Postcolonial Literature

Full year course
Open to 10, 11, 12
Range of difficulty 1-3

1. Rationale

The purpose of this course is to introduce students to the immense body of literature written by people formerly colonized by the West, including works from Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and the Caribbean. Readings and films provide multiple perspectives to resist historical and present-day misconceptions, helping students to better understand global relationships and their roles as Western readers. Characters and themes will raise complex questions about power, hope, language, justice, group membership, representation, globalization, and human dignity. Students will gain tools to look critically at how issues of identity and culture function both inside and outside the text.

2. Topics , Themes, and Questions Emphasized

What stories get told? What stories get erased? How is cultural knowledge produced?
“The danger of a single story”
Westernization/modernity v. tradition
Cultural colonization
Disillusionment
Dehumanization
Oppression and resilience
Political v personal independence
The process of becoming
The tools of colonization – education, religion, dependence, language
Hybridity and belonging
Sacrifice and betrayal
Complicity and resistance
The double bind of racism and sexism
The importance of maps and boundaries
Self-determination and liberation

3. Methods

Discussion is the primary class format. There is an occasional background or enrichment lecture. Students make presentations based on individual or group work. Guest speakers are sometimes brought in to enhance students’ understanding of the societies we study through literature.

4. Expectations for students

Students are expected to complete nightly readings of 20-35 pages per night, and fully engage in class discussions. A strong emphasis is placed on in and out of class writing, including analytical essays, creative assignments, and reflective journal entries.

5. Sample Assignments

What stories did you grow up reading or listening to? How did these stories influence your perception of which stories matter, and which ones don’t? What about the books you have read in school – how do these books and characters tell you which stories are important, and which ones are not?

In Nervous Conditions, Nyasha tells Tambu, “It’s bad enough . . . when a country gets colonised, but when the people do as well!  That’s the end, really, that’s the end” (150).  How does Nyasha complicate the definition of colonization?

Does the puppet and puppet master motif advocate obedience, resistance, or something else?

Write an essay – complete with thesis and quotes – from Mwihaki’s perspective that answers this question:  What is love in a time of war?  Write this essay in the same narrative style Thiong’o uses in the novel.

The “trial of the century” has begun, and all of Indonesia and the Netherlands are talking about Herman Mellema’s mysterious death. Taking on the persona of your assigned character, your task is to live tweet your thoughts and reactions to the trial. The question you seek to answer: Was the trial just?

In what ways does Taylor Swift’s new music video reinforce damaging colonial tropes identified by the two critics? Cite specific details from the video.

In Kartography, Maheen tells Raheen, “No one should ever know what they are capable of. But worse, even worse, is to see it and then pretend you didn’t. The truths we conceal don’t disappear, Raheen, they appear in different forms” (273). Consider this quote and explore the ways in which history repeats – or doesn’t repeat – itself in the novel.

Ngugi Wa Thiong’o writes, “Our lives are a battlefield on which is fought a continuous war between the forces that are pledged to confirm our humanity and those determined to dismantle it.” In the material we have studied this semester, many characters confront unjust forces that seek to “dismantle” their humanity. Now consider life in the United States. What forces do you notice that either “confirm” or “dismantle” a person’s humanity?

Working Reading List and Other Materials

Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga
Weep Not, Child by Ngugi Wa Thiong’o
The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
A Bend in the River by V.S. Naipaul
A Woman in the Crossfires: Diary of a Syrian Revolution by Samar Yazbek
This Earth of Mankind by Pramoedya Ananta Toer
Kartography by Kamila Shamsie
Shame by Salman Rushdie
Mornings in Jenin by Susan Abulhawa
Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
A Small Place by Jamaica Kincaid

Films
Rabbit Proof Fence
Lagaan
Paradise Now

Bibliography
The Empire Writes Back by Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffiths, and Helen Tiffin
Colonialism/Postcolonialism by Ania Loomba
Orientalism by Edward Said
Black Skin, White Masks by Franz Fanon
Pedagogy of the Other by Burney
The Cambridge Companion to The Postcolonial Novel
“Race,” Writing and Difference, by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Editor

rev. 10/17

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