Ogbanje in Things Fall Apart

Response to Things Fall Apart

A thing that takes my attention about TFA is the repetition. The stories are retold within in the story as if they’re being told to a smaller audience several times on different occasions. It’s an oral telling format. The restarting of a story may happen within a few pages or over a larger movement. I noticed the pattern in Chapter Three where Achebe writes, “Okonkwo did not have the start from life which many young men usually had” (18) and then uses the exact same sentence two pages later. Several times throughout the novel a story is retold. Is this one of the ways that the oral tradition embosses itself on the changling form of the novel?

It’s the repetition that’s interesting, but it’s the moments of seeming unreality that cement my interest, specifically in the Ogbanje tale of a child who repeatedly dies and returns to its mother to be born. The Ogbanje surfaces here and in Adiche’s “Headstrong Historian” as well as Okri’s The Famished Road. I’m fascinated by  the other-natural, diurnal/deitific representations in this novel, so the scenes that are most ripe for investigation for me are the scenes with Chielo and Ezinma. I guess, what strikes me is the function of this mythology. Like all myths, it is constructed to give meaning to common unexplainable phenomenon, to common tragedies. As I was reading, and observing that a man’s number wives and children increase his cultural capital while things that are characterized as womanish are weak and undesirable, the wives are subject to violent assault, I was surprised to find that when a woman has a miscarriage, she is not blamed for it. I’m surprised because as the keeper of something so valuable, so intrinsic to masculine and feminine pride, in TFA and in “Headstrong Historian,” neither the gods nor the parents are faulted, only the whim of other-worldly child is identified and heeded. I want to connect metaphor of the unwilling spirit child to the fate of the pods of nascent re-visioned nations blossom into existence at the behest of the colonizers. There is something worth investigating in the short story of dark migration that Chielo,  Ekwefi, and Ezinma take. As I think more on it, I’ll read Chistopher N. Okonkowo’s “Ogbanje and Abiku: Contexts, Conceptualizations, and Two West AfricanLiterary Archetypes from his book A Spirit of Dialogue: Incarnations of Ogbanje, the Born-to-Die, in African American Literature.

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2 Responses to Ogbanje in Things Fall Apart

  1. Anne Gulick says:

    Very cool questions about the function of obanje in the novel, and Okri’s novel is exactly the place to look for a really fleshed out treatment of spirit-children as part of a national allegory. If you haven’t already done so, please do add Okonkwo’s book to the critical bibliography!

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  2. Anne Gulick says:

    I haven’t read it, but you might want to look at Helen Oyeyemi’s The Icarus Girl (2005) – all about doubles, ghosts, twins, and a reworking of that obanje/abiku figure, I’m told. See also Christopher Ouma’s essay on this novel in the Fall 2014 issue of Research in African Literatures.

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