Learning Skills

Book-Length Arguments


Web Resources for This Assignment

For General Education 110

The Baghavad Gita

For General Education 111

Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart



Book-Length Arguments   We have already discussed complex ideas and complex definitions. A complex idea is formed from many subsidiary parts; a complex argument is formed from a sequence of subsidiary arguments. In a complex idea or argument, each subsidiary part of the idea or argument is dependent on previous parts; in general, complex arguments build subsidiary arguments off of previous subsidiary arguments. Understanding the argument, then, involves not only understanding the subsidiary arguments, but also understanding their relationships. Evaluating that argument, then, is a two-fold affair: you must evaluate each subsidiary argument and you must evaluate the relationships between the subsidiary arguments.
   Arguments and ideas can get so complex that they take an entire book to work out. In fact, most books you read that aren't textbooks are essentially arguments, including fiction. As far as fiction is concerned, since the time of Aristotle "plots" have been understood as arguments. Reading a book, then, is equivalent to following and understanding a complex argument. You need to identify the main argument or purpose; you need to identify all the subsidiary arguments; finally, you need to understand how all the subsidiary arguments relate to the central argument (or arguments) and to each other.


Baghavad Gita   This learning assignment is precisely about understanding a complex, book-length argument. For students of General Education 110, you couldn't ask for a better text than the Baghavad Gita , for the book is a "teaching" (rishi ) that Krishna delivers to Arjuna. This teaching addresses a particular problem (Arjuna's refusal to fight), and by the end of the argument, it has resolved the problem. The Hindu idea of teaching, however, is based on sequence. In order to teach Arjuna, Krishna has to begin with teachings that Arjuna can understand. Once Arjuna understands these basic arguments, Krishna can move on to more complex and difficult arguments. All the while, through all the permutations and arguments, Krishna is still arguing the same point. These two things, a single argument and sequential development of that argument, make it fairly easy to put together the complex argument in the book. Add to that the fact that each subsidiary argument is given a separate chapter, and it becomes pretty easy to start putting things together.


Things Fall Apart   Things Fall Apart is slightly more difficult to sort out than the Baghavad Gita . The biggest hurdle is that it is not an argument in the same way as the Gita . It seems to be a straightforward account of one man's tragedy. Read more closely, though. Achebe is making a very sophisticated argument about the nature of pre-colonial African society and the nature of the colonial experience from an African perspective. There are no simple answers here—in fact, what separates great literature from second-rate literature is that great literature raises difficult and complex issues and refuses to give you a simple answer (thus providing work for thousands of English professors). Achebe does not present colonialism in a simple manner; he treats it as a phenomenon that is intimately related to strengths and weaknesses in African culture. Every event in the novel is meant to develop this larger argument about the nature of traditional African culture and its relationship to European colonialism.


The Assignment

For General Education 110

   On this assignment, I want you to produce a two or three page summary of the argument presented in the book. To do so, you will need to do the following:
  1. Identify the central argument of the book. What is Krishna trying to prove?
  2. Identify the major secondary arguments of the book; keep the number down to about eight or nine. What does Krishna need to explain or argue in order to prove his major argument?
  3. Identify how Krishna makes these secondary arguments. What does he use? What terminology? What does he prove at the end of each argument?
  4. Identify how these secondary arguments relate to one another.
   Once you've accomplished this, you're ready to move on to the written assignment, in which you apply one of the major secondary arguments to explaining Indian music.

For General Education 111

   On this assignment, I want you to produce a two page summary of the argument presented in the book. To do so, you will need to do the following:
  1. Identify the central argument of the book. What is Achebe trying to demonstrate about traditional African culture and its relationship to European colonialism?
  2. Identify the major secondary arguments of the book; keep the number down to about eight or nine. What major events in the book seem to be developing this overall argument about traditional African culture?
  3. Identify how certain events in the book can be understood in more than one way.
  4. Identify how these events relate to one another.
   Once you've accomplished this, you're ready to move on to the written assignment, in which you argue on one side or the other about the strengths and weaknesses of traditional African culture as presented in the book.

Richard Hooker



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1997, Richard Hooker
Updated 9-29-97