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ESSAY TOPICS ON ACHEBE'S Things Fall Apart 

Choose one of the following questions and respond in a well-developed essay.This assignment is due on Wednesday, December 1, 2010.  It must be typed and formatted using MLA guidelines.   

1.   One of the central features of Things Fall Apart is Achebe's balancing of principles through the metaphor of masculine and feminine a metaphor that seems to derive from deep within Ibo thought. Thus, the god who, above all others, regulates life in Umuofia is Ani, the earth goddess. And it is a reflection of Okonkwo's failure, to seek balance between the manly virtues and the womanly virtues as understood in Umuofia, that each of the disasters that afflicts him can be seen as a crime against the earth. One is tempted to say that this is Okonkwo's tragic flaw: he is a man who lives in a culture that requires a balance between "masculine" and "feminine" that he does not acknowledge (in part because he is ashamed of his father who has failed to be a "real man"). And it is through this flaw that he is destroyed. A mark of Achebe's mastery is that he manages to communicate this ideal of balance ... even while describing a culture that will strike many modem readers as overwhelmingly---- even oppressively---- dominated by men.                     - Kwame Anthony Appiah      

Although Umuofia is a patriarchal society, Achebe constantly points to the centrality of femininity in Igbo culture. In what ways does he draw attention to the fact that the feminine qualities of Igbo culture are important to its survival?   

2.   Okonkwo is destroyed, and brings ruin on others, because he is excessive in his adherence to the values of his society; those who can compromise, change with the times and adjust, are seen as more sensible. This does not make Okonkwo, any less tragic or heroic. Despite Achebe's objective manner of narration, [Okonkwo is] portrayed with sympathy and achieves noble stature in the course of the novel; the principles [he upholds] are also seen as noble and engage our sympathies. But such principles are often flawed and inherently unsound in the face of social change. Achebe is like [earlier writers] in presenting a tragic universe in which exceptional individuals are crushed by larger social forces. One is tempted to describe it as a deterministic universe, since the causes of the tragedy are inherent within the culture itself and its relationship to larger realities.                                                                             - Bruce King 

What Okonkwo cannot accept, finally, is the coming of the white man to the land ... Okonkwo cannot understand how his countrymen could be destroyed rather than defend themselves ... Finally, in despair, Okonkwo proceeds ... to commit the most horrendous of all offenses against the earth goddess----suicide. Thus he ends in disgrace with the community whose preservation obsessed him. His tribesmen cannot even touch or bury him; they can only attempt to cleanse the desecrated ground where he hanged himself. Why does the man [i.e., Okonkwo], his life and his death, move us so? It is, I think, because Okonkwo, perhaps the best among his fellows, sees the imminent danger to that old order which is there life, and more stubbornly than anyone else refuses to give up the old forms for the new formlessness. Such determination as Okonkwo's is heroic. Call it obsession; but it is nonetheless ... the mysteriously stiffing course of a man brave enough to reach beyond his fears to bold action.                                                                              - Robert McDowell      

Achebe is very conversant with Western literature and its traditional forms. He borrows from the tradition of Greek tragedy by centering the story of Things Fall Apart around a tragic hero, Okonkwo. In your opinion, what contributes most to the final tragedy of Okonkwo? Could his fall have been averted?  Do you agree with Bruce King's and Robert McDowell's assessments? Explain.  

3.   Achebe develops techniques--and promotes ideologies--whose primary purpose is to contest, and wrestle with, the silent shadows and forms of colonialist discourse... My contention here is that if we do not tune our ears to the written and unwritten discourse that blocks Achebe's attempt to recover the essential forms of Igbo culture in Things Fall Apart--whether we believe such recovery possible or not --then we will often miss the value of the novel as a form of cultural formation. The first question we need to take up, then, relates to the strategies Achebe develops to reply to his colonialist precursors, or rather to turn the Western fantasy on Africa upside down, a gesture of reversal ... which makes it possible for Achebe to initiate narratives of resistance. A reading of Things Fall Apart which fails to relate it to the discourse that shadows it, misses the revolutionary nature of Achebe's text.                                                                                                                                                                                     -  Simon Gikandi  

Examine the strategies of resistance to colonialist discourse on Africa Achebe deploys in Things Fall Apart.  What is his attitude towards Igbo culture? 

4.    According to Achebe the African writer must be involved in the task of decolonizing the minds of his or her fellow Africans in the struggle against (neo) colonialism. In his article entitled, "'The Novelist as Teacher" he writes: Here then is an adequate revolution for me to espouse--to help my society regain belief in itself and put away the complexes of the years of denigration and self-abasement And it is essentially a question of education, in the best sense of the word. Here, I think, my aims and the deepest aspirations of my society meet [ ... ] The writer cannot be excused from the task of re--education and regeneration that must be done... I for one would not wish to be excused. I would be quite satisfied if my novels (especially the ones I set in the past) did more than just teach my readers [Africans] that their past -- with all its imperfections-- was not one long night of savagery from which the Europeans acting on God's behalf delivered them.                                                                                                                                            - Chinua Achebe, Hopes and Impediments  

In your view, how well does Achebe meet his goal as a writer in Things Fall Apart?

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