Born in 1913, in Basse-Pointe, Martinique, a French isle-colony (located in the eastern caribbean northwest of Barbados and due north from the border between Venezuela and Guyana), Aimé Césaire drew from his experiences with fascism, racism, and colonialism to become a prolific advocate of racial equality. Both a well educated poet and politician, serving as a communist who pushed for the recognition of Martinique as a “department” rather than a “colony” (a plan which backfired with regard to increasing the island’s independence) and as the mayor of Fort-de-France for twenty-five years, he was the founder of the Martinican Progressive Party. He formed the party after leaving the communist party; he was upset that class struggle was held in higher regard than racial equality.
Aimé Césaire advocated for the adoption of non-western cultures for the purpose of maintaining negritude amidst a period in Africa of blooming independent states, free from colonization. Drawing from this as well as his experience of Fascism under the Vichy regime during WWII, his knowledge of the Haitian revolution, and Marxism, he wrote A Tempest in 1969 for a festival in Tunisia. It could be important to note that part of Césaire’s support of non-western traditions was rooted in his knowledge of the failure of the Haitians to reach their delusional goal of becoming equal to France, a topic which was the subject of his 1961 book The French Revolution and the Problem of Colonialism, and his 1963 play The Tragedy of King Christophe. Admiring the revolt of the Haitian slaves but regretting their crippling ambition, Césaire constructed his next two plays to convey the importance of aggressive revolution and colonial rejection, the latter being A Tempest.
- Cesaire’s earlier works, including “Cahier d’un retour au pays natal” (Notebook of a Return to the Native Land) and Et les chiens se taisaient (And the Dogs were Silent)
- Prominently featured Caribbean settings, showing that this was a subject about which Césaire was passionate
- Also featured themes of decolonization
- “The Happy Antilles: In honor of all those who have dreamed of the Islands with a poet’s heart”
- “A vegetable paradise / Long do you enchant me with your captivating play”
- Poetry popular in France written by/for the colonizers
- Césaire wanted to expose this type of poetry as perpetuating misinformation regarding the state of colonialism
- The Autobiography of Malcolm X
- An important piece of the Black Power movement
- The Odyssey
- “Seeing the young lady, more beautiful than any wood-nymph, I might have been Ulysses on Nausicaa’s isle”
- Ulysses/Odysseus happens upon Nausicaa in her secluded island home, and eventually gains approval from her parents
- Eshu is another manifestation of colonial influence
- From an African religion, Yorúbá, native to Nigeria, that spread to the Americas during the colonial age, in which he is the god of trickery
- The author’s inclusion of Eshu is a contortion of the original text’s wedding scene
- Caliban idolizes “Shango,” the warrior god of the same religion in Act II, scene one and in Act III, scene four, as a strong figure
- Caliban = Malcolm X
- Malcolm X, a staunch advocate of Black rights and a member of the Nation of Islam, mirrors Caliban in his aggressive approach to attaining freedom
- Ariel = Martin Luther King, Jr.
- Ariel favors a more nonviolent approach to gaining freedom, sharing a similar ideology as Martin Luther King, Jr.
- Ariel is Mulatto, an ethnic group in Martinique (and elsewhere) who were part black but who, typically, dissociated themselves from other blacks by advancing in free white society. Not all Mulattos were free.