The interpretation of any text primarily depends on the reader of the text although others may argue that the content of the text will also influence the perception of the reader. In any case, the task of interpreting a text—from a piece of written literature to paintings in museum walls—rests on the reader. The reader’s background knowledge on the subject of the text shares a certain space in the reader’s interpretation, apart from his knowledge of other subjects external to the text which he attempts to relate to the text being interpreted.
Curious George an illustrated book about the adventures of a curious monkey and his friend, a man in the yellow suit and hat, is often interpreted as a story that alludes to Western colonialism. In this version of the interpretation, the monkey represents the colonized people of the world while the man in the yellow suit and hat represents the colonial powers. Following the idea that textual interpretation rests on the reader, it can be argued that Curious George has an unstated meaning about imperialism given the appropriate correspondence between the text and the actual historical events pertaining to Western colonialism.
The most critical aspect of Curious George that should be considered is the fact that the man in the yellow hat and suit took George away from his home in Africa by tricking the monkey and catching the animal with the use of the yellow hat. The act of catching the monkey and separating it from its home is not without implications. For one, the act apparently highlights the differences between the two characters—the man in the yellow hat being the superior one and the monkey being the inferior of the two.
The use of the hat shows the adept use of the man’s resources to his best advantage whereas the curiosity of the monkey only shows the animal’s naivete, causing the animal to be easily trapped as a direct result of its too trusting attitude. How are all of these things related to Western colonialism? The answer to this question rests on some of the historical events throughout the evolution of human society. Several European countries became major powers during the age of imperialism.
Portugal and Spain became the two dominant forces that paved the way for the discovery and exploration of the early Americas as well as the exploration of formerly uncharted territories such as some regions in East Asia and some of the coastal areas of Africa. Parts of the reasons why several European countries delved into colonial expansion include the desire to expand the nation’s wealth and power and to convert the indigenous groups of individuals in non-European countries into the culture and religion of the colonists (Horvath, 1972).
Perhaps one of the most defining doctrines of the period of imperialism is the idea of the “White Man’s Burden” where white people are assumed to possess the inherent duty to educate and enlighten those who are non-European. The expansion of the West in colonizing several parts of the world compares to the case of the monkey in Curious George in the sense that the man in the yellow suit and hat represents the European colonizers and the monkey as the indigenous people being colonized.
The use of the man’s hat may very well represent the use of religion, culture and foreign resources, among others, as bait to lure the indigenous people into accepting the presence of the colonizers and to prevent violent resistance. The act of taking the monkey away from his African home may represent the act of separating the indigenous people from their homeland in the sense that colonizing them is equivalent to transforming their native land into something else entirely new and foreign to them.
“The hat covered George’s head. He couldn’t see. The man picked him up quickly and popped him into a bag. George was caught” (Rey, Wescott, Rey & Moss, 1973, p. 10)—this line captures the essence of the trend of Western colonialism. The act of covering George’s head is equivalent to the act of imbibing foreign religion and culture into the minds of the indigenous people. As a result, the indigenous people become unable to “see” their native cultures as their mindset is now focused on culture of their Western colonizers.
Perhaps fearing violent resistance from the indigenous people if they are quickly able to recognize that the colonizers are displacing them from their native culture, Western colonizers immediately act upon the situation to their advantage. “George was caught” after “[t]he man picked him up quickly and popped him into a bag” (Rey et al. , p. 10)—almost similarly, the colonized indigenous people are taught with voluminous information from the colonizers in the attempt to transform their mentality and learn to appreciate the culture of the colonizers.
The interpretation of Curious George discussed in this paper presents the stark similarities between the actions of colonizers towards the indigenous people that they colonize. Although the views presented may well be limited in many respects, it is not to say that the interpretation cannot stand on its own. The idea that the interpretation of any text rests on the reader regardless of the initial and apparent impression the text provides is enough reason to say that Curious George can be interpreted as a text containing implied meanings of imperialism or Western colonialism.
Of course, the same line of thinking implies that the interpretation provided in the discussion is neither arbitrary nor final as it remains open for further interpretation and reinterpretation thereafter. References Horvath, R. J. (1972). A Definition of Colonialism. Current Anthropology, 13(1), 45-57. Rey, H. A. , Wescott, D. , Rey, M. , & Moss, M. (1973). Curious George. Orlando, FL: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Courtney from Study Moose