Homi Bhaba writes that "colonial mimicry is the desire for a reformed, recognizable Other, as a subject of a difference that is almost the same, but not quite" (86). The colonizer wants and needs the colonized to be similar to himself, but not the same. If the native continues to behave in his traditional ways, he brings no economic gain to the colonizer. But, if the colonized changes too much and is found to be exactly the same as the colonizer, the colonizer is left with no argument for his supremacy. As Bhaba puts it, "in order to be effective, mimicry must continually produce its slippage, its excess, its difference" (86). These slippages, excesses, and differences are brought to the modern, colonized world by the natives in all aspects of their existences, but especially in their beliefs on religion and family. The characters in Wole Soyinka's Death and the King's Horseman and Buchi Emecheta's The Joys of Motherhood serve as good examples of this ambivalence that colonialism depends on. Native characters living in the colonial world bring their own traditions and beliefs with them which prevent them from ever fully becoming the same as the white man.
Religious beliefs are at the core of what makes up a person. Even when an individual travels from one world to another, such as from traditional life to colonial life, his religion rarely leaves him entirely. Religious beliefs help keep the colonized from fully emulating the colonizer. In Death and the King's Horseman, the appearance of the white Mr. and Mrs. Pilkings in ceremonial death masks elicits a fear in both the Muslim Amusa and the Christian Joseph, proving ...
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... ambivalence by being required to both be a modern, colonial man and to respect his traditional family beliefs.
The incomplete mimicry that the characters in The Joys of Motherhood and Death and the King's Horseman have to face creates many problems for them. They are forced to face conflicting religious beliefs, poverty, and even untimely death because they are not able to leave all their traditions behind them when they move to the colonial world. The natives' traditions, mixed with new ideas from the colonialist's world, create a structure of ambivalence that traps the colonized and prevents him from ever becoming the same as the colonizer.
Bhaba, Homi. The Location of Culture.
Emecheta, Buchi. The Joys of Motherhood. Oxford: Heinemann Educational Publishers, 1994.
Soyinka, Wole. Death and the King's Horseman. New York: Norton, 2003.
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