Part 2: Postcolonial Literature

Part 2: Postcolonial Literature

World War II Museum
“New Orleans World War II Museum” by jcsullivan24 is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0  license

The post-World War II era and postcolonialism largely overlap. World War II (1939-1945) created a particular zeitgeist (or a defining spirit of the time), which consequently shaped the literary works published immediately after the war. Polish catholic writer Tadeusz Borowski’s short story “This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen” (1946) is an example of post-World War II literature, which reflects the author’s experience of having observed, and having been complicit with, the brutal workings of the Holocaust. The first-person narrator’s sense of nausea and being stuck in the short story echoes the major sentiments of post-World War II literature.

The post-World War II era also coincides with the post-independence period. After World War II and during the second half of the twentieth century, many formerly colonized places began to gain independence. In this historical milieu, postcolonialism as an academic field developed in the late 1970s—markedly with the 1978 publication of Edward Said’s seminal book Orientalism, in which Said examines how euro-centric cultural representations of the “Orient” reveal the West’s biases, stereotypes, and/or fantasies about the “Orient.” Postcolonialism reached further sophistication by notable postcolonial scholars such as Homi Bhabha and Gayatri Spivak. Unlike the term “post-independence,” which focuses on the temporal and periodizing meaning of “post” as “after,” the term “postcolonial” has now become more of a theoretical concept, concerning the study of the varied processes and effects of colonialism from the perspectives of the (formerly) colonized; in this sense, postcolonialism could apply to cultures before, during, and after the workings of colonialism.

Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart (1958) is one of the best-known works of postcolonial literature. Beyond the scope of the works produced from the newly decolonized countries of Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean, postcolonialism—as it concerns colonial histories and the voices of the oppressed people—is also associated with Indigenous peoples’ experiences around the globe. Some of Joy Harjo’s poems in this volume concern colonial history and Native Americans’ experiences.

The post-independence era and postcolonialism come with other related concepts and new global realties, such as cultural hybridity, immigration, diaspora, and globalization. Postcolonial literature is also often noted for demonstrating cultural hybridity in its style and theme and/or engaging with the dilemma of conflicting cultures. Achebe’s works, for example, engage dilemmas that emerge at the crossroads of different cultures.

Written by Kyounghye Kwon


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Modern World Literature: Compact Edition Copyright © 2020 by Amy Jo Swing is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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