Existentialism In Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart

1779 words - 7 pages

Existentialism in Things Fall Apart

 
       Chinua Achebe presents his audience with an interesting twist to a contemporary school of thought in his work Things Fall Apart.  This post-colonization narrative incorporates several traits that revolt against normative philosophic systems and tralititious theories and beliefs of the existence of man and his place in the universe.  Achebe's efforts are characterized by a small diverse group of writers that purge realizations of predestination, and instead define man's existence by identifying his independent choices throughout the life course.  Achebe's style, although peculiar in one sense, can be defined in relation to the school of philosophic thought known as existentialism.  This system of philosophy, rooted in the original speculation of Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855), is unique in that it emphasizes the role of the individual in the grand realm of existnece.  Achebe illustrates all facets common to the existential viewpoint in this narrative, save one.  The original thought of German existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre and the French narrative The Stranger by Albert Camus are all relayed to their respective audience in a first person viewpoint.  Not to say that it is necessary for an existential work to be written in first person, only that the nature of existentialism is the existence of the self, or self awareness.  Achebe emphasizes the role of the individual uniquely through the eyes of an all knowing and all encompassing narrator, and does not de-emphasize the role of the individual in doing so, but does, however, raise questions as to his intent.  Perhaps Achebe's commentary on the political, social, and economic reform of Nigeria would not have had as large an impact if the narrative war orated by its main character Okonkwo.

 

In order to fully comprehend the work of Achebe and its relation to existential thought, it is important to first examine the working definition of existentialism.  As defined in The American Heritage College Dictionary, existentialism emphasizes the uniqueness and isolation of the individual in a hostile or indifferent universe, regards existnece as unexplainable, and stresses free choice and responsibility for one's actions.  Existentialism is personalized from other schools of thought by its embodiment of three important criterion; 1) the emphasis of the individual as the centerpoint of his domain; 2) an accentuation of human choice and freedom; and, 3) a critique of social norm and its aim for individuals to congregate as merely part of a herd.  These three standards of action are present in all works defined as existential, and are absorbed in Achebe's Things Fall Apart.

 

The focus of the individual is prominent in Things Fall Apart, a tale of an almost anti-social being in a world dominated by change.  Achebe's main character, Okonkwo, is the window to the dramatization of social, economic, and ...

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