Perhaps the most potent carcinogen that Europeans brought with them to the New World was their capitalistic greed. Indeed, it is arguably the root of all other injustices that Europeans inflicted upon the natives of the New World Karl Marx, pointing to the capitalistic greed that served as a primary catalyst for colonizing the New World, waxes eloquent when he writes that
the discovery of gold and silver in America the extirpation, enslavement and entombment in the mines of the aboriginal population, the beginning of the conquest and looting of the East Indies, the turning of Africa into a warren for the commercial hunting of black-skins, signalizes the rosy dawn of capitalist production. (Keen 57)
When word of the economic potential of the New World traveled back to Europe, various companies quickly maneuvered to exploit it for their own gain (Graff 55). Ostensibly, Europeans held three reasons for colonizing the New World: "glory, God, and gold" (Graff 41) While there was some evidence of sincere religious fervor (Graff 27), more often than not, religious ideology gave way to glory and economic gain (Keen 55-56). Worse yet, religion became a thin facade for covering up the greed for economic gain (Keen 106-08). Ironically, the King James Bible of 1611, the very Bible that many Europeans held dear to their hearts, warns of the atrocities of greed in a most prophetic way. "For the Love of money is the root of all evil. . . ." (I Timothy 6:11). Nevertheless, to many Europeans, the New World represented an opportunity to make a fortune (Garraty 2). It was the unplundered treasure chest of the world that many Europeans could hardly wait to ravish.
Both Shakespeare and Cesaire accentuate the greed of Europeans in their plays. However, Cesaire is more candid in his approach to exposing it. Cesaire employs the characters of Trinculo and Stephano to model European greed and its exploitation of Native American Indians. When Trinculo, a European, sees Caliban, a native of the New World, lying under a coat, he says, "Ah, an Indian. . . . If he's dead, I can use his clothes for shelter, for a coat, a tent, a covering. If he's alive I'11 make him my prisoner and take him back to Europe and then, by golly, my fortune will be made! I'll sell him to a carnival. No! I’ll show him myself at fairs! What a stroke of luck!"(78). Stephano is also a quintessential European when it comes to exploiting Indians for his own economic advantage. When he happens upon Caliban lying under his coat, he responds, ". . . it looks like a Nindian. . . . I really am lucky. There's money to be made from a Nindian like that. If you showed him at a carnival. . . . That means real dough. . . . Let's hope he's not going to croak! How's that for bad luck: You find a Nindian and he dies on you! A fortune slips through your fingers!" (39). However, Cesaire is never more candid about European greed than when Stephano and Trinculo agree to “exploit” Caliban together (41). With overt references to the exploitation of Native Americans, Cesaire accentuates a Shakespearean nuance and indicts the economically-driven colonization program of Europe. By scripting his characters to speak with candor, Cesaire shows the corruptness of European greed.
Another ugly consequence of European colonization of the New Word addressed in Cesaire's play is slavery. While Prospero is cast in the role of a White slave owner, the natives, Ariel and Caliban, are clearly his Black slaves. Through these characters, Cesaire confronts his readers with the unpleasant realties of slavery in the Americas. Notice the harsh tone of this exchange between Prospero and his slave Ariel:
ARIEL. Master, I must beg you to spare me this kind of labor.
PROSPERO (shouting). Listen, and listen good! There's a task to be performed, and I don't care how it gets done!
ARIEL. You've promised me my freedom a thousand times, and I'm still waiting.
PROSPERO. Ingrate! (10)
If Prospero and Ariel have a strained relationship, then Prospero and Caliban are clearly at odds with each other. For example, when Prospero calls for Caliban, the first words out of Caliban’s mouth is "Uhuru!" (11). The word "uhuru" is Swahili for "independence" or "freedom" (Dayan 137) and, thus, is a clever reference used subtly to indict European use and abuse of African slaves. When Prospero tells Caliban that he should be thankful for the education that he has given him, Caliban exclaims, "You didn't teach me a thing! Except to jabber in you own language so that I could understand your orders: chop the wood, wash the dishes . . . all because you're too lazy to do it yourself” (12). Thus, Cesaire skillfully brings a strong indictment against the tainted history of Europe’s colonization of the New World by raising the issue of slavery.
That Cesaire addresses the ugly horrors of slavery formed specifically in the United States of America is obvious as well. Cesaire, who wrote the play in the late 1960’s, makes obvious references to key Black American leader:: of the same era. Clearly, the slave Caliban embraces a philosophy similar to Malcolm X. Indeed, just as Malcolm dropped his slave name (Little) and took on the letter "X" as his last name (Wood 1()), Caliban tells Prospero to call him "X" (15).
Caliban’s explanation is strongly reminiscent of Malcolm X's (Breitman 26): "Call me X. That would be best. Like a man without a name. Or, to be more precise, a man whose name has been stolen. You talk about history . . . well, that's history, and everyone knows it" (15). In contrast to Caliban’s Malcolm X ideology, the slave Ariel embraces Dr. Martin Luther King, Gr.’s nonviolent philosophy of protesting the injustices of slavery (22). Like Dr. King's famous "I Have a Dream" speech (Washington 217), Ariel also talks about a dream of universal brotherhood: "I've often had this inspiring dream that one day Prospero, you, me, would all three set out like brothers, to build a wonderful world, each one contributing his own special thing: patience, vitality, love, will-power too. . . ." (25). It is interesting to note Malcolm X's response to Dr. King's non-violent philosophy, and then note Caliban's response to Ariel's dream. Malcolm X's response to Dr. King's philosophy is clear when he says, "I'm not one who goes for “We Shall Overcome.” I just don't believe we're going to overcome, singing. If you're going to get yourself a .45 and start singing ‘We Shall Overcome,’ I'm with you" (Breitman 135). Caliban mimics this response when he says to Ariel, "You don't understand a thing about Prospero. He's not the collaborating type. He's . . . a crusher, a pulverizer . . . And you talk about brotherhood" (23). By presenting Caliban as a Malcolm X figure and Ariel as a Dr. King figure, the message Cesaire drives home is clear: America is still sorting out. the ugly consequences of European colonization of the New World. Indeed, by confronting his readers with the hideous, blood-stained. and well-documented history of slavery and oppression of Blacks in the United States of America, Cesaire shows how European colonization of the New World is presently problematic. Another ugly vestige of European colonization of the New World that Cesaire aptly points out is racism. Indeed, the dark, ominous clouds of White oppression that gave birth to the enslavement of Africans is still alive in America, though the forms are more subtle than slavery. Cesaire, accentuating the negative consequences of European colonization, addresses the more subtle manifestations of racism that still exist in America. The first manifestation of racism that he refers to is the relegation of Blacks to squalid living conditions. This is evident when Caliban proclaims that he lives in the "ghetto" (13). While there are sections of very poor Whites in our country, for the most part, the squalor and indigence of our ghettos is reserved for minorities, especially Blacks. For example, East St. Louis, Illinois, has "no obstetric services, no regular trash collection, and few jobs. Nearly a third of its families live on less than $7,500 a year; 75 percent of its population lives on welfare of some form. The U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development describes it as 'the most distressed small city in America"' (Kozol 7). Since most White Americans would create an uproar if a significant number of Whites were expected to live in such pathetic conditions, it should come as no surprise that the indifference concerning such cities as East St. Louis is probably grounded in the fact that 98 percent of its inhabitants are Black (Kozol 7). In other words, because the ghetto of East St. Louis mainly affects Blacks, such conditions go unchallenged. The fact that a city like East St. Louis exists in one of the richest nations in the world is cogent proof of the role that racism still plays in America. Indeed, when Caliban states that he lives in the ghetto, Cesaire is cleverly pointing out the racism that is still present in America.
The second manifestation of racism that Cesaire surfaces is the proliferation of negative Black stereotypes. Cesaire uses Prospero to expose the feeble, racist stereotypes many Whites propagate about Blacks. Prospero, presenting a common White opinion, says to Caliban, "It [Caliban's living quarters] wouldn't be such a ghetto if you took the trouble to keep it clean" (13). Such a statement is clearly racist and plays into the stereotypes many Whites have about Blacks (i.e., they are lazy and dirty). These stereotypes are White lies. The cleanliness of a residence has very little to do with whether it is a ghetto or not. Also, Prospero's stereotypical response puts the blame on Blacks for problems that were ultimately created by European colonization and the subsequent employment of Africans as slaves. Furthermore, it can he argued that Whites are the lazy race because they are the ones who initiated African slave labor. Another stereotype that Whites often impose on Blacks has to do with a Black man's supposed desire to have sex with White women. Cesaire addresses this issue when Prospero accuses Caliban of trying to rape his daughter(l3). Cesaire is pointing out a classic case of White male guilt projection. History has clearly shown that more White men, supposedly pious slave owners in particular, have taken advantage of Black women, than Black males have of White women. The historical White power structures in America have facilitated the circumstances that have made this kind of sexual exploitation of Black women possible. By using Prospero to accuse Caliban of laziness and sexual impropriety, Cesaire poignantly reveals: the hypocrisy of Whites.
The third manifestation of racism that Cesaire draws to our attention is the woefully inadequate educational opportunities that exist for Blacks in America Caliban indicts Prospero when he says, "as for your learning, did you ever impart any of that to me? No, you took care not to. All of your science you keep for yourself alone, shut up in those big books" (12) While such a statement is historically accurate in the sense that Whites sought to keep Black slaves uneducated so that it would be easier to manipulate them, the statement also addresses the more subtle, but no less evil, form of educational racism that still exists to this day. Jonathan Kozol paints a graphic picture of degrading squalor when it comes to the physical structures of our schools for many Blacks and other minorities in America: broken bathrooms that emit repugnant odors throughout the school (36), broken windows that never get repaired (32), rain that pours in through huge holes in roofs (101), faulty heating systems that either do not work or are uncontrollable (32), and plaster falling off the walls and ceilings (100). Furthermore, the classrooms are woefully under-supplied with necessary tools, such as textbooks (32). Certainly, an honest look at the vastly different educational opportunities for Blacks and Whites is cogent proof of racism. The lack of protests over such pathetic conditions is an indictment in itself. Cesaire, using Caliban, shows his readers the undeniable fact that the influence of European colonization is still alive and well in America today in the ugly form of racism. History has clearly shown that European colonization has ultimately led to the rape and exploitation of the New World's native peoples and resources. Cesaire, using a Shakespearean paradigm, masterfully calls his readers' attention to the ugly consequences of greed, slavery, and racism manifest in the European colonization of the New World. By raising serious questions about the dubious nature and subsequent results of European colonization of the New World, Cesaire plays the role of the gadfly quite well. While a gadfly’s purpose of agitation is necessary in order for change to become a reality, it falls short in that it often does not include possible solutions to the problems. Indeed, Cesaire is an expert at lucidly calling attention to factual injustices, but he is less obvious about possible solutions to the problems created by European colonization. The closest he comes to offering answers is to hint subtly at what he thinks the ultimate conclusions of colonization might be. For example, Caliban gives us an idea of what Cesaire might possibly be thinking could ultimately happen when he says, "The day when I begin to feel that everything is lost, just let me get hold of a, few barrels of your [Ariel's] infernal powder and as you fly around \up there in your blue skies you'll see this island, my inheritance, my work, all blown to smithereens . . . and, I trust, Prospero and me with it" (23) This statement by Caliban is remarkably similar to Langston Hughes" poem, "Harlem," a poem about New York's Black enclave, written in 1951:
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore--
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat? Or Crust and sugar over-- like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode? (Proffitt 297)
Cornel West, a respected Black intellectual, agrees with Langston Hughes about the devastating effects a dream deferred has had on many Black Americans. West has identified “nihilism," the loss of all hope, as the prevalent problem facing Blacks in America today (19-20. Another ultimate conclusion of European colonization that Cesaire hints at is that time is on the side of the Calibans of the world. At the very end of the play, we find a powerless Prospero and an enthusiastic Caliban shouting, "FREEDOM HI-DAY! FREEDOM HI-DAY" (68). Cesaire seems to suggest that the slave class ultimately outlives the ruling class, and consequently, is able to rule them. As America becomes more colorful, and consequently, less White, both Cesaire’s prophecies seem realistic. That is, neither a major racial explosion nor the idea of Blacks ultimately dominating Whites is unrealistic.
Cesaire, Aime. A Tempest. Trans. Richard Miller. New York: UBU, 1992.
Dayan, Joan. "Playing Caliban; Cesaire’s Tempest." Arizona Ouarterly. 48.4 (1942): 125-145.
Garraty, John A. The American Nation; A History of the United States. 7th ed. New York: Harper, 1991.
Graff, Henry F. America; The Glorious Republic. Boston: Houghton, 1985.
Hollander, John, and Frank Kermode. The Literature of Renaissance England. New York: Oxford UP, 1973.
Keen, Benjamin. A History of Latin America, 4th ed. Boston: Houghton, 1992.
Kozol, Jonathan. Savage Inequalities; Children in America’s Schools. New York. Harper, 1991.
Proffitt, Edward. Reading and Writing About Literature Fiction. Poetry. Drama and the Essay. New York: Harcourt, 1990.
Smith, John. "The General History of Virginia." Anthology of American Literature; Colonial Through Romantic. 5th ed. Ed. George McMichael. New York: Macmillam, 1993. 15-25. Washington, James M., ed. A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King. New York: Harper, 1986.
West, Cornel. Race Matters. New York: Vintage, 1992.
Wood, Joe, ed. Malcolm X: In Our Own Image. New York: St. Martins, 1992.