World Literature, Week 3

Sorry! Sorry!––I did not forget about you. This last week of September has ended more with a bang than a whimper.

Anyway, here are some resources we use for discussion of Things Fall Apart.

1) Postcolonial Criticism. As we explore World Literature from a 21st c. perspective, we begin to consider the field of Postcolonial Criticism or Postcolonial Literature/Studies: “the study of the interactions between European nations and the societies they colonized in the modern period” (source). In Things Fall Apart, we see the beginnings of British rule in Nigeria. This gets into issues of translation, as well, which we should explore in a future class (most of the works for this class, after all, have been translated; the writer makes a political decision to either write in English or to write in a native language). I think the most important questions in postcolonial criticism become: How did the experience of colonization affect those who were colonized while also influencing the colonizers? What influence is left from the European nations during these modern times of postcolonialism? (That is, after these once-colonized countries have gained their independence: how are European influences still seen in these independent nations? (This leads to the first paper students write for the course, which I’ll post next week.)

2) As we shared resources this week on Pre-Colonial, Colonial, and Post-Colonial (Modern) Nigeria, one student noted the Library of Congress site (“Country Studies: Nigeria”) as being an excellent reference. (And it is, James; it is.)

3) I also usually mention The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver (one of my favorite novels–and one of Oprah’s!), the story of a missionary family who move from Georgia to the Belgian Congo in 1959. This polyphonic narrative (“a story of many voices”) tells the tale of their struggles and the struggles of the country itself (as it achieves independence) through the perspectives of the four Price daughters and their mother. You can read an excerpt here.

I also sometimes give them Chris Abani’s essay “The Lottery” (from The New York Times), which discusses the mob violence he witnessed as a child in Nigeria during the 1970s.

4) A few questions for consideration in writing: 1. How does Yeats’ poem “The Second Coming” (from which the title for Things Fall Apart comes) relate to Achebe’s novel? What are themes/messages that are similar in both works? 2. The chi or personal spirit is a recurring theme in the novel: a spiritual belief important to understanding the main character Okonkwo. Interpret this proverb, spoken of Okonkwo: “When a man says yes his chi says yes also” (27/Ch. 4). Trace further references in the novel to the chi (hint: Chapter 14). What role does Okonkwo’s chi play in shaping his destiny? 3. Consider Aristotle’s definition of tragedy and the tragic hero. In what ways do you see the plot of Things Fall Apart and the protagonist (main character) Okonkwo as adhering to conventions of Western tragedy and the tragic hero? In what ways might they depart from Aristotle’s definition?

4) Question for the comments section: What was the most significant passage/scene in the novel? (Many students choose Okonkwo’s exile. Some others, of course, when the missionaries arrive. What do you think?)

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