Postcolonial Identity and Place

"Who am I?"

Essay 2017 10 Pages

Sociology - Individual, Groups, Society




2. Identity: How to treat yourself
2.1 Grey Owl: A reasonable escape and the search for true-self

3 Place: Where should I belong?
3.1 Isabelle Eberhardt: Even the clearest mirror loses its function

4. Grey Owl and Isabelle Eberhardt: A Comparison

5. Conclusion


1. Introduction

Postcolonialism is the continual shedding of the old skin of Western thought and discourse and the emergence of new self-awareness, critique, and celebration. It is like a process of Lost and Found. Their lands were conquered, the sense of displacement is strong, but the self-awareness was awakened and transformed into a burning self-expression.

Ashcroft emphasized that “ more than three quarters of the people living of the world today have had their lives shaped by the experience of colonialism.”[1] This kind of colonial experience threw the colonized countries into dilemma and contradiction. Even if they got independence, they still confused their identity and culture.

What is the right attitude towards the colonialism? Many critics have argued that colonialism is like a cultural disaster which destroyed indigenous cultures, It is a reasonable argument, colonialism was not just a power control, but also a cultural control. A mass of documentaries has showed the tragic life of the indigenous people under the oppression of colonialism. However, this argument underestimates the resilience and adaptability of colonial societies. In my opinion, what the most attractive part of the postcolonialism is the capacity of changes and adaptions. Culture is not a static process, a large number of components determines where the culture moves towards and what the final form of the culture is. In my view, this question is like a multiple choice. The answers may be ambivalent but all the answers are reasonable.

Post-colonial theory involved with broad range of cultural phenomenon, politics, history and military, postcolonial literatures has positioned itself as a key entry point to postcolonial theory. In addition to its own regional characteristics, postconlonial literatures had also the implication of colonized experiences and thoughts. On the basis of it, some characteristics of post-colonial theory would become evident.

Postcolonial studies aim at stripping away conventional thoughts and examine what kind of identity emerges in postcolonial subject. The first problem when I set out to work on postcolonial literatures is to confirm its scope. This word scope that I put forward here can be explained as follows, on the one hand, postcolonial literature is apparently vague and general. It’s such a multinational and multicultural case that it is hard to define which country falls under the rubric. Except what we always mentioned as “postcolonial countries” such as Nigeria, India and Pakistan, some writers include also countries like Canada, Ireland and Australia. So when we read the literatures about postcolonial, it is apparent for us to discover, that they include two parts, on the one hand, it is based on the dominant or colonizer society, on the other hand, it talks also about the dominated or colonized society.

On the other hand, there are a large number of relevant themes or aspects around the topic postcolonialism: migration, race, gender, resistance, slavery and so on. Trying to cover all the countries and aspects in one essay seems not so specific. In my essay, I will focus on the question “Who am I ?”. This kind of doubt about one’s identity is a “derivative product” of colonialism and a very important topic in postcolonial world. When we read literatures, we are able to seek out, what the indigenous voice want to express, how should the indigenous people see themselves, once their place and identity were forced to change? Is the dual identity always ambivalent? These questions are what I’m going to explain hereinafter.

2. Identity: How to treat myself

One of a main feature of the postcolonial period lies in the continual focus on the problem of identity, which existed in all postcolonial communities. “Lost and Found” became the main topic of this time. What has been changed and what has been remained during the time of vagabondage? When a wanderer was forced to arrive a new country, his whole worldview may be changed. Such an earthshaking change must have far-reaching effects on self-awareness and autognosis.

Cultural identities come from somewhere, have histories. But, like everything which is historical, they undergo constant transformation. Far from being eternally fixed in some essentialised past, they are subject to the continuous‘play’of history, culture and power. Far from being grounded in mere ‘recovery’of the past, which is waiting to be found, will secure our sense of ourselves into eternity, identities are names we give to the different ways we are positioned by, and position ourselves within the narratives of the past.[2]


David Hume has ever said: "Of all relations the most universal is that of identity, being common to every being whose existence has any duration."[3] When we refer to the concept “identity”, the first word I used to describe this concept is “clear”. But in the period of postcolonial, In addition to own their personal identity, people have to know who they are in relation to larger community and face the change of the nation, conquered or being conquered. Mercer has argued “identity only becomes an issue when it is in crisis, when something assumed to be fixed, coherent and stable is displaced by the experience of doubt and uncertainty.” In the following case of Grey Owl, I am going to present his double identity and try to explain his ambivalent identities.

2.1 Grey Owl: a reasonable escape and a search of true-self

A white Indian called Grey Owl showed a double and ambivalent identity. The ambiguity of his parentage made it hard for him to find his true-self. In my opinion, when we try to discuss somebody’s character, what we must handle in advance is their parentage. It will be the first-hand information. Archie’s father was an inveterate wanderer, he traveled to Florida and returned years later to Hastings as a mysterious figure. Archie knows little about his mother. There is an interesting point, both of his parents is mysterious, instead of living an ordinary life, they seems extraordinary, which gave Archie a space of fantasy. He tried to fantasize that his mother was an American Indian and from the perspective of blood relationship, he himself was therefore half Indian. This self-made intriguing belief made him act as a real Indian. This so-called “half- breed” tends to cultural rather than racial.

Smith Rosenberg has ever written: “The colonized other, denied the basic characteristics of subjectivity, not only gives up its essence to the colonizer, it is transformed into a dark mirror that reflects and confirms the colonizer's power”[4]


[1]. Ashcroft, Bill et al. (1989) The Empire Writes Back: Theory and Practice in post-colonial literatures. London-New York: Routledge

[2]. Hall, Stuart. (1990). ‘Cultural Identity and Diaspora’ in Jonathan Rutherford, Identity:Community, Culture, Difference, London:Lawrece and Wishart. P.225.

[3] Hume, David. A Treatise of Human Nature: Volume 1:Texts (Clarendon Press, Oxford:2007) , P15.

[4] Smith-Rosenberg, Carroll. (2010). This Violent Empire – The Birth Of An American National Identity. The University Of North Carolina Press, America, P 202


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Title: Postcolonial Identity and Place