Imperialism and Colonialism in science fiction and their imprint on the genre today

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2020

13 Pages, Grade: 1,7



1. Introduction -Imperialism in Science-Fiction 2-
1.1 Othering after Homi Bhaba and Edward Said 3-
1.2 The Dependency theory by Grosfoguel 4-

2. Imperialism in The Time Machine from H. G. Wells 5-
2.1 The Eloi, the Morlocks and The Time Traveller as Prometheus 7-

3. Imperialism and Colonialism in the TV-Series The 100 8-
3.1 The comparison to The Time Machine 10-

4. Conclusion and result

5. Literature

1. Introduction - Imperialism in science fiction

"By 'scientifiction' I mean the Jules Verne, H. G. Wells and Edgar Allan Poe type of story - a charming romance intermingled with scientific fact and prophetic vision... Not only do these amazing tales make tremendously interesting reading - they are always instructive. They supply knowledge... in a very palatable form... New adventures pictured for us in the scientifiction of today are not at all impossible of realization tomorrow... Many great science stories destined to be of historical interest are still to be written... Posterity will point to them as having blazed a new trail, not only in literature and fiction, but progress as well." (Gernback, 1929)

Although the era of imperialism and colonialism began with the discovery of America, it reached its peak in the 19th century. Particularly represented was the British Empire, which, as one of the largest European maritime powers, advanced through shipping routes to the furthest corners of the world. Significantly influenced by the ideology of being a progressive industrial nation, chosen to occupy other countries and to determine their future, the Empire shaped the history of many nations. Imperialism and the competition between the European countries for overseas colonies had an impact on the people of that time and thus also on cultural phenomena such as arts, theatre, and literature. These works mainly influenced the European population and its perception of foreign cultures and ethnic groups. Through imperialist propaganda and caricature through feminization, demonization, and dehumanization of other cultures, the European population's perception of foreigners was deformed, which is still reflected in stereotypes and prejudices. One genre that I will examine more closely in this regard is the science fiction that developed at that time. This genre was decisively influenced in England by the author H. G. Wells and his book The Time Machine from 1895. In connection with Homi Baba's theory of Othering, Edward Said's exposition of Orientalism, and Grosfoguel's explanation of the Dependency theory, I will briefly analyse the content of The Time Machine and compare the motives of that time with an example of today's science fiction. The TV series The 100 serves as a research object and example for a science fiction series released after 2010. The focus of the analysis is mainly placed on the representation of imperialism and colonialism and how the methodology has changed over time and through the difference of the medium.

The genre of science fiction is particularly well suited to this topic since such literature not only appeared for the first time in the age of industrialization, but the creators of these texts had to deal with future social, societal, economic and scientific developments. Also, like the genre of fantasy, new worlds, living organisms and cultures were created. Even if they are fictitious and purely theoretical forms of life, they are based on familiar experiences, stories, and narratives, as with any fiction or surreal imagination. Consequently, the imaginary portrayal of the foreigner in literature reflects the knowledge and imagination of the time. The ideas of that time about worlds and ways of life that were as foreign as possible were therefore based on the experiences of colonialism. As a result, theories of postcolonialism offer various points of investigation for an analysis of literature of the time.

1.1 Othering after Homi Bhaba, Gayatri Spivak and Edward Said

“This term was coined by Gayatri Spivak for the process by which imperial discourse creates its 'others'. Whereas the Other corresponds to the focus of desire or power [...] in relation to which the subject is produced, the other is the excluded or 'mastered' subject created by discourse of power.” (Ashcroft, Tiffin & Griffith 1998, 171)

In his theory, Homi Bhabha first criticizes the traditional understanding of culture in the present day, according to which culture is understood as the bearer of stable, rites, norms, values and practices. The traditional understanding of culture today also assumes that cultures are continuous and homogeneous in themselves. As a result, cultures would be distinguishable from each other and individually identifiable. Culture thus becomes something physically tangible and a firmly fixed unit for the classification of human communities. According to Bhabha, however, cultures are characterized by their flexibility and changeability. The continuous process of change in culture is particularly noteworthy. Even if culture as a supra-individual concept is not individual, it can be shaped individually. Bhabha calls this constant reinterpretation 'cultural diversity' (cf. Bhabha 1994, 96-98). Since the meaning of cultural signs and practices change, they carry „the difference and separation between the signifier and signified” (Bhabha 1990, 210). Cultural diversity is produced by establishing a cultural ‘norm’ through differences to the ‘other’. The concept of cultural diversity thus masks the normalization of the white culture as the normative culture.

After Bhabha “cultures are only constituted in relation to that otherness internal to their own symbol-forming activity which makes them decentred structures” (Bhabha 1990, 210). Bhabha's understanding of culture shows where the points of contact for othering after Edward Said lie. The demarcation of cultures in the traditional understanding of culture offers a perfect basis for stereotypes through foreign- and self-attribution. Said shows the form of Othering through his description of Orientalism. Orientalism is a concept based on the ontological and epistemic distinction between the ‘Orient’ and the ‘Occident’ in the writings of scientists, poets, philosophers, political theorists, and imperial administrators. This dichotomy between East and West allows the supremacist division of people (cf. Said 2006, 25-26). The description of the Orient as it is known in Western Europe was created by Europeans and is therefore Eurocentric. This creation of Orientalist discourses is possible because of imbalanced power relations, Western domination and hegemonic relation with the East which were established through colonialism. Orientalist discourses and thinking are so ingrained in today’s perception that they cannot be simply deconstructed. Spivak gives three examples of othering: the process of worlding, the debasement and the separation of creating the colonized others by marking them as an object of imperialism (cf. Ashcroft, Tiffin & Griffith 1998, 172). Furthermore, the process of othering can occur in all kinds of colonialist narratives like novels, diaries, films, and art.

However, these forms of stereotypes are deconstructed by so-called hybridization. Hybridity means the ability to detach ideas from earlier contexts or from other cultures, change them slightly and place them into a new context or culture; at the same time the new context and culture is changed through the new inserted idea, this is a dynamic process of exchange and translation (Sieber 2012, 103-104). Through the associated mixing, re-shaping, and reinterpretation of culture, the flexibility of cultures becomes clear and proves Bhabha's understanding of culture. Another point is the phenomenon of mimicry. During the process of colonialization, the colonized subjects are encouraged to ‘mimic’ their colonizers and to adopt the intellectual culture of the colonizers through literature, political discourse, cultural habits like beverages or food, philosophical views, morals, institutions, and values. The colonial mimicry “is the desire for a reformed, recognizable other as a subject of difference that is almost the same, but not quite” (Bhabha 1994, 122).

1.2 The dependency theory by Grosfoguel

“Two nations; between whom there is no intercourse and no sympathy; who are as ignorant of each other's habits, and feelings, as if they were dwellers in different zones, or inhabitants of different planets; who are formed by a different breeding, are fed by a different food, are ordered by different manners, and are not governed by the same laws. ‘You speak of - said Egremont, hesitantly, ‘The rich and the poor.’” (Disraeli 1845, 66)

The Thesis is, that the ‘underdevelopment’ of some nations is not caused by internal conditions, inabilities, corruption, economic weakness, less economic drive, and problem-solving ability but by structural conditions of global markets and their domination of so-called third world countries and threshold countries that are usually formerly colonized nations (cf. Ashcroft, Tiffin & Griffith 1998, 68-69). Grosfoguel assumes that development and underdevelopment are produced by the center-periphery relationships of a capitalist worldsystem while the development and underdevelopment constitute each other (cf. Grosfoguel 2000, 349-350). Also, the associated modernization theory states that there is a division into modern and traditional nations that were less developed because of archaic and feudal structures, corruption, lacking economic drive, work ethic or problem-solving abilities (cf. Grosfoguel 2000, 350-352). The dependency theory is comparable to Thomas Carlyle's description of the economic development of England in the Condition of England Question during the Industrial Revolution. He describes the ever-widening gap between the working class and the bourgeoisie. The described situation is fascinatingly comparable to the situation in the colonies, where there was a strict division between occupying and occupied forces. Benjamin Disreali also uses Carlyle's theory in his novel Sybil, or the Two Nations, and thus does not remain the only one. A parallel can also be found with Wells The Time Machine. If one looks at the actual developments in the former colonies, their development after the colonial period and their state today, one finds a surprising agreement in numerous science fiction or fantasy stories and the relations between fictitious cultures described therein.

2. Imperialism in The Time Machine from H. G. Wells

If you take a closer look at the narrative in The Time Machine, various imperialist motives stand out. The scenario of the novel, published in 1895, is set in the last years of the 19th century. This is relatively close to the time of publishing. The unnamed Time Traveller often invites his circle of intellectual and influential friends not only to dine with them but also to tell them about his latest ideas and inventions. It quickly becomes apparent through the narrative perspective that we not only have an unreliable narrator but that the story is told from a very biased view of the higher-ranking English population. His friends and guests are a “Medical Man”, a “Psychologist”, a “Provincial Mayor”, a “Very Young Man”, Filby (cf. Wells 2014, 14^16) and later also an “Editor” and a journalist (cf. Wells 2014, 24). Above all, the Time Traveller's report is reproduced by himself, which in terms of the content of his narrative is like a report by a 19th-century ethnologist. Century resembles, which reports of a research journey. Even today, these reports are criticized as Eurocentric, as they only reflect the view of European explorers, who belonged to the colonial masters and were ‘superior’ to the described people. If you look at the hierarchy of the various characters in the book in general, it becomes clear that the Time Traveller is the most dominant character. This can already be noticed in the second meeting of the figures in his house, where he assumes the leading role despite his absence (cf.

Wells 2014, 23-24). He finally reports on his successful journey through time and the fourth dimension to the year 802,701. There he first met the Eloi, a childlike-looking people who live carefree and happy, but completely ignorant and effeminate in a seemingly paradisical environment and who resemble today's people very much in their appearance, whereby they are described as young and beautiful (cf. Wells 2014, 36-37). Especially their constant laughter is emphasized, as well as their naivety. They take the Time Traveller with them and, despite its strangeness, they do not see him as a threat. Here, not only the othering by the foreign description of the Eloi is evident, but also the cultural-scientific phenomenon of the noble savage and thus a connection to Orientalism (cf. Ashcroft, Tiffin & Griffith 1998, 172). Their food is vegan and exotic, they live in small buildings and often pick flowers. By describing them as childish and naive, the infantilization that often occurs in connection with the description by others is found again. From the perspective of the colonial power, infantilization justifies a naturally given dominance and a kind of imaginary paternalism. This position is also found in the Time Traveller.

Through his description, it soon becomes clear that the Eloi fear nothing but darkness. Although the Time Traveller tries to solve various communication problems, the foreign culture only really becomes accessible to him through his encounter with Weena. She is a female Eloi who was rescued from drowning by the Time Traveller and then joins him as his companion (cf. Wells 2014, 60-61). Such a figure is commonly used in similar stories and is strongly reminiscent of a gatekeeper in ethnological research. A gatekeeper enables the ethnologist, because of his social position or his knowledge, to have secure access to the foreign culture to which the gatekeeper belongs. To stay with the genre of science fiction, comparable roles from later works of the Vulcans Spock in the series Star Trek, first broadcast in 1966, Teal'c of Chulak in the 1997 series Stargate or the Na'vi woman Neytiri in the 2009 film Avatar. In the imperialist literature, such figures can be found as well as the slave Freitag in the novel Robinson Crusoe, published in 1719. What most of these figures also show as parallel is not only a friendly or intimate relationship with the discoverer or explorer but also a future complicated by the way they are treated, which often ends in death. Weena also experiences this fate and finally dies through the fault of the Time Traveller (cf. Wells 2014, 99-100). Here a connection to Grosfoguel's dependency theory can be drawn, but it is even more evident in the coexistence between the Eloi and the Morlocks.


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Imperialism and Colonialism in science fiction and their imprint on the genre today
University of Bremen
Transnationale Literaturwissenschaft
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
Imperialism, Colonialism, sience fiction, postmodern series, postmodern, the 100, Imperialismus, Kolonialismus, SiFi, Postmoderne, Fiction, Serien, Dystopie, Serie, Fiktion, Filmwissenschaft, Literaturwissenschaft, Medien, Postkolonialismus, Ethnien, Ethnologie, Volkskunde
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Kulturanthropologe B.A.; Ethnologe B.A. Arleen Schäfer (Author), 2020, Imperialism and Colonialism in science fiction and their imprint on the genre today, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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