Life in a Colony in On Seeing England For The First Time

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Ever since the beginning of our existence as Homo sapiens, there has been an instinct within ourselves to conquer and hold power over what the conqueror believes to be lesser people. Colonialism is the occupation of a foreign people through the means of military, economy, or any other controlling means. The British were one of the main colonizers of the new world as well as Africa, but almost all of the Europeans countries colonized. The short story, “On Seeing England for the First Time” by Jamaica Kincaid, and the book, Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, accurately show the relationship between citizen and state in a colony.

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Jamaica Kincaid’s “On Seeing England for the First Time” tells us about her experiences and thoughts on the relationship between citizen and state in a colony. Kincaid grew up under the rule of the colonizers from the British Empire. The British tried to instill the idea that England was a great and all-powerful nation into the minds of young Antiguans. The colonizers in doing this would make the people feel like they were not as good as the English. Kincaid tells of her schooling in Antigua saying, “I did not know then that the statement ‘Draw a map of England’ was something far worse than a declaration of war… [for] I had long ago been conquered. I did not know that this statement was meant to make me feel in awe and small whenever I heard the word ‘England’: awe at its existence and small because I was not from it,” (Kincaid 906). This shows that the education being provided by England was less of an education and more like a brainwashing. The English also achieved this through propaganda through school and media and even making the colonized feel like they deserved what they received. “The sun shone with what sometimes seemed to be a deliberate cruelty; we must have done something to deserve that. My dress did not rustle in the evening air as I strolled to the theater,” (Kincaid 908). Through life in a post-colonial world, we know that it is wrong to make people feel like less than someone else. In the United States, we have laws against doing that. The English purposefully tried to make the Antiguans feel like the English were better so that the colonizers could more easily rule over the colonized.

Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart shows, through the character of Okonkwo, the relationship between citizen and state in a place being colonized. In the book, Achebe shows how little the European men cared for the people they were trying to colonize when one of the white men was killed. When one of the white men came to the tribe in Abame, the tribesmen killed the man after being told by their Oracle, whom they count on to lead them in uncertain times, that “the strange man would break their clan and bring destruction among them,” (Achebe 120). The colonizers looked for their comrade in the village and, upon seeing his “iron horse” or bike tied to a tree, left the village. During one of the great market days when the whole tribe gathers in the market, “three white men and a very large number of other men surrounded the market… And they began to shoot. Everybody was killed except the old and sick who were at home and the men and women [who did not attend the market],” (Achebe 121). Instead of asking who killed the man, the white men killed almost everyone in the village. This is a far cry from the system we have in place in a post-colonial world. The killing of the tribe was completely unjustified. There was no fair trial or belief of “innocent until proven guilty.” The men seemed to think of the tribe as below them and, in Things Fall Apart, there is more evidence of this belief. The District Commissioner is one of the leaders of the colonization of Nigeria. He also seems to think of the Nigerians of lesser people. “[The commissioner] had already chosen a name for the book… The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger. One can infer, from the words used in the title, that the District Commissioner values the African people very little. By using the word pacification and primitive, he implies that the tribespeople are savage and uncivilized in nature. Living in a post-colonial world, we know that all people are equal and are equally as important as any other person. Also, we have realized that all culture should be cherished. The tribespeople had a type of government and were civilized in their own way, but since the Europeans did not understand the Africans’ way of life, most of them thought the Nigerians were lesser people than the great European.

There are many similarities between the stories of Achebe and Kincaid. Not only are there similarities, but if one put these two stories together, one would be able to see the different parts that make up colonization. The colonizers try to destroy the culture of the colonized. This culture can be religion, history, language, or any other part of culture that would help the colonizers maintain a hold on the colonized. In the case of Things Fall Apart, the Europeans sent Catholic missionaries to try to convert the Africans to Catholicism and, in part, attack the religion of the locals as fake and they often said that “All the gods that you have named are not gods at all. They are gods of deceit that tell you to kill your fellows and destroy innocent children,” (Achebe 126). Many people convert to the Catholic faith and this sets up the whole tribe to be oppressed because by the time they start to be oppressed, too many Africans are on the Europeans side and believe that what they do is right. In “On Seeing England for the First Time”, the colonizing British set up schools to teach the Antiguan children. These schools are another way to destroy the Antiguan culture. The culture being destroyed by the schools was mainly language and history. Jamaica Kincaid tells of how the children were taught about kings of England, “The naming of the kings, their deeds, their disappointments… was the vivid view, the forceful view,” (Kincaid 906). The kids were not taught about their own history, but the history of the British. By doing this, the British would have an easier time oppressing the later generations because they would not feel pride for Antigua, but pride for England. Living in a post-colonial world, we can see how wrong it is to use and almost brainwash children into loving the British way and believing that it is the right way and not feeling pride in their own culture.

Also, the colonizers oppress through mistreatment, a government run by colonizers, or any other type of oppression. After the church in Umofia was burned, Okonkwo and five other town leaders were taken to jail. To try to prevent the men from doing anything like this again, the men were mistreated by the guards. “They were not even given any water to drink, and they could not go out to urinate… At night the messengers came in to taunt them and to knock their shaven heads together,” (Achebe 167). Now, living in a first-world country in a post-colonial world, we see the wrongs in this treatment of the men. They were not even being tortured for information. They were just being tortured for the fun of it. This shows that the colonizers cared little for the individuals and only cared that they could hold power over the colonized.

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