British Identity and Literature Essay

British Identity and Literature Essay

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British Identity and Literature


What does it mean to be British? Britain's national identity has evolved and transformed over the years. Through the works of Phyllis Wheatley, Aphra Ben, William Shakespeare, Daniel DeFoe, Coetzee and Caryl Phillips we have explored the different meanings and aspects of British identity. Britishness is not just confined to England (or the United Kingdom in recent times), Britishness extends far beyond the nation. Britishness is not a simple concept and is complicated by the existence of many British colonies all over the world. The colonized people of the British colonies also have claims on Britishness. So what determines if an individual is British or not? Is it one's religion? Is it the way one speaks? Is it just the difference of skin color? Is it one's appearance and dress? Is it based on citizenship? Is it one's knowledge of social norms of England? The colonized people of British colonies defied many of those above. The Britishness of these people did not just rely on their language, their appearance, their citizenship and at many times their understanding or application of social norms to their life yet their claim on Britishness, them demanding their claim on British identity is as legitimate as any. So if not on these basic characteristics, that define national identity, on what is the Britishness of the colonized people based on?

An important part of the formation of British identity within the colonized people lies in their interaction with the British that came from England to colonize them. Interaction with the British mainly depended on language and the colonized individual's ability to speak English. For most their ability to learn the language depends on their master's ge...


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...w claim their British idenity, yet in the beginning of the colonizing process they had to prove their Britishness. Their ability to speak the language, understand the culture and adopt the religion were all ways they could claim their Britishness. The strong influence of the British in their colonies was inevitable because if people live together, there will be interaction and that will lead to the exchange of ideas. This exchange of ideas lead to the development of a British identity among the colonized. This exchange wasn't one-sided as this interaction lead to the British discovering, understanding and sometimes adopting the ideas of the people in their colony. Yet the claim of the colonized on British identity was not considered legitimate in the colonial times and was only recognized years later when the notion of racial superiority was somewhat obliterated.

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