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Postcolonial Literature

An introduction to the field of postcolonial literature for English Lit students.

Thom Haines

on 25 January 2011

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Transcript of Postcolonial Literature

Postcolonial Literature
A specifically post-modern intellectual discourse that consists of reactions to, and analysis of, the cultural legacy of colonialism.
The continuing impact of the colonial experience on contemporary culture.
Colonialism is a product of imperialism
Most European countries, including Britain, have a history of military imperialism. They attempted to build their empires by the conquest of less developed countries across the globe and imposed their rule their rule upon them, usually to ensure a supply of cheap raw materials to help support the development of European economies.
The most notorious aspect of imperialism was the slave trade. Africans were forcibly shipped to the Americas to be sold to plantation owners; a practice which was not abolished until the early part of the nineteenth century. The wealth of many British cities, including London, Liverpool, Bristol and Glasgow was built on the ‘triangular trade’ in which slaves were bartered for sugar, tobacco and cotton.
Cultural Imperialism
1. Culture (e.g. literature, language, popular culture) supports imperialism. and is one way to spread it.
2. The definition of the self and others are based upon representations rather than reality.
3. A series of binary oppositions were employed to at once define the colonised subjects and the colonising masters.
The West as civilised, just, moral, industrious, rational, Masculine.
The Oriental as savage, lewd, lazy, superstitious, feminine.
4. Can often lead to self-hatred.
"The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look at it too much. What redeems it is the idea only. An idea at the back of it: not a sentimental pretence but an idea; an unselfish belief in the idea something you can set up, and bow down before, and offer sacrifice to…“ (Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness)
Examples of Cultural Imperialism
The Tempest– Caliban
Robinson Crusoe– Friday
Jane Eyre –the madwoman Bertha
Mansfield Park– dependant on the business from the West Indian Estate (in Antigua)
Edward Said
Said took the term Orientalism, which was used in the West neutrally to describe the study and artistic depiction of the Orient, and subverted it to mean a constructed binary division of the world into the Orient and the Occident. Western depictions of the ‘Orient’ construct an inferior world, a place of backwardness, irrationality, and wildness. This allowed the ‘West’ to identify themselves as the opposite of these characteristics; as a superior world that was progressive, rational, and civil.
Frantz Fanon
Fanon is one of the earliest writers associated with postcolonialism. In his book The Wretched of the Earth, Fanon analyzed the nature of colonialism and those subjugated by it. He describes colonialism as a source of violence rather than reacting violently against resistors which had been the common view. His portrayal of the systematic relationship between colonialism and its attempts to deny "all attributes of humanity" to those it suppressed laid the groundwork for related critiques of colonial and postcolonial systems.
Things Fall Apart - Chinua Achebe
Achebe’s writing about African society is intended to extinguish the misconception that African culture had been savage and primitive by telling the story of the colonization of the Igbo from an African point of view. In Things Fall Apart, western culture is portrayed as being “arrogant and ethnocentric," insisting that the African culture needed a leader. As it had no kings or chiefs, Umofian culture was vulnerable to invasion by western civilization. It is felt that the repression of the Igbo language at the end of the novel contributes greatly to the destruction of the culture.
Jean Rhys - The Wide Sargasso Sea
The novel acts as a prequel to Charlotte Brontë's famous 1847 novel Jane Eyre. It is the story of the first Mrs. Rochester, Antoinette (Bertha) Mason, a white Creole heiress, from the time of her youth in the Caribbean to her unhappy marriage and relocation to England. Caught in an oppressive patriarchal society in which she belongs neither to the white Europeans nor the black Jamaicans, Rhys's novel re-imagines Brontë's devilish madwoman in the attic. As with many postcolonial works, the novel deals largely with the themes of racial inequality and the harshness of displacement and assimilation.
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