The False Prophet by Sembenè Ousmane
In The False Prophet by Sembenè Ousmane we have the theme of identity, selfishness, self-importance, dishonesty, generosity, faith, justice and conflict. Narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator the reader realises from the beginning of the story that Ousmane may be exploring the theme of identity. Mahmoud changes his name in order to begin living a life that is fraudulent and void of any sense of decency. If anything it becomes clear to the reader as the story progresses that Mahmoud is acting selfishly. Looking after himself while pretending to be helping others. At no stage of the story does Mahmoud think about anybody but himself and how he might profit from others. There is also a sense that Mahmoud believes in his own self-importance. That he may be better than others. Something that is noticeable by the fact that Mahmoud begins to get picky when it comes to the food he will eat. The important thing to remember is that Mahmoud is getting his food for free. Through the generosity of others. Yet he has the audacity to start being picky when he really should be showing gratitude to those who are feeding him. It is also noticeable that Mahmoud makes no contribution to society. He is a complete fake or fraud and as mentioned is only thinking of himself.
Those who respect Mahmoud also have to take some of the blame for placing Mahmoud on a pedestal. However it might also be a case that those who place Mahmoud on a pedestal know no better because of the supposed knowledge that Mahmoud possesses. Many of the people that Mahmoud is preaching to would not have the same wisdom as he has. They would have questions to ask and because Mahmoud can answer the questions. He is respected by people. If anything Mahmoud is a charlatan who is preying on other people’s vulnerabilities. He himself does not believe the words he speaks and with the little bit of knowledge that he has from the Koran he is profiting from the worries and anxieties of others. Which may be the point that Ousmane is attempting to make. He may be suggesting that those who preach from the Koran have to believe what they preach. It cannot just be words for words sake. The message of Allah has to be believed, understood and carried through. Something that Mahmoud does not do. Again everything that Mahmoud does is for his own personal gain.
How selfish and dishonest Mahmoud actually is may be noticeable by the importance he places on the money that he has received from others. Though it weighs heavy on his shoulder he nonetheless carries it with enthusiasm when he travels towards the Atlas Mountains. The narrator describing the money as being Mahmoud’s ‘booty.’ Which it is. He has in reality stolen the money from others by fooling them with his words. Though some critics might suggest that Mahmoud is not at fault for receiving the money it might be important to consider that those who gave the money to Mahmoud did so in good faith. Believing possibly that he would not be using the money for his own gain. Although living a life of poverty has not been something that Mahmoud has previously enjoyed. Which might explain as to why money is so important to Mahmoud. Mahmoud would also prefer to earn his money under false pretence rather than through hard work. In essence he is a lazy man who will take the easiest option available to him. That option just happens to be an ability to fool other unsuspecting people.
The end of the story is also interesting as Ousmane appears to be exploring the theme of justice. By having a thief rob Mahmoud the reader senses that the right thing is being done. Just as Mahmoud himself is a thief there is a sense of justice in the fact that he has been robbed by another thief. It is also interesting that the calmness that Mahmoud had felt through part of the story. When he was receiving money and food from others, leaves him. At the end Mahmoud has nothing which is exactly what he had at the beginning of the story. He had nothing. He is left with a mind that is tortured and in conflict with itself. One part of Mahmoud wants to pray while the other more fraudulent part of him is more concerned about where his money might be. It is as though Mahmoud has become the two people he pretended to be (Aidra and Mahmoud). Yet the only person that Mahmoud really is may be the charlatan that he has become in order to please his own needs while pretending to help others with their needs. From the beginning of the story till the end the most important person in Mahmoud’s life has been himself. He has taken advantage of others and while sleeping under the tamarind tree. Someone has taken advantage of him by robbing him and shaving his hair and beard.