Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
I’m reading Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart because my grandmother was a British colonist in Nigeria who lived in the same town as Achebe and had some contact with him. I am hoping to learn about how Achebe viewed the British and his own culture. Unfortunately my grandmother has passed away so I can’t really ask her any more about her encounters with the author of this great work however she and I did have one notable conversation about him while I was in high school, a dialogue which I didn’t think too much of at the time but is now one of the memories I wish I remembered with greater clarity.
What I do recall was that I was spending an afternoon at my grandma’s house after one of the last days of the spring semester in either my freshman or sophomore year of high school. We’d received our reading list for the summer which consisted of about 10 books from which we had to select several to read during the vacation. My grandma had an MA in literature and a large book collection so I was hoping she had some of the books on the list so I could borrow them and not have to purchase my own. Things Fall Apart was the first item and while she said she didn’t have the book she remembered meeting the author while she lived in Africa. Intrigued I asked how she met him and she described to me that he had spent some time in the village where she and my grandfather had lived. (I believe it was a town outside of Lagos Nigeria). I asked if she liked the book and the author and she said that she thought he was an extremely intelligent guy but that the book, though interesting, underappreciated what she thought the British government had done for Africans. At the time I didn’t think much of this but today those words are quite significant to me as post colonialism has exposed the repressive nature of colonial governments and the manner in which they stymied the development of cultures on the African continent.
Im reading Things Fall Apart because I hope to learn more about why my grandmother might have thought the way she did about Achebe’s novel and the manner in which Achebe critiqued the colonial governments and their suppressive and divisive tactics. My grandfather was contracted as an electrical engineer while in Nigeria and my grandmother taught at the local university so both probably saw only what they perceived as the positive effects of British colonization in Africa. Achebe however likely saw the darker side of colonization and its reckless subordination and division of African cultures.
I’m reading Things Fall Apart because it is a canonical work which I have not yet had a chance to dive into and because it provides something different from much of the Western canon in that it rejects the western notions of progress and individualism.
I’m reading Things Fall Apart because it rejects orientalism and shows a culture outside of the West through its own lense rather than through the eyes of a westerner. In other words it shows the Igbo people as a group which varies within itself and exposes the ways that some of the Igbo were marginalized by colonialism and how others who were marginalized within their own cultures used colonial practices, in particular Christianity to their own advantage in order to reject their own people and customs.
Lastly, I’m reading Things Fall Apart because it’ll help me build the definitions I’m seeking in my poetry. Achebe’s book pointed to problems for real communities and did so with grace. I discussed my building wariness at speaking for others in my post in response to Alcoff and in Project 1. Achebe is a writer who spoke for his own community and in some sense for the British. What is it about his work that made him successful in doing so. Identifying that will help me better craft the poems I compose for my final project