(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

In Fanon’s vision, the colonized, the proletariat of the world, are the damned or wretched of the earth. As a black psychiatrist who chose to become an Algerian citizen, Fanon invented a collective therapy that he believed would save a race of the damned. That therapy is based on the premise that the black man will remain enslaved until he has successfully struggled for and achieved his political freedom.

More permanent in its effects than strikes, boycotts, or demonstrations, the armed insurrection of the Algerian people, according to Fanon, would bring about the total transformation of a colony into a community free of any psychological, emotional, or legal subjection; within that society, the colonized would be fully human. Fanon further argues that the entire structure of the Algerian family would change. Relationships between parents and children or between husbands and wives would lose their restrictive, traditional character; Arabic would lose its religious exclusivism, and French would become domesticated. Violence would create a new spiritual unity which would prepare the country for the enormous task of national postwar reconstruction.

The year 1960 marked independence for Algeria. This, for Fanon and for many Africans, however, was considered a false independence, one granted by France to nationalist leaders who still remained her dependents. The division of the Mali Federation between the French Sudan and Senegal was widely interpreted as an indication of the evils of “neocolonialism.” In the midst of the independence celebrations, Fanon saw that independence did not necessarily constitute a new beginning but more often merely replaced one species of man with another. The exploited now became the exploiters.

The reluctance of the new African nations to assume the burdens of their revolutionary duty stemmed, according to Fanon, from a lack of understanding of the fundamental nature of the political world. The African elites had no ideological foundation beyond a simple nationalism. In his final work, Fanon offered them an alternative.

The French title of his book, Les Damnes de la terre (the damned of the earth), taken from the first line of the Internationale, is more richly connotative than its English translation. The wretched of the earth elicit pity, but the damned are beyond hope. The fate of the wretched can be improved...

(The entire section is 984 words.)