Sunday, September 26, 2010

Write a note on the sources of Achebe's Things Fall Apart.

"Things Fall Apart" provides an important moral lesson to its leaders. Achebe conceives the primary function of literature to be moral or ethical in nature. According to him the power of the novelist lies on his ability to appeal to the mind and to reach beyond his or her particular circumstance and thus, speak to different periods and generations; the good story-teller is not bound by narrow political or personal concerns or even by the demands of specific historical moments.
Achebe's sympathies, then are not with the heroic character (in this case Okonkwo), but the witness or storyteller (Obierika) who refuses to endorse Okonkwo's commitment to the central doctrines of his culture or the European colonizer's arrogant use of power.
However, the novelist's ability to bring the historical period and his moment of writing together also depended on a notable relationship between his life and his work. As an author, Achebe may be separated from the central event in Things Fall Apart by a period of seventy years, but his own biography is very much a part of the story he tells and its context. Achebe's family occupies a central role in the history which his novel narrates. We know, for example, that his great grandfather was the man who first received Christian missionaries in the village of Ogidi (Umuofia in the novel). More significantly, Achebe's father, Isaiah Okafo (like Nwoye in the novel), was one of the first converts to Christianity in the area and worked for many years as an evangelist and teacher in the Christian Missionary Society, the evgangelical branch of the Church of England. This family history is important to our understanding of Things Fall Apart not so much because it invites us to read the author's life in the novel itself. For if the African identity of the novel derives from its acute sense of the oral tradition, then this is an acknowledgement of the influences of the Ibo stories which Achebe used to hear from his own Christian relatives. It was from the older people in his village that Achebe came to develop an awareness of the history of Ibo people before colonization, a history which is an important aspect of the First Part of Things Fall Apart.
But it would be a mistake to assume that Achebe grew up with a profound understanding and respect for the African past. One of the ironic aspects of being born in a family of African converts to Christianity was that one's status in society depended on a certain self alienation from the old culture. 'The line between Christian and non-Christian was much more definite in my village forty years ago, than it is today, Achebe observed in 1973.
Although Achebe's first novel is a celebration of the precolonial past, it is important to emphasize this sense of superiority among African Christians for one overwhelming reason, it was out of this identification with the culture of colonialism—and his ultimate disillusionment with it—that Achebe became a writer. He was not only brought up in a Christian family, and thus, identified with European culture, his early education was in church schools where the influence of the Bible and biblical stories, Christian moral codes, and indeed modern civility were emphasized. In addition, Achebe's secondary education at the prestigious government school at Umuabia could not but draw him even further into the culture of colonialism. Such schools were modelled after British public schools which meant that the values they promoted—in scholarship, sports, and conduct—were essentially English. When he arrived at the university of Ibadan in 1948, Achebe was expected to read the major texts of the English tradition, including most notably Shakespeare, Milton and Wordsworthh. But by 1948, this acculturation in Englishness was being challenged by African nationalism: advocates of African independence and cultural renewal were beginning to question the central notion in colonial education—the assumption that an African destiny included a future European identify for which the present is but an apprenticeship; in addition, the nationalist movement had brought about a mental revolution.
Since his mental revolution was connected so implicitly to the writing of Things Fall Apart, it is important that readers consider what we may call its cultural politics. Simply put, the writing of this novel marked a radical change in Achebe's way of looking at himself and his culture and in his conception of literature itself. For if we accept the general argument that colonial rule justified itself through the process of writing and rewriting other people's histories and cultural practices, as the last paragraph of Things Fall Apart seems to assert, then we must pay closer attention to the fundamental relationship between the kind of reading communities in which Achebe was brought up and the kind of novel he produced in 1958. Two forms of reading communities are involved: that of the family, and that of the school.
Achebe grew up in a household in which books were revered and played an important role in the visualization of modern life: As the fifth in a family of six children and with parents so passionate for their children's education, "I inherited many discarded books ... I remember also my mother's Ije Onye Kraist which must have been an Ibo adaptation of Pilgrim's progress." Many of these books, most notably the Bible, were later to influence Achebe's literary works as  much as the Ibo stories he heard as a child. The Ikemefuna episode in Things Fall Apart, to cite just one example is fashioned after Abraham's aborted sacrifice of Isaac in the Old Testament.
In high schools, as Achebe observed later, he was exposed to English books such as Treasure Island and Oliver Twist. The most significant impact of these books was on Achebe's view of the world: on reading these books, he observed, 'I did not see myself as an African to begin with ... I went through my first level of schooling thinking I was of the party of white man in his hair-raising adventures and narrow escapes' (Chinua Achebe). At University College, Ibadan, Achebe was introduced to famous European writers who had set their novels in Africa, such as Joseph Conrad, Joyce Cary, and Graham Greene. But by now, instead of identifying with the European adventurers against their African counterparts, Achebe felt impelled to represent the historical encounter between Europe and Africa from an African perspective. The connection between Achebe's reading of the colonial novel and his decision to become a writer is found a mental to our understanding of the cultural function of Things Fall Apart. 'I suddenly saw that these books had to be read in a different light.' "Reading 'Heart of Darkness', for instance,... I realized that I was one of those savages jumping up and down on the beach. Once that kind of enlightenment comes to you, you realize that someone has to write a different story."
Things Fall Apart is certainly not the first African novel, but it was probably the first work in which the author set out to represent the African experience in a narrative that sought, self-consciously, to be different from the colonial novel. Since its publication in 1958, Achebe's novel has served as a model for other African writers, and indeed, for a different kind of literature in English Achebe's goal in this novel is to Indicate to his readers that we in Africa did not hear of culture for the first time from Europeans has changed the way African readers perceive their own cultures and their relationship to colonial institutions. Achebe is the man who invented African literature because he was able to show, in the structure and language of his first novel, that the future of African writing did not lie in simple imitation of European forms but in the fusion of such forms with oral traditions. Achebe is the conscience of African literature because he has consistently insisted on the power of story tellers to appeal to the morality and humanity of their readers and to give their life fuller meaning.

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