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The elements of Post Modern Literature in "Things Fall Apart" by Chinua Achebe

Essay 2020 7 Seiten

Amerikanistik - Literatur



20th century, is known for the beginning of the Second World War in 1939, which ended only six years later in 1945. As is well known, the consequences of such wars are terrifying. Among them, we can mention the destruction of some of the greatest empires of time, damages in economy, industry, politics, and so on. Despite these fateful situations, at the end of the 20th century, postmodernist literature was developed.

This type of literature deals more with the psychology of characters and also the readers, reflect the bitter reality of the time and was more characterized by pessimism. If modernist writers at the end of the day, see a light at the end of the tunnel, this did not happen with post-modernist writers. In this essay, I will make an analysis of the elements of this literature, in one of Chinua Achebe's most famous works, Things Fall Apart.

Pastiche, refers to other works, but instead of mocking with that piece of literature, like parody does, pastiche promotes it. For example:

“Turning and turning in the widening gyre The falcon cannot hear the falconer; Things fall apart; the center cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.”

This is a stanza written by William Butler Yeats, in his poem The second coming. In this poem, Yeats represents a hope that people have, for salvation. They are waiting for Jesus Christ return. In the third verse the author writes, things fall apart; the center cannot hold; so now everything is heading towards destruction. He continues to say that anarchy has already conquered the world and does not look forward to change.

The same happens in the novel of Achebe, for the main character Okonkwo, who is stuck and see no resolution. The center of his world is changing and he doesn’t feel like belonging there anymore. It is obvious that for people of Nigeria, the second coming, is the coming of British.

The aforementioned stanza, can also be considered as intertextuality but we can also say that this novel has some references from the history also. Is well known, the invasion of Nigeria by British government. I mentioned British government, because in the beginning they didn’t came with the intention for a war, but just tending to spread their culture and religion. What is interesting in Post Modern Literature, is the fact that authors separate present from the past and they mock with it. For example, by comparing two cultures, Nigerian culture and European one, the author stress out the fact, that how far behind is one from the other. In Nigeria of that period, we can see wild people, who have no idea of civilization, and still are depend on the past and their traditions.

“He had already chosen the title of the book, after much thought: The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger.”

In this quote we see how the commissioner, consider Nigerian people and their traditions. He consider these people as primitive, whom at the end, decided to follow the right way, the way of civilization.

Chinua Achebe was born in 1930 in Eastern Nigeria, so we can say that he knows pretty well what he’s talking about. In Things Fall Apart he is trying to make a display of the reality of Nigerian’s Tribes, but actually his book is fiction. Some invented situations set in real events from the past. The author is trying constantly to tell the reader, that not everything is at it seems to be.

“And at last the locusts did descend. They settled on every tree and on every blade of grass; they settled on the roofs and covered the bare ground. Mighty tree branches broke away under them, and the whole country became the brown-earth color of the vast, hungry swarm.”

In this quote, the author is using words to show the coming of British armies. They settled on every tree and every blade of grass, with this author wants to point out that they were everywhere and they were much in number, but this can’t really happen. In this case we are dealing with metafiction .

Irony is also present in all book. Since from the beginning, Okonkwo, dislikes his father and refuses to be like him, but trying to change himself, at the end we see that he’s a weak character also. Killing himself, is not a sign of strength, as he pretended to be. Another irony is the give of the child, Ikemefuna, as a sign of peace, but at the end again they ask Okonkwo to kill him. Ikemefuna, was his beloved one, even though he had a child of his own. Now he has to kill, maybe the only person that he loved most. At the end of the story, Okonkwo’s son dismiss the religion of his father and joins to Christianity.

Another characteristic of Post Modern Literature is fragmented characters. For the character of Okonkwo, we can say that he is both traditional and modern. It is easy to spot traditional elements of Okonkwo but there are also a few modern ones. He is very strict according to the corruption of society and social forces. This wouldn’t be a big issue for a primitive person like he was, but still this thing bothers him and he doesn’t allow it. Still, his character is not completed, but also influenced. One good example is also the fact that he wants to change himself. This means that he doesn’t show completely his character but has some hidden issues. Another thing we can say for Okonkwo, is that he presents a typical post modern character. As I mentioned before, post moderns doesn’t see light at the end of the tunnel, there is no hope for them. Same happens with him. Okonkwo, doesn’t see salvage in British invasion, he do not accept to convert into Christian, but the only way he find out is killing himself. If we take a look to some of most known authors who committed suicide, we see that some of them suffered from paranoia or some others couldn’t make peace with their lives.

Same thing happened also with Okonkwo. He was paranoiac that he could be like his father and no one would respect him. He was paranoiac about of the loss of tradition because the Christian religion was spread all over the place. In a kind of way he was paranoiac about himself. He was weak like his father and in a kind of way he understood that Christianity was the right way to follow, just like in the quote below.

Perhaps down in his heart Okonkwo was not a cruel man. But his whole life was dominated by fear, the fear of failure and of weakness. It was deeper and more intimate than the fear of evil and capricious gods and of magic, the fear of the forest, and of nature, malevolent, red in tooth and claw. Okonkwo’s fear was greater than these. It was not external, but lay deep within himself. It was the fear of himself, lest he should be found to resemble his father. Even as a little boy he had resented his father’s failure and weakness, and even now he still remembered how he had suffered when a playmate had told him that his father was agbala. That was how Okonkwo first came to know that agbala was not only another name for a woman, it could also mean a man who had taken to title. And so Okonkwo was ruled by one passion – to hate everything that his father Unoka had loved. One of those things was gentleness and another was idleness.

So far we have known the situation and the sacrifices that Oknkwo had to do in order to gain strength, respect and to be a leader. A hyperreal element in this novella is the presence of Gods and more specifically the God Chi. Anytime that the main character was about to fight or take any decision he was calling the name of this God, and he was safe. It was like Okonkwo had a special connection with Him, or maybe this is used as an element for the closed connection that he had with his religion and tradition. Still, this stands as the element of hyperreality .

As I mentioned at the beginning, Post Modern Literature, was developed after the World War Second. This is important about the situation, because most powerful countries were now over the less powerful ones. In Things fall apart we are dealing with colonization. This is still, a kind of hegemony of the powerful country, as was Britani, over Nigeria. At the beginning, Britain came up with the idea to invade this country not by war, but by spreading their culture and religion. We may raise the question, what is culture? To answer it, culture has to do with language, tradition, rituals, the way how these people dress up. So, everything that are characteristic for a country. And what is religion? Religion is about people’s belief. By changing those characteristics, British, were trying to change these people, to lose their identity. By losing the identity of the people, step by step, with be the country which will lose the identity. So it is same in modern world, with the invasions of most powerful countries and it was same with colonization. This is seen in this quote:

“Does the white man understand our custom about land?”

“How can he when he does not even speak our tongue? But he says that our customs are bad; and our own brothers who have taken up his religion also say that our customs are bad. How do you think we can fight when our own brothers have turned against us? The white man is very clever. He came quietly and peaceably with his religion. We were amused at his foolishness and allowed him to stay. Now he has won our brothers, and our clan can no longer act like one. He has put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart.”



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Titel: The elements of Post Modern Literature in "Things Fall Apart" by Chinua Achebe