The Dark Child (The African Child)

The Dark Child (The African Child) Study Guide

Camara Laye's The Dark Child is a 1953 French-language memoir about the author's childhood in Guinea. The son of a protective mother and a mystical-minded blacksmith and goldsmith father, Laye writes with affection about Malinke-Muslim traditions while showing how his pursuit of a French-language education draws him away from his people and toward a European lifestyle and career.

The memoir begins with Laye as a child observing the goings on in his father's forge in Kouroussa, French Guinea. Laye learns his father has a snake as his totem, and the snake visits his father in dreams to inform him of future events. Laye's father expresses grief over the inevitability of his son staying in school and spending less time in his workshop. Laye writes about regular visits to his grandmother in Tindican, a rural community where he helps with the rice harvest. Laye wrestles with the uncertainty of his future, knowing he will not take over for his father and that he won't become a farmhand like his uncle. Laye also recounts an experience of getting the better of playground bullies, having two love interests, and undergoing a ritual circumcision procedure as a teenager that marks his new life as an adult man. Toward the end of the memoir, Laye leaves home to study at a technical college in Conakry, the capital city. He lives with an uncle and develops greater independence while working to attain the highest marks in his final examination. The memoir ends with Laye accepting an offer to continue his education in Paris, a decision that enrages and upsets his mother, who doesn't want to lose him again. The ending scene depicts Laye on a plane, weeping as he faces an uncertain future in Europe.

Exploring themes of ritual, family, supernaturalism, pride, and uncertainty, The Dark Child depicts the clash of colonial and traditional cultures in pre-independence Guinea. Originally written in French, Laye's memoir offers detailed explanations of cultural practices Western readers would be unfamiliar with; he also emphasizes the inherent dignity and independent spirit of his people. The book was met with acclaim upon its publication and won the 1954 Prix Charles Veillon Award.