Final Project

Sarah Jang

ENG 391W

Professor Alvarez

28 May 2011

Final Paper

Voices That Never Cease: The Melody of Colonialism Within Literature


For this article, I will address the extent of which colonialism plays an important role in literature. In an attempt to narrow down my argument, I plan to use the concept of intertextuality to link the text together and perhaps also explore the idea of how colonialism destroys cultures yet unifies a people towards a purpose. I will examine how colonialism works in each text and how it affects the characters. Through the use of two texts, Mumbo Jumbo by Ishmael Reed and Ceremony by Marmon Silko, I plan to explore the power and influence of colonialism, which is still existent to this day.

I also argue that colonialism is a powerful factor in our current literature. It is the base upon which ideas, morals, and values are shaped in our texts. And at times, it is what compels the author to write. I posit that colonialism is not over but is still present and still continuing, the wake of it reaching everything, especially in literature. To understand and explain this fully, we will be looking at Aimé Césaire’s Discourse on Colonialism to interpret and comprehend other texts.

Césaire’s Discourse on Colonialism: Revamping the Meaning of the Word, Colonialism

In Discourse on Colonialism, Aimé Césaire brings forth strong arguments about the effects of colonialism. He presents the readers with compelling perspectives on the identities and the roles that the colonizer and the colonized assumed. Césaire’s voice is defiant, strong, and definitive. Through awareness and the use of literature and the English language, or the colonizer’s language, Césaire claims back the identity of the colonized. He voices the injustice of the action of the colonizers and unveils the truth for his readers. Césaire states, “no one colonizes innocently, that no one colonizes with impunity either; that a nation which colonizes, that a civilization which justifies colonization – and therefore force – is already a sick civilization” (39). In presenting this argument, Césaire opens up the eyes of the reader to see postcolonial literature in this light – the influence of the colonizers and the response to it.

Césaire also states that “the great thing I hold against pseudo-humanism: that for too long it has diminished the rights of man, that its concept of those rights has been – and still is – narrow and fragmentary, incomplete and biased and, all things considered, sordidly racist” (37). In regards to this statement, the literature and the response that rise to pseudo-humanism shapes the literature of the future and what is highbrow and what is radical. It is evident even now in the things society reads and values ranging from authors and their works from Franz Fanon and Chinua Achebe to the moving and powerful words of Roberto Fernandez Retamar in Caliban and Other Essays to America is in the Heart by Carlos Bulosan. Each was a response and story that rose up against colonialism.

Aimé Césaire offers another powerful statement, “The proof is that at present it is the indigenous peoples of Africa and Asia who are demanding schools, and the colonialist Europe which refuses them; that it is the African who is asking for ports and roads, and the colonialist Europe which is niggardly on this score; that it is the colonized man who wants to move forward, and the colonizer who holds things back” (46). There is a tension that is often present and seen in literary texts where there is a desire to move forward yet due to the environmental and societal factors, it is not possible and the characters are held back. Struggles of one’s identity is evident as well among literature in response to colonialism. Césaire argues for the sake of the colonized – he portrays and reveals the colonized as a forward group of peoples held back by the colonizer.

Within literature, movement begins by claiming back one’s self, one’s identity, and one’s history through using the master’s tools to dismantle the master’s house. Language and literature have become tools in the case of Aimé Césaire as he has written this book as an act against colonialism.

Césaire and the Rise of Thinkers Alike

Within other literary articles, we find the influence and the resonating gong of colonialism and its effects. In “Fighting ‘Humanism’ on Its Own Terms” by Mara De Gennaro, she states,  “The mode of criticism recalls [Césaire’s] treatment of identity throughout the Notebook as inextricably bound to historical experience, both one’s own experience…and that of the people who constitute the larger communities with which one identifies oneself” (59). De Gennaro relays that the identity is tied with history and historical experiences. She explains that one person is not just linked to his or herself but to all, affecting each other. Communities, families, and friends are included. There is a sense of a greater commonality along with our histories. Césaire argues a similar point, and as Suren Pillay, author of “Anti-Colonialism, Post-Colonialism and the ‘New Man,'” unveils, “The ‘poison’ of barbarism afflicts every part of it, from Hitler to ‘the gentleman across the way’. Hitler is of Europe and Europe is of Hitler. The ‘sick society’ that has embarked on this course is now beginning to ‘rot’, to decay, to unravel itself from within, and it rots from the heart first’, ‘a poison has been instilled into the veins of Europe and slowly, but surely, the continent proceeds toward savagery’” (96). It does not affect just one being, but all. Pillay and Gennaro revisit the idea of the society and how both individuals and the society affect each other. It is much like the image of rows and rows of dominoes. One can perhaps tilt over with “corruption” and then affect the rest. Similar to a domino effect expect with ideologies and with social behavior.

In revisiting Césaire, this essay explores the critiques and multiple perspectives that have developed in the quake of his writing. One author, Anca Stefan, in his essay, “Critical and Narrative Discourses on Post-Colonialism: Chinua Achebe,” writes,

Other critics have seen post-colonialism mostly as a way to understand as “subjectivity of oppositionality to imperializing/ colonizing discourses and practices,” therefore underlining the fact that the native individuality of the marginal proposes a new type of counter- culture. Another function of this practice is ― perhaps one of the most important ― the revision of history and of the identity of the colonized, as the oppressed is “reinvested with positive qualities” such as “self-determination” when speaking about the constitution of a nation (83).

Stefan portrays another aspect of looking at the effect of colonialism in terms of post-colonialism. He states post-colonialism can be put into perspective in terms of viewing colonialism as a way to understand history, actions, and values. He also argues that post-colonialism allows a window into the world of history where one can redefine it as well as the role of the colonized. In a sense, he is stating through this stage, the colonized can claim back their identity. Gennaro also mentions, “Whatever sympathy they show for the multiculturalist and, essentially, historicist commitment to respect cultural particularities not one’s own, they still assume, as Césaire does, that human beings are morally obligated to act in accord with their knowledge of each other’s fundamental potential for suffering” (62) In this passage, Gennaro points out a similar idea as with the domino effect. That everyone affects each other. The other idea that can be taken out from this is the reach of this effect. It spreads to literature, music, and even values. This is seen in many stages and different aspects of our lives. Even among scholars, the presence of colonialism is strong – to which, this factor may be very useful and revealing in further in depth analysis.

Césaire Among Literature

People are created and are meant to have a relationship with one another. This is seen throughout history where people have interacted with each other in different ways whether it is through wars, collaborations, or exchanges. However, the idea of the relationship has been warped and has taken on different forms that are unfair and unequal. One of the distorted relationships we often look at and critique is the relationship between the colonizer and the colonized. Aimé Césaire addresses this issue in his book, Discourse on Colonialism. He states that colonization is a form of “’thingification’” (Césaire 42). Within Leslie Marmon Silko’s text, Ceremony, we find the effects of this relationship and the mentality that takes over.

Césaire declared, “colonization = “thingification” (42).  This meaning that both colonizer and colonized become inhumane; one becoming an “animal” by force and the other becoming inhuman by subjecting others. This is seen in Silko’s Ceremony between Tayo and the Indians and the white people who have sent them off to war to fight for their country. There was a disillusionment of amends of their relationship where they, the Indians and the white people, have become equals. However, Tayo states,

“Here they were, trying to bring back that old feeling, that feeling they belonged to America the way they felt during the war. They blamed themselves for losing the new feeling; they never talked about it, but they blamed themselves just like they blamed themselves for losing the land the white people took. They never thought to blame white people for any of it; they wanted white people for their friends. They never saw that it was the white people who gave them that feeling and it was white people who took it away again when the war was over” (Silko 39).

This distortion of the relationships between the colonizer and the colonized reveals the mentality where one desires to belong and be accepted. Their relationship was exploited and left the colonized empty and used. Césaire stated, “No human contact, but relations of domination and submission which turn the colonizing man into a classroom monitor, an army sergeant, a prison guard, a slave driver, and the indigenous man into an instrument of production” (42). The “white man” has turned the Indians into an instrument of production, leaving them the empty feeling of what was once thought to be human contact and a relationship (Silko 39). Tayo embodies this relationship; he wrestles with himself and his memories of war. He is constantly heaving up food and emptiness from his body. He was used in the war to gain nothing, he was colonized to fight for “his” country and in return, nothing. The colonizer has exploited and has “‘thingified’” him (Césaire 42). He has become nothing more than a tool to them.

The same approach occurs in Ishmael Reed’s Mumbo Jumbo. Abdul states, “Some of these people with degrees going around here shouting that they are New Negroes are really serving the Man who awarded them their degrees, who has initiated them into his slang and found them ‘qualified,’ which means loyal” (Reed 37). Abdul points out the pseudo-choice we have in education and in gaining knowledge. He states that “the Man” is really the one who defines the standards and the one to claim who is qualified to be a certain identity or being. There is also the language of the colonizer, as Abdul claims it is the Man, “who has initiated them into his slang” (Reed 37). It is an intriguing embodiment of language; the colonized gurgling forth from his mouth the blood of the colonizer. Though it may sound extreme, even as we sit here in discourse on a lost heritage and on colonialism, we are using the language of the colonizer. It makes one rethink Aime Cesaire’s claim of “dismantling the master’s house using the master’s tools,” given that hegemony and power still weigh unfairly and we, as the original bearers of culture, are yet under the influence of the Man. Just as Don Enrique shaped and gave selected texts to Harrison for his education, so are we, subject under the same pseudo-choices.

In Mumbo Jumbo, Ishmael Reed write, “The White man will never admit his real references. He will steal everything you have and still call you those names. He will drag out standards and talk about propriety” (194) and along with it, “Censorship until the very last. [Abdul] took it upon himself to decide what writing should be viewed by Black people, the people he claimed he loved” (203).

We find that censorship is truly an issue that needs to be unearthed and discussed about more. In Mumbo Jumbo, Reed alludes to this issue through the use of Abdul’s actions, and through Papa LaBas’ impacting words. The idea of censorship rings both in society and throughout this novel. We saw Hinkle Von Vampton managing a magazine company in which he omitted and allowed certain things to be published to influence and shape the mass. The power of censorship is explored in Mumbo Jumbo and it reveals that there is power to the one who holds the ability to censor what we read. It shows that a culture, a society, and a people can be shaped by it. The power to “rule the world” can truly lie in one man’s hand.


In conclusion, this article argues that colonialism is still evident to this day. There has never been an end to it but rather, an echoing of it, a remembrance. It resonates in our daily lives and even takes a stab at shaping our futures and our cultures. It worked its way in, creating an impact. Colonialism still remains open for interpretation and for use of explaining and showing its effects. It is a factor in which voices are able to rise against. In future research, we find that colonialism could possibly be explored in the media as well, with movies such as Pocahontas and Avatar. We even see the rise of the effects of colonialism in books outside of America and Europe; such as Asian.

In overall effect, colonialism has left the colonized crying out against the injustice and out of it, great literature rose in a sense, to dismantle the master’s house. Their works spoke out truth and with the rise of this voice, there exists a brighter, and hopeful future that draws closer to the truth.


Césaire, Aimé. Discourse on Colonialism. New York: Monthly Review Press, 2000.Print.

De Gennaro, Mara. “Fighting ‘Humanism’ on Its Own Terms.” Differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies 14.1 (2003): 53. Web.
Pillay, Suren. “Anti-Colonialism, Post-Colonialism and the ‘New Man’.” Politikon: South African Journal of Political Studies 31.1 (2004): 91-104. Web.

Reed, Ishmael. Mumbo Jumbo. New York: Scribner Paperback Fiction, 1972. Print.

Silko, Leslie Marmon. Ceremony. United States of America: Penguin Books, 1986.Print.

Ştefan, Anca. “Critical and Narrative Discourses on Post-Colonialism: Chinua Achebe.” Petroleum – Gas University of Ploiesti Bulletin, Philology Series 61.2 (2009): 81-90. Web.

bron649. “Black Cruises to America.” Cartoon. Web. 27 May 2011. “Exploitation Cartoon: Papa New Guinea.” Cartoon. AdventureHotels.Travel, 2007. Web. 27 May 2011.

“Orientalism as a Tool of Colonialism 1/4.”

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