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Postcolonial Criticism


► Emerged in the 1990’s

► Undermines universalist claims
► Universal claims disregard difference
► White Eurocentric norms should not be privileged
► As more immigrants and refugees move to
our country, we must consider a broader
range of literary texts in order that diverse
populations may see themselves and their
circumstances in the works they read.
► In addition, we need to consider the
perspectives and identities that historically
have not seem themselves as part of the
American mainstream.
► Colonialistworldviews underpin much of the
ideology that pervades mainstream American
► Those of us raised in the United States have
experienced an environment shaped by traditional
Western values and beliefs.
► While many of these values serve well, we have to
distinguish those that drive us toward the highest
ideals of democracy and equality from those that
provide advantage to us and adversity to others.
► An understanding of postcolonial viewpoints
is crucial if we are to educate new
generations of Americans who are willing to
move beyond Western preconceptions and
► Postcolonial criticism provides an opportunity
to level a playing field that has been tilted
since the beginnings of Western identity.
► Lois Tyson (2006) summarizes the origin of
the problem—the construction of a worldview
that inherently privileges the perspectives of
those who constructed it:
The colonizers believed that only their own Anglo-European culture was
civilized, sophisticated, or, as postcolonial critics put it, metropolitan.
Therefore, native peoples were defined as savage, backward, and
undeveloped. Because their technology was more highly advanced, the
colonizers believed their whole culture was more highly advanced, and
they ignored or swept aside the religions, customs, and codes of
behavior of the peoples they subjugated. So the colonizers saw
themselves at the center of the world; the colonized were at the margins
(p. 419).

► This colonist ideology constructs a world that

imprisons both sides.
► It precludes any ability for Western peoples to
learn from histories and cultures of the colonized
and to incorporate ideas and values that have
successfully sustained non-Western societies for
centuries, often with less detrimental effects
than those of Eurocentric cultural practices.
Literature and Colonialism
► For a very long time, authors, poets, critics, and scholars have
made the case that literature reflects cultural heritage.
► Largely as a result of this understanding, literature study has
traditionally been divided into literature of historical periods and
national literatures.
► Dominant societies created images of themselves by publicly
recognizing what they thought to be the best representations
of their arts and sciences.
► Featured among these representations were literary
masterworks thought to capture the essence of who we were
and what our societies stood for at various points and places in
the past.
Literature and Colonialism
► In time, however, it became clear that the
images created within our national literatures
provided a less than complete understanding of
our history and heritage.
► Only those people who had historically
participated in the construction of our cultural
imagination found themselves fairly represented,
and their voices were predominantly White,
male, and of the upper social classes.
Literature and Colonialism
► Members of racial and ethnic groups who were not
part of the mainstream found themselves and their
cultures represented from the outside.
► They themselves became the creations of a cultural
imagination that neither understood nor
sympathized with them.
► The same was true for women.
► The source of this misrepresentation was a cultural
predilection that reflected the products and
processes of Western civilization.
Literature and Colonialism
► The colonialist worldview imposes
on other landscapes and peoples
its own images of the colonized
as it wishes them to be.
► Competing worldviews are
summarily dismissed.
► The underlying idea of
postcolonialism is that the
colonized needed to have their
stories heard.
To Achieve Postcolonial Perspective
► First step for the “colonized” is to reclaim
their own past
► i.e.. History did not begin with the
► Second step is to erode colonialist ideology
that devalued their past
Characteristics of
Postcolonial Criticism

1. An awareness of representation of non-

Europeans as exotic or ‘Other’
2. Concern with language
Some conclude the colonizer's language is
permanently tainted, to write in it involves
acquiescence in colonial structures
Characteristics of
Postcolonial Criticism

3. Emphasis on identity as doubled or

unstable (identify with colonizer and
4. Stress on cross cultural interactions
Stages of Postcolonial Criticism
► Phase 1: Analyze white representation of
colonial countries…uncover bias

► Phase 2: Postcolonial writers explore

selves and society
(The empire writes back)
What Postcolonial Critics Do
► Reject claims of universalism
► Examine representation of other cultures
► Show how literature is silent on matters of
imperialism and colonialism
► Foreground questions of diversity and cultural
► Celebrate ‘cultural polyvancy’ (belonging to more
than one culture)
► Assert that marginality, plurality and ‘Otherness’
are sources of energy and potential change
The Berlin Conference 1884-1885
Group 6 (Post-colonialism)