The Wretched of the Earth | Study Guide

Frantz Fanon

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The Wretched of the Earth | Quotes

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1.

Make no mistake about it; by this mad fury ... they have become men.


Jean-Paul Sartre, Preface

Here Sartre is summarizing one of Frantz Fanon's key ideas: violence restores to the colonized people the humanity stolen from them by the colonizer. Like Fanon, Sartre describes humanity in gendered terms: "They have become men." Sartre also saw the colonial encounter in Fanon's stark terms, as the meeting of one figure, the settler, with a second singular figure, the native. This is a philosophical style of Sartre's writing, which he shares with Fanon.

Fanon's ideal types do not only stare at one another—they act. The native's first act is to rebel violently. As Sartre notes, Fanon believed this is the way out of the native's dehumanized position.

2.

The colonial world is a world cut in two.


Narrator, Chapter 1

This statement has a literal, spatial meaning—the settler and the native live in different places. "The settler's town is a well-fed town ... a town of white people, of foreigners." The opposite place in this world cut in two is "the native town ... a place of ill fame, peopled by men of evil repute."

However, the colonial world is also cut in two in another sense. It is a world cut in two and only two divisions, a simple, brutal world of stark opposites: settler and native; white and black; good and evil. This stark division sets up the rebellion of the colonized people.

3.

That same violence will be claimed ... by the native.


Narrator, Chapter 1

The colonial forces have ruled with violence, writes Frantz Fanon. In a violent rebellion against the colonizer, the native will use that same force. The violence used to conquer the colonized people and bring their land under colonial rule will be turned against the colonizers. Fanon is not offering a moral justification of violent revolution. He is diagnosing the consequences of violent rule.

4.

His life, his breath, his beating heart are the same as those of the settler.


Narrator, Chapter 1

Frantz Fanon describes a moment of awakening in the life of "the native." When the native realizes his life is of the same worth as the settler's, the native feels compelled to rebel against the settler's domination.

Fanon is writing about the struggles of colonized peoples, particularly in Africa and Asia after World War II. The historical process of decolonization involved many people, but in Fanon's philosophical style of writing, the many people are condensed into abstract individuals, such as the native and the settler.

5.

Non-violence is an attempt to settle the colonial problem around a green baize table.


Narrator, Chapter 1

Baize is a fabric similar to felt. The "green baize table" connotes the tables European games of leisure are played on, such as pool, blackjack, baccarat, and other casino games. Thus, Frantz Fanon means nonviolent tactics play into the hands of Europeans or colonial powers. The statement also means nonviolence is an attempt to create a new nation without losing any stakes that matter.

6.

The colonies have become a market.


Narrator, Chapter 1

The colonies are a source of raw materials such as timber and ore for the ruling colonial countries. They are also a source of cash crops such as bananas. Here Frantz Fanon is pointing out an economic fact perhaps less well known: trade also goes the other way. Cotton, finished clothing, processed foods, and other goods are also sold to colonies. Fanon is not saying this is beneficial for the colonies. On the contrary, he argues there is a "detached complicity between capitalism and the violent forces" of colonial rule.

7.

Europe has stuffed herself inordinately with the gold and raw materials of the colonial countries.


Narrator, Chapter 1

By "Europe" Frantz Fanon means the European countries with colonies in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. This is the foundation of his argument for reparations payments. Some people thought the task of newly independent nations was to catch up to the economic level of Europe. Fanon points out the wealth of Europe came from its colonies.

8.

Neither stubborn courage nor fine slogans are enough.


Narrator, Chapter 2

Frantz Fanon is saying courage and slogans are not enough to "win a national war" and "overthrow the terrible enemy machine." The larger context is the difference between "a peasant revolt" and "a revolutionary war." These are concepts from a Marxist view of history. A peasant revolt is spontaneous but insufficient.


To be victorious in a revolutionary war, the rebel side will have to "raise the standard of consciousness of the rank-and-file." The rank and file originally meant the enlisted soldiers in an army. However, here the rank and file refers to the common people. Fanon believes the peasants must be given a real political education if the revolt is to succeed.

9.

The sufferings engendered far outmeasure any endured during the colonial period.


Narrator, Chapter 2

Frantz Fanon means the "sufferings engendered" in the course of a war of national liberation. Colonial rule by violence involves suffering, but it only gets worse when the colonized people rebel. Fanon is cautioning readers a war of national liberation cannot be one easy step, "spanning the gap at one stride." On the contrary, the colonized people must be prepared for things to get a lot worse before they get better.

10.

Wealth is not the fruit of labor but the result of organized, protected robbery.


Narrator, Chapter 3

Frantz Fanon is not giving his own view here. This is the view the colonized people arrive at in an early phase of rebellion. In context this refers to the wealth of the colonial powers—their wealth is the result of robbery. This passage describes the colonial situation.

Fanon does not believe wealth should be generated by robbery. He does not denigrate the value of labor in general. Instead, he points out labor is different where it is not overshadowed by domination.

11.

Political education means ... 'to invent souls.'


Narrator, Chapter 3

Frantz Fanon is quoting his friend and former teacher, Aimé Césaire, from whom he takes the quotation "to invent souls." Like many revolutionaries, Fanon stresses the importance of politically educating the masses, the ordinary people. Here he is arguing against the shallow way political education is usually carried out.

12.

The end is very near for those who are having a good time in Africa.


Narrator, Chapter 3

Frantz Fanon here is not talking about colonial rule in general. His words might also apply to neocolonial governments still beholden to colonial powers.


Fanon is discussing a particular situation in the political education of colonized people—if the colonized people reach "the stage of social consciousness before the stage of nationalism." If they do, they can become aware of themselves as a people deserving their own autonomy. But if they do not join the idea of autonomy to a concept of the nation, then their "demands for social justice" are "paradoxically ... allied with often primitive tribalism." So unless the people channel their revolt into the idea of forming a unified nation, they fall into the bitter promotion of their own tribes. And this is a very precarious situation for the ruling class.

13.

Colonialism made no mistake when from 1955 on it proceeded to arrest these storytellers systematically.


Narrator, Chapter 4

In his discussion of national culture, Frantz Fanon gives the example of the storytellers of Algeria. In the 20th century the traditional storytellers of Algeria had become "tedious to listen to." Their cultural form, the oral story, was worn out. But beginning in the 1950s the struggle for national liberation gave the storytellers new content, Fanon says. This brought their stories to a new and eager audience. The censorship and repression by the colonial authorities show just how influential the storytellers had become.

14.

Under the colonial regime, gratitude, sincerity, and honor are empty words.


Narrator, Chapter 5

This quotation comes from Frantz Fanon's discussion of Algerian criminality. He is arguing Algerians do not have an inborn or hereditary disrespect for the law, or for such values as gratitude, sincerity, and honor. It is the violence of colonial rule that empties these concepts of their meaning for the Algerian. Fanon's ideas also imply gratitude, honor, and sincerity will be found in abundance.

15.

It is a question of the Third World starting a new history of Man.


Narrator, Chapter 6

Frantz Fanon rejects the idea underdeveloped nations need to "catch up with Europe." Rather than take the old path already trod by Europe, the newly independent nations will enjoy a new beginning. This beginning also has universal scope. The new nations are writing a new history of "Man," not of "Third-World Man."


The term "Third World" originally referred to those nations not aligned with either the capitalist nations or the communist ones. During the Cold War (1947–62), the United States and the Soviet Union often sought to influence developing nations and bring them into their sphere of influence. A movement of "nonaligned nations"—Third-World nations—began. The Third World nations were poor, underdeveloped nations. Today the term "Third-World nation" refers to any underdeveloped nation, regardless of geopolitical alignment.

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