The Urban Community in Joe


I’m interested in the urban community, particularly regarding the excerpts from Joe in section two of Readings in African Popular Fiction. Nelson’s article, “Representations of Men & Women, City & Town in Kenyan Novels”, and the magazine excerpts both work to highlight some of the tensions of urban life in comparison to rural living. Specifically, I was drawn to the acknowledgement and sensationalizing (exaggerating?) of urban evils and corruption when placed against the rural. Reading the small snippet of “The Farmhands” and the copy of “Gitau E. on City Life: The Wolf Under Sheep’s Skin” together emphasizes a change in tone that, for me, hints that the perception of the rural in Nelson was present, on occasion at least, in Joe. The “City Life” comic, like most of the examples of Joe entertainment provided, is humorous in terms of art thanks to simplified cartoon faces and lively poses/movement. The fact that multiple artists worked for Joe aside, art for “The Farmhands” appears to be less energetic. The farmland imagery is highly detailed and the character design, slightly less cartoon-like than characters in other examples of artwork, suits the solemn seriousness in the text. “The Farmhand” addresses issues of workplace cruelty and class division, and portrays family and the father-son bond in a sentimental way. The selection of works from Joe for this section of Popular Fiction exemplify the characterization or understanding of the urban as a bawdy, hilariously corrupt and divided place while the rural is a place for family matters and sentimentalism.

I agree with Frederiksen, when the author is responding to “A tendency which brings Hilary Ng’weno’s stated reason to leave Joe to mind: it is important to inform about what’s going on before making fun of it,” in that Joe certainly appears to have been heavily invested in entering into a dialogue with readers and creating a community (101). Reading the excerpts, Joe seems to be of the community it jokes with; tropes, types, and common occurrences or troubles were addressed without the sense that someone outside of or above the urban middle working/educated class is behind the scenes. Joe and the magazine’s tone is one that laughs at troubles and issues in order to get by, so I get a playful commiserating vibe from Joe in some cases. This, in conjunction with the city-country contrast discussed earlier, makes Joe seem like a place where a community can address, in a lighthearted way, a space that seems to be often recognized in fiction and popular thought as (negatively) different from an idealized rural home.

When Frederiksen’s article, like Popular Fiction in general, discusses the fear that a community isn’t secure or large enough to support being an audience or market, I get the sense that urban life and things associated with it are seen as unstable. The rural is characterized as a place of home, tradition, culture, and family, and the urban is the place of shady people and economic ups and downs, so it seems that the former is permanent and foundational while the other is unreliable and uncomfortable. The urban also seems to be understood as foreign, distant and contrary to culture and identity. I’m not entirely sure what it means to consider oneself apart of such a community, especially if said person buys some of things included in clichés of urbanity.

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