The Wretched of the Earth Essay - Critical Context

Frantz Fanon

Critical Context

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

Fanon’s concept of violence, especially the association of violence with creativity and regeneration, has often been compared with that of Georges Sorel in his Reflexions sur la violence (1908; Reflections on Violence, 1912). Fanon’s debt to Sorel, however, is rather problematic. In Sorel’s theory, the proletariat violently asserts itself in an oppressive society without necessarily overthrowing that society. Yet the foundations of Fanon’s views differ from Sorel’s; according to Fanon, the peasant revolution is not a myth but a reality, a means of overthrowing a system of exploitation. Thus, Fanon maintains that violence is creative in the context of constructive social action.

Fanon’s later writings dealing with the future of the Third World contrast sharply with his first book, Black Skin, White Masks, which has been described as the diary of a black intellectual recovering from the trauma of a delayed introduction to the white Western world. His second book, Studies in a Dying Colonialism, is an extended commentary on a society undergoing a thorough restructuring, a unique description of a colonial people achieving self-determination. By the time of The Wretched of the Earth, Fanon is convinced that the Third World’s peasantry has replaced the urban proletariat as the dynamic force in modern history. An elaboration of this theory can be found in Toward the African Revolution, a collection of Fanon’s articles describing the development of his thought from the time of his departure from French bourgeois society to his death in 1961.

It has been said that Fanon’s place in political history will depend less on the intrinsic intellectual merits of his works than on its contributions to the creation of a political mood and its emotional association with particular movements. Although his program is vague and his doctrine incomplete, some of his prophecies concerning Africa have been and continue to be fulfilled.