Colonialism in the Tempest and Research Paper

  • Length: 7 pages
  • Sources: 3
  • Subject: Race
  • Type: Research Paper
  • Paper: #61338882

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He notes that "anticolonialist critics have sought to "demystify the national myths" of empire and to write an alternative history of the colonial encounter" by focusing on "the politics of the early modern English-Native American encounter" with an eye towards "moments of textual rupture and contradiction in early modern texts such as The Tempest" (Cefalu 85). One may identify the scene of Prospero's accusation as one such moment, and indeed Cefalu examines Caliban extensively, albeit in relation to his economic status as a colonized individual, rather than his racial or ethnic status. According to Cefalu, Caliban "learns not one, but two languages in the play […]: the language taught to him by Miranda is the language of a natural economy and precapitalist values; the language he internalizes by the end of the play (one that he teaches himself) approximates the language of instrumental labor and capital" (Cefalu 106). Cefalu still sees Caliban as the locus of colonial discourse in The Tempest, but focuses on the economic colonization represented via Caliban's character rather than the racial or ethnic tensions which are embodied by Prospero's colonialist bigotry.

Cefalu's interpretation is important because it offers some context for the consideration of Caliban and Prospero offered here. Bigotry and racism is rarely an end in itself, but is rather is most often deployed as a means of justifying the atrocities committed in the name of an ulterior ideology, and in this case (and much of colonial history) the particular ideology served by bigotry is capitalism. Thus, Cefalu's analysis does not contradict the assertion that Caliban and Prospero's relationship is predicated on ethnic hostility and colonialist stereotypes, but rather points out that their combative relationship ultimately serves capitalism's purpose.

In contrast to Cefalu's interpretation of The Tempest, Patricia Geesey's analysis of Season of Migration to the North challenges this essay's consideration of Mustafa Sa'eed, describing him as "a cultural hybrid, the resulting offspring from the colonial union of Great Britain and the Arab-African nation of the Sudan" who struggles with integrating either cultural identity into his psyche, rather than a strictly vengeful character embodying the colonial fears of Great Britain (Geesey 129). In her essay "Cultural hybridity and contamination in Tayeb Salih's Mawsim al-hijra ila al-Shamal (Season of Migration to the North)," Geesey notes that "for many scholars, Mustafa Sa'eed's own self-comparisons to Othello have made it difficult not to see in his character a man who exacts vengeance upon British colonizers of the Sudan through his sexual exploits with women in London," but proposes that "it is a mistake to assume that the confrontation between Sa'eed and the English women is indicative of the colonial confrontation played out between Africa and Europe," because "to view Sa'eed's sexual conquests as a colonized person's vendetta is to fall into the trap of cultural stereotyping that is at once Sa'eed's weapon of seduction against the women and ultimately his own downfall" (Geesey 129).

Though Geesey admits that the "multilayered historical, cultural, literary, and economic relationships at play between the Arab/African world and Western Europe" represented in the novel support a number of readings, she does not consider the aforementioned interpretation of Sa'eed as valid. The problem with this claim, however, is that in her brief critique of the "vengeful colonized person" interpretation, Geesey fails to distinguish between Sa'eed and the novel itself. As mentioned before (and as mentioned by Geesey!), Sa'eed enacts cultural stereotypes specifically to deploy them as "weapons of seduction," so one cannot consider Sa'eed's character without acknowledging how these stereotypes define Sa'eed. Thus, viewing "Sa'eed's sexual conquests as a colonized person's vendetta" does not force one to "fall into the trap of cultural stereotyping," but rather allows one to consider how Sa'eed, by himself falling into the trap of cultural stereotyping, allows the novel as a whole to actually challenge those stereotypes.

As the reader will recall, this distinction between character and novel was made earlier in this essay, because it is necessary acknowledge in order to understand how the stereotypical representations of Caliban and Sa'eed function differently in either text. In The Tempest, Caliban is represented almost entirely unsympathetically, and the colonial overtones serve to reinforce the stereotypes used to justify colonialism and its attendant atrocities. Caliban's ultimate transgression, attempting to have sex with Miranda, represents the patriarchal colonial insecurity and fear regarding the colonized person's sexuality and potency, and the inhuman characterization of Caliban only serves to heighten this terror. In Season of Migration to the North, however, Sa'eed intentionally embodies cultural stereotypes, rather than being described in those terms by others, as Caliban is, and this is done to explicitly challenge those stereotypes. Thus, whereas Caliban's externally applied characterization can be viewed as a strictly colonialist act, Sa'eed's internalization of colonialist stereotypes can be seen as an actively anticolonialist act, even if it ultimately fails to achieve Sa'eed's desires.

The complex relationship between colonizer and colonized has been a central focus in critical work regarding both William Shakespeare's The Tempest and Tayeb Salih's Season of Migration to the North, and the two texts deal with this relationship in strikingly different ways. In The Tempest, the character of Caliban is described in the language of the European colonizer and represented as something less than human, undeserving of pity and freely exploitable. He is accused of attempted rape as a means to further diminish any right he has to his home, and following this accusation he is made subservient to Prospero, the embodiment of the "civilizing" colonizer. The play is largely sympathetic to the colonizing force and the fact that Caliban's greatest transgression is to attempt a coupling with Miranda demonstrates the colonizer's fear of colonized people's sexuality and potency. Because The Tempest can be read as a colonialist text, this fear is never fully realized, and the colonized person is ultimately rendered impotent and harmless, freed by the cruelly magnanimous Prospero. The character of Mustafa Sa'eed in Season of Migration to the North, however, represents a kind of inversion of the very cultural stereotypes applied to Caliban. Sa'eed embodies the very fear of sexual prowess expressed by Prospero, but in this case the colonizer is incapable of forestalling the colonized person's sexual conquests. In fact, Sa'eed embodies this fear to its end, so that not only does he couple with multiple British women, but he ultimately causes their deaths as a result of this coupling, either directly or indirectly.

Instead of serving only as a terrifying other, similar to Caliban, Sa'eed is deployed in the novel as a means of demonstrating the ineffectiveness of engaging in stereotypes as a means of fighting those very stereotypes. Sa'eed imagines that his execution might do away with the lie he embodies, but in the end he is only able to reaffirm this lie. Thus, while Season of Migration to the North utilizes some of the very same cultural stereotypes as The Tempest, it does so for nearly the opposite purpose, and the character of Sa'eed allows the novel to implicitly combat those stereotypes of colonialism.

Works Cited

Cefalu, Paul A. "Rethinking the discourse of colonialism in economic terms: Shakespeare's The

Tempest, captain John Smith's Virginia narratives, and the English response to vagrancy." Shakespeare Studies. 28. (2000): 85-119. Print.

Geesey, Patricia. "Cultural hybridity and contamination in Tayeb Salih's Mawsim al-hijra ila al-Shamal

(Season of Migration to the North)."Research in African Literatures. 28.3 (1997): 128-140.


Salih, Tayeb. Season of Migration to the North. New…

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