Wretched of the Earth Annotated Examination

Wretched of the Earth

When nations of Europe set out on boats, they determined to find lands and claim them for the empirical country, regardless of any objections coming from the people actually living on those lands. In the colonized land, the native population were marginalized, oppressed, and limited in their civil rights. Many were turned into slaves on large farms run by the emissaries from the motherland. The natives were sometimes outnumbered but the number of the enemy seldom mattered because the colonial soldiers usually were in possession of more sophisticated weaponry with which they could subjugate the aboriginal peoples. Sometimes these colonies existed for centuries and lines of ethnically determined social status kept the descendants of colonists in the upper echelons of society while those descended from the natives were kept subservient to their European oppressors. Understandably this did not go well with the natives or their descendents and most colonies became embroiled in violent revolution where the natives fought against the empirical powers to win back their personal freedom as well as their homelands, very rarely done without bloodshed. Now there are very few colonies left in the world because the demoralized people simply would not stand idly forever while they were used and abused as a form of livestock, doing the bidding of the colonists. In his book The Wretched of the Earth, author Franz Fanon explores the psychological effects of colonialism on the oppressed of Angola and why their revolution so often end in violence, even against those not directly responsible for their subjugation, and although he focuses on the Angolan revolution, his findings can be applied to any colonized country which had to fight to free itself from the yoke of colonization.

Whenever people are put into a position where their importance as an individual is minimized, there will be a feeling of resentment and a desire both to regain autonomy and to punish the oppressor (Fanon 2004,-page 17). This is a reasonable reaction which psychologists such as Fanon argue is natural and part of the psyche’s need to assert individualism. When that ability is taken away, the target of their anger logically becomes the person or persons who have marginalized them. In the days of colonization, entire populations who had once had dominion over their lands were now forced into a social position where they had no importance except as a commodity for their oppressors.

Decolonization has happened in every corner of the world where an oppressive regime had tried to keep the native population under their thumb. It happens when the people who have been marginalized determine that they have been subjugated long enough and demand their individualism and their personal freedoms. White colonists all over the world have stalled in handing over the rule of native lands, explaining sometimes that the natives are unable to rule themselves. Such an attitude reflects the still-present attitude with which the colonists explained away their actions, that by being white they were superior to the different races of the colonized people and therefore were doing right by taking over their rule and teaching the colonized what the white men viewed was the proper way to run a society (Fanon 2004,-page 32). Racism and false ideas of racial superiority are thus at the heart of the issue of colonization and, later, decolonization.

Subsequent generations grew up in a caste system where they were at the bottom rung of the social strata. Thus each generation adds to the anger and resentment of the generation that came before them until the reaction is an explosion of rage ending in much violence. Fanon (2004) writes: “In the capitalist countries a multitude of moral teachers, counselors, and ‘bewilderers’ separate the exploited and those in power. In the colonial countries, on the contrary, the policeman and the soldier, by their immediate presence and their frequent and direct action, maintain contact with the native and advise him by means of rifle butts and napalm not to budge” (38). This would be the same as a single individual person, such as a child who lives in the home of an abusive parent. Daily the child will be subjected to violence and other abuses, perhaps sexual not to mention emotional, and the anger towards their abuser will build. The end result is often that the child will lash out finally at their attacker or worse turn their anger on an innocent bystander.

Many people who read Fanon’s book believe that he is in fact advocating violent revolt against oppressive colonial regimes. While there is certainly a level of this in the text itself, Fanon does not actually state that the only means of achieving freedom is through violence. He says that frequently, violence is employed in a successful revolution, but that this is the fault of the oppressors as well. He says, “They very same people who had it constantly drummed into them that the only language they understood was that of force, now decide to express themselves with force…The colonial regime owes its legitimacy to force and at no time does it ever endeavor to cover up this nature of things” (Fanon 2004,-page 42). The colonizers won the land over which they rule by using deadly force, and the violence they perpetrated won them land. So, it is logical that the colonized would come to understand that the way to obtain land is to commit acts of violence against the enemy. From a psychological perspective, what a person is taught is right or wrong, effective or ineffective becomes ingrained over time. In the case of the colonized, they have been witness for generations to all manner of atrocities and have been unable to fight against them because they were outnumbered or unable to match the artillery of the enemy. It is therefore no surprise that they come to understand that if they want to be free, and then they must also use force.

Rather than direct violence, Fanon argues that a revolution should be began by members of the lowest social position, a group he refers to as the lumpenproletariat. People classified by this term might well include criminals or people who were unemployed. However, Fanon uses the term in a more specific way; he refers to people who were not employed in industrialization. Such people were not directly profiting from the colonial governance in that they were not employed and thus not making wages from the colonists. Because of this, they were the group most separated from the oppressors and thus most likely to successfully begin a revolution. Separation of the oppressed from the oppressors was the first step to freedom (Fanon 2004,-page 29). By forcing their own customs on the natives, the colonizers erase the national differences that exist between them and emphasize ethnic ones in their stead. The oppressor countries want the colonized people to feel as though they are part of the empire nation because then their nationalist feelings will be towards the usurpers rather than their homeland. However, there is a backlash to this when the oppressed peoples stop seeing the colonists as countrymen and instead see them as the enemy.

There are many ways in which the native people are subjugated by colonial powers. Besides being forced into slave labor, the natives may also be killed outright. They will likely be used sexually in the case of females and males too in some occasions. As Fanon explains, “This European opulence is literally scandalous, for it has been found on slavery, it has been nourished with the blood of slaves and comes directly from the soil and from the sub-soil of that under-developed world. The well being and the progress of Europe had been built up with the sweat and the dead bodies of Negros, Arabs, Indians, and the Yellow races” (page 76). Natives would unlikely be subject to the same protections under the law so that any evil done to them by colonists would largely go unpunished. Everything they knew would be taken away. Most colonists enforced their own system of morals and traditions on the colonized. In addition, the colonized population would be forced to accept the culture of the colonizers and, in so doing, give up their own heritage. This would be accomplished by taking away the native people’s religion and usually imposing Christianity. The colonizers would also impose their own language on the colonized as well, which Fanon argues is one of the most important aspects of a culture (Fanon 2004,-page 131). Removing the language of the colonized people is akin to erasing their original identity. It is psychologically damaging to a degree that cannot be overestimated.

When a native people become a colony of an empire nation, the change is psychologically traumatic for that native population. They have to give up their customs, their language, their beliefs and accept those that are shown them by the oppressors. Failure to do so results in physical pain and the potential for death. Each member of a colonized population is forced to recreate his or identity in terms of what is allowed them within the new regime. After a time, whether it be a short period or many generations, the native population will eventually tire from their oppression and become determined to retrieve their original place within the society and reestablish order in the ways of their forefathers. Decolonization usually results in some sort of violence, either against the colonizers or against the colonized. Sometimes the empire will fight diligently to retain its territories. Even more disturbing is that sometimes the oppressed will break up into factions and war with themselves over which group should be in charge. The colonizers taught the natives about brute force and are then surprised when those same people use violence in order to achieve their own ends.

Works Cited

Fanon, F. (2004). The Wretched of the Earth. Grove: New York, NY.

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