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Callaloo 25.2 (2002) 454-493

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In The Time Of The Revolution 1

Maryse Condé

ACT I: 1789

THE STORYTELLER       Why are people so afraid of death? If they knew how gentle and fraternal it is for bodies and souls defeated by existence, they would desire its coming instead.
       As for me, I've only known peace since my death, on that night of carnage and blood, a few steps away from here on Sartine Square, that you people call Victoire Square now. 2 What a night that was! I'm still overwhelmed by the memory of it. My name is Zephyr. 3 You don't recognize it? Not at all? And yet it appears in some of your history books. And yet it's for you that I and so many others, anonymous or famous, lost our lives. So many others!
       Then I'll have to refresh your memory and remind you of that historical moment that you can't remember anymore. Ladies and Gentlemen, this evening we're going to perform "In The Time of the Revolution." It was long, very long ago . . .

The stage on the left lights up gradually.

In those days, our country was called . . .
It was called Guadeloupe, as it is today! 4
There were 109,639 inhabitants.
13,969 Whites!
The so-called "grands blancs": owners of plantations, sugar mills, and hundreds of slaves.

A white man in expensive clothes goes by, struts, and disappears.

or merchants trading wine, flour, goods and slaves, why not?

The white man goes by again. Same movements.

The so-called "petits blancs": farmers, artisans, sometimes owners of one or two slaves.

A peevish, poorly dressed white man passes by without greeting anyone.

3,125 free persons of color: artisans, owners of land and slaves. 5 [End Page 454]

A Mulatto as expensively dressed as the "grand blanc" passes by, swaggers, and disappears.

82,978 slaves transported in the holds of ships from the coast of Africa, for on the eve of 1789, the slave trade has become prosperous. They don't own anything, not even themselves. 6

The storyteller pulls a proclamation out of his pocket and reads it.

"FOR SALE. 12 superb, first quality Blacks, accustomed to the heaviest labor, in works of making levees, digging trenches, digging holes to plant sugar cane, felling trees on the hills. They are available on a trial basis upon request."

During the reading of this announcement, a group of slaves appears, staggers and disappears. The light fades.

France was no longer called Gaul. No, that was ancient history! It was called France, the kingdom of France.

Slowly the right stage lights up.

It had 26 million inhabitants. The aristocracy: 350,000 people, who owned lands, castles, personal property, real estate, servants to serve them from the time they got up to the time they went to bed.

An expensively adorned, bewigged aristocrat struts and disappears.

The clergy: 120,000 persons in monasteries, churches and rectories taking away the sins of the world.

A priest passes by and gives his blessing.

The Third Estate: 25 million men, women, and children in the cities and the countryside. 7

The storyteller recites like a schoolchild.

What is the Third Estate? Everything.
What has it been up until now in the political order? Nothing. The storyteller recites like a schoolchild.
What is it asking for? To become something.

As the storyteller is reciting, a group of peasants and bourgeois cross the stage. The storyteller laughs.

Do you at least remember this? You all recited it in school.
Now be quiet. Our story is about to begin.

Darkness on the two stages. Then the right stage lights up. The priest reappears.

THE PRIEST       [He accentuates his speech by beating a drum like a town crier] Brothers! Now is the time for justice! Brothers, our good king Louis XVI, by the grace of God, concerns himself with our condition! [End Page 455]
       Brothers, our good king invites you to write to him on cahiers stating your grievances! 8 Brothers, now is the time for hope!
       Write to him, write to...


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