Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

Every week by Saturday morning...
* Read 100 to 150 pages.

* Write 300+ words a week in response to your reading.
* Respond analytically and personally to what you have read.
* Discuss the significance of at least one passage/quotation.
* Discuss the relationship between what you are reading and something(s) else you have read this year.
* Respond to a comment made by a peer (after the first week).


nFrye said...

Nancy F.

through pp 103

In Achebe's "Things Fall Apart", there are many conflicts between the way in which Okonkwo behaves and the way that he feels. As recompense for his father's "laziness", Okonkwo feels that he must be strong, harsh, and powerful. He gains power and a good name for himself, but also sacrifices many things that he loves. In Chapter 7, the village decides that Okonkwo's foster son of three years, Ikemefuna, must be killed. Inwardly, Okonkwo is reluctant to kill the boy, and was not required to attend the ritual. But in an attempt to prove that he is manly and strong, he not only attends, but aids in the murder of the young boy that he had come to love. "Dazed with fear, Okonkwo drew his machete and cut him [Ikemefuna] down. He was afraid of being thought weak." (p 61) It is a sad and conflicted scene. Okonkwo's reaction is a part of his character in that any weakness of mind is drastically contrasted with a harsh power that comes from his physical body. Okonkwo is determined to make a separate name for himself and thus stamps out anything that reminds him of his father, including emotions. The only things that he allows to remain are brute strength and power.

"Things Fall Apart" is related to "Heart of Darkness" in that they are nearly opposites. While "Heart of Darkness explores a white man's perspective on Africa and a limited experience of the people that live there, "Things Fall Apart", in the first part, explores the customs and the experiences of the native people of Africa. It seems as though Achebe's reaction to "Heart of Darkness" (particularly because he sees the novel as racist and close-minded) is to create a book that focuses on the people that are affected by imperialism. I hope to gain greater perspective on this as I reach part two of "Things Fall Apart".

nFrye said...

Nancy F.

pp 103 to end

In Achebe's "Things Fall Apart", the violence and fighting that occurs reflects the inner conflicts of the protagonist Okonkwo as his culture is threatened by the Christian missionaries that enter the area. Just as the wrestling matches occur during celebrations, so also does Okonkwo grapple with the loss of his culture to the imperialist whites. When Okonkwo's son chooses to convert to the new religion presented, Achebe makes a statement about the appeal of new culture and the loss of tradition as young people are confronted with new ideas. It also implies that Okonkwo's harsh treatment of his son (a reflection of the demanding and terrifying gods of the old religion) has pushed the boy towards a culture that promotes more peace and love as opposed to pain and fear.

Perhaps the most significant thing that Achebe is able to address is the link between the culture that the missionaries push onto the natives and the culture that existed prior to the missionaries' work. As Okonkwo hangs from the tree, both the natives and the missionaries cannot bring themselves to lay hands on him to bring him down and bury him. While the natives say that it is against their beliefs to touch the body of a suicide victim, the missionaries express concern and interest in the culture for the first evident time in the novel. The missionaries express some fear, but it is also apparent that they feel some wonder at the circumstances presented at Okonkwo's death. "The District Commissioner changed instantaneously. The resolute administrator in him gave way to the student of primitive customs." (207) In their curiosity about the native customs, the line is blurred between "authority" (that is, the new, self-imposed authority of the missionaries) and the natives. However, Achebe still emphasizes the differences between the two groups with his diction. By using the word "primitive", he sets the two groups apart from each other and keeps the groups in a state of at least semi-alienation.

As one reads the second part of the novel, relationships can be made between Heart of Darkness and Things Fall Apart very easily. Just as in Heart of Darkness, a culture is threatened by newcomers to an area. The District Commissioner in his own way is Conrad's Kurtz. He establishes his reign and suffers with the consequences of attempting to subdue a foreign people. While some succumb to the power (as the natives in Kurtz's fort and Okonkwo's son did), others resist (the native woman, Okonkwo.) It is interesting to see that, although Achebe insists that Conrad's novel is racist, the two authors do not appear to have written about subjects that are so different.

Francesco P said...

Things fall apart indeed, inevitably, when your moral and personal fabrications stem from your aversion of the very origins that spawned your existence. Achebe characterization is as honest, as it is contradictory. Okonkwo pursuit for purpose, in ascending the ranks of his home Umuofia tribe, in laboring tenaciously in harvesting his yams (his supposed symbol of masculinity), in harboring his emotional existence underneath a stringent façade of aggressiveness and austerity, was born by the embarrassment he suffered by his father Unoka. The paragon of a slothful, guileful individual, Unoka makes Okonkwo’s abhorrence of his fathers indolence draw reason to his rash behavior. It made me consider the lengths that children will travel to escape the shadow of their parents, defining themselves in the journey. A life consciously lived for the satisfaction of knowing your life path does not traverse through the vices of your originators. He volitions was fueled by his fear of failure and the impenetrable frustration if others were to perceive him as such. “Anyone who knew his grim struggle against poverty and misfortune could not say he had been lucky. If ever a man deserved his success, that man was Okonkwo.” (27), delineates that the Okonkwo’s motivation was inexorable, and outweighed the notion that fortune was the cause for his prosperity. Although, this becomes a reason to contemplate the authenticity of the life he lives.
I sensed the parallel to As I lay Dying, by the connection between the lazy Anse and Jewel. Jewel holds a determinism to escape from the confines of his imposed family, and define himself through his own efforts. Through a similar reflective manner in which Jewel artfully sneaks away from his home while the family dozes to taste his own independence through the exhausting exertion that yielded a horse of his own, Okonkwo, at a markedably young age, sets off to sharecrop, and initiate his occupation to transcend the futility of his father. Although, his behavior becomes a tunnel vision concentrated on being masculine, and severe from connotation. This leads the beating of his wife, and the emotional detachment in regards to his children. Being an identity developing book although, I’m aware that the missionaries which I know are to come will shatter Okonkwo’s tunnel vision to elucidate the inner instability and structure of his own perception of his surround culture.

Francesco P said...

In the second part of Things Fall Apart, the fragile connection between the individual and society is revealed in Okonkwo’s banishment and return to an altered familiarity. We perceive how Okonkwo’s return penetrates into the skeletal base of his original home and how seven years of white-man’s hands can efface an entire structure of a village. To return to Yeat’s The Second Coming

“The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;”

this reflects and alludes appropriately to Okonkwo’s loss of innocence, in finding that his stance of power, his escalated ego and class is now completely irrelevant in a new system of values and principles that have been spawned from the Christian missionaries. This notion penetrates the idea of superiority and inferiority that is prevalent within a system of familiarity. Where Okonkwo held influence and fear over people, in this situation, the whites look down upon him as a pawn and later as an individual to be eliminated when Okonkwo machetes down a white messenger. Even here although, he attempts to maintain his sense of ability and power, and breaks the cultural boundaries in order to do so. They cannot intertwine and understand each other from the two vastly different perspectives that they hold, and so he naturally, from his already impulsive behavior, acts upon his will to eliminate within the moment, to yield some effect, rather than succumb to their misgivings and dominance of their white authority.

To further what Nancy stated in “While the natives say that it is against their beliefs to touch the body of a suicide victim, the missionaries express concern and interest in the culture for the first evident time in the novel.”, this civil, and culturally respectful event reflects each cultures adamancy to remain true to their customs, and the self-sacrifices they must make in order to ensure it’s survival. “If we fight the stranger we shall hit out brothers and perhaps shed the blood of a clansman. But we must do it.” (203) Regardless of the power struggle, although one culture may impose itself on to another, Achebe insinuates that integral components and beliefs of an entire culture cannot be vanquished. This notion further humanizes the African people, of course the blatant response to Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. African’s are not held as vessels to carry the concept of the inscrutable origins of “modern man”, but are held at equally acknowledged system of values, which I now understand reflects the slower tempo of first part of the novel. We are given the background and stable perception of Umuofia to find their foreign customs identifiable by their fearful and honorable humanistic origins.