Tuesday, January 20, 2009

"Things fall apart; the center cannot hold"

As noted by our class, it seems that tradition and culture (clash) are two preeminent themes in Things Fall Apart; the Yeats excerpt at the beginning of the novel becomes quite appropriate in light of reading the whole story: “The falcon cannot hear the falconer; things fall apart; the center cannot hold…anarchy is loosed upon the world.” Traditions and legends are the uniting theme within the village, and while there may be “different” ceremonies “for men” or women (87 and 110, respectively) or different stories between the two genders, the roles of these ceremonies and stories are nonetheless crucial at the Igbo culture.

In that sense, I like what BDoscher said, that “Okonkwo's masculinity seemed to be the only means to preserve the Igbo way of life.” The “definition” or cultural “standard” of what it means to “be a man (or woman)”, which appear to be at odds within Okonkwo himself, becomes a microcosm for “the bigger picture”- the clashing of Igbo culture with the European missionaries. I don’t remember verbatim, but I believe it was Corinne who said in class something along the lines of “the changing of traditions parallels Okonkwo’s inner struggle”. It is ironic that Okonkwo, who takes pride in his success in war, falls victim to a kind of “psychomachia” – war of or within [his] soul.

Another overarching theme, in which Leon has gone more in depth, is the use of language as an art form—more specifically the use of music as art. Music and sounds seem to be at the forefront of Igbo culture; during the time of the great wrestling match on the second day of the new year (39), “the drums were still beating, persistent and unchanging. Their sound was no longer a separate thing from the living village. It was like the pulsation of its heart” (44). In contrast to this, the lack of music (silence) usually defines a contrary mood – during the conflict with the district commissioner, Umuofia was like a “startled animal with ears erect, sniffing the silent, ominous air and not knowing which way to run” (196). Achebe does a great job combining tradition, language, and music to help immerse the reader –at the very least, I felt immersed – in Igbo culture, not to isolate our two cultures (even more than they might seemingly already be).

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