In his novel Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe responds to European colonialism. He portrays the struggle between convention and conversion in addition to struggle between race and colonial power. Within her novel The Lover, Marguerite Duras reformulates this idea of colonialism. Duras switches the power roles associated with colonialism through her modification of traditional precepts of race and class.
Chinua Achebe’s novel is a candid response to European colonialism and its effects upon traditional African culture. Okonkwo lives in a changing world. He seems fundamentally torn between the traditions and customs of his tribe, and the impending colonial conversion. As an African tribesman, Okonkwo finds himself powerless against the onslaught of Western change and cultural evolution. The arrival of missionaries in Okonkwo’s village is a harbinger of this cultural order. Their very presence upsets the social structure and imperative. Attempts at resistance fail and only work in the missionary’s’ favor. For instance, according to Umofian lore, the missionaries should be dead after building their church on Evil Forest land. The missionaries are unharmed, however, symbolizing the power of new conversion over old customs. As tribesman convert, the social structure of Umofia weakens considerably. Okonkwo realizes that the old ways are dying out as the colonial presence grows in strength and fervor. Okonkwo realizes that colonialism is slowly but surely leading his people astray from their roots and principles.
The arrival of European religion and government forces a command shift, robbing Okonkwo of his power. As the missionaries gain support and convert tribesman, Okonkwo feels custom and tradition disappearing. Tribesman turn against their own culture, declaring them evil. This conversion renders Okonkwo weak and infective as a leader because he cannot rally his community to resist. Okonkwo asserts that the white men have “put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart”, echoing the loss of Nwoye to the church. This betrayal is indicative of the changing cultural state because Okonkwo measures himself by his ability to keep his wives and children in line and under his control. Colonialism weakens the bonds between community, self, and family, facilitating the transition from native to new. In a final act of defiance, Okonkwo commits suicide. This act separates Okonkwo from both his tribal heritage and the colonial power; he commits suicide because he cannot reconcile his personal history with a new cultural order. In Things Fall Apart, Okonkwo and the other tribesman slowly lose control as colonialism takes over.
Marguerite Duras negotiates and reformulates typical roles of class in her novel The Lover. In post-colonial Indochina (now Vietnam), the narrator’s family is French, making her racially superior to her Chinese lover. The lover, however, is a millionaire and...