Thursday, January 27, 2011

Structure in "Things Fall Apart"

By dividing the book into three sections, Achebe was able to deepen the characters as well as making the book less traditional than it was in the previous sections, as far as Nigerian customs. This worked because it went along with the plot as far as the audience seeing a physical change when the missionaries arrived, changing everything that we were already familiar with.

In Part One of the novel, Okwonkwo was in his home village and the writing was very dense, as far inserting traditional Nigerian words, and in general, just describing the customs, and everyday life of the Igbo people. While reading, I couldn’t help but feel like I was apart of the village with the way that Achebe described everything. I’m pretty sure that half of the text that was in Part One consisted of Nigerian proverbs. It was details like that, which added to the extremity of Part One.

There was a noticeable difference when it came to Part Two and Part Three because the language was changed so abruptly. Noticeably absent were the constant traditional beliefs that we were exposed to in Part One. This is where we also get a more unbiased view of the culture. To take away from the extremity that we experienced in Part One, this is where the missionaries make their debut and start converting people to Catholicism which weakens everything that the villages were, essentially built on.

Part Three was Onkwokwo’s return to his homeland. I think Achebe chose to have Onkwokwo return in Part Three because at this point, the missionaries had already converted a good amount of people, with even more believing in them everyday. He was meant to deepen the blow of the changes that the village was going through because he still had the picture of Umuofia as pictured in Part One, and Umuofia in Part One and Part Three are two very different pictures.

The framework of the book was parallel to the journey that Okonkwokwo went through. He went from being one of the most important people in his tribe to being exiled and not being familiar with the customs of his motherland. He then returned to his home village where he was completely removed from the logistics of the village because of the changes that happened via the missionaries. In the end, he ended up killing himself, which was done to keep the old traditions of his people alive, but this was ironic because it also meant that his people cut him off, because suicide was looked down upon in the traditional Umuofia.

Achebe and Post-Colonial Questions

The Ashcroft essay on post-colonial literature made interesting points that connect well with the themes discussed in class regarding Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. Ashcroft makes convincing points about the necessity of examining how well the traits of the oral culture of African societies such as the Igbo people described by Achebe are translated into English. Ashcroft states, “Post-colonial cultures have all, in various ways, been influenced by the interrelationship between orality and literacy.” This interrelationship is especially evident in Chinua Achebe’s writing. While he uses beautiful language to describe the action in Thing’s Fall Apart, he still holds true to the oral culture by utilizing syntax that gives the reader the feeling that the story is being told, not read.
Ashcroft also discusses the fact that a lot of post-colonial literature includes a contradiction of the assumed values that the reader holds. Ashcroft states, “the text contradicts its underlying assumptions and…and reveals its colonialist ideologies and processes.” This phenomenon occurs to a certain extent in Achebe’s novel. Achebe allows the reader to adopt the Igbo culture and begin to view Okonkwo as the poster-child of the tribal society, and then forces the reader to question these views when he shows Okonkwo’s downfall and exile. Also, Achebe’s portrayal of the white missionaries makes the reader question the intentions and values of the religious men that claim to be trying to make a positive difference.
Ashcroft makes it clear that post-colonialism forces the reader to answer difficult questions about the nature and effect that imperialism has on the subjected culture. While it is often assumed that the effects were positive in the long run, it is evident that the process of colonization was rarely smooth and problem free.

Ashcroft and Structure in Achebe

Ashcroft, Griffiths and Tiffin endorse a variety of intriguing concepts regarding post-colonialism and the subsequent works that come out of it. As stated in class, Achebe was viewed as somewhat of a revolutionary, being the first to depict the colonized in a lens unique and specific to their particular culture. As Ashcroft states in Key Concepts to Post-Colonial Studies, “Post-colonialism deals with the affects of colonization on cultures and societies,” (186).

One aspect of Achebe’s novel that indicates, reflects and embodies post-colonialism is its structure. Intricately divided into three parts, Achebe uses the structure of the novel to indicate its inherent post-colonialist roots. The first part is by far the longest of the novel, and is laden with proverbs, characterization of Okonkwo and general insight into the Igbo culture. This part of the novel is meant to serve as a snapshot of what the Igbo culture was like pre-colonialism. This is important in establishing context so the reader can aptly analyze parts II and III through a post-colonial lens.

Parts II and III reveal a marked change in the culture of the Igbo and the novel itself. Achebe’s ability to mobilize his story across the post-colonialist spectrum is paramount to understanding Things Fall Apart and post-colonialist as a whole. The disparity in structure, language, length, themes, tropes and characters between Part I and Parts II, III is startling and reflects the affect of colonization on the Igbo. Another aspect Ashcroft discusses is the uniqueness of each individual post-colonialist work. Although each account may need to be culture specific, as Achebe points out, the key to a great post-colonial work is focusing on connecting the common human elements inherent to all people.

Achebe as the Post-Colonial Voice

The first thing that Bill Ashcroft addresses in our reading "Key Concepts in Post-Colonial Studies" is the struggle to define what post-colonialism is. He states that it has "been widely used to signify the political, linguistic and cultural experience of societies that were former European colonies" (186). In that sense, Things Fall Apart is certainly a work of post-colonialism because it is a work that is written by Achebe after the effects of colonialism in Nigeria, and depicts the clash of the Europeans in the traditional African society. Ashcroft also reminds us, however, that "every colonial encounter or 'contact zone' is different" (190). In Things Fall Apart, Achebe does a wonderful job of creating an entire world for his readers to enter into. From the very first sentences we are drawn into Umuofia and the nine villages, and learn all the behaviors and images of the people. According to Ashcroft, we should remember that while the novel is an example of post-colonial literature, it is not an exclusionary account. Rather, it is a specific example of one experience under post-colonialism.

Ashcroft also discusses orality and its important in literature. He says that "oral forms in African societies, for instance, have a continuing and equal relationship with the written" (167). Although Things Fall Apart is obviously a written work, it is highly influenced by the oral tradition. For one thing, Achebe's usage of nicknames like "Amalinze the Cat" and folklore gives a rich tradition to the tale. In addition, the structuring of his narrative creates the physical aural connection of hearing rather than reading the story. For example, he often inserts bits of songs, such as the teasing song on page 175. These songs remind the reader not only that there is a story teller, but also that the teller has a distinct voice.

Lastly, Ashcroft defines something that is very evident by the end of the book: transculturation. He defines it as when "subordinated or marginal groups select and invent from materials transmitted to them by a dominant or metropolitan culture" (233). When the missionaries arrive in Umuofia, many, like Okonkwo, are outraged. They do not want the invasion against their religion and their traditions. But, "the white man had indeed brought a lunatic religion, but he had also built a trading store and for the first time palm-oil and kernel became things of great price, and much money flowed into Umuofia" (178). Hence, Okonkwo begins to witness the falling apart of his community, as many start to see some benefits in what the colonists have to bring. Achebe also mentions the schools that the missionaries build, and that many start to attend them because they realize the white man's learning brings them profit. Generally, although most of the villagers are resistant to the whites, they start to give in to their ideas and rules when they can find the benefits.

The Literal and the Symbolic

While reading the Ashcroft essay about what comprises Post-Colonial literature, I had my eyes opened about what to look for when attempting to decipher the parts of Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. For the most part, I think Things Fall Apart holds, locked within its text, all the “highly debated” parts of Post-Colonial literature. According to Ashcroft (and skipping all the unresolved debates), Post-Colonial literature ultumately has to resonate with the themes relevant between the interaction of colonizer and colonized; a definition which Achebe’s novel fills rather well. Further, I believe Achebe does this symbolically and literally, as author and as character.

Achebe’s choice to have the novel follow in an epic form is highly symbolic of the effects the English colonizers had on the Igbo people. In class we discussed how the beginning of the novel starts out in a manner reflective of the literary, in this case oral, storytelling tradition of the Igbo people. A fact which can be noted in the spoken feel of the first part consisting of a pronounced use of proverbs, slightly uncomfortable syntax, and the cyclical, repetitive structure of the chapters. As the novel progresses, these aspects, unique the first part, slowly and intentionally start to drop out, which is how Achebe symbolically demonstrates one of the effects of colonialism on the colony.

Literally, or in a more tangible way, Achebe uses Okonkwo’s tragic story as proof of the colonizer’s effect on the colonized. Okonkwo’s life, in the beginning of the novel, is representative of the Igbo culture’s prosperity before the arrival of the Church and subsequent administration. One, because Okonkwo is one of the most powerful men in all the nine villages. Two, because his level of achievement has gained him a ton of wealth and family members; however, as things fall apart, Okonkwo’s return to Igbo political life is restrained by the colonizer’s administration, rules, and regulations on his ancestral land and people. Thereby cutting him of from his life-source (the mere ability to achieve in a social setting), which in turn causes his suicide. In these two ways, literally through character and symbolically through structure, Achebe illustrates the major themes involved in understanding Post-Colonial literature’s aims as a literary tradition.

Left Behind, the Lasting Effects of Post-Colonialism

In history there is always the conqueror and the conquered, the suppressed, the colonized. The mark of imperial Europe was its act of colonization of foreign lands and their efforts to conform the native peoples to their own religion and government. The term post-colonialism refers to the changes brought on the various cultures under the higher powers. No matter its time or location, colonialism always leaves behind fragments of what had been established. Often times these changes will be in the form of government. If we were to look at modern India, Australia, even the United Sates of America, we can see that their respective governments were highly influenced by the British government who colonized these territories. In Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, one can see a clear example of the foreign government beginning to take hold of the Igbo autonomy and instigate their own law. In the book the British forces have established law courts and appointed a Commissioner to oversee order over the new colony’s people are kept in line to British interests, “ They had built a court where the District Commissioner judged cases in ignorance.” (174) Such measures can be oppressive at times, after all it is taking away power from the native leaders and subjecting the people to a foreign rule. Again however it is important to note that this does bring the colonial nation (one being colonized) a modern government. Even after independence such countries often adopt a similar government molded by its former oppressor- as had the U.S and other countries mentioned earlier. Thus government is one of the highlights of foreign influence left behind in post-colonialism, but there is another topic, one very present in Things Fall Apart that directly introduces the idea of cultural influence: religion.
Like the use of government, converting the native people to the religion of the dominant nation not only brings converts to the faith but further connects them to the nation. This, like the question of foreign rule raises the question of whether it is right or wrong to do so. Certainly by bringing in their religion the colonialists are replacing the native religion with their own but at the same time bringing them the faith of Christianity. In this scenario one must consider the missionary’s approach individually. As illustrated in Things Fall Apart, in the role of Mr. Brown , there are more moderate missionaries who do not so much force their religion upon the natives so much as sway them with friendship and interfaith dialogue. Such steps are the more ethical and give more room for free choice. At the same time the book shows another side of the more radical colonialist-missionary in the form of Reverend Smith who is much more forceful in his mission work. The approach of Reverend Smith can easily be described as a kind of harassment into the faith which tends to threaten the natives from their original practice rather than win their hearts: “He condemned openly Mr. Brown’s policy of compromise and accommodation.” (184). No matter the method, it is the result of post-colonialism that many are converted to the ‘new religion’, leaving very few if any still clinging to their ancient way. Such traditionalists as we see in history and even at times in Things Fall Apart, become outcasts in a society they once flourished in. In any form colonialism takes there is always the common concept of the indigenous way of life being changed forever, with such interactions it is inevitable.

Oral Tradition and Postcolonialism

The essay by Ashcroft, Griffiths, and Tiffin looks into words that have been defined by colonialism, and how literature has been affected by the post-colonial age. The idea of post-colonial as “anti-colonial,” which, the essay notes, is a common view of the word, seems to be incorrect to me. It should refer to the period after colonialism, and as the essay states, it is more often a focus on how literature was affected. The negative effects on oral tradition as literature was developed in this way, however, seems to be the biggest downfall of colonialism. Oral tradition is something that in many ways defines the nation, just as in certain ways authors like Jane Austen and Shakespeare define England or Mark Twain and F. Scott Fitzgerald define the United States. Oral traditions shapes cultures, and the way the stories are told reflects upon the nature of the stories. It is a cultural tradition that, if stripped away, sends the culture into the mainstream like nothing else.

This aspect of the essay is apparent in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. While the first half of the novel is full of proverbs, the second and third parts, when the “white man” comes with missionaries for Christianity, proverbs are noticeably absent. This shows the effects of the colonialism on the culture in the novel, and in cultures in general. In the stress of trying to hold on to their culture, pieces of the culture were inadvertently lost. The same goes for oral tradition and the influence of post-colonial literature. The enforcing of literature on colonized nations takes away from their traditions of storytelling. It is transculturation, as Ashcroft describes, that is occurring as the native cultures take on the traditions of dominant cultures, and in this way they lose a sense of their identity, one of the main factors in Okonkwo’s suicide in Things Fall Apart.


Bill Ashcroft gives his readers the definition of poscolonialism as his main perspective in is piece Key Concepts in Post-Colonial Studies, and associates several other terms with postcolonialism to describe the significance the have on a culture and group of people. This piece was very helpful in giving me a better understanding of what postcolonialism is and how it relates to the characters in the novel Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe.

Ashcroft begins by stating the general definition of postcolonialism to give readers the exact idea of what the rest of his discussion will be about. Ashcroft simply states that postcolonialism "deals with the effects of colonization on cutures and societies." (Ashcroft, 186). Colonization is an important word here describing the act of settling or taking possession of. This is exactly what we see occurring in Things Fall Apart as the Europeans come and inhabit the villages. He takes this definition and expands it thoroughly to apply to several other concepts in his article. One concept, universalism, was something I found particularly interesting because it applies directly to the novel. I immediately thought of how the Europeans invade Okonkwo's village and introduce several new concepts, such as Christianity to the people. Ashcroft defines universalism as a "hegemonic view of existence by which the experiences, values, and expectations of a dominant culture are held to be true for all humanity." (235) The word "hegemonic" struck me because it is a word used to descrie influence from a dominant group over a culture. As the missionaries establish Christianity in Umuofia, they employ universalism because they make it seem as though it is the religion that all men should follow. "The church had come and led many astray. Not only the low-born and the outcast but sometimes a worthy man had joined it." (Achebe, 149). This page goes on to say how the white man was proud of Ogbueffi becacuse he received the sacrament of Holy Communion, making him an official part of Christianity. This automatic acceptance into the now dominant culture makes it seem easy and appealing to join, which is how th Europeans are able to slowly take over the entire village and culture. Achebe does an excellent job of showing how postcolonialism and universalism have an effect on a group of people, especially through the introduction of Christianity. He also shows the emotional effects on the people, such as Oknkwo who hope to bring the village back to its original ways. Postcolonialism is shown in more than just pure domination over a culture, but through the emotion shown through the "weaker" culture as they submit to authority.

Is there a flip-side to transculturation?

It is difficult not to be objective while reading Achebe's Things Fall Apart. When stepping away from the story you start to think about the Ibo people, especially Okonkwo: can I relate myself to Okonkwo? He is a huge African warrior/farmer during the 18th century who has three wives and some eight-plus kids. Simply put: no. Quite frankly if I met Okonkwo I would be scared out of mind-- and I think I would have a right to be so. Why should I feel any kind of compassion for a man who values violence and superiority over spending time bonding with his own children, let alone wives?
But this is the beauty of the story; it drags you in. Okonkwo is not a very likable person, but through Achebe's telling we are able to understand where he comes from and how in so many ways he is simply a reflection of his culture. We feel compassion for his children, Nwoye and Ezinma, and the life struggles they go through trying to live up to their father's impossible ideal. We are able to realize that Okonkwo truly loves his family but his culture--his experiences with a shameful father--have taught him that "love" is a weakness. And how can we as readers feel contempt for a man who is doing what he thinks to be right?
When the white man comes in Part III of Achebe's novel, we the readers know it is not going to end well for Okonkwo. How could it? We are taught in schools about European dominance and their need to conquer. Even now I am hesitant to admit that "we", Americans, did the same thing to the Indians driving them west and then ultimately out (in many ways). I am hesitant to associate myself with such an atrocity. But what Ashcroft's article "Key Concepts in Post-Colonial Studies" he wants to remind readers that even in many ways colonization was inevitable to occur (the world was too small for cultures to not overlap), the ways of going about it that are vastly different. In Things Fall Apart we see the peaceful approach of Mr. Brown, how although from the Igbo's perspective they did not like what he was doing, but they could deal with the methods he was going about it--peacefully and patiently. However we knew this couldn't last long, hence Reverend James and the destruction of Okonkwo.
An aspect of Ashcroft's article which I found pertinent was his discussion on transculturation. It seems that in most all instances when different cultures assimilate, the recessive population is the only one that changes--why is that? Did the white man sit down and try and learn the Igbo's songs, gods, orcustoms? I think not. It is the idea that the dominant people can just subject their beliefs to somebody else and just expect them to accept it. How do we really know who is write in the subject of God, I mean really know? Ultimately the white man's lust broke Okonkwo; it drove him to the brink of existence. He betrayed everything that he had grown up believing was right so that he could preserve everything that he had grown up believing was right. In the end I think we can feel sympathetic toward Okonkwo, a man who put his people before himself. At the end of the novel we see that Okonkwo's friend, Obierika, is disgusted with the white men for driving his friend so far. We can assume that for a little longer the sting of Okonkwo's death will prevent the white man from suppressing their Igbo tribe. But not for long, which is sad.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Post-Colonialism and Things Fall Apart

Ashcroft, Griffiths, and Tiffin describe the key concepts in post-colonial studies and the evolution of the term post-colonialism/postcolonialism. This term first referred to “cultural interactions within colonial societies in literary circles,” but now includes “the study and analysis of European territorial conquests. . .[and] the differing responses to such incursions and their contemporary colonial legacies in both pre- and post-independence nations and communities” (186-187). Today’s description of post-colonialism relates to the interaction between Okonkwo’s village and the missionaries. With colonialism everything moves at a faster pace, which is seen in Things Fall Apart as the arrival of the colonial administration, changes the spiritual feeling of the village and its proverbs (location and orality are two other concepts related to post-colonialism).

There is the emphasis on location during “colonial encounters” (190), which is seen in Things Fall Apart. The Christians wanted land, so the Igbo gave them the land that they considered to be “taboo.” However, the survival of the Christians on this land rapidly killed the faith of many of the Igbo. As the Christians invaded the Igbo land, there was much mixed feelings as outcasts, women who had twins, and those harmed by the Igbo faith such as Nwoye converted. However, Okonkwo did everything in his power to prevent conversions and to save his land and values, which inevitably leads to his death. The differences between the Igbo and the Christians were not only based on their language barrier and orality, or relationship to the land, but also the lack of understanding for each other’s values. As Ajofia explains, “We say he [Mr. Smith] is foolish because he does not know our ways, and perhaps he says we are foolish because we do not know his” (Achebe 191). As stated in “Key Concepts in Post-Ccolonial Studies,” universalism offers a hegemonic view of existence where the dominant culture fails to acknowledge or value cultural difference (235). The Christians see their culture as dominant and therefore imposed their religion and government on the Igbo. Looking at post-colonialism one sees that one’s culture is able to influence another’s and vice versa, as the Christians invaded Igbo lands with their own values and as the death of Okonkwo left an impact on the commissioner and the soldiers who had to take down the body of one of “the greatest men in Umuofia” (Achebe 208).

Okonkwo Tragic flaw

The ending of the novel made me think of what is worth dying for. Many people in the wake of 9/11 found themselves going into the army. But to kill yourself for principal is hole other thong. No,one I can think of would do that. The ending also made me think of how conquering christian nations were.

There is an obvious decline in faith within the Ibo people, of their beliefs when the Christians show up. They, in a way abandon it altogether. There is no sense of unity about them in terms of their faith. I found it interesting, having already read this book that people were pulled over so quickly. What is also amazing is that the Outcasts and the lower people go first. In a way, maybe the Ibo beliefs were too radical. The Judeo-Christian God that we believe in does not cast people out. If anything, Christians believe that we should all be inclusive of everyone, no matter what their station.

Okonkwo's biggest mistake was no converting, because it was obvious he was fighting a losing battle. His second biggest mistake was murdering his child. I can't think of a religion or belief system that would condone that (Henry VIII doesn't count, he never murdered his kids). The concept of practicing faith in secret never occur ed to Okonkwo either. During the Holocaust, many Jews would practice in secret.

Okonkwo is meant to be a tragic hero. Its the may many main characters work. But he didn't have to be so "all or nothing" about it. In a way he is taking the coward's way out, but he also feels himself falling into a useless situation. There is no way out except death, and that climax is one of my favorite parts in the novel. When his own people explain how they can't cut him down it is almost as if he knew that would happen because they are the laws of his people. In contrast, the scene also sparks a shocking religious tight rope. The people in his village have converted, but they still include their old customs at the end of the book. Why? If almost everyone is converted, why reenact an old belief that you threw away in the first place? Its like the scene is the divide between two worlds, Ibo and Christianity bit they fall back on the Ibo when it comes to Okonkwo's death.

Both Sides of the Story

Among the principle issues surrounding post-colonialism is the conflict between the significance of oral culture and the supposed “superiority” of written culture. The literacy the Europeans brought with them on their religious and political conquests are often believed to have overtaken the oral cultures of the nations they occupied or to have, at the very least, struggled relentlessly with them. In Key Concepts in Post-Colonial Studies, Bill Ashcroft writes that the relationship between the native oral and European written culture is frequently undermined and that the culprits “convey the impression that the oral was not as socially or aesthetically valuable as the literary” (166). That is to say, that they would believe that European literacy was the more civilized foe attempting a hostile takeover of the savage orality of the natives. Ashcroft contends this view, earlier referring to it as a “misperception” (166) and presenting the argument that the meeting of the two cultures was most times a mutual exchange rather than an aggressive overthrow. He writes that “the oral forms in Africa, for instance have a continuing and equal relationship with the written” (167). He claims that the two cultures are equal and, therefore, able to share with and learn from one another.

Achebe’s Things Fall Apart demonstrates both sides of this dispute through the steady progression of his language and the evolving interaction of his characters. Part one of the novel presents the Igbo culture as a yet pure and unified entity. Achebe dedicates his pen to a rhythmic, almost incantatory language, closely resembling the fashion of oral storytelling and thus immersing the reader into the culture he describes. His repetition and frequent use of proverb speak to the Igbo oral tradition as well. Also at the novels opening, the character interaction is exclusively Igbo to Igbo. Whatever variance exists remains within the boundaries of their culture. Part two exhibits Ashcroft’s argument of equality and mutual growth. The proverbs and dance-like rhythm fade slightly from Achebe’s language (the remnants of which are shown in the lessons and wisdom of Uchendu) and become intermingled with more direct plot. The character interaction expands to include the missionaries, particularly Mr. Brown. Mr. Brown, the symbol of European authority and colonization in general, embodies Ashcroft’s ideas through his kind understanding with the Igbo people of which Achebe writes that “he trod softly on their faith” and “made friends with some of the great men of the clan” (Achebe, 178-9). Achebe further emphasizes the mutual acceptance between the cultures when he writes, “Neither of them succeeded in converting the other but they learned more about their different beliefs” (Achebe, 181). This environment of shared respect and development is broken when Rev. Smith assumes Mr. Browns position. At this point, all rhythm and life is removed from Achebe’s language, representing the wiping out of Igbo oral culture by the new regime. Acceptance rapidly turns to hatred, violence and death, and the notion of forcefully conquering a savage nation comes alive.

Things Fall Apart

I’ve always found writing styles fascinating. Often an author’s greatest gift is his ability to captivate the minds of his readers, and he does this through the way he writes. Before this semester, I had never even heard of the book Things Fall Apart, yet I found Chinua Achebe’s book drew me into a foreign world. The author was able to subtly make me believe that I was a part of the Igbo people through his use of language.

Things Fall Apart flows beautifully from page to page; Part One has a distinct rhythm that is unlike the writings of most American authors. Achebe uses the language of the Igbo without needing to define the various terms. Through this colloquial style, he brings us into the African society. The terms and customs of Okonkwo’s people become so familiar, such as the breaking of the kola nut and the drinking of palm-wine. Because there is so much description within the first half of the book, I was able to experience Okonkwo’s life. Beatings eventually seemed less harmful, less frowned upon in my mind. The killing of animals did not seem so gruesome, and I found myself defending the Igbo against the Christians who came to live with them. How is this possible? How can an author’s words draw us so effectively into a completely different world, almost to the point where we feel as though we’re among the people?

I enjoyed how easy it was to immerse myself in this book. The writing wasn't complicated, but it was different than what I'm used to reading. Achebe's casual, informal style was both captivating and entertaining, and it allowed me to better understand the Igbo people.

Post-Colonialism and Things Fall Apart

In the article Key Concepts in Post-Colonial Studies, the authors Ashcroft, Griffiths and Tiffin present the controversies surrounding the use of the term post-colonialism/postcolonialism, but as the very first sentence states, in general “Post-colonialism (or often postcolonialism) deals with the effects of colonization on cultures and societies” (186). Colonization of such cultures and societies has affected the literature that has come out of this period by both the colonizers and the people colonized which has led to a whole field of post-colonial studies. The second half of Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart clearly addresses these effects on literature in a few interesting ways. The structure and language of the book becomes more linear and abrupt and in many ways more “English,” losing enchanting qualities the first half which was told in a more traditional, oral tongue. Achebe’s novel thus demonstrates another point made in the article: “Post-colonial cultures have all, in various ways, been influenced by the interrelationship between orality and literacy” (165). Having the language switch as abruptly as the coming of the white man from that which might be heard told around a fire to that which one would expect to read in a novel exemplifies the interrelationship between orality and literacy. The other way that Achebe nods to the “post-colonial” literature of the colonizers is in the very last paragraph of the book, which struck me as perhaps the most poignant part of the story. The novel ends not with any of the people we as readers have come to know and understand but with the District Commissioner and his plan to write a book on his experiences. We have just finished reading an entire novel about Okonkwo and this man believes he is worth “Perhaps not a whole chapter but a reasonable paragraph…” (Achebe 209).

Ashcroft cites Stephen Slemon and his point that it cannot be assumed that the reactions of oppressed peoples will always be resistant (189). As discussed in class, In Things Fall Apart, Achebe uses Okonkwo to demonstrate the faultlines of the society and the questions that he and others, such as his son Nwoye, are faced with are preexisting problems in need of a solution. Christianity and the white man’s form of government happened to come at a time when it was needed most and many accepted it with open arms. Achebe does not make it clear in the book his position on the arrival of the colonizers but knowing a bit about his history is to know that his parents were among the first to convert and he learned English at the age of eight. It might be that the second half of the novel is his understanding and acceptance of the new ways and his ending is his realization of the future of colonization.

A Fair Balance in Post-colonial Studies and Things Fall Apart

Ashcroft, Griffiths and Tiffin identity the key terms of post-colonial studies as well as some of the problems that arise in this field. One issue with defining post-colonialism is achieving a balance between a discourse theory which recognizes what studies in this field have in common without losing the unique experiences of different people in different places in different times. In Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, Okonkwo struggles with his own identity and his own culture, as well as that of the invading Europeans. Achebe’s novel is not one that merely “deals with the effects of colonization on cultures and societies” (Ashcroft 186). The first two parts of the novel do not even include direct contact with the white missionaries and government officials. This structure represents the Igbo people as more than just victims of colonialism. Indeed, such a narrow representation could possibly lead to the generalizations which materialist thinkers fear (190). Instead, however, Things Fall Apart tells a unique story of a man with universal emotions, emotions which most people, not just the colonized, experience in their everyday lives. Okonkwo’s father Unoka was considered a failure by the Igbo culture because he was not strong or rich, and as a result Okonkwo “was possessed by the fear of his father’s contemptible life and shameful death” (Achebe 18).

While Achebe’s novel is one which tells an undeniably human story, the elements of post-colonialism are most certainly there. When Mr. Brown first establishes himself in the village, the people are torn. On the one hand, they are wary of this man and his religion, one so very different from their own; but, at the same time, they enjoy the money which comes to Umuofia because of Mr. Brown’s trading store and the goods he supplies in it (178). The arrival of the outsider incites mixed feelings within the culture, and it is important to note again the uniqueness of situation. Okonkwo speaks out more strongly against Mr. Brown's presence than others, showing that not only do the effects of colonialism differ across cultures but also within them. However, with the later arrival of the District Commissioner, it becomes clear where the power truly lies. Stephen Slemon advocates for a hybrid reading of post-colonial works between generality and specificity; he points out that despite all the differences in terms of colonizer and colonized relationships, colonialism clearly remains relevant to understanding "power relations" (Ashcroft 189). Unfortunately for the Igbo people, the power does not lie with the colonized.

The Importance of Orality

In Key Concepts in Post-Colonial Studies, Ashcroft states “post-colonial cultures have all, in various ways, been influenced by the interrelationship between orality and literacy” (165). Often times the importance of written language undermines the value of oral tradition, when in reality there are “complex interactions” (165) between the two forms of cultural preservation. Post-colonial studies have focused on the importance of oral culture and according to Ashcroft, “oral forms in African societies, for instance have a continuing and equal relationship with the written” (166-167).

The novel Things Fall Apart, written by Chinua Achebe, provides a direct example of the influence of oral culture in passing down knowledge from one generation to the next. Uchendu, an elder in Mbanta, knowing “more about the world” (133) passes down the importance of an individual’s motherland to his family. Achebe stresses the importance of the Igbo oral tradition by continually using proverbs throughout Things Fall Apart. However, the power of orality is only found in the spoken words of a male. Achebe writes that when Okonwo “was a child his mother had told him a story about [mosquitoes]. But it was as silly as all women’s stories” (75).

The oral language spoken by the female members of society is not of equal value to the words of male members of society. An individual must display masculine strength, and to take part in the stories of a mother would be to go against all preconceived notions of masculinity. Achebe writes “Nwoye knew that it was right to be masculine and to be violent, but somehow he still preferred the stories that his mother used to tell, and which she no doubt still told to her younger children” (53). An individual cannot be both masculine and a participant in female orality. Achebe highlights the conflict between womanhood and oral culture, and unlike the conflict between orality and literacy which Ashcroft discusses, there is not an interplay between females and influential oral traditions.

Classifying Post-Colonialism

Ashcroft’s text makes an interesting point regarding the danger of classifying every colonial encounter according to “general background principles” (190). Rather than cast every one of these instances in literature under the ‘post-colonial’ umbrella and assume their homogeneity, each post-colonial experience should be analyzed for its specificity and unique differences. While the post-colonial experience itself is a fruitful area of literature, it is the “materiality and locality of various kinds of post-colonial experience that provide the richest potential” for these studies (190). As evidenced in Chinua Achebe’s novel Things Fall Apart, it is the personal and intimate stories of the characters that impact post-colonialism not so much as a theory, but at a glimpse of the human experience.

A second author within the text, Slemon, also emphasizes the effect intricacy has on the value of colonial discourse by expanding the reader’s study of the historical movement on a more personalized level. His argument supports a major them expressed in Achebe’s novel, suggesting the celebration of each culture and individual character independently. While it is far easier to assume that the Igbo tribe was like any other African village, Slemon restores the value of examining differences among their transition from colonialism and the unique impact it had on their culture. If it were not for the variances that occurred in post-colonialism the framework for analyzing novels like Things Fall Apart would neglect to be as complex and multifaceted as they have become.

The characters Onkonkwo and his father, Unoka, depict this hazard of attempting to classify one another according to predetermined roles as determined by a larger society. The same neglect that occurs when all post-colonial experiences are labeled according to general principles is evidenced by these character's disagreement with one another and their homeland. Okonkwo’s obsession with proving his manliness overshadows any relationship he could have formed with his father, despite their differences. Because both characters are unable to accept one another’s individuality, they fail to appreciate the most simplistic of relationships as father and son. While Okonkwo and Unoka’s relationship is not ideal, it is necessary to recognize, as this article suggests, the intricacy of what makes their story unique. Yes, they could be classified as any other father and son who disagree, but by examining their culture, their native traditions, and their homeland, their relationship takes on a more powerful, emotionally rich tale.

Postcolonialism and Things Fall Apart

Certain points made in this reading were somewhat surprising to me and challenged my preconceived notions, especially about the term postcolonialism. For example, I had previously thought of postcolonial as referring to a society that had formerly been colonized and was now independent. However, as the text states, this sense of postcolonialism “has been contested by a more elaborate understanding of the working of post-colonial cultures which stresses the articulations between and across politically defined historical periods, of pre-colonial, colonial, and post-independence cultures” (187). I also thought it was interesting that colonialism and post-colonialism, as Slemon states, are integral to “a critique of past and present power relations in world affairs” (189). Things Fall Apart certainly addresses the struggle for power that occurs when an imperialist society enters into contact with a society it seeks to colonize. Okonkwo seeks to maintain power and control in the Igbo community and to uphold the traditions of the culture. However, the British colonizing forces seek to set up their own government and enforce their own principles and traditions. This, of course, is resented by some and welcomed by others, as change always is in a society. Those who are currently in power are often the ones, naturally, to resist a change that will wrest power from them, while the outcasts and marginalized are often more receptive to a change that could possibly benefit them and give them more power.

This also leads into another point in Ashcroft’s text that I found interesting: that the responses of the oppressed peoples of a postcolonialist society are not always resistant to the imperialist force. Perhaps because of my American heritage, the resistance of colonized peoples seemed inevitable and an important part of what the term postcolonial means. However, this is not always the case. As we discussed in class, some of the Igbo people like Nwoye respond quite positively to the new systems of religion and government.

Finally, I felt that Ashcroft’s points about orality were certainly relevant to Achebe’s novel, seeing as we’ve already discussed the way in which Achebe writes his novel so that it flows in the same way that an orally told story would be spoken in the Igbo community. However, Ashcroft’s text brought up interesting ideas about the assumptions we often make concerning orality as a traditional and therefore somewhat irrelevant and past form of transmission. This may “convey the impression that the oral was not as socially or aesthetically valuable as the literary” (166). What Achebe attempts to do, then, is try to take the oral tradition of the Igbo people and translate it into written word, thereby valuing the oral tradition.

PostColonialism: The importance of the spoken word

Reading Achebe’s novel, “Things Fall Apart” opened up my eyes to the differences amongst cultures and the importance of belief. Okonkwo and his tribe pride themselves on strength, honor, loyalty and tradition. They demonstrate great love for their tribe and great faith in their gods and natural spirits. The arrival of the white missionaries created a stark contrast within the novel. Immediately we saw the educated white man and his unyielding desire to transform a seemingly subordinate species. As the reader, we find ourselves hoping the tribe can ignore the advances of the white man and continue maintaining their lifestyle. Before the white man introduced himself into the Igbo nation, the Igbo learned through story-telling, oral traditions and past experiences. They had developed their own language and were proud in their success.
Bill Ashcroft’s article, “Key Concepts in Post-Colonial Studies” addresses the different ways in which post colonialism is defined. A concept that stuck out most prominently in my mind is the concept of “orality”. Ashcroft stressed that oral traditions have proved to be just as important as the written word. We see this demonstrated through the various proverbs and tales the Igbo people have passed down from generation to generation. I soon found that there are a number of other ways in which “orality” has impacted our modern-day society. During slavery, slaves often sang songs of hope and freedom that were passed on through the years. Lacking a formal education, these slaves relied on the spoken word in order to educate their children. Another example of the importance of oral tradition is the Bible. Early disciples spoke of the good word and through their words the many stories of the Bible were recorded. It was interesting to me to consider oral tradition as important as written tradition. Nevertheless, I think Ashcroft has a wonderful argument in claiming that a combination of both is necessary to develop the postcolonial world we are living in today.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Things Fall Apart: Part III

The first time I was faced with Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart was the summer before my freshmen year of high school. Eight years later I will admit that I struggled to get through the novel upon first glance, yet as I have matured over the years I find great significance in Achebe’s message. His main character, Okonkwo, experiences more internal struggle than I ever hope to experience. From a strenuous home life to exile from all that he has ever known, from the trials of being a father and husband to being force-fed a foreign faith in place of everything he has ever stood for, Okonkwo cannot grasp who he is on the inside when everything around him is constantly changing. In defense, he leans towards ultra-masculinity and is quick to squash any signs of weakness. Although I agree that weakness and apathy is unacceptable while raising a family, I sincerely feel that there is a balance between the two poles of ability. Having attended an all boys Catholic high school, I know see why they would want to convey such a message. Unfortunately for the majority of my graduating class; however, they avoided acceptance just like Okonkwo (without the whole suicide aspect, thankfully).

The message of Things Fall Apart is invaluable; however, what makes it so jarring is the way in which it is told. Achebe is a master of the story, and brings his reader directly into the scene with Igbo vernacular and awe-inspiring proverbs, “the palm oil with which words are eaten” (4). His story is intended to mold the soul of the individual, to shape the person they are into one who can fight just as intensely as they can love. Most importantly, he teaches us the right time for both. The ending is up for interpretation, and that can sway the impact. Does Okonkwo hang himself to avoid the dominance of the European, or has he lost all faith in the Igbo?