The representation of race and indigeneity in "Samson and Delilah" and "Coonardoo"

Term Paper (Advanced seminar) 2011 23 Pages

Didactics - English - Literature, Works


Table of contents

1. Introduction

2. The influence of colonialism and imperialism

3. The influence of post-colonialism on the representation of race and indigeneity

4. The meaning and significance of Representation

5. The representation of race and indigeneity
5.1 The representation of indigeneity
5.2 The representation of race
5.3 Samson and Delilah
5.4 Coonardoo

6. Conclusion

7. List of references

1. Introduction

When we think of Australia, we associate certain images, experiences or even stereotypes with the country that is at the same time a continent, located on the southern hemisphere of the world. Indigenous people, the so-called Aborigines, modern and popular cities, beautiful beaches and an exotic flora and fauna and certain sights, such as Ayers Rock for example, account for a stereotypical representation of the land which in fact holds more appeal if you only take a closer look. These associations are very superficial and originate from a Eurocentric perspective, a term that will appear again later in this essay. Whether you regard Australia and its outline on the map as being on the southern hemisphere for example, simply depends from which angle of vision one looks at the country. Since the emergence of the Mercator Atlas, a certain view of the world has been established. Today, this view is still perceived as dominant and correct and is supposed to reflect reality. It’s the underlying ideology of western European countries whose ideas of structuring the world by mapping and timing have also influenced the Australian continent. More importantly, the colonists defined their identity by demarcating them from other cultures. What didn’t conform to European standards wasn’t perceived right and therefore had to be changed in order to adapt to conventional norms. Even today the connection between Australia and its former ruling British center and the impact of colonialism on post-colonial Australia becomes visible in everyday life and is also manifested in cultural discourses such as literature and film production. The aim of this essay is to give an outline of the terms imperialism, colonialism and post-colonialism, their relationship and influence on the colonized country Australia and its impact upon the representation of indigeneity and race. Before concrete representation of characteristics that have to do with indigeneity and race will be examined, the reader will be provided with some background information to better understand the sometimes conflicting topic and its deep-set causes. The term representation will also be explained in detail, because it entails a process of seeing and perceiving the world from a dominant perspective that explains a certain depiction of instances such as the indigenous people. On the basis of the movie Samson and Delilah and the novel Coonardoo the reader will experience the power of representation by language, silence or music that may cause a reconsideration of existing concepts and ideologies.

2. The influence of colonialism and imperialism

In order to understand the topic in its whole array, an overview of the term colonialism with its underlying structures will be given. Colonialism principally refers to a dominant form of cultural exploitation, which originates from European expansions that started 400 years ago. The word itself comes from the Latin word colonus, meaning “a small farm”. Settlers have been occupying and cultivating foreign territories ever since and even before that and constructed a central imperium with a marginal, provincial and rural periphery with its underprivileged societies. Whereas imperialism is a more general term that implies “[…] a dominating metropolitan centre ruling a distant territory […]”, colonialism can be seen as a result of that process in which settlements are established on distant territories (Said, 1993; quoted in Ashcroft, Griffiths & Tiffin, 1998a: 1). The difference between modern European and ancient imperialism is the idea of the civilizing mission, where European ideals and norms are not only transported but also assimilated onto the conquered new land including alien cultures and their way of life. Colonialism is a rather concrete concept of imperialism and stands for the practice of implanting the existing ideology into a new territory. While the economy especially in Western Europe grew and capitalism became more important, the search for natural resources fueled the development of new colonies. According to Emmanuel Wallerstein’s (1980; 1991; quoted in Ashcroft et al., 1998a: 2), capitalism triggered a separation into a centre, periphery and semi-periphery. The latter only served as the material provider in order to boost the economy of those countries that ruled those colonies. Exploitation and impoverishment of the native land was accepted to sustain the motherland. This behavior should afflict the relationship between the colonists and the colonized for a long time to the detriment of the native population, which suffered economically, socially and culturally. Another result of this post-Renaissance colonial expansion was the issue of race, racism and racial prejudices that would justify the mistreatment of the indigenous people. Social Darwinism supported the upcoming view of genetically pre-determined inferior humans as a naturally given state and together with the imperialistic point of views that aroused at the end of the nineteenth century intensified the feelings of the distinction between the civilized and uncivilized or cultivated and uncultivated world (Ashcroft et al., 1998a: 2). These dominating perspectives and the patriarchal characteristics of that time led to the feeling that the uncivilized had to be educated to conform to the European standard and way of life. In the end, the supposedly peaceful colonization was overshadowed by increased violence, racism and exploitation of raw materials. Several programs were initiated to cover the abuse of indigenous people and to legitimize the civilizing mission (Ashcroft et al., 1998a: 2-3).

Several attributes such as an originary taint, marginality, naivety or limited colonial characteristics in general were used to describe non-Australians and can be found in literature until the early twentieth century. Colonial discrimination at least partially ended at the end of the post-industrial British era, when the gap between rich and poor and industrial and non-industrial became bigger and therefore a national unity had to be established to avoid revolutions and divisions and to unify all classes and other social divisions. At the same time the colonized people should also benefit from this new sense of unity, which was also intended to bring “[…] the industrialized cities that developed the wealth and that of the traditional countryside to which its beneficiaries retreated or retired”, together (Ashcroft et al., 1998a: 4). Theoretically, some time in the future the inferior people should have been hierarchically raised to the same level of the colonizers, which in practice never occurred. Never in the history of colonialism has a colonized society immediately achieved full freedom from the imperial power until they fought for their rights in search of self-determination (Ashcroft et al., 1998a: 4). It will always remain a great myth that the British government granted independence to its colonies as a result of their liberal policies, which allegedly distinguished them from the other European colonial powers. By the way, it wasn’t until 1900 when Australia became an independent federation and it took 46 more years until distinctive national passports were issued (Ashcroft et al., 1998a: 4-5). Even today the ties between Australia and its British crown cannot be denied. National symbols such as the Union Jack as an element of the Australian flag, the national anthem and certain ceremonial days are proof of Australians loyalty to Great Britain (Cousins, 2005: 2). Nevertheless, literary representation in works from Kipling and Conrad reveal an anti-imperial strain but at the same time hint at the good will of the government, that doesn’t act as possessive and brutal on foreign territory as their neighbors in Europe. In reality, even colonies with limited independence had to struggle for an own governing apparatus, so that the Crown in England always remained the head of all affairs. Indigenous people had to suffer under all these circumstances and were not even counted as citizens, nor did they receive any sort of protection of the most fundamental human rights until 1967 (Ashcroft et al., 1998a: 5). Until then they were not recognized as a sovereign folk and even today the Australian Constitution doesn’t acknowledge their sovereignty. The impact of colonialism and the oppression of the indigenous people are still perceptible today, as they have to handle their past mistreatment by the settler society (Cousins, 2005: 2). As a matter of fact, racial discrimination continued and resulted from the interdependence and relationship between the colonial power and the colonial settlers that was burdened with ideological discriminations on the part of the mother country (Ashcroft et al., 1998a: 5-6). After indigenous people have started to fight for their rights, which have often ended in bloody battles, the effects of colonialism can still be seen today and will be discussed in terms of literary representation of race and indigeneity. In the modern globalized Australian society, these issues play a decisive role in so far as Aborigines are constantly represented in literature, film, music, art and in the modern culture in general (Cousins, 2005: 2).

3. The influence of post-colonialism on the representation of race and indigeneity

Post-colonialism emerged in the late 1970s and analyzes the effects that European imperialism and colonialism had on colonized societies, cultures and political affairs. Literature and culture of the formerly colonized societies are the main subjects of interest in a time, when countries gained independence and created their own constitutions. Nevertheless, the term doesn’t mark a certain time period but can best be understood “as a discourse generating a specific reading practice” (Ashcroft et al., 1998b: 1). At first, the term was used to describe the interactions between literary writers in colonial societies who dealt with post-colonial representation. Later the term was extended to cover “Commonwealth literature” and the “New literatures in English”, which led to the field of ‘postcolonial studies’, which analyses the political, linguistic and cultural experience of societies that were former European colonies (Ashcroft et al., 1998b: 1).

Postcolonial studies became more and more important, as the world began to accept the vast range of cultural diversity due to the globalization and the search for a language that could describe the intercultural processes. The post-colonial theory provided a framework that accentuated diversity, complexity and hybridity and at the same time refrained from a Eurocentric point of view (Ashcroft et al., 1998b: 2). Although the term post-colonial may coin a specific point of time when cultures finally achieved their independence, the post- colonial literary studies suggests that it’s about “[…] all the literature written after colonialism” (Ashcroft et al., 1998b: 3). In other words, post-colonial can be described as a reading practice that studies “continuing resistances, appropriations and transformations of dominant (‘imperial’) discourses, institutions and methodologies by colonized and formerly colonized societies” (Ashcroft et al., 1998b: 3-4). More specifically, race, ethnicity and indigeneity are also main subjects to the broader framework of post-colonial studies and are analyzed within a cultural context. Since its emergence in the late 1980s, post- colonialism has gained interest in the relation between local businesses and global influences such as the movement of the native population, refugees or asylum seekers and the characteristics of the Diaspora of various ethnic groups. Finally, post-colonialism goes hand in hand with globalization studies and uses the experiences of the colonial and imperial times to examine local communities and the life of marginalized ethnic groups within a global society more closely (Ashcroft et al., 1998b: 5-6).

The effect of representation in post-colonial literature is also not to underestimate, as the use of a global language such as English adopts the power of representations (Ashcroft, 2011c: 38).

4. The meaning and significance of Representation

As a brief overview about the historical background and the development of the colonization and its effects on the cultures was given, the essay will move on to specify the term representation. Especially in post-colonial studies representation plays a very important role, as it enables us to understand certain things in a certain way. Representation somehow reflects reality by “giving concrete form to ideological concepts” and always occurs within a discourse (Ashcroft, 2011b: 1). In simple terms, representation stands for the connection of a visual description or imagination with a certain phenomenon. It refers to the process of portraying or depicting something in order to give it a concrete form and also includes the process of signification, which is the representation of a thing via language. Though, it is important to know that there are other ways of representing the world we live in and that our understanding and knowledge of our world and culture determines the way how these instances are represented. As a result, predominant views or ideologies of the world have a great influence on representation and therefore account for the representation of what we think is reality. Since the process of representing the world is affected by underlying ideologies it becomes very subjective, limited and always depends on the perspective and belief of the speaker or viewer. The more powerful and significant the ideology behind the representation is the sooner people accept it as representing the “truth” and real life. In short, representation constitutes how the world is perceived and seen (Ashcroft, 2011c: 3- 4). Whether you regard Aborigines as a primitive, barbaric and marginalized people or as a native folk that has developed its own autonomous culture always depends on your own perspective and cultural background. Attwood (2005: 136-137) puts it another way and says that Europeans were convinced that cultures correspond to a certain time or human history. Thus, in the natural course of history Europeans were ahead of the development of the Aboriginal culture and advanced towards modernism, while the indigenous people were conceived as ancient, deficient and primitive instead of coeval with themselves. A good example for the unidirectional representation of Aborigines in the context of exclusion is the concept of terra nullius. As soon as the British arrived in Australia in 1788, they declared a certain territory as British, although they knew that indigenous people inhabited the land already. Since the natives neither occupied nor cultivated the land as the British colonists did, the British simply regarded the country as belonging to no one and laid claim to it themselves. Consequently, the British raised their flag on the territory and chased off the indigenous people which resulted in a long enduring and violent process (Elder, 2007: 149-150).



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Representation of race and indigeneity Coonardoo Samson and Delilah Post-colonial Australia race and indigeneity indigeneity indigenousness colonialism and imperialism post-colonialism representation

Title: The representation of race and indigeneity in "Samson and Delilah" and "Coonardoo"