Postcolonial Criticism Analysis

Writers and critics from the developing world

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Any study of postcolonial criticism should include a number of well-known and well-respected writers from Africa, India, and other former colonies. Some of the major names to be considered are Frantz Fanon, Chinua Achebe, Ngugi Wa Thiong’o, Jamaica Kincaid, and Salman Rushdie, among a host of others.

Fanon was a leading intellectual of the twentieth century. Born in Martinique, his work describes the role that intellectuals ought to play in the struggle against colonialism. He was active during World War II, fighting against supporters of the French Vichy government, which cooperated with the Nazis in subjugating the French. He was decorated for his efforts, but after the war found himself regarded not as a French war hero but primarily as a black man. He had expected respect but found disdain; he was seen as “the other,” a person feared and dismissed. He began to despair, as his education—he had begun studying medicine before the war—his language skills, and his elegant demeanor did not keep him from being treated as an exotic and alien specimen.

Fanon’s first book, Peau noire, masques blancs (1952; Black Skin, White Masks, 1967), examines the effects of racism on the psyches of people of color. He describes the anger and pain he feels after his attempts to remake himself into a “white man” with black skin are rebuffed. He then travels to Africa to find the antidote to his psychological pain. In 1953, he finished medical training and moved to Algeria to work as a psychiatrist. In Algeria he experienced revolution firsthand, as Algerians fought for independence from France. Fanon wrote about his experiences as a part of the Algerian struggle. His works include L’An V de la révolution algérienne (1959; Studies in a Dying Colonialism, 1965), Les Damnés de la terre (1961; The Wretched of the Earth, 1963), and Pour la révolution africaine (1964; Toward the African Revolution, 1976). Fanon died from leukemia at the age of thirty-six.


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Many of the countries of Africa were fighting for independence in the twentieth century, beginning with South Africa in 1910 and leading up to Eritrea in the 1990’s. However, African nations began to accelerate their demands for independence following World War II. Writers soon took up the challenge of moving the nations into a new age.

Chinua Achebe was born in Nigeria and graduated from that country’s University College in 1953. Although a speaker of Igbo, he writes in English, making him one of the most widely read African writers. Because he began to write before Nigerian independence, he had experienced both colonial and postcolonial life. He is considered by some to be the founder of modern African literature. Things Fall Apart (1958), his first novel, shows life from an African point of view. No Longer at Ease (1960) and Arrow of God (1964) show the effect of colonial government on Igbo society and on Nigeria, as well as on other newly independent African nations. Nigeria became a republic in 1963, but only three years passed before a military junta seized power. Achebe’s 1966 novel, A Man of the People, correctly foreshadows the unrest that followed independence. A later novel, Anthills of the Savannah (1987), contrasts the actual government corruption with the idealism and dreams of the disenchanted public.

In addition to his novels, Achebe has written short stories, children’s books, and poetry, including Beware, Soul Brother, and Other Poems (1971; published in the United States as Christmas in Biafra, and Other Poems, 1973). His Morning Yet on Creation Day (1975) is a collection of essays reflecting his thoughts and disillusionment with the state of his nation. Achebe considers such critical questions as, Is there such a thing as African literature? What is the role of the writer in African society? He even wonders if an African literature is possible. The essays were originally published between 1962 and 1972, when, in his enthusiasm for African literature, he led the initiative...

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India, Pakistan, and the CaribbeanPostcolonial poetry;Caribbean

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An important contributor to postcolonial writing is V. S. Naipaul, a native of Trinidad and Tobago. His Hindu family emigrated to Trinidad and Tobago as indentured servants. Naipaul’s father was a journalist and loved literature. Naipaul attended Queen’s Royal College in Trinidad and Tobago and later studied literature at Oxford, graduating in 1953. He later worked for the British Broadcasting Corporation and wrote for The New Statesman.

A House for Mr. Biswas (1961), Naipaul’s first major novel, was based in part on his father’s life and on his own childhood in Trinidad and Tobago. When Naipaul went to India later, he was struck by how foreign it seemed to him, although it had always been the family dream to go back to India some day. What he discovered was that living in the West Indies had made it impossible for him to ever experience the “real India” he had heard so much about from his immigrant grandfather. His disappointment was the basis for the nonfiction work An Area of Darkness: An Experience of India (1964). His next work, the novel Mr. Stone and the Knights Companion (1963), is set in England.

At this point, Naipaul began to feel the pressure of his dual heritage and began to see his duty as a postcolonial writer. The collection In a Free State (1971) won the Booker Prize and was quite a change for Naipaul. Transcending the boundaries of genre, the work consists of short stories, a novella, and two excerpts from a travel diary. The thread that ties all the parts together is the fear that an individual in a newly decolonized world can never be free. All of his works portray his alienation, uncertainty, and self-mockery. In 1990, he received a British knighthood.

Another postcolonial Caribbean writer is Jamaica Kincaid (born Elaine Cynthia Potter Richardson in Antigua). As a teenager, she worked as an au pair in New York. She attended Franconia College, worked as a...

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Al-Dabbagh, Abdulla. Literary Orientalism, Postcolonialism, and Universalism. New York: Peter Lang, 2010. Argues that many classics of English literature “contain a sympathetic portrayal of the East.” Examines Oriental literature to show its significant impact on English literature and to show “the striking manner in which” these works “have been absorbed and appropriated into British culture.”

Bery, Ashok. Cultural Translation and Postcolonial Poetry. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007. Included in this book on postcolonial poetry are critical essays on Judith Wright, Les Murray, Louis MacNeice, Seamus Heaney, A. K. Ramanujan, and Derek Walcott.

Gikandi, Simon, ed. Encyclopedia of African Literature. New ed. New York: Routledge, 2009. Contains almost seven hundred alphabetically arranged entries on specific writers and movements, regional and linguistic literary traditions, institutions of literary production, historical and cultural issues, and theoretical concepts.

Gordon, Lewis R., T. Denean Sharpley-Whiting, and Renée T. White, eds. Fanon: A Critical Reader. 1996. Reprint. Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, 1999. This critical reader contains a number of works by Fanon.

Harrison, Nicholas. Postcolonial Criticism: History, Theory, and the Work of Fiction. Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, 2003. Chapters in this study include “Colonialism and Colonial Discourse,” “Racism, Realism, and the Question of Historical Context,” and “Writing and Voice: Women, Nationalism, and the Literary Self.”

Killam, K. D., and Ruth Rowe, eds. The Companion to African Literatures. 2000. Reprint. Oxford, England: James Currey, 2010. Alphabetically arranged entries on African authors, works, languages and literatures, genres and subgenres, and relations between literature and politics and religion. Includes maps, a country-author guide, a select list of topics and themes, and suggestions for further reading.

McLeod, John. Beginning Postcolonialism. 2d ed. New York: Manchester University Press, 2010. An excellent, readable resource for undergraduate students new to postcolonial studies and literature.

Newell, Stephanie. West African Literatures: Ways of Reading. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006. The selections in this study of West African literatures reflect various approaches to literature and differing views on colonialism.

Patke, Rajeev S. Postcolonial Poetry in English. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006. Includes chapters on the postcolonial poetry of South Asia and Southeast Asia, the Caribbean, and black Africa, as well as the “settler countries.”

Tong, Rosemarie. Feminist Thought: A More Comprehensi ve Introduction. 3d ed. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 2009. This introductory study of feminist thought includes the chapter “Multicultural, Global, and Postcolonial Feminism.” A good starting place for readers new to postcolonial thought from a feminist perspective.