Post-colonial literary critics re-examine classical literature with a particular focus on the social "discourse" that shaped it. Edward Said in his popular work Orientalism analyzes the writings of Honoré de Balzac, Charles Baudelaire and Lautréamont, exploring how they were influenced, and how they helped to shape a societal fantasy of European racial superiority. Post-colonial fiction writers might interact with the traditional colonial discourse by attempting to modify or subvert it. An example of this is Jean Rhys' Wide Sargasso Sea (1966), which was written as a pseudo-prequel to Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre. Here, a familiar story is re-told from the perspective of an oppressed minor character. Protagonists in post-colonial writings are often found to be struggling with questions of identity, experiencing the conflict of living between the old, native world and the invasive forces of hegemony from new, dominant cultures.
Post-colonial literature works through the process of "writing back", "re-writing", and "re-reading". This describes the interpretation of well-known literature from the perspective of the formerly colonized. In Wide Sargasso Sea, the protagonist is shown to be re-named and exploited in several ways.
The "anti-conquest narrative" recasts indigenous inhabitants of colonised countries as victims rather than foes of the colonisers. This depicts the colonised people in a more human light but risks absolving colonisers of responsibility for addressing the impacts of colonisation by assuming that native inhabitants were "doomed" to their fate.
In the Americas, Isabel Allende from Chile contributes to Latin-American literature and occasionally writes in a style called magical realism or vivid story-telling, also used by Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Salman Rushdie. The Canadian writer Margaret Atwood is also a post-colonial writer who dealt with themes of identity-seeking through her Southern Ontario Gothic style of writing.
In Asia, post-colonial writings have been found among much of Indian literature. Meena Alexander is probably best known for lyrical memoirs that deal sensitively with struggles of women and disenfranchised groups.
Before the "post-colonial movement" began, Joseph Conrad and Charlotte Brontë were never classified as "postcolonial", even though their works dealt significantly with the universal themes of post-colonial theory. Shakespeare's Tempest, has a colonial setting, and Othello carries a racial dynamic. The figure of Adamastor in the epic poem Os Lusíadas by Luís de Camões has also played a large role in influencing African literature.
''This section needs to be expanded with JM Coetzee, Maryse Condé, Cyril Dabydeen, Tsitsi Dangarembga, Raywat Deonandan , Buchi Emecheta, Athol Fugard, Nadine Gordimer, Bonny Hicks, Kazuo Ishiguro, Hanif Kureishi, Doris Lessing, Earl Lovelace, Gabriel García Márquez, Bharati Mukherjee, VS Naipaul, Michael Ondaatje, Jean Rhys, Salman Rushdie, RK Narayan, Mahashweta Devi, EM Forster, Anita Desai, Bapsi Sidhwa, Wilbur Smith, Wole Soyinka, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o, Yvonne Vera, Derek Walcott, Kath Walker
What qualifies as post-colonial literature is debatable. The term post-colonial literature has taken on many meanings. The three subjects include:
1. Social and cultural change or erosion: It seems that after independence is achieved, one main question arises; what is the new cultural identity?
2. Misuse of power and exploitation: Even though the large power ceases to control them as a colony, the settlers still seem to continue imposing power over the native. The main question here; who really is in power here, why, and how does an independence day really mean independence?
3. Colonial abandonment and alienation: This topic is generally brought up to examine individuals and not the ex-colony as a whole. The individuals tend to ask themselves; in this new country, where do I fit in and how do I make a living?
In order to look at change, you have to look at what something is changing from. Colonies go through many changes throughout their existence. When looking at pre-colonialism, you see the area’s original culture. Their beliefs and customs run smoothly and they are a functioning society. Colonialism changes everything. In almost all cases of colonialism, the norms, beliefs and cultural values of the larger power are forced upon all of the colonies natives. This is because the colonizer believes that the natives are “savages” and they need to be civilized. The natives have no choice but to accept these new ways of life. The settlers' technology is more advanced and they could easily wipe out all natives who refuse to conform to the new culture. This is where the depletion of their own culture begins. Natives stop practicing their religion. In most cases they convert to Christianity, mainly because it is forced onto them. In order to communicate with the colonizers/ settlers, they start speaking the settlers language. Soon enough their own is lost.
After so many years of colonialism, the natives become similar to their colonizers. The colonizers control education, therefore the control the thoughts and ideas absorbed by the youth. Natives' children absorb the new culture and ideas at a young age. Because of this, the original culture is lost in new generations. The colonizer is a brute force with oppresses the natives. In the fight of this oppression, independence is fought for and a culture that has almost been forgotten is once again sought after. Finally, an independence day comes. The larger power no longer has control of the colony, or rather, former colony. Now post colonialism takes place. Now that the larger power is gone, what is left of the original culture, the pre-colonial culture of the native people? The subject of culture is deeply explored in postcolonial literature.
Post colonialism deals with the aftermath of colonialism. It’s about the struggle of being independent. One main concern in a post colonial nation is its government. After being controlled by the large power for such a long time, they need to establish their own way of running things. It’s difficult because their cultural identity is in question. Governments are supposed to act in the best interest of the people, but what do the people want? The society is no longer being oppressed, they’re independent, free to be themselves again. However they’ve changed, their culture has changed now they need to figure out who they really are.
Postcolonial literature can be identified by its discussion of cultural identity. The piece of literature, be it a novel, poem, short story etc. may be about the change that has taken place or question the current change. Postcolonial literature tends to ask the question: What now? Meaning that now that they’ve finally achieved independence, what to they do. After so much change has taken place, they can’t go back to their original culture.
Postcolonial literature tends to answer the following question: Should there be an attempt to restore the original culture, conformity to the culture presented by the settlers or the creation of a new culture which combines both. If a novel answers and explores any of the above questions it may be considered postcolonial literature. When trying to identify post colonial literature, it is important to recognize whether the ex-colony in question is actually independent or considered independent, but reliant on its former colonist.