1. What is it?
Colonial literature concerns encounters between colonialists and native populations. It is usually based on, or written during, real historical events.
The majority of colonialist works are written by written by writers from colonial powers.
2. How is it made?
|A powerful culture arrives in the lands of an indigenous people.||Conflict ensues between the two cultures about ideas, traditions, or habits.|
|Meetings result in cross-cultural relationships.||Colonial literature can be in the form of an allegory: a fictional story standing in for real events.|
|Negative views of indigenous people include:|
– ‘noble savage’ (a kind but primitive indigenous character)
– ‘scientific racism’ (using pseudoscience to claim racial superiority). –
|White man’s guilt’ is when a white colonialist feels guilt for their colonialist treatment – albeit this may be seeking sympathy for one’s self.|
3. Examples in literature
The Last of the Mohicans
Know Your Book
by James Fenimore Cooper
Title: The Last of the Mohicans: A Narrative of 1757
Author: James Fenimore Cooper (1789-1851)
Genre: Fiction; historical novel; adventure
Plot: The French and Indian War is underway in North America, pitting France, Britain and native tribes against each other. When the British discover one of their native guides, Magua, is a French spy, it leads to French raids on the British held lands, kidnap, and a massacre. With British and native allies raiding French lands, and Magua revealed as a blackmailing villain, a final showdown is due.
Setting: Area now New York state; French and Indian War; 1757
Characters: Magua; Chingachgook; Duncan Heyward; Nathaniel Bumppo
Excerpt from Chapter 23:
At length one whose hair was beginning to be sprinkled with gray, but whose sinewy limbs and firm tread announced that he was still equal to the duties of manhood, advanced out of the gloom of a corner, whither he had probably posted himself to make his observations unseen, and spoke. He used the language of the Wyandots, or Hurons; his words were, consequently, unintelligible to Heyward, though they seemed, by the gestures that accompanied them, to be uttered more in courtesy than anger. The latter shook his head, and made a gesture indicative of his inability to reply.
“Do none of my brothers speak the French or the English?” he said, in the former language, looking about him from countenance to countenance, in hopes of finding a nod of assent.
Though more than one had turned, as if to catch the meaning of his words, they remained unanswered.
“I should be grieved to think,” continued Duncan, speaking slowly, and using the simplest French of which he was the master, “to believe that none of this wise and brave nation understand the language that the ‘Grand Monarque’ uses when he talks to his children. His heart would be heavy did he believe his red warriors paid him so little respect!”
A long and grave pause succeeded, during which no movement of a limb, nor any expression of an eye,betrayed the expression produced by his remark. Duncan, who knew that silence was a virtue among his hosts, gladly had recourse to the custom, in order to arrange his ideas. At length the same warrior who had before addressed him replied, by dryly demanding, in the language of the Canadas:
“When our Great Father speaks to his people, is it with the tongue of a Huron?”
“He knows no difference in his children, whether the color of the skin be red, or black, or white,” returned Duncan, evasively; “though chiefly is he satisfied with the brave Hurons.”
“In what manner will he speak,” demanded the wary chief, “when the runners count to him the scalps which five nights ago grew on the heads of the Yengeese?”
“They were his enemies,” said Duncan, shuddering involuntarily; “and doubtless, he will say, it is good; my Hurons are very gallant.”
|Skimming, Scanning and Basic Comprehension|
1. In brief, what is occurring in the passage?
2. Which three languages are mentioned in the passage?
3. What happened to the Yengeese people five nights ago?
4. What advantage does the writer get by using a third person narrative?
5. What epithet is used within the passage? Who is it describing?
6. Which questions within the passage could be seen as rhetorical?
7. What clues are present that suggest this is not the first time the Wyandot have met colonialists?
8. In what way could the passage be accused of removing or ignoring the natives’ personalities? Which terms or phrases show this?
9. Which phrases suggest that the colonists already believe they own the land and its people?
10. In what way is Duncan being ‘evasive’? Why is he being so?
11. In the passage, colonialism has brought different cultures into contact. How does the writer depict the various sides / parties?
12. Is colonialism ever justified? Why do countries do it?
13. The language barrier is a problem for the characters in the passage. Is it better to keep local languages, or have wider-used global languages? Do you think colonialism and globalisation has had a positive or negative effect on language?
14. In the modern world, very few groups of people or tribes remain completely isolated. Is it the responsibility of other cultures to leave them alone? If so, how can this be balanced with the growing demand for resources, space, national boundaries, and money?
Shooting an Elephant
Know Your Book
by George Orwell
Title: Shooting an Elephant
Author: George Orwell (Eric Blair) (1903-1950)
Genre: Fiction or non-fiction (unknown); essay
Plot: In colonial Burma, a British police officer is called to shoot an elephant. A huge crowd follows him to watch, putting pressure on the officer to shoot the animal despite it resting peacefully. While the event unfolds, the officer contemplates the attitudes of the different local generations, the presence of the English in Burma, and the fact he is doing this just so the locals don’t think him an idiot.
Setting: Moulmein, Burma, during British rule, c.1930
Characters: Police officer (the narrator)
In Moulmein, in Lower Burma, I was hated by large numbers of people — the only time in my life that I have been important enough for this to happen to me. I was sub-divisional police officer of the town, and in an aimless, petty kind of way anti-European feeling was very bitter. No one had the guts to raise a riot, but if a European woman went through the bazaars alone somebody would probably spit betel juice over her dress. As a police officer I was an obvious target and was baited whenever it seemed safe to do so. When a nimble Burman tripped me up on the football field and the referee (another Burman) looked the other way, the crowd yelled with hideous laughter. This happened more than once. In the end the sneering yellow faces of young men that met me everywhere, the insults hooted after me when I was at a safe distance, got badly on my nerves. The young Buddhist priests were the worst of all. There were several thousands of them in the town and none of them seemed to have anything to do except stand on street corners and jeer at Europeans.
All this was perplexing and upsetting. For at that time I had already made up my mind that imperialism was an evil thing and the sooner I chucked up my job and got out of it the better. Theoretically — and secretly, of course — I was all for the Burmese and all against their oppressors, the British. As for the job I was doing, I hated it more bitterly than I can perhaps make clear. In a job like that you see the dirty work of Empire at close quarters. The wretched prisoners huddling in the stinking cages of the lock-ups, the grey, cowed faces of the long-term convicts, the scarred buttocks of the men who had been flogged with bamboos — all these oppressed me with an intolerable sense of guilt. But I could get nothing into perspective. I was young and ill-educated and I had had to think out my problems in the utter silence that is imposed on every Englishman in the East. I did not even know that the British Empire is dying, still less did I know that it is a great deal better than the younger empires that are going to supplant it. All I knew was that I was stuck between my hatred of the empire I served and my rage against the evil-spirited little beasts who tried to make my job impossible. With one part of my mind I thought of the British Raj as an unbreakable tyranny, as something clamped down, in saecula saeculorum, upon the will of prostrate peoples; with another part I thought that the greatest joy in the world would be to drive a bayonet into a Buddhist priest’s guts. Feelings like these are the normal by-products of imperialism; ask any Anglo-Indian official, if you can catch him off duty.
|1. Which of the following emotional and social conflicts is not mentioned by the writer?|
a) He supports the oppressed local population’s cause but resents its everyday behaviour
b) He has to pretend to like the locals publicly but speak ill of them to his superiors
c) He wants to do his job, but knows his job is part of the problem
d) He supports the end of the British Empire, but also sees its successors as worse
e) He does not support violence against the local population, but dreams of personally inflicting pain on certain members of it
|2. Which of these terms could be applied to an element of Orwell’s thinking?|
a) Manifest destiny
b) ‘Little Englander’ mentality
c) White man’s guilt
d) Imperial hypocrisy
e) Bleeding-heart liberal
|3. The piece is written|
a) in retrospect
b) as an allegory
c) in third-person
e) as a confession
|4. The final line suggests which of the following exists in those working for an empire?|
a) Civic pride
b) Bitter disdain
c) Patriotic fervour
d) Unspoken uneasiness
e) Youthful naïvety
|5. Which pair of words best describe the contrasting opinions of colonialism in The Last of the Mohicans and Shooting an Elephant respectively?|
a) Bonhomie and sadism
b) Adventure and tragedy
c) Glory and farce
d) Gung-hoism and world-weariness
e) Self-justification and corruption