Postcolonial criticism analyzes and critiques the literature, poetry, drama, and prose fiction of writers who are subjects of countries that were governed by or that were colonies of other nations, primarily England and France, and, to a lesser extent, the United States. Postcolonial criticism deals mainly with the literatures of Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean by analyzing the interactions between the culture, customs, and history of indigenous peoples and of the colonial power that governs. Postcolonial criticism is part of a larger field called cultural studies, or race and ethnicity studies.
To understand the importance of postcolonial literature, a reader should understand the scope of European involvement in the lives of people around the world. Between the fifteenth and nineteenth centuries, European countries conquered, governed, and otherwise had interests in the majority of nations around the world. Colonialism had begun principally through mercantilism and the protection of mercantile companies, such as the British East India Company, by the British navy and the navies of other trading countries. By the mid-twentieth century, however, domination by Europe began to end, as colonized countries staged successful independence movements. By 1980, Britain had lost all but a few of its colonial holdings; Hong Kong remained British until 1997 and Australia remained British until 1999.
Postcolonial literary criticism is a recent development. Formerly known as commonwealth studies, postcolonial literary studies includes examinations of works by authors from colonized nations. After nationalism, indigenous novelists and poets finally were able to express freely their own thoughts and feelings about the effects of the long-term conquest of their peoples, their traditions, and their customs. Although some literature from the East originated in these early days of colonial rule, the great mass of postcolonial literature began as colonies gained their independence.
A list of the most influential postcolonial critics would have to begin with Edward W. Said (1935-2003), whose Orientalism (1978) is considered a foundational work in postcolonial studies. Said has a special place in postcolonial studies in part because of the uniqueness of his birth and education. He was born in Jerusalem while it was still a British...
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