Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe + a few thoughts on his other works

Africa, my Africa
Africa of proud warriors in ancestral savannahs
Africa of whom my grandmother sings
On the banks of the distant river
I have never known you
But your blood flows in my veins
Your beautiful black blood that irrigates the fields
The blood of your sweat
The sweat of your work
The work of your slavery
Africa, tell me Africa
Is this you, this back that is bent
This back that breaks
Under the weight of humiliation
This back trembling with red scars
And saying yes to the whip under the midday sun
But a grave voice answers me
Impetuous child that tree, young and strong
That tree over there
Splendidly alone amidst white and faded flowers
That is your Africa springing up anew
Springing up patiently, obstinately
Whose fruit bit by bit acquires
The bitter taste of liberty.

David Diop, 'Africa'

Forgive me for the length and for thoughts encompassing the three Achebe's books that comprise the African Trilogy (and a little bit on Anthills of the Savannah), rather than writing a straight-up review of Things Fall Apart. Achebe and these four books are close to my heart. I had loved Achebe's writing, his message and motives for writing from my very first reading. So much so, that I chose this writer's work for my master's dissertation as the only student in my academic year at my university (everyone else went all Shakespeare, Victorian or Austen). What you'll read below then, are just my general thoughts as I remember them from some few years ago.

Chinua Achebe is a post-colonial Nigerian writer who almost all his life has been struggling to bring back to his own nation the sense of dignity which had been lost in the process of colonisation and gaining of independence. Achebe's ways seem to be of contradicting the long lasting idea of wild, uncivilised Africa. However, one should pay attention to the fact that Achebe does not put blame for what had happened to Nigeria on the white man only. He admits that what has been taking place in his country after the end of colonialism to the present day is the pure example of neo-colonialism.

The poem quoted at the beginning refers to complex history of African path to the twice-lost freedom. First, this freedom was taken away by ignorant Westerners, who came to Africa and claimed it as their own. And it was taken away for the second time by African leaders who, under the disguise of the saviours, gave the false liberty a 'bitter taste.'

Although Achebe has written much more literature than what I mention here, the four novels I speak of are probably most important ones. Things Fall Apart, Arrow of God and No Longer at Ease create the African trilogy. Their main purpose is to display step by step the impact that the advent of the white man had on the Nigerian nation. Achebe introduces the Igbo [known as Ibo as well] people since he is the descendant of their tradition. He is on the crossroads of cultures because his parents were converted Christians but the rest of his family remained faithful to the tribal Igbo tradition. In effect he was given the possibility of learning both the religion of the colonisers and the culture of his ancestors. That is why the deep insight into two different and antagonistic worlds enabled Achebe to objectively display the past culture of the Igbos and the relationship between his nation and the Europeans. He is very critical about the white man's attitude towards Africans.

Equality is the one thing which Europeans are conspicuously

incapable of extending to others, especially Africans.

But anyone who is in any doubt about the

meaning of partnership in that context need only be

reminded that a British governor of Rhodesia

defined the partnership between black and white as

the partnership between the horse and its rider (...) For

centuries Europe has ruled out the possibility of a dialogue.

You may talk to a horse but you don't wait for a reply!


Since he does not expect the white man to clarify the true vision of past Africa, and, moreover, he is not willing to give the white man such a right, Achebe feels inclined to show to his people that they had a civilised and rich past.

Things Fall Apart is the novel which describes the life of the Igbos before the coming of the colonisers. It introduces the complex religion and political systems that operate within the tribe. The social and moral values seem very often controversial, but at the same time they show the loyalty and faithfulness of the Igbos towards the systems they had constructed themselves.

Arrow of God is the continuation of the previous novel since it reflects the situation of the Igbo people right after the meeting with Europeans and the dangers they faced when accepting the new religion. No Longer at Ease, the last novel from the trilogy, introduces to the reader the situation the young generation of Nigerians is put into right after the gaining of the independence. There is the atmosphere of hopelessness and being lost in the disarray of old values and the new ideas about modernity with its corruption and ignorance. The main characters of these three novels fail because of the lack of flexibility in their personalities. However,the novels themselves do not carry negative pictures of these characters because they failed. The meaning of those novels is rather that the three men were left for themselves, they were abandoned by their kinsmen. And a single person, even if he or she has got the right intentions, cannot possibly realize them by him/herself.

Anthills of the Savannah is the fourth novel that completes the message (although can be read quite independently). It is different from the three mentioned above in the way that it shows the change of Achebe's attitude towards the situation of Nigeria. In this novel Achebe does not accuse colonialists for the devastated condition of his country any more. He makes it clear that these are Africans themselves that are responsible for the actual state of things in Nigeria. He proposes definite solutions for saving Nigeria from the impotent leaders. He claims that writers should take a strong stand and not hesitate to criticise the hopeless governments that reside over Nigeria.

The above essay/ review/ piece of writing is the beginning of what I hope to be a series of posts on Achebe's work.

I'm really hoping Achebe will be awarded Nobel Prize this year. It really is about time.