The Correlation of Postmodernism and Postcolonial with Applied Linguistics


The postmodernism and postcolonial writers have greatly influenced many human fields including politics, education, philosophy, television, dance, architecture, and art. According to McInnis, one of the postmodernism theories identifies language as one vehicle by which authority attains control.  The postcolonial narratives explore the associations of postcolonial and European authority. Based on this, it is possible that it was inevitable that writers during the postcolonial and postmodernism were faced with challenges on ways to manipulate language to control the Europeans. Consistently, the arguments presented in this paper are based on the colonizers’ application of language to control the colonized. 

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              Based on the post-European literature’s matrix, we can identify how language and power are interlinked. The matrix comprises of a dialect of slave and free, language and place, indigene and exile, and self and other (Dhaen 276). Accordingly, Mclnnis argues that language and power operate closely, where power can be sustained due to its ability to control both private and public language. Based on this, a linguistic control can be used to explain why postmodernism and postcolonial writers (in this case: LeGuinn The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas; Faulkner Barn Burning; and Hemingway A Clean Well-Lighted Place) followed a similar genre. For the purpose of this essay, I will argue that postcolonial and postmodernism writers used language to critique European identity. 

Postcolonial and postmodernism authors criticized European identity through language. In this case, I believe that LeGuinn, Faulkner, and Hemmingway in the narratives listed above reestablished their own unique identity through language. In The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas by Ursula K, LeGuin, the author explores a utopian society where Omela attains happiness after sacrificing one child for the whole group (Le Guin 3). Reading this story, the reader can identify the aspect of allegory, images, and symbols in the narrative. As an allegorical tale, LeGuine illustrated the universal truth about life during the colonial period. 

I believe the aspects that LeGuinn explores the narrative illustrate some of the issues that are applicable to today’s life. For example, unlike the modernist who provides details about the environment and the characters, LeGuinn applies a widely anthologized genre leaving room for the reader to imagine. He thus applies language to illustrate the greatest issue, which is the political issues in postmodernism. Generally, LeGuinn’s aim was to illustrate the hell and heaven extremes by including an imperfect and even nightmarish dystopia.

Nonetheless, this work has faced criticism, where some scholars argue that this narrative is not an original work of LeGuinn but borrowed from Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky a Russian novelist. Although the critics have their own arguments, it is my belief that the similarity is only because both deals with molarity. This is because of the extremities of LeGuinn’s arguments where she opens the narrative with summer celebration, which is full of excitements with “great joyous clanging of the bells, prancing horses, noisy running children, and flag-adorned boats” (LeGuimnn 3). LeGuinn in this passage applies language through allegory where she explains a jovial society, which can be seen as enlightenment towards the contemporary westerners. 

Similarly, Totaro (139) argues that The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas is a graphic allegory of contemporary society. Totaro (143) compares the narrative as a poignant to a condemned and ostracized child to eternal isolation by their community as they considered it significant for prosperity. There are varying imageries that symbolically illustrates the artificial glories than humankind attains following civilization, as well as, the insidious yet universal principles of utilitarianism and hypocrisy.

During postmodernism, the use of allegory was common and was highly included in art and architecture. MacQueen explains that the use of allegory during the era was because postmodernism unlike Modernism, always attends on history, which was firmly broken by the past. This is as illustrated by D’haen (278) who argues that postmodernism collects all the past fragments, accumulating the shards, and rebuilding the ruins. Due to these, postmodernism writers did not invent images and language but rather confiscated them.

Similarly, Hemingway in “A Clean Well-Lighted Place” applies allegory through the use of “café” in the narrative. The central image for the narrative is the clean, well-lighted café from the title, where the writer idealizes it with space where every individual irrespective of their loneliness finds refuge. The author uses the name café to illustrate a space where one can run away from everyday desperations. Another allegory used in the narrative is the use of light. Generally, it is known that light chases darkness, where during darkness; it is likely to feel lonely, and insecure. This is similar to the spiritual emptiness during the colonial period where the natives were made to feel unworthy by the Europeans and the political atmosphere during the time played a pivotal role. However, the ‘light’ is a representation of a force to push away the dark realizations.

Heming thus used café and light to illustrate the needs of society. The residents, “the old man” prefers a silent and well light café to eliminate the numbing effect of drunkenness. Similarly, postmodernism writers applied allegory to illustrate the needs of culture (Hemingway 381). In simple term, this means that there is a time when the intelligentsia drives “impure” forms of expression. Unlike LeGuinn and Faulkner who applies the postmodernism genre, Heming uses a modernist genre where he writes a super short and an unconventional narrative to provide a psychological portrait of three characters. Similar to LeGuinn, Hemings uses the story to indicate the everyday life because it was prepared on an era faced by themes like alienation and disillusionment.

Correspondingly, Faulkner in his work, Barn Burning; applies allegory. Some of the allegories include fire, blood, and the wagon in the moving day, the food in the store, and spring. For this assignment, I will explore on fire to provide a rational relation to postmodernism. The fire build by Abner at night is explained by the author as “neat, niggard almost, shrewd” (Faulkner, 27) where name niggard may be used to explain that the Abner expected the fire to remain burning while using least firewood. On page 127, the narrator provides the true reason for using fire as an allegory in his writing; 

The element of fire spoke to the mainspring of his father’s being […] as the one weapon for the preservation of integrity […], and hence to be regarded with respect and used with discretion (Faulkner 127)

Based on this, the allegory was used to illustrate the source of power and control for Abner where Abner has the right to control fire with the amount of wood used. Through this control, Abner had the ability to control any animal or person he hit. Interestingly, the same thing that gives Abner power (fire and hitting) is the same one making the victims powerless. Based on this, during the postmodernism and postcolonial period, artists used the day to day struggles and issues to present them to the audience. This is why Faulkner used language (allegory) to illustrate the sources of power for the superior and what the victims experienced from these sources where they continued to experience more pain and hitting (frustrations) from the Europeans. 

According to McInnis, the postcolonial and postmodernism writers were greatly influenced by the challenge of ‘word’, which includes both the written language and the non-fiction. The writing was a way to control the culture, where for example, in Faulker narrative, the use of fire symbolically illustrates a culture led by inequality where individuals at high rank continued to apply their power and made the low-income earners and the victims powerless.

In the contemporary world, artists continue to use language to illustrate the current happenings. However, reading the postcolonial and postmodernism narratives, we can base those happenings to present social issues. Some of the social inequality that is persistent in the contemporary world include social class, healthcare, gender inequality, and income gap. We can thus, relate them with the issues using a more stable language. Dediu and Cysouw explain that there is some stability in the structural aspects of language. The contemporary stability of language is based on the structure where writers follow the number of consonants in a language and the order of subject and verb. In comparison to the postcolonial and postmodernism language, it can be argued that the structural features have evolved over time. 

In conclusion, the postmodernism and postcolonial applied language as a vehicle by which the seniors or the authority attained control. Each of the three works discussed applied allegory to illustrate how authorities gained power and control over the subordinates. These writers in their own ways manipulate language to illustrate the purpose of European control. Generally, the three articles illustrate how the writers used language to indicate ways in which colonizers applied language to control the colonized for their individual identity.

Works Cited

Dediu, Dan, and Michael Cysouw. “Some Structural Aspects Of Language Are More Stable Than Others: A Comparison Of Seven Methods”. Plos ONE, vol 8, no. 1, 2013, p. e55009. Public Library Of Science (PloS), doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0055009. Accessed 15 Apr 2019.

D’haen, Theo. “European Postmodernism: The Cosmodern Turn.” Narrative 21.3 (2013): 271-283.

Faulkner, William. Barn Burning. United States Information Agency, Television and Film Service, 1977.

Le Guin, Ursula K. “The ones who walk away from Omelas.” Evil and the Hiddenness of God (2014): 23.

MacQueen, J. (2017). Allegory (Vol. 13). Taylor & Francis.

McInnis, Gilbert. “The Struggle of Postmodernism and postcolonialism.” Laval University: Canada (2011).

Totaro, Rebecca Carol Noël. “Suffering in Utopia: testing the limits in young adult novels.” Utopian and dystopian writing for children and young adults. Routledge, 2013. 139-150.

Hemingway, Ernest. “A clean, well-lighted place.” The short stories of Ernest Hemingway (1933): 379-83.

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