Toward an Extroverted Pedagogy of World Literatures: Addressing Problematic Readings of Things Fall Apart in Western Classrooms

The aim of this conference paper is to outline an accessible and effective theoretical framework for teaching Achebe’s Things Fall Apart in Western classrooms. While it is true that awareness of ethnocentric readings has generally increased, it appears that many World Literature courses continue to foster problematic interpretations of Igbo culture. Further, because these courses fail to properly contextualize TFA, students are left unaware of how the text is situated in the larger movements within Modern African Literature. This issue becomes even more problematic when coupled with superficial interpretations of Okonkwo’s character, as a realist representation of African masculinity. The consequence is that students can sometimes come away from these courses understanding Africa as a homogeneous space of Otherness governed by a savage patriarchy.

While teachers cannot be responsible for undoing several decades of mistreatment of African texts, there are theoretical tools that already exist in basic Literary Analysis courses, which teachers can use to more appropriately frame students interpretive work. Drawing from Julien’s concept of the “Extroverted African Novel” this essay argues for “Extroversion” as a useful pedagogical orientation for instructors of World Literature. That is, much in the way that African literature is written/performed with conscious attention to foreign interpretations, our instruction, World literature courses should equip students with the analytical tools to understand and articulate how their perspective on the text is mediated by their own culture. This essay argues that instructors can use Burke’s “terminsitic screens” and “dramatistic pentad” as interpretive tools that call attention to one’s own social/cultural biases when reading TFA. This helps not only to reduce problematic readings within the Academy, but empowers students to engage with the genre of Modern African literature outside of the classroom.

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