’s house girl and Toundi’s girlfriend, steals the money from his boss’ safe. Sophie, the lover of the water engineer is accused of stealing his workers' salaries with the help of Toundi. He is taken to prison where he is tortured in order to confess a crime he had not committed.
She escapes to Spanish Guinea. In Dangan, Toundi is arrested by the police because they believe he is Sophie’s lover. Toundi is held in a hut near the police headquarters. Fortunately he has a friend who works there named Mendim, who is described as a very muscular man. He is feared by most other people but he soon comes to be known as Toundi's ally. M. Moreau orders Mendim to beat up Toundi, but Mendim throws ox's blood on him to make it look like he is injured. They spend the rest of the day playing cards.
Toundi becomes sick and Mendim takes Toundi to the hospital. They have to wait a very long time to see a doctor because the black doctor is the only doctor there; the other white doctor was promoted to captain. The doctor finds out that Toundi's ribs are broken and have punctured his bronchi.
While still at the hospital, while Toundi is in a dazed state, M. Moreau returns with the white doctor. He talks about punishing Toundi some more. The relation between Toundi and Commandant has become worse, so Commandant allows Gullet, the Police Chief to arrest and torture Toundi.
(8)   Toundi is put into police custody.
While Toundi is in Police Custody, his residence is raided and searched by the police. He is also punished badly and severely injured on the left lung where he was hit by a rifle butt. Mendim takes Toundi to the hospital where he later escapes to Spanish Guinea.
(9)   The escape to Spanish guinea.
At this point, after M. Moreau has left, Toundi escapes the hospital, and heads to Spanish Guinea, which is where he was first introduced in the beginning of the novel.

Toundi has escaped from Cameroon where he was wanted for an alleged crime - a crime he did not commit but has been framed up for his part of spreading the amorous and sexual encounters between his master's - the local Commandant - wife and the giant Prison Officer, M. Moreau. As a Houseboy, Toundi saw a lot in the house of his master especially when his master's wife came to the household. And as innocent as he was couldn't keep his mouth shut on such issues but went ahead to ask questions pertaining to what he sees and it was these that put him into trouble with his master's wife and which later led to his death after escaping to Spanish Guinea. For instance, after discovering a condom under the bed of his master's wife, after she had asked to him to clean the place, the master's wife got angry and threw him out of the room. This got Toundi shocked. He doesn't know why a common rubber should make the master's wife angry so he set out to ask the other workers in the household, who told him,
Toundi, will you never learn what a houseboy's job is? One of these days you'll be the cause of real trouble. When will you grasp that for the whites, you are only alive to do their work and for no other reason. I am the cook. The white man does not see me except with his stomach”. (Page 87)
Innocent as Toundi was and fascinated by the ways of the whites, he kept on asking questions even when Kalisia had told him to leave the household because
“... they will never forgive you for that. How can they go on strutting about with a cigarette hanging out of their mouth in front of you - when you know”. (Page 100)
So, the prophesy has been fulfilled. Being outspoken, Toundi prepared the way to his own death. At Spanish Guinea, he is badly injured by the beatings from the police and when he was in the process of escaping the white men.

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Accessed on 19/07/2016

Emmanuel Kachele

Emmanuel Kachele is a founder and Blogger of KACHELE ONLINE Blog, an educational blog where 'O' Level English - 'OLE', 'A' Level English (ALE) and other related teaching and life skills are shared extensively. This is an online center for all Tanzanian Secondary School English Language students and teachers (Forms I-VI) and all interested English Language learners and teachers worldwide.

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