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Things Fall Apart

by Chinua Achebe

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Explain how Raymond William's ideas in "Tragedy and Revolution" relate to Things Fall Apart.

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Raymond Williams was much influenced by Karl Marx in his criticism, but he thought that many of his fellow Left-leaning critics were too optimistic in their view of revolution. Revolution, he argues, is generally understood by Marxists as a process of liberation, breaking the chains of oppression and moving towards a brighter future. In practice, however,

Revolution is always a dialectical process where revolution undergoes inversion in counter-revolution.

Because revolution so often turns into "a new experience of oppression and terror," it is best understood in tragic terms. Williams spends a long time defining precisely what he means by tragedy, a term which he thinks has become confused by the vernacular use of the word "tragic" to refer to any sad event. Ancient Greek tragedy portrayed the suffering of an individual in conflict with fate or the gods. Modern tragedy, Williams believes, shows the individual suffering in the process of social transformation, which he does not understand and is powerless to prevent.

It is clear that Okonkwo in Things Fall Apart is precisely the type of modern tragic hero envisaged by Williams. The book describes a revolution which certainly has its positive side. Life in Umuofia is harsh and brutal, as demonstrated by the fate of Ikemefuna. Nonetheless, there is tragedy in the transformation of traditional Igbo culture, and Okonkwo is as powerless as Oedipus to alter his destiny.

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