Literature Studies Site

Post-Colonial Literature


A few comments on a few key Post Colonial texts:

Africa

Chinua Achebe: Things Fall Apart. The title is a quotation from The Second Coming, a poem by WB Yeats, and the novel shows Nigerian Ibo society at the time of the first white Christian settlers. In a detached, careful style, he make the Ibo customs utterly comprehensible, and charts the decline of the society when its core values are undermined by the colonists.

Ngugi wa Thiong'o: A Grain of Wheat. This novel is centred around the moment of Kenyan independence from Britain, and the Uhuru (Freedom) celebrations. From multiple viewpoints and shifts in chronology, it explores the history of British control and the resistance to it. Some of it is savage, and it also suggests that the new regime is already corrupt, the idealism of freedom dead before it begins. Though this novel was written in English, Ngugi later wrote only in his native language, Gikuyu, itself a political statement.

Wole Soyinka: Madmen and Specialists. Soyinka is known largely as a playwright, but has written in many forms. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1986. His work shows a blend of European dramatic traditions with those of his native Nigeria, including ritual, dance and masks. This play is a response to the atrocities which occurred in the war in Biafra.

India

Salman Rushdie: Midnight's Children. Rushdie came to international prominence when his novel The Satanic Verses resulted in a fatwa, an Islamic ruling that he should be put to death for blasphemy. Though born in India, he was educated and lives in England. This novel is about the children born at the moment when India gained its independence from Britain, who have special powers. This element of fantasy mixed with the political and historical reality allows a creative fictional way of exploring the political state of India.

English novels concerning the period of the Indian Raj which are worth reading are E.M. Forster's A Passage to India and Paul Scott's The Raj Quartet. Since they are written by English authors, these are Colonial or Imperialist texts rather than Post Colonial. Forster's clash of cultural expectations and misunderstandings was made in to a successful film by Merchant and Ivory, as was Ruth Prawer Jhabvala's Heat and Dust, set in a similar period and creating sexual as well as political tensions between the English and the Indians. Interestingly, Scott's novels were also made into a highly successful TV series, taking its title from one of the novels, The Jewel in the Crown. There is an interesting article on the series on the net. There is also a substantial essay available for download.

Arundhati Roy: The God of Small Things. The novel concerns the barriers between different groupings in Indian society, focusing on those who are oppressed by the laws and systems. It examines difficult subjects in an inventive style.

Canada

Michael Ondaatje was originally from Ceylon, now Sri Lanka, but is now resident in Canada. Much of his writing reflects a sense of statelessness and uncertain identity, shown very clearly in his most famous novel, The English Patient. This link will take you to an interesting interview with Ondaatje, in which he discusses the novel and in particular its film adaptation.

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