God is a Woman

There is nothing more unappreciated than a Black woman. For Okonkwo, he does not see past anything that is not manly, therefore does not believe in the feminine aspect of how things should be done. This idea is highlighted by Iyasere when he mentions that “qualities of love and compassion…which to Okonkwo were marks of femininity and weakness are the same qualitites which were respected by the society [he] wished to champion”, (Iyasere 377). However, it is in fact femininity that saves him, and ultimately “saves” his son as well. This refusal to acknowledge the godliness that is associated with woman is what results in his “defeat” later on in the section.

In the beginning of chapter 14, we see that Okonkwo was not completing his tasks with the same vigor that he used to. This shows that his exile has taken a bigger toll on him than he initially let on, and that he consciously thinks his situation is one of the worsts. However, because he can not see the “feminine” side of things, it is clear that he cannot see how his exile is actually something good that has happened to him. It was a “feminine” crime that allowed him to live in exile, as opposed to something much worse like death in the Evil Forrest, and had his crime been considered “masculine” he would have suffered much worse.  His uncle Uchendu explains this to him when everyone has gotten settled after the ceremony. At first, he asks him why he thinks the most popular name among their children is “Mother is Supreme” despite their culture being very patriarchal. No one knows the answer, and so Uchendu goes on to say that he is a child that doesn’t understand and explains that although a child belongs to his father, it is with his mother that he finds comfort, and “when there is sorrow and bitterness he finds refuge in his motherland”, (Achebe 78). This shows that Okonkwo’s “mother’s land” is what saves him, and it is his mother’s tribe that welcomes him wholeheartedly, even helping him get back on his feet. During his time of sorrow and abandonment, it is his mother that he ultimately went to in seeking comfort, just as Uchnedu had explained. He also warns that the more Okonkwo rejects this comfort, the more disrespect he is throwing in the face of his mother and the dead. This speaks to the godliness that has to do with woman. If one were to reject God, he will spend eternity in damnation. However, all who accept God as the one and only will live in everlasting comfort with [Her] in heaven.

This is hinted upon again in chapter 17. We find out that Nwoye has become very interested in the new religion from the very first time he has heard of it. However, because of his overwhelming fear of his father, he does not go beyond watching them closely. To Okonkwo, Christianity is very feminine, and once he found out that Nwoye has been near the Christians, he confronts him and beats him because of it. He laments to himself about it later, saying “to abandon the god’s of one’s father and go about with a lot of effeminate men clucking like old hems was the very depth of abomination…How could he have a begotten woman for a son?”, (Achebe 88-89). This again shows Okonkwo rejecting the femininity that is associated with the religion, not understanding that it is something that brings his own son comfort. Nwoye uses this opportunity to finally leave his father and vows to never return except to convert his mother and siblings. The fact that he Nwoye easily accepted the idea of leaving his father for the “comfort of his ‘mother’ [God], shows that Nwoye has indeed been saved in a sense, and gets to live. For Okonkwo, however, his rejection has cost him his life.

 

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Achebe,Chinua. “Things Fall Apart.” Things Fall Apart: A Norton Critical Edition, edited by Francis Abiole Irele, W.W. Norton & Co., 2009. pg 3-117.

Iyasere, Soloman O. “Narrative Techniques in Things Fall Apart.” Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart. Ed. Francis Abiola Irele. New York City: W. W. Norton & Company Inc, 2009. 370-385.

Social Influence of Stories

Solomon O. Iyasere reveals Okonkwo’s “obsession with proving and preserving his manliness” as “dominat[ing] [his] entire life, both public and private” (377). Informal interactions, like story-time, Okonkwo even monitored closely. Iyasere says: “[R]elaxed story-telling sessions, Okonkwo sees [as] a threat to himself and his ‘dynasty’” (377). Iyasere links the act of story-telling with Okonkwo’s display and management of masculinity. Okonkwo’s defining and defending of manliness represents dependent variables, according to Iyasere; story-telling, the act of relaying a story, stands as the independent variable Okonkwo attempts control. Whereas I agree with Iysasere’s observation of the relationship between story-telling and masculinity, I believe story-telling’s social influence needs greater consideration.

Story-telling (the act) alone didn’t challenge Okonkwo’s sense of manhood; stories that could “make women of his sons, make them like their grandfather rather than like their father,” equally threatened Okonkwo (377).

Oknonkwo has always been hell-bent on stories. Always remarking on the difference between a masculine and feminine story; always remarking on the impotence imposed on his sons by virtue of their mothers’ stories. So he “‘encourage[s] the boys to sit with him in his obi, and he told them stories of the land—masculine stories of violence and bloodshed’” (377).

Okonkwo’s anxieties around story-telling implies its social power. A power that masks itself in “relaxed” settings and mingles with men and women. A power that is easily conferred to children. Story-telling’s oscillation, between the masculine and feminine, and its ability to bend will because of its banal mask, proves it to be one of Oknonkwo’s ultimate challenges. A challenge some may argue Oknonkwo lost.

Among the sons invited, or required, to sit with Okonkwo in his obi for story-time was Nwoye. A boy who has been described as resembling his grandfather, Unoka, in manner and appetite; a boy described as “degenerate and effeminate” (Achebe 88). These sessions sought to instill valor into the heart of Nwoye, thought to lack it by virtue.

In Part II readers begin to see colonization unfold. We see entire communities succumb to its flowery doctrine and pale demagogues. One of those new converts being Nwoye. A boy never earning his father’s favor; a boy who loves music and stories, he adopted an alien religion: “It was not the mad logic of the Trinity that captivated him. He did not understand it. It was the poetry of the new religion, something felt in the marrow…He felt a relief within as the hymn poured into his parched soul” (Achebe 85). Poetry is a form ofMaya Angelou quote storytelling. It contains a similar structure to a traditional story; however, poetry has traditionally been more flowery than a standard story. Poetry is like a song. Both poems and songs are mediums of stories. Similar to Unoka, who had a love for music and stories, Nwoye shared in such delights. Ultimately, it was those delights that encouraged Nwoye’s joining the missionaries. For it was the poetics of the religion—the metaphors, similes, hyperbole, etc—that engrossed Nwoye. It spoke his language. Christians, first named on page 87, practiced a religion that was poetic in nature. Such force, the speaker reveals, was perceptible in one’s “marrow” or bones. Not only was the religion poetic, but its use of poetics registered in the physical bodies of listeners; it meted well with those who had a natural attraction to song and stories. Nwoye’s intrinsic seduction by these two elements, marked Christianity as a natural point of situating. They are influential in Nwoye’s conversion to the religion.

However, it wasn’t until Oknonkwo relentlessly beats Nwoye concerning his affiliation with the missionaries that Nwoye fully submerges into the religious enclave (88). Whereas the new religion offered Nwoye a “relief” to his “parched soul,” Oknonkwo offered nothing but strife, and it was his behavior which, finally, ushered Nwoye into the arms of the missionaries. For “Nwoye did not fully understand. But he was happy to leave his father” (88).

It was the poetic stories that attracted Nwoye to Christianity; they meted well with his “callow mind” (85). But these stories were reinforced by the vile mannerisms of Oknonkwo, which ultimately drove Nwoye away. While Oknonkwo fixates on controlling his manliness, and by extension his sons’, domination over stories and their content is required.

There is power in story-telling, Achebe indirectly teaches. Not only does the story-teller hold power but the stories in general carry great social merit. Readers learn the value of telling stories, and the consequences of trying to control another’s.

 

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Works Cited:

Achebe,Chinua. “Things Fall Apart.” Things Fall Apart: A Norton Critical Edition, edited by Francis Abiole Irele, W.W. Norton & Co., 2009. pg 3-117.

Iyasere, Solomon O. “Narrative Techniques in Things Fall Apart.” Things Fall Apart: A Norton Critical Edition, edited by Francis Abiole Irele, W.W. Norton & Co., 2009. pg 370-385

Ikemefuna’s Storytelling and Power

Apparent from the very first page, Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart is a novel which finds its unique voice by interweaving influences of Western literature and the vibrancy found in traditional African oral folktales.  Scattered throughout the First Part of the novel’s chapters, we come across various vignettes relaying past stories about the characters we encounter, in attempts for Achebe to guide the reader into constructing fully formed humans out of a people who have almost never been afforded dimension and humanity within the “colonial canon” (XVII) as Irele describes it.  While afforded with this dimension, the character of Ikemefuna finds his humanity contested by his circumstances. Taken from his family and village in an act of retribution for the killing of a woman from Okonkwo’s village, Ikemefuna’s displacement is the result of an event that is removed from his control. He enters Okonkwo’s life as a consequence of Okonkwo’s responsibility and the mistakes of his own father, and while this situation leaves him at a great disadvantage against the world, the conclusion of Chapter 5 sees how Ikemefuna uses the act of telling folktales to reestablish his sense of significance and identity amongst Okonkwo’s family.

As he discusses the intricacies of the planting and harvest seasons and how Umuofian society functions in the brief respite in between, Achebe touches on how “children sat around their mother’s cooking fire telling stories” (22).  This imagery is framed by the greater presence of heavy rainfall and thunder, but transitions to the abrupt image of Okonkwo’s family, and Ikemefuna’s own perception of his role in it, “Ikemefuna had begun to feel like a member of Okonkwo’s family,” Achebe narrates.  While technically a forced inhabitant of Okonkwo’s home, Ikemefuna slowly adjusts himself to his new reality through his attachment to Nwoye, Okonkwo’s eldest son. This attachment appears to be primarily achieved through Ikemefuna’s storytelling ability,

“[he] had an endless stock of folk tales. Even those which Nwoye knew already were told with a new freshness and the local flavour of a different clan. Nwoye remembered this period very vividly till the end of his life. He even remembered how he had laughed when Ikemefuna told him that the proper name for a corn cob with only a few scattered grains was eze-agadi-nwayi, or the teeth of an old woman. Nwoye’s mind had gone immediately to Nwayieke, who lived near the udala tree.” (22)

An Udala Tree

Like the memory of the old woman living near the udala tree that finds itself so vividly brought to the front of Nwoye’s consciousness through Ikemefuna’s stories, the memory of Ikemefuna is preserved though the stories he told and the humanity he injected into their telling.  While Ikemefuna can be read as a character used simply as a narrative tool to emphasize Okonkwo’s most destructive qualities, I argue that Achebe assigned Ikemefuna the role of a storyteller to highlight his individuality and purpose outside of Okonkwo’s story, while serving as a layered metaphor for the significance of Achebe’s own storytelling.  Confined by the influence and force of those who uprooted him from his culture and family, Ikemefuna forges strength through the ability to tell stories using a voice and perspective that recalls his origins. And like Ikemefuna’s telling of folktales that are retold in his ‘local flavour’, Achebe accomplishes a similar feat of using storytelling to signal multi-dimensional humanity and identity despite a contrasting narrative imposed on him by his oppressors.

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Sources:

Achebe, Chinua. “Things Fall Apart” Things Fall Apart: Authoritative Text, Contexts, and Criticism, edited by Francis Abiola Irele, W.W Norton & Company, 2009, p. 22

Irele, Francis A. “Introduction” Things Fall Apart: Authoritative Text, Contexts, and Criticism, edited by Francis Abiola Irele, W.W Norton & Company, 2009, p. XVII

Common Spirits

Meditation ideology is sweeping the nation! Everyone, everywhere sings the praises of routine meditation: “When I meditate, I see the world differently” and “When I meditate, nothing beyond myself exists.” Meditation is thought to align the multiple dimensions in our universe; synchronizing the physical with the spiritual. Meditation ushers the spiritual into the everyday.

But us new-age-hippies weren’t the first receipts of daily otherworldly interactions. They mingled with our ancestors. Maybe even foretold our birth. Maybe tried preventing our birth. Either way they’ve been here. Chinua Achebe in Things Fall Apart (1958), illuminates the intimate relationship between the physical and the spiritual. In Things Fall Apart, Achebe’s coupling of the two, in a non-intrusive manner, normalizes the presence of the spiritual element; readers are forced to take this “uncommon” literally element as everyday.

In Chapter Five, Ekwefi (Okonkwo’s second wife) is prepping a meal for dinner. As innocuous as this may seem, the encroaching wrestling match acts as the backdrop. It’s what town-folk was anticipating:

Ekwefi and her daughter Ezinma are cooking. Simultaneously, Ezinma curiously pesters Ekwefi with trivial concerns and bodily twitches. Ekwefi, too preoccupied to fully entertain or argue with Ezinma, appears mentally removed from the scene. The narrator later describes Ekwefi’s mannerisms as “listless” (49). After offering Ezinma deeper insight into her twitching eye, and having finished plucking the hen, Ekwefi is called from outside. “‘Ekwefi!’ a voice called from one of the other huts” (26). The caller is identified, to us! For Ekwefi, it’s still a stranger. She responds: “Is that me?”. A rhetorical question? Not a response? The narrator explains: “That was the way people answered calls from outside. They never answered yes for fear it might be an evil spirit calling.” Phrases like the way implies normalcy. It suggests a customary routine of operation; something people always did. Ekwefi was not alone in her use of rhetorical questioning; it was a widespread phenomenon. The inclusion of context for Ekwefi’s response illustrates how custom such phrase was, but too how ordinary spirits are. The narrator admits, “[t]hat was the way people answered calls from outside.”

Three Mystical Figures

Outside is not defined here, but how often have you been called from outside the room you were in? Happens pretty frequently. I could imagine that for Ekwefi, and others, it’s regular as well. The narrator also described the spirits’ presence with familiarity. These beings were not alien; they shared homes with human beings. Such sentiment further establishes the intimate relationship between the physical and the spiritual.The regularity with which rhetorical questioning is used, spirits are present, and one may be summoned from outside of their room, implies that spirits are ever-present. They are an authentic aspect of society that can not be ignored; even the bad ones.

Ekwefi’s scene marks reader’s first encountering the mingling of the physical with the spiritual. But it too foreshadows later events that embody a similar spirit.

Achebe’s text suggests the spiritual element is omnipresent. Just as we roam this planet, mystical beings accompany us always missioned with a purpose. We must not journey through life ignoring their company. Instead, we must embrace them on all fronts. For they have a great deal to teach us. They have a deal to show us.

Achebe, Chinua. “The Text Things Fall Apart.” Things Fall Apart, edited by Francis Abiola Irele, W.W Norton, 2009, 3-74.

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