Things Fall Apart As A Postcolonial Novel
Discuss Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe as a postcolonial novel.
Chinua Achebe's novel Things Fall Apart is a great example of a literary work that intentionally situates a colonized people as the cultural norm while depicting the colonizing people as outsiders - or as "the other."
A key to understanding many of the 20th century critical and literary movements like postcolonialism is found in the notion of "the other." Essentially this term refers to groups that are perceived or portrayed as being outside of a cultural norm in a given discourse (that discourse might be exemplified in literature or political speech).
The concept of "the other" is central to the critique presented by critical schools that sought to counter-balance a widespread cultural perspective in the arts that was seen to favor Western white males over other demographics. Simply put, postcolonialism suggests that there are a number of negative effects that stem from an unchallenged bias in favor of a single (economically dominant) group.
"As more and different people began to assert their own rights to explore their heritage and express their identities, critics began to expose the ideological underpinnings of the literary canon and how those underpinnings served one group of people while excluding another" (eNotes).
Presuming that the white male perspective is the only normal perspective, postcolonialism suggests, leads to a dangerously skewed worldview wherein morality is presumed to be "owned" by the dominant group.
In novels like Things Fall Apart the colonizing group participates in this presumption, assuming that the changes they bring to the tribe are good almost by default. The beliefs and values of the white colonizers are "good" in their eyes because they represent the values of the normative group.
What happens when we see the world through a different lens? What happens when we see the Igbo as the normative group?
"Although the novel is narrated in the third person, the sympathetic point of view is located within the Igbo culture, and the reader gradually comes to accept this perspective as natural" (eNotes).
When the moral norms are situated within the colonized group (the Igbo), the presumptions of right and righteousness of the colonizers is challenged. The actions of the colonizers cannot be automatically validated simply by virtue of the fact that they have guns and money. By depicting the colonizing whites as "the other," Achebe's novel enacts the challenge raised by postcolonialism against a worldview wherein one demographic stands as a universal norm.
Morality is not "owned" by the colonizers in Achebe's novel. The Igbo have customs and cultural mores that define their lives and their moral sensibilities. It is the Igbo's point of view that stands as the norm in the novel. The colonists are clearly identified as "the other" as we see in this late passage in the novel.
Here the District Commissioner asks Obierika why the tribe does not take down Okonkwo's body after he has killed himself.
“Why can’t you take him down yourselves?” he asked.
“It is against our custom,” said one of the men. “It is an abomination for a man to take his own life. It is an offense against the Earth, and a man who commits it will not be buried by his clansmen. His body is evil, and only strangers may touch it. That is why we ask your people to bring him down, because you are strangers.”
The primary objective of postcolonialist literature is to transcend the destruction of colonialism on various cultures--in particular, considering the "civilization" of "savage" societies. This theme is common in colonial and postcolonial literature and generally blurs the distinguishing lines between what--and who--is civilized and what--or who--is not.
Achebe's Things Fall Apart is a postcolonial novel in that the author portrays the African Igbo as possessing of not only their own form of leadership and government, but also as a group of multiple systems one might expect to find in common Western civilizations. By showing the destruction of the community following colonization, Achebe suggests that it is this "civilizing" aspect which has destroyed the African village. In other words, they are on the opposite ends of a spectrum of extremes; while some aspects of Western civilization would have been useful to the African village, too much of it tipped them over the abyss. As postcolonialism attempts to create a balance between past cultures and "progressive" cultures, this novel set forth a precedent of caution and moderation.