Postcolonialism in Literature

Despite the fact that postcolonial criticism didn’t become a significant force in literary studies until the early 1990s, the cultural perspective of colonialism that postcolonial criticism is based on, has played a significant role in anticolonial political movements worldwide and took its place as a field of philosophical investigation when colonial regimes started to fall after World War II. Post-colonial critique is a field of study in literary studies that includes both a subject matter and theoretical framework. As a theoretical framework, post-colonial critique aims to comprehend how colonialism and anti-colonialist beliefs function politically, socially, culturally, and psychologically. On the other hand, as a subject matter, Post colonial criticism examines literature from the first points of colonial contact to the present that was created by civilizations that arose in opposition to imperial dominance.

Post colonial identity:

Even though the colonizers withdrew and left the lands they had occupied, decolonization frequently has been limited to the expulsion of British military personnel and government officials. But What has been left behind is a profoundly ingrained cultural colonization: the adoption of a British system of governance and education, as well as British ideals that disparage the traditions, morality, and even physical appearance of once oppressed peoples. As a result, ex-colonials frequently inherited psychological traits including a poor self-image and a distance from their own native cultures—which had been suppressed or undervalued for so long that a lot of pre-colonial culture had been lost.

Understanding colonial ideology is necessary before we can comprehend post-colonial identity, which is the result of those ideologies’ reactions. Colonialist ideology was founded on the colonizers’ presumption of their own supremacy, which they compared with the alleged inferiority of native (indigenous) peoples, the original inhabitants of the lands they invaded. This concept is sometimes regarded as colonialist discourse to indicate its relationship to the language in which colonialist thinking was communicated. Only the Anglo-European civilization, according to the colonists, was civilized and intellectual. Native peoples were therefore characterized as barbaric, primitive, and underdeveloped.

Since the colonists’ technology was more highly developed, they disregarded or swept away the faiths, customs, and moral codes of the peoples they had conquered. Therefore, the colonizers considered themselves as being at the center of the world, while the colonized were on the periphery. Native peoples were seen as “other,” and different, and hence inferior to the point of being less than completely human; on the other hand, the colonizers regarded themselves as the model of what a human being should be, the appropriate “self.” This practice is known as “othering,” and it separates the world between “them” (the “others” or “savages”) and “us” (civilized). Eurocentrism is the term used nowadays to describe the mindset of using European culture as the benchmark against which all other civilizations are adversely compared. The long-standing universalism philosophy is a typical example of Eurocentrism in literary studies. British, European, and later, American cultural standard-bearers appraised all literature in terms of its “universality”; to be regarded as a great work, a literary piece had to feature “universal” characters and themes. The similarity of a text’s characters and ideas to those found in European literature, however, determined whether or not they were regarded as “universal.” Therefore, it was assumed that European concepts, aspirations, and experiences were universal, serving as the benchmark for all of humanity.

Colonialist ideology:

In order to instill British culture and ideals in the native peoples and prevent revolt, British schools were founded in the colonies. However, colonialist ideology, which is essentially Eurocentric, exerted a strong influence in these educational institutions. It’s challenging to rebel against a group or a system that one has been educated to believe is superior through many generations. Due to their education in the British Empire’s supremacy and consequent inferiority, colonial subjects—people who had been colonized—were produced as a result of the highly successful scheme. 

Many of these people made a deliberate effort to emulate their colonizers in terms of attire, speech, conduct, and lifestyle. This trait, which postcolonial critics refer to as mimicry, reveals colonized people’s desire to fit in with the conquering culture as well as their guilt over their own culture, which they were raised to view as inferior. Postcolonial theorists frequently define the colonial subject as having a double consciousness, that is, a way of seeing the world that is split between antagonistic cultures that of the colonizer and that of the native community.

Double consciousness frequently resulted in an unsteady sense of self, which was compounded by the frequent forced migration colonialism caused, such as from the rural farm to the city in pursuit of job. (Forced migration, either in search of work including servitude, or as the result of slavery, dispersed enormous numbers of peoples over the world, and large populations of their descendants have stayed in the Diaspora, or estranged from their original country.) Homi Bhabha and others relate to this sense of being torn between cultures, of belonging to neither rather than to both, and of being imprisoned in a psychological limbo as “unhomliness,” which is caused not just by a particular psychological problem but also by the trauma of the cultural dislocation in which one lives. Unhomeliness is not the same as being “unhomed.” Being unhomed means that you feel uncomfortable even in your own home because you are uncomfortable with yourself. In a sense, your cultural identity dilemma has turned you into a psychological refuge.

Some native writers, like Kenyan writer Thiong’o, write in their own regional languages to reject imperialist ideology and promote their pre-colonial customs. But when they do so, they have the challenge of surviving in an English-language publishing market that exists both domestically and abroad. Native authors frequently have to make the extra effort of writing in their native tongues, then translating it into English or paying someone else to translate it. The fact that it is not always simple to discover the past complicates the desire to recover a pre-colonial history. Many elements of pre-colonial culture have been lost through many generations of colonial rule, as we already discussed. Additionally, a lot of postcolonial theorists contend that even if there had never been colonization, the old civilization would have evolved by now because no culture is permanent and unchanging. In addition, cross-cultural contact—often by military invasion—changes the majority of civilizations.

The Roman troops that colonized the British Isles, for instance, altered the old Celtic civilization. Additionally, the many centuries of French rule that came after the Norman invasion of the same region in the eleventh century altered Anglo-Saxon culture. In the same way, pre-colonial civilizations shaped European culture. As a result, a lot of postcolonial theorists believe that postcolonial identity must be a dynamic, ever-evolving combination of indigenous and colonial cultures. Furthermore, they claim that this hybridity is a good, exciting force in a narrowing world that is itself evolving into a more culturally hybrid and does not represent a stalemate between two warring cultures. This point of view urges former colonists to accept the diverse and sometimes conflicting elements of the mingled culture that is both theirs and an irreversible part of history.

The phrase postcolonial criticism suggests that colonialism is a thing of the past. Actually, it isn’t. Developed countries like the United States of America, Germany, and Russia still use similar tactics to subjugate weaker nations’ politics, economies, and cultures today. This so-called “neocolonialism” takes advantage of the low-cost labor that is available in emerging nations, frequently at the price of those nations’ own struggling economies, cultural traditions, and ecological well being. Cultural imperialism is the “takeover” of one culture by another as a clear result of economic dominance. The food, fashion, customs, leisure activities, and principles of the economically dominant culture gradually replace those of the economically deprived culture until the latter seems to be a close imitation of the former. One of the most prominent manifestations of this phenomena has been American cultural imperialism, which is evident in the way that American consumerism, fast food, sports, music, and entertainment have displaced indigenous cultural traditions around the world.

Postcolonialism and literature

Postcolonial critics analyze postcolonial literature on the basis of several related but distinct subjects. Among these are the following typical subjects.

1. The first contact between the indigenous people and the invaders and the disintegration of indigenous culture.

2. A European outsider’s journey with a local guide across an alien terrain.

3. Othering and colonial domination in all of its manifestations, which refers to how colonists saw indigenous people as less than completely human.

4. Mimicry

5. Exile (the state of being an outcast in one’s own country or a wanderer from another country in Britain.)

6. The conflict over one’s notion of individual and collective cultural identity, as well as the similar ideas of alienation, unhomeliness (the perception of lacking a sense of cultural “home” or belonging), double consciousness (the experience of being split between the social and psychological expectations of two opposing cultures), and hybridity (the perception of one’s cultural identity as a hybrid of two or more cultures, which is occasionally explained as a positive alternative to unhomeliness).

Additionally, the majority of postcolonial critics examine the ways in which a literary work, regardless of its subject matter, is either colonialist or anticolonial, that is, the ways in which the work upholds or rejects the oppressive ideology of colonialism. For instance, in the simplest terms, a work might support colonialist ideology by portraying colonizers favorably, and colonized people negatively, or by uncritically highlighting the advantages of colonialism for the colonized. Similar to this, texts can challenge colonialist ideologies by highlighting the wrongdoings of colonialists, the suffering of colonized people, or the negative repercussions of colonialism on the colonized.

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