Wednesday, January 26, 2011

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.

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