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Postcolonial literatures in English BA English B. Moore-Gilbert 2002 0033E 100
Postcolonial literatures in English BA English B. Moore-Gilbert 2002 0033E 100

Postcolonial literatures in English

BA English

B. Moore-Gilbert



This guide was prepared for the University of London by:

B. Moore-Gilbert, MA, DPhil, Lecturer in English, Department of English, Goldsmiths College, University of London

This is one of a series of subject guides published by the University. We regret that due to pressure of work the authors are unable to enter into any correspondence relating to, or arising from, the guide. If you have any comments on this subject guide, favourable or unfavourable, please use the form at the back of this guide.

The External System Publications Office University of London Stewart House, Ground Floor 32 Russell Square London WC1B 5DN United Kingdom

Published by: University of London Press © University of London 2002.

Printed by: Central Printing Service, University of London, England



Introduction 1 Objectives 1 Subject content 1 Suggested study syllabus


Using this subject guide 6

General subject reading


Methods of assessment


Chapter 1: Section A author study: Chinua Achebe


Essential reading


Recommended reading




Reclaiming the past


Literary realism and the postcolonial novel


The role of the individual in Things Fall Apart


Reclaiming traditional narrative modes


Politics, literature and modern Africa


Achebe’s discussion of neo-colonialism in Anthills of the Savannah


Representations of the feminine


Learning outcomes 23

Sample examination questions


Suggestions for further/alternative study


Chapter 2: Section A author study: Hanif Kureishi


Essential reading


Recommended reading




Kureishi’s themes 26

Kureishi and colonial discourse 27

Kureishi and genre


Learning outcomes


Sample examination questions


Suggestions for further/alternative study


Chapter 3 : Section B topic study:

Postcolonial literature and the ideology of narrative forms 33

Essential reading


Recommended reading




Dramatising the colonial encounter: Derek Walcott’s Pantomime Postcolonialism and the postmodern novel:


Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children 36


Caribbean poetry: a new language for ‘English’ verse? 39 Caribbean verse and the search for tradition 41

Politics and myth in Midnight’s Children

The case of the ‘white’ Dominions: colonial culture at the periphery 41


Learning outcomes 43

The Bone People: choosing a postcolonial identity

Sample examination questions


Suggestions for further/alternative study


Postcolononial literatures in English

Chapter 4: Section B topic study: gender and postcolonial literature


Essential reading


Recommended reading




Gender and the African novel


The role of education 47


Re-ordering the masculine 49

Education and the threat to women’s identities in Nervous Conditions


Learning outcomes 51

Gender and postcolonial society

Sample examination questions


Suggestions for further/alternative study


Appendix: Sample examination paper


Section A


Section B





Postcolonial literatures in English is a Group B advanced unit. The unit is concerned with poetry, ction and drama produced since 1947 in the regions of the world formerly under British rule. This subject has been designed to:

• help you identify what is characteristic of this literature

• develop your understanding of the complexities of, and differences between, the various societies and literary traditions involved

• provide a context for the application of a range of critical approaches to the literature.

It is important that you refer to these objectives in the planning of your subject and when assessing your progress through the subject. (Self-assessment procedures are discussed in the Handbook.)

Subject content

You should organise your course of study around both topics and individual authors. The following is a list of the kind of topics which you might choose to investigate:

• the denition and meaning of terms such as ‘colonialism’, ‘neo-colonialism’ and ‘postcolonialism’

• representations of ‘metropolitan centre’ and the ‘periphery’

• problems of identity and cultural identication

• exile and diaspora

• hopes for, and disillusion with, political independence

• the role of the intellectual and the artist in postcolonial societies

• the response towards, and subversion of, Western literary forms

• issues relating to the writer’s usage of English language

• problems and opportunities of the postcolonial woman

• relations between postmodern and postcolonial forms.

In practice, some of these topics may well overlap.

The following is a list of authors whose works you may choose to study:

Chinua Achebe

Ama Ata Aidoo

Ayi Kwei Armah

Margaret Atwood

Edward Brathwaite

Merle Collins

Robertson Davies

Anita Desai

Buchi Emecheta

Nuruddin Farah

Nadine Gordimer

Postcolonial literatures in English

1 See ‘Methods of assessment’ below.

Wilson Harris

Bessie Head

Keri Hulme

Hanif Kureishi

Earl Lovelace

Timothy Mo

Les Murray

V.S. Naipaul

R.K. Narayan

Ngugi wa Thiong’o

Grace Nichols

Christopher Okigbo

Ben Okri

Caryl Philips

Jean Rhys

Salman Rushdie

Wole Soyinka

Amos Tutuola

Derek Walcott

Patrick White

Benjamin Zephaniah.

You need not feel restricted by these lists of topics and authors and you are not expected to know all of these gures and topics in depth. Their selection is intended to give an idea of the wide geographical, cultural and political issues in postcolonialism. Studying the plays, novels and poetry of some of these writers will certainly help with your preparation for both parts of the examination paper. 1 Similarly, the list of topics includes some of the central themes, genres and approaches to this literature. However, it is quite acceptable for you to include the study of topics and relevant authors not referred to here in your course of study. Since so many of the texts to be considered are involved in interaction with the British colonial novel, it would clearly be very useful for you to have studied the Group B subject guide Empire and Literature. It is not compulsory to have already studied this subject, but you should at least be familiar with some of the key texts of colonial literature, such as Robinson Crusoe, Kim and Heart of Darkness.


Suggested study syllabus

The following is a sample 20-week outline to give you an idea of how you could construct an appropriate syllabus for this subject.

Week 1:

Background reading of the denitions of postcolonialism and its relation to colonialism: recommended text:

Loomba, A. Colonialism/Post-colonialism. (See general subject reading below for full details).

Week 2:

Background reading on the literary/historical contexts pertaining to postcolonial literature: recommended text:

Boehmer, E. Colonial and Post-colonial Literature. (See general subject reading below for full details).

Weeks 3–5:

Author study: Chinua Achebe (see Chapter 1 below).

Weeks 6–8:

Author study: Hanif Kureishi (see Chapter 2 below).

Week 9–10:

Single text/author* study: Walcott, D. Omeros (London:

Faber, 1990) [ISBN 0-571-14459-4].

Weeks 11–13:

Topic study: Postcolonial Literature and the Ideology of Narrative Forms (see Chapter 3 below).

Weeks 14–16:

Topic study: Gender and Postcolonial Literature (see Chapter 4 below).

Weeks 17–19:

Topic study: Postcolonial life-writing

Recommended texts:

Seacole, M. The Wonderful Adventures of Mary Seacole in Many Lands. (London: Xpress, 1999) [ISBN 1-874509-85-9].

Kincaid, J. Autobiography of My Mother. (London:

Vintage, 1996) [ISBN 0-09-973841-4].

Coetzee, J.M. Boyhood: A Memoir. (London: Minerva, 1998) [ISBN 0-09-926827-2].

Week 20:

Revision. Practice of one-hour timed answers to previous examination papers.

*NB See note in suggested study questions for Weeks 9–10 below.

Recommended secondary reading for suggested study syllabus

Week 1:

None: use only Colonialism/Post-colonialism.

Week 2:

None: use only Colonial and Post-colonial Literature.

Weeks 3–5:

See Chapter 1 below.

Weeks 6–8:

See Chapter 2 below.

Weeks 9–10:

Brown, S. Derek Walcott. (Plymouth: Northcote House, 1999) [ISBN 0746308647].

Burnett, P. Derek Walcott. (Gainsville: University of Florida Press, 2001) [ISBN 0-8130-1882X].

King, B. Derek Walcott: A Caribbean Life. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000) [ISBN 0-19-871131-X].

Thieme, J. Derek Walcott. (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1999) [ISBN 0-7190-4206].

Postcolonial literatures in English

Walcott, D. What the Twilight Says: Essays. (London: Faber, 1998) [ISBN 0-5711-96489].

Weeks 11–13:

See Chapter 3 below.

Weeks 14–16:

See Chapter 4 below.

Weeks 17–19:

Anderson, L. Autobiography. (London:

Routledge, 2001) [ISBN 0-415-18635-8].

Fischer, M. ‘Ethnicity and the Post-Modern Arts of Memory’ in Clifford, J. L. and Marcus, G.G. (eds) Writing Culture: the Poetics and Politics of Ethnography. (Berkeley, California: University of California Press, 1986) [ISBN 0-5200-57295].

Lionnet, F. Autobiographical Voices: Race, Gender, Self-Portraiture. (Ithaca, NewYork: Cornell University Press, 1989) [ISBN 0801-499275].

Marcus, L. Auto/Biographical Discourses. (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1994) [ISBN 0-7190-5530-X].

Week 20:


Study questions for suggested study syllabus Week 1:

How does Loomba dene the terms ‘colonialism’ and ‘postcolonialism’? How satisfactory do you nd her denitions?

To what extent is postcolonialism dependent upon colonialism and to what extent independent of it?

What is the relationship between colonialism, knowledge and representation? How does this help us to understand the nature and functions of postcolonial representation?

What does the term ‘hybridity’ mean? How useful is it in terms of identifying postcolonialism?

To what extent can postcolonialism be understood as nationalist in sentiment and orientation?

What is the role of gender in postcolonialism?

What is the relationship of postcolonialism to postmodernism? To what extent are the two terms in opposition?

What part does literature play in Loomba’s argument? Should literature be seen as a ‘secondary’ expression of postcolonialism?

Week 2:

Note: These questions are based on Chapters 3–6 of Boehmer, on which you should concentrate attention.

How does Boehmer connect the emergence of postcolonial literature to the histories of anti-colonial nationalism?

To what extent can the literature of the ‘settler’ colonies (Canada, Australia, etc.) be considered as ‘postcolonial’?

What considerations lie behind the choice of genre in anti-colonial and postcolonial writers?

To what extent can postcolonial literature be understood as ‘subversion by imitation’?


How important is the debate over language choice in constructing the identity of postcolonial literature?

Can one usefully distinguish between ‘diasporic’ and ‘Third-World’ (or ‘non-diasporic’) postcolonial literatures?

Compare Loomba and Boehmer’s accounts of ‘mimicry’, ‘hybridity’ and the relations between postcolonialism and postmodernism. Which do you nd more convincing and why?

Weeks 3–5:

See Chapter 1 below.

Weeks 6–8:

See Chapter 2 below.

Weeks 9–10:

Note Omeros is a very long poem; it will therefore be counted as sufcient material for an answer on Section A single author questions, although this does NOT preclude your using any other Walcott texts, such as his drama (discussed in Chapter 3), for Section A questions. Alternatively, you can use Omeros when answering a Section B comparative question, for example in conjunction with some of the other material considered in Chapter 3 of this guide on Caribbean poetry. You may well have read Homer’s The Odyssey and The Iliad for Explorations 1. If not, you should now read at least The Odyssey, before starting Omeros.

What elements of Homer’s work is Walcott most interested in and what does this tell us about what is being attempted in Omeros?

To what extent can an Omeros be seen as a quarrel with Homer, and to what extent a sympathetic ‘re-writing’?

What is the signicance of Walcott’s effort as a Caribbean writer to employ the genre of epic?

Is Omeros better understood as an example of ‘mock-heroic’? If so, why? And, if so, what does this tell us about Walcott’s attitude to the Caribbean?

What are the functions of the narrative persona of Omeros? How important is the narrator to the action?

What is the signicance of wounds in Omeros? Does the poem offer a redemptive vision of healing and regeneration?

How does Walcott represent gender in his poem? You may want to think about how far this differs from Homer’s construction of gender roles and attributes.

How does Walcott represent ‘Home’ in his poem? Again, you may wish to start thinking about this in relation to how this theme is treated in The Odyssey.

Think about the structure of Walcott’s poem; in particular, think about the means he uses to keep the reader reading.

Weeks 11–13:

See Chapter 3 below.

Weeks 14–16:

See Chapter 4 below.

Weeks 17–19:

To what extent, and in what ways, do ctional forms of postcolonial life-writing differ from their non-ctional equivalents?

Postcolonial literatures in English

To what extent, and in what ways, does women’s postcolonial life-writing differ from men’s?

What is specically ‘postcolonial’ about postcolonial life-writing?

To what extent does postcolonial life-writing make its subjects representative of the communities from which they come?

‘The act of autobiography is at once a discovery, a creation, and an imitation of the self’ (JAMES OLNEY). To what extent does postcolonial life-writing support this proposition?

‘Autobiography, in short, transforms empirical facts into artifacts: it is denable as a form of “prose ction”’(LOUIS REIZA). Does postcolonial life-writing depend more than other kinds of life-writing on its claims to truthfulness?

‘It is the hybridity and instability of life-writing which makes it such an appropriate choice of genre for postcolonial life-writers.’ Discuss.

Week 20:

Go over the work you have done for at least two authors and at least two topics. This is the minimum amount of preparation you need to do in order to face the exam with condence.

Make sure that you can comfortably answer the questions for Weeks 1 and 2 of your programme of study.

Set yourself some questions from previous years’ examinations and answer these, strictly observing a one-hour time limit for each answer.

Using this subject guide

This subject guide is not designed as an overview of the whole of the literature of the postcolonial period. The content of the course of study you construct for yourself will consist of both the primary texts you choose (these will include novels, poems and plays) and secondary material such as literary criticism, history, biography and so on.

This guide does not constitute the syllabus itself, but is an example of how you might construct an appropriate course of study and of appropriate ways of studying the material you will choose. It also indicates the range of material that is the minimum amount necessary for you to face the exam with condence. Simple regurgitation in the examination of the illustrative material in this subject guide will be regarded as plagiarism and heavily penalised. You must adapt such material in ways appropriate to your own chosen syllabus of study. Examiners will always look unfavourably at examinations composed of answers that draw solely on the illustrative material provided in this subject guide.

Each chapter starts with a suggested reading list for the topic(s) covered in that chapter. It is divided into ‘essential reading’ and ‘recommended reading’. The former sets out the texts discussed in the chapter. The latter list includes a number of books and articles that will enhance your knowledge and understanding of the topic.

In every chapter you will come across questions in boxes. These are short exercises to let you test your progress and help you reect on what you have just read. You will make most progress if you attempt to answer each of these questions as you come across them in the text. You should refer back to the reading and then write your answers down or discuss them with someone else.


We include a list of ‘learning outcomes’ at the end of each chapter. Learning outcomes tell you what you should have learned from that chapter of the subject guide and the relevant reading. You should pay close attention to the learning outcomes and use them to check that you have fully understood the topic(s).

You will also nd sample examination questions at the end of all the chapters. You should try planning and writing answers to these questions as part of your study and revision programme.

General subject reading

None of the following titles on postcolonial literature is compulsory and none indispensable. Nor is it intended that you should read everything on this list. However, these items do address a range of important and central issues in postcolonial studies.

*Ashcroft, B. Grifths, G. and Tifn, H. The Empire Writes Back: Theory and Practice in Post-Colonial Literatures. (Routledge, 1989) [ISBN 0-415-01209-0]. A useful starting point for an approach to postcolonial literature which embraces all former colonies. Bhabha, H.K. The Location of Culture. (London: Routledge, 1994) [ISBN 0-415-05406-0]. Bhabha, H.K. (ed.) Nation and Narration. (London: Routledge, 1990) [ISBN 0-415-01483-2]. *Boehmer, E. Colonial and Post-colonial Literature. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995) [ISBN 0-1928-92320]. *Brydon, D. and Tifn, H. Decolonising Fictions. (Sydney: Dangaroo Press, 1993) [ISBN 1-871049-85-7]. Cronin, R. Imagining India. (London: Macmillan, 1989) [ISBN 0-333-46705-1]. Dabydeen, D. and Wilson, N.W. A Reader’s Guide to West Indian Literature and Black British Literature. (London: Hansib, 1988) [ISBN 0-87051-835-7]. Davidson, B. Modern Africa. (Harlow: Longman, 1994) [ISBN 0-582-21288-X]. Donaldson, L. Decolonising Feminisms: Race, Gender, and Empire-building. (London: Routledge, 1993) [ISBN 0-415-09217-5]. Fraser, R. Lifting the Sentence: A Poetics of Post-colonial Fiction. (Manchester:

Manchester UP, 2000) [ISBN 0-7190-5371-4]. Gates, H.L. Jnr (ed.), ‘Race’, Writing, and Difference. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986) [ISBN 0-226-28434-4]. Gikandi, S. Reading the African Novel. (London: James Currey, 1987) [ISBN 0-85255-504-0]. Gilbert, H. and Tompkins, J. Post-Colonial Drama: Theory, Practice, Politics. (London: Routledge, 1996) [ISBN 0-415-09024-5]. Gurnah, A. (ed.), Essays on African Writing: A Re-evaluation. (London: Heinemann, 1993) [ISBN 0-435-91762-5]. JanMohamed, A. Manichean Aesthetics: The politics of literature in colonial Africa. (Amherst: University of Massachusetts, 1983) [ISBN 0-87023-395-5]. Includes a chapter on Achebe. Kanneh, K. African Identities: Race, Nation and Culture in Black Literatures. (London: Routledge, 1998) [ISBN 0-415-16445-1] King, B. (ed.) West Indian Literature. (London: Macmillan, 1995) [ISBN 0-333-59463-0]. Kulke, H. and Rothermund, D. A History of India. (London: Routledge, 1986) [ISBN 0-415-04799-4].

Postcolonial literatures in English

Lazarus, N. Nationalism and Cultural Practice in the Post-colonial World. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999) [ISBN 0-521-624932]. *Loomba, A. Colonialism/Post-colonialism. (London: Routledge, 1998) [ISBN 0-415-12809-9]. Moore, G. Twelve African Writers. (London: Hutchinson, 1980) [ISBN 0-09-141850-X]. Dated, but still a worthwhile survey. *Moore-Gilbert, B. Maley, W. and Stanton, G. (eds) Post-colonial Criticism. (Harlow: Longman, 1997) [ISBN 0-582-23798-X]. A clear and accessible introduction, with useful selections of postcolonial theory. *Moore-Gilbert, B. Post-colonial Theory: Contexts, Practices, Politics. (London: Verso, 1997) [ISBN 1-85984-034-5]. Moore-Gilbert, B. (ed.), Writing India 1757–1990. (Manchester: Manchester Univ. Press, 1996) [ISBN 0-7190-4266-6]. Focusing on a single geographical area, this book provides examples of analysis of colonial and postcolonial writing. Includes a chapter on Rushdie. Ngugi wa Thiong’o Decolonising the Mind. (London: James Currey, 1986) [ISBN 0-85255-501-6]. Oxford Literary Review Volume 9: ‘Colonialism’. (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1987) [ISBN 0-9511-0801-8]. A useful essay on the postcolonial theorists themselves. Includes Benita Parry’s timely essay, ‘Problems in current theories of colonial discourse’. Pandey, S. and Rao, R. Image of India in the Indian Novel in English 1960–1985. (Hyderabad: Sangam, 1993) [ISBN0-86311-347-8]. Essays by Indian critics on Desai, Rushdie, Narayan, etc. *Said, E. Culture and Imperialism. (London: Chatto and Windus, 1993) [ISBN 0-7011-3808-4]. *Said, E. Orientalism. (Harmondsworth: Peregrine, 1985) [ISBN 0-14-055198-0]. A profoundly in uential analysis of colonial writing that has itself become a major postcolonial work. Stone, J. Studies in West Indian Literature: Theatre. (London: Macmillan, 1994) [ISBN 0-333-60078-9]. Contains a useful bibliography. *Suleri, S. The Rhetoric of English India. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992) [ISBN 0-226-77982-3]. Includes chapters on Naipaul and Rushdie. Tifn, C. and Lawson, A. (eds) De-scribing the Empire. (London: Routledge, 1994) [ISBN 0-415-10546-3]. Walder, D. Post-colonial Literatures in English. (Oxford: Blackwell, 1997)


*Williams, P. and Chrisman, L. (eds) Colonial Discourse and Post-colonial Theory . (Hemel Hempstead: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1993) [ISBN 0-7450-1491-7]. A large collection of essays, with contributions from all the major postcolonial theorists. Wisker, G. Post-colonial and African American Women’s Writing. (Basingstoke:

Macmillan, 2000) [ISBN 0-333-72746-0]. Young, R. White Mythologies: Writing History and the West. (London: Routledge, 1990) [ISBN 0-415-05371-4]. You should also look out for series such as Manchester University Press’s ‘Contemporary World Writers’ for volumes on individual writers.

* Especially recommended


Methods of assessment

You will be assessed by one three-hour examination. The examination will be in two parts. You will have to answer three questions, including at least one from each section.

Section A will contain questions on either individual texts or, more usually, individual authors. In preparing for this section you must study at least two of your chosen author’s works.

Section B will contain questions inviting comparison between at least two texts by different authors, in terms of specic themes, forms or critical approaches.

Please note the rubric of the examination appended at the end of this booklet. As well


instructing you to answer three questions, including at least one from each section,


says: ‘Candidates may not discuss the same text in more than one answer, in this

examination or any other advanced level unit examination.’

This subject guide will be organised around the structure of the examination paper. You will nd examples of the kinds of questions you can expect in the examination as you work through the guide and a sample examination paper at the end.

Preparing for the examination Important: the information and advice given in the following section is based on the examination structure used at the time this guide was written. However, the University can alter the format, style or requirements of an examination paper without notice. Because of this, we strongly advise you to check the instructions on the paper you actually sit.

The key to successful preparation for the examination is to:

• Know your primary texts thoroughly.

• Be prepared to think exibly. Don’t attempt to predict examination questions. Instead be condent and ready to apply your knowledge of primary texts in fresh ways.

• Study the sample examination questions at the end of each chapter and use the past examination papers to test yourself in the time allowed. The Examiners’ reports will guide you on how questions have been answered in past years. This will give you the best idea of what you can expect to encounter at the end of your study for this unit.

The sample examination paper included at the end of this guide gives you a good idea

of the range of questions you can expect. Remember it is better to go for depth rather

than breadth in the examination.

An essay is not only an attempt to understand but also to convey understanding. It is this specialised skill which the examination seeks to test. Unfortunately, some students’ essays fail to adequately convey understanding. This is rarely because the student fails to grasp the concepts involved. Rather it is due to a failure to make a complete, well-supported case for whatever he or she is trying to say.

Preparing for the examination, then, starts with the study of the authors, texts and topics that interest you, followed by close reading and analysis of texts. Then you must begin to organise the evidence that these analyses provide. Writing sample answers and essays will not only prepare you for specic topics in the examination, but will also improve your reading and analytical skills.


successful essay selects a specic route through a range of possible directions. Start


the beginning. The introduction is an essential part of the essay. Here, you should

tell the reader how you have interpreted the question and what direction the essay will

Postcolonial literatures in English

take. The introduction should contain your analytical response to the question as the main argument that the essay will present. Look closely and ask yourself: will this main statement answer the question? The essay, with the thesis statement at its centre, should not simply express your opinion: it should make a considered and well- supported argument.

The main body of the essay should then follow on from what you say in your introduction. Each paragraph must be directly focused on developing what is implicit in the main statement. You should also use the question as a landmark, referring back to it at the beginning of each new paragraph to make sure you are following the right path and actually answering it.

It is important that you also read the Handbook, especially the sections where the essay techniques are discussed in depth.

Examination technique If you have followed the instructions offered in the subject guide, read as much of the suggested syllabus as possible and engaged with the topics under consideration, you should be well prepared for the examination. However, in order to do justice to yourself and the subject on the day of examination, it is useful to think about your examination technique. The section entitled ‘Being Assessed’ in the Handbook will give you good advice on how to prepare for assessment, so you should read this carefully. The following suggestions should also be borne in mind as you prepare for individual examinations:

In the examination hall always read the general examination rubric carefully twice, and follow the instructions given.

Read the whole paper through before choosing which questions to attempt.

Take time to plan each of your three answers carefully. You may want to plan all three answers at the outset of the examination when your mind is at its freshest. Half an hour spent planning your answers is not excessive (10 minutes per question), since doing so will provide you with the structure and main points you want to make when you begin writing each answer. It is crucial to have a rm foundation on which to build your answer, so make sure that you have properly considered the question before you begin answering it. Remember that you are not being tested on how much you can write in three hours, but how carefully you can answer the question. This involves taking time to select your evidence and shape it properly. You will almost always know more than you need to know in order to answer the question. What is being tested is your ability to adapt what you know in the most efcient way possible to answer the question most effectively.

In order to answer questions effectively, it is important to understand what you are being asked to do, so look at the terms of the question (i.e. to consider, compare, evaluate, discuss or dene) and make sure you do what the question asks you to do. DO NOT simply regurgitate an essay that you have already written as part of your earlier preparations for the examination; and DO NOT allow yourself to get side- tracked onto your own particular areas of interest if these are not relevant to the question you are asked on the day. You must show that you can adapt material that you have prepared to answer the question you have been asked on the day.

When writing your answer it is also useful to begin with a brief denition of any key terms in the question. For example, your understanding of a term like ‘postcolonialism’ should be made explicit, since other people may well have a different understanding of the term.


Leave yourself sufcient time to answer all the questions you are asked to complete. Ideally, all three questions you answer should be given the same time and weight. Short or incomplete third answers are a sign that the candidate has not properly managed his/her time and are usually penalised accordingly. If you do run out of time, write down in note form all the points you would have included in the essay concerned. (You may be given credit for an outline of an answer which you have not had time to write in full.)

Proof it! At the end of the examination, read through what you have written, correcting spelling, grammar, punctuation etc. and checking titles and the names of authors for inaccuracies. Simple errors or slips can detract even from a good answer. You will be penalised for inaccuracies of expression, spelling mistakes, etc. so it is well worth giving yourself 10 minutes at the end of the examination to read through your paper.

These rules may seem obvious but are essential for good examination performance in any subject. To further develop and improve your examination technique you should also read the Examiner’s report from the previous year(s) and consider the following additional points:


• Don’t expect bald statements to stand on their own: support your claims with examples (quotations, for instance) or close reference to the text.

• Don’t pad the essay with unnecessary details or quotations. The ne line between too much and too little detail can be drawn by considering your audience: this is usually a tutor or examiner who is most interested in your powers of analysis and your ability to express yourself in a clear, organised way.

• Don’t include plot summary: you must assume that your readers are very familiar with the work or works you are discussing.

• If you are using quotations, don’t expect them to stand on their own. Even a short passage could be interpreted in more than one way. Quotations should be explained and analysed if you are to maximise their contribution to the essay.

• Don’t be too abstract, vague or speculative: make your argument clearly and concisely.

The conclusion should be a concise summary of your main thesis, but it must not simply be repetitive. The conclusion might also be an appropriate place to mention information that did not directly follow from your main argument but which is related and of interest to the reader.

Postcolonial literatures in English


Chapter 1: Section A author study: Chinua Achebe

Chapter 1

Section A author study: Chinua Achebe

Essential reading

In this chapter we shall look at two novels by Chinua Achebe written more than 30 years apart. Such a wide separation of time gives a good idea of how Achebe’s views have developed over his career. You are free to study any other of Achebe’s works, however, but it is recommended that you apply to them the critical issues raised here. Bear in mind that the examination requires you to answer in relation to at least two texts.

Achebe, C. Anthills of the Savannah. (London: Picador, 1987) [ISBN 0-330-30095-4]. Achebe, C. Things Fall Apart. (London: Heinemann, 1958) [ISBN 0-435-90001-3].

There is a three-volume edition of Achebe’s novels available, published by Picador under the title The African Trilogy, which includes Things Fall Apart, No Longer At Ease and Arrow of God. If you are considering studying Achebe in greater detail, this book might be a more economical choice.

Recommended reading

Achebe’s essays provide an important political and theoretical framework for his own ction. It is strongly recommended that you read as many of them as possible. There are an increasing number of critical studies devoted to his work, and you will also nd a great deal of useful material on him in wider studies of African writing, as well as on postcolonial literature in general.

*Achebe, C. Hopes and Impediments. (London: Heinemann, 1988) [ISBN 0-435-91001-9]. Achebe, C. Morning Yet On Creation Day. (London: Heinemann, 1975) [ISBN 0-435-18026-6]. Gikandi, S. Reading Chinua Achebe. (London: James Currey, 1991) [ISBN 085255-527-]. *Innes, C.L. Chinua Achebe. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990) [ISBN 0-521-42897-1]. *Ngugi wa Thiong’o Decolonising the Mind. (London: James Currey, 1986) [ISBN 0-85255-501-6]. An important set of essays exploring the political implications of African writers using Western literary form and language. Ohaeto, E. Chinua Achebe: A Biography. (Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana UP, 1997) [ISBN 0-25-3333-423]. Yousaf, N. Chinua Achebe. (Plymouth: Northcote House, 1998) [ISBN 0-746-30885X].

* Especially recommended

Postcolonial literatures in English


In this chapter, we shall consider two novels by Chinua Achebe. His seminal rst novel, Things Fall Apart, appeared in 1958 just prior to Nigerian independence. It is signicant that, rather than address the contemporary issues which concerned Nigeria at the end of British rule, he should look back to a period in the previous century when the colonial powers were about to dominate. We shall consider why this should be the case in the light of Achebe’s theory of the novel, which argued that the African novel in English needed to redress the colonial novel’s marginalisation of the African voice. His most recent novel, Anthills of the Savannah, surveys Nigerian society nearly 30 years after independence. Through this novel, we shall discuss how modern African literature has dealt with the problems of society after decolonisation. The distance in time between the two works will also raise questions about how the author’s views of postcolonial life have developed, as well as the extent to which his narrative technique and views on the role of the novel have changed.

At this stage it will be useful to read some of Achebe’s non-ction, such as ‘Africa and her Writers’, in Morning Yet on Creation Day, and ‘The Novelist as Teacher’, in Hopes and Impediments. (It might be useful to complement this with Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s ‘The Language of African Literature’, in Decolonising the Mind, for example.) As you read the essays, think about how some of the cultural and political issues raised in such essays are reected in Things Fall Apart and Anthills of the Savannah.

Reclaiming the past

African writers such as Achebe have consistently taken issue with the representation of Africa in European history and art. They cite the work of European authors and thinkers, from David Hume and Georg Hegel to Daniel Defoe and Joyce Cary, as exemplifying a European tradition of writing on Africa where the African voice has been marginalised, derided or denied. One of their primary concerns is the revision of the colonial version of Africa’s history. In the colonial version, colonialism is a benecial and ultimately benevolent system in a continent that is innately violent and anarchic, and trapped in a timeless and unchanging barbarism. Thus Chinua Achebe’s essays provide a theoretical background to his concerns as a novelist:

I would be quite satis ed if my novels (especially the ones I set in the past) did no more than teach my readers that their past – with all its imperfections – was not one long night of savagery from which the rst Europeans acting on God’s behalf delivered them.

The need to refute this idea lies at the heart of Things Fall Apart (hereafter referred to as TFA), and is clearly addressed in its deeply ironic concluding paragraph. There, the English District Commissioner in Umuoa, the man responsible for administering the new colony, expresses his belief that ‘he had toiled to bring civilisation to different parts of Africa’ for many years, and yet he is completely unaware that any civilisation already existed. He brings his European notions of Africa with him, of course. As a political ofcer, and as an amateur anthropologist, a student of ‘primitive’ customs who is writing a book on the subject, he can only see the surface of African life. Achebe, of course, intends TFA to redress this view and to provide a more substantial image of pre-colonial Africa.

Collect examples of how Achebe suggests the existence of a civilisation that existed prior to the advent of the British. Do they convincingly argue for a positive African version of the past? Can we argue that Achebe has simply idealised the past?

Chapter 1: Section A author study: Chinua Achebe

The nal irony of the novel is an appropriately literary one, about reading and misreading, which nevertheless serves as a rejoinder to how Europe has constructed Africa. The District Commissioner walks away from Okonkwo’s hanging body musing on the new material that the latter’s murder of the messenger and subsequent suicide would provide. It:

would make interesting reading. One could almost write a whole chapter on him. Perhaps not a whole chapter but a reasonable paragraph at any rate. There was so much else to include, and one must be rm in cutting out details. He had already chosen the title of the book, after much thought: The Pacication of the Tribes of the Lower Niger.

The District Commissioner’s book represents the historical English writing of Africa as the ‘Dark Continent’ and thus, given Achebe’s intention to challenge this image, an ironic alternative text to TFA itself. In view of the novel as a whole, the irony that governs the District Commissioner’s view of Okonkwo’s story being only worth a paragraph stands out. Achebe’s careful building up of Okonkwo as a man of tragic stature throughout the novel is not undermined by the conclusion, but instead throws the emphasis of his critique against the attitude of the District Commissioner and his representative Eurocentric notions of African culture and society. The District Commissioner profoundly misreads the meaning of Okonkwo’s death. His need to record his own misinterpretation, as a text that will explain Africa to a European audience, creates a structural counterpoint in the novel. The tradition of anthropological, political and literary writing on Africa from Europe is relocated in juxtaposition with postcolonial African writing, and is seen to be no longer a ‘master’ discourse over one that can merely mimic. What we must now consider is the way in which the novel privileges an African view of character and society.

In studying this topic, the importance of a literary, geographical and historical knowledge of European empire, from the sixteenth century to the twentieth century, cannot be emphasised enough. You should be willing to use other texts, encyclopedias and colonial literature (i.e. by authors such as Defoe, Kipling, and Conrad), for example, to try to obtain an overview of the subject. In particular, look at that period in the late nineteenth century known as ‘the scramble for Africa’, when the continent was almost completely taken over by competing European empires.

Literary realism and the postcolonial novel

At the heart of the novel is a representation of a society that has both strengths and weaknesses, but one that nevertheless functions within its own cultural, religious, political and legal structures. People are shown carrying out the business of everyday life, and to this extent the novel presents the European reader with a subtle message about Africa. We witness an Ibo village of the late nineteenth century that might seem surprisingly recognisable if compared to the England we see in a nineteenth-century realist novel such as Jane Austen’s, for example. There is the business of arranging marriages, of negotiating with the competing interests of individuals and, ultimately, the functioning of a whole society is viewed microcosmically through the workings of a family. As such, the novel does not present us with an Africa of the exotic and the threatening; it is not a backdrop for Europe’s own psychological and existential anxieties, as is so often the case in the colonial novel. Even more familiar is the main character, Okonkwo, the poor boy made good, whose need continually to prove himself sets him in conict with the conventions of the wider community. You may wish to compare this aspect of the novel with Hardy’s The Mayor of Casterbridge, for

Postcolonial literatures in English

example. Thus, a classic European concern with how the individual asserts his own identity, and is often crushed by the constraints placed upon him by his society, might appear to be a central interest of the novel.

Is TFA simply an example of the classic European realist novel transplanted to an African village? If not, in what ways does it challenge the conventions of such narratives?

Okonkwo’s fundamental motivation is his unwillingness to be labelled an agbala, which means ‘a man without title’ as well as ‘woman’. Agbala is what Okonkwo’s father, Unoka, was called and Okonkwo, of course, seeks to escape from the possibility that such a reputation may be attached to him, or, importantly, that such a failing may be inherited. For at the start of the novel he believes that the individual can transcend his familial and social restrictions, and thus he nds attractive the Ibo proverb that ‘when a man says yes his chi says yes also. Okonkwo said yes very strongly’. From this comes Okonkwo’s energy and ambition and yet, ultimately, his weakness and destruction. What he disdained in his father, and subsequently in all others (see the opening paragraph of Chapter 4, for example), is not only failure, but also those qualities associated with ‘unmanliness’ that are given positive value by Achebe within the novel, namely the feminine and the artistic, through which the tribe’s culture survives. An essential aspect of Unoka’s unmanliness, for example, is his delight in playing music, rather than discussing an impending war.

Collect other examples of the tension between the ‘feminine’ and the ‘masculine’ in the novel. How do they support or refute the argument outlined above?

Clearly for Achebe, as artist and writer, the word is a vital instrument of a society’s strength, of its sense of itself. It is the women who pass on stories about the environment in which the tribe exists, and its mythological origins. It is no accident that Agbala is also the name of the Oracle, where the word becomes sacrosanct:

The priestess suddenly screamed. ‘Beware, Okonkwo!’ she warned. ‘Beware of exchanging words with Agbala. Does a man speak when a god speaks? Beware!’

In this society, then, the feminine has a legitimate spiritual and cultural position, and it is this that Okonkwo cannot acknowledge.

Is it possible to reconcile what appears to be the paradox that Achebe’s challenge to the Europeans’ possession of the word, of literary culture, is written in the coloniser’s language? Does this undermine his assertion of an indigenous cultural life against that of the colonial powers? Because of this, to what extent do they remain in a colonial relationship with the Centre and thus, at a profound level, unliberated from empire?

The role of the individual in Things Fall Apart

Okonkwo’s fear of appearing weak consistently pushes him to act in ways that contravene the clan’s own laws and customs. When he beats his wife during the sacred Week of Peace, for example, the priest tells him that:

‘the evil you have done can ruin the whole clan. The earth goddess whom you have insulted may refuse to give us her increase, and we shall all perish.’

There is a counterbalancing proverb to the earlier one we have mentioned which his neighbours use of him:

They called him the little bird nza who so forgot himself after a heavy meal that he challenged his chi.

Chapter 1: Section A author study: Chinua Achebe

The individual may be able to alter his own destiny, but must be careful not to allow that to threaten the interests of his community. Okonkwo is an example of an individual going further than his society demands of him, an issue of vital importance for African cultural and political thought. Thus, despite his being told not to take part in the death of his surrogate son, Ikemefuna, when the tribe decides he must be sacriced, Okonkwo nevertheless cuts him down with his machete. ‘He was afraid of being thought weak,’ the narrative informs us.

Consider how Okonkwo’s suspicion of his son’s masculinity is alleviated when Ikemefuna joins the household. If neither Okonkwo’s excessive masculinity or his father’s excessive laziness are seen as desirable paths for the tribe to follow, then does Ikemefuna, a peace offering from a defeated tribe, possess that balance of the masculine and the feminine that is lacking in Umuoa? He has an ‘endless stock of folk tales’, can hunt animals, carve utes, and embodies, perhaps, a potential alternative for the tribe’s future. Can we read the death of Ikemefuna as symbolic for the future of the tribe?

Achebe seems to be identifying a sterility, a stasis in the tribe’s more rigid laws that leads to its downfall. The society that dictates that twins, as aberrations, must be killed and mutilated, and that Ikemefuna be sacriced, is not balanced sufciently by the necessary values of the feminine.

Examine Nwoye’s reaction on his father’s return at the end of Chapter Seven:

‘Nwoye knew that Ikemefuna had been killed, and something seemed to give way inside him, like the snapping of a tightened bow.’

In what ways does Achebe dramatise the clash of values between the masculine and the feminine, and their effect on the tribe, through Okonkwo’s difcult relationship with his son? Does Okonkwo’s act herald the collapse of the clan’s autonomy at the end of the novel?

The ultimate result of this is Nwoye’s rejection of his father, and his baptism into the missionaries’ church. Built into this conict, then, is what Achebe sees as a fundamental weakness in the tribe, and this allows the missionaries to gain a foothold in Ibo society as a competing system of values:

It was not the mad logic of the Trinity that captivated [Nwoye]. It was the poetry of the new religion, something felt in the marrow. 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. He felt a relief within as the hymn poured into his parched soul.

As we have suggested, then, Achebe identies what he sees as fundamental problems within the Ibo society, and these are dramatised in Okonkwo. It is he who attempts the last, futile, warlike gesture against the new dispensation by killing the District Commissioner’s messenger. For him, what is happening to the tribe:

was not just a personal grief. He mourned for the clan, which he saw breaking up and falling apart, and he mourned for the warlike men of Umuoa, who had so unaccountably become soft like women.

Okonkwo acts beyond the demands of the community through an extreme identication with the tribe’s destiny. He is unable to understand the real importance of the Ibo proverb that he quotes, and which recommends the need for adaptability:

Postcolonial literatures in English

Eneke the bird was asked why he was always on the wing and he replied: ‘Men have learnt to shoot without missing their mark and I have learnt to y without perching on a twig.’

2 See Chapter 9.


3 See Chapter 18

4 An important essay to read in this context is ‘The Truth of Fiction’ in Hopes and Impediments.

Achebe’s narrative voice is deceptively simple. The narrative perspective is that of one of the tribe, and the world of the novel is contained within the perceptual borders of Umuoa. In what ways is this a strategy for excluding the reader from its narrative eld? Is it designed to make the European reader specically aware of the limitations

of his/her knowledge? What is the reader to make of Ezinma’s buried iyi-uwa 2 or the

death of Okoli? 3 Achebe offers no super narrating knowledge which may explain the tribe’s belief via a scientic, Western rationalism, and we are invited to understand

these events on their own terms. 4 Are we expected to learn the meaning of the several non-English words included in the text, and thus to participate in a specically non- European conception of the world (i.e. where there is no simple translation)?

We are aware that the individual lives in the political and social world of his community, even when he thinks he is somehow able to step outside it or control it. Ultimately, perhaps, we might suggest that this is not a novel which celebrates individualism, or the existential dilemmas of the outsider at all. Okonkwo’s suicide is not that of the existential hero; rather, it represents his ultimate transgression of the tribe’s strict moral code. Okonkwo’s status in the novel is complex; he may symbolise the tragic destruction of the old order, but he also symbolises what was wrong with that old order.

Part of the problem with the idea of ‘realism’ is the assumption that the literary text is a window through which the reader sees some objectively existing ‘real’ world. It is worth asking yourself how far Achebe draws us into such a complicit reading of his Ibo village. Is Achebe presenting us with a competing claim for the reality of Africa’s past that challenges the European one? Does it draw our attention to the idea that all versions of the past are subjective and party to the ideological conditions of the time? We should not lose sight of the fact that Achebe’s is a past constructed through literature, and not some objectively portrayed ‘real’ past, just as European representations of Africa as a ‘heart of darkness’ are ‘literary’ strategies for rendering it available to a Western audience.

Reclaiming traditional narrative modes

One of Achebe’s main techniques for conveying the life of the old Ibo world is through the use of proverbs and traditional stories. Proverbs, we are told, are ‘the palm-oil with which words are eaten’. Again, they tie the speaker to a world beyond the utterance of the individual, to a formalised discourse shared by, and inherited from, the community. Similarly, the main story that we hear, Ekwe’s tale of why the tortoise’s shell is not smooth, which stands at the centre of the novel, comments on the society as a whole. It presents us with an image of the danger in the aggressive self-interest of the individual over the community, for which the individual is punished. The tortoise’s shell is smashed to pieces when he falls from the sky. Signicantly, it is reconstructed by a great medicine man. This traditional gure, a possessor of ancient knowledge, forges a partial cohesion out of fragmentation, although once a thing has fallen apart it can never be the same again. Achebe, in TFA, tries to reconstruct the shattered past of Africa, but not by presenting it as a lost Eden. The past cannot be simply put back together, just as the tortoise’s shell cannot be smooth again. The novel is a warning not to idealise the past and seek to recreate it exactly as it used to be, just as it is a demand that Africa’s past should not be written

Chapter 1: Section A author study: Chinua Achebe

and controlled by the Europeans. Essentially, though, Achebe employs ways of communicating this which have their foundation in alternative modes of discourse to that of the classic European novel.

Collect other examples of proverbs and stories. What purpose do they serve within the larger aims of the novel? Might we argue that a society, which is too dependent on the traditional wisdom that comes in proverbs, is one that is conservative, and thus unable to withstand new forces? Achebe is seeking to address one of the fundamental questions that has exercised African historians: how did the European nation states manage to dominate an entire continent in such a short amount of time? Can everything be blamed on imperialism, or does the novel suggest that African society must also examine its own failures?

The Europeans bring their religion, their guns and administration, and their trade, but even before their appearance in the novel, there are images of things falling apart. Indeed, rather than the novel privileging the presence of the Europeans as the most important event in the history of the continent, they come at the culmination of something that had already happened in Africa. To this extent, they are disruptive and destructive, but not paramount: they represent catalysts that will change Africa, but not a superior culture that is destined to rule forever. It is in this sense that Achebe draws out the full ironic potential of using Yeats’s apocalyptic poem for his title. Yeats looks ahead to the end of the Christian era, but for Achebe the Christian world signals the destruction of the non-Christian, African world. As suggested, Achebe is not simplistic about the role of Christianity in Africa. But instead of the European writer’s vague, apocalyptic, cultural uneasiness, the concept of ‘things falling apart’, when it is located in the colonial era, has as its mainspring the actual, historical disintegration of centuries of African culture.

Politics, literature and modern Africa

TFA is balanced between a sense of tragedy at the destruction of past tradition and the old world, and the acceptance that its harsher elements and its brittleness made it susceptible to historical changes from outside. Anthills of the Savanah (hereafter referred to as AS), though focused on a very different period in Africa’s history, contemplates the tension between a visionary need to rediscover a traditional view of story and society, and the empirical fact of the African nation state as it has become since decolonisation, a place of military dictatorship and civil war. In the modern era, this expresses itself in fundamental questions about postcolonial identity, in relation to both society and the individual.

Is the postcolonial experience irretrievably ‘inauthentic’, a ‘mimicry’ of the Western world, which continues to exert a powerful inuence over its former subjects both culturally and economically? Or can postcolonial societies nd a non-European political and cultural path of their own?

TFA sought to offer that alternative view of Africa’s past, that it had an autonomous cultural tradition, at the beginning of African independence. Thirty years on, however, AS focuses on a nation struggling to achieve a coherent sense of its own identity. Where does the African state look to for models of political and cultural discourse on which to base its own practice?

At this point you may wish to research the modern African political situation. How many current African governments are military dictatorships, and how many wars have there been in Africa since the withdrawal of the colonial powers? What explanations have been suggested for this? Consult encyclopedias and history books, such as Basil Davidson’s Modern Africa, for example.

Postcolonial literatures in English

Clearly, the ruling elite in ‘Kangan’, a representative West African state – the President/Dictator, his Cabinet, the intelligentsia – nd it difcult to locate the necessary examples in their own society. All of its members have been educated in England. The President is a graduate of Sandhurst:

he was fascinated by the customs of the English, especially their well-to-do classes and enjoyed playing at their foibles.

It is left to an English character to voice the most strident criticism of the:

dusky imitators of petit bourgeois Europe corrupted at Sandhurst and London School of Economics…why are all you fellows so bent on turning this sunshine paradise into bleak Little England?

Despite this, the British parliamentary model has not been successfully imposed on the postcolonial African state (perhaps because democracy, though fought for so tenaciously at home, was never part of the imperial way of rule). The novel begins after one coup d’état, and ends with another. There are political murders and the constant fear of arbitrary arrest. If the society of TFA at the end of the nineteenth century was lacking the necessary coherence to withstand colonial incursion, the society of AS is dangerously fragmented and unstable. We see again the marginalisation of the feminine as well as, now, the marginalisation of dispossessed lower classes and of certain regions in the nation. As one of the main characters, the journalist and poet, Ikem Osodi, notes of the elite:

the very words the white master had said in his time about the black race as a whole…[we now] say them about the poor.

Caught up in this irony is a profound disillusionment with the results of independence, and a perception that those who have inherited power have become remarkably like the old colonial masters.

Is the postcolonial novel relentlessly pessimistic about the condition of contemporary Africa, wherever the blame might be laid? If we return to a novel such as TFA, can we argue that the past offers a less complicated area for the postcolonial writer than the perceived failures of independence? Or can Achebe’s work be seen as part of a larger questioning about African society and its history?

Achebe’s discussion of neo-colonialism in Anthills of the Savannah

The criticism of neo-colonialism as the reason for the problems of modern Africa are taken up more radically by writers such as Ngugi wa Thiong’o (see his novel, Devil on the Cross, for example). And yet AS delivers a rebuke of sorts to those who offer pat answers. At a lecture to university students, Osodi cites examples of public fraud, theft, and corruption:

To blame all these things on imperialism and international capitalism as our modish radicals want us to do is…sheer cant and humbug…it is like going out to arrest the village blacksmith every time a man hacks his fellow to death.

On the other hand, though, imperialism is also shown to be the ‘village blacksmith’, which created the means for such alienation and deracination within the society and its people. With the old social structures, so carefully delineated in TFA, shattered, colonial withdrawal has meant that it is a lottery as to who takes power and who sinks:

Chapter 1: Section A author study: Chinua Achebe

in the absurd rafe-draw that apportioned the destinies of postcolonial African societies two people starting off even as identical twins in the morning might quite easily nd themselves in the evening one as President shitting on the heads of the people and the other a nightman carrying the people’s shit in buckets on his head.

An important function of the novel, then, is to engage various characters in a dialogic examination of modern Africa. Achebe overcomes the problem of narrative omniscience, or giving denitive overviews, through employing a narrative form that

is multivocal and dialogic and, despite an apparent use of the realist mode, tends to

the mythic and non-realist.

There are three narrators, from whom Achebe draws out a variety of responses to the state of the nation. What is the purpose of displacing the single narrative voice? Can we theorise about its function in the postcolonial text? For example, is it an aspect of Achebe’s refusal to portray the postcolonial state as culturally or politically unied?

The novel traces the ‘real’ education of two of the narrators, Chris Oriko, a politician, and Ikem Osodi, from the detachment of the Westernised intellectual to a greater commitment – ultimately at the expense of their lives – to something more inclusively African. Early on we hear how Osodi, a crusading journalist, attends a public execution. He is more distressed, though, by the crowd than the spectacle. What he feels there is his profound separation, a revulsion almost, from the ordinary mass of people:

my tenuous links with that crowd seemed to snap totally at that point. I knew then that if its own mother was at that moment held up by her legs and torn down the middle like a piece of old rag that crowd would have yelled with eye-watering laughter.

A little further on, he unwittingly gives another image of himself intellectually and

physically cut off from the market traders he wishes to celebrate:

I never pass up a chance of just sitting in my car, reading or pretending to read, surrounded by the vitality and thrill of these dramatic people.

As the novel progresses, though, Osodi’s political awareness develops. In what way is he changed by, for example, his meeting with the elders from the troubled region of Abazon? He learns from them the story of the tortoise and the leopard, which he develops into the theme of his speech to the students (see Chapter 12), but to what extent are the discourses of the old world seen to be irrelevant to the situation of contemporary Africa?

Osodi is led to contemplate how he can be part of a wider community, and Achebe gives him one of the most important perceptions into the problems of the state:

The prime failure of this government began also to take on a clearer meaning for

him. It can’t be the massive corruption though its scale and pervasiveness are truly intolerable; it isn’t the subservience to foreign manipulation, degrading as it is; it isn’t even this second-class, hand-me-down capitalism, ludicrous and doomed; nor is

it the damnable shooting of striking railway-workers and demonstrating students and

the destruction and banning thereafter of independent unions and co-operatives. It is the failure of our rulers to re-establish vital inner links with the poor and dispossessed of this country, with the bruised heart that throbs painfully at the core of the nation’s being.

Consider the ways in which the ‘education’ away from detachment of the other main male character, Chris Oriko, develops through the novel. What is the role of the taxi driver, for example? What is Achebe suggesting about the role of the intellectual in postcolonial societies?

Postcolonial literatures in English

Representations of the feminine

The third narrator is Beatrice Okoh, who allows Achebe to bring his ideas about African society and the rejection of the feminine into the present time. It is because of this that Ikem Osodi is criticised:

the way I see it is that giving women today the same role which traditional society gave them of intervening only when everything else has failed is not enough…It is not enough that women should be the court of last resort because the last resort is a damn sight too far and too late!

How satisfactory do you nd Achebe’s female characters? Are they generally as individuated as his male characters, despite their importance for him in his critique of African society?

Beatrice Okoh is Achebe’s most fully developed female character, and yet her role is not just as an example of a modern, well-educated African woman, but also one who is a mythical incarnation in whom the future hopes of the nation are reected. She tells us that she has:

taken on the challenge of bringing together as many broken pieces of this tragic history as I could lay my hands on.

Again, Achebe moves away from the straightforwardly ‘realist’ approach, towards a mythic one.

Examine the opening section of Chapter Eight. What is Achebe trying to suggest by the use of the mythic element here? What is the function of ‘Idemili’ in the novel?

The issue at stake once again is how the African novelist in English nds a means of articulating his or her concerns about Africa. In TFA we saw the novel collapse into despair. AS, on the other hand, leaves us with guarded optimism.

Does the mythic, allusive element of the novel allow Achebe to transcend the immediate problems of contemporary African society, or is it unfounded in view of what the novel has described?

Clearly, the two titles are important for suggesting how Achebe’s response to his society had altered over his career. The phrase ‘anthills of the savannah’ specically points to a future where the anthills survive ‘to tell the new grass of the savannah about last year’s brush res’. This is also a function of Achebe’s novel. His narrators are all writers to some degree, and Ikem Osodi declares:

storytellers are a threat. They threaten all champions of control, they frighten usurpers of the right-to-freedom of the human spirit – in state, in church or mosque, in party congress, in the university or wherever.

Chapter 1: Section A author study: Chinua Achebe

Learning outcomes

By the end of this chapter, and having read at least two works by Chinua Achebe and some of the recommended secondary reading, you should be able to:

• consider at least two of Achebe’s novels in detail in terms of both form and theme

• discuss the ways in which Achebe writes about the individual in relation to the political

• have some sense of how Achebe’s work engages with the traditional colonial novel

• decide on the appropriate amount of primary material which you need in order to prepare for the examination with condence.

Sample examination questions

Please note that in the examination you cannot necessarily expect a direct question on Achebe. The following questions are intended to help you write practice essays. All answers must refer to at least two different texts.

1. Examine the relation between the individual and the community and/or family in at least two works by Achebe.

2. Explore the role of myth and/or traditional story-telling in Achebe’s work.

3. In what ways does Achebe’s work challenge European representations of Africa?

4. ‘The church had come and led many astray.’ (Things Fall Apart) Discuss the treatment of religion in at least two texts by Achebe.

Suggestions for further/alternative study

You may wish to develop the debate over ‘realism’ and narrative form in Achebe’s novels. Inuential critics such as Nadine Gordimer, in The Black Interpreters, and Abdul JanMohamed, in Manichean Aesthetics, have argued that realism is the only form which the African novelists are comfortably able to employ, because their novels are largely concerned with the political and social problems associated with their experience of colonialism.

When Achebe seeks to recuperate the African voice as central to an understanding of the past, does he claim for it a historical, ‘critical realist’ accuracy, or does it involve him in a more complex narrative approach, one that takes his work into the mythic and the dialogic, and which challenges the potentially conservative implications of the classical realist Western novel?

It might be productive to consider Achebe’s novels in relation to the English literary canon.

Compare the view of Africa – its people, environment, traditions – in TFA, for example, to that presented in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, or Joyce Cary’s Mister Johnson. A useful general introduction to this issue is provided in the Group B subject guide, Empire and Literature.

Consider whether the aesthetic issues – narrative voice, form, etc. – in postcolonial literature are themselves political. It is certainly worth reading Achebe’s essay on Heart of Darkness in Hopes and Impediments. Is this a valid critique of Conrad’s novel?

Postcolonial literatures in English

You might also broaden your approach by comparing Achebe’s work with that of another African writer, such as Ngugi wa Thiong’o, or Ayi Kwei Armah.

To what extent do their literary and political visions of postcolonial society differ, or does the experience of colonialism raise similar responses from them? Compare TFA with Ngugi’s The River Between or Armah’s Two Thousand Seasons, for example – all novels which look back into the African past.

You may want to concentrate on Achebe’s other novels.

Do they, taken as a whole, constitute an ‘epic’ survey of the Ibo people from pre- colonial culture to the problems of a postcolonial society? Is this tendency towards ‘epic’ a ‘typical’ ambition of the postcolonial writer? Can you suggest any reasons for this? (We shall discuss this further in the next section.) And what of the concern for the relationship between the individual and the community? Does Achebe consistently confront the Western concept of individualism, or do his later novels reect the inevitable success of this, as traditional values recede into the past?

If we read them as political novels about modern Africa, do they conrm or challenge stereotypical Western views about Africa? Is Achebe seeking to create a compensating myth for the image of Africa as a place of chaos and anarchy?

Chapter 2: Section A author study: Hanif Kureishi

Chapter 2

Section A author study:

Hanif Kureishi

Essential reading

In this chapter, we will be focusing on Kureishi’s novels as examples of postcolonial writing. Since he has only published two novels (and two novellas) at the present time, and you must answer on at least two texts for a Section A author study, you will have less choice than is the case if you were to choose a more established postcolonial author like Naipaul or Achebe.

Kureishi, H. The Black Album. (London: Faber, 1995) [ISBN 0-571-177522]. Kureishi, H. The Buddha of Suburbia. (London: Faber, 1990) [ISBN 0-571-14257-5].

Remember that there is no reason, if you so wish, why you can’t combine one of the novels with one of Kureishi’s longer plays, or his collections of short stories. Even if you decide to write only on Kureishi’s plays, or conne yourself to the plays and short stories, you should still be able to adapt the following material in protable ways. If you are interested in Kureishi’s short stories or plays, you will need:

Kureishi, H. Outskirts and Other Plays. (London: Faber, 1992) [ISBN 0-571-16307-6]. Kureishi, H. Love in a Blue Time. (London: Faber, 1997) [ISBN 0-571-17739-5].

Recommended reading

Kaleta, Kenneth Hanif Kureishi: Post-colonial Storyteller. (Austin, Texas: University of Texas Press, 1998) [ISBN 0-292-74333-5]. Moore-Gilbert, Bart Hanif Kureishi. (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2001) [ISBN 0-7190-5535-0].

It might also be protable to read Kureishi in the context of some of the recent postcolonial criticism listed in the ‘general subject reading’ for this subject guide as a whole. In particular, we recommend that you read Ashcroft et al.’s The Empire Writes Back and Said’s Culture and Imperialism, especially the Introduction and Chapter 3. As you read this material, try to work out how far Kureishi’s ction corresponds to the various models of (postcolonial) inter-cultural relations between centre and ‘periphery’ that are discussed in these texts. In this context, remember that, because Kureishi was born in Britain, of a British mother, he is likely to have somewhat different concerns and perspectives from either postcolonial writers who are nationals of (de)colonised countries of the ‘Third World’ and have largely remained in their cultures of origin, or postcolonial writers like Rushdie who were born in the (former) empire but who have since migrated to and settled in metropolitan countries like Britain. This means that the work of Kureishi – and metropolitan-born writers like him – may require some modication of certain established denitions of the postcolonial.

Postcolonial literatures in English


Hanif Kureishi, who has worked in a number of different genres, is one of the most talented and interesting of the current generation of young British writers. Born of a mixed British and Pakistani marriage in Bromley, just south of London, in 1954, his career was rst launched at the beginning of the 1980s as a playwright – Borderline and Outskirts (both 1981) and Birds of Passage (1983) being the most highly regarded of his dramas. In the mid-1980s, Kureishi moved into lm, the Oscar- nominated My Beautiful Laundrette (1984) and the highly controversial Sammy and Rosie Get Laid (1987) being his best-known work in this genre. In 1990, Kureishi published his rst novel, The Buddha of Suburbia, which he subsequently adapted into a successful four-part BBC series (if you are able to get hold of this on video, you are strongly advised to watch it). His second novel, The Black Album, followed in 1995. Since then, Kureishi has produced another lm, My Son the Fanatic (1997), two collections of short stories, Love in a Blue Time (1997) and Midnight all Day (1999), and two novellas, Intimacy (1998) and Gabriel’s Gift (2001). Kureishi’s uncompromising vision of inter-cultural relations in contemporary London, as well as his interests in sexuality and popular culture – especially pop music – have ensured him a wide audience and a growing reputation.

Kureishi’s themes

The major theme of Kureishi’s writing, so far as his identity as a postcolonial writer is concerned, involves his representation of the predicament of communities of non- western origin which have migrated to the West. Very little of Kureishi’s work is set outside the West and neither the histories of empire nor the current predicaments of Third World countries like Pakistan preoccupy either of the two novels we will be discussing to anything like the same extent as a text like Rushdie’s Shame.

As you read The Buddha of Suburbia and The Black Album, identify the references made to colonial history and the current state of the Third World. What is Kureishi’s attitude to these two themes?

In earlier postcolonial writing, the migrant to the Western metropolis is often represented as a victim of the West’s endemic racism. How signicant a problem is racism in Kureishi’s ction? What other disadvantages do the ethnic minorities in Kureishi’s ction face? Do British-born members of these minorities experience the same disadvantages, and to the same degree, as rst-generation migrants? Compare the experience of Changez and Karim in The Buddha, for example. To what extent, and how convincingly, does Kureishi challenge the stereotype of the Asian migrant as helpless victim?

One of the most interesting aspects of Kureishi’s treatment of migrant experience is his analysis of anti-racist movements in Britain. These are of two kinds. The rst includes white liberals and radicals who seek to intervene on behalf of the marginalised.

Make a list of such gures in each text. What different kinds of white anti-racist attitudes and activities are present in each text? To what degree is Kureishi critical of, or satirical about, white anti-racism? To what extent does Kureishi suggest that such anti-racism in fact unconsciously reinforces certain aspects of the racism which it is attempting to ght?

The second kind of anti-racism derives from the migrant communities themselves. Consider the political organisations represented by Jamila in The Buddha and by Riaz and his friends in The Black Album. Is Kureishi drawing a clear distinction between such forms of activism? To what extent is Kureishi approving of, or critical of, each

Chapter 2: Section A author study: Hanif Kureishi

kind of movement? You need to pay very careful attention to the way that Riaz and his friends are represented in The Black Album in this context and respect the nuances in his treatment of ‘fundamentalism’. In order to avoid simplications, think carefully about what is represented in positive terms in the context of Riaz’s group. What is it that attracts an educated, British-born character like Shahid to the group? At what point, and why, does Shahid become alienated from his former friends?

You should also take note of Kureishi’s interest in other kinds of marginalised groups and other sorts of resistant behaviour. For Kureishi, sexuality, gender and class are all important as sites where oppression is both experienced and resisted.

Do you feel that in Kureishi’s work ethnicity is the ‘privileged’ site of oppression/resistance? To what extent does Kureishi’s ction suggest that alliances between different kinds of oppressed groups are possible? Or are their interests and objectives not necessarily compatible? Think carefully about the representation of class, gender and ‘deviant’ sexuality. How consistent is Kureishi’s treatment of such issues? For example, think about the role of women in Kureishi’s texts. To what extent are these stereotypical and to what extent does Kurieshi challenge the patriarchy of various (sub-)cultures? How carefully does one need to distinguish between Kureishi’s attitudes and those of his narrators/protagonists?

Kureishi and colonial discourse

5 For more on this topic, see Chapter 1 of this subject guide.

6 If you have already studied Empire and literature as an advanced level examination, or if you buy the guide for this subject, you will nd a chapter on the work of Kipling which you are strongly recommended to read.

One common characteristic of postcolonial discourse is its engagement with colonial discourse. In many recent critical accounts, postcolonial literature is dened primarily as a contestation of the representation of colonial peoples in writers like Kipling, Conrad and Haggard and of many of the assumptions, political, philosophical and formal, which underpin such work. For example, Achebe’s Things Fall Apart (1958) is, on one level, a determined attempt to correct the distortions about African peoples, especially their supposed savagery, lack of history and lack of culture, which are frequently found in certain kinds of metropolitan representations of the continent from the late nineteenth to the mid-twentieth centuries. 5 One of the most striking attacks on metropolitan literature of imperialism is provided by the Kenyan novelist Ngugi who argues thus:

Cultural imperialism was then part and parcel of the thorough system of economic exploitation and political oppression of the colonised peoples and [Western] literature was an integral part of that system of oppression and genocide.

Like Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children, The Buddha engages with the work of Rudyard Kipling in some detail. 6 The most obvious and direct engagement with Kipling’s work comes in the context of Pyke’s adaptation of The Jungle Book.

Consider the reaction of Jamila and Haroon after the play’s rst night. What are their objections? Does Karim, or the novel as a whole, endorse their criticisms? Is it Kipling or Pyke’s adaptation which should be criticised? Think about the demands that Pyke makes on Karim in his role as Mowgli. Consider also the power relations between director and Karim as ethnic minority actor more generally, both in Pyke’s play and in Shadwell’s. To what extent are these relations an allegory of neo-colonial power relations?

Although it is never an explicit presence, it could nonetheless be argued that Kipling’s masterpiece Kim plays a more important role in The Buddha than The Jungle Book. If you have not already done so, it would be a great advantage to you to read this text. It will be useful for discussion of other postcolonial writers whom you may choose to study for this subject. Note the verbal echo between the names of the chief

Postcolonial literatures in English

protagonists of each text, Kim and K[ar]im. Note that both protagonists perform the role of servant/guide to spiritual authorities, the Buddhist Lama and Haroon, ‘the Buddha of Suburbia’, respectively. Karim’s relentless renewals of his wardrobe remind one of Kim’s frequent changes of clothes/disguises.

What other parallels can you detect between Kim and The Buddha of Suburbia? To what extent is Kureishi providing a parody, or pastiche, of aspects of Kipling’s work? To what extent is Kureishi appropriating colonialist stereotypes about the subject peoples? To what extent is he challenging the political or ideological vision in colonial discourse?

Perhaps the most important parallel between the novels is that each is exploring the predicament of a protagonist who is ‘in-between’ cultures and unsure where his loyalties really lie. Each novel belongs to the genre of Bildungsroman, which is devoted to describing the transition to maturity and adulthood of its protagonists. For both Kim and Karim, the chief problem faced in this transition to maturity involves their complex negotiations between their ‘culture of origin’ and the ‘host culture’ in which they nd themselves.

Consider the alternatives Karim is offered in terms of his cultural identity, especially by his mother’s family, Uncle Anwar’s family, Charlie Hero and Jamila respectively. Consider the ending of the novel. To what extent has Karim resolved the dilemmas he has faced up until this moment in this regard? Consider the tone of the last scene. To what extent is Karim’s triumph tempered by anxiety about his personal future? Is the comparative lack of resolution at the end of the novel a product of Karim’s refusal rather than inability to make choices? If you interpret it as a product of Karim’s refusal, to what extent can this be seen in a positive light? To what extent is cultural hybridity represented as a desirable position of empowerment and to what extent as a state of loss and vulnerability?

What is the effect of the parallels between Kim and Karim in terms of the denition of postcolonial writing as a contestation or rebuttal of colonial literature? Is Kipling rejected and dismissed? Does Kureishi’s treatment of Kipling accord with Ngugi’s attitude to colonial literature? If not, what are the implications for Kureishi’s identity as a postcolonial writer?

Now consider The Black Album. To what extent, if at all, does the text engage directly or indirectly with colonial discourse? If you decide that its engagement is minimal, or non-existent, what implications does this have for the novel’s identity as a postcolonial work? To what extent does Shahid follow the same trajectory as Karim in terms of his personal development? Are his dilemmas identical? Or do you feel that Kureishi is covering signi cantly new ground in this latter text? If so, why?

Kureishi and genre

Stylistically, Kureishi is an interesting and complex writer – though he is never a difcult read. In the rst place, unlike so many postcolonial contemporaries, especially those who are based in the West, like Salman Rushdie, Kureishi is not a noticeably experimental kind of novelist. Having said this, the novels are certainly self-conscious and self-reexive in a number of ways. The Buddha of Suburbia contains a consistent pattern of parallels between the world of the theatre, the world of ctional creation and the ‘real’ world itself. In The Black Album, Shahid is an aspiring writer who is learning his craft and who is thus involved in a series of issues ranging from the questions of genre and style, to the responsibility of the artist to the

Chapter 2: Section A author study: Hanif Kureishi

community from which he comes and censorship. The texts are also highly self- conscious in terms of the amount of allusion to and citation of earlier writers and artists.

As you read the novels, make a list of the other writers to which Kureishi refers. How many postmodernist or magic realist writers are included in this list?

Among the writers whom you should have noted are Dickens and Thackeray, apropos of whom Kureishi comments as follows in the preface to one of his lm-scripts:

You have to ensure your work is accessible. You can’t indulge yourself…So, to take a literary analogy, you have popular Thackeray and Dickens, say, as opposed to some recent American writing, loaded with experiment, innovation and pretty sentences which is published by minor magazines for an audience of acolytes, friends and university libraries.

There are a number of ways in which Kureishi’s work looks back to these great Victorian realists. Like Vanity Fair (1847) or Great Expectations (1861), Kureishi’s texts explore issues of social mobility and follow the ambitions of two young men determined to make their mark on the world. Perhaps more importantly, Kureishi’s novels set these individual stories within a panoramic vision of the contemporary ‘condition of England’, as Dickens and Thackeray did for an earlier age. Among other writers working in the ‘condition of England’ mode, to whom The Buddha refers, are Wells, Forster, Orwell, Huxley and Waugh. Note Eva’s comment on Pyke’s play: ‘It was about this country’, and consider how it might apply to Kureishi’s novels as well.

In particular, consider how English identity is shown to be in a process of ux and change, and the role of new commonwealth migration in challenging and extending traditional conceptions of Englishness. Begin with the opening paragraph of The Buddha and consider how its arguments are extended and elaborated on in both the novels. What does Englishness traditionally consist of in Kureishi’s novels and where is it to be found? Is London represented as part of England, or is it in some sense unique in its cultural identity? To what extent is England/Britain represented as a country in terminal decline? Are there reasons for hope about the future?

It is often argued that postcolonial writing is experimental and subversive insofar as it challenges both the language and conventions of the western canon.

As you read both novels, collect examples of the use of non-western diction. How many are there? What signicance do they have? Also look out for examples of ‘non- standard’ English. Again, how many are there and what is their signicance? How often do Karim and Shahid in particular (they are British-born) stray from standard English? When they or other characters do use non-standard English, to what extent is this an expression of ethnic cultural identity and to what extent an expression of their position within a youth or class sub-culture?

One way in which postcolonial writing is deemed to challenge traditional British literature is in its recourse to non-western narrative traditions and cultural forms.

As you read each of the novels, collect examples of Kureishi’s references to non- western art forms and artists. How many do you nd in comparison with references to their western equivalents? In The Buddha, Jamila describes the western canon as ‘all that “old, dull, white stuff”’, implying that it is irrelevant to the experience of the ethnic communities of the metropolis and even that it may be an instrument in ‘policing’ them in ideological terms. To what extent do the novels taken as a whole conrm or rebut her opinion?

Postcolonial literatures in English

There are a number of other important aspects to Kureishi’s style. In the rst place, although he is addressing serious social issues, there is a rich vein of comedy in Kureishi’s work. The Buddha refers to the very English tradition of Ealing Comedy, which is distinguished by its propensity to farce. For example, think of the encounter between Karim and the Great Dane owned by Helen’s father.

Collect other examples of Kureishi’s use of comedy, both verbal and situational. Do these elements of comedy reinforce or detract from the seriousness of his analysis of contemporary England? Is The Black Album a more sombre text than The Buddha? If so, why is this the case?

As suggested earlier, Kureishi’s novels belong to the genre of Bildungsroman. Look up this term in a dictionary of literary terms or comparable work of reference and consider the ways in which Kureishi handles the genre.

Do you nd Karim and Shahid sympathetic gures, and if so, are they equally sympathetic? Consider the differences between The Buddha as a text narrated in the rst person and The Black Album, which is narrated in the third person. How do these different narrative techniques affect our response to each of the characters?

Learning outcomes

By the end of this chapter, and having read both the Kureishi texts you have selected and some of the suggested secondary/contextual reading, you should be able to:

• compare and contrast at least two Kureishi texts in detail in terms of both form and theme

• have some sense of the relationship of Kureishi to a variety of different critical models of postcolonial writing

discuss in detail Kureishi’s use of genres and the nature and purposes of his inter- textual allusions

prepare with condence for an examination question using Kureishi either as a single author or as part of a comparison with another writer.

Sample examination questions

Please note that, contrary to some of the following examples, the examination may not name Kureishi specically in Section A questions. The questions below are intended to help you write practice essays for this part of the examination. You should write on at least two texts in each answer.

1. What advantages does realism offer the contemporary postcolonial writer?

2. To what extent does Kureishi celebrate cultural hybridity?

3. In what senses can Kureishi be described as a postcolonial writer?

4. Discuss the writer’s attempts to negotiate ‘the constraints of being direct, popular, demanding and serious’ (Kureishi).

Chapter 2: Section A author study: Hanif Kureishi

Suggestions for further/alternative study

In this chapter, we have focused on Kureishi’s two novels. As indicated earlier, however, there is no reason why you should not combine study of one novel with either one or more of the longer plays or Kureishi’s short stories. You could also focus exclusively on the plays (in which case you should study at least two of the longer ones in detail, or a combination of plays and short stories, ignoring the novels altogether). Any of these strategies would be appropriate for preparing for Section A of the examination. You could also use Kureishi as part of a comparative study for Section B of the examination, though in this case you are advised against also answering on him in Section A of the examination. (Remember that you cannot use the same text in more than one answer of this examination, or in more than one advanced level examination.) For Section B questions, you might like to compare Kureishi with any other writer of your choice as a postcolonial writer. An obvious candidate would be Salman Rushdie. More specic topics might include the way that Kureishi and any other postcolonial writer of your choice represent Britain, or London more specically. In this context a novel like Sam Selvon’s The Lonely Londoners (1954) would be particularly appropriate. You might perform the same kind of comparative exercise in respect of the representation of religion, or gender roles in postcolonial writing (see Chapter 4 of this guide for further hints on preparing the latter topic). Alternatively, you might want to compare the kinds of genres and styles which Kureishi favours with those employed by other postcolonial writers, for example in the context of Kureishi’s recourse to popular cultural modes, or his preference for realism.

Postcolonial literatures in English


Chapter 3: Section B topic study: Postcolonial literature and the ideology of narrative forms

Chapter 3

Section B topic study:

Postcolonial literature and the ideology of narrative forms

Essential reading

Hulme, K. The Bone People. (London: Picador, 1986) [ISBN 0-330-29387-7]. Nichols, G. I Is a Long Memoried Woman. (London: Karnak House, 1982) [ISBN 0-907015-67-0].

A difcult book to obtain, but parts of it have been widely anthologised. See, for example, Nichols’ book The Fat Black Woman’s Poems (London: Virago, 1984) [ISBN 0860686353 (pbk)], and Hinterland: Caribbean Poetry from the West Indies and Britain, edited by E.A. Markham (Tarset: Bloodaxe Books, 2001) [ISBN 1852240873].

Rushdie, S. Midnight’s Children. (London: Picador, 1981) [ISBN 0-330-26714-0]. Walcott, D. Remembrance and Pantomime: Two Plays. (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1980) [ISBN 0-81279-2968-0].

Recommended reading

*Brydon, D. and Tifn, H. Decolonising Fictions. (Sydney: Dangaroo Press, 1993) [ISBN 1-871049-85-7]. *Burnett, P. (ed.), The Penguin Book of Caribbean Verse in English . (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1986) [ISBN 0-14-058511-7]. A good selection of poetry from the region, and with a useful introduction. Cronin, R. Imagining India. (London: Macmillan, 1989) [ISBN 0-333-46705-1]. Kulke, H. and Rothermund, D. A History of India. (London: Routledge, 1986) [ISBN 0-415-04799-4]. *Ngugi wa Thiong’o Decolonising the Mind: The politics of language in African literature. (London: James Currey, 1986) [ISBN 0 85255 501 6]. Said, E. Culture and Imperialism. (London: Chatto and Windus, 1993) [ISBN 0-7011-3808-4].

* Especially recommended


Postcolonial literature has provided much of the English language’s nest writing since 1947. This has been forged out of the problems which arose from the end of empire, problems of racial and cultural identity, the perceived ‘inauthenticity’ of modern life, of exile and diaspora, and the need to reclaim traditions lost through the years of colonial rule. The formal and aesthetic means which were developed by postcolonial writers in order to achieve this have answered back to, without always being comfortably assimilated by, the ‘Great Tradition’ of metropolitan English literature.

Postcolonial literatures in English

7 See his Decolonising the Mind for a powerful exposition of this idea.

In this chapter we shall look at postcolonial writing in different genres and from around the major areas of the former empire. It is designed to give an overview of the issues involved when approaching the various narrative modes of postcolonial writing. Thus we shall consider postcolonial poetry and drama as well as the novel, and how the literature varies between the Caribbean, India and the white former Dominions such as Australia and New Zealand. You should feel able to apply the interactive questions to other postcolonial texts you may wish to read.

One important element of postcolonial writing has been its critique of the West’s historic privileging of its own forms of writing on other cultures. For example, the novel has been, from the time of the eighteenth century, the predominant cultural form of the imperial societies and, in particular, of their ruling bourgeois class. Its ideological function as an artefact of bourgeois culture has been to universalise the values of that culture. As the Kenyan writer, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, has argued, the attempt to turn indigenous cultures into replicas of Western culture has political and economic implications, for it means they will become consumers of Western output (including intellectual output), and thus continue to be reliant upon the West. 7 A correlative of this is that indigenous history and culture will also remain marginalised. In other words, the works a postcolonial culture produces might in fact reproduce the colonial relationship, and thus be complicit in what can be termed ‘neo-colonialism’.

The postcolonial writer’s apparent experimentalism, based upon traditional modes of storytelling, challenges the Western hegemony over literary form. A critique of cultural imperialism is thus mediated through a form that is not simplistically learnt from the West, but uses traditional and indigenous forms. Given that the language used is that of the former colonial power, this may not be a ‘pure’ indigenous form. But what it suggests, perhaps, is the development of new, hybrid languages and forms, which spring from the postcolonial world’s need to negotiate with its colonial, as well as its pre-colonial past.

Dramatising the colonial encounter: Derek Walcott’s Pantomime

In Derek Walcott’s play, Pantomime, one of the classic novels of the early European period of empiricist, scientic expansionism, is interrogated and ‘rewritten’. Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe appeared in 1719, and shows how a man (an Englishman, more accurately) can overcome the most unfortunate circumstances by accepting the will of God, and by hard work. Once he is stranded on the island, it is Crusoe’s task to dominate his alien environment, to bend it to his will and to domesticate it. When the native, whom he christens Friday, arrives, he, like the terrain, must be subjugated by Crusoe. Once this has been achieved, Crusoe is rescued from the island – the proof of his salvation in the eyes of God is in his success in controlling this ‘other’, alien space. The novel can be read as a prototypical myth of colonial encounters with the ‘Other’. In this context, it is worth reading Ian Watt’s book, The Rise of the Novel, which contains a good chapter on Defoe’s work. Watt draws out the close relationship between the advent of the novel as the dominant literary form, the rise of a powerful middle class and the beginnings of empire.

It will be very useful to have read Robinson Crusoe before you read Walcott’s play. Consider the relationship between Crusoe and Friday. Is it representative of Europe’s attitude towards its colonial subjects? How does it compare to the relationship between the characters in Pantomime? Walcott expressly addresses this early text, but to some degree, are all postcolonial texts, as Salman Rushdie puts it, writing ‘back to the Centre’?

Chapter 3: Section B topic study: postcolonial literature and the ideology of narrative forms

Walcott sees the dramatic potential of that part of the novel concerned with the two men bound together on the island, the one as master and the other as his servant. What concerns him, of course, is that the basic assumption behind Crusoe’s position is his racial identity, the notion that he represents ‘civilisation’, whereas Friday is the savage. In Walcott’s version of the story, Harry Trewe, a remnant of English colonialism, is a sad, decadent inheritor of Crusoe’s position of dominant white man. He owns a poor guest house in Tobago, and his factotum, Jackson Phillip, is a belligerent Friday, who, if aware that he still occupies a position of inferior wealth and opportunity in the modern world, at least is not willing to be quiescent about it. Trewe’s intentions are to perform a Crusoe pantomime, but in the late twentieth century, Defoe’s story cannot be simply recreated. Through the two characters’ interactions, Walcott brings in both critical interpretations of the original text, and a commentary on the effects of colonialism on the Caribbean.

You will notice that there are many references in the play to acting, performance, role-playing, mimicry and parroting. These are not just aspects of Walcott’s awareness of self-referentiality in modern literature and the precedence of the dramatic work of Samuel Beckett. They raise important ideas about the nature of colonial identity. Walcott suggests that the identities of coloniser and colonised were not racially xed, stable entities, but inauthentic, created elsewhere – both performed roles that were culturally constructed for them through prior, European assumptions of what constitutes master and servant.

The play is very complex on the question of who is controlling whom, and whether or not a person inhabiting a postcolonial society is able to speak their own words or if they are ‘acting’ out a prescribed role. Can the characters change their roles in this case? Is it possible for the former colonial rulers and the formerly colonised to escape the overbearing burdens of the past?

Trewe may claim he wants to know what Friday felt, and is willing to take on his role in the pantomime, but he cannot accept Jackson giving him orders. Throughout, though, Jackson’s is the voice of scepticism over the continuing, as well as historical, relationship between the European and colonial position. In a moment that disrupts the play’s uneasy light pantomime, he answers back to the British on behalf of all the empire’s former subjects:

For three hundred years I served you. Three hundred years I served you breakfast in…in my white jacket on a white veranda, boss, bwana, effendi, bacra, sahib…in that sun that never set on your empire I was your shadow, I did what you did, boss, bwana, effendi, bacra, sahib…that was my pantomime. Every movement you made, your shadow copied…and you smiled at me as a child does at his shadow’s helpless obedience, boss, bwana, effendi, bacra, sahib, Mr Crusoe…But after a while the child get frighten of the shadow he make. He say to himself, That is too much obedience, I better hads stop. But the shadow don’t stop, no matter if the child stop playing that pantomime…He cannot get rid of it, no matter what, and that is the power and black magic of the shadow, boss, bwana, effendi, bacra, sahib, until it is the shadow that start dominating the child, it is the servant that start dominating the master…and that is the victory of the shadow, boss…And that is why all them Pakistani and West Indians in England, all them immigrant Fridays driving you all so crazy. And they go keep driving you crazy till you go mad. In that sun that never set, they’s your shadow, you can’t shake them off.

Postcolonial literatures in English

Jackson’s rhetorical technique here, repeating the native word for ‘master’ from different parts of the globe where the British ruled, becomes increasingly ironic given the condition in which the British now nd themselves, and which they are challenged to face up to at the end of the speech.

Is Walcott suggesting that the postcolonial world remains bound up with the colonial one, that the mentality of ‘Mr Crusoe’ is still there, even though his power has gone? Are contemporary issues in the ‘Mother Country’, such as immigration and racial tension, in fact part of the continuing problems associated with large-scale exile and diaspora, displacement and economic dislocation, that were set in motion by the global disruptions of European empire over the last four centuries?

Walcott’s play brings the ongoing implications of colonial rule from the peripheries of the metropolitan culture into its heart. (This is an important aspect of Caribbean literature. Consider, for example, V.S. Naipaul’s novel, The Mimic Men, and poems by Evan Jones, Louise Bennett, E.K. Brathwaite and Walcott himself, among others, in The Penguin Book of Caribbean Verse.)

Collect further examples of some of the ideas that Walcott raises in the play about the following aspects of the colonial encounter:

• the colonised subject as mimic man or ‘parrot’

• the master-servant dialectic

• the importance of language as an instrument of domination.

The play revolves around the need to address the English colonial novel, but does it proffer an alternative version of the English language in Jackson’s use of dialect, and the traditions of the calypso as an indigenous Caribbean form? In view of this, how should we interpret Walcott’s poem, ‘North and South’? In this poem he says about the British that:

it is good that everything’s gone, except their language,

which is everything

Postcolonialism and the postmodern novel:

Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children

At rst sight, Midnight’s Children announces itself as an experimental, self-referential, ‘postmodernist’ text. Many of its early critics compared it to the work of Günter Grass and Gabriel García Márquez. Its epic sweep, non-linear narrative technique and self- conscious commentary on its own writing process play with our expectations of what a novel is. Its narrator is disintegrating even as he tells his story, and generally subverts the Bildungsroman (a novel structured around the protagonist’s development from childhood to maturity, such as Tom Jones or David Coppereld) that it also seems to imitate. The novel blends history, adventure, realism and the magical, and is structured through symbolism and recurrence.

Where does the novel nd its sources? Is it dependent on the European literary tradition for its origins? It is a good idea when discussing postcolonial writers such as Rushdie to bear in mind that when we use terms such as ‘the epic’, ‘the novel’, ‘postmodernism’, we are referring to Western forms or concepts. However, writers as diverse as Achebe, Ngugi, Rushdie and Walcott, seek in diverse ways to recreate or give life to old, indigenous forms. Given the oral, non-literary nature of many traditional forms, the modern work often strives to recapture the appearance of the oral narrative. Does this explain the apparent experiment with novel form in Midnight’s Children?

Chapter 3: Section B topic study: postcolonial literature and the ideology of narrative forms

Rushdie has suggested that:

listening to [a famous storyteller in India] reminded me of the shape of the oral narrative. It’s not linear. An oral narrative does not go from the beginning to the middle to the end of the story. It goes in great swoops, it goes in spirals or in loops, it every so often reiterates something that happened earlier to remind you, and then takes you off again, sometimes summarises itself, it frequently digresses off into something that the storyteller appears just to have thought of, then it comes back to the main thrust of the narrative.

Consider the ways in which the postcolonial texts you have read approximate to oral narrative.

Midnight’s Children most prominently looks to the ancient Persian narrative, Tales from the Thousand and One Nights, both as a pre-European literary antecedent and as structural parallel. Rushdie follows the Thousand and One Nights by providing us with a multiplicity of stories that are at times disconnected, yet interrelated through the storyteller’s continual creativity. In the earlier tale, Sheherazade tells a new story every night in order to keep the King interested in her, and thus spare her life. Up to that point he has tired of, and had executed, each wife after the wedding night. Rushdie, too, provides a narrator who must narrate in order to save his life, and who tells his story to a dramatically present audience. Midnight’s Children, though, inverts Sheherazade’s narration to the King. Saleem Sinai tells his story to Padma, who comes from the lowest strata of Indian society. This allows Rushdie a constant dialogue between naïve, sceptical listener and the narrator/artist on the book in general and upon the art of creating stories in particular. Such an apparently postmodernist device, however, is employed here in order to link the novel to an earlier narrative tradition, and to present the idea that both the process and the social implications of creating stories in the postcolonial world are different from in the West. Profoundly complicated by their social context, they are never simply a matter of telling a story for its own sake.

Politics and myth in Midnight’s Children

We are, in this novel, back in the world of the mythic again. Perhaps, Rushdie suggests, the European narrative model is not large enough to contain the life and events of the postcolonial experience.

How do we read, or explain, the magical elements in the novel, such as the telepathic and supernatural powers possessed by the ‘midnight’s children’, born at the same time as independence? Are they meant to be symbolic, and thus explicable by reference to what it is they symbolise, or do they represent a different narrative order altogether, one that, as with the magical elements of the Thousand and One Nights, remains unexplained?

Rushdie seems to suggest that India is a land of ‘myths, nightmares, fantasies’:

August in Bombay: a month of festivals, the month of Krishna’s birthday…and this year…there was an extra festival on the calendar, a new myth to celebrate, because a nation which had never previously existed was about to win its freedom, catapulting us into a world which, although it had ve thousand years of history, although it had invented the game of chess and traded with Middle Kingdom Egypt, was nevertheless quite imaginary; into a mythical land, a country which would never exist except by the efforts of a phenomenal collective will – except in a dream we all agreed to dream; it was a mass fantasy shared in varying degrees by Bengali and Punjabi, Madrasi and Jat, and would periodically need the sanctication and renewal which can only be provided by rituals of blood. India, the new myth – a collective

Postcolonial literatures in English

ction in which anything was possible, a fable rivalled only by the two other mighty fantasies: money and God…I have been, in my time, the living proof of the fabulous nature of this collective dream…

Examine this passage closely. Does it, to an extent, recreate the old colonial view that the colonised peoples were innately uncontrollable, and their societies anarchic and disordered? This was one of the ideological underpinnings of Empire. Or does it serve Rushdie’s critique of what the postcolonial world inherited from empire; in India’s case, at midnight on 14 August 1947? Is Rushdie looking to pre-European narrative forms in order to question postcolonial culture? Consider this comment from Richard Cronin in Imagining India:

‘writing in Gujurati, or Tamil, or Bengali confers on the writer a regional identity that unavoidably takes precedence over his identity as an Indian. That is why the Indian novel, the novel that tries to encapsulate the whole of Indian reality can, as yet, only be written in English…Kipling and Rushdie have in common [the] impudence of the trespasser.’

What are the implications of this argument for postcolonial literature in English?

The India ‘born’ after independence was a place of huge variations in languages, religions and cultures. How can such a vast miscellany be constructed, politically and aesthetically? Saleem Sinai clearly embodies India. Not only is his face compared to the map of India, both their histories begin at the same moment. They are both troubled from birth, but are also magical and fantastic. Most important of all, Saleem is disintegrating, and tells his story so as to hold his life together by the coherence of art, not reality. Similarly, India was partitioned at birth, and is constantly in danger of falling apart. We can see now how often the postcolonial text fears the perceived disintegration of postcolonial society and individuals. The world inherited from the colonial powers was rarely the liberation it promised to be. For Saleem, as for India in this case, it is only a narrative effort of will, a continual ‘dreaming’ into existence, which keeps the whole thing together. Rushdie, although not a Hindu, also ties the novel to the Hindu god of creation, Brahma, who dreams the world into being.

This is an example of one of Rushdie’s main organising principles in the novel, apart from the framework of traditional narrative. For the novel is shaped by motifs of recurrence and correspondence. The novel pushes towards the encyclopedic, embracing a multiplicity of voices that are intended to give a paradigmatic range of their society, from the ghetto in Delhi to the Prime Minister and the generals. The patterning of recurrent images and symbols, such as the hole in the bedsheet, or the idea of fragmentation itself, strives to achieve a cumulative effect that holds the potential unwieldiness of the text together: as Saleem comments, ‘there was no escape from recurrence’.

Similarly, the characters are given depth beyond their individual roles through their correspondence to other gures, their situation as avatars of mythological characters or gods. For example, Mrs Gandhi appears as Devi, the Mother goddess, who calls for absolute submission. Saleem fulls a complex and multifarious role as avatar. As suggested, he is Brahma, dreaming the universe into existence; he also appears, both physically, because of the size of his nose, and symbolically, as author and scribe, as the elephant-headed god, Ganesh, the patron of learning and letters. He is analogous to Sheherazade, telling stories to stay alive, but also, in his travels and adventures around the sub-continent, Sinbad the Sailor, a character who appears in the Thousand and One Nights. Such correspondences, of course, tie him to the pre-European culture of the sub-continent, even as he writes under an ‘Anglepoise lamp’; that is, from what may seem to be an Anglo-Indian perspective.

Chapter 3: Section B topic study: postcolonial literature and the ideology of narrative forms

Collect further examples of symbols and motifs in Midnight’s Children. Do they function in the same way as indicated above?

To what extent is Midnight’s Children a postcolonial satire?

Consider the following passage:

‘All over India, I stumbled across good Indian businessmen, their fortunes thriving thanks to the rst Five Year Plan, which had concentrated on building up commerce…businessmen who had become or were becoming very, very pale indeed! It seems that the gargantuan (even heroic) efforts involved in taking over from the British and becoming masters of their own destinies had drained the colour from their cheeks…The businessmen of India were turning white.’

What criticisms is Rushdie making of how the postcolonial world had developed? Can you identify other aspects of modern India which Rushdie criticises in the novel? How is Mrs Gandhi portrayed, for example? What is the point of the digression on the war with Pakistan (see Book Three)? Can we read India’s history in this novel, or is it one history of India among many? What should we make of the magicians’ ghetto in Delhi (see The shadow of the Mosque section)? Is it intended as an alternative communal way of life in India that is indigenous? (Note the scepticism towards all foreign ideologies, including socialism.) As is usual with this subject, some historical knowledge of the country in question will be useful. Use the references to India and Pakistan in an encyclopedia, for example, or consult a book such as Kulke and Rothermund’s A History of India.

Caribbean poetry: a new language for ‘English’ verse?

Modern Caribbean poetry has created an identity out of its response to two fundamental inuences, both deriving from elsewhere: the sense of a lost ‘homeland’ in Africa and the enforced acquisition of a new language from the colonial, slave- trading power which caused that displacement. In a sense, this may be the best example of a hybrid becoming something altogether new, and indeed, much Caribbean poetry celebrates this aspect of Caribbean culture. It has not been reticent about employing vernacular, Creolised English, nor about continuing to look back to Africa as a place of origins. Yet a clear poetic language has developed, one that is distinctively of the region.

The slaves who arrived in the Caribbean brought their own languages and cultural identities with them, all of which the British sought to eradicate. It is in the nature of empire to be cosmopolitan, and to ignore regional differences. In the Caribbean, peoples from several different African ethnic groups were transplanted. Modern poets, of course, have no knowledge of where exactly they originated, and so Grace Nichols’ poem, I Is a Long Memoried Woman, celebrates the survival of the larger diaspora from Africa:

I require an omen, a signal

I kyan not work this craft

on my own strength

alligator teeth

and feathers

old root and powder

I kyan not work this craft

Postcolonial literatures in English

this black magic

on my own strength

Dahomey lurking in my shadows

Yoruba lurking in my shadows

Ashanti lurking in my shadows

Even as the various peoples of West Africa exist indenably in the poet’s blood, so she looks to those aspects of old African knowledge that survived in the Caribbean. This is at the centre of the experience, and Nichols’s poem, as with many others, combines a lament for the past with a celebration of the survival that has meant there is now a postcolonial Caribbean, ruled by descendants of those slaves. It is signicant, in relation to Achebe’s work, that she is particularly keen to celebrate the role of the woman as guardian of storytelling. In this case, the poem is a memory, a refusal to forget the destruction of their separate African identities, the loss of ‘deep man pride’, and the displacement which saw them taken across the Atlantic:

From dih pout

of mih mouth

from dih


calm of mih


you can tell

I is a long memoried woman

Child of the middle passage womb


daughter of a vengeful Chi

she came

into the new world

birth aching her pain

from one continent/to another

Consider the ways in which Nichols uses narrative voice in this excerpt. We have looked at how form and theme are employed in the postcolonial text in order to interrogate assumptions of European cultural superiority. What does Grace Nichols’s poem suggest about the privileging of standard metropolitan English as the proper language for literature? Do poems that use Caribbean vernacular challenge notions of the centrality of standard English? Does this suggest that English is inadequate as a vehicle, because too remote or too elitist, perhaps, for conveying fully the experience of life in the postcolonial Caribbean? Note her use of the word ‘chi’ here. What does her untranslated use of this word tell you about Nichols’s sources? From our reading of Achebe, for example, we know what ‘chi’ means. Do the postcolonial literatures in English serve to transform the language which they primarily employ? Do we, as readers, become involved in a set of cultural referents which exist outside the traditions of the metropolitan culture?

Chapter 3: Section B topic study: postcolonial literature and the ideology of narrative forms

Caribbean verse and the search for tradition

Consider this statement by Nichols:

I tend to want to fuse [Standard English and Creole] because I come from a background where the two worlds were constantly interacting, though Creole was regarded, obviously, as the inferior by the colonial powers when I was growing up…I think this is one of the main reasons why many Caribbean poets…have reclaimed our language heritage and are now exploring it. It’s a language our foremothers and forefathers struggled to create after losing their own languages on the plantations and we are saying it’s a valid, vibrant language. We are no longer going to treat it with contempt or allow it to be misplaced. We just don’t see Creole as a dialect of English even though the words themselves are English-based, because the structure, rhythm, and intonation are an inuence of West African speech.

Language, for Nichols, is clearly a political, as well as cultural, medium. Analyse her comments here in relation to her own poems, as well as other poetry in The Penguin Book of Caribbean Verse.

The poem functions to repossess the voice of the Black woman as both link to an African heritage, and as midwife and mother to a new culture. The ‘Middle Passage’, the name for the journey the slave ships made between Africa and the Americas, is reclaimed as a time of rebirth, rather than shame. This recuperation of the past is, of course, a key element in postcolonial writing, and has a political, as well as aesthetic basis. The search for a new poetic language has taxed poets this century from T.S. Eliot onwards. In some ways, the use of English by Caribbean poets is the most radical challenge yet to a conservative ‘norm’. As with Rushdie and the novel, we should not forget that such experiments with language and form spring from sources other than Western postmodernism or experimentalism when they arise in the postcolonial context.

If you are interested in West Indian literature, consult the Group A subject guide, Moderns, for material on the novelist Earl Lovelace. Look at the section headed ‘An eighteenth-century poem’, which discusses the earlier work of white West Indian poets. Compare the poetry of the white tradition with Nichols’s poetry. Do they share any similar concerns with the problems of establishing a ‘Caribbean’ identity? Or, if you like, compare Nichols with a contemporary West Indian male writer. In what ways do their poetic aims differ/coincide?

The case of the ‘white’ Dominions: colonial culture at the periphery

Following our comments on Caribbean culture and the ‘hybrid’, there is another claim made for a literature that is caught between two traditions as representing a new, hybrid literature. An inuential recent critical work, The Empire Writes Back, written by three Australian critics, discusses the idea that postcoloniality is not restricted to the formerly colonised, and that the literature from New Zealand, Australia and Canada:

can be shown to constitute a literature separate from that of the metropolitan centre…White settlers…faced the problem of establishing their ‘indigeneity’ and distinguishing it from their continuing sense of their European inheritance…The relation between the people and the land is new, as is that between the imported language and the land…But the language itself already carries many associations with European experience and so can never be ‘innocent’ in practice. Concomitantly, there is a perception that this new experience, if couched in the terms of the old, is somehow ‘falsied’ – rendered inauthentic – at the same time as its value, judged within Old World terms, is considered inferior.

Postcolonial literatures in English

The book locates the ‘white’ Dominions within the larger postcolonial experience, existing ambivalently at the margins of, as opposed to being attached to, the former colonial centre. As with the Caribbean writers, the issue of writing in a place where ‘the landscape and the language are not one’, as the Australian writer, David Malouf, put it, stands at the heart of the literature. Where do these writers nd a language able to match the ‘new’ world? They, after all, do not have a ‘native’ language or tradition to call on, or even, as in Nichols’s case, to lament the loss of.

What does constructing ‘indigeneity’ involve? Can it give the white, native English- speaking writer, whose situation is conditioned by an earlier colonial authority, access to a ‘postcolonial’ position that approximates at all to that of the African or Indian subject of empire?

The Bone People: choosing a postcolonial identity

If we consider Keri Hulme’s The Bone People, it is worth bearing in mind these questions as to the postcolonial status of a modern New Zealand text. For Hulme’s novel has a complex, ambivalent relationship with both the English, in terms of language and culture, and the Maori, reduced and marginalised by years of English domination. These tensions meet in the main female character, Kerewin Holmes, an artist removed from the world in her tower, but drawn into what is, by now, the sad condition of Maori life, through her connection with a Maori family, the Gillayleys. Hulme’s novel, then, ‘chooses’ an identity for itself, in order to free itself of the constraints of an inadequate English/ness. She seizes on Maori language, and the idea of an ancient Maori knowledge of the landscape, in a way that should be familiar to the student of postcolonialism by now. The novel moves increasingly further from a European order of experience of the world to one of myth, and of the pre-‘Pakeha’, pre-European.

Thus the encounter between the modern Maori, Joe Gillayley, and the strange gure of the kaumatua, or elder, is explicable as belonging to the realm of the mythic rather than the realist, and thus provides a visionary response to a contemporary New Zealand where the original inhabitants are still dispossessed. The old man has been guardian of an ancient canoe, which serves as a mauriora, a type of talisman (for which there is no simple English translation). He has been waiting for the next guardian to come before he dies, and Joe, unwittingly, is that person. Before he dies, he must educate Joe into the true, Maori way of seeing the world. The mauriora:

is the heart of this country. The heart of this land…I was taught that it was the old people’s belief that this country, and our people, are different and special. That something very great has allied itself with some of us, had given itself to us. But we changed. We ceased to nurture the land. We fought among ourselves. We were overcome by those white people in their hordes. We were broken and diminished. We forgot what we could have been, that Aotearoa was the shining land. Maybe it will be again…be that as it will, that thing which allied itself to us is still here. I take care of it, because it sleeps now. It retired into itself when the world changed, when the people changed. It can be taken and destroyed while it sleeps, I was told…and then this land would become empty of all the shiningness, all the peace, all the glory. Forever.

Chapter 3: Section B topic study: postcolonial literature and the ideology of narrative forms

Consider this passage in relation to the following:

• an explanation through myth of the indigenous society’s place in the world, and the reason for things falling apart

• the promise of future regeneration separate from the European, colonial culture

• the need to protect a traditional, pre-colonial identity.

To what extent does this emphasise the novel’s position within a postcolonial aesthetic?

Unlike Achebe, Nichols or Rushdie, who choose myths from their own culture’s past, Hulme has chosen to identify with the indigenous people who have been crushed by European domination.

Is this a radical example of what The Empire Writes Back calls ‘establishing indigeneity’? Does it suggest that, in some respects, the former Dominions are the last colonial societies, where indigenous cultures remain politically and linguistically suppressed? Does it call into question the problematic nature of a New Zealand cultural identity? As you read Hulme’s book, do you feel that such an identity is insecure, not English and yet not Maori; not of the metropolitan centre, but not attached to a genuine indigeneity? Does this make the book seem difcult to place in context, or does it contribute to its sense of being ‘Other’ to the English novel, an appearance of being to some degree ‘experimental’?

Consider this view of the highly positive critical response to The Bone People in New Zealand, which argues that it reected:

the desire of New Zealand to see a reconciliation of its postcolonialising and postcolonised discourses…the reconciliation is achieved, but the price of that success is that the otherness of the Maori is destroyed. (De-scribing the Empire, p.55)

Does the novel enact a repossession or – almost – recolonisation of the native voice, and thus its fundamental alterity (otherness), its autonomous identity separate from that of the European’s knowledge? Is it a way of salving the settler culture’s guilt at dispossessing the Maoris of their land and thus that very ‘voice’ itself?

Learning outcomes

By the end of this chapter, and having read at least two texts by different authors and some of the recommended secondary reading, you should be able to:

compare and contrast different postcolonial narrative forms

• describe some of the strategies by which postcolonial authors have sought to challenge Euro-centric or Anglo-centric perspectives

• discuss the general theoretical debates with regard to postcolonial literatures from different parts of the world

feel condent about studying other postcolonial texts you have read in the light of the arguments outlined in this chapter.

Postcolonial literatures in English

Sample examination questions

Please note that in the examination you cannot necessarily expect a question directly on the above topics. The following questions are intended to help you write practice essays. All answers must refer to at least two different authors.


‘We lived at the cross-roads of cultures.’ Do you agree that the postcolonial text is inevitably situated between cultures?


Discuss how any two postcolonial writers of the period have treated one of the following:

the situation of women in postcolonial societies

racial identity

exile and/or diaspora

the relationship between ‘metropolitan centre’ and ‘periphery’.


Examine the role of language and/or narrative form in the work of at least two postcolonial writers.


Does the term ‘postcolonial’ help or hinder your understanding of the texts you have studied?

Suggestions for further/alternative study

8 See Chapter 2 for further hints on this subject.

You might want to pursue the theoretical side of postcolonial discourse. In any case, some knowledge of the theoretical issues surrounding the subject is strongly recommended. As an introduction, it may be useful to read a collection of essays, or a ‘Reader’, such as Williams and Chrisman’s Colonial Discourse and Post-colonial Theory, which contains examples from virtually all the major critics. One of the seminal texts, though, and an interesting book generally, is Edward Said’s Orientalism, which focuses on the relationship between writing and power in the colonial encounter specically in the context of the Near and Middle East. This might provide a useful starting point for your critical approach to postcolonial literature. One new direction you may wish to take will lead you away from the former colonies to the ‘Motherland’ itself. As Walcott suggests in Pantomime, the experience of the postcolonial world – the displacement, exile, cosmopolitanism – has come back to confront the heart of contemporary England. You might therefore want to apply these ideas to work produced by those members of the various diasporas who now reside within the metropolitan ‘centre’ itself. 8 Consider how their work connects them to the

wider issues of postcolonialism. Do they look for a tradition, or an aesthetic, outside that of the country in which they write?

Chapter 4: Section B topic study: gender and postcolonial literature

Chapter 4

Section B topic study: gender and postcolonial literature

Essential reading

This chapter will look at novels by African women writers. However, you are free to study women writers from any region of the former British Empire. The examination requires that you are able to answer in relation to at least two texts by different authors, although in this chapter we shall be referring to three, fairly short novels.

Aidoo, A. A. Changes: A Love Story. (London: The Women’s Press, 1991) [ISBN 0-7043-4261-8]. Dangarembga, T. Nervous Conditions. (London: The Women’s Press, 1988) [ISBN 0-


Nwapa, F. Women are Different. (Trenton, New Jersey: Africa World Press, 1986) [ISBN 0-86543-326-7].

Recommended reading

There is a wide range of critical work you can use, and it’s worth looking in library catalogues under headings such as gender and cultural studies as well as postcolonial literature and theory.

Ashcroft, B. et al. (eds) The Empire Writes Back: Theory and Practice in Post- Colonial Literatures. (London: Routledge, 1989) [ISBN 0-415-01209-0]. Look at the section on ‘Feminism and Post-Colonialism’. Azodo, A. and Wilentz G. (eds), Emerging Perspectives on Ama Ata Aidoo. (New York: Africa World Press, 1999) [ISBN 0865435812]. Gates H. L. Jr. (ed.), Reading Black, Reading Feminist: a critical anthology. (New York: E.P. Dutton, 1996) [ISBN 0-452-01045-4]. *James, A. (ed.), In Their Own Voices: African Women Writers Talk. (Hemel Hempstead: Prentice Hall, 1990) [ISBN 0-85255-507-5]. Msiska, M-H. and Hyland, p. (eds.), Writing and Africa. (Harlow: Longman, 1997) [ISBN 0-582-21418-1]. See in particular Chapter 11, ‘African Writing and Gender’. Nasta, S. Motherlands: Black Women’s Writing from Africa, the Caribbean and South Asia. (London: The Women’s Press, 1991) [ISBN 0-704342693]. *Nnaemeka, O. (ed.) The Politics of (M)Othering: Womanhood, Identity, and Resistance in African Literature. (London: Routledge, 1997) [ISBN 0-415-13790-X]. Includes a chapter on Dangarembga. Odamtten, V. The Art of Ama Ata Aidoo. (Gainsville: University of Florida Press, 1994) [ISBN 081-3012-767]. *Stratton, F. Contemporary African Literature and the Politics of Gender. (London:

Routledge, 1994) [ISBN 0-415-09771-1]. Umeh, M. Emerging Perspectives on Flora Nwapa. (New York: Africa world Press, 1999) [ISBN 08654-351-54]. Williams, P. and Chrisman, P. (eds.), Colonial Discourse and Post-colonial Theory . (Hemel Hempstead: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1993) [ISBN 0-7450-1491-7]. Read in particular Part Three: ‘Theorising gender’.

Postcolonial literatures in English

Wilson-Tagoe, N. Ama Ata Aidoo. (Plymouth: Northcote House, 2000) [ISBN 0-746309457]. Wisker, G. Post-colonial and African American Women’s Writing. (Basingstoke:

Macmillan, 2000) [ISBN 0-333-72746-0].

9 See the Empire and literature subject guide for further hints on colonial literature’s treatment of issues of gender.

* Especially recommended


This chapter is concerned with a number of issues that derive from the ways in which the postcolonial novel deals with issues of gender, and how they affect contemporary postcolonial African societies. We shall look at women writers from very different parts of Africa – Flora Nwapa is known as Nigeria’s rst woman novelist, Ama Ata Aidoo is Ghanaian, and Tsitsi Dangarembga comes from Zimbabwe. However, this chapter will concentrate on the essential themes which they share such as the generational conict between older, more traditional, African women and modern urban ones; the ambiguous benets gained from an elite, Europeanised education; and the difculties in dealing with the unreconstructed expectations of men.

As so often with postcolonial literature, these works engage with the perceived inadequacies of the existing literary canon. But in this case we shall discuss how they challenge what has become a postcolonial canon by African male writers, as well as

the white metropolitan one. 9 Finally, a subject which is fairly understated in these novels is that of imperialism itself. Dangarembga’s novel is set in the 1970s when Zimbabwe was still under white colonial rule and known as Rhodesia, and because of this, the lingering effects of colonialism in the continent are closer to the surface. But we shall still want to consider the ways in which even Aidoo’s novel, in one sense a comedy of manners looking at Ghanaian life in the 1990s, nonetheless remains engaged in the debate with the cultural after-effects of empire.

Gender and the African novel

10 See Chapter 1 of this guide.

From reading Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, 10 you will already know that African women have long been seen as the instruments by which African culture in general – and storytelling in particular – was preserved and passed on through the generations. Indeed, in novels by Achebe, Ngugi wa Thiong’o and Ayi Kwei Armah, female characters often symbolise the most valued aspects of Africa itself. For example, Beatrice, in Achebe’s Anthills of the Savannah, and Mumbi, in Ngugi’s A Grain of Wheat, clearly represent modern incarnations of, respectively, mythological Igbo and Gikuyu Goddess-Mother gures. It might also be noted, however, that the gendering of Africa as feminine was frequently carried out by colonial writers, even if from a very different perspective. In King Solomon’s Mines, Rider Haggard explicitly depicts the African landscape as a woman’s body, and one which is available for penetration by white men. It is such treatments of women – as symbols of Mother Africa as well as the colonial depiction of Africa as receptively feminine – that African women writers have consistently sought to address.

Consider the narrative technique employed by Flora Nwapa, Ama Ata Aidoo and Tsitsi Dangarembga. What do you think the reasons are for them favouring the realist mode? Can we say that realism, which posits the central importance and integrity of the individual consciousness, challenges the characterisation of women as mythic and symbolic as seen in works by male writers such as Achebe and Ngugi? To what extent can novels like Changes and Women are Different be seen as an ongoing critique not only of African society in its treatment of women, but of the classic postcolonial African novel’s representation of women?

Chapter 4: Section B topic study: gender and postcolonial literature

On the other hand, you might want to argue that the women novelists also share with African male writers a strategic intention to write their characters into the life of the nation as active protagonists.

To what extent can we say that, as Innes and Rooney suggest in Writing and Africa, they ‘recapitulate Achebe’s point of departure [from colonial depictions of Africa] while also addressing the blindspots in this very point of departure’?

Women writers have not so much sought to correct the omission, or marginalisation of women from the postcolonial novel, therefore, as to engage with the ways in which they have been represented in the major canon of postcolonial literature. If you think back to the concern of writers such as Achebe and Ngugi to challenge canonical metropolitan writers like Conrad and Joyce Cary, it might seem that, ironically, we are back in familiar territory. For it is this issue of how a dominant group uses dominant cultural forms to represent another group, one without a voice or the means to represent itself, that brings the question of gender in postcolonial writing into a complex relationship with other critiques of imperial literature. For example, Edward Said’s seminal work on Western colonial discourse, Orientalism, is specically concerned with the imperialistic exercise of power that the West carried out via its project of writing about the Orient. Said argues that this rendered those other cultures knowable to, and able to be possessed by, a Western readership. It is signicant that we might be able to use this same theoretical model to mount a critique of literature by male African writers. In this sense, it is possible to suggest that the relationship between masculine and feminine modes of postcolonial writing mirror that earlier one between coloniser and colonised. The women writers we shall look at in this chapter have consistently investigated the possibility that they were themselves subject to a quasi-imperialistic oppression within the newly independent African nations.

In Dangarembga’s Nervous Conditions, the main character’s mother tells her:

this business of womanhood is a heavy burden…with the poverty of blackness on one side and the weight of womanhood on the other.

To what extent is there a sense in these novels that women have suffered a ‘double colonisation’, at the level of both race and gender? Is their historical experience of imperialism therefore innately different from that of men?

The role of education

One of the key themes that links the novels is that of education. In Tsitsi Dangarembga’s Nervous Conditions, Tambudzai is shown as engaged in a struggle to achieve an education otherwise reserved for boys, such as her brother, or girls from wealthier families (like those seen in Women are Different, for example). In her case, we might say there is the possibility that a triple displacement from power is at work – at the level of race, gender and class. Her eventual path out of this is through the death of her brother, which leaves her as the eldest child, and the intervention of Babamukuru, the successful uncle who has himself been educated in, and rewarded by the Rhodesian colonial system. But even by the end of the novel, she cannot escape the prevailing attitude of men towards women who seek education. As she comments:

in terms of cash my education was an investment, but then in terms of cattle so was my conformity.

Her uncle and father see it as either causing a problem for her future marriage prospects or enhancing her value, but never as something worthwhile for a woman to pursue in order to be independent.

Postcolonial literatures in English

Look at the novel’s opening paragraph. To what extent does the narrator’s declaration that her story is about escape, entrapment and rebellion establish the essential images of the novel’s portrayal of women? Is education seen as the only means by which someone such as Tambudzai can escape her circumstances? Are there other types of education which she undergoes apart from that available at the Mission school or the Convent? What does Tambudzai learn by the end of the novel?

Tambudzai’s intellectual development marks her growing sense of identity as an individual separate from the constrictions of tribe and family. This of course allows her a deeper awareness of the problems which traditional attitudes bring to women in family life. More importantly, perhaps, her education gives her access to a language with which to enunciate this critical viewpoint.

Consider this passage from Chapter 7:

It stung too saltily, too sharply and agonisingly the sensitive images that the women had of themselves, images that were really no more than reections. But the women had been taught to recognise these reections as self and it was frightening now…to acknowledge that generations of threat and assault and neglect had battered these myths into the extreme, dividing reality they faced.

To what extent is Tambudzai’s perception here the result of her Western education? Does the novel demonstrate that Tambudzai is able to break through these false images of self? To what extent does her education merely raise a whole new set of problems related to identity? Does a character such as Nyasha, her cousin, who has been educated in England, provide a warning of what dangers might lie ahead for Tambudzai? Is Nyasha’s increasing psychological disintegration evidence that she is not so much a hybrid, situated in both African and European cultures, as someone who has no place in either? To what extent is cultural hybridity represented as a negative attribute?

Education and the threat to women’s identities in Nervous Conditions

The title of the novel points to the sense of unease that hangs over the lives of the female characters in this society. If in Tambudzai’s traditional home they are oppressed through lack of education into accepting an image of women’s secondary status, in Babamukaru’s Westernised one they are browbeaten into submission despite their education. The difculties involved in educated women nding a new way is seen in both the narrator and her cousin’s lives. Babamukuru’s desire to return Nyasha to the position of acquiescence after their return from England, something achieved with his equally well-educated wife, leads ultimately to her fall into anorexia and illness. This can be seen partly as an aspect of her rebellion. However, it also marks symbolically her inability to suppress what her education has created – that is, her uneasy sense of identity as a cultural hybrid. In contradistinction, Tambudzai’s response to her uncle is, as she says, to take ‘refuge in the image of the grateful poor female relative’, and remain silent. For her, his struggle for education and material success within the colonial system has been heroic, and her ambition to emulate him leads her eventually away from the Mission and to the convent dominated by white colonials.

Although white people are almost absent from the novel, to what extent do they control the lives of its characters? To what extent is Babamukaru a creation of the colonial culture? If he is Tambudzai’s role model, are we to infer a criticism of her position in the novel?

Chapter 4: Section B topic study: gender and postcolonial literature

Ultimately, then, the novel highlights a process of cultural assimilation within Rhodesia, which has governed her uncle’s life and threatened to control her own. At the end of the novel it is left to her mother to draw attention to the dangers inherent in the process of her education.

It’s the Englishness…It’ll kill them all if they aren’t careful.

And so although Tambudzai continues with her education, she comes to see that she had been ‘too eager to leave the homestead and embrace the “Englishness”’ of the school.

Does this suggest that if education is a form of escape from the constrictions of traditional life, it must not simply turn towards European culture for its values? To what extent is traditional knowledge privileged over Western education? To what extent is Tambudzai’s awareness of the potential for cultural assimilation through education produced by her gender positioning?

Now consider the novels by Flora Nwapa and Ama Ata Aidoo. To what extent do they suggest that women’s education is the key to postcolonial societies nally decolonising at the level of gender? To what extent do they share Dangarembga’s concerns that education might only serve to place women in an ambivalent position in relation to their culture?

Re-ordering the masculine

Clearly, in works where issues of gender are central, one of the most important subjects dealt with is women’s relationships with men in modern Africa. Flora Nwapa’s Women are Different follows three friends from their school-days through to married life and motherhood. Two of the women, Dora and Agnes, are abandoned by their husbands and left to support their children and make their own way in Nigerian society. By showing that they can eventually succeed without husbands, Nwapa develops an idea, apparent from the novel’s opening pages in the girls’ school, that the bonds between women are ultimately the essential ones.

Consider the male characters in the novel. What are the implications of their being generally shown as feckless, marginal gures? Examine closely the discussion between Rose and Dora in Chapter 7. What explanations are offered here for Nwapa’s view of the crisis in male–female relationships in contemporary Nigeria? Is it the fault of colonial disruptions of traditional culture, or is it due to the impossibility of modern women ful lling traditional male African expectations of behaviour? To what extent is the idea that women’s relationships with each other are paramount also seen in Changes and Nervous Conditions?

One of Nwapa’s characters says that:

the young parliamentarians thought that taking over from the British meant having licence to corrupt young schoolgirls and their mothers.

Postcolonial literatures in English

To what extent does Nwapa’s examination of gender in modern Nigeria amount to a political critique of postcolonial society? Is there a sense that the condition of relationships between genders is at the heart of a wider, social corruption? How different is this critique of society from that of male writers you have studied for this subject? To what extent is gender posited as the most important area of oppression in modern Africa?

You will have noticed that, in all three novels, male characters leave Africa to be educated in Europe. The novels suggest that they never return with the same sense of African identity, while many never come back at all. As one of Nwapa’s characters says:

there must be something in Europe that makes our men behave in that strange way.

In what ways do these novels criticise male attitudes towards the former colonial culture? Look at the occasions when African men are shown in Europe in Women are Different and Changes. What effect does the encounter with the West have on them? Does it have the same effect on the female characters? If not, can you suggest reasons why this should be the case?

Gender and postcolonial society

The novels by African women writers studied in this chapter are driven by their critique of what is essentially wrong with the social structures of postcolonial society. Moreover, they are involved in a search for ways in which that society might be reformed in terms of its treatment of gender relations. Ama Ata Aidoo’s Changes, whose very title reects the sense that things must alter for women in postcolonial society, has its main character, Esi, undergo a quest for new forms of social and sexual relations between men and women in modern Ghana. A signicant part of this quest involves her seeking to retain professional and intellectual independence within marriage. The novel may be nally sceptical about the possibility of this occurring in modern Ghana, as evidenced in the tentative, open-ended conclusion of ‘one day, one day’. But there is a sense that a change in society is nonetheless imperative.

How are we meant to interpret Aidoo’s disclaimer in the epigraph that the novel ‘is not meant to be a contribution to any debate, however current’? Do you accept this? What is the signicance of Esi and her friend Opokuya meeting in the Hotel Twentieth Century? Does it invite us to read the events that take place as being symbolic of the era?

Look at Esi’s series of conversations with Opokuya and with her grandmother. What are the differences in how the conversations view women in Ghanaian society? To what extent are they generational differences, rather than due to education or class? Is it possible to reconcile the two viewpoints? Examine Esi’s grandmother’s comments at the beginning of Chapter 14. Do they express conservative or radical ideas about women’s lives? How do you interpret her idea that the traditional marriage ceremony is a ‘funeral of the self that could have been’?

Given that Esi and Opokuya are afuent, middle-class women, and that life for the majority of Ghanaians is difcult for many other reasons, there is a sense that the narrative voice seeks to undercut their musings on the difculties raised by issues of gender in modern Ghana. In the opening paragraphs of Chapter 5 and Chapter 6, Esi’s life is placed ironically within something like a postcolonial version of n-de-siècle exhaustion, where she seems to be completely cut off from the reality of ordinary people’s lives. The novel at these moments seems to suggest that the reformation of gender relationships needs to be achieved within a larger transformation of social and economic structures.

Chapter 4: Section B topic study: gender and postcolonial literature

To what extent does the novel imply that these structures have been inherited from the colonial power? If you consider the three novels we have looked at in this chapter collectively, to what extent do they constitute a re-writing of the narratives of postcolonial society?

Learning outcomes

By the end of this chapter, and having read at least two novels by different authors, as well as some of the suggested secondary reading, you should be able to:

compare and contrast the ways in which women writers treat issues of gender in modern postcolonial societies

• discuss in detail the leading thematic concerns and stylistic features of novels by African women writers

• outline some of the key strategies by which postcolonial women writers challenge dominant canons of both Western and postcolonial literatures

• prepare with condence for an examination question on gender and postcolonial literature using either the writers referred to in this chapter or others of your choice.

Sample examination questions

Please note that in the examination you cannot necessarily expect a question directly on gender and postcolonialism. The following questions are intended to help you write practice essays for the examination. You should discuss at least two texts by different authors in each answer.

1. ‘They say education is life.’ (DANGAREMBGA) Discuss the treatment of education in the work of at least two postcolonial women writers.

2. ‘Writer of colour? Woman writer? Which comes rst?’ (TRINH MINH-HA) Discuss in relation to at least two postcolonial women writers.

3. ‘The tyranny of gender differential is imperialistic.’ Discuss with reference to at least two postcolonial women writers.

4. ‘I was convinced that the further we left the old ways behind the closer we came to progress.’ (DANGAREMBGA) Discuss in relation to the role of women in postcolonial society. Answer with reference to at least two postcolonial women writers.

Suggestions for further/alternative study

11 See Chapter 1 of this guide for further hints.

12 See the section on Grace Nichols and Caribbean poetry in Chapter 3 of this guide for a further discussion of this topic.

You might like to compare the work of postcolonial women writers with that of postcolonial male writers who highlight the position of women in modern society. For example, Ngugi’s Devil on the Cross and Achebe’s Anthills of the Savannah place considerable emphasis on the main female characters. 11 In what ways are they treated differently from the female characters in novels by Nwapa, Aidoo, Dangarembga or other postcolonial women writers you have read? You could compare and contrast the work of postcolonial women writers from different parts of the world. To what extent are the concerns of African women writers similar to those from India or the Caribbean, for example? You might also wish to consider different forms of postcolonial women’s writing such as poetry. 12 For example, in what ways are the

concerns we have outlined in this chapter dealt with in postcolonial women’s poetry? Does poetry raise issues about gender that the novel cannot deal with (and vice versa)?

Postcolonial literatures in English


Appendix: Sample examination paper


Sample examination paper

Answer three questions, including at least one from each section. Candidates may not discuss the same text in more than one answer, in this examination or any other advanced level unit examination.

Section A

1. ‘Perhaps what I write is applied art as distinct from pure.’ (ACHEBE) Examine the idea that the postcolonial novel is predominantly a didactic form with detailed reference to the work of any one postcolonial writer you have studied.

2. ‘We have turned ourselves into hybrids, and there we are left.’ (HAMIDOU KANE) To what extent is postcolonial experience rendered in terms of existential problems of identity? Discuss with reference to any one postcolonial writer you have studied.

3. ‘How choose/Between this Africa and the English tongue I love?’ (WALCOTT) Examine the way in which any one postcolonial writer has challenged the use of the colonisers’ language as a medium of discourse.

4. ‘The validity of black historical reality is not predicated on objective truths so much as…the visionary reconstruction of the past.’ (SOYINKA) Discuss the treatment of the pre-colonial and/or early colonial past in the work of any one writer.

5. ‘You know England, born there, you live/To die there, roots put down once/And for all.’ (D’AGUIAR) To what extent can writers of the diaspora who have been born or grown up in the British Isles be considered ‘postcolonial’? Answer in relation to any one writer.

6. ‘Proverbs are the palm-oil with which words are eaten.’ (ACHEBE) Discuss how any one postcolonial writer has employed traditional narrative forms.

7. Consider the role in the work of any one postcolonial writer you have studied of either fantasy or myth.

8. In what ways have postcolonial writers sought to redene the relationship between colonial margin and metropolitan centre? Answer in relation to any one writer.

Section B

9. ‘The Caribbean offers us a literature about the process of growth through, or in spite of, a history of exploitation and prejudice, about the turning of negatives into positives and the creative synthesis of ancient traditions.’ (PAULA BURNETT) Discuss with reference to at least two writers.

10. ‘We the women who toil/Yet we the women/who praises go unsung/who voices go unheard.’ (NICHOLS) Discuss how women writers address their own marginalisation within postcolonial societies. Answer in relation to at least two writers.

11. ‘The hyena can’t walk down two roads at the same time.’ (NGUGI) To what extent is postcolonial literature a literature of commitment? Discuss in relation to at least two writers.

Postcolonial literatures in English

12. ‘The [post-]colonial politician is an easy object of satire…his situation satirises itself, turns satire inside out, takes satire to a point where it touches pathos if not tragedy.’ (NAIPAUL) Do postcolonial writers only view postcolonial societies with scepticism and satire? Answer in relation to the work of at least two postcolonial writers.

13. ‘The problem has seemed to be how to nd a way out of two mutually exclusive alternatives: between either locating oneself wholly within a marginalised culture or locating oneself entirely outside it, within the “mainstream” as dened by the imperial culture.’ (BRYDON) In relation to the work of at least two writers, examine how the literature of the former Dominions has sought to establish a separate identity.

14. Discuss the treatment of one of the following by at least two writers: the relationship between the personal and the political in postcolonial society; exile; representations of the feminine; religion.

15. ‘The word “post”…confers on colonialism the prestige of history proper; colonialism is the determining marker of history.’ (McCLINTOCK) Is the term ‘postcolonial’ a satisfactory one? Answer in relation to at least two authors.



Postcolonial literatures in English


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