Skip to main content

Children in Conflict

AFST 380/Comp/Engl 332/PcSt 340

TR 2-3:15pm  |  Instructor: Steve Bishop

Child holding a gunThe use of the child narrator as critic of African society out of balance or plagued by injustice has been common since the late 1950’s. Ferdinand Oyono’s Une vie de boy (Houseboy, 1956) stands both as one of the classics of African literature as well as a perfect example of the critical eyes of an innocent youth revealing, in this case, the hypocrisy, deception, and cruelty of French colonial control in Africa. After independence, such narrative figures remained, although tending to focus more on the conflicts between the younger and older generations over the proper balance between social traditions and the benefits and ills modernity bring to a society. This class will look at a few of these earlier texts and ideas, but its main focus will be their application in the more recent manifestation of the child narrator in African literature – child soldier narratives. We will investigate the origins and resolutions of the conflicts, their literary representations, their effects on children, how they reflect broader cultural issues and debates, and what is being done to counter the practice. Questions to be considered include: How does one represent traumatic events without sensationalizing them? What does a child narrator bring to a story that an adult narrator does (can) not? Do such stories merely reinforce Western views of Africa as barbaric? How do depictions of child soldiers in Africa contrast with their depictions in Western settings? How (successfully) does such literature address the problems of child soldiers?

drawing of children holding gunsThe selections are primarily of African origin, but include some Western commentary and depictions as well. Texts to be considered include Houseboy (Oyono), Caught in the Storm (Badian), Johnny, Mad Dog (Dongola), Allah Is Not Obliged (Kourouma), A Long Way Gone (Beah), Beasts of No Nation (Iweala), and "Say You're One of Them" (Akpan) as well as selections from Child Soldiers in the Age of Fractured States (Gates and Reich), Child Soldiers (Wessells), and Armies of the Young (Rosen). There are also some films (War Dance, Blood Diamond, Ezra). Students are welcome to read any works in translation in the original language and to write their papers in English or French. Students will be asked to participate in class discussions, give one presentation, write four short reaction papers, and do one final project. If you have questions, please contact Steve Bishop at sbishop@unm.edu, 277-6344, or in 323C Ortega Hall.