Monday, April 26, 2010
The Power to Curse: Postcolonial Analysis of The Tempest
When I first read The Tempest in Cultures and Traditions, I was struck by the parallels that one could draw between the oppression of Caliban and the treatment of the "other" in the setting of British Imperialism. The colonizing figure, Prospero, arrives as an outsider on the island on which Caliban and his mother lived. After overpowering his mother, Prospero enslaves Caliban and uses him as a beast of burden to carry out menial tasks. It is interesting how closely this binary between the colonizer and the subaltern follows the trend of British Colonial expansion. Prospero speaks of Caliban as being a "barbarian." The word itself is used in the postcolonial context as a signifier of a subhuman status. The true nature of the barbarian is its lack of similarity to the colonizing power. Prospero recognizes Caliban's illiteracy as definitive of a lesser being. Therfore, Prospero practices what he believes to be an act of good-will by giving Caliban the gift of language. The act in itself seems harmless, but when one considers the relationship of dependency, there seems to be a definite element of control in the colonizer's actions. Caliban becomes dependent on his master as the provider of knowledge. He loses agency in that his means of operating in Prospero's world depend on Prospero giving him the tools to do so. However, this binary is subverted in an interesting way. Caliban challenges Prospero's position as master when he claims that Prospero's gift of language gave him the ability to curse him. This brings to mind the character of Olunde in Death and the King's Horsemen. With the education given to him by the British, he is able to pinpoint the absurdities and failings of the British colonial mindset. What the colonizer initially intends as a tool of control becomes a weapon in the hands of the colonized.