Postcolonialism is a critical approach in literary studies that deals with the experience of “exclusion, denigration, and resistance under colonial control” (Waugh 340). It concerns itself with the reaction that is incited due to colonialism, which is the taking over and expansion of colonies by people from another colony. In essence, postcolonialism deals with the ways race, identity, culture, and ethnicity are represented after an area has been colonized. Postcolonialism pays particular attention to the response of the oppressed, which can be both radical and subtle. Claude McKay, a Jamaican-American poet, wrote “America” during the Harlem Renaissance, and although it was before the postcolonial movement, it exemplifies many postcolonial ideas.
“America” deals heavily with the dual ideas of love and hate. In the first four lines of the poem, the narrator shows his extreme distaste for America. But, while he hates her, he also is forced to depend on her as well. In the first line, the narrator states, “Although she feeds me bread of bitterness,” which tells the reader that he relies on America for food and sustenance. It also plays on the idea of America being the “mother role:” feeding a child that depends on her to live. We are thus led to believe that the narrator acknowledges that America is keeping him alive, even though she does so with bitterness. He goes on to write, “And sinks into my throat her tiger’s tooth, / Stealing my breath of life, I will confess” (Lines 2-3). Here, readers should notice how the narrator feels America is stealing his life and draining his spirit. In a time where America was supposed to be providing freedom and equality to blacks, he is instead having his culture and his background robbed from him. However, McKay then throws us for a loop: in the fourth line, he writes, “I love this cultured hell that tests my youth” (4). The first three lines contained extremely negative feelings for America, but the fourth line brings about positive feelings. This dichotomy is extremely postcolonial: it demonstrates Fanon’s double consciousness, as well as Bhabha’s theory of the in-between.
Fanon’s double consciousness was derived from W.E.B. DuBoi’s analysis of racism in the early twentieth century. It “underlines the fact that colonialism made its impact on bodies and minds, as well as on material conditions” (Waugh 346). Although they are not fully American, colonization denies the colonized the right to fully embrace their ethnicity. The assimilation they are thrown into forces many facets of their identity to form. They are no longer strictly, say, African or Jamaican, but now become African-American. Jamaican-American. They become a hyphen, a representative of two identities.
This segues into Bhabha’s theory of in-between. Colonialism, for the most part, typically evokes a feeling “of us against them, of self versus ‘other’” (Waugh 344). The line in the sand is quite clear: the colonizers vs. the colonized. The...