Nation-states, intellectuals, and utopias in postcolonial fiction

Date of Award




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)



First Committee Member

Frank Palmeri - Committee Chair


This dissertation seeks to avoid the common reading of postcolonial novels as embracing nationalism because they challenge empire. While recognizing that postcolonial novelists contest the imperialist construction of Africans and Asians as biologically, culturally, and intellectually inferior to Europeans, it maintains that concepts such as hybridity, mimicry, in-betweenness, and third space elide the concern of many postcolonial novelists with the current dilemmas of their societies. In fact, the canonical status these concepts have acquired in academia tends to obscure the critique much postcolonial fiction mounts against the postcolonial nation-state, the role it conceives for the dissident intellectual, and the utopian possibilities it imagines for a more promising future. Because Chinua Achebe's Anthills of the Savannah, Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children, and Nadine Gordimer's July's People explore these issues in all their complexity, they serve as the primary object of analysis. These novels expose the inability of the postcolonial nation-state to fulfill the aspirations of Africans, Indians, Pakistanis, and South Africans for a democratic polity. Moreover, they complement their critique of the nation-state by offering tentative utopian alternatives. The visions they propose do not prescribe the ideal commonwealth in the tradition of classical utopias, such as Thomas More's Utopia; they gesture, instead, towards possibilities and horizons which remain largely fragmentary, undecided, and contradictory. To explore fully the issues that preoccupy Achebe, Gordimer, and Rushdie, the dissertation draws on a wide range of theoretical insights and methods, including Aijaz Ahmad's and Arif Dirlik's critique of postcolonial studies, Michel Foucault's analysis of bio-power, the feminist critique of nationalism, and Fredric Jameson's postmodern theory of utopia. In addition, it situates Anthills, Midnight's Children, and July's People in their historical contexts in order to examine how they negotiate and intervene in the modern histories of the nation-states they dramatize. Aside from the nation-state and utopia, the dissertation explores the importance these novels accord the dissident intellectual as the voice of his or her people against the oppression of the nation-state.


Literature, Modern; Literature, Asian; Literature, African

Link to Full Text


Link to Full Text