Criticism in African Literature: Introduction to Post Colonial Literature

African Literature

Many of the novelists, dramatists, and poets of African origin have been referred to as postcolonial writers since World War II. However, many people get confused when defining the term post-colonial literature. We can use the broad definition, which carries the category of African literary works concerning the oppressive forces of imperialism and expansion of colonial rule. In this case, we can say postcolonial literature includes works that came by after the Second World War, a time when many regions were undergoing decolonization. These works are mainly marked in the 20th and 21st Century from parts of Asia, Nigeria, South African, and several Caribbean parts, just to mention a few which may be marked with postcolonial paint.

In the African context, many nations gained independence between 1960 and 1970, and this is the specific time referred to by the term postcolonialism. During this period, many authors, including those who transitioned from the colonial rule, saw themselves not only as artists but as political activists as well. A sense of euphoria seemed to be sweeping across the region as a nation after it gained freedom from decades of political and cultural domination of their colonizers. No wonder many of them focused on the theme of freedom. They told tales of how invaders came into their land and infected them with new beliefs and ideas. Looking at the state of the nations and leaders who took over from their colonial oppressors, these writers seemed to make the art with despair and anger.

Negativity and anger

Many patriots from Africa believe that the continent would be more developed, were it not for colonization. Looking at the political setting of postcolonial Africa, many used warfare and systems similar to the currently developed worlds like Europe. Many critics, among them Neil Lazarus, have talked about a sense of disillusion in the literary works that come from this feeling. That the colonial power poorly treated Africans, making them slaves in their land, have been highly acknowledged. 

The words of critics are therefore based on works of different authors as Ayi Kwei Armah; they are seen as the foundation of a major development of intellect and literary worlds in Africa. In one of these books, Lazarus writes that African fiction started taking a new turn from the 1970s onwards. Writers created new ways of expressing their ideas, clearly bringing out their thoughts on culture and politics. It was more on the concerns of their respective nations that on the subject matter of colonial Africa.

Even though there have been feelings that Africa would be better ahead without colonization, some of the subjects featured artistic works of the 70s and later years may raise concerns about whether Africa was ready to take lead of her people. Some writers mostly started looking deeper into the poor governance that was apparent in the first years of independence. For instance, some African presidents ruled in a dictatorial manner, not different from the colonial rule. They called this, internal colonialism.

The Postcolonial Theory; Basis of Understanding  

It is impossible to understand the increasing attention on postcolonial fiction without stating a theory. It is necessary to lay a background of the studies and have a platform to built facts and arguments. The subject of postcolonial theory is, however, very wide, and we can only give a brief history in the article. You can always find more information as you explore more topics. However, we shall try laying a foundation for you through some of the writers we shall discuss briefly.

Through the 1960s, postcolonial studies gained a lot of interest throughout England. The writers in this period were being studied because they were viewed as the representatives of the third world. One such writer was Frantz Fanon, whose work “The Wretched of Earth,” was published in 1961. Algeria was just arising from their struggle for independence in the hands of French power, but there was no surety that everything was going to be ok. Fanon’s worked examined potential loopholes for anti-colonial violence in the region and across. Being a member of the Algerian National Liberation Front, this Martinique-born intellect finds a way of inspiring people struggling for freedom across the globe using his talent for art.

Edward Said was another great inspirational figure for this period. He wrote “Orientalism,” a text that examined the relationship between those in the west and those in the east (he called them the ‘Others’). These works have become an important reference in postcolonial studies as it expounds the field. Even though he was a Palestinian-American scholar who worked as a lectured at Columbia University for many years, his contribution to understating postcolonial literature, especially in the African context has been received warmly.

Many other great thinkers influenced the postcolonial theory. Apart from the two, there was also, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak and Homi Bhabha, just to mention a few.

Fiction Writers of the Early Postcolonial Era

There was not much in postcolonial studies until the late 1790s and 80s. Despite this, a number of fiction writers had already started publishing their works before World War II. “Things Fall Apart” (1958) by Chinua Achebe is one of the most recognized novels, one that still graces many Anglophone fiction course syllabi. It received enormous popularity and value since its first publication. Achebe crafted this particular work at the set of the British colonial rule in Nigeria, taking readers back to the Nigerian History. It tells of Okonkwo, late 19th-century leader from and Igbo village, who was forced to witness the tragic end of his culture and values because of colonization.

Before Chinua, Nadine Gordimer already had a number of works, including one novel. She was a South African but born and raised in Eastern Europe. She might not have gone through the violence under decolonization and apartheid herself, but her career inspired her to write widely about her home. She touched on postcolonial politics in some of her works, like “The Conservationist” (1974), and “Burger’s Daughter (1979).

Other significant works of these periods include “Season of Migration to the North” by Tayeb Salih (1966) and “Dream on Monkey Mountain” by Derek Walcott (1970). Both these works touched on the effects of imperialism and the harms of colonial powers to their homes. Together, other writers of this periodAfrican Literature, they encouraged readers to question the history and politics of many colonizers as well as the colonized. But they also bring up a sense of entertainment and personal growth. 

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Mar 11, 2020

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