I’m planning to explore issues of religious confrontation and conversion in Achebe’s Things Fall Apart – focusing on those specific moments where worldviews collide. I’m not as interested (to borrow the phrasing of one critic) in moments of hybridization or compromise as I am moments of departure and conflict, though my exact focus is still being hammered out. Achebe’s portrayal of Igbo spirituality early in the novel is nuanced, but his depiction of Christianity is equally complicated – both sides are valued and criticized in different ways. Christianity is clearly presented as a force of oppression for many, but fascinatingly it’s also a tool of independence for others. Some questions I hope to consider: Through this paradox, what is Achebe trying to say about colonialism and Christianity in Africa? What does his portrayal of Igbo spirituality tell us? How does tradition (its interpretation and reinterpretation) play a role in this conflict? How do conceptions of violence influence it?
There are a few more sources I’m still trying to get my hands on, but this is the brunt of it. Does anyone have Simon Gikandi’s Reading Chinua Achebe: Language and Ideology in Fiction? The library says it’s available, but I couldn’t find it anywhere on the shelves.
Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart. New York: Random House, 1995. Print.
Needs no introduction, yes?
Hoegberg, David. “Principle and Practice: The Logic of Cultural Violence in Achebe’s Things Fall Apart.” College Literature 26.1 (1999): 69-79. Print.
This article examines several instances of violence within Things Fall Apart, most notably Okonkwo’s eventual killing of his adopted son Ikemefuna. Hoeberg argues that, by the time Ikemefuna is killed, he has become a symbolic figure for blurred boundaries between the self and the “other”, which is later ironically reinforced when his death becomes a significant factor in Nwoye’s decision to convert. Hoeberg suggests that victims of violence in the novel are ambiguous cases frequently classified as “other”, and that Achebe implies that a culture’s inability to tolerate them leads only to violence and ruin.
Jacobs, Alan. “Storytellers and Interpreters in Achebe.” The Force of Tradition: Response and Resistance in Literature, Religion, and Cultural Studies. Ed. Donald G. Marshall. Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield, 2005. 255-268. Print.
Jacobs sees in Achebe’s work a theme of people being “displaced” from traditional practices, and therefore forced to switch their roles from storytellers (who uphold tradition) to interpreters (who interpret it for new contexts). This sense of dislocation and need for cultural interpretation shows up repeatedly in Things Fall Apart, though one of Achebe’s interesting ideas is how the story’s characters, even beyond Okonkwo, recognize the need for drastic action but fail to question certain ingrained assumptions about masculinity and violence, which contribute to their downfall. Jacobs also sees these themes being explored even more fully in Achebe’s later novel Arrow of God.
Kollman, Paul. “Classifying African Christianities: Past, Present, and Future: Part One.” Journal of Religion in Africa 40.1 (2010): 3-32. Print.
This article is an overview of scholarly approaches to understanding and classifying Christianity in Africa. Kollman asserted that scholars have tended to judge African Christians by a variety of criteria including religiosity, ecclesial independence, cultural distinctiveness, and political activity. It’s useful for my purposes to note how views of Christianity have changed throughout the post-colonial period, as well as to see how different African Christian groups responded to the continuation of traditional African religion and worship.
Mackenzie, Clayton G. “The Metamorphosis of Piety in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart.” Research in African Literatures 27.2 (1996): 128-138. Print.
Mackenzie tracks the portrayal of religion and religious piety in Things Fall Apart, from the first mention of the Oracle through the arrival of colonial missionaries and the conversion of some Africans to Christianity. He describes the novel as being set at the nexus of new and old religious orders. While one of Achebe’s goals was to reinforce the value of traditional African spirituality, the narrative also revealed the fatal weakness of Igbo religion, that it had gone unchallenged and unquestioned for so long. The new religious “departure” that resulted from colonialism became not so much a switch from one religion to another as an entirely different way of measuring security and achievement.
Morrison, Jago. The Fiction of Chinua Achebe. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2007. Print.
The book surveys the breadth of Achebe’s fiction, focusing mainly on his novels. For my purposes I focused exclusively on the first two chapters, dealing with Things Fall Apart. Morrison constructs his overview as an intentional dialogue with other critics, so he is frequently quoting long passages from others. He discusses the positive and negative critical receptions to the novel, plus how they have changed over time, then discusses some different possible readings of the narrative in light of feminist theory, Marxist theory, etc.
Ogede, Ode. Achebe and the Politics of Representation. Trenton: Africa World Press, 2001. Print.
Ogede’s book takes a critical look at the portrayals of colonialism and post-colonialism in the works of Chinua Achebe. For my purposes I focused on chapter two, “The Colonial Occupation,” as it dealt most directly with Things Fall Apart. Ogede is actually quite critical of Things Fall Apart, which he sees as being far, far too kind to the colonial British forces, glossing over their atrocities while falsely emphasizing some infrequent problems within Igbo culture. He feels that the novel panders to Western tradition and too closely adopts the West’s own “politics of narration,” though I believe he feels that Achebe’s later work is a more positive step toward something truly representational for Nigerians and Africans in general.
Rhoads, Diana Akers. “Culture in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart.” African Studies Review 36.2 (1993): 61-72. Print.
Rhoads studies the ways that Igbo culture is treated in Things Fall Apart. She sees one of the novel’s principle goals being the restoration for the Igbo of the dignity lost during colonialism, as well as a partial defense of its value to Western audiences. It’s worth noting, of course, that Achebe is also critical of certain aspects of Igbo culture, but in general he offers a potential source for “modern Nigerian dignity” in the novel. For my purposes it’s also useful to note the ways the religion figures into this, as Rhoads argues that Igbo religious practices are justified by their comparison to Christianity – they are viewed similarly and treated as “equally irrational”.