Exile in Our Sister Killjoy

All of our readings this week have addressed travel in some way, be it Sissie’s journey to Europe, or the notion of exile presented in both Wilentz and Sterling. Wilentz explores Our Sister Killjoy as a rebuttal of exile as “relief from the societal constraints of national development and freedom to live in a cultural environment conducive to creativity” (158). But what is exile? Is it a state of existence forced into being by the actions of someone else, or is exile self-imposed as a response to social constraints? The thing about self-exile, to me, is that by definition it is self-imposed and can therefore be reversed, regardless of whether exile occupies a physical or mental space. Wilentz makes it clear that there is a distinction between exile and expatriation, although also adds that exile is different again from banishment. The Wilentz article focuses on “those who seek exile for personal/cultural reasons” (160). Is that not expatriation, if expatriation is to reside for any period of time in a country other than your own? I find it difficult to understand the distinction being drawn here.

The colonial history of Africa has seen the establishment of an educational system that was inspired by, if not modeled after, that of Western Europe. Students who performed well were often encouraged to continue their education in the colonial country, a reason that would perhaps fit into Wilentz’s discussion of Our Sister Killjoy as exploring exile sought for personal or cultural reasons. The ‘been-to’ in African literature an African who travels to the West, usually in the pursuit of education or employment, and subsequently returns to his home country. In Our Sister Killjoy, the character of Kunle is a self-exiled ‘been-to’ who, to Sissie, represents the divisiveness of the colonial West in reshaping African cultural identity. Kunle, Wilentz writes, returns to Africa with “an exile’s conscious to complain and exploit rather than help” (167). The idea of returning to implies that exile requires a physical place that is other to country of origin. It is this idea that I would have liked to see further explored.

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