The Wretched of the Earth

The Wretched of the Earth Imagery

Image of Decolonization

Early on in The Wretched of the Earth, Fanon provides this “clear image” that every colonized subject has regarding decolonization:

"To blow the colonial world to smithereens is henceforth a clear image within the grasp and imagination of every colonized subject. To dislocate the colonial world does not mean that once the borders have been eliminated there will be a right of way between the two sectors. To destroy the colonial world means nothing less than demolishing the colonist’s sector, burying it deep within the earth or banishing it from the territory." (6)

This vivid image captures both the violence Fanon thinks is necessary in decolonization—where “blowing to smithereens” is both metaphoric and actual—and the desired result of that violence. Colonialism steals the land from the colonized; now, the colonized bury the colonial vision under the land the colonized have reclaimed.

Image of Colonial Dreams

Fanon gives a vivid description of the dreams the colonized subject has at night:

"The first thing the colonial subject learns is to remain in his place and not overstep its limits. Hence the dreams of the colonial subject are muscular dreams, dreams of action, dreams of aggressive vitality. I dream I am jumping, swimming, running, and climbing. I dream I burst out laughing, I am leaping across a river and chased by a pack of cars that never catches up with me. During colonization the colonized subject frees himself night after night between nine in the evening and six in the morning." (15)

These “muscular dreams” provide an image of active, physical men who are free to move across the land. But colonialism represses this activity, and thereby prevents men from taking up arms against colonial oppression. That is why man dreams: dreaming compensates for the loss of freedom during “real life.” For Fanon, the task of decolonization is to direct the muscular energy away from dreams and into the daily fight, and once the fight has been won, men can move across the land as free as they are in their dreams.

Image of the Lumpenproletariat

In Chapter 2, Fanon discusses how the national political and labor parties, founded in the cities, do not involve the revolutionary power of the rural masses. For Fanon, the revolution will end up being led, not by these parties, but by those in the country who spontaneously erupt into violence and realize their own political potential for liberation. This is the image he provides of the “lumpenproletariat” who will lead the insurrection:

"As for the people living in their huts and their dreams, their hearts begin to beat to the new national rhythm and they softly sing unending hymns to the glory of the fighters. The insurrection has already spread throughout the nation. It is now the turn of the parties to be isolated." (80)

This vivid imagery paints a picture of village life at the same time that it connects the bodies of the villagers to the body of the nation. Their beating hearts become the heart of a free nation. Fanon has a tendency to turn poetic at moments of upheaval and liberation, and this is a strong example of his poetic abilities.

Image of Colonial Control

In the final chapter of The Wretched of the Earth, Fanon discusses how colonialism creates psychological problems. He says part of the source of mental distress and pathology in colonized people is the dehumanization they experience. The colonist treats the colonized not as humans, but as just another part of nature to be tamed, like animals:

"A hostile, ungovernable, and fundamentally rebellious Nature is in fact synonymous in the colonies with the bush, the mosquitoes, the natives, and disease. Colonization has succeeded once this untamed Nature has been brought under control. Cutting railroads through the bush, draining swamps, and ignoring the political and economic existence of the native population are in fact one and the same thing." (182)

In the colonial imagination, Fanon argues, the colonized are just like mosquitoes. They are pests rather than men. In painting this picture, Fanon appeals to the emotions of his native readers, drawing them into the colonial imagination in order to show how poisonous it is.