Written Assignments

Things Fall Apart


Things Fall Apart   As you know from the learning skills assignment, the novel, Things Fall Apart presents a very sophisticated argument about traditional African culture, its strengths, weaknesses, complexity, and the relationship of all these to and their complicity in European colonialism of the nineteenth century.
   One of the features that distinguishes a literary argument from a philosophical or rhetorical argument is that literature rarely presents simple or complete answers to complex questions, but rather deals with complex questions from all sides of an issue without clearly or ambiguously coming down on one side or another. Part of the skill in reading literature is learning to appreciate complexity and ambiguity without any clear answers. Achebe's novel is no different. While it is clear that Achebe, writing from a combined European and African perspective, has little sympathy with the European colonialists of the novel, he does not present traditional African culture as a lost paradise. The society that Okonkwo dominates has some serious problems which the colonialists, and their religion, can solve. At the same time, the strengths of traditional African society are sacrificed. It's almost as if Achebe were arguing that colonialism, in spite of the colonialists complete misunderstanding of African culture, were both a good and bad thing.


Internet Debate      In order to really appreciate the complexity of Achebe's argument, I want you to debate the overall argument of the text. Half the class will debate that colonialism is a good thing and half will debate that colonialism bought more harm than good. In order to argue that colonialism or Christianity is a positive force in the novel, you need to focus on those parts of traditional African culture that Achebe presents as a problem in society and how colonialism or Christianity answers that problem. You should focus particularly on the people that are left out or oppressed by the society of Okonkwo. For those people making the opposite argument, you need to define what the strongest aspects of Okwonko's society is and how colonialism or Christianity undermines or destroys these strengths.
   Finally, since this is a debate, you have to formulate your answer as a direct response to another answer. You should answer someone who is debating the other side of the question. The best responses will show either how the weaknesses of the society are intimately a part of the strengths or how the strengths of the society are intimately related to the weaknesses. One of the arguments that Achebe is making is that African culture is complete. All the strengths and weaknesses are part of a larger cultural system in which every part is related to every other part. Remove one part and the whole edifice crumbles.


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