n English in Africa - "Dancing masquerades" : narrating postcolonial personhood in three novels




The title of this paper is inspired by a penetrating aphorism from Chinua Achebe's third novel, , uttered by Ezeulu, the novel's central character: "the world is like a Mask dancing, if you want to see it well, you do not stand in one place" (Achebe 46). The masquerade, common in many parts of Africa, is believed in traditional religion to involve the temporary incarnation of certain spirits and/or deities by whom the human host of the mask is possessed, and whose performance is controlled by a spiritual and supernatural force (Isichei 253). The stage for a masquerade's performance is often the village square, and unlike the performance of controlled actors, the supernatural performer is not bound to one location but usually moves about in all directions, making it necessary for the audience also to change locations constantly (see Eze 99). Achebe's instructive life simile is particularly fitting for any exploration of selfhood and constructions of identity (whether individual or collective) in contemporary times. This is even more so for the postcolonial and postmodernist condition, characterized as they are by multiple subjectivities and sensibilities as well as evershifting, kaleidoscopic contexts.


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