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God’s Bits of Wood

Sembene Ousmane’s novel, God’s Bits of Wood, is an interesting fiction about the struggle that the Dakar-Niger train personnel had to face as they struggled for power with the new Europeans that threatened their lifestyle. The book takes a long, hard look at the many different aspects of the struggle that make up the overall conflict of the people in Africa at the time. Specifically, there were women’s rights issues, conflicted issues of perception, and a class struggle that permeated the situation.

The book might be fictional on the surface, but it takes an in depth look at some of the things that were going on during the time in African and how the people there dealt with the specific issues mentioned above. In the book, African train workers have to endure a lengthy strike in order to try to reclaim some of their wages and some of their dignity in the face of overbearing Europeans who were constantly trying to both take advantage of them and turn their homeland into a colony.

As one might expect, the Africans who occupied that area were not nearly as receptive of this colonialism as the Europeans had hoped. From the beginning of the novel and continuing into the initial conflict, the African train workers were forced to feel extremely threatened by the Europeans who took control of them. They had good reason to perceive colonialism in this way, because the Europeans were neither understanding, nor did they give the natives any means of protecting themselves.

Some specific examples in the book include the early part of the attempted colonialism when the Europeans took it upon themselves to murder children that were playing around the tracks. These people had all of the control in the government, so there was never any fear of action that might have otherwise been taken against them. This fear was engrained into the natives who had to strike from the train business from an early juncture. That fear never made it possible for the natives to ever accept any form of government that the Europeans were trying to establish in the country.

In addition, they did not ever have any inclination to back down from the European control over their work on the railroad. The European occupation helped to reinforce an already forming class distinction within the country. The European system had longed been based upon class roles, as the elite hierarchy had vast control over the political and economic systems. This is fictional book, there are some very real social themes presented. The native people who made their living on the railroad were all lumped into one large group by those Europeans that took control.

As such, the workers had no other option but to band together in a strike. In a way, their strength came in numbers, while the strength of the Europeans came as a result of owning the majority of the businesses and having control of the political landscape. In a way, the idea of class division between those elite people and the masses was one of the things that drove the action in this novel. Because the native people felt like they were being mistreated as a group, they had more of an initiative to band together in an effort to fight back against the elite.

In the novel, women play an integral role, though the beginning of the book leaves some doubts as to whether this is going to happen. The native African men understood that the women would be an important part of their strike effort, so they made sure to include them from the beginning. The men do not value their women enough to give them any real details about the strike, though. They simply ask for support from the women. It is not until the strike hits home that these women actually take it upon themselves to do something to fight beside their men.

The women of N’Diayene are one great example of women who ultimately fight back against the arresting police. When the police come to make an arrest of Ramatoulaye, the women decide that their town and their men are worth fighting for. Later on, they become even more important to the strike and the development of the novel as they play a more active role in the entire ordeal. One of the prevailing themes that readers have to pick up on is the widespread violence associated with the colonialism effort.

In fact, the colonial state takes it upon themselves to make things worse instead of making them better in this regard. Examples of this exist all over the novel, though some of the more relevant ones include the burning of N’Diayene after the incident mentioned above, as well as the previously mentioned shootings of children along the railroad tracks. Since the Europeans had more developed weapons and methods, they used these things to the best of their ability in order to exert their control over the native workers. Violence is a part of the game for them and they are not fazed by using it at will.

This helped to color the perception of the colonialism for the majority of natives, who did not want to be the victim of continuous violence. The novel addresses some very serious themes associated with colonialism. Though it is only a fiction, it reads more like a history of the strike on the Dikar-Niger Railroad during that time. Women play a serious role in this novel, which is interesting given the timeframe. The themes mentioned above push the action forward and make the novel not only interesting, but historically significant.

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