Appropriation and Abrogation in Postcolonial Literature

Postcolonial literature is a rich and diverse field that explores the cultural, social, and political implications of colonization and its aftermath. Two key concepts in postcolonial literature are appropriation and abrogation. These terms refer to the ways in which writers and intellectuals engage with the legacy of colonization and negotiate their own cultural identities. In this article, we will delve into the meanings and significance of appropriation and abrogation in postcolonial literature, examining how they shape the narratives and perspectives of writers from colonized societies.

Understanding Appropriation

Appropriation, in the context of postcolonial literature, refers to the act of adopting elements of the colonizer’s culture and making them one’s own. It involves the borrowing, adaptation, and reimagining of cultural practices, language, and literary traditions. Through appropriation, postcolonial writers assert their agency and challenge the hegemony of the colonizer’s culture.

One example of appropriation in postcolonial literature is the use of the English language by writers from former British colonies. English, as the language of the colonizer, has become a tool for postcolonial writers to express themselves and communicate their experiences to a wider audience. By appropriating the English language, these writers subvert its colonial associations and use it as a medium of cultural resistance.

The Complexity of Appropriation

It is important to note that appropriation is a complex and nuanced concept in postcolonial literature. While some writers embrace the colonizer’s culture and language, others approach appropriation with caution or even reject it altogether. The decision to appropriate or not arises from the desire to preserve one’s cultural heritage, challenge colonial power structures, or assert a distinct postcolonial identity.

In Chinua Achebe’s novel “Things Fall Apart,” for example, the protagonist Okonkwo is portrayed as resistant to the appropriation of European customs and values. His refusal to adapt to the changing times and his rigid adherence to traditional Igbo culture ultimately lead to his downfall. Achebe presents Okonkwo’s story as a critique of the negative consequences of resisting cultural adaptation.

On the other hand, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, a Kenyan writer, took a different approach by abrogating the English language and embracing Gikuyu, his native language. Thiong’o’s decision to write in Gikuyu was a deliberate rejection of the language of the colonizer and a reclaiming of his cultural heritage. Through this act of abrogation, Thiong’o sought to challenge the dominance of English and promote the use of African languages in literature.

The Significance of Abrogation

Abrogation, in the context of postcolonial literature, refers to the rejection or abandonment of the colonizer’s cultural norms, values, and language. It is a form of resistance against the imposition of the colonizer’s worldview and an assertion of indigenous cultural identities. Abrogation often goes hand in hand with the appropriation of native languages, traditions, and storytelling techniques.

Read About: What is Orientalism in Postcolonialism?

Abrogation as Political Stance

Abrogation is a political stance that allows postcolonial writers to challenge the notion of a “correct” or “standard” English imposed by the colonizer. It rejects the idea that certain dialects or variants of English are inferior or marginal. By abrogating the colonizer’s language, writers can reclaim their own linguistic identities and assert their right to use language in ways that reflect their cultural experiences.

Salman Rushdie’s novel “Midnight’s Children” is a prime example of abrogation in postcolonial literature. The novel incorporates Indian English, local dialects, and even invented words to capture the polyphony of voices and languages in India. Through this linguistic experimentation, Rushdie challenges the dominance of standard English and offers a more authentic representation of Indian culture and identity.

Abrogation and Cultural Revision

Abrogation also extends beyond language and encompasses the revision of cultural assumptions and historical narratives. Postcolonial writers often challenge Eurocentric perspectives and offer nuanced revisions of history to counter the privileged and normalized Western norms. This form of abrogation seeks to dismantle the colonial worldview and center indigenous voices and experiences.

Amos Tutuola’s novel “The Palm-Wine Drinkard” exemplifies the revisionist approach to cultural narratives. Tutuola’s use of Nigerian folklore and oral storytelling traditions challenges the dominant Western literary canon and offers an alternative narrative rooted in African cultural heritage. Through his abrogation of Western literary conventions, Tutuola asserts the value and richness of indigenous storytelling traditions.

Appropriation vs. Abrogation: Diverging Perspectives

The concepts of appropriation and abrogation represent diverging perspectives within postcolonial literature. While appropriation embraces the colonizer’s culture and language as a means of asserting agency, abrogation rejects or subverts the colonizer’s cultural norms and values. The choice between these approaches is influenced by various factors, including individual experiences, cultural background, and political ideologies.

Nuanced Approaches

It is important to recognize that the appropriation vs. abrogation dichotomy is not a rigid binary. Many postcolonial writers adopt nuanced approaches that combine elements of both appropriation and abrogation. They may appropriate certain aspects of the colonizer’s culture while abrogating others, depending on their specific goals and intentions.

For instance, Arundhati Roy’s novel “The God of Small Things” explores the complexities of cultural assimilation and resistance in postcolonial India. The characters in the novel navigate between the desire for Englishness and the preservation of their indigenous cultural identities. Roy highlights the price of appropriation by depicting the decline of indigenous culture in the face of Western influences.

The Role of Language

Language plays a crucial role in the appropriation vs. abrogation debate. The choice of language in postcolonial literature is often a contested issue, as it can signify either assimilation or resistance. Writers like Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o advocate for the use of indigenous languages as a form of abrogation, while others, like Chinua Achebe, argue for the power of using English to reach a wider audience and challenge colonial narratives.


Appropriation and abrogation are integral concepts in postcolonial literature, reflecting the complex relationship between colonized and colonizer. Through appropriation, postcolonial writers assert agency and challenge the hegemony of the colonizer’s culture.

Abrogation, on the other hand, involves the rejection or subversion of the colonizer’s cultural norms and values. Both approaches offer different ways of negotiating cultural identities and resisting colonial power structures. The choice between appropriation and abrogation is influenced by various factors, including individual experiences, cultural heritage, and political ideologies.

Ultimately, these concepts contribute to the richness and diversity of postcolonial literature, enabling writers to reshape narratives and assert their own cultural perspectives.


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