Postcolonial literature

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Postcolonial literature is the body of literary writings that respond to the intellectual discourses of European colonization in Asia, Africa, Middle East, the Pacific and elsewhere. Postcolonial literature addresses the problems and consequences of the decolonization of a country and of a nation, especially the political and cultural independence of formerly subjugated colonial peoples; it also covers literary critiques of and about postcolonial literature, the undertones of which carry, communicate, and justify racialism and colonialism.[1] But most contemporary forms of postcolonial literature present literary and intellectual critiques of the postcolonial discourse by endeavouring to assimilate postcolonialism and its literary expressions.

Critical approach[edit]

Post-colonial literary criticism re-examines colonial literature, especially concentrating upon the social discourse, between the colonizer and the colonized, that shaped and produced the literature. In Orientalism (1978), Edward Saïd analyzed the fiction of Honoré de Balzac, Charles Baudelaire, and Lautréamont (Isidore-Lucien Ducasse), and explored how they were influenced, and how they helped to shape the societal fantasy of European racial superiority. Post-colonial fiction writers deal with the traditional colonial discourse, either by modifying or by subverting it, or both.

An exemplar post-colonial novel is Wide Sargasso Sea (1966), by Jean Rhys, a predecessor story to Jane Eyre (1847), by Charlotte Brontë, a literary variety wherein a familiar story is re-told from the perspective of a subaltern protagonist, Antoinette Cosway, who, within the story and the plot, is a socially oppressed minor character who is renamed and variously exploited. As such, in post-colonial literature, the protagonist usually struggles with questions of Identitysocial identity, cultural identity, national identity, etc. — usually caused by experiencing the psychological conflicts inherent to cultural assimilation, to living between the old, native world and the dominant hegemony of the invasive social and cultural institutions of the colonial imperialism of a Mother Country.

The “anti-conquest narrative” recasts the natives (indigenous inhabitants) of colonized countries as victims rather than foes of the colonisers.[2] This depicts the colonised people in a more human light but risks absolving colonisers of responsibility for addressing the impacts of colonisation by assuming that native inhabitants were "doomed" to their fate.[2]

CAVEAT LECTOR: The idea of "anti-conquest" literature also has a significantly different point of origin than that presented in this wiki entry. This other idea is derived from Mary Pratt's 1992 book "Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation". In chapters 3 and 4, titled, "Narrating the Anti-Conquest" and "Anti-Conquest II: Mystique of Reciprocity", Pratt proposes a completely different theorization of "anti-conquest" than the ideas discussed here that are traced to Edward Said. Instead of referring to how natives resist colonization or are victims of it, Pratt analyzes European literatures in which a European narrates their adventures and struggles to survive in the land of the non-European Other. The anti-conquest is a function of how the narrator writes him or her self out of being responsible for or an agent, direct or indirect, of colonization and colonialism. This different notion of anti-conquest is used to analyze the ways in which colonialism and colonization are legitimized nonetheless through entertaining stories of survival and adventure. Pratt created this unique notion in association with concepts of contact zone and transculturation, which have been very well received in Latin America social and human science circles.

Notable authors by region[edit]

This section needs to be expanded with JM Coetzee, Maryse Condé, Cyril Dabydeen, Tsitsi Dangarembga, Max Davine, Buchi Emecheta, Athol Fugard, Nadine Gordimer, Breyten Breytenbach, André Brink, Bonny Hicks, Hanif Kureishi, Doris Lessing, Earl Lovelace, Gabriel García Márquez, Bharati Mukherjee, Barbara Kingsolver, VS Naipaul, Michael Ondaatje, RK Narayan, Mahashweta Devi, EM Forster, Anita Desai, Wilbur Smith, Wole Soyinka, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o, Yvonne Vera, Derek Walcott, Kath Walker, Paigham Afaqui, Arundhati Roy, Amitav Ghosh, Haim Sabato, Eleanor Dark, Bole Butake, Anne Tanyi-Tang, Bate Besong, Maxine Hong Kingston. Marcus Garvey, Frantz Fanon, Aimé Césaire, Léon Damas, Jhumpa Lahiri


Léopold Senghor conceived the idea of négritude, Homi K Bhabha, Hampaté Bâ, Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart (1958) made a significant mark in African literature. Ayi Kwei Armah in Two Thousand Seasons tried to establish an African perspective to their own history. In Britain, J. G. Farrell's novels Troubles, The Siege of Krishnapur and The Singapore Grip, written during the 1970s, are important texts dealing with the collapse of the British Empire. Season of Migration to the North by Tayib Salih. Dalene Matthee, Fiela's Child.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie continues this examination in the 21st century of the effects of British colonisation, specifically on Nigeria in 'Half of a Yellow Sun' and the resultant civil war.

The Americas[edit]

Isabel Allende from Chile contributes to Latin-American literature and occasionally writes in a style called magical realism or vivid story-telling, also used by Gabriel García Márquez, Juan Rulfo and Salman Rushdie. Poet and novelist Giannina Braschi from Puerto Rico directly addresses the colonial situation of Puerto Rico in "United States of Banana".

The author Jean Rhys made a significant contribution to postcolonial literature in her novel Wide Sargasso Sea, which describes a Creole woman whose British husband mistreats her based on his perceptions of her cultural heritage.

The Canadian writer Margaret Atwood is also a post-colonial writer who dealt with themes of identity-seeking through her Southern Ontario Gothic style of writing.

The Middle East[edit]

Naguib Mahfouz (Egypt) novelist, Edward Said eminent scholar on Orientalism (Palestine)

Because of Said's work the term Orientalism becomes more and more negatively connotated. Especially, as it is dismantled as a series of misconceptions about the region commonly referred to as the 'Orient'. 'The Orient' is constructed as the inferior shadow to the civilized and powerful West, the Occident. Its supposed inferiority is always explained in racial terms.


Postcolonial writings have been found among much of Indian literature. Salman Rushdie has also contributed to the post-colonial literature. His second novel, Midnight's Children (1981) won the Booker Prize in 1981.

Philippine authors like F. Sionil José, Jose Dalisay, Jr., N. V. M. Gonzalez and Nick Joaquin write about the post-colonial (some say neo-colonial) situation in the Philippines.

Indian authors like Salman Rushdie, Amitav Ghosh, Anita Desai, Hanif Kureishi, Rohinton Mistry, Meena Alexander, Arundhati Roy and Kiran Desai have contributed to the category. Sri Lankan writers like Nihal De Silva or Carl Muller write about the post-colonial situation and the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka, while Michael Ondaatje, international the most acclaimed author with Sri Lankan roots, adds the perspective of the diaspora. Selim Al Deen from Bangladesh has also written postcolonial drama. Paigham Afaqui's novels Makaan and Paleeta (Urdu) entirely and vividly engage the post-colonial drama unfolded in India and the subcontinent.

Dutch Indies literature includes Dutch language postcolonial literature reflecting on the era of the Dutch East Indies (now: Indonesia). Much of the postcolonial literature of this genre is written by Dutch Eurasians known as Indos. Important authors that have been translated to English include: Tjalie Robinson, Maria Dermout and Marion Bloem.

Though written by American author David Henry Hwang, M. Butterfly is one postcolonial work regarding the Western perception of the East in general, but specifically addresses the Western perspective on China and the French and American perspectives on Vietnam during the Vietnam War.


There is a burgeoning group of young pacific writers who respond and speak to the contemporary Pasifika experience, including writers Lani Wendt Young, Courtney Sina Meredith and Selina Tusitala Marsh, among others. Reclamation of culture, loss of culture, diaspora, all themes common to postcolonial literature, are present within the collective Pacific writers. Pioneers within the literature include senior writers Witi Ihimaera and Albert Wendt, who are both credited as two of the most influential living Pacific authors.[3][4] Another notable figure within the Pacific is Sia Figiel, whose debut novel Where We Once Belonged won the Commonwealth Writers' Prize Best First Book of 1997, South East Asia and South Pacific Region.

Critic's point of view[edit]

What qualifies as postcolonial literature is debatable. The term postcolonial literature has taken on many meanings. The four subjects include:

  1. Social and cultural change or erosion:[5] It seems that after independence is achieved, one main question arises; what is the new cultural identity?
  2. Misuse of power and exploitation: Even though the large power ceases to control them as a colony, the settlers still seem to continue imposing power over the native.[5] The main question here is who really is in power, why, and how does an independence day really mean independence?
  3. Colonial abandonment and alienation: This topic is generally brought up to examine individuals and not the ex-colony as a whole.[5] The individuals tend to ask themselves; in this new country, where do I fit in and how do I make a living?
  4. Use of English language literature: It may be asked if the target of post-colonial studies, i.e. the analysis of post-colonial literature and culture, can be reached neglecting literary works in the original languages of post-colonial nations.

Postcolonial literary critics[edit]

Edward Said is often considered to have been the seminal postcolonial critic. Other useful critics are Bill Ashcroft, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o, Homi K. Bhabha, Frantz Fanon, Chinua Achebe, Leela Gandhi, Gareth Griffiths, Abiola Irele, John McLeod, Gayatri Spivak, Hamid Dabashi, Helen Tiffin, Khal Torabully, and Robert Young

See also[edit]



  • Hart, Jonathan; Goldie, Terrie (1993). "Post-colonial theory". In Makaryk, Irene Rima; Hutcheon, Linda; Perron, Paul. Encyclopedia of contemporary literary theory: approaches, scholars, terms. Toronto, Canada: University of Toronto Press. ISBN 0-8020-5914-7. Retrieved 14 November 2011. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Tobias Döring, Postcolonial Literatures in English: An Introduction, 2008.
  • Prem Poddar and David Johnson, A Historical Companion to Postcolonial Literature in English, 2005.
  • Alamgir Hashmi, The Commonwealth, Comparative Literature and the World, 1988.
  • John Thieme, The Arnold Anthology of Post-Colonial Literatures in English
  • Chelsea 46: World Literature in English (1987)
  • Poetry International 7/8 (2003–2004)
  • Eugene Benson and L. W. Conolly (eds.), Encyclopedia of Post-Colonial Literatures in English, 1994, 2005.
  • John McLeod, Beginning Postcolonialism, second edition (MUP, 2010).
  • Alamgir Hashmi, Commonwealth Literature: An Essay Towards the Re-definition of a Popular/Counter Culture, 1983.
  • Elleke Boehmer, Colonial and Postcolonial Literature: Migrant Metaphors
  • Britta Olinde, A Sense of Place: Essays in Post-Colonial Literatures
  • Peter Thompson, Littérature moderne du monde francophone. Chicago: NTC (McGraw-Hill), 1997
  • Homi Bhabha, The Location of Culture', Routledge 1994, ISBN 0-415-05406-0
  • Postcolonial Theory and the Arab-Israeli Conflict edited by Philip Carl Salzman and Donna Robinson Divine, Routledge (2008)

External links[edit]