Wednesday, January 26, 2011

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.

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