Thursday, January 27, 2011

Oral Tradition and Postcolonialism

The essay by Ashcroft, Griffiths, and Tiffin looks into words that have been defined by colonialism, and how literature has been affected by the post-colonial age. The idea of post-colonial as “anti-colonial,” which, the essay notes, is a common view of the word, seems to be incorrect to me. It should refer to the period after colonialism, and as the essay states, it is more often a focus on how literature was affected. The negative effects on oral tradition as literature was developed in this way, however, seems to be the biggest downfall of colonialism. Oral tradition is something that in many ways defines the nation, just as in certain ways authors like Jane Austen and Shakespeare define England or Mark Twain and F. Scott Fitzgerald define the United States. Oral traditions shapes cultures, and the way the stories are told reflects upon the nature of the stories. It is a cultural tradition that, if stripped away, sends the culture into the mainstream like nothing else.

This aspect of the essay is apparent in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. While the first half of the novel is full of proverbs, the second and third parts, when the “white man” comes with missionaries for Christianity, proverbs are noticeably absent. This shows the effects of the colonialism on the culture in the novel, and in cultures in general. In the stress of trying to hold on to their culture, pieces of the culture were inadvertently lost. The same goes for oral tradition and the influence of post-colonial literature. The enforcing of literature on colonized nations takes away from their traditions of storytelling. It is transculturation, as Ashcroft describes, that is occurring as the native cultures take on the traditions of dominant cultures, and in this way they lose a sense of their identity, one of the main factors in Okonkwo’s suicide in Things Fall Apart.

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