A Post-Colonial Analysis of Mr. Know-All and Man-to-Man

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Li Bingjie
Professor Zhang Zaixin
Subject: Term paper for Reading the Short Story in English
28 June 2011
A Post-colonial Analysis of the Short Story
Mr. Know-All and the Film Man-to-Man
Race has been a fundamental concept in the world literature of all times. Racism, under which race-related issues are mostly discussed, involves the belief in racial differences, which acts as a justification for non-equal treatment, or discrimination, of members of that race. The term can have varying and contested definitions in works of different forms, but it is commonly used negatively and is usually associated with race-based prejudice, violence, dislike, discrimination, or oppression. Sociologist David Wellman defines racism as a “culturally sanctioned belief” (Wellman); sociologists Noël A. Cazenave and Darlene Alvarez Maddern define racism as “...a highly organized system of race-based group privilege that operates at every level of society and is held together by a sophisticated ideology of color/race supremacy.” Such ideology of supremacy can be typically reflected in post-colonial theory and literature, whose overlapping themes include the initial encounter with the colonizer, the disruption of indigenous culture, the concept of “othering”, colonial oppression, white supremacy, and so on. This paper looks at Somerset Maugham’s short story Mr. Know-All and the 2005 French film Man-to-Man through a post-colonial lens. Both works are good representations of post-colonial themes and can be better interpreted by understanding the mentality behind the colonist ideology. This ideology divides people of the onetime commonwealth countries and their descendents into colonizers—the “self” and the colonized—the “other”, and develops such mentality into white supremacy, discriminating against all other ethnicities. Theological Framework

To comprehend the story and the film on a deeper level, one needs to firstly understand the colonialist ideology (also referred to as colonialist discourse) that underlies the themes of both works. Lois Tyson believes that “no ideology is really separated from the psychology it produces” (401). In other words, ideologies such as racism and colonialist discourse are not merely belief systems, but also ways of relating to oneself and others, and involve complex psychological process. Postcolonial criticism, which focuses on the literature of cultures that developed in response to British colonial domination, can best demonstrate the intimate connection between ideology and psychology. “For one of postcolonial theory’s most definitive goals is to combat colonialist ideology by understanding the ways in which it operates to form the identity—the psychology—of both the colonizer and the colonized” (402). The mentality behind colonialist ideology (also referred to as colonialist discourse) is two-fold. Firstly, people tend to make a racial distinction between the proper “self” and the demonic “other”, and continually make judgments about others, sometimes even with no apparent consciousness of doing so. As Tyson points out: “Colonialist ideology….was based on the colonizers assumption of their own superiority, which they contrasted with the alleged inferiority of the original inhabitants of the lands they invaded….The colonizers saw themselves as the embodiment of what a human being should be, the proper ‘self’; native peoples were ‘other,’ different, and therefore inferior. This practice of judging all who are different as inferior is called othering, and it divides the world between ‘us,’ the ‘civilized,’ and ‘them’—the ‘others’—the ‘savages’ (366). Today, the practice of viewing the world from a European perspective and with a belief in the preeminence and superiority of European culture over other cultures is defined as Eurocentrism. Thus colonialist ideology is inherently Eurocentric. One example of Eurocentrism is known as Orientalism, which is a specific form of othering defined and proposed by...
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