The Ambiguity of the In-between: Perceptions of Assimilation in Early Francophone African Literature

Guernsey, Brandon, French - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Drame, Kandioura, Department of French Language and Literatures, University of Virginia

With its promise of liberté, égalité and fraternité, France has long welcomed immigrants within its borders. However, as immigrant communities have become more established throughout the country, questions have arisen in regard to what constitutes French national identity. Should the nation adopt a spirit of tolerance, allowing new arrivals to integrate into French society while retaining their own cultural identity, or in an effort to preserve and perpetuate French language and culture, should immigrants instead be required to assimilate and adopt the customs of their new homeland? While integration versus assimilation of immigrants is of particular importance today as French society continues to evolve, it is not the first time that the country has had to consider the implications of welcoming foreigners on its soil. Dating back a century ago to when France’s Third Republic set about building an empire under the guise of the mission civilisatrice, assimilation has long been used to promulgate French culture around the globe.
However, despite the lofty goals of France’s civilizing mission, assimilation complicated matters for colonizer and colonized alike as it ironically threatened the foundation on which colonialism was based. In order to maintain a notion of superiority and to justify their presence in the colonies, the colonizers could not allow the colonized to fully assimilate lest they become their equals, eliminating the need for a colonial presence altogether. Consequently, colonized subjects who attempted to assimilate were relegated to the ambiguous realm of the “in-between” – a transitory space between the native culture they left behind and the French identity that they would never be permitted to have.
Testifying to the ambiguous status of the assimilés, colonized African writers of the interwar years turned to literature to express their views on the colonial experience. Such writers include Ahmadou Mapaté Diagne, Bakary Diallo, Lamine Senghor, Chukri Khodja, and Ousmane Socé Diop. As pioneers of francophone African literature, these men had much to say regarding the benefits and challenges that cultural assimilation posed to the colonized individual. Published more than 75 years ago, their works established an enduring legacy that continues to provide insight on the effects of the colonial past and speaks to the ambiguous position in which many assimilés find themselves today. Thus, taking into account the influence of historical events during the interwar years that would prove decisive to the future of French colonial Africa, this study ultimately seeks to examine the evolution of ambiguous sentiment toward assimilation as demonstrated by the lives and works of these francophone African authors.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
All rights reserved (no additional license for public reuse)
Issued Date: