Temporality in Achebe

At the end of Things Fall Apart, Achebe brings the Commissioner’s perspective into focus, leaving the reader with the Commissioner’s thoughts about the book he will write on the colonial project in Africa: “He had already chosen the title of the book, after much thought: The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger” (191). In ending a novel about Igbo pre-colonial history with the introduction of the white man’s proposed book, a historical chronicle that will become an artifact of colonial history, Achebe’s narrative effectively signals the transition from pre-colonial to colonial time. What I would like to do is offer a few questions about what this means in relation to how we might categorize Things Fall Apart as an African novel.
The novel’s ending raises questions about how the narrative structure up to the introduction of colonial time might be said to represent traditional Igbo ways of organizing time, both in terms of how the clan marks time based on cultural practices as well as the question of how the structure of the narrative may or may not relate to traditional Igbo storytelling practices. Here I am thinking specifically of the way that the story moves forward through continual reflections of the past. We are often made to understand the character’s present circumstances largely through glimpses at what has already happened to them. Although this claim could be made in a general sense about a vast number of novels, regardless of their cultural context, it is worth pointing out here because of 1) its prominence in Things Fall Apart and 2) the question of the role of differing modes of temporality in the ways that stories are told in various cultures. In Quayson’s article, he refers to JanMohamed’s work on Achebe’s novel, in which JanMohamed explores “patterns of temporality that are arguably related to African cultural sources” (121). Without having read JanMohamed’s article, this reference sparked my interest as to how the narrative technique of looking back to move forward may relate to the question we discussed in class last week regarding the “African novel versus the post-colonial novel.” I am interested to know what others think about this. Does temporality play a role in how you think about Achebe’s novel?  How or in what ways and how might this relate to your conceptions of the African novel? The post-colonial novel?



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One Response to Temporality in Achebe

  1. Anne Gulick says:

    Cool. I’ll be interested to get a better sense of how and where you see temporal markers showing up in the novel. Is there a “then” vs “now” even within precolonial time that structures the story, for instance? What temporality would we assign the tales that are told? I should take another look at JanMohamed – it’s been a long time!…


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