I like this book.
To begin with, a quote:
“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. A man belongs to his fatherland when things are good and life is sweet. But when there is sorrow and bitterness he finds refuge in his motherland. Your mother is there to protect you. She is buried there. And that is why we say that mother is supreme.” (134)
This reminds me a little of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe: how the White Witch knows about some magic from the beginning of time, and because of that magic Aslan has to surrender, but he comes back because of something that happened before the beginning of time. There’s an authority but there’s also a higher one, and eventually in a worst-case scenario the higher authority will come into play.
I definitely think that there’s going to be a prompt about gender for this book, and I don’t know; I might write it. There’s something about how Achebe depicts sexism without being sexist himself.
(Will calling a prompt in a blog post affect its chances of showing up?)
The Evil Forest also reminds me of the fields in Gathering Blue, and looking at it now, the parallel is probably at least slightly intentional on Lowry’s part – although in Gathering Blue, people are left in the fields when they are no longer able to work (injury, etc.), whereas in Things Fall Apart, people are left in the Forest if they pose a danger to others (illness, etc.). (Wait – gathering, falling apart. I just noticed that. Okay, maybe a little more intentional then?)
One of the things that really stood out to me on the first read, though, was how clearly Okonkwo’s character is presented. You could probably write an adequate summary of his character almost completely with one-liners from the book. Maybe that’s why I like this book? The story and characters are all laid out. If you’ll allow me one more reference, it’s like A Fine Balance: another book where the plot and all the characters and their own backstories are, well, laid out super clearly. It’s a pretty long book, but it’s not hard to read at all. Although this might also have something (probably not everything, of course) to do with the fact that these books are quite a bit more recent, and the syntax and vernacular is so much more familiar to us. Years go by and
hearts start to harden language starts to become incomprehensible, as evidenced by all the footnotes in so much of what we’ve read. It’s kind of weird to think of things slipping away (falling apart) bit by bit like that. If it’s a difference of a few years, like in Antigone’s Claim (if you can call fourteen years a few), Butler’s reference to Bill Clinton is just a reminder that the book was written a little while ago. If it’s a difference of, well, maybe a generation or two, you’d probably get a “huh?” (maybe with a topic a little less prominent than U.S. political scandals – something more in the realm of pop culture. Like, say, “Who shot J. R.?”) Obviously you can google things like that, but explaining what kind of influence it had is more difficult and probably most easily done through a comparison to something more recent, which would be pretty subjective.
(Apparently I was wrong when I said “one more reference”. Sorry, everyone.)
Okay, I got off track, but this post is way long again and I’ll just stop here. Thanks for reading, everyone.
[edit: the idea that language changes with time, even though they appear to us stationary words on a page, goes all the way back to Miranda’s intro lecture for us on The Task of the Translator. Funny how everything comes together, in a blog post about a book about things falling apart?]
[edit 2: the idea that language changes with time is also something I touched on in my Césaire/Walcott blog post.]