Post-Colonialism in Literature: Definition, Theory & Examples

Post-Colonialism in Literature: Definition, Theory & Examples
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  • 0:03 What Is Post-Colonialism?
  • 1:04 Effects of Colonization
  • 1:21 Theory
  • 2:35 Example: Chinua…
  • 3:18 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Antoinette Regulus
Post-colonialism in literature includes the study of theory and literature as it relates to the colonizer-colonized experience. Edward Said is the leading theorist in this field, with Chinua Achebe being one of its leading authors.

What Is Post-Colonialism?

In many works of literature, specifically those coming out of Africa, the Middle East, and the Indian subcontinent, we meet characters who are struggling with their identities in the wake of colonization, or the establishment of colonies in another nation. For example, the British had a colonial presence in India from the 1700s until India gained its independence in 1947. As you can imagine, the people of India, as well as the characters in Indian novels, must deal with the economic, political, and emotional effects that the British brought and left behind. This is true for literature that comes out of any colonized nation. In many cases, the literature stemming from these events is both emotional and political.

The post-colonial theorist enters these texts through a specific critical lens, or a specific way of reading a text. That critical lens, post-colonial theory or post-colonialism, asks the reader to analyze and explain the effects that colonization and imperialism, or the extension of power into other nations, have on people and nations.

Effects of Colonization

As mentioned, post-colonialism asks the reader to enter a text through the post-colonial lens. The chart will help you see how to approach a post-colonial reading of a text. As a reader, you would look for the effects of colonialism and how they are addressed through the plot, setting, and characters' actions.

Effects of Colonization


Edward Said

Edward Said's book Orientalism in 1978 is considered the foundational work on which post-colonial theory developed. Said, then, could be considered the 'father' of post-colonialism. His work, including Orientalism, focused on exploring and questioning the artificial boundaries, or the stereotypical boundaries, that have been drawn between the East and West, specifically as they relate to the Middle East. In doing this, Said focused specifically on our stereotypes of Middle-Easterners; however, these same ideas can be extended to include how we view all 'others.' This is the 'us-other' mentality that many colonizers take with them into a new country. Such simple generalizations lead to misconceptions and miscommunications, which are often the basis of post-colonial analysis.

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