Telling About a Madman

The first chapter of The General is Up uses stylization and the third person voice and signals to the reader that this is a story being told to them by someone. The novel opens with a dream; the General is stalked in his sleep by Captain Oma, who the General knows is dead because he killed him himself. The General wakes up crazy and starts shooting wildly into the wall trying to kill the Captain once and for all.

But who is telling this story? After the first three chapters, the reader knows the story is being told by an omniscient narrator who is safely distant from the action. But what about these strange asides every once in a while, these rambling thoughts told almost in first person voice, who is saying these things? Ronald D’Mello, protagonist of the novel, works for the Ministry of Information and notices, during the opening of a bank, that the General looks “bloated to almost double his size.” The narrator tells the reader that Ronald’s informants, the General’s bodyguards, have told him that the General always swells up when he dreams about Captain Oma. And when the Minister of International Affairs stands up, he is bloated as well and the narrator, out of voice, exclaims, “Jesus, even that bastard looks puffy! Is he going crazy too?” (118).

Who says this? Does the narrator break from his third person voice to notice and inform the reader that the minister is getting fat? Ronald could have given us this information, but he does not. Why not? Was this an error of the writer, Peter Nazareth, which his editor and publisher both missed? Or is this a trick played on the reader to see if she is paying attention? The answer to these questions can be found in the Epilogue.

The Epilogue, appropriately, opens with an epigraph by Ezekiel Mphahlele essentially telling the reader they are not done yet, “the dust far ahead of you told you the end was not yet” (134). The very first word of the Epilogue, “I”, signals a shift from the third person used through out the novel to the first person narrative. Two new protagonists are introduced, an unknown American who is narrating named Charlie Cash, and a disoriented Indian/African who calls himself Ronald D’Cruz.

Charlie picks up Ronald in his new Ford Thunderbird one afternoon on the side of a highway. Charlie tells the reader he usually does not pick up hitchhikers because “you never know what crazies you may pick up” but something about Ronald makes him stop (135). When Ronald starts telling Charlie about his background, that he was kicked out of an African country for being East Indian and that “the small people must survive in the chinks of the walls of the rich and the powerful,” Charlie thinks he has picked up a left wing nut (140).

This example of prejudice highlights a constant theme running through The General is Up. When the British colonized Africa, they set the people against each other by stratifying them and picked certain races for government jobs and gave them ideas of superiority over other groups (divide and conquer). The novel deals a great deal with the many stereotypes Goans hold about Indians and Africans hold about Indians and Goans and attempted to break down these stereotypes in individual characters. Damibians weeping and bringing gifts to the departing Goans, a Goan, while waiting in line with all other East Indians, realizes Indians are not different from a Goan.

Charlie has never met a Communist or a leftist, but he is convinced that they are “the most unlikable, stupid, lazy bums one could ever meet” (140). The writer makes an interesting parallel between the system of colonization used by the British and the system of control employed by the American government against its citizens. Mere words—Communist, socialist, leftist, hippie—immediately conjures up fear in many Americans. More than ten years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the word Communist can still chill the heart of an American as images race through their minds—nuclear bombs falling from the sky, of the “Evil Empire” marching through America’s streets killing and raping and pillaging. Leaders learned long ago that keeping a population in fear of the unknown, in terror of the godless race who wants to destroy us, is an effective way to control them.

At the end of the Epilogue, the reader learns that Ronald has written a manuscript titled “Spiralling, The General Is Up” but that he has disappeared to fight with the guerrillas (144). Is Ronald D’Cruz Ronald D’Mello? Evidence in the Epilogue seems to suggest that they are indeed the same. The General is Up is a fictional account of an African nation (Damibia/Uganda) under an oppressive military dictator (The General/Idi Amin) and the expulsion of all Asians (East Indians) from this nation. D’Cruz, like many writers of fiction writing about themselves (Kurt Vonnegut/Kilgore Trout is one example), has given himself a different name.

In the novel, D’Mello stays in Damibia after the expulsion deadline because he was exempted from having to leave. He works in the Ministry of Information and the General, acting on advice from his aides, has exempted Asians who are vital to the government from leaving. D’Mello is even present for the General’s Christmas speech and inadvertently causes the General to shoot himself in the head after D’Mello knocks over a camera while trying to stifle a laugh, failing, and hurrying out of the room.

While riding in the Thunderbird with Cash, D’Cruz does not make it clear whether he actually stayed in Damibia after the expulsion order. He tells Cash that he is just coming down from Canada where he was visiting some of his people. He also talks a lot about Egypt, which may mean he was educated there, or that he has been living there. But he looks ragged, like he has been traveling for a long time, “he had a mustache and a wispy beard,” “I was looking into bloodshot eyes suddenly thrust close to mine” (135).

While it is interesting to speculate if D’Cruz has been in Damibia or not, and one can argue either way, it is not terribly important to the novel itself. D’Cruz wanted to tell the story of a people living under a brutal, deranged, and paranoid dictator who kills at will. And this is precisely what Ronald has done. A closer reading of the text while suspecting D’Cruz is D’Mello reveals clues that show D’Cruz wrote the novel.

Ronald D’Mello, while a protagonist, does not see much action through the novel. Indeed, the very name “D’Mello” immediately brings to mind a mellow personality. The writer uses another protagonist, David D’Costa, to show the readers the hardships and frustrations that came with being Asian after the General issued his order of expulsion. David changed the name of the “Goan Institute” to the “Lubele Institute” when he was president (8). The reader also is taken through the ordeal of being granted, and keeping, one’s citizenship as an Asian in Damibia. And David is the one who flees the country, showing the reader what it is like to leave the only country one has ever known, what it is like to leave home.

Ronald is not seen as much, but when he is, it is always that as the mellow mediator breaking up fights or walking through the cool night, his thoughts bringing the reader up to date all the history and story of Goans in Africa. Ronald begins taking a more active role in the novel after David leaves, and his role is much more insightful into the General because he works more closely to him within the government. It is almost as if D’Cruz is shy and does not want to put too much of himself in this novel. But strangely enough, he puts himself in all the crucial scenes, and can be seen as a hero of the people by indirectly killing the General.

Another clue into the identity of the writer is the way women are portrayed throughout the novel. The reader is told early on that D’Mello loves women and that he seeks out African women because they are more liberal about sex than Goan women (18). After reading the Epilogue and seeing that D’Cruz is indeed D’Mello, the reader can understand the small role women play in the novel. D’Cruz does not know women and cannot really explain them, he feels uncomfortable speaking in their voice.

But the reader should not confuse this lack of representation as misogynistic; women are the only redeeming characters in the book. An old Damibian woman is making her way through the crowd, giving water to the Indians being expelled, at risk to herself (45). Damibian women make treats, bring presents, and weep for the Asians being forced to leave.

These are just a few reasons to believe D’Cruz is D’Mello, although there are surely more and can be expanded on in much more detail. But the Epilogue says quite a bit about this novel and really ties it together in the end. D’Cruz has been kicked out of his country and has seen many people killed needlessly by a monster, and wanted to get this story out in the Western world. The reader sees the act of fate that brings him in contact with an American with contacts in the publishing world, an American who ultimately gets his story out while he can go back and fight with the guerrillas for the freedom of his country.

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