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ANALOGOUS WORKS OF CHINUA ACHEBE’S THINGS FALL APART AND CHIMAMANDA NGOZI ADICHIE’S PURPLE HIBISCUS

ANALOGOUS WORKS OF CHINUA ACHEBE’S THINGS FALL APART AND CHIMAMANDA NGOZI ADICHIE’S PURPLE HIBISCUS

 

CHAPTER ONE

INTRODUCTION

1.1     Background of the study

 

In order to undertake this investigation, a thorough examination of both texts was required. This involved multiple close readings of both texts: a primary reading for both the enjoyment and the understanding of the plot arch, a secondary reading for important contextual details and schematic structure, as well as a tertiary reading to annotate both works and mark key similarities. This essay concludes that Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus are analogous works due to their similar allusion to “The Second Coming”—a poem by W.B. Yeats—the presence of chaos in both books, their similar treatment of religion, the similar roles of various primary characters and conflicts presented, and the clear presence of Igbo culture throughout both texts. The essay also concludes that transformations of culture can be viewed as unexpected but pleasant outcomes of our globalized world.

Chinua Achebe and ChimamandaNgoziAdichie are two Nigerian writers who have highlighted Nigeria’s rich history by snapshotting two different versions of Nigeria, from two different time periods, in the fictional works Things Fall Apart and Purple Hibiscus (respectively).

The most obvious connection between these two works is their use of the phrase “things fall apart”. The opening line of Adichie’sPurple Hibiscus begins “Things started to fall apart when…” in a clear allusion to Achebe’s work (3). Interestingly enough, however, the title Things Fall Apart is also an allusion. The phrase comes from the third line of WB Yeats’ poem “The Second Coming”. The first four lines of the poem form the epigraph of Achebe’s work and are reproduced below:

“Turning and turning in the widening gyre

The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.”

-W. B. Yeats, “The Second Coming”

A clear motif of chaos is present within the epigraph. As opposed to normal conditions where the falcon’s gyre narrows as it approaches its master, the falcon in spinning away from the falconer, and the gyre continuously widens as the distance between the two increases. The point at which the falcon is so removed from the falconer that it cannot hear his calls is where all control and communication are lost. It is here that “things fall apart”. As the familiar dynamic between bird and man is disrupted, the system breaks, and both order and balance are destroyed. This event presents a clear metaphor to the destruction of a societal framework. This consequent loss of order and balance are crucial to both Achebe and Adichie’s work.  Readers first see the chaos in Things Fall Apart, a story that details more than just the tumultuous fall of one man but accounts the prospective demise of a culture. Okonkwo, the protagonist, is the symbol of Igbo culture; for this, he is likened to the falconer. He is described as being a merciless fighter who “[drinks] his palm-wine from his first human head” (Achebe 10) and is deemed by his people as the “greatest wrestler and warrior alive” (Achebe 118). As a strong man in a society of men who have seemingly forgotten their strength, Okonkwo stands tall in objection as European missionaries threaten the way of life in his clan Umuofia. It is here that Achebe uses Okonkwo’s character as a symbol of Igbo culture in clear protest to white invasion. Unfortunately, Okonkwo, despite his cries, loses Umuofia as it forsakes him and spins away—just as the falcon does—right into the hands of Western colonization.

Eugene, a primary character in Purple Hibiscus—described as “too much of a colonial product” by his sister (Adichie 13)—belongs to the post-colonialism era that Okonkwo did not have the foresight to fear. Eugene, an Igbo man who puts on a British accent in the “gracious, eager-to-please” way he always assumes with the white religious (Adichie 46), seems to live in stark contrast from Okonkwo, the Igbo man who “[broke] into derisive laughter” (Achebe 146) alongside his clansmen when the European missionaries first came to evangelize. Unlike Okonkwo, Eugene agrees with the notion that only godless pagans worship wood and stone (Adichie 39, 47). The transition from a society of Okonkwo-s to a society of Eugene-s came gradually just as Obierika, a visionary close friend of Okonkwo, imagined. He says:

The white man is very clever. He came quietly and peaceably with his religion. We were amused at his foolishness and allowed him to stay. Now he has won our brother, and our clan can no longer act like one. He has a put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart (Achebe 176).

In Eugene’s new world, Catholicism has overtaken much of the traditional spiritual practices of Igbo culture. In both Things Fall Apart and Purple Hibiscus, there is a clear theme of religion and the dangers it holds. In Things Fall Apart, Okonkwo’s native religion is integral to his culture; the idea of having a chi, a personal god, is central to the Igbo way of life. Although Okonkwo is far from being the most pious of individuals–beating his wife during the sacred Week of Peace that honors the earth goddess Ani is but one of his transgressions (Achebe 30)—he frequently looks toward his gods and his chi to explain both the triumph and misfortune in his life. It’s his respect for his gods that makes him comply without protest to his seven year banishment after killing a clansmen and committing a female, or inadvertent, crime against the earth goddess (Achebe 124). It is ironic, however, is that a different religion—the intrusive Catholicism of the white man—plays a monumental role in the chaos that ensues in Things Fall Apart. The duality of religion is clear: it is both a tool for building up culture and a weapon for destroying it.

Similar to Okonkwo and his chi, Catholicism rules Eugene. At Mass, the parish Father is said to refer to the “Pope, Papa [Eugene] , and Jesus–in that order” (Adichie 4). Eugene strives for nothing less than perfection in the eyes of the Lord, and, to his peers, he seems to have achieved that. Although Eugene is significantly more fanatical than Okonkwo, religion inPurple Hibiscus breeds chaos in a similar fashion. Under the guise of religion and divinity, Eugene is driven to extremism. He becomes grossly abusive in an attempt to make his family appear immaculate—nothing less than model citizens in society. Readers once more see the destructive capabilities of religion, and note its familiar treatment in both works.

The resemblances between these relationships are uncanny; it seems as if history has repeated itself. These similarities allow for an interesting thought experiment: what if Eugene in Purple Hibiscus is the great-great-great grandson of Nwoye in Things Fall Apart? Intertwining the two stories—reading Purple Hibiscus as a modern continuation of Things Fall Apart—allows for some compelling conclusions. Eugene can be viewed as a modern-day Nwoye. Like Nwoye, he turned away from tradition and embraced the white man and his religion. Unlike Nwoye, however, he is a true product of the pacification of his people—a radical driven to extremism by the new religion. In this, he symbolizes the tragedy of colonialism: the overwhelming loss of the pacified culture. Consequently, Papa-Nnukwu symbolizes the remnants of the “old ways” that are yet to be lost. He is like a reincarnation of Okonkwo in the way he stands for the protection and the survival of the Igbo culture, but his tradition and habits characterize him more so of the Unoka from ages past.

Next, there is Jaja: a character desperately struggling to find balance between the old and the new. Although he resembles a young Nwoye, it is ironic that instead of turning away from tradition to find answers, Jaja turns towards it. He is engrossed by Papa-Nnukwu, and slowly realizes that he cannot be so quick as to write his grandfather off as a pagan. He begins to respect tradition just as he respects Catholicism, and he questions the ideology of both. When Papa-Nnukwu dies, Jaja is the one who speaks up against his father when Eugene calls the deceased a heathen. He argues that his grandfather did not want to convert to Catholicism (Adichie 191); making a statement that would be unimaginable from the Jaja readers were introduced to at the beginning of the work.

The infusion of foreign cultures is a delicate dance; one which requires a carefully choreographed mix of tolerance and reverence. Jaja’s slow transformation towards acceptance mirrors the evolution of Igbo culture in Nigerian society. In Things Fall Apart, readers witness the intrusion of European ideology. The fate of Igbo culture looks uncertain; Achebe writes, “It seemed as if the very soul of the tribe wept for a great evil that was coming—its own death” (Achebe 187). The great warriors are warriors no more. Initially, all seems lost in Purple Hibiscus. However, after the subtlest of signs, readers are assured that the Igbo culture, although largely transformed and modernized, has prevailed. The evidence: a fable.

1.2 Statement of the problem

The problem of African literary artists especially the novelists have imbibed Achebe model which is the contemporary families and societies that has been modified to suit the African surroundings. They depended essentially on the manipulation of the cultural, social and linguistic background. However, it has been demonstrated that the texts selected by its thematic preoccupation and character delineation in previous studies show culture and tradition as strong factors in sex differentiation, creation of gender identities and power sharing. It also shows that socially constructed roles and identities contribute to domestic and social violence in patriarchal societies. The most studies examines the themes, metaphors and symbolic representation of characters through the feminist perspective and Max Weber‘s power theory. This is because the analyses of gender relations must take into cognizance theories of a person‘s biological sex and gender identity and how it affects power sharing and the role of tradition, laws and the dominant ideology in the perpetuation of gender-based violence. Adichie‘s writings portray a strong call against gender violence and the treatment of women as commodities.Gender-based unkindness is not a new problem in the Nigerian society or other societies of the world. Ferocity against an individual on the basis of his /her gender is common place and is becoming endemic. Various studies have been carried out on what fosters gender cruelty and what makes it thrive with a view to putting an end to the problem. This has opened up various arguments as to how the problem can best be tackled.

 

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