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Postcolonial Lens Analysis : Hybridity and Subaltern

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Postcolonial Lens Analysis; Hybridity and Subaltern

Paula M. Hoewischer

University of the Incarnate Word


03 August 2018

Postcolonial Lens Analysis

Postcolonial refers to the period in which a country obtained its freedom from colonial powers. The postcolonial themes of hybridity and subaltern are two of the many lenses that are expressed in the literary works of The Epic of Gilgamesh, The Tempest, and Heart of Darkness. 

These themes play a significant role in describing the essential features surrounding society and its people. Postcolonial literature works juxtapose beliefs, events, as well as characteristics like social inclusion and exclusion, weak and strong, illusion and reality, as well as ethical and evil to demonstrate the efforts of hybridity and subaltern in the literary text.

         The postcolonial lens of subaltern refers to the subservience of native peoples by an invading force that intends to deny them of their individuality and freedom. On the flip side of that hybridity is reflective of two cultures, the colonizer and the colonized, coming together and merging their cultures. Hybridity and subaltern postcolonial themes correlate with one another in these three literary works and depict how civilizations function under the focus of these two postcolonial themes. Subaltern typically is shown because there is a disproportion of power between the colonized and the colonizers. Similarly, hybridity comes in place when the colonized tend to preserve their culture despite having limited power.

         In The Epic of Gilgamesh, subaltern is shown to be the primary postcolonial lens. Gilgamesh is depicted as a controlling individual that rapes the wives of the aristocrats, sacrifices his men and takes all he requires from the people that are inferior to him. The adventures of Gilgamesh can be interpreted as violent, exploitative, as well as abusive. He sleeps with all the recently married brides of Uruk, even before their husbands, and he sets out on a mission of destruction to assassinate the divinely appointed guardian of the forest, Humbaba, which is a good example colonizer and colonized (Mason, 2003.).

Similarly, Gilgamesh exhausts the young men of the city by making them construct the walls of the city and insults the goddess of his people, Ishtar. As a result, several individuals die when the goddess repays his insult by sending the bull of heaven, which he kills also. The theme of subaltern is also evident in the way Gilgamesh abandons his people and goes into the wild in his quest to prove to the people of Uruk that the gods can be disobeyed. The cries of Uruk's citizens to the gods seeking some way to deal with Gilgamesh, affirms that he is, without doubt, unmatched in strength by any mortal and has no problem in taking advantage of his superiority (Mason, 2003).

The postcolonial lens of hybridity is also evident in The Epic of Gilgamesh as it is shown how the colonizers and colonized have similar religious practices. While preparing to depart the house of Ninsun, the mother of Gilgamesh, she bestows upon Enkidu a necklace containing a sacred talisman meant to protect him on the quest he and Gilgamesh are setting off on to confront Humbaba. Furthermore, before them leaving her house, Ninsun prays to Shamash asking why Gilgamesh had been given a "restless heart" and for he and Enkidu to be protected throughout their journey (Mason, 2003, pt. 2). Other examples of these religious similarities exist throughout the poem, such as when Gilgamesh prays to the Sin, the Moon God; "In these mountain passes long ago I saw lions, I was afraid, and I lifted my eyes to the moon; I prayed, and my prayers went up to the gods, so now, O moon god Sin, protect me" (Mason, 2003, pt. 3).

         In The Tempest, hybridity, as well as a subaltern, are represented by matrimonial relationships. In the play the description of the aristocrats is prominent; Alonso, King of Naples, and Antonio, the brother of Prospero who is the Duke of Milan, work together to overthrow Prospero and Antonio, taking Prospero's dukedom. He is then exiled him from Milan. Another member of the royal family briefly presented is Claribel, the daughter of Alonzo and princess of Naples, who marries the King of Tunis. These families, to include the King of Naples, Duke of Milan, and the King of Tunis are depicted as affluent with an inclination to wield their authority and domination on the people in their kingdoms. This is an example of the subaltern lens in postcolonial literature because of the need for these royals to ensure that their subjects are subservient, with many of them being uneducated and dependent on the rulers for direction. A good demonstration of subaltern from the play would be from Scene Two of the first Act when Miranda goes to her father, Prospero, and expresses her wish for the crew members on the ship not to be harmed; "Oh, I have suffered, with those that I saw suffer. A brave vessel, who had, no doubt, some noble creature in her, dashed all to pieces. Oh, the cry did knock, against my very heart! Poor souls, they perished. Had I been any god of power, I would have sunk the sea within the earth or ere it should the good ship so have swallowed and the fraughting souls within her" (Crowther, ed., 2005).

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