Do you agree that Achebe shows an "awareness of the human qualities common to all men of all times and places" or do you find the novel only uniquely African and of its time?

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A2 English Literature,

James Beckett

Achebe’s style has been described as one of “remarkable economy and subtle irony… uniquely and richly African .. revealing Achebe’s keen awareness of the human qualities common to all men of all times and places”. Do you agree that Achebe shows an “awareness of the human qualities common to all men of all times and places” or do you find the novel only uniquely African and of its time?

“Things Fall Apart” by Chinua Achebe is a twentieth-century African tragedy written about the destruction of the African Igbo tribe by ‘white men’ from the west. The novel focuses on Africa’s gradual invasion by white Westerners and the effects of colonisation on specific individuals and groups within the society. The novel has many distinct African features that define the pre-colonial culture of the Igbo tribe. The very beginning of the novel describes an African festival, in which drums and flutes are being used whilst the spectators look on in awe,

“The drums beat and the flutes sang and the spectators held their breath.”

Achebe’s use of sensory language, such as the sounds of the instruments, gives the audience a greater sense of shared experience of what it was like to be part of the Igbo tribe. Achebe’s style of writing throughout the novel allows the audience to imagine being in the position of characters such as Okonkwo who had their common, traditional beliefs and rituals gradually overridden by the increasingly-dominant Western ideology.

Achebe uses simple language throughout the novel, particularly at the beginning and this reflects the simplicity of the African oral storytelling tradition. As most African stories were told in traditional verbal ways by illiterate people, the language used tended to be simple,

“Unoka went into an inner room and soon returned with a small wooden disc containing a kola nut, some alligator pepper and a lump of white chalk.”

Achebe uses this technique to provide some simple, vivid visual imagery for the reader, while making them aware of traditional African foods such as kola nuts. This type of sentence perfectly illustrates Achebe’s intentions of making this novel ‘uniquely African’.

Henrickson suggests “Things Fall Apart uses language and structures … that make its world seem familiar to Western readers; but questions whether it really is familiar to us.” Henrickson believes that the novel is there to provide an understanding of the African perspective of colonisation; however, he does not argue that the novel is relevant to us. This continues the debate of whether or not this novel is ‘uniquely African’. It is highly ironic that as a descendant of the colonised tribe, Achebe is writing this story in the language of the coloniser. This is done because English is the most widely learnt language in the world today and writing in English allows the book to reach a wider audience.

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Many of the themes of this novel are relevant to men of any period of time and culture, such as religion and status. Religion is important to the moral understanding of this novel as it places all men at an inferior level to Chielo, the Agbala, or possessor of the spirit of God of the tribe. Despite men being superior to women at the time the novel is set, Chielo humbles any man of the novel by possessing powers superior to mortal beings. The men in the novel all possess the human quality of respect and obedience. This is ...

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