The Education of a British-Protected Child

by Chinua Achebe

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Why do you think Chinua Achebe began his lecture with his history of rejection from Cambridge?  

Achebe mentions his rejection from Cambridge because he says it is the reason why he is not “a clear-cut scholar.” This rejection set him on the track to becoming a novelist instead of writing scholarly essays.

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Chinua Achebe opens by saying that he hopes his readers do not expect his work to be that of a scholar. He goes on to explain that labeling him a scholar is a mistake because he was not given the chance to study at Cambridge when he applied in 1954. He recounts this pivotal moment in his life by saying:

I missed the opportunity of becoming a clear-cut scholar forty years ago when Trinity College, Cambridge, turned down my application to study there after I took my first degree at the new University College, Ibadan.

Achebe likely describes this moment in his life because it influenced how he saw himself as an intellectual. It also marked a turning point in his life track. He says that after the rejection, he “stayed home and became a novelist." The rejection thus kickstarted his career in writing books and, as he puts it, is the reason why readers are reading his childhood story today and not a scholarly essay.

He also uses the year he got rejected from Cambridge as a reference point for other pivotal moments in his life. For instance, he explains that “in 1957, three years after my failed Cambridge application, I had my first opportunity to travel out of Nigeria.” This was an important moment in his life because he began to understand the status of a “British Protected Person.” Had he had gotten the opportunity to attend Cambridge three years earlier, this matter would have come up before. The Cambridge story thus also helps readers understand his age and perspective when he began to learn about his global status as someone influenced by colonialism.

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