Chinua Achebe's novel Things fall apart as a response to the negative portrayal of Africans
Keywordsdekolonizacija, drugi, postkolonialna literatura, esencializacija
History of scholarship and learning. The humanities
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AbstractMarx’s adage »Th ey cannot represent themselves, they must be represented « (»Sie können sich nicht vertreten, sie müssen vertreten werden«) in »Th e 18th Brumaire of Louis Napoleon,« which Edward Said in turn quoted at the beginning of his book Orientalism, still held for colonial Africa up to 1952. At the time, a class of Nigerian students at Ibadan University, including Chinua Achebe, were discussing Joyce Cary’s latest book Mister Johnson. Cary’s work, together with Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, epitomized a tradition more than a century long of negative portrayals of Africans. Th e slave trade from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century spawned a »literature of degradation« in relation to Africa, which represented Africans as objects devoid of any personality, removed from the world of reason or time. Essentialized texts of an invented Other, which travelers would read before encountering the unknown, the threatening, and the remote, generally acquired a greater credibility than the description of an actual reality. In time, the dominant narrative gave rise to a tradition, or what Foucault terms a »discourse.« Given that Achebe’s fi rst novel, whose publication sparked an incident at Ibadan University in 1952, was in itself an act of rebellion and a form of rejoinder to the colonial representation of Africans, it is understandable that the absence of personality, historicity, and understanding are integral to his novels. Writing an »African« novel or »anti-novel« meant transcending the »objectivity« of colonial discourse and drawing into one’s consciousness the history and culture of the Igbo people (primarily from southeast Nigeria), although the description of pre-colonial society at the moment of its fi rst contact with the white man does not imply a nostalgic return to the past, as is notable for instance in the négritude movement. Th e potency of Achebe’s novel lies in the fact that by invoking Igbo culture he has turned the colonial perception of Africans as inferior on its head, although the anti-colonial dialectics are intimately bound up with his representation of the African woman. Achebe’s women are marginalized just as in Fanon’s work – the novel Th ings Fall Apart is in some ways a response to Fanon’s theoretical work Th e Wretched of the Earth. Women in Achebe’s trilogy Th ings Fall Apart, No Longer at Ease, and Arrow of God have above all a symbolic and metaphorical role, being represented as the mother of the land, whereas men are individual fi gures. Th is representation of women is linked to the fact that the fi rst two novels, which were written before the independence of Nigeria in 1960, develop the idea of the national struggle for liberation, which reaffi rms the humanity and manhood of the colonized, whereas colonialism only assigned to Africans the attributes of children or at best those of women. In Achebe’s favor, one can say that Okunkwo, as the reincarnation of the social ideal of manhood, is continually fi ghting with the basic tenet of both the preceding (i.e., his father’s) and future (i.e., his son’s) generation, and that of women, no less, which is only fully realized in Achebe’s last novel Th e Anthills of the Savanna. Many African women writers, including Flora Mwapa, Ama Ata Aidoo, Buchi Emecheta, Mariama Bâ, and Mabel Segun, later »corrected« Achebe’s representation of women.