In The Wretched of the Earth, what does it mean when Frantz Fanon refers to the decolonization process and what it entails as, "The last shall be first and the first last"?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Fanon wrote in The Wretched of the Earth that decolonization was the "putting into practice" of the sentence "the last shall be first and the first last." What he meant was that decolonization did not simply entail the elimination of colonial governments. Rather, it was a thorough and complete rethinking...

See
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

Fanon wrote in The Wretched of the Earth that decolonization was the "putting into practice" of the sentence "the last shall be first and the first last." What he meant was that decolonization did not simply entail the elimination of colonial governments. Rather, it was a thorough and complete rethinking of the foundations of colonial society, and the mindsets that supported them. He also emphasized that colonizer and colonized were incompatible. There was no "conciliation...possible" between the two. He points out that the colonizers already realize this:

The colonized man is an envious man. And this the settler knows very well; when their glances meet he ascertains bitterly, always on the defensive, "They want to take our place." It is true, for there is no native who does not dream at least once a day of setting himself up in the settler's place.

Decolonization, then, was "a whole social structure being changed from the bottom up." Colonized people can be neither free nor independent. Fanon also thought that decolonization could only "come to pass" after a "murderous and decisive struggle" between the settlers and the colonized. In short, the colonized, or the "last," must emerge on top, leaving the settlers defeated. On a global scale, Fanon thought that the so-called "Third World," as it was known in his day, could lead a global restructuring by stopping the extraction of wealth from their countries. But the removal of the structures of colonialism by the colonizers was not enough. Fanon demanded reparations for the exploitation of several centuries, and wrote that colonized peoples must realize that "it is their due," and that capitalist nations must see that "they must pay." In short, there must be a fundamental restructuring of the economy on a global scale as well as within colonial nations. Through this process, the last would become first, and the first last.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team