Thursday, January 27, 2011

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.

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