Patterns of Repetition: Colonialism, Capitalism and Climate Breakdown in Contemporary Post-Apocalyptic Fiction

Diletta De Cristofaro*

*Corresponding author for this work

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Scenario one, from The Marrow Thieves (2017) by Cherie Dimaline (Métis): in a post-apocalyptic North America ravaged by climate breakdown, where ‘all the industry-plundered Great Lakes [are] poison’, Indigenous people find themselves trapped, once again, in a residential school system.1 This time, the residential schools are ‘harvesting’ Indigenous people for their ability to dream, in order to treat the epidemic of dreamlessness that is killing the white population. Scenario two, from Matthew Sharpe’s Jamestown (2007): following environmental devastation that has reduced the United States to embattled city-states, white men belonging to the Manhattan Company venture into the Indian territory of Virginia to trade for resources and found the colony of Jamestown, a name oddly reminiscent of the first permanent English settlement in North America. Scenario three, from ‘When This World is All on Fire’ (2001) by William Sanders (Cherokee): American coastal areas are under water, the inland territories are reduced to a desert, and Cherokee people’s sovereignty over reservation land is constantly threatened by white squatters from the rest of the United States. As a character wryly puts it, ‘Twenty-first century, better than five hundred years after Columbus, and here we are again with white people trying to settle on our land’.2 Dimaline’s, Sharpe’s, and Sanders’s scenarios belong to a strand of contemporary Anglophone post-apocalyptic fiction that confronts the prospect of climate breakdown defining our Anthropocene present through patterns of repetition linking these fictions’ environmentally devasted futures to the colonial past.3 Through these patterns, the narratives in question suggest that the colonial past is, in fact, no past at all, but something actively shaping our present and future. These post-apocalyptic scenarios bring to the fore global networks of (neo)colonialism and capitalism that lie at the heart of the Anthropocene, highlighting the legacies of a long history of imperialist practices of exploitation in the environmental risks of today’s globalised world.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)12-30
Number of pages19
Issue number1
Early online date20 Dec 2021
Publication statusPublished - 2021


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