Similar ideas in Annie John And Things Fall Apart Novels
In conducting an analysis of the two postcolonial works Annie John by Jamaica Kincaid and Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe there are multiple postcolonial themes present in both of these works. The primary focus of this paper will be to examine the way in which the course themes of religion, marriage, and education are manifested in these two works. Note will be given to how the subjects appear similar or different in these works, as well as how much emphasis the author seems to put on these postcolonial themes.
Another important aspect in looking at these works is the representation of Christians in the postcolonial work. In particular, the way missionaries are portrayed is where the emphasis will lie. The final aspect of this paper will be to talk about a Christian response to injustices that may have been portrayed in the works. The way Christians as global “neighbors” should respond to what has been done to native people who have been colonized.
Religion is the first topic between the two books that should be given thought. Religion is very important to native cultures and it is something that colonizers wish to do away with when they arrive in a country and take it over. In Annie John Kincaid gives the reader an idea of what the religion of the native Antiguan culture is all about. She talks about Obeah, a form of Voodoo, which is practiced and adhered to by her mother. Part of the novel is a story about Annie becoming ill and what is done to try and heal her. Her mother calls in a woman who is in touch with the spirits to try and help out Annie’s condition.
The woman comes and does things in a different manner than a standard doctor. Annie says that, “She told my mother, after a careful look around, that there were no spirits in my room or in any other part of the house.”(Kincaid 117) This scene where Annie is sick gives the reader an idea of what some people believed in Antigua. Annie’s mother is the one in her house who believes in the native religion, her father puts his faith in the modern medicine brought by the colonizers. He comes into Annie’s room when the Obeah woman leaves and, “he looked at all the medicines-Dr. Stephen’s and Ma Jolie’s- lined up side by side and screwed up his face, the way he did when he didn’t like what he saw.”(Kincaid 117) This shows the father’s disbelief in the religion of his culture and how he puts his faith elsewhere. However, Annie’s mother still puts her faith in Obeah.
Religion is a theme Kincaid chooses to only mention briefly. She gives her thought to other subjects besides religion in her work. There are a few times when Annie mentions religion or at least she implies her religiousness. Annie mentions at one point how, “When [she] came home from Sunday school, [they] would sit down to [their] Sunday dinner.”(Kincaid 14) There are several other brief mentions of religion in this work, but Kincaid is focused on other issues and that is apparent. In Annie John it appears there is not outright animosity between the religion of the colonizers and the religion of native Antiguans. Religion is an issue, which Kincaid briefly deals with, showing how it was somewhat unimportant to her way of life.
Things Fall Apart presents a culture very different from the Antiguan’s in terms of their religious beliefs and practices. People in Umuofia society, and the other villages in the area, are deeply concerned with the spiritual and supernatural. All people in the society accept basic spiritual truths. Okonkwo and his family, as members of Ibo society, are ruled by practices they must follow. There is the story of Okonkwo’s wife Ekwefi and the children she had that kept dying. Okonkwo wanted to fix the problem so he went to a medicine man to figure out what to do, “This man told him that the child was an ogbanje, one of those wicked children who, when they died, entered their mothers’ wombs to be born again.”(Achebe 77) This society has explanations and remedies for events based on their religion. Fear and control are elements of this religion as well. The town’s spirits decide important matters and have the final say in what will happen in the village. The situation with Ikemufuna is an example of this, and it also shows how the religion violates some basic human rights.
Ikemufuna is taken into Umuofia as a peace offering from another village because of a crime that was committed. Okonkwo takes care of the boy and then one day an elder comes to talk to Okonkwo about Ikemufuna. The elder informs Okonkwo that, “‘Yes, Umuofia has decided to kill him. The Oracle of the Hills and Caves has pronounced it. They will take him outside Umuofia as is the custom and kill him there.”(Achebe 57) This gives a clear view of what the native religion’s system relies on, the word of oracles, diviners, and medicine men.
Achebe goes on his book to introduce Christianity, which shows up in a different light than in Kincaid’s work. Christianity is a completely different religion from what the people in Ibo society are used to following. The people of Ibo society are shaken by what the practices of the Christians. The Christians took in twins, who were considered abominations. There were also “outcasts, or osu, seeing that the new religion welcomed twins and such abominations, thought that it was possible that it was possible that they would also be received.”(Achebe 155) Achebe presents a more obvious controversy between the religion of the Ibo and Christianity. The reason this controversy is more apparent in his work is because the Ibo culture places such emphasis on the spiritual. Achebe’s work in contrast to Kincaid’s spends a lot of time dealing with the religious aspects of colonization.
Society is affected by new ideas especially when there is great controversy involved. Switching to a different subject, marriage as a gender issue is addressed in both Kincaid’s and Achebe’s works. Marriage can be seen as a means of establishing gender roles and it informs people as to how they should act.
In Annie John the institution of marriage is fairly standard as far as European marriages are concerned. Annie only has one mother and one father. There is never mention of any polygamous marriages being practiced. Although, Annie does find out that her father was involved with more than one woman before her mother. Kincaid shows how women are pitted against one another in postcolonial culture by talking about the attitude they have towards each other. Annie says that bad things happen sometimes as a result of, “one of the many women [her] father had loved, had never married, but with whom he had had many children was trying to harm my mother and me by setting bad spirits on us.”(Kincaid 15) This attitude of women hating each other over men is engrained into Annie’s young mind. She remembers walking with her mother and, “[She] would hear an angry voice saying angry things, and then, after [they] had passed the angry voice, [her] mother would release [her].”(Kincaid 17) Annie learns about the dynamics of marriage and the role of men and women in this way.
The society Annie lives in is patriarchal, and the men are in control of the important matters in marriage. Annie’s father works and takes care of getting money and does physical things as well. The father built the house they live in. He goes off to work everyday to take care of the family’s needs. Annie’s mother stays at home most of the time taking care of household duties, making food, and she will run errands to pick up food or clothing materials. The father has the final say in most situations. For example, the situation where Annie’s father disliked what he saw with the medicines on the shelf, he took the Obeah medicine and put it behind the modern medicine. Marriage and gender relations/roles are something Kincaid focuses on frequently. Most of the stories in her work deal with Annie’s interactions with people and say something about the way Annie should act.
Things Fall Apart gives a lot of explanation about marriage in Ibo culture. Achebe presents a clear picture of the way things are run in Okonkwo’s household his society. Marriage, in Ibo culture, is different from the standard marriage of two people for life. In Ibo society marriage is polygamous, men can marry more women as they grow older and it is socially acceptable. The more wives a man had the better, wives were seen as a status symbol. People said Okonkwo was going to go places in life because, “He was a wealthy farmer and had two barns full of yams, and had just married his third wife.”(Achebe 8) Okonkwo’s wives were listed like they were just another one of his possessions. It was an accomplishment for Okonkwo to have three wives and their children, because it showed he was wealthy enough to care for all those people.
Women are subordinate to men in the Ibo society and Achebe makes a point of showing this relationship in the household of Okonkwo. Okonwo’s wives are expected to do what he says without question. Okonkwo is described as ruling, “his household with a heavy hand. His wives, especially the youngest, lived in perpetual fear of his fiery temper, and so did his little children.”(Achebe 13) The way things happened on Okonkwos’s compound were simple. Everyone would work during the day doing their respective duties around the compound or running errands, and the wives would fix Okonkwo his meals. They would then send their children to deliver the dishes to Okonkwo. It is clear who is in charge of the household.
Marriage in Ibo society is not based as much on love as it is based on economic interests. Achebe presents a scene where the reader can really draw an understanding of this way of thinking. Okonkwo goes to his friend’s house to be apart of the bargaining for a bride price. Okonkwo’s friend Obierika is looking at a girl who will marry his son, Achebe describes his as having, “surveyed her young body with expert eyes as if to assure themselves that she was beautiful and ripe.”(Achebe 71) This scene shows how marriage was more an economic deal between families as opposed to something based on love. The bride’s family brings all sorts of gifts and food for the festivities. The suitors also have to have some type of money to negotiate the bride price. There are negotiations for the bride price that take place involving some bartering using broomsticks to represent bags of cowries. “In this way Akuke’s bride-price was finally settled at twenty bags of cowries. It was already dusk when the tow parties came to an agreement.”(Achebe 73) Looking at all of these events and situations put together gives the reader an view of what marriage was in Ibo society.
Education is another issue both Achebe and Kincaid choose to focus on in their works. It is a force shaping the lives of the people in both Antiguan society and Ibo society. The manner in which people are educated is different the two books.
Annie’s education comes primarily from a white colonist’s perspective. A lot of value and importance is placed upon the education Annie receives. Kincaid focuses on the way in which Annie is educated. In particular how students are educated to have a desire for the colonizer’s culture. A clear example of this is when Annie and her schoolmates write personal essays in their first day of class. Most of the children choose to write essays that in some way pertain to colonial culture. For example, “One girl told of a much revered and loved aunt who now lived in England and of how much she looked forward to one day moving to England to live with her aunt.”(Kincaid 40) This shows how children are educated by their colonists to believe in a better country than their own. England is presented as a culturally more sophisticated and better than Antigua.
There is a theme in postcolonial literature associated with education that appears in Kincaid’s work. The theme is one called historical amnesia. It refers to the way in which colonizers rewrite the history of the country they inhabit. Kincaid talks about this in the scene where Annie is learning about Columbus in her class. Annie says how, “Miss Edward asked a question the answer to which was ‘On the third of November 1493, a Sunday morning, Christopher Columbus discovered Dominica.’ “(Kincaid 75) The answer is an example of how the native people are denied existence by the colonizers and this theme of historical amnesia is brought to the forefront. Annie is looking in her textbook at a painting with the title “Columbus In Chains” and she writes the phrase “The Great man can no longer just get up and go.”(Kincaid 78) Annie’s teacher ends up seeing this written under the picture and is quite upset with Annie for what she wrote.
Annie comments on her teacher’s attitude towards her, “I had gone too far this time, defaming one of the great men in history, Christopher Columbus, discoverer of the island that was my home.”(Kincaid 82) Education is based on a colonialist view and it negates the culture and history of Antigua. Kincaid does not show any other type of education as being used as prominently as this white colonial education. Achebe presents education in a different manner than Kincaid presents education. In his work there are two types of education that can be examined pre-colonial and the type of education that is used when the white colonists arrive.
Education in Ibo society is in stark contrast to what Annie John experienced growing up being educated in the colonist’s point of view. The primary mode of education in Ibo society is oral tradition. It is through stories and myths that children and adults alike communicate the society’s values and norms. These stories also tell people about nature and why things are the way they are in the empirical world. Okonkwo educates his boys by telling them stories he considers masculine, and communicate masculine values. Achebe tells how “Okonkwo encouraged the boys to site with him in his obi, and he told them stories of the land-masculine stories of violence and bloodshed.”(Achebe 53) In this way Okonkwo’s son Nwoye learns about masculinity, and what is considered important for a man in his society. Women in Ibo culture tell stories as well, their stories are of a different nature though. The stories women tell serve to explain nature to their children and give them some basic moral values. One of Okonkwo’s wives Ekwefi and her daughter Ezinma had a story time and Ekwefi explains why the turtle looks like it does.
At the end of the story Ekwefi says, “His shell broke into pieces. But there was a great medicine man in the neighborhood. Tortoise’s wife sent for him and he gathered all the bits of shell and stuck them together. That is why Tortoise’s shell is not smooth.”(Achebe 99) This illustrates the way women told stories in Ibo culture, they educated children about nature and morals.
The type of education that arrives with the whites is quite different from what the people in Ibo society are accustomed to having. There are schools formed by the missionaries and some people are sent off to universities. In Umuofia “one of the great men in the that village was called Akunna and he had given one of his sons to be taught the white man’s knowledge in Mr. Brown’s school.”(Achebe 179) The colonizers were already talking down towards the Ibo culture and their methods of education. One of the missionaries makes an interesting and even prophetic statement over the people that, “the leaders of the land in the future would be men and women who had learned to read and write. If Umuofia failed to send her children to school, strangers would come from other places to rule them.”(Achebe 181)
Education in the white way was presented to the native people as a saving deal. If they accepted this new type of education they would be alright in the end. But if they continued in their “primitive” ways they would fail. The representation of Christians in these works is another important issue to cover. Kincaid gives little mention of Christians in Annie John. There are several instances where Christianity is mentioned, but significant time is not given to discuss it. Annie mentions how she knows what time it is because of the Anglican church bell. She also talks about some girls in her class and says their parents are the sexton and the minister in church. Kincaid does little more than mention Christianity, she does not give a representation of the Christians.
Achebe, however, gives the reader a detailed representation of Christians in the form of two missionaries that come to live in Ibo country. The missionaries are named Mr. Brown and Mr. Smith and they are at opposite ends of the spectrum as far as missionaries and ambassadors of Christ go. Mr. Brown is a more loving example to the people, he is respective of their culture though he disagrees with it. He is successful in wining over some of the people and perking their interest in Christianity because he, “was very firm in restraining his flock from provoking the wrath of the clan.”(Achebe 178) Brown also takes the time to learn about Ibo culture and the Ibo appreciate the fact that he learns about their culture. In talking with a leader in the town Mr. Brown and the leader educate one another about their different beliefs, but conversion does not occur.(Achebe 179) The representation of Christianity portrayed in the character of Mr. Brown is one that the people could stomach somewhat, but Mr. Smith would change their opinion.
Mr. Smith was a different person entirely from who Mr. Brown was and what he tried to implement. Mr. Smith was far more confrontational and controversial in his attitudes and actions towards the Ibo society. “He condemned openly Mr. Brown’s policy of compromise and accommodation. He saw things as black and white.”(Achebe 184) He would openly condemn the practices of the Ibo showed that he was not appreciative of their rich culture at all. There were converts who under Mr. Brown were restrained from their zealous behavior. But when Mr. Smith came to the church “the over-zealous converts who had smarted under Mr. Brown’s restraining hand now flourished in full favor.”(Achebe 185)
The attitude Mr. Smith brings with him drives many people away and creates outright hostility towards Christianity. He is a sad representative of Christianity. Christians reading these works should think to themselves, how should I respond to this? As global neighbors witnessing the injustice heaped on the people of colonized cultures what should the response be? As people commissioned to show love to God and to our neighbors how should Christians respond? There are many things that can be taken from these stories and applied to the Christian’s life and their attitudes. It is important to value other’s cultures and appreciate them. Culture is such a large part of who people are and to negate it is a great injustice to people that are created by God and whose life is equally important to any other. Christians should know that these people have worth and are known by God. An attitude that is important is to realize how much these people are worth to God and the love he has for them should be something Christians emulate.
The band Thrice makes a powerful point in their song “Image of the Invisible”, they tell the listener that, “We are all named, and we are all known.” Christians can do a lot to help out those who have been hurt by injustice in the past if they learn to love their neighbors and appreciate their value.
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