Be yourself; Everyone else is already taken.— Oscar Wilde.
This is the first post on my new blog. I’m just getting this new blog going, so stay tuned for more. Subscribe below to get notified when I post new updates.
Be yourself; Everyone else is already taken.— Oscar Wilde.
This is the first post on my new blog. I’m just getting this new blog going, so stay tuned for more. Subscribe below to get notified when I post new updates.
In The Souls of Black Folk (1965), W. E. B. DuBois uses the concept of ‘veil’ as a device for the clandestine growth of the black intellectual, instead of using it only as a means of separation from the white world. With immense profundity and diligence, DuBois weaves the threads of the ‘veil’ around the meticulous work towards growth, that he does for himself and suggests other black folks to do as well, owing to the unjust treatment of them at the hands of the white America of the time. He identifies the ‘difference’ quite early in time and works on it to make the ‘difference’ itself pose as better that the similarity that many black people secretly wished so much. He accepts his identity, protects it from being hurt or damaged and builds on it to make it better and more powerful than the ‘other’. He writes, “I was different from others; or like, mayhap, in heart and life and longing, but shut out from their world by a vast veil. I had thereafter no desire to tear down that veil, to creep through; I held all beyond it in common contempt, and lived above it in a region of blue sky and great wandering shadows.” (214). He decides to choose a path that leads to the ‘above’ and the ‘region of blue sky and great wandering shadows’ and not lurk under the pressures of the oppressive white system.
He clarifies his intentions of growth when he states, “But they should not keep these prizes, I said; some, all, I would wrest from them. Just how I would do it I could never decide: by reading law, by healing the sick, by telling the wonderful tales that swam in my head, – some way.” (214). He tries to find a way out to potentially attack this oppression back, not with violence of any kind, but with the more able hands of working better. He understands that nothing but some kind of dignified work would be a viable way of fighting against the racial discrimination trying to belittle the black people in their own land. He wonders why he should be a stranger in his own house, in his own land. He understood that he belonged to America and an inevitable part at that. Hence, he resorted to ways of growth as a way to upliftment from the present situation of ‘smallness’.
Finally, DuBois finds the most powerful solution that could change the situation of the black Americans in their land, America, in ‘education’. He states, “What shall save us from national decadence? Only that saner selfishness, which education teaches, can find the rights of all in the whirl of work.” (272). Even though he calls it a selfish enterprise, yet he makes it clear that unless this kind of selfishness is adopted, there is no other proper solution to the problem they face every day in the society. He criticizes Booker T. Washington for his accommodationist approach, and rather suggests that the Black Americans should not give up their rights and lead a life of compromise belittling themselves, – something that no human being deserves.
In Dutchman (1964), Leroi Jones brings into life racial oppression of the past times through the demonstration of intolerance and hatred of the coloured skin, which seems to be still prevalent in America. The play showcases the interaction between two characters, – one, a Black man, Clay and another, a white woman, Lula. Lula, who eventually chastises the Black younger man (Clay), and finally kills him, is portrayed like a white man actively engrossed in diminutive acts of racial discrimination, and also as a female chauvinistic person. Jones embarks on these powerful elements for the purpose of recalling the kind of oppression African Americans faced at the hands of the white America. Indentifying with the predicament of the blacks in a system like this, Jones recreates the menacing pathetic life of the black Americans, probably with intentions to bring into notice the oppressive practices still prevalent in the American society.
Lula eventually calls herself Hyena, which has the significance of ‘dominating’, ‘powerful’, ‘oppressive’ ‘fox-like’ attributes, in the African Folk tales. Lula, even though a white woman, uses the ways of a ‘hyena’ against the seemingly innocent Clay. Lula evidently controls the conversation, continuously attacking Clay and challenging his racial status. Lula says, “What right do you have to be wearing a three-button suit and striped tie? Your grandfather was a slave, he didn’t go to Harvard.” (18). The offensive discrimination is in action by Lula when she furthers her comments and says, “And you went to a coloured college where everybody thought they were Averell Harriman. […] And who did you think you were? Who do you think you are now? […] I bet you never once thought you were a black nigger. […] A black Baudelaire.” (18, 19). She continues verbally insulting and instigating Clay which reminds of the ages of discrimination prevalent in the society like this.
Clay seems to be moulded at the hands of Lula, and is hence, clearly dwarfed in stature by Lula. In her chauvinistic ways, very much like an agitator, Lula assesses Clay adhering to patriarchy, which is however, ironically veiled from Clay. Lula challenges Clay’s masculinity by teasing him, pushing him towards a reaction that could be the revelation of his masculinity, but without revealing her own dangerous elements to him. She insults him calling him, “You black son of a bitch. […] You’re afraid of white people. And your father was Uncle Tom Big Lip!” (32, 33). And finally Clay reacts and slaps her. Jones makes it evident that however strong the black masculinity may be, it loses its prowess when encountered with the cunning hyena-like ways of the new system.
Through Lula and Clay, Jones represents the new American system and the suppressed minority respectively, drawing attention to the brutal racial discrimination that is still prevalent in different forms in the American society.
In A Raisin in the Sun, Lorraine Hansberry, deracinates the real substance of the American Dream underneath the camouflaged layers of illusions about it. The Black American, Walter, happens to be inflicted with the glamour of the American dream and become rich soon. However, the dream of Walter is entangled in multiple issues gradually corroding the quality of the dream and rendering it a hollowness not worth wishing for. Hansberry seems to be posing a critique of the very ‘American Dream’ that is ‘misunderstood’ and ‘mis-pursued’.
Whereas Walter’s mother, (Mama) Lena had the dream of survival, Walter wanted “freedom” from the life of needs and upgrade his and his family’s living conditions. However, neither of his family members seemed to be believing or supporting him. And so he resorts to making a decision without the consent of his family by investing in the business where he loses all his money. This is where he goes wrong with his American Dream, – by putting everyone’s needs in the background and doing something that affected all. The conflict between Ruth and Walter seems to be the projection of the complex nature of the dream Walter has, – a grievous misunderstanding. Walter argues, “Man say to his woman: I got me a dream, His woman say : Eat your eggs. Man say: I got to take hold of this here world, baby! And woman will say: Eat your eggs and go to work. Man say: I got to change my life, I’m choking to death, baby! And his woman say – your eggs is getting cold! […] coloured woman […] Don’t understand about building their men up and making ’em feel like they somebody. Like they can do something.” (22). He is frustrated that no one believes in his dream, not even his wife. However, Lena has a different dream; she wants to buy a new home for them all, which seems to be a need of the family. Walter loses most of it in the investment in the liquor shop.
Walter is, however, entrapped by bigger and more powerful issues than mere opposition from family. There is a delineation of discrimination all over the novel. The Racial oppression, the discrimination, the pervasiveness of capitalism, – all of this of contributes to the complication of his dream. Walter seems to be drawing upon capitalism a bit and his attitude towards education makes it difficult to see beyond his wishful thinking of becoming rich overnight. However, he comes to understand the issues surrounding on all sides, when Willy gets away with his money. And when he sees that, he says, “you know it’s all divided up. Life is. Sure enough. Between the takers and the ‘tooken’. I’ve figured it out finally. […] He’s (Willy Harris) taught me to keep my eye on what counts in this world.” (121). He decides to stand up for his family, move into the new house and provide a better life to his family. Hence, he finally gets hold of the real meaning of his dream, – one that has to follow the rules of pragmatic approach and not just wishful thinking. Lena, his mother, finally says with respite, “He finally come into his manhood, didn’t he? Kind of like a rainbow after the rain…” (130). He indeed became one.
In Go Tell it on the Mountain (1952), James Baldwin, constructs the edifice of ‘sin’ and ‘redemption’ put into one structure, – amalgamated, – and questioned at the same time. This complex construct results in a seeming redemption of the protagonist, John, which may not be redemption at all. The facts that indicate towards his redemption also indicate towards his falling prey to the pressures of his family and community and compromising with what he has at his disposal. Baldwin, in a very witty manner attacks the religious dogmas that strain on the adherence of the religious beliefs, in order to keep the people following them, through impregnation of “fear of sinning”. That “everything must go” in the name of sin and redemption, is forcibly internalized by the Church and its participants.
John, even though being highly unappreciative of the entire system, is finally compelled to give in and accept his father, Gabriel’s insistence of accepting the religious ways and becoming a preacher, in an act of taking away the father’s sins as well. John is used as a device for liberating his father of his sins from his past life. John’s opposition to what is forced on him is a major theme that the novel revolves around. And John’s revolt against it is through his sexuality that is considered a ‘shame’ and an ‘unforgivable sin’ by others who belonged to a faith that is perceived as a ‘protector’ from sin. He is forced to reconnect with his father’s choice of making him a preacher in the church.
There is a sense of ambiguity ingrained in the text, especially in the delineation of John. Though it seems that John was ‘saved’, ‘redeemed’, yet it looks quite unclear what his state of mind is. While talking to Elisha, the saved one, John asks, “Was you glad to see me at the altar?” (217), and when Elisha replies, “I was mighty glad to see little Johnny lay his sins on the altar, lay his life on the altar and rise up, praising God.” (217). Listening to this, Baldwin writes, “Something shivered in him as the word sin was spoken, […] I pray the Lord to make me strong, to sanctify me wholly and keep me saved” (217, 218). It seems he is speaking of being ‘saved’ because he feels the pressure of the people in his life, – and the pressure of ‘sin’. It seems as if he himself is not convinced of being ‘saved’. It is as if he is trying to get external confirmation from a priest who is supposedly ‘the saved one’. The fear of the sin is heavy on him and he is seen asking Elisha later, “if it costs my life – is that the price?” (218), and later requests Elisha, “Elisha, You pray for me? Please pray for me? For me, for me” (219), as if he lacks conviction of his own redemption. Probably, he knows that he still doesn’t believe in the concept of ‘sin’ and ‘redemption’ of it, and hence, is not ‘saved’ and so he wants an attestation from another person who is the ‘saved one’. He tells, “Elisha, no matter what happens to me, where I go, what folks say about me, no matter what anybody says, you remember – please remember – I was saved. I was there.” (220). By ‘anybody’, probably, he means his father. And then he moves in the direction of the path his father has chosen for him and, thus, reconnects as a compromise with that life. He finally states, “I’m ready, I ‘m coming. I’m on my way.” (221). He has finally given in to the religious pressures which may not be a matter of choice but may be a matter of not having any other choice. He is compelled to accept the life his father chooses for him – to reconnect with him.
Confluences: Postcolonialism, African American Literary Studies, and the Black Atlantic authored by John Cullen Gruesser is a comprehensive and innovative compilation that reveals the prevalent links between the Postcolonial, the African American and the Black Atlantic studies. Dr. John Cullen Gruesser is a Professor of English at Kean University in New Jersey. He is widely known across the erudite world of researchers in literature and criticism for his books. He has authored White on Black: Contemporary Literature about Africa, Black on Black: Twentieth-century African American writing about Africa, The Empire Abroad and the Empire at Home: African American Literature and the Era of Overseas Expansion, Race, Gender and Empire in American Detective Fiction, Race and, The Black Sleuth co-authored with John Edward Bruce, and the editorof The Unruly Voice.
With an ergonomic approach, Gruesser has made his writings accessible enough for the readers to comprehend the links he established between Postcolonialism and African American studies, which according to his analysis could be done through the Black Atlantic studies spreading the scholarship across more related disciplines. According to Gruesser, the theories developed in all these three disciplines cannot be comprehended in isolation. Confluences has four sections, namely, “An overview: the Black Atlantic as a bridge between postcolonial and African American literary studies”, “Postcolonial counter-discourse : Salman Rushdie, Jean Rhys, V.S. Naipaul”, “Signifyin(g) : Walter Mosley, Pauline Hopkins, Toni Morrison”, “The Black Atlantic : Harry Dean, Harriet Jacobs, Alice Walker”. It is a merger of three major literary areas that brings about the communion of not only profound scholarship but also lays down the foundation of newer disciplines. The first chapter is, as the chapter title suggests, an overview of the three areas and serves as an introduction to what a reader may expect in the proceeding sections of the book. The three major theories that are represented by the three areas of literary and cultural studies are, Postcolonialism, Signifyin(g) and the Black Atlantic. Gruesser examines each theory and takes his readers in a journey through the links he finds connecting them and congregates them all in one platform.
In this section, Gruesser analyses the works of a number of theorists, such as Edward Said, Toni Morrison, Henry Louis Gates Jr., Homi Bhabha, Paul Gilroy, Gayatri Spivak, to a number of other major theorists and fiction writers and comes up with a conclusion that exhibits the inevitable connection between all of them, and especially between postcolonial studies and African American studies. He finds “formidable similarities” (2) between the postcolonial studies and African American studies and expresses his concern and surprise as to why the theorists belonging to these two areas have been so resistant of each other. He says that his intention of writing this book is not just to minimize the gap between the two fields but rather to “build bridges between them” (2) Gruesser further states, “Without question Paul Gilroy’s ambitious black Atlantic project…[ ] stands as the most profound attempt to correlate postcolonialism and African American studies. Gilroy’s penetrating readings of black American texts indicate the advantages of using postcolonial theoretical concepts, discourse analysis, and an expanded frame of reference to analyze African American literature….[ ] Embracing the power of flow of people and patterns of thought, Confluences aims to make a modest contribution to the globalization of literary study (at least in English) through its consideration of migration, circulation, transit, and related concepts.” (4, 5). The idea of the “movement” or “flow” is interesting. Inspired by Gilroy’s “Route Work: The Black Atlantic and Politics of Exile”, Gruesser seems to have identified the movement of ideas across disciplines. It is the flux of ideas that moves across the disciplines, perennially at work across the length and breadth of the concerned studies at different levels. He explains that the “movement of ideas…[is] a process comparable to the joining of two or more streams to form a powerful current” (5). In this introductory section Gruesser makes his intensions of making the connection visible to the entire labyrinth of the theorists across the different areas of study, very clear. Hence, Confluences can be regarded as a manual that depicts travelling or moving of ideas “through space and over time” (5) within a network of different disciplines, penetrating into the realms of literary and cultural studies, not missing out on making conspicuous impressions and new interesting research possible. In this chapter Gruesser describes postcolonialism with the aid of the works of several theorists like Said and his theory of Orientalism and in doing so he also points out how postcolonialism was demarcated. Probably this was the reason Gruesser implies at the beginning of the book about the resistance that African American studies had for Postcolonial studies.
Gruesser titles the next chapter as, “Postcolonial Counter-discourse” dedicating the entire section to discuss the nuances of the concerned theory and it’s supposedly similarities with African American literary criticism. At the beginning, with the aid of the arguments of theorists and critics like, Anne McClintock, Arun Mukherjee, John McLeod, Gruesser analyses the reservations and objections regarding the very terms, “postcolonialism and “postcolonial counter-discourse”, takes us through the extended discussions and raises doubt regarding the ‘postcolonial rewritings of “classics”’ (23) questioning about their being independent of the “colonial culture” (23). Further in the discussion he expresses his belief that re-writing would always have references of the original and hence cannot be independent of it. So, it can be said that the postcolonial re-writings will always have unavoidable correspondence with the canonical ones. Now, with the help of fictions written by Rudyard Kipling, Salman Rushdie and Jean Rhy, he maneuvers to demonstrate the complexities, at the same time attempting to make it look palpable for the reader, and concludes that, “…the concept of counter-discourse can be useful in investigating the racial dynamics within a text” (24). Gruesser attests his argument about these above mentioned theories by paralleling them with fictions depicting how these postcolonial re-writings discuss issues like, “empire, colonization, slavery, race relations, miscegenation, and the male desire to control the female” (32). Hence, there exists an inherent connection between the postcolonial and African American literary and cultural studies. To make the above argument even evident, he derives the concept of “Signifyin(g)” from Henry Louis Gates who focuses on “literary revisionism” (53). He concludes stating, “This link between the concept of counter-discursiveness and Signifyin(g) suggests that postcolonial and African American literary theory can work effectively in concert” (53).
The next section of the book expands Gruesser’s claim of the connection of the two concerned fields of study. At the commencement of the chapter, he illustrates how Gates’s Figures in Black and The Signifying Monkey, “have proven extremely useful in reading African American literature…[ ] and…[that ] they offer insights to critics of postcolonial literary texts” (54). Signifyin(g), according to Gruesser, has become a pivotal concept to analyze African American literary texts. Discussing the significant and substantial works of Walter Mosley, Pauline Hopkins and Toni Morrison, he explains how the concept of Signifyin(g) glides into the concerned literary texts and evokes not only a sense of authenticity but also creates a passage to the literary works not assorted to African American studies. In his own words, “…the theory can be usefully applied to texts outside the African American literary tradition” (57), and further states, “Signifyin(g) proves indispensable in analyzing Hopkin’s literary revisionism”(86). This literary revisionism can be identified as the one that Gates adheres to and that which carries the of concept of Signifyin(g) to postcolonial studies. Gruesser also examines Toni Morrison’s and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s works along with other theorists and fiction writers and establishes his claim of the aforementioned link between the two concerned fields of study. Talking of Morrison and Hawthorne, he brings out, “…the ways in which African American and postcolonial rewritings of dominant and dominating discourses resemble and diverge from one another” (95), suggesting the strong link between the two. The chapter concludes establishing the plausible intersections of the ways of functioning of the two broad areas of study when Gruesser states, “Without question, Gates’s Signifyin(g) and the concept of postcolonial counter-discursiveness have been extremely valuable to critics working in postcolonial and African American studies respectively”(95). He further hints at the role of the Black Atlantic in merging of the postcolonial and the African American studies.
In the next section, the Black Atlantic studies is examined revealing the ways the Black Atlantic works as a pathway connecting the two fields of scholarship. At the onset of this section itself Gruesser points out that Paul Gilroy’s Black Atlantic functions with the aid of both the African American studies and the postcolonial studies. He brings into context that Gilroy’s “black Atlantic resembles postcolonial counter-discourse and Henry Louis Gates’s Signifyin(g)”, and that, “Gilroy takes major step toward moving beyond such [like that of postcolonial critics and Gates] territorialization by incorporating elements from both postcolonial and African American studies into his theory” (96). Hence, with utmost clarity and precision, Gruesser has presented the role that black Atlantic plays in bringing the postcolonial and the African American studies together. According to him, even though the “new world slavery” (97) is the domain of the black Atlantic studies, yet their area of function extends to examine the complex and “incomplete and unequal” (97) dynamics between the black West Indians, Africans in black Atlantic network, black Britons, African Americans, etc., compelling it to inevitably work as a linking pathway between the postcolonial and the African American studies. As moving out of the bounding territories and merging with the outer world, especially European travel is so much a characteristic feature of the black Atlantic, it encompasses all the above different categories of people sharing allied experiences in some way and hence resembles with the postcolonial and the African American literary and cultural studies. He exemplifies his thesis with the help of the works of writers like Harry Dean, Harriet Jacobs and Alice Walker. Grusser quotes, Gilroy’s words about the black Atlantic, “a new discursive economy emerges with the refusal to subordinate the particularity of slave experience to the totalizing power of universal reason held exclusively by white hands, pens and publishing houses” (99). Black Atlantic can be assumed to be an area of study that not only resembles the postcolonial and African American studies but also raises questions on various other related areas like colonial studies, transatlantic studies, slave narratives and other theories that apply to these studies, etc.
Gruesser closes Confluences encouraging researchers stating, “I therefore urge both postcolonial and African American critics to emulate, expand on, and, where appropriate, emend Gilroy’s bold attempt to bridge postcolonial and African American studies, embracing the black Atlantic’s stress on movement through space and intercultural connections” (133). A profound undivided reading of the different discussions made in Confluences makes it an inevitable challenge to scrutinize the multiple levels of the affiliation established between postcolonial studies, African American literary and cultural studies and the black Atlantic studies. With adequate theories backed with appropriate literary works Gruesser has presented a very significant solution for the future researchers who wish to either work in any one of these areas or make an interdisciplinary study. I am looking forward to using it for my research on African American literature and I would recommend this book to other students who wish to work in similar areas.
In The Street (1946), Ann Petry eulogizes a black woman’s veneration for her dreams and for her life that she visualizes ahead of time. The Street symbolizes that indomitable and unconquerable spirit of a woman that never seems to take respite from the journey started. The imagery of ‘the window’ is however, another strong signifier that renders ‘hope’, ‘escape’ from the swathe of ill-fate, as ‘refuge’ in a different world, that at a time shows the reality and also provides access to more achievable dreams. The Street is a tale of the American dream seen by a woman, Lutie that eventually seems her biggest illusion, but later changes and provides her some portion of the dream. When she is out there on the street, the dream looks tangible enough to be achieved with a little hard work, determination and perseverance. Also, right there on the street, there is a heavy flux of different conflicting forces making her dream difficult to achieve, but this also contributes to her self-confidence. On the street, Lutie learns the dimensions of possibilities, the rewards of hard work and stout-hearted obstinacy, and the cost she has to pay on the way to achieve it.
Lutie makes the American dream look real and not just an illusion. Through the imagery of the ‘door’ and the ‘window’, she provides clues to the things happening in her life. Whereas the door in the new apartment she moves in makes ‘sucking sound’ which seems like the fear of being sucked into it and never being able to get out, ‘the window’ in the apartment provides respite from that overwhelming feeling of being entrapped. Lutie constantly looks for a window in the apartment she is about to take at Mrs. Hedges place. The first thing she observes is, “The rooms were small. There was no window in the bedroom. […] There wasn’t a window – just an air shaft and a narrow one at that.” (14) However, she soon spots the window in the living room and analyses the ‘possibilities’, – “She looked out into the living room, trying again to see the window, to see just how much air would come through, how much light there would be…” (14), as if trying to pragmatically gauge the ‘possibilities’ to achieve the American dream in a city of dreams. At another instance, on the 116th “New York City street in a poor neighborhood […] The ‘windows’ of the houses were dustier and there were more small stores on it than on streets in other parts of the city.” (63). However, it may be noticed that she was neither interested in “poor neighborhoods”, nor in “dustier windows”. She was interested in bigger things, – much bigger. Lutie seems to be a personification of the window, – standing strong at the face of adversity through bad weathers and unruly winds. In the 1940s, when the cult of domesticity was strong for women, Lutie stands strong, has faith in her capacity to achieve the American dream. With a romanticization of the idea of Benjamin Franklin, she moves on and never looks back.
In In the Castle of My Skin, George Lamming presents people’s optimism, hope and resilience as mechanisms to deal with the remainders of colonialism and continue the struggle against the persisting exploitation in the Barbados society. These people of the Barbados society are seen as the strongest representation of patience and persistence. Possessing tremendous veneration for life and the small elements of beauty of life they engage in a perennial journey of efforts to deal with whatever problems they face and to hope for a better future for themselves at the face of adversities. Through the use of humour, Lamming presents a picture of the Barbados society that is afflicted with a sense of loss and pain. Humour is used not only as a defense or resistance mechanism but also as one that portrays protest and something that can be used as a coping device against the humungous stature of the present problems for the people. Even though it seems as if there is no escape from the situation they are, the people seem to be with no fear of loss. They are extremely resilient and every time there is a disaster of some kind, they stand up and reconstruct whatever is lost. They seem to possess a strange disaster preparedness caliber and are found positive with immense hope for the future.
Probably it is optimism that makes the society strong and united all the time. The damages done by the flood, the killing of the pumpkin vine and accidental falling off of the fence by Bob and numerous other losses, instead of drawing them all apart with sorrow and resentment, actually bring them all together. There are multiple accounts of privacy being challenged and yet instead of bitter feelings a sense of togetherness arises from each fallen wall. Once, as Lamming relates, “The two yards merged. The barricade which had once protected our private secrecies had surrendered.” (10). And yet another time he relates, “In the corner where one fence merged into another, and the sunlight filtering through the leaves made a limitless suffusion over the land, the pattern had arranged itself with absolute unawareness.” (18). A depiction of the situation in a manner like this is suggestive of the positivity that encapsules not one person, but the entire community. The boy’s mother protecting Bob in spite of the fact that he killed the vine and drew the fence down, the boy being naked all through the incident, the peals of laughter from girls and people surrounding the rest of the fence – that evidently swayed due to the laughter – , the act of another woman walking past the fallen fence to give the news about an eight year old boy trying to sell the fowlcock, are all evidences of optimism, resilience and hope for a better future in the face of adversities. The image of the “corner where one fence merged into another” creating an impression of a “limitless suffusion over the land” also renders a strong sense of unity that is created inevitably due to the optimism the people carry in their minds.
Later in the book, an encounter with the conversation between the old man, Pa and the old woman, Ma provides another confirmation of the compulsive positivity and hope for the future. Ma seems to be very optimistic about the one Mr. Slime who looks like a liberator for the people of this place. However, it is not just optimism and hope for the future but what this optimism and hope bring in for them – a compellingly sturdy capability of resilience. They fall and yet they stand up every time they fall. As Lamming puts it, “Generations had lived and died in this remote corner of a small British colony” (19), yet their indomitable spirit to rise above each failure to never let go hope that enables them to look into the future with renewed exuberance is admirable.
In Rabindranath Tagore’s The Postmaster, a severe colonial displacement can be noticed working all the way from actually physically displacing people for survival to creating emotional derangement of the basic human nature of valuing another human in terms of emotions, sympathy and compassion. The people working for the white man’s system, as a result of possessing certain jobs, even though with negligible salaries like the Postmaster in this story, seem to be drained out of emotional agencies as far as an individual other than themselves is concerned. Though they seem to relate with their own emotional needs and expectations being away from family and closed ones, yet their resources seem to be exhausted when it comes to the predicament of others. This probably is the result of being in a long-term colonized India where in order to take respectable jobs in the government offices, people started moving away from families and closed ones. The postmaster in the context faces the physical displacement and as a result is entrapped in the emotional alienation and displacement too. He is introduced as “a man from Calcutta” who is sent to a village that, “[…] left him feeling not very unlike a freshwater fish that has been lifted onto a riverbank.” (29).
Tagore, a little later, makes a reference, through the postmaster, to “some giant out of an Arabian novel” who if happens to “come there and uproot […] the trees with their green branches and leave a macadam road in their place, if several buildings were to obliterate the clouds in the sky that were now clearly visible, this half-dead progeny of bhadralok society would receive a new lease of life.”(29). This is a typical demonstration of what the colonizers did to the then naturally beautiful India’s villages in an attempt to modernize it. And this thought crossing the postmaster’s mind is an evidence of the effects of colonial displacement that he has gone through. In spite of being in a place bestowed with natural beauty, he still imagines the place ripped off of the same mesmerizing beauty because he evidently feels nostalgic for his family, closed ones and the place where he belonged to, that is, Calcutta. He is often seen yearning for some company of some loved one. When it rains and he is lonely, he thinks, “If at this time there were someone near who was truly my own – at one with my heart, a human figure that was a tender object of love.” (31), and again when he is sick and down with fever he thinks, “What came to mind was the touch of a mother or an elder sister by one’s side […].” (31).
As a result of this bereavement, the postmaster is found quite oblivious of the other emotional being, the girl-child servant who served him as her family. She is once a faithful servant and yet once, at need, is metamorphosed to a motherly figure, “[…] the migrant’s desire didn’t remain unfulfilled. The little girl Ratan didn’t stay a little girl. At that instant she was transformed into a mother.” (31). Not that the postmaster was not sympathetic to her, but he was just devoid of the required levels of compassion for her. Tagore seems to be focusing on the decentralization of the human values and emotions where the centre is left apparently empty and emotions are understood only with strict self-imposed limitations that could be exchanged for a little money. The postmaster here can be seen receiving the emotional support, without asking for it, from Ratan when he needs it the most, yet fails to understand the need of Ratan when she verbally requests him to take her with him. When Ratan asks, “Dadababu, will you take me home with you?”, the postmaster brushes it off with a laugh and says, “How can I do that?” (32). Later he tries to compensate Ratan’s emotions with money and offers her nearly all his salary. The offer is rejected by Ratan with an act of Ratan falling at his feet and asking him not to do that. Even if while leaving the postmaster thinks, “Let me go back, let me take that world-abandoned orphan child with me.” (33), he still does not make an effort to do so. This is a clear demonstration of his incapability even to understand his own feelings for the orphan child.
Through the postmaster, Tagore has demonstrated that due to the long colonial period, the average people in India were facing more and more alienation from their own selves and from other people as well. It demonstrates the incapability and confusion an individual undergoes in the face of external changes. It provides an account of the colonial displacement experienced by people with respect to understanding human emotions caused due to physically displacing them from their native places in the name of jobs.
In The Joys of Motherhood, Buchi Emecheta indirectly suggests an identification of the concept of Womanhood-Manhood with the concept of Colonized-Colonizer (in the postcolonial phase) respectively. With careful observation and remarkable diligence she beautifully interweaves and presents a strong connection, establishing astounding relationship between the two powerful concepts occurring simultaneously in the Ibo society. She, at the same time, hoaxes at both the concepts and with severe sarcastic criticisms brings down the veil that so hypocritically envelops both the practices. She seems to be suggesting that both the practices are malicious deceptions where the more powerful entity dominates and benefits over the less powerful entity. Endurance and subsequent acceptance of the power by the subdued one is the key area of criticism here. Like the slaves, the woman of the Ibu society is compelled to accept and endure the unreasonable dominance.
Emecheta draws two pictures, one complimenting the other with a kind of admiration and distaste or even rejection at the same time. On one hand the black servant gets subdued by the white master, on the other hand the Ibu woman is subdued by the Ibu man. Like servitude is looked down upon by the master, womanhood is looked down upon by manhood. A conversation between Nnu Ego and Cordelia exemplifies this when Cordelia, the wife of Ubani explains it to Nnu Ego in the following words, “Men here are too busy being white men’s servants to be men. […] Their manhood has been taken away from them. The shame of it is that they don’t know it. […] They are all slaves, including us. If their masters treat them badly, they take it out on us. The only difference is that they are given some pay for their work, instead of having been bought. But the pay is just enough for us to rent an old room like this.” (51). Hence, it is also revealed through Cordelia that the situation of the woman in the Ibu society is more serious and fateful than that of the Ibu servant in an arrangement of the white-man-master and black-man-servant. The difference here is that the Ibu woman is actually ‘bought’ by the Ibu man as his wife and many-a-times without the woman’s consent as in case of Nnu Ego. This is reflective of the practice of the Colonizer-colonized relationship during colonialism which should be something now belonging to the past. But even though the colonial phase is over, the impressions are still alive in the master-servant arrangement. This is clear when Cordelia says, “But the pay is just enough for us to rent an old room like this.” (51). It is clear that the black servant is still being exploited by the white master, only that the legal owning of the black man as a slave by the white master has received another name.
The effects and reminiscences of the past slavery is echoed in the present Ibu society. The man of the Ibu society still engages in the practice of buying a wife rather than winning one with the latter’s consent and permission. The identification of the colonizer-colonized arrangement of the colonial period is mirrored in the Ibu society here. This can also be seen in the protagonist, Nnu Ego’s contempt and rejection of her husband and his job. There are more than one reference to this made by the author. Nnu has contempt for the “horrible-looking men” and their sense and awareness “of their inadequacy”, and their “animal passion”, like her husband. The author further relates, “She felt humiliated, but what was she to do?” (44). Another time she tells the mind of Nnu, “She had at first rejected his way of earning a living and had asked him why he could not find a more respectable job.” (47). And yet in another instance, Nnu finally encounters her husband and retorts, “You behave like a slave!” (50). Through Nnu Ego, Emecheta reveals the ironic connection between the two heavily ridiculed concepts, one that exists in the Ibu society and the other more powerful concept of slavery that exists even after colonial rule is over. The Ibu man’s dominance and sickening control over the Ibu woman’s fate and existence looks like the manifestation of the Ibu man’s desire and admiration of dominating like his white master. This reveals the complex yet conspicuous identification of womanhood with the colonized and manhood with the colonizer in Emecheta’s The Joys of Motherhood.
In An Ordinary Person’s Guide to Empire, Arundhati Roy critically examines the ambiguous and inconsistent concepts of Neoliberal capitalism, globalization especially concerned with the corporate aspect of it, a disguised terrorism in the name of Empire. In the chapter, “Do Turkeys Enjoy Thanksgiving?”, Roy sarcastically brings forth the discussion about New Imperialism unraveling the many folds of hypocrisy hidden underneath the very foundation of the concept. The loopholes and limitations of New Imperialism, the Neoliberal forms of government, can be gauged through the magnanimity of the devastating conflicts taking place because of them. The question now arises that who is benefitting from the conflicts? Is it the people or is it the government, which is constantly endeavouring to gain more and more power and authority over the already trapped subject. Roy seems to suggest that there is an impending risk of civil unrest or war, if the countries, that is, America and the European ones, do not surrender their resources voluntarily to the corporate.
There is a subtle threat in the tone referring to the disastrous effects of New Imperialism when she says, “In any case, New Imperialism is already upon us. It’s a remodeled, streamlined version of what we once knew. For the first time in history, a single empire with an arsenal of weapons that could obliterate the world in an afternoon has complete, unipolar, economic and military hegemony. It uses different weapons to break open different markets.” (84). The threat she implies is from the system of New Imperialism that adopts the concept of Neo Liberalism to camouflage its overpowering capability to destroy the rest of the world for its own vested interests and economic benefits. The threat here is from a government that is no more a government; it has rather converted into an oppressing empire. It reminds us of the history that was ruled by the British Imperialism. But the new form of imperialism is even more powerful and holds the capacity to ‘obliterate the world in an afternoon’. It advocates liberalism, which is not liberalism by any means. It is rather captivity and enslavement that is different in dimensions, is more treacherous and powerful than that of the historical concept of slavery employed by the British colonizers.
To elaborate her point, Roy refers to the concept of New Racism, which, according to her, is one of the most important weapons for New Imperialism. She says, “The cornerstone of New Imperialism is New Racism.” (87). New Racism is a type of “New Genocide” caused through economic sanctions, that implies, “…creating conditions that lead to mass death without actually going out and killing people” (88). She comes back every time, never losing track, to refer to the initial question she made allegorically, “Do Turkeys Enjoy Thanksgiving?” She refers to the tradition of “turkey pardoning” (87)in Thanksgiving. Roy writes, “Every year since 1947, the National Turkey Federation has presented the U.S. president with a Turkey for Thanksgiving. Every year in a show of ceremonial magnanimity, the president spares that particular bird (and eats another one). After receiving the presidential pardon, the Chosen One is sent to Frying Pan Park in Virginia to live out its natural life. The rest of the fifty million turkeys raised for Thanksgiving are slaughtered and eaten on Thanksgiving Day.” (87). According to Roy, “…local elites of various countries, a community of wealthy immigrants, investment bankers […], some singers, some writers…are given absolution. The remaining millions lose their jobs, are evicted from their homes, have their water and electricity cut, and die of AIDS.”(88).
Roy, in a sarcastic tone, vehemently criticizes the hypocrisies lurking underneath a beautifully presented concept of the new liberalism. She seems to connect dots of oppression across the world- like Neo liberalism, New Imperialism, dominating public motivation with the masses losing power. This Neo Liberalism is not what it represents to be but is a kind of severe exploitation. It is the same old thing repeating itself all over again to oppress people yet at another devastating level. It is a kind of acute manipulation of people and misutilization of one’s own powers and political and economic resources. It is nothing but a complete ‘disaster’ for mankind created by the oppressive nature of New Imperialism in the disguise of Neo Liberalism.