Stories and Faith

One of Ato Quayson’s arguments concerns the value of realism in the African novel. He questions whether critics should value realism very highly when African myths and legends compose a significant aspect of “an African world view” (123). This reminded me that as I read Achebe and Adichie, what has consistently stuck out to me are the stories characters tell and believe in and how narratives shape the way they see themselves as members of a social structure. At a fundamental level, both Things Fall Apart and The Headstrong Historian seem interested in the kinds of narratives that are told by and about African history and identity. As we’ve mentioned in class before, in Things Fall Apart, Nwoye must abandon the stories of his mother, the myths he loves, in favor of the war stories of his father in order to be accepted as a proper son. So, the kinds of stories that characters value implicate them as weak or strong, masculine or feminine.

The religious narratives that characters embrace also solidify or dissolve social bonds. Both Achebe’s Nwoye and Adichie’s Anikwenwa cast off the world-view shaping narratives of their parents and adopt the Christian narratives of the European missionaries. Adichie writes, “They had to consult the oracle, as this was a family misfortune, Nwamgba said, but Mgbeke’s eyes widened with fear. Michael would be very angry if he ever heard of this oracle suggestion.” Anikwenwa rejects not only his African name, but also the spiritual narratives of his mother. In Achebe’s story, as Obierika says, this dissolution of family and tribe is what causes the community to fall apart.

A significant difference of Adichie’s story as a response to Achebe’s lies in its shift in narrative perspective. As Jonathan just noted in his blog post, Adichie’s The Headstrong Historian is told from the perspective of a woman, someone whose thoughts and feelings were pushed to the margins of Achebe’s narrative focus. Not only is the story told from a woman’s perspective, but Afamefuna / Grace shifts the story about southern Nigeria to a story, not about the pacification of savages, but rather to a story of violent colonial oppression when she writes her book, “Pacifying with Bullets: A Reclaimed History of Southern Nigeria.” The stories and myth-making characters engage in are an essential part of the ways characters see themselves in relation to a community and its history.

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