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Old 08-22-2013, 10:29 AM   #16
issybird
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I also am disturbed by how much bad was done when the church tried to replace generations of moral obligations with their own version of morality. While one may not agree with the obligations of one group it is those customs and beliefs that make for a strong community. When we replace those traditions we are left on shaky ground that is not built on hisotorical trust within the groups. I am saddened by the outcomes.
I think the book did an admirable job of illustrating the murkiness inherent in civilizations and moral systems at odds with each other. While some aspects of each culture are merely different, each has some that are intrinsically evil as best as one judge while trying to maintain a stance of impartiality. That of course is impossible since we can't ever entirely transcend our conditioning, but there are some easy calls. Was it necessary for a strong community to expose infants? Or allow men to beat their wives at will? It was just those inherent weaknesses of a strong community that allowed an alien religion to take root. It was already vulnerable, containing the seeds of its own destruction. Moreover, I'd argue that as with any mature, established culture, one reason it sustained itself was because it supported the existing power structure at the expense of the weakest members of that society. The way of the world, unfortunately.

This is why I found this such a terrific book. It explored such complexities with such a deceptively simple style and story.
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Old 08-22-2013, 12:31 PM   #17
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I think the book did an admirable job of illustrating the murkiness inherent in civilizations and moral systems at odds with each other. While some aspects of each culture are merely different, each has some that are intrinsically evil as best as one judge while trying to maintain a stance of impartiality. That of course is impossible since we can't ever entirely transcend our conditioning, but there are some easy calls. Was it necessary for a strong community to expose infants? Or allow men to beat their wives at will? It was just those inherent weaknesses of a strong community that allowed an alien religion to take root. It was already vulnerable, containing the seeds of its own destruction. Moreover, I'd argue that as with any mature, established culture, one reason it sustained itself was because it supported the existing power structure at the expense of the weakest members of that society. The way of the world, unfortunately.

This is why I found this such a terrific book. It explored such complexities with such a deceptively simple style and story.
It's a fable, it's supposed to bring questions to light through a simple manner.

I would never abdicate the mistreatment of any group of people, but when it came to conflicts between tribes there was an understood penance to be paid. Whether I deem that right or wrong is a different question than what the effect of changing the rules of the penance would be. Effectively changing the laws in a culture is going to end tears. We've seen this time and time again.

I really enjoyed reading this book after having read Gourevitch's book on Rwanda earlier this year. I think it really broadened the picture that Gourevitch gave of the difficulties in laying blame and why we ever thought we should choose sides in conflicts and culture and peace that are hundreds and thousands of years older than us.

It was a good book. I enjoyed it a lot.
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Old 08-22-2013, 01:52 PM   #18
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I was at the start a skeptic towards this book due to the simple writing style, but in the end grew to really like it. To me it was a thought provoking look at what civilization means, and assumptions about what constitutes a superior and more just civilization.

Yes, the beliefs of the tribe in various gods and their ancestor worship seem like primitive superstition, but on a rational objective basis is what the Christian missionaries are pushing more convincing?

The tribes have customs that seem abhorrent, such as putting new born twins out to die or labeling some people as osu (outcast). Is the latter better than the racial and religious discrimination in the British colonists?

The murder of Ikemefuna seems senseless and heartless, especially after letting him seemingly become part of Okonkwo's family. Even Okonkwo was for a time racked with doubt and guilt about that. It must also be placed in its proper context. When a war is eminent between the village of Umuofia and Mbaino due to the murder of the wife of a Umufoia man by a Mbaino man, the elders of both village decide that to avoid the possibility of great bloodshed it is better for Mbaino to give up a young women to replace the murdered wife and the lad Ikemefuna as restitution to the people of Umoufia to do as they please with. Contrast this with the response of the civilized British when the people of Abame kill the one unexpected white man that has appeared in the village. To quote:

Quote:
For many market weeks nothing else happened. They have a big market in Abame on every other Afo day and, as you know, the whole clan gathers there. That was the day it happened. The three white men and a very large number of other men surrounded the market. They must have used a powerful medicine to make themselves invisible until the market was full. And they began to shoot. Everybody was killed, except the old and the sick who were at home and a handful of men and women whose chi were wide awake and brought them out of that market.” He paused.

“Their clan is now completely empty. Even the sacred fish in their mysterious lake have fled and the lake has turned the color of blood. A great evil has come upon their land as the Oracle had warned.”
The "civilized" response is to return and wipe out the entire village?

Anyway I enjoyed this book. In perspective colonization was inevitable and in the long run, after much depredation by the British, positive for the people. However, this book presents and nice perspective about how it must have seemed to a people who had their whole culture destroyed in the process.
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Old 08-22-2013, 01:57 PM   #19
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I thought the book was excellent and thank you all for choosing it from among the nominations; I've been wanting to read it for a long time but my "want" list is so long that I don't know when I would've gotten to it if it hadn't won this month.

I really loved how we are able to experience colonialism from "the other side". The book takes us into the village and makes us understand it and its people and even relate to them in many ways, which is a far contrast from, say, Conrad's Heart of Darkness. Despite the village's evils, I even found it somewhat dangerously idyllic. It was a simple way of life built on tradition and there was general happiness to be found there.

However, though experiencing the villages "from the inside" was great, this book even went one step further and brought the book into true greatness by showing the aforementioned evils and unjustness of a way of life that has since been threatened and overtaken by another intruding culture. There was no bias here anywhere; no attempt to illustrate right from wrong. Instead, it simply showed life in all its murkiness.

I think it's very interesting that Achebe chose such a hard man to relate to as the protagonist and the tragic character that resulted from the beginnings of colonialism there. I think he may have done it for a few reasons. First, perhaps he wanted to make sure he wasn't making the pre-colonialism village life into something too easily seen as an ideal and having such a hard man as the central character really helped that. Second, though it is so easy to see colonialism as evil, I think he may have wanted to show that while it may be harsh and oppressing, it doesn't hold a monopoly on those things, and that there are many shades of grey (just, hopefully, not 50 of them).

Okonkwo's death is quite interesting as I can see it supporting two opposite ideas. In one way it's a symbol of the tragedy of what's happening to the "Ibo" (in real life it's Igbo) while in another it's an almost fitting end to a man who was so hard and unbending even by his own village's standards. I think this duality of interpretations is so apropos to the book itself since Achebe seems to want to steer away from easily labelling things as right or wrong. It seems to me he wanted to leave us pondering if the death was simply a result of these colonialist intruders driving Okonkwo to his final breaking point or if it went deeper to things he did pre-colonialism.

I did a little investigating afterwards on the Igbo people of Nigeria that this book is based on, and I was quite surprised to find that the traditional Igbo culture and society is still stronger and more prevalent than I would've expected given the colonialism. It may now be heavily influenced by colonialism and modernity, but it is still there, to the point where I found a message board where Igbo people a few years ago were actually discussing if nowadays it was acceptable to befriend or marry osu (the outcasts/untouchables from the book), with some actually replying that they just couldn't marry an osu because the stigma is too strong. One had even moved and was now living in the UK and still said he wouldn't marry an osu for anything. Even though I just happened upon that discussion, it does reinforce the neutrality of the book, since we often associate oppressed and disappearing cultures as things to be cherished and idealised where in reality here we are in 2013 and one holdover from Igbo culture is that people today still see osu as untouchable outcasts.

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Old 08-24-2013, 02:23 PM   #20
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The title from the book is taken from the lines of the famous Irish poet W.B.Yeats.

'Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things Fall Apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.'

It intrigues me, this quote, even when learning that Achebe is born and raised in the Nigerian village Ogidi; one of the first Anglican missionary work centres. Why not something from an African tradition?

I like Achebe's detailed view on life in Umuofia; this village which is governed by rituals, Gods, Priestess and Oracle. He respects this society. It gives me a certain feel for the way things are in this society.
And yes, life can be cruel, but this is the way their world, their universe is structured. People do accept the rules, the rituals; otherwise this clan wouldn't and couldn't function at all.
It doesn't matter whether I agree or disagree, being from another culture. My culture also has it's cruel and enigmatic aspects, which I hardly understand myself at times.

English is Achebe's 'second' language; spoken at school and college. He writes about the Ibo traditions in short, almost staccato sentences. No embellishments but Ibo words strategically placed. A straightforward and beautiful narration.
This rhythm changes at the end of the story, when the Commissioner speaks. Too many words, as if he tries to disguise, justify, glorify and give his actions an (historical)importance.

The protagonist Okonkwo, is a man of the pre- colonial world. Governed by traditions and by the memory of his little respected father Unoka, he manages to carve an important place for himself in the village. Respect for the way things ought to be is his motto.
Spoiler:
P.24.'But it was really not true that Okonkwo's palm-kernels had been cracked for him by a benevolent spirit. He had cracked them himself. Anyone who knew his grim struggle against poverty and misfortune could not say he had been lucky. If ever a man deserved his success, that man was Okonkwo. At an early age he had achieved fame as the greatest wrestler in all the land. That was not luck. At the most one could say that his chi or personal god was good. But the Ibo people have a proverb that when a man says yes his chi says yes also. Okonkwo said yes very strongly, so his chi agreed. And not only his chi but his clan too, because it judged a man by the work of his hands. That was why Okonkwo had been Chosen by the nine villages to carry a message of war to their enemies..'

He is proud of the traditions, but his world is changing.
Spoiler:
P.46.'For three years Ikemefuna lived in Okonkwo's household and the elders of Umuofia seemed to have forgotten about him.
P.50.'Ezeudu was the oldest man in this quarter of Umuofia.(...) he said to Okonkwo: "That boy calls you father. Do not bear a hand in his death." Okonkwo was surprised, and was about to say something when the old man continued: "Yes, Umuofia has decided to kill him. The Oracle of the Hills and the Caves has pronounced it. They will take him outside Umuofia as is the custom, and kill him there. But I want you to have nothing to do with it. He calls you his father.'
P.54.'As the man who had cleared his throat drew up and raised his machete, Okonkwo looked away. He heard the blow. The pot fell and broke in the sand. He heard Ikemefuna cry, "My father, they have killed me!" as he ran towards him. Dazed with fear, Okonkwo drew his machete and cut him down. He was afraid of being thought weak.'

The execution of the boy Ikemefuna, who lives in his family like a son (but is in fact a kind of hostage), is a turning point. Even though he takes part in it; this inflexible, traditional man worries: 'afraid of being thought weak'.
And for his son Mnoye, life isn't the same for him after the death of Ikemefuma, who was like a brother.

P. 54.'It was after such a day at the farm during the last harvest that Nwoye had felt for the first time a snapping inside him like the one he now felt. They were returning home with baskets of yams from a distant farm across the stream when they heard the voice of an infant crying in the thick forest. A sudden hush had fallen on the women, who had been talking, and they had quickened their steps. Nwoye had heard that twins were put in earthenware pots and thrown away in the forest, but he had never yet come across them. A vague chill had descended on him and his head had seemed to swell, like a solitary walker at night who passes an evil spirit on the way. Then something had given way inside him.'

The whole of Okonkwo's world is crumbling.
As a punishment for an inadvertent death, he is exiled to live for 7 years in another village. During this exile missionaries come to Umuofia and rattle at the fundaments of their traditions. By the time he returns home, things have gone all wrong; even his son seems to be a convert.
Spoiler:
P.158. 'The clan had undergone such profound change during his exile that it was barely recognisable. The new religion and government and the trading stores were very much in the people's eyes and minds. There were still many who saw these new institutions as evil, but even they talked and thought about little else, and certainly not about Okonkwo's return.(...)
Okonkwo was deeply grieved. And it was not just a personal grief. He mourned for the clan, which he saw breaking up and falling apart, and he mourned for the warlike men of Umuofia, who had so unaccountably become soft like women.'

After some time he convinces his clan to make a stand against the white men. But they are captured and humiliated by the men of the District Commissioner.
Spoiler:
P.165.'For the first time in many years Okonkwo had a feeling that was akin to happiness. The times which had altered so unaccountably during his exile seemed to be coming round again. The clan which had turned false on him appeared to be making amends.
CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR
Okonkwo and his fellow prisoners were set free as soon as the fine was paid. The District Commissioner spoke to them again about the great queen, and about peace and good government. But the men did not listen. They just sat and looked at him and at his interpreter'

In the end, there is nothing left for Okonkwo, but to admit defeat. The tradition of his world is being replaced by a completely foreign concept of a Queen as a mother and one God to rule all. He isn't part of this society, or any society any longer. He steps outside it, by doing the unspeakable: taking his own life.
Spoiler:
P.172.(...)"It is against our custom," said one of the men. "It is an abomination for a man to take his own life. It is an offence against the Earth, and a man who commits it will not be buried by his clansmen. His body is evil, and only strangers may touch it. That is why we ask your people to bring him down, because you are strangers.'

And the end of the book, a last short paragraph holds all that is cruel about colonization. Achebe manages, in these lines, to show the injustice, the foolishness and arrogance of the English missionaries. And not only the English missionaries of course....
Spoiler:
P.179.'Take down the body," the Commissioner ordered his chief messenger, "and bring it and all these people to the court."
"Yes, sah," the messenger said, saluting.
The Commissioner went away, taking three or four of the soldiers with him. In the many years in which he had toiled to bring civilization to different parts of Africa he had learned a number of things. One of them was that a District Commissioner must never attend to such undignified details as cutting a hanged man from the tree. Such attention would give the natives a poor opinion of him. In the book which he planned to write he would stress that point. As he walked back to the court he thought about that book. Every day brought him some new material. The story of this man who had killed a messenger and hanged himself would make interesting reading. One could almost write a whole chapter on him. Perhaps not a whole chapter but a reasonable paragraph, at any rate. There was so much else to include, and one must be firm in cutting out details. He had already chosen the title of the book, after much thought:

The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger.'

The book is published in 1959; the era that decolonization is an issue; several of the colonies want to be free. Power, political influence in the period of the Cold War is important and help is often disguised as humanitarian, economical or political assistance.

I found this an interesting book . Achebe did a good job describing the traditional African village. The strong point, which left me almost gasping for breath, are the lines in which the Commissioner describes 'The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger.'

Achebe wrote about Africa, but it could have been any colonialized country. He gives insight in a traditional, non-western society and shows the aggressiveness of the 'pacification' through Western values. In this sense, this book is a timeless classic.
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Old 08-24-2013, 05:53 PM   #21
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Thank you, sun surfer, for selecting this book. I enjoyed it more than I anticipated. I believe that my reading of it was also enhanced by doing a bit of research into the background of Achebe, the Igbo people and Nigerian history. It was indeed interesting to read the story from the viewpoint of "the other side" as you put it.

My initial impressions are generally the same as already posted. The beginning was a bit rough to get into but by the end I was amazed at the layers of complexity in such a compact novel. I too admire that the story did not present a black-and-white perspective with one side being evil and the other good. Instead we were shown both positive & negative examples about the traditional African customs and also about the changes that colonialism brought to their society. In particular I liked this quote from the scene when the church is burned.

Quote:
We cannot leave this matter in his hands because he does not understand our customs, just as we do not understand his. We say he is foolish because he does not know our ways, and perhaps he says we are foolish because we do not know his. Let him go away.
I enjoyed the variety of characters that were used to demonstrate contrast internally within each society. For example, I especially liked Obierika who sometimes followed and sometimes questioned their customs and uncle Uchenda's wisdom shared when Okonkwo is exiled to his motherland. I also liked the character of Ezinma, who understands Okonkwo better than her brothers but allows us to see a softer side of Okonkwo in his affection towards her (also contrasted with the harsh treatment of his wives). On the British side, Mr Brown was used to show a softer, more tolerant missionary compared to the stereotypical Mr Smith and the District Commissioner. I liked the debate between Mr Brown and Akkunna about their religious beliefs, which emphasized similarities despite their differences and that their heathenism was not so simplistic.

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Originally Posted by sun surfer View Post
I did a little investigating afterwards on the Igbo people of Nigeria that this book is based on, and I was quite surprised to find that the traditional Igbo culture and society is still stronger and more prevalent than I would've expected given the colonialism. It may now be heavily influenced by colonialism and modernity, but it is still there, to the point where I found a message board where Igbo people a few years ago were actually discussing if nowadays it was acceptable to befriend or marry osu (the outcasts/untouchables from the book), with some actually replying that they just couldn't marry an osu because the stigma is too strong. One had even moved and was now living in the UK and still said he wouldn't marry an osu for anything.
I wanted to know what happened to Okonkwo's people & heirs. Therefore, I read No Longer at Ease which is set in the 1950s and is about Nwoye's son Obi, "the grandon of Ogbuefi Okonwko who faced the white man single-handed and died in the fight". Similar to his grandfather, Obi also finds himself alienated from the changing culture and experiences a tragic downfall as the result. Whether or not it is appropriate to befriend or marry osu is a major part of the plot. In this book Nwoye reveals what he thought of the death of Ikemefuna and his father's action. This story also has an interesting passage in which Achebe tells us what he thinks of books where the main character commits suicide. What is the legacy left behind to this new generation? This quote summed it up.

Spoiler:
"When I was young I knew of them-Okonkwo, Eseudu, Obierika, Okolo, Nwosu.... And many others, as many as grains of sand. Among their fathers we hear of Ndu, Nwosisi, Ikedi, Obika, and his brother Iweka-all giants. These men were great in their day. Today greatness has changed its tune. Titles are no longer great, neither are barns or large numbers of wives and children. Greatness is now the things of the white man. And so we too have changed our tune. We are the first in all the nine villages to send our son to the white man's land." Our son specifically refers to Obi, Okonkwo's grandson sent to England for his education at the expense of the village.


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Originally Posted by desertblues View Post
The title from the book is taken from the lines of the famous Irish poet W.B.Yeats... It intrigues me, this quote, even when learning that Achebe is born and raised in the Nigerian village Ogidi; one of the first Anglican missionary work centres. Why not something from an African tradition?
That's an interesting question, desertblues. From what I read, there was also critcism that Achebe chose to write his book in English. He wanted to reach a wider, Western audience so that they could be enlightened that Africa had its own history and traditions. He wanted to provide a political contrast to the racism of Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. The poem "The Second Coming" by Yeats was written in the aftermath of Word War I. Perhaps he found some irony in using this famous poem about the falling apart of Western civilization (that would have been relatable to the Western audience) as an introduction to a book about the effects of European colonization on Africa.

Last edited by Bookworm_Girl; 08-24-2013 at 05:58 PM. Reason: Fixed typo
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Old 08-28-2013, 11:55 AM   #22
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I found this novel absolutely wonderful!

One way of approaching Things Fall Apart is to look at the words in the Yeats poem, “The Second Coming” which immediately follow the title quotation:

“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world”

This is what occurs with Okonkwo. The Ibo society in which he was born and raised--his social, religious and identity centre--is largely supplanted by the culture of the missionaries and the colonial power they represent. His world falls apart and to him a kind of anarchy takes its place.

One of the things that makes this story of disintegration so moving is the fact that Chinua Achebe never tries to portray Okonkwo’s world as some kind of ideal society living close to the earth. And he does this as an insider. He is part of that culture; he knows and understands it. This makes his criticisms all the more telling. The culture of Okonkwo is deeply, horribly flawed. Infanticide is practised. Twins are killed just because they are twins. A woman is seen as useless if she gives successive births to children that are somehow deemed possessed. The children, of course, are killed. One of the most awful moments in the book is the episode involving the killing of Ikemefuna, a boy offered by another tribe as part of a compensation for a murder they committed. The child is sentenced to death by the “Oracle” of the tribe for no very good reason. Okonkwo has come to love this boy who calls him “Father”. But at the moment of the intended murder the child runs to him hoping to be saved and Okonkwo kills Ikemefuna himself.

Another problem with the Ibo world of the book is the fact that the culture is aggressively male-oriented. Women are hardly more than property. Wife-beating is a male preogative and to call a man a ”woman” is the ultimate insult. Male, physical power is the quality that makes Okonkwo the ideal male in social terms. He’s a famous wrestler, known as a fierce warrior, and dominates others through a combination of physical strength and a powerful alpha-male personality. Ironically, Okonkwo is capable of forming a close relationship with a daughter, Ezinma but constantly laments that she wasn’t born a boy.

Thus in the case of his daughter {and Ikemefuna}, Okonkwo shows the capacity of love--though it is unappreciated and subverted. It is not what his world feels is a male-oriented quality. In addition, his world does not require of him the power of reflection and compassion. But other members of the tribe indeed are fully capable of this. near the end of part 1, Obierika has this meditative passage:

“Obierika was a man who thought about things. When the will of the goddess had been done, he sat down in his obi and mourned his friend’s calamity. Why should a man suffer so grieviously for an offence he had committed inadvertently? But although he thought for a long time he found no answer. He was merely led into greater complexities. He remembered his wife’s twin children, whom he had thrown away. What crime had they committed?”

Then in the very next chapter in a magnificent, extended speech, Uchendu, an old member of the tribe with whom the exiled Okonkwo lives insists that he answer questions about the customs of the tribes: He queries the assumptions revolving around the relationships of the belief in a supreme Mother and the male-dominated culture e.g.

“We all know that a man is head of the family and his wives do his bidding. A child belongs to its father and his family and not to its mother and her family. A man belongs to his fatherland and not to his motherland. And yet we say Nneka--‘Mother is Supreme.’ Why is that?”

and later:

“Why is it that when a woman dies she is taken home to be buried with her own kinsmen? She in not buried with her husband’s kinsmen. Why is that?” . . .
“It’s true that a child belongs to its father. But when a father beats his child, it seeks sympathy in its mother’s hut. . . . Your mother is there to protect you.. . .”

and finally:

“If you think you are the greatest sufferer in the world ask my daughter, Akueni, how many twins she has borne and thrown away. Have you not heard the song they sing when a woman dies?
“‘For whom is it well, for whom is it well? There is no none for whom it is well.’”

Okonkwo can answer none of these questions. It is unlikely that he ever even thinks about them. His world falls apart and its centre does not hold because he cannot adapt. His life ends with murder and death because he knows no other answer.

The Christian Culture is always viewed from the outside. It certainly has its own flaws. Sometimes it seems quite silly to the Ibo people. But it is inimical and destructive. The two priests show two very different approaches to the natives, but both wish to replace the Ibo culture with one of their own. There is no respect for the customs, traditions, and beliefs of the indigenous population. Modification is not their aim. Destructive assimilation is what they desire.

Thus, we have a dual tragedy--social and personal. No wonder "anarchy seemed loosed upon the world".

And perhaps it is not too far-fetched to think that Achene possibly also had the chilling destructive conclusion of the Yeats poem in mind when he wrote this powerful book:

. . . somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Last edited by fantasyfan; 08-29-2013 at 11:34 AM.
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Old 08-28-2013, 01:48 PM   #23
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. . .



I wanted to know what happened to Okonkwo's people & heirs. Therefore, I read No Longer at Ease which is set in the 1950s and is about Nwoye's son Obi, "the grandon of Ogbuefi Okonwko who faced the white man single-handed and died in the fight". Similar to his grandfather, Obi also finds himself alienated from the changing culture and experiences a tragic downfall as the result. Whether or not it is appropriate to befriend or marry osu is a major part of the plot. In this book Nwoye reveals what he thought of the death of Ikemefuna and his father's action. This story also has an interesting passage in which Achebe tells us what he thinks of books where the main character commits suicide. What is the legacy left behind to this new generation? This quote summed it up.

Spoiler:
"When I was young I knew of them-Okonkwo, Eseudu, Obierika, Okolo, Nwosu.... And many others, as many as grains of sand. Among their fathers we hear of Ndu, Nwosisi, Ikedi, Obika, and his brother Iweka-all giants. These men were great in their day. Today greatness has changed its tune. Titles are no longer great, neither are barns or large numbers of wives and children. Greatness is now the things of the white man. And so we too have changed our tune. We are the first in all the nine villages to send our son to the white man's land." Our son specifically refers to Obi, Okonkwo's grandson sent to England for his education at the expense of the village.


. . .
Thanks for mentioning the follow-up book and adding another book to my TBR list. .
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Old 08-28-2013, 05:58 PM   #24
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I have to add a coda to my last post--this novel has kept me thinking all day long!

The coda is this. The Christian missionaries start saving the twins "thrown away" and attempt to change the culture which they consider essentially barbaric. But the thoughts of Obierika and the utterly magnificent speech of Uchendu demonstrate that the curative seeds were already there in the thoughts and words of men like these--and probably also in the unspoken thoughts of women. They don't need the missionaries. Left to itself, the culture would naturally evolve and retain the good that is certainly present.

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Old 08-29-2013, 01:18 PM   #25
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I have to add a coda to my last post--this novel has kept me thinking all day long!
I had a similar reaction. The book wouldn't let go of me.

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The coda is this. The Christian missionaries start saving the twins "thrown away" and attempt to change the culture which they consider essentially barbaric. But the thoughts of Obierika and the utterly magnificent speech of Uchendu demonstrate that the curative seeds were already there in the thoughts and words of men like these--and probably also in the unspoken thoughts of women. They don't need the missionaries. Left to itself, the culture would naturally evolve and retain the good that is certainly present.
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It was just those inherent weaknesses of a strong community that allowed an alien religion to take root. It was already vulnerable, containing the seeds of its own destruction.
We seem to be at odds here, but perhaps not. Could the "answer" be that any culture contains the seeds of both its salvation and its destruction? And that it's down to the people who lead, happenstance and perhaps just sheer dumb luck at any given time which trajectory it takes?
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Old 08-29-2013, 02:57 PM   #26
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We seem to be at odds here, but perhaps not. Could the "answer" be that any culture contains the seeds of both its salvation and its destruction? And that it's down to the people who lead, happenstance and perhaps just sheer dumb luck at any given time which trajectory it takes?
I would agree with that. That the Ibo society was very vulnerable is clear. Okonkwo very much wanted to be the leader but he was incapable of giving the kind of leadership which could transform it {and it needed transformation}.

Certainly Obierika had doubts of the wisdom of tribal traditions. Uchendu had more than doubts--he saw the sorrow that came from accepting them without thought.

The problem is that Okonkwo was admired. The tribe didn't really seem to have much time for a reflective person. Obierika didn't go beyond thinking about things and Uchendu was too old and bitter to attempt anything. And the women, of course, simply lived in a perpetual Stockholm Syndrome.

So on more reflection, I think that practical realism about human nature would indicate that I'm being too sanguine in my coda. Yes, the possibility of salvation coming from themselves was there, but there just wasn't time for a natural social evolution. Okonkwo was the popular charismatic leader and he acted unthinkingly from a reflex of tribal tradition. How likely to gain influence were thoughtful, sensitive people like Obienkwo? How many would actually take the time to note the moral inconsistencies in their society?

A little quote from Frazer in The Golden Bough comes to mind:

"The inconsistency of acting on . . . opposite princples, however it may vex the soul of the philosopher, rarely troubles the common man; indeed he is seldom even aware of it. His affair is to act, not to analyse the motives of his action. If mankind had always been logical and wise, history would not be a long chronicle of folly and crime."

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Old 08-30-2013, 07:13 PM   #27
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Some great posts here and really interesting reflections. I think the problem with any society is that as fantasyfan says, while there is still acceptance of the rules and values which make up the culture, nothing will change.

It has to reach a stage where enough people feel strongly that things need to change, and have the courage to say so in the face of "this is the way we do things around here". Had Okonkwo been a different man, who spoke out against the killing of Ikemefuna and indeed protected him instead of participating, that could have been a turning point. It just might have made some of the others question such a barbaric ruling and follow his lead. Even if he had failed to save the boy, it would have given people food for thought, and meant a different sort of relationship with his own son.

It is a sad example of how being an unthinking "strong man" is indeed a fatal weakness. He completely missed the opportunity of being a truly great leader because of his inability to follow what his heart told him.
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Old 08-31-2013, 04:09 AM   #28
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Some great posts here and really interesting reflections. I think the problem with any society is that as fantasyfan says, while there is still acceptance of the rules and values which make up the culture, nothing will change.

It has to reach a stage where enough people feel strongly that things need to change, and have the courage to say so in the face of "this is the way we do things around here". Had Okonkwo been a different man, who spoke out against the killing of Ikemefuna and indeed protected him instead of participating, that could have been a turning point. It just might have made some of the others question such a barbaric ruling and follow his lead. Even if he had failed to save the boy, it would have given people food for thought, and meant a different sort of relationship with his own son.

It is a sad example of how being an unthinking "strong man" is indeed a fatal weakness. He completely missed the opportunity of being a truly great leader because of his inability to follow what his heart told him.
That's a very perceptive insight, Bookpossum. It adds a new dimension to the book for me.
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Old 08-31-2013, 08:36 AM   #29
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Oh shucks, I was just bouncing on from your post!

The truth is of course that it is very hard indeed to go against the majority and most of the time, most of us will go with the majority opinion because we believe we must be wrong in thinking differently. I know: I once hung on to a minority opinion when I was on a jury in a rape trial. It was a horrible experience (well of course, the whole thing was) but I had to stick with my conviction based on the evidence. Not something I ever want to have to go through again though!
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Old 09-26-2013, 06:44 PM   #30
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I found that there was a miniseries made from this book for Nigerian television in the 1980s, and it is up on youtube. I find the prospect of watching a Nigerian television adaptation of this from the 80s somewhat fascinating, so I thought I'd share. Here's the link.
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