postcolonial theory of gender in the epic of gilgamesh and the tempest
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Postcolonial Literary Analysis: Gender in the “Epic of Gilgamesh” and “The Tempest.”
Strictly speaking, postcolonial analysis can be regarded as a cultural study of the literary works. The postcolonial analysis assumes a perspective on which the elements of the book, such as politics; power, or gender relations are separated and taken into account on their own. (Brizee 1). This type of analysis takes into account the issues the characters live, all in context with a bigger picture; the bigger picture being the colonial power ruling the country in question. Hence, a postcolonial analysis can take into account issues such as the relations between peers; racism and cultural hegemony. However, to be able to criticize thoroughly a text, the critic has to enter the books using a critical lens that will help it during its analysis.
Using the postcolonial literary theory, we shall write an analysis of the issue of gender in two books, the Epic of Gilgamesh, and the Tempest. Comparing and contrast how the issue of gender can be an important problem in the postcolonial theory, concerning our two chosen texts.
The epic of Gilgamesh is an interesting example of sex and its implications in his time. Gilgamesh was the greatest man of his time, but his greatness did not let him see the importance of his actions. That is why gods decided to create Enkidu, an uncivilized man, to put a stop to his activities. Strictly speaking, the gods did not create Enkidu to be an equal to Gilgamesh. Instead, they constructed an uncivilized being to teach Gilgamesh a lesson. Besides, it is important to note that the gods created Enkidu as an image of Gilgamesh. “You made him, O Aruru; now produce his equal; let it be as like him as his reflection, his second self; a stormy heart for the violent heart.” (Gilgamesh 4) That means they perceived the man, as a beast.
The uncivilized nature of Enkidu makes a great impression to us since it is he staple of our criticism. Gilgamesh, to best Enkidu, tries to civilize him. He seeks the aid of a prostitute, which means that he considered that the only way to civilize Enkidu was through sex. “Now, woman, make your breasts bare, have no shame, do not delay but welcome his love. Let him see you naked, let him possess your body.” (Gigamesh 5) In the same way, the fact that he treats the woman as an object implies he has no respect for nobody but himself. For Enkidu to be a man, he had to know mankind, he had to feel the flesh of a woman; he needed sex. This is of extreme importance because it shows that according to the poet who wrote the epic tale, civilization existed because men are capable of pleasuring themselves with their bodies, unlike animals. In the same way, it is not until Gilgamesh recognizes Enkidu as an equal that he stops thinking of him as an “other”, as a savage that needs to be educated.
The Tempest is one of the most commented and studied plays in the Shakespearean corpus. Despite the small role he plays, many critics have drawn their attention to the character (Chand & Chaudhary 36). In this essay, we will focus on the figure of Caliban. From the beginning of the play, he is seen as an alien. Prospero, the man who taught him language considered him “A thing most brutish” (Shakespeare I, 1). We can see a series of parallelisms between the relationship of Prospero and Caliban; with the relation of Gilgamesh and Enkidu. Both, Prospero and Gilgamesh try to civilize whom they consider different. In a postcolonial lens, we could think of Caliban and Enkidu as slaves. A sort of sidekicks destined not to shine, but to be subjects to the wits of more intelligent men.
Caliban can be seen as a potent symbol because he was “colonized”. Prospero landed on his island and decided to change Caliban’s life. What most people do not realize is that the colonists try to instill their thoughts into the colonized. Instances such as the language; sex, and general customs are different as the colonized. Enkidu had to learn the ways of men through a prostitute. Caliban, through a man who despised him. In the same way, there is the issue of servitude. Enkidu, as a being created by gods, knows no master but himself. Enkidu was Gilgamesh companion, but not his server. Caliban, on the other hand, considers himself Prospero’s server. He even likes to serve.
Both texts show “the other”. A being who is not a human, but it is not an animal. Enkidu befriended Gilgamesh, who respected him and showed him how to be a man. That is an example of a “positive” colonialism. Both men recognized each other and contributed. On the other hand, Caliban and Prospero show us the ugly side of colonialism. Prospero used Caliban, and in that situation, Caliban learned the language of his oppressor. There was no exchange, only a case of colonialism. However, it is important to note that both, Caliban and Enkidu are seen as savage by their oppressors. What seems obvious to us is that it is the strongest who writes history. Enkidu is considered different only because that Gilgamesh was the ruling power. The same goes to Caliban; he is a monster only because he is different. Apparently, the only optics that matter are those of the ruling powers, to the outcast, society often shows an entirely different situation.
Brizee, A., C. Tompkins, and L. Chernouski. “Literary Theory and Schools of Criticism.” Purdue OWL. Online Writing Lab, 2015. Web. 22 July 2015. <https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/722/10/>.
Chand, P., and S. Chaudhary. “Critical Discourse Analysis of the Character of Caliban by Post-colonial Critics: A Post-colonial Scrutiny.” International Journal on Studies in English Language and Literature 1.2 (2013): 35-40. Arcjournals. Web. 21 July 2015. <https://www.arcjournals.org/pdfs/ijsell/v1-i2/v1-i2-ijsell_3.pdf>.
Shakespeare, W. “The Tempest.” The Tempest: Entire Play. MIT. Web. 22 July 2015. <http://shakespeare.mit.edu/tempest/full.html>.
“The Epic Of Gilgamesh.” Web. 22 July 2015. <http://www.aina.org/books/eog/eog.pdf>.