Of the short stories we read for this week, “Jumping Monkey Hill” stood out to me in the ways it portrays the assumptions and re-presentations of Africa. First, I particularly liked the (maybe?) allusion to the 1962 African Writer’s Conference, held in Makere, Uganda, and about which we read a piece by Chinua Achebe concerning the use of the English language in African literature. In Adichie’s story, rather than an emphasis on Western language, the writer’s conference was overshadowed by Edward Campbell’s insistence on Western content, or, the content of African fiction which would align itself most readily with Western notions of Africa. It is an interesting turn; the idea of content, of expressing a “real Africa” in literature, for Achebe and wa Thiong’o alike, was lacking in the 1962 discussions, whereas the issue of language is absent from this story. Adichie is asking an urgent and important question, I think, namely, “What are African stories about?”
It seems a silly question at first. African stories are about Africa, of course. But, in “Jumping Monkey Hill” there are at least two Africas: Campbell’s and the writers’ (among whom Africa is rightfully split into its disparate nation-spaces). Campbell’s is a space of ostrich-eating closeted homosexuals, whose lives are circumscribed by witch doctor contraceptives and violent rapists, because those stories make such mah-ve-lous news. Importantly, this is simply “Africa” for Campbell. He doesn’t ask how Senegalese it would be to come out to one’s family, or how South African it is to eat ostrich meat, etc. Ujunwa’s reaction to the Tanzanian’s story is just as telling; she reads it as caricature rather than “urgent and relevant.” There is something instead, perhaps, about how re-presentative the stories can be, how they can present Africa anew, and challenge preexisting norms.
Yet, considering this, I find it strange that the far majority of the characters are nameless throughout. The Zimbabwean is simply “the Zimbabwean,” etc., and I do not quite understand why they are not given their own individuality. I can see the statement made if Ujunwa was dubbed “the Nigerian” and Campbell the “douchey Brit,” a statement, perhaps, about the implicit anonymity, or the way a person can stand in for a nation, present in the Western view of Africa. But why does Ujunwa get to seem an individual, a person that cannot be as easily read as a caricature of Nigeria? Why is she the only one that defends that individuality (since I will not count the Senegalese’s “incomprehensible” outburst in the face of Campbell’s swiftness in relegating her back to her place, and certainly not with the others’ chuckling)? In the end, we seem to be left with so much more of the “imposing Western ideas on African venues,” of the mute subaltern African, of the fetishized female body, all of which undermine whatever individuality Ujunwa hopes to claim.