The Purpose: To assess the damage caused European colonial rule in nations all around the world while also reinvigorating these regions with a sense of linguistic and artistic identity
In this landmark book, Said (pronounced Sa-yeed) asserts that European literature and art presented a strikingly false but unchanging image for centuries, thereby imposing the false notion that the region had a right to be subject to European hegemony. Though controversial, the book encouraged cultures the world over to develop their own localized brand of literary scholarship, as opposed to simply relying on the conventional Victorian classics.
The Wretched of the Earth outlined what many University courses on postcolonialism now justify their teachings on: that colonialism is at its core a linguistic oppression, a system that subjects the colonized to the will of the colonizer. Fanon’s works were not without major detractors–novelist VS Naipaul’s monolithic A Bend in the River is in part a critique of his argument. The forcefulness of his argument, however, would nevertheless inspire further literary proclamations of national independence from authors the world over.
Several 19th century novels would hint at the injustices of colonialism, though few manifested a vision so horrifying as Conrad’s nightmarish Belgian Congo. Framed as a story within a story, Conrad’s alter-ego Marlowe tells his tale to a group of seafaring Londoners about his encounter with the crazed jungle merchant, Kurtz, who spends his final days in the heart of the jungle sitting atop a trove of ivory. Steeped in hypocrisy but sublimely dense, this tour-de-force made many reconsider the eurocentric “white-man’s burden” ideology of the era.
Forster prophesied great change for the Indian people in this novel that saw the British Empire see their stranglehold over South Asia wane right before their eyes. About an Indian doctor accused of a crime he did not commit, Forster exposed the “drawing-room” hypocrisies of the colonizers, as their justification for the subjection of the India people were revealed to be mere bully tactics to further their own self-interest. Forster’s novel may not be free of anachronistic prejudices, but from his shift of perspective emerged the voice of an India rising from the ashes of centuries of persecution.
Jean Rhys responded to many of the questionable aspects of the Charlotte Brontë classic Jane Eyre in this short role-reversal novel about Rochester’s imprisoned Creole wife. Known as Bertha in the Brontë version but Antoinette in Wide Sargasso Sea, Rhys’ novel follows the troubling character from her upbringing in the West Indies all the way to her eventual confinement in England as the trauma of her persecution takes an irreversible toll on her. Wide Sargasso Sea addresses the repercussions of being a woman in a colonized society, as their bodies must inevitably replicate the ruthless appropriation of land from the European settlers.