The Invasion of History
In the stereotypical colonial works of literature about Africa, writers fall in depicting its people as ahistorical people whose beliefs withdraw them from the world. This depiction leads those authors to present the Africans as people outside of the world and not one of its actors. In such works, the people of Africa are shown to be superstitious who interpret the world based on the beliefs of ditties to whom they attribute both failure and success. In Things Fall Apart, Achebe draws a different picture in which Igbo’s worldview are compatible with the idea that a man’s accomplishment also depends on “the strength of his arm” (17). Through the development of Okonkwo, the main character of the novel, one reads a story of acquiring success that gives weight to both the use of one’s power and at the same time the belief on a power that is higher than his. “Okonkwo said yes very strongly; so his chi agreed” (27). This understanding shapes the way the Igbo measures the worth of a man. Among them, “a man was judged according to his worth and not according to the worth of his father” (8). Nonetheless, for them, the worth of a man is also measured by his respect to his father and ancestors. As the Igbos say, “if a child washed his hands he could eat with kings” (8). It is noticeable that Achebe illustrates this feature of Igbo culture, as many other features, through inserting many of Igbo proverbs here and there. This literary usage of proverbs deepens the authenticity of Achebe’s work. Achebe’s work seems to bring a counter narrative to the popular painted image of Africa. Achebe depicts the Igbo as active actors of the world who both understand its laws and provide a rich interpretation of its hidden forces. Through the persona of Okonkwo, Achebe tells a story of a man who paved his own road to success, yet rooted in his village, people, and culture.
However, this personal success of Okonkwo, with the progression of the plot, is displaced and disoriented when it finds itself in the hinge of history, between two unfolding narratives and worlds, between his world and the new emerged one of the colonizers. Achebe chooses to narrate the perplex embodiment of both within him, yet Okonkwo could not reconcile the violation of his personal history by the colonizers. Perhaps, personal libration was only possible by the tragic end of Okonkwo, by death as an ultimate answer to history. It seems inevitable to submit to the course of history without scarifying the personal, and through such view Okonkwo saw his son and village. I wonder if it is ever possible to resolve the conflict between the personal and the historical, the old and the new, in our world, the world of antagonism.