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Understanding the Influence of Imperialism on World Cultures through Literature and Arts Essay

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Updated: Nov 22nd, 2018


Through arts and literary pieces, people know much about a country’s culture and its relationship with other countries’ history. Imperialism had significant effects on world cultures. Colonization by western countries led to significant changes in the cultural practices of the developing countries (Said 123). Among the cultures influenced by the imperialism included the African culture, Latin American culture, and the Middle East culture.

A person that grew up in one of the Hispanic countries can understand the history of the Hispanic culture. As Spaniards continued expanding their territory in the Latin American countries, they influenced the natives’ way of life leading to most of the Latin Americans abandoning their culture and adopting the Hispanic culture. The interaction led to changes in language, architecture, and cuisine just to mention but a few (Gray 231-238).

The same happened to most of the other cultures across the globe that came into direct interaction with the western culture. The best way of identifying how imperialism influenced artworks and literatures from different places is by comparing some of the artworks and literatures with the western culture.

Effects of imperialism

Imperialism and social bond

Imperialism had a significant influence on the social bond within the African communities. Traditionally, Africans were known for having strong attachment to their families and children. Nevertheless, interaction with the western culture led to Africans losing their attachment to family and relatives. Salih confessed, “…something rather like fog [to rise] up between them and me the first instance I saw them” (45).

This confession showed how Salih was detached from his family and relatives after living in Britain for some time. Interaction with the western culture made him abandon his African culture.

Besides, Mustafa Sa’eed, one of the characters in the novel “Season of Immigration to the North”, went to the extent of sexually assaulting and killing a British woman. The seven years that Mustafa spent in Britain made him lose both the self-respect and respect for others, particular women. He could tell false stories about Africa just to lure the British women into having sexual affairs with him.

African culture respected sex and no one could engage in sexual offences. Nevertheless, interaction with the European culture led to Africans gradually taking sexuality with less seriousness than before. While the Africans considered sex as sacred, the western culture did not take it too serious and everyone could engage in it without fear (Prendergast 78).

Africans who visited the western countries lost their touch with the African culture and adapted the western culture. Hence, they started seeing matters touching on sex and sexuality as normal. People like Mustafa could go about sleeping with every woman without fear. They no longer valued sex and sexuality, and thus they were not attached to people they could call their wives.

Effects of imperialism on languages

Imperialism had a significant effect on the African languages. As the Europeans continued their colonization in Africa, they introduced the English language. Eventually, some of the Africans started seeing their languages as inferior and yearned to learn the English language. To most of the Africans, it was hard to surmount the world if one did not understand English; hence, they were willing to do all it takes to learn the language.

In South Africa, the colonial government ensured that it taught the Africans using the Afrikaans language (Jameson 65-69). Teaching them in English would have made it hard for the British to control the Africans. However, as Africans interacted with the British people, they learnt how significant the English language was.

Eventually, they staged demonstrations to push the colonial government into teaching them in English. Numerous students died in the process, as they demanded to be taught in English. Eventually, the Africans abandoned their language and adopted English. English became the official language of communication not only in the African countries, but also in most of the countries across the globe.

Apart from adopting the English language as the language of communication, imperialism contributed to people learning varied languages to ease their communication. Eventually, most of the developing countries became multilingual where people could communicate in the language that they found comfortable. In “Midaq Alley”, Faraj posits, “…I kept telling them that they can’t learn a language just by memorizing words and phrases.

The only way to learn is by experience” (Mahfouz 123). This assertion shows how people were determined to learn other languages to facilitate communication during the imperialism era. People struggled to get employment since they believed that the best place to learn other languages was at workplaces. Here, one could interact with people from different parts thus getting a better chance to learn different languages.


During the era of imperialism, the Europeans came up with a stereotype that the Middle Eastern government was marred by inefficiency and corruption. Actually, the Europeans went to the extent of claiming that Turks and the Arabs could not make a good government (Mitchell 103). On the contrary, traditionally, the Middle East was popular for appropriate governance and civilization.

For instance, the Ottoman Empire that ruled most of the Europe hailed from the Middle East. In the nineteenth century, some European writers came up with articles painting the Middle Eastern leaders as naturally lazy and corrupt (Mitchell 105), while on the other hand, they painted the European leaders as naturally capable and morally upright. These writings led to most of the people in the Middle Eastern region changing their perception towards their leaders.

Eventually, they ceased supporting their own people and supported the European leaders. For the British Empire to establish itself in India and Egypt, it came up with allegations that people in these countries could not enjoy democracy and liberty due to poor leadership. The British imperialists used this stereotype to justify their takeover in India and Egypt claiming that they were trying to improve the living standards of the locals in the two states (Mitchell 113).

Effects of imperialism on architecture

Imperialism had a significant effect on architecture. As the British went on establishing new territories in the Middle East, they introduced novel technologically advanced building techniques. In India for instance, they introduced new building materials that the Indians embraced to enhance their cultural building techniques.

The British highly valued the early Indian culture and its artifacts such as architecture. Consequently, they retained most of the traditional architects in the country. On the other hand, the Indians used varied architectural buildings for various roles. Some worked as the dwelling places for their gods. Ghosh Amitav, in “Sea of Poppies”, brought out the significance of some of their buildings.

Kabutri asked her mother, “Are you going to put it in the puja room?” (Ghosh 65), after her mother saw a ship that astonished her. She had never seen such a ship before and thought that it had some significant meaning that she needed to preserve. The British introduced new architectural techniques in the country. These novel techniques essentially altered not only the meaning and role, but also the general appearance and the perception of architecture among the British and the Indians.

Both the Indians and the British had significant effects on each other’s cultures, continually changing people’s morals, values, spiritual, and scientific understandings. Granted, the British experienced less swift stinging and emotional changes in their lives. Nevertheless, there was an in-depth change, even though slight, it is actually measurable (Petras 139-142).

As the Indians adapted British opinions, words, and tastes that they found desirable, numerous British architectural symbols started appearing in India. The Indians were adopting these architectural symbols to help in improving their social status.

They started establishing structures such as, libraries, railroad stations, and public facilities (Petras 145-148). Most of the Indians were not willing to embrace these changes. However, as the need for economic development intensified, they started seeing the importance of having such structures, thus supported the establishment of the same.

Change of perception concerning other cultures

Even though people living in the Western countries saw images of the Eastern countries in varied paintings and literary works, the images were significantly similar from the two sources. Furthermore, the images were significantly different from what the Western countries knew before (Phillipson 162-164).

Prior to the advent of imperialism in the Middle East, the French and the British literature and art presented the Middle East as entirely different from Europe. However, in the late nineteenth century as well as early twentieth century, British literature and art presented the Middle East as a region that was not only different from Europe, but also a complete opposite of the European culture (Phillipson 166-167).

This perception justified imperialism as everybody in Europe started seeing the Middle East as inferior. Paintings portraying women in “harem” and men that had non-European characteristics further tainted the image of the Middle East culture. European men were responsible for coming up with these paintings. They had little idea on how an upper-class woman in the Middle East looked like. Hence, they just used their imaginations to come up with paintings that represented these women.

Effects of imperialism on Economy

Imperialism had a significant impact on the economy. In Africa, imperialism helped women become self-reliant economically. Initially, women could not engage in any activity geared towards generating income. Instead, they depended on their husbands for support. The role of a woman was to remain at home and look after the family. Nevertheless, with the onset of imperialism, women started engaging in income generating activities and they could be employed.

In “Midaq Alley”, Mahfouz quotes a woman called Hamida, who envies the employed women. Hamida posits, “If you had seen the factory girls, you should just see those Jewish girls who go to work” (Mahfouz 115). In this context, Mahfouz shows how imperialism led to improvement in the economic status of the colonized countries. Initially, women hardly wore elegant clothes since they could not afford them.

Besides, their husbands could not buy for them lovely clothes since they had other responsibilities to attend to like providing for the family. However, with the onset of imperialism and colonization, the culture of women staying at home to look after the family ended. Some of the liberated women could now participate in employed activities and generate some income thus raising their social and economic status.

Imperialism led to women becoming independent financially, thus reliving them from exploitation by their husbands. In a way, this element fueled the desire by women to remain single. Mahfouz quoted Mrs. Afify claiming that employment rescued her from the bitterness of marriage; she said, “No more of the bitterness of marriage” (123).

Mrs. Afify spent most of her time in her financial activities. Consequently, she had limited time to think about her unmarried life. According to her, she believed that every man was out to spend her money and mistreat her in the end as her previous husband did. Consequently, she was not ready to get married again.


Imperialism had significant effects on the world culture. It had significant effects on language, architecture, economy, social bond, and led to stereotyping. Due to imperialism, the western countries made their languages appear official, and thus most of their colonies had to adopt the foreign languages as their official language. In India, imperialism led to the Indians adopting the British architecture.

The British introduced new architectural facilities like libraries; moreover, courtesy of imperialism, women started participating in income generating projects, while traditionally they remained at home to look after the family. Imperialism led to countries changing their perceptions concerning other cultures. Western countries saw the Middle East culture as inferior. In addition, imperialism led to disintegration of the social bond among the Africans.

Works Cited

Ghosh, Amitav. Sea of Poppies. London: Penguin, 2009. Print.

Gray, Mel. “Dilemmas of international social work: paradoxical processes in indigenization, universalism and imperialism.” International Journal of Social Welfare 14.3 (2005): 231-238. Print.

Jameson, Fredric. “Third-World literature in the era of multinational capitalism.” Social Text 15.1 (1997): 65-69. Print.

Mahfouz, Naguib. Midaq Alley. New York: Anchor, 1992. Print.

Mitchell, Timothy. Colonizing Egypt. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991. Print.

Petras, James. “Cultural imperialism in the late 20th century.” Journal of Contemporary Asia 23.2 (1997): 139-148. Print.

Phillipson, Robert. “Linguistic imperialism: African perspectives.” ELT Journal 50.2 (1996): 160-167. Print.

Prendergast, Christopher. Debating World Literature. New York: Prentice Hall, 2004. Print.

Said, Edward. Orientalism. New York: Pantheon, 1978. Print.

Salih, Tayeb. Season of Migration to the North. New York: NYRB Classics, 2009. Print.

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