Annotated Bibliography: The Treatment of Things Fall Apart in American Classrooms
Okunoye, Oyeniyi. “Half A Century of Reading Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart.” English Studies 91.1 (2010): 42-57. Academic Search Complete. Web. 20 March. 2016.
Concerning Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, Okunoye remarks that “it is not possible to dissociate the publication of the novel from the emergence of modern African writing in general and the African novel in particular” (42). This alone justifies a critical analysis of the various readings done on this novel by scholars across different time periods, and geographic and cultural spaces. Despite the diversity of these readings and the investment of this novel in Africa as a complicated cultural space, Okunoye finds that the dominant lens through which TFA is read has largely been constructed by Western discourses. He concedes that scholars belonging to various countries and nationalities have made significant contributions to the reception of TFA over the last fifty years. However, he cautions that we should not equate the diversity of geography with a diversity of academic voices. According to Okunoye, the dominance of Western readings is a reflection of the influence of the Western academy on creating and disseminating knowledge. TFA then, is not a special case of post-colonial discourse dominated by the colonizers, but it does, by virtue of its visibility, present a unique opportunity to interrupt the hegemony of Western academic practices. This justifies my investigation of the various ways that TFA is taught in Western classrooms.
Ojaide, Tanure. “African Literature and Its Context: Teaching Teachers of Chinua Achebe’s “things Fall Apart””. Women’s Studies Quarterly 25.3/4 (1997): 169–177. Web.
“African Literature and Its Context” reads like an annotated syllabus (if such a genre could exist). In it, Ojaide describes his concerns and procedures in teaching a group of fellow college-level literature instructors how to teach Things Fall Apart. He identifies ten points about the novel for which non-African readers would not have a frame of reference. These ten points equate to learning objectives that readers can then use to inform their own understanding of TFA. Ojaide also includes descriptions of how his fellow instructors received these points and how he mediated those responses. The idea of mediation between cultures is central to Ojaide’s approach to teaching TFA. He argues that “it is one’s readiness to accept another culture, its artistic production and aesthetic considerations, and a certain empathy that are important for the teaching of foreign literatures” (175). The focus on teaching rather than on scholarly production makes this article especially useful to my project and demonstrates how my investigation contributes to more ethical pedagogical techniques for teaching the African novel in Western classrooms. I will use Ojaide to help me identify problematic themes in how Western instructors treat Achebe and as a starting point to imagine potential solutions.
Curry, Craig Eldon. “Going International: Teaching and Learning Culture from the Outside in”. The English Journal 95.6 (2006): 23–27. Web.
It did not occur to me until I saw this article that it might be important for the purposes of my paper to compare the way in which Things Fall Apart is taught in American classrooms to how it is taught in a Nigerian classroom. “Going International” is a case study of the author’s experience teaching Things Fall Apart to eighth and ninth graders at an American International School (AIS) in Nigeria. The classroom was composed of students from multiple ethnic backgrounds, but many of them were Nigerian by birth or had lived there for most of their lives. I expected that the local approach would lend itself to a more nuanced, “authoritative” reading than those of Western classrooms. Surprisingly, Curry’s teaching style rests on relinquishing his position as an expert and instead relies on the engagement of his students in a self-reflexive dialogue about how the values expressed in TFA map onto their own experiences as students in Nigeria. Curry notes that this class might have gone differently in a strictly Nigerian classroom, but insists that this would not necessarily produce an understanding of TFA that is homogenous or more authentic. This argument is held up by the intricate mix of cultural, linguistic, and social practices that have grown and changed throughout the history of Nigeria. While this article does not provide information about the nature of problems with teaching TFA, it offers useful insights on how we might combat ethnocentric tendencies in how we treat African literature. Western students cannot reflect on their experiences in Nigeria, but they can reflect on how their own cultural practices are constructed, so as to develop empathy and acceptance, which Ojaide suggests are essential to effectively reading foreign literatures.
Cobham, Rhonda. “Problems of gender and history in the teaching of things fall apart.” Chinua Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart”: A Casebook (2003): 165-80.
This essay extends many of the points made by Ojaide in “African Literatures and Its Context,” namely, that problems arise in the reading of TFA when foreign audiences import Western values, and more specifically Christian values, into the novel. This problem is two fold. First, as both Cobham and Ojaide note, the world we are shown in TFA is fictionalized; it is meant to be an exceptional rather than an exemplary representation of the interaction between Igbo and colonial cultures. Western readers miss subtle ironies present in the text that are apparent to African audiences. Reading Okonkwo’s hyper masculinity in terms of Western patriarchy, for example, undermines the significance of Achebe’s literary choices in rendering this character. Second, Western (mis)understanding of “tradition” as it applies to African communities elides the important distinction between individual and collective identity that Achebe is trying to make in TFA. The ironies that are missed in American readings are significant, according to Cobham, because they “serve to remind us that literature, like anthropology or history, is a form of selective representation” (178). This assertion supports the central claim of my thesis, that the “representation” of Nigeria, African, and African literature is impacted by the “selections” made in the syllabi for courses in African/ World literature.
Osei-Nyame, Godwin Kwadwo. “Chinua Achebe writing culture: representations of gender and tradition in Things Fall Apart.” Research in African Literatures 30.2 (2005): 148-164.
The subject of “Chinua Achebe Writing Culture” is similar to that of Cobham. Osei-Nyame is also interested in the readings and misreadings of gender and tradition in Igbo culture as it is shown in Things Fall Apart. However, whereas Cobham’s approach is aligned with historiographic/comparative literature methods, Osei-Nyame uses the ethnographic/anthropological explain the clash of cultures that occurs when teaching World literatures. He argues that TFA as a fiction was written in the ethnographic mode, not in the name of “realism” but rather so that he could underscore specific features of culture in general rather than display features of Igbo culture in general. This approach reveals “culture’s ‘contested, temporal, and emergent’ nature” rather than elide the nuances of representation and identity that are present in Achebe’s work. What strikes me about this text is that it implies Things Fall Apart might be taught in fields other than World literature. For my project, it might be interesting to compare how TFA is taught differently in an English course than in a history or anthropology course.
Related: Hathaway, James. “Using Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart in introductory geography courses.” Journal of Geography 92.2 (1993): 75-79.
DuBois Bourenane, Heather. “teaching Things Fall Apart in Wisconsin: a resource guide for educators” University of Wisconsin-Madison Center for the Humanities. (2009).
This artifact is a demonstration of many of the problems addressed in the literature I have explored thus far and shows evidence of instructors’ attempts to mediate these problems at the curricular level. This teaching guide was arranged in 2009 for first-year English instructors at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. While the author is clearly aware of and seeks to combat ethnocentricity in traditional methods of teaching TFA, there are a few moments in the presentation that suggest certain features of the text are being overlooked. For example, the presentation and classroom activity material calls for a discussion of the “tragic” elements of Things Fall Apart. This is problematic because as Ojaide observes in “African Literature and Its Context”, it is inappropriate to graph a conception of tragedy from Greek plays onto African literature. Also, I’ve found that this presentation has been used by academic institutions across the country and is available to instructors at all levels through multiple on-line databases for teaching resources. This suggests that it is representative of the current, popular approach to teaching TFA.