Death of the Critic

Post-Colonial Theory

Written by: Tom Blaich

As this site moves forward and we begin to introduce more complex topics it will become useful for us to give a primer in some of the themes and ideas that we are talking about. We've done a little bit of this already, but we will be digging in a little deeper into the topics in question. Death of the Critic is, at its heart, a critical website where we try to take a deeper look at different aspects of media. From movies to games to music and more, we aim to enhance the discussion around media in order to deepen our knowledge and understanding.

Let’s talk about schools of theory. When we critique, frequently we do so through a specific lens. Works can have a lot of meaning hidden deep within them, and if we aimed to fully analyze a book, movie, or game, we could easily fill an entire book. So we use these schools of theory as a way to focus in on one particular area of a work. This helps us hone in on a specific idea and expand upon it more fully than if we had tried to do a very broad reading. By centering on one aspect, the analysis becomes more clear and focused.

Speaking again to power structures within a work, Post-Colonial Theory goes hand-in-hand with our discussion of
Marxist Theory from last week. Post-Colonial Theory is the examination of the effect colonialism, the rapid, far-flung quest for power and land by developed Western nations (the United Kingdom, United States, France, Spain, etc.) has had within a work. This expansion resulted in highly distinct separations of groups based on  status and nationality, much like the economic class divides examined with Marxist Theory. The old saying that “history is written by the victor” is a great way to sum it up. In these countries’ quests for land and power, they ravaged local cultures, and pushed them into the background, and the effects can be seen to this day.

Look at the IRA in Northern Ireland, or the Native American reservations in America, or the British Imperial rule of India. The clash of cultures leads to a unique impact in literature. One of the most famous examples is Jonathan Swift’s
A Modest Proposal for preventing the Children of Poor People From being a Burthen to Their Parents or Country, and For Making them Beneficial to the Publick. A Modest Proposal, as it is colloquially known, is a scathing piece of satire as Swift laments the situation in Ireland, where people were starving to death everyday due to the rule of the British. His answer: use the poor Irish children as livestock, eating them and selling them to Britain to help ease their hardship. It is a brilliant piece about the power structure of the two counties and gets to the heart of Post-Colonial literature: examining the effects that Western invaders had on the cultures they invaded, and how it persists through literature.

This could be as simple as how one culture’s values affect the others, the spread of a religion or ideology, or how characters deal with the aftermath of colonization. Of course, it does not necessarily have to be one country invading another. It could be a group of aliens coming to Earth and attacking/taking over. It could be the United States government occupying a small town. Or it could be a high school bully beating other kids up because they disagree with them.

As it is so intrinsically tied into classes and power structures, Marxism and Post-Colonial Theory go hand in hand. Colonization was frequently in the name of economic advancement, and the divide that occurs falls alongside economic classes. As such, if you can apply one of these schools of thought, you most likely can apply the other. The intersection of different schools is what makes literary theory into such a wide spanning net.

Further Reading:
Post-Colonial Studies: The Key Concepts - Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffith, and Helen Tiffin
A Modest Proposal for preventing the Children of Poor People From being a Burthen to Their Parents or Country, and For Making them Beneficial to the Publick - Jonathan Swift
The Location of Culture - Homi Bhabha


Tom has been writing about media since he was a senior in high school. He likes long walks on the beach, dark liquor, and when characters reload guns in action movies.

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