Study Guide

Chinua Achebe

Chinua Achebe Essay - Achebe, Chinua (Vol. 11)

Achebe, Chinua (Vol. 11)

Introduction

Achebe, Chinua 1930–

See also Chinua Achebe Criticism (Volume 1), and Volumes 3, 5, 7, 26, 127.

Achebe, a Nigerian-born novelist, poet, short story writer, and author of children's books, is considered one of the finest contemporary African writers. In his works Achebe explores traditional tribal values and the cataclysmic cultural changes invoked through the influence of European colonization. Achebe is recognized as a consummate craftsman for his innovative use of language, notably his use of traditional Ibo proverbs given in literal English translation, evoking the clash between the two cultures.

Arthur Ravenscroft

[Things Fall Apart] is a short and extraordinarily close-knit novel which in fictional terms creates the way of life of an Ibo village community when white missionaries and officials were first penetrating Eastern Nigeria. The highly selective details with which Achebe represents the seasonal festivals and ceremonies, the religion, social customs, and political structure of an Ibo village create the vivid impression of a complex, self-sufficient culture seemingly able to deal in traditional ways with any challenge that nature and human experience might fling at it…. [The] greatest strength of Things Fall Apart is the tragic 'objectivity' with which Achebe handles a dual theme.

There are two main, closely intertwined tragedies—the personal tragedy of Okonkwo, 'one of the greatest men in Umuofia', and the public tragedy of the eclipse of one culture by another. (pp. 8-9)

Things Fall Apart is impressive for the wide range of what it so pithily covers, for the African flavour of scene and language, but above all for the way in which Achebe makes that language the instrument for analyzing tragic experience and profound human issues of very much more than local Nigerian significance….

Superficially No Longer at Ease seems merely to carry the themes of [Things Fall Apart] into the 1950s, but the differences of approach and treatment should warn against pressing the...

(The entire section is 557 words.)

Gerald Moore

[Achebe] has recreated for us a way of life which has almost disappeared, and has done so with understanding, with justice and with realism….

Achebe's Things Fall Apart, which appeared in 1958, was the first West African novel in English which could be applauded without reserve. (p. 58)

[Things Fall Apart] is an extremely well-constructed short novel, fully equal to its theme and written with confidence and precision. Achebe's theme is suggested in the Yeatsian title, but although he sees the disintegration of Ibo society as a communal and personal tragedy for those who lived through it, this does not in any way obscure his objectivity in describing that society as it was. (pp. 58-9)

Achebe's brief, almost laconic style, his refusal to justify, explain or condemn, are responsible for a good deal of the book's success. The novelist presents to us a picture of traditional Ibo life as just as he can make it. The final judgement of that life, as of the life which replaced it, is left to us. Only Achebe insists that we should see it as a life actually lived by plausible men and women before we dismiss it, with the usual shrug, as nothing but ignorance, darkness and death. His people win, and deservedly win, our full respect as individuals whose life had dignity, significance and positive values. (p. 59)

In dealing with Iboland sixty or more years ago [as he did in...

(The entire section is 601 words.)

R. Angogo

In his two books, Things Fall Apart and Arrow of God, Achebe uses a language I would like to refer to as 'Ibo in English'. Both these books share a rural side setting. They describe a relationship between society and individual. Achebe shows us how important communal life in Ibo was. We are presented with people who when supported by the society continue to live profitable and progressive lives, yet when they act as individuals, they meet with dead ends.

To show that the situation he is describing needs more than one person, Achebe in his two novels employs the style of conversation, which would be termed linguistically as casual-register. The casuality is seen through use of vocabulary that would be well known and recognised by everyone in the Ibo society. The imagery is local. (p. 2)

The adoption of casual conversational style gives the Oral literature taste, to Achebe's work. As a matter of fact, Achebe is recording the History of the Ibo. A lot of values found in the two novels mentioned above cannot be found in the society today….

Sometimes Achebe uses Ibo words with English sentences. Such form of style reminds us again and again that we are reading an Ibo story and that the Ibo vocabulary is not limited in explaining the Ibo Culture. (p. 3)

The ability to shape and mould English to suit character and event and yet still give the impression of an African story is one of the greatest of Achebe's achievements. It puts into the reader a kind of emotive effect, an interest, and a thirst which so to say awakens the reader. (pp. 3-4)

Achebe integrates character and incident through imagery that is tropical. Okonkwo's character is compared to roaring thunder; flamer of fire; as contrasted to Unoka the weakling who dies through ailing and Nwoye who is compared to 'Cold Ash', and a bowl of foo foo could throw him down. The positive abilities of Okonkwo show us the importance the Ibo attached to physical strength. It is through the use of proverb and similes that Achebe develops his theme on this subject. (p. 4)

Arrow of God has taken the same 'Ibo in English' dialogue-like style [as Things Fall Apart]. In fact Achebe's wise invention of the [District Commissioner's] book gives a setting for Arrow of God; because that is when the British Government has taken root in Nigeria and the D.C.'s book is being used for guidance in administration. It can be noted Achebe attaches a lot of importance to dialogue when he is representing a traditional Ibo society. Where dialogue fails, the means of communication is cut and destruction follows. Ezeulu's failure can be...

(The entire section is 1109 words.)

Philip Rogers

In Chinua Achebe's view, the African writer of our time must be accountable to his society…. To Achebe, it is 'simply madness' to think of art as pure and autonomous, happening by itself in an aesthetic void…. Each of Achebe's four novels has had an obvious (but never obtrusive) purpose. Things Fall Apart and Arrow of God both aim to show that the African past 'with all its imperfections—was not one long night of savagery from which the first Europeans, acting on God's behalf, delivered [Africans]'. The public problems of bribery and the osu caste are examined in No Longer at Ease; A Man of the People, his most purposeful novel, was written with the deliberate aim of providing 'a serious warning to the Nigerian people' about corruption in government and the cynicism of the masses…. Written during and shortly after the Nigerian Civil War, the poems [of Beware, Soul-Brother] are centrally concerned with the regeneration of belief after the blight of war…. In 'Beware, Soul-Brother' and implicitly throughout the collection he identifies the enemies of the public spirit and admonishes his readers to beware. And in the more personal poems of the collection, which dramatize the rebirth in the poet himself of hope for love, new life, and order, Achebe creates a representative spokesman, an exemplary persona whose experience realizes the goal Achebe seeks for his society as a whole, 'the regeneration of its deepest aspirations'. (pp. 1-2)

Achebe's recovery of spirit is sustained more through dessicating irony and indignation than a positive faith, and in the sequential ordering of the poems, is achieved only after an ordeal of horror, disgust, and cynicism.

The poems are arranged so as to suggest a chronological unfolding of perceptions, beginning with 'The First Shot' of the revolution…. The poem sharply contrasts the human time of historical 'first shots' with the mechanical time of real bullets…. Achebe foresees the moment when it will lodge 'more firmly than the greater noises ahead' (real bullets) 'in the forehead of memory', where of course, it will resume the pace of human 'striding' in the 'nervous suburb' of the mind. The contrast of historical and mechanical forces announces a central concern of these poems, exploring the kinship of things human and inhuman.

'Air Raid' further defines the contrasting modes of time seen in 'The First Shot'. 'A man crossing the road / to greet a friend / is much too slow'. 'His friend [is] cut in halves' by the 'bird of death' from the 'evil forest' of technology. The poem's juxtapositions are immediately and simply effective: the potential unity of two men coming together, crossing the road that separates all men, is set off against abrupt, literal division as the friend is cut in half; the flying shadow from technology's evil forest eclipses the full light of noon; human slowness is contrasted with the dreadful quickness of mechanism. (p. 2)

'Refugee Mother and Child' and 'Christmas in Biafra' are longer, more ambitious poems that attempt to evoke pathos through direct description of civilian casualties—mothers and starving children…. Although 'Refugee Mother and Child' and 'Christmas in Biafra' are perhaps the least successful poems in the collection, they are nonetheless important to its central themes…. Seen against the plaster immortality of the rosy-cheeked Jesus, the perishing child becomes 'a miracle of its own kind': his mortality emphasizes the vital humanity of his mother's devotion. The spectacle arouses in...

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Sola Soile

[In] Things Fall Apart the society is forced to give way to an inevitable change because of its violent collision with an alien institution. In Arrow of God, however, we have a more explosive situation of a society cleaving apart largely from its own internal strain. The latter novel illustrates the classic situation of a house divided against itself which, with or without any assistance from an external force, must collapse. To be sure the destructive colonial forces that we encounter in the first novel are still very much alive and thriving, but they now stand on the periphery of the doomed society, waiting on the wing to swoop down, like vultures, the moment the society commits harakiri. In...

(The entire section is 1442 words.)