Essay on Explore How Postcolonial Literature Critically Interrogates Existing Power Structures in the Two Novels “Namesake” by Jhumpa Lahiri and “The Road From Elephant Pass” by Nihal De Silva
Number of words: 1522
Postcolonial literature is the literature which mainly explores the consequences and the issues, faced by the formerly colonised population. It is defined as “writings from Africa, the Indian subcontinent, the Caribbean, and other regions whose histories during the 20th century are marked by colonialism, anti-colonial movements, and subsequent transitions to post-independence society” (Oxford reference, 2011). The social, political, and economical independence, cultural identity, and nationalism are some of the common themes that are addressed in postcolonial literary works. Raj Kumar Mishra states that postcolonial literature “struggles to push back economic, social, cultural, psychological, and linguistic colonial leftovers” (Mishra, 2013). Furthermore, the ultimate objective of postcolonial literary works is to fight to acquire “the social justice, emancipation, and democracy in order to oppose oppressive structures of racism, discrimination, and exploitation” (Nayar,2008).
“The Road from Elephant Pass” by Nihal de Silva and “The Namesake” by Jhumpa Lahiri are two postcolonial novels which address different power structures in different social contexts. It is significant how both the novels address the existing power structures in their own unique settings. ‘The Road from Elephant Pass’ explores the power structures between men and women, and that of Sinhala majority and the Tamil minority in Sri Lanka, ‘The Namesake’ investigates the prevailing power structures between the colonizer and the colonized. De Silva and Lahiri as postcolonial writers, address these power relations by introducing protagonists that challenge and resist these existing power structures.
“The Namesake” written by Jhumpa Lahiri, is woven around an Indian immigrant family living in America. The plot of the novel develops with how the main character Ashima grows and adapts herself to a new environment with a newfound identity. The novel thoroughly explores the struggle that first generation immigrants go through, in adapting to a whole new culture, a whole new life and a new identity. Gogol, goes through a struggle that is completely different to that which his mother faces. In failing to understand this, there is conflict and detachment between the parents and their children until each character have their own realisations. Ashima, having been migrated to America from the day of her marriage, has to start a whole new life in a setting which she feels completely alienated and isolated. While Ashoke, her husband is at his graduate school, Ashima has to spend her days at their small apartment, having no friends or family for company. In her struggle to adapt to this new life, Ashima fails to relate or to understand the struggle their children go through. Gogol and Sonia, who were born in America to Bengali parents have their own journey in finding their cultural identities. What Ashima does not understand is that unlike her or Ashoke, Gogol and Sonia did not have to leave behind their homes to start a life in America; that America is their home.
While they grow up, Gogol and Sonia take their own paths to find their identities. Here when they start their own journeys and get detached from Ashoke and Ashima and their home, Ashima struggles to understand her children’s need to leave home in order to find themselves. Gogol and Sonia, born to immigrant parents face different issues in finding their identities. Especially Gogol, who has a name that is neither Indian nor American but is Russian. His teenage life and the start of his adult life becomes a struggle because of his name. Gogol does not let anyone except the members of his family call him Gogol; not even his wife from whom, he later gets divorced. It is not until after Ashoke explains why he named Gogol after Nikolai Gogol, a Russian writer, that Gogol understand the significance of his name.
Ashoke’s death acts as a turning point in each main character’s life; Gogol realises the significance of his name and how only his loved ones and family call him by that name, while Ashima, in her mourning realises that “home” for her was never Calcutta or America, but her family; Ashoke was her home.
After this turning point in the novel, the characters begin to develop. Ashima, as her name suggests “limitless, without borders” finds a new identity. She understands her children better and she accepts Gogol’s divorce, and that Sonia is marrying a non-Indian. She decides to spend half of the year in Calcutta and the rest in America. Ashima finally accepts her hybridity which gives her a different perspective in life. This hybridity that the immigrants and the postcolonial diaspora consist of, is a challenge to the power structure of the colonizer and the colonized. The Gangulis living in America get certain levels of discrimination; intended and unintended since their culture, religion and lifestyle differ from that of the Western world and also because their country was once colonized by the British. The hybridity that the immigrants and the diaspora possess, challenges the White supremacy. Thus “The Namesake” by Jhumpa Lahiri thoroughly interrogates the power structures between the colonizer and the colonized through the individual stories focused on an Indian immigrant family living in America.
Referring to “The Road from Elephant Pass” written by the Sri Lankan author Nihal de Silva; the novel is woven around the ten-day journey of a Tamil Tigress and a Sinhalese Army Captain, through the Wilpattu sanctuary. In this novel, the author mainly addresses the ethnic conflicts between the Sinhalese and the Tamils in the country, which resulted in a war that continued for thirty long years. Even though the novel is mainly focused on peace building and reconciliation, it also interrogates the power structures between men and women, and Sinhala and Tamil races.
The novel begins with Captain Wasantha waiting Kamala to arrive at a checkpoint. In the beginning of the novel the dislike and the resentment they have for each other is highlighted. The background information of the situation of the country and the civil war, is given to the reader through Wasantha, while he waits for Kamala.
Initially when the two protagonists begin their journey through the Wilpattu sanctuary, both the characters are portrayed as equals by the author. They are portrayed as equals in their survival skills, their knowledge on birds and their commitment for their causes. While the story develops, the two characters open up to each other about their professional and personal lives.
Through Captain and Kamala, the author reveals the origins of the ethnic conflicts, how it affected innocent civilians of both races and their perspectives on winning the war. Through their individual perspectives, the readers understand why the conflicts between the Sinhala majority and the Tamil minority ignited.
The imbalanced power dynamics between the minority and the majority cause the war and results in losing hundreds and thousands of lives. Even though this imbalance was created by the politicians, the civilians from both sides were the ones who paid the price. This is evident through the deaths of Kamala’s father and Wasantha’s best friend. At the beginning of their journey, both Kamala and Wasantha have extreme points of view on this, but towards the end of the story, their perspectives on life and the war change completely. Their relationship which started as two enemies and ended up as lovers, reflects on how both races have the potential live-in peace; how the existing power structures should change, and the parties should find middle grounds to find peace.
Referring to the power structure between men and women, portrayed in the novel, even though the story begins with the two characters portrayed as equals, certain incidents create imbalance. For instance, the incident where Kamala is kidnapped and is almost raped by deserters, Wasantha has to save her life. This incident implies a certain vulnerability and submissiveness in Kamala’s character afterwards.
Furthermore, when the couple get intimate that incident creates an imbalance between the power structures of the two characters as a man and a woman, since Kamala had faced a traumatising incident recently and both of them were opened to get intimate right after. This creates a certain imbalance in the power dynamics of the two main characters, which were initially portrayed as equals in many aspects. In conclusion, the two novels “The Namesake” written by Jhumpa Lahiri and “The Road from Elephant Pass” written by Nihal de Silva, critically interrogate the power structures between the colonizer and the colonized, and the power structures between the racial majority and the minority, and that of men and women in Sri Lanka, respectively. Nihal De Silva and Jhumpa Lahiri question the power relations through the characters who resist and challenge these power structures.
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