Thursday, January 27, 2011

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.

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