The Prodigal Son

Submitted by Richelle S. Spaulding on Monday, 11/7/2011, at 10:05 PM

In the context of this class, the term 'prodigal son' comes from Leopold Senghor's poem "The Return of the Prodigal Son." The term also comes up in his poem "Beyond Eros." In both cases the idea of the prodigal son stems from the parable of the prodigal son, in which a son asks for his inheritance before it should be given to him, receives it, and then leaves home to gamble the money away and spend it on prostitutes. Without any money he is forced to sleep with pigs. Eventually, he realizes he made a mistake and that the home he once lived in was greater than he originally thought. When he arrives home he expresses remorse and is treated with a feast, while the brother who stayed behind fails to understand why he never received a feast in honor of his obedience. The moral of the parable it is more important to leave a path/place and return to it with a greater understanding and appreciation for it than to continue in that path/place without fully understanding the importance of it. Senghor uses the term 'prodigal son' to convey this message about himself in these poems. Senghor leaves Senegal for Paris, "the heart of the colonial world". As a writer in Paris he longs for his home, Senegal. Being abroad creates a longing to be in the spirit of Africa because he understands what he has more than the people in Senegal can understand what they have. Through leaving, Senghor is better able to understand his origins and have a greater appreciation for it.  This nostalgia may not be based on a factual Africa but the idea of Africa. This nostalgia brings up the question: What does it mean to return/how does one return? For Senghor he believes his role in returning is to impregnate Africa with culture because only Africa is deserving of his virility.

From "The Return of the Prodigal Son"

May you be blessed, my Fathers, who bless the Prodigal Son! / I want to see again the room on the right where the women worked, / Where I played with the doves and my brothers, sons of the Lion. / Ah! to sleep once again in the cool bed of my childhood / Ah! to have loving black hands once again tuck me in at night, / And see once again my mother's white smile. / Tomorrow I will continue on my way to Europe, to the embassy, / Already homesick for my black Land.

From "Beyond Eros" 

I know, my Fathers, you have tossed this net over my vigilant absence / To catch the Prodigal Son, this lion's den. 

 

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