Academic journal article ARIEL

Beasts and Abominations in Things Fall Apart and Omenuko

Academic journal article ARIEL

Beasts and Abominations in Things Fall Apart and Omenuko

Article excerpt

Abstract: This article argues that the beast whose spectre W.B. Yeats raises in "The Second Coming" has been a constant presence in Nigerian writing. It discusses two early manifestations of this beast, as they appear in Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart and Peter Nwana's Omenuko, and focuses on the problem of abominations, particularly suicides, in traditional Igbo culture. In so doing, it contests Adeleke Adeeko's assertion that Nigerian writers continually return to the conclusion of Things Fall Apart because of "dissatisfaction with Okonkwo's failure to negotiate historical transition" ("Okonkwo" 84). This article argues that, while Adeeko is right that Nigerian writers frequently return to Things Fall Apart, they do so because Okonkwo's body is both literally and metaphorically an abomination that cannot be buried. As such, it anticipates what the historical transition brings: mere anarchy.

Ezebuilo: a king is an enemy

-Common Igbo given name (1)

The title of Chinua Achebe's first novel, Things Fall Apart, could serve as a generic subtitle for virtually any narrative from Genesis to, say, Great Expectations; things always, at some point, fall apart. In Achebe's story, however, things do not get put back together again. They may, in fact, never get put back together again; Things Fall Apart shares with the poem that supplies its title a suspicion that the thing born in the desert is a beast of pure negation. That is, the second coming anticipated in William Butler Yeats' poem is axiomatically not the second coming of Revelations. That coming, however terrifying, will be a restoration of that which has fallen apart; Yeats' is an inversion, the birth of the superman or anti-man who, though moved by the will to power, will restore neither grace nor lost natural human virility (2) but merely release the catastrophic energy produced by the suspension of law.

This beast, sometimes seen clearly, sometimes registering only as a disturbance amongst the desert birds, has been a constant presence in postcolonial Nigerian writing. It appears in sharp focus in Wole Soyinka's A Play of Giants, for example, in which Field-Marshal Kamini is modeled explicitly on Idi Amin and, to borrow Soyinka's description of Amin himself, is "not so much human as anti-man" (Soyinka, "The Anti-Man Cometh" 45). But it is also present in texts such as Nkem Nwankwo's Danda. Although Danda does not feature a character who might be called an anti-man (Danda is a charismatic idler and buffoon), (3) it nevertheless finds abominations at every turn; the accumulation of these moral failures eventually registers as the loosing of Yeats' "mere anarchy" on the world despite the novel's light tone (Yeats 211). Obviously, I cannot make a comprehensive case for this observation here, but I will make a start by discussing two early manifestations of the beast as it appears in Achebe's Things Fall Apart and Peter Nwana's Omenuko, an Igbo novel that pre-dates Things Fall Apart by twenty-five years. This discussion will respond to two articles by Adeleke Adeeko, which together offer an intertextual reading of Achebe's Arrow of God and Wole Soyinka's Death and the King's Horseman. At the risk of using Adeeko rather unfairly, I will enumerate several objections to his reading, on the way to arguing that the protagonists of Things Fall Apart and Omenuko are not anti-colonial heroes so much as premonitions of the postcolonial beast, slouching toward Bethlehem.

Both Arrow of God and Death and the King's Horseman, Adeeko argues, are "end-of-era stories about colonial conquest" that "find the conclusion of Things Fall Apart unsatisfying and therefore keep ... re-imagining it" (Adeeko, "Okonkwo" 72-73). His reading hinges on the observation that, in both Achebe's and Soyinka's texts, "the protagonists disappear and the communities continue because the leading men speak and act for the aspirations of specific segments of the society whose claims to hegemonic power have been repudiated by the colonial order" and that "tragic closure (or avoidance thereof) in these stories sublimates the waning power of class factions and not just the defeat of a few strong men" (Adeeko, "Okonkwo" 73). …

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