Ousmane Sembene's short story "The Promised Land," which was later adapted into a film called Black Girl, asks its audience to step into the life and subjectivity of a young Senegalese woman working in France, and attempts to demonstrate the isolation and persecution she experiences. The story opens with police arriving at the villa where the main character, Diouana, has killed herself, and immediately the story reveals the distinct divide between the French and Diouana, as nearly everyone calls her "the black woman" (Sembene 85). From this introduction, Sembene returns to Diouana's origins and traces how she went from an excited young woman to a disillusioned and ultimately suicidal servant, and the result is a tragic, though ultimately enlightening look at the ramifications of colonialism and the implicit racism it leaves as a legacy. Even though it was first published in 1974, the story is still relevant to this day, when immigrants still make up a large proportion of the service and housekeeping industry even as immigration and immigrants are largely discussed in terms and discourses that would not seem out of place in colonial Europe. By examining how Sembene uses Diouana's story to reveal the legacy of colonialism, one is able to see how little has changed in the intervening years, because one could tell the same story today without having to change practically anything about it, to the point that one could even switch out Senegal and France for Mexico and the United States and the story would still retain its resonance.
That Sembene is concerned with the legacy of colonialism is obvious in the first sentence of the story, when the narrator relates how "on this morning in late June 1958 the thoughts of the people in two cars speeding towards Antibes were not on the fate of the French Republic nor on the future of Algeria, nor on the other territories under the colonial yoke" (Sembene 84). This sentence helps demonstrate Sembene's cutting satirical edge even in a story so steeped in tragedy, because by pointing out how the French police are not thinking about France's colonial legacy, Sembene is able to get the reader immediately thinking about that legacy while demonstrating the comfortable domestic complacency that is a necessary part of maintaining foreign colonies and empires. In a single sentence, Sembene is able to convey the sense of colonial indifference that will play a large part in Diouana's despair and eventual suicide.
Diouana's isolation becomes apparent the moment she arrives in France, as the narrator notes in a characteristically tragic-comic line:
'Did you have a good passage?'
'Yes, Missie,' she would have answered if he had asked. (Sembene 94)
From that point on, Diouana undergoes a kind of transformation from "a lively, laughing young woman" into someone with "sunken and dulled eyes," better fed than when she was in Senegal but "worked off her feet" as she is forced to care for four children while maintaining an entire household (Sembene 95). The "promised land" of the French Riviera turns into a kind of prison, where she is surrounded by people but completely isolated from them.
That her mistreatment and…
Sources Used in Document:
Sembene, Ousmane. Tribal scars, and other stories. New York: Inscape, 1974.