Ambivalence and Ambiguity in Postcolonial Memory
European colonialism in the modern era of countries in Africa and the Caribbean is often characterised as primarily being a situation of domination and oppression of the colonised by the colonial powers. In this paper, I explore the significance of the works of Jean Rhys and Derek Walcott in challenging such a reductive view of colonialism, and producing a profound attitude of ambivalence and ambiguity in postcolonial discourse. I argue such an attitude is simply the result of attempting to account for the complex situation and diverse legacies of colonialism. Rhys and Walcott do this by rigorously examining the colonised-coloniser relationship, not through the lens of imperial politics and power, but from the perspective of person-to-person relations and culture. In Rhys’s case, her novel Wide Sargasso Sea reveals the mutual trauma of the colonised and the coloniser, the latter being presented as wielding a highly unstable power and authority. Walcott’s poetry illuminates the formerly colonised subject’s ambivalence towards the European cultural heritage he has inherited at least in part – an ambivalence which is present in and fuels the building up of a new, plural cultural identity in the aftermath of colonialism. Walcott and Rhys are hence valuable in reshaping our perspectives of colonialism, allowing us to think of colonial history without the standard binaries that often pervades postcoloniality.