Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Things Fall Apart

Perspectives on Things Fall Apart

Given the multitude of works we have been reading on cultural perspective in our Theory and Methods class, one would think that the atmosphere presented in Chinua Achebe’s book would be very easy to process and digest. However, certain details in the book rub me the wrong way, so to speak.
The atmosphere of the story is fine. That is to say, it is not completely unfamiliar to me. Growing up, I would read story after story of African Folktales, so the setting of the tale is literarily familiar to me, as is the style of writing. The rhythm is different from what one would consider a standard Western work, with a non-linear narrative, and few works spared for unnecessarily elaborate descriptions. The voice of the narrator follows the speech patterns of the Umuofia people in the book, sprinkled with intermittent proverbs to provide the “palm wine for the words.”
It is specific aspects of the Umuofia culture that disrupt the narrative for me. The constant threat of war and the specific detail of Okonkwo’s drinking of palm wine out the head of his first war kill unnerve me, and though I remind myself that this is a different culture, it is still difficult to put aside my cultural bias and accept this as a part of life for these people. Perhaps it is so unnerving because it is a detail that coincides with part of the negative stereotype of Africa, in which the native inhabitants are war-like savages. To “civilized” sensibilities such a practice as beheading enemies in war as well as drinking from an enemy’s head are considered “savage” and “war-like” and I daresay contribute and validate at least part of the stereotype. That is not to say that such a generalization is accurate, but that it serves as a reminder that sometimes negative stereotypes—though not necessarily “fair” or “nice”—can be grounded in fact.

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