Literary Theory

Key Terms

Colonisation - the action or process of settling among and establishing control over the indigenous people of an area..

The Orient - The Orient is a term for the East, traditionally comprising anything that belongs to the Eastern world, in relation to Europe. It is the antonym of Occident, the Western World.

Settler colonialism - a form of colonialism that seeks to replace the original population of the colonised territory .

Key People

Benedict Anderson

Bill Ashcroft

Penelope Edmunds

Taban Lo Liyong

Edward Said

Gayatri Spivak

Key Works




Postcolonial theory explores the impact of settler and franchise colonialism on colonised people; the omission and silence of colonised voices; and representation of colonisation in Western literature. Postcolonial critics not only highlight, and privileges, texts created by indigenous peoples, before, during and after colonisation, but also critiques the ideology of colonial domination. Critics may seek to explore how, through literature and education policies, colonial powers have created structures through their imperialism that have allowed them to ‘rule by consent’. Postcolonial studies bring new colonial voices to the fore, and challenge notions of Western supremacy, including many of the assumptions that are implied by terms such as ‘First World’, ‘Third World’, and ‘The Orient’.

What Postcolonial Critiques do

They reject the claims to universalism made on behalf of canonical Western literature and seek to show its limitations of outlook, especially its general inability to empathise across boundaries of cultural and ethnic difference..

They examine the representation of other cultures in literature as a way of achieving this end.

They show how such literature is often evasively and crucially silent on matters concerned with colonisation and imperialism. .

They foreground questions of cultural difference and diversity and examine their treatment in relevant literary works..

They celebrate hybridity and 'cultural polyvalency', that is, the situation whereby individuals and groups belong simultaneously to more than one culture. ;

They develop a perspective, not just applicable to postcolonial literatures, whereby states of marginality, plurality and perceived `Otherness' are seen as sources of energy and potential change.. ;

What Questions do Postcolonial Critiques ask

How does the literary text, explicitly or allegorically, represent various aspects of colonial oppression?

What does the text reveal about the problematics of post-colonial identity, including the relationship between personal and cultural identity and such issues as double consciousness and hybridity?

What person(s) or groups does the work identify as "other" or stranger? How are such persons/groups described and treated?

What does the text reveal about the politics and/or psychology of anti-colonialist resistance?

What does the text reveal about the operations of cultural difference - the ways in which race, religion, class, gender, sexual orientation, cultural beliefs, and customs combine to form individual identity - in shaping our perceptions of ourselves, others, and the world in which we live?

How does the text respond to or comment upon the characters, themes, or assumptions of a canonized (colonialist) work?

WAre there meaningful similarities among the literatures of different post-colonial populations?

How does a literary text in the Western canon reinforce or undermine colonialist ideology through its representation of colonialisation and/or its inappropriate silence about colonized peoples?

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