Turning and Turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world…. W.B. Yeats “The Second Coming”
These words are the inspiration for the title of Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart.
Both Yeats and Achebe are in a certain sense Post-Colonialsts in that they are both challenge the imperialism of the so-called “mother” country, tyrannous, bullying England!
This is the place to define briefly what Post-Colonial means. It means, in fact, the writing produced by those countries who were colonized by the imperialist colonizers (for a good definition of the difference between “colonialism” and “imperialism” have a look at page 2017 in the Norton. Basically the Post-colonialists were writers/ artists/ musicians who dared to challenge the imperialists, dared to suggest that colonization had not been really beneficial. So Achebe’s novel is a challenge to the European mentality that saw itself as bringing enlightenment to darkest Africa. So why then is Achebe so against Conrad (as we saw on page 2035 of Norton?). It is because Achebe thinks that Conrad doesn’t really understand what was actually going on in Africa; Achebe thinks that Conrad’s vision is that of an outsider.
After reading Things Fall Apart I think it is hard not to agree partly with Achebe. Achebe’s unsentimentalized descriptions of the power, beauty and strength of the African tribes leaves Conrad’s descriptions for dead! Look at the wonderful descriptions of the feasts and rituals on pages 2632 and 2669 for example. Look also at the beautifully balanced way in which Achebe describes the flawed heroic protagonist Okonkwo on the first page of the novel (2617) and then compares him with his artist father Unoka. Clearly Unoka is something of a loser, but he has spirit, creativity and a wonderful relationship to his art…. So Achebe paints a very balanced and unbiassed view of his African characters.
Now Part 1 of this novel is all about the African Civilization…. unsentimentalized, it depicts the good, the bad and the ugly. Part II of the novel takes us into the unfeeling world of the colonizers (See pages 2673, 2677). They have come to impose their faith (2682) and don’t seem to understand anything of the true needs of the African tribes (2692). The last page of the novel 2705-06 presents a devestatingly ironic picture of the District Commisioner’s patronizing view of the tribal Africans about whom he is writing a book (which will no doubt earn him some kind of professorship back home!!!):
He had already chosen the title of the book, after much thought: The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger. (2706).
In tutorials this week we also looked briefly at the work of that other Post-colonialist, the Caribbean author Derek Walcott (page 2582). He is an amazing poet who explores the tensions in himself between black and white. We will hopefully have a chance to look at the poems “A Far Cry from Africa” (2580) and “The Glory Trumpeter” (2582) in tutorials this week.
Please come with all your questions!