Blog Prompt #2: Things Fall Apart, Part II

Blog Post #1 Due: Tues 9/25, 12noon // Comments #1-2 Due: Tues 9/25, 11:59pm

Cover of Norton Anthology for Things Fall Apart

Introduce & summarize one key argument that Solomon Iyasere makes in his essay, “Narrative Techniques in Things Fall Apart” (pp. 370-385).

Then, reflect on the extent to which you agree or disagree with Iyasere’s claim. Be sure to specify how you agree/disagree with him or the extent to which you might modulate his claim. In other words, articulate a mini argument of your own in response to Iyasere’s.

Finally, provide a short close reading of one scene, literary device, or textual element from Part II of Things Fall Apart to illustrate the argument you’ve developed in conversation with Iyasere’s claim. Be sure to use different textual evidence than Iyasere uses in his essay. Remember to follow all the close reading steps you used in the previous blog post:

  1. Introduce (name/describe) the literary device you plan to analyze and frame a cohesive quote illustrating the selected literary device. Remember to provide enough context to situate your reader within the relevant section of the text.
  2. Describe what specific effects this device produces – remember, you will need to re-quote / reference specific portions of the text in this portion of your close reading.
  3. Explain how the device produce these effects – again, re-quote / reference the text as needed to illustrate your claims.
  4. Explain why these effects are significant to your reading of this scene, chapter, or section of the novel.

Onkonkwo: The Personification of Umuofia’s Ideals

In Chinua Achebe’s novel, Things Fall Apart, the main character Oknonkwo is strong, powerful, well-respected, and as some critics have noted, almost a legend even within the book. Oknonkwo’s personality literally embodies his town’s, Umuofia’s, ideals to the point that he is a personified version of Umuofia and the entirety of its ideology.

Achebe’s novel begins with the vivid description of Okonkwo, and his massive feat in “throwing the cat” (Achebe 3). Indeed, his physical strength, and the imagery of this man flexing every muscle in his body to its “breaking point” is powerful, yet it is the first line of the entire novel, “Okonkwo was well known throughout the nine villages” (Achebe 3) which is most telling as it mimics Umuofia’s own description later in the novel. Umuofia is described as being “fear by all its neighbors” (Achebe 9), meaning that if it is feared it is also known by all of its neighbors. The two descriptions seem to coincide, and though not the most convincing, it begins to set up a theme of character and setting essentially being one in the same.
One such example of this, again dealing with the descriptions within the first few pages of the novel, has to do with the anger Oknonkwo exhibits, and the fear which Umuofia incites. Indeed, Achebe does give Oknonkwo more depth than being an emotionally void, hypermasculine, angry man, but as he is originally described, as a man who “never showed any emotion openly, unless it be the emotion of anger…the only thing worth demonstrating was strength” (Achebe 18). Though this makes him originally difficult to connect with, it sets a parallel with the aforementioned strength of Umuofia, and the fear it provokes in its neighbors. For the town teaches, that strength is dignified and the “only thing worth demonstrating”, and weakness is worth both scorn and ultimate exile.

Umuofia’s idealization of strength, and thus Oknonkwo’s own embodiment of this ideology, can be seen in Oknonkwo’s former relationship with, and the later thoughts regarding his father, Unoka. Unoka is, from the beginning, slandered as a lazy, greedy, emotional man who ultimately died from his own weaknesses. It is even revealed that “it was the fear of himself, lest he should be found to resemble his father” (Achebe 10), and later that Oknonkwo was “possessed by the fear of his father’s contemptible life and shameful death” (Achebe 13). This relationship is a driving factor in giving an explanation to the “hard” persona which Oknonkwo exhibits so early on. However, if Oknonkwo is indeed a personified version of Umuofia, then this hatred simply stems from the defamed reputation the father had. As Oknonkwo so wholeheartedly embodies all Umuofia’s principals, his father being an overwhelmingly “weak” man, is both emasculating and embarrassing to be associated with. The simple fact that Unoka died physically in a shameful way, and spoke of love before doing so goes to exhibit his separation from Umuofia and its ideals. Though the revelation of his fear so early in the novel is seemingly a weak, Oknonkwo’s tireless, even “possessed” efforts to differentiate himself from his father is demonstrative of the indefatigable ideology of Umuofia.

Oknonkwo character, while both hypermasculine and stoic in his hard-working efforts to maintain power and be well-respected, even feared, within Umuofia is not just an embodiment of the town’s ideals but is an outward characterization of these ideals. Thus, Oknonkwo and Umuofia are inseparable in that Oknonkwo is the personification of Umuofia.

B1. Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart. W. W. Norton & Company Inc., 2009.

The Autonomy of Musical Instruments

With the influence of movies, the modern student often thinks about what their life would be like if they had a personal soundtrack playing at dramatic moments throughout their days. They walk around imagining exactly which song would match their pace, setting, and emotional state. The characters of Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart (1958), never have to wonder what this would be like for two reasons. The first of which is that modern film plays no part in the narrative – where storytelling, which sometimes includes song, is the closest equivalent of the medium. The second, is the existence of the drums and flutes which mark important moments for our protagonist, such as the wrestling festival where he gains his fame, the trials where he represents an ancestral spirit to provide judgement for the a quarrelling married couple, and the moments before his adopted son’s death by his own hands.

In his debut novel, Things Fall Apart, released on the anxious eve of  decolonization in Nigeria (Gikandi, 298),  Achebe centers his narrative on the family of Okonkwo, a greatly respected warrior and wrestler from Umuofia during the the years prior to colonization. Part One of the novel begins with the story of his father, a flutist who is unable to provide for his wife and children, before shifting to the son as he sets out at a young age to build his farm and family. Through a series of flashbacks and non-linear story-telling, the reader is given insight into Okonkwo’s family, where his three wives care for their seven children – one of which has been coming and going from the earth cyclically – and the child that the village was given as retribution for a daughter of their clan’s death in a neighboring market (Achebe, Part One). These scenes are juxtaposed with those of the greater village, where there are weddings, festivals, trails, and funerals abound (Achebe, Part One).

Directly following the recounting of a celebration for the marriage of Okonkwo’s friend’s daughter, the narrator begins the next anecdote with the jarring description of the drum waking up the entire village  (Achebe, 71). “The first cock had not crowd, and Umuofia was still swallowed up in sleep and silence when the ekwe began to talk, and the canon shattered the silence” (Achebe, 71). Beginning the description of the morning with the alliteration of “still swallowed up in sleep and silence” creates a sense of monotony and calmness as the “s” rolls of the tongue softly. “Swallowed” implies a deepness to the silence that is not easily broken, as it invokes images of encapsulation in a stomach or other closed and distanced space. “The ekwe began to talk” disrupts the alliteration, drawing attention to the instrument itself, and while providing the instrument its own agency through personification. The instrument becomes a character in its own right due to its ability to talk, instead of simply a tool used by others. It chose to disrupt the morning peace. Several sentences later the noise of the drum is described through onomatopoeia with the noises “go” and “di” (Achebe, 71). These noises can be connected the the words “go” and “die” indicating the departure of a soul that these drums are meant to announce. In conjunction with the earlier personification, the drums are announcing the death and departure on their own accord.

The effect is that in which musical instruments hold their own autonomy, and are capable of commenting on life; speaking when they deem it proper. Approaching the rest of the section with this understanding, changes the moment in which the men of Umuofia take Ikemefuna out of the village to kill him under the guise of taking him home (Achebe, 36). Ekwe were beating from a distant village to bestow a title upon a man there (Achebe, 36). If the drums are separated from the intention of those playing it, if they can truly speak for themselves at the right moment, then these drums could be seen as part of bestowing a title upon Ikemefuna, who would not have had one at the time of his death.

Achebe, Chinua. “The Text of Things Fall Apart.” Things Fall Apart: Authoritative Text, Contexts and Criticism, edited by Francis Abiola Irele, W.W. Norton & Company Inc, 2009, pp. 3-117.

Gikandi, Simon. “Achebe and the Invention of African Literature.” Things Fall Apart: Authoritative Text, Contexts and Criticism, edited by Francis Abiola Irele, W.W. Norton & Company Inc, 2009, pp. 3-117.

“Log Drum Ekwe Nigerian (Igbo) 6″x12″.” YouTube, uploaded by richardolatunde, 19 May 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=enNWmzyDcGc

“What I Try to Do is Write”: Blog Aspirations and Advice

Quote from Maya Angelou on Writing I have a confession to make. I don’t always think of myself as a particularly creative or vibrant writer. In fact, I consider my writing pretty ordinary. By contrast, I’m in awe of the lyrical and seemingly effortless writing of my friends and colleagues. At times, this assessment of my own writing can stop me in my tracks – it makes writing seem almost impossible and it saps all the joy from the act and art of writing. Does this sound at all familiar to you? I’m guessing it does because I think we’ve all been there – either at some point in time or on a fairly regular basis. But, as Maya Angelou explains, we need to try to write…even if it’s “the most boring and awful stuff.” And so here, on our course blog for Senior Seminar, you’ll all engage regularly in this practice of writing. This will be an ongoing and collaborative effort to move past the “boring and awful stuff” in order to find your muse, develop your voice, and expand your idea

Over the course of the semester, you will be required to upload 6 posts (500-750 words each) to our course blog. Each post will offer a polished, focused response to a specific prompt, based on one of the assigned primary or secondary texts. These posts will often center on specific critical methods, models of literary analysis, and/or keywords relevant to particular texts or theories. These short writing assignments will help you develop ideas and hone your analytical skills for in-class discussions, upcoming assignments, and your own research.

For each week that a blog post is due, you will also upload two comments (75-100 words) in response to two different peer’s posts. These comments should engage your peers’ reflections by building additional connections between ideas, texts, themes, and methodologies your classmate discusses. You may also pose tentative answers to questions raised by your classmates’ blog posts and/or extend their arguments and ideas.

Jimmy Fallon

Refer to the blog post and blog comment assignment sheets (uploaded to Moodle) for details on the assignment requirements and how they will be graded. At its core, your blog post should develop an interesting and original response to the assigned prompt. Analysis of the assigned text should be detailed, specific, nuanced, and creative. Let your voice flow freely, but be sure to cite and analyze specific quotes from the assigned text. Focus on developing clear and fluid sentences, effective and creative transitions, and use at least one image or gif to amplify your ideas.

Writers at the 2018 AWP conference

Writers at the 2018 AWP conference

For tips on crafting an effective blog post, see this list of “10 Crucial Points.” And for some great examples of student blog posts for Dickinson English courses, check out Prof. Kersh’s 2017 course, “Writing in and for Digital Environments.” You might also enjoy checking out her students’ projects and their posts on what makes a great blog.

Remember that this is a space in which we’ll be collectively developing clear, vibrant, and analytical writing. In order to do so, we need to keep in mind that writing is a labor, a practice, and an art! It is also the medium through which we will think carefully and critically about Asian American literature and culture.