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Colonial Oppression: Postcolonial Analysis of “The Beetle”

Jul 4, 2023 | 0 comments

Jul 4, 2023 | Essays | 0 comments

Prompt: Write a paper of interpretive literary criticism on The Beetle by Richard Marsh, quoting liberally but judiciously from the novel both to support your points and to give you more material to closely analyze. This essay of also requires that you make use of the Tyson chapter on Postcolonial theory, and this will help you decide which significant aspects of the long literary work to focus on. Quote from Tyson also as you define and apply Postcolonial concepts such as imperialism, colonialist ideology, othering (demonic and exotic), Eurocentrism, Orientalism, double consciousness, unhomeliness, subaltern, and cultural imperialism.


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Discussion: Postcolonial Criticism is a theory for analyzing the effects of colonialism and imperialism, primarily in the literature of formerly colonized peoples, although it can also be applied to any literature that contains colonialist or anticolonialist ideologies. Since the theory calls into question the ideology of imperialist cultures, it can analyze the literature of those cultures, such as The Beetle. The theory also examines issues of power and its effects on knowledge and psychology as they influence and determine identity. This too makes The Beetle appropriate for postcolonial analysis.

As Tyson says, “novels reveal the ways in which historical reality is not something that happens just on the battlefield or in the government office. Rather, historical reality comes into our homes and affects our personal lives in the deepest possible ways.” This serves as a precise synopsis for the events in The Beetle in which history is depicted invading the private lives of characters with very public consequences.

Below, I have selected and adapted some of the “questions postcolonial critics ask about literary texts” that Tyson includes in her chapter. I have retained her numbering and left out some from her list that do not apply to our selected novel. In focusing your essay and thesis, you may choose a question from this list, a combination of questions, a part of a question, or a new question that you develop on your own.

According to Tyson, “most postcolonial analyses, regardless of the issues on which they focus, will include some attention to whether the text is colonialist, anticolonialist, or some combination of the two, that is, ideologically conflicted.” I suggest you use this question as the starting point for developing your analysis of the novel.

1. How does the literary text, explicitly or allegorically, represent various aspects of colonial oppression? Special attention is often given to those areas where political and cultural oppression overlap, as it does, for example, in the colonizers’ control of language, communication, and knowledge in colonized countries.

3. What does the text reveal about the politics and/or psychology of anticolonialist resistance? For example, what does the text suggest about the ideological, political, social, economic, or psychological forces that promote or inhibit resistance? How does the text suggest that resistance can be achieved and sustained by an individual or a group? And in reversal of question 1 above, how is colonizers’ control of language, communication, and knowledge threatened and undermined?

4. What does the text reveal about the operations of cultural difference—the ways in which race, religion, class, gender, sexual orientation, cultural beliefs, and customs combine to form individual identity—in shaping our perceptions of ourselves, others, and the world in which we live? Othering, both demonic and exotic, might be one area of analysis here. Anxiety about threats to Eurocentrism and universalism might also be explored.

7. How does the text represent relationships between the characters it portrays—for example, culturally dominant characters, subalterns, and cultural outsiders—and the land these characters inhabit? Does the natural or supernatural setting change over time and, if so, what causes it? Does the narrator’s or character’s attitude toward the natural or supernatural setting change over time? What kinds of relationships between human beings, nature, faith, and magic does the text seem to promote?

8. How does a literary text in the Western canon reinforce or undermine colonialist ideology through its representation of colonization and/or its inappropriate silence about colonized peoples? Does the text teach us anything about colonialist or anticolonialist ideology through its illustration of any of the postcolonial concepts we’ve discussed? (A text does not have to treat the subject of colonization in order to do this.)

9. Does the literary text express Orientalist views, either in the pronouncements of its characters or through the allegory of its plot development? Does the text use Orientalism to reinforce a positive national self-definition for Western nations? Does the text depict the projection of all the negative characteristics Western nations don’t want to believe exist among its own people onto characters from Eastern nations? Does the storyline show any acts of military or economic aggression to be justified by Orientalism?

Audience: As always with literary criticism, this is a critical paper, not a book review. You can assume your audience has read the poems, so there is no need to waste space with summary of them.

Purpose: Since this is a critical essay, you will need to find repeated patterns in the poems that support your interpretations and readings. Keep in mind, while there is no one “correct” reading to a poem, story, play, or novel, there can be many wrong ones. It is not “all up to one’s interpretation.” You need to find multiple citations from the text to support your analysis.

Format: Essays for this course must use MLA style formatting and citations. Failure to use MLA or excessive errors can result in a failing grade. The MLA style guide, any good English manual (like the Diana Hacker series), or the OWL at Purdue website (owl.english.purdue.edu) can give you help on using this style correctly.

Highlights include:

  • All essays must be typed and double-spaced
  • Margins must be 1-inch on all sides of the page. Align the left margin only.
  • Use 12 point Times or Courier font
  • On the first page (only) type your name, professor name (“Smith”), course number (English 110 plus section number), and date at the top left corner margin 1″ from the top of the page
  • On each page put your last name and page number in the upper right hand corner outside the margin, ½” from the top of the page (most insert page # commands will default to this placement)
  • The title (not underlined or italicized or in quotes) should be centered above the first paragraph
  • Proper MLA citations for all sources (for this essay, the poems and the critical theory book as well as any historical sources)
  • A Works Cited page


The Beetle and Postcolonial Criticism

Colonists had severe impacts on the natives of the nations they colonized felt even after their departure considering they were extremely oppressive as they applied outrageous actions to gain and retain control over their colonies. The colonists applied various techniques to conquer their colonies such as cultural inversion, psychological inversion in addition to physical torture. The Beetle, by Richard Marsh, through the protagonist brings out the monstrous practices by Britain nationals on their colonized subjects mirrored in the Beetle’s deeds against her victims. It expresses the horror of colonial exploitation as well as the fear and pain of foreign imperialism indicating a situation of reversed colonization clearly doubting the notion associated with the absolute termination of colonial manipulation since the oppression by colonists seemed to be continued by those colonized. This paper looks into colonialist ideologies, cultural imperialism, orientalism as well as othering and the consequences of imperialism on the colonized subjects both psychologically and physically attributed manipulation such as identity crisis as expressed in the Beetle and echoed by Lois Tyson in her book, Critical Theory Today.

Colonization contributed to identity crisis among the colonized subjects since their sense of belonging was compromised as a result of their adoption of Western ideologies and appearance. The colonized subjects find themselves outcast of either side, their native societies or the Western tradition. Realignment of their beliefs and practices with those of the colonists associated with colonial cultural and psychological inversion that contribute to their yearning to be white which is disapproved due to their appearance. For instance, the Beetle develops a desire for the white skin thus her resolution to terrorize them. The Beetle longs for a white skin so that she can be able to walk across London fearlessly without being viewed as the racial other considering she has adopted the ways of the colonists yet she is still unable to fit in because of her yellow skin as implied by Marsh (55). The beetle shows interest in being white when she tells Holt she would like to have his skin. British rejection of Westernized Eastern natives seems to be driven by the threat they represent the Victorian national identity taking into account the fact that the subjects after realignment no longer fit into their expectations of the colonized other thus would compromise the power relationship between the two sides that English desired to maintain as implied by Tyson (123).

Post-colonialism through the colonized subjects tend to bring out evil traits Western nationalities tend to associate only with the Eastern nations yet exist among themselves as well as claimed by Tyson (146). However, the Beetle attempts to replicate the British outrageous actions of imperialism by dominating and exploiting the English natives exposing behaviors they deny exists in their society yet are English oriented. The Beetle represents Westernized Eastern natives that were probably educated in Britain thus taught to think and act like westerns thus suffer psychological inversion as they learn to emulate the English in every sense considering she resides in London poorest district reserved for the poor and immigrants thus any behavior exhibited by her reflects the British character whether moral or immoral. Therefore, her evil actions of kidnapping, sexual assaults, and theft however motivated by a desire to revenge implicate the British powers as equally evil. For instance, Marjorie exhibits exploitive traits since her desire in assisting Holt tends to be for her own benefit and not out of sheer empathy for a fellow being as she helps him only after she realized Holt knew Paul, her fiancée as indicated by Marsh (164).

Imperialism is also an element of post-colonialism associated with total control and oppression of the powerless. Imperialism is clearly brought out through reversed colonization in the Beetle presenting a situation where colonial manipulation is far from over considering people experienced oppression under western colonial powers or at the hands of the colonized subjects as echoed by Tyson (149). The Beetle constantly undermined a fundamental aspect every English individual desire to have control over, themselves, since she dominates her victims by rendering them powerless over their own will-power and exploits them. In this manner, Victorian citizens got to experience fear, rage pain and anxieties attributed to oppression by imperial power like they did to the Eastern nations. Therefore, the text echoes the dreadfulness of colonial exploitation as a way of creating awareness. For instance, most of the characters in the novel feel the horror resulting from cruelty at the hands of the Beetle. Paul, Marjorie and Holt, unfortunately, fall victims of the Beetle’s harassment exercised by gaining total control over their bodies and minds and exploiting them sexually at their most vulnerable moment a strategy popular among imperial powers. This horrible experience leaves them traumatized as Marjorie is indicated to have gone insane for some time (Marsh 205).

Post-colonialism is often associated with cultural inversion pertaining to norms governing gender and sexuality as claimed by Tyson (153). The Beetle’s defiance of gender norms is considered outrageous as it undermines gender and sexual identity as defined by British imperial powers thus bring out conflicting perception of gender performance and sexuality. Considering British view of women as objects to be controlled and used in fulfilling sexual fantasies, indicated by British colonizers tendency of sexually assaulting Native women, the Beetle depiction as sexually different which is unacceptable creates fear among the British, who despises her in return. Presentation of a dominating, powerful woman in the Beetle constantly mistaken to be a man demonstrates contradiction and heightens the English unacceptance of gender equality. Marjorie’s character of being independent as she tends to defy her father and her dressing in men’s clothes under the Beetle’s influence also poses a threat to the British foundation of culture and expectations of gender roles challenging their ideology of male dominance and control as suggested by Marsh (241).

Post-colonialism present the notion of othering in which colonized subjects are perceived, categorized and treated as the other in every sense. For instance, the Beetle criticizes racial stereotyping of the other that forms the basis of harsh judgments passed against colonized subjects by the British. The characters in the Beetle constant reference to the Beetle as the oriental solely centered on her appearance since she is perceived to look more like the Orient man other than an English man. The characters apply their establishment of the Beetle as an Oriental from Egypt in unfairly categorizing her as a criminal even before they got to know her and may be precisely one of the factors that drive the Beetle’s rage towards them clearly confirming their ideologies by carrying out dreadful activities against them that are considered evil by Victorian standards as implied by Marsh (116).

Post-colonialism is further characterized by mixture of Eastern mysticism, culture and science seen in the fear of Eastern mysticism by the Western nations as it was considered extremely powerful and evil thus their desire to eradicate Easter mysticism using science innovation. The Beetle seems to possess the ability to change forms, most of the time appearing as a man, attributes to magic from the East. In addition, the Beetle’s possession of mesmeric power poses a great threat to English citizens as it enables her to penetrate the protagonists’ consciousness and body symbolically stripping them off their sense of autonomous enabling her to demonstrate superiority like she does to Holt as indicated by Marsh (69). Apart from the fear of inversion by creatures in possession of metaphysical powers, their evasion of destruction by scientific invention poses a greater threat since the English rely on science as solutions to their problems. For instance, the Beetle dies from a train crash but not from Atherton’s scientific invention intended to destroy her as implied by Marsh (145).

In summary, Marsh in his book, The Beetle explores elements of postcolonial practices such as imperialism, cultural inversion, otherness and orientation that tend to disrupt Victorian England’s view of race, imperial relationship as well as gender and sexuality. The beetle, through the antagonist, explores the anxieties, fear, and pain experienced by Victorian citizens as a result of reserved imperialism perpetrated by her as she confronts them with the realities of their own awful conduct towards the colonized subjects. The Beetle further brings out the identity crisis colonized subjects whose beliefs and customs have been realigned with those of Europeans suffer considering their failure to fit anywhere and their desire to identify themselves with the white who constantly treats them as the other and passes harsh judgments on them based on their racial otherness. Victorian society is further threatened through cultural inversion based on reversion and defiance of gender roles by a female, the Beetle, abolishes the British ideology of male dominance and control. Therefore, the text explores in depth how the colonial powers feel about their interaction with their colonized subjects regarding their expectations that forms the basis under which the colonized other are perceived and treated in Victorian society.

Works Cited

Marsh, Richard. The Mystery of the Beetle, Or, the House with the Open Window. Cleveland: Arthur Westbrook, 1912. Print.

Tyson, Lois. Critical Theory Today: A User-Friendly Guide. New York: Garland Pub, 1999. Print.

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