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Literary Strategies and the use of Language in Chinua Achebe's

Things Fall Apart.

History: Oral tradition. It is important to firstly understand the historical

literary backdrop of Achebe's writings.

Nigerian literature has a long history in the oral tradition. Bade Ajuwon's
article explains:

Pre-literate Nigeria once enjoyed a verbal art civilization which, at its high
point, was warmly patronized by traditional rulers and the general public. At a
period when writing was unknown, the oral medium served the people as a
bank for the preservation of their ancient experiences and beliefs. Although
most Nigerians knew and could recount parts of their genealogy and local
history, only a few oral artists had the skill and stamina required to chant the
lengthy oral literature. The oral artists, freelancers or guild-associates,
enjoyed reverence as "keepers of the people's ancient wisdoms and beliefs."
These oral artists frequently entertained their audiences dramatically,
providing relaxation and teaching moral lessons.

In various parts of the country, novels developed around 1930. Centered

upon fantastic, magical characters of humans and fairies, Hausa novels,
called "non-realistic novels," were based on folktales.Igboland also saw a
growth in the number of novelists who expressed the distaste of their people
for the Christian missionaries.

A major shift in literary style from fantasy to realism resulted from the
founding of the University College of Ibadan in 1948. The calls for a new
literary style came from scholars educated in the western tradition at the
University. Conferences, journals, and newspapers urged the shift to realism.

Next question to ask: What made Achebe break away from the oral
tradition? Why did he choose the "novel" form to express his ideas
and why did he choose English?

1. The novel form had not been well-utilized by African literary scholars to
depict the psychology of colonisation from the African point of view.

How do we know this?

At the time, novel Mister Johnson stood out as one of the few books about
Africa. . Achebe saw the Nigerian hero as an "embarrassing nitwit," Achebe
detected in the Irish author's descriptions of Nigerians "an undertow of
uncharitableness ... a contagion of distaste, hatred, and mockery." Mister
Johnson, Achebe writes, "open[ed] my eyes to the fact that my home was
under attack and that my home was not merely a house or a town but, more
importantly, an awakening story." That was the instigater. By Joyce

Why English?

He insiststhat he writein English not to attract a wide international audience,

but simply because he had been educated in English. But he adds that his
use of English was inspired by his Igbo background.

Fanon quotes Michel Leiris, who supports Achebe's view.

" Their (negros) intellectual growth took place almost exclusively within the
framework of the French (in Achebe's case, it is English) language, and it
would be artifice for them to resort to a mode of speech that they virtually
never use now except as something learned."

It's like questioning Amitav Ghosh as to why he writes patriotic literature in

the colonizer's language. One way to answer this is because English is the
langauge he finds more comfortable since he has been educated through its

The very title of the novel comes from "The Second Coming", which is a poem
by Yeats, a poem that was taught in the university Achebe attended.
Education then, was one of the reasons Achebe picked English as a means of

That's one way of looking at it, the author's perspective. Let's get into the
colonized Negro's psychology when he toils to master the mother language,
in this case it being English. Analysing Fanon's argument; he says:

To speak a language is to take on a world, a culture. The Antilles Neegro who

wants to be white will be whiter as he gains greater mastery of teh cultural
tool that language is. Every colonized people, in other words, every people in
whose soul an inferiority complex has been created by the death and burial
of its local cultural originality- finds itself face to face with the language of teh
civilizing nation, that is, with the culture of the mother country. The colonized
is elevated above his jungle status in proportion to his adoption of the mother
country's cultural standards. He becomes whiter as he renounces his
blackness, his jungle.

Clearly, teh adoption of English by Achebe is seen as a product of a

psychological inferiority complex by Fanon. Further, Fanon says that "when
the negro adopts a language different from that of a group into which he was
borrn is evidence of a dislocation, a separation. The negro's inferiority
complex is particularly intensified among the most educated, who must
struggle with it unceasingly."
Question now to ask is: Is Achebe's literature dislocated? Has a "separation"
from the original Igbo culture occured? Fanon argues that even if in content
and matter, teh novel rewrites African history, the use of English by Achebe is
problematic for the reasons stated previously.

Section 3: Achebe's new literary "form" as devisedin Things Fall


Achebe has rightly been credited for developing techniques

through which he expands, complicates, or disturbs the European novel form,
these techniques frequently can be seen as incorporations of African cultural
From the title through to the end of the novel, Achebe integrates and
appropriates a mixture of traditional African and modern Western cultural
and literary elements. Achebe writes in English, the language of the
colonizer, but incorporates idioms, proverbs, and imagery that invoke the
Igbo tradition and culture into his prose in order to convey the experience of
African society under colonization and to force the reader to accept the story
he tells on his own terms. Achebe writes:ince Igbo people did not construct a
rigid and closely argued system of thought to explain the universe and the
place of man in it, preferring the metaphor of myth and poetry, anyone
seeking an insight into their world must seek it along their own way. Some of
these ways are folk tales, proverbs, proper names, rituals, songs, and
festivals". Achebe combines of oral narrative practiceswih novelistic devices
and structures—, thereby creating a new "form" of the novel. it deploys a
European genre, the English language,and the medium of print.
Let's look at the Igbo words used:

Agbala - woman, or man without title

Chi - personal spirit [explain these two only}
Egwugwu -- Foo-foo ,Harmattan, Ilo , Jigida, Obi,Ogene Osu - Ozo Uli.
Notice that these words do not have direct counterparts in the English
language. By retaining the dialect through the use of these words, Achebe
manages to not only refresh his cultural identity, he also highlights and
reveals the richness of his language to the European reader.

Further, complex customs are also described in the novel. Practices like:
Dry Season,Egwugwu ceremony, Engagement ceremony, Funeral ceremony,
Evil Forest Feast of the New Year, Palm-wine tapping, Polygamy, The concept
of Titles
Achebe depicts a society that is highly structured and layered. the novel
presents not onlythe portrait of an individual but also the portrait of a village,
and indeed a wholecivilization.

Section 5: Conclusion: Analysis of the rewrting of African history

through narrative.

Achebe’s declared intention is “teach [his] readers that their past—with all
its imperfections—was not one long night of savagery from which the
Europeans acting on
God’s behalf delivered them” The pre-colonial history of Igboland is depicted
in painstaking detail. Achebe shows both sides of the coin. Taking teh trope
of gender for example, Achebe illustrates that while women have tehir own
living space and unhappy wives can leave their husbands, wife beating is a
common practice, feminine and weak are synonymous. Further, Igboland has
a complex legal structure, with crimes divided into male and female, strict
proceedings against murder of a clansman, punitive measures against those
disturbing the week of Peace.

However, the shortcomings of this system are also highlighted, the killing of
Ikemefuna being the prime example. Ikemefuna is killed because of the
actions of a few members of his community, the punishment is misdirected
as the real killers of the woman go scotsfree. Thirdly, religion is painted as
highly layered, with it dictating the everyday lives of the people. Igbo religion
is well embellished with customs and lengthy ceremonies and people have an
innate belief in its workings. The shortcomings of such a religion however are
that ALL the fringe characters of teh novel, Nwoye and the unhappy wife for
example, are teh first recruits of teh missionaries. How a society and culture
treats its fringe actors helps one critique the society accurately. Clearly, Igbo
religion does not satisfy the minority groups and this is one of the reasons
why Cristianity was embraced.

The European conception ofIgbo society is reductive. This is clear from teh
ending of the novel where Okonkwo's story merits a meagre paragraph in the
Commisioner's book:The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of thelower Niger.
The Title of the book itself provides us with a lens in order view the European
mndset. The use of the words "primitive" and "pacification" clearly highlights
allusions to teh percieved "Darkness" and savagery of Africa and the self-
imposed burdnof Europe and teh christian White man to educate and
eliminate the savagery. Such a view is contested in the novel.

Achebe’s novel shows us that a traditional, oral storytelling culture such as

Igbo experiences its own uncertainty about the meaning of events, and his
representation of Christianity reminds us that contemporary Western culture
has its own superstitions and beliefs in higher powers. This juxtaposition of
both European and Ibo culture helps the reader to objectively analyze Ibo
history. Achebe is succesful in enlargening the lens through which African
history is viewed by the Europeans. He critiques as well as apreciates both
cultures through depiction.
The politicization of a such a move cannot go unnoticed. Achebe strives to
"repaint" mindsets and he does so through the medium of English, using the
medium of print. He not only rewrites the cultural history of Africa but
contributes to the reconstruction of its literary history also.


Nigerian Literature: Oral and Written Traditions, Laura C.Gardner.

An African Voice, Atlantic Unbound interview.

Okonkwo and the Storyteller:

Death, Accident, and Meaning in Achebe and Benjamin,Jonathan

On Color Prejudice, From Black skin, White skins : Franz Fanon.

Text: Things Fall Apart.