Mixed Asian American Identity in “The Night My Mother Met Bruce Lee” & “Country of Origin”

The primary focus of my research thus far has been in the fields of Asian American Studies and Critical Mixed-Race Studies. I am interested in examining the representation of mixed Asian Americans in literature, the scarcity of writings on mixed Asian Americans in comparison to other multiracial minorities, and how fictional writing portrays and speaks to the struggles of mixed Asian Americans in reality. My interest in this particular subject arose from my academic and personal readings of ethnic literature. I noticed that while many novels, essays, articles, etc. focus on the challenges of minorities in white majority societies (such as the United States), these works tend to emphasize the stories of non-Asian American communities, such as African American, Latinx, and Native American. Furthermore, writings on multiracial people, in comparison to monoracial folk, are scarce, especially mixed people of Asian American descent. I was thus intrigued by these observations and decided that I wanted my thesis to focus on the lack of representation of mixed Asian Americans in literature and what their experiences teach us.

I am specifically curious about how mixed Asian American characters create their own definitions of space, belonging, and identity, which are major tropes in mixed Asian American literature. It is generally agreed by writers and scholars that there is no fixed space for mixed Asian Americans, no place where they can feel like they belong, no common ground where they can share a culture and language. Identity crises usually ensue for mixed Asian Americans, with concepts such as race, culture, language, and nationality clashing against each other. This thus results in feelings of exclusion or having to choose a “side” to feel included. While I agree with this common view, I am curious to see if I can challenge it by arguing that mixed Asian Americans have the ability to resist choosing a race as well as a “half-and-half” identity and can instead be a part of two worlds.

To gain a better understanding of the struggles highlighted above (exclusion, identity crises, choosing a side, etc.), I will be examining two primary texts that go into detail about conflicting emotions over mixed racial identity. The first book is Paisley Rekdal’s The Night My Mother Met Bruce Lee: Observations on Not Fitting In. Published in 2000, this collection of autobiographical essays tells the story of how Rekdal embarks on a journey throughout several countries in Asia as well as in the United States to find out if she, the daughter of a Norwegian man and Chinese American woman, belongs anywhere. As she travels across the globe, Rekdal experiences various instances in which she is excluded from certain racial and social circles due to her status as a mixed race woman who was brought up in the United States. It is during these moments when Rekdal questions her identity and spirals further into a confusing pit of self-doubt.

In the essay “Americans Abroad,” Rekdal highlights a time when her nationality and ethnicity alienated her from the culture of her host family. One summer, while studying abroad in Kobe, Japan, Rekdal’s Japanese host family takes her to a Japanese festival where she discovers the joy of participating in a traditional dance. However, while Rekdal is able to imitate the dance moves just fine, her host sister, Fumiko, insists that “Americans cannot do Japanese dances…they are Japanese-style, not American style” (Ho 107). This leaves Rekdal stunned and frustrated because despite her ability to adapt and imitate, Fumiko makes it clear that Rekdal cannot call her dance style authentic or Japanese, simply because of where she comes from and what she looks like; it is clear that only Japanese people from Japan can perform the “true” dance. I am excited to close read the rest of the stories within this book because this moment in Japan is just but one example of exclusion within Rekdal’s collection of essays. I am curious to see how else Rekdal will use her multiple identities of race, culture, language, and nationality to question her place in the world and how her experiences are related to my questioning of mixed Asian Americans creating their own comfort zones.

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The other primary text that I wish to read is Don Lee’s Country of Origin. Published in 2004, this novel focuses on the complexities of identities, specifically race, culture, and nationality. Set in Tokyo, Japan in 1980, the story follows three characters who all wrestle with conflicting senses of belonging and loyalty: Lisa Countryman is half African-American and half Asian, Tom Hurley is half-Korean and half-white, and Kenzo Ota is full Japanese, but faces constant alienation within his own country due to his years spent in America. The lives of these three conflicted characters become intertwined when Lisa goes missing. Both Tom (an agent of the U.S. Embassy) and Kenzo (a local Japanese cop) are assigned to the case to find Lisa. As they probe deeper into the investigation, they discover that Lisa has vanished into the dark underground world of Tokyo’s sex trade. But this novel is more than just a crime solving detective story: as noted above, it is a tale that highlights the struggles of mixed race and national identity, with the three protagonists trying to figure out who they are and where they belong.

Out of all three character arcs, Kenzo’s story stands out as he is not a person of mixed heritage yet is nevertheless portrayed as one. In a passage of the novel, his four years abroad in America are described as thus: “the American schoolkids had teased him mercislessly about his broken English and his slanty-eyed dogeater tapehead Jap looks” (Lee 47). Kenzo’s time outside of Japan is certainly difficult and sad to read, but it is even more disheartening when we find out what happens upon his return to his homeland: “reentering the Japanese educational system in Kobe, Kenzo had been ridiculed more than he had been in America. He now spoke Japanese like a gaijin [foreigner]. He had difficulty catching up in school, despite attending juku, cram school” (Lee 47). Even though Kenzo is first and foremost a native of Japan and has no claim to another ethnicity or race, he is treated like an outsider in his own country. This is a unique struggle to read and is also relevant to the mixed race crisis. I am therefore looking forward to reading about the challenges that Lisa and Tom must face and how they shape their own paths and identities in a world where everyone seems to force them to choose a side. I believe that their stories and the themes of the novel will tie in well with my interest in seeing how mixed Asian Americans deal with issues of self-identity and learn how to create their own definitions of race and nationality.

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The biggest challenge that I am currently facing is whether or not these primary texts will be the best sources for directly answering my question of whether or not mixed Asian Americans have the ability to create their own spaces of belonging. These two books address the issue of this space being practically nonexistent and how the characters within the texts wrestle with problems of being torn between multiple identities. As I have not read the entirety of either text yet, I am worried that they will not yield the results that I am hoping for. I want to make sure that the primary texts for my thesis will provide me with examples of mixed Asian American characters being able to accomplish the goal of forging identities and spaces that they are comfortable with and feel a part of without any overbearing anxieties of alienation/exclusion.

Works Cited

Ho, Jennifer Ann. Racial Ambiguity in Asian American Culture. Rutgers University Press, 2015.

Lee, Don. Country of Origin. W.W. Norton & Company, 2004.

Biracial Identity and Racial Ambiguity in Asian American Studies

To gain a better a understanding of the multiracial experience and identity in the U.S., I focused on doing some brief background information by reading “Racial Identity and Academic Performance: An Examination of Biracial Asian and African American Youth” in the Journal of Asian American Studies. Published by Grace Kao, an assistant professor of sociology and Asian American Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, this article examines the experiences of young biracial Asian and African Americans to determine if they suffer the psychological difficulties that have been mentioned by past social scientists. Kao highlights how biracial youth members face various challenges that other people do not, such as choosing one racial status on official documents, feeling marginalized by not being fully welcome in either racial group, physical appearances, ambiguity over racial status, isolation, and having two racially & culturally different parents. While these difficulties can certainly cause biracial youth members to struggle, Kao concludes that this does not prove that biracial children are more prone to problems of low self-esteem, emphasizing how each person has their own experience, depending on their circumstances.

With this knowledge in mind, I then specifically focused on biracial struggles in Asian American literature by reading the chapter entitled “Ambiguous Movements and Mobile Subjectivity: Passing in between Autobiography and Fiction with Paisley Rekdal and Ruth Ozeki” in Racial Ambiguity in Asian American Culture. Written by Jennifer Ann Ho, an associate professor in the English and comparative literature department at the University of North Carolina, this book chapter explores the theme of “passing” and how such movement is a strategy for biracial people to “dislocate one’s racial and ethnic identity” because “to be mixed race and hence racially ambiguous means that passing is a strategy of identification as much as disidentification” (Ho 97). Ho argues that people of mixed race can choose multiple identities of race and ethnicity, highlighting how biracial writers such as Rekdal and Ozeki use the theme of passing to challenge and reimagine racial identification. For instance, Rekdal “writes about her many different selves growing up mixed race in Seattle” in her collection of autobiographical essays, The Night My Mother Met Bruce Lee (Ho 98). Such works bring attention to the theme of not fitting in and how this feeling of isolation reveals racial ambiguity in both fiction and nonfiction.

Both of these sources highlight the struggles of being biracial and the challenges that come with creating an identity. Kao and Ho focus on similar themes of marginzaliton, isolation, physical appearances, and racial ambiguity. However, Kao is addressing these issues from a sociological perspective while Ho delves into these matters through a literary lens. Ho in particular chooses to examine a specific theme (passing) to challenge. By reading these two sources, I am able to understand how different academic perspectives function within the same field of Asian American Studies. I am now more aware of the common topics of this field and the problems that it faces, such as how there is still a lot of research that needs to be done on the psychological and socioeconomic outcomes of biracial people in America and if such realistic struggles are properly portrayed in literature.

After reading these two sources, I now want to gain more relevant information on my focus of studying the biracial experience in literature and its relationship to real life issues. While I am aware that there needs to be more of a literary focus, I wish to continue to look at sources such as the one by Kao to understand the relatisc struggles of people of mixed race. Reading the chapter in Jennifer Ann Ho’s book has also made me wonder if there are other specific themes and tropes in Asian American literature that can help contribute to my research.

B5

Works Cited

Ho, Jennifer Ann. Racial Ambiguity in Asian American Culture. Rutgers University Press, 2015.

Kao, Grace. “Racial Identity and Academic Performance: An Examination of Biracial Asian and African American Youth.” Journal of Asian American Studies, vol. 2 no. 3, 1999, pp. 223-249.

Language as Beautiful as Magic

Sometimes meeting a new person is so unexpected that you don’t know how to react. You may be at a loss of words or find it extremely difficult to stop staring at your new acquaintance due to surprise, infatuation, or some other intense emotion. It’s as if your body is temporarily unable to function properly. Ugwu’s first meeting with Olanna in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun is one that yields such a result: he is spellbound by her manner of speaking because he has never heard such beautiful English before.

Prior to moving in with Odenigbo, an eccentric university professor, Ugwu has limited experiences with the English language as he had to drop out of school to work on his family’s farm in a small rural village. But once he moves to the town of Nsukka as a houseboy, Ugwu rapidly improves his English, observing Odenigbo and his frequent party guests, who all converse in English. This habit of making mental notes about a person’s skill in speaking English becomes a prominent trait of Ugwu’s character, so it is no surprise that this action is exhibited when he meets Olanna, Odenigbo’s lover. And when Ugwu hears her voice for the first time, his view of the English language is changed forever: “He stood still. He had always thought that Master’s English could not be compared to anybody’s…Master’s English was music, but what Ugwu was hearing now, from this woman, was magic. Here was a superior tongue, a luminous language…it reminded him of slicing a yam with a newly sharpened knife, the easy perfection in every slice” (Adichie 27 – 28).

This first interaction between these two characters is the beginning of a friendship full of affection, learning, and trust. Ugwu’s initial impression of Olanna is one of admiration and fascination, as he finds her voice and command of language to be so lovely that he calls it “magic.” This is an example of metaphor since Ugwu compares Olanna’s style of speaking to magic, a concept that is not related to English, but shares the characteristic of being captivating. By labeling her voice as “magic,” Ugwu is emphasizing how charmed he is by Olanna’s voice and speaking abilities. Furthermore, there is the comparison of Olanna to Odenigbo: while Odenigbo’s voice is “music,” it cannot be compared to something as fantastical, otherworldly, and intriguing as “magic.” Ugwu even states that she has “a superior tongue” and speaks “a luminous language,” highlighting the amount of distance there is between the qualities of their voices.

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The other literary device that is present in this passage is analogy. This is shown when Ugwu compares the smooth flow of Olanna’s voice to the ease of slicing a yam with a new knife. Instead of simply stating how pleasant Olanna’s voice is, Ugwu goes into great detail by transforming the experience of listening to something completely different: food preparation. However, this is a familiar activity to Ugwu, which is why he made such a comparison. By doing so, it is easier for us readers to fully understand the level of satisfaction Ugwu feels when he hears Olanna speak English. Thus, these two literary devices work well together because of their similarities. Metaphor is closely related to analogy since both devices create comparisons to highlight a concept, such as Olanna’s English being compared to magic and easy yam slicing to show how enticing and pleasant her voice is.

These descriptions of Olanna by Ugwu are significant because they provide insight on the relationship between the two characters. The metaphoric and analogical language used to describe Olanna’s English shows how much Ugwu respects and admires her because his observations are full of praise. As the story progresses, we see Olanna noticing his affection and the shyness that he feels when around her. She also realizes how much he wants to speak English to her: “He always responded in English to her Igbo, as if he saw speaking Igbo to him as an insult that he had to defend himself against by insistently speaking English” (Adichie 59). Though it seems as if Ugwu is jealous of Olanna, this is just proof of how highly he regards her English abilities and how much he wants to improve and sound like her, demonstrating the power of language as a way for these two characters to learn how to appreciate and respect one another.

B4

Works Cited

Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi. Half of a Yellow Sun. Anchor Books, 2007.

Father or Stranger: Sadie’s Stream of Consciousness

Amidst the flashbacks and actions in the present, the emotions and thoughts of characters burst forward onto the pages of Ghana Must Go like nonstop, powerful flowing rivers. This narrative technique, stream of consciousness, is one of the most intriguing aspects of Taiye Selasi’s novel as it directly delves into the psyches of multiple characters, exposing dark secrets and complicated histories. With little to no punctuation, the stream of consciousness abruptly gives the reader a vast amount of information that concerns a character’s thoughts and/or feelings on a certain matter of the story, such as a significant theme, plot point, or motivation. One of the most notable factors that is revealed through the stream of consciousness in Ghana Must Go is the family dynamics of the Sais, as demonstrated through the thought process of Sadie, the youngest child in the family.

Folasade Sai (known affectionately as Sadie) is the youngest daughter and child of Kweku Sai and Folasade Savage. While all of her older siblings are already all grown up, Sadie is the baby of the family, only twenty years old when first introduced during her birthday party in Part II of the novel. Being the youngest member of the family, Sadie thus remembers her father the least, as she was only a young child when he left. So when her older sister, Taiwo, calls and delivers the sad news of Kweku’s death, a barrage of mixed emotions in the form of a stream of consciousness erupts: “Did she know? Did she feel it? The loss of her father, the death of a man she had almost not known, who was gone before she was in grade school, a stranger? How could she have What could she claim to have lost? A memory. Someone else’s” (Selasi 148 – 9).

This passage reinforces the family dynamics of the Sais. We see that Sadie and Kweku were so distant from each other after his departure that she is unsure of whether or not she feels great sadness over his death. We see that, in addition to addressing Kweku as “her father”, he is also just “a man” and “a stranger” to Sadie. Furthermore, Sadie’s inability to explain her feelings clearly and decide on what loss she is experiencing as well as assigning her memories to “someone else” solidifies the rift that exists within the Sai family. It is a moment of great sadness for the audience with access to Sadie’s personal thoughts, but not a moment of sorrow for Sadie herself.

Sadie’s stream of consciousness thus allows the reader to get intimate with the private thoughts of Saide. By having access to a complex thought process that is not being shared with other characters within the novel, the reader is able to gain clear insight on Sadie’s perspective on the dynamics of her family, notbaly her strained relationship with her father. Being in the consciousness of Sadie also allows the reader to experience her own emotions alongside her, creating a connection that makes the story more layered, personal, and realistic as well as intriguing. With the stream of consciousness, Taiye Selasi therefore utilizes a literary device that overwhelms the reader with intense emotions and thought provoking concepts in a nonstop, nonlinear narrative fashion to capture the disoriented and tragic atmosphere of the split Sai family.

B3

Works Cited

Selasi, Taiye. Ghana Must Go. Penguin Books, 2014.

Reading List: Kai

Keywords: biracialism, multiracialism, Asian American literature, identity, racial ambiguity

Secondary sources:

Ho, Jennifer Ann. Racial Ambiguity in Asian American Culture. Rutgers University Press, 2015.

Hoskins, Bruce Calvin. Asian American Racial Realities in Black and White. First Forum Press, 2011.

Root, Maria P. P. Racially Mixed People in America. Sage Publications, 1992.

Suyemoto, Karen L. “Racial/Ethnic Identities and Related Attributed Experiences of Multiracial Japanese European Americans.” Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development, vol. 32, no. 4, Oct. 2004.

Academic journal: Multi Ethnic Literature of the U.S. (MELUS)

After compiling a list of draft materials for last week’s class, I knew that I wanted to expand on the keywords and concepts that I had thought of. Though I am still struggling with deciding on a more focused subject, I decided to go with topics that I am curious about and wish to do more research on. I am interested in the representation of multiracial people in literature and what the relationship is between their literary portrayals and realistic selves. I am specifically curious about works of both fiction & nonfiction and about biracial Asian Americans (such as half-Japanese & half-white Americans like myself) and how their identities are shaped culturally, nationally, and racially in both literary fiction and reality. Are biracial and/or multiracial groups prominent in literature? Does literature help multiracial people gain insight on their identities? What are the struggles that these groups face? What are the benefits?

Having grown up as a biracial person in America, I’m aware of how the challenges, emotions, and opportunities that shape identity and sense of belonging. I especially became interested in this topic after reading Trevor Noah’s memoir entitled Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood in which the author, a half white and half black man, navigates through apartheid South Africa. It was a refreshing read as Trevor Noah touched upon familiar topics such as biracialism, choosing sides, identity, and perspective in a simultaneous comical and serious manner. It made me wonder why stories revolving around multiracialism were not as prominent in mainstream literature. Additionally, I have recently read John Okada’s No-No Boy which goes into detail about torn cultural and national identity for Japanese Americans in the aftermath of World War II. This novel has gotten me interested in Asian Americans and their appearances in literature, hence why I wish to specifically focus on this ethnic national group of people.

In terms of authors and primary texts, I believe that Mary-Lee Chai’s Hapa Girl: A Memoir will provide me with helpful information for my research. This is because it is a story about the daughter of a Chinese father and an Irish-American mother and the racial anxiety, fear, hatred, and tension that she faces in both America and China. Reading a memoir through the eyes of a biracial character in an unwelcoming world will give me insight on the struggles of multiracial people and how they overcome such difficulties.

B3

The Strength of “Weak” Converts: Juxtaposition & Irony in Things Fall Apart

The Ibo society of Umuofia is an inflexible one that is full of rigid traditions…and is also a community that can tolerate change if necessary. Additionally, it is a place where festivals celebrating peace and harmony exist but also where violent customs of killing children, such as twins, subsist. Such is the intricate and multilayered world of Igboland that Chinua Achebe highlights in Things Fall Apart. As stated by Solomon O. Iyasere, the “complex, dualistic nature of the customs and traditions of the Ibo society of Umuofia is made clear. This duality is well presented through Achebe’s technique of skillfully juxtaposing contrasting events, events which define and articulate the code of values of the tradition oriented people” (Iyasere 375). Iyasere later on adds, “From Achebe’s juxtaposition of conflicting values and actions emerge the paradoxes and ironies of Things Fall Apart” (Iyasere 385).

Essentially, Iyasere is arguing that Achebe utilizes the technique of juxtaposition to emphasize how aspects of the Ibo society of Umuofia can be compared and contrasted by seemingly contradictory factors in an ironic manner, such as how a strong conservative African clan can tolerate British Christian missionaries converting “weak” members of Igbo society. This creates interesting effects because it adds complexity to the plot of the story and captivates the attention of the readers. Iyasere clearly demonstrates his understanding of Achebe’s techniques by highlighting such examples from the text. By providing these specific literary details, Iyasere’s claim is logical.

Thus, Achebe uses juxtaposition throughout the story to bring forth the ironies of the novel. Irony is featured in sections where values clash or when actions backfire, such as when “weak” Christian converts end up contributing to the downfall of the mighty Umuofia clan. The vast majority of the Igbo who end joining the Christians are the “weak” members of society, whom the Igbo call efulelu, meaning “foolish/worthless/empty men”. Because they are not important, the clan members do not care about the fate of the efulefu. Achebe writes, “Chielo, the priestess of Agbala, called the converts the excrement of the clan, and the new faith was a mad dog that come to eat it up” (Achebe 83). Because dogs were often used as agents of personal hygiene, the strong clan members view the converts as subhuman waste being consumed by a dog (Christianity). Such symbolic language indicates how non-converts viewed those who converted to Christianity. The strong clan members also give no “serious thought to the stories about the white man’s government or the consequences of killing the Christians” (Achebe 89 – 90), proving how the Umuofia clan does not consider the new religion and its followers as a threat.

Furthermore, the new church established by the missionaries begins to accept osu, outcasts of Igbo society who are raised as human sacrifices. Though other Igbo members initially protest the acceptance of osu into the new faith, Mr. Kiaga, the missionary, stands firm and allows two osu to join, and “soon they were among the strongest adherents of the new faith. And what was more, nearly all the osu in Mbanta followed their example. It was in fact one of them who in his zeal brought the church into serious conflict with the clan a year later” (Achebe 91). It is from this passage that we notice a foreshadowing of the conflict that will cause the downfall of the Umuofia clan. The man mentioned, Enoch, kills a sacred python, which sets off a chain reaction of the Christians fighting against the unconverted clan members, resulting in the leaders of Umuofia being rounded up and beaten like animals. This whole sequence of events is thus ironic: a clan who values strength and traditions shuns outcasts and Christian missionaries to preserve their power but end becoming destabilized because of such actions. It is a moment of the weak uniting against the strong and using their supposed weaknesses to do so.

Achebe’s usage of juxtaposition reveals irony which in turn brings attention to the complex and intertwining themes of Things Fall Apart. Achebe does this by having unexpected events occur, such as having a strong clan strive for strength and stability by doing things that have the opposite effect. These effects of juxtaposition and irony are significant because they create intriguing situations in which the reader is surprised and has to ponder on why something contradictory occurred in the story. By bringing the reader’s attention to these critical moments of the novel, Achebe makes the audience dig deeper and acknowledge how actions and events such as the traditions of the Umuofia or the colonization of Igboland are not as black and white as they appear to be.

B2

Works Cited

Achebe, Chinua. “Things Fall Apart.” Things Fall Apart: A Norton Critical Edition, edited by Francis Abiola Irele, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2009, pp. 83 – 91.

Iyasere, Solomon O. “Narrative Techniques in Things Fall Apart.” Things Fall Apart: A Norton Critical Edition, edited by Francis Abiola Irele, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2009, pp. 375 – 385.

Google Image: https://goo.gl/images/zdPxgJ

An Abundance of Yams: Symbols of Masculinity, Power, and Wealth

Throughout Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, there is much symbolism that is used to discuss various themes. Examples include non-violent folklore representing femininity and the egwugwu symbolizing Igbo culture. Additionally, one vegetable frequently appears in the novel as a symbol to the point where one begins to expect it to be mentioned in every other sentence. This is of course the African yam, a cornerstone of Igbo culture, as well as a symbol of masculinity, power, and wealth in the story.

It is no coincidence that the African yam is constantly mentioned in a cultural story that takes place in Igbo society. The yam is described as being “a staple of the Igbo diet” that “requires sustained effort to cultivate; the various phases of their growth mark the progression of the year among the Igbo, hence their centrality to the culture” (Irele 5). Thus, this description helps give us some information on why yams are often brought up in Things Fall Apart. But aside from providing the Igbo people with food and a sense of time, the yam serves as a sign of a man’s capability as a worker, provider, and proper masculine figure.

African yams in a market

The connection between the yam and masculinity is first seen with Unoka, Okonkwo’s father. Unoka was known as being weak and lazy, with most of these negative personality traits stemming from his inefficiency as a yam farmer. To overcome his crop failures, Unoka approaches Agbala the priestess. But when Unoka lists out all of the necessary steps that he has undertaken, Agbala screams, “You, Unoka, are known in all the clan for the weakness of your matchet and hoe. When your neighbors go out with their axe to cut down virgin forests, you sow your yams on exhausted farms that take no labour to clear. They cross seven rivers to make their farms; you stay at home and offer sacrifices to a reluctant soil. Go home and work like a man” (Achebe 12). This outburst from the priestess clearly indicates that working hard in the fields to plant yams is the “manly” way of life while Unoka’s easy way out is not.

In addition to masculinity, cultivating yams symbolizes wealth and power. Because of Unoka’s failures, Okonkwo is forced to fend for himself and provide for his family. To overcome these issues, Okonkwo decides to approach “a wealthy man…who had three huge barns, nine wives, and thirty children. His name was Nwakibie and he had taken the highest but one title which a man could take in the clan. It was for this man that Okonkwo worked to earn his first yam seeds” (Achebe 13). This passage introduces Nwakibie, a man of wealth and power thanks to his many barns of yams. Nwakibie was able to earn powerful titles and riches because of his success with yams, hence why Okonkwo selects him as the person to earn yam seeds from. In doing so, Okonkwo asserts himself as a person who has access to good fortunes.

Achebe makes it clear that it is not the physical activity of farming that makes someone a wealthy, powerful man but specifically the growing of yams. This is demonstrated when the story mentions how hard Okonkwo’s mother and sisters had to work because of Unoka’s laziness: “His mother and sisters worked hard enough, but they grew women’s crops, like coco-yams, beans and cassava. Yam, the king of crops, was a man’s crop” (Achebe 15 – 16). We therefore see that there is clear distinction between “feminine” crops and “masculine” crops and how working hard in the yam fields proves how difficult and different it is from growing other crops.

By planting his own yams, Okonkwo proves himself to be a man. This is because growing yams is not easy and that by working hard to plant a “man’s crop” and provide for his family, he is able to show off his masculinity. The acquisition of more yams also symbolizes Okonkwo’s path to wealth and power since he is able to live comfortably unlike his father. All of these factors show how the African yam is a major symbol in Things Fall Apart and how something seemingly simple such as a vegetable can have various layered meanings.

B1

Works Cited

Achebe, Chinua. “Things Fall Apart.” Things Fall Apart: A Norton Critical Edition, edited by Francis Abiola Irele, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2009, pp. 5 – 16.

Image of yam market: https://goo.gl/images/ekmXB2