Politics of the Female Body: Postcolonial Women Writers of the Third World

Politics of the Female Body: Postcolonial Women Writers of the Third World

Politics of the Female Body: Postcolonial Women Writers of the Third World

Politics of the Female Body: Postcolonial Women Writers of the Third World


Is it possible to simultaneously belong to and be exiled from a community? In Politics of the Female Body, Ketu H. Katrak argues that it is not only possible, but common, especially for women who have been subjects of colonial empires.

Through her careful analysis of postcolonial literary texts, Katrak uncovers the ways that the female body becomes a site of both oppression and resistance. She examines writers working in the English language, including Anita Desai from India, Ama Ata Aidoo from Ghana, and Merle Hodge from Trinidad, among others. The writers share colonial histories, a sense of solidarity, and resistance strategies in the on-going struggles of decolonization that center on the body.

Bringing together a rich selection of primary texts, Katrak examines published novels, poems, stories, and essays, as well as activist materials, oral histories, and pamphlets--forms that push against the boundaries of what is considered strictly literary. In these varied materials, she reveals common political and feminist alliances across geographic boundaries.

A unique comparative look at women's literary work and its relationship to the body in third world societies, this text will be of interest to literary scholars and to those working in the fields of postcolonial studies and women's studies.


I am Indian, very brown, born in
Malabar, I speak three languages, write in
Two, dream in one. Don’t write in English, they said,
English is not your mother-tongue. Why not leave
Me alone, critics, friends…. The language I speak
Becomes mine

—Kamala Das, “An Introduction,”
The Old Playhouse and Other Poems

Women with faces full of hope and life crowd on dusty benches in the auditorium of St. Joseph’s College, near Calicut, Kerala. They are gathered from all over India, from villages, small towns and cities, some traveling for two nights on the train to reach this place in southern India for the Fourth National Conference of Women’s Movements in India, December 1990. I have arrived by plane from my native home in Bombay (via Amherst, Massachusetts, where I lived and worked at that time), flying Air Asiatic, a fledgling new carrier recently established by an enterprising Kerala native, now wealthy in the Middle East. The airline had only two planes at that time, and the entire ground staff arrived onto the Calicut air-strip to welcome us, quite a contrast to landing on one of several runways in Los Angeles, or New York, taxi-ing, and parking at gates leading directly into jetways and plush terminals.

Here in Calicut, we step down the ladder and onto the ground. I am as much, even more, a stranger here than I am in unfamiliar cities in the United States. Here, I must negotiate taxi-fare, without really knowing how far we have to go. I show the written address to the driver, and give myself over to the possibility of a circuitous route and a high fare! Finally, we pull into the St. Joseph’s College compound, and as I join the nearly two thousand women at this activist conference, I enter a unique learning experience . . .

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