Form and Content

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

In 1954, within a year after accepting a post as head of psychiatric services at the Blida-Joinville Hospital in Algeria, Frantz Fanon faced the outbreak of the Algerian Revolution. If the Martinique-born, French-educated black psychiatrist had any lingering loyalties to France upon his arrival in Algeria, however, he quickly severed his ties after witnessing the effects of French atrocities and torture on Algeria’s Muslim population. In 1956, Fanon made an important decision. Determined to take a meaningful stand against Fascism in North Africa, he resigned his post and officially joined the National Liberation Front (FLN). Moreover, from 1956 until his death in 1961, Fanon devoted himself exclusively to the Algerian struggle for independence.

This struggle, which inspired Fanon’s political awakening as well as his increasing understanding of the effects of both colonization and decolonization on individuals and nations, began to alter his vision of the world. Although still Manichaean in outlook, he saw a world divided not into black and white but rather into “colonizer” and “colonized.” In addition, although his four books, Peau noire, masques blancs (1952; Black Skin, White Masks, 1967), Pour la revolution africaine (1964; Toward the African Revolution: Political Essays, 1967), L’An cinq de la revolution algerienne (1959; Studies in a Dying Colonialism, 1965), and The Wretched of the Earth, are all products of his Algerian experience, the problems he discusses are not unique to Algeria; he defines and describes the distortion of human relations which the phenomenon of colonialism produces.

In 1960, one year before his death, Frantz Fanon was diagnosed as having leukemia. At that time, instead of continuing a study he had begun on the revolution and Africa, Fanon began work on what later became known as The Wretched of the Earth. He completed the bulk of the manuscript in three hectic months, from March to May of 1961.


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The Wretched of the Earth Additional Reading

(Critical Survey of Ethics and Literature)

Bulhan, Hussein Abdilahi. Frantz Fanon and the Psychology of Oppression. New York: Plenum Press, 1985. A biography of Frantz Fanon from a psychiatric perspective. Fanon is treated essentially as a contributor to the field of psychiatry, and his revolutionary activity is placed primarily in the context of his interest in the psychology of oppression.

Geismar, Peter. Fanon. New York: Dial Press, 1971. The most authoritative biography on Fanon, based on Geismar’s interviews with members of Fanon’s family and his friends. Geismar claims to have been influenced very little by the secondary literature on the topic of Fanon, asserting that as of his publication date, little informative secondary literature on Fanon existed. This book is a good introduction to Fanon and provides a sympathetic and easy-to-read account of Fanon’s life.

Gendzier, Irene. Frantz Fanon: A Critical Study. New York: Pantheon, 1973. One of the few sbiographies on Fanon. This book should be standard reading for any serious inquiry into Fanon’s life.

Gordon, Lewis R., T. Denean Sharpley-Whiting, and Renée T. White, eds. Fanon: A Critical Reader. Cambridge, Mass.: Blackwell, 1996. This compilation contains twenty-one essays by different authors produced for a Fanon conference in 1995. These essays are grouped into six main sections and cover the following themes: oppression, questions regarding the human sciences, identity and the dialectics of recognition, the emancipation of women of color, the postcolonial dream, neocolonial realities, resistance, and revolutionary violence.

Macy, David. Frantz Fanon: A Life. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2001. A biography of the author and revolutionary.

Sharpley-Whiting, T. Denean. Frantz Fanon: Conflicts and Feminism. New York: Rowman and Littlefield, 1998. This book reevaluates Fanon’s commitment (or noncommitment) to feminism through an examination of his commitment to antiracism. It also revisits many of the previous interpretations of Fanon and feminism. Sharpley-Whiting finds Fanon to be profeminist, which is counter to the majority of feminist critique of Fanon and his work.

Wyrick, Deborah. Fanon for Beginners. New York: Writers and Readers, 1998. Combines a detailed account of Fanon’s life with a critical view of his major works. Accompanied by cartoon illustrations to help make the author’s points clearer. Contains a glossary, and many terms are defined in the text. A good source to be read in conjunction with one of Fanon’s works because it helps place any individual Fanon work in the larger context of his life.

The Wretched of the Earth Context

(Student Guide to World Philosophy)

Frantz Fanon’s principal work, The Wretched of the Earth has sold millions of copies and has been translated into twenty-five languages. Essentially, The Wretched of the Earth is an analysis of the process of decolonization that was occurring at a rapid pace while Fanon was writing this book. The sense of urgency that pervades the book is partly a result of Fanon’s condition. He was dying of leukemia and knew he had only a limited amount of time left to contribute to the destruction of colonial relationships everywhere, but especially in Africa.

Fanon was from the French colony of Martinique, now a department of France, and was trained as a psychiatrist in France. Eventually Fanon was assigned to a psychiatric hospital in Algeria, where he treated both Algerians, who he felt were victims of colonialism, and white French people, who he felt were oppressors in Algeria. Fanon believed that many of the psychiatric problems he was treating in Algeria, in both Algerians and white French people, were due to the unequal colonial relationship that permeated every aspect of Algerian society. This unequal relationship affected Fanon so much that during the Algerian war, Fanon became sympathetic to the Algerians’ cause and joined the FLN. Through the FLN, Fanon became the spokesperson not only for the Algerian revolution but also for anticolonial resistance all over the world, especially in Africa. In The Wretched of the Earth, Fanon...

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The Wretched of the Earth A Violent Process

(Student Guide to World Philosophy)

In the chapter “Concerning Violence,” Fanon painted a slightly bipolar vision of decolonization. At one point, he described decolonization as the “veritable creation of new men.” This suggests that decolonization is a creative process in which humanity invents something new. However, in another portion of the same chapter, he describes decolonization as “quite simply the replacing of a certain species’ of man by another species’ of man.” These contrasting views on decolonization most likely reflect the difference between Fanon’s ideal and what would become reality.

Fanon describes decolonization as a naturally violent phenomenon. He argues that decolonization would not be necessary if there had not first been colonization, which is intrinsically violent and has no positive effect whatsoever on the colonized. Violence is a key element to Fanon’s decolonization, for it is the way in which colonized people find their freedom. He believed that violent tactics cleanse the decolonization movement because they force movement participants to be conscious of their activity and they require that each individual accept personal responsibility for his actions and beliefs. Fanon is often criticized for writing this chapter. Many people believe that he is promoting violence; however, Fanon was attempting to explain human behavior. These critics disregard the fact that colonialism is a physically, economically, and psychologically violent phenomena. Furthermore, Fanon is not calling for massive bloodshed in the streets of every colony and former colony. He claims that the processes of decolonization and colonization are linked; the amount of violence in any particular decolonization movement will be in direct proportion to the amount of violence used by the colonizers.

The Wretched of the Earth The Role of the Native

(Student Guide to World Philosophy)

In the chapter “The Pitfalls of National Consciousness,” Fanon tackles the question of why decolonization takes place. Fanon argues that mass repression results in the formation of a national consciousness. Decolonization unifies people because the key to colonialism is the separation of people. Decolonization takes place because colonized people become sick of their status as repressed people and begin demanding concessions from the colonizers. Fanon wrote, “The native must realize that colonialism never gives anything away for nothing. Whatever the native may gain through political or armed struggle is not the result of the kindness or goodwill of the settler; it simply shows that he cannot put off granting concessions any longer.”

Fanon further argues that the type of national consciousness that develops in response to colonization can also act as a separating force. Colonialism only exploits part of a country; this allows some native people to become wealthy, which causes them to be generally supportive of the colonial system. Fanon states that typically it is these people who acquire political power when a country gains independence. He argues that the political groups formed by these wealthy natives do not represent the masses but rather function as spokespeople for a small greedy collection of local exploiters who have reached a friendly agreement with the colonizers. After independence, this local elite seeks to follow in the footsteps of...

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The Wretched of the Earth The Colonized and the Colonizer

(Student Guide to World Philosophy)

In the chapter “On National Culture,” Fanon argues that universal standards of civility and barbarism, based on Euro-American criteria, do not actually exist. In fact, Fanon argues that the educational system is one of the major tools used by colonialists. Native schoolchildren are taught the cultural tradition of the colonizer, France in Fanon’s case. Furthermore, these children are taught that their heritage is one of barbarism. In addition, Fanon tackled the problem of the difference between a political party that claims to speak for a nation and the people who make up that nation. Fanon argued that political parties in the former colonies (or anywhere else) do not represent the masses and that the concept of a...

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The Wretched of the Earth Political and Cultural Legacy

(Student Guide to World Philosophy)

The impact of The Wretched of the Earth has been tremendous because this book, like much of Fanon’s work, expresses a deep concern with how the process of decolonization is to occur. Since his death, interest in Fanon’s thought has been steady among those who are concerned with colonialism and neocolonialism. He and his work became well known throughout the colonial world, affecting such African leaders as Kwame Nkrumah, Sekou Touré, and Juilius Nyerere. Additionally, The Wretched of the Earth was influential in some of the more radical elements of the U.S. Civil Rights movement. Black Panther Party members Bobby Seale, Huey P. Newton, and Eldridge Cleaver read Fanon and credited him for providing a framework...

(The entire section is 280 words.)

The Wretched of the Earth Bibliography

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

Additional Reading

Bulhan, Hussein Abdilahi. Frantz Fanon and the Psychology of Oppression. New York: Plenum Press, 1985. A biography of Frantz Fanon from a psychiatric perspective. Fanon is treated essentially as a contributor to the field of psychiatry, and his revolutionary activity is placed primarily in the context of his interest in the psychology of oppression.

Geismar, Peter. Fanon. New York: Dial Press, 1971. The most authoritative biography on Fanon, based on Geismar’s interviews with members of Fanon’s family and his friends. Geismar claims to have been influenced very little by the secondary...

(The entire section is 396 words.)