The Postcolonial World Views America: Introduction

Margaret Hander'00 English 27, 1997

Considering the content of the books read in this course, images of America seems an unlikely focus for this paper. None of the books we have read take place in America, none of them include Americans as main characters, and in fact, most of them have no American characters at all. Though America has a colonial past, none of the books we have read explicitly discuss this, perhaps in order to leave such discussions for an American Civilization class. Undeniably, it is easier to examine others than oneself, to draw clear lines and see clear patterns in others' history and culture. Thuis course takes place at an American University, and perhaps for these reasons we never focused upon America's role in the postcolonial world. Or maybe such an examination would have clouded our study of postcoloniality because of America's ambiguous, dual role as both an ex-colony and as an economic force comparable to imperialism.

America, Americans, and things American appear in the books we have read only in passing. For this project, I focus on those books that mention them most: Wole Soyinka's Aké: the Years of Childhood, Ken Saro-Wiwa's A Forest of Flowers, Chinua Achebe's Anthills of the Savannah, Salman Rushdie's Shame, Sara Suleri's Meatless Days, Kazuo Ishiguro's The Remains of the Day, and Alan Duff's Once Were Warriors. America comes up almost exclusively in side reference, but tracing all these references, forceful symbolic patterns emerge.

These patterns mirror America's dual role in postcoloniality with a paradox of their own. America exerts its most immediate and palpable influence throughout these books as an imperialist power, a domineering force that commodifies and destroys the sacred past. Yet at the same time it represents a yearned for ideal of modern success. America is the ex-colony that seems to flourish without looking back. It embodies all the hopes and shiny promises of development.

Although examining others' ideas of America might help us to understand some things about America, it also sheds light on the characters and societies who form these perceptions. The characters in these novels find themselves at a historical turning point, unable to live in the traditions of their ancestors, unable and unwilling to conform snugly to the European, capitalistic ideal of a modern person, and struggling for a blend of these two that fits. In the sense Marshall Berman defines it in All That is Solid Melts into Air , they struggle with their modernity. "To be modern is to find ourselves in an environment that promises us adventure, power, joy, growth, transformation of ourselves and the world -- and at the same time threatens to destroy everything we have, everything we know, everything we are" (15). In these seven books, references to America trace the attempts of cultures, nations, and individuals to do just this.


Berman, Marshall. All That is Solid Melts into Air: the Experience of Modernity. Penguin Books, New York: 1982.

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