Friday, January 2, 2009

Babar, le petit éléphant

A September 2008 issue of the New Yorker had this article about Jean de Brunhoff's Histoire de Babar. I was a little disappointed to read that there is a growing belief that Babar is a figure that strongly reinforces the idea that colonization has a civilizing affect on the colonized. I think I'm disappointed because I would continue to think of Babar as a an adorable children's story of an elephant living like a human.

But after reading the article, it's hard for me to think of Babar in the same way. The thing is, even if Brunhoff didn't intend for Babar to represent an African confronting and readily accepting French colonial society, it makes perfect sense. If Brunhoff wanted to write a story about an anthropomorphized wild animal, what kind of human would he have Babar be? A Frenchman in Africa, of course. What other model would Brunhoff have had than the French people of his own time and place?

Perhaps a modern Babar could become civilized by working for the UN and driving a white SUV? Read the article and decide for yourself.

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