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Postcolonial Criticism

What is postcolonialism criticism?

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Post-colonial criticism is an attempt to reveal the story of oppressed people from their own point of view by correcting or critiquing the perspective of the powerful. It is often called the view from below. For centuries, the story of colonialism was told almost entirely from the perspective of the victorious colonizing culture. Thus, Shakespeare's Caliban is depicted as a monster, a brute, and a savage because he looks different, dares to desire a European woman, and resents obeying his new overlord. But if we look at the story from his point of view, he generously came to the aid of helpless shipwrecked people who would have died without him, only to have them use what he taught them to enslave him, treat him with disdain, and steal his land. Likewise, Kipling's concept of the colonized person as the "white man's burden" is a particularly notorious example of a white colonizer, in this case England, brutally invading and subjecting a land and then casting themselves as sacrificial heroes for imposing their will upon people who would love nothing better than for them to go away. Because the narrative of the powerful is often blind to how life looks and feels to the powerless, it has been important to critique how the literature of a dominant group depicts the people below it. 

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The colonial era had a significant cultural influence. Many countries colonized many areas. In particular, England was a great colonial power and colonized locations in the Americas, India, and Africa. What post-colonial literary criticism does is analyze literature written both by colonial powers and by those who were colonized in order to look at the cultural impact of colonization. Now that colonialism is a thing of the past, literary critics are especially interested in analyzing colonial literature to see how the colonial power influenced the colonized in terms of "issues of power, economics, politics, religion, and culture" (Purdue OWL: "Post Colonial Criticism"). They are especially interested to see how the colonial powers interpret the culture of the colonized, how the power views the oppressed.

One example can be seen in the post-colonial interpretation of Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. Western literary critics have viewed the novel as a criticism of colonialism, especially the mother country's treatment of the colonized. However, post-colonialists see Conrad as portraying the colonized Africans as savages in comparison to Europeans and further saying that the Europeans are really just as savage as the Africans. Hence, even though Conrad may have written the book with an anti-colonialist argument in mind, post-colonial critics see him as portraying the oppressed as a savage culture, which reflects the cultural influence of colonization.

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