POST COLONIALISM

16 Nov

    LITERARY STUDIES – POST COLONIAL CRITICISM  

  I was told whilst growing up that the sun never set on the British Empire and that the Union Jack, the flag of Empire, never stood in the shade. My father would proudly, as a proponent and veteran of English colonialism, display his old school atlas where the countries shaded pinkish-red signified Britain’s dominance over the globe and her dominions. At one point in time the Britain controlled over a quarter of the world’s population, or rather it raped and pillaged, usurped and stole, misused and maltreated a significant portion of the earth. But isn’t that what colonies are for? Isn’t the colony supposed to support the motherland with the riches it doesn’t itself possess? I’ve since come to understand that the sun never set on the Empire because God would never have trusted the English in the dark!

               Post colonialism is such an eclectic lens through which to view literature. How does one determine who the colonizer is and whom the colonist? Take the English for example. Much as America loves to see itself as a melting pot, Britain could make an equal claim, the evidence for which is to be found in our literature. The influence of foreign invaders has shaped modern Britain, the language we speak and the way we do things; from the Anglo Saxons and Beowulf, through the Romans and Tacitus, to the Normans and the Doomsday Chronicles. The English language of yore is not what we’d understand as English today. Try to read Chaucer in Middle English and see how far you get without a little study; for that matter attempt Shakespeare and try to understand that which is written in apparently modern English from just a few hundred years ago.

               Post-colonialism attempts, via literature, to understand and recognize the effects of the hybridization of cultures through the imposition of foreign will and customs on indigenous populations. The locals resist, accept or succumb and therefore it’s the confluence of literary style that’s accepted, included or even ignored that is the lens of post-colonialism. Elements and ideas that came from an exchange of cultural fluids that are apparent in the works of the likes of Rudyard Kipling and, dare I say, Zane Grey. After all, wasn’t there a subjugation of indigenous peoples here in the Americas as well? Not just by the British on the neo-British colonists but of the post-colonial Americans on the American Indians?

               One of the many things to come out of colonialism was the mutation of national identity into multiculturalism where that which once was strange infuses with the familiar; where boarder lines are clearly defined and yet strangely blurred around the edges, an apparent enriching of one culture through another or perhaps the loss thereof. It’s common enough to hear of the dilutions of populations due to immigration, how loss of color, creed, tradition and home values are to blame on such-and-such a population. On the other hand the new population will see a change in their own traditions and customs and view it similarly as either a benefit or detriment. This is the lens of multiculturalism, the changes and similarities that are reflected within literature. The adoption or rejection of dissimilar styles that’s recognizable in contemporary writing. Whether it’s Quentin Crisp in New York or Salman Rushdie in Britain multiculturalism is apparent in attitude, tradition, style and politic. Of all the critical lenses multiculturalism and post-colonial may just be the broadest.

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