Sep 21, 2011

The Africa Passage

By Muhammad Saad Hussain

In this passage, which is a hybrid of a journal and a travel article, the writer describes his first experience of visiting Africa and strives to remove the various preconceptions that the people of the world, particularly Americans and Europeans, have about it. His tone varies from dramatic at first, to admiring and conversational in the middle and awestruck and persuasive towards the end. The writing techniques that are most evident in this passage are personification, the usage of contrast and similes and alliteration.

In the first paragraph the writer describes the African sunrise in a dramatic fashion. He personifies the sun, in the words “leaping”, “ambushes”, “glaring” and “slaps”, and portrays it as a vicious and cruel creature. The writer also uses an allusion and describes the sun as a “huge, glaring Cyclops”, a one eyed monster from Greek Mythology.

In the second paragraph a contrast is made between the African day and a day in Europe. The usage of words such as “seemly”, “demure”. “politesse” and “subtleties”, as well as a listing of pastel shades of colour in line 12 portray a European sunrise as gentle and civilized. However, each sentence in this paragraph is preceded by a “no” or a “none” which emphasise the harshness of the African environment. This is clearly evident in line 15 when even the soothing relaxation of an afternoon siesta is denied to the reader.

The description of the African sunrise comes to an end in paragraph three. Personification is again used in the form of the words “leaps”, “glaring”, “leering” and “daring” which serve to highlight the sun’s portrayal as a monster. The paragraph begins with a sudden, emphatic “No” and along with the simile comparing the sun to a jack in the box, they create an image of a beast suddenly coming out and shocking the reader.

In the fourth paragraph, the readers are introduced to the sun’s one great enemy, shade. The repetition of the word “shade”, as well as the usage of hyphens in line 20 forces the reader to pause and focus on the dramatic showdown. The writer shows the variety of regions that are under the sun’s domain by giving examples of a “nomad’s tented roof” and “verandahed pavements”. The monstrous portrayal of the sun continues through the usage of the words “detests”, “suck”, “pound”, and “stalk”.

The writer’s tone becomes one of admiration in the next paragraph as he comments on the resilience of the people and things that live in Africa. The repetition of “still” in line 28 gives the impression of overcoming obstacles. There is a usage of contrast in the words “accidental” and “learned” which are used to explain the reason behind the elegant movement of the Africans.

In the sixth paragraph the writer’s tone becomes conversational and also slightly condescending towards Europeans as he compares them to the Africans. His usage of words such as “effortless”, “elegance” and “poise” to describe the Africans demonstrate his opinion of them. This is in sharp contrast to the list of adjectives he uses in line 33 to describe the Europeans whilst creating an image of clumsiness.

African women are depicted in the seventh paragraph in an awed and admiring tone. Similes are used to compare them to models, ballerinas and even to majestic black statues of liberty. A list is used in line 36 to emphasise the burdens that these women can bear. However, in contrast to those burdens, the words “propelling” and “lullaby sway” make it seem as if this is effortless to them.

The wide variety of African landscapes is described in paragraph eight. After mentioning these varied vistas, the writes uses irony in the form of the words “a landscape of nothing” to show that the people of the world don’t care about all of this. The “solitary figure” that is mentioned is actually a reference to the isolated African people who struggle to survive on their own and are forgotten by others.

The writer’s tone becomes persuasive in the ninth paragraph as he highlights all the aspects of Africa, the good one as well as the bad ones. The paragraph starts out with a description of the bad aspects but goes on to list all the good things that are present. A list is used in lines 52 to 54 to point out everything that Africa has to offer which very few people actually know or care about.

The final sentences of the passage contain a contrast between the words “dark” and “luminous”. The emphatic “No” in the first sentence serves to abolish the negative misconceptions that are present about Africa while the second sentence emphasises all of its good characteristics that are usually ignored.


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