Post-colonial readings interrogate the processes, values and results of colonialism. We can learn about this through reading text produced by the colonisers.
Often these texts shock us with their depictions of race, gender and ethnicity which are out of step with our current ways of thinking. Sometimes they can be confusing to us as they seem to celebrate the 'noble savage'; we need to deconstruct the ideologies, beliefs and values which underpin these representations. Not all colonial texts suggest that imperialism is without danger and moral difficulty. Conrad's Heart of Darkness represents this questioning through the character of Marlowe, who is ambitious and seeks wealth through the subjugation of the African people of the Congo, only to have his values and beliefs brought into question when he sees the reality of the situation. Further, Kurtz is finally driven mad by the role he plays.
In The Tempest, Shakespeare suggests to us that the colonisation of Caliban's island was both unjust and damaging. However, it is ambiguous whether he feels strongly opposed to this as he portrays Caliban as animalistic and violent, and that the lovely (European) Miranda must constantly fight off his attempts to rape her. As a post-colonial reader, we might interpret this as irony - Miranda and her father Prospero have metaphorically raped Caliban's island and he is trying to return the favour.
We can also read post-colonial literature, that is, the literature written after colonisation, particularly by the colonised.
In post-colonial literature we are often shown the results of colonisation on the marginalised, in this way empowering them with a voice to be heard. Jack Davis' No Sugar was first performed in the 1980s to an audience of Western Australians who were likely unaware (willfully or otherwise) of the way that Australia's colonial heritage has impacted upon the Indigenous. In this way, post-colonial literature can be very important for shifting ideologies of nations and encouraging greater understanding.
When we read a text from a post-colonial standpoint, we look at
the way one powerful group imposes their will on a weaker one.
the importance of language and education in shaping ideologies, as well as in marginalising groups.
the way that history can be interpreted in differing ways.
how historical figures have been portrayed.
the creation of 'the other' and the normalising of the dominant group.
the way that values and attitudes have been reflected and reinforced by texts.
How many examples of colonisation can you think of? The book examples above might give you a starting point.
In what ways has post-colonial criticism been important in Australia in terms of shifting ideologies and politics in recent years?
How does Australia's 'bush legend' and hero-worship of figures like Ned Kelly contribute to a colonial view of our country?