‘Things fall Apart’

early 20th century, Lagos, Nigeria --- A meeting of colonial administrators with tribal messengers from the interior in Lagos, Nigeria. --- Image by © Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS

Things fall Apart is Achebe’s first novel. Published in 1958, two years before Nigeria gained independence from the British rule, the novel portrays life in an Igbo village, Umuofia, in the 1890s and the dramatic consequences of the changes introduced by colonialism and Christianity.

achebe-600x900

The protagonist, Okonkwo, is a great wrestler, renowned warrior and hardworking member of the community. He is not a very likeable character, so one expects a Schadenfreude novel; the rise and fall of such a ruthless man. Okonkwo attempts to achieve prestige and status by accumulating wealth. Also, as a warrior, he is always willing to display the maximum cruelty, which he also does in his own household, to ‘control the womenfolk’. He feels he is destined for greatness and seeks to distance himself from his father, whom he regards as a failure and an ‘effeminate’ man. He reacts against his father’s perceived weakness by being a ‘hyper masculine’ man who rejects his feminine side, upsetting the Earth goddess Ani. He controls his family through anger, beats his wives and despises his son Nwoye, who reminds him of his father. In order not to appear as a weak man, he even kills Ikemefuna, a boy taken from Mbaino as a compensation for the murder of a daughter of Umuofia in order to avoid war. Ikemefuna lives in Okonkwo’s compound, in his first wife’s hut together with Nwoye, for some years and regards Okonkwo as a father. Okonkwo himself grows fond of the boy, who is the kind of son he always wanted and a role model for Nwoye. Ikemefuna’s death, along with certain customs that he could not accept, eventually leads Nwoye to embrace Christianity and to turn his back on his family and traditions.

2243171_ibo_jpeg0e68c182df9b69228b6537ba9a331e9c

After an accidental death caused by Okonkwo’s gun during the Yam Festival, he is barred from Umuofia for seven years, during which Christian missionaries arrive and establish themselves in Umuofia. Christians are granted ‘all the land they wish’, but within the Evil Forest; the place where Umuofians get rid of unwanted sets of twins (whom they regards as an abomination), lepers, outcasts and the mutilated bodies of the ogbanje (children who die during infancy only to be reborn from the same mother over and over). They expect the Christians to die there, but they build their church and start gaining support from the osu (outcasts), the mothers of twins and unsuccessful men who are looked down on in Umuofia.

Missionaries-430x270

He returns from exile only to witness how Christianity has divided Umuofia and how a colonial government is taking root, debunking the ancient customs and laws. Some of the Christian converts, raised in the belligerent Igbo culture, wish for a religious war but they are prevented to act out by the priest. However, some of them challenge their former religion actively. The Christian convert Enoch unmasks an egwugwu, a masquerader representing an ancestral spirit, killing the spirit. The egwugwu then retaliate and destroy Enoch’s compound as well as the church, and the leaders of the community –Okonkwo among them- are jailed and whipped. They are released after paying a fine. When the traditionalist Igbo gather to mourn the abominations suffered by the ancient gods, some colonial officers arrive to disperse the crowd. Okonkwo draws his machete and decapitates the court messenger. But the divided community fails to rise in defense of traditional life, so Okonkwo retreats and hangs himself, committing the ultimate offence against the Earth goddess.

Advertisements

The Lake Poets

The Lake Poets became known as such when Francis Jeffrey used the term in one of his articles on literary criticism. Derogatorily intended, this expression alluded their sectary nature. They were regarded as radical and antisocial, and blamed for using ordinary language and themes in their poetry. The term prospered and it has been systematically used to this day. The three components of this group are considered Romantic poets, due to their interest in the unusual and the supernatural. Each of them had their own focus, though: Wordsworth the familiar, Coleridge the philosophical, and Southey travelling and adventure. The three poets shared a love for liberty and radical political convictions in their youth, sympathising with the French Revolution, although they turned more conservative as they grew older. The French Revolution meant the promise of a glorious renovation of society. It inspired Southey and Coleridge – who met in 1794 in Oxford – to plan a Utopian community in America called Pantisocracy – equal rule by all -, based on libertarian principles. Wordsworth and Coleridge met in 1795, and wrote Lyrical Ballads (1798) together, influencing each other greatly throughout their lives. The Wordsworth household was formed by William and his sister Dorothy, also a poet, relegated by literary history to a satellite position together with other authors. Her writings were not intended for publication, although she had a gift for precise observation and description that may surpassed that of William Wordsworth and Coleridge.

wordsworth+dorothy wordsworth

Wordsworth had chosen to describe the “humble and rustic life”, as in them “the essential passions of the heart find a better soil in which they can attain their maturity”. His works were not considered as radical because they embodied revolutionary thoughts, but because he sought to express values which stood apart from gentility and what he regarded as false sophistication. He even professed the ambition of beginning a literary reform. His main themes are the pastoral against the ugly background of industrialization, his love of nature and “emotion recollected in tranquility”.

coleridge

Coleridge was brilliant in his studies but as he grew older, he found little stimulation in them and fell in idleness, dissoluteness and debt. In accord to the medical prescription of the time, Coleridge had been taking laudanum from an early age in order to ease the physical pains and ailments that he suffered. As a result, he became an addict. He expresses his despair in Dejection: An Ode (1802), his farewell to health, happiness and poetic creativity. Despite his attempts at restoring his health, he continued with his habit, and withdrawal symptoms interfered in all his relationships. He survived for some time by giving lectures, writing for newspapers, etc. While addiction was a main driving force in his life, he usually adapted – or simply transcribed – passages from other writers in order to meet deadlines, and he was charged with plagiarism. Writings that required sustained planning were left unfinished or were made up of brilliant sections padded out with filler. In 1816 under Dr. Gillman’s supervision, he manages to control, although not to suppress his addiction. His remaining years he spent with Dr. and Mrs. Gillman.

robert southey

Robert Southey was expelled from Westminster School for criticising the practise of flogging in the school magazine. The incident was an instance of his revolutionary ideals which found expression in his first long poem Joan of Arc (1796). By then, he had already written The fall of Robespierre (1794) in partnership with Coleridge, with whom he also shared experiences such as taking part in experiments with nitrous oxide (laughing gas) in 1799. He also wrote travel books, composed by letters from his short residence in Port and Spain. The Doctor, published in 1837 contains the famour tale The Three Bears. Although he was praised by W. Scott and Lord Byron, and was appointed Poet Laureate in 1813, his poems does not seem to have passed the test of time, as he is now regarded by the critics as the most flat and less talented of the three.