Literature Study GuidesOrientalismChapter 3 Part 2 Summary

Orientalism | Study Guide

Edward W. Said

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Orientalism | Chapter 3, Part 2 : Orientalism Now (Style, Expertise, Vision) | Summary



Said begins with a discussion of "Kipling's White Man." This "White Man" was a generalized European who held specific views regarding the Orient. His duty was to help the "colored races." The White Man had knowledge the Orient did not, and as a result, he held a position of power over the Orient. Individuals did not exist within the Orient. Instead, they were all lumped together under this larger category, serving only to distinguish them as the "other." Rather than being described further by ethnic traits, an Oriental individual was "first an Oriental and only second a man." Other categories, such as "the Arab" and "the Semite" referred to phonological distinctions backed up by a series of "scientific" generalizations and categorizations that were not actually indicative of any true "Arab" or "Semitic" traits.

However, because of the pervasive paradigms that had persisted up to this point, there was an inability to argue with these categorizations. The White Man was further supported in his distinction from the Orient by perceived scientific categories classifying races during this period. Said describes how in the early 20th century, this "knowledge" of the Orient was translated into political activity. The Orientalist became the agent for translating knowledge about the Orient into public policy. For instance, following World War I, British archaeologist T. E. Lawrence discusses restoring the Orient. However, he argues for the reestablishment of the Orient from a "White Orientalist" perspective. This furthered Western politics but did not address the actual needs of the Orient. In this respect, the Orientalist became the "representative Oriental," or the spokesperson for a group of people who were not given their own voice. Interestingly, Orientalists proclaimed a liberalism they themselves were undermining. Rather than providing knowledge about the Orient, they were actively hindering "the process of enlarged and enlarging meaning."


Said argues that "Kipling's White Man" is a physical manifestation of latent Orientalist views. At a time when the Orientalist was being employed to create public policy, a physical manifestation of these Oriental ideas was being created in the form of Kipling's White Man. While Rudyard Kipling gave words to this persona, the idea itself was a generic, but widespread, character. Said points out this creation as a way to argue that the idea of the Orient has become so removed from reality, so generalized, that the white "scientist" himself had become generalized as well.

In essence, the idea of the Orient had become so entrenched at this point that there was "no escape." Said provides evidence for this in the work of William Robertson Smith, a scholar who wrote on the "kinship and marriage customs" of the Orient. In an analysis of Smith's writing, it is clear that the traditional categories are in place with all natives of the Orient placed under generalized terms such as the Arab, and a generalized religious term of Mohammedanism. Smith exemplifies the White Man's vantage point, characterizing the Orient as "totalitarian," or without cultural variation. Once again, it is clear—given Said's ability to characterize the Orient based on Orientalist literature—that the basis of Orientalism remains textual.

In contrast to earlier Orientalist endeavors, those after World War I were "imperial agents" who forsook the actual narrative of the Orientals for the constructed, Orientalist narrative. Said supports this idea by analyzing the work of T.E. Lawrence, a British military officer. In his work, Lawrence becomes a "representative Oriental." Oddly enough, the Orientalist "sees himself as accomplishing the union of Orient and Occident" when in actuality, he is perpetuating Orientalist ideals. Thus, and this is Said's ultimate point, the Orientalist point of view "retards the process of enlarged and enlarging meaning" as it pertains to the Orient.

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