Postcolonial Literature

Postcolonial Literature (formerly Three Worlds)

Full year course, offered every year; 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.

  1. 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



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


  1. 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.


  1. 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.


  1. 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



Rabbit Proof Fence


Paradise Now



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

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