How does "The Beach of Falesá" represent a "contact zone," as defined by the American Linguist Mary Louise Pratt, and what might these representations tell us about the realities of imperialism, trade, migration and settlement in colonial England during the nineteenth century?

The island of Falesá is represented as a "contact zone," in which both the narrator and his antagonist exploit the local people in the course of their quarrel, without even realizing that they are doing so. The violence against the islanders is all the more realistically depicted as a clash of cultures because it is subordinated to the struggle between the two Western traders.

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Mary Louise Pratt defined a "contact zone" as a space in which a clash of cultures takes place, where one of the two cultures is significantly more powerful than the other. This leads to an exploitative interaction, in which the stronger culture colonizes or enslaves members of the other.

Robert Louis Stevenson's short story, "The Beach of Falesá" takes place on a fictional island in Polynesia, and was written shortly after Stevenson had moved to Samoa. It is often regarded as the beginning of a new realist phase in his fiction, and incorporates the names of real people and places. It is debatable whether the author intended to deal with the topic of colonialism, which he would not have understood in the same terms as Pratt. However, the story is an interesting one to read from a Post-colonial perspective precisely because the colonial element is incidental, and thus taken for granted.

The primary conflict in the story is between the narrator, Wiltshire, and his antagonist, Case. However, both men use local people, customs and institutions as weapons in their personal battle, treating the island and its inhabitants as incidental. Case uses the local woman, Uma, in an attempt to destroy Wiltshire's credibility, while Wiltshire is quite happy to blow up the temple where Case performs his magic tricks to impress the islanders. The way in which the island and its people only appear as background and material for exploitation reveals the imperialist attitudes of the Western traders and settlers. Wiltshire and Case are typical of their class in seeing the islanders as instrumental, rather than fully human.

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