Postcolonial Literature Themes

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thanatassa's profile pic

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The term postcolonial simply refers to a period immediately after a nation has attained independence from colonial powers. Although that would include such countries as Australia, New Zealand, and the United States, which were originally British colonies, and even England after the Norman conquest, from a certain point of view, the term is most often restricted to the literatures of Asian, African, and South American nations that have attained independence from European colonial powers in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The works normally studied under the rubric of postcolonial literature often are read through the lens of postcolonial literary theory, a framework that emphasizes race, class, and cultural oppression.

Common set of themes addressed are:

  • Assimilation: The colonized attempting to "pass" or assimilate to the colonial culture.
  • Appropriation: The colonizers taking on features of the colonized.
  • Hybridity: The blending of cultures occurring at the intersection of colonizer and colonized.
  • Diaspora: Colonial citizens who have emigrated from their own native countries or been displaced.
  • Alterity: The definition of the colonized as "other" than the dominant colonizing culture, a phenomenon also addressed under the theme of "orientalism" or exoticizing.
  • Subaltern: The subordination of the native population in a way that deprives them of both power and voice.
akannan's profile pic

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As with any literary movement that is so focused on the relationship between individuals and their social order in the development of the identity of both, there are many themes in Postcolonial literature.  I think that one particular theme resides in the construction of individual identity.  Much of the literature that comes out of Postcolonialism is very concerned with being able to assess the full effect of the role that social orders play in how individuals perceive themselves and their world.  Of particular importance to the work of Postcolonial literature is how indigenous and external societies clash with one another, oftentimes with the result left upon the psyche of the individual.  Within this arena, the effect of race and ethnicity becomes examined, as consciousness becomes products of a Colonial and Postcolonial setting.  Finally, I think that another theme is how individuals have to endure a level of struggle in trying to articulate their own sense of understanding of the shift that happens during the Colonial period as well as the realities that exist after it.

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