Tag Archives: Inky Boys & Western Literary Tools


Postcolonial Criticism is the analysis of literary texts after colonialism in the late 19th and 20th century by western colonial powers. It explores discourses in the political, social, cultural, aesthetic effects of decolonization in a global context and inter-connections.

The Story of the Inky Boys was written by Heinrich Hoffman during the 19th Century as a moral story book for his children. It was seen in the context of racism or prejudices based on differences of skin colour perception. The black moor was jeered by a group of white boys on his walking tour. Such intolerance to colour differences or racism could often happen to colonizers and the colonized.

Prof Elizabeth Wesseling cautioned readers that the story be read as “a parody of Romantic Idealization of the child” in the said historical context. It was uncertain whether she meant as mimicry of similarities or differences, for caricatures could be misrepresentation, whether as humour or sarcasm. As punishment, the three white rowdy boys were dipped into the huge magic ink pot, and turned into “black, as black can be”. The language used, verses with end rhyme, might be pleasing to hear, but could be dehumanizing. The boys were transformed into silhouette, and followed the black as shadows. It was their ghosts that followed for their identity had to be shed for them to follow the black moor. The emphasis on differences was basically the same, and we saw the paradoxes of the otherness. The moor was not only black with curly hair and bare footed; he carried a green umbrella on a sunny day and wore orange-coloured pants, and made him a prominent target for teasing. It was not only the skin colour that distinguished them, but the costumes too. In other words, the colourful picture book enhanced the perception of differences. There was no merging into similarities in universal humanism.
Agrippa was a Christian saint in disguise, and he had the soft power of religion to “right” things, or possessed the ability to placate disobedient boys. He performed a “religious” ritual to the boys who dared to challenge his hegemony, and the strange attire had insignia of hierarchy, status and seduction. He was the symbol of power. It was an attempt to instil notions of black purity, an ideological displacement of white angst. That magic trick was no different from voodoo, except it was socially and culturally more acceptable to both the colonizers and colonized. Cultural supremacy was as obvious as race distinction, and they were all different aspects of discrimination. The idealism and the idealized images might be unconscious play of colonizers and colonized. The ambivalence was due to underlying anxiety caused the split in attempts to fix things not politically right. It was not a racist story, as stated by Professor Wesseling, but the racism “lurked” in the shadows of the idealism of the period. Yet we have to acknowledge the effort made in moral teaching, whether appropriate then or now. Postcolonial Criticism, together with other disciplines, teaches us to see the connections in our experience and to explore beyond racism in the story.

To Freudians, the big goose- feathered pen was a clear phallic symbol and the large ink pot a vagina, or castrated penis. The boys were in a way metaphorically castrated for not obeying. However, the ink pot could also be interpreted as a large cultural pot, where blacks and whites intermingled to find common identity. The Adlerian school broke away from Freud, and looked at personality development in a different light. The negativity of the child in the initial stage of development was an incentive for improvement. Similarly, the superiority complex also took some negative turns, and the improvement could be achieved through personal striving or community help. Another school that broke with Freudian was Viktor Frankl’s logotherapy, who explored the meaning of living and life in all our striving. In this context, we learned to explore the meaning of intolerance of differences and the conflict or violence generated in our daily living, and we had a duty or responsibility to impart proper teaching to our next generation. Good parenting skill can be learned and is essential.
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1.Hook,Derek. A Critical Psychology of the Postcolonial: The Mind of Apartheid Journal for Social Action in Counseling and Psychology. Volume 4, Number 2, Fall 2012 London: Routledge, 2012. http://www.psysr.org/jsacp/Gholizadeh-v4n2-12_117-119.pdf cited 15-11-2013
2.Wesseling, Elizabeth. Blacker than Black: Contextualising the Issue of White Supremacy in Heinrich Hoffmann’s ‘The Story of the Inky Boys’ International Research in Children’s Literature. Volume 2.2009. http://www.euppublishing.com/doi/abs/10.3366/E1755619809000489. Cited 15-11-2013
3.Everthing.TheStoryof Inky Boys.2002&2003. http://everything2.com/title/The+Story+of+the+Inky+boys cited 15-11-2013