An African Story by Roald Dahl
In An African Story by Roald Dahl we have the theme of revenge, hate, conflict, control and guilt. Taken from his The Complete Short Stories collection the story is a frame narrative and after reading the story the reader realises that Dahl may be exploring the theme of revenge. The old man has not let go of what Judson has done to his dog. Something that becomes clearer to the reader by the fact that the old man when seeing the mambo begins to plot his revenge on Judson. He knows that Judson will be struck and bitten by the mambo and eventually killed. The old man believing that this will satisfy his urge for revenge. However there is a sense that the old man as time passes and he tells his story to the pilot. Begins to feel guilty about his actions. It is as though by telling his story once and refusing to tell it again. The old man may have realised that he has gone too far. It may have been simpler for the old man to have accepted what Judson has done and to retaliate in a fashion in whereby the old man might physically strike Judson in anger. Something that the old man does not do throughout the story.
It is as though the old man is waiting for an opportunity to get the better of Judson. Without himself being the perpetrator. The benefit to the reader of the old man using the mambo as the tool to kill Judson is obvious. It is a vicious attack which the old man believes is justified considering Judson’s previous actions towards the old man’s dog. The old man considers that Judson has been just as vicious when it comes to injuring his dog. It is also interesting that the old man lets Judson share the cow’s milk even after Judson has injured the dog. It is possible that the old man knew already that he would exact revenge on Judson but did not yet know the manner of the revenge. Only deciding on his plan when he saw the mambo taking the milk from the cow. Though some critics might suggest that the old man has a preference for animals over humans. An example being that the old man did not injure the mambo and his affection for his dog and cow. It might be important to remember that the old man is using the mambo to his advantage. Again the mambo is a tool that can help the old man exact revenge. The dog is also a pet and the fondness that the old man has for the cow. Noticeable by his petting of the cow may purely be for comfort.
In reality the old man is practical. Something that is noticeable when he kills his dog. Rather than seeing the dog in pain he considers it better to kill the dog and end the misery that the dog is feeling. Something that the old man does not do for Judson even though he knows that Judson has been poisoned by the mambo and is slowly dying. Which may suggest just how deep the old man’s hatred for Judson is. It is also interesting that the old man and Judson are in continuous conflict with one another. With the old man threatening Judson on several occasions. This could be important as it may suggest that the old man is in control when it comes to his relationship with Judson. Through fear he imposes his will on Judson. However it might be worth remembering that the old man had no control when it came to Judson breaking the old man’s dog’s back. Which may leave some readers to suggest that by using the mambo as a tool to kill Judson the old man is regaining control over his environment.
The fact that the old man tells the pilot he will never tell his story again could also be important as it is possible that the old man, with the passing of time, knows he may have been in the wrong. Judson might have done something wrong on the old man but he may not have necessarily deserved what happened to him. Also Judson was the only company, apart from the animals, that the old man had. As readers we know that he is lonely as he has told the pilot that it can get lonely living by himself. If anything the old man might have needed Judson just as much as Judson needed the old man and the cow. The old man may have exacted revenge but he may have paid a price for this revenge. The price being loneliness and guilt. Which may be the point that Dahl is attempting to make. He may be suggesting that revenge is bittersweet. It might satisfy an individual in one way but there may be other areas of an individual’s life which are affected.