Impacts of Post-colonialism in Things Fall Apart, Surfacing, and Fire on The Mountain

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Words: 5459 |

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28 min read

Published: Jun 29, 2018

Words: 5459|Pages: 12|28 min read

Published: Jun 29, 2018

As a field of study dedicated to surveying countries which have undergone a period of colonial takeover, often by Britain or France, Postcolonialism is thought to have its first roots in the seventies. During this period, the world, more specifically the third one, was on the verge of witnessing its independence. Several countries in the Caribbean, South Asia, and Africa were leading some revolutionary movements, not always by means of force, as a sort of showing their resistance to their colonizers. Regarding this point, that of how literature was a proficient means of reflecting people’s attitudes and decisions in these countries started to take place, but with an indecisive date of its emerging origin. Several critics are in reality doubtful about the beginnings of the applicability of postcolonial theory in literature. Some believe that its outset was with the publication of both “Orientalism” by E. Said and “the empire writes back” by Bell Ashcroft. Whereas others go further to state that the emerging of its roots in the field of literary writings is older than that. This dichotomy about its exact date represents solid evidence that asserts the diversity, the specialty and the different amount of aspects this field of study encompasses[1]. Accordingly, this paper tackles the applicability of the postcolonial theory in literature.

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It is in fact an exploration of the problematic of Poscolonialism in three postcolonial novels by three different authors. The first one is Surfacing by the Canadian feminist author Margaret Atwood. The novel is an exploration of a period of time, exactly 1970, when Canada was, as Atwood calls it, under the threat of Americanism. She, in fact, writes this novel as a kind of warning against the type of deterioration the Canadian identity, embodied in its culture and wilderness, might be exposed to. Added to that, the novel is also extremely feminist as it vividly portrays the harsh life of a young female who is rendered unknown by the writer. Following the course of its counterpart, Fire on the Mountain by Anita Desai is another narrative that evokes the scope of postcolonial discourse by portraying the secular life of a female character in the high mountains of India, or rather the colonized India. The novel, also feminist at its core, relates the story Nanda Kaun who wishes to have an isolated life. Her harsh past obliges her to retreat from her current world, her husband, her children and her everything to have a life of her own, away from any earthly disturbances. As to the last novel, it is written by a very famous Nigerian writer, and bears the title Things Fall Apart. The latter, as its title designates, implies the destruction of nation, more specifically a powerful clan by the white imperialist colonizers. It is therefore set within a colonial framework and portraying a heatedly clash between the Africans and the British, tradition and modernity, or to put it simply between the others and the "us."

As a Canadian critic, Laura Moss starts one of her essays by positing one of the most important questions regarding Canada. Her question sounded like: is Canada a postcolonial country. In fact, to answer this question and to fully have a deep knowledge about this issue, one must have to look, as Margaret Atwood puts it, at the literature of its land, more specifically that of Canada because it is a map, a geography of the mind that will easily light up things for every Canadian reader[2]. Surfacing is a distinct example that we can take into account in order to clarify this issue. As said before, it is an antithesis to the western infiltration of Canada, not especially by France and Britain, but by The USA. To be clear, Canada, as Laura Moss states, is not a traditional colony of Britain and France. It was colonized, as it the case with Australia and New Zealand, peacefully as compared to countries from Africa. It also witnessed its independence at an early date, exactly at 1867. However, Laura Moss asserts that Canada, as it is the case of India, is also liable to the ideological and sociological aspects of postcolonial theory. In her view, Canada’s main purpose, as India or Australia, was to build a nation on a common model that is predominantly British. Furthermore, Moss continues that Postcolonialism is not only concerned with cultural imperialism and the emergence of nationalism. Its focus also extends to cover some issues as those of the process of decolonization, the critique of hierarchies of power, violence and oppression which are, in her view, components not only of this field of study but also of Surfacing as a literary work by Margaret Atwood.

The theme of identity, namely the lost one, is undoubtedly the main engine that stirs the events in this novel. Therefore, being put within a postcolonial background, the search for identity as a main objective in Atwood’s novel is shaped by a sense of binary opposition between the people from the British origin against those of French one to a lesser extent, and that of the indigenes versus the USA, or what Margaret Atwood calls the Monsters on a larger one. The nature of the first opposition is in fact wrapped with some historical causes and fortunately the novel presents us with some aspects of this animosity. Therefore, in one of its passages, the author brings into surface one of the incidents where the narrator is driven to have a sort of skirmishes with some girls from the province of Quebec. This illustrates very clearly the tense relationship that those from a British origin still have with those from a French one. Even though things might have changed now and Canada has finally become a melting pot where different people from various nationalities can leave together in peace, Margaret Atwood’s assertion of this fact is with paramount importance regarding the split that Canadian identity witnessed during the seventies. This, to a large extent, is reminiscent of Homi Bhabha’s concept of the luminal space. Therefore, knowing that the island where the narrator stands now is set between two big provinces in Canada; the first one is Ontario and the second one is Quebec. The first is purely British while the latter is highly French. As a result, the space that lies between these two places, or as Margaret calls the space on border designates the island in a lesser extent, and Canada in a large symbolic way[3]. The narrator hence is overcome by a sense of isolation and loneliness as being put within two different, opposing cultures, that of her origin and one which is socially imposed on her.

In fact, no critic can deny the reality that Atwood’s central concern about identifying the Canadian identity is related to Americanism, that cultural and ideological power that started to invade Canada. The latter, in her view, has become a spot where Canadians are outnumbered by the Americans. They, as swarms of ants, have got scattered throughout the whole country; they are benefiting from the land’s natural resources as well as spoiling the Canadian wilderness with their technological development. Added to this, the novel is rife with several instances where the author clarifies this American infiltration. A clear example would be that when the unnamed narrator warns her friends about not saying a word about a lake where great resources of fish were hidden. “I warned them not to say anything about the fish: if they do, this part of the lake will be swarming with Americans, they have an uncanny way of passing the word, like ants about sugar, or lobsters.”(Surfacing, 65) As a way to support the uniqueness of Canadian identity, she also portrays one of her characters whose name is David and one of the narrator’s friends as a person who is filled with a great loathing and hatred towards the Americans. He, all over the book, expresses his great desire of having the Americans banished out of Canada. So, through several passages, we come to notice this kind of latent feeling that David tends to publically show sometimes.” It wouldn’t be a bad country if only we could kick them out the fucking pig Americans, eh? Then we could have some peace.”(83). He says in one of his conversations with the unnamed narrator. Actually, the way Americans approach Canada is regarded by Margaret Atwood as a sort of colonial takeover that these people wish to launch. As the former passages point to, the Americans started to view Canada, that wide and large space, as a plunder. It not only serves as a place where their ideology can be transmitted, but also as a large place where they can benefit lavishly from all of its resources. This, for the author, has led to the deterioration of one of the most significant aspects of Canadian identity which is the wilderness. The latter is no longer put at ease. It is approached by the Americans via technology. It, in reality, has become a wide space fully exploited and damaged by the American greed.

In this regard, Margaret Atwood does not put too much blame on Americans for this damage that doomed Canadian wilderness. She believes that even Canadians have their share in this deteriorating state which is represented in their neglect of their wilderness. Therefore, Margaret Atwood believes that she “is just as much an alien invader [of) Canada as the Americans”. Following this, Eleonora Rao states clearly that this realization indicates the pointlessness of splitting the world into discriminatory categories and opposites.[4] As a postcolonial novel, Surfacing, on the tongue of its author, aspires to convey the message that Canadian identity is to be built by Canadians themselves, not by a bunch of aliens. She believes that Canadians should keep in touch with their wilderness. They must explore it and get fully knowledgeable about it since it is the symbol of their identity. In her view, literature represents the sole weapon through which Canadians can have full access to their Canadian identity and wilderness for literary works are a sort of map that will always light the path for every reader. On the ideological level, Canada has become a wide spot where the American ideology has been greatly popularized. This undoubtedly leads our attention to Homi bhabha’s concept of mimicry. This concept is fully dedicated to deal with the ideological and cultural changes brought to any culture by another more powerful one. In this case, we are specifically within the equation of Canada as being versus the USA. Therefore, Margaret Atwood portrays this horrific mimicry displayed by Canadian characters in several incidents all over her book and no wonder that of the two girls that the narrator meet while being in the island along with that boat she sees in a lake are two clear examples that illustrate this issue. The former example is that of the two girls whom the unnamed narrator meets in a store during her short sojourn in the province of Quebec. The first thing that the unnamed narrator notices is that those girls are not longer impressed by their local way of dressing, a way of dressing which is draws on the Christian religion and almost encouraged by their priest. They hence resorted to a new fashion of cloths that is complete alien to their culture and undoubtedly imported from a closer culture, that of the USA. Added to this, the example of the big boat that the narrator encounters along with her friends is a very clear example that further illustrates this mimicry. This boat, as depicted by the narrator, is decorated with an American flag that is drawn on its centre. So, through the first sight the narrator is driven into thinking that it is another American boat which is full of American monsters as she calls them. In that moment she expresses her absolute fear as those people are there to only benefit from its land and leave away.

However, this fear presently turns into a sense of shock and anticipation after she knows that those who were on the boat are Canadians as much as she is. In fact, the aim behind this mimicry, as Bhabha asserts, is to get a sense of power, similar to that of the empowered but in the long run, this power which is obtained will not, by any means, be compared to that of the imitated. However, it is to be said that this mimicry implies a sense of awareness on the part of the colonized to the colonizer. Therefore, to imitate someone, you must have enough knowledge about him. Hence, this absolutely allows the Canadian imitators with a certain amount of power. So in brief, to mimic Americanism is to disavow its authority and power over you. In brief, Memmi, in her book the colonizer and the colonized, sums things up when she say: “The first attempt of the colonized is to change his condition by changing his skin. There is a tempting model very close at hand - the colonizer. The latter suffers from none of his deficiencies, has all rights, enjoys every possession and benefits from every prestige .... The first ambition of the colonized is to become equal to that splendid model and to resemble him to the point of disappearing in him”.[5] Even the title, surfacing, can match the novel’s central theme which points to this lost identity. As many critics have noted, to surface is to emerge out from something. This is very clear in the novel as we are encountered with the narrator’s surfacing from the lake where she dives to look for her father’s old Indian paintings. Several critics state that her diving into the water can be regarded as a postcolonial journey for it bears within it the hope of the narrator to find her father, or in other words her origin. It is believed that her diving was not completely for the sake of finding her father, yet the need for recovering her origin or identity is above all.

The fight for asserting Canadian identity did not start with the publication of Surfacing. Atwood has already started this task in one of the novels that preceded her current one. Consequently, her masterpiece “Survival” is considered as the fountain hit where the issue of lost identity has emerged from and in which the trope of survival was set by Atwood as a metaphor pointing to the rise of a kind of literature which is unique, different from those of Britain and USA. This can be regarded as a way of asserting Canadian identity in all its manifestations.(p 11). Therefore, Surfacing, as its counterpart survival, is a national narrative that projects the situation where lack of a consistent image in the Canadian identity flows into surface. In fact, Atwood stresses the power of literature as being able to constitute communities and spread national awareness via shared imaginary beliefs disseminated through these works. This has no wonder affected the situation in Canada at that time, and the amount of the novel selling shows this. As survival, surfacing portrays the trope of victimization as a solid one further asserting the Canadian national identity. The inclusion of a character that is unknown is so similar to the state of Canada. The unknown character is abused socially, historically, and psychically as it is the case with Canada as a whole. She is lost and doomed with a sense of hybridity. The author portrays the narrator in surfacing as a victimized one. The unnamed narrator was exposed to several social and psychic traumas. She is first fiercely shattered by her abortion which was forced on her by her past lover. Added to that, the unnamed narrator loses her mother and comes back looking for her father only to find him dead. Furthermore, her five days ordeal in the jungle can designate a return to her origin, mainly human one. Therefore, she perfectly embodies the prototype of a victimized character. Hence, she is in the view of a large number of critics, the representation of Canada which is victimized, a colony of the British and the French, and further threatened by the Americans. It is thus regarded as a postcolonial survivor. This analogy is made clear at the end of the novel when the unnamed narrator confesses that she no longer have a name. She abandons language and considers herself as a space. “I no longer have a name”, and “why talk when you are a word”, and she also states, “I am not an animal or a tree, I am the thing in which the trees and animals move and grow. I am a place” ( 198, 212, 213).

Things Fall Apart is a novel by the very famous Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe. The novel action takes place within a colonial framework, exactly during the period of the British conquest of Nigeria. Throughout this period Africa was a prey for several imperial European countries, and no wonder that Britain was one of them. During and after its colonial stay in Nigeria, several novels and works of literature were written by a number of authors, mainly westerners where they disseminated into the world a plethora of stereotypical ideas about the African people. They also depicted them in a multitude number of ways that belittle their status. Among such works is that by Joseph Conrad which distinctly reflects a grim picture about Africa and its culture. Thus, as a critic believes, Conrad describes Africa as a wild, dark, and uncivilized continent. However, with the rise of modern African literature, a large number of literary scholars whose leading task was to redefine Africa in the eyes of the West emerged from the depths of their colonized countries. Among such writers are Wole Soyinka, Nadine Gordimer, and Chinua Achebe. The latter’s novel Things fall apart, which constitutes a section of my paper’s concerns, is in reality a reaction to the bleak reputation the black continent has been doomed with since a long time ago. Achebe’s main end behind the writing of such literary work is to endow the reader with all the positive aspects about the African continent and about him as an African citizen. The novel starts with the portrayal of the Igbo society and their clashes with the British missionaries.

The novel actions take place in the Umofia villages where tradition and old beliefs are highly preserved by its inhabitants. In fact, the novel is a description of the perfections and imperfections of these people. Therefore, Achebe epitomizes their beliefs in a set of doctrines that are shaped by a deep credence in some of their ancestral gods, the killing of twins and the sacrifice of young boys. The latter is obvious in the novel when a neighboring clan offers the soul of two of its people as reparation for the sort of affront they caused for Umofia. These two innocent souls are sacrificed on the spot mercilessly as a sort of ritual having the aim of satisfying Umofia’s gods. However, it is until the arrival of the missionaries that the novel starts to merge within a colonial sphere; these missionaries, British as said before, had the aim as any other colonizers in disguise, the pretext of civilizing these backward people. So, as an inception of their task, they embarked on reshaping the religious system of Umofia by building churches and asking people to convert to Christianity. This, undoubtedly, was one of the bloody reasons that corroborated to the rise of a heatedly binary opposition between the two. In this regard, it is to be said that “Things fall apart is about the collapse, breaking into pieces, chaos, and confusion of traditional Igbo culture that suffers at the hand of the white man’s arrival in Umuofia along with his religion”.[6] The views about life that the white men have are totally different from those that the Igbo have then. The British missionaries regarded so many aspects of the traditional and ritual life of these people as unnatural, irrational and acceptable, but what they ignored is that these aspects constitute a very important part of these people’s life. Their unreasonable decision of changing it completely and suddenly under the umbrella of Christianity is, for Achebe, an unforgivable mistake. For example, polygamy was one of the most notable tenets that characterized the Igbo culture. Men, as it is the case with wkonow, were supposed to have more than one wife. The act of having several wives represented a sort of pride and richness that the man can exhibit. More ironically is that women were glad to get married to a man with two or three wives. This was hugely opposed to the western religion which emphasized the necessity of fighting the polygamous thinking. Despite this refusal by a large number of people belonging to Umuofia, some minorities, among them society outcasts, started to convert into Christianity. Their convert was in fact the consequence of the firm and solid conventions of the Igbo culture and religion. Several women began to believe that joining the new religion that of the Europeans would save their future children, as it is known that children must be sacrificed in the Igbo culture.

Added to such type of women who have succeeded to change, Nwoye, the son of Okonkwo also expresses his desire to follow their course. He, later on, converts to the Christian faith, and this causes a sort of animosity between him and his father. The reason behind the son’s convert was his unsatisfied attitude towards his native culture, the one that deprived him of a true and newly-made friend, Ikemefuna, who was to be beheaded as a sort of reparation to the affront caused by a neighboring clan. Actually, through the portrayal of Ukownko, it becomes clear that he is the embodiment of a communal spirit which simultaneously refuses and faces colonialism. This manifests clearly when this character kills one of the messengers sent by the British missionaries. In addition to that, he was among the most courageous inhabitants to arrange meetings against the colonial enemy. However, he is highly shocked by the reaction of the other villagers whom he thought brave to help him achieve his purpose, that of banishing the white men from his village. They let the other messengers escape in ukownko’s sight. Shuttered and dumbfounded by this sort of surrender by the villagers, ukowkwo hangs himself before the British missionaries take hold of him. In fact, the situation that the villagers were deep down in is to be closely put within the framework of Hyprididty as it is referred to by the famous Indian postcolonial theorist Homi Bhabha in his book the dislocation of culture. This is evident when a group of people feel a sense of loss and in-betweeness as they are set between two different cultures, mainly that of the colonizer and their native one[7]. They are hence fascinated by the former one as a result of its progression and development, yet they feel unable to get free from their mother culture as the latter is very important and closely tight with them. This is central to the Igbo society. Some of its inhabitants feel an aversive desire to convert into the new religion which is Christianity. Hence, several outcasts along with women opt for this religious alternative so as to get a high status in society, or to break free from the rigid conventions of their culture. The Europeans made them believe that all people are equal and with the same status so as to facilitate their colonial project. On the other hand, some of these people, apart from outcasts, still have a sense of nostalgia for their native culture. Some of them are only fascinated by the British changes, while others though they converted to Christianity still hide a feeling of proximity and tenderness towards their mother culture. As a result of this, the Igbo society is placed in a maze where some of its people are fully overcome by the western influence whereas others still, to an extent, conceal some warm feelings that might establish a possible return to their own culture. As a way of resisting the British colonial infiltration, Achebe makes use of a language which deeply draws on proverbs and poetry. It is in fact used as a way to preserve the Igbo culture and society, as well as to render it with a high status. ”Most of the text in Achebe’s Things Fall Apart chiefly features in the use and explanations of the complicated Igbo myths and proverbs that the Europeans fail to acknowledge. Throughout the novel Achebe craftily uses his characters to speak in proverbs when they address one another. The use of proverbs is very important in conversations as the Igbo believe them to be a fountain of wisdom and of respect.”[8] He chooses to base his text not fully on English, but on a proverbial language as a way to introduce his culture to the world. It is a very subtle way through which he constitutes a good image about Nigeria and its popular culture.

Nowhere in his novel does the writer deny the countless occasions of oppression and suppression that the people of the Igbo society were exposed to. One clear example of this is undoubtedly the way the British underestimated the judicial system in Umuofia. Therefore, setting a new court where convicted native people can be judged was something somehow good, yet the way their lawsuits were held reflects a sense of complete power exhibited by the British system at the time. In fact, the former judicial system which composed old wise men from the Igbo society was more fairer than its western counterpart given the fact that convicted people are listened to before they are judged. But, within the new imperial judicial institutions, people are not even listened to. They are treated with complete prejudice and tyranny[9]. In this regard, the Igbo society, as several critics have noted, appears to be more civilized than the Europeans themselves. The former, though regarded as being very backward in the eyes of the western colonizers, have at least succeeded to develop a more stable and a fair judicial system as compared to that of the British which is highly corrupt and stripped of any human considerations. By asserting some of the good purposes that are latent behind the colonial projects of the British missionaries, Achebe proves to be one of a few authors who treated this subject in their writings fairly and with no traces of prejudice. Therefore, the novel points to the reality that the Europeans, apart from benefiting from the natural resources that the African countries were full of, had a latent desire to drag them from the grips of decline. They for example built schools and hospitals for them. They also encouraged the people of Umoufia, as the novel shows, to learn English as the latter is the only solution through which they can communicate with the British missionaries on the one hand, and with the world on the other hand. Despite this, several native inhabitants refused this idea. Even the protagonist of the novel worked his best to stop his eldest son from learning English. This apart from designating the stubbornness and the persistent decision of these people also asserts their patriotic stance of not letting the language of the colonizer overcome their native one. For them, refuting the process of learning English language will make their society unified and coherent, not split up and hybrid by the complete hegemony of the western language.

By focusing on Nanda Kaul, more specifically, her psychological state, Fire on the Mountain is hence one of the few and earliest feminist novels in India. Set in a space largely affected by the aftermaths of Colonialism, mainly the British one, Fire on the Mountain, apart from focusing on feminist isssues, actually embraces a postcolonial aura. In fact, "critical analysis'' of this kind suggests that women may be subordinated in different senses. They may, for example, be a segment of the subject people in a classic colonial society, or they may be part of a migrant/immigrant group denied full status within a host society. At the same time, they are characteristically subordinates within a patriarchy. As women within a patriarchal system, they are again in some sense colonized; they "share with colonized races and peoples an intimate experience of the politics of oppression and repression" [10]. In addition to that, Walby asserts that the reason behind women’s struggle for obtaining an identity is the fact that they are economically underprivileged and exploited. As such, Fire on the mountain represents this truth blatantly via the most wretched past of Nanda Kaul with her deceased husband. Indeed, she is highly overcome by the male power which renders her as a marginalized entity with no voice. In his regard, Castro asserts that “they became trained to accept a man’s world in which a patriarchal image of women is transmitted into them” [11]. As such, the novel is an exploration of Nanda’s struggle to obtain an identity within a society which is dominated by males.

As a marginalized woman, Nanda Kaul is certainly portrayed as the embodiment of a powerless lady, or to put it simply a voiceless lady. Her harsh past was a period of affront mixed with subjectivity. Married to an Indian dignitary, her whole life was mainly confined for him, the households, and the bringing up of her children. She never thought about herself, her privileges or her rights. In brief, she was an entity by whom her husband enjoyed life. Actually, her movement to the mountain to have a secular life bears within it a symbolic implication as it is a movement towards asserting her identity. It is a way by which this character elicits her refusal to have a life of the mainstream, a life molded on a model of femininity where women must conform to this model and hence forget all about themselves. She regarded this model as an impediment of her free growth, of her purposes and hence it is discrepant with her desire to build her identity. As such, Critic Anita Myles affirms that Desai’s literature allows an exploration of these themes: Desai’s novels constitute together the documentation, through fiction, of radical female resistance against a patriarchally defined concept of normality. She finds the links between female duality, myth and psychosis intriguing; each heroine is seen as searching for, finding and absorbing or annihilating the double who represents the socially impermissible aspects of her femininity. [12] Additionally, Literary critic Ashok Kumar adds that in Anita Desia’s novels there is “the world of radical female resistance against a defined concept of normality and in her psychological novels; she has created the image of a suffering woman preoccupied with her inner world, her sulking frustration and the storm within – the existential predicament of a woman in a male-dominated society” (26)[13] The symbol of fire, used in the title, is very implicative as it is closely related to the psychology of Nanda Kaul’s psychic trauma. The latter is inexorably the result of her vicious past in which she was only an object fulfilling other people’s desires. Hence, “The fire embodies the violence of feelings and a strong resolution to end such a life. But fire is also a powerful light, used to find meaning in a dark existence, and a strong purifier. It destroys in order to annihilate certain traditions and to leave space for new values

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For this purpose, R.S Sharma rightly states that the Raka’s words are expressive of her resolve to destroy a world where a woman cannot hope to be happy without being unnatural.”[14] Added to its above designation, the symbol of fire comes to imply a destructive force. Apart from the already mentioned implication of fire as a symbol of hope and opposition to male’s hegemony, this symbol seems to foreshadow a sense of fear and total anticipation as it is closely related to the destructive mentality of men, the devastative fire that burns female nobility. In relation to Nanda this manifests clearly by her will to obtain a certain share of recognition by opting for a secular life. Thus, “'fire' symbolizes the self-esteem, the feminine ego that is for years surpassed and crushed by social norms, duties, responsibilities imposed by male dominated society”. This fire symbolizes effectively the tragic events in the womb of time as Indira rightly says," The thematic image of 'fire' with its connotations of violence and urgency occur at r

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Impacts of Post-colonialism in Things Fall Apart, Surfacing, and Fire on the Mountain. (2018, April 23). GradesFixer. Retrieved February 21, 2024, from
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