Postcolonialism : English literature main features

Also Read

      English is now being enriched by the new literatures in English and Post-colonial literature. The writings of R. K. Narayan or Khushwant Singh of India, Soyinka or Achebe of Nigeria, Patrick White or A.D. Hope of Australia, Jenet Frame or Dan Davin of New Zealand, A.M. Kein of Canada, Zulphikar Ghose of Pakistan, Sam Selvon of the Caribbean or any other of the excellent writers now writing throughout the Commonwealth. We know from their writings how their countries are evolving and also because they bring new ideas, new interpretations of life to us. The study of literatures in English produced by non-British authors was valued, ever since it originated out of the cross-cultural contact between the colonisers and the colonised.

The colonial encounter between the immigrants and the original inhabitants had a great impact on the culture, society and history of the region.

      Writers of the erstwhile colonies are English educated intelligentsia who, by the nature of their training were steeped in European traditions of dissemination and assimilation of knowledge. These writers chose English language as their medium to convey to the world their cultural traditions and at the same time the clash of their native traditions and Western culture which they lately imbibed (Naipaul's The House of Mr Biswas). The works they produce not only reflect or tell us about the way their countries are evolving but also criticise and question it. They provide vivid accounts of local colour in a language inflected with those localisms which 'enrich' English, but rather they create a "linguistic code, english which had been transformed and subverted into several distinctive varieties throughout the world". (Ash Crof). (Note the use of english (small 'e'). contrasted with the capital 'E' English as used by the natives of England). The distinctiveness of these works contributes to the thematic, linguistic and formal diversity of what came to be called New Literatures in English. The term post colonial is useful for taking cognizance of the concerns and language of the literatures of the erstwhile colonial countries.

      Bruce King in his introduction to Literatures of the World in English acknowledges that there are "different national literary traditions with values and histories of their own, but that "each literature is a part of world English literature, and shares in the heritage of British writing" (1974,20-21). But Macaulay in his Minute on Indian Education observes that the literature produced by the colonial India was part of the colonial agenda, to "form a class of persons, Indian in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals and in intellect". But King points out "A new English literature may express a culture which has grown up with the settler communities, it may be a continuation of indigenous cultural traditions, Or it may be some mixture of the effects of colonisation, including the bringing together of various races into one nature."

      The colonial encounter between the immigrants and the original inhabitants had a great impact on the culture, society and history of the region. Writing in An Area of Darkness, Naipaul remembers reading about the disappearance of the indigenous population - "the aboriginal inhabitants of the West Indies 'sickened and died' when the Spaniards Came...."     (An Area of Darkness, Naipaul, 209)

      The emergence of a Caribbean literary aesthetic has to be viewed within this historical condition of uprootedness. As Naipaul says "Living in a borrowed culture the West Indian, more than most needs writers to tell him who he is, where he stands". The emergence of a Carribbean literary tradition is thus an attempt at decolonising the culture and people from literal and literary colonisation of the Britishers. Poets like Derek, Braithwaite and novelists like George Lamming, Naipaul, Andrew Salkey were middle class, educated and with a few exceptions based in England. They however, experimented with Creole as a narrative trend. Creole was a dialect, a broken tongue with which it is impossible to build an edifice of verse possessing the perfect symmetry of finished art. The writings of Naipaul, Braithwaite and Walcot within their historical, social and material contexts.

      In the case of African literature, politics has always been of paramount significance. Alex La Guina, renowned novelist from South Africa has put it a most dramatic manner:

      "I, as a South African writer, am prepared to run guns and hold up Radio Stations, because in South Africa that we are faced with whether we are writers and whether we are common labourers". (The Writer in Modern Africa, P20). Literary activity by modern African writers including that of novelists - begun in a big way only after the Second World War, (postcolonialism) primarily as a result of the conscious decisions by emigrant African in Europe who under the inspiration of thinkers like Amie Caesar, Amilean Cabral, Frantz Fannon and George Padmore opened a 'second front' as it were and stepped up their cultural activities to assist the freedom struggles in their respective countries. The writers wanted to reach the educated, politically aware and liberal-minded people in the ruling countries so as to create a empathy for their cause of political independence. So they chose as their mediums the languages of their European masters English, French, Portuguese as the vehicles of their thoughts.

      The Novel was their main literary form and it was written by the African intelligentsia whose members were the products of mission-run schools, who had been fed on the staple diet of the Bible and Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress. China Achebe is the major novelist whose Things Fall Apart published in 1958 was written in simple, crisp, short but correct structures of English and replaced the Yoruba folk material by his own libo myths and fables, customs and rituals. The novel is hailed as a modern classic. Ngugiwatwa Thiong'O'S Devil on the Cross is the story about the worsening living conditions of ordinary Kenyans and blends it with generous use of technical terms of political analysis based on class. Written in the form of a political fable, it indicts the ruling. Comprador bourgeois through a satire that is at times as scathing as Swifts. Contemporary novel writing in Africa is highlighting the socio-political problems faced by the people of many post-colonial nations in Africa. It is a Hagiography of a Marxist.

      The most important writer of Nigeria is Wole Soyinka whose 4 Dance, of the Forests is modelled on the Yoruba New year festival. Soyinka describes. Yoruba art as 'essential' in that it expresses "the quintessence of inner being." He wrote number of plays and novels. He was awarded the Nobel prize in literature in 1986. The issues explored in A Dance of the Forests are Nigerian independence, the relation of tradition to history and the relation of the artist to politics. Among his other plays and novels are The Swamp Dewellers (play), The Interpreters (novel), A Shuttle in the Crypt (poetry). He is a prolific writer and wrote as many as twenty books - plays, novels and poetry.

      Among Caribbean Poets, Derek Walcott and Braithwait deserve mention. Derek Walcott in both his poetry and drama juxtaposes the textual richness of language race, geography with the discriminating oppositions of black white. There is a note of tormented ambivalence in The Fortunate Traveller. The poet's journey from the old to the new provides an unrelenting satire on the evils of the old. Put another way, it is a journey through the modern world of American and European civilisation. The process of the journey and of the quest is not only constructed from the racial memories of the past, but the outcome is shaped and mirrored in the process.

      Naipaul (born in 1932 in Trinidad) is the most important Caribbean novelist who has Indian ancestry in postcolonialism. Naipaul's great grandmother on his father's side migrated to Trinidad towards the end of the nineteenth century. Naipal lived and wrote in England. He explained his stay in England. "When I was starting in the mid - 1950s, there was no other place where I could have set up as an English language writer, and found encouragement. So as a writer I was separated, and sometimes deeply separated from my background - if you take Trinidad as my ancestral background". In a literary career spanning a little more than three decades, Naipaul has written twenty-three books. His first novel, The Mystic Masseur won instant fame. His most popular book is 'A House for Mr Biswas'. His other novels include India: A Million Mutinies Noto (1990), A Way in the World (1994) and Beyond Belief (1998), Half a Life (2001). He won all the prizes and in 2002 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature.

      A House for Mr Biswas is a notable book illustrating the diasporie problem and sensibility. A postcolonialism reconstruction of A House for Mr Biswas reveals the unhappiness of a diasporan. He did not find a house in keeping with his expectations. It is the quest theme of a diasporan for settlement in life. The novel may be read as a chronicle of socio-political changes that swept over Trinidad in the early years of the century, giving a new direction to the second and third generation immigrants who had no plans of going back to India.

Previous Post Next Post