Term Paper-Mask - Avi Baron Diaspora Literature Term Paper...

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Avi Baron Diaspora Literature Term Paper The Message of the Mask In his brilliant novel, “A Bend in The River,” V.S. Naipaul begins by stating a universal rule, “The world is what it is, men who are nothing, who allow themselves to become nothing, have no place in it” (3). Salim, a Muslim who grew up on the east coast of Africa, internalizes this rule. He moves to central Africa, a decision unheard of in his community, to take over a small store owned by a family friend. Yet, he is surprised to find the aftermath of the independence war: European settlements were half bunt down and covered in bush. Salim, unaffected by the condition of the town, is motivated to turn his store around and make a profit. Africa “is what it is”, but Salim realized that success does not come through his family’s ideology of “putting your head down and carrying on.” Throughout the novel Salim’s goal is to remove the “mask” his community and family placed on him. He wants to learn more about the world, politics and African history. His first customer, Zabeth, lives in the bush and she tells him of her journeys to the steamboat to sell the “goods” she finds. Her son Ferdinand, a child without a father figure, grew up in the bush in his mother’s tribe, because according to tribal custom, “no one here could be without tribe” (35). This was the way of life in pre-colonial Africa- everyone had a place. Ferdinand gets enrolled in the local Lycee and stays by Salim afterwards on Zabeth’s request. She wants Ferdinand to make something of himself in this new modern world, where one has to find his “mask” as it is not given freely. Ferdinand goes through an identity crisis and uses different characters or “masks”
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to figure out who he is. From his time in the bush, Ferdinand understands the power of using a mask (and being a part of something bigger than yourself), but Salim only learns of the power when he meets Father Huismans. Father Huismans, the head of the Lycee, is greeted by Salim who has come to return an old gymnasium Lycee book. It was Salim’s thirst for knowledge that began the excursion around the Lycee. He saw the ancient monuments and tampered statues representing Africa in its natural appearance. The highlight of the tour came at the end when Father Huismans brought Salim to his personal museum of tribal masks, found in the bush. “When Father Huismans first opened the door of that room for me, and I got the warm smell of grass and earth and old fat, and had a confused impression of masks lying in rows on slatted shelves, I thought: This is Zabeth’s world. This is the world to which she returns when she leaves my shop. But Zabeth’s world was living, and this was dead. That was the effect of those masks lying flat on the shelves, looking up not at forest or sky but at the underside of other shelves. They were masks that had been laid low, in more than one way, and had lost their power.” (65). The masks used to be alive with meaning and purpose. Now the masks were merely objectified for their attractive
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