Você está na página 1de 299

CRITICAL

INSIGHTS
Postcolonial
Literature
CRITICAL
INSIGHTS
Postcolonial
Literature
Editor
Jeremiah J. Garsha
University of Cambridge, United Kingdom

SALEM PRESS
A Division of EBSCO Information Services, Inc.
Ipswich, Massachusetts

GREY HOUSE PUBLISHING


Copyright © 2017 by Grey House Publishing, Inc.

All rights reserved. No part of this work may be used or reproduced in any
manner whatsoever or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or
mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and
retrieval system, without written permission from the copyright owner. For
information, contact Grey House Publishing/Salem Press, 4919 Route 22, PO
Box 56, Amenia, NY 12501.

∞ The paper used in these volumes conforms to the American National Standard
for Permanence of Paper for Printed Library Materials, Z39.48 1992 (R2009).

Publisher’s Cataloging-In-Publication Data


(Prepared by The Donohue Group, Inc.)

Names: Garsha, Jeremiah J., editor.


Title: Postcolonial literature / editor, Jeremiah J. Garsha, University of
Cambridge, United Kingdom.
Other Titles: Critical insights.
Description: [First edition]. | Ipswich, Massachusetts : Salem Press, a division
of EBSCO Information Services, Inc. ; Amenia, NY : Grey
House Publishing, [2017] | Includes bibliographical references
and index.
Identifiers: ISBN 9781682175590 (hardcover)
Subjects: LCSH: Postcolonialism in literature. | Colonies in literature. | English
literature--History and criticism.
Classification: LCC PN56.P555 P67 2017 | DDC 809.933581--dc23

First Printing

PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA


Contents

About This Volume, Jeremiah Garsha vii


On Postcolonial Literature: Ideological and Generational Shifts
South of the Sahara, Egodi Uchendu and Chinonye Ekwueme-Ugwu xv

Critical Contexts
Postcolonial Comics: Representing the Subaltern, Dominic Davies 3
Postcolonial Tempest: A Survey of Postcolonial Reception and
Adaptation of William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Dhrubajyoti Sarkar 23
Emergent and Divergent Voices: African and African American
Women Writers, Joanne Davis 39
Suffering and “Sacrificiality” in Postcolonial African Literature,
Kieran Dodds 56

Critical Readings
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight from a
Postcolonial Perspective, Robert C. Evans 75
Disabled Bodies Matter: Rohinton Mistry and the
Politics of Embodiment,” Shubhangi Garg Mehrotra 93
Vyankatesh Madgulkar: A Thematic Signature of Postcolonial India
Through the Changing Construction of the Rural Structure,
Anuradha Malshe 108
Obliteration or Assimilation? Culture Clash in Chinua Achebe’s
Things Fall Apart and Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things,
Stuart Bolus 123
The Rhetorization of the Abject’s Grammatical Positionality,
Michael A. Parra 137
Michel Foucault and Postcolonial Studies: Countering Foreign
Domination Through the Care of the Self in George Lamming’s
In the Castle of My Skin, Liam Wilby 150
Constantine Cavafy as a Postcolonial Poet: “A Photograph”,
Robert C. Evans 164

v
“An Eviction of Sorts”: Language, Race, and Colonial Liminality
in Ireland, Peter Robert Gardner 180
The Hawaiian Television “Cop Show”, Aaron Iokepa Ki‘ilau 197
Raced Subjectivity and Anxiety in Claudia Rankine’s
Citizen: An American Lyric, Alejandro Veiga Expósito 212

Resources
Further Reading 229
Bibliography 233
About the Editor 251
Contributors 253
Index 259

vi Critical Insights
About this Volume
Jeremiah Garsha

The purpose of this anthology is to explore postcolonial literature


in its most broad sense. The chapters herein are purposefully
written so that a reader entirely unfamiliar with postcolonial literary
traditions will be guided into this rich body of text. No one volume
could ever hope to cover the deep history and worldwide impact of
postcolonial literature. Moreover, with each passing year hundreds
of new works by postcolonial authors or works using postcolonial
theory debut. To stay up to date with the ever-growing bibliography
would be Sisyphean. Yet, the chapters within this anthology and,
comparatively speaking, the limited authors and publications
contained within, give the reader access to the fundamental ways one
should read postcolonial literature. This volume is meant to instruct.
The reader need not have previous knowledge of postcolonialism.
Indeed, one does not even need a prior exposure to the specific texts.
This book will teach the reader. It will teach the reader how to read
a postcolonial work; reading, often literally, the spaces between
and outside the page. To encounter postcolonial productions is
to encounter colonialism in all of its raw brutality. It is to see the
lingering trauma, inherited by authors born long after the crumbling
of empire. But beyond the reaction to imperialism occupying many
works is the great hope of new innovation. Postcolonial writers use
the ruins of the past to create stories that captivate and inspire. They
give us a fresh start, grounded in historical perspectives, that change
the way we view ourselves and our place in a globalized world.
Each of the contributors to this book have been shaped
by postcolonialism. They share with the reader perspectives of
occupiers and the occupied. This volume reaches beyond the
limitations of its all too brief pages by imparting far more beyond
each word and punctuation mark. The lived experiences of the
authors discussed in this book, as well as the perspicacity of the
contributors, augment this volume so that it can read the terms
vii
“postcolonial” and “literature” latitudinally. In this regard this book
covers source material beyond the standard scope of fictional books
once controlled from European metropoles. Acted out performances
take center stage, as do television shows, themselves a more modern
twist on theater productions. Comic books are explored as visual
sources liberated from the confines and restrictions of prose and
grammar. Poetry is unpacked and reinterpreted from a postcolonial
standpoint. Furthermore, the very term “postcolonialism” has been
widened to explore medieval England, the Hawai’ian islands, and
even a currently divided Ireland. In its expansive, global scope, and
its reading of postcolonial literature in its most broad conception,
this book is very much a product of postcolonial discourses and
seeks to inform the discipline. Yet it is in the most limitless sense of
postcolonialism, distanced from colonial occupation, and literature,
expanded beyond the printed page, that this book becomes
postcolonial.
The greatest accomplishment of this book is in its linkage of
international contributors of multiple generations. Professors and
postgraduate students mix together in these pages. Each of them
have a strong background and personal interest in the subject matter
their chapters explore. They are here to guide the reader through each
chapter, using a book, play, poem, picture, or TV episode in order
to create something truly unique and novel. Whether the reader is
encountering the work for the first time, or has viewed it a hundred
times, by the conclusion of this volume, the reader will come away
with a new understanding of postcolonialism in a way that can be
applied to all their future readings.

Structure
The fifteen chapters in this book tease at the wide-reaching
impact colonialism continues to have on the production of art
across the globe. It begins, by way of introduction, with a chapter
exploring postcolonialism in sub-Saharan Africa. Far more than
a survey chapter, this opening provides the requisite knowledge
and foundation required to see the intergenerational and regional
connections postcolonialism is producing in much of the African

viii Critical Insights


content. This first chapter, literally our volume’s introduction,
explores a broad assortment of postcolonial texts resonating from
sub-Saharan Africa. This chapter is thus mirrored by the book’s final
resource section, where the critical, but by no means exhaustive,
postcolonial novels have been listed as jumping off points for further
pursuit.
This volume is split into four sections. This preface and the
fantastic introduction by Professors Uchendu and Ekwueme-Ugwu
comprise the foundational first section. In the second section,
Critical Contexts, a historical and cultural overview of postcolonial
literature is provided in four chapters. These chapters continue
the tradition set up by introduction chapter, and are intentionally
dedicated to providing background and examples on how to critically
read a postcolonial piece. The third section of this book, Critical
Readings, is a collection of ten deeper readings into specific works
of postcolonial literature. In the last section, Resources, as already
discussed, the reader can find a reference guide to all of the works
discussed in this entire volume, as well as suggestions for works that
could not be included due to spatial constraints.
The first five chapters of this book teach the reader how
to properly encounter a postcolonial text. In their coauthored
introduction “On Postcolonial Literature: Ideological and
Generational Shifts South of the Sahara,” Egodi Uchendu
and Chinonye Ekwueme-Ugwu present a regional focus on
postcolonialism. Key terms used throughout this book are defined,
and the major works, revisited in subsequent chapters, are identified
and put into conversation with one another. History lessons of
colonial occupation in Africa, along with liberation movements,
are introduced here. The chapter moves chronologically. Chinua
Achebe and Frantz Fanon, founding fathers of postcolonial
literature, sit alongside Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Chika
Unigwe. The reader is brought out of sub-Saharan Africa and into
the Americana of a current thread of postcolonialism. Whereas
Achebe documented the disruption of traditional livelihoods in
the wake of colonialism, recent authors look toward neocolonial
apparatuses that contributed to environmental derogation.

About This Volume ix


In the first Critical Contexts chapter, Dominic Davies illustrates
the freedom artists have found in employing postcolonial critiques
in the form of graphic novels. This chapter continues Egodi
Uchendu and Chinonye Ekwueme-Ugwu’s wonderful introduction
by identifying and analyzing the works of key subaltern theorists,
before moving on to an exploration of the visual media postcolonial
artists have used. Like a literary cartographer, Davies explores urban
landscapes as postcolonial environments and metaphors. The gutters
and walls that break up cityscapes line up with the boundaries of
paneled illustrations within key comic books, showing the continued
disruption of colonial policies, but also illuminating the spaces left
between, blank and ready to be inked by new postcolonial actors.
In the next chapter, Dhrubajyoti Sarkar explores the
reinterpretations surrounding William Shakespeare’s play The
Tempest. In a brilliant example of the plasticity postcolonial studies
can bring back to traditional texts, this chapter looks at the ways
colonial educated subaltern actors have recast the island play by
imbuing it with deeper meaning. The ability to quote Shakespeare
was one of the hallmarks of island educated colonized subjects. By
examining the critical receptions of The Tempest, Sarkar’s chapter
underscores how texts can be read and reread from new perspectives
to create new postcolonial prose.
Joanne Davis bridges African and African American divides in
her work showcasing the flow of postcolonial ideas. Where colonial
projects stripped away the resources of occupied lands, Davis’ chapter
shows the enrichment possible through networks of generational
scholarship. Using a feminist approach, Davis highlights the notable,
yet sadly often unacknowledged achievements of female authors.
Capturing the nuanced perspective and role women had in colonial
and then postcolonial situations, this chapter brings attention back
to the voices of the silenced, serving as a reminder that postcolonial
literature seeks to empower the marginalized.
Kieran Dodds completes the Critical Contexts section in his
unprecedented step of unpacking the twin themes of sacrifice and
suffering within colonized African locales. By bringing together
the classic writings of Achebe and Wole Soyinka with Ngũgĩ wa

x Critical Insights
Thiong’o, Tsitsi Dangarembga, and Yvonne Vera, Dodds positions
himself and these authors as “avant-couriers.” He shows that
African authors used the trope of sacrifice in order to make sense
of colonialism, but that we have been misreading the literary use of
suicide. His outstanding chapter forms the spine of this entire book,
covering a massive amount of works under a unifying argument that
allows it to serve as a stable platform from which we can then jump
off into nuanced readings.
The next ten chapters focus on specific texts, with varying
postcolonial approaches. Robert Evans begins the Critical Readings
section with a microreading of the epic Arthurian tale Sir Gawain
and the Green Knight. By keeping strictly to the text, and offering a
near line-by-line interpretation of the prose-poem, Evans connects
early modern Christianity with classical Greek and Roman mythos.
His chapter, like Sarkar’s survey of The Tempest in the section
preceding it, offers new insight into canonical western texts that is
only possible under a postcolonial lens.
Shubhangi Garg Mehrotra’s chapter explores the doubly
marginalized status of being a disabled in the postcolonial dynamics
of India within subaltern relations. Dedicated to the works of
Rohinton Mistry, this chapter focuses on the metaphorical and
metaphysical “disability” as an existential identity category by
challenging the postcolonial self/other dichotomy through the
interdisciplinary lens of disability studies and postcolonial theories
with physical disabilities, and as such their externally imposed status
and identity within India’s caste system. Yet, as the chapter shows,
an acceptance and performance of the (dis)abilities by these actors is
a metaphorical underpinning of postcoloniality. The chapter reminds
the reader to think beyond defined dichotomies and implicit binaries
into the alternate viewpoints that postcolonialism creates.
In her chapter on the largely unknown author Vyankatesh
Madgulkar, Anuradha Malshe uses the exploration of rural and
urban spaces to situate an industrializing India in the postcolonial
era. Making the short fiction of Vyankatesh Madgulkar available
to Anglophone audiences within this volume, this chapter tasks
the reader with lingering on the spaces beyond the text. Everyday

About This Volume xi


conversations of normalcy are punctuated and paused upon, while
rifts between city and village scenes show the widening gaps in
newly independent nations.
Stuart Bolus explores divides even further in his chapter
comparing colonial encounters and postcolonial authorship in
Nigerian and Indian literature. In his parallel approach to two
very different locations, Bolus argues that the theme of loss
creates a damning illustration of colonialism’s impact that may be
insurmountable without adaptation and drastic realignment. Bolus
makes the shrewd connection that it was the marginal groups of
outcasts who became the first converts to European colonial culture,
and in so doing acted as harbingers of destruction to the communities
that had shunned them. Bolus’ chapter is a reminder of the forfeiture
colonialism brought to these nations, whether through assimilation
or obliteration.
In his chapter analyzing Jean Rhys’s lauded novel Wide
Sargasso Sea, Michael A. Parra gifts the reader with a true
postcolonial reading. His chapter not only explores the novel as
postcolonial literature, but also the way the narration of the novel
has been crafted. Parra reminds the reader that colonial power
structures and hierarchies prevail within the written word itself.
The casting of a protagonist pushes the reader’s attention away from
the page’s literal margins and thus away from the marginalized.
By reading and questioning each noun, Parra’s chapter explores
the broader issues of positioning behind the veil of plot and the
privileging of viewpoints. The chapter reminds us to question the
very words we are reading and to look for the actions of the minor
characters, who have their own silenced narratives, reminding us
of the onus, as readers, we carry to liberate even fictional characters
from continuing colonial structures.
Liam Wilby’s chapter brings an accessible look at foucauldian
discourse analysis into postcolonial readings, using George
Lamming’s In the Castle of My Skin to show a universal approach
that could be brought to all postcolonial literature. By arguing
that villagers within Lamming’s texts, in decolonizing space of
independence, are coming into their own postcolonial state of

xii Critical Insights


consciousness, Wilby reads even the innocuous actions of the
Caribbean islanders in the text as concerted efforts to undermine
the authority of colonial agents and systems. His chapter echoes the
idea that the act of questioning authority creates a space for counter-
discourses beneath dominant colonial narratives of power. Within
these spaces rise new self-images and projections of independence.
Robert Evans returns for a chapter reading deeply into prose
of the cosmopolitan poet Constantine Cavafy. Evans argues that
Cavafy’s very life was an embodiment of postcolonialism. Moving
within collapsing spheres of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean
empires, Cavafy created a liberated space for self-expression and
fulfillment. Using same-sex erotic motifs seeped in Hellenistic
aesthetics, Evans contends that Cavafy’s rejection of British colonial
influences underscores the postcolonial literary technique of creating
something entirely new from the collected rubble of historically
collapsed imperially projects.
Peter Gardner moves this book away from the more standard
postcolonial literature in his discussion of Irish playwright
Brian Friel. Exploring a play’s overlapping narrative structure
of language, where British surveyors and indigenous Irish locals
are unable to communicate, Gardner looks at the imposition of
place names as a palimpsest of the past. The chapter forces the
reader to think critically about Ireland’s history as a colonized
nation and to recast Irish literature as postcolonial. English-named
imposition reflects the British institutionalization and occupation.
The chapter explores the eviction of named locations, of feelings
and connections, in an era where there are no blank map spaces
left for refuge.
Aaron Iokepa Ki‘ilau’s penultimate chapter moves away from
standard forms of literature entirely, focusing on Hollywood’s
relationship to the Hawai’ian island in the serialized depictions of
Hawai’ian people in what he calls “Cop Shows.” Television police
dramas and crime fiction series, Ki‘ilau argues, are obsessed with
Hawai’i. Yet the complicated relationship these TV shows have
in portraying indigenous cultures creates an intersection between
cultural appropriation and vilification. His meticulous documentation

About This Volume xiii


of decades of “TV cop shows” reveals the erasure of Hawai’ian
people from these shows, with the islands merely forming the idyllic
tropical backdrop as a stage for colonial performances.
The last chapter belongs to Alejandro Veiga Expósito and a
reading of issues of race within Claudia Rankine’s work, Citizen.
Here African American experiences of racialized violence,
discrimination, and feelings of alienation are brought into alignment
with the treatment of colonized people seen in all of the chapters
above. In America, issues of identity, either self-fashioned or
imposed, as Rankine sees it, cannot be separated from the skin color.
Expósito exposes the reader to harsh lived experiences, depicted in
a visceral account through Rankine’s poetic strategy of placing the
viewer into the colonial gaze. Using Fanon’s writings and Lacanian
readings along with Rankine’s ideas of subjectivity, this chapter
links shared colonial histories between European colonization and
the current state of race relations in America.
The layout of these chapters is not to suggest that this book
needs to be read sequentially. Indeed, each chapter is self-contained
and creates its own ways into understanding postcolonial literature.
The reader is encouraged to use this book as it best serves his/her
purpose. No chapters require prior knowledge of the text/texts
discussed. When viewed in totality, however, this book serves
to highlight issues and themes that are applicable to forms of
postcolonial literature. After all, it is the reader who will write the
final chapter.

xiv Critical Insights


On Postcolonial Literature: Ideological and
Generational Shifts South of the Sahara
Egodi Uchendu and Chinonye Ekwueme-Ugwu

Historically, postcolonial literature, south of the Sahara and


elsewhere, progressively evolved from postcolonial philosophy.
This philosophy is fundamentally tied to the inferiority complex
that subjugation and colonization imposed on citizens of former
colonies. Next, is the awareness of the need to fight and overcome
this feeling of inferiority and actually struggle for freedom from all
forms of external dominance—political, economical, and others. In
recent times, moreover, there has been a growing consciousness of
the cultural integration that has evolved and continues to evolve as
a result of colonial contact. This integration has evoked “hybridity,”
a biological concept, to account for the cultural overlap that has
resulted from colonization.
Modern colonialism is traced back to the fifteenth century
when, for the purposes of economic and territorial expansion, the
European nations of Portugal and Spain pioneered voyages into parts
of the world hitherto unknown to them. The new worlds included
the Americas, the African coasts, the Middle East, and parts of Asia.
By the late nineteenth and mid-twentieth centuries, other European
nations, including Britain, France, and Germany, had become major
players in imperialist expeditions. Hinterland African nations,
the Caribbean Islands, India, and parts of Asia were annexed and
brought under the forceful rule of those imperialist powers.
According to Benedikt Stuchtey, Europe’s capitalist drive for
profit and their perception of the colonies as an outlet for Europe’s
overpopulation, as well as the urge for exploration, were central
to their expansionist moves. Later, religious and other ideological
inclinations motivated the quests. Europe, for instance, perceived
herself to be on a “civilizing mission.” The indigenous Africans and
native Indians, for instance, were seen as culturally backward or
uncivilized. As such, the colonizers, with their religion and their
On Postcolonial Literature xv
governments, were on a mission to civilize these peoples. Thus,
with the military might of their home governments behind them,
European missionaries entered hinterland nations, upturning and
overthrowing native cultural practices, religion, politics, economic
and social systems, and substituting them with their own, where
possible.
Postcolonialism, as an ideology, therefore, has its roots in those
colonial experiences. It attempts in principle to restructure and re-
authenticate the precolonial identities of persons from the former
colonies. Authority, identity, voice, subjectivity, and location are
explored by postcolonial thinkers and authors as issues associated
with colonization that need to be addressed.
Postcolonial literature also refers to writings that depict the
colonial realities of conquests, occupations, subjugations, and
exploitations; and the struggle for emancipation that follows. It
mirrors the post-independence struggle for the transfer of real
autonomy, power, and authority from the colonizers to the colonized.
It reflects the experiences of both the colonizers and the colonized,
characterized first by fatalism and then by passive acceptance of the
situation. This is followed by a period of armed struggle, insecurity,
and lawlessness after World War II; then by the more violent
agitations for emancipation that culminated in independence. It
reflects, moreover, the “independence” and post-independence
experiences of the present day.

Precolonial and Colonial Experiences


Buchi Emecheta’s The Slave Girl (1977), set in precolonial Igboland,
depicts slavery as an accepted norm, the same way that marriage
and divorce are today. Similarly, in Chinua Achebe’s precolonial
Umuofia of Things Fall Apart (1958), the notion of twins as an
evil omen that must be expunged through the killing of the twins,
is an accepted norm, in much the same way that it was the norm in
medieval Europe for persons labeled witches and sorcerers to be tied
to the stake and burnt alive.
Fatalistic acceptance of phenomena that cannot be explained
simply as either good or evil are characteristic of primitive societies

xvi Critical Insights


the world over; and there are always power structures that sustain
such beliefs. These power structures in those societies, which may
not even constitute the majority of the populace, often possess the
financial, political, and military might to suppress all oppositions.
As such, dissenting voices within those societies, suppressed and
rendered inaudible, become empowered only by some external
forces. This is the case with Things Fall Apart where dissenting
voices, the efulefus, worthless outcasts, and those sympathetic
towards their cause, become the ready Christian converts, through
whom British missionaries invade Umuofia and the surrounding
clans. The powers-that-be in Umuofia, with their loyal subjects,
at first ignore, as equally worthless, the strangers who are willing
to associate with the outcasts. But when the outcasts and their
sympathizers, empowered by the strangers, become threats to
the culture and practices of the community, the Umuofia elders
and warriors arise to defend their culture. But it is too late. The
missionaries have the protection of their home government, who,
with their superior military might, very easily defeats the poorly
prepared and ill-informed natives. At this early stage, therefore,
colonization, as depicted in the novel, is accepted as an evil that no
one could do anything about. Obierika reasons it out this way:

It is already too late…Our own men and our sons have joined the
ranks of the stranger. They have joined his religion and they help to
uphold his government. If we should try to drive out the white men
in Umuofia we should find it easy. There are only two of them. But
what of our own people who are following their way and have been
given power? They would go to Umuru and bring the soldiers, and
we would be like Abame (140-141).

These other Africans, the voiceless in precolonial Africa, who


readily join the strangers’ party, are, under the colonial dispensation,
empowered by the colonial government, economically, socially, and
militarily, to deal ruthlessly with their own people. As they see it,
it is the only way for them to retain their own recently won voice,
authority, and power. One remarkable feature of this period is the
creation of new structures founded on “binary oppositions,” terms
On Postcolonial Literature xvii
that originate from Ferdinand de Saussure’s structuralist theory.
This theory explains how (in language use) words that are opposite
in meaning are consciously or otherwise set off against one another.
If one opposite is considered superior, its other must be inferior.
Such relationship dichotomies as master—slave, white man—black
man, civilized—uncivilized, literate—illiterate, land owner—
squatter, among others, are binary opposites, which characterize
the associations between the conqueror nation and the conquered.
They also characterize the inferiority complex that the subjugated
acquires.
Among the Kikuyu people of Kenya, the situation as depicted
by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o in Weep Not Child, is no different. Ngotho,
with his family of two wives and several children, squats on Jacobo’s
land. “Only rich Africans like Jacobo can afford to buy and own land.
For a living, Ngotho has to work for Mr. Howlands on a farm that
is actually his ancestral land acquired by [Howlands] the European
Settler” (x). Thus, the issue of race, power, and subjectivity create
the opposition that is of concern to postcolonial writers such as
Ngũgĩ.
Deprived of the use of his ancestral land by the superior
might of the white man, Ngotho, like Achebe’s elders of Umuofia,
succumbs to a fatalistic acceptance of colonialism. He thus works
“diligently” for a few shillings on his ancestral land, with the hope
that one day, the white man would return to his home country and he
would regain his inheritance. But unknown to him, Mr. Howlands,
the white man, has no other home to return to and now considers
Africa his homeland; thanks to the displacements of the two world
wars. Ime Ikiddeh, in the 1996 introduction to the novel, comments:
“Notice the irony in the situation and the fact that the writer is
sympathetic towards both men” (x), Ngotho and Howlands.
However, the subtle and mollifying approach by the older
generation endures only until the end of World War II when Africans
who had fought side by side with white soldiers return home
disillusioned, disappointed, and angry. In Weep Not Child, Boro,
Ngotho’s son, a World War II veteran himself, is disillusioned and
embittered, not just over the loss of their lands, but more strongly by

xviii Critical Insights


the loss of his brother in a war he sees as between Hitler and other
Europeans. As such, he disappears into the forest to fight with the
Mau Mau. The periods between the end of World War II (1945) and
the latter part of the mid-twentieth century (precisely the 1960s),
when most African countries regained their independence, were
thus characterized by violent struggles in which many lives, mostly
of Africans, were lost. The struggles in Ngũgĩ’s Weep Not Child and
A Grain of Wheat are, therefore, reflections of this period.
Out of a plethora of literary texts that mirror this struggle and
subsequent ones, this chapter surveys works by Achebe, Ngũgĩ,
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and Chika Unigwe as representative
of the earlier and the latter-day movements and to underscore
the influence of the struggle for independence on literatures of
colonized people. Specifically, Things Fall Apart, Weep Not Child,
and Americanah, guide this exploration because of the generational
and ideological drifts that each represents. Other authors and
texts are mentioned as additional evidence in order to reflect both
the ideological and generational shifts in their representations of
postcolonial issues.

Ideological Foundations of the Postcolonial Fictions


In 1961, the North African born Frantz Fanon published an
essay, The Wretched of the Earth. This essay is considered the
first major postcolonial treatise that laid down the principle for
decolonization. As such, Fanon’s ideological postulations and
recommendations have tremendously influenced the trends in
early and modern postcolonial fiction, south of the Sahara. Prior to
Fanon’s publication, however, Achebe’s fictional representations of
the crushing impacts of colonization, mentioned above, had gained
popularity in various parts of Africa and beyond. Other writers,
whose works, fictional and non-fictional, reflect the colonial and
decolonization experiences, include Ngũgĩ and Buchi Emecheta
(already mentioned), Wole Soyinka, Flora Nwakpa, Nadine
Gordimer, Edward Said, Homi Bhabha, and Gayatri Chakravorty,
to mention but a few. In Africa south of the Sahara, Nigeria’s latter-
day postcolonial writers—Isidore Okpewho, Chimamanda Adichie,

On Postcolonial Literature xix


Chika Unigwe, Helon Habila, Kaine Agary, and Tanure Ojaide—
have equally, from different perspectives, explored a variety of
colonization and decolonization experiences. From the socialist-
Marxist perspective, through feminism and gender, to the ecocritical
and ecofeminist ideologies, such issues as power, voice, identity,
class, degradation, migration, and hybridity have characterized sub-
Saharan African literature. These provide an interesting survey of
the ideological contents and drifts in postcolonial African literature.
Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, set in Igboland, south-eastern
Nigeria, during the British occupation tells the story of the
displacement of Igbo social, cultural, and political systems by the
imperialist power. It revolves around the tragic character, Okonkwo,
who, unable to come to terms with the changes that have come over
the land (while he lived in exile), hangs himself rather than succumb
to humiliations from the colonial authority: “That man was one of
the greatest men in Umuofia. You drove him to kill himself; now
he will be buried like a dog” (165), Obierika, Okonkwo’s friend
and another of the great leaders of Umuofia, retorts helplessly to
the British District Officer, as the men gaze at Okonkwo’s lifeless
body dangling from a tree. Power and authority, thus taken from the
elders of Umuofia is central to the postcolonial ideology.
Okonkwo’s tragic end, considered shameful in Igbo society,
and the helplessness of the warriors of Umuofia against the superior
firepower of the colonialists, mark, at this stage, a total subjugation
of African autonomy and authority by the imperialist power. This
finality is even more pronounced by the fact that: “There were
many men and women in Umuofia who did not feel as strongly as
Okonkwo about the new dispensation. The white man had indeed
brought a lunatic religion, but he had also built a trading store and
for the first time palm-oil and kernel became things of great price,
and much money flowed into Umuofia” (142).
The community welcomes European fiscal and commercial
strategies, which it views positively as “much money” flowing in.
But this introduction of cash into their market system marks the
beginning of corruption as the “kotma” learns to extort money from
fellow Africans. The people’s indigenous open market system is

xx Critical Insights
moreover replaced by the closed system of trading stores, thereby
dislodging indigenous economic systems and identity. This placating
and defeatist posture is radically opposed in the revolutionary content
of Fanon’s treatise. In “Concerning Violence,” Fanon actually posits
that “decolonization is always a violent phenomenon…the replacing
of a certain ‘species’ of men by another ‘species’” (33).
Insisting that the struggle will not be without reprisals, a
counter-friction from the colonialists (and more losses on the part of
the colonised), Fanon advocates persistence even unto death. Those
in the forefront of the conflict may not survive. In fact, the frontline
resisters can statistically be surer of death than survival. But they
fight in the confidence that subsequent generations will be the better
for it. Jean-Paul Sartre, in his preface to the 1963 edition of Fanon’s
essay, sums this up:

It will not be without fearful losses; the colonial army becomes


ferocious; the country is marked out, there are mopping-up operations,
transfers of population, reprisal expeditions, and they massacre
women and children. He [Fanon] knows this; this new man begins
his life as a man at the end of it; he considers himself as a potential
corpse. He will be killed; not only does he accept this risk, he’s sure
of it. This potential dead man has lost his wife and his children; he has
seen so many dying men that he prefers victory to survival; others,
not he, will have the fruits of victory; he is too weary of it all (12).

Following this Marxist-Socialist and revolutionary approach,


Ngũgĩ depicts the issues of displacement, loss of power, and loss of
identity suffered by Africans. Weep Not Child (1964) and A Grain
of Wheat (1967), for instance, are vivid experimentations in the rise
of the local African workers (the grass-root proletariat) against the
displacement and exploitation of Africans by European settlers and
their governments. At the initial stages of the struggle, depicted in
Weep Not Child, the younger generation of African returnees from
World War II adopts the Marxist-Socialist principle of organizing
meetings for the purpose of educating the masses:

On Postcolonial Literature xxi


The speakers had come from Nairobi…Kiarie spoke first…All the
lands belonged to the people—the black people. They had been
given it by God. For every race had their country. The Indians had
India. Europeans had Europe. And Africans had Africa, the land of
the black people…the land had been taken away, through the Bible
and the sword…The Bible paved the way for the sword…Later, our
forefathers were taken captives in the first Big War to help in a war
whose cause they never knew. And when they came back? Their land
had been taken away for a settlement of the white soldiers (57).

With the passive and diplomatic acceptance of colonization by the


older generation of Africans over, the stage is set for revolution and
counter-revolution. The unionist ideology, the coming together of
the proletariat to fight for a just cause, is introduced. As Ime Ikiddeh
warns, Ngũgĩ’s novel “is neither an autobiography nor history,”
but rather a fictional representation of the historical experiences
of a people (ix). One discovers in Weep Not Child the original
uprising initiated by “the rural masses” as enunciated by Fanon in
The Wretched of the Earth. Sartre expresses this in the following
words: “Here Fanon stops. He has shown the way forward: he is the
spokesman of those who are fighting and he has called for union,
that is to say the unity of the African continent against all dissensions
and all particularisms” (Sartre 12).
Nevertheless, the initial organization fails, and a greater anarchy
is unleashed on the working class by the armies of the colonial
government. Conversely, rather than deter the workers, the “state of
emergency” imposed on them produces a more formidable opposition
in the form of the Mau Mau uprising, marked historically from 1952
to 1960, and often described as one of the bloodiest confrontations
against British rule in Kenya. A Grain of Wheat is a depiction of
the events that culminate in Kenya’s political independence from
Britain. It portrays the struggles that produce the independence, with
all the brutality unleashed by the colonial government and comes
to a climax with the public hanging of Kihika. Kihika, a frontline
activist for the return of the African identity, land, power, and voice,
is betrayed by a fellow African and hanged by the colonial authority.
But his spirit lives on, as the betrayals, loss of identity, power, and
xxii Critical Insights
voice, for which he dies, remain as the central issues of colonialism
and postcolonialism to date.
The political independence worn with so much bloodshed
does not produce true freedom. The intrigues of the colonists are
transferred to their African collaborators. As Sartre presages, “the
native bourgeoisie takes over power [and] the new state, in spite of
its formal sovereignty, remains in the hands of the imperialists” (5).
This new wave of imperialism over the nation is depicted by the
experience of Gikonyo and five other men in the hands of a recently
elected African Member of Parliament representing their district (A
Grain of Wheat 146-147).
The original authority, voice, identity, and influence, which the
ordinary African enjoyed prior to colonialism, has been destroyed
through imposition of alien social, political, cultural, and economic
systems, whereby land and other means of production are no longer
owned by individuals, but by the state, controlled by a few persons
upon whom the majority have unconsciously surrendered their
sovereignty. The “puppet bourgeoisie”, as Sartre calls them, the
new authority wielders, do not represent the interest of the common
African. Rather, they become the means by which the erstwhile
imperialists retain social and economic control over the erstwhile
colonies.
The imperialists retain authority, moreover, by their refusal to
transfer technological know-how and the skills necessary for good
governance. In so doing, they are rendering the new “government”
as mere puppets, tools for their continued exploitation and export of
the agricultural and natural resources of the “independent” countries
for the benefit of their home economies, but at the detriment of
the African nations. This new form of colonialism, otherwise
termed neocolonialism, makes it difficult for African countries to
achieve rapid social, economic, political, and cultural regeneration
and growth. This has equally become the subject of postcolonial
thought, portrayed in African literary works, fictive and non-fictive.
Ngũgĩ’s Weep Not Child, A Grain of Wheat, and Petals of Blood
(1977), are thus, in this progressive order, fictional explorations of

On Postcolonial Literature xxiii


the postcolonial ideologies and movements in Africa, south of the
Sahara.
Petals of Blood, in fact, depicts the continuation of the struggle
by peasant African farmers, this time against leaders elected from
among them. The opening chapter starkly introduces this struggle
with this confrontation between the state power machines—the
armed officers—and the workers:

“Long live the workers’ struggle!”


“Please disband—appealed the officer, desperately.
“Disband yourself…disband the tyranny of foreign companies and
their local messengers!”
“Out with foreign rule policed by colonised blackskins! Out with
exploitation of our sweat!” (4).

No doubt, since Fanon, other contradistinctive postcolonial


ideologies have emerged to explain the relationships that evolve
from the colonial experiences. One of such is Homi K. Bhabha’s
application of the biological concept of hybridity to explain what
happens when cultural contacts, such as between the colonists and
the colonized, occurs. Bhabha’s 1994 publication, The Location of
Culture, is an attempt to bridge the prevalent binary dichotomies
in previous postcolonial thoughts, with the idea of “cultural
hybridity,” which emphasizes a new identity from colonization and
de-emphasizes or negates the predominant ideological “otherness”
inherent in earlier postcolonial thoughts.
Corrupt and inefficient leadership—bequeathed to Africa
through her erstwhile colonial and postcolonial experiences—
breed other political, social, and economic vices that instigate
migrations from African countries to Europe and other parts of the
Western world. African youth, poorly equipped to cope in these
foreign lands, end up ensnared in prostitution, drug abuse, and
other vices. The twenty-first century has witnessed migrations from
Africa and other former colonies to Europe, the former colonial
metropoles, and to America. This migration, coupled with the
colonial experience, produces a new breed of Africans as a third
order, which contemporary authors such as Chimamanda Adichie,
xxiv Critical Insights
Chika Unigwe, and Kaine Agary have variously portrayed in their
works.
Although Americanah, with its complex plot structure, deals
with a number of issues —identity loss, racism, displacement,
and corruption—these are linked to the colonial and postcolonial
experiences that the characters must contend with. The story centers
on the main characters Ifemelu and Obinze, with a couple of other
Nigerian youths. Like the other youths who, dissatisfied with their
home government, migrate to Europe and America, Ifemelu moves
to the United States, giving up in the process a thriving relationship
with Obinze. Obinze is unable to secure a visa to the United
States, but does make it to London from where all his attempts to
reconnect with Ifemelu fail. Ifemelu, at first, attempts to give up
her Africanness, affecting Americanness in her speech, dress, and
hairstyle, as the other emigrants do. But in response to a compliment
“Wow, cool. You sound totally American” (205) Ifemelu suddenly
realizes the folly of “faking an American accent” (203) and queries
her own conscious denial of her own identity as an African: “Why
was it a compliment, an accomplishment, to sound American?,”
she asks. However, on her return to Lagos several years later, her
friend, Ranyinudo, teases her: “ Americanah!…You are looking
at things with American eyes. But the problem is that you are not
even a real Americanah. At least if you had an American accent we
would tolerate your complaining”(437). With these titular remarks,
Adichie marks identity loss a major issue of migration and hybridity
that are central to contemporary postcolonial discourses.
Ifemelu, like Obinze and several others, in the face of rejection
in their host countries, return home and attempt to reconstruct their
lives, but the task is almost impossible. So, the returnees form a
club and hold meetings. “Their voices burred with foreign accents,”
they complain about practically everything: “You can’t find a decent
smoothie in this city! Oh my God, were you at that conference? What
this country needs is an active civil society” (461). As such they
unconsciously constitute the displaced elements in the society and
sooner or later breed dissenting voices inherent in the concluding
part of the above quotation. Similarly, Unigwe’s On the Black

On Postcolonial Literature xxv


Sisters’ Street, resonates with those postcolonial issues (back home)
of displacement, discontent, and migration, which breed in the
migrants’ desperation for survival. The desperation, in turn, turns
them to social misfits.

Postcolonial Environmental Concerns


Recently, in Africa as well as elsewhere, postcolonial ecocritical
discourses and writings have emerged, as offshoots of the
postcolonial and ecocritical discourses, to challenge the obvious
polarization of the two concepts—postcolonialism and ecocriticism.
Nabeta Sangili, for instance, depicts the negative impact on the
environment in the oral African literature of the Maragoli people of
East Africa, thereby shifting attention beyond the primacy of socio-
political issues. Environmental issues, Sangili contends “would
transcend from storytelling to dressing…when critically analyzed,
it reveals deeper issues of gender, class, ideology, politics, religion,
responsibility, pragmatics, and ecology among other critical
elements.” In its ideological relationship with postcolonialism, these
critical discourses address the issue of identity, which is central to
postcolonialism.
In their book, Postcolonial Ecocriticism: Literature, Animals,
Environment, Graham Huggan and Helen Tiffin identify Western
biocentrism and the African and non-Western anthropocentricism as
constituting a major area of the division. The text is generally viewed
by scholars as an attempt to reconcile the apparent antagonism
between ecocriticism’s nature-centeredness and the postcolonial
human-centeredness. Although the book does not cover, in its
fictional analysis, texts from Africa south of the Sahara, the Indian,
Canadian, South African, and other postcolonial diaspora texts
reviewed aptly represent some of the issues addressed by writers
in sub-Sahara Africa. This includes issues such as the relationship
between human beings, the flora and fauna, and the fictional settings.
The environment is equally depicted as a major issue in the
fictive representations of the Nigerian Niger Delta people’s contact
experiences with European and other first world explorers and
exploiters of fossil fuels on the African soil. The impacts of the new

xxvi Critical Insights


science and technological cultures on the environment are clearly
depicted in fictions and other literary forms set in that region. For
instance, Isidore Okpewho, Tanure Ojaide, Kanine Agary, Bina
Nengi-Ilagha, and Helon Habila have depicted, in their novels, the
impact of Western technology on the pristine culture of the Niger
Delta, the surrounding plants and animals, and the environment.
Although Okpewho and Ojaide’s writings favor activism
as a means of addressing degradations arising from exploitation
of petroleum by Western conglomerates, Agary, Nengi-Ilagha,
and Habila adopt a diplomatic reportage of the issue. Bickerbug,
Okpewho’s eco-activist, and hero of the novel Tides, champions
the use of violent means to get the oil explorers, “the Frank Segals
and the Artauds and Cioffis of this world…to own up in an open
forum” (144) responsibility for the degradation of the Niger Delta
environment.
Well versed in oil drilling technology, Bickerbug demonstrates
to the journalist, Priye, the intricate details involved in drilling and
how massive oil spillage occurs in the vast area destroying both
terrestrial and aquatic lives and displacing local fishermen and
farmers from their homes and occupations:

There’s always an overspill…And when I talk about a blowout, it’s


really a blowout, an explosion. The rig can take it, because it’s got
the weight to absorb the shock. But what about the villages in the
environs? For them it’s another tremor, and this goes on constantly
even before the oil drifts to their fishing enclaves and their farms
(144).

Issues relating to the socio-political and economic independence


of previously colonized nations, issues of post-independence
imperialism and the withholding of science and technological know-
how from former colonies are equally depicted in the novel in a
major way. Besides Ojaide’s concern for the environment and human
rights, in his Contemporary African Literature bridges whatever
gap there is between ecocritical and postcolonial ideologies. Says
Ojaide: “There has been a noticeable shift from using nature and
the environment as simple tropes and romantic expression into
On Postcolonial Literature xxvii
political environmental and ecological awareness by pushing art
into the political realm for public health and greenhouse” (73). He,
therefore, debunks earlier views by some notable African ecocritics,
such as Nixon, Slaymaker, and Hutchinson, of any real “antagonism
between postcolonialism and ecocriticism,” especially because,
according to Olaniyan, there is a “postcolonial preoccupation with
displacement and an ecocritical preoccupation with an ethics of
place” (qtd. in Ojaide 73).
Another remarkable dimension to the postcolonial
environmental literature south of the Sahara is the eco-feminist
perspective of the representation of the issues of degradation of
the African environment by Kaine Agary. Her 2006 novel, Yellow-
Yellow, set in the Niger Delta area of Nigeria, tells the story of a
young girl, Zilayefa. Born and raised in the creeks during the most
turbulent period in the life of her people, Zilayefa, in her quest for
identity, is confronted, like the rest of the villagers, with the alien
influences of foreign oil exploiters and their Nigerian allies. Her life
in the village is cut short as her mother’s sources of livelihood—
fishing and farming—are destroyed. For as “the thick liquid spread
out covering more and more land and drowning small animals in its
path…The community took the matter up with the oil company that
owned the pipes, but they said they suspected sabotage by the youths
and were not going to pay compensation for all the destruction that
the burst pipes had caused” (4).
The protagonist is the product of a Greek sailor father, whom
she never meets because his ship, having only “docked briefly in
Nigeria” (7), give him just enough of an opportunity to enjoy a brief
relationship with Zilayefa’s Ijaw mother. Before her mother realizes
that she is with child, the man sails off and never returns. Thus,
issues in the novel border not just on environmental injustice and its
impacts on women, but also on displacement, quest for identity, and
power central to contemporary postcolonial thoughts. In their quest
for identity and power, the Ijaw youths migrate to the urban areas.
But, ill-equipped for city life, they end up exploited and abused by
the urban bourgeoisie, mostly oil expatriates and magnates, traders
and politicians. This internal migration, similar to migration of

xxviii Critical Insights


Africans to Europe and America, in Unigwe and Adichie’s On Black
Sisters’ Street and Americanah, respectively, are central issues in
postcolonialism and postcolonial literature.
Cultural and socio-economic issues, arising from the colonial
contact of Africans with Europeans, continue to engage the attention
of sub-Sahara African philosophers and authors, like those in other
places where the effects of colonization linger. Economically
powerful, often former colonizing nations and nationals still largely
dominate the world’s wealth. Despite the United Nations declaration
on the rights of indigenous peoples, including freedom from
subjugations, internal or external, the social, economic, and political
systems of the world remain unfavorable to the attainment of true
independence by the world’s rural and urban workers. These still
depend for their sustainability on the few individuals who possess
the voice, the power, and the authority—economically, socially, and
politically. Impoverished and frustrated, they become ready tools
for revolution. As long as true freedom is unattained, those issues
that make colonization unacceptable will continue to engage the
attention of philosophers and writers in Africa and the world over.

Works Cited
Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart. London: Heinemann, 1958. Print.
Adichie, Chimamanda. Americanah. Lagos: Kachifo Limited, 2013. Print.
Agary, Kaine. Yellow-Yellow. Lagos: A Dtalkshop Paperback, 2006. Print.
Bhabha, Homi. The Location of Culture. London and New York: Routledge,
1994. Web. www.google.com.ng/search?site=&source=hp&q=homi
+bhabha+the+location+of+culture+pdf&oq=Homi+Bhabha.
Fanon, Frantz. The Wretched of the Earth. New York: Grove Press, Inc.,
1963. Print.
Graham, Huggan, and Helen Tiffin. Postcolonial Ecocriticism: Literature,
Animals, Environment. London and New York: Routledge, 2015.
Print.
Ikiddeh, Ime. Introduction. Weep Not Child. By Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o.
London: Heinemann, 1966. Print.
Msiska, Mpalive. Introduction. Things Fall Apart. By Chinua Achebe.
London: Heinemann 2008. pp. i-viii. Print.

On Postcolonial Literature xxix


Sangili,Nabeta. “Shifting Toward East African Ecological Criticism in Oral
Literature: An Ecoanalysis of the Maragoli Songs” (2015). Web. www.
academia.edu/839796/SHIFTING_TOWARD_EAST_AFRICAN_
ECOLOGICAL_CRITICISM_IN_ORAL_LITERATURE_AN_
ECOANALYSIS_OF_THE_MARAGOLI_SONGS.
Sartre, Jean-Paul. Preface. The Wretched of the Earth. By Frantz Fanon.
New York: Grove Press, Inc., 1963. Print.
Stuchtey, Benedikt. “Colonialism and Imperialism, 1450-1950.” In
European History Online Mainz: Institute of European History
2011. Web. www.ieg-ego.eu/en/threads/backgrounds/colonialism-
and-imperialism/benedikt-stuchtey-colonialism-and-
imperialism-1450-1950.
Thiong’o, Ngũgĩ wa , Weep Not Child, London: Heinemann, 1964, pp.
vii-xiii. Print.
__________. A Grain of Wheat. London: Heinemann, 1967. Print.
__________. Petals of Blood. London: Heinemann, 1977. Print.

xxx Critical Insights


CRITICAL
CONTEXTS
Postcolonial Comics: Representing the
Subaltern
Dominic Davies

Introduction: The Burdens of Representation


The front cover of Sarah Glidden’s recent book-length comic,
Rolling Blackouts: Dispatches from Turkey, Syria, and Iraq (2016),
depicts a scene overlooking a cramped Middle Eastern city. In the
foreground, standing on a flat roof in the image’s very center is a
man, his eyes concealed by his opaque spectacles. As the comic
goes on to reveal, this man, Sam, was once an Iraqi refugee living
in the United States until, after being suspected of terrorism (though
without convincing evidence), his asylum was revoked, and he was
forced to return to his home country. Separated from his family, who
remained in America, Sam’s story is one of the many testimonies
recorded in Glidden’s comic, as she seeks to educate American
readers about the plight of dispossessed and disenfranchised people
whose lives are subject to the whimsical policies of governments and
the violent ramifications of war. Indeed, the comic seeks to correct
the “rolling blackouts” of the mainstream media, representing
the personal experiences of those who so often remain nameless,
the details of their lives overlooked by the speed of continuous
news cycles. This is a project that, as this chapter will show, is an
overarching concern for postcolonial literature, culture and criticism
more widely, and Glidden’s work is one example of what we might
think of as “postcolonial comics. ”

Postcolonial Comics 3
Fig.1: The front cover of Sarah Glidden’s book-length piece
of comics journalism, Rolling Blackouts: Dispatches from
Turkey, Syria, and Iraq (2016).
Used with permission.

4 Critical Insights
Let us return to the scene on Glidden’s front cover for a
moment. The image does more than just tell us what the story is
about—in this case, Sam. It demonstrates an awareness of decades-
old debates in postcolonial studies that relate specifically to issues
of representation and the difficulties raised by attempts to document
the stories of the world’s most marginalized citizens. Also standing
on the roof are Glidden’s journalist friends, interviewing Sam so that
they can communicate his story to citizens in the West, thousands of
miles away. That is, Glidden’s cover shows the process of journalism
in action, asking readers to reflect not only on Sam’s story, but on
the ways in which such stories are documented. Who is responsible
for representing these stories to readerships in the West? How are
they shaped and altered by the journalists, writers, and artists who
do this representing? This front cover throws these questions into
the foreground, asking readers to think through the complications
they might raise.
But looking one last time at this cover image, there remains yet
one more layer. Standing to the right-hand side, unnoticed at first,
is an image of Sarah Glidden herself, quietly drawing the scene in
front of her. This self-depiction recurs throughout the comic as a
whole: Glidden herself features as a character in almost every panel
of Rolling Blackouts. In every scene, she shows readers where she
was standing at the time, what she saw, and how she saw it. In this
single cover image, then, readers are asked to consider: first, the
original story; second, the processes of representation, and how
journalists and writers document such stories; and then third and
finally, to think about Glidden’s own act of drawing, and how those
drawings represent (or fail to represent) the stories they are trying
to tell.
As for a number of comics set in (post)colonial contexts, the
drawings included in Glidden’s book think about themselves. They
are self-reflexive, perhaps even meta-narratives —which is to say,
they are narratives about narratives, in that they show readers the
way in which their own and other stories are made and constructed
from fragments of facts, memories, and even sometimes, mistruths.
Glidden is not alone in this practice. Groundbreaking comics artist

Postcolonial Comics 5
Joe Sacco, to whom we will return later in this chapter, similarly
draws himself into almost every panel, asking readers to think
about how his presence impacts on the scenes he documents and
the stories he tells in his comics. Josh Neufeld, who has authored a
number of comic books ranging from travelogues to documentary
non-fiction, carefully reveals the layers of mediation involved in his
storytelling in a short comic about Syrian refugees, entitled “The
Road to Germany: $2400.” Every panel Neufeld draws is based on
firsthand reporting gathered by Alia Malek, a journalist and civil
rights lawyer, and the comic’s captions describe events that were
related to Malek by the refugees who experienced them. He even
uses color codes, with speech bubbles shaded in pink to denote
direct quotations from those reports, whilst white speech bubbles
are used to indicate paraphrased quotations.
Meanwhile, in another example, the PostiveNegatives
project uses comics to document, visualize, and relate the refugee
experience, as well as other violations of social and human rights
issues, to readers in host countries. As for Neufeld and Malek,
anxieties around representing the stories related by victims and
witnesses of such atrocities and abuses are found inscribed into the
comic itself. The artists and writers working for PostiveNegatives
always undertake extensive “ethnographic research” to tell “personal
testimonies” in comics form, emphasizing that their “narratives are
adapted directly from first-hand interviews” and that “illustrations
are based on photographs taken during field research” (even if
names are sometimes altered to protect the identity of their real-
life protagonists). When possible, the comics are even returned to
the refugees before they are published, so that they themselves can
verify the final story before it is made available to readers.
Such astonishing rigor around issues of representation, and a
commitment to thinking through longer histories of colonialism to
further our understanding of contemporary social justice issues, are
shared by what has come to be known as “postcolonial” literature
and criticism. As these examples suggest, there is now a notable
movement in contemporary comics production that speaks to
postcolonialism’s overarching project to communicate, study, and

6 Critical Insights
analyze the stories, fictional and otherwise, of peoples affected by
the phenomenon of colonialism and other kinds of social and human
rights abuses the world over. Despite the admirable ambitions of
such projects, such efforts are not always without problems of their
own; something that postcolonial criticism is carefully tuned into,
and something to which postcolonial comics often draw attention.
As for the comics discussed above, then, the movement of what
we might think of as postcolonial literature has long taken place
across national borders and cultural boundaries from writers often
based in anglophone and francophone ex-colonies to readerships
primarily —though not always—located in the global North (which
is to say mostly the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom,
as well as some other western European countries). This has been, on
the one hand, the source of postcolonial literature’s great richness.
Postcolonial studies offer students and critics a chance to read and
discuss writing from many diverse cultures and countries and to learn
about many different histories and geographies not so well-known
in the West. On the other hand, however, this movement from global
South to North—and related issues, such as the field’s emphasis on
mostly anglophone and some francophone texts, or the economic and
educational privilege of many now canonical postcolonial authors
—have been points of contention very difficult to move beyond.
Postcolonial scholars are acutely aware of the problems raised
by these issues: that in this geographical movement from South
to North can be seen the traces of old imperial power dynamics;
that the poorest postcolonial populations continue to remain under-
represented, if not entirely excluded, from postcolonial cultural
production; and that the languages of English and French tend to
be spoken only by the most well-educated—and most wealthy—
postcolonial citizens.
All this led one scholar to ask, many years ago now, a question
that continues to preoccupy both postcolonial literature and
criticism: “Can the Subaltern Speak?” Taking Antonio Gramsci’s
notion of the “subaltern,” which is used to describe peoples excluded
from and forgotten by history, Gayatri Spivak’s answer to her own
question was a resounding “no” (1988, 308). For Spivak, all stories,

Postcolonial Comics 7
“History” included, are mediated by some kind of representational
tool or screen. That process of mediation will always contain within
it dynamics of power and privilege that obscure, intervene in, and
problematize the subaltern experience that is recounted by any story.
A logical next question to ask, then, is if the subaltern cannot
speak for him or herself, who, in fact, is able to represent them
instead? Is it anyone’s particular responsibility? Speaking to these
concerns about representation a decade or so later, Kobena Mercer
shows how this question leads to a slightly different, though equally
suffocating problem. He points out that “black art”—and we might
cautiously extend this to include postcolonial literature and culture
more broadly—gaining finally “after many years of struggle” the
recognition it deserves, is now always met with “an expectation that
it would be totally ‘representative’,” able to “say all that there was to
be said” and “all at once” about the black or postcolonial condition,
and about the subaltern experience (63-64).
These two contentions do not by any means encompass the wide
range of concerns addressed by postcolonial studies, but they are two
of its central and recurring questions. They are especially relevant
to considerations of “postcolonial comics” because the comics
medium itself, as the opening examples discussed above suggest, is
particularly adept at negotiating issues of how postcolonial peoples
and their stories might be represented. That the two arguments about
subaltern representation outlined above come from one literary and
one art critic seems apt, given that comics combine the written word
with the image—indeed, this co-mixing of the visual and the verbal
is their defining feature.
Comprised of multiple panels, in comics the readers’ attention is
constantly drawn to the gutters, or the gaps in between, that separate
the sequential images. Here, readers have to fill in the blanks, linking
the preceding image to the following one to build narrative continuity,
a process necessary for the comic to make sense. This also means
that readers must consider what is not included on the comics page,
just as much as what actually appears before them. They must pay
attention to the way in which each image is itself framed. Comics
require, fundamentally, that readers are attuned to the processes of

8 Critical Insights
representation, and how these relate to the reproduction of certain
stories, peoples, cultures, and histories. Readers of comics, as for
postcolonial critics, must, therefore, constantly interrogate the
narrative’s contingency, fragmentariness, and lack of totalization.
Postcolonial studies seeks to recover subaltern stories that have
been forgotten by dominant narratives, be they in the mainstream
media or in textbook histories; the comics form shows how those
mainstream narratives are themselves mere constructions that
always overlook subaltern stories. That postcolonial comics then
often try to document the voices of the world’s dispossessed and
disenfranchised postcolonial citizens seems, therefore, particularly
appropriate. As Mercer writes: “no one ‘definition’ has more truth-
value than the others...what matters is whose definitions are more
powerful, more hegemonic, more taken-for-granted, than the others”
(78). Postcolonial comics not only recover undocumented subaltern
experiences, but show on the one hand how we take certain stories
and experiences for granted, and on the other, how we take-for-
granted the fact that some stories never get told.

Colonialism and Comics: From the Past to the Present


Art Spiegelman’s astonishing comic, Maus, which was serialized
in Raw magazine between 1980 and 1991, tells the story of Vladek
(Spiegelman’s own father), and his experience of the Holocaust as a
Polish Jew who, after many years of endurance, survived Auschwitz
and settled in the United States. Maus’s success—it won the Pulitzer
Prize in the United States in 1991—gained the comics form an
unprecedented mainstream cultural recognition, and Maus is widely
viewed today as a ‘graphic novel’ worthy of inclusion on literature
and art courses in universities all over the world. Whilst the main
narrative is about Vladek’s experience and survival of Auschwitz,
throughout Maus we find Spiegelman drawing himself into many
of the panels of which his comic is comprised, as the images reveal
and reflect on the way in which he is representing his father’s
memories. That is to say, “Spiegelman creates comic-book images
of Auschwitz but constantly and critically reflects on his process
of creation” so that, writes commentator Michael Rothberg, he is

Postcolonial Comics 9
able “[t]o remember genocide without abusing its memory” (189,
216). In many ways, Maus is as much about the act of remembering
as it is a piece of remembrance in and of itself. As we’ve already
begun to see, this capacity for self-reflexivity is at the center of the
relationship between comics and some of the overarching concerns
of postcolonial literature and criticism.
Nevertheless, Spiegelman himself concedes that this is not
a simple relationship. As he has commented, “the stereotype
is the basic building block of all cartoon art” (1997, 3). There is
here an obvious conflict generated by attempts to bring the terms
“postcolonial” and “comics” together: where comics seemingly rely
on a visual vocabulary of stereotype and simplification, the central
project of postcolonial studies is to deconstruct stereotypes, resist
reductive representations, and shed light on racial discrimination
and other forms of essentialism. As Christophe Dony writes in his
short article “What is a Postcolonial Comic?”: “the postcolonial
label can [therefore] be confusing when applied to particular comics
in particular contexts” (12). What, then, do we mean when we talk
of postcolonial comics? How do comics, with their apparent visual
simplification of the world and its peoples, in fact, lend themselves
to the recovery of forgotten post/colonial histories? How do they
deconstruct the kinds of racisms and misrepresentations of subaltern
peoples that are complicit with the ongoing inequalities that shape
our contemporary world? These are complicated questions that
comics not only raise, but as we shall see, try and answer.
In their introduction to the only collection to devote itself
entirely to the topic of postcolonial comics, Postcolonial Comics:
Texts, Events, Identities (2015),1 which is an important milestone
for current critical debates about the way graphic novels and comics
and intersect with a variety of postcolonial issues, Binita Mehta and
Pia Mukherji write the following:

comic-book production and circulation in contemporary regional


histories usefully employ and introduce precisely...new postcolonial
vocabularies. These scripts employ visual grammars, image-texts,
and graphic performances that reconstitute conventional “image-
functions” in established social texts and political systems and thus,
10 Critical Insights
perhaps, re-envision competing narratives of resistance or rights. In
this sense, new comic cultures are of particular significance in the
context of a politically recomposed global landscape (3).

They begin, here, with one of postcolonialism’s most important


presuppositions: that today’s world, and the kinds of globalization
that increasingly define and shape it, still bears the traces of
inequality that were forged during periods of formal colonization.
These global inequalities continue to exist between those parts of
the world that were once imperial powers—most notably countries
in Europe—and those that were the subject of imperial exploitation.
Furthermore, Mehta and Mukherji also point to the way in which
cultural representations of all kinds, from colonial literary writing
through to photographs and maps, were complicit with those colonial
projects. The representation of colonial populations and landscapes
in fiction and non-fiction alike allowed imperial powers to better
rule over and exploit other parts of the world. Indeed, one of the
most famous comics of the twentieth century with which even non-
comics readers will likely be familiar, the Belgian artist Hergé’s long-
running series The Adventures of Tintin (1929-present), propagated
a pro-colonial narrative. Most notably, the issue Tintin in the Congo
(1931) depicted black Africans with a racist accentuation of their
physical features, the story portraying them as desperately in need
of Tintin’s civilizing influence (whereas, in fact, Belgian rule in the
Congo was one of the most violent instances of colonialism during
that period of high imperialism).
This complicity of forms of cultural representation with ongoing
global inequalities and foreign policies continues in the twenty-
first century in what Derek Gregory calls “the colonial present”—
Gregory takes as his examples of contemporary colonialism the US
and UK–led occupation of Afghanistan, the US invasion of Iraq in
2003, and Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians in Gaza and the
West Bank. Drawing on the work of the important postcolonial critic
Edward Said, to whom we shall turn in a moment, Gregory argues
that the “colonial present” is “not produced through geopolitics and
geoeconomics alone,” but also “through mundane cultural forms and

Postcolonial Comics 11
cultural practices that mark other people as irredeemably ‘Other’
and that license the unleashing of exemplary violence against them”
(16).
Comics such as Tintin are clearly, if read uncritically, one
example of these cultural forms that perpetuate ideas of sub-Saharan
Africans, or people in the Middle East, as somehow “less human”
than those in the West. By contrast, however, postcolonial comics
seek to subvert these dangerous and violent stereotypes. As for
postcolonial literature and criticism more generally, these comics try
to reveal “the continuing impositions and exactions of colonialism
in order to subvert them: to examine them, disavow them, and dispel
them” (8). In the examples of these comics to which this chapter
will now turn, we must remember that the comics form, with its
unique combination of text and image, not only implement these
reexaminations, but constantly reflect on how those reexaminations
are undertaken.

Said and Sacco: The Footnotes of History


In his pioneering work, Orientalism (1978), which is now viewed as a
foundational text for postcolonial studies, the American-Palestinian
academic and activist Edward Said began an interrogation and
analysis of Euro-American representations of the Middle East,
or “Orient,” as he termed it then. For Said, issues relating to the
representation (or lack of it) of oppressed and colonized peoples
in literature, especially in the Western canon, was intimately
related to the political immediacy of the slow colonization and
eradication of his country of birth, Palestine, by Israel. This latter
process, beginning formally in 1948, intensifying in 1967, and still
ongoing, thus encompassed the entirety of Said’s adult life and
forced him into exile in America. Orientalism raised a whole new
set of questions about the problems and politics of representation,
whilst his later work, Culture and Imperialism (1993), revealed the
political complicity of some seminal texts in the English literary
canon with Britain’s imperial project in Egypt and Palestine (where
Said has spent his childhood) especially, but also elsewhere, from
India across to the Caribbean.

12 Critical Insights
It is no coincidence, therefore, that Said wrote the introductory
essay to the collected edition of Palestine (2001), a comic by the
Maltese-American artist Joe Sacco, indicatively entitling this
preface as nothing less than a “Homage to Joe Sacco.” Originally
published serially in comic form in 1993 (the same year that Culture
and Imperialism was published), the issues of which Palestine
is comprised were first collected into two volumes before being
consolidated into one book-length graphic novel by Fantagraphics
Books in 2001. Sacco’s productivity throughout his life as a comic
book artist has been prolific, and is still ongoing, but it is arguably
Palestine that launched him to international fame and that remains
emblematic and symptomatic of the political ethos that drives his
work. Furthermore, it also raises some of the key issues around
representation that have been addressed by postcolonial critics and
comics ever since.
In his preface to Palestine, Said shows how the motivations
for his own postcolonial academic criticism and political activism
can be found also in Sacco’s comic. He emphasizes the importance
of Sacco’s writing and drawing as an effort to represent Palestine
and the Palestinians in a way that punctures the bias that otherwise
dominates mainstream discussion of the conflict, and that is
generated, perpetuated, and consolidated by the West’s “media-
saturated world.” Sacco offers a different and much-needed counter-
narrative, Said argues, to the common depiction “of Palestinians as
rock-throwing, rejectionist, and fundamentalist villains whose main
purpose is to make life difficult for the peace-loving, persecuted
Israelis” (in Sacco, 2001, iii). Written and drawn from the first-
person perspective of Sacco himself, it documents his attempts
to meet those who inhabit the bottom rungs—the subalterns—of
Palestinian society; to speak and listen to them, and to record their
stories and experiences.
Sacco draws these characters, who relate their stories to him
in great detail, in his carefully etched style so that every Palestinian
encountered has an individuality and personality that complicates
the stereotypes of mass-media representation. Their stories, also
visualized by the comic, seep into the work’s frames, taking readers

Postcolonial Comics 13
through the various layers of obstruction—geographical, political,
representational—that separate them from the actual experience of
that Palestinian. This both enables the communication of previously
unheard stories, while simultaneously remaining aware of the layers
of mediation that it has to navigate. The journalistic narrative is
ultimately concerned with the politics of occupation, dispossession
and oppression of Palestinians by Israeli forces. However, the comic
always recourses to a self-reflexive interrogation of the politics
not only of these central issues, but also of its own capacity to
represent the Palestinians as a subaltern people. Sacco continually
demonstrates an awareness of the power dynamics implicit in his
documentation of these stories.
For example, in one section of Palestine, Sacco visits an
impoverished, freezing town in Southern Gaza where the Palestinian
inhabitants he interviews have limited heating and running water.
With relief, at the end of this section Sacco returns to the friend he
is staying with in Israel, where he has a warm shower and gets into
a comfy bed with a copy of Said’s Orientalism: “I make it through
a couple dozen pages of Said’s dense prose,” Sacco tells us, before
he falls asleep (177). For those who don’t know Orientalism, it is in
the text’s opening twenty-four pages that Said outlines his effort to
deconstruct the (mis)representation of the Arab world and to excavate
the politics implicit within that process. Sacco, therefore, includes
his own reading of the text that laid the foundational groundwork
for postcolonialism’s later interrogation of representations of the
Middle East as an episode within the narrative itself. The comic thus
draws attention to the mechanics of its own representational project,
displaying a postcolonial awareness of the politics implicit in any
such attempt. Indeed, throughout all of Sacco’s comics, the author
always depicts himself in glasses, the lenses of which remain opaque
throughout. Sacco’s eyes always remain hidden from view, perhaps
operating as a constant reminder to the reader to think about, and
question, what it is we are seeing. The comic encourages readers
to remember and to question, as all postcolonial scholars should,
the layers of mediation separating reader from speaker, the most
prominent of which is, of course, Sacco himself.

14 Critical Insights
Fig.2: Sacco draws himself settling down to read Edward
Said’s book, Orientalism, after a hot shower, in his comic
Palestine. Palestine © Joe Sacco, Published by Fantagraphics
Books, is used with permission.

Postcolonial Comics 15
In the preface to his slightly later work, Footnotes in Gaza (2009),
which documents the remembered experiences of Palestinians in
comics form, Sacco again highlights the postcolonial politics of
representation. He writes: “any act of visualisation—drawing, in
this case—comes with an unavoidable measure of refraction” (2009,
xii); that is, the mediating screen or tool about which Spivak is so
worried. But the motivations underlying this comic, which rather
than being set in the journalistic present instead attempts to recover
through interviews and archival research two atrocities committed
against Palestinians back in the mid-1950s, are still the same. As the
comic’s own narrative tells readers in its opening pages:

History can do without its footnotes. Footnotes are inessential at


best; at worst they trip up the greater narrative. From time to time,
as bolder, more streamlined editions appear, history shakes off some
footnotes altogether. (2009, 8-9)

Sacco is not only concerned to give a voice to those so often silenced


by the mainstream media in the contemporary world. He also sets out,
as does postcolonial studies, to recover those details, or “footnotes,”
that have gone undocumented because they are inconvenient to
the grand narratives produced by history’s winners. Sacco’s work,
therefore, highlights both the politics of representation and selective
memory that postcolonial literature and criticism seek to correct.
These issues underlie Sacco’s comics and are taken up by numerous
contemporary comics artists working in the industry in the early
twenty-first century. Indeed, these comics show, again as does
postcolonial studies, that the tensions between historical footnotes
and mainstream narratives are often intricately related to issues of
representation and subalternity in the present, as we shall see in the
final example to which this chapter will now turn.

Spivak and Satrapi: Can the Subaltern Speak?


If the “postcolonial” comics discussed so far have mostly been
authored by artists and writers residing in the global North, but
who travel across cultural and national borders to document and
represent subaltern populations elsewhere, what of comics actually
16 Critical Insights
written and drawn by non-Western comics creators themselves?
This smaller question is linked to Spivak’s much larger question,
which as already noted, is a crucial concern for postcolonial studies:
can the subaltern speak?
In his book about the 2011 Arab Spring, which he provocatively
subtitles The End of Postcolonialism, the Iranian historian and
cultural critic Hamid Dabashi’s answer to this question is refreshingly
succinct:

Of course s/he [the subaltern] does; of course s/he has. The subaltern
needs no representation, or theorization, or terrorization from any
English and Comparative Literature department. This is the enduring
lesson of Edward Said...who to his dying day remained critical of his
colleagues who were mystifying people’s struggles in a prose and
politics that even their own colleagues could not understand. (2012,
77)

Speaking of the way in which Iranians and other Arab peoples are
represented in the United States, especially since President George W.
Bush declared a “War on Terror” in the aftermath of 9/11, Dabashi’s
point is that the problem is not whether subalterns can speak. It is
whether western scholars, critics and readers, either because they are
blinkered by dominant historical narratives or, conversely, because
they are too busy worrying about the burdens of representation, are
capable of listening to them. It is interesting, then, that one comic to
join Sacco’s Palestine and Spiegelman’s Maus in the contemporary
canon of graphic novels is Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis.
Satrapi’s graphic memoir tells the story of her childhood
experiences growing up in a liberal Iranian family during the
country’s Islamic Revolution in 1979 and Iran’s subsequent war
with Saddam Husain’s Iraq during the 1980s. Serialized first in
French in four volumes by the publisher L’Association, Persepolis
was translated into English and collected into two volumes in 2003
and 2004 in the United States and United Kingdom, respectively.
After the release of a film adaptation in 2007, which Satrapi directed
and drew much of herself, the comic was eventually collected as
a single, book-length graphic novel. It has since rocketed onto
Postcolonial Comics 17
the mainstream comics circuit, becoming not only a key read
for comics readers and scholars, but appearing as a set text on
numerous undergraduate literature courses in the United Kingdom
and the United States. Though Satrapi cannot really be said to
be a subaltern—she is from a middle class Iranian family, and at
the end of volume one of Persepolis is sent to Austria to escape
the violence of the Iran-Iraq War—the comic is widely viewed
as able to communicate effectively an Iranian experience of this
tumultuous period in Middle Eastern history to global readerships;
though published first in French and then English, it has been since
translated into numerous other languages.2
Persepolis’s success and astonishing sales figures, which are
unprecedented for non-superhero comics and rivaled only by Maus,
can be explained in a number of ways. Economically, its simple but
effective black and white panels make it a cheap comic to reproduce
and thus to purchase (many graphic novels are colored, glossy, and
extremely expensive to print, a cost often displaced by publishers onto
readers). Meanwhile, this simple aesthetic is used by Satrapi to offer
with comedic brilliance an account not only of an eventful historic
period in the Middle East, but also a child’s vibrant imagination
and the ways in which war impinges on the daily lives of civilian
populations. As comics critic Hillary Chute argues, Persepolis’s
“minimalist, two-tone, simplified schema...speaks to the question
of representation and also, in its accessible syntax, its visual ease,
[suggesting] the horrifying normalcy of violence in Iran” (2010,
152). Though not as self-reflexive as Glidden or Sacco about the
politics of representation, Satrapi’s comic repeatedly foregrounds
the perspective of its child protagonist through drawings of imagined
symbols and figures, and in so doing reveals the extent to which
the story it tells remains a subjective—and, therefore, contingent—
account of Iran at this time.
But as postcolonialists, we have to think through the wider
historical context that might have led to the success of Persepolis in
the west in the early twenty-first century. Satrapi’s child protagonist
is a rebellious young girl who enjoys rock music and cigarettes rather
than Islamic culture and dress, symbolized especially throughout

18 Critical Insights
the comic in the wearing of a veil. It depicts the Islamic Revolution
as an oppressive movement that transformed Tehran, Iran’s capital,
into a conservative city dominated by an authoritarian state, and
that is self-consciously positioned in opposition to the “decadence”
of “capitalism” and “the West.” On one page, the veil literally and
metaphorically comes between the young narrator, Marji, and her
friends. In the concluding panel of this sequence, Marji herself adopts
the position of the dictatorial headmaster, her raised arms invoking
an imagery of oppressive dictators that evokes European historical
figures such as Hitler. Western readers are clearly supposed to feel
from these few panels a claustrophobic oppression resulting from
the Islamic Revolution, rather than liberation from a decades-old
unelected regime (though this it was, at least in part). Even Western
readers who are not particularly enthusiastic supporters of capitalism
are made to feel, by the closing down of the bilingual schools and
the satirical claims of “bravo!” and “wisdom,” that this revolution is
far from a liberating one.
Of course, for Satrapi as for many Iranians, this was, in fact, her
experience, and as postcolonial critics we must pay close attention
to the restrictions on Marji’s human rights and cultural freedoms that
were the result of Iran’s increased Islamization. But if we pay closer
attention to the representational screens and mediating tools—such
as the language in which it is written, the historical moment when
it was released, and the geography of its readerships—then there
are other power dynamics here to which attention must be paid. A
thorough postcolonial critique will interrogate connections between
the way in which an Iranian childhood is represented (notably
first in French and then in English, the languages of Empire) and
Persepolis’s uncritically celebrated success in the anglophone world
in the heightened political tensions of the post-9/11 moment and
the subsequent War on Terror. Dabashi himself, who declared that
of course the Iranian subaltern can speak, notes the importance of
this moment, and it is worth, by way of a conclusion to this chapter,
briefly exploring this here in relation to Persepolis.
When Western powers intervened in the Middle East first in 2001
in Afghanistan and then in Iraq in 2003, these wars were justified on

Postcolonial Comics 19
the grounds of the Taliban’s and then Saddam Hussein’s oppressive
dictatorships and the latter’s development of weapons of mass
destruction (which would later be proved false)—as noted above,
this invasion has since been described by postcolonial critics such as
Derek Gregory as symptoms of “the colonial present.” Circulating
at the same time, Persepolis offered a narrative that communicated a
story of a rebellious, young Middle Eastern girl, who hated wearing
the veil but celebrated Western culture, and whose experience of
Islam was oppressive rather than liberating. Whilst the comic itself
is much more nuanced in its account of the experience of Islam in
Iran (which is, after all, not even the same country as Afghanistan
or Iraq!), the general trajectory of its narrative accords with the
mainstream media narrative that sought to justify a US–led war in
the Middle East. It painted a broad picture of young girls having
their freedoms abused by bearded, Islamic men, who were anti-
democratic and oppressive, a story that appears to support western
intervention rather than challenge it.
Again, we should note that Persepolis’s narrative is itself
far more complicated than this, offering a sophisticated account
of all kinds of issues, from war and history through to Islam and
displacement. Furthermore, as for other comics that we might
consider as “postcolonial,” from Jean-Pierre Filiu and David B.’s
two-volume history of US–Middle East Relations, Best of Enemies
(2012, 2014) to Michael de Seve and Daniel Burwen’s Operation
Ajax: The Story of the CIA Coup that Remade the Middle East
(2015), it also includes some details on the ways in which Western
intervention in the Middle East earlier in the twentieth century
was, in part, responsible for the Islamic Revolution in the first
place. But the point here is that, as postcolonial critics, we need
to remain constantly vigilant and aware, attuned to the burdens of
representation and the occlusion of subalterns, asking how comics
can better help us understand these two issues ongoing in the world
today. This may mean that sometimes we have to ask whether
“postcolonial comics” are, in fact, postcolonial, whether they do
correct mainstream histories, and whether they are always able to
recover what Sacco called “the footnotes of history.”

20 Critical Insights
Postcolonial studies demands that we think through the layers
of representation and the dynamics of power, privilege, and political
interest that are contained within them. This chapter suggested that
comics, too, because they are so obviously concerned with issues
of “representation” in their self-reflexive strategies and frames,
and because they appear particularly adept at dealing with global
themes, cross-cultural issues, and issues of war and disaster, are a
particularly effective example of postcolonial cultural production.
If Persepolis reveals anything at all, it is not simply whether the
subaltern can speak—that question leaves too many complex issues
out of the picture. Rather, Satrapi’s postcolonial comic shows how
difficult it is to identify exactly who is and who is not a subaltern;
how subalternity changes throughout history and how we should
be attuned to the power dynamics that cause these shifts; how the
burden of representation is placed upon authors who have long
been vilified and silenced; and finally, how their newfound ability
to speak continues to remain predicated on the discretion of the
powerful, who tend still to be located in the global North. But just
as postcolonial literature and criticism helps us, by understanding
these processes, to resist and deconstruct them, so too can comics—
especially those of a postcolonial orientation—be a site of resistance
to colonialism, serving as a form of cultural production that might
help us move gradually forward into a truly postcolonial world.

Notes
1. Another notable reference point is Vol.52, Issue 4 of the Journal of
Postcolonial Writing, which was devoted in its entirety to the special
topic of ‘Trans/forming Literature: Graphic Novels, Migration and
Postcolonial Identity’, and was published in November 2016.
2. In an interview given shortly after the release of the comic’s second
volume in 2003, Satrapi commented that though she herself has never
worked on or even seen a Persian translation of Persepolis, she has
been told that it exists, citing Iran’s lax copyright laws in explanation.

Postcolonial Comics 21
Works Cited
Chute, Hillary. Graphic Women: Life Narrative and Contemporary
Comics. New York: Columbia UP, 2010. Print.
__________. Disaster Drawn: Visual Witness, Comics and Documentary
Form. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2016. Print.
Dabashi, Hamid. The Arab Spring: The End of Postcolonialism. London:
Zed Books, 2012. Print.
Dony, Christophe. ‘What is a Postcolonial Comic?’. Chronique de
Littérature Internationale, 7 November 2014, pp. 12-13. Print.
Glidden, Sarah. Rolling Blackouts: Dispatches from Turkey, Syria, and
Iraq. Montreal: Drawn & Quarterly, 2016. Print.
Knowles, Sam, Peacock, James & Earle, Harriet. Special Issue: ‘Trans/
Forming Literature: Graphic Novels, Migration and Postcolonial
Identity’, Journal of Postcolonial Writing, Vol. 52, Issue 4, 2016.
Print.
Mehta, Binita, and Mukherji, Pia eds. Postcolonial Comics: Texts, Events,
Identities. New York: Routledge, 2015. Print.
Mercer, Kobena. ‘Black Art and the Burden of Representation’. Third
Text, Vol. 4, No.10, 1990, pp. 61-78. Print.
Neufeld, Josh, and Malek, Alia. ‘The Road to Germany: $2400’. Foreign
Policy Magazine, January/February 2016. Print.
Rothberg, Michael. Traumatic Realism: The Demands of Holocaust
Representation. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2000. Print.
Sacco, Joe. Palestine. Seattle: Fantagraphic Books, 2001. Print.
__________. Footnotes in Gaza. London: Jonathan Cape, 2009. Print.
Satrapi, Marjane. Persepolis. London: Vintage Books, 2008. Print.
Spiegelman, Art. The Complete Maus. London and New York: Penguin
Books. Print.
__________. “Those Dirty Little Comics”. In Adelmen, Bob ed. Tijuana
Bibles: Art and Wit in America’s Forbidden Funnies, 1930s-1950s,
pp.4-10. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1997. Print.
Spivak, Gayatri. “Can the Subaltern Speak? ” In Nelson, Cary and
Grossber, Lawrence eds. Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture,
pp. 271-313. Urbana: U of Illinois P, 1988. Print.

22 Critical Insights
Postcolonial Tempest: A Survey of Postcolonial
Reception and Adaptation of William
Shakespeare’s The Tempest
Dhrubajyoti Sarkar

O wonder!
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world
That has such people in’t
(The Tempest 5.1.182-185)

The first recorded performance of William Shakespeare’s The


Tempest on the “hallomas nyght” of 1 November 1611 at the
Palace Whitehall and before the royal audience arguably marks
the last solo play by the great Bard. However, it is not the last
play that Shakespeare had a role in writing; three plays followed:
Cardenio (c.1612), Henry VIII (c.1613), and Two Noble Kinsmen
(c.1613-14). All are considered collaborations Shakespeare had
with the younger dramatists John Fletcher and Francis Beaumont.
Befitting the occasion of the first recorded performance, i.e. night
of remembrance for the dead, faithful departed, martyrs, and the
saints (“hallows”), the play featured lightning, thunder, and spirits
(referred to as “goodly creatures” in the above quotation). Shortly
afterwards, The Tempest was included in the royal festivities of
1612-13 celebrating the betrothal of Princess Elizabeth to Frederick,
the Elector Palatine of Bohemia. The selection of the play may be
considered as recognition of the attention and admiration it received
from the royal audience. Shakespeare incorporated a masque scene
into the play (4.1) to make it appropriately fit the celebration of
Princess Elizabeth’s engagement (Chambers 492). Sustained
contemporary popularity of the play may be attested by the fact that
The Tempest is the first play that opens the First Folio of 1623.
Over the centuries the play remained consistently popular, even
if the reason behind such popularity changed over time. While some

Postcolonial Tempest 23
argue that interest in the play waned following Shakespeare’s exit
from the dramatic scene, The Tempest barely managed its re-entry
through a severely condemned neoclassical reworking called The
Enchanted Island. From the jottings of Samuel Pepys, the famous
diarist of the period, we can find that Pepys watched the play seven
times over two seasons! Pepys’ lauding of the play reinforces the
fact that even if English audiences and theater companies neglected
The Tempest in the period immediately following its debut, it was
quickly revived with widespread acclaim. A brief glance at the
history of performance of The Tempest reveals that if the Jacobean
and the Restoration playgoers found elements of elaborate masques
and the classical conformity of time and place rather appealing,
the Victorians, on the contrary, found ample attractiveness in the
opportunity of theatrical flourish, sensationalism, and Darwinian
issues in the plot and structure of the play.
In the post-World War II period, however, The Tempest
experienced another resurgence in performance and adaptation.
The main reason for this renewed popularity is quite distinct from
the reasons of the play’s popularity centuries before. One of the
main reasons for this resurgent interest is the rediscovery of the
larger politics in the play. Postcolonial criticism and adaptations
influenced by postcolonial thought feature prominently in that
political perspective.
As indicated in many other chapters of this volume,
postcolonialism has been variously defined and interpreted in three
distinct but interdisciplinary academic fields: postcolonial studies,
postcolonial theory, and postcolonial literature (Cuddon 550). This
interdisciplinary field seeks to understand the nature and impact of
European colonialism in erstwhile colonized areas of Africa, Asia,
and the Americas. The term “postcolonialism” gained popularity
among historians and academics following World War II, as
former colonies became independent of their European empires.
Since the 1990s “[postcolonialism] has been used by literary
critics as an oppositional reading practice to study the effects of
colonial representation in literary texts” (Cuddon 551). As the first
historically delimited notion of postcolonialism related to colony

24 Critical Insights
and colonialism is not applicable to The Tempest, the latter notion
becomes the main operative idea in any discussion of the play from
a postcolonial perspective.
Continuing the argument of a stable base of popularity of
the play, albeit for ever-changing reasons, it may be observed
that although earlier centuries found the story of loss/restoration,
revenge/forgiveness, and the love interest of an innocent heroine
quite appealing, the postcolonial readers and observers concentrated
on a different set of issues. These are the master/slave relationship,
occupation of the island, and the psychology of a faithful and obedient
spirit. Accordingly, over time, with the change of perspective, the
center of attraction in The Tempest has shifted from the powerful
magician Prospero, who corrects his own initial mistake of
confining knowledge within its textual boundaries to a successful
application to reclaim his position and his daughter’s future, to
his servants Caliban and Ariel. However, it would be a mistake to
state that this attention to the master/slave narrative is possible only
from a postcolonial perspective. Ben Jonson, a contemporary and
competitor of William Shakespeare, made a taunting reference to
The Tempest quite early: “If there be neuer a Seruant-monster in the
Fayre [this refers to Jonson’s 1614 play Barthlomew Fair where
this comment appears], who can helpe it? he sayes” (Jonson “The
Induction on the Stage”). Further, it may also be noted that one of
the most crucial psychological analysis of the colonial situation
called “The Master-Slave Dialectic” (1807) by Friedrich Hegel and
its reworking in Jean Paul Sartre’s Being and Nothingness (1943)
have no direct or indirect reference to The Tempest.
Before we move into any survey of the postcolonial reception
of the text, a discussion of Robert Evans’s essay may serve as a
necessary note of caution to avoid the pitfall of over-interpretation
of the play. In his chapter “‘Had I Plantation of this Isle, My Lord—’:
Exploration and Colonisation in Shakespeare’s The Tempest,” Evans
begins with a presentation of the conflicting claims to the actual
location of the island of the play and similarly conflicting views of
the nature of Caliban.

Postcolonial Tempest 25
The particulars of the location and contents of the island in
Shakespeare’s play are so minimalistic and general, depending upon
various external references in the play, over time claims have been
laid that it is set in America, the Caribbean, or the Mediterranean.
Similarly, Caliban has been quite contradictorily claimed as a
representative of colonized people and his experiences as that of
a first generation colonizer (179-180). Most importantly, in a very
significant departure from the major stereotypes of the colonial
condition, none of the characters initially set out in search of a new
world and none show the desire to permanently settle in the island
(180). In brief, even if in the following sections of the survey takes
us to various postcolonial references and adaptations, like any great
piece of literature, The Tempest transcends the specific historical
context.
In this chapter we will attempt a survey of postcolonial
reception and adaptations of the play. Although our main emphasis
will be on these two aspects of reception and adaptation, the chapter
is structured according to the major geographical areas where the
most numerous and most influential criticisms and adaptations of
The Tempest were produced.
If one follows present critical attitudes to The Tempest, it
sometimes becomes difficult not to be thoroughly convinced that
the “new world” Miranda is so fascinated by can be anything but
the New World of the Americas. Under the circumstances, it is
quite extraordinary that in close to two hundred years of the play’s
early existence hardly anyone spelt out the relationship between the
two. Among the scholars who mentioned this connection, Edmond
Malone must be included as the pioneering figure. In the first few
pages of his 1808 pamphlet, Malone asserts the direct influence of
a report documenting the incidents of the survival of the Bermuda
shipwreck on Shakespeare’s plot and setting. Malone goes on to say
that Shakespeare intentionally obfuscated the direct correspondence
between the island of the play and the Bermuda, lest the mystique
and the magic be lost to large sections of the audience who have
already eagerly read the account of that seemingly miraculous
incident (2).

26 Critical Insights
The account of the incident Malone refers to is an actual
accident in 1609 when an English ship crashed against the desolate
Bermuda islands. Rather miraculously, the people onboard swam
to safety and subsequently survived further dangers on an isolated
island. There were a number of pamphlets and accounts that were in
circulation during the probable period of Shakespeare’s composition
of the play. Malone’s mention of these sources and accounts has been
later traced to two particular pamphlets, now collectively called A
Voyage to Virginia in 1609. William Strachey’s “True Reportory”
and Silvester Jourdain’s “Discovery of the Bermudas” contain
the fantastic story of the largest ever expedition fleet carrying six
hundred people to the Virginian settlement of Jamestown. A week
away from their destination, the Sea Venture, the flagship of the fleet,
was waylaid and wrecked by a tropical storm (tempest) into one
of the remote islands of Bermuda. Most of the inmates of the ship
survived the shipwreck and a further eleven months in the desolate
island. Eventually, in a show of even greater resourcefulness, they
constructed their own small boats and successfully concluded
their voyage to America. Because the pamphlets contained frank
references to mutiny and the general wretchedness of the settlement
at Jamestown, these accounts were not officially published. They
were, however, privately circulated. The critical opinion regarding
the matter gained solid footing with Louis B. Wright’s endorsement
and edited publication of these two pamphlets as definitive sources
for many references in The Tempest. However, not everyone was
particularly impressed by the specific reference to the shipwreck
and nods to the New World setting. One group, loosely called the
“Oxford opinions” (in contradistinction from the previous group
called, loosely, the Stratfordians), were not convinced that there
was something specific in these two pamphlets that directly linked
an American expedition to The Tempest. After all, they argued,
details of shipwrecked sailors and settlers could be found in many
other popular narratives that were known to Shakespeare and his
contemporaries.1
Nevertheless, the Americanization of The Tempest began in
earnest form in 1898 with the zealous scholarship of Sidney Lee.

Postcolonial Tempest 27
Lee’s claim that the play essentially reflected an early colonial
experience gained steady support in the subsequent three decades.
Prospero, the confident colonizer, encounters the pitiable aborigines,
embodied by the character Caliban, stumbling through the initial
stages of civilization. Subsequently early twentieth-century scholars
like Morton Luce, Walter Alexander Raleigh, and Robert Ralston
Cawley— to name just a few among many— all contributed to
persuade “themselves and most (apparently) of their generation that
The Tempest had an essentially American setting, predominantly
American themes and, at least in Caliban, a truly American character”
(Vaughan and Vaughan 102).
While the contentious claims regarding the historical bond
between the setting of The Tempest keeps the scholarly debate open,
the recent cultural history of the United States adapts the play to
create a unique postcolonial perspective. As Thomas Cartelli has
indicated in his analysis of Percy MacKaye’s text accompanying
Caliban by the Yellow Sands, the 1916 masque performance
celebrating the tercentenary of Shakespeare’s death contained two
divergent directions of American postcolonial experience. On the
one hand, the thirty-some professional actors who formed the cast of
the play represented the multiethnic New York population, thereby
moving beyond the Anglo-Saxon essence of the American populace.
On the other hand, by incorporating such actors in a Shakespearean
production, the British cultural values were enforced upon them
(Cartelli 64).
Post World War II America saw its share of postcolonial
adaptations of The Tempest. Even though the new realignment of
critical strategy reversed the attitude towards the colonist Prospero
into that of unambiguous condemnation, the location and themes
remained steadily American. It is as if Prospero’s sins—the “seizing
the natives’ lands, enslaving their bodies and imposing an alien,
unwanted culture”—in equal measure empowered the victim in his
suffering (Vaughan and Vaughan 103). From the 1970s onward, the
emerging theoretical domain called “New Historicism” has often
focused on The Tempest. Stephen Greenblatt, the most celebrated
representative of the critical trend, in his essays tries to establish

28 Critical Insights
connections between various ideas—such as attitudes toward
cannibalism and the linguistic supremacy of the Europeans—related
to the colonies of the New World and their manifestation in the
play. These may not directly qualify as postcolonial criticism, but
they still do enhance the knowledge of the possible influence of the
colonial situation in the composition of The Tempest.
Around the same time as Sydney Lee’s assertive proclamations
were being made the play was recast in a different postcolonial
perspective, namely that of Central and South America, with British
colonization being recast as Spanish and Portuguese seaborne empire
building. A good analytical description of this history of reception
and adaptations in Central and South America can be found in Gordon
Brotherston’s “Arielismo and Anthropophagy: The Tempest in Latin
America.” Indeed, a number of ideas and opinions in this paragraph are
taken from Brotherston’s work. The main contextual impetus behind
such recasting was the nineteenth-century independence movements
that began across Latin America. This was further intensified during
the Spanish-American War of 1898. In the immediate aftermath
of the war, the United States took over imperial control of Cuba,
Puerto Rico, and the Philippines. Many writers of the modernista
movement reacted by alluding or drawing on The Tempest. Rubén
Darío (pseudonym of Félix Rubén García Sarmiento), a Nicaraguan
poet, journalist, and diplomat—and arguably the most celebrated
figure of the modernista movement—produced his “El triunfo de
Caliban” [The Triumph of Caliban] right after Spain’s humiliating
defeat in May 1898 at the hands of American forces. This builds
upon his earlier comment likening “New York City’s crudity and
materialism to Caliban’s,” made around the time Darío met José
Martí in New York in 1893 (Vaughan and Vaughan 98). US military
victory consolidated hostility among the Latin Americans and
asserted itself through “a sense of Latinity” (Brotherston 213). In the
tract, Darío takes up the comments made by a representative “Latin”
intellectuals like Paul Groussac few days earlier in Buenos Aires.
Darío described these intellectuals as emerging “from a book-lined
cave (like Prospero’s) to reprehend the monstrous US–Caliban”
(Brotherston 213). His further condemnation of this “dangerous and

Postcolonial Tempest 29
all-devouring beast of terrifying energy and greed” concludes with a
comparison of his ‘Latin soul’ to Miranda, “who will always prefer
Ariel” (Brotherston 213). From the above discussion, two ideas
may be concluded. Firstly, that the stereotypes of Ariel and Caliban
became representatives of the early Latin American points of self-
identification and that of the greedy and aggressive United States,
respectively. Secondly, rather than center on the play’s geographical
Caribbean or New World setting, this early reception was primarily
focused on the four set of characters: Prospero, Miranda, Ariel, and
Caliban.
If Darío’s references to the Ariel spirit sometimes showed
signs of ambivalence towards Caliban in his other writings, like Los
Raros (1893), then, in the works of José Enrique Rodó, Uruguayan
philosopher, educator, and essayist, and widely considered by many
to have been Spanish America’s greatest philosopher, “Ariel came
to inspire nothing less than a cultural and philosophical movement,
known as arielismo, which gained notice in all parts of the continent”
(Brotherston 214).
Brotherston thinks that for Rodó “Renan’s play Caliban, Suite
de ‘La Tempete’(1878) was more immediately important than
Shakespeare’s play” (215). Rodó’s essay sets forth his specific credo
for the postcolonial Spanish territories in general, and Uruguay in
particular. Prospero, the venerable teacher, (Rodó unproblematically
assumes the persona of Prospero as his self-projection) warns his
impressionable listeners not to be lured by the material wealth and
glitter (obviously a reference to the materialism of the United States)
but to strive for a well-rounded idealistic life marked by intellectual,
moral, spiritual resources. Rodó remained steadfastly committed to
the paradigm of education that he saw as the principal operative in
the relation between Prospero and Ariel. For example, the title of the
1913 gallery of portraits the South American intellectual - written at
a later stage of life is called El mirador de Próspero [The Gallery
of Prospero]. Although Rodó’s manifesto has often been hailed as
“the ethical gospel of the Spanish-speaking new world,” we need
to remember that its main structure and concerns are supposedly
drawn from The Tempest [qtd. in “José Enrique Rodó”].

30 Critical Insights
After graduating with a degree in medicine from the University
of Caracas in 1905, Jesús Semprum realized that literature was his
true calling. Subsequently, a group of like-minded youth (referred to
as the Los Mechudos) gathered around him to translate the influence
of José Enrique Rodó into literary practice. There is little scope for
speculation regarding the influence of Rodó as they named their
mouthpiece Ariel, the magazine that served as the main channel
of their literary output. Further, when Semprum summarized the
Hispanic view of the people of the United States, he took recourse
to an earlier, literary, vocabulary by calling them “rough and obtuse
Calibans, swollen by brutal appetites, the enemies of all idealisms”
(qtd. in Vaughan and Vaughan 99).
Identification with the spirit of Ariel and condemnation of the
figure of Caliban, however, changed in a diametrically opposite
direction after World War II. The person who can be singled out
as the most important voice in this changing direction is Roberto
Fernández Retamar. Retamar was a close confidant of Che Guevara
and Fidel Castro; and his revolutionary profile is matched by his
high profile official positions as the President of the Casa de las
Américas. His politics may certainly be traced back to his 1969
revisionist essay called “Caliban” in which he emphasized that:

Our symbol is not Ariel, as Rodó thought, but Caliban. This is


something that we, the mestizo inhabitants of these same isles where
Caliban lived see with particular clarity: Prospero invaded the
islands, killed our ancestors, enslaved Caliban, and taught him his
language to make himself understood… I know no other metaphor
more expressive of our cultural situation, of our reality. (Retamar 24)

Retamar’s original essay in Spanish was published in 1969. However,


the source that has been used for the quoted text above is from a
special issue of The Massachusetts Review, published in 1974, titled
‘Caliban,’ celebrating the changing direction of the Latin American
appropriation of The Tempest. The editor proclaims, “Against the
hegemonic, europocentric, vision of the universe, the identity of the
Caliban is a direct function of his refusal to accept—on any level—
that hegemony” (Márquez 6).
Postcolonial Tempest 31
Even the earliest audience and readers of the play perhaps could
trace a sliding over of the terms “carib,” “canibal,” and “caliban.”
Thus the identification and association of The Tempest characters
to a particular geographic space could only be guessed. However,
there is a big historical hiatus between the Carib people of these
islands and the contemporary population of the Caribbean islands.
Nevertheless, the African descent of the majority of the inhabitants,
their past mired in the plantation settlement history and their culture
and language lost due to colonial displacement, are all themes that
could find a resonance in The Tempest. Moreover, the increasingly
confident assertions specifying the locale of the play within the
Caribbean islands certainly found resonance to the reception and
adaptation of the play by Caribbean people. Although it could have
been expected that the English-speaking Caribbean might have
responded far more readily to the play, this was not the case. As
we have already seen, one of the most emphatic assertions was
offered by Roberto Fernández Retamar, a Spanish-speaking Cuban.
Two other landmark postcolonial responses to The Tempest were
offered in English and French, respectively. George Lamming, the
Barbados born author, included a chapter entitled “A Monster, A
Child, A Slave” in his semi-autobiographical text The Pleasures of
Exile (1960). The references to both the title of the chapter as well
as that of the book are obviously a direct indication of Lamming’s
response to the Shakespearean play. Lest we miss the radical nature
of Lamming’s involvement in talking back to the English canon,
we may be reminded that it was expected that West Indians would
have only utmost respect for, and often mimicry of, the English
canon. Therefore, Lamming’s involvement in 1960, in offering a
postcolonial response to such a canonical text, surely involved a sense
of literary blasphemy (Hulme 220). Hulme further distinguishes
the nature of engagement with the play as manifested in the works
of Lamming and Retamar; calling “Lamming’s approach to The
Tempest…more ‘internal’ in the sense that he developed his reading
out of an engagement with the play as part of his colonial education,
alongside a reading of early Caribbean history” (222). In this
“internal” approach, Lamming successfully traces the double bind of

32 Critical Insights
the colonial situation. On the one hand, he recognizes a particularly
Caribbean colonial history in the storyline of the play. But, on the
other hand, Lamming recognizes that it is his own colonial education
that empowers him to rebel against the same education. Another
writer and intellectual from Barbados, Edward Kamau Brathwaite
also extensively used the symbolism and character prototypes of
The Tempest to theorize his study of the Jamaican Slave Revolt of
1831-32. In this 1977 essay titled “Caliban, Ariel, and Unprospero in
the Conflict of Creolization,” Brathwaite employs the literary motif
to seamlessly elide into the historical and philosophical aspects of
the subject under consideration. By expanding the conventional
character metaphors, he identifies Alonso as a member of the British
Parliament and Gonzalo as one of “the well-meaning but misguided
Christian missionaries” (Vaughan and Vaughan 106).
The most extensive postcolonial engagement with the play was
displayed by the 1969 French adaptation called Une Tempête [A
Tempest] written by Martinique writer Aimé Césaire. He is one of
the central figures of the Negritude Movement in the Caribbean that
triggered a transnational cultural refashioning across these islands.
Césaire specified that Prospero is a white master, Ariel is a mulatto,
and Caliban is a black slave, while retaining all the characters of
the original play. His main thrust and the principle of adaptation
becomes clear in the subtitle of the play: “Adaptation pour un
théâtre nègre” [Adaptation for a Negro Theater]. Therefore, “the
master/slave relationship, incidental and justified in Shakespeare,
is made preeminent by the Martinican” (Arnold 237). The play’s
extensive and overt engagement with the issues of colonial power
relations, racial sentiments, and the process of decolonization make
it a highly topical play. In particular, Césaire’s representation of
religious fanaticism operating in connivance with the aggressive
colonialism, create a unique idea that arguably does not appear
in any other postcolonial reading and adaptation of The Tempest.
However, the meditations on all these issues can also be conducted
on a generalized abstracted fashion. For example, moving beyond
the colonial situation of the Caribbean islands, extending an earlier
comment made by Césaire himself, many critics have seen Martin

Postcolonial Tempest 33
Luther King in Cesaire’s Ariel and Malcolm X in his Caliban. Such
extension to various other situations of oppression and manifestation
of power relations is quite plausible because of the dual structure of
the play.
In the concluding section of this survey we take up a text
that may be considered to be the urtext of all postcolonial
critiques and adaptations that has been produced hence. In 1950,
shortly after returning to France, Dominique-Octave Mannoni,
a French psychoanalyst who spent more than twenty years as a
colonial administrator in Madagascar, published Psychologie de
la colonisation. Six years later, when the book was translated into
English, Mannoni gave it a new title: Prospero and Caliban. His title
leaves little to speculation. He is using the basic operative structure
of the play to analyze his own everyday experience of the French
colonial administration at Madagascar. Mannoni also had a short
chapter in the book entitled “Crusoe and Prospero,” thus invoking
another canonical English text of shipwreck that, too, manifests a
typical master/slave relation.
As a trained psychoanalyst and an experienced administrator,
Mannoni brought a unique combination of skill sets to his analysis of
both the French colonizers and the indigenous colonized Malagasy
population. As Mannoni was an important influence on his one-
time student Césaire, we may assume that the way Césaire’s work
operates on a dual level by considering a direct influence of the way
Mannoni structured his analysis. The detailed and complex analysis
that Mannoni recorded in his book is a result of specific observation
of the colonial encounter in Madagascar. However, aided by the
rhetorical extensions afforded by the names of the fictional characters
and the stereotypes they are expected to represent, Mannoni sought to
narrate general structures of the results produced by any generalized
colonial situation:

on the one hand [they] were domineering, callous, neurotic colonizers;


on the other [they] were submissive natives, racked by ambivalence
over their acceptance of western values and their rejection of
indigenous culture, and subconsciously resentful of their conquerors
and even of themselves. (Vaughan and Vaughan 104)
34 Critical Insights
Despite initial controversy surrounding the portrayal of the
Malagasies, both the political commentators and literary critics
eagerly accepted the book and its general structures of analysis.
This widespread and rapid acceptance of a non-literary work like
Mannoni’s Prospero and Caliban by the actors, directors, literary
critics, and teachers has often been compared to such iconic texts
as Darwin’s Origin of Species, Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams,
or Marx’s The Communist Manifesto. From this point onward, it
becomes almost mandatory for postcolonial interpretations of The
Tempest to either directly acknowledge Mannoni’s influence or to
implicitly manifest that major findings of Mannoni’s work have
been integrated into such studies.
The figure of Caliban remained central to African responses
to The Tempest throughout the 1970s. Some of the representative
writers who contributed in this vein are Ugandan Taban Lo Liyong,
Lemuel Johnson of Sierra Leone, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o of Kenya,
David Wallace of Zambia, and the Nigerian playwright and poet
John Pepper Clark. Clark’s essay “The Legacy of Caliban” (1970)
and Lo Liyong’s poem “Uncle Tom’s Black Humour” (1970),
importantly both published in the same year, are concerned with
issues surrounding the loss of language for the colonized and
subsequent “gain” of a Western language. If these two postcolonial
takes on The Tempest have only exclusive choices between available
languages, David Wallace’s Do You Love Me Master? published just
one year later in 1971, represents a more realistic African linguistic
choice where the African languages survive and thrive alongside
English. Finally, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o’s Homecoming (1972)
invoked some of the themes The Tempest to reflect upon African
and Caribbean literature, culture, and politics. Later, in his 1986
celebrated book Decolonising the Mind, Ngũgĩ calls for a complete
dismantling of the colonizer’s cultural domination by primarily
revoking the indigenous languages. Rudimentary beginning of a
few of these ideas can be traced to Ngũgĩ 1972 discussion of the
Tempest theme. A few feminist writers have also brought their
gendered reading to further bear upon their postcolonial locations.
A group of Latin American feminist writers have offered such a

Postcolonial Tempest 35
sampling in their Daughters of Caliban (1998). Similar responses
can be found in the literary workings on The Tempest in Constance
Beresford-Howe’s Prospero’s Daughters (1988), Sarah Murphy’s
The Measure of Miranda (1987), and Marina Warner’s novel Indigo
(1992). In all three, these Canadian novelists work not only a new
spatial turn is given to the location of the play, but some of them
also challenge temporal and societal boundaries by either projecting
them to a distant future or casting them in a society vastly liberated
from the taboos of its time. Indian poet Suniti Namjoshi’s series of
poems titled “Snapshots of Caliban” imagines an altered gendered
relationship between Caliban and Miranda.
In conclusion, we may on the one hand wonder at the potential
of a play that is more than four hundred years old to provoke
and inspire authors and thinkers so culturally and geographically
different from its original audience. On the contrary, looking at the
timeline, we may be curious to note that most of the discussions of
the postcolonial reworkings conclude before the 1980s. Although
critics have surmised that this declining interest in the energetic
reworking of The Tempest may be traced to the geopolitical situation
of the former colonies, it may as well be true that the general appeal
of the themes and characters of the play are still waiting to burst
forth into a new period of postcolonial attention.2 Speculations
may also be made about the continuing vitality of the postcolonial
perspectives on a play that may be considered to have shown some
of the earliest symptoms of the change of the colonial world into
a global age. Whether the postcolonial perspectives also transform
itself into an increasingly global concern with the play’s motif is a
question well worth remembering at the conclusion and way forward
for postcolonialism.

Notes
1. See Peter Moore’s brief discussion to dissociate any obvious
connection between the play, the New World, and the colonial
perspective:https://shakespeareoxfordfellowship.org/bermuda-
shipwreck-of-1609/.

36 Critical Insights
2. See, for instance, director Julie Taymor’s 2010 film The Tempest,
which gender swaps Prospero with Prospera, played by Dame Helen
Mirran, and casts the very English Ben Whishaw as Ariel, and the
Benin-French actor Djimon Hounsou as Caliban.

Works Cited
Arnold, A. James. “Césaire and Shakespeare: Two Tempests.” Comparative
Literature, Vol. 30, No. 3, pp. 236-248. Print.
Brotherston, Gordon. “Arielismo and Anthropophagy: The Tempest in
Latin America.” In ‘The Tempest’ and Its Travels. Edited by Peter
Hulme and William H. Sherman. Reaktion Books, 2000, pp. 212-
219. Print.
Cartelli, Thomas. Repositioning Shakespeare. Routledge, 1999. Print.
Chambers, E.K. William Shakespeare: A Study of Facts and Problems.
Vol. 1. Oxford: Clarendon Press 1930. Print.
Cuddon, J.A. The Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary
Theory. Fifth Edition. Revised by Habib, M.A.R, et al. Penguin
Reference Library, 2014. Print.
Evans, Robert C. “‘Had I Plantation of this Isle, My Lord—’: Exploration
and Colonization in Shakespeare’s The Tempest”. Exploration and
Colonization. Edited and with an introduction by Harold Bloom.
Infobase Publishing, 2010, pp. 179-190. Print.
Jonson, Ben. Bartholomew Fair. Prepared from 1631 Folio (STC 14753.5)
by Hugh Craig, D of English, U of Newcastle. Web. http://ota.ox.ac.
uk/text/3249.txt.
“José Enrique Rodó.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia
Britannica, Inc., Web. www.britannica.com/biography/Jose-Enrique-
Rodo. Accessed 18 May 2007.
Hulme, Peter. “Reading from Elsewhere: George Lamming and the
Paradox of Exile.” In ‘The Tempest’ and its Travels. Edited by Peter
Hulme and William H. Sherman. Reaktion Books, 2000, pp. 220-
235. Print.
Malone, Edmond. An Account of the Incidents from which the Title and
Part of the Story of Shakespeare’s Tempest were Derived and its True
Date Ascertained. London, 1808. Print.
Márquez, Roberto. “Foreword”. The Massachusetts Review, Vol. 15, No.
1/2, ‘Caliban’, p.6. Print.

Postcolonial Tempest 37
Retamar, Roberto Fernández. “Caliban: Notes towards a Discussion of
Culture in Our America”. The Massachusetts Review, Vol. 15, No.
1/2, ‘Caliban’, pp. 7-72. Print.
Shakespeare, William. The Tempest. 1623. Arden Shakespeare, 3rd Series.
Thomas Nelson, 1999. Print.
Vaughan, Virginia Mason and Alden T. Vaughan, eds. “Introduction”. The
Tempest. Thomas Nelson, 1999. pp.1-138. Print.

38 Critical Insights
Emergent and Divergent Voices: African and
African American Women Writers
Joanne Davis

In 2011, the editors of African Women Writing Resistance,


Contemporary Voices noted that “African women writers have
begun to appear on the world’s bestseller lists” (4). They cited
Zimbabwean Tsitsi Dangarembga, whose novel Nervous Conditions
won the Commonwealth Writers Prize for the African countries in
1989 and Chimamande Ngozi Adichie, whose novel Half of a Yellow
Sun won the Orange Prize for Fiction in 2007. African American
women writers preceded African women on the world’s bestseller
lists by only seven years—Alice Walker won the Pulitzer Prize in
1982 and the National Book Award for Fiction in 1983 for her novel
The Color Purple, and Toni Morrison won the Pulitzer Prize in 1987
and The Nobel Prize in Literature in 1993 for her novel Beloved;
her earlier novel Song of Solomon won two smaller prizes in 1977.
In fact, there is a long tradition of African and African American
women writers appearing in print. In Africa, Buchi Emecheta, Nawal
el Saadawi, Ama Ata Aidoo, Mariama Bâ, and Madhu Dubey; in
America, Zora Neale Hurston, Alice Walker and Maya Angelou,
Audre Lorde, Patricia Hill Collins, bell hooks, and Michelle Cliff
form the recent part of a tradition of women engaging in public
discourse going back to as early as the 1820s, as Beverley Guy-
Sheftall reveals in her book Words of Fire: An Anthology of African-
American Feminist Thought.
Despite the abundance of African and African American
women’s literature, these stories have been significantly under-
represented in literary history. These women write against a
tradition that is characterized by colonial incursions into Africa and
America and the theft of people into slavery. Africans were depicted
as less than human, who needed to be introduced to Christianity,
spirituality, intelligence, and European notions of civilization and
order, and every facet of African women’s identities—spirituality,
Emergent and Divergent Voices 39
intelligence, sexualities—was denied. Saartje Baartman, a woman
from the Cape region, was even brought to Europe and displayed in
a cage like a zoo animal, where Europeans visitors gathered to gawk
at her buttocks. When she died there at the tender age of 25 years, her
genitals were cut from of her body and stored as specimens, further
aligning to the similar treatment of postmortem animal dissection
(Gilman 212-219).
For centuries, African and African American women have
struggled to gain access to literacy. It was illegal to teach black
people to read and write in antebellum America. The responsibilities
of rural or domestic life also overshadowed any opportunity for
girls to be educated. Postcolonial women’s literature highlights
African and African American women’s shared experience of
colonial oppression and resistance to that oppression because of
their gender, class, and social status. These characteristics, aside
from their racial identity, entrenched the “otherness” of African
and African American women’s experiences. This is known as the
“triple jeopardy” (Guy-Sheftall 2) that locks African and African
American women out of powerful positions in society, including
famous authorship. The triple jeopardy is even more dangerous
when compounded by discrimination based on the lightness of skin
as an indicator of racial purity. It is fitting that the main character
Tambu in Nervous Conditions is educated only accidentally, taking
her older brother’s place at the local mission school after he dies.
Girls and women “were not allowed to go to school; they were
supposed to learn from their mothers how to work in the fields, how
to cook and how to be good wives,” as Elisabeth Bouanga explains
(Browdy de Hernandez et al. 8). Even when education was offered
to girls and women in colonial and mission schools, their class status
often comprised education in needlework and housework rather than
subjects described as masculine: reading, writing, and arithmetic.
The assumption was simply that African and African American
women were not fit to be literate. “Africana studies...is increasingly
taking [African and the African diaspora] women’s experiences and
voices into account” (Browdy de Hernandez et al. 4). African and
African American women have been storytellers for millennia, and

40 Critical Insights
writing in colonial languages that are legible by European readers
for many decades.

Effects of Literary Exclusion of African and African


American Women’s Writing
Whatever the cause of these women’s exclusion from literacy, three
chief effects were borne out by their experiences that are of vital
interest to scholars of literary history. Firstly, their stories were
excluded from the mainstay of the literary canon, which robbed
the authors of readers who would have had the opportunity to read,
know, and engage with their stories, and thus to build an oeuvre.
The nascent tradition disappears as soon as it was born. This in turn
foreshortened the opportunity for future generations of writers to
develop the themes and motifs in these stories into an established
tradition. This did not mean that no African or African American
women wrote, but rather that each generation of African and African
American women writers began to write as if no one had preceded
them. Remarkably, as will be shown below, the themes that these
authors highlight speak clearly to one another.
Secondly, African and African American women and girl
protagonists were either absent in European literature, or their
representation was “othered,” occurring in stereotypical and
derogatory ways because of their race, their gender, class, and their
lighter or darker skin color status. This has led to a stunted vision of
African and African American women’s personalities and identities.
Literary theorists and writers seek the symbolic keys to reinvest these
stereotypical depictions of women with their psychological make-
up. It is not possible to ascribe an identity to a character specifically
linked to her or his race because race is not a specific and essential
determinant of personality and identity. It is possible, however, to
imbue protagonists with motivation and preference through a keen
understanding of the complex intellectual and psychological make-
up of people from different contexts and eras. It is this complexity
that African and African American women writers seek to portray in
their literary characterizations of women.

Emergent and Divergent Voices 41


Finally, the literature that African and African American women
had created was repressed. African and African American women
appeared never to have been involved in creative cultural production,
which perpetuated the sexist and racist myth that African and African
American women were unsuited to creative intellectual cultural
production. African and African American writers had to research
work that had been done before alone and independently, as was the
case with African American Zora Neale Hurston, a “controversial
character of the Harlem Renaissance, [who was] forgotten and then
rediscovered by Alice Walker in the 1970s” (Condé 127).
The task facing critics and scholars of African and African
American women’s literature is to retrieve these stories, theorize
them, and build the tradition. Scholars do find new stories regularly,
from the political speeches and biographies of early nineteenth-
century America to the poets of today. As literary scholars, this
is very exciting. We are able to explore how stories diverge, how
different tellers construct stories in unique ways that reveal the
issues most pertinent to these women as well as their chosen modes
of representation, their literary techniques, favored motifs, and
tropes. The study of the origins of these literatures, their canon and
history on its own terms specifically, and how these cohere with or
diverge from other literatures and canons more generally, allows us
to understand the bigger picture of literature in the broadest sense.

Recurring Themes: Nation, Race, Citizenship, and


Belonging
Literature from women in Africa and African America shares
features of literature written by men from the same period because
it, too, tackles the issues facing black people in a cultural moment
of racist oppression. Yet postcolonial literature written by men often
portrayed women within the stereotypical roles given by patriarchal
parameters: women are mothers, nurses, or overly sexualized.
Women authors and characters alike were represented as unable to
achieve the demands of writing about political and public issues,
and instead found themselves located strictly within the domestic
sphere.

42 Critical Insights
Throughout the history of anti-colonial struggles, the life
experiences of African women, whether of oppression and hatred
or fulfillment and love, were subsumed within African and African
American men’s experiences. Guy-Sheftall recounts how in 1869
the African-American abolitionist Frederick Douglass noted his fear
that insisting on black and white women’s right to suffrage would
cost black men suffrage. A hundred years later, Pauline Terrelonge
wrote that the black social movement of the sixties “worked to the
detriment of black women, because they were told in many different
ways that the liberation of the black man was more important than
was their own liberation” (qtd in Guy-Sheftall 497). These men
insisted that combatting racism was more important than combatting
sexism, since they argued that revolution for racial equality would
automatically achieve gendered equality in black communities
because the effects of social oppression would disappear once the
root cause of that oppression was eradicated. They further insisted
that female intellectuals could not tackle the bigger, public issues
of nationalism as well as they could handle the domestic realm.
But African and African American women authors do indeed
grapple with the critical issues of nation, anti-colonial liberation,
and revolution, with epic novels of nationhood. They had a long-
standing history in the anti-slavery struggle. As Eleanor Flexner
writes, “It was in the abolition movement that women first learned
to organize, to hold public meetings, to conduct petition campaigns.
For a quarter of a century the two movements, to free the slave and
liberate the woman, nourished and strengthened one another” (41).
Chimamande Ngozi Adichie’s novel Half of a Yellow Sun
depicts as complete a micro-historical rendition of the Biafran civil
war as has ever been written. Her short story “A Private Experience”
from the anthology The Thing Around Your Neck also focuses on
this war. Similarly, the South African writer Bessie Head penned
several novels, such as Where Rain Clouds Gather, A Question of
Power, and Maru, with powerful women protagonists who negotiate
questions of nation, race, and sexism. The title of the novel Maru is
the name of the male protagonist who eventually falls in love with
the main protagonist Margaret Cadmore, the central protagonist,

Emergent and Divergent Voices 43


who has taken her name from her adoptive mother, Margaret
Cadmore. Margaret is a Mosarwa woman, a group so pale in skin
color that they are not considered black enough to attain the full
status of African, and are treated as unofficial slaves within the
Botswanan economic and political system. The hue of black skin is
sometimes an indicator of racial purity, with people rejected as not
black or not white enough, as Head herself knew. Not only did she
contend with the racism of South African apartheid on a public and
national level, but as a mixed-race child herself, she had personal
experiences of simultaneously being too black and too white to be
accepted permanently by any one social group. Head was adopted at
birth as her white mother was intermittently locked up for insanity
(Stead Eilersen 8-15). The identity of her father was never made
known, but it seems clear that he was a black African. After Head’s
adoptive parents noticed her mixed racial identity, they placed her
in foster care, and later she was sent to a mission boarding school
(Stead Eilersen 8-15).
Head became a reporter and columnist for South African
magazines, and although Head was part of the South African
intelligentsia, apartheid laws barred her from any roles that
would grant her autonomy and authority. She left for a teaching
position in Botswana, along with her son Howard, but after her
arrival in Botswana, her teaching post was imperiled when the
school head tried unsuccessfully to seduce her (Stead Eilersen 77).
Unable to draw an income to sustain her or her child’s lives, Head
became a writer (Stead Eilersen 77). Maru is, therefore, partly
autobiographical (Adler et al. 28). Just as Head gained recognition
through her writing, so, too, does her character Margaret through
painting. Both Head and Margaret use their creative talents to uplift
their social and financial status. It is Margaret’s paintings and her
ability to express herself that catch the attention of the eponymous
Maru, who proposes to her. She accepts his proposal, even though
she loves a different man, Moleka, because Maru is more socially
and politically powerful than Moleka and their marriage allows
Head to create an opportunity for social transformation through
Margaret:

44 Critical Insights
When people of the Masarwa tribe heard about Maru’s marriage to
one of their own, a door silently opened on the small, dark airless
room in which their souls had been shut for a long time. The wind of
freedom…turned and flowed into the room. (126)

Here, Head specifically negotiates national issues of belonging and


racism, and does so from a female perspective, opening up that small
airless room for other black female authors to follow.

Immigration and Stateless Citizens


The vulnerability of immigrants without proper legal status to be
self-sufficient residents of a country is a recurring theme in African
and African American women’s writing. Chinedu, a character from
the title story of Chimamanda Adichie’s anthology The Thing
Around Your Neck (115-127) is a devoutly Christian, God-fearing
homosexual Nigerian who has overstayed his papers in America by
three years. He is unable to work to support himself and is terrified
of being deported to Nigeria. Adichie highlights homophobic
representations of gay people’s minority status, as she consistently
portrays both his intense religious conviction and his sexual
preference to show that these do not depend on each other at all. She
creates multidimensional characters that can occupy the seemingly
contradictory spaces of real life.
African women in America and Europe, with or without work
visas and qualifications, are vulnerable to unscrupulous employment
practices, and often work far beneath their qualification level.
Kamara, the central protagonist in “On Monday of Last Week” in
the anthology The Thing Around Your Neck works as a nanny while
she waits for “her green card application to be processed” even
though she has a Masters degree (Adichie 76). Her husband Tobechi
had been employed as a taxi driver “in Philadelphia for a Nigerian
man who cheated all his drivers because none of them had papers”
(83). Her employer’s wife is an artist who asks Kamara to consider
modeling nude for her; while Kamara is undoubtedly attracted to
Tracy and decides to accept the request, her choice is underscored
by her social vulnerability.

Emergent and Divergent Voices 45


Although Buchi Emecheta’s character Kehinde has “a degree in
sociology” (127) in her novel Kehinde, she works as a cleaner in a
hotel in London. She earns extra money teaching English to the wife
of a hotel guest until the husband demands that she undress for him,
causing her to leave her job. She takes another job as a cleaner at
Marks and Spencer, a UK–based clothing store, because she is “too
old for their managerial training scheme” (133) although obviously
intelligent enough to excel in it. The prevalence of this syndrome is
highlighted when a woman at the local job center, who tries to help
Kehinde find a better job, tells Kehinde that when she visited Berlin
the year before, “the cleaners in my hotel were Turkish women who
had come to Berlin to make money. Some of them were professionals
too…” (134).
This overall degradation of African women in Europe stands
in stark contrast to the idea that living in Europe would bring
instant opportunities of betterment and is, therefore, preferable than
living in Africa. Sissie, a Ghanaian student in Germany looking
for scholarship opportunities in Ama Ata Aidoo’s novel Our Sister
Killjoy or Reflections from a Black-Eyed Squint, is disgusted at the
way in which African people live in Europe. She remarks, “They
were all poorly clothed. The women especially were pitiful. She saw
women who at home would have been dignified matrons as well as
young, attractive girls looking ridiculous in a motley of fabrics and
colours” (88-89).
Ifemele, the central protagonist in Adichie’s novel Americanah,
is a Nigerian student in America. After she finishes her studies, her
white upper-class partner helps Ifemele obtain American citizenship
by asking a company to employ her as a communications officer and
sponsor her application for American citizenship. She is unaware
that her teenage love, Obinze, also called The Zed, eventually
makes his way to England but without a visa to work there. He is
left vulnerable to all kinds of scams, from extortion by the person
whose National Insurance number and whose name he uses to work,
who charges him 35% of his earnings, to the consortium who charge
him thousands of pounds for an arranged marriage knowing that his
visitor’s visa had expired. This oppression culminates when Obinze

46 Critical Insights
is arrested as he arrives at the court for his wedding (278-9). In
Americanah, Adichie’s feminist voice does not discriminate against
men, but rather exposes the vulnerabilities and sensitivities of men
and women to exploitation within a system, rather than always being
the victimizers; the exploiters. Obinze compares his life to those
who have the correct visas to work and live in London; but as in
Emecheta and Aidoo’s work, African women are underemployed or
unemployed. Even promising academics must abandon their careers
and dedicate all their creative talent to raising children who, in turn,
must excel where they could not.
Ifemele begins to blog, using a literally alien narrative technique
to relate her perceptions of life as an outsider and deliver social
commentary on the world that she has entered, America. Ifemele
blogs her perspective on the impact of race on social interactions
in America, sometimes as a guide for “NABs”—Non-American
Blacks like herself, who are unaccustomed to the racism to which
they are exposed in America. This is not such a problem in African
contexts where class is a better indicator of privilege than race. Yet
it is in America that Ifemele encounters her “Blackness.” Ifemele
achieves a small celebrity status and receives PayPal donations
for her work and then payments for click-link advertising on her
blog. Soon she is able to leave her job and concentrate on blogging
full time. This form of journalism resembles Head’s and other
African and African American authors in that it is a form of self-
employment through intellectual labor. What is also interesting
is that Americanah contains different written genres: prose, blog
articles, and their comments, which function almost like a chorus in
a Greek tragedy, permitting a variety of voices and opinions to come
through. Adichie provides more than just a single story, she provides
a multitude of stories, a multitude of perspectives, all engaging and
interacting with one another.
This polyphony and dialogism is interesting because several
texts of earlier African women writers such as Ama Ata Aidoo in
Our Sister Killjoy or Reflections from a Black-Eyed Squint employ a
similar variety of genres within their novels, using a combination of
prose, poetry, lyrics, and folktales within their novels. This narrative

Emergent and Divergent Voices 47


technique is encountered far more frequently in the writings by
African and African American women. Here a tradition moves and
grows, developing characteristics unique to African and African
American women’s literature.

Womanism and Representation


Womanism is a term defined by Alice Walker to express a black
feminist consciousness, as distinct from second wave white liberal
feminism. Walker first used it in her work In Search of Our Mothers’
Gardens: Womanist Prose where she wrote that a womanist “loves
struggle, loves the folk, and loves herself” (xi-xii). The specificities
of black women’s oppression were ignored within white liberal
women’s liberation discourse—including the ways in which white
liberal women used black women to achieve independence and
autonomy, either as economic help that relieved white liberal women
of the responsibility for housework and child-rearing, or as raw data
for discussion in a sociological or anthropological vein. Womanism
spoke more to the particular experiences of African American social
activists, and can arguably be seen echoed in Adichie’s 2012 TEDx
talk “We Should All Be Feminists,” and her book-length essay of
the same name.
A key site of contestation in writing by both African and African
American women has been around the representation of their bodies,
spirituality, and intelligence. As Gayatri Spivak writes, “The role of
literature in the production of cultural representation should not be
ignored” (243). Patricia Hill Collins notes that African American
women have been portrayed as “stereotypical mammies, matriarchs,
welfare recipients, and hot mommas” (67), a trend that African
and African American women writers have sought to overturn. An
early literary device that African and African American women
writers employed was intertextuality, where they reinterpreted the
psychology of African and African American women characters
from books written by colonial authors to render them more fully
rounded and complex. Jean Rhys published Wide Sargasso Sea as a
reinterpretation of Charlotte Brontë’s character Bertha Mason, Mr.
Rochester’s West Indian wife who seemingly stands in the way of

48 Critical Insights
Jane Eyre’s marriage to Mr. Rochester in the eponymous novel, Jane
Eyre. Brontë portrays Bertha as a speechless Other, a dangerous and
incarcerated almost animal who is unflinchingly prepared to burn
down the house and murder her husband. In Wide Sargasso Sea,
Bertha is no ordinary jilted wife. Through amplification, a literary
device in which characters borrowed intertextually are imbued with
new characteristics, Rhys embroiders Bertha to portray her as a
woman with a history and a cultural identity. Bertha is a celebrated
Creole beauty with a pale skin color, and someone with a web of
relationships to other members of her community, which she uses
for validation. She is moreover the heiress to a sizable fortune,
which becomes Mr. Rochester’s property after their marriage. Her
burning of their home comes in the light of the terrible reality she
must negotiate after she marries Rochester and moves to England.
There she finds her husband dependent on her fortune yet in love
with someone else, leaving her confined to one floor of a remote
house, away from the high society and culture she knew on her
home island, absolutely adrift from her normal life. Her burning
of Rochester’s home, therefore, is reinterpreted as a political act of
resistance, burning her own home, rather than an act of unwarranted
madness as formerly depicted by Brontë.
Toni Morrison’s novel Beloved explores the true story of
the apparent murderous craziness of a real-life African American
woman, Margaret Garner, named Sethe in the novel. Sethe is a slave
who has endured terrible violence, beatings and rapes, at the hands
of the slave overseer and his two sons. Her back is covered in scars
from these beatings. But instead of using these scars as symbols
of Sethe’s degradation, Morrison depicts them as a tree grown on
Sethe’s back. The organic metaphors of trees and forests underpin
much of the novel. When Sethe, pregnant and vulnerable, runs away
from slavery, she picks out her path to freedom by following the
blossoming flowers on the trees, and the scars on her back become
emblematic of her strength and self-defining route to freedom, even
in the face of terrible violence. Whereas colonial literature often
depicted “wilderness” as hostile and frightening, African women
writers use the forest and the jungle as sites of refuge and safety:

Emergent and Divergent Voices 49


For a while, we were hiding in the forest and the jungle, and we
endured a terrible period of starvation...The rest of my family also
left their houses and sought refuge in the jungle. (Dongala in Browdy
de Hernandez et al. 215)

The jungle is a place where people can thrive, it is not a site


of incomprehensible chaos that must be tamed or cut back. This
ironic inversion of expectation is also a reinterpretation of colonial
stereotypes. Sethe escapes slavery but when slave-catchers arrive at
her hideout, she reacts by instantly murdering her youngest daughter.
It is not clear whether she would have gone on to murder her other
children had she had more time. “Beloved” is the name given to the
ghost of that child that comes to haunt the family, as a metaphor for
the memories of the child and of slavery that have haunted America,
and indeed the world, in their aftermath. Likewise, Nathalie Etoké
of Cameroon depicts a mother who kills her son in “A Poem Written
in the Ink of the Blood Shed in Rwanda”:

A Hutu woman buries the fruit of a forbidden love


The child is still alive
Fighting for his life
He doesn’t understand
He keeps saying:
Mummy stop playing!
I don’t want to play anymore
Stop playing!
He must die ...
His father was Tutsi... (Browdy de Hernandez et al. 223)

These crimes are all the more grotesque because a mother is


supposed to work to safeguard a child against all danger, not to
constitute the danger itself. This depiction is antithetical to the
normal depiction of “mother-love” as nurturing and life-giving. But
these authors portray the choices available to mothers with more
sympathy. Morrison interprets the dangers for female slaves who
routinely faced sexual violence as too great for Sethe, as a mother,
to bear bringing on her daughter, and the early burial of a son by the

50 Critical Insights
mother in Etoké’s poem is a fate far more humane than any he faced
had he been discovered during a campaign of genocide, with its:

Cacophony of machetes chopping up


Legs
Arms
Skulls
In the house of God. (Etoké 224)

These representations of mother-love interrogate the meaning of


motherhood in a world of terrible violence, and underscore the need
of these mothers to protect their children through their own violence
from the violence meted out against their children by others—
even if that protection is murder. The ability to write these stories
enriches global literature and understanding, no matter how hard
the stories are to digest. The authors who depict these terrible true
experiences also describe writing as a cathartic experience and note
that the “creative impetus seeks to go beyond the tragic” (Etoké in
Browdy de Hernandez, et al. 227). These representations offer us a
way of including the devastating lives these women have led and the
choices they have made within the literary canon. The stories stress
the impact of history on African and African American women’s
lives and their agency within their lives. This act of reclamation
highlights how vulnerable ideas of gendered actions are to different
historical contexts, underscoring that categories like motherhood are
not stable and that nurturing is more complex than the stereotypical
representation of women nursing.
Likewise, writing by African and African American women
portrays self-nurturing through black women characters’ attention
to their bodies. The framing device for the novel Americanah is the
context of the hairdressing salon where Ifemele will have braids put
in. The salon is a gendered space, a space where women are involved
in the languid preening of women’s hair. This context harbors and
encourages the telling of women’s stories to pass the time. Ifemele
will be there all day, and it will take the whole day for her to tell her
story of the circumstances of her arrival in America, her experiences
in America, and her intentions to return to Nigeria. Americanah thus
Emergent and Divergent Voices 51
begins in its middle, and is reminiscent of that quintessential colonial
novel, Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, which opens with the
characters waiting on a boat on the Thames for the night to end and
their journey to begin, passing the time by telling of a story. Whereas
seaborne adventures in Conrad’s novel were a masculine affair,
here braiding hair and weaving stories are intricately intertwined
as singularly within a female space of leisurely women’s activities.
The hierarchy of the salon’s proprietors and the laborers become
part of that tapestry, too; their love affairs and exilic narratives are
revealed during the course of the day alongside those of Ifemele.
This social context of braiding is juxtaposed with the lone
venture Ifemele recounts of straightening her hair for the interview
for the job that enabled her to stay in America. She decides to
straighten her hair to indicate that she can be the kind of person who
is acceptable to white notions of black beauty. She does, indeed, get
the job, but it is not clear whether this is due to her qualifications,
her straightened hair, or the power of her partner’s intervention.
After a few days, however, Ifemele’s hair starts to fall out in clumps,
and then more falls out. Rather than remaining beautiful, Ifemele
ends up almost bald. As early as 1918, African American Nannie
Burroughs had argued against using hair straighteners; she insisted
that those who used them and skin bleachers had “color phobia”
(Guy-Sheftall 9). Trying to make oneself acceptable by changing or
forcing change to the structure of one’s self and one’s body was and
is doubly dangerous; as early chemicals products were highly toxic.

Continued Disempowerment
Alarmingly, African and African American women authors reiterate
their position of disempowerment, often narrating tales of the
most terrible inhumanity, containing the most senseless violence
perpetrated against people. These stories describe the reality of
abuse and social distress that the characters endure, and which can
be deadly. Their vulnerability to sexual oppression, whether through
rape, domestic abuse, and/or unfair labor practices, reveal that an
“analysis of the feminist activism of black women…suggests the
necessity of reconceptualizing women’s issues to include poverty,

52 Critical Insights
racism, imperialism, lynching, welfare, economic exploitation,
sterilization abuse, decent housing, and a host of other concerns that
generations of black women foregrounded” (Guy-Sheftall:2). The
options available to African and African American women as agents
of action are depicted in literature in the same way they are found
within the bounds of normal life: few choices, in a narrow sphere,
predetermined by the spaces carved out for their race, gender, and
class status.
For Ifemele, it is only after her many applications for work are
routinely refused and she faces a desperate situation in which she
almost physically attacks one of her roommates during a discussion
over unpaid rent, and finally confronts her other unpaid bills, that
she realizes that she must accept the one position for which she has
been deemed acceptable: sex work. This job exists whitewashed in
the euphemism of providing “comforting” work. It is telling that
her vulnerability is attached to her ambitions to study. This one
action changes the entire course of Ifemele’s life. She may be able to
continue to study in America, to pay her bills and feed herself, but she
shuts out her sexuality and with it Obinze, The Zed, “her Ceiling”;
the partner who she has loved and with whom she has discovered
her sexuality, her past, and all their plans together. She is distraught
over her actions, knowing that her sexuality is now monopolized
as her labor by economic necessity and that this vicious cycle must
be repeated the next month, but she feels powerless to do anything
other than go on as if her previous plans had not existed. These
new paths mean she chooses different paths later in her life, too. Yet
as Etoké reminds us, this should not imply that this literature has
a debilitating effect. She notes that, “I write about chaos in order
to escape chaos. I write about a nightmarish past because I dream
of a better future. I write about death in order to celebrate life. I
describe hopeless situations because I do not want to lose hope. I
write because I want to bear witness to what happened, to recreate
what happened, what should have happened, what will happen”
(Browdy de Hernandez 227). African and African American women
writers have been at pains to create characters who are reminiscent
of people who these women know or are, to create women characters

Emergent and Divergent Voices 53


who are like the women who these women encounter and live within
the normal course of their lives. May these contributions be ever
more keenly known.

Works Cited
Adichie, Chimamande Ngozi. Half of a Yellow Sun. London: Harper
Perennial, 2007. Print.
__________. Americanah. London: Fourth Estate, 2013. Print.
__________. The Thing Around Your Neck. London: Fourth Estate, 2009.
Print.
Aidoo, Ama Ata. Our Sister Killjoy or Reflections from a Black-Eyed
Squint. Lagos and New York: Nok Publishers, 1979. Print.
Brontë Charlotte. Jane Eyre. London: Penguin Books Ltd, 2006 (1847).
Print.
Brontë, Emily. Wuthering Heights. London: Penguin Books Ltd, 1995
(1847). Print.
Browdy de Hernandez, Jennifer; Dongala, Pauline; Jolaosho, Omotayo
and Serafin, Anne (Eds). African Women Writing Resistance,
Contemporary Voices. Cape Town, Dakar, Nairobi and Oxford:
Pambazuka Press, 2011. Print.
Condé, Maryse. The Journey of a Caribbean Writer. London, New York,
Calcutta: Seagull Books, 2014. Print.
__________. Windward Heights. Trans. Richard Philcox. London: Faber
and Faber, 1998. Print.
Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. London: Penguin Books, 1983 (1902).
Print.
Dangarembga, Tsitsi. Nervous Conditions. London: Women’s Press, 1988.
Print.
Emecheta, Buchi. Kehinde. Oxford: Heinemann, 1994. Print.
Etoké, Nathalie. ‘A Poem Written in the Ink of the Blood Shed in Rwanda’
in African Women Writing Resistance, Contemporary Voices. Browdy
de Hernandez, Dongola, Jolaosho and Serafin (Eds). Cape Town,
Dakar, Nairobi and Oxford: Pambazuka Press, 2011. 223-226. Print.
Flexner, Eleanor. Century of Struggle: The Women’s Rights Movement in
the United States. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1959. Print.

54 Critical Insights
Gilman, Sander L. “Black Bodies, White Bodies: Toward an Iconography
of Female Sexuality in Late Nineteenth-Century Art, Medicine,
and Literature” in Critical Inquiry 12, No 1 “Race, Writing, and
Difference”. Autumn 1985. pp 204-242. Print.
Guy-Sheftall (Ed). Words of Fire: An Anthology of African-American
Feminist Thought. New York: The New Press, 1995. Print.
Head, Bessie. Where Rain Clouds Gather London: Gollancz, 1969. Print.
__________. A Question of Power. London: Davis-Poynter, 1973. Print.
__________. Maru London: Gollancz, 1971. Print.
__________. Interview with Michelle Adler, Susan Gardner, Tobeka
Mda and Patricia Sandler in Between the Lines: Interviews with
Bessie Head, Sheila Roberts, Ellen Kuzwayo, Miriam Tlali. Craig
Mackenzie and Cherry Clayton (Eds). Grahamstown: The National
English Literary Museum, 1989: pp. 5-30. Print.
Hill Collins, Patricia. Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness,
and the Politics of Empowerment. New York and London: Routledge,
1990. Print.
Morrison, Toni. Beloved. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1987. Print.
__________. Song of Solomon New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1977. Print.
Rhys, Jean. Wide Sargasso Sea. André Deutch (UK) and W.W. Norton
(US), 1966. Print.
Spivak, Gayatri. “Three Women’s Texts and a Critique of Imperialism, ” in
Critical Inquiry 12, Autumn 1985. pp. 243-261. Print.
Stead Eilersen, Gillian. Bessie Head: Thunder Behind Her Ears.
Portsmouth: Heinemann; London: James Currey; Cape Town and
Johannesburg: David Philip. 1995. Print.
Walker, Alice. The Color Purple. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc, US.
1982. Print.
__________. In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens: Womanist Prose. San
Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1983. Print.

Emergent and Divergent Voices 55


Suffering and “Sacrificiality” in Postcolonial
African Literature
Kieran Dodds

“Did Okonkwo fail?” (Achebe 2009:129). Chinua Achebe’s


protagonist in Things Fall Apart—which for the longest time was
African literature to a great number of western readers —commits
suicide at the novel’s climax. After his murder of a white court
messenger, he prefers to hang by his own hands rather than by those
of the imperialists. Criticism of the text —again, mostly western—
has since framed Okonkwo’s final act as surrender. Things Fall Apart
is seen as a “tragedy” whose once-mighty hero is finally reduced
to hopelessness and helplessness by the piecemeal subjugation of
his Ibo village, Umuofia (Killam 1969:31). A different reading is,
however, possible, spurred, in part, by Achebe’s teasing question.
Okonkwo’s failure, or otherwise, cannot be taken for granted, for
such simple readings of complex texts have obscured one of the ways
in which African authors have made sense of the colonial encounter,
namely, sacrifice. By placing Okonkwo’s death and others like it in
their correct cultural context, it is possible to take Africans’ colonial
and postcolonial narratives in daring new directions.
Suicide and ‘self-inflicted wounds’ (Coundouriotis 2005)
underpin works by several of the most popular African authors, but
rarely are these phenomena discussed comparatively as agential anti-
colonial actions. That is what this chapter proceeds to do, working
from case studies categorized in two ways: the works of the “avant-
courier” (Ayoola 2012), classic African literature as imagined by
Achebe (Things Fall Apart), Wole Soyinka (Death and the King’s
Horseman), and Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o (Weep Not, Child); and more
recent postcolonial and contemporary fiction by Ngũgĩ (Devil on the
Cross), Tsitsi Dangarembga (She No Longer Weeps), and Yvonne
Vera (Butterfly Burning). No chapter of this length can hope to
capture the essence of all African art engaging colonial themes. My
focus on but one way some African authors have approached and
56 Critical Insights
understood colonialism is a simple acknowledgement that African
literature is immensely varied, to be treated not as “one unit” but as a
“group of associated units” (Achebe 2007:343) rendered legible only
by careful qualification. The theoretical parameters of this chapter
include African arts of the “everyday” (Newell 2002; Newell and
Okome 2013), the precise political role played by language (Achebe
1975; Ayoola 2012; Ngũgĩ 1986), and definitional contestations
surrounding “colonialism” (Cooper 1994, 2005; Mamdani 1996;
Spear 2003) and indeed the “African” (Adéèkó 2007; Chinweizu,
Jemie, and Madubuike 1980). The chapter’s argument, therefore,
contributes to a debate that occupies anthropologists, historians, and
literary theorists; that is, the extent to which literature has been a
vehicle for resisting power in the African context (Barber 1987).
African fiction has been marked by individual sacrifice in
deference to the collective anti-colonial, or neocolonial, good. More
striking, this sacrifice has often been final and self-inflicted, with
Achebe, Soyinka, Ngũgĩ, and Vera all writing suicide into their
works. Of these authors, only Ngũgĩ appears to view suicide as
something entirely individualized and inhibiting to anti-colonial
resistance, with the attempted suicides of the protagonists in Weep
Not, Child and Devil on the Cross being presented as acts of surrender
and even cowardice. In Things Fall Apart, Death and the King’s
Horseman, and Butterfly Burning, suicide is treated with greater
nuance, and at its most radical actually constitutes anti-colonial
resistance. The ending of one’s own life could be a pathetic deed
and a sad capitulation to external control, or it could be a conclusive
means of reasserting control, an exertion of corporeal agency in a
colonial state that could do no other but try to police the African
body (Bernault 2006; Mbembe 1992). As Foucault once wrote,
suicide “was a way to usurp the power of death which the sovereign
alone . . . had the right to exercise” (1990:138).
Further, self-infliction of this kind was tied up in, and often
directly related to, an African conception of the common good.
Achebe writes in an essay on the teaching of Things Fall Apart in
schools that whereas suicide is viewed in western culture through
the lens of “moral cowardice, or [treated] simply as a ‘copping

Postcolonial African Literature 57


out,’ thus trivializing it into a matter between an individual and his
problems,” for Okonkwo and the Umuofia villagers it is, conversely,
“a monumental issue between an individual . . . and society and
all its divinities . . . indeed, the entire cosmos” (2009:129). To
make this point is not to essentialize African culture, but merely
to recognize a recurring trend. Soyinka has argued elsewhere that
“tragedies” of the kind described in Death and the King’s Horseman
are “cleansing processes for the health of a community,” “ritual”
restoring balance (2003:164). If this is the case, suicide can be
interpreted as the performance of individual agency on behalf of
an indigenous collectivity. This is what is meant in the chapter by
sacrifice. Just as personal suffering by imposition—say, death at the
hands of the colonizer—is presented in Ngũgĩ’s novels as a near-
necessary means of alleviating “social suffering” (Norridge 2013),
suicide serves a similar purpose for Achebe, Soyinka, and Vera.
Achebe’s Things Fall Apart is a sensible starting point for this
enquiry. The 1958 novel is still the most widely-read of any African
author and dwells extensively on themes of surrender and sacrifice,
suffering and suicide. Okonkwo’s decision to hang himself at the
novel’s climax, MacDonald rightly points out, is “the action to end all
action,” and correspondingly “frames the text” (2012:176). In other
words, to decipher Okonkwo’s motive —never expressly stated—is
to decipher Achebe’s. This begs a question that standard readings
of suicide in Things Fall Apart will struggle to answer. Why is it
that Achebe, an “avant-courier” of African anti-colonial art, would
choose to deliver a message that communicated straightforward
surrender?
I resolve that Okonkwo does not surrender himself to the white
settlers but sacrifices himself for the Ibo of Umuofia. On the surface,
this seems to fly in the face of the text’s representation of Ibo
culture. The reaction to Okonkwo’s death among the villagers is one
of horror: Obierika tells the District Commissioner that Okonkwo
has committed an “abomination” and “an offence against the Earth,”
asking the white men to bury his “evil” body because the villagers
are not permitted to touch it (Achebe 1958:186). Such clarity of
criticism has led Ogbaa to dismiss the idea that Okonkwo performed

58 Critical Insights
a “sacrifice to his great society” (1981:134), and it would indeed be
foolish to argue that he died an uncomplicated martyr. Rather, his
death would have been keenly contested among the Ibo. For Obierika
also remarks after the suicide that Okonkwo’s life was lived as “one
of the greatest men in Umuofia,” and wonders aloud how it was that
the District Commissioner and his allies could “[drive] him to kill
himself . . . [to] be buried like a dog” (Achebe 1958:187). Okonkwo
in death generates dialogue; village-wide soul-searching is virtually
guaranteed by his suicide, Obierika and other community leaders
forced to reckon with their earlier recourse to “tumult instead of
action” (Achebe 1958:184).
Earlier passages also endorse a message of sacrifice. Okonkwo’s
suicide is certainly seen as an unconventional and even abhorrent
way of dying, but Okonkwo was never presented as one that would
unthinkingly abide by Ibo custom. By beating his youngest wife in
the Week of Peace, Okonkwo had committed another sin against the
Earth—“[but] Okonkwo was not the man to stop beating somebody
half-way through, not even for fear of a goddess” (Achebe 1958:27).
And in one of the novel’s most pivotal moments, he goes against
the advice of a village elder and slays his adoptive son Ikemefuna,
for whom the Oracle had decreed death, because “[he] was afraid of
being thought weak” (Achebe 1958:55). Okonkwo’s independence
can be interpreted as an independence from modern Ibo custom; he
believed himself to represent a glorious Ibo past more masculine and
warrior-like than was reflected in his present-day Umuofia. Suicide,
with its potential for generating dialogue and innermost reflection
among others, was a way for Okonkwo to bring this past back into
popular consciousness. It was an individual sacrifice that left behind
a collective message, his denying the white man the opportunity for
vengeance a reminder of what he sees as an endangered Ibo heroism.
If provided with such an explanation of his apparently abominable
action, says Nwabueze, Okonkwo’s ancestors “would probably nod
in thoughtful understanding” (2000:172).
That an appeal to the ancestors would be necessary is
suggestive of a “cultural identity” (Ojaide 1992), central to which is
communalism and the conception of a cyclical relationship between

Postcolonial African Literature 59


past and future that differs from the western interpreter’s. Nowhere
is this laid out more clearly than in the theatre of Wole Soyinka,
especially Death and the King’s Horseman, an historical work
dramatizing the colonial authorities’ intervention in the eponymous
horseman’s ritual suicide. With the horseman Elesin Oba ostracized
by his community for failing in his duty, it is left to son Olunde to
offer up his body and restore “the honour of [the] household and [the]
race” (Soyinka 1984:218), which he does at the play’s conclusion.
Elesin then follows suit, hanging himself in his makeshift prison
cell.
The eventual suicide of Elesin consciously corresponds to the
model of suicide as surrender, a model that appears more aligned to the
western tradition than the African. From Herodotus through Camus,
the dominant philosophical narrative has presupposed “refuge”
(Herodotus 1922:361) in suicide, which is seen to communicate
“acceptance at its extreme” (Camus 1955:40-41). As Achebe noted,
the reason for death by one’s own hand is usually thought to be the
intractability of one’s own problems. This is certainly the case for
the horseman, who cannot go through with his ordained death but
impulsively and pathetically hangs himself on learning of the death
of Olunde, for which he is partly responsible. Cast off by his people,
shorn of his son, and (albeit temporarily) imprisoned by the colonial
officer Pilkings, Elesin sees no way out but death.
Olunde’s fate, on the other hand, is unambiguously sacrificial,
provoked by a respect for Yoruba tradition and a rejection of colonial
“modernity” and all its associated baggage. As Soyinka has himself
written, “Man resorts to the strangest of devices for nullifying that
unanswerable nullity of History . . . in the phenomenon of death”
(2003:174). Here death holds collective emancipatory potential:
it helps agents make sense of what is being done to them in the
name of progress, and can even arrogate power from what presents
itself as inevitable. In Death and the King’s Horseman, Olunde’s
suicide is the strange device, and the false teleology of a colonial
civilizing mission is History. This notion of collectivity, Ojaide has
argued, extends beyond a handful of case studies. “Modern African
literature is very socialized,” Ojaide contends, in that it focuses “not

60 Critical Insights
on the individual [but on the] communal spirit”; in a break from most
European novels and plays, there is rarely even a “single protagonist
that overwhelms other characters” (1992:45). The importance of
Umuofia to Things Fall Apart and Yoruba practices to Death and
the King’s Horseman bear this out, as Gates, Jr. notes in how the
latter’s protagonists are “protagonists for the whole community”
who would choose even death if it was what the “communal will”
so called for (2003:163). In Olunde’s case, it was, and choose he
did; his character is constructed by Soyinka to be constitutive of
agency. Having studied medicine in England for four years, Olunde
lays claim to knowledge of two distinct cultures. His decisions,
therefore, necessarily arise out of an internal, cross-cultural dialogue
within which the indigenous is consciously privileged. His ritualized
death should not be read as blind acquiescence to custom, but as an
implicitly anti-colonial affirmation of duty.
Weep Not, Child by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o is thematically similar
to Things Fall Apart and Death and the King’s Horseman, but
the author’s Marxist-Fanonist radicalism and the immediacy of
Kenya’s anti-imperial struggle result in a treatment of suffering
different from that of Achebe and Soyinka. As Ngũgĩ’s first novel,
published in 1964, it shortly precedes his country’s independence.
The book follows the Mau Mau Uprising, and is indelibly marked
by violence and freedom. The plot centers on young Njoroge, a
boy whose dreams of education gradually unravel as the struggle
between colonial authority on the one hand, and the Gĩkũyũ forest
fighters—led by his older brothers—on the other, intensifies. His
father having been tortured to death by the authorities and his only
friend Mwihaki having shunned him for his family’s involvement
in the murder of her own father, Njoroge tries to hang himself on
“a familiar tree . . . waiting for darkness to come over him” (Ngũgĩ
1964:153). But he is found by his two mothers and stops himself. “I
am a coward” (Ngũgĩ 1964:154), he says, and the story ends. Anti-
colonial sacrifice is again one of the text’s central motifs, embodied
in the suffering of Njoroge’s father, Ngotho. Perhaps surprisingly,
however, the prototypical postcolonial author Ngũgĩ frames suicide
more in line with a European philosophical tradition.

Postcolonial African Literature 61


Njoroge’s attempted suicide, an act of “cowardice” born of
resignation and a loss of kin, mirrors the successful hanging of
Elesin Oba. Yet of all three “avant-couriers,” Ngũgĩ is the only one
who renders suicide an abdication of responsibility. That Njoroge is
found by his two mothers at the tree, and that this is what prevents
his going through with the act, is significant. It is a reminder that
Njoroge’s life is not a life lived in isolation, but one that is shaped by
his surviving family and the colonial subjugation under which they
still suffer. Indeed all three are breaking a colonial curfew by being
out in the darkness. If he had committed suicide, Ngũgĩ suggests,
Njoroge would have committed his family to even greater suffering,
and would also have denied the Gĩkũyũ the benefit of an educated
local who wished to “learn like Jomo [Kenyatta]” (1964:43). The
particularities of the authors’ colonial experiences best explain their
divergent treatments of suicide. All agree about the importance of
doing one’s duty to the community, but in Weep Not, Child that
need is especially urgent. Achebe wrote about nineteenth-century
colonialism in an independent Nigeria, and so could afford to pen for
Okonkwo a death that opened up mere dialogue among his people.
His was a sacrificial suicide whose consequences might only bloom
later, post-mythmaking. Ngũgĩ did not have that luxury, writing with
Kenya still under the imperialist yoke and fresh from the horrors
of Mau Mau. To volunteer death at such a critical moment in the
country’s history was, for the Marxist-Fanonist nationalist Ngũgĩ,
a kind of betrayal, ironically close to the western typology—“a
species of moral cowardice”—as described by Achebe.
Agency in sacrifice is nevertheless an important component of
Ngũgĩ’s characters, a device used in common with his contemporaries.
Ngotho’s obstinacy in torture is the text’s most apparent example.
“[Offering] his old tooth that had failed to bite deep into anything”
(Ngũgĩ 1964:134), he confesses to the murder of Jacobo, the father
of Njoroge’s friend Mwihaki and colonial collaborator, to save son
Boro, the Mau Mau leader and genuine killer. At the behest of Mr.
Howlands, the owner of Ngotho’s ancestral land and his former
employer (Ngotho was fired for going on strike and attacking
Jacobo), he is then “tortured in all manner of ways” and “beaten

62 Critical Insights
from day to day” (Ngũgĩ 1964:134). Ngotho, though, will not
budge: “[He] would tell nothing beyond the fact that he had killed
Jacobo . . . Ngotho had stuck to his story” (Ngũgĩ 1964:134-135).
His subsequent death, it is implied, is honorable. The older man lays
down his life for the younger anti-colonial rebel. His is an example
of a knowing sacrifice, in that it guaranteed death, and thus, for
Boro, life. Indeed, Boro’s status as head of the Uprising confers an
added significance. Ngotho’s sacrifice is not only for the good of
his family, but also for the freedom of Kenya and the return to his
people of the land stolen by Howlands and his contemporaries.
African literature made sense of colonialism through its
reconfiguring of tragedy. In translating one person’s suffering, the
climactic moment in most western tragedies, to political sacrifice on
behalf of others, Achebe, Soyinka, and Ngũgĩ were expressing the idea
that African societies must act as collectivities to break imperialism
and end imperial violence. Soyinka makes this point explicitly in a
passage worth quoting in full: “Great tragedy is a cleansing process
for the health of a community. Tragic theatre is a literal development
of ritual. It is necessary for balancing the aesthetic sensibilities of
the community. Tragedy is a community event” (2003:164). Many
an article has been written about what it is, if anything, that marks
African literature out as a distinguishable category. Two of the
most common tools of analysis are “hybridity” and “creolization,”
as discussed in works by Hannerz (1987) and Barber (1987),
respectively. African cultural forms are here seen as “viable new
syntheses” (Hannerz 1987:552) growing out of the “interplay
between imported and indigenous cultures” (Hannerz 1987:546).
This is true of African literature as it is of African popular music.
Musicians in Sophiatown in South Africa appropriated American
jazz and transformed it into a music of resistance (Hannerz 1994),
just as African authors have taken an individualized interpretation
of tragedy prevalent in the Global North and turned it on its head. In
the hands of the African “avant-courier,” the paradigmatic “violent
obliteration of the noble individual” (Gates, Jr. 2003:162) becomes
public performance.

Postcolonial African Literature 63


This is also true of more recent African postcolonial fiction
concerning colonial and immediate neocolonial periods. Devil
on the Cross, another of Ngũgĩ’s novels, is a satirical story set in
independent Kenya, and takes aim at those domestic and foreign
elites who propagate a system of “neocolonialism . . . the last vicious
kick of a dying imperialism” (Ngũgĩ 1982:210). Its metaphorical
title urges Kenyans to “crucify” colonial politics once and for all,
for the masses had not been sufficiently vigilant post-independence,
allowing “black people in suits and ties” to “[restore the oppressive
system] to life” (Ngũgĩ 1982:139). Following protagonist Warĩĩnga’s
consciousness-raising journey from despondent and suicidal colonial
victim to independent anti-colonial agent, the novel ends as she
murders the “Rich Old Man from Ngorika,” the father to both her
daughter and her lover, and the personification of Kenya’s capitalist-
imperialist carryover.
Before broaching the story’s sacrificiality and similarities to
Weep Not, Child, one must again note its peculiar context. Written
in 1980 on prison-issued toilet paper (Ngũgĩ was detained without
trial by the Kenyan government in 1977 for his outspoken political
play I Will Marry When I Want) and entirely in Gĩkũyũ, Devil on
the Cross sees the author at his most radical. Whereas in his earlier
works, Ngũgĩ paints a more balanced, more typically Kenyan
(Lonsdale and Odhiambo 2003:5) picture of Mau Mau resistance,
here he is unflinching in his support. Tellingly, more ire is reserved
for matatũ driver and former homeguard Mwaũra than the laughably
pompous Rich Old Man or the caricatured robbers (one of whom
is named Rottenborough Groundflesh Shitland Narrow Isthmus
Joint Stock Brown); he is a reminder that colonial legacies survive
in postcolonial African states, that the need to combat colonialism
has not yet gone away. As another of his characters wishes to do
with music, that is, “compose [the] truly national” and encourage
“harmony in polyphony” (Ngũgĩ 1982:60), so Ngũgĩ does with
literature.
His employing the motif of suffering as sacrifice plays no small
part in this achievement, with Warĩĩnga’s tale in Devil on the Cross
almost mirroring that of Ngotho in Weep Not, Child. Like Njoroge’s

64 Critical Insights
father, who is initially afraid to strike against the colonizer and
contemplates instead “[harming his own] body to drive away the
curse that removed [his people] from the ancestral lands” (Ngũgĩ
1964:28), Warĩĩnga attempts to commit suicide more than once
(“Who has instructed you that your work on Earth is finished? Who
has told you that your time is up?” (Ngũgĩ 1982:12)) prior to finally
shooting the Rich Old Man. Suicide is again framed as a kind of
selfishness by Ngũgĩ, as opposed to the powerful instrument of
resistance that is sacrifice. The novel’s final act sees Warĩĩnga storm
out of the Rich Old Man’s house, leaving behind her lover Gatuĩria
and determining that “the hardest struggles of her life’s journey
lay ahead” (Ngũgĩ 1982:254). Her action effectively prioritizes
the needs of Kenyans—because her victim is a “parasite that lives
on the trees of other people’s lives” (Ngũgĩ 1982:254)—over and
above her need for companionship. She accepts individual suffering
because it will ultimately alleviate, in Norridge’s formulation, the
“social suffering” exacted by agents of the neocolonial state like the
Rich Old Man.
Tsitsi Dangarembga sounds a similar tone in her play She No
Longer Weeps, a feminist critique of the Zimbabwean postcolonial
state where the protagonist, Martha, looks to have been written in the
image of Warĩĩnga. Freddy, the father of Martha’s unplanned child,
is angered by his partner’s independence and ambition: “Women
like you,” he tells her, “have no place in Zimbabwe” (Dangarembga
1987:9). They part ways, much to the disillusionment of Martha’s
parents, and, in a further transgression of patriarchal norms, she
becomes a successful lawyer. The center cannot hold, however, and
Freddy returns to take back his child, citing the laxness with which
Zimbabwe’s contemporary Legal Age of Majority Act was enforced.
Martha then stabs Freddy, presumably to death, in the presence
of her parents before turning herself in to the police. Again, the
particular postcolonial context is important in comprehending the
text’s message. The play is set in a Zimbabwe where “legal rights
for women were [still] not honored” (Shaw 2007:8). It is abundantly
clear that this owed much to the imperialist past: Khan and Vambe
are correct that “the coloniality of power,” here resulting in women’s

Postcolonial African Literature 65


subjugation, “is not merely a colonial invention” (2013:315),
but it must also be stressed how working women were routinely
criminalized in European-ruled Zimbabwe (Schmidt 1992).
The message of Freddy’s murder can again be interpreted as
Martha’s sacrificing herself for others. The act is carried out in front of
her parents, who had previously expressed grave concerns regarding
Martha’s revolutionary zeal: “If only she would understand,” muses
her mother at one point in the play, “that things cannot be changed,
only accepted” (Dangarembga 1987:40). It may, therefore, be read
as a message to the Zimbabwean older generation, a decisive act
communicating the extent to which radicalism is required. Second,
she explicitly states that the murder is carried out not for selfish
reasons. The initial stab wounds, it is true, atone for “the suffering
you caused me,” but the fatal wound is delivered on behalf of “all
the women” (Dangarembga 1987:59) betrayed by Freddy and men
like him. While not wishing to erase the hurtful loss of her daughter,
Dangarembga nevertheless invests in Freddy’s death a greater,
collective meaning. Martha will, in prison, shoulder the suffering
of all “women like her”—women who in an independent Zimbabwe
still find themselves inhibited by a pervasive set of colonial
mentalities—and she will do so of her own volition.
Finally, protagonist Phephelaphi’s self-abortion and immolation
in Yvonne Vera’s Butterfly Burning closely mirrors Okonkwo’s
agential anti-colonial suicide in Things Fall Apart. Published forty
years afterward, Butterfly Burning is also set in the colonial period,
albeit in a Bulawayo where the persecution of black Africans is
altogether more visible, residents being forced to “walk in the city
without encroaching on the pavements from which they are banned”
(Vera 1998:4) and negotiate the “taverns which have NO BLACKS
signs” (Vera 1998:6). Its rather sparse plot centers on the young
Phephelaphi’s relationship with the older Fumbatha, which fatally
disintegrates owing to said colonial restriction. Phephelaphi lives
out her dream in becoming her country’s first black nurse, but on
becoming pregnant she must either abort her baby or lose her job.
Opting for the former, Vera gives the reader an immensely vivid
account of a painful and yet somehow cleansing process. When she

66 Critical Insights
becomes pregnant again, Phephelaphi’s response is more severe
still: she sets fire to her body and chooses death.
Following in the footsteps of her literary antecedents, Vera’s
Phephelaphi perceives self-harm as a cathartic, individualized
response to an imposed collective oppression. Both her abortion and
immolation, apparently tragic, are, in fact, “willed [actions] to assert
one’s agency” (Coundouriotis 2005:64), written by Vera to represent
“a repossession of self and feeling in a colonial situation that has
reified identity and sublimated violence” (Coundouriotis 2005:65).
Such agency may well be “perverse” (Zeleza 2007:19), and is
certainly exacted within tight structural limits, but is agency all the
same. This is made clear in the text, a paradoxical parallel between
pain and power drawn explicitly by Vera. At first, on carrying out her
abortion, Phephelaphi is individually insignificant: “From a distance,
she is only a mark on the ground” (Vera 1998:99). But when her pain
is described, and once the reader understands its implications, she
becomes a symbol of African resistance to imperialism. Phephelaphi
“[believes]” in her pain, “[lives] in it,” “[knows] its true and false
nuances” (Vera 1998:99), and is empowered as a consequence.
The same is also true of her suicide. Because “to be harmed [is]
to be freed,” it follows that “[this] quality of pain can only heal”
(Vera 1998:129), both individually and collectively. In deciding to
immolate herself, Phephelaphi burns not alone but, to paraphrase
Ranger (2010), with the whole of Bulawayo. Again, agency is
forcefully displayed. She, the African woman, is in control of her
body; the settler, who desires it, is not. Phephelaphi, like Okonkwo
and Olunde before her, “[dies] in her own storm” (Vera 1998:130).
My argument here has been that sacrifice, which I frame as
individual suffering endured on behalf of the community, is one way
in which African writers have processed the colonial moment. This
sacrifice was sometimes fatal and self-inflicted, but was always, at
least in these case studies, performed at a level above and beyond that
of the self. That the collectivity is prioritized is due to deeply-rooted
ideas about what constitutes duty and identity; Camus is clearly
thinking only in terms of the European literary and philosophical
tradition (despite his own Algerian background) when he writes, “It

Postcolonial African Literature 67


may be thought that suicide follows revolt—but wrongly” (1955:40).
The African authors featured in this chapter have succeeded in giving
expression (Norridge 2013) to the “inexpressible” (Scarry 1987),
that is, immense mental and physical pain. From Achebe’s account
of Okonkwo’s struggles with white settlers and Umuofia villagers
alike through Vera’s harrowing account of Phephelaphi’s abortion
in the barren Bulawayo fields, the horrors of imperialism are plainly
set out and ways in which it was contested clearly signposted.
In contending that African literature has largely been written
as resistance, I do not, however, wish to homogenize what is an
amorphous field. For as well as resisting existent attitudes and
structures, literature also has the potential to reproduce them.
The Nigerian novelist Flora Nwapa has, for instance, observed
that Achebe and Ngũgĩ have often “played down the powerful
role of women” in their novels (2007:528), reinforcing gendered
domination. Future research into sacrificiality in African literature
might further explore this dual-consequence. Indeed, it could also
help to shift the analytical onus from elite to everyday, taking heed
of Newell’s call to take seriously Africa’s “lesser-known but locally
significant writers” (2002:1).
The prevalence of suicide and sacrificiality in African literature
justifies the length at which it is here discussed, even if suicide was
not always sacrificial, nor the only form of sacrifice recorded by
authors. In fact, politically motivated or “revolutionary” (Ryan 2000)
suicide was not limited to fiction. Adeboye finds the idea that “death
is preferable to ignominy” to have “always been reflected in Yoruba
social thought and political culture,” and notes that such avowals of
agency were especially common during the early-colonial period
(2007:190). Imperialism in Africa was, after all, teleological only to
the imperialist. To the African, colonialism was a rupturous moment
whose endpoint was uncertain. The anchoring of the continent’s
classic and contemporary literature in sacrificial tropes was a means
of making sense of what for many was nonsensical. The collective
good for which the authors’ agent-protagonists suffered was a greater
comprehension of, and resistance to, colonial subordination.

68 Critical Insights
Works Cited
Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart. London: Heinemann, 1958. Print.
__________. ‘English and the African writer.’ In Olaniyan, Tejumola, and
Quayson, Ato (eds.), African Literature: An Anthology of Criticism
and Theory. Oxford: Blackwell, 2007. Print.
__________. ‘Teaching Things Fall Apart.’ In Achebe, Chinua The
Education of a British-Protected Child: Essays. New York: Alfred A.
Knopf, 2009. Print.
­­­­__________. Morning Yet on Creation Day: Essays. London: Heinemann,
1975. Print.
Adeboye, Olufunke. “‘Iku ya j’esin’: Politically Motivated Suicide, Social
Honour, and Chieftaincy Politics in Early Colonial Ibadan.” Canadian
Journal of African Studies, 41:2 (2007), pp. 189-225. Print.
Adéèkó, Adélékè. “My Signifier Is More Native Than Yours: Issues in
Making a Literature African.” In Olaniyan, Tejumola, and Quayson,
Ato (eds.), African literature: An Anthology of Criticism and Theory.
Oxford: Blackwell, 2007. Print.
Ayoola, Kehinde. “Things Fall Apart as the Avant-courier of the Nigerian
Variety of English.” In Anyadike, Chima and Ayoola, Kehinde (eds.),
Blazing the Path: Fifty Years of Things Fall Apart. Ibadan: HEBN,
2012. Print.
Barber, Karin. “Popular Arts in Africa.” African Studies Review, 30:3
(1987), pp. 1-78. Print.
Bernault, Florence. “Body, Power and Sacrifice in Equatorial Africa.”
Journal of African History, 47 (2006), pp. 207-239. Print.
Camus, Albert. The Myth of Sisyphus. London: Hamish Hamilton, 1955.
Print.
Chinweizu; Jemie, Onwuchekwa; and Madubuike, Ihechukwu. Toward
the Decolonization of African Literature: African Fiction and Poetry
and Their Critics. London: KPI, 1980. Print.
Cooper, Frederick. “Conflict and Connection: Rethinking Colonial African
History.” American Historical Review, 99 (1994), pp. 1516-1545.
Print.
­­­__________. Colonialism in Question: Theory, Knowledge, History.
Berkeley: U of California P, 2005. Print.

Postcolonial African Literature 69


Coundouriotis, Eleni. “Self-Inflicted Wounds in Yvonne Vera’s Butterfly
Burning.” World Literature Today, 79 (2005), pp. 64-67. Print.
Dangarembga, Tsitsi. She No Longer Weeps. Harare: College Press, 1987.
Print.
Foucault, Michel. The History of Sexuality, Volume 1. Hurley, Robert
(trans.). Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1990. Print.
Gates, Jr., Henry Louis. “Being, the Will, and the Semantics of Death.” In
Soyinka, Wole, Death and the King’s Horseman: Authoritative Text,
Backgrounds and Contexts, Criticism, Gikandi, Simon (ed.). New
York: Norton, 2003. Print.
Hannerz, Ulf. “Sophiatown: The View from Afar.” Journal of Southern
African Studies, 20:2 (1994), pp. 181-193. Print.
­­­__________. “The World in Creolisation.” Africa, 57:4 (1987), pp. 546-
559. Print.
Herodotus, Bks. 5-7: the Persian Wars. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1922.
Print.
Khan, Khatija, and Vambe, Maurice. “Decolonising the ‘Epistemic
Decolonial Turn’ in Women’s Fiction.” African Identities, 11:3
(2013), pp. 304-317. Print.
Killam, Douglas. The Novels of Chinua Achebe. London: Heinemann,
1969. Print.
Lonsdale, John, and Odhiambo, Stephen. Mau Mau and Nationhood.
Oxford: Currey, 2003. Print.
MacDonald, Megan. “Suicide Falls Through the Cracks.” In Anyadike,
Chima and Ayoola, Kehinde (eds.). Blazing the Path: Fifty Years of
Things Fall Apart. Ibadan: HEBN, 2012. Print.
Mamdani, Mahmoud. Citizen and Subject: Contemporary Africa and the
Legacy of Late Colonialism. London: Currey, 1996. Print.
Mbembe, Achille. “Provisional Notes on the Postcolony.” Africa, 62:1
(1992), pp. 3-37. Print.
Newell, Stephanie (ed.). Readings in African Popular Fiction. London:
International African Institute, 2002. Print.
Newell, Stephanie, and Okome, Onookome. Popular Culture in Africa:
The Episteme of the Everyday. London: Routledge, 2013. Print.
Norridge, Zoe. Perceiving Pain in African Literature. New York: Palgrave
Macmillan, 2013. Print.

70 Critical Insights
Nwabueze, Emeka. “Theoretical Construction and Constructive
Theorizing on the Execution of Ikemefuna in Achebe’s Things Fall
Apart: A Study in Critical Dualism.” Research in African Literatures,
31:2 (2000), pp. 163-173. Print.
Nwapa, Flora. “Women and Creative Writing in Africa.” In Olaniyan,
Tejumola, and Quayson, Ato (eds.). African Literature: An Anthology
of Criticism and Theory. Oxford: Blackwell, 2007. Print.
Ogbaa, Kalu. “A Cultural Note on Okonkwo’s Suicide.” Kunapipi, 3:2
(1981), pp. 126-134. Print.
Ojaide, Tanure. “Modern African Literature and Cultural Identity.” African
Studies Review, 35:3 (1992), pp. 43-57. Print.
Ranger, Terence. Bulawayo Burning: the Social History of a Southern
African City, 1893-1960. Oxford: Currey, 2010. Print.
Ryan, Katy. “Revolutionary Suicide in Toni Morrison’s Fiction.” African
American Review, 34:3 (2000), pp. 389-412. Print.
Scarry, Elaine. The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World.
Oxford: Oxford UP, 1987. Print.
Schmidt, Elizabeth. Peasants, Traders, and Wives. London: Currey, 1992.
Print.
Shaw, Carolyn. “‘You Had a Daughter, But I am Becoming a Woman’:
Sexuality, Feminism and Postcoloniality” in Tsitsi Dangarembga’s
Nervous Conditions and She No Longer Weeps. Research in African
Literatures, 38:4 (2007), pp. 7-27. Print.
Soyinka, Wole. “Death and the King’s Horseman.” In Soyinka, Wole, Six
Plays. London: Methuen, 1984. Print.
__________. “Elesin Oba and the Critics.” In Soyinka, Wole, Death and
the King’s Horseman: Authoritative Text, Backgrounds and Contexts,
Criticism. Gikandi, Simon (ed.). New York: Norton, 2003. Print.
Spear, Thomas. “Neo-Traditionalism and the Limits of Invention in British
Colonial Africa.” Journal of African History, 44 (2003), pp. 3-28.
Print.
Thiong’o, Ngũgĩ wa. Devil on the Cross. London: Heinemann, 1982. Print.
__________. Weep Not, Child. London: Heinemann, 1964. Print.
__________. Decolonizing the Mind: the Politics of Language in African
Literature. London: Currey, 1986. Print.
Vera, Yvonne. Butterfly Burning. Harare: Baobab Books, 1998. Print.

Postcolonial African Literature 71


Zeleza, Paul. “Colonial Fictions: Memory and History in Yvonne Vera’s
Imagination.” Research in African Literatures, 38:2 (2007), pp. 9-21.
Print.

72 Critical Insights
CRITICAL
READINGS
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight from a
Postcolonial Perspective
Robert C. Evans

It might seem odd to examine Sir Gawain and the Green Knight—a
poem usually dated to the end of the fourteenth century—from a
postcolonial point of view. After all, postcolonialism is one of the
most recent and still-developing approaches to literary criticism. It
dates mostly from the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.
What could such a theory have to say about a poem from the late
1300s? Would not a postcolonial approach be literally anachronistic?
It was perspective unimaginable to the anonymous author and his
first audiences. Would not postcolonialism, therefore, be irrelevant
to a poem from the “high” middle ages?
The simple answer to these questions is “no.” Any plausible
theory of literature is, arguably, relevant to any individual work of
literature, no matter when that work was written. Thus it should not
surprise us that Sir Gawain has recently received attention from
various postcolonial perspectives, especially from perspectives
involving the poem’s possible relevance to fourteenth-century
politics, conflicts, and “international” relations. In particular, recent
critics have explored the poem’s possible relevance to attempts,
during this era, by the English to colonize the Welsh, who occupied
the western-most sections of the main British isle.1 Although debates
about this issue are fascinating, this chapter instead focuses on a far
more obvious way in which Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is
definitely postcolonial.
The poet’s clear and undeniable interest in colonialism is made
blatantly clear in his poem’s opening lines:

Once the siege and assault had ceased at Troy,


The burg battered and burned to brands and ashes,
The trooper that the tricks of treason there wrought
Was tried for his treachery, the truest on earth.

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight 75


It was Aeneas the noble and his high-born kin [5]
Who then despoiled provinces and patrons became
Well nigh of all the wealth of the West Isles.
Then rich Romulus to Rome rushes him swiftly,
With great splendor that burg he builds at first,
And names it his own name, as it now has. [10]
Ticius to Tuscany and towns he builds.
Longabeard in Lombardy lifts up homes,
And far over the French Flood Felix Brutus
On many banks full broad Britain he sets
To begin. [15]
Where war and wrack and wonder
Have often flourished therein,
And oft both bliss and blunder
Have ruled in turn since then.2

It is hard to imagine phrasing more relevant to issues of


colonialism—and especially to issues of postcolonialism. The
“siege and assault . . . at Troy” is, of course, the famous Trojan
War depicted in Homer’s Iliad. The war began when Helen, a
notoriously beautiful Greek queen, committed adultery with Paris,
a handsome Trojan prince. Together they fled to Troy, leading
Helen’s husband, Menelaus, to call on other Greek kings to aid
him by sending massive armies to attack Troy and seize Helen.
The other kings sent many troops, and for ten years the Greeks
and proto-Romans battled bloodily outside Troy’s walls. Many
fine men were lost in a war that would never have happened if, at
least according to medieval Christian interpretations, Helen and
Paris had controlled their lust. Their adulterous passions unloosed
wanton death and destruction on many self-sacrificing heroes. For
many medieval Christians, the story of Troy showed just how much
evil might occur from a failure to discipline unworthy emotions.
Such failure, even involving just two people, could cause untold
suffering to many others.
Ultimately, in the view of many medieval Christians, the
adulterous passions of Helen and Paris led to the destruction of the
entire magnificent Trojan civilization. When Greek forces hid within

76 Critical Insights
a massive wooden horse, the infamous “Trojan Horse,” they were
finally able to get inside the walls of Troy. The destruction of the city
was swift and thorough. Only the Trojan prince Aeneas and some
followers were able to escape the ravaged city. They sailed east,
stopping briefly in northern Africa but then, supposedly, colonizing
Italy, thereby founding Roman civilization. But they not only
allegedly colonized Italy; they also, at least according to medieval
legend, colonized practically all of Western Europe. Among the
lands they supposedly colonized were Tuscany (Line 11), Lombardy
(Line 12), and—most relevant to our present purposes—Britain
(Line 13-15). Many medieval Britons, then, like some other peoples
of western Europe, believed they were literally descendants of
Trojans.3
Partly for this reason, many medieval Britons were intensely
interested in the legend of the Trojan war. Many were especially
interested in the lack of self-control that led to the adultery, which
then led to the war. And, because Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
is very much about a hero who maintains self-control (at least for
the most part) and who refuses to commit adultery when thrice
offered the chance, the medieval poem is closely related in themes
and interests central to the three great ancient epics: Homer’s Iliad
(which tells how war began because two people could not control
their passions); Homer’s Odyssey (which tells of one hero’s ten-
year effort to return to a virtuously loyal, non-adulterous wife); and
Virgil’s Aeneid (which tells how the great Trojan prince, Aeneas, by
resisting temptation, fulfilled a grand colonial mission). As we will
see, all these stories are relevant to Sir Gawain, which is one reason
the medieval poem both begins and ends by emphasizing the Trojan
war.

Troy and King Arthur’s Britain


The so-called “matter of Troy” seemed immensely relevant to many
fourteenth-century Britons. When reading or hearing about the fate
of Troy, many believed that they were reading or hearing about the
fate of their own colonial ancestors—a destructive fate most hoped to
avoid. Of course, the legends of King Arthur tell of his exceptionally

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight 77


beautiful wife Guenevere and the handsome knight Lancelot, with
whom she eventually commits adultery. That adultery leads to the
destruction of Arthur’s kingdom, just as adultery between Helen and
Paris led to Troy’s destruction. The legend of Arthur, then, closely
recapitulates the tragedy that overtook Troy. This is another reason
Troy is relevant to Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Helen and Paris
failed to control their passions. Destruction resulted. Guenevere and
Lancelot failed to control their passions. Destruction resulted. But
the story told in Sir Gawain takes place before the adulterous affair
between Guenevere and Lancelot. And the story told in Sir Gawain
shows the title character successfully resisting—three times —the
temptation to commit adultery. He does fail when faced with another
temptation, but he then berates himself for failing and is eventually
forgiven and, indeed, embraced by Arthur and the rest of Arthur’s
court. Gawain, then, despite his inevitable human flaws, manages to
avoid the particular failures of Helen and Paris on the one hand, and
Guenevere and Lancelot on the other.
The Gawain poet immediately emphasizes that Britain has long
been a place “Where war and wrack and wonder” have flourished
(Line 16-17). British history, he knew, involved the rise and fall
of various rulers and dynasties. In other words, it was a history of
various conquests and even colonizations. The most famous recent
example to the poet would have been the conquest and colonization
that took place in 1066, when Normans from France conquered
and colonized Britain, imposing their own culture right on top
of the native culture that had itself originally come from Europe.
French, oddly enough, was suddenly the official language of the
English court; Sir Gawain and the poems of Chaucer are unusual
partly because they were written in English. The Gawain poet, then,
was still living in a postcolonial culture. It was a culture in which
Norman/French domination was still everywhere apparent. This is
another way Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is postcolonial: it
was written when Britain was still, to a great extent, a postcolonial
nation.
But medieval Britain was also “postcolonial” religiously. Its
official religion, Christianity, had supplanted the original pagan

78 Critical Insights
religions that had dominated the island both before and after the
invasions of the Anglo-Saxons. Almost all Britons living in the 1300s
were Christian, if only because they had little choice. But most were
probably also sincere Christians who assumed that Christian beliefs
were true, that Christian values were valuable, and that Christian
ethics were crucial to personal conduct. Many pitied their pagan
ancestors, including the Trojans, for having been pagan. And many
judged their own conduct, and the conduct of their contemporaries,
in terms of Christian moral and spiritual aspirations.
I emphasize this point because I want to argue that Christian
values are absolutely crucial to properly understanding Sir Gawain.4
Christianity, the result of a kind of cultural colonization of Britain
from continental Europe, had by the 1300s long since been the central
intellectual force in English life. No wonder, then, that the Gawain
poet sets the poem at Christmas and emphasizes the importance of
that literally holy day by describing two separate Christmas holiday
celebrations. The first takes place at Camelot, at Arthur’s court. Note
how it is described:

This king lay at Camelot upon Christmas


With many loyal lords, lads of the best,
Renowned of the Round Table all those rich brethren,
With rich revel aright and reckless mirth. [40]
There tourneyed troopers by times full many,
Jousted full jollily these gentle knights,
Then came to the court carols to make,
For there the feasting was the same for a full fifteen days
With all the meals and the mirth that man could devise; [45]
Such gladness and glee glorious to hear,
Dear din upon day, dancing on nights;
All was happiness on high in halls and chambers,
With lords and ladies, as most lovely it seemed.
With all the wealth of the world they dwelt there together, [50]
The best known knights under Christ Himself,
And the loveliest ladies that ever life had,
And he the comeliest king that the court holds;

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight 79


For all was this fair folk in their first age,
And still [55]
The most fortunate known to fame,
The king highest man of will.
It would now be hard to name
So hardy a host on hill.

To save time and space, I have italicized and highlighted with bold
type key words and phrases. What emerges from this emphasis is
just how little attention Arthur and his courtiers are actually paying
to the true spirit and meaning of Christmas. They seem to have
forgotten that the holy day’s genuine purpose, in medieval times
and even to many people today, is supposed to stress celebrating the
birth of Christ the redeemer. Instead, Arthur and his courtiers—who
are explicitly described as youthful (Line 54) and who are, perhaps,
still immature—seem to be focusing mostly on the material, sensual
pleasures of the Christmas holiday rather than on the spiritual,
religious meanings of this Christian holy day. Just as Christmas
now is often a time of self-display and self-indulgence, of massive
over-spending and over-eating, so the same seems true at Arthur’s
court. Christianity had once been a colonial religion brought into
the country by foreign missionaries, sometimes imposed on pagans
by royal decree or actual force. But by the fourteenth century it was
the religion all Britons were expected to sincerely embrace and
embody. Yet Arthur and his courtiers seem to have lapsed back into
pre-Christian, pagan ways of thinking and acting. Thus, they don’t
simply feast; they feast “for a full fifteen days,” and presumably
the dancing, singing, tourneying, jousting, and “reckless mirth” last
that long as well (Line 44; 40).
Admittedly, Arthur and his courtiers do sing “carols” (Line 43),
and they are described as “Knights under Christ himself” (Line 51).
They are not, by any means, completely pagan, and certainly not
intentionally so. They have neither entirely nor deliberately reverted
to pre-Christian, pre-colonial values and behavior. But they are
disturbingly fixated, I would argue, on the fleshly, worldly pleasures,
as the next stanza again suggests:

80 Critical Insights
While New Year was so young, since it was newly come, [60]
That day with double portions were the diners served,
For the king was come with knights into the hall,
The chanting in the chapel achieved an end.
Loud cries were there cast by clerks and others,
“Noel” named anew, announced full oft; [65]
And then the rich run forth to render presents
Yelled “Year’s gifts!” on high, yielding them by hand,
Debated busily about those gifts;
Ladies laughed full loud, though they had lost,
And he that won was not wroth, that may you well believe. [70]
All this mirth they made until the meal time.
When they had washed worthily, they went to sit,
The best brave always above, as it best seemed;
Queen Guenevere, full gay, graced the middle,
Bedecked on the dear dais, adorned all about, [75]
Fine silk at her sides, a ceiling above
Of rich cloth of Toulouse, and of Tartary many tapestries
That were embroidered and bedecked with the best gems
That might be proven in price with pennies to buy
In our day. [80]
The comeliest to see
There gleamed with eyes of gray;
A fairer that ever could be
In sooth might no man say.

From this passage and the one already quoted, it seems clear that the
poet goes out of his way to emphasize the materialistic aspects of the
Christmas holiday celebrations and de-emphasize the spiritual aspects
of Christmas as one of Christianity’s most important holy days. The
stress on “double portions” (Line 61), on material “gifts” (Line 66-
67), on debate about those “gifts” (Line 68) and on “the mirth they
made until meal time” (Line 71) can all seem implicitly critical,
although the poet does—to be sure—passingly mention “chanting
in the chapel” and cries of “Noel” (Line 63-65). Most unsettling,
however, is his intense focus on Queen Guenevere’s physical beauty
and the luxury that surrounds her. Nearly all members of the poet’s
audience would have known the eventual tragic result of Guenevere’s

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight 81


beauty: her adultery with Lancelot. Of all the characters mentioned
so far, she is the only one singled out by name, and she is certainly
the character most associated with costly material splendor. She is
physically gorgeous and her tastes are worldly, but nothing at all
is said about her spiritual commitments or her devotion to Christ,
whose birth the court is nominally celebrating. In a poem that begins
by alluding to the Trojan war, Guenevere closely resembles Helen.
She is one of three beautiful women in the poem who seem linked
with the theme of adultery (Bercilak’s wife, who appears later, is
the third). When composing this work, the unknown poet arguably
had very much in mind its parallels with the story of the Trojans,
England’s supposed colonial ancestors.
Having described the queen, the poet now moves to describing
her husband, to whom she will eventually (although outside this
poem) prove unfaithful:

But Arthur would not eat until all were served, [85]
He was so jolly of his joyfulness and somewhat juvenile:
He liked his life light; he loved the less
Either too long to lie or too long to sit
So busied him his young blood and his brain wild.

Arthur here is still young Arthur, and he seems significantly


immature. But so do his queen and courtiers. From a strictly Christian
perspective, he sets a bad example for his equally youthful, equally
“juvenile” wife and followers. Arthur differs from the mature,
virtuous, self-sacrificing Trojan prince Aeneas, who eventually
renounced personal pleasure (in the form of the Carthaginian queen,
Dido) to accomplish grander goals, particularly colonizing Italy.
Ultimately, Aeneas’ decision to control his own passions and do his
duty led to the Trojan colonization of Britain and other lands, at least
according to medieval legend. To a fourteenth-century audience, it
was imagined that thanks to the sincere, self-sacrificing, and in some
cases fearless Christianity of continental missionaries that Britain
adopted its postcolonial religion. Arthur and his fun-loving courtiers
are at risk of forgetting, or at least under-emphasizing, life’s most

82 Critical Insights
important values: the mature ideals of virtuous self-control, rational
self-discipline, and whole-hearted commitment to Christ.

The Green Knight Arrives


Everything changes, of course, when the Green Knight shows up. A
mysterious figure who resembles some strange creature from pagan
literature, he is memorably described in the following passage and
then in many later lines:

There hastens in at the hall door an awesome figure,


One of the most on earth in measure of height,
From the neck to the waist so square and well-set,
And his loins and his limbs so long and so big
Half a giant in earth I hold that he was; [140]
Yet man must I nonetheless admit him to be
And that the merriest in his muchness that might ride,
For though of back and of breast his body was stout,
Both his belly and his waist were worthily slim,
And all his features conforming, in form that he had, [145]
Full clean.

So far, so good: he sounds like a young, medieval Arnold


Schwarzenegger. But what happens next catches both the court and
the poem’s readers by surprise: this muscle man of the Middle Ages
is entirely green. His skin is green; his hair is green; his beard is
green; his clothing is green; his shoes are green; even his horse is
green. The poet emphasizes all this greenness repeatedly over many
lines (147-202). But then he adds these nice details:

Yet he had no helmet nor hauberk neither,


Nor no armor nor plate that pertained to arms,
Nor no spear nor no shield to shove nor to smite, [205]
But in his one hand he had a holly branch,
That is greatest in green when groves are bare,
And an axe in his other, a huge and monstrous,
A spiteful axe to describe in speech, if anyone could.

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight 83


The poet here first leads us to assume that the strange, mysterious
visitor intends no harm: he wears no armor and bears no weapons
one might expect. In one hand (oddly) he holds a green holly
branch. But in the other he holds a gigantic green axe. So much for
having apparently come in peace. Yet, as the poem will eventually
demonstrate, this is precisely why the Green Knight has come. Holly
was conventionally understood in the poet’s day as a symbol of life
amid death (as holly bushes stay green even in winter). Holly leaves’
sharp points gave the plant additional usefulness as a symbol of the
crown of thorns worn by the crucified Christ, whose death restored
life. As Brian Stone explains in a typically helpful annotation:

The holly cluster or wassail bob (its living green leaves promising that
spring would succeed dead midwinter) was a symbol of Christmas
good luck, though its origin as such is pagan. The early Christians in
Rome probably took it over from the Saturnalia, in which it figured
prominently, Saturn’s club being made of holly wood (167).

In this particular symbol as in much of its general symbolism, then,


the poem can be seen as significantly multicultural—which is to
say “significantly postcolonial.” Christians, gradually taking over
Roman civilization and other pagan cultures, often appropriated
useful pagan symbols. They made these symbols their own to such
a degree that medieval, much like modern, Christianity was shot
through with previously pagan symbolism. Analysts of Sir Gawain
still debate the ways in which, and the degrees to which, the poem is
either pagan or Christian. But the correct answer seems to be that it
is thoroughly Christian with significant borrowings from the pagan
cultures the Christians intellectually colonized and, eventually,
politically dominated. Ultimately the significance of the Green
Knight’s greenness—and of his holly bob—will be obvious: he
symbolizes renewed life, not death. Eventually we realize that he
has comes as a friend, not an enemy. Eventually we understand that
he has helped Arthur’s court in general, and Sir Gawain in particular,
to return to their proper focus in the true spirit of Christmas, which
includes love, forgiveness, and devotion to Christ. Before we turn to
the end of the poem, however, let us now turn to the middle.
84 Critical Insights
The Poem’s Second Depiction of Christmas
The outcome of the Green Knight’s visit to King Arthur’s court
is widely known. He issues a challenge: he will allow someone at
Arthur’s court to chop off his head (with the conveniently available
axe he has brought) if that person will agree to allow his own head
to be lopped off in a year’s time. This offer that seems impossible to
refuse; there seems absolutely no real risk. But when Gawain, after
volunteering, chops off the Green Knight’s head, the Green Knight
calmly walks over, picks it up, reattaches it, and rides off—but not
before reminding Gawain of his ominous appointment, which is set
for the following Christmas season. Suddenly the party’s mood has
been deflated. Arthur and his courtiers now have more serious things
on their minds than fifteen-day feasts, nightly dances, or friendly
arguments about trivial gifts. Although they don’t yet know it, the
Green Knight’s visit will in the end prove a gift of immense value.
A year quickly passes. Gawain now prepares for his journey
to keep his appointment. In an especially famous passage, the
narrator describes Gawain’s shield, which bears a five-pointed star
(or pentangle) on its front. This symbol, the narrator carefully notes,
was first devised by Solomon, the ancient Hebrew king so important
to later Christians (another example, by the way, of multicultural
influence). The pentangle symbolizes many of the moral and spiritual
virtues Gawain should ideally exemplify:

First he was found faultless in his five wits, [640]


And also failed never the fighter in his five fingers,
And all his faith in the field was in the five wounds
That Christ caught on the cross as the Creed tells;
And where-so-ever this man in melee took a stand,
His steadfast thought was in that over all other things, [645]
That all his courage he took from the Five Joys
That the courteous heaven-queen had of her child;
For this cause the comely knight had
On the inside of his shield her image depicted,
That when he looked thereto he never lacked boldness. [650]
The fifth five that I find that the fighter used
Was generosity and fellowship before all things,

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight 85


His purity and his courtesy crooked were never,
And pity, that passes all points these pure five
Were more heartily heaped on that horseman than any other. [655]

Gone is the earlier holiday partying and self-indulgence. Now


Gawain is being sent out onward as a truly Christian soldier, with
Christian symbolism on the front of his shield and an image of the
Blessed Virgin Mary staring him squarely in the face on the shield’s
other side. Whatever figuratively “pagan” behavior he had indulged
in a year ago is now vanished. He is now fully associated with the
postcolonial religion of a still-Catholic Britain. After a dangerous
and uncomfortable journey through a grim winter landscape, Gawain
realizes that it is almost Christmas day itself. All he wants to do now
is spend the day in sincere worship with other Christians:

Through the country comes this knight, til Christmas eve,


Alone; [735]
The knight well that tide
To Mary made his moan,
That she reveal where to ride
That some dwelling him be shown.

Gawain may at present be, as the narrator puts it, “a man all alone”
(Line 749), but he now has his spiritual priorities straight—he is
now also a man:

Caring for his duties lest he should not come [750]


To see the service of that Sire that on that same night
Of a maiden was born our troubles to abate;
And therefore sighing he said, I beseech thee, Lord,
And Mary, that is mildest mother so dear,
For some harborage where holily I might hear mass, [755]
And thy matins in the morning meekly I ask,
And thereto promptly I pray my “Our Father” and “Hail Mary”
And “Creed.”

86 Critical Insights
He rode in his prayer,
And cried for his misdeed; [760]
He signed himself repeatedly there,
And said “Cross of Christ me lead!”

It would be hard to find a more explicitly Christian passage in the


entire poem than this one. Whatever the influence of pagan imagery
and symbolism on the poem’s phrasing, Gawain’s values are now
firmly rooted where they should have been during the preceding
Christmas: in the Christian religion that supplanted paganism in
Britain as in the whole of Europe. Britain may have been founded,
according to legend, by a pagan Trojan colonizer, but poetic passages
such as this one show just how strongly the “new religion” brought
by colonizing missionaries had now become the “old religion” of
Roman Catholicism.
The rest of the story is well known: no sooner does Gawain
pray for shelter than shelter—in the form of a magnificent castle—
suddenly appears. He rides to the castle, is enthusiastically
welcomed, is offered lavish meals and fine clothes, and attracts the
attention of a stunningly beautiful young woman, who happens to be
the wife of the castle’s owner. During the course of three successive
mornings, this woman sneaks into his bedroom, thrice offers him
her body, which Gawain virtuously refuses. She then offers him a
green sash with supposedly magical powers. If he hides the sash,
and thus deceiving his host, Gawain will—the woman promises—
be immortal, immune to any strokes from the Green Knight’s axe.
Gawain takes the sash, deceives the woman’s husband by hiding the
suspicious gift, and rides off to confront the Green Knight.
On this new journey, he vociferously and repeated professes
faith in Christ, even though he has now put his faith on the green sash
to save him. In short, Gawain becomes both a liar and a hypocrite.
He meets the Greek Knight, who thrice swings his axe at Gawain’s
neck, deliberately missing each time, and who then reveals he is
also the lord of the castle whom Gawain deceived. It was the Green
Knight’s wife who tested Gawain repeatedly, and although Gawain
withstood all three sexual temptations, he did deceive the Green

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight 87


Knight by lying about the green sash. But the Green Knight doesn’t
blame him: any person, he says, would have done the same to cheat
death. He freely forgives Gawain, but Gawain will not forgive
himself. Angry, humiliated, his pride deflated, he returns to Arthur’s
court. He is now -full of shame and self-condemnation, and he fully
expects Arthur and the court to ostracize or even expel him:

“Lo! lord,” quoth the liegeman and the lace handled, [2505]
“This is the emblem of the blame I bear in my neck,
This is the injury and the loss that I laid hold on
For cowardice and covetousness that I have caught there;
This is the token of untruth in which I was taken,
And I must by necessity wear it while I may live, [2510]
For one may hide his harm but sin cannot be hidden,
For where it once is attached depart will it never.”

But although Gawain is full of self-loathing, he is also incorrect: in


the Christian scheme of things, sin can be taken away and forgiven
through God’s gracious mercy—mercy symbolized by the birth
of Jesus and by his death on the cross. That is the whole point of
the holy Christian holidays of Christmas, Good Friday, and the
Easter. Significantly, the king and the courtiers regard Gawain far
more charitably and forgivingly than he regards himself. In fact,
something beautifully and unexpectedly loving occurs:

The king comforts the knight and all the court also
Laugh loudly thereat and lovingly agree
That lords and ladies that belonged to the Table, [2515]
Each member of the brotherhood a baldric should have,
A band obliquely him about of a bright green,
And for the sake of that stalwart to wear that sign,
For it represents the renown of the Round Table,
And he was honored that it had evermore after, [2520]
As it is written in the best book of romance.
Thus in Arthur’s day this adventure befell,
The Brutus books thereon bear witness;
Since Brutus, the bold brave first bounded hither
Once the siege and the assault was ceased at Troy, [2525]

88 Critical Insights
As it is.
Many adventures here-before
Have fallen such as this.
May He Who bore the crown of thorns
Bring us to his bliss! [2530]

In short, the green sash, which Gawain thinks symbolizes


humiliation and punishment, becomes a symbol of love, fellowship,
and forgiveness. The same transformation had already happened, of
course, with the cross on which Christ was crucified. Intended by the
Romans as an instrument of torture and degradation, it became, thanks
to Christ’s resurrection, a symbol of life, love, and mercy. Arthur
and his courtiers, by not only forgiving Gawain but by embracing
him and wearing green sashes themselves, act as good Christians
should. Thanks to the Green Knight’s odd intervention, the king
and courtiers have been reminded of Christmas’s true meaning, and
now they not only know that meaning but actually live it. Whatever
paganism they may have displayed in their Christmas celebrations a
year ago has now been replaced by genuine Christianity and the real
meaning of the Christmas holy day.
The stanza quoted above is the poem’s last. Notice not only
how it stresses real Christian values and true Christian behavior but
also how it reminds us, once again, of Britain’s status as a colony
of Troy. Brutus is mentioned twice, and the poem’s closing lines
explicitly echo its opening. The text achieves impressive formal
symmetry. It ends by reminding us that although Britain was,
supposedly, colonized by virtuous pagan Trojans, it now has the
good fortune to embrace Christianity. Sir Gawain and the Green
Knight offered contemporary fourteenth-century audiences, along
with, perhaps, modern readers a later and much better result of
Britain’s complicated colonial history.

Notes
1. On Sir Gawain and colonialism and/or postcolonialism see, for
example, Arner, Ganim, Holsinger, Ingraham, and Vaughan. For a
solid overview of key ideas associated with postcolonialism, see
Ashcroft et al. On the relevance of postcolonialism to medieval
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight 89
literature see, for instance, the books and/or articles by Cohen,
Ganim, Kabir and Williams, and Lampert-Weissig, to mention just
a few.
2. I have chosen to quote an extremely literal (but anonymous)
translation posted on the Harvard University web site (see Works
Cited). An easily accessible version of the poem in Middle English
is available from the web site hosted by the University of Michigan
(see Works Cited).
3. From among the many discussions of medieval legends of Troy, see,
for instance, the articles and/or books by Andrew, Benson, Desmond,
Federico, Risden, and Sadowski (esp. 53-56), among many other
possible sources.
4. This strongly Christian interpretation of the poem is, of course, not
the only way to read the work; it is simply the reading I and many
others find most persuasive. Examples of this view can be found in
the articles and/or books by Gardner, Haines, Hatt, Howard (esp.
215-54), Hughes, and Schnyder. For other interpretations that also
emphasize the importance of Christianity see, for instance, the
following items described in the Hambridge bibliography: 1, 29, 40,
51, 63, 83, 99, 126, 135, 138, 145, 146, 152, 167, 172, 189, 199, 202,
215, 218, 223, and 231. Similarly, see the following items in the Do
bibliography: 252, 253, 255, 270, 274, 280, 286, 300, 309, 324, 326,
327, 334, 335, 336, 337, 345, 347, 372, 373, 377, 379, 383, as well
as H79, H117, H123, H196, H201, and H239. Finally, in the Stainsby
bibliography, the following items are relevant to my claims about the
Christian nature of Sir Gawain: 202, 203, 211, 212, 214, 215, 216,
220, 228, 235, 263, 269, 272, 274, 275, 289, 290, 318, 328, 333, 337,
341, 368, and 371.

Works Cited
Andrew, Malcolm. “The Fall of Troy” in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
and Troilus and Criseyde. The European Tragedy of Troilus, edited
by Piero Boitani, Clarendon, 1989, pp. 75-93. Print.
Arner, Lynn. “The Ends of Enchantment: Colonialism and Sir Gawain and
the Green Knight.” Texas Studies in Literature and Language, Vol.
48, No. 2, 2006, pp. 79-101. Print.
Ashcroft, Bill, et al. Post-Colonial Studies: The Key Concepts. New York:
Routledge, 2000. Print.

90 Critical Insights
Benson, C. David. The History of Troy in Middle English Literature: Guido
delle Colonne’s Historia Destructionis Troiae in Medieval England,
D. S. Brewer, 1980. Print.
__________. “The ‘Matter of Troy’ and Its Transmission through
Translation in Medieval Europe.” Übersetzung: Ein Internationales
Handbuch zur Übersetzungsforschung / Translation: An International
Encyclopedia of Translation Studies, edited by Harald Kittel, et al., 3
vols., De Gruyter, 2004-2011, pp. 1337-40. Print.
Cohen, Jeffrey Jerome, editor. The Postcolonial Middle Ages, Palgrave,
2001. Print.
Desmond, Marilyn. “Trojan Itineraries and the Matter of Troy.” The
Oxford History of Classical Reception in English Literature, Vol. 1,
edited by Rita Copeland, Oxford UP, 2016, pp. 251-68. Print.
Do, Merdeka Thien-Ly Huong. “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: An
Annotated Bibliography,1973-1978.” Comitatus, Vol. 11, No. 1,
1980, pp. 66-107. Web. http://escholarship.org/uc/item/9rp6z8zt.
Federico, Sylvia. New Troy: Fantasies of Empire in the Late Middle Ages.
U of Minnesota P, 2003. Print.
Ganim, John M. “Postcolonialism.” A Handbook of Middle English
Studies, edited by Marion Turner, Wiley, 2013, pp. 397-412. Print.
Gardner, John, translator and commentator. The Complete Works of the
Gawain Poet. U of Chicago P, 1965. Print.
Haines, Victor Y. The Fortunate Fall of Sir Gawain: The Typology of ‘Sir
Gawain and the Green Knight’, UP of America, 1982. Print.
Hambridge, Roger A. “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: An Annotated
Bibliography, 1950-1972.” Comitatus, Vol. 4, No. 1, 1973, pp. 49-81.
Web. http://escholarship.org/uc/item/84d8m59g.
Hatt, Cecilia. God and the Gawain-Poet: Theology and Genre in Pearl,
Cleanness, Patience and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Brewer,
2015. Print.
Holsinger, Bruce W. “Medieval Studies, Postcolonial Studies, and the
Genealogies of Critique.” Speculum, Vol. 77, No 4, 2002, pp. 1195-
1227. Print.
Howard, Donald R. The Three Temptations: Medieval Man in Search of
the World, Princeton UP, 1966. Print.

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight 91


Hughes, Derek R. “The Problem of Reality in Sir Gawain and the Green
Knight.” University of Toronto Quarterly, Vol. 40, 1971, pp. 217-35.
Print.
Ingham, Patricia Clare. Sovereign Fantasies: Arthurian Romance and the
Making of Britain, U of Pennsylvania P, 2001. Print.
Kabir, Ananya Jahanara and Deanne Williams, editors. Postcolonial
Approaches to the European Middle Ages: Translating Cultures,
Cambridge UP, 2005. Print.
Lampert-Weissig, Lisa. Medieval Literature and Postcolonial Studies.
Edinburgh UP, 2010. Print.
Risden, E. L. editor. Sir Gawain and the Classical Tradition: Essays on
the Ancient Antecedents, McFarland, 2006. Print.
Sadowski, Piotr. The Knight on His Quest: Symbolic Patterns of Transition
in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, U of Delaware P, 1996. Print.
Schnyder, Hans. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: An Essay in
Interpretation, Bern, 1961. Print.
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. [In Middle English]. Web. http://quod.
lib.umich.edu/c/cme/Gawain?rgn=main;view=fulltext.
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: A Close Verse Translation. http://sites.
fas.harvard.edu/~chaucer/ready.htm. Web. For another version, see
also http://sites.fas.harvard.edu/~chaucer/special/litsubs/romances/
sg-prt1.htm.
Stainsby, Meg. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: An Annotated
Bibliography, 1978-1989. Garland, 1992. Print.
Stone, Brian, translator and editor. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.
Penguin, 1974. Print.
Vaughan, Hannah. “Gawain the Exile: Reading ‘Sir Gawain and the Green
Knight’ in a Postcolonial Context.” Web. Master’s Thesis, Clemson
University, 2015. http://tigerprints.clemson.edu/all_theses/2168/.

92 Critical Insights
Disabled Bodies Matter: Rohinton Mistry and the
Politics of Embodiment
Shubhangi Garg Mehrotra

According to the United Nations, “[t]here is a large and growing


number of persons with disabilities in the world today…In most
countries, at least one person out of 10 is disabled by physical,
mental or sensory impairment, and at least 25 per cent of any
population is adversely affected by the presence of disability”
(“General Description on the United Nations Enable” 4). However,
the situation is much worse in developing countries where “the
percentage of the disabled population is estimated to be as high as
20 and, thus, if families and relatives are included, 50 per cent of
the population could be adversely affected by disability” (“General
Description on the United Nations Enable” 4). Therefore, it is no
coincidence that the postcolonial fictional writing is inundated with
the images and portrayals of disabled characters and protagonists.
However, even with such high proliferation of disabled characters
in postcolonial novels, a serious critical inquiry into disability as
an existential marginalized and political identity is missing from
the scholarship. It is often subdued by the overbearing postcolonial
body-politics that categorize the body in terms of gender, race, color,
caste, class, ethnicity, or religion.
Nevertheless, in the last couple of years some interdisciplinary
disability studies analysis has started making its way into
postcolonial criticism. Comparative postcolonial theorists like Clare
Barker, in her groundbreaking analysis on postcolonial literature
and disability studies, emphasizes on the urgency to incorporate
“disability perspectives into mainstream postcolonial theory [as it]
is in this sense not simply a niche interest or a rarefied addition to
the field’s already wide-ranging concerns, but a point of immediate
relevance to many postcolonial subjects and experiences. Equally,
this study contributes to the cultural diversification of disability
criticism…that do not always travel well to postcolonial locations”
Disabled Bodies Matter 93
(6). While elaborating further on how the fields of disability studies
and postcolonial theory need to collaborate for more inclusive and
relevant criticism for its members and scholars, Barker lays down a
more optimistic approach than some of her counterparts in disability
studies, such as Mitchell and Snyder, who coined the term Narrative
Prosthesis that sees the representations of disability in literature,
“first, as a stock feature of characterization and, second, as an
opportunistic metaphorical device”(47). Counter-arguing some of
the popular claims in disability studies on the “overemphasis on
metaphors” (Barker 20) that see the representations of disability
in literature “as a crutch upon which literary narratives lean for
their representational power, disruptive potentiality, and analytical
insight,” (Narrative Prosthesis 49), Barker contends to look at
metaphors as an intricate technique of postcolonial writing that,
if employed sensitively, “can enhance awareness that disability is
a complex, resonant human condition, and is frequently used to
establish empathetic connections between characters, communities
and readers” (20). Dismissing the “‘prosthetic’ readings of texts
[that] may signal a scarcity of critical methodologies with which
to analyze disability representations more holistically,” (21) Barker
argues “that our strategies for ‘reading’ disability must be updated to
account for the multiple corporeal and cultural vectors of difference
offered by postcolonial writing” (6).
With an aim to supplement Barker’s perspectives on the
constructive integration of postcolonial theory and disability
studies, this chapter does an interdisciplinary reading of the
novels of acclaimed postcolonial author, Rohinton Mistry. While
the postcolonial issues of identity remain central to his writings,
this chapter focuses on the politicized “disability identity” that
remains relatively less discussed and probably submerged with
other subaltern identities in the criticism of his work. Building his
narratives in and around the Indian Parsi community1 and their
struggle for survival in postcolonial India, Mistry weaves an intricate
web of stories that highlight the disabling effects of the postcolonial
environment on its subjects. By doing a survey analysis of Mistry’s
trilogy on postcolonial disability narratives, this chapter examines

94 Critical Insights
postcolonial disability as a political identity category through a
more inclusive and interdisciplinary lens of postcolonial theories
and disability studies that questions the western “hegemony of
normalcy”2 (Davis 6). Using the postcolonial notions of fluidity and
liquidity of identities, this chapter deconstructs the modern binaries
of Self and Other in postcolonial disability narratives where Self and
Other not just frequently interchange their positions, but also join
forces against the western audience/reader, who fail to recognize
the role of postcolonial history and socio-cultural environment in
shaping these identities, as the ultimate Other.
Among the many real and imagined insecurities that bother the
Parsi community in Mistry’s literary writing —for example their
decreasing numbers, the clashes between traditional and modern
Parsis, declining interest in Zoroastrianism and Parsi culture among
the younger generation, increasing interreligious marriages, the
perpetual nostalgia of the British Empire, and the complex identity-
crisis of the Parsis as a doubly marginalized community— one
cannot help notice the expansive and ubiquitous presence of disabled
and diseased bodies in Mistry’s community-based narratives, which
he also suggests to be studied as fictional socio-anthropological
reserve3. Reflecting on the Parsi community’s apprehensions of
“feeling” disabled onto the phenomenology of “being” disabled,
Mistry delineates convoluted circles of metaphysical and metaphoric
experience of disability in his novels.
Mistry’s first novel, Such a Long Journey, spins a complex web
of insecurities and challenges faced by the Parsi community that finds
itself on the peripheries in the hegemonic construction of national
identity in postcolonial India. The novel is set in the crucial phase
of Indian history, that is to say the milieu of the early 1970s where
India’s plurality was challenged by growing Hindu fundamentalism
in the face of increasing internal and external political crisis. Mistry
takes us into the cramped spaces of the apartment of Gustad Noble, a
middle class Parsi resident of the Parsi housing colony—Khodadad
Building. Gustad walks with a limp as he broke his left hip in a
road accident nine years prior. However, the more he sees his fellow
neighbor, Tehmul, who, as Mistry writes, is a “supremely pathetic

Disabled Bodies Matter 95


example of hip-fracture victims who had had the misfortune to be
treated by conventional methods, condemned to years on crutches
and walking-sticks, with nothing to look forward to but a life of
pain,” the more comfort Gustad takes in being left with just a “slight
limp” that may sometimes turn into an “ugly hobble” (Such a Long
Journey 29-30). Despite acquiring a practiced controlled grip on his
limp, Gustad still finds it “slipping its usual containment” from time
to time making him either “sway wildly” or “more than usual” in
stressful situations (Such a Long Journey 165).
Tehmul, however, unlike Gustad, was not that lucky after his
hip-fracture as he was “condemned to years on crutches and walking-
sticks, with nothing to look forward to but a life of pain” (Such a
Long Journey 30). In addition to acquiring a “rolling gait and twisted
hip … something [also] went wrong inside [his head] due to the jolt
of the accident” leaving Tehmul with mental and physical disability
(Such a Long Journey 30). Although Gustad empathizes and bonds
with Tehmul over the physical limp that they both acquired, he
also situates himself at, what Rosemarie Garland-Thomson calls,
the normate4 position of the Self/Other dichotomy grappling with
the ambiguous “discomforting dissonance” for Tehmul’s disability
that becomes a site to “displace anxieties and uncertainties about
[his] own identit[y]” (Extraordinary Bodies 61). Tehmul is further
marginalized due to his limited ability to communicate like “others”
with an extensive vocabulary and at a “normal” speed. Unlike
Gustad, Tehmul is a victim of his disability that is more pronounced
and visible, making him an easy prey to the “hierarchies within…
communities where some disabilities are viewed as less assimilable
than others” (Narrative Prosthesis 3).
Like a parasite, Tehmul is often shooed away by his neighbors
or used for entertainment purposes by the children in the building
compound. He is exploited at the hands of Dilnavaz (Gustad’s wife)
and Miss Kutpitia (fellow neighbor) in their experiment to cast
away the evil-spell from the Noble family. He is subjected to intense
physical and psychological violence at the hands of the prostitutes
at the brothel. And finally, when Gustad catches Tehmul violating
his daughter’s doll, he is shamed as some abnormal hypersexual

96 Critical Insights
monster with deviant sexual fantasies and aberrant sexual organs
(Such a Long Journey 303). Gustad’s persistence in coercing Tehmul
to feel ashamed of his sexuality reflects the paradoxical anxieties of
identity politics that see “shame” not just as a yardstick to define
normate bodies, but also something whose absence can generate a
dehumanized and objectified Other.
Anita Ghai, who asks us to consider the work of Albert Memmi
as a useful benchmark to understand the process of Othering in
postcolonial scholarship, claims “the creation of a ‘devalued’
Other is a necessary precondition for the creation of the able-
bodied rational subject who is the all-pervasive agency that sets
the terms of the dialogue” (273). Therefore, Tehmul, in Anupama
Iyer’s analysis of Susan Sontag, is like any other mentally disabled
fictional character who is “not allowed the dignity of ordinary
abilities, difficulties and assets. Instead, [his] disability bears what
Susan Sontag (1983) calls ‘the metaphorical and symbolic weight’
of the images assigned to [him]” (132). Projecting his anxieties on
Tehmul and empathizing with him from a commonly shared space of
the physical limp; Gustad, however, struggles to hold on to his end
of the Self/Other binary. He fails, slips, permeates, and vacillates
between the two categories echoing Homi Bhabha’s notion of
identity that is fluid—“never an a priori, nor a finished product; it is
only ever the problematic process of access to an image of totality”
(51). Thus, even if Mistry initially assigns Tehmul and Gustad a
“programmatic (even deterministic) identity” (Narrative Prosthesis
50), “the textual stumbling” occurs and “the restless dialectical of
representation…unmoor [them] from the programmatic location
and place [them] elsewhere” (Quayson 25-27). Although Tehmul’s
character is delineated inside the myopic framework of stereotypes
and appears to be merely a narrative prosthesis, such character
construction, according to Bhabha, is “a much more ambivalent text
of projection and introjection…to construct the positionalities and
oppositionalities” of social hegemony (81-82).
These positionalities literally shift and permeate boundaries
for both Gustad and Tehmul (the Self/Other) in the climax scene of
the novel with Tehmul’s accidental death during the violence and

Disabled Bodies Matter 97


Gustad cradling him single handedly without faltering despite his
limp (Such a Long Journey 335). Gustad’s “superhuman” feat in
taking Tehmul’s body back to his apartment with a “single mighty
effort” while all the neighbors watch him in awe and admiration turns
Gustad both into a freak and a hero (Such a Long Journey 335). This
precipitous departure of Gustad’s limp and disability in general from
the novel and its transformation into extraordinariness is symbolic
at many levels. Although initially it appears as a reinforcement of
the superiority of the “able-bodied” culture by perpetuating the
socio-cultural stigmatization and inadequacy of a disabled body,
on close examination, this homogenization of disabled bodies into
becoming an extraordinary body can be seen as “camouflage” and
“ironic compromise” (Bhabha 85-86).
Bhabha argues, “the discourse of mimicry [to be] constructed
around an ambivalence; in order to be effective, mimicry must
continually produce it slippage, its excess, its difference…Mimicry
is, thus the sign of a double articulation; a complex strategy of
reform, regulation and discipline, which ‘appropriates’ the Other as
it visualizes power. Mimicry is also the sign of the inappropriate,
however,…which coheres the dominant strategic function of
[hegemonic] power” (86). It is in this liminal space of the spectacle
of otherness—Gustad, without a limp or hobble, carrying the
burden of disability on his shoulders, disrupts yet integrates into
the ambivalent world of postcolonial identities. Thus, even if
Mistry seems to be deploying disability as a narrative prosthesis
or a “deterministic vehicle of characterization,” disability does not
“operate…as the textual obstacle that causes the literary operation
of open-endedness to close down or stumble” (Narrative Prosthesis
50, emphasis in original). Rather, the complex end of the novel
leaves the holes open for permeation and amalgamation of these
broken identities into the national postcolonial identity erasing the
distance between the Self and the Other.
In his second novel, A Fine Balance, Mistry weaves a
paradoxical narrative of metaphorical and metaphysical disability by
interweaving the lives of its characters during the political turmoil
of Indira Gandhi’s Emergency period (1975). Written as a realist

98 Critical Insights
fiction, Mistry delineates a grotesque performance of disability on
the urban landscape and takes his readers far and wide from the Parsi
housing colonies to the dilapidated slums and streets. The central
plot of the novel is woven around the relationship that develops
amongst the four protagonists who are thrown together for reasons
of survival. However, during the course of the novel, the marginal
disabled characters become as important as the main, and disability
seems to be the leitmotif of the novel.
As the novel opens, we find Dina Dalal metaphorically
“paralyzed” not just as a middle-aged widow but also as a woman
belonging to the marginalized ethnic community of Parsis, who
is toiling hard towards breaking the patriarchal shackles and
maintaining her independence. In her struggle for survival, she
meets two tailors, Om and Isvar, who belong to a lower caste and
are socially and economically “handicapped.” Finally, to make ends
meet, Dina sublets her apartment to Maneck Kohlah, a young Parsi
college student who is battling with his abstract “inability” to help
his family and friends in the wake of the turbulently increasing
Hindu fundamentalism of saffron India. As the four characters begin
to form a utopian accidental family of the Emergency Period, the
narrative complicates itself into multilayers of their intertwined
corporeal journeys and self-reflexive meditation on the state-
sponsored biopolitics. During the course of the narrative, the two
tailors make a new friend in the armless and legless beggar, Shankar,
who becomes a medium to expose the stark postcolonial reality of
nameless disabled bodies that work in the beggar industry and use
their disability for survival.
While Shankar’s bragging about his ability to earn the
“highest profits” for his master due to his (dis)ability reflects on
the disturbing commercialization of disability, it also highlights the
paradox of disabled embodiments that find themselves positioned
at the bottom of the socio-economic hegemonic paradigms. Rather
than feeling victimized by the discomforting stare of the onlookers,
Shankar “take[s] charge of [the] staring situation” (Staring: How
we Look 84), dismissing the hegemonic authority of the viewers by
deliberately indulging in the act of “self-enfreakment” (Barker 109).

Disabled Bodies Matter 99


He admits exaggerating his crawling and wriggling to arouse “pity
and curiosity” among the onlookers (A Fine Balance 322). In doing
so, Shankar actually objectifies his audience and plays with their
vulnerabilities by blurring the lines between the “cultural other” and
the “cultural self.” Thus Shankar, as Frantz Fanon quotes Merleau-
Ponty in Black Skin, White Masks, becomes “a being who has
acquired consciousness of himself and of his [disabled] body, who
has attained the dialectic of subject and object, [his disabled] body
is no longer a cause of the structure of consciousness, it has become
an object of consciousness” (200). Comparing the disabled body’s
advantages over an able-bodied person in the business of beggary,
the beggar not only questions the aesthetic notions of “normalcy,”
but also seizes the opportunity for subjectivity or agency in the
postcolonial political consciousness.
In this blatant performance of his disability, the disabled
beggar revises his “status and identity” not as the discriminated
urban “Other,” but as a valuable commodity. However, in a nation
of billions of people below the poverty line, disability and its
performance do not just appear to be a lucrative and easy-to-acquire
venture, but, like any other business, can become mundane and
monotonous. Therefore, the beggarmaster has to be competitive as
well as ingenious. In Shankar’s words:

Beggarmaster has to be very imaginative. If all beggars have the


same injury, public gets used to it and feels no pity. Public likes to see
variety. Some wounds are so common, they don’t work anymore. For
example, putting out a baby’s eyes will not automatically earn money.
Blind beggars are everywhere. But blind, with eyeballs missing,
face showing empty sockets, plus nose chopped off—now anyone
will give money for that. Diseases are also useful. A big growth on
the neck or face, oozing pus. That works well. Sometimes, normal
people become beggars if they cannot find work, or if they fall sick.
But they are hopeless, they stand no chance against professionals.
Just think—if you have coin to give, and you have to choose between
me and another beggar with a complete body. (322-323)

100 Critical Insights


For beggarmaster, the spectacle of disability is an art form
that requires genuine inventiveness and imagination. In addition
to finding the appropriate “unique” bodies to play the suitable
roles in this spectacle, these bodies also undergo “professional
modifications” and training to deliver a convincing performance
that can instigate distressing emotions among the audience so that
they can donate generously to the most compelling case of misery
and mutilation (A Fine Balance 447). Other than the professional
training and makeover, the “backstage” work also includes bribing
the police, finding the best place to beg, making sure no one takes
away that place, feeding the beggars despite their collection and
also pampering the best or favorite performers by treating them with
sweetmeats or taking them to brothels or getting them groomed with
a full luxury treatment (A Fine Balance 322). Consequently, in this
case, the urban landscape of the city transforms into a dynamic stage
where beggarmaster places his disabled (actors) strategically to
generate maximum profits. Therefore, even if these bodies emerge
out of hierarchal socio-political and economic exploitation, the
beggar celebrates the radical possibilities for disabled bodies like him
in the postcolonial “economy of visual difference” (Extraordinary
Bodies 8).
As the novel progresses, the two tailors, Om and Ishvar, find
themselves embroiled in the state-sponsored biopolitics. In a forced
vasectomy operation, Ishvar is castrated and Om succumbs to the
infection that leads to an amputation of his legs. Material disability
replaces their metaphorical disability, and for reasons of survival,
the tailors turn to beggary with their new bodies. Cathartically, Dina
Dalal’s metaphorical disability is further displaced by her anorexia,
while Maneck Kohlah also capitulates to his depression followed
by a suicide. The novel ends with a tragic epic image of disability
when the two tailors go back to the city and engage in the spectacle
of their disabled bodies at the strategic locations to provoke the
psychosocial reaction from the passersby.
Unlike Mistry’s first novel, disability does not disappear or
“needs to be cured” in the final scenes of A Fine Balance (Singh
85). The acceptance and presentation of disability as a persistent

Disabled Bodies Matter 101


postcolonial reality and an integral politicized identity challenge the
trite literary norms about the representations of disability in literature.
Mistry, in his unique approach to disability, presents the complexity
of divorcing metaphorical value of disability from its materialistic
understanding in postcolonial criticism of disabled bodies. While the
hostile backdrop of the Emergency period highlights the diseased
biopolitics of the country, “disability,” ironically becomes an ability
or “a strategy of survival within compulsory systems” (Butler
139). As a disability narrative and a documentary to the horrors of
the infamous Emergency, A Fine Balance thus both testifies and
critiques the paradox of the diseased nation and the survival of its
ailing and disabled citizens.
In Mistry’s third novel, Family Matters, disability hits home
both literally and figuratively, blurring the lines between the private
and public space by challenging the Self/Other dichotomy. The novel
weaves a sensory commentary on postcolonial anxiety of ageing,
loss, nostalgia, disabling illness, and caretaking in the backdrop of
the aftermath of 1992 communal riots. Nariman Vakeel is a seventy-
nine-year-old retired distinguished professor of English who is
suffering from debilitating Parkinson’s disease and osteoporosis.
During one of his evening strolls, he breaks his ankle. This accident
not only leads to his leg becoming encased in plaster of Paris from
his thigh down to his toes, but also confines him to bed for the
rest of his life. As a result, his stepchildren—Jal and Coomy, who
share Nariman’s seven-room plush apartment with him— have to
unwillingly bear the burden of his caretaking. However, they soon
run out of patience and become overwhelmed by the demanding
job of caretaking. Through devious machinations they foist off their
stepfather into the tiny two-room apartment of their younger half-
sister Roxana, Nariman’s biological daughter, who lives with her
husband, Yezad Chenoy, and her two almost teenage sons Murad
and Jehangir. The presence of Nariman’s disabled body—with its
odors, excretions, and secretions in the close quarters of Roxana and
Yezad’s tiny apartment—combined with the additional responsibility
of his round-the-clock care with Yezad’s meager salary and looming

102 Critical Insights


job insecurity exacts a toll not just on the Chenoy family but also
escalates tensions among Nariman’s children.
Unlike Mistry’s previous novels, disability is more palpable
and relatable in Family Matters as it literally hits home. Although
Nariman’s disability is what drives the narrative forward, the focus
of the narrative soon shifts on the arduous task of caregiving that is
often overshadowed in the narratives of disability. Since Nariman is
living with his unmarried stepchildren, the strenuous responsibility of
looking after him falls on them. Finding themselves unprepared and
inexperienced to take on the huge responsibility of giving intimate
care to their stepfather, the novel not just highlights the predicament
of the caregivers but also provides a critical commentary on the lack
of social security and support for the health and well being of the
elderly disabled population as well as their caregivers in postcolonial
countries. Reflecting on the culture of caregiving in postcolonial
nations where the duties of caregiving are mostly shared by women,
Mistry focuses on the impact of such patriarchal ideologies on
postcolonial identities. As Nariman’s body becomes more and more
immobile, it produces odors and secretions that engulf the liminal
spaces of the apartment, transforming his once healthy “clean and
proper” (Kristeva 8) body into a site of “disgust and repugnance”
(Hughes 21-22). Coomy is disgusted to touch the bedpan and
embarrassed to see her stepfather naked. She is frustrated in the
obligated caregiving and “can’t help hating” her stepfather (Family
Matters 75). On the other hand, Roxana never complains and feels
grateful for the opportunity to look after her bedridden father.
Nevertheless, both the women endure long-term physical and
mental effects of their “unpaid and invisible labor” (Hooyman and
Gonyea 6). Whereas Coomy leads a lonely life with no friends
and no children of her own, Roxana’s marriage is burdened by her
caretaking duties. Caregiving for a dependent disabled in the liminal
spaces of postcolonial houses not only blurs the lines between the
public and private space, but also propels the caregivers to the social
peripheries diminishing the distance between the self and the Other.
According to Murthy, “In India, caregiving is largely by the family
members as there are extremely limited alternative institutional

Disabled Bodies Matter 103


facilities and welfare supports for those with long-standing illnesses
… In addition, in India, most families prefer to care for the ill person
at all stages of illness. However, the larger societal changes in the
country are placing significant demands on the caregivers. Two of
the changes making caregiving difficult are living in urban areas and
living in nuclear families. The lack of a supportive community in
urban areas and the limited resources in a nuclear family make caring
a demand on the caregivers and places their mental health at risk”
(10). As concluded in several investigations, the long-term impact on
caregivers of disabled family members range from physical to mental.
As isolating as this “disability experience” is for the disabled people,
it is also, if not to the same extent, marginalizes and oppresses their
caregivers too. Overburdened by the humongous caregiving duties and
overbearing medical expenses, many caregivers are not just dealing
with their own invisible disability like depression or psychological
distress, that is often left undiagnosed or even unacknowledged,
but also engage in fighting an isolated battle against the embedded
discrimination within the disabled as well as able-bodied community
that do not consider their “disability experience” as the ‘real’ one.
And it is precisely at this juncture that Mistry’s novel Family Matters
becomes a compelling critical commentary on the state of caregivers
and postcolonial healthcare system and provides an alternate insight
into the paradox of identifying the self/other in postcolonial disability
narratives.
In exploring the phenomenology of “being” disabled to “feeling”
disabled in and around the Parsi households, Mistry, in his three
novels, not just challenges the western “cultural model of disability”
(Cultural Locations of Disability 5) but also presents the “complex,
ambivalent, contradictory mode of representation,” of postcolonial
disability identities that demand that we, the readers, “not only …
extend our critical and political objectives but that we change the
object of analysis itself” (Bhabha 70). The Other in this sense is thus
not unfamiliar or uncanny, but rather a reflection of Self. Instead of
placing metaphor and material representations of disability as the
two ends of a dichotomy, this chapter echoes Barker’s argument
to read the postcolonial novels through interdisciplinary lenses

104 Critical Insights


that are more accepting and sensitive to postcolonial culture. By
not suggesting to look at Mistry’s novels as dystopian or grotesque
carnival of disfigured and diseased bodies, this chapter, in fact,
argues to read his work through a unique alternate viewpoint that
challenges the western “hegemony of normalcy” and suggests to see
disability as the new (postcolonial) normal (Davis 6).

Notes
1. The Parsi community is a miniscule ethnic-religious minority of
Zoroastrians who were forced to flee Persia (now Iran) in the seventh
century to escape persecution at the hands of Islamic invasion. They
currently constitute about 0.006% of the total population of India
and according to the census survey of 2011, they continue to shrink
in numbers at a plummeting rate of around 18% from their numbers
in the census survey of 2001 in India (Sunavalal). Since their arrival
in India, the Parsi community is not only the most economically
successful ethnic minority, but also the community that has most
successfully escaped the intercommunal tensions. Parsis fondly
remember the British colonialism due to the many privileges they
enjoyed as colonial elites and feel uncomfortable with their new status
in postcolonial India. In modern times, they prefer to live together as
a community in secluded housing colonies that only inhabit people of
Zoroastrian faith.
2. Lennard J. Davis coined the phrase “hegemony of normalcy” to
explain the phenomena of proliferation of disabled characters in the
literary work that he believes is a result of the hegemony of normalcy.
He argues, “This normalcy must constantly be enforced in public
venues (like the novel), must always be creating and bolstering
its image by processing, comparing, constructing, deconstructing
images of normalcy and the abnormal” (10).
3. During one of his interviews, Mistry told Ali Lakhani that he hopes
his writing will “preserve the record” of Parsi culture and rituals
when they are wiped off of the face of the earth in a few years.
4. Normate is a term coined by Rosemarie Garland-Thomson that
usually “designates the social figure through which people can
represent themselves as definitive human beings. Normate, then, is the
constructed identity of those who, by way of the bodily configurations

Disabled Bodies Matter 105


and cultural capital they assume, can step into a position of authority
and wield the power it grants them” (8).

Works Cited
Barker, Clare. Postcolonial Fiction and Disability: Exceptional Children,
Metaphor and Materiality. Palgrave Macmillan, 2011. Print.
Bhabha, Homi. The Location of Culture. Routledge, 1994. Print.
Butler, Judith P. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity.
Routledge, 1990. Print.
Davis, Lennard J. “Introduction: Disability, Normality and Power.” The
Disability Studies Reader. Taylor and Francis, 2013. Print.
Garland-Thomson, Rosemarie. Staring: How We Look. Oxford UP, 2009.
Print.
__________. Extraordinary Bodies: Figuring Physical Disability in
American Culture and Literature. Columbia UP, 1997. Print.
“General Description on the United Nations Enable.” U.N Enable. Page 4.
Web. http://www.un.org/esa/socdev/enable/diswpa04.htm.
Ghai, Anita. “Engaging with Disability with Postcolonialism.” Disability
and Social Theory: New Developments and Directions, Edited by D.
Goodley, B. Hughes, and L. Davis. Palgrave Macmillan, 2012, pp
270-286. Print.
Hooyman, Nancy R., and Judith Gonyea. Feminist Perspectives on Family
Care: Policies for Gender Justice. SAGE Publications, 1995. Print.
Hughes, Bill. “Civilising Modernity and the Ontological Invalidation of
Disabled People.” Disability and Social Theory: New Developments
and Directions. Edited by D. Goodley, B. Hughes, and L. Davis.
Palgrave Macmillan, 2012, pp 17-32. Print.
Iyer, Anupama. “Depiction of Intellectual Disability in Fiction.” Advances
in Psychiatric Treatment: Journal of Continuing Professional
Development. 2007, Vol. 13, pp. 127-133. Print.
Kristeva, Julia. Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection. Columbia UP,
1982. Print.
Lakhani, Ali. ‘The Long Journey of Rohinton Mistry’, Interview at
the Vancouver International Writers’ Festival. Canadian Fiction
Magazine, 1989. Print.

106 Critical Insights


Murthy, R. Srinivasa. “Caregiving and Caregivers: Challenges and
Opportunities in India.” Indian Journal of Social Psychiatry, 2016,
Vol. 32, Issue 1, pp 10-18.
Mistry, Rohinton. Family Matters. McClelland & Stewart, 2003. Print.
__________. A Fine Balance. First Vintage International Edition, 1997.
Print.
__________. Such A Long Journey. Faber and Faber Limited, 1992. Print.
Mitchell, David T., and Sharon L. Snyder. Narrative Prosthesis: Disability
and the Dependencies of Discourse. U of Michigan P, 2000. Print.
__________. Cultural Locations of Disability. U of Chicago P, 2006. Print.
Murray, Stuart, and Clare Barker. “Disabling Postcolonialism: Global
Disability Cultures and Democratic Criticism.” The Disability Studies
Reader. Edited by Lennard J. Davis, Taylor and Francis, 2013. Print.
Singh, Prabhat K. The Indian English Novel of the New Millennium.
Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2013. Print.
Sunavalal, Nergish. “Alarming 18% Decline in Parsi Population since
2001 Census has Community Worried.” The Times of India, City,
Web. timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/mumbai/Alarming-18-decline-
in-Parsi-population-since-2001-census-has-community-worried/
articleshow/53387279.cms. Accessed 26 July 2016.
Quayson, Ato. Aesthetic Nervousness: Disability and the Crisis of
Representation. Columbia UP, 2007. Print.

Disabled Bodies Matter 107


Vyankatesh Madgulkar: A Thematic Signature
of Postcolonial India Through the Changing
Construction of the Rural Structure
Anuradha Malshe

Raison d’etre
Vyankatesh Madgulkar was a frontrunner of Marathi literature.
He gave a wholly different garb to the Marathi short stories.1
Gangadhar Gadgil, Arvind Gokhale, Purushottam Bhaskar Bhave
and Vyankatesh Madgulkar are considered the four pillars of the
post-modern Marathi short story. Each one handled a particular
genre. Gadgil wrote more about the urban middle-classes whereas
Bhave underlined with extreme finesse the psychological torment,
Gokhale, too, dealt with mental angst. Yet Madgulkar’s genre was
completely different from these three. Although Gadgil, Bhave, and
Gokhale all looked inward toward the self, Madgulkar looked out
toward one’s surroundings. He was born in a rural setting and later
migrated to the city and lived there for the rest of his life.
Vyankatesh Madgulkar was born in 1927 in a pre-independence
India, and his writings and themes straddled the divide between
the colonial and postcolonial time periods. Vyankatesh Madgulkar
initially wrote about the villages and rural people. He discussed
caste, economy, and families. Never once did he waver from the
subliminal level of underlying angst that was the recurring theme
of rural life. His early life experiences were beautifully mirrored
in all his short stories. In this way, Madgulkar was a prototype for
early postcolonial social structure. He was born to a family that
had once enjoyed considerable wealth and social influence, but that
had slowly degenerated into a meagre existential living. He was a
younger son amongst eight siblings. Like all families of the time,
his father was the only breadwinner, and thus poverty was a way
of life. His mother was considerably harassed and tired. She had
to bear successive pregnancies and raised eight children single-
handedly. Common to the time period, and particularly in case of
108 Critical Insights
the Madgulkar family, there were times when his father had to live
in urban locations for employment opportunities, while his family
stayed behind in their ancestral village.
Madgulkar joined in the struggle against British colonial rule
as a freedom fighter when he was around 17 years old. As a result,
he dropped out of schooling and was on the run from the police.
Unable to complete formal education, Madgulkar moved to Mumbai
in search of employment. Eventually he migrated and settled in the
urban center of Pune.
Madgulkar’s short stories, his novelettes, and even his hunting
stories (in his youth he was a game hunter before becoming a
conservationist later in life) are biographical in nature. He never
travelled into imaginary worlds. He had a rich repertoire of
experiences that he beautifully delineated into his literature. His
short stories were his forte, where he wrote about the rural people,
poverty, droughts, and scarcities. He constructed his stories in a
matter-of-fact writing style. Short pithy sentences and simple, fluid
language were the essence of all his works. His characters were
always real people who experienced real emotions. They would
cry and become depressed by the real-world events, some even
committed suicide. They were no protagonists, no fictionally created
situations. When things happened they were always a natural course
of events. His characters were not fatalistic, but they are never larger
than life either. Like Ruskin Bond, Madgulkar too dealt with typical
Indian imagery. The rural structures he depicted were tiny and
drab, highlighting the real lived experience of meager resources.
The villages were not quaint, picturesque postcard images. Rather,
they were drought-stricken lands filled with hardships. His stories
showed how the entire social fabric of life’s structure suffers. This
act in itself aligns Madgulkar’s work under postcolonial phenomena.
While portraying subconscious struggles, postcolonial Indian
literature, particularly Marathi literature, often focuses on the
theme of urbanization and how it railroaded into and over the rural
structures, whereas other emotions experienced by characters become
a compulsive back-drop. Economic reasons are supposedly the main
cause, however, this is often a façade as the real force is change in

Vyankatesh Madgulkar 109


social texture due to the manifold influences of postcolonial India.
As one progresses through various story lines this thematic structure
becomes evident.

Social and Economic Context


Madgulkar was born in colonial India. The social and economic
situation was vastly different than it is today. The differences between
urban and rural societies were stark. Even with the advances of
modern technology, post-Independent India had not reached the tiny
hamlets centered on the locations where all of Madgulkar’s stories
took place. Manufacturing and industrial jobs were nonexistent. The
main income source, or rather the only income source for 95% of the
population, was farming. Importantly, the areas where Madgulkar
set his stories is a particularly arid part of Western Maharashtra.
Frequent and successive droughts depleted the farming income
and reduced the farmers to penury. Family sizes were large and
farms were tiny; utterly unable to subsist even a small family. Low
incomes consequently meant a very low standard of living. Despite
the droughts and poverty, people clung to their farms and homes as
it was the only way of life they knew, refusing to move to cities.
Migration for social and economic betterment, therefore, became a
postcolonial phenomenon.
Literacy was not widespread and frequently broke along
gendered lines. Women had a subordinate role in the household, due
to an entrenched patriarchal social system, as well as general social
conditioning. Women seldom had any say, lacked separate incomes,
were completely uneducated, usually illiterate, were often married
at a very young age, and frequently suffered from oppressive and
aggressive treatment in their marital relationships.
While Madgulkar was growing up and even when he started
writing as a young adult, (he was around 22 years old when his first
short story was published in 1949-1950) the social and economic
situations described above held true across all spectrums of society.
Yet, urbanisation added to this disparity. Compared to the rural
hinterlands, urban centers offered more abundant employment
opportunities, higher incomes, more freedom, better infrastructure,

110 Critical Insights


and most important, anonymity. In an ironic shift, it was the
densely populated urban settings, compared to the more spaced
out rural areas, where one could feel “alone,” due to the severing
of intimate personal links. The theme of rural spacing, played out
in postcolonial settings, occupied a central space in Madgulkar’s
writings, particularly his short stories.

Rural and Urban Divides


Market Road has a simple plot and setting. Vancha is returning home
from the weekly market. This is not the first time that she has been to
the market but today she was delayed as it took her longer to sell all
the produce she had brought with her. She had come to the market
with some other women from her village who apparently waited
for her, but as the day passed and it was getting dark, the women
left. So Vancha now has to walk home by herself, causing a sense
of unease. As she starts walking home, Sukhdev, a man from her
village, passes by. They merely have a nodding acquaintance and as
he is riding a bicycle, Vancha sees no possibility of companionship
on her walk from the market to her rural home. However, it seems
providence played a hand as Sukhdev’s cycle suddenly punctures its
tire and he, too, is forced to walk home.
Initially both are unsure as to whether they should walk together,
as this breaks down social boundaries. They wonder how, if they
speak to each other, it might be perceived by the other person and to
any onlookers. Slowly the ice breaks and they fall into conversation.
Soon they are exchanging confidences. Vancha, an exceptionally
attractive married woman, is extremely unhappy in her marriage.
Not being able to have children has affected her marriage in a very
negative way. Her husband blames her for not being able to conceive
a child, and beats her often. Vancha’s in-laws are unsympathetic, and
her husband is considering marrying again, which would ostracize
Vancha and strip her of any status. Sukhdev, though married with
children of his own, is attracted to Vancha, though Madgulkar subtly
alludes to this attraction at a subliminal level. The story ends in a
purposefully unfinished climax, with Vancha telling Sukhdev that
she is very tired and asks to sit down for a moment.

Vyankatesh Madgulkar 111


What could have been a depressing tale of marital discord turns
into a poignant romance pregnant with deeper layers. Where the
story ends is actually the beginning of the real story for these two
characters. Madgulkar skillfully sketched an imagined version of
a real-life moment, with two people walking home, and with it the
awkwardness of first encounters, a universal human experience. The
story ends just as the two are growing intimate, like an interrupted
conversation or a half finished sentence. In this way the story ends
just when Madgulkar has gained the reader’s full attention and
developed his characters and setting. He abandons Vancha and
Sukhdev to their own story, exiting along with the reader as the real
story just begins. In this way, Market Road serves as a prologue to
an entire thematic journey.
Amongst all four of the short stories examined in this chapter,
only Market Road has a complete rural setting. In a very Madgulkar
way, here too many possibilities are explored without ever being
vulgarly explicit. The attraction felt by Vancha and Sukhdev may
or may not culminate into intimacy and a relationship, though
there is the ever-present potential about which Madgulkar never
explicitly writes. Rather, he only offers charming hints. Vancha
feels depressed and repressed on multiple levels. In keeping with
the social dictate of the time, where having a baby was seen as being
the prime importance of being a woman and a wife, Madgulkar’s
design of making Vancha being unable to have one was a deeply
intimate and personal issue that Madgulkar, through Vancha, made
explicit. He has that issue gnawing at Vancha as the root cause of
all her misery. Having sympathetic in-laws and a husband who acts
as a companion and friend were secondary to her wish for a baby.
The absence of such a caring husband and in-laws only adds to her
feeling of isolation. Vancha is not a city dweller. The bicycle that
Sukhdev rides, perhaps a symbol of modernity and urban factory
work, breaks down, slowing the pace of their journey and focusing
purely within a rural backdrop.
Postcolonial literature constantly harped on the dichotomy of two
Indias; rural and urban. They are portrayed as stark contrasts. Urban
centers were viewed as faceless existences, in spite of how much

112 Critical Insights


everyone aspired to take part in city life. Despite the popular literary
beliefs, cities represented freedom and new ideas for the aspirants.
Madgulkar had his own individual style and beliefs. His characters
were always real people with realistic lives. Therefore, Vancha
never digresses from realism. She never talks of empowerment or
liberation, ideas that were foreign to her setting. She is unhappy at
home and finds comfort in the company of a gentleman who lends a
sympathetic ear. While within the rural setting, Madgulkar explores
the inner isolation one can feel in being so connected, where life’s
most intimate details are common knowledge to her family and
friends. This contrasts to the outward sense of alienation one would
feel when migrating to an urban center.
Perhaps this particular piece of writing is more idealistic
in nature. Madgulkar had a very rural upbringing, migrating to
Kolhapur (an urban center as well as capital place of a princely
state, in the erstwhile British India) in his late teens. So the angst
experienced by Vancha, in a way, is the focal point of a progressive
journey of continuous dynamism. Never in the short story is there
a hint of an extramarital affair. Both Vancha and Sukhdev are not
even looking for passion of any kind. Theirs is a chance meeting
that has the potential to blossom into something else as they travel
down the “Market Road.” The intimate overtones are extremely
subtle. The metaphors used are commonplace, like stars slowly
coming out, the sky getting darker and then once the moon comes
up everything is dappled in silver light. Once again, in his typical
realistic style, Madgulkar never becomes lyrical but manages to
send across the underlying poetry in the situation. Madgulkar was
a famous illustrationist who often designed the book cover artwork
for his own books. The imagery in his writing is brought out with
same fine skill as his drawings. He is not describing a torrid love
affair, neither is it a “happily ever after” fairy tale story. His stories
are seldom designed with a built-in, feel-good factor for the reader.
Being matter-of-fact was his forte. So Vancha and Sukhdev come
across as very mature adults walking their own private roads along a
main thoroughfare connecting the village’s market. Per chance their

Vyankatesh Madgulkar 113


roads cross that becomes or may become a starting point of once
again a mature relationship that need not be entirely physical.
Postcolonial literature explored many varied themes. As
time progressed, portrayals became bolder and sometimes louder.
Madgulkar never subscribed to this genre. He always preferred the
subliminal to overtly vocal. In fact, the journey that begins with
Vancha and in a way is completed with the Bai (Woman), which
is the final point in the voyage and the fourth and final short story
this chapter focuses on. It is a very slowly meandering passage of
subtle progression. It is an expedition from the known (the village)
into the unknown (the urban center) with all that it stands for. The
subtle progression is of ideas, ideologies, morals, and everything
else socially and culturally constructed that, although never being
fully cast off, is at least temporarily set aside.
For the female characters in Madgulkar’s short fiction, each
one of them is at, and offers a window into, a stop in this long-
winding passage of self-realization. In a way these women represent
the torment experienced by the postcolonial woman who was trying
to find her voice and consequently her niche in society. Madgulkar
writes about these themes across three other stories. In Loni ani Vistu
(Butter and Fire) Kamli, and Bai (The Woman), we are shown three
more female characters navigating through the decolonizing period
into India’s postcolonial era. These three stories are ostensibly
romantic tales, yet each one has a subconscious theme that has more
to do with psychological angst than physical depravation. Butter and
Fire centers on the unrequited romance of a post-office writer and a
young illiterate woman, named Chingi, who sends postcards home.
The post-office writer, Raghu falls in love with her but is unable to
find the courage to act. Just as Raghu decides to declare his feelings
and intentions, he gets news that Chingi is in a relationship with her
boss at the textile mill where she is employed.
Kamli is a story of the titular young woman, probably around
22 or 23 years old, who had to leave school to stay at home, but is
now continuing her education in a city far from her village. She
is a student living in a boarding school and seems disinclined to
visit home. Writing in a first person perspective, Madgulkar gives

114 Critical Insights


the reader an account, where Kamli meets the author when both
are travelling home to their village. Here, too, like Market Road,
Kamli and the author have at best a nodding acquaintance. Since the
story is written in the first person, the author’s internal thoughts are
revealed. While he is a few years younger than her, he gets a distinct
feeling that she is attracted to him and yearns for something deeper.
Kamli spends the vacation at home in the village, then travels back
to her school in the city. In response to a letter from the author, Kamli
requests that he ceases writing to her, as all letters are ‘read’ by the
school’s hostel warden, and she does not wish to be scandalized
because of their correspondence. Years later the author learns that
Kamli has remarried and settled down.
Kamli and Chingi share some common points. Both women
are from a tiny rural village, both have had no prior exposure to
the outside world, have had very limited or no freedom, and are
exploring the world in their own way. In adding an overarching
connection, Madgulkar writes both Kamli and Chingi as widows,
thus providing the socio-economic explanation for why each has
moved from rural villages to an urban city. This shared experience
also underscores that both women are possibly looking for the same
things in life, or are at least starting out from the same situation.
Yet, migration to the city has affected them in different ways. Kamli
attends school, continuing her incomplete education, while Chingi
finds employment. Back home both are still attached to a part of an
extended family structure with their respective brothers and their
families. Through this, both women are considered, and are treated
as, a second-class citizens. Their lives are entangled with their village
roots and the confines of the social rural settings. Kamli travels to
Pune while Chingi to Mumbai. Be it for employment or education,
this literal movement signals independence for these characters as
well as the reader, which in itself was a novel experience.
Here, once again, Madgulkar is not very explicit about their
desires. In fact, they never openly speak about what aspects in their
lives are causing them such anxiety. Kamli is extremely talkative
and speaks of everything. The author gets to know more about her
life on the bus journey that they take, which is almost equal to what

Vyankatesh Madgulkar 115


she knows herself. Once they are established in the village, she again
keeps visiting the author on some very paltry pretexts or sometimes
on no pretext all together. However, never once does she speak her
mind apart from long sighs accompanied by long faces, which the
author notes. Yet, her trivial chatter betrays her true intentions. She
repeatedly describes her friend at school who remarried and had a
baby. The implications are clear. Once again, in very Madgulkar
way, the physical yearnings though a presence just under the surface
remains well shrouded. Kamli needs her own home, husband, and
children. She is looking for a companion and stability, and most
important, independence, which allows her at least a moderate
degree of freedom.
The case of Chingi is very similar. She, too, hankers for the
same things but her background, upbringing, and social context
are vastly different from Kamli. Her migration to the city is not
to continue education but to gain employment. Money represents
independence, as the corollary to that meant not merely poverty but
probably complete subjugation in a distasteful domestic scenario,
which in all likelihood was presumably what she was experiencing
when she was part of an extended family back in her village. There, as
a dependent widowed sister, Chingi had no rights, many restrictions,
and a long list of domestic chores.
Both of these women have come to the city. Initially the new
situation bewilders them but slowly they seem to adapt very well.
The adaptation, too, happens on multiple levels that is beautifully
sketched by Madgulkar in seemingly trivial details that only an
artist could paint. The way they dress, the way they style their hair,
their gestures, even the way they walk changes when they adapt
to an urban life. Slowly each step is more confident. Gone is the
shy, timid look in their eyes, and first glances become bolder. That
each of these women chat up complete male strangers is a testament
to their newly gained confidence. Madgulkar meets Kamli on her
way home from school. Here she is fully urbanized in looks and
manner. But once she is re-established in her family home in the
village, she is compelled to revert back to her old ways. The reader
sees the internal conflict, as she keeps repeatedly telling the author

116 Critical Insights


that she should never have come home for vacation. In the case of
Chingi, once she is established in the city she never goes back. Her
transformation, though equally gradual and subtle, is nevertheless
evident. For someone who knew no other life than drudgery and
dependence, having her own income is a luxury beyond words.
Chingi works in a textile mill as an unskilled worker. Her income
was certainly low, but for her, it afforded a sense of infinite freedom.
The same freedom Kamli is trying to achieve via her education,
though in Kamli, Madgulkar leaves her story arc to conclude outside
the pages of his text, mirroring the conclusion of Market Road.
The final short story discussed in this chapter is titled Bai
(The Woman). Here, the most poignant aspect of the story is that
the female protagonist has no name. She is a schoolteacher in her
forties. She eventually marries a colleague but that relationship
soon crumbles. All throughout the story she is merely referred to as
“Bai.” In a way this story is a natural progression of Madgulkar’s
short fiction. Unlike Vancha, the unnamed Bai has always been a
city dweller, completely anonymous in her setting. Unlike Kamli
or Chingi, Bai has not migrated to an urban life but has been
born and raised inside of one. However, like Kamli and Chingi,
Bai too is a widow. Interestingly, Madgulkar has created Bai as a
much older woman than Kamli and Chingi, yet assails her with a
similar torment. Whereas Kamli and Chingi are clear in their minds
about their needs, Bai, though older and established, is unsure and
confused. Bai confuses her yearnings with a twisted sense of what
is right and wrong. Even when she marries a fellow teacher she is
incapable of accepting the relationship in its entirety. Though his
wife, she refuses to live with her husband or to have a life together.
Rather she tries to slice the relationship into “convenient” pieces.
Initially her new husband gives in but eventually his own domestic
commitments take over. His regular visitations at the outset become
occasional. While saddened by his more frequent absences, Bai
does not fully understand what went wrong or what caused it.
She is unable to comprehend a future she may have lost. Yet, Bai
is actually a free agent. She is not encumbered with disapproving
relatives or a distasteful husband, unlike Vancha in Market Road,

Vyankatesh Madgulkar 117


so Bai has a better chance of achieving freedom and happiness. The
same independence that the anonymity of city life afforded to Kamli
and Chingi, was Bai’s from the outset. Yet, by being born into it, she
has not earned it and is, therefore, unable to grasp it.
It is a fundamental passage of migration that always takes place
on a subtle subconscious level. In case of Vancha, the road to the
Market brought about a change in her life or at the very least the
potential for change. Vancha’s tale takes place on a more romantic
plane, where her inner tribulations are mirrored in an understated
manner. She never openly asks for what she desires, but Sukhdev
is very aware of her expectations as well as their fallouts. Vancha
and Sukhdev’s story has more lyrical and stylized elements. Yet it
is a realistic portrayal of real life, where both characters are mature
enough to understand the consequences of what might take place.
Madgulkar plays with traces of a romantic interlude, while leaving
his characters to their own devices. Here the rurality that embodied
charm and idealism in the early postcolonial period plays a pivotal
role. What could become a torrid affair actually develops in to a
slightly wistful stanza. The same dreamy rhetoric is maintained
throughout the entire piece, playing out exclusively in a rural setting.
However, the natural progression of the same charming story
transforms itself into something different when placed in an urban
context. Kamli and Chingi are prototypical embodiments of this
change. Where Vancha’s anguish is pensive and endearing, Kamli’s
torment comes across as more pathetic. Her efforts to woo the author
and at the same time maintain a decorous distance take away all the
wistful charm of Vancha. In a way it depicts the realism of post-
independent India. The entire social fabric of the rural structure
suffering in the process of urbanization stands as a completely
postcolonial phenomenon. Kamli and Chingi reflect it back to
the reader in very effective ways. Village and rurality represented
allure of an idyllic existence. Literature set the city and everything
urban as the proverbial big bad wolf. The crumbling of the rural
structure was believed to be almost akin to a cultural loss. Although
true on some level, the anonymity of the urban structures accorded
an immense freedom that was essential to both Kamli and Chingi.

118 Critical Insights


Vancha, having never experienced the move to urbanization, was
totally unaware of freedom. It is fitting that her story ends before
she can perform any acts of agency other than asking to sit and rest.
She did not physically migrate to the city but her inner angst was
propelling her to embrace the same subconscious struggle that Bai,
Chingi or Kamli were willfully taking on. The same sort of liberation
was possible even for Bai. She tried to clutch at it, even if fleetingly.
Bai is very different and vastly more mature, generationally, than
the other three. But with age she is trapped in an urban bourgeois
psychology that actually prevents her from obtaining what could be
a better and fulfilling relationship. Vancha is completely alien to the
same bourgeois ideas and so does not hesitate to look at happiness
in the eye, illustrated by her gazes at Sukhdev as he pushes his
bicycle alongside her. Kamli too makes an attempt at accessing the
new bourgeois ideas through education, while Chingi tries to buy
into it through employment. Each of these women travel their own
private road of struggles and independence. The migration, or more
accurately displacement, of ideas takes place on a variety of planes,
but the underlying theme of urbanization is evident and is a silent
character within these three stories.
From the initial starting point delineated in Market Road,
appropriately titled after a route of movement towards urban
economies, the progression Madgulkar takes the readers along
is a meandering passage that returns full circle in Bai. Here
the transformation is already complete. Bai’s whole portrayal
is completely urban. She is educated, has a job (fittingly she
is a schoolteacher, bringing the urban twins of education and
employment, or Kamli and Chingi, together), yet she stays by
herself, unencumbered by familial responsibilities or restrictions.
Even when Bai decides to remarry, it is completely her decision,
thus showcasing her urban agency. She does not have to either ask
for permission or wait for a sanctioned period of time, nor does she
need to worry about displeasing her relatives. She has the freedom,
the liberty, and the independence all the other three characters are
seeking. Kamli and Chingi snatch at it when they leave their rural
settings, with a secret devout promise to themselves never to return

Vyankatesh Madgulkar 119


to their rural upbringing. Vancha is restricted by her situation. She
cannot access urban liberty but she, too, tries to steal some reprieve
from an otherwise oppressive and unhappy domestic situation,
epitomized by Sukhdev and his bicycle. In her circumstances, that
is the best that she can achieve. As Madgulkar ends the story with
them mid-conversation, the reader can only guess at her future and
where, geographically and symbolically, Vancha may end up.
Another vital signpost the reader encounters is Bai’s crumbled
relationship. Unlike Chingi, Bai does not enter into a live-in domestic
partnership. Her bourgeois mind, set by a prototypical by-product
of postcolonial urban values, prompts her to marry her colleague.
The same psychological twist prevents her from leading a life of
togetherness that the other three characters are not afraid to enter into.
Vancha is totally rural and conforms to the village-based patriarchy,
whereas Kamli and Chingi, in spite of their new urban settings,
still retain traces of their previous rural mindsets. Comparatively,
these three are younger and more open to absorb fresh ideas. Bai,
however, falls short on all counts. Her journey is completely on an
urban track from its outset. Bai’s own inner dichotomy engenders
a disintegration of a relationship that could, perhaps, have afforded
her a modicum of happiness. Interestingly, the point where Bai gives
up is the point where the other three begin. In this way, Madgulkar’s
circle completes with Bai; and another circle opens up. When all of
these stories are combined together, Madgulkar sets up the notion
that migration from rural to urban has a twin in migration from
urban to urban. What began as the displacement of notions becomes
a replacement of notions.
Vancha, Kamli, Chingi, and Bai are the four focal points of
this same passage. Madgulkar has adroitly used different metaphors
to portray the morphing of a huge social canvass that maps onto
society at large. In the historical transition of India’s move from
precolonial to postcolonial periods, Madgulkar illuminates the
changes within the social journey. His stories talk of coming-to-age
values. It is not a degeneration of the social fabric but essentially a
new weave. The social fabric remains the same but takes on diverse
hues. Vancha, Kamli, Chingi, and Bai each play a dual role. Their

120 Critical Insights


courage to flee their settings and take ownership of their fates is
born out of their own inner trauma. This allows these four women
to have their own stories. Vancha’s story, with its many pregnant
possibilities rather than overshadowing explict details, creates the
foundation of shift from rural to urban. While with urbanized Bai,
the completed movement becomes an opening of a new circle. Once
again the journey pauses with Bai. And then it renews its progression
with Chingi and Kamli, from urban to more urban.
Madgulkar in his signature restrained style portrayed four points
on a long journey. The urban structure, with its enormous possibilities,
becomes an allegory. The various nuances in the relationships cease
to be mere individual torments; they take on a macro mantle which,
too, is a metaphor for a larger canvass. The dynamism incorporated
by postcolonial lifestyles, fast becoming urbanized, is reflected in the
lives of these four women. Their lives are no longer monolithic, but
rather interconnected. The psychological churnings make their lives
a series of varied data points that can be correlated. The inherent
emotional turmoil adds a certain dynamism to the progression. The
journey continues more as a natural evolution. Urbanization ceases
to be an aspired conclusion. Rather, it continues to be a work in
progress that encompasses the many morphing of the personal
angsts Madgulkar readers themselves would be struggling with in a
postcolonial society.

Note
1. Marathi is the official language of Maharashtra state. Marathi language
is spoken in the state of Maharashtra (with a population of around 110
million out of which 90 million speak Marathi). Marathi literature
is a rich layering of traditions and styles. Earlier Marathi literature
consisted of lyrical and devotional poetry. From the nineteenth
century onwards, Marathi literature became more experimental in
its styling. Poetry took on a more liberated grammatical form, with
contemporary Marathi “literature” consisting of novels, novelettes,
essays, short stories, poetry and thriving theater productions.

Vyankatesh Madgulkar 121


Works Cited
Madgulkar, Vyankatesh. “Bai.” Jambhala che Diwas, (Jamun Days). 3rd
ed., Continental Prakashan, 2002, pp. 85-102. Print.
__________. “Butter and Fire.” Jambhala che Diwas, (Jamun Days). 3rd
ed., Continental Prakashan, 2002, pp. 53-67. Print.
__________. “Kamli.” Goshti Gharakadil (Stories from Home). 3rd ed.,
Utkarsh Prakashan, 2002, pp. 112-119. Print.
__________. “Market Road.” Jambhala che Diwas, (Jamun Days). 3rd ed.,
Continental Prakashan, 2002, pp. 103-113. Print.

122 Critical Insights


Obliteration or Assimilation? Culture Clash
in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart and
Arundhati Roy’s THE God of Small Things
Stuart T A Bolus

Colonialism. The word itself evokes strong emotions depending on


the reader, and some will struggle to put the feeling into words. It is
more than simply an accident of history or an irreversible transfer of
wealth from one nation to another. In some instances, it is loss of the
culture of a people itself. To lose something important to you can be
harrowing but to lose a culture? Can one ever actually recover from
such a separation of self and identity? Or does the old culture persist
despite the introduction of a new culture?
The theme of loss recurs often in postcolonial literature and one
that features prominently in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart and
Arundhati Roy’s The God Of Small Things. A comparative study
of these two texts reveals differences in approach to the clash of
cultures for individual people and a nation as a whole, as they are
forced to either come to terms with the new changes of life or become
stuck in the realization that what once was is gone forever. Through
the shared experiences of colonialism on the African continent and
the South Asian subcontinent, we see the differences in terms of
adapting to cultural exchange and how colonizers not only took
control of territorial spaces through force, but also attempted to
maintain control by converting “hearts and minds” to their cause.
However, although we see the devastating effects cultural shift can
have on people, sometimes, despite the adoption of new cultural
practices and interests, the old culture never truly dies away.
Marginalized people make use of new culture as a source of
protection and in so doing, create a new avenue for opportunity.
Things Fall Apart and The God of Small Things, when analyzed
intertextually, act more like companion pieces, with a similar story
played out in different historical eras and different geographical
settings. Furthermore, both texts are considered masterpieces of
Obliteration or Assimilation? 123
postcolonial literature and should be considered required reading for
anyone who wishes to understand the genre. Yet, they also unmask
the true sorrow and depth of melancholy faced by these postcolonial
authors. After all, both Things Fall Apart and The God of Small
Things were the literary debuts of Achebe and Roy, respectively.
Chinua Achebe (1930-2013) was one of Nigeria’s first authors
to make it to the international stage. The novels he produced
between the years of 1958-1987 showcased Nigeria, its history and
its contemporary struggles to the rest of the world. It is remarkable
that his most famous book, Things Fall Apart was published in 1958,
only two years before Nigeria attained independence, and was one
of the first novels to truly challenge the convention of an African
past. Achebe dispelled the common myth of precolonial African
savagery and of the subtle erosion of any history before contact
with European powers, or in his own words, “that African peoples
did not hear of civilisation for the first time from Europeans” (The
Guardian). Things Fall Apart is the story of a man named Okonkwo
from the small Igbo village of Umuofia. The novel documents how
Okonkwo came to a position of importance within his community,
and, through events that he cannot control (mainly creeping
colonization), becomes an outsider to his people. Achebe writes
about an Africa before Christianity, of the Africans’ encounter with
European peoples from an African perspective. To do so in 1958
was groundbreaking. Achebe shows how African people’s lives are
forever changed by the imposition of colonial rule, conversion to
new religion, and how the old religion of one’s ancestors is swept
aside and vilified by the new order, and thus struggle to find a place
in the new world.
Arundhati Roy (1961-) is a world famous Indian writer/political
activist who first came to international attention when she was
awarded the Man Booker prize for her debut novel The God of Small
Things. Written in 1997, Roy details the life of a family living in
India over two different time periods; 1969 and 1993. She examines
how events in the past shape the lives of the characters. The main
characters are twins Esta and Rahel, their mother Ammu, their Uncle
Chacko, and their handyman, the untouchable Velutha. The family

124 Critical Insights


is torn apart by forbidden love and a desire to maintain status quo.
They seek to reject change, and enforce society’s expectations on
all, even those who choose to go against it. She writes in such a way
to critique postcolonial India. Roy’s story explores, in-depth, the
oppression of the “untouchable class” and the limits placed upon
them, how women have been denied their rights to things such as
education or the choice to love freely, a postcolonial fixation on the
west, and the hypocritical nature of the so-called elites, who still
obey the old ways despite pretending that, being western educated,
they are above such things.

Outcasts
The role of outcasts in society showcases the culture of each in the
two novels. Outcasts in both novels are oppressed and discriminated
against by the rest of their community. The coming of a different
religion and culture allows some of these people a degree of security
and safety. In Things Fall Apart we see that there is a sense of
community among the outcasts and a separate society develops
within the Christian church’s sphere, providing the shunned
members safety and opportunity. Meanwhile, in The God of Small
Things we see the old Hindu practices subvert the new religion and
create an amalgamation of old and new. The old ways are never
truly abandoned and follow the new converts into their new life, yet
prevents them from changing their status.
In Things Fall Apart the people who convert to Christianity at
first are described as the dregs of society. Many in the village are
happy for these people to abandon their ways, as the community,
therefore, will no longer need to deal with these outcasts. When the
Christians first come to Okonkwo’s village they build a small church
but “none of his converts was a man whose word was heeded in the
assembly of the people. None of them was a man of title. They were
mostly the kind of people that were called efulfe, worthless, empty
men” (Achebe 135). The people seen as the bottom of Igbo society
are the ones who join, who have nothing to lose by converting as they
have little to no stake in the society and culture they are presently
part of. The character Nneka becomes the first woman to join the

Obliteration or Assimilation? 125


Christians. She lost all her previous children because she could only
conceive twins, which in the Igbo society were considered unnatural
and thus they were left to die in the forest shortly after birth (Achebe
142-143). Before she gives birth a final time, she joins the Christians
who prohibit this practice and protect her and her new children. And
yet, her husband is not even upset when Nneka joins the mission
station: “Her husband and his family were already becoming highly
critical of such a woman and were not unduly perturbed when they
found she had fled to join the Christians. It was good riddance”
(Achebe 143). It’s obvious why these outcasts would join something
that offers them another chance at life. As the first converts, they had
nothing left to lose. Yet, it is not only complete outcasts who convert
to the new religion. Nwoye, the son of the main character Okonkwo,
converts to Christianity because his own culture perplexes him, and
he sees it as an opportunity to part ways with his father, whose hyper-
masculinity and aggression are at odds with Nwoye’s own nature
(Achebe 50). We learn that there are certain aspects of Igbo culture
with which Nwoye disagrees. There are two particular events that
seem to evoke strong emotions in Nwoye, which he recalls when he
hears the Christians singing hymns: “The hymn about brothers who
sat in darkness and in fear seemed to answer a vague and persistent
question that haunted his young soul—the question of the twins
crying in the bush and the question of Ikemefuna who was killed”
(Achebe 139). Nwoye sees Christianity as a way to rid himself of his
father and the culture he has never felt comfortable being a part of.
He wholeheartedly adopts his new religion and way of life. Nwoye
even abandons his name and language, taking on the Christian name,
Isaac, and goes to the Christian school to learn how to read and write
English (Achebe 172). It is Nwoye, as Isaac, who later converts his
mother and siblings (Achebe 144). When Okonkwo is living in exile,
a friend tells him that the white men have established themselves as
a new power in Umuofia. He is told “It is already too late…Our
own men and our sons have joined the ranks of the stranger. They
have joined his religion and they help to uphold his government. If
we should try to drive out the white men in Umuofia we should find
it easy. There are only two of them. But what of our own people

126 Critical Insights


who are following their way and have been given power?” (Achebe
165). To further the status of the new religion, men of title who have
disobeyed the white men’s laws, such as molesting Christians, have
been punished by the white men and their converts (Achebe 164). In
belittling the community elders and those in traditional power, the
once worthy men have now become the outcasts in the eyes of their
own community. Achebe, therefore, skillfully documents the slow
creeping of colonialism, through the motif of church converts, in
order to exemplify the shift of power dynamics. The outcasts have
gained power within the colonial system while the traditional elites
and anti-colonial resisters have become the new outcasts.
This is in stark contrast with the life of outcasts in The God of
Small Things. In Indian society, the Dalits or Paravans occupied the
bottom rung of the Hindu caste system. Known as the untouchables,
they were (and in some ways still are) the perpetual outcasts in
society, doomed to a lifetime of oppression. Furthermore, the
untouchables pass their outcast status hereditarily, meaning even
their descendants are unable to break out of this imposed status.
The discrimination they suffer is severe: “Pappachi would not allow
paravans in the house. Nobody would. They were not allowed to
touch anything that touchables touch” (Roy 73). They are considered
unclean and are generally unwanted, forced to take spiritually
contaminating employment, such as bodily funeral perpetration
or pest extermination (Mayell). It is unsurprising, therefore, that
many untouchables would seek to join a new culture or religion like
Christianity to escape from their situation. Under British colonialism
that is precisely what some of them do: “When the British came…a
number of paravans…(among them Velutha’s grandfather, Kelan)
converted to Christianity and joined the Anglican church to escape
the scourge of untouchability” (Roy 74). It is clear how those with
little status in society are the ones clamoring for a new culture or a
new religion, as a shifting power structure can only improve their
lives. However, while in Things Fall Apart the new converts are
treated with a sort of gawking amusement by the rest of society,
particularly within their small communities, where members are
pleased to be rid of them, in The God of Small Things, Roy showcases

Obliteration or Assimilation? 127


that the old culture’s sway is indeed much stronger and their new
religion is unable to protect the untouchables from old prejudices:
“It didn’t take them long to realize that they had jumped from the
frying pan into the fire. They were made to have separate churches,
with separate services and separate priests” (Roy 74). In contrast to
how one culture gives way to another in Nigeria, in India it just adds
another layer of complexity to the culture rather than removing what
came before. The touchable Christians are Brahmins, the highest of
the castes “believed that they were descendants of the one hundred
brahmins whom saint Thomas the apostle converted to Christianity”
( Roy 66). Although they take on a new religion, they do not cast
aside their high status as Brahmins. These new converts do not see
the Christianized untouchables as fellow Christians. Instead they
continue to view them as socially untouchable, reinforcing the caste
system even within the massive changes brought by colonial control.
Although the untouchables are now able to attend school, they are
not expected to be anything more than laborers. Mammachi, the
grandmother of the family notices Velutha’s talents and persuades his
father to send him to a school that her father-in-law built, however,
years later, she remarks: “if only he hadn’t been a paravan, he might
of become an engineer” ( Roy 75). They are trapped in the prison
of their caste and nothing, not even conversion or education, allows
them to escape. While charity is given to the untouchables in the
form of schooling, the higher caste converts expect an unquestioned
loyalty and obedience from them afterwards (Roy 77). In this way,
the outcasts are not given a new status, merely a marginally better
life than they had before, but one where they remain unable to
challenge their societal superiors.
It is clear that the outcasts in Things Fall Apart wholeheartedly
adopt the new culture that is presented to them and thrive in it. These
people have not joined the colonial apparatus out of fear. Rather, they
have willingly joined out of a desire to access new opportunities.
Whereas before they were only “empty men,” as Christian converts
with an English education, they have become court messengers and
court clerks (Achebe 171). They gain a new status that has been
created by the new culture and use this to assert power over the ones

128 Critical Insights


who used to have power of them. However, in India, the untouchables
have gained very little from their conversion to Christianity. The
new culture retains its previous prejudices and continues to have
a much stronger hold over the population. In Achebe’s work, we
see cultural obliteration that is irrevocably changing a society. In
contrast, Roy depicts the assimilation of culture and the prevention
of outcasts to escape their fate. In comparing Things Fall Apart to
The God of Small Things, it seems that in Africa the presence of
Christianity has offered outcasts an escape, whereas in India it has
given them only false hope in a society that continues to treat them
with disdain.

Obliteration/Assimilation
For the first half of Things Fall Apart, the reader is introduced to
Nigerian Igbo culture, the oral traditions of stories, the proverbs said
to one another, the oracles, and the superstitions. This precolonial lens
creates the world that Okonkwo and his family live in. As the book was
first composed in English, it can be assumed that Achebe expects the
reader to have little knowledge of Igbo culture. Indeed the first half
of the novel is a cultural feast for the reader in this regard. However,
over the course of the novel we see how things slowly change and
how things fall apart. In fact, the last line of the book is from the
perspective of the English District Commissioner of Umuofia “He
had already chosen the title of the book, after much thought: The
Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger” (Achebe
197). At this final point, we see that this rich and detailed African
world is, to the Europeans, a mere academic article of repressing a
different people. Any goodwill one may have thought the Europeans
had brought is eradicated as it is shown they have absolutely no
respect for this culture and view any resistance as something to be
pacified. Igbo culture is gone and now we are witnessing familiar
European scholarly traditions taking over. However, In Things Fall
Apart, as the colonization depicted in the novel is a recent event,
the acquisition of language is not dealt with in depth. Kenyan writer
Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o in his book Decolonising the Mind talks about
the importance of how language can be used to subjugate people.

Obliteration or Assimilation? 129


He states that “language was the most important vehicle through
which that power fascinated and held the soul prisoner. The bullet
was the means of physical subjugation. Language was the means of
the spiritual subjugation” (Thiong’o 9). Whereas language as a tool
of subjection is not fully explored in Things Fall Apart, it is quite
prevalent in The God of Small Things.
In India, the English language has been assimilated in the culture
as a sign of importance; the local communist party leader, Comrade
Pillai, when meeting Chacko, insists they speak in English, to show
that he, too, is educated (Roy 273). Despite being a communist, he
shows his envy for bourgeoisie culture and the exchange seems like
a piece of upper-class warfare, with him showing off his children’s
knowledge in their recitation of English poems and Shakespeare,
despite his children having no idea what they are actually saying
(Roy 275). Their knowledge of their own culture seems to come a
far second compared to the knowledge of their former colonizers.
For communists tasked with overthrowing the upper classes, they
overtly fixated on elite viewpoints. Chacko prides himself on his
Rhodes scholarship to Oxford and his credentials, but his Oxford
degree has hardly helped him in life. There is a loss of self-confidence
and identity; Chacko goes to two universities, in Delhi and then to
Oxford, but we never hear him talk about his university experience
in Delhi. Clearly it means less to him than the old intellectual seat of
imperial power in Oxford. He even admits how Indians admire the
British at the expense of being proud of themselves: “Our minds have
been invaded by a war. A war that we have won and lost. The very
worst sort of war. A war that captures dreams and re-dreams them. A
war that made us adore our conquerors and despise ourselves” (Roy
53). This is even more poignant when Ammu reminds her brother
that he married one of their conquerors (his English ex-wife) (Roy
53). It is also interesting that when the reverse has happened, when
an Englishman “goes native” by learning the local languages and
adopting Indian dress, he is portrayed as a madman who lives a life
of debauchery and sin (Roy 52). He is not commended for learning
their language; he is reviled for stooping so low, for betraying his
privilege (Roy 52). When Indians learn English and dress and act like

130 Critical Insights


Englishmen, they are portrayed as men of class. To do the opposite
is to be considered insane. The very fact that this is the case portrays
that their minds have been colonized to the point that they have
degenerated their own culture and have fully accepted an admiration
of British culture. Yet, it is an assimilation of the new culture rather
than an obliteration of the old. These Indian converts have kept their
own language and, unlike Okonkwo’s son, have not changed their
names to reflect a more European Christian background. They retain
some parts of the old culture yet it is clear that speaking English is
seen as a status symbol. To know the literature and culture of the
former colonizer is respected in ways their own culture is not. In
many ways, it echoes the teachings of the famous philosopher Frantz
Fanon who declared “There is no help for it: I am a white man. For
unconsciously I distrust what is black in me, that is, the whole of my
being” (Fanon 162). This observation underscores what plagues men
like Comrade Pillai in The God of Small Things; they despise what
they are and seek to be the other. Pillai is a proletariat who aspires to
be bourgeois; Chacko is an Indian who aspires to be English.
Communism is used as an example of how another new culture
again fails to break the cycle of inequality in society, just like
Christianity. In The God of Small Things, as Christianity has not
given the untouchables the freedom they seek, many have turned
to another foreign belief system with near religious zeal. They have
become converts to communism. Although it is an ideology and not
a religion, Roy states how similar they are: “Marxism was a simple
substitute for Christianity. Replace God with Marx, Satan with the
bourgeoisie, Heaven with a classless society, the church with the
party, and the form and purpose of the journey remained similar”
(Roy 66). At its core, communism is concerned with redistributing
power, wealth, and status. Those with nothing take on those with
everything. One would think this would include changing the status
of the untouchables. But Comrade Pillai is shown to be selfish and
greedy, using communism only to benefit himself. Years later, when
he thinks about his part in Velutha’s death, he recollects that he
“didn’t hold himself responsible for what happened. He dismissed
the whole business as the Inevitable Consequence of Necessary

Obliteration or Assimilation? 131


Politics. The old omelette and eggs thing” ( Roy 14). Meanwhile,
Velutha is a card-carrying member of the communist party, but
his party chairman, Pillai, does little to help him and seems to do
even less to improve the status of the untouchables (Roy 121). The
chairman even complains that he cannot allow untouchables in his
household because his wife would not allow it (Roy 278). In his
sidestepping of responsibility, he passes the blame across gendered
and economic lines, where the responsibly is anyone’s but his own.
He tells Chacko that having an untouchable on the workforce is
bothering the other workers so he should let him go: “Whatever job
he does, carpenter, or electrician…for them he is just a Paravan.
It is a conditioning they have from birth. This I myself have told
them is wrong. But Frankly speaking, Comrade, Change is one
thing. Acceptance is another” (Roy 279). He is not interested in
sorting out the problems with caste and is, therefore, part of the
problem. Marxism, like Christianity, provides little comfort for the
untouchables, and they are exploited as they have always been. It is
equally telling that before the police go searching for Velutha on the
false charge that he attempted to rape higher status women, they go
to Comrade Pillai first to see if Velutha is protected by the communist
party (Roy 262-263). Pillai knows the allegation to be false but he
does not inform the police (Roy 262). He sees no personal gain in
helping an untouchable like Velutha, despite him being a fellow
communist, and in so doing Pillai condemns Velutha to death. The
old ways of caste have supremacy over the comradeship of the party.
The ways in which language has brought in a new way to denote
class, how a society views itself as inferior, and how new cultures
can still bring change but not full acceptance all combine to within
these two novels to underscore just how damaging colonization can
be to a society. For Okonkwo, his culture and traditional way of
life is pushed aside with the full adoption of another, leaving him
behind. In The God of Small Things, Velutha is merely a pawn to be
used by the already entrenched higher statuses in their schemes and
ideas for increased power and wealth. Both men react against these
powers over their lives, and both men meet tragic ends.

132 Critical Insights


The Sacrifice of Velutha and Okonkwo
Okonkwo built his legacy from the ground up. Achebe tells us
that Okonkwo’s father, Unoka, was a wastrel of a man, preferring
to drink and sing rather than do an honest day’s work. Due to his
lifestyle “his wife and children had barely enough to eat”(Achebe
5). Growing up in this way, Okonkwo despises his father. Men in
Umuofia gain prestige by their titles, their prowess in battle, and the
number of wives they can accumulate. When Okonkwo leaves his
village and comes back after the European infiltration, his lifelong
achievements are now worth nothing. His people no longer fight
wars, so his martial abilities are worthless. His son who is entranced
by Christianity suddenly has a place in society and is learning how
to read, rather than learn to become a warrior like his father.
For the proud, courageous Okonkwo, adapting and accepting
what Umuofia has become is too great a feat. When a meeting is
called to discuss the situation with the Europeans, the colonial
police storm in. Okonkwo, the warrior, fights back (Achebe 194).
However, only he alone fights. The other village leaders and elders,
having stayed in Umuofia as it slowly transitioned under colonial
rule, do not physically resist. Okonkwo knows it is the end. He
knows there is no hope for him or his people to regain the old ways.
And thus he hangs himself.
His suicide logically fits the progression in Things Fall Apart,
as there is no longer a space left for Okonkwo. It is a double tragedy,
as it prevents him from being buried by his own people. Although
Igbo society has been significantly altered by colonial incursion,
Achebe informs the reader that one significant precolonial taboo
remains. As Okonkwo’s friend Obierika states in the novel’s climax:
“It is an abomination for a man to take his own life. It is an offence
against the Earth, and a man who commits it will not be buried by
his clansmen. His body is evil, only strangers may touch it” (Achebe
196). It seems out of place for Okonkwo to commit such a shameful
act, considering he spent his entire life trying to eradicate the
societal stigma of his lazy father Unoka. However, Okonkwo has, in
his final act, shown that he no longer cares for cultural connections,
as his society is one he no longer recognizes. As Okonkwo puts

Obliteration or Assimilation? 133


it, “worthy men are no more” (Achebe 189). His violent resistance
to the colonial administrators goes nowhere. His spirit has been
broken, and he can no longer go on. Okonkwo finds he is no longer
a valued member of society despite spending his entire life trying
to gain his position. Okonkwo has lost everything. His culture is
diminished before his eyes and his place in it fades to nothing. For
Okonkwo, everything has fallen apart.
In The God of Small Things, Velutha’s crime is that he engages
in an illicit romance with Ammu. Both characters are marginalized
by their society due to their breaking of its social norms. Ammu’s
divorce from her abusive husband, Baba, has ostracized her. Yet,
her brother Chacko is freely able to sleep with his workers. These
relationships are such an open secret in the family that a private
entrance is built so he can have his liaisons without disturbing the
rest of the family (Roy 169). Chacko and Ammu’s mother even pays
the women Chacko sleeps with so they will remain silent (Roy 169).
In fact, Roy depicts these affairs ambiguously, so that it is never
entirely clear if they are consensual. Yet Chacko can get away with
it, because he is a man and he is of a higher status. On the other hand,
Ammu sleeps with their untouchable handyman and is confined in
a room for it. For a touchable man to have extramarital relations is
overtly accepted, possibly even expected, but for a female to do the
same is considered to be one of the greatest societal taboos. For her
unforgivable actions of having sexual relations with an untouchable,
Ammu becomes a persona non-grata in her family. Ammu has been
ill treated for much of her life. She was never given an education
because her parents merely expected her to get married (Roy 38),
whereas Chacko was sent to Oxford University. Being a divorcee
with children in a conservative society makes her feel trapped and
ostracized. She is regarded with suspicion as “A woman that they
had already damned, now had little left to lose, and could, therefore,
be dangerous” (Roy 44). This, in part, explains why she is drawn
to Velutha, her “God of small things.” They are both damned and
trapped in their societal positions. Velutha is killed by the police,
not for what he has done (having sexual relations outside your
caste only breaks cultural taboos, not legal ones), but for what he

134 Critical Insights


represents—an anomaly in the system. Velutha is an untouchable
who does not act like an inferior. His father, who is described as an
“Old World Paravan” (Roy 76), dislikes the way that his son behaves:
“Perhaps it was just a lack of hesitation. An unwarranted assurance.
In the way he walked. The way he held his head. The quiet way he
offered suggestions without being asked” (Roy 76). An untouchable
who refuses to bow down to the system, despite Christianity and
communism not giving him the freedom it originally promised,
Velutha still seeks a life of his own. When the police come to arrest
him, they have no need to beat him, as he is asleep when they find
him. Yet he is savagely beaten to death. Roy informs us: “They were
not arresting a man, they were exorcising fear…They were merely
inoculating a community against an outbreak” (Roy 309). He is
made an example of, the culture defending itself against those who
would subvert its norms. The police act as a personification of its
reactive element.

Conclusion
Each novel evokes sadness and neither end on an uplifting note;
daring to challenge the system destroys Okonkwo, Velutha, and
Ammu. Both novels, in their own way, highlight how the strict
rules of culture and dogmatic beliefs uproot and yet entrench
social hierarchies. Both novels tell a story of change, of pain and
suffering. Each novel has deeply depressing outcomes, Okonkwo
commits suicide, Ammu dies alone in a motel, and the police beat
Velutha to death. Postcolonial literature, due to its subject matter
and the systems under which it is produced, in many ways is
rarely positive. So much culture and knowledge has been lost or
subverted and the outcome is often a culture living in contradiction
to itself. A new culture can create a space for the downtrodden
in society to overcome their obstacles and experience a new way
of life. Conversely, the established elites of the old culture can
become outcasts and struggle to adapt to their new position, stuck
in a fixation to the past while society rapidly shifts around them.
However, the imposition of a new culture creates fractures where
the elite in society can coopt to entrench their power and position

Obliteration or Assimilation? 135


and deny that right to others. Colonization creates a choice, one of
either assimilation, of taking parts of the old culture and merging
it with the new, or of obliteration, with the old culture being swept
away forever. The process of colonization can be rather sudden
and its effects on culture severe. Okonkwo, in the space of only a
few years, saw Christianity ravage his community. Eventually his
entire family converts to the new religion. White men, who at the
start of the novel are a myth, are the ones fully in control of his
village by the novel’s conclusion. In India, while the British are
gone, the legacy of colonialism is everywhere in society. Speaking
English and knowing English culture is used to increase status
and prestige. The traditional customs that are adhered to are those
separating individuals in terms of class and caste. Those who resist
the eradication of their culture or seek to oppose the limits placed
upon them are not tolerated. Okonkwo, Velutha, and Ammu all share
this fate. They fight against the tide of societal expectations, and
are made examples of, martyrs to the cause, but tragic to the end.
Obliterated and Assimilated. The choice was not theirs to make, the
clash of their culture made it for them.

Note
1. The author would like to thank Philip Le Fanu for editing an earlier
draft of this chapter.

Works Cited
Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart. London, Penguin books, 2010. Print.
Fanon, Frantz. Black Skin, White Masks. London: Pluto Press, 2017. Print.
Mayell, Hillary. “India’s ‘Untouchables’ Face Violence, Discrimination.”
National Geographic News. 2 June 2003. Web. http://news.
nationalgeographic.com/news/2003/06/0602_030602_untouchables.
html Accessed on 10 Sept. 2017.
Roy, Suzanna Arundhati. The God of Small Things. London: Flamingo,
1998. Print.
Thiong’o, Ngũgĩ wa . Decolonising the Mind: The Politics of Language in
African Literature. Oxford: Currey, 2011. Print.

136 Critical Insights


The Rhetorization of the Abject’s Grammatical
Positionality
Michael A. Parra

The Lockean notion of a self-reflective consciousness firmly situated


in the body inspired scientists and philosophers to map the unseen
internal life of the human onto the material surface of the body.
This attempt is manifested most clearly, for instance, in the popular
science of physiognomy, which posited that individual character was
embodied in the features of the face. (Corinna Wagner, “The Dream
of a Transparent Body: Identity, Science and the Gothic Novel,” 74)

What is the protagonist? Taking center stage on the narrative’s


soapbox in the art of storytelling. However, this chapter asks: is
their privileged dominance a façade to distract a reader from the
periphery? How might the primacy of such a narrow lens enable/
disable the reader’s interpretation of a text? And, what ultimately
determines the protagonist within the narrative structure? If one has
the courage to address these questions without getting stuck in the
seaweeds of systematic thinking, then the interrogative nature of
each question mark challenges conventional reading strategies. In
the context of Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea, these interrogative
pronouns allow readers to view the periphery, which is illuminated
by lightning, as though the abject breathing at the margin is catalyst
to lightning itself.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines the protagonist (n) as
the leading character, or one of the main characters, in a narrative
work such as a poem, novel, film, etc. (OED Online). The narrator
(n), on the other hand, is the voice or persona (whether explicitly
identified or merely implicit) by which are related the events in a
plot, especially that of a novel or narrative poem (OED Online).
In Wide Sargasso Sea, both the protagonist and the narrator are
synthesized and multiplied in the grammatical construction of
Antoinette and Rochester. Recounting the past from a white Creole

Rhetorization 137
woman’s and Englishman’s lens, the structure seems to privilege
Antoinette and Rochester as though the once omniscient narrator
should be seen as protagonist especially as their once unidentifiable
skin color is now “white.” Unfortunately, that produces a misreading
that ultimately creates two separate centers and reinforces colonial
language that look upon land, bodies, and identity as objects for the
subject’s consumption. As a result of these separate spheres, with
distinct social and political positionalities, the narrative structure
then forces other characters to violently transmute into talismans
as the omniscient voice measures and compares these elements
unfavorably against the “white” lens. Yet, does the simple act of
narrating automatically deem the persona/voice as a protagonist? To
go about such a reading, with a naive conception of the protagonist,
will only deter the reader from realizing that although Antoinette
and Rochester may be major characters to Wide Sargasso Sea, it is
actually Christophine, as the first acting subject, who is the leading
character of this postcolonial text.
Pushing them back into their omniscient positionalities,
Antoinette and Rochester are then the designated names not for the
protagonist, but that of the narrating voice that threads related events
in Wide Sargasso Sea. One can take it even further to suggest that,
as characters, Antoinette and Rochester are automatons that only
function within the perimeters of English Law. This point regarding
English Law will be discussed further in the chapter; yet, if the
omniscient narrators have automaton personas, then privileging
Antoinette and Rochester as the only major characters seen fit to be
“protagonists” is a misreading, especially taking into account the
narrative structure and its mechanic. This misreading, as a result,
reinforces colonial ideologies that automatically place one in the
subject, or superior, grammatical positionality due to the material
surface of “white” skin. The lifelessness in Antoinette becomes
even more apparent after Rochester violently changes her name to
“Marionette,” which means doll (Rhys 92, 93). Equating Antoinette
to a doll, a mere object used for experiment with human subjectivity,
is telling of her positionality within the narrative especially because

138 Critical Insights


she seems to depend on Christophine as a source of counsel and
guidance through womanhood.
Readers witness Antoinette’s ravenous need once an ongoing
conflict with Rochester causes Christophine to entertain the idea of
leaving not only the geographical location, but also the narrative. In
a state of panic, Antoinette confronts her source of counsel:

‘You’re not leaving?’ she said. ‘Yes,’ said Christophine. ‘And what
will become of me?’ said Antoinette. ‘Get up, girl, and dress yourself.
Woman must have spunk to live this wicked world.’ (Rhys 60)

It is important to note that at this point of the narrative, Rochester


is the narrator who interprets and conveys the signifying actions
between Antoinette and Christophine. As an automaton, not only
does Rochester confirm that Antoinette’s soul is as lifeless as a
doll, but, in this instance, it seems as though Antoinette’s fear of the
unknown solidifies her dependency on Christophine. Antoinette’s
second question, which predicates on the absence of Christophine,
linguistically annihilates her consciousness of self-conscious and
any experience she may have accumulated up to this point. That is
to say, the moment she utters, “what will become of me,” Antoinette
devolves in experience and reinforces the shackles her mind to an
external subject whose directive she ingests [“I must dress like
Christophine said”] (Rhys 61). This devolving also symbolizes
Antoinette’s automaton nature in a sense that Christophine, as the
acting subject, becomes that external subject who uses language as
a system’s reboot. The use of the term “girl” not only illustrates
Christophine’s observation of Antoinette, but it also marks the
starting point for the source of counsel to inject the communicability
of a woman’s experience into a “crashing” automaton who is unsure
of “what will become” of her. It is precisely Christophine’s language
that exposes Rochester’s automaton nature after “walking out” of
the narrative [the use of quotations poses the following question:
does Christophine really leave the narrative after the confrontation
with Rochester?].

Rhetorization 139
Soon after introducing him to “Bull Blood” (Martinique coffee
as opposed to English “piss” water), Rochester violently transmutes
Christophine into his antagonist and makes his sentiments regarding
her known: “ [Christophine] is a very worthy person no doubt. I can’t
say I like her language” (Rhys 50). As mentioned in the previous
excerpt, and as disclosed in Rochester’s sentiments, it is important
to note that Christophine’s use of language not only brings her out
from the margins as a minor character but also, as a rising major
character, this makes her a threat to the “white” centers. After his
confrontation with Christophine, a “free woman,” Rochester seems
to experience a moment of abjection as he walks up and down the
room, feeling blood tingling at his fingertips, racing to his heart,
which then beat faster (Rhys 97). During this moment where
reality, or what a character views as their reality, collapses, it can be
suggested that Rochester is experiencing a system glitch and then,
like an automaton, verbalizes his error:

I spoke the letter I meant to write. ‘I know now that you planned
this because you wanted to be rid of me. You had no love at all for
me. Nor had my brother. Your plan succeeded because I was young,
conceited, foolish, trusting. Above all because I was young. You were
able to do this to me…’ But I am not young now, I thought, stopped
pacing and drank. Indeed this rum is mild as mother’s milk or father’s
blessings. (Rhys 97)

This soliloquy induced by Christophine’s language is another


example of an automaton character that is devolving and in need
of an external subject for guidance. Whereas Antoinette devolves
in experience, Rochester, on the other hand, crashes and then has
a cathartic expungement of language. Regurgitating a speech out
loud illustrates how suffocated Rochester’s consciousness was with
repressed language and how such repression up to that point has only
resulted in a mouth full of blood. While both Antoinette and Rochester
devolve into the primal state of being (“girl” and “because I was
young…”), Christophine’s language is not what Rochester utilizes
for reboot. Rather, it is a halting of movement (“stopped pacing”)
and a drink of rum. From Bull Blood to unspoken words resulting in
140 Critical Insights
a mouth full of blood (“the letter I meant to write”), the dependency
on alcohol, which shares the same fluidity as language, becomes the
external subject to reboot Rochester. Alcohol, for Rochester, serves
as a substitution for maternal and paternal figures (“mother’s milk”
and “father’s blessings”)—the conventional familial power structure
and whose ideological language a child ingests.
The wonders that are revealed by pushing a persona/voice
into its omniscient positionality and allowing characters’ actions,
as signifying acts, speak volumes. Reducing these once privileged
“white” lens to automatons, the literary “I” Antoinette and Rochester
utilize is then no more than a dead metaphor that human bodies
ingest as they operate, like zombies, the rhetorization of language’s
grammar. As readers come to terms with the mechanics of these
automatons, it becomes evident that privileging the omniscient
narrative as protagonists for being a white Creole woman and
Englishman will only be a reinforcement colonial ideology because
neither seem to act until they are touched by Christophine’s language.
To follow this naive outlook on the protagonist, Christophine is then
only read as being a minor character that becomes the “third world
difference” in the ethnocentric cosmos imposed upon her (Mohanty
352). Yet, as the first speaking subject in Wide Sargasso Sea, it is
Christophine’s ability to command a speaking language throughout
the narrative that rejects the power relations that shackle Antoinette
and Rochester to the Law. In fact, it is her ability to transgress the
structures of power and narrative that solidifies Christophine’s
positionality as the protagonist, and not a minor character despite
the conventional readings that inscribe her as the abject.
The OED defines abjection (n) as the state or condition of
being casted down, humbled, degraded, whereas the abject (adj)
is that which is expelled, rejected, and casted out (OED Online).
Julia Kristeva, in the Power of Horror: An Essay on Abjection
(1941), describes abjection as a preservation of what existed in the
archaism of pre-objectal relationships: the “immemorial violence
with which a body becomes separated from another body in order
to be” (Kristeva 10). While such definition seems abstract and
denotes a psychoanalytic signification of the “ego” and its “id,” or

Rhetorization 141
the unconsciousness, Wide Sargasso Sea demonstrates how human
individuals can operate either as an “ego” or the “id” depending
on how their subjectivity is inscribed in the banality of English
Law. For instance, Kristeva, in her use of “body,” demystifies and
places the abject within the context of a grammatical positionality
that is (1) opposite of “I” and (2) a pseudo-object. Forcing readers
to acknowledge life in the periphery, it becomes apparent that the
subject (“ego”) sublates, or represses, the abject—thus making “it”
the object of “primal repression (Kristeva 12). Whereas the abject
is that which breathes at the margins as conscious individuals
masquerade behind an “I,” Christophine as the opposite of the
narrating persona/voice transcends the abject from the pseudo-
object to the subject positionality. As language becomes the medium
in which hierarchical structure, or structures if looking at the state
and its institutions, of power are perpetrated (Introduction to The
Empire Writes Back 7), is it not Christophine’s rejection of the
“truth,” “order,” and “reality” that are established by the narrating
persona/voice that marks her as an effective postcolonial figure?
Setting in motion an imperative that acknowledges
Christophine’s as the first interpreter and named speaking subject of
the text, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak states that Christophine cannot
be contained by the novel: “which writes a canonical English text
within the European novelistic tradition in the interest of the white
Creole rather than the native” (Spivak 253). Further transgressing
the conventionalities of the narrative structure, the etymology
of protagonist, in ancient Greek, is the actor who plays the first
part—the leader—in a piece of work (OED Online). Combined
with the ways in which the narrative organizes its character’s
actions, this deeper meaning of how the protagonist comes to life
in art, and particularly in the novel, thus solidifies Christophine as
the postcolonial figure of Wide Sargasso Sea. Giving her space as
the protagonist, Christophine emerges as a postcolonial figure for
penetrating the imperialistic English language with her Martinique
patois: “because she pretty like pretty self” (Rhys 9).
Grammatically built as the linguistic caricature of the “Third
World Woman,” Christophine reveals how hyperconscious she is

142 Critical Insights


of the antagonist positionality that the white Creole woman and
Englishman centers impose upon her. An antagonist is the main
character opposing the protagonist in a drama or other narrative
(OED Online). The use of “main” is misleading because it guides
one to assume that the antagonist is always a leading character;
however, it is useful to look at how this same usage can also indicate a
specific threat to the narrative’s progress. For the antagonist can also
be a person who holds an opposing view to another, or an opponent
in a controversy, politics, etc. (OED Online). In a provocative
interpretation, one can view Wide Sargasso Sea as a novel where
the once omniscient narrator personifies and has direct contact
with its characters. In doing so, the “all knowing” and infinitive
narrator now has the opportunity to alter the reader’s interpretation
of Christophine through the relation of actions and events. In
fact, as the “white” centers force Christophine into the antagonist
positionality, this alteration in narrative structure reinforces colonial
ideologies by creating a linguistic other. Aside from being the first
acting character, Christophine is also the first speaking character to
vocalize her consciousness of sociopolitical positionality:

‘No more slavery!’ She had to laugh! ‘These new ones have Letter
of the Law. Same thing. They got magistrate. They got fine. They
got jailhouse and chain gang. They got tread machine to mash up
people’s feet. New ones worse than old ones—more cunning that’s
all.’ (Rhys 15)

Equivalent to sharecropping and vagrancy laws to the Postbellum


South of the United States of America, Christophine exposes
the legislative hypocrisy in the botched enterprise in England’s
emancipation of enslaved Africans. After receiving orders to
magically produce a garment for Antoinette, Christophine’s rant not
only exposes how language (“Letter of the Law”) is the master’s
tool in keeping African’s enslaved post-emancipation, it is also a
testament to her resistance against colonial structures of power. The
use of magistrate, fine, jailhouse, chain gang, and a tread machine
to mash up people’s feet provides insight to the apprenticeship
period post-emancipation and its aim to chain black bodies to an
Rhetorization 143
inferior positionality in English society. Rhys’s use of Christophine
as a talisman in the white Creole woman and Englishman centers is
a representation of this botched enterprise. As a result, Christophine,
the postcolonial figure, can only be linguistically interpreted and
conveyed as the other. However, it is precisely her consciousness
of this use of language to perpetrate hierarchical structures of
power that allows Christophine, as a free woman, to emerge as a
postcolonial figure while leaving Antoinette and Rochester shackled
to language of the English Law.
It is not only Christophine’s consciousness of and vigilance to
question, and defy, colonial structures of power that distinguishes
her from the narrating voices. In fact, there is significance in her
freedom to be able to “leave” the island, and the narrative for that
matter, in contrast to Antoinette and Rochester’s enslavement to
the English Law. Readers observe this distinction when Antoinette
discloses how she can no longer claim ownership over her wealth:

‘He will not come after me. And you must understand I am not rich
now, I have no money of my own at all, everything I had belongs to
him.’ ‘What you tell me there?’ [Christophine] said sharply. ‘That is
English law.’ [Christophine] retorts, ‘Law! That Mason boy fix it,
that boy worse than Satan and he burn in Hell one of these fine nights.
Listen to me now and I advise you what to do… (Rhys 66)

In this excerpt, it becomes apparent that Antoinette’s wealth


transforms her into “pretty self,” or the commodified subject
whose exchange value became the golden ticket for the highest
bidder that would marry her—Marionette. When she utters,
“everything I had,” this includes her monetary wealth; however,
this insinuates that Antoinette also lost her innermost property:
her-self. If Antoinette exposes her enslavement to the English
Law, how can she be the postcolonial figure? Indeed the narrative
will continue with her as a main character, yet her presence
will be a reminder of two things: (1) the narrative inscribes as
property to Rochester and (2) the narrative places Rochester in a
higher positionality. In such an eminent position, Rochester thus
replaces Christophine as Antoinette’s external subject—the source
144 Critical Insights
of counsel. After pointing out “that Mason boy” as the culprit,
Christophine’s vigilance propels her to inject Antoinette with
a language of communicable experience in hopes that she, too,
can escape the English phallocentric structure. One could even
suggest that Christophine is the ventriloquist to Marionette and
uses language as a medium to counsel Antoinette—manifesting
into a ventriloquist-doll relationship. Such an escape would never
occur because Christophine’s replacement deems her advisement
frivolous and Antoinette’s fate is already sealed within the
narrative.
While Christophine is nurturing to Antoinette, it is her
persistence to defy Rochester that exposes the transgenerational
effect that English Law has had on “white” subjectivity. By
questioning his intentions of marrying Antoinette, Christophine is
the leading character, the detective if one chooses, that unravels the
mechanics of Rochester’s colonial nature:

‘‘It’s she won’t be satisfy. She is Creole girl, and she have the sun in
her. Tell the truth now. She don’t come to your house in this place
England they tell me about, she don’t come to your beautiful house to
beg you to marry with her. No, it’s you come all the long way to her
house—it’s you beg her to marry…what did you do with her money,
eh?’ Her voice was still quiet but with a hiss in it when she said
‘money.’ I thought, of course, that is what all the rigmarole is about. I
no longer felt dazed, tired, half-hypnotized, but alert and wary, ready
to defend myself. (Rhys 95)

Throughout this excerpt, Rochester remains lifeless as an


automaton and a placeholder for the Englishman’s character type.
It is as though Christophine’s language penetrates Rochester
and hypnotizes him while uttering the words Antoinette, as a
doll, is unable to enunciate. Inducing his cathartic episode, this
confrontation with Rochester allows Christophine to address
two specificities of English Laws: (1) the principle that all of a
woman’s property became her husband’s after marriage and (2) the
common law of patrilineal inheritance. This is seen in the imagery
of a “house,” its geographical distinction between England and
Rhetorization 145
Jamaica, as well as Rochester’s need to travel to the Caribbean for
the purposes of marrying a female individual with monetary wealth
like Antoinette. The significance of money not only symbolizes how
radically human subjectivity partook in the grammar of trade, but
also how bodies ingested this monetary value as the source of their
identity. In fact, the reason Rochester feels threatened and must
defend himself is not to vanquish his antagonist, but in response to
Christophine’s hissing: “her money.” To question the whereabouts
of Antoinette’s money is to also highlight that her monetary wealth
was never Rochester’s to begin with. Therefore, Rochester must
defend his-self because it is Antoinette’s wealth that engenders life
into his subjectivity. However, as their access to monetary gains is
inscribed in English Law, Rochester and Antoinette’s subjectivity
is thus linguistically chained to the common laws that police land,
bodies, and identities.
After realizing the threat of Christophine as a free woman,
Rochester’s need to get rid of her, from the island and the narrative,
can be seen as a desperate attempt to use language to contain the
“third world difference.” Reading Fraser’s letter out loud, like
an automaton regurgitating someone else’s language, Rochester
threatens Christophine’s freedom, or so it is believed:

‘I have written very discreetly to Hill, the white inspector of the police
in your town. If she lives near you and get up to any of her nonsense
let him know at once. He’ll send a couple of policemen up to your
place and she wont get off lightly this time...You gave your mistress
the poison that she put into my wine?’ ‘I tell you already—you talk
foolishness’ ‘We’ll see about that—I kept some of that wine.’ (Rhys
96)

It is important to note that Rochester never shows proof that any


wine is preserved or whatever wine he has contains the medicine
Christophine gave to Antoinette. This misinterpretation of medicine
as “poison” is telling and representative of the colonial outlook on
religious practices that are non-Christian. As an omniscient persona/
voice that can manipulate the progress of the narrative, Rochester is
able to narrativize Christophine’s actions so that she can once again
146 Critical Insights
become a ward of the police state but only after confronting the
“white inspector.” Unlike Antoinette, Christophine is conscious of
the Law and such awareness engenders the ability to see her-self as
a free woman. This is precisely why Christophine is able to “leave”
the narrative after stating, “read and write I don’t know. Other things
I know” (Rhys 97).
However, from the first interpreting and speaking subject
to having the last word upon exit, does Christophine ever really
leave the narrative? Although Christophine is not in geographical
proximity of Rochester and Antoinette, it is her impact and presence
as a postcolonial figure that keeps her alive in their unconsciousness.
While Rochester needs her as the antagonist to privilege his
positionality, the words that Christophine enunciates on behalf of
Antoinette become a broken record set on repeat (Rhys 99). Despite
initially disliking Christophine’s language, the narrative ends with
Rochester having an obsession over her words and uses them to ignite
his hatred towards Antoinette. Also, while no “good-bye” is shared
between ventriloquist and dummy, Antoinette and Christophine still
share a speaker-doll relationship even at the very end of the narrative.
In the ending pages of the narrative, where Antoinette narrates her
dream, Christophine emerges from the unconscious margin to help
her automaton through a fire (Rhys 111-112). One could suggest
that if Christophine’s memory lives on in the lived experience of
Rochester and Antoinette, the ability to speak back to the “Empire”
became the mechanism for her to reserve colonialism back onto the
“white” centers.
As the potential to misread the rhetorization of language’s
construction of unreal people from unreal places arises, it becomes
imperative to challenge reading strategies with texts like Wide
Sargasso Sea where the distinction between narrator and protagonist
blurs. Pushing back Rochester and Antoinette’s privileged lens to
their omniscient positionality, it becomes apparent that what was
once believed to be dominant “protagonists” are actually automatons
caught in the grammatology of the English Law. It is coming to
terms with the error of privileging the sublated narrator-protagonist
character where readers can then engage with the characterization of

Rhetorization 147
Rhys’s novel. In doing so, readers will witness how the first speaking
subject is neither Antoinette nor Rochester but Christophine—the
abject herself. Despite being forced into the antagonist position,
Christophine maintains a leading role as an external subject to
Antoinette’s lifelessness and threat to Rochester’s subjectivity, or
lack thereof (“her money”). Yet, in looking at how she not only
breathes at the margin of the text, Christophine transforms the
abject from a pseudo-object to subject positionality by commanding
a language that penetrates and rejects English colonialism. It then
becomes an imperative for readers to question and defy reading
strategies that unconsciously import external colonial ideologies
into texts and privilege “whiteness” while subjugating the “third
world difference” to the periphery. For that which is illuminated by
the lighting is just important as the spot lightning is believed to have
stroked.

Works Cited
Ashcroft, Bill, Gareth Griffiths, and Helen Tiffin. “Introduction,” The
Empire Writes Back: Theory and Practices in Post-Colonial
Literatures, London: Routledge, 2010. Print.
Kristeva, Julia. “Approaching Abjection,” The Power of Horror: An Essay
on Abject, Columbia UP, 1941. Print.
Mohanty, Chandra Talpade. “Under Western Eyes: Feminist Scholarship
and Colonial Discourses,” The Discourse of Humanism 12.3/13.1,
Duke UP (Spring-Autumn 1984): pp. 333-358. Print.
Rhys, Jean. Wide Sargasso Sea, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1999.
Print.
Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty. “Three Women’s Texts and a Critique of
Imperialism,” Critical Theory 12.1, U of Chicago P (Autumn 1985):
pp. 243-261. Print.
Wagner, Corrina. “The Dream of a Transparent Body: Identity, Science
and the Gothic Novel,” Gothic Studies 14.1, Manchester UP (2012):
pp. 74-92. Print.
“abject, adj. and n. ” OED Online, Oxford UP, June 2017, www.oed.com/
view/Entry/335. Web. Accessed 22 Sept. 2017.

148 Critical Insights


“abjection, n. ” OED Online, Oxford UP, June 2017, www.oed.com/view/
Entry/340. Web. Accessed 22 Sept. 2017.
“antagonist, n. and adj. ” OED Online, Oxford UP, June 2017, www.oed.
com/view/Entry/8172. Web. Accessed 22 Sept. 2017.
“protagonist, n. ” OED Online, Oxford UP, June 2017, www.oed.com/
view/Entry/153105. Web. Accessed 22 Sept. 2017.
“narrator, n. ” OED Online, Oxford UP, June 2017, www.oed.com/view/
Entry/125148. Web. Accessed 22 Sept.2017.

Rhetorization 149
Michel Foucault and Postcolonial Studies:
Countering Foreign Domination Through the
Care of the Self in George Lamming’s In the
Castle of My Skin
Liam Wilby

George Lamming’s In the Castle of My Skin is a 1953 novel


concerning the coming into consciousness of a small village
population in Barbados as the island moves towards independence.
Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o describes the process of the village-dwellers’
experience moving through “a static phase, then a phase of rebellion,
[and] ending in a phase of achievement and disillusionment with
society poised on the edge of a new struggle” (Ngũgĩ 110). By
observing this progression through the lens of Michel Foucault’s
later works on ethics and the care of the self, this chapter shows how
Lamming’s novel, as a work of Caribbean literature, opens a space
for the formation of a self-image in the Caribbean, one that is in rigid
defiance of the region’s years of subjugation under colonial rule. Much
has been written on the validity of Foucault’s work in postcolonial
studies, most of which echoes Edward Said’s eventual dismissal of
Foucault’s “profoundly pessimistic view” of the “unremitting and
unstoppable expansion of power” (cited in Nichols 135). In a familiar
resonance to all postcolonial subject matter, this conception does
not allow the governed to produce their own subjectivity. Robert
Nichols, however, argues that such criticism, echoed and extended
by both Homi K. Bhabha and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, focuses
too heavily on Foucault’s earlier works. The claim that Foucault does
not allow for the “mechanics of self-constitution within which the
governed modify themselves” and “exploit the space of possibilities
left open by the mechanics of disciplinarization” is, for Nichols, to
ignore the later engagements of Foucault’s writing (Nichols 131).
Indeed, Foucault himself acknowledged that he progressed from an
analysis of “coercive practices” to the “practices of self-formation

150 Critical Insights


of the subject” (Foucault, “The Ethic of Care” 113). In this chapter,
I will take Nichols’ claim as a starting point to analyze In the Castle
of My Skin through the lens of Foucault’s works on autonomous
subject formation. I argue that Lamming’s representation of the
colonial subjugation of the villagers, as well as their subsequent
coming into consciousness, becomes an act of caring for the self.
This combats foreign domination and constitutes the strengthening
of a self-image in the Caribbean.
At the beginning of Lamming’s novel, the school’s Empire Day
celebrations reveal the mechanisms of disciplinarization present in
Barbados. On this day, a visiting inspector delivers a pedagogical
speech on the island’s relations with its so-called Mother Country,
dictating that the “British Empire…has always worked for the
peace of the world” (Lamming, Castle of My Skin 30). Positing the
relationship of the two countries as the “will of God” (Lamming,
Castle of My Skin 30), the inspector oversees “intelligence tests”
(Lamming, Castle of My Skin 27) that manifest as collective acts of
memorized chanting—an incantation that students recite to bind their
will to the power of the colonizers. As Paquet writes, in the novel
“formal education divides the society against itself, by educating
individuals to an unthinking reverence for values and symbols that
are in direct conflict with community interests” (Paquet 20). This
assimilation to the dominant colonial discourse is evidence of what
Foucault calls the “discursive practices” that “constitute the matrices
of possible bodies of knowledge” (Foucault, The Government of
Self and Others 4). In the inspector’s claim that “Barbados is truly
Little England!” (Lamming, Castle of My Skin 31), Lamming’s
novel reveals the “forms of veridiction in these discursive practices”
(Foucault, The Government of Self and Others 4), where the will of
the ruling powers becomes entrenched in the minds of the colonized
as objective truths.
The violence of these forms of veridiction is graphically
symbolized by the head teacher’s beating of a child. The pupil’s
supposed transgression is to laugh “in the presence of respectable
people, people of power and authority” (Lamming, Castle of My
Skin 35). The student is seen as “trying to speak” before being

Michel Foucault and Postcolonial Studies 151


silenced by the “leather” (Lamming, Castle of My Skin 35). This
act symbolizes violent opposition to any counter-discourse to the
authority of the school. In this setting, the students are under what
Foucault describes as a state “of domination, in which the relations
of power…find themselves firmly set and congealed” (Foucault,
“The Ethic of Care” 114). Relations of power are present in all
interactions, but are only inherently negative when they are not
“changeable relations” (Foucault, “The Ethic of Care” 123). In a
state of domination, the students become objects on which those in
power “exercise an infinite and unlimited violence” (Foucault, “The
Ethic of Care” 123). They are not active subjects within relations
of power, but are instead beholden to the totalizing power of the
colonizers.
By drawing on Foucault’s technologies of the self, the ways
in which Lamming’s novel becomes a treatise against foreign
domination in the Caribbean can be observed. The novel pejoratively
describes the inspector as “[s]mooth like the surface of puss” and
the head teacher as carrying himself with the “slouching carriage
of the leech” (Lamming, Castle of My Skin 32), subsequently
undermining the authority of these agents of colonial discourse,
while also elucidating the colonial system as parasitically draining
and wounding. So, too, the text ironically reveals the propaganda
present on the island, describing how in “every corner of the school
the tricolour Union Jack flew its message” (Lamming, Castle of
My Skin 28, my emphasis). By revealing this subjugating colonial
discourse, the novel becomes an act of caring for the self through
truth-telling, which Foucault denotes as “parrhesia.” Parrhesia is
defined as “the courageous act of telling the truth…for the purpose
of criticising oneself or another” (Robinson). The three axes of
parrhesia—“saying everything,” “telling the truth,” and “free-
spokenness” (Foucault, The Government of Self and Others 75)—
constitute a “practice of the self,” as they rely on both “the relation of
the subject to truth” (Robinson), and the constitution of subjectivity
through speaking this truth. The novel, then, is an act of truth-
telling—of parrhesia—that, to use Foucault’s words, is a “practice
of liberty” (Foucault, “The Ethic of Care” 114) that strengthens the

152 Critical Insights


self-image of the Caribbean subject by speaking against the state of
domination.
The potential for the subaltern’s auto-reification of subjectivity
is also seen in the children of the novel. The boys’ question the
authority of the head teacher, asking why “should a man beat a boy
like that? He’s an advantage-taker, that’s what I say” (Lamming,
Castle of My Skin 39). Disagreeing with the logic of the head teacher,
the boys search for a different truth to the one dictated to them. This
exemplifies the exact grounds for speaking with parrhesia, where
one “must flush out this truth and practice truth-telling” (Foucault,
The Government of Self and Others 89). Questioning the logic of
the state of domination in which they are implicated, this counter-
discourse is prophetic of a potential for revolt.
Although the possibility of the student’s speaking out against
authority is limited, by questioning the dominant narrative amongst
themselves, they uncover the potential for forming their own self-
image. In response to the Empire Day beating the boys plan to make
some of their own “hist’ry” (Lamming, Castle of My Skin 40) by
stoning the head teacher. The only history the boys currently know
is Western history, that of “William the Conqueror an’ Richard an’
all these” (Lamming, Castle of My Skin 40). Writing their own
history would constitute a symbolic de-centering of the dominant
colonial history they are being taught. Performing a Foucauldian
reading of Frantz Fanon, Renault shows how this act “reintroduces
the colonized not only as a subject of history, but also as a subject
who tells his (counter-)history” (Renault 221). Both countering
a dominant discourse and forming a self-image, this telling is a
“self-representation” (Renault 221). As the boys question the head
teacher’s authority, they create the necessary conditions for a “truth
discourse” (Renault 221), involving themselves in the Foucauldian
“games of truth” (Foucault, “The Ethic of Care” 121) so that they
themselves may speak for the Caribbean with parrhesia.
The children’s attempt to write their own history takes on a
further impetus when we consider the novel’s form. Having initially
moved from first to third person narration, Lamming uses the
schoolroom scene to write in a dramatic form. This, coupled with the

Michel Foucault and Postcolonial Studies 153


introduction of the colloquial register of the village children, disrupts
the text in what Brown describes as a “hallowed modernist effort”
(Brown 74). Using Woolf’s words, this provides a “transformative
challenge to a reader’s habitual frames of understanding” (cited
in Brown 75). By challenging common conceptions, Lamming’s
use of modernist techniques is a vital accompaniment to the boys’
inquisitive, anti-colonial conversations. Modernism, as Friedman
suggests, is generally viewed as a “loose affiliation of aesthetic
movements that unfolded in the first half of the twentieth century”
(Brown 426). Delineating modernism in this way, however,
“privileges Anglo-American modernism,” upholding an imperially
dictated “center/periphery” framework (Friedman 426-428). This
framework is deconstructed by “polycentric modernities and
modernisms at different points in time and in different locations”
(Friedman 426). In utilizing modernism’s style after the so-called
end of modernism, whilst also being centered in the colonial space
of Barbados, Lamming enacts a space/time displacement of the
modernist period.1 One of the village boys’ assertions that it “is not a
question of know. ‘Tis a question of do” (Lamming, Castle of My Skin
39), subsequently becomes particularly poignant. Whatever may be
known by Western-centric conceptions of modernity is undone by
the doing of Lamming’s novel, which performs an “interruptive,
anticolonial reordering of perception” (Brown 78).
This is vital when considering the complicated relationship
between Caribbean subjects and the English language that
was forced on the islands’ inhabitants following colonization.
Lamming’s use of a modernist style is a means of using this colonial
language to undermine the logic of colonialism. This, I argue, is a
further example of how he speaks with parrhesia against foreign
domination. In The Pleasures of Exile (1960), Lamming discusses
“the migration of the West Indian writer, as colonial and exile, from
his native kingdom, once inhabited by Caliban, to the tempestuous
island of Prospero’s and his language” (Lamming, The Pleasures
of Exile 13). Here, Lamming describes the Caribbean writer as a
Caliban figure, who in The Tempest, acknowledges the transgressive
power of Prospero’s language:

154 Critical Insights


You taught me language, and my profit on’t
Is I know how to curse. The red plague rid you
For learning me your language! (The Tempest, 2.1 362-364)

Like Caliban, Lamming manipulates the tools of the colonizer to


speak against their prevailing narrative. By using a modernist
style, Lamming produces a parrhesiac “discourse of imprecation”
(Foucault, The Government of Self and Others 135), a spoken curse
that deconstructs the hierarchical binary of colonizer/colonized.
During a day at the beach, the village boys show their own
potential for creating a transgressive discourse. Amongst the wide
range of topics discussed, the boys tell a melancholic tale regarding
a triadic relationship between Bambi, Bots, and Bambina. Bambi
splits his time happily between Bots and Bambina, has children
with both, and they all “live real splendid together” (Lamming,
Castle of My Skin 126) until a visiting German Christian convinces
Bambi to marry one of the women. Bambi marries Bots and soon
after turns to drinking heavily and beating both women, before
suddenly dying from a heart attack. Ngũgĩ notes that in this story,
“Christianity…is seen as disrupting peoples’ lives” (Ngũgĩ 120).
The boys acknowledge this and subsequently challenge the presence
of Christian practices in Barbados:

but it seem it don’t belong to certain people, meanin’ a lot of people


put together, like the village for instance. Except for those who live
sort of different, who live in the village but don’t sort of belong,
except for those, there’s always that said same breakin’ up when
marriage makes his appearance. I don’t know. I only know I ain’t
ever goin’ get married. (Lamming, Castle of My Skin 13)

Here, Trumper argues that the Christian practice of marriage


is incompatible with the lives of the villagers. The only village
inhabitants that it is suitable for are those that, as Trumper says,
already “don’t sort of belong.” As discussed above, the school
aims to teach the children to revere the practices of the Mother
Country. In questioning the compatibility of marriage to the lives
of the villager’s, Trumper, therefore, offers a different narrative to
Michel Foucault and Postcolonial Studies 155
that of the school—one that counters the myth of Barbados as a
“Little England.” This is a re-education that is vital in caring for
the self, as “[e]ducating oneself and taking care of oneself are
interconnected activities” (Foucault, The History of Sexuality. Vol. 3
55). Foucault calls this act of caring for the self “alethurgy”; that is,
“the manifestation of truth as the set of possible verbal or non-verbal
procedures by which one brings to light what is laid down as true
opposed to false, hidden, inexpressible, unforeseeable or forgotten”
(Foucault, On the Government of the Living 7). Importantly,
“there is no exercise of power without something like alethurgy”
(Foucault, On the Government of the Living 7). In Barbados, the
power of foreign bodies such as the church is derived from a colonial
alethurgy that the boys challenge in their assessment of marriage.
If, as Nichols suggests, the aim of postcolonial theory is to “‘de-
transcendentalize’ Western forms of knowledge…to deconstruct,
essentially, the Western logos of superiority” (Nichols 115), then,
in their rejection of the institution of marriage, the boys perform a
postcolonial alethurgy that undermines the matrices of truth dictated
by the colonial powers. Spivak’s claim that Foucault’s work ignores
“the necessity of the difficult task of counterhegemonic ideological
production” (cited in Nichols 129) can, therefore, be tempered.
The boys perform an alethurgical act, which when understood as a
technology of caring for the self, becomes a postcolonial theoretical
practice that produces the “reversibility of movement” (Foucault,
“The Ethic of Care” 114) in existing power relations.
Involving themselves in alethurgy, the boys open a space for
autonomous subject formation. The changes in Bambi’s character
are explained as resulting from “something going off pop”
(Lamming, Castle of My Skin 134) in his head. Discussing this
“internal implosion” (Edwards 71), the boys attempt to restructure
an internalized thought process currently imbricated with colonial
veridiction. For Foucault, caring for the self is an “ascetical practice”
that is “an exercise of self upon self by which one tries to work
out, to transform one’s self and to attain a certain mode of being”
(Foucault, “The Ethic of Care” 113). This asceticism (askēsis) is a
“cultivation of the self” (Foucault, Ethics 99) that is set in contrast

156 Critical Insights


to Christian asceticism, which is a means of “self-renunciation”
(Foucault, Ethics 228). Owing to the Christian practice of marriage,
Bambi enacts a “refusal of the self” that causes a popping in his
head (Foucault, Ethics 245). It is this that the boys suggest results
in him becoming “a different man” (Lamming, Castle of My Skin
135), most evident in his uncharacteristic abuse of his two partners.
Rejecting marriage as a “self-renunciation,” the boys perform an act
of caring for the self that does not lead to the psychic self-denial of
something going pop in the head (Foucault, Ethics 228). Instead,
they educate themselves against the dominant Christian narrative,
working towards the self-cultivation of subjectivity.
The novel also highlights the difficulty of self-formation
within the colonial setting. The boys note how they need further
education to continue the alethurgical processes that come from
askēsis: “Perhaps we would do better if we had good big words like
the educated people. But we didn’t” (Lamming, Castle of My Skin
145). Education is key, then, but the institutional education available
to the boys takes the form of colonial propaganda, causing what
Edward’s calls a “psychic repression” (72). This is described with
violent imagery in the novel: “you could slaughter your feelings as
you slaughtered a pig. Language was all you needed” (Lamming,
Castle of My Skin 146). Although education may prevent the popping
in the head that makes you a “different man” (Lamming, Castle of
My Skin 135), the only education available to the boys involves
assimilation to Western forms of knowledge. This is evident in the
nautical imagery used, where educating oneself is likened to being a
“captain on a ship” (Lamming, Castle of My Skin 146), symbolically
placing the colonial subjects in the position of slave traders during
the middle passages. It appears that it is only through assimilation to
colonial forms of knowledge, then, that an education that prevents
the popping in the head can be received.
Contrary to this, through an interaction with a fisherman the
novel reveals possible alternate modes of education. Initially, the
boys’ fear of the fisherman means that they mythically inscribe him
with belittling powers akin to colonial agents: “There was something
powerful and corrective about his big figure…He wasn’t the sort

Michel Foucault and Postcolonial Studies 157


of person you looked at without feeling terribly little” (Lamming,
Castle of My Skin 140). Soon after, this appearance is deemed false:
“he was only big and strong but he was one of us. His anger was
human…Some hours ago we had discovered a giant. Now we had
discovered a man” (Lamming, Castle of My Skin 144). As Ngũgĩ
suggests, the revelation of the fisherman’s humanity reveals his
vulnerability (Ngũgĩ 119). This de-mythologizing of the fisherman
is an alethurgical discovery that symbolizes the potentially
transgressive power of certain educational experiences. Earlier, for
example, the students discuss how only a body double of the King of
England appears in public. This regal simulacrum invokes a mystery
that is linked to the actions of the Mother Country: “The English…
were fond of shadows. They never do anything in the open”
(Lamming, Castle of My Skin 47). If experiencing the humanity of
the fisherman lifts the veil from his giant-like appearance, then the
shadowy actions of the colonizers may also be revealed through such
an alethurgical process. Something similar occurs later in the novel,
where during a riot the seemingly omnipotent white landowner’s
vulnerability is revealed to a villager: “He had never seen or
imagined Mr. Creighton could look like that” (Lamming, Castle of
My Skin 198). In this way, alethurgy undermines the so-called truths
of colonial discourse, but causes neither a renunciation of the self—
the harbinger of popping in the head—nor an assimilation to the
pedagogical aims of the colonizers.
It is important not to conflate caring for the self with an
individualist ideology. The neocolonial aspects of the latter position
are revealed through the character of Mr. Slime. The villager Pa
initially heralds Slime as a potential liberator: “he say in the speech
he speak the other night how he goin’ to make us owners o’ this
land” (Lamming, Castle of My Skin 71). Slime’s association with
“Moses” (Lamming, Castle of My Skin 70), however, arouses
suspicion by linking him with a religious institution incongruent
with the villager’s lives. Slime, as representative of an individually
minded “neocolonial black bourgeoisie” (Edwards 72), sells the
land to wealthy natives, causing many villagers to be displaced. As

158 Critical Insights


such, he does not create fluid relations of power, but instead only
manages to shift the parameters of the villager’s subjugation.
Against this individualism, caring for the self can be a means
towards greater unity amongst colonized subjects. Foucault
diametrically opposes individualist thinking and caring for the self
through a story of Socrates, who chastised subjects that prioritize
their wealth over their self-care (Foucault, Ethics 93; The History of
Sexuality. Vol. 3 44). This feeds into a caution against the simple fact
of liberation alone as a means of freeing subjects:

When a colonial people tries to free itself of its colonizer, that is


truly an act of liberation […] But as we also know […] this act of
liberation is not sufficient to establish the practices of liberty that later
on will be necessary for this people, this society and these individuals
to decide upon receivable and acceptable forms of their existence or
political society. (Foucault, “The Ethic of Care” 113-114)

The “slimy” (Lamming, Castle of My Skin 278) actions of the


individualist Slime are not practices of liberty that will define a
society beneficial for others. Taking care of the self, however, is
seemingly a paradoxical “care for others,” as the practice of askēsis
produces a self-mastery that prevents one from being a “slave to
their desires” (Foucault, “The Ethic of Care” 199). Self-care, then,
effaces a neoliberal drive for individual wealth, thus opening a space
for better “interindividual relationships” (Foucault, “The Ethic of
Care” 118). Slime has not mastered his desire, symbolized by the
affair he has with the head teacher’s wife (Lamming, Castle of My
Skin 54-55). He has not cared for his self and thus is unable to care
for others as a means of building greater unity amongst the colonized
subjects.
As well as the criticism of Slime, the end of the novel is also
critical of Trumper’s narrow ideology. Upon returning from the
United States, Trumper at first appears to be an important agent of
alethurgical processes, being the first to show G the “tremendous
injustice in the transaction” (Lamming, Castle of My Skin 279) of the
land. Lamming, however, also treats Trumper’s pan-African belief
in his “people” (Lamming, Castle of My Skin 287) with suspicion.
Michel Foucault and Postcolonial Studies 159
When showing G the music of Paul Robeson, for example, Trumper
recites the words: “Let my people go” (Lamming, Castle of My
Skin 286). As with Slime, the association of Trumper with Moses
is complicated by the negative impact of Christianity on the island.
The reasons for this are shown through G’s thoughts during his
conversation with Trumper:

Whatever he suffered his assurance was astonishing. He had found


what he needed and there were no more problems to be worked out.
Henceforth his life would be straight, even, uncomplicated. He knew
the race and he knew his people and he knew what that knowledge
meant. (Lamming, Castle of My Skin 290)

As Brown notes, Lamming shows the “need for communal action


against the forces of socioeconomic oppression and exploitation—
but refuses the ideological closure that he [Trumper] advocates”
(Brown 99). Trumper’s concrete “knowledge” is untenable with
the perpetually ongoing process of caring for the self, where one’s
education must continue into adulthood—a mature education that
Foucault denotes as “Erwachsenerziehung” (Foucault, The History
of Sexuality. Vol. 3 50). Significantly, during his conversation with
G, Trumper only remembers the day the boys spent at the beach, with
a “strange quality of irrelevance in his voice” (Lamming, Castle of
My Skin 292). This was an important alethurgical day that, when
dismissed by Trumper, highlights the limitations of an absolute
ideology that does not enact Erwachsenerziehung.
Differently to Trumper, the novel suggests that the Lamming
figure of G will continue the Erwachsenerziehung necessary to
provide a dynamic criticism to colonial forms of knowledge and open
a space for greater unity amongst colonized subjects.2 This is evident
in the novel’s final conversation between G and Pa. Pa’s consistent
willingness to consider “how things make a change” (Lamming,
Castle of My Skin 77), as he says, means he maintains a malleable
outlook, allowing for “more diverse horizons than the narrow
homogeneity of Trumper’s ‘My People’” (Brown 99). By ending the
novel with a conversation between this pair, it is with an explorative
mind that G is sent “into the wide wide world” (Lamming, Castle
160 Critical Insights
of My Skin 294). So too, the partially autobiographical G leaving
the Caribbean at the novel’s end, echoes Joyce’s A Portrait of the
Artist as a Young Man (1916). Just as G ends the novel ready to say
“farewell, farewell to the land” (Lamming, Castle of My Skin 295),
the Joycean figure of Stephen Dedalus leaves “home and friends”
to “encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to
forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my [his]
race” (Joyce 288). As with the form of the novel, Lamming uses the
tools of modernism for his own ends. Gikandi discusses the presence
of the “Joycean concept of self-development in the literature of
colonial disenchantment” (Gikandi 423) and here, G’s similarities
to Stephen allow the novel to be read as a Joycean kunstlerroman.
By writing of his own development, Lamming has made himself his
own aesthetic object. This is an act of caring for the self, as the self
is “something to write about, a theme or object (subject) of writing
activity” (Foucault, Ethics 232). This care of the self through writing
is a practice of liberty that, unlike Slime, allows Lamming to care
for others. As he himself wrote, the West Indian subject “became,
through the novelist’s eye, a living existence…It is the West Indian
novel that has restored the West Indian peasant to his true and original
status of personality” (Lamming, The Pleasures of Exile 39). Giving
the villagers personhood, Lamming’s novel speaks with a parrhesiac
“agonistic discourse” (Foucault, The Government of Self and Others
133) that effaces Western notions of colonial subjects as “primitive,”
thus challenging an “unexamined acceptance of a racial hierarchy”
(Brown 77-78). This opposition to foreign domination opens a space
for the strengthening of a Caribbean identity outside of an imposed
quasi-hierarchy.
In the Castle of my Skin does not posit the Caribbean writer as the
only agent necessary to liberate colonized subjects from their state
of domination. Indeed, the unresolved differences between G and
Trumper means a critical enquiry into how to counter the matrices of
colonial rule remains open. The Caribbean novel is instead presented
as one way of caring for the self so that one can speak with parrhesia
against colonial domination. The modernist form of the novel, whilst
performing a deconstruction of the hierarchical center/periphery

Michel Foucault and Postcolonial Studies 161


binary of Eurocentric modernism, allows the act of reading the text
to become an act of caring for the self. As a challenging parrhesiac
document, it catalyzes alethurgical processes that undermine
dominant colonial narratives, thus creating a counter-discourse that
strengthens the possibility of colonial subjects forming a self-image.

Notes
1. Friedman cites The Modernist Studies Association framing of
modernism as “roughly the 1890s-1940s.”
2. Paquet gives evidence that the novel describes a world Lamming
“knew intimately as a child in Barbados.” So too, the character of G
follows Lamming’s own move from Barbados to Trinidad. G, then,
can be read as a semi-autobiographical rendering of the author. See,
Paquet 13.

Works Cited
Brown, J. Dillon. Migrant Modernism: Postwar London and the West
Indian Novel. U of Virginia P, 2013. Print.
Edwards, Nadi. “George Lamming’s Literary Nationalism: Language
between The Tempest and the Tonelle.” Small Axe, Vol. 6, No. 1,
2002, pp. 59-76. Print.
Foucault, Michel. Ethics: Subjectivity and Truth. Edited by Paul Rabinow.
Translated by Robert Hurley. Penguin BooksLtd, 2000. Print.
__________. On the Government of the Living: Lectures at the Collège de
France 1979-1980. Ed. Michael Senellart. Trans. Graham Burchell.
Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014. Print.
__________. “The Ethic of Care for the Self as a Practice of Freedom:
An Interview with Michel Foucault.” Translated by J. D. Gauthier.
Philosophy & Social Criticism, Vol. 12, 1987, pp. 112-131. Print.
__________. The Government of Self and Others: Lectures at the Collège
de France 1982-1983. Edited by Frédéric Gros. Translated by
Graham Burchell. Palgrave Macmillan, 2010. Print.
__________. The History of Sexuality. Vol. 3, The Care of the Self.
Translated by Robert Hurley. Penguin, 1990. Print.
Friedman, Susan Stanford. “Periodizing Modernism: Postcolonial
Modernities and the Space/Time Borders of Modernist Studies.”
Modernism/Modernity, Vol. 13, No. 3, 2006, pp. 425-443. Print.
162 Critical Insights
Gikandi, Simon. “Preface: Modernism in the World.” Modernism/
Modernity, Vol. 13, No. 3, 2006, pp. 419-424. Print.
Joyce, James. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Penguin Books,
1996. Print.
Lamming, George. In the Castle of My Skin. Addison Wesley Longman
Ltd, 1998. Print.
__________. The Pleasures of Exile. Michael Joseph Ltd., 1960. Print.
Nichols, Robert. “Postcolonial Studies and the Discourse of Foucault:
Survey of a Field of Problematization.” Foucault Studies, Vol. 9,
2010, pp. 111-144. Print.
Paquet, Sandra Pouchet Paquet. The Novels of George Lamming.
Heinemann Educational Books Ltd., 1982. Print.
Renault, Matthieu. “A Decolonizing Alethurgy: Foucault after Fanon.”
Foucault and the History of Our Present, Edited by Sophie Fuggle,
Yari Lanci, and Martina Tazzioli, Palgrave Macmillan, 2015, pp.
210-223. Print.
Robinson, Bob. “Michel Foucault (1926-1984).” The Internet Encyclopedia
of Philosophy. http://www.iep.utm.edu/foucault/ Web. Accessed 28
April 2017.
Shakespeare, William. The Tempest. Oxford UP, 2008. Print.
Thiong’o, Ngũgĩ wa. Homecoming: Essays of African and Caribbean
Literature, Culture and Politics. Lawrence Hill & Company, 1972.
Print.

Michel Foucault and Postcolonial Studies 163


Constantine Cavafy as a Postcolonial Poet: “A
Photograph”
Robert C. Evans

Although the Greek poet Constantine Cavafy (1863-1933) is now


widely considered one of the most important poets of the modern
period, his international fame came only after his death. The first
comprehensive English translation of his works appeared in 1961.
Astonishingly, however, more than twenty separate volumes of
translations have appeared in the years since then. Cavafy’s great
current reputation has resulted from various overlapping factors.
First, he is an exceptionally talented stylist and craftsman. The
power of his works comes through forcefully even in translation,
and even in many different translations. Yet readers who know Greek
(including many of his translators themselves) often assert that no
translations can really do justice to the power of the original texts.
Secondly, the breadth and depth of Cavafy’s current standing as a
poet is undoubtedly due, in large part, to the frankness with which
he treats homosexual themes. Whereas much “gay” poetry from the
late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries can seem cloyingly
overwrought and embarrassingly precious, Cavafy (like Whitman)
was one of the first gay poets to write in ways that seem refreshingly
realistic and straightforward. He was one of the first and one of the
few writers of his time to treat gay themes in ways and in language
that seem both surprisingly modern and somehow also timeless.1
But interest in Cavafy is probably also due, in part, to what
might be called the “postcolonial” dimensions of his work. Although
he is probably best known for his “gay” poems, his favorite subjects
may actually have been historical. He was especially interested in
the complex relations among the various cities, countries, cultures,
and empires that, over many centuries, have grown up around the
Mediterranean Sea. These included ancient Greece, Hellenistic
Greece, classical Rome, the Byzantine empire, ancient and modern
Egypt, and the dominance of Christianity and Islam, to mention
164 Critical Insights
just a few of the many cultures depicted in Cavafy’s poems. The
lands surrounding the Mediterranean have been some of the
most contested—and some of the most frequently and variously
colonized—in the history of the planet. The ancient Greeks dominated
the area at one point, but eventually they were supplanted by the
ancient Romans: the colonizers became the colonized. The Greeks
and Romans, however, also had to deal with civilizations that had
been in place long before their own (especially ancient Egypt), and
the pagan Greek and Roman cultures eventually both lost power
to the growing and ultimately dominant influences of Christianity
and Islam, which in turn came into often violent conflict with one
another. In short, Cavafy inhabited a part of the planet that, perhaps
more than any other, has seen empires come and empires go, leaving
behind them a long legacy of colonial and postcolonial histories and
influences. Most importantly, however, Cavafy took a deep and
strong interest in all these matters. The rise, falls, and intermixtures
of various cultures are evident everywhere in his poetry.

Cavafy Himself
The postcolonial aspects of Cavafy’s poetry are hardly surprising.
Cavafy was, after all, a strikingly cosmopolitan figure, both in his
cultural background and in his personal experiences and interests.
He was born in 1863 into the small but important Greek community
living in Alexandria, Egypt. As its very name suggests, Alexandria
had been founded by the famous Greek colonizer Alexander the
Great, whose empire once spread over much of the known world.
Eventually Alexandria was dominated by the Romans, then by
Islam, then (briefly) by Christians, then by Napoleon, and then
finally (at the time of Cavafy’s birth) by the British. In short, Cavafy
was born into one of the most important, and one of the most
frequently colonized, cities in the world. What’s more, as he grew
up he became fascinated by all these periods in the city’s and the
region’s history. But Cavafy was hardly interested only in Egypt or
the Mediterranean. In his youth, he lived for years in England (his
father, a merchant, actually acquired British citizenship) during a
period when Britain was the most powerful colonial power on earth.

Constantine Cavafy as a Postcolonial Poet 165


The Cavafy family (minus the father, who had since died) returned
to Alexandria in 1877, but they had to flee to Constantinople when
an anti-colonial rebellion broke out in Egypt in 1882—a rebellion
forcefully suppressed by the British (whose bombardment of the
city destroyed the family’s apartment).
By 1885, Cavafy was back in Alexandria, where he lived for
the rest of his life. He obtained employment in a British-run colonial
office, where he worked for the next thirty years. Yet despite his
long residence in Egypt, Cavafy wrote in Greek, was a member of
the local Greek community, and had a strong and enduring interest
in Greece and all things Greek during a time when Greece itself was
in the throes of various anti-colonial and postcolonial experiences.
Cavafy, today, is considered one of the greatest of all Greek (not
Egyptian) poets, even though he rarely visited Greece. It is hard to
think of a modern life that better illustrates the impact of colonialism
and postcolonialism than Cavafy’s.

Postcolonialism in “New” Poems by Cavafy


Perhaps the most compelling aspect of Cavafy’s work, at least for
anyone primarily interested in literature (that is, in arrangements
of words intriguing first and foremost as memorable arrangements
of words) is its striking originality. This is especially true (as I
have already suggested) of the “gay” poems from the latter half
of Cavafy’s career. In fact, a whole new collection of poems
has recently become available in English thanks to the efforts of
Cavafy’s latest translator, Daniel Mendelsohn. His impressive new
edition of Cavafy’s Complete Poems contains an entire section
devoted to a group of so-called “Unfinished Poems” (355-94).
These works have also been published separately in a volume edited
by Mendelsohn and titled The Unfinished Poems, subtitled The First
English Translation (hereafter abbreviated as “UF”). The so-called
“Unfinished Poems” are actually highly polished works and would
almost certainly have been published by Cavafy if he had lived
longer. They exemplify the full range of his interests, including not
only new poems about same-sex desire but also new poems about
his historical and philosophical interests.

166 Critical Insights


In his introduction to the stand-alone volume devoted entirely
to these works, Mendelsohn notes that the term “Unfinished Poems”
may be misleading if it suggests works that are not up to Cavafy’s
highest standards. These are not, he points out, immature juvenilia
or ill-crafted rough drafts that Cavafy might have discarded or
substantially revised. Instead (Mendelsohn observes), these texts
“represent the last and greatest phase of the poet’s career”; they are
“serious works of art in themselves, the deeply wrought products of a
great poetic consciousness at its peak” (UF ix). There is, Mendelsohn
continues, “persuasive evidence that Cavafy considered the thirty
drafts presented here as work he eventually meant to be recognized
and published” (UF x). As Mendelsohn accurately puts it:

Readers encountering these Unfinished Poems will immediately see


how fully they partake of Cavafy’s special vision, in which desire
and history, time and poetry are alchemized into a unified and deeply
meaningful whole. Part of the excitement of reading these Unfinished
Poems for the first time comes, indeed, from the way they seem to fit
into the existing corpus, taking their place beside poems that are, by
now, well known; there is a deep pleasure in having, unexpectedly,
more of what one already loves. But a great deal of the excitement
generated by the Unfinished Poems derives, even more, from the new
“light,” as the poet put it, that they now shed on existing work—
on our knowledge of the poet, his techniques, methods, and large
ambitions. (UF xi-xii)

It is largely to those “techniques” and “methods” that I now


wish to turn, for it is mainly thanks to those technical, formal, and
stylistic aspects of Cavafy’s writing that I think it is fair to call him
a “postcolonial” poet. In his best works—especially in the works
dealing with “homosexual” themes—he strikes off in directions that
seem remarkably and memorably his own. He writes in ways that
seem strikingly at odds with what had come before him, especially
in preceding British literature—a literary tradition that he knew
quite well. As Peter Jeffreys (a major Cavafy scholar) has recently
shown, Cavafy was intimately familiar with the work of the various
British “aesthetes” (not only poets but also painters and writers of

Constantine Cavafy as a Postcolonial Poet 167


prose) of the late nineteenth century. Cavafy had lived in Britain
during the time when interest in such art was at its peak, and there is
concrete evidence that Cavafy knew this work well.2
In particular, Jeffreys sees a strong influence by Algernon
Swinburne (1837-1909), the prominent English poet, on Cavafy’s own
verse. Swinburne’s poetry is not read very widely or enthusiastically
today, but in his own time it was well known and ultimately much
appreciated. Swinburne was at first considered scandalous but was
eventually widely admired. Jeffreys notes that both Constantine
and his brother John (who also wrote poetry) were “well versed” in
Swinburne’s writings (“Aesthetic” 62). And Jeffreys quotes another
scholar (Murray G. H. Pittock) who observes that Swinburne was
“the most sedulously imitated of poets for twenty years after the
appearance of [his] Atalanta in Calydon [1865]” (“Aesthetic” 62).
Jeffreys also notes that despite “the censure aroused by his risqué
verse, [Swinburne] was even favored by many to succeed Tennyson
as Poet Laureate” (“Aesthetic” 62). When Jeffreys discusses Cavafy
as an imitator of British poets, it is mainly Swinburne whom he
mentions.
Jeffreys argues that “Cavafy’s debt to [Swinburne] has been
largely ignored” (“Aesthetic” 62). He notes that Swinburne wrote
about many of the same topics and themes later emphasized by
Cavafy, including the sea, pain, lust, pleasure, Hellenistic sculpture,
Julian the Apostate, elegiac emotions, Greek subjects and characters,
and same-sex erotic motifs (“Aesthetic” 63-65). As Jeffreys states:

Swinburne’s radically erotic reveries with their open articulation


of homosexual desire offered Cavafy a poetic point of departure
conceptually aligned with a most seductive Hellenism. Although it
is beyond the scope of this essay to explore fully Cavafy’s debt to
Swinburne, one may justifiably conclude that Swinburne mapped
out a creative course for Cavafy that pointed him in the direction
of French decadence and encouraged an open celebration of Greek
homoerotic love. (“Aesthetic” 66)

According to Jeffreys’ approach, Cavafy was indebted in numerous


ways to one of the major British poets of his time. Swinburne
168 Critical Insights
(Jeffreys claims) laid out a path that Cavafy followed. According to
Jeffreys, Swinburne (like Tennyson, as another scholar [Jusdanis]
has argued) wrote in ways that Cavafy imitated and to which Cavafy
was indebted. Of course, all writers are arguably influenced, in one
way or another and to one degree or another, by the writers they
read. It seems undeniable that Cavafy read Swinburne, in some ways
admired his work, and was in some ways influenced by that work.
But many readers may be struck, instead, by the ways and extent
to which Cavafy differs from Swinburne (and other British poets like
Swinburne). In terms of style, tone, techniques, and achievement,
Cavafy seems a poet very much removed from Swinburne and
other such poets. If Swinburne symbolizes (to put it crudely) the
best poetry produced by the British empire of his time, then Cavafy
represents something significantly different. It is in terms of style,
especially, that Cavafy can be called a postcolonial poet—a poet
who in many ways rejected what the empire (at least as represented
by poets like Swinburne) had to offer.3

Cavafy and Swinburne Compared


Peter Jeffreys mentions several poems by Swinburne while
discussing Swinburne’s influence on Cavafy. Whatever similarities
they may share with Cavafy’s poems in terms of themes, they seem
radically different in style. Consider, for example, these lines from
“The Triumph of Time” (lines quoted by Jeffreys):

O fair green-girdled mother of mine,


Sea, that art clothed with the sun and the rain,
Thy sweet hard kisses are strong like wine,
Thy large embraces are keen like pain.
Save me and hide me with all thy waves,
Find me one grave of thy thousand graves,
Those pure cold populous graves of thine
Wrought without hand in a world without stain. (“Aesthetic” 63)

Jeffreys compares these lines to lines from a poem by Cavafy titled


“Voice of the Sea”:

Constantine Cavafy as a Postcolonial Poet 169


And if you are young, the longing for the sea
will run through your veins; out of its love
the wave will say a word to you; it will water
your love with a secret fragrance.

The sea gives out a secret voice—


a voice that enters
our heart, and moves it,
and delights it. (“Aesthetic” 63)

Admittedly, both poems do deal with the ocean. Also, admittedly,


these particular lines by Cavafy do seem more mannered and
conventional than the poetry for which he is widely and deservedly
admired. But even these lines differ significantly in tone, manner,
and technique from Swinburne’s; any similarities in theme seem
minor in light of important differences in style. Cavafy’s poem (like
most of his best poems) reads much more like prose than like an
obviously artificial, contrived poem—the kind of poems Swinburne
wrote voluminously. Swinburne apostrophizes the sea as if it were
an actual living being; Cavafy addresses another human being, like
himself. Swinburne uses language that must have sounded mannered,
quaint, and antique even in his own day (“O,” “art clothed”; “thy”;
“thine”). Did anyone (except, perhaps, Quakers) actually speak
this way in the late nineteenth century? In contrast, it is not hard
to imagine an actual human being of Cavafy’s time (or even our
own) using the diction Cavafy’s speaker uses. Cavafy’s speaker
is one human frankly addressing another; Swinburne’s speaker
rhetorically addresses a fictitious mythological entity. If Cavafy had
really written poems in the style of Swinburne, he would probably
be as unread today as Swinburne is. Instead, he largely rejected the
kind of phrasing Swinburne used (phrasing quite common in British
poetry of the nineteenth century), choosing instead to develop a
style that still, in some ways, seems uniquely his (or at least vastly
ahead of its time). It would be easy to cite many other examples of
poems by Swinburne that sound almost nothing like the best poems
of Cavafy. But my point is basically this: in his best poems, Cavafy
did not allow the dominant style of British verse of the nineteenth
170 Critical Insights
century to “colonize” his mind. Swinburne may indeed have been
as “aesthete,” but Cavafy seems something more and greater. It is to
examples of some of his best, previously untranslated “Unfinished
Poems” that I now wish to turn.

Cavafy’s “Unfinished” Homoerotic Verse


In a poem titled “Anactoria,” one of Swinburne’s most obviously
homoerotic works, the poet imitates the famous Lesbian poet
Sappho. Here are the opening lines:

My life is bitter with thy love; thine eyes


Blind me, thy tresses burn me, thy sharp sighs
Divide my flesh and spirit with soft sound,
And my blood strengthens, and my veins abound. (Swinburne, Major
93)

Contrast those lines with one of Cavafy’s shortest “Unfinished


Poems,” titled “The Photograph”:

Looking at the photograph of a chum of his,


at his beautiful youthful face
(lost forever more;— the photograph
was dated ’Ninety-two),
the sadness of what passes came upon him. [5]
But he draws comfort from the fact that at least
he hadn’t let—they hadn’t let any foolish shame
get in the way of their love, or make it ugly.
To the “degenerates,” “obscene” of the imbeciles
their sensual sensibility paid no heed. [10]
(UF 18)

This brief lyric exemplifies the best of Cavafy’s poetry (especially


his homoerotic poetry) in numerous ways. For starters, this poem
would have struck most of his initial readers as surprisingly modern
rather than quaintly archaic, like so many of Swinburne’s poems.
The mere fact that it deals with photography—which still seemed
innovative and constantly innovating at the turn of the twentieth
century—would have made this poem seem genuinely “up-to-date”
Constantine Cavafy as a Postcolonial Poet 171
when it was first written and read. Although Cavafy himself was
obsessed with the ancient past, his poems set in that past rarely, if
ever, sound old-fashioned or archaically “mannered.” In his best
works, he brought to his writing about ancient times a quite modern
sensibility. Rarely do any of his works sound “old-fashioned,” either
in style or in thought. Instead, the ancients who populate his verse
sound surprisingly and convincingly modern, both in the ways they
think and in the ways they speak. Cavafy rarely romanticizes the
past; his perspective is almost always refreshingly realistic (and, in
fact, often cynical). That realistic, modern sensibility is especially
obvious, quite appropriately, in “The Photograph,” which is set in
the very recent past and that deals (as so many of Cavafy’s poems
deal) with mutability and ephemeral time. There is, in this poem, the
elegiac tone so common in Cavafy’s works, but that tone here (as
elsewhere in his writings) never seems saccharine or sentimental.
The very use of a word such as “chum” (at least in this translation)
seems refreshingly unpretentious. It is hard to imagine Swinburne
ever using such a term (and, in fact, he never did).4
The second line in the above quoted poem typifies Cavafy’s
work both in style and in theme. As many critics have noted,
Cavafy rarely uses elaborate metaphors or similes; his phrasing
rarely sounds preciously or artificially “poetic.” When his speakers
describe handsome young men, they describe them in ways that
leave much to the reader’s imagination, as Cavafy does here.5 If
this style risks seeming too general and imprecise, too much lacking
in specific details, it rarely if ever sounds artificial or contrived.
The mere fact that Cavafy was willing to write poems that were so
explicitly homoerotic, especially at a time when such writing was
almost nonexistent among other major poets, makes even Cavafy’s
most restrained poems sound surprisingly “modern.” By writing as
he did, he managed to be frank without being salacious. He was
honest but not pornographic (as some obscure homoerotic poets of
his era were). By exercising restraint in the ways he describes the
“beautiful youthful” men who populate his erotic poems, he treats
his poetic subject (and his human subjects) with a dignity that would

172 Critical Insights


have surprised many readers of his time. In this way as in so many
others, his homoerotic poetry strikes out in its own fresh directions.
The shift from line 2 to line 3 of this poem exemplifies Cavafy’s
masterly (and characteristic) use of enjambment—the movement
from one line of poetry to another without intervening punctuation.
Half the lines in this ten-line lyric employ enjambment—a figure
that actually seems fairly low by typical Cavafian standards.
Enjambment is one of the devices Cavafy uses to make his poems
sound more like prose than like conventionally structured poetry.
This enjambment can be seen in the parenthetical interruption
in lines 3-4. Here we have yet another example of the “prosiness”
of Cavafy’s verse: it is as if we are listening to an actual person
thinking and speaking in real time rather than a poet imposing some
pre-planned conventional structure on the speaker’s thoughts. Also
effective here is the splendid juxtaposition, or sudden shift from
one thing to its opposite, as we move from the second line to the
third: the “beautiful youthful face,” we abruptly learn, “has been
lost forever more,” whether through death or through the inevitable
process of aging. One of Cavafy’s obsessive themes, in fact, is this
pervasive sense of a “remembrance of things past” or a “search for
lost time” (to quote two different ways of translating the title of
Marcel Proust’s famous novel). This theme appears in his poems
about the distant past, but it definitely also appears in his poems
about the recent past, especially when the recent past involved
homoerotic desire. Cavafy knew that such desire, in his era, could
only ever be impermanent even at the moment it was being felt
and expressed. It could only seem ephemeral even in the original
moment of thought and feeling, and it definitely could not last into
an enduring future. Men who loved men in Cavafy’s day had to do
so (for the most part) secretly, furtively, temporarily: this, at least,
is the typical mode of such love in Cavafy’s verse. Homoerotic love
could only ever be “lost forever more,” at least during Cavafy’s time
and place, and especially in 1892. It was in 1895, after all, that Oscar
Wilde descended into a legal hell from which he never emerged, and
it was in 1924 that Cavafy himself was “outed” by being accused of
being “another Oscar Wilde”.6 In any case, by referring to the year

Constantine Cavafy as a Postcolonial Poet 173


as “’Ninety-two” rather than “1892,” Cavafy again contributes to
the poem’s colloquial, informal, unpretentious tone—a tone distant
from the tone of much of Swinburne’s poetry and of much British
nineteenth-century poetry in general.7
By the time we get to line 5, we arrive at an explicit statement
of the poem’s theme: “the sadness of what passes.” This, as I have
already indicated, is one of the key motifs of Cavafy’s poetry
in general, and it is very much a central topic of the homoerotic
poems. In the Mendelsohn translation, the speaker, having begun
as an active observer of the photograph, is now the passive object
of a sadness that comes upon him and overtakes him. This line
was potentially an opportunity for Cavafy to become saccharine,
sentimental, and merely melancholy—to indulge in self-pity. Many
British and American poets of his period could not have resisted the
impulse; they would have wallowed in the sadness Cavafy merely
mentions briefly. It is, once more, the emotional restraint that Cavafy
so often demonstrates that can help make him seem so modern. Like
Philip Larkin, Cavafy writes in ways that seem instantly accessible,
understated, unpretentious, but often tinged with deep emotion.
In line 6, just at the half-way point of the poem, this ten-line
lyric takes a definite turn. The speaker is suddenly back in the
present. He no longer focuses on the beautiful youth of a beautifully
youthful past. He now thinks (at least momentarily) about the
present and about the “comfort” he now takes from an important
detail—a detail that (we will soon see) makes this poem all the more
strikingly modern and indeed even defiantly rebellious (and, in that
sense, “postcolonial”). It is hard to imagine Swinburne or many of
his contemporaries saying what Cavafy is about to say, and it is also
difficult to blame them for not being able to be as frank, audacious,
and daring as Cavafy is about to be. Even his own poems, after all,
could not be widely published or circulated beyond a few of his
friends. But the fact that he had the courage to write them at all, and
to trust that someday they might be read and appreciated, makes him
seem a person of genuinely independent mind.
Line 7 is typical of the skill one comes to expect from Cavafy’s
best poems. Just when the speaker might seem self-congratulatory

174 Critical Insights


in commending his own defiance (after all, “he hadn’t let” himself
be foolishly shamed by his particular kind of love), the poem
dramatically stops itself (as the dash indicates) and includes the
beautiful youth as well: “they hadn’t let” such shame affect them
(italics mine). But of course (in a complex moment typical of
Cavafy) it did affect them; otherwise there would be no reason even
to mention it. It affected them mentally even if it did not finally
prevent them from acting on their desire for one another. Cavafy’s
willingness to call such homophobic shame “foolish” makes this
poem one of his most outspoken in asserting the genuine dignity
and worthiness (whatever the society of his time might have said)
of same-sex attraction and “gay” love. Rarely is Cavafy as openly
defiant toward, and even contemptuous of, homophobic prejudice
as he is in this poem. And it is important that he credits the beautiful
youth with a similar defiance: their bond was not only erotic bond
but also a bond rooted in a shared rejection of conventional attitudes
designed to shame and humiliate them and others like them.
In the transition from line 7 to line 8, Cavafy again uses
enjambment effectively. The words “get in the way” also seem
colloquially “prosy” rather than artificially “poetic.” The plainspoken
diction seems entirely appropriate to the plain, honest sentiments.
The speaker, becoming blatantly angry in a way that is fairly rare
in Cavafy’s verse, has no time for clever, sophisticated, elevated
phrasing. He speaks his mind bluntly, and he also implies that if
anyone needed to feel ashamed, it was, in fact, the “foolish” people
who would have thoughtlessly condemned the two lovers. Their
love, he suggests, was never actually “ugly”; if it seemed “ugly”
to others, those others had to “make” it seem ugly. The choice to
view it that way was theirs, but the speaker and the beautiful youth
refused to buckle under such outside pressure. They felt and acted as
they chose to feel and act.
Line 9 is especially interesting in its initial ambiguity—
an ambiguity caused by the structure of the sentence this line
begins. The first three words (“To the ‘degenerates’”) seem, at
first, to describe the two lovers, even if the description of them
is obviously disparaging and highlighted by “scare quotes” that

Constantine Cavafy as a Postcolonial Poet 175


imply the speaker’s skepticism. But it soon becomes clear that the
words “degenerates” and “obscene” do not describe actual obscene
degenerates. Instead, these words are treated as words—words that
the speaker finally attributes to “imbeciles,” thereby dismissing both
the words themselves and the “imbeciles” who speak them with
contempt. One often thinks of Cavafy as a mild-mannered poet—a
poet of civilized nostalgia, given more to understatement and
implication than to overt expressions of anger. Partly for this reason,
line 9 seems especially unexpected and, therefore, memorable.
Rarely does Cavafy strike out (and strike back) so forcefully at the
fools and “imbeciles” who prevented him and others from living
freely.
Line 10 typifies the effectiveness with which Cavafy often ends
his poems. In this case, he is sure to emphasize the lovers in the last
line rather than the foolish, imbecilic critics. The last two lines could
easily have been structured to say that the sensual sensibility of the
lovers paid no heed to words such as “degenerates” or “obscene”
spoken by imbeciles. But that hypothetical sentence structure would
have given the fools almost literally the last words. Instead, Cavafy
reverses the order of the sentence, so that the final line stresses the
“sensual sensibility” of the defiant lovers. And what a splendid
phrase “sensual sensibility” is! “Sensual” implies physical pleasure;
“sensibility” implies an attitude of the mind. The mental and physical
are thus combined in two words that resemble each other in sound
even as they differ in meaning. But then the final three words bring
the whole poem to the kind of forceful but understated conclusion
Cavafy is so good at creating. To the censure of imbecilic critics,
the lovers “paid no heed.” Cavafy does not end by saying that the
lovers “damned the words as idiotic” or “rejected them as deranged”
or “spurned them with contempt.” Phrases like those would have
granted the critics more power, at the very end of the poem, than the
speaker wants to stress. Instead, the lovers simply “paid [them] no
heed.” To the lovers, now focused on each other, the critics (almost)
do not matter.
As this splendid brief poem suggests, Cavafy’s whole body
of erotic verse is an implied declaration of independence from the

176 Critical Insights


constraining conventions and constricting culture of his own day.
Those conventions and that culture largely resulted from the power
of Christianity and Islam in particular, the two dominant religions
of the Mediterranean area. In implicitly rejecting both Christian
and Islamic strictures, Cavafy was, in this sense as in many others,
a postcolonial poet. Outwardly he had to conform to the mores of
his time; but inwardly—and occasionally in his actual behavior—
he was mentally and spiritually free. That was all the freedom his
culture allowed him and others like him. He would have been a
happier man, in some ways, during some earlier time, some earlier
century, when some different empire, whose values were closer to
his own, ruled his region. But during his own lifetime he could only
be postcolonial in his mind, not in the ways he openly lived. But the
power and present popularity of his “postcolonial” verse has itself
helped bring about a new freedom—a freedom he hoped for and
foresaw in one of his own most memorable and most moving poems:

From all I did and from all I said


they shouldn’t try to find out who I was.
An obstacle was there and it distorted
my actions and the way I lived my life.
An obstacle was there and it stopped me
on many occasions when I was going to speak.
The most unnoticed of my actions
and the most covert of all my writings:
from these alone will they come to know me.
But perhaps it’s not worth squandering
so much care and trouble on puzzling me out.
Afterwards—in some more perfect society—
someone else who’s fashioned like me
will surely appear and be free to do as he pleases.
(CP 319)

Notes
1. For further discussion of this point, see Evans.
2. Jeffreys first laid out his arguments in an article (“Aesthetic”) later
reprinted in a book (Reframing Decadence). Since the article is likely

Constantine Cavafy as a Postcolonial Poet 177


to be more easily and quickly accessible to most readers (through
JSTOR), as well as more easily searchable as a PDF, I will cite from
the article rather than the book.
3. Incidentally, much of what I say here in response to Jeffreys writing
about Swinburne could just as easily be said in response to Jusdanis
writing about Tennyson. I would argue that Cavafy’s response to
Swinburne parallels his response to Tennyson. In both cases, the
stylistic difference between him and the English writers strikes me
as more interesting than the similarities. Jusdanis, following Harold
Bloom is, in fact, attuned to the “anxiety of influence” evident in
Cavafy’s response to Tennyson. This is less true of Jeffreys writing
about Cavafy’s response to Swinburne.
4. See the easily searchable electronic edition of his Complete Poetical
Works issued by Delphi Press.
5. For fuller discussion of many of the typical features of Cavafy’s
general phrasing (including both style and themes), see, for instance,
the introduction to Mendelsohn’s translation of the Complete Poems.
6. See Dan Chiasson’s “Man with a Past: Cavafy Revisited.”
7. Robert Browning, with his often quite colloquial speakers, sometimes
comes closest to Cavafy in this respect.

Works Cited
Chiasson, Dan. “Man with a Past: Cavafy Revisited.” The New Yorker, 23
Mar. 2009. Web. http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2009/03/23/
man-with-a-past.
Evans, Robert C. “‘New’ Gay Poems by Cavafy.” Critical Insights:
LGBTQ Literature, edited by Evans. Salem, 2015, pp. 146-60. Print.
Jeffreys, Peter. “‘Aesthetic to the point of affliction’: Cavafy and English
Aestheticism.” Journal of Modern Greek Studies, Vol. 24, No. 1,
2006, pp. 57-89. Print.
__________. Reframing Decadence: C. P. Cavafy’s Imaginary Portraits.
Cornell UP, 2015. Print.
Jusdanis, Gregory. “Cavafy, Tennyson and the Overcoming of Influence.”
Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies, Vol. 8, 1982, pp. 123-36. Print.
Mendelsohn, Daniel, translator. Complete Poems, by C. P. Cavafy. Alfred
A. Knopf, 2012. Print.

178 Critical Insights


__________. translator. The Unfinished Poems, by C.P. Cavafy. Alfred A.
Knopf, 2009. Print.
Swinburne, Algernon Charles. Complete Poetical Works of Algernon
Charles Swinburne. Delphi Classics, 2013. Print.
__________. Major Poems and Selected Prose. Edited by Jerome McGann
and Charles L. Sligh. Yale UP, 2004. Print.

Constantine Cavafy as a Postcolonial Poet 179


“An Eviction of Sorts”: Language, Race, and
Colonial Liminality in Ireland
Peter Robert Gardner

Introduction
In 1920, a port town in County Cork changed its name from
“Queenstown” to “Cobh” (in the Irish language, pronounced
“Cove”). In 1849, the town had been renamed “Queenstown”
in honor of Queen Victoria, the ruling monarch of Great Britain
and Ireland at the time who, on her maiden visit to Ireland, had
landed first at this port. However, by 1920 the mood was somewhat
different. The island had witnessed the rise of Irish nationalism, the
Gaelic revival,1 and three failed attempts at democratically attaining
Home Rule, and was in the midst of the War of Intendance (1919-
1921). Revolutionary fever and anti-colonial nationalism were very
much in the air. Overthrowing British imperial rule in Ireland came
to mean not merely instituting rule from Dublin rather than London,
but also painting the red British post boxes green, institutionalizing
Irish as the national language, and attempting to change the names
of counties, towns, places, and roads “back” to their “original” Irish
names: Kingstown to Dún Laoghaire, Queen’s County to County
Laois, Queenstown to Cobh.
Decolonizing name changes is fraught with difficulty. Locating
the “original” is not always a plausible aim. Places often had multiple
names, different names depending on context, and wide varieties of
spelling and pronunciation. Place-names tend to change and evolve
over time, and older places often were never written down. Numerous
linguistic influences, both specially and temporally, also influence
this process. As such, decolonizing the map is a challenging exercise.
And what if the town or city was founded by the colonial power, ought
new names to be produced? What’s more, nationalist rhetoric often
entails homogenizing difference within the nation-state. As such,
post-independence nationalism can also be a form of domination
of a central government over the population. Such ideologies also
180 Critical Insights
heavily influence both the decision to change the place-name and
the name that is chosen. Linguistically, the standardization of the
national language may produce national homogenizations of place-
names, overriding lost local dialects. By way of example, the town
of Cobh was known as “Cove” before it became Queenstown: the
name “Cobh” is a Gaelicization of the English word, and has no
meaning in Irish. But does this older name of “Cove” speak of a
long history of colonial domination or nautical interaction and co-
development in the centuries prior to the invention of the nation,
state, and border? And does British domination in Ireland represent
colonial imperialism or simply the state domination of the periphery
(Ireland, Scotland, and Wales) from a powerful center (the south-
east of England)?
In this chapter, I discuss language, the (re)naming of places,
and postcolonial liminality in Ireland through Brian Friel’s (1981)
play Translations. The play is set in 1833, in the fictional small
town of Baile Beag, County Donegal, Ireland. It describes the
interactions among British army officials and locals of the town at
a moment of colonial map-making. Although the play is entirely
in English, the English characters speak only English and the Irish
characters only Irish, and hence are unable to understand each
other. Only the audience and three English-Irish bilingual Irish
characters can understand all speakers. Through the play, one of
the bilingual characters, Owen, works with Lieutenant Yolland to
produce the new, “standardized”2 map of Ireland. British colonial
rule frequently utilized such scientific language to legitimize and
institutionalize their control over the populations they sought to
rule. By discussing the role of colonial map-making, the play
explores the effects of British colonial domination on language
and place, and the capacity for the act of imperial cartography to
produce various forms of domination: political, economic, military,
ideological, sexual, cultural, and linguistic. Discussing Ireland’s
specific space in postcolonialism, I discuss some of the dimensions
of Irish colonialism within Translations.

“An Eviction of Sorts” 181


Ireland as a Liminal Case of Colonialism
Ireland’s location within debates on postcoloniality has always
been—and will no doubt remain—contested, yet its inclusion is vital
because of that very contestation. Eóin Flannery (2007)

In terms of colonialism, Ireland is a liminal case (Graham 1994).


To exclude it from the history of colonialism would be a loss both
to understanding both modern Ireland and the development of the
colonial enterprise. However, unreserved inclusion of Ireland on the
list of colonized states is equally problematic, due to its comparative
wealth, industrial development, inclusion into the United Kingdom’s
governance structure, eventual incorporation into racial whiteness
(see below), and direct involvement in British imperialism and its
colonial project in colonies elsewhere.
Ireland frequently functioned as a testing ground for a variety of
techniques of colonization that the British government subsequently
employed in its other colonies. Settler colonialism is a technique
of colonial governance whereby the ruling state relocates members
of its own population onto the land - to bring the population under
colonial control, appropriate the natural resources and production
output of the colonized state, “civilize” its “natives,” as well as
other nefarious goals. In the early seventeenth century, the British
monarchy embarked upon its first such mission. Known as the Ulster
Plantation, the monarch at the time3 planned to attain full control
of Ireland by relocating British settlers, largely from the Scottish
borderlands. With the “success” of the Ulster Plantation, it became
the testing ground for the techniques of colonization that would
subsequently be employed in British colonialism elsewhere (Home
2013; McVeigh and Rolston 2009). Similarly, Ireland became an
experimentation ground of sorts for many other techniques of
colonialization, such as the map, the census, and racial hierarchy, as
I discuss below.
With other colonized states, Ireland shares experiences and
effects of British domination, as well as an overlap of personnel.
Both this reality and the interpretation of Irish independence as
decolonization led to solidarity between Ireland and other states

182 Critical Insights


pushing for independence, most prominently with India (see
O’Connor and Foley 2006; Nagai 2007). Friel hints at this colonial
cross-pollination and connection in Translations through the
biography of Lieutenant Yolland:

I might have been in Bombay instead of Ballybeg. You see, my


father was at his wits end with me and finally he got me a job with
the East India Company—some kind of a clerkship. This was ten,
eleven months ago. So I set off for London. Unfortunately I —I—I
missed the boat. Literally. And since I couldn’t face Father and hadn’t
enough money to hang about until the next sailing, I joined the army.
And they stuck me into the Engineers and posted me top Dublin. And
Dublin sent me here. (Friel 1981, 46-47)

Friel draws the reader’s attention to the shared experience of


colonialism of India and Ireland through the similarity between the
words. “Baile Beag” and “Bombay” are both disyllabic and together
form double alliteration4. Coupling the two places linguistically,
Friel presents them as two sides of the same colonized coin.
An interesting dynamic exists in the relationship between
Yolland and Owen in the play. Yolland, a lieutenant with the British
army, is much more reflexive and critical about the project of
creating the new “standardized” map than Owen, an Irish subject
of the British Empire. Although Yolland is unsure of precisely what
is problematic about the project, he states that he is “concerned
about [his] part in it.” Owen, on the other hand, defends the project
from Yolland’s critiques, as well as those from other inhabitants of
Baile Beag. Between the two, the English “colonizer” is the voice
of dissent, whereas the “colonized” Irish character endorses the
colonial scheme. This relationship raises a crucial question relating
to Ireland’s coloniality: to what extent does the depth and extent of
Irish collusion with, and inclusion in, the colonial project alter its
position in relation to the colonial order?
The Acts of Union between Great Britain and Ireland were
signed in 1800, making Ireland fully part a single “United
Kingdom.” This provided Ireland with political representation in the
House of Commons in London, incorporating the Irish legislature
“An Eviction of Sorts” 183
into the government of Great Britain (Jackson 2012). The period
of Irish representation in Westminster (1800-1920) was the period
that witnessed the greatest rise in British colonization (Darwin
2009). As such, Irish political elites were complicit in a government
that oversaw the rise of the British Empire, the wars of conquest,
the “Scramble for Africa,” and the ruling of the territories under
British control. The Irish were also complicit in the British colonial
project in various other roles: as settler-colonialists, army officers,
administrators, missionaries, and other imperial roles across the
Empire (O’Connor and Foley 2006). Hence, as embodied in the
character of Owen in Translations, the Irish were simultaneously
both colonizer and colonized.
It is also worth noting, however, that the Acts of Union were
also a mechanism of domination and control, rather hastily enacted
- to pacify an increasingly revolutionary Ireland (Jackson 2012).
Influenced and emboldened by the American and French Revolutions
in the second half of the eighteenth century, Irish Republicans had
launched a rebellion in 1798. The Acts of Union were intended
to quell this rebellion and bring the island under complete British
control. Furthermore, as McGarry notes, “Ireland was governed
through much of the nineteenth century by emergency legislation,
the only part of the United Kingdom to have this dubious distinction.
Its regime was arguably closer to Britain’s non-white colonies than
to Scotland’s” (2012, 131).
Michael Hechter (1975) uses the term “internal colonialism” to
describe the structure of political, economic, and cultural inequality
that has been produced through the uneven historical development
of the United Kingdom between the south-eastern English “core”
and the northern English and Celtic periphery. However, almost
all nations and states, whether colonial or not, have involved the
domination of a powerful core over a periphery. Within the “British
Isles,”5 both Scotland and Wales were also brought under rule from
London through various trajectories, including violent incursions and
subjugations, the appropriation of land and settlement, the joining of
crowns, the extension of legal jurisdiction, and Acts of Union (Wales
in the sixteenth century, Scotland in 1707). As uneven and unequal

184 Critical Insights


as these various arrangements were, little separates a situation of
“internal colonialism” from normal structures of domination in state-
building. As such, Ireland’s (thoroughly unequal) incorporation into
the United Kingdom renders it somewhat different to almost all
colonized parts of the world.
In terms of economic structure, Ireland also diverges considerably
from the experience of the rest of the colonized world. At the time
of independence, the economic structure of Ireland was much less
agricultural (43% in 1911) compared with other colonial states: for
example, 72% of India’s workforce was agricultural in 1950, 68%
for Malaysia in 1947, and 68% for Ghana in 1960 (Kennedy 1992).
Ireland has had a comparatively higher industrial sector; however,
this was geographically concentrated in the north-east (in what would
later become Northern Ireland). In terms of Gross Domestic Product
(GDP) per capita at the time of independence, Ireland also stands
out as disproportionately wealthy compared with other colonized
states (Kennedy 1992). However, it is crucial when considering
such figures to take into consideration the fact that this wealth was
unevenly distributed between colonialists and colonizers, as well as
between the industrialized north-east and the rest of the island. At
independence, Ireland was certainly an outlier in terms of economic
structure, wealth, and stage of capitalist development in comparison
with other colonized states (Kennedy 1992). However, in line with
the colonial model of capitalism, the means of production were
mostly held by the settler-colonial or comprador bourgeoisie (Howe
2000).
In Translations, Owen is a liminal character. However, being
“amphibian” in terms of language, culture, and relationship to
British imperialism renders him not just a “useful tool of empire”
(Cronin 2006, 76-77), but also a participant in, and beneficiary of,
that colonial system. Similarly, within the world of colonized states,
Ireland found itself occupying a space of liminality, being colonized
and colonizer, a mouthpiece for and voice against the empire, a tool
of imperialism and a banner for decolonization. I contend, however,
that Ireland ought to be included within postcolonial studies not
despite its liminality but because of its liminality. This problematic,

“An Eviction of Sorts” 185


multiple character raises interesting and important questions in
understanding colonialism and postcolonialism.

Imperial Cartography
In Translations, Lieutenant Yolland and Owen debate the meaning
of the imperial cartographical project upon which they were
embarking:

YOLLAND: It’s an eviction of sorts.


OWEN: We’re making a six-inch map of the country. Is there
something sinister in that?
YOLLAND: Not in —
OWEN:—And we’re standardizing those names as accurately and
as sensitively as we can.
YOLLAND: Something is being eroded. (Friel 1981, 52-53)

The colonial mapping and renaming of places by “translating” into


English, and “standardizing” to render the area more amenable
to British rule is described as simultaneously an eviction and an
erosion. An eviction implies a coercive displacement of people from
their home. It also infers a claim of possession of the land: eviction
requires the evictor to claim legitimate ownership over that which
they evict others from. An eviction is also a sudden and violent act.
An erosion, on the other hand, is a long-term, gradual yet unremitting
form of destruction. Erosion involves a reshaping of the landscape in
line with the forces continually working upon it. Although Yolland
is working as a colonial cartographer, he has apprehensions over his
role. He is cognizant of his position as a deliverer of the eviction
notice and a transmitter for forces of erosion.
Benedict Anderson (1991) outlined three institutions of power
utilized by the colonial states that led to the spread of ideas of nation
and nationalism to the colonized world. These three institutions were
the census, the map, and the museum6. As with many colonial ideas,
the map has become universally accepted as a scientific, neutral,
even natural way to visualize the world, detached from its historical
invention as a tool of colonial domination. Before the map, space
was conceptualized in a wide variety of ways throughout the globe.
186 Critical Insights
Many places had multiple or shifting names. Boundaries of power
overlapped, moved, or were roughly and divergently marked in
particular spaces. Maps produced a range of new phenomena: a
two-dimensional, birds-eye-view conception of the land; singular
and unchanging names for places and spaces; and definite borders
separating counties, states, and nations. This new “cartographic
discourse” created a global revolution in governance, control of
populations, taxation, military action, and—crucially—the ways in
which individuals and groups conceived of themselves and the area
they inhabited (Anderson 1991, 175).
As mentioned above, lessons in domination learned from Ireland
were subsequently adopted and utilized to further the British Imperial
project elsewhere. Experimentation with colonial cartography
in Ireland illustrated the usefulness of the map in rendering a
territory and a population amenable to governance, appropriation
of resources, control over the means of production, and military
control. In the seventeenth century, the English economist, William
Petty (1711), produced his notorious volume, Political Arithmetic.
The aim of this new science of “political arithmetic” was to utilize
mathematics, statistics, and geography to manipulate populations
such that they would be rendered both loyal to, and productive
under, English rule (McCormick 2009). The successfulness of this
technique of domination resulted in its use in successive colonies.
Mapping a territory itself entails multi-layered claims of
superiority. The colonizer claims this superiority through the tools
of “modern” science. “Rational scientific method” lends itself well
to structures of domination. Laws of the universe are understood
to be deducible through the application of logic, rationality, and
methodology. Scientific logic was commonly used by colonial
powers to describe various measures and repressions—even the
colonial control of the territory itself—as defensible and legitimate.
Furthermore, possession of scientific method itself was held up as
proof of the colonizing state’s superiority. Through the map, the
colonizer could claim to be able to know the land and people of the
colonized territory in a way the colonized population did not (Said
2003). Having gained the power of description over the colonized

“An Eviction of Sorts” 187


space, the power to describe, locate and articulate the territory was
(quite literally) in the hands of the colonizer.
This power to describe the territory has linguistic implications.
The racist hierarchies of colonialism produced hierarchies of language,
wherein the language(s) of the oppressed came to be stigmatized
as uncivilized, unscientific, backward tongues, naturally inferior to
those of Europe (Skutnabb-Kangas 2000). As Hugh, in Translations,
puts it: “it can happen that a civilization can be imprisoned in a
linguistic contour that no longer matches the landscape of … fact”
(Friel 1981, 52). With “reality” and “truth” dictated by the science
of the powerful, the actual place-names and spoken language of
the people are made incongruous with the colonizer’s “factual”
landscape. Precolonial discourses of the terrain are designated as
antiquated, premodern, folklorish; prison bars trapping a culture
from “correct” development. Colonizing states legitimized much
exploitation, domination, and by couching it in terms of setting the
“native” free from their “primitive” cultures, customs, and languages.
As a result, colonizing powers, in fact, expressed expectations that
their colonized populations should feel indebted to them for offering
them “development” (and indignation when it wasn’t forthcoming).
As the governing charter for the cartographic project in Translations
states, “Ireland is privileged. No such survey is being undertaken
in England. So this survey cannot but be received as proof of the
disposition of this government to advance the interests of Ireland.”
Not only does imperial cartography include an eviction/erosion
based on a hierarchy of people, language, knowledge, and landscape;
its subjects are to receive it with gratitude.

Race, Whiteness, and Sexuality


One reason for Ireland’s frequent exclusion from the literature
on postcolonialism is racial and geographical. As Clayton put it,
some theorists have excluded Ireland from such discussions due
to an “unease at categorizing white European Irish Catholics in
the same way as Africans and Asians” (1996, 25). It is important,
however, to differentiate between different kinds of “unease” in
this regard; specifically between those harboring racist anxieties

188 Critical Insights


that somehow including Ireland would be a “lowering” to the level
of non-white states. A more defensible unease expresses concern
over the potential for color-blinding of postcolonial studies or a
diminishing of the importance of racial domination. The latter form
of unease is a genuine concern, and one that must be taken seriously
in considering colonialism. The construction and implantation of
race, racial hierarchy, and racial domination were/are intrinsic to the
colonial project (Davis 1997). In this regard, however, Ireland again
occupies a liminal space.
The categorization of Irish as white, and hence racially
homogenous with the British, has not always been the case in the
“British Isles.” Racial categories have differed in number, meaning,
application, and boundaries in different places across the world,
and in each place over time. The notion that Europe was racially
homogeneous developed slowly, and was applied with much more
hesitancy internally than in its colonies (Bonnett 2000; Yuval-
Davis 1997; Eze 1997; Miles 2003). Within the “British Isles”, the
Irish have not always been considered “white.” In the nineteenth
century, popular understandings of race included two separate
categories, “Xanthochroi” (fair white peoples of northern Europe)
and “Melanochroi” (dark whites of southern Europe). As with
other forms of scientific racism, not only were those placed within
the different categories considered somehow naturally different,
but were also ranked into racial hierarchies with the Xanthochroi
conceptualized as the superior race. Within the “British Isles,” this
racial line was alleged to run along the Irish Sea. The British were
included within the Xanthochroi category (unsurprisingly, given that
the designations were made by English anthropologists), whereas
the Irish were to be understood as the inferior Melanochroi grouping
(Bonnett 1998, 2000; Ignatiev 2009; Jacobson 1999; Ní Shuinéar
2002). In this sense, nineteenth-century British rule in Ireland
incorporated a racialized conceptualization of the Irish “native.”
The Irish were, however, brought very much into the fold of
whiteness during the twentieth century. So much so, that the notion
of racial difference across the Irish Sea was buried and forgotten. As
such, although colonial raciology did exclude the Irish from access

“An Eviction of Sorts” 189


to power and resources, their eventual (re?)inclusion into whiteness
has permitted Ireland and the Irish with access to various dimensions
of white privilege and domination. Furthermore, it is important to
note that, even at the height of the Xanthochroi-Melanochroi racial
ideology, there was a substantial difference in terms of domination,
dispossession, and privilege between being categorized not-quite-
white and non-white.
In Translations, a relationship develops between the British
soldier and imperial cartographer, Lieutenant Yolland, and an Irish-
speaking Baile Beag local named Máire. As they do not speak each
other’s language, their interaction is restricted to vocal tone and
timbre, physicality, and non-verbal communication. Yolland and
Máire’s relationship is characteristic of sexual attraction between
colonizer and colonized, and, hence, asymmetrical.

YOLLAND: I want to tell you how beautiful you are, curly-haired


Máire. I would so like to tell you how beautiful you are.
MÁIRE: Your arms are long and thin and the skin on your shoulders
is very white.

In terms of physicality, Yolland fetishizes Máire’s physical and


performative Irishness, focused on her “curly-haired” exoticism. This
echoes an earlier discussion within the play. Amidst translations of
Irish place names, Yolland learns that Máire’s surname, “Chatach,”
means “curly-haired” (Friel 1981, 44). In this way, sexual conquest
and territorial conquest are conflated, wrapped up in language,
exoticism, and cartography. In discussing the production of colonial
maps, Anne McClintock describes how the patriarchal “male,
reproductive order,” the “white economic order,” and the “political
order of empire” come to “take intimate shape in relation to each
other” (1994, 4). Something of this colonial framework is reflected
in the relationship of Yolland and Máire. Yolland fetishizes Máire
Irishness. His attraction is wrapped up in his desire to conquer
Irishness—the Irish language, Irish places, and place-names. He
embodies the imperial male desire for the exotic, longing to conquer
new land, even to “go native.”

190 Critical Insights


As McClintock points out, “the transmission of white, male
power through the control of colonized women” is a core governing
theme of Western imperialism (1994, 1-3). Intersections between
patriarchal, racial, and colonial domination took on a broad variety
of forms. Relationships between colonizing men and colonized
women, such as that of Yolland and Máire in Translations, involve
multiple and intersecting, yet often masked, power asymmetries.

MÁIRE: Say anything at all. I love the sound of your speech. […]
YOLLAND: Go on—go on—say anything at all—I love the sound
of your speech.

As neither character can understand the language that the “other” is


speaking, communication between the two is restricted to the sound,
inclinations, and tonality of speech. As such, “the established order
of language is undermined by the new meanings attached to the
words they utter. The sound of the words is more important than the
meaning” (Szabo 2009, 135). However, the limitations of language
are further heightened by the fact that, although the characters state
exactly the same sentence, their love for each other’s speech have
fundamentally different qualities.
Máire’s attraction to Yolland mirrors her longing for development
and modernity. She desires his Britishness, his commanding voice,
his southern English poise, his whiteness. Máire expresses physical
and social difference through hands: in comparison to her own:
“My hands are that rough; they’re still blistered from the hay. I’m
ashamed of them.” She remarks that Yolland’s hands are “Soft hands;
a gentleman’s hands” (Friel 1981, 78, 66). Máire’s love is a love for
modernity, for progress. Her love for his speech—his English—is
associated with a desire for development, for progress. She loves
his whiteness. Colonial domination has a tendency to produce
subjects who internalize the colonized desire for “civilizing:” a
desire for being “saved” by the colonial master (Fanon 1972, 2004).
Fanon perceived a desire among colonized women for “civilizing”
the colonized population by reproducing “up” the colonial racist

“An Eviction of Sorts” 191


hierarchy, under the notion that “the race must be whitened” (1972,
33).
Again, as noted above, the experience of colonization in terms
of racial exclusion and domination diverges substantially between
those categorized non-white and those as not-quite-white. This
divergence is compounded by later incorporations of Irishness into
racial whiteness. Something of the dynamics that Fanon describes
are represented in Máire’s desire for Yolland. Throughout the play,
Máire repeatedly expresses disdain for, or frustration with, traditional
Irishness. She longs for full inclusion into the “civilized world.”
Her desire is to move “up” the colonial raciological hierarchy from
“dark white” to “fair white.” The asymmetry between Yolland and
Máire is made most evident in their divergent aspirations. Yolland
articulates a desire to remain and assimilate (“I want to be here—
to live here—always—with you—always, always”) whereas
Máire’s ambition is to leave and be modernized (“Take me away
with you, George”) (Friel 1981, 67). However, the experiences
of the dynamics of patriarchal and racist colonialism experienced
in Ireland also diverge from those described by Fanon. Different
categorizations and experiences of colonialism created a plethora of
different struggles for colonized women. The interrelated liminalities
of Ireland in relation to colonialism and its racial hierarchy created
different opportunities and oppressions. Máire aims not merely to
“whiten the race,” but, under the British colonial racial nexus, aims
to pass into whiteness herself.

Conclusion
Friel’s work illuminates the reality that “to make a map of a
landscape is always not only to simplify it, but to impose one’s
own meaning on it and even, at the extreme, to do violence to it
and its inhabitants” (Howe 2000). The naming of a place inscribes
language, peoplehood, and ideologies onto the landscape. Colonial
renaming includes complex intersections between imperialism,
patriarchy, and racial hierarchy. Almost invariably, the power to
(re)name was in the hands of western, wealthy, white men. The
reach of colonialism across the world has produced a globe of

192 Critical Insights


colonized maps. As such, the themes, questions, and obstacles
that Translations broaches are significant to postcolonial theory.
The historical development of place-names in Ireland, however,
is also tangled up with its colonial liminality. The islands that are
now Great Britain and Ireland were not always the allegedly neat
and bordered nations, languages, and cultures of the modern map.
There has always been mixture, connection, and interaction across,
between, and throughout these islands. The “practices of cultural
resistance, retrieval and recovery” involved in decolonizing place-
names can include problematic discourses of “cultural purity evident
in racism and ethnic fundamentalism” based on ideas of “returning
to supposedly pure precolonial cultures” (Nash 1999, 459; Graham
1994). Between Ireland and the “British Isles,” the local is both
colonized and colonizer, historical interactions are both colonial and
precolonial, and the colonizer is both differentiated and local. In
this way, the liminality of Ireland’s colonial past creates formidable
entanglements of power and nomenclature, rendering the injustice
of colonial eviction difficult to justly reoccupy.

Notes
1. The “Gaelic revival” was a rise of interest the latter half of the
nineteenth century in documenting, reviving, and, at times, inventing
Irish tradition, culture, and language.
2. MANUS: What’s ‘incorrect’ about the place-names we have here? /
OWEN: Nothing at all. They’re just going to be standardized.
3. The Union of the Crowns in 1603 made King James VI of Scotland
also James I of England and Ireland. As such, he is known as King
James VI and I.
4. Reinforced by the inclusion of ‘Bombay’ in Yolland’s list at the end of
scene one: ‘Anna na mBreag! Baile Beag! Innis Meadhon! Bombay!
Tobair Vree! Eden! And poteen—correct, Owen?’ (Friel 1981, 61).
5. “British Isles” is commonly used as a collective term for Great
Britain, Ireland, and surrounding smaller islands. Although this
term is uncontroversial for most in the United Kingdom, it is often
considered provocative in the island of Ireland insofar as it evokes a
sense of British ownership. Numerous alternatives—such as “Islands
of the North Atlantic,” “these islands,” or the “Atlantic archipelago”
“An Eviction of Sorts” 193
(2005:77)—have been proposed, but none have made it into common
parlance.
6. For detail on the census and the map, see Chapter Ten of Anderson’s
(1983) book, Imagined Communities.

Works Cited
Anderson, Benedict. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin
and Spread of Nationalism. London: Verso, 1991. Print.
Bonnett, Alastair. “How the British Working Class Became White: The
Symbolic (Re)formation of Racialized Capitalism.” Journal of
Historical Sociology 11 (3), 1998: pp. 316-40. Print.
__________. White Identities: Historical and International Perspectives.
Edinburgh: Pearson, 2000. Print.
Clayton, Pamela. Enemies and Passing Friends: Settler Ideologies in
Twentieth Century Ulster. London: Pluto Press, 1996. Print.
Cronin, Michael. Translation and Identity. Abingdon: Routledge, 2006.
Print.
Darwin, John. The Empire Project: The Rise and Fall of the British World-
System, 1830-1970. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2009. Print.
Davis, David Brion. “Constructing Race: A Reflection.” The William and
Mary Quarterly 4 (1), 1997: pp. 7-18. Print.
Eze, Emmanuel Chukwudi. Race and the Enlightenment: A Reader.
Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 1997. Print.
Fanon, Frantz. Black Skin White Masks. London: Paladin, 1972. Print.
__________. The Wretched of the Earth. New York: Grove Press, 2004.
Print.
Flannery, Eoin. “Irish Cultural Studies and Postcolonial Theory.”
Postcolonial Text 3 (3), 2007: pp. 1-13. Print.
Friel, Brian. Translations. London: Faber & Faber, 1981. Print.
Graham, Colin. “‘Liminal Spaces’: Post-Colonial Theories and Irish
Culture.” The Irish Review 16 (1), 1994.: pp. 29-43. Print.
Hechter, Michael. Internal Colonialism: The Celtic Fringe in British
National Development, 1536-1966. London: Routledge and Kegan
Paul, 1975. Print.
Home, Robert K. Of Planting and Planning: The Making of British
Colonial Cities. Second Edition. Oxford: Routledge, 2013. Print.

194 Critical Insights


Howe, Stephen. Ireland and Empire: Colonial Legacies in Irish History
and Culture. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2000. Print.
Ignatiev, Noel. How the Irish Became White. Abingdon: Routledge, 2009.
Print.
Jackson, Alvin. The Two Unions: Ireland, Scotland, and the Survival of the
United Kingdom, 1707-2007. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2012. Print.
Jacobson, Matthew Frye. Whiteness of a Different Color: European
Immigrants and the Alchemy of Race. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP,
1999. Print.
Kennedy, Liam. “Modern Ireland: Post-Colonial Society or Post-Colonial
Pretensions?” The Irish Review 13 (Winter), 1992: pp. 107-21. Print.
McClintock, Anne. Imperial Leather: Race, Gender and Sexuality in the
Colonial Contest. London and New York: Routledge, 1994. Print.
McCormick, Ted. William Petty and the Ambitions of Political Arithmetic.
Oxford: Oxford UP, 2009. Print.
McGarry, John. “The United Kingdom’s Experiment in Asymmetric
Autonomy and the Lessons Learned.” In Multinational Federalism:
Problems and Prospects, edited by Michel Seymour and Alain G.
Gagnon, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012. pp. 129-48. Print.
McVeigh, Robbie, and Bill Rolston. “Civilising the Irish.” Race & Class
51 (1), 2009: pp. 2-28. Print.
Miles, Robert. Racism. 2nd Edition. London: Routledge, 2003. Print.
Nagai, Kaori. Empire of Analogies: Kipling, India and Ireland. Cork:
Cork UP, 2007. Print.
Nash, Catherine. “Irish Placenames: Post-Colonial Locations.”
Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 24 (4), 1999:
pp. 457-80. Print.
Ní Shuinéar, Sinéad. “Othering the Irish (Traveller).” In Racism and
Antiracism in Ireland, edited by Robbie McVeigh, and Ronit Lentin.
Belfast: Beyond the Pale, 2002. Print.
O’Connor, Maureen, and Tadhg Foley. Ireland and India: Colonies,
Culture and Empire. Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 2006. Print.
Petty, William. Essays in Political Arithmetick, Or, A Discourse
Concerning the Extent and Value of Lands, People, Buildings: As the
Same Relates to Every Country in General but More Particularly to

“An Eviction of Sorts” 195


the Territories of Her Majesty of Great Britain and Her Neighbours
of H. London: Printed for Henry and George Mortlock, 1711. Print.
Said, Edward W. Orientalism. London: Penguin, 2003. Print.
Skutnabb-Kangas, Tove. Linguistic Genocide in Education, or Worldwide
Diversity and Human Rights? Mahwah, N.J.: L. Erlbaum Associates,
2000. Print.
Szabo, Carmen. “Clearing the Ground”: The Field Day Theatre Company
and the Construction of Irish Identities. Newcastle: Cambridge
Scholars Publishing, 2009. Print.
Yuval-Davis, Nira. Gender and Nation. London: Sage, 1997. Print.

196 Critical Insights


The Hawaiian Television Cop Show
Aaron Iokepa Ki‘ilau

No other television genre has filmed on location in Hawai‘i1 with


more consistency than the crime fiction series—what this chapter
will colloquially refer to as “cop shows.”2 Magnum P.I. (1980-
88) and especially Hawaii Five-O (1968-80) have enjoyed critical
acclaim during their times on air and gained enthusiastic local
fandom, attaching themselves to Hawaiian culture in general. Five-
O’s popularity continues today in the form of a much-anticipated
reboot of the iconic crime series that premiered in 2010. Setting
and filming cop shows in the Hawaiian Islands has also been
incredibly lucrative for the film and tourism industries, helping to
pump billions of dollars into the Hawaiian economy for almost half
a century. Hawaiian television crime fictions have also been the
subject of academic inquiry with Peter Britos’ Symbols, Myth and TV
in Hawai‘i (1983), a thorough dissertation that covers the first three
Hawaiian crime fiction (paramilitary) programs; Karen Rhodes’
study and episode catalogue Booking Five-O (1997); and Stanley
Orr’s “Strangers in Our Own Land,” an examination of Samoan-
American playwright John Kneubuhl’s Five-O episode of the same
name. Yet, although all Hawaiian television crime shows lend the
fiftieth American State at least a weekly national spotlight and a
chance to display a Hawaiian “authenticity” that their Hollywood
creators have prioritized, none of them are credibly authentic from a
local Hawaiian perspective. What persists instead are reiterations of
paternalistic colonialism, “Orientalist” stereotypes, and a strategic
misrepresentation of Hawaii’s historical demographics, all of which
accommodate economic (tourist) and sociopolitical (imperialist)
ends. To approach such a charge, an examination of both titular
points is appropriate: TV crime fiction and Hawai‘i.

The Hawaiian Television Cop Show 197


The Crime Fiction Genre
Crime fiction is a historically popular literary genre, representing
an impressive number of written, cinematic, and televisual works.
Their plots are traditionally set in motion by some mysterious crime
or graphic encounter of violence. A protagonist detective leads
the ensuing investigation by collecting and comparing evidence,
bringing culprits to justice, and restoring some kind of social order
to their respective patrols. Crime fiction is told from the perspectives
of many professions both within and beyond the criminal justice
system. The semi-historical Judge Dee, for example, is a Chinese
county magistrate, Sherlock Holmes is a private detective from
London, and Jessica Fletcher is a New England mystery novelist—
yet all serve the part of detectives in their stories. These lead
investigators are often, but not always, accompanied by an assistant
or second in command: Sherlock Holmes has his proverbial (“dear”)
Watson, Captain Jean-Luc Picard has Commander William Riker,
and Hawaii Five-O’s Steve McGarrett has Sergeant Danny (book
‘em) “Danno” Williams. The dialogue that occurs between these two
leads lend a Socratic air to crime fiction investigations as detectives
and their assistants ask questions, form hypotheses, recognize
motives, recreate crime scenes, eliminate suspects, and bring about
sound conclusions to initially faceless heists and homicide—what
Rhodes refers to as the “Process” (17). And, if their viewers and
readers are not too distracted by the prevalent crime and violence,
crime fiction stories inherently contemplate on the social problem of
crime itself, approaching it from a safe spectator’s distance (Sargent
1767-68).
This points to one of several ways in which crime fiction is also
controversial by nature. For instance, crime fiction risks popularizing
crime and violence even if it means to denounce it. Moreover, while
actually performing illegal activity is forbidden, reading and writing
about it is still legal and popular. As a result, people have sometimes
committed copycat crimes, claiming inspiration from criminals in
newspapers, film, and television—from Jack the Ripper to Dexter
(2006-2013). Incidences like these feed an ongoing debate on what
is appropriate for television, if violence should only be shown at later

198 Critical Insights


hours, if more “family programming” should be added to equalize
content, and so forth (Alley 43).
The backgrounds and social ideologies of crime drama heroes
may also vary as widely as those of their many writers. As a result,
TV crime fiction has over the years had to adapt to shifting social and
political movements, constricting and decompressing its moral tone
between ideological trends. As cop shows are a generic cousin of the
TV western, they have often been criticized for being dominated on-
and off-screen by white male lead characters and filmmakers. This
perhaps allowed for television producers to complexify their series’
narratives and diversify their casts.
TV crime drama has matured over the years from the deadpan
documentarian style of Dragnet (1951-59) to more intriguing,
cerebral, and even comedic variations. Many crime shows have
attempted to break the traditional white-male mode as Columbo
(1971-77), Kojak (1973-78), and Baretta (1975-78) have done by
emphasizing their heroes’ ethnic backgrounds. Cagney and Lacey
(1982-88) and Charlie’s Angels (1976-81) focused on female crime-
fighters whereas Hill Street Blues (1981-87) attempted to revive
the realist approach to professional police work. The critically
acclaimed NYPD Blue (1993-2005) offered more intimate looks into
the personal lives of police officers whereas Monk (2000-09) and
Brooklyn Nine-Nine (2013-) are more comedic variants of the crime
fiction genre.
TV cop shows have also made visual updates over the years. In
the early 1960s, TV producers capitalized on the dynamic capabilities
of color television. Whereas black-and-white film was more fitting
for the nocturnal cityscapes of early film and TV noir, color television
offered filmmakers more lively visual effects especially in exotic
filming locations. Surfside Six (1960-62) and Miami Vice (1984-89),
for example, brought the traditionally monochromatic big-city cop
show to vibrant, seaside Miami. Hawai‘i Five-O and all subsequent
Hawaiian TV cop shows heavily ride this tradition as opening, end
credit, and scene transitions are often cut with beaches, ocean vistas,
tropical forests, and general touristic scenery.

The Hawaiian Television Cop Show 199


TV in Hawai‘i
Because of its easily recognized theme song, colloquial
catchphrases (“Book ‘em, Danno!” and “Five-O” as a colloquialism
for policemen), and recent series remake, CBS’s Hawaii Five-O
is more often identified as the definitive Hawaiian TV cop show.
To a lesser extent, a similar thing may be said about its original
successor, Magnum P.I. However, while Five-O may have been
the first Hawaiian duo-detective series filmed in Hawai‘i, it is not
the first TV cop show to be set there. That distinction belongs to
ABC’s Hawaiian Eye (1959-63), an earlier crime series whose lead
detectives worked out of the Hawaiian Village Hotel—the show was
actually filmed at the Warner Bros. studios in Burbank, California.
CBS would continue to set and film more crime series in Hawai‘i
after Magnum, but with less success as its predecessors. Jake and
the Fatman (1987-92) relocated its later seasons to Hawai‘i, and the
short-lived Raven (1992-93) and One West Waikiki (1994-96) also
failed to sustain the popularity held by Magnum and Five-O. Almost
a decade would pass before the genre would be picked up again,
though not in earnest, by A&E’s Dog the Bounty Hunter (2004-12),
with an ultra-realist, controversial approach to the material.
To be fair, filming nationally broadcast television programs in
Hawai‘i was not limited entirely to crime fiction. Almost every other
imaginable TV genre has filmed at least one episode in Hawai‘i. Game
shows, domestic sitcoms, celebrity news programs, soap operas,
beauty pageants, cooking shows, and reality TV have all done at
least one “Hawaiian” episode in the Islands. These occasional one-
offs capitalize on the “authentic Hawaiian experience” stereotype,
as characters and contestants are treated to the proverbial Hawaiian
vacation. Still, only TV crime fiction series have kept longer,
more substantial productions in Hawai‘i for almost the entirety of
television history, placing crime and mystery in the fore with the
ever-marketable Hawaiian scenery as backdrop.
There are several explanations as to why the Hawaiian
cop show sustained such a presence in Hawai‘i and on network
television. The first, more subtle explanation points to an oft-evoked
theme of Hawai‘i as an idyllic paradise. The heinousness of theft

200 Critical Insights


and murder are emphasized heavily when it is set against an Eden-
like background. Series creator Leonard Freeman made it explicit
in Hawaii Five-O’s concept to display “man’s evil amid the beauty
of paradise” (Rhodes 12). When Thomas Magnum, stranded in such
a place, asks if he can use a telephone in one Magnum episode,
he’s told by a sarcastic Native Hawaiian, “There are no telephones
on this island. There’s no telephones, no radios, no television, or
burglaries or drugs,” summarizing a common indigenous comment
on the haphazard effects of hasty modernization. Most of the episode
takes place on a fictional island that depicts an idyllic Hawaiian
community, whose strict traditionalism and resistance to modern
conveniences is made to resemble of an Amish community in old-
fashioned Hawaiian dress. The implied history of this 1986 episode
flies in the face of an otherwise rich intellectualism and modernity
exemplified by nineteenth-century Hawaiian-language newspapers
and literature (Silva and Ngũgĩ, 2017).
Such characterizations of pre-statehood Hawai‘i touch upon
similar notions of western explorers being credited with bringing
ingenuity, intelligence, and modernity to so-called “primitive” or
“discovered” cultures. Jared Diamond argues otherwise that the
eponymous guns, germs, and steel were a more likely and clumsy
factor in the decline or extermination of indigenous peoples (1997).
This is well-demonstrated by the near obliteration of Hawaiian,
American, and Canadian indigenous populations who had poor
resistance to diseases introduced by Euro-Americans. Before
western colonization, Native Hawaiians were for many centuries
impressively self-sufficient and mobile despite their near isolation in
the middle of the largest body of water on Earth. They were expert
navigators, creative agriculturalists, fierce warriors, and maintained
an impressive cultural library both in oral and, after western contact,
written form. Many of these components were later subordinated and
even outlawed by incoming colonizers who, through both political
manipulation and military force, replaced the Hawaiian government
and social structure. Western accounts about Hawai‘i (and elsewhere)
do display a self-awareness of the unintended effects of exploration,
but this is usually achieved by depicting indigenous peoples, and

The Hawaiian Television Cop Show 201


similarly “discovered” civilizations, as fragile, unspoiled, or naïve
to sin.
A more cynical explanation for the Hawaiian cop show’s success
points toward economics. Both the Hawaiian cop show and tourism
industry flourished side-by-side in the mid-twentieth century. It is
no coincidence that Hawaiian Eye’s detectives worked primarily for
what would inevitably become one of the largest real-life hotels in
the world. A year before the series was cancelled, Conrad Hilton
bought the Hawaiian Village Hotel in 1962. American industrialist
Henry J. Kaiser, the famed creator of the Kaiser Permanente
healthcare system and Kaiser Broadcasting, who also developed the
upscale Honolulu community of Hawaii Kai, home today to a high
school that also bears his name, built the Hawaiian Village Hotel in
1955. The impetus to advertise Hawai‘i as a tourist destination was
thus supported by substantial financial backing. In this sense, the
State of Hawai‘i, the Hawaiian TV crime show, and the Hawaiian
vacation commercial shared a simultaneous debut in the form of
Hawaiian Eye.
Since then, American TV audiences were regularly offered free
tours of Hawaii’s hotels and resorts, encounters with musicians and
entertainers, natural features, souvenirs, historical monuments, and
cultural sites. Wheel of Fortune (1975-) and Win, Lose, or Draw
(1987-90) have given away vacation packages as prizes on their
episodes filmed in Hawai‘i. Many domestic television series such
as I Dream of Jeannie (1965-70), The Brady Bunch (1969-74), Full
House (1987-95), Saved by the Bell (1989-93), Step By Step (1991-
98), My Wife and Kids (2001-05), Modern Family (2009-), among
many others, have familiarized potential visitors over the years with
nearly the same “authentic” Hawaiian experience. They are normally
greeted with leis as they disembark their planes, checked into hotels,
and are then given tours of the island(s). The entire excursion is often
rounded off with a “traditional” luau. Other elements of Polynesian
culture—such as Tahitian music and Samoan fire-knife dancing—
are commonly bundled together in such depictions and appropriated
to be passed off as part of the “Hawaiian experience.”

202 Critical Insights


Filming tourist industry-supportive programs was so
significant to the Hawaiian economy that the Hawaii Film Office
was established in 1978 under the state’s Department of Business,
Economic Development & Tourism. By the time Hawaiian Eye
left the air in the early 1960s, the film and television industry had
pumped $3.5 million into the local economy, growing to $45 million
near the end of Hawaii Five-O’s first run in 1977 (Rhodes 25). So
integral was the industry’s economic contributions that Hawai‘i
governor George Ariyoshi made a public plea to Jack Lord when
he threatened to leave Five-O. Twenty years later governor Ben
Cayetano’s administration would lobby to have Baywatch’s (1989-
2001) tenth and eleventh seasons produced in Hawai‘i rather than
Australia—provided, of course, it were renamed Baywatch Hawaii.

The Sociopolitical Hawaiian Cop Show


Peter Britos’ explanation for the Hawaiian cop show’s success places
the genre within a sociopolitical context, focusing on the first three
series—Hawaiian Eye, Hawaii Five-O, and Magnum P.I.—which
he identifies as the “first cycle” of Hawaiian paramilitary programs.
Hawaiian Eye and The Alaskans (1959-60) both premiered within
months of Hawaiian and Alaskan statehood. Warner Bros. distributed
them both, and both aired on ABC in 1959. Britos notes not only the
ubiquitous military dominance—or at least favoritism—in the first
cycle series narrative structures, but also their timely appearance in
Hawaiian, television, and American military history in the Pacific.
The heads of the American film industry, including the Warner
Brothers, had previously been inducted into the military after
the attack on Pearl Harbor to form the First Motion Picture Unit
(FMPU) of the United States Army Air Forces. The FMPU was
responsible for pushing out wartime propaganda and training films
to promote US military efforts during World War II. There is little
doubt that the Warner Brothers’ double distribution of Hawaiian
Eye and The Alaskans aided in “[rehearsing] the successful control
of empire by patrolling the space of the new frontier on a weekly
basis” (Britos 26). As Britos writes, “If the TV Western sketched out
the frontier heartland of domestic space and American ideology, the

The Hawaiian Television Cop Show 203


detective and police melodramas would protect and secure not only
urban space and capitalist hierarchy, but international borders and
democratic compliance as well” (Britos 18).
Hawaiian TV cop show protagonists’ military affiliations are
written into their programs’ “series bibles” that provide episode
writers with character analyses and thematic guidelines. Hawaiian
Eye’s Tracy Steele is a World War II and Korean War veteran. Steve
McGarrett and Thomas Magnum of Hawaii Five-O and Magnum
P.I. also have backgrounds in military intelligence. Jonathan Raven,
of the short-lived Raven, likewise is a former Special Forces agent.
Their roles as retired military personnel often grants them the ability
to traverse smoothly between military and civilian life, unlimited
financial resources, political connections, and the firearms needed
to eradicate crime in Hawai‘i at any cost.
Euro-American characters in particular were cast and
characterized strategically for their competence and ability, whether
on camera as actors or in text as proficient law enforcers. Britos
argues, through an exhaustive examination of the first cycle series,
that ethnic characters who stood in for local Hawaiians were
otherwise cast “less for their demonstrated [acting] ability, than
they were because they embodied a credible ethnic type” (48).
Ethnic entertainers from Poncie Ponce to Hilo Hattie to Don Ho
have had big and small parts in Hawaiian cop shows more for their
recognizance, but with never as much crime-solving competency as
the detective leads that their characters either inform or serve under.
Locals were often cast in support roles, most notably Gilbert
Kalani Kauhi (the Hawaiian entertainer also known as “Zulu”)
who played detective Kono Kalakaua for the first four seasons of
Five-O. Kono regularly addresses commander McGarrett as “boss,”
and is usually given compliant lines that Darrell Hamamoto would
describe as “Greek chorus” or “sounding board” for authority, and
characterized in such a way that Native Hawaiian activist Haunani-
Kay Trask decries as “the worst caricature of Hawaii, of Hawaiians,
as this kind of mysterious and dangerous place with beautiful women
and strange pidgin-speaking locals . . . There was an underworld

204 Critical Insights


atmosphere [in Hawaii Five-O] that the [foreigners] were trying to
save us from” (Orr 919-920).
Nonetheless, such innate imperialist overtones of the Hawaiian
cop show sub-genre—if it can so be grouped—is, for the most
part, missed or disregarded by local Hawaiians. Real-life protests
are more often vocalized against urban development, cultural site
disturbance, or resource allocation than they are organized around a
protest of media representation. As such, the Hawaiian TV cop show
has and continues to enjoy local approval and popularity, especially
with the 2010 series remake of Hawaii Five-O.

On Hawaiian History and Local Culture


Another feature of the Hawaiian TV cop show is its historical
underrepresentation—and thus, misrepresentation—of the local
population and culture, despite their producers’ professed commitment
to Hawaiian “authenticity.” Yet, owing to, among other things, the
shows’ casting processes, Euro-American actors generally “fill the
foreground and background” of Hawaiian TV cop shows (Britos
38, emphasis added). In an attempt to lend criminal activity global
normalization, the crimes they fictionalize often involve strange
international elements that overplay Hawaii’s multiethnicity, and a
very small percentage of them deal specifically with native or local
Hawaiian culture. Hawaii Five-O’s 2010 remake pilot, for example,
begins in South Korea and introduces Irish terrorists as well as
Rwandan and Chinese criminals. True to the original series, the Five-O
reboot again casts two white men (Alex O’Loughlin and Scott Caan)
as its leads with Asian-American actors (Daniel Dae Kim and Grace
Park, neither of which hail from Hawai‘i) as supporting lead roles.
A glance at the US census taken concurrently with Five-O’s
remake debut illustrates the series’ demographic inaccuracy. In
2010, Hawaii’s population (about 1.3 million) accounted for a little
less than half a percent (0.44%) of the total US population (308.7
million). Hawaii’s largest ethnic groups (whether they identify as
each alone or in combination with others) were, in order, Asian
(57.4%), White (41.4%), and Native Hawaiian (21.3%). Nationally,
Americans who identify as all or part white represent a three-quarter

The Hawaiian Television Cop Show 205


majority, whereas Asians account for 5.6% and Native Hawaiians
make up 0.17% of the US population (2010 Census Briefs). Yet
the primarily white narratives of Hawaiian TV cop shows do more
than misrepresent census numbers, they are also inconsistent with
Hawaiian history.
Hawaii’s modern, off-camera demographic is the result of
several successive waves of colonization. Polynesian navigators
first arrived in Hawai‘i several centuries ago, and sustained a large
population for some time. Later, British and American explorers,
missionaries, and businessmen began colonizing Hawai‘i toward
the end of the eighteenth century. King Kamehameha I consolidated
political authority shortly after to establish the Hawaiian Kingdom.
This was followed by a century of increased global trade, as
Hawai‘i entered into sugar exportation, whose affiliates assisted
in the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy in 1893. The sugar
industry then dominated Hawaii’s physical landscape and economy,
and was owned by only five white-led (haole, meaning “foreign”)
3
corporations known unofficially as the “Big Five,” and managed
by an organization of sugarcane plantation owners known as the
Hawaiian Sugar Planters’ Association (HSPA).
As a historically agrarian people, the Native Hawaiian peoples
were not entirely dependent on sugar work for employment, nor
were their numbers large enough to supply its increasing demand
for inexpensive labor. As a result, the Big Five imported thousands
of laborers from China, Japan, the Philippines, and Puerto Rico.
At one point, planters paid its laborers a paltry one dollar per day.
These workers, in turn, were rarely able to afford to return to their
home countries. As organized labor demands to plantation owners
intensified, the sugar industry imported increasing numbers of
successive ethnic groups to offset the demands of the former
(Reinecke). This meant that within a relatively short time, half a
dozen different ethnic communities were living on Hawaii’s few
main (yet isolated) islands, which added up roughly to the size of
New Jersey. Hawaii’s ethnic makeup today—is the sum result of
these events, bound by a unique local culture known for its linguistic

206 Critical Insights


and social differences from haole culture. All of this had already
occurred decades before Hawaiian Eye’s premiere.
Yet Hawaiian TV cop show producers are obligated to play
mainly to mainland audiences who are understandably less familiar
with these historical factors—hence the mostly white cast both in
the foreground and background roles of these programs. Moreover,
the vast majority of all series’ plots have little to do with Hawaiian
(Native or otherwise) people or culture. The Five-O remake’s
episodes are all named with Hawaiian words, but the cultural
resemblance to Hawai‘i often ends there. It is also interesting to note
that while Japanese, Filipino, and Native Hawaiian citizens have
held the office of Governor of Hawai‘i since statehood, virtually all
of the governors in Hawaiian TV cop shows were white, reflecting
the western patriarchal governors of post-overthrow, pre-statehood
Hawai‘i. The heavily Euro-American role of Hawaiian TV cop show
detective is also problematic, especially, as Sargent suggests, that
the choice of “who gets to carry a badge and gun on TV [implies]
who gets to be considered an ‘American’” (1768).

Contemporary Variations
Even though it is often overlooked as such, A&E’s reality TV
hit Dog the Bounty Hunter picked up the genre as a professional
documentarian variation of the Hawaiian cop show. Very similar
to Cops (1989-), the highly successful and controversial series
followed the real-life bounty hunting family of Duane “Dog”
Chapman as they collected on Hawaiian fugitives. The New York
Times explains that the show “is a mix of tweaking meth-heads and
post-arrest moralism, a business built on repossessing human flesh”
(Carr). At one point it was A&E’s highest-rated and most watched
program. Chapman gained notoriety in 2003 for the capture of Max
Factor cosmetics heir Andrew Luster. Yet Chapman also epitomizes
the blurring between cop and criminal vigilantism as an unofficial
“cop.” Earlier in his life, Chapman was convicted of first-degree
murder allegedly in connection with a botched drug deal.
Despite his apparent turn to philanthropy, it is important to
note that although Chapman portrays himself as a law enforcement

The Hawaiian Television Cop Show 207


official, he is neither a police officer nor does he have any kind of
military affiliation. Moreover, although he is from Colorado and of
English and German descent, he accessorizes with Native American
jewelry and adopts a Hawaiian Pidgin accent while he patronizingly
lectures his Hawaiian detainees into reform—before turning them
over to the real authorities. Yet he “works the gutters for data, deploys
phony accents and white lies on the phone, and physically tracks a
runner in a way that seems a bit supernatural. It helps that most
crooks are dumb as a box of rocks, but still” (Carr). His intentions
seem well-founded in trying to break circular criminal behavior, but
Chapman’s motivations are primarily economic, as his cases are set
in motion only after his clients skip bail, with the dramatic pursuits
aired on television for high ratings.
Although it lacks in many of the cop show conventions mentioned
above, Dog the Bounty Hunter is consistent with Freeman’s Five-O
employment of Hawai‘i as an idyllic bastion for criminals. Yet
while Britos’ first cycle series portrayed Asians and Hawaiians as
subservient, Dog the Bounty Hunter brings the patriarchal-colonial
logic full-circle to valorize an unqualified law enforcement official
who hunts the unfortunate for the viewer’s entertainment.
In 2010, CBS revived the Hawaii Five-O franchise, but casting
problems of the original series still persist even a half century later.
In June 2017, Grace Park and Daniel Dae Kim left the cast of CBS’s
reboot of Hawai‘i Five-O after failing to negotiate the terms of their
contracts. The two Asian-American actors (who played updated
roles of Chin Ho Kelley and Kono Kalakua) were reportedly making
10-15% less than their two white costars, Alex O’Loughlin and
Scott Caan, with whom they worked alongside for seven successful
seasons. Sidestepping the issue, CBS responded, “We are so
appreciative of Daniel and Grace’s enormous talents, professional
excellence and the aloha spirit they brought [to the production]”
(Holloway and Ryan). Kim responded publicly by saying that he
will miss playing Chin Ho on Five-O, a character he describes as
“representative of a place my family and I so dearly love [Hawai‘i].
It has been nothing short of an honor to be able to showcase the

208 Critical Insights


beauty and people of Hawaii every week, and I couldn’t be prouder
to call these islands home” (Otterson).
Although Kim and Park’s parts were supporting roles, the
failed pay negotiations incited an intense debate in the media over
a racial wage gap, and CBS suffered a significant backlash. Yet
while this drew apt attention to broad social issues, many critics
avoided mention of the social problems inherent to the Five-O
franchise, the Hawaiian cop show sub-genre, and Hawaiian
sociopolitics. The exchange between Five-O’s Asian cast members
and CBS executives raises appropriate postcolonial questions
concerning Hawaiian history and commercial Hollywood culture.
Kim, for example, is a Korean-American actor from the mainland
United States playing the role of a Chinese officer in a crime series
set in Hawai‘i. On the other hand, while most Asian-Americans in
Hawai‘i are descended from several generations of international
labor immigrants, Kim considers Hawai‘i “home” despite only
moving to the islands fairly recently during the production of Lost
(2004-2010). Whereas Asian sugar laborers came to Hawai‘i for
jobs that paid only a dollar per day, Dae Kim became an island
resident to be paid hundreds, perhaps thousands of times more.
This single exchange raises ever-important questions with regard
to the ways Hawai‘i and Hawaiians are portrayed to national
audiences. Who is from Hawai‘i? And who should portray local
or Native Hawaiians on television? What myths are perpetuated
through such characterizations of the Hawaiian population? Or,
for that matter, of any multiethnic community around the country?
Do Hollywood TV writers have a responsibility to the multiethnic
communities they portray? And, as a part of the United States, do
postcolonial questions like these even apply to Hawai‘i?
Throughout its history, the Hawaiian TV cop show perpetuated
themes that strategically revised and contradicted a complex and
multicultural Hawai‘i that residents have long since understood.
But Brenda Kwon warns against such common misreadings of
Hawaiian literature—which should include television programs—
that strips Hawai‘i of various histories crucial to understanding
the motivations for and effects of its competing ideologies. Native

The Hawaiian Television Cop Show 209


Hawaiian, colonial, Asian settler-colonial, and tourist (capitalist)
thoughts are obscured in the Hawaiian cop show, displaying instead
the oft-evoked myth of a Hawai‘i that “exists for the pleasure of
others as a playground devoid of histories” (Kwon 3). Even if local
residents can appreciate the Hawaiian cop show as an opportunity
for national media representation, their willingness to do so requires
them first to relinquish a concern for a cultural hegemony that local
culture actively resists outside the realm of prime-time television.

Notes
1. The original Hawaiian word “Hawai‘i,” with the diacritical ‘okina
or “glottal-stop,” will be used and spelled differently throughout this
chapter for several reasons. As the use of a suffix -an to denote an
associated country or culture is an English convention, the ‘okina
will be omitted. The same goes for the plural and possessive (i.e.
“Hawaiians,” “Hawaii’s”). Moreover, the word “Hawaiian” will be
used to denote people who are from Hawai‘i regardless of ethnic
origin. Specific mentions of indigenous or Native Hawaiians are done
so explicitly. Finally, quoted material or published titles preserve the
original authors’ usage of the word.
2. The use of the term “cop show” throughout is mostly colloquial,
but also figurative in that crime fiction programs, especially modern
TV crime fiction, “police” the physical and psychic spaces that their
protagonists inhabit. Police procedural programs—that is, TV shows
that deal specifically with police officers—are literally more “cop
show” than others. But not all crime fictions revolve around police
officers, yet all crime fiction texts discuss laws that “cops” are meant
to enforce.
3. The term “haole” is a Hawaiian word that predates western contact
and means “foreign,” whether in reference to people or objects.
Although it has unfortunately taken on pejorative connotations, its
usage in this piece keeps entirely with its former usage.

Works Cited
Alley, Robert S. Television: Ethics for Hire? Nashville: Abingdon, 1977.
Print.

210 Critical Insights


Asian Population: 2010 Census Briefs. Place of publication not identified:
Bibliogov, 2012. Print.
Britos, Peter J. O. Symbols, Myth and TV in Hawai‘i: Hawaiian Eye,
Five-O and Magnum P.I.: the First Cycle. Diss. University of
Southern California. 2001. Web. Accessed 8 Sept. 2017.
Carr, David. “A Cornered Pit Bull: Bounty Hunter Becomes Prey.” New
York Times, 18 Sept. 2006. Print.
Diamond, Jared M. Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies.
New York: W.W. Norton, 2017. Print.
Holloway, Daniel and Maureen Ryan. “Daniel Dae Kim, Grace Park Exit
‘Hawaii Five-0.’” Variety, 30 June 2017. Web.
Kwon, Brenda L. Beyond Keʹeaumoku: Koreans, Nationalism, and Local
Culture in Hawai‘i. New York: Garland, 2016. Print.
Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Island Population: 2010 Census
Briefs. Place of publication not identified: Bibliogov, 2012. Print.
Orr, Stanley. “‘Strangers in Our Own Land’: John Kneubuhl, Modern
Drama, and Hawai‘i Five-O.” American Quarterly. 67.3 (2015) John
Hopkins UP. pp. 913-936. Print.
Otterson, Joe. “Daniel Dae Kim Addresses ‘Hawaii Five-0’ Exit.” Variety,
6 Aug. 2017. Web.
Reinecke, John E. The Filipino Piecemeal Sugar Strike of 1924-1925.
Honolulu: Social Science Research Institute, University of Hawaii,
1996. Print.
Rhodes, Karen. Booking Hawaii Five-O: an episode guide and critical
history of the 1968-1980 television detective series. Jefferson:
McFarland & Company, Inc., 1997. Print.
Sargent, Andrew. “Police in Television.” The Social History of Crime
and Punishment in America: An Encyclopedia. Edited by Wilbur R.
Miler. Los Angeles: SAGE Publications, 2012. pp. 1767-1774. Print.
Silva, Noenoe K, and wa Thion’o, Ngũgĩ wa. The Power of the Steel-
Tipped Pen: Reconstructing Native Hawaiian Intellectual History.
Durham: Duke UP, 2017. Print.
White Population: 2010 Census Briefs. Place of publication not identified:
Bibliogov, 2012. Print.

The Hawaiian Television Cop Show 211


Raced Subjectivity and Anxiety in Claudia
Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric
Alejandro Veiga Expósito

Claudia Rankine brings a postcolonial focus to contemporary


America. Born in 1963, Rankine is Jamaican poet, essayist,
playwright, and professor at Yale University, her writings have
reached a global audience. Her most recent poetry volume, called
Citizen: An American Lyric (2014), won the 2015 National Book
Critics Circle Award in Poetry among a further six prizes in the
United States alone. Critically acclaimed, Citizen, with its seven-
part structure from the perspective of the assaulted person, pinpoints
everyday scenes of racist aggression against African Americans.
Critics have stated that in Citizen a series of intimate stories with
racist attacks as their leitmotiv converge, calling the reader to
seriously reflect about the damage caused by contemporary racism
in modern American society. While true, in this chapter I argue
that from a psychoanalytic and postcolonial perspective, Rankine’s
poetic strategy results in something far more complex than a mere
collection of anecdotes.
To ground that claim, this chapter starts with a psychodynamic
conception of subjectivity to provide a more flexible interpretation
of Frantz Fanon’s Fact of Blackness by viewing it in light of
Kalpana Seshadri-Crooks’ Lacanian reading of race. This enables
us to understand race as a structure operating in the symbolic order,
interjecting concepts of “race” with feeling of alienation as its
most immediate outcome, thus causing racial anxiety. Within this
theoretical framework, I claim that Citizen offers a confrontation,
using a complex poetic strategy, where the reader glimpses the
experience of racial anxiety. Here, a rereading of Fanon’s theory of
colonized black subjectivity is critical.
Much has been written in psychoanalysis since Sigmund
Freud’s proposition about the role of sexuality in the development of
the subject during childhood. However, many scholars have sought
212 Critical Insights
to analyze how race and other factors (such as ethnicity, nationality
or class) can have a severe effect on subjectivity. Therefore, a
more flexible concept of subjectivity than Freud’s is needed when
taking these elements into consideration. After all, a child that
has not developed linguistic abilities cannot introject any of the
parameters that operate within ideology and the symbolic order. A
child apprehends sexuality—considering Freud’s enlarged concept
of sexuality—through ways that go beyond language (e.g. through
pleasure).1 To assimilate other concepts such as race, the subject
must be able to be inscribed in the symbolic order. In Lacanian
psychoanalytic theory, the symbolic order is that part of the psyche
structured by language and society. Once one enters language, the
subject’s desire is bound to language. Subjectivity, thus, is not
simply exercised but apprehended. This is especially the case for
African Americans in colonial and postcolonial contexts, as we will
see further on.
I will thus start with an analysis of Amina Mana’s
psychodynamic approach to subjectivity, in order to allow us to
understand the relevance and influence of different structures. After
all, the understanding of “race” occurs during the development of
subjectivity in various moments of life. The situations Rankine
exhibits in Citizen take place mainly during adulthood, making a
purely Freudian or Lacanian approach, which focuses on childhood
development, insufficient when analyzing how she depicts the
development and alienation of the black self.
Scholars of psychoanalysis have studied subjectivity as
stemming mainly from infantile sexuality. Rather than this static
position, psychoanalytic studies of race have had to use a more
malleable approach to subjectivity. In Amina Mana’s analysis of
the influence of racial dynamics in the constitution of subjectivity,
she argues, from a psychodynamic perspective, that subjectivity is
constantly developing and changing:

Subjectivity is not only dynamically formed but also continually


changing and being constituted and reconstituted, from one instant to
another, as well as over longer periods of time. Once one has taken
this view of subjectivity as being continuously constituted throughout
Citizen: An American Lyric 213
life then it follows that it can be studied at any point in the life cycle
(129).

Without ignoring the importance of sexuality during childhood


and the latency period, Mana understands the subject as a multilayered
individual in constant change and formation, susceptible to different
elements within society and ideology. This approach must be
considered when theorizing the role of race in subjectivity because a
race based subjectivity will be formed during several periods in life.
This psychodynamic conception of subjectivity is critical to shed
light on Rankine’s work. We can see from a dynamic point of view
how the subject is constituted and constantly changing throughout
his or her life. This allows us to understand the outcome of race and
racism in subjectivity and the constant influence postcolonial and
social dynamics have on the raced subject during his or her life.
A helpful example to see this dynamic formation of the raced
subject during adulthood is Frantz Fanon’s famous passage in
chapter five of Black Skin, White Masks. Here Fanon narrates his
encounter with a woman and her child who address him as “negro,”
forcing him to live the experience of being black. Fanon calls this
experience “The Fact of Blackness”—a slight mistranslation from
the French L’expérience vécue du Noir, which strengthens the idea
of being black as an experience rather than a mere factuality. This
is a concept Rankine directly follows, as we shall see further on.
Fanon shows how the colonized Algerian subject is marked with
race in his or her encounter with white reality in France:

“Dirty nigger!” Or Simply, “Look, a Negro!”


I came into the world imbued with the will to find a meaning in
things, my spirit filled with desire to attain to the source of the world,
and then I found that I was an object in the midst of the other objects.
Sealed into that crushing of objecthood, I turned beseechingly to
others. Their attention was a liberation, running over my body
suddenly abraded into nonbeing…But just as I reached the other side,
I stumbled, and the movements, the attitudes, the glances of the other
fixed me there, in the sense in which a chemical solution is fixed by
a dye (109).

214 Critical Insights


Here Fanon shows us, in the colonial context, how the black subject
is brought into being by experiencing his or her putative inferiority
with respect to white subjects. It is through assimilating a new
paradigm within the body: race and more specifically, blackness.
One cannot ignore the pivotal idea that runs through Black Skin,
White Masks: the objectification of the subject through race, or the
alienation of the colonized “negro” as Fanon puts it. The strength of
the passage above resides in the emphasis given in its first lines to
how he felt prior to being objectified, and thus prior to being made
aware of race. It is an animating force to discover the nature of being.
Yet, suddenly it is destroyed by the colonized subject’s fixation on
the objecthood of nonbeing. Fanon is, therefore, describing how
anxiety is born out of the “assignment,” in Laplanchean terms, of
race. Race is not simply discovered. It is not a fact but rather a label,
designated to a subject by the different layers of society. Fanon,
therefore, later on states: “I discovered my blackness, my ethnic
characteristics” in this moment (112). Fanon felt alive, human, and
curious about the world—a state annihilated by the imposition of a
new order within his body.
While Fanon’s experience took place in a colonial context far
from contemporary North American society, today we see the same
violent and emotional imposition of a raced subjectivity in the United
States and in Europe. The message of being black and inferior, a
lifeless object, is sent from one subject to the other. This can be
sensed in Fanon’s example, yet it can also be mapped onto any racist
attack, which we will discuss further on with regards to its treatment
in Citizen. However, through Seshadri-Crook’s Lacanian reading
of race and Fanon, this racial imposition is more than a linguistic
imposition. It could be said that Fanon is simply discovering his
blackness, but in psychoanalytical and postcolonial terms one could
argue that this situation is more complex. It is fully divorced from
“race” in any biological sense.
In encounters where a racialized subjectivity is imposed, there
is a lack of recognition of the other’s own subjectivity. Race is
not only the installing a feeling of inferiority but also a process of
establishing a structure where human difference is instituted. Here

Citizen: An American Lyric 215


I follow Seshadri-Crooks’ Lacanian idea of whiteness as a master
signifier. That is, a signifier without signified in Saussurean terms—a
symbol emptied of meaning—which is used to order certain power
relations in the body through a regime of visibility. Seshadri-Crooks
develops the notion that it is necessary to clarify the difference
between simply perceiving different skin colors and the imposition
of a superior and inferior color via that master signifier or emptied
symbol:

As Fanon implies, racial visibility must be distinguished from the


moment when the subject introjects an ego ideal as a coherent body
image. But by marking the temporal difference in the constitution of
the bodily ego and the raced body, we will see that the anxiety that
Fanon refers to is not caused by the ideology of blackness, but by
the structure of Whiteness. Less cryptically: we will see that racial
anxiety, the unconscious anxiety that is entailed by the sight of racial
difference, has its cause not in ideology, but in the structure of race
itself and in the functioning of its master signifier, “Whiteness” (32).

Race here is conceptualized as a perceptible signifier that forms a


code that has nothing to do with black/white binary logic or with
the historicity of blackness. Instead, the imposition of this structure
entails a raced subjectivity organized around whiteness. Racial
anxiety is born here, in the collision of one’s own subjectivity with
whiteness and the supposed superiority towards which the raced
subject must aim. In Seshadri-Crooks’ psychoanalytical terms, this
is referred to as an “ego ideal.” This is not to ignore the moment
when the subject gains awareness of the black/white binary logic.
Rather there is a clarification here: it is not then when alienation
starts but when the assimilation of the structure of race ordered
around whiteness takes place. In that introjection, the raced subject
will be created and installed in this new racialized structure suffering
from alienation. For this reason, Fanon argues, “In the man of color
there is a constant effort to run away from his own individuality, to
annihilate his own presence” (60). Racial anxiety arises at the point
when the subject witnesses that he or she has been brought into a
new symbolic order in which his or her body is seen as inferior.
216 Critical Insights
In terms of race, it is precisely here where Seshadri-Crooks makes
Lacanian alienation more complex. That is to say, Seshadri-Crooks
shows that one is not merely alienated into language, as a white
subject does as well. Instead the black subject suffers the alienation
process as well with an added new signifier that “whiteness” is the
ideal aspirational category. This places the racialized subject in the
impossible condition of never being able achieve “the ideal” and is
thus put in an inferior place within the structure of race.
Seshadri-Crooks suggests that Fanon’s alienation comes
from the intrusion of an archetypical structure that gives birth to
the “fact” of being black. The ego ideal imposed in raced subjects,
then, through racial attacks is not only an image of whiteness.
“Whiteness” is a signifying chain that organizes subjects into races.
In other words, race shapes the human body through perception only
in relation to and around whiteness. Race thus becomes a regime of
visibility, the perception of a signifier that has nothing to do with
biology.2 And while it is true that white subjects also suffer part of
an alienating process, the black subject’s unconscious differs in that
it is being imposed in a structure where he or she must aim towards
an ideal of whiteness.
Race, then, is a process based on perception that inscribes the
subject in a dynamic where anxiety operates not only within the
symbolic, but has an effect in the constitution of the subject’s psyche.
In Claudia Rankine’s Citizen, we can see this same process taking
place in the United States. It is clear that Fanon’s case differs from
Rankine’s in that he is writing from the standpoint of colonialism;
the extreme context in which blackness is introjected as subjection
during adulthood. Assimilation is more complex in the United States
due to the exposure of subjectivity since childhood. In America one
is brought up within gradual race-based impositions, rather than
Fanon’s sudden encounter with race subjectivity. Nonetheless, the
premises are the same when it comes to how the annihilation of
the subject operates through a structure’s imposition of which the
outcome is racial anxiety. That is what Citizen shows in its series
of racist aggressions. Rankine does not give the reader Fanon’s
“Look! A Negro!” moment, but a web of terrible situations with

Citizen: An American Lyric 217


the imposition of a more complex “Fact of Blackness.” She creates
vignettes where the instilling structure of race is mapped on to black
bodies and gives the reader examples of how it operates.
Claudia Rankine is well aware of the difference between the
European colonial world and her contemporary United States
scenarios. While her book does not focus on European colonial
project in the same way as Fanon, there is a poem in the final section
of Citizen in which the central idea is the treatment of the Algerian-
born French football player Zinedine Zidane’s famous physical
aggression to Italian player Marco Materazzi during the 2006 FIFA
World Cup Final. Here Rankine exemplifies European colonial
and postcolonial racist situations by connecting both Europe and
the United States’ historical, social, and geographical backgrounds
through racism. She writes, “Big Algerian shit, dirty terrorist, nigger
/ Perhaps the most insidious and least understood form of segregation
is that of the word. / The Algerian men, for their part, are a target
of criticism for their European comrades” (122). It is worth noting
that these verses are written in-between printed footage strips of the
fight between Zidane and Materazzi. Putting aside the consideration
of language in these verses, which will be treated further on, as well
as Rankine’s interest in sports, these verses bring to light Europe’s
racial situation and its postcolonial issues. The reader is shown the
confrontation of an Algerian and a European football player, in
prose and image. Rankine further draws attention to the colonial
overtones by naming personalities related to this context from
various disciplines, particularly Frantz Fanon (125-129).
By placing this poem in a book that treats the United States
racial problem almost entirely within its composition, Rankine is
connecting both Europe and the United States through a shared
colonial history. She focuses not only on the political scaffolding
against African American communities in her country but in that
shared history as well. Furthermore, she is demystifying the American
view of Europe as a paradise where racism has been overcome.
Rankine knows that her readers are traditionally an audience of
liberal, well-educated, middle class Americans. Rankine wants the
reader to see the introjection of the racial structure African Americans

218 Critical Insights


suffer every day. Technically, she does this by using ordinary middle
class scenes punctuated by poetic voice. Specifically, she uses a
second person singular voice, which addresses the reader as if he
or she would be experiencing the situation firsthand. This is a direct
attack on the reader. She is well aware that her audience is one that
believes they are far beyond being racist themselves. In Rankine’s
own words:

I wanted the book to exist in the space of the white liberal. Because
people like to say “oh, it’s the South,” “it’s ignorance,” “it’s white
supremacist Fox News.” And I am like, no, no, no…[T]hese [racist]
moments are happening in our offices, with our so-called friends, in
the Congress, among highly educated people who apparently know
better…The use of the second person—that “you”—was meant to
say, “Step in here with me, because there is no me without you inside
this dynamic” (Adewunmi and Billing).

That “you” is addressing the reader, requiring him or her to live


within the situation of a racist attack and to consider his or her
responsibility with regards to racism. But this also shows Rankine’s
poetic thinking in action. She understands that her reader is well
informed. She knows they are conscious of the problem that racism
represents in modern society. That is why her poetry breaks the
barrier of denouncing. She is not interested in only making the
reader aware of how many African Americans die in the streets, as
her reader would already know the statistics. She is interested in
memory. Rankine wants the reader to observe the psychological
consequences of constantly being a victim of racism, to experience
how it feels to be imposed in the structure of race, to be a raced
subject, crossed by racist language, by a symbolic order that makes
one inferior, unrecognized.
To do this efficiently, Rankine uses ordinary scenes such as
ordering coffee, paying a bill, or having a chat with a longtime
friend. These are based on shared personal experiences loaded with
racism. For example, in one poem a little girl refuses to sit next to the
narrator (to Rankine but also to the reader) on an airline flight. The
resemblance of this passage is remarkable to Fanon’s famous scene
Citizen: An American Lyric 219
of the little girl shouting: ‘Mama, see the Negro! I’m frightened!’
(112). It could even be read as a perfect rewording of the same
situation in a modern United States setting:

Because of your elite status from a year’s worth of travel, you have
already settled into your window seat on United Airlines, when the
girl and her mother arrive at your row. The girl, looking over at you,
tells her mother, these are our seats, but this not what I expected. The
mother’s response is barely audible—I see, she says. I’ll sit in the
middle (12).

Rankine’s awareness of the type of reader she is speaking to


becomes obvious at the very beginning, where the putative reader
has the opportunity of boarding the plane first due to his or her “elite
status.” She is building a complex situation in which race, profession,
and socio-economic conditions converge. It could be argued that
Rankine has fallen into the trap of documenting bourgeois situation
while there are entire African American communities suffering from
police violence. Let me be clear, I am using this passage purely to
analyze her poetic strategy. It is worth noting, however, that the book
includes the names of African American victims recently killed by
police. Rankine is keen to emphasize the importance of memory
and inequality. However, the book is not concerned exclusively with
institutional racism but with analyzing racism from a social and
psychological perspective. And from this position Rankine wants her
liberal audience, who think they have superseded racism, to witness
how it feels to be implanted in the structure of race, to see how racist
attacks alienate you, make you feel uncomfortable with yourself,
create an urge to escape from your body, as Fanon’s previous
quote—and Rankine as well, we will see—shows. This feeling
would be impossible to recreate in this specific kind of reader only
by showing him or her how, for example, life in the “urban projects”
plays out or how police bias affects one’s day to day life.3 Rather,
she is looking to engage the reader in lived experiences familiar to
them in order to render that same feeling of alienation. Being under
attack, the subject is placed in a particular point of inferiority with
respect to whiteness within the structure of race.
220 Critical Insights
This is a poetic strategy, but on a psychoanalytic level Rankine’s
girl is able to overcome all the values provided by a socio-economic
elite status in a capitalist society through the projection of an ego ideal
that the other cannot reach: whiteness. What Rankine is stressing by
bringing the elite status into the poem is that the racist message is
not only sent to the other but to the other’s symbolic context. Once
again we are stepping beyond the white/black logic boundary. This
is why Rankine uses the symbolic contexts shared by white liberals.
When the racist message overthrows all the values of a higher socio-
economic position that are articulated with the structure of race in
the unconscious, one can see how Rankine’s alienation is more
complex. Here lies the complexity of this situation in comparison
to Fanon’s experience. Although they resemble one another in their
operation, Rankine’s other’s symbolic expression differs in that the
“raced other” not only receives his or her blackness but also receives
his or her sense of inferiority regardless of the apparent superiority
he or she may have within the socio-economic context.
Rankine is aware of this operation. She has intentionally placed
language into the verse quoted in the Zinedine Zidane World Cup
poem: ‘Perhaps the most insidious and least understood form of
segregation is that of the word’ (126). She is aware of the difficulty
that performs here. Language is prior to learning. What we have
here is not Zidane’s reception of an insult but his inscription within
a language that segregates him. That is why Lacan’s theory of the
subject is useful. It allows us to grasp a precise vision of what
happens in these events and specifically in postcolonial contexts. The
subject is inscribed in language and brought into being. For Lacan,
this is a universal experience. We all go through this alienating
process and, as Seshadri-Crooks has shown, white subjects are also
alienated within the structure of race. The difference resides in the
racialized subject’s unconscious, in which an imposition of the race
structure organized around whiteness has been introjected. That
is why Rankine says: “Language that feels hurtful is intended to
exploit all the ways you are present” (49). This language renders
the other as visible within the structure of race. Racist language
not only inscribes and alienates the other in language, both also in

Citizen: An American Lyric 221


the symbolic sense. It imposes a raced ego ideal in the unconscious
towards which the subject must aim.
In the coalition within the signifying structure of race, one can
see how whiteness is emptied of meaning, as Seshadri-Crooks puts
it, in order to dominate and constantly be in a position of power in
which black anxiety arises. The strength of Citizen is that it makes
the liberal reader understand that this stems not only from the power
of the depicted moments, but from the accumulation of the kinds
of racist circumstances documented in the book. This confronts the
reader complex situations, which when brought together, form a
traumatic mesh of events. To exemplify this, one may go back to
Freud’s earlier “general theory of seduction.” Freud’s “The Aetiology
of Hysteria” defines “trauma” as a “genealogic tree” in which one
or many symptoms have their origin in a conglomerate of traumatic
scenes (196-197). In this sense, Citizen represents the genealogic
tree that gives place to racial anxiety in African Americans. Through
the different branches of this tree, one sees the traumata of hurtful
moments. The reader attends to the same traumatic introjection of
the structure of race through language.
We have seen so far how language causes racial anxiety in
Citizen’s moments of racist tension and analyzed its consequences
with regards to subjectivity as well as part of the book’s formal
conception and functions. But how do we know that Rankine is
talking about alienation and anxiety, which problematize race
within postcolonial contexts instead of simply depicting anecdotes
and reflecting on language? One answer could be found in the long
poem that opens the book’s seventh section. Quoted below are the
first two stanzas. Here the reader sees a body injured by terrible
experiences, a voice that is looking, as Fanon does, to run away
from his or her body:

Some years there exists a wanting to escape—


you, floating above your certain ache—
still the ache coexists.
Call that immanent you—

222 Critical Insights


You are you even before you
grow into understanding you
are not anyone, worthless,
not worth you.
Even as your own weight insists
you are here, fighting off
the weight of nonexistence (139).

It is worth noting the experience of reading this poem comes after


all the traumata rendered through the first six parts of the book. The
imposition of the raced subject is palpable in the second stanza’s idea
of existing before being able to understand one’s self and build one’s
own image. Although we know that this happens to everyone, based
on the Lacanian notion of alienation as a universal experience, here
we confront Rankine’s passage in the context of a precise type of
alienation, a special inscription in the symbolic order that structures
the subject’s psyche around the signifier of whiteness as we have
seen.
It all comes to this, to the first stanza’s alienation, the wanting
to escape from a body that does not seem to belong to the subject,
just as Fanon’s description of the “negro” running away from him
or herself. For the subject is alienated within a signifying structure
that completely annihilates his or her own development around
family and society. And of course, there are many master signifiers
as terrible as whiteness, as harmful as colonization. And there are
many alienating structures as dangerous as race. Yet that is beside
the point Rankine is making. One of the loci of Citizen, as we
have seen, is to show how race operates in the symbolic and how
language renders the imposition of a foreign order in the subject’s
psyche in order to produce an anxious raced subject. Rankine is
showing a colonization of African American subjectivity. For this
reason, that need to escape of the first verse “coexists” with the pain
of racial anxiety, because the alienated subject cannot understand
the origins of that pain imposed via language. Rankine takes us, as
readers and citizens ourselves, to the horrifying experience of not
belonging, of wandering through a sort of no-place that forces one to
reach for the impossible, where the only possibility of surviving is
Citizen: An American Lyric 223
to wear a mask, to live within anxiety, in a white mask, in another’s
body. In this context, Citizen emerges as an experience to surpass
that anxiety and understand the complexity of being a colonized and
raced subject. Most importantly, Rankine forces us to remember that
race and racism are ongoing issues. They must be constantly revised
and are far from overcome.

Notes
The author would like to thank Dr. Nicholas Ray for his valuable
suggestions since the very early stages of this chapter.
1. One could consider here Freud’s explanation of how sexual activities
take over self-preservation instincts through the child’s experience of
pleasure during the practice of nursing in Three Essays on Sexuality.
Those instincts, therefore, become sexual pleasure through the
satisfaction of nourishment (Freud 181-182).
2. Here I follow Jean Laplanche’s understanding of gender as a sign
that structures a code (167-209) which comes to terms with Seshadri-
Crook’s reading of race as a signifier that takes the subject into a code
structured around whiteness.
3. It should be said, though, that this does not mean or only slightly
considers that cultural productions aiming to show the life of any
kind of African American community are not necessary. It is quite
the contrary, as demonstrated by David Simon’s acclaimed show The
Wire (HBO, 2002-2008).

Works Cited
Adewunmi, Bim and Lynzy Billing. “A Conversation with Claudia
Rankine,” BuzzFeed, 27 August 2015. Web. <https://www.
buzzfeed.com/bimadewunmi/a-conversation-with-claudia-da-gawd-
rankine?utm_term=.vswK25PmD#.pqD80NagO> Accessed 27 Dec.
2016.
Fanon, Frantz. Black Skin, White Masks. Trans. by Charles Lam Makmann.
London: Pluto Press, 1993. Print.
Freud, Sigmund. “The Aetiology of Hysteria.” The Standard Edition of
the Complete Works of Sigmund Freud Volume III. Trans. by James
Strachey. London: Hogarth Press, 1962. pp. 187-221. Print.

224 Critical Insights


__________. The Standard Edition of the Complete Works of Sigmund
Freud Volume VII (1901-1905): A Case of Hysteria, Three Essays
on Sexuality and Other Works. Trans. by James Strachey. London:
Vintage, 2001. Print.
Laplanche, Jean. “Gender, Sex and the Sexual.” Freud and the Sexual:
Essays 2000-2006. Trans. by John Fletcher, Jonathan House and
Nicholas Ray. New York: International Psychoanalytic Books, 2012.
pp. 167-209. Print.
Mama, Amina. Beyond the Masks: Race, Gender and Subjectivity. London:
Routledge, 1995. Print.
Rankine, Claudia, Citizen. London: Penguin Books, 2015. Print.
Seshadri-Crooks, Kalpana. Desiring Whiteness: A Lacanian Reading of
Race. London: Routledge, 2000. Print.

Citizen: An American Lyric 225


RESOURCES
Further Reading

Achebe, Chinua. Morning Yet on Creation Day: Essays. London:


Heinemann, 1975. Print.
Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart. London: Penguin Books, 2010. Print.
Adichie, Chimamande Ngozi. Americanah. London: Fourth Estate, 2013.
Print.
Adichie, Chimamande Ngozi. Half of a Yellow Sun. London: Harper
Perennial, 2007. Print.
Adichie, Chimamande Ngozi. The Thing Around Your Neck. London:
Fourth Estate, 2009. Print.
Adiga, Aravind. The White Tiger. London: Atlantic Books, 2012. Print.
Akpan, Uwem. Say You’re One of Them. London: Abacus, 2009. Print.
Anand, Mulk Raj. Untouchable. London: Penguin Books, 2014. Print.
Armah, Ayi Kwei. The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born. London:
Heinemann, 1976. Print.
Armah, Ayi Kwei. Fragments. London: Heinemann, 1974. Print.
Aswani, Alaa Al, Friendly Fire. Translated by Humphrey T. Davies.
London: Fourth Estate, 2009. Print.
Ba, Mariama. So Long a Letter. Translated by Modupe Bode-Thomas.
London: Heinemann, 1989. Print.
Boyd, William. An Ice-Cream War. London: Hamish Hamilton, 2014.
Print.
Bulawayo, No Violet. We Need New Names. London: Vintage Books,
2014. Print.
Camus, Albert. The Stranger. Translated by Peter Dunwoodie. New York:
Knopf, 1993. Print.
Carey, Peter. Oscar and Lucinda. London: Faber & Faber, 1998. Print.
Chaudhuri, Amit. A New World. London: Oneworld, 2015. Print.
Coetzee, J. M. Disgrace. London: Vintage Books, 2011. Print.
Dangarembga, Tsitsi. Nervous Conditions. London: Women’s Press, 1988.
Print.
Dangarembga, Tsitsi. She No Longer Weeps. Harare: College Press, 1987.
Print.

229
Desai, Kiran. The Inheritance of Loss. London: Hamish Hamilton, 2007.
Print.
Edric, Robert. Elysium. London: Duckworth, 1995. Print.
Emecheta, Buchi. Kehinde. Oxford: Heinemann, 1994. Print.
Fanon, Frantz. The Wretched of the Earth. New York: Grove Press, 2004.
Print.
Fanon, Frantz. Black Skin, White Masks. Translated by Charles Lam
Makmann. London: Pluto Press, 1993. Print.
Farrell, J.G. Troubles. London: Phœnix, 1993. Print.
Garcia Marquez, Gabriel. One Hundred Years of Solitude. Translated by
Gregory Rabassa. London: Viking, 2014. Print.
Ghosh, Amitav. The Calcutta Chromosome: A Novel of Fevers, Delirium
and Discovery. New York: Avon Books, 1998. Print.
Ghosh, Amitav. River of Smoke. London: John Murray, 2012. Print.
Gordinmer, Nadine. July’s People. London: Bloomsbury, 2005. Print.
Gurnah, Abdulrazak. Admiring Silence. London: Penguin, 1997. Print.
Head, Bessie. Maru London: Gollancz, 1971. Print.
Head, Bessie. Where Rain Clouds Gather London: Gollancz, 1969. Print.
Jhabvala, Ruth Prawer. Heat and Dust. London: Abacus, 2011. Print.
Kincaid, Jamaica. Annie John. London: Vintage, 1997. Print.
Kincaid, Jamaica. A Small Place. London: Vintage, 1997. Print.
Kourouma, Ahmadou. Allah is Not Obliged. London: Vintage, 2007. Print.
Lahiri Jhumpa. Interpreter of Maladies. London: Harper Collins, 2000.
Print.
Lamming, George. In the Castle of My Skin. Addison Wesley Longman
Ltd, 1998. Print.
Lamming, George. The Pleasures of Exile. Michael Joseph Ltd., 1960.
Print.
Le Clezio, Jean-Marie G. Onitsha. Translated by Alison Anderson.
Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 1997. Print.
Mahfouz, Naguib. The Day the Leader Was Killed. Cairo: The American
UP, 1997. Print.
Malouf, David. Remembering Babylon. London: Vintage, 1994. Print.
Mda, Zakes. The Whale Caller. New York: Picador, 2006. Print.

230 Critical Insights


Mistry, Rohinton. A Fine Balance. First Vintage International Edition,
1997. Print.
Mistry, Rohinton. Family Matters. McClelland & Stewart, 2003. Print.
Mistry, Rohinton. Such A Long Journey. Faber and Faber Limited, 1992.
Print.
Morrison, Toni. Song of Solomon New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1977. Print.
Morrison, Toni. Beloved. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1987. Print.
Naipaul, V.S. A Bend in the River. London: Picador, 2002. Print.
Naipaul, V.S. Half a Life. London: Picador, 2001. Print.
NDiaye, Marie. Three Strong Women. Translated by John Fletcher.
London: MacLehose Press, 2012. Print.
Ondaatje, Michael. The English Patient. London: Everyman. 2011. Print.
Qurratul’ain, Haidar. Fireflies in the Mist. New Delhi: Sterling, 1994.
Print.
Rankine, Claudia, Citizen. London: Penguin Books, 2015. Print.
Rhys, Jean. Wide Sargasso Sea, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1999.
Print.
Roy, Suzanna Arundhati. The God of Small Things. London, Flamingo,
1998. Print.
Rushdie, Salman. Midnight’s Children. London: Vintage, 2011. Print.
Rushdie, Salman. Shalimar the Clown. London: Vintage, 2006. Print.
Said, Edward W. Orientalism. London: Penguin, 2003. Print.
Salih, Tayeb. Season of Migration to the North. London: Penguin Books,
2003. Print.
Soueif, Ahdaf. The Map of Love. London: Bloomsbury, 2000. Print.
Soyinka, Wole, Six Plays. London: Methuen, 1984. Print.
Soyinka, Wole, Death and the King’s Horseman: Authoritative Text,
Backgrounds and Contexts, Criticism. Gikandi, Simon (ed.). New
York: Norton, 2003. Print.
Theroux, Paul. Kowloon Tong. London: Hamish Hamilton, 1997. Print.
Thiong’o, Ngũgĩ wa. Devil on the Cross. London: Heinemann, 1982. Print.
Thiong’o, Ngũgĩ wa. A Grain of Wheat. London: Heinemann, 1967. Print.
Thiong’o, Ngũgĩ wa. Petals of Blood. London: Heinemann, 1977. Print.
Thiong’o, Ngũgĩ wa. Weep Not, Child. London: Heinemann, 1964. Print.

Further Reading 231


Thiong’o, Ngũgĩ wa. Wizard of the Crow. London: Harvill Secker, 2006.
Print.
Toer, Pramoedya Ananta, This Earth of Mankind. Translated by Max Lane.
New York: William Morrow, 1991. Print.
Unsworth, Barry. Sacred Hunger. London: Hamish Hamilton, 1992. Print.
Vera, Yvonne. Butterfly Burning. Harare: Baobab Books, 1998. Print.
Walker, Alice. In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens: Womanist Prose. San
Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1983. Print.
Walker, Alice. The Color Purple. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc, US.
1982. Print.
Zhang, Ailing. Love in a Fallen City. Translated by Karen Kingsbury. New
York: New York Review Books, 2007. Print.

232 Critical Insights


Bibliography

“abject, adj. and n.” OED Online, Oxford UP, June 2017, www.oed.com/
view/Entry/335. Web. Accessed 22 Sept. 2017.
“abjection, n.” OED Online, Oxford UP, June 2017, www.oed.com/view/
Entry/340. Web. Accessed 22 Sept. 2017.
Achebe, Chinua. “Teaching Things Fall Apart,” in Achebe, Chinua, The
Education of a British-Protected Child: Essays. New York: Alfred A.
Knopf, 2009. Print.
Achebe, Chinua. Morning Yet on Creation Day: Essays. London:
Heinemann, 1975. Print.
Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart. London: Penguin Books, 2010. Print.
Achebe, Chinua.‘English and the African writer.’ In Olaniyan, Tejumola,
and Quayson, Ato (eds.), African Literature: An Anthology of
Criticism and Theory. Oxford: Blackwell, 2007. Print.
Adeboye, Olufunke. “‘Iku ya j’esin’: Politically Motivated Suicide, Social
Honour, and Chieftaincy Politics in Early Colonial Ibadan.” Canadian
Journal of African Studies, 41:2 (2007), pp. 189-225. Print.
Adéèkó, Adélékè. “My Signifier is More Native Than Yours: Issues in
Making a Literature African.” In Olaniyan, Tejumola, and Quayson,
Ato (eds.), African literature: An Anthology of Criticism and Theory.
Oxford: Blackwell, 2007. Print.
Adewunmi, Bim and Lynzy Billing. “A Conversation with Claudia
Rankine,” BuzzFeed, 27 August 2015. Web. <https://www.
buzzfeed.com/bimadewunmi/a-conversation-with-claudia-da-gawd-
rankine?utm_term=.vswK25PmD#.pqD80NagO> Accessed 27 Dec.
2016.
Adichie, Chimamande Ngozi. Americanah. London: Fourth Estate, 2013.
Print.
Adichie, Chimamande Ngozi. Half of a Yellow Sun. London: Harper
Perennial, 2007. Print.
Adichie, Chimamande Ngozi. The Thing Around Your Neck. London:
Fourth Estate, 2009. Print.
Agary, Kaine. Yellow—Yellow. Lagos: A Dtalkshop Paperback, 2006. Print.

233
Aidoo, Ama Ata. Our Sister Killjoy or Reflections from a Black-Eyed
Squint. Lagos and New York: Nok Publishers, 1979. Print.
Alley, Robert S. Television: Ethics for Hire? Nashville: Abingdon, 1977.
Print.
Anderson, Benedict. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin
and Spread of Nationalism. London: Verso, 1991. Print.
Andrew, Malcolm. “The Fall of Troy.” In Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
and Troilus and Criseyde. The European Tragedy of Troilus, edited
by Piero Boitani, Clarendon, 1989, pp. 75-93. Print.
“antagonist, n. and adj.” OED Online, Oxford UP, June 2017, www.oed.
com/view/Entry/8172. Web. Accessed 22 Sept. 2017.
Arner, Lynn. “The Ends of Enchantment: Colonialism and Sir Gawain and
the Green Knight.” Texas Studies in Literature and Language, Vol.
48, No. 2, 2006, pp. 79-101. Print.
Arnold, A. James. “Césaire and Shakespeare: Two Tempests.” Comparative
Literature, Vol. 30, No. 3, pp. 236-48. Print.
Ashcroft, Bill, et al. Post-Colonial Studies: The Key Concepts. New York:
Routledge, 2000. Print.
Ashcroft, Bill, Gareth Griffiths, and Helen Tiffin “Introduction,” The
Empire Writes Back: Theory and Practices in Post-Colonial
Literatures, London: Routledge, 2010. Print.
Asian Population: 2010 Census Briefs. Place of publication not identified:
Bibliogov, 2012. Web.
Ayoola, Kehinde. “Things Fall Apart as the Avant-courier of the Nigerian
Variety of English.” In Anyadike, Chima and Ayoola, Kehinde (eds.),
Blazing the Path: Fifty Years of Things Fall Apart. Ibadan: HEBN,
2012. Print.
Barber, Karin. “Popular Arts in Africa.” African Studies Review, 30:3
(1987), pp. 1-78. Print.
Barker Clare. Postcolonial Fiction and Disability: Exceptional Children,
Metaphor and Materiality. Palgrave Macmillan, 2011. Print.
Benson, C. David. “The ‘Matter of Troy’ and Its Transmission through
Translation in Medieval Europe.” Übersetzung: Ein Internationales
Handbuch zur Übersetzungsforschung / Translation: An International
Encyclopedia of Translation Studies, edited by Harald Kittel, et al., 3
Vols., De Gruyter, 2004-2011, pp. 1337-40. Print.

234 Critical Insights


Benson, C. David. The History of Troy in Middle English Literature: Guido
delle Colonne’s Historia Destructionis Troiae in Medieval England,
D. S. Brewer, 1980. Print.
Bernault, Florence. “Body, Power and Sacrifice in Equatorial Africa.”
Journal of African History, 47 (2006), pp. 207-39. Print.
Bhabha, Homi. The Location of Culture. Routledge, 1994. Print.
Bonnett, Alastair. “How the British Working Class Became White: The
Symbolic (Re)formation of Racialized Capitalism.” Journal of
Historical Sociology 11 (3), 1998: pp. 316-40. Print.
Bonnett, Alastair. White Identities: Historical and International
Perspectives. Edinburgh: Pearson, 2000. Print.
Brotherston, Gordon. “Arielismo and Anthropophagy: The Tempest in
Latin America.” In ‘The Tempest’ and its Travels. Edited by Peter
Hulme and William H. Sherman. Reaktion Books, 2000, pp. 212-
219. Print.
Britos, Peter J. O. Symbols, Myth and TV in Hawai‘i: Hawaiian Eye,
Five-O and Magnum P.I.: the First Cycle. Diss. University of
Southern California. 2001. Web. Accessed 8 Sept. 2017.
Brontë Charlotte. Jane Eyre. London: Penguin Books Ltd, 2006 (1847).
Print.
Brontë, Emily. Wuthering Heights. London: Penguin Books Ltd, 1995
(1847). Print.
Browdy de Hernandez, Jennifer; Dongala, Pauline; Jolaosho, Omotayo
and Serafin, Anne (Eds). African Women Writing Resistance,
Contemporary Voices. Cape Town, Dakar, Nairobi and Oxford:
Pambazuka Press, 2011. Print.
Brown, J. Dillon. Migrant Modernism: Postwar London and the West
Indian Novel. U of Virginia P, 2013. Print.
Butler, Judith P. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity.
Routledge, 1990. Print.
Camus, Albert. The Myth of Sisyphus. London: Hamish Hamilton, 1955.
Print.
Carr, David. “A Cornered Pit Bull: Bounty Hunter Becomes Prey.” New
York Times, 18 Sept. 2006. Print.
Cartelli, Thomas. Repositioning Shakespeare. Routledge, 1999. Print.

Bibliography 235
Chambers, E.K. William Shakespeare: A Study of Facts and Problems.
Vol.1. Oxford, 1930. Print.
Chiasson, Dan. “Man with a Past: Cavafy Revisited.” The New Yorker, 23
Mar. 2009. Web. http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2009/03/23/
man-with-a-past.
Chinweizu; Jemie, Onwuchekwa; and Madubuike, Ihechukwu. Toward
the Decolonization of African Literature: African Fiction and Poetry
and Their Critics. London: KPI, 1980. Print.
Chute, Hillary. Disaster Drawn: Visual Witness, Comics and Documentary
Form. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2016. Print.
Chute, Hillary. Graphic Women: Life Narrative and Contemporary
Comics. New York: Columbia UP, 2010. Print.
Clayton, Pamela. Enemies and Passing Friends: Settler Ideologies in
Twentieth Century Ulster. London: Pluto Press, 1996. Print.
Cohen, Jeffrey Jerome, editor. The Postcolonial Middle Ages, Palgrave,
2001. Print.
Condé, Maryse. The Journey of a Caribbean Writer. London, New York,
Calcutta: Seagull Books, 2014. Print.
Condé, Maryse. Windward Heights. Trans. Richard Philcox. London:
Faber and Faber, 1998. Print.
Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. London: Penguin Books, 1983 (1902).
Print.
Cooper, Frederick. “Conflict and Connection: Rethinking Colonial African
History.” American Historical Review, 99 (1994), pp. 1516-45. Print.
Cooper, Frederick. Colonialism in Question: Theory, Knowledge, History.
Berkeley: U of California P, 2005. Print.
Coundouriotis, Eleni. “Self-Inflicted Wounds in Yvonne Vera’s Butterfly
Burning.” World Literature Today, 79 (2005), pp. 64-67. Print.
Cronin, Michael. Translation and Identity. Abingdon: Routledge, 2006.
Print.
Cuddon, J.A. The Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary
Theory. Fifth Edition. Revised by Habib, M.A.R, et al. Penguin
Reference Library, 2014. Print.
Dabashi, Hamid. The Arab Spring: The End of Postcolonialism. London:
Zed Books, 2012. Print.

236 Critical Insights


Dangarembga, Tsitsi. Nervous Conditions. London: Women’s Press, 1988.
Print.
Dangarembga, Tsitsi. She No Longer Weeps. Harare: College Press, 1987.
Print.
Darwin, John. The Empire Project: The Rise and Fall of the British World-
System, 1830-1970. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2009. Print.
Davis, David Brion. “Constructing Race: A Reflection.” The William and
Mary Quarterly 4 (1), 1997: pp. 7-18. Print.
Davis, Lennard J. “Introduction: Disability, Normality and Power.” The
Disability Studies Reader. Taylor and Francis, 2013. Print.
Desmond, Marilyn. “Trojan Itineraries and the Matter of Troy.” The
Oxford History of Classical Reception in English Literature, Vol. 1,
edited by Rita Copeland, Oxford UP, 2016, pp. 251-68. Print.
Diamond, Jared M. Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies.
New York: W.W. Norton, 2017. Print.
Do, Merdeka Thien-Ly Huong. “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: An
Annotated Bibliography,1973-1978.” Comitatus, Vol. 11, No. 1,
1980, pp. 66-107. Web. http://escholarship.org/uc/item/9rp6z8zt.
Dony, Christophe. ‘What is a Postcolonial Comic?’. Chronique de
Littérature Internationale, 7 November 2014, pp.12-13. Print.
Edwards, Nadi. “George Lamming’s Literary Nationalism: Language
between The Tempest and the Tonelle.” Small Axe, Vol. 6, No. 1,
2002, pp. 59-76. Print.
Emecheta, Buchi. Kehinde. Oxford: Heinemann, 1994. Print.
Etoké, Nathalie. ‘A Poem Written in the Ink of the Blood Shed in Rwanda’
in African Women Writing Resistance, Contemporary Voices Browdy
de Hernandez, Dongala, Jolaosho and Serafin (Eds). Cape Town,
Dakar, Nairobi and Oxford: Pambazuka Press, 2011. 223-226. Print.
Evans, Robert C. “‘Had I Plantation of this Isle, My Lord—’: Exploration
and Colonization in Shakespeare’s The Tempest”. Exploration and
Colonization. Edited and with an introduction by Harold Bloom.
Infobase Publishing, 2010, pp. 179-190. Print.
Evans, Robert C. “‘New’ Gay Poems by Cavafy.” Critical Insights:
LGBTQ Literature, edited by Evans. Salem, 2015, pp. 146-60. Print.
Eze, Emmanuel Chukwudi. Race and the Enlightenment: A Reader.
Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 1997. Print.

Bibliography 237
Fanon, Frantz. The Wretched of the Earth. New York: Grove Press, 2004.
Print.
Fanon, Frantz. Black Skin, White Masks. Trans. by Charles Lam Makmann.
London: Pluto Press, 1993. Print.
Federico, Sylvia. New Troy: Fantasies of Empire in the Late Middle Ages.
U of Minnesota P, 2003. Print.
Flannery, Eoin. “Irish Cultural Studies and Postcolonial Theory.”
Postcolonial Text 3 (3), 2007: pp. 1-13. Print.
Flexner, Eleanor. Century of Struggle: The Women’s Rights Movement in
the United States. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1959. Print.
Foucault, Michel. “The Ethic of Care for the Self as a Practice of Freedom:
An Interview with Michel Foucault.” Translated by J. D. Gauthier.
Philosophy & Social Criticism, Vol. 12, 1987, pp. 112-131. Print.
Foucault, Michel. Ethics: Subjectivity and Truth. Edited by Paul Rabinow.
Translated by Robert Hurley. Penguin BooksLtd, 2000. Print.
Foucault, Michel. On the Government of the Living: Lectures at the
Collège de France 1979-1980. Ed. Michael Senellart. Trans. Graham
Burchell. Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014. Print.
Foucault, Michel. The Government of Self and Others: Lectures at the
Collège de France 1982-1983. Edited by Frédéric Gros. Translated
by Graham Burchell. Palgrave Macmillan, 2010. Print.
Foucault, Michel. The History of Sexuality, Volume 1. Hurley, Robert
(trans.). Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1990. Print.
Foucault, Michel. The History of Sexuality. Volume 3, The Care of the Self.
Translated by Robert Hurley. Penguin, 1990. Print.
Freud, Sigmund. “The Aetiology of Hysteria.” The Standard Edition of
the Complete Works of Sigmund Freud Volume III. Trans. by James
Strachey. London: Hogarth Press, 1962. pp. 187-221. Print.
Freud, Sigmund. The Standard Edition of the Complete Works of Sigmund
Freud Volume VII (1901-1905): A Case of Hysteria, Three Essays
on Sexuality and Other Works. Trans. by James Strachey. London:
Vintage, 2001. Print.
Friedman, Susan Stanford. “Periodizing Modernism: Postcolonial
Modernities and the Space/Time Borders of Modernist Studies.”
Modernism/Modernity, Vol. 13, No. 3, 2006, pp. 425-43. Print.
Friel, Brian. Translations. London: Faber & Faber, 1981. Print.

238 Critical Insights


Ganim, John M. “Postcolonialism.” A Handbook of Middle English
Studies, edited by Marion Turner, Wiley, 2013, pp. 397-412. Print.
Gardner, John, translator and commentator. The Complete Works of the
Gawain Poet. U of Chicago P, 1965. Print.
Garland-Thomson, Rosemarie. Extraordinary Bodies: Figuring Physical
Disability in American Culture and Literature. Columbia UP, 1997.
Print.
Garland-Thomson, Rosemarie. Staring: How We Look. Oxford UP, 2009.
Print.
Gates, Jr., Henry Louis. “Being, the Will, and the Semantics of Death.” In
Soyinka, Wole, Death and the King’s Horseman: Authoritative Text,
Backgrounds and Contexts, Criticism, Gikandi, Simon (ed.). New
York: Norton, 2003. Print.
“General Description on the United Nations Enable.” U.N Enable. Page 4.
Web. http://www.un.org/esa/socdev/enable/diswpa04.htm.
Ghai, Anita. “Engaging with Disability with Postcolonialism.” Disability
and Social Theory: New Developments and Directions, Edited by D.
Goodley, B. Hughes, and L. Davis. Palgrave Macmillan, 2012, pp
270-286. Print.
Gikandi, Simon. “Preface: Modernism in the World.” Modernism/
Modernity, Vol. 13, No. 3, 2006, pp. 419-24. Print.
Gilman, Sander L. “Black Bodies, White Bodies: Toward an Iconography
of Female Sexuality in Late Nineteenth-Century Art, Medicine,
and Literature” in Critical Inquiry 12, No 1 “Race, Writing, and
Difference”. Autumn 1985. pp 204-42. Print.
Glidden, Sarah. Rolling Blackouts: Dispatches from Turkey, Syria and
Iraq. Montreal: Drawn & Quarterly, 2016. Print.
Graham, Colin. “‘Liminal Spaces’: Post-Colonial Theories and Irish
Culture.” The Irish Review 16 (1), 1994.: pp. 29-43. Print.
Graham, Huggan, and Helen Tiffin. Postcolonial Ecocriticism: Literature,
Animals, Environment. London and New York: Routledge, 2015.
Print.
Guy-Sheftall (Ed). Words of Fire: An Anthology of African-American
Feminist Thought. New York: The New Press, 1995. Print.
Haines, Victor Y. The Fortunate Fall of Sir Gawain: The Typology of ‘Sir
Gawain and the Green Knight’, UP of America, 1982. Print.

Bibliography 239
Hambridge, Roger A. “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: An Annotated
Bibliography, 1950-1972.” Comitatus, Vol. 4, No. 1, 1973, pp. 49-81.
Web. http://escholarship.org/uc/item/84d8m59g.
Hannerz, Ulf. “Sophiatown: The View From Afar.” Journal of Southern
African Studies, 20:2 (1994), pp. 181-93. Print.
Hannerz, Ulf. “The World in Creolisation.” Africa, 57:4 (1987), pp. 546-
59. Print.
Hatt, Cecilia. God and the Gawain-Poet: Theology and Genre in Pearl,
Cleanness, Patience and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Brewer,
2015. Print.
Head, Bessie. A Question of Power. London: Davis-Poynter, 1973. Print.
Head, Bessie. Interview with Michelle Adler, Susan Gardner, Tobeka
Mda and Patricia Sandler in Between the Lines: Interviews with
Bessie Head, Sheila Roberts, Ellen Kuzwayo, Miriam Tlali. Craig
Mackenzie and Cherry Clayton (Eds). Grahamstown: The National
English Literary Museum, 1989: pp. 5-30. Print.
Head, Bessie. Maru London: Gollancz, 1971. Print.
Head, Bessie. Where Rain Clouds Gather London: Gollancz, 1969. Print.
Hechter, Michael. Internal Colonialism: The Celtic Fringe in British
National Development, 1536-1966. London: Routledge and Kegan
Paul, 1975. Print.
Herodotus, Bks. 5-7: the Persian Wars. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1922.
Print.
Hill Collins, Patricia. Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness,
and the Politics of Empowerment. New York and London: Routledge,
1990. Print.
Holloway, Daniel and Maureen Ryan. “Daniel Dae Kim, Grace Park Exit
‘Hawaii Five-0.’” Variety, 30 June 2017. Web.
Holsinger, Bruce W. “Medieval Studies, Postcolonial Studies, and the
Genealogies of Critique.” Speculum, Vol. 77, No 4, 2002, pp. 1195-
227. Print.
Home, Robert K. Of Planting and Planning: The Making of British
Colonial Cities. Second Ed. Oxford: Routledge, 2013. Print.
Hooyman, Nancy R. and Judith Gonyea. Feminist Perspectives on Family
Care: Policies for Gender Justice. SAGE Publications, 1995. Print.

240 Critical Insights


Howard, Donald R. The Three Temptations: Medieval Man in Search of
the World, Princeton UP, 1966. Print.
Howe, Stephen. Ireland and Empire: Colonial Legacies in Irish History
and Culture. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2000. Print.
Hughes, Bill. “Civilising Modernity and the Ontological Invalidation of
Disabled People.” Disability and Social Theory: New Developments
and Directions. Edited by D. Goodley, B. Hughes, and L. Davis.
Palgrave Macmillan, 2012, pp 17-32. Print.
Hughes, Derek R. “The Problem of Reality in Sir Gawain and the Green
Knight.” University of Toronto Quarterly, Vol. 40, 1971, pp. 217-35.
Print.
Hulme, Peter. “Reading from Elsewhere: George Lamming and the
Paradox of Exile.” In ‘The Tempest’ and its Travels. Edited by Peter
Hulme and William H. Sherman. Reaktion Books, 2000, pp.220-235.
Print.
Ignatiev, Noel. How the Irish Became White. Abingdon: Routledge, 2009.
Print.
Ikiddeh, Ime. Introduction. Weep Not Child. By Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o.
London: Heinemann, 1966. Print.
Ingham, Patricia Clare. Sovereign Fantasies: Arthurian Romance and the
Making of Britain, U of Pennsylvania P, 2001. Print.
Iyer, Anupama. “Depiction of Intellectual Disability in Fiction.” Advances
in Psychiatric Treatment: Journal of Continuing Professional
Development. 2007, Vol. 13, pp. 127-33. Print.
Jackson, Alvin. The Two Unions: Ireland, Scotland, and the Survival of the
United Kingdom, 1707-2007. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2012. Print.
Jacobson, Matthew Frye. Whiteness of a Different Color: European
Immigrants and the Alchemy of Race. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard
UP, 1999. Print.
Jeffreys, Peter. “‘Aesthetic to the point of affliction’: Cavafy and English
Aestheticism.” Journal of Modern Greek Studies, Vol. 24, No. 1,
2006, pp. 57-89. Print.
Jeffreys, Peter. Reframing Decadence: C. P. Cavafy’s Imaginary Portraits.
Cornell UP, 2015. Print.
Jonson, Ben. Bartholomew Fair. Prepared from 1631 Folio (STC 14753.5)
by Hugh Craig, D of English, U of Newcastle. Web. http://ota.ox.ac.
uk/text/3249.txt.
Bibliography 241
“José Enrique Rodó.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia
Britannica, Inc., Web. www.britannica.com/biography/Jose-Enrique-
Rodo. Accessed 18 May 2007.
Joyce, James. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Penguin Books,
1996. Print.
Jusdanis, Gregory. “Cavafy, Tennyson and the Overcoming of Influence.”
Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies, Vol. 8, 1982, pp. 123-36. Print.
Kabir, Ananya Jahanara and Deanne Williams, editors. Postcolonial
Approaches to the European Middle Ages: Translating Cultures,
Cambridge UP, 2005. Print.
Kennedy, Liam. “Modern Ireland: Post-Colonial Society or Post-Colonial
Pretensions?” The Irish Review 13 (Winter), 1992: pp. 107-21. Print.
Khan, Khatija and Vambe, Maurice. “Decolonising the ‘Epistemic
Decolonial Turn’ in Women’s Fiction.” African Identities, 11:3
(2013), pp. 304-17. Print.
Killam, Douglas. The Novels of Chinua Achebe. London: Heinemann,
1969. Print.
Knowles, Sam, Peacock, James & Earle, Harriet. Special Issue: ‘Trans/
Forming Literature: Graphic Novels, Migration and Postcolonial
Identity’, Journal of Postcolonial Writing, Vol. 52, Issue 4, 2016.
Print.
Kristeva, Julia. “Approaching Abjection,” The Power of Horror: An Essay
on Abject, Columbia UP, 1941. Print.
Kristeva, Julia. Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection. Columbia UP,
1982. Print.
Kwon, Brenda L. Beyond Keʹeaumoku: Koreans, Nationalism, and Local
Culture in Hawaiʹi. New York: Garland, 2016. Print.
Lakhani, Ali. ‘The Long Journey of Rohinton Mistry’, Interview at
the Vancouver International Writers’ Festival. Canadian Fiction
Magazine, 1989. Print.
Lamming, George. In the Castle of My Skin. Addison Wesley Longman
Ltd, 1998. Print.
Lamming, George. The Pleasures of Exile. Michael Joseph Ltd., 1960.
Print.
Lampert-Weissig, Lisa. Medieval Literature and Postcolonial Studies.
Edinburgh UP, 2010. Print.

242 Critical Insights


Laplanche, Jean. “Gender, Sex and the Sexual.” Freud and the Sexual:
Essays 2000-2006. Trans. by John Fletcher, Jonathan House and
Nicholas Ray. New York: International Psychoanalytic Books, 2012.
pp. 167-209. Print.
Lonsdale, John, and Odhiambo, Stephen. Mau Mau and Nationhood.
Oxford: Currey, 2003. Print.
MacDonald, Megan. “Suicide Falls Through the Cracks.” In Anyadike,
Chima and Ayoola, Kehinde (eds.). Blazing the Path: Fifty Years of
Things Fall Apart. Ibadan: HEBN, 2012. Print.
Madgulkar, Vyankatesh. “Market Road.” Jambhalache Diwas, (Jamun
Days). 3rd ed., Continental Prakashan, 2002, pp. 103-113. Print.
Madgulkar, Vyankatesh. “Bai.” Jambhalache Diwas, (Jamun Days). 3rd
ed., Continental Prakashan, 2002, pp. 85-102. Print.
Madgulkar, Vyankatesh. “Butter and Fire.” Jambhalache Diwas, (Jamun
Days). 3rd ed., Continental Prakashan, 2002, pp. 53-67. Print.
Madgulkar, Vyankatesh. “Kamli.” Goshti Gharakadil (Stories from
Home). 3rd ed., Utkarsh Prakashan, 2002, pp. 112-119. Print.
Malone, Edmond. An Account of the Incidents from which the Title and
Part of the Story of Shakespeare’s Tempest were Derived and its True
Date Ascertained. London, 1808. Print.
Mama, Amina. Beyond the Masks: Race, Gender and Subjectivity. London:
Routledge, 1995. Print.
Mamdani, Mahmoud. Citizen and Subject: Contemporary Africa and the
Legacy of Late Colonialism. London: Currey, 1996. Print.
Márquez, Roberto. “Foreword”. The Massachusetts Review, Vol. 15, No.
1/2, ‘Caliban’, p.6. Print.
Mayell, Hillary. “India’s ‘Untouchables’ Face Violence, Discrimination.”
National Geographic News. 2 June 2003. Web. http://news.
nationalgeographic.com/news/2003/06/0602_030602_untouchables.
html Accessed on 10 September 2017.
Mbembe, Achille. “Provisional Notes on the Postcolony.” Africa, 62:1
(1992), pp. 3-37. Print.
McClintock, Anne. Imperial Leather: Race, Gender and Sexuality in the
Colonial Contest. London and New York: Routledge, 1994. Print.
McCormick, Ted. William Petty and the Ambitions of Political Arithmetic.
Oxford: Oxford UP, 2009. Print.

Bibliography 243
McGarry, John. “The United Kingdom’s Experiment in Asymmetric
Autonomy and the Lessons Learned.” In Multinational Federalism:
Problems and Prospects, edited by Michel Seymour, and Alain G.
Gagnon, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012. pp. 129148. Print.
McVeigh, Robbie, and Bill Rolston. “Civilising the Irish.” Race & Class
51 (1), 2009: pp. 2-28. Print.
Mehta, Binita, and Mukherji, Pia eds. Postcolonial Comics: Texts, Events,
Identities. New York: Routledge, 2015. Print.
Mendelsohn, Daniel. Translator. Complete Poems, by C. P. Cavafy. Alfred
A. Knopf, 2012. Print.
Mendelsohn, Daniel. Translator. The Unfinished Poems, by C.P. Cavafy.
Alfred A. Knopf, 2009. Print.
Mercer, Kobena. ‘Black Art and the Burden of Representation’. Third
Text, Vol.4, No.10, 1990, pp.61-78. Print.
Miles, Robert. Racism. 2nd Edition. London: Routledge, 2003. Print.
Mistry, Rohinton. A Fine Balance. First Vintage International Edition,
1997. Print.
Mistry, Rohinton. Family Matters. McClelland & Stewart, 2003. Print.
Mistry, Rohinton. Such A Long Journey. Faber and Faber Limited, 1992.
Print.
Mitchell, David T., and Sharon L. Snyder. Cultural Locations of Disability.
U of Chicago P, 2006. Print.
Mitchell, David T., and Sharon L. Snyder. Narrative Prosthesis: Disability
and the Dependencies of Discourse. U of Michigan P, 2000. Print.
Mohanty, Chandra Talpade. “Under Western Eyes: Feminist Scholarship
and Colonial Discourses,” The Discourse of Humanism 12.3/13.1,
Duke U P (Spring-Autumn 1984): pp. 333-358. Print.
Morrison, Toni. Song of Solomon New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1977. Print.
Morrison, Toni. Beloved. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1987. Print.
Msiska, Mpalive. Introduction. Things Fall Apart. By Chinua Achebe.
London: Heinemann 2008. pp. i-viii. Print.
Murray, Stuart, and Clare Barker. “Disabling Postcolonialism: Global
Disability Cultures and Democratic Criticism.” The Disability Studies
Reader. Edited by Lennard J. Davis, Taylor and Francis, 2013. Print.
Nagai, Kaori. Empire of Analogies: Kipling, India and Ireland. Cork:
Cork UP, 2007. Print.
244 Critical Insights
“narrator, n.” OED Online, Oxford UP, June 2017, www.oed.com/view/
Entry/125148. Web. Accessed 22 Sept. 2017.
Nash, Catherine. “Irish Placenames: Post-Colonial Locations.”
Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 24 (4), 1999:
pp. 457-80. Print.
Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Island Population: 2010 Census
Briefs. Place of publication not identified: Bibliogov, 2012. Print.
Neufeld, Josh, and Malek, Alia. ‘The Road to Germany: $2400’. Foreign
Policy Magazine, January/February 2016. Print.
Newell, Stephanie (ed.). Readings in African Popular Fiction. London:
International African Institute, 2002. Print.
Newell, Stephanie, and Okome, Onookome. Popular Culture in Africa:
The Episteme of the Everyday. London: Routledge, 2013. Print.
Nichols, Robert. “Postcolonial Studies and the Discourse of Foucault:
Survey of a Field of Problematization.” Foucault Studies, Vol. 9,
2010, pp. 111-144. Print.
Ní Shuinéar, Sinéad. “Othering the Irish (Traveller).” In Racism and
Antiracism in Ireland, edited by Robbie McVeigh and Ronit Lentin.
Belfast: Beyond the Pale, 2002. Print.
Norridge, Zoe. Perceiving Pain in African Literature. New York: Palgrave
Macmillan, 2013. Print.
Nwabueze, Emeka. “Theoretical Construction and Constructive
Theorizing on the Execution of Ikemefuna in Achebe’s Things Fall
Apart: A Study in Critical Dualism.” Research in African Literatures,
31:2 (2000), pp. 163-73. Print.
Nwapa, Flora. “Women and Creative Writing in Africa.” In Olaniyan,
Tejumola, and Quayson, Ato (eds.). African Literature: An Anthology
of Criticism and Theory. Oxford: Blackwell, 2007. Print.
O’Connor, Maureen, and Tadhg Foley. Ireland and India: Colonies,
Culture and Empire. Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 2006. Print.
Ogbaa, Kalu. “A Cultural Note on Okonkwo’s Suicide.” Kunapipi, 3:2
(1981), pp. 126-34. Print.
Ojaide, Tanure. “Modern African Literature and Cultural Identity.” African
Studies Review, 35:3 (1992), pp. 43-57. Print.

Bibliography 245
Orr, Stanley. “‘Strangers in Our Own Land’: John Kneubuhl, Modern
Drama, and Hawai‘i Five-O.” American Quarterly. 67.3 (2015) John
Hopkins UP. pp. 913-36. Print.
Otterson, Joe. “Daniel Dae Kim Addresses ‘Hawaii Five-0’ Exit.” Variety,
6 Aug. 2017. Web.
Paquet, Sandra Pouchet. The Novels of George Lamming. Heinemann
Educational Books Ltd., 1982. Print.
Petty, William. Essays in Political Arithmetick, Or, A Discourse
Concerning the Extent and Value of Lands, People, Buildings: As the
Same Relates to Every Country in General but More Particularly to
the Territories of Her Majesty of Great Britain and Her Neighbours
of H. London: Printed for Henry and George Mortlock, 1711. Print.
“protagonist, n.” OED Online, Oxford UP June 2017, www.oed.com/view/
Entry/153105. Web. Accessed 22 Sept. 2017.
Quayson, Ato. Aesthetic Nervousness: Disability and the Crisis of
Representation. Columbia UP, 2007. Print.
Ranger, Terence. Bulawayo Burning: the Social History of a Southern
African City, 1893-1960. Oxford: Currey, 2010. Print.
Rankine, Claudia, Citizen. London: Penguin Books, 2015. Print.
Reinecke, John E. The Filipino Piecemeal Sugar Strike of 1924-1925.
Honolulu: Social Science Research Institute, University of Hawaii,
1996. Print.
Renault, Matthieu. “A Decolonizing Alethurgy: Foucault after Fanon.”
Foucault and the History of Our Present, Edited by Sophie Fuggle,
Yari Lanci, and Martina Tazzioli, Palgrave Macmillan, 2015, pp.
210-223. Print.
Retamar, Roberto Fernández. “Caliban: Notes towards a Discussion of
Culture in Our America”. The Massachusetts Review, Vol. 15, No.
1/2, ‘Caliban’, pp. 7-72. Print.
Rhodes, Karen. Booking Hawaii Five-O: an episode guide and critical
history of the 1968-1980 television detective series. Jefferson:
McFarland & Company, Inc., 1997. Print.
Rhys, Jean. Wide Sargasso Sea, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1999.
Print.
Risden, E. L. editor. Sir Gawain and the Classical Tradition: Essays on
the Ancient Antecedents, McFarland, 2006. Print.

246 Critical Insights


Robinson, Bob. “Michel Foucault (1926-1984).” The Internet Encyclopedia
of Philosophy. http://www.iep.utm.edu/foucault/ Web. Accessed 28
April 2017.
Rothberg, Michael. Traumatic Realism: The Demands of Holocaust
Representation. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2000. Print.
Roy, Suzanna Arundhati. The God of Small Things. London, Flamingo,
1998. Print.
Ryan, Katy. “Revolutionary Suicide in Toni Morrison’s Fiction.” African
American Review, 34:3 (2000), pp. 389-412. Print.
Sacco, Joe. Footnotes in Gaza. London: Jonathan Cape, 2009. Print.
Sacco, Joe. Palestine. Seattle: Fantagraphic Books, 2001. Print.
Sadowski, Piotr. The Knight on His Quest: Symbolic Patterns of Transition
in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, U of Delaware P, 1996. Print.
Said, Edward W. Orientalism. London: Penguin, 2003. Print.
Sangili, Nabeta. “Shifting Toward East African Ecological Criticism
in Oral Literature: An Ecoanalysis Of The Maragoli Songs”
(2015). Web. www.academia.edu/839796/SHIFTING_TOWARD_
EAST_AFRICAN_ECOLOGICAL_CRITICISM_IN_ORAL_
LITERATURE_AN_ECOANALYSIS_OF_THE_MARAGOLI_
SONGS.
Sargent, Andrew. “Police in Television.” The Social History of Crime
and Punishment in America: An Encyclopedia. Edited by Wilbur R.
Miler. Los Angeles: SAGE Publications, 2012. pp. 1767-1774. Print.
Sartre, Jean-Paul. Preface. The Wretched of the Earth. By Frantz Fanon.
New York: Grove Press, Inc., 1963. Print.
Satrapi, Marjane. Persepolis. London: Vintage Books, 2008. Print.
Scarry, Elaine. The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World.
Oxford: Oxford UP, 1987. Print.
Schmidt, Elizabeth. Peasants, Traders, and Wives. London: Currey, 1992.
Print.
Schnyder, Hans. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: An Essay in
Interpretation, Bern, 1961. Print.
Seshadri-Crooks, Kalpana. Desiring Whiteness: A Lacanian Reading of
Race. London: Routledge, 2000. Print.
Shakespeare, William. The Tempest. 1623. Arden Shakespeare, 3rd Series.
Thomas Nelson, 1999. Print.

Bibliography 247
Shaw, Carolyn. “‘You Had a Daughter, But I am Becoming a Woman’:
Sexuality, Feminism and Postcoloniality in Tsitsi Dangarembga’s
Nervous Conditions and She No Longer Weeps.” Research in African
Literatures, 38:4 (2007), pp. 7-27. Print.
Silva, Noenoe K, and wa T. Ngũgĩ. The Power of the Steel-Tipped Pen:
Reconstructing Native Hawaiian Intellectual History. Durham: Duke
UP, 2017. Print.
Singh, Prabhat K. The Indian English Novel of the New Millennium.
Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2013. Print.
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: A Close Verse Translation. http://sites.
fas.harvard.edu/~chaucer/ready.htm. Web. For another version, see
also http://sites.fas.harvard.edu/~chaucer/special/litsubs/romances/
sg-prt1.htm.
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. [In Middle English]. Web. http://quod.
lib.umich.edu/c/cme/Gawain?rgn=main;view=fulltext.
Skutnabb-Kangas, Tove. Linguistic Genocide in Education, or Worldwide
Diversity and Human Rights? Mahwah, N.J.: L. Erlbaum Associates,
2000. Print.
Soyinka, Wole. “Death and the King’s Horseman.” In Soyinka, Wole, Six
Plays. London: Methuen, 1984. Print.
Soyinka, Wole. “Elesin Oba and the Critics.” In Soyinka, Wole, Death and
the King’s Horseman: Authoritative Text, Backgrounds and Contexts,
Criticism. Gikandi, Simon (ed.). New York: Norton, 2003. Print.
Spear, Thomas. “Neo-Traditionalism and the Limits of Invention in British
Colonial Africa.” Journal of African History, 44 (2003), pp. 3-28.
Print.
Spiegelman, Art. “Those Dirty Little Comics”. In Adelmen, Bob ed.
Tijuana Bibles: Art and Wit in America’s Forbidden Funnies,
1930s-1950s, pp.4-10. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1997. Print.
Spiegelman, Art. The Complete Maus. London and New York: Penguin
Books. Print.
Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty. “Can the Subaltern Speak?” In Nelson,
Cary and Grossber, Lawrence eds. Marxism and the Interpretation of
Culture, pp.271-313. Urbana: U of Illinois P, 1988. Print.
Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty. “Three Women’s Texts and a Critique of
Imperialism,” Critical Theory 12.1, The U of Chicago P (Autumn
1985): pp. 243-61. Print.

248 Critical Insights


Stainsby, Meg. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: An Annotated
Bibliography, 1978-1989. Garland, 1992. Print.
Stead Eilersen, Gillian. Bessie Head: Thunder Behind Her Ears.
Portsmouth: Heinemann; London: James Currey; Cape Town and
Johannesburg: David Philip. 1995. Print.
Stone, Brian, translator and editor. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.
Penguin, 1974. Print.
Stuchtey, Benedikt. “Colonialism and Imperialism, 1450-1950.” In
European History Online Mainz: Institute of European History
2011.Web. www.ieg-ego.eu/en/threads/backgrounds/colonialism-
and-imperialism/benedikt-stuchtey-colonialism-and-
imperialism-1450-1950.
Sunavalal, Nergish. “Alarming 18% Decline in Parsi Population since
2001 Census has Community Worried.” The Times of India, City.
Web. timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/mumbai/Alarming-18-
decline-in-Parsi-population-since-2001-census-has-community-
worried/articleshow/53387279.cms. Accessed 26 July 2016.
Swinburne, Algernon Charles. Complete Poetical Works of Algernon
Charles Swinburne. Delphi Classics, 2013. Print.
Swinburne, Algernon Charles. Major Poems and Selected Prose. Edited
by Jerome McGann and Charles L. Sligh. Yale UP, 2004. Print.
Szabo, Carmen. “Clearing the Ground”: The Field Day Theatre Company
and the Construction of Irish Identities. Newcastle: Cambridge
Scholars Publishing, 2009. Print.
Thiong’o, Ngũgĩ wa. Decolonising the Mind: The Politics of Language in
African Literature. Oxford, Currey, 2011. Print.
Thiong’o, Ngũgĩ wa. Devil on the Cross. London: Heinemann, 1982. Print.
Thiong’o, Ngũgĩ wa. A Grain of Wheat. London: Heinemann, 1967. Print.
Thiong’o, Ngũgĩ wa. Homecoming: Essays of African and Caribbean
Literature, Culture and Politics. Lawrence Hill & Company, 1972.
Print.
Thiong’o, Ngũgĩ wa. Petals of Blood. London: Heinemann, 1977. Print.
Thiong’o, Ngũgĩ wa. Weep Not, Child. London: Heinemann, 1964. Print.
Vaughan, Hannah. “Gawain the Exile: Reading ‘Sir Gawain and the Green
Knight’ in a Postcolonial Context.” Web. Master’s Thesis, Clemson
University, 2015. http://tigerprints.clemson.edu/all_theses/2168/.

Bibliography 249
Vaughan, Virginia Mason, and Alden T. Vaughan. “Introduction”. The
Tempest. Thomas Nelson, 1999. pp.1-138. Print.
Vera, Yvonne. Butterfly Burning. Harare: Baobab Books, 1998. Print.
Wagner, Corrina. “The Dream of a Transparent Body: Identity, Science
and the Gothic Novel,” Gothic Studies 14.1, Manchester UP (2012):
pp. 74-92. Print.
Walker, Alice. In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens: Womanist Prose. San
Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1983. Print.
Walker, Alice. The Color Purple. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc, US.
1982. Print.
White Population: 2010 Census Briefs. Place of publication not identified:
Bibliogov, 2012. Web.
Yuval-Davis, Nira. Gender and Nation. London: Sage, 1997. Print.
Zeleza, Paul. “Colonial Fictions: Memory and History in Yvonne Vera’s
Imagination.” Research in African Literatures, 38:2 (2007), pp. 9-21.
Print.

250 Critical Insights


About the Editor

Jeremiah J. Garsha is a postgraduate researcher in the Faculty of


History at the University of Cambridge. He is a social and cultural
historian of violence. His research focuses on visual and material cultures
of imperialism, framed in a world history context. He specializes in
comparative colonial atrocities, with broader interests in postcolonial
memory, specifically the positioning and repositioning of physical memory
structures within landscapes of atrocities. He received his BA from
the University of California at Santa Barbara in History and Germanic
Literature. He holds an MA degree in Modern European History from San
Francisco State University as well as an MPhil in African Studies from the
University of Cambridge.
His studies in postcolonialism is rooted to his MA thesis, which uses
an interdisciplinary focus to explore the intertextuality and internationalism
of early twentieth-century intellectual protests against colonization. His
MPhil dissertation documents the shifting narrative rhetoric used in
colonial monuments and genocide memorials in Namibia, Zimbabwe, and
South Africa and the ways these memory structures have been rewritten
and reinterpreted by postcolonial societies. His PhD dissertation moves
firmly into the realm of transnational history in its exploration of German
and British colonial occupation in East and Southwest Africa (modern day
Tanzania, Kenya, and Namibia) by unpacking the global history of imperial
conquest and indigenous resistance. His publications have appeared in a
global range of formats, including Genocide Studies and Prevention: An
International Journal, Przegląd Zachodni (Journal of Polish Western
Affairs), and the Canadian Eugenics Archive.

251
Contributors

Stuart T A Bolus was born in Hampshire, England, to an English father


and a Ghanaian mother. He was raised and brought up in Hampshire. After
completing the International Baccalaureate Diploma at a local school, he
studied International Relations at the University of Essex and completed an
Erasmus Exchange year at Charles University in Prague, Czech Republic.
Upon graduation from Essex, he then completed a Master’s degree in
African Studies at St. Edmund’s College, University of Cambridge. His
MPhil dissertation is titled “Election Powerbrokers and Local Government
Strongmen: Chieftaincy in Ghana, 1992-2015.” His research included five
weeks of fieldwork in Ghana. After graduating from Cambridge, he taught
English for an academic year in a primary school in Madrid, Spain. His
main interests include international travel, postcolonial history, politics,
and the Spanish language. He is also a massive fan of the series Bojack
Horseman.

Dominic Davies is a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow in the


English Faculty at the University of Oxford. He is the author of Imperial
Infrastructure and Spatial Resistance in Colonial Literature, 1880-1930
(Peter Lang, 2017) and Urban Comix: Collaboration, Reconstruction and
Resistance in the Divided City (Routledge, 2018). He is also the coeditor of
Fighting Words: Fifteen Books that Shaped the Postcolonial World (Peter
Lang, 2017) and Planned Violence: Post/Colonial Urban Infrastructures
and Literature (Palgrave, 2018). He will be taking up a Lectureship in
English at City, University of London from April 2018.

Joanne Davis is a feminist theorist of African literature living in London


with her young family. She has written extensively on the English works
of the Xhosa Reverend Tiyo Soga, and occasionally published poetry.
Here she discusses the entry of postcolonial voices within the more
traditional English literary canon, which has led to the exciting entry of
newness to English literary studies as stories written and told by people
with very different interests, content and narratives to those traditionally
considered worthy subject matter have come to the fore. This chapter
focuses on the writings of African and African American women writers in

253
the postcolonial era, some of whom are in the diaspora, whether in Europe,
America, or in other African countries to their home countries.

Kieran Dodds is a graduate of the Centre of African Studies, University of


Cambridge. His MPhil research explored the role of soccer in late colonial
Lesotho and apartheid South Africa, and especially the social identities
actors came to fashion and fasten around sport. His chapter “‘Solidarity
in Dreams’: Community, Difference, and Race from Narcissus through
Heart of Darkness” was featured in the recent volume Critical Insights:
Joseph Conrad in 2016. He received his BA in History at Pembroke
College, Cambridge.

Dr. Chinonye C. Ekwueme-Ugwu is a lecturer in the Department


of English and Literary Studies, University of Nigeria. Her research
interests are in Literature and criticism, particularly the African literary
environmental criticism. She had her studies at the University of Lagos
(Nigeria), from where she obtained a Bachelor (1997), a Master of Arts in
English (2007), a Post Graduate Diploma in Education (2008) and a PhD
(2014) from the University of Nigeria. She has taught at the various levels
of the Nigerian educational system—primary, secondary, and tertiary.
She commenced her career at the University of Nigeria in 2016. Ms.
Ekwueme-Ugwu’s published works, which reflect both her experiences
as a teacher of the English language and a literary environmental scholar
include Foundational Courses in English Grammar and Usage (2013),
‘Between the Signifier and the Signified: A Theological Approach’ (2013),
‘Global Ecological Degradation and English Nouns’ (2014) and ‘Energy
Environmental Crisis in Nigerian Novels and the Renewable Energy
Alternatives’ (2016).

Robert C. Evans is I. B. Young Professor of English at Auburn


University at Montgomery. He earned his PhD from Princeton University
in 1984. In 1982 he began teaching at AUM, where he has been named
Distinguished Research Professor, Distinguished Teaching Professor, and
University Alumni Professor. External awards include fellowships from
the American Council of Learned Societies, the American Philosophical
Society, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the UCLA Center
for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, and the Folger, Huntington, and

254 Critical Insights


Newberry Libraries. He is the author or editor of roughly forty books
and of more than four hundred essays, including recent work on various
American writers. In 2017, he was appointed a Research Scholar at the
University of Nevada in Las Vegas, home of the Ben Jonson Journal,
which he co-edits with Richard Harp.

Alejandro Veiga Expósito is currently a Spanish Teacher at Instituto


Cervantes Leeds and University of Leeds. He received a bachelor’s degree
in Spanish Language and Literature from the Universitat Autònoma de
Barcelona and a master’s degree in Critical and Cultural Theory from the
University of Leeds. His research interests are Comparative Literature,
Postcolonial Studies, Psychoanalysis, Critical Theory, Race and Gender
Studies, and Contemporary British, American, Latin-American, and
Spanish literature.

Peter Robert Gardner received his PhD in sociology from the University
of Cambridge. His research focuses on ethnicity, race, peoplehood,
postcolonialism, conflict, and peacebuilding. His most recent project
investigated the politics of the Ulster-Scots ethno-linguistic movement in
Northern Ireland. At present, he is a Teaching Fellow in Sociology at the
University of Aberdeen and an Affiliated Researcher in the Department of
Sociology at the University of Cambridge.

Aaron Iokepa Ki‘ilau is a graduate assistant in the University of Hawai‘i


at Manoa’s English department. He is also a student athlete tutor for UH
Student Athlete Academic Services. Aaron received his B.A. in Humanities
with a concentration in English at the University of Hawai‘i—West O‘ahu,
and a Liberal Arts A.A. at Leeward Community College. He also helped to
found the LCC Writer’s Guild where he served as “Master of the Quill,”
was awarded “Most Valuable Bard,” and helped to establish their annual
publication of student and faculty creative works, Kuamo‘o ‘Olelo. He
also won LCC’s annual poetry contest with a single unpunctuated run-on
sentence. Aaron has contributed to LCC’s campus magazine Ka Mana‘o,
and worked as a staff writer UHWO’s campus newspaper The Hoot.
Several of Aaron’s works have been published in Tompkins-Cortland
Community College’s literary journal Revisions, and his TV studies paper
on The Hawaiian TV Cop Show will be presented at the Pacific Ancient

Contributors 255
and Modern Language Association (PAMLA) conference. He is currently
working on finishing his book, The Cynic’s Guide to Customer Service:
An Unromantic Explanation of Your Service Industry Job, which was well-
received by the Center for Labor Education and Research (CLEAR) at the
UHWO Humanities Conference.

Dr. Anuradha Malshe completed her post-graduation and doctorate


from Mumbai University’s Economics Dept. Her doctoral work has been in
the area of development banking. She has successfully completed projects
for EXIM Bank, SICOM, and ICICI. She has worked on Education and
has been part of team on UN and Planning Commission Assisted Projects.
Dr. Malshe was post-doctoral research Fellow at University of Fort Hare,
South Africa, where she worked for Nelson Mandela Foundation assisted
project. She has been a Guest Lecturer to University of Passau, Germany.
Dr. Malshe has written several articles and research papers that have been
published in India and abroad. She has published books on education and
communication. Her current research interests are gender issues, inclusion
studies and development economics. Dr. Malshe has been Dr. LM Singhvi
Visiting Fellow to the Centre of South Asian Studies, University of
Cambridge, UK.

Shubhangi Garg Mehrotra is a PhD candidate in the Department


of English at the University at Buffalo. Her research interests revolve
around Postcolonial Literature and Theory, Disability Studies, Medical
Humanities, and Cultural Studies with a focus on South Asia. After
finishing her graduation and post-graduation in English Literature, Shubhi
also acquired another Bachelors degree in Education and worked as an
English teacher at both public and private educational institutions in
India. Just prior to moving to the U.S for her doctorate, Shubhi worked
intensively with the underprivileged children of Delhi’s slum area and
help design pedagogical strategies for teaching English to first generation
speakers who have limited available resources at their disposal.

Michael A. Parra, born and raised in San Fernando, CA, relocated to the
San Francisco Bay Area to attend the University of California, Berkeley.
There Michael completed his B.A. in English, with a minor in African
American Studies, in 2012 while maintaining leadership involvement

256 Critical Insights


with Lambda Theta Phi Latin Fraternity, Inc. As a rising literary scholar,
Michael is currently completing the M.A. English Literature program
at San Francisco State University. Michael’s master’s thesis is titled
“Breaking Through Ideology: Deconstructing ‘I’ and the ‘Me’ Who is Not
‘Myself,’” and focuses on the tensions between empirical reality, fiction,
and the self. His research interests include critical theory, continental
philosophy, and literary theory; specifically through reading narratives
of identity formation in American, U.S. Latino, Afro-Latino, and Latin
American literary and cultural studies.

Dhrubajyoti Sarkar is an Assistant Professor of English at University


of Kalyani, India. He teaches British literature with an emphasis on non-
fictional prose as a clue to the English history of ideas. For more than five
years, he has been teaching an elective graduate course of Shakespeare
criticism and his reviews of Shakespearana have been published in
Multicultural Shakespeare.

Egodi Uchendu is a Professor of History and International Studies,


University of Nigeria, Nsukka. Her research revolves around gender—
women’s history and masculinities studies, people and conflict situations,
childhood memories and conversions to Islam. She has received research
grants from major funding bodies including the United States Fulbright
Foreign Scholarship Board, the A. G. Leventis Foundation, CODERSIA,
Alexander von Humboldt Foundation and National (Nigeria) Universities
Commission. She has served on Boards, grant-selection committees,
and as transnational assessor for a variety of academic awards and
non-academic matters; recipient of “The Wangari Maathai Award for
Innovative Scholarship and Leadership” of The University of Texas at
Austin (2017), a member of the Presidential Committee for the Review
of Nigeria National Defence Policy (2015), two-term Vice President of
the Fulbright Alumni Association of Nigeria (2010-2014), Vice President
of the Historical Society of Nigeria (since 2013), African Collaborative
Member of the Centre of African Studies, University of Cambridge,
UK (2014-2019), member, Gesellschaft zur Foerderung des ZMO e.V.,
Director of CODESRIA’s 2005 Gender Institute and current Editor of
Journal of the Historical Society of Nigeria (JHSN). She currently leads

Contributors 257
African Humanities Research and Development Circle (AHRDC), a
University of Nigeria Institution-Based Research Group.

Liam Wilby is a first-year PhD student in the School of English at the


University of Leeds. He holds the University of Leeds Inga Stina Ewbank
Scholarship. His research concerns figuring posthuman selfhoods in
contemporary literature and film. With a focus on the formation of
posthuman subjects, this includes research into global speculative and
science fiction, such as that of Octavia E. Butler and Nnedi Okorafor. Liam
completed both his undergraduate and Masters studies at the University of
Leeds. Whilst his current focus concerns the posthuman, his Masters was
weighted towards postcolonial study where he produced work on Wulf
Sachs Black Anger (1947), the poetry of Kamau Brathwaite, as well as
Lamming’s In the Castle of My Skin.

258 Critical Insights


Index
Achebe, Chinua ix, xvi, xxix, 56, automaton 138, 139, 140, 145,
70, 123, 124 146, 147
Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi ix, Avant-courier 69
xix
adultery 76, 77, 78, 82 Baartman, Saartje 40
Adventures of Tintin, The 11 Bâ, Mariama 39
Aeneid 77 Barker, Clare 93, 107
Aetiology of Hysteria, The 222, Barthlomew Fair 25
224 Baywatch Hawaii 25
African American x, xiv, 39, 40, Beaumont, Francis 23
41, 42, 43, 45, 47, 48, 49, Being and Nothingness 25
51, 52, 53, 71, 218, 220, Beloved 39, 49, 50, 55
223, 224 Bercilak 82
Agary, Kaine xx, xxv, xxviii Beresford-Howe, Constance 36
Aidoo, Ama Ata 39, 46, 47 Bertha 48, 49
alethurgy 156, 158 Bhabha, Homi K. xxiv, 150
allegory 121 Bhave, Purushottam Bhaskar 108
Americanah xix, xxv, xxix, 46, 47, black bodies 143, 218
51, 54 blackness 47, 212, 214, 218
Ammu 124, 130, 134, 135, 136 Black Skin, White Masks 100, 136,
amplification 49 214, 215, 224
Anactoria 171 Bloom, Harold 37, 178
ancient Greece 164 Bond, Ruskin 109
Anderson, Benedict 186 Booking Five-O 197
Angelou, Maya 39 Boro xviii, 62, 63
antagonist 140, 143, 146, 147, Bouanga, Elisabeth 40
148, 149 Brahmins 128
anti-colonial 43, 56, 57, 58, 61, Brathwaite, Edward Kamau 33
63, 64, 66, 127, 154, 166, British xiii, xvii, xx, xxii, 28, 29,
180 33, 69, 71, 75, 78, 95, 105,
Antoinette 137, 138, 139, 140, 109, 113, 127, 130, 131,
141, 143, 144, 145, 146, 136, 151, 165, 166, 167,
147, 148 168, 169, 170, 174, 180,
Ariel 25, 30, 31, 33, 34, 37 181, 182, 183, 184, 185,
Ariyoshi, George 203 186, 187, 189, 190, 192,
Asian 123, 205, 208, 209, 210, 193, 194, 195, 206
211 Britos, Peter 197, 203

259
Brontë, Charlotte 48 Chingi 114, 115, 116, 117, 118,
Brotherston, Gordon 29 119, 120, 121
Browning, Robert 178 Christianity xi, 39, 78, 79, 80, 81,
Burroughs, Nannie 52 82, 84, 89, 90, 124, 125,
Burwen, Daniel 20 126, 127, 128, 129, 131,
Bush, George W. 17 132, 133, 135, 136, 155,
Butter and Fire 114, 122 160, 164, 165, 177
Butterfly Burning 56, 57, 66, 70, Christmas 79, 80, 81, 84, 85, 86,
71 87, 88, 89
Christophine 138, 139, 140, 141,
Caan, Scott 205, 208 142, 143, 144, 145, 146,
Cadmore, Margaret 43, 44 147, 148
Caliban 25, 26, 28, 29, 30, 31, 33, Chute, Hillary 18
34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 154, 155 citizen xiv, 70, 212, 213, 215, 217,
Caliban by the Yellow Sands 28 218, 219, 221, 222, 223,
Camus 60, 67, 69 224, 225
Cardenio 23 Citizen: An American Lyric 212,
Care of the Self 150, 162 213, 215, 217, 219, 221,
Caribbean xiii, xv, 12, 26, 30, 32, 223, 225
33, 35, 54, 146, 150, 151, Clark, John Pepper 35
152, 153, 154, 161, 163 Cliff, Michelle 39
Cartelli, Thomas 28 Collins, Patricia Hill 39, 48
cartography 181, 187, 188, 190 colonialism vii, viii, ix, xi, xii, xv,
caste xi, 93, 99, 108, 127, 128, xviii, xxiii, xxx, 6, 7, 11, 12,
132, 134, 136 21, 24, 25, 33, 57, 62, 63,
Castro, Fidel 31 64, 68, 75, 76, 89, 105, 123,
Cavafy, Constantine xiii, 164, 165, 127, 136, 147, 148, 154,
167, 169, 171, 173, 175, 166, 181, 182, 183, 184,
177, 179 185, 186, 188, 189, 192,
Cawley, Robert Ralston 28 197, 217
Cayetano, Ben 203 colonization xiv, xv, xvi, xvii, xix,
Césaire, Aimé 33 xx, xxii, xxiv, xxix, 11, 12,
Chakravorty, Gayatri xix, 142, 29, 78, 79, 82, 124, 129,
148, 150 132, 136, 154, 182, 184,
Chapman, Duane “Dog” 207 192, 201, 206, 223
Chenoy, Yezad 102 colony 24, 89, 95
Chiasson, Dan 178 Color Purple, The 39, 55
Chinedu 45 comics journalism 4
Communism 131

260 Critical Insights


Communist Manifesto, The 35 desire 26, 125, 128, 159, 166, 167,
Comrade Pillai 130, 131, 132 168, 173, 175, 190, 191,
Conrad, Joseph 52 192, 213, 214
Coomy 102, 103 Devil on the Cross 56, 57, 64, 71
Creole woman 137, 141, 143, 144 Diamond, Jared 201
crime fiction xiii, 197, 198, 199, dichotomy xi, 96, 102, 104, 112,
200, 210 120
cultural context 56 Dido 82
culture xii, xvii, xxvii, xxix, 3, 8, Dilnavaz 96
18, 20, 28, 32, 34, 35, 49, disability studies xi, 93, 94, 95
57, 58, 68, 78, 95, 98, 103, Disabled 93, 95, 97, 99, 101, 103,
105, 123, 125, 126, 127, 105, 106, 107
128, 129, 130, 131, 132, Dog the Bounty Hunter 200, 207,
134, 135, 136, 177, 185, 208
188, 193, 197, 202, 205, Dony, Christophe 10
206, 207, 209, 210 Douglass, Frederick 43
Culture and Imperialism 12, 13 Dubey, Madhu 39

Dabashi, Hamid 17 Ecocriticism xxvi, xxix


Dae Kim, Daniel 205, 208, 211 ego xxx, 141, 142, 216, 217, 221,
Dalal, Dina 99, 101 222
Dalits 127 Egypt 12, 164, 165, 166
Dangarembga, Tsitsi xi, 39, 56, elites 64, 105, 125, 127, 135, 184
65, 71 Emecheta, Buchi xvi, xix, 39, 46
Darío, Rubén 29 Emergency Period 99
Darwin, Charles 35, 184, 194 empire vii, 29, 164, 165, 169, 177,
Davis, Lennard J. 105, 107 185, 190, 203
Death and the King’s Horseman End of Postcolonialism, The 17,
56, 57, 58, 60, 61, 70, 71 22
Decolonising the Mind 35, 129, England viii, 46, 49, 61, 82, 91,
136 143, 145, 151, 156, 158,
Decolonizing 71, 163, 180 165, 181, 188, 193, 198
Dedalus, Stephen 161 English Law 138, 142, 144, 145,
de Hernandez, Browdy 40, 50, 51, 146, 147
53, 54 environment xxvi, xxvii, xxviii,
de Saussure, Ferdinand xviii 94, 95
de Seve, Michael 20 Esta 124
ethnocentrism 141
Etoké, Nathalie 50

Index 261
Europe xv, xvi, xxii, xxiv, xxv, Grain of Wheat, A xix, xxi, xxii,
xxix, 11, 40, 45, 46, 77, 78, xxiii, xxx
79, 87, 91, 188, 189, 215, Gramsci, Antonio 7
218 graphic novels x, 10, 17, 18
exploration x, xi, xv, xix, 201 Greeks 76, 165
Greenblatt, Stephen 28
Fact of Blackness 212, 214, 218 Green Knight xi, 75, 77, 78, 79,
Family Matters 102, 103, 104, 107 81, 83, 84, 85, 87, 88, 89,
Fanon, Frantz ix, xix, xxx, 100, 90, 91, 92
131, 153, 212, 214, 218 Gregory, Derek 11, 20
Feminism 71, 106 Groussac, Paul 29
Filiu, Jean-Pierre 20 Guenevere 78, 81, 82
Fine Balance, A 98, 100, 101, Guevara, Che 31
102, 107 Guns, Germs, and Steel 211, 237
Flannery, Eóin 182 Guy-Sheftall, Beverly 39, 40, 43,
Fletcher, Jessica 198 52, 53, 55
Fletcher, John 23, 225
Flexner, Eleanor 43 Habila, Helon xx, xxvii
Footnotes in Gaza 16, 22 Half of a Yellow Sun 39, 43, 54
Freddy 65, 66 Hamamoto, Darrell 204
Freeman, Leonard 201 Harlem Renaissance 42
Freud, Sigmund 212, 224, 225 Hattie, Hilo 204
Friel, Brian xiii, 181 Hawai‘i 197, 199, 200, 201, 202,
203, 204, 205, 206, 207,
Gadgil, Gangadhar 108 208, 209, 210, 211
Gandhi, Indira 98 Hawaiian Eye 200, 202, 203, 204,
Garland-Thomson, Rosemarie 96, 207, 211
105 Hawaiian History 205
Garner, Margaret 49 Hawaiian literature 209
Gatuĩria 65 Hawaiian Sugar Planters’
gender 106, 195, 196, 225 Association 206
generational x, xix Hawaii Five-O 197, 198, 200,
Ghai, Anita 97 201, 203, 204, 205, 208, 211
Glidden, Sarah 3, 4, 5 Head, Bessie 43, 55
God Of Small Things, The 123, Heart of Darkness 52, 54
124, 125, 127, 129, 130, Hechter, Michael 184
131, 132, 134, 136 Hegel, Friedrich 25
Gokhale, Arvind 108 Helen xxvi, xxix, 37, 76, 78, 82,
Gordimer, Nadine xix 148

262 Critical Insights


Henry VIII 23 125, 128, 129, 130, 136,
Hergé 11 183, 185, 195
Herodotus 60, 70 Indigo 36
her-self 144, 147 integration xv, 94
Hilton, Conrad 202 Interpretation of Dreams 35
his-self 146 intertextuality 48
history ix, xxx, 8, 12, 16, 60, 69, In the Castle of My Skin xii, 150,
70, 71, 72, 91, 156, 159, 151, 163
160, 162, 163, 195, 205, 211 Ireland viii, xiii, 180, 181, 182,
Hitler, Adolf xix, 19 183, 184, 185, 187, 188,
Ho, Don 204 189, 190, 192, 193, 195
Holmes, Sherlock 198 Irish xiii, 180, 181, 182, 183, 184,
Homer 76, 77 188, 189, 190, 193, 194,
homosexual 45, 164, 167, 168 195, 196, 205
hooks, bell 39 Isaac 126
Hounsou, Djimon 37 Ishvar 101
Huggan, Graham xxvi Islamic Revolution 17, 19, 20
Hurston, Zora Neale 39, 42 Island 24, 211
Husain, Saddam 17 Iyer, Anupama 97
hybridity xv, xx, xxiv, xxv, 63
Jacobo xviii, 62, 63
identity politics 97 Jal 102
ideological xv, xix, xx, xxiv, xxvi, Jamaican Slave Revolt 33
141, 156, 160, 181, 199 James I of England 193
Ifemele 46, 47, 51, 52, 53 James VI of Scotland 193
Igbo culture 126, 129 Jane Eyre 49, 54
Igboland xvi, xx Jeffreys, Peter 167, 169
Ikiddeh, Ime xviii, xxii Jehangir 102
Iliad 76, 77 Jesus Christ 79, 80, 82, 83, 84, 85,
Imperialism xxx, 12, 13, 55, 68, 87, 89
148 Johnson, Lemuel 35
independence xii, xiii, xvi, xix, Jonson, Ben 25
xxii, xxiii, xxvii, xxix, 29, Jourdain, Silvester 27
48, 59, 61, 64, 65, 99, 108, Joyce, James 163
115, 116, 118, 119, 124, 150, Judge Dee 198
176, 180, 182, 183, 185
India xi, xv, xxii, 12, 94, 95, 99, Kaiser, Henry J. 202
103, 104, 105, 107, 108, Kalakaua, Kono 204
110, 113, 114, 118, 120, 124, Kamara 45

Index 263
Kamli 114, 115, 116, 117, 118, literature vii, viii, ix, x, xii, xiii,
119, 120, 121, 122 xiv, xv, xvi, xx, xxvi, xxviii,
Kauhi, Gilbert Kalani 204 xxix, 3, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 12, 16,
Kehinde 46, 54, 69, 70 18, 21, 24, 26, 31, 35, 39,
Kelley, Chin Ho 208 40, 41, 42, 48, 49, 51, 53,
Kihika xxii 56, 57, 60, 63, 64, 68, 69,
King Arthur 77, 85 75, 83, 90, 93, 94, 102, 108,
King Kamehameha I 206 109, 112, 114, 121, 123,
King, Martin Luther 33 124, 131, 135, 150, 161,
Kneubuhl, John 197, 211 166, 167, 188, 201, 209
Kohlah, Maneck 99, 101 Location of Culture, The xxiv,
Korean War 204 xxix, 106
Kristeva, Julia 141 Lo Liyong, Taban 35
Kutpitia, Miss 96 Lorde, Audre 39
Kwon, Brenda 209 Lord, Jack 203
Los Raros 30
Lacanian subjectivity xiv, 212, loss xii, xviii, xix, xxi, xxii, xxv,
213, 215, 216, 217, 223, 225 25, 35, 62, 66, 88, 102, 118,
Lakhani, Ali 105 123, 130, 182
Lamming, George xii, 32, 37, 150, Luce, Morton 28
162, 163 Luster, Andrew 207
Lancelot 78, 82
language xiii, xviii, 19, 31, 32, 35, MacKaye, Percy 28
57, 78, 109, 121, 126, 129, Madgulkar, Vyankatesh xi, 108,
130, 131, 132, 138, 139, 109, 111, 113, 115, 117, 119,
140, 141, 142, 143, 144, 121
145, 146, 147, 148, 154, Magnum P.I. 197, 200, 203, 204,
155, 164, 170, 180, 181, 211
185, 188, 190, 191, 192, Magnum, Thomas 201, 204
193, 201, 213, 217, 218, Máire 190, 191, 192
219, 221, 222, 223 Malek, Alia 6
Laplanche, Jean 224 Malone, Edmond 26
Larkin, Philip 174 Mammachi 128
Latin America 29, 37 Mana, Amina 213
Lee, Sidney 27 Mannoni, Dominique-Octave 34
Le Fanu, Philip 136 Marathi literature 108, 109, 121
Lieutenant Yolland 181, 183, 186, Marionette 138, 144, 145
190 Marji 19
literary criticism 75

264 Critical Insights


Market Road 111, 112, 113, 115, Murad 102
117, 119, 122 Murphy, Sarah 36
Martha 65, 66 Murray, Stuart 107, 168
Martí, José 29 Mwihaki 61, 62
Martinique 33, 140, 142 mythmaking 62
Maru 43, 44, 45, 55
Marxism 22, 131, 132 Namjoshi, Suniti 36
Marx, Karl 35, 131 native xv, xvi, xxiii, 78, 130, 142,
Mason, Bertha 48 154, 188, 189, 190, 205
Master-Slave Dialectic, The 25 Native Hawaiians 201, 206, 209,
Materazzi, Marco 218 210
Mau Mau Uprising 61 Negritude Movement 33
Maus 9, 10, 17, 18, 22 Nengi-Ilagha, Bina xxvii
McClintock, Anne 190 neocolonialism xxiii, 64
McGarrett, Steve 198, 204 Nervous Conditions 39, 40, 54, 71
Measure of Miranda, The 36 Neufeld, Josh 6
medieval viii, xvi, 76, 77, 78, 80, New World 26, 27, 29, 30, 36
82, 83, 84, 89, 90 Ngotho xviii, 61, 62, 63, 64
Mediterranean xiii, 26, 164, 165, Nichols, Robert 150
177 Nneka 125, 126
Mehta, Binita 10 Noble, Gustad 95
Memmi, Albert 97 nostalgia 95, 102, 176
Mendelsohn, Daniel 166 Nwapa, Flora 68
Menelaus 76 Nwoye 126
mental colonization xiv, xv, xvi,
xvii, xix, xx, xxii, xxiv, xxix, Oba, Elesin 60, 62, 71
11, 12, 29, 78, 79, 82, 124, Obierika xvii, xx, 58, 59, 133
129, 132, 136, 154, 182, Obinze xxv, 46, 47, 53
184, 192, 201, 206, 223 Odyssey 77
Mercer, Kobena 8 Ojaide, Tanure xx, xxvii
Middle East xv, 12, 14, 18, 19, 20 Okonkwo xx, 56, 58, 59, 62, 66,
Migration 21, 22, 110 67, 68, 71, 124, 125, 126,
Miranda 26, 30, 36 129, 131, 132, 133, 134,
Mirran, Dame Helen 37 135, 136
Mistry, Rohinton xi, 93, 94, 106 Okpewho, Isidore xix, xxvii
Modernism 154, 162, 163 O’Loughlin, Alex 205, 208
Moore, Peter 36 Olunde 60, 61, 67
Morrison, Toni 39, 49, 71 Om 99, 101
Mukherji, Pia 10 omniscient narrator 138, 143

Index 265
One West Waikiki 200 positionality 138, 141, 142, 143,
On the Black Sisters’ Street xxv 144, 147, 148
Orientalism 12, 14, 15, 196 postcolonial comics 3, 7, 8, 9, 10,
Origin of Species 35 12, 20
Orr, Stanley 197 postcolonialism vii, viii, ix, xi,
Other xix, 12, 49, 95, 96, 97, 98, xiii, xxiii, xxvi, xxviii, xxix,
100, 101, 102, 103, 104, 6, 11, 14, 24, 36, 75, 76, 89,
147, 202, 211, 225 166, 181, 186, 188
outcasts xii, xvii, 125, 126, 127, postcolonial studies x, 5, 8, 10, 12,
128, 129, 135 16, 17, 24, 150, 185, 189
Owen 181, 183, 184, 185, 186, post-modern 108
193 Power of Horror: An Essay on
Abjection 141
paganism 87, 89 Prospero 25, 28, 29, 30, 31, 33,
pagan symbols 84 34, 35, 36, 37, 154
Palestine 12, 13, 14, 15, 17, 22 protagonist xii, xxviii, 18, 43, 45,
Paris 76, 78, 102 46, 56, 61, 64, 65, 66, 117,
Park, Grace 205, 208, 211 137, 138, 141, 142, 143,
Parkinson’s disease 102 147, 149, 198
Parrhesia 152
Parsi community 95, 105 racial anxiety 212, 216, 217, 222,
Pepys, Samuel 24 223
Persepolis 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22 raciology 189
Petals of Blood xxiii, xxiv, xxx racism xxv, 43, 44, 45, 47, 53,
Petty, William 187, 195 189, 193, 212, 214, 218,
photograph 171, 174 219, 220, 224
Pittock, Murray G. H. 168 Raghu 114
place names xiii, 190 Rahel 124
Pleasures of Exile, The 32, 154, Raleigh, Walter Alexander 28
161, 163 Rankine, Claudia xiv, 212, 217,
poetry 47, 113, 121, 164, 165, 218, 224
167, 168, 169, 170, 171, Ranyinudo xxv
173, 174, 212, 219 Raven 200, 204
Political Arithmetic 187, 195 Raven, Jonathan 204
polyphony 47, 64 Ray, Nicholas 224, 225
Ponce, Poncie 204 renaming 186, 192
Portrait of the Artist as a Young representation xxii, xxviii, 5, 6, 8,
Man, A 161, 163 9, 11, 12, 13, 14, 16, 17, 18,
20, 21, 24, 33, 41, 42, 48,

266 Critical Insights


51, 58, 97, 104, 144, 151, Shakespeare, William x, 23, 25,
153, 183, 184, 205, 210 37
resistance 11, 21, 40, 49, 57, 63, Shankar 99, 100
64, 65, 67, 68, 129, 134, She No Longer Weeps 56, 65, 70,
143, 193, 201 71
Retamar, Roberto Fernández 31, shipwreck 26, 27, 34, 36
32, 38 Simon, David 224
Rhodes, Karen 197 Sir Gawain xi, 75, 77, 78, 79, 81,
Rhys, Jean xii, 48, 137 83, 84, 85, 87, 89, 90, 91, 92
Riker, William 198 Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
Robeson, Paul 160 xi, 75, 77, 78, 79, 81, 83, 85,
Rochester, Mr. 48, 49 87, 89, 90, 91, 92
Rodó, José Enrique 30, 31, 37 Sissie 46
Roman Catholicism 87 Slave Girl, The xvi
Rothberg, Michael 9 slavery xvi, 39, 43, 49, 50, 143
Roxana 102, 103 society xx, xxv, 13, 36, 40, 49, 58,
Roy, Arundhati 123, 124 59, 110, 114, 120, 121, 125,
126, 127, 129, 131, 132,
Saadawi, Nawal el 39 133, 134, 135, 136, 144,
Sacco, Joe 6, 13, 15 150, 151, 159, 175, 177,
sacrifice x, xi, 56, 57, 58, 59, 61, 212, 213, 214, 215, 219,
62, 63, 64, 65, 67, 68 221, 223
Said, Edward xix, 11, 12, 15, 17, sociopolitics 209
150 soliloquy 140
Sangili, Nabeta xxvi Song of Solomon 39, 55
Sappho 171 Sontag, Susan 97
Sarmiento, Félix Rubén García 29 Soyinka, Wole x, xix, 56, 60
Sartre, Jean Paul 25 Spiegelman, Art 9, 10, 17, 22
Satan 131, 144 Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty 142,
Satrapi, Marjane 17 148, 150
Schwarzenegger, Arnold 83 status xi, 40, 41, 44, 45, 47, 53,
self-inflicted wounds 56 63, 89, 100, 105, 111, 125,
Self/Other 96, 97, 102 127, 128, 131, 132, 134,
Semprum, Jesús 31 136, 161, 220, 221
Sergeant Danny 198 Stead Eilersen, Gillian 44, 55
Seshadri-Crooks, Kalpana 212 Steele, Tracy 204
Sethe 49, 50 Stone, Brian 84
Settler colonialism 182 Strachey, William 27
Stuchtey, Benedikt xv

Index 267
student 34, 46, 99, 114, 151, 153 Trojans 77, 79, 82, 89
Subaltern 3, 7, 16, 22 Trojan war 77, 82
subjugation xv, xx, 56, 62, 66, Troy 75, 76, 77, 78, 88, 89, 90, 91
116, 130, 150, 151, 159 truth-telling 152, 153
Such A Long Journey 95, 96, 97, Two Noble Kinsmen 23
98
suffering x, 28, 58, 61, 62, 63, Ulster Plantation 182
64, 65, 66, 67, 76, 102, 118, Umuofia xvi, xvii, xviii, xx, 56,
135, 216, 220 58, 59, 61, 68, 124, 126,
suicide xi, 56, 57, 58, 59, 60, 61, 129, 133
62, 65, 66, 67, 68, 101, 109, Uncle Chacko 124
133, 135 Unigwe, Chika ix, xix, xx, xxv
Sukhdev 111, 112, 113, 118, 119, Unoka 133
120 untouchables 136
Swinburne, Algernon 168 urban x, xi, xxviii, xxix, 99, 100,
Symbols, Myth and TV in Hawai‘i 101, 104, 108, 109, 110,
197, 211 111, 112, 113, 114, 115, 116,
117, 118, 119, 120, 121,
Tambu 40 204, 205, 220
Taymor, Julie 37 urbanization 109, 118, 119
teacher 30, 117, 151, 152, 153,
159 Vakeel, Nariman 102
Tehmul 95, 96, 97, 98 Vancha 111, 112, 113, 114, 117,
Tempest, The 27 118, 119, 120, 121
Terrelonge, Pauline 43 Velutha 124, 127, 128, 131, 132,
terrorism 3 133, 134, 135, 136
Things Fall Apart xvi, xvii, xix, Vera, Yvonne xi, 56, 66, 70, 72
xx, xxix, 56, 57, 58, 61, 66, Violence xxi, 136
69, 70, 71, 123, 124, 125, Virgil 77
127, 128, 129, 130, 133, 136 Voice of the Sea 169
Thiong’o, Ngũgĩ wa xxx, 71, 136,
163 Wagner, Corinna 137
Third World Woman 142 Walker, Alice 39, 42, 48
Tiffin, Helen xxvi, xxix, 148 Wallace, David 35
Tintin in the Congo 11 Warĩĩnga 64, 65
Tobechi 45 Warner Brothers 203
Translations 164, 190 Warner, Marina 36
Trask, Haunani-Kay 204 War on Terror 17, 19
Trojan Horse 77 Watson 198

268 Critical Insights


Weep Not Child xviii, xix, xxi, World War II xvi, xviii, xix, xxi,
xxii, xxiii, xxix, xxx 24, 28, 31, 203, 204
Whishaw, Ben 37 Wretched of the Earth, The xix,
whiteness 148, 182, 189, 190, 191, xxii, xxix, xxx, 194
192, 216, 217, 220, 221, Wright, Louis B. 27
222, 223, 224
Wide Sargasso Sea xii, 48, 49, X, Malcolm 34
55, 137, 138, 141, 142, 143,
147, 148 Yellow-Yellow xxviii, xxix
Williams, “Danno” 198 Yoruba 60, 61, 68
womanhood 139
Womanism 48 Zidane, Zinedine 218, 221
Women’s Rights 54 Zilayefa xxviii

Index 269