“An Unexpected Sound”: Recognizing Diverse Voices in Postcolonial Literary Interpretation

Author: Joanne Nystrom Janssen, Asian University of Women, Bangladesh
Published: April 2012

Citation: Janssen, J. N. (2012). “An Unexpected Sound”: Recognizing Diverse Voices in Postcolonial Literary Interpretation. IAFOR Journal of Literature & Librarianship, 1(1). https://doi.org/10.22492/ijl.1.1.02


This article explores expectations about the ways in which readers from each side of the colonial/colonized divide might approach texts. Pedagogical articles about world and postcolonial literature frequently classify readers in one of two categories—Western or non-Western. Since I teach women from a dozen Asian countries at the Asian University for Women in Chittagong, Bangladesh, I had imagined that my world literature students would embody expectations about readers from the developing world: that they would relate to the characters and themes in the course’s contemporary texts. When I began teaching Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis (2003) last spring, however, I learned that my students’ responses to the text varied considerably from what I had expected. As a result, I began questioning my assumptions: why exactly did I expect certain responses from my students, and what is the significance of the alternate responses with which I was confronted? I argue that the assumed interpretive binary does not always exist. In addition to failing to recognize the diverse points of view that readers may bring to texts, the assumption frequently presupposes that postcolonial authors have imagined only Western readers as their audiences—a view that runs the risk of reinforcing oppositional lines of thinking rather than eradicating them. Using Persepolis as a case study, I propose avoiding the Western/non-Western binary when considering readers of literature, which requires paying greater attention to “minority” voices—an ironic assertion, considering the field’s alleged attention to diversity, heterogeneity, and cultural and historical specificity.


postcolonial, reader response, Persepolis, World Literature