*Dr.B.Raju & Dr. Rex Angelo

            The much-debated term Postcolonial generally refers to writing/culture of nations/cultures that were once colonized by European powers. Postcolonial theory is an attempt to uncover the colonial ideologies implicit in European texts about the other. It explores strategies of resistance and ‘independence’ or a ‘counter discourse’ in native texts against colonialism. The term “Postcolonial literature” now replaces the traditional category of “Commonwealth literature” or “Third World literature”. In other words, Postcolonial theory looks at colonialism’s strategies of representation of the natives; the epistemological underpinnings of colonial projects; the ‘writing’ of colonial histories; the feminization, marginalization, and dehumanization of the natives; the rise of nationalist and or nativist discourse; the psychological effects of colonialism on both the colonizer and the colonized; the role of apparatuses like education, English studies, histography, art and architecture in the ‘execution’ of the colonial project and the ‘transactive’ or negotiatory structure of Postcolonialism. 

            Works of literature that are defined as postcolonial often record racism or a history of genocide, including slavery, apartheid, and the mass extinction of peoples. Postcolonial studies especially in the 1980s and 90s questioned the nationalist resistance to colonialism. They argued that the nationalist resistance and stress on ‘cultural independence’ also replied on categories that were themselves European, especially the idea of modernization, development, the ‘nation-state’ and democracy. Later on, the issues of ethnicity, displacement, gender, and race have become categories for analysis. Thus under the rubric of postcolonial studies, we thus have an ongoing attempt to retrieve histories that have been silenced/ erased by both colonial and nationalist powers. And then, the other ‘resistance’ struggles such as the Afro-American, the gay-lesbian and the environmental issues have become vital subjects of discussion. It slowly adopts tools from a wide range of disciplines. Psychoanalysis, feminism, post-structuralism, and post-modernism, historiography, Foucaultian discourse analysis, cultural studies, anthropology, urban sociology, architectural studies, philosophy, reader-response theory and Marxism have all contributed to the theoretical rigour of postcolonial studies. Postcolonialism seeks to understand how oppression, resistance and adaptation have occurred during the colonial rule. This means that post colonialism analyses specific strategies of power, domination, hegemony and oppression utilized by the colonizer in the colony. This includes a vast spectrum of issues related to art and architecture, economics, political philosophy and their legal manifestations like courts and laws, psychological states, medical, scientific apparatuses, the education system, civil codes and so on.

            Critical response to these texts is often seen as an important way to articulate and negotiate communication between writers who define themselves as postcolonial and critics who are not part of that experience. Gina Wisker, in her introduction to Post-Colonial and African American Women’s Writing says that the indictment present in many postcolonial texts tends to produce guilt or feelings of inherited complicity in many readers. Also, although writing about these texts may raise the level of awareness of both the texts and their writers, some postcolonial writers see reflected in this activity an arrogant assumption about the need for non-colonial cultures to recognize postcolonial writers. Similarly, other critics have noted that critical response that focuses entirely on the essential nature of black or Asian writers may also serve to marginalize their writing by supposing their experiences as largely a product of being -other than European.

            The theoretical perspectives used for the purpose are usually based on the insights provided by Michel Foucault, Edward Said, Homi K. Bhabha and the other postcolonial thinkers. All these ideas contest monolithic, unitary and totalitarian views about reality and its understanding. The study of literary works is taken up to find how the writers have presented experiences of the colonized people. The variety of life that forms the subject matter of postcolonial creative and the critical writings also includes different forms of oppressed human existence even after the end of British Imperialism. It points out the colonialist nature of the native rulers and challenges the essentialist understanding that treats certain races as always the colonizers and the others as fundamentally free from such cultural traits. The postcolonial fictional writings often provide a revisiting to history and contest its existing interpretation. The fiction writers often mix fact and fiction to re-examine the earlier happenings, incidents, views and assumptions. Their major concern being the nature of reality that existed during the colonial period, these writers often concentrate on the political and social happenings with a view to contesting the academic or the accepted versions about them. In the process these writings use the historical facts and references to persons and places to subvert the earlier discourses.

            The fictional polemics in such writings is often premised on the ideas that treat history as something constructed, hence a kind of fiction. The major function of these writings is to expose and criticize the subjugation of man by man in all its forms. Therefore, the critical stance used by post colonialists turns extremely relevant in the works concentrating on the decolonization of the social groups oppressed in the name of class, caste, gender and race. Instead of objective and realistic, this kind of fiction tends to be purposive and political as it involves the assertion of specific views in the name of giving voice to plurality, multiplicity and heterogeneity informing life.

             Another theoretical perspective that asserts multiplicity, heterogeneity, and plurality in socio-cultural reality and the world of ideas relates to Bakhtin’s insights about dialogic nature of discourse and significance of interactive voices. His insights in terms of heteroglossia, polyphony and dialogism have provided new ideas for the understanding and analysis of fictional works. Earlier a fictional discourse was understood to be governed by the singular perspective of the narrator or the author or some dominating character. All the fictional details were supposed to move towards a unified world view presented in a work of art. All other voices were subordinated to the governing consciousness of the author or the character assumed to carry the ideas of the writer. In the changed scenario, reality presented in a novel as well as the world view of the characters form ‘polyphony’ of voices. Sometimes even the characters subordinated to the predominant voices in a novel represent multiple valid voices. These ideas have challenged the unitary nature of reality, the authority of the omniscient narrator and presence of a centralized perspective. It points out a decisive shift in the understanding of reality and its presentation in fiction. As reality is no longer treated to be unitary and singular, the meaning of a work of art too is no longer considered to be ultimate, complete, total, and limited to the intended meaning of the writer that he can convey in authoritative terms.

            The ideas contesting stable and fixed nature of reality and rejecting the possibility of complete and ultimate understanding of reality along with the insights provided by existentialists who challenge the existence of essential human self and reality, thinkers like Foucault, Derrida, Jean Francis Loytard, Frederic Jameson, form what is commonly considered postmodernist perspective. In spite of the difference in their approaches their views taken collectively contest originary, unitary and transcendental nature of reality and the concepts like humanism, idealism and other overarching systems like spiritualism, Marxism, humanism, etc. used to make sense of human experience.

            The reality and ideals like truth, justice human self and identity are treated to be constructed and contextual. By implication, the stable, pre-given and fixed nature of values stands contested. In the study of literature it displaces the canonical view about culture and literature. According to these ideas the difference between high and low serious and popular culture and art is constructed and fictional. The life in the mainstream or kept at the margins or periphery has equal relevance and significance for art. These theoretical views have impacted the thematic as well as the formal features of literary writings, particularly fiction. According to these frameworks a work of art is not supposed to follow set literary patterns and parameters. It has encouraged experimentation in fiction writing. Consequently, a shift from traditionally accepted standards and forms of life to the popular, and marginalized forms of life, and from fixed literary norms of presentation to altogether new, striking and wonderful has resulted.


Homi K. Bhabba “The Commitment to Theory”

Edward W. Said Orientalism

Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak “Can the Subaltern Speak?”


ANU BOOKS: DELHI              MEERUT                                 GLASGOW(U.K).

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