The Wretched Of The Earth Summary

Frantz Fanon

The Wretched Of The Earth

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The Wretched Of The Earth Summary

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Published in the politically fraught year of 1961, The Wretched of the Earth by physician and psychiatrist Frantz Fanon dissects the psychological, as well as the long-lasting social and economic impact, of colonization on colonized subjects. The seminal text has inspired anti-colonial efforts throughout the world, and continues to serve as a foundation for bestselling works, such as Chris Hayes’s A Colony in a Nation (2017) and Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi (2016). Its justification of violence on behalf of the oppressed led to it being banned by the French government for years.

Fanon finished The Wretched of the Earth just before his premature death at the age of thirty-six.Since the 1960s, the work has become a cornerstone for several academic programs, including postcolonial studies, critical theory, and Marxism.

The Wretched of the Earth stems from Fanon’s lifelong observations and experiences of the psychological effects of systematic racism on black people. Fanon was born in Martinique in 1925 and received a standard colonial education. He fought with the French resistance in World War II, and his experience with systematic racism led to his belief that peaceful assimilation was not possible. He writes of being shaken to his core when white women in a town he helped liberate wanted to dance with white fascists rather than any black men.

In Black Skin, White Masks (1955), a precursor to The Wretched of the Earth, Fanon shows how the forced use of a colonizer’s language always puts the colonized at a disadvantage and instills in them a fundamental, exacerbating insecurity. He develops this idea further in his magnum opus, The Wretched of the Earth.

In his first essay, “Concerning Violence,” Fanon posits that decolonization is inherently violent. Any reversal of a power structure, which is what Fanon means by decolonization, is violent. Fanon does not see the oppressed as being obligated to behave with humanity when the oppressor does not view them as human to begin with.

For Fanon, colonization is itself a violent act, and under colonization in Martinique, non-white people were denied a good education and fair social mobility. Fanon famously wrote that the only “language” a colonizer understands is violence. Thus, to speak back, the oppressed must use violence.

The indignities that the colonized experience are constant. Fanon points to the visual signals that encourage the colonized to think of themselves as inferior to the colonizer, from segregation to the rejection of the creole spoken by the colonized.

Fanon saw the uprising would begin with rural peasants; after all, they suffered the most under colonialism. Some black Martinican (the bourgeois) maintained a good life under colonialism because they were complicit with the colonizer.For Fanon, the native bourgeois element of any colonized state must be overthrown; they are far too likely to simply mimic the repressive apparatus imposed by the colonizer. For a government that is fair to the oppressed, the entire system under colonization must be razed. Decolonization cannot work through more mainstream agendas, which call for the gradual withdrawal of occupation forces; decolonization must be spontaneous and violent.

Violence completed by an oppressed population also clarifies for that group why it is fighting; to Fanon, violence gives rise to vital social truths. Though some have said Fanon’s call for a revolution among the oppressed is a tolerance of violence, Fanon did not view this change in power structure as revolutionary at all. He maintained that it was simply just.

Fanon offers a new framework for government that does not mimic colonial rule and can improve the chance for the people to rule themselves truly independently. He argues that Europe stole wealth from Africa, Asia, and America, and newly liberated countries should not mimic that aggressive, violent form of societal arrangement. Fanon also writes that reparations must be paid to colonized countries by Europe — the colonized have every right to demand the return of such resources.

The colonizer sets up policies that keep the colonized oppressed. These policies seem rational, to the point that even the colonized sees them as true: the need for segregation, the fairness of unequal educational opportunities, etc. Fanon analyzes the official language of the colonizer that allows systemic inequality to continue. Colonization is so ingrained into the psyche, that total revolution is required. Reflecting his psychoanalytic training, Fanon writes that the colonizer structures society so that the colonized express their thwarted desires on each other; all signs encourage the colonized to blame one another, often in the appearance of rationality, rather than the larger system that keeps them all oppressed.

Fanon foresaw that a wave of countries would win their independence in the 1960s. This became true for Algeria, a country where Fanon worked at a hospital and wrote most of his books. He warned these new countries that they needed to completely dismantle the colonizer system.The Wretched of the Earth was written for the formerly oppressed of Algeria. It became a foundational document for the socialist party that came to power after liberation from France in the Algerian War of Independence (1954 to 1962).

Fanon concludes that violence would be justified in overthrowing French rule in his birth country Martinique. He encourages newly liberated countries to reject the European model of rule that relies on exploitation and fills its population — whether colonizer or colonized — with spiritual apathy and listlessness. He calls on the new African countries to help solve the problem of human relations through a kinder system of governance.