A fortnight ago I was honored to attend the Pantomime of the Kampala Amateur Dramatics society’s Treasure Island at the National Theatre. To purport that Robert Louis Stevenson would ever envision his riveting classic mould into an impeccable spectacle of the proverbial British humor in Uganda’s National theatre would be unfathomable ; more so with Writer Chris Carruthers seamless inclusion of new characters and omission of others without particularly punctuating the musicality of the British Pantomime .
It was a night of quips and laughs and one well spent with one Colleen Bailey – a free lance writer and a film student from Alabama. Unlike me who was attending a pantomime for the very first time , Colleen had attended in hundreds and stirred in dozens of them with a casting and directing role ;
in fact as I speak now she is penning down the last act of an Opera ‘Through the Years of My Modern Alabama’ loosely based on Lee Harper and J. D Salinger’s characters in ‘To Kill the Mocking bird’ and ‘Catcher in the Rye’ respectively and when I asked her about her choice of adaptations , she simply replied , ‘Even an American with an IQ of less than two would be able to identify with the most stimulating and imaginative proselytized piece I have in mind. ’
I was marveled by her response and rather than drag on with my interrogations , I buckled my mental faculties back to reflections of a ‘quasi reader’ I judged myself to be . Matter of fact , I had read these works before but hadn’t perceived them to be as subtle as Achebe’s succinct ‘Things fall apart’ Or, our very own Okot Pi’Bitek’s satirical tirades in the ‘Song of Lawino and Okol.’ Perhaps I am too dumb to excite a reader’s digest and to that effect, an encore inevitably had to be a close call.
If any of the readers out there have painstakingly read these master pieces and made follow- ups to the movie adaptations and reviews ; not mentioning comments , you will realize that the aforementioned literary works have not only influenced the discourse of the modern American literature but also the character and popular culture of the United States .
With its Southern setting in the epoque of the 1930’s Great depression , Lee Harper’s sensibility ,good humored and humane writing on a society pitied against racial prejudices and social injustices of Southern life is portrayed through five year old Scout’s narrative that isn’t only emblematic of her unusual intelligence but also a tom boy character that has been uprightly modeled by her widowed father and Lawyer Atticus .
Atticus who is a defense counsel for Tom Robinson (accused of raping a white woman) nurtures his daughter’s mind ,conscience and individual stance without relaying away the absurdities of social hypocrisies and the narrator’s reference to the Mocking bird as a motif of innocence and moral point (particularly the unjustly accused Tom Robinson)
Probably justifies the reason as to why the British librarians probably ranked it as a must read ahead of the Bible back in 2006 and, according to the Louisiana University Press has been cited as the precursor for the success of the civil rights movements in the 1960’s. If you are a lazy reader, I can access you guys with the academy award winning movie that starred the legendary Gregory Peck as Atticus.
While avid TNT Classic viewers recall the latter’s character – Captain Keith Mallory’s composed stature in the mission impossible destruction of a German fortress in epic World War II Drama ‘Guns of Navarone’ , Middle School and High School chaps continuously send letters and essays to his mail box as a tribute to his heroic portrayal of Atticus – a man who practices ethics of sympathy and rational thinking ; the same virtues he preaches to his daughter Scout and son Jem and hardly bears a grudge with the racially biased inhabitants of the ‘old town’ of Maycomb Alabama.
Despite her being in her preteens, Scout not only matures into a near-grown up but learns how to strike a balance between good and evil with the outlook of sympathy and rationalism. ‘Surely if we are to delve deep into the ramifications of the civil rights movements and lapses that we have witnessed in recent times , we would write a never ending encyclopedia that is riddled with flaws ,’ argued Coleen and I certainly had no objections considering that point had been driven home.
‘If you think To Kill the Mocking bird is the most complete classic of the 20th century , you had better have a thorough read of Catcher in the Rye ;
Read it twice for the feel and the third time as though you are the rebellious and alienated Holden Caulfield,’ Colleen was sounding ecstatic on her mention of JD Salinger’s novel that has gone on to become both a living controversy and the most influential book in the realms of censorship and being challenged on the degenerative influence it has had on American teenagers who all aspire to ‘be like Holden’- an emotionally fragile teenager with complex identity issues , alienation and unprecedented vulgarities that have translated into the behavioral patterns of the modern day American teenager .
‘Danny , the American teenager will only identify with an icon who is representative of his or her deviant and ,perhaps to put it better libertarian nature; and hollowing as it may sound to your moralistic judgment , that is what virtually every teenager ought to go through . Besides it shouldn’t surprise you why over 65 million copies have been sold ever since its publication in 1951 and 250,000 continue to be sold annually,’ Coleen was defensive on my moralistic pose that was waning away with impartiality .
‘ By the way , like Fitzgerald’s Gatsby , Holden is pretty Salinger’s bad boy in New York and well to this date , he remains an icon for teenage rebellion, and herculean as it sounds , I am fusing Scout’s pre-teenage ingenuity with Holden’s emotional fragility,’ Colleen was beaming with utmost confident but even in the event that it would be well executed , wouldn’t it create conflicting personalities among the traces of youths interested in operas. ‘No , it won’t and you know why? Because these are living icons in our classrooms and day to day life,’ she surmised with a calm smile.
When all was said and digested in my mental notes , it became clear to me that in as much as African literature has its insatiable wealth in chronicling colonial times and the fissions of traditional cultures (with regards to ‘Things fall apart’ , ‘the Poor Christ of Bomba’ ) , nationalist uprisings ( James Ngugi’s ‘Weep not child’ , Albert Camus’s indignant satirical portrayal of the French in ‘The Plague’) to mention but a few , I would probably single out Wole Soyinka’s ‘Trials of brother Jero’ as one of the most accessible literary pieces , a Ugandan teenager can aptly reference today’s religious sense to as opposed to the Okot B’Pitek’s satirical butts on religion ,foreign cultures and oppressors of women.
Yes, we might all well refer to the case in point of women oppressors and foreign cultures but just like the average American teenager can blame his deviant behavior on Holden Caulfield , could we refer the abysmal foreign invasions and improper constructs of women behavior to the ‘Song of Malaya and Song of Lawino? ’