Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Chinua Achebe’s The Novelist as Teacher

Chinua Achebe’s The Novelist as Teacher

IB English
September 14th, 2012
Chinua Achebe’s The Novelist as Teacher

             Chinua Achebe argues that writers, just as historians explore history or politicians deal with politics, have to fulfill their assigned duty: To educate and regenerate their people about their country’s view of themselves, their history, and the world. He openly and impregnably expresses his firm conviction about how Europe influenced Africa’s self-image, and his arguments are designed to announce this opinion. Assertively, he makes it clear that Africans would suffer from the belief that racial inferiority is acceptable. He wants to change this view and calls African writers to be responsible for - and dedicate themselves to - their society. Throughout the essay, he uses several tangible occasions as supportive examples for his claim.
             Achebe begins by clarifying that “the kind [of writing he does] is relatively new (40)” in Africa. By explaining that the Africans have been educated by the Europeans in terms of the common relationship between writer and society, he shows that the European’s view has been injected into the African mind: According to the Europeans, an artist - in particular a writer - would be in “revolt against society (41).” Achebe, however, hints that his people should not “reproduce (40)” the Europeans . He is eager to explore what society expects of his writers instead of what writers expect of society. By doing so, he wants to concentrate on the situation at his homeland, stating that he “know[s] that [he does not] have to [write for a foreign audience] (41).” This sentence is one of the examples for when his language reveals that he is very autonomous, even a little bit arrogant, and willing to express his opinion overtly.
             In the next segment, Achebe indicates that most of his readers are young, which implies that they still have a lot of capacity to get educated. Thus, hope on a better self-image of Africa arises. Achebe claims that many of his readers regard him as a teacher, a statement which is almost pretentious. In this part, he also includes a letter from a Northern Nigerian fan in order to show what a reader like him expects from the author, Achebe. Suggesting that “it is quite clear what this particular reader expects of [him] (42)” is a false dilemma because it seems like there is only one option of looking at the situation, which manipulatively guides the reader to view things like Achebe.
             Through an encounter with a young woman teacher who complained about the progress of the course of events in Achebe’s No Longer at Ease, the author realized that he needs to make his novels afford an “opportunity for education (42).” He  does not think the woman’s opinion is right. In this part it becomes clear again that Achebe is very self-assured, as he points out that “no self-respecting writer will take dictation from his audience [and] must remain free to disagree.” However, he cleverly depicts himself as merciful because he comprehends that his European-influenced society needs to be efficiently educated.
             His concern comes into sharper relief in the next segment. Achebe sardonically illustrates one of the differences between Europeans and Africans by the example of “turning hygiene into a god (43),” a peculiar blasphemy in Achebe’s eyes. He admits, though, that Africans have their own respective sins, the most significant being their “acceptance of racial inferiority (43).” He confesses that not only others need to be blamed; African people, too, would have to “find out where [they] went wrong (43).”
             It follows a short anecdote of 1940’s Christians who where shocked to see Nigerian dances on an anniversary, which exemplifies “the result of the disaster brought upon the African psyche in the period of subjection to alien race (43).” Achebe uses appeal to pity here and in other parts, as he only presents the picture of the pathetic African. In this way, he disregards the fact that the West does indeed know many educated, highly respected men, tales, and traditions from Africa.
             His next example further describes the “traumatic effects of [Africa’s] first confrontation with Europe (44).” Achebe tells about a student who wrote ‘winter’ instead of the African trade wind ‘harmattan’ which occurs during wintertime - just because he was afraid to be called a bushman by his peers. Achebe does not want his people to be ashamed of their origin, he wants Africa to “regain belief in itself and put away the complexes of [...] denigration and self-abasement (44).” It seems like Achebe tries to rectify the sentiment that has been inflicted to his African people through post-colonialism. Achebe maintains that education needs to be advanced in order to “get on [their] own feet again (45).”
             Achebe’s theme becomes most clear in the next part when he requests his society to confront racism and rediscover themselves as people. In order to achieve these goals, he obliges writers to educate society with their works. He glorifies the writer as “the sensitive point of [...] community,” and brings up the argument that each job carries certain duties that need to be fulfilled as society expects them to be. Achebe himself almost seems to crave for these expectations, as he “would not wish to be excused (45).”
             The essay concludes with Achebe quoting a Hausa folk tale in order to show that art and education do not need to be mutually exclusive. He leads the reader onto a “slippery slope” here, as he claims that if one considers the tale’s ending “a naïve anticlimax (46)” then one would not know much about Africa. This expressive conclusion can make the reader feel like he would be uneducated and prejudiced.
             Achebe’s urge to make African society stand up for autonomy and to make them find self-confidence is approached in a very subjective manner. It is questionable whether he is too subjective at some points. Reading his essay raises the question: When is subjectivity proper? It depends whether Achebe’s claims and false dilemmas base on historical facts, common opinions, or his personal observations, which can not absolutely be detected through this essay. However, regardless of where his claims have their origin, he overgeneralizes too forceful; for example by demanding that each and every writer should take upon the task of education society. Achebe could as well just speak up for himself and announce that he proudly embraces the task that he himself has given to him. He could be satisfied with that and leave the rest alone, but his emotion come into play. Due to his troubled attitude towards African’s self-perception and its history with Europe, Achebe’s views are inevitably colored with a sometimes direct, sometimes indirect call for change. He strives to present the world a different image than the self-conscious one he assumes exists persistently. By the time he wrote the essay, this assumption might have been true, but reading the essay today, it leaves an impression of an author who desperately tries to force the righteous image of Africa onto the public.