Reading Jillian’s blog A Room of One’s Own, I noticed that, despite she is reading the great classics of the American and English literature, she had forgotten part of the British Empire and its works: those from the colonies, productions that can be broadly labelled under postcolonial literature.
She was shocked and asked other readers for their opinion and me, obviously, for an explanation. So, after some talking, we’ve agreed a post would help many readers and, luckily, help them discover another perspective. So, why postcolonial? Why is it interesing? If the canon is the canon, there should be a reason for it, shouldn’t it?
As a consequence, I am proud to inaugurate the first thematic series of posts at BOOKS AND REVIEWS: Postcolonialism and Literature – Reading the others. Hope you enjoy and please, let me know any doubts or suggestions you may have. Enjoy!
First of all, a little bit of theory. Postcolonial literature may refer to:
- The literary productions during the colonisation of that place.
- The literary productions after the colonies gained/were gaining independence, mainly by the native population.
Jill also asked: whose colonies?
It depends very much on the postcolonial field you chose. They are usually gruped by their “owners”. Therefore, we can have English Colonies, French Colonies, Spanish colonies etc. My field is Anglophone postcolonialism: productions from the colonies of the British Empire.
This is a tricky question: can we consider American literature (until they gained independence in 1776) postcolonial? I would not. There is a key factor in postcolonial studies and it is an economic factor usually linked to slavery and exploitation. If we considered true native Americans texts, that would be another question.
Therefore, postcolonial is usually focused in later English colonies: India, the West Indies (the Caribbean), Africa, Australia, Canada and Ireland among many others.
Who writes postocolonial texts?
Basically, anyone who was living in a colony, an English one in this context. However, the colonisers enjoyed, more or less, the same privileges that they did in England. Meanwhile, there was a body of slaves, indentured workers and native people being caught under their power and their discourse (I will explain this term later on). It is their perspective that interests us because, back then, they were ignored and culturally supressed.
Why do they write those texts?
Well, I may say that we all have a right to an artistic expression but, during the colonisation, natives and slaves were not entitled to any kind of education or free time to express themselves. As a consequence, 21st century century readers face a literary gap: we know what happened in India or Antigua thanks to the colonisers. But, what about the other side of the story?
Here is when postcolonialsm makes an entrance. Although it is more recent than many classical works making reference to the colonies, they offer a response (write back/answer) to nowadays and past social issues: racism, discrimination and the jewel of the crown: slavery.
Why aren’t they part of the canon?
I’m sorry to say, some of them are but remain unknown to most of us., like Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. However, it just takes a little bit of critical thought (and I needed an amazing teacher to see this). WHO dominated the Empire? The answer is plain: white men. WHO got published? White men and, sometimes, white women. Who were their target readers? White, educated and middle-class people.
Basically (please, historian, forgive this summary): the world a was the white men’s world. It was their reality and their ideology. Women were inferior, Black people were inferior, Native Americans were inferior… Do I need to keep up the list?
Next, I will explain some basic concepts and I will suggest you some readings. Since 8th March is the Women’s Day, I will try to come up with two works: one masculine and another feminine. I will have explored them firstly (or at least, heard of them) so I can answer any questions or doubts. Until now, feel free to search the net or visit the following links:
2. Postcolonial Theory:
- The Book Depository: Beginning Postcolonial (John McLeod) (15$)* I have studied this one: it is easy, light, funny and VERY good. Plus, Mr. McLeod is a charming and very humble man. I will be meeting him in the next months. Lucky me!
- Handout on Postcolonial Studies (Free) You may want to save this for my next post, dealing with the so-called Holy Trinity in terms of theorists.
- The Book Depository The Empire Writes Back (23$)*. THE book in the beginnings of postcolonialism. Although it has some serious flaws, it is a good start.
3. Literary suggestion: (easly and light, please do not panic!)
- Mutabaruka’s poem Prison and my analysis can be found here. While reading, please consider: what means prison for you? Just being in jail? A hint: for the poet, a prison is not a physical place but a situtation.
Thanks to all of you who have shown interest!
I hope you comment with your thoughts, any doubts or feelings about postcolonialism, I am here to help you! Huge thanks to Jillian too for making a post out of my response.