What aspects of Things Fall Apart relate to intercultural theory, postcolonial theory, and/or theories of language contact and development?

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Chinua Achebe’s 1958 novel Things Fall Apart explores the complex Igbo culture of Nigeria in the wake of European colonialism. One of Achebe’s stated purposes of the novel was to introduce the complexities and richness of African culture to Western readers who often perceive African society as primitive or backward. Things Fall Apart explores the culture clash that occurs through lack of social interaction and misunderstandings between native Africans and Western society. These misunderstandings are directly tied to the legacy of colonialism in Africa. Language similarly intersects with culture and post-colonialism because it reflects cultural points of view and is also used as a tool of control.

Achebe also wrote this novel with his Nigerian people in mind. He said he wished to “help my society regain belief in itself and put away the complexes of the years of denigration and self-abasement.” This purpose directly relates to the scars left by colonialism. The characters Reverend James Smith and the unnamed District Commissioner reveal aspects of intercultural theory and Africa’s postcolonial struggles. Smith disregards African culture and religion, rejecting the idea that Nigerians retain elements of their native heritage. The District Commissioner has a patronizing attitude toward native tribes, seeing himself as a guide to bring them into the modern era. Achebe, however, depicts African culture as a complex system of religion, government, economics, arts, and justice. He also sought to portray a realistic account of Africa’s precolonial past, an account free of the typical stereotypes and distortions found in Western depictions. This novel does not, however, idealize the Igbo’s past or present culture as perfect. For example, the Africans criticize the Christians as being foolish. Achebe believes his people also need to realign their perceptions of themselves and Westerners.

Regarding language, Achebe chose to write this novel in English in order to reach a wide audience. However, he honors the Igbo language by including Igbo words, proverbs, metaphors, speech rhythms, and cultural ideas. He incorporates these elements seamlessly into the English text to bridge the linguistic and cultural divide his narrative centers around.     

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Things Fall Apart

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