End or Beginning

In some cultures, death is not the end. Throughout the beginning of the Taiye Selasi’s Ghana Must Go, there is a lot of reference to death and different people passing on. I believe the author uses diction within the novel in order to get the audience to view death as not necessarily being the ‘end’ for someone right away. With diction, Selasi’s chose of words or phrases to describe events happening in the story can have various connotative meanings. In this instance, although death is associated with negative things, like sickness and it being the end of your life, Selasi uses this literary device to push the audience to look beyond those common associations.

The novel begins by stating, “Kweku dies barefoot on a Sunday before sunrise…he is on the threshold between sunroom and garden…” (3). Within this first section, the audience is immediately introduced to a character that is already dead. However, right after the first sentence of Kweku dying, the next one immediately jumps to him performing something only a living person would do, such as standing on a threshold. Not only does this suggest that Kweku is still alive from one angle of perspective, but it also hints at Kweku being able to do something like that in his death. Therefore, in choosing to place Kweku “on” the threshold “considering” whether or not to go back, Selasi has also challenged the audience to question whether Kweku is really dead, or if this is him beyond death. It is similar to how Kweku is set up for death a little later in the beginning section of the novel. “For he knows in a strange way, as the spiral comes to rest at wen everything dies, that he’s about to. He knows that he’s dying…but doesn’t notice” (21). In this instance, we see that Kweku is aware of his oncoming death, but does not notice it at the same time. The audience is able to relate to Kweku being that  it is not entirely clear whether his death in the very beginning of the novel is noticeable or not, being that he is still described as living right after.

Another example would be when he was a child he tells his sister that she is not going to die from what he now realized was treatable TB. Even though there is a lot of blood coming from her mouth, and her body is very weak, she still responds with a wide smile, and says that she will. “And had, with a smile on her hollowed-out face, with her hand in her brother’s his hand on her neck, wide eyes laughing, growing wide and colder as he’d stared at them,” (26). To describe her eyes and smile to be “growing” as though she were still alive makes it seem as though death did not stop her from continuing to communicate with her brother. Again, we see Selasi placing an action for the character to do right after the indication of their death. In doing so, she is playing with the idea of something beyond death that makes it possible to still seem alive.

 

 

 

Selasie, Taiye. Ghana Must Go, New York: Penguin, 2014, 1-160.

 

B4

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.

Blog Prompt #3: Ghana Must Go (pp. 1-160)

Blog Post #3 Due: Tues 10/9, 12noon // Comments #5-6 Due: Tues 10/9, 11:59pm

Cover of Selasi's Ghana Must GoProvide a detailed close reading of one specific literary device from pp. 1-160 of Taiye Selasi’s Ghana Must Go. Given that this is a large portion of a novel, select a specific and focused literary device from a particular scene or chapter. Use the steps detailed below to develop a fluid and cohesive argument about the significance of this literary device to how we begin to understand either time, family dynamics, or specific relationship in the novel.

  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. What do they convey about either time, family dynamics, or specific relationships in the novel.

Reading List: Frances

Keywords:

Queer identity politics

Stand-up comedy

Joke construction

 

Sources:

Davies, Helen, and Sarah Ilott. Comedy Studies, vol. 9, no. 1, Apr. 2018.

Krefting, Rebecca. All Joking Aside : American Humor and Its Discontents. Johns Hopkins University Press, 2014.

Lotz, Amanda. The Television Will Be Revolutionized. New York University Press, 2014.

Warner, Michael. The Trouble with Normal : Sex, Politics, and the Ethics of Queer Life. Cambridge, MA : Harvard University Press, 2000., 2000.

 

Academic Journal:

Camera Obscura (Duke University Press)

Reflection:

I started my reading list with a question often posed to lesbian comedians: why are there so many gay stand-up comics? The response is usually related to finding coping mechanisms for trauma and internalized homophobia. However, there are many types of trauma, but not many survivors of car accidents immediately decide to become stand-up comedians. So what specifically about being part of the queer community lends itself to comedy writing?

I began this process by creating a list of as many comedy-related academic sources I could find. Many of the articles I located were published by the journal Comedy Studies. One special issue of the journal was a published record of the proceedings at a conference on comedy in relation to gender and sexuality studies. The issue references a wider variety of topics, from toxic masculinity to classism, and provides a good framework for my research. Another source, The Television Will Be Revolutionized, deals with how the producers of television and media have changed over time. Although it does not directly address stand-up, it focuses on a gradual shift occurring in who controls content production.

I selected All Joking Aside: American Humor and its Discontents because of its focus on word choice, organization, and rhythm. The first four chapters provide a history of the development of stand-up comedy, while the final three chapters are close-readings of the work of three comedians (Robin Tyler, Micia Mosely, and Hari Kondabolu). The focus on form is rare in the scholarship around stand-up, so this source will be uniquely helpful.

Finally, to complete my reading list I wanted sources that focused more on queer literature than on stand-up specifically. Professor Kersh recommended several sources to me, including the first chapter of Michael Warner’s The Trouble with Normal. After reading other chapters of the book, I found it useful because it deals with the idea of addressing shame, which many stand-up comedians discuss. In addition, many jokes work because they question societal norms, and this entire book focuses around questioning assumptions made both in society as a whole and within the queer community itself.

After reading Iyasere’s comments about how many scholars focus on cultural context and ignore the form of Things Fall Apart, I want to see more examples of how film/television media can be analyzed without making the same mistake Iyasare describes. Reading more examples of film criticism will help me learn how to balance cultural contexts with close readings of the text. For this reason, I have chosen to analyze a year’s worth of editions of Camera Obscura, published by Duke University. Each article analyzes television, film, and media from a feminist perspective. The journal will not only inform me about feminist theory and media, but also could provide models of how I balance social contexts with analyzing the text itself.

“Boyish Girl Interrupted.” Performance by Tig Notaro, HBO, 22 Aug. 2015.

In terms of primary sources, I want to compare how comedians handle queerness differently, specifically looking at how the jokes themselves are constructed. Hannah Gadsby’s special Nanette begins with her arguing that she must “quit comedy” because the form is destructive to the queer identity. Wanda Sykes also addresses her queerness, but specifically in conversation with blackness. Tig Notaro often deals with comedy and queerness more indirectly. Her special Boyish Girl Interrupted in particular explores identity questions specifically related to femininity and the body. At one point she removes her shirt to show her double mastectomy scars, performing the rest of the special shirtless. Other examples that interest me are Margaret Cho, Cameron Esposito, and Sam Jay.

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

Using Irrational Fear for “Rational” Decisions

Fear can make people do a lot of things. When faced with danger, or something we think might be threatening, fear allows us to protect ourselves with caution, and act accordingly. Unfortunately, it can also make us act irrationally, and therefore not make the best decisions in the face of a threat. In Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, he uses the element of fear in order to showcase how certain actions taken in the novel might not be as rational at first glance as one might believe them to be—with Okonkwo being the prime example—and how this lack of awareness could lead to even more dangerous situations.

When we begin to delve into the earlier chapters, we get a glimpse of Okonkwe’s initial fears— mostly having to do with his father and not wanting to end up like him. Although he does not consider himself a bad man like he was, “his whole life was dominated by fear, the fear of failure and weakness…it was the fear of himself, lest he should be found to resemble his father,” (10). This form of dread then translates to how he carries himself, and the actions he takes in order to become the exact opposite of his father. To him, that would be the greatest insult to his person, and although he has a right to feel the way he did about the man, his anxiety has taken a more irrational turn when it comes to how he acts because of it. “When he walked, his heels hardly touched the ground and he seemed to walk on springs…he had no patience with unsuccessful men. He had had no patience with his father,” (4). Because his father was known as a weak, lazy man with so much debt and no ambition, Okonkwo made every effort to be the exact opposite—a big man that is constantly ready to pounce and always keeping himself busy. This shows how much his irrational fear influences his life, and how he thinks its very rational to never relax or be gentle because it “might” make him look like his father. This then leads to him going to any lengths to not look weak, and also spills into how he treats his family. When it comes to his wife and children, Okonkwo is very strict, and does not appreciate laziness from anyone. With his eldest son Nwoye for example, he is not able to behave like a child normally would and was making Okonkwo nervous with is “incipient laziness”. This causes him to constantly nag and beat him, turning Nwoye into a “sad-faced youth,” (10). Again, simply because it “looks” like his son might become lazy, Okonkwo thinks it is rational to discipline his son ruthlessly.

Another fear is presented later on when the village hears the message of the crier. Again, there is a sense of dread among them because of the tone the crier has, with Okonkwo describing it as “a clear overtone of tragedy”. After the crier relayed his message and left, “darkness held a vague terror for [the village] people, even the bravest among them,” (7). Once they found out the cause of the message, which was asking for everyone to meet in the market-place because someone killed a daughter of the village, Okonkwo was tasked with bringing home the young boy and virgin girl as a result. This action, although seemingly rational to Okonkwo and most of the villagers, may not seem that way to others like the young boy. He recalls being scared the whole time since he had no idea that his father played a role in the crime, and that he would have to be the one to suffer because of it. The way in which fear plays out in these chapters signifies that it very much drives most of the actions taken, and not much thought is given to them beyond that initial fear. This then leads to the tragedy the boy faces later on in the novel, and signifies how certain actions made out of fear may very well produce something more fearful of out of a situation.

B1

Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall ApartThings Fall Apart: A Norton Critical Edition, edited by Francis Abiole Irele, W.W. Norton & Co., 2009. 3-74.

 

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

Blog Prompt #1: Things Fall Apart, Part I

Blog Post #1 Due: Tues 9/18, 12noon // Comments #1-2 Due: Tues 9/18, 11:59pm

Cover of Norton Anthology for Things Fall Apart

Provide a detailed close reading of one specific literary device from Part I (pp. 1-74) of Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. Given that this is a large portion of a novel, select a specific and focused literary device from a particular scene or chapter. Use the steps detailed below to develop a fluid and cohesive argument about the significance of this literary device within the selected scene, chapter, or section of the novel.

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.

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.

Explain how the device produce these effects – again, re-quote / reference the text as needed to illustrate your claims.

Explain why these effects are significant to your reading of this scene, chapter, or section of the novel.