Barthes, a famous philosopher, came up with the argument that myth is speech stolen and restored. He added that only speech which is restored is no longer quite that which was stolen: when it was brought back, it was not put exactly in its place. Moreover, myth has various definitions according to various cultures across the globe. In essence, a myth is a story, in most cases, traditional, that is concerned either with the history of a certain group of people or gives an explanation about phenomena that are social and natural. Most of the time, different communities across the world relate myths with supernatural beings and events. For instance, most of African cultures have myths explaining the origin of various communities. Other cultures have myths that give explanations to the existence of God as a supernatural being. Before the introduction of modern Christianity across the world, myths about the existence of gods were taken seriously. In fact, the myths among African cultures saw some communities worship in sacred places such as mountains, hills or under trees. One community in Africa which the famous writer Ngugi wa Thiong’o hails from, the Agikuyu community, came up with myths about the origin and existence of God. The myths explained that God was a supernatural being who lived at the top of Mount Kirinyaga. Thus, it is worth noting that the myth is an attribution to the fact that the members of the worshipped while facing the mountain as they considered the place to be sacred. Besides, other cultures across the world have come up with myths that try to explain the origin of various communities and how man came into existence. With all these in mind, this paper will discuss about myths and apply them to various stories; the movie ‘Hamlet’ by Shakespeare, “Matigari” by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, “The Pearl” by Steinbeck and “The Expedition to the Baobab Tree” by Stockenström.
To start with, Barthes’ quote “Myth is speech stolen and restored” is clearly illustrated in Shakespeare’s movie ‘Hamlet’. In the movie, there are several characters: the fallen King Hamlet, Prince Hamlet, Gertrude, Claudius, Polonius, Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, Ophelia, Laertes and Horatio. ‘Hamlet’ is a movie that tries to explain the situation in a kingdom where there are rampant killings and death incidences. The main character in the movie is Prince Hamlet and he goes for his father’s burial in Denmark. As per the norms of different communities, a widow should take some time to mourn the fallen husband before getting married to another man. However, the widow in this case Gertrude, Prince Hamlet’s mother, gets married immediately after the death of her husband and thus shocks Prince Hamlet. An individual would be shocked just like Prince Hamlet was, when he realized that his uncle and mother were now a couple. Thereafter, Claudius is sworn in as the king of the kingdom and this makes Prince Hamlet to suspect foul play as he was supposed to be the heir to his father’s throne. Thereafter, the ghosts of King Hamlet visit the castle and this makes Prince Hamlet confirm the suspicions that his father was killed by Claudius and Gertrude. In fact, the spirit of the ghost orders Prince Hamlet to avenge his death and in order to achieve this, Prince Hamlet was to kill all the participants in his death including Uncle Claudius who was crowned as the King but to spare Gertrude. The spirit of King Hamlet told the prince to spare Gertrude as Heaven would make a decision on her fate for her actions.
Prince Hamlet succeeds in the avenge mission as he kills all the villains who played a part in his father’s death in the end. In this case, the aspect of myth is clearly illustrated by the existence and presence of the ghost spirit. In various communities across the world, there are several myths that when a person dies, he will come back to the community in form of ghost spirits. The myths argue that the ghosts are untouchable and often come back to the community either to avenge their deaths or appreciate those who were of benefit to their lives when they were still alive and this is a myth among various cultures. In fact, in most African cultures, when a person is killed intentionally or politically assassinated, the spirits of the dead often come back to haunt the living individuals that contributed in one way or another to the death. Similarly, in the movie ‘Hamlet’, it is worth noting that the ghost of King Hamlet is present and it tells Prince Hamlet of the individuals who led to his death and orders him to begin the avenge mission. Therefore, it is worth noting that the existence or presence of ghosts in the world is a myth that is only found among a few cultures across the world. At times, the existence of ghosts is true while at times, it is believed to be false.
“Only speech which is restored is no longer quite that which was stolen: when it was brought back, it was not put exactly in its place”. This quote by Barthes can also be applied to the story in the book ‘Matigari’ written by Ngugi wa Thiong’o. According to the story in the book, the struggle for independence in one of the countries in Africa has come to an end and the case is perceived to be in Kenya. This is succeeded by a situation where the fighters who resisted the colonial rule come out of the bush. One resistance fighter who comes out of the bush is known as Matigari wa Nijiruungi, Kikuyu words that if interpreted mean “the patriots who survived the bullets”. Due to the fact that war is over, Matigari does away with his weapons and goes out in search for peace and justice. However, as he had dreamt, he finds the life in the new independent state the exact opposite and far from his dreams. Matigari finds that other people have gifted themselves with power and riches. In fact, when Matigari demands for land and his house from the sons of those he had fought for; he is arrested and locked up. Fortunately, they manage to escape miraculously from the cell. Matigari goes to an extent of confronting a minister in his search for justice only to end up being locked up in a mental hospital from where he later escapes. However, he is tracked down with dogs but he is not found. Presently, in the community, several people have believed that the story of Matigari is a myth in the community. Those who have ever since taken up the struggle have looked up to Matigari though they have never seen him. It is just a belief that an individual known as Matigari fought for the independence of the people and was later denied justice, an element that some individuals in the community fight for up to date.
According to the book, Magtigari is considered a myth in the community because of the several questions raised by the members of the community. Some of the questions asked by people are about who Matigari was. Others have ever since asked themselves how on earth they are going to recognize him. Besides, there have been debates about how Matigari looked like, what his nationality was, whether he was a man or a woman, whether he was young or old, fat or thin or whether he is real. In fact, others have questioned whether Matigari is a person or a spirit in the Agikuyu community. With all these questions in mind, the story in the book of Ngugi wa Thiong’o can be confirmed to be a myth since Matigari has never been seen by people and is even considered as a spirit by some individuals. This is only a story that has been stolen by someone and restored for people to believe how people got independence in the country hence the quote by Barthes that “myth is speech stolen and restored” can be confirmed.
Barthes’ quote about myth can also be confirmed in Steinbeck’s book ‘The Pearl’. According to the book, the characters include: Coyotito who is a child to Kino and Juana. Kino wants the sting of the scorpion on his child Coyotito healed by a town doctor although the town doctor cannot treat Coyotito because Kino has no money as he is poverty stricken. Consequently, Kino comes across an enormous and lucid Pearl which he decided to sell in order to get money to cater for Coyotito’s treatment though he faces a number of challenges in his struggle to sell the pearl. He takes the pearl to the ‘buyers’ who want to give him an incredibly low amount of money in return. Kino then decides to go back home with the pearl where his wife Juana has the feeling that the pearl is the cause of darkness and greed that she sees in Kino’s life hence decides to throw it back to the ocean. However, she does not succeed because Kino attacks her and takes the pearl. On his way back home, Kino comes across a man who wants to snatch the pearl away from him. He stabs and kills the man. On his arrival home, Kino finds that his house is on fire. He then decides to leave for a distant place together with his wife Juana and his child Coyotito. However, trackers follow them and unfortunately kill Coyotito. Kino is furious and goes back to his home. He buries his child Coyotito and throws the pearl away. This story is a speech that has been stolen and restored. The myth in this case is that, the pearl is an enormous and lucid structure that is treasured and believed to be of great value. Across a number of cultures, the pearl has brought war and conflict because of its value. However, the pearl remains to be a myth because, it has never been seen and a good number of people do not know how it looks like. The stories about the pearl, just like Steinbeck’s, are just but an encouragement to poor people who think that there is a possibility and a way of getting to riches fast. Therefore, it is worth noting that ‘The Pearl’ is a speech stolen and restored hence it confirms Barthes quote that “only speech which is restored is no longer quite that which was stolen: when it was brought back, it was not put exactly in its place”.
The aspect of myth as described by Barthes in his quotes is also clearly brought out in the book “The Expedition to the Baobab Tree” by Stockenström. In the book, a young girl, who is also a former slave stays in a hollow baobab tree, in a way to survive in the harsh environments of Southern Africa. After her slavery, the young girl realizes that her environment is no longer friendly and thus seeks solace in the hollow baobab tree. When in the baobab tree, she realizes that she is in a peaceful environment because her body is her own and her thoughts are her own. Though she is lonely, she appreciates the peaceful environment in the hollow baobab tree. Thoughts go through her mind of how she has faced several challenges such as torture and assault from her employers and owners and how her babies have been taken away from her. The story in the book thus tries to explain the history of the young girl: how she was captured when she was a child, the torture she went through while working as a servant in a harbor city and her new environment in the hollow baobab tree. the myth brought forth, in this case, is how the baobab tree is believe to be of great treasure by a number of communities across the world. Notably, various cultures globally believe that the baobab tree is sacred and is of great significance to the lives of human beings. In fact, there are some African communities that believe that the baobab tree is sacred and that it shows the presence of a supernatural being. In fact, other African communities believe that when an individual worships when going around the baobab tree, they are most likely to be blessed in various ways. This has been a myth among the Agikuyu people which is a community in Africa. They believe that the baobab tree is sacred and should not be cut down. Similarly, in the story, it can be realized that communities in South Africa believe that the baobab tree offers a good and peaceful environment to people. During incidences of war and conflict, southern African communities often seek solace in baobab trees as they have the capability of providing cool and peaceful environments to people. This can clearly be seen when the girl sought shelter in a hollow baobab tree. It is evident that the tree gave her a peaceful environment where she could think about her previous experiences in life. The stories circulating around the baobab tree in various cultures across the globe are false. This confirms the argument about myths by Barthes that “only speech which is restored is no longer quite that which was stolen: when it was brought back, it was not put in its place”.