Document Type


Date of Degree

Fall 2012

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In


First Advisor

Kumar, Priya

First Committee Member

Kruger, Marie

Second Committee Member

Fox, Claire

Third Committee Member

Emery, Mary Lou

Fourth Committee Member

Curtius, Anny


This dissertation examines the role of humor in contemporary South Asian and African postcolonial literature, arguing that humor opens new spaces for historically marginalized individuals to be heard. I argue that in addition to its unique capacities to question and rebel against colonial authority, humor helps those who deploy it to resist victimhood and enact a psychological rebellion against the circumstances of colonialism and its legacies, and facilitates a sense of community through laughter among both those who deploy it and those who enjoy it as audience members. I establish a theoretical framework based in the work of Aristotle, Henri Bergson, Sigmund Freud and Mikhail Bakhtin, then analyze four modes of humor-- satire, irony, black humor, and the grotesque--as they are incorporated in Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o's Wizard of the Crow (Kenya, 2007); Arundhati Roy's The God of Small Things (India, 1997); Bapsi Sidhwa's Cracking India (Pakistan; first published in 1988 as Ice-Candy Man); Manjula Padmanabhan's play Harvest (India, 1997); Aravind Adiga's The White Tiger (India, 2008); Indra Sinha's Animal's People (India, 2008) and Ousmane Sembène's Xala (Senegal, 1973). By reading these literary narratives within a unifying framework of "humor," even as I pay close attention to the differences between them--differences such as their geographical locations, the political situations they engage, the specific cultural codes with which they play, and their unique incorporations of particular humorous modes--I contend that humor ultimately performs very significant work in postcolonial literature, opening many destabilizing and subversive possibilities that more ostensibly serious forms of writing do not share.


iv, 226 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 214-226).


Copyright 2012 Adele Holoch