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The Psychology of Colonialism

The psychology of European Colonialism started with The Berlin Conference of 1884-1885, dividing Africa into 50 irregular countries. The new map of the Continent was superimposed over the 1,000 indigenous cultures and regions of Africa.  “The percentage of territories belonging to the European/US Colonial Powers in 1939 was:  Africa 90.4 percent, Polynesia 98.9 percent, Asia 56.5 percent, Australia 100 percent, and the Americas 27.2 percent” (Townsend 19).  In order to justify the act of economically exploiting Africa and other parts of the world, the science of Anthropology was introduced to classify and divide mankind into races.  Charles Darwin’s book, The Origin of Species and the advent of anthropology were responsible for a systematic division of man and the practice of a hierarchy according to color.  People of color were deemed “inferior” and sometimes referred to as “savages.” 

Both Orwell and Gordimer write relentlessly about their embedded feelings as loyalists to the British government’s gospel and practice of colonialism whereas, Niapaul and Walcott are writing from the point-of-view of the oppressed or displaced.  Orwell and Gordimer transfer a “British Subject Loyalty” into their writing and mix it with their inner conflicting moral feelings.  Even though the authors know that colonialism is wrong, their feelings are bypassed in favor of upholding “British Loyalty.”  Niapual and Walcott write about their conflicts but seem willing to accept colonialism if it means they are accepted within the “normalcy” that helps them find peace within themselves.

Orwell’s “Shooting an Elephant” is an essay about a colonial officer’s obligation to shoot a rogue elephant. The narrator does not want to shoot the elephant, but feels obligated because he does not want a crowd of Burmese residents to think he is spineless. Orwell illustrates the hostility in his essay between the officials of the British Empire and the natives showing that both sides feel hatred, distrust, and resentment.  The following lines taken from the essay contain the use of words showing a psychological mechanism of colonialism as it existed during that era.   

“I was stuck between my hatred of the empire I served and my rage against the evil-spirited little beasts that tried to make my job impossible.”

“The Burmese population had no weapons and was quite helpless against it.”

“The owner was furious, but he was only an Indian and could do nothing.”

“When a nimble Burman tripped me up on the football field and the referee (another Burman) looked the other way, the crowd yelled with hideous laughter. This happened more than once. In the end the sneering yellow faces of young men that met me everywhere, the insults hooted after me when I was at a safe distance, got badly on my nerves.”

In Nadine Gordimer’s “The Moment Before the Gun Went Off” a white man accidentally kills his black son.  Throughout the short story, Van der Vyver avoids shame and turmoil by withholding his emotions. At the funeral of his dead farmhand/son he stares silently at the coffin and so does the young man’s mother. They stare at the coffin, never looking up to face each other.  The dead man reminded Van der Vyver of his defiance of the law that prohibits sexual intercourse between blacks and whites.  A law they did not make punishes both the farmer and his son, but the farmer chooses to honor the law of his forefathers, which outlawed any love he might have felt for his son he had created with a black woman.  Gordimer uses the poem to help herself shed the feelings she knows is not right.  I feel she uses the poem to show the differences in the colors “black and white.”  

 “The dead man’s mother and he stare at the grave in communication like that between the black man outside and the white man inside the cab the moment before the gun went off.”

“The young man callously shot through the negligence of the white man was not the farmer's boy; he was his son.”

In Vidiadhar Naipaul’s “One Out of Many,” he presents an image of social reality, where people search for order in their lives because they not included in the mainstream.  According to a critic, “Naipaul has been culturally uprooted and forced to create his own world.”  “Naipaul presents not objective reality but subjective perceptions.”

“His employer was upset, not because of the injustice inflicted upon his worker he was more upset that others would conclude that he lived poorly in Bombay.”

“The bias of racism and injustice were no longer barriers to his freedom.  His journey had ended, and ended in victory.”

 “The worm, colonial of carrion, cries:  ‘Waste no compassion  on these separate dead!’”

In Derek Walcott’s, “A Cry from Africa,” he associates the Africans with a primitive, natural strength, and the British are portrayed as an artificially enhanced power.  At one point he refers to blacks as gorillas and whites supermen uttering the oppressor’s choice of words.  In the first two stanzas of the poem there are natural images of Africa portrayed with unnatural images of colonization and violence.  Walcott seems to have an inner conflict deciding on which racial side to stand.  Probably the lines that were most definitive to point out racial differences were the following:

“The gorilla wrestles with the superman.”

“The Kikuyu resemble primitive savages who abuse the fertile resources of their native plains.”

Much of Asia and Africa have experienced at the hands of the European and British Governments seem to be in a REPEATING Mode as the United States and England invade Iraq for the same purpose—colonialism and imperialism.  The establishment of US military bases throughout what the Pentagon calls the Greater Middle East is an essential part of the permanent US government strategy to control world energy resources as the way to control its economic rivals, principally Europe and northeast Asia.  Those who fail to learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them. 


Works Cited

Gordimer, Nadine. Jump and Other Stories Reviewed by Nicholas Southey, http://www.greenleft.org.au/back/1992/59/59p19.htm

Orwell, George. “Shooting an Elephant,” 1936 http://www.netcharles.com/orwell/05.htm

Townsend, Mary Evelyn. “European Colonial Expansion Since 1871,” Chicago: J.P. Lippincott Company, 1941. 19.

Naipaul, Vidiadhar Surajprasad., “Second Essay:  One Out of Many,”  http://www.msu.edu/~penkevic/2ndEssay.html

Sachs, William L., “V. S. Naipaul and the Plight of the Dispossessed,” “Christian Century Foundation,” 17 Nov 1982. 1167. 

Walcott, Derek. “A Far Cry from Africa,” Mr. Africa Poetry Lounge!  http://www.ctadams.com/derekwalcott2.html