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‘The great change’: Herbert Dhlomo’s “An Experiment in Colour”

Giuliana Iannaccaro    Università di Milano    



In 1945, the South African writer and journalist Herbert Dhlomo wrote an article in The Democrat where he stated: “Obliged to live as a begging worker in the city and a comparatively free kraal-head in his rural home, the tribal African has a Jekyll-and-Hyde existence”. Ten years before, in 1935, he had published a short story, “An Experiment in Colour”, in which the protagonist changes from black to white (and back) after discovering a miraculous serum, thus acquiring a double identity very much like Jekyll’s – and similarly socially destructive. The short story is challenging: as a cultural ‘product’ of two prominent South African missionary institutions (American Board Mission and Glasgow Missionary Society), Dhlomo had imbibed the project of a thorough reformation of the ‘Bantu’ man – that ‘great change’, both in the private and in the social sphere, that only Christianity could put in motion. And yet, from the very beginning of his literary production, Dhlomo has responded to the missionary project in an ambivalent way. ‘An Experiment in Colour’ is both a dystopic literary response to contradictory social pressures, and a disquieting narrative that denounces alarming social problems.

Nov. 27, 2019
April 29, 2019
March 13, 2019

Keywords: EDhlomoMission literatureISouth AfricaShort storyHEarly 20th century

Copyright: © 2019 Giuliana Iannaccaro. This is an open-access work distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction is permitted, provided that the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. The license allows for commercial use. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.