Study Guide

Postcolonial Literature Introduction

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Postcolonial Literature Introduction

Let's be real: colonialism was an ugly thing. A bunch of Europeans basically went off into the four corners of the globe—into Africa, Asia, South America (not to mention North America)—and pillaged other people's land, their resources, their minerals, and their labor... and grew filthy rich off of them. They did this by force, of course. No pretense at politeness whatsoever. No, "Excuse me Sirs and Madams, would you mind if I stole your land?" No. They just went in and grabbed.

They justified this on the basis of some very—and we mean very—sketchy claims. "We're white. We're better than they are. We're civilized. They're savages. We're their masters."

After a while, all of those people who were labeled as "backward" and "savage" and "uncivilized" by European colonizers got their acts together. By the early 20th century, there were anti-colonial liberation movements taking root all over the place. People were fighting back.

Sure enough, by the mid-twentieth century, one colony after another began to fall. India gained independence from the British in 1947. Ghana gained it in 1957. And then, like a line of dominoes, they all came tumbling down. French colonies like Senegal and Algeria were liberated, as were British colonies like Kenya and Saint Lucia, and Portuguese colonies like Angola and Mozambique.

But decolonization wasn't just a thing that was brought about by politicians and freedom fighters. Writers also played a very important role. Postcolonial literature emerged at the same time that many colonies were fighting their way to independence. It really began picking up as a coherent literary movement in the mid-twentieth century. Many classic postcolonial texts were published between the 1950s and 1990s. And while drama and poetry are important in postcolonial literature, it's really the novel that defines this movement.

What the postcolonial writers did was as important as what the anti-colonial freedom fighters and activists did. That's because postcolonial writers challenged some of the basic assumptions (like "white people are better") that had justified colonialism in the first place. In other words, the writers' battlefield was the mind, while the freedom fighters' battlefield was… well, the battlefield.

Postcolonial writers—emerging from Africa, South Asia, the Caribbean, South America and other places—"wrote back" to the empire (source). They decided that the big guys—like Britain and France—had been hogging the microphone for too long. Now it was time for postcolonial writers to tell their own stories, from their own perspectives.

Once the postcolonial writers got going, boy, did they get going.

What is Postcolonial Literature About and Why Should I Care?

We all love justice. Isn't it nice when everyone's treated fairly, when we each have the freedom to do what we want and pursue our own happiness? That's the world we all want to live in.

If you dig justice, equality and freedom, you'll dig postcolonial literature. Because it's a literature born out of the struggle of colonized peoples for justice, equality and freedom. Postcolonial literature is the literature of the underdog. All those people who were brutalized and exploited for decades by European colonizers, finding their voices and standing up for themselves—that's what postcolonial literature is all about.

So if you're one for supporting the weak against the strong, the oppressed against the oppressor, the exploited against the exploiter, you're in for a great ride. Hop onto the postcolonial literature train.

Postcolonial Literature Resources


Contemporary Postcolonial and Postimperial Literature in English
Breaks down postcolonial literature by region, and provides lots of information on some of the most important postcolonial writers. Plus, there's a bonus section on postcolonial theory.

Writers History Literature Portal (Post Colonialism)
Concise introductions to postcolonial writers from all over the world. Good place to start digging into an author.

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