Significance of Studying Post-Colonial Literature

Updated on July 2, 2018

The term ‘Postcolonialism’ widely refers to the representation of race, ethnicity, culture and human identity in the modern era, mostly after many colonised countries got their independence. It is connected with imperialism from the moment of colonization until 21st century. “The word imperialism derives from the Latin ‘imperium,’ which has numerous meanings including power, authority, command, dominion, realm, and empire” (Habib). It describes many interactions between ‘coloniser’ and ‘colonised.’ Especially the British Empire consisted of more than a quarter of all the territory on the surface of the earth: one in four people was a subject of Queen Victoria. It is the literature and the art produced in the countries such as India, Sri Lanka, Nigeria, Senegal and Australia after their independence, called as Postcolonial literature. Edward Said’s prominent book ‘Orientalism’ is an assessment of Western representation of the Eastern culture under the label ‘Postcolonial Studies’.

Postcolonial Authors

The four names appear again and again as thinkers who have shaped postcolonial theory are Frantz Fanon, Edward Said, Homi Bhabha and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. Though all these writers had different lands, nationalities and social backgrounds, they could all create their own distinction in producing wonderful works of literature of which many would certainly come under the label ‘Postcolonial literature.’

Postcolonialism Literature in English

One of the most influential novels of Postcolonialism is ‘Things Fall Apart’ (1958) by Chinua Achebe, exploring the interaction between traditional African society and British colonizers. In this novel the character Okonkwo, struggles to understand and cope up with the changes got from Christianity and British control. His novel examines various situations occurred after the post independence fictional West African village. Achebe conveyed through his novels how the British legacies continue to weaken possibility of uniting the country. Achebe got the Man Booker International Prize in 2007 for his literary merit.

South African novelist and Booker Prize winner J. M. Coetzee explores the themes of crime, revenge, land rights and racial justice post-apartheid South Africa. In most of his novels, he represented his own alienation from his fellow Africans. Coetzee received his second Booker Prize for his novel, ‘Disgrace’ (1999). The novel illustrates the endeavour of both colonizers and the colonized for harmony in the post apartheid South Africa. Disgrace portrays a scene that colonialists left a gaping wound not only for the Black but also for the White themselves. It is difficult for them to cope with a changing world in an apartheid-free South Africa. On one hand, the once dominant, White could not escape from the shadow of their previous hegemony in colonial time. On the other hand, the Black violated the White to assimilate the White, and to give chances the White for redemptions rather than to pour their hatred, and to exhibit their authority. Therefore, when colonialist policies fade away, to survive in post-apartheid South Africa, the Black and the White living become disoriented and helpless. Both of them cannot help but to expiate and start on a long and painful journey to search for self-identity. They are both searching for a new way to live in coexistence equally and peacefully.

In addition, Michael Ondaatje is a novelist, critic, poet born in Sri Lanka, is best known for his Booker Prize winning novel ‘The English Patient’ (1992) which features the interactions of characters of various nationalities during the last days of WWII. The novel surveys lots of postcolonial themes such as intersections between national and individual identity which caused in consciousness. It is set in a country house in Florence and describes the lives of a young woman and three men from various countries including a badly burnt English patient dying in a room.

Some significant writers in postcolonial literature are like Ngugi wa Thiongo, Edwidge Danticat, Leslie Marmon Silko, Jamaica Kincaid including Li-Young Lee contributed considerably. Ngugi’s ‘Decolonizing the Mind’ (1986) is a kind of multiple type genre and it describes various traditions of his people. It also presents how British education system tried to destroy the local culture and its language Gikuyu. Silko in his novel ‘Ceremony’ (1977) celebrates various traditions and myths of the Laguna Pueblo and influence of white relation on local culture. It also shows how Native Americans hold a special position in postcolonial discourse.

On par with male writers in postcolonial literature, there are renowned female novelists, who have contributed in a greater extent. Jamaica Kincaid mostly wrote about women’s experiences in addition to the effects of patriarchy and colonialism. Her famous novel ‘A Small Place’ (1988) is one of the postcolonial discourse with which she draws on her personal experience of living in British colony of Antigua. Kincaid expresses her contempt for the British ways for colonized. In this novel she focuses on the English educational system which attempted to turn natives into English. Further she points out that the native people like to adopt the worst of foreign culture and pay no attention to the best.

Another novelist Edwidge Danticat from Haiti is the writer of the novel ‘Breath, Eyes, Memory’ (1994). Her novel presents many themes like migration, sexuality, gender and history as they are the most common postcolonial themes. In this novel the protagonist Sophie struggles to get an identity out of desperate cultures and languages such as French, English to adapt to American ways after she reaches Brooklyn, New York. Danticat become a leading female voice of postcolonial literature.

One of the prominent theorists of postcolonial literary theory is Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak who translated Derrida’s ‘De la Grammatologie’ (1967) into English along with its preface. Her ‘A Critique of Postcolonial Reason’ (1999), explores how major works of European metaphysics (e.g., Kant, Hegel) not only tend to exclude the subaltern from their discussions, but actively prevent non-Europeans from occupying positions as fully human subjects.

The Central Ideas in Postcolonial Literature

Postcolonial has many common motifs and themes like ‘cultural dominance,’ ‘racism,’ ‘quest for identity,’ ‘inequality’ along with some peculiar presentation styles. Most of the postcolonial writers reflected and demonstrated many thematic concepts which are quite connected with both ‘colonizer’ and ‘colonized’. White Europeans continually accentuated on racial discrimination for their superiority over colonized. It was most evident in South Africa that the apartheid was incorporated in national laws. Among the most notable acts of this kind were ‘The Groups Areas Act’, ‘Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act’, ‘Immorality Act’, ‘The Population Registration Act’, ‘Bantu Authorities Act’, and ‘The Abolition of Passes and Coordination of Documents Act.’ Each of these acts were limiting, restricting and discriminating colonized from the ruling White. Both the writers Nadine Gordimer and Coetzee in their fiction showed how apartheid destroyed South Africa in many ways as emotionally, morally and economically. In postcolonial context, language played crucial role in control and subjugation of colonized people. Colonizers often imposed their language upon their subjects in order to control them. So most postcolonial writers address the issues in many ways by mixing the local language with imposed language, the result is a hybrid one that underscores the broken nature of the colonized mind.

Postcolonialism and Its Reflections

There are various reflections of Postcolonial literature in terms of theories and conceptions. The Postcolonial theorists examine both the colonial texts and literature written after colonialism. These theorists connected postcolonial literature with many fields like history, politics, philosophy and literary traditions and its significance in present day society. Most of the times, these postcolonial theorists are from postcolonial countries for instance Edward Said from Palestine, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak from India and Fanon from a French colony, Martinique. The colonial countries started writing and depicting the experiences of colonization and many changes brought by independence upon individuals and their respective nations. Some filmmakers also attempted to depict colonial and postcolonial predicaments in their films. Satyajit Ray, Deepa Mehta, Mira Nair, Shyam Benegal are few among the filmmakers who contributed to Postcolonialism. Music in postcolonial countries also exhibiting cultural identity and values as aboriginal pop music, best example of this kind of music such as Ravi Shankar’s unification of classical Indian music with Western sounds. Negritude movement also based on the concept of shared cultural affinity among black Africans. Most prominently negritude literature included the poetry of Leopold Senghor and Aime Cesaire especially in ‘Return to My Native Land.’

Conclusion

In fact, as the Postcolonial literature deals with framing identities, the politics of rewriting, translations, relation between nation and nationalism. It is a most dominant form of literature and it has a great appeal. Postcolonialism mostly deals with many concepts like cultural, political, geographical, psychological and post-structural etc. It is also major literature which helps in understanding both ‘colonizer’ and ‘colonized’ in many concerns like education, politics, geography, culture and customs.

Postcolonial has many common motifs and themes like ‘cultural dominance,’ ‘racism,’ ‘quest for identity,’ ‘inequality’ along with some peculiar presentation styles. Most of the postcolonial writers reflected and demonstrated many thematic concepts which are quite connected with both ‘colonizer’ and ‘colonized’. White Europeans continually accentuated on racial discrimination for their superiority over colonized.

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