Fate and Rwandan Genocide

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This document relates fate as portrayed in sophocles'Oedipus Rex with the 1994 Rwandan tragedy


1 CHAPTER ONE. GENERAL INTRODUCTION I.1. BACKGROUND TO THE STUDY The ancient Greeks cared deeply about the pursuit of knowledge. Although truth was often a terrifying concept, they still saw it as a critical virtue and theatre was one way in which the ideas of knowledge and truth were examined. Many Greek dramatists use the self-realization of their characters to underscore the themes of their tragedies. Sophocles, for one, uses the characters transformation of Oedipus, together with the plot, to highlight the theme of his famous work Oedipus Rex. Those classical Greek dramatists have given the world major literary themes. One of such themes is Fate. According to Websters New World Dictionary of the American Language, the word Fate is defined as, The principal or determining cause or will by which things in general are believed to come to be as they are or events to happen as they do : Destiny. Gatera (2000)1 thinks that, the way of accepting every event which occurs in human life or in nature varies: some accept it, others reject it but the last decision does not come from mortal human beings. The theme of Fate is applicable to Oedipus and his lineage in Sophocless three Theban plays: Antigone, Oedipus Rex, and Oedipus at Colonus and to Rwandan genocide victims so much in their unavoidable death. I.1. STATEMENT OF THE PROBLEM In view of social changes which are at a rapid rate, there is an urgent need to sort out the real causes of conflict and spiritual unhappiness that prevail in our world today. Every person needs to find out vital elements which can inspire his plans, lead his movements and provide meaning to his contact to the world. It is not easy to explain their goals despite the wealth, the power, the strength and other gifts they have got.


Gatera, G. P. (2000) Fate in Nigerian-Igbo Society as Reflected by Achebes Fiction. Unpublished BA Dissertation.NUR.

2 Similarly, people are struggling over many religious issues, some attributing human suffering to divinities, thus advocating total submission to them, others questioning whether their lives are results of fate or free will so that they could live independently from divinities. Sophocless Oedipus Rex demonstrates a fundamental relationship between mans free will and fate which most people believe to guide the universe towards some harmonious purpose. Fate being that power which predetermines what will happen so that it cannot be avoided for what is fated will happen no matter what we do. Dovid (1998)2 Attempting to explain how both concepts of fate and free will are serious problems, one must note that the specific concern of the present study is to explore fate in Sophocless play Oedipus Rex. The present study also seeks to know whether there are things that unavoidably befall a person in a way that he cannot turn the course of events or act by free will. Grolier (1997)3 The theme of fate is applicable to Rwandan Tutsi lineage as far as their planned extermination is concerned. Their attempt to self-realization and to the quest for truth after the undeserved death that befell them before and in 1994 leads to their spiritual and moral fragility. Nevertheless, their lore to deal with such calamities explains their resilience, and despite the horror of that collective fate, they have to move on.




Grolier (1997) Multimedia Encyclopedia CD-Rom Fate Also available on internet, http://gi.glorier.com/


In carrying out the present research, I was fascinated by a number of things: I was mostly fascinated by the theme of fate, probably the most consistent and pervasive in all of Sophocless plays. Thus, we made the assumption that Oedipus Rex would illustrate that theme given that its central conflict is built on the accomplishment of a prophecy. Another particular interest in the theme of fate is that it has received the least attention in analysis of Greek plays in our Department of English while it is probably the most prominent controversial in current discussions, especially in a country like ours which has seen a group of its people undergoing a collective fate. The choice of Sophocless Oedipus Rex among his other plays has been motivated by the fame of its protagonist Oedipus who has been the subject of numerous theories among which Freudian Oedipus complex. So, the present study comes with the intention of seeking how to explain the causes of human suffering in terms of fate. As human suffering is as old as humanity, the present study seeks to help understand the origin of some phenomena that take place in human life natural disasters, sudden deaths-and the role of divinities in it. The supernatural intervention to secure the continuity of life, even after life, is central to Rwandan society where there is no king, no supreme authority to decide on peoples destiny. Fate as presented in this paper is a universal reality. Sophocles deals with tragic experience and profound human issues and the study of his work offers his readers a chance to make an objective criticism of both Greek and Rwandan traditional cultural beliefs. Rwandans believe that men are not brought to a better and higher position because of their personal achievements or efforts. Nature always puts down any individual who is aspiring and determined by all means to achieve status, wealth and fame. Pride goes before fall they say. The constant obsession to personal success is well expressed in terms of fatal greed, death that will kill man begins as an appetite.

4 On the other hand, we need to understand whether the painful knowledge of truth is more important than naivet as Oedipuss quest for truth brings about his own destruction as well as the search for truth about genocide victims brings about social marginalization, intimidations and threats to genocide survivors. Taking these reasons into consideration we found it worth the time, effort and expense required to carry out the present study. I.4. SCOPE AND PURPOSE OF THE STUDY The aim of this study is to depict different situations which are characteristic of fate in its features. Particular attention of this motive of fate is directed to Oedipus the protagonist of the Sophocless play and to Rwandan genocide victims both subjected to tragic fate. So, subject matter associated with the theme of fate will be dealt with all along this study. The role of fate is often quite big in tragedy, especially in Greek tragedy. For the present study could not call in all Greek tragedies it has been limited to Sophocless play. It would also be erroneous to claim that this study would deal with all plays by Sophocles. It only dealt with the theme of fate in Oedipus Rex and its relationship with Rwandan genocide victims. In the present study I intended to highlight impersonal forces that work in individuals and cause their downfall. Though those forces are found in Greek tragedies, they bear an ethical meaning that can help other individuals recover their humanity, especially Rwandans who lost their human dignity during the genocide considered so far as collective fate. I also intended to explain the impact of socio-cultural beliefs on mans everyday life, beliefs that sometimes lead him to adopting unworthy means to escape his destiny or place it on his fellows, trying to change the course of events. Aided by Sophocles exposition of fate, I intended to put forward some lessons drawn from the failure of Oedipus representing the old generation in order to suggest optimistic ways for our generation and generations to come.

5 I.5. REVIEW OF RELATED LITERATURE Many critics have found interest in commenting on the concepts of fate and free will in Oedipus Rex. So, given the fact that the present study is not the first work on the issue, it is necessary to have a brief review of previous studies on it: Brooks argues that the play is an irony: As we have seen, this play is a tissue of ironies: Oedipus by attempting to circumvent his fate, has insured its realization; the Sphinxs riddle turns upon the question What is man? and Oedipus, who thought that he knew the answer, finds at the end that he did not know what he himself was; Oedipus who saves Thebes from the Sphinx cannot save himself. Oedipuss curse upon the murderer of Laius has been unconsciously a curse on himself.4 Some modern readers are fully satisfied with what Brooks offers because many people ask themselves what Oedipus could have done to avoid the fate which overtakes him and, if they can find no such preventive step indicated, they feel that Oedipus is simply a passive, helpless victim of fate. And others share a closely related feeling that Oedipus is not a guilty man who deserves his fate. Unlike Brooks, Monroe C. Beardsley (581) asserts that Oedipuss downfall arises from the ignorance of his identity. In his book Theme and Form: An Introduction to Literature (1969) Beardsley attributes Oedipuss fate to himself as if he deserves it. Dennis wrote in The Literary Spirit: The questions raised in this play are universal and its Mythology (narratively expanded symbol) is as significant to us and our efforts of understanding reality and humanity as it was to the Periclean Athenians of 430 B.C. Are we masters of our own fate who fall because of some flaw in our character, or are we merely pawns of fate or some larger reality?54

Brooks, C. (1948) Understanding Drama. New York: Holt, Rinehard and Winston, Inc.Dennis, J. S. (1988) The Literary Spirit. New Jersey: Prentice Hall


6 Many more writers have studied Sophocless Oedipus Rex in terms of fate and free will: Calvin S. Brown in Masterworks of World Literature6, Judah Bierman in The Dramatic Experience7, Egger Max in Histoire de la Tragdie Grecque8, Jean Defradas in La Littrature Grecque9, Gabriel Germain in Sophocle10 ,Jacqueline de Romilly in La Tragedie Grecque11 to name only few. Though few memoirs have studied the theme of fate in our Department of English, there is not yet any paper that has focused on the theme of fate in Oedipus Rex while it is applicable to Rwandan Tutsi lineage as far as the undeserved death that befell them before and in 1994 is concerned. So, our contribution here is to show that, regardless of his too enduring to be a human being and undergo fatalistic circumstances, Oedipus does not show the standard of what a man can achieve and endure, unlike Rwandans, especially after being subjected to unavoidable fate. Instead, man can still live decently and heroically even in circumstances in which he faces destruction. Honorable men, though sent in exile because they hold diverse opinions which they cannot disguise, have to remain heroes in the struggle for life. Though treated as enemies and put to death, having committed no crime or wickedness, simply because they were enlightened, they have to show their resilience instead of resorting to blaming themselves for what they did not choose to be like. Otherwise, Sophocless hero teaches that no one is the centre of the world and our role here is to depict the Rwandan belief that no one is supposed to think that everything should move in reference to him.


Brown, C. S. (1970) Masterworks of World Literature. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc. Bierman, J. (1958) The Dramatic Experience. New Jersey: Prentice Hall, Inc. 8 Egger, M. (1966) Histoire de la Tragdie grecque. Paris: Mellotte. 9 Defradas, J. (1960) La Littrature Grecque. Paris: Librairie Armand Colin. 10 Gabriel, G. (1969) Sophocle. Sueil: Ecrivains de Toujours. 11 Romilly, J. (1970) La Tragdie Grecque. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.

7 I.6. METHODS AND DIVISION OF THE WORK Sophocless plays reveal how man is affected by fate and as a matter of fact it has an impact on him. They tackle a serious existential issue, for they do not remain inside the Greek society but extend to the entire humanity to alert to the concepts of fate and free will providing wisdom that fits the requirements of socio-cultural, political, and economic changes of matters. Given that the psychology of man can be influenced by both historical and social events, the three methodologies: historical-biographical, sociological, and psychological approaches have been combined to clearly make the study much more efficient, accurate and concise. Since a literary work has, on the one hand, been studied through its social milieu, it has to apply the sociological approach. In this regard, H.A Taine in his History of English Literature12 advocated the dependence of meaning upon the environment. He said that Race, Milieu et Moment do play a major role in the understanding of a literary work, This approach sees a literary work chiefly, if not exclusively as a reflection of the authors life and times or the life and time of the characters in the work. 13 This is why in the case of Sophocles, his biography and both the history and social environment of Greece help much in the understanding of his plays, simply because it is perfectly true that our understanding of a play may depend on knowledge of the ideas and customs of the period in which it was written. On the other hand, the content of Sophocless plays requires a psychological approach for it deals with existential issues; the impact of social and cultural beliefs on our mind, and phenomena that come out of them. So, sociological and psychological approaches have been used because the story deals with human beings that undergo all kinds of social, environmental, economic and psychological effects among themselves. With regard to the division of the work, the study of fate in Sophocless Oedipus Rex and its application to Rwandan genocide victims was based on a method that motivated the division of the work into three chapters, apart from the general introduction and conclusion.12 13

Taine, H. A (1972) History of English Literature. New York: Randon House. Wilfred, L. Gurin et al. (1979) A Handbook of Critical Approaches to Literature. 2nd ed. New York : Harper and Row.pp.25-26.

8 The first chapter presents the theoretical framework, provides definitions and reviews the literature of the concept of fate from various angles. The second chapter is concerned with the study of the heros fate in Oedipus Rex through theme, plot, focus, action, characters, and language symbolism. Otherwise put, it portrays Oedipus and his interaction with fate. The third and last chapter explores fate in the Rwandan society, much attention being paid to genocide ideologies that contributed to the collective fate of 1994. CHAPTER TWO: THEORETICAL CONSIDERATIONS OF FATE II. 0. INTRODUCTION In Sophocles's play, as in other works we have read, we encounter an obviously important notion, the role played by fate or the fates. The emphasis placed on these words (and sometimes the personalities representing them) gives to the stories and the visio...