Hybridity and National Identity in Postcolonial Literature
Every human being, in addition to having their own personal identity, has a sense of who they are in relation to the larger community--the nation. Postcolonial studies is the attempt to strip away conventional perspective and examine what that national identity might be for a postcolonial subject. To read literature from the perspective of postcolonial studies is to seek out--to listen for, that indigenous, representative voice which can inform the world of the essence of existence as a colonial subject, or as a postcolonial citizen. Postcolonial authors use their literature and poetry to solidify, through criticism and celebration, an emerging national identity, which they have taken on the responsibility of representing. Surely, the reevaluation of national identity is an eventual and essential result of a country gaining independence from a colonial power, or a country emerging from a fledgling settler colony. However, to claim to be representative of that entire identity is a huge undertaking for an author trying to convey a postcolonial message. Each nation, province, island, state, neighborhood and individual is its own unique amalgamation of history, culture, language and tradition. Only by understanding and embracing the idea of cultural hybridity when attempting to explore the concept of national identity can any one individual, or nation, truly hope to understand or communicate the lasting effects of the colonial process.
Postcolonialism is the continual shedding of the old skin of Western thought and discourse and the emergence of new self-awareness, critique, and celebration. With this self-awareness comes self-expression. But how should the inhabitants of a colonial territory, or formerly colonized country or province see themselves, once they have achieved their independence? With whom will they identify? In a country like India, prior to 1947, most people identified themselves as Indians, against the identity of their British oppressors. Theirs was a strong feeling of communal, national identity, fostered by a shared resentment of the British colonial powers. However, after 1947, after being granted autonomy, India's populace slowly disintegrated into more and more divided factions, as the "national" identity shrunk, and people found other, closer groups to identify with. The ambiguous and shifting nature of national identity is thus integral to a discussion of postcolonial theory, as identification with one group inevitably leads to differentiation with others.
In his definitive book about the concept of "nation" and "nationalism," Imagined Communities, Benedict Anderson says, "In an anthropological spirit, then, I propose the following definition of the nation: it is an imagined political community--and imagined as both inherently limited and sovereign" (Anderson 5). His work refers to anthropological data, as he maintains that the concept of...