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Colonisation

In: English and Literature

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“The Gorilla wrestles with the superman” (Walcott)
Compare and contrast your three chosen writers’ presentation of the effects of colonisation.

“The Gorilla wrestles with the Superman,” taken from Derek Walcott’s ‘A Far Cry from Africa,’ effectively connotes the struggle between people of different nationalities and cultures due to colonialism. Imperialism connects Walcotts poems, Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’ and Friel’s ‘Translations’. All three texts contain binary opposites connoting culture, which is exactly what Walcott’s “The Gorilla wrestles with the superman” represents. The ‘gorilla’ represents the black native man; strong, natural and powerful which ‘wrestles’ with the superman, in this case British colonists. The image of the ‘gorilla’ representing the black man suggests a hint of racism - gorillas are primitive and often untameable. However the image of ‘superman’ is also not all-powerful, the idea of a superman is unrealistic. This image is a binary opposite, although these two representatives are both mighty in their own right, they possess very few similarities - natural versus supernatural. Walcott struggles with his own culture, his recurrent themes focus on dichotomy of Caribbean and Western civilisation. These seemingly opposing backgrounds cause a cross-cultural identity issue. Walcott’s split ethnicity connotes a ‘wrestle’ and struggle within himself. The effects of colonisation is a theme that can be explored within ‘Heart of Darkness’ and ‘Translations’. In both texts there is a ‘wrestle’ between the colonised and colonists despite containing opposite settings.

Colonisation dehumanises the colonised and colonists themselves, to a varying extent, yet there is evidence of this in a three texts. In Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’, Kurtz the protagonist was notoriously known for his vicious and immoral actions. Marlow’s description of Kurtz represents the entire attitude of Eurocentric colonists towards the natives, “I saw it -- I heard it. I saw the inconceivable mystery of a soul that knew no restraint, no faith, and no fear, yet struggling blindly with itself.” The adjective ‘inconceivable’ insinuates an absolute disbelief that this soul, of Kurtz, would know such evil as he displayed. The delusive ‘superman’ image that connotes the white imperialist links to Kurtz’s behaviour - his soul lacks ‘faith, fear and restraint’ to a point which is unimaginable by Marlow. Furthermore the absence of restraint, faith and fear paints an image of Kurtz being a beast, similar to the xenophobic views people would’ve had towards the natives; ‘gorillas'. The repetition of the pronoun ‘it’ creates a sense of ambiguity to the situation, Marlow struggles to explain himself which Conrad highlights by the pause in-between ‘I saw it’ and ‘I heard it’, creating a build up of tension. Kurtz’s insatiable hunger to be viewed as the most powerful drives him to behave inhumanely towards the natives. Kurtz has fallen a complete victim to the power of the jungle, as Marlow explains, ‘powers of darkness have claimed him for their own’. Once again a reference to the supernatural, ‘powers’ connoting the superman image of the colonists. The verb ‘claimed’ suggests that the stress and trauma of being in the jungle has finally taken control of Kurtz, dehumanising him. There is an irony about Kurtz being viewed as weak due to the exact reason which made him all-powerful, the colonisation of the natives created a lack of faith which inevitably drove him insane. His madness morphs into physical illness, his bodily sickness reflects his now diseased mind, showing the physical effects of dehumanisation. There is dispute whether it was the jungle that dehumanised Kurtz or whether the corruption was always there. Hawkins argues that ‘Heart of Darkness represents an attack on imperialism. White men’s hearts are not turned black by Africans, they already carry the corruption of Europe within them.’ This counter-argues the point that colonisation dehumanises the colonists but suggests that the ‘corruption’ was within the from the beginning. Similarly Albert Guerard asserts that, “Heart of Darkness isn’t really about Africa, its a metaphor for a psychological exploration to the heart of human nature and the animal selves that lurk beneath our civilised veneers once thrown into unfamiliar territory.” Gerard coincides with Hawkins by stating that Kurtz being present in the unfamiliar territory exposed the animalistic behaviour he already possessed.

Similarly in Friel’s ‘Translations’ dehumanisation is displayed in a different way. As is suggested in the play by Yoland ‘I may learn the password but the language of the tribe will always elude me,’ the English and the Irish will never be able to understand each other, therefore can exist only in translation…...

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