Frantz Fanon was born July 20, 1925, in Fort de France, the capitol city of the island of Martinique, a former French colony, and present-day Department of France in the Caribbean.
Martinique is an overseas region of the French Republic located in the eastern Caribbean Sea. The two islands nearest Martinique are St. Lucia and Dominica, to the south and northwest, respectively. Martinique became an overseas region of the French Republic in 1635, and its citizens have full French citizenship.
David Macey (2000) describes a notable social class division in Martinique: the rich, or békés , and the working class. The official language of Martinique is French, although Creole is the native language of the region. Creole is a mixture of French and many other African and European languages, primarily spoken by traders and merchants of the eastern Caribbean.
Creole was originally developed in an effort to allow white masters to communicate with black slaves on plantations. The use of Creole can at times create a feeling of Martinican identity within the native working class. During Frantz Fanon’s school-age years he was discouraged from speaking Creole in school because it was seen"as"“uneducated”"and"deriving"from"a"lower"socioeconomic"status. This transformation of language from Creole to French in Martinique would later be discussed by Fanon in his work Peau Noire, Masques Blancs
The Martinique capitol where Fanon was born, Fort-de-France, was neither a scenic nor modern town. Waste was dumped into open drains and rivers, which served as a breeding ground for rats and land crabs. A proper sewage system was not developed in Fort-de-France until 1951 (Macey, 2000). Harsh rural poverty and diseases such as tuberculosis, leprosy, malaria, and elephantiasis were present in Fort-de-France during much of Fanon’s childhood, lingering through the 1950s (Macey, 2000).
Aimé Césaire (1994), the Martinican poet, author, and politician, gives this unappealing description of Fort-de-France in his poem Cahier) d’un)Retour)au)Pays)Natal: This flat town – sprawling, tripped from its right direction, inert, breathless under the geometric burden of a cross that is constantly being reborn, rebellious against its destiny, frustrated in every way, incapable of growing along with the sap of this soil, ill at ease, clipped, diminished, at odds with its fauna and flora.
Fanon’s childhood, however , was not directly affected by this presence of disease, infestation, and poverty, despite the fact that he was born into a family of eight children. Early Life Frantz Fanon was raised by a somewhat prosperous middle-class family which received dual-income from a shop-owning mother and a father who worked as a customs inspector.
Frantz’s father, Casimir, spent much of his time at work and was not as heavily involved in the upbringing of the children as was his mother Eleanore Buchan. For many years Fanon carried a harsh resentment against his father for not being more intimately involved in his and his siblings lives. This resentment can be seen through an excerpt of a letter Fanon wrote to his father while serving in the French Army during World War II.
Casimir and Eléanor had eight children together: Mireille, Félix, Gabrielle, Joby, Marie-Flore, Marie-Rose, Willie, and Frantz. It was typical of the Fanon household to have large lunch and dinner gatherings where 12 to 15 members of the extended family were present. Frantz was closest to his older brother Joby, two years his senior.
As Fanon finished primary school and reached his teens he began dismissing sports, clubs, and friends to spend his time reading in Fort-de-France’s local library. Fanon spent hours in the library studying various subjects, and he found a particular interest in classical French literature and philosophy. In 1939, at the start of the Second World War, Fanon began his secondary schooling at the Lycée Schoelcher in Fort-de-France.
Fanon’s ability to enroll in this school provides insight to his family’s socio-economic status at the time. The tuition was substantial enough that only 4% of blacks in Martinique could afford to send their children to the Lycée .
During Fanon’s first year at the Lycée Schoelcher, schools in Fort-de-France closed in preparation for raids (as a result of the outbreak of World War II). Soon after Frantz and Joby returned from Le François, the Battle of France erupted in Europe, ending with France’s surrender in June of 1940. Shortly after the surrender, Martinique was blockaded and occupied by Vichy French forces. Leaving Martinique was strictly prohibited. It was at this time that Fanon and his colleagues first experienced overt displays of racism from the Vichy French.
After France surrendered, Fanon began to take interest in the war and wanted to be in the heart of the problem Fanon, along with many other Martinicans, discreetly fled Martinique to join forces with the Free French on the island of Dominica. Fanon’s first attempt at battle ended quickly, as the Vichy regime discontinued the usage of Martinique as an outpost. Fanon returned home to Martinique after only six months.
In July of 1943, the Free French destroyer Terrible docked in Fort-de-France. The soldiers aboard decided to gather a unit of volunteers from Fort-de-France to fight alongside the Free French and the Allied forces.
The following March, Fanon's unit headed to Morocco to basic training. By July 1944, the unit was transferred east to Algeria. After arrival in Oran, Fanon and his Martinican battalion acquired their first glimpse at the sickening state of affairs with wartime rationing, famine zones, and ragged children fighting over scraps of food. Soon after Fanon’s battalion was shipped across the Mediterranean Sea to France.
In France, Fanon fought in many battles. In November, he was hit by a piece of shrapnel from a mortar round and received a serious chest wound. He was awarded the Croix de Guerre with a bronze star for his distinguished conduct in the battle. Fanon was immediately transported to a hospital in Nantua, where he recovered rather quickly. After his recovery, Fanon rejoined his regiment and began night patrols on the banks of the Rhine. In 1945 the war ended, and Fanon was sent to a port on the Seine estuary in Rouen to stay for a few months until he was shipped back to Martinique.
Fanon and the rest of his regiment returned to Martinique in October of 1945. Shortly after his return, Fanon decided it was time to enroll once more in the Lycée Schoelcher to finish his secondary schooling. After consummation of the school’s oral examination, Fanon was awarded his baccalauréat, fulfilling the prerequisite requirement he needed to attend a university.
With the help of legislation providing veterans free tuition at a university of their choosing, Fanon made the decision to enroll in dental school. Fanon left Martinique in 1946 for the School of Dentistry in Paris, France. After a few weeks at the school, Fanon concluded dentistry was not for him, and he opted to study medicine in Lyon . He attended preliminary courses in biology and chemistry before the commencement of his medical schooling.
While in medical school, Fanon met his first relationship partner, a younger white medical student named Michelle. In 1948 Michelle gave birth to Fanon’s first daughter, Mireille. Fanon did not marry Michelle after Mireille was born, having met another woman, Josie, whom he would marry in 1952. During the course of his studies, Fanon became interested in psychiatry.
Fanon independently pursued this new passion as the university he was attending was considered a psychiatric desert at the time. The majority of the psychological references later used in Peau Noire, Masques Blancs were a result of Fanon’s wide range of alternative reading, not of his medical school’s offerings. In addition, there were no psychoanalysts in Lyon at this time; therefore, it was nearly impossible for Fanon to receive training in psychoanalysis. In 1951 Fanon defended his medical thesis, returning home to Fort-de-France shortly thereafter.
Once home in Martinique, Fanon began medical practice. He soon realized that the essential problems facing Martinicans were political and economic. The vast majority of the patients Fanon treated during this period were suffering from maladies for which the primary causes were malnutrition, poor sanitation, and shoddy public health practices. In response to the constant flow of patients whose primary illnesses could not be treated by general medicine, Fanon’s interest in psychology soared. During his time practicing medicine in Fort-de-France, Fanon published the article The "Lived Experience of the Black Man” in the French journal Esprit.
This article, a description of he black man’s psyche in a white man’s world, was published as a chapter in his book Peau Noire, Masques Blancs in 1952. Fanon soon realized that his practicing medicine in Martinique would not offer the Martinicans any real benefit, and he left for France to specialize in psychiatry. In November of 1951 Fanon was admitted to the psychiatric residency program at the Hôspital de Saint Alban in Central France, under the supervision of Professor François Tosquelles. While in his residency, Fanon conducted research with Tosquelles on electroconvulsive therapy . The pair presented three papers together at a professional conference on the topic.
During this period, Fanon also independently published another article in the Esprit entitled “The North African Syndrome.” In this article, Fanon discusses racism toward patients in the medical facilities of France and provides a description of the North African Syndrome, a psychosomatic syndrome he proposed was rooted in racism and oppression. Blida, Algeria.
After his two-year residency Fanon left Saint Alban on a quest to challenge the infamous Le Médicat de Hôpitaux Psychiatrique, a difficult examination that allowed a psychiatrist to become the chef de service of a major psychiatric institution. After successfully passing the exam in 1953 Fanon applied for the chef de service at Blida-Joinville Hospital in Blida, Algeria.
This decision may have stemmed from Fanon’s previous work with the North Africans who exhibited symptoms of the North African Syndrome, or perhaps as a result of the horrific sight of the starving children as he trolled the streets of Oran when he was in the Army. Fanon knew that there were tears to be wiped away, inhuman attitudes to be fought, condescending ways of speech to be ruled out, and men to be humanized.
At this time Fanon was simply considered a humanist and had yet to consider the cleansing and liberating effects of revolutionary violence as a means to dry the tears of the Algerians. Regardless of Fanon’s motivation, he received the position as the chef de service and began his work in Blida. Upon arriving in Blida, Fanon received his first glimpse of what he would later describe as the compartmentalized, Manichaean world of colonialism, a notion that bolstered his many theories.
Blida embodied both a well-laid-out European town, and a jumble of an Arab town referred to, as were all Arab quarters, as “nigger town". The Blida-Joinville hospital sits on the western edge of the Blida, distant from this Manichean world, and provided Fanon and his family a house inside its quarters during his practice there. Throughout his time spent working at the hospital, Fanon witnessed medicine’s role in oppression of the Algerians: doctors who were also owners of mills, vineyards, or orange groves, and behaved accordingly, and doctors who would commit acts of malpractice such as administering saline solution or distilled water to the Arabs, claiming it was penicillin or vitamin B.
Despite the other psychiatrists careless attitude toward the patients at Blida-Joinville, Fanon exhibited the utmost concern for their well-being. While at the hospital, Fanon facilitated social and psychotherapy groups with his patients, the first this had ever been attempted in North Africa. He also took lessons in music in an attempt to better his music therapy, and lessons in Arabic to better understand, empathize, and relate to his patients. Fanon also conducted pharmacological research on the use of lithium citrate for the treatment of acute mania and affective disorders during his time spent at Blida-Joinville
In 1954, shortly after Fanon’s arrival in Blida, the first outbreak of an Algerian revolution presented itself. Fanon and the Revolution In April of 1955 a full state of emergency was declared against the FLN revolutionary guerillas. Fanon’s heart swayed toward the cause of the FLN, and he began to hold meetings at the hospital with its members, explaining to them the nature of the disorders in which many of their members were suffering. During this time the hospital was seen as a safe haven, as wounded revolutionary fighters could move in and out of the clinic anonymously with little trouble.
Although Fanon’s participation in the FLN gradually became less covert throughout 1955, it was not until 1956 that Fanon spoke publicly about the war in Algeria. As the Algerian Revolution progressed and moved toward the inner-city areas, Fanon’s work at the hospital became increasingly more dangerous.
Despite the ever-increasing danger, Fanon continued to see patients, a substantial number of which arrived with complaints of situational or reactive psychoses triggered by the experience of violence or torture. Fanon provides case notes from sessions with many of these patients in Les D amnés de la Terre.
With the ever-growing violence and counter-violence between the FLN and the French Government, Fanon began to receive death threats from anonymous sources. Shortly after, Fanon submitted a letter of resignation to the hospital, and was expelled from Algeria, presumably due to his now overt connections with the FLN. Fanon quickly fled Blida to Tunis, serving as his home until his death in 1961.
During his time spent in Tunis, Fanon traveled Europe and Africa serving as the international spokesman for the El Moudjahid and the FLN; he attended and spoke at various conferences in an attempt to promote the struggle for decolonization in Algeria. In 1959, Fanon published his second book, L'An Cinq, de l a Révolution Algérienne.
This work was published in the midst of the Algerians struggle for decolonization, and its contents provide a painstaking representation of Fanon’s passion toward the unfolding revolution. Shortly after this publication, Fanon was diagnosed with leukemia.
After Fanon’s initial diagnosis, and retests to ensure its validity, Fanon began Myleran treatment for leukemia. The Myleran treatment brought on a period of remission which provided Fanon with adequate time to complete his final piece, Les Damnés de la Terre, and meet with Jean-Paul Sartre who would compose the preface. Shortly thereafter, Fanon was hospitalized for his condition.
In 1961 Fanon was transferred from Tunisia to Washington’s National Health Institute in Bethesda, Maryland. Frantz Fanon passed away on December 9, 1961 with his wife and brothers by his side.
Fanon was buried with honors by the FLN, 15 miles inside Algeria's border with Tunisia. commemoration of the radical psychiatrist and revolutionary, a boulevard and university were given his name in the independent Algeria, and a literary prize, Prix Frantz Fanon, was established in his homeland of Martinique in 1987 as well as the Bibliotheque Frantz Fanon.