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Explanation To Postcolonial Criticism

Explanation To Postcolonial Criticism

Introduction to Postcolonial Criticism:


In order to understand Postcolonial criticism, one has to get a clear view of what Colonialism is. Colonialism is a system in which a foreign nation maintains political, social, economic, or cultural domination over another nation for an extended period. “Colonialism” is a theory, but when applied as an action, it’s called “Colonialization”. The first-ever colonialization started because of Western Imperialism. Eastern countries were thought to be underdeveloped or the “third world countries”. West believed that people living in eastern regions were savages, uncivilized people, so it’s their moral duty to control the East. They thought it would be better for the East to live by Western rules, cultures, and norms. West believed that their lifestyle was far more superior than the Eastern lifestyle, so controlling them would be an act of compassion. Moreover, West thought that it is a duty given to them by God, as described in Rudyard Kipling’s “White Man’s Burden”. In most cases in history, Colonialization has been initiated in the form of Imperialism, in which one country usurps the boundaries or territories of another country by the use of military power in order to rule it. An example of this is the British rule in India.  One of the main causes of this type of colonization is Racial inequality. West believed that because of their color, the white race holds supremacy over the black and the brown race. It can be well seen from this line of Rudyard Kipling’s famous ballad; “East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet”.


Postcolonialism is basically the study of effects of Colonialism, Imperialism, Cultural Domination and Subservience. Imperialistic Powers like Britain, America, France have colonized many areas of Asia, Africa, South-America over the course of their history. What Postcolonial critics do is that they try to examine the leftover cultures of the colonized. Postcolonial Theory says that the postcolonial critics from colonized countries attempt to articulate and even celebrate their native identity and reclaim them from the colonizers. Now this might be through their own writings, or they might examine the writings of colonizers, and bring the public’s attention towards the setting of that literature which is against the colonized. Postcolonial theory formally began with the publishing of Edward Said’s book “Orientalism” in 1978. Afterwards, Postcolonial theory emerged in the US and UK academies in the 1980s as part of a larger wave of new and politicized fields of humanistic inquiry. As it is generally constituted, postcolonial theory emerges from and is deeply indebted to anticolonial thought from South Asia and Africa in the first half of the 20th century.

Importance of Postcolonial Theory:

One of the main effects of colonialism that the colonized people endure is the Identity Crisis. The people living in the western colonies in East become hybrid, a mixture of two different identities; the identities of the colonizers and the colonized. Their cultural, political, social and often religious values get fusioned. These people have been forced to lose their native identity.

What Postcolonial theory does is that it allows the critics a platform to write about the problems related to Identity crisis, their forgotten cultural values. It allows postcolonial writers to explain the oppression of the colonizers, the problems of the colonized, the effect colonizers had on them. So ultimately, this theory gives a voice the colonized people haven’t had before

Universalism VS Postcolonialism:

Whenever a universal signification is claimed for a work, then, white, Eurocentric norms and practices are being promoted by a sleight of hand to this elevated status, and all others correspondingly relegated to subsidiary, marginalized roles, Eurocentric Universalism, that puts Europe at the center of the world.

My Interest in Postcolonial theory:

I take an interest in this theory because of our past. British Imperialism in the Sub-continent has affected our traditional, as well as our political and social ethics. I personally think that rather than being forced to follow the Western culture, we have been made to get fascinated by it.  We are inclined to follow European culture because we think that it’s far more superior than our culture. This Colonialization has extended its roots deep into our daily life. We try to adopt Western lifestyle involuntarily. We use English language in our everyday discourse knowing that it’s the language of the colonizers. Consequently, it has made us lose our Native identity. We have been caught up in our fascination with modern ways at the expense of the traditional ways of life practiced by our ancestors, ways that defined our Identity. We have developed a negative attitude to our culture because of hybridity.

“Dead Men’s Path” by Chinhua Achebe

The short story Dead men’s path by Chinua Achebe is a story written to tell the postcolonial experience. The story was written in 1949 after the British had colonized Nigerian at the beginning of the twentieth century. The colonizers despised the culture and beliefs of the Igbo people which they considered as barbaric and inferior. To that effect, they introduced Christianity and western form of education through the missionaries. The introduction of Christianity led to weakening of the tribal affiliations. The meeting of the two cultures led to a conflict. I chose this story because it is an appropriate paradigm of how colonialism effects a region, and how we should resist it in order to maintain our native identity.

The protagonist in the story is Michael Obi, a young man aged twenty-six years. He is a teacher who has been promoted to head Ndume Central school because he is “young and energetic”. He also got the position because he had sound academic qualifications above other headmasters in that area and he was “outspoken in his condemnation of the narrow views of these older and often less educated ones”. He sees the older less educated teachers as representatives of the conservative way of life and narrow views that he wanted to replace with modern progressive methods. Obi has embraced the white’s way of life and his wife Nancy has also been caught up in her fascination with modern ways at the expense of the traditional way of life practiced by his people. Nancy wants to have modern beautiful gardens, which symbolizes the western way of life. Due to Michael’s progressiveness, he has no regard for the traditional practices of his village. The people believe in shrines and spirits. They have a footpath that runs through the school that joins the village shrine and the place where they bury their dead. Michael is against the footpath. He wants it closed to please the inspector of schools and he is afraid that the villagers might turn the school into a site for some pagan rituals. He builds up a wall closing the footpath. Calling the practices of his people, pagan rituals shows how much he hated the traditional ways and considered anything about his culture to be backward and retrogressive. According to him, the traditions must be discarded in favor of modern progressive ways. Michael is an African man who is trying to adapt foreign ways. Ini, the village priest goes to talk to Michael about the closure of the path because a baby had died and the reason given by the villagers for the death was closing the path. The priests tells Michael “ let the hawk perch and let the eagle perch” because he felt that the two cultures could coexist as he tells Michael he only needs to reopen the path and it will save villagers from the quarrel. Through the story, the author shows that progress no matter how well intent it cannot be forced down the throats of people. The people must be engaged in the change and if they support the idea then a change can happen.  He tells the priest that they should make an alternative path that skirts outside the school compound because he does not think that the spirits would mind the little detour. This disrespect results in the retaliation as the villagers tear down the wall he had erected to block the footpath and ruin the gardens and the schools inspector finds the school in a mess and a writes him a bad report.

Michael, the head teacher fails because he is pushy and does not understand how deep the tradition is engrained in the village. He tries to force the people to abandon their ways but his plan backfires on him His lack of respect for the culture of the Igbo people leads to the conflict as people retaliate. It shows that both cultures have failed to respect each other hence the clash. Michael fails to respect their religious beliefs and closes the path, as he does not identify with pagan rituals. He shows his lack of respect for the villagers’ religion. Finally, the two cultures clash in the story because of lack of tolerance. Michael is self-centered and uncooperative. He insists on having his way even in matters that require cooperation. He wants to make the school modern. Nonetheless, he fails in his ambitions because he sidelines his people.

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