Colonialism and its Aftermath: Changing Realities

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Surfacing in readings of twentieth-century British literature is the theme of colonialism and its aftermath, which provides texts for analysis of historical viewpoints. Literary theorists respond to the subject of colonialism and its aftermath in twentieth-century British literature where observations and analysis are found in the writings of Edward Said, Homi Bhabha, and others.Their texts define relations between the colonizers and the colonized, demonstrating aspects of colonialism and its aftermath. In a reading of twentieth-century British literature a return to its beginnings is personified by Henry Stanley in his nineteenth-century search for Dr.

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Livingston when he paused to gaze at the African landscape, he was awed by its beauty, which was immediately followed by thoughts of how it would appear cleared, and a proper English village settled in its midst. E. Ann Kaplan’s concept of the imperialist gaze, is the observed find themselves defined as “Other” based on the observer’s values. Given Kaplan’s meaning, it makes Stanley’s gaze the definition of colonialism and its aftermath. Homi Bhabha points out this is the “structured gaze of power whose objective is authority and makes its subjects historical.” Reading twentieth-century British literature through the context of Stanley’s gaze, the theme of colonialism and its aftermath discovers the gaze not only looks but changes reality resulting in consequences for indigenous civilizations and the imperialists. Because these changes of reality are crucial to the theme of colonialism and its aftermath, it is appropriate to explore narratives that focus on changes of reality such as, Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, E. M. Forster’s A Passage to India, Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, and V. S. Naipaul’s A Bend in the River.

Conrad’s Heart of Darkness is the emblematic text of colonialism and its aftermath, and is absorbed with the changes of reality for the narrator, Charles Marlow, and Kurtz, the once revered and now depraved ivory idol. Marlow finds himself and Kurtz adversely affected by a recognition that is beyond their grasp in a change of reality referred to by Tom Nairn as, “Imperial delirium.” Fredric Jameson explains it as “a kind of schizophrenia.” Theorists indicate the delirium appears as a gap in Marlow’s mind between his ingrained Victorian ideals and indigenous reality, making everything learned or known valueless. David Spurr points out “this is the site of [Marlow’s] terrifying encounter of his own nothingness.” Rereading Heart of Darkness in light of Marlow’s new sense-of -self becomes the overriding factor that drives him, and even suggests the title of the book is not necessarily a referent to Africa, but metaphoric for Marlow’s psychic emptiness. Fifty miles before Marlow meets Kurtz, at the Inner Station, he finds a coping method, allowing him to hold onto some of his Victorian ethos, in the precision of Towson’s book (mechanic’s manual cum pseudo-Bible). In essence, Bhabha suggests, Marlow’s reading of Towson’s book allows for his resolution between the madness of prehistoric Africa and the unconscious desire to repeat the intervention of colonialism. Harold Bloom notes, when Marlow overhears “Kurtz-gossip,” it gives him an inkling that “Kurtz’s moral corruption will precede his own compromise of ideals,” At this point in his journey, Marlow is conflicted by the atrocities committed by his fellow colonizers, his personal ideals, and his desire for Africa’s bounty.

Conrad’s textual placement of the “book” suggests, according to Bhabha, “the triumph of the colonialist moment in early English Evangelism.” David Spurr recalls a correspondent that sees the colonization of the African plain as the Book of Genesis, recreating the ancient myth of origin. Marlow’s alienation becomes the signifier for the broader agenda of colonialism, and its aftermath that leaves him bewildered, perplexed, and mentally displaced amid the atrocities witnessed on his journey up the Congo. Meeting Kurtz, however, is an encounter with a talented egoist and enterprising rogue in a state of futility who has gone native. “The Horror, the Horror,” uttered by Kurtz as he lay dying is his recognition of his own nothingness that he cannot turn away from. Giving way to extreme psychic disorientation and disintegration reduces Kurtz to a series of fragments incomprehensible to himself and others. In his altered state, Marlow returns to Europe muddled amid haunting memories of Africa with compromised principles as he lies to Kurtz’s Intended: “[he] spoke your name as he died.” Marlow’s final action can be read as continuing the romanticism of colonialism by sweeping its truth under the carpet, leaving him altered and immersed in its aftermath.

Forster’s A Passage to India is another emblematic twentieth-century British text that foregrounds colonialism and its aftermath, and like Heart of Darkness is immersed in changes of reality. Unlike Heart of Darkness, A Passage to India attempts to give voice to the colonized, but as Edward Said cautions, “Forster only sees through imperial eyes.” Central to Forster’s novel is the concern of friendship between colonizer and colonized used as a scenario to present reality changes. A Passage to India can also be read as a parodic interpretation of the 1857 rebellion in which Englishwomen and children were raped and murdered. Because its memory lingers, A Passage to India’s pivotal moment surrounds the alleged rape of an Englishwoman by an Indian in the Marabar Caves. Forster scripts circumstances that are fraught with cultural tension from the outset. Dr. Aziz attempts from his Oriental perspective to accommodate Mrs. Moore and Adela Quested within their boundaries of Englishness on a day trip to the Marabar Caves. In their quest to see the “real” India Mrs. Moore’s and Adela’s psychic limits are stretched, consequently experiencing what can be read as “Imperial delirium,” as defined by Nairn and Jameson.

Adela encounters unknown-fragmented, reality changing territory in the caves, which she attributes to Dr. Aziz attempting to rape her for which he is imprisoned and tried. Her transference from a psychical to physical delirium—caught in cactus spines, leaving the caves—allows her time and space to deal with the indetemancies of her terrifying experience. Even thought she ultimately recants at Aziz’s trial, it is never made clear what happened to her. Because as Said says, “India for Forster is unidentifiable, which means he can only describe it, not interpret it. In placing the thrust of the novel in corporeality through the act of rape, Adela becomes signified as a rapist—symbolizing her imperialist status—and a victim. Equally, Dr. Aziz becomes both a rapist—representing his need for power—and becomes a victim merely through the accusation of it. Reading Adela and Dr. Aziz as both rapists and victims depicted in the basest acts of humanity, it circumvents dealing with its spirituality. Ostensibly Forster has drawn a line between the physical and psychical, which is reflected in the shallow commentary from Major Callender “Disaster is the end result when English people and Indian people attempt being socially intimate. Adela’s muddled act of recanting can be read as a betrayal of the colonial’s way of life, which places her both physically and psychically in limbo, thus, becoming both a colonizer and a colonized.

Surfacing in assessing the reactions to the rape by the colonizers, is the statement that crossing the invisible cultural divide is fraught with dangers, in particular, for the colonials who are still caught in the memory of the 1857 rebellion. As Sara Surlei contends, “it is about the fragility of intimacy rather than colonial rape,” and Major Tauton, the ranking colonial official fervently intones, “Intercourse, yes, courtesy by all means, intimacy never, never,” announcing that any pretense of friendship is impossible, especially for the colonials. Reading Mrs. Moore’s cave experience, Forster writes her as losing one form of spirituality for another during her [moments of deli-rum or self-awareness] which in some ways are more extreme, but “closer to the point” writes Alan Wilde in Horizons of Assent. Alone in one of the many caves something vile strikes her face followed by breathless madness, then the nothingness of the echo, she describes as “boum.” Like Marlow’s serendipitous book find, Mrs. Moore has unsought for thoughts of Christianity, and realizes that all its divine words from “Let there be light” to “It is finished” only amounted to “boum.” Emerging from the caves Mrs. Moore’s strong Christian beliefs evaporate replaced by “Everything exists, nothing has value,” thus furthering the notion that the caves and their echo serve as an unexplainable emblematic mystery. Reading Mrs. Moore’s change of reality with “Everything exists, nothing has value,” could be interpreted she successfully crossed the cultural dividing line, placing her closer in thought to “Other.” Considering as Said mentions, “Hindus, according to the novel, believe that all is a muddle, all connected, God is one, is not, was not, was.” Or her “Everything exists, nothing has value,” can be placed nearer the more secular philosophical beliefs of the African Igbo and the Yorùbá. Thus, Forster’s concept of the consequences of crossing the cultural dividing line in A Passage to India’s creates reality changes leaving Dr. Aziz ruined, Adela unstable, and Mrs. Moore unwilling to have relationships with anyone, and is ultimately killed by her vision.

Yeats’ Second Coming reflects the title and the thesis of Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. Achebe’s novel mirrors Stanley’s original intervention, but from an African perspective in its foregrounding of colonialism and its aftermath, revealing changes of reality for the colonized. Achebe gives voice to the fictional Umuofia clan of Lower Nigeria, focusing on their ancient Greek-like, democratic-pastoral life along with its imbroglios where justice is harsh but humane. However, Homi Bhabha’s Third Space Theory unfolds when the British colonizers administer justice, in which the colonized historical identity is challenged through a unifying force, resulting in cultrual homogenization. Reading the final section of Things Fall Apart reveals the British voice supersedes the empathetic omniscient voice of the first two thirds of the novel, establishing the power of the “Queen’s” justice that minimizes and infantilizes Okonkwo and five other Umuofia clan leaders. By accepting the British District Commissioner’s “invitation” for a discussion about the Christian church burning, they instead find themselves thrown into prison, beaten into submission, and offered a choice of paying a fine of 250 bags of cowries, or be hanged.

This demonstration of British justice is a violent push into Bhabha’s “Third Space:” The “First Space” being the culture of the Umuofia; the “Second Space” is the British culture. The clash of the two forces the Umuofia into a third ontological space where they will remain. Following the dishonored clan leaders on their homeward trudge from prison, Yeats’ rings in the air, “The blood-dimmed tide is loosed everywhere, and the ceremony of innocence is lost . . .,” foreshadowing the psychological and social disintegration of Okonkwo and his village. Rereading the British District Commissioner’s actions, it becomes obvious that his use of debasement is a double edged sword affecting both the colonized and the colonizer. Debasement is used simultaneously as an instrument to control the colonized, and serves as protection for the colonizer. David Spurr says, “it has more to do with a “desire for and identification with the Other that must be resisted.”

Defining Spurr’s explanation, it ostensibly draws an invisible line of anxiety that cannot be crossed, allowing the District Commissioner to avoid the effects in the void of “imperial delirium.” Unraveled psychologically and socially, Okonkwo commits the worst sin of his tribe. He hangs himself. Witness to Okonkwo hanging from the tree, the District Commissioner is able to remain psychologically aloof, thinking only of the book he is writing in which he will allot a chapter to Okonkwo; but upon further reflection, decides a paragraph will be sufficient, thus, negating Okonkwo in death as he negates him in life in preservation of the imperialist position. Okonkwo’s change of reality moves him from the space of once a prosperous farmer, to become nothing more than a footnote in British history.

At the outset of Naipaul’s nihilistic post-colonial A Bend in the River, Salim, the protagonist is already in Homi Bhabha’s third space of “hybridity,” due to classification as Afro-Arab of Indian descent with a British Passport. Reality changes in Naipaul’s novel are in the past for the protagonist, therefore demonstrating his attempts to find space for himself in a new world. A Bend in the River can be read as a rewrite of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. Where Marlow’s journey is on a steamboat up the Congo in search of Kurtz, the ivory idol, Salim’s journey is across Africa by car in search of mercantile fortune in a kleptocratic Central African country, ending in illegal ivory trading. When Salim arrives in Central Africa, it is only to find a post-colonialist state of dilapidation. Using Bhabha’s displacement theory clearly shows Salim is already exposed to its entire litany: liminality (transitory threshold of change), ambivalence (signifier between colonial authority and colonial desire), and mimicry (signifier of a double articulation). The aftermath of colonialism for Salim creates a brutal homeless man who as Yeats’ says, [his] “center cannot hold.” As a result, he is unable to make solid connections with others, because everyone in his world is suffering the same colonialist/ post-colonialist crisis. Salim’s delirium surfaces when he severely beats his girlfriend, Yvette, an act that becomes the symbolic eruption of his exposure to social genocide. Salim’s frustration to make money honestly sees him turn to the illegal ivory trade, making it crucial for him to move onward as a fugitive without a destination. Franz Fanon’s symoolizes Salim in Black Skin, White Masks, “In a world in which I travel, I am endlessly creating myself, [eventually] I will create my cycle of freedom.”

Clearly, Naipaul sees colonization as an overwhelming cultural experience that leaves the colonized permanently disabled. However, from a less totalizing aspect, and looking toward a global oneness, Salman Rushdie in The Empire Writes Back claims, “those whom [the English] once colonized are carving out large territories within the language for themselves,” as explored in the works of Zadie Smith, Hanif Kuretshi, and others. Symbolically, Salim’s hybridity-of-culture signifies Rushdie’s argument that in the post- colonialism world “no one can or should try to retain a singular identity,” as Fanon says, “I am endlessly creating myself, I will create my cycle of freedom.”And Bhabha suggests, “the interstitial passage between fixed identifications opens up the possibility of a cultural hybridity that entertains difference without an assumed or imposed hierarchy.”

Heart of Darkness, A Passage to India, Things Fall Apart, and A Bend in the River provide the historical process that originates Rushdie’s alternative view of hybridity. Conrad, Forster, Achebe, and Naipaul expose colonialism and its aftermath historicity with its attendant changes of reality all reflecting “Yeats’ apocalyptic words “Things fall apart; the center cannot hold” distinguishes the “delirium” of the central characters in all four novels. Patently, the center does not hold for Marlow in Heart of Darkness whose ideals are compromised, and feels compelled to lie to Kurtz’s “Intended.” Needless to say, Kurtz is just lost! Dr. Aziz in A Passage to India is at-sea psychically and physically, Mrs. Moore no longer has anything to believe, or live for, and Adela, like Dr. Aziz, has not come to terms with the transition of her life. Okonkwo in Things Fall Apart loses his life in suicide, the greatest sin of his clan. Salim’s “hybridity” in A Bend in the Rive is complete at the outset of the novel not allowing him to be experienced with a center. Even though Rushdie offers the only amenable perspective for a new world, Ian Baucom in Specters of the Atlantic says,“ [history insists] an eighteenth-century atrocity is not past but present within the future we now inhabit,” which suggests the past will always be present, if only in an ethereal sense.”

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Colonialism and Its Aftermath: Changing Realities. (2020, Aug 20). Retrieved from