Woke Paddington: A Colonial Internal Object?

Authors: David Seitz*, Harvey Mudd College
Topics: Cultural Geography, Migration, Ethnicity and Race
Keywords: Paddington bear, colonialism, postcolonialism, asylum, race, migration, psychoanalysis
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 5:00 PM / 6:40 PM
Room: Congressional B, Omni, West
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In his recent essay, “Colonial Object Relations,” David Eng exposes the uneven geographies of the human integral to child psychoanalyst Melanie Klein’s account of affective reparation. Eng argues that certain forms of “mock reparation,” while ostensibly atoning for colonial violence, in fact repopulate scenes of colonial devastation with objects and populations deemed worthier of love and repair (i.e., white ones). Building on Eng, this paper considers the recent embrace of the figure of Paddington Bear, the beloved protagonist of Michael Bond’s series of children’s books and subsequent films, as a heroic avatar of British multiculturalism, particularly in the wake of Brexit. Paddington himself, as is frequently pointed out by liberals and intersectional Leftists alike, is a refugee, arriving in London with little more than a sign reading, “Please look after this bear.” What is noted less routinely is that Paddington’s trajectory is a decidedly postcolonial one; his anglophilia, and love of orange marmalade in particular, were instilled only after a British geographer by the name of Montgomery Clyde “discovered” Paddington’s aunt and uncle in the jungle of “Darkest Peru.” Following Stuart Hall, then, Paddington is, in a sense, a not a bear, but a chicken of British imperial promises who has come home to roost. The paper interrogates this pivot in the discourse on Paddington – from haunting or confrontational postcolonial subject to romanticized, generic refugee – as a product of colonial phantasy, but also considers radical readings of the Paddington story in migrant justice and other critical worldbuilding practices.

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