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Terrible news. I don’t read a lot of fiction, but he was one of my favorite authors, and one of the most effective and important conveyors of a non-Western perspective on colonialism and decolonization.
I read Things Fall Apart during high school as a “multicultural” book (whatever that means). As I recall, I enjoyed it in spite of this.
This sounds just like something my son would say—-he always found the earnestly well-meaning but clumsy treatment of “multicultural” material particularly grating. Funny, his name is Aaron and his last initial is B! But he never comments on blogs…
I also read it in my multicultural ‘world history’ class in high school. I really didn’t like the book, though. The message I took from it was “Colonialism is bad because it ruined this mans life by making him lose his patriarchal control over his family.” I found him completely, 100% unsympathetic as a character. It left me, despite/because of all my strong liberal leanings (I have a letter from Vice President Al Gore thanking me for writing him about global warming back in ’94), more favorably inclined towards colonialism. Colonialism destroyed a culture of horrific misogyny, and I’m supposed to be upset?
(Disclaimer: I read the book 15 years ago, and was extremely underwhelmed. All I can relate is my impressions, I have forgotten most of the actual plot. It certainly stirred strong emotions in me, though, as I remember those clearly.)
Okonkwu wasn’t meant to be admired.
I don’t doubt that, but I totally missed the connection between his life falling apart and the intended conclusion that ‘colonialism is bad’ – which was awkward, because I was expected to write an essay on the topic.
Exactly. The title refers to the pre-colonial community of Umuofia, not to the tragic protagonist Okonkwo.
The more important point about Achebe is that he is the founder of modern African literature.
The title refers to the pre-colonial community of Umuofia
And is not (completely) a lament for it, given how critical it is of the protaganist who had apparently come to be its avatar, even while the book clearly doesn’t sympathize with the colonizers.
The title refers to the pre-colonial community of Umuofia, not to the tragic protagonist Okonkwo.
Interesting; perhaps I will revisit the book, as I had been under the same impression as Kalil.
The message I took from it was “Colonialism is bad because it ruined this mans life by making him lose his patriarchal control over his family.”
Agreed on this–I also read it as “multicultural” pap in high school, and maybe I missed something important (I was 16, so highly likely), but I read it as a glorification of male dominated traditional society.
I know him mostly because of that book & the reference to his changing view of Conrad’s book in that article is great.
Love the novel. And while the essay on Heart of Darkness is certainly worth using in class as representative of the post-colonial African perspective (which provokes great discussion), it really doesn’t do justice to Conrad’s misanthropic, anti-imperialist, anti-missionary message.
I disagree with Achebe’s contention in that essay that Heart of Darkness should not be taught (at least I think that’s what he says – it’s been about 11 years). But his analysis – that it reduces an entire continent to be the backdrop and instigator of, if I recall his phrase properly, “the crackup of one petty European mind” is perfectly correct in my opinion and a necessary corrective seed to plant in the minds of students for whom Africa has always and only served as a prop.
It’s the “only” that’s important. There are other great books that we might read in our lives where a foreign place populated with white people is reduced to a catalyst for psychological action in the protagonist. After all, it’s quite authentic as a representation of some people’s experiences. The problem is that there’s also plenty of literature where Paris (e.g.) and its denizens are *more* than a prop for my self-actualization, and in the canon of literature available to American students, that wasn’t true of Africa before Things Fall Apart, and at least when I was in school hadn’t really expanded beyond that one (wonderful) book.
“The crackup of one petty European mind” is a very poor description of HoD‘s complex themes.
Things Fall Apart communicates the consequences of colonialism to students better than anything else I have ever encountered. The fact that it is not at all a heroic tale makes it all the more powerful.
Well, it’s a tragedy, and a tragedy requires a hero to fall. But the arc as a whole is certainly not heroic.
I agree just because I had to read it for a college course – actually the course was European Civilization but we had a prof who thought that part of his job was to concentrate on outside of Europe – and I’ve never forgotten it (it would have been in 1986-87 so that was quite a while ago). It was one of the saddest books I think I’ve ever read, and I read a lot.
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