The Wretched of the Earth

by Frantz Fanon

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Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 553

Frantz Fanon's book is an examination of colonialism, partly from a Marxian perspective and partly from Fanon's own personal viewpoint as one who witnessed the struggle for liberation in Algeria and who had studied the various decolonization movements elsewhere in Africa and in other parts of the world.

Fanon presents the history of colonialism in stark terms. Europeans have taken over countries in Africa, Asia, and the Americas in order systematically to exploit, for their own enrichment, the people and the resources of "underdeveloped" nations. In doing so they have imposed their negative view of non-European peoples on the colonized populations themselves and have tried to implant the idea that prior to being taken over by the Europeans, non-Europeans had no real civilization and lived essentially in a state of barbarism.

The Wretched of the Earth was written in 1961, at a time when independence was being granted, or had been already, to most of the previously colonized countries in Africa and Asia. Much of Fanon's analysis is focused on the process of decolonization and the response of the "native" peoples to the withdrawal of the Europeans. One of the key points is that the leadership of the newly independent countries, their nationalist parties, are made up of working-class and bourgeois people who lived in the towns and actually benefited in some ways from the European presence and that they are remote from the rural people who make up the bulk of the population and suffered most from colonialism.

Fanon examines the psychology of people in formerly colonized countries and their tendency, at least initially, to buy into the ideas imposed upon them by the Europeans, though he realizes that this situation is changing. The Arab countries, for instance, are rediscovering their own cultural past and celebrating it. In Fanon's view, however, international capitalism has rigged the system against developing countries. He observes that the European countries taken over by Germany during World War II demanded reparations and also that the Germans acknowledged the Holocaust and have paid, and are continuing to pay, reparations to the Jewish people. But, Fanon states, nothing similar has been done to recompense non-European peoples for the exploitation of them which has occurred over a period of centuries. The cultural, economic, and psychological damage inflicted upon Third World peoples has been enormous, and yet, nothing has been done to redress these wrongs.

Part of Fanon's analysis deals with racism in the United States, where he identifies key differences between the situation in which African Americans, in 1961, find themselves and that of the population in Africa. Though his descriptions overall of the legacy of colonialism and racism are stark and realistic, revealing with startling honesty his anger and bitterness, Fanon does believe that eventually the whole system of economic oppression at the root of all this will be defeated. The Wretched of the Earth has, at its core, a faith that basic humanity will defeat injustice. Much of his analysis may strike the present-day reader as one-sided and extreme, but one needs to remember how much has changed in the world in the past nearly sixty years since he wrote. It is something that can reinforce one's faith in "progress" to see that, although Fanon's main points are valid, humanity has advanced and, we hope, will continue to do so.

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