Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Literary Analysis

In the second half of the book, there is a slight shift in Achebe's literary techniques. It is really most noticeable in Part 2, when Okonkwo is in exile. The pace of the story speeds up tremendously and, instead of telling the story like an 'unwinding thread'-as some oral histories are called, Achebe breezes through years with only cursory details about what has happened.
In fact, one of the most (if not the most) significant thing to happen in the novel is introduced in an off-the-cuff fashion during the seemingly more important visit of Obierika.
"Have you heard," asked Obierika, "that Abame is no more?" (137)
In the next chapter, two years have flown by. Obierika visits Okonkwo in exile again, but this time the conversation is focused on the white man's encroachment. When the subject of Nwoye is brought up, it is made clear that Okonkwo nor Nwoye himself will discuss it. This is a departure from the previous way the narrator would divulge to the reader what Okonkwo's deepest feelings and innermost thoughts were - the reader had confidentially been made aware of Okonkwo's feelings about Nwoye and his shortcomings; now we get nothing. Nothing about his feelings regarding the 'loss' of his son, we see how Okonkwo goes through the process of letting his son go. There is a powerful revelation at the end of Chapter 17 which sums up the matter as far as Okonkwo is concerned: "And immediately Okonkwo's eyes were opened and he saw the whole matter clearly. Living fire begets cold, impotent ash." (153) As far as Okonkwo seems to be concerned, this is enough of an explanation.
Achebe uses the view of the outsider looking into the clan to give the reader another persepective of the Igbo people; no less enlightening despite the difference. Actually, in their [relatively] tolerant reaction to the missionaries: "If a gang of efulefu decided to live in the Evil Forst it was their own affair... As far as the villagers were concerned, the twins still remained where they had been through away." (154) In the discussions Mr. Brown has with Akunna, one of the great men of Umuofia, it could be argued that the beliefs of the Igbo are triumphant, at least as far as logic is concerned. Akunna says: "But we must fear Him [Chukwu the Master god] when we are not doing His will. And who is to tell his will? It is too great to be known." ((181) Here, Akunna makes a classically Christian argument but uses it successfully to make a point against Christianity.
All this may be very interesting to the reader, but throughout this Part 3 of the book, Achebe makes the reader uncomfortably aware of the mounting rage within Okonkwo. When Okonkwo can take no more (after being arrested and held), we get our last look into his thoughts as he prepares for the clan-wide meeting in the market place. We are once again let into Okokwo's innermost thoughts and even share the pain he feels on his back from the prison guards' whips. In fact, up to this point, we have been told Okonkwo's thoughts by the third party of the narrator; now we are being spoken to by Okonkwo as is he is having a conversation with the reader.
After Okonkwo, who had been 'on the outskirts of the marketplace' (204) kills the head court messenger, we are cut off from him. The next we know of him, we are being led blindly like the District Commissioner to his body. We are treated as outsiders by the narrator.
Achebe wrote this book (I believe), for a largely western, English speaking audience. He has brilliantly brought us into the world of the Igbo, we became a part of that world. In Part 2, he begins to seperate us as we are given the viewpoint of the outsider as well as the Igbo. By the end of Part 3, we are once again the outsiders we were before we read the book. But, hopefully by our gut reaction to the District Commissioner, we recognize that we have been somehow changed by our encounter with Okonkwo and his people.

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