(De) Constructing Community: Representation and Individuation in Uzodinma Iweala’s Beasts of No Nation
Western consumption of child soldier narratives in the twenty-first century has been characterized by sympathetic responses that serve to maintain the position of the Westerner as privileged “savior” of formerly colonized peoples. These responses are perpetuated by generalized and reductive representations of Africa in the United States media that promote images of the continent as a war-torn land of barbarism in need of US aid. Through the rhetoric of pity that they promote, these representations evade the real issues of societal injustice that impact child soldiers and their communities. Uzodinma Iweala’s 2005 novel Beasts of No Nation constitutes an intervention in these representations. Throughout the novel, a focus on the (de)construction of community highlights the individual subjectivity of Agu, Iweala’s first-person child soldier narrator. The destruction of Agu’s community due to civil war plays a significant role in both Agu’s tale and in the way that readers come to understand Agu’s experiences as a child soldier. Through Agu’s narration, Iweala makes a call for Western audiences to re-examine their thinking about broad-scale, stereotypical portrayals of child soldiers in Africa. Examining Iweala’s attention to community is important, because it reveals a way of reading child soldier narratives that challenges normative models of the Western consumption of these narratives. Paradoxically, Cary Fukunaga’s 2015 film adaptation of Beasts of No Nation falls into the trap of derogatory media representations of Africa. The film’s emphasis on violence acts to provoke sympathetic responses from its viewer, thus contributing to mass misrepresentations of Africa. These misrepresentations, coupled with the success of the film in the US, signal the need for a greater awareness of the stakes of filmic adaptations of the child soldier genre.