British Identity And Literature Essay

1316 words - 5 pages

British Identity and Literature

What does it mean to be British? Britain's national identity has evolved and transformed over the years. Through the works of Phyllis Wheatley, Aphra Ben, William Shakespeare, Daniel DeFoe, Coetzee and Caryl Phillips we have explored the different meanings and aspects of British identity. Britishness is not just confined to England (or the United Kingdom in recent times), Britishness extends far beyond the nation. Britishness is not a simple concept and is complicated by the existence of many British colonies all over the world. The colonized people of the British colonies also have claims on Britishness. So what determines if an individual is British or not? Is it one's religion? Is it the way one speaks? Is it just the difference of skin color? Is it one's appearance and dress? Is it based on citizenship? Is it one's knowledge of social norms of England? The colonized people of British colonies defied many of those above. The Britishness of these people did not just rely on their language, their appearance, their citizenship and at many times their understanding or application of social norms to their life yet their claim on Britishness, them demanding their claim on British identity is as legitimate as any. So if not on these basic characteristics, that define national identity, on what is the Britishness of the colonized people based on?

An important part of the formation of British identity within the colonized people lies in their interaction with the British that came from England to colonize them. Interaction with the British mainly depended on language and the colonized individual's ability to speak English. For most their ability to learn the language depends on their master's generosity and the generosity of other British colonizers to teach them the language. Language allowed the characters to go beyond the master-slave relationship and enjoy an intimate human bond. The only way the narrator of Cambridge could communicated with Stella and become attached to her was because of Stella's ability to communicate. Though Stella may not be British by birth and she may speak funny, she has a claim on British Identity. Her understanding of British culture is evident in the way she sets the table, the food she cooks, the way she knows when to talk and when to be quiet. When she demands Stella to inform her about the relationship between Mr. Brown and Christiania, Stella is quiet and refused to discuss it with her mistress; this situation demonstrates her understanding of British social norms.

Language gave the colonized people a voice and a way to get their opinions heard. Oronooko only learned more about British culture through his "master" and with interactions with all the friends of his "master." His interaction with the British people allowed them to see and understand his point of view, it also made them realize the immense potential within the people that they were so ruthlessly colonizing....

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