Houseboy: Novel Analysis Part 5: Language Use

Houseboy: Novel Analysis Part 5: Language Use

Traditionally, language is the form of human communication in a certain community. It is also the media of communication between author and the audience. Generally, it is the way in which the writer uses words to create literature. It stems from choice of words, how these words are structured or arranged, and writer’s point of view to the application of figurative language.
In Houseboy, the author has applied the following elements of language: 

Obscene means offensive or disgusting by accepted standards of morality and decency. I think that Oyono uses obscenities in the novel to show particular aspects of both the African and the European culture that were disgusting that were hidden behind false promises like the French assimilation policy. By using obscenities in the novel the author Oyono strips them of this cover up and ridicules this disgusting part of both cultures in a satirical way in order to educate the reader to avoid making the same mistake. For example Toundi no longer fears the commandant because he is not circumcised. He seemed more naked than my fellow Africans who strips unconcerned and wash...It killed something in me.....I knew that I should never be frightened of the commandant again. Here Oyono has shown that the Europeans were not to be feared. They were no better if not worse off than the Europeans. This is ridiculing the Europeans in a humorous way. The readers also understand that the Africans have power which they seem to have suppressed simply because they ignorantly believe that the white man is superior without question.
The novel is full of obscenities due to the fact that the author wants to portray the extent to which the Europeans abused the locals. The fathers preaching obscenities signified that even the most pure people of this Earth were impure in the White society. Through the use of obscenities, the author demonstrated the behaviour of the Whites and he ridiculed the Whites through these obscenities. Toundi's diary is full of obscenities for two reasons: one that the author wants to portray the extent to which the Europeans abused the locals and the second reason being that the author wanted to contrast the cultures. For instance, in the black society, being circumcised meant that the person was a man and this was the reason why Toundi lost his respect towards the Commandant. He talks about this when he says, "A great chief like the Commandant uncircumcised. He had seemed to me more naked than my fellow Africans who strip unconcerned and wash at the water channel in the market place...I should never be frightened of the Commandant again."
Thus, it is apparent that Oyono used obscenities in order to bring out to light the impurities of the Whites and the contrast of culture between the Black and White societies.

The author has as applied the following figures of speech:
The condom signfy the concealment of the whites immorality. they think doing immoral activities behind closed door makes people unaware of the happenings, the blacks somehow discover all the immoral activities by the whites, from sleeping around to uncircumcised and many more... Toundi is also a symbol of African representative. At one incident Kalisis tells Toundi,  "At the Residence you are something like I dont know what to call it something like the representative of the rest of us." Toundi here is referred by others as an eye of the community because people see the life at the European quarters through him.
The author has used a lot of images in the novel. He has shown images of destruction when Toundi's residence is searched and vandalized. And even one African sergeant laments, poor Toundiand all of us. Another image is shown on page 60; "If I talk it is because I have a mouth. If I see, it is because I have eyes. The eye goes farther and faster than the mouth, nothing stops it..." On page 87, Toundi calls the cook; a gorilla approaching a tree.
The author satirises the evangelists that advocate Christianity that entice young children to their religion with lumps of sugar.
The perception of Europeans was also made clear from Toundi's keen observation. "We see how each European tries to tell a 'better' story that shows how much the 'African is a child or a fool'. They lamented 'the Martyr' as they called Father Gilbert because he died on African soil”. Page 53. "I am the cook. The white man does not see me except with his stomach." Page 87. Also Toundi refers to himself as The dog of the king is the king of dogs, when mentioning what it feels to be Commandants boy on page 20. In page 81, Baklu, the laundry man refers to the white men as he says; "They are corpses. Do corpses feel shame?". Sophie calls M. janopulous that old toad. Agricultural Engineer calls Sophie, My cabbage, my chicken. Madame refers to the African cook as an old baboon. 
"Life, he says, is like the chameleon, changing colour all the time." (36).
Other similes are: "Chief Akoma who chuckles like a hen. Like chickens who have sighted the shadow of a vulture", this refers to the school children who disperse in panic. "His hair is like the beard on a maize cob.", referring to Fr. Gilberts beard.
"The elephant does not rot in a secret place, 
Sophie”, Page 41.
"The river does not go back to its spring.”
Page 56.
"Since when does the pot rub itself against the hammer?” Page 62.
"It is the voice of wisdom ... outside his hole the mouse does not defy the cat”. Page 87. 
"Our ancestors used to say you must escape when the water is still only up to the knees”.
Page 100.
The author has also used personification. For example, The branches of a willow tree weeping over the ape-like shadow of the dying mans head.

The Herald (2013) Accessed on 19/07/2016 

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

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