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Identity is one of the most important things craved by the modern society and culture. Since the very young age, children are motivated to stand out and form their own unique personality. However, this idea has been pursued since only recently on the global scale. Up until the mid-20th century, many colonial states have been under an imperialistic regime of sorts that would do all efforts to alienate the identity of a colonial state, replacing it with another, that of the colonist state. One of the most known such examples was England. In her short essay, On Seeing England for the First Time, author Jamaica Kincaid plainly demonstrates how imperialism attempts to erase the identity of native folks and how it can only result in resistance.
Made in England: The Imperialistic Brand vs. Reality
The essay starts with an image of England as people of Antigua were supposed to see when they thought of England. Kincaid recalls an instance when her teacher hung a map of England in their class at school. Although, to Kincaid, the map largely resembled a “leg of mutton,” children were supposed to see some kind of universal beauty in this country. Even when the teacher pronounced the name of the country, the author recalls, it sounded “with authority, seriousness, and adoration” that had to become a part of national identity of a country separated from England by the Atlantic Ocean (Kincaid 32). Although, this illusion quickly deserves in the next paragraph of an essay, Kincaid delivers her idea well right from the start. While colonial states had to view England as something beautiful, many of them experienced a dissonance regarding an image of England and the apparent reality.
As Kincaid goes further in her thoughts, she remembers that such a brand of England as superior power has been pursuing people of her native Antigua almost their entire lives. As an example, she provides that “this breakfast business was "Made in England like almost everything else that surrounded us” (32-33). Students in schools must learn not only the English language but also English history and culture in high detail, having no time to learn the history and culture of their own nation. All these aspects create a rather vivid sense of identity erasure (33). The author underlines that England taught its colonial states to worship it in order to appear small and be more easily controllable.
While Jamaica Kincaid presents her thoughts is a seemingly emotional way, she essentially states the facts. Imperialistic states are often characterized by belittling the value of every nation they “own.” In such a way, the national identity becomes gradually erased and replaced with that of the commanding state. This, in turn, eliminates nearly all possible internal struggle or resistance and allows a colonial state to remain more easily controlled (Ben Hmida et al. 2891). While the resistance of the colonized states might not be visible due to obedience and forced sense of inferiority, the internal struggle is often real.
As Kincaid carries on with her ideas, she quite clearly explains the feelings and experiences of the colonized nations after they, in fact, face the reality. Throughout her life, the author had this sense of forced adoration, a duty to awe at the country whenever thinking about it. However, as she saw England for the first time in her life, she as an adult “wanted to take it into [her] hands and tear it into little pieces” (Kincaid 39). That was mainly because the reality of England turned out to be quite the opposite from what she had been taught her entire life. The cities were not as great, the nature was not as picturesque, and people were not as good and kind. Facing this reality created a huge gap between it and the image of England, the gap that could only be filled with hatred for being lied all the time.
In On Seeing England for the First Time, Jamaica Kincaid makes the importance of national identity quite clear. By emotionally demonstrating the experience of facing the gap between the image and reality of an imperialistic state, in this case England, the author demonstrates that people of colonized countries often resist the process of colonization due to the constant sense of identity erasure and replacement. Antigua, a former English colony had to be amazed by England and its image of greatness. However, to many people, that was only an image. Should they face the reality, their whole life might be ruined by the resulting dissonance.
Ben Hmida, Jalel et al. "Hybrid Imperialist Competitive And Grey Wolf Algorithm To Solve Multiobjective Optimal Power Flow With Wind And Solar Units". Energies, vol 11, no. 11, 2018, p. 2891. MDPI AG, https://doi.org/10.3390/en11112891. Accessed 30 Mar 2022.
Kincaid, Jamaica. “On Seeing England for the First Time.” Transition Magazine. 51, pp. 32-40, 1991.
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