Sunday, October 23, 2011

A View of Post Colonial Africa, Analysis of "Things Fall Apart" Achebe, versus "Out of Africa" Dinesen

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An analysis of the view of Africa from Ahebe’s “Things Fall Apart”

and Dinesen’s “Out of Africa.”

Africa in the mist of colonization became a land of great mysteries. A land that had marvelous landscapes and view from points so far up as if you were viewing the world from heavens. A land filled with lush foliage, and unlimited variety of animals, natural resources yet untouched from the hand of industrialization. Africa was wild country, or was it? Africa was simply a continent separated by the Mediterranean Sea from Europe. Up until the beginning of the twentieth century Africa was a continent inhabited by its natives, those that called Africa their home. They lived in tribes or communities and had their laws and traditions. They had hierarchies within the tribes and amongst them from village to village. Africa was ruled by nature, since the African natives lived and worked with the land and the animals that shared this country with them.

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Europe at this time was industrialized as a continent. The European countries had the marvel of technology and ingenuity, Europe was a proud region with functioning government and economically wealthy. Europe was educated as a whole, and the aristocracy left years and years of wealthy families controlling the social and economical landscape of Europe. Europeans now had it all, and when I say all, I mean power. Power to conquer the world, or in terms created by modern grammar, they were conquering third worlds. Africa was a third world at this time. Africa was simply living with nature and thus technological advancements had not yet reached the African natives. They had no trade with Europe and no economical power, thus no global voice.

Europe in an attempt to create new opportunities for wealth and growth started to colonize, and the closest and most inhabitable land was Africa. Africa was close enough that travel only took but days, a land rich in its soil for farming. Africa was a land with untapped resources since the Africans existed with nature and didn’t reap with out giving back. This made Africa even more desirable to European. When the Europe started to colonize Africa all the countries divided Africa amongst themselves. Since the Africans were not yet industrialized, they did not have the means to create the weapons needed to defend their land and thus were conquered. Still Africa was a new land and the colonies need the assistance of the native Africans for labor.

During this time the history of Africa was being written, but not by Africans but rather by European. They called Africa wild and savage. They wrote that Africa was a primitive world that needed to be civilized and conquered. Europe had grace and distinction and Africa was simply a savage and beastly land. These were the words that were written by Joseph Conrad about Africa. Joseph’s views of Africa were widespread throughout all of Europe. Mostly through written form, was this view spread through Europe.

Until Chinua Achebe wrote “ Things Fall Apart” was the view of pre-colonized Africa seen by westerners as a civilized community. Chinua Achebe was born in 10 in an Igbo town of Ogidi in southeastern Nigeria. At his birth Nigeria was already colonized and Achebe started his education at the Missionary Society’s School. He first started learning in his native language, but at the age of eight started to learn English. This gave Achebe great patriotism to his native culture, since most of his upbringing was in his native language and culture. Achebe was educated at Government College, Umuahia and then at University College, Ibadan. Achebe graduated college in 15 and started his career in radio with the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC.) In London at BBC Staff School he finished the novel “Things fall Apart” and submitted it to a publisher and it was published in 158. This novel gave Achebe overnight fame. After he returned to the NBC he was invited to teach at the University of Nigeria, and then to the American University of Massachusetts and Connecticut. Achebe’s novel

“Things Fall Apart” gave westerners a view of Africa they had never seen before. Africa was seen as a country that was primitive with no history or language. Achebe gave African’s history and language, he also gave them culture, traditions, values, and morals. Achebe also made Africans violent and with the same triumphs and tribulations as westerners. For the first time we were able to see Africa as an African. To see a world that we thought did not exist suddenly appear. He gave Africa a voice no longer a mystery, but rather a culture. Just like that of Europe at least in the sense of social structure.

The other writer we will be using for this analysis is a Danish writer Karen Blixen who wrote “Out of Africa” under the pseudonym of Isak Dinesen. Baroness Karen Blixen was born in Rungsted, Denmark into a wealthy patrician family. Dinesen’s father was a writer and an army officer whose had a gift of storytelling about his adventures. This influence gave Dinesen her incredible talent for storytelling. Dinesen’s outlook and manner were completely aristocratic. She attended the Royal Academy of Art in Copenhagen, and also studied in England, Switzerland, Italy and France. Dinesen’s debut as a writer in 107 was with several short stories, and in 114 moved to Kenya to wed her cousin and start a coffee farm. She lived in Africa from 114 to 11. During this time she managed the farm, even after she divorced her cousin in 11. The farm was located 6,000 feet above see level and gave very bad crops. This led to Dinesen selling the farm and numerous failures over the sixteen-year span. Dinesen left Africa in 11 and in 14 published the autobiography “Out of Africa.” Dinesen first acclaim came with the first set of books she published the “Seven Gothic Tales” but it was Out of Africa that gave us another inside of view of Africa.

Dinesen was a very talented and artistic storyteller, whose views and prose in the book made Africa to be a place were she came to now more about herself than anywhere else. She was a very intelligent woman with a kind and caring heart. She came to know Africa in a way that no other writer at the time had shown or expressed Africa to be. Dinesen’s Africa was like a home she wanted to create for herself and never leave, but came to know that it was never hers to begin with. As she writes in the final chapters “Farewell to the Farm,” she relives a conversation with Denys where she notes that the farm never belonged to her. Still as compassionate as she is with Africa, and in love with the land and it’s native. She still writes about a colonized Africa. Her views of helping the poor primitives, as in when she starts the school for the Africans children to attend or when she cures the young boy’s leg. Dinesen, throughout the book is in an artistic romance with Africa, but still it is more of the view of that most of Europe had with the African natives. She in turn shows how she makes the effort to educate them, give them their independence through British beliefs and values. Dinesen only late in the book gave the Africans the acknowledgement that she was never there to give, but it was Africa that gave her.

The View of Africa is very different by these two writers and both books are taking place around the same time. Things Falling Apart and Out of Africa both take place during the colonization of Africa by Europe yet they both give very different insights to Africans and their culture. In both books Africans are depicted by the view of the westerner and the African as to give us a voice that once they did not have and then they did. In order to analyze how literature has changed the voice of Africans I will use both of these books to show how Africans came to be known as primitives and then a culture with all the same aesthetics as Europeans. First we will look at Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart” then Dinesen’s “Out of Africa,” and the literary prose used to show the humanity and primitiveness in both. Do Africans have a voice, did they have a language, are Africans with as much right and grace as European, and most importantly at which point did the world view it as such.

Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart” was not only a literary success for Achebe; instead it was an even larger success for Africans. His novel takes place in Nigeria where he depicts the protagonist Okonkwo a self made man in his village. Achebe gives Okonkwo’s father a life of a charming loather. He shows Okonkwos motivation and drive to become something more, to earn title in his village. Achebe gives us an insight into the mind of Okonkwo and what it is that creates the values and beliefs he holds. He brings light in the world of Okonkwo with the rigidity he rules his household and the firmness he holds to the elders in the tribe. The protagonist strives for order and tradition, and respects the orders of the tribe even when it’s not in his favor. Throughout the book it takes you into the daily lives and festivities of the characters, in other words Africans. He gave a sense of social structure and most humanity. He gives us a humanity that at times was cruel and savage, but also humanity with fairness and justice.

In the beginning were he writes about the murder of a female of his tribe, Achebe show’s how the justice of these tribes dictate that the murdering village would have to give the village of the murdered woman a virgin and a young child. Through this act Achebe show’s Africans to have a sense of justice for crimes committed in the villages. He show’s that a sense of structure exits. He also show’s a sense of religion through the oracle, even as she predicts that the young boy that Okonkwo took in as his own son must die. The murder of the young child is carried out, and the protagonist follows as well. Achebe takes it even to show the sense of duty, honor, and the fear of Okonkwo, by having the protagonist assist in the murdering of the young boy.

Achebe as shows the economic value of work, in with which a man’s worth in the tribe is measured by how many yams he has. Achebe show how a man can provide for his family and thus gives the characters in the book a structure of wealth and prosperity. The details of the harvest and the work behind it, as well as the significance of owning your own farm, gives us great insight into an economical and social structure relevant to that Europeans at the time. So are they savages? How could they be, if all of a sudden a race that was considered uneducated has a social and economical structure. All of these factors as to a civilized race our pointed out over the surface of the book. In other words the point of a culture with a language and most importantly a voice is given just by reading. But a more underlying factor is written throughout the book. Achebe’s shows the rise and fall of Okonkwo, but metaphorically can Okonkwo be a representation of all African Culture.

As through Okonkwo’s fall from grace and eventual exile, his rigidity and temperament were his ultimate down fall. He was too strong to be weak and thus life was only one way for him. Okonkwo world was a world of right and wrong, either existence as it should be or no existence at all. Achebe shows in the latter of the book when the colonization begins that Okonkwo could do nothing to stop it. As if paralyzed by his fears and his beliefs, and Okonkwo did not know any other way to be. He only knew what was right and what was happening was not, but he could not stop it. The Villages culture and structure collapsed and ceased, as did Africa’s by the colonization. Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart” is most important because it gives us an insight to Africa as a civilization and not this magical land of mystery. There is no mystery in Achebes book, a thing simply exits and therefore they are. He show’s that Africa was not this untamed land but a land that was very tamed by it’s natives. Africa was before colonization a country with structure and most importantly a voice, just one never heard in Europe. Joseph Conrad would say that Africans were beastly and primitive, but this novel shows us otherwise. That is was not primitive just not industrialized and thus no bartering was done with Europe. But oh yes a voice they did have and Achebe put it to writing. Still there is the view of the westerners, the view that Europe had, that what they called the civilized world had. A view of a magical and wonderful place, the view that Dinesen shows us in “Out of Africa.”

Dinesen shows us an Africa through her autobiography “Out of Africa” an Africa that is beautiful and majestic. Dinesen’s writings are that of a storyteller, and through out the book she writes about a land unknown to her. A land with marvels to be seen for the first time, as when Mr. Denys takes her on safari and the character states, “I want you to see something.” He wanted to show her Africa as it was. He showed her an Africa without the colonies or the intrusion of the Europeans. Dinesen writes about her farm as if a piece of Africa belonged to her, simply because she bought it. This is a point of view that is western in belief, as if her paying some other British owner gives her the right to a land taken from the Africans in Kenya, and to make it hers. Since her arrival to Kenya the book shows her to hold the belief that all Europe had of Africa. She has a view of a primitive land with primitive and uneducated people. This is depicted in the arrival to Kenya and tells the native Kenyan that came to picker her up to be careful of the china in the crates. She looks and repeats it, and the comedy in return is that the Kenyan assistant looks as her and said, “yes it breaks.”

Dinesen arrives to Africa with the eyes of a European and worst yet an aristocratic one. She quickly starts to work on the home and the farm. Again here she shows how she first sees the Africans in their huts and in a village with dirt floors, and as she puts her own home in order as if she never left Denmark. She quickly starts to make changes with the help, which is all of African descent. She makes the servers wear white gloves. This is a tradition of the European that she instills in them. She also comes across a native boy with an injury and quickly her kind heart goes to the boy in any attempt to cure him. The boy eventually comes to the house of Dinesen and she cures him and eventually becomes her cook. Again giving the author the belief of heroine to help the poor African natives. As if they were lost without her, as if their existence was made better by her arrival.

Dinesen falls in love with Africa and the she writes about the festivities of the dances and parties that the Africans attended at her home. She writes about the hardship as well, the new savage land that she struggles with. Dinesen’s experience with the lions creates a view of a savage continent were humans can become the prey. Africa becomes a place so dangerous that most women would not wander to far from town. In her experience with the wars between the colonies, she writes of how the African natives were used as soldiers. The native Kenyan’s were forced to fight one another for the rights of the colonies and their territories. To create this portrayal of the poor African being used and forced to fight by the colonies, gives us the perception of a week culture not knowing any better and without will. The Kenyan’s are shown as the oppressed savages that are kept in control.

Dinesen is a very artistic and intelligent writer; she also shows us the softer and angelic side of Africa, a side of beauty and grace. Of course she does this with the land and the animals that inhabit Africa, but not with the Kenyan’s. This is present in the stubborn chief that does not allow the children to attend school only the little ones. This is done because the chief does not want any members of the tribe to be smarter than him while he is alive. The small children would not be grown up until the death of the chief and only these are taught to read and write. The writer shows the ignorance of the chief and a culture holding on to its systems of beliefs, a culture afraid of change, and a rigid culture. She shows a culture with no voice one she is very different from, in the matters of belief, culture, education, wealth, and language. Dinesen makes it a point to help the Kenyans so much as if they could not help themselves. She takes the role of mother and protector, and role I am sure the Kenyans would say is as inventive and imaginative as her writings, but only accurate to western beliefs.

After reading both books and the way that Africans are shown in both books it is hard to believe that intelligent westerners would have the opinion of Africans to be savage. Obviously the books written approximately twenty years apart show such a large difference in what is Africa. The view of the African people is mainly the major difference in the two books. In Achebe’s book the land was beautiful and the landscape magnificent, the days of the festivals were all grand and merry. The continent that is Africa is one of pure beauty. Achebe writes to the rains and the moons and the harvest. All with such vibrant colors and smell so specific that you could tell it apart anywhere. As to Dinesen when she writes of Africa in respect to the land, she writes of a type of eden. Here own personal utopia and a place where she saw the most beautiful sunsets and most beautiful landscapes. They both write about the animals and the strength, power, and grace they all have. But when both writers write about the African they share as much as water would share with oil.

Achebe’s Africans have a language, were as in Dinesen’s she would us an interpreter. Thus creating the distinction that there is no language that they spoke. In Dinesen’s even though she was from Denmark she would still speak queens English. English was the universal language and that of the Africans was unimportant. As she tries to teach the children English, but never speaks of her learning to speak their language. This gives the representation that the only language worth learning was English and thus giving the African no voice. In Achebe’s book the Africans in Nigeria all spoke the same language, even when the beating of the drums came from distant villages they all knew what was being said. Achebe also shows the when Okonkwo went to various villages that he communicated with the same voice or language. These clearly show to very different views of the two writes.

Achebe shows his protagonist to be cruel, but he also gives you a reason for his cruelty and as you read you sympathize with Okonkwo. Achebe shows the characters to have all the qualities seen in any culture. In Things Fall Apart the character show all the qualities of strength, wisdom, authority, cruelty, savageness, fairness, justice and a reason to every situation that occurs. As for Dinesen she only shows a culture that is weak and timid. She shows us a culture that has been conquered and tamed, and whose only reason is to be instructed by us. Dinesen shows an African unable to fend for themselves and mostly one that we must think for. She gives us an image of the African that was savage, but that the Europeans can teach.

I conclusion what we saw of Africa in literature and belief in the early part of the twentieth century was an Africa as depicted by Dinesen, a savage country with savage natives. Unlike Europe and Asia, Africa was in perfect harmony with nature. Africa still had not been industrialized and did not trade with other countries. Europe become the start of the industrial revolution and because of that became the power continent that it was. It has money and government but most importantly it had the technology to conquer.

Africa did not the sea that separated Africa from Europe separated the distance of growth between the two continents. Africa saw no industrial revolution until it was conquered. The lack of industry and power at the global level gave Africa no voice, as a culture and a society. Africa was invaded and it’s labor sold by the European countries as salves. The not only lost the culture they new, they lost their freedom, until Achebe gave it back. In conclusion did Africa have a language and a voice based on these two books? Of course it did, just not that of Europe and Europe did not have that of Africa. A century later we now know better don’t we. Africa has a voice, and if you listen to you can hear it’s beat.


Achebe, Chinua Things Fall Apart. New York Anchor Books, 14

Dinesen, Isak Out of Africa and Shadows on the Grass. New York Vintage International, 18

Unknown Author Chinua Thnkgs Fall Apart; February 5, 00, Addison Public Library, 0th of June, 00 http//

Diane Sauders Things Fall Apart, 000, Pinkmonkey, 0th of June, 00 http//

Unknown Author Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen) - Notes to Stalking Iguanas, 0th of June, 00


Unknown Author Dinesen, Isak, 000, Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 0th of June, 00


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