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Reader-oriented criticism is a tool of checking author’s consideration of the reader’s understanding of their work of literature. Reader-orientated criticism analyzes different reader’s perceptions of situations and occurrences in the book. An analysis of the Things Fall Apart through reader-oriented criticism techniques allows the reader depict an understanding and interpretation of the African culture through the Igbo culture and beliefs. However, reader’s responses to works of literature differ since the consideration and sympathy derived from the book are dissimilar. The inclusion of readers in making meaning in works of literature is vital since they are the information holders and interpreters. Things Fall Apart is a fictional work of literature that will help us explore my view and criticisms as a reader.
Things Fall Apart is a novel by the African author Chinua Achebe authored in 1958. The novel is set in Nigeria (Achebe 2), with the agenda of reflecting the pre-colonial and post-colonial effects of the Europeans intrusion in the society. The reception of Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart was the inauguration of the modern African novelistic tradition. Achebe’s fictional agenda has been revealed throughout the novel, through his aim of transforming the colonial perspectives. The European perception of Africans as savages was misjudged and Achebe wrote his novel as a response to their inappropriate remarks. They made the world believe that Africa is a continent that needs the light and intervention of the Europeans. Achebe’s unacceptance of the European perceptions drove him to write this piece of literature to depict the African society’s strengths and imperfections through culture and beliefs. He uses the fictional Igbo Society to help in the realization of the interaction between the Europeans and Africans during the colonial period. He depicts the European colonialism from an African perspective to create a reality image of the colonialism effects. Important to the African literature novelists, his book opened up acceptance and realization of African’s ability to write prominent and influential literature to depict the authenticity and originality of the African culture. His work creates a situation where Africans have a platform to speak for themselves rather than being spoken for or about.
The book depicts an influence of both the African and European cultures with the aim of portraying the disparity in the cultures (Aggarwal 221). Chinua is able to show the change in character as observed before the colonialism and after the Europeans intervention to the villages. His father is converted to Christianity after the Europeans arrival in Nigeria and some of his relatives remained rooted to the Igbo culture. He has remarkably enabled the reader to have a clear revelation of what both cultures are like and what they uphold. Chinua has clearly depicted the changes in the Igbo society brought by the British intervention in the village. The book has quotation biblical referencing, which has offered a difference in experiences and interpretation of meanings.
Okonkwo’s internal personality as shaped by the historical and social contexts in the book explores the items of change that the European culture had on the African culture. The novel’s central focus is the conflict between the desire to change and the Igbo’s society culture and customs. The disparity of both cultures is tough to merge and coordinate since individual desires and the society’s expectations collide. The collision’s consequences are shown through Okonkwo’s death due to his inability to coordinate the demands of the African and British cultures. The struggle for power and recognition in both cultures is portrayed in the novel, where believers and followers of both cultures disregard acceptance of the other’s culture.
Art as an instrument of change
The collision between the African culture and the European culture is crucial in the analysis of the book. The conflict is heightened by the entrance of the missionaries and Christians into the Umuofia village, with an intention to change the people’s way of life. Okonkwo’s fear of losing what is important to him is associated with his position and stand in the Igbo society and the influence of ingression of the colonial administrators. The difference in experiences of characters and consequences of behavior is a clear realization of the impact of change to the Africans and the culture.
The story can be described as a rich representation of the African reality (McLuckie 182). The book has managed to describe the African customs, rituals, beliefs, festivals, and way of worship in a rich language and with the confidence of local African flavor. Chinua in the book describes that it is not through the Europeans that culture became known and prevalent to Africans. An understanding of the African culture was already in place before the European interventions. He portrays that the society is one that is worthy of respect through his delineations of the Igbo society’s to the world. He renders the need for respect and appreciation of the African culture since familiarity and knowledge is a character that Africans uphold.
Achebe’s impression of art is reasonably evident in his book. He believes that African literature should not be written for the sake, but to depict meaning, understanding of contemporary issues and as an instrument of social change. He insists on self-respect and dignity and loss of it is termed as a deteriorating act. He supports understanding of the African culture through the book and terms it necessary to pass it on to the world. He insists on historical maturation through encouraging writers to know their history and write about it. Writers should consider their originality as one of the fictional topics they should address in their work of literature. Achebe’s success in African fiction has been influential in the understanding of Africa by other authors.
Call to wisdom
The flexibility and open-mindedness in Achebe’s work are evident throughout the novel. He positively embraces adaption of new possibilities and retainal of African culture. In the book, he has shown characters who survived the European culture and retained their tradition since their perception of culture was deep-rooted. Survival from being brainwashed by the European culture is assisted by the utilization of possibilities rather than ignore them or adhere to them. The phrase ‘Take what is important and disregard the unimportant’ is embraced in the novel. The flexibility, ability to retain and collect information is what makes Chinua’s literature exemplary and a depiction of wisdom.
Chinua’s novel associates recklessness, impatience, and rigidity with lack of wisdom. Okonkwo in the book is seen as the most rigid character to his understanding of the culture and traditions. In the attempt to express the consequences of rigidity, Chinua tells us of Okonkwo’s withdrawal from his culture and expresses him as confused due to his inability to survive the European’s approach to culture. Chinua believes in the protection of one’s cultural heritage that’s why he is perceived to be against colonialism and the exploitation it poses to the people of Umuofia and the Igbo society (Achebe, Critical Insights: Things Fall Apart 206). Obsessive adherence to culture is consequential and Chinua proposes adjusting to changing times with wisdom and respect to the African culture. His idea is based on the understanding that change is inevitable and at times tough to control.
Obirieka in the novel would be termed as Chinua’s voice of wisdom. He questions the inappropriateness of certain cultures and terms them irrelevant for the good of the society. Obirieka has the understanding that the traditions of a society can sometimes be unbeneficial and hurt the people it intends to lead (Achebe 56). However, he still believes in his originality and African setting as it is his nationalism, which he ought not to disassociate himself from. Adherence to nationalism, respect to beneficial cultures and selective change are the vital depictions of wisdom in Igbo society.
Feminism is a theme that cannot be ignored in the novel. Chinua has been able to portray both gender’s role in the novel. Okonkwo is the representation of masculinity and the character that brings about the conflict between the masculine and feminine sides. Okonkwo’s lack of respect for women is the main feminism conflict in the novel. He frequently beats his wife and ignores the fact that women ought to be respected. He only associates with his daughter Ezinma since he perceives her as a boy and not because he respects the female gender. Gender influences in the book are extensively based on masculinity rather than a combination of both. The book assumes that the male gender is a representation of the Africans. The book expansively focuses on masculine characters and activities and demeans women’s representation of character.
Despite the male biasness in the book, female characters have been associated to peace and hope. Okonkwo’s daughter Ezinma is the only person her father relates so well and not his son. The female gender here is a tool of understanding and reconciliation to the society. Women in Igbo society were the people who initiated cultural traditions and passed the tradition stones through the villages. This makes women tools of tradition and portrays their pride in the African culture authenticity. In the novel, Okonkwo’s wife, Kefir, defends her daughter from the undesirable culture of sacrificing her. The sympathy and parental love in women is so evident in the novel as compared to Okonkwo who was willing to give up their daughter for the sacrifice. Even though there is so much emphasis on masculinity, Chinua has not completely disregarded women superiority in the novel. He most of the time depicted the goodness and purity in women’s character in the novel. He has criticized Okonkwo’s character in the novel, which makes the male superiority in the novel less conspicuous.
Sense of history
Chinua encourages African writer to venture in historical unfolds of the world rather than indulge in fantasy literature. He depicts the truthful picture of his society through his narrative and imaginative skills (Baah 1). In the novel, he shows Okonkwo’s friend, Obierika, as skeptical and questions Okonkwo’s traditional rigidity. He questions why Okonkwo in banished for a crime and why he had to throw away his wife’s twin children. Chinua expresses the disagreement in the culture through Obierika’s inquisitiveness. He narrates that Obierika questions why a man of the title would be forbidden to do anything in the society since Okonkwo, a titled man, is forbidden from climbing palm trees. He does not understand why the society disregards freeness of activities and character.
Ogbuefi Ezeudu is also depicted as an inquisitive character in the novel. He falls back from his earlier belief that people who die in another village should be cast into the evil forest. This was a tradition that was adhered to during the week of peace. He rethought the tradition and now considers it a fall back in the way the society is conducting its traditions and customs. Other practices such as the exclusion of disease victims and arguing over dowry prices are also controversial traditions in the society.
Chinua’s proficiency is unique in the sense that he terms the African culture legitimate and at the same time questions the authenticity and sincerity of the culture through a depiction of the Igbo cultural heritage. His ability to double articulate in the novel and delegitimize the customs that do more harm than good is critical in revealing the true African setting. He makes the reader understand that imperfections are expected but do not mean that it is not possible for the imperfections to be changed. His honesty can be seen throughout the novel as he gives a balanced view of the African tradition, both weaknesses, and strengths.
Things Fall Apart is a story of the people of Umofia village not a story on Okonkwo. Chinua’s concentration on Okonkwo as the main character has made the essence of the African heritage through the society is demeaned. The book concentrates more on Okonkwo that it depicts the structure of the Igbo society and the Umofia village. More than half of the novel is a creation of Okonkwo being tied to the community rather than how the community influences Okonkwo. The novel from the beginning depicts Okonkwo’s life and his struggles in creating the stability between individual desires, Igbo society customs, and the European interventions. Each character in the book is a tool to convey a message to the world regarding African literature and the originality of the literature, whether positively or negatively. Umofia is the place where the beliefs of the people were oriented and the village was the host of all rituals, ceremonies, and traditions. The use of one village to generalize an entire continent is impractical since the difference in circumstances is experienced.
The novel is termed as one of the best African literature in the world. Chinua has been able to deliver the complexity of characters and simplicity of understanding the book. The novel tells the story from the African perspective rather than a European setting, which shows uniqueness in his way of writing (Fanon 373). Okonkwo in the book is depicted as a complex character, whose role can be differently interpreted through the different experiences he has. The setting of the book in Nigeria gives an automatic reflex that the book is a reflection of the entire African continent. The introduction of colonialism in Nigeria is an imagery of colonialism in all African countries. Colonialism is a stage almost all African countries went through to realize their freedom as a nation. The staging of the book in pre-colonial and post-colonial environments gives insights on the colonialism positive and negative effects to the Africans.
In conclusion, Things Fall Apart has plays an instrumental role in introducing African literature to readers throughout the world. It disapproved the Western novelists’ stereotypes of Africa as a savage continent. The complexity and thoughtfulness he portrays in the book is a realization of Africans’ recognition of themselves. Cultural rivalry depictions in the book reveals the conflict between the European influences and African culture in the Igbo society. The clear revelation of customs and traditions before the colonialism and after is an indication of the change brought by European intervention. The novel opposes cultural heritage disrespect and maintains that the beliefs of the people ought to be passed to generations. Chinua reveals wisdom in the novel as a tool of the few and is characterized by adaptation to new possibilities, flexibility, and open-mindedness. He goes ahead in realization of the female contribution to the African tradition. However, male biasness is dominant in the novel with masculinity being a representation of the entire African experience. Chinua seems to value nationalism through loyal to culture. He gives a go ahead to African writers to write about their history and explore their originality as they create their literature. Achebe’s work has been criticized by many scholars, all with the intention to realize and interpret their role and understanding of the book.
- Achebe, Chinua. Critical Insights: Things Fall Apart. Ed. Keith Booker. Vol. 1. University of Arkansas, 2010. —. Things Fall Apart. London: Heinemann Educational Bool Ltd, 1958.
- Aggarwal, Ruchee. “Chinua Achebe’s “Things fall apart”; colonialism versus tradition.” Indian Journal of Applied Research 3.4 (2011): 221-222.
- Baah, Robert. “Things Fall Apart: Chinua Achebe.” Seattle, Washington: Seattle Pacific University, 1999.
- Fanon, Frantz. In Literature in the Modern World: Critical Essays and Documents. Ed. Dennis Walder. 2nd. Oxford University Press, 2004.
- McLuckie, Craig W. “Conversations with Chinua Achebe, and: Understanding Things Fall Apart: Selected Essays and Criticisms, and: Understanding Things Fall Apart: A Student Casebook to Issues, Sources, and Historical Documents (review).” Research in African Literatures 31.1 (2000): 181-184.