English 4, per. 3
24 November 2013
Tragedy, Social Purpose, Language, and Family
Chinua Achebe introduces his novel with a line of poetry by William Butler Yeats. In this poem, Yeats describes an apocalyptic vision of the world, in which all order and stability collapses into anarchy because of human faults. This vision works on two levels in this novel. On the one hand, we see the protagonist, Okonkwo, as a great man of Umuofia, who because of his own faults, has a tragic end to life. On the other hand, we see the falling apart of the Igbo society under the intrusion of European government, religion, and technology.
The novel includes more than just a classic example of a tragedy. Achebe also includes a social purpose. He argues that European novels have treated Africa as a dark, savage continent, and nothing more. Africans are reduced to primitive, mysterious creatures, which in Achebe 's (and others ') opinion is racist stereotyping. Even morally "good" African characters have no real depth of character and become nothing more than noble savages. According to Achebe, colonialism—the forceful impression of one culture 's beliefs onto another culture—leads to this kind of thinking. As Achebe himself has put it, Europeans portray Africa as having experienced "one long night of savagery, from which the first Europeans, acting on God 's behalf, delivered
King 2 them" (Swann). Achebe strongly opposes this vision, enforced by such novels as Joseph Conrad 's Heart of Darkness, and he said he received a calling, as an author, to teach fellow Africans and others that this "one long night of savagery" inaccurately depicts a tribal past that destroys the rich and sophisticated cultural traditions and values of the Igbo people, along with others.
Achebe has written his works in English rather than in Igbo which may seem ironic but he has several reasons for doing this. One practical: there are far more readers of English than there are readers of Igbo. Another: English enables Achebe to reach a world community with his messages. A third: by using English, Achebe uses the very language that others have employed to portray Africa in racist terms, resulting in a sort of poetic justice (Swann). However, Achebe’s strong commitment to portray Igbo culture accurately and powerfully, lead to his use of several Igbo words and phrases within the novel, until those words and phrases no longer needed a definition. After reading the novel, for instance, a reader becomes much more familiar with African tribal terms and concepts like chi, egwugwu, and ogbanje than before reading the novel. Also, the novel preserves several Igbo tales and proverbs throughout, such as the tale of the tortoise in chapter eleven. All of this helps to fix the cultural divide between the Igbo and Western readers, revealing an African culture to readers who in all likelihood know little, if anything, about African tribes, apart from stereotypes in movies, print, and television (UNC).
For the Igbo, there are a few key ideas that form the basis of an ideal family: mutual respect for each other, a reverence for all past fathers, and unity. The father, not only has to
King 3 provide for the family, but has to defend the honor and teach all his children. To add to the family line, bearing healthy children and pleasing her husband is a mother’s main job in life. Children inherit the future, and from birth, they have been given an opportunity to continue the values of the older generation (WMU). This family unit, the most fundamental unit of society and its structure, can encounter expansion to fit a whole community or even a pantheon of gods (Shmoop).
In today’s society, we experience these things, but in a way less violent or tragic way. The U.S., in today’s world, is falling apart slowly but surely. More and more people seem to lose their jobs every day and then cannot afford their house or car, and have to live on the streets or with other family members. The way gas prices have gone way up, makes it harder for those struggling to get by, to obtain gas. In the world today, we still call people names and try to kick others out because of their color. As wrong as that is, some just do not care about other’s feelings. How would it feel to be called a name because of color? As for language, most people speak English, but because of how much our country has grown, the people want to learn more than one language, so they may speak to those who do not have English as their primary language. Families across the U.S. today follow the family roles provided by the Igbo society to a certain point. Father’s take the bodyguard role and Mother’s take the nurturing role.
“Character Roles.” Village of Umofia. Western Michigan University, 1903. Web. 18 December 2013.
“Chinua Achebe’s Biography and Style.” University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 1795. Web. 18 December 2013.
“External and Internal Causes of the Downfall of the Ibo.” Lawrence University. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 November 2013
Shmoop Editorial Team. "Things Fall Apart Theme of Family." Shmoop. Shmoop University, Inc., 11 Nov. 2008. Web. 23 November 2013
Swann, Christopher, MA. “Africa, Igbo Culture and Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart.” Introduction to World Literatures. University of Missouri, 2007. Web. 24 November 2013
Things Fall Apart Nigeria: Heinemann, William, 1958. Print
Cited: “Character Roles.” Village of Umofia. Western Michigan University, 1903. Web. 18 December 2013. “Chinua Achebe’s Biography and Style.” University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 1795. Web. 18 December 2013. “External and Internal Causes of the Downfall of the Ibo.” Lawrence University. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 November 2013 Shmoop Editorial Team. "Things Fall Apart Theme of Family." Shmoop. Shmoop University, Inc., 11 Nov. 2008. Web. 23 November 2013 Swann, Christopher, MA. “Africa, Igbo Culture and Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart.” Introduction to World Literatures. University of Missouri, 2007. Web. 24 November 2013 Things Fall Apart Nigeria: Heinemann, William, 1958. Print