Houseboy by African Writer Ferdinand Oyono

Houseboy the psychological aspect colonialism has on its victims. The story is about a young boy named Toundi who grows up in a small village. Life in the village is rough, but Toundi, who is renamed Joseph, goes to work for a mission led by Father Gilbert as his houseboy. Joseph develops a close friendship with the father and he comes to look up to him. The boy’s attitudes toward his own people and country is apparent in the beginning: “My ancestors were cannibals.”

After the priest is killed in a motorcycle accident, Joseph is sent to live with a commandant and his wife. There Joseph is able to see the pecularities of the colonialists for whom he works. Joseph falls in love with Madame, but she abuses him and other members of the household staff, and has an affair with another man. The story takes a tragic turn when one of the colonialists is robbed by his lover, whom Joseph also knew. He is arrested and beaten as a conspirator.

As with the other books read for class, Houseboy focuses on the inbalance of political power that the Africans have under colonialism. Joseph is neither given due justice of the law or an attorney, which would have been the due course in France. He is arrested simply on the word of the white lover who was robbed. All throughout the story, Joseph is warned by Baklu, the laundryman, not to get too close to the whites but he does not heed his words until it is too late.

As a houseboy, though, Joseph is given a bird’s-eye view of the private interactions of the whites. It is while watching the Commandant and his wife that Joseph’s opinions begin to change about whites and the values they hold. Yet his closeness to them also puts him in trouble. He is often dragged into their domestic squabbles and is accused of spreading gossip of the Madame’s affair with M. Moreau, though it is apparent that her affair is a secret to no one in the village but her husband.

Joseph’s romanticization of the Europeans is what hurts him. Since he grew up among the white missionaries, his ideas of them are shaped from those earlier experiences. Father Vandermayers exist in the mission, but for Joseph he does not represent the good he sees in Father Gilbert. When he is taken out of the mission and is sent to work for the Commandant, he lacks the sense of survival that many of the other blacks working for the family have.

Even Sophie, who is sexually exploited by one of the whites, has a clearer sense of the inbalance of power between the Africans and whites than Joseph does. Houseboy shows in the most intimate details the lack of power and control Africans have under colonialist rule and that any contact with colonialist whites will inevitably lead to death and destruction.

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