From innocent play to imperial survey: adolescent rites of passage in the British and German adventure novels of Sub-Saharan Africa, 1870-1905 Public Deposited

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  • March 20, 2019
  • Getrost, Kara
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of English and Comparative Literature
  • This project explodes universalized notions of African adventure by contextualizing popular British texts by R.M. Ballantyne, H. Rider Haggard, G.A. Henty, and W.H.G. Kingston with rare German ones from lesser-known authors Eginhard von Barfus, Carl Falkenhorst, and Otto Felsing. I argue that the development, or rites of passage, of the figurative young adult in these texts is the crucial factor in the formation of the Anglo-European image of Africa. Adolescents perform the work of cultural interaction at the moment of engagement, which in turn questions the stability, and perhaps even the very existence, of the novel’s underlying binary constructions. This study challenges previous post-colonial and cultural studies analyses that present youth as a simple mouthpiece of adult and colonial pedagogy. The first chapter examines the relationship between humans and animals as revealed in hunting rituals. Learning how adults view animals in general and how they vary their interaction are two ways adolescents move from objectivity to subjectivity while learning to hunt. However, the training of the adolescent hunter also illustrates the limitations of representation in these texts. Chapter Two shifts to the training of the adolescent in the management of African natives, colonial subjects that, while also figured much of the time as animals, do have the capability to act and talk back in the narrative. Yet the process by which the young man seeks to distinguish himself from his African Other only reveals just how deeply he is in fact reliant upon engagement with that Other. The final chapter centers on the epic rite of passage that occurs in the journey to the underworld represented through cave exploration. This final stage of adolescent training moves beyond managing external relations with animals and natives to developing personal characteristics that demonstrate individual and cultural progress. But a closer reading reveals that once again essential African guides not only make such development possible but also possess an understanding of time that undermines the need to rely on progressivist ways of thinking.
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  • Downing, Eric
  • Open access

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