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The Scar of Colonialism and Ongoing Post-Colonialism Essay


Introduction

Colonialism is something that has left scars and continues to build negative emotions amongst the colonies. Kincaid uses her two novels ‘Lucy’ and ‘On Seeing England for the First Time’ to show the effects of imperialism, which represses the culture of the locals/colonies. Lucy is a powerful novel that captures the transcendent possibility over the heroine’s colonial and post-colonial plight.

Lucy is shown not to appreciate the fact that the British have invaded her hometown and imposed their foreign culture on them. Kincaid is also shown to be sceptical about the praises accorded to England. In both novels, the woman is shown as a marginalized identity of her own self, and that of others.

Desai’s story is not any different, and inferring to her text, Kincaid, and her character in Lucy are expatriates in a tug of war between love and hate for their lands of adoption. Their unconscious and subconscious soul exudes nausea, nostalgia and longing for the native land.

Sissie, in Aidoo’s novel, has also left for England to advance her education, and it is obvious that she is not happy with England, and this is manifested after she visits the Bavarian town and river. This paper aims at discussing the events associated with colonial and post-colonial times with reference to travel, self-hood and encounters with others.

The self is a great determinant of encounters with the other in all the texts because, based on the self; an individual is able to transcend the obstacles and barriers that come along.

Crossing borders is considered to be an “antidote to the paralysis of oppression and depression referred to as Coatlicue state” by Anzaldua since the home-place is termed as a site of resistance (Davies 11). This paper will also delineate the position of the woman within her gendered identity and racial difference, as well as within her racial identity and gendered difference.

Discussion

Travel

The travel denoted in all the three works of Kincaid, and Desai, are typical of expatriation where the two women in Kincaid’s texts travel to foreign lands as a result of heightened resistance to imperialism of the ruling nation’s culture, whereas the men in Desai’s travel to London is search for a perfect life, away from the imperialists in their homeland.

This imperialism continues to be felt in contemporary times through post-colonization. Travelling, in these texts is presented as a way of getting rid of oppression, colonization and imperialism by the characters.

It is through travel that a wave of writers emerged from the emigrants, most of whom had left their homelands for further studies in metropolitan centres (Massey, et al. 53-57). However, this was not applicable for Kincaid because, her travel was purposed for a better life and the need to fill in the space created by colonialism and imperialism.

According to Boehmer (232-233), the 1990s was anticipated as a period when the generic postcolonial writer would actually become a cultural traveller, or an extra-territorial, than a national writer. The writer therefore would be ex-colonial by birth, his/her cultural interest would stem from the Third World, and would be cosmopolitan in virtually every other way.

The writer would simultaneously work within the precincts of the Western metropolis while maintaining thematic and/or political linkages with a national background. As noted by James Baldwin, language is the most evident form through which post-colonization perpetuates (Baldwin and Quinn 2-3).

In Lucy, Lucy: the protagonist leaves her home for adventure and due to the harsh and intolerable conditions by the British colonial rule and the strained relationship with her mother. The advent of colonial empires was characterized by travel of white adventurers and conquistadors, who were later followed by the settlers. Later, it was the forced transportation of African slaves into the white foreign lands.

Kincaid’s two novels indicate emigration of women from the native lands in search for that one thing that will fill in the space within. Lucy travels from her native home, the West Indies, to become an immigrant in the United States. She seeks to fill in the void of liberation.

Far from her thinking, she faces a worse encounter in her new land, where she is actually referred to as a visitor “just passing through, just saying one long Hallo” (Kincaid 4). In Aidoo’s novel, Sissie is a Ghanaian, who is neither naïve nor innocent. She travels to a foreign land to fill in the void in education. She makes herself comfortable in the foreign land despite the prevailing disparity with regard to skin colour.

She is very adventurous, and surpasses boundaries of racially and culturally different space, compared with the other foreigners staying with her. She encounters a minute dissection first of Germany, and then England, from a Black and feminine eye.

It is in England that Sissie reminiscence about the British colonial encounter in Ghana. Sissie’s exploration is compared to that of the Western traveller, bestowed with a more honoured position. In the same light, Sissie is metaphorically bestowed such a similar position, ‘the round sentry post’ that makes it possible for her to evaluate the German landscape.

Self-hood

Lucy seeks to be independent and inter alia the reason why she becomes an immigrant of the U.S. She seeks to be an artist of herself (Kincaid 67). She does not want anyone to control her life; she desires to be a full grown adult responsible for her own actions.

This is made evident when she says ‘I had come to feel that my mother’s love for me was designed solely to make me into an echo of her; and I didn’t know why, but I felt that I would rather be dead than become just an echo of someone’ (Kincaid 36). Lucy seeks to satisfy her personal desires of rising above British colonialism through self-imposed detachment from her family.

Her actions thereby grant her, her yearned for independence and freedom that enables her to be in a position characterized by control and power that subsequently permits her to redesign herself and invent a new future. Despite her pangs of homesick, her determination of making sense of herself for herself was stronger.

The character: Lucy represents the marginalized black woman who is plagued by depression and rage against societal rules. The black woman suffers from stigmatization just like Lucy, who is very sensitive to the events going on around her unlike the white women colleagues, making inferences to Mariah.

She is able to distinguish between reality and ideology, and this can be considered as a step towards her personal liberation and following self-invention. The following reflection of Lucy on her arrival to America illustrates this distinction:

In a daydream I used to have, all these places (that she passes on her way from the airport) were points of happiness to me; all these places were lifeboats to my small drowning soul…Now that I saw these places, they looked ordinary, dirty, worn down by so many people entering and leaving them in real life…It was not my first bout with the disappointment of reality and it would not be my last (Kincaid 3-4).

Kincaid, in ‘On Seeing England for the first time’ expresses her thoughts about England. She is against the fact that everything in their native land is attributed to England. She yearns to see England and fill in the void created by maps and omnipresent England.

In Aidoo’s novel, Marijah is presented as a lonely being, who is easily fascinated by the exotic other ‘the black-eyed squint’. Marijah intends to gain power over Sissie and make her, her own creation but Sissie rejects such influence. This is an indication that the two figures are engraved in their-selves thus; it is not easy to influence either one of them.

Marijah thinks that just because she is a native and showers Sissie with gifts, she can lure her to her side. On the other hand, Sissie is able to realize Marijah’s intentions and despite being a Black, strongly refuses to be lured into what she does not morally approve. It is because of the egocentric and independent nature of Sissie that Marijah is not able to do so and ends up being disappointed and bored (Aidoo 40-61).

Sissie is so full of herself and to assert her position in her foreign land, she creates a range of anticipation that enables her to tour the Bavarian town and river where she sees violence, ignorance, savagery, and lust in the entire Europe (Aidoo 19-25).

The two women in the two novels by Kincaid represent the feminine self, vehemently fighting to gain recognition and position in the society she lives in. Mohanty is a feminist whose work gained international recognition via her text, ‘Under the Western eyes’. She claims that her subtle and complex argument is correct and therefore, white feminism is absolutely wrong.

She is determined to deconstruct the situated knowledge of the white Western feminism through the power of argument (Walby 199). Mohanty’s notion, gains support from Walby not only as a means to critique the aftermath of Western feminist scholarship on Third World feminists but also as that which falls within a framework characterized by solidarity and shared values.

Mohanty’s premonition is based on feminist equality across borders. She strongly believes in solidarity across races that she helped in the organization of the ‘Common Difference: Third World Woman and Feminist Perspectives’, which became a huge success in allowing for a possible decolonized, cross-border feminist community (Mohanty 503).

Despite the deeply-seated effects that range from being cast as the non-dutiful daughter of white feminists to being deemed as a mentor for the Third World women; from being regarded as a great feminist theorist to being regarded as an early childhood educator who should not get involved in affairs not related to her profession, she is adamant that writing ‘Under Western Eyes’ was a personal fulfilling exercise that she does not regret.

Both Kincaid’s novels represent the marginalized black woman who has been discounted by her cultural tradition and that of the whites’. However, her determination has given her the will to fight and it is only more recently that the black women have gained tokens of recognition as women in feminist critique and as blacks in the racial critique.

The effect of colonialism and its aftermath have been an aggravating factor for the position of the black woman in culture of the blacks, women, American literature, and contemporary literary-critical dialogue (Henderson 1).

The gendered and racial meanings derived from the literal works of the black women authors are a presentation of strong and revisionary methods of readings that focus on literary discourses deemed marginal, as opposed to the dominant literary-critical tradition (Narain 123-7; Said 64-71).

However, the critical insights of a particular reading can become the blind spots of another reading thus exhibiting what Fredric Jameson refers to ‘strategies of containment’ that repress variant readings.

According to a description by Nancy Fraser, blindness to both gender and racial subtexts can result into a strategy (exclusion at the extreme negative end, and reading a text in its entirety at best) that has a likelihood of re-reification, fought against in life and literature by the black women.

Simultaneity of discourse as inspired by Barbara Smith is a concept that introduces a mode of reading whose focus is on the perspectives of race and gender and their interactions, and how these make contribution to structuring the discourse of black women writers.

It is because of this that the limitations created by assumptions of internal homogeneity and restriction of internal differences evident in the racial and gendered readings by black women writers are surpassed. This is therefore a representation of efforts that eradicate presumed ‘absolute and self-sufficient’ otherness and simultaneously allow the comprehensive representation ‘of black women writers’ (Henderson 2).

The self of the black woman has had to deal with great oppression, which has been encoded as a discursive dilemma in their literary works. The writing by black women presents an interlocutory approach that not only reflects on the encounter with the other but also on an internal dialogue with the self in its pluralistic form constituting the matrix of black female subjectivity.

Therefore, the black women are not only faced with the challenge of the “external manifestations of racism and sexism, but also with the results of the internalized distortions created by these external factors which are within their consciousness” (Henderson 3). The self of the black women with regard to subjectivity is fundamental in structuring black women’s discourse.

As such, the black woman has had no say in spite of having many things to say. In addition, this self is also the colonized nation, from which national identity is lost and the culture of the colonial power is adopted.

This creates a lot of confusion and resentment within the natives as is the case with Lucy such that, moving into another country is a kind of liberation for her because it is better to become a subject in a foreign land than in one’s own country. Lucy likens her mother to the colonizers because of betraying her own sex.

The self in Desai’s novel is not one-sided due to her use of two characters: Adit and Dev. Both are Indians, who seek perfectionism away from their homeland that had been invaded, trampled on and suppressed by the British.

As a result, the self within Dev is defined by hatred, while Adit holds all praise for the foreign land: London, which denotes as a ‘land of opportunities’ (Desai 19). However, at the close of the story, the self in both characters dies off as the converse is taken up thus an ironical twist of the story. Dev remains behind as Adit decides to go back home and embrace his real life (Desai 204).

In Mr. Potter, the self is presented as a powerful being that is confined a rigid and unforgiving environment and their inability to neither read nor write makes their situation worse. All the characters in these novel seek to derive meaning and when it becomes too much to bear, they escape through suicide.

A lack of self-awareness, language, and understanding is associated with hopelessness and silence hence a truth that remains hidden due to inability of Mr. Potter to read and write. As a result, the self within the narrator endures the consequences, trying to make connections and ensuring that past mistakes are not repeated.

The fact that Mr. Potter is able to produce someone who expresses complex ideas is a sign of the possibility of language and articulation (Kincaid 55). Mr. Potter is a representation of the Antiguan population, which is silenced through ignorance. The lack of a voice results in Kincaid: the daughter, speaking on behalf of his father.

This is the same way that a nation that is overwhelmed with ignorance is replaced with the voice and meanings of the invading culture hence imperialism and post-colonization. The daughter fills in the blank spaces of her father’s mind and inscribes emotions, histories and emotions , the same way that colonial powers inscribe their language, art, culture and demeanour to its colonies such that every event derives meaning from the colonizers.

It is such ignorance that Lucy, Sissie, Kincaid, Adit, and Dev sought to transcend and fill in the blank spaces between inscribed meanings and reality. Adit’s encounter in the foreign land that makes him realize that his real life is back in his homeland is similar to Ralph’s encounter when he learns that gaining independence does not free a nation from colonial yoke (Naipaul 75).

Aisha is a short story that also portrays the zealous self in overcoming institutional oppression in the face of male indifference. Aisha fights to define a position for herself in a male-dominated society.

As a result, she leaves her marriage, husband and country for England. When she goes back home, she goes back as a university teacher and does not fail to notice the veiled women, presented as a symbol of subjugation to the Islamic religion that Aisha subtly rejects (Soueif 5-13).

Encounter with Others

Kincaid’s and Desai’s works represent a colonizer, colonized relationship with the other. In this case, the other is the colonizer while the self is the colonized and marginalized individual. The other in Kincaids novels refers to two identities: gendered self and racial self. The white women and the entire masculine fraternity act as the other with regard to Kincaid’s novels while in Desai’s novel, the other is the white man.

The novel ‘Lucy’ depicts a strained and tensional kind of relationship with others. Lucy is a representation of subjugation to show how colonialism prevailed. Her homeland is a British colony as is apparent from the novel.

The first two chapters of the novel therefore seek to delineate how Lucy abrogates the heartfelt colonialism in her native land. As usual the relationship between the colonizer and colonized is never a mutual one but instead resentment, dictatorship, power and control, and rebellion are its characteristics.

She relates with the ‘others’ by her role as an aupair. Despite the tension between Lucy and her mother, once she is far away, she misses her greatly as indicated by her pangs of homesickness and unresolved feelings about her mother (Kincaid 13-17). On the hand, she does not harbour similar sentiments for her childhood and homeland due to the characteristics toxic and oppressive British and family influences.

This is actualized by Lucy’s description of a scenario in her previous school when she forcefully had to memorize a poem on daffodils. Yet, she does not know these daffodis and fails to appreciate the beauty associated with them according to the poem because she had never seen them before. She is therefore alienated from her education as symbolized by the daffodis.

Lucy dislikes dictation on what to do as is the case with the British culture, her mother and at her current moment, Mariah (her boss). Her relationship with her mother is used to portray a mother-daughter relationship.

On the other hand, Kincaid uses this relationship to represent the relationship often characterized by tension and strain between imperial nations and their colonies. Lucy’s homeland is a colony of the British and the power of the British culture is synonymous to the Mariah’s power as Lucy’s employer.

Lucy is a representation of the colonized nations that ferociously fought to become independent and free from colonial rule. The reality of colonialism is still evident even after she leaves her homeland. Lucy gets caught up between two cultures (the American culture, and her own West Indian culture).

In the new land, Mariah replaces the maternal figure previously occupied by Lucy’s mother. Lucy becomes the marginalized ‘other’ in her own homeland as well as her new home. Such a definition deems Lucy as nation in its post-colonial era, when it is faced with the predicament of self-destruction and self-renewal.

In West India, it is clear that the British colonizers were able to silence this colony through brain washing. More often than not, colonial power is associated with destruction and victimization of the colonies. However, it is worth noting that local culture aggravates colonization through heinous practices such as immolation in India.

Therefore, the combined effect of colonialism and patriarchy has led to inability of the subaltern to speak or be heard. Masculinity has been pointed out as an object for criticism in the view of sati. The burning of widows on their husbands’ pyres deemed such women to be absent as subjects.

According to Spivak, this absence symbolized the hardships involved in the gaining back the voice of the oppressed subject. It was also evidence that ‘there is no space from where the subaltern subject can speak’ (Spivak 271-317). Spivak thereby challenges the trivial division between colonizers and the colonized when she compares this division with the division between both groups and the woman.

In Aidoo’s novel, the Europeans, and especially the Germans, are the other for Sissie’s deeply-rooted, African Self. Sissie’s position marked by subjective centrality is an affirmation of the unique perception held by her back-eyed squint contrary to what is universally held to be true, where the West is regarded as the ‘great family of man’ (Aidoo 67).

Aidoo uses the protagonist’s journey to change the direction of the rhetorical ‘Self’ and ‘Other’ by resisting, twisting, and subverting the mindsets of the Europeans towards the Africans. In addition, Aidoo unveils the deeply-seated ideology of the Orientalists that has been a fuelling factor for European thoughts, as well as, reversing the already laid down means by which the different groups of people are represented.

In her short story, ‘On Seeing England for the First Time’, Kincaid brings out a similar delineation of the other, which is England, ‘a special jewel that only special people: the English, got to wear it’ (Kincaid 22). This statement alone denotes the honour and orientalism accorded to England.

In both Kincaid’s texts, Lucy and On Seeing England for the first time, the other here is America and England respectively and both are credited for enabling the self to give meaning to their lives.

Even though they were not under the British rule any more, it is clear that the Antiguans had not yet obtained total freedom from the ‘other’ because they still adopted the ways of the English people without understanding the meanings associated with these ways.

In her ‘On Seeing England for the First Time’, Kincaid uses her father to illustrate this when she says that her father wore a hat made from felt, which apparently he had seen an Englishman wearing it, to supposedly provide him shade from the hot sun yet, the material felt was not the ideal one for hats serving such function (Simmons 37-51).

Kincaid uses this to show the effects of colonialism in post-colonial era and how the Antiguans were still grappling with its effects.

In her book, ‘Under Western Eyes’, Mohanty says that she is both politically and personally committed to establishing a non-colonizing feminist solidarity across regions (Mohanty 502). She aims at building a self-less and integral relationship with the other, who were the dominant Euro-American feminist scholars in the U.S academy.

When she obtained a new teaching position at a predominantly white U.S. academic institution, she was determined to fill in the space between the Third World, immigrant, alongside other marginalized scholars by opening an intellectual space to Third World/immigrant women scholars (Olinder 37-43).

Can the Subaltern Speak?” is a provocative essay by Gayatri Spivak that shows the subjectivity associated with the subaltern woman. The subaltern woman is conceived as absent, spoken for, and not listened to in her variety of discourses.

Spivak’s statements and meanings became verified and active after witnessing the mischaracterization, distortion, and ignored speech by Anita Hill, and Lani Guiner’s writings (Black women speakers) (Spivak 313-315). The man, the other, does not hold any regard for the woman but instead, the woman is treated as a mere subject for masculine dominance.

In Davies 11, Anzaldua presents the encounter of the woman with the other: her own culture, the white culture, and the males of all races.

Similar to other texts presented above, the woman faces intense marginalization from all races, and thus having a stronger impact than mere marginalization of the Third World individuals by the First World imperialists. The writings of the various feminists theorists enable one to create the pictorial alienation of woman from both others, and herself, giving rise to a more forceful and intense level of marginalization against the woman.

Hurston delineates the picture of masculinity in her Their Eyes Were Watching God, where the white men who predominantly make up both the jury and the judge, and the fact that they have control of power and discourse, the life the black woman is in their hands (Davies 15-21). In Desai’s novel, ‘Bye-Bye Blackbird’, the relationship with the other takes two different forms, the hospitable form and the hostile one.

The fact that Adit is able to lure and conquer the love of a shy and rectitude English girl Sarah, indicates the power of masculinity regardless of racial colour (Desai 73). The English women are described as manageable and hardworking as long as they are treated well, a typical phenomenon of every woman whether black or white.

This clearly indicates that the woman despite the racial orientation is under the masculine rule (black or white) (Desai 109). The woman in relation to the other, the man depicts a submissive and subjugated kind of demeanour towards the other, just like a colony towards its colonizer.

The reification of the woman is evident in Kincaid’s novel, ‘Mr. Potter’. This story shows how men, in this case Kincaid’s father, shuns his fatherly responsibility leaving the woman and her child impoverished, with no means to fend for themselves.

Lack of knowing oneself, as is presented in Mr. Potter, makes it impossible for one to make their selves known to others and thus becomes trapped in a cocoon of his own schizophrenic environment. The woman becomes a victim for his lack of self-awareness and as a result, he is a father to many fatherless babies, which the author is part.

This is because, due to lack of self-awareness, Mr. Potter fails to understand his role and thereby just as he was abandoned by his mother, he repeats the same mistakes. This is because he lacks his own self and that of others.

Conclusion

Pressures of colonialism, imperialism and orientalism within one’s homeland due to invasion by an external culture builds up a self that is angered, bitter, shameful and full of a rage that s not easily altered by the other (Coetzee 43-55).

Lucy had to move from her homeland to a foreign land in search of a better life: financially and socially. She was forced into doing what she did not want and as such, the fact that she emigrated from her home country brings out the element of travel in the text.

Travel in this text is triggered by external forces; otherwise, Lucy would have preferred to remain in her home town without facing imposition from the British rule. Upon moving to the U. S., Lucy vis a vis foreign culture does not change her thinking and therefore her level of self-hood is unaltered by the other. When Mariah tells her about daffodis; she reminiscence the life back home and is not amused by them.

Kincaid is not amused by the fact that everything in her hometown is attributed to England. Her teachers paint a grandiose image of England and after she finally travels to England where she saw it for her first time. Kincaid’s self-hood is dominant because she does not change her opinion about England and in fact, its elegance and majestic look aggravates her negative opinion about England.

The self in these texts is a fundamental element in relating to others. The woman not only struggles against masculinity, but also with her racial self, hence this aggravates the situation for a mere African woman. Literary works by Aidoo, and related black women feminist theorists, clearly indicate this.

The woman in Lucy is so hard not only on the other, but also on herself because she refuses to be emotionally attached to a man. This leads to what Kincaid philosophically asks whether joy is evident in sorrow.

Works Cited

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Baldwin, Dean, and Patrick Quinn. An Anthology of Colonial and Post-Colonial Short Fiction. Boston. Houghton Mifflin, 2007.

Boehmer, Elleke. Colonial and Postcolonial Literature: Migrant Metaphors. Oxford UP, 1995.

Coetzee, J. In the Heart of the Country: A Novel. New York: Penguin Group.1982

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Desai, Anita. Bye Bye Blackbird. Delhi: Hind Pocket Books Ltd, 1971.

Henderson, Mae G. Speaking in Tongues: Dialogics, Dialectics and the Black Woman Writer’s Literary Tradition. New York: New York University Press, 2000.

Kincaid, Jamaica. Lucy. New York: Penguin Books, 1991. Kincaid, Jamaica. “On Seeing England for the First Time.” Transition. 51 (1991): 32- 40.

Kincaid, Jamaica. Mr. Potter. London: Vintage, 2002.

Mohanty, Chandra T. “Under Western Eyes Revisited: Feminist Solidarity through Anticapitalist Struggles.” Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 28.2 (2002): 499-535.

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Olinder, Britta. A Sense of Place: Essays in Post-Colonial Literatures. Gothenburg: Gothenburg University, 1984.

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Simmons, Diane. Jamaica Kincaid. New York: Twayne Publishers / Macmillan, 1994.

Soueif, Ahdaf. Aisha. London: Cape, 1983; rpt. London: Bloomsbury, 1995.

Spivak, G.1988. “Can the Subaltern Speak?” In C. Nelson and L. Grossberg (eds.). Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press.

Walby, Sylvia. “Beyond the Politics of Location: The Power of Argument.” Feminist Theory 1.2 (2000): 109–207.

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IvyPanda. (2019, May 31). The Scar of Colonialism and Ongoing Post-Colonialism. Retrieved from https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-scar-of-colonialism-and-ongoing-post-colonialism/

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"The Scar of Colonialism and Ongoing Post-Colonialism." IvyPanda, 31 May 2019, ivypanda.com/essays/the-scar-of-colonialism-and-ongoing-post-colonialism/.

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