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Literary Critical Theories 101: Analysis of Post-Colonial Criticism


Literary Critical Theories 101 series intends to concentrate on how literary analysis represents itself through five different critical approaches by portraying the basic principles of the theory with both earlier and current versions of them as all define themselves against earlier versions of each. The approaches will be exemplified by different literary works for readers to comprehend how analysis from different lenses highlights the different aspects.

Literary Critical Theories 101 is divided into six chapters:

Literary Critical Theories 101: Analysis of Post-Colonial Criticism

From the Rev. R.H. Stone’s memoir ‘‘In Afric’s Forest and Jungle: Or Six Years Among the Yorubans,’’ 1899. Credit... From the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, the New York Public Library.

Post-colonial criticism aims to explain the dynamics of colonialism and anti-colonialist ideologies politically, socially, culturally, and psychologically. On the one hand, it examines the ideological processes that compelled the colonised to adopt the ideals of the conquerors, while on the other hand, it encourages colonialised peoples' to resist. Colonialism and anti-colonialist ideals can exist in every creative work which is not even classified as post-colonial. The issues post-colonial literature covers are Indigenous peoples' encounters with the colonisers; the journey of the coloniser through wild lands with a "native" guide; the colonisers’ treatment of the Indigenous people; the attempt of the colonised to be accepted by imitating the colonisers; exile; the struggle for individual and cultural identity; and post-independence vitality followed by disillusionment.

Since post-colonial criticism defines formerly colonised people as any population that has been subjugated to the political dominance of another population. Hence, post-colonial critics may take examples from the literary works of colonised peoples such as African Americans, First Nation Australians, and Indians. Even though post-colonial criticism was not a major force in literary studies until the early 1990s, the cultural analysis of colonialism has played an important role in anti-colonial political movements around the world, and it became a field of intellectual inquiry when colonial regimes began to fall after WW II (Vidal,1993, p. 113–119).

Colonial postcards from 1890-1914, meaning “Happy New Year”.

Post-colonial critics analyze the dynamic psychological and social interplay between what ex-colonial nations consider their Indigenous pre-colonial culture and the British/European culture that was imposed on them. Because of the colonial intrusion into the government, education, cultural values, and daily lives of its colonial subjects, post-colonial cultures include both a merger and antagonism between the cultures of the colonised and the coloniser, which are difficult to identify and separate into discrete entities. Many Indigenous writers from former British colonies choose to write in English because it is the language in which they learned to write in the first place. Chinua Achebe, a Nigerian novelist, poet, and critic, who is widely recognized as the main figure of modern African literature, remarks"[F]or me, there is no other choice. I have been given this language and I intend to use it" (Achebe, 1964, p.102).

Colonialist ideology, also known as colonialist discourse to empathise its relationship with the language, was rooted in the colonists' belief in their own superiority. The colonisers considered their Anglo-European culture civilized and intellectual. The colonisers believed they were more 'civilised' than those they colonised, who were seen as 'native' or 'primitive'. The colonisers regarded themselves as the right "self," because their technology was more evolved, their whole society was more advanced; local people were considered other, different, and, less than human. As a founder of the academic field of post-colonial studies, Edward Said believes,

A powerful coloniser has imposed a language and a culture, whereas cultures, histories, values, and languages of the Oriental peoples have been ignored and even distorted by the colonialists in their pursuit to dominate these peoples and exploit their wealth in the name of enlightening, civilising, and even humanising them (Hamadi, 2014, p. 40).

Bewigged – Greg Bailey’s Post-colonial Paraphernalia, 2021.

Women's patriarchal oppression is akin to Indigenous people's colonial subjugation. The devaluation of women and colonized people, as a result, poses similar problems for both groups in achieving an independent personal self and group identity; obtaining access to political power and economic security; and finding ways to think, and speak outside of the oppressor's ideology. These connections between feminist and post-colonial issues highlight women's double oppression. They are victims of both colonialist ideology, which devalues them due to their race and cultural lineage, and patriarchal ideology, which devalues them for their gender. (McFadden, 2007, p. 36-42)

Things Fall Apart, written by Chinua Achebe in 1958, focuses on the life of Okonkwo, a muscular and daring Igbo soldier in Nigeria. Okonkwo takes risks and acts boldly because he is frightened of becoming like his slacker father. To demonstrate his manliness, he murders Ikemefuna, who is given to him as a peace sacrifice by the Mbaino villages for the death of one Umuofia lady. Nwoye feels enraged at his father's murder since Ikemefuna was Nwoye's best friend and eventually turns to Christianity. Colonisers begin to convert Igbo people to Christianity by providing them with employment and gifts. When one of their soldiers is killed, they wipe out the whole village of Abame. The British authorities and missionaries begin to rip apart Igbo customs, causing a crisis in Okonkwo's life. Okonkwo and five Umuofia leaders set fire to a church. As a result, the British army whips, starves, and arrests them. Although the Igbo faith frowns on suicide because it pollutes the environment, Okonkwo would rather die than be hung by the tribunals of the conquerors and he kills himself. In some ways, Okonkwo's death represents the downfall of Igbo society, as there is no one left to resist the conquerors. The story concludes with the District Commissioner deciding to publish a book on Africans despite having no understanding of African society, culture, custom, or language.

Chinua Achebe, 1966.

Achebe portrays Igbo society before the arrival of the Europeans. He describes the justice codes, the trial process in detail, the social and family rituals, marriage customs; cooking culture, the shared leadership for the community, religious beliefs, and practices. Achebe’s main concern in Things Fall Apart seems to be the introduction of a new religion as well as its destructiveness in society. Following the entrance of the white missionaries into their nation, the inhabitants of Umuofia are divided into two groups. The first group consists of Igbo followers, who stick to their religion, nation, and culture, whereas the second group consists of white missionaries' followers who convert to Christianity and leave their own religion and traditional ways of life. Things Fall Apart is about the collapse, shattering into pieces of traditional Igbo culture.

Achebe employs regionally influenced vocabulary to depict the lifestyles of his characters as well as the setting. Things Fall Apart is filled with Igbo proverbs that Achebe translates into English for his readers who are unfamiliar with Igbo terms like chi, egwugwu, ogbanje, and obi.  Achebe utilizes proverbs to both maintain Igbo culture and language and to demonstrate the importance of proverbs not only to him, but to the whole Igbo community. When Achebe first mentions Unoka's ill luck, he interprets the word "chi" as a personal deity. The notion of "chi" is more intricate than that of a personal god or even fate, another commonly used term. "Chi" resembles the Hindu notion of karma or the Christian concept of the soul. As the story progress, the reader has a better grasp of it and its significance in Igbo culture.

Uganda Under Colonial Rule, in Government Reports, 1903-1961.

Consequently, post-colonial criticism explains colonialism and anti-colonialist ideologies in a political, social, cultural and psychological way by analyzing the dynamics between the colonised and the coloniser. Chinua Achebe portrays the pre-colonised life in Nigeria and how Igbo society is being colonised in Things Fall Apart with its storyline, setting, characters, and language. Hence, Achebe's debut novel is one of the greatest texts to analyze the post-colonial criticism discourse. The upcoming article of the Literary Critical Theories 101 Series is the Analysis of New Criticism, in which F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby will be exemplified.

Bibliographical References

Achebe, Chinua. (1964). Morning yet on creation day: Essays. Garden City, N.Y. Anchor Press. (91-103). Retrieved from

Achebe, Chinua. (1994). Things Fall Apart. First Anchor Books Edition. NewYork. E-book. Retrieved from

Barber, K. (1995). African-Language Literature and Postcolonial Criticism. Research in African Literatures, 26(4), 3–30.

Begam, R. (1997). Achebe's Sense of an Ending: History and Tragedy in "Things Fall Apart". Studies in the Novel, 29(3), 396–411.

Gikandi, S. (2001). Chinua Achebe and the Invention of African Culture. Research in African Literatures, 32(3), 3–8.

Hamadi, L. (2014). Edward Said: The postcolonial theory and the literature of decolonization. European Scientific Journal 2, 23-26. Retrieved from

McFadden, P. (2007). African Feminist Perspectives of Post-Coloniality. The Black Scholar, 37(1), 36–42. Retrieved from

Moore-Gilbert, B., Stanton, G., & Maley, W. (2014). Postcolonial criticism. Routledge. Retrieved from

Rhoads, D. A. (1993). Culture in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. African Studies Review, 36(2), 61–72. Retrieved from

Rukundwa, L. S., & Van Aarde, A. G. (2007). The formation of postcolonial theory. HTS Teologiese Studies/Theological Studies, 63(3), 1171-1194. Retrieved from

Vidal, H. (1993). The Concept of Colonial and Postcolonial Discourse: A Perspective from Literary Criticism. Latin American Research Review, 28(3), 113–119. Retrieved from

Visual Sources

2 comentários

Jonathon Barratt
Jonathon Barratt
06 de ago. de 2022

Excellent article that clearly lays out Post-Colonial theory and it’s importance for literature analysis.


Interesting article. It is only through reading writers like Chinua Achebe that people can appreciate the complexity of history, society and culture.

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Melis Güven

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