Academic journal article British and American Studies

The Collision of African and European Cultures, a Site of Metamorphoses in Chinua Achebe's African Trilogy

Academic journal article British and American Studies

The Collision of African and European Cultures, a Site of Metamorphoses in Chinua Achebe's African Trilogy

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

Chinua Achebe was not the first African writer, not even the first Nigerian novelist publishing in English. Cyprian Eqwensi and Amos Tutola had published their novels some years before 1958, but Achebe was the one "who blazed the trail for a generation of African writers", as Appiah (2013, online) wrote for the millions of people who read his books and even studied them in school, in a short praising article issued shortly after "the father of African literature" passed away on March 21, 2013. In spite of Achebe's modest refusal of such a title, Appiah and many other voices around the world bring as a solid argument the fact that he was the first to offer a model of how to write fiction in English about African life, for he knew how to mould the English language so as to convey the traditional life and even language of the Nigerian village people. He was very convincing in the interviews he gave, or in conferences he attended and lectures he gave to his students, while speaking about the high importance of writing, mentioning that any piece of writing should send an important message to the readers.

He also said that "literature opens magic casements" (1992:xvii) and we really have this very feeling while reading his books - of looking through a transparent window and watching a movie about tribal life naturally carrying on at different moments in time. Appiah brings some more reasons why Achebe succeeded in raising the interest of people beyond Africa's borders: he did not bias the cultural information he offered about life in certain places of Nigeria, revealing some of its unknown shades, as well as favourable aspects of an old pre-colonial micro-cosmos. At the same time, he did his best to write according to European literary canons:

Achebe teaches us that the novel, a form invented in Western Europe, can be shaped by the creative intelligence and the local vision of a great writer outside of Europe into a medium of continuing universal significance. Perhaps this is the reason that for so many readers around the world, it is Chinua Achebe who opened up the magic casements of African fiction. (Appiah 1992:xvii)

It is of paramount importance that Achebe wrote his fiction presenting tribal life from the inside because he was bom and raised in the Igbo village of Ogidi by his converted Christian parents, who had personally lived the moments of the first encounter with "the white man". He used the reality remembered from stories told by his own parents and many other witnesses of those times of colliding cultures, thus creating a diversity of characters: numerous native Igbos and some Europeans who are but samples of how the clash between the local tribal culture and the intmsive European one affected so many and so much of what was to become a new world and new people living in a new era. Related to this aspect, Neil Kortenaar (1995:33) makes a clear point that Achebe acquired the necessary knowledge so as to approach the intersection of African tradition and modernity in a realistic manner:

The problem with seeing two cultures as occupying the same world is that they can be measured against each other and one preferred to another as a reflection of that world. To measure them is to assume a scientific objectivity that allows the observer to stand outside both. In [Achebe's] case, scientific objectivity is a mode of knowledge associated with one of the cultures to be measured.

Achebe does not try to embellish, to trim or to avoid real facts and true-tolife episodes of the tribal natural rhythm he came to know via dependable witnesses, some of them direct participants in those events.

2. The African Trilogy

Things Fall Apart published in 1958 was followed by No Longer at Ease in 1960 and Arrow of God in 1964. The order of publication does not represent a perfect sequence of events: Things Fall Apart is set at the end of the eighteenth century, when the first missionaries were making use of their faith, their knowledge, their human qualities and abilities to persuade the natives that the Christian God was the only one to trust and worship. …

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