What is the concept of "mimicry" as presented by Bhabha in reference to post-colonial literature?

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

"Mimicry" is one of two critical terms ("hybridity" is the other) in Bhabha's criticism of post-colonial literature. What Bhabha contains, in the most basic terms, is that the colonized, after a long relationship with the colonizer--a relationship that can be virtually wholly bad as in Haiti (Farming of Bones) or that can produce some benefit as in India (extensive competitive Western educational system)--has ambivalent feelings toward the colonizer: some good feelings, some desire for they have; some bad feelings, some repulsion at what they are. Bhabha contends that this ambivalence--this duality that creates a metaphorical lesion in the identity of the colonized other--is apparent in colonial and post-colonial literature and that it creates beings (who then may write literature) who are a hybrid of their own cultural identity and the colonizer's cultural identity.

As a result, mimicry occurs on various levels. At the high level, mimicry is disparaged by the culture of the colonized. At moderate levels, it goes unrealized thus unrestrained in literature. Mimicry works form the colonizer's side as well as the colonizer puts in place strategies and manipulations--like pseudo-Western governmental bodies--that mimic Western government making the subservient colonized feel independent and as authentic as the colonizer.

[Mimicry is not to be confused with the mimesis of early authors like Aristotle, Sidney and Spenser who believed that literature (especially poetry) imitated Divine truths for humans to learn and embed in their thoughts and feelings.]

teachersage eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Bhabha's use of the term, mimicry occurs when colonized peoples imitate and, hence, to some extent appropriate the culture of the colonizing power. This imitation or mimicry is always mediated by the fact the colonized person is not one of the colonizers. The colonized subject, therefore, develops a double vision, recognizing both the culture of the Other and his own alienation from it. Mimicry is thus an attempt to attain some of the power of the colonizer through adoption of his culture. It deploys the colonizer's own culture as a lens through which to gaze back at the colonizer.

A good example of this in post-colonial literature would be Franz Fanon's Black Skin, White Mask,in which Fanon describes his experience as an educated black man from Martinique who felt internally white because of his education in French culture. However, he knew he was perceived not as French but as black by the colonizing power. His book discusses the impact of this divided sense of self in blacks who adopted "white masks" of intellectuality to try to fit in to the white culture but nevertheless inevitably ended up with the double vision brought about by dual identities.