Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Layer Cake of Postcolonialism in Casablanca

Through the course of world history, humanity has witnessed a dynamic evolution of Imperialism in varying degrees and forms. In more recent history, the colonial aspect of many of the dominant Western Imperialist societies has declined significantly. This rapid decline has caused a discernable measure of conflict to arise, between the progressive dominance of colonizing society and the reemergence (often amalgamated) social identity of the colonized population. This cultural phenomena is known as the Postcolonial Culture (or rather the development of) of the society in question. It is often useful to employ Postcolonial theory as a method of literary critique. To demonstrate this, the following analysis of the 1942 film “Casablanca” is presented.
The setting of “Casablanca” is the French controlled Morrocan city bearing the same name, during World War II. Despite the fact that Casablanca is unoccupied, France itself has fallen to the German Army, and the social hierarchy is established early on in the film based on this fact. We see this from the arrival of a German officer, Major Strasser. He arrives in Casablanca to capture a German fugitive and the local prefect, Captain Renault is forced (albeit reluctantly) to execute his orders. The French population of Casablanca is clearly agitated by the presence of the Germans, both locally and in France. They struggle to keep their social identity clearly delineated from that of their German subjugators. This is demonstrated in Rick’s lounge when a group of German soldiers begin reciting their national anthem and are made inaudible by the vociferous recitation of the French national anthem by the local patrons. To understand why this small German garrison has reaffirmed the German influence over Casablanca we recall, from Edward Said “On Culture and Imperialism”, ‘westerners maintain their colonies abroad as markers on an ideological map, over which they rule morally and intellectually’. The German occupiers must enforce their idea of law and morality to demonstrate its superiority.
We must also play close attention to the fact that the French are themselves occupying the Morrocan city of Casablanca. This fact is indisputable as Morrocan characters do not even appear in supporting roles through out the film, as well as the fact that French is the language of discourse when English is not being employed. The French culture is superimposed over the Morrocan individuals. We see this when Ilsa is being “merchandised” in a Morrocan open air market. The Morrocan speaks with a French accent (as do all the Morrocans) and he petitions her for an exchange in Francs, not the local currency. However, it is prudent to make the observation that his manner of dress is distinctly Morrocan. This scene underscores the conflict of “mimicry and mockery” put forth by Homi Bhabha: “it is the ambivalence of mimicry [and mockery] which fixes the colonial subject as a partial presence. By partial we mean both incomplete and virtual”. From this, the uncertainty in the Morrocan culture, due to French influence is established.
The duality of Postcolonialism in “Casablanca” serves as an excellent platform for the analysis of all cultures and as a method of literary critique. The setting and plot of “Casablanca”, as well as the Postcolonial duality, demonstrates the interplay between the colonized and colonizers and how their conflicts can be “pulled backed” to prior events in history.

1 comment:

  1. Very nice reading of the film--particularly the way you're concentrating on the 'background' of the work-the Moroccans as they are portrayed in a work which to the uncritical eye about anything but Moroccans (which is exactly your point). And there is so much here, particuarly with the French being portrayed as the 'good guys' in the film while, as you point out, oppressing a culture themselves. Makes me wonder if there is evidence of the 'brutalization' of the colonizer that we discussed in class...Renault certainly spends most of the film in a very questionable moral landscape, to say the least.