Creating Difference through Discourse: Orientalism

Abstract

Orientalism – the belief that the ‘East’ is inferior to the ‘West’ - has been shaped and communicated through many different types of discourse over the course of several centuries. Following a detailed historical background of Orientalism and a theoretical account which outlines the steps of discourse analysis, Charlotte Brontë’s 19th century novel Jane Eyre and former UK prime minister Tony Blair’s political speeches are analyzed and compared with regard to Orientalist elements. In her novel, Brontë uses Orientalist stereotypes to express her critique of Victorian class and gender differences, thus perpetuating racial prejudice against Eastern cultures at the time. Blair’s post 9/11 speeches represent a new Orientalist discourse in the 21st century which has fuelled Islamophobic attitudes in the West. The comparison of Blair’s speeches with Jane Eyre

reveals that despite the recent emergence of new linguistic labels, the underlying meaning of such labels is still very close to the ethnic stereotypes which occur in Brontë’s novel. This indicates that Orientalist discourse continues to be generated and consumed widely, subconsciously shaping generalized Anglocentric attitudes and beliefs about the ‘East.’

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