The Wretched of the Earth

The Wretched of the Earth Symbols, Allegory and Motifs

Rifle Butts and Napalm (Symbol)

In a passage early in The Wretched of the Earth, Fanon describes how the colonists originally maintain their power:

"In capitalist countries a multitude of sermonizers, counselors, and “confusion-mongers” intervene between the exploited and the authorities. In colonial regions, however, the proximity and frequent, direct intervention by the police and the military ensure the colonized are kept under close scrutiny, and contained by rifle butts and napalm." (4)

Here, “rifle butts and napalm” are a symbol of all the violence that colonists use. Guns and bombs aren’t the only way the colonists subjugate the colonized, but they are a powerful image of all the violence that intimidates and controls the colonized.

Sleeping Beauty (Allegory)

At the end of Chapter 1, Fanon talks about how the working classes in Europe must support the decolonizing effort:

"This colossal task, which consists of reintroducing man into the world, man in his totality, will be achieved with the crucial help of the European masses who would do well to confess that they have often rallied behind the position of our common masters on colonial issues. In order to do this, the European masses must first of all decide to wake up, put on their thinking caps and stop playing the irresponsible game of Sleeping Beauty." (62)

This is an allegorical passage, because Fanon relates the working classes or “European masses” to Sleeping Beauty, from the fairy tale in which a princess is put under a sleeping spell and must be awoken by a prince. The spell the masses have been under is that of the “common masters”—the bourgeoisie in Europe. But the colonized of Africa are calling on them to wake up from their slumber and join the fight against a common enemy.

Manichaeism (Motif)

A figure that repeats through The Wretched of the Earth is Manichaeism, which was originally a religious movement named after the 3rd century Iranian prophet Mani. Mani had a dualistic view of the world as a struggle between discrete powers of lightness and darkness, good and evil. In colonialism, people are not actually Manichaean in a religious sense; they aren’t followers of Mani’s religious teachings. But Manichaeism symbolizes the colonial dualistic thinking that divides the world into white and black, good and evil, colonist and colonized. This is the recurring structure of colonial society. When the colonized fight back against colonialism, they reverse the hierarchy: now it is the colonist who is evil and must be eliminated.