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Postcolonial Literature

Postcolonial literature is literature by people who were formally colonized. The term refers to anything, from poems to essays, produced after a colonizing force is left and that is inspired by the impact this immense change made. 

The term “postcolonial” refers to any period after a group of people or an entire country is decolonized. That means a previous conquering force that had for a period of time exerted power and control over a group of people has left or been defeated.

Postcolonial Literature Definition and Examples

Postcolonial Literature Definition

Postcolonial literature refers to short stories, poems, novels, essays, plays, and more that is created by people who were formally colonized. The term is somewhat contentious, considering the beginning and end of colonial periods can be hard to pinpoint. These examples of literature deal with traditional colonial ideals. Often, writers subvert, modify, or in some other way comment on the state of the country or people before and/or after colonialization.

Writers engaged with themes of racism, changes they hoped to see in the future, identity, freedom, and more. In many examples of colonial literature, writers attempt to elevate their own and other marginalized voices that may have been oppressed by the colonizing force.

Postcolonial Literature Themes 

Within postcolonial literature, readers can expect to find some or all of the following themes: 

  • Racism 
  • Freedom/Independence 
  • The Future 
  • Change/Transformation
  • Colonialism 
  • Oppression
  • Nationalism
  • Identity

Examples of Postcolonial Literature 

Two Thousand Seasons by Ayi Kwei Armah

Two Thousand Seasons is a 1973 novel published by African author Ayi Kwei Armah. It depicts the last two thousand seasons in African history through one narrative storyline. It focuses on themes of slavery, the complicitness of African leaders, the continued oppression of African people, African culture, and more. The novel has been subject to mixed reviews, including a 1987 review by Chinua Achebe in which he described the book as “unacceptable on the basis of fact, and on the basis of art.” Here is a quote: 

She spoke of those needing the white destroyers’ shiny things to bring a feeling of worth into their lives, uttered their deep-rooted inferiority of soul, and called them lacking in the essence of humanity: womanhood in women, manhood in men. For which deficiency they must crave things to eke out their beings, things to fill holes in their spirits. 

We Are Going by Oodgeroo Noonuccal 

We Are Going’ is the title poem of Noonuccal’s best-known poetry collection. It was the first book of poetry published by an aboriginal Australian woman. It highlights the struggles of Aboriginal Australians in the face of British colonialism. The poem is delivered from the duel, contrasting perspectives highlighting the loss of culture, land, and history. Here are the first few lines: 

They came in to the little town

A semi-naked band subdued and silent

All that remained of their tribe.

They came here to the place of their old bora ground

Where now the many white men hurry about like ants.

Notice of the estate agent reads: ‘Rubbish May Be Tipped Here’.

The poem goes on, moving away from the colonial perspective into a series of statements from a group of aboriginal Australians. They note that they are: 

the lightening bolt over Gaphembah Hill

Quick and terrible,

And the Thunderer after him, that loud fellow.

Throughout the piece, the poet presents the message that if something doesn’t change, the important culture, history, and the Aboriginal people themselves will be lost. She also ensures that readers walk away from this poem with a new appreciation for the beauty of Aboriginal Australian culture. 

Read more Oodgeroo Noonuccal poems

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe 

Achebe’s famous Things Fall Apart is a 1958 postcolonial novel that depicts life in Nigeria prior to the invasion of Europeans. It was the first African novel to receive global attention and has since become a staple of schools and universities around the world. Here is a quote: 

The white man is very clever. He came quietly and peaceably with his religion. We were amused at his foolishness and allowed him to stay. Now he has won our brothers, and our clan can no longer act like one. He has put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart.

Achebe’s novel focuses on Okonkwo, an Igbo man. It begins with a section focusing on his life, family, and culture. Then, and the second and third sections of the novel, the author introduces European colonialism and Christianity. This novel was followed by No Longer at Ease in 1960.


Why is postcolonial literature important? 

Postcolonial literature is incredibly important around the world. By reading and analyzing these literary works, whether they be poems or novels, readers are provided with valuable insight into the lives, customs, and struggles of various marginalized communities worldwide. These novels highlight perspectives that help readers understand the influence of colonialism worldwide.

What are the features of postcolonial literature?

Postcolonial literature speaks on themes of colonialism, nationalism, cultural identity, family, the future and the past, and more. Postcolonial writers often utilize the language of their colonizers effort to speak plainly and clearly about the effects that colonialism has had on their country and culture.

What is the purpose of postcolonial literature?

Postcolonial literature discusses the influence of colonialism and the decolonization of countries and communities. These novels, poems, short stories, and more focus on large communities or on singular personal narratives.

What is an example of postcolonial literature?

Some postcolonial stories include Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Beloved by Toni Morrison, Season of Migration to the North by Tayeb Salih, and Waiting for the Barbarians by J.M. Coetzee. 

Related Literary Terms 

  • Harlem Renaissance: a cultural and intellectual movement in African American art, literature, dance, must, and more.
  • Enlightenment: also known as the Age of Reason, was a period from the late 17th century through the 18th century in which scientific ideas flourished throughout Western Europe, England, and the colonies in America.
  • Genre: a type of art, literary work, or musical composition that is defined by its content, style, or a specific form to which it conforms.
  • Literary Movement: refers to a division of written works. They are separated out into their similarities and aesthetic features, and topics. That is, in contrast to divisions of time or location.
  • Postmodernism: a literary movement that began in the late-20th century. It was a reaction to modernism after World War II. 

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