Postcolonialism

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I was given an assignment to read a short story and analyze it from a New Historicist and postcolonialist perspective. I would like a recommendation of a short story based on this and an explanation of why the recommended short story is suited for this kind of analysis.

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A short story that lends itself to analysis from both perspectives would most likely be one that is set in an earlier time period, such as pre-independence– or early-independence–era Africa or South Asia. Many prominent novelists also wrote short fiction, so you might consider a story by an author with whose work you are already familiar. One option would be Chinua Achebe’s “Dead Men’s Path,” which tells of an African headmaster who tries to modernize a village school. Achebe explores the contradictions of traditional beliefs and imposed modern ways.

Postcolonial perspectives also apply to literature produced by diaspora peoples. “Interpreter of Maladies” is a story by an Indian American author, Jhumpa Lahiri, and concerns a cross-cultural and cross-generational encounter in India during a visit to a temple. While the subject is roughly contemporary, the cultural heritage component lends itself to historicist interpretation as well.

A classic story set during anti-colonial conflicts in North Africa is Albert Camus’s “The Guest.” A deceptively simple situation, in which an official must make a crucial decision, encapsulates many dilemmas of the colonial situation.

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While arguably an essay rather than a short story, “Shooting an Elephant” by George Orwell is a good subject for an analysis of the colonial/postcolonial dilemma for Europeans. Fresher and less traveled might be the colonization of Central and South America, particularly by the Spanish, and the short stories of Isabel Allende or Gabriel Garcia Marquez. May I recommend specifically Marquez’ "Big Mama's Funeral" (original Spanish-language title: Los funerales de la Mamá Grande), which criticizes “magic realism,” the antithesis of European Christianity (the ostensible "reason" for colonialization -- the conversion of the "heathen"), while at the same time satirizing Latin American culture in general (it takes place in Colombia). The main character, “Big Mama,” can be compared and contrasted with European dictatorial colonial tyrants. The essence of post-colonial criticism is the postmodern unveiling of the automatic assumptions of the traditional reader who brings European baggage of cultural superiority and assumed hegemony to all literature. This story has the added advantage of being humorous.

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