Crying for my Father’s Home: Poetics of Loss of the Father’s Land and Mourning in John Edgar Wideman’s The Cattle Killing

Sènakpon Adelphe Fortuné Azon


In a disjointed narrative drunkenness that straddles oneiric language, apocalyptic vaticinations, and alcoholic delirium, the narrative of the young itinerant preacher in John Edgar Wideman’s Cattle Killing unfurls. The narrative purports to be clear in launching the young lover into an asymptotic search for his soul mate who is nothing but a spirit akin to ogbanji, successively incarnated in deified women who experience an elusive existence and a tragic death. However, it fails to dispel, in readers, a deep doubt as to the intrinsic symbolism of this soul mate, and, finally, dissuades them that it is an ordinary love story. The Cattle Killing quilts the story of the deadly prophecy of Nongqawuse, decisive in the colonial conquest of the Xhosas in Southern Africa, into that of the epidemic yellow fever in Philadephia, and plunges the protagonist into a melancholic quest on which African people’s awakening is premised. Voudoun esthetics, Lacan’s theory of desire, and Genettian narratology constitute the major paradigm on which the textual analysis of this paper proceeds. Its aim is to highlight the narrative devices by which the poetics of affliction, melancholy and regret is activated in the work, with the aim of echoing its call for the improvement of the black people’s condition in the United States and all over the world.


Erzulie, Affliction, Desire, Africa, Quest, Nongqawuse

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