Examine "culture and imperialism" in the form and content The  Moonstone by Wilkie Collins and Out of Africa by Karen Blixen/ Isak Dinesen.

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Both works offer social realities that challenge culture and imperialism. In Out of Africa, the idea of the indigenous people as "savages" is fundamentally challenged.  Dinesen asserts that imperialistic notions of the good do not fully grasp the intricacies and nuances of a different world.  Dinesen goes beyond imperialistic construction in defining culture: "the oxen in Africa have earned the heavy load of the advance of European civilization ... all of that we have taken away from the oxen, and in reward we have claimed their existence for ourselves." Dinesen views imperialism as a flawed reality.  She breaks from the imperialistic view of culture when she sees the land and its people as more than just "the other:"  "The grass was me, and the air, the distant invisible mountains were me, the tired oxen were me. I breathed with the slight wind in the thorntrees."  The notion of culture as defined in imperialistic conditions is fundamentally challenged in Dinesen's work.  She transcends the idea that the indigenous people are "the other."  In seeing herself embedded within the African setting, carving out her identity within it, the notion of imperialism that establishes an "insider" and an "outsider" is challenged.  This is evident when she leaves Africa: "the attitude of the landscape towards me changed. Till then I had been part of it ... Now the country disengaged itself from me, and stood back a little, in order that I should see it clearly and as a whole."  The complex notion of identity is not a part of the construction offered in imperialistic views of culture. Dinesen is able to assert that culture in the reality of imperialism is complex and far from simplistic and reductive in both the indigenous and European contexts.

To a great extent, I think that a similar level of complexity can be seen in culture and imperialism in The Moonstone.  The work's premise challenges how imperialism is perceived.  The theft of the jewel from Lord Shiva at the hands of an unscrupulous British officer is a repudiation of the cultural context of imperialism.  In the novel's premise, one sees how imperialistic culture literally robs from the indigenous culture. The fact that the gem is restored is a statement about how imperialistic ideas of culture have to be fundamentally challenged and rethought.  At the same time, The Moonstone demonstrates an aspect of European culture that is not entirely desirable. For example, the vision of London that is offered in Collins's work is not idealized.  It shows the city to be filled with material and moral visions of poverty.  The slum life of London is a challenge to the imperialistic idea that Western nations were the bastions of progress, bringing "light" to the darkened parts of the world. In both the premise of the novel and the development of London as a setting, imperialistic notions of culture are fundamentally challenged.

I think that both novels can be seen as representing some part of imperialistic constructions of culture.  Dinesen's impressions of "the natives" are still through her own lens of privilege and external reality.  To some extent, she views them as "creatures."  This view is challenged in the way the novel develops and the befriending of them that takes place, however it is still within a somewhat stilted Imperialistic context. Collins's work depicts the three Hindus as an external force that is nameless and almost faceless.  There is little development of their own narratives and their own voice is filtered through the lens of being "the other." While there are some imperialistic tendencies in both works, I think that both go rather far in challenging the structure of cultural meaning that imperialism offers.  There are distinct ways in which both works challenge  the power structure of imperialism.  In a cultural context where other works from Europe could not even offer such resistance, the challenging vision of culture and imperialism that is offered in Out of Africa and The Moonstone is significant.